Monday, November 26, 2012

What Matters the Most? That is the question...

Published:  June 2012
What Matters In Jane Austen?
By: John Mullan
Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN-13:  9781408820117

Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call each other, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? And which important Austen characters never speak? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Jane Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction - by asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals their devilish cleverness.

In twenty-one short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen's novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most to the workings of the fiction. So the reader will discover when people had their meals and what shops they went to, how they addressed each other, who was allowed to write letters to whom, who owned coaches or pianos, how vicars got good livings and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? explores the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and sheer daring as a novelist. Though not a book about Jane Austen's life, it uses biographical detail and telling passages from her letters to explain episodes in her novels; readers will find out, for example, what novels she read or how much money she had to live on or what she saw at the theatre.


     What are some of the most pressing questions that we as readers, have about Jane Austen's novels?  Well, those questions are what Mullan strives to answer in this book.  It's almost like reading a more detailed and involved version of Austen for Dummies (which could exist, but I don't know about it if it does).  The book takes real examples from Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra and other people, and from her individual novels.  Some of the questions include: How much does age matter?  What do characters call each other and why?  How do Austen's characters look?  Why is it risky to go to the seaside?  Is there any sex in Jane Austen?  What do characters say when the heroine isn't there?  Which important characters never speak?  Are ill people to blame for their illnesses?  How experimental of a novelist is Jane Austen?  These are just the bare bones, seeing as there are 20 questions Mullan tries to touch upon in this book.  One of my only complaints as a reader, was that the same examples were used repetitively for different questions.  It got very dry, very quick when this happened.  I began to lose interest about midway through due to lack of fresh material.  Other than that, it was an insightful and fun nod to the greatness of Austen.  The emphasis is definitely on the fact that the devil is in the details.  Overall, only for the middling Austen fans, or the really devoted ones.  You may never think of the characters and the whole novels the same way again!  I wouldn't give it to someone just discovering Austen though.

VERDICT:  2.75/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published June 2012.**

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. Interesting thoughts. I've only read one other review of this book and it was glowingly positive. I'll have to see what other people think. :)


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