Archive for September, 2008

Inquiring reader,

Last year I met Jane Odiwe online. We immediately struck up an email friendship discussing all things Jane Austen. She had just written Lydia Bennet’s Story, which came out in the U.K. Sourcebooks will be bringing out the book this month with a new and beautiful cover. Jane not only writes, but she also paints lovely watercolours and maintains several blogs and websites. Below is my interview with Jane. I have also added links of interest at the bottom.

1. Jane, you have such a wonderful light and deft touch with watercolours, a difficult medium at best: Have you always painted? And were you schooled? Where, and for how long?
I have painted as long as I can remember, sitting with my mother at the kitchen table. It was also a love of hers which she passed on to me. I went to art school in Sutton Coldfield, studying at Foundation level and then at Degree level in Birmingham, England, five years all together. Mine was an unusual degree, I was able to indulge my love of History, Art History and Literature whilst specialising in Fine Art. Watercolour and oils are my favourite medium.

2. Have you always been a Jane Austen fan? When did you first encounter her works?
I remember seeing the old black and white version of Pride and Prejudice on television when I was very young and dressing up in my mother’s nightgown. I was very taken with the dancing at the time and all the fashion which I loved. I read the book later but I was inspired to re-read all of Jane’s works after the lovely Pride and Prejudice production starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I think Jane and Elizabeth were my mother’s favourites, as my first names are Jane Elizabeth!

3. In order to create these works, you’ve had to combine a working knowledge of anatomy, history, historical places, Jane’s biography, and an intimate knowledge of her writings. That is quite a feat. Why did you decide to embark on such a difficult and exacting project?
I have always enjoyed reading the biographies written about Jane Austen but there never seemed to be enough pictures and of course, one of the reasons is, that they simply don’t exist. There is the little watercolour painting of Jane Austen in the National Portrait Gallery, the silhouette that is said to be of her and Cassandra’s other painting of Jane, sitting with her back to us but they do not give us a real idea of what she looked like. I was intrigued by her letters and her romance with Tom Lefroy and the first painting I did was of them dancing together. I painted it for the sheer pleasure of ‘seeing’ them together; I think it was an attempt to depict her happiness at being with the young man she seemed to like best. All the written descriptions of Jane seem to bear little resemblance to Cassandra’s painting; I wanted to see a younger Jane at the time when she experienced her first love and was starting to enjoy balls and attention from young men. I based Jane Austen’s portrait on Cassandra’s painting but I admit I wanted to see her smile. She had such a wonderful sense of humour, I wanted to try and show a happier Jane. I never thought of my Effusions of Fancy paintings in terms of an exacting project. I didn’t expect anyone else would ever see them and they were a purely personal tribute. However, when I thought about putting the pictures into a book, I did want to try and change people’s idea that Jane was a quiet spinster in a mob cap and I thought one of the ways I could do that was to attempt a painting of a younger woman with her hair dressed as though she is about to go dancing.
4. Regarding this painting of the Austen family, tell me a bit about your working process. I can see that you studied the actual paintings of each family member. How did you incorporate so many likenesses in one composition? Did you sketch each portrait separately first? Or did you work from an overall composition?
Because we only ever see the portraits of the family members by themselves, I wanted to picture the Austens all together around the table, showing them as the close family I believe them to have been. I started with the silhouettes of Mr and Mrs Austen. Silhouettes give us such a tantalising glimpse of a person without revealing the whole; I had no other reference for Mrs Austen but there is a lovely portrait of Jane’s father, with his white hair, which helped enormously. I used my knowledge of figure drawing and many painting references to find bodies for the heads and tried to bear in mind what I had read about their characters. Henry, for example, is depicted in the only portrait that exists of him as being a very sober looking clergyman with receding hair. Everything I have ever read about him illustrates quite a different character; handsome, fun loving, slightly reckless and witty. I painted another portrait of Henry to see if I could find the ‘handsome’ Henry and incorporated this into the painting. Edward’s portraits at Chawton are wonderful and I have studied them many times. I imagine Edward resembled his mother in looks and also has those ruddy cheeks which Jane is supposed to have had. Edward did not really grow up with the other children as he was sent to live with his richer relations and I wanted to indicate this; he is slightly aloof, not sitting with the immediate family but protective of his mother. Lovely Frank, the seafaring brother who took his mother and sisters into his home after Mr Austen died, has his arms around Henry and his sisters. I imagine him to have been very dependable and loving and wanted to portray this aspect of his character. James, the poet, I think was probably quite earnest and serious. I think he looks lost in his own thoughts. Charles, another sailor looks very dashing in the portraits I
have seen of him, I wanted to show him with a bit of a smile, as though he is about to laugh at something his mother has just said. Jane and Cassandra are talking to each other and laughing at some shared amusement. I really wanted to show how close they were, two young girls having fun and chatting, nineteen to the dozen. I used a painting and a silhouette said to be of
Cassandra for my painting, I believe she was a pretty girl. I would like to do another family portrait one of the days which tells another story, perhaps illustrating a well known event in their lives.

5. Do you feel that all your hard work in this area is paying off? If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?
I’ve ‘met’ so many lovely people as a result of producing my little book and cards, (many through my web site and from different countries) and for me this is my greatest pleasure. If someone writes to tell me that they have enjoyed my work, that is the biggest payoff for me. Other people’s lives are always interesting to me and I like to keep in touch and hear their news.

I wouldn’t do anything differently, I’ve enjoyed the whole process of creating the paintings but perhaps I would like to add or do different versions of the same ideas. It’s essential to keep striving to improve and continue to study, I think. I would like to do a larger version of Effusions of Fancy with more paintings, perhaps telling the story of all of Jane’s life. More time to accomplish everything I would wish would be lovely, but time has a habit of running away!

6. Is this a full time career? Or are you squeezing this extraordinary passion into an already full schedule?
It is a full time career, but I also work with my husband to help earn our bread and butter! He is a graphic designer and he often needs an illustration to help with his work. At this time of year I am usually to be found drawing Christmas trees, baubles, popping champagne bottles etc. for restaurant menus, Christmas cards and invitations etc. After Christmas, it’s Valentine’s day and so it goes on. I really enjoy this type of work. I am very lucky to be able to work with my husband, doing illustrations that I enjoy working on. I get a huge thrill out of seeing my work out in public.

7. Any advice you would give to budding authors/illustrators?
You need to be passionate about your work and have a tough skin. You will face many rejections and possible hurtful comments as well as enjoy success. Try to remember why you started on this journey in the first place, believe in what you do and don’t give up, which is easy to say but not always easy to put into practice!

8. Aside from Lydia Bennett’s Journal, what other projects are you currently working on?
I’ve just completed a little map for Deirdre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Steventon, which was a lovely job to do and at present I am putting together menus for the wonderful Scottish Branch Jane Austen Birthday Lunch in December.

I’m having a great time writing a new novel, which of course is another Jane Austen sequel. It is another ‘Story’ of one of Jane’s characters but this time inspired by Sense and Sensibility. I hope this will be ready in the spring. I’m off to Devon soon to do some research. This is one of my favourite reasons for writing, although I often find it takes over!

In addition to all her other plans and activities, Jane wrote, “I’m also very excited to tell you that my Jane Austen illustrations are to be used in a documentary feature on the DVD of The Jane Austen Book Club. They asked to use about 16 of them, so I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with them.” We can’t either, Jane!

Update: Here are Jane’s thoughts about her new Sense and Sensibility sequel, out in 2009:

I am really thrilled to be able to tell you that my second novel, Mrs Brandon’s Invitation will be published by Sourcebooks next year. It will be coming out in September, which seems such a long time to wait to see it in print, but will fit so perfectly within the time frame of the book, that I will just have to learn to be more patient.

As the title suggests, Mrs Brandon’s Invitation is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The story principally centres around Marianne (nee Dashwood) who has been married to Colonel Brandon for three years and that of her younger sister Margaret, but most of the characters are there, plus a few new ones. I have so enjoyed writing this one, interweaving the stories of two heroines against the backdrops of Delaford in the Autumn, Lyme and London in winter. It was such fun to write the characters of Mrs Jennings and Lucy Ferrars, along with her sister Anne Steele. Colonel Brandon’s sister, husband and son make an appearance at Whitwell and this is where the mischief starts. I am often inspired by a secondary character or mention of one in the original books and I decided to introduce the family. If you remember, Mrs Jennings refers to Colonel Brandon’s sister as residing in Avignon at the time of Sense and Sensibility. With her son Henry coming home from university, it was time to bring the Lawrence family back to Whitwell.

Here is a little taster of what is to come.

No one is more delighted by the appearance of an eligible suitor for her sister Margaret Dashwood than Marianne Brandon, until it becomes clear that not only the happiness of the match, but also that of her own marriage are bound and ensnared by the secrets and lies that belong to the past. First attachments, false impressions, resentments and misconceptions, are the elements that conspire to jeopardise the happiness of the Brandon family at Delaford Park, along with the added predicament of Mrs Brandon’s first love John Willoughby returning to the neighbourhood.

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The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine.- Jane Austen to Cassandra, Godmersham, June 20, 1808

Icehouse, Bedale Park

Icehouse, Bedale Park

Jane wrote casually of eating ice in a day when the preservation of huge chunks of river and pond ice was no mean feat. Solid blocks of ice were hewn from nearby frozen ponds and rivers in winter, then hauled by teams of horses and men to a suitable storage space. Ships also brought in chunks of ice from glaciers and icebergs.

In early days, deep underground chambers whose doors faced north kept the temperatures freezing inside their heavily insulated structures, preserving the ice for up to two years.  By the 17th and 18th centuries, owners of great houses built icehouses adjacent to their dwellings. These storage spaces had double insulated walls and double doors that kept the warm air out. The cold chambers also kept water, milk, butter, and other perishables refrigerated.  Iced food remained the province of the rich, who could afford to build an ice house and pay servants who shaved the ice and prepared ices, ice sculptures, bombes, and ice cream. Experiments in flavors and designs abounded:

Squirrel ice cream mold, ruby lane antiques

Squirrel ice cream mold, ruby lane antiques

In the late 17th and early 18th century, long before refrigeration was available, Europeans were making ices and ice creams. Although they were often unsure about freezing techniques, they began experimenting with flavors immediately. Confectioners tried everything from breadcrumbs to grated cheese to candied orange flowers in these new frozen treats. They molded them into fanciful shapes and served them with style and flair. Once in a while, they stumbled – putting foie gras or puréed asparagus in ice cream, for example – but most of their experiments were successful. They led the way to the wonderful range of flavors we enjoy today. (Histories, Legends, and Myths of Ices and Ice Cream)

The great chefs were especially creative in the use of ice for preserving food, and making exotic foods. In a day before electricity, intricately carved ice sculptures of swans and cherubs and the like were all the rage in Europe. The great French chef Antonin Careme used iced water to make his spun sugar sculptures and kept desserts on ice and the pastry room cool to keep the unbaked pastries cool. (Crème du Carême)

Recipes for creating ices and ice cream haven’t changed much, but the methods have. By the mid 19th century small portable iceboxes and an ice cream maker had been invented, replacing laborious hand stirring with a handcrank until the mixture thickened. The following is an 18th-century ice cream recipe that illustrates how labor intensive and time consuming ice cream making had once been:

English ice cream pail, Derby 1790

English ice cream pail, Derby 1790. Image from Historic Foods.

Pare, stone and scald twelve ripe Apricots, beat them fine in a Marble Mortar, put to them six Ounces of double refined Sugar, a Pint of scalding Cream, work it through a Hair Sieve, put it into a Tin that has a close Cover, set it in a Tub of Ice broken small, and a large Quantity of Salt put amongst it, when you see your Cream grow thick round the Edges of your Tin, stir it and set it in again ’till it all grows quite thick, when your Cream is all Froze up, take it out of your Tin, and put it in the Mould you intend it to be turned out of, then put on the Lid, and have ready another Tub with Ice and Salt in as before, put your Mould in the Middle, and lay your Ice under and over it, let it stand four or five Hours, dip your Tin in warm Water when you turn it out; if it be Summer, you must not turn it out ’till the Moment you want it; you may use any Sort of Fruit if you have not Apricots, only observe to work it fine. – Ice cream recipe from The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, 1769,  page 228:

  • Georgian Ices and Victorian Bombes is another informative post from Historic Food, one of the most interesting and historical food sites on the web. In it you will find a wealth of illustrations, photos, and information about making ice cream.
  • Lemon Ice: The Jane Austen Centre published a recipe for making lemon ice similar to one made in the 18th century. The article adds additional information about the origins of ice cream.
  • Ice Cream and Chocolate Parlor since 1700 describes an Italian ice cream parlor that has been in existence for over 300 years. Their specialty is an almond ice cream that is probably as easy to make and flavorful as the one below.
  • Histories, Legends, and Myths of Ices and Ice Cream provides a timeline and interesting tidbits of information about ices and ice cream over the ages.
Almond ice cream

Almond ice cream

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Edward and Bella at the River's Edge

Edward and Bella at the River's Edge

Several of us are planning to see Twilight when the movie comes out at the end of November, and we’ve made a pact to read the books before that event. Imagine my delight and surprise when I came across this passage. Bella, wanting to take her mind off Edward Cullen, picks up a tattered volume of the complete works of Jane Austen:

I lay on my stomach, crossing my ankles in the air, flipping through the different novels in the book, trying to decide which would occupy my mind most thoroughly. My favorites were Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I’d read the first most recently, so I started into Sense and Sensibility, only to remember after I began chapter three that the hero of the story happened to be named Edward. Angrily, I turned to Mansfield Park, but the hero of that piece was named Edmund, and that was just too close. Weren’t there any other names available in the late eighteenth century?

Indeed there were, Bella, and you might have kept going and started reading Emma. Knowing how popular these vampire books are, I am glad that Stephenie Meyer wrote about a seventeen-year-old freely choosing to read Jane Austen’s books.  Here’s the trailer for the film:

and here’s the link to the official website.

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To quote a comment I read online, Lost in Austen, Episode Four was both brilliant and bonkers. And its 46 minutes sped by at turbo speed. In fact the episode felt so rushed that I knew after Amanda and Mr. Darcy stepped into modern London that there would not be enough time left for more than a summary wrap up, which is precisely what happened.

Jane and Bingley reunite, Mrs. Bennet acquires a backbone (and Mr. Bennet’s admiration), Lizzy gets her wish (with her father’s blessing), Amanda finds her true love, and … Charlotte remains lost in African limbo, we see Caroline Bingley flirting with George Wickham before riding off in a carriage, and Lydia seems completely unaffected by events, such as spending an unchaperoned night with Mr. Bingley. Click here to read Pop Sugar’s very detailed recap of the final episode.

Inside, crying. Outside, a happy face.

Inside, crying. Outside, a happy face.

There seems to be two minds about this show out in the blogosphere: people either loved it or hated it. I, for one, wonder why ITV gave so much airtime to this series and so little to the three Jane Austen adaptations in 2007. Never mind. Here’s what The Culture Show had to say about the series:

And this series is science fiction – although with a more female bent than often is the case.
I’m not claiming that Lost in Austen is great art, but it is a well-acted and enjoyable series which imagines what the result might be if a reader were to enter the book and tried to influence events.

One must completely suspend disbelief when watching this show, otherwise one might be overly bothered by the contrived coincidences that push the plot forward.  Mr. Wickham seems to pop up at just the right places at precisely the right time to help Amanda out of a pickle, and Amanda spots Mr. Darcy in that great and bustling metropolitis, London, with very little effort. While Mr. Darcy walks about a bit dazed in the 21st century, he does not seem overly inquisitive about his new surroundings.

Mr.Bennet duels Bingley

Mr.Bennet duels Bingley

Lizzy (Gemma Arterton) relishes her life working as a nanny in London, turning appliances on and off, using her cell phone, and reducing her employers’ carbon footprints. One gets the sense from these scenes that quite a bit of time must have passed for Lizzy to become so comfortable and settled in the future. The dialogue remains sparkling and witty, and the roles are well acted, even though poor Elliot Cowan is made to move about like an automaton once he makes it to London. Mr. Bennet finally arrives on center stage, and Hugh Bonneville takes full advantage of his moments in the spotlight, stealing every scene he’s in.

Lizzy in the future

Lizzy in the future

For those who were unable to watch the series, you can download ITV’s press pack and read detailed descriptions of each episode. Amazon.uk offers the DVD for sale for £11.98 at this link. During my travels I’ve discovered that my laptop will play just about any DVD from around the world, and so does my portable DVD player. And a comment left by Charley Brown on my Episode Three review will direct viewers to a link that leads to past episodes.

Kissing Mr. Darcy

Kissing Mr. Darcy

I’m rather sad that this show has ended. I found it as addictive as a bucket of buttered popcorn. Once you get started, you can’t stop eating until every morsel is gone. And then you still look for more.

The End

The End

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Michele Ann Young

Michele Ann Young

Inquiring readers: One of my favorite go-to blogs is Regency RambleMichele Ann Young never disappoints me with the choice of her topics or depth of her research about England or the regency era. In addition, the photos of her frequent trips to England provide endless and original variety. Michele is also an author, and her new novel, The Lady Flees Her Lord, is coming out from Sourcebooks in October (in about two weeks). Having admired Michele for so long, and knowing her book is about to come out, I thought this was a perfect time to have a chat with her.

Vic: Hello Michele, thank you for taking time out to answer my questions!

Michele: First I would like to thank you for inviting me to your blog. What a pleasure and a privilege. I am always so pleased when you pop by the Regency Ramble and leave me a note.

Vic: (Blush) I wish I could visit it more often, but whenever I do I look forward to reading your regular features, which you repeat with regularity, like the regency fashion for a particular month, the flora and fauna that are in season, and your travel specials. Most recently I loved your Regency footwear posts, and thought your posts about regency money were fascinating. I especially liked the images of old money, and believe it is the first time I have seen a farthing! Tell me a bit about your research in each of these areas. What are some of your favorite sources and why?

Michele: I first started the regency ramble because I wanted somewhere to keep track visually of things I thought might be useful for scene setting in my books as well as factual information. I thought others might like it too.

Walking dresses, September 1805, Lady's Monthly Museum

Walking dresses, September 1805, Lady's Monthly Museum

The regular fashion feature came about because I wanted to see how fashions changed throughout the time period (the long regency, so really Prinny), and how fashions changed month to month. So I started collecting all the fashion pictures I could find in two folders, one organized by year and one by month. I decided to put the fashions on the blog in the month in which they were worn.

A similar thing occurred with the flora and fauna blog, though it tends to be more flora and insects, because most of my information comes from a Naturists Diary and then I go hunting for pictures. I am looking for a good source for fauna but use some of my own knowledge to then search out the information on particular animals.

My special trip blogs started out fairly haphazardly, but now I carefully document each picture, as best I can in situ and then look up more information for the text. I visit as many old buildings, cities, castles as I can on each trip I make. I like to find interesting places in addition to London where I can set my books, for example Royal Tunbridge Wells and Dover.

Ladies shoes, 1800

Ladies shoes, 1800

The shoe museum was a bonus. A friend invited me to go with her for the day, and I had so much fun, because they really had lots of stuff. And we all love shoes.

As I write my stories, I discover things I need to know, and then I blog about them. It helps me three ways, one, to actually do the research and absorb the information, two, to get visual impressions that I can recall when I am writing and three, to keep track and find it again. I have scores of computer files on myriad topics, but they are often dry texts that I hunt through to find a specific piece of information. But then I have to bring them to life. And often blogging about them, helps me do that.

With regard to resources:

I am lucky to belong to a university library, so I have lots of access to diaries and books that might not be available in the general library system. I belong to the Beaumonde chapter of RWA and they are very generous with their resources and information. I also subscribe to the Moonstone Research Publication Newsletters and have received permission to post a limited number of fashions pictures from that list each month. I also collect my own plates when I can afford them. And I buy lots and lots of books, rare books, used books. I scour second hand bookshops everywhere I go.

Vic: Are you English or American? It seems to me that you naturally straddle both worlds.

Michele: I am English originally. I grew up in England and Scotland. I left there to come to Canada when I got married. I now travel back to England every year to visit family and of course to do my research.

Vic: Is your blog, Regency Ramble, a natural extension of the research you do for your novels? Or is your interest in historical detail a separate passion?

Regency Ramble definitely started because I decided to write novels in the era, because that is what I love to read. But I majored in history at college, European Economic History, primarily after the Regency era. I love all historical topics. I am fascinated with the Tudors, and the Stewarts. I like the Victorian era, but I feel it is too close to today to keep me entranced. I have oodles of general history books covering all eras. But because there is so much to learn about the Regency, it keeps me fully occupied.

Vic: When did you decide to become a writer, and how did you settle on historical romance?

Michele: I wrote my first novel in 2000. I wrote it for something to do during a period of forced inactivity. The story that came into my mind was a regency and I finished it. It wasn’t very good, but I discovered I loved the process and set about to learn about the craft of writing.

I like stories about relationships. And I like happy endings. It turns out that these are romances, although I didn’t realize that when I started. I am also writing a historical novel which does not have a central relationship, or at least not in the first book, since I am planning a single protagonist series also set in 1809 through to 1815. Whether it will sell, I’m not sure.

Jane Austen Centre gift shop, Bath 2007

Jane Austen Centre gift shop, Bath 2007

Vic: Tell me a little about your creative process. Do you come up with the plot first and then research the period, or do the two go together? Are you a disciplined writer or do you wait for inspiration?

Michele: I tend to get a scene in my head with one or both main characters. Usually the opening scene of the book. For No Regrets it was a picture of a man riding into a medieval kitchen that was being used as a scullery for a hunt ball. The woman in the kitchen was someone he’d been trying to talk to for a while. For my new book, The Lady Flees Her Lord, the scene was a woman trying to escape her husband.

These opening scenes pose all kinds of questions and I follow where they lead. Sometimes my research will generate that opening scene. I do a lot of reading of history books for interest. Occasionally I will research an important point along the way, if it might make or break the plot. Otherwise, I highlight something I want to double-check and go back to it later.

I write in a linear fashion from there to the end, with no idea of the plot until it happens. This often requires major rewrites, when the story takes an unexpected turn that messes up the beginning.

I am a full time writer and I write every weekday starting at 9 am until about three. I have several contracts to fulfill, so I have to be disciplined. I do email and research and promotional things later in the day.

Vic: Who are your favorite Jane Austen hero and heroine, and why?

Michele: I have to say Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I enjoy her other characters, but those two are standouts for me.

Vic: Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Michele. Before ending this interview, I have one final question. I see that Sourcebooks will come out with your novel in October. What can people look forward to when they read The Lady Flees Her Lord?

The Lady Flees her Lord by Michele Ann Young

The Lady Flees her Lord by Michele Ann Young

Michele: Physically and emotionally abused because she has failed to produce an heir, the plump Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, is running from her husband. A softhearted collector of strays, she rescues a street urchin on her way and posing as a widow, she seeks refuge in the quiet Kent countryside…

Lord Hugo Wanstead, with a wound that won’t heal, and a death on his conscience, he finds his estate impoverished, his sleep torn by nightmares, and brandy his only solace.

When he meets Lucinda, he finds her beautiful, body and soul, and thinks she just might give him something to live for…

Together they can begin to heal, but not until she is free of her violent past…

One reviewer said: Our author has given us a little slice of Heaven molded from a minuscule slice of Hell. Our emotions are played like a violin with endearing words, breath taking scenes and a virtuous sense of right and wrong. The authors writing style is highly comparable with Jane Austin but with more of today’s romance mentality. Lush and loving, heart wrenching beautiful, one could only hope to have a Lord Hugo Wanstead to desire us so truly and deeply.

Vic: Good luck with your new book. I wish you much success and a best seller!

Michele: Thanks so much.

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Warning about this review of the third episode of Lost in Austen: Spoiler Alert! In my defense, I’ve used the language that sits on ITV’s online press centre, which has been placed on the blogosphere for all to see. You can also read a synopsis of Episode Four at that link, and my review of Episode Four here.

Amanda’s zany journey through Pride and Prejudice land continues. The plot twists keeps getting more convoluted, and one wonders if the last episode will have enough time for the unraveling. This film’s visual puns of other JA movie adaptations are fun to spot, such as this one of Miss Austen Regrets.

or the Twisted Version of Pride and Prejudice

Olivia Williams in Miss Austen Regrets

Olivia Williams in Miss Austen Regrets

Mr. Wickham is the most intriguing character in Episode Three, and he’s been given some choice lines which I won’t spoil for you. Let’s just say that he teaches Amanda a few tricks about dress and manners in the regency.

The coguette imperial. Amanda receives instruction in the fine art of being a lady from ...

Practicing the coguette imperial, Amanda receives instruction in the fine art of being a lady from ... Wickham.

... Mr. Wickham, of all people, who instructs her in the art of dress and manners, telling her "Ladies are strangers to the itch."

... Mr. Wickham, who instructs her in the art of dress and manners

Meanwhile at Barton Cottage, Mr. Collins is all a tremble at the thought of having his Jane ...

Meanwhile at Hunsford, Mr. Collins is all a-tremble at the thought of having his Jane ...

Alas,  Jane (Morven Christie), does not quite share the same anticipation. In fact, she’s miserable and spends all of Episode Three moping and looking sad.

Mrs. Collins can only think of the one she lost ...

Mrs. Collins can only think of the man she lost ...

Mr. Bennet is furious with himself for allowing Mr. Collins to wed Jane, and he spends his nights in his study.

Mr. Bennet wallows in unhappiness at allowing Jane's marriage.

Mr. Bennet wallows in unhappiness at allowing Jane to wed Mr. Collins.

The situation at Longourne has become untenable, so Mrs. Bennet and Lydia visit Jane in her new home, bringing her a hostess gift.

Mrs. Bennet brings stilton cheese and loganberries.

A basket of stilton cheese and loganberries.

We finally meet Lady Catherine de Bourgh, delightfully played by Lindsay Duncan. Lady Catherine isn’t fooled by Amanda one bit, and rather enjoys sparring wits with the saucy girl..

Lady Catherine de Bourgh inspects Amanda.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh inspects Amanda up close.

Elliot Cowan plays Mr. Darcy as a straight man. He suspects Amanda of following him and gives her many disapproving looks. Amanda continues to detest him, calling him toxic.

Darcy suspects Amanda of following him.

Darcy suspects Amanda of following him.

Lady Catherine, ever mindful of her ambitions for her daughter Anne, warns Amanda off Mr. Darcy.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh warns Amanda, "You cannot have Fitzwilliam Darcy."

Lady Catherine de Bourgh warns Amanda.

Tom Mison as Bingley is having as miserable a time as Jane. He realizes he still loves her and blames Darcy for influencing him in giving Jane up.

Unhappy about losing Jane, Bingley takes to drinking.

Unhappy about losing Jane, Bingley takes to drinking.

Darcy, observing his friend’s unhappiness, admits he was wrong about Jane. He invites Amanda and the others in the party to Pemberley.

Pemberley (Harewood House)

Harewood House as Pemberley

Amanda's first view of Pemberley

Amanda gets a first glimpse of Pemberley

Thrown together in close proximity, Darcy’s feelings towards Amanda change, but not without an internal struggle. Amanda’s feelings also change as she finds herself equally attracted to man she once detested.

Amanda and Darcy talk.

Amanda and Darcy talk.

She asks him a favor ...

She asks a favor of him ...

She rather likes what she sees ...

And rather likes what she sees ...

… the attraction is mutual.

Darcy declares his feelings towards Amanda. She realizes she’s in love, but her conscience stabs at her: What about Elizabeth? Then, with a mental leap that bounds out of nowhere, she realizes that as Darcy’s wife, “she will have the power to make amends for all that has gone wrong. She can look after Jane, and even buy Longbourn for the Bennet family.”

Huh? This dialogue had me scratching my head. Where did those thoughts come from?

she wants Darcy for herself.

Caroline throws down the gauntlet: she wants her paws on Darcy. Or does she?

Caroline Bingley adds another wrinkle to the mix, and her questions force Darcy to ask Amanda an important question. Her answer results in their break up. Hurt, angry, and disappointed, Amanda rushes to the upper floor of Pemberley, rips up her copy of Pride and Prejudice, and tosses it out the window.

Amanda rips up her copy of Pride and Prejudice

Amanda tosses her ripped copy of Pride and Prejudice

Which Darcy reads.

Darcy reads...

Which she had flung into a fountain.

... a torn wet book that landed in a fountain.

Have you ever tried to read a wet book with the pages out of order? It’s nearly impossible. Never mind. I still laughed during this episode, but it was not nearly as much fun as the previous two. (Too many dark moments, even with Wickham charmingly stealing the show.)

Only one episode remains to be viewed, which does not leave much time to weave the various plot threads together. Darcy follows Amanda into the 21st century where they meet up with Lizzy. Will Darcy fall in love with her? Will Mr. Bennet stop sleeping in his study? Will Mr. Collins finally have his ecstatic moments with Jane? Stay tuned this Wednesday to find out.

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Keira Knightley in The Duchess

Keira Knightley in The Duchess

Sometimes interviews go one way, and sometimes another, as Diana Birchall reveals on her blog, Light, Bright, and Sparkling. In it she discusses her talk with writer Amanda Foreman and producer Gaby Tana, and how some of her questions were left unanswered.  Linked with Diana’s telling insights, is Ellen Moody’s expert analysis of the movie, book, and the Duchess of Devonshire’s life. Click here to read it on Ellen and Jim Have a Blog Too.

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide also offers a post about meeting author Amanda Foreman. Click here to read it.

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Rowlandson, studio art forger, 1790's

Rowlandson, studio art forger, 1790

Dear Readers,

As you know, I link to many fabulous sites. One of them is the Lordprice Collection, which has just changed its web address. The site’s owner, Tony Price, contacted me to tell me about the change and the many Georgian prints his site offers for sale. Mr. Price also included the following information:

I run the Lordprice Collection, which among other picture and web-related enterprises offers framed pictures to the public from my website. I have just undergone an upgrade, which has led to a change in all of the URLs. Would you be so kind as to change the link to: http://www.lordprice.co.uk/georgian.html?

I would be particularly pleased if you put in a link to the Thomas Rowlandson page, as he is my no. 1 favourite illustrator of all time; I have plenty more Rowlandsons to put up, when I get the time, so that would incentivise me to do so and thus spread the knowledge of his particular genius.

Rowlandson, White Hart Bagshot, 1790's

Rowlandson, White Hart Bagshot, 1790

I have visited your side of the Pond a couple of times and heartily endorse your liking for the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum – I went there only once, in 1981, but it remains my favourite. I’m surprised that you don’t mention my favourite London museum, the Sir John Soane (www.soane.org), which to me is the ultimate Georgian experience. But how can you not have Hogarth as one of your favourite artists?

Tony Price, The Lordprice Collection
+44 (0)7801 837129

Mr. Price, consider the changes made, and thank you for allowing me to use the images from this fantastic site!  I see that you read my biography page. Although I did not list Hogarth, I think his paintings are divine. I have rather a soft spot for 17th and 18th century paintings, you see, and Hogarth ranks among the best. Vic

Rowlandson prints from the Lordprice Connection

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Click here for the review of Lost in Austen, Episode 3. Meanwhile, enjoy one of the many visual jokes this film makes of other JA movie adaptations.

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Stays from a pattern by the Mantua Maker

Stays from a pattern by the Mantua Maker

Inquiring readers, last week author Marjorie Gilbert kindly described how she created her empire gown. This week she continues the interview, describing how she made stays (corset) to wear underneath her dress.

Vic: You mentioned choosing a neutral color for under the muslin dress, since the fabric was thin and rather see-through. Didn’t the stays feel a bit bulky? How do the busks feel when you wear the stays? Do they restrict your movement in bending over? Why did you choose this pattern?

The busk is made up of two paint stirrers wrapped in bleached muslin

The busk is made up of two paint stirrers wrapped in bleached muslin

Marjorie: The stays don’t feel bulky at all, especially when they’re tightly laced. There’s only one busk that is made up of two Sherwin William paint stirrers wrapped tightly in muslin. This is because though the paint stirrers had the necessary 14 inches in length, they didn’t have the thickness or stiffness I needed. We saw a busk that Herman Melville brought back from his time spent on the whaling ship while visiting the Maine Maritime Museum. His was made of whalebone and was scrimshawed. Mine is more modest and cost $0.00. Because the busk is padded by the muslin and the busk pocket, it doesn’t feel bad at all. If anything, it encourages a more upright posture. It is a little more difficult to bend over.

I chose the pattern for the stays because Deb Salisbury, the Mantua Maker, recommended it. Because the gown I chose to make spanned the Empire and Directoire period, the stays that would have been worn with it would have been Regency rather than Georgian. Apparently, as Deb informed me, Georgian stays made one flatter, while the Regency stays encourage more north and south action, if you know what I mean.

Stays loosely laced

Stays loosely laced

Vic: An actress once said in an interview that when you put on an authentic costume with all the undergarments and accessories, you become a different person and that your actions become informed by the garment itself. Do you take on a different persona as well when you don your outfit?

Marjorie: I find that I walk more slowly and stand straighter when wearing the gown and the stays. I don’t necessarily feel like a different person because I wear the gown mainly to book signings where I am focused more on engaging all and sundry in conversation and trying to sell them in my book.

Vic: Delicately speaking, how difficult is it to, er, relieve oneself when one is so trussed up and when one has to deal with a train and all that fabric?

Marjorie: As to the necessities: I always empty my bladder before getting dressed in the stays and the gown. So far, I haven’t needed to use the necessities while wearing them.

Vic: Who acts as your ladies maid in tying up the laces and how long does it take you to get into the outfit?

Marjorie: My husband has that office.

Putting on the stays took a while because I had tried to use grommets for the eyelets instead of hand finishing them. While my husband tried to thread the lacing through the holes, grommets fell like rain, and we discovered that the length of lacing was too short. We had to start all over with another piece of string. (My lacing is a roll of cotton [?] string that was here when we moved into the house). Now that I hand finished all the eyelets and we know what length the lacing should be, the whole process should be far easier. The other portion that takes a while is craning my neck down so that I can pin up the bodice piece in such a way that the pins themselves aren’t visible. Very tricky. The day I wore the stays with a gown (for a book signing in Penn Yan New York) it took about twenty minutes to get ready, not including putting my hair in a bun. When I wore the gown without the stays, it took 15 minutes in all, including putting up my hair in a bun.

Passing the ties through the belt loop

Passing the ties through the belt loop

Vic: We know that the upper crust had help. How did the ordinary woman get in and out of her stays? Or was the wearing of stays and busks an aristocratic affectation? Did the lower classes simply contend themselves with wearing chemises?

Marjorie: I think that the lower classes had help also. Maids would help each other, a mother would help her daughter, and vise versa. The fashion rather required something like stays beneath it to help give the gown its shape. I found this google book resource that might help answer the question. There were some front lacing stays, but for the most part, the stays laced in the back. While it’s possible to put them on by yourself, it’s tricky.

Vic: Thank you, Marjorie, for your insightful interviews. You’ve given us much to think about.

Inquiring readers who would like to learn more about Marjorie’s gown and stays, and how the gown is put together can click on Marjorie’s sites below.

Marjorie Gilbert
author of THE RETURN, a historical novel set in Georgian England

Marjorie Gilbert fully dressed in her empire gown

Marjorie Gilbert fully dressed in her empire gown

Click here for more information on the topic:

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My recent Alibris purchases include the following:

Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking by Kate Culquhoun. This book is a social history of Britain told through the developments of its cooking. It encompasses royal feasts and street food, the skinning of eels, and the making of strawberry jelly. More interestingly,  it mixes the tales of culinary stars with ordinary cooks. The book is filled with tidbits like this:

Soon boilers like the one at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire were being installed at the backs of ranges to supply ready hot water and steam for cooking. Then Joseph Langmead patented a design from which all future closed ranges would develop, using flues to spread a more even though still inefficient heat to the side oven. p235

Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England, 1660-1770 by Emily Cockayne addresses the noisy, messy, and smelly metropolis that was London in the 18th Century. Using a vast array of sources, from novels to records of urban administration to diaries, Emily Cockayne populates her book with anecdotes from the quirky lives of the famous and the obscure.

Street lamps were high maintenance. The lighters needed to carry ladders and other apparatus. Contractors topped up the reservoirs with oil, trimmed wicks and lit the lamps at specified hours. p 224

From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance, by Elizabeth Aldrich. “Dancing and etiquette are inseparable,” wrote one 19th-century dancing master quoted in this scholarly glimpse into ballrooms past. Newly moneyed Americans of that era craved guidance on how to comport themselves, and publishers responded with scores of manuals on etiquette, fashion and dance instruction. As dance historian Aldrich demonstrates through more than 100 excerpts from these guides, balls and dance offer a key to understanding the social aspirations of the period.

Nineteenth-century men and women were preoccupied with learning the proper way of conducting themselves not only in the ballroom but in all social interactions. But it was precisely in the ballroom that ladies and gentlemen best demonstrated their mastery of the rules of etiquette and social intercourse. p xvii

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In Episode Two of Lost in Austen we continue Amanda Price’s topsy turvy journey inside a beloved classic novel. One critic noted that it would help viewers immensely if they knew the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but I beg to differ. I think this satiric film, which makes fun not only of Amanda’s time travel romp through Pride and Prejudice, but regency novels and movies in general, is meant to poke fun at regency conventions (such as a lady’s accomplishments at the pianoforte) and at the current craze for all things Jane Austen. One does not need to know Pride and Prejudice intimately to laugh at some of the absurd situations, like a modern Amanda kneeing an oily Mr. Collins in the groin after he rescinds their engagement. This comment left on my review of Episode One summarizes my feelings about this mini-series:

If you know your Austen pretty well, this production is a comedy hoot with the daft modern Amanda trying to fix up the P&P plot gone horribly wrong. Nice in jokes like Amanda works for ‘ Sandition Life ‘ Great cast, fast pace, punchy lines made for TV. This is where it scores much better than a studious adaptation of the standard Austen novel. Finicky viewers can study the Hogarth prints on the Bennet’s wall – the rest can only have fits at Amanda’s antics.

Amanda and Mr. Collins

Amanda and Mr. Collins

The script, written by Guy Andrews, is a bit choppy (one gets a sense that this was a rushed production), and its satire in no way compares to the robust, biting sarcasm of a major feature film like Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols, both masters of their craft.

Guy Henry reminds me of Brock's Mr. Collins

Guy Henry resembles Brock's image of Mr. Collins

Perhaps it is unfair to compare an A-list movie to a rushed television production, but considering the constraints of budget and time, Lost in Austen manages to string quite a few witty moments together. There are major glaring errors, which even the most forgiving Janeite cannot overlook. Bingley and Darcy enter Jane’s sickroom with no chaperone or doctor in sight. In fact, Bingley leans over and checks Jane’s fever, a major faux pas. At the Netherfield Ball, Jane approaches Bingley for the next dance. No regency lady would ever have been so forward. The gentleman always collected the lady, whose role was to remain passive and, well, er, ladylike.

Jane approaches Mr. Bingley for a dance

Jane approaches Mr. Bingley for a dance

Setting aside these inaccuracies, there were quite a few satiric plums ripe for picking:

Talking to Mr. Darcy across the dining table

Talking to Mr. Darcy across the dining table

Amanda talks to Mr. Darcy through a floral centerpiece.

Lydia applies lipstick

Lydia applies lipstick

Lydia borrows Amanda’s cylinder and smears her mouth with lipstick

Mrs. Bennet disinvites Amanda

Mrs. Bennet disinvites Amanda through gritted teeth

Mrs. Bennet, a tigress defending her daughters’ rights to Bingley and Mr. Collins, tells Amanda: “The time has come Miss Price when we can no longer detain you with our hospitality.”

Tom Riley as Wickham the Cad

Tom Riley as Wickham the Cad

A wicked Wickham, who knows there’s something fishy about Amanda, tells her: “We have the same scent: I can smell myself on you.” A not very gentlemanly statement but it certainly hits the mark.

Amanda’s modern utterances – “C’mon Bingers!”, “Whoo, smolder alert!”, and “I hope he shall choke. Hateful man!” – add to the absurdity of the plot. In fact, every detail about this productions states that it is not to be taken seriously, from the music, which adds to the comedic overtones, to the reaction shots, which are sometimes priceless, to the absurd entanglements into which the characters are thrown.

Oh, dear, who could have guessed this plot development?

Oh, dear, who could have guessed this plot development?

The improbable situation of Jane marrying Mr. Collins leaves us dangling. How is Amanda ever to rectifiy this horrible state of events? Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series. I’m sure that Lost in Austen still has a few surprises in store for us. One thing is assured: Amanda will always be slightly out of step.

Out of step

Amanda (Jemima Rooper) is always a bit out of step

More Links:


Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price
Elliot Cowan as Mr Darcy
Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet
Alex Kingston as Mrs. Bennet
Gemma Arterton as Elizabeth Bennet
Morven Christie as Jane Bennet
Ruby Bentall as Mary Bennet
Florence Hoath as Kitty Bennet
Perdita Weeks as Lydia Bennet
Lindsay Duncan as Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Guy Henry as Mr Collins
Tom Mison as Mr Bingley
Christina Cole as Caroline Bingley
Tom Riley as Captain Wickham
Michelle Duncan as Charlotte Lucas

Update: Lost in Austen’s ratings are in, and it’s not quite a success with the viewers.

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