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Archive for the ‘Austenesque novels’ Category

Last summer I received an uncorrected manuscript of The Jane Austen Society to read with a request for feedback and any thoughts I had before a final printing. (I assume many other readers also received this request.) Natalie Jenner’s name was not on the cover. Not wanting to be influenced by preconceived notions, I read the MS before seeking the author’s name. Once I realized that the story is purely fictional (peppered with historical facts), I stopped comparing it to the founding of the real Jane Austen Society in the United Kingdom in 1940.

 

 

The tale is, in fact, a lovely story—a fairy tale—about a group of people who have very little in common except their love for Jane Austen’s novels. It is a perfect summer read that transported me to Chawton and to a different age and time. Natalie Jenner, in her first published novel, gave herself a difficult assignment: to write about pre- and post-World War II England, to incorporate history and knowledge of the customs of the time, place and setting, and to make the intricacies of estate law and wills understandable without bogging down the story’s pace. She also added complexities to her characters’ motivation and insights that sets the tale apart from Austen fan fiction.

About the Plot:

Aside from their love for Austen’s novels, the primary characters have another thing in common—pain and loss in one form or another. At the start of the book, they are facing their demons in isolation. Some are more successful than others in finding a way forward in life, but all are struggling until they join in a common effort to found The Jane Austen Society. This bond begins a healing process for them all.

Jenner sets up the potential for this bond early in the book, where through the thoughts of Adam Berwick, a young farmer who reads Austen, he thinks about why her novels hold so much meaning in his life:

Adam loved being in this world, transported, where people were honest with each other, but also sincerely cared for each other, no matter their rank. Where the Miss Bateses of the world would always have a family to dine with, and the Harvilles would take in the grief-stricken Captain Benwick…and even the imperious and insensitive Bertrams would give Fanny Price a roof above her head. And the letters people sent—long, regular missives designed to keep people as close to one’s heart and thoughts as possible…” (p.98)

Adeline Lewis, who, as a newlywed, loses her husband at the end of WWII, and experiences yet another loss less than a year later, is in profound pain. In this passage she is haunted by her spouse’s last moments:

She pictured him in his bomber plane, the gauges rattling before him…and the intensity and the detachment that he would have brought to this one terrifying moment. He would have given his all, even though the effort didn’t matter—you were just a speck on someone else’s gauge, a tightrope walk across an abyss, an entire human life balanced on the point of a needle.

Now she was on the point of the needle too…if she kept this up and fell off and into the abyss, she might pull herself out one day—but she also might not.” (p. 101)

As a school teacher in Chawton, Adeline introduces young pupils, including Evie Stone, to a challenging choice of reading materials and class discussions which were more sophisticated than the village authorities liked. The books included Jane Austen novels, as well as writings by Mary Wollstonecraft. Evie dropped out of school at fourteen to supplement her family’s income as a house maid in Chawton House. There she encountered the richness of the Knight family library—over 2,000 volumes, many of them original editions. Sleeping only 4 hours a night, the young girl catalogues every book in the collection after work hours. We Austen fans know that a house maid’s daily duties are grueling, even with the kindest mistress. At this point I suspended disbelief and the fairy tale quality that I mentioned in the second paragraph of this review kicked in. Jenner’s writing style is so lovely that I kept going, for Evie’s trajectory, which is fun to follow, is important in moving the plot forward.

As with many reviewers, I won’t give the rest of the plot away. Jenner adopts Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which allows us to get in the minds of the narrator and characters. This technique is not as easy as it seems, but as a new author she switches between characters and narrators seamlessly and superbly IMHO.

The group’s discussions and thoughts about Austen’s novels are among the most rewarding passages in the book and provide the details that Austen fans crave. Take this exchange between Adam, the farmer, and Adeline, sitting in her window seat surrounded by books, the top cover of which is Persuasion:

“A hard book, that,” he comments. Adeline asks if he likes Jane Austen and he nods yes.

“…which of the books is your favourite?”

He looked down at his lap and gave her a small, self-conscious smile. “All of them. But Elizabeth Bennet is my favourite character.”

“Oh, me, too. There’s no one like her in all of literature. Dr. Gray goes on and on about his Emma, but I’ll take Lizzie over Emma any day.” (p. 103)

At that moment Adam realizes that Adeline views Austen’s characters as real people, as he does, and discovers that someone else in the village feels the same way about the novels as he.

Each of Jenner’s characters are bonded through their love of Austen, and they talk about the books frequently, which is a joy. Jenner also provides clues and hints about which of her characters resemble those in Austen’s books. It’s a fun game, one that evokes the many hints and mysteries buried within Emma.

To Listen or to Read?

Image of Richard Armitage, narrator of the audio book, with the book cover of The Jane Austen Society in the background.When I agreed to review this novel, I received a traditional book and an audio book. I “read” both and had thoughts about each of the treatments. Who can argue with listening to Richard Armitrage reading a story set in early 20th century England? Not I. Think of me as a fan struck by his rich baritone voice, which can be transformed to that of a 16-year-old girl. Richard’s pacing in reading the book is effortless, clear, and easy to follow. He acts the voices of the characters so that we know exactly who’s talking at any time:

Adam Berwith, the farmer with an overbearing mama, who mourns the loss of his father and brothers in the war and who finds solace in reading Austen’s novels; Mimi Harrison, the almost-washed up Hollywood actress who loves Austen’s novels and has funds to burn; Dr. Gray, grieving for his long dead wife and yearning for a woman who doesn’t give him the time of day; Adeline, who struggles to pull herself out of a deep depression; Evie, the young energetic maid; Francis Knight, alone, forlorn, and rejected by her father; and Andrew Forrester, the solicitor who must keep a terrible secret from Miss Knight. These characters are skillfully acted by Mr. Armitrage, who does not disappoint. His brogue as Yardley Sinclair, the auctioneer, is lovely to hear, and I wish Sinclair had a larger role to play in the novel.

The one exception is Jack Leonard, a Hollywood producer and Miss Harrison’s one-dimensional fiancé. Jenner gave him none of the shades and nuances of her other characters. This becomes most obvious when even a talented voice actor can do little but bark out Leonard’s lines. Leonard comes across like an unfeeling thug, which makes this reader wonder what anyone as nice and beautiful as Mimi (Marianne) ever saw in him.

I listened to the book on long walks or car rides; sunning on the deck; washing the dishes or dusting. The convenience of audio books is undeniable, but not when a stray train of thought takes you away from listening closely. It is easy to lose your attention, and if you are interrupted the medium makes it hard for you to toggle back and forth to find the precise spot you lost. In addition, one can’t speed up or slow down an audio book without affecting the sound quality. One bonus of this audio book is an interview of the author at the end of the story, which adds more information about Ms. Jenner to the short biography that sits at the bottom of this post.

Traditional print books—*sigh.* New books crackle, old books emit a delicious library “musk” smell. Print books can be held and fondled, with each page lovingly turned. They are read at leisure or skimmed and skipped quickly to find information. They can be earmarked; they provide space for margin notes. Words and phrases can be underlined (which for years I considered heresy, until I learned that marginalia is a time-honored tradition).

I cherish my books and treat them like beloved possessions. My biggest concern is that they hog space. In my former house, I could devote several rooms to book cases that contained over 4,000 volumes collected since college, but when I downsized, this luxury disappeared. Choosing which books to keep broke my heart, but I managed to save around 600 (and add 100 more since.)

Read or listened to, Natalie Jenner’s debut novel provides a relaxing, fun read. I give it four out of five tea cups.

The Contest: which is your preference?

Please feel free to comment on your preference: Audio or Traditional? The contest will be open until midnight June 30th EST U.S. For the first time, I am giving away an audio book, which I hope traditionalists won’t mind.

Image of Natalie JennerAbout Natalie Jenner:

Natalie Jenner is the international bestselling author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen lived. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY is her first published novel and is available now from St. Martin’s Press in North America and Orion Books in the UK/Commonwealth, with translation rights sold in Portugal, France, Romania, Italy, Brazil, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, South Korea and Serbia.

About the book:

Purchase The Jane Austen Society at this link to Amazon.

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250248736

ISBN-13: 978-1250248732

Other reviews:

See the blog tour on the side bar

Rachel Dodge, Jane Austen’s World: An interview with the author, Natalie Jenner

Deborah Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont: A list of ten reasons to read the novel

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Image of the cover of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie JennerIt is my pleasure to introduce to you author Natalie Jenner and her debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. – Rachel Dodge

Let’s begin with a description of the novel to whet your literary appetites:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Introducing Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society:

I first “met” Natalie Jenner online last year, and we’ve since formed a lovely friendship—one that I foresee extending into the future for a very long time. That’s the thing about Jane Austen devotees: We always seem to find one another, even if we’re from different parts of the world, because of our shared love for Jane, her life, and her work. That magic is also what immediately drew me to Natalie’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, a story about a group of people who are drawn together based on their love for all things Austen and a desire to protect her legacy.

As a fellow writer, I couldn’t wait to pick Natalie’s brain about how she came up with such a beautiful concept for a novel. Her answers to my questions gave me a further glimpse into her creative process and the story of how this novel came to be. I’ve loved getting to know Natalie this past year. And I hope, once you read her interview, you’ll feel like you know her, too.

Q: When did you first discover Jane Austen and how have her books touched your life?

A: I discovered a beautiful 1976 Dutton edition of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelves when I was a child, and I remember being besotted by the fact that the book came in a box with a ribbon that ran through it, by the wonderful ink and wash illustrations by Isabel Bishop, and most of all by that crazy dialogue-heavy opening scene with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that reads just like a screenplay.

Austen’s books have touched my life in many ways: as a teenager, they introduced me to female characters with little social agency yet huge reservoirs of inner conviction and resilience and hope. As I started my own adult and family life, books like Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility in particular showed me a side to the pathos of real grown-up life that seemed missing from so much modern culture. And most recently, Austen helped me through a challenging time in middle age by her personal example of living with chronic pain and grief, and writing through illness and despair.

Q: What initially inspired you to write The Jane Austen Society? (Do you remember where you were when the idea first came to you?)

A: I remember exactly where I was. I had been spending a “quiet year” rereading all of Austen, looking for solace when my husband was diagnosed in his early 50s with a very rare and incurable form of lung disease. This led me to start reading as many books about her life as I could find, which in turn inspired me to take a bucket list trip to Bath and Chawton to literally walk in Austen’s footsteps, as well as attend my first JASNA regional event. I was also binge-watching a lot of Downton Abbey and British television during this time, including a home real estate series called Escape to the Country. When my husband’s lung decline started to stabilize following experimental treatment, I remember feeling hope for the first time in two years of what was frankly a medical nightmare. Along with hope, I was also surprised to find myself yearning to write again, after locking five unpublished manuscripts from my 30s away in a drawer many years ago. Initially I was going to write about a group of people trying to rescue an old British estate house, similar to Downton Abbey. But my daughter very clearly remembers me one day, out of the blue, looking up from my reading and saying very simply instead, “I am going to write a book about a group of people trying to save Jane Austen’s house.” And that is pretty much still the tag line for my book.

Q: At what point did you decide to write it as a fictional account? Did the story come to you all at once or did it slowly build as you planned and drafted?

A: Interestingly, because my first impulse was to write something completely fictional about a made-up house, the idea of any of it being related to Austen only came upon the heels of that. So, fictional first, then Austen second. I conceived of eight to ten characters, half men and half women, and I gave them jobs (as a career coach in my other life, I know how important one’s job is to one’s identity, and in looking back, I think that must be why so much of the action stems from the fact of someone being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a servant girl).

That was all the planning that I did in advance. When I sat down one day to write, an image immediately came to mind of a man, tired and lonely and sad, lying back on the very stone wall in the churchyard of St. Nicholas where I had rested the fall before when visiting Chawton. I remember typing that first chapter, having this man meet the Austen fan from America who has descended on his village, making up his life story, having him start reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the library (that moment we can all relate to, that very first “hit”), and then I wrote the words “He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy” and right away I knew what my book was really going to be about. People in love with Jane Austen, and then learning to love themselves. I write completely without a plan or outline of any kind—I love it, it’s so exhilarating, and it lets my characters drive the action, so everything always comes as a complete surprise to me. That’s where all the fun in writing is for me. Revision is the penance for the fun.

Q: How do your characters “introduce” themselves to you? What is the process you use to create and develop them?

A: My characters appear to me completely formed and ready, in terms of their appearance but also their temperament, personality, and mannerisms. I can’t explain it, and I haven’t asked other authors how common that is, probably because I am afraid of the answer! I can immediately picture everything about my characters when they first appear to me except—strangely—the exact features of their face. Their faces always remain a little blurry, but that does enable me to do stunt-casting later on for my dream movie or tv version.

Q: Your character names are perfectly charming! How did you come up with their names?

A: This is also a strangely intuitive part of the process, as the names for the most part just pop up in my mind. But I do remember struggling with Dr. Gray’s first name, Benjamin, because I wanted it to be traditional and strong and pleasant, but also not overly common. And I am going to give you a little nugget: I had already picked Mimi for the Hollywood actress’s name, and it was only later in researching the name that I learned that “Mimi” is also a diminutive for “Mary Ann”—which was, obviously, so perfect, and a sign that I just could not ignore. Once I had all the names in place, and because I did not want to step on any real-life people in creating this fictional work about a very real society and place, I did go through census records online for the village of Chawton, trying to the best of my ability to ensure that no real villagers now or in the past shared surnames with any of my characters, just to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

Q: What was your research process for this book and what sources did you consult? Did you visit any Jane Austen sites in England?

A: So I had actually done a year of what I now call “unintentional research” when I was sitting in my garden rereading Austen and then reading every book I could find on the story of her life. I was particularly impacted by the following books: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe, Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman, and Reading Austen in America by Professor Juliette Wells, all of which really got me thinking about Austen fandom and how it has manifested itself historically; and Caroline Knight’s memoir, Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, which introduced me to the more private, familial side of Chawton House’s history.

Throughout my life I have visited and revisited many Austen sites, but during this particular time, I was fortunate to get to spend a week on my own in Hampshire. Every morning I would make the same walk to Chawton from Alton that Austen herself used to make. I would be the first person to arrive at the Jane Austen’s House Museum when it opened in the morning, and the last person to leave Chawton House at the end of the day. All of this “research” was done before I even had an inkling that I was going to write a book about any of it one day!

Q: Are there any characters or storylines in the book that strike a chord with you personally? Do you have a favorite character?

A: I love this question, because yes! Adeline the war widow can be a polarizing figure but her total immersion in her grief really resonated with me—it was like a funhouse mirror reflection of the great parts of her character: the intensity, the curiousity, the always-up-for-a-fight. She’s just so independent and her own person, and I loved that about her. I also loved Dr. Gray, who is propping this entire little village totally at the expense of his own emotional healing, which seemed so human to me. But my real soft spot is for Evie: she is my daughter and myself at that age, so single-mindedly focused on her intellectual growth and academic ambition, and just waiting, impatiently, for her moment in the sun.

Q: Where and when do you get your writing done? Can you share any rituals or quirks you have as a writer?

A: My main quirk as a writer is the fact that I can and do write anywhere, anytime. I gave up my home office when my husband started working from home, and so far I have not yet been able to get it back! I write by the fireplace and big window in the living room, in bed, at the dining room table, by the pool, and last summer I treated myself to an 8 foot by 8 foot writing shed in the garden. My absolute favourite time to write is when I first wake up, usually around 5 am if I am in the middle of a book and can’t stand the suspense myself of what’s going to happen next. All I need when I write is just my laptop and sometimes a cup of English breakfast tea to keep me going.

Q: What do you hope the worldwide Jane Austen community will gain from reading this book?

A: My goal for this book is even more global than that: I want everyone, Austenites and strangers to Austen alike, to reaffirm for themselves, through the experiences of my characters, the critical and essential role of hope in all our lives. As I say in the book, sometimes hope is all we have: but hope can also sometimes be just enough. I know it was for me. For Austenites in particular, I would love for them to appreciate and celebrate all of our individual and collective efforts in keeping the works of Austen so thriving and alive.

Q: If you could step into one of Jane Austen’s novels, which one would it be and which character would you like to play?

A: Elizabeth Bennet. All the way. In fact, I’m already halfway there in my mind as I say this. She is undoubtably the most delightful, charismatic, and authentic character in all of literature.

Q: Who is your favorite actor from the new Emma movie and what do you like most about his/her performance. (I think I know the answer, but I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!)

A: You are a good guesser because, yes, it’s Mr. Johnny Flynn. I was so averse to his casting announcement, and superficially so—he struck me as having a very young, British-boy-band, foppish manner. My Mr. Knightley (my favourite romantic figure in all of Austen) is tall, and imposing, and so smart. What I loved about Flynn’s performance in the new Emma movie was how he retained the imposing manner in any room, but gave it a quieter confidence and vulnerability that I hadn’t seen before. I could feel how much he wanted to love and be loved, and to start a family, and I just found that all so incredibly romantic and touching.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this book?

A: I would add that I tried while I was writing, and in the dreaded revising, to throw in as many little “Easter eggs” as I could, so that the more hard-core Austen fans could have fun picking up on little allusions and parallels to events, characters, and romances from Austen’s own works. Although over the course of three drafts many of these parallels were intentional, some still surprised even me. Which, as I said before, is the total joy and fun of writing.

Image of Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Rachel Dodge, author of Praying With Jane Austen, at the 2019 JASNA AGM in Williamsburg

Rachel Dodge at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, October 2019

About Rachel Dodge, the interviewer: Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 1, 2020). . You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8

PURCHASE LINKS:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

You may order your copy of The Jane Austen Society here:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORYINDIEBOUND | AUDIBLEGOODREADS | BOOKBUB

JOHN THE BLOG TOUR!

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

May 25 Jane Austen’s World

May 25 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog

May 26 Frolic Media

May 26 A Bookish Affair

May 26 Courtney Reads Romance

May 26 Margie’s Must Reads

May 26 The Reading Frenzy

View the Rest of the Tour Schedule in the Side Bar – The blog tour lasts until June 30th!

 

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Inquiring readers,

Unmarriageable new paperback edition cover

Unmarriageable, new paperback edition out on February 5

Soniah Kamal has written a fascinating version of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan, Unmarriageable. The book has become very popular in a wide variety of circles, and, almost a year after its appearance, the author is still busy meeting with book clubs and speaking at book festivals and conferences.

Soniah calls Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice since it includes all the characters and plot points of the original book, albeit in a different setting. Elizabeth became Alysba Binat, an English literature teacher in a British School in Pakistan, and Darcy became Valentine Darsee, wealthy head of the British School Group.

I’ve read the book twice, and enjoyed it very much each time! I asked Soniah to tell us more about her book.

Brenda S. Cox: How have Jane Austen fans responded to Unmarriageable? I know you spoke about it to the Georgia chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Soniah Kamal: You know I’m a huge Jane Austen fan myself and I actually ran a special book club for all six novels during the 200th commemoration year, so I know Janeites and how revered Jane Austen is. Austen connoisseurs aren’t hesitant about expressing their opinion when they don’t like something, and so I really wondered how Unmarriageable would be received, considering what I’d set out to do. My first taste was at the Georgia JASNA meeting for which they’d decided to read Unmarriageable and I was going to be interviewed. I was so nervous when I saw the full room and then, when I stepped in, everyone stood up and clapped, and I realized I’d been holding my breath–that validation was really, really gratifying and the best endorsement. Some of the members told me that they’d been hesitant to read Unmarriageable because they weren’t very fond of takes on Austen’s novels, but that they loved Unmarriageable.

I think Unmarriageable has resonated so amazingly with Janeites because they’re reading it for Jane Austen, they know Pride and Prejudice, and so when I mention real characters like Harris Bigg-Wither and Thomas Fowle, they get it. When I discuss Jane Austen in Unmarriageable, it’s fun and extra. They see the little inside jokes. When I bring up that Darcy’s wet T-shirt scene is not in the novel, they appreciate that stuff–it’s like diving into a really rich cake for them, I think.

One of the loveliest things I’ve heard so far from Janeites is that in reading Unmarriageable, because it is a parallel retelling, it’s as if they are reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time and it’s bringing back all their joy in reading Austen for the first time. So that was lovely unexpected feedback. And then another one was that readers who have never read Pride and Prejudice or Austen have picked up Unmarriageable, and then they are going to read Pride and Prejudice through that. Never did I think that my book would be a gateway for readers to get to Pride and Prejudice; I always thought obviously it would be the other way around.

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Since the Georgia JASNA meeting, I’ve been invited by the Northern California JASNA Chapter to deliver Jane Austen’s Birthday Toast, and I spoke at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. I will be the 2020 Keynote Speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a featured Plenary Panelist at the 2020 JASNA AGM in Cleveland.

If you are a Janeite you will get a lot of the “Easter eggs” and inside jokes in Unmarriageable, and if you’re not, it’s a stand-alone novel in its own right.

Brenda: What kind of “Easter eggs” will Janeites discover in Unmarriageable?

Soniah: In Unmarriageable I put Easter eggs in for all the novels. So the quote which opens Unmarriageable is itself a variation of Austen’s opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice as well a nod to the beginning of Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park opens with three sisters and the directions their lives take based on who they marry, and so Unmarriageable opens with: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.” In Unmarriageable, the discussion about books from the Western and Eastern traditions is a nod to Northanger Abbey which I see as Austen’s book about books. Emma comes up because Valentine Darsee asks Alys who her favorite hero is and she says Mr. Knightley, and you’ll have to read Unmarriageable to find out why that’s so. Mr. Knightley is my favorite character, too. Persuasion comes through in my making Jena (Jane) and Alys (Elizabeth) older than Valentine Darsee (Darcy) and Bungles (Bingley). Sense and Sensibility is the most obvious, when Alys thinks that Bungles carrying Jena is like Willoughby carrying Marianne when Marianne slips. But she realizes that didn’t go well, because they did not enjoy a happy ending. I would have done Lady Susan and the rest also, but I thought, this could go on forever!

Brenda: Why a parallel retelling?

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Soniah: As I say in the essay included with the novel, I needed to give myself an identity inclusive of both my Pakistani culture as well as the English language I grew up in, which is a linguistic legacy of Empire, of colonialism, and comes with all the complications of that. If I had written an “inspired-by” rather than a parallel, I would have had Jane divorced and with a kid, Lydia would have ended up not married and pregnant, I would have gone my own different way and allowed my characters to be different. But it wasn’t an inspired-by; my intent was to literally write Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan through a postcolonial lens. So the basic characters of each character are all the same, I didn’t deviate from anything. In fact, the challenge was how not to deviate from Pride and Prejudice and still make it my own. Let me tell you, on the face of it, it might seem simpler to write a parallel retelling, but really to stick within the boundaries of what your source material has given you was tough.

For those who don’t know Austen, a lot of them think any story where the main characters bicker is Pride and Prejudice, in which case everything on earth is Pride and Prejudice! What book or movie doesn’t have a romance, and where do the protagonists not bicker? I actually don’t think of Austen as a romance writer. None of her novels start out with boy meets girl, or end with proposals and elaborate marriage scenes per se. In fact, Austen glosses over both. She seems least bothered with love stories. For me, she’s a social satirist interested in exposing the hypocrisies and pretensions of her time and exploring the choices women, and even men, had and the lives women were able to fashion for themselves at a time when marriage was a financial necessity.

Brenda: Several of your characters are similar to, but somewhat different from, the original characters. Why did you choose to make Kaleen (Mr. Collins) a physician, rather than a clergyman like Mr. Collins? Perhaps he could have been a Muslim cleric?

Soniah: Islam has no clergy like in Christianity and each Muslim’s relationship is directly with God. However, there are mullahs who are schooled in Islam and the Quran. In Pakistan, traditionally the mullah class comes from the poorer, lower rungs of society and would not have been readily welcomed by the likes of Beena dey Bagh (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) into her drawing room. Therefore, it was a social class decision to make Kaleen a doctor who would be treating Annie (Anne de Bourgh) and therefore get an in with the family.

Brenda: Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas), who marries Kaleen, seems to do much better in Unmarriageable than she does in Pride and Prejudice. Why is that?

Soniah: I think Charlotte deserves just as much respect as Elizabeth does, even though one marries Mr. Collins and one marries Darcy. Charlotte’s my favorite character because she’s really independent. I think Austen sometimes gives short shrift to Charlotte’s intelligence. Charlotte is very much a modern heroine for me, since she literally decides what is best for her life and then makes it happen. There’s one sentence in Pride and Prejudice where Charlotte sees Mr. Collins coming down the lane and she orchestrates accidentally running into him, but we don’t see the proposal, next thing we know they’re getting married. Charlotte’s made a huge decision by marrying Mr. Collins: she’s going to inherit Longbourn, she’s not languishing at her dad’s house, she’s dining with Lady De Bourgh; for her time period, given that she had could not work for an income, she’s made a wise choice for her life/financial security. At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte is pregnant, and I think that also shows a life that is moving on and not static like her life as an aging spinster at her father’s house had been. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was a teenager, and like most teenagers, friends and their opinions could matter so much. But even though Elizabeth is horrified at Charlotte’s marrying Mr. Collins, Charlotte is not swayed. She does not succumb to peer pressure. She knows her mind, she knows what is best for her, and she is not influenced by her friend. I admired that. Charlotte is one strong, practical, independent, progressive modern woman and I wanted to show the full extent of that in Unmarriageable.

As for Elizabeth and her choices within the time period, for us modern readers she comes across as wonderful. But for Austen’s time period she’s rather unpractical because she does not secure Longbourn for her family, or immediately marry the wealthy suitor who would have again secured a roof over her head for herself and her mother and sisters. As modern readers, we respect that Elizabeth says no to Darcy because he’s really pompous and full of himself and we respect that she doesn’t marry someone just because it’s practical and he’s wealthy; we appreciate that she has more important values than wealth. But in her time, that was being foolish, and her father was being very foolish, too. We like Mr. Bennet because he comes across as a strong dad who says my daughter will not marry Mr. Collins. But in the realities of their time, he’s just set his family up for destitution since, in the event of his death, he can’t afford to take care of them. As modern readers we’re really happy that Elizabeth marries for love and that Darcy’s money plays no part in it. However, as much as we like to think that money shouldn’t and doesn’t matter, imagine that there are two Mr. Darcys exactly alike; however, one has a lot of money and the other has none. Now, which Darcy would you advise Elizabeth to marry? In Mansfield Park, Austen offers a window into the prospects of marrying into different financial classes through choices Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price make.

Brenda: Yes, if Darcy had been poor, Elizabeth might have ended up like Fanny Price’s parents in Mansfield Park, marrying for love and ending in poverty. You said earlier that the opening of Unmarriageable was like Mansfield Park. In Unmarriageable, Alys and Jena’s father, Bark Binat, has married beneath him and fallen on hard times, while his brother married well and is wealthy. How is that like Mansfield Park?

Soniah: It’s the princess and pauper quote above, a direct nod to Mansfield Park since in the opening of Mansfield Park we see three sisters who marry Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr. Norris the clergyman, and Lieutenant Price. One marries wealth, one stability, one squalor. But Austen in those first paragraphs of Mansfield Park captures the traditional state of women across time, and even today for many from traditional cultures where a man is expected to fulfill his traditional role of paying the bills, etc. Who you marry is often going to determine whether you end up vacationing at all, and whether it will be in France or the beach in Destin (laughing). It’s that simple. Of course, now we have the modern complication of women being able to afford their own vacations, and thankfully that makes a big difference in our choices.

Mansfield Park also gets into religion, Edmund who’s going to be a clergyman, and Mary doesn’t think that’s good, and Edmund gives Fanny a cross to wear. It’s Austen’s most religious novel. And it really goes deeply into her values and ethics. Mansfield Park is my favorite novel just because she dives deeply into the meaning of family in that novel. She really skewers family values in Mansfield Park. It’s her grimmest and most realistic novel. But even within Mansfield Park there’s so much humor.

Brenda: In an essay at the end of your book, you tell us, “I first immersed myself in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I was sixteen years old. As interesting as its marriage plot was, I was spellbound, rather, by Austen’s social criticism and how it was conveyed through her pithy wit. Here was a centuries-old English writer who may as well have been writing about contemporary Pakistani society. . . . I wanted to write a novel that paid homage to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, as well as combined my braided identification with English-language and Pakistani culture, so that the ‘literature of others’ became the literature of everyone. Therefore, Unmarriageable.”

Soniah: Thank you, Brenda. The paperback edition of Unmarriageable (out Feb 5th) includes an updated version of that essay, as well as essays on how the fictional setting of Dilipabad got its name, why I named the characters as I did, questions for book clubs and more.

Brenda: Thank you, Soniah, for sharing your world with us, in a way that any Jane Austen fan can enjoy!

____________________

Image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox

Brenda S. Cox also loves Jane Austen. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). She has written articles for its magazine, Persuasions On-Line, and presented at its national conference as well as regional meetings. She has done extensive research for her current work-in-progress, a nonfiction book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Follow her on Facebook or on her blog, Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Follow Soniah Kamal on: Instagram Twitter FB www.soniahkamal.com

Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a novel–available everywhere. order

2020 Townsend Prize Finalist

A 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read

Financial Times: A 2019 Best Book Pick

NPR Code Switch 2019 Summer Read Pick

A New York Public Library Summer 2019 Reads Pick

BoobBub A 2019 Best Book

Library Reads Pick, January 2019

STARRED Review Publishers Weekly “must-read for devout Austenites.

STARRED Review Shelf Awareness “If Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written

STARRED Review Library Journal “enlightening and entertaining

An Isolated Incident, a novel–coming in the UK, July, 2020.

Townsend Award Finalist

KLF French Fiction Prize Finalist

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Inquiring readers, Rachel Dodge has once again submitted a superb article. This time she describes the fathers in Jane Austen’s novels. This Sunday marks Father’s Day in the U.S. I lost my own father four years ago. This article once again proves that my father, in every way, was superior to those described by Jane, making me realize how lucky I am and how smart my mother was to choose him.

 

In life, Jane Austen enjoyed a close relationship with her father. After his death, Austen wrote these words to her brother Francis: “His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” (Austen-Leigh 18). In the same letter, she refers to him as “an excellent Father” and writes of “the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him” (144).

But what of the fathers in Austen’s novels? While some of them show exemplary characteristics, others leave much to be desired.

In Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot is described as “a conceited, silly father” (5) and a “foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him” (248). He is more interested in his reflection in the mirror than in fathering his three daughters.

In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney runs a tight ship and dislikes delays. Walks cannot be put off, because he is “hurried for time” and mealtimes must be punctual: In one scene, he is “impatient when his eldest son is late” and expresses “displeasure . . . at his laziness” when he finally comes down to breakfast (154). In another scene, General Tilney is described as “pacing the drawing-room, his watch in his hand, and having, on the very instant of their entering, pulled the bell with violence, ordered ‘Dinner to be on table directly!’” (165).

Royalty free image of Mr. Bennet by illustrator Hugh Thomson

1985 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co.

In the Bennet household, Mr. Bennet prefers the quiet of his library to the daily activities of family life: “In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there” (71).

In Emma, though Mr. Woodhouse is good-natured and “everywhere beloved” (7), he is most comfortable at home. He’s described on one hand “as a most affectionate, indulgent father” (5), but we also learn that while Emma “dearly loved her father . . . he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful” (7). Austen further explains the intricacies of Mr. Woodhouse here: “He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms” (20).

In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram is a “truly anxious father,” but he is not “outwardly affectionate” to his children (19). Austen tells us that the “reserve of his manner represse[s] all the flow of [his children’s] spirits before him” (19). Later in the novel, Sir Thomas sees “how ill he had judged” in raising his daughters and that he had “increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence” (463). He feels his “grievous mismanagement” and realizes that his daughters “had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice” (463). In his case, Sir Thomas reflects upon, softens, and corrects his own manner.

QUIZ: Which Father is Which?

Finally, the fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels have plenty of interesting advice for their children and fascinating perspectives on the world around them. Test yourself to see if you can guess which father is represented in the following quotes (answer key below):

  1. On One’s Complexion: “I should recommend Gowland, the constant use of Gowland, during the spring months. [She] has been using it at my recommendation, and you see what it has done for her. You see how it has carried away her freckles.”
  2. On Matters of Love: “Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.”
  3. On Being Out of Doors: “It is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”
  4. On Early Marriages: “I am an advocate for early marriages, where there are means in proportion, and would have every young man, with a sufficient income, settle as soon after four-and-twenty as he can.”
  5. On the Dangers of Reading: As he had been “found on the occasion . . . with some large books before him, [they] were sure all could not be right, and talked, with grave faces, of his studying himself to death.”
  6. On the Subject of Daughters: “They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but [she] has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
  7. On a Father’s Role in Parenting: “[He] was a sportsman, [she] a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. [She] had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while [his] independent employments were in existence only half the time.”
  8. On the Care of Ladies in Crowds and Street Crossings: “Come, girls; come . . . come . . . take care of yourselves; keep a sharp lookout!”
  9. On Being Agreeable: “[He], though so charming a man, seemed always a check upon his children’s spirits, and scarcely anything was said but by himself; the observation of which, with his discontent at whatever the inn afforded, and his angry impatience at the waiters, made [her] grow every moment more in awe of him, and appeared to lengthen the two hours into four.”
  10. On Girls Receiving Letters from Lovers: “Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire. [Her parents] never did—they had been too kind to exact any promise; and whenever [their daughter] received a letter, as, at that time, happened pretty often, they always looked another way.”

As you reflect on Austen’s literary fathers, may these examples increase your appreciation of the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and mentors for whom you are most thankful today.

Answer Key: 1) Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion, 146. 2) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 137-8. 3) Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, 48. 4) Sir Thomas Bertram, Mansfield Park, 317. 5) Mr. Musgrove, Persuasion, 82. 6) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 5. 7) Sir John Middleton, Sense and Sensibility, 32. 8) Mr. Price, Mansfield Park, 403. 9) General Tilney, Northanger Abbey, 156. 10) Mr. and Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey, 250.

About the Author

Rachel Dodge is a Christian author, college English instructor, and Jane Austen speaker. A true Janeite at heart, she loves books, bonnets, and ball gowns. For more of Rachel’s literary ramblings, you can follow her at http://www.racheldodge.com or on Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/).

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Oxford UP, 1988.

Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh. Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.

 

 

 

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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.)

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Inquiring readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiring readers:

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

barronAbout the Author:

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

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

Grand Giveaway Contest

prizes

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes:

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

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

 

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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. 

 

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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:

Jane and the Waterloo Map

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

prizes

Fabulous giveaway prizes associated with this blog tour.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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miss-jane-austen (3)This is a review of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to War) from the Great Novelist Herself, by Rebecca Smith.

2012 marks the year of Jane Austen advice books – The Jane Austen’s Guide to Life, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, and now Miss Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas. What makes this volume stand out from the others is that Rebecca Smith is Jane Austen’s great-niece (times five)! She was also selected as the first official writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. It is logical assume that Ms. Smith has an in-depth knowledge of her great x5 aunt, her life, thoughts, and environs.

This advice book is organized quite logically into 6 major topics: love & relationships; friends & family; work & career; fashion & style, home & garden; and leisure & travel.  The question sits on the top left of a two-page spread, which also contains pull out quotes or images.

To answer such questions as “Why am I still so intimidated by the barbies of the world?” “When should I tell my parents about my debts?”, “How do I make it clear that unmentionables should be unmentionable?”, “How do I say goodbye to a fair-weather friend?”, “I have an interview for the job of my dreams”, and “How can I be sure to put my best foot forward?” To answer the last question, Ms. Smith included facts from Jane Austen’s own work experience, and some quotes from her letters and novels. In this instance, she used this advice from Jane Austen: “…no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.”

Miss Smith combines a mixture of modern common sense, which the iPad on the book’s cover illustrates, with old-fashioned common sense. To address the question: “To tattoo or not to tattoo?”, the author used Elinor Dashwood, who knew “that the wishes of parents and children are unlikely to coincide: “The old well established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all.” In other words, don’t be in a hurry to get a tattoo. Jane Austen would have said: “I consider it … one of the sweet taxes of youth to choose in a hurry and make bad bargains.”

One problem I had with the  book was with its fonts. My tired eyes found the text difficult to read. The book DOES come with the choice of an eBook edition. These days I prefer reading on my Kindle (I know, I know, book purists will disagree with me), but I appreciate choosing a larger FONT and the convenience of carrying my techie device everywhere. Both the Kindle and Nook versions are available for instant purchase!

Ms. Smith states in an interview:

I was actually quite surprised that I could answer every single dilemma with advice from Jane’s works and letters! Hundreds of dilemmas were suggested by family, friends and my students – there were too many to fit into the book – but, amazingly, all of them could be answered.”

The appendix includes a list of character summaries, biography of Jane Austen, bibliography, and useful websites (which *ahem* failed to include this blog).

tea cups ratingI give this book 3 ½ – 4  Regency tea cups out of five. If you cannot get enough of JA sequels, prequels and Austenesque advice, you will love this book. If you do not care for such publications, then Miss Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas is not for you.

More on the Topic:

An interview with the author on Tarcher books

You can purchase the book on

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