What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  822 ratings  ·  155 reviews
Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some ve...more
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What Matters in Jane Austen?, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What Matters in Jane Austen?

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,855)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Gary the Bookworm
I spent a rainy day last week with Lady Susan, Austen's vivacious vixen. I was able to righteously condemn her for her licentiousness, but in so doing, I fell under the spell of her creator. If you've never worshipped at the Cult of Jane, this may sound peculiar. It sounds peculiar to me and I've been a rabid fan since I was a sophomore in college. Peculiar or not, I was losing perspective and saw myself losing all sense, if I couldn't have a side of sensibility. Pride - and prejudice aside, I n...more
Hannah
Rating Clarification: 4.5 Stars

Informative, interesting, thought provoking, easily readable and most definitely not stodgily academic. Professor John Mullan provokes the Austen fan to delve deeper into her classic novels with 20 chapters featuring 20 less conventional questions to consider while reading Dear Jane. Questions like:
Why is the Weather Important?, What Makes Characters Blush?, What do Characters Say When the Heroine is not There?, Why is it Risky to Go to the Seaside? and the questio...more
Jon
Fascinating analysis by a man who has taught Jane Austen for over 25 years. Not for the casual Janeite: he assumes that you already know the difference between Wickham, Wentworth, and Willoughby; that you already know in which book to find Jane Fairfax or Catherine Morland. If you don't, this book isn't for you. If you do, then there are insights on every page. Who knew that Mr. Collins is explicitly only 25 or 26 years old, and that his sounding middle-aged is part of the satirical characteriza...more
Alex
Jan 29, 2014 Alex rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who get excited when folks say "What's the big deal w/ Austen?" even though it was rhetorical
Shelves: 2014
I know at first glance it seems like a book with an entire chapter on "Why Is The Weather Important?" might be a touch inessential, but this turns out to be really fun, and very insightful. If, I mean, if you're nuts enough about Jane Austen to read an entire book about her books.

But Mullan will lay out how Austen uses weather to force her characters into the situations she wants them in. Similarly, in the "What Games Do Characters Play?" chapter, Mullan analyzes how Austen uses cards to divide...more
Caroline Niziol
What Matters in Jane Austen is simultaneously both the most scholarly and most enjoyable book I have read in a very long time. I have read my share of Austen scholarship that veers into mind-boggling dullness and/or extreme readings of the Big Six. In What Matters in Jane Austen, Mullan manages to explore the minutia with style, wit, and insight.

My favorite chapter was probably the one about card games. I'll confess that when Austen talks about the games her characters play during parties or af...more
 ~Geektastic~
(Review from re-read Feb. 2014)

This year celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, arguably Jane Austen’s most contentious work, and the one likeliest to provoke questions from even the most complacent reader. Who could possibly like Fanny Price? How could the creator of Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse create such a creature? What kind of masochistic reader would choose Mansfield as their favorite of The Six (major novels)? These are, in fact, not the questions...more
Bry
Oct 24, 2013 Bry rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Janites everywhere!
This book is awesome. It's like being in a book club and having the most amazing indepth conversations with the only other person who can be as obsessed and in love with Austen's works as me - MYSELF.

I bought this book because I heard the author, John Mullen, speak at the annual general meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America this year in Minneapolis. His talk was hilarious, engaging, and funny and I took an immediate liking to his style and assumed his book MUST reflect his persona...more
Aimee
If you have read and loved all of Austen's books, this is a must read. Mullan takes several different topics and uses historical facts from Austen's time and excerpts from all of the books to give the reader a more in depth appreciation for Austen's work.

What really impressed me was how Mullan brought things to my attention that I never noticed while reading Austen's work. For example, Mullan discusses how Austen has most characters speak, but a few we never hear anything from their own words a...more
Kirk
Here's my review in Austen in Boston:

"What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved" by John Mullan......5 very very full Regency Teacups full out of 5!!!

What a delight!! Well worth the wait! I hate to return it to the PL to wait for it to come back! Nearly all the reviews I have read are positive and I strongly agree. Lol, there was one reviewer who couldn't recommend this book to general Austen fans. Huh? Dear Miss Sour Cherries, have you actually read Austen?? So many gem comment...more
Tintaglia
"Che cosa è importante in Jane Austen?" si chiede John Mullan. E la risposta è "Tutto, sopratutto le minuzie". Perchè niente è lasciato al caso nel mondo letterario della Austen, e sono proprio i dettagli che costruiscono o confermano caratteri, situazioni, intuizioni del lettore, e fanno da contrappunto e insieme contrafforte alla raffinata, complessa architettura dei suoi romanzi.

Metto subito le mani avanti: questo non è un libro adatto a introdurre Jane Austen a chi non l'abbia mai letta.
E'...more
Margie
Interesting, engaging, informative, and about Austen. What more could a Janeite want? Aside from one's own Mr. Darcy, of course.

John Mullan looks at several specific issues (Who blushes? Which characters never speak? What games do they play?) and examines them across the Austen novels. He not only gives us examples from the books, but also provides historical insight. It's quite fascinating to those of us who like to do a close reading of Austen.

Informative without being overly academic.

I wrote...more
Sarah
I'm not equal to reviewing this book; please just picture my head exploding over and over and over.
April
This book explores the nuances of writing that make Jane Austen a great English novelist. By deconstructing the details in her writing style, not the plots, the author is successfully able to prove that Austen was much more than the first writer of fluffy chic lit. Rather he proves that by deciding, for example, who to let speak (by quoting them) and who to only paraphrase through the heroine's thoughts, Austen is subtly guiding the reader to a certain conclusion. Mullan is able to prove Austen'...more
sharon
A nice set of essays on "puzzles" in Austen's novels, including "why is it risky to go to the seaside?", "which important characters never speak in the novels"?, and "what do characters say when the heroine is not there?"

The essays assume familiarity with Austen's plots, and thankfully do not include too much unnecessary plot summary. Overall, they are more accessible than academic, though Mullan does provide an extensive bibliography for readers who'd like to explore these questions further. So...more
Tripleguess
An interesting read, but a little too self-absorbed to warrant four stars. Some of the facts of the times I had been able to guess from the context of the books themselves, though it was nice to have my guesses confirmed; some of the assertations made by the book (a pre-selected set of "right/correct" meanings for most of the blushes in most of Austen's novels, for example) seemed a little dogmatic to me. In places it gets long-winded, and the way it jumps from novel to novel mid-sentence is jol...more
Lis Carey
Mullen gives us a wonderful trip through Jane Austen's novels, including the unfinished Sanditon, looking at obvious, non-obvious, and "I never thought to ask that!" questions about Austen's world, daily life, the behavior and relations of the characters.

What people call each other seems a simple and obvious detail, but it reveals a wealth of information about status in a class-conscious society, relationships between characters, and the formality that governed relations even between husband and...more
Eustacia Tan
I mentioned some time back about The Dummies Guide to Jane Austen. That was more like the background and influences of Jane Austen. Here, we take her more seriously as a novelist an explore some questions in the novel.

The book is divided into twenty chapters (or questions), ranging from number one: "How Much Does Age Matter" and number twenty "How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen"? Each chapter gives a wealth of detail and a lot of information about the time Jane Austen lived in.

Needless t...more
Heather
What Matters In Jane Austen? is a scholarly and authoritative analysis of the contents of Jane Austen's fiction.

John Mullen tackles the edgier questions of Austen's work in a very meaningful way.

This is a book for anyone who's ever wondered how Austen handled issues like sisterhood, age, sex, money, illness, death, holidays, accidents, weather, marriage proposals, appropriate conversation and loads more.

This work proves itself with thorough research and multiple references.

I appreciated how th...more
Rebecca Reid
What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan (Bloomsbury, 2012) is a literary theory light book for the masses of Austenites around the globe. But I hope that does not scare casual readers away from it, because What Matters in Jane Austen? is full of observations about the novels to help even the most casual of readers fall in love with Austen’s well crafted novels once more.

What Matters in Jane Austen? freely discusses the plots of all of Austen’s completed novels and some of her unfinished work...more
Su
This book is a real pleasure for those who are well-familiar with Austen's novels, especially one like me who has not gone beyond the novels. I haven't read her letters, or any Austen scholarship, in part because I haven't wanted to relate to her as anything but a fan--I didn't want to start reading her the way a literature scholar does. When I was in grad school in literature, there was another student who "did" Austen, and whenever he started to talk about her I wanted to put my hands over my...more
Kate
An interesting way to organize a book about Austen - around questions like "What Games Do Characters Play?", "Is There Sex in Austen?", "Why is it Risky to Go to the Seaside?" Mullan has chosen twenty questions and then answers them with examples from Austen's novels as well as her own letters to family and friends.

I really like to know about the Regency era and to understand the social context and convention for these books (which, of course, Austen took for granted and didn't necessarily expla...more
Eszter
I received this book as a birthday present from a very good friend of mine, who happens to be a fellow Janeite. The book had received very good reviews from critics and readers alike and the summary on the dust jacket sounded very promising; hence, I was really looking forward to reading it. In addition, I had read earlier another book by John Mullan (Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century) that I liked. So, I truly wanted to like this book, but unfortunatel...more
Sarah Bringhurst
It's hard for me to resist a book about Jane Austen. And this one did not disappoint. Mullan raises all sorts of deceptively simple questions, from what the weather was to when and how the characters blush to how long the characters wear mourning. His answers reveal the genius of Austen's subtle manipulation of the simple everyday happenings of life in 19th century Britain, and how even seemingly insignificant details shape and reveal her plots. Apparently, everything matters in Jane Austen.

Alt...more
Maggie
Unbelievable attention to the details of her work. Explanations for things!

"It was Austen who had taught later novelists to filter narration through the minds of their own characters. It was Austen who made dialogue the evidence of motives that were never stated. It was Austen, A Jamesian avant la lettre, who made the morality with which her characters act depend on the nice judgements of her readers." (8-9).

"Austen's stories rely on an acknowledgement of men's sexual appetites, which explain w...more
Sofia
Excellent, thorough, insightful, scholarly, and delightful. The author clearly did his research, which is evidenced by the deep readings and analyses of Austen's novels. The nook version of this book was $13+, but it was worth it because the author's work and commitment to his subject is palpable. I've always preferred Austen to the Brontes because I think she's more nuanced (Jane Eyre embodies restraint despite the chaos around her, which is why I like her, but Catherine and Heathcliff are a tr...more
Kate
I tend to stay away from writing about Jane Austen (and especially writing where Jane Austen is a character) because I feel like we're all having a picnic on her legacy and leaving our sticky, ant-infested trash behind. But this one is great. A pleasurable exploration of stuff you may have noticed in the texts, but never put together before. Each chapter handles a different question or theme, and moves smoothly from pattern recognition to significance.

Also, apparently she entertained her family...more
Julie Bestry
What Matters in Jane Austen could have been a dry and wheezing academic tome. Instead, it's like taking a course from the coolest prof on campus, who just happens to have 25 years of Austen expertise under his belt.

Most books about Austen's work written before the last dozen years were, indeed, pretty dry, all about how her life and experiences colored the stories; and most books nowadays seem more like cheat sheets, for those who haven't made it through all six of the completed books, offering...more
Kate
Aug 20, 2014 Kate rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kate by: sharon
Shelves: library
I read this based on Sharon's review, and it is worth the time. One of Mullan's major points is that the minutia in Jane Austen matter. In Austen, it is worth asking questions about the significance of the weather, why characters play a certain game, why incomes are mentioned, and so on. I hadn't noticed this before, and it is good to remember that Austen is a meticulous author.

I did find the book a bit dry, and so read it in short sections, a few chapters at a time. I think this is probably the...more
Kris
4.5 STARS

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review).

"In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen's characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal...more
Jeannette
Jul 09, 2013 Jeannette marked it as to-read
Recommended to Jeannette by: Hannah
I've put this back on my tbr shelf after reading the first couple of chapters. I think a book like this would be a great aid in discussing Jane Austen's novels. There are some great insights into many aspects of the life and times of Austen's characters, but they are meant to be shared. When I read a little gem about Lucy Steele or Mrs. Bennet, I want to share it with someone, someone who gets the reference. It's not the sort of book I want to curl up with and share with the cat.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 95 96 next »
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
  • Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World
  • A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen
  • Why Jane Austen?
  • Jane Austen For Dummies
  • The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
  • Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece
  • A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections
  • Behind Jane Austen's Door
  • Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels
  • The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense and Sensibility
  • Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom
  • Jane Austen, Game Theorist
  • 101 Things You Didn't Know About Jane Austen: The Truth about the World's Most Intriguing Romantic Literary Heroine
  • Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders
  • Searching for Captain Wentworth
  • Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart
  • The Three Colonels: Jane Austen's Fighting Men
John Mullan is a Professor of English at University College London. He was General Editor of the Pickering & Chatto series Lives of the Great Romantics by Their Contemporaries, and Associate Editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. A regular radio broadcaster and literary journalist, he writes on contemporary fiction for the Guardian and was a judge for the 2009 Man Booker Prize...more
More about John Mullan...
How Novels Work Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture: A Selection Land and Family

Share This Book