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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s enduring popularity’ Category

Part One of this four-part series left me salivating to meet Darcy’s aunt, for up to now we have experienced her only through Mr. Collins’s observations, which, the astute reader has come to surmise, MUST be suspect. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter Anne stops by to visit Hunsford in her carriage, Charlotte announces to the group that they are invited to dine at Rosings. Even if Mrs. Collins hadn’t opened her mouth, Lizzy would have realized that something was up, what with an ecstatic Mr. Collins performing cartwheels and Irish jigs in the background and his chest puffed up with so much consequence and triumph that he nearly topples over from imbalance.

He cannot stop gloating about Lady CdeBs graciousness and affability, and pops up here and there like a Regency era whack-a-mole as the ladies and Sir William Lucas prepare for their walk to Rosings, constantly admonishing them with  - “Lady CdeB wants this” – ” Lady CdeB expects that” – ” Lady CdeB says” — until he has Sir William and his daughter Maria quaking in their boots and practically passed out from fear.

Only Lizzy remains unperturbed. Mere stateliness of money or rank do not overly impress her, and this is one of the many reasons why this heroine, conceived in the late 18th century, retains her appeal over two hundred years after her conception. Her attitude is so modern that we readily understand the motives of this educated, independent-minded woman, who, despite having some serious socio-economic cards stacked against her (she has no legal rights under British law and her dowry is but a mere pittance), refuses to buckle under pressure or kowtow to Society’s dictates. Unlike many fictional heroines of her day, she will chance fate and wait for a man she can respect AND love. You go girl!

Much to our chagrin, Jane Austen continues to delay that first meeting between Lizzy and Mr. Collins’s benefactress. Jane first takes us over hill and dale to enjoy the beautiful vistas and prospects and forces us to listen to more of Mr. Collins’s blathering until we readers begin to skim-read with impatience. Then Rosings comes into view and Jane swiftly takes us inside the manse’s impressive entrance hall and to the room where Lady CdeB receives her visitors (the Hunsford party and us). Our hostess rises to greet us with great condescension and for a second we wonder if she might not be all that Mr. Collins promised. Much to our delight, the lady is MORE than was advertised. (Thank you, thank you, Ms. Austen.). Lizzy calmly  takes in the scene and inspects Lady CdeB.

Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as  to make her visitors forget their inferior rank.”

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years. Painting by Gainsborough.

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years: Haughty and Handsome. Painting by Gainsborough.

In fact, the lady’s demeanor brought everything Mr. Wickham had said about her to Lizzy’s mind. Undaunted, Lizzy turns her inquisitive gaze upon the daughter, in whose pale, sickly, Gollum-like features and timid presence she finds nothing remarkable. Her inner bad-girl is immensely satisfied that such a mousy specimen is destined to become Mr. Darcy’s bride.

While Lizzy scarcely bats an eye at the sight of Lady CdeB, Sir William  is unable to speak, his tongue cleaving  to the dry roof of his mouth, while Maria is seriously considering rolling over and playing dead. Lady CdeB is more than happy to show off her silver and fine plate and chef’s talents to this humble group, for “the dinner was exceedingly handsome. ” This is about as detailed a description of outer appearances as Jane Austen ever gives. We have no idea of what the guests wore, what dishes were served, and how many servants were in attendance. Such details are unimportant in the grand scheme of Jane’s masterful study of the human character.

Mr. Collins is completely in his element, scraping and bowing and prattling while carving the meat, an honor he finds so great that  it has eliminated any vestige of restraint. As he babbles nonstop, Sir William, having recovered his severe case of nerves, echoes the unfiltered stream of utterances. Lady CdeB laps up their compliments without a sense of irony.  No Mr. Bennet she!

Lizzy, meanwhile, sits unnoticed on the side and twiddles her thumbs, waiting for an opening in the conversation. This fails to come, for Lady CdeB is too busy relating the opinions of “Me, Myself, and I”, an overpowering and determined trio intent on delivering their viewpoint on every subject.

In the drawing room Lady CdeB continues her one-sided discussions, giving Charlotte advice on all matters pertaining to  household management, including the care of her poultry and cows, of all things. Then, just before poor Lizzy falls asleep from boredom, the Lady zeroes in on our heroine, firing off a series of questions.

  • How many sisters do you have?
  • Are they younger or older?
  • Are they handsome?
  • Any chance of them marrying soon?
  • Are they educated as a young lady ought to be?
  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What year and make is your father’s carriage?

Lizzy hides her outrage but feels all the impertinence of this inquiry. Lady CdeB attempts to rattle her again. “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins,” she drops, before abruptly switching the topic. Seasoned interrogators use this technique to catch their subjects off guard, but our Lizzy remains unflappable:

“Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Do your sisters play and sing?”

“One of them does.” (Mary. Hah!)

Undeterred, Lady CdeB keeps  the chandeliers spotlighted over Lizzy’s head and continues her inquisition:

You ought all to have learned, the Miss Webbs all play.”

Still trying to rattle Lizzy’s chain, she resorts to insulting Mrs. Bennet’s mothering skills. The reader guffaws from the irony of it all.

“What, you don’t draw? Strange, but your mother should have taken you to town for the benefit of masters.”

“No Governess! How is that possible. You must have been neglected.”

And on and on she goes. Elizabeth plasters a polite smile on her face and refuses to cower. I recall reading this passage with the speed of a Ferrari on an open road  racing to the finish. I so enjoyed the heady ride Jane Austen was taking us on that I had to read how it ended as swiftly as possible! (In fact, I finished my first reading of P&P in one sitting, then reread it a short time later, slowly savoring each word.)

Lady CdeB asks one more question –

Are any of your younger sisters OUT, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, ALL.”

“ALL?!!” You could have thrown the feathers on top of Lady CdeB’s aristocratic head for a loop when Lizzy calmly explains the fairness of her mother’s decision.  “You give your opinion decidedly for so young a person, ” she sniffs, but the reader already knows the score:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, One

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings, Zilch

GO TEAM LIZZY!”

After this scene one can only conclude that Lost in Austen got it right when the series transported Elizabeth Bennet to the future and had her land on her feet,  embracing smart phones, automated teller machines, and iPads as if to the Internet born. In this time travel fantasy series the viewer can readily imagine Jane’s prototype of a modern heroine wanting to free herself from the restraints of her era. In my estimation, Lost in Austen lost its way when it followed the story line of boring Amanda Price discovering life in the past in favor of Lizzy’s more interesting journey into the future.

As for Lady CdeB, I will next examine her as a Proficient. Read Part One of the Lady CdeB series here.

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Gilbert Gottfried Reads Jane Austengilbert-gottfried-300x249

Ever heard of The Irrelevant Show? I wouldn’t have until I noticed that Gilbert Gottfried, the original voice of the Aflack duck, read Sense and Sensibility using his *ahem* unique comic’s voice.

Imagine Gilbert living 200 years ago and reading by candlelight at night with that voice. It does not bear to think about. Here’s the link to the CBC player. Gilbert’s reading starts after the introduction. Thankfully, his reading is blissfully short.

julie ann cooperFried and Prejudice

On a more serious note, story teller Julie Ann Cooper will stage a retelling of Pride and Prejudice on Friday, June 14th at 7 PM at Theatre Absolute, a converted chip shop in Coventry. This event is part of the Literally Coventry Book Festival, which runs from June 10 to 15 this year. Click here to learn more.

 

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Gentle readers, this year marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. This blog will feature a variety of posts about the novel and on its author, Jane Austen. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant (London Calling) recently visited the National Portrait Gallery in London and viewed the small watercolour portrait of her painted by Cassandra Austen. In this tribute, Tony demonstrates her star status among other literary superstars.

jane1

Click on this link to see the portrait’s location within the National Portrait Gallery

If you enter the National Portrait Gallery as you walk into the main atrium go up the tall escalator on the left and you come to a foyer area at the top off which there are entrances into two main galleries. On the right is the wonderful gallery displaying the powerfully evocative Tudor monarchs and their statesmen.

On the left are the 18th and 19th century galleries portraying the politicians, monarchs, reformers and writers of that period. It is here , many of you will know, is the tiny portrait of Jane Austen attributed to her sister Cassandra and drawn in 1810 using pencil and watercolours. It is an unprepossessing little picture. It’s great worth is in who it is. But, if you stand back from the plinth with the perspex box on its summit containing Jane and view the whole vista you will notice that Jane is surrounded by a halo of super star writers. She is the centre of the group.

Bottom left is Sir Walter Scott. Moving clockwise next comes Samuel Taylor Coleridge, at the top is John Keats and then as you move down right of Jane, Robert Southey follows and last, bottom right, is Robert Burns. Quite a group, and there she is in the middle, our Jane. If you think I am imagining the halo metaphor, walk behind the plinth with Jane displayed and you will notice that there is nothing on the wall, there is a space. The halo metaphor works. The only thing behind Jane is a handwritten catalogue number on the back of the portrait itself. It reads; “NPG 360, Jane Austen.” It’s written in pencil in a reasonably legible hand. A scrawled note such as somebody might write as a memo to themselves on a post it and stick on their fridge door.

All of these writers were geniuses and there is Jane right at their centre. The men were all Romantics. Jane perhaps ridiculed some aspects of Romanticism in Northanger Abbey but she wrote about romance and its vicissitudes. The men wrote about their emotional response to the world. Jane did not portray her own emotions, just the emotions of her characters.

walter scottSir Walter Scott (1771-1832) painted by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant —Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.” Ivanhoe

Many of Scott’s novels harked back to a supposed ideal period , the Middle Ages, when chivalry was the moral high ground for men and women fitted into the system as perfect idols worshipped by men. However this was for the aristocracy. Serfdom was really slavery. Serfs were possessions. Scott wrote in Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward and novels such as those about this ideal dreamlike world. It was the ultimate escapism.
coleridgeSamuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) painted by Peter Van Dyke.

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done !
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.
It seemeth him but the skeleton of a ship.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a friend of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. They promoted Romanticism together which added a more emotional and personal response to the world in addition to the ways of thinking the Age of Enlightenment promoted.

NPG 194; John Keats by William Hilton, after  Joseph SevernJohn Keats (1795 – 1821) painted by Joseph Severn

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

John Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome in February 1821. Joseph Severn, the portrait artist was his best friend and was with him in Rome when he died. Keats was another Romantic poet. When he first started publishing his poetry he was heavily criticised in Blackwood’s Magazine. Those with invested interests in the status quo and couldn’t think imaginatively beyond what they knew, seemed hell-bent on preventing the human race from progressing. It was ever thus.

robert southeyRobert Southey(1774 -1843) painted by Peter Van Dyke.

We pursued our way
To the house of mirth, and with that idle talk
That passes o’er the mind and is forgot,
We wore away the time. But it was eve
When homewardly I went, and in the air
Was that cool freshness, that discolouring shade
That makes the eye turn inward.”

Robert Southey was another of the Romantic poets. He lived in the lakes with Wordsworth and Coleridge and is generally known as one of the Lakeland poets. He is now considered a lesser poet than either Wordsworth or Coleridge. In 1813 he became the poet laureate and Byron lambasted him for this.

NPG 46; Robert Burns by Alexander NasmythRobert Burns (1759 – 1796) painted by Alexander Nasmyth

We’ll gae down by Cluden side,
Thro’ the hazels spreading wide,
O’er the waves that sweetly glide
To the moon sae clearly.
Yonder Cluden’s silent towers,
Where at moonshine midnight hours,
O’er the dewy-bending flowers,
Fairies dance sae cheery.”

Robert Burns is a Scottish national hero. Websites dedicated to him use his name, his picture and his poems in an unashamedly mercenary way. He is probably the most marketed writer in this group and a real money spinner for the Scottish economy. He was actually a great poet it is sometimes worth stopping and remembering. What can be difficult for many readers is the Scottish dialect and use of colloquial phrases in his poems. His poetry is worth spending time with. They require deep emotional investment. They are rich with feelings and emotions. He was a romantic poet more by inclination than belief. It was just him, the way he was.

jane austenJane Austen (1775 – 1817) painted by Cassandra Austen

The first line of Pride and Prejudice goes such:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune , must be in want of a wife.”

However, the last lines of the penultimate chapter of Pride and Prejudice are also worth considering and shed light on Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy in particular.

…….she looked forward with delight to the time they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.”

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Inquiring readers: Tony Grant from London Calling has been a frequent contributor to this blog, sending posts and images. He lives in Wimbledon and acts as a tour guide, taking visitors on tours to Jane Austen country, the Lakes region, and points of interest all around London and the U.K. Recently, Tony sent in his thoughts about Jane Austen and his wish to delve deeper into other authors and their lives. As an active guide, he knows whereof he speaks. I asked Susannah Fullerton, author, president of JASA, and also a tour guide, to give her response (with Tony’s approval).  Here, then, is their very interesting conversation. I intend to weigh in. Does anyone else have an opinion? If so, please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, to all my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! Drive safely and have a wonderful time with kith and kin.

“Good-Bye to All That,” is an autobiography by Robert Graves. Graves said, “It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.

I was reading a poem by Edward Thomas, (Philip Edward Thomas, 3rd March 1878 – 9th April 1917) recently, entitled, “The Brook.” In the poem Thomas is sitting by a stream and watching a child paddling in the brook. His senses are completely alert to the sights and sounds of insects, the sight of birds and the sounds of birds unseen, the play of sunlight, the rippling tinkling sounds of water and the memories of a past horseman and horse buried under a barrow on the heath nearby. The poem ends,

And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before,” is what she said.

It occurred to me that the child was right. Of course, probably, many people had been to that spot over years and decades. For each of us, however, when we go to a place for the first time that is pristine and natural and remains how it has always been we do experience something for the first time. It is as if nobody has been there or done that, or experienced that before us. We can experience things fresh and new for ourselves when we go somewhere like this, for the first time.

Signpost. Image @Tony Grant

Now lets take a visit to Chawton, Jane Austen’s last home before she died. I wonder if we can actually experience things fresh and new to us on a visit to Chawton and say,“No one’s been here before,” in the way the child in Edward Thomas’s poem did?

I remember standing at the crossroads in Chawton , years ago, for the first time. What I should have experienced, according to Jane Austen pilgrims to Chawton, is a sense of where she lived, a connection with Jane Austen – where she wrote, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, enjoyed the company of Cassandra, Martha, her mother and brothers and neighbours too. Indeed, Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) did all this over two hundred years ago. But can I or any of us get that feeling of, “No one’s been here before.” Do we really get an experience standing at Chawton crossroads next to that much photographed sign post put up in the 1930’s with pointers to the great house, the church and the cottage that it is the Chawton of Jane Austen? Do we really believe that we have a connection with Austen by being there? Isn’t it all in our imaginations because we want to believe?

Chawton Village street. Image @Tony Grant

Chawton high street is full of parked cars with Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Scandinavian makers emblems on them. The road is metalled and covered in tarmac. It has a pavement edged by slate and granite curb stones from Dartmoor. It has concrete and tarmac pavements. Houses surrounding the cottage have a mesh of telecommunication wires leading to each one. People who live in Chawton are all connected to the World Wide Web with broadband like the rest of us. Modern street lights light the streets at night. In the small park opposite the cottage there is a children’s playground with steal clambering structures and swings. The pub opposite, The Greyfriar, is a Fullers pub. They hold a quiz night once a week for locals that probably doesn’t include questions about Jane Austen. Fullers, by the way, is a London brewery situated on the Great West Road, leading out towards Heathrow Airport, close to where Hogarth had his country retreat. These very locals travel to Winchester, Southampton or even commute to London for work every day. Chawton C of E Primary School, just along the road, on the way to The Great House, is an ordinary primary school that teaches the national curriculum. The children are like children anywhere and this is where they live. The Jane Austen connection to them is by the by, not really pertinent to their lives. Although, I am sure, as the school is in Chawton the children will know a lot about Jane Austen, but she will really be just somebody else on their list of famous people and writers to know about. Those children play computer games on their Ipads at home. Chawton is an ordinary place where people live and get on with their ordinary lives, where Jane doesn’t loom much in their minds when they are peeling the potatoes or hoovering their carpets or watching the TV.

Chawton Cottage signs. Image @Tony Grant

Looking at the cottage from the outside, the Jane Austen societies have stuck large obtrusive signs on the walls facing the road. If you look at the structure of the building itself you begin to wonder what of it Jane would actually recognise if she were to come back today. Windows have obviously been bricked up. Was that a result of 18th century window taxes or because at one time the cottage was split into a group of smaller cottages? It has a variety of doors to enter by too which probably weren’t there or were in different locations in Jane’s day.

Staircase. Image @Tony Grant

When you go into the cottage you see modern radiators, electrical wiring, plug sockets and fire exit signs with the requisite fire extinguisher points. These are not subtly hidden or unobtrusive but are very prominent. Many of the display cases, especially upstairs, are bulky and obtrusive. They don’t look good. The staircase itself is not the staircase Jane Austen would have known in her time. The whole house has actually been restructured. The Austen’s might not recognise the place. It’s not really the place they knew.

The visitor’s entrance to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

I always come back to the books and her letters. That is where to find Jane Austen. That is where we are going to get glimpses of the real person if we are attentive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reading Jane’s novels, her letters and the biographies written about her. However all these Jane Austen societies bother me. They worship and idolise her. They focus exclusively on her. They wring every bit of Janenness out of her. They make Chawton a false holy of holies. She was one writer for goodness sake. The world is a diverse and varied place full of great writers that we all need to read and not be partisan about. If I had my way I would get rid of all literary societies connected with all writers and say, just read. Reading develops us and helps us grow. Centering on one writer narrows us.

Penguin Classics

As a paraphrase of Robert Graves, this article “ (Is) my(not so) bitter leave-taking of (Austen) where I (have) recently broken a good many conventions”. We all need to stop squeezing the life out of Jane Austen and get on with real life and the rest of the real literary world. Returning to the essence of the Edward Thomas poem, I feel that my senses need to be open but to other writers without the weighty manufactured image of Jane Austen hovering over my shoulder.

Doesn’t anybody else feel that they would like to get out from underneath the weight of Austen and breath freely again?

Tony Grant

I am going to read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels after Christmas and post reviews. My mate Clive and I are going to do this in tandem. If you want an antidote to all things Jane, don’t stray!!!!!!! Clive and Tone are on their way.

Tony Grant, Wimbledon

Hi Tony,

I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your comments on Vic’s lovely website. Your photo of the Dolphin Hotel looks so nice in my new book, A Dance with Jane Austen. Thanks again for giving me permission to use it when we met.

I’m intrigued by your comments about Jane Austen societies, but don’t agree with you that they are in any way narrowing. My experience is quite the opposite. At JASA we’ve had talks on Jane Austen’s connections with / influence on many other writers – Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Byron, Radcliffe, the Brontes, etc. Such talks immediately send you hurrying off to get to know more about those other writers. We’ve had talks about Jane Austen and various historical figures, so you then want to learn more about them, and of course we’ve had talks and articles about the age in which she lived, so our members then explore music in her time, art and what paintings she knew, they learn about the church in that era, the navy and army, Georgian crime, fashion, food, travel, and the list goes on. I see JASA (and the other literary societies to which I belong) as a wonderful way of extending my reading and my knowledge, not limiting it.

And joining good literary societies is addictive. If you get great pleasure from learning more about one writer, you soon realise that you can do the same with another writer. It does not have to be exclusive – I’m extremely promiscuous indeed when it comes to joining literary groups! I’m part of an Anthony Trollope group (we have trouble knowing what to call our group – ‘The Trollopes’ has dubious connotations – I’d love to hear suggestions??) and we have been making our way through Trollope’s more than 40 novels with enormous pleasure. (Trollope, by the way, was a great admirer of Jane Austen). We have also read biographies of Trollope, biographies of his mother Frances, critical books about his writings, and books about the position of women in Victorian England. It’s a small group but we have all felt so enriched by it. Plus we have great fun, good food and wine, picnics (in places Trollope visited in Australia) and we have all made new friends.

And lastly a fabulous reason to join a literary society is for the social aspects. I have met some of my dearest friends through JASA and other Jane Austen connections. I can honestly say that joining JASA has totally changed my life – and all for the better – so there’s been nothing ‘narrowing’ about my passion for Jane Austen’s novels. Rather than ‘squeezing the life’ out of Jane Austen, my love of her writings has widened my knowledge, increased my appreciation of her books, life and historical era, has taken me around the world, given me new friends and given me intense happiness. The more I turn to her novels, the more I get from them; and the same goes for JASA – Jane Austen keeps giving and giving and I receive so very happily all she has to give in so many ways.

Am I waxing too lyrical??? I think you need to pay a visit to Australia, Tony, so that I can show you in person all you could get from a great literary society. Please come and visit any time!!!! JASA would love to welcome you to sunny Sydney.

Cheers,
Susannah

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Lady writing at her desk, 1813, Ackermann fashion plate, morning dress.

It is a truth universally known that during her lifetime, Jane Austen published her novels as “a lady.”  While some in the family knew about her writing success – her brother Henry and sister Cassandra swiftly come to mind – many did not, including the cousins. When a genteel woman like Jane was described as being at “work”, the phrase meant needlework and sewing clothes for the poor basket. A lady simply did not sully her hands by toiling at a trade. Jane did not want it bandied about that she was the author of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but her proud siblings, Henry in particular, couldn’t restrain themselves and bragged about their talented sister.  The word got out and the least well-kept secret was the name of the lady who wrote those delightful novels.

James Edward Austen, the son of Jane’s eldest brother James, and a favorite nephew of hers, discovered at school in 1813 that his favorite aunt was the author of two novels he had enjoyed immensely. The 11-12 year-old was so delighted with the news that he penned an enthusiastic poem about his discovery and sent it to her:

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.

I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear! just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
‘Tis to your ingenuity he really owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.

James Edward Austen as a young man.

When Edward Austen-Leigh, as he became later known in life, was 72, he penned his now famous Memoirs of Jane Austen,  leaving a legacy of the memories that he and his cousins retained a half century after her death. Had Edward not embarked on this quest, his memories (he was 16 when Jane died), and those of Caroline Austen and Fanny Knatchbull, might not have been captured in print. While his book preserved those fading memories, they also “sanitized” his aunt Jane’s reputation, erasing much of her sharp tongue and wit and replacing it with sweetness of character:

The grave closed over my aunt fifty-two years ago; and during that long period no idea of writing her life had been entertained by any of her family. Her nearest relatives, far from making provision for such a purpose, had actually destroyed many of the letters and papers by which it might have been facilitated. They were influenced, I believe, partly by an extreme dislike to publishing private details, and partly by never having assumed that the world would take so strong and abiding an interest in her works as to claim her name as public property. It was therefore necessary for me to draw upon recollections rather than on written documents for my materials; while the subject itself supplied me with nothing striking or prominent with which to arrest the attention of the reader…

Edward Austen-Leigh at the time he wrote Memoirs of Jane Austen

The motive which at last induced me to make the attempt [to write this memoir] is exactly expressed in the passage prefixed to these pages. I thought that I saw something to be done: knew of no one who could do it but myself, and so was driven to the enterprise. I am glad that I have been able to finish my work. As a family record it can scarcely fail to be interesting to those relatives who must ever set a high value on their connection with Jane Austen, and to them I especially dedicate it; but as I have been asked to do so, I also submit it to the censure of the public, with all its faults both of deficiency and redundancy. I know that its value in their eyes must depend, not on any merits of its own, but on the degree of estimation in which my aunt’s works may still be held; and indeed I shall esteem it one of the strongest testimonies ever borne to her talents, if for her sake an interest can be taken in so poor a sketch as I have been able to draw.

Bray Vicarage:
Sept. 7, 1869.

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Inquiring Readers: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is now available through Sourcebooks. I will be reviewing this fabulous, intelligently written book later this week. Meanwhile, enjoy my interview with Ms. Smith about her Latin American adventure as she discusses Jane Austen’s novels en Español with Latin American book groups. All readers of this blog from any country can enter a contest to win a copy of this charming book. Please click on this link and leave your comment. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. Contest is now closed!

Amy, I love that Jane Austen, a spinster who didn’t travel far or frequently in her lifetime, is so beloved the world wide over. Which country surprised you most in terms of her popularity there and why?

I found translations of Austen left and right in bookstores in Argentina. I met plenty of people there who’d read Austen and liked her or who’d seen film adaptations of her novels and enjoyed them. And the Jane Austen Society of Buenos Aires was the first Austen society in South America. But sometimes it’s hard not to be influenced by stereotypes about people — I’d heard that Chileans were “the English of South America,” so somehow I thought Austen would be popular in Chile. But when I was living in Santiago, the capital (which I absolutely loved), a number of people told me Austen’s not very well known in Chile.

As for Argentineans, I’d heard over and over from people in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and other places that Argentineans are, well, pretty arrogant. Other latinos kept passing on jokes like, “When Argentineans see lightening, what do they think is happening? They think it’s God, taking their picture!” So, I guess I got the idea that Argentineans might think Austen was stuffy or old fashioned or some such thing. But she’s popular, at least in Buenos Aires, according to my experiences.

What aspects of that particular culture do you think Jane would have enjoyed the most?

Bookstores, bookstores, bookstores. I had great experiences in bookstores all over Latin America, but Argentina — and Buenos Aires specifically — really is the bookstore capital of South America. It’s so easy for us now to take for granted that we can get our hands on just about any book we want, any time. We’ve got access to bookstores, next-day delivery with websites, and good public libraries. And electronic readers have made it easier than ever — just order whatever book you want, wherever you are on the planet! But imagine what it must have been like for an imaginative, inquisitive reader like Austen — how often did she ever set foot in a bookstore? How often could she afford to pay for books from a circulating library? How many books did her family or friends or neighbors actually own? I think Austen would have fainted from sheer pleasure at the sight of bookstore after bookstore on Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires.

Librerias Libertador: One of my favorite bookstores on Corrientes, in Buenos Aires

Jane Austen fans cross all religious boundaries. Can you identify any characteristics that Janeites share across the world, besides their obvious love for Jane Austen’s novels?

I honestly can’t speak for many places beyond Latin America (although I might try a next project in some other interesting countries!). But I suspect that there’s a kind of optimism that people — especially women — love about Austen. Her leading ladies find love, not in spite of being strong and intelligent, but because of it. That’s a pretty appealing idea in a world were, in many places, women are still told they’d better not appear too smart, or they’ll scare men off.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in writing this book?

I actually started the book while I was still traveling, although I didn’t finish it until after my trip was done. I wrote the first portion on Guatemala while I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was living well away from the tourist area, renting a partially-finished house that had glass in only one or two windows, so it was pretty noisy — street vendors would cruise by with loudspeakers, selling ice cream, vegetables, you name it. The people across the street had a huge bird caged outside their house that shrieked and chattered like a demon. And animals would wander in at will — there was one very persistent cat that kept making me jump out of my skin by appearing under my writing table with no warning.

There were animals all over the place in that neighborhood — no leash laws for dogs, and some of the neighbors had roosters and other farm animals. When I wanted a break from writing, I’d wander out to buy groceries or take my clothes to the laundromat. I always carried them in a plastic bag, and there was this goat a few houses down from me that was only tied up about half of the time. When it was loose, it usually ignored me, but when I had that plastic bag with laundry, it would come bolting after me — maybe its food came in a plastic bag, and it thought I had something good to eat? Or maybe it knew I had laundry and really wanted to eat my socks. Who knows. Sometimes I actually miss that goat — laundry day’s not the same without it.

A friendly neighborhood rooster from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Thank you, Amy, for your wonderful insights and good luck with your book. (I just love the cover!) Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about All Roads Lead to Austen?

Amy Elizabeth Smith

I had two main sources of inspiration for this book — Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and my own Jane Austen students at the University of the Pacific, in California. Readers can enjoy All Roads as a fun opportunity to sit back and be an armchair traveler, but I’d also love it if the book inspired some other international journey I could sit back and read about. Austen in China? Turkey? Belgium? Bora Bora? I’d love to see somebody else take on a journey like this with Jane. Even if they don’t want to write a whole book about it — I’d love to have people share reading-on-the-road stories on my website (http://allroadsleadtoausten.com/). Consider that an official invitation! And thanks so much for letting me visit here at Jane Austen’s World!

To Enter the Contest: Please make sure to leave your comment on Jane Austen Today at this link. The first two comments left on this post will be included in the random number generator drawing at midnight EST USA time on June 11. Please leave all other comments on Jane Austen Today. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. 

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The contest is open until May 15th. You have two chances of winning this book by leaving a comment. Click on image to enter.

Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is more popular than ever with publishers and readers. Many of her fans are attracted to her era, which they identify as one filled with grace, gentility, and good manners. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, author Lori Smith examines Jane Austen’s novels, letters, and life for insights that can help guide today’s woman through life’s passages. There is much good material to digest.

The most important thing is family. Jane was blessed with a large, supportive tribe. They encouraged her talents, reveling in her tales, giving her time to write, and enjoying her books as she was writing them. With much love and support she was able to pursue and develop her talent in an age when such a career was not easily open to women. When she began to write as a girl, Jane had no idea that she would ever make money from her talent, much less find the time to pursue her career.  Some lessons to extract from her persistence in writing are: Do what you would be willing to be poor for; temper your expectations; and share your gifts with the world.  Lucky for us Jane never gave up and weathered the dry giving for posterity six incomparable novels.

Lori Smith’s Guide moves from the essential to the romantic. Let me explain. It is hard to find true love if you don’t know what you want. So, Jane’s advice via Lori is: Be accepting of yourself. Be self-aware. And be sensible. If you’re never satisfied with yourself, then you can’t please others. It’s an axiom that Jane and her heroines followed:

Not only do Austen’s characters find love, they find themselves, and they improve themselves. They see their faults in ways they haven’t before. They realize what kinds of things they are capable of — and that at times they are capable of doing things badly — and this awareness spurs them to change.

Regarding romance, once a woman is open to changing her mind, she is receptive to so many possibilities – of the fact that she was wrong, of opening her eyes to others, of finding the right man. In Jane Austen’s era, a sense of community and belonging helped to guide a woman in the right direction. Jane’s characters (and the author herself) lived in a small, connected society, where friends and relatives knew many details about each other. This situation no longer exists for many of us today:

I think [Jane's] greatest advice to us would be to keep our eyes open and watch carefully, to not commit too quickly before we really understand a guy’s character.

Spoken like our wise mothers. The Guide continues to cover such topics as saving and spending, gratitude and enduring hardships. In the end, Jane shows us to live life to the fullest and to enjoy every moment. She was capable of making fun of herself and laugh even when things were not going her way.

Even the smaller things, that for most of us would only annoy us and lead to complaint, Jane approached with humor. She told Cassandra, “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”

In the end, no one can live our lives but ourselves. We can only follow our inner guide and the principles we have chosen to live by.

Lori Smith’s  The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman continues to inform us about our lives through the lessons that Jane Austen and her characters can teach us. Like her first book. A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori’s clear writing style is a delight to read. One can almost hear Jane speaking through her words. This book is a wonderful gift for mother’s day, for mothers to give to their daughters, and for men to understand the mind of a fine woman. It is also delightfully illustrated.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 regency tea cups.

Book Giveaway: To enter the book giveaway, click on this link. Contest is open until May 15th. Sadly, only those living in the US and Canada are eligible. Please leave a way to contact you in your comment.

Order the book in both hard cover and eBook format:

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: skirt! (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762773812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762773817

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Gentle Readers, Laurel Anne from Austenprose and I were chatting the other day about this, that, and the other, for we are both a bit Jane Austen nutty (if you haven’t noticed.) As you continue reading, you will need to know only one thing:  we are just a wee bit longer in the tooth than Jane’s young heroines:

LA: Vic and I were chatting on the phone today. Over the course of our three plus year Austen-inspired friendship we have mostly emailed, so this was a treat. She has the most infectious laugh which made me laugh too. Of course we were talking about our favorite author and she remarked that Austen excelled at humor and the amazing secondary characters she developed. Somehow it just popped out and I boldly asked her what Jane Austen character she most identified with. Without hesitation she replied, Lady Russell from Persuasion. “Lady Russell?” I replied in surprise! “Well, yes.”

Jane Rus.., er, Mrs. Russell

She then revealed that she is often wrong about the advice she gives people. At work she gathers the young-uns around her and freely offers opinions, whether they are solicited or not. When she gives wrong counsel – which she admits is more often than not – she torpedos herself in a most spectacular fashion. “The error of my ways does not go unnoticed by this unforgiving crowd. Unlike Lady Russell, I will own up to a misteak, er, mistake or two, and apologize for having interfered, but I hold the line at groveling.”

Another reason why she identifies with this character is her independence. Lady Russell is a widow with a healthy income and she has no intention of remarrying and being subjugated by a man. “I am a divorced woman who has discovered the joys of living singly on my own terms and by my own schedule. Ah, what total, selfish bliss!”

Vic further admitted that at a party, or when she lets her hair loose, she starts to resemble Mrs. Jennings. You know the type: a bit vulgar, out for a good time, giggling at precisely the wrong moments, and making those with a more composed nature feel uncomfortable with crass jokes and loud language. “Like Mrs. Jennings, I have a good heart. But I can be out there and in your face too. I might seem unseemly to a quieter person like Elinor, and be totally disliked by the likes of a Marianne, but my friends and family get me, and that’s what counts.”

Oh Vic! You are such a card. Lady Russell and Mrs. Jennings? She then turned the tables on me. “Now, who do you identify with in Jane’s novels? Are you like me, a bossy and interfering carouser? Or are your a bit more sedate and ladylike?”

Harriet Smith (Tony Collette) patiently poses for Emma

Vic: “Sedate. A total Harriet Smith,” LA replied. Many years ago a dear Janeite friend tagged her as a Harriet to her Emma. “It seemed appropriate since I was often asking for advice and was very mailable to change.” In her view, Harriet was a bit of a ditz and gullible which she has been accused of too. The thing she liked about being a Harriet is that Austen gave her such a great ending. She is resilient, and after being tossed about in love no less than three times in a year, Harriet gets the man she wanted in the first place and proves Emma, with her self-important airs, was totally clueless about the human heart. “I like having the last laugh, and being right.” ;-)

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Lately LA thinks she has evolved into Sir John Middleton from Sense and Sensibility. He was the Dashwood’s cousin and landlord of Barton Cottage. He is very gracious and likes to pop in and make sure his tenants are comfortable and entertained. He is a bit of a bore and talks too much about things that are not of interest to his young companions, but he likes dogs, has a good heart and loves to laugh. “As an enthusiastic bookseller, I like to inform customers of their choices and make suggestions. I am also a bit of an organizer and enjoy planning events on my blog, and orchestrating the 23 authors in my anthology. It is like herding cats, but I like being the boss of my own world!”

One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best. Persuasion, Ch 13

Now our question. Which Jane Austen character do you, estimable viewer, most identify with, or which character are you afraid of becoming? Feel free to leave your comments!

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Inquiring readers: In March I learned from David Cordess that he had created a blog, Following Jane. The blog would be his journal as he read all of Jane Austen’s books in six months. David has completed Northanger Abbey and is now reading Sense and Sensibility.

Here are a few of his observations about NA (going backward):

I finished Northanger Abbey and can honestly say that I’ve discovered the depth and range of the female perspective. Jane sure does know how to encompass and present readers with a quality character. Perhaps that’s why she’s so loved…. Because readers can connect to her characters.

It was interesting to follow along in a story to a female’s perspective. The complexity of how she processes her life, love, and relationships was fascinating to read from a limited, almost 1st person, point of view

I never thought that I’d be romancing my wife and thinking about the validity of my relationships when I opened to page 1 of NA.

Austen has such a way of influencing, enticing, and inviting readers into this authentic and perspective world of society and life. Anyway… those are my thoughts for now.

Once Isabella breaks up w/ James, Catherine comes alive. I can see how pieces of the puzzle begin to connect and how her character makes a drastic leap forward in decisions, relationships, and truth of her own emotions and feelings. A woman coming into her own… Thanks Jane for finally giving your protagonist worth and validity.

Enough quotations from his blog . To actually read David’s progress, go to his website and follow him as he Follows Jane. I also want to share a wonderful comment left on my March post by a Dutchman named Henk (Henk actually left two comments – thank you):

The first four months of this year were dedicated entirely to Jane Austen. I finished with reading P&P a few weeks ago.
The first week of May we introduced good friends of us to England, by camping in the New Forest.
I had made clear before, that one day would be for me, to visit the Jane Austen House in Chawton and the cathedral in Winchester.

Standing at her grave 8 years ago put me on the feminine side of reading, and opened many windows for me, never to be closed again.

They went with us, including their two daughters, 18 and 20.
They were really interested, and because the oldest girl had expressed her recent interest in English reading, I bought P&P for her. ( The book ).

All this was not without emotion, I dare say.

I am 56, and have three sisters a bit older than me.
Somehow the presence of Jane was all around in the house, and how nice it would have been to make a cup of tea for Jane, while she was writing, or walk with her to the kitchen to talk while doing some cooking. The things that brothers do with sisters on the few occasions they meet each other.
I might have a spell till Fall doing other things not JA-related.
But one does not keep a Lady ( Susan ) waiting too long.

Other posts on this topic

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fifth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. Herewith are her impressions of Country Dancing, her interview with Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at the Jane Austen House Museum, and her chat with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College

I’m officially six months in to this project and, lately, many things have happened to move me forward, as well as set me back due to my own occasional tendency towards doubt that got the best of me!

The most exciting was a correspondence with Rebecca Smith, writer-in-residence at the Jane Austen House Museum. Ms. Smith is the great, great, great, great, great niece of Jane Austen and is installed there for six months (until May 2010) working on a novel (she has already written two, which can be found on Amazon).

In response to my question, “How has being in Jane Austen’s house affected your writing and your feelings about yourself as a writer?” Ms. Smith writes:

“Well, I think the first thing I have noticed is how 200 years now seems to be such a short time, and I think this has changed the way I feel about everything.
If 200 years isn’t so long, the past and its people are more present, and less seems to be lost. I find this comforting. One of the odd and lovely things about being here is that some of the objects in the Museum are things that were once owned by my great aunts. For instance, a box that was carved by Jane’s brother, Francis, was, until not that long ago, something that my Aunt Diana kept cereal box and cracker toys in for the amusement of visiting children; and some of the smaller portraits I recognize as having once hung on their walls. I only had vague ideas of who these various Austens were when I was growing up – I probably wasn’t paying attention – but here they are now. It is as though I am following them round and we have all ended up where we should be. I do have this feeling – probably quite misplaced – of coming home. And this is ridiculous – why should I pay more attention to this branch of my family tree than any others? I have some really interesting Scottish ancestors too, including a captain who was shipwrecked on an island and was rescued to tell the tale. I had an Indian grandmother who died when my father was tiny – we know close to nothing about her. These stories are what I’m interested in writing about at the moment. It will be fiction, but the novel I’m trying to finish follows the story of five generations of a family from Hampshire to Canada and India and back again. I’m only going as far back as the Edwardians and the novel isn’t to do with Jane Austen.
I’m interested in ideas about home and belonging (and not belonging). But I can see that it is rather convenient of me to feel the pull of Jane Austen’s cottage in Chawton, which happens to be gorgeous and only 27 miles from where I live, rather than the houses in Scotland or India or Canada or the north of England where other ancestors dwelt.”

The title of the novel she is working on is tentatively called The Home Museum, which sounds welcoming and intriguing all at the same time. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to write in the same house in which one’s ancestor wrote so brilliantly. There’s a longer answer to other questions on my website.

I also hosted an English Country Dancing lesson that took place at the end of January in the ballroom of the Baltimore Hostel, a renovated 19th Century home in downtown Baltimore. There are pictures on my website of the room and the dance in progress. We had a wonderful professional, English, caller, Mr. Michael Barrelclough, who taught us five dances. We had eighteen people and by the end of the second dance, I could look down the set and see everyone becoming more comfortable and familiar with the style of English Country Dancing and the steps.

English Country Dancing, Emma with Kate Beckinsale

We still stumbled and Michael led us through some sections several times until we got it, and we laughed and laughed. It was one of the happiest evenings, and I felt so much more confident about my ability to remember steps and understand the calls. I worried less about messing up and just had a marvelous time. There’s something about these dances that is both down-to-earth and elegant and you feel both giddy and graceful at the same time. Everyone wants to have another dance so, we shall!

I’d like to say I’ve made progress on the dating ‘the Jane Austen way,’ but I have not. December – February is my busiest time of year at the arts council and I’m barely keeping my head above water – or should I say snow? The back-to-back snowstorms in the last few weeks set me back quite a bit and rescheduling meetings and Poetry Out Loud competitions completely took over.

There’s also the cost. I’m a state employee and due to our mess of a budget, state employees are required to take 8 furlough days, which is shredding my paycheck. I can’t afford a $30 or more fee for online dating services every month. Maybe in a few months, once the fiscal year ends and we, hopefully, have a balanced budget (or I have a decent tax return!).

In the meantime, I will do what practicing I can at any events I attend, of which there are many when one works in the arts!

Most recently I sat down with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College this year. Dr. Wells teaches at Manhattanville College in New York and was here for a week to give a talk, meet with faculty and students, and do research in Goucher’s Austen collection, donated in 1975 by alum Alberta Hirshheimer Burke (1928) at the time of her death. This nationally-recognized collection consists of Austen first editions, rare period publications related to the life and landscape of rural England, and Alberta Burke’s own notebooks of Austen-related memorabilia and correspondence with Austen collectors and scholars. The Burkes also donated letters to The Morgan Library in New York, where the current Austen exhbit is taking place.

A little trivia: apparently, her husband, Henry Burke, cofounded JASNA with Joan Austen-Leigh and J. David Gray just a few years later in 1979, so the first 25 years of JASNA’s archives are also housed at Goucher.

Dr. Wells was interested in, and supportive of, the project, and I’ll be posting more info about our meeting soon, along with a picture and a podcast of her talk at Goucher. She is writing a book called Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, and is exploring how Austen has been appropriated and absorbed by popular culture through film, television, and books. She completed a fellowship at the Chawton House Library last summer.

You can read one of her articles in Persuasion at this link.

and find a link to an interview on Penguin Classics On Air at my website. She was the editor of the recent electronic version of Pride and Prejudice published by Penguin Classics, that includes all sorts of wonderful extras about fashion, architecture, dancing, and etiquette.

You can also read about the mini-crisis I had about this project, mostly because people began asking me about whether or not I wanted a book deal and if so, what was the purpose of the project, and I realized I didn’t have a thesis and did I want a book deal like Lori Smith was angling for when she had her blog that turned into A Walk With Jane Austen ?!?!?!

Deep breath!

So then I became very overwhelmed and lost sight of the joys and the basics of what I was doing. I realized I did need to figure out the purpose of the project for myself, and let the rest fall where it may.

This led me to an examination of character through the unlikely source of Pamela Aidan’s trilogy Fitzwilliam Darcy, A Gentleman which was the only reading I could manage during the storms. It’s both cozy and anxiety-provoking to be caught in snowstorms, knowing you’re missing all your commitments and how much catch up there will be….Plus I had a dead battery and every day I left the car at the dealership they seemed to find something else wrong with the it!

But back to my crisis. Did I figure out that darned purpose? I did, with Dr. Wells’ indirect help.

Next weekend I’m off to NYC to visit The Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit.” Some friends are going and we’re taking a video camera, so watch out!

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The exhibit, A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy, will be shown through March 14, 2010 at the Morgan Library in New York City. This week I had the distinct pleasure of seeing this unique presentation of Jane’s letters, the drafts of two of her novels (The Watsons and Lady Susan), several books, and images and cartoons of the Regency era.

I had taken a number of shots with my flip camera before a museum guard advised me that I could not take pictures. (Since it was possible to take pictures to my heart’s delight in The Louvre, it did not cross my mind that I could not do so at the Morgan Library). Interestingly, I had already taken numerous shots in full view of everyone before the guard stopped me.

The room is small; the riches contained within it are immeasurable

The actual exhibition area is contained within a small room, but there are so many letters and items of interest that I could have spent the entire day inside that space. Jane’s Life and Legacy were divided into three sections – her life and personal letters, her works, and her legacy. Over the next few weeks I shall write about my impressions from that exhibit, tying in other links and posts.

Entrance to new wing from Madison Ave

If you are not familiar with the Morgan Library and Museum, some information about its history might be of interest:

Interior of the new wing

A complex of buildings in the heart of New York City, The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. Today it is a museum, independent research library, musical venue, architectural landmark, and historic site. More than a century after its founding, the Morgan maintains a unique position in the cultural life of New York City and is considered one of its greatest treasures. With the 2006 reopening of its newly renovated campus, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, the Morgan reaffirmed its role as an important repository for the history, art, and literature of Western civilization from 4000 B.C. to the twenty-first century. – Press Release information

Original entrance

The following links might also interest you:

 

Vaulted Ceiling

Happy New Year, All!

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I had just about given up on reading advance copies of Jane Austen sequels, prequels, and mash-ups, when A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson and published by Random House, arrived in my mailbox. A sigh of relief swept over me as I opened the mailer and saw that I had received a serious book about Jane Austen’s body of work – I would not be subjected to reading another mash-up of vampires and zombies, or a sequel with Mr & Mrs Darcy making babies.

I prefer to read literary appraisals written by professional writers. They often express their thoughts about other writers more clearly than academics, whose use of lofty terms, elaborate theories, and learned analysis in their critiques tends to befuddle all but a handful of their colleagues and students. Except for her own essay, editor Susannah Carson (a doctoral candidate) takes a back seat to Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Alain de Botton, Jay McInerney, Anna Quindlen, and Eudora Welty. Esteemed literary critic, Harold Bloom, wrote the foreword. As I read this new book, my gratitude towards these eloquent writers grew.

L-R: Alain de Botton, Anna Quinlan, Harold Bloom, Eudora Welty, E.M.Forster, and Virginia Woolf

Each of the book’s thirty-three essays gave me a new insight about Jane Austen’s novels. While I did not agree with every writer’s take on Jane’s work, I felt that I had been exposed to a variety of new ideas. I’m not sure Jane is quite the paragon of moral virtue as depicted by James Collins. Nor do her novels necessarily end happily ever after. (Witness the number of unsuccessful marriages in her books, and her newly engaged/married characters still have the majority of their lives to live.) Not all her mothers are awful, nor is Mr. Bennet an especially noteworthy father. Regardless of my disagreements, I felt after finishing the book that I had attended a two-day symposium in which bright literary minds discussed and debated my favorite author.

L-R: Benjamin Nugent, Amy Heckerling, C.S.Lewis, AS Byat, J.B. Priestley, & Margot Livesey

Ms. Carson chose essays from both classic and contemporary writers, all of whom are ardent admirers of Jane’s writing. Some essays are long, and some are short, a nice mix. I would have preferred to read essays from a few detractors as well, for unlimited admiration can sometimes seem treacly. Still, I was as thrilled with Eudora Welty’s observations on the “real secret of the six novels’already long life,” as with director Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of the movie “Clueless” from Emma. Amy Bloom, whose “Terrible Jane” was my favorite essay, asserted that Jane knew her own worth as a writer and that, far from being the mild and shy spinster her Victorian family tried to reinvent after her death, she was a witty, fallible, full-blooded, and clear-sighted woman who liked a good party, hated being poor, and was often unkind. (Cassandra did not quite succeed in cutting out all of Jane’s acerbic observations in her letters.)

In her introductory essay, Ms. Carson (r) asked the question: Why do we read Jane Austen? Why indeed? As I read the essays, I began to understand that above all, Jane Austen makes me smile, think and ponder, and reach eagerly for the next page. She created characters that I want to revisit over and over again. As I have aged and grown wiser (presumably), her novels revealed new layers of depth and insights that I had not noticed before. This book has enriched my enjoyment of Jane, and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. I give it three out of three Regency fans.

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