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Archive for April, 2010

Inquiring Reader: Mansfield Park and Mummies by Vera Nazarian is another monster mash-up of the work of our estimable Jane Austen. The book has been quietly invading all sections of this earth with its parody of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who seeks Fanny Price above all women. Author Vera Nazarian was kind enough to sit down for an interview:

1. It is obvious that you have a gift for writing parody. Why did you decide to write a mashup of Mansfield Park, one of Jane Austen’s longer novels and how did you go about deciding that mummies were the perfect ghouls of choice?

Thank you kindly. I admit this was my first foray into parody (and into the uncharted and highly peculiar land of literary “mashups”), and I had no idea I was even capable of such a thing.  Apparently I am. The fact that I made hyena noises and regularly broke out into hoots of hysterical laughter while writing the passages does hint at a certain level of personal connection — nay, entanglement — with the material.

Now, why Mansfield Park, you ask? It has always been one of my favorite Austen novels, and I adore the heroine Fanny Price, (second only to Elinor Dashwood, my favorite) for her combination of astute wisdom and a genuine loyal heart. I believe Fanny has been sadly misunderstood and wrongfully disdained as too weak and submissive — overlooking the profoundly quiet nature of true fortitude.

Modern readers tend to prefer a more clear-cut example of female strength.  Indeed, we have come to expect a more sassy, outgoing, aggressive, and assertive female — commonly summed up by a single term: “feisty.” In many ways this has become a post-twentieth century feminist cliché, with few of us willing to admit it, or vary our expectations. Indeed, in the last couple of decades, the notion of “feisty” has morphed even further into an outright kick-ass sword-fighting brass-and-balls day-job-and-family-juggling female super hero, so that every protagonist heroine must be inordinately “extraordinary” in order to be a heroine at all. But, to quote The Incredibles, “When everyone is Super, no one is.”

Going back to Austen, an example of “feisty” is everyone’s favorite Elizabeth Bennet. Fanny Price on the other hand seems to be mousy and passive and rather “uptight,” at first acquaintance. In reality, Fanny is a rock of strength and constancy.  She’s steadfast, honorable, enduring, loyal, and true to the moral standards of both her heart and her time (indeed, Elizabeth Bennet is far more of a futurism-anachronism in Jane Austen’s day — back then she might have been a thoroughly incomprehensible “modern” girl with liberated sensibilities and rather odd notions of personal independence).

Fanny is not flashy, and her strength is quiet, humble, unpresuming. She is not so much prissy or prudish (another misconception) as simply unwilling to compromise her beliefs, and in that sense she’s just as “willful” as Elizabeth Bennet.  It’s just that her cause is not as “trendy” or appealing to our modern standards. Fanny stands up for spiritual and moral integrity, while Elizabeth for personal freedom and choices; contemporary culture venerates individualism over standards.

Additionally, Fanny is genuinely perceptive, and able to “read” the true character and motives of others — a quality which I personally admire in heroines regardless of historical context. So, in my “mummy-infused” version I decided to enhance Fanny’s true instincts and her ability to cut through the falsity and illusion, with a bit of supernatural “sixth sense,” and made her impervious to all influences of evil — be it vampires, werewolves or… seductive ancient mummies.

The mummies? Why, they came about naturally, an outgrowth of the time period and the story.  Mummies are so versatile — romantic and funny and poignant and terrifying, all in one. Really, think about it: what other monster can be said to be all these things in the same story without switching genres? Firmly etched in my mind was the classic Hollywood silliness of Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, combined with the more recent wacky adventure major motion picture franchise The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz — and it all clicked together.

During the nineteenth century, Egyptology was “all the rage,” and archeology was just taking off in Britain and Europe. Unlike the more anachronistic and jarring silliness of other “creature” monsters, mummies actually made perfect historical sense and fit right in. (Zombies, on the other hand, despite their true traditional island origins and rich history, somehow seem more post-industrial, even apocalyptic, and are just not romantic, no matter how you slice — or explode — them.)

In addition, there’s this incredible rich, multi-layered ancient world mystique and period romanticism that is evoked by all that Egypt stands for; all the depth of thousands of years of history.  The glamour of Royal Egyptian dynasties and grand treasure, of monolithic pyramids and pharaohs preserved via the arcane and priestly process of mummification for eternity with the promise of ultimate resurrection — this is unparalleled fuel for the imagination.  In my mind it easily crowds out the relatively recent erotic interpretation of the gory vampire legend. Enough with vampires, I say (in particular, the sparkling kind), time to focus on other supernatural beings to fire our literary canon.

The notion of the Mummy as an ancient haunted lover came together to shape Lord Eastwind, my tragic-comic, elegant and profoundly romantic Ancient Pharaoh and Regency gentleman character.

Lord Eastwind is the potential third love interest — he’s Edmund Bertram’s true rival, and he courts Fanny Price alongside Henry Crawford, and does a far better job of it, I might say.  Plus, he holds his own in matters of philosophical discourse, and makes Fanny not only feel but think — possibly not something one would expect to find in a mere “silly” mash-up.

2. Could you give us just a little back story about the mummies to whet readers’ appetites (just in case they haven’t picked up your book.)

In a nutshell — the mummies ended up at Mansfield Park because Lady Bertram attended a lecture by a famous Egyptologist at the British Museum in London. Her ladyship got interested in the subject, and started to collect various memorabilia and artifacts — admittedly out of boredom and ennui and lukewarm curiosity, but also in a manner true to her bland character.

This went on in mild and harmless form until she accidentally came upon a cursed amulet and fell under the magnetic spell of the grandest mummy of all — a Pharaoh’s Mummy in its splendid sarcophagus (which ended up stashed in her secret attic).  The Mummy immediately began to control Lady Bertram’s mind and actions to great comedic effect, and made her acquire even more Egyptian items including endless crates filled with servant mummies, until the estate was filled to overflowing with grave-robbed treasure and general archeological stuff, and caused much hilarious discomfort to the whole Bertram family.

A side-effect of the same Curse also affected the potentially wolfish Mrs. Norris with real lycanthropy.  And that was just the beginning of the fun!

3. You leave much of Jane Austen’s plot and words in this novel. How hard was it to use her plot and words as opposed to writing a novel from scratch, and deciding where to put in new scenes and dialog?

At first, it was excruciating.  Far easier to write a completely new book from scratch than modify an existing one AND do it proper justice. After all, here’s a self-contained masterpiece, and you are faced with the bizarre task of somehow expanding and merging it with a whole new unrelated plotline. Where to even begin?

I started doing what I told myself was a gentle “edit.” Soon, I realized that merely inserting sentences or paragraphs here and there in “period” style, and hoping it will make sense, was NOT the way to go about it.  That’s how you get crummy blatant patchwork and sloppy Frankenstein-like segments that are glaringly out of place.  Sure, it might be easy to throw in every scene something to the effect of: “and then the door opened, a bunch of mummies lumbered in, and they all screamed and started to fight,” but that’s a one-joke wonder.  First time around it’s amusing, but grows old very fast. A solitary running gag certainly does not justify a whole book (the mistake that some of the other mash-ups make).

The monsters still have to make eventual sense as an integral part of the story, without being idiotic. That’s the first thing the author has to figure out — the logical and entertaining explanation for their being.

Also, the new inserted storyline must enhance the development of the existing characters. Otherwise, things will fall apart, as with application of poor glue. To properly work on a deeper cohesion level, every appearance of these new elements has to be a logical and organic extension of the main plot, relevant, evocative. In short, the additions need to seamlessly advance the ORIGINAL story.  I think that’s the secret of both a genuinely successful mash-up and a good parody.

My writing process ended up being multi-pass. I realized that first it was necessary to cut and streamline the original text.  Yes, the notion of mangling Jane Austen is terrifying, but I had to make an edit pass for two reasons: a) to slightly condense an already very long book (just my luck, Mansfield Park is the longest Jane Austen novel, twice the length of Pride and Prejudice) in order to make room for my additions and b) just to streamline and generally update the style in terms of modern brevity.

As a result, I left almost no sentence unturned — cutting down the subordinate clauses, deleting a lot of the verbosity and some of the longer speeches and descriptive passages (in particular the marvelous nagging of Mrs. Norris). If you want to see for yourself, compare the original text of Mansfield Park with any passages in Mansfield Park and Mummies that “seem” to be original Austen — in other words, parts of the story sans mummies or Egyptology — and you will see how many transparent changes are in fact implemented at sentence level everywhere. An excruciating task indeed, considering that I was “mangling” delightful rich prose that was just fine as is, only making it a bit more spare, smooth and “up to modern standards” of readability.

Only after this painstaking edit was I able to go in and add in the mummies storyline — my own original story that expanded upon Austen’s characters without changing their fundamental nature, only heightening the already present tendencies.

My own Fanny is more proactive, energetic, inventive, and witty; Edmund is more of a caricature, loveable but overtly “blind” to the truth of things. Mary Crawford is an actual blood-sucking vampire, but with suave Regency manners. Henry Crawford is charming, eloquent, and perfectly attractive but lacking in the ultimate “heroic intensity” department — lacking in that true unselfish depth and sincerity needed to win Fanny over. And my own character addition is Lord Eastwind — mysterious, haunting, elegant, romantic, superbly attractive — well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

4. How has the book been received by Jane Austen fans? Has there been a difference in the attitude between the die-hard Janeite and the mashup fan? As you wrote the book, who, in your mind, would be your readers?

A great question.  It appears so far, the book has been received very well by those who have actually read it.

I notice that many Janeites are initially reluctant to give Mansfield Park and Mummies a try because they are unwilling to give any mash-up a try (in most cases for good reason; I don’t blame them).

That’s been the biggest hurdle so far. There is little I can do or say to reassure them as to the difference in quality of this book except to admit upfront that I am a genuine fan of Jane Austen, and to offer a free reading sample — the first three chapters of the book.

As far as mash-up fans, or better yet, general readers, the reception has been uniformly positive. They give it a chance, have no expectations, and end up pleasantly surprised.

In my mind, the perfect audience for Mansfield Park and Mummies is both a true Janeite and a general well-read fan of classic period literature, with a well-developed appreciation of satire coupled with a modern silly streak.

5. Tell us a little about yourself and your writing background. What are your personal preferences in reading literature. Are you a Jane Austen fan?

In some ways I have an unfair advantage as a modern writer emulating a nineteenth century author, because my own work is stylistically old-fashioned, even stodgy, and my English is naturally bookish and archaic.  Indeed, I am steeped in classics of world literature, initially in my native language (Russian), and yes, I do come from a rather different cultural perspective. And there’s that baggage of other languages rattling around in my cranium (Russian, Armenian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, a smattering of German and Arabic).  Born and raised in the USSR, a cold-war refugee to the West, having lived in war-torn Lebanon, and being half-Armenian half-Russian by ethnicity, I am not exactly your typical modern American author.

My reading background is eclectic, grounded in world classics and ancient mythology, legends and fairytales. Some of my favorite authors are George Sand, Victor Hugo, Stendhal, Homer, Zola, Thackeray, various great Russians such as Goncharov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, and a host of others. Modern genre favorites are Tanith Lee, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gene Wolfe, Charles de Lint, Catherine Asaro, and Catherynne M. Valente.

As far as my writing background, I am a two-time Nebula Award Nominee, write fantasy and science fiction, running the gamut from literary to low-brow, and popular non-fiction. My two better-known novel-length works are the “collage” arabesque novel Dreams of the Compass Rose (with each chapter being a “dream” and a standalone story, which together form a connected sequence of stories of a mythic ancient world in the vein of “The One Thousand and One Nights”) and Lords of Rainbow, an epic fantasy about a strange world without color, a silver sun, and an intense love story.

And yes, I am a passionate lover of Jane Austen’s whole oeuvre, ever since being assigned Pride and Prejudice in high school, and then encountering the wonderful BBC miniseries starring David Rintoul (my favorite and still best Mr. Darcy) and Elizabeth Garvie (also my favorite and best Lizzie.)

6. Anything else you would like to share with us?

As a result of doing this book, I have fallen in love with writing the Jane Austen mash-up.  Hence, I am currently at work on Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, which is due in May.

And then, later this fall, I shall do the unimaginable and attempt my very own Pride and Prejudice mash-up, sans zombies.  It will be very Kafkaesque, a frightening awe-inspiring figment of your deepest satiric nightmare, titled Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret.

Both of these books will feature my own interior illustrations, and, as with the mummies book, have similar “Scholarly Footnotes” that harangue the reader, inane and guffaw-inducing “Appendices” and hilarious faux back cover blurbs from Regency ladies and gentlemen. And yes, making yet another appearance, will be everyone’s terrifying favorite, a true rival of the Hound of Baskervilles — the monstrosity known only as The Brighton Duck!

More about the book:

If I may humbly add – my reviews of other Jane Austen mashups

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Ellie Kendrick as Anne Frank

PBS’s new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-see for everyone this Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece Classic at 9 PM local time. The film is powerful, how could it not be? Ellie Kendrick, the actress who portrays Anne, is perfect for the part. She is not beautiful like young model Millie Perkins, the 1959 Anne (and hand-picked by Otto Frank, Anne’s father), or 16-year-old Natalie Portman, another beautiful young actress.

Anne Frank learns she is going into hiding

Ellie is more realistic, like the actual Anne – dark-haired, good looking, a little awkward, and on the cusp of womanhood.

Watching the film, I could not help but compare Anne Frank to a young and precocious 15-year old Jane Austen, who in her teens wrote the delightful but irreverent The History of England. Both Jane and Anne changed the world of literature with their writing. Both died too soon, Anne tragically of typhoid fever in Bergen-Belsen. The family had been in hiding for two years and one month before they were betrayed by a Dutch informant.  My heart always aches when I think of how close Anne  came to making it in that notorious concentration camp, for she and her sister died just months shy of liberation.

Albert Dussel joins the Franks and Van Daans. L to R: Tamsin Greig as Mrs. Frank, Iain Glen as Otto, Felicity Jones as Margot, and Ellie Kendrick as Anne

Anne Frank’s story has always loomed large in my life. I spent my childhood years in Holland, as did Anne. My Oma in Utrecht lived near an apartment complex that was similar to Anne’s in this short video. I recall playing with my brother in streets that uncannily resembled the one shot in the film.

Anne and Peter, young love

While Anne and her family, and the Van Daans and Albert Dussel hid in the attic, my 15-year-old step-father hid as a young girl on a Dutch farm in the southernmost tip of The Netherlands. The Franks were able to hide with the help of brave Dutch citizens, as my step-father did. The Franks followed the allied invasion of Normandy and the armies’ progress through Europe, just like my step-father, who pinned their every movement on a map (as in the film).

Keeping tabs on the Allieds' progress

I grew up listening to World War II lore and watching the movies. I grew up wishing with every fiber of my being that the Franks were liberated as both my stepfather and father had been.

Mr. Dussel helps Anne after the attic hideaway has been discovered

But that was not to be. One year before the war’s end, the Franks, Van Daans, and Albert Dussel were betrayed. All died except for Otto Frank. It is a testament to Anne’s humanity that, despite having to hide during the most formative of her young teen-aged years, she was able to write these beautiful words:

Anne Frank writes in her diary

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again”

My heart aches when I think of the loss of those millions of innocent lives in that senseless, hateful war (any war, for that matter).  As I think about Anne and the life she was never able to live out, I am saddened by the fact that 65 years after her death so many of young people have never heard of her, or could care less about World War II. Even my nieces and nephew, whose great grandfather and great uncles died in a Japanese concentration camp, rarely give a thought to their sacrifices. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp of typhoid fever in March 1945. The war ended in Europe in May.

View from the attic, the Kerk

It is my hope is that every family will sit down on Sunday night to watch this film together … The final scenes in which the Frank family and Van Daam family are found and taken from their hiding place are heart-rending. April 11 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Cast:

Miep Gies, Kate Ashfield (helped to hide the Franks)

Miep Gies finds the diaries

Peter van Daan, Geoff Breton (the young man Anne liked)

Peter Van Daan dies of exhaustion 3 days before his camp was liberated.

Hermann van Daan, Ron Cook (Peter’s father)

Hermann Van Daan

Victor Kugler, Tim Dantay (helped to hide the Franks)

Albert Dussel, Nicholas Farrell (Dentist, shared a room with Anne)

Albert Dussel

Johannes Kleiman, Roger Frost (helped to hide the Franks)

Bep Voskuijl, Mariah Gale (helped to hide the Franks)

Otto Frank, Iain Glen (father)

Otto Frank, only survivor

Edith Frank, Tamsin Greig (mother)

Edith Frank

Margot Frank, Felicity Jones (sister)

Margot Frank

Anne Frank, Ellie Kendrick

Anne Frank

SS Silberbauer, Robert Morgan (Nazi officer who captured the Franks)

Petronella van Daan, Lesley Sharp (Peter’s mother)

Petronella Van Daan

Director  Jon Jones

Adapted by  Deborah Moggach

The Diary of Anne Frank Airs: Sunday, April 11, 2010, PBS Masterpiece Classic, 9 PM local time.

The film will be available for online viewing April 12 – May 11, 2010

More on the topic:

Actor Connection to Jane Austen Film Adaptations:

  • Nicholas Farrell played Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, 1981, and Mr. Musgrove in Persuasion, 2007
  • Felicity Jones played Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, 2007
  • Tamsin Greig played Miss Bates in Emma, 2009

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Hems (l - r) 1795, 1800, 1805-1810, 1816

Its all in the details Making a Regency Ballgown is a useful site for people who are interested in studying regency costumes or making a regency ballgown. The site is arranged in year order and makes the evolving styles clear. The evening or ballgowns are arranged by year and described in detail by bodices, sleeves, skirts, hair and hats. The information can also be downloaded as a PDF document. This is the clearest description of the changes in hemline that I have seen on a site. Trains, simple hems and long skirst gave way to fancy hems and skirts that revealed slippers and ankles.

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Contest Closed: Using a random number generator, the winner is Leslie Ann McCleod. Her quote was:

“Tell me if, when I returned to England in the year eight, with a few thousand pounds, and was posted into the Laconia, if I had then written to you, would you have answered my letter? would you, in short, have renewed the engagement then?”

“Would I!” was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough. – Persuasion

Thank you all for participating!

Good news! You have an opportunity to win a copy of Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen! All you need to do is leave a comment with your favorite line from a Jane Austen novel. The line can come from any character and be on any topic. The winner will be announced two weeks from today on April 19th. One lucky person will be chosen using a random number creator. Those who live in Canada and the U.S. are eligible to enter the contest.

Read my review of the book

Format: Trade Paperback, 64 pages
Author: Sarah Jane Downing
Price: $12.95
ISBN: 978-0-7478-0767-4 (0-7478-0767-1)

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This Easter weekend is a perfect time to reflect on Jane Austen and Easter. Hats and bonnets were prevalent, of course, and so were Easter Fairs and eating hot cross buns.
Ladies' bonnets, 1802

In her book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins writes: Clergymen in Jane Austen’s day were not expected to write original sermons every Sunday. “Henry Crawford, assessing Edmund Bertram’s commitments at Thornton Lacey, judged that ‘a sermon at Christmas and Easter ‘would be’ the sum total of the sacrifice.” Mr. Collins produced only two sermons between his ordination at Easter and his visit to Longbourn in November of the same year.- p. 96.

Jane Austen herself mentions Easter, most notably in Pride and Prejudice:

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important. Elizabeth had heard, soon after her arrival, that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintance whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine; who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself.

At Rosings with Colonel Fitzwilliam

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasure of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither, for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen ver little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine’s drawing room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the pianoforte

Ellen Moody noted that dating Sense and Sensibility presented a problem. It was revised several times and as a result the chronology remains inconsistent. Towards the book’s end, Easter is mentioned as occurring on March 31. This would have fallen in 1793, when the first draft of the novel was written. But, there is another reference to Easter in early April, which would have placed the novel in 1798 (the most likely), 1801, 1803, and 1809.

More on the topic:

Jane Austen’s Easter: Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

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Gentle readers, Collette from the Serendipity franchise has graciously allowed me to reprint her review of Jane Austen’s Sewing box. I wrote “franchise” because her online presence includes: Serendipity Vintage, Serendipity Handmade, Vintage Life Network, Serendipity Vintage Facebook, and SerendipityVintage on Twitter.

I also now have a copy of the lovely Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft Projects and Stories from Jane Austen’s Novels. You may have seen a review or two on other craft blogs. As I am a Austen aficionado I could not pass it up:

It is a beautiful book, filled with gorgeous color fashion plates of the time that are worth a look. I read it cover-to-cover and enjoyed every moment. However, I would recommend purchasing it only if you enjoy historical Regency costume and /or are a die-hard Regency or Jane Austen fan.

As for the crafts themselves, some are probably of more interest to the costume enthusiast (like the cravat, the bonnet, or the tippet). There is only one photo of each project and even one more photograph of each project would have enhanced this book. Yet one whole page might be devoted to one short quote from one of Austen’s novels, or to a lovely painting from the time period:

The actual instructions for each project were also quite succinct and limited to only one page. If you’ve ever read any of the antique craft books from the early-to-mid 19th century you know that project instructions were usually all text and that diagrams were sparse. The actual descriptions of the the projects were very reminiscent of the actual books of the time. Still, I would like to make this case for embroidery thread:


In the time of the Regency you would store your
embroidery thread on a bone or wood thread winder

Austen mentioned each craft project in one of her novels, and it is fascinating to read the excerpts from the novels and then read Forest’s commentary about the craft as it was practiced at the time. If you are interested in historical craft and want to know more about the role of crafts in the lives of Regency women you will love the historical detail in this book. It’s definitely an informative and charming read!

Photographs from Jane Austen’s Sewing Box, Murdoch Books, or in the public domain. Review reprinted with permission.

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From the Daily Times: Five new Jane Austen letters surfaced when an antique seller purchased an old trunk filled with early Victorian clothing at an estate sale in Basingstoke. Hoping that some of the clothing items would still be salable, Justine de Villiers, shop owner and art appraiser, purchased the lot for £25.  Ms. de Villiers found the letters neatly folded inside a journal and tucked between a chemisette and a pair of lace gloves. While the clothes were in deplorable condition, the letters, which had been hidden from light, were in excellent shape.  Ms. de Villiers, also an art appraiser and an avid reader of Jane Austen’s novels, instantly recognized the handwriting. “My hands and voice were shaking when I rang up the curator at the British Museum,” she said. “There are so few of Jane Austen’s letters that survived, and none between 1801 and 1804.  It was thought that Cassandra destroyed them all. These five letters were written by Jane over a five week period to an acquaintance or a friend, we cannot tell, for the name, Mary Salton, is not one that we associate with Jane.”

Ernestine Meadows, the young woman who inadvertently sold the letters, is thrilled “to be a part of history.  I have no idea where the trunk came from or how it got to my mother’s attic. My mother recently died, and it was up to me to sell her belongings. She inherited the house fully furnished from a bachelor uncle, and much of its contents go back to the early 19th century.  I thought the trunk was filled with old clothes and shawls and such, and sold them as one lot.” When asked what she would have done if she found the letters before the sale, Ernestine answered truthfully, “There was so much to do to prepare my mother’s house for the estate sale, that I never bothered to inspect the trunk closely. Had I found the letters, I  probably would never have made the connection and simply tossed them out. ”

Jane Austen fans can be grateful for Ernestine’s oversight.  When asked what she would do with the letters if they are authenticated by experts, Ms. de Villiers said, “I would like to keep them, but realistically I will probably have to sell them.”

Update: Inquiring readers – yes, this was an April Fool’s post. Comments indicated how much Janeites wish this post were true. We want to know more about Jane. So few of her letters remain, so little of her life is known, even the images made of her are few and far between. And we wish she had lived longer so that she could have written more novels. It is my dream that someday, somewhere, someone will unearth a cache of Jane’s letters. It would have been lovely, wouldn’t it, if this post had been true.

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