Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Jane Austen: Illusion and Reality

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Jane Austen: Illusion and Reality

Article excerpt

Jane Austen: Illusion and Reality. By Christopher Brooke. Cambridge: Brewer. 1999. xii + 224 pp. 25 [pounds sterling]; $45.

The subtitle of this study would seem to imply an entire innocence of those critical debates that have troubled the old dichotomies of illusion and reality, fiction and truth, in the years since Lionel Trilling and D. J. Harvey talked about the novel as a repository of moral truth. Indeed, whilst Christopher Brooke is aware that `historians who regard [Austen's] novels as transcripts of real life deceive themselves' (p. 9) he also has an unabashed conviction that not only is Austen concerned to represent the real world but that she is capable of writing `real conversation' which is also `high art' (p. 13). The complexity of this antinomy is not even superficially considered and as Brooke's writing is incapable of tearing itself away from an epistemology more naive than that of Austen herself, so it is unable to make any critical headway. The best one can say to palliate this harsh judgement is that even to begin to raise these concerns may be to ask more of the book than it ever intends since it is largely ignorant of Austen scholarship and reads as a hotch-potch of occasional observations that appear to have been drafted at various times across many years (Marilyn Butler, much admired, is still, rather stiffly, Dr Butler and not apparently a professor) and without the benefit of a unifying vision. …

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