New York, Picador, 2011, 277p
Claire Harman write cleverly and confidently about the history of the celebrity of Jane Austen - her rise to becoming a well-known household name in the 21st century. She brings together and analyses various biographical accounts of Austen's life, offering new information as well as critiquing existing publications.
I found out some rather interesting facts whilst reading this; one of which was that Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't rate Jane Austen. It upset me to think that my favourite writers didn't respect each other. I also found it interesting that Austen's novels were a popular subject of study when English Literature was first introduced into universities - her works were considered soft materials for a soft subject, which was predominantly studied by women. And yet, some of her most vocal admirers are / were men.
When reading her novels, I have always found Austen's lack of detail about places, dates and individual's features quite enticing - this has allowed me to imagine my own Captain Wentworth and Mr Tilney. However, Harman argues that this was Austen's attempt to avoid being trapped within a certain era. Many of her novels were published significantly later than written, and therefore could have easily become outdated and old fashioned. In avoiding specifics, Austen allows her stories to fall easily into any time period, so that readers of today can relate to her stories just as easily as her contemporary audience.
In this way, Austen has been adopted as the symbol for many causes. We still don't know much about her life - everything is speculation. Consequently, people can make assumptions, draw links, and use Austen as a figurehead for any cause. She can be paraded as a feminist role model, challenging patriarchal rules, as well as representing the stoicism and peace that the Tory party have used her for.
But that's what I like about Austen. She is different things to different people.