Games Readers Play
The Jane Austen Quiz Book
By Helen Barton.
Helen Barton, 1999. 64 pages. &5.
(To obtain a copy of this book, please send an email to Bartonbook@aol.com)
Reviewed by Mary Jane Curry.
The Jane Austen Quiz Book would make a good gift for a first- or second time reader of Austen's fiction and letters. This inexpensive paperback might also assist a teacher in preparing questions to test students' factual knowledge. It is organized into 12 chapters: five organized topically; followed by six, each of which is devoted to one of the completed novels; and concluding with a chapter entitled "Difficult Ones." An answer section follows. The corresponding chapter title at the top of each Answer page makes answers easy to locate.
Some of the questions from the topical chapters pull quotations that a careful first- or second-time reader would identify because they capture a character's salient flaw or virtue. For example, "Here she took out her handkerchief; but Elinor did not feel very compassionate." We are asked to name the novel and the "she"--that hypocritical Lucy Steele. Another reads, "Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." (This one is a multiple choice asking the character described in Pride and Prejudice- Charlotte Lucas, Caroline Bingley, or Lydia Bennet.) Other questions I like concern attitudes that students of Austen have recognized as pivotal to her work. For the following statement, we are asked to identify novel and speaker: "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands."
The final chapter "Difficult Ones" is aptly named only for newcomers to Austen's minor works, her letters, and biographies. The chapter contains only 18 questions, and many more, of course, are possible. Some of the present questions could be made more challenging. For example, one asks in what form Lady Susan was written, and another asks for the name of "the novel written in the form of letters in 1795 and given the title of its two heroines' names." These questions might be combined into one, asking the titles of Austen's fiction in epistolary form (and omitting the hint about names). Instead of asking, "Name the work prefaced by the author's line: 'N B There will be very few Dates in this History," something concerning the content of "A History of England" could be asked.
One could raise stylistic criticism of the content: some questions are either very easy, for example, or structured in a way that annoys. A reader might be irritated by a simplistic question such as, "The Elliot sisters are characters in Northanger Abbey. True or false?" Too many start with "Can you name" or "Do you know," as in "Do you know Mr. Darcy's first name? "Yes," a reader might be tempted to reply. I would rather be asked "What is...?"
Given Austen's wide readership with so many levels of knowledge, devising quiz questions is difficult. For the members of JASNA I have met, almost all of the questions in The Jane Austen Quiz Book are too easy to make an enjoyable game. A subsequent edition might profit by either giving it a subtitle such as Posers for New Readers or revising and enlarging it to include three or four levels of difficulty (if we Janeites weren't so happily occupied reading Jane Austen, we might buy a Trivial Pursuit game devoted to her). Additions might be based on word games that the Austen family delighted in playing. For example, in Puzzling Jane Austen, the Tennessee Region of JASNA gives a number of charades (riddles in the form of poems) modeled on Mr. Elton's "courtship" charade in Emma. An introduction giving creative suggestions for games would also be helpful.
In informal books of this type, I like to read biographical sketches
telling how the authors came to compose them. As the JASNA tape "The Courage
to Write: Jane Austen, Janeites, and JASNA" attests, many avid readers
have engaging stories about their introductions to their favorite author.
Mary Jane Curry is an associate professor of English at AUM (Auburn
University Montgomery) and founder of the JASNA Alabama Region. She teaches
courses on Austen, the British novel, and post-colonial fiction.
JASNA News v.16, no. 1, Spring 2000, p. 17
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