Customer Review

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for lovers of Austen, 15 July 2012
This review is from: What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (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.......marked a perfect agreement between them" Sense and Sensibility again. Calling each other by Christian names intimates a close relationship. Emma cannot imagine calling Mr Knightley George, though she eventually must, Mrs Weston in the same novel always addresses her husband as Mr Weston and we never know the christian names of Mr Allen, Mr Palmer, Mr Bennett or Dr Grant or Admiral Croft. Mrs Elton, a vulgar upstart addresses her husband as Mr E which I think is a ploy by the author to show us just how ghastly she is. The use of a person's Christian name is a rare privilege and can carry weight and a woman who lets her man use her name has given him a great privilege.

As I said, I don't think any of these 'puzzles' are in any way crucial, but they do make for fascinating and delightfully interesting reading. Others chapters are How Much Money is Enough?; Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside? (loved this one) Is there any sex in Jane Austen (Andrew Davies has shown us Jmthat, yes there is); What Games do Characters Play and How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen?

I do like these kind of books and though I have been fairly light hearted in my review and comments above, I have to say that the questions addressed here do tend to make you think more about the books - certain things brought to my attention by John Mullan had never crossed my mind, and the chapters on the niceties of social interaction, the gauging of status and position by money help to round out views already formed by one's reading.

I loved reading What Matters in Jane Austen by Claire Harman a year or so ago which was another seemingly light hearted and easy to read book but sharp commentary and insights are contained in both these titles. Just beause they are 'popular' Austen writing, rather than academic, does not make them any less valuable and this book is staying firmly on my Austen book shelf alongside all her novels (of which I have several editions), her letters, at least two biographies and other tomes. I never ever tire of reading Jane Austen or reading about her, the more I do, the more I become totally enchanted all over again by her incisive with and pointed pen. I love her astringency and style and only wish she had been with us a little longer and had given us more titles to read. But in Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Emma, we have the perfect collection which will never be superseded. I know there are people out there who cannot take to Jane and who dislike her and I have to constantly remind myself that she herself said that 'half the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other'

An essential read for lovers of all things Jane.
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Elaine Simpson-long

Location: Colchester, UK

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