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Award-winning biographer Claire Harman traces the growth of Jane Austen’s fame, the changing status of her work and what it has stood for - or has been made to stand for in English culture - in a wide-ranging study aimed at the general reader. This is a story of personal struggle, family intrigue, accident, advocacy and sometimes surprising neglect as well as a history of changing public tastes and critical practices. Starting with Austen’s own experience as a beginning author (and addressing her difficulties getting published and her determination to succeed), Harman unfolds the history of how her estate was handled by her brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and goes on to explore the eruption of public interest in Austen in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the making of her into a classic English author in the twentieth century, the critical wars that erupted as a result and, lastly, her powerful influence on contemporary phenomena such as chick-lit, romantic comedy, the heritage industry and film. Part biography and part cultural history, this book does not just tell a fascinating story - it is essential reading for anyone interested in Austen’s life, works and remarkably potent fame.
Diverting anecdotes pepper award-winning British biographer Harman's (Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson) sharp and scholarly analysis of Jane Austen's life and the posthumous exploitation of her as a "global brand" having "everything to do with recognition and little to do with reading." Tracing the rise and fall and rise of Austen's reputation against a larger historical backdrop, Harman chronicles the WWI-era worshipping "Janeites"; assessments of Austen that minimized her as an "accidental artist"; and modern post-feminist criticism that, in exploring her politics, sexual and otherwise, has placed Austen "in several mutually exclusive spheres at once." Harman notes that film versions have taken liberties with and overshadowed Austen's books, concluding that "ne of the horrible ironies of Austen's currency in contemporary popular culture is that she is referenced so freely in discussions of 'empowerment,' 'girl power,' and all the other travesties of womanly self-fashioning that stand in for feminism" today. Yet "it is impossible to imagine a time when she or her works could have delighted us long enough." Harman herself delights with this comprehensive catalogue of Austen-mania. Illus.