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Jane Austen (Christian Encounters Series) (original 2009; edition 2010)
by Peter Leithart
Jane Austen by Peter J. Leithart (2009)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Some years ago I did the pilgrimage to Jane Austens house in Chawton (now turned into a little lovely museum). I bought a leaflet biography that introduced me to her - but this is the first real biography of Jane Austen I’ve read - although rather short (150 pages) it does a good job bringing forth some of Austens character traits that were new to me.
Two things I will mention here:
One: Maybe it’s the serious portrait that remains of her that made me think of her character was more like the timid and serious Anne in [Persuasion] or Fanny in [Mansfield Park], but this biography show how “playful” she was, even late in her live like a giddy schoolgirl making a lot of fun with people - the pleasure she took in dances and playing with her nieces.
Two: Her formalized Anglican faith that served as a guide to the Christian morality in her novels. That she wrote prayers for the family evening devotion, the hope she could draw from her faith when family members died and she herself became very sick and died.
Peter Leithart did a great job of emphasising these sides of her character. Leithart does not use a lot of time discussing her novels as such (for this focus see his book [Miniatures and Morals], but he quotes extensively from her letters and I appreciated this.
I received this biography on Jane Austen before I read Pride & Prejudice, which I did not like. I kind of wish I had read this first because I had no idea that the book was somewhat a satire of the time Austen lived in. She was well known by family and friends to have a delightful sense of humor. She began writing early in life and was from a family who loved to read which probably led to her love of telling stories. Her work was not published until her 30’s but she always kept tweaking it.
After reading this book I feel I may read Pride & Prejudice again or even another of her works and maybe I will see it in a different light. I was also surprised at how many movies are a reworking of Austen’s work such as the movie Clueless was based on the novel Emma.
Really happy I read this and would like to read more from the Christian Encounters Series.
Though I’ve read many of Jane Austen’s novels, and several works of historical fiction based around her life, Jane Austen by Peter Leithart, part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series of short biographies is the first formal biography I’ve read of Austen’s life.
Jane Austen was a so-so read for me. It did touch upon Austen’s rather subdued, formalized Anglican faith, and the outward demonstrations of it in her good works, but the author’s main thrust was rather to present his portrait of Jane, which he feels is a correction from the idealized one generally presented. In that, he succeeds. However, in some way I found his work unsatisfying. It is certainly competently written, but it aroused no great interest or passion in me, and left me feeling rather neutral.
Leithart also very rapidly introduces Jane’s extensive family connections in the book’s first chapter, and it is difficult to keep up with all of the names and family ties. Because of my previous familiarity with Austen’s life through historical fiction, some of these ties were already established in my mind, which certainly helped, but even so, it was too much, too soon.
In conclusion, I can’t particularly recommend Jane Austen, but neither can I recommend readers avoid it. In the end I don’t have much of a stand to take on this brief (153 pages) biography, but if you are looking for a short introduction to one of the world’s most beloved novelists, you may want to consider this title as an option.
Reviewed at quiverfullfamily.com
A compact view of "Jenny Austen's" life through a Christian lense
There are several biographies in print on Jane Austen (1775-1817) revealing her life, family and her inspiration to become a writer. Two very famous books come to mind: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin (1998) and oddly the same title published in the same year by David Nokes. Both books were extensively researched and are quite lengthy. This new slim volume by Austen scholar Dr. Peter Leithart runs 153 pages and fills an entirely different niche. While the lengthier and exhaustive expositions might appeal to historical researchers, biography enthusiasts and her dedicated fans, the size alone would intimidate the average reader or student seeking the “sparks notes” version so-to-speak of her life. In addition, very few biographies reflect upon the influence of her Anglican faith as a guide to the Christian morality in her life and novels. In the introduction Dr. Leithart’s summarizes his motivation for writing the book and its emphasis:
“In the brief compass of this biography, I have tried to capture the varied sides of Austen’s character. Early biographers often turned her into a model of Victorian Christian domestic femininity, and emphasized her Christian faith in an evangelical idiom she never used. In reaction, many more recent biographers all but ignore her faith. Both of those extremes distort Austen’s life and personality. I have tried to depict accurately the depth and sincerity of her Christianity, as well as her Anglican discomfort with religious emotion, but without losing sight of the other sides of her complex character –her playfulness, her satiric gift for ridicule, her ‘waspishness,’ her rigid morality. I have attempted to capture Jane Austen in full.” (pp xvi)
The introduction is entitled Janeia, a term penned by Dr. Leihart to describe “the current obsession with everything Austen” by the media and her fervent fans. If you admit you are one of her disciples, then you are a Janeiac. One fellow reviewer described it as a disease. Leihart describes it as dementia while elaborating on Austen’s pop-culture phenomena and its inaccurate memory of depicting her life and characters. “Austen has become what she never was in life, what she would have been horrified to be: a literary celebrity.” With mild academic disdain we are taken on a brief tour through her rise in readership through the 19th to 21st centuries and her recent Hollywoodization through movies, books and spinoff’s. In my view, this was not the best way to begin a biography for readers who may not have read about Austen’s life before. That, and I am feigning my own “Austen fandom ridicule fatigue” from being poked at by zombie fans, the media and Austen nay-sayers for the past few years. I am an Austen fan and I do embrace a sense of the ridiculous, but enough already. Go pick on Bronte fans for a while, please.
Besides this eyebrow raising beginning, this is really an excellent compact biography on an important literary figure and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Leithart includes all the important moments of Austen’s life and also gives us great background on her family and others in her circle who influenced her education, her social and religious views and her writing. In seven succinct chapters we learn of Austen’s wholly English world, her gentry-class family background as a minister’s daughter, home-school education, early manuscripts, disruptions in her writing, final publication, death, and later widespread growth in popularity. There is also a helpful appendix of family, friends, and neighbors and a second appendix of characters in her novels that are mentioned in this biography.
Even though Jane Austen: Christian Encounters has its charms, I must point out a few foibles. Technically it is lacking in an index which I find imperative in biographies no matter how brief or long. Leithart draws from many reputable scholarly sources such as Claire Tomalin, David Cecil, Claudia Johnson, Deirdre Le Faye, Claire Harman and many family letters and recollections citing them in the notes in the back of the book by chapter. I prefer footnotes so you do not have to flip back and forth. Small quibble I know, but it adds to quicker reference and less disruptive reading. Repeatedly he refers to Jane Austen as “Jenny” but failed to cite the one reference that we know of where she is called this nick name by her father Rev. George Austen when he wrote to his sister on the event of her birth. His reasoning for the repeated use of “Jenny” was to emphasize the young child-like qualities she retained throughout her life. “Childlikeness might not strike us an apt description of a “serious” novelist like Austen, but this only highlights how pretentious we are about art and artists. Anyone who spends her life making up stories has got to have more than her fair share of whimsy, and nearly all Austen’s virtues, personal and artistic, as well as nearly all of her vices, are those of a woman who, at the center of her soul, remained “Jenny Austen” all her life.” This is debatable, but an interesting opinion.
Pastor, professor and Austen scholar Dr. Peter Leihart has a passion for Austen and her works that permeates throughout this biography. Readers could equate him to a modern-day C.S. Lewis or more accurately the 21st-century version of George Saintsbury who coined the term Janeite in 1894. Even though I had my concerns about how Leithart would present Christianity in Jane Austen’s life and novels, in the long-run it all fit together quite seamlessly. This was not Mr. Collins sermonizing or Edmund Bertram being priggish, but a natural extension of what formed Jane Austen’s character and fueled her brilliant imagination for the enjoyment of millions of readers. Kudos to publisher Thomas Nelson for resurrecting this biography after its first publisher Cumberland House Press folded in 2009 and sold its catalogue to Sourcebooks who then passed on publishing it. This was a considerable surprise given that Sourcebooks is the largest publisher of Jane Austen sequels in the world. Like oil and water, do Austen biographies and sequels not mix? I know it is business, but this is the oddest publishing putdown I have heard of in some time and all the more reason to obtain this lovely slim volume for your own edification and enjoyment. Oh, and Dr, Leihart thinks “Real men read Austen.”
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
“Neither Jane Austen nor her family could leave her characters alone.”
This is how my (now) favorite biography of Jane Austen begins. I usually skip introductions, but “Janela” is perfect-it could stand alone as an independent article. After developing that first idea, Leithart adds “we also cannot leave Jane’s characters alone”– and discusses recent fan fiction (as current as P&P and Zombies) and movie releases.
“We also cannot leave poor Jane alone,” is the final point of the introduction which explains Dr. Leithart’s desire to write another biography. His goal was to explore the various sides of Austen’s character, to give us a more complete and true Jane Austen–not a flawless Victorian domestic nor a sarcastic spinster. (Don’t jump all over me–I know that Jane lived during the Regency period, but evidently a nephew gave her a “Victorian Madonna” image.) Leithart instead compares “Jane Austen,” the author and public figure, to “Jenny Austen,” the affectionate aunt” and “imaginative, eternal child.”
Jane Austen is famous for such books as Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Now learn about the author's journey through a life spent making up stories that touched the lives of millions. Jane Austen is now what she never was in life, and what she would have been horrified to become--a literary celebrity. "Janeia" is the author's term for the mania for all things Austen. Dive into Jane Austen: A Literary Celebrity and discover: how it all began and Austen's love of poetry her early masterpieces and the inspiration behind the stories her road to getting published and the health decline that led to her death In this updated edition, you'll also find discussion questions that work well for book clubs and ELA lesson plans. This biography is perfect for: Jane Austen fans and collectors men and women who have enjoyed Austen-inspired films and TV series adaptations anyone interested in learning about the varied sides of Austen's character and the characters she created Jane Austen: A Literary Celebrity is a fascinating look at a woman who never meant to be famous.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)823.7Literature English & Old English literatures English fiction Early 19th century 1800-37
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Still an interesting and sympathetic read of Austen. I am no expert on her novels or life, but I did find it informative.