What have you binged on lately? The new Dracula? The Crown? You probably automatically thought of your TV when I said “binge,” but did you know that the novels of Jane Austen were part of the original “binge”- reading, that is. Will novels such as Austen’s ever return to such popular heights?


In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed literature Professor Janine Barchas to the program, to talk about her latest, The Lost Books of Jane Austen. The conversation explores the phenomenon of Austen generally and the “the industry that is Jane.” Why Jane- an author who only published over a period of six years and died young? More generally, what does literature contribute to our lives? We’d love to hear what you think. Use the prompts below, and help us continue the conversation.


1- Roberts asks Barchas why Austen doesn’t seem to be regarded as out-of-date, or even offensive to young women today. How does she answer, and how would you answer?


2- What are the “lost books” that Barchas refers to, and how do they suggest that Austen’s influence on culture may in fact be under-emphasized?


3- In what ways was the publishing industry changing in the 19th century? How did this contribute to the rise in popularity of novelists at that time? What’s an analogy to today’s world, and how is it the same? What does this suggest about the future of book publishing?


3- Barchas describes tracking down readers of editions with names written in them. What sort of discoveries did she make about Austen’s readership, and which did you find most interesting, and why? What does Barchas mean when she talks about  the “emancipatory power of literature” for the working classes?


4- Roberts and Barchas discuss the Shakespeare and Austen exhibit at the Folger Library which Barchas curated. What were some of the interesting points of comparison between these two authors from different centuries? What does it suggest to you about the nature of the cultural canon? Celebrity?


5- Both Roberts and Barchas laud the effects of reading fiction. How does Barchas defend the utility of literature and the humanities generally? To what extent is her defense persuasive?



Who’s in? Roberts asks Barchas where someone who has not read Austen should start. Anyone up for an #EconlibReads Virtual Reading Group on Pride and Prejudice???