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.
One of Austen's most arch comedies, this epistolary novel follows the machinations of Lady Susan Vernon, a widow of extreme attractiveness and few compunctions. An early work, published posthumously, "Lady Susan" is lighter weight and less complex than Austen's better-known books, but fun reading.
reread Jane Austen's books every few years, and each time I read "Sense and Sensibility," I'm less and less satisfied with it.
The older I get, the harder I find it to enter into the early 19th-century outlook of young women whose only goal in life is marriage, and the more impatient with the forgiveness they grant to fickle and perfidious men. While the forbearance ultimately granted to the unprincipled Willoughby is slight, still, it's far more than he deserves.
"The whole of his behaviour," says Elinor to Marianne, "from the beginning to the end of the affair, has been grounded on selfishness. It was selfishness which first made him sport with your affections; which afterwards, when his own were engaged, made him delay the confession of it, and which finally carried him from Barton. His own enjoyment, or his own ease, was, in every particular, his ruling principle."
Yet, when it comes to Edward Ferrars, who has acted in pretty much the same way toward herself, if in a less blatant fashion — perhaps worse, because he was already engaged to marry another girl when he first met her — she's overjoyed to excuse, forgive and marry him.
This was Austen's first published novel, which she paid to have printed. Thankfully, her heroines become more progressive in her subsequent books.