Neither a bad end to 2014, nor a bad start to 2015, this was well worth the read. It wasn’t all I thought it would be, but considering it was a galley I got ages ago (2012 I think) and never read (Sorry!) I’m glad I finally read it. I think I’m going to spend a lot of time with Austen this year. A few friends and I are doing a Jane Austen book club and I have quite a bit of non-fiction I’m looking forward to reading about Austen and her life. I hope everyone sticks with me throughout! I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and received nothing in return for my honest response.
What worked best for this book was the selecting of 20 themes and then talking about them across Austen’s novels. I’ve read all of her novels at least once and a few of them much more. You can look at the chapter titles to see the themes, but the ones that stood out most to me where when Mullan spoke about Austen’s mastery of novels and groundbreaking skills as a writer.
“She did things with fiction that had never been done before. She did things with characterization, with dialogue, with English sentences, that had never been done before.”
I knew she was a bad ass, but what I didn’t know was how much of a bad ass she was. To have this pointed out and evidence provided made me only fall that much more in love with Austen.
I found it interesting that the book I love the most is the book that broke all of her own rules: infallible heroine, inclusion of author voice and revelatory minor characters (“One of her tricks is to save her precise descriptions for minor characters.”) Austen included some of these in each of her novels, but it is the infallible heroine that makes Fanny Price such a great character, to me. And there are strong opinions both ways, probably because she is the most different of the six heroines.
If there was one thing I was not impressed with, it was the lack of conclusion to the novel. Yes, my copy was a galley, but the final chapter just ended and all of a sudden it was notes and bibliographic references. There was no overarching summary or recap, which I guess isn’t 100% necessary, but it’s still nice to have when you’ve covered a lot of work. Why not just say “And this is why Jane Austen is as well loved and awesome as she has always been.”
Recommendation: The book opens with the line, “Did Jane Austen know how good she was?” and the final line should have said: “YES.” I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in Austen. Mullan did a great job providing examples from all of her works and cited numerous personal documents to show how much she put into the thought process behind her novels. Add in that, as Mullan says, “It is difficult to think of a novelist who makes reading a more animating part of her characters’ lives than Jane Austen.” and it would’ve been like fighting fate for me not to love her.
Opening Line: “Did Jane Austen know how good she was?”
Closing Line: “Characteristically, this moment of audacious fictional experiment is also an instance of the most perfect reticence.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)