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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.

Jane Austen Critic Avoids Obscurities

Jane Austen Critic Avoids Obscurities

The Novels of Jane Austen, by Robert Liddell (Longmans) 174pp. English price 25/-.

Robert Liddell belongs to that curious sect of Austen worshippers whose pleasure it is to top one another in praise of her. As he proudly remarks in the "apology" to this book, "I do not believe any critic has yet given her higher praise than I have."

Some readers might find this tone irritating, but no one who has read Jane Austen could find this book less than interesting. It consists of commentatries on each of the six novels, with notes on "Sanditon" and the letters.

The novels are dealt with in 150 pages, so there is hardly room for exhaustive erudition. Each commentary includes a short section on the sources, background and history of the novel. The author then moves to a study of the important characters and aspects of plot and style.

Mercifully, he steers clear of structural analysis—his commentaries are divided under such headings as "Irony." "The Anti-heroine and the Anti-hero." "Personal Relations" and so on. Despite his admitted bias, he effectively exposes the roughnesses of Jane Austen's early works and provides food for thought on that puzzling novel. "Mansfield Park." He argues strongly that "Persuasion" was never finished to the author's satisfaction.

Liddell rarely disappears into intellectual obscurities, which, for a modern literary critic, is quite an achievement. Nor is he inclined to see extraordinary connections between incidents in Jane Austen's life and facets of her work. In a sidelong swipe at other critics he says. "We do not know the whole of another mind's experience, and we are too prone to give over-importance to the little we do know."

Liddell relies more on his own insights into the texts, gained through long and constant acquaintance with them, than in following the standard critical line.

In doing so he provides Jane Austen readers with some clearly expressed insights and valuable background commentary.