The information included in the book is far too dense to recount in detail here, so I will instead focus on the aspect of it that I found most remarkable: the massive diversity of those who have found in Austen both solace in times of turmoil and political justification of their causes. The most astounding example of the first is probably the fact that Winston Churchill, when planning the-day operation with Roosevelt and Stalin, suffered from a severe fever which he weathered by reading Pride and Prejudice. Overall, this book offers a wonderful new argument for me to leverage against all those who so frequently claim that Austen is strictly chick-lit. Harman recounts her popularity amongst troops in the trenches during World War I, for whom Austen represented the calm and peace that was so absent from their lives. She was also recommended reading to soldiers recovering from wounds, as her novels were considered therapeutic. This is a far cry from the modern image of bonnet-wearing, cat-loving Janeites who swoon over Colin Firth in a wet shirt (not that there is anything wrong with that), and I loved every detail of Harman's stereotype busting narrative. I was further mesmerized by Harman's highlighting of the ability political opponents have to leverage Austen in the name of the disparate causes. Suffregettes looked to her as an example of the powerful nature of the feminine mind, while their opponents held up her values as ideals of traditional femininity. The latter argument was further complicated by her popularity amongst anarchists, who saw in her wit an execration of the bourgeois lifestyle. Harman proves over and over again that Austen can be all things to all people. Her novels are open to as large a variety of interpretations of the Bible.
And here is your opportunity to be similarly delighted by your very own free copy of this intriguing book. For those of you who might shy away from the notion of reading non-fiction, let me assure you that Harman is highly readable and accessible to all, not just those with an academic bent. If you love Jane, I find it hard to believe you will not be enthralled by Jane's Fame. For your chance to win simply leave a comment, including your email address, by Wednesday, March 16th. For a second opportunity to win, let me know why you think Austen's novels have such a broad and lasting appeal. Good luck to all who enter. The lucky winner will be the owner of a wonderful celebration of Austen's unprecedented popularity.