Jane's Fame: How a book becomes incomprehensable

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World - Claire Harman

I can sum this book up in a neat little phrase: as a analytical book, it's a great biography and as a biography, it's a great analytical book.


On to the next book!


Just kidding.

I'd seen the various ratings of the book and was suitably wary of it. Yet, when I saw it offered trough my library's online check out site, I grabbed it.




Because the question indicated by the title is one I've personally wondered and polled people about. Why are these books, set so far from our modern times as to be near incomprehensible to many, so enduring? Why are they so beloved? Why is the market overflowing with books that do everything from continue the stories, what-if the stories to death, or introduce zombies and ninja female protectors in petticoats? Why is every single woman I know in love with Darcy?


This book...doesn't really answer any of these questions. I don't know if that's because they are unanswerable because it really never even tried.


Most of the book is given over to a biographical and chronological telling of Jane Austen's life, work, and peoples' response to it. It's not a terribly compelling biographical telling and the responses are scattered so haphazardly, I can recall only the ones that spoke ill of her because they were often pithy and I didn't like them.


Indeed, the narrative seems to have wandered through a wilderness, gotten lost, eaten some hallucinogenic mushrooms, and promptly forgotten what it was ever doing in the first place. To further add to the confusion, there is a section that has to be at least a paragraph of untranslated French. I at least got to hear someone speak it, but I have no understanding of why it was of importance nor the reason for it's inclusion at all.


So why did I give it almost three stars?


Because for all the narrative issues and even the book's lack of any discernible thesis, it was extremely informative. No doubt I could have found the information out there; I have not yet even, to date, read an Austen biography. However, I have come away from this book with a great deal more knowledge then I had coming in and have retained a great deal more then I would have believed even 3/4 of the way through it. One fact I remember particularly, is that around WW I and II, Austen's work saw an interest that was eclipsed only by the enthusiasm surrounding the movies and TV show of the 1990s.


But why? Why then? What drew these people at that particular time to simple and yet deep stories?


The world may never know.