If you want a dulcet-toned Brit to read aloud to you from the works of Jane Austen, your options are many. The audiobook giant Audible offers dozens of versions of all the novels, including more than thirty recordings of Persuasion, read by the likes of Greta Scacchi, Juliet Stevenson, and Olivia Williams, to name only those who have acted in screen adaptations of Emma.
But perhaps you’ve always wanted to get your Austen from the place that supplies you with your Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood! Now you can, because the streaming service Spotify is testing the audiobook waters with a selection of classics, Persuasion among them.
The nine titles announced last month – streaming for free, since all are out of copyright – are new audio versions of British and American novels and memoirs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following each book is a short talk by Harvard professor Glenda Carpio, promising “in-depth analysis and context” of the work you’ve just heard.
Carpio’s ten-minute mini-lecture on Persuasion seems sensible enough to me, though for committed Janeites, it doesn’t offer much that’s new. But based on my quick sampling, I was disappointed in the reading of Cynthia Erivo, the British actress and musician nominated for an Oscar for playing Harriet Tubman in the 2019 biopic Harriet. Hers is a pedestrian Persuasion, it seemed to me.
Still, the trade press thinks the real news here is that Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon, might get deep-pocketed competition. So if you would prefer not to help Jeff Bezos build his empire, classics on Spotify might be for you.