Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Jane Austen: The Banker's Sister Kindle Edition by E. J. Clery (Biteback Publishing)

This book shed an entirely new light for me on Jane Austen and her family. But I'll treat this revelation as a spoiler -- moved to the end of this review and marked [spoiler].

It also raises a new possibility as to why Jane Austen pulled her punches on controversial issues in her novels. She didn't want to rock the boat for her brother Henry. It's just a supposition, and I am not even convinced that Jane Austen wanted to be more explicit on political matters, than she actually was. Maybe she wanted to write the kind of novels that she wrote, without getting pedantic or preachy about topics like slavery or women's emancipation or the dissipation of the nobility and so on. However, her love of Henry and her support of his career would have supplied a plausible motive for her to be discreet.

I love doing research and the research in this book is truly impressive. I can picture the devoted Janeites (for who else would do this) tracking down every reference in every dusty financial, governmental or legal archive which mentions the name of "Austen" and all their relatives and associates. And I'm a little jealous of them.

E.J. Clery's bibliography is substantial and I am reminded of Dr. Johnson: "a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

This book will appeal to people who can't get enough information about Jane Austen's life and times, but have already read and re-read all of her various biographies.

The passages I didn't enjoy so much concerned Clery's interpretations of the novels, because I did not always agree! But a writer who undertakes to analyze Jane Austen must be prepared to deal with the proprietorial feeling of her fans, who have trouble accepting any deviation from their own conceptions of Jane Austen. Austen is the lawful property of each individual acolyte. So, half a star lost there.

[spoiler below]

Her brother Henry moved in more elevated circles than I had realized, due to his banking enterprise. It appears that he benefited from the patronage of certain well-placed noblemen to gain valuable contracts, but instead of outright bribery, his bank was forced to issue "loans" which were never repaid.

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