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 AUSTEN, and 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.
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.