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Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

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However, she totally disregards his next words – ‘A pint of porter with my cold beef at Marlborough was enough to over-set me’(4) – indicating that he was being sarcastic and most definitely in his right mind and not drunk. If you're a fellow Austen fan this book is interesting, but honestly should be taken with a grain of salt. While Kelly is making her claims about the subtexts that have evaded previous critics, Austen admirers will keep noticing little mistakes about what is going on in the novels.

Decline and Fall" places the novel in perspective of Jane's personal life and the alteration in British society. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. If you take all Kelly’s ideas seriously, this book could completely undermine the way that you look at some of Jane’s plots and characters.

The chapter about Emma was all right, but the subject of enclosure just isn't as interesting to me as it seems to have been to Kelly. The marriage plot is for Austen a Trojan horse, infiltrating her ideas into the reader’s consciousness without our fully realizing it. I laugh out loud when I read Austen because I hear the words of an angry women lashing back at the stuffy society in which she existed.

It’s a pity that the weakest chapter—about Northanger Abbey—comes first, and that its greatest weakness, a fondness for reading sexual imagery into the text, is repeated in the second chapter. Misinterpretation, or reading our modern sensibilities and modern knowledge onto Jane, is very common. The great chapters contained a unifying theory that brought together the historical context and the actual plot and actions of the characters: Northanger Abbey (where the childbirth stuff is contained, as well as some fascinating stuff about gothic novels), Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice were the standouts, followed pretty closely by the chapter on Persuasion. Kelly argues that Jane’s novels are much more than love stories – they are revolutionary and tackle subjects which would have been seen as highly controversial at the time they were written.While the organization of this book connects each novel to a separate issue, I felt she overlapped several issues and may have been better served looking at issues for what they were, not isolating them to each novel. It is as if she imagines herself to be the only person who has ever contemplated Jane’s writing before, and the few critics she does acknowledge are swiftly swept aside, sometimes only in a footnote!

I found this book to be frustrating for a couple of reasons, mostly for the way that Kelly constantly acts like she is the first person to ever imply that Austen's writing was subversive and radical. Her eldest brother James, has a slave owning grandfather, James Nibbs, an Oxford acquaintance of the Reverend George Austen” leads to the following footnote: “The biography Claire Tomlin includes this information in an appendix about attitudes to slavery, almost as if she thinks the issue doesn’t really have anything to do with Jane or her writing.Later in the book, Kelly talks about how Jane includes a character in Mansfield Park who was blessed with ten healthy pregnancies, just as Jane's sister-in-law was at the time of Jane's writing, but who would later die of her eleventh. e. far more into romantic notions than what was good for me, so the chapter has special interest to me. It’s a rare talent to be able to stand outside received wisdom and see familiar material with fresh eyes; Kelly is a pure outside-the-box thinker. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects--slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them--considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age.

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