Those Elegant Decorums by Jane NardinIn Those Elegant Decorums Jane Nardin asks, “How can an intelligent individual manage to survive in society at once satisfying its demands upon him and perceiving his own integrity of judgement?” Throughout her book, she attempts to answer this question by examining how each of Austen’s novels depicts propriety in both its protagonist and secondary characters.

Nardin’s writing is simple, but in a way that strengthens rather than flattens her work. Her arguments seem straightforward because she has stripped them down to their essentials, presenting them distinctly and succinctly. And indeed, her arguments are persuasive (I especially enjoyed the chapter on Mansfield Park and Persuasion). Even more, in analyzing the novels in order of their publication date, Nardin traces the ways in which Austen’s conception of propriety develops and changes across her oeuvre. Sense and Sensibility sees propriety as part of a social contract that an individual is entitled to fulfill by virtue of participating in their society. Persuasion, however, significantly pushes back on one big conventional and moral rule of propriety (one’s duty to one’s parents/parent figures). The trajectory she unpacks in Austen’s novels is not from “simplistic view of propriety” to “complex view of propriety,” but rather one in which Austen decides to explore different aspects of propriety in different novels, turning propriety this way and that and seeing what results.

I also really enjoyed that this is as much a book of literary criticism as it is a sociological one. Nardin’s focus–the intersection between the individual’s needs and the society’s demands–is inherently sociological, and this makes her book not just interesting in terms of its literary exploration of Austen’s works, but also just as a sociological exploration in and of itself.

Those Elegant Decorums is an accessible and well-thought-out work of literary criticism, and very cleverly and straightforwardly lays out arguments that will have you paying more attention to propriety and all its related aspects (“elegance,” “decorum,” “civility,” “manners”) in Austne’s novels the next time you read them.

(Thank you so much to SUNY Press for providing me with a copy of this in exchange for an honest review!)


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Jane Austen's Style: Narrative Economy and the Novel's GrowthJane Austen’s Style sets out to examine three specific aspects of Jane Austen’s craft: her narrative structure, her narrative style, and her dialogue. With a chapter dedicated to each aspect, Toner breaks down her discussion into multiple subsections, tackling her discussion of that specific narrative aspect from different directions. She also incorporates a variety of primary and secondary resources, grounding Austen’s writing in both the writing and the nascent literary criticism of her time (what were the prevalent narrative styles in Austen’s time? what was considered “good style” during that time? how has Austen’s writing conformed to or diverged from that style?). All in all, Toner’s arguments are well-rounded and specific, challenging and insightful without veering into the verbose or opaque.

Where I ran into issues with Jane Austen’s Style is in the particular structure with which Toner decides to present her arguments. Like I said, every chapter is split into various (usually five or six) subsections wherein Toner addresses different facets of the topic in question. On the one hand, this structure makes her argument more digestible and accessible to read; you don’t get too bogged in the argument she’s making in a particular subsection and are able to follow it from beginning to end because it is so compact. But unfortunately this also makes Toner’s overarching arguments more disjointed and less cohesive than they should be. Yes I understood the individual arguments of her various subsections, but it was not always apparent to me how those subsections were contributing to the broader argument of their respective chapters. That is, the parts were there, but they didn’t quite come together into a very compelling whole, namely because the structure of the book itself doesn’t allow them to. This was especially the case in the first chapter, which was so heavy with discussion of secondary sources that I struggled to see how it in fact related to Austen’s craft in any substantial way at all.

Regardless, Jane Austen and Style offers precise and minute close readings of Austen’s works–focusing mostly on Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma–and is certainly an engaging and worthwhile book of literary criticism if you’re looking to gain more insight into the craft underpinning Austen’s writing.

Thank you so much to Cambridge University Press for sending me an e-review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!


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#JaneAustenJuly is hosted by Katie from Books and Things and Marissa from Blatantly Bookish — If you’re interested in watching some YouTube videos about Jane Austen, then check out their channels!! They have so many wonderful videos up for #JaneAustenJuly.

1. What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan


(my full review here)

John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction.

2. Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach


(my full review here)

Searching for Jane Austen demolishes with wit and vivacity the often-held view of “Jane,” a decorous maiden aunt writing her small drawing-room stories of teas and balls. Emily Auerbach presents a different Jane Austen—a brilliant writer who, despite the obstacles facing women of her time, worked seriously on improving her craft and became one of the world’s greatest novelists, a master of wit, irony, and character development.

3. Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

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Take a trip back to Jane Austen’s world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a ‘life without incident’.

4. Art and Artifact in Austen edited by Anna Battigelli

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(my full review here)

Drawing from a wealth of recent historicist and materialist Austen scholarship, this timely work explores Austen’s ironic use of art and artifact to probe selfhood, alienation, isolation, and community in ways that defy simple labels and acknowledge the complexity of Austen’s thought.

5. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson


(my full review here)

Lavishly illustrated with paintings, drawings, historic garments, and fashion plates—including many previously unpublished images—this authoritative yet accessible book will help readers visualize the external selves of Austen’s immortal characters as clearly as she wrote of their internal ones. The result is an enhanced understanding of Austen’s work and time, and also of the history of one of Britain’s most distinctive fashion eras.

6. Jane Austen’s England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods by Roy and Leslie Adkins


From chores like fetching water to healing with  medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.

7. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin’s biography paints a surprisingly different picture of the Austen family and their Hampshire neighbours, and of Jane’s progress through a difficult childhood, an unhappy love affair, her experiences as a poor relation and her decision to reject a marriage that would solve all her problems – except that of continuing as a writer. Both the woman and the novels are radically reassessed in this biography.

8. A Portrait of Jane Austen by David Cecil

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Drawing on Jane Austen’s letters, novels, and other people’s memories of her, David Cecil sets out to “reconstruct and depict her living personality and to explore it in relation to her art”. The portrait that emerges is of a clear-sighted, observant, strong-minded woman whose witty and ironic representation of her own society has delighted millions of readers for centuries.

9. A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen edited by Susannah Carson


In essays culled from the last one hundred years of criticism juxtaposed with new pieces by some of today’s most popular novelists and essayists, Jane Austen’s writing is examined and discussed, from her witty dialogue to the arc and sweep of her story lines. Great authors and literary critics of the past offer insights into the timelessness of her moral truths while highlighting the unique confines of the society in which she composed her novels. Virginia Woolf examines Austen’s maturation as an artist and speculates on how her writing would have changed if she’d lived twenty more years, while C. S. Lewis celebrates Austen’s mirthful, ironic take on traditional values.

10. Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing


The broader Regency period 1795-1820 stands alone as an incredible moment in fashion history unlike anything that went before or after. It was the most naked period since Ancient Greece and before the 1960s, and for the first time England became a fashion influence, especially for menswear, and became the toast of Paris. With the ancient regime deposed, court dress became secondary and the season by season flux of fashion as we know it came into being, aided and abetted by the proliferation of new ladies’ magazines.

11. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

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Informed by the author’s years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author’s steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.

12. Jane Was Here: An Illustrated Guide to Jane Austen’s England by Nicole Jacobsen, Devynn Dayton, and Lexi K. Nilson

Jane Was Here: An Illustrated Guide to Jane Austen's England ...

Jane Was Here is a whimsical, illustrated guide to Jane Austen’s England – from the settings in her novels and the scenes in the wildly popular television and film adaptations, to her homes and other important locations throughout her own life.

Discover the stately homes of Basildon Park and Ham House and the lush landscapes of Stourhead and Stanage Edge. Tread in Jane’s footsteps as you explore her school in the old gatehouse of the ruined Reading Abbey; her perfectly-preserved home in her Chawton cottage, where she spent the last eight years of her life; or her final resting place in Winchester Cathedral.

13. Jane Austen and the English Landscape by Mavis Batey

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In late Georgian and Regency England established attitudes towards nature and the countryside, whether in art, literature or landscape gardening, were being challenged on many fronts. Jane Austen’s heroines, brought up with well-established Georgian standards, were as susceptible in matters of ‘Taste and Feeling’ as anyone else and, as this book so clearly demonstrates, their responses to landscape strikingly reflect the ramifications of fashionable taste and the influence of their reading. As a landscape historian steeped in the novels and letters of Jane Austen, Mavis Batey is the best of guides to the ideas and subtleties behind the real and fictional settings of the novels.

14. A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen by Richard Jenkyns


Focusing largely on Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, but with many diverting side trips to Austen’s other novels, Jenkyns shines a loving light on the exquisite craftsmanship and profound moral imagination that informs her writing. Readers will find, for instance, a wonderful discussion of characterization in Austen. 

Insightful and highly entertaining, A Fine Brush on Ivory captures the spirit and originality of Jane Austen’s work. It will be a cherished keepsake or gift for her many fans.

15. The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The Making of Jane Austen | Johns Hopkins University Press Books

Looser describes the factors and influences that radically altered Austen’s evolving image. Drawing from unexplored material, Looser examines how echoes of that work reverberate in our explanations of Austen’s literary and cultural power. Whether you’re a devoted Janeite or simply Jane-curious, The Making of Jane Austen will have you thinking about how a literary icon is made, transformed, and handed down from generation to generation.

16. At Home with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson


Tour the homes and settings of Jane Austen, one of the most widely read and beloved authors in English literature, in this beautiful book featuring over 100 color photographs and illustrations.

17. A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton


Drawing on contemporary accounts and illustrations, and a close reading of the novels as well as Austen’s correspondence, Susannah Fullerton takes the reader through all the stages of a Regency Ball as Jane Austen and her characters would have known it.

18. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne


The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things introduces us to a woman deeply immersed in the world around her, yet far ahead of her time in her independence and ambition; to an author who was an astute commentator on human nature and the foibles of her own age. Rich and compelling, it is a fresh, insightful, and often surprising portrait of an artist and a vivid evocation of the complex world that shaped her.

19. Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe


For anyone who has ever loved a Jane Austen novel, a warm and witty look at the passionate, thriving world of Austen fandom

They walk among us in their bonnets and Empire-waist gowns, clutching their souvenir tote bags and battered paperbacks: the Janeites, Jane Austen’s legion of devoted fans. Who are these obsessed admirers, whose passion has transformed Austen from classic novelist to pop-culture phenomenon? Deborah Yaffe, journalist and Janeite, sets out to answer this question, exploring the remarkable endurance of Austen’s stories, the unusual zeal that their author inspires, and the striking cross-section of lives she has touched.

20. Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination by Juliette Wells


Everybody’s Jane is the first study to investigate fully these popular appropriations of Austen in England and America, taking into account recent scholarly work on fan cultures and fan fiction. Like these Austen-inspired works themselves, this book stands at the crossroads between studies of popular culture and literary studies; it also offers a major contribution to the ongoing public discussion about the significance and relevance of Jane Austen today.

21. Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein

Why Jane Austen? | Columbia University Press

In this book, Rachel M. Brownstein considers constructions of Jane Austen as a heroine, moralist, satirist, romantic, woman, and author and the changing notions of these categories. She finds echoes of Austen’s insights and techniques in contemporary Jane-o-mania, the commercially driven, erotically charged popular vogue that aims paradoxically to preserve and liberate, to correct and collaborate with old Jane. Brownstein’s brilliant discussion of the distinctiveness and distinction of Austen’s genius clarifies the reasons why we read the novelist-or why we should read her-and reorients the prevailing view of her work. Reclaiming the rich comedy of Austen while constructing a new narrative of authorship, Brownstein unpacks the author’s fascinating entanglement with readers and other admirers.

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