The subtitle of this book is Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved. It reminded me of the wonderful books of puzzles from classic fiction written by John Sutherland. It’s definitely not a book for the novice Janeite, much too confusing. But, for someone like me who has read all the books several times, it’s a delicious treat.
John Mullan looks at some of the questions that modern readers have that Jane Austen’s contemporaries could take for granted. How much money did one need to get married? What books do the characters read? What games do they play? Why is it risky to go to the seaside? My favourite chapter is on the right & wrong ways to propose marriage. Just think of Mr Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, Mr Elton’s tipsy proposal to Emma in the carriage on the way home from a party or Mr Collins’s pompous confidence when asking Elizabeth to marry him. Contrast these comic proposals with the fact that we don’t ever witness the proposals that are accepted. Anne & Captain Wentworth go for a walk & leave us behind. Mr Darcy’s second proposal to Elizabeth is quite tentative until he is sure of her response. John Mullan thinks that we know these proposals will be accepted because the hero is unsure of acceptance.
Mullan uses these questions to reveal just how clever Austen was as a novelist. She was an innovator, her books are such a leap forward in style, with & readability from those that had gone before. John Mullan explains in the Introduction,
My book asks and answers some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, in order to reveal her cleverness. The closer you look, the more you see.
This is a book to remind you of what you love in the novels & make you want to reread them. I can’t really say any more about it than that. I read a chapter a day & found this was a perfect way to approach it. I learnt something from every chapter & was reminded of the reasons why I love Jane Austen & why her novels stand up to rereading where many others do not.