ARC, Books

Book 327: What Matters in Jane Austen? – John Mullan

Mullen, John - What Matters in Jane AustenNeither 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.)


13 thoughts on “Book 327: What Matters in Jane Austen? – John Mullan”

  1. That does seem like a little bit of an anticlimactic final line. Sounds like a fantastic book, though–I really want to read more literary criticism and literary memoir this year, so this might be a good book for me to visit.

    I didn’t realise Mansfield Park was your favourite Austen novel! I’ll have to go and see if you’ve written a review somewhere. It is also my favourite, and I’m always glad to see it getting some love 🙂


    1. It is my favorite and I think it is because of Fanny Price! I’ll be re-reading it later this year and can’t wait to revisit it 😀 I’ll let you know if I encounter a better Austen book, I have a few on my list as well as a few Brontë as well this year.


  2. This looks great! I love Jane, but I don’t always want to re-read. This seems like the perfect way to inject my day with some Austen. I’m adding it to my wish list. 🙂


    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! It’s definitely a way to inject a little bit of Jane into your life. I also got a great little book, What Would Jane Austen Do? that I can’t wait to just randomly read throughout the year.


  3. I liked Fanny a lot too, much to the chagrin of the professor of a college class I took called “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries.” She made us watch the movie (out of class, mind you) and acted like it was this great piece of film and it SO wasn’t ( The Fanny of the film is literally the exact opposite of the Fanny in the book, which I guess the professor liked, but I thought the point of adapting a book to film was telling the same (basic) story in a different medium. I guess not. But anyway, I digress.

    What I meant to say before I got all off-topic was that this looks like a really fun read! I have a couple of non-fiction books about Jane Austen (or at least about the time period) from my in-laws sitting on my shelves that I haven’t gotten myself to read yet: Jane Austen and Crime and A Dance With Jane Austen. Maybe this year I will. 🙂


  4. This sounds really interesting! I’m kind of jealous that your book club is really diving into Austen this year. I think focusing on one topic like that could be a lot of fun and Austen is a great topic!


    1. Haahaa my two friends watched JABC last year and we’re like we should do it! I tried to convince them we should do it before but it’s one of those things people have to want to do on their own.


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