Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Book - 2017 | First edition.
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A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring--how truly radical--a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly--dazzling Jane Austen authority--looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen's work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. 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. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman "of information," fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel--until then seen as mindless "trash"--could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf : New York, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781524732103
Branch Call Number: 823.7 Auste-K
Characteristics: 318 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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RomanceAddict Aug 20, 2019

Review excerpt: "I would recommend this to people who have an interest in Jane Austen at an academic level. I would NOT recommend it to people who simply enjoy Austen for some nice reading, nor to those whose primary attachment to Austen is from the television and film adaptation, which tend to soften things considerably. If you fall into either of the latter groups, then this book will either irritate you or successfully ruin all conception of Austen as light and happy. If you like getting into the nuts and bolts of writing and history, then this book will be perfect for you."


I'm sorry I read this book by Helena Kelly. Her historical theories are sometimes illuminating; however, her theories of character and motivation seldom ring true to me.

For example, in chapter 3 ("Sense & Sensibility") Helena Kelly' tries to prove the character "Edward Ferrars" is dark and potentially violent. Why can't Edward remain a reserved and quietly noble character or even weak? I don't believe Jane Austen's words present Edward as negatively as this critic. Jane Austen's own character descriptions, her own words, are enough for me and my imagination because they ring true. I feel like this critic has maligned an old friend.

Critics present new theories which we can choose to think about or reject, and I suppose every critic needs to present different ideas to be relevant. I urge anyone reading "Jane Austen, the Secret Radical" to be confident in your own experience of Jane Austen and feel free to accept or reject any ideas presented by this critic, Helena Kelly.

Surprisingly, Kelly's analysis ends with this advice: "Forget the Jane Austen you think you know. Forget the biographies; forget the petty adaptations. Ignore the banknote. Read Jane's novels. They're here to speak for her: love stories, yes, though not always happy ones, but also the productions of an extraordinary mind, in an extraordinary age. Read them again."

I'm only a Jane Austen fan not a scholar and I would change her ending: (1) "Forget this book - Jane Austen, the Secret Radical." and (2) enjoy reading her biographies and learning about Jane Austen's interesting life.

polished Aug 22, 2017

I just had to buy this book so I can have it at my side when I next reread Jane Austen's books.

Jun 03, 2017

Kelly sees a lot more social and political history in Jane Austen’s six works of fiction than most critical analysis. It’s interesting even if I can’t quite agree with some of her notions.

Her takes on 'Sense & Sensibility,' 'Pride & Prejudice' and 'Persuasion' had the most resonance to me. But, she savages Mr. Knightley in 'Emma' as an uncaring landlord, see lots of repressed sexuality in 'Northanger Abbey,' and draws way too many analogies to the slave trade in 'Mansfield Park.' Yikes.

ser_library Jun 03, 2017

thought provoking and some points could be disturbing

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