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A fine brush on ivory : an appreciation of…
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A fine brush on ivory : an appreciation of Jane Austen (original 2004; edition 2004)

by Richard Jenkyns

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1242174,593 (3.67)16
Jane Austen's work was a true triumph of the comic spirit--of deep comedy, rising from the heart of human life. In A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns takes us on an amiable tour of Austen's fictional world, opening a window on some of the great works of world literature. Focusing largely on Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, but with many diverting side trips to Austen's other novels, Jenkyns shines a loving light on the exquisite craftsmanship and profound moral imagination that informs her writing. Readers will find, for instance, a wonderful discussion of characterization in Austen. Jenkyns's insight into figures such as Mr. Bennett or Mrs. Norris is brilliant--particularly his portrait of the amusing, clever, always ironic Mr. Bennett, whose humor (Jenkyns shows) arises out of a deeply unhappy and disappointing marriage. The author pays due homage to Austen's unmatched skill with complex plotting--the beauty with which the primary plot and the various subplots are woven together--highlighting the infinite care she took to make each plot detail as natural and as plausible as possible. Perhaps most important, Jenkyns illuminates the heart of Austen's moral imagination: she is constantly aware, throughout her works, of the nearness of evil to the comfortable social surface. She knows that the socially acceptable sins may be truly cruel and vicious, knows that society can be red in tooth and claw, and yet she allows the pleasures of comedy and celebration to subordinate them. Insightful and highly entertaining, A Fine Brush on Ivory captures the spirit and originality of Jane Austen's work. It will be a cherished keepsake or gift for her many fans.… (more)
Member:PaulSavidge
Title:A fine brush on ivory : an appreciation of Jane Austen
Authors:Richard Jenkyns
Info:Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004.
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A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen by Richard Jenkyns (2004)

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I've been a fan of Jane Austen ever since I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time (back in school and in Bulgarian). And because she was part of the standard school program in English, I got to read some of the criticism about her as well. As the years passed I started enjoying criticism a lot more - it was no more the thing that you had to read so you know what the teacher expects you to think, it became a way to look into a book from a different angle - even if you disagree with it occasionally (and as long as the critic does not ignore half of the book in order to make a point, disagreeing is just fine).

Richard Jenkyns does not concentrate only on the more popular novels - he spends a full chapter on Mansfield Park in addition to mentioning it quite often almost everywhere else and he goes on to analyze all 4 finished novels that she sees published in her life (although he does mention Persuasion and Northanger Abbey occasionally, they are there more for illustration than for anything else - he even makes a case of them not being fully Austen novels in some ways - for she might have changed them - or at least being different in dynamics and structure because of variety of reasons; in the same way he brings up some of the shorter works... to illustrate a point but not to study them). And even Sense and Sensibility is mostly used as counterpart of the other three novels (and his opinion about this novel is where I slightly disagree with him although he makes some good points).

The study of Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park allows Jenkyns to show the diversity of Austen (and this is where all other works make appearance - as most of them are different). At the same time he managed to show her compared to some of the other masters of the written word - from Dickens to Wodehouse. And it is an extensive study - into the main premise of the books (so similar and so different), into the characters building and Austen choices of them, into the concept of place in her novels (or lack of in the case of Emma). Nothing in that book is revolutionary but at the same time there are no ideas coming out of nowhere; nor he tried to show himself as cleverer than the rest of the critics (and he did cite quite a lot of them and not always in situations where he could agree with them).

I enjoyed the book a lot -- I've read all of the Austen novels, as it turned out I've read most of the books he was comparing against as well so I was not just relying on his thoughts and the passages that were cited in the book. I might disagree about some of the points in the book but that is not a reason not to recommend the book. ( )
3 vote AnnieMod | Mar 7, 2011 |
This is a delightful book that takes you a step further into Austen's writing. ( )
  mplreference | Oct 22, 2007 |
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To Isabel Jones Great(X5)-niece of Jane Austen
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As you cross the border from Sussex the sign reads, 'Hamphire-Jane Austen's county'.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Jane Austen's work was a true triumph of the comic spirit--of deep comedy, rising from the heart of human life. In A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns takes us on an amiable tour of Austen's fictional world, opening a window on some of the great works of world literature. Focusing largely on Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, but with many diverting side trips to Austen's other novels, Jenkyns shines a loving light on the exquisite craftsmanship and profound moral imagination that informs her writing. Readers will find, for instance, a wonderful discussion of characterization in Austen. Jenkyns's insight into figures such as Mr. Bennett or Mrs. Norris is brilliant--particularly his portrait of the amusing, clever, always ironic Mr. Bennett, whose humor (Jenkyns shows) arises out of a deeply unhappy and disappointing marriage. The author pays due homage to Austen's unmatched skill with complex plotting--the beauty with which the primary plot and the various subplots are woven together--highlighting the infinite care she took to make each plot detail as natural and as plausible as possible. Perhaps most important, Jenkyns illuminates the heart of Austen's moral imagination: she is constantly aware, throughout her works, of the nearness of evil to the comfortable social surface. She knows that the socially acceptable sins may be truly cruel and vicious, knows that society can be red in tooth and claw, and yet she allows the pleasures of comedy and celebration to subordinate them. Insightful and highly entertaining, A Fine Brush on Ivory captures the spirit and originality of Jane Austen's work. It will be a cherished keepsake or gift for her many fans.

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