What Matters in Jane Austen? – John Mullan

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.

5 thoughts on “What Matters in Jane Austen? – John Mullan

  1. I have only just found this blog in a search for some of O Douglas's books. I'm thinking of 'Taken by the Hand' a copy is on Ebay now. I thought if I replied to the post of last year it might not be seen.

    I noticed someone had one of the books on E Reader. Might I ask if I would be able to get them on iPad, as I'm expecting to receive one ANY DAY NOW!

    If you can point me in the direction of any comments about Taken by the Hand, I'd appreciate it. By the way, I did think Pink Sugar was just that – a bit too sweet for my liking. My favourite is always going to be Penny Plain and then The House that is our Own, although I was disappointed when Isobel went to Canada, even though she did find love there. I would have loved to have read more about the lovely Glenbucho Place.


  2. Hello, a couple of O Douglas's books are available as e-books from manybooks.net. They have the Setons & Olivia in India. There are about a dozen different formats available & there's a Kindle one there so if you download the Kindle app for your iPad, I think you'll be able to download them. I don't know Taken by the Hand but I've enjoyed the books I've read & I'll always be interested to get hold of more.


  3. There has been much discussion of this book on UK television and radio and although I don't always get on with Mullan, I think I may just have to get hold of a copy. There is very little I like more than reading about books I know reasonably well and then coming away with an even greater insight into them.


  4. I didn't know much about John Mullan before reading this but I found him an engaging & amusing guide to the novels. There was something new to me in every chapter & it made me want to read the books again.


  5. Thank you Lyn for that comment. I will have a look when I get it set up. It all sounds a bit complicated getting these accounts lined up. Glad I thought to look at your blog this morning.


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