Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Austenesque novels’ Category

Eligible_SittenfeldIn 2011, The Austen Project approached best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld to write a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which she entitled Eligible (out in bookstores now). On Thursday, April 21, 2016, Diane Rehm, one of my favorite radio hosts, interviewed Sittenfeld regarding her new novel. As the interview wore on it became obvious to me that 1) this author, who  had not read Pride and Prejudice since she was a teenager, should have done more research about the economic and social situation of the Bennets, Darcys, and Bingleys in Regency England, and how this impacted their actions, and that  2) Diane Rehm and Sittenfeld had little understanding of the economic impact that Austenesque films, television shows, book adaptations, blogs, online forums, and fan fiction have on today’s book and entertainment industry.

After listening (impatiently) to the interview, I wrote this comment on Ms. Rehm’s website, which also features a link to the interview and a 4-page excerpt of the novel.

I author the Jane Austen’s World blog, which examines the Regency era during Jane Austen’s time. I looked forward to this interview, since I listen to the Diane Rehm Show and am a Jane Austen fan. I am no fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, however. Reading the excerpt of “Eligible” and listening to Ms. Sittenfeld read from her book left me strangely cold. Austen’s fans are drawn to her novels because of her enormous talent in describing her characters with humor, or satire, or barbed arrows in her swift, spare, and witty style. Her words fairly sparkle off the page and her main protagonists seem like living creatures. In this instance, the dialogue seems strangely flat, I recognize the names of the characters, but not their essence.

I don’t care how many best sellers a novelist has written, most (many, all) are unable to adapt Austen’s works and write something better or wittier. I am thinking of P.D. James and her awful “Death Comes to Pemberley” and Colleen McCullough’s appallingly bad “The Independence of Mary Bennet,” both of which became best sellers because of their authors’ fame, not because of the excellence of the adaptations. In fact, I was able to purchase both books online for $1.00. Both were in remarkably fresh condition, as if they had been warehoused for a while.

Another sense I got from the interview was Ms. Sittenfeld’s inability to understand her audience – the Jane Austen fan. Chip Bingley participated in the novel’s version of “The Bachelor.” Really? Sittenfeld and Rehm devoted a good portion of the interview to this topic. I felt my mind drifting and my interest in the novel vanishing. I suppose Cincinnati is as good a place as any to fill in for Meryton, but I am not convinced.

I will review [the book] on my blog and withhold judgment for the time being. I am not optimistic that I will change my mind.

In my opinion, only Emma Thompson has channeled Jane Austen successfully in recent years. Much of the script of 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, while staying true to Austen’s intent, are really Emma’s words as the film’s script writer. Some scenes and details are added, since films are a visual medium, yet I left the theater feeling as if I had watched a movie whose script was written by Jane Austen.

This review in The Guardian by Ursula K. LeGuin (an author I admire enormously) starts out by saying:

It was badly done’ – to quote Mr Knightley – an ill-judged rendering of Jane Austen’s most famous work…

Those words are kind compared to the rest of LeGuin’s review, which includes this interesting statement:

I wondered what could possess a writer to tie her novel so blatantly and rigidly to a very well-known one – taking the general plot and the name of every character, so that comparison with the original becomes as unavoidable as it is crushing…We are in a period of copycatting, coat-tail-riding, updating and mashup; rip-off is chic, character theft from famous predecessors is as common as identity theft via credit cards…

In her interview with Rehm, Sittenfeld explains her modus operandi,

when I started rereading “Pride And Prejudice,” I did think, oh, I have so many ideas. This would be such a delightful way to spend a few years.” ….My approach was to basically keep the plot or keep the architecture of the novel and also to keep the names because I didn’t want readers to be distracted, thinking, well, who’s who?…

Sittenfeld enjoyed her years of writing the novel, contacted only occasionally (with no pressure) from the publisher, and writing according to a strict outline and timeline, often with Pride and Prejudice propped on her lap for quick reference to remind her of major plot lines that described both character and setting.

In another recent review, Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, describes the same situation that Sittenfeld and Rehm had gone over during their interview – how Chip Bingley, a physician and bachelor on the reality show “Eligible,” found fame courting 24 women on national television. Lizzie is now 38 and her sister Jane is 40 – today’s versions of single women about to enter that twilight world of spinsterhood.

Eligible is supposed to be an act of homage, an act of admiration. It’s not supposed to be an improvement upon ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I don’t think ‘Pride and Prejudice’ needs to be improved on. I think it’s a wonderful, perfect novel.”- Sittenfeld, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.

In this respect, Sittenfeld recognizes Jane Austen’s  unmatched talent as an author completely, but does she? Really? Higgins calls Sittenfeld’s verbal exchanges among the Bennets “sharp;” Ursula LeGuin describes them as mean-spirited.

As for me, I shall purchase the novel way after its sell date, read it, and write a review based on my reaction to Sittenfeld’s adaptation of my favorite novel of my favorite author. Meanwhile, I can only go by the interview I heard and the short excerpt I read.

As for Diane Rehm and my total love for her show – one disappointing interview in hundreds, well, that gives her a great track record IMO.

Inquiring readers: Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, would like to add his thoughts to the discussion in this comment:

I have only ever read one so called spin off novel and that was The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Her book adds to the world of great literature dealing with important and deep issues. Whether it is a true spin off, mash up, is questionable. It is such a rich and important book. If the so called spin off genre could achieve what she achieved in adding to our experience of the human condition I would read those sort of books but until then they are not for me. Jane Austen engages us with the world within the strictures of her time but also in a way that is relevant to all times.She really doesn’t need to be messed with. I wonder what she would think.The book you describe sounds like a sad attempt at making money on the coat tails of a popular author. I am not one to burn books but we could have quite a conflagration if all the mash ups, spin offs, fan fictions etc were piled up and set light to… ha!Ha!
( I must admit a secret regret, I did read one fan fiction take on Pride and Prejudice a few years ago because it was written by an acquaintance . But I try to forget that experience.)

Read Full Post »

horizontal blog tour

Inquiring readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiring readers:

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

barronAbout the Author:

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

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

Grand Giveaway Contest

prizes

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes:

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

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final-UK-quad

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

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

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

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

Index imageTour Schedule

February 02  My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)

February 03  Laura’s Reviews (Excerpt)

February 04  A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

February 05  The Calico Critic (Review)

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

February 07  Reflections of a Book Addict (Spotlight)

February 08  Mimi Matthews Blog (Guest Blog)

February 09  Jane Austen’s World (Interview)

February 10  Just Jane 1813 (Review)

February 11  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)

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

February 13  My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)

February 14  Living Read Girl (Review)

February 14  Austenprose (Review)

February 15  Mystery Fanfare (Guest Blog)

February 16  Laura’s Reviews (Review)

February 17  Jane Austen in Vermont (Excerpt)

February 18  From Pemberley to Milton (Interview)

February 19  More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

February 20  Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)

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

February 22   Diary of an Eccentric (Review)

About the Author:

barron

Stephanie Barron

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

Purchase Books at These Sites:

  • Amazon:

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

  • Barnes & Noble Link:

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

  • Book Depository Link:

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

  • IndieBound Link:

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

  • Goodreads Link:

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

  • iTunes Link:

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

  • Publishers Page:

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

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

prizes

Fabulous giveaway prizes associated with this blog tour.

Read Full Post »

janeaustenhandbookInquiring readers, In honor of Pride and Prejudice’s 200 year anniversary, Quirk Books is offering 3 free copies of their books: a copy of The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan and two copies of the deluxe edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith.

Coincidentally, my blog’s counter turned over 6 million visits this weekend. That’s right! Six million! A true cause for celebration and handing out books. If you are interested in reading about the books, click on the links below to read the reviews.

pride_prejudice_zombies1wClick here to read Tony Grant’s review of The Jane Austen Handbook, which is the forerunner of many similar books that have been published in recent years; and click here to read my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which began the Jane Austen mash-up craze several years back.

To Enter the Contest (open to those who live in the US, Canada, and UK), tell us how you are celebrating Pride and Prejudice’s 200th anniversary during this year! Contest is open until April 1st. This blog is holding another contest! A giveaway of Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World, which is a reissue of the 1993 edition. Click on the link to enter his contest, open to those who live in the U.S. and open until April 3rd. Giveaway Closed! Congratulations Brenda, Rosalie and Monica Z.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie JamesGentle readers, One lucky U.S. reader is eligible to win a copy of Syrie James’s latest book, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen! (See below) Contest Closed: The winner is – Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James

In the Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, author Syrie James attempts a plot device that often trips up even the most experienced authors -a novel within a novel. Samantha McDonough, librarian and Jane Austen scholar, stumbles upon a clue in an old book of poetry she purchased while on a visit to England.

The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…

This letter leads her on a quest to find a missing manuscript by Jane Austen. Her journey lands her on the doorstep of handsome Anthony Whitaker, who has just inherited his estranged father’s rundown estate. By virtue of her charm, grit, and determination, Samantha persuades a skeptical Anthony to rummage around dusty rooms, cupboards, and closets and his attic until, voilà, they miraculously find a manuscript entitled The Stanhopes and that consists of 41 tiny hand-cut and bound booklets. (The Watsons, Jane’s unfinished manuscript, is made of 11 similarly bound booklets.)

A draft of Jane Austen's novel The Watsons, which was written in about 1804 . Image @The Guardian

A draft of Jane Austen’s novel The Watsons, which was written in about 1804 . Image @The Guardian

Anthony and Samantha immediately begin to read Jane’s long lost words, and, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, the pair are instantly swept into the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her father, a rector with a propensity for mild gambling over a friendly game of cards. His vice sets off the plot, which is based on Jane’s hilarious Plan of a Novel. In short order, the rector loses a great deal of money with which he has been entrusted and then is forcibly retired from his living. Now destitute,  Mr. Stanhope and Rebecca (a sweet heroine  in the vein of a slightly feistier Jane Bennet or more mature Catherine Morland) must move from place to place — from the rectory to a married daughter’s cramped house, to an elegant abode in Bath, to a seedy inn, and so forth. Along the way, Rebecca receives three proposals, one that is almost as ridiculous as Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth, and two more serious ones from two suitors who are as different from each other in temperament and intent as, well, Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram or Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. The road to a romantic union is rocky, and along the way both heroines (Rebecca and Samantha) must learn some harsh truths about themselves and others before they can be united with their heroes.

As the story develops, the reader will recognize a number of plot developments and characters based on those in Austen’s novels. Since the missing manuscript was written early (1802) and before Jane published her books and rewrote Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication, one can assume that this manuscript is meant to be a foreshadowing of the mature novels.  Syrie James, a strong writer in her own right, is smart in setting Jane’s  lost manuscript so early in Jane’s writing career. Austen’s Juvinilia includes melodramatic twists and turns, evident in Northanger Abbey (when Catherine Morland is forced to leave the Abbey alone in the middle of the night) and in The Stanhopes, when Rebecca must find employment in the most unusual and creative way in order to feed herself and her father. The reader should also assume that the manuscript, having been lost before Jane could fully edit and revise it, was found in its  “raw” stage. This would explain any stylistic differences between the lost manuscript and Jane’s later works (and, more practically, between Syrie’s and Jane’s writing styles as well).

I won’t give too much of the plot away, except to say that I was more interested in the Stanhopes than the modern Samantha and Anthony story line. (I believe I had the same preference with Jane Odiwe’s Searching for Captain Wentworth, in which I liked the time travel to the past more than the contemporary narrative.) Syrie’s novel is filled with historically and geographically correct details, which I always appreciate in a novel set in a foreign country or in the past. As an interesting aside, one of Samantha’s friends in the modern world is Laurel Ann, a bookseller. Who could it be, I wonder? (Hint: Austenprose.)

Insights into Jane Austen’s World

Syrie, who I met at the Brooklyn AGM meeting and whose Regency costumes are varied and fabulous, graciously sent me some interesting details about one of Jane’s letters to Cassandra, and how one should handle an old manuscript:

 I don’t know if it’s strange or funny, but while re-reading Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, I was fascinated to find the following mention of a “shut-up bed”:

Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut-up one in the new nursery. Nurse and the child slept upon the floor, and there we all were in some confusion and great comfort. The bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock, and to sleep in the rest of the night.

I take this to mean that a “shut-up bed” is what we now call a Murphy bed, or a bed that folds up and away by day into a piece of furniture. I happily put this information to use in The Stanhopes.

Here’s one fact that surprised me: I presumed that when my modern day characters found Jane Austen’s centuries-old manuscript, they’d have to wear latex gloves while handling it. (That was previous my experience when reviewing precious, old documents.) However, Christine Megowan, the Special Collections Librarian at Loyola Marymount University, explained that none of the conservators she knows wear gloves to handle old books and paper, because they don’t fit well and are clumsy. As long as your hands are clean and you work gently, she said, the oils on your fingers don’t do all that much damage to paper—you’d do far more mechanical damage by fumbling with latex gloves. I put that quote directly into the novel.

If you are interesting in reading similar  insights from Syrie, click on the links to her blog tour!

About Syrie James:

Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2011 - Credit William James (1)Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages. In addition to her work as a novelist, she is a screenwriter, a member of the Writers Guild of America, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Follow Syrie’s Blog tour in these links: 

About the book:

Amazon Prices

  • Kindle Edition $9.99
  • Paperback $10.20
  • Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged $23.95 or Free with Audible 30-day free trial
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (December 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0425253368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425253366

About the book giveaway for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen:  

For your chance to win a copy of Syrie’s latest book, let us know how you would feel and react if you stumbled across a long lost Jane Austen document! Contest open to U.S. readers only. Drawing by random number generator. Deadline, January 23rd, 2013, midnight EST. Contest Closed: The winner is – Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!

Read Full Post »

dear_mrs_eltonGentle readers: Good news! Mrs. Elton has returned, but with a twist. Diana Birchall and I hope that you’ll enjoy this interesting development in Mrs. Elton’s life. T’ill next time, and wishing you all the best of holidays … Vic (Toby) and Diana (Mrs. Elton)

15th August, 1818
Fairweather Plantation, Raleigh

To: Augusta Hawkins, Bristol

My dearest darling Augusta,

When we parted I pledged I would refrain from contacting you until I was WORTHY of your hand. Our ambitions have borne fruit, my Angel, and of such a magnitude that I can now hold my head high as I formally ask your father for your hand. Even as I write, my man of business has sailed ahead of me to arrange for a house and carriage in Bristol. I shall leave the choice of furnishing to you, my dearest, for your taste is as restrained and exquisite as The Prince Regent’s.

Lo, all these eight years I have worn your locket with its precious strand of your hair next to my heart, as you have kept my promise ring next to yours, I’ll warrant. The last sweet words you whispered in my ear before I set sail (forever etched on my brain – “Do not return until you can claim me openly”), your pledge of unwavering love, and your faith in my abilities have kept me strong even through the darkest and most trying times. There were agonizing moments when I despaired of ever seeing you again, for the New World is as you feared – a wild and dangerous place, where a man is just a hair’s breath away from meeting his MAKER. But fate has been kind and I have emerged triumphant! It is as you predicted, my dearest – my uncanny skills at the gaming table have made my fortune in the form of a fine and thriving tobacco plantation in the Carolinas.

Expect me on the next mail packet from the Americas, for I cannot wait another moment to see your fair face and hold you in my arms.

Your loving, faithful and obedient servant, “Toby”

Tobias Evander McKiddie

P.S. I did not for a moment believe the spiteful rumours that came my way of your marriage to a mere country vicar not a half year after my departure. “You slander my faithful Augusta!” were the last words one lying cur heard after I shot him dead. However, the curious rumour persists, and we must address its origin before it DEFILES your spotless reputation.

BeFunky_opie portrait of swift 1802

On receiving this letter at the post-office, yellowed, water-stained, and slightly torn, covered all over with American stamps, Mrs. Elton stood for a moment, silent. This was so odd a posture for her, that Mrs.Ford (for the post-office was in a corner of the store) asked if she was well.

“Oh! Perfectly, perfectly well, Mrs. Ford. I am only surprised. It is not every day that one receives a letter from America, you know.”

“I should say not, Mrs. Elton,” exclaimed Mrs. Ford. “That is why I fetched it down for you, when you came by. In the ordinary course of things I should have sent it with the post-boy on his donkey, and you would have had it by tea-time, but this seemed so very special.”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Elton, absently.

“And your man did not come for the post this morning, as he usually does. I had thought there might be illness at the vicarage, or some such.”

“Oh, dear no, Mrs. Ford. I was not expecting any thing, and did not think to tell Charles to fetch the letters this morning, when he went to the fishmonger’s. We are having a select little dinner to-night, you know.”

“Yes, I heard – the Westons and the Coles,” said Mrs. Ford, very interested. “My! I am sure you have your head full of cares to-day. No one in Highbury gives a more elegant dinner than you, Mrs. Elton. You are quite famous for it.”

“Not at all. It is only that I learnt at Maple Grove how things should be done in proper style. I do not allow any pitiful doings at my table. Meat and drink should be plentiful and wholesome, but with something more elegant, more recherche, when there is company. That was why I wanted to be sure to get the very best piece of fish the town affords…”

“To be ordering fish, and to find a letter from America!” said Mrs. Ford, laughing winningly and holding up her hands, but sticking to the subject that she was afire with curiosity to hear about.

But Mrs. Elton had recollected herself, and slipped the letter into her reticule, slapping it shut with finality. “Yes,” she said, “and I must hurry home and take it to Mr. Elton, for it is sure to be for him. A letter of business about church affairs – perhaps about converting the Indians,” she finished, in an effort of imagination.

“Well! Only think! America! Indians! But the letter,” Mrs. Ford pursued wisely, “is addressed to you.”

“That must be some mistake,” Mrs. Elton said firmly, “for I know no one in America. But my husband has such an extensive correspondence, I am sure he will not be at a loss.”

“I’ve never seen him get a letter from America before,” said Mrs. Ford skeptically, “nor anyone in this village for that matter.”

“There is always a first time. Good day, Mrs. Ford.”

Mrs. Elton prided herself on a stately glide, as befitted the vicar’s wife, when on foot, as she was today owing to the pleasant autumn weather. She now regretted not taking the carriage, as she was exposed to the eyes of the village, and she knew the story of the letter was circulating like wildfire faster than she could reach home. Accordingly, she walked as quickly as she dared, and the last few yards she might be said to be guilty of scurrying.

Not even taking off her bonnet and gloves, she stood in the entry way, tore open her letter, and read.

She only looked up, to see her husband come in, having walked back from Donwell where he had been conferring with Mr. Knightley on parish business.
“Why, Augusta, it must be true then,” he exclaimed cheerfully, “that must be the famous letter from America you are reading! John Carpenter told me of it, as I crossed the last field over from Martin’s.”

He noticed her stricken expression. “What is it, then?” he asked, concerned. “Is it really from America? What can America have to do with us?”

Mutely she put the letter in his hands. He read. Their eyes met for a moment, and he struck the letter to the ground. “That puppy!” he exclaimed.

“It is that puppy you told me about long ago – is it not?”

“Yes, Philip,” she said faintly.

He began to pace. “What insolence! Arrant nonsense. You were not engaged before we met – I know. You told me the whole story, long ago.”

Augusta found her voice. “Certainly not. You remember how I told you of my difficulty in – in getting rid of the young man. He presumed too much then, and you see it is apparent he still does – now.”

“I should say so!” Mr. Elton picked up the letter, smoothed it out thoughtfully, though his own brow was furrowed. “Augusta, this is a sort of thing that could cause some damage, if it became known.”

“Oh, Philip!”

“Never you worry. Do you know,” he concluded, folding it up again, “it looks to me as if this gentlemen intends mischief – a breach-of-promise suit or something of that sort. This is not about sentiment. He is after money, I’ll be bound.”

“What – what shall we do?”

“I am not exactly certain, not being a lawyer myself, but I tell you what, dearest,” he looked at her resolutely, “we cannot do better than to take this to Mr. Knightley.”

“Mr. Knightley!”

“Why, yes. He is the magistrate, and absolutely safe as houses, you know. A secret is a secret with him. And Mr. John Knightley, his brother, is the very person to consult about a delicate matter, and the law.”

“But – oh, Philip, what if he tells Mrs. Knightley? Or Miss Bates! Only think! It will be all over town in an hour!”

“Don’t be silly, my dear. Men of business do not behave in such a way. Yes, I am decided. Do not worry, I say. I will walk back over to Donwell this very moment, and secure Knightley’s advice. It is the best thing going.”

“I suppose you know best,” she agreed. “Oh, Philip, you are not – angry?”

“Not with you,” he answered briefly, and strode out of the house.

About Diana Birchall

Diana and her cat, Pindar

Diana and her cat, Pindar

Diana Birchall grew up in New York City, and was educated at Hunter College Elementary School, the High School of Music and Art, and C.C.N.Y, where she studied history and English literature. She has worked in the film industry for many years and is the “book person” story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. A lifelong student of Jane Austen, whom she calls her writing teacher, Diana is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, a charming and best-selling sequel to Jane Aust­en’s Pride and Prejudice. Originally published by Egerton House Press in England, it is now available in a new reprint edition from Sourcebooks. Diana’s comedy pastiche In Defense of Mrs. Elton,based on characters from Jane Austen’s Emma, was published by the Jane Austen Society in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. It forms part of the “compleat” Mrs. Elton Trilogy, which is collected in the volume Mrs. Elton in America, published by Sourcebooks. 

Read more about Diana in this link.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,471 other followers

%d bloggers like this: