Sunday, March 18, 2007

More about Jane Austen

Bill Grimes in the NYT took a look at annotated versions of some classic books including books by Austen and Nobokov. Reflecting back to your school days, when placing your novels in context was important to your participation in class will give you a good idea of how annotated books can add to your enjoyment and deeper understanding of the material. As Grimes says in refering to an annotated version of Pride and Prejudice,

Any reader who sticks with the program and absorbs the wealth of material that Mr. Shapard offers will, insofar as such a thing as possible, read “Pride and Prejudice” as it was read and understood at the time of its publication, with all the period details in place and correctly interpreted. But the novel, in most respects, remains the same. The reader who does not know a farthing from a guinea, it’s safe to say, will nonetheless grasp the great drama of attraction and repulsion that plays out between Darcy and Elizabeth. The cut and thrust of their conversation is timeless. Generations of young women who do not know the first thing about an entailed estate or a quadrille will recognize in Austen’s heroine a kindred spirit, a contemporary, a valued ally in the eternal war between the sexes.

These books fill an important need for some readers who really want to understand the world that the writer lived and the one that the characters inhabit. From the article,
That’s why there’s a niche market for annotated editions and period guides. A while back Daniel Pool responded to a crying need with “What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew,” a whirlwind tour of day-to-day life in 19th-century England, with plentiful examples from Trollope, Thackeray, Eliot and Hardy. It tilts heavily toward the Victorians, whose world, with its railroads and factory towns and gaslighted streets Austen would not have recognized.

The next step would be to take this material to a more interactive level so that a reader could do their own research and navigate up and down and side to side in terms of contemporary history, politics, recreation, language, etc. Although admittedly that is going to be too much for the casual reader.

1 comment:

MaureenE said...

Interesting points. I agree that it's possible to enjoy classics without knowing all the details about the time period, but I personally find learning about the strange trivia fascinating.

Oh, it's Austen, with an 'e' by the way.