Title: Jane Austen for Dummies
Author: Joan Klingel Ray
Number of pages: Around 340 with actual content
My Rating: Five Stars
The short of it: Very good introductory reference for anyone who has read all of Jane Austen's major works and who wishes to have more insight into her life and the manners and customs of the time she lived in.
The long of it:
How does a curricle differ from a gig? Why didn't Jane Austen marry? What is an entail? What is the "special license" that Mrs. Bennet wants for Lizzie's wedding? What were the rights of ladies in Austen's times? Did Jane Austen ever comment on social issues?
Questions like these arise on reading Jane Austen's work for the first time, or even on subsequent readings. This book gives a good overview of the life and times of Jane Austen in a crisp, clear, and engaging manner. It is well-organized and easy to read with illustrations and pictures where relevant, and includes a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from dancing, courtship and marriage in Regency times to authors who influenced and who were influenced by Austen.
There are very relevant examples from Austen's works under each topic, which makes it entertaining and understandable. The number of examples seems slightly weighted in favor of Pride and Prejudice, but I can understand that given popularity of that book as well as the breadth of issues addressed in it. The book also has discussion sections on Austen's books and film adaptations (up until 2006), and Ray does insert her views a bit here, thus breaking the instructional tone that books in the Dummies series sometimes tend to have. Initially, I was a bit skeptical on even reading a book from this series cover to cover, but I could not pass on a book by Joan Klingel Ray. Ray is a professor of English and was also the president of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) from 2000 to 2006. According to the book, she has taught at least three Austen-related classes , and reading this book makes me wish I can sit in on one of her lectures!
As in all the Dummies books, there is a section titled "Parts of Tens" which has several "top ten" lists and discussions, including ten Austen-related places to visit, ten memorable characters, ten Austenisms and ten Austen-related books. The last provides a list of good sources in various areas related to Austen and the Regency period, in case the reader wants to acquire more in-depth knowledge in a given area.
The one thing I did not enjoy in this book was someone's inability to proofread. The book does contain a few minor errors, mostly grammatical. I did not appreciate Edward Ferrars being referred to as Edmund or Eleanor Tilney being called Elinor! However, these are very minor and do not take away from the book, unless the reader is particularly picky about these things.
Overall, I heartily recommend this book both to the Austen newbie as well as to more experienced Janeites. However, be sure to have read all the six major works of Austen before you read this (in spite of the book telling you otherwise), as one cannot really write such a book as this without spoilers!
Quote of Note: "Readers may love Dickens, but I never hear Dickens's fans calling him 'Charles.' Yet Austen fans easily call Austen 'Jane.' Jane is that wonderfully witty, wise, and well-spoken narrator who's a friendly and welcome companion as you read the novel." (page 17).
Bonus: Here is an interview with Joan Klingel Ray from AustenBlog.