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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

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Overview

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

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Overview

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen's characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen's letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.

Written with flair and based on a lifetime's study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will allow readers to appreciate Jane Austen's work in greater depth than ever before.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Virginia Woolf once remarked that of all great writers Jane Austen was “the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” If only she’d had Mullan’s delightful, though repetitive, book at hand, perhaps Woolf would have discovered the reasons that Austen remains among the greatest, yet most enigmatic, of English authors. Austen expert Mullan (How Novels Work), an English professor at University College London, cleverly captures the novelist’s brilliance by answering a set of 20 questions—ranging from unpromising ones such as “How much does age matter?” and “Why is the weather important?” to more seductive ones such as “Do sisters sleep together?” and “Is there any sex in Jane Austen?”—that uncover the details that give Austen’s novels their depth and lasting appeal. Through his answers, Mullan demonstrates that Austen “introduced free indirect style to English fiction, filtering her plots through the consciousness of her characters,” and “perfected fictional idiolect, fashioning habits of speaking for even minor characters that rendered them utterly singular. In one amusing chapter, he provides many examples of the subtle ways that Austen requires the reader to think about sex. Mullan’s humorous guidebook encourages first-time Austen readers to pick up her novels and lovers of Austen to re-read for new details. Agent: Derek Johns, AP Watt. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Austen enthusiast and Guardian columnist Mullan (English/Univ. College London; Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature, 2008, etc.) poses and answers 20 questions about Austen's novels and her technique. Not all the questions are "crucial," but most are interesting. The author begins by wondering if Austen knew how good she was and quickly reveals his great admiration for her work. Then, off he sails toward his 20 islands, each of which he explores in conventional fashion: introductory paragraph(s) followed by paragraphs of literary proof (quotations, incidents), virtually all featuring a topic sentence. Conventions aside, Mullan returns from his voyages with some "novel" insights. He notes the significance of the ages of her characters (the women in the books are invariably younger than their screen counterparts), the rarity of a woman's using a man's first name in conversation, the rarity of death, the seductions of the seaside, the significance of weather, and why some characters talk a lot and some are silent altogether. We learn about games characters play (Austen herself liked cards) in a chapter Mullan slyly follows with one about sex (yes, there is some in Austen; no, it's not very obvious). He examines the relevance of money (who talks about it and why?) and the significance of blunders (Emma is the queen of them, as he notes) and illness and even blushing. "Austen requires her readers," writes Mullan, "to be interpreters of blushes." Near the end (as in an Austen novel), marriage becomes a focus, and the last two chapters deal with Austen as a technical innovator. Mullan notes how she rarely intrudes in the narration (unlike Thackeray and Trollope) and how she pioneered the "free indirect style." A box of 20 literary chocolates for Austen fans to savor.
From the Publisher
"[Mullan] brings fresh new and insights into the literary details and truths found within Jane Austen's fiction." —Shelf Awareness

“Substantial yet conversational, this is scholarship without pedantry . . . An Austen lover’s greatest wish is for more of her novels. This intimate guide to the world of her books is the next best thing.” —The Atlantic

“Delightful . . . Mullan’s humorous guidebook encourages first-time Austen readers to pick up her novels and lovers of Austen to re-read for new details.” —Publishers Weekly

“A box of 20 literary chocolates for Austen fans to savor.” —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Mullan (English, University College London; How Novels Work) explains aspects of Austen's novels that have lost their meaning over the centuries since she wrote. Although no mysteries are deciphered here, this collection of essays will delight. Each of the book's 20 chapters discusses a different topic, such as how much money one would have needed to live during Austen's time. The sums quoted in Austen's books—meaningless to contemporary readers—demonstrate, for example, that Sense and Sensibility's Marianne is more materialistic than her idealistic words would lead readers to believe. Mullan's intent is to reveal Austen's cleverness and revolutionary approach (she is, he argues, the first author to use the free indirect style of writing for which Flaubert and James are known), and he succeeds, deftly sharing with readers his enthusiasm and knowledge gleaned from Austen scholarship in this enjoyable read. VERDICT Austen scholars may find this well-trod territory, but lay fans will appreciate the clarity and perspective Mullan brings to a beloved author's works.—Megan Hodge, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., Richmond, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781620400418
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 462,619
  • Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

John Mullan is a professor in the English department at University College London and the author of How Novels Work. He writes a popular column on fiction for the Guardian, and has served as a judge for the Man Booker Prize. Mullan lectures widely on Jane Austen around the world.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 9, 2014

    Quality Lit. Criticism

    If you're looking for approachable criticism about Jane Austen, this is a good place to start. Mullen lays out his ideas clearly, and his arguments are easy to follow. One thing--it really, really helps to have read Austen's complete works before reading this. There are no plot summaries, so if you read Sense and Sensibility years ago, it may be worth your time to give it a quick skim to keep the characters straight. Overall, a good book for anyone who wants to go a little deeper into Austen's texts.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2014

    Sample boring

    Use your brain and figure thibgs out yourself

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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