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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,400 Ratings  ·  233 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)
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Bookworm Sean
Feb 22, 2016 Bookworm Sean rated it really liked it
This is a very accessible little book, which is both purposeful for those who just want to have a more in depth knowledge of their favourite Austen novel and those that are looking at her work from a more academic perspective. Yes, academic, I managed to quote the author’s section on Austen’s personal voice being present in parts of the wonderful Northanger Abbey in my theory essay on Narratology. This book is a real all-rounder.


This book is chaptered by a series of simple questions. These inclu
Gary  the Bookworm
Jul 29, 2013 Gary the Bookworm rated it liked it
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
Mar 18, 2013 Hannah rated it really liked it
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
Jun 20, 2013 Jon rated it really liked it
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
Aug 04, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who get excited when folks say "What's the big deal w/ Austen?" even though it was rhetorical
Shelves: 2014, rth-lifetime
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
May 03, 2015 Bry rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Janites everywhere!
Read April 2015

Rereading because it's like reading all of Austen's works at once!!

Read Oct 3-9, 2013

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, eng
Caroline Niziol
Oct 30, 2012 Caroline Niziol rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 12, 2012 Aimee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2014 Nikki rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not a big fan of Jane -- through I've come round somewhat on the subject since I couldn't resist the urge to fling Pride and Prejudice out of a window -- so you might think I was the wrong audience for this book anyway. But I am a big fan of close reading, and I find value in digging into what's important in an author's works in a way that I think the author of this would agree with, and I enjoy history, literary history, and all kinds of random facts. So I was hoping that though I'm no obse ...more
Rose A
Mar 03, 2016 Rose A rated it it was amazing
I approached this book with some prejudice and snobbery regarding so-called popular criticism of Austen but am delighted to have discovered my mistake. This is an extremely readable book which nevertheless illuminates Austen's techniques and reveals aspects of plot, characterisation and context, much of which I hadn't thought of before. Both as a reader of Austen and as someone who attempts to imitate her, this book is very thought-provoking and interesting. Definitely worth a read both for the ...more
Feb 12, 2013 Kirk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jane-austen
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
"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.
Jan 18, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I'm not equal to reviewing this book; please just picture my head exploding over and over and over.
(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
Laurel Hicks
An intelligent discussion of Jane Austen's narrative technique, showing the reader just how she is so brilliant. It was great fun thinking of all the novels and characters at once. Some of the topics: age, weather, games, blunders. Reading material, blushing, and proposals.
Oct 02, 2013 Margie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: austen, want-to-own
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
May 23, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it
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
Feb 02, 2014 April rated it really liked it
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
May 25, 2016 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Authors who are Austenites -- this is a MUST READ. ALL CAPS INTENDED. Austen's subtle techniques to achieve her marvelous effects comes under the microscope, each chapter focusing on another dimension of Jane Austen's writerly tips and tricks. From how she uses character ages to fill out plot and tension to how the weather acts to raise the stakes, this is a writer's manual combined with a delicious revisiting of all the novels, non-sequentially and in terms that bring us into the author's mind. ...more
Too much information for me! What’s most important about this book is that it convinces, if one needs convincing, that Jane Austen knew what she was about, that every detail is put in or left out for a reason. The author makes it clear that Austen was quite the innovator in her time. carefully constructing her novels in a way that hadn’t really been done before, using description and dialogue to create complexity of character and emotion. I agree that it’s no less than brilliant. And the book wi ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Grace rated it really liked it
I've had this book for a couple of years now, and always been intrigued by it, but a little intimidated to pick it up. When I did, I found that - surprise! - it is actually a pretty easy read, in the best way. I found it almost impossible to put down, and am now really tempted to re-read all six Austen novels (I've read most of them at least twice), plus Sanditon and The Watsons (which I've never read).

Mullan takes you through a number of topics, which seem to be mainly selected at random - at
Dec 27, 2014 sharon rated it really liked it
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
Jul 08, 2014 Tripleguess rated it liked it
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
Nov 17, 2012 Lis Carey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Eustacia Tan
Nov 09, 2012 Eustacia Tan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2013 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 19, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it
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
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
Rosario (
Mullan looks explores 20 questions suggested by Austen's works. These questions range from what do characters call each other, to how much age matters, from how much money was enough for what and how much people would know about what others were worth, to which characters don't actually speak in the books. You learn quite a lot about Austen's times, but most of all, you learn loads about how she uses these things in her work, and begin to understand just what an accomplished, technically gifted ...more
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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
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