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Emma (A Penguin Classics Hardcover) Hardcover – March 10, 2010
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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"Jane Austen is my favorite author! ... Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers." —EM Forster
About the Author
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was modest about her own genius but is one of English literature's greatest and most admired writers. She is the author of Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
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As every good fan of Austen's work knows, all her stories end with all the characters in wedded bliss (even the sometimes undeserving), the proverbial happy ending for all. One would think that with this in mind, the reader would lose interest because of this, but somehow or other Miss Austen always makes the journey to that ending so interesting. The characters are engrossing and dynamic (from the nosy but noble-hearted Mrs. Jennings to the haughty Mrs. John Dashwood) and Austen's analysis of them is razor-sharp. She manages to capture the very essence of their soul in their behavior (in spite of the restraint which good breeding requires them to display). As might be expected of a great novelist, she never moralizes but has the reader judge for themselves whom they would consider the most benevolent (and the least). The novel uses love, marriage, money and family as points of reference to gauge each of the characters and their views on these subjects make each of them who they are.
Overall, this was a fantastic novel, a real tour-de-force of Austen's wit and talent. My only word of warning to the reader would be to note that since this was her debut novel, it may lack some of the subtlety which someone who's read "Pride and Prejudice" or "Emma" may be expecting from an Austen novel. One must remember that she is only starting to come to her own in this novel (and does so quite well), and so inevitably some of the characters may seems a bit predictable and some of the plot points may seem a little forced. Also, in this novel, there is a strong tendency to say rather than to show (but for which there is a good reason), which is typically seen as a weakness in narration. I cannot say that this is her best novel, but I do think it quite worth reading (as all her works seem to be).
There is a good reason why every generation continues to spawn ardent fans of this fabulous writer, why her work seems least resistant to age than every other nineteenth century novelist, and the reader who does not understand why already undoubtedly will after spending a few minutes with this dazzling read!
And rather than her usual straightforward comedies of manners, Jane Austen once wrote a mellow satire of the very mockable genre -- think a parody of "Twilight" or "50 Shades of Grey" as written by one of the greats. "Northanger Abbey" is a clever and slightly tongue-in-cheek little novel about a girl who needs to learn the difference between fantasy and reality... and yes, there's some love tangles and deceptions too.
Catherine Morland is an innocent young country girl with a love of gothic romances, and has lives an unremarkably life in a country parish. But then the wealthy Allens invite her to Bath during their vacation there, and of course she accepts -- and through balls and old acquaintances, she becomes friends with two pairs of siblings. One is the Thorpes, the uncouth dandy John and his manipulative sister Isabella, and the more mysterious Tilneys, the charming Henry and sweet Eleanor.
When the Tilneys decide to leave Bath, Catherine is invited with them, to the vast stone manorhouse of Northanger Abbey -- which is as gloomy, eerie and remote as her gothic-loving heart could wish for. What's more, she believes that there are dangerous secrets in Northanger Abbey, related to the suspicious death of the late Mrs. Tilney. But Catherine has some lessons to learn about reality and fantasy: that everyday world is not nearly as melodramatic and twisted as her novels, and that it has its own dangers and deceptions.
Unlike all the other books Austen wrote, "Northanger Abbey" is a careful balance of two different styles -- a parody of all the lurid excesses of classic gothic novels (she even lists a bunch of real-life gothic novels!), and it's a subtle coming-of-age tale about a young girl who needs to figure out the difference between reality and fantasy. There's big spooky manors, sinister noblemen, mysterious deaths... you do the math.
And Austen clearly had a lot of fun with this book, enhancing her usual formal style with a bit of satirical melodrama ("A thousand alarming presentiments of evil to her beloved Catherine from this terrific separation must oppress her heart with sadness"). And while the plot is sprinkled with sinister pseudo-gothic hints, Austen also takes the time to sketch out some romantic deceptions and tangles, as well as some deliciously arch dialogue ("I was not thinking of anything." "That is artful and deep, to be sure...").
The only part that falls short is the climactic encounter between Henry and Catherine... which is completely skimmed over, and related only in a distant vague style. "I leave it to my reader's sagacity" is not a satisfying way to handle that sort of romantically-charged scene.
Austen also has fun with Catherine as the unlikely heroine of the piece, especially since she makes it clear that Catherine comes from a very mundane, undramatic background. She's sweet, naive, wide-eyed and essentially good-hearted, but she has a lot to learn about reality (especially about the golddigging family that befriends her). And Henry is an oddity among Austen's heroes, being a clever silver-tongued charmer with a heart of gold who likes to gently tease Catherine.
Quick, light and full of teasing humor, "Northanger Abbey" is an oddity in Jane Austen's string of brilliant novels -- but being a clever, well-plotted spoof doesn't make it any less charming. A delight.