February 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about authors that we'd put on our auto-buy lists. In other words, we should compile a list of authors that we love so much that no matter what they wrote next we'd buy it regardless of genre or subject matter. Regrettably, most authors that I love THAT much are dead by now. So, there is only a slim chance that they write a new book. :-D Nevertheless, I have had to include some of those on my list, because they're very dear to my heart, and I couldn't sleep well, if I wouldn't mention them. :-D But I restricted myself to put only five authors on my list who are walking across the Elysian Fields by now. The remaining five authors mentioned on my list are still alive, and even though only time will tell whether they make it big, I've loved a book or two by them that much that I'm planning to buy and read other books by them too.

So, here are the Top Ten Authors (dead and living) That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List:

February 22, 2013

The Classics Club: Check-In #2

It's been a very cold winter with lots of snow and blizzards. Do you see what the girl's doing on the painting by Briton Rivière? This is pretty much how I spent those long winter days. No, my dog wasn't a naughty boy and I didn't force him to read. However, I spent even the moments when I was reading with him; I was holding him in my arms while I was reading. I did so because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my dog had some major health issues over last autumn and this winter and underwent a surgery. But now, it seems that spring is approaching. Our garden is full of singing birds, the first snowdrops are popping up at last, and my beautiful Vizsla is feeling much better. Also, the Classics Club emerged from hibernation and asked us to check in again. In other words, they ask us to write a progress report. :-D So, here is mine.

Naughty Boy or Compulsory Education
by Briton Rivière
© The Bridgeman Art Library
Past: I joined the Club at the beginning of September 2013 and since then I have read two classics from my list of 50: Fadette by George Sand and The Danube Pilot by Jules Verne. I was also able to share my thoughts on the former; my review of the letter is still a draft, but coming soon... Since I wasn't happy with my progress, I decided to give up my original idea of reading the books on my list in chronological order. Instead, I read the books in an almost random order. I'm saying "almost," because I broke up my list into five smaller lists consisting of ten classics each. That is to say, I put ten classics each onto my TBR lists for the next five years and each year, I plan to read approximately the same amount of pages. So, I tried to distribute my reading load equally over the five years. I didn't want to end up in the last year with chunksters only and I also wanted to spare time for other kind of books. I also made myself a reading schedule for this year's chunkster, which is The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.

Present: Currently, I am reading three classics—Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, Ballet Shoes by Noel Straitfeild, and The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding—concurrently, and I'm sticking to my reading schedule. So, I'm very happy. According to my plans, I will have finished the former two by the end of this month and the third one in three weeks.

Future: My spring TBR list is full with classics and what I'm particularly happy about is that I will spend my favourite season reading Jane Austen. I have four novels by Jane Austen on my list: Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. They are not completely new to me; they are re-reads. Nevertheless, I'm sure that I will be surprised, because in my experience one always gains new insights upon re-reading a book. I also hope that I will like the latter three more than the first time I read them. But, before I am allowed to immerse myself in Austen, I have to read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I didn't plan to read it this year, but the Classics Spin game "forced" me into reading it, and I don't mind. Though I'm afraid that Austen will need all her magical power to heal my heart afterwards...

So, that has been my progress so far. And, how are you doing? Are you on schedule? I hope you didn't give up completely! My tip: try to find a schedule that suits you and stick to it! It has worked for me; it will work for you!

February 21, 2013

The Classics Club: Meme #7

This month, The Classics Club is asking us what book has surprised us the most so far, and why. I'm somewhat ashamed to confess that even though I'm making steady progress with my Classics Club reading list, so far I have finished two books only: Fadette by George Sand and The Danube Pilot by Jules Verne. However, I am currently reading three classics on my list concurrently: Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, Ballet Shoes by Noel Straitfeild, and The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. From these five books, I would say The History of Tom Jones has surprised me the most so far.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1997)
It is not for the first time that I read Fielding's novel, but it has been so many years since the last time I read it that I didn't have a vivid memory of it. I just remembered the love story and the mystery surrounding Tom Jones's birth. I also remembered that Henry Fielding has a very funny writing style and that I used to laugh out laud while I had been reading it. But, it completely slipped my mind that The History of Tom Jones is not a simple love story but a moral treatise and a powerful discourse on literature in general and on good fiction in particular. Now, I also understand why Germaine de Staël, in her Essay on Fictions, spoke about this novel in the following terms: Fielding’s Tom Jones is “one of the most useful, most deservedly famous of all novels,” because “love appears in it as only one of many means of showing the philosophical result” (Major Writings of Germaine de Staël, p. 74). For these reasons, The History of Tom Jones is not as easy a reading as I thought it would be. Nevertheless, I enjoy reading it, even if it takes much more time to finish it than I expected.

February 20, 2013

The Classics Club: The Classics Spin #2

On Monday, The Classics Club announced the lucky number for our Classics Spin lists, which is #14. And, the book that corresponds to this number on my Spin List is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.


To be honest, I have had this book on my shelf for five years! So it's about time that I read it, isn't it? I have been a real procrastinator as regards this book... Why? It's because I'm afraid of it. I have read and truly love Oscar Wilde's brilliant and humorous plays, The Importance of Being Ernest and The Ideal Husband. And, deep inside of me I know that it's a CLASSIC, a must read, etc. I also know that this novel is on of the favourite books of Adam over at Roof Beam Reader, and he has a good taste. But, I'm afraid of it, because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am not particularly fond of tragic stories, I don't like experiencing physical pain.

Nevertheless, I will take up this challenge and will be reading this classic throughout March, because I am sure that it must serve a purpose that fortune/God or whoever has made me read this book now. So, I am determined to finish The Picture of Dorian Gray by the end of March and I’ll try to post my thoughts on it sometime in April.

February 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favourite Characters In Crime Fiction

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about our favourite characters in X genre. As I mentioned in my post about the Top Ten Settings Id Like To See More Of, Im a big fan of good crime fiction in general and Agatha Christie in particular. I own 77 out of ca. 100 books written by AC; and, Ive read ALL of them. What is more, Ive read each of her books more than once. To put it simply, I am obsessed with AC. Hence, I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate this post to those characters developed by her whom I love the most. So, here are my Top Ten Favourite Characters in Crime Fiction:

This post may contain spoiler; so, do not read on unless you want to!

1. Monsieur Hercule Poirot
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in The Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s loyal friend and ally, describes the great detective in the first novel in which they appear together, i.e. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as follows:
He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. (The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Chapter 2)
Hercule Poirot is a character with which I have much in common. We both love good food (especially chocolate and French cuisine), symmetry, and tidiness, and we are both little perfectionists. And of course, we both like to use our “little grey cells.” Certainly, there might be many people who do not consider these character traits attractive, but it is due to those that I believe that Poirot and I would get on well with one another in real life. :-) So, I cannot help but love this little Belgian sleuth.

2. Miss Jane Marple
Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in A Caribbean Mystery (1989)
Miss Marple is one of those characters that everybody believes to be stupid because of her outward appearance. In A Murder Is Announced, Agatha Christie describes her character thus:
Miss Jane Marple was very nearly, if not quite, as Craddock had pictured her. She was far more benignant than he had imagined and a good deal older. She seemed indeed very old. She had snow-white hair and a pink crinkled face and very soft innocent blue eyes, and she was heavily enmeshed in fleecy wool. Wool round her shoulders in the form of a lacy cape and wool that she was knitting and which turned out to be a baby’s shawl. (A Murder Is Announced, Chapter 8)
Yet, despite being old and knitting everywhere and at any (im)possible time, Miss Marple is anything but innocent. Quite the contrary, as we learn in the Murder at the Vicarage, she is in fact “dangerous”. That is to say, nothing escapes her attention and there’s no murderer who will sleep well, however perfect the murder he/she committed may seem, if Miss Marple is in charge of the case.

3. Lucy Eylesbarrow
Amanda Holden as Lucy Eyelesbarrow in 4.50 from Paddington (2004)
Lucy Eyelesbarrow is probably my all-time favourite character in Agatha Christie. She is a thirty-two year old genius (she earned a degree in mathematics at Oxford with honours, for Pete’s sake!) who, however, refrains from pursuing an academic career. Why? It’s because she is brilliant enough to know that “a life of academic distinction was singularly ill rewarded.” But, Lucy Eyelesbarrow loves financial stability and she is also a clever businesswoman who sees that there’s always a great demand for good household employees. Thus, she enters the field of domestic labour and, as Agatha Christie tells us, she is being successful.
Her success was immediate and assured. By now, after a lapse of some years, she was known all over the British Isles. It was quite customary for wives to say joyfully to husbands, “It will be all right. I can go with you to the States. I’ve got Lucy Eyelesbarrow!” (4:50 from Paddington, Chapter 4)
Lucy appears in the above-cited novel only, as the ally of Miss Marple. It is Lucy who searches for and finds the missing body. Besides doing this she doesn’t play a huge role in the solving of the crime puzzle, because, as good fortune would have it, she is busy with sorting out her love life. . . And, whom she will marry in the end? Only Miss Marple knows, but I want to believe that the clever man who is so afraid of this smart woman will be the winner!

4. & 5. Tuppence and Tommy Beresford
Francesca Annis & James Warwick as Tuppence & Tommy Beresford
in Partners in Crime (1983–84)
Tuppence and Tommy Beresford are probably less known characters of Agatha Christie, which is a shame in my opinion, because they truly are loveable. Regrettably, they appear only in five novels—namely, The Secret Adversary, Partners in Crime, N or M?, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and Postern of Fate.

They make their first appearance in The Secret Adversary, in which they’re young and restless, and unmarried yet. This is how Agatha Christie introduces them:
Tommy sat down opposite her. His bared head revealed a shock of exquisitely slicked-back red hair. His face was pleasantly ugly - nondescript, yet unmistakably the face of a gentleman and a sportsman. His brown suit was well cut, but perilously near the end of its tether. 
They were an essentially modern-looking couple as they sat there. Tuppence had no claim to beauty, but there was character and charm in the elfin lines of her little face, with its determined chin and large, wide-apart grey eyes that looked mistily out from under straight, black brows. She wore a small bright green toque over her black bobbed hair, and her extremely short and rather shabby skirt revealed a pair of uncommonly dainty ankles. Her appearance presented a valiant attempt at smartness. (The Secret Adversary, Chapter 1)
By the end of the last novel in that they appear, i.e. Postern of Fate, they’re two pensioners who have been happily married for ages and have raised three children. But, there’s something that has never changed during all those years: they’re still passionate about solving mysteries. And, they’re really good at it. Although, to me it seems Tuppence is slightly more talented, a bit cleverer... But, they are a really strong, unbeatable team who have solved together many difficult cases.

6. & 7. Lady Eileen Brent (Bundle) and Bill Eversleigh
Cheryl Campbell & Christopher Scoular as Bundle & Bill
in Seven Dials Mystery (1981)
So, who do you think was the first “it girl” ever? I will tell you. It was Lady Eileen Brent alias Bundle, one of my favourite female characters by AC. Have you never heard of her? Big mistake! Serious mistake! It could have been you whom Bill Eversleigh, Bundle’s companion, had scolded thus:
“I wish we’d got Bundle here,” murmured Bill. “You know her, don’t you, Jimmy? Oh, you’d like her. She’s a splendid girl—a real good sport—and mind you, she’s got brains too. You know her, Ronny?”
Ronny shook his head.
“Don’t know Bundle? Where have you been vegetating? She’s simply it.” (The Seven Dials Mystery, Chapter 1)
Bundle, Lord Caterham’s eldest daughter, is “tall, slim, and dark with an attractive boyish face, and a very determined manner” (The Secret of Chimneys, Chapter 10). But what is more, she is a very clever and brave woman who plays a major part in solving the “mystery of the seven dials.”

Her faithful companion is Mr Bill Eversleigh, a Foreign Office official, who is “a very likeable young man,” and has “a pleasantly ugly face, a splendid set of white teeth and a pair of honest brown eyes” (The Secret of Chimneys, Chapter 4). Even though Agatha Christie introduces her characters in The Secret of Chimneys already, Bundle and Billy have only a walk-on part in that novel. By contrast, in The Seven Dials mystery it is Bundle and Bill who are in charge of the case, and in this novel also their love story comes to a climax. . .

8. & 9. Lady Frances Derwent (Frankie) and Bobby Jones
Francesca Annis & James Warwick as Frankie & Bobby
in Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1983–84)
Frankie and Bobby are the third on the list of lovebirds and “partners in crime” and I adore them just as much as the previous two. Regrettably, they make only one appearance, namely in Why Didn't They Ask Evans?. Even though I’m no expert of literary genres and styles, I’m almost sure that this novel, like the above-mentioned Chimneys novels, owes its inspiration to the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. Also the characters bear much similarities. Frankie is very similar to Bundle in that she is a Lady, she is not breathtakingly beauty, she doesn’t mind to mix with boys from the “lower” class, and she is clever.

Her love interest and co-detective, Bobby Jones is not the famous American golfer but, as Christie informs us at the very beginning of her novel, “merely the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt.” And Bobby is, like Bill Eversleigh, neither the most handsome nor the smartest boy of the town. Agatha Christie introduces Bobby us thus:
He was an amiable-looking young man of about eight and twenty. His best friend could not have said that he was handsome, but his face was an eminently likeable one, and his eyes had the honest brown friendliness of a dog’s. (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, Chapter 1).
So, Bobby too is a very loveable young man and what woman could withstand the charms of a man who is as faithful as a dog?

10. Mrs Ariadne Oliver
Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in Cards on the Table (2006)
Finally, there’s Mrs Ariadne Oliver who is a very funny character that sometimes joins Monsieur Poirot or other investigators to “help” them to solve a case. She appears in seven novels—namely, Cards on the Table, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Dead Man’s Folly, The Pale Horse, Third Girl, Hallowe’en Party, and Elephants Can Remember. Admittedly, she is not very good at solving crime cases, even though she is a writer of crime fiction. Her most famous character is Sven Hjerson who is a Finnish detective. So, as you might have guessed by now, Ariadne seems to be Agatha Christie’s literary self. And, as I indicated above, Agatha Christie developed many a strong female characters, which implies that she believes that women have a unique talent for discovering the truth. The same is true, of course, to her literary alter ego, Ariadne Oliver, as the following excerpt from the Cards on the Table shows:
Mrs Ariadne Oliver was extremely well known as one of the foremost writers of detective and other sensational stories. ... She was also a hot-headed feminist and when any murder of importance was occupying space in the press there was sure to be an interview with Mrs Oliver, and it was mentioned that Mrs Oliver had said, “Now if a woman were the head of Scotland Yard!” She was an earnest believer in woman’s intuition. For the rest she was an agreeable woman of middle age, handsome in a rather untidy fashion, with fine eyes, substantial shoulders, and a large quantity of rebellious grey hair with which she was continually experimenting. (Cards on the Table, Chapter 2)
So these are my favourite characters in crime fiction. Do you love good whodunits? Who are your favourite authors in this genre? Are you an AC fan? Or, are you rather an Arthur Conan Doyle addict?

February 15, 2013

Follow Friday: Introduction & AoGG Read-A-Long

If you've read my post about my bookish resolutions for this year, you know that I hope that, in 2013, I will be able to enter at least one read-a-long or readathon. On the other hand, I want to improve my connections with the reading community. I'm following ca. 60 bookish blogs via RSS feed (many of those also on Twitter) and I'm member of seven different book clubs on Goodreads. So, I hear about new read-a-longs or challenges almost every day and have got invitations to bookish events pretty frequently. But of course, I am not able to enter all of those, however much I'd like to. Also, sometimes I miss an event, which I would have loved to join, as for example the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader.
Robinson Crusoe and His Man Friday by John Charles Dollman
via sofi01

February 13, 2013

The Classics Club: The Classics Spin #1

This Monday, The Classics Club came up with a new idea. They suggested playing a kind of reading game, in which we select and list twenty books from our Classics Club list that we haven't read yet. Next Monday they'll announce a number from 1 to 20 and we have to read the book that falls under that number by April 1. Isn't that a great idea? It will be so much fun! Although I am afraid that they'll pick a number under which there's a dreaded book! But, I'm living dangerously...
Hannes Arch Piloting in Kirchheim
via Wikipedia
So, here is My Spin List:
Three Classics I'm Currently Reading
01. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding 1749
02. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter 1913
03. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild 1936
Five Classics on My Spring TBR List
04. Evelina by Fanny Burney 1778
05. Emma by Jane Austen 1815
06. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 1814
07. Persuasion by Jane Austen 1818
08. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 1817
Four Easy-Peasy Classics
09. Emil und die Detektive by Erich Kästner 1929
10. Pünktchen und Anton by Erich Kästner 1931
11. Emil und die drei Zwillinge by Erich Kästner 1934
12. Das doppelte Lottchen by Erich Kästner 1949
Three Classics I Own But Haven't Started Yet
13. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot 1860
14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 1890
15. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy 1906-21
Three Classics I'm Dreading
16. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 1859
17. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 1862
18. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 1877
Two Classics I Can't Wait To Read
19. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell 1855
20. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 1940

Wishing everybody who is playing this game with The Classics Club the best of luck!

February 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favourite Romances

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a Top Ten list that they answer and invite every blogger to share their own answers.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about our favourite romances. Some of my Top Ten Favourite Romances will come as no surprise, if you have read the Top Ten Settings I'd Like To See More Of. Also,  there are some romances that might not be everybody's cup of tea,  but I would be happy to hear different opinions. So, do not hold back! And, here we go:

This post might contain SPOILERS; so, consider yourself warned!
  1. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
  2. Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987)
    Ok, I probably should stop repeating it, but the Anne of Green Gables series is the ultimate book series in my opinion. So, if I could take only one book with me to a deserted island, it would be Anne of the Island. Also, it is my firm belief that enduring love is always based on friendship. And, that’s what is happening here: Even though Gilbert’s feelings for Anne show themselves very early in the series, she doesn’t recognize her deep love for Gilbert until much later. Hence, Gilbert is forced to settle for being friends with Anne for the time being. But, his patience bears fruits in the end.

  3. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  4. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
    As a confessed Janeite, of course I have to mention my favourite romantic relationships from Jane Austen’s novels. I love the story of Elizabeth and Darcy because it keeps reminding me how stupid men and women, we all, are sometimes when looking for Mrs or Mr Right. We all have prejudices of some kind that we might not even be aware of and they often prevent us from recognizing the one under our noses. Thank God (or rather Jane Austen), Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam have been spared a life full of regrets.

  5. Emma Wodehouse and George Knightley from Emma by Jane Austen
  6. Emma (1996)
    In real life I have somehow often been attracted to older men, maybe that’s why I’m a big fan of Emma and Knightley’s romantic story. Also, I think that Emma is a spoiled girl and needs someone who does not get carried away with everything that she does or says. In other words, she needs someone who does not flatter her endlessly and who doesn’t swoon over her, unless she behaves as a mature and gentle woman.

  7. Bridget Jones and Marc Darcy from Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
  8. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
    Being a Janeite, also Bridget and Mark’s story is dear to my heart, of course. I cannot add much to what I said above about Elizabeth and Darcy’s story except that, girls and boys, sometimes you should listen to your mothers, especially in love matters, because they know it better!

  9. Judy Abbott and Jervis Pendleton from Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
  10. Daddy-Long-Legs (1990)
    Judy and Jervis were made for each other, there’s no doubt about it, even if they doesn’t belong to the same social class. They have a similar literary taste, they both love to be in nature and they are of the same opinion as regards politics and how life should be lived. What else could one wish for in a love relationship?

  11. Jo March and Friedrich Bhaer from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  12. Little Women (1994)
    That the love between Jo and Fritz is a favourite romance with me might come as surprise to many of you, as many, who have read Little Women, wish that Jo and Teddy had gotten together. By contrast, I am convinced that Jo and Teddy wouldn’t be a good match. Jo has always been more mature as Teddy and she needs someone who is on a par with her and not someone whom she can patronize. Moreover, Teddy seems to me a very ordinary boy, which fact is of course not a bad thing in itself, but an extraordinary woman such as Jo needs an extraordinary man.

  13. Françoise Fadet and Sylvinet Barbeau from Fadette by George Sand
  14. La petite Fadette (2004)
    As I explained in my review of Fadette, I love this novel precisely because the romance between Fadette and Sylvinet isn’t the usual fairy tale. Fadette is not the beauty of the town, even though Sylvinet is Monsieur Handsome. In addition, as in case of Anne and Gilbert, the two first become friends only, and Fadette and Sylvinet’s love evolves from this beautiful friendship. Which is why their love will be able to stand the test of time.

  15. Rose Feller and Simon Stein from In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
  16. In Her Shoes (2005)
    The love story between Rose and Simon bears many similarities to that between Bridget and Mark, because Rose and Bridget have much in common. But, Simon is slightly different from Mark; he is less handsome but also less proud and arrogant. This is probably the reason that “I fell for him” immediately and why I sighed, cried and got excited while reading those parts of the book that deal with the development of Rose and Simon’s romance.

  17. Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  18. The Loss of Innocence by ronairis via deviantART
    Have you ever read Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials? No? Than you really missed out on a wonderful book. Maybe you have heard of it and know that it’s highly controversial and in some religious circles it is a banned book, but that shouldn’t prevent you from reading it. Otherwise, how would you know whether it really is a “bad” book? Anyway, Lyra and Will are still very young at the end of the trilogy, but their love is so natural and so strong that many adults would envy it. And, Will is just the kind of extraordinary man whom every extraordinary woman, such as Lyra, would wish for.

  19. Marty Claridge and Clark Davis from Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke
  20. Love Comes Softly (2003)
    Sometimes love is like a hurricane but sometimes it comes softly. I think it is rather obvious which kind of love I prefer, as the romances I have listed here all develop over a longer period of time. It is especially true of Marty and Clark’s love story in Love Comes Softly. Marty is in deep mourning for her late husband; hence, she doesn’t recognize for a long time that she gradually fell in love with Clark. But, Clark is so patient, gentle and understanding that no woman could help but fall for him.
So these are my favourite romance. Do you agree? And, which are yours?

February 09, 2013

What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call each other, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? And which important Austen characters never speak? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Jane Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction - by asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals their devilish cleverness. 

In twenty-one short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen's novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most to the workings of the fiction. So the reader will discover when people had their meals and what shops they went to, how they addressed each other, who was allowed to write letters to whom, who owned coaches or pianos, how vicars got good livings and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? explores the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and sheer daring as a novelist. Though not a book about Jane Austen's life, it uses biographical detail and telling passages from her letters to explain episodes in her novels; readers will find out, for example, what novels she read or how much money she had to live on or what she saw at the theatre.

Inspired by an enthusiastic reader's curiosity, written with flair and based on a lifetime's study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will appeal to all those who love and enjoy Jane Austen's work. (Source: Goodreads)

My Thoughts
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 unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be.

My first problem with What Matters in Jane Austen? is that there seems to be a confusion as to which audience John Mullan has targeted at with his book: Jane Austen scholars, Janeites, or undergraduate students? The cover and the summary seem to suggest that readers belonging to any of these three “clubs” will find something in this book, but, in my opinion, John Mullan’s work does not satisfy the members of the first two.

I am neither a Jane Austen expert nor a literary theorist. However, for my doctoral thesis in the field of political philosophy, I had conducted extensive research into the moral thought of Jane Austen; hence, I read many a secondary literature on Jane Austen’s oeuvres. Comparing John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen?, for example, with Richard Jenkyns’ A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen it might be asserted that Mullan’s analysis doesn’t provide unique or fascinating insights into Jane Austen’s thought. To me it seems that any thorough reader or researcher will nod in agreement while reading about Mullan’s findings, but there won’t be an aha! effect. In other words, Jane Austen experts will find this book rather unsatisfactory.

The following part of the review may contain SPOILERS; so, do not read on, unless you want to!

For example, chapter 11 is on sexual relationships in Austen’s novels and, as sex is not necessarily a topic that springs to my mind while reading Jane Austen, I was expecting to learn about some sexual activities that might have escaped my attention. But, for me it was not new information that Lydia Bennet had sex before her marriage or that Charlotte Lucas’s marriage to Mr Collins wasn’t just platonic. (How would they have otherwise produced a child?) And, that Frank Churchill was sexually attracted to Jane Fairfax, even if he claimed the opposite, was rather obvious to me.

Chapter 15 on the books that Jane Austen’s characters read was especially disappointing in this regard. I was very keen on reading this chapter, because I hoped to receive some book recommendations. I hoped to discover classic books that I haven’t heard of yet. But, I think, even recent fans of Jane know that Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho is a favourite book with Catherine Morland. Likewise, I believe, that every Janeite knows that Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield and Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest are two books particularly mentioned in Emma. Similarly, it should come as no surprise that for Jane Austen, “[l]ack of reading in a man is a sure sign of worthlessness” (p. 231).

Also, as another reviewer has mentioned, it may seem unnecessary to write a whole chapter on blushing. For me this chapter (chapter 17) was a very tiresome reading, because, once again, I got the impression that I read banalities. Is it really a new and original idea that Jane Austen’s characters blush not only for themselves (because they are shy or whatever) but also for other people (because those people behave improperly)? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d somehow known that already.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that there was nothing in this book that could be praised. On the contrary, I liked to read about card games that the characters play (chapter 10) and about the risks of going to the seaside (chapter 6). I liked that Mullan used Jane Austen’s letters to substantiate his findings. Moreover, I truly liked Mullan’s writing style. In contrast to many other non-fictions, which I have been unlucky to read, this book is an easy reading despite the analytical approach. Mullan is not highly theoretical and avoids using academic jargon; hence, even laymen will understand what he wants to say.

In sum, I would recommend this book to undergraduate students of English literature for whom Jane Austen’s novels are compulsory reading and who have to analyse her works, her writing style, or the techniques she uses from a literary point of view. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to Janeites who want to learn fun facts; they should rather read annotated versions of Austen’s oeuvre. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend this book to Jane Austen experts, as it might not live up to their expectations. Also, it is very unlikely that I will ever re-read John Mullan’s book; hence, I am giving What Matters in Jane Austen? three cherries only.

Rating:
Title: What Matters in Jane Austen?
Author: John Mullan
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date: 2012
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1408820117
Language: English
Source: Gift