For our latest look at Jane Austen-related books in celebration of the upcoming 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, I’ve chosen a selection of three “little” Janeian titles, some of the many small, novelty-type books on Jane Austen out there (and which would make great stocking stuffer gifts for your literary-leaning friends, by the way…)
101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen by Patrice Hannon is just that: a compendium of short (2-5 pages) essays about different aspects of the author’s life and works—from “What was Jane’s mother like?” to “Who were Jane Austen’s favorite novelists?” to “Why didn’t Pride and Prejudice keep its first title?” (Spot quiz—what was Pride and Prejudice’s original title?)*. It’s great to dip into and read at random in a spare moment, or munch straight through when you’re in the mood for a full meal of Jane.
Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades, and Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross (illustrated by Henrietta Webb) is a little gem of a book—small in size, but beautifully designed with numerous (and amusing) watercolor illustrations, printed on lusciously thick ivory paper, with a ribbon bookmark bound in. Part playful advice for social interaction, part look at Jane Austen’s own outlook on personal conduct, it’s perhaps most interesting as a general introduction to the manners and mores of 19th century society, a great aid in enhancing understanding and enjoyment of the Austen oeuvre.
The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World by Margaret C. Sullivan leans a little more to the tongue-in-cheek end of the spectrum (there’s a section on “How to Elope to Scotland", for example!); this book purports to be a guide for young ladies to life in early 19th century England, via Jane Austen’s novels. Alas, some of the history is not entirely accurate (I caught a reference to dining while wearing elbow length gloves which instructed wearers to slip their hands through the buttoned placket at the wrist...a useful feature which Regency-era gloves did not possess) so a grain or two of salt may be required…but it’s still good fun. One note of caution for those with middle-aged eyes: it is printed in aqua ink, and while pretty, it does not aid in readability.
*Oh--and the answer to the spot quiz? Pride and Prejudice's original title was First Impressions; Jane Austen changed it before publication in 1813 because another novel had been published with that name in 1800.