Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey
Treasure Trove of Austeniana
A Jane Austen Encyclopedia
By Paul Poplawski.
Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
iv + 411 pages. 15 B/W illustrations.
Reviewed by Pat Keen.
This comprehensive and valuable book offers many different ways to organize information about Jane Austen: (1) an historical chronology of her life and her work, as well as that of her family members; (2) an historical chronology of the period 1750-1820; (3) a literary chronology of the same period; (4) an "encyclopedia" of her life and work, identifying every Austen character and family member, and providing synopses of all the novels; (5) a listing of all editions of Austen's work; (6) a list of all books and pamphlets, arranged by author name and by year; and (7) a selective list of important essays.
All of these approaches have been attempted before in various formats and publications, but this volume puts them into one handy reference. Poplawski, Senior Lecturer in English at Trinity College, Camarthen in Wales, also provides an "Illustration Essay" which includes sketches of Jane's brothers and father; pictures of period costumes, bonnets and carriages; an Austen family genealogical chart; and a map of England identifying every place name associated with Austen. There are the familiar photos of the places where Austen was born, died and was buried. The book is a veritable "treasure trove" for the Janeite and a useful tool for the student or researcher. It would also be useful for those JASNA members who like to assemble quizzes or crossword puzzles drawn from Austen's life and novels
Of particular value is the unique way the material is organized. For example, the books and pamphlets bibliography is first organized by author and then by year, in order to, as Poplawski explains, "give a sense of the development of Austen scholarship through time." The essays section provides a selective author listing for the 19th century and a separate listing for the 20th; this division is especially helpful for the researcher who is only interested in current studies, or for the one who prefers to learn more about the earlier reaction to Austen. The book also attempts three different contexts for Austen's work: the events of her life, the historical events of her lifetime, and the important books available at the time. This variety of approach makes the book valuable for both the occasional and serious reader of the novels.
The only other current book which attempts such a comprehensive overview is The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (Copeland and McMaster), published in 1997. Its predecessor was The Jane Austen Companion, published in 1986. In this book, JASNA co- founder and editor J. David Grey collected an entertaining variety of short essays, including three that surveyed different periods of Austen criticism. It also provided a "dictionary" of Austen's life and works, assembled by H. Abigail Bok, in a format similar to the 275-page "encyclopedia" which makes up the largest section in this book. Going back further in time, we find that in 1932, G. L. Apperson produced A Jane Austen Dictionary, reprinted in 1969 and listed in the 1998 Books In Print.
There are several caveats to this praise. A book this size, with so many citations to proofread, must have required considerable time to prepare for 1998 publication. As a result, Poplawski's bibliography of criticism covers publications only up to 1996. The illustration on the cover, which is repeated opposite the title page, is a modern "adaptation" of Cassandra's rather awkward portrait; the artist has, however, not improved on Cassandra's attempt. Furthermore, the illustrations of costume, hats and carriages are not charming, and do not enhance the book. Nonetheless, Greenwood Publishing Group has produced a valuable book, with an attractive typeface and a sturdy binding that school libraries will appreciate.
Pat Keen currently serves as Co-coordinator for the Northern California Region. Having written a doctoral dissertation, she appreciates the usefulness of reference guides like the one she reviews for this issue.
JASNA News v. 15, no. 2, Summer 1999
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