Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jane Austen Bonanza

I have had Syrie James' The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen on my Kindle for months now, but with the arrival of spring, I finally felt ready for a light, fluffy English love story, especially one that promised to quiet one of the most unrequieted heroines in history.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how realistic both James' storytelling and her prose were when compared with the master herself.  James' meticulous footnotes demonstrate her breadth of research and knowledge on the life and literature of Jane Austen.  Even though I know the book is fiction, I had to remind myself several times that this is NOT Austen's real diary.  Although James' borrowed substantially from Pride and Prejudice towards the end of the novel, I was delighted by the story James wove of a love gained and lost.  When the last page flicked across my screen, I didn't want it to end.  I wanted more of Austen's world.  So I picked up Northanger Abbey - one of the only Austen novels I hadn't read.  I was intrigued by the gothic overtones in the text, and I was not disappointed.   

Northanger Abbey really highlights Austen's wit.  The novel borders on satire at times and mocks traditional notions of 19th century courtship and the inclination to superstition that authors like Ann Radcliffe made prominent.  There were moments where I was laughing out loud, and although I knew Catherine's notions about her beau's father were fantastical, I found myself borne away by her high spirits into believing a spirit really was lurking in the wings at Northanger Abbey.  As with most 19th century novels, the resolution was a little quick, but Catherine went out in true Austen style...happily ever after.

However, Northanger Abbey did not even quell my desire for Jane Austen's pen.  I have picked up Persuasion, my favorite of Austen's novels and one of the shortest.  As one of her later works, I think it really shows Austen's progress as an author.  Critics praise her for so realistically depicting the life of the gentry in the 19th century English countryside, but it is not until Persuasion that I see a true relationship, one that spans time and change and still is able to remain true.  Maybe once I finish Persuasion I will let Austen lie and turn my attention to the next book on my TBR list, a modern retelling of Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, but who knows, I may decide to tackle the rest of Austen's masterful work.  What better to indulge in as I watch the spring sun play in the fields than a novel of manners?

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