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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved Paperback – October 7, 2014
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From 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.) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen continues to inspire a publishing boomlet. Books in the nonfiction column range from the lightweight to the academic. This entry from the author of How Novels Work (2006)is just right. Mullan poses 20 questions related to strategies Austen employs to reveal character or advance plot. Chapters examine, for example, How Much Does Age Matter?, Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?, and Why Do Her Plots Rely on Blunders? Some chapters deal with matters related to the characters’ milieu, such as the games they play and the books they read. Mullan isn’t concerned with explaining Regency-era customs, however, except to make clear to the modern reader what would have been apparent to a reader in Austen’s time. The focus is always on showing how Austen puts various devices to work in the service of a story’s arc or a character’s psychology. 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. --Mary Ellen Quinn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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My favorite chapter was probably the one about card games. I'll confess that when Austen talks about the games her characters play during parties or afternoon gatherings, my eyes glaze over those sections. The examination of pairings and numbers for those games, as well as expectations regarding gambling, was both historically interesting and enlightening for certain portions of the books.
Despite the potential for academic murkiness, Mullan keeps the text moving quickly. It was quite fun to read and I also appreciated the brief, relevant mentions of the film adaptations.
[note: I received an ARC from Netgalley.]
First, you really do have to know your Austen, but I assume anyone considering this book falls into that category. The author talks about all of Austen's novels, plus an unfinished one that I've never read. You might not follow all of what he discusses if, for example, you aren't clear on all the plots and characters (I don't remember who anyone was in Northanger Abbey, for instance, as I've only read it once a long time ago).
Second, yes, he gets a bit detailed on things like who blushes. But the whole point is that these things meant something in Austen's day, and that we're unlikely to pick up on lots of these little details now. I especially appreciated the chapter on money, as I've always wondered about the relative importance of many of the characters' comments on finances.
Third, the book ends very abruptly. That may seem like a picky detail, but I was reading along on my e-reader and it just suddenly ended. No conclusion, no wrapping up, nothing. It was a somewhat disappointing way to finish it up.
If I could give a rating between four and five starts, I would. It wasn't quite 5-star-worthy, but I did find it very interesting and informative.