The best books for lovers of Jane Austen

Why am I passionate about this?

All my life I loved her novels and often reread them, but in secret. My friends—in the 1960s—scoffed at her plots. When I began my career as a classicist, I went on rereading her novels when I should've been reading academic articles. Then by a stroke of luck, I ran across a sentence in one of her letters that alluded to an obscure area of classical literature. This changed reading her novels from a guilty pleasure to scholarly research. I questioned why she and members of her family concealed her learning. The reason shocked me. The people of her day believed that women who knew Latin and Greek were sexually frigid, sexually promiscuous, man-crazy lesbians.


I wrote...

Jane Austen: Closet Classicist

By Mary DeForest,

Book cover of Jane Austen: Closet Classicist

What is my book about?

Male writers maintained a dialogue with the Greek and Roman writers by allusion, imitation, parody. Jane Austen also attached her novels to the works of the great tradition, but in secret. On the microscopic scale, she used the density of Latinate words to indicate the social class, gender, and mood of her characters. She hinted that her heroines knew Latin without obtruding this knowledge on her women readers. On the macroscopic scale, she reworked the great texts of ancient literature, replacing the hero with a heroine—an Oedipus with an Emma—or displacing him—centering her Odyssey on the Penelope figure in Persuasion. In elevating love stories, the lowest genre, to the status of classical masterpieces, she resembled Mozart, who composed his “Twelve Variations” on the tune of twinkle twinkle little star.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Room Of One's Own

Mary DeForest Why did I love this book?

Almost a hundred years ago, Woolf asked why there were so few women writers. Countering the answers offered by men, that women lacked the brains and knowledge, she set out the real obstacles. They needed a room with a lock and an independent income. Her essay, beautifully written, summarizes the British women writers before Austen, leading up to the decisive moment in the history of literature, an event she claimed was more important even than the Crusades or the War of the Roses: “The middle-class woman began to write.”

By Virginia Woolf,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Room Of One's Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization, and helped make us who we are.


Book cover of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination

Mary DeForest Why did I love this book?

Gilbert and Gubar take the reader on an exhilarating ride through women’s literature from Jane Austen to Emily Dickinson. Women writers freed female characters from their stereotypes in novels written by men—angels and monsters, dull virgins, and evil temptresses—to become friends, or people I would choose for friends if only they were real. The book’s title alludes to the first Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre, a haunting specter of the thwarted woman author raging at her bars.

By Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Madwoman in the Attic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A feminist classic."-Judith Shulevitz, New York Times Book Review

"A pivotal book, one of those after which we will never think the same again."-Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Washington Post Book World

A pathbreaking book of literary criticism is now reissued with a new introduction by Lisa Appignanesi that speaks to how The Madwoman in the Attic set the groundwork for subsequent generations of scholars writing about women writers, and why the book still feels fresh some four decades later.


Book cover of Sex and Subterfuge: Women Writers to 1850

Mary DeForest Why did I love this book?

Figes argues that although women novelists did not directly challenge the rules of a patriarchal society, they challenged its assumptions by protesting the restrictions on women’s lives and severely criticizing the clergymen, enablers of the patriarchy. My favorite section of the book is her interpretation of the Gothic novels, which she calls the female equivalent of picaresque novels. Women, she points out, were not permitted to roam the world like Tom Jones, having adventures. Instead, these novels presented women, who, through no fault of their own, are imprisoned by evil men. Their adventures, as they find their way to safety in foreign lands, prove their courage and intelligence.

By Eva Figes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sex and Subterfuge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Figes, Eva


Book cover of Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen

Mary DeForest Why did I love this book?

A best-selling novelist explains to a fictional niece why, under the shadow of the nuclear bomb we should bother with stuff written before the twentieth century, particularly with the romances of an old maid who never went anywhere. A skilled novelist herself, Weldon vividly depicts the horrors of Austen’s world that equal those of our age—famine, war, childbirth, and medical ignorance. Because she is a novelist, she is good at describing Austen’s mastery of turning social household irritations into art. As a special bonus, she recommends other novelists for readers to enjoy and aspiring novelists to learn from.

By Fay Weldon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letters to Alice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alice is an eighteen-year-old student and aspiring novelist with green spiky hair, a child of the modern age who recoils at the idea of reading Jane Austen. In a sequence of letters reminiscent of Jane Austen's to her own neice, 'aunt' Fay examines the rewards of such study. Not only is her correspondence a revealing tribute to a great writer - it is also an original and rewarding exploration of the craft of fiction itself.


Book cover of What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

Mary DeForest Why did I love this book?

I never saw any of these puzzles before I read Mullan’s book. By solving them, he goes deep into Austen’s novels, examining her miniature world as if with a microscope, offering the reader insights into the subtleties of her art: how people inadvertently reveal through their words what they would prefer to keep hidden or how Captain Benwick, a major minor character in Persuasion, comes across as a solid human being without the reader’s hearing him utter a word. The aspiring novelist can learn much from her tricks.

By John Mullan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call each other, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? And which important Austen characters never speak? In What Matters in Austen, John Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Jane Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction - by asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals their devilish cleverness.

In twenty-one short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen's novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that…


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A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

Book cover of A Sparrow Falls

Vicki Olsen Author Of A Sparrow Falls

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Air Force brat World War 2 junkie Gallivanter Beret-wearing Francophile Book hoarder

Vicki's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In this book set against the backdrop of a changing America, Sarah must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and come to terms with her future. Sarah, a young woman from the rural town of Tolerance, Arkansas, has endured an impoverished and painful childhood.

But now, as the innocence of the 1950s transforms into the turbulent 1960s, Sarah must find the strength to overcome her traumas, forgive those who have wronged her, and discover her true self. With its moving and often disturbing narrative, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman's journey…

A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

What is this book about?

A moving, sometimes disturbing, beautifully written book...Amazon Customer Review
Set in Arkansas as the innocence of the 1950s morphs into the turbulent ‘60s, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman emerging from an impoverished and traumatic childhood as she finds the inner strength to overcome her past. Te ghosts of the past and come to terms with her future is in the strength to forgive those who have wronged her?
Content Advisory: This book is intended for mature audiences and contains child sexual abuse and disturbing imagery.


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