The beloved and layered characters, the intricate plots revolving around the social conventions of the times, the attention to detail regarding the differences in the classes, the witty dialogue which can deftly hide what a character truly means to say contribute to novels rich in discussable content and undiscovered surprises upon almost every reading and re-reading.
Jane Austen scholar, John Mullan, has a new work, What Matters in Jane Austen? which presents some new ways to look at familiar characters and plot devices in Austen that should refresh any book group discussion of the author.
All of the chapter headings are posed as questions and a book group facilitator could select two or three and have enough to fill a lively hour or two. One of the most intriguing chapters, “Why Is the Weather Important?” will have Jane-ites mulling over the ways the weather impacts the plot and how Austen uses it to let the reader know that time is marching on. Weather can also tell a reader about a character’s personality, particularly if a character is affected by the weather.
One of the most delightful chapters asks “Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?” It’s easy for readers to gloss over characters who are not contributing to the conversation in a given scene, however, as Mullan points out, readers will learn a great deal if they note when characters are not talking and what they likely are not saying. And occasionally, who is doing the talking for them.
Facilitators looking for a new resources to bolster discussions about Jane Austen should not miss this book. Mullan’s conversational style and strong observations about Austen’s canon make a this a book that any Jane Austen fan would love to read for pleasure and one that book group leaders can turn to in a pinch for fresh conversation starters.