Saturday, August 07, 2010

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harmon is an interesting, easy to read survey of Austen's popularity over the past two hundred years. Now that we are facing the bicentennial of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of Austen's novels to be published, it is a timely look at the impact she has had on society, literature, entertainment, and language.

I have read my share of Austen biographies and so I found myself skimming the early chapters, which chronicle Austen's life and the responses of her own family and friends to her writing and modest fame. However, once I reached chapter 3, “Mouldering in the Grave," I was enthralled. Particularly interesting in that chapter was the description of the first James Fenimore Cooper novel, Precaution, which was a particularly awful rewrite of Persuasion. It was so bad that Cooper later claimed that he had never intended it for publication because it had "many defects in plot, style and arrangement..."

In chapter 5, "Divine Jane," I also found utterly fascinating the story about the French anarachist who translated Northanger Abbey into French and called his work Catherine Morland and it was "published in serial form in the Revue blanche in 1898, the first French translation to replicate rather than simply exploit Austen's text, reproducing as nearly as possible the elegant cadences and comical endstops of her prose."

Later in the same chapter, I discovered that P&P, Emma, and S&S were at the top of the "Fever Chart," a list of books recommended for use in military hospitals in the early 20th century. To quote Harmon again, " is odd to think of how many damaged and dying men in field hospitals and convealescent homes might have swum in and out of consciousness to the sound or the memory of the words of 'Divine Jane.'"

As you can tell, the book is absolutely jam packed with interesting stories about unlikely people who found solace or inspiration from Austen's works, and it does a great job of showing how the explosion of communications technology over the past thirty years has helped create the Austenmania that still shows no signs of abating.

I enjoyed this book immensely--found it insightful, interesting, and credible. Definitely a must for any Austen shelf.


  1. Sounds very interesting! Thanks for the review, Jane!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this. I have read several reviews and this one is the first to make me consider buying the book sooner rather than later. The biggest complaint I have read about the book is that Harmon comes off as rather patronizing towards Janeites - did you feel any hint of this?

  3. Alexa - I didn't find Harmon patronizing to Janeites, only to those who persist in seeing Austen as a pious, prim spinster who knew nothing of the world but wrote safe romantic fiction. I really loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves Austen.

  4. Oh this sounds very good! I'll have to add it to my little library of Jane books too. Thanks for the review!

  5. It sounds so interesting! I must add this title to my wish list. I'm really interested in the phenomenon of Austenmania and this may be of great help . Thanks for your review, Jane.

  6. definitely sounds like my kind of book, Jane!