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Reading Jane Austen – Jenny Davidson

Reading Jane Austen – Jenny Davidson

I am not sure how I first became aware of this book, but when I was looking for a non-fiction book to read, I had this as a sample on my Kindle. It’s fabulous.

Here’s the blurb …

Whether you’re new to Austen’s work or know it backwards and forwards already, this book provides a clear, full and highly engaging account of how Austen’s fiction works and why it matters. Exploring new pathways into the study of Jane Austen’s writing, novelist and academic Jenny Davidson looks at Austen’s work through a writer’s lens, addressing formal questions about narration, novel writing, and fictional composition as well as themes including social and women’s history, morals and manners. Introducing new readers to the breadth and depth of Jane Austen’s writing, and offering new insights to those more familiar with Austen’s work, Jenny Davidson celebrates the art and skill of one of the most popular and influential writers in the history of English literature.

There are seven chapters and a very comprehensive Notes and Further Reading section. The Chapter titles are:

  • Letters
  • Conversation
  • Revision
  • Manners
  • Morals
  • Voice
  • Female Economies

In each chapter, Davidson refers to specific parts of all of the texts (and the letters). She has clearly read all of the novels extremely closely and her insights are interesting and thought-provoking. I need to go back and read the novels again.

For example, in the chapter on Morals, this passage is taken from Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet found, with amazement and horror, that her husband would not advance a guinea to buy clothes for his daughter. He protested that she should receive from him no mark of affection whatever, on the occasion. Mrs. Bennet could hardly comprehend it. That his anger could be carried to such a point of inconceivable resentment, as to refuse his daughter a privilege, without which her marriage would scarcely seem valid, exceeded all that she could believe possible. She was more alive to the disgrace, which the want of new clothes must reflect on her daughter’s nuptials, than to any sense of shame at her eloping and living with Wickham, a fortnight before they took place.

And then, Davidson writes this

Mrs. Bennet’s shallowness is mocked in this passage, but the novel reserves a more profound indictment for strict exertions of conventional moral judgment that aren’t tempered by the humility and humanity – the empathy, we might call it – that should properly accompany verdicts on other people’s wrongdoing. Austen herself, in her letters as in her fiction, would probably have phrased this point in more explicitly Christian terms, invoking forgiveness rather than sympathy or empathy and resolutely condemning the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness of Christians unwilling to comprehend and forgive transgression.

If you’re interested in Austen, or reading critically or literature in the Georgian era, then this book is for you.

A review

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