Sunday, 21 January 2018

Short Review: 'Jane on the Brain' by Wendy Jones

I'm unashamedly a Janeite! I love Jane Austen, her books fill me with happiness and I low-key adore every adaptation of her books, even when I don't really want to. (I'm looking at you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!) And I'm not alone. We're a force to be reckoned with, spanning generations and continents. But what is it about Jane Austen and her books that makes us so happy? Countless of books have been written about her unique talent to make us feel as we do, and I try to read a fair share of them. So of course I had to read Jane on the Brain as well. Thanks to Pegasus Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/12/2017
Publisher: Pegasus Books

Why is Jane Austen so phenomenally popular? Why do we read Pride and Prejudice again and again? Why do we delight in Emma’s mischievous schemes? Why do we care that Anne Elliot of Persuasion suffers? We care because it is our biological destiny to be interested in people and their stories—the human brain is a social brain. And Austen’s characters are so believable, that for many of us, they are not just imaginary beings, but friends whom we know and love. And thanks to Austen's ability to capture the breadth and depth of human psychology so thoroughly, we feel that she empathizes with us, her readers. Humans have a profound need for empathy, to know that we are not alone with our joys and sorrows. And then there is attachment, denial, narcissism, and of course, love, to name a few. We see ourselves and others reflected in Austen’s work. Social intelligence is one of the most highly developed human traits when compared with other animals How did is evolve? Why is it so valuable? Wendy Jones explores the many facets of social intelligence and juxtaposes them with the Austen cannon. Brilliantly original and insightful, this fusion of psychology, neuroscience, and literature provides a heightened understanding of one of our most beloved cultural institutions—and our own minds.
Jane on the Brain takes a unique approach to Jane Austen's books by bringing Wendy Jones' expertise in neuroscience and psychology to the conversation. Jones doesn't rely too heavily on literary analysis, but rather analyses the keen insight with which Austen crafts her characters. Jones takes an interaction, like, for example, Darcy and Elizabeth meeting unexpectedly at Pemberley, and dissects how Austen describes their responses. Although Austen did not intend to write psychological novels per se, Jones successfully shows how her sharp perceptiveness and interest in human behaviour allowed her to not only make us care for her characters and Austen herself, but to also feel like she cares for us, as if she understands us. This was one of the main lessons I learned from this book, that Austen's power lies in us, the readers, feeling understood and appreciated. And Jones shows us just how she accomplishes that in Jane on the Brain.

Jane on the Brain requires its readers, especially those like me who engage a lot in Jane Austen literary theory, to reset their expectations a little bit. As I said, this is not "normal" Austen commentary or analysis. Wendy Jones blends together different disciplines in this book, introducing her readers to concepts like Theory of the Mind, as well as the anatomy and processes of the brain. If you don't adjust your expectations, it will be difficult to get into the book. Jones does her best to limit the jargon in her book and not overwhelm the reader, but there is still a lot of information and theory to take in. I personally really enjoyed this and it added an extra layer to my appreciation of Austen. I can see Jane on the Brain being an excellent teaching tool as well, both for the neurosciences and English literature. If you're willing to buckle down and learn something new, then Jane on the Brain is definitely for you.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Jane on the Brain gives its readers a completely new insight into Austen's writing and into her power to make us feel. Although her more scientific approach may not be for everyone, there is a lot learn from and think about in Jane on the Brain. I will definitely be revisiting this book in the future.

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