Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What I've Read Recently part I

What I've Read Recently Part I . . .

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Atkins -- Non-Fiction

Jane Austen's England covers life in the Georgian era from birth to death. The authors use letters, diaries and other period sources to describe how the common people REALLY lived. Far from the genteel world of the drawing rooms of Jane Austen's novels, the England portrayed in this novel is dark, dirty, diseased and at times crude. The authors nicely balance "period drama" world that we love to romanticize with the world of the common people. They cover the lives of the gentry and the aristocrats but also explain the difficulties of trying to survive as a common working man or woman. The chapters cover everything from etiquette, advice and fashion to disease and death. I especially liked the extensive quotes from period sources to show that the authors did their own original research. At times this book was really slow and relied on quotes that were far too long. I knew a lot of this information already from reading other books about Jane Austen's life and times and also from blogs. I do feel I learned a lot though. The language is fairly accessible to non-scholars but the use of primary sources may be daunting to some. I would recommend this book to those who have a serious interest in learning more about Georgian England.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard

 The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition
by Jane Austen,edited by David M. Shapard contains the original text of the novel and on the facing page, explanations on the text. Included throughout are period illustrations, many of which have nothing to do with the story. There is also a chronology, maps, and a bibliography. Clocking in at over 700 pages, it's a difficult task to read all the annotations. I felt like many of the annotations were unnecessary. The reader can figure out the meaning from the context. I also skipped a lot of the annotations explaining different types of carriages, clothing, etc. and things I already knew. What I really liked was the explanation of etiquette. Because there's so much to keep track of I have a hard time remembering everything, but here it's in context so it's easier to remember. I also liked that the annotations forced me to reevaluate my thoughts on the novel. I had to look more carefully at the characters and their words and motivations. I didn't interpret everything the same way as the editor but it was interesting to read his take on it and review my own thoughts. I found myself not liking the Bennets very much - not even Lizzy. In contrast, I liked Darcy more than ever before. I don't really know why except that the interpretation made me see the characters in a new light. Mr. Bennet is a terrible father when previously I thought he was funny and not so bad as Mr. Darcy makes him out to be. I loved Lizzy before and thought she was witty and now I think she's a bit more rude than I had realized and she tends to always make light of situations like her father. I admire her for her outspokenness and willingness to stick to what she feels is right.

The illustrations are nice to have but some don't have any relevance to the story. This paperback edition only has black and white illustrations. The maps are not very detailed but help provide a frame of reference.

If you are reading this novel for the first time, especially for a class, I would recommend this edition. If you're an experienced scholar who has studied Jane Austen's life and times, you won't really need this much explanation.

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