Jane’s Fame tells the fascinating story of Jane Austen’s renown, from the years of rejection the author faced during her lifetime to the global recognition and adoration she now enjoys. Almost two hundred years after her death, Austen remains a hot topic, constantly open to revival and reinterpretation and known to millions of people through film and television adaptations as much as through her books. In Jane’s Fame,Claire Harman gives us the complete biography—of both the author and her lasting cultural influence—making this essential reading for anyone interested in Austen’s life, works, and remarkably potent fame. (synopsis from Goodreads)
Not sure I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but I am a huge fan of Jane Austen. I think that her work is brilliant and will always be able to find a place in the minds and hearts of her readers. This is the first biography I have read on Jane Austen and while it wasn’t a bad book, it did not live up to my expectations. Granted, I came out knowing a little more about one of my favorite authors, but nothing more enlightening than that.
From the back cover, I was expecting more insight into the mind and life of Austen, but in reality, Harman just wrote down many of the things that people have already written on or that I have already heard. There didn’t seem to be any knew information and the sections in which she “delved” into the impact Jane Austen has on modern audiences, it really just came down to her saying, “We still really like her.” Well, I know that.
I feel that Harman may have done more with the book if she kept to a straight biography instead of trying to examine multiple aspects of her fame. By doing this she was only able to touch on why Jane matters to readers today which led to her only saying what we already know. While reading I found that I wanted more facts about that time period and her life after I realized that she only dipped her toe in the shallow end with everything else. Unfortunately this just made the whole book one big shallow end. Sure, I learned some interesting things about a woman I have grown to admire, but nothing spectacular or particularly enlightening.
I suggest reading William Deresiewicz’s, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, if you want a look at why it is Jane Austen affects readers still and what she has to teach us despite the fact that society has changed so much. As it turns out, people haven’t really changed at all. Deresiewicz’s book does what Harman wanted to do in her last couple of chapters. Possibly, Harman didn’t realize that it takes an entire book to really examine how Jane Austen is relevant today and the reasons for her continued success.