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Archive for August, 2011

Gentle readers: Please leave a comment if you wish your name to be be eligible for a drawing of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, a wonderful Regency romp by Georgette Heyer. The drawing will be held the moment electricity is restored in my house. My best estimate is that this will take another week. Only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. (So sorry, but the book is being sent by the publisher, who has requested this geographic restriction.) Update: Contest closed. Congratulations Rebeka! You have won a copy of Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford thinks quite highly of himself and is pleased by his impeccable manners and easy smile, which easily influences servants to do his bidding. But Phoebe Marlow, whose mousy manner hides her bright mind and talents as an equestrienne and a writer, was not so impressed when she first met him during her coming out season. She is even less enthralled with the Duke when he arrives for a visit at her father’s estate to look her over as a possible bride.

Sylvester’s fond Mama also harbors concerns for her son, especially when Sylvester announces his intentions to marry and begins to discuss his preference for a bride with her:

‘But I’m inclined to think now that is is more important that she should be intelligent. I don’t think I could tolerate a hen-witted wife. ‘Besides I don’t mean to foist another fool on to you.’

‘I am very much obliged to you!’ she said, a good deal entertained. ‘Clever, but not beautiful: very well! Continue!’

‘No, somedegree of beauty I do demand. She must have countenance, at least, and the sort of elegance which you have, Mama.’

‘Don’t try to turn my head, you flatterer! Have you discovered among the debutantes one who is endowed with all these qualities?’

‘At first glance, I suppose a dozen, but in the end only five.’

‘Five!’

At this point Sylvester’s mama becomes concerned, for she realizes that he is choosing his life’s mate with his head, not his heart. The woman who immediately springs to her mind for her son is Phoebe Marlow, and so our cluelessly haughty (yet kind) Duke collides with the novel’s heroine, who is not in the least willing to spend any time with him, at least not until circumstances throw them together and she gets to know him better.

The plot revolves around Phoebe’s big SECRET: she has authored a book in which Sylvester, with his saturnine brows, is featured prominently as the villain. The more Phoebe gets to know Sylvester, the more she realizes how wrong she was about him and the more she worries about the book’s effect on their budding friendship (for Phoebe was uncannily accurate in her representation about certain aspects of Sylvester’s life).

Georgette Heyer takes us from the cozy settings of country mansions, to London in High Season, to Dover and over to France. A colorful array of her usual characters add liveliness to a somewhat improbable plot, including Phoebe’s good friend Tom, Sylvester’s dodo bird of a sister-in-law, Ianthe, and a supremely idiotic and over-indulged fop named Sir Nugent.

In my opinion, if you are a Georgette Heyer fan and haven’t read this book yet, you will be well advised to do so now. I give it four out of five Regency tea cups!

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment about your favorite Georgette Heyer book! Contest closed. The winner is: Rebeka!

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I will be resurrecting old posts until electricity has been restored in my house. The power company promised that 95% of households will be online by Friday. In 2004, our tiny street did not receive full service until 13 days after the storm. Right now I am looking for a hot shower!!

I published this post about the Peerless Pool two years ago. Perhaps my new readers might be interested in learning a few facts about a public swimming pool in London over 200 years ago. Click here to read the post.

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Announcement

No new posts will be published until electricity has been restored to my house and office. Hurricane Irene did not do much damage, except for the downed lines and trees. Stay tuned.

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Jospeh Pinder, one of the last living handloom weavers of the 19th century

This poem was printed in Punch Magazine in 1862. In the early 19th century Luddites attacked the factory machines that were about to destroy the cottage industry of handloom weavers. By 1815, these weavers had difficulty finding work. They tried selling their cloth at lower prices than the factories, with the result that their average wages plummeted from 21 s to less than 9 s in 1817, the year of Jane Austen’s death. By 1850, handloom weavers had been reduced to starvation wages. In light of their plight, this poem, which contrasts the wistful observances of the lowly weaver against the lavish lifestyle of the Ton, becomes all the more poignant.

Hyde Park, 1817

SPITALFIELDS AND HYDE PARK.

A Little “Weaver, unemployed,
Chanced in Hyde Park to stray,
And there, as best he might, enjoyed

Unwilling holiday.
The great folks being now in Town,

He strolled, and viewed their show,
Around the Ring, and up and down

A stroll in the park

The walk by Rotten Row.
What high-bred cavaliers were there,
Straight-backed, and clean of limb;
What horsewomen, superbly fair,

Displayed their airs to him!
What equipages Beauty bore.

And Consequence, reclined,
Whom portly coachmen sat before;

Smart footmen stood behind!
The little man, admiring, read
The faces of the Great,
Who passed him with erected head,

Rotten Row, Tom and Jerry, 1821

And countenance elate,
High fed, from sordid want secure,

From cares and troubles mean,
How brave their bearing, to be sure,

Their aspect how serene!
A heart our little weaver had
In others’ joy that shared.
Himself though hungry, he was glad

Hyde Park, Rotten Row

To think how well they fared.
It raised him in his self-respect
To see how riches can,
With nurture in a sphere select,

Exalt his fellow-man.
If, entering on this earthly scene,
Endowed with Fortune’s boon, His infant lips he had between
But held a silver spoon, He thought he also might have shone
Amongst the grand and gay, Then being out of work alone,
Not likewise out of pay.

Punch Magazine, Vol 42-43, 1862, p 133

Handloom weaver, 1888

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Gentle Readers, It may please you to know that frequent contributer, Tony Grant (London Calling), lives near Richmond Park, a wilderness that has kept its pristine nature for centuries. Enjoy these beautiful photographs.

Geese flying towards Pen Ponds

Richmond Park is situated 12 miles south west of St Pauls Cathedral in the city of London. It just happens to be two miles from where I live on the edge of Wimbledon and abuts Wimbledon Common that stretches for a few miles on the other side of the Kingston Road.

Deer at Richmond Park

The Kingston Road is a very old road running between Kingston upon Thames and the City of London. It bisects Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park on it’s way. Jane Austen would have travelled often along it on her way from Hampshire by way of Kingston upon Thames to her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street or to one of the other houses Henry owned at different times.

Deer under the trees

The park has always been an untouched piece of wilderness. It has never been adapted or changed by agriculture. It has always been as it is to this day. It covers 2,500 acres. King Edward I who lived from 1272 to 1307 and who was also called Longshanks and The Hammer of the Scots, formed the park in the Manor of Sheen beside the Thames outside of London, as a hunting park stocked with red and fallow deer.

There are six hundred deer in the park to this day. Under Henry VII, who built a palace at Sheen beside the river, the park and the local town was renamed, Richmond. There is a mound or small hill in the park called, Henry VIII’s Mound, where the Tudor king reputedly would spy out likely deer to be hunted. In 1625 Charles I removed the whole of his court to Richmond Palace because of the Black Plague raging through London.

He used the park for hunting too. In 1637 Charles had a wall built around the park, which is still there. The local people were obviously chagrined. Charles passed strict laws about the King’s deer being poached and the wall was an extra deterrent.

Stag by Pen Ponds

Richmond Park has a strong emotional connection for Marilyn and me. Not only does one of the campuses of Kingston University, where me met as undergraduates, back onto the park and on numerous occasions we scaled the brick wall between Kingston Hill Place, my halls of residence , to get into the park at night but it has great significance to the birth of all our children. Now I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong. By the way, Kingston Hill Place used to be the home of Lilly Langtry or Jersey Lill, as she was known, the mistress of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII.

Pen Ponds, Richmond Park

Getting back to the great significance to the birth of our four children. Well, it first happened with Sam, our eldest. The day he was due to be born, 1st July 1986, Marilyn showed no signs of going into labour. We sat around and sat around waiting for something to happen and obviously it wasn’t going to.

Pen Ponds

We decided to drive to Richmond Park and go for a walk beside Penn Ponds, two beautiful small lakes right in the middle of the park with reed beds and groves of massive ancient oak trees nearby. The ponds have a large variety of water birds, swans, mallards, Canada Geese, coots and many other varieties of ducks inhabiting them. They nest in the reed beds along the edge of the ponds. Richmond Park has been classified as SSSI status. That means it is a site of special scientific interest. Sam was born a week later on the 8th July.

Pen Ponds in the Rain

When Marilyn [Tony’s wife] was pregnant with Alice we followed the same routine, a day beside Penn Ponds and then after that, we did the same with Emily and Abigail in later years.

Pen Ponds

All of our children were born late. You might think, weren’t you taking a chance? What if Marilyn had gone into labour on the predicted date? Ah well you see, Kingston Hospital is right next to Richmond Park. All we needed to do was climb over the wall. No sorry, let me get that right; drive a short distance to the maternity department.

My daughters outside the Royal Ballet School

There are a number of beautiful houses inside Richmond Park. White Lodge,in the centre, is the home of The Royal Ballet School. All our great ballet dancers train there from an early age. In the film Billly Elliott, that is where he went to train as a dancer. White Lodge is an elegant 18th century pile that used to be a country house belonging to Edward VII.

Outside the Royal Ballet school

Pembroke Lodge, situated on a high hill overlooking the River Thames and Kingston upon Thames is situated on the edge of the park. It used to be the home of Lord John Russell, a prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. He was the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher. Bertrand Russell spent much of his childhood at Pembroke Lodge.

Pembroke Lodge

Pembroke Lodge is now a café and restaurant. It is a great experience to sit on the terrace of Pembroke Lodge on a summers afternoon looking out over the Thames sipping Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong, and eating a scone with clotted cream or homemade strawberry jam.

Pembroke Lodge entrance

Richmond Park is wonderful to take long walks. There are many massive ancient oak trees. Some must be four or five hundred years old. A few have been scarred by lightning strikes.

Pembroke Lodge view

You will see deer grazing in amongst the vast areas of bracken. An unexpected sound and sight are the flocks of green parakeets that have inhabited parts of Richmond Park.

Pembroke Lodge

The story goes, whether myth or reality , is that in the 1940’s Treasure Island was being filmed at Pinewood Studios. They had parakeets on the film set and some escaped and began breeding in Richmond Park. A similar story centres around the making of The African Queen with Humphrey Bogard. It too was being filmed partly at Pinewood. Again the story goes that parakeets escaped from that film set too. I don’t know how much truth there is any of these stories but there is, without doubt, a colony of green parakeets living and breeding in Richmond Park. I have had a few land and rest in the branches of the apple trees in my own garden.

The Royal Ballet School

There are a number of plantations that are fenced off from the rest of the park so deer cannot eat the shrubs and trees growing in them.

Walk in the park

The Isabella Plantation is the most wonderful example of them all. It is a woodland garden at it’s best. In the spring when the bluebell woods are carpeted in blue it lifts the spirits and is a joy to behold. Many of the bushes and shrubs situated in glades and beside the sparkling stream that runs through the plantation create an emotional and spiritual experience.

Foot bridge

The Isabella Plantation is one of those places on earth that sooths the spirit and fills your eyes with beauty. To sit on the grass and listen to the birds and look at the camellias, magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons is wonderful. The plantation is run on organic principles and because of this it is home to a great variety of insects and mini beasts.

Wild corner

Here is a quote from the web site dedicated to the Isabella plantation.

“In spring, visitors can see camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells. From late April, the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower. In summer, there are displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. By autumn, guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees are loaded with berries and leaves on the acer trees are turning red. Even in winter, the gardens have scent and colour. There are early camellias and rhododendron, as well as mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and stinking hellebore.”

The present plantation was developed by George Thomson , the park superintendent from 1951-1971.

Woodland paths

Some recent news for you Hollywood A list watchers. My local paper had a small news item. Brad Pitt has been spotted taking pictures of the deer in Richmond Park recently. He is over here filming at the moment. He and Angelina are living in a house, a grand house I am sure, by the Thames at Richmond.

Woodland stream and flowers

Outside the Richmond gate is a large elegant brick building called The Star and Garter Hospital. It is a special hospital for aged military servicemen and women from all wars. They also have the poppy factory next to it. We celebrate the dead of our wars on November 11th every year which was the First World War Armistice Day. The fields of Picardy, in Northern France, where much of the terrible deadly trench warfare took place, were covered in wild poppies in the Spring. Somebody thought the poppies represented the drops of blood from the dead who lay in those fields so the poppy was taken as the British symbol to remember the dead.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. – John McRae

Poppies in Connaught Cemetery. Image @The Great War

Just down the hill from the park, in Richmond town, there is a house called Hogarth House. It was in this house that Virginia Woolf lived with her husband Leonard for many years and began The Hogarth Press, named after the house. Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, often mentions going for walks with Leonard and friends in Richmond Park.

Hogarth House, Richmond

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Gentle Readers, You may have noticed my previous rant about Mitzi Szereto’s blog post on Huffington Post. I had struck an attitude of silence and indifference to her sexy parody of Pride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts) until I read her fighting words. Then I realized, why not debate each other and find out what we really think? Mitzi has graciously agreed to a discussion about her book and sequels in general.

Vic: Hi Mitzi, it took a while to find my pitchfork and untwist my knickers. Now that the elderberry wine has calmed down my poor nerves and heart palpitations, I can ask you this question: What on earth were you thinking writing that Huffington Post ramble? Only a few vocal Jane fans objected to your book, as most of us were too busy swooning over Colin’s wet shirt to notice the brouhaha until you pointed it out.

Mitzi: Glad the elderberry wine helped. I’ve never tried it; please send a bottle over! I should say that Colin’s little swim left an indelible impression on me as well and accounted for Pride and Prejudice becoming a major favorite of mine. As for my piece in the Huffington Post, I found that all the pitchforks being aimed at me were getting to be a bit silly, particularly when the overwhelming majority of their wielders had not even read my book, let alone anything I’ve written! I have no issue if someone simply does not like the book; everyone has their own taste in reading material. But I figured that since everyone seemed to have so much to say about Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (and me as its author), I too, had a right to speak and point out the absurdity of these arguments. Many of the comments were being directed at me in a quite personal way, not to mention insulting. Not very polite for people who claim to be defending the honor of our beloved Jane Austen! The LA Times and the Guardian were the first instigators of this whole thing. I actually didn’t think anyone’s hackles would be raised by the publication of my book, especially when it was meant to be a historical parody in the same spirit of the highly popular Zombies versions. I still don’t see what the big deal is, unless it actually is the sexual element in the book that’s upsetting people the most, because the tons of romance and chicklit versions don’t appear to be inspiring upset. If literary purists have an issue with re-imaginings of classic works or writers taking inspiration from them or borrowing from them, they should do a bit of literary investigation into the very long history of this practice and aim their pitchforks at others as well. After all, fair is fair!

Vic: Actually, the Zombies were not well received in some quarters either, but Quirk Books won me over by their cheerful willingness to forego pride and forge into new marketing territories, like toy stores, hardware stores (I kid you not), and gag stores . As an established author you must know from the outset that you can’t please everyone and that you would raise a few hackles with your rapier pen. I am thinking of statements like: “I wonder if these hecklers from the peanut gallery have even read the original Pride and Prejudice…” At this point, my teeth gnashed involuntarily for I sensed an INSULT. (Although I must admit to having met many a rabid Darcy fan who has only seen the movie.)

Mitzi: I don’t expect to please everyone, nor do I wish to! As for insults, I don’t see that it’s an insult to point out that things were not all pristine and squeaky clean in the original novel, and those who claim to have read it might be wise to do so again. Let’s get real: Jane Austen was giving us some very strong hints of the kind of impolitic behavior that was taking place between some of her characters (particularly Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham). Of course you’re going to get people saying we don’t need the lurid details, but you must remember that Jane Austen lived in a time when women authors were not taken seriously and were generally relegated to the category of “hack.” If she wanted to be taken seriously and keep her respectability as an author (which she clearly did), she had to be very cautious regarding how far she could go and just how much she could say. Had she been a man writing, things would have been different. But she wasn’t. So when my critics start getting all hot and bothered by my comment, they should wake up to the fact that Jane was a female writer who did not enjoy the kind of literary freedom female writers enjoy today.

Vic: OK, I see your point, but methinks I smelled a publicity stunt in that article. If so, kudos to you, for the controversy forced us to think about why we cling to our preferences AND notice your book.

Mitzi: On the contrary. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t start the brouhaha; the Los Angeles Times did, followed by the Guardian. Hey, I’m more than happy to get publicity and maybe sell a few books to help put some food on the table. But in all honesty, I wrote a book that was intended to be a fun and entertaining historical parody/sex farce. So yeah, I do think some people definitely need to get a sense of humor! If they’re that upset, then go after the various mash-up authors and the Jane Austen romance authors as well. And let’s add to this all the Jane Austen chicklit authors. Go on, have a field day and get those bonfires burning! It worked for Salman Rushdie (though I’m not sure the fatwa on him has been lifted yet).

Vic: I finally wound up reading the Jane Austen/Zombie mash ups and they were FUN. I realize that your book is written along the line of parody and harmless entertainment, but think about the readers’ perspective. While you wrote only one Austen sequel and regard this as a noble literary tradition, we are inundated with them. Literally.

Mitzi: Oh, I agree with you. It has gone a bit haywire of late. I guess when something hits big, you’re bound to get a whole lot more of it. That’s why I wanted my book to be very much its own kind of thing, rather than just another straightforward romance or fan-fiction-ish version. This is the first time I took a classic novel and remade it, though technically I did a similar kind of thing with my book In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales. In my research I discovered that these tales went back a very long way, some even into antiquity. Perhaps Jane Austen’s works have become the new fairy tales, and will continue to be adapted and remade and re-imagined well into the future.

Mitzi Szereto in London

Vic: I cannot tell you the number of email requests I receive from authors and publishers who want me to review yet another Austen sequel, prequel, or parody. They range the gamut from truly well written pieces to stuff not fit for the shredder. Right now my mind is in a whirl. Precisely what time do Darcy’s fangs come out? Why did he disapprove of Lizzie for bearing him five daughters and one mewly son? When Wickham soiled his diapers, who changed them? Is Mary Bennet really more beautiful than Jane, who has turned into a brood sow? At this point I am in danger of forgetting what is what, and so my reaction to your book was one of indifference. I am done reviewing most of the sequels, except for a very few.

In addition, many authors are not fan fiction fans. Diana Gabaldon, author of the incredible Outlander books, dislikes fan fiction and has publicly said so, and yet you make a good point: Many authors, playwrights, and film makers have had their works reinterpreted or have reinterpreted the works of others.

Mitzi: Absolutely. Because so many of the Jane Austen authors have made the original work all but unrecognizable, the story and its characters can get lost, as you say. That’s why I used Austen’s story as the framework; it’s essentially the same story in my book, but I’ve taken it on a major tangent. My version is not fan fiction at all, nor is it a sequel. Those are again more erroneous assumptions being bandied about by people who’ve not read my book. I wonder if these same people would accuse Dean Koontz of writing fan fiction with his Frankenstein series or want to burn him at the stake for taking a literary classic and remaking it into something else, just as I have done with Pride and Prejudice. I can mention a slew of other authors who’ve done likewise, but we’d be here all day!

Vic: Good point. Now, let’s cut to the chase. Is there anything you would like to say about your book to my readers?

Mitzi: Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts is intended to be pure entertainment and fun. I wanted to write a book that read exactly as if Jane Austen wrote every single word of it. Whether you love or hate my book, I know that I’ve been successful in achieving the Jane Austen illusion and remaining true to the essence of her characters. My book is raunchy, rude, outrageous and outlandish. It’s also extremely funny. If that sort of thing appeals to you, by all means go out and buy my book. If it doesn’t, then by all means choose something more to your liking. Thanks very much for inviting me to chat with you, Vic!

Vic: My pleasure. I wish you much success with your book, Mitzi, and thank you for visiting my humble blog.
Find Mitzi’s books and information at these links:

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Christine Stewart recently took a trip to England. Here are some of her impressions. For fabulous images, click on her blog,  Embarking on a Course of Study.

It’s a funny thing to visit an object used, worn, or created by people you admire, whether historical, literary, political, or religious figures.  There’s an immense satisfaction in standing in its presence. I had been to the Morgan Library in NYC for the exhibit of Austen letters, but there was something about her desk. It was an everyday object that had been important to her writing life. She used it to write amazing novels that outlive and outsell those of her contemporaries.

And I had worked very hard to get there!

I arrived in London just before noon from Reykjavik, where I’d been attending the wedding of a friend, ready to officially begin my Jane Austen Pilgrimage. I had a couple of suitcases and decided to go to the flat of my friend’s new husband to drop them off before venturing out further.

British Library Lobby

So, after getting up at 4 a.m to catch the shuttle to the flybus to the airport, then a plane, three trains, and one cab later (the cab driver called me ‘Luv,’ awesome), I dropped off all my bags and went out again. I then got caught up in taking pictures of the very charming streets as I walked down to the tube station.

That, coupled with the train to King’s Cross/St. Pancras, the tube stop near the British Library, took up another hour, so I arrived after 4:00 p.m. and had to let go of my plan to also go to the British Museum as there just wasn’t enough time before they closed. Oh well, onward! The British Library was easy to find – it’s basically next door to St. Pancras (see the picture, is that an amazing building or what? It’s also a hotel).

Once inside the Library I had a difficult time navigating the floor plan. There are several levels to the front lobby, perhaps I should say landings, and then other floor levels themselves off of the lobby, which are not clear via the map. Perhaps the fact that there is a lower ground, upper ground, and ground floor before you even get to floors 1, 2, and 3 and they are not full levels beneath one another or all reached by one flight of stairs or set of elevators that is the problem!

Eventually I located the Sir John Ritblat Gallery where the Library’s ‘treasures’ are, including Jane’s desk. Unless you know exactly which room the desk is in and what it looks like, and how deceptive the word ‘desk’ is, you will have just as much trouble, so let me tell you exactly what to do.

To read the rest of the post and see the pictures:http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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