"An impeccably researched new book."
48 b&w illus.
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History, Location, and Celebrity
Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of the Choice ACRL
In Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas makes the bold assertion that Jane Austen’s novels allude to actual high-profile politicians and contemporary celebrities as well as to famous historical figures and landed estates. Barchas is the first scholar to conduct extensive research into the names and locations in Austen’s fiction by taking full advantage of the explosion of archival materials now available online.
According to Barchas, Austen plays confidently with the tension between truth and invention that characterizes the realist novel. Of course, the argument that Austen deployed famous names presupposes an active celebrity culture during the Regency, a phenomenon recently accepted by scholars. The names Austen plucks from history for her protagonists (Dashwood, Wentworth, Woodhouse, Tilney, Fitzwilliam, and many more) were immensely famous in her day. She seems to bank upon this familiarity for interpretive effect, often upending associations with comic intent.
Barchas re-situates Austen’s work closer to the historical novels of her contemporary Sir Walter Scott and away from the domestic and biographical perspectives that until recently have dominated Austen studies. This forward-thinking and revealing investigation offers scholars and ardent fans of Jane Austen a wealth of historical facts, while shedding an interpretive light on a new aspect of the beloved writer's work.
"An impeccably researched new book."
"Matters of Fact in Jane Austen is unlike any previous work of Austen criticism, both in its attention to minute historical detail and in its pioneering claims... [It] is meticulously researched, beautifully written, highly original, and unquestionably timely. It ought to stimulate not just rousing arguments but provoke, too, further historically attuned Austen scholarship."
"This is a book whose charm and clarity easily overcome any initial resistance one might have to its central claim that Austen’s work actively partakes in what historians now call 'celebrity culture'... One of Barchas’s most surprising—and ultimately convincing—claims is that Austen, like James Joyce after her, 'not only names her fictional characters with uncanny historical precision but maps them with equal care through historical settings'. She illustrates this with careful attention to Austen’s own historical reading and letters, prints of contemporary maps, portraits and country houses."
"This is easily one of the most important books on Austen published in recent years, a must read. Thanks to fantastic volumes like this one... Austen's books are finally being read and reassessed in the context of their times and are no longer given the backhanded compliment of being called 'timeless'... Essential. (Named by Choice in its list of Outstanding Academic Titles, 2013)"
"A provocative, suggestive, and original book which makes a genuine contribution to scholarship on Jane Austen... It is an excellent example of a truly interdisciplinary approach to literary criticism."
"This is a huge achievement."
"The author seeks to pull Austen away from her timelessness... Jane is not just a keen observer of those 3 or 4 families but of all the aristocracy famous or scandalous enough to make the papers... In a world where feminine accomplishments and interests are still denigrated and marginalized, it’s important to pull Jane out of the parlor."
"Moving away from domesticity and beyond broad social history, Matters of Fact in Jane Austen proceeds as a series of detailed case studies that, taken together, make a strong argument for Austen as a popular culture aficionado and for scholars’ attachment to her vaunted 'timelessness' as a disservice to her powers of observation and allusion."
"One of the most elegant new critical books I've encountered recently... a very original and well-researched, sometimes mind-blowing study of the numerous real-world people who stand 'behind' individual Austen characters. Barchas is stunning, for example, on Northanger Abbey, one of Austen's more elusive fictions."
"'Meticulous' will also inevitably be the word most often used to describe Janine Barchas’s latest book. The research that has informed Matters of Fact in Jane Austen:History, Location, and Celebrity is abundant and careful, making this a fascinating and fresh take on Austen studies. Much like the 'What Jane Saw' website, the bookstarts from the contention that Austen was well aware of and sensitive to the news and newsmakers of her day, and that the realities of her specific historical moment influence aspects of her novels."
"Critics have often recognized Austen's care with locational details in particular, but have done little more. Barchas's compelling geographical and spatial arguments... had me reading with my iPad in hand, toggling between various maps of Bath and the book A Google maps assignment awaits my England summer study-abroad students-cum-surveyors."
"Janine Barchas's well-researched and beautifully written book recovers some interesting historical contexts for once-celebrated names from Britain's historical past... Matters of Fact [is] a book that every reader will find profitable and delightful to peruse."
"In this absorbing study, Barchas unearths real people, events, and locations."
"Intriguing, witty, and detailed re-examination of character in Austen... Barchas makes a compelling case for her theories and writes with wit and elegance. The book is generously illustrated and unfolds at times almost like a detective story. Original and exciting, it's a must read for any serious — or even not-so-serious — Austen fan."
"Janine Barchas persuasively positions Austen as a local and national historian. In a study which discusses Lady Susan, Northanger Abbey, Evelyn, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasiion, Barchas uncovers the complex and subtle contexts, connotations, and resonances of Austen's material culture and character names."
"Janine Barchas’s thought-provoking study of Austen’s naming practices unearths a wealth of historical antecedents for Austen’s characters and posits an Austen whose gamesmanship with the names of persons and places rivals the knowingness and playfulness of James Joyce."
"Like a thrilling detective story, Barchas's study consistently and pleasurably overcomes the incredulity and skepticism it provokes. Besides inspiring serious and sustained reassessment of Austen's novels, Barchas's findings may also lead us to re-examine long settled conclusions regarding the dates of Austen's compositions and revisions... One hopes that Barchas's method might be usefully applied to Austen's contemporaries in order to further evaluate the relationships between 'matters of fact' and the period's fiction."
"In a lively and formidably informed study, Janine Barchas buries the lingering myth of Jane Austen as 'a cloistered rectory daughter,' and convincingly reconstructs her as 'a local and national historian'—and moreover a confirmed name-dropper who subtly manipulates the celebrity culture of her day."
"Renovating the historicist pedantry of readers like Vladimir Nabokov, who plotted geographical locales and estimated room dimensions in the margins of his teaching copy of Mansfield Park, Janine Barchas remaps the coordinates of Austen’s fictive world as nodal points in a network of real names of glamorous places and people—Wentworth, Wodehouse, D’Arcy, and Fitzwilliam among them. Matters of Fact in Jane Austen is too modest a title for this prescient book, in which facts matter as markers of Austen’s creative method, authorizing the vividness of her charismatically alluring characters and plots."