Of Jane Austen's novels, "Mansfield Park" has less humor, and that darker, than her earlier works, which may be why it's less beloved. The story of the Bertram family and their timid poor relations ation, Fanny Price, as combined with and contrasted to the lively, London-bred siblings, the Crawfords, has more depth, but the waspish, penny pinching Aunt Norris is really the only caricature, and her cruelty and ability to wound Fanny often makes her unfunny. However, Austen's insights into human nature and her characterizations are acute.
Leah A. Zeldes
Leah A. Zeldes
Leah A. Zeldes’s book reviews
Reading "Pride and Prejudice" a short while after "Cecilia," the Fanny Burney novel that inspired the title, I'm struck by how much funnier Burney's novel is. Austen's subtle irony at the expense of her society and its views of gender roles provides humor, but Burney's pungent satire is hilarious. Austen's characters are annoying; it's easy to become frustrated with them. Elizabeth, for all her supposed intelligence, appears to think about little except men and her family, and her main superiority over the similar sensibilities of her mother and youngest sisters is that she does so less publicly. It cannot be said her taste or discernment are notably greater than theirs, given her partiality, at first, for the undeserving Wickham. She doesn't see through him; she has to be shown. She comes to appreciate Darcy, true, but so does her mother. I don't know — maybe it's just that I've read this novel so many times and it's lost its freshness for me.
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.
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.
Also titled "The Little Warrior," this Wodehouse comic romance is a fine example of what the author called a musical comedy without any music. It features the Woosterlike character Freddie Rooke, but the plot revolves around his childhood friend, Jill Mariner, whose engagement to the up-and-coming young Sir Derek Underhill, a baronet and M.P., founders after the latter's strong-willed and disapproving mother comes on the scene. It differs from the typical Wodehouse farce in that once the action shifts from London to New York, it moves away from a fanciful view of a high society that never quite existed to what seems likely a reasonably accurate look at the theater business of its period.
Also titled "Jill the Reckless," this Wodehouse comic romance is a fine example of what the author called a musical comedy without any music. It features the Woosterlike character Freddie Rooke, but the plot revolves around his childhood friend, Jill Mariner, whose engagement to the up-and-coming young Sir Derek Underhill, a baronet and M.P., founders after the latter's strong-willed and disapproving mother comes on the scene. It differs from the typical Wodehouse farce in that once the action shifts from London to New York, it moves away from a fanciful view of a high society that never quite existed to what seems likely a reasonably accurate look at the theater business of its period.
In this fun romantic adventure, intrepid Lois Cayley, freshly graduated from Girton, and all but penniless, decides to travel the world, with no advance planning whatever. Through luck and serendipity, she starts out as a companion to a cantankerous old lady, Lady Georgina Fawley, bound for a rest cure on the Continent. Lois next becomes a sales agent for bicycles in Switzerland, opens a typewriting business in Florence and then tries her hand at journalism in Egypt. Along the way, she winds up involved with several other members of Lady G's family, receives several proposals of marriage and foils various machinations of an artful con man. Fans of Elizabeth Peters and Alexander McCall Smith, among others, should enjoy the feisty Miss Cayley.
The third "Little Otleys" book takes place three years after the close of book 2. World War I is in progress. Bruce Ottley, back with Edith, whom he left in "Tenterhooks," has used a hypochondriac's excuse to avoid military service. The couple is hosting an older widow, the charming but peculiar Madame Frabelle, who has insinuated herself into their household and social group. Aylmer Ross, injured at the front, has returned to London to recover. He and Edith haven't seen each other in three years, yet they find their feelings for each other revive. Also on the scene is a beautiful young nurse, in love with Ross. It's not quite so strong as book 2, but still quite well written, and readers who enjoyed that will surely want to read this one.
This second novel in "The Little Otleys" trilogy focuses on Bruce and Edith, and their disintegrating marriage. Hyacinth Reeve does not appear, nor any other significant characters from the first book, and you can read this one without having read the earlier novel. Edith Ottley finds herself drawn to Aylmer Ross, a man very much more her intellectual equal than the fatuous and self-centered Bruce. Ross is deeply in love with her, yet she keeps him at arm's length out of a disinterested loyalty to her ridiculous husband. Even when she knows that Bruce is having affairs with other women, she refuses to leave him — for the sake of convention, her children, her mother-in-law and the hapless Bruce himself — much to Aylmer's unhappiness. This book is much more serious than "Love's Shadow," more real and even better written, though something of a downer. The tone is less like Jane Austen and more like a cross of Evelyn Waugh and Barbara Pym.
This surprisingly modern-feeling comedy of manners contrasts the dull life of Edith Otley, a young matron with a tiresomely narcissistic and fatuous husband and somewhat straitened means, with the more exciting one of her friend Hyacinth Verney, a substantial heiress, single, beautiful, charming and independent. The story mainly concerns the courtship of Hyacinth and Cecil Reeve. She's in love with him, but he loves another woman, Eugenia Raymond, a widow 10 years his senior. The widow refuses him, so he falls back on Hyacinth on the rebound. However, her awareness of his devotion to Mrs. Raymond impinges on their relationship. The writing is excellent. Those who think the language of Jane Austen and Fanny Burney somewhat stilted and old-fashioned should find this more to their liking. The ending seems rather abrupt and unsatisfying, however.