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 why is it risky to go to the seaside? Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction – by asking some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels and why, he reveals their devilish cleverness and their art.
The English Prof, Late Review star and Guardian Book Club host discovers what games people played and why they had to wear mourning, how they addressed each other and how wealth was inherited, who shared bedrooms and who owned coaches. He 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 and how much money she had to live on and why she was obsessed with the weather.
John Mullan's books include How Novels Work and Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature.