Jane Austen is my favorite author. She and Charlotte Bronte remain the two authors whose works I have read and re-read the most. (And if you know anything at all about English literature, you'll know just how entertaining it is that I regularly lump these two authors together in my head on my own personal "best of" lists.) And I am certainly not alone in my love for Jane Austen by any means as the plethora of movies based on her books, sequels, and adaptations these days show. A quick skimming search of websites like etsy or ebay will yield scads of products marketed by their connection to Austen and her world. But how did Austen, who, after all, only wrote 6 novels and about whose life little is truly known become so universally beloved? Claire Harman's Jane's Fame seeks to answer that question.
As most Austen fans know, it took many years for any of Austen's works to be published and they were not the instant sort of success that one might expect of works that have been so enduring. Starting with the little known of Austen's life and her road to publication, Harman traces not Austen's life but the life of her novels as they grew into the cultural phenomenon that they are today. From the initial public reception of the novels to the publication of Austen's biography by her nephew which established her as a saintly hobbyist writer to the current craze for all things Austen, Harman has researched the changing feeling about Austen's works and in fact the re-writing of who she was as an author through numerous sources which back up her conclusions. Occasionally the tone of the book veers toward the academic but for the most part it stays less ponderous so that a more casual reader can appreciate the evolution of Austen's reputation and the critical reception of her works. It's a worthwhile read for Austen fans and an intriguing look at the way in which books can take on a life of their own but perhaps a bit too detailed for all but the most ardent admirers.