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Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery
on 16 May 2010
Jane Austen. Her name is practically synonymous with classic, understated romance, as well as comedies of manners with a subtle, sly sense of humor.
And Austen's "The Complete Novels" brings together the full complement of Austen's finished novels, from the little-known "Lady Susan" to the classic bestseller "Pride and Prejudice" (and everything in between). This collection is flled with lovably flawed heroines, beautiful formal prose, and some rather unconventional love stories.
"Pride and Prejudice" become a problem when Elizabeth Bennett takes a dislike to the handsome, aloof Mr. Darcy -- and her prejudice against him builds after he sabotages her sister's love match, and the charming Wickham drops some shocking claims about Darcy's nastiness. But the facts are very different -- and when scandal hits the Bennett family, Darcy may be their only hope. And "Sense and Sensibility" clash when the two very different Dashwood sisters, smart Elinor and romantic Marianne, both fall in love -- one with a man she can't have, and the other with a guy who may be horribly unsuitable.
Anne Elliott has a problem with "Persuasion," since she was once engaged to the impoverished sailor Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to break it off. Now he's returned from war as a wealthy hero... and Anne still loves him. "Mansfield Park" is the backdrop for shy Fanny's life with her rich relatives, who usually treat her as a servant -- except for her kindly cousin, Edmund. But when the flirtatious, fashionable Crawfords arrive in the neighborhood, it unbalances the lives of everyone at Mansfield Park.
And "Northanger Abbey" is a fitting location for Austen's spoof on gothic romances, in which the hyperimaginative Catherine Moreland is taken under the wing of the Tilney family, and especially handsome Henry -- and learns a lesson about the difference between fantasy and reality. "Emma" is a frothy romantic comedy about a rich, somewhat spoiled young lady who tries to arrange the lives of people around her so that everyone is happy. The problem is, life isn't that simple -- and neither is love. And as an addition to Austen's main body of work, this edition includes the novella "Lady Susan," who is sort of the evil sociopathic twin of Emma -- a brilliant and manipulative widow who seduces, plots and schemes. Yummy stuff.
The omnibus collection displays the range and depth of Austen's writing skill beautifully; though each story is very unique they're laced together by common themes. Except for "Lady Susan," each story is a love story, tempered with some clever commentary on the society of Austen's day (example: entailment, which plays a part in several plots), and a biting, sharp-edged wit (the mockery of the toadying Mr. Collins and the obnoxious Elliott family).
And despite the formal stuffiness of the time, Austen painted her stories vividly -- there's a bit of roughness in "Lady Susan" and "Persuasion," but nothing too dramatic. Each one has powerful emotions and vivid splashes of prose ("The wind roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows"), as well as deliciously witty dialogue ("I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine"). But she also weaves in some intensely romantic moments as well ("Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you").
Austen also had an interesting range of heroines -- quiet ones, melodramatic ones, intelligent ones, naive ones, and mildly spoiled ones who think they know best. But each one has a major character flaw that must be overcome before she can find true love and happiness And she has an equally fascinating range of love interests: the quiet shy Colonel Brandon, the sexy and clever Henry Tilney, the blunt Mr. Knightley, the generous and honest Edmund, and especially the smart, sexy Mr. Darcy (who has a flaw of his own to overcome alongside Lizzie).
Jane Austen's "Complete Novels" draws together all her major finished novels, and let readers explore the mannered society and obstacle-filled love lives of her heroines.