Watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra, 1804
A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen is a light academic analysis of Jane Austen’s writings by Richard Jenkyns, a professor and researcher of classical literature.
If you like reading Jane Austen, and exploring the ideas within her works, this is the book for you. Jenkyns primarily discusses three of Austen’s novels: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park.
I enjoyed learning the author’s perspective and thoughts on Austen’s characters and themes. I won’t say that I agreed with every opinion presented though! Of course, many are just possible theories. When dealing with such an innovative and pivotal writer as Jane Austen, whose secrets have been lost to history, the best anyone can do is speculate.
What better time to espouse her literary techniques than today, the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birthday, which was on December 16, 1775.
“Jane Austen’s work was a true triumph of the comic spirit–of deep comedy, rising from the heart of human life. In A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns takes us on an amiable tour of Austen’s fictional world, opening a window on some of the great works of world literature.
Focusing largely on Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, but with many diverting side trips to Austen’s other novels, Jenkyns shines a loving light on the exquisite craftsmanship and profound moral imagination that informs her writing. Readers will find, for instance, a wonderful discussion of characterization in Austen. Jenkyns’s insight into figures such as Mr. Bennett or Mrs. Norris is brilliant–particularly his portrait of the amusing, clever, always ironic Mr. Bennett, whose humor (Jenkyns shows) arises out of a deeply unhappy and disappointing marriage. The author pays due homage to Austen’s unmatched skill with complex plotting–the beauty with which the primary plot and the various subplots are woven together–highlighting the infinite care she took to make each plot detail as natural and as plausible as possible. Perhaps most important, Jenkyns illuminates the heart of Austen’s moral imagination: she is constantly aware, throughout her works, of the nearness of evil to the comfortable social surface. She knows that the socially acceptable sins may be truly cruel and vicious, knows that society can be red in tooth and claw, and yet she allows the pleasures of comedy and celebration to subordinate them.
Insightful and highly entertaining, A Fine Brush on Ivory captures the spirit and originality of Jane Austen’s work.”