Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

Written by Claire Harman
Review by Eva Ulett

In the last year I’ve reviewed three derivative works of Jane Austen, and in the same period the HNS published upwards of a dozen. Jane’s Fame analyzes the perennial appeal of Austen’s fiction, and the phenomenon of her fame. The book is also an excellent biography rife with detail, from the author’s writing habits – her novels were written on small, homemade booklets that could be easily covered over – to the opinions of Austen held by generations of novelists. Her contemporary Sir Walter Scott praised her exquisite characterizations as opposed to his own ‘big bow-wow strain’ of fiction; Emerson and Twain expressed strong antipathy to her; and Katherine Mansfield explained her appeal as stemming from the reader’s perception that “he alone … has become the secret friend of their author.”

Not much remarked in her lifetime, Jane Austen has grown into an industry. Claire Harman examines Austen’s fame from all angles, concluding it impossible to imagine a time when “her works could have delighted us long enough.” What we now call fan fiction is not new; the first Austen spin-off was published in 1913. In Jane’s Fame Claire Harman has contributed a fascinating study of all things Jane Austen.