What Matters in Jane Austen? 20 Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan

Perhaps this is a book meant only for fans of Jane Austen, but what a book! In 20 chapters the author, an English professor at University College London, explores small details to illustrate the richness of Austen’s novels, and the originality of her style.

For example, in a chapter entitled “What do Characters Say When the Heroine is Not There?” Mullan analyses how Austen sometimes leaves her heroines behind to show us the thoughts and actions of other characters. Since all the books are told from the heroine’s point of view, this is a good trick and done very deftly.  It’s not easy to shift the point of view so seamlessly, but Austen accomplishes it over and over again. Mullan also points out that it is very rare for Austen to write a scene in which there are no women present. Rare, but not nonexistent. There are a very few of these scenes, and Mullan discusses them all.

One of my favorite chapters is “Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?”   I wasn’t too surprised to find that in Pride and Prejudice, Anne de Bourgh has no dialogue whatsoever. But, I did not expect to find that the same is true of Georgiana Darcy. While she certainly speaks to others, she is never quoted directly—her conversation is only reported by the narrator in general terms. The same is true of both Robert Martin and Mr. Perry in Emma, and of both Mr. Musgrove and Captain Benwick in Persuasion.

Other chapters explore questions like “What do Characters Read?”, “How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen”, and “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?”.

What Matters in Jane Austen is a fascinating and insightful look at one of the greatest and most popular novelists in the Western world. I’ve read a LOT of books about Austen, and this is one of my favorites.

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One Response to “What Matters in Jane Austen? 20 Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan”

  1. WTF Week | Family Building With a Twist Says:

    […] My county library published a review on a Jane Austen book that sounds great: What Matters in Jane Austen: 20 Crucial Problems Solved. […]

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