Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jane Austen: Christian Encounter Series by Peter Leithart

Jane Austen: Christian Encounter Series by Peter Leithart. Thomas Nelson Publication. 2009. ISBN #: 9781595553027

Before the author gets into the focus of this latest biography of Jane Austen, he spends a chapter decrying all the movies, articles, novels and books that have created a mythic "Jane" Austen, what he refers to as a "Divine Jane." It's not exactly the most endearing approach to a topic unless one is prepared to back such a claim up with personal or professional knowledge of one's topic. Thus we have the premise of what Peter Leithart is out to prove.

The Jane offered in this biogrraphy is centrally composed of two notable characteristics. She remains "Jenny," a childlike woman who never quite turned into the mature writer that others envision and portray in their own works. She is also a very Christian woman whose beliefs fill every page she ever wrote, albeit often in parody of those reject the 19th century values and beliefs of standard Protestan faith. Despite these formidable tasks set by the author for himself, this book succeeds admirably in being a fascinating, informative and totally enjoyable read. Thank goodness that Jane's life interests have more than enough variation and connection to the vibrant conversations of her day, and ours we might add, to intrigue us about her literary development, social and cultural practices, and humble acceptance of her strengths and weakness as a writer.

Leithart takes the reader through Jane's educational background, including all the literary, historical and etiquette books she found fascinating which so strongly influenced her writing throughout her entire life. Far from boring, it's like watching the formation of a particular mindset, yet a superb one because it obviously taught her to not only accept but also question and even debunk so many ideas in a sincere, satirical and humorous way that is behind the fascination of contemporary readers with Jane's characters and plots.

Well-researched and including appendixes about Jane's family, friends, neighbors, characters in her novels and numerous notes, this edition of biography about Jane Austen is sure to delight and provoke discussion about this very talented, unque 19th century novelist.

Very nicely done, Mr. Leithart!

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