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Raff sets her study in the early nineteenth century world, depicting the cultural debates and literary fandom that provided Austen a fertile playing field. She traces Austen's increasingly libidinal narrative presence (from early experiments in the narrator-reader relationship, to the seductive appeal of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and on to the outright authorial titillation of Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey), while simultaneously offering analysis of her biography that connects prose and life. She targets Austen's experience in 1814 as romantic advisor to her niece Fanny Knight as pivotal to her shift to teacher-cum-paramour. The revelation of Austen's thoughts about writing and love-making and of the techniques she employed to seduce readers, display Austen's command over not just her famously effervescent prose, but also her notorious fan base. Raff's original and audacious argument is combined with a lively, conspiratorial style that will delight many readers, especially Jane Austen mavens, the bewitched Janeites, who will be gratified to find out that Austen doesn't just seem to be speaking to them-she was, in fact, consciously courting their affection all along.
Sarah Raff is Associate Professor of English at Pomonoa College. She served as the foreign fiction correspondent for Publishers Weekly from 1997 to 1998.