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Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures [Hardcover]

Claudia Johnson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

22 Jun 2012
Jane Austen completed only six novels, but enduring passion for the author and her works has driven fans to read these books repeatedly, in book clubs or solo, while also inspiring countless film adaptations, sequels, and even spoofs involving zombies and sea monsters. Austen's lasting appeal to both popular and elite audiences has lifted her to legendary status. In "Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures", Claudia L. Johnson shows how Jane Austen became "Jane Austen," a figure intensely - sometimes even wildly - venerated, and often for markedly different reasons. Johnson begins by exploring the most important monuments and portraits of Austen, considering how these artifacts point to an author who is invisible and yet whose image is inseparable from the characters and fictional worlds she created. She then passes through the four critical phases of Austen's reception-the Victorian era, the First and Second World Wars, and the establishment of the Austen House and Museum in 1949-and ponders what the adoration of Austen has meant to readers over the past two centuries. For her fans, the very concept of "Jane Austen" encapsulates powerful ideas and feelings about history, class, manners, intimacy, language, and the everyday. By respecting the intelligence of past commentary about Austen, Johnson shows, we are able to revisit her work and unearth fresh insights and new critical possibilities. An insightful look at how and why readers have cherished one of our most beloved authors, "Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures" will be a valuable addition to the library of any fan of the divine Jane.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1st ed edition (22 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226402037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226402031
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 990,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Claudia L. Johnson does more than trace out Austen's legacy and rethink the way critics and fans alike have tried to hold on to this elusive writer-she displays the wealth of the novels themselves in new, surprising, and always intelligent ways. Packed with the fruits of Johnson's brilliant work in the archive, this book also creates a compelling narrative from the accounts of readers, worshippers, and critics alike, and fashions a very delicate path between the adoring and the critical. A monumental work by perhaps the premier scholar of Austen's work and legacy." -Mary Favret, Indiana University"

About the Author

Claudia L. Johnson is the Murray Professor of English Literature at Princeton University. She is the author or editor of several books, including Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel and Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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3.0 out of 5 stars Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures 27 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This would be a useful book for anyone who wanted to know how Jane Austen's work has been regarded since her death but I found it only moderately useful for insights into her work.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CULTS and CULTURES--not your everyday piece of literary criticism 10 Feb 2013
By teabag - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thia isn't meant to be a book that focuses on Jane Austen's biography, or that analyzes her works, and the title tries to make it clear: it's a book about her readers, and especially the "cults" of fans who sometimes--certainly not always--think of Jane Austen books as pure escapism, as nice comfy reads reminding them of a supposedly simpler, more civilized, sweeter time. Pour a cup of tea from the Wedgewood pot into the Regency teacup, put another log on the fire and pretend it was your butler who put it there, snuggle down and read dear old Jane Austen . . . and that's a perfectly fine way to read her; but Johnson suggests that too often readers ignore Jane Austen's wit and her ability to chop pretentious people up with the machete of "regulated hatred" (as a classic essay about her work has it) with which she handles many of the foolish, pretentious, annoying characters in her novels.

Instead, people who consider themselves to be "Janeites" are likely to pick up a copy of the recent magazine with titled something like "Jane Austen Knits", which contains pretty pictures of lovely scenes and (frequently kind of silly) knitting projects (which, apparently, the editors think Jane Austen might have made. I like to knit, but I don't know, maybe she made lots of lace fingerless gloves and knitted book covers in a cable stitch and gave them out right and left. But I wonder.)

Johnson suspects that some of Jane Austen's most fervent readers ignore a good deal of what Jane Austen was actually trying to accomplish--and providing escapism wasn't really on her program. Anyone who has read her letters with care will notice how scathing and sometimes heartless she could be about her acquaintances when writing to people she loved, how she liked to puncture their pretensions and get her claws into them, and how aware she was of the world around her, complete with the War with France and the issue of slavery. Not a sweet old biddy, then; not someone I'd necessarily want writing about me. That's just it, Johnson says: many of Austen's devoted readers miss the fact that they may be exactly the kind of people she is satirizing, exactly the kind of people she'd turn into fatuous characters unwilling to live in reality, blinded by sentiment or selfishness.

Johnson isn't writing about Austen's work, then; she's writing about how some readers have turned her into a cult figure whom they sentimentalize and misread. That's not exactly comfy, cozy reading if you begin to feel you might be one of those people. And I'm not excluding myself.

On the other hand . . . this is without question the most fun piece of literary criticism I've ever read, and over 40 years I've read a lot. Johnson is having fun here, looking at what people have made of Jane Austen, how they sentimentalize hugely--to the extent of thinking Jane is speaking to them, or that a hand pump still standing in the middle of a empty field where one of her homes once stood is a touching, deeply meaningful relic worthy of raptures, say, just to mention two instances of the kind of things she discusses. (The conversations fans have with Jane are, as it turns out, unutterably boring. You'd expect better of Jane, frankly.) Could someone please write an equally clear, equally acute, equally funny book about the Brontes?
4.0 out of 5 stars a bit too techinical for me 9 Jun 2013
By Carino - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I never read literary critique before and I must say that although I found this book interesting I also found it hard to follow at times and a bit repetitive. It describes how Jane Austen has been undestood and loved (or less so) during her life and after her death: fascinating, but not really relevantt to the understanding of her books, which is what matters to me most.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Publish or perish? 18 Nov 2012
By m. pizarro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This could have been a moderately interesting article in a literary journal. Extended to book length, it is a mishmash of observations about meaningless minutiae. It even lacks a coherent structure. I own an extensive collection of books on austeniana, but this is definitely not a worthy addition. I wonder whether the author even enjoys Jane Austen.
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