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What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,895 ratings  ·  317 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 ...more
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published June 7th 2012)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  1,895 ratings  ·  317 reviews

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Amalia Gavea
Have you ever wondered why some characters in Austen's novels never utter a word? What is the importance of weather or blushing or sickness in moving her stories forward? If you have (and , perhaps, you haven't) you are going to find all answers in John Mullan's fascinating book. Enriched with passages not only from Austen's novels but also excerpts from her letters to her sister, Cassandra, it is a study that shows her writings under a new light.

John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen? is an
Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
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
Katie Lumsden
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
This is genuinely the most enjoyable literary criticism book I have read - full of brilliant insights, fantastic and spotting and analysing patterns and details in Jane Austen's work. It just made me want to go back and reread all of Jane Austen.
Jul 01, 2013 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
Gary  the Bookworm
Mar 10, 2013 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 ...more
Jun 20, 2013 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 ...more
Emer (A Little Haze)
Took me quite a while to read this but really this is the type of book that is nice to dip in and out of from time to time. It was basically like having a great big ol' chat about Jane Austen and all her wonderful books and characters with someone who is possibly even more bonkers about all things Jane than I am!! (Except he has made money out of his interest.... Hmm I'm possibly missing a trick here in my own life!!!)

Recommended to all my fellow Jane fans who want to dig a little deeper into
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, uk, regency, criticism
I only read and rate sections on Pride and Prejudice, which I'm now teaching. This is a very useful reference book on Austen - for private use, and advanced high school/ college level. Not all of the things I read were new to me (and shouldn't be), but some observations felt quite new (Mr Collins was only 25?) and when I shared them with my students, they loved them. Some, as his reading of Darcy's thoughts, are a tiny bit of a stretch. And the first sentence is a killer.

Note on contents: not
Mar 17, 2013 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
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: austen-mania
I really enjoyed this. No bit of minutia in Jane Austen's novels is too inconsequential for Mullan to examine, but he manages to make a convincing case that such things as what characters say about the weather and the glancing references to their servants, can, when examined closely, reveal her artistry. This is a worthy volume to sit on the shelf next to my beloved Speaking of Jane Austen and its sequel More About Jane Austen, which also revel in seemingly trivial details that can speak ...more
Oct 03, 2013 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,
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Second read: July 28-August 2, 2019

With his excellent, keen-eyed observations, Mullan manages to create an intricate, expansive sort of network out of Austen's brilliant works. The effect is not that Austen's works are made more brilliant, but rather that they have their brilliance illuminated, clarified, and brought into significance by this book. And it is precisely that which is, for me, the mark of a truly worthwhile piece of literary criticism.
First read:
Nov 08, 2012 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
Caroline Niziol
Oct 24, 2012 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
Full disclaimer:
The 1 star rating is solely based on my reading enjoyment and NOT because of false information.

Not recommended for people who haven't read all of Jane Austen works!

I liked the first chapter but the longer the more I was forcing myself to finish this book. The concept is interesting but the execution was not for me and my reading taste. Within a chapter John Mullan wrote two sentences about the theme in one of JA novels, then another and another and then returning again to
Mar 03, 2013 added it
Shelves: austenesque
Check out my review on Diary of an Eccentric
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Strictly for hardline Austen fans, of which I am not really one, but I am an oddball who tutors Eng Lit for enjoyment. And it's a good thing, as reading this book reminded me of sitting in on some of my literature courses in college; the author writes as if Austen really sat down and devised all those symbols, emphases, motifs etc. etc. before she set pen to paper, instead of composing spontaneously and creatively as I'm sure she did.

I disliked Mullan's repeated assertion that Austen employed
Mary Ann
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not for anyone who does not have a very thorough knowledge of all six of Jane's novels. (Reading them once doesn't count, nor does seeing the film and television adaptations.) It is probably helpful to have at least an adequate working knowledge of late 18th-early 19th century British history and social conventions as well as of the British novel. Familiarity with the basics of Jane's biography is useful.

Okay, now that the audience is considerably narrowed, I found this a complete
(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
Nov 15, 2014 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 ...more
Rose A
Feb 20, 2016 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
Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm not equal to reviewing this book; please just picture my head exploding over and over and over.
Regina Lemoine
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. First, the subtitle is a bit of an overstatement. For any serious reader of Jane Austen, the themes covered by Mullan are certainly not puzzles. Having said that, though, the book is clearly aimed at readers who have read and are familiar with all six novels. I enjoyed Mullan’s tying together of the twenty themes but he seems to flit about and keeps his analysis on a rather superficial level. I suppose that is inevitable in this type of book, but I did find myself wanting more depth ...more
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book hits a sweet spot of being both accessible and actually providing useful information that enhances one's understanding of Jane Austen's works. (Also, it is definitely helpful to be already sufficiently well-versed in Jane Austen's oeuvre - from the six completed novels to the incomplete works, such as Sanditon - before picking this up.)

Mullan addresses twenty "puzzles" by illuminating both historical/cultural differences that are lost on most modern readers (which simply reinforces how
Krista D.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A solidly interesting book for Jane Austen fans.
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a reasonably entertaining, easy read for me as a longtime fan and an avid rereader of Jane Austen. Some - quite a few - of Mullan's insights I was able to come up with myself; some - not many - I disagreed with; but anyway, it's always pleasant to discuss your favourite books with someone well-informed and equally enthusiastic.
Julie Bozza
An interesting and engaging read. I think this tome is let down by its title, and particularly its subtitle, which don't give quite the right impression. This isn't about mysteries to be solved. Rather, it is a well-written look at various subjects and ideas, providing not only details of what is found in Austen's novels, but also in her letters, and in the context of her times. The last point is particularly useful in revealing much that she took for granted, things that her contemporary ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-to-own, austen
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 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
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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 ...more