Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction

1983, 1986 Methuen edition
Margaret Kirkham
Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.95
Worn paperback

I almost rated this a B- for three reasons.  One, I've read it too often; two, Kirkham's thesis that Austen was a feminist with views similar to Mary Wollstonecraft is no longer as revolutionary as it was two or three decades ago; and the discussion of Austen's novels is severely lop-sided.  These first two are not Kirkham's fault, and it's because her argument is so convincing that she's shaped the way that I and others see Austen.  The book probably isn't meant to hold up to the perhaps dozen readings that I've given it over the years.  (Well, physically it's doing all right.)  I do, however, find fault in the way Kirkham concentrates on the three later novels, with only a few pages to the first three, one page in the case of Sense and Sensibility!  The book would've been strengthened by doubling in size, since at 187 pages (counting notes and index) it's rather slim. 

That said, this is the best work of literary criticism so far, intelligent without being overly academic.  She also has a good dose of wit, including about literary criticism and biography, the two portraits of Jane, one by Cassandra and the other a Victorian "improvement," symbolising how badly Austen has been represented at times.

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