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What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullan

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mike js

Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 353

Location: Cambridgeshire, UK

PostPosted: Sun Jun 09, 2013 3:43 pm    Post subject: What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullan  Reply with quote

I recently finished this book, prompted by attending an informal course on Austen, held at the local bookshop (meeting every Sunday for six weeks, nothing to do with John Mullan).

The book is in twenty chapters, each themed by a question such as: 'Which important characters never speak in the Novels?', 'Why is the weather important?', 'How experimental a novelist  is Jane Austen?'. Mullan is professor of English at UCL, and is clearly a great admirer of Jane Austen. The book is quite informal, but with a great deal of thought behind it. I really enjoyed it, and it made me think more about those Austen novels I've read. I would say that Mullan's main contention is that her work is carefully crafted and full of subtlety that rewards careful reading.

Despite the little course and this book, I still feel some reluctance to read a couple of JA's novels - Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. I'm not entirely sure why. I'd be interested to hear from others if they have read those. I recently re-read Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. I admired them both, but I think now that Persuasion is my favourite of the four I have read. It is more autumnal in mood, and that makes it easier for me to empathise with the emotions.

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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Sun Jun 09, 2013 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This talk on Austen by Howard Jacobson is also worth a read:

I've browsed through John Mullan's book in the shops: it seemed very interesting. The Cambridge Companion to Austen, like the other books in this excellent series, has a number of very interesting essays.

Austen's stature in English literature is now a given, and not really up for debate. I have found her difficult in the past, but am starting to make some inroads. I read Northanger Abbey lately, and have written about it here:

I do often feel that Austen, like Dickens in a different way, is short-changed by the popular concepts regarding her art. All too often, she is regarded as a purveyor of chicklit-in-fancy-costumes. I don't think I ever regarded her in that light, but for a long time I did think of her as cold and distant, and too censorious of human frailty - setting up flawed characters for the sole purpose of laughing at them. I found her, frankly, rather heartless and cruel. My last readings of her novels didn't radically alter this perception, but it did sow some seeds which have now, I think, germinated. It was quite clear even at that ast reading that Mansfield Park (not one often liked by Janeites, who find little of her usual sparkling wit in ths dark and sombre novel) and Emma explored serious themes, and are works of a very serious novelist; and Persuasion featured at its centre a passion that, against expectations, has lasted over years.

The more I think about Mansfield Park, the more remarkable I think it is. But it does not yield up it's secrets easily - at least, it didn't to me. Like a good wine, it needs time to mature in the mind.

My next Austen novel will be Sense and Sensibility(I'm going through the in order) but I am particularly looking forward to tackling Mansfield Park again.

See my blog:

(Go on! - You'd like it!  - Honest!)
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