Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen -- edited by Susannah Carson

If you hate Jane Austen, this book will do little to change your mind. If you are indifferent to her, you may not be tempted further by these essays. If you love and admire her, this book will possibly bore you or irritate you after different writers either repeat what you already know or dislike what you like and like what you dislike.

However, if you are unsure about Austen or if you are curious to know what the fuss is all about, this book isn't a bad place to start.

This collection of essays that explain, praise, examine, accuse and otherwise give some kind of answer to the question implied in the title covers her 6 novels, her fragments, and her juvenilia do cover a range of opinion. Yes, most of it is positive and some of it feels a bit silly. Many of the essays were written long before the idea of the book came into being. Some are very scholarly and some are quite chatty. Some few are downright picky. Still, it does dig up quite a lot of thought about those 6 books as various authors talk about their favorite characters or novels, defend what they love most and excoriate what they despise. The novels are considered as single topics, as a group, and occasionally in comparison with more modern works.

My reaction to it was occasional surprise as someone pointed out an idea new to me, or bristly irritation as yet another author could not resist the lure to stick "It is a truth universally acknowledged" into the piece he or she wrote. On a few, I wondered why they bothered to write at all. Of course, I am an admirer of Jane Austen, so this book would do that.

But if you have read only a few of the novels, or perhaps only seen some movies based on the novels, this book could prove much more interesting and educational. It might well draw you deeper into the oddity. It might introduce you to the cult and offer you the Kool-aid. It will certainly open your eyes to, not only the novels and the woman we barely know who wrote them, but to the audience of Jane Austen and how she is regarded and has influenced our world. It could push you away or pull you in.

I already know I want to purchase a copy so I can go through with a highlighter and pen, to argue, to underline, and to explore, so that when I reread the books I can look for what these assorted authors claim is there.

I seriously doubt it will change my mind about Mansfield Park, however, but I'm going to give it a try.

2 comments:

Becs said...

Can't remember the exact title, but Fay Weldon wrote a wonderful book called something like "Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen." Wonderful book.

Sherri said...

Will have to hunt that one up. I admire Faye Weldon, and I'm this year is for reading all about Austen, apparently :)