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Archive for March, 2009

Though older and heavier than as a spoiled scoundrel in The Way We Live Now and heartthrob, Mr. Darcy, Matthew’s turn as kind-hearted Arthur Clennam in PBS Masterpiece Classic’s Little Dorrit is outstanding. No one has played the character better in my opinion.

My reviews of Little Dorrit:

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One comedic touch in the otherwise unrelentingly sad and dark Litte Dorrit is Flora Finching, Arthur Clennam’s youthful love. As he walks into her father’s house,  a flickering memory of her beautiful figure comes to his mind … which is instantly displaced by the real Flora entering the room. To his horror she has become silly, old, and fat. While her youth has dimmed, her youthful air and self-image have not:

Flora, always tall, had grown to be very broad too, and short of breath; but that was not much. Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become a peony; but that was not much. Flora, who had seemed enchanting in all she said and thought, was diffuse and silly. That was much. Flora, who had been spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled and artless now. That was a fatal blow.

Ruth Jones as Flora Finching in Little Dorrit, 2008

Ruth Jones as Flora Finching in Little Dorrit, 2008

Maria Beadnell

Maria Beadnell

The character of Flora Finching is based on a true person in Charles Dickens’ life. In 1830, when Dickens was 18 years old he fell madly in love with Maria Beadnell, the pretty and flirtatious daughter of a highly successful banker. He courted her for three years, but her parents objected to Charles, who was a struggling young court reporter, and Maria broke off their relationship.  Dickens was heartbroken over the break up and never forgot Maria. It is said that Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield was based on his memory of her.

Dickens and Maria began to exchange letters in 1855, when she contacted him 20 years later. She was now Mrs. Henry Winter and described herself as being “toothless, fat, old and ugly.” Dickens, whose marriage was in trouble, did not believe her description. After he and Maria exchanged several passionate letters, Dickens arranged for his wife Katherine to invite Mr. and Mrs. Henry Winter to a private dinner.  He was appalled to find out that Maria had indeed altered as she said. She was in her forties, fat, and dull.* After this meeting, in which she gave him her cold, and in which he rebuffed her flirtatious attempts, his letters to her became short and formal.  Later, when she again tried to renew the relationship, he broke it off for good.

Maria Beadnell later in life

Maria Beadnell later in life

In a BBC Press Pack, actress Ruth Jones, who plays Flora, says of the character:

“She has real energy and enthusiasm and love of life – I adore that about her. But she is also very complex. She is a sad person trying to make the best of the lot she has been saddled with.

“Life has stood still for Flora while Arthur has been away. She still dresses like a little girl, but now has lines under her eyes and has put on weight.

“She is now this rather matronly woman who is still a vision in pink. But I like the fact that she is not bitter about being left behind.”

There is an affecting authenticity about the fact that Flora is unable to move on.

In later years Dickens observed about his youthful love: “We all have our Floras, mine is living, and extremely fat.” How did Charles Dickens fare in the looks department? The image on the right was made in 1858, a year after the last installment of  Little Dorrit was published.

Charles Dickens as a youth and as a man

Charles Dickens as a youth and as a man

Watch Little Dorrit on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic from now until April 26th. Click here for details.

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clairefoycourtenayCharles Dickens wrote Little Dorrit during the mid 19th century, but he placed the story at a time when his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison. PBS will be airing a 5-installment series of Little Dorrit starting tonight at 9 p.m. EST and ending April 26th. If you have missed any episodes, you can watch them online at this link.

The film is stunning; the acting is outstanding; and this story of greed, ponzi schemes, lost fortunes, insurmountable debts, and wrecked lives resonates in today’s financial climate. In the next few weeks I will be posting a series of thoughts and reviews about this film, which is set in the Regency Period. The links sit below this slide show.

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I decided to google Jane Austen’s World to see how many items of interest popped up (besides those featured on my blog, Jane Austen’s World, and my website, also entitled Jane Austen’s World.) Here are the links listed in no particular order:

  • The Los Angeles Times features an archived post entitled the Music World of Jane Austen, which is a review of a concert performed in 2007. The link also leads to Jane Austen Audio Guide at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, which is an independent learning course offered by Professor Emily Auerbach. The costs are quite reasonable!
  • jane-austen-regency-world-coverThe March/April 2009 issue of Jane Austen Regency World Magazine is now available. Topics in this issue include: Is This the Real Mrs. Bennet?, Chawton House Bicentenery, Amazing Wilberforce, For the Love of Jane: A survey of Janeites, Death in the Press: Obituaries in the Regency World, and a new series of insights about Jane by Maggie Lane. Bimonthly Bits of Ivory, a review of Jane Austen Regency World Magazine by Carrie Bebris for JASNA News sits on the Republic of Pemberley website.
  • Shedding Light on Jane Austen’s World is a 1998 review of Claire Tomalin’s book, Jane Austen: A life. One needs a trial prescription to HighBeam to read it, but what I found interesting was this link to the Center for Distance and Independent Study from the University of Missouri, which offers English Studies online, including those that will round out your knowledge of Jane Austen and the world she lived in. Two of the courses are named Studies in English (The Rise of Gothic Literature) and Major Authors 1789 – 1890 (Jane Austen Then and Now) with a preview of the course.

jane-austens-world-illustration

  • The World of Jane Austen describes a two-day walking tour in the Hampshire countryside. It is a little pricey at £230 per person, but this tour would give you a sense of what walking from place to place was like during Jane’s time. I intend to share this information with the Janeites on the James, my book group. We are all dying to see Jane Austen’s world now that we’ve been talking about it for nearly four years.
  • Last week the Smithsonian featured The Regency World of Jane Austen. Drat, I missed it. I shall have to keep a closer tab on their educational features, since the Institution is only a two-hour drive from my house. Did anyone from the Mid-Atlantic JASNA attend the day-long workshop? If you did, how was it?
  • Last but certainly not least, Jane Odiwe recently published a post entitled: What Was Happening in Jane Austen’s World in 1795? The last few winters that Jane experienced in her life were colder than normal, which inspired Jane Odiwe to paint one of her lovely watercolours of Jane walking in the snow with her sister Cassandra.

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Fanny Knight

Fanny Knight

In the last two years of her life, Jane Austen wrote five letters to her niece Fanny Knight that combined true affection, detached analysis, and rare good sense.*  Austen scholar Janet Todd characterized Jane’s role as an “agony aunt” who dispensed sympathetic advice to a motherless teenager with lines that are now famous: “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor — which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony. ” In 1814,  shortly after her first edition of Mansfield Park sold out,  Jane wrote a letter of caution to her niece Fanny Knight about marriage and affairs of the heart:

And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection; and if his deficiencies of manner, &c. &c., strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once…

It turns out that Fanny was never enamored enough to marry the young man. Fanny’s daughter Louisa wrote years later:

these five letters are peculiarly interesting, not only because in every line they are vividly characteristic of the writer, but because they differ from all the preceding letters in that they are written, not to an elder sister, but to a niece who constantly sought her advice and sympathy, and whom she addressed, of course, in a different manner, and from a different standpoint. The other and, naturally, to me a consideration even more important, is that, according to my humble judgment, these letters, whilst they illustrate the character of my great-aunt, cannot, when explained, do otherwise than reflect credit upon that of my beloved mother; whilst they prove the great and affectionate intimacy which existed between her and her aunt, and incidentally demonstrate the truth of a remark in one of Cassandra’s letters that there were many points of similitude in the characters of the two.

Jane’s own words to Fanny co-oberate their closeness:

“You are inimitable, irresistible. You are the delight of my life. Such letters, such entertaining letters, as you have lately sent! such a description of your queer little heart! such a lovely display of what imagination does. You are worth your weight in gold, or even in the new silver coinage.”

While Jane died young, Fanny lived to a great age. We know of Fanny’s infamous letter about her aunt written to her younger sister Marianne in 1869, over 50 years after Jane’s death, which did not exhibit the same degree of exuberant affection as Jane’s letters showed towards her niece. But Fanny’s words were written when she was an old woman who was influenced by Victorian sensibilities. In reality, the relationship between  Jane and her niece was both loving and complex, for Fanny recalled on numerous occasions her many walks with her Aunt Jane and very interesting conversations and delicious mornings.*

Learn more about their relationship in the following resources:

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tying-cravatA recent post on this blog mentioned the film, Beau Brummell: This Charming Man. One scene in the movie was particularly memorable. In it the prince regent, played by Hugh Bonneville, asked Beau Brummell (James Purefoy) how he tied his cravat. Instead of showing him, the Beau invited the prince to watch him dress. Mr. Brummell was known for his sartorial splendor and for his meticulousness in tying a rectangular linen cloth.

The adoption of increasingly complex neckties by fashionable young men in the 1810s and 1820s swiftly attracted the attention of satirists and caricaturists. Brummell’s own legend revolved around a description of his morning dressing rituals, whereby his valet would present a gathered audience of friends and followers with Brummell’s failed knots on a silver platter – evidence of the master’s perfectionism in matters of the wardrobe.  – The London Look

Brummel was the bane of his washerwoman and long-suffering valet, discarding a dozen snowy white, painstakingly ironed linens before he had achieved the perfect look. But he wasn’t the only “exquisite” who strove for perfection.

A German prince, visiting London at the turn of the century, noted: “an elegant then requires per week, twenty shirts, twenty-four pocket handkerchiefs, nine or ten pairs of ‘summer trousers,’ thirty neck handkerchiefs (unless he wears black ones), a dozen waistcoats, stockings à discretion.” – Poet of Cloth

During Beau Brummel’s reign as the premier dandy, no self respecting gentleman would wear less than three fresh cravats in a day. This was in an age when the household duty most dreaded by women was laundering and ironing clothes.  Brummell was also known for his many innovations in tying the cravat. His biographer Captain Jesse wrote that Brummell’s collars were

“always fixed to his shirts and so large that before being folded down they completely hid the face and head; the neckcloth was almost a foot in height, the collar was fastened down to its proper size and Brummell standing before the glass, by the gradual declension of his lower jaw, creased the cravat to reasonable dimensions.” – Accessories of Dress, Katherine Morris Lester, Bess Viola Oerke, Helen Westermann, P 218.

This was easier said than done, for the fastidious Brummell was seldom satisfied with his creases in his first or second attempts. The Duke of Wellington, also a respected dandy, was known to wear only white cravats on the field of battle. Napoleon, who typically wore black stock, ironically chose to wear a white cravat for the first time during Waterloo in the Duke’s honor. From 1815 on the cravat was also known as a tie.

The Neckclothitania was published in September 1818 as a satirical document that poked fun at the most popular cravat styles of the time. Some of the cravats shown in the pamphlet were so elaborate and ridiculous that they clashed with Brummell’s idea that “style was essential in the quality of one’s linen rather than the extremity of it”. By 1818 colors were becoming fashionable, whereas in Brummell’s day only the purest white (blanc d’innoncence virginale) was acceptable.* The cloth for cravats was made of starched linen, though as some of the cravats styles evolved, a more relaxed, unstarched cloth was required for a looser, draped effect. By the 1830′s silk was used for neckcloths, as it still is used for today. In 1818, only a year after Brummell left for France, other cravat colors were introduced.

From Neckclothitania or Tietania, being an essay on Starchers, by One of the Cloth, published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818, engraved by George Cruikshank.

From Neckclothitania or Tietania, being an essay on Starchers, by One of the Cloth, published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818, engraved by George Cruikshank.

The following descriptions are directly from Neckclothitania:
The Oriental
The Oriental made with a very stiff and rigid cloth, so that there cannot be the least danger of its yielding or bending to the exertions and sudden twists of the head and neck. -Care should be taken that not a single indenture or crease should be visible in this tie; it must present a round, smooth, and even surface – the least deviation from this rule, will prevent its being so named. This neck-cloth ought not to be attempted, unless full confidence and reliance can be placed in its stiffness.-it must not be made with coloured neck-cloths, but of the most brilliant white. It is this particular tie which is alluded to in the following lines.

‘There, had ye marked their neck-cloth’s slivery glow,
Transcend the Cygnet’s towering crest of snow.’

The Mathematical
The Mathematical Tie (or Triangular Tie), is far less severe than the former. There are three creases in it. One coming down from under each ear, till it meets the kust or bow of the neckcloth, and a third in an horizontal direction, stretching from one of the side indentures to the other. The height, that is how far, or near the chin is left to the wearers pleasure. This tie does not occassion many accidents.The colour best suited to it, is called couleur de la cuisse d’une nymphe emue.’

Osbaldeston Tie
The Osbaldeston Tie differs greatly from most others. This neck-cloth is first laid on the back of the neck; the ends are then brought forward and tied in a large knot, the breadth of which must be at least four inches and two inches deep. This tie is well adapted for summer; because instead of going round the neck twice, it confines itself to once. The best colours are ethereal azure.

Napoleon Tie
Why this particular Tie was called Napoleon, I have not yet been able to learn, nor can I even guess, never having heard that the French Emperor was famous for making a tie – I have, indeed, heard it said, that he wore one of this sort on his return from Elba and on board the Northumberland, but how far this information is correct, I do not know. It is first laid as in the former, on the back of the neck, the ends being fastened to the braces, or carried under the arms and tied on the back. It has a very pretty appearance, giving the wearer a languishingly amourous look. The violet colour, and la couleur des levres d’amour are the best suited for it.

American Tie
The American Tie differs little from the Mathematical except that the collateral indentures do not extend so near to the ear, and that there is no horizontal or middle crease in it. The best colour is ocean green.

Mail Coach Tie
The Mail Coach or Waterfall, is made by tying it with a single knot, and then bringing one of the ends over, so as completely to hide the knot, and spreading it out, and turning it down in the waistcoat. The neck-cloth ought to be very large to make this Tie properly – It is worn by all stage-coachmen, guards, the swells of the fancy, and ruffians. To be quite the thing, there should be no starch, or at least very little in it – A Kushmeer shawl is the best, I may even say, the only thing with which it can be made. The Mailcoach was best made out of a cashmere shawl and had one end brought over the knot, spread out and tucked into the waist. This style was particularly popular with members of the ‘Four-in-Hand Club’.

The Trone d’Amour
The The trone d’Amour is the most austere after the Oriental Tie – It must be extremely well stiffened with starch. It is formed by one single horizontal dent in the middle. Colour, Yeux de fille en extase.

Irish Tie
This one resembles in some degree the Mathematical, with, however, this difference, that the horizontal indentture is placed below the point of junction formed by the collateral creases, instead of being above. The colour is Cerulean Blue

The Ballroom Tie
The Ballroom Tie when well put on is quite delicious – It unites the qualities of the Mathematical and Irish, having two collateral dents and two horizontal ones, the one above as in the former, the other below as in the latter. It has no knot but is fastened as the Napoleon. This should never of course be made with colours but with the purest and most brilliant blanc d’innocence virginale .

horse-collarHorse Collar Tie
The Horse Collar has become, from some unaccountable reason, very universal. I can only attribute it to the inability of its wearers to make any other. It is certainly the worst and most vulgar, and I should not have given it a place in these pages were it not for the purpose of cautioning my readers, from ever wearing it – It has the appearance of a great half-moon, or horse collar – I sincerely hope it will soon be dropped entirely – nam super omnes vitandum est.

Hunting Tie
The Hunting or Diana Tie, (not that I suppose Diana ever did wear a Tie) is formed by two collateral dents on each side, and meeting in the middle, without any horizontal ones – it is generally accompanied by a crossing of the ends, as in the Ball Room and Napoleon. Its colour Isabella – This cloth is worn sometimes with a Gordian Knot.

Maharatta Tie
The Maharatta or Nabog Tie, is very cool, as it is always made with fine muslin neck-cloths. It is placed on the back of the neck, the ends are then brought forward, and joined as a chain link, the remainder is then turned back, and fastened behind. Its colour, Eau d’Ispahan.

By 1828 Beau Brummell had lived in France for 9 years, a disgraced exile. But his influence in men’s fashion lived on.

His collar was copied and grew to extreme heights that covered the ears and were held away from the neck by whale bone stiffeners, and meant men could no longer turn their heads to see, but had to turn their entire bodies. It did however spawn an industry of publications and experts who taught men of fashion how to tie their cravats. – The Regency Neckcloth

The book The Art of Tying the Cravat (demonstrated in sixteen lessons as shown in the illustration below) was originally published in 1828 by H. Le Blanc Esq.

Plate B, The Art of Tying the Cravat

Plate B, The Art of Tying the Cravat

The fronticepiece of Mr. Le Blanc’s book shows an engraving of the author wearing an elaborate white cravat, the acme of full dress London fashion in 1828. In that year there were 32 types of cravats. Those made of black silk or satin were for general wear, while white cravats with spots or squares were considered half dress. The plain white cravat was admitted at balls or soirees where colored cravats were prohibited.
Text not available
The art of tying the cravat demonstrated in sixteen lessons, including thirty-two different styles, By H. Le Blanc.

The following description comes from The Art of Tying the Cravat:

americaineTHE Cravate Americaine is extremely pretty and easily formed, provided the handkerchief is well starched. When it is correctly formed it presents the appearance of a column destined to support a Corinthian capital. This style has many admirers here, and also among our friends the fashionables of the New World, who pride themselves on its name which they call Independence; this title may to a certain point be disputed, as the neck is fixed in a kind of vice which entirely prohibits any very free movements -  The Art of Tying the Cravat

Read more about this topic at these links:

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It’s a fact that more women read Jane Austen than men. Men might scratch their heads when it comes to understanding her appeal, but there ARE some who are enamored with her. Old Fogey of  the blog Idolising Jane is not only a testament that Jane’s writing appeals to the opposite sex but that men bring a fine sensibility and understanding to her work. Steve Chandler and Terrence Hill are the authors of Two Guys Read Jane Austen, a charming and funny book about two men who read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park and came away with a new respect for the author and her work. Joseph Thouvenel states:

men-who-read-jane-austenAs 21st century guys, we can learn a lot from the attitudes and behaviors displayed in Jane Austen’s novels. While it would be possible to argue that Austen uses her novels to construct attributes of an ideal man (and this may be a very valid point), I believe the qualities that these men posses are worth striving for in our lives. Men today would do well to learn from their ability to be confident without being cocky, chivalrous without being demeaning; maintaining the honor and dignity of the women in our lives, observant and responsive to the needs of those around us, and models of integrity in how we spend our time and resources. It’s probably obvious that I believe masculinity today has been somewhat distorted. Reviving Austen’s ideals would do much to reinvigorate how we as men perceive ourselves, the world (and women) around us, and, in turn, how they perceive us as well. -  Jane Austen and the 21st Century Man

What a fine young man! The blog author of Some of nothing wrote in Six Reasons Why Men Should Watch/Read Jane Austen puts it more bluntly (and not without humor), urging men to “dig Jane” in order to connect with women. As one woman told him, “If we can dig Spock, you can dig Lizzy.” Not bad advice. So many women support movies and books that were designed to appeal to men, and they do so without much protestation. Can men claim the reverse? The terms chick lit and chick flicks have a light weight connotation that male bonding movies like Die Hard, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, (which my brother has seen a zillion times and whose charm escapes me), Goodfellas, and Fight Club do not possess. Some of Nothing’s blog author concludes that Jane Austen is good! Bless his enlightened heart.

Still, male Jane Austen admirers are few and far between. Sir Walter Scott waxed eloquently over Pride and Prejudice, saying:  That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. “ Yet David Arthur Walters admits to not caring about Jane Austen, and Mark Twain was quite vocal in disliking her work, even though he was drawn to read her books over and over. His famous quote,”Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone,” hangs in the Mark Twain House. No wonder the museum has trouble staying open, for what self-respecting Janeite would pass through its doors?

Almost two hundred years after Jane’s death in 1817 she is more popular than ever – among women. The Jane Austen Book Club distinguished itself by having one male member join the group, and Prudy was able to connect to her husband by urging him to read Persuasion, but these are the exceptions and not the rule.

Prudie and her husband read Persuasion

Prudie and her husband read Persuasion

There are signs of hope that the other sex is discovering the joys of reading this fine author. Almost a year ago author Laurie Viera Rigler wrote, Why Men Should Read Jane Austen, making a compelling case for why men should discover her. I conclude my short essay with a poll. If you were to urge your significant male other or male friend or relative in your life to read Jane Austen, which book would you suggest that he read first?

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James Purefoy as Beau Brummell

James Purefoy as Beau Brummell

In 2006 the BBC commissioned four films in celebration of The Century That Made UsBeau Brummell: This Charming Man is the tale of a self-made man whose innovations in male dress influenced men’s fashions for all time. James Purefoy plays the  handsome masculine dandy who dared to think of himself as the prince regent’s social equal. The prince, who was at first amused by Brummell, would watch him shave and dress in the morning. Then one day Brummell overstepped his bounds and insulted the prince. He quickly fell out of favor. Mired in debts he could not pay and with his gambling out of control, Brummell fled to France in 1816. He died in poverty in a mendicant hospital for the insane in 1840.

Hugh Bonneville as the Prince Regent before his transformation from fop to dandy

Hugh Bonneville as the Prince Regent before his transformation from fop to dandy

The prince regent after Beau Brummel ltransformed him

The prince regent after Beau Brummell transformed him

The film concentrates on a period in Brummell’s life when he reigned supreme as a fashion arbiter. While I found the story fascinating to watch, I thought the music ugly and distracting and totally unsuited to the 18th century. Beau Brummell: This Charming Man can be rented through netflix or purchased as a DVD. The following YouTube scenes provide a good overview of the film. The first clip is the movie’s trailer.

In the next scene, Beau Brummell describes the dandy style as “No wigs, no powders. We don’t use scent. The dandy uses trousers. The dandy washes. The dandy is clean, the dandy is neat.”

This video clip is the most interesting of all. While Brummell stands in front of his mirror shaving in the nude, the dandy set looks on. In this scene they are awaiting the prince regent’s arrival.

beau_brummell_dvd_cover

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Rest in Peace: What a talented lady! I absolutely adored Natasha Richardson whenever I saw her in a movie – so beautiful, classy, talented. I was waiting for her to perform in a Jane Austen film adaptation. Too old to be a heroine, I think she would have made a perfect Lady Russel, Mrs. Gardiner, or Mrs. Allen, and my heart goes out to her family,

Nastasha Richardson in the Parent Trap, 1998

Nastasha Richardson in the Parent Trap, 1998

In this scene in The Parent Trap, Hallie meets her mother (Natasha)

She was known to be a cook. Here is a YouTube video of Natasha on Martha Stewart’s show five minutes into this clip:

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Celebrate with Jane Austen's World

Celebrate with Jane Austen's World

Today my Jane Austen’s World site meter registered 500,000 hits. Wow. For me this marks a milestone. Collectively my three blogs have garnered over 1 million hits. Studying the stats, these numbers represent a half million unique visitors, of whom 300,000  stayed long enough to read a post or two on this blog,  Jane Austen Today (with Laurel Ann), and Dishin’ Dat (now closed.)

To celebrate I am giving away three well-thumbed books from my personal romance writers library. I’ve been clearing my library stacks, but have been loathe to part with these books which are chock full of good and useful information for the aspiring romance or sequel writer.

dangerous-men1Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of Romance, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992. This book will arrive creased and dog eared for good reason. Popular and successful romance writers like Sandra Brown, Laura Kinsale, Elizabeth Lowell and Susan Elizabeth Phillips discuss the various aspects of writing a romance novel and the nature of its appeal, effectively countering the widely held belief that romance novels are poorly written schlock. Although this compilation is 17 years old, its precepts still ring true.

unforgettable-characters1Creating Unforgettable Characters: A Practical guide to character development in films, tv series, advertisements, novels and short stories, by Linda Seger, 1990. Linda discusses researching the character, creating a back story, writing dialogue, etc.  She sets examples using classic films like Casablanca and familiar authors like Agatha Christie.  Linda’s advise is classic and timeless and still well worth reading.

phrase-book1The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book, Jean Kent and Candace Shelton, 1984.  Sometimes you simply cannot overcome writer’s block and this phrase book is designed to help you jump start your brain. Use it as a crutch and you will wind up with the sort of cliche riddled drivel that critics like to pounce on, but used sparingly and only in a pinch and these phrases will help to inspire you to create your own unique phrases and word images.

All you need to do to be eligible to win the books is to leave a comment on how Jane Austen inspires your writing. The contest will stay open until March 31! (Please note: A Winner has been chosen. Congratulations Donna Lee Simpson! ) Thank you all for stopping by to read my posts and leave comments.

Please Note: Only those who live in the continental United States are eligible to win; although anyone may enter a comment.

In addition, this blog has received two more awards.

sisterhoodawardOne is the Sisterhood Award from All Things Considered. Thank you Gina! I can only come up with ten blogs total which I shall divide among the two awards. Nominees, please go to All Things Considered to read about the Sisterhood Award. My six nominations are:

proximade_awardAnd the other is the Proximade Friendliness Award from TammiMaggee at Histatic! This award is reserved for history blogs and the rules of the award sit on Histatic! My nominees are:

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Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

One of the biggest names in landscaping during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was Humpry Repton (1752-1818), a self-made man who transformed the formal landscapes around England’s great houses along more natural, fluid, and graceful lines. Repton, who saw the relationship between house and landscape as a picturesque whole, wrote:

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

“In landscape gardening everything may be called a deception by which we endeavour to make our works appear to be the product of nature only. We plant a hill to make it appear higher than it really is, we open the banks of a natural river to make it appear wider, but whatever we do we must ensure that our finished work will look natural or it would fail to be agreeable.” Agreeable meant adding cattle or deer as focal points, and architectural structures that drew the eye. At times, entire villages were transported away from the great house and mature trees were transplanted so that the bucolic vision of manse and land could remain unspoiled and natural.

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

In following his vision, Repton moved roads,  created ponds, planted copses,  and built architectural structures. An artist, he painted his vision of how the property would look in 50 years in a series of red books, many of which still survive. Stoneleigh Abbey,  the ancestral home of Jane Austen’s mother’s family, was one of Repton’s most important commissions. Those who are planning to visit Stoneleigh Abbey will have an opportunity to view Repton’s red book for the Leighs, which took him a year to create and which will be on exhibit through 2009. Repton’s famous red books  showed painted scenes of the landscape before and after his transformations. In Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, he wrote:

“The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly, it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed”.

In 1796, following his own advice, Repton painted two watercolours for Whiton, the seat of Samuel Prime, esq., as seen below – (Images from Plants and Gardens Portrayed.)

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Jane Austen famously mentioned Repton and the vogue for landscape transformations in Mansfield Park:

“Mr. Rushworth,” said Lady Bertram, “If I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”

Mr. Rushworth was eager to assure her ladyship of his acquiescence, and tried to make out something complimentary; but, between his submission to her taste, and his having always intended the same himself, with the superadded objects of professing attention to the comfort of ladies in general, and of insinuating that there was one only whom he was anxious to please, he grew puzzled, and Edmund was glad to put an end to his speech by a proposal of wine. Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”

“I should like to see Sotherton before it is cut down, to see the place as it is now, in its old state; but I do not suppose I shall.”

“Have you never been there? No, you never can; and, unluckily, it is out of distance for a ride. I wish we could contrive it.”

“Oh! it does not signify. Whenever I do see it, you will tell me how it has been altered.”

“I collect,” said Miss Crawford, “that Sotherton is an old place, and a place of some grandeur. In any particular style of building?”

“The house was built in Elizabeth’s time, and is a large, regular, brick building; heavy, but respectable looking, and has many good rooms. It is ill placed. It stands in one of the lowest spots of the park; in that respect, unfavourable for improvement. But the woods are fine, and there is a stream, which, I dare say, might be made a good deal of. Mr. Rushworth is quite right, I think, in meaning to give it a modern dress, and I have no doubt that it will be all done extremely well.”

Miss Crawford listened with submission, and said to herself, “He is a well–bred man; he makes the best of it.”

“I do not wish to influence Mr. Rushworth,” he continued; “but, had I a place to new fashion, I should not put myself into the hands of an improver. I would rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my own choice, and acquired progressively. I would rather abide by my own blunders than by his.”

“You would know what you were about, of course; but that would not suit me. I have no eye or ingenuity for such matters, but as they are before me; and had I a place of my own in the country, I should be most thankful to any Mr. Repton who would undertake it, and give me as much beauty as he could for my money; and I should never look at it till it was complete.”

“It would be delightful to me to see the progress of it all,” said Fanny.

“Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of my education; and the only dose I ever had, being administered by not the first favourite in the world, has made me consider improvements in hand as the greatest of nuisances. Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and for three months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on, or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as complete as possible in the country, shrubberies and flower–gardens, and rustic seats innumerable: but it must all be done without my care. Henry is different; he loves to be doing.” – Mansfield Park, Chapter 6

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton, who was prolific in his thirty year career, taking on over 400 commissions, believed in providing picturesque vistas that included focal points from certain stops along a circuitous path wending its way through the landscape. He wrote how he accomplished this:

First, by collecting the wood into larger masses and distinguishing the lawns in a broad masterly manner without the confused frittering of too many single trees;

Secondly, by the interesting line of road winding through the lawn;

Thirdly, by the introduction of cattle to enliven the scene; and

Lastly, by the appearance of a seat on the knoll and a part of the house with its proposed alterations displaying its turrets and pinnacles amongst the trees. -  The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq Being His Entire Works on These Subjects By Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon

Learn More About Humphry Repton by clicking on these links:

Hayes Image: Lasdun, Susan. The English Park, Royal, Private and Public. London. 1991, p 103. Print.

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wilton_pride_prejudice_1a_450x300Philip Sheppard, who wrote Crystallized Beauty, a musical piece that was used to advertise the Jane Austen Season for ITV last year, has made his recent compositions for piano available on one post. Click on the link to listen to an unnamed piece based on an empty drawing room at night, a slow ballade waltz, a piece entitled The Long Letter, the full version of Crystallized Beauty, and Elena.

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