The Jane Austen Book Club

Book of the Day: Reading Journal Entry: The Jane Austen Book Club

There is a characteristically insightful review of "The Jane Austen Book Club" over at "Book of the Day".

Reading Mapletree7′s review reminds me that I found the book itself disappointing but the perspective of the Jane Austen characters in the book fascinating. I’ve read Jane Austen’s novels so many times now that I see all the characters in a certain way. Reading the Karen Jay Fowler’s characters’ views of them was quite shocking, in a nice kind of way, becuase they were perceived very differently from the way I see them.

I think this is a fun way to write literary criticism. I am such an admirer of Jane Austen that I have ploughed through several "professional literary criticisms" of her books, mainly because she did not write enough of them to satisfy me and I wanted more. But these tomes were written in the dead hand with which "professionals" ignore the reader who loves the subject and wants more depth in favour of the coded obscurity of impressing fellow-specialists (scientific research paper, anyone?).

Other novels are whacky and borrow well-known characters from novels for their plots. (Can’t think of any examples just now apart from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and that movie about H G Wells in Los Angeles or somewhere, niether of which I count.) I’m not too keen on this approach either.

The Jane Austen Book Club approach is a potentially fruitful one. As Mapeletree7 says in her excellent review, the book is about a group of people who meet every so often to discuss a Jane Austen novel. So you get a double offering of a novel plus an analysis of the Austen oeuvre as seen by the characters in the book. If you haven’t read Austen, it doesn’t matter too much.

Thanks, Mapletree7 for making me remember this. I didn’t think the Jane Austen Book Club was a particularly memorable book, but I did like the Austen novel bits. I wonder if there are other books that use this approach?

mapletree7 said…

That is an excellent question (and you’re welcome, and thank you).

I haven’t read The Dante Club, but it sounds like it might offer a similar experience in re Dante’s Inferno?

8:26 PM

Jenny D said…

JABC also not so much my cup of tea, I think; I wanted to like it, but completely couldn’t keep track of the different characters. (This is often a problem with schematically constructed books.)

Maxine, I like your observation about reading critical books on Austen & I hope you will get a gleam in your eye when I tell you that the sort of next-after-next academic book I am going to write will be "Austen for Beginners"! Which is really a disingenuous title, it will I hope be a very good book that scholars will learn from too, but written in a clear and accessible style and thinking about the kind of stuff I do when I teach it. Looking for writerly techniques, that sort of thing.

I also haven’t read "The Dante Club," had it sitting on my shelf but never got to it; I believe it’s supposed to be quite good, though. Not exactly the same kind of thing, though, I think. David Grossman’s "See Under: Love" interestingly responds to the stories of Bruno Schulz, if we’re opening this up in a "novels in which the characters and/or the narrator explicitly discuss previous [real] works of literature" way. I feel there are lots of other examples of this but that none are coming to mind–must mull this one over….

1:08 AM

Maxine said…

Thanks, both of you for your comments. Looking forward very much to your Austen book, Jenny — keep me posted as to when it is published. Definitely one that I will give top priority in my 150-item Amazon basket!

I need to read Dante’s Inferno and Bruno Schlulz now, I can see.

6:17 AM

Giles G-B said…

This post, and another recently about reading Middlemarch, makes me think about a volume of literary criticism that treads a different path to the kind you mention in this post.

It’s called The Intimate Critique and is a collection of ‘autobiographical literary criticism’ and I found it compelling reading.

The authors offer their literary critique from the perspective of their own lives, and how they personally relate to the story and characters.

I don’t recall if there are essays on any Austen books, but I do remember particularly enjoying the essays on Jane Eyre and Middlemarch.

2:57 PM

Maxine said…

Thanks, Giles G-B, I’ve just had a look at the book on Amazon (thx for link); very interesting. I’ve added it to my shopping basket. I love Jane Eyre and Middlemarch, so it will be worth it for those essays if nothing else.

8:47 PM