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Home Uncategorized The Clergyman’s Daughter

The Clergyman’s Daughter

Majella Cullinane

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman, Canongate, 342 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1847672940

In the year in which Jane Austen died, her brother Henry claimed his sister would have wished to remain as unknown to the public as she was at the time of her death.

No accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any production of her pen. In the bosom of her own family she talked of them freely, thankful for praise, open to remark, and submissive to criticism, but in public she turned away from any allusion to the character of an authoress.

Claire Harman’s lively and engaging Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World charts the development of Austen as an author virtually unknown at her death, and challenges the perceptions that her family held about her while examining the subsequent critical and public interpretations, conceptions and misconceptions that have resulted in a relatively obscure woman from eighteenth century England becoming, to borrow from the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, “universally acknowledged”.

The six novels written in her short life – she died aged forty-one – have become among the best-known and best-loved works in the English language. She has been revered by vastly antipodal circles: feminists, misogynists, even nineteenth century anarchists. In 2007, Pride and Prejudice was voted “the book the nation can’t do without” (the nation being Britain); the Bible made sixth place. Yet despite Austen’s popularity and success, it would seem that not everyone is familiar with her work, as was demonstrated in 2007 when the director of the Jane Austen festival sent the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice, with proper nouns slightly adjusted, a different title name and author, to several British publishers. It was rejected by them all, but perhaps more astonishingly only one seemed to recognise the manuscript as a fake.

Harman’s book asks the question how did Jane Austen, a young woman who was happy to limit herself to “three or four families in a Country Village”, conquer the world, especially given her brother Henry’s view that she would remain unknown to the public. Or to echo the words of Joseph Conrad to HG Wells “What is all this about Jane Austen? What is there in her? What is it all about?” In fact, fellow authors have had a variety of responses to her work: GH Lewes was an ardent supporter, Charlotte Brontë thought her second-rate, Macaulay compared her to Shakespeare and proposed a public monument, while Thomas Carlyle condemned the novels as “dismal trash” and “dishwashings”. Yet, Harman argues, it is “her clear prose style which is extraordinarily accessible, her irony which allows illimitable interpretation” that explain the reasons for Austen’s enduring popularity, a popularity which has inspired derision as well as approval.

Austen the woman was viewed in her time as “the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly” and later as “a poker of whom everyone is afraid”, while for her nephew James she was of “unselfish disposition, and well-balanced character; there was nothing eccentric or angular, no ruggedness of temper; no singularity of manner; none of the morbid sensibility or exaggeration of feeling, which not unfrequently accompanies great talent”.

According to Harman, the history of Austen’s fame reflects changing inclinations and critical practices. There have been two notable surges in “Austenmania”, one after the publication of the first biography by her nephew, James Edwards Austen-Leigh (Harman calls it a “myth-mongering memoir”), the other after the proliferation of film and television versions of Austen novels in the mid-1990s. The biography, published in 1870, created the late Victorian cult of “Divine Jane”; the latter has taken Austen all over the world, to what Harman calls “the heart of contemporary debate about marriage, morals and female empowerment”.

Austen-Leigh’s view was that “short and easy will be the task of a mere biographer … a life of usefulness, literature and religion was not by any means a life of event”. Indeed he seems to have been at pains to emphasise that his aunt’s literary activity did not interrupt her familial duties, for she received no special treatment as a writer. Harman suggests that this was because Jane was not the only writer in her family. Two brothers, two first cousins, an aunt, two second cousins and a neighbour were all published authors. In fact James Austen, her eldest brother, started his own periodical, The Loiterer, which reflected the Austen family manner of gentle mockery and guileful self-deprecation. It was he who was for a long time considered the writer in the family.

Jane Austen was born in 1775, the second youngest of eight children, six boys and two girls. Her father, Revd George Austen, was regarded as a clever gentleman; her mother, Cassandra Leigh, was an articulate woman of aristocratic descent. The family was modestly well-off, and at their house in Hampshire Jane’s father supported the rectory with farming. Jane’s writing was particularly encouraged and in her letters, the earliest dating from 1796, it is George Austen who is portrayed as most closely sharing her own interest in books; it was also he who unsuccessfully attempted, in 1797, to place the work then known as First Impressions (later Pride and Prejudice) with a London publisher.

In his Memoir, James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote of his aunt:

I do not think that she was herself much mortified by the want of early success. She wrote for her own amusement. Money, though acceptable was not necessary for the moderate expenses of her quiet home. Above all, she was bred with a cheerful contented disposition, and an humble mind; and so lowly did she esteem her own claims, that when she received 150l from the sale of Sense and Sensibility, she considered it a prodigious recompense for that which had cost her nothing.

Harman regards this view of Austen as completely erroneous, and believes she was mortified by the rejection and delays she encountered in her early career. She did want to make money and had no intention of writing merely for her own amusement: as she herself straightforwardly confirmed when she wrote in 1814: “Tho I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.”

Her commitment to the writing craft is evident in the records maintained by her sister, Cassandra, which document when she began, revised and finished manuscripts. Austen herself left very few diaries, pocketbooks or letters from the period before 1800 and no letters from May 1801 to September 1804, so Harman admits these are difficult years to reconstruct. This does not, however, prevent her from formulating her own suppositions:

While it is impossible to quantify the extent of Austen’s writing activity and business with publishers during this time, there is no reason to suppose she didn’t have any. We know that she had three full-length novels finished or in progress in 1801, that her father solicited publication for one of them in 1797 and that she was successful in selling Susan in 1803, so she may have sent manuscripts to other publishers too, and had other rejections. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the author of First Impressions [Pride and Prejudice] and Elinor and Marianne [Sense and Sensibility] could have borne to leave them festering in a drawer year after year.

This, however, is conjecture: it is equally plausible that Austen did not further seek publication as a result of a rejection or rejections. For even as Harman suggests later on, there is a certain freedom in being unpublished, and Austen remained unpublished until 1811.

Susan (later Northanger Abbey) was accepted for publication in 1803. Austen was twenty-seven and was to receive a marriage proposal in this year from Harris Bigg-Wither, a near neighbour and a wealthy heir. She initially accepted the proposal but then withdrew her acceptance shortly after. Perhaps, Harman suggests, the placing of Susan with a publisher might have allowed her to justify to her family her refusal of her suitor. And yet Susan did not appear in print; nor was there any explanation from Crosby, the publisher who had accepted it.

In 1805, Jane lost her most fervent supporter, her father, who died suddenly aged seventy-three. Jane, Cassandra and her mother were subsequently to be very much dependent on the generosity of the Austen men. Having sold the copyright of Susan outright and anonymously, [common practice in the eighteenth century] Austen had no rights over her own book and had to wait another six years without any information as to when it might appear. In 1809 she seems to have lost patience, writing to Crosby under the assumed name of Mrs Ashton Dennis: “supposing the MS by some carelessness to have been lost; & if that was the case, am willing to supply You with another Copy if you are disposed to avail yourselves of it, & will engage for no farther delay when it comes into your hands … Should no notice be taken of this Address, I shall feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere.”

The ultimatum elicited an abrupt reply from Crosby, who argued that no exact publication date had ever been promised. Austen would have to find £10 if she wanted to reacquire her manuscript and have it published, which due to her limited financial circumstances was no small sum. In fact it was not until Crosby went bankrupt in 1816 that Austen finally regained ownership of Susan. The novel was to be published posthumously, as Northanger Abbey, in 1818.

Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility, whose authorship was attributed simply to “a lady”, appeared in 1811. It had taken her approximately fifteen years to get into print and she was now thirty-six years old. There was some speculation about who this lady might have been: guessing the authorship of particular novels was a popular pastime in an age where anonymity was standard practice for many writers, and especially women. Austen’s friend Mrs Pole said of her novels a year or two later: “Everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly.”

The earnings from Sense and Sensibility helped Austen become financially independent. As Harman writes, “at last she had reason to hope that the manuscripts she had piled up at home could be put before the public, and that she could go ahead with new novels with some certainty of them reaching an audience”. She sold the copyright of her next book, Pride and Prejudice, for £110 outright, commenting: “I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard so much – Its being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me.” The income from both books evidently pleased her and she wrote to her brother Frank: “I have now therefore written myself into £250, which only makes me long for more.”

Pride and Prejudice sold fast enough and a second and third edition appeared in 1815 and then 1817. Austen had little idea how much her book had impressed some of its first readers. The Irish playwright and Whig Richard Brinsley Sheridan encouraged a woman at a dinner party to “buy it immediately, for it was one of the cleverest things he ever read”. Lady Byron was also an enthusiastic reader, as was Sir Walter Scott, who wrote that the author of Pride and Prejudice was a force to be reckoned with and that Austen possessed “the art of copying from nature as it really exists in the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him”.

The novel had two reviews and was praised for its “simplicity of plot and complexity of characters”. Away from the public eye, Jane relished its publication: “when her brother Edward and his family were in Chawton that summer she read it aloud to Fanny Knight, apparently doing all the parts herself, with theatrical relish”. While she might have had reservations about shedding her mask of anonymity, her brother Henry was clearly proud of her, for when a Lady Robert Kerr praised Pride and Prejudice he told her it was his sister who had written it.

After years of waiting and many setbacks, it must have been tempting for Austen to claim ownership and some share of the praise, even despite what some considered the impropriety of female authorship. This is illustrated in the rather blunt admission to her brother Frank that “the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now & that I believe whenever the 3rd [novel] appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them.”

Harman considers this to be a “remarkably hard-nosed remark, quite at odds with the portrait painted by her brother Henry Austen and nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, who described Jane Austen as a woman who wrote only “for her own amusement”. In fact, this version of Austen, as Kathryn Hughes points out in her Guardian review1 of Harman’s book, one that was “sharp, pushy, even a little unlikeable … lay dormant for decades, thanks to the smothering effects of a memoir published by her nephew, the Rev. James Austen-Leigh”; and it was quite contrary to brother Henry’s affirmation of 1817 that “no accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any production of her pen”. “The notion that she cared little about her work,” Frank Kermode has written, “or for the money it made, are equally spurious, invented because Janeites seem to have had a hunger for interesting detail even if irrelevant or untrue. Few writers have undertaken with more professional determination the ‘preliminary drudgery’ of writing, or rewriting, a serious novel.”2

Austen kept a record of “Opinions” of the novel, again suggesting her intense pride in her achievements. She also wrote to her niece Fanny Knight: “the pleasures of Vanity are … within your comprehension & will enter into mine, at receiving the praise which every now & then comes to me, through some channel or other”. Mansfield Park, which appeared in 1814, sold well enough to suggest the possibility of a second edition and Austen told Fanny: “[I] am very greedy & want to make the most of it.” Indeed Austen exhibited a growing confidence in her writing: “I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way; And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced I should totally fail in any other.” Emma appeared in 1815.

In 1817, Jane was the first of the Austen siblings to die. She was only forty-one. Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been offered by modern medical scholars as a possible cause of death. The death notice made the first public acknowledgement of Jane Austen’s authorship, naming her four novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. The circulation of her novels was extremely small in the years immediately following her death, just a few thousand in total, but her readership grew slowly not just in England, but in France and Russia. In Russia, her work had become well known and admired. An article in a Russian journal praising contemporary English women novelists mentioned the anonymous author of Emma for her successful “pictures of quiet family life”. Although there is no evidence that Alexander Pushkin ever read Pride and Prejudice, the apparent similarities between the novel and Eugene Onegin have convinced several critics that he knew the book very well, perhaps from early French translations.

During the 1820s Austen’s books were out of print and out of mind. It was not until 1831 that Cassandra received a letter from the publisher John Murray, enquiring if he could buy the rights to her sister’s novels. However, since the family did not accept his offer outright the purchase of the remaining copyrights went to Richard Bentley in 1832 for the bargain price of £210: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma and the posthumous Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The fact that all her novels were in print for the first time, in “an accessible and inexpensive uniform edition, kept Austen’s readership steadily growing through a period when she received next to no critical attention at all”. Admirers of Austen at the time included Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Bulwer Lytton, Sidney Smith, and Disraeli, who claimed to have read Pride and Prejudice seventeen times. “What a pity such a gifted creature [had] died so early!” wrote Sir Walter Scott. A letter from Cassandra to Fanny Knight echoed this sentiment: “I have lost such a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed, – she was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

Austen also had notable critics. Charlotte Brontë thought: “Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no ‘sentiment’, no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry.” Harman agrees that “Austen was certainly without poetry because she eschewed extravagant language, heightened emotions, dramatic situations and any but the sparest descriptive language”. So in Brontë’s view and Wordworth’s, and that of many readers since, “this disqualified her from a certain seriousness of attention: she was in a different, much tamer, league – one concerned with realism, restraint and understatement, all of which the younger novelist wished to challenge. The flights and transports, deliberate eloquence and enthusiasm associated with romanticism, its perpetrators and consumers are all treated with deep suspicion in Austen’s novels, not just as a temporary danger but as a sign of a sort of spiritual incontinence that has to be guarded against.”

Ultimately it was Cassandra who controlled Jane’s posterity and who, a few years before her own death in 1845, destroyed a large quantity of her papers, leaving the life record deficient and equivocal. Her action has provoked much criticism, and is often thought to have been either mean-spirited or self-protective, but the evidence suggests otherwise, Harman contends: “Far from thwarting the passing on of information about her sister, Cassandra Austen kept the archive intact for twenty-five years and added to it assiduously during those years, preserving every scrap of praise for her sister that she encountered.” However, after the sale of the copyrights to Bentley in 1832, the family had no more control over Jane’s works, no income from them and no connection with the publishing world.

In 1857, Brontë’s view of Austen was being quoted by Mrs Gaskell, and it was her perceived old-fashioned self-restraint and regulation that was being brought to the reader’s notice and held against her: “She maybe is sensible, real,” Brontë concluded witheringly, “but she cannot be great.” This view lingered through the Victorian era, when Austen’s novels were not considered essential reading and certainly were not “beloved”. In the fifty-two years between her death and the publication of the first biography in 1870, only six essays had been published on Austen. Though her books were still in print, she had become almost half-forgotten.

Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt was probably undertaken with the active encouragement of his sister and half-sister, both of whom had spent a great deal of time in Jane’s company. It continues to be the main source of biographical information and family recollections, featuring extracts from letters and anecdotes about Austen’s life as a writer, which in Harman’s view disagreeably combine with Austen-Leigh’s “saccharine portrait of his aunt” – “there was scarcely a charm in the most delightful characters that was not a true reflection of her own sweet temper and loving heart”. It was her nephew’s view which eventually led to the cult of “Divine Jane” and the coining of the term “Janeite” in 1894. Rudyard Kipling, a devout Janeite, thought Winchester, where Austen is buried, the holiest place in England next to Stratford. Mark Twain saw things differently: “Jane is entirely impossible, it seems a great pity to me that they allowed her to die a natural death.” As Sarah Malden remarked in 1889, “those who do appreciate her novels will think no praise too high for them, while those who do not, will marvel at the infatuation of her admirers”.

Part of the attraction of Janeism for readers abroad was its “ingrained Englishness”. Intermittently throughout the 1870s translations of Austen’s work appeared in Germany, France, Sweden and Spain. In France, Fénéon, an advocate of post-impressionist art and also an anarchist, discovered Austen while in prison. He found Northanger Abbey’s “pithy style” possessed “keen insights on human nature” and began a translation (while still in prison), helped by his friend the English poet John Gray, Oscar Wilde’s former lover. His translation, Catherine Morland, was published in serial form in 1898. It seems that Austen, before and since, has had a certain appeal for what Harman terms “those in extremis”. In the Great War, Siegfried Sassoon owned a rare copy of Emma. The ameliorative, curative effect of the books was acknowledged on a larger scale when they were chosen as “salubrious reading for the wounded” and recommended as an aid to recovery to shell-shocked soldiers. Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility were bedtime reading for many injured men in military hospitals. But to others of this period, like DH Lawrence, Austen was “an old maid [who] typifie[d] ‘personality’ instead of ‘character’, the sharp knowing in apartness, instead of knowing in togetherness, and she is, to my feeling, thoroughly unpleasant, English in the bad, mean, snobbish sense of the word”.

In spite of frequently divided views on the merits of her writing, the work of lexicographer and editor Robert Chapman at the Clarendon Press in Oxford managed to establish her as a classic author in the twentieth century. Chapman quickly became the ultimate authority on Austen, and through the 1920s was occupied tracking down her manuscripts and urging the Bodleian and the British Library to acquire as many as possible. The presentation of Austen’s texts by Chapman paved the way for “full-scale consumption” of her work as a “multi-faceted literary historical product”. There was another reason for Austen’s growing popularity and for her effortless passage into English literature courses from the late 1920s. English was considered a “soft” subject, suitable for the increasing number of female students attending university and Austen’s novels were seen as some of the least “inappropriate works of fiction for unmarried women to read and discuss with old males who taught them”.

Again demonstrating how Austen’s appeal was often contradictory and unexpected, the Communist poet and essayist Edgell Rickword placed her within “his own great tradition of English writers alert to social change, which included Brontë, Matthew Arnold and Trollope …” Austen was now being viewed through the eyes of significantly alternate ideologies and different disciplines: Geoffrey Gorer, an anthropologist, was one of the first critics to apply Freudian analysis to her books, noticing “heroines who actively dislike their mothers and marry men who stand in a paternal relationship to them”.

In 1940 the Jane Austen Society3 was founded by Dorothy Darnell “with the purpose of raising funds to preserve the Cottage in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, where Jane Austen lived with her mother and sister Cassandra from 1809 to 1817”. Austen was also held in considerable affection by many political conservatives, among them former British prime minister Edward Heath. According to Harman, her attraction for the Tory establishment had more to do with perceived gentility, decorum and reverence for the social status quo than with literature.

In the second half of the twentieth century Austen studies began to take off. Critical analysis, much of it emanating from the United States, focused increasingly on historical, political and social elements of Austen’s work. As David Lodge argues, the novels have been examined from “every conceivable angle – biographical, rhetorical, mythical, Freudian, Jungian, existentialist, Marxist, structuralist, Christian-allegorical, ethical, exponential, linguistic, phenomenological, archetypal, you name it”. She became a fruitful subject for feminist, post-feminist and postmodernist commentators in the seventies, eighties and nineties, and this interest brought every facet of her work and life under scrutiny and analysis. There was heated debate as to the nature and degree of Austen’s feminism. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar interpreted her portrayal of women who submit to marriage and focus on courtship and the myth of romantic love as “collusion on the author’s part; reinforcing women’s subordinate position in patriarchal culture”. Throughout the seventies and eighties, the pendulum of favour swung in time to the changing tastes of academic institutions. Interestingly, it was not Pride and Prejudice that was then the “people’s choice”, but Emma, which was appropriated by psychoanalytical critics as Mansfield Park was by postcolonialists. As in the early Victorian period, Austen proved highly malleable when in the custody of her interpreters.

In 1995, controversy arose when an article appeared with the headline “Was Jane Austen Gay?” The author of this thesis, academic Terry Castle, claimed to find a “homophilic fascination” in Austen’s description of women and suggested that perhaps Jane and Cassandra had had an incestuous lesbian affair. There was outrage in the print media, so offensive, according to Harman, was “the idea that Austen may have had sexual feelings of any sort, never mind such unconventional ones”. More recent controversy has emerged as a result of the publication of this very book. Harman’s former tutor, Prof Kathryn Sutherland, accused her of “[having] copied her own radical ideas about the novelist [Austen] … pulled together over ten years of research and published by her in 2005”4. Needless to say, Harman has vehemently denied the accusation, and her response can be found at the following site5. Perhaps this is a case of what John Carey, in his review of Harman’s book in The Sunday Times, deems to be the inspiration in devotees of “feelings of personal possession. She is their Jane. Professor Kathryn Sutherland’s reported complaint last week that Harman repeats some of her ideas about Austen perhaps illustrates this.”6

In Harman’s opinion, it is Austen’s narrowness which has paradoxically been a major factor in her global mobility (one American reviewer in 1844 saw “middlingness as [being] key to her effect”). Moreover, Harman is unsurprised by Austen’s continuing appeal and celebrates the “brilliantly constructed plots, the romance, the comedy, the pellucid language, her unerring instinct about where to place the romantic stimuli”. Austen has by now been translated into Japanese, Korean, Icelandic, Persian, Serbo-Croat, Bengali, Finnish and even minor languages like Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. More than fifty per cent of paperbacks sold in Britain in 2004 were romances and Jane Austen is recognised as the “mother of the genre”. Harman argues that “the restraint and decorousness of her love scenes [that] seem in themselves erotic and the idea of the heroines attracting so much male attention by making so few sexual concessions has become for the modern woman an unattainable fantasy of female empowerment”.

The huge success of recent Austen films depends substantially on “their visual realisation of the erotic potential of the novels”. As Austen’s work gained readership in the early twentieth century it was only a matter of time before the film industry would turn to it for what Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s considered the “perfect credentials for light comedy”. Aldous Huxley, the first to adapt Austen for the screen, produced a script for Pride and Prejudice in 1939, but the producers insisted on simplifying the plot (“Five Gorgeous Beauties on a Mad-Cap Manhunt!” the publicity read), dismissing parts of the dialogue that were “too literary” and inserting additional material; even the period of the action was moved forward forty years. This first film, Harman argues, “may not have affected Jane Austen’s literary standing one jot, but impressed millions of people with a complex sense of her importance”.

In the mid-1990s the BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice, adapted and written by teacher/lecturer turned scriptwriter Andrew Davies, became the surprise hit of the year, and subsequently a national and global phenomenon. A remarkable forty per cent of Britain’s total viewing audience watched the final episode. One of the most memorable scenes, where Darcy, played by Colin Firth, emerges dripping from a pond at his Pemberley estate, was not, according to Davies, deliberately shot in that way. In fact, he had wanted Firth to take his shirt off completely but the actor refused and was therefore seen emerging with a damp one instead, producing one of the most remembered scenes of modern television. The series went on to win several awards and when the video was released the entire edition of 12,000 copies was sold out within two hours. The Wall Street Journal spoke of “Austen mania”. In subsequent years there have been big screen versions of Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice and even a Bollywood Bride and Prejudice. Andrew Davies has established a lucrative career in adaptations of classics and gone on to write scripts for Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Little Dorrit and, more recently, the historical novelist Sarah Waters’s Affinity. When asked in an interview in The Times did he think Austen would recognise her own work in his adaptations he replied: “Oh yes, she’d say, ‘Somebody has stolen my book and embellished it with unnecessary flourishes of his own.’ She’d probably sue me, if I was trying to get away with it as an original work.”7

In 2007, a biopic, Becoming Jane, was released which concentrated on the perhaps little known flirtation between Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen between 1796 and 1797. Lefroy went on to become Chief Justice of Ireland and later admitted to his nephew that he had “indeed been in love with Jane Austen in the 1790s, but that it had been ‘a boyish love’”. More recently, Lost in Austen featured a contemporary women time-travelling back to Austen’s day, while the Jane Austen Book Club, adapted from the book of the same name, featured American suburbanites exploring their lives through the novels of Jane Austen. Both received mixed reviews.

In the years since her death, Austen has first emerged from relative obscurity to the elevated status of sainthood, and then, in more recent times, become a global brand. Harman, clearly an advocate and a “Janeite” herself, has written an enlivening book which explains Austen’s enduring popularity and her significance as a cultural icon. Whether or not Jane Austen desired any of the fame which posthumously came her way can perhaps he answered by the woman herself when she wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1796: “I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” Austen has certainly achieved fame for herself, and for others indeed abundant emolument. Her fame is only likely to continue as we approach the bicentennial in 2017.

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/04/jane-austen-claire-harman

2. Frank Kermode, London Review of Books, Volume 31, No. 8

Majella Cullinane, originally from Limerick, teaches creative writing and lives in Wellington, NZ. Poetry, short stories and reviews have been published in Ireland, the UK, the US and New Zealand. She has won a Sean Dunne Young Writer’s Award, an Irish Arts Council Award, and The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy Literary Award for Emerging Poetry. Her first poetry collection was accepted for publication in Ireland early this year. She is also currently working on her first novel. www.majellacullinane.com



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