Review by A Baja Janeite
“Neither Jane Austen nor her family could leave her characters alone.”
This is how my (now) favorite biography of Jane Austen begins. I usually skip introductions, but “Janela” is perfect-it could stand alone as an independent article. After developing that first idea, Leithart adds “we also cannot leave Jane’s characters alone”– and discusses recent fan fiction (as current as P&P and Zombies) and movie releases.
“We also cannot leave poor Jane alone,” is the final point of the introduction which explains Dr. Leithart’s desire to write another biography. His goal was to explore the various sides of Austen’s character, to give us a more complete and true Jane Austen–not a flawless Victorian domestic nor a sarcastic spinster. (Don’t jump all over me–I know that Jane lived during the Regency period, but evidently a nephew gave her a “Victorian Madonna” image.) Leithart instead compares “Jane Austen,” the author and public figure, to “Jenny Austen,” the affectionate aunt” and “imaginative, eternal child.”
Throughout this biography, Dr. Leithart weaves historical facts, quotes and contemporary observations flawlessly. He includes quotes from family members, well known writers and the letters. While this in itself may not be unique, his writing style is so attractive that I felt as though I were reading fresh new material! Published as part of the Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series, I felt very satisfied with his observations of Jane’s faith. Some biographers ignore her faith, others exaggerate it. Here, her faith is discussed as an important factor in truly understanding Austen. It does not dominate the book, however–even the most atheistic Janeite will not protest.
After reading Jane Austen for this review, I saw Dr. Leithart’s name EVERYWHERE! Leithart is a well known theologian, a prolific writer, and a literature professor (similar to C.S. Lewis). His website, www.leithart.com, includes other articles on Austen. (Search “Jane Austen” on the site.)
The book is simply excellent. Now, if only Thomas Nelson would chuck that drab cover…