Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jane Austen for Dummies

Jane Austen for Dummies by Dr. Joan Klingel Ray is, of course, a part of the ever-growing line of " --- for Dummies" books.  Dr. Ray is a former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America and teaches courses on Austen at university.  This book is full of information about everything Austen - her life, her writing, and her family.  It also provides a great deal of information about life in general during the Regency period, which (as you likely know) is the time during which Jane Austen lived.  Dr. Ray also includes something of a Jane Austen tour guide in one chapter, listing Austen-related places to visit in England (as well as directions on how to get to each place and a URL to the location's website, if one exists).  There are also Top Ten lists and some ideas for discussion for a Jane Austen reading group.  The set-up of the contents is designed so that a straight read-through is not necessary.  You can skip around if you want, to read just the information you're looking for, and anything within each section that might require more information for a better understanding is marked by giving (in parentheses) the chapter where that information can be located.

Don't let the title throw you -  if you are making the choice to read Jane Austen or to read more about her life, then obviously you have excellent taste and are no dummy!

This book is really a wealth of information.  Some of it I already knew, but there was quite a lot that was news to me, and I look forward to my next re-reads of Austen's novels with this information gained.  One of my favourite sections, for example, discusses modes of transportation - different types of carriage and what they say about the people who own them.  I hadn't thought of it this way before, but just as how we have preconceived notions sometimes about what someone's car says about them, people in Georgian England had the same ideas about coaches, gigs, and phaetons, etc.

Seriously, this book is a treasure and a truly wonderful resource - it doesn't matter if you are a long-time Janeite or if you are newly interested in the novels after having seen film adaptations, or if you just want to find out more because you were assigned one of Austen's novels for a class.  I promise you will get something out of this book.  As an aside, I do much of my reading outside of my home - in between classes, in waiting rooms while running errands, etc - and I have never gotten more comments from people about a book I was reading than when I was reading Jane Austen for Dummies.  People in the halls on campus, people in my classes, professors, my dermatologist...there is just something about Jane, I guess, that really does speak to everyone.

So, whether you are planning another re-read of your favourite Austen novel, or you are making your first trip to Austenland, I highly recommend this book.  There are a few editorial errors, but they're minor, and the interesting things you will learn more than make up for it.  I know that the next time I pick up Austen, my time with the characters will be so much more enriched for having read this book.




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1 comment:

  1. That's so awesome! I'm definitely going to have to find myself a copy. I love Jane Austen, and you're definitely right, rereading her books with that information probably makes them all the more wonderful. :)