An elegant exploration into the curious journey of literary celebrity, as exhibited by Jane Austen.
Austen’s rise within the literary canon is reflected in modern culture by the many film versions and derivations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and others, and in the ubiquitous inclusion of her works in academic curricula. Royal Society of Literature fellow Harman (Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, 2006, etc.) delineates the growth of Austen’s fame as both a study of the process of getting published and acclaim as a writer, as well as the actual features of Austen’s work that make it both popular and divisive. The author declares Austen to be as difficult a biographical subject as Shakespeare, in that both left behind few details of their personal lives, making their mythologies all the more of a touchstone for adulation. Harman efficiently sketches the confined circumstances within which Austen, a financially dependent spinster, wrote and revised her novels over many years before they were published. The author ably captures the imperturbable belief that Austen must have had in her talent—she continued to write new novels, even though the first one, Sense and Sensibility, was not published until a few years before her death. Although Austen had a few admirers, the initial circulation of her work was limited. It was not until a biography written by her nephew, James Austen-Leigh, was published in 1870 that interest was revived in her work on a larger scale. Harman points out the key feature of Austen’s writing that finally resulted in her canonization within English literature—her ironic artistry as a keen observation tool of the truth of human nature. Detractors, ranging from Charlotte Brontë to Mark Twain, have decried the small-scale nature of her work, the focus on ordinary life and the lack of poetry. For Harman, it is this very accessibility that has resulted in her rise to global fame.
A must for Austen bibliophiles.