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‘The whole pleasure of marriage’, according to G K Chesterton, ‘is that it is a perpetual crisis.’ He had no time for David Copperfield’s second wife, Agnes – an embodiment of lifeless perfection to be rated far below David’s charming, domestically incompetent first love: David Copperfield and Dora quarrelled over the cold mutton; and if they had gone on quarrelling to the end of their lives, they would have gone on loving each other to the end of their lives; it would have been a human marriage. But David Copperfield and Agnes would agree about the cold mutton. And that cold mutton would be very cold. Jane Austen, no fan of novelistic paragons either, wrote to her niece that ‘pictures of perfection … make me sick & wicked’. One of the many pleasures of John Mullan’s absorbing new book on Austen is how it handles the affectionate contempt of ordinary married life. Take Charles and Mary Musgrove in Persuasion: they bicker endlessly in public, but their quarrels also serve to unite them.

more from Freya Johnston at Literary Review here.