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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial…

What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (original 2012; edition 2013)

by John Mullan

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Title:What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
Authors:John Mullan
Info:Bloomsbury Press (2013), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:literary criticism, Jane Austen, essays, ebook, NIL, NetGalley

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What matters in Jane Austen? : twenty crucial puzzles solved by John Mullan (2012)


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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I'm not a big fan of Jane -- through I've come round somewhat on the subject since I couldn't resist the urge to fling Pride and Prejudice out of a window -- so you might think I was the wrong audience for this book anyway. But I am a big fan of close reading, and I find value in digging into what's important in an author's works in a way that I think the author of this would agree with, and I enjoy history, literary history, and all kinds of random facts. So I was hoping that though I'm no obsessive Austen fan, I'd still find this book of interest.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be quite sure where it's aimed at. As a non-fan, I don't know the books well enough for all the little details he references without fully contextualising to be exactly revelatory to me; as an MA in literature, I thought it was still a pretty simplistic level of analysis -- is anyone really surprised that yes, Austen was saying that Lydia Bennet had sex outside of marriage? -- and as a general reader, I didn't find the stuff that interesting on its own merits either. It startles me more that apparently there was a fuss kicked up about ~Was Jane Austen Gay?~ because of her intimacy with her sister than that sisterly conversation or the lack thereof is centrally important in her work.

Overall, whatever the target audience was meant to be, I'm not it. ( )
  shanaqui | Nov 23, 2014 |
Answers some of the questions readers of Austen (or of any contemporaries) might have about English society during the time of the novels. Particularly helpful, for instance, was the discussion of incomes and how much is enough. We know Austen is always throwing out annual income numbers - now we can get a better sense of which income ranges are truly phenomenal and which were so-so. The book discusses a number of other issues and topics. Austen fans should probably read this if they are not otherwise scholars of this era.
  karrinina | Nov 13, 2013 |
Really interesting if you love Jane Austen's works. This gives fascinating insights into life at the time Austen was writing, explaining a lot of things that her contemporary readers would take for granted. Mullan also explores Austen's technique and originality as an author.

The book uses examples from all Austen's works and from her personal letters. It's an easy read, not overly academic. ( )
  daisyq | Oct 27, 2013 |
Prompted me to start re-reading Jane's novels, with new eyes. ( )
  Elizabeth088 | Sep 21, 2013 |
What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan is a detailed look at 12 stylistic techniques and concerns in Jane Austen’s numerous works, including the unfinished The Watsons and Sanditon. The twelve puzzles Mullan explores range from the importance of age in her books, what characters call one another, and what games characters play to why her plots rely on blunders, what her characters read, and how experimental a novelist she was. There are moments in the book where Mullan’s examinations become bogged down and overly verbose, but he clearly enjoys picking apart the most innocuous moments in Austen’s novels to support his theories. Most of the theories he offers and backs up with source material from Austen’s books and letters to family members also are discussed by other scholars, whom he cites. For aspiring writers, Mullan’s book can be used as a guide for creating those unique moments and nuances in a novel, emulating Austen but adapting it for modern sensibilities. Although it is not a how-to guide for writers, it does offer some insight into elements of the craft.

Read the full review: http://savvyverseandwit.com/2013/07/what-matters-in-jane-austen-by-john-mullan.h... ( )
  sagustocox | Aug 23, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The approach, with its attention to detail, determination to solve puzzles, and respect for the text, is reminiscent of John Sutherland's approach in Is Heathcliff a Murderer?
One effect of reading Mullen's compendium is to make you appreciate the sheer density, the tight-woven intricacy, of every scene and every exchange in Austen. His approach illuminates, because no detail is redundant: Mrs Norris scolding the carpenter's son, or Mr Perry's children eating wedding cake, or Captain Benwick's taste in literature. Every remark, every accident, every material exchange, is a revelation. Rather, each detail reveals just itself, its own place in the whole unfolding story of how things are, at a specific place and moment in time, in a specific nexus of human relations – in Highbury, or at the Camden Place evening party, or between Mary Musgrove and her in-laws. "How things are" is obvious, once you can see it; it's easy to read, once it's written. What's less easy is to imagine holding all that material at once in imagination, and finding the right run of words to put it on to the page; making sentences unroll convincingly into an illusion of seeing and hearing, movement and intelligence. If it works, then reading is like a sensation of being there. Janeites obsess over belonging inside her worlds, because she makes us all feel present in them; she includes us in the club of those who see.
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Book description
Chapter titles:
1. How much does age matter?
2. Do sisters sleep together?
3. What do the characters call each other?
4. How do Jane Austen's characters look?
5. Who dies in the course of her novels?
6. Why is it risky to go to the seaside?
7. Why is the weather important?
8. Do we ever see the lower classes?
9. Which important characters never speak in the novels?
10. What games do characters play?
11. Is there any sex in Jane Austen?
12. What do characters say when the heroine is not there?
13 How much money is enough?
14. Why do her plots rely on blunders?
15. What do characters read?
16. Are ill peoplereally to blame for their illnesses?
17. What Makes characters blush?
18. What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage?
19. When does Jane Austen speak directly to the reader?
20. How experimental a novelist is Jane Austen?

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.

[adapted from Amazon.com]
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A literary scholar poses twenty questions that reveal deep truths about the iconic writer and her lasting influence, demonstrating how Austen's genius can be better appreciated with an understanding of her books' character dynamics, unspoken sexuality, and period conventions.… (more)

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