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Inquiring readers,

I’m pleased to formally announce my new Jane Austen’s World (JAW) partners, who will help me oversee this blog. Regular readers are already acquainted with the contributions of Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox. This month, I have formalized our association, inviting them to join me in contributing to a blog that has become too big for one person to manage. Thankfully, all three have agreed to come on board.

To celebrate this change, formal introductions are in order!

About Tony Grant, Contributor to JAW Since 2010

Inquiring readers, if you type Tony Grant into this blog’s search bar you’ll discover page upon page of his varied contributions to JAW, which include his breath taking photographs of Great Britain. Tony lives in London and has acted as a tour guide all over the South of England and London. Without him, I could not have kept this blog going during my father’s final illness from 2012 to 2014. Lately, he and I have been Zooming regularly with Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont. We three Austen-teers have become virtual bosom buddies.

Tony Grant is a retired teacher and writes a blog called London Calling. He has been writing articles about subjects that interest him for many years. Tony also writes articles about the world of Jane Austen. He has been published in the Jane Austen Society of Australia magazine, The Chronical, the Jane Austen in Vermont blog and in Jane Austen’s World. Tony is a literacy mentor for the Jane Austen Foundation that was founded by Jane Austen’s 5th great niece Caroline Knight. He is also a judge for the foundation’s short story writing competition and takes part in charity walks to raise money for the foundation’s literacy work in Africa, India and Australia.

Image of Tony Grant in 1978

Tony Grant in 1978

Image of Tony Grant in 2020

Tony Grant in 2020

Tony is a volunteer at The Museum of The Home in Shoreditch, north of the City of London. He takes tours of the 18th century almshouses and supports the curators in researching new exhibitions.

Tony became a qualified teacher in 1974. He obtained a Batchelor of Arts Honours degree in English literature from the Open University and a Masters degree in Museums and Galleries in Education from the Institute of Education UCL.

He has been married to Marilyn, a fellow teacher, for 38 years. They have four children: Sam, Alice, Emily and Abigail and one granddaughter, Emma.

So how did Tony get interested in Jane Austen? He was born and brought up in Southampton. His grandmother often took him into town as a youngster. They would go to the Tudor House Museum. Tony has always loved museums. As they walked through Castle Square she invariably said, as they passed the Juniper Berry pub, ”That’s the site of the house where Jane Austen lived.” – Tony

About Rachel Dodge, Contributor to JAW Since 2017

Rachel is another savior of this blog. Around the time that my mother became ill and when my work commitments increased significantly, Rachel noticed an alarming drop in JAW blog posts. She introduced herself and asked if she could submit posts. Upon reading the quality of her writing, I encouraged her to submit anything she wanted as often as she could. Much to my delight, Rachel took me up on the offer! Rachel is super busy these days overseeing online courses and teaching her children from home. I’m amazed that she finds time to write for JAW and work on a second book!

Rachel Dodge, Versailles, 1998

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Serbourne Park

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Sherbourne Park

Rachel Dodge teaches college writing classes and Jane Austen seminars, speaks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (2020).

Rachel is a graduate of the University of Southern California (B.A. in English and public relations) and California State University, Sacramento (M.A. in English literature). She wrote her master’s thesis on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and won the 2005 Dominic J. Bazzanella Literary Award for her paper on Elizabeth Bennet. She was the featured speaker at the Sacramento Library’s How Austentatious! series, the Notable Books series, and the 2014 Jane Austen Birthday Tea. Rachel’s writing has been featured in Jane Austen’s World, Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, Jane Austen in Vermont, and others. You can visit her at www.racheldodge.com

Rachel’s a great supporter of Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM), the Chawton House Library, and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. She’s visited numerous Austen historic sites on research trips. Her favorite trip so far: When she had the great honor of signing copies of Praying with Jane at Jane Austen’s House! – Rachel

About Brenda Cox, Contributor to JAW Since 2019 

Rachel Dodge introduced me to Brenda at the JASNA GMA in Williamsburg last October. By then, Brenda had written a number of articles for JAW. Her style is as clear and lovely as Rachel’s, and their articles elevated my blog to another level. Brenda travels extensively and is at present busy packing for yet another trip. She still found time to send her bio. Brenda’s educational and employment background puts my erratic bio to shame, and so I feel triply blessed to include her contributions along with Rachel’s and Tony’s.

Image of Brenda Cox in High School

Brenda Cox in High School

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen for many years. She is fascinated by the history of Austen’s time and the nuances of Austen’s books. Brenda has been doing extensive research in two areas: the church of Austen’s day, and science of Austen’s day. She would love to answer any questions you have about those topics. Brenda presented at JASNA’s AGM (national meeting) last year, and has had articles published in Persuasions On-Line. Her current project, nearing completion, is a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can visit her at her blog, “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen,” and on Facebook.

Brenda loves learning, and appreciated the privilege of homeschooling her four children (now all adults) because she got to learn so much along with them. She also enjoys cross-stitching, and reading a wide range of books. She travels and works overseas, and values the beautiful variety of cultures and languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s in applied linguistics, and now spends much of her time writing. She looks forward to interacting with you all! – Brenda

About Vic Sanborn, JAW Founder and Administrator Since 2007

Please note: the three previous bios are written properly in the third person. Since I have never been regarded as proper (Jane would have a field day with that!), I wrote mine in the familiar “Me, Myself, and I.”

In my largely abandoned Twitter account I present myself as a Dutch character in a Jane Austen novel. That phrase describes me to a tee—a bit cheeky but reverential towards Jane Austen’s awesome talent. I was born in Jakarta Indonesia to Dutch colonial parents, lived in Den Haag, The Netherlands for six years, and emigrated to the U.S. at nine years of age with my family. As my parents said when we landed in vibrant, bustling New York city – we’ve finally found our home! When I was 14 years old, I received The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (a modern library giant edition) for Christmas, and thus my lifelong love affair with Austen began.

Image of Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

I am neither a scholar nor an academic. Rather, I describe myself as a jack-“ess” of all trades. My degrees in biology and art history, and minor in English literature attest to that claim. I also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art during summer months and evenings to study painting and drawing. My employment history is equally all over the map, having worked as an EKG technician on weekends during college; as a technician in Johns Hopkins and Harvard Research labs; as a watercolor artist who showed her increasingly larger works in local galleries and statewide exhibits; as a community relations/outreach director for a nonprofit literacy organization; as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) to coordinate a two-year consortium of Baptist Churches interested in starting adult literacy projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods; and as a literacy specialist for a statewide, university-based professional development organization that provided training to adult education and literacy program staff and teachers. My one constant was my love for Austen. I started Jane Austen’s World thirteen years ago—my longest ongoing “work” commitment—that is still going strong (thanks to JAW’s many readers and new blog partners).

I am particularly grateful to Margaret Sullivan (Austenblog), whose mention of my blog in 2007 drove visitors to JAW, and Laurel Ann Nattress (Austenprose), who invited me to join her in writing for PBS Masterpiece during the 2009 Jane Austen season. That association put both our blogs on the map. We have been e-friends ever since. (BTW, both L.A. and MAGS are also published book authors.)

I genuinely enjoy the company of Janeites and the people I’ve met through this blog and my association with JASNA local groups. Mostly, I love getting to know Austen better through study, research, and reading. The most interesting world in my mind is the one that contains anything Jane Austen! Join me for more Austen-related information on my Pinterest site and Facebook group at Jane Austen and Her Regency World. – Vic

So, gentle readers, please send a virtual clapping of hands and kudos to my new compatriots! I am excited about the next phase for JAW. To skew Bette Davis’s famous line, “Hang on to your seat belts, it’s going to be a fabulous ride!”

Inquiring readers, This fascinating post written by author Clyve Rose explains to film viewers who have not read Emma the short, confusing scene shown in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 film adaptation of Austen’s novel. Ms. Rose reviews the history of Gipsies or Gypsies in Regency England and Europe in general, and provides insights into why this nomadic group was shunned and feared.

Painting of a young gypsy woman by Karlis Teodors Huns, 1870.

Public domain image of a young Gypsy woman with a tambourine, painted by Kārlis Teodors Hūns, 1870. Wikimedia Commons.

In Chapter 39 of Austen’s Emma, we come upon a curious incident. Miss Harriet Smith (the pretty and ‘natural daughter’ of no-one-yet-knows), out walking with a companion, is accosted by a ‘group of gypsies’. This incident is curious for many readers, and for many reasons.

For modern readers who may not understand the fear and attendant danger of such an episode, it is worth remembering that merely associating with “such a set of people” was judged to be a crime in Regency England. From the 1500s onwards the Crown made several attempts to rid their green and pleasant land of these ‘other’ residents, including deporting them to the colonies and attempting to legislate them out of all existence. By Austen’s time, any conversation or ‘consorting’ with ‘gypsies’ was considered a criminal act for which one could be incarcerated — or worse. A case in 1782 saw a fourteen year old girl hanged for such acquaintance, on the orders of the local magistrate.

That Harriet Smith speaks to the ‘gypsies’, offers them money, and then pleads with them would have been enough to see her in trouble with the law. While the local Highbury magistrate (our hero, Mr Knightley) would be unlikely to order Harriet hanged (I doubt even Austen could redeem a hero who sentences his heroine’s ‘particular friend’ to the gallows), Miss Smith still, technically, commits a crime in this scene. Leaving aside the impact this moment has on the romantic machinations of Emma and her friends, it affords us a rare glimpse into a Regency England that is not often represented in contemporary works.

Austen’s England is a very specific place. A place inhabited only by the English themselves. It is very interesting that one of the few glimpses her readers ever receive of the scaffolding behind this construct, is in the novel where her heroine is labelled by the author herself as ‘an imaginist’ – because, of course, the ideal of a homogenous England is pure imagination: Especially as the empire was at its height at the time, both from a cultural and a mercantile perspective.

There are hints of a similar façade – and Austen’s awareness that this is a façade – in Mansfield Park as well. Sir Thomas Bertram’s references to the slave trade in Jamaica, and its importance as the mainstay of his wealth, is touched upon. He even suggests introducing some of his ‘stock’ at Mansfield Park, but this is not taken seriously. What happens in Jamaica must stay in Jamaica. England is only for the English, Sir Thomas!

The British Empire once spanned a quarter of the known world, but at no point were the native-born residents of these colonies truly deemed to be ‘English’. These antipodeans were not, after all, actually resident in England itself. At least, not most of them. What if the ‘non-English’ people were not ‘out there’ in the colonies? What if they did, in fact, live in England right alongside the Bertrams, the Woodhouses, the Knightleys – and even the Bennets?

Which brings me to the Romany of England: Their position in these narratives is unique; almost as unusual as their place in Regency England – because of course they had one. They lived, loved, and mattered in the same geographic spaces as Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith.

The fact is, this ‘England-only-for-the-English’ was peopled by another culture entirely. England was, and is, a shared land. Two cultures, so vastly different in so many ways, coexisted for centuries, and rarely peacefully. The English Romany were as present and alive and wonderfully romantic as the Regency English. Coming from a mostly oral tradition, Romany stories from that time are rarely found in print but that they were there, and experienced this period, and undoubtedly have stories to tell about it – is visible even in the work of authors determined to showcase only their ‘own England’ to their ‘own’ readers.

Austen’s England has the backing of every powerful institution of her day. In terms of crafting the dominant narrative, the English are able to draw on the Crown, the Military, the Law, and of course the Church, which played such a vital part in the lives and lovers of Regency England. Even Heaven sides with the English in Austen’s world view. Her father, let’s not forget, was a clergyman. In the incident ascribed above, Austen does not specifically accuse the ‘gypsies’ of being heathens, but they are clearly depicted as ‘other’; outside the town limits of Highbury itself and dark, terrifying, criminal, and dangerous. They certainly do not ‘fit’ in Austen’s England, and are quite unsatisfyingly removed from Emma’s tale as soon as they have served their rather meagre narrative purpose: “The Gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice: they took themselves off in a hurry.”

Or rather, the author moved them quickly off her bleached white pages and out of ‘her’ England – despite the truth that there were non-English people present in Austen’s England; other voices with their own perspectives and their own stories worth telling, and worth writing. Contemporary Regency writers can not erase these different voices from their tales, because these real people existed all around them, finding their way into these ‘English-only’ narratives with the same kind of side-eye once given to the Irishman and the Scot. The cultural difference between these latter still-European folk and the Romany is, however, far greater – which may account for the fact that their treatment at the hands of English Regency writers seems to have been far worse.

It is difficult to be born into a place that never allows you to become a part of it without a fight, a plea, an effort to assimilate and cut away the parts of you that discomfit the powerful dominant culture all around you. It is more than difficult; it is painful and damaging. The very term ‘marginalisation’ is an admission of the lack of narrative ‘space’ allotted to the voices fiction has chosen to leave unloved, and unnoticed.

The term ‘marginal’ itself bothers me. It is almost (but not quite) a pejorative, which is why I place it in single quotes. I have here done the same with the term ‘gypsy’. I am aware that neither term is universally regarded as harmful. Debates rage all over this, on may fronts. I am only one writer; one voice among many and I have no answers. That there is ongoing debate however, is encouraging.

For myself, born into a marginalised culture with a mostly oral tradition, the ‘minor’ incident in Emma stands out. After all, my own tribe has quite a bit in common with the Romany. There was once a link made between the Romany of Europe and the Lost Tribes of Israel. It turned out to be incorrect, but the placement of ‘other’ in an otherwise ‘native’ land is a context embedded into my lived experience every day – and that’s quite apart from the grim reality shared in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II; a shared history I am sure not even an imaginist like Austen – or Emma – could envisage. Its very surreality is what allows deniability to play so plausibly in the minds of those focused on the façade, rather than any kind of ‘real’ history.

Real history is profoundly unromantic – and yet, somehow, we still try. There is beauty in stories, in narratives of the tales about long-ago lovers and their imagined worlds. There is much solace to be found in story – I love re-reading Austen (although Emma is not my favourite of her works), but in between the wonder of her words, I find myself reading for traces. Traces of others who were there – and whose stories deserve to be told.

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, www.artphotobykira.com.au

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, http://www.artphotobykira.com.au

About Clyve Rose:

Clyve Rose has been writing historical romance fiction for the best part of two decades. Her newest work, Always a Princess, published by Boroughs Publishing Group, debuts this September. She works in the historical romance, fantasy, and speculative fiction genres. She also creates literary novels under an alternative pen name. In between her devotion to fiction writing, Clyve researches various mythologies and historical periods, often basing her characters on actual historical personalities.​

One of her novels was longlisted for a Hachette Development Award for Fiction while her paranormal short story, The One Below, won the Passionate Ink (RWA) award for best Speculative Fiction Short.

​Visit her online at:

Connect with Clyve Rose at ClyveRose.com and Instagram.com/ClyveRose, in which she writes “Clyve Rose is an award-winning Regency Romance author. New Regency release out on 8 Sept. 2020.”

Till this moment, I never knew myself.”–Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, quoted in 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen.

In these days of stress and anxiety, do you long for a few minutes of peaceful reflection each day? Take a 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen. Jane is an excellent travel companion!

Cover of the book 30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

Natasha Duquette has chosen thirty profound passages from Jane Austen. Most are from Austen’s novels; the last three are from her prayers.

Each daily passage is followed by an explanation, putting the passage in context and sometimes including connections to Austen’s life. Then a Reflection section connects the passage to our lives, giving us thoughts to chew on for that day.

The brief chapters in this book encouraged and inspired me each morning.

Highlights

Here are a few highlights that I appreciated:

Some reflections focus on our own hearts. On Day Two, Elinor Dashwood considers how “extravagance and vanity” have made Willoughby “cold-hearted and selfish” (Sense and Sensibility). Duquette points out that the Austen family themselves had to live economically, unlike some of Austen’s characters.

Natasha Duquette tells us that Elinor “realizes unthinking habits of luxury have led Willoughby to waste the valuable gifts placed in his hands. . . . Wasteful choices can interfere with true joy in our lives.”

The section concludes, “Focus on practices that build positive attachments to God, to human beings, and to other gifts in your life, rather than to material possessions. Think about how you might steward your resources wisely, hold them lightly, and express gratitude for them joyfully.”

A good reminder to live each day with thankfulness for what we have. We can experience joy today, whatever our circumstances, rather than wait for joy from what we might get in the future.

The Dashwoods teach us about peace as well as joy. On Day Three, volatile Marianne Dashwood “resolves to form habits that can lead to health and peace.” She intends to enjoy nature, reading, music, and her sister’s companionship. Could you find health and peace today in any of those ways?

Practical Suggestions

Some lessons are concrete. On Day Seven, Elizabeth Bennet reflects on Darcy’s letter as she walks for two hours. Duquette points out, “The classical philosopher Aristotle believed reason was sharpened by walking. Austen agreed.”

Image of Elizabeth and Darcy: After Elizabeth receives Darcy's letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

After Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

The Reflection section adds, “Such walking grounds us in reality. Often an answer to a problem will crystallize not as we are sitting statically before a computer screen but as we are physically moving somehow.” Duquette encourages us to “Reconsider a problem or challenging situation in your life as you exercise.”

Even in days of isolation, we need ways to exercise our bodies and give ourselves time to think. I walk up and down the hall of my small apartment for thirty minutes each day, thinking and praying. Others of you may have the opportunity to walk outside, as Elizabeth Bennet did, enjoying the outdoors as you consider whatever comes to mind.

Encouragement for Relationships

Day 10 is about our relationships. In Mansfield Park, Edmund finds his little cousin Fanny crying. He asks persistent questions and listens well, to console her. He then takes her outside, where she can be comforted by the beauties of nature. Duquette explains, “Edmund’s care for Fanny is pastoral, foreshadowing his eventual call into life as an Anglican priest.”

Jane Austen was sent away from home to study with Mrs. Cawley when she was only seven. So she knew how Fanny felt.

Duquette encourages us to notice people who are sad, and “then make time and space to listen to their story in a peaceful environment. You may be surprised at the effectiveness of such gentle attention.” Such deep connections, whether virtual or in person, can encourage you both.

 

Image of Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Spiritual Reflections

On Day 15, we think a bit about our mortality. Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park faced death, and because of that he became a better person. Duquette says, “Anglicans in Austen’s day would pray for a good death as part of their liturgy on a Sunday morning.” She encourages us to think about death, not fearfully, but to put our lives in perspective. We might consider, as Tom did, whether we are living for others as well as for ourselves.

The last three days, based on Austen’s prayers, focus more on our relationship with God. Day 30 encourages us to examine our own hearts, and look for ways to “reflect the infinite love of God to a hurting world deeply in need of mercy and grace.”

The 30-Day Journey Series: “Our Greatest Spiritual Thinkers”

30 Day Journey with Jane Austen is the newest addition to the 30-Day Journey series by Fortress Press. The publisher says:

“Enrich each day with wisdom from our greatest spiritual thinkers. Through brief daily readings and reflections, the 30-Day Journey series invites readers to be inspired and transformed. By devoting a moment to meaningful reflection and spiritual growth, readers will find deeper understanding of themselves and the world, one day at a time.”

I’m delighted, though a little surprised, to see Jane Austen join our “greatest spiritual thinkers”! The others in the series are Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day (Catholic social activist), Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and Emily Dickinson. Quite a varied lineup of thinkers.

I recommend 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen as a peaceful, encouraging way to begin each day. It will help you to reflect more deeply on important truths and how they might affect your life.

Links about the book:

About the blog post author:

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen” at brendascox.wordpress.com .

About Natasha Duquette:  For those who would like to know more about the author of 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen:

Dr. Natasha Duquette, Academic Dean and Professor of Literature, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, B.A., University of Alberta, M.A., University of Toronto, Ph.D., Queen’s University

Dr. Natasha Duquette is author of 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen (Fortress Press, 2020) and is currently serving as editor-in-chief for The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Romantic-Era Women’s Writing (Palgrave MacMillan), which is a collaborative project involving writers based in universities around the globe. She is also author of Veiled Intent (Pickwick, 2016), co-editor of Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony (Lehigh University Press, 2013), and editor of Sublimer Aspects: Interfaces between Literature, Aesthetics, and Theology (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). For the Chawton House Library series, she produced the first annotated, scholarly edition of Helen Maria Williams’s Julia, a novel interspersed with poetical pieces (Routledge, 2009).

Her articles have appeared in the journals PersuasionsPersuasions On-Line, English Studies in CanadaChristianity and LiteratureNotes and QueriesMosaic, and Women’s Writing. She has contributed essays to multiple collections, including Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010) and Art and Artifact in Austen (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Her research has been supported by fellowships from SSHRC, Chawton House, and Gladstone’s Library.

Dr. Duquette enjoys teaching courses on eighteenth-century satire, aesthetics, Jane Austen, African literature, and Indigenous writers of North America. Before coming to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, she taught full-time at the Royal Military College of Canada, Biola University in Southern California, and Tyndale University in Toronto, where she also served as Associate Dean of undergraduate studies for four years.

 

Inquiring readers: Today is the 203rd anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She lived from December 16th, 1775 to July 18, 1817, and managed to achieve more in 41 years than a majority of us in twice that time. My previous posts marking this occasion were somber. This one provides a more light hearted, science fictiony approach. The North American Friends of Chawton House sent a limited edition of Celebrity Jane, a bobblehead doll, after I made a contribution that qualified me for this gift. NAFCH challenges Celebrity Jane doll possessors to share photos of Bad Ass Jane, as I renamed her, in various locations in our lives. I chose home.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meeting her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

Bad Ass Jane meets her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

It was a dream. It must have been. I had been researching Jane Austen’s life in Steventon until I fell asleep. Then, when I awoke around 2 A.M., as I am wont to do, I saw a bad ass version of Jane Austen on my bookshelf, staring at a silhouette of herself. Only she wasn’t quite the spinsterish virgin that I knew and loved so well, Oh, no! She was Bad Ass! A Rocker Chick. A person who would have appealed to my rebellious younger self and my current, well, rebellious me.

She still wore her virginal cap, but from the neck down she wore a black tee, low rise jeans that bared her midriff, and leather boots! Best of all she carried a guitar. Regency Jane loved playing music every morning on her piano forte. Bad Ass Jane (BAJ) plays electric guitar at every opportunity. (How BAJ finds the time to write—heaven knows.)

I gruffed at this strange Jane, who wanted to discuss the books in my book shelf, most of which pertained to her life and history. I needed my beauty sleep and promised her a tour of my house and gardens the following morn, but she would have none of it. She desired my company NOW! Jane played a few tunes on her guitar, which woke me more efficiently than two cups of Moroccan coffee. She mesmerized me with her persistence, pluck, and talent.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meets Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

Bad Ass Jane visits Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

I pointed to a 5 foot tall doll house, in which my 7-year-old grand nieces played occasionally. “Here’s your family.” I gestured to the top floor of the house where two female adults and two children resided.

BAJ peered inside. “My family? They look strange and somehow not themselves. And the fashion! Oh, so revealing. Who are those children?”

“Dear Jane,” I said familiarly. “Recall that this is a dream and that this story is a mere figment of my imagination and the result of a host of wishes. Tom Fowle never died. He returned with Lord Craven from the West Indies healthy and hale and became the intended heir of a living in Shropshire. He and Cassy married and had two beautiful children. Your mama, Mrs. Austen, acquired a gorgeous necklace of pearls, brought back by Tom.”

Copy of Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

“How strange,” BAJ muttered. She wandered from the doll house to our ficus tree lit with fairy lights.

 

She then visited the wine corner. Recalling that she had a fondness for a tipple here and there, I offered a glass. Savoring the wine (a nice Australian Shiraz), we discussed her family, my family (our fathers, with their dry wit and extensive libraries had much in common), and our writing. She was better than me. Way. And more successful. Way. I felt humbled in her presence.

When BAJ learned about her enduring fame–the JASNA Societies, the JA groupies, the Austenesque novels and stories–her bobble head bobbled. “Goodness, I’m famous! Did I become rich?”

I shook my head sadly. “Not you, but Cassandra and your ancestors benefited most generously.”

When dawn broke, we walked into my back yard. BAJ played her guitar in the morning, much as she played her pianoforte before breakfast. I was mesmerized. It was time to greet the sun.

Image of Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

I pointed to my bird feeders, where my hungry hordes of wildlife shrieked for their breakfast: blue jays, red cardinals, musical wrens, and colorful goldfinches. The deer, chipmunks, and squirrels were silent but watchful. Their ferocious appetites challenged my meager resources weekly. All stood a respectful distance away as I filled tubs, tubes, platforms, and the ground.

An impatient BAJ wanted in on the action and hopped right on to the feeders. In an impeccable British accent, she asked, “Pray, where are they?”

birds-deer

The deer and their fawns and birds appeared as we stood still

“Gurl,” I said. “Your Bad Ass attitude must’ve scared them. Stay still and behold the magic.” Shy creatures appeared flock by flock and one by one from the forest within feet of us. BAJ noted with irony that the brown sparrows were as common in the U.K. as in my back yard.

We visited the flowers. “They’re nothing as fabulous as your English gardens,” I cautioned, and so we viewed several areas designed to be deer proof.

At the last, BAJ noticed a sign. “Pray, what is this?”

Image of BAJ posing with an American security sign

BAJ meets an American security sign

“The sign is for security,” I answered. “This deters burglars. We call in and help arrives within, well, whenever.”

She laughed and said, “Is not a dog more effective?,” and jumped into a West Highland Terrier planter.

Image of BAJ's Westie carriage

BAJ Westie carriage

I guffawed. Jennie, our Westie is all bark and no bite. Poof, my dream ended. Once again I missed the chance to ask BAJ the questions swirling in my head. I’d assumed that I had all the time in the world. Ah, well. The mystery that is Miss Jane Austen continues.

It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”—Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park

Picture 1 Clerical Alphabet for Blog Post

Richard Newton’s “A Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. Illustrations by Richard Newton; captions by Newton and publisher William Holland. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet” satirizes the English clergy of Austen’s time. You may be familiar with cartoonists, or caricaturists, of the eighteenth century like Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Some of Rowlandson’s cartoons are based on Richard Newton’s work. Newton’s popular cartoons mocked the “establishment,” including fashions, politicians, the king, and even the church. Newton lived only 21 years. He died of typhus in 1798, shortly after he drew a satirical series on death!

Jane Austen herself wrote satirically, though much more gently, of the clergy. We laugh with her at foolish Mr. Collins, presumptuous Mr. Elton, and gluttonous Dr. Grant. It seems, though, that they performed their jobs as ministers adequately. In Emma, Miss Nash has copied down all the texts (Bible passages) Mr. Elton preached from since he came to Highbury. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says Dr. Grant’s curate does much of his work. But at least Dr. Grant preaches good sermons, according to both Mary and Fanny Price.

Three of Jane Austen’s heroes, Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, and Henry Tilney are conscientious clergymen. Sense and Sensibility tells us of Edward’s “ready discharge of his duties in every particular,” meaning that he willingly and eagerly did all that a clergyman was supposed to do. Henry Tilney employs a curate to do his duties while he is at Bath and Northanger Abbey. But Henry faithfully attends parish meetings, and I think he would have done his duties well once he was full-time at Woodston.

What were the clergy (church ministers or pastors) really like in Austen’s England? Many were good men, serving God and their communities. Jane’s father and brothers and her cousin Edward Cooper were faithful clergymen.

Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, though, doesn’t think much of the clergy. “A clergyman is nothing,” she tells Edmund. Edmund and Fanny have much higher ideas of what the clergy can be, and should be.

Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” By “manners,” he explains that he means actions based on religious principles. He says the clergy have a huge influence on the people of their area.

Unfortunately, the church system in Austen’s day allowed anyone with a gentleman’s education and the right family and social connections to become a clergyman. Even an immoral man like Wickham could have been a clergyman, if he had not renounced his claim.

Newton’s cartoon shows us some of the major issues in Austen’s Church of England. Some of his clergymen are very fat and some are very thin. The church livings of Austen’s England were unevenly distributed. Some provided a high income, others a low income, and some were moderate. Let’s look in more detail at Newton’s criticisms of the Church of England in Jane Austen’s time, and how they connect to Austen’s novels.

Picture 2 Clerical Alphabet ABCDE

A, B, C, D, and E of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

The “Clerical Alphabet” begins:
A Was Archbishop with a red face,
B Was a Bishop who long’d for his place.
C Was a Curate, a poor Sans Culotte,
D Was a Dean who refus’d him a Coat
Even grudged him small beer to moisten his throat. (No picture for E, just a caption.)

A-B: In the Church of England, the king was the supreme authority of the church, and under him was the archbishop of Canterbury, then the archbishop of York. Each archbishop supervised a number of bishops, and the bishops supervised the more than 11,000 parish priests of England. Bishops and archbishops were wealthy men, with high incomes from the church. They were members of the House of Lords in Parliament. Mr. Collins says he is not worried that the archbishop or Lady Catherine will rebuke him for dancing. In reality, the archbishop would not know of Mr. Collins’s existence! Collins is exalting Lady Catherine by putting her at the same level as the highest church official.
C: Sans Culotte is French for “without pants” (more literally “without knee breeches”; the peasants wore long trousers instead of the knee breeches worn by upper classes). The “Sans Culotte” were the lower class French people who supported the French Revolution. In the English church, curates were the lowest rung of the clergy. Most lived on stipends of only £50 per year or less, barely enough for survival. They either assisted rectors and vicars, or led services in their place. In Persuasion, Mary Musgrove looks down on Charles Hayter as “nothing but a country curate.
D-E: A dean was another wealthy church leader, the head clergyman overseeing a major church. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Grant says they can move to London if someone commends “Dr. Grant to the deanery [the dean’s office] of Westminster or St. Paul’s.” Dr. Grant does get such a promotion at the end of the book. However, his gluttony kills him. No doubt this is Jane Austen’s own satire of wealthy clergymen!
Small beer was cheap beer with a low alcohol content. The church was not generous to the poor curates.

Picture 3 Clerical Alphabet FGHI

F, G, H, and I of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

F Was a Fellow of Brazen-Nose College
G Was a Graduate guileless of knowledge
H Was a high-flying Priest had a call!
I Was an Incumbent did nothing at all.

F: Brazen-Nose College is a pun on Brasenose College of Oxford University. Fellows were the senior members of a college, usually clergymen. This one enjoys his pipe and his wine.
G: The graduate, without knowledge, is likely a member of the highest social classes. The nobility and others with wealth could graduate from Oxford or Cambridge University simply by being there for a certain amount of time. Students who were not as rich had to write essays in Latin and take exams. Clergymen followed the same course of study as any other gentlemen, plus they had to show up for one course on theology. Edward Ferrars says he was “properly idle” at Oxford.
H: The clergy was considered an occupation at this time, not usually a calling from God.
I: Once a man had a church living (a post as rector or vicar of a parish), he was the incumbent. He held the living until he died. In old age, or if he moved elsewhere, he would hire a curate to perform his duties. Although Dr. Grant gets a post at Westminster and moves to London, he still has the income from the parish of Mansfield Park (he is still the incumbent) until he dies. Then Edmund can take that parish.
(At this time, I and J were considered to be the same letter. So there is no J in this alphabet. That is also why the Jane Austen sampler has an I but no J.)

Picture 4 Clerical Alphabet KLMN

K, L, M, and N of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

K Was King’s Chaplain as pompous as Dodd,
L Was a Lecturer dull as a clod.
M Was a Methodist Parson, stark mad!
N Was a NonCon and nearly as bad.

K: The king’s chaplain was the king’s personal priest for the Chapel Royal. William Dodd (1729-1777) was an extravagant clergyman who became chaplain to the King of England in 1763. To clear his debts, he forged a bond for £4200. He was convicted and hanged in 1777.
L: A lecturer was a preacher chosen and paid by the congregation who gave additional sermons (“lectures”) at a church, usually at afternoon or evening services.
M: The Methodists were part of the Church of England until around this time. They were known for their emotional enthusiasm and their focus on salvation by grace. Some Methodist preachers, including John Wesley, preached to large open-air meetings. According to Wesley’s Journal, listeners sometimes responded with “outcries, convulsions, visions, and trances.” More orthodox Anglicans considered this madness. When Edmund rebukes Mary Crawford, she ridicules him, saying, “when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists.” In the late 1700s, the Methodists separated from the Church of England and became Dissenters.
N: A NonCon was a Non-Conformist or Dissenter, a person who did not “conform” to the Church of England (or “dissented” from its statement of faith). These included Catholics, who faced major prejudices in Austen’s England. Baptists, Quakers, Independents, Unitarians, and others all fell into this category. They were usually from the middle and lower classes at this time. They could not get a degree from the universities, and were not supposed to hold public office. Mainstream Anglicans thought Nonconformists were enthusiasts (excessively emotional) like the Methodists.

Picture 5 Clerical Alphabet OPQ

O, P, and Q of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

O Was an Orator, stupid and sad.
P Was a Pluralist ever a-craving
Q A queer Parson at Pluralists raving!

O: An orator, as today, was a public speaker. In Mansfield Park, Edmund and Henry Crawford discuss how to best read the liturgy and preach in Church of England services. They agree that it was often done poorly. Edmund says that things have changed, and now, “It is felt that distinctness and energy may have weight in recommending the most solid truths.” Edmund is concerned with communicating truth. Henry, though, would like to speak well in order to be popular and admired.
P-Q: Pluralists held multiple church livings. They might live in one parish and serve as its minister and pay curates to serve the others, while they took most of the income from those parishes as well. They were not necessarily fat, though. Some livings were quite small and the clergyman needed a second one. Jane Austen’s father held two livings, at Steventon and Deane. They were close enough together that he could lead services at both churches on Sundays, and the income from each was low. Some pluralists, however, were extremely wealthy. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram says a clergyman should reside in his parish to set an example and care for the people of the parish. We don’t know what Edmund did once he had two parishes to care for, at Mansfield Park and Thornton Lacey.

Picture 6 Clerical Alphabet RSTU

R, S, T, and U of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

R Was a Rector at Pray’rs went to sleep
S Was his Shepherd who fleec’d all his sheep.
T Was a Tutor, a dull Pedagogue
U Was an Usher delighted to flog.

R: Mr. Collins was quite proud of being a rector. The rector received all the tithes from the parish; a vicar like Mr. Elton only received a portion of the tithes.
S: This is a play on words. The clergyman was to be a shepherd, caring for his parishioners, his flock. However, he also had to collect tithes from them: one-tenth of their farm income, including crops, the young of animals, and even eggs from their poultry.
T: At Oxford, each student had a tutor responsible for his education. The tutor gave assignments and lectured. A pedagogue is a teacher, especially a pompous or strict one.
U: An usher was an assistant to a schoolmaster. Schools were often run by clergymen. Flogging, or whipping, was a common punishment.

Picture 7 Clerical Alphabet V-Z

V, W, X, Y, and Z of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

V Was a Vicar who smok’d and drank grog.
W Was a wretched Welch Parson in rags.
X Stands for Tenths or for Tythes in the bags.
Y Was a young Priest the butt of Lay Wags.
Z Is a letter most people call Izzard
And I think what I’ve said will stick in their gizzard. (No picture for Z.)

V: A vicar, like Mr. Elton, was a clergyman who only got about a quarter of the tithes for the parish; someone else, often the squire, received the rest. Drunkenness was a widespread issue in Austen’s England. Grog was an alcoholic drink, usually rum and water. It was usually associated with sailors.

W: The church in Wales was poor compared to the church in England.

X: The clergy’s main income came from tithes, collected from farmers in the parish (see S). People of the parish were legally required to pay tithes to the clergyman, even if they were Dissenters. This sometimes caused friction between clergymen and the people of the parish.

Y: Laymen, who were not clergy, made fun of this priest. Johnson’s Dictionary says a wag is anyone “ludicrously mischievous.” The cartoonist Newton himself was apparently one of these “lay wags” making fun of priests.

Z: Izzard is a dialectal word for z, first recorded about 1726. Newton wasn’t afraid to irritate his readers.

Do any of these clergymen remind you of characters in Austen’s novels? I think Dr. Grant might have become the fat dean if he had lived long enough. Mr. Collins might end up as the dozing rector. And Collins wanted to be a pluralist; he hoped for more livings from Lady Catherine.

This was obviously an exaggerated picture of the church in Austen’s England. Because of such clergymen who abused their positions, though, many people like Mary Crawford thought poorly of the church and the clergy. The cartoon points out some of the issues that later generations would correct.

About the author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

The British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG40122 offers brief information about Newton and a link to Newton’s many caricatures held by the British Museum. For more about Richard Newton and his life and cartoons, see Lambiek.

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). BRLSI is a respected non profit organization set up 200 years ago as a centre for Enlightenment ideas and intellectual discussion in Bath, England (where Jane Austen lived!).
The Institute is having a virtual lecture this Saturday July 4th at 7.30pm British time (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST) with Dr. Georgina Newton regarding Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today.
Cost of this virtual lecture is just two pounds to get a ticket (2.50 USD) – and it is all online, so you can join in from wherever. The money raised will go towards the upkeep and preservation of the society. Click on this link to reserve your virtual spot.
From the BRLSI website :
Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today (LIVE ONLINE LECTURE)
Jane Austen’s novels typically conjure images of love, romance and femininity. But her acute observations on how society treated women in relation to equality, financial independence and opportunity reveal a mind strikingly in step with feminist thinking in the 21st Century.
In this special talk for the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Dr Georgina Newton examines how the hopes and concerns of today’s young women compare with those of Jane Austen’s era and how the author of Pride and Prejudice has much to say to modern readers.
SATURDAY JULY 4TH, 7.30pm GMT (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST).

 

“after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some curious water-plant, . . .” –Pride and Prejudice, chapter 43; Elizabeth Bennet, the Gardiners, and Mr. Darcy do a bit of “botanizing” during their walk at Pemberley.

On May 30 and 31, 2020, Chawton House hosted a refreshing Virtual Garden Festival. If you missed it, you can still watch most of it online. You can virtually tour the beautiful Chawton House Gardens with Chawton House volunteer Yvette Carpenter or walk the Jane Austen Garden Trail with Clio O’Sullivan. An intriguing section of the gardens highlights a pioneering woman botanist of the eighteenth century. She lived in an era when science was the nearly-exclusive province of men.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herbal Garden

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is inside the Walled Garden built by Edward Knight. In Jane Austen’s letter of July 3-6, 1813, she wrote from her home, Chawton Cottage, that her brother Edward Knight was enjoying his property at nearby Chawton House. She said, “He talks of making a new Garden . . . at the top of the Lawn behind his own house—We like to have him proving & strengthening his attachment to the place by making it better.” The garden Edward built (which was finished after Austen’s death) has been restored, and the Herb Garden was added in 2016. 

Each section of the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is planted with medicinal herbs that were used to treat different parts of the body. For example, the Chest Bed includes herbs used to treat ailments of a person’s chest, such as coughs. The other sections are Head Beds, Digestion Beds, and Skin Beds. Carpenter tells us that many of these medicinal herbs, such as rosemary, were also used in cooking. Others have -wort as part of their names, indicating they were used for healing. For example, doctors today still recommend the use of St. John’s Wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. In the 1700s, Blackwell said it was used against “melancholy and madness.” Other herbs, as the narrator points out, sound magical, like the dragon tree, snakeweed, and mandrake.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, Lady Botanist

The plants in this garden are described in a book owned by the Chawton House Library. A Curious Herbal (1737-9), by Elizabeth Blackwell, is said to be the first herbal produced by a woman. It was also far superior to other herbals available at the time. An “herbal” was a book of plants used as medicines. Blackwell drew and colored 500 meticulously-detailed color plates, each of a different plant, with its flower, seeds, and fruit. Along with each plate is the name of the plant in various languages, a description of it, and how it was used medically. The British Library shows 42 pages of A Curious Herbal online, with summarized information about 38 of the plants. (The Biodiversity Heritage Library offers a complete scanned version.)

Amanda Edmiston, an herbalist and professional storyteller, tells Elizabeth Blackwell’s story. According to Edmiston, Elizabeth was born around 1707 in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Elizabeth eloped with a physician named Alexander Blackwell. His medical credentials were called into question, so they fled to London and she set him up in a printing business. (In Scotland, unlike England, women kept their own property after marriage, so she had the money to do this.) Unfortunately, Alexander was also not qualified to be a printer. He got deep into debt, and ended up in debtor’s prison. Elizabeth, penniless, stayed loyal to her husband, and looked for a way to support herself and their young son, and to pay off his debts. 

Elizabeth Blackwell came up with a plan as she and her son enjoyed the Chelsea Physic Garden. Physic meant medical; the plants in this garden were used to treat illnesses. It was filled with exotic plants. Sir Hans Sloane, a respected doctor and renowned naturalist, had collected the plants on his botanical journeys around the world. Many, including cocoa, came from the Americas. Elizabeth became friends with Sir Hans, as well as with the director and the head gardener of the Physic Garden. They supported her idea of creating a whole new herbal, including both native and imported plants. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, who rented the garden from Sir Hans Sloane, also officially approved her project. This support was crucial, since otherwise the scientific work of Blackwell, a woman, would probably not have been accepted and respected. 

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Even after Blackwell’s achievement, women botanists of the 1760s had to disguise themselves as men to study plants. In the 1790s, a clergyman wrote that it was “unseemly” for girls to study botany. But with the approval of medical and botanical experts, Elizabeth had been able to publish her groundbreaking Curious Herbal

A Curious Herbal

Before this time, most plants in herbals were not drawn from life. For example, mandrakes were often drawn with the root in the shape of an actual man and were said to scream as they were uprooted (as Harry Potter experiences in his magical herbology classes!). Elizabeth Blackwell, however, drew all 500 plants directly from real plants, some from the Physic Garden and others from other collections in Europe. Her illustrations were thus completely accurate. They can still be used today to clearly identify plants. 

It was said that her husband Alexander wrote the text of the book while he was in prison. Edmiston speculates that it’s more likely that Elizabeth did the writing herself. She had access to experts and to a library including texts that she often references. The idea that Alexander, a male physician, had written the text was probably a fiction to make the book more acceptable.

Elizabeth Blackwell published a section of the herbal with four plants every week, from 1737 to 1739 (about forty years before Jane Austen’s birth). Serial publication made her knowledge available and affordable for many, as well as giving her a regular income. The book did well and raised enough money for her to pay her husband’s debts and get him out of prison. However, he then took a job in Sweden. He got caught up in a plot there to overthrow the king and was executed, just as his wife was about to travel to join him. So Elizabeth and her son were on their own again; we don’t know much about the rest of her life.

 

 

 

In Edmiston’s further videos, she tells stories about many of the plants in Blackwell’s herbal. In Afternoon Tea with the Curious Herbal, we learn about cucumbers, tomatoes, green tea, chocolate, and coffee. Part 3, A Walk Through a Garden, includes stories about rosemary, St. John’s wort, lavender, yarrow, sage, and lemon balm. Take a look!

Other Lady Botanists

Blackwell was not the only woman botanist who published about plants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In “The Women Who Wrote Plants,” Katie Childs introduces us to other women whose books on botany are in the Chawton House Library. 

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

My favorite title is The Wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Mary Roberts, published in 1822. The “wonders” are described in a series of letters; perhaps imitating the approach of the famous naturalist Gilbert White. (Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne in 1789 was a groundbreaking book on the natural world and ecology. You can visit his house, which is now a fascinating museum, just a short drive from Jane Austen’s house at Chawton.) Roberts also wrote A Popular History of the Mollusca, with 18 color plates showing varieties of seashells and the creatures that live in them. It doesn’t sound like a “popular” subject, but perhaps it was in her day!

While women were not expected to write adult books on botany during Austen’s lifetime, it was fine for them to write botany textbooks for children’s education. These are quite detailed, like adult books. Priscilla Wakefield’s text for children, Introduction to Botany, was published in 1796. She wrote it as a series of letters, with color illustrations. In Katie Childs’ presentation, she tells us that Wakefield was a Quaker social reformer who started a maternity hospital. Elizabeth Fry, the famous Quaker prison reformer, was Wakefield’s niece.

Cover of An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection.

An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection. 

Botany did become a fashionable pursuit for elegant ladies. Botanical Rambles (1826), by Lucy Sarah Atkins, is subtitled, “Designed as an Early and Familiar Introduction to the Elegant and Pleasing Study of Botany.” The ability to draw plants accurately became an “accomplishment” ladies aspired to. Books were written specifically on how to draw plants, including information about the plants themselves. Watch Ms. Childs’ talk for more about early female botanical writers, and to see illustrations from their books.

Beatrix Potter, Expert on Fungi!

Speaking of discrimination against women in science, especially in botany: Much later, in 1897, a paper on fungi by Beatrix Potter (yes, the author of Peter Rabbit) was presented at the Linnaean Society in London. However, since she was a woman, she was not allowed to present, or even to attend the meeting. Her paper, presented by her uncle, was not taken seriously since it was written by a woman. Today, though, Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of various fungi are used around the world to identify species of mushrooms.

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books. ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books, ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215.

Highlight of the Festival: Gardens in Jane Austen

On Sunday, the Garden Festival offered some presentations specifically for gardeners, so if gardening is one of your passions, you may want to check those out.

For Jane Austen lovers like me, though, the highlight of the festival was “Love in the Shrubbery: Gardens in Jane Austen’s Life and Works.” Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, finished out the festival with this charming presentation. In it, she shows us gardens Austen knew. She also explains and illustrates those terms like shrubbery and wilderness, describing places where Austen’s ladies and gentlemen walk. Did you know that shrubberies had paths made of gravel to keep the ladies’ feet dry, since wet feet were considered potentially fatal? (Think of Marianne Dashwood, sitting in wet shoes and stockings before her near-fatal illness.) If you only have time to watch one video from the Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival, I recommend this delightful 28-minute presentation.

I also joined in an engaging creative writing workshop led by Claire Thurlow, “A Garden Writing Retreat.” Claire encouraged the participants to imagine ourselves in our own special gardens as we write. While that workshop is not available online, you might use Kim Wilson’s talk, or any of the virtual garden tours from the festival, to enjoy time in a virtual garden today. I hope it will refresh your soul.

Note for anyone who might be wondering: There was also a later Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman to graduate in medicine in the United States, in 1849. Both Blackwells were pioneering women in the medical field of their times.

A Word About the Author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on “Faith, Science, Joy, . . . and Jane Austen!” at brendascox.wordpress.com . Under the category “Science” at her site, you will find other articles on science in Jane Austen’s England, including women of science like Caroline Herschel and Mary Anning.

Quote from Austen’s letters is from p. 224 of Deirdre Le Faye’s fourth edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Links embedded in the article:

 

 

Last summer I received an uncorrected manuscript of The Jane Austen Society to read with a request for feedback and any thoughts I had before a final printing. (I assume many other readers also received this request.) Natalie Jenner’s name was not on the cover. Not wanting to be influenced by preconceived notions, I read the MS before seeking the author’s name. Once I realized that the story is purely fictional (peppered with historical facts), I stopped comparing it to the founding of the real Jane Austen Society in the United Kingdom in 1940.

 

 

The tale is, in fact, a lovely story—a fairy tale—about a group of people who have very little in common except their love for Jane Austen’s novels. It is a perfect summer read that transported me to Chawton and to a different age and time. Natalie Jenner, in her first published novel, gave herself a difficult assignment: to write about pre- and post-World War II England, to incorporate history and knowledge of the customs of the time, place and setting, and to make the intricacies of estate law and wills understandable without bogging down the story’s pace. She also added complexities to her characters’ motivation and insights that sets the tale apart from Austen fan fiction.

About the Plot:

Aside from their love for Austen’s novels, the primary characters have another thing in common—pain and loss in one form or another. At the start of the book, they are facing their demons in isolation. Some are more successful than others in finding a way forward in life, but all are struggling until they join in a common effort to found The Jane Austen Society. This bond begins a healing process for them all.

Jenner sets up the potential for this bond early in the book, where through the thoughts of Adam Berwick, a young farmer who reads Austen, he thinks about why her novels hold so much meaning in his life:

Adam loved being in this world, transported, where people were honest with each other, but also sincerely cared for each other, no matter their rank. Where the Miss Bateses of the world would always have a family to dine with, and the Harvilles would take in the grief-stricken Captain Benwick…and even the imperious and insensitive Bertrams would give Fanny Price a roof above her head. And the letters people sent—long, regular missives designed to keep people as close to one’s heart and thoughts as possible…” (p.98)

Adeline Lewis, who, as a newlywed, loses her husband at the end of WWII, and experiences yet another loss less than a year later, is in profound pain. In this passage she is haunted by her spouse’s last moments:

She pictured him in his bomber plane, the gauges rattling before him…and the intensity and the detachment that he would have brought to this one terrifying moment. He would have given his all, even though the effort didn’t matter—you were just a speck on someone else’s gauge, a tightrope walk across an abyss, an entire human life balanced on the point of a needle.

Now she was on the point of the needle too…if she kept this up and fell off and into the abyss, she might pull herself out one day—but she also might not.” (p. 101)

As a school teacher in Chawton, Adeline introduces young pupils, including Evie Stone, to a challenging choice of reading materials and class discussions which were more sophisticated than the village authorities liked. The books included Jane Austen novels, as well as writings by Mary Wollstonecraft. Evie dropped out of school at fourteen to supplement her family’s income as a house maid in Chawton House. There she encountered the richness of the Knight family library—over 2,000 volumes, many of them original editions. Sleeping only 4 hours a night, the young girl catalogues every book in the collection after work hours. We Austen fans know that a house maid’s daily duties are grueling, even with the kindest mistress. At this point I suspended disbelief and the fairy tale quality that I mentioned in the second paragraph of this review kicked in. Jenner’s writing style is so lovely that I kept going, for Evie’s trajectory, which is fun to follow, is important in moving the plot forward.

As with many reviewers, I won’t give the rest of the plot away. Jenner adopts Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which allows us to get in the minds of the narrator and characters. This technique is not as easy as it seems, but as a new author she switches between characters and narrators seamlessly and superbly IMHO.

The group’s discussions and thoughts about Austen’s novels are among the most rewarding passages in the book and provide the details that Austen fans crave. Take this exchange between Adam, the farmer, and Adeline, sitting in her window seat surrounded by books, the top cover of which is Persuasion:

“A hard book, that,” he comments. Adeline asks if he likes Jane Austen and he nods yes.

“…which of the books is your favourite?”

He looked down at his lap and gave her a small, self-conscious smile. “All of them. But Elizabeth Bennet is my favourite character.”

“Oh, me, too. There’s no one like her in all of literature. Dr. Gray goes on and on about his Emma, but I’ll take Lizzie over Emma any day.” (p. 103)

At that moment Adam realizes that Adeline views Austen’s characters as real people, as he does, and discovers that someone else in the village feels the same way about the novels as he.

Each of Jenner’s characters are bonded through their love of Austen, and they talk about the books frequently, which is a joy. Jenner also provides clues and hints about which of her characters resemble those in Austen’s books. It’s a fun game, one that evokes the many hints and mysteries buried within Emma.

To Listen or to Read?

Image of Richard Armitage, narrator of the audio book, with the book cover of The Jane Austen Society in the background.When I agreed to review this novel, I received a traditional book and an audio book. I “read” both and had thoughts about each of the treatments. Who can argue with listening to Richard Armitrage reading a story set in early 20th century England? Not I. Think of me as a fan struck by his rich baritone voice, which can be transformed to that of a 16-year-old girl. Richard’s pacing in reading the book is effortless, clear, and easy to follow. He acts the voices of the characters so that we know exactly who’s talking at any time:

Adam Berwith, the farmer with an overbearing mama, who mourns the loss of his father and brothers in the war and who finds solace in reading Austen’s novels; Mimi Harrison, the almost-washed up Hollywood actress who loves Austen’s novels and has funds to burn; Dr. Gray, grieving for his long dead wife and yearning for a woman who doesn’t give him the time of day; Adeline, who struggles to pull herself out of a deep depression; Evie, the young energetic maid; Francis Knight, alone, forlorn, and rejected by her father; and Andrew Forrester, the solicitor who must keep a terrible secret from Miss Knight. These characters are skillfully acted by Mr. Armitrage, who does not disappoint. His brogue as Yardley Sinclair, the auctioneer, is lovely to hear, and I wish Sinclair had a larger role to play in the novel.

The one exception is Jack Leonard, a Hollywood producer and Miss Harrison’s one-dimensional fiancé. Jenner gave him none of the shades and nuances of her other characters. This becomes most obvious when even a talented voice actor can do little but bark out Leonard’s lines. Leonard comes across like an unfeeling thug, which makes this reader wonder what anyone as nice and beautiful as Mimi (Marianne) ever saw in him.

I listened to the book on long walks or car rides; sunning on the deck; washing the dishes or dusting. The convenience of audio books is undeniable, but not when a stray train of thought takes you away from listening closely. It is easy to lose your attention, and if you are interrupted the medium makes it hard for you to toggle back and forth to find the precise spot you lost. In addition, one can’t speed up or slow down an audio book without affecting the sound quality. One bonus of this audio book is an interview of the author at the end of the story, which adds more information about Ms. Jenner to the short biography that sits at the bottom of this post.

Traditional print books—*sigh.* New books crackle, old books emit a delicious library “musk” smell. Print books can be held and fondled, with each page lovingly turned. They are read at leisure or skimmed and skipped quickly to find information. They can be earmarked; they provide space for margin notes. Words and phrases can be underlined (which for years I considered heresy, until I learned that marginalia is a time-honored tradition).

I cherish my books and treat them like beloved possessions. My biggest concern is that they hog space. In my former house, I could devote several rooms to book cases that contained over 4,000 volumes collected since college, but when I downsized, this luxury disappeared. Choosing which books to keep broke my heart, but I managed to save around 600 (and add 100 more since.)

Read or listened to, Natalie Jenner’s debut novel provides a relaxing, fun read. I give it four out of five tea cups.

The Contest: which is your preference?

Please feel free to comment on your preference: Audio or Traditional? The contest will be open until midnight June 30th EST U.S. For the first time, I am giving away an audio book, which I hope traditionalists won’t mind.

Image of Natalie JennerAbout Natalie Jenner:

Natalie Jenner is the international bestselling author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen lived. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY is her first published novel and is available now from St. Martin’s Press in North America and Orion Books in the UK/Commonwealth, with translation rights sold in Portugal, France, Romania, Italy, Brazil, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, South Korea and Serbia.

About the book:

Purchase The Jane Austen Society at this link to Amazon.

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250248736

ISBN-13: 978-1250248732

Other reviews:

See the blog tour on the side bar

Rachel Dodge, Jane Austen’s World: An interview with the author, Natalie Jenner

Deborah Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont: A list of ten reasons to read the novel

Image of the book cover of Danse de la Folie by Sherwood SmithLovers of Austen novels will find much delight in Sherwood Smith’s Danse de la Folie. With more wit than romance, this novel introduces two couples, mapping their relationships onto the quadrille. Smith’s attention to historical details, family dynamics, and rich characters create an engaging story.

Using the four dancers of the quadrille, Sherwood Smith overtly indicates our heroes and heroines. The first heroine on the page is the Honourable Miss Clarissa Harlowe. Described as plain in comparison with her younger stepsisters, Clarissa is warm, observant, and conscientious—especially kind to her servants. And unlike the witty heroines of most Austen books, Clarissa will inherit a large fortune when she comes of age.

Clarissa’s Hampshire household combines all the best domestic elements of Austen novels—benevolent parents, garrulous sisters, and wealth. Smith writes Lord and Lady Chadwick, their bevy of young daughters, and the widowed Aunt Sophia without any of the financial anxieties of the Bennets or Dashwoods. Aunt Sophia is Smith’s nod to Mrs. Norris, but the reader will not see Clarissa treated like Fanny Price. Though Clarissa is a child of Lord Chadwick’s first marriage, her glamorous stepmother, the present Lady Chadwick, treats her kindly.

As an heiress, Clarissa has lost her taste for romance. She has endured suitors only interested in her fortune, so she is reticent to be swept away by the popular tales of languishing love. She tells her friend Lady Kitty, “I do not see the appeal in hopelessness.”

Catherine Decourcey (Lady Kitty) lives for romance, gothic tropes, and wild narratives. Where Clarissa is wealthy, unassuming, and practical, our second heroine is beautiful, imaginative, and in desperate need of financial help. After Clarissa survives a shipwreck, she and Kitty become fast friends while she recovers at Kitty’s family home, Tarval Hall. The friendship shows both women at their best: Clarissa, wise and generous, and Kitty, earnest and sensitive. If you’ve ever wanted to refashion Elinor and Marianne Dashwood with contemporary depth, you can thank Shewood Smith for Clarissa Harlowe and Catherine Decourcey.

Though Clarissa has no desire to marry, a persistent suitor awaits her return to Hampshire: the ponderous Lord Wilburfolde. Well-born, respectable, and dull, Lord Wilburfolde prefaces every comment with, “My mother says.” With no suitors of her own, Lady Kitty accompanies Clarissa and her family to Hampshire and then to London for the Season, determined to publish her novel and marry well so she can ease her family’s financial burdens.

While the dancing romance of the novel only favors two couples, Miss Lucretia Boulderston angles for a chance to play the heroine. A neighbor to Lady Kitty, and quietly engaged to Kitty’s brother Carlisle, Lucretia uses every opportunity to gain social advantages. After her first meeting with Clarissa, Sherwood Smith writes, “Miss Boulderston curtseyed and departed, leaving behind a pleasant trace of French scent, and a general sense of constraint.” Lucretia is a calculating presence in the novel, snubbing her family and friends by turns, plying gentlemen with wine, and planning a picnic just to get caught in the rain. Her betrothal to Carlisle is privately announced early on, and inserted into the newspaper much later—without Carlisle’s consent.

Though Carlisle is not secretly engaged like Edward Ferrars, the arrangement is equally burdensome. For much of the novel, Carlisle cannot pursue the woman he loves—all because Lucretia engineered a kiss in the garden years ago. Quiet and well-read, Carlisle Decourcey inherited his father’s title as the Marquess of St. Tarval, but not his reputation as a spendthrift and rake. Our hero wants to keep his family home in good repair, spend a quiet life in the country, and introduce his sister into society. He struggles to find the means.

The final hero is Philip Devereaux, a sharp, fashionable gentleman, and the object of Lucretia’s most determined machinations. Like his cousin Clarissa, Philip is pursued for his wealth. Lucretia dreams of becoming his wife—“only two deaths away from being a duchess”—and making London society sick with envy.

The four dancers come together in the London Season, meeting at the weekly Almack’s balls, occasional soirees, rides in the park, and even a duchess’s masquerade. Smith’s writing sparkles with the historically appropriate details that contemporary readers crave—observations on fashion, etiquette, and social luminaries like Beau Brummell. While Lady Chadwick copies gown patterns from the Duchess of Devonshire, the younger Miss Boulderston has a suitor known in town for the height of his shirt-points.

Despite her fortune, Clarissa’s position in the novel is another poignant historical circumstance. As an unmarried woman, she fears being a burden to her brother James when he sets up his own household. She accepts Lord Wilburfolde’s suit so she won’t become another Aunt Sophia, living on her brother’s goodwill. But with encouragement from her formidable grandmother, she manages to create a better future for herself.

Though Smith identifies the four dancers clearly, the eventual pairings don’t ring false or shallow at the end of the novel. With a wide cast of characters, Danse de la Folie reads more like a miniseries. Aunt Sophia and Lucretia Boulderston compete for most exaggerated theatrical gestures while Lord and Lady Chadwick are the most benevolent and disinterested parents a reader could wish for. To solve her problems, Lady Kitty declares, “One must be the heroine,” but she never adopts Lucretia’s rehearsed gestures, a running joke throughout the book. Lady Kitty steps into the heroine’s position with her charming artlessness, catching the eye of Mr. Devereaux and proving that warmth and sincerity will defeat strategy and malice.

Image of author Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith

About the author: Sherwood Smith has loved Jane Austen all her life, which led to her getting a degree in European history. She lives in Southern California with her spouse, two kids, and two dogs.

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Book View Cafe (September 25, 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 9781611387407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611387407

 

About the reviewer: Emily K. Michael is a poet, musician, and writing instructor from Jacksonville, FL. She is the poetry editor for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature at Syracuse University, and she curates the Blind Academy blog. Her first book Neoteny: Poems is available from Finishing Line Press (click here to enter the site). Blind and print-disabled users can also find it on Bookshare.

Read more of her work at her website:

  • “On the Blink: How My Light is Spent.” Click on this link.
  • Watch her TEDx FSCJ talk entitled The Confluence of Disability and Imagination (Dec 6, 2016) at this link.

 

Cover image of Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney by Jessica A. Volz Inquiring readers: This post is a follow up to my review of Dr. Jessica Volz’s book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. I mainly reviewed Chapter 1, which concentrated on Austen’s visuality. For this post, I asked the author about Radcliffe’s, Edgeworth’s, and Burney’s contributions and why she began her interesting observations with Austen.

Vic: Your book’s title is Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Jane Austen was younger than the last three women and not as famed during her lifetime. Why did you choose to place her “story” first in your book? Is it because she emerges as the best known, most popular author today – the genius?

Volz: Jane Austen was indeed born after the other women authors whose novels I discuss. She was born on December 16, 1775 – roughly 8 years after Maria Edgeworth, 12 years after Ann Radcliffe and 24 years after Frances Burney (Madame d’Arblay). Nonetheless, she was outlived by these illustrious contemporaries, departing from this world in 1817 at the age of 41, leaving her last work – Sanditon – (distressingly) unfinished. While Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were geniuses of their times in their own respective ways, I believe Austen is a genius for our era as well. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made some of the dynamics that her novels expose all the more relatable. After William Shakespeare (whose fame as an indivisible person is still a question of heated debate), many would argue that Austen is the most universally acclaimed literary figure in history. For a writer whose name was not initially attached to any of her published works, that’s quite the surge to branded stardom. When I set out to turn my doctoral research into a book that would bridge the divide between academic and non-academic audiences, I wanted its discussion to open with an author whose appeal continues to grow across the globe and whose brilliant use of language has inspired other luminaries, from Sir Winston Churchill to J.K. Rowling. It’s not for nothing that Austen is the only woman apart from the Queen to appear on a UK bank note. I am also very grateful that Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the founder and chair of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (which I cannot encourage you enough to support!), supplied the foreword to my book.

Jessica Voltz at Chawton House

Jessica Volz at Chawton House. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

As Anna Laetitia Barbauld once exclaimed, “Next to the Balloon, Miss Burney is the object of public curiosity.” The celebrity status that Frances Burney – novelist, playwright, diarist and Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte – had attained upon being acknowledged as the Authoress of Evelina, the book that everyone was reading in 1778, is no longer. From an anonymous literary “incognita,” who had relied on writing both furtively and in a feigned hand, Burney had metamorphosed into a highly visible household name. (Perhaps only Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, exceeded her standing in this regard.) Edmund Burke found in Evelina a page-turner, while Sir Joshua Reynolds reputedly offered £50 in exchange for the author’s identity. As today’s bookshelves can attest, Burney’s fame has curiously waned; in her afterlife, Austen has usurped Burney’s place on the podium of visibility.

While each of the novelists I examine in my book relied on visuality – a methodology empowering the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – its forms and functions varied in scale and in style. In addition, Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney experimented with and contributed to different approaches to the novel: Austen modernized narration through her introduction of free indirect discourse; Radcliffe reinterpreted the Gothic novel and removed her plots to temporally and geographically disparate settings (picture a scene painted by Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain); Edgeworth imbued her narratives with political undertones that conveyed the situation in Ireland and was innovative in her theatrical experimentation with male narrators and cross-dressing; Burney’s comparative visibility in society, from Samuel Johnson’s circle to the Court of Queen Charlotte, shaped her treatment of the courtship novel and influenced her transition from an epistolary to a third-person perspective, which was, in my humble opinion, nothing short of Revolutionary.

Image of dining room at the Jane Austen House Museum

One of the rooms at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. You can see Austen’s writing desk on the far right, where she wrote in private. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

My book moves from novels empowering the role of projections of character exterior to the self (think portraiture and architectural metaphors) to the drama of reflections, fashion and the minutiae of self-display (as in color codes of emotions and eyes that “speak”). This calculated progression shows how visuality “liberated” women novelists at a time when self-expression was particularly constrained for their sex, arming them with a means by which they could freely direct the reader’s attention to otherwise “indescribable” aspects of the era: its gender politics, socio-economic constraints and patriarchal abuses.

Vic: Please summarize the contributions to visuality that Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney made that influenced Austen or were parallel to Austen’s influences, and that were readily known to 18th- and 19th-century readers.

Volz: Given that writers cannot help but be influenced by what they read, the forms and functions of visuality that I describe in my book were trending to varying degrees when Austen was penning her novels. For instance, she would have been well-acquainted with Burney’s manipulation of ocular dialogue and color codes of emotion. However, Austen’s approach to directing the female gaze is more complex, especially when combined with free indirect discourse. She often challenges her protagonists and, in turn, readers of her fiction to make judgments about true character through portraiture and architectural metaphors – approaches to visuality that were also employed by Radcliffe and Edgeworth. The fact that visuality was not an esoteric means of communicating the otherwise difficult/impossible to express was what gave it power. The language that women novelists had to employ (to preserve their reputations as respectable women) reveals the self-consciousness that resonated between the author and her fictional women. Women novelists were, like women readers of novels, seen as threats to a patriarchal regime of knowledge where men had power over women’s perceptions of their surroundings and themselves. Today, gender equality remains a call to action, an unfortunate truth which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also reiterated. In addition to appealing to those similarly infatuated with British literature, my book would serve as a uniquely valuable resource for diplomats, politicians and lawyers, as visuality remains an efficient and effective means of strategic and diplomatic communication that should not be overlooked.

Vic: My third question is a minor one: Burney and Austen never met, but their lives in terms of acquaintances and places they visited and lived in were close. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Volz: Yes, I think it’s fascinating to consider that Austen and Burney would have been directly or indirectly acquainted with a number of the same sights and social contexts on British shores. The views of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were culturally representative, making them and their novels choice case studies in my book.

(Gentle reader: please read more about the intersection between Frances Burney and Jane Austen in the link below along with accompanying images.)

Vic: Why did you not include more information about Austen’s ‘Persuasion?’

Volz: It was admittedly difficult to narrow the scope of my book. I ultimately opted to confine my discussion to novels published in Britain between 1778, which coincided with the start of the Anglo-French War, and 1815, the year that witnessed the Battle of Waterloo. (Burney was actually in Brussels at the time.) As my book explores cross-Channel tensions and manifestations of cultural identity, this period was of particular interest. Nonetheless, Austen’s use of visuality in her other works, including Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, would be fascinating subjects of future exploration. Like Burney’s approach to visuality, Austen’s penchant for architectural metaphors and portraiture remained largely unchanged during her lifetime. It was a hallmark of her artful construction of language and, like her penmanship, held strong right up until the end.

Additional information about the Burney-Austen connection:

“Jane Austen and Great Bookham,” a post on Deborah Barnum’s blog, Jane Austen in Vermont, and written by guest contributor Tony Grant (accompanied by his usual informative photographs), discusses how Frances Burney’s and Jane Austen’s lives intersected. Below find a slide show of a few of the images in that post.

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Fanny Burney’s tomb rests in the cemetery of St Swithins Church in Bath. George Austen is buried in the same churchyard. St. Swithins is the church where Jane Austen’s parents– George Austen and Cassandra Leigh–were married.

Email comment from Jessica Volz regarding the Jane Austen–Frances Burney connection:  The Burney-Austen link is fascinating. I made it to King’s Lynn after speaking at the Pride an Prejudice bicentenary conference at the University of Cambridge and quested for  her birthplace, which was marked by a Clarks footwear shop (as of 2013). What a shame! Burney led a fascinating life, and her journals and letters are the stuff of which novels were/are made.

Image of the cover of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie JennerIt is my pleasure to introduce to you author Natalie Jenner and her debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. – Rachel Dodge

Let’s begin with a description of the novel to whet your literary appetites:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Introducing Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society:

I first “met” Natalie Jenner online last year, and we’ve since formed a lovely friendship—one that I foresee extending into the future for a very long time. That’s the thing about Jane Austen devotees: We always seem to find one another, even if we’re from different parts of the world, because of our shared love for Jane, her life, and her work. That magic is also what immediately drew me to Natalie’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, a story about a group of people who are drawn together based on their love for all things Austen and a desire to protect her legacy.

As a fellow writer, I couldn’t wait to pick Natalie’s brain about how she came up with such a beautiful concept for a novel. Her answers to my questions gave me a further glimpse into her creative process and the story of how this novel came to be. I’ve loved getting to know Natalie this past year. And I hope, once you read her interview, you’ll feel like you know her, too.

Q: When did you first discover Jane Austen and how have her books touched your life?

A: I discovered a beautiful 1976 Dutton edition of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelves when I was a child, and I remember being besotted by the fact that the book came in a box with a ribbon that ran through it, by the wonderful ink and wash illustrations by Isabel Bishop, and most of all by that crazy dialogue-heavy opening scene with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that reads just like a screenplay.

Austen’s books have touched my life in many ways: as a teenager, they introduced me to female characters with little social agency yet huge reservoirs of inner conviction and resilience and hope. As I started my own adult and family life, books like Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility in particular showed me a side to the pathos of real grown-up life that seemed missing from so much modern culture. And most recently, Austen helped me through a challenging time in middle age by her personal example of living with chronic pain and grief, and writing through illness and despair.

Q: What initially inspired you to write The Jane Austen Society? (Do you remember where you were when the idea first came to you?)

A: I remember exactly where I was. I had been spending a “quiet year” rereading all of Austen, looking for solace when my husband was diagnosed in his early 50s with a very rare and incurable form of lung disease. This led me to start reading as many books about her life as I could find, which in turn inspired me to take a bucket list trip to Bath and Chawton to literally walk in Austen’s footsteps, as well as attend my first JASNA regional event. I was also binge-watching a lot of Downton Abbey and British television during this time, including a home real estate series called Escape to the Country. When my husband’s lung decline started to stabilize following experimental treatment, I remember feeling hope for the first time in two years of what was frankly a medical nightmare. Along with hope, I was also surprised to find myself yearning to write again, after locking five unpublished manuscripts from my 30s away in a drawer many years ago. Initially I was going to write about a group of people trying to rescue an old British estate house, similar to Downton Abbey. But my daughter very clearly remembers me one day, out of the blue, looking up from my reading and saying very simply instead, “I am going to write a book about a group of people trying to save Jane Austen’s house.” And that is pretty much still the tag line for my book.

Q: At what point did you decide to write it as a fictional account? Did the story come to you all at once or did it slowly build as you planned and drafted?

A: Interestingly, because my first impulse was to write something completely fictional about a made-up house, the idea of any of it being related to Austen only came upon the heels of that. So, fictional first, then Austen second. I conceived of eight to ten characters, half men and half women, and I gave them jobs (as a career coach in my other life, I know how important one’s job is to one’s identity, and in looking back, I think that must be why so much of the action stems from the fact of someone being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a servant girl).

That was all the planning that I did in advance. When I sat down one day to write, an image immediately came to mind of a man, tired and lonely and sad, lying back on the very stone wall in the churchyard of St. Nicholas where I had rested the fall before when visiting Chawton. I remember typing that first chapter, having this man meet the Austen fan from America who has descended on his village, making up his life story, having him start reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the library (that moment we can all relate to, that very first “hit”), and then I wrote the words “He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy” and right away I knew what my book was really going to be about. People in love with Jane Austen, and then learning to love themselves. I write completely without a plan or outline of any kind—I love it, it’s so exhilarating, and it lets my characters drive the action, so everything always comes as a complete surprise to me. That’s where all the fun in writing is for me. Revision is the penance for the fun.

Q: How do your characters “introduce” themselves to you? What is the process you use to create and develop them?

A: My characters appear to me completely formed and ready, in terms of their appearance but also their temperament, personality, and mannerisms. I can’t explain it, and I haven’t asked other authors how common that is, probably because I am afraid of the answer! I can immediately picture everything about my characters when they first appear to me except—strangely—the exact features of their face. Their faces always remain a little blurry, but that does enable me to do stunt-casting later on for my dream movie or tv version.

Q: Your character names are perfectly charming! How did you come up with their names?

A: This is also a strangely intuitive part of the process, as the names for the most part just pop up in my mind. But I do remember struggling with Dr. Gray’s first name, Benjamin, because I wanted it to be traditional and strong and pleasant, but also not overly common. And I am going to give you a little nugget: I had already picked Mimi for the Hollywood actress’s name, and it was only later in researching the name that I learned that “Mimi” is also a diminutive for “Mary Ann”—which was, obviously, so perfect, and a sign that I just could not ignore. Once I had all the names in place, and because I did not want to step on any real-life people in creating this fictional work about a very real society and place, I did go through census records online for the village of Chawton, trying to the best of my ability to ensure that no real villagers now or in the past shared surnames with any of my characters, just to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

Q: What was your research process for this book and what sources did you consult? Did you visit any Jane Austen sites in England?

A: So I had actually done a year of what I now call “unintentional research” when I was sitting in my garden rereading Austen and then reading every book I could find on the story of her life. I was particularly impacted by the following books: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe, Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman, and Reading Austen in America by Professor Juliette Wells, all of which really got me thinking about Austen fandom and how it has manifested itself historically; and Caroline Knight’s memoir, Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, which introduced me to the more private, familial side of Chawton House’s history.

Throughout my life I have visited and revisited many Austen sites, but during this particular time, I was fortunate to get to spend a week on my own in Hampshire. Every morning I would make the same walk to Chawton from Alton that Austen herself used to make. I would be the first person to arrive at the Jane Austen’s House Museum when it opened in the morning, and the last person to leave Chawton House at the end of the day. All of this “research” was done before I even had an inkling that I was going to write a book about any of it one day!

Q: Are there any characters or storylines in the book that strike a chord with you personally? Do you have a favorite character?

A: I love this question, because yes! Adeline the war widow can be a polarizing figure but her total immersion in her grief really resonated with me—it was like a funhouse mirror reflection of the great parts of her character: the intensity, the curiousity, the always-up-for-a-fight. She’s just so independent and her own person, and I loved that about her. I also loved Dr. Gray, who is propping this entire little village totally at the expense of his own emotional healing, which seemed so human to me. But my real soft spot is for Evie: she is my daughter and myself at that age, so single-mindedly focused on her intellectual growth and academic ambition, and just waiting, impatiently, for her moment in the sun.

Q: Where and when do you get your writing done? Can you share any rituals or quirks you have as a writer?

A: My main quirk as a writer is the fact that I can and do write anywhere, anytime. I gave up my home office when my husband started working from home, and so far I have not yet been able to get it back! I write by the fireplace and big window in the living room, in bed, at the dining room table, by the pool, and last summer I treated myself to an 8 foot by 8 foot writing shed in the garden. My absolute favourite time to write is when I first wake up, usually around 5 am if I am in the middle of a book and can’t stand the suspense myself of what’s going to happen next. All I need when I write is just my laptop and sometimes a cup of English breakfast tea to keep me going.

Q: What do you hope the worldwide Jane Austen community will gain from reading this book?

A: My goal for this book is even more global than that: I want everyone, Austenites and strangers to Austen alike, to reaffirm for themselves, through the experiences of my characters, the critical and essential role of hope in all our lives. As I say in the book, sometimes hope is all we have: but hope can also sometimes be just enough. I know it was for me. For Austenites in particular, I would love for them to appreciate and celebrate all of our individual and collective efforts in keeping the works of Austen so thriving and alive.

Q: If you could step into one of Jane Austen’s novels, which one would it be and which character would you like to play?

A: Elizabeth Bennet. All the way. In fact, I’m already halfway there in my mind as I say this. She is undoubtably the most delightful, charismatic, and authentic character in all of literature.

Q: Who is your favorite actor from the new Emma movie and what do you like most about his/her performance. (I think I know the answer, but I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!)

A: You are a good guesser because, yes, it’s Mr. Johnny Flynn. I was so averse to his casting announcement, and superficially so—he struck me as having a very young, British-boy-band, foppish manner. My Mr. Knightley (my favourite romantic figure in all of Austen) is tall, and imposing, and so smart. What I loved about Flynn’s performance in the new Emma movie was how he retained the imposing manner in any room, but gave it a quieter confidence and vulnerability that I hadn’t seen before. I could feel how much he wanted to love and be loved, and to start a family, and I just found that all so incredibly romantic and touching.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this book?

A: I would add that I tried while I was writing, and in the dreaded revising, to throw in as many little “Easter eggs” as I could, so that the more hard-core Austen fans could have fun picking up on little allusions and parallels to events, characters, and romances from Austen’s own works. Although over the course of three drafts many of these parallels were intentional, some still surprised even me. Which, as I said before, is the total joy and fun of writing.

Image of Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Rachel Dodge, author of Praying With Jane Austen, at the 2019 JASNA AGM in Williamsburg

Rachel Dodge at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, October 2019

About Rachel Dodge, the interviewer: Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 1, 2020). . You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

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AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8

PURCHASE LINKS:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

You may order your copy of The Jane Austen Society here:

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JOHN THE BLOG TOUR!

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

May 25 Jane Austen’s World

May 25 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog

May 26 Frolic Media

May 26 A Bookish Affair

May 26 Courtney Reads Romance

May 26 Margie’s Must Reads

May 26 The Reading Frenzy

View the Rest of the Tour Schedule in the Side Bar – The blog tour lasts until June 30th!

 

Volz BookInquiring readers,

My apologies to author Jessica Volz–who contacted me weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown about her book–for posting my review of her book several months late. She has been so patient that I must thank her for her graciousness. – Vic Sanborn

The highly interesting and informative Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, is no fast walk in the park as far as reading goes, but it is worth the effort since it is filled with new and insightful information. One cannot skip or skim to learn about the way Austen and female writers of her era used visuality in language to communicate hidden meaning. In order to understand how visual language transmitted women’s emotions, issues, and areas of concern in a patriarchal society, I digested Dr. Volz’s words and reflected on how her observations helped me to reassess my understanding of the hidden language these 18th and 19th century authors used.

In her book, Dr. Volz studied the novels of four authors published between 1778 and 1815. Three of those novelists, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney, enjoyed recognition during Austen’s life, while Austen ultimately found lasting fame as a literary giant. This was a time when women’s views on their rights shifted, greatly helped by the Enlightenment’s campaign for human rights, the influence of the French Revolution in questioning conventional perceptions of women, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary writings. Wollstonecraft wanted male-dominated females to attain power over themselves. While this emancipation would take a longer time than she even envisioned, Wolstonecraft influenced contemporary women authors to employ an approach that “concealed their resistance within an artful narration.” (1. Volz, p. 210.)

Volz’s findings found that in a patriarchal society, when women were expected to behave modestly and correctly and use phrases that were acceptable to their male relatives and husbands, female authors found a linguistic end-around through visual references. They:

…focused on ways their texts reveal the authors’ approaches to issues explored or suggested in the novels, including “women’s difficulties, polite society’s anxieties and the problems inherent in judging by appearances.” – (2. Painting With Words, Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA, 2019.)

Thus, while the novels written by these four authors seemed to outwardly conform to societal standards, their heroines thought for themselves.

While the forms and functions of visuality that women novelists employed to their rhetorical advantage vary, they channeled their thoughts through several distinct visual pathways: visible and ‘invisible’ likenesses, architectural metaphors, the ‘made-up’ social self and communicating countenances.” (Volz, p. 212)

This review discusses some ways in which Dr. Volz examines how Austen employed the forms and functions of visuality. When she sent me her book, she was correct in predicting that I would be the most affected by the chapter that discussed Jane Austen. I’ll start with my first (and still favorite) Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, and Mr. Darcy

While Dr. Volz discusses Pemberley well into Chapter 1, I did not begin to truly understand her analysis of Austen’s visuality until I reached this section. I knew Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite fictional heroine from almost the moment I met her at the age of fourteen. Lady Catherine deBourgh expressed the 18th century attitude towards women when she accused Elizabeth of being obstinate and headstrong. In other words, she was not the right sort of lady, especially not for Mr. Darcy.

On that first reading, I instantly understood that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy were transformed as she walked along the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, viewed the house from afar in its perfect setting, moved throug its exquisite interior, listened to the raptures of his housekeeper as she described her master’s kindnesses, compared a miniature of his youthful self to Mr. Wickham’s (whose actions, as related by the housekeeper, described a cad), and then finally studied a large painted portrait of Mr. Darcy that to Elizabeth seemed true to life and captured her new understanding of his essence.

The architectural metaphors that Volz mentioned explain much in this description of Elizabeth’s leisurely ramble with the Gardiners along Pemberley’s grounds:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Pride and Prejudice)

As she views Pemberley’s grounds, Elizabeth can see herself living in this natural setting as its mistress, but she realizes with some sadness that this is no longer possible. To her regret, she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal based on her first impressions. Now that she sees him through a new lens, she recognizes how much their tastes and inclinations have in common. Moreover, she understands that Darcy, like his estate, Pemberley, has no artifice.

The lack of artifice is also how Mr. Darcy views Elizabeth – early in their association, he admires her expressive eyes and the liveliness of her character, which gave her a natural beauty much like the estate grounds he loves.

But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Austen also emphasized Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s unorthodox, unladylike walk to Netherfield, which “improved her figure’s picturesque quality and intensified the expressiveness of her eyes.” (Volz, p. 60). His appreciation echoes the ideal of the picturesque in writings by Johann Kaspar Lavater (a Swiss physiognomist, philosopher, and theologian) and William Gilpin in his Observations Relating Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) which appreciated the irregular features of a person, place, or setting and that “gave them a certain charm and made them desirable subjects for painting.” (Ibid)

JaneAustenSilhouette-Wikimedia

Image, Wikimedia Commons

Volz writes much more about the mastery in which Austen unites Elizabeth and Darcy through visible and invisible likenesses and architectural metaphors. Yet Austen is known for her austere descriptions of person, place or thing. How does this reconcile with visuality? One of the best-known images of Austen is a silhouette used by Jane Austen societies the world over. Early in her book, Volz mentions Austen’s affinity and familiarity with silhouettes. Like her contemporary profilists, “Austen sought to produce verbal ‘shades’ that ‘”convey the most forcible expression of character.”’ (3. Marsh & Hickman, Shades from Jane Austen.)

Austen’s habit of eschewing detail when describing characters’ appearance indicates her preference for using a single telling line that, like the silhouette, supplies ‘infinite expression’ though a profile that is not overshadowed by the particulars within it.” (Volz, p. 36)

For me, this explains Austen’s spare use of details and how this writing style encourage the readers’ imaginations to take hold. As I age, I find new depths in her plots, whose meanings change as my perceptions of the world (and knowledge of her era) change. For example, as a young girl/woman, I couldn’t stand or understand Mrs. Bennet, and found her an irritating though comic character. The more I studied Austen’s era and the circumscribed lives women were forced to live, my sympathy for Mrs. Benne’s poor nerves and her quest to find husbands for her five daughters increased, while my patience with Mr. Bennet (though I never stopped appreciating his wit) waned.

Volz writes that “Austen’s use of an aesthetic vocabulary of character in her fiction directs the reader’s attention to the act of viewing and its ultimate subjectivity in creating couples united in their affections.” So true, but Austen does this so economically and so masterfully, that I am constantly astounded and motivated to reread her novels.

Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele

In Sense and Sensibility, Volz traces the evolution of Elinor’s certainty that Edward Ferrars favors her against her painful, but inexorable understanding that he is engaged to Lucy. The proof is supplied through physiognomic means in the form of a miniature likeness of Edward that he gave to his intended. Does this miniature prove that he loves her? Elinor isn’t sure. While devastated, she is a skillful observer, as painters often are. Why do he and Lucy only see each other twice a year? And why, she wonders, did Lucy never give him her picture?

This plot in Sense and Sensibility reads like a mystery, with Austen using visuality clues to lead Elinor/us to the realization that, by not giving Edward her visual likeness, Lucy’s attachment is tenuous at best. In Lavater’s opinion, a portrait is “more expressive than nature.” One can then deduce that a ring with a lock of Lucy’s hair means little compared to an actual likeness. Elinor can discern no real affection in Lucy’s body language or demeanor towards Edward, but this knowledge gives her no comfort. Only a woman is allowed to end an engagement and Edward is too honorable to go against convention. At the end of the novel, Elinor’s intuition proves to be correct and Edward, unceremoniously dumped by Lucy in favor of his brother, is free to declare himself to the woman he loves.

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith

When it comes to the heroine that no one but Austen will much like, Volz explains that Emma is “as much of a product of Highbury as she is a shaper of it.” (Volz, p. 79). Emma’s status, while high in the ranks of Highbury society, does not detract from the dullness of her daily life as a modest female. In her twenty-one years, she hasn’t visited London, a mere few hours drive away in a carriage, or a seaside resort, or even Box Hill (until the famous scene at the end of the novel). After Miss Taylor became Mrs. Weston, a bored Emma (who took credit for uniting Mr. Weston with her governess) looks for another “project.” When her thoughts turn to Harriet Smith, her imagination and manipulation take over. She will mold Harriet into her vision of a young lady with prospects, even though Harriet is the natural daughter of an unknown somebody.

A famous scene in the novel centers on Emma painting a portrait of Harriet. Volz describes this portrait as an example of the heroine’s self-delusions (the likeness depicts Harriet as Emma would like her to be), and that the friendship among the two women represents something other than themselves. “Emma has redrawn Harriet’s character, which now ‘acts’ as improperly as the eye and hand that have shaped it.” (Volz, p. 80) Needless to say, Emma’s portrayal of Harriet has more to say about the painter than the sitter.

From the start of the alliance, the reader understands that this friendship is woefully out of balance. A weak mouse stands little chance against a powerful cat, and so Emma’s machinations blindly continue, but after Harriet reveals her love for Mr. Knightley, which she (unbelievably) thinks is reciprocated, Emma finally sees ‘the blinders of her own head and heart,’ although Emma feels sorrier for herself in her self-deception than she feels for her deluded friend. “Austen’s visual technique stages for the reader the dramatic shift in the heroine’s vision and perceptions.” (Ibid.) This is true, but Austen’s young heroine still has much to learn before the story ends.

In this section, Volz provides more interesting observations about the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship, which readers will find equally fascinating.

Fanny Price and Mansfield Park

My final thoughts about Volz’s book are about her analysis of Fanny Price. Fanny’s journey as a young girl transported to a strange new house is demonstrated by the rooms she lives in. At first the lonely child cries herself to sleep, but as the novel progresses, the rooms she occupies within the house, first as an outsider and then as an accepted member of the household, correspond with her emotional growth. The more comfortable Fanny feels in her adopted home, the more she blossoms. Fanny’s “acquisition of a new private space within Mansfield serves as a metaphor for her progress towards social acceptance.” (Volz, p. 76)

When Fanny is banished to live with her parents in Portsmouth, she learns how much she has changed and grown. “Aesthetic contrasts teach the heroine and the reader to see that Mansfield’s values are diametrically opposed to those at Portsmouth, with its crowded, agitating interior.” (Ibid.) Mansfield Park has become Fanny’s home, and within it she shines both outwardly and inwardly.

Austen’s evolving views towards ideal landscapes are personified in her descriptions of Pemberley and Mansfield Park:

Whereas Elizabeth’s raptures over Pemberley’s physiognomic display highlight the place’s picturesque irregularity, here [in Mansfield Park], Austen defers to the presentation of organized beauty and agreeable symmetry, implying her own changed view of landscape design.” (Volz, p. 77)

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

This is not surprising, since one of the premier landscape architects at the time that Austen wrote  Mansfield Park was Humphry Repton, whose work Jane prominently mentions in the novel. Repton’s habit of removing irregularities from a landscape can be viewed in his red books, in which he presented before and after watercolors of his designs to his clients. The “after” watercolors remove any impediments to a perfect view or irregularities (by cutting down trees or adding features, such as a pond or a Palladian bridge).

I should also mention that Volz’s thorough examination of Austen’s visual aesthetic includes the author’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which characterizes Austen’s writing. Approximately 20-30% of Austen’s narration is FID, in which both the narrator and a character are speaking at once.

Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels relay information about thoughts and speech. […] Austen’s employment of FID was revolutionary, for while earlier authors had used it to some degree, it remained to Austen to take advantage of the wide range of how FID could be deployed to manipulate our ironic understanding of her characters.” (4. Mooneyham White, Discerning Voice Through Austen, JASNA)

In our day and age, many readers no longer recognize the subtleties that 18th/19th century readers understood when reading novels by contemporary female authors. Dr. Volz’s observations help us to analyze their subtext and, in my case, prompted me to rethink my earlier reactions to Austen’s characters.

One can use Dr. Volz’s observations in analyzing other Austen characters on our own – Anne Elliot, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and Henry Tilney, to mention a few. Austen scholars and Austen fans who have delved deeply into her characters’ lives and the history of Regency England will find this book fascinating and a useful reference in their libraries.

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

About Dr. Jessica A. Volz:

Dr. Jessica A. Volz of Denver, Colorado is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels. Her latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), discusses how visuality — the continuum linking visual and verbal communication — provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language. The title offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling point of view.

Dr. Volz holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of St. Andrews and a B.A./M.A. in European Cultural Studies and Journalism from Boston University. She was recently named an ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was created to harness the global passion for Jane Austen to fund literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Dr. Volz has also served as the editor of two Colorado legal publications and as a translator for a number of Paris-based companies. In her spare time, she enjoys planning tea parties and plotting novels.

References:

1. Volz, Jessica A. Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Anthem Press, Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series, 2020. Print. ISBN:13-978-1-78527-253-0 (pbk).

2. “Painting with Words,” Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, Jessica A. Volz. Review by Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA News, 2019. PDF document downloaded May 18, 2020: file:///C:/Users/18046/Downloads/JASNANews_Summer2019_BookReviews.pdf

3. Hickman, Peggy and Marsh, Honoria, Shades from Jane Austen, London: Parry, Jackman 1975, xv-xxii.

4. Mooneyham White, Laura, Discerning Voice through Austen Said: Free Indirect Discourse, Coding, and Interpretive (Un)Certainty, Jane Austen Society of North America, Volu. 37, No1—Winter 2016, Downloaded May 20, 2020: http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/white-smith/

Additional:

Coffee, Tea and Visuality: The Art of Attraction in ’‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jessica A.Volz, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, February 22, 2017, Downloaded May 18, 2020:https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality

Edmundson, Melissa, “A Space for for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park,” Persuasions On=Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, V. 23, No.1 (Winter 2002), Downloaded 5/20/2020: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol23no1/edmundson.html

Lavater, Johann Casper. Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by or under the inspection of, Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Thomas Holdcroft. 3 vols. 5 bks. London: John Murray 1789-98.

Oesteich, Kate Faber, “Jessica A. Volz – Interview,” Nineteenth-Century Studies Association (NCSA), May 10, 2017. Downloaded May 18, 2020: https://ncsaweb.net/2017/05/10/jessica-a-volz/

Purchase the book:

Inquiring readers: Covid-19 has meant making changes for us and our families, friends, and co-workers world wide. Rachel Dodge wrote this lovely article regarding stay-at-home activities in Jane Austen’s era that are still practiced. I think we can all relate!

As we practice social distancing and spend more time at home, I often think about what Jane would have done under similar circumstances. I can imagine she would miss making morning calls, traveling to visit family and friends, going to church on Sundays, and attending balls where she might dance “nine dances out of ten” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, November 1800).

With what we know of Austen’s home life in mind, I’ve compiled a list of activities that I hope will feed the minds, imaginations, and souls of my fellow Janeites:

 

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Rachel Dodge.

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

  • Read all the books

Books provided Austen with the intellectual stimulation and emotional escape her active mind required. (We can certainly relate!) She enjoyed a wide range of genres and didn’t limit herself to one category.

While libraries remain closed, we can follow our own literary pursuits to new places and take advantage of online resources, e-books (gasp!), and audiobooks. Better yet, we can go through our bookshelves and read the books we already own but haven’t read!

If you want to read the books Austen read, you can explore these resources:

Image of bookshelf courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

Image of bookshelf, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

 

Use your creative gifts to connect with others

Austen enjoyed quiet moments by the fire and often found creative inspiration for her writing during those private reveries. Marianne Knight shares this memory: 

[Aunt Jane would sit quietly working beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back to the fire and go on quietly working as before.” (Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, 1901)

Later in the day, Austen would often share her creative work with her family, leading to hours of discussion and laughter. While sheltering in place, my friends and neighbors have taken turns sharing creative love offerings with one another—fresh flowers, special treats, recipes, wine, craft supplies, cards, and homemade bread. How can you share your gifts and talents with others during this time?

  • Play games

In the article “Spillikins,” The Jane Austen Centre (https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spillikins/) shares this: “Jane Austen was a very hands-on aunt, with numerous games and activities in her repertoire. Her nieces and nephews recall with fondness the many games, from paper ships to Battledore and Shuttlecock, that she would play with them by the hour.”

Spillikins was her particular favorite: “Our little visitor has just left us, & left us highly pleased with her… -Half her time here was spent at Spillikins; which I consider as a very valuable part of our Household furniture, & as not the least important Benefaction- from the family of Knight to that of Austen.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, February 8, 1807)

If you have friends and family you’re missing right now, especially younger family members, try playing a game online or set up a Facetime game time. 

  • Enjoy walks and natural beauty

Austen (and many of her heroines) enjoyed a brisk walk. As we can see from her letters and novels, she liked the exercise and the beauty of her surroundings: 

We took a very charming walk from six to eight up Beacon Hill, and across some fields, to the village of Charlecombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green valley, as a village with such a name ought to be.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, June 2, 1799)

My family likes to walk, bike, or go out on our deck when the weather is nice. We’ve paid closer attention to the beauty of a sunset, a mother duck with her ducklings, and the wildflowers blooming along our walking trail. If you can’t get outside, try an exercise program online. There’s something for everyone right now!

  • Pray with Jane
Image of Jane Austen's Prayers

Image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

The Austen family said morning and evening prayers together. You might take time to read through Austen’s prayers for a few days. She wrote three lovely prayers that cover many of the concerns of daily life. 

Austen herself was no stranger to distress and tribulation. She understood the dangerous realities of war, illness, childbearing, and sea travel during her lifetime. Some of the lines of her prayers are particularly fitting for times like these:

“Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.” (Jane Austen, Prayers)

If you’d like to explore her prayers more fully, I created a 7-day Jane Austen prayer guide for COVID-19 here: https://www.racheldodge.com/7-days-prayer-jane-austen/

  • Write letters

Jane Austen wrote letters full of news and details. It was how she and her family and friends kept in close contact when they couldn’t be together in person. They shared everything – both the important and the mundane – in these missives!

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 3, 1801)

If you’re missing your friends and loved ones, why not write a letter? My daughter has been sending letters, stickers, and drawings back and forth in the mail with her best friend. They make their own envelopes and decorate them with colorful designs. 

  • Find comfort in familiar rhythms
Image of Tea with Jane Austen courtesy of Rachel Dodge

Image of Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

In Caroline Austen’s book My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, she describes her aunt Jane’s morning habits: “Aunt Jane began her day with music . . . before breakfast—when she could have the room to herself—.” (Caroline Austen, My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, 1867)

Austen’s days had a certain cadence to them: She began the day with piano practice and letter writing. During the day, she wrote, sewed, visited with her family, and walked. In the evening, she and her family read out loud, played games, and talked. 

Keeping some of our routines as “normal” as possible (and finding new routines) helps give our days shape and definition. Perhaps you can host a weekly tea party or book discussion with your Jane Austen friends over Zoom!

Austen had an active imagination and would certainly have found many things with which to occupy her time. What else do you think Austen might have done? What routines do you find comforting in these turbulent times?

About the Author:

Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

Thank you, Ellen Moody, for posting this information on my Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook group page.  Isolation has just become a little better.

Jennifer is still my favorite Lizzie Bennet.

Armchair Travelers: In other news, visit Chawton Cottage on Susan Branch’s site. See this site’s previous post, which also includes Chawton visits by Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and lil’ ol’ moi.

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

The Peabody Institute Watch Party Concerts soothe our souls every Friday night. Catch them at this link.

Peabody

 

Stay safe, all. As my mamma says, “This too shall pass.” Vic

Inquiring readers,

During the Covid-19 lock down, I’ve missed traveling around my country. I intended to go abroad as well, but had to lay those plans aside. The internet affords me a way to satisfy my wanderlust.

Today as I e-searched Jane Austen’s gardens and her family’s use of fruits and herbs in making wines and home medicines, I discovered this lovely blog by author Susan Branch. Susan visited Chawton Cottage in 2012. Her photos and delightful narrative of her trip add to those I featured from blog contributors Tony Grant and Rachel Dodge. I’m publishing the first 20% of Susan’s post and will then link to her blog. Enjoy!

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage in 2012

Jane Austen

On our last day in England in the spring of 2012, just a few hours before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for our trip home, we stopped to visit Jane Austen’s house in a little country town called Chawton. I can’t say we saved the best for last, because everything we saw was “best.”  But this house was wonderful and better than I ever imagined it could be.  It’s in Hampshire, centrally located in the south of  England (very close to Southampton) — you can see it on the map on page six of my book chronicling this magical trip called   A FINE ROMANCE.

"Marry me, my wonderful darling friend" Quote by Mr. Knightley to Emma in the orchard

Crossroads

Sign to Chawton Cottage, the car park St. Nicholas church and Chawton House, and the village. Image courtesy Susan Branch.

First off, you have to know how this quiet neighborhood sounded this day!  The only sound missing is “my-toe-hurts-bet-tee” the nature national anthem of England, but there were wood pigeons cooing liltingly from every branch!

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage with a view of the visitor entrance. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

This is the 17th century house where Jane Austen did some of her most important work.  She lived here from 1809 to 1817, and published four novels during that time, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

How beautiful!  Let’s go find a parking space!

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

After parking, we walked for a little bit through the leafy old neighborhood and something interesting happened.  I took a picture of this little Jack Russell in a window of the house across the street from Jane’s and posted it here on the blog.  Later, after we returned home, I received an email from the owner of this house!  Her name is Mary and the dog’s name is Basil!  Mary had just happened upon our blog.  Isn’t that amazing? What a small world!  She’s actually written a cute children’s book about Basil which she sent to me . . .

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

 Many of the homes in Chawton have thatched roofs like Mary’s.  It’s a darling town ~ and we only had one afternoon. I wish we’d saved more time for this ~ there’s a lot of wonderfulness to see here.  Keep that in mind for when you go and have at least one full day.

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click here  to enter Susan’s blog. Note her journey through Chawton village, the rooms through the cottage, and her walk in the gardens.

well behaved women rarely make history signBTW, I noticed on Susan’s sidebar a saying that I keep in my office. Sisters always have a way of finding each other!!

Other posts on this blog about Chawton Cottage and Chawton House

Inquiring readers: My funny bone has yet to tickle me during this pandemic. I am still writing my Emma. film review. My tongue-in-cheek inspiration is coming back in dribs and drabs, but it hasn’t quite jelled.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meeting with friends, Janeites, and fellow volunteers online via Zoom and sharing ways to keep one’s mind preoccupied with loftier things than the constant doom and gloom droning on the news.

I’ve placed some concerts, virtual museum tours, and fine art discussions in this post to help you/us liven up our isolation.

Starting tonight they are:

ART: Cocktails with the Curator of the Frick Museum: A half hour discussion 5 pm every Friday. When I visit NYC, I always make an effort to stop at the Frick Museum. Previous discussions are available on YouTube. Download the APP for a gallery tour.

Cocktails Frick

MUSIC: Peabody Watch Party: Recurring Friday Nights:  The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins will stream a previously recorded concert every Friday night at 7:30pm Eastern Standard Time.  On April 17th, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70 “Souvenir de Forence” featureing Vadim Gluzman and Mei Zhan, violin, Alaina Rea and Josef Fischer, viola, and Michael Kanned and Ismael Guerrero Bombut, violoncello.

Visit Peabody ArtReach for additional performances and performance-related learning and wellness resources.

Peabody ArtReach

ONLINE CONCERT: One World Together at Home, Saturday, April 18th

One World Together at Home, a global broadcast & digital special to support frontline healthcare workers and the WHO.

TO WATCH: Find your channel on Global Citizen

One World Together at Home

Jane Austen Online

Jane AustenBritish Library: Jane Austen

Internet Archive: Jane Austen’s novels digitized

Persuasion

In addition: 

  • Business Traveller compiled a list of world class museums that offer free virtual tours. They include The Louvre, Van Gogh Museum, The Vatican Museum, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rijksmuseum, Musée d’Orsay.

Museum tours

NPR’s (National Public Radio) Tiny Desk Concerts

These acoustic concerts have held me enthralled for a number of years. Try one. You’ll find that singers sound so much better in an intimate setting. Click here to try a few.

Tiny Desk Concerts

Inquiring readers,

Kevin Lindsey, who frequently comments to posts on this blog, forwarded the link to this 5-minute YouTube video. He writes:

As a long time subscriber to your blog, I thought you might be interested in this. It’s from a British group called Crows Eye Production. They create excellent, tasteful, and informative videos on historical clothing. They released this one on Jane & Cassandra Austen today. I thought it really well done, and thought I would share it with you, in case you wanted to pass it along. Below is a link. If you would prefer not to use that just got to YouTube and look up “CrowsEyeProductions”

Enjoy!

More on Regency Fashions: Jane Austen’s World category on fashions

Coming soon …

…my reviews of

Emma. “Handsome, clever, and rich.”

Emma

Emma. 2020 publicity still. Focus Features.

Visuality-VolzVisuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney by Jessica A. Voltz. Preview book by clicking on the link.

 

Stay Safe, Everyone!!

Inquiring readers, 

Last April Brenda Cox shared a thought-provoking post about  a Jane Austen Sampler. Click here to read the article. Mrs. Cox writes that Deirdre Le Faye, an expert on Jane Austen, believes that the stitcher was another Jane Austen, probably a second cousin of the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Mrs. Cox has continued her research into this fascinating topic, and writes:

A few years ago, I bought a printed copy of the “Jane Austen sampler” at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. In 2018 I posted thoughts on my blog about that “Jane Austen Sampler.” However, I had no idea whether “our” Jane Austen had stitched it or not.

Then Deirdre Le Faye saw that post and directed me to her article for the Jane Austen Society. She speculated, for various reasons, that the sampler may have been done by a cousin of Jane Austen’s. In 2019 I wrote about her ideas in Jane Austen’s World. At the end of that article I asked if some genealogist might try to track down the history of the sampler.

Now the plot continues to thicken. Months later, Alden O’Brien, curator of the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. saw those posts and wrote to me for details. She then did extensive research based on her specialties: the history of needlework and genealogical research. Exactly what we needed!

Ms. O’Brien posted her conclusions which I highly recommend you read: “Is This Jane Austen’s Sampler?

Sampler purportedly embroidered by Jane Austen

In summary:

For it to be “our” Jane Austen’s sampler, we need to assume that it originally said 1787 and stitches were pulled out to make it say 1797. Deirdre Le Faye thought this was highly unlikely. Alden O’Brien thinks it even more unlikely. From the photos we have (which admittedly are not great), there is no evidence in the fabric that stitches were removed. And O’Brien compared it to Cassandra Austen’s sampler which includes all the numbers. Presumably the sisters would have been using the same style of numbers. The “9” in the “Jane Austen sampler” looks much like Cassandra’s 9, but not completed. Cassandra’s 8 is a different shape, so it’s unlikely that the original said 1787.

Even more conclusively, O’Brien was able to trace the provenance given for the sampler. She found clear records from the sampler’s previous owners back to a Jane Austen who would have been about 12-14 in 1797, the right age for making such a sampler. It appears that this Jane grew up to marry the owner of a pub. One of her sons was a servant, and her daughter married an oyster fisherman. So she was from a lower social class than the author Jane Austen. O’Brien points out that even young women of this class often went to schools where they might produce samplers like this one.

The Mr. Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who once owned the sampler is claimed to be “a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” However, from this evidence, it appears he actually was a grandson of this (alternate) Jane Austen.

So, the bad news is that the sampler almost certainly was not sewn by the author Jane Austen. Still, it did come from her time period. And unraveling the mystery has been a story in itself!

 

 

Emma. 2020, The Movie

Inquiring Readers,

After experiencing years of an Austen drought on the large and small screen, we are treated to two adaptations within a half year–Sanditon and the newly released Emma.

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma, the film will air in theaters in my region on March 6th. Sadly, I won’t see the film until late next week, but my British friend Tony Grant has reviewed it. He writes in part:

My thoughts were, will Autumn de Wilde’s Emma get Austen’s subtleties concerning the different relationships right? Will the actors be any good? All is lost if they can’t cut the mustard. What might we get out of this Emma that speaks to us in 2020? Will the film tell Jane Austen’s story well?

The film begins, focusing in from an expansive bucolic scene of green pastures and wooded areas to an iconic 18thcentury mansion, Hartfield. We hone down to a gothic styled greenhouse and enter to a scene of peace and calm and meditative background music as Emma, played by Anya Taylor Joy, slowly, carefully moves, almost like floating in a dream, examining her blooming red roses while servant girls hover, secateurs poised ready to snip the stem of any flower Emma thinks fit. Anya Taylor’s eyes look and roam and pierce us to our souls. Oh! those eyes. She pauses, she considers, she moves on and decides, “That one.” And the flower is cut. This opening scene is very clever and says in this silent dreamlike ballet of a scene all that Austen says in the opening words of her novel.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” 

The film is lit  brightly and the colours, not just of the costumes, but of the scenery too has a pale pastel sheen, which can only be achieved through the cinematography.–-To read the rest of Tony Grant’s review, click this link to London Calling, his blog.

In anticipation of seeing the film, I’ve been reading Robert Rodi’s take on Emma in Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps. (Yes, he’s that sarcastic, but witty, wise, and fun.) I particularly liked this passage, which shows Emma’s animus towards Augusta Elton shortly after she paid Mr. Elton and his new missus a visit:

Eventually Mrs. Elton return the visit, and Emma has plenty of time for her options to coalesce. And she really, really, really does not like this chick. Not. One. Little. Bit.

Rodi then goes on to quote this Austen passage:

“The quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she want to shine and be very superior…”

Rodi does not stop there, but I paused at these words for a long moment. The qualities Emma dislikes about Mrs. Elton are the same qualities she possesses. Augusta, of course is different from Emma. She’s coarse, grasping, and aggressively power hungry, whereas Emma is the well-bred young lady described in the movie’s publicity: a well meaning but selfish young woman [who] meddles in the love lives of her friends.

The comic characters in Emma are among Austen’s finest, and I look forward in revisiting them in this film, especially in the forms of Miranda Hart as Miss Bates and Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse.

 

 

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Although I won’t see the film for some time, please feel free to leave your opinions if you have them.

Meanwhile, enjoy Tony Grant’s review at the top of this blog!

 

Inquiring Readers:

Chris Brindle, who lives in Colchester, England, is a prolific writer of music and books, and also a producer. Chris has written the following post (a compilation of information on his website and from the emails & materials he sent me.) He postulates that as Austen was dying in 1817, she deliberately wrote ‘Sanditon’ as a challenge and inspiration for other people in her family to finish, particularly her niece Anna (Lefroy) and nephew James-Edward (Austen-Leigh). Here, then, is Chris’s article.

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sanditon was Jane Austen’s last, partially completed, novel of around 24,000 words, written in 1817 between January 27th and March 18th. Jane’s niece Anna, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother James, had been brought up in her youngest years at Steventon where her aunt, who was 18 years older, also lived. Anna remained at Steventon with her father until she married Ben Lefroy at 21. After a brief interlude, Anna moved back to Hampshire to live two miles away from Jane, then living at Chawton.

Jane Lefroy's biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Jane Lefroy’s biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Anna was surely the first ‘Janeite’ and harboured a life-long ambition to emulate and honour her aunt. In March 1845 she inherited Jane’s manuscript in the will of Jane’s sister Cassandra, and set about writing her continuation [of the unfinished novel], which is of similar length and is similarly unfinished.

By the time Austen put down her pen and finally her pencil, she had introduced all the characters that the story needed—apart maybe for a good villain, as Lefroy realised in her continuation, when she invented Mr Tracy as one of Sidney Parker’s friends (friends Austen told us would join Sidney at the Hotel). I don’t believe Austen intended Sir Edward Denham to be a villain, rather just a sexually frustrated character answering to Lady Denham’s will, who, as dowager, controlled Sir Edward’s estate.

When Austen realised she was dying, I believe she worked out a way in which her books and letters would not die with her, but would live on as the next generation took up the baton as her literary heirs. Her book and letters were her children and she wanted them to live forever.

This is the lyric in my ‘Song For Jane Austen’–YouTube link

When did you realise that your life would soon come to its end ?

Did you always know your life would be so short ?

What is a life, what is it worth ?

Is it what you leave behind you at the end ?

Your books and letters were your children

Left to others to inspire, and maybe carry on your work

Do you die if a little bit of you will live in others ?

Or memories of you will still remain ?

How do you spend your last few moments on this earth

When your journey has to come to its end

One last display of brilliance in three tiny booklets

Your sketches on a canvas for others to fill in

Your gift to God and to the world

And those you leave behind you at the end

In your pain you left us biting satire

A town built on sand in need of hope

But you left us characters who could save it

If in our imagination we could see how they would cope

May the Lord look on you with grace and favour

For this was the world you created

Reaching out for your future

A century or more away

When your pain was most intense

And your time was running out”

Anna Lefroy, whose mother died when she was two, was largely brought up with Jane at Steventon in her early years.  Thus she most probably earns the right to be known as Austen’s first fan. Anna’s life was devoted to an effort to emulate her aunt. We know most about Jane’s approach to writing from the exchange of letters between her and Anna, as Anna sent the latest piece of dialogue to Jane for her comments.  From the letters it was clear that Anna had no idea how to plot a novel, or to start with a strong enough idea to drive an interesting story, so Sanditon was most probably written as a starting place for Anna to complete the novel.

In 1817 Anna was starting a family and had no time to write. In any case, Anna would need to earn the right to be Austen’s literary heir by being a published author. Thus, after Jane’s death in 1817, all the letters and manuscripts went to her sister Cassandra. To keep Austen’s memory alive, it would be for Cassandra to decide who should get what. Anna Lefroy inherited the unfinished manuscript of Sanditon on Cassandra’s death in 1845.

I tell this story in my Documentary (YouTube link)  and how, although Anna failed to complete Sanditon (Click here to read her unfinished text), her half brother James Edward Austen-Leigh went one better and wrote the first biography of Austen. A Memoir of Jane Austen put the life of Austen together with her fiction and made her a mega-star. It was the competition that Austen created between her nieces and nephews that made the Memoir happen. (Click here to read the Memoir.)

I came to realise what Sanditon actually was when writing the illustrated story of the life of my great great great grandfather R.H.C. Ubsdell (1812-1887), the Portsmouth miniaturist, portrait painter and early photographer. Ubsdell had a studio and art gallery in Old Portsmouth opposite the theatre. He painted portraits of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers Charles and Francis (Frank) and the miniature of Anna Lefroy, delivered to her in the Autumn of 1845. He probably also drew the disputed portrait in graphite on vellum of Austen (the property of Paula Byrne) as an ‘identikit reconstruction’ for Anna Lefroy circa 1845 (probably to serve as a frontispiece for her intended completion of Sanditon together with her own portrait.)

'Unseen' Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

‘Unseen’ Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

These illustrated books, entitled Hampshire, are available on Amazon. Click on this link to view the books.

History of the Church and Rectory at Ashe

A page in Hampshire, a book by Chris Brindle. This one discusses the history of the church and Rectory at Ashe, a village close to Steventon. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle.

I think it is only when one puts the Lefroy continuation together with the Austen original that one truly understands why Austen wrote Sanditon. My conclusion comes from studying the life stories of Austen and Anna Lefroy, and Anna’s diary and life story that her daughters copied out. (One copy was kindly lent to me by descendant Helen Lefroy).  So perhaps one cannot complain if ITV chooses Andrew Davies to write a very modern ‘Love Island’ ‘take’ on the book.  Having invested our time in a couple of episodes, most people will probably want to know how it ends.

Sanditon, the ITV/PBS Masterpiece television mini-series

Davies does little more than take the names of some of the characters, however, whilst ignoring most of the content of Austen’s original fragment, niece Anna Lefroy’s continuation, and the financial relationships between the characters that Austen very clearly outlines, and which Lefroy clearly understood. Austen’s story should be about property speculation and money, inspired by her time in London with brother Henry, when the bank of which he was a partner, Austen, Maude & Tilson was collapsing because of their ill-considering loans.

Davies and the production studio also fail to present the main character properly–a South Coast English seaside resort in its earliest stages of speculative development. Trafalgar House (Tom and Mary Parker’s house) is not part of ‘New Sanditon’, a bold new development on the cliff, instead in the TV show it is stuck down in a very squalid looking village.

The other thing that is unsatisfactory about the ITV/PBS Masterpiece production is that it ignores the actual history and real-life detail of the development of the English seaside resorts such as Brighton, Worthing and Southsea. It wasn’t an accident that Austen chose the setting of an English Seaside Resort, because she saw that this was a character in its own right. From its infancy, Sanditon would grow up over time. Therefore, for any future ‘completer’ there would be so much actual historical detail of the financial machinations to draw upon.

Chris Brindle’s works and productions

I am very gratified that people looking for something more authentic have been viewing on YouTube my original solution to the completion clues that Austen and Lefroy left, my 2014 Play:

and my Documentary filmed in Hampshire in the same year that tells ‘The Story Behind Sanditon‘:

Austen left us so little of Sanditon that I think rather than rushing ahead and inventing new story lines I thought it might be better to look at Austen’s characters in more detail, using as many of her actual words as possible, and thus my idea for a musical was born. This built on the duet ‘Blue Briny Sea’ that I had written for the original stage show  (filmed at Chawton Great House) https://youtu.be/2gmrFrEdMBg

and  ‘Song For Jane Austen’ (filmed in Bath) that I had written for the 200th Anniversary of Jane’s death:

My first script for the musical was a grand stage musical with a cast of 19, which I then reduced to an actor musician musical performed by 11 players that I produced and filmed at ‘The Other Palace’ Theatre in London in July last year:-

In this musical the songwriter for a modern 21st Century Pop Band persuades the members of her band to take on Austen’s words, the characters in Austen’s novel, tell the story behind the novel, and reflect on what the novel means to them ‘200 Years Later’.  The carriage ride from Willingden to Sanditon then becomes this song as Tom & Mary Parker and Charlotte Heywood give their respective views on the resort:

Whilst an Austen story with modern popular music might seem a strange mix, another example of a musical doing very well on tour in the UK at the moment is “Pride & Prejudice” (Sort Of ), which features the Pride & Prejudice story told by the Bennet’s servants, but in broad Glaswegian with added karaoke songs!

Everything I’ve done has been on a tiny budget driven by my fascination for the subject matter.  I’m currently working on plans to develop the big stage production in the amateur sector.  More details can be found on my website www.Sanditon.info, which I’ve updated.

On my website you will find the links to

  • The texts of both the Austen and Lefroy fragments of ‘Sanditon’ (An entirely different perspective opens up if one asks oneself line-by-line, why did the author include ‘that bit’?  (If you read the Austen fragment in this way, Austen clearly leaves so many plot openers and clues in her work for future ‘completers’ to solve.  This is probably what is most unsatisfactory about the Andrew Davies / ITV dramatisation in that Davies chooses not to solve any of Austen’s clues and just ‘does his own thing’.)
  • My 2014 Film of The Play of Jane Austen’s and Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon.
  • My 2014 Documentary filmed in Hampshire & Berkshire with piano music by American Composer and JASNA delegate Amanda Jacobs
  • My 2019 Musical  “200 Years Later”  Jane Austen’s ‘Sanditon’ The Pop/Rock Musical as premiered at ‘The Other Palace’, Victoria London on 26th July 2019

Additional information from other sources

Photo of Chris Brindle

Chris Brindle 

Chris is a writer (see www.Ubsdell.com) and in 2014 produced a play, short film and documentary that completed and told the story of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel Sanditon. Read more of his biography at this link.

Inquiring readers: This is a long recap. Eight episodes of a mini-series deserve a thorough discussion of the finale.

Spoiler Alert: We’ve invested many hours in Davies’ Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece and where did it get us? Before we rush to the comment section to share our opinions, let’s analyze the final show. At the end of my, er, analysis, we’ll finish with a poll to measure our collective satisfaction quotient.

Announcement: According to PBS and ITV, there are no plans to film a second season of Sanditon.

Dancing on a cloud

The episode opens with our lovely Miss Charlotte walking on air through the one intersection of the Sanditon set that viewers have seen repeatedly. Thoughts of Sidney’s sweet talk and proposal interruptus swirl in her head.

She knocks on Mrs. Griffith’s door to visit Georgiana and espies Sidney nearby talking to Tom. He sees her as well. They exchange smoldering looks. Charlotte’s heart beats as fast as mine.

The scene segues to Georgiana’s bedroom. For the first time in many episodes, Miss Lambe is dressed in a lovely gown. Her complexion glows. She and Charlotte chatter like close girlfriends are wont to do, giggling and exchanging highly personal information.

Then Charlotte drops a bombshell – “Sidney is a wonderful man. He’s kind. He’s so dreamy. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking of him.”

Quelle horreur!

Georgiana is beside herself. “You aren’t (gag) in love with him!? Please say you are not.”

“Well, uh, maybe, perhaps. Recall that he trotted out Otis to say goodbye to you. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You cannot trust a word he says!”

Sanditon intersectionEnd of discussion. The viewer is immediately transported to the same intersection of the Sanditon set that they have seen repeatedly. This time a stagecoach takes center stage to deliver passengers and the mail. James Stringer receives a letter stating that he has received an offer of an apprenticeship in London. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Now all he has to do is tell his Da.

Something jolly

The camera pans to Sanditon House. My head spins from the many scene changes and from my low blood sugar. I reach for crackers with sharp New Zealand cheddar cheese and a fine red Australian wine and watch Lady D and Esther playing cards. Esther’s bored and pays scant attention to the game, which prompts Lady D to complain,

“You are playing like a nincompoop. What is the matter with you?”

Esther is honest. She couldn’t care less about cards.

“Don’t give yourself airs,” says Lady D, “You haven’t got my money yet! Go over and play the piano. Play me something jolly.”

Esther resists, saying she can’t play or sing.

At that moment, Lord Babbington is announced and he enters smiling and smug, and asks Esther to accompany him for a ride.

Esther: “No”

Lord Babb: “Yes”

Lady D: “Go!”

babbington and estherIn the next scene we see Esther and Lord Babb sitting side by side in a curricle (a dandy’s vehicle, much like today’s ultra sleek sports car for the uber rich). The horses gallop along a beautiful stretch of beach. Esther feigns boredom, but Lord Babb urges the horses on. She basically calls him a wuss and says:

“You are the world’s worst carriage driver.”

“Do you want to take over the reins?”

“Why not?” As she drives the horses even faster we gain insight into their future relationship. Esther is the alpha of the two—a bitch in a bonnet. (Thanks, Robert Rodi for the title, which I borrowed from your book.)

The horses increase their speed, their manes and tails flying in the wind. Esther laughs joyously and for the first time viewers watch her blossom into a fun-loving young woman whose worries disappear with a man who loves her more than she loves him.

First kiss

Tom Parker is happy. The WHOLE WORLD wants to come to Sanditon (a slight exaggeration) just in time for the Midsummer’s Ball.

Sidney visits Tom in the drawing room and catches Charlotte going out to adjust the final finishes to her ball gown. Sidney expresses interest in joining her in her perambulations. She says, coyly, “Sure why not?” And off they go—in the exact opposite direction of her destination. There is no urgency to her dressmaking, she says. Hah!

charlotte SidneyThe couple meanders along the Downs, lost in tender emotions and lust. Then they kiss.

Heartstrings tug. Violins violin. The music climaxes in volume. We viewers KNOW this maiden has won the final rose from her very eligible bachelor and that all is right in Austenland.

*Sigh.*

At the Midsummer’s ball

I give the third ball in this series a rating of 2. (#1 goes to the London ball, and #3 to the assembly ball at the beginning of the series.) The midsummer decorations are more than adequate and the beau monde & villagers look smashing—kudos to the costume and prop departments.

Our main protagonists and characters are assembled, beautifully dressed and ready to party, except for Georgiana, who confronts Sidney. “What are you up to with Charlotte?

Arthur interrupts to ask Miss Lambe to dance. Sidney quickly answers, “She’d be delighted.”

Off they go.

Then Sidney is way laid by Tom. James Stringer takes this moment to ask Charlotte for a dance. Across the ball room, Charlotte and Sidney exchange glances of frustration, but she can’t refuse Stringer, for she was not engaged to dance with another gentleman. Regency manners require her to accept this invitation or bow out from dancing for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, a dance in formation can take up a considerable amount of time and Sidney will have to bide his time before he can talk to his sweet Charlotte.

As James and Charlotte dance, he tells her he’s found an excellent situation in London as an apprentice. She’s so delighted with the news—so pleased for him—so gushing—that he must be disappointed with that overenthusiastic reaction.

Lord Babb talks to Sidney as they eye the dancers. He leaves his friend as soon as he sees Lady D and Esther enter the ball room, fashionably late as great ladies were wont to do.

The dancing continues, with Lord Babb and Esther, Arthur and Georgiana, and the rest of the assembled guests having great fun.  After what seems to be an age, Charlotte’s dance with Stringer finally ends.

Balcony scene

We now have a Romeo and Juliet moment in reverse, with Sidney looking down at Charlotte on the ballroom floor. They finally meet and greet. In their scene together he says all the words that a hero would say at the VERY END of a romance, but we are only halfway into the story!

And so, Sidney says, “What a brute I was.”

Charlotte, who, once upon a time was a feisty opinionated woman, says, “I deserved it.”

He then confesses he’s the same man. She ripostes, “But much improved.” Really, Charlotte, really? I reach for more wine and learn to my surprise that one can gulp 3 ounces in one fell swoop.

Then comes the piece de resistance in romance dialogues—“If I’ve changed at all it is in no small part down to you. I’ve never waited to put myself in someone else’s power before.”

Violins violin. Hearts flutter.

I think: *WTDFJH?* (What the Dr. Fuchs just happened?) This denouement is occurring too soon!

I forgot about deux ex machina, a literary device used to derail the reader or viewer, and that is discouraged by professors who teach Writing Romance Novels 101.

Ashes to ashes

For some reason, the elder Stringer, instead of attending the ball, works late by candlelight on a stepladder to complete the Crescent all by his lonesome. James Stringer sought him out before the ball to tell him about his acceptance letter in the apprenticeship program

Dad is not pleased. “It’s for Charlotte and (eyeing his ball attire), you look like one of THEM! Well, off you go, then.”

James, such a sweet and likable character, stomps out, calling his father a miserable old man.

The night is dark and only candles light up the space when Old Stringer touches his chest, then his left arm. Uh, oh. My knowledge of medicine, learned in lifeguard training classes in college, kicks in. This is not looking good. Plus, why is the elder Stringer working for a gentleman when he hasn’t been paid in an age?

The next thing we know, someone yells, “Fire!” Poor Mr. Stringer is toast. Scant resources existed in the early 19th century to fight fires in buildings made largely of wood, and the structure is swiftly destroyed.  James Stringer is aghast at the loss of his father, and he recalls his angry last words with profound regret.

Tom, who was riding high a few hours ago with visions of profits dancing in his head, is utterly destroyed financially. He has no idea of how to save his dream for a seaside resort. Worse, how could he face his Mary?  His stupidity and naiveté are revealed when Sidney uncovers his true crime—not investing in insurance to save a few quid.

Lady D swoops down upon the hapless brothers and sister, saying she wants her investment back or else they’ll all be put in the poor house. The Parkers’ combined resources cannot cover the disastrous cost of  ‎£80,000, or £6,323,574.23 in today’s money. Is there no hope?

Yes! Deus ex machina.

Everything has changed. Sidney rides off in the sunset to London to find funds. In ancient Greek theatre, this DEM device came in the form of an angel or god of sorts lowered onto a stage who would save the protagonists. A chorus echoes in my head with the refrain, “Lady Campion, she’s the champion, richest widow in the land.”

Before Sidney leaves, he visits Charlotte and holds her hand: “When I return, we’ll finally have a chance to finish our conversation. I’ll be back in a week.”

Is that so, kemo sabe? We’ll see.

Old Stringer is buried. We learn his name was Isaac. James is beside himself with grief and regret.

In another scene, Tom grovels in front of Mary and she, milquetoast, er, loving wife, that she is, forgives him.

Charlotte writes a letter to her sister saying that it’s been weeks since Sidney left in an attempt to save Sanditon…and so the plot goes on.

The wedding is celebrated by … the wrong couple, or the right couple, or half the couples who are eligible to marry. Take your pick.

I must confess my happiness when Lord Babb and his Esther marry. It’s the same feeling I had when Lady Edith married her Bertie in Downton Abbey, making her a marchioness.

I love it when Story B makes it to the A list and emerges front and center. In this instance, the viewer is treated to the morning after the wedding night, when we see that Esther is not disappointed. In fact, she anticipates a happy future with her Lord, who unleashed emotions in her and feelings of pleasure that Sir Ed would never have liberated.

Well done you, Lord Babb. I love rich, huggy-bear types who adore their headstrong women.

Good news, bad news: the hero returns to save the day but sacrifices his lovely damsel and his own happiness.

The Parkers’ financial future lies in Sidney’s quick return, and they gnash their teeth as they await news of his success. He hies back to Sanditon several weeks after his departure, causing ulcers and sleepless nights for kith and kin. It turns out, he has saved them all—except for he, himself and Charlotte.

Their meeting stinks, in my humble opinion. At least he’s gutsy enough to tell her in person of his actions.

Saint Sidney takes her hand in his.

“Charlotte, my dear Charlotte…I had hoped that upon my return I’d be able to make you a proposal of marriage, but it cannot be…the fact is I have been obliged to engage myself to Mrs. Eliza Campion.”

*Yeah, whatev,* I think. Charlotte is stunned, however.

“Please believe me there was no other way to resolve Tom’s situation”

Sidney’s words turn Charlotte into a boneless mass of compliance.

“I understand. I wish you every happiness,” she says like an automaton.

Adding salt to the wound of rejection

Lady DenhamAfter Lord Babb’s weddng to Esther, Lady D turns to Charlotte. “Well Miss Heywood? Are you still proclaiming your independence? Or is it that none of our young men have taken your fancy?” She turns to Sidney: “What do you say, Mr. Parker?”

Lady D is called away, before he can formulate an answer.

Charlotte and Sidney soldier on, exchanging polite conversation. “How are your wedding preparations?” she asks, her face immobile, as if injected by botox

“Elaborate.”

Lady Campion, all noxious graciousness, insinuates herself into the conversation.

“Perhaps we should plan a simple country wedding. Although I don’t think it would be our sort of thing.”

At this point I’ve eaten all my crackers and cheese, texted my Janeite friends with my observances, and poured another glass of an outstanding 94-point Fox in the Hen House wine. I take care not to throw that precious liquid at the screen whenever Lady C smirks.

Charlotte folds in on herself like a wet noodle

Charlotte visits James Stringer. Feeling the weight of guilt for his last angry words to his father, he now lives in his Da’s cottage.

“I gather Mr. Sidney Parker is engaged,” he says.

“Yes, I wish for his happiness.”

“She’s not half the woman you are…if he doesn’t see that he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stringer.” Charlotte obviously has no desire to flirt with James or embark on a relationship with him. More fool she.

We then see her saying goodbye to the Palmer family and leaving Sanditon in a lovely carriage pulled by four magnificent horses. Once again, the scenery of the Downs is sublime.

The camera pans to Sidney chasing after Charlotte on his powerful steed.

“Whoa, whoa,” says the coachman, prompting Charlotte to peer out the window.

The viewers instantly know why Sidney needs to see her when he says, “Tell me you don’t think badly of me.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 1.49.20 PMCharlotte says without inflection, “I don’t think badly of you.”

He then says, “I don’t love her, you know… I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain.”

This is the UNFAIREST cut of them all. “Sir,” I shout at the screen, “You are no gentleman!”

Charlotte meekly steps inside the carriage and Sidney watches until it disappears over the horizon

I splutter. THAT’S IT?! What did I just invest my time in?

Davies and his team have an obligation to viewers to end this mini-series without a cliff hanger. He was hoping for but was not assured a second season.  His attitude towards us is disrespectful.

My plea to the powers that be is to think of your audience and order up at least one more episode to tie up loose ends and provide Charlotte with the logical ending she deserves.

Now, gentle reader,  it’s your turn to vent, either in the comment section or in this poll.

Thank you for visiting this blog. It’s been a pleasure reading your thoughts, pro, con, or indifferent.

Viewer satisfaction poll of Sanditon

Sanditon, Episode 7: Good Grief

Episode 7: At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

As popular television fare goes, Davies’ Sanditon is quite entertaining. In the first 16 minutes of Episode Seven, so many dizzying plot developments are introduced, that they left this viewer’s head spinning. By the end of the episode, everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown into the mix to keep viewers hungering for more. (The last episode is a doozy, but we’ll get to it next week.)

 

Davies’ sledge -hammer approach felt so heavy handed at times, that (honestly) I ran to my bookshelf to retrieve Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen’s delightful, familiar words gave me a sense of calm. I put down the book and continued to watch the episode.

 

As certain characters in Davies’ Sanditon reveal their distasteful ambitions, such as when Clara Brereton told Esther Denham about her sexual gymnastics with Sir Edward on the drawing room floor after burning Lady Denham’s will and divvying up her fortune (as that lady lay dying), I reached for my first glass of wine, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Let’s face it. Austen did not hesitate to create nasty characters. Think of Sense and Sensibility.  Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, is a piece of work plotting to oust Mrs. Dashwood, John’s stepmother, and his stepsisters from Norland Park almost as soon as the elder Mr. Dashwood was buried. Her machinations were despicable, but under Austen’s skillful pen, Fanny’s method to drive them out was masterful, awesome, ruthless, and nuanced. John, her husband, is a manipulated fool and yet a willing conspirator in disregarding his father’s express desire for his stepsisters’ and stepmother’s future security.

 

We felt the Dashwood women’s pain and grief. We understood their pride and anger as they chose to leave an impossible situation as soon as possible. We felt for Marianne Dashwood when she fell for Willoughby, a flawed but smooth-talking and handsome character. Readers knew, along with Colonel Brandon, that he had gotten a virginal girl pregnant and then abandoned her to a life of shame.

 

Elinor Dashwood, a sensible character, at first had difficulty seeing through Lucy Steele, a conniving little witch. When Elinor finally figured her out, she was trapped into listening to information about Edward Ferrars that felt like knives stabbing her heart. More than once I wanted her to bitch slap that girl, but Elinor has more class than me.

 

Who can forget Fanny Dashwood’s mother? She was an outspoken battle-ax and manipulator of the worst sort, whose conversation provoked Marianne to defend her sister with a truthful artlessness that was bold and threw caution to the wind.

 

The difference between Austen’s villains and Davies’ is that Austen laid a careful groundwork for their motivations and behavior. The dark undertones of conflict between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon resonate with us. The secrets the two men withheld from Marianne, and the complexity of their love and longing for her add to the suspense of the plot—who will she choose? Which choice makes sense to the heart of a young girl? Which is the more mature, sensible choice? How do experience, suffering, and maturity add to a character’s growth and understanding?

 

In Davies’ Sanditon, secondary characters and villains tend to be one dimensional, almost cartoon-like. The main protagonists, Charlotte and Sidney, are given more complex motivations, which I appreciate, especially in this episode as they attempt to overcome their misunderstandings and grow closer. Their longing for each other is palpable, as Lady Susan and Young Stringer notice.

 

Now, let’s examine the salient plot lines in this second to the last episode.

 

Stupid is as stupid does

 

While Lucy Steele’s devised her trap for Elinor with evil genius, she kept her plans to herself until she approached Edward. Clara Brereton is just plain dumb. She lords it over Esther, who is unable to hide her emotions for her stepbrother. A gloating Clara reveals that she and Edward found the will, agreed to 50% of the cut, then burned it. Seeing Esther’s disbelief, she adds salt to the wound to reveal that she and Sir Ed sealed the deal with a quickie on the drawing room floor. Charlotte Spencer, the actress who plays Esther, stepped up her acting chops and gave a superb performance throughout this episode. We feel her pain, her horror, and then her understanding of the situation.

 

Most of all, we (I) cheered her hard slap to Clara’s face. Then, when Clara figures out that Esther is still a virgin, she says,”No wonder he was so keen to take his pleasure elsewhere.” We (I) wished that Esther had knocked her unconscious to the floor. (I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies.)

 

As for Clara, she’s no Jane Fairfax. Her situation as Lady D’s dependent companion is precarious. Falsely confident, she assumes the mantle of the victor prematurely. Jane Fairfax kept silent until all the dominoes fell safely in place before Frank Churchill revealed their romantic bond. Clara, who has just as much to lose, could not stop herself from gloating.

 

A vengeful phoenix arises from the ashes and swoops on her victims with talons outstretched

 

Esther, in her misery, pays a final visit to Lady Denham. Her confession to the comatose lady is revealing. She says:

 

You should know there’s not a single person alive who holds you in the least affection. Not Edward, Clara, not me…“You will die unloved, and Edward, my Edward—she holds Lady D’s hand—“Truth is, he’s betrayed us both. He betrayed us when he and Clara lay with each other on the drawing room floor. He betrayed us when he and Clara conspired to burn your will and share your fortune. I truly hope that you find happiness in heaven, because this earth has become a living hell.”

 

Hours or days later, Esther sits waiting in the hallway as Sir Ed awakens from a couch just outside of Lady D’s bedroom. He yawns and says,

I did not know it was going to be this drawn out [or] I would have been in bed.”

Esther replies sarcastically,

Perhaps you would have been more comfortable on the floor.”

He shoots her a curious look. Then, wonder of wonders, the unfortunately named Dr. Fuchs runs towards them.

Her fever broke!…She may yet recover altogether!”

While Clara blanches, as if the ghost of Northanger Abbey has come to attack her, Sir Ed’s collar grows three sizes too small.

 

Somewhat later, he and Clara simper up to Lady D, who’s still abed. Sir Ed says unctuously,

Words cannot express our belief. Dr. Fuchs has our eternal gratitude.”

Lady D, holding a glass with a milky substance, says,

Why? If anyone deserves credit, it is the ass who restored my strength.”

Austen created the running joke of Lady D’s milch asses, from whom that wealthy widow planned to make much money. Davies and his team hardly used that funny material, an opportunity missed.

 

Clara adds timidly,

We have kept constant vigil.”

A steely-eyed Lady D then gives the two of them her what for.

Mmmm. Well, you can dry your eyes. Dying is highly disagreeable…although it has to be said there is nothing like imminent death to focus the mind. I have under-estimated the boundless depth of your venality.”

The two blather and bluster, but Lady D waves them off.

Enough, you feeble parasites…Get out, and needless to say, I shall be laying a new floor in my drawing room, since the old one has been indelibly stained!”

Gentle readers, who’d have thunk a wood floor would become such an important character in a mini-series? Oh, the drama! Sir Ed is disinherited. Clara is banished to London post haste. And Esther appears to be the sole remaining heir to the Denham fortune. At this point, I poured my second glass of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and munched copious amounts of Utz Party Mix, which contains not one wholly natural ingredient as far as I can tell.

 

Turbo recap of the rest of the story

 

Tom Parker is beside himself when he gushes that all the beau monde in London have traveled to Sanditon. He greets Lady Susan with an obsequiousness that is cringe worthy. When he tells her that Sanditon has the finest situation on the south coast, she pooh-poohs the idea,

 

Oh, shush. Never mind all that. If I gave a fig about the sea, I’d have gone to Brighton.” (A delicious cut.)

It turns out that she’s come to continue her conversation with Charlotte, which, to my mind, was nothing more than artless chatter at a fancy ball from a simple girl from a simple farm near an undeveloped town. One can never divine the whims of the rich and famous, so we’ll have to take Lady Susan’s word at face value.

 

She and Charlotte chatter, and the lady’s keen observation tells her that she’s in love. Her discernment also tells her that Lady Eliza Campion, one of the richest women in the country and an old connection to Sidney Parker, stands in the way of Charlotte’s happiness. Lady S, a kind busybody, will see to that. She’ll find a chink in Lady Campion’s armour and put a stop to her designs on Sidney Parker. Anything for a friend she’s known for all of two hours.

 

Charlotte, upset at seeing Lady C, turns away from the assembled company and encounters Young Stringer in the woods. We learn this late in the series that his first name is James. James Stringer. Had Davies and his team meant for Stringer to be a likely love interest for Charlotte, we would have learned this important fact earlier. In the course of their conversation, James realizes that while he yearns for Charlotte, she yearns for someone else. Like the stoic man he is, he holds his feelings to himself and lets her go. C’mon, James! Fight for your woman!

 

We then see the three Parker brothers strolling towards the regatta. As they converse, we learn that Sidney has loved Eliza Campion for a decade and that his broken heart drove him to the West Indies. (Another bit of news that comes late in the series.) Sidney only says that it’s a strange feeling to want something that is impossible and to find that it’s suddenly in your grasp. For once Arthur sounds intelligent and says that while he admires Sidney’s spirit of forgiveness, if it were him, he would never trust that lady again.

 

As a quick aside, Miss Lambe, who has been strangely delegated as a secondary character in the background, shows signs of deep depression. Arthur Parker visits her and insists that she join them in the festivities. She goes unwillingly, but it is obvious that he has a crush on her.

 

The regatta is a letdown. There’s a sandcastle competition, a fisherman’s boat race, and a gentleman’s rowing race that James Stringer and his crew win. Tents provide food and drink, but I see nothing that would attract the beau monde to return a second time.

 

Before the rowing competition, Sidney and Charlotte make goo goo eyes at each other on the boat as he practices his strokes and shows her how to row along with him. (I do so love symbolism.) Eliza Campion watches them from the banks, jealous and suspicious. After the race she makes a pitch, telling him she never lost hope and that fate is giving them a second chance. 

 

Sir Ed fails in his quest to woo Esther back and share her fortune. The once confident man is drunk and disheveled as he encounters Clara with her packed bags at the docks. He tells her off harshly and brags that he’s still a gentleman and titled. “Yes,” she says, “but I had nothing to lose…You’re alone and unloved.”

 

After a revealing conversation with Sir Ed, who spoke in derogatory terms about Esther, Lord Babbington hurries to see her. He tells her that he can’t forget her and that he has her back, always.

I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not have enough.”

 

Esther begins to cry.

You…know nothing.”

 

He replies,

I think you’ve been his prisoner for too long.”

The background music swells in my head as he continues talking to her in this romantic vein.

 

In the last scene, Sidney approaches Charlotte.

I thought you and Mrs. Campion would be heading back for London,” she says.

 

She’s already left. I decided against joining her. On reflection, I realized I would rather be here…I believe I’m my best self—my truest self when I’m with you.”

 

The music crescendos. My heart’s a flutter. Perhaps from the wine, but it might be that all this romantic stuff is making me feel all puddly inside.

 

Next week: the conclusion. Or is it? (Gentle readers, those of you who binge watched this series, please include no spoilers in the comments. Thank you!)

 

The plot goes on, the plot goes on
Twists keep pounding confusion to my brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Inquiring Readers,

I apologize for reworking Sonny and Cher lyrics and adding them to my recap of Sanditon: Episode Six, but when the Davies’ writing team had 19th century Charlotte saying “Anyway, she’s safe” in discussing Georgiana to a stranger named Susan at a London ball, I was instantly transported out of the Regency era to our own time. Like, you know. Wha’s up with dat?

Our classy Miss Jane did not have any characters say “anyway” in her novel fragment of Sanditon This phrase, uttered late in the episode by Rose Williams, an accomplished and very likable actress, stood out like a gluten-free, plant-based dish at a smoked meat barbecue. Am I nitpicking? Well, yeah. You betcha.

The production values of the ball were gaspingly beautiful, and I loved the dances, although the music was somewhat off putting. While I liked the folksy music at the assembly ball in Sussex, a rural area, I would think that a prestigious London ball would feature more sophisticated airs and the latest musical trends from the continent.

With all the plot twists and confusing goings on in this episode, I imbibed two glasses of pinot noir. Just now I’m having a hard time deciding which plot elements to cover and which to gloss over. I’m sure you’ll mention some I missed in the comments.

Bear with me as I condense 8 pages of notes into a short-ish review. At the start of the episode we see virginal 22-year old Miss Charlotte Heywood galivanting alone to London by stagecoach with only a vague idea of where to find her friend, Georgiana Lambe, who planned to run off with Mr. Otis Molyneux and free herself from the shackles of her guardian, Sidney Parker.

Never mind that no single 19th century lady like Charlotte (or Miss Lambe) would venture forth without a chaperone (recall that dastardly General Tilney cast Catherine Morland out alone from Northanger Abbey on a long journey home and how this appalled Henry and his sister). Disregarding conventions or the services of a maid, our stubborn and loyal heroine is determined to find her friend without an address in a city of a million people. Somehow, in a dark, dank alley, without a GPS, she *happens* to meet Mr. Sidney Parker. Plot-wise, this is not Deus Ex Machina. It is Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Sidney, after an awkward exchange with Charlotte in which he mentions that he despises slavery, suggest that they might find Mr. Molyneux at a meeting of the Sons of Africa, a movement to which he belongs. There they find him speaking at a pulpit. Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Here’s where the plot twists and bends It turns out that Mr. Otis Molyneux never received the letter from Georgiana stating where she would meet him. Someone else met her and abducted her. Speaking to Otis, they discover he owes gambling debts to a Mr. Beecroft.

Sidney and Charlotte rush over to Beecroft’s gambling den and learn that in order to satisfy Otis’s debt, Mr. Beecroft kidnapped Miss Lambe and sold her to a Mr. Howard, a repulsive and dangerous man. This individual, upon learning that Sidney is hot on his heels, absconds with Georgiana to Scotland in order to force her into marriage and gain full access to her fortune.

Sidney, along with Charlotte, chase after Howard in a scene reminiscent of a classic Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Sidney’s horses heroically overtake Howard’s carriage, which allows our hero to jump onto the villain’s vehicle. The camera follows Sidney, not the horses, who have probably collapsed on the side of the road from exhaustion after their herculean efforts. It’s hard enough for two horses to pull a heavy vehicle for twelve miles at regular speed, but to ask them to run at a full clip with 2-3 people on board for however long, well, that’s zany. Why did Sidney not go on horseback alone and return with Miss Lambe after rescuing her? Oh, yes, I forgot. Stubborn Charlotte insisted on coming along.

At this point, Davies’ Sanditon, which many episodes ago had left the sophisticated structure of Austen’s unconventional forward-thinking novel fragment, goes backwards in time to gain inspiration from Austen’s fun but melodramatic Juvenilia stories, which were filled with outrageous characters, situations, and histories.

I reached for my second glass of wine while watching the drama unfold among the Denhams and Clara Brereton. As Lady Denham lies dying (she is as mean-spirited as ever), Edward searches for her will in every nook and cranny, room or desk he can think of. Papers are scattered everywhere (one would have thought a servant might have alerted their lady to this dastardly search, but Lady D probably alienated them too.)

In Jane’s novel fragment, Edward is a self-centered buffoon, one who quotes poetry and literature inspired by nature with doltish misunderstanding. In quoting his favorite poets and authors, he blathers reams of nonsense.

Sir E also fancies himself a ladies’ man and a seducer. His personality under Austen’s hand is that of an ineffectual dilettante, one without a fortune. To save himself from poverty, his hopes depend solely on an inheritance from Lady D or a marriage to an heiress. In Davies’ Sanditon, Edward is intentionally malicious. He is a villain, plain and simple – handsome and dangerous – but a plotting SOB.

My attitude towards Esther in Davies’ Sanditon has softened somewhat, since her treatment of Babbington in Episode 5 was not altogether atrocious, but she’s captive to her longing for Edward, which makes her a weak character. Still, I cannot forget her coarse conversations with Clara Brereton, more reminiscent of women in a brothel than maidens reared in privileged environments.

It’s not as if Esther has no prospects. Lady D is more than willing to team her up with Lord Babbington, Sidney’s friend, who possesses the trifecta of a title, estate, and fortune. Hormones have overpowered Esther’s common sense, however, and she prefers to moon over her stepbrother and wait for good fortune to save and unite them.

Jane Austen’s take on the situation differs from Davies’s. In Austen’s Sanditon, Lady D tells Charlotte about Esther:

Miss Esther wants me to invite her and her brother to spend a week with me at Sanditon House, as I did last summer. But I shan’t. She has been trying to get round me every way with her praise of this and her praise of that; but I saw what she was about. I saw through it all. I am not very easily taken in, my dear.”

&

“And Miss Esther must marry somebody of fortune too. She must get a rich husband. Ah, young ladies that have no money are very much to be pitied! But,” after a short pause, “if Miss Esther thinks to talk me into inviting them to come and stay at Sanditon House, she will find herself mistaken. Matters are altered with me since last summer, you know. I have Miss Clara with me now which makes a great difference.”

Then there’s Clara Brereton, Lady D’s companion, whose enviable skill is in her ability to keep Lady D happy. This is how Austen describes her:

…in selecting the one, Lady Denham had shown the good part of her character. For, passing by the actual daughters of the house, she had chosen Clara, a niece—more helpless and more pitiable of course than any—a dependent on poverty—an additional burden on an encumbered circle—and one who had been so low in every worldly view as, with all her natural endowments and powers, to have been preparing for a situation little better than a nursery maid.

Clara had returned with her—and by her good sense and merit had now, to all appearance, secured a very strong hold in Lady Denham’s regard. The six months had long been over—and not a syllable was breathed of any change or exchange. She was a general favourite.”

One critic compared Clara’s situation to Jane Fairfax’s. Both young women, dependent on the kindness of relatives and strangers, had to walk a tightrope in their respective situations. No hint of scandal could be attached to their conduct. Jane Fairfax was successful in hiding her romance with Frank Churchill, but in Davies’ Sanditon, Clara makes brazen movements towards Sir Edward. She’s seen by Charlotte giving him a hand job and in this episode the viewer is given the distasteful experience of watching her writhe with Edward on the floor after they found Lady D’s will and wrangled over their take of the inheritance. What if the servants had walked in on them? How stupid could a single woman with no fortune be?

Austen does hint at Edward’s desire to have Clara for a lover. She writes:

Miss Heywood, or any other young woman with any pretensions to beauty, he was entitled (according to his own view of society) to approach with high compliment and rhapsody on the slightest acquaintance. But it was Clara alone on whom he had serious designs; it was Clara whom he meant to seduce.”

What is Clara’s part in his plans for her seduction? Evidently, she wasn’t born yesterday. Jane describes the following:

Clara saw through him and had not the least intention of being seduced; but she bore with him patiently enough to confirm the sort of attachment which her personal charms had raised. A greater degree of discouragement indeed would not have affected Sir Edward. He was armed against the highest pitch of disdain or aversion. If she could not be won by affection, he must carry her off. He knew his business. Already had he had many musings on the subject. If he were constrained so to act, he must naturally wish to strike out something new, to exceed those who had gone before him; and he felt a strong curiosity to ascertain whether the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo might not afford some solitary house adapted for Clara’s reception.”

Sir Edward’s plans are ambitious and nonsensical, for he has not a sou to his name, and so Austen states:

But the expense, alas! of measures in that masterly style was ill-suited to his purse; and prudence obliged him to prefer the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace for the object of his affections to the more renowned.”

Austen’s rather extensive description of the Denhams in her short twelve paragraphs exceeds her description of Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe, to whom Austen had not given a first name. So the story of the Denhams and Clara Brereton as it unfolds in Davies’ Sanditon is partially Austen’s invention, but in the series’ explicit vulgarity it is all Davies’s.

Episode six ends with the ball. Weeks before, Lord Babbington entered Trafalgar House with invitations to a masked ball in Grosvenor Square, a high end Mayfair address in London. Tom Parker immediately seizes on the idea of taking his friends to the ball and asking them to advertise the regatta in Sanditon to all the ball goers they encounter. This is bad form, but Tom is desperate and his friends’ support might be his last hope for salvaging his finances and reputation.

In a Deus Ex Coincidenta moment, Charlotte meets a lovely older woman named Susan, who shows extraordinary interest in the artless young woman. As Charlotte leaves her new acquaintance, she spots Sidney Parker in deep conversation with a lady. Since Charlotte’s and Sidney’s adventure in rescuing Georgianna, they’ve bonded and become close. Their dance brought them even closer, so one can imagine her shock at seeing him so intimate with a strange woman.

Stay tuned for Episode 7 to see what develops. I, for one, am somewhat miffed that a new character has been introduced so late in the series.

What say you?

Inquiring readers,

Unmarriageable new paperback edition cover

Unmarriageable, new paperback edition out on February 5

Soniah Kamal has written a fascinating version of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan, Unmarriageable. The book has become very popular in a wide variety of circles, and, almost a year after its appearance, the author is still busy meeting with book clubs and speaking at book festivals and conferences.

Soniah calls Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice since it includes all the characters and plot points of the original book, albeit in a different setting. Elizabeth became Alysba Binat, an English literature teacher in a British School in Pakistan, and Darcy became Valentine Darsee, wealthy head of the British School Group.

I’ve read the book twice, and enjoyed it very much each time! I asked Soniah to tell us more about her book.

Brenda S. Cox: How have Jane Austen fans responded to Unmarriageable? I know you spoke about it to the Georgia chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Soniah Kamal: You know I’m a huge Jane Austen fan myself and I actually ran a special book club for all six novels during the 200th commemoration year, so I know Janeites and how revered Jane Austen is. Austen connoisseurs aren’t hesitant about expressing their opinion when they don’t like something, and so I really wondered how Unmarriageable would be received, considering what I’d set out to do. My first taste was at the Georgia JASNA meeting for which they’d decided to read Unmarriageable and I was going to be interviewed. I was so nervous when I saw the full room and then, when I stepped in, everyone stood up and clapped, and I realized I’d been holding my breath–that validation was really, really gratifying and the best endorsement. Some of the members told me that they’d been hesitant to read Unmarriageable because they weren’t very fond of takes on Austen’s novels, but that they loved Unmarriageable.

I think Unmarriageable has resonated so amazingly with Janeites because they’re reading it for Jane Austen, they know Pride and Prejudice, and so when I mention real characters like Harris Bigg-Wither and Thomas Fowle, they get it. When I discuss Jane Austen in Unmarriageable, it’s fun and extra. They see the little inside jokes. When I bring up that Darcy’s wet T-shirt scene is not in the novel, they appreciate that stuff–it’s like diving into a really rich cake for them, I think.

One of the loveliest things I’ve heard so far from Janeites is that in reading Unmarriageable, because it is a parallel retelling, it’s as if they are reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time and it’s bringing back all their joy in reading Austen for the first time. So that was lovely unexpected feedback. And then another one was that readers who have never read Pride and Prejudice or Austen have picked up Unmarriageable, and then they are going to read Pride and Prejudice through that. Never did I think that my book would be a gateway for readers to get to Pride and Prejudice; I always thought obviously it would be the other way around.

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Since the Georgia JASNA meeting, I’ve been invited by the Northern California JASNA Chapter to deliver Jane Austen’s Birthday Toast, and I spoke at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. I will be the 2020 Keynote Speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a featured Plenary Panelist at the 2020 JASNA AGM in Cleveland.

If you are a Janeite you will get a lot of the “Easter eggs” and inside jokes in Unmarriageable, and if you’re not, it’s a stand-alone novel in its own right.

Brenda: What kind of “Easter eggs” will Janeites discover in Unmarriageable?

Soniah: In Unmarriageable I put Easter eggs in for all the novels. So the quote which opens Unmarriageable is itself a variation of Austen’s opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice as well a nod to the beginning of Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park opens with three sisters and the directions their lives take based on who they marry, and so Unmarriageable opens with: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.” In Unmarriageable, the discussion about books from the Western and Eastern traditions is a nod to Northanger Abbey which I see as Austen’s book about books. Emma comes up because Valentine Darsee asks Alys who her favorite hero is and she says Mr. Knightley, and you’ll have to read Unmarriageable to find out why that’s so. Mr. Knightley is my favorite character, too. Persuasion comes through in my making Jena (Jane) and Alys (Elizabeth) older than Valentine Darsee (Darcy) and Bungles (Bingley). Sense and Sensibility is the most obvious, when Alys thinks that Bungles carrying Jena is like Willoughby carrying Marianne when Marianne slips. But she realizes that didn’t go well, because they did not enjoy a happy ending. I would have done Lady Susan and the rest also, but I thought, this could go on forever!

Brenda: Why a parallel retelling?

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Soniah: As I say in the essay included with the novel, I needed to give myself an identity inclusive of both my Pakistani culture as well as the English language I grew up in, which is a linguistic legacy of Empire, of colonialism, and comes with all the complications of that. If I had written an “inspired-by” rather than a parallel, I would have had Jane divorced and with a kid, Lydia would have ended up not married and pregnant, I would have gone my own different way and allowed my characters to be different. But it wasn’t an inspired-by; my intent was to literally write Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan through a postcolonial lens. So the basic characters of each character are all the same, I didn’t deviate from anything. In fact, the challenge was how not to deviate from Pride and Prejudice and still make it my own. Let me tell you, on the face of it, it might seem simpler to write a parallel retelling, but really to stick within the boundaries of what your source material has given you was tough.

For those who don’t know Austen, a lot of them think any story where the main characters bicker is Pride and Prejudice, in which case everything on earth is Pride and Prejudice! What book or movie doesn’t have a romance, and where do the protagonists not bicker? I actually don’t think of Austen as a romance writer. None of her novels start out with boy meets girl, or end with proposals and elaborate marriage scenes per se. In fact, Austen glosses over both. She seems least bothered with love stories. For me, she’s a social satirist interested in exposing the hypocrisies and pretensions of her time and exploring the choices women, and even men, had and the lives women were able to fashion for themselves at a time when marriage was a financial necessity.

Brenda: Several of your characters are similar to, but somewhat different from, the original characters. Why did you choose to make Kaleen (Mr. Collins) a physician, rather than a clergyman like Mr. Collins? Perhaps he could have been a Muslim cleric?

Soniah: Islam has no clergy like in Christianity and each Muslim’s relationship is directly with God. However, there are mullahs who are schooled in Islam and the Quran. In Pakistan, traditionally the mullah class comes from the poorer, lower rungs of society and would not have been readily welcomed by the likes of Beena dey Bagh (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) into her drawing room. Therefore, it was a social class decision to make Kaleen a doctor who would be treating Annie (Anne de Bourgh) and therefore get an in with the family.

Brenda: Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas), who marries Kaleen, seems to do much better in Unmarriageable than she does in Pride and Prejudice. Why is that?

Soniah: I think Charlotte deserves just as much respect as Elizabeth does, even though one marries Mr. Collins and one marries Darcy. Charlotte’s my favorite character because she’s really independent. I think Austen sometimes gives short shrift to Charlotte’s intelligence. Charlotte is very much a modern heroine for me, since she literally decides what is best for her life and then makes it happen. There’s one sentence in Pride and Prejudice where Charlotte sees Mr. Collins coming down the lane and she orchestrates accidentally running into him, but we don’t see the proposal, next thing we know they’re getting married. Charlotte’s made a huge decision by marrying Mr. Collins: she’s going to inherit Longbourn, she’s not languishing at her dad’s house, she’s dining with Lady De Bourgh; for her time period, given that she had could not work for an income, she’s made a wise choice for her life/financial security. At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte is pregnant, and I think that also shows a life that is moving on and not static like her life as an aging spinster at her father’s house had been. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was a teenager, and like most teenagers, friends and their opinions could matter so much. But even though Elizabeth is horrified at Charlotte’s marrying Mr. Collins, Charlotte is not swayed. She does not succumb to peer pressure. She knows her mind, she knows what is best for her, and she is not influenced by her friend. I admired that. Charlotte is one strong, practical, independent, progressive modern woman and I wanted to show the full extent of that in Unmarriageable.

As for Elizabeth and her choices within the time period, for us modern readers she comes across as wonderful. But for Austen’s time period she’s rather unpractical because she does not secure Longbourn for her family, or immediately marry the wealthy suitor who would have again secured a roof over her head for herself and her mother and sisters. As modern readers, we respect that Elizabeth says no to Darcy because he’s really pompous and full of himself and we respect that she doesn’t marry someone just because it’s practical and he’s wealthy; we appreciate that she has more important values than wealth. But in her time, that was being foolish, and her father was being very foolish, too. We like Mr. Bennet because he comes across as a strong dad who says my daughter will not marry Mr. Collins. But in the realities of their time, he’s just set his family up for destitution since, in the event of his death, he can’t afford to take care of them. As modern readers we’re really happy that Elizabeth marries for love and that Darcy’s money plays no part in it. However, as much as we like to think that money shouldn’t and doesn’t matter, imagine that there are two Mr. Darcys exactly alike; however, one has a lot of money and the other has none. Now, which Darcy would you advise Elizabeth to marry? In Mansfield Park, Austen offers a window into the prospects of marrying into different financial classes through choices Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price make.

Brenda: Yes, if Darcy had been poor, Elizabeth might have ended up like Fanny Price’s parents in Mansfield Park, marrying for love and ending in poverty. You said earlier that the opening of Unmarriageable was like Mansfield Park. In Unmarriageable, Alys and Jena’s father, Bark Binat, has married beneath him and fallen on hard times, while his brother married well and is wealthy. How is that like Mansfield Park?

Soniah: It’s the princess and pauper quote above, a direct nod to Mansfield Park since in the opening of Mansfield Park we see three sisters who marry Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr. Norris the clergyman, and Lieutenant Price. One marries wealth, one stability, one squalor. But Austen in those first paragraphs of Mansfield Park captures the traditional state of women across time, and even today for many from traditional cultures where a man is expected to fulfill his traditional role of paying the bills, etc. Who you marry is often going to determine whether you end up vacationing at all, and whether it will be in France or the beach in Destin (laughing). It’s that simple. Of course, now we have the modern complication of women being able to afford their own vacations, and thankfully that makes a big difference in our choices.

Mansfield Park also gets into religion, Edmund who’s going to be a clergyman, and Mary doesn’t think that’s good, and Edmund gives Fanny a cross to wear. It’s Austen’s most religious novel. And it really goes deeply into her values and ethics. Mansfield Park is my favorite novel just because she dives deeply into the meaning of family in that novel. She really skewers family values in Mansfield Park. It’s her grimmest and most realistic novel. But even within Mansfield Park there’s so much humor.

Brenda: In an essay at the end of your book, you tell us, “I first immersed myself in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I was sixteen years old. As interesting as its marriage plot was, I was spellbound, rather, by Austen’s social criticism and how it was conveyed through her pithy wit. Here was a centuries-old English writer who may as well have been writing about contemporary Pakistani society. . . . I wanted to write a novel that paid homage to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, as well as combined my braided identification with English-language and Pakistani culture, so that the ‘literature of others’ became the literature of everyone. Therefore, Unmarriageable.”

Soniah: Thank you, Brenda. The paperback edition of Unmarriageable (out Feb 5th) includes an updated version of that essay, as well as essays on how the fictional setting of Dilipabad got its name, why I named the characters as I did, questions for book clubs and more.

Brenda: Thank you, Soniah, for sharing your world with us, in a way that any Jane Austen fan can enjoy!

____________________

Image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox

Brenda S. Cox also loves Jane Austen. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). She has written articles for its magazine, Persuasions On-Line, and presented at its national conference as well as regional meetings. She has done extensive research for her current work-in-progress, a nonfiction book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Follow her on Facebook or on her blog, Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Follow Soniah Kamal on: Instagram Twitter FB www.soniahkamal.com

Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a novel–available everywhere. order

2020 Townsend Prize Finalist

A 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read

Financial Times: A 2019 Best Book Pick

NPR Code Switch 2019 Summer Read Pick

A New York Public Library Summer 2019 Reads Pick

BoobBub A 2019 Best Book

Library Reads Pick, January 2019

STARRED Review Publishers Weekly “must-read for devout Austenites.

STARRED Review Shelf Awareness “If Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written

STARRED Review Library Journal “enlightening and entertaining

An Isolated Incident, a novel–coming in the UK, July, 2020.

Townsend Award Finalist

KLF French Fiction Prize Finalist

A good friend, after watching all episodes of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon, wrote to express the thought that Young Stringer was more suited for Charlotte than Sidney Parker. Young Stringer, played by Leo Suter, is an actor as handsome as Theo James, who played Sidney Parker, although Theo is darkly handsome, whereas Leo has a kinder face.

Young Stringer and CharlotteYoung Stringer

Young Stringer is an ambitious working man who aims to use his talents as a designer and architect to move up in life. Stringer ‘s infatuation with Charlotte reminds me of Robert Martin’s unquestioning love for Harriett Smith in Emma.The difference is that Charlotte is no one’s fool and so much smarter than Harriett. Her common sense and insights fascinate Sydney, who is attracted to her despite his inner misgivings.

At the time my friend chose Young Stringer over Sydney, I thought that the former was an invention of Andrew Davies and his team. It turns out I was wrong. Austen briefly describes him through Tom Parker. He says:

“But, my dear love, as to garden stuff, you were saying that any accidental omission is supplied in a moment by Lady Denham’s gardener. But it occurs to me that we ought to go elsewhere upon such occasions, and that old Stringer and his son have a higher claim. I encouraged him to set up, you know, and am afraid he does not do very well. That is, there has not been time enough yet. He will do very well beyond a doubt. But at first it is uphill work, and therefore we must give him what help we can. When any vegetables or fruit happen to be wanted—and it will not be amiss to have them often wanted, to have something or other forgotten most days—just to have a nominal supply, you know, that poor old Andrew may not lose his daily job—but in fact to buy the chief of our consumption from the Stringers.”

“Very well, my love, that can be easily done. And cook will be satisfied, which will be a great comfort, for she is always complaining of old Andrew now and says he never brings her what she wants.”

Old Stringer and his son are struggling fruit and vegetable farmers in Austen’s version. Tom and Mary Parker are discussing this situation as they pass by  their old, snug house, which they had abandoned in favor of an exposed location in Sanditon without protection from the sun and wind. Mary is nostalgic for the old days; Tom is a forward-looking enthusiast, an early 19thcentury term that meant someone who was full of enthusiasm for a cause or a passionate belief in something that has merit. In Tom Parker’s instance, it is Sanditon, the sort of seaside town that sprouted all over the Sussex Coast in late 18th– early 19thcentury Britain.

Tom Parker feels responsible for the Stringers’ situation, since he recruited them to set up business in Sanditon – a future town that is half finished and has yet to attract important clients. Mary agrees that purchasing their goods would provide some compensation. And that’s the end of the Stringers’ participation in Austen’s unfinished novel.

Andrew Davies and his team turned the farmers into builders, with Old Stringer employed as stone mason and foreman. Tom Parker has run out of funds, and thus Old Stringer works as a laborer to help get the job done. Young Stringer demonstrates his talent by designing a beautiful Pagoda that would be the centerpiece of the newly built crescent. He believes his talent will provide him with an upwardly mobile life. Sadly, Tom informs him that the pagoda will not be built and Young Stringer burns his plans in frustration. Every time he sees Charlotte, his face lights up. They have a casual friendship, mostly from her side since it is obviously that Young Stringer is hopelessly infatuated, but I can see how my friend still hopes that they will get together romantically.

Sidney ParkerSidney Parker

Now, onto Sydney Parker. In Emma, Austen built up the reader’s expectations of Frank Churchill by providing information about him in dribs and drabs and through Emma’s assumptions, many of which (upon a second reading of the novel) were erroneous and wrong. In a similar fashion, she built up the reader’s knowledge of Sidney in the novel fragment of Sanditon. In the first nine chapters the reader learns about him through his siblings Tom Parker and Diana as they conversed with each other and with others. Tom and his wife, Mary, first discussed Old Stringer’s financial situation. They then moved on to the old house, the family seat, which they had abandoned for Trafalgar House in Sanditon. Mary speaks nostalgically of the house and its snug situation, which sheltered the house from damaging winds and storms. On seeing her former home, she says to Tom and Charlotte, who they are taking to Sanditon in gratitude for the Heywood’s hospitality,

“There now the old house is quite left behind. What is it your brother Sidney says about its being a hospital?”

“Oh, my dear Mary, merely a joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a hospital of it. He pretends to laugh at my improvements. Sidney says anything, you know. He has always said what he chose, of and to us all. Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood. There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything. In ours, it is Sidney, who is a very clever young man and with great powers of pleasing. He lives too much in the world to be settled; that is his only fault. He is here and there and everywhere. I wish we may get him to Sanditon. I should like to have you acquainted with him. And it would be a fine thing for the place! Such a young man as Sidney, with his neat equipage and fashionable air. You and I, Mary, know what effect it might have. Many a respectable family, many a careful mother, many a pretty daughter might it secure us to the prejudice of Eastbourne and Hastings.”

Tom is certainly impressed by his younger, middle brother. Then in Chapter 5, Mr Parker looks over letters before dinner.

“Not a line from Sidney!” said he. “He is an idle fellow. I sent him an account of my accident from Willingden and thought he would have vouchsafed me an answer. But perhaps it implies that he is coming himself. I trust it may. But here is a letter from one of my sisters. They never fail me. Women are the only correspondents to be depended on. Now, Mary,” smiling at his wife, “before I open it, what shall we guess as to the state of health of those it comes from or rather what would Sidney say if he were here? Sidney is a saucy fellow, Miss Heywood. And you must know, he will have it there is a good deal of imagination in my two sisters’ complaints…and our youngest brother, who lives with them and who is not much above twenty, I am sorry to say is almost as great an invalid as themselves. He is so delicate that he can engage in no profession. Sidney laughs at him. But it really is no joke, though Sidney often makes me laugh at them all in spite of myself. Now, if he were here, I know he would be offering odds that either Susan, Diana or Arthur would appear by this letter to have been at the point of death within the last month.”

Jane has established that Sidney has no use for hypochondriacs and that he isn’t above making fun of his youngest brother and two sisters, who were condensed into one woman in Davies’ Sanditon. Later in the same chapter, Tom continues talking to Charlotte as he reads a letter from one of his sisters, Diana, most likely, who attempts to recruit women from a boarding school, including a West Indian from Surrey (Miss Lambe), in order to increase visitors to the practically empty town.

I have heard nothing of Sidney since your being together in town, but conclude his scheme to the Isle of Wight has not taken place or we should have seen him in his way. Most sincerely do we wish you a good season at Sanditon, and though we cannot contribute to your Beau Monde in person, we are doing our utmost to send you company worth having and think we may safely reckon on securing you two large families, one a rich West Indian from Surrey, the other a most respectable Girls Boarding School, or Academy, from Camberwell. I will not tell you how many people I have employed in the business—Wheel within wheel—but success more than repays. Yours most affectionately.”

“Well,” said Mr. Parker, as he finished. “Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together.”

The reader receives the impression that Sidney is busy with his own schemes and is much admired by his siblings. Tom mentions Sidney one more time at the end of Chapter 9 and says gratefully:

“I got this man a hare from one of Sidney’s friends; and he recommended Sanditon.”

The reader finally meets Sidney in Chapter 12, just before Austen set the novel aside.

It was a close, misty morning and, when they reached the brow of the hill, they could not for some time make out what sort of carriage it was which they saw coming up. It appeared at different moments to be everything from a gig to a phaeton, from one horse to four; and just as they were concluding in favour of a tandem, little Mary’s young eyes distinguished the coachman and she eagerly called out, “It is Uncle Sidney, Mama, it is indeed.” And so it proved.

Mr. Sidney Parker, driving his servant in a very neat carriage, was soon opposite to them, and they all stopped for a few minutes. The manners of the Parkers were always pleasant among themselves; and it was a very friendly meeting between Sidney and his sister-in-law, who was most kindly taking it for granted that he was on his way to Trafalgar House. This he declined, however. He was “just come from Eastbourne proposing to spend two or three days, as it might happen, at Sanditon” but the hotel must be his quarters. He was expecting to be joined there by a friend or two.”

The rest was common enquiries and remarks, with kind notice of little Mary, and a very well-bred bow and proper address to Miss Heywood on her being named to him. And they parted to meet again within a few hours. Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance. This adventure afforded agreeable discussion for some time. Mrs. Parker entered into all her husband’s joy on the occasion and exulted in the credit which Sidney’s arrival would give to the place.”

Austen’s build up of this potential hero (which is still in question among scholars) intrigues the reader. Would he turn out to be a disappointment like Frank Churchill, or a hero and love interest worthy of Charlotte? Unlike Austen, Davies introduces Sidney in the first episode and rushes his introduction to Charlotte. They clash at an assembly ball. While I found Austen’s introduction of Sidney intriguing, Davies’ treatment of Sidney resembles more the hero of a bodice ripping Harlequin romance novel than a complex Austen character.

What say you in this very simple poll? Sidney or Young Stringer? What are your thoughts of the series so far?

Inquiring readers: The information about this exhibit makes me wish I was in the UK to see it. To view a first edition of Pride and Prejudice would make my mouth water. Enjoy the images and the information. 

Georgian era of light and shade explored at

Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

  • Artworks, costume and literature tell the conflicting stories of the Georgian era
  • Includes a first edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on loan from a private lender
  • Exhibition brings together artefacts and stories from across Regency Worcester
  • Opens 18 January until 28 March, free entry.

Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum presents a new exhibition exploring the fact and the fiction behind one of the most fascinating and tumultuous periods of British history. Georgians: the Pride and the Prejudice is designed to lead the viewer on a Grand Tour of Regency Worcester, taking in the beautiful landscapes, exquisite interiors and pass-times of the Bennetts and Darcy’s of the city, emerging into the wider world to see at what cost the pursuit of pleasure and elegance. The exhibition opens 18 January until 28 March and entry is free.

The exhibition brings together for the first time a wealth of art and artefacts from the museum’s own collections including works by John Downman, one of the most popular watercolour portraitists of the late 18th century, and the renowned pastelist John Russell, as well as Georgian costume, a rare Erard harp and a stunning Sedan chair, together with a first edition of Pride and Prejudice from a private lender.

The Georgian period captivates an audience like no other. The grandeur of the architecture, the extravagance of the fashion and the intricacies of the social etiquette create a wonderful image of elegance and exuberance which has been celebrated time and time again in literature, television and film. The exhibition begins in Regency Worcester but ends with a glimpse into the fragile reality upon which it was built. Behind the extravagances of the Georgian period was the exploitation of people, in plantations, in the colonies or in the factories and slums.

Exhibition Curator Claire Cheshire said: “This exhibition celebrates Worcester’s landscapes and its trades. In fine houses across the country there would have been Royal Worcester porcelain, gloves, and even Worcester-made bricks. Georgians: the Pride and the Prejudice will be a visual delight for all visitors.”

Georgians: the Pride and the Prejudice is free and runs from 18 January until 28 March, more information can be found here: www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk

For a more in-depth look at the exhibition and to discover some of the stories behind the objects on display join a Curators Tour on 16th March, 11.30 a.m. No booking needed. £3 per person.

Georgians: the Pride and the Prejudice

18 January until 28 March 2020

FREE ENTRY

Exploring the fact and the fiction behind one of the most fascinating and tumultuous periods of British history through artworks, costume and literature.

Image of a Costume from Museum Worcestershire collection: courtesy of the Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum. Permission given, no names.

Costume from Museum Worcestershire collection: courtesy of the Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum. Permission given, no names.

11th February

Bite sized talk – Georgians: the Pride and the Prejudice – the stories behind the objects

1-1.30pm. £3

16th March Curators tour of the exhibition

11.30am. £3

Open Monday – Saturday 10.30am – 4.30pm

Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum

Foregate Street

Worcester WR1 1DT

Tel: 01905 25371

About Museums Worcestershire
Museums Worcestershire is the joint museum service of Worcester City and Worcestershire County Councils. It comprises three fantastic venues–Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, the Commandery in Worcester and The County Museum at Hartlebury Castle.

The collections and exhibitions at our sites are many and varied, covering centuries of the county’s history right up to the present day. Thousands of objects, including the historic buildings themselves, are brought to life through innovative exhibitions and events throughout the year.

www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk

 

 

Inquiring readers,

We have reached episode four of Andrew Davies’ eight-episode mini-series on PBS Masterpiece.  Mr. Davies is a master cinematic storyteller.  Austen told her stories through words, while Davies takes advantage of showing dress, customs, manners, and settings visually.

The challenge in adapting the novel for a film is how to stay true to the source as you proceed to bend it into the medium of film. The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.” – Adaptation: From Novel to Film, by Judy Sandra, 27 November, 2017. Downloaded 1-25-20 @ https://www.raindance.org/adaptation-novel-film/

By episode four, Davies’ cinematic adaptation of Sanditon has strayed from Austen land and into Georgette Heyer territory. Not that this is a bad thing and it explains why so many Austen fans love his interpretation of Jane’s incomplete novel.

Image of Some of Vic's Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

Some of Vic’s Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

At 19 years of age, after reading Austen’s six novels, I wanted to read more Regency romance between heroes and heroines sparring verbally with wit and daring. I quenched my thirst by devouring all of Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels, even her mysteries.  Heyer knew the Regency and Georgian eras intimately. She and her husband lived in Mayfair, the London setting of so many of her books. Her details were historically accurate, and, best of all, she was a prolific writer. Heyer’s novels, set mostly in the highest circles of society, were as exciting as they were delightful. They were funny and romantic and brought the Regency era alive through her detailed descriptions and historical content.

Heyer’s best novelsThe Grand Sophy, Frederica, Venetia, Sylvester, Arabella (my first introduction to her work), The Corinthian, The Reluctant Widow described in great detail Regency customs, male and female fashions, social interactions (such as the use of calling cards), descriptions of White’s Club or Almack’s, Bow Street Runners, 19th century inventions, and all the minutia that Austen rarely bothered to mention. Through her sparkling stories, Heyer appeased my youthful cravings to inform me about Jane Austen’s regency world. Her often crazy plots offered pure escapism.

In a review of Heyer’s biography by Jennifer Kloester (which I also own), Rachel Cooke writes:

If you want fun – if you want elopements and quadrilles, velvet britches and sprig muslin gowns – you will have to go back to the novels, still in print, and still the greatest and most surprising of pleasures.

After viewing four episodes of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Sanditon, I am reminded more of a Georgette Heyer plot (with added sex) than Austen’s unfinished manuscript. Which is OK. The melodrama makes for great television.

It just isn’t Austen.

Do you agree? Or not? Both opinions are welcome on this blog. Please feel free to leave your comments or take the poll:

Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Linnet Moss, May 2017. Downloaded: January 25, 2020:
Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen

Photo of Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Miss Lambe, introduced in Episode 1 at the assembly ball, is an intriguing character – a new one for Jane Austen that she intended to explore in depth before she abandoned her manuscript due to illness. By the Regency era, the British Empire had spread the world over. The term “Black” in England during that time denoted any skin color other than “white.”  This included people from Africa and the East Indies and West Indies, such as Antigua, the land of Georgiana Lambe’s birth.

Georgiana is the ward of Sidney Parker, who, after she voices her displeasure at his power over her, reminds her that her father wanted her to take a place in polite society, that she was far richer than all of them put together. Neither relish his role, but both understand that because of her fortune she must be managed.  It’s a mystery how Sidney achieved this position, but we’ll assume that an explanation of how his work in the West Indies led him to become Georgiana’s guardian will be given in future episodes.

The viewer instantly understands Georgiana’s views on her position when she angrily lashes out at Sidney that she is “not your slave to be served up as your general amusement.” She gestures dramatically and adds in mock tones, “Here’s a negress, rich and black as treacle. – feast your eyes!”

Photo of actress Anne Reid as Lady Denham

Anne Reid as Lady Denham

In the quest to cozy up to Georgiana, Lady Denham hosts a luncheon to introduce her to Sanditon society. Instead of behaving like a gracious hostess, she says the crudest, uncivil statements imaginable. As Georgiana makes her entrance, Lady D. turns to Sir Edward Denham, who is in need of a wife with a fortune, and says, “Edward, there’s your quarry. Hunt her down!”

Before anyone takes a bite of food, she addresses Georgiana, gesturing to a pineapple that was placed at the center of the table in her honor. Offended, Georgiana employs a thick island accent to indicate that pineapples are not grown in Antigua. The pair are off to a bad start. 

During the soup course, Lady D asks, “Miss Lambe, what are your views on matrimony? —“An heiress with a 100,000 must be in want of a husband.”

And we’re off to the insult races!

Georgiana gives her a sideways glance: “I don’t care to be any man’s property.”

“Oh, hoity toity! … Was not your mother a slave?”

Pregnant pause.

“She was. But being used as a thing and liking it are not the same, my lady.”

“No, I’m beginning to think that you’re a very opinionated young lady, Miss Lambe.”

Georgiana wins the riposte, but she remains deeply unhappy and unsuccessfully attempts to escape to London by coach. Charlotte happens upon a despondent Georgiana standing dangerously close to the sea cliff’s edge and crying. She comforts her and the two lonely young women become friends. 

Episode 3 presents many new revelations and developments, which will be addressed in a later review.  Miss Lambe makes only two appearances. The first in a painting class to demonstrate her rebelliousness, and the other in a scene with Sidney to show her contrition for bad behavior. The episode ends with Georgiana examining a locket with a portrait of a young Black man and kissing it before finishing a letter.

My, oh, my! How the plot has thickened.

I’ve concentrated on Georgiana Lambe in this week’s review because she is such an unusual character in the Jane Austen canon. Jane visited her brother Henry in London on many occasions and to meet with her publishers. She would have noticed the many Blacks who lived in Britain, most notably in London and major port cities. By some estimates, around 15,000 Blacks lived in England at the end of the 18th century, 20% of whom were women. Around 10,000 Blacks lived in London. 

Slavery was legal in Britain until 1772. While servitude there was preferred over life on a West Indies plantation, Black lives were not easy. After the slaves were freed, males and females found work as servants. During the Napoleonic wars, many Black males enlisted in the navy and army. Once the wars were over, these sailors and soldiers were no longer enlisted and stayed in the port cities they knew so well. 

Portrait of The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Overt racism was rampant. Servants of the rich were beautifully dressed, but treated like possessions (much like a brood stallion or a rare antique vase.) Portraits would show noble women and a Black servant, be it a child or adult, sitting at the edge of the painting, which served to increase the contrast of the female’s creamy white skin to the ebony complexion of the other sitter. The power differential between males and their Black servants was also evident.

In 1847’s Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery created two characters – Mr. Sambo, the Sedley’s male servant, and Miss Swartz, which means black in German and Dutch. Miss Swartz was described as a “rich, woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt’s,” as well as a Belle Sauvage, a dark paragon, and a dark object of conspiracy. George Osborne, her suitor, described her as “elegantly decorated as a she chimney-sweep on May-day.” 

George might not have given Miss Swartz respect, but he and his family had a healthy regard for her money, which made her an acceptable prize. Lady Denham viewed Miss Lambe with much of the same interest and contempt, but this did not fool Miss Lambe, who was proudly not for sale. Her personal experience of society’s disdain for Blacks (such as in the stage coach scene) fuels her anger, combativeness, and sadness. She has nothing to lose by meeting the offensiveness of others head on.

The Advertisement for a Wife, illustration by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive

The Advertisement for a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive. University of California Libraries. No visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1903.

For The Third Tour of Dr. Syntax In Search of a Wife: A poem by William Combe, Thomas Rowlandson illustrates  “The Advertisement for a Wife, in which a Black woman is placed prominently at the front and center of a group of spinsters. Dr. Syntax had asked an acquaintance, Mrs. Susanna Briskit, an “eccentric creature full of vivacity,” to help him find a wife. She embarked on a “scheme of fun” and invited a room full of loud, insistent females and their chaperones to apply for the position. The scene as written by Combe is funny and I imagine the inclusion of a Black lady heightened the comedy, but probably had a cruel undertone.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Not all is misery for Georgian Blacks.  This portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin in the late 18th century depicts a genuine friendship between the two women. Dido, an heiress, was born illegitimately  in the British West Indies of a British navy captain, Sir John Lindsey, and Maria Belle, an African woman whom he captured from a Spanish ship. Dido was sent to England as a child and brought up by Sir John’s uncle, Lord Mansfield and his wife, who were childless. Elizabeth Murray, Dido’s cousin, was motherless. The two girls were raised together, but Dido, while beloved, was not always invited to dine with guests. In the film “Belle,” Dido expresses the same sentiments as a governess–her position was too high to eat with servants and too low to eat with guests. Dido eventually married, had 3 children, and died in 1804 at 42. Compared to most of her Black contemporaries, she led an idyllic life. 

Portrait of Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

There were other success stories, such as the boxer Bill Richmond, or Ignatius Sancho. Born on a slave ship, Sancho became a protege of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. While working in their household, he had access to their books and taught himself to read. Today he is celebrated as a writer, composer, shopkeeper and abolitionist. 

It would have been interesting to know how Jane Austen would have fully developed Miss Lambe and what information she learned about the West Indies and Blacks in the navy from her sailor brothers.

Post Note: In The World of Sanditon (see sidebar), Sara Sheridan writes of Austen’s romantic entanglement with Dr. Samuel Blackall, a minister. In a letter to Frank, her brother, Austen describes him as “a piece of perfection.” Nothing was to come of her infatuation. Years later, Blackall married a Miss Lewis of Antigua.

Sheridan concludes that this story “provides an intriguing real-life parallel to the world of Sanditon, as does the idea of a love interest with West Indian connections.”

More sources:

The First Black Britons: Sukhdev Snadhu, History, BBC,2011-02-17. Downloaded 2/20/2020.

Black People in Late 18th Century Britain: Histories and Stories, English Heritage. Downloaded 2-20-2020

Black lives in England: Historic England Blog, Research tab. Downloaded 2-20-2020.

sanditon-first-look-icon-01-3200x1800Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece exceeded my expectations in some respects and not in others. It seems that a mixed reaction to this mini-series is not unusual. Many viewers in the UK loved it. Many did not. Some loathed it. Reading and hearing the opinions of my Janeite friends overseas, I approached reviewing this series with some trepidation. I had an extreme reaction to Episode One at first, then viewed all the episodes in two days’ time. Seeing them back to back gave me a new perspective.

First, I wondered why Andrew Davies, the writer, used so little of Austen’s actual material. In my copy of Sanditon, the unfinished manuscript is 75 pages long. Austen completed the first draft of 11 chapters and began the 12th, where both Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe made their first appearances. Before that, the readers knew them only through conversations from other characters. Mr. Davies admitted that he devoted half of Episode One to Jane Austen’s plot as he did not think there was enough “story material” in her manuscript for more. Persuasion’s length was 24 complete chapters. Could Davies not have stretched Austen’s excellent material to two episodes? Instead he tossed aside the complex themes she was developing in favor of straightforward cinematic storytelling, which explains why so many Janeites were disappointed with the series.

As I watched the mini-series, I realized that it wasn’t an Austen adaptation. This televised tale was inspired by a tantalizing beginning that Austen did not complete. Davies used the unfinished novel merely as an outline for his plot. In online interviews he spoke about modernizing the story and sexing it up. In his foreword to the official companion book to the series, The World of Sanditon, Davies was forthright about rushing through the first three episodes as he worked against a deadline. He states:

I’m thrilled with what we have achieved: a period drama that feels utterly fresh and modern – Jane Austen, but not as you knew her.”

If you keep this statement in mind, you will watch the series for what it is and what it was meant to be – entertainment with many references to Jane Austen’s other novels and characters.

Rose Williams, who plays Charlotte Heywood, is adorable. She resembles an adolescent Austen heroine. Fresh-faced, yet wise and well-read, with a young-sounding voice, she has the qualities that I imagined for Charlotte Heywood and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. (Ms. Williams is 25 years old, but she looks and sounds much younger.)

I’ve read of complaints about Charlotte’s hair as being inauthentic in this series. At the assembly ball, however, and at formal gatherings, her hair and its accessories are appropriate for the occasion. I think that by keeping her hair loose and wild during walks, seaside outings, and less formal times, Davies is reminding viewers of her humble country origins. As a guest of the Parkers, she would have help from servants for formal occasions but would most likely be left on her own at other times.

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe, a woman of mixed-race, is given the delightful name of Georgiana, reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s sister. Austen’s introduction of a West Indies heiress is a new development in her novels. The topic of mixed races and fantastic wealth achieved on plantations in Antigua is one she must have known well through her sailor brothers. I love the developing friendship between Georgiana and Charlotte.

I’ve not been as bothered by the music mentioned by some. Sanditon is located along the coastline of Sussex, a rural region, and the setting is not as fashionable or royal as Brighton, where fancy orchestras could find ample work. The folksy music complements the rustic, unfinished streets and buildings in Sanditon and supports the more modern treatment Davies sought.

The photography is lovely, the sets are lush, and I love how the costumes identify people by their wealth and status. Charlotte’s clothes are simple and homemade, although she owns more dresses than I though her parents with 11 children could afford. Miss Lambe, Miss Denham, and Clara Brereton wear clothes of a finer quality, and so forth.

Now we get to the part that I find problematic. I know Davies wanted to sex up the plot, but, really, a hand job? I was not amused. What if I wanted to introduce my young nieces to Jane Austen? How would I have explained that scene?

As to the nudity, male and female beaches were separated at the time. Both sexes knew the demarcation lines and where or where not to walk or swim. Charlotte happening upon Sidney Parker rising out of the ocean full frontal naked caused me to laugh, not out of embarrassment, but because the audience manipulation was so obvious. Jane Austen was no prude. A country woman, she had probably witnessed sex among animals, nursed her male relatives back to health, and helped family members and neighbors with birthing, but she was never crude. Ever.

Young Stringer, the foreman, is a likable character, but I thought almost from the start that he was created to be a “second stringer,” someone to throw us off in the romance department. His background and ambitions are suited to someone of Charlotte’s station, but Sidney Parker has been cast in the role of hero, and so Young Stringer’s purpose seems likely to go nowhere.

Theo James’s performance as Sidney Parker was quite good. He is a darkly handsome hero, one whose sparring with Charlotte in the first two episodes reminded me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

To sum up this review, Davies chose to follow his own instincts in developing this miniseries If viewers watch the first two episodes of Sanditon on their own merit and not as an Austen adaptation, they’ll enjoy the experience.

Sanditon for streaming and binge watchers

The debut episode of the series will begin streaming on the MASTERPIECE PRIME VIDEO CHANNEL on January 12, with new episodes debuting Sunday of each following week. On February 23, fans can binge-watch the program in its entirety.

The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. Every purchase helps supports public television for all.

See sidebar for links to PBS, a description of the full cast, and a link to the companion book.

Links to Music

 

 

Charlotte Heywood as played by Rose Williams

Image of Charlotte Heywood as played by Rose Williams. 
Copyright: RED PLANET/ITV
For further information please contact:
Patrick.smith@itv.com 0207 1573044

Click below to enter the poll and see results! Feel free to leave a comment.

I’m Looking Forward to Watching Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday

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Results so far. The percentages have remained static for 3 days, although voting numbers are changing.

Image of the Sanditon poll results for "I'm looking forward to watching Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday, with 83% looking forward to watching the mini-series.

Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “

Sources:

  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to

 

 

 

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