Jane Austen: Writing, Society, Politics

Oxford Univ. Oct. 2020. 160p. ISBN 9780198861904. $18.95. LIT
Keymer (Chancellor Henry N.R. Jackman Univ. Professor of English, Univ. of Toronto; Poetics of Pillory) presents a compact yet comprehensive study of Austen’s literary practice that examines each of her major novels with insights gleaned from decades of scholarship and an obvious love for the author. Without explicitly alienating Janeites or those who practice “Austenolatry,” Keymer concisely covers the literary, social, and political complexity of her works but never veers into pop culture. He could not have predicted how the most powerful statement in the book would be applied to our lives today: “Austen’s popularity is often the strongest in times of crisis, when the serene world of the novels can offer a therapeutic escape.” As we adapt to social distancing policies owing to covid-19, we may find ourselves fetishizing the domestic in an effort to comfort ourselves. Yet as Keymer wisely suggests, domesticity mirrors political disorder, and Austen’s novels so aptly explore how experiences within the home write on that famous “bit of ivory” the story of nations, political crises, social change, and paradigm shifts in nuanced ways.
VERDICT Highly recommended.
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