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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved [Paperback]

John Mullan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

17 Jan 2013

What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage?

What do the characters call each other, and why?

And which important Austen characters never speak?

In twenty short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen's novels, John Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most to the workings of Austen's fiction. Inspired by an enthusiastic reader's curiosity, based on a lifetime's study and written with flair and insight, What Matters in Jane Austen? uncovers the hidden truth about an extraordinary fictional world.


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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved + The Jane Austen Pocket Bible (Pocket Bibles) + Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (17 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408831694
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408831694
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

There is plenty to enjoy in this parade of Austen micro-knowledge (Evening Standard)

Highly entertaining ... reveals a quite unexpected aspect to the novelist and her books (Daily Mail)

Any new book on Jane Austen raises the urgent question, Would I get more pleasure from reading this than from re-reading my favourite Jane Austen novel? If you decide to give What Matters in Jane Austen a chance you'll know after a few pages that you've made the right choice (John Carey, Sunday Times)

[A] fine collection of essays ... Like all good literary critics, he has the happy knack of making you read even familiar works with fresh eyes, and the essays in this book are among the best of their kind (Daily Telegraph)

A detailed primer on Jane Austen's attitudes to sex, money, class and even the weather (Sunday Times Must Reads)

Fascinating ... If you love Jane Austen, you'll love this book too - it's almost as good as finding an unpublished novel (The Lady)

Book Description

From 'Is there Sex Before Marriage in Austen?' to 'Which important Austen characters never speak?' the Guardian Book Club columnist answers 21 apparently trivial questions that reveal deep and hidden truths about Jane Austen's fictional world

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that illuminates Jane Austen 10 Jun 2012
By Mrs. K. A. P. Wright TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I was a student there was a furious debate about whether art, literature and music should be judged purely in terms of their own merit or whether they should be looked at in the context of the time and conditions in which they were created. This book is weighty evidence in favour of the latter argument.

Because of the clarity and simplicity of her prose style, Jane Austen's books are very accessible to us. We read and understand the stories, we appreciate her jokes and can empathise with her characters. What John Mullan's book does is illuminate all the social nuances that modern readers miss, such as the significance of using a person's Christian name (not just an indication of how well you know someone) or what going to the seaside can entail. The result is like wiping clean a familiar but grimy picture, the story is the same but it glows with a colour and life missing before.

This is not a dry book fit only for serious students of Eng. Lit. It is amusing and witty and slips down very easily with the added benefit of seriously improving your knowledge and appreciation of Jane Austen and her time.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for lovers of Austen 15 July 2012
By Elaine Simpson-long TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
The interest in Jane Austen never seems to wane and books proliferate each year with sign of diminishing in any way whatever. One does wonder if authors will ever exhaust what can be said or discovered about her, but while they continue to write I am a happy bunny and not complaining. The full title of this book is What Matters in Jane Austen - Twenty Crucial Puzzles solved. Now I am not sure that the word crucial is applicable here - none of the chapters deal with a matter that would worry us too unduly or cause us sleepless nights, but they were hugely interesting and entertaining and here is a sample of a couple:

How much does Age matter? "She was fully satisfied of being still quite as handsome as ever, but she felt her approach to the years of danger" This is, of course, Elizabeth Eliot in Persuasion who is in her late twenties and by contemporary standards, getting on a bit. The author opens this chapter by pointing out how much TV and cinema adaptations of the novels have fixed character's ages in our minds. Mrs Bennett cannot be much more than 40 and that it is likely she married early. Mr Collins is viewed by many readers as being middle-aged, but he is a 'tall, heavy-looking young man of five and twenty' though played by David Bamber in THE TV series, who is in his mid forties. In Sense and Sensibility Elinor Dashwood is played by Emma Thompson, then aged 36 but Elinor is nineteen. We must also remember that Marianne, when marrying Colonel Brandon, can only been about 17 and he is 35, but the point being made is that Marianne has been aged, metaphorically speaking, by her heartbreak and experience.

What do Characters call each other? "in the whole of the sentence, in his manner of pronouncing it and his addressing her sister by her Christian name.......
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read for Jane Austen fans 11 Jun 2012
By Damaskcat HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Jane Austen's novels are some of my favourite books to re-read regularly and I also enjoy reading books about Jane Austen's work. This book is a marvellous read for any Jane Austen fans. It provides the answers to some fascinating questions such as which characters never speak in the novels but still play a very large part in the plots. The author explains how significant it is when characters call each other by their Christian names in an age when even husbands and wives would not use them to each other.

Modern readers are apt to think that there is no sex in Jane Austen because the writing is subtle. Anyone who has read the scene between Elizabeth and Darcy when he proposes to her for the first time can be left in no doubt about the sexually charged frisson between them. It is not overtly described but it is still there in the way they both behave and in what they say. Characters in the novels marry and have babies - Mrs Weston in Emma and Charlotte Palmer in Sense and Sensibility not to speak of Colonel Brandon's sister-in-law, Eliza not to speak of Charlotte Collins in Pride and Prejudice who is pregnant by the time the novel ends.

Characters die in the novels - most notably Mrs Churchill in Emma who is also one of the powerful non-speaking characters. Jealousy, envy, snobbery and hatred all make an appearance in the novels as of course do pride and prejudice. Jane Austen does not gloss over the less pleasant aspects of life in early nineteenth century England especially for women or over the less pleasant aspects of human nature.

I found this book an absolutely fascinating read and it is written in an easy approachable style. In my opinion it can only add to anyone's pleasure in reading Jane Austen's novels. There are plenty of notes on the text and a bibliography which will give the interested reader plenty of other texts to study.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jane Austen, literary pioneer 27 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As well as his day job as a professor of English at University College London, John Mullan writes a very entertaining column about contemporary fiction in the Saturday edition of 'The Guardian'. This formed the basis of his earlier book, 'How Novels Work'. With his latest book, John Mullan takes a detailed look at Jane Austen's prose fiction. As he mentions in the 'Acknowledgements' section at the end of the book, Professor Mullan road tested a lot of this material in a series of lectures to various branches of the Jane Austen Society. I was present at the Quaker Meeting House in York, when Professor Mullan gave a talk for the North of England branch of the Jane Austen Society, in which he previewed material which I now recognise in the chapters 'What do characters call each other?' and 'Which important characters never speak in the novels?'

The book is subtitled '20 crucial puzzles solved', and these twenty puzzles provide the basis for the book's twenty chapters. Despite her cosy and genteel image, as Professor Mullan shows, in her own day, Jane Austen was a cutting edge literary pioneer. Whilst her contemporaries, like Mary Brunton ('Self Control'), preferred perfect heroines, Jane Austen wrote about very flawed protagonists such as Miss Woodhouse in 'Emma'. Furthermore, as Professor Mullan demonstrates in his chapter on Jane Austen as an experimental novelist, Austen virtually invented the free indirect style, and 'Emma' the novel is a bravura display of technical brilliance in its extensive use of free indirect discourse.

In conclusion, this book is an interesting study of the Austen canon which helps to provide the reader with several insights about Jane Austen's six novels. It was almost as entertaining as reading the novels themselves.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational
A fascinating read and goes some way to explaining why Austen is difficult to beat. Also, food for thought for budding writers.
Published 15 days ago by Susan Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Having studied Jane Austen's Persuasion at 'A' Level I wished that this book had been available back in 1965! Read more
Published 23 days ago by Mr. S. Dickinson
4.0 out of 5 stars For Jane Austen Lovers
This is an interesting book that makes you go back and read the novels again but with a different perspective. If you like JA you will like this book.
Published 6 months ago by Jane Stevens
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun
This is great fun to dip into. John Mullan explores a variety of issues in Jane Austen's novels, such as why age and income matter. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Georgia Hill
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining
A good bedside book for Jane Austen admirers. Fills some of the gaps and provides reflection of her well-loved novels.
Published 7 months ago by Emily Matheson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great reading for all Jane fans
This is a fascinating book - of the expected and unexpected! - that gives a vivid reflection of the Jane Austen world.
Published 10 months ago by Dan y Graig
5.0 out of 5 stars My Thoughts
I really enjoyed the format. All twenty chapters have a question as the title and each chapter explores possible and plausible answers. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Julie Ann Penner
5.0 out of 5 stars Wholly intellectually satisfying
John Carey commented that reading 'What Matters in Jane Austen?' is as much of a pleasure as re- reading an Austen itself. Read more
Published 10 months ago by miranpr
4.0 out of 5 stars Oops. Bought it as a gift, then kept it.
Some books end up as loo-reading by design, some by accident. This was an accident. But it's going on the long-term middle shelf because - despite its repose in The Office for a... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Pierre Saint-Saens
5.0 out of 5 stars What Matters in Jane Austen? John Mullan
Great fun is you're a Jane-ite. Perhaps a little confusing otherwise, or at least, it would be better if you read her books first. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kindle Customer
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