Jane Austen Bicentenary Readings & Various Non-Jane Literary Links


I’m not big on death anniversaries, but I had intended to participate in The Guardian Book Club’s discussion of Austen  to commemorate the bicentenary of her death (July 18).   Alas, they have chosen to read  Persuasion, which I just read in May.

And so I will quietly read Jane on my own.  I am not sure which book.  What will you be reading?

If you think you have read Austen too many times, don’t despair:  there are dozens of new books every year about Austen. In Jane Smiley’s entertaining essay, “The Austen Legacy: Why and How We Love Her, What She Loved, ” in The New York Times,  she writes about Deborah Yaffe’s  AMONG THE JANEITES:  A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Devoney Looser’s THE MAKING OF JANE AUSTENand Paula Byrne’s THE GENIUS OF JANE AUSTEN.


1 Have you read the satirical novels of Thomas Love Peacock? Pamela Climit at the TLS recommends the new Cambridge editions of Nightmare Abbey and Crotchet Castle.  I’m always ready for a laugh.  (And the Penguin is good enough for me.)

2.  Michael Dirda at The Washington Post recommends eight small presses, NYRB, Haffner Press, The Folio Society, Poisoned Pen Press, Wildside Press, Europa Editions, Centipede Press, and Cadmus Press.

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” So said Henry James, who would doubtless recommend spending some of those sunlit hours with a good book or two. Whether you enjoy escape fiction or literary fiction, check out the home pages of the following small publishers. I confess to deeply admiring their commitment to older or neglected writers, which explains why a few titles from New York Review Books, the Folio Society and Tartarus carry introductions by me.

The Folio Society Jane Austens

Sylvia Plath

Emily Van Duyne at the Literary Hub asks. “Why Are We So Unwilling to 
Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?” She writes,

Back in April, the Guardian dropped an apparent literary bombshell—new letters had been discovered from the poet Sylvia Plath, alleging horrific physical abuse at the hands of her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes. The letters had gone unread by any major Plath scholar through one of those black holes so common, and frustrating, to those of us who love her work.

It is not a matter of not taking Sylvia Plath at her word; it is a matter of needing to know more.   Van Duyne is writing a book on Plath, so she has read everything  and obviously this discovery means something to her.  I myself know so little about the couple that an article in The Guardian  doesn’t say “Of course!” to me.

But poor Sylvia!  I do love her poetry.

11 thoughts on “Jane Austen Bicentenary Readings & Various Non-Jane Literary Links

  1. I will try to mark “the anniversary” (put this way makes me think of Mary Poppins’s birthday) with Austen’s last lines. Jane Smiley is a kind generous woman but eminently sane too. On Plath, I’ve read her letters and one biography and over the years essays on her in mainstream literary journals (TLS my favorite, LRB, NYRB). Recently a new books by Jonathan Bate about Hughes himself has been attacked, but if memory serves me correctly (however memory is treacherous) there is a good deal of evidence of Hughes’s violence to others beyond Sylvia. His second wife did kill herself too.

    For me what stands out is how Bat was attacked (not Hughes). Recently (yesterday) i was reading of Sean Connery (this beloved star of say Robin and Marion) and how his second wife said he once beat her senseless, and there is evidence of his violent temperament elsewhere too. But this is forgotten, erased from public memory. Why? You can get only a hung jury on Cosby. Trump’s boasting of his predation was ignored by his constituency. And so it goes.


    • Whenever you get into he said/she said it’s tricky territory. But of course in my feminist youth I went so far as to believe Hughes murdered both women! And nowadays I don’t rely on secondary sources. One thing I learned as a journalist is that you look at the original documents.


  2. I’ve been considering re-reading Persuasion if I can only find the time – love the book! As for the Plath controversy, as Ellen says the public believe what they want to believe and won’t look at the evidence. Hughes seems to have some kind of get out of jail free card.


    • Oh, Persuasion is great, and short and sweet! I mistrust secondary sources so must wait to see at least quotes from the letter, but when I was very young I thought Hughes had probably murdered both Sylvia and his second wife. Now THAT was jumping to conclusions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Definitely time for Persuasion! Have you read Fay Welden’s book Letters to Alice on First reading Jane Austen? It’s a favorite of mine and I try to give a copy to girls on reaching a “certain age”.


    • Oh, I haven’t read Weldon’s book, but I do have it. I’ll have to get it out of my Austen stack. That might be a good one to read on the 18th.


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