Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury

I received this book just over a week ago as a Christmas present from one of my beloved students.  I was touched that a student had taken the time to think of a gift that I would appreciate and like.

I have always loved the works of Jane Austen – even though that might not be a fashionable statement amidst those who believe she is not really literature.  This book by Rebecca Dickson begs to differ.

Dickson divides her book very neatly into an introduction and detailed chapters that are ordered according to the publishing  dates of Austen’s works.  Each chapter focuses on the details and plots of each novel, offers interesting notes on the nineteenth century and provides insight into Austen’s personal life.  Dickson peppers her work with anecdotes about the many films that have been made based on Austen’s work and incorporates many works of art that truly capture the feeling of the nineteenth century.  Amidst all of this, there are copies of portraits made of Jane throughout her life, copies of handwritten letters, poems and even editing notes Austen made to her last novel, Persuasion.

Dickson makes many interesting parallels between Austen’s life, the people who surrounded her and the characters and stories of her novels.  Dickson’s claims are substantiated by solid research and her easy writing style makes you feel like you’re chatting to a friend who is well schooled in all-things-Austen and not a high-brow professor of literature.

It’s been a few years since I have read a Jane Austen novel.  Between teaching English, being parent to a toddler and tyring to write more – little time is spared for reading anything new, never mind sitting down to an old favourite.

Dickson’s book has changed my mind.  Recently, I posted about my new BlackBerry Playbook and the desire to start reading ebooks.  I was debating whether to read something new or begin my ereading experience with something old and comforting.  At the time I was leaning toward new, but Dickson’s book has changed my mind.  I crave to read one of Austen’s books in light of all my new knowledge from Dickson.  The question now is, which one will it be?

All in all, Rebecca Dickson doesn’t present any mind-blowing information about the author.  She creates a portrait of a woman who knew very well what she hoped to achieve through her writing and a writer who knew enough about the cultural constraints of her time to reach those goals with humour and disguise them with themes of love.

It’s fun to poke through the clear envelopes, held together by seals of Austen’s silhouette, and (try to) read Austen’s handwriting and look at portraits.  Dickson makes the foray into reading about Austen as much fun as it is to read an Austen novel.

Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury

Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury is as pleasing to read as it is to look at.  As an English Teacher, Rebecca Dickson’s book will definitely be part of my arsenal to sell Jane Austen to a new generation of readers the next time I teach one of her works.  I believe any fan of Jane Austen will devour this book that will adorn a coffee table well and offer insightful research on a beloved writer.

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