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Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures [Hardcover]

Claudia L. Johnson

Price: CDN$ 43.61 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

May 18 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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Review

“Claudia L. Johnson’s long-anticipated book on the history of Austen fandom turns out, not surprisingly, to have been amply worth the wait. With characteristic intelligence, judiciousness, and lucidity, Johnson teases out the ideas that have informed our evolving construction of this most popular and yet most elusive of literary figures. Johnson sinks her roots very deeply into the source material, showing how Austen became an icon for all seasons, giving us back the image we have required of her in war and peace, modernity and postmodernity, the British Empire and the Empire of Hollywood. Following in the tradition of studies of Shakespearean canonization, this is the real ‘Becoming Jane.’”

(William Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education)

“What a pleasure to read this book! Richly informative and altogether delightful, Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures tells about Austen in the trenches, read by soldiers on the front lines in two world wars, for sharply different reasons; about the complicated afterlife of Austen as a physical being; about the charms and disappointments of Austen’s house in its current form; about ways of reading. There’s more, too, all of it compelling, all revealing how powerfully Jane Austen survives in cultural consciousness. This is both a wonderful read and a source of great illumination.”

(Patricia Meyer Spacks, author of On Rereading)

“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)

“There are some revealing passages that show how changing culture invites reinterpretation of Jane Austen and her works.”
(The Economist)

“Johnson’s prose is lively and witty. . . . [Her] writing is infused with nuanced appreciation of Austen’s sophisticated art.”
(Times Literary Supplement)

“Johnson’s writing style is a lively mix of scholarly and colorful vocabulary concisely presenting complex ideas.”
(Library Journal)

“Johnson wields a wide range of fascinating sources and key texts, deftly weaving them into her argument and narrative.”
(Times Higher Education)

“It was a real pleasure to read this book. It is richly informative and clearly outlines the ways in which Austen has been constructed and her writings interpreted by readers from the Victorian period through now in a way that is both scholarly and accessible and, sometime even, playful with such delightfully accurate lines as ‘the Austen they adore has more to do with the world of wonder than with the world of reason’ and ‘to be a Janeite is really a form of possession, with a profound contentment in being thus possessed.’ ”
(Austenprose.com)

“Even the most devoted Janeite will learn much from this delightful book. . . . Essential.”
(Choice)

 “At the heart of Claudia Johnson’s warmly appreciative study is the sole authenticated image of the novelist: a portrait, by her sister, of Jane Austen with her back to the viewer. Johnson . . . traces out the silences and losses surrounding Austen. Her aim is not so much to shine a light on the fiction as on its admirers. . . . Johnson's argument about how bodies and things govern our reading of Austen is funny and illuminating.”
(Literary Review)

 “Johnson’s book makes sense, directly and indirectly, of the factual-fiction impulse behind novels like Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life, telling the fascinating story of how the mystique of Austen was gradually created, maintained, and spun out in unpredictable ways in the years after her death in 1817. Johnson unearths both the many-sided truths and the wide-ranging implications of our false fantasies of Austen, drawing conclusions from evidence ranging from portraits and memorials to fairy tales and relics. . . . Johnson’s insights and discoveries are thought provoking.”
(Los Angeles Review of Books)

 “Consideration of such matters as Jane Austen’s Body, Jane Austen’s Magic, Jane Austen’s World War I, Jane Austen’s World War II, Jane Austen’s House—and, finally, Jane Austen’s Ubiquity—offers valuable insights to enrich readings and re-readings at the Johnson-endorsed slow, reflective pace, of the most important component of Jane Austen’s legacy: her words, which Johnson aptly calls “the real thing.” . . . Johnson is a top-tier intellect who writes with erudition and elegance.”
(JASNA Newsletter)

“Johnson builds on her previous essays and develops a nuanced, carefully historicized analysis of critical and popular response to Austen at crucial moments over the past two hundred years. . . . In addition to Johnson’s strong historical sense, what distinguishes her study is her close attention to the language and imagery used by Austen’s readers and to the ideological freight that this language carries.”
(Studies in English Literature 1500-1900)

“Johnson pokes gentle fun at Janeites while basking in being one herself. There is humility and balance in her arguments and a great deal of (mostly gentle) humour. . . . There is exquisite detail in each chapter, labours of love and obsession in constructing her analyses of the various cults and cultures by reviewing reviewers throughout these different historical periods.”
(Sensibilities)

“[A] beautifully rendered piece of scholarship. Lucid prose, meticulous research, and cogent analysis, together with a generous number of illustrations, make this book not only essential reading for Austen scholars, but also that rare monograph with appeal for readers beyond the academy.”
(Eighteenth-Century Fiction)

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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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 Feb. 10 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 June 9 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? Nov. 18 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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