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Best new book on Jane Austen: 'Jane Austen The Secret Radical' by Helena Kelly

I Love Jane Austen

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Edited: Dec 7, 2016, 1:31pm Top

As someone who was able to take early retirement, I have plenty of spare time to pursue my keen interest in Jane Austen's life, works and times. I spend a fair amount of time reading Jane Austen's novels, letters and shorter pieces and any interesting looking books about Jane Austen's life and times.

It's rare - perhaps even unprecedented - for me to find an Austen book which makes me so surprised and delighted that I have to race through the book and then immediately start reading it all over again.

But that has now happened with Miss Kelly's masterpiece as published in 2016 by Icon Books Ltd (ISBN 978-1-78578-116-2) and entitled 'Jane Austen The Secret Radical'.

The surprises come with the first chapter starting with Jane's biography, then in each of the next six chapters covering by turn the six major completed novels and even in the final chapter, called 'The End'. I thought in starting this final chapter that there was nothing that could be said that was new and important about Jane's Austen's death. How wrong I was. I love the suggestion that Jane wrote her own brief obituary and arranged with her sister Cassandra for it to be published soon after her death.

I thoroughly recommend this book. It is fascinating, brilliant, groundbreaking and is in sum the most thought-provoking book on Jane Austen I have ever read. It will change how I read and understand her novels.

Just one feature which I at first questioned but now conclude works well ... is that each chapter starts with a short imaginative reconstruction of what Jane is thinking and feeling at that particular period of her life. These reconstructions are well written and are mainly based on Jane's letters and the known facts of her life. They feel a little at odds with the incisive scholarship and close reading of the novels that follows them but we should treat them as just setting the scene and they work well at that.

Nov 26, 2016, 4:45pm Top

Looks interesting--thank you for posting about it.

Touchstone Jane Austen, The Secret Radical

Nov 29, 2016, 4:53pm Top

My thanks, too, Chawton. Amazon says it comes out in the U.S. in May next year. I've wishlisted it.

Jul 28, 2017, 4:01pm Top

I borrowed a library copy of the book. It's a thought provoking read as the first poster describes; I did learn some new things too.

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