Paperback review: What Matters in Jane Austen? By John Mullan


Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen? How Much Money is Enough? What Makes Characters Blush? These are among the questions posed by John Mullan in this collection of astute and appreciative essays on Jane Austen.

The approach, with its attention to detail, determination to solve puzzles, and respect for the text, is reminiscent of John Sutherland's approach in Is Heathcliff a Murderer? One of the most illuminating essays here is "How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen?" which makes clear that she basically invented the modern novel in her use of narrative that follows and mimics a character's thoughts – which accounts for the amazing modernity of her novels, while many other books of the period seem ponderous today. You probably have to be a thorough-going Janeite to get the most from the essays, but I am, so that's fine.