Book Review: Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

(Note: This was originally published on 6/17/2017)

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical” by Helena Kelly was plenty hyped this year, so I kind of (forcefully) suggested my book club read it as soon as it came out.

A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring–how truly radical–a writer she was.

The description above (taken from the promos online) seemed overly confident, but I was willing to give it a try. I’d been reading other Austen bios and was eager for a fresh, new take. What Janeite doesn’t want to dive deeper into her works and find a hidden gem or two? We all want a new way to inhale her novels, or new insight into the rather mysterious woman herself.

This book gives us a whole lot of potential context for reading Austen. I say “potential” because not every hypothesized perspective came off as legitimate. I appreciate the immense research and detail put into this, but I do not feel every chapter was convincing. The Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility chapters felt strongest, but everything else came off very weak, or a stretch.

I appreciate the new info on her life and the era, but her “facts” on how to read Austen are questionable. Overall, this wasn’t “brilliant” nor “illuminating” because it really didn’t give me new information, just new “radical” theories from the author’s perspective.

And we already knew Jane was “subversive and daring” without needing to read this book of essays.

Who should read this: People who have read every other bio about Jane and need to complete the collection.

What you should drink with this: Seltzer, you’ll want to stay sober for this one so you can stomach the more outlandish assertions.

Read it yourself here if you don’t believe me.

If you would like to submit a book for me to consider for review, please email Biancahknight @

Note: Does this blog seem familiar? In 2017 I wrote this for the now defunct Drunk Austen. I decided to revise and republish MY content on my own site.

**I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Bookshops Affiliate program. If you purchase items through the links listed above, I may earn a small commission, which will go directly to supporting this channel and my work. Thank you!

If you’d like to support me and my work (or see previews of my upcoming projects), check out my Patreon (it has Austen-themed tiers)! You can also consider donating to my Ko-fi. These funds go toward production fees, which helps me be able to share my content with you all. 

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