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

Inquiring readers: Today is the 203rd anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She lived from December 16th, 1775 to July 18, 1817, and managed to achieve more in 41 years than a majority of us in twice that time. My previous posts marking this occasion were somber. This one provides a more light hearted, science fictiony approach. The North American Friends of Chawton House sent a limited edition of Celebrity Jane, a bobblehead doll, after I made a contribution that qualified me for this gift. NAFCH challenges Celebrity Jane doll possessors to share photos of Bad Ass Jane, as I renamed her, in various locations in our lives. I chose home.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meeting her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

Bad Ass Jane meets her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

It was a dream. It must have been. I had been researching Jane Austen’s life in Steventon until I fell asleep. Then, when I awoke around 2 A.M., as I am wont to do, I saw a bad ass version of Jane Austen on my bookshelf, staring at a silhouette of herself. Only she wasn’t quite the spinsterish virgin that I knew and loved so well, Oh, no! She was Bad Ass! A Rocker Chick. A person who would have appealed to my rebellious younger self and my current, well, rebellious me.

She still wore her virginal cap, but from the neck down she wore a black tee, low rise jeans that bared her midriff, and leather boots! Best of all she carried a guitar. Regency Jane loved playing music every morning on her piano forte. Bad Ass Jane (BAJ) plays electric guitar at every opportunity. (How BAJ finds the time to write—heaven knows.)

I gruffed at this strange Jane, who wanted to discuss the books in my book shelf, most of which pertained to her life and history. I needed my beauty sleep and promised her a tour of my house and gardens the following morn, but she would have none of it. She desired my company NOW! Jane played a few tunes on her guitar, which woke me more efficiently than two cups of Moroccan coffee. She mesmerized me with her persistence, pluck, and talent.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meets Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

Bad Ass Jane visits Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

I pointed to a 5 foot tall doll house, in which my 7-year-old grand nieces played occasionally. “Here’s your family.” I gestured to the top floor of the house where two female adults and two children resided.

BAJ peered inside. “My family? They look strange and somehow not themselves. And the fashion! Oh, so revealing. Who are those children?”

“Dear Jane,” I said familiarly. “Recall that this is a dream and that this story is a mere figment of my imagination and the result of a host of wishes. Tom Fowle never died. He returned with Lord Craven from the West Indies healthy and hale and became the intended heir of a living in Shropshire. He and Cassy married and had two beautiful children. Your mama, Mrs. Austen, acquired a gorgeous necklace of pearls, brought back by Tom.”

Copy of Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

“How strange,” BAJ muttered. She wandered from the doll house to our ficus tree lit with fairy lights.

 

She then visited the wine corner. Recalling that she had a fondness for a tipple here and there, I offered a glass. Savoring the wine (a nice Australian Shiraz), we discussed her family, my family (our fathers, with their dry wit and extensive libraries had much in common), and our writing. She was better than me. Way. And more successful. Way. I felt humbled in her presence.

When BAJ learned about her enduring fame–the JASNA Societies, the JA groupies, the Austenesque novels and stories–her bobble head bobbled. “Goodness, I’m famous! Did I become rich?”

I shook my head sadly. “Not you, but Cassandra and your ancestors benefited most generously.”

When dawn broke, we walked into my back yard. BAJ played her guitar in the morning, much as she played her pianoforte before breakfast. I was mesmerized. It was time to greet the sun.

Image of Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

I pointed to my bird feeders, where my hungry hordes of wildlife shrieked for their breakfast: blue jays, red cardinals, musical wrens, and colorful goldfinches. The deer, chipmunks, and squirrels were silent but watchful. Their ferocious appetites challenged my meager resources weekly. All stood a respectful distance away as I filled tubs, tubes, platforms, and the ground.

An impatient BAJ wanted in on the action and hopped right on to the feeders. In an impeccable British accent, she asked, “Pray, where are they?”

birds-deer

The deer and their fawns and birds appeared as we stood still

“Gurl,” I said. “Your Bad Ass attitude must’ve scared them. Stay still and behold the magic.” Shy creatures appeared flock by flock and one by one from the forest within feet of us. BAJ noted with irony that the brown sparrows were as common in the U.K. as in my back yard.

We visited the flowers. “They’re nothing as fabulous as your English gardens,” I cautioned, and so we viewed several areas designed to be deer proof.

At the last, BAJ noticed a sign. “Pray, what is this?”

Image of BAJ posing with an American security sign

BAJ meets an American security sign

“The sign is for security,” I answered. “This deters burglars. We call in and help arrives within, well, whenever.”

She laughed and said, “Is not a dog more effective?,” and jumped into a West Highland Terrier planter.

Image of BAJ's Westie carriage

BAJ Westie carriage

I guffawed. Jennie, our Westie is all bark and no bite. Poof, my dream ended. Once again I missed the chance to ask BAJ the questions swirling in my head. I’d assumed that I had all the time in the world. Ah, well. The mystery that is Miss Jane Austen continues.

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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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Cover image of Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney by Jessica A. Volz Inquiring readers: This post is a follow up to my review of Dr. Jessica Volz’s book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. I mainly reviewed Chapter 1, which concentrated on Austen’s visuality. For this post, I asked the author about Radcliffe’s, Edgeworth’s, and Burney’s contributions and why she began her interesting observations with Austen.

Vic: Your book’s title is Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Jane Austen was younger than the last three women and not as famed during her lifetime. Why did you choose to place her “story” first in your book? Is it because she emerges as the best known, most popular author today – the genius?

Volz: Jane Austen was indeed born after the other women authors whose novels I discuss. She was born on December 16, 1775 – roughly 8 years after Maria Edgeworth, 12 years after Ann Radcliffe and 24 years after Frances Burney (Madame d’Arblay). Nonetheless, she was outlived by these illustrious contemporaries, departing from this world in 1817 at the age of 41, leaving her last work – Sanditon – (distressingly) unfinished. While Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were geniuses of their times in their own respective ways, I believe Austen is a genius for our era as well. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made some of the dynamics that her novels expose all the more relatable. After William Shakespeare (whose fame as an indivisible person is still a question of heated debate), many would argue that Austen is the most universally acclaimed literary figure in history. For a writer whose name was not initially attached to any of her published works, that’s quite the surge to branded stardom. When I set out to turn my doctoral research into a book that would bridge the divide between academic and non-academic audiences, I wanted its discussion to open with an author whose appeal continues to grow across the globe and whose brilliant use of language has inspired other luminaries, from Sir Winston Churchill to J.K. Rowling. It’s not for nothing that Austen is the only woman apart from the Queen to appear on a UK bank note. I am also very grateful that Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the founder and chair of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (which I cannot encourage you enough to support!), supplied the foreword to my book.

Jessica Voltz at Chawton House

Jessica Volz at Chawton House. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

As Anna Laetitia Barbauld once exclaimed, “Next to the Balloon, Miss Burney is the object of public curiosity.” The celebrity status that Frances Burney – novelist, playwright, diarist and Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte – had attained upon being acknowledged as the Authoress of Evelina, the book that everyone was reading in 1778, is no longer. From an anonymous literary “incognita,” who had relied on writing both furtively and in a feigned hand, Burney had metamorphosed into a highly visible household name. (Perhaps only Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, exceeded her standing in this regard.) Edmund Burke found in Evelina a page-turner, while Sir Joshua Reynolds reputedly offered £50 in exchange for the author’s identity. As today’s bookshelves can attest, Burney’s fame has curiously waned; in her afterlife, Austen has usurped Burney’s place on the podium of visibility.

While each of the novelists I examine in my book relied on visuality – a methodology empowering the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – its forms and functions varied in scale and in style. In addition, Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney experimented with and contributed to different approaches to the novel: Austen modernized narration through her introduction of free indirect discourse; Radcliffe reinterpreted the Gothic novel and removed her plots to temporally and geographically disparate settings (picture a scene painted by Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain); Edgeworth imbued her narratives with political undertones that conveyed the situation in Ireland and was innovative in her theatrical experimentation with male narrators and cross-dressing; Burney’s comparative visibility in society, from Samuel Johnson’s circle to the Court of Queen Charlotte, shaped her treatment of the courtship novel and influenced her transition from an epistolary to a third-person perspective, which was, in my humble opinion, nothing short of Revolutionary.

Image of dining room at the Jane Austen House Museum

One of the rooms at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. You can see Austen’s writing desk on the far right, where she wrote in private. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

My book moves from novels empowering the role of projections of character exterior to the self (think portraiture and architectural metaphors) to the drama of reflections, fashion and the minutiae of self-display (as in color codes of emotions and eyes that “speak”). This calculated progression shows how visuality “liberated” women novelists at a time when self-expression was particularly constrained for their sex, arming them with a means by which they could freely direct the reader’s attention to otherwise “indescribable” aspects of the era: its gender politics, socio-economic constraints and patriarchal abuses.

Vic: Please summarize the contributions to visuality that Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney made that influenced Austen or were parallel to Austen’s influences, and that were readily known to 18th- and 19th-century readers.

Volz: Given that writers cannot help but be influenced by what they read, the forms and functions of visuality that I describe in my book were trending to varying degrees when Austen was penning her novels. For instance, she would have been well-acquainted with Burney’s manipulation of ocular dialogue and color codes of emotion. However, Austen’s approach to directing the female gaze is more complex, especially when combined with free indirect discourse. She often challenges her protagonists and, in turn, readers of her fiction to make judgments about true character through portraiture and architectural metaphors – approaches to visuality that were also employed by Radcliffe and Edgeworth. The fact that visuality was not an esoteric means of communicating the otherwise difficult/impossible to express was what gave it power. The language that women novelists had to employ (to preserve their reputations as respectable women) reveals the self-consciousness that resonated between the author and her fictional women. Women novelists were, like women readers of novels, seen as threats to a patriarchal regime of knowledge where men had power over women’s perceptions of their surroundings and themselves. Today, gender equality remains a call to action, an unfortunate truth which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also reiterated. In addition to appealing to those similarly infatuated with British literature, my book would serve as a uniquely valuable resource for diplomats, politicians and lawyers, as visuality remains an efficient and effective means of strategic and diplomatic communication that should not be overlooked.

Vic: My third question is a minor one: Burney and Austen never met, but their lives in terms of acquaintances and places they visited and lived in were close. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Volz: Yes, I think it’s fascinating to consider that Austen and Burney would have been directly or indirectly acquainted with a number of the same sights and social contexts on British shores. The views of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were culturally representative, making them and their novels choice case studies in my book.

(Gentle reader: please read more about the intersection between Frances Burney and Jane Austen in the link below along with accompanying images.)

Vic: Why did you not include more information about Austen’s ‘Persuasion?’

Volz: It was admittedly difficult to narrow the scope of my book. I ultimately opted to confine my discussion to novels published in Britain between 1778, which coincided with the start of the Anglo-French War, and 1815, the year that witnessed the Battle of Waterloo. (Burney was actually in Brussels at the time.) As my book explores cross-Channel tensions and manifestations of cultural identity, this period was of particular interest. Nonetheless, Austen’s use of visuality in her other works, including Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, would be fascinating subjects of future exploration. Like Burney’s approach to visuality, Austen’s penchant for architectural metaphors and portraiture remained largely unchanged during her lifetime. It was a hallmark of her artful construction of language and, like her penmanship, held strong right up until the end.

Additional information about the Burney-Austen connection:

“Jane Austen and Great Bookham,” a post on Deborah Barnum’s blog, Jane Austen in Vermont, and written by guest contributor Tony Grant (accompanied by his usual informative photographs), discusses how Frances Burney’s and Jane Austen’s lives intersected. Below find a slide show of a few of the images in that post.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fanny Burney’s tomb rests in the cemetery of St Swithins Church in Bath. George Austen is buried in the same churchyard. St. Swithins is the church where Jane Austen’s parents– George Austen and Cassandra Leigh–were married.

Email comment from Jessica Volz regarding the Jane Austen–Frances Burney connection:  The Burney-Austen link is fascinating. I made it to King’s Lynn after speaking at the Pride an Prejudice bicentenary conference at the University of Cambridge and quested for  her birthplace, which was marked by a Clarks footwear shop (as of 2013). What a shame! Burney led a fascinating life, and her journals and letters are the stuff of which novels were/are made.

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Volz BookInquiring readers,

My apologies to author Jessica Volz–who contacted me weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown about her book–for posting my review of her book several months late. She has been so patient that I must thank her for her graciousness. – Vic Sanborn

The highly interesting and informative Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, is no fast walk in the park as far as reading goes, but it is worth the effort since it is filled with new and insightful information. One cannot skip or skim to learn about the way Austen and female writers of her era used visuality in language to communicate hidden meaning. In order to understand how visual language transmitted women’s emotions, issues, and areas of concern in a patriarchal society, I digested Dr. Volz’s words and reflected on how her observations helped me to reassess my understanding of the hidden language these 18th and 19th century authors used.

In her book, Dr. Volz studied the novels of four authors published between 1778 and 1815. Three of those novelists, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney, enjoyed recognition during Austen’s life, while Austen ultimately found lasting fame as a literary giant. This was a time when women’s views on their rights shifted, greatly helped by the Enlightenment’s campaign for human rights, the influence of the French Revolution in questioning conventional perceptions of women, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary writings. Wollstonecraft wanted male-dominated females to attain power over themselves. While this emancipation would take a longer time than she even envisioned, Wolstonecraft influenced contemporary women authors to employ an approach that “concealed their resistance within an artful narration.” (1. Volz, p. 210.)

Volz’s findings found that in a patriarchal society, when women were expected to behave modestly and correctly and use phrases that were acceptable to their male relatives and husbands, female authors found a linguistic end-around through visual references. They:

…focused on ways their texts reveal the authors’ approaches to issues explored or suggested in the novels, including “women’s difficulties, polite society’s anxieties and the problems inherent in judging by appearances.” – (2. Painting With Words, Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA, 2019.)

Thus, while the novels written by these four authors seemed to outwardly conform to societal standards, their heroines thought for themselves.

While the forms and functions of visuality that women novelists employed to their rhetorical advantage vary, they channeled their thoughts through several distinct visual pathways: visible and ‘invisible’ likenesses, architectural metaphors, the ‘made-up’ social self and communicating countenances.” (Volz, p. 212)

This review discusses some ways in which Dr. Volz examines how Austen employed the forms and functions of visuality. When she sent me her book, she was correct in predicting that I would be the most affected by the chapter that discussed Jane Austen. I’ll start with my first (and still favorite) Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, and Mr. Darcy

While Dr. Volz discusses Pemberley well into Chapter 1, I did not begin to truly understand her analysis of Austen’s visuality until I reached this section. I knew Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite fictional heroine from almost the moment I met her at the age of fourteen. Lady Catherine deBourgh expressed the 18th century attitude towards women when she accused Elizabeth of being obstinate and headstrong. In other words, she was not the right sort of lady, especially not for Mr. Darcy.

On that first reading, I instantly understood that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy were transformed as she walked along the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, viewed the house from afar in its perfect setting, moved throug its exquisite interior, listened to the raptures of his housekeeper as she described her master’s kindnesses, compared a miniature of his youthful self to Mr. Wickham’s (whose actions, as related by the housekeeper, described a cad), and then finally studied a large painted portrait of Mr. Darcy that to Elizabeth seemed true to life and captured her new understanding of his essence.

The architectural metaphors that Volz mentioned explain much in this description of Elizabeth’s leisurely ramble with the Gardiners along Pemberley’s grounds:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Pride and Prejudice)

As she views Pemberley’s grounds, Elizabeth can see herself living in this natural setting as its mistress, but she realizes with some sadness that this is no longer possible. To her regret, she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal based on her first impressions. Now that she sees him through a new lens, she recognizes how much their tastes and inclinations have in common. Moreover, she understands that Darcy, like his estate, Pemberley, has no artifice.

The lack of artifice is also how Mr. Darcy views Elizabeth – early in their association, he admires her expressive eyes and the liveliness of her character, which gave her a natural beauty much like the estate grounds he loves.

But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Austen also emphasized Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s unorthodox, unladylike walk to Netherfield, which “improved her figure’s picturesque quality and intensified the expressiveness of her eyes.” (Volz, p. 60). His appreciation echoes the ideal of the picturesque in writings by Johann Kaspar Lavater (a Swiss physiognomist, philosopher, and theologian) and William Gilpin in his Observations Relating Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) which appreciated the irregular features of a person, place, or setting and that “gave them a certain charm and made them desirable subjects for painting.” (Ibid)

JaneAustenSilhouette-Wikimedia

Image, Wikimedia Commons

Volz writes much more about the mastery in which Austen unites Elizabeth and Darcy through visible and invisible likenesses and architectural metaphors. Yet Austen is known for her austere descriptions of person, place or thing. How does this reconcile with visuality? One of the best-known images of Austen is a silhouette used by Jane Austen societies the world over. Early in her book, Volz mentions Austen’s affinity and familiarity with silhouettes. Like her contemporary profilists, “Austen sought to produce verbal ‘shades’ that ‘”convey the most forcible expression of character.”’ (3. Marsh & Hickman, Shades from Jane Austen.)

Austen’s habit of eschewing detail when describing characters’ appearance indicates her preference for using a single telling line that, like the silhouette, supplies ‘infinite expression’ though a profile that is not overshadowed by the particulars within it.” (Volz, p. 36)

For me, this explains Austen’s spare use of details and how this writing style encourage the readers’ imaginations to take hold. As I age, I find new depths in her plots, whose meanings change as my perceptions of the world (and knowledge of her era) change. For example, as a young girl/woman, I couldn’t stand or understand Mrs. Bennet, and found her an irritating though comic character. The more I studied Austen’s era and the circumscribed lives women were forced to live, my sympathy for Mrs. Benne’s poor nerves and her quest to find husbands for her five daughters increased, while my patience with Mr. Bennet (though I never stopped appreciating his wit) waned.

Volz writes that “Austen’s use of an aesthetic vocabulary of character in her fiction directs the reader’s attention to the act of viewing and its ultimate subjectivity in creating couples united in their affections.” So true, but Austen does this so economically and so masterfully, that I am constantly astounded and motivated to reread her novels.

Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele

In Sense and Sensibility, Volz traces the evolution of Elinor’s certainty that Edward Ferrars favors her against her painful, but inexorable understanding that he is engaged to Lucy. The proof is supplied through physiognomic means in the form of a miniature likeness of Edward that he gave to his intended. Does this miniature prove that he loves her? Elinor isn’t sure. While devastated, she is a skillful observer, as painters often are. Why do he and Lucy only see each other twice a year? And why, she wonders, did Lucy never give him her picture?

This plot in Sense and Sensibility reads like a mystery, with Austen using visuality clues to lead Elinor/us to the realization that, by not giving Edward her visual likeness, Lucy’s attachment is tenuous at best. In Lavater’s opinion, a portrait is “more expressive than nature.” One can then deduce that a ring with a lock of Lucy’s hair means little compared to an actual likeness. Elinor can discern no real affection in Lucy’s body language or demeanor towards Edward, but this knowledge gives her no comfort. Only a woman is allowed to end an engagement and Edward is too honorable to go against convention. At the end of the novel, Elinor’s intuition proves to be correct and Edward, unceremoniously dumped by Lucy in favor of his brother, is free to declare himself to the woman he loves.

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith

When it comes to the heroine that no one but Austen will much like, Volz explains that Emma is “as much of a product of Highbury as she is a shaper of it.” (Volz, p. 79). Emma’s status, while high in the ranks of Highbury society, does not detract from the dullness of her daily life as a modest female. In her twenty-one years, she hasn’t visited London, a mere few hours drive away in a carriage, or a seaside resort, or even Box Hill (until the famous scene at the end of the novel). After Miss Taylor became Mrs. Weston, a bored Emma (who took credit for uniting Mr. Weston with her governess) looks for another “project.” When her thoughts turn to Harriet Smith, her imagination and manipulation take over. She will mold Harriet into her vision of a young lady with prospects, even though Harriet is the natural daughter of an unknown somebody.

A famous scene in the novel centers on Emma painting a portrait of Harriet. Volz describes this portrait as an example of the heroine’s self-delusions (the likeness depicts Harriet as Emma would like her to be), and that the friendship among the two women represents something other than themselves. “Emma has redrawn Harriet’s character, which now ‘acts’ as improperly as the eye and hand that have shaped it.” (Volz, p. 80) Needless to say, Emma’s portrayal of Harriet has more to say about the painter than the sitter.

From the start of the alliance, the reader understands that this friendship is woefully out of balance. A weak mouse stands little chance against a powerful cat, and so Emma’s machinations blindly continue, but after Harriet reveals her love for Mr. Knightley, which she (unbelievably) thinks is reciprocated, Emma finally sees ‘the blinders of her own head and heart,’ although Emma feels sorrier for herself in her self-deception than she feels for her deluded friend. “Austen’s visual technique stages for the reader the dramatic shift in the heroine’s vision and perceptions.” (Ibid.) This is true, but Austen’s young heroine still has much to learn before the story ends.

In this section, Volz provides more interesting observations about the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship, which readers will find equally fascinating.

Fanny Price and Mansfield Park

My final thoughts about Volz’s book are about her analysis of Fanny Price. Fanny’s journey as a young girl transported to a strange new house is demonstrated by the rooms she lives in. At first the lonely child cries herself to sleep, but as the novel progresses, the rooms she occupies within the house, first as an outsider and then as an accepted member of the household, correspond with her emotional growth. The more comfortable Fanny feels in her adopted home, the more she blossoms. Fanny’s “acquisition of a new private space within Mansfield serves as a metaphor for her progress towards social acceptance.” (Volz, p. 76)

When Fanny is banished to live with her parents in Portsmouth, she learns how much she has changed and grown. “Aesthetic contrasts teach the heroine and the reader to see that Mansfield’s values are diametrically opposed to those at Portsmouth, with its crowded, agitating interior.” (Ibid.) Mansfield Park has become Fanny’s home, and within it she shines both outwardly and inwardly.

Austen’s evolving views towards ideal landscapes are personified in her descriptions of Pemberley and Mansfield Park:

Whereas Elizabeth’s raptures over Pemberley’s physiognomic display highlight the place’s picturesque irregularity, here [in Mansfield Park], Austen defers to the presentation of organized beauty and agreeable symmetry, implying her own changed view of landscape design.” (Volz, p. 77)

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

This is not surprising, since one of the premier landscape architects at the time that Austen wrote  Mansfield Park was Humphry Repton, whose work Jane prominently mentions in the novel. Repton’s habit of removing irregularities from a landscape can be viewed in his red books, in which he presented before and after watercolors of his designs to his clients. The “after” watercolors remove any impediments to a perfect view or irregularities (by cutting down trees or adding features, such as a pond or a Palladian bridge).

I should also mention that Volz’s thorough examination of Austen’s visual aesthetic includes the author’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which characterizes Austen’s writing. Approximately 20-30% of Austen’s narration is FID, in which both the narrator and a character are speaking at once.

Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels relay information about thoughts and speech. […] Austen’s employment of FID was revolutionary, for while earlier authors had used it to some degree, it remained to Austen to take advantage of the wide range of how FID could be deployed to manipulate our ironic understanding of her characters.” (4. Mooneyham White, Discerning Voice Through Austen, JASNA)

In our day and age, many readers no longer recognize the subtleties that 18th/19th century readers understood when reading novels by contemporary female authors. Dr. Volz’s observations help us to analyze their subtext and, in my case, prompted me to rethink my earlier reactions to Austen’s characters.

One can use Dr. Volz’s observations in analyzing other Austen characters on our own – Anne Elliot, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and Henry Tilney, to mention a few. Austen scholars and Austen fans who have delved deeply into her characters’ lives and the history of Regency England will find this book fascinating and a useful reference in their libraries.

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

About Dr. Jessica A. Volz:

Dr. Jessica A. Volz of Denver, Colorado is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels. Her latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), discusses how visuality — the continuum linking visual and verbal communication — provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language. The title offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling point of view.

Dr. Volz holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of St. Andrews and a B.A./M.A. in European Cultural Studies and Journalism from Boston University. She was recently named an ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was created to harness the global passion for Jane Austen to fund literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Dr. Volz has also served as the editor of two Colorado legal publications and as a translator for a number of Paris-based companies. In her spare time, she enjoys planning tea parties and plotting novels.

References:

1. Volz, Jessica A. Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Anthem Press, Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series, 2020. Print. ISBN:13-978-1-78527-253-0 (pbk).

2. “Painting with Words,” Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, Jessica A. Volz. Review by Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA News, 2019. PDF document downloaded May 18, 2020: file:///C:/Users/18046/Downloads/JASNANews_Summer2019_BookReviews.pdf

3. Hickman, Peggy and Marsh, Honoria, Shades from Jane Austen, London: Parry, Jackman 1975, xv-xxii.

4. Mooneyham White, Laura, Discerning Voice through Austen Said: Free Indirect Discourse, Coding, and Interpretive (Un)Certainty, Jane Austen Society of North America, Volu. 37, No1—Winter 2016, Downloaded May 20, 2020: http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/white-smith/

Additional:

Coffee, Tea and Visuality: The Art of Attraction in ’‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jessica A.Volz, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, February 22, 2017, Downloaded May 18, 2020:https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality

Edmundson, Melissa, “A Space for for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park,” Persuasions On=Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, V. 23, No.1 (Winter 2002), Downloaded 5/20/2020: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol23no1/edmundson.html

Lavater, Johann Casper. Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by or under the inspection of, Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Thomas Holdcroft. 3 vols. 5 bks. London: John Murray 1789-98.

Oesteich, Kate Faber, “Jessica A. Volz – Interview,” Nineteenth-Century Studies Association (NCSA), May 10, 2017. Downloaded May 18, 2020: https://ncsaweb.net/2017/05/10/jessica-a-volz/

Purchase the book:

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Inquiring readers: Covid-19 has meant making changes for us and our families, friends, and co-workers world wide. Rachel Dodge wrote this lovely article regarding stay-at-home activities in Jane Austen’s era that are still practiced. I think we can all relate!

As we practice social distancing and spend more time at home, I often think about what Jane would have done under similar circumstances. I can imagine she would miss making morning calls, traveling to visit family and friends, going to church on Sundays, and attending balls where she might dance “nine dances out of ten” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, November 1800).

With what we know of Austen’s home life in mind, I’ve compiled a list of activities that I hope will feed the minds, imaginations, and souls of my fellow Janeites:

 

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Rachel Dodge.

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

  • Read all the books

Books provided Austen with the intellectual stimulation and emotional escape her active mind required. (We can certainly relate!) She enjoyed a wide range of genres and didn’t limit herself to one category.

While libraries remain closed, we can follow our own literary pursuits to new places and take advantage of online resources, e-books (gasp!), and audiobooks. Better yet, we can go through our bookshelves and read the books we already own but haven’t read!

If you want to read the books Austen read, you can explore these resources:

Image of bookshelf courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

Image of bookshelf, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

 

Use your creative gifts to connect with others

Austen enjoyed quiet moments by the fire and often found creative inspiration for her writing during those private reveries. Marianne Knight shares this memory: 

[Aunt Jane would sit quietly working beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back to the fire and go on quietly working as before.” (Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, 1901)

Later in the day, Austen would often share her creative work with her family, leading to hours of discussion and laughter. While sheltering in place, my friends and neighbors have taken turns sharing creative love offerings with one another—fresh flowers, special treats, recipes, wine, craft supplies, cards, and homemade bread. How can you share your gifts and talents with others during this time?

  • Play games

In the article “Spillikins,” The Jane Austen Centre (https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spillikins/) shares this: “Jane Austen was a very hands-on aunt, with numerous games and activities in her repertoire. Her nieces and nephews recall with fondness the many games, from paper ships to Battledore and Shuttlecock, that she would play with them by the hour.”

Spillikins was her particular favorite: “Our little visitor has just left us, & left us highly pleased with her… -Half her time here was spent at Spillikins; which I consider as a very valuable part of our Household furniture, & as not the least important Benefaction- from the family of Knight to that of Austen.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, February 8, 1807)

If you have friends and family you’re missing right now, especially younger family members, try playing a game online or set up a Facetime game time. 

  • Enjoy walks and natural beauty

Austen (and many of her heroines) enjoyed a brisk walk. As we can see from her letters and novels, she liked the exercise and the beauty of her surroundings: 

We took a very charming walk from six to eight up Beacon Hill, and across some fields, to the village of Charlecombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green valley, as a village with such a name ought to be.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, June 2, 1799)

My family likes to walk, bike, or go out on our deck when the weather is nice. We’ve paid closer attention to the beauty of a sunset, a mother duck with her ducklings, and the wildflowers blooming along our walking trail. If you can’t get outside, try an exercise program online. There’s something for everyone right now!

  • Pray with Jane
Image of Jane Austen's Prayers

Image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

The Austen family said morning and evening prayers together. You might take time to read through Austen’s prayers for a few days. She wrote three lovely prayers that cover many of the concerns of daily life. 

Austen herself was no stranger to distress and tribulation. She understood the dangerous realities of war, illness, childbearing, and sea travel during her lifetime. Some of the lines of her prayers are particularly fitting for times like these:

“Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.” (Jane Austen, Prayers)

If you’d like to explore her prayers more fully, I created a 7-day Jane Austen prayer guide for COVID-19 here: https://www.racheldodge.com/7-days-prayer-jane-austen/

  • Write letters

Jane Austen wrote letters full of news and details. It was how she and her family and friends kept in close contact when they couldn’t be together in person. They shared everything – both the important and the mundane – in these missives!

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 3, 1801)

If you’re missing your friends and loved ones, why not write a letter? My daughter has been sending letters, stickers, and drawings back and forth in the mail with her best friend. They make their own envelopes and decorate them with colorful designs. 

  • Find comfort in familiar rhythms
Image of Tea with Jane Austen courtesy of Rachel Dodge

Image of Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

In Caroline Austen’s book My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, she describes her aunt Jane’s morning habits: “Aunt Jane began her day with music . . . before breakfast—when she could have the room to herself—.” (Caroline Austen, My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, 1867)

Austen’s days had a certain cadence to them: She began the day with piano practice and letter writing. During the day, she wrote, sewed, visited with her family, and walked. In the evening, she and her family read out loud, played games, and talked. 

Keeping some of our routines as “normal” as possible (and finding new routines) helps give our days shape and definition. Perhaps you can host a weekly tea party or book discussion with your Jane Austen friends over Zoom!

Austen had an active imagination and would certainly have found many things with which to occupy her time. What else do you think Austen might have done? What routines do you find comforting in these turbulent times?

About the Author:

Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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