Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Not Just Jane” (Book Review)

How many people – especially women – enjoy fame in their day, but are soon forgotten after their deaths? You only need to scan a list of Academy Award winners to realize that it doesn’t take long for fame to die out, even for many who are really gifted. So true for the authoresses featured in Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature (Harper Perennial, 2016).

Wanting to make the world aware that there’s more to the English literature than some Jane Austin mixed with a little Charlotte Bronte, DeWees introduces her readers to seven famous women almost no one has ever heard of: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. (Before reading the book, I was only vaguely familiar with two of them, and my husband a different two for different reasons.)

These authors had sad, often tragic, lives and struggled to make a living in what was truly a man’s world. More importantly, they once made strong contributions to Britain’s literary scene, yet won’t be found on today’s high school reading lists. DeWees might change that, however. She peeks into each woman’s backstory, showing how their work shaped their lives and vice versa. From poetry to short stories, from major works of fiction to political and social commentaries, these writers left a lasting impression, even if it generally goes unnoticed or unrecognized. DeWess is right. They deserve our consideration today.