3 Books for the Modern Jane Austen Reader

While there are a lot of people who find the classics out of date and hard to understand, there are still many of us who love to dig into Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters and Charles Dickens and the stories and worlds that they have created. While it may feel like these books are overwhelming and a lot of work, sometimes knowing the context behind it all can make a world of difference. These books are the perfect way to understand what life was like in the Regency and Georgian periods, and just how Jane Austen came to be so very important all of these years later!

Book recommendations for Jane Austen fans

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist- the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-century England, Daniel Pool

I read What Jane Austen Ate when I was probably only 12 years old- I borrowed it from my grandpa, and was hooked immediately! This is a detailed but easy to digest encyclopedia of life in the early and mid-nineteenth century in England. If you want to figure out why embroidery was so important to the Bennett sisters, or why so many of Dickens’ characters ended up in the poor house, this is the book for you. Even the most dedicated Austenite will have a question or two. And even if you just have general interest, it is well-written and moves along quickly to give you the info without labouring the point! In the almost fifteen years since publication, I don’t believe that another Austen-ish encyclopedia has even come close to Pool’s work. The only warning I have is that upon reading it, you may have several huge realisations that you were totally misunderstanding something through multiple rereads…. (This may also be of significant use to any secondary or post-secondary students who happen to be studying Austen, Dickens, Brontë, or any number of nineteenth century writers- your teachers and professors will very much appreciate you taking the time to dig into the novel, and it will pay off in your work!)

Non-fiction book on Regency and Georgian life like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens

 

The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser

I’m currently reading this right now, and it’s a fascinating wander through Jane’s history and how she ended up as the figure and myth that she is today! Looser examines Austen through four different lenses: illustrations, dramatisations, politics, and education. It’s easy to think that Jane Austen came out of a vacuum but it is interesting to see who was working with Jane’s works in the early days, and how their interpretations contributed the Jane that we know today. It also follows the evolution and growth of Jane and her followers throughout the years, something that I’ve never really thought about before. It is a scholarly work, but the chapters are short and the sources are incredibly interesting (using things like movie posters and political cartoons). I have to say, I’m only part way through and my “Jane Austen to be read” list is growing exponentially… It’s perfect for a cosy weekend in! If nothing else, I would recommend that anyone who is even tangentially interested in Jane and her works read the last chapter, “Twenty First Century Jane”. I read ahead, and it’s a wonderful summary on the current cultural cache and weight of Jane today that I think everyone can appreciate!

Book on the creation of the Jane Austen myth

Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley

Oh, Lucy. My favourite historian and role model in all areas of life, Worsley is a historian and Chief Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces in London. (If there was some way to guarantee that I could work with her at HRP, I would totally take on the debt of a PhD. Sure, it’s not the most financially prudent choice but it’s my dream!) Worsley’s newest book, published in July 2017 (in North America), and examines Jane through the lens of her homes. Homes (and families) play an integral role in each of Jane’s works, and it is a different approach to examine the casual, at-home Jane, rather than the public (and often romantic) Jane that is the focus of most studies. She does touch on her romantic relationships, but they are in no way more important than her relationship with her siblings and parents for Worsley! It is a well-rounded look at Jane that doesn’t privilege one area of her life over another. Worsley writes popular rather than academic histories, meaning that her works are VERY easy to read for the fan of any level. She also has accompanying BBC programmes, like this one here:

Unfortunately, Paula Byrne, the author of The Real Jane Austen criticised Worsley of plagarism in May of 2017. Although plagarism is a very real issue in writing and academics, I found it an odd complaint to understand- Lucy’s books are written for the casual reader of history, and usually features limited endnotes, as the casual reader does not want to be inundated with footnote after footnote. This does not equate to plagarism, though. She also references Byrne in her acknowledgements. There is drama and hate, even in the history community! Go figure. I have Byrne’s book in my to-be-read pile, but I’m not sure that I want to read it- Worsley has earned my trust, she hasn’t.

Book about Jane Austen's life at home

The last Austen-ish thing I will leave you with is an Austen-themed subscription box, Pembertea! Jane Austen and tea are two of my favourite things, and I’m strongly considering buying an individual box to see if I like it. However, my main “issue” with subscription services is that I don’t know that I need to receive anything repeatedly, be it books, tea, food, clothes, make up or anything else. Also, ordering this would mean that I will have to give something else up, and I am hesitant to take a huge plunge. Does anyone have experience with Pembertea? (Or any other subscription box that you would like to share your thoughts on?)

Are you an Austenite, or has she scared you off? What is your favourite Austen work?

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!
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22 thoughts on “3 Books for the Modern Jane Austen Reader

  1. thebeasley October 8, 2017 / 6:17 am

    Great recommendations and subscription box looks soooo cute.

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  2. April Munday October 8, 2017 / 6:25 am

    If you’re interested in more in-depth books about Jane Austen, her times and her works, you could look at John Mullan’s ‘What Matters in Jane Austen’, Maggie Lane’s ‘Jane Austen and Food’ and just about anything by Deirdre Le Faye.

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    • anhistorianabouttown October 8, 2017 / 10:18 pm

      I’ve found Deirdre rather dry both times I tried to read her books, but I may try and track down the audiobook to see if that helps! I’m waiting for Maggie Lane’s book from the library but I think I’m going to buy the ebook of Mullan’s soon- it looks fantastic!! Thank you for the recommendations 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anindya October 8, 2017 / 6:59 am

    Lovely post…..a much welcome post for book lovers and specially Jane Austen fans…:)

    Like

  4. sarahpratley October 8, 2017 / 10:21 am

    Loved this post – I’m such a Jane Austen fan! I’ve had mixed experiences with subscription boxes, but have generally found that as long as they are not too expensive then I really enjoy the surprise of having new things to try each month! xx
    https://sarahpratley.com/

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    • anhistorianabouttown October 8, 2017 / 10:15 pm

      That’s part of my issue- being in Canada, these boxes are so much more expensive when you add up the exchange rate and shipping! What’s supposed to be $25-30 ends up being $50 or more for me :s This one may be finally be the one that makes me want to try it, though!!!

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  5. Sharon E. Cathcart October 9, 2017 / 2:24 am

    I didn’t care for “The Making of Jane Austen.” It wasn’t that the material was poor, or that it was badly researched. I just found the tone very dry. Not all books are for all people. The other books you list sound interesting; I’ll have to take a look. Thanks for this post.

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    • anhistorianabouttown October 8, 2017 / 9:31 pm

      I can see it being dry; it has a similar tone to many of the other surveys I had to read in my English minor, so I think there was a comfort factor for me! Let me know what you think of the others!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Kelsey October 9, 2017 / 1:38 pm

    Such great recommendations! I am always overlooking books like these, not on purpose, but because they aren’t always directly in front of me on a library or bookstore shelf, or recommended to me through Goodreads. Thank you for the reminder.

    I’m curious to know if you read (and enjoyed/disliked) Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – the modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I found it sort of dreadful, but it has received positive praise.

    Lastly, on the topic of subscription boxes, I signed up for The Book of the Month Club almost one year ago and absolutely love it. I’ve browsed other subscriptions, and while many are tempting to me – like Pembertea – I am wary because of all the stuff that is sent inside the box, especially if it’s a secret (where are my fellow semi-hoarders?). The Book of the Month Club only sends a book (or books), and every now and then they offer extras that are either free to add or cost only a few dollars. I’ve toyed with the idea of cancelling for a month or two to try out another subscription, but I can’t bring myself to actually do it.

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    • anhistorianabouttown November 11, 2017 / 7:44 pm

      WordPress buried this in my spam folder 😦 😦 I really, really want to do a Book of the Month club, but I absolutely cannot buy any more physical books- I already have far too many books that I won’t be able to take with me when I move to Seattle 😦 I’m still purging through some of them and trying to find them homes with people who will love them! I don’t know if I love that you can’t see things- I know some will say that you will get 5 out of these 10 items, but that’s still a pretty big gamble. And I would probably be the person who forgets to cancel and gets charged again.

      From the ratings on Goodreads, the Jane Austen Project retellings seem to get wonderful reviews, but I think that they are AWFUL for the most part. In the case of Eligible, I found it glib and far too trendy- could we fit in one more 2010s trend??? And I’ve tried reading other books by Sittenfeld, she is just not the author for me. It’s times like this when I have to ask, did it have to updated?!? Is this really where we needed to end up ?? Emma by Alexander McCall Smith and Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope bored me to tears. I haven’t read Northanger Abbey for fear it will ruin my favourite Austen novel!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kelsey @ There's Something About KM November 12, 2017 / 11:08 am

        Boo WP spam. 😦 I wish you luck with your move, and in finding homes for those books you can’t take with you – that can be such a hard [emotional] process!
        I’m so glad someone else feels the same way about those retellings! I did a post on Eligible and referenced a review in which the reviewer basically said why not just read the classic, who *needs* an updated version when it’s a classic for a reason?! And I so agree with your trend comment – it seriously made me ill how cheesy it felt. I included the retelling of Northanger Abbey in my reading challenge for this year, but I may not get to it, because I too am afraid it will disappoint.

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  7. gigglingfattie October 10, 2017 / 9:39 am

    I love Jane Austen! Mansfield Park is my all time favourite though. Great suggestions for further reading!

    Like

    • anhistorianabouttown November 11, 2017 / 7:48 pm

      Mansfield Park was surprisingly dark to me! It always felt like Jane was going through a difficult time then to me 😦 I know it’s usually everyone’s least favourite, but I love Northanger Abbey!! A novel about novels!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • gigglingfattie November 12, 2017 / 7:46 am

        Oh really?! Mansfield is amazing hehe. Although, yes it is a little dark lol. Northaner Abbey is pretty great too! All Jane’s stuff is amazing except “Lady Susan”. I have tried a few times but just can not get into it.

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        • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 7:02 pm

          I’m going to stream the new movie version of Lady Susan from the library and see if I can make some headway there- I’ve attempted the book four times and still no luck!!

          Liked by 1 person

          • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 8:22 pm

            I’m hopeful there will be at least some positives to take away but I don’t know about Kate Beckinsale…

            Liked by 1 person

  8. A.M.B. November 26, 2017 / 10:52 am

    Tea and Jane Austen are two of my favorite things too! I’m going to check out Pembertea. Thanks!

    Like

    • anhistorianabouttown November 28, 2017 / 8:23 am

      Please let me know if you end up getting it- I’m interested to see how everything checks out in person!!

      Like

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