Book Review: Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

I’m not embarrassed to admit, I love me a bit of Austen. In fact, in high school in British Literature, the Austen books were the only ones I actually read all the way through. he-he

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly–dazzling Jane Austen authority–looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen’s work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman “of information,” fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel–until then seen as mindless “trash”–could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.


My thoughts:

I am guilty of allowing the visual image of Colin Firth coming out of the lake in his soaking wet shirt color my reading of Austen. I read the books long before that particular mini series of course but subsequent readings, adult readings, always hark back to Colin Firth in his soaking wet shirt. Let’s take a momentary pause shall we?



Moving on. Helena Kelly’s arguments were vastly thought provoking and made me immediately want to reread all Jane Austen’s books. God knows when I’ll have the time, so for now I’m fighting the urge. But I think Austen extra brilliant now. She very effectively used the pastiche of romance to critique every major institution of her lifetime. And she did it without getting her head removed from her body of treason. That is skill. The fact that we’re still reading her 200 years later is all the more impressive.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

  1. As you know I adore Austen’s writings. She’s a mentor to me in the sense that I hope in my own writing to carry through such a depth of commentary on life as well as her level of pure enjoyment for the reader. Maybe someday…I’ll keep striving! I’ve thought her brilliant from the first time I read her writing. I’m so glad this book brought that forward. Her work’s a bit like Gummie Vitamins, it looks like candy and is very tasty to savor, but before you know it you’ve swallowed some nourishing bits of wisdom and life.

    Liked by 1 person

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