HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERon April 30, 2011
Jane Austen. Her name is practically synonymous with classic, understated romance, as well as comedies of manners with a subtle, sly sense of humor.
And Austen's "The Complete Novels" brings together the full complement of her finished novels, from the little-known "Lady Susan" to the classic bestseller "Pride and Prejudice" (and everything in between). This collection is flled with lovably flawed heroines, beautiful formal prose, and some rather unconventional love stories.
"Pride and Prejudice" become a problem when Elizabeth Bennett takes a dislike to the handsome, aloof Mr. Darcy -- and her prejudice against him builds after he sabotages her sister's love match, and the charming Wickham drops some shocking claims about Darcy's nastiness. But when scandal hits the Bennett family, Darcy may be their only hope. And "Sense and Sensibility" clash when the two Dashwood sisters, smart Elinor and romantic Marianne, both fall in love -- one with a man she can't have, and the other with a guy who may be horribly unsuitable.
In "Persuasion," Anne Elliott was once engaged to the impoverished sailor Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to break it off. Now he's returned as a wealthy hero... and Anne still loves him. "Mansfield Park" is shy Fanny Price's's home, along with the rich relatives who usually treat her as a servant (except for her kindly cousin Edmund). But when the flirtatious, fashionable Crawfords arrive in the neighborhood, it unbalances the lives of everyone at Mansfield Park.
And "Northanger Abbey" is a fitting location for Austen's spoof on gothic romances, in which the hyperimaginative Catherine Moreland is taken under the wing of the Tilney family, and especially handsome Henry -- and learns a lesson about the difference between fantasy and reality. "Emma" is a frothy romantic comedy about a rich, somewhat spoiled young lady who tries to arrange the lives of people around her so that everyone is happy (except nothing is that simple!).
And as an addition to Austen's main body of work, this edition includes the novella "Lady Susan," who is sort of the evil sociopathic twin of Emma -- a brilliant and manipulative widow who seduces, plots and schemes. And "Love and Freindship" is a hilarious spoof of gushy romantic literature.
Except for "Lady Susan," each story is a love story, tempered with some clever commentary on the society of Austen's day (example: entailment, which plays a part in several plots), and a biting, sharp-edged wit (the mockery of the toadying Mr. Collins and the obnoxious Elliott family).
And despite the formal stuffiness of the time, Austen painted her stories vividly -- powerful emotions and vivid prose ("The wind roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows"), as well as deliciously witty dialogue ("I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine"). But she also weaves in some intensely romantic moments as well ("Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death...").
Austen also had an interesting range of heroines -- quiet ones, melodramatic ones, intelligent ones, naive ones, and mildly spoiled ones who think they know best. But each one has a major character flaw that must be overcome before she can find true love and happiness. And she has an equally fascinating range of love interests -- quiet soldiers/sailors, sexy charmers, blunt gentlemen, and and especially the smart, sexy Mr. Darcy (who has a flaw of his own to overcome alongside Lizzie).
Jane Austen's "Complete Novels" draws together all her finished novels, and let readers explore the mannered society and obstacle-filled love lives of her heroines.