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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Fan Fiction’ Category

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

 

 

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

About the Plot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…which of the books is your favourite?”

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

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

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

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

To Listen or to Read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contest: which is your preference?

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

Image of Natalie JennerAbout Natalie Jenner:

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

About the book:

Purchase The Jane Austen Society at this link to Amazon.

Hardcover: 320 pages

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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250248736

ISBN-13: 978-1250248732

Other reviews:

See the blog tour on the side bar

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

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

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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:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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

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