Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

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Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

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Though I am ready to accept that Jane was highly influenced by the times in which she wrote, I remain unconvinced that she wrote just to be radical, dressed up in a story. As an Austen fan, I found the book interesting for historical information and her takes on some of the books, but overall was not a fan. What's more, she often makes insane theories about her books (no spoilers, but the Sense and Sensibility and Emma sections get weird), and then acts as if they are fact, but doesn't accept the same in others. Despite reading all of Austen's works, many of them several times, I'd never considered Austen through any of the lenses Kelly presented.

Threats from abroad (wars with France and America; the French Revolution) made for a country on alert for threats from within, where “any criticism of the status quo was seen as disloyal and dangerous”. However I am so frustrated by everything else in this one, including how it seems that Kelly thinks her interpretation is only point of view that matters. e. far more into romantic notions than what was good for me, so the chapter has special interest to me.Marriage as Jane knew it involved a woman giving up everything to her husband—her money, her body, her very existence as a legal adult. She will show us that, far from giving us “demure dramas in drawing rooms”, Austen used her novels to “examine the great issues of her day”. While Kelly is making her claims about the subtexts that have evaded previous critics, Austen admirers will keep noticing little mistakes about what is going on in the novels. The “idealised picture” chosen by the bank looks “far less grumpy” than the “unfinished sketch it’s based on”.

Listening to the excellent Bonnets at Dawn podcast about Mansfield Park inspired me to download this book and read it at last. I certainly ought to, as one chapter in my new book ( What Regency Women Did For Us) is given over to my favourite author! What I did not expect on rereading this book was to be more impressed with it than I was the first time. Yes, Austen was an author remarkably well tuned to her time and yes her books are far more radical than many of the works of her contemporaries, but a lot of Kelly's claims just sound like very arduously constructed wishful thinking. Fortunately, Kelly does not try to undermine the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth, but rather draws attention to the underlying prejudices of the novel which are far more revolutionary than a modern audience appreciates.Another of Jane's sisters-in-law collapsed and died suddenly at the age of thirty-six; it sounds very much as if the cause might have been the rupturing of an ectopic pregnancy, which was, then, impossible to treat. Misinterpretation, or reading our modern sensibilities and modern knowledge onto Jane, is very common. Events of every description, changes, alienations, removals – all, all must be compromised in it, and oblivion of the past – how natural, how certain too! Dept of Disclaimers: Mr Knightley is my favorite Austen hero) And I'm not talking about those old boring trite age/closeness of family things that I've fought against repeatedly and written about.

Yet every self-respecting introduction to every paperback edition of the novel has always pointed this out. As somebody who personally is a fan of Austen from an academic perspective AND loves most of the movies, I resent the idea that just because a person enjoys the romantic elements of Austen that they are apparently too dumb to notice all the political nuances of her novels. Kelly argues that Jane’s novels are much more than love stories – they are revolutionary and tackle subjects which would have been seen as highly controversial at the time they were written.A sublime piece of literary detective work that shows us once and for all how to be precisely the sort of reader that Austen deserves. And although Kelly doesn’t mention Edward Said’s thesis that Mansfield Park glorified slavery, she nevertheless shows it up as the nonsense it is by relentlessly tracking down each and every hint Austen drops, until she can show that the novel is so heavily littered with stabs at both slavery itself and the Church of England’s complicity in the trade, that for them to be unintended would be a “truly impossible number of coincidences”. Austen was unique as a novelist of this period in writing “novels which were set more or less in the present day, and more or less in the real world”. She sets out to show us how Austen’s novels have been “so thoroughly, so almost universally, misunderstood”. I was just sort of expecting a fun book where the author points out passages in Austen's work that add credibility to the idea that Jane Austen was a radical thinker for her time.



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