Archive for March, 2011

Copyright @ Jane Austen’s World.  Looking back 200 years (the precise date that the formal Regency era began was 1811) we tend to view Jane Austen’s Regency world wearing rose-tinted glasses.

Early 19th century London street scene

Imagine the traffic in London back then:

In July 1811,

it appears that there passed over Blackfriars bridge in one day: 61,069 foot passengers, 533 waggons, 1,502 carts and drays, 990 coaches, 500 gigs and taxed carts, and 822 horses. On the same day, July 1811, there passed over London bridge: 89,640 foot passengers, 1,240 coaches, 485 gigs and taxed carts, 769 waggons, 2,924 carts and drays, and 764 horses.  – Leigh’s new picture of London: or A view of the political, religious, medical, literary, municipal, commercial, and moral state of the British metropolis (Google eBook), 1827, p. 251

Then imagine the animal droppings. I have not the mathematical wherewithal to calculate how much manure and urine these vast numbers of animals traversing London’s streets would generate on an average day, but I do know this: when a horse feels the need to relieve itself, it does so on the spot, releasing the end result of its digestion in a most spectacular fashion.

London, detail of Islington toll gate

And thus London’s streets were littered with dung. Not only did horses generously contribute their feces to London’s throroughfares, but so did the vast number of feral dogs and cats roaming the streets, and the cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, and fowl that were driven to London’s markets. Add on a hot summer’s day the smell of slops that were carelessly tossed out of windows, and the stench of contaminated water, backed-up sewers, over-filled privies, and rotting garbage, and you get the drift. The assault on one’s olfactory nerves must have been overpowering.

The rich had a choice – they left London in droves at the end of the Season to wile away the summer on their country estates. But those who were left behind had to suffer the fetid stench of thousands of evacuations that cooked in the heat and turned into gaseous rot. (I traveled through a similar malodorous area when driving past the slums of Jakarta one summer.)

Streetsweeper assists a lady crossing the street, 1818, after Vernet. Image @Wikimedia.

Rain showers did not help much to relieve the situation. By 1841, when the metropolis was vastly larger, Henry Mayhew calculated that the refuse from butchers that washed into rain water approximated 24,000,000,000 gallons per annum. As for dung, let’s face it, wet poo sticks like glue, and once the offending substance adhered to boots and shoes, the unfortunate wearer would trod the vile stuff into carriages and on door stoops, which is why boot scrapers were essential.

Sunny weather was not much more helpful, for when poo baked and dried on dusty streets, it tended to crumble and turn into dust. A brisk wind would blow odiforous grit under door crevaces and through open windows, landing on furniture, floors, curtains, rugs, and hanging laundry. A person walking along the streets on a blustery day, would have it blown onto their clothes and in their hair. (Let’s not even imagine how much of these offensive granules landed on their faces and inside their mouths and noses! Achoo!)

Carle Vernet, detail of a gust of wind

As for hygienic habits, if English Regency gentlemen felt comfortable urinating in chamberpots in the diningroom after dinner in full view of their companions, one can imagine that they thought nothing of relieving themselves in back alleys. And where were the poor urchins who lived on the streets supposed to “go”? Or the individuals crammed into overcrowded tenements who shared a common privy with hundreds of others and who, due to pressing circumstances, could NOT wait?

If peeing in front of others (left) near food stuffs inside one's home was permissable, one can only imagine the habits of this gentleman outside of a tavern.

There were attempts to combat these continual eliminations and excretions by animals and humans, which will be discussed in the next Fawlty Regency London post. Until next time, gentle reader, I am signing off. I hope I have not offended your tender sensibilities (or activated your gag reflexes) too much. Part 2 of this fascinating series will discuss The Removers, or those who worked tirelessly to keep London smelling as fresh as a daisy (well, at least like day old cat litter).

For those who are equally as fascinated with topics of an earthy nature as I am, here’s another post: Urea, a 17th & 18th Spot Remover, or Pee as a Cleansing Agent

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A Review by Lady Anne, Vic’s most excellent friend.

Miss Dido Kent is an unmarried gentlewoman of some 35 years. In this second book of the series set in 1806 and showing the lifestyles of the gentry and their dependents, the young relative whom she is visiting is foolish and therefore, to Dido, slightly boring. Visiting a succession of relatives is Dido’s fate, and the vehicle through which she can continue her mystery solving. Her fate, because she is unmarried and without money. Her relatives invite her to stay with them either when they have need of her. Pretty, empty-headed cousin Flora’s husband is away on business, and it will be a comfort to the young woman (as well as, we do not doubt, her husband) to have her clever cousin Dido to keep her company. Author Anna Dean, hereby presents a credible way to offer Dido new mysterious events to solve without having her audience need to suspend its disbelief too very much about all the murder and mayhem she encounters. The events of the series will not all occur in the one family, one small village, or neighborhood.

The mystery in this book concerns the assisted departure from this life of one Mrs. Lansdale. By all accounts, she was a difficult woman. However, she left behind a lovely fortune and a most attractive young nephew to inherit it. Richmond, the charming and proper new suburb of London where all this takes place, also harbors Mrs. Midgely, a disagreeably gossiping harridan who seems determined to bring the young man to book. Cousin Flora wants her clever cousin Dido to clear his name, because no one that attractive and charming could possibly be guilty of murder. Mrs. Midgely is recently widowed and has, in addition to a paid companion living in her household, her husband’s ward, a lovely young woman whom she is recently determined to place as a governess. The neighborhood also evinces a very lively interest in the recent marriage of their old friend Sir Joshua Carisbrooke to a lovely, talented, and very much younger woman.

It is Dido’s task to solve the mysteries: the death of Mrs. Lansdale, the reason for Mrs. Midgely’s determination to find Mr. Landsdale guilty, the identity of Mrs. Midgely’s ward, the mystery surrounding her companion, and an explanation of the quick and romantic Carisbrooke marriage. Dido’s skills in observation and in understanding the ramifications of what she has seen allow her to clear all these entangled mysteries large and small. The interconnection of all the puzzles of the neighborhood is very cleverly done, although one of the strands probably does not bear close scrutiny. Her reasoning abilities allow her to resolve everything in a timely manner; she not only solves the mystery of the death, she also clears the other problems without scandal, thereby depriving Mrs. Midgely of further nastiness.

It is this same clever mind that has kept Dido single: determined not to marry where she does not love, she has avoided or turned down several proposals. But without money of her own, she is continuously dependent upon the kindness of her family, and the story shows that this dependence could have a shaky foundation. Mr. Lomax, the steward she met at Belfield Hall in the book of that name, is able once again to provide some assistance as well as romantic interest for Dido, but his wishes to protect her from harm and to keep her from meddling she cannot bear. However, Mr. Lomax is not going to be easily deterred, we readers have the feeling that he will overcome her concerns and waverings over the course of the next few books. We can all look forward to Dido’s clearing more suspicious events in other interesting stately homes and neighborhoods.

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One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

About two weeks ago, The National Trust asked a question about card racks: How were they used? The organization had acquired a number of beautiful examples of 1820’s card racks from Attingham, an estate in Shropshire.  Laurel Ann from Austenprose referred me to the site and to Emile de Bruijn, who had asked the question. I jumped right in, only to discover how little I (or anyone, really) knew about the topic. There was much lively speculation about these beautiful items.

Card racks are small, only large enough to hold visiting cards or small notes. They were designed to be hung somewhere, perhaps on a wall, or over a fireplace mantle. Many were made from cardboard, yet sturdier porcelain examples exist. Their true purpose is now obscure and has faded from memory.

These facts came out as I researched the topic:

It seems that young ladies decorated these card racks from the turn of the 19th c. until at least 1830. Mary Russel Mitford wrote in Our village: sketches of rural character and scenery, Volume 4, 1830:

With regard to accomplishments she knew what was commonly taught in a country school above twenty years ago, and nothing more: played a little, sang a little, talked a little, indifferent French, painted shells; and roses, not particularly like nature, on card-racks and hand screens; danced admirably; and was the best player at battledore, and shuttlecock, hunt the slipper, and blind man’s buff in the county.” p. 131

French emigres made card racks to earn a living:

During the period when the French emigres were so numerous in this country, he (Rudolph Ackermann) was one of the first to relieve their distress by liberal employment. He had seldom less than fifty nobles priests and ladies engaged in manufacturing screens, card racks, flower stands, and other ornaments.” – English coloured books, 1906, Martin Hardie

Rudolph Ackermann kept on hand in his Repository the supplies ladies needed for making hand made items:

No. 3 is a new embossed gold seed-paper. It is used, in a variety of ways, for ladies’ fancy work — in card-racks, hand and fire-screens, chimney ornaments, boxes, watch–stands and cases, &c. It is manufactured by Mr. S. Solomon, and sold, wholesale and retail, at R. Ackermann’s Repository, No., 101, Strand.” – From The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics (1809)

And of course I found a Jane Austen connection. In Persuasion, Mrs. Smith makes pin money by creating hand made items:

One might argue that perhaps Nurse Rooke’s patients themselves are practicing charity by buying the thread-cases, pin-cushions, and card-racks. One finds, however, that they do not do so willingly. Nurse Rooke is skilled not only in invalid care, but also in sales. In the case of Mrs. Wallis, Nurse Rooke’s current invalid, Mrs. Smith says, “‘I mean to make my profit of Mrs. Wallis . . . . She has plenty of money, and I intend she shall buy all the high-priced things I have in hand now’” Thread-cases, Pin-cushions, and Card-racks: Women’s Work in the City in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Susan E. Jones, Persuasions Online

Ironstone ware card rack. Image @Christie's

More speculation and information about card racks can be found in the comment section of the National Trust post. (I have included only my own findings.) It is fascinating to learn how quickly a once popular pasttime has lost its meaning. If anyone can help the staff at The National Trust, do go over and leave a comment.

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A Review From the desk of Shelley DeWees…of The Uprising.

I am thinking of enlisting. One of my acquaintances happened to recommend his regiment to me this morning, and as I have nothing better to do I believe I will join. It will get me away from London, where my creditors are once again pressing me, and take me into Hertfordshire, a place where I am not known. Then I can begin again, and at the very least, run up some new bills. And at the most…There will be impressionable young women in Meryton, no doubt, and they will all be susceptible to a charming and handsome young man in a red coat.”

So says that feisty George Wickham, with such a feisty future ahead of him, in the quazi-coming-of-age tale Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange. Although you may think this little novella is going to give a sneaky glimpse into the wooing of Lydia Bennet or perhaps a strange view of Wickham’s wicked scheming, alas, it doesn’t. In fact, Wickham’s Diary has next to zero connection the Bennet tale (you know the one I mean) and can be more easily likened to the history of George Wickham and his family.

The introduction on the back of the book explains, “He wasn’t always this cold-hearted.” But…um…well, according to this, he actually was. He grows up, as you, a learned reader, already know, in the shadow of Darcy and his sweet sister Georgiana, as the son of the steward with nearly nothing to his own name. Childhood almost-friendship with Darcy withers away in favor of rabid jealously, and Wickham decides at a young age that the situation just isn’t fair. “Why should I be beneath him?” he asks. “I am just as handsome as he is; I am just as intelligent, even though he works harder at his books; and I am just as amusing; in fact, I dare say I am a great deal more amusing, for Fitzwilliam is so proud and he will not take the trouble to entertain other people. Yet altogether he is no better than me, when he grows up he will inherit Pemberley and I will inherit nothing.” Tough break Georgie, but hey, that’s life. Regency life. Now of course he could take what he’s been given, which is truly not a bad situation, and apply himself toward a worthy, amiable path and a generally secure future. But as we know, he’s the villain and must therefore take the lowest possible road: planning, scheming, and plotting against everyone and everything, never blaming himself when things go awry. He looks around every corner for someone to exploit, usually while still experiencing success with his last victim, pocketing their money and breaking their hearts with no qualms. He’s conniving and rude. He’s spoiled and foolhardy. He is, naturally, a scoundrel.

I’d say that’s pretty cold-hearted behavior.

The reader is briefly shown the world of George Wickham as he works his way up the “Biggest Jerk in the Universe” ladder, tossing people aside who stand in the way of his ultimate goal to marry an heiress and be done with it. Darcy has long taken his own path, only reappearing to pay Wickham the value of the living he’s denounced and then quickly evaporating out of the picture, never to be seen again. Though I enjoyed the interesting and albeit unhealthy relationship Wickham has with his mother, I found myself disappointed that this teeny weeny 12-dollar novel ended without exploring Wickham’s character in any in-depth sense. The reader learns a bit about his motivations for villainy, yes, but nothing much about him as a person. No one commits a crime against humanity without some measure of mental back-and-forth…didn’t he ever have second thoughts? Blank pages abound in the book itself, and the type is shamefully over-sized.

The phrase that comes to mind with Wickham’s Diary is “hastily-written.” It’s a fair read and represents some of the author’s good attributes. But considering the 2 hours you’ll spend with it, you might want to save your 12 dollars.

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Inquiring readers: Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints is noted for his analysis of paint colours of the interiors and exteriors of buildings of architectural significance. He is consulted on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Baty has graciously allowed me to reproduce his blog post about exterior paint colours in the city of Bath. A link to more detailed articles sit at the bottom of this post.

Patrick was commissioned to carry out an analysis of the paint on a number of buildings in the City. The purpose was to establish the decorative history of representative doors, windows and railings and to see whether one colour predominated on each element.

How had external painted surfaces appeared when Jane Austen lived there in the early 19th century, for example?

Royal Crescent

The Royal Crescent was built between 1767 and 1774. When the railings were sampled, 27 individual schemes were found, which suggests an average repainting cycle of about eight years. The first scheme was a pale lead (grey) colour. This kind of colour was used on the next fifteen occasions – probably until the end of the 19th century. Dark green and red-brown has been used subsequently, with black employed twice and then only since the 1970s.

Lead Colour

7 Alfred Street

Alfred Street is believed to have been built in 1772. When the railings of No 7 were sampled approximately 45 individual schemes were found, which suggests a repainting cycle of about five years. A stone colour was employed initially and variants of this appeared until the 1810s, when lead colour was introduced. Dark green appears to have been used from the middle of the 19th century, before giving way to red-brown. Black was only applied on the last three occasions.

Bronze Green

Pierrepont House

36 schemes were encountered on the railings of Pierrepont House. Lead colour was employed until the middle of the 19th century, when dark green was introduced. Black has never been used on these railings.

Chapel House

Chapel House railing

The railings of Chapel House, behind the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, displayed approximately 38 decorative schemes. As the Chapel was built in 1765 this suggests a repainting cycle of about six years. The first two schemes were in lead colour and the third was in a stone colour. Unusually blue was employed on the fourth occasion. The remainder of the sequence consisted of variants of stone colour and dark green. Black had only been adopted in the 1980s.

As will be seen from the few examples cited here, grey and stone colours were employed on railings in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Dark green seems to have been generally adopted from about 1850 and, perhaps surprisingly, black only made its appearance in the late 20th century. Its use has nothing to do with being a sign of mourning for the death of Prince Albert – a belief held by many of the cognoscenti. This has been borne out by examining numerous examples of external ironwork across the country.

Specialist Profile, Patrick Baty

Patrick Baty provides more fascinating information about exterior paint colors on his blog, Patrick Baty, in three downloadable Scribd documents: External Paintwork, The Colour of Chelsea, and The Use of Colour on Architectural Ironwork, 1660 – 1960. You can also read an article about him,Specialist Profile, on the blog.

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“What? Do I really have to read another Pride and Prejudice and Zombies review by Vic?”, you are asking yourself. Blame it on Quirk books, who recently sent me Dreadfully Ever After, the sequel to P&P&Zombies.

The folks at Quirk Books have been such good sports about the tongue-in-cheek barbs that I have slung in their direction, that I simply could not resist reviewing this latest zombies installment. I have slowly been finessed by their cagey publicists – who keep tossing books, and posters, and zombie paraphenalia my way – and whose understanding of promoting and branding a product in today’s tech savvy world could teach a marketing professor a thing or two.

Dreadfully ever After is Steve Hockensmith’s second foray into Regency England, land of the dead. After Seth Grahame-Smith’s record smashing P&P&Zombies, Hockensmith wrote the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, explaining how the undead plague invaded England and how those darling Bennet girls were trained to become fierce Shaolin warriors, able to lop off the heads of marauding dreadfuls with an economy of movement that Steven Seagal can only dream about.

After reviewing P&P& Zombies two years ago, I outsourced the Dawn prequel to another reviewer, who has hardly spoken to me since. And so, wishing to keep the few friends I still have, I decided to tackle this book on my own. I kept putting off Dreadfully Ever After, but the review’s deadline was looming. I then drank a bottle of wine or two and began to slowly read the book.

Well, the joke is on me, for as I read it I kept going. Wisely, Hockensmith made no effort to write like Jane Austen. He created a rousing tale using his own words and Jane’s familiar characters in a setting that is both familiar (Regency England) and unfamiliar (filled with zombie slayers and the undead).

Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for four blissful years when he is bitten in the neck by young master Brayles, a freshly made zombie. Unfortunately, Lizzie cannot lop off the affected limb, for that would mean beheading her husband and result in a book that ends after two chapters. Fortunately, Lady Catherine de Bourgh reputedly has access to an antidote that might save her nephew’s life, however she does not possess a cure that might reverse the deadly effects of a zombie bite.

She sends Elizabeth on a dangerous mission to London, saying, “If I told you there was but one path to this salvation—and it was also the path to your utter degradation—would you, I wonder, be able to bend that stiff neck of yours and do what you must?” Without hesitation a stoic Lizzie hands Darcy’s care over to her nemesis and sets off for London with her warrior father and sister, Kitty to look for a physician who holds the cure to the strange plague. Her sister, Mary, is left behind. But she is no namby pamby miss and scurries after them, knowing her skills as a warrior might be of use.

And so the stage is set for a rousing zombie tale. While Darcy exists in a twilight world and experiences unspeakable urges, the troupe in London follows the few leads they’ve been given. The city has been divided into a series of quadrants and is surrounded by fortress walls and watchtowers. Much like airports today, travelers must wait to go through security:

A line of coaches and wagons more than a mile long stretched from the Northern Guard Tower, and it took hours just to be near enough to spot the red-coated soldiers stationed at the gate. The queue was full of merchants and peddlers and performers, all drawn to town by the upcoming recoronation of George III. The king, finally cured of his “nervous exhaution” (otherwise known as “insanity” when it afflicts those of lower rank), was about to reclaim his throne.”

This short passage explains why prepubescent boys and fans of gory mash-ups love the P&P&Zombies series – except for the plague of the undead, lack of electricity and running water, and a smattering of history, Regency England is not so very different from our dangerous world today. And so the plot moves swiftly on, prompting the reader to ask: Will Darcy be saved in time, or will Lizzie, Kitty, Mary, and Mr. Bennet dawdle in London so long that he will turn into a slobbering, mouldering, flesh-eating mess?

Steve Hockensmith’s way with a phrase can be a hoot. On page 158, Kitty declares of Nezu, Lady C de B’s ninja warrior: “He’s like a male Mary!” To which Mr. Bennet retorts, “Mary’s like a male Mary.”

Steve Hockensmith

Parents who worry that these mash-ups will liquify their childrens’ brains  need not worry, for these books, while exposing their offspring to plenty of gore and carnage, provide no untoward exposure to gooey sex scenes or slimy kisses. And so I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide whether you should subject yourself and your progeny to a zombified England, or gently turn your backs to a series of runaway bestsellers whose ability to generate an impressive stream of revenue would make even Nora Roberts jealous.

Dreadfully Ever After, generously illustrated as all Quirk mash-ups are,  goes on sale today.


Carnage rating: 5 out of 5 severed limbs
Romance rating: 1 out of 5 torn-out hearts
Humor rating: 5 out of 5 brainless zombies

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It is not often that a much-hyped book or film lives up to its reputation, as with The King’s Speech and Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen conquered the world , the book by Claire Harman and the subject of this review. I’ll admit to being a wee bit partial to any book that mentions my blogs – Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today – but this is not the sole reasons for my gushing over Ms. Harman’s lucid and accessible account of the slow rise of Jane’s Austen’s literary fame in the 19th century to her near rock-star status as a popular cultural icon today.

Jane’s Fame was published in 2009 amidst much controversy. Accusations of heavy borrowing and plagiarism flew from the mouth and pen of Ms. Harman’s former friend,  Kathryn Sutherland, who had published Jane Austen’s Textual Lives, from Aeschylus to Bollywood in 2005. Ms. Harman countered the accusations with equally strong words, saying she had followed the standard practice of sourcing all quotes and citing the earliest sources for her information. With this controversy in mind, I read Jane’s Fame with the same morbid curiosity that Two and a Half Men fans are reading articles about Charlie Sheen’s downward spiraling career today. I am delighted to announce that I think Jane’s Fame stands on its own, paying due homage to Jane Austen’s Textual Lives, but making what could have been a dry tale into an exciting read  for the modern audience.

Laurie Kaplan, who reviewed Sutherland’s book for the Jane Austen Society of Northern America, wrote:

Through an examination of biographies, portraits, manuscripts, films, and editions of the novels, Sutherland tracks the creation of Jane Austen as “a special cultural commodity.” From James Edward Austen- Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen (1870), which presents a “family-managed” biography of his relation, to the films, which sometimes bear only a passing relation to the novels, biographers, editors, and directors have “marketed” their own versions of “Jane Austen” to the public.”

I agree with this assessment of Sutherland’s book. Several years back I had read portions of Jane Austen’s Textual Lives and from it learned much about Jane’s slow rise in literary reputation and in the estimation of her peers. However, in my opinion Dr. Kathryn Sutherland’s revelations were not entirely new. Any Janeite who has read a number of Jane Austen biographies would have known that Jane’s literary reputation stagnated in the years after her death. The facts were scattered in a number of sources and Dr. Sutherland was astute enough to pull them together. She chronicled Jane’s rise in academic order, and had her efforts rewarded with the publication of her book by Oxford University Press. While her richly footnoted tome is perfectly suited for the shelves of a university library, her professorial writing style would in no way appeal to Mr & Mrs John Q Public.

Enter Ms. Harman.

One cardinal rule of copyright laws is that facts and historical events belong to the public domain. One cannot patent the dates of a person’s life or historic events. Ms. Harman, with her easy and accessible writing style and her academic knowledge, pounced on the Jane Austen bandwagon and came up with a runaway hit. In fact, Ms. Harman makes the rise of Jane’s fame seem exciting. Here is an excerpt of her description of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s attempt to take a look at Fanny Knatchbull’s letters from her Aunt Jane:

In 1869 Fanny’s sister Elizabeth Rice warned him not to wait for a sight of the letters, as there was virtually no chance of it. Lady Knatchbull, she said, was prone to giddiness and confusion, an impression of advancing senility confirmed by fanny’s daughter Louisa, who protested that her mother would have been only too delighted to assist James Edward ten years earlier, but it was too late now.”

Chris Riddell's cover from the April 2009 issue of The Literary Review

It is universally acknowledged that Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoirs of his aunt in 1869 (and quickly again in 1871) piqued the Victorian public’s curiosity, and that his biography prompted the buying public to purchase Jane’s novels in droves. In the first half of the 20th century, academics and the public alike discovered the rich literary minefield that Jane’s novels represented. Film adaptations only served to boost her reputation, and by 1995, when A&E presented a 6-part series of Pride and Prejudice and the Internet began to be embraced by non-geek users, the stage had been set for world-wide Austen adoration.

My major complaint about Jane’s Fame is that I suspect this book was written to meet a publisher’s deadline. The first 2/3 of its pages are rich with facts and anecdotes, with fully developed topics that satisfied my curiosity about Jane’s rise in popularity. But then the book’s pace speeds up and the last few chapters seemed rushed and thin. The most recent years of Jane’s popularity are barely covered, as if the author (and publisher) lost focus. Be that as it may, I read Jane’s Fame in two or three sittings and recommended it to my Janeite book club. They LOVED it. I am confident that you will too.

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