Ten Books that I’d Put on the Syllabus for Austen in August

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is Books that Would Be on Your Syllabus if You Taught [your subject of choice]101. I have Jane Austen on the brain because of Roof Beam Reader’s Austen in August event, so I thought I’d create a syllabus for that.ย  It’s a course I’d love to take myself — wouldn’t you?



Emma VisitHighbury JaneFairfax

Emma by Jane Austen
A Visit to Highbury by Joan Austen-Leigh
Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken

2015 is Emma’s 200th birthday, so what better time to read her story? I’ve paired it with a couple of retellings from the point of view of other characters (Mrs. Goddard in the former, and the eponymous Miss Fairfax in the latter), which should give rise to good discussions and perhaps some controversy over the secondary authors’ interpretation.



JAustenALife JAustenTomalin RealJA

Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields
Jane Austen: A Life
by Claire Tomalin
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

These three recent biographies are all excellent, and I would recommend tackling them in this order. First, Carol Shields’s pithy introduction from then Penguin Lives series; then Claire Tomalin’s more expansive account; finally, Paula Byrne’s riff on the theme, which is arranged topically rather than chronologically.


Other Nonfiction

JAustensEngland JAustenWorld JanesFame

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins
Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye
Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman

The Adkinses draw on primary sources to give us a unique perspective on the period, peeking into the lives of people from social classes both high and low. For a more visual approach, Deirdre Le Faye’s book can’t be beat as a gorgeously illustrated overview of Austen’s life and work. And Claire Harman takes us on a fascinating tour of the rise and fall and meteoric rise of Austen’s reputation as an author, with a number of surprises along the way.


Extra Credit

Is Heathcliff a Murderer? and Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? by John Sutherland

WhoBetraysEBennetSutherland’s “literary puzzle” books are great fun, and these two include a question derived from Emma (Why are apple trees blossoming in June) which readers of that novel should enjoy pondering. Austen in August “students” are encouraged to come up with their own solutions — and further puzzles!

31 thoughts on “Ten Books that I’d Put on the Syllabus for Austen in August

  1. I’ve kinda wanted to read Emma, mainly because I liked the Gwyneth Paltrow movie I guess. If one wanted a crash course in Austen, this would be a great class!


    1. I actually just watched the movie again and it was interesting to see how it dealt with the book. They reduced the whole Frank Churchill storyline so much that the plot didn’t even really make sense any more. I hope you do read the book and get the whole story!


  2. Wow – great minds! I picked this for my topic too! You’ve got some very interesting picks – it’s always really funny how two people can pick the same topic but take it in different directions. We do have some crossover but there are quite a number on this list that I am going to need to look for. And that’s next year’s Austen in August sorted …
    Hope you have a wonderful week! ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. The adaptations pall on me after a while, but it’s fascinating to me how biographers can keep finding new angles on Austen’s life and work.


    1. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure…I’ve read so many Austen-related books that they get mixed up in my memory sometimes. But I’ll try to take a look at it if not!


    1. Yes, I believe she finished writing it in March and it was published in December. There only a few more years of Austen bicentenaries left to celebrate, sadly.


  3. This is indeed a great looking syllabus.

    I am always torn when it comes to biographies of authors. Many are surely worth reading. However, with all the great literature out there that is unread, I wonder if I should be spending time reading about authors, or time reading their works.


    1. Good question. I find that some understanding of the author’s life and times can help with appreciating older works in particular. It adds a new dimension. But it’s a personal choice in the end of how to use your reading time.


  4. I would definitely love to take this course! I like the idea of reading biographies and retellings alongside the original novels. Jane’s Fame in particular would be a really useful way to begin discussing the Austen phenomenon and it’s development over time.


  5. I love your syllabus choice! What a great idea! Emma is one of my favorites–it’s just so funny. I haven’t read those other spin-offs of Emma, but they sound clever. Thanks for sharing!


    1. It’s fascinating that she wasn’t actually tremendously popular in her own time, compared to now. And even in her own home, her brother was seen as the “writer of the family.” How times change!


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