The answer: More than you would think.
After reading this interesting article over at First Things about the silent characters in Jane Austen’s fiction, I decided to give the book that Mr. Leithart referenced a read through. I am so glad I did!
The book called, What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan, was an amazing education in all the little genius ways in which Austen advances her stories. While we all know she is the queen of dialogue, how many of us knew how much meaning there is in a character’s blush, or lack of one? Why does it matter which card game the characters are playing in a certain scene? Have you ever paid much attention to each character’s age? Or the weather? I hadn’t.
Miss Austen was such a genius that the little details mentioned above helped shed light on a character’s personality or motives. They advanced the plot. It explained the absurdity or commonsense of a person’s thoughts and speeches. In short, Austen didn’t waste words. She used each word, each sentence carefully and wisely. She also was an innovator of many writing techniques that we now take for granted 200 years later, but were entirely new to her audiences.
This is one of the best nonfiction books I have read this year. If you like Austen’s fiction even a little bit, you will be enthralled with this book. I cannot wait to go back and read her novels (slowly and carefully) armed with this new knowledge of Austen’s genius in the details.
Tell me, what’s your favorite book abut Jane Austen? I always love getting recommendations.
(*This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase the book through this link I will receive a little compensation which will help support myself and my children’s book habits.)