|About the Book|
I dont understand why this book isnt reprinted, at least in ebook form, given how huge the Jane Austen industry has grown.Whatever. I was delighted to discover this book wherein G. B. Stern, whose delightful books Ive only discovered in the last decade (they are very hard to find in Southern California) and Sheila Kaye-Smith, who I have not come across before, talk about their first discovery of Jane Austen, and then go on to discuss the books.It was more than a hundred years ago that one of the authors discovered Austen (1905), which marks a rough halfway point between Austens original publication and now. I think its well to keep that in mind as one reads these delightful airings of opinion- I suspect that some of the conclusions they draw stem from the cultural milieu of a century ago.And of course some is opinion, shared with many readers now. The book makes no attempt to masquerade as critical analysis. I think its meant to be enjoyed a chapter at a time over tea, or before bed (which is how I read it), but I do think that to get the most out of it, its probably best to have read Austen numerous times. Being able to instantly identify quotes, names, and situations from the novels lends itself to the pleasure.The biggest take-away I got from this book was that delightful sense of a book discussion. Sometimes I spoke aloud, No, no, youre totally wrong, how could you think that, and other times, Yes, yes! -- that gratifying feeling that comes of someone agreeing with you.And there were things to learn, too, such as Sheila Kaye-Smiths chapter about how Austens people were dressed. On the surface, one might think such a subject would take up about a paragraph, as Austen provides only the briefest clues to what anyone is wearing. We learn in Mansfield Park that Edmund liked Fannys white gown with the glossy spots, and we learn more about muslins (and how they wash, or wear) in Northanger, through the absurdities of Mrs. Allen, but otherwise? However, Kaye-Smith teases out some of the hidden-to-us-modern meanings in Mrs. Eltons vulgarities, such as her preoccupation with trimmings (while denying that she ever thinks of dress).They talk about characters they like, ones they dont, ones they dont believe Austen did justice to, and then they turn around and extrapolate entire lives for characters who are barely mentioned.I was sorry to end the book- I would have liked so much to sit down and listen to these women talk forever about Austen, as we all drank tea.