Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review: An A-Z of Jane Austen

Title: An A-Z of Jane Austen
Author: Michael Greaney

Publisher: 20th October 2022 by Bloomsbury Academic

Pages: 168 pages

Genre: nonfiction, Jane Austen

My Rating: 4 cups


Jane Austen's richly textured worlds have enchanted readers for centuries and this neatly organised, playful book provides Austen enthusiasts and students alike with a unique insight into the much-loved writer's way with words. 

Using a lively A-Z structure, Greaney provides fresh angles on familiar Austen themes (D is for dance; M is for matchmaking), casts light on under-examined corners of her imagination (R is for risk; S is for servant), and shows how current social and cultural concerns are re-shaping our understanding of her work (Q is for queer; W is for West Indies). Through this approach, we learn how attention to the tiniest linguistic detail in Austen's work can yield rewarding new perspectives on the achievements of one of our most celebrated authors.

Sharply focused on textual detail but broad in scope it broaches questions that, like Austen's work, will intrigue, delight and inspire: Why are children so marginal in her storylines? Who is the best exponent of matchmaking in her fiction? Why are many of her female characters – but none of her heroines – called Jane? Providing a new close-up encounter with one of our most celebrated writers, this book invites a renewed appreciation of the infinite subtlety and endless re-readability of a body of writing in which every word counts.

My Thoughts

I love all things Austen -  books, retellings, movies, spinoffs etc. Therefore this book was obviously something I would be drawn to - especially given the delightful cover and I was not disappointed being the firm Austenite that I am. 

‘Be sure to have something odd happen to you’, Austen once wrote to Cassandra, ‘see somebody that you do not expect, meet with some surprise or other.’

This is an A-Z dictionary or mini encyclopedia of matters to do with Jane Austen. The author has taken each letter of the alphabet and selected a word that is somehow connected to Jane Austen’s world. There might be places such as Bath, themes such as Kindness or activities such as Dance. These twenty six key words are the prompt for an essay on each taken from not only Jane's books but also her letters, unfinished novels and other observations. 

‘Nowhere in Austen are relations of status, hierarchy and precedence more formally paraded and stringently enforced than on the dancefloor.’

The book can be read from cover to cover, used to cross reference or simply to browse through certain themes. This fresh structure and thematic approach lends itself to new and thought provoking perspectives. It would be a wonderful addition to any lover of Jane Austen’s collection or, given its academic approach, those seeking to study deeper into her books, reflections and writing. 

‘Letter-reading is a significant social activity in Austen, one that frequently reveals as much about those reading as it does about the text under consideration.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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