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Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

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There are many more comments I could make on this book which, in my opinion, was a mixed bag of fascinating insights and unhelpful suggestions that I could have done without. Austen scholars, by contrast, will find less that is new or surprising, along with some ideas that are overstated or simply odd.

Jane's younger family members grew up in the Victorian Age and tweaked Jane's image to fit the ideal of a pious, quiet, unassuming, Christian woman. Kelly is powerfully struck by the political content of Austen’s novels, as if she were the very first to stumble on it.My dilemma was whether to continue once it became obvious that the premises were thin and strained and the manner patronising. She painted a condensed story of Austen's life, while using each of Austen's main books to argue a different way Austen was unlike the modern viewer's conception of her. Her eldest brother James, has a slave owning grandfather, James Nibbs, an Oxford acquaintance of the Reverend George Austen” leads to the following footnote: “The biography Claire Tomlin includes this information in an appendix about attitudes to slavery, almost as if she thinks the issue doesn’t really have anything to do with Jane or her writing. Of course, in a point-by-point rundown of misconceptions surrounding Jane's books, relating to the political climate of the time, books Jane had read, etc. While Kelly is making her claims about the subtexts that have evaded previous critics, Austen admirers will keep noticing little mistakes about what is going on in the novels.

Helena Kelly’s publisher got her kicks in early by scheduling the British release of her book last autumn. Anyway, the way to read literary criticism like this isn't to ascribe wholly to whatever the author's interpretations are. There are far too many outrageous one-liners that argue wild points without any solid evidence or explanation.

After all, Pride and Prejudice was originally described as being ‘by the author of Sense and Sensibility’(1) not the authoress. The colonialist aspects of Mansfield Park, for example, have been extensively explored in the twenty-odd years since Said wrote his seminal essay.

Knightly doesn’t actually love Emma, he only wants control over Hartford, so that he can enforce more enclosures of the land. As somebody who personally is a fan of Austen from an academic perspective AND loves most of the movies, I resent the idea that just because a person enjoys the romantic elements of Austen that they are apparently too dumb to notice all the political nuances of her novels. Jane Austen, the Secret Radical made me rethink my relationship to Jane's work - and this considering I spent an entire semester in a Jane Austen seminar with Helena - which I think is the book's stated intention, so in this it was resoundingly successful for me. Mansfield Park has always seemed a more serious book to me than Jane’s other novels, but I had not made the connection between the names used in the book and the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. However, a lot of the conclusions the book is presenting as groundbreaking revelations are simply too far-fetched to be in any way believable.There was some interesting background info on the social issues of the time, but I did not agree with all the conclusions drawn. They've been seared (cliche) onto our retinas (technical language to impress) in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, (when did she last go to a cinema?

They saw her books as instructional, beneficial even, for women readers of the age, for those who “needed” to learn to behave. There has been, and will be, a spate of commemorative events, festivals and, of course, books like this.Whilst I am glad I read the book and feel I learned something, especially from the careful dating work, I couldn't help but feel mildly miffed at the repeated assertion that everyone except Kelly has been reading Austen wrongly and that we all need to revise our opinion of her completely. She will show us that, far from giving us “demure dramas in drawing rooms”, Austen used her novels to “examine the great issues of her day”. I laugh out loud when I read Austen because I hear the words of an angry women lashing back at the stuffy society in which she existed.

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