Book: Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Leslie Adkins
Can you believe it? Me, giving something with the name Jane Austen in it only a one-book rating? Me, who reads Austen novels in an endless loop? Me, who is planning a second trip to England for a new Jane Austen pilgrimage? Me, a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society?
Yes, me. For precicely all the reasons above.
I admit it—I was hoodwinked. I saw Jane Austen in the title, read the blurb, and thought that this was a book I must have. I bought it and would love my money back.
I believed that I was buying a book about what England was like during Jane Austen’s lifetime. And indeed, that part turned out to be true. Silly me, though, because I also expected that when describing what England was like the authors would naturally quote from Miss Austen’s books or her voluminous personal correspondence. Not so much.
Yes, there are references from Miss Austen’s novels and letters, but the authors relied far more on the writings of Miss Austen’s contemporaries such as Nelly Weeton, John Byng, and the reverends James Woodforde and William Holland—none of which even knew Miss Austen. Who the heck are they, anyway? The book itself paints a vivid portrait of life in Georgian England, is organized well, extensively researched, and easy to read. But information as to how Jane Austen and her works themselves fit into this English portrait is scant. A better title for this book might simply have been Everything You Wanted (and Perhaps Didn’t Want) to Know about England: 1775-1817.
I learned more about Miss Austen and her England from Deirdre LeFaye’s Jane Austen: The World of her Novels and Dr. Joan Klingel Ray’s Jane Austen for Dummies. Guess I was the dummy this time.