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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)

___________

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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My dear friend Kate is a member of our select and very small Janeite group, Janeites on the James. We’ve not met often recently due to busy schedules and life’s vicissitudes. When Kate’s wee one was born almost two years ago I gave her the board book Emma by Jennifer Adams to read to her daughter.

Emma by Jennifer Adams

Our sweet peanut, as she is affectionately known, loves to hear her mama read Emma. Jennifer Adams has written another series of books for toddlers.

Peanut’s Papa may soon be sent to Paris for several months on a business venture. Coincidentally, Jennifer Adams has written another series of books for toddlers, this time taking them on a tour to famous cities – like Paris, New York, San Francisco, and London.

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My Little Cities by Jennifer Adams and pictures by Greg Pizzou: Paris, New York, San Francisco, and London

You can imagine our wee one’s delight in reading these books designed just for her age group.

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Evie, or Peanut, reading Paris, where Daddy might be stationed.

This beautifully illustrated series also includes more detailed information for parents at the end of each book that they can explain to their budding globe-toddling child.

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Notes for parents

For example, at the end of San Francisco the notes state that:

The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most famous landmark and one of the wonders of the modern world. The bridge opened in 1937 and is 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) long. It is a suspension bridge…

Kate tells me that Evie reads her book independently now. Her reaction? Priceless!!!!!

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As a sidenote, Jane Austen was a doting and affectionate aunt and an impressive and witty story teller. Her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh recalls:

Though in the course of fifty years I have forgotten much, I have not forgotten that Aunt Jane was the delight of all her nephews and nieces. We did not think of her as being clever, still less as being famous: but we valued her as one always kind, sympathising and amusing.

Jane Austen’s connection to us and our children remains strong to this day.

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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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jane austen and food Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane is not a cookbook with recipes, but a well-researched, highly informative, and entertaining historical discussion about food, mealtimes, manners, and housekeeping in the age of Jane Austen. Lane examines Austen’s letters regarding food and drink, and how she uses both to define the characters in her novels.

Today, the Jane Austen and Food’s hardcover edition, which was first published in 1995, can be purchased on Amazon in hardcover or paperback for $85 to $129! But the kindle edition from Endeavor Press is available for a mere $2.99 – and it contains the same content as the hardcover and paperback editions. (Keep in mind that kindle apps are available for those who do not own kindles. I have downloaded the book on my iPad and android devices, for example.)

Let me explain what a bargain you will be getting with the kindle version of Maggie Lane’s thoroughly enjoyable and informative book. Jane Austen’s treatment of food yields new insights in which she creates character and establishes her moral values in her novels:

In Steventon, the glebe lands (which added to about 3 acres) supplied the Rectory with pork, mutton, wheat, peas, barley, hops, and oats and hay for the horses. The surplus in produce contributed up to £300 per year to the Austen’s income. They made their own mead and wines and preserved foods that were produced with foods in season. The only commodities that were purchased were expensive items like tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices, and dried fruits.

No gentleman, single or widowed, could run his own home. He depended upon a paid housekeeper to oversee his hearth for good dinners, or, like Mr Bingley, he required a sister to keep house for him. Mr. Rushworth depended upon his mother, while Mr. Collins was in need of a wife.  When Mrs. Austen was kept away in 1770 for a month to look after her sister in childbirth, Mr. Austen wrote that “I must bear … [for] about three weeks longer, at which time I expect my housekeeper’s return.” Jane never took the responsibility of a household completely, although she assisted whenever she was needed. Composing for her was difficult during such times, and she wrote, “Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.”

In terms of food and its purchase, the Austen’s move to Bath was a shock. Slow transportation changed the quality of the food that Jane and her family were accustomed to, and the very fact that they had to purchase all their produce made them anxious, for they had lost sources of revenue in the form of farm produce, pupils, and Reverend Austen’s clerical stipend. Milk was of a poor quality due to the cows being kept in unhygienic barns, and food, purchased at the bakers, grocers, butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers was quite expensive. In addition, its cost  fluctuated.

Mrs. Austen in particular never lost her love for working in a garden. She did so at Steventon and later at Chawton Cottage, where she dug up her own potatoes and delighted in her flower borders. According to one of her great-grand-daughters: “She wore a green round frock like a day-laborer’s.”

At Chawton Cottage, the Austen women were able to find their footing again, growing their own fruit and vegetables, rearing poultry, keeping bees, baking bread, and making wine and brewing beer. Villagers recalled in later years that their dog, Link, would carry home a pail of milk in his mouth. It must be emphasized that, although Jane Austen worried about financial security, she and her sister and mother were comfortable enough to eat well and, like Emma Woodhouse, to dispense charity to those less fortunate than themselves. If Jane envied others, it was for their freedom from perpetual contrivance. In the sale of her novels, she found some relief from such worry.

In later chapters, Maggie Lane describes the history of tea, coffee, and chocolate, and how these fashionable drinks were imbibed before and during Jane Austen’s day. Austen herself only mentioned chocolate twice in her letters, but Mrs Austen during her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey wrote that their breakfast at her ancestral home consisted of “Chocolate Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, brad and Butter, and dry toast for me.”

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper are described, but Lane emphasizes that Jane barely mentions these daily events in her letters and novels. She gives scant details, especially as to the preferences of her heroines, most of whom are not concerned with the daily details of food. There are hints here and there in her novels: Willoughby takes porter at an inn during midday, and Frank Churchill imbibes spruce beer on a hot day at Donwell.

Dinner times are moved up as the Regency era progresses. In 1798, Jane writes to Cassandra that they dine at half after three, and by 1808, “we never dine now till five.” This was a gradual shift in dinner-time that took place with most families during this era, although dinner in town (London) was taken fashionably later. In addition, dinners in the early 19th century were far less splendid than those in the latter part of the century. Edward Austen-Leigh noted that there was a “far less splendid appearance than it does now.” By the time Jane wrote Mansfield Park, silver forks emerged, as well as napkins and finger glasses. In 1808 Jane wrote, “My mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate – a whole tablespoon and a whole dessertspoon, and six whole teaspoons – which makes our sideboard border on the magnificent.”

I could go on and on describing the enormous amount of information in this ebook. Lane goes on to discuss in great detail the attitudes towards food and domesticity in Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park – all of which excited this reader. The characters of Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Grant, Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Norris, Mr. Price, and General Tilney are elaborated in great detail in their obsession (or not) with food and general housekeeping details.

tea cups ratingIs Jane Austen and Food worth the cost of $2.99? Oh, yes. Definitely.!I paid so much more for my hardback copy several years ago and do not regret its purchase. I give this ebook a rating of 5 out of 5 Regency teacups.

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A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

Happy New Year, gentle readers. I hope to write more for my blog in 2014. Thank you for your loyal readership. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your comments and thoughts.

In winter weather, what can be a better way to pass the time than to curl up under a blanket with a good book? I’d like to recommend two books for you to purchase with the gift  money you (hopefully) received this holiday season. Both books are necessary additions in the libraries of confirmed Janeites and Jane Austen lovers, or so it is my belief. (Note: Contest closed. Congratulations Janice Jacobson!)

Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks.

The first is the 4th installment of  an incomparable anthology series of Jane Austen’s novels. Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition is published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and edited by noted scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks. This lush book could easy be confused for a coffee table book – the cover is so beautiful and the color images inside are of the highest quality, but the annotations are anything but superficial. Dr. Spacks’ research adds dimension to Jane Austen’s words and to an era that is long gone, and whose customs have become foreign to our modern understanding. Her observations include a comparison of characters within the novel – “Miss Steele is as acquisitive in a small way as the John Dashwoods are in a grander fashion”. She also draws a similarity between two novels, nothing that Willoughby is similar to Henry Crawford in that both men have fallen in love with the women they targeted for a light flirtation and amusement.

In her introduction, Dr. Spacks elaborates on the 18th century definition of sensibility, which was understood to be derived from the nervous system. Hence, fragile nerves, irritability, hysteria, tremors, fainting spells, and sickness at heart were closely associated with the term (as with Marianne Dashwood’s and Mrs. Bennet’s histrionics). Spacks’s introduction also delineates how Austen conceived of the book and how Elinor and Marianne cannot easily be pigeon-holed into the two separate categories. As they grow in understanding, both women possess elements of the other’s characteristic. As most of us know, Jane Austen wrote the first draft (known as Elinor and Marianne) by the time she was 20 years old. The book, written first in epistolary form, did not assume the third person narrative until 1811. Perhaps this is the reason why a number of passages in the book seem to lack detail or were uneven.

Sense_Sensibility_Spacks

Publicity materials for this annotated edition explain that:

In her notes, Spacks elucidates language and allusions that have become obscure (What are Nabobs? When is rent day?), draws comparisons to Austen’s other work and to that of her precursors, and gives an idea of how other critics have seen the novel. In her introduction and annotations, she explores Austen’s sympathy with both Elinor and Marianne, the degree to which the sisters share “sense” and “sensibility,” and how they must learn from each other. Both manage to achieve security and a degree of happiness by the novel’s end. Austen’s romance, however, reveals darker overtones, and Spacks does not leave unexamined the issue of the social and psychological restrictions of women in Austen’s era.

One get the strong sense that Spacks prefers Willoughby as a hero over Edward, whose character is rather tepid and static. Colonel Brandon’s mature patience doesn’t fare much better in some of the annotations, which also include extensive descriptions of manners, mores, and historical facts. Mundane customs are described, such as the games of whist and cassino.

Home, hearth, and space play important roles in this novel.The country side affects Edward more than Willoughby, who regards the land merely as a place in which to hunt. Edward will eventually live off the land, and happily so. Ennui, or inertia, is also evident in the novel’s characters. Spacks quotes the scholar, Isobel Armstrong, who observed that “a long, patient but sapping wait is the fate of many in this novel; Edward, Elinor, Colonel Brandon, even the unsympathetic Steeles.” Perhaps this is the reason why so few of us think of Edward as a strong hero. His character lacks decisive action. When he does make a decision, as with his unfortunate choice of fiancee, he seems stuck and unable to make a move when encountering a road block. The conniving Lucy spends considerable time waiting for Edward and hoping that Mrs. Ferrars will come around to accepting her. Most of her machinations (that of seducing Robert Ferrars) occur off the novel’s pages and we hear about her success in marrying Robert only through word of mouth.

My one complaint about this edition is that the annotations seem spare compared to Pride and Prejudice, the first annotated book edited by Dr. Spacks. To be fair, Sense and Sensibility is not as highly ranked on most reader’s lists as Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, or Emma. It is the earliest of Jane Austen’s published novels, which may explain why the number of annotations seem to be fewer in this book. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this edition, which costs $35, a bargain considering the the number of colored illustrations and information contained therein.

Northanger Abbey is the next novel to be annotated. It will come out in spring of 2014. I cannot wait for it to be published. 

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

The next book on my recommended buy list is Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins. Actually, I should amend my ranking, for both books are equal in my estimation. The publisher sent an uncorrected proof of  Jane Austen’s England when I was in the throes of taking care of my parents this past summer and fall, and so I read the book piecemeal, hoping to find the time to give it the review it deserved. My copy is earmarked and underlined. I have read many passages twice. Roy and Lesley Adkins have accomplished a remarkable job of research and writing that informs as well as entertains. I realize that many of you have read a number of histories associated with Jane Austen’s age and some of you will find the information repetitive. In addition, you can easily find many of the sources used for this book on the Internet or for purchase.

This book is divided into topics that follow the lives of Jane Austen and her characters. While the historic territory that the Adkins go over is not unique, their presentation is organized in such a way that all we need to do is to turn to Breeding or Toddler to Teenager to Wealth and Work and Medicine Men to find out more about the daily habits of the Austens, Jane’s characters, or the socio-economic conditions of those who lived during the Regency era. The Adkins do not subject us to mere romantic assumptions, but relate the harsh reality of life for the majority of people living during that age. The chapter on Filth minces few nice words. This was an era when outhouses abutted to sculleries, cholera was spread through contaminated water, and cesspits drained into watercourses. Men and women were known to urinate and defecate in streets. While our dear Jane did not write about these indelicacies, she must have witnessed such actions and known of many more contemporary customs that would turn our heads today. In her novels, she ignored the harsh realities of war and famine, common occurrences in her day, and assumed that her readers would seamlessly fill in the details of daily life while she concentrated on her character studies.

Topics in Jane Austen’s England  include kidnapped children, superstitions and folk wisdom, the use of Almanacs (useful for planning evening parties during a full moon), boundary stones, funeral customs, tax burdens of the rich and poor, Frost Fairs, animal fighting, animal abuse, hunting, cricket, horse races, regattas, amateur theatricals, London theatres with their noisy audiences, the cost of music tickets (two weeks wages for a servant), ballad sellers, public houses, taking snuff, state lotteries, the cessation of the Grand Tour during the Napoleonic Wars, the danger and challenges of travel and transportation, boot scrapers, toll roads, toll booths, turnpikes, surveying,  mapping England, medicine, apothecaries, the royal navy, and more. Whew!

Even though I finished the book late last month, I struggle to remember all the fascinating details that this 300+ page book contains.

For a New Year’s gift, I am holding a book giveaway of a hard back copy of Jane Austen’s England until midnight, January 7, 2014. All you need to do is leave a comment about an interesting fact you know about Regency life or Jane Austen’s era. Participants are confined to the U.S. and Canada. (So sorry!) Winners will be chosen by a random number generator. You may enter as often as you like, provided that you share another interesting bit of information about Jane Austen’s England each time you make a comment.

Happy New Year, all. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

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