In Jane's Fame, British biographer Claire Harman examines how Jane Austen evolved from a relatively obscure, anonymous authoress during her own lifetime to become one of the most beloved and celebrated writers in the world today. Harman offers convincing evidence that shows Austen to have been an ambitious and persistent young woman who craved success and recognition. This contradicts accounts by members of her inner circle, who portray her as a modest young woman who didnít seek fame.
Austenís novels enjoyed a small degree of popularity in her lifetime but were virtually forgotten after her death in 1817. Harman credits the publication in 1870 of The Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew Edward Austen-Leigh as the point when her fame slowly began its stratospheric climb. With the publication of this biography, people began to take more of an interest in her and her work. With that came a refashioning of her image, another topic of Harmanís scrutiny. Austen was essentially split into two different images Ė one for the academics and one for the mass market audience.
Harman describes how Jane Austenís novels meant different things to different people throughout the years. However, every popular author has critics as well as champions. Harman gives equal time to notable detractors and fans of Austenís work. Among her fans were Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde, but she found critics in Mark Twain, Charlotte BrontŽ and D.H. Lawrence.
Austen, who struggled to get her work published, would never have foreseen the cultural impact that her work has had in the 200 years since her death. Countless movies and books of various genres have been inspired by her novels. Jane Austen is all over the Internet. She has merchandise. She has societies. There have been numerous editions printed of her novels. There have been endless movie versions of her books, and the world clamors for more. Harman notes that Austenís cultural influence has been compared with Shakespeareís, and her book successfully makes that point.
Insightful and at times humorous, Jane's Fame successfully cultivates a vast field of source material in an attempt to distinguish fact from fiction. Even casual fans will appreciate this intelligent and entertaining look at Austen-mania. Jane's Fame deserves a place on every Janeiteís bookshelf.