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Publisher's Summary

A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing as well how subversive and daring - how truly radical - a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly - dazzling Jane Austen authority - looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen's work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects - slavery, poverty, feminism, the church, evolution among them - considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman "of information", fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel - until then seen as mindless "trash" - could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.

©2017 Helena Kelly (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Helena Kelly makes the case for Austen as an author steeped in the fear of war and revolution who wrote about the burning political issues of the time.... Meticulously researched.... Through a combination of beautifully precise close readings alongside Austen's biographical, literary and historical context, Kelly shows us that the novels were about nothing more or less than the burning political questions of the day... A deeply welcome book.... A sublime piece of literary detective work that shows us once and for all how to be precisely the sort of reader that Austen deserves." (Caroline Criado-Perez, The Guardian)
"Kelly amply shows her deep research into some of the lesser-known elements of Austen's life and work.... She exposes a depth beyond what at first may seem to be silly characters. A fine-grained study that shows us how to read between the lines to discover the remarkable woman who helped transform the novel from trash to an absolute art form." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"A thoroughly engaging read." (Devoney Looser, The Times Literary Supplement)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting, and yet . . .

This is not a new and improved biography, this is an argument that assumes you have read other "conventional" biographies. I hadn't. The author cares very, very much that you are persuaded by her, but is very, very sure that you will not be. She has a few good points, and some others. (E.g. while on the one hand admitting that Jane did not use a lot of symbolism, the author spends quite of bit of time unpacking alleged symbolism.) Her writing is not graceful. As someone who has written a lot of graceless prose in my life I know graceless writing when I hear it. But the worst of it is not necessarily the author's fault: much of the narration was just painful. The main text of the book is read in the reader's own voice which is serviceable. Had it been used throughout it would not have been painful. However, pretty much all of the many and extensive quoted passages from Austen books, letters, etc. are read in what seems to me--and admittedly I'm no expert-- an unfortunate faux generic British accent. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, most of the book held my interest. Which is not an insignificant achievement. My library is littered with books that are infinitely "better" but that I haven't come close to finishing. This, I nearly finished.

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  • Amy
  • down south
  • 04-16-18

An interesting read with bad narration

Would you be willing to try another one of Emma Bering’s performances?

This is an interesting book that is almost ruined by the distractingly horrible narration. Why the reader feels compelled to adopt a bad and clearly fake British accent to read some passages, I have no idea. This is a book that should be read, not performed.