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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

3.5 6
by John Mullan
 

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An acclaimed literary scholar asks twenty seemingly trivial questions that reveal deep truths about Jane Austen and the lasting power of her novels.

Overview

An acclaimed literary scholar asks twenty seemingly trivial questions that reveal deep truths about Jane Austen and the lasting power of her novels.

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.)
From the Publisher

“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

“Absorbing ... Whether the topic is age, sex, death, money, illness, holidays, accidents, the weather or marriage proposals, Austen's reticence has seldom been handled with such delicate precision ... His work is essayistic and briskly compendious, but as a whole the book also builds up to a satisfying conclusion--one that acknowledges Austen's capacity to bestow on her character's lives all of their own, "as if she were observing ... rather than creating" them ... Such is the quality and incisiveness of Mullan's critical engagement with Austen that the only thing to regret about his book is that there isn't more of it ... What Matters in Jane Austen? is a model of clarity, verve, and perception” —Literary Review

“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

“Mullan's close reading will provide serious fans with plenty of new insights for the next time they pick up one of Austen's books.” —Booklist

“This collection of essays will delight. Mullan's intent is to reveal Austen's cleverness and revolutionary approach, and he succeeds, deftly sharing with readers his enthusiasm and knowledge gleaned from Austen scholarship in this enjoyable read. [F]ans will appreciate the clarity and perspective Mullan brings to a beloved author's works.” —Library Journal

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
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781620400425
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
10/07/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
523,600
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(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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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
chimney_swift More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Use your brain and figure thibgs out yourself