A short historical novel set during the 17th-century English Civil War. A small boy whose family has sided with the Cavaliers against the Roundheads becomes an almost unwitting pawn in the skirmish, frightening his Puritan captors into believing him a witch. Neither the action nor the characterizations are very exciting, but it may be of interest to students of the period.
Emma is probably the most controversial of all Jane Austen's books. Critics and scholars laud it, while the reading public and schoolteachers stick to Austen's earlier books.
For all that Austen famously limits the reader to the viewpoint of her protagonist, and even as a coming-of-age story, "Emma" is extremely predictable, and Emma Woodhouse is such a conceited young woman, full of her own consequence, for most of the book that it becomes difficult to care that she gets over herself, somewhat, later on. Austen might have made a joke of Emma's snobbery and meddling, but she simultaneously invites us to sympathize with her.
While Austen's powers of subtle irony and gentle wit are at their height in this novel, their objects — the mildly censorious Mr. Knightly, hardly a romantic ideal; his ill-tempered, introverted younger brother; the kindly, prosy Miss Bates; the valetudinarian Mr. Woodhouse — mostly seem undeserving of her skill. Only in the upstart Mrs. Upton do we get a humorous character at which Austen deservedly pokes her sharpened pen.
Subtitled "A Story of the Haps and Mishaps on an English Chicken Farm," this is the mildly amusing story of writer Jeremy Garnet, who goes to help his friends the Ukridges start a chicken farm at Lyme Regis, where he falls in love with Phyllis Derrick, the daughter of an irascible Irish professor.
This early work shows Wodehouse's promise, but also that he was still learning his craft. The narrative suffers from shifting viewpoints, beginning in third person, switching to first person, and ending in a play script format. The romance occurs more or less in the minds of the protagonists, since their opportunities for meeting are few, and limited. And the potential humor of the chicken farm is far more restrained than it ought to have been. (Read Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I" for a more hilarious look at chicken farming.)
Wodehouse called this his least favorite of his books, and you can see why. Still, it's worth reading, if only for passages like this:
“Waterloo station is one of the things which no fellow can understand. Thousands come to it, thousands go from it. Porters grow gray-headed beneath its roof. Buns, once fresh and tender, become hard and misanthropic in its refreshment rooms, and look as if they had seen the littleness of existence and were disillusioned. But there the station stands, year after year, wrapped in a discreet gloom, always the same, always baffling and inscrutable.”
Summoned to catalog a library in a remote district, antiquarian Leonard Middlebrook falls upon the completely unrelated murder of a chance met stranger, which turns out to be part of a complex scheme. The mystery itself is interesting, but the story moves slowly, and since Middlebrook is mainly a hapless and disinterested observer whose presence doesn't advance the plot, his narration seems rather dull and static. Some parts of the novel appear to have been manipulated just so Middlebrook could be on the scene to report on them, and the whole thing might have been better with an omniscient narrator.