For months I’ve seen so much hype over The Jane Austen Diet by Bryan Kozlowski and I finally read it, well, most of it. I was given a review copy of it and by the time I was halfway through I had so many rage-filled notes about historical inaccuracies, poor understanding of Austen and just bad writing that I started skimming the rest.
I feel Jane Austen would agree you shouldn’t waste your time reading a book that isn’t worthy of said time. (And y’all need to stop hyping books just because they allude to being about Jane Austen or have her on the cover.)
So here’s my personal observations and opinions about the book….
Here’s the premise of the book: Jane Austen secretly had some incredible lifestyle wisdom for us. Wisdom that apparently only this (male) author can translate for us ladies (because it did not seem like he was writing this for men).
Only it isn’t cool. There’s a whole lot wrong with a lot of the author’s basic “observations” from her books that supposedly speak to lifestyle wisdom, but instead highlight lack of understanding of her time. Often when the author put the context of the Regency Era in he didn’t address why it still made his arguments valid.
First of all, he keeps pointing out how she wrote romance. Even after he acknowledges at the start that he remembered being taught in school that she “wasn’t technically a romance novelist.” While we could debate the genre she wrote in from here to eternity, it’s important to note because it’s clear he didn’t get a lot of her commentary and sarcasm, thus hurting a lot of his arguments about her word equaling some literal lifestyle guide. Going to any JASNA meeting, you’d easily find a whole sourcebook of Janeites who could explain why white soup wasn’t something Bingley would have actually served at a ball or why kitchens were far from a house because of fire risk, not some statement on food.
Second of all, the historic research for context to his arguments is either not done, or done poorly. Fan flirtation wasn’t a thing in the Regency Era (again, a thing you’d learn upon asking at any JASNA event) and that’s just one of many examples of things that made me flinch. Arguments using historical facts to prove a point were also poorly made.
For example: Jane Austen didn’t write much about sugar, and we know lots of sugar is bad for us, but making the argument that Regency diets were superior (despite economic reasons why sugar wasn’t readily available) is a little off the rails. Should we start hunting our own food, making meat pies and salting everything to hell and back for preservation? How about putting everything in gelatin? Mmmm savory jello! Also, so much of the Regency diet conversation in this book was only informed by a certain class, rather than looking at how most people not well-off ate. This was still a time where lower class families could starve.
Sure, encouraging people to go on walks is a lovely idea, but that was honestly one of the few redeeming pieces of advice to be found.
Austen was never trying to make some sweeping commentary on how to live your life. I feel like Sanditon is a prime example of her making FUN of people who do that. There’s multi-layered reasons why she talked about food the way she did or why she described physical appearances of her characters the way she did. (A note: It creeped me out that in the chapter where women character’s bodies are detailed we don’t get the same rundown for men.)
You wanna know the REAL advice Jane Austen would give us today? She’d tell us not to listen to men trying to tell us how to live our lives (or how to eat a small slice of bread) (yes, that’s a thing in this book).
Who should read this: No one who enjoys Jane Austen. If you have an enemy this would be a good book for them. If you want to be told to rely on bird noises to wake you up instead of an alarm clock (yes, that’s in the book), be my guest and pick up this book.
What you should drink with this: Have the most indulgent, sugary treats and drinks nearby so you can eat them and cackle.
BONUS: If you need a drinking game to get through this, take a sip anytime he makes an extremely Baby Boomer-sounding comment.