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Pocket Reviews pt.1: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's (1775–1817) six finished and published novels (there are fragments of more) have continuously inspired and amazed a worldwide readership. Her work is not just about romance, not just about the ugly swan, the poor Cinderella. What makes Austen so unique is her ability of observation for her time, her society, and the core of people's hearts who could just as well live in our age, or any other. Under the sugary tales of love and youth we find the harsh reality women without any other "careers" such as matrimony faced in her times, just as well as merciless disclosure of the worst in us - greed, selfishness, egoism, blindness, pride and prejudice. Oh dear, I sense a pun.

Pocket Reviews consist of five sentences per book, arranged around one topic per post. All of these books are too old to fall under copyright and can therefore be obtained legally and free from online sources and libraries, for example from Project Gutenberg. Suggestions for future posts are very welcome.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

When Mr Dashwood dies, his widow and her three daughters find themselves pushed into poverty by his son from another wife. When the eldest daughter, Elinor, sees her hope for love crushed, she tries to put up with an overload of sense, while Marianne's sensibility does her not more good either.
Often regarded as dry and boring, I found this novel to give most incide in the cruel nature of a society that does not allow women to take their fate into their own hands, and gives men excuses for pretty much anything else. We see sharp characterisation, as well as hidden advice, and quite a good load more realism than romances usually come with. Probably written as an ironic commentary on the overly sensible romances of her time (as if that had changed), I'd add sensitivity to the title.

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Five sisters counts the Bennet family, and none of them will inherit anything worth living on upon their father's death. When a rich new neighbour, and a bachelor on top, moves into the neighbourhood, Miss Elizabeth Bennet has high hopes for her older sister Jane to find the love of her life - if it wasn't for Mr Darcy, whose pride Eliza cannot possibly tolerate to bring harm upon them all.
Probably the most famous novel, "Pride and Prejudice" comes with an awful load of twists and turns, laughter, angst, comic characters, and a good topping of dry sarcasm. I like the clash of very well-developed, stubborn and varied characters, as well as the portrait of well-situated men becoming just as much of a trades good as women. Filmed adaptations hardly ever touch the mean little soul of this book, so I highly recommend the read before the watch (go for the BBC series later).

Mansfield Park (1814)

Poor little Fanny Price is taken away from her home and her seven siblings to live with her rich aunt and uncle in the countryside, in Mansfield. Shy and without self-conscience, she starts to feel an affection for her cousin Edmund, but how is a wretch like her going to confess her unworthy feelings?
Fanny Price has almost no strength of her own, and rather stumbles along whatever fate throws at her. This might appear lovely and feminine to others, but she is no match for Austen's other heroines, and might disappoint today's audience. I found this book a little on the family soap opera side, yet there are some vertues to be dug out once you keep going.

Emma (1815)

Young Miss Emma Woodhouse is well-off, beautiful, very confident in her matchmaking abilities, and adamant not to ever marry as long as she has such a comfortable home at her father's, whom she loves very much. Once she realises, however, that the matchmaking produces more catastrophes than happy faces, and that maybe Mr Knightley should be bound to her house with more than friendship, her views on the world start to topple over one by one.
Jane Austen is said to have been convinced about "Emma" to be the least likeable of her protagonists, and there are enough ways not to like her. I found this young woman to be an excellent example of a strong, yet not unmistakable lead who acts because she wants to do good, even if it causes quite the opposite. Being the most unique of Austen's novels, I recommend getting between the lines of Miss Woodhouse with some time at hand.

Northanger Abbey (1818)

Taken along by wealthy neighbours to Bath, Miss Catherine Morland makes the acquaintance of quite some new people, among them Henry Tilney and his sister. Quite impressed by young Mr Tilney, she is more than delighted to be invited to their house - if it wasn't just for the mysteries Gothic novel enthusiast Catherine senses behind every door, and in the strange behaviour of Henry's father...
This novel makes a lot of fun of young girls overly immersed in mystery and ghost stories, or in short, the modern fangirl. It is, however, rather a good-natured account and a cute little story of love and friendship on top. Villains, storms, and several alarms, it is all  in here.

Persuasion (1818)

At no more than nineteen years of age, Anne Elliot is persuaded by her father and older sister to break the engagement with poor naval officer Frederick Wentworth. When they meet again eight years later, by-now-Captain Wentworth isn't just announcing that he will marry any young women who attracts his fancy, it seems that almost everybody in Anne's periphery has their own stew on the fire.
"Persuasion" appears darker than the other stories, and evokes its own interest in this sometimes angsty aspect. There is the obvious title theme which gets explored in a number of ways, as well as intricate sub-plots and a heroine who doesn't quite fit the general Austen stereotype. Usually overlooked by Hollywood and not as well known as the grand Three ("Pride and Prejudice", "Sense and Sensibility", "Emma"), this book comes with variations on topics of fairytales that drags them into an interesting, almost modern sphere of realism.

Upcoming: Horror classics - Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (Any more suggestions for this theme?)
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