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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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“Cheap books make good authors canonical.” – Janine Barchas

lost book of jane austen barchasThe Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a beautiful book – a bound hardcopy with almost one hundred color photographs of affordable, mass-produced novels that, outside of expensive hand pressed editions, contributed to Jane Austen’s ever-increasing fame. The detective work and scholarship that Dr. Barchas embarked on for a decade to find hundreds of inexpensive, disposable Jane Austen books to study their role in Austen’s rapidly growing popularity is awe inspiring.

Some readers may fear that such a well-researched, seemingly dry topic would be hard to follow. It is not. In fact,  Barchas’s tales about searching for unvalued books, many of which were tossed in a rubbish bin or shredded, and her forays in consulting census materials  and birth and marriage records to pursuit information about the books’ owners had me turning the pages.

After Jane Austen’s death in 1817, her popularity with the public lay fallow. In 1833, publisher Richard Bentley purchased the rights to her novels and introduced them at a lower price than the finer three-volume editions that were published during her time, when books cost as much as a week’s wages for ordinary people. The timing of these cheap publications coincided with the advent of train travel and innovations in the publishing business. Changes in printing, binding, paper making, and distribution led to inexpensive versions of Jane’s (and others’) novels.

During Austen’s life, print runs were large and costly, and not guaranteed to sell out. The new technology resulted in flat plates or stereotype plates that allowed for printing new orders as they were needed. Instead of publishing three volume novels, Bentley offered one book, which saved paper. By the 1840s, cheap paperback editions with advertisements printed inside targeted train travelers, bringing Austen’s work to the masses. (These days one can find paperback vending machines in public spaces abroad.)

In 1866, Bentley sold his plates at auction for all his standard novels. Stereotype plates were used by different publishers, since plates lasted 50 years or more. Interestingly, although the stereotype plates used in new publications remained the same, publishers like Routlidge proudly boasted that these were new editions, when only the book cover and papers changed. The interior print with layouts and page numbers remained the same, as chronicled by Barchas in her book. (Click to view slide show of page samples.)

Sense and Sensibility comparison pages of books printed decades apart from the same stereotype plate

Image 1.5, p. 18 – Opening page of central text of Sense and Sensibility in copies from figure 1.2 printed decades apart from the same stereotype plate.

Not all the economical books were tossed aside. Miss Sybil Daniell kept her copy of Sense and Sensibility, given to her by her father. Barchas traced details of the Daniell family through census and birth and death records. She also traced the lives of Miss Emma Morris, who owned a copy of Emma, and Charlotte M. Mills, the proud possessor of a copy of Northanger Abbey-Persuasion. Virginia Woolf was inspired by Austen’s words. She returned frequently to her heavily stained, cheap Austen novel copies for rereading. These are some of the books that lasted in private collections for Barchas to study.

The Lost Books of Jane Austen is so rich in history and detail that I could write a book reviewing it.  I’ll end this critique using my own cheap paper back copies, which I have preserved through eight moves since my purchase. My thoughts are inspired by the last chapter, “Pinking Jane Austen.”

Book covers of Emma, 1964 Washington Square Press Book. Pride and Prejudice, 1962, Airmont Book Classic. Persuasion, 1966, An Airmont Classic.

Emma, 1964 Washington Square Press Book. Pride and Prejudice, 1962, Airmont Book Classic. Persuasion, 1966, An Airmont Classic. Vic’s personal paperbacks.

After graduating from college, I was surprised to learn that there were male Austen fans, for during my youth and up to this day, aggressive niche marketing of Jane Austen novels targeted female students and women in general. Gender signaling used pink to subtly attract the female sex to Austen’s books, which were often found in the romance sections at bookstores. I had no idea I was being manipulated, since I thought I was reading the works of a masterful author. I kept these three so-called disposable paperback novels for the hours of pleasure they gave me in my youth. As you can see, the covers reflect the 1960’s – the era in which they were published. One might say they are tasteless. Elizabeth Bennet, looking like a glammed up Brontë heroine, wears heavy eye makeup, dark pink lipstick, and pink bows. A Victorian Emma sports painted pink cheeks and bright pink lips. Anne Elliot is a vision in Edwardian pink. Our mousy heroine has been given a dramatic make over, with heavy eye liner and luscious pink lips that would make a Kardashian drool. Her body is too enviable for words.

Inside all three books, the paper has yellowed and I’m afraid to open them for fear of breaking their spines. Nevertheless, these books will stay with me forever, which I think is one reason why Janine Barchas was able to find enough cheap books to trace over time – like me, many individuals who possessed them cherished them, regardless of their tawdriness.

I’ll keep Barchas’s lovely, informative book on my shelves for years to come. It’s the season for gift giving. I can think of no more appropriate gift for the bibliophile in your life than The Lost Books of Jane Austen.

Purchase Information

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, Janine Barchas, Johns Hopkins University Press

304 Pages

978-1-4214-3159-8 $35.00

Also available as an e-book

Purchase Links: Johns Hopkins University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Image of author Janine BarchasAuthor Bio:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).

Author articles:

Other reviews:

Tour schedule:

Monday, December 9th: Lit and Life

Tuesday, December 10th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, December 10th: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, December 11th: The Sketchy Reader

Thursday, December 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, December 12th: Laura’s Reviews

Friday, December 13th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, December 16th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Monday, December 16th: Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

Tuesday, December 17th: Blunt Scissors Book Reviews

Thursday, December 19th: Jane Austen’s World

Friday, December 20th: My Jane Austen Book Club

Friday, December 20th: Diary of an Eccentric

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Sanditon by Jane Austen book coverAs almost all Jane Austen enthusiasts know, her unfinished novel, Sanditon, has been adapted for a limited television series by Andrew Davies. It aired on ITV in Great Britain in the fall and will be shown on PBS Masterpiece Classics starting January 12, 2020. It seems that after the first episode, Mr. Davies deviated from the complex world Jane Austen created to insert his male sensibilities into the plot, but I am getting ahead of myself. (More to come in January.) The intent of this review is a plea for Jane Austen fans to read Sanditon before watching the PBS series. You will be doing yourself a favor.

Oxford World Classics has published a new edition of Sanditon, which was edited by Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland. This slim volume contains 71 pages of the unfinished manuscript, an introduction and informative note on the text, also by Professor Sutherland, a helpful chronology of Jane Austen’s life and publishing history, and explanatory notes.

Austen began the novel fragment in Chawton Cottage, January 27, 1817. On March 18, when she reached Chapter 12, she laid the manuscript aside, too ill to continue. She died in Winchester on July 18, 1817. As she wrote Sanditon, she must have known that she had little time left, for in her haste to set her ideas on paper, her words tumbled over the pages. She failed to divide her sentences into paragraphs and scratched out words and added phrases as she went along. Her dashes and mid-sentence capitalizations are telling, as are her misspellings. As I read the facsimile of the manuscript online, I was in awe to view a master writer at work at the height of her power.

Page 1-Sanditon

Page of a digitized version of the novel fragment of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, Downloaded December 11, 2019

Sutherland edited Sanditon using Cassandra Austen’s copy of her sister’s handwritten manuscript. Cassandra had proofed her sister’s writing to some extent, inserting paragraphs, correcting the spelling (not all, for spelling rules were still fluid in the early 19th century), and generally cleaning the words up here and there. Sutherland kept much of Cassandra’s changes, but reversed a few of them. She describes this process in detail in her Notes to the Text, which I found utterly fascinating.

More fascinating is that Jane’s working title for the manuscript was The Brothers. There were three: Tom Parker, the eldest and an enthusiastic Sanditon sales promoter – to use a modern term – of the new seaside resort (based on Worthing, as some surmise); Sidney, the possible hero of the piece (the reader does not meet him until Chapter 12); and Arthur, the youngest brother and a confirmed but questionable hypochondriac who lives with his two sisters, Diana and Susan.

The reader meets Tom Parker first and he his the most fully fleshed brother of the three. While Sidney is described extensively by Tom and sister Diana, Austen does not provide the reader with a detailed description of the man, for she stopped writing her novel shortly after introducing him. The brothers are so different in character that it would have been fascinating to know how Austen intended to weave their story lines into her plot, or what her plot would have been, for that matter.

At the start of the novel we meet Tom and his wife, Mary. Tom is the dreamer who conceives of great prospects for Sanditon, a new and developing seaside resort. Mary is more sensible, but unable to temper her husband’s fanciful ideas and grandiose hopes for the future. When their carriage breaks down in the middle of nowhere on their way to Sanditon, Mr. Parker twists his ankle. They encounter Mr. Heywood, a gentleman farmer, who helps the Parkers out of their dilemma by providing hospitality under his roof until Mr. Parker’s injury mends. During the Parkers’ stay at the Heywood’s farm, Austen nimbly contrasts the traditional, settled way of life that the Heywoods represent with the progressive, more modern, and speculative future that Mr. Parker envisions,.

To thank the Heywoods for their hospitality, the Parkers invite one of their daughters, Charlotte, to return with them to Sanditon. Her early role in the novel is as an observer. Her sensible estimations echo our thoughts as we learn about Mr. Parker’s fulsome, at times unrealistic ideas about Sanditon’s bright future and of the people she encounters, such as Lady Denham, an imperious and self-important woman in the vein of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I guffawed every time this rich woman, who owned a few asses, mentioned selling their milch for profit to new visitors to Sanditon.

Lady Denham’s nephew-in-law, Sir Edward Denham, is a vain, silly man who imagines he has exquisite literary taste, but Charlotte, the observer, concludes that the handsome Sir Edward does not by nature have a very strong head.  He does, however, consider himself a seducer and pursues Lady Denham’s comely companion, Miss Clara Brereton, a single woman of no means who must take care to preserve her reputation. Add to the mix Miss Lambe, a young West Indian heiress, who Jane introduces with tantalizing hints just before she laid the manuscript aside.

Finally, I was struck by Jane’s invention of Susan, Diana, and Arthur Parker, three hypochondriacs with the most ridiculous symptoms and “cures.” The satire in these passages is biting and without mercy. Diana, while suffering a variety of ailments, takes charge of situations, insinuates herself in other peoples’ concerns, and walks long distances vigorously in order to do both. One can only guess what went through Jane’s mind as she developed characters with imagined or exaggerated illnesses when her own medical situation was so dire. While writing these scenes, did she have her condition in mind, or her mother’s chronic ailments and physical complaints, a mother who ironically survived her by a decade?

This edition of Sanditon by Oxford University Press is a perfect gift for the Janeite in your life (or for yourself) this holiday season and I highly recommend it.

Look for more Sanditon posts in the near future!

Order the book:

Oxford University Press:

Sanditon, Jane Austen, Edited by Kathryn Sutherland, 2019 $5.95

Amazon: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback

Sanditon, Jane Austen, Edited by Kathryn Sutherland

Kathryn Sutherland is the editor of Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections and Jane Austen’s Teenage Writings for the Oxford World’s Classics. She has created a digital edition of Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts (2012), the print edition published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2017. She is the author of Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood (OUP, 2005).

PBS Masterpiece Theater: Sanditon. Click here for details.

First airing January 12, 2020

Also:

Jane Austen’s Satire on Hypochondria, Jocelyn Harris, Corpus: conversation about medicine and life, November 21, 2016

 

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BrideofNorthangerBirchall

Inquiring readers: Author Diana Birchall has written her latest addition to the Austenesque fiction canon. This post is a review of Catherine Tilney’s (née Morland’s) continuing adventures in Northanger Abbey. No matter how hard Henry Tilney’s young bride tries to retain her calm, she somehow becomes entangled in yet another Gothic adventure.

As the novel opens, Henry Tilney and Catherine happily anticipate their wedding, but before the ceremony, Henry must share important information with his intended – that for generations the Tilney family has suffered a dreadful family curse which results in the wife of the eldest son meeting with an untimely end. Catherine quickly dismisses the idea, since Henry is the second son.

The happy couple are married surrounded by family and friends, absent General Tilney, who is still angered that his son wed an ordinary chit with only £3,000 to her name. Nevertheless, the young couple settle into connubial bliss in Woodston Parsonage, the lovely cottage Catherine fell in love with the moment Henry showed it to her. Even better, it is situated 20 miles or so from Northanger Abbey. Life is good for the young Tilneys until the couple visit General Tilney. During her visit at NA, Catherine sees a lady in grey at night wandering the halls. She fights fear in favor of logic, but then receives an ominous missive:

Bride of Northanger, beware the Maledict, that falleth upon you. Depart the Abbey in fear and haste, and nevermore return.”

And, so, the plot thickens, with Ms. Birchall bending, twisting, and turning it upside down until we readers becomes dizzy from guessing where the tale will end. Along the way, we are treated to an assortment of some of Austen’s finest characters. Birchall connects their stories to Austen’s by adhering to their psychological states, and personal quirks and behaviors in the original novel.

While paying homage to Austen, Birchall writes in her own light and lovely style. She characterizes John Thorpe as deliciously sleezy and slimy. His sister, Isabella, is still a slutty, scheming vixen. General Tilney is mean and avaricious and unpleasant all around. Captain Tilney feels no shame for his boorish behavior or lack of empathy for anyone. Eleanor Tilney is saccharinely sweet and nondescript. I found her viscount husband, Charles, much more interesting. As a budding Gilbert White, he studies butterflies with the same zest as Captain Tilney collects whores. We even meet the Allens in Bath, along with Catherine’s sister, Sarah, who lives with them.

To this mix, Birchall adds a dash of curses, and tales of mad monks and maledictions, and the mysterious lady in grey. The Bride of Northanger reminded me in many ways of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This Austen variation is a perfect gift for a budding young Janeite (or yourself). After purchasing it, I recommend curling up on a sofa near a crackling fire for a few hours of blissful reading.

About Diana Birchall:

Diana Birchall worked for many years as a story analyst for Warner Bros Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading popular manuscripts went side by side with a lifetime of Jane Austen scholarship, and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and as close study of the secret of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of The Bride of Northanger, published by White Soup Press, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, both published by Sourcebooks, as well as In Defense of Mrs. Elton, published by JASNA, and hundreds of short stories.   Her plays have been performed in many cities, with “You Are Passionate, Jane,” a two person play about Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte being featured at Chawton House Library.

Find out more about Diana by following her on Facebook and Twitter @Dianabirchall

The Bride of Northanger Blog Tour Banner Fina

 

Jane Austen’s World is part of the #Janeite Blog Tour of The Bride of Northanger, a Jane Austen Variation by Diana Birchall.

Learn more about the tour and follow the participating blogs.

The doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15, 2019, to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction are featuring guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall
White Soup Press (2019)
Trade paperback & eBook (230) pages
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0981654300

PURCHASE LINKS:

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Thank you, Laurel Ann, for including me in this tour.

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Image of the book cover Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken HodgeIt is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Jane Aiken Hodge’s (JAH) biography of Jane Austen is characterized by the biographer’s distinctive voice. It is as clear as spring water and as refreshing. She expertly braids a variety of sources consisting of biographies, articles, letters, and Austen’s own novels to tell us about the author’s life. JAH uses a straightforward yet descriptive writing style that takes us effortlessly through the stages of Austen’s personal journey, career, triumphs, and struggles.

Aiken Hodge’s descriptions paint a vivid word picture of a gifted author living the double life of a proper lady in a bygone era, who, unbeknownst to contemporary readers, chose career over marriage, a daring move in an age when genteel women were expected to marry, rule a household, and breed heirs and spares. JAH’s conclusions, although not footnoted like an academic, are laid out persuasively and supported by her choice of the source materials available to her in 1972, the year this biography was first published.

The book begins with a description of Steventon Rectory in the context of the rising middle class and rising costs of goods resulting from war, societal changes brought about by the industrial revolution, vast improvements in travel created by a network of canals and macademised roads, changes in fashion (barely mentioned by Austen), the advent of circulating libraries, and more.  Aiken Hodge describes a rural world where a stage coach clattering through a small village drowned out bird song or the voice of a farmer calling out to his cattle.

The elder Austens worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on their family’s backs. They performed double duty in almost all aspects of life. Rev. George Austen used his horse to plow his glebe land and perform the functions of his ministry. He was both a rector and the head of a small boarding school. Mrs. Austen oversaw the household, diary and chickens, and the children (including Rev. Austen’s male students) yet found the time to create recipes in rhymes.

Unlike many girls of their time, Jane and her older sister Cassandra were given free reign of Rev. Austen’s extensive library (books were extremely expensive in that era). Their hard-working and resourceful, parents still found time to join in the fun of riddles, charades, and plays and journey forth for family visits. Jane’s writings, actively encouraged by her family, are preserved in 3 volumes of her Juvenilia, which she painstakingly copied as an adult. The Austen family adored reading novels, hence the title of this book, Only a Novel. This was an age when reading novels over serious fiction and nonfiction was a habit akin to liking reality tv today over serious, well-researched documentaries. (I humbly confess to still watching ‘Survivor’.)

The difference between the Austen boys’ freedom and her own and Cassandra’s must have rankled Jane, whose independent career choice was curtailed by conventions. Sons could ride horses and carriages and venture forth at will. Their actions were unrestrained compared to the girls’ strict upbringing. JAH describes at great length how both Jane and Cassandra could not travel unescorted. In order to arrange for transportation, they had to wait for proper chaperonage, even if this meant delaying a return trip for weeks.

We know today that through her novels and letters Jane displayed a lively and irreverent sense of humor. In public, however, she presented herself as quiet and restrained, especially after she donned a spinster’s cap and had given up all pretense of seeking a husband. Before the publication of her first novel, friends and neighbors knew Jane to be friendly yet unobtrusive. (Her family knew an entirely different and much livelier Jane.) After Pride and Prejudice and subsequent novels were published, acquaintances and neighbors became more cautious around this keen, sometimes acerbic observer, thus the full title of this biography, Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen.

Aiken Hodge compares the rural settings of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage to the city settings of Bath and London and the hectic, at times unpredictable, pace of her visits to family houses and friends. These events, including the shock of moving to Bath, Rev. Austen’s sudden death, and the Austen women’s peripatetic life for eight years, stood in the way of Jane’s creativity. Fortunately for posterity, her move to rural Chawton Cottage in 1809 spawned her productive period – her reworking of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey, and creation of Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, all masterpieces. These days we can also enjoy her incomplete works (Lady Susan and Sanditon ) and her Juvenilia. While this period in Austen’s life was adequately covered by Jane Aiken Hodge, especially regarding Jane’s relationship with her publishers (through her male relatives) and quest for an independent living as a single woman, I longed for more details, but I quibble. Aiken Hodge’s description of Chawton Cottage, which sat so close to Winchester Road (and which ran through Chawton Village), allowed passersby to view the Austen women dining intimately in the dining room or conversing, was like a snapshot in time.

Jane Austen’s fatal disease, characterized more by fatigue than pain (and still studied by modern diagnosticians), took her family a long time to accept as dire. Aiken Hodge writes about the events leading to Jane’s death without over-emotional hand wringing. Her restrained description of Austen’s last days allowed my imagination to take hold. I cried once again at my and the world’s loss of this talented author at the height of her writing power. Almost as an afterthought, JAH mentioned that only four male mourners (brothers Edward, Henry, and Frank, and nephew James-Edward) were present at her funeral, whereas neither her mother nor sister could attend, as it was not the custom of females to accompany the funeral cortege.

JAH concludes her biography by describing Austen’s close relationships with her family (she and sister Cassandra were “everything to each other”), including her nieces and nephews. She had, through these associations, a special affinity with children. I was struck by this recollection from a nephew after her death:

He expected particular happiness in that house [Chawton] and found it there no longer. The laughter had died…”

JAH concluded that the laughter lives on through Austen’s novels and characters. Letters saved by her kin and memoirs published after her death preserved precious memories before all first-hand memories about her were lost.

Image of Only a Novel by Jane Aiken Hodge with reviewer notesCompared to Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life (1999), which is filled with images and illustrations and attachments with postscripts, two appendices, page notes, bibliography, family tree, and index consisting of 73 pages, Aiken Hodge’s Only A Novel provides six pages of notes and bibliography. Instead, JAHs bibliography uses the memoirs, letters, histories, biographies, and papers available to her in the early 70’s.  I loved reading this biography. From the photo on the right, you can see by the sticky notes how much interesting information I found. Aiken Hodge’s lovely writing style suits me to a tee. I also own another JAH biography, the wonderfully illustrated The Private World of Georgette Heyer, published in 1984 and which I have kept all these years. Only A Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen is worth every penny of its purchase and has become a grand addition to my Austen library.

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Image of author Jane Aiken Hodge

Jane Aiken Hodge

Jane Aiken Hodge was born in Massachusetts but moved with her family to East Sussex in Britain when she was three years old. After reading English in Somerville College, Oxford, she moved to the US to undertake a second degree at Radcliffe College. Whilst she was there, she spent time as a civil servant and worked for Time Magazine before returning to the UK to focus on her career as a novelist. In 1972 she became a British citizen. She is the daughter of the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Conrad Aiken.

Aiken Hodge is known for her works of historical romance. In a career spanning nearly fifty years, she published over thirty novels, exploring contemporary settings and the detective genre in her later life. She died in 2009, aged ninety-two.

Purchase the book:

Product details:

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Agora Books (April 25, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1913099253
  • ISBN-13: 978-1913099251

Hashtag:  Please use the hashtag #OnlyANovel when posting or talking about Only a Novel on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Also, make sure you tag us – @AgoraBooksLDN on Twitter and Instagram!

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Sanders-JaneAustenforKidsInquiring readers,

In this blog post (to wind up women’s history month), author Nancy Sanders discusses her new book Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings and World, with 21 activities, which teaches young readers about our favorite novelist through 21 enriching activities that help them gain a better understanding of what day-to-day life in the Georgian era was like. Activities include learning to play whist, designing their own family coat of arms, planting a Georgian-style kitchen garden, hosting a Regency tea, sewing a reticule, and more.

I am pleased to announce that the publisher has agreed to give away two free copies of the book. Please leave a comment to enter the contest and let us know which activity you would introduce to children to learn more about Georgian life! Winners will be drawn via random number generator 7 AM EST USA April 1st. (US readers only, please). You may leave as many comments as you like. NOTICE: Contest is closed as of 10 AM April 1. The winners are: Rona Shirdan and DanelleinKansas

Ms. Sanders sent us information about her new book and her splendid visit to Winchester. Enjoy!

When I signed the contract to write a biography of Jane Austen for young people, it was a thrilling day indeed! The deadline was set when the final manuscript would be due at the editor’s desk, and I dove into my project.

 

How diverting it was to read and reread Jane’s delightful novels, watch and watch again the amazing variety of movies based on her books, and pour over biographies others had written about our favorite author.

 

Several months into my deep research, however, I discovered a treasure that changed my course. Shortly after my manuscript was due at the publisher, all England would be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s legacy to the world.

 

On July 18, 2017, Winchester Cathedral planned to host private services at Jane’s grave followed in the evening by a Choral Evensong honoring this amazing woman.

 

Would I be there to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event? Could I be there? I called my editor and got my deadline extended to include this unexpected trip. My husband Jeff and I booked an exclusive tour with JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America). Upon my word, we were excited to participate in the gala celebrations and all-things-Jane!

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

July 18, 2017 dawned sunny and fair. I entered the hushed halls of Winchester Cathedral with Jeff and my tour group whom we had just met the night before. Our capable and enthusiastic group leader was Liz Philosophos Cooper, a Janeite from a family of Janeites who was destined to become the very next President of JASNA!

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We were led through the magnificent nave of the cathedral and stood next to Jane’s grave. Canon Sue Wallace greeted us and shared inspirational words about Jane and how her faith shaped Jane’s thoughts, actions, and writings. Along with the other members of our tour group, Jeff and I placed a rose on Jane’s grave.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

It was 200 years ago, this very day, that our beloved Jane passed quietly away. After the graveside service finished, we lingered nearby.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a beautiful bust of Jane displayed in the nave. I stopped and looked into Jane’s eyes.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a memory book to sign. The BBC radio interviewed several of us on our way out. The only way I could force myself to leave was knowing that in the evening we would return back to the cathedral for yet another special event once again in honor of Jane.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We traced the route the small funeral procession probably took on the day of Jane’s funeral. The short walk led us to College Street where the house still stands that Jane and her sister Cassandra rented during Jane’s last days.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

I stood at the front door of this historic landmark…remembering the letter her sister wrote to inform the family of Jane’s last moments…remembering the description she gave of the small sad funeral procession that departed from this door…

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A dog looked down at me and at our tour group who was visiting this house. What was the dog thinking? What did Jane think as she looked out onto this street during her final days? What did Cassandra think 200 years ago as she chose to stay behind from the funeral and looked out on this street to whisper her final good-byes to the sister she had so dearly loved? I longed to switch places with the dog for just a moment to catch a glimpse of the same view these two sisters shared during those heartbreaking times.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A film crew arrived and set up their equipment to begin filming. This was an important day in history. Two hundred years ago this very day, one of English literature’s greatest authors passed quietly away into the halls of eternity. Although practically unknown, Jane Austen was given a stately burial site in the magnificent Winchester Cathedral. Somehow, someone recognized the treasures this self-taught genius and amazing woman had given to England…and the world. They gave her a final resting place where Janeites from around the globe could come show their love and respect…as did I and hundreds of others on this unforgettable day.

Thank you Nancy, for this wonderful description of your visit to Winchester and these excellent photos! Don’t forget to leave your comment, readers, for a chance of winning one of two copies of this book. (U.S. readers are eligible only)

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About the author:

Nancy I. SAnders is the author of many books, including Frederick Douglas for Kids, America’s Black Founders, A Kid’s Guide to African American History and Old Testament Days. She lives in Chino, California.

About the book: 

Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World, with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. Chicago Review Press, Distributed by IPG Publication Date: February 5, 2019, 144 pages. Two color interior, ages 9 & up. ISBN: 978-1-61373-853-5

Other posts about Winchester on this blog:

 

 

 

 

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Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was as fabulous and unforgettable as mine. One of my favorite holiday gifts was a gift certificate from Barnes & Noble, which helped me to complete all six annotations by Harvard University Press of Jane Austen’s best known novels. I quickly purchased Northanger Abbey, which I’ve been perusing since receiving it a few days ago.

Image of the covers of Northanger Abbey (front) and Emma (back) by Jane Austen and published by Harvard University Press.
Susan J. Wolfson, professor in the Department of English at Princeton University, edited this edition, which has an extensive 60-page introduction. The book’s format follows the five other annotations – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion – with Jane Austen’s text in the center and the annotated commentary placed on the far right on uneven pages or far left on even pages.  Descriptive images of Bath, a poste chaise, or fashions of the day provide a visual punch to this annotation, as do the well-chosen images in the other books.

Image of Pages 112 and 113 with Jane Austen's text, annotations, and an image of Bath from a private road leading to Prior Park.

Two-page spread of pages 112 & 113 of Northanger Abbey, annotated edition.

For readers who were lucky enough to receive gift cards for books, I cannot recommend these gorgeous hard-cover books enough.

Image of a stack of Jane Austen's six novels, annotated editions by Harvard University Press.

More on the topic:

  • The Jane Austen Annotated Editions: Harvard University Press (includes information about all six editions)
  • This blog’s reviews of the Harvard University Press’s annotated editions of Jane Austen’s Novels: Click here

 

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