Showing posts with label Jane Austen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jane Austen. Show all posts

Monday, 1 March 2021

Jane Austen's Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd by Zoe Wheddon - My Review

Happy St David’s Day to you all! St David is the patron saint of Wales, in case you don’t know. Traditionally the children would dress up in traditional Welsh costume, or otherwise wear Welsh rugby shirts. Most schools would hold an ‘Eisteddfod’ and the children would sing, dance, and compete in the arts such as singing, painting/collage, and most importantly, poetry, as the author of the winning poem gets crowned bard. The youngest school children in Wales are now back in school so I am pleased to think that at least there will be children dressing up today on our route back to normality!

Blog Tour: Jane Austen's Best Friend by Zoe Wheddon
Today, I’m bringing you my review of a book about an important person in Jane Austen’s life. Jane Austen's Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd by Zoe Wheddon looks at the life and influence of Martha Lloyd on Jane. Let’s look at the blurb and then we’ll move on to what I thought of the book.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Sanditon Adaptation
In preparation for the mini-series, completed by Andrew Davies, which was starting this weekend on British TV I thought I should probably reacquaint myself with the fragment that Jane Austen started, and had to put aside when she became ill, and soon afterwards died. Apparently her working title was The Brothers but we know it as Sanditon.

This is the blurb, from Amazon:

'no person could be really well . . . without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year'

In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformations that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships. Sanditon is a fictitious place on England's south coast and the obsession of local landowner Mr Thomas Parker. He means to transform this humble fishing village into a fashionable health resort to rival its famous neighbours of Brighton and Eastbourne.

In this, her final, unfinished work, the writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand. If the ground beneath her characters' feet appears less secure, Austen's own vision is opening out. Light and funny, Sanditon is her most experimental and poignant work.

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I’d read the first chapters previously, in a sense, as I’d read a completion - Sanditon, by Jane Austen and a Lady (Marie Dobbs) which I enjoyed very much. It’s going to be strange for me to see it go another direction in the adaption and yet I’m eager to see where the story is taken. I really hope they do the story justice.

Unfortunately, the fragment really didn’t get far beyond setting out the main characters, which is such a shame, as I would have loved to know where Austen was going to take this tale. We start off with Mr Thomas Parker having an accident. He’s gone to try and poach a doctor for his home town of Sanditon, which he is trying to develop as a fashionable seaside resort. Mr Parker is a fond husband, father and brother. He is a little obsessed with Sanditon, and making it a success. Mr Parker’s accident leads to him spending 2 weeks staying with the Heywoods and at the end of the two weeks he and his wife return to Sanditon. They would like to bring any number of Heywoods with them but although there are a LOT of them (parents plus 14 children, the eldest of whom have presumably moved out) they are forced to content themselves with the eldest daughter still at home, Miss Charlotte Heywood.

Miss Charlotte Heywood from Sanditon
An aside to this: Jane Austen mentioned a Miss Charlotte Williams in her correspondence to Cassandra, and said: “I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams, those large dark eyes always judge well. I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her.’ and perhaps this was Charlotte Heywood, particularly as she appears to have good judgement.

Charlotte is quite lovely as a heroine. She is sensible and ordinary, and as such, the reader can really identify with her. She seems to be one of the few people who judges the other characters clearly. For example, this is her take on Mr Tom Parker, which seems to me to be fair:
His judgement is evidently not to be trusted. His own good nature misleads him. He is too kind-hearted to see clearly.
Mrs Parker is a sweet lady, fond of her husband and children, but not very strong minded.
So entirely waiting to be guided on every occasion that whether he was risking his fortune or spraining his ankle, she remained equally useless.
Upon going to Sanditon, Charlotte meets with Lady Denham, who is Mr Parker’s investment partner in Sanditon. Lady Denham has been married twice and is now widowed. Her first husband was rich, her second had a title. She is childless and has three families competing for her money. The families of both of her husbands and her birth family, the Breretons. She has a poor relative from her birth family living with her, and her good opinion is courted by the second husband’s family. Lady Denham has no illusions about the grabbiness of her relatives and yet, she is an unsympathetic and unlikeable lady.
She is very, very mean. I can see no good in her.
Miss Clara Brereton is the poor relative who lives with Lady Denham. She is beautiful and somewhat tragic. Reading between the lines, Clara gives off a vulnerable air. She has enemies, but she is aware of it. Charlotte’s judgement of Clara is, for her, quite whimsical.
She could not separate the idea of a complete heroine from Clara Brereton.
Sir Edward Denham is also introduced. He is a remarkable character; remarkably vain and stupid:
Why he should talk so much nonsense, unless he could do no better, was unintelligible.
But there’s also an intrigue to his character. He is determined to seduce Miss Clara Brereton, both to keep her out of Lady Denham's good graces and hence will, but also because he thinks rakes are both dashing and admirable:
With a perversity of judgement which must be attributed to his not having by nature a very strong head, the graces, the spirit, the sagacity and the perserverance of the villain of the story out- weighed all his absurdities and all his atrocities with Sir Edward. With him such conduct was genius, fire and feeling.
Sir Edward’s sister, Miss Denham is just coldly unpleasant. She cosies up to Lady Denham and tries to feel superior to everybody else:
The change from Miss Denham sitting in cold grandeur in Mrs. Parker's drawing room, to be kept from silence by the efforts of others, to Miss Denham at Lady Denham's elbow, listening and talking with smiling attention or solicitous eagerness, was very striking ~ and very amusing or very melancholy, just as satire or morality might prevail.
Mr Parker has two grown sisters, Diana and Susan. Susan is referred to as Miss Parker, and Diana as Miss Diana Parker so Susan must be the elder sister. They are both unmarried, and are both invalids when they have nothing else to do. Diana particularly is a busybody:
It would seem that they must either be very busy for the good of others or else extremely ill themselves.
They live with the youngest of Mr Parker’s siblings, Mr Arthur Parker. He is 20. His sisters think him an invalid and encourage him to think likewise. Charlotte’s opinion differs slightly:
Charlotte could not but suspect him of adopting that line of life principally for the indulgence of an indolent temper, and to be determined on having no disorders but such as called for warm rooms and good nourishment. 
A scene which I enjoyed very much involved Arthur, and after I read it I found myself snorting inelegantly over lunch when I recalled it as I was asked to pass this butter. This is Arthur’s excuse for not eating dry toast but preferring to butter it. Apparently dry toast has the following effect on one’s stomach lining: 
It irritates and acts like a nutmeg grater.
Following Arthur’s example, if one scrapes off the butter while one’s sisters watch, and then scrape it back on quickly, unobserved, before eating, there is no blame associated with eating toast which is not dry :)

We are also very briefly introduced to some further characters. A Mrs Griffiths brings her pupils, the Misses Beaufort and the rich Miss Lambe, a 17 year old heiress ‘half-mulatto’. A ‘mulatto’ means a mixed race person, usually with one black parent and one white. I don’t think that is was an offensive term at the time. I think this is the only non-white character in all of Austen. On a personal level, Austen may have heard of Dido Belle who was another mixed race person whose fortune placed her in a higher level than her race would otherwise have allowed. It would have been fascinating to see where Austen had taken this character! If only!

The Beaufort sisters seem fine enough, though they are clearly anxious for displaying both their talents and their persons. We only have a fleeting acquaintance with them.

The last character we meet is the remaining Parker sibling, Mr Sidney Parker, who apparently is 4th in the family, as he is older than Arthur. We know from his brother’s reports that Sidney makes him laugh despite himself so he sounds like a fun character. In addition the narrator tells us that:
Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance.
From this description I have decided that Sidney was the possible hero, but what happened after that is uncertain!

As a beginning, the fragment is very satisfactory. There are some very interesting characters, and the possibility of an intrigue between Miss Brereton and Sir Edward. This is particularly interesting because it’s clear that he doesn’t have honourable intentions and it’s also clear that she’s quite aware of this and is determined not to be taken in. You get the impression that she is stringing him along, and given the fact that he doesn’t mean well by her, I have no problem with this at all!

Given the fact that Austen didn't have the chance to edit the fragment, it contains some of her acerbic wit. It was visible in her letters, and there are smidges of it here too. If she had been able to write Sanditon more, perhaps these delicious snippets would have been lost forever, but I enjoyed such lines as the following, which reminded me of the lines in Pride & Prejudice, where Elizabeth states, that one good sonnet will use up all of a person’s attraction for another:
I have not faith in the sincerity of the affections of a man of his description. He felt and he wrote and he forgot.
There was also such biting social commentary and ‘punmanship’ as:
The Miss Beauforts were soon satisfied with "the circle in which they moved in Sanditon," to use a proper phrase, for everybody must now "move in a circle" ~ to the prevalence of which rotatory motion is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many.
Also the chortleworthy one liners for the reader to enjoy:
The more wine I drink in moderation the better I am.
It’s such a shame that Austen lived such a short time. Who knows what would have happened in this story, and what else she may have written. It’s pointless to dwell on it though, we just need to be thankful for what she DID write.

Sanditon by Jane Austen, Completed by Another Lady (Marie Dobbs)
Have you read any Sanditon completions? The one I read was great, and I’d certainly recommend that (you can read my review of Sanditon, by Jane Austen and completed by Marie Dobbs here). The only shame is that you can’t get it on kindle. I got it second hand, which I think is the only way to get it at present, and currently the prices appear to be quite high, no doubt due to the adaptation. I’ve also read a short story by Abigail Bok based in Sanditon, which forms part of the Sunkissed: Effusions of Summer Anthology, but nothing else. While looking for links to add to this post I found a list of Sanditon continuations, but I haven’t read any more of them myself.

Let me know about any Sanditon recommendations that you have in the comments!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

200th Anniversary of Jane Austen's Death - What Jane Means to Me

Jane Austen
Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and I wanted to mark the day with a little tribute to her and share with you what Austen and her work means to me. Her sister Cassandra said,
“I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.” 
This is a wonderful tribute from her closest friend. Cassandra had lost a personal treasure and the wider world had also lost a treasure. Austen was only 41 when she died; who knows what else she might have written if she had lived longer. I suppose we will have to be philosophical about it, and instead focus on the positives. Her works – the six major novels, plus the lesser works and juvenilia have given me and hundreds of thousands of others worldwide many hours of enjoyment and enriched our lives. In fact, Austen’s works were actually prescribed reading for former WWI soldiers to soothe them. There is comfort in reading her novels, in a world where everybody knows their place, but there is more to their popularity than just that.

Austen didn’t write about the wider world in which her novels were set, the world news, and she lived in a tumultuous time, with Napoleon marauding across the continent. But that wasn’t what Jane was about, and she was perfectly well aware of that:
‘What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?’ – Jane Austen, letter to her brother, 1816
This is one of the things I love about her work – the details are exquisite, the embroidery of the details and humour makes it come alive.

She was criticised by Charlotte Bronte for the lack of passion in her work:
‘She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood’
I love Charlotte Bronte’s work, but I really think she was unfair to Jane here. Not only was Jane forging a path that Charlotte could benefit from in the departure from the norm in the new style of work that she was writing but I find Jane’s books so much more real to me, as they don't have the dark streak and melodrama that are so often found in the works I've read by the Brontes and are things which are thankfully absent from my life.

I was lucky in that I ‘found’ Austen fairly early on in life. Teenage Ceri, in the pre-internet era, was mooching about the house on a rainy day and feeling pretty bored. So I thought I’d read a book. This in itself wasn’t unusual because I read books A LOT.

So, I was perusing my mother’s bookshelves and found a book called ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I was vaguely aware that this was a famous book, and if it was that old and still famous then I reasoned that it was probably quite good, so I read it. Since I always enjoyed quite old books (the Secret Garden, Heidi etc.) the vocabulary wasn’t an obstacle to me, and I found, to my surprise, that not only was it quite good, it was also quite funny. So I embarked upon ‘Pride & Prejudice’. From the first line, my attention was caught and within no time at all I had fallen in love with the book. I found Elizabeth so relatable; she was just like me but with a tall, handsome admirer. What was not to love?! It amazed me then and still amazes me now that Austen was able to write a character that was so timeless, despite the time gap and societal change, Elizabeth was easily accessible to a young person reading the story nearly 200 years later.

I went on to read Austen’s other main works, and her letters, and I found that, as funny and as biting as her humour was in her published works, she was reining it in. The woman had a truly wicked sense of humour. She would without doubt have a place on any fantasy dinner table of mine!

Austen wrote some very quotable quotes. I would just like to share some of my favourites with you. This first one sums up one of the reasons she is my favourite authors. I read for escapism - other people may like gritty realism; they are welcome to it! I want happy endings.
‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.’ – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
And this one, which tells me that we have the same idea of how to have a good time!
‘By the bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire and can drink as much wine as I like.’ – Jane Austen – Letter, 1813.
And this one, which is so true.
‘It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.’ –  Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Austen is not only the writer of my favourite novel, ‘Pride & Prejudice’, but the writer of the most exquisite page of any book I’ve ever read. Captain Wentworth’s letter in ‘Persuasion’ is just perfection. I would like to quote the entire letter in all its glory, but instead, as it is spoilery, I will content myself with:
'You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.' - Jane Austen, Persuasion
So today I’ll spare a thought for Jane Austen, and be thankful for the wonderful works she brought into the world. What is it about Jane’s work that speaks to you? Do you have any favourite quotes that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments and have your share of the conversation.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Favourite Reads of 2016

Well hello there! I hope you've had a lovely Christmas (if you celebrate it). Jane-on-my-tree hopes you had a good one :)

2016 has been a tricky year for me, reading-wise as I've been constrained by time, however, I read some wonderful books this year. Less five star reads than in previous years, but still some very enjoyable books. I've also read some more audio books than previously. Unfortunately, I haven't reviewed everything I've read, something that I hope to remedy next year, but this is my pick of the bunch, with links to my reviews for a fuller view:

Friday, 12 August 2016

Lady Susan Book and Love and Friendship Film - My Review

Book cover: Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Lady Susan

I was unaware for years of this early work of Jane Austen’s, only hearing of its existence a few years ago. I was prompted to read it by a recent film adaptation, ‘Love and Friendship’. I always like to read the book before watching the film if possible so that I know the real story.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Jane Austen Speaks About her Life, the Modern World, & Heavenly Pursuits - Guest Post and Giveaway

Book Cover: Jane Austen Speaks About her Life, the Modern World, & Heavenly Pursuits by Maria-Emilia de Medeiros
I have the great pleasure of welcoming Maria-Emilia de Medeiros today. She has written a book about what Jane Austen may have thought about modern life, 'Jane Austen Speaks About her Life, the Modern World, & Heavenly Pursuits'. Read on to see what Maria-Emilia thinks that Jane Austen may have thought about feminism. There is also a giveaway associated with this guest post, as the author is kindly giving away an e-book of the book for a commenter on this post.

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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Jane and the Waterloo Map - Blog Tour and US Giveaway

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron - Blog Tour
Today the blog tour for Stephanie Barron’s ‘Jane and the Waterloo Map’ stops off here for my review. If you are unfamiliar with her work, Ms Barron has written a whole series of books with Jane Austen as the investigator of murders and foul play. Read on for my review, and for the chance to enter a US giveaway of some wonderful prizes.

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Amateur sleuth Jane Austen returns in Jane and the Waterloo Map, the thirteenth novel in Stephanie Barron’s delightful Regency-era mystery series.

Award winning author Stephanie Barron tours the blogosphere February 2 through to February 22, 2016 to share her latest release, Jane and the Waterloo Map (Being a Jane Austen Mystery). Twenty popular book bloggers specializing in Austenesque fiction, mystery and Regency history will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts and book reviews from this highly anticipated novel in the acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of Ms. Barron’s book and other Jane Austen-themed items, will be open to those who join the festivities.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Manga Classics: Emma by Jane Austen, Po Tse, Crystle S Chan and Stacy King - Review

Book Cover: Manga Classics: Emma by Jane Austen, Po Tse, Crystle S Chan and Stacy King
I downloaded this Manga version of Jane Austen's 'Emma' with a sense of real curiosity – I love Jane Austen’s works and if I try to analyse why I like them one of the the things that jumps out most is her style and humour. To me, the most important things about an Austen story is not so much what happens but the enjoyment I get from how she describes it, so I was interested to see how well this enjoyment would translate to a graphic novel with far fewer words, particularly as (by the highly scientific method of glancing at my hard copies), ‘Emma’ is one of Austen’s longer novels.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Happy Birthday Jane Austen

Jane Austen's birthday
Today is the 240th birthday of my favourite author, Jane Austen. She and I are old friends; I've considered her my favourite author these twenty years at least ;)

I've been trying to pin down the exact reasons why Austen is my favourite author and it's not an easy task. One of the things I like about her stories are that they are largely happy - I think there is enough misery, unfairness, and tragedy in real life without choosing to read about it during my leisure time. In that, Austen and I are a wonderful match, because she didn't want to write about such things either!
“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”
Mansfield Park
I love Austen's ironic humour; for the reader who notices details there are gems on nearly every line. Take for example this famous quote, said by Caroline Bingley in 'Pride & Prejudice':
"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."
which is then followed with...
"No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest for some amusement;"
Austen makes it quite clear that Miss Bingley doesn't mean what she says, it's all flattery aimed at Darcy, but it's done in a subtle way. Austen is both unstinting and generous with her characters - she makes no effort to hide their flaws, but she is very tolerant of them. I think that tolerance would be something you'd have to cultivate in those times. If you lived in a society that was confined to a certain class, as all Austen's heroines did, and which was then further confined by being within a certain acquaintanceship, such as within the neighbourhood, like many of the heroines faced, you'd have to put up with some people who you would certainly find tested your patience. I always pitied poor Emma Woodhouse. Her day to day companions are all far beneath her intellectually (barring one notable exception) that although I cringe while reading her behaviour towards Miss Bates I can also recognise that she must've outrun her patience!

I imagine Austen as being similar in some ways to Mr Bennet, who is a real people-watcher - he delights in the absurdities of the people around him because you have to put up with them. Elizabeth takes this a philosophical step further:
"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot always be laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty."
Austen's books are so often categorised as 'just' romances, which really sells them short. They have been crafted with such expertise that there are layers in the story. We all know that there are books in that genre that don't especially do it justice and it doesn't seem fair to Austen to class her books as similar to those. Some people might criticise her for not taking on the wider issues of her day, but why should she? Austen's interest was more in the people of her stories than wider society. For me, this is one of the reasons that her stories are so compelling. Human emotions and journeys in understanding are completely recognisable 200 years on.
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.
Northanger Abbey
Although they are not 'just' romances, there is certainly some very satisfying romance. It wouldn't have been proper for Austen to write anything too demonstrative, as she was of course an unmarried lady, but there are some wonderful romantic lines here and there. My favourite page of Austen is the letter from Persuasion which contains these lines (let's all sigh together!):
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago."
When reading Austen's works I always feel a kinship with her, that we could have been friends. I am so grateful for her work, the works inspired by her genius and the hours of enjoyment that I have had due to her genius:
"I will only add, God bless you."
Let's all raise a virtual (or real!) glass to Jane Austen - Happy 240th birthday!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Birthday Book Loot

It was my birthday back in September and I meant to share details of my bookish loot with you at the time, but I didn't find time to get to it until now. I thought I'd post a few pictures so you can appreciate what delights I have before me, though goodness knows when I'll have time to read them all!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou

Book Cover: Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou
There are many biographies of Jane Austen, most of which focus on her writing years. We know that Jane wrote plays and stories from around the age of 12 but this biography instead focuses more on her life before she started writing, to look at what formed her up until that point. Not much is known of Austen’s childhood, but Pliscou has pulled together what was known of general life at the time, and of the Austens’ lives in particular. The first section of the biography is in a speculative style, i.e. third person, but giving an insight on what may have been Jane Austen’s point of view at the time in question:

Friday, 10 April 2015

Guest Post and Giveaway - Young Jane Austen: On Being “Farmed Out” As a Baby by Lisa Pliscou

Young Jane Austen by Lisa Pliscou
Today I'm pleased to welcome author Lisa Pliscou, who has written a book called 'Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer', focusing particularly on Austen's early life, which is due out this month, on the 20 April. When I looked at Lisa's website to find out more about the book I was particularly struck by a snippet on there which mentioned that Jane Austen had been sent to live with a family in the village as an infant. I know this wasn't particularly unusual for the times but as a mother myself, it seems a completely unnatural situation!

Lisa has written us a blog post on the 'farming out' of babies, and there's an opportunity for one of you to win a copy of the book too. So without further ado, I'll pass over to Lisa.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Aerendgast Blog Tour and Giveaway - Jane Austen Comebacks for Any Occasion

Blog Tour - Aerendgast by Rachel Berman

Today I'm taking part in the 'Aerendgast' Blog Tour with a fun post from the author, Rachel Berman, who has compiled some of Austen's wonderful quotes so you can always have a literary comeback at the ready!

Please see below for links to other stops on the blog tour and a chance to win an 'Aerendgast' e-book.

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Jane Austen Comebacks for any Occasion
The characters in the novels of Jane Austen always know just what to say. In celebration of the publication of my novel Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, I’ve compiled a list of perfect Jane Austen character comebacks for (almost) every situation in life:

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, looking unimpressed

1. When you and a friend disagree on the merits of a movie you’ve just seen - “Better be without sense that misapply it as you do.” – Mr. Knightley, Emma

Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse

2. When you decide to get a manicure even though you haven’t paid your electric bill - “I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma
Colin Firth as Mr Darcy

3. When your waiter gets your order wrong - “My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” – Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
Benjamin Whitrow rollling his eyes as Mr Bennet, 1995 Pride & Prejudice

4. When you meet someone who ‘doesn’t like to read’ - “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.” – Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Corin Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion

5. When you’re explaining why you don’t like going to clubs - “I am not fond of the idea of my shrubberies being always approachable.” – Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion 
Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, Sense & Sensibility 1995

6. When someone says they ‘don’t like’ Jane Austen - “Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment!” – Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility 
Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, Sense & Sensibility 1995

7. When they’re out of your favorite cookie at the local bakery - “Mine is a misery which nothing can do away.” – Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park

8. When you’re seated next to a real dud at a dinner party - “Let us have the luxury of silence.” – Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park
Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram, Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price

9. When you’ve just returned from Las Vegas - “We do not look in great cities for our best morality.” – Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park
JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey One Smirk and we may be rational again

10. When you and your friends are interrupted when swooning about Mr. Darcy - “Now I must give one smirk and then we may be rational again.” – Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey

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Book Cover: Aerendgast by Rachel Berman
Aerendgast Book Blurb: What if Jane Austen was secretly married? What if she had a baby whose descendants are still alive today? Violet Desmond has just learned that her life is a lie. With sparse clues, she sets off to discover her hidden history and, simultaneously, an explanation for her vivid dreams-dreams in which a woman from the past narrates an impossible story involving a secret marriage and a child-a story intimately connected to Jane Austen. Violet reluctantly agrees to receive help from cavalier Peter Knighton. Blacklisted from his profession, Knighton can almost taste the money and accolades he'll receive for digging up something good on Austen. The unlikely pair begins a quest for answers that leads them to Aerendgast Hallows. Knee-deep in hidden crypts, perilous pursuits, and centuries-old riddles, Violet must put her literary expertise to the test as she battles to uncover the secret that her loved ones died trying to reveal-before an unknown enemy silences her as well.

Buy links:
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Giveaway time!

The lovely people at Meryton Press are giving away an e-book of 'Aerendgast' (Kindle or Nook) to a commenter on this post, so if you'd like to win a copy, just comment below. Please leave a way for me to contact you should you win. You can get a bonus entry for commenting on my review of 'Aerendgast'. This is open to international entrants, last day to enter is Tuesday 24 March 2015. - Please note this giveaway is now closed.

There are other giveaway opportunities on this blog tour, here's the full schedule, below:

Blog tour schedule:

2 March: Guest Post at Austenprose 
3 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club 
4 March: Author Interview at The Little Munchkin Reader
5 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at BestSellers & BestStellars
6 March: Review at Babblings of a Bookworm 
7 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen 
8 March: Review at The Delighted Reader
9 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at So Little Time… 
10 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged 
11 March: Review at Austenprose 
12 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice 
13 March: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
14 March: Review at Margie's Must Reads
15 March: Review at Warmisunqu’s Austen
16 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
17 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
18 March: Guest Post at Laughing with Lizzie

Monday, 9 February 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book cover, clothbound classics - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
I first and last read this book probably about 20 years ago, when as a teenager I devoured Jane Austen’s stories one after the other. Some I loved, some I didn’t. Last year I re-read the one I liked the least, ‘Mansfield Park’ and I found that my reaction to the book was vastly different, which is unsurprising as I am very different to the person I was then, so I decided that I should give the other books I hadn’t re-read another go. I enjoyed 'Northanger Abbey' the first time I read it but it never became a favourite of mine, I think partly because the heroine, Catherine Morland, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and I never gelled with her, but more because I wasn’t a big fan of Henry Tilney. I didn’t like the way he was always laughing at Catherine because at the time I felt that he was laughing at and not laughing with her. Also, I read it not long after ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and was afraid that they’d end up in 25 years in a relationship like Mr & Mrs Bennet! So I didn’t re-read it until now, and, of course, found that I should have re-read it much sooner because Austen is a delight!

This book, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a bit of a humorous dig at some of the gothic romances that were around at the time. The heroine, the naive Catherine Morland, drinks up these torrid tales and when she finds herself in a situation that could be interpreted in the light of the likely events of one of these novels she imagines all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, she misses all kinds of hints of a real intrigue going on before her, the behaviour of some new friends that she becomes acquainted with in Bath, when she travels there in company with a rich neighbour of her family.

My teenage self didn’t give Catherine credit, and I was unfair there – she is a mere 17 years old when our story unfolds and she is unremarkable in lots of ways – she isn’t particularly clever or beautiful, but she is a nice girl with good principles. She is very naive in the ways of the more worldly people than herself and she’s unused to having to understand the subtext of a conversation because in Catherine’s experience people have always said what they meant rather than playing the game of society manners.
‘...but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’
Catherine’s main fault is a result of her reading matter – she’s been allowed to read what she likes and the result is that she favours reading some very lurid gothic novels without realising that they delineate some really unlikely events. The first few chapters of the novel are very heavily ironic on this very subject. I started highlighting the amusing parts on my kindle but I had to stop when I realised I would basically be highlighting the first few chapters in their entirety!
‘Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.’
Book cover - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Henry Tilney is a most amusing hero, certainly the most amusing of Austen’s. He is fond of wordplay, obviously intelligent and not immune to flattery. I have seen people compare him to Elizabeth Bennet in his teasing observations and you can certainly see some similarities; they are both charming, although Elizabeth wants a partner in life who understands her teasing, and Henry is content with something less, though there is every likelihood that Catherine will come to understand it in time!

The Thorpes are interesting characters although deeply obnoxious – you see Isabella Thorpe reeling in the naive Morland siblings, and John Thorpe, her brother, is a wonderful character to read. He’d be horrible to spend time with, but I can find plenty of amusement in him on the page!  As ever, with Austen’s work, a lot of enjoyment comes in her prose style. There are so many quotable quotes, such as:
‘The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’
And the novel itself unashamedly defends the work of novel writers, arguing that, although some novels are full of histrionic nonsense, some will also be of much higher calibre:
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.
If you have never picked up 'Northanger Abbey', or haven’t read it in a long time, I suggest that you give it a go, and prepare to be amused. A 5 star read.

5 star read

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Watsons by Jane Austen

Portrait of Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen
Although I have been an ardent admirer of Jane Austen’s works for a long time I’ve only ever read her main 6 books and some of her juvenilia. In addition to these, she also wrote a work called ‘Lady Susan’ and had two unfinished works, ‘Sanditon’, which Austen was working on when she died, and ‘The Watsons’, a work that was abandoned around the time that Austen’s father died. It is generally believed that she abandoned the work because it felt too close to her own circumstances. Recently I was lucky enough to win a book that is based on The Watsons, so I thought I’d better read the unfinished part before I started reading this.

The Watsons are a family headed by an invalid father, who has six children, 4 daughters and 2 sons. All of the daughters are unmarried. Elizabeth is the oldest Watson daughter. She is in her late twenties and a kindhearted lady, though she is somewhat lacking in tact:
“I should not be surprised if you were to be thought one of the prettiest girls in the room; there is a great deal in novelty.”
The two middle sisters, Penelope (Pen) and Margaret are absent for the first few chapters, but what we see and hear of them isn’t promising. Elizabeth states that one of her sisters frightened off a potential suitor for her for fairly spiteful reasons, and when we meet Margaret she is an obviously false, conniving person. Of the two brothers, Robert is married to a rather snobbish lady, and Sam is training to be a surgeon, and is in love with the daughter of the Watsons’ closest neighbour, the Edwards family.

The youngest daughter of the Watsons, Emma, has been living with their aunt, due to Mrs Watson’s death. Emma lived away from her siblings for the past 14 years, since she was 5 years old. The aunt was widowed and remarried somebody who wasn’t willing to give Emma a home (booo). Emma has therefore had a different upbringing to her brothers and sisters. She has been moving in a more refined society, and been living in a richer home. She is more genteel and refined than her sisters and feels the distinction between what she has been used to and how she is now living.

The Watsons manuscript - Jane Austen
Manuscript of 'The Watsons' which sold in 2011 for £850k
Emma goes to an Assembly, escorted by the Edwards family. Elizabeth doesn’t accompany her because somebody has to stay home with Mr Watson. At the Assembly Emma meets, and is noticed by, Lord Osbourne, who is from the local family of importance. She also meets a man who she is not inclined to think well of, the social climber Tom Musgrave, who her sister Margaret hopes to marry. A man that Emma finds more acceptable is Lord Osbourne’s former tutor, Mr Howard, who invites her to dance.

Although this piece is only a few chapters, it’s a very promising beginning, and I wished there was more of it!  It seems as though marriage was to be a key theme of the novel. Emma and Elizabeth had already discussed their views on marriage, with the younger Emma saying that she’d rather be a teacher than marry a man she didn’t like, and her older sister replying that
“I should not like marrying a disagreeable man any more than yourself; but I do not think there are many very disagreeable men; I think I could like any good-humoured man with a comfortable income.”
Elizabeth’s view is certainly the more practical, especially considering how many unmarried sisters there were. Emma had received the best education and may have expected to be able to get a job as a teacher, which she mentions, but her sisters probably couldn’t. As Emma says, “the luck of one member of a family is luck to all” – on a practical level the Watson ladies needed to marry, if they could.

There are a number of works based on The Watsons. I found a list here. After reading the beginning of The Watsons, my appetite is whetted, and I’m looking forward to reading ‘Emma & Elizabeth’by Ann Mychal, hopefully next month.

4 star read

Friday, 9 May 2014

Mansfield Park Bicentenary

Happy birthday to Mansfield Park! It's looking pretty spry for 200 years old. This is well known as Jane Austen's least-loved novel. When I first read Austen's main 6 novels I was a teenager (so a looooong time ago!), and this was the one that I liked least. I didn't read it again until last year, when as part of The Book Rat's Austen in August event there was a group read of Mansfield Park. I read it and I was blown away. I think part of the difference was expectation - I read it originally hard on the heels of her more romantic works and so by comparison I found it lacking in romance, but this time I went into it with less expectation of romance, and as I read it, I felt that it wasn't primarily intended as a love story.

Mansfield Park is also notable for me in that it contains probably my favourite Jane Austen quote.

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”

The reason I love this quote is that it sums up my reading attitude; I feel there is so much misery in the world that I don't need to read about more of it - let other reader's eyes dwell on guilt and misery, I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can...

I thought I'd share with you the review I wrote last year, after finishing the book:

I first read this book back when I was a teenager and I wasn't that fussed on it. I didn't take to Fanny Price, the heroine of this tale, thinking that she was a bit of a drip, and I didn't find the story romantic enough. I decided to read the book again wondering how differently I'd see it being that much older. I am so glad I decided to re-read it, as I felt I appreciated it so much more than I did before.

Fanny Price's mother suffers from a surplus of children compared to income. As was fairly common at the time, Fanny is taken in, at age 10 by another relative, her aunt (Lady Bertram) who is married to Sir Thomas Bertram, the owner of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams have 4 children, two boys, Tom and Edmund, and two younger girls, Maria and Julia, the youngest of which is about 2 years older than Fanny. Also heavily involved over at Mansfield Park is Lady Bertram's sister, Mrs Norris. There is no real expectation that Fanny will be brought up as one of them as her prospects would always have been less; she is brought up instead as a poor relation.

Mansfield Park Edmund BertramThe children aren't especially all that interested in her, aside from Edmund, 6 years Fanny's senior who takes pity on her and looks after her. Indolent Lady B finds her useful for being at her beck and call and Mrs Norris (who is a truly horrible woman) really dislikes Fanny. Mrs Norris seems to feel that any kindness she shows towards Fanny will somehow be disrespectful towards her other nieces, who she very much spoils. Although taught good manners the Bertram children are not encouraged to learn good principles - they aren't compassionate, thoughtful or self-denying. Edmund is the only Bertram child who has much in the way of principles, and they must have been innate to him.

The main events of the book begin when the Crawfords come into the area. Mr Henry Crawford is a very vain man, who thoughtlessly enjoys making young ladies fall in love with him, and he succeeds with both Maria (who is engaged to an empty-headed man of fortune, Mr Rushworth) and Julia Bertram. Henry's sister Miss Mary Crawford, is attractive and charming, but neither of them necessarily have good principles either.

This book took a while to get into, as most of the characters are pretty unlikeable. Fanny herself, although a good person, is so timid and shy that it takes a while to like her rather than merely feel sympathy for her. For a modern reader some of the things which I presume would have been obvious to a contemporary reader weren't immediately understandable. For example, in Sir Thomas's absence to visit his plantation in Antigua a decision is made to put together a play and both Fanny and Edmund are vehemently opposed to this scheme as being improper. For a modern reader it's hard to understand why this would be the case - the play they choose is obviously inappropriate, but it seems as though the principle of putting any play on is improper. Another thing that doesn't necessarily translate to a modern reader is Fanny's distrust of the Crawfords. In many ways they are quite likeable, even though he is quite rakish and his sister sees no problem with this. I can understand why Fanny didn't like them but I DID like them.

Fanny herself I grew to like, but she is not as easy to like as other Austen heroines. She is a good person, and very unloved, and put upon. She is quite intolerant of weakness of character in others, although she is careful not to let this show inappropriately. She is quite a clear-sighted and shrewd judge of character but she is quite unforgiving in her judgements. I was beginning to despair in her, but she shows a bit of growth in her tolerance levels when she gets to know her sister and realises how principled she is despite the environment that she has grown up in.

A strong theme in this book, and one which gave me a lot of food for thought, is nature v nurture. How the Bertram siblings turned out with an indolent mother, a harsh father, and brought up mostly by an interfering old busybody aunt who spoilt them and encouraged them to think well of themselves and what they were due and denied them nothing. How the Crawford siblings turned out, brought up in a home with a very unhappy marriage, clear 'sides' and no principles. How alike in nature Mrs Price and her sister Lady Bertram are, and how differently they now are due to the big difference in their financial situations. A visit to her mother's home in Portsmouth (where Fanny is even more unloved than in Mansfield Park) teaches Fanny a lot and she realises how much being at Mansfield Park has shaped her character. A crisis calls her 'home' to Mansfield Park - finally Fanny is appreciated more truly there, and her family there have also begun to know themselves and each other more truly too.

Once I got into this book I really enjoyed it. I won't leave it so long until the next re-read!

To celebrate Mansfield Park's big anniversary I will be trying to read some more MP-inspired books throughout the year. I'll let you know if I find any good ones! In addition to this, there are other people celebrating Mansfield Park's birthday - for example, Sarah Emsley has a whole series of events planned with the first one kicking off today. 

Also, over a decade ago Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant were part of the cast for a radio version of Mansfield Park which is being re-run on Radio 4 extra from Monday 12 May. I think it will be downloadable so I will try and listen to that if I can understand how it works!