Professor Smith started with a question: does Jane Austen’s writing transcend culture and language? To find answers, she traveled in South America for a year and conducted Jane Austen book clubs in Spanish. Her readers ranged from scholarly academics to stay at home moms.
At least in theory, the idea works well. Better yet, sometimes Professor Smith “lets her hair down” and expresses her frustrations with living abroad. She comes across whiny, cranky, and exhausted. I loved it.
But unfortunately, it does not last. For the most part, All Roads Lead to Austen presents a very careful, very sanitized, and fairly politically correct look at a few reading groups Professor Smith pulled together while traveling around South America.
The book clubs all sounded the same. It did not matter if they were discussing Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, or Emma. The same comments about Jane Austen and her applicability to modern audiences get rehashed with the same results and conclusions. While this ought to have been “further proof” of the author’s hypothesis about Austen’s universal applicability, it mostly left me saying, “Yeah, duh.”
Perhaps because the author is translating conversations that took place in Spanish, or perhaps because her own Spanish was still rather basic, the conversations and commentary all sounded very…juvenile. I think the problem lies with the fact that despite Professor’s Smith optimistic plan to form Austen reading groups across South America, most of her readers are exhausted, regular people who often either didn’t finish the book or just wanted to comment on the movies instead. Does it still make the writing interesting? Sure, but it lacks an academic edge. It turned any “evidence” the book provides about readers and Austen into little more than anecdotes.
I like what the author tried to do. I just don’t think it worked the way she planned and it falls short of really making much of a difference in the Austen literature.
(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELLA!)