Jane Austen The Secret Radical

Book review by Frances Duncan

AustenI read several reviews of Jane Austen The Secret Radical before reading the book itself. Reviewers Abigail Bok and John Mullan agree that there isn’t much new. This is amusing as Mullan’s What Matters In Jane Austen* has even less original material. I agree with him that Edward Ferrars and Catherine Moreland’s behaviour is unlikely to have Freudian undertones. But those who view Austen’s novels as romances may be surprised (“Jane’s novels aren’t romantic. But it’s become increasingly difficult for readers to see this.” p. 31); readers who know about Austen herself won’t be. 

Kelly (the author) points out that much of what we take for fact is hypothesis or family tradition. The book includes a lot of historical fact, not all of it solidly tied to Austen.  For example, abortion was legal during part of Austen’s lifetime (an interesting point as there is a movement to legalise it in NZ). She declares the real reason Jane Austen never married is because “sex can kill you” (p. 69). What then for Charlotte Lucas who married Mr Collins a “fate worse than death” (p.137)?

There are some strange ideas; that Mary Musgrove is pregnant, that Catherine never finishes the Mysteries of Udolpho, that Anne and Fredrick aren’t in love at the beginning of Persuasion, that Harriet and Jane Fairfax are sisters. But the most laughably absurd is that Mr Knightley has ulterior motives in marrying Emma and that he’s a “terrible landlord” ( p. 235).

Jane Austen The Secret Radical is written on the premise that “it’s impossible for anyone to write thousands upon thousands of worlds and reveal nothing of how they think or what they believe” (p. 30). But almost anything can be twisted to mean what you want it to – just look at The Bible. Do give it a read though, she might convince you.

All quotes from Kelly, H (2016). Jane Austen the Secret Radical. London: Icon.
*I recommend you read Jane Austen the Secret Radical over What Matters in Jane Austen. Or read both.

Also posted on francesduncanwrites.com

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3 thoughts on “Jane Austen The Secret Radical

  1. Thanks so much, I really enjoyed the reviews on both this book and Jane Austen At Home. As it’s the bicentenary of her death, I’ve taken it upon myself to re-read all her works before year’s end, Persuasion being my acknowledged favourite. I’ve also dipped a toe into some of the pastiches that currently abound (some admittedly better than others). I was very pleasantly surprised to read a book recommended to me by a fellow Janeite – Four Riddles for Jane Austen (and her artful maid Tilly), by Gabrielle Mullarkey. While I’ll admit that some of the homages out there are toe-curlingly inept, this one has the benefit of an author who has an English degree and a solid background in published writing, as well as being written by an author who’s bothered to do the requisite research but without letting it overwhelm the story or trying to ‘out-Jane’ Jane. To my surprise, it was both engaging, true to its genre and highly entertaining. It might be something that your members would also enjoy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B073WXQ796?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

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