Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction

Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction

Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction

Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction


The exciting sequel to the enormously successful Is Heathcliff A Murderer?, John Sutherland's latest collection of literary puzzles, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? turns up unexpected and brain-teasing aspects of the range of canonical British and American fiction represented in the World's Classics list. With bold imaginative speculation he investigates thirty-four literary conundrums, ranging from Daniel Defoe to Virginia Woolf. Covering issues well beyond the strict confines of Victorian fiction, Sutherland explores the questions readers often ask but critics rarely discuss: Why does Robinson Crusoe find only one footprint? How does Magwitch swim to shore with a great iron on his leg? Where does Fanny Hill keep her contraceptives? Whose side is Hawkeye on? And how does Clarissa Dalloway get home so quickly? As in its universally well received predecessor, the questions and answers in Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? are ingenious and convincing, and return the reader with new respect to the great novels they celebrate.


The poor fictionist very frequently finds himself to have been wrong in his description of things in general, and is told so roughly by the critics and tenderly by the friends of his bosom. He is moved to tell of things of which he omits to learn the nature before he tells of them--as should be done by a strictly honest fictionist. He catches salmon in October; or shoots his partridges in March. His dahlias bloom in June, and his birds sing in the autumn. He opens the opera-houses before Easter, and makes Parliament sit on a Wednesday evening. And then those terrible meshes of the law!

(Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn, chapter 29)

Can Jane Eyre be Happy? is a follow-up to Is Heathcliff a Murderer? As in the earlier book the poor fictionist's seeming errors, anomalies, illogicalities, and contradictions are investigated--tenderly rather than roughly, I trust--for the light they shed on the complexities of fiction and its power over us. Although the books are similar in method I have extended the chronological range in Can Jane Eyre be Happy? beyond the Victorian period, starting with Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe and finishing with Virginia Woolf Mrs Dalloway. Doubtless by straying outside my strict area of expertise I shall find myself, like Trollope, in some terrible meshes.

Writing Is Heathcliff a Murderer? was enjoyable and the book received friendly reviews (with a rather two-edged compliment The Economist observed that if this kind of thing went on, literary criticism would get a good name). Most gratifying to me, however, was the unusual number of personal letters I received from readers of World's Classics. Some courteously pointed out errors I had made. Judith Stokes wittily undermined my contention (in 'What . . .

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