Review – What Matters in Jane Austen?

Cover of What Matters In Jane Austen? by John MullenWhat Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan

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 obsessive Austen fan, I’d still find this book of interest.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be quite sure where it’s aimed at. As a non-fan, I don’t know the books well enough for all the little details he references without fully contextualising to be exactly revelatory to me; as an MA in literature, I thought it was still a pretty simplistic level of analysis — is anyone really surprised that yes, Austen was saying that Lydia Bennet had sex outside of marriage? — and as a general reader, I didn’t find the stuff that interesting on its own merits either. It startles me more that apparently there was a fuss kicked up about ~Was Jane Austen Gay?~ because of her intimacy with her sister than that sisterly conversation or the lack thereof is centrally important in her work.

Overall, whatever the target audience was meant to be, I’m not it.

Rating: 1/5


6 thoughts on “Review – What Matters in Jane Austen?

  1. I have to say, it’s a relief just to see someone else own up to not being head over heels in love with Jane Austen’s novels; I’ve read three, so I feel like I’ve given her a fair shot, but she’s just never appealed to me. I’m sorry to hear you found the book disappointing, though. I’m all for making literary criticism more accessible to people who may not have studied it, but this does sound pretty simplistic (as you said, I don’t think anyone really misses the implication about Lydia).

      • That’s interesting–I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey, and the last was definitely my favorite. I just can never shake the feeling that there’s not a lot of weight to her novels–(mild) social satire notwithstanding–but Northanger Abbey at least has the fact that it’s spoofing Gothic novels going for it.

        • I think in that one, her cleverness is at its most accessible, and the kind of cleverness that’s easier for us to go along with now. Whereas delicate social commentary from the time is a lot harder to appreciate.

  2. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t really care for Austen. I like Emma the most of her books, and even that’s not saying much.

    I’m not surprised that Lydia Bennet had sex outside of marriage, that was something that was pointed out to me in my Year 9 course, so I’m not sure that’s a ~deep level of analysis~ worthy of a lit crit book either.

    • I haven’t read Emma yet, though I’m determined to ‘complete the set’, as it were.

      Yeah, the idea that Austen was being subtle about it or that she didn’t know about the implications or that they would be so obvious… uhhh.

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