Book Notes: Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

[AN: All notes are taken verbatim from the book. I claim no rights to them.]

 Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

By Claire Harman

  1. The use of Austen’s name knows no generic boundaries. Who else is cited with equal approval by feminists and misogynists…(pg. xvi)
  2. If P&P is the representative Austen title, its opening sentence is one of the most frequently abused quotes in the language, second only to “to be or not to be.” (pg xvi)
  3. To many people, P&P, and even “Jane Austen,” simply evoke the actor Colin Firth in a wet shirt…(pg xvii)
  4. In 2007 P&P was voted “the book theUKcan’t do without”; the Bible was sixth (pg xvii)
  5. The Web-connected world allows full indulgence of readers’ identification with the author and her works (pg xviii)
  6. There have been several revolutions of taste during the last century and a quarter of English Literature, and through them all perhaps only two reputations have never been affected by the shifts of fashion: Shakespeare’s and Jane Austen’s (pg xix)
  7. “All the reading world is now at Miss Austen’s feet” Thomas E. Kebbel (pg xii)
  8. “From an early age,” the critic Isobel Grundy has noted, “she read like a potential author.”
  9. Austen’s taste in reading was eclectic and guided purely by the pleasure principle [as is my own].
  10. A copy of Emma sold in 1995 for £16,000. (pg 54)
  11. Two manuscript chapters of Persuasion, the only such drafts of any part of any Austen novel to have survived, have given scholars fascinating insight into Austen’s working methods. (pg 57)
  12. Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved; When once we are buried you think we are gone; But behold me immortal! By vice you’ve enslaved; You have sinned and must suffer, then farther he said…” (pg 59)
  13. The two previous underlined lines were presumably underlined by Cassandra at a later date, seemed prophetic, for these unexceptional comic verses were the last thing Jane Austen ever wrote. Two days after composing them, she was dead. (pg 60)
  14. “She became an authoress entirely from taste and inclination,” Henry Austen. (pg 67)
  15. [In reference to James Fenimore Cooper’s Precaution] George Hastings went further than this and made a detailed comparison of Precaution and the Austen novel nearest in date (and title) to Cooper’s, Persuasion, which makes a convincing case for Austen being the copied novelist but not the loathed one. Both books begin with a baronet renting one property and retiring to another; both baronets have three daughters and a favorite among them. Both books have heroines who are not the father’s favorite; the heroines both have an older female mentor and an admiring brother-in-law, and both are courted unsuccessfully by a cousin. And so on… the similarities are “so numerous that one has difficulty in believing them all to be accidental,” and Cooper’s book, though twice as long as Persuasion and much more elaborate, “repeats almost every detail of situation, setting, character and plot used by Jane Austen.” (pg 76)
  16. During her life time, Austen’s most successful book (in terms of sales) had been Murray’s first edition of Emma, which sold 1,250 copies in its first year. He had printed around 2,000 in 1815, and still had 565 copies unsold in 1818. Two years later, hardly any of these had shifted, and he remaindered the last 535 copies for two shillings a set. The initial price had been 21 shillings. A single copy of this edition sold in 1999 for £8,500. (pg 77)
  17. “Shakespeare has neither equal nor second. But among the writers who, in the point which we have noticed, have approached nearest to the manner of the great master, we have no hesitation in placing Jane Austen.” (pg 84)
  18. “After all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant—it is not fit—it is not possible that is should be so.” Sense and Sensibility (pg 86)
  19. Cassandra was the person who exercised ultimate control over 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 famously scanty and unrevealing. (pg 87)
  20. a critic’s novelist—highly spoken of and little read (pg 94)
  21. Jane Austen is now considered to be one of the most difficult and challenging of biographical subjects, second only to Shakespeare in terms of how little of the life is knowable and of what interest it is.
  22. Whatever she produced was a genuine home-made article (pg 114)
  23. [paraphrased] She became everyone’s Aunt Jane (117)
  24. 1860 was the last time such ignorance would be excusable (pg 122)
  25. In 1900, every man of intellectual pretensions either likes to read her books or thinks it necessary to apologize if he does not (122)
  26. She was public property and on her way to becoming a national treasure (122)
  27. 1883 at Harvard, was the first time the author has been studied in the academy (pg 124)
  28. “In the case of the note very numerous authors who are the objects of the personal affection, it brings a curious consequence with it. There is much more difference as to their best work than in the case of those others who are loved ‘by allowance,’ by convention, and because it is felt to be the right and proper thing to love them. And in the sect—fairly large and yet unusually choice—of Austenians or Janites, there would probably be found partisans of the claim to primacy of almost every one of the novels.” Saintsbury (128)
  29. “The story of P&P has of late years become known to a constantly, almost rapidly, increasing cult, as it must be called, for the readers of Jane Austen are hardly ever less than her adorers: she is a passion and a creed, if not quite a religion.” W.D. Howells (pg 128)
  30. “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; for no one ever care moderately for Jane Austen’s works.” Sarah Fanny Malden (134)
  31. Part of the appeal of Janeism was its ingrained Englishness, which for cultural and linguistic reasons slowed the dissemination of her works in the non-anglophone world (139)
  32. Politically and ideologically, Austen was unattractive to the Anglophobic Danes and the Eastern European nations, and the French were inclined to think of her as a “puritan.” (139)
  33. Nowadays, there are whole sections ofUKtravel guides devoted to “Jane Austen Country” (151)
  34. A feeble poem by Kipling entitled “Jane’s Marriage”…places Austen in the company of Shakespeare and the world’s other great storytellers: Jane went to Paradise: that was only fair. Good Sir Walter followed her And armed her up the stair. Henry and Tobias and Miguel of Spain stood with Shakespeare at the top To welcome Jane. (163)
  35. The true connection between Austen and Shakespeare lay in their popularity, accessibility, and impact on readers’ affections. (163)
  36. “The truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone—reading between the line—has become the secret friend of their author,” Katherine Mansfield (165)
  37. The “bonnet” picture by Cassandra, now acknowledged as the only unequivocally authentic picture of Jane Austen…it remains in the possession of the Austen descendants to this day. (169)
  38. A strange satiric novel of 1938, The Impregnable Women, by Eric Linklater, not only predicted the coming European war and London being “annihilated” by airborne bombs, but depicted the prime minister of this near-future England retreating after an international conference for a period of solitude in the company of Jane Austen: “When he woke up he refused to see anyone till six o’clock, because he was reading P&P” Something oddly similar happened in real life in 1943 when Winston Churchill, then minister of defense, arrived in Tunisia in early December on his way to the conference at which he, FDR, and Stalin were going to plan their final strategy against Hitler and set dates for Operation Overlord. The minister was already voiceless and feverish and soon developed pneumonia. By the end of the month, he was confined to bed in great discomfort, as he recalled in his memoir: Fever flickered in and out. I lived on my theme of the war, and it was like being transported out of oneself. The doctors tried to keep the work away from my bedside, but I defied them. They kept on saying, “Don’t work, don’t worry”; to such an extent that I decided to read a novel. I had long ago read Jane Austen’s S&S, and now I thought I would have P&P. Sarah read it to me beautifully from the foot of the bed. I had always thought that it would be better than its rival. What calm lives they had, those people! No worries about the French Revolution, or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic wars. Only manners, controlling natural passion so far as they could, together with cultured explanations of any mischances. (175-6)
  39. The Morgan Library inNew York[contains] the most valuable Austen archive in the world (180)
  40. [In reference toAmericabecoming Jane Austen obsessed] The country [England] wasn’t used to feeling the sharp end of cultural colonization, being the looted rather than the lootee. (182)
  41. “The silliest of all criticisms of Jane Austen is the one which blames her for not writing about the battle ofWaterlooand the French Revolution. She wrote about what she understood and no artist can do more” (185)
  42. “There are those who do not like her; as there are those who do not like sunshine or unshelfishness. But the very nervous defiance with which they shout their dissatisfaction shows that they are a despised minority. All discriminating critics admire her books, most educated readers enjoy them; her fame, of all English novelists, is the most secure.” Lord David Cecil (186)
  43. Claudia Johnson has written amusingly of how badly Austen scholars do at JASNA quizzes (“We rarely recollect the colour of this character’s dress or that servant’s name”) (194)
  44. Nowadays, a glance along the “A” shelf of any good bookshop, will reveal a dizzying array of books on Jane Austen: study guides, biographies, sourcebooks, companions, books on Jane Austen and the theater, Jane Austen and food, and religion, and money, and the romantic poets…(195)
  45. There is a whole book about the famous first sentence of P&P—which of course reaches no conclusion about its meaning. (195)
  46. A genuinely popular author as well as a great one, she has come to exist,  more obviously than any other English writer, in several mutually exclusive spheres at once. (197)
  47. Austen didn’t seems like an obvious candidate for mass popularity in the late nineteenth century or the late twentieth, before the public was whipped into a frenzy by Austen-Leigh’s Memoir in the fist instance and, in the second, a man in a wet shirt. (197)
  48. They (we!) love Austen—the idea as much as the books—because she comes from our own ranks and rocks no boats. With Austen, we know that we are never going to be taken to extremes. (199)
  49. Jane Austen is the acknowledged mother of the [romance] genre (200)
  50. In a permissive age, the restraint and decorousness of her love scenes seems in themselves erotic, and the idea of the heroines attracting so much male attention by making so few sexual concessions becomes, for the modern woman, an unattainable fantasy of female empowerment. (201)
  51. During the screening of the series, the actor playing Darcy, Colin Firth, became the nation’s number one heartthrob, a position he—or rather, he-as-the-character—retains virtually unchallenged to this day. (207)
  52. [the wet shirt scene] …now considered one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history (207)
  53. And with numerous WWW sited devoted to her glory, she even holds her own with Internet pinup Brad Pitt. Not bad for a British broad who’s been dead for 178 years. (209)
  54. Northanger Abbey is the least filmed of all the titles
  55. “I think Jane Austen didn’t leave a big enough body of work…You read them again and again. But after reading them fifteen times, you just begin to want more. Anything that will evoke the work of Jane Austen becomes very appealing,” Deb Werksman (217)
  56. She also knew that pinning her works to a particular time would date them; she had to “unpin” them….(224)
  57. The irony is that she has comes to represent her period. “Jane Austen’s Regency World” could as well have an equals sign instead of an apostrophe. She stopped the clock and now is her time. (224)

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