Monday, 25 June 2012
What Matters in Jane Austen?
I've been getting a bit restless lately. Keep looking at the MA in Eighteenth Century Studies on the Southampton University website even though it's too expensive, too far away, I work full-time and my daughters are about to enter sixth form. I would like to study again though and the Unknown Jane Austen module sounds very tempting. Daren't even mention it to my husband!
I very much enjoyed John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen - Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved. The 'crucial puzzles' are answered in chapters on the significance of blushing, which characters speak and which remain silent, who dies in the course of the novels and the significance of the weather to name but a few.
Mullan is excellent on Austen's technical genius, her pioneering of the 'free indirect style' of modern novels where the authorial voice takes on the characteristics of a character. He also provides lots of interesting facts that Austen fans will relish. For example, we learn that the importance of the weather in Emma prompted an earth scientist to make a meteorological study of it. In a chapter on blundering we learn that Mary Crawford, the self-styled psychologist of Mansfield Park, blunders again and again and ultimately loses the man she loves.
In a perceptive chapter on death he notes that very few characters die in the course of the novels but they are all overshadowed by it. I was particularly interested in the fact that Austen revealed to her family that the highly strung Jane Fairfax from Emma would enjoy 'nine or ten years marital felicity' with Frank Churchill before she died. Fascinating to consider that Austen's plans for her characters extended beyond the end of the novels.