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Book Reviews

By Jill Pitkeathley William Morrow, 2008, ISBN: 0-0614-4639-4

Baroness Jill Pitkeathley was in the midst of a six-month stay in a cancer ward when she said to herself, “If not now, when?” During her treatment, Austen’s novels were familiar friends, so upon recovery, she set about to give new insights into Jane Austen’s character and offer her own answers to questions each Austen enthusiast eventually asks: “Was she ever in love? If so, with whom? Why did she never marry? Why did she accept a marriage proposal, only to reject it immediately afterward? Who was Eliza’s father? Why was Jane silent, writing nothing, for ten years?” As a trained counselor, Pitkeathley was equally intrigued by Jane Austen’s personality and relationships. Pitkeathley wished to answer: “Was Jane a difficult character? How did she behave within her family? Why did Cassandra destroy some of Jane’s letters?”

By Nancy Moser, Bethany House, 2007, ISBN: 0-7642-0356-8

As JASNA National member Nancy Moser researched Just Jane, she found . . . a friend. She met a fellow fiction author who was “witty, wise, discerning, creative, and loyal” as well as “stubborn, judgmental, insecure, and needy.” A Jane Austen who is “a lot like us.”

Just Jane is fictional biography. Moser worked hard to present Jane accurately, though warning readers she used creative guesswork to flesh out, explain, and add immediacy to the action. Moser, daringly, writes in the first person. In its defense, the first-person present-tense approach confronted me with Jane’s emotions during critical events in her life—being dispossessed of all that was “home” in Steventon; weathering painful courtships, living with guilt and disregard as an unmarried dependent, enduring years of writer’s block and a manuscript languishing in a publisher’s storeroom.

By Mona Scheuermann, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, ISBN: 0-2306-1877-4

Mona Scheuermann, Professor of English at Oakton Community College, has held visiting professorships at the University of Hamburg, the Free University of Berlin and the University of Berne, and she is the author of three other books on Austen’s era: Social Protest in the Eighteenth-Century English Novel; Her Bread to Earn: Women, Money, and Society from Defoe to Austen; and In Praise of Poverty.

Edited by Susannah Carson, Random House, 2009, ISBN: 0-8129-8001-8

My only regret is that I did not receive my copy of this book in time to recommend it for your holiday gift list. Surely this is a book to provide hours of entertainment to any reader of Jane Austen, serious or frivolous, or, like me, a fan and collector of all things Austen. Fortunately, this book has received much press and blog coverage since it was first released in November, and it is not too late to put it on your gift list for upcoming occasions —or to gift yourself! I would certainly return to reread my favorite commentators over a cup of tea or possibly some steaming cappuccino. (Austen fans cross cultures.) I returned with delight to Michael Amis’s article on Pride and Prejudice which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1999. He was the first one I recall pointing out “Austen’s celebration of ‘the amorous effects of brass’: that is, of money, and old money, too.” Americans know how sexy that can be—think of Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby chasing his Daisy and our fascination with the lives of the Kennedy clan. Amis’s essay examines how Austen “makes Mrs. Bennets of us all.”