Monday, April 12, 2010

BookSneeze Review: Jane Austen by Peter Leithart

In this slim biography (only 175 pages), Peter Leithart endeavours to counter misconceptions of the "Divine Jane" and to reveal Austen as she was. He shows how her life was idealized in the 19th century, and compares letters quoted in older biographies with the originals. Leithart argues that Austen's satiric, sometimes cutting, sense of humour has been often downplayed or ignored. The Victorian Austen was "an Austen who could never even deign to notice bad breath, much less complain about it to her sister." (page 146)

He also comments on the current craze for all things Austen, labelling it "Janeia". He says that "Jane Austen is now what she never was in life, what what she would have been horrified to become--a literary celebrity." (back cover) Instead, he believes that she was a humble person: "She recognized her own smallness, and she achieved artistic greatness because she recognized her limitations and joyfully worked within them...." (page 153)

I've not read many biographies of Austen, so am not sure if Leithart is really saying anything new. But I found the book a concise, balanced introduction to her life, and a useful companion to Leithart's excellent commentary on Austen's novels, Miniatures and Morals.

Note: Originally, the book was written as part of the Cumberland Press Leaders in Action series, however, publication was delayed when the press went out of business last year. Thankfully, Thomas Nelson decided to print it as part of their Christian Encounters series. I was thrilled to receive a review copy from Booksneeze .

1 comment:

Radagast said...

C. S. Lewis was a big fan of Austen too. Someone once expressed surprise that, as a serious scholar of literature, he was “a Janeite.”

Lewis replied: “That is rather like saying that somebody who likes bread-and-butter is a bread-and-butterite.”