Jane Austen is a mystery. The first incontrovertibly great woman novelist, she is, among other things, one of the finest prose stylists in literature; the first truly modern writer, the godmother of chick lit. She is also the greatest enigma (next to Shakespeare) in English literature. Soldiers in the First World War sat in the trenches and read her novels for the civilising comforts they provided. Hard-nut literary critics such as F. R. Leavis lauded their austere complexity.