What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan
There is a whole Jane Austen industry, with sequels, prequels, biographies, craft books, novels whose authors realized that just putting the words "Jane Austen" in the title would guarantee a best-seller, zombie spinoffs, and meditations about life. Amidst all this debris, how do we pick worthwhile Jane Austen-themed books without wading through a sea of junk? I don't quite know, and so I have mostly not read them, or been disappointed when I did.
But this book is different! This is a truly insightful, valuable, and lovely book about Miss Austen's novels, and I promise that if you are a Janeite, you will adore this book. John Mullan is an English professor of English, and here, in twenty essays, he asks questions and discusses each novel in that light. He is quietly saying, "Here, try paying attention to this." Some of the puzzles:
Do sisters sleep in the same bedroom?
Why is it risky to go to the seaside?
Do we ever see the lower classes?
How much money is enough?
What makes characters blush?
What do characters say when the heroine is not there?
In each case, the discussion is illuminating. Before long I wanted to read each and every Austen novel again, to observe all these nuances developing. Mullan shows us Austen's skill and artistry, and also her development of the novel form. She was doing things that no one had done before, and in some cases she was doing them long before anybody else picked up on the ideas.
You will come away from this book with a new appreciation and enthusiasm for Austen's work. Don't miss it.