It is a truth universally acknowledged that people cannot get enough of Jane Austen. With literally hundreds of novels based on her and her beloved characters, as well as over two dozen film and television adaptations, Austen is a perennial favorite. If you are a voracious reader of all things Austen, or if you’ve never read one of her novels and are curious as to what all the fuss is about, there are lots of options for you at the library.
Although Austen’s themes (such as class distinctions, morality and marriage) are timeless, there are historical and cultural details in her novels that can be further explored. In his new book “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Regency Britain,” Ian Mortimer covers all the aspects of early 19th-century Britain that you need to know to truly appreciate Austen. This is actually the fourth in a series of historical guides that cover English history from medieval times to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In the Regency guide, you can learn about the influence the French Revolution had on fashion, the origin of macadam roads, and the rise of occupational illnesses due to the Industrial Revolution. But Mortimer also goes into basic items such as phaetons, pelisses and cravats. He explains how to send a letter, what is served in a typical middle-class dinner, and what types of lodging you can find as you travel between London and the country. This book is a wonderful introduction to the historical setting of Jane Austen’s novels.
If you are looking to really immerse yourself in Jane Austen’s life, try “At home with Jane Austen” by Kim Wilson. Drawing upon Austen’s letters and diary entries, Wilson presents a condensed biography of Austen and explains how her life experiences influenced the plots and details of her novels. The book is full of beautiful photographs, period illustrations and maps of the various localities where Austen lived and visited.
For those readers more interested in fiction and the way Austen’s classic stories can be reshaped, spun off, or modernized, there are many choices. One of my favorites is “Longbourn” by Jo Baker, where the story of the Bennett family (“Pride and Prejudice”) is told through the eyes of their housemaid Sarah. The uncertain romance between Jane and Bingley, the drama surrounding Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, and the loveless marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are all entwined with the lives of the servants and the unsettling presence of the new footman James. Baker brings in historical elements that Austen rarely alluded to — the Peninsular Wars and colonial plantations in the Caribbean — and she also extends the story past the wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy, when Sarah becomes a lady’s maid at Pemberley. Reading “Longbourn” is like going to a reunion to see old friends.
If you’ve never read Jane Austen (thank you for sticking with me so far) and would like to try her most beloved novel, then please tune in to KRBD every Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm. The library staff are taking turns reading “Pride and Prejudice” as the current selection in the library’s radio program “Reading the Classics.” We may not have the acting chops of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but we love the story and we’re excited to be sharing it with the community. If you are searching for any Austen-themed books, audiobooks, or movies at the library, please let us help you find something fun to enjoy this summer.
We also invite you to join us at the library at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, to enjoy the poetry of Emily Wall. A professor of English at UAS-Juneau, Wall will be sharing poems from her new collection “Breaking into air” via Zoom. We will be hosting a watch party, with the opportunity to ask questions of Wall after the reading, and books will be available for purchase courtesy of Parnassus Books. For more information, call Lisa at 228-2304.