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Inquiring readers:

Jane Austen’s World blog is participating in a tour of Stephanie Barron’s new book, Jane and the Waterloo Map, wherein our favorite author turns sleuth in this Regency-era mystery. I have interviewed Stephanie Barron, author of this delightful mystery, and wished I had asked more questions!

book coverIt is November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning…

1. Vic: Hi Stephanie, Thank you for allowing me to interview you! I have so many questions, but a limited time to talk to you. Please describe your book and tell us why readers will be intrigued with your latest mystery.

Stephanie: The thirteenth Jane Austen mystery combines a well-documented period in her life—the autumn of 1815, when she was staying with her ailing brother Henry in London and preparing Emma for publication—with the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo in English politics and society. That November, Jane was invited to the Prince Regent’s London home, Carlton House, and asked (ordered) to dedicate Emma to the Prince. I have her stumbling over the body of a Waterloo veteran in the Carlton House library, so I think the story gets off to a great start.

2. Vic: My Janeite group loves your novels and have read your books since JANE AUSTEN AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR.  How did you originally come up with the idea of a Jane Austen mystery series?

Stephanie: I had studied the Napoleonic/Regency period in college, and was a lifelong reader of Austen—I began with Pride and Prejudice at age 12—but I had never thought of writing what is now called “Austenesque” fiction. At the time I wrote the first Jane mystery, I was also writing a contemporary police procedural series set on Nantucket Island under my married name, Francine Mathews. This was twenty-two years ago, during the winter of 1994. I was rereading Austen’s novels and reflecting on the richness of her language, and how difficult it was to persuade some readers to wrestle with the complexity of that language in order to experience the story. I thought it would be challenging and fun to attempt to use Austen’s distinct voice in a novel, and encourage contemporary readers to engage its complexity—by giving them a murder to solve. From that moment, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to go whole-Austen-hog and use her actual characters. But I personally think that each of us has an inner sense of her characters that we may not always like to see violated by another person’s version. So I decided instead to use Jane herself as my detective. I went to her letters, first and foremost, for a detailed record of her days—and was delighted to find that there were gaps in that record I could fill with fiction.

3. Were you surprised at how receptive readers were with the idea of Jane Austen as sleuth?

Stephanie: Yes. I was honestly afraid that the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor would be dismissed or ridiculed as either a travesty of her style or an attempt at exploitation. It was a relief when the book was generally embraced. Although I should say that I did receive a few incensed and irate letters. There will always be folks who lack a sense of humor.

4. Vic: What did you enjoy most in doing research for JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP?

I have a deep and abiding interest in the Napoleonic Wars, dating from my first exposure to War and Peace when I was ten years old. To be able to wallow in accounts of the battle of Waterloo was quite self-indulgent. I also loved studying the old prints of Carlton House, which appears to have been an elegant and beautifully-designed place, sadly demolished only a few years after Jane saw it.

5. Vic: Tell us a little about your writing day. Are you a disciplined author or do you need to be inspired, by a deadline, for example, or a great idea?

Stephanie: I am a highly disciplined writer. It’s impossible to draft, complete, and promote twenty-six novels over twenty-three years without being disciplined, particularly if one is also raising children and dogs. I alternate work on the Jane Austen series with standalone historical espionage novels that require a totally different degree of research and construction. I frankly tell aspiring writers, however, that it is much easier to be disciplined when you have a contract from a publisher—because then the work is no longer a wistful dream, but your job, with expectations you must meet and editors you regard as your employers. I know that I have been profoundly fortunate to be able to work at home for the past two decades, on my own schedule, pursuing my cherished impulses and ideas, and yet be paid for my work.

6. Vic: Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite and why?

PersuasionStephanie: Persuasion. I regard it as the apogee of her work. Anne Elliott is the most perceptive and profound of her heroines. It’s one of the first novels in the English cannon in which a period of depression is portrayed, as well the emergence from depression and into full engagement with life—which occurs in parallel to Anne’s reviving romance with Wentworth, not as a direct result of it. It is also the most perfectly edited of Austen’s works, probably because she had grown in technique as a writer by the time she embarked on it—she was self-editing as she wrote, and the finished work is tightly plotted and beautifully honed, not a word wasted.

7. Vic: Would you like to add anything else for my readers?

Stephanie: Only that I’d love to hear from them. I can be found on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

8. Vic: It’s a pleasure to chat with you, Stephanie.  I must admit that PERSUASION is also my favorite Jane Austen novel (a preference I discovered in my, ahem, mature years). My sentimental favorite shall always be PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. You were twelve when you first read the book; I was fourteen. Sigh. Good luck with JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP, and thank you so much for these illuminating answers.
Stephanie: The pleasure was all mine!

Inquiring readers:

Click on this link to follow the blog tour from February 2, 2016 – February 22, 2016.

barronAbout the Author:

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Stephanie’s Twitter handles are: @SBarronAuthor; @Soho_Press.  Her Twitter hashtags are: #WaterlooBlogTour, #JaneAusten, #HistoricalMystery, #RegencyMystery, #Reading, #AustenesqueMystery #Austenesque #Giveaway

Grand Giveaway Contest

prizes

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes:

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

 

Spoiler Alert: Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.

As episode six opens, Moseley is handing out tickets for a tour of the Abbey in aid of the Downton Hospital Trust. BRING ALL THE FAMILY IN A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO VIEW THE STATEROOMS OF THIS GRAND MANSION! shouts a poster affixed to the Church’s outdoor bulletin board.

Mary and Tom have come up with a brilliant idea that neither the earl nor his fond mama find appealing.

Dowager-earl-bed_3490214b

Downton Abbey | Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

We’ve nothing to show them,” complains a grumpy earl, still abed after his vomitous projectile episode and sick of being sick. “Some dusty old portraits of relatives no one remembers … We sleep in a bed, eat at the table … What do we have to show them, except Lady Grantham knitting? They’ll do better taking the train to London and visiting the Tate.”

“People want to see a different sort of home, not the things in it. They want to see how the other half lives, where supreme calm, dignity, and propriety always reign,” says Lady Mary with a straight face.

“The Abbey is to be opened for one day for charity, nothing more,” adds Cora in a reassuring tone.

Tom says very little. He’s too busy calculating the amount the Abbey can rake in by multiplying the potential visitors, times the operating hours, times 6 d. admission per head, times the number of downstairs rooms that can be traipsed through, times the number of physically fit family members who can escort the hoi polloi at speeds calculated to make even a motor car driver like Henry Talbot dizzy. Since no member of the Crawley family has anything of historic interest to say about the Abbey, each paying customer should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete a 3-hour tour (complete with complimentary luggage and clothing for 3 years, courtesy of Madame Ginger of The Minnow Booking Agency). When Tom realizes what a treasure trove the Abbey represents, British pound signs begin to replace the pupils in his eyes.

But I digress. Let’s return to the earl’s bedroom, gentle readers, where Tom comes to himself long enough to say, “They have a curiosity about our way of life.”

Mary and Tom have made the decision,” says Cora with a finality that brooks no debate.

“I know well enough that when Mary has spoken, my opinion has little bearing on the matter. I still think it’s crackers,” Robert says peevishly.

Since his BLOODY episode at dinner, the earl’s been on a strict 500 calorie a day diet of broth and flavored gelatin. He’s hungry AND craving crackers, no doubt about it.

Two Friends Discuss Jane Austen

As an aside, conversations about visitors paying their hard-earned lucre to see an aristocratic pile of stone and its gardens are rather confusing for Jane Austen fans. It has been a grand tradition for housekeepers and butlers for centuries to show visitors around in great country estates for a moderate tip when the owners are away or at play. How else could Jane have contrived to place Elizabeth Bennet at Mr. Darcy’s great estate, Pemberley, and to have her meet him in the most embarrassing circumstances, only to discover that he’s a splendid fellow after all and that his house, reputation, and income aren’t all that shabby either? This well-known point was confirmed by Isobel, who sensibly reminds the unhappy Violet of this fact.

But why should they pay?” asks Lady Violet peevishly, “just to see an ordinary house?”

Ordinary, indeed. One wonders how our favorite dowager duchess would describe Chatsworth House or Castle Howard. She must regard her cozy dowager cottage as a mere hovel.

 

The Merge

The two hospitals will merge, as expected, and the post of president will be offered to Cora, Lady Grantham. Lady Violet will be “allowed” to step down after many years of service. Her demotion smacks of age discrimination, since, in the words of Dr. Clarkson, her once loyal ally, “She is not as young as she once was.”

Cora is gob smacked. She’s to step into her mama-in-law’s shoes and be given more responsibility! “Who will tell her?” she asks, with some trepidation, knowing it would be wiser to provoke a rabid dog than to inflame her mama-in-law.

Let’s have the hospital write her a nice letter of termination after we leave for America. We will be well out of the way by then,” Isobel says sensibly.

Cora is almost tempted. Instead, she invites her mama-in-law to a discussion in the earl’s bedchamber. Before they can inform the dowager of her reduced status, Lady Violet announces, “The patients are my priority. I shall be MAGNANIMOUS in victory.” She exits the room, not having learned of her firing.

I am woman hear me roar

I suppose you will want to accept the position,” Robert says peevishly. “I worry that this will be too much for you. You’re not like Isobel. You need your rest.”

“What do you mean?” Cora asks in too soft a voice. “I’m not old, Robert.”

“I didn’t say you were!”

“Didn’t you?”

The earl spends the next few minutes prying his foot from his mouth.

 

A Fond Sisterly Exchange, Part Two

Bertie Pelham wants to meet up here,” announces Edith.

“Is he worth it?” asks Mary.

“As opposed to your car mechanic?” asks Edith.

“Hey,” says Tom. “I’m one.”

 

Opening the Abbey’s Doors to Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

Meanwhile, downstairs, Carson hates the idea of strangers poking and prying around the house. “What are the odds of them slipping a valuable bauble or two, or a first edition, in their back pockets?” he asks, which causes Bates to worry that he or Anna could be charged with theft should an unscrupulous visitor lift a few priceless items, what with their bad luck and all. The constable’s always breathing down their necks when anything of a CRIMINAL nature occurs and he’s tired of the man’s harassment.

tom and bertie

Tom and Bertie. Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the tours nears. Bertie Pelham, who has come for a visit with Edith’s family, asks sensibly, “Who knows about the history of the house?”

Only our librarian, Mr. Pattinson,” answers Edith. “But he won’t be here.”

“You’ll have to fake it,” says Bertie, less sure of their success.

“Do we need anyone knowledgeable?” asks Tom. “Can’t they just have a quick look before we push them out like cattle?”

“Not if you don’t want them to go out happy and leave what’s not theirs,” says a sensible Bertie. “We’ll have the servants sit in an inconspicuous corner to keep an eye on things.”

In due course it is decided that the public will be taken through the small library, then the big library, then through the painted room, the withdrawing room and smoking room, the great hall, in and out of the dining room, and back outside.

What about the back staircases and the gardens?” asks Bertie, who worries that the visit might be a tad rushed. And then he comes to the important question. “Who are the guides?”

“Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Grantham. I’ll sell tickets,” says Tom.

“Well, then, Lady Grantham, you and your daughters will take parties of 10 each with no more than 30 people in the house at a time,” says Bertie decisively.

“Crikey!” says Edith.

“Heavens,” says Cora.

‘Hell!’ thinks Mary.

long line

A line forms. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the house tour arrives, the ticket table is placed at the front door, a long line is forming, and our aristocratic trio of ladies are ready as they will ever be. They fail miserably as docents, of course, their knowledge of the priceless paintings and artifacts in the house being a smidgen above zero. How could they have known that people of humble origins would ask such impossibly intelligent questions?

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Cora smiling instead of informing. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

As a group tours through the house with Lady Cora, she quickly reveals how little she knows about the saloon.

This room was medieval,” she ventures.

“Is that why it’s called Downton Abbey?”

“I guess so.”

A visitor points to a portrait. “Who painted that?”

“I’m not sure, but…” Cora gestures vaguely around the room… “This painting and that painting, and, oh, that one over there, well, they’re quite worth looking at. Don’t you think?”

“What are those blank shields on the mantelpiece?”

Cora peers closely. “I haven’t a clue.”

3323

Edith reveals her ignorance. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

Lady Edith is not faring much better than her momma.

Tell us about that painting,” asks one visitor.

“They’re all rather marvelous, don’t you think? Truth be told, I haven’t looked at them in years. They’re part of the background…”

“Who is the architect?”

“Sir Charles Barry. He finished the Houses of Parliament and built lots of other lovely big buildings, or so I think. Well, I’m almost sure.”

In the library, Lady Mary reassures her group that the sitter in one portrait, “…might be the son or it MIGHT be the father…”

Before Lady Mary spews more inanities, Lady Violet barges into the library, not caring that there are 30 strangers in her son’s house. “WHERE IS SHE!!!” the dowager demands, looking for the traitorous USURPER. She has just found out about her amicable discharge from the hospital board and will not wait another second to speak her mind.

Lady Mary, wishing to deflect her grandmama from saying something untoward AND have her answer a question that has her stymied, asks Violet about who founded the library.

The library was assembled by the fourth earl. He was a great reader. He was also a collector of horses and women,” she says, charging out of the room.

The visitors realize that the dowager imparted more information in three curt sentences than the ‘docents’ had in 2 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, a bored Robert, in danger or developing bedsores from lying around too long, espies a cheeky little rascal peeking around his bedroom door.

littlevisitor

Little visitor

Who are you?”

The boy looks up and around, curious. “Why is your house so big?”

Robert is taken aback. “I’m not sure really.”

“Why not buy something that’s comfortable. You must have the money,” the urchin says reasonably.

“You know how it is,” the earl sighs. “You like what you’re used to.”

Molesley appears at the doorway, sees the tyke, orders him out of the family quarters, and threatens to report him.

No,” the earl says, “he was more a philosopher than a thief.”

After Tom counts up the day’s till (minus the amount refunded to unhappy customers), he proposes that the Abbey should be opened for more tours in the future. This sets off a shrill protest among the docents, who quit en masse.

So much for family unity.

 

An Undelivered Letter

Some days later, as Mrs. Patmore tosses out some kitchen scraps, she finds a letter from Mr. Mason, which Daisy accidentally on purpose dropped in the rubbish bin.

Why is it opened?” Mrs. P. asks suspiciously, curling her nose at the odors emanating from the pages.

“I don’t know,” says Daisy, deliberately forgetting that Mr. Mason charged her to give Mrs. Patmore his missive.

“Did the letter grow legs and walk to the rubbish bin?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did it somehow open itself?”

“Maybe.”

“Pah,” says Mrs. Patmore, thinking, ‘We’ll see about this.’

When Mr. Mason drops by with a basket of fresh veggies, ostensibly to thank Mrs. Patmore, but actually to see her sweet face again, Daisy turns even more childish.

You’ve already thanked her,” she says petulantly. “Besides, why bother? Have you seen the kitchen gardens here?”

Mrs. Patmore tries to be gracious, telling Mr. Mason that his carrots are tastier, his cabbages are bigger, and his onions make her cry harder. But all he can think of is finding the fastest way out of the kitchen before the hens start fighting over the rooster.

 

Charlie Sweet Talks Elsie

brideattable

The look of love is in her eyes

Charlie would like his bride to have a talk with Mrs. Patmore about the art of making a proper cup of coffee for an occasional breakfast in their cottage, and perhaps arrange for the hall boy do some polishing and keep their home up to STANDARD.

I don’t see why not,” says Elsie, gritting her teeth.

“And you might ask one of the maids to make up our bed.”

“Is that not good enough EITHER?”

“Oh, it’s not bad, but I do like those sharp corners.”

Elsie reaches for a piece of paper. At the top of her to do list will be a visit to the parish priest about the procedures for annulling a hasty marriage.

Unaware of his beloved’s thoughts, Charlie keeps pressing the issue of dinner.

You’re not expecting a banquet, are you?” she asks suspiciously.

“No, just a delicious dinner prepared by the fair hands of my beautiful wife.”

While flattered, Elsie thinks, ‘I’m up a creek without a ladle.’

 

Flotsam and Jetsam

Thomas Barrow, meanie under butler, is trying to get back into everyone’s good graces without much success. Carson sums up Barrow’s future at Downton: 1) Lady Edith already manages without a maid, 2) probably not even one footman will be working in the Abbey in the future, and 3) Lady Mary will probably not replace Anna if she leaves. “The under butler,” he concludes, is a “post that is FRAGRANT with lost memories, unlike a butler. A house like Downton cannot be run without one.” This cheery discussion leaves Thomas even more despondent.

Mr. Moseley’s transformation from inept butler and first footman to a world class educator is almost complete. Mr. Dawes the school master, likes Moseley’s enthusiasm in helping Daisy study for her exam and wonders if he should harness his intellectual energy and take a test of general knowledge (of his own devising) at the same time that Daisy takes her test. Largely self-schooled, Moseley is unsure, but he is finally persuaded to take the test alongside Daisy. This results are so excellent that Mr. Dawes offers Mr. Moseley a teaching position. How sweet. It’s about time that our Mr. Moseley gets to shine!

Mrs. Patmore has bought a pretty little house with the money she inherited from her relative, and will transform into a bed and breakfast. She’ll continue to cook, while her niece will take over the day-to-day management of their little inn.

How will you attract lodgers?” Mrs. Hughes wonders.

Mrs. Patmore, 20th century entrepreneur, has a ready answer. “I’ve already placed an advertisement in the paper.”

“How will they contact you?”

“I’ve installed a telephone in the house,” replies our favorite cook and trail blazer.

 

Dickie, still intent on courting Isobel despite the execrable behavior of his two sons, brings a Miss Cruikshank around to meet her. This young lady is engaged to Larry Grey, the most venomous of Dickie’s boys.

I know you and Larry got off on the wrong foot,” Miss Cruikshank says sweetly.

“That’s one way of describing it,” says Isobel.

“Please know, not all of Lord Merton’s family feels the same way.”

‘Goodness,’ thinks Isobel, scrutinizing Dickie’s face for any sense of irony. ‘I might look like a gullible widow, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Something’s afoot and methinks I need to tread carefully.’

 

Back to the Newlyweds

How are we doing?” says Charlie as he waits for his meal at his cozy table in his cozy cottage for two.

Elsie, smiling, serves him smoked salmon with lemon. Only, there is no lemon. “I left two lemons at the Abbey,” she mourns.

Charlie then suggests that horseradish thinned with a little sour cream would hit the spot just fine.

“There’s none,” says Elsie sadly. She looks at her glass of … plain water. “What are we drinking with our meal?”

“What you see. His lordship cannot drink alcohol, ergo we shall not drink alcohol. Loyalty is solidarity,” he intones.

“Is that what’s making you grumpy?”

Charlie raises his impressive eyebrows. “I think not. What’s next?”

“Duck.”

“Is the skin crispy like Mrs. Patmore’s does it. Did you ask her advice?”

“We certainly talked about what it’s like to cook dinner for you,” says Elsie, handing Charlie his plate and muttering under her breath, “She thinks you’re too old to be trained as a husband.”

Charlie, having found one tiny piece of crispy skin, bites into it and fails to hear his beloved.

 

The Sisters, Their Bachelors, Their Prospects

henry and mary_6

The rain, the man, the woman

Henry Talbot has a clear notion that his prospects with Lady Mary are modest at best, but he’s not deterred. He walks her back to her place in London after an ambush dinner. The weather cooperates and they must seek shelter from a rain storm. He takes her in his arms and kisses her.

Heaven’s Mr. Talbot.”

“You’re a great catch. You’re also a woman I happen to be falling in love with. Gosh, that sounds rather feeble doesn’t it?”

“No!” she says, thinking, ‘Frankly, you had me at…”You’re the boss.” ’

“Then will you come to Brooklands to watch me motor race?”

“You must realize that Matthew died in a car crash.”

“What if I promise I won’t…”

She shushes him, saying “Love mean never making promises you can’t keep.”

Meanwhile, at the Abbey Tom mentions to Robert, Cora, and Mary how much he likes Bertie after his buffo performance as grandmaster of the house tour.

“He seems to know a lot,” agrees Cora.

“But he’s an agent,” says the earl, “stuck somewhere up in Northumberland, managing someone else’s estate.”

Mary cuts to the chase as usual. “He’s boring to an Olympic degree. Edith’s so stupid to have saddled herself with a child. Marigold is sweet, but why would any man want to take her on?”

“What are Edith’s prospects?” says Cora, concerned about her daughter’s SECRET.

“With her magazine, she could develop into one of the more interesting women of her day. And he’s a gentleman. You cannot object on that score,” says the earl, finally seeing the gold and the attraction in his middle daughter.

Cora and Robert leave, giving Tom the opportunity to talk about Henry. Mary mentions going to Brooklands to watch the motor race.

“But, the cars…!” she adds, worried.

“Could this be love,” Tom wonders aloud.

“Oh, shut up!” says Mary.

In Conclusion:

My how time flies, except when you’re writing a recap and review. Six down, three to go. And then? I’ll get to write about Jane Austen again.

What did you think of this week’s developments, dear readers? Will Henry snare Mary? Will Edith reveal to Bertie that Marigold is her daughter any time soon? Will Robert start drinking port again? And how many top Yelp reviews will Mrs. Patmore’s little inn attract?
My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

 

pride-prej-zombiesInquiring readers, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ the movie, has finally arrived. Almost seven years ago I had a blast reviewing Seth Grahame-Smith’s audacious novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, and suggested a few satirical book plots of my own. Click here to read JAW’s review of Seth’s tome, which retained 15% of Jane Austen’s words and embellished Jane’s plot a wee bit by adding hordes of ravenous zombies that had overrun Regency England. For those who are eager to see the cinematic version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ melded with Shaun of the Dead, may we suggest that you read the parody book before viewing the movie?

Quirk Books has asked me to recall some of my favorite scenes from the book.  I invited my good friend, Hillary Major, to trip down memory lane with me. She had read Seth’s book front to back in 2007 and recently reacquainted herself with the plot by way of a fabulous graphic novel based on the book.

When I first read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was struck by the wit – the humorous juxtaposition of Austen’s words with Graham-Smith’s pulpy additions, as when Miss Bingley asserts that an accomplished woman “must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, dancing and the modern languages” as well as being “well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the tactics and weaponry of modern Europe.” As I re-familiarized myself by reading the graphic novel version of the book, I found much of the wit retained through the dialogue and (infrequent) captions. The graphic novel, of course, fleshes out the combat scenes and does a particularly good job of capturing the sorry stricken – from the former residents of Mrs. Beecham’s Home for Orphans to lamp oil salesgirl Penny McGregor to an undead Madonna and a certain longsuffering bride. The graphic novel pulls out the fun and the horror in the action sequences but also raises my curiosity about how the movie will put these scenes into motion.

But really, how interesting are zombies as villains? What’s their motivation? Yes, yes, I know, it’s a truth universally acknowledged: brains and more brains. Still, there’s a certain sameness and routine to a zombie enemy. Zombies are really only dangerous in numbers – unless you happen to be an unfortunate messenger or a cook, which Lizzie Bennet most emphatically is not. My favorite parts of the book (and graphic novel) jump out not because of how they deal with the scourge of unmentionables but because of the way they showcase Lizzie as a total badass, armed not just with rapier wit but with actual dagger and katana.

Lizzie’s competence, strategy, and skill in the deadly arts are singular from the beginning; we first see her “carving the Bennet crest in the handle of a new sword.” When Lizzie and her sisters first jump into action at the Lucas’ ball – responding to Mr. Bennett’s shouted command, “Pentagram of Death!” – it’s a stirring moment. (Darcy takes notice.)

But Elizabeth Bennet is a warrior worthy of an enemy greater than brainless zombies – thus, we meet Lady Catherine, commander of ninjas. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has always put the cat in catfight, and this comes to literal life in her final confrontation with Lizzie. Who hasn’t applauded Lizzie’s refusal to promise never to become betrothed to Darcy and wished the statement were punctuated by a punch in the Lady’s face? Here, the verbal showdown is prequel to a martial arts battle, one that takes place in the Bennets’ own dojo. Lady Catherine gets in a few good blows early on, but Lizzie comes back with a dagger thrust, and soon Lady Catherine is flying through the air, breaking rafters. In the midst of all the “flying about” in a leaping, kicking, katana-wielding martial arts fantasy of a fight, Lizzie descends (from an unbroken rafter) at a key moment and batters away her adversary’s sword, leaving Lady Catherine at her mercy. Lizzie lets her live, knowing she has been “bested by a girl for whom [she has] no regard,” showing more mercy than Catherine would have offered her (or than Lizzie shows the ninja retainers). It’s this throwdown and victory over Lady Catherine that truly sets up the ending of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, of Lizzie and Darcy fighting side by side.

Final-UK-quad

For my part, gentle readers, I shall never forget how Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, slowly turned into a zombie after being bitten by a ghoul. Lizzie promised to remain true to her friend, but as the poor woman’s physical condition deteriorated, it was hard for visitors not to notice her unfortunate appearance or the fact that she was wont to nibble on her hand. One really has to laugh at some of the more ridiculous scenes and one can’t help but wonder how the exuberant young Jane Austen, who wrote the ‘Juvenilia,’ would have reacted to this mashup of her most famous novel.

lena heady lady catherineThe powers that be in Hollywood took seven years to find a Lizzie (Lily James) and Darcy (Sam Riley) worthy of becoming skilled zombie fighters trained by the finest masters in the martial arts. To my way of thinking, Lena Heady’s turn in playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh with an eye patch is worth the price of admission alone.

While I understand that many Jane Austen fans will refuse to see the film, some of us in our Janeite group can’t wait to see it. Love or hate the idea, feel free to let us know your thoughts. 

 

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

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

Index imageTour Schedule

February 02  My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)

February 03  Laura’s Reviews (Excerpt)

February 04  A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

February 05  The Calico Critic (Review)

February 06 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)

February 07  Reflections of a Book Addict (Spotlight)

February 08  Mimi Matthews Blog (Guest Blog)

February 09  Jane Austen’s World (Interview)

February 10  Just Jane 1813 (Review)

February 11  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)

February 12  History of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Guest Blog)

February 13  My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)

February 14  Living Read Girl (Review)

February 14  Austenprose (Review)

February 15  Mystery Fanfare (Guest Blog)

February 16  Laura’s Reviews (Review)

February 17  Jane Austen in Vermont (Excerpt)

February 18  From Pemberley to Milton (Interview)

February 19  More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

February 20  Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)

February 21   A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life (Guest Blog)

February 22   Diary of an Eccentric (Review)

About the Author:

barron

Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Purchase Books at These Sites:

  • Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Jane-Waterloo-Being-Austen-Mystery/dp/1616954256/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1451778725&sr=8-1

  • Barnes & Noble Link:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jane-and-the-waterloo-map-stephanie-barron/1121860459?ean=9781616954253

  • Book Depository Link:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Jane-and-the-Waterloo-Map-Stephanie-Barron/9781616954253

  • IndieBound Link:

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781616954253

  • Goodreads Link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25489249-jane-and-the-waterloo-map

  • iTunes Link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/jane-and-the-waterloo-map/id993475556?mt=11

  • Publishers Page:

http://sohopress.com/books/jane-and-the-waterloo-map/

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

prizes

Fabulous giveaway prizes associated with this blog tour.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on DA, inquiring readers, you know I’ve lumped scenes together for review and not recapped each episode as it progressed. For the sake of space, I’ve ignored some story threads altogether. This week, viewers were treated to dinners upstairs and downstairs, and to more of Lady Violet’s witticisms.  (Spoiler Alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.)

Dining with the Crawleys

Although the viewers couldn’t care less, the boring saga of the hospitals continues. When Violet discovers that Mr. Neville Chamberlain Minister of Health, is going on an inspection tour of the North, she demands that her son invite him to dine at the Abbey.

DA_Violet_Son

Lady Violet in persuasion mode.

 

He’s a busy man,” the earl tells his fond mama. “What makes you think he will come?’

“Because your late papa, the 6th Earl of Grantham, was his wife’s godfather!”

End of argument. Bested by Lady Violet once again, the earl invites Mr. Chamberlain, and, much to Robert’s surprise, the health minister agrees to come. Cora, knowing all about Violet’s scheming ways, invites Dickie Merton, Isobel, and Dr. Clarkson, the old sawbones (and her new ally), to dine as well.

The earl is already dreading the affair. He’s sure there will be hell to pay. All through Season 6 and going back as far as Season 5, he has suffered from indigestion. Unconcerned, he has gone about his business, ignoring the symptoms. Just before dinner with the health minister, he clutches his abdomen again. He decides to take this new burning sensation on the stomach like a man and make an appearance at dinner, knowing that his mama would march up the stairs and drag him out of bed if he failed to attend.

DA Chamberlain

Mr. Chamberlain is having the most unforgettable dinner of his life. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

So kind of you to respond to my mother-in-law’s summons, Mr. Chamberlain,” says Cora in greeting, before Lady Violet pushes her aside and reminds him of their long past history.

“Oh, I recall you when you were so young and so carefree and I was young and gay, and so I say, let’s let the past stay in the past, like the hospital.”

Tom quickly rescues Mr. Chamberlain before he responds, as Lady Cora invites everyone in to dine, even before the servants are finished setting the table.

“She can’t protect him in the dining room,” announces Lady Violet, unconcerned. “I was trained in a hard school and I FIGHT accordingly!”

But things do not go the dowager’s way, for just as she’s working up to prove that change for change’s sake will ruin power, her son erupts like a breaching whale from his chair, clutching his belly, and violently spews blood on the table until the dining room resembles a Roman vomitorium.

blood bath

Cora receives a blood bath

Everyone is worried – Cora that she will lose her husband, Violet that she will lose her train of thought from the shock, and Mr. Carson that the blood-spattered tablecloth will defy cleaning. But Mr. Chamberlain only feels relief, the earl having found a way to save him from a battle royal. He will always be grateful to Robert’s bursting ulcer for its impeccable timing.

As he’s trundled off to the Downton hospital, Robert manages to tell his Cora how much he loves her. At this declaration, all our hearts go aflutter.

Dinner with the Carsons

DA_dinner_carsons

Elsie and Charlie at home. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

Mr. Carson suggested we might have dinner in the cottage tonight, says Elsie to Mrs. Patmore, wanting her advice. “It won’t be a regular thing, just once in a while.”

When did you last cook?” asks Mrs. Patmore. She can’t decide between helping Elsie make two juicy lamb chops or  the more complicated Turducken (turkey stuffed with chicken, stuffed with duck, stuffed with quail).

“Oh, I’ve done the odd thing every five years or so. Still, I WOULD be grateful for the basket.”

‘Chops it is, then,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore.

Later that day, the Carson’s cozy cottage smells of home cooking.

My compliments to the chef,” says an eager Carson, settling in for an evening feast at his own dining room table.

“That would be Mrs. Patmore, not me,” Elsie says complacently. “Are you ready?” She places the chops on the table.

“Are these done enough?” he asks, testing the meat. ” Oh, the plate is cold, that’s a pity.”

She gives him a look that would freeze a Florida swamp as she slides another platter on the table.

“What’s this?”

“Bubble and squeak.”

“With lamb?”

“I LIKE it with lamb.” Elsie is beginning to realize that her groom is easier to please between the sheets than at the dinner table.

“Well, we musn’t let it get cold,” he says in a sing song voice that grown-ups adopt with toddlers. He saws away at the lamb. “Ah, this knife could do with sharpening.”

Elsie slaps a portion of bubble and squeak on his plate with the force of a pig farmer wrestling a sow, which is when Carson realizes he shouldn’t have told his bride that her cooking doesn’t hold a candle to his mother’s.

‘Uh, oh.’ From the look on her face, he understands he’s not getting any nookie tonight either.

A few days later, having forgotten his love’s reaction to his constructive criticism, he approaches Mrs. Patmore.

I wonder if you would you be willing to help my bride catch up with her pantry pans. It’s been a while since she’s played with them. ”

He turns to Mrs. Carson, er, Mrs. Hughes, er, Elsie. “You’d be very glad of the help, wouldn’t you my dove?”

“Sure. Why not. It’s time to get our coats,” she says, thinking that if she out paces him to their cottage, she could get the couch made up in a trice for his bed.

A Loving Sisterly Exchange

sisterly love

I’ll be in London on Wednesday,” announces Edith at breakfast.

Her papa looks around the table and says proudly, “Edith has a date.”

“Not really,” says she.

“Of course not,” says Mary.

“What do you mean, of course not?” retorts Edith, wanting to scratch her sibling’s eyes out for the gazillionth time.

A Visit to Mr Mason’s New Pig Abode

When Lady Mary learns that pigs are his speciality, she allows Mr. Mason to move to Yew Tree Farm in a trice.

DA Mary_Tom

Mary and Tom in inspection mode. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

I want to look in on, Mason,” she says to her papa, “He’s moving in today.”

“You may go where you like, as long as the pigs are settled.”

“I am concerned,” says she. “I’ve asked him to take over, but pig keeping needs strength, come to think of it.”

“Very sensible. Pigs can be dangerous. Mason’s scrawny. He needs more meat on his bones. ”

“Perhaps we can ask Mrs. Patmore to help in that department.”

In sync with Lady Mary’s thoughts, Mrs. Patmore has laden an abundant basket with fattening goodies as a welcome present. Mr. Mason is the first new bachelor of a certain age with a good job to move within 50 miles of the vicinity this past decade and Mrs. Patmore is old enough to know when OPPORTUNITY comes a’knocking.

DA_Mason_Patmore

Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore: a new romance in the making? Or a possible spin-off to be titled: ‘Of Pigs and Men.’ Photographer: Nick Briggs

Mr. Mason admires her strong ample figure and thinks it a sight for sore eyes.

Does me good to see a woman bustling around my kitchen.”

“I’ve got goodies galore for you,” she says, “and a snack for later on.”

“You’re an angle of mercy.”

“Do you mean me?” asks Lady Mary without irony, stepping into the kitchen with Tom. “Am I interrupting?”

“Not a bit, my lady, You’re welcome here.” ‘Drat,’ he thinks, ‘just when Mrs. P and I were getting to know each other…’

“We wanted to discuss the pigs.”

“I’m top at pigs.”

Tom steps forward. “Lady Mary is worried about the physical side of it. Prizing a boar off a sow…”

“Heeheehee,” giggles Mrs. Patmore.

“Or taking the piglets off their mother.”

“Boohoohoo,” cries Mrs. Patmore.

DA_Andy

Andy offers his services. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

As Tom and Mary discuss Mr. Mason’s feeble strength and the absence of a farm hand, Andy, who has volunteered his services in moving to gain favor with Daisy,  steps forward to offer his strong arms to help with pig maintenance.

Can you do it?” asks Tom.

“Sure,” says Andy, promising the stars, the sun, and the moon, as well as seven years servitude. He wants to learn as much as he can about farming, just as long as there ain’t no book learnin’ involved.

Daisy is all agog. ‘Could this be the man of her dreams? A footman plus a pig farmer rolled neatly into one?’

I’ll lend you some books about pig farming and breeding,” offers Mr. Mason to Andy.

“Books?” Charlie utters.

“You need to know the theory of it. Makes it more logical.”

“I’m up shit’s creek,” thinks Andy, visions of pigs and Daisy fading away, since he can’t make heads or tails of a ‘p’ or an ‘i’ or a ‘g,’ much less their capitalized versions.

Later on, downstairs in the Abbey, Mrs. Patmore practically glows from having worked her knuckles raw helping Mr. Mason set up his house and larder. “What a lovely chap.”

‘Wait a moment,’ thinks Daisy, glaring at Mrs. Patmore. ‘Mr. Mason’s MY lovely chap. I found him first!’

daisyhiss_5

Daisy in hissing mode

 

He must be lonely,” Mrs. P. concludes, thinking of how fine the contents of her Hope Chest would look in Mr. Mason’s cottage.

Daisy hisses,” He’sss not lonely! He’ss MY precioussss. He’s been living alone for yearss.”

‘And working himself scrawny, so he needs help with the rutting pigs,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore, knowing she could fatten him up in no time flat and build up his muscles.

He seemed to enjoy the company…” she ventures.

“He was only being polite! He was longing for you, er, us, to go.”

“Pfff.”

Mrs. Patmore huffs off, thinking, ‘Let’s see if I give that ungrateful chit any helpful advice from now on.’

Lady Violet, Denker, and Septimus Sprat

During a village stroll, Denker encounters Dr. Clarkson and rounds on him for being a traitor and scoundrel to the Dowager Countess. His dignity offended, he sends Lady Violet a letter describing Denker’s INSULT and her impertinence. Clutching the letter to her heaving bosom, Violet summons her disagreeable lady’s maid.

Lady Violet

Photographer, Nick Briggs. You read too many novels, Denker!

Denker arrives, thinking she’s about to receive a raise for loyalty.

Is it true you called Dr. Clarkson a traitor?”

“I just thought he behaved very badly.”

“It’s not your place to have opinions of my acquaintances, let alone express them! If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who’s ever spoken ill of me, my address book would be EMPTY! For a lady’s maid to insult a physician!… You’ve read too many novels, Denker. You’ve seen too many moving pictures. You’ve skulked around too many hallways.”

“I was sticking up for you.”

“And for that I shall write a tepid character. From this house you must go forthwith.”

“But my lady, what am I to do? Where am I to go?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”

Knowing Lady Violet will not change her mind, Denker approaches Sprat to help save her job.

How’d it happen?” he asks, secretly delighted with the turn of events. “Were you drunk?”

“Of course not! Am I to blame if I have a very passionate nature?”

Sprat makes a face. “Any more of that talk and I won’t be able to sleep.”

The more Denker pleads with Sprat, the happier he gets, ’till he’s humming from sheer joy, but, alas, his happiness is short lived.

“Are you packed?” he asks her the following morning. “Are you gonna help her dress, get your reference, and then head off, never to darken my life again?”

“No, and I’ll tell you why, you insignificant worm. Did they catch your nephew. The one you hid?”

SpratSprat stops humming. “Wha…?”

“Septimus Sprat, if I go down, I am taking you down with me. Capiche?”

“What can I say to …”

“You’d better think of something. And you better hope it works, Mr. Sprat. You better hope that I don’t ever need to mention your nephew ever again.”

Sprat walks away from the conversation thinking that daily torture in a dark dungeon would be preferable to being stuck with this woman for the rest of his benighted life. He wonders if he should apply for a position at Gosford Park before it is too late.

Love Does Not Conquer All

As Lady Mary and Tom drive to the track to watch Henry Talbot, he turns to her. “Do you like him?

He’s attractive and nice and reminds me I’m a youngish woman again, but that’s all. I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but I won’t marry down. I don’t want to be grander than my husband or richer, but he needs to bring something to my substantial table.”

“Happiness doesn’t have much with money or position. Sybil and I had a marriage of equals. I brought the copper, she brought the gold. I brought the dust, she brought the duster. I…”

“I get it,” says Lady Mary, not amused.

Tom and mary

Tom and Mary at the track.

‘Tom’s not getting the point,’ thinks a frustrated Mary. She needs to stay grander than Edith so that she can always lord it over her and her unfortunate choices of doddering old suitors and mere land agents.

And so, having discussed her elevated norm for marital love, Tom and Mary arrive at the racetrack, where Henry and his best friend, Charlie, are driving recklessly around the track at around, oh, 60 – 65 mph.

Just look at him. Working hard but getting nowhere,” says Mary, adding, “He’s just going around in useless circles.”

As Henry and Charlie race around the track a few hundred times, I begin to make my weekly grocery list and check my work schedule. These overly long scenes are best distinguished by the background music, which resembles a soundtrack from an Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon Beach Muscle Blanket Bikini Bingo movie.

As Henry finishes his practice turns and strides towards them, Tom tells Mary, “You don’t have to marry him, but you do have to let him enjoy this moment.”

‘Enjoy, yes,’ Mary thinks, ‘but I won’t let anything as puny as love get in the way of sensible thought.’

Bates and Anna Discuss Lady Mary and Lady Luck

happy

Oh, happy days.

“I want Lady Mary to be happy, like I am happy,” says Bates to his wife as they walk towards the Abbey after breakfast in their cozy cottage for two. “I want everyone to be happy.”

“Are you really happy? says Anna, clutching her rabbit’s foot.

“I am so happy that happy is my middle name. I’m, you know, happy.”

“No, I don’t know. But if you’re happy then I’m happy.”

“I’m happy.”

“Bad Harvest,” says Anna, not wanting to spoil her good luck.

Edith happy

Lady Edith happy.

Outing the Secret

At the end of dinner and in the heat of the moment, as the earl and his bleeding ulcer are carted off to Downton Hospital, Lady Cora prevents Lady Violet from talking any more nonsense about the hospital. “No more secrets from now on!”

mary overhears

Uh, oh. Edith should have said ‘bad harvest’ too.

“You mean, like Marigold?” says Lady Violet, not seeing Lady Mary standing behind them.

From Lady Mary’s expression, we know she’s come to an ah-hah moment. Cue ominous music, please.

What a fine episode, gentle readers. While, for the sake of brevity, I did not discuss Baxter’s plight, Thomas’s offer to help Andy read, or Edith’s trip to London and the start of a budding romance, I give this episode four and a half stars out of five. What say you?

Informal poll: Which did you think was grosser?

The bloody carnage at

  • the earl’s table in this episode.
  • the red wedding in Game of Thrones.
  • the remains of Hannibal Lechter’s lunch.

 

My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

We come to episode 4 of season 6, which has its moments, but also serves as a bridge to Episode 5. As you will see, much of this week’s action occurs over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The story lines intersect or are continued. Warning! Spoiler Alert. Continue reading at your own risk.

tom

Tom talks to Mary.

At the end of Episode 3, Tom crashes Elsie and Charlie’s wedding, because it was unfair to keep Sybbie from her family in Downton. Frankly, I think he returned because the viewers set up a hue and cry last season when he departed for the colonies. Thus, the writers wisely thought to bring him back. Lady Mary immediately asks Tom to become a joint agent, but he sees something larger for himself in the future.

“This will do for the time being, he says, not wanting to disappoint her.

“Whatever,” says Lady Mary, “But no more Miss Buntings, if you have any pity.”

For once I agree with Lady Mary.

Carson and his lady love are honeymooning in Scarborough, a popular seaside and spa resort during the Regency era, where, until the late 19th century, men would take a boat out to sea to spartle sans clothes in the waters out of the eyesight of delicate ladies. Scarborough was no longer a fashionable resort in the 1920s, as it had been a century or two before. More and more working class people were able to take a train to areas that were once available only to the rich, who went on to find more expensive waters. At breakfast, Lady Mary sniffs at the choice of honeymoon location, saying they could have managed something nicer. We can only hope that Elsie’s honeymoon with Charlie was blissful and unforgettable.

Butler Barrow

Mr. Barrow, butler for 5 minutes.

Downstairs, Thomas reigns as temporary butler, barking orders and demanding respect, which he does not receive. As Mrs. Patmore points out, his tenure will last a mere five minutes, until Mr. Carson gets back.

Thomas pays no heed, and wastes little time reminding one and all that his veneer of niceness these past three episodes was very thin. He’s back to acting like his old insufferable self and lording it over the servants, who are keeping score for Carson.butler points

Hospital Wars, Ad Infinitum Boredom

Lady Violet enlists her dear friend, the dowager Lady Prudence Shackleton, to champion her fight in the hospital wars. Since that lady knows next to nothing about everything, she is the perfect candidate to join a losing battle – that of opposing change and persuading Lady Cora to join them in their backward thinking. (If you recall, Lady Shackelton, aka Harriet Walter, played that nasty Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, 1995. She was one of the best Fannies ever, to my way of thinking.)

The two friends meet over a nice pot of tea at the Dowager house.

“But what’s this about the hospitals?” Lady Shackleford asks, bewildered, and not understanding she’s supposed to parrot Lady Violet’s POV. “I really don’t see anything wrong…”

“Are you here to help or irritate?”

“To help, of course, and to bring my nephew Henry and his racing cars to the attention of Lady…”

“Well, then, there’s nothing more to be said. Just follow my lead.”

‘We’ll see,’ thinks Lady Prudence, determined to place Henry across Lady Mary’s path as often as possible during her visit.

Another Fine Dinner at Downton

Henry Talbot arrives with his aunt for dinner, surprising Lady Mary.

“Golly,” says she. “Nobody told me the nephew was you.”

“One must be allowed to keep some secrets,” Henry says, wondering if there is molten lava under her glacial crust.

violet and friend

Lady Violet and Lady Shackleton, good friends. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE.

As the assembled guests wait for the food to be served, Lady Prudence and Lady Violet embark on an important economic discussion regarding Henry.

“What sort of Talbot is he?” asks Lady Violet, trying to recall all 4,700 pages of Burke’s Peerage.

“A Shrewsbury,” Lady Shackleford sighs. ” Adequate prospects but not overwhelming. He’s nowhere near the earldom. Forty strong men would have to drop dead…”

“Well, nothing is impossible,” says Violet optimistically.

The earl, listening in, remarks, “Honestly!”

“Mary needs more than a handsome smile and a hand on the gear stick,” retorts the dowager.

” I’m surprised you know what a gear stick is,” he rejoins.

Before Lady Violet can list all the prominent gear sticks in her life, the dining room doors swing open and Barrow announces dinner.

violet and her friend

Lady Shackleton, the earl, and Lady Violet converse

While the group munches on a delicious meal of calf’s brain with black butter and deep fried tripe, Isobel states her case for the Yorkshire Hospital’s takeover of Downton’s little clinic. “I’m all for PROGRESS,” she concludes.

Lady Violet won’t hear of anything concerning growth, improvements, advancements, or breakthroughs since the 13th century.

“You are making a grave mistake!” She turns to her enlistee.”PRUDENCE, tell them!”

“I, uh, well, uh. Uhm. I expect there’s a great deal to be said on both sides, or all sides, or the side that matters, or no side at all!”

“D  O  N ‘ T     B  E    S O     F  E  E  B  L  E!”

“How can I present myself as an expert when I don’t know the facts?” Prudence whines.

“Well, that’s never stopped me!”

More chit chat about the hospitals ensues, when Lady Edith remarks, “I suppose Cousin Isobel is entitled to put up an argument.”

“Of course she is,” declares Lady Violet, “She’s just not entitled to WIN it.”

The discussion goes on and on, with Isobel smiling and Lady Violet sending out dagger looks, until dinner mercifully ends and the viewers can stop folding laundry or checking their emails.

card

Chitchat with Henry Talbot

Henry Talbot escorts Lady Mary from the dining room.

“Do you ever make it up to London?” he asks.

“Sometimes.”

“Would you think it terribly common if I gave you my card?”

“Fairly common, but I’ll take it anyway.”

“Telephone me. We’ll have lunch, or a drink……….or something.”

Mary lifts an eyebrow, intrigued by the something. “You know I couldn’t be less interested in cars if I took a pill to achieve it.”

“Mmmm,” Henry murmurs, thinking to impress her with his strong engine.

 

Mr. and Mrs. John Harding Arrive for Lunch

Lady Rosamund Painswick, as trustee of Hillcroft College, an establishment for clever women of modest backgrounds, invites Mr. and Mrs. John Harding to lunch to meet her family and to entice Lady Edith to become a trustee. He is the College’s treasurer, a self-made man, clever, and successful; Gwen, his wife, is one of those women with a modest background who made something of herself and married a man of means. She was, as you recall, dear viewers, a hard-working house maid at the Abbey and sweet Sybil’s former protégé.

Gwen Harding

Mr. & Mrs. Harding come for a visit. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

As Thomas opens the door, he does not recognize Gwen all washed clean in her pretty outfit with her respectable husband. Anna recognizes Gwen right away.

Lady Mary is not sure. “Forgive me, have we met?”

“Not exactly, says Gwen, thinking, ‘I used to carry your chamber pots down the back stairs. Would that count?’

Gwen, under the impression they were to visit Lady Rosamund Painswick, did not know she was coming to the Abbey until it was too late to let the servants know, a non-move she regrets. This failure to alert them of her visit does not sit well with Barrow. At his false prompting, the servants think her a stuck up prig with no sense of loyalty. “We gave her her start up in life, what with carrying dozens of pails of water up the stairs, cleaning the floors on her hands and knees, and clearing 95 fireplaces of ashes. How ungrateful!”

“Darn right,” says Daisy, who is mad, and has been as mad as a mosquito trapped in a vampire’s vault at Lady Cora for not instantly installing her Mr. Mason into Yew Tree Farm.

Unaware of the servants’ displeasure with Gwen Harding, the luncheon group embark on neutral pre-lunch chit chat. The writers have found an interesting and entertaining way to discuss the changing role for women in this scene without sounding too preachy and maintaining the entertainment level.

Isobel addresses Gwen, wanting to know more about the Hardings’ story.

“The telephone company changed everything for me. I was a secretary before that…”
For some reason, Gwen suffers from selective amnesia and forgets the ‘I was in service’ part.

“She moved into local government and then met me,” her husband adds succinctly.

“I might have gone further if I’d had more education,” says Gwen. “We can’t afford to waste working women by not educating them.”

The group is then asked to sit down to a luncheon of vermicelli soufflé and asparagus ice.

“It’s too bad Carson isn’t here,” says Lady Mary, referring to Gwen’s last statement, for our favorite butler thinks an education is wasted on young women.

“You recall Carson, Madam, surely,” says Barrow, outing Gwen and demolishing weeks of hard-won sainthood for the sake of a moment’s empty victory.

The room grows glacially silent.

“What do you mean, Barrow?” asks Lady Cora.

“Mrs. Harding used to work here,” says Barrow, as cool as a Survivor contestant throwing one of his tribe under the bus.

Gwen, having worked alongside this insufferable prig for many a moon, interrupts him.

“Thank you, Mr. Barrow, I can tell it.”

As Barrow leaves, all eyes turn to her, none too friendly, except for Isobel, who will always champion an underdog, especially a female with a 20th-century story.

Gwen lobs a bomb in the center of the table.

“I used to be a housemaid here for a couple of years after the war.”

“Here? Why didn’t you say?” says the earl with a polite but tight smile.

” I don’t know,” says Gwen, thinking that she was dreading being shown the servant’s entrance.

“Well, you had every opportunity,” Lady Mary says, trying to adjust to the idea of sitting opposite a PERSON who had seen her dirty undies.

“I feel stupid for not recognizing you,” adds Cora.

“Why should you? We never spoke. But Lady Sybil spoke to me.”

“Sybil?” All eyes turn to her, inquiring.

“I didn’t want to be in service all my life. Lady Sybil found the job. She did everything. Looked out for the jobs, made the calls, drove me to the interviews. One time the horse went lame and we both got stuck in the mud…”

Cora, her face soft with the memory of her daughter, says, “We were so worried, but she never said a thing about you.”

“It was our secret pact. One day she cornered the man who was installing the telephone here, and that’s how I got me first job in business.”

“She wouldn’t let me in the library while you met him,” says the earl slowly, reminiscing. “So that was you…”

“Her kindness changed me life.”

All eyes are wet – those at the Abbey and those who are watching this scene. This was a lovely way to remember Sybil and include her in the last season – through the kindness that she bestowed a simple house maid.

Mary looks up at Thomas and says pointedly, “Thank you, Barrow, for reminding us of Mrs. Harding’s time here.”

“My pleasure, my lady,” says Barrow, his face twitching. ‘Why do things never go according to plan?’ he thinks, hoping in some way to salvage his economically active status at the Abbey.

Gwen-know nothing_4As Gwen leaves the Abbey, she whispers to Thomas in her silky Ygritte voice: “You know nothing, Mr. Barrow.”

The earl later corrals him to talk about his lack of generosity. “Carson is a kind man, that is why people are loyal to him.”

As a final nail in his employment coffin, Baxter reminds Thomas, “You are your own worst enemy.”

And so the servants vote once again:

butler rip

 

A Hasty Trip to London

Anna feels pains and worries that she’s having another miscarriage. She tells Lady Mary and reminds her, “I don’t want Bates to know!” Lady Mary coolly tells her, “We’ll just say I need to see a doctor, double quick.” For a two night stay at Belgrave Square, Mary has Anna pack two heavy suitcases with an assortment of items, including books and chocolates, that she cannot live without for 48 hours. Normally, our tiny Anna can haul such luggage with ease down the stairs, swinging both of them on her back, but this time Lady Mary asks Bates to carry them. He looks at this cane and starts to wonder…

“Never mind,” says Anna hastily, forgetting the pains in her womb. “I’ll just carry them down one at a time.”

Lady Mary is relieved to no end when Anna has her stitch successfully stitched, but the operation means that they must stay for one or two extra days at Aunt Rosamund’s place in Belgrave Square.

‘What’s a single woman to do while glamping in her stodgy aunt’s London apartment?’ Mary wonders. Why, whip out the card she accepted from Henry Talbot, of course, and give him a ring. He’s there in a trice and takes her to an RAC (Royal Automobile Club) diner, a rather plush place for a mere driver, but no great shakes for a great lady.

Downton_Abbey_4

Lady Mary looking none too shabby. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE.

“I look shabby. I brought no clothes,” she says, forgetting her mounds of luggage, “and so had to rifle through Aunt Rosamund’s ghastly closets.”

He eyes her up and down and sideways and says in a caressing voice, “You are anything but shabby.”

Once at the table, he asks, “What is your enthusiasm?” thinking she will say “clothes, children, horses, and irritating Lady Edith,” but she says instead, “I work. I function as an agent. I want to leave my little George as the master of a modern going concern.”

“I’m impressed.”

“So am I, but what I truly hope is that you’re boiling up to make a pass.”

“Probably.” Both stare at their menus wondering how the other will look without a stitch on. “But will you accept?”

Mary, secure in her femme fatale record, replies, “No. I just enjoy the process enormously.”

Henry is beginning to think that he’ll need more than one lariat to rope in this filly.

Daisy

Daisy

Daisy loves Lady Cora. Daisy hates Lady Cora. Daisy doesn’t know what to think, but she thinks she might love Lady Cora again when she learns that Mr. Mason will have Yew Tree Farm. He’s glad to have a place to rest his bones. Daisy’s glad he’s glad.

End of story.

The Honeymooners Return

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So happy to be back in service! Elsie’s face says it all.

The Carsons return from their honeymoon all white and pasty from a week at a seaside resort near a very cold ocean. “Home again at last, I feel as if I’ve been away for months,” says Carson, glad to be in service again. His loving bride aims a well-timed kick at his shin. ‘What? What did I say?’ thinks Carson, unaware that as a newly wed bride, his Elsie would find his joyful outburst at returning to work somewhat unflattering.

Meanwhile, the downstairs folk have planned a party for the newlyweds, to which the Crawleys have been invited.

” I haven’t been in the kitchens for at least 20 years,” observes Lady Violet. “I will need Ariadne’s thread to find my way out again!”

“Have you got your passport?” asks Isobel, not in the least sympathetic.

During the merry making, Edith lets out that she wants to find a woman editor.

Violet harrumps at the thought.

Mary says sensibly, “Well, it IS a magazine for women.”

“That was nice of you to praise Edith’s plan,” Aunt Rosamund tells Mary.

Lest anyone thinks she has a soft heart for her sister, Mary retorts, “A monkey will type out the bible if you leave it alone long enough.”

Indeed, and a monkey could have typed out this review as well.

 

Fiddle Dee Dee

news

Good news.

After having watched her carry only one suitcase down the stairs at a time, Bates approaches Anna at the party. “I know what you’re hiding.”

“What I’m hiding is very happy.”

“You are…?”

“I am, and was saved by a stitch in time.”

Both smile and hug and kissy face. Cue the fiddlers for a happy dance, please.

Whatever Name You Choose, Just Make it Easy On Us, Will Ya?

Upstairs the conversation has taken its usual banal turn. The group just can’t get their tongues around Mr. Carson and Mrs. Carson. It is so much easier to say Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes than the Carsons, isn’t it? This situation is worse than Jane Eyre wishing to be called Mrs. Rochester! Or Charlotte Lucas being called Mrs. Collins. (The abomination!) None of us will get used to it! Why can’t they just remain Carson and Mrs. Hughes!

As it so happens, Mr. and Mrs. Carson wish to remain named as they were before their union was sanctified.

“Hallelujah! You’ve made me a happy man!” says the earl, clutching his abdomen and thinking, ‘Must’ve been the deep fried tripe that upset my stomach, or perhaps the alcohol. Will remind myself to lay off the port.’

And so another episode has ended, gentle viewers, which I give 3 out of 5 stars, simply because most of the story lines just twirled and swirled – in a delightful way, to be sure, but this is Downton Abbey, after all, and the show has set STANDARDS.

Please join me in an informal poll: Which of the following, in your opinion, is easier to say? Carson and Mrs. Carson, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, or “Hey You?” Uninformed minds want to know.

My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

Unleashing Mr. Darcy: Hallmark

As part of Winterfest, Hallmark Channel is featuring a made for TV movie, Unleashing Mr. Darcy, Saturday, January 23, at 9:00 PM. It’s a modern interpretation of the Lizzie/Darcy love story starring Cindy Busby and Ryan Paevey. So far, only Clueless has managed a modern reinterpretation of a Jane Austen novel to my satisfaction. Let’s see what you all think of this film.

Here’s a link to Hallmark’s website: Click here. I don’t subscribe to cable, so I won’t be seeing it!

I agree with some of you – from the trailer, this movie does not look promising.

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