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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s enduring popularity’ Category

Happy 2020 everyone.  In the spirit of learning more about Jane Austen and the world she lived in, I am determined to finish reading the 12 books highlighted in this post. I purchased most of these books years ago and have used many for reference. Alas, I finished none completely. By the end of 2020, I will have read them all.

Like many of you, my rooms are filled with stacks of books on the floor, by my bedside, and in piles on tables. I purchase more than I can read.

What are your resolutions regarding your reading goals? Do you own any of the books listed below? Have I piqued your interested in purchasing a few? Inquiring minds want to know.

Book covers of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England; Jane Austen's Country Life; Jane Austen at Home; and The Real Jane Austen.

Four books that help readers understand the world Jane Austen lived in.

  • Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors lived Two Centuries Ago, Roy and Leslie Adkins, Abacus, 2001, 422 pages, ISBN: 978-0-349-13860-2, Amazon. Product Information: A survey and guide to daily life in Jane Austen’s England.
  • Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, Deirdre Le Faye, Francis Lincoln Limited Publishers, London, 2014, 269 pages, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3158-0, Amazon. Product information: “Richly illustrated with contemporary depictions of country folk, landscapes and animals, Jane Austen’s Country Lifeconjures up a world which has vanished more than the familiar regency townscapes of Bath or London, but which is no less important to an understanding of this most treasured writer’s life and work.”
  • Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, Lucy Worsley, Martin’s Press, New York, 2017, 385 pages, ISBN: 978-1-250-13160-7, Amazon. Product Information: “…historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life.
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Paula Byrne, Harper Collins, New York, 2013, 380 pages, ISBN: 978-0-06-199909-3, Amazon. Product Information: “Just as letters and tokens in Jane Austen’s novels often signal key turning points in the narrative, Byrne explores the small things – a scrap of paper, a gold chain, an ivory miniature – that held significance in Austen’s personal and creative life.”

Book covers of Reading Austen in America; Jane Austen, the Secret Radical; and Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

The three books discuss the factors that influenced Jane Austen’s writing and understanding of her world, and how and why her fame spread.

  • Reading Austen in America, Juliette Wells, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, 256 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1350012042, Amazon. Product Information: “Reading Austen in America presents a colorful, compelling account of how an appreciative audience for Austen’s novels originated and developed in America, and how American readers contributed to the rise of Austen’s international fame.”
  • Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, Helena Kelly, First Vintage Book Edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016, 318 pages, ISBN:978-0-525-43294-4, Amazon. Product Information: “Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman “of information,” fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it.”
  • Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2012, 336 pages, ISBN: 9781421411910, JHUPbooks. Product Information: “InMatters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas makes the bold assertion that Jane Austen’s novels allude to actual high-profile politicians and contemporary celebrities as well as to famous historical figures and landed estates. Barchas is the first scholar to conduct extensive research into the names and locations in Austen’s fiction by taking full advantage of the explosion of archival materials now available onlin”

Three book covers of Madams: Bawds & Brothel-Keepers of London; Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling; Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiff, the snobs, the simps and the saps.

The Regency era wasn’t all civility and manners. Georgian London boasted over 50,000 prostitutes and young heirs won and lost fortunes gambling. Austen’s wit, as evidenced in her letters, novels, and Juvenilia, could be biting, as Robert Rodi points out in his analysis of her novels.

  • Madams: Bawds & Brothel-Keepers of London, Fergus Linnane, The History Press, 2009, 256 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0750933070, Amazon. Product Information: “Fergus Linnane reveals the other side of London’s years of pomp and splendor, painting a vivid picture of the bawds, their girls, and their clients. Madamsis fresh and original, offering humor, insight, and a very candid view of the sexual behavior of Londoners through the ages.”
  • Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, David G. Schwartz, Gotham Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2006, 570 pages, Amazon, ISBN 1-592-40208-9. Product Information: “Gambling is the second oldest profession. Dice were found in the tombs of the ancients. Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments at the foot of the cross. Gambling, it seems, has had a role in virtually every civilization, from the earliest of times. It is sometimes important to be reminded of this reality. Roll the Bones: The History of Gamblingdoes just that.”-William R. Eadington, University of Nevada.
  • Bitch in a Bonnet: reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps. (Volume 2: Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion), Robert Rodi, Creative Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 526 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1499133769, Amazon. Product Information: I bought this book because I loved, loved, loved Rodi’s bitingly sharp, often satiric male take on Jane Austen’s novels in Bitch in a Bonnet, (Volume 1), which covers Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park. The reviews are mixed for Volume 2– some people think Rodi is off on Northanger Abbey, but even a Rodi book a little off its feed is better than 90% of critical essays about and analysis of Austen’s great novels. I can’t wait to read Volume 2. – Vic

Covers of Brighton and An Introduction to Regency Architecture.

A day well spent is a day perusing used book sales and digging up fantastic finds, like these two early 20th century books, which are hard to find in their original editions. A Brighton edition sells online for $150 U.S., but ABE books offers a single second edition for $26.78. Shipping to the U.S. costs another $24.68, bringing the total cost over $50 U.S. My book was published in 1948 and contains a smattering of black and white photographs.

  • Brighton, Osbert Sitwell & Margaret Barton, 2nd edition, 1938, Published by Faber, London, 1959, 294 pages. Hardcover edition, very good, clean and tight. Jacket has loss to the rear. ABE books.

 

Paul Reilly’s Introduction to Regency Architecture has been republished by Forgotten Books, which offers a treasure trove of books now out of print as downloadable PDFs, ebooks, or print purchase, such as Georgian England, 1714-1820 by Susan Cunnington. My heavily illustrated hardcover book shows no date of publication, but according to the inside jacket it originally cost $2.50. Lucky me purchased it at a library sale for $1.50.

  • Introduction to Regency Architecture (Classic Preprint), Paul Reilly, Forgotten Books, 2018, 100 pages, ISBN-13: 978-13330278703. Product Information: With this book, author Paul Reilly had two ends in view. The first is to introduce the ever fewer examples of Regency buildings while they still exist. The second is to explain the historical role of Regency architecture, to show in what way it was a true descendant of the 18th century and in what way it broke new ground.”

Image of the title page of An Introduction to Regency Architecture

Treasures of old books can be found anywhere. I hope to uncover more during 2020.


Other sources for finding books:

 

 

 

 

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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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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.

________

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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Good news for Janeites who live within striking distance of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD! At 7:00 PM EST on April 29th, the Bird in Hand, a cafe/bookstore, will be offering the first in a series of workshops on the last Monday of each month in the public humanities. Sponsored by the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore-based professors and students will share new work in the public humanities and oriented toward broader public audiences. The intimate setting is meant to encourage public feedback and critical dialogue. One guest lecturer will be Juliette Wells, author of ‘Reading Austen in America’ (see Project MUSE’s review of the book at this link and purchase the book at this link to Amazon prime.

Date: Monday, April 29, 2019 –
Time: 7:00pm,
Place: Bird in Hand, 11 E. 33rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Excerpt from the advert from the Ivy Bookshop:

Just over a century after Jane Austen’s death in 1817, devoted readers sought out her letters and personal possessions, as well as first and rare editions of her novels. Alberta Hirshheimer Burke, Goucher College class of 1928, built the most extensive collection in the U.S. of Austen manuscripts, editions, translations, and ephemera–plus one famous relic, a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, which made international news when Mrs. Burke donated it to the Jane Austen House in Chawton, England. Second only to Mrs. Burke’s was the collection formed by Charles Beecher Hogan, Yale class of 1928, which included the topaz cross necklace owned by Austen. Drawing on new research in the two collectors’ personal archives, this presentation establishes the importance to Austen reception history of their pursuit of items that held great personal importance to them.

Event Topic (click on links):

 

Other posts on the topic of Jane Austen’s letters and personal possessions and Jane Austen scholars:

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Inquiring readers: While I meant to write a post about muslin caps, my thoughts went in quite a different direction. My lovely mom just celebrated her 93rd birthday and she and Jane Austen have been much on my mind lately.

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

Jane Austen, painted by her sister Cassandra

Ladies during Jane Austen’s time were as thrifty and resourceful as my great aunts and great grandmother were in repurposing their clothes and fabrics. My mother, who endured first-hand the horrors of World War II, (one grandfather and two uncles died in a Japanese concentration camp), and subsequent years of poverty as an exile from her home country, is as thrifty as Jane’s mother, Cassandra, ever was – saving every button and piece of scrap, be it paper or cloth, recycling and repurposing clothes, darning woolen socks and stockings, knitting and sewing with scraps, and making ends meet until the fabric could be used only as a rag for cleaning. (Even then, that rag was used until its very useful end.)

Mom

Mom in the early 50s.

I recall my single mom during my childhood in The Netherlands, tired after a day’s work, bent over her knitting and sewing in the evening, making sure that my brother and I were properly clothed. Oh, how I envied my cousin in California, who wore a variety of beautiful bespoke clothes! My sweaters were reworked from old yarn and I recall feeling self-conscious and, well, second-hand, compared to my dazzling relative.

These days I revere my mother for her fortitude in facing a multitude of challenges with an unwavering eye towards the future. Since those hard times, she has led a blessed life and bestowed on my brother and me the love and strength of family and a perfect father who adopted us and loved us as if we were his own. As a family, we’ve led the charmed life of successful immigrants in the U.S. and will always be grateful for the opportunity this country gave us.

Lately I have come to realize that I am an avid Jane Austen fan because of my mother’s example. One Christmas when I was 14, my mom gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice and I fell instantly in love with Elizabeth Bennet and her creator. Not only did Mom introduce me to Jane Austen, but I was inspired by how my mother’s life’s struggles and sense of humor in so many ways echoed Jane’s.

Jane’s life as a spinster in an age when spinsterhood meant real hardship and worry for women of her class echoed Mom’s struggle as a divorcee in an age when divorce was unacceptable. Jane’s peripatetic wanderings after her dear father died reminds me of Mom’s constant search for a safe and affordable place to live. Mom moved us so much, across three continents every few years, that people mistook us for army brats. Jane’s constant worry over money and her courage in pursuing her craft and honing her talent remind me of my mother, who had the temerity to leave my biological father in favor of a better life and to pursue, single-mindedly, a goal that her friends and relatives felt was impossible for a single mother without a high school education to realize. They tried to dissuade her from what they considered an unreachable goal – one that we as a family surpassed beyond, as Mom states to this day, “our wildest dreams.”

Could Jane Austen have described her posthumous fame any better?

Ever the optimist, Mom bucked the system alone (afraid but with nothing to lose). She has a native intelligence and an eye for human nature – a gentle eye filled with humor. We always laughed – at the table, in the car, at and with others. Her second husband, my real father, had the dry sarcastic wit of Mr. Bennet, but Mom was/is raucously funny and insightful. People from all walks of life are attracted to her bright, sunny, and somewhat irreverent disposition. And, so, through her, I was introduced to the panoply of human kind – to the sort of characters who inhabit Jane Austen’s novels – to the many foibles Miss Austen understood and described in her novels and which I instantly recognized, even at 14. Dad was Mr. Bennet, but Mom was Jane Austen.

When my ex left our 26-year marriage, accusing me, among other things, of being “just like your mother,” he did not realize how honored I felt at hearing a comment that was meant to be a stinging barb. Frankly, I wish I were more like my mom. For now, I’ll just worship her and Jane Austen and count myself lucky for knowing both, one intimately and one at a distance.

One last comparison to Jane Austen I must mention is my mom’s faith, which imbues her life. While we know of at least 3 prayers Jane wrote, we also can divine, given she was a minister’s daughter and a woman of her time, that her faith was extremely important to her and quite personal in nature…just like my mother’s.

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Mom today surrounded by her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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A local historical society will be hosting a book sale this weekend to raise funds. I am finally ready to part with a substantial number of some of my most beloved books (art, art history, English literature, nature books, etc).

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Waiting to be bagged and donated

The first three Jane Austen novels I purchased sat forgotten on the top shelf – all in paperback form. I had always thought that I first read Pride and Prejudice at 14, but the book’s publication date tells me that I was 13!

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I reread the tale of my beloved Mr. Darcy and his Lizzie Bennet so many times that my parents gave me this Modern Library edition of Jane Austen’s six great novels at Christmas, just before I turned 14. I have cherished it and still cherish it for all the good times I spent reading at night before turning off the light. (This book did not sit forgotten.)

I will keep this edition through all my future moves and until my last breath, since I only need a Jane Austen novel to keep me happy.

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Interestingly, I was 15 when I read my second JA book, Emma, which I purchased to read on vacation. At that tender age, I found the book too talky and not nearly as romantic as P&P. Mr. Knightley seemed so OLD and staid compared to the dangerously handsome Mr. D, and bossy Emma was not the sort of girl I wanted to befriend, whereas Lizzie seemed she could fit right into my group. So, it took decades before my mature self tackled Emma again.

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I read Persuasion at 17, too young to appreciate the fact that Anne Elliot’s bloom had faded from sadness or to truly understand the reason why she listened to Lady Russell’s advice. As a rebellious teen of the 60’s, how could I relate to her decision? I am now somewhat longer in the tooth (ahem) and am able to appreciate this gem of a novel fully, as Jane intended.

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Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra in the 60’s.

Now, let’s discuss the 60’s covers of these paperback editions. Mind you, this was an era when high-waisted empire dresses were popular (see Mia Farrow at right) but the cover artists generally ignored this fact. They preferred to see Lizzie in a dark and heavy Gothic gown, more suited to a Bronte novel than a Regency tale. Note that Emma has a decided Victorian look, as does Anne Elliot. At least the P&P cover included this fairly accurate regency scene of Mr. Darcy listening to Lizzie at the piano.

IMG_2315 copy

One of the reasons I like the Complete Novels is the cover art by Paul Galdone, a popular children’s author of the day. The scene reminds me just a bit of  the classic covers painted by Arthur Barbosa of Georgette Heyer novels in the 40’s and 50’s.

My old Jane Austen paperback covers represent a major characteristic of cover illustrations -they reflect the concept of female beauty of the era. Hence the 60’s birdwing eyebrows, eyeshadow, eye liner, and lipstick on Lizzie, Emma, and Anne. You’ll observe similar treatments of “historic” costumes and makeup in past times in cinema and other forms of popular entertainment throughout the decades. Recall the costumes and makeup of 1940’s Pride and Prejudice or the BBC’s versions of Jane Austen novels in the 1970’s. Ouch!

Regardless of the inaccuracies of their covers, I plan to keep these three books. For sentiment’s sake.

 

 

 

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Part One of this four-part series left me salivating to meet Darcy’s aunt, for up to now we have experienced her only through Mr. Collins’s observations, which, the astute reader has come to surmise, MUST be suspect. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter Anne stops by to visit Hunsford in her carriage, Charlotte announces to the group that they are invited to dine at Rosings. Even if Mrs. Collins hadn’t opened her mouth, Lizzy would have realized that something was up, what with an ecstatic Mr. Collins performing cartwheels and Irish jigs in the background and his chest puffed up with so much consequence and triumph that he nearly topples over from imbalance.

He cannot stop gloating about Lady CdeBs graciousness and affability, and pops up here and there like a Regency era whack-a-mole as the ladies and Sir William Lucas prepare for their walk to Rosings, constantly admonishing them with  – “Lady CdeB wants this” – ” Lady CdeB expects that” – ” Lady CdeB says” — until he has Sir William and his daughter Maria quaking in their boots and practically passed out from fear.

Only Lizzy remains unperturbed. Mere stateliness of money or rank do not overly impress her, and this is one of the many reasons why this heroine, conceived in the late 18th century, retains her appeal over two hundred years after her conception. Her attitude is so modern that we readily understand the motives of this educated, independent-minded woman, who, despite having some serious socio-economic cards stacked against her (she has no legal rights under British law and her dowry is but a mere pittance), refuses to buckle under pressure or kowtow to Society’s dictates. Unlike many fictional heroines of her day, she will chance fate and wait for a man she can respect AND love. You go girl!

Much to our chagrin, Jane Austen continues to delay that first meeting between Lizzy and Mr. Collins’s benefactress. Jane first takes us over hill and dale to enjoy the beautiful vistas and prospects and forces us to listen to more of Mr. Collins’s blathering until we readers begin to skim-read with impatience. Then Rosings comes into view and Jane swiftly takes us inside the manse’s impressive entrance hall and to the room where Lady CdeB receives her visitors (the Hunsford party and us). Our hostess rises to greet us with great condescension and for a second we wonder if she might not be all that Mr. Collins promised. Much to our delight, the lady is MORE than was advertised. (Thank you, thank you, Ms. Austen.). Lizzy calmly  takes in the scene and inspects Lady CdeB.

Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as  to make her visitors forget their inferior rank.”

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years. Painting by Gainsborough.

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years: Haughty and Handsome. Painting by Gainsborough.

In fact, the lady’s demeanor brought everything Mr. Wickham had said about her to Lizzy’s mind. Undaunted, Lizzy turns her inquisitive gaze upon the daughter, in whose pale, sickly, Gollum-like features and timid presence she finds nothing remarkable. Her inner bad-girl is immensely satisfied that such a mousy specimen is destined to become Mr. Darcy’s bride.

While Lizzy scarcely bats an eye at the sight of Lady CdeB, Sir William  is unable to speak, his tongue cleaving  to the dry roof of his mouth, while Maria is seriously considering rolling over and playing dead. Lady CdeB is more than happy to show off her silver and fine plate and chef’s talents to this humble group, for “the dinner was exceedingly handsome. ” This is about as detailed a description of outer appearances as Jane Austen ever gives. We have no idea of what the guests wore, what dishes were served, and how many servants were in attendance. Such details are unimportant in the grand scheme of Jane’s masterful study of the human character.

Mr. Collins is completely in his element, scraping and bowing and prattling while carving the meat, an honor he finds so great that  it has eliminated any vestige of restraint. As he babbles nonstop, Sir William, having recovered his severe case of nerves, echoes the unfiltered stream of utterances. Lady CdeB laps up their compliments without a sense of irony.  No Mr. Bennet she!

Lizzy, meanwhile, sits unnoticed on the side and twiddles her thumbs, waiting for an opening in the conversation. This fails to come, for Lady CdeB is too busy relating the opinions of “Me, Myself, and I”, an overpowering and determined trio intent on delivering their viewpoint on every subject.

In the drawing room Lady CdeB continues her one-sided discussions, giving Charlotte advice on all matters pertaining to  household management, including the care of her poultry and cows, of all things. Then, just before poor Lizzy falls asleep from boredom, the Lady zeroes in on our heroine, firing off a series of questions.

  • How many sisters do you have?
  • Are they younger or older?
  • Are they handsome?
  • Any chance of them marrying soon?
  • Are they educated as a young lady ought to be?
  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What year and make is your father’s carriage?

Lizzy hides her outrage but feels all the impertinence of this inquiry. Lady CdeB attempts to rattle her again. “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins,” she drops, before abruptly switching the topic. Seasoned interrogators use this technique to catch their subjects off guard, but our Lizzy remains unflappable:

“Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Do your sisters play and sing?”

“One of them does.” (Mary. Hah!)

Undeterred, Lady CdeB keeps  the chandeliers spotlighted over Lizzy’s head and continues her inquisition:

You ought all to have learned, the Miss Webbs all play.”

Still trying to rattle Lizzy’s chain, she resorts to insulting Mrs. Bennet’s mothering skills. The reader guffaws from the irony of it all.

“What, you don’t draw? Strange, but your mother should have taken you to town for the benefit of masters.”

“No Governess! How is that possible. You must have been neglected.”

And on and on she goes. Elizabeth plasters a polite smile on her face and refuses to cower. I recall reading this passage with the speed of a Ferrari on an open road  racing to the finish. I so enjoyed the heady ride Jane Austen was taking us on that I had to read how it ended as swiftly as possible! (In fact, I finished my first reading of P&P in one sitting, then reread it a short time later, slowly savoring each word.)

Lady CdeB asks one more question —

Are any of your younger sisters OUT, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, ALL.”

“ALL?!!” You could have thrown the feathers on top of Lady CdeB’s aristocratic head for a loop when Lizzy calmly explains the fairness of her mother’s decision.  “You give your opinion decidedly for so young a person, ” she sniffs, but the reader already knows the score:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, One

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings, Zilch

GO TEAM LIZZY!”

After this scene one can only conclude that Lost in Austen got it right when the series transported Elizabeth Bennet to the future and had her land on her feet,  embracing smart phones, automated teller machines, and iPads as if to the Internet born. In this time travel fantasy series the viewer can readily imagine Jane’s prototype of a modern heroine wanting to free herself from the restraints of her era. In my estimation, Lost in Austen lost its way when it followed the story line of boring Amanda Price discovering life in the past in favor of Lizzy’s more interesting journey into the future.

As for Lady CdeB, I will next examine her as a Proficient. Read Part One of the Lady CdeB series here.

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