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They say a sign of age is not being aware of the passage of time. I must indeed be getting very old for it has come as quite a surprise to me to realise that my favourite book on the subject of Jane Austen and her use of language is now over 21 years old. Myra Stokes’ book, The Language of Jane Austen (1991) appears to have gone out of print a long time ago, and has never been released in a second edition, as far as I am aware. Finding secondhand copies of it today is a difficult task. Indeed, I can find only 6 copies available to purchase on the usual internet secondhand book sites.
Therefore I suppose there really is a need for a new book on the subject. How time flies. And indeed, as our language changes so subtly and so very quickly, it is very possible that readers new to Jane Austen may sometimes feel confused by her use of a term or word which differs from our modern usage. I know I can easily be caught out by the language used my children and their friends. Using words such as “sick” and “bad” to describe something that is apparently exactly the opposite is just the tip of the iceberg. A recent discussion in the family prompted by the Diamond Jubilee, on the meaning of the word “royalist” as defined by teenagers of today, and the contrast with what I mean by that term has, I confess, quietly astonished me.
This book, Understanding Austen: Key Concepts in the Six Novels by Maggie Lane, will therefore be a godsend to readers discovering Jane Austen for the first time, who may, for example wonder what she means by her terms “air” and “address” . Examples of the key concepts covered in the book include words used by her to denote Genius,Wit and Taste, Elegance, Air and Address and A Nice Distinction. The book is written in a clear an non-academic style and is very accessible.
My only real gripe about this book is an editorial one. When discussing these concepts no references to page numbers in any edition of Austen’s works are given for any of the Austenian quotations taken from the novels. I don’t think it is necessarily wise to assume that the people to whom this book is directed-new readers, I suppose it has to be- are so familiar with the novels that they know exactly where these quotations appear. And, more crucially in a work of this type, there is no index of where the individual words studied in the text can be found. This would have been very helpful for the reader who simply wanted to clarify what a certain word meant while they were reading one of The Six. So, as a general read the book works: on a practical level and as a reference book to be accessed while reading the novels, it is less successful, in my opinion.
However, these problems aside, the book is an interesting read, and my copy of it will be included in my 3rd Anniversary Giveaway, bundle in a few week’s time. Do keep an eye open for it ;)