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Enthusiasm
Polly Shulman
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INTRODUCTION

Little-known facts about Enthusiasm and Jane Austen

*Jane Austenís niece, Anna, wrote a novel called Enthusiasm, which she sent to her aunt. Jane had many encouraging things to say, including suggesting that Anna change the title to Which is the Heroine?

*The character of Charles Grandison Parr—or Parr for Short—was named after Sir Charles Grandison, the hero of Samuel Richardsonís 1753 novel of that name and one of Jane Austenís favorite literary characters.

*Jane Austen published her novels anonymously, as was the custom of female writers at the time.

*Like many of Austenís heroines, Jane herself turned down an offer of marriage that would have allowed her to live a more comfortable life and be less dependent on her family. In the end, she never married.

The Life and Legacy of Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775Ė1817) lived her entire life in the English countryside with her mother, father, sister, and two brothers. She never married nor ventured far from the confines of her familyís home, yet she wrote some of the most enduring novels of her time, including Pride and Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Emma.

When Jane Austen penned her first novel in 1789, little did she know that the stories she acted out in her drawing room with her sister and brothers would affect popular culture hundreds of years later. Dozens of movie adaptations of her novels have been made and continue to be popular, starring actors such as Keira Knightley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant. Her writing has inspired other books as well, such as Bridget Jonesís Diary, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Jane Austenís Guide to Dating.

 

ABOUT POLLY SHULMAN

Polly Shulman Polly Shulman has written about edible jellyfish, Egyptian tombs, infinity, blind dates, books, brains, centenarians, circuses, and cinematic versions of Jane Austen novels, for The New York Times, Discover, Newsday, Salon, Slate, Scientific American, Archaeology, and The Village Voice, among others. She edits news stories about fossils, meteors, the ocean, the weather, and the planets for Science magazine. She collects Victorian jewelry made of human hair, puts cayenne pepper in her chocolate cookies, and reads forgotten books with frontispieces.

She is an alumna of Hunter College High School, Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics, and Yale University, where she majored in math. She has never dared to crash a dance, but in tenth grade she did write a proof for math class in the form of a sonnet. She grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband, Andrew Nahem, and their parakeet, Olive.

 

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Why do you think Jane Austen and her books have endured as long as they have? Why do Jane Austenís stories translate so well into modern stories?

  2. Have you ever read any of Jane Austenís books? If so, what similarities and differences do you see between Austenís works and Enthusiasm?

  3. ďThere is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast.Ē Do you know/have known an enthusiast? Were you ever one yourself? Although Julie complains about her friendís enthusiasm, what admirable qualities can be found in Ashleighís exuberance?

  4. If you could produce a movie based on a Jane Austen story, which would you choose and from what angle would you approach it: Comedy or drama? Present day or historical setting?

  5. Have you ever had a crush on the same person as your best friend? If so, what happened?

  6. Throughout the story Julie is careful to point out what a good friend Ashleigh is to her. Unfortunately, Ashleighís not always a very good listener. At the same time, Julie is keeping secrets from Ashleigh. Could you still say they are great friends? Why or why not?

  7. Class was an important issue for people in Jane Austenís time. In what ways does the issue of class/money come up in Enthusiasm?

  8. Do you think Julie handles her relationship with her stepmother well? What could Julie and her stepmother do to improve their relationship?