Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s World’ Category

Inquiring readers,

I’m pleased to formally announce my new Jane Austen’s World (JAW) partners, who will help me oversee this blog. Regular readers are already acquainted with the contributions of Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox. This month, I have formalized our association, inviting them to join me in contributing to a blog that has become too big for one person to manage. Thankfully, all three have agreed to come on board.

To celebrate this change, formal introductions are in order!

About Tony Grant, Contributor to JAW Since 2010

Inquiring readers, if you type Tony Grant into this blog’s search bar you’ll discover page upon page of his varied contributions to JAW, which include his breath taking photographs of Great Britain. Tony lives in London and has acted as a tour guide all over the South of England and London. Without him, I could not have kept this blog going during my father’s final illness from 2012 to 2014. Lately, he and I have been Zooming regularly with Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont. We three Austen-teers have become virtual bosom buddies.

Tony Grant is a retired teacher and writes a blog called London Calling. He has been writing articles about subjects that interest him for many years. Tony also writes articles about the world of Jane Austen. He has been published in the Jane Austen Society of Australia magazine, The Chronical, the Jane Austen in Vermont blog and in Jane Austen’s World. Tony is a literacy mentor for the Jane Austen Foundation that was founded by Jane Austen’s 5th great niece Caroline Knight. He is also a judge for the foundation’s short story writing competition and takes part in charity walks to raise money for the foundation’s literacy work in Africa, India and Australia.

Image of Tony Grant in 1978

Tony Grant in 1978

Image of Tony Grant in 2020

Tony Grant in 2020

Tony is a volunteer at The Museum of The Home in Shoreditch, north of the City of London. He takes tours of the 18th century almshouses and supports the curators in researching new exhibitions.

Tony became a qualified teacher in 1974. He obtained a Batchelor of Arts Honours degree in English literature from the Open University and a Masters degree in Museums and Galleries in Education from the Institute of Education UCL.

He has been married to Marilyn, a fellow teacher, for 38 years. They have four children: Sam, Alice, Emily and Abigail and one granddaughter, Emma.

So how did Tony get interested in Jane Austen? He was born and brought up in Southampton. His grandmother often took him into town as a youngster. They would go to the Tudor House Museum. Tony has always loved museums. As they walked through Castle Square she invariably said, as they passed the Juniper Berry pub, ”That’s the site of the house where Jane Austen lived.” – Tony

About Rachel Dodge, Contributor to JAW Since 2017

Rachel is another savior of this blog. Around the time that my mother became ill and when my work commitments increased significantly, Rachel noticed an alarming drop in JAW blog posts. She introduced herself and asked if she could submit posts. Upon reading the quality of her writing, I encouraged her to submit anything she wanted as often as she could. Much to my delight, Rachel took me up on the offer! Rachel is super busy these days overseeing online courses and teaching her children from home. I’m amazed that she finds time to write for JAW and work on a second book!

Rachel Dodge, Versailles, 1998

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Serbourne Park

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Sherbourne Park

Rachel Dodge teaches college writing classes and Jane Austen seminars, speaks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (2020).

Rachel is a graduate of the University of Southern California (B.A. in English and public relations) and California State University, Sacramento (M.A. in English literature). She wrote her master’s thesis on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and won the 2005 Dominic J. Bazzanella Literary Award for her paper on Elizabeth Bennet. She was the featured speaker at the Sacramento Library’s How Austentatious! series, the Notable Books series, and the 2014 Jane Austen Birthday Tea. Rachel’s writing has been featured in Jane Austen’s World, Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, Jane Austen in Vermont, and others. You can visit her at www.racheldodge.com

Rachel’s a great supporter of Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM), the Chawton House Library, and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. She’s visited numerous Austen historic sites on research trips. Her favorite trip so far: When she had the great honor of signing copies of Praying with Jane at Jane Austen’s House! – Rachel

About Brenda Cox, Contributor to JAW Since 2019 

Rachel Dodge introduced me to Brenda at the JASNA GMA in Williamsburg last October. By then, Brenda had written a number of articles for JAW. Her style is as clear and lovely as Rachel’s, and their articles elevated my blog to another level. Brenda travels extensively and is at present busy packing for yet another trip. She still found time to send her bio. Brenda’s educational and employment background puts my erratic bio to shame, and so I feel triply blessed to include her contributions along with Rachel’s and Tony’s.

Image of Brenda Cox in High School

Brenda Cox in High School

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen for many years. She is fascinated by the history of Austen’s time and the nuances of Austen’s books. Brenda has been doing extensive research in two areas: the church of Austen’s day, and science of Austen’s day. She would love to answer any questions you have about those topics. Brenda presented at JASNA’s AGM (national meeting) last year, and has had articles published in Persuasions On-Line. Her current project, nearing completion, is a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can visit her at her blog, “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen,” and on Facebook.

Brenda loves learning, and appreciated the privilege of homeschooling her four children (now all adults) because she got to learn so much along with them. She also enjoys cross-stitching, and reading a wide range of books. She travels and works overseas, and values the beautiful variety of cultures and languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s in applied linguistics, and now spends much of her time writing. She looks forward to interacting with you all! – Brenda

About Vic Sanborn, JAW Founder and Administrator Since 2007

Please note: the three previous bios are written properly in the third person. Since I have never been regarded as proper (Jane would have a field day with that!), I wrote mine in the familiar “Me, Myself, and I.”

In my largely abandoned Twitter account I present myself as a Dutch character in a Jane Austen novel. That phrase describes me to a tee—a bit cheeky but reverential towards Jane Austen’s awesome talent. I was born in Jakarta Indonesia to Dutch colonial parents, lived in Den Haag, The Netherlands for six years, and emigrated to the U.S. at nine years of age with my family. As my parents said when we landed in vibrant, bustling New York city – we’ve finally found our home! When I was 14 years old, I received The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (a modern library giant edition) for Christmas, and thus my lifelong love affair with Austen began.

Image of Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

I am neither a scholar nor an academic. Rather, I describe myself as a jack-“ess” of all trades. My degrees in biology and art history, and minor in English literature attest to that claim. I also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art during summer months and evenings to study painting and drawing. My employment history is equally all over the map, having worked as an EKG technician on weekends during college; as a technician in Johns Hopkins and Harvard Research labs; as a watercolor artist who showed her increasingly larger works in local galleries and statewide exhibits; as a community relations/outreach director for a nonprofit literacy organization; as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) to coordinate a two-year consortium of Baptist Churches interested in starting adult literacy projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods; and as a literacy specialist for a statewide, university-based professional development organization that provided training to adult education and literacy program staff and teachers. My one constant was my love for Austen. I started Jane Austen’s World thirteen years ago—my longest ongoing “work” commitment—that is still going strong (thanks to JAW’s many readers and new blog partners).

I am particularly grateful to Margaret Sullivan (Austenblog), whose mention of my blog in 2007 drove visitors to JAW, and Laurel Ann Nattress (Austenprose), who invited me to join her in writing for PBS Masterpiece during the 2009 Jane Austen season. That association put both our blogs on the map. We have been e-friends ever since. (BTW, both L.A. and MAGS are also published book authors.)

I genuinely enjoy the company of Janeites and the people I’ve met through this blog and my association with JASNA local groups. Mostly, I love getting to know Austen better through study, research, and reading. The most interesting world in my mind is the one that contains anything Jane Austen! Join me for more Austen-related information on my Pinterest site and Facebook group at Jane Austen and Her Regency World. – Vic

So, gentle readers, please send a virtual clapping of hands and kudos to my new compatriots! I am excited about the next phase for JAW. To skew Bette Davis’s famous line, “Hang on to your seat belts, it’s going to be a fabulous ride!”

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers, This fascinating post written by author Clyve Rose explains to film viewers who have not read Emma the short, confusing scene shown in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 film adaptation of Austen’s novel. Ms. Rose reviews the history of Gipsies or Gypsies in Regency England and Europe in general, and provides insights into why this nomadic group was shunned and feared.

Painting of a young gypsy woman by Karlis Teodors Huns, 1870.

Public domain image of a young Gypsy woman with a tambourine, painted by Kārlis Teodors Hūns, 1870. Wikimedia Commons.

In Chapter 39 of Austen’s Emma, we come upon a curious incident. Miss Harriet Smith (the pretty and ‘natural daughter’ of no-one-yet-knows), out walking with a companion, is accosted by a ‘group of gypsies’. This incident is curious for many readers, and for many reasons.

For modern readers who may not understand the fear and attendant danger of such an episode, it is worth remembering that merely associating with “such a set of people” was judged to be a crime in Regency England. From the 1500s onwards the Crown made several attempts to rid their green and pleasant land of these ‘other’ residents, including deporting them to the colonies and attempting to legislate them out of all existence. By Austen’s time, any conversation or ‘consorting’ with ‘gypsies’ was considered a criminal act for which one could be incarcerated — or worse. A case in 1782 saw a fourteen year old girl hanged for such acquaintance, on the orders of the local magistrate.

That Harriet Smith speaks to the ‘gypsies’, offers them money, and then pleads with them would have been enough to see her in trouble with the law. While the local Highbury magistrate (our hero, Mr Knightley) would be unlikely to order Harriet hanged (I doubt even Austen could redeem a hero who sentences his heroine’s ‘particular friend’ to the gallows), Miss Smith still, technically, commits a crime in this scene. Leaving aside the impact this moment has on the romantic machinations of Emma and her friends, it affords us a rare glimpse into a Regency England that is not often represented in contemporary works.

Austen’s England is a very specific place. A place inhabited only by the English themselves. It is very interesting that one of the few glimpses her readers ever receive of the scaffolding behind this construct, is in the novel where her heroine is labelled by the author herself as ‘an imaginist’ – because, of course, the ideal of a homogenous England is pure imagination: Especially as the empire was at its height at the time, both from a cultural and a mercantile perspective.

There are hints of a similar façade – and Austen’s awareness that this is a façade – in Mansfield Park as well. Sir Thomas Bertram’s references to the slave trade in Jamaica, and its importance as the mainstay of his wealth, is touched upon. He even suggests introducing some of his ‘stock’ at Mansfield Park, but this is not taken seriously. What happens in Jamaica must stay in Jamaica. England is only for the English, Sir Thomas!

The British Empire once spanned a quarter of the known world, but at no point were the native-born residents of these colonies truly deemed to be ‘English’. These antipodeans were not, after all, actually resident in England itself. At least, not most of them. What if the ‘non-English’ people were not ‘out there’ in the colonies? What if they did, in fact, live in England right alongside the Bertrams, the Woodhouses, the Knightleys – and even the Bennets?

Which brings me to the Romany of England: Their position in these narratives is unique; almost as unusual as their place in Regency England – because of course they had one. They lived, loved, and mattered in the same geographic spaces as Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith.

The fact is, this ‘England-only-for-the-English’ was peopled by another culture entirely. England was, and is, a shared land. Two cultures, so vastly different in so many ways, coexisted for centuries, and rarely peacefully. The English Romany were as present and alive and wonderfully romantic as the Regency English. Coming from a mostly oral tradition, Romany stories from that time are rarely found in print but that they were there, and experienced this period, and undoubtedly have stories to tell about it – is visible even in the work of authors determined to showcase only their ‘own England’ to their ‘own’ readers.

Austen’s England has the backing of every powerful institution of her day. In terms of crafting the dominant narrative, the English are able to draw on the Crown, the Military, the Law, and of course the Church, which played such a vital part in the lives and lovers of Regency England. Even Heaven sides with the English in Austen’s world view. Her father, let’s not forget, was a clergyman. In the incident ascribed above, Austen does not specifically accuse the ‘gypsies’ of being heathens, but they are clearly depicted as ‘other’; outside the town limits of Highbury itself and dark, terrifying, criminal, and dangerous. They certainly do not ‘fit’ in Austen’s England, and are quite unsatisfyingly removed from Emma’s tale as soon as they have served their rather meagre narrative purpose: “The Gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice: they took themselves off in a hurry.”

Or rather, the author moved them quickly off her bleached white pages and out of ‘her’ England – despite the truth that there were non-English people present in Austen’s England; other voices with their own perspectives and their own stories worth telling, and worth writing. Contemporary Regency writers can not erase these different voices from their tales, because these real people existed all around them, finding their way into these ‘English-only’ narratives with the same kind of side-eye once given to the Irishman and the Scot. The cultural difference between these latter still-European folk and the Romany is, however, far greater – which may account for the fact that their treatment at the hands of English Regency writers seems to have been far worse.

It is difficult to be born into a place that never allows you to become a part of it without a fight, a plea, an effort to assimilate and cut away the parts of you that discomfit the powerful dominant culture all around you. It is more than difficult; it is painful and damaging. The very term ‘marginalisation’ is an admission of the lack of narrative ‘space’ allotted to the voices fiction has chosen to leave unloved, and unnoticed.

The term ‘marginal’ itself bothers me. It is almost (but not quite) a pejorative, which is why I place it in single quotes. I have here done the same with the term ‘gypsy’. I am aware that neither term is universally regarded as harmful. Debates rage all over this, on may fronts. I am only one writer; one voice among many and I have no answers. That there is ongoing debate however, is encouraging.

For myself, born into a marginalised culture with a mostly oral tradition, the ‘minor’ incident in Emma stands out. After all, my own tribe has quite a bit in common with the Romany. There was once a link made between the Romany of Europe and the Lost Tribes of Israel. It turned out to be incorrect, but the placement of ‘other’ in an otherwise ‘native’ land is a context embedded into my lived experience every day – and that’s quite apart from the grim reality shared in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II; a shared history I am sure not even an imaginist like Austen – or Emma – could envisage. Its very surreality is what allows deniability to play so plausibly in the minds of those focused on the façade, rather than any kind of ‘real’ history.

Real history is profoundly unromantic – and yet, somehow, we still try. There is beauty in stories, in narratives of the tales about long-ago lovers and their imagined worlds. There is much solace to be found in story – I love re-reading Austen (although Emma is not my favourite of her works), but in between the wonder of her words, I find myself reading for traces. Traces of others who were there – and whose stories deserve to be told.

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, www.artphotobykira.com.au

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, http://www.artphotobykira.com.au

About Clyve Rose:

Clyve Rose has been writing historical romance fiction for the best part of two decades. Her newest work, Always a Princess, published by Boroughs Publishing Group, debuts this September. She works in the historical romance, fantasy, and speculative fiction genres. She also creates literary novels under an alternative pen name. In between her devotion to fiction writing, Clyve researches various mythologies and historical periods, often basing her characters on actual historical personalities.​

One of her novels was longlisted for a Hachette Development Award for Fiction while her paranormal short story, The One Below, won the Passionate Ink (RWA) award for best Speculative Fiction Short.

​Visit her online at:

Connect with Clyve Rose at ClyveRose.com and Instagram.com/ClyveRose, in which she writes “Clyve Rose is an award-winning Regency Romance author. New Regency release out on 8 Sept. 2020.”

Read Full Post »

Till this moment, I never knew myself.”–Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, quoted in 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen.

In these days of stress and anxiety, do you long for a few minutes of peaceful reflection each day? Take a 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen. Jane is an excellent travel companion!

Cover of the book 30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

Natasha Duquette has chosen thirty profound passages from Jane Austen. Most are from Austen’s novels; the last three are from her prayers.

Each daily passage is followed by an explanation, putting the passage in context and sometimes including connections to Austen’s life. Then a Reflection section connects the passage to our lives, giving us thoughts to chew on for that day.

The brief chapters in this book encouraged and inspired me each morning.

Highlights

Here are a few highlights that I appreciated:

Some reflections focus on our own hearts. On Day Two, Elinor Dashwood considers how “extravagance and vanity” have made Willoughby “cold-hearted and selfish” (Sense and Sensibility). Duquette points out that the Austen family themselves had to live economically, unlike some of Austen’s characters.

Natasha Duquette tells us that Elinor “realizes unthinking habits of luxury have led Willoughby to waste the valuable gifts placed in his hands. . . . Wasteful choices can interfere with true joy in our lives.”

The section concludes, “Focus on practices that build positive attachments to God, to human beings, and to other gifts in your life, rather than to material possessions. Think about how you might steward your resources wisely, hold them lightly, and express gratitude for them joyfully.”

A good reminder to live each day with thankfulness for what we have. We can experience joy today, whatever our circumstances, rather than wait for joy from what we might get in the future.

The Dashwoods teach us about peace as well as joy. On Day Three, volatile Marianne Dashwood “resolves to form habits that can lead to health and peace.” She intends to enjoy nature, reading, music, and her sister’s companionship. Could you find health and peace today in any of those ways?

Practical Suggestions

Some lessons are concrete. On Day Seven, Elizabeth Bennet reflects on Darcy’s letter as she walks for two hours. Duquette points out, “The classical philosopher Aristotle believed reason was sharpened by walking. Austen agreed.”

Image of Elizabeth and Darcy: After Elizabeth receives Darcy's letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

After Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

The Reflection section adds, “Such walking grounds us in reality. Often an answer to a problem will crystallize not as we are sitting statically before a computer screen but as we are physically moving somehow.” Duquette encourages us to “Reconsider a problem or challenging situation in your life as you exercise.”

Even in days of isolation, we need ways to exercise our bodies and give ourselves time to think. I walk up and down the hall of my small apartment for thirty minutes each day, thinking and praying. Others of you may have the opportunity to walk outside, as Elizabeth Bennet did, enjoying the outdoors as you consider whatever comes to mind.

Encouragement for Relationships

Day 10 is about our relationships. In Mansfield Park, Edmund finds his little cousin Fanny crying. He asks persistent questions and listens well, to console her. He then takes her outside, where she can be comforted by the beauties of nature. Duquette explains, “Edmund’s care for Fanny is pastoral, foreshadowing his eventual call into life as an Anglican priest.”

Jane Austen was sent away from home to study with Mrs. Cawley when she was only seven. So she knew how Fanny felt.

Duquette encourages us to notice people who are sad, and “then make time and space to listen to their story in a peaceful environment. You may be surprised at the effectiveness of such gentle attention.” Such deep connections, whether virtual or in person, can encourage you both.

 

Image of Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Spiritual Reflections

On Day 15, we think a bit about our mortality. Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park faced death, and because of that he became a better person. Duquette says, “Anglicans in Austen’s day would pray for a good death as part of their liturgy on a Sunday morning.” She encourages us to think about death, not fearfully, but to put our lives in perspective. We might consider, as Tom did, whether we are living for others as well as for ourselves.

The last three days, based on Austen’s prayers, focus more on our relationship with God. Day 30 encourages us to examine our own hearts, and look for ways to “reflect the infinite love of God to a hurting world deeply in need of mercy and grace.”

The 30-Day Journey Series: “Our Greatest Spiritual Thinkers”

30 Day Journey with Jane Austen is the newest addition to the 30-Day Journey series by Fortress Press. The publisher says:

“Enrich each day with wisdom from our greatest spiritual thinkers. Through brief daily readings and reflections, the 30-Day Journey series invites readers to be inspired and transformed. By devoting a moment to meaningful reflection and spiritual growth, readers will find deeper understanding of themselves and the world, one day at a time.”

I’m delighted, though a little surprised, to see Jane Austen join our “greatest spiritual thinkers”! The others in the series are Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day (Catholic social activist), Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and Emily Dickinson. Quite a varied lineup of thinkers.

I recommend 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen as a peaceful, encouraging way to begin each day. It will help you to reflect more deeply on important truths and how they might affect your life.

Links about the book:

About the blog post author:

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen” at brendascox.wordpress.com .

About Natasha Duquette:  For those who would like to know more about the author of 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen:

Dr. Natasha Duquette, Academic Dean and Professor of Literature, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, B.A., University of Alberta, M.A., University of Toronto, Ph.D., Queen’s University

Dr. Natasha Duquette is author of 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen (Fortress Press, 2020) and is currently serving as editor-in-chief for The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Romantic-Era Women’s Writing (Palgrave MacMillan), which is a collaborative project involving writers based in universities around the globe. She is also author of Veiled Intent (Pickwick, 2016), co-editor of Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony (Lehigh University Press, 2013), and editor of Sublimer Aspects: Interfaces between Literature, Aesthetics, and Theology (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). For the Chawton House Library series, she produced the first annotated, scholarly edition of Helen Maria Williams’s Julia, a novel interspersed with poetical pieces (Routledge, 2009).

Her articles have appeared in the journals PersuasionsPersuasions On-Line, English Studies in CanadaChristianity and LiteratureNotes and QueriesMosaic, and Women’s Writing. She has contributed essays to multiple collections, including Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010) and Art and Artifact in Austen (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Her research has been supported by fellowships from SSHRC, Chawton House, and Gladstone’s Library.

Dr. Duquette enjoys teaching courses on eighteenth-century satire, aesthetics, Jane Austen, African literature, and Indigenous writers of North America. Before coming to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, she taught full-time at the Royal Military College of Canada, Biola University in Southern California, and Tyndale University in Toronto, where she also served as Associate Dean of undergraduate studies for four years.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”—Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park

Picture 1 Clerical Alphabet for Blog Post

Richard Newton’s “A Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. Illustrations by Richard Newton; captions by Newton and publisher William Holland. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet” satirizes the English clergy of Austen’s time. You may be familiar with cartoonists, or caricaturists, of the eighteenth century like Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Some of Rowlandson’s cartoons are based on Richard Newton’s work. Newton’s popular cartoons mocked the “establishment,” including fashions, politicians, the king, and even the church. Newton lived only 21 years. He died of typhus in 1798, shortly after he drew a satirical series on death!

Jane Austen herself wrote satirically, though much more gently, of the clergy. We laugh with her at foolish Mr. Collins, presumptuous Mr. Elton, and gluttonous Dr. Grant. It seems, though, that they performed their jobs as ministers adequately. In Emma, Miss Nash has copied down all the texts (Bible passages) Mr. Elton preached from since he came to Highbury. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says Dr. Grant’s curate does much of his work. But at least Dr. Grant preaches good sermons, according to both Mary and Fanny Price.

Three of Jane Austen’s heroes, Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, and Henry Tilney are conscientious clergymen. Sense and Sensibility tells us of Edward’s “ready discharge of his duties in every particular,” meaning that he willingly and eagerly did all that a clergyman was supposed to do. Henry Tilney employs a curate to do his duties while he is at Bath and Northanger Abbey. But Henry faithfully attends parish meetings, and I think he would have done his duties well once he was full-time at Woodston.

What were the clergy (church ministers or pastors) really like in Austen’s England? Many were good men, serving God and their communities. Jane’s father and brothers and her cousin Edward Cooper were faithful clergymen.

Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, though, doesn’t think much of the clergy. “A clergyman is nothing,” she tells Edmund. Edmund and Fanny have much higher ideas of what the clergy can be, and should be.

Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” By “manners,” he explains that he means actions based on religious principles. He says the clergy have a huge influence on the people of their area.

Unfortunately, the church system in Austen’s day allowed anyone with a gentleman’s education and the right family and social connections to become a clergyman. Even an immoral man like Wickham could have been a clergyman, if he had not renounced his claim.

Newton’s cartoon shows us some of the major issues in Austen’s Church of England. Some of his clergymen are very fat and some are very thin. The church livings of Austen’s England were unevenly distributed. Some provided a high income, others a low income, and some were moderate. Let’s look in more detail at Newton’s criticisms of the Church of England in Jane Austen’s time, and how they connect to Austen’s novels.

Picture 2 Clerical Alphabet ABCDE

A, B, C, D, and E of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

The “Clerical Alphabet” begins:
A Was Archbishop with a red face,
B Was a Bishop who long’d for his place.
C Was a Curate, a poor Sans Culotte,
D Was a Dean who refus’d him a Coat
Even grudged him small beer to moisten his throat. (No picture for E, just a caption.)

A-B: In the Church of England, the king was the supreme authority of the church, and under him was the archbishop of Canterbury, then the archbishop of York. Each archbishop supervised a number of bishops, and the bishops supervised the more than 11,000 parish priests of England. Bishops and archbishops were wealthy men, with high incomes from the church. They were members of the House of Lords in Parliament. Mr. Collins says he is not worried that the archbishop or Lady Catherine will rebuke him for dancing. In reality, the archbishop would not know of Mr. Collins’s existence! Collins is exalting Lady Catherine by putting her at the same level as the highest church official.
C: Sans Culotte is French for “without pants” (more literally “without knee breeches”; the peasants wore long trousers instead of the knee breeches worn by upper classes). The “Sans Culotte” were the lower class French people who supported the French Revolution. In the English church, curates were the lowest rung of the clergy. Most lived on stipends of only £50 per year or less, barely enough for survival. They either assisted rectors and vicars, or led services in their place. In Persuasion, Mary Musgrove looks down on Charles Hayter as “nothing but a country curate.
D-E: A dean was another wealthy church leader, the head clergyman overseeing a major church. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Grant says they can move to London if someone commends “Dr. Grant to the deanery [the dean’s office] of Westminster or St. Paul’s.” Dr. Grant does get such a promotion at the end of the book. However, his gluttony kills him. No doubt this is Jane Austen’s own satire of wealthy clergymen!
Small beer was cheap beer with a low alcohol content. The church was not generous to the poor curates.

Picture 3 Clerical Alphabet FGHI

F, G, H, and I of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

F Was a Fellow of Brazen-Nose College
G Was a Graduate guileless of knowledge
H Was a high-flying Priest had a call!
I Was an Incumbent did nothing at all.

F: Brazen-Nose College is a pun on Brasenose College of Oxford University. Fellows were the senior members of a college, usually clergymen. This one enjoys his pipe and his wine.
G: The graduate, without knowledge, is likely a member of the highest social classes. The nobility and others with wealth could graduate from Oxford or Cambridge University simply by being there for a certain amount of time. Students who were not as rich had to write essays in Latin and take exams. Clergymen followed the same course of study as any other gentlemen, plus they had to show up for one course on theology. Edward Ferrars says he was “properly idle” at Oxford.
H: The clergy was considered an occupation at this time, not usually a calling from God.
I: Once a man had a church living (a post as rector or vicar of a parish), he was the incumbent. He held the living until he died. In old age, or if he moved elsewhere, he would hire a curate to perform his duties. Although Dr. Grant gets a post at Westminster and moves to London, he still has the income from the parish of Mansfield Park (he is still the incumbent) until he dies. Then Edmund can take that parish.
(At this time, I and J were considered to be the same letter. So there is no J in this alphabet. That is also why the Jane Austen sampler has an I but no J.)

Picture 4 Clerical Alphabet KLMN

K, L, M, and N of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

K Was King’s Chaplain as pompous as Dodd,
L Was a Lecturer dull as a clod.
M Was a Methodist Parson, stark mad!
N Was a NonCon and nearly as bad.

K: The king’s chaplain was the king’s personal priest for the Chapel Royal. William Dodd (1729-1777) was an extravagant clergyman who became chaplain to the King of England in 1763. To clear his debts, he forged a bond for £4200. He was convicted and hanged in 1777.
L: A lecturer was a preacher chosen and paid by the congregation who gave additional sermons (“lectures”) at a church, usually at afternoon or evening services.
M: The Methodists were part of the Church of England until around this time. They were known for their emotional enthusiasm and their focus on salvation by grace. Some Methodist preachers, including John Wesley, preached to large open-air meetings. According to Wesley’s Journal, listeners sometimes responded with “outcries, convulsions, visions, and trances.” More orthodox Anglicans considered this madness. When Edmund rebukes Mary Crawford, she ridicules him, saying, “when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists.” In the late 1700s, the Methodists separated from the Church of England and became Dissenters.
N: A NonCon was a Non-Conformist or Dissenter, a person who did not “conform” to the Church of England (or “dissented” from its statement of faith). These included Catholics, who faced major prejudices in Austen’s England. Baptists, Quakers, Independents, Unitarians, and others all fell into this category. They were usually from the middle and lower classes at this time. They could not get a degree from the universities, and were not supposed to hold public office. Mainstream Anglicans thought Nonconformists were enthusiasts (excessively emotional) like the Methodists.

Picture 5 Clerical Alphabet OPQ

O, P, and Q of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

O Was an Orator, stupid and sad.
P Was a Pluralist ever a-craving
Q A queer Parson at Pluralists raving!

O: An orator, as today, was a public speaker. In Mansfield Park, Edmund and Henry Crawford discuss how to best read the liturgy and preach in Church of England services. They agree that it was often done poorly. Edmund says that things have changed, and now, “It is felt that distinctness and energy may have weight in recommending the most solid truths.” Edmund is concerned with communicating truth. Henry, though, would like to speak well in order to be popular and admired.
P-Q: Pluralists held multiple church livings. They might live in one parish and serve as its minister and pay curates to serve the others, while they took most of the income from those parishes as well. They were not necessarily fat, though. Some livings were quite small and the clergyman needed a second one. Jane Austen’s father held two livings, at Steventon and Deane. They were close enough together that he could lead services at both churches on Sundays, and the income from each was low. Some pluralists, however, were extremely wealthy. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram says a clergyman should reside in his parish to set an example and care for the people of the parish. We don’t know what Edmund did once he had two parishes to care for, at Mansfield Park and Thornton Lacey.

Picture 6 Clerical Alphabet RSTU

R, S, T, and U of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

R Was a Rector at Pray’rs went to sleep
S Was his Shepherd who fleec’d all his sheep.
T Was a Tutor, a dull Pedagogue
U Was an Usher delighted to flog.

R: Mr. Collins was quite proud of being a rector. The rector received all the tithes from the parish; a vicar like Mr. Elton only received a portion of the tithes.
S: This is a play on words. The clergyman was to be a shepherd, caring for his parishioners, his flock. However, he also had to collect tithes from them: one-tenth of their farm income, including crops, the young of animals, and even eggs from their poultry.
T: At Oxford, each student had a tutor responsible for his education. The tutor gave assignments and lectured. A pedagogue is a teacher, especially a pompous or strict one.
U: An usher was an assistant to a schoolmaster. Schools were often run by clergymen. Flogging, or whipping, was a common punishment.

Picture 7 Clerical Alphabet V-Z

V, W, X, Y, and Z of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

V Was a Vicar who smok’d and drank grog.
W Was a wretched Welch Parson in rags.
X Stands for Tenths or for Tythes in the bags.
Y Was a young Priest the butt of Lay Wags.
Z Is a letter most people call Izzard
And I think what I’ve said will stick in their gizzard. (No picture for Z.)

V: A vicar, like Mr. Elton, was a clergyman who only got about a quarter of the tithes for the parish; someone else, often the squire, received the rest. Drunkenness was a widespread issue in Austen’s England. Grog was an alcoholic drink, usually rum and water. It was usually associated with sailors.

W: The church in Wales was poor compared to the church in England.

X: The clergy’s main income came from tithes, collected from farmers in the parish (see S). People of the parish were legally required to pay tithes to the clergyman, even if they were Dissenters. This sometimes caused friction between clergymen and the people of the parish.

Y: Laymen, who were not clergy, made fun of this priest. Johnson’s Dictionary says a wag is anyone “ludicrously mischievous.” The cartoonist Newton himself was apparently one of these “lay wags” making fun of priests.

Z: Izzard is a dialectal word for z, first recorded about 1726. Newton wasn’t afraid to irritate his readers.

Do any of these clergymen remind you of characters in Austen’s novels? I think Dr. Grant might have become the fat dean if he had lived long enough. Mr. Collins might end up as the dozing rector. And Collins wanted to be a pluralist; he hoped for more livings from Lady Catherine.

This was obviously an exaggerated picture of the church in Austen’s England. Because of such clergymen who abused their positions, though, many people like Mary Crawford thought poorly of the church and the clergy. The cartoon points out some of the issues that later generations would correct.

About the author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

The British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG40122 offers brief information about Newton and a link to Newton’s many caricatures held by the British Museum. For more about Richard Newton and his life and cartoons, see Lambiek.

Read Full Post »

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). BRLSI is a respected non profit organization set up 200 years ago as a centre for Enlightenment ideas and intellectual discussion in Bath, England (where Jane Austen lived!).
The Institute is having a virtual lecture this Saturday July 4th at 7.30pm British time (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST) with Dr. Georgina Newton regarding Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today.
Cost of this virtual lecture is just two pounds to get a ticket (2.50 USD) – and it is all online, so you can join in from wherever. The money raised will go towards the upkeep and preservation of the society. Click on this link to reserve your virtual spot.
From the BRLSI website :
Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today (LIVE ONLINE LECTURE)
Jane Austen’s novels typically conjure images of love, romance and femininity. But her acute observations on how society treated women in relation to equality, financial independence and opportunity reveal a mind strikingly in step with feminist thinking in the 21st Century.
In this special talk for the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Dr Georgina Newton examines how the hopes and concerns of today’s young women compare with those of Jane Austen’s era and how the author of Pride and Prejudice has much to say to modern readers.
SATURDAY JULY 4TH, 7.30pm GMT (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST).

 

Read Full Post »

“after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some curious water-plant, . . .” –Pride and Prejudice, chapter 43; Elizabeth Bennet, the Gardiners, and Mr. Darcy do a bit of “botanizing” during their walk at Pemberley.

On May 30 and 31, 2020, Chawton House hosted a refreshing Virtual Garden Festival. If you missed it, you can still watch most of it online. You can virtually tour the beautiful Chawton House Gardens with Chawton House volunteer Yvette Carpenter or walk the Jane Austen Garden Trail with Clio O’Sullivan. An intriguing section of the gardens highlights a pioneering woman botanist of the eighteenth century. She lived in an era when science was the nearly-exclusive province of men.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herbal Garden

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is inside the Walled Garden built by Edward Knight. In Jane Austen’s letter of July 3-6, 1813, she wrote from her home, Chawton Cottage, that her brother Edward Knight was enjoying his property at nearby Chawton House. She said, “He talks of making a new Garden . . . at the top of the Lawn behind his own house—We like to have him proving & strengthening his attachment to the place by making it better.” The garden Edward built (which was finished after Austen’s death) has been restored, and the Herb Garden was added in 2016. 

Each section of the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is planted with medicinal herbs that were used to treat different parts of the body. For example, the Chest Bed includes herbs used to treat ailments of a person’s chest, such as coughs. The other sections are Head Beds, Digestion Beds, and Skin Beds. Carpenter tells us that many of these medicinal herbs, such as rosemary, were also used in cooking. Others have -wort as part of their names, indicating they were used for healing. For example, doctors today still recommend the use of St. John’s Wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. In the 1700s, Blackwell said it was used against “melancholy and madness.” Other herbs, as the narrator points out, sound magical, like the dragon tree, snakeweed, and mandrake.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, Lady Botanist

The plants in this garden are described in a book owned by the Chawton House Library. A Curious Herbal (1737-9), by Elizabeth Blackwell, is said to be the first herbal produced by a woman. It was also far superior to other herbals available at the time. An “herbal” was a book of plants used as medicines. Blackwell drew and colored 500 meticulously-detailed color plates, each of a different plant, with its flower, seeds, and fruit. Along with each plate is the name of the plant in various languages, a description of it, and how it was used medically. The British Library shows 42 pages of A Curious Herbal online, with summarized information about 38 of the plants. (The Biodiversity Heritage Library offers a complete scanned version.)

Amanda Edmiston, an herbalist and professional storyteller, tells Elizabeth Blackwell’s story. According to Edmiston, Elizabeth was born around 1707 in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Elizabeth eloped with a physician named Alexander Blackwell. His medical credentials were called into question, so they fled to London and she set him up in a printing business. (In Scotland, unlike England, women kept their own property after marriage, so she had the money to do this.) Unfortunately, Alexander was also not qualified to be a printer. He got deep into debt, and ended up in debtor’s prison. Elizabeth, penniless, stayed loyal to her husband, and looked for a way to support herself and their young son, and to pay off his debts. 

Elizabeth Blackwell came up with a plan as she and her son enjoyed the Chelsea Physic Garden. Physic meant medical; the plants in this garden were used to treat illnesses. It was filled with exotic plants. Sir Hans Sloane, a respected doctor and renowned naturalist, had collected the plants on his botanical journeys around the world. Many, including cocoa, came from the Americas. Elizabeth became friends with Sir Hans, as well as with the director and the head gardener of the Physic Garden. They supported her idea of creating a whole new herbal, including both native and imported plants. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, who rented the garden from Sir Hans Sloane, also officially approved her project. This support was crucial, since otherwise the scientific work of Blackwell, a woman, would probably not have been accepted and respected. 

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Even after Blackwell’s achievement, women botanists of the 1760s had to disguise themselves as men to study plants. In the 1790s, a clergyman wrote that it was “unseemly” for girls to study botany. But with the approval of medical and botanical experts, Elizabeth had been able to publish her groundbreaking Curious Herbal

A Curious Herbal

Before this time, most plants in herbals were not drawn from life. For example, mandrakes were often drawn with the root in the shape of an actual man and were said to scream as they were uprooted (as Harry Potter experiences in his magical herbology classes!). Elizabeth Blackwell, however, drew all 500 plants directly from real plants, some from the Physic Garden and others from other collections in Europe. Her illustrations were thus completely accurate. They can still be used today to clearly identify plants. 

It was said that her husband Alexander wrote the text of the book while he was in prison. Edmiston speculates that it’s more likely that Elizabeth did the writing herself. She had access to experts and to a library including texts that she often references. The idea that Alexander, a male physician, had written the text was probably a fiction to make the book more acceptable.

Elizabeth Blackwell published a section of the herbal with four plants every week, from 1737 to 1739 (about forty years before Jane Austen’s birth). Serial publication made her knowledge available and affordable for many, as well as giving her a regular income. The book did well and raised enough money for her to pay her husband’s debts and get him out of prison. However, he then took a job in Sweden. He got caught up in a plot there to overthrow the king and was executed, just as his wife was about to travel to join him. So Elizabeth and her son were on their own again; we don’t know much about the rest of her life.

 

 

 

In Edmiston’s further videos, she tells stories about many of the plants in Blackwell’s herbal. In Afternoon Tea with the Curious Herbal, we learn about cucumbers, tomatoes, green tea, chocolate, and coffee. Part 3, A Walk Through a Garden, includes stories about rosemary, St. John’s wort, lavender, yarrow, sage, and lemon balm. Take a look!

Other Lady Botanists

Blackwell was not the only woman botanist who published about plants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In “The Women Who Wrote Plants,” Katie Childs introduces us to other women whose books on botany are in the Chawton House Library. 

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

My favorite title is The Wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Mary Roberts, published in 1822. The “wonders” are described in a series of letters; perhaps imitating the approach of the famous naturalist Gilbert White. (Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne in 1789 was a groundbreaking book on the natural world and ecology. You can visit his house, which is now a fascinating museum, just a short drive from Jane Austen’s house at Chawton.) Roberts also wrote A Popular History of the Mollusca, with 18 color plates showing varieties of seashells and the creatures that live in them. It doesn’t sound like a “popular” subject, but perhaps it was in her day!

While women were not expected to write adult books on botany during Austen’s lifetime, it was fine for them to write botany textbooks for children’s education. These are quite detailed, like adult books. Priscilla Wakefield’s text for children, Introduction to Botany, was published in 1796. She wrote it as a series of letters, with color illustrations. In Katie Childs’ presentation, she tells us that Wakefield was a Quaker social reformer who started a maternity hospital. Elizabeth Fry, the famous Quaker prison reformer, was Wakefield’s niece.

Cover of An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection.

An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection. 

Botany did become a fashionable pursuit for elegant ladies. Botanical Rambles (1826), by Lucy Sarah Atkins, is subtitled, “Designed as an Early and Familiar Introduction to the Elegant and Pleasing Study of Botany.” The ability to draw plants accurately became an “accomplishment” ladies aspired to. Books were written specifically on how to draw plants, including information about the plants themselves. Watch Ms. Childs’ talk for more about early female botanical writers, and to see illustrations from their books.

Beatrix Potter, Expert on Fungi!

Speaking of discrimination against women in science, especially in botany: Much later, in 1897, a paper on fungi by Beatrix Potter (yes, the author of Peter Rabbit) was presented at the Linnaean Society in London. However, since she was a woman, she was not allowed to present, or even to attend the meeting. Her paper, presented by her uncle, was not taken seriously since it was written by a woman. Today, though, Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of various fungi are used around the world to identify species of mushrooms.

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books. ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books, ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215.

Highlight of the Festival: Gardens in Jane Austen

On Sunday, the Garden Festival offered some presentations specifically for gardeners, so if gardening is one of your passions, you may want to check those out.

For Jane Austen lovers like me, though, the highlight of the festival was “Love in the Shrubbery: Gardens in Jane Austen’s Life and Works.” Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, finished out the festival with this charming presentation. In it, she shows us gardens Austen knew. She also explains and illustrates those terms like shrubbery and wilderness, describing places where Austen’s ladies and gentlemen walk. Did you know that shrubberies had paths made of gravel to keep the ladies’ feet dry, since wet feet were considered potentially fatal? (Think of Marianne Dashwood, sitting in wet shoes and stockings before her near-fatal illness.) If you only have time to watch one video from the Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival, I recommend this delightful 28-minute presentation.

I also joined in an engaging creative writing workshop led by Claire Thurlow, “A Garden Writing Retreat.” Claire encouraged the participants to imagine ourselves in our own special gardens as we write. While that workshop is not available online, you might use Kim Wilson’s talk, or any of the virtual garden tours from the festival, to enjoy time in a virtual garden today. I hope it will refresh your soul.

Note for anyone who might be wondering: There was also a later Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman to graduate in medicine in the United States, in 1849. Both Blackwells were pioneering women in the medical field of their times.

A Word About the Author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on “Faith, Science, Joy, . . . and Jane Austen!” at brendascox.wordpress.com . Under the category “Science” at her site, you will find other articles on science in Jane Austen’s England, including women of science like Caroline Herschel and Mary Anning.

Quote from Austen’s letters is from p. 224 of Deirdre Le Faye’s fourth edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Links embedded in the article:

 

 

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Image of the book cover of Danse de la Folie by Sherwood SmithLovers of Austen novels will find much delight in Sherwood Smith’s Danse de la Folie. With more wit than romance, this novel introduces two couples, mapping their relationships onto the quadrille. Smith’s attention to historical details, family dynamics, and rich characters create an engaging story.

Using the four dancers of the quadrille, Sherwood Smith overtly indicates our heroes and heroines. The first heroine on the page is the Honourable Miss Clarissa Harlowe. Described as plain in comparison with her younger stepsisters, Clarissa is warm, observant, and conscientious—especially kind to her servants. And unlike the witty heroines of most Austen books, Clarissa will inherit a large fortune when she comes of age.

Clarissa’s Hampshire household combines all the best domestic elements of Austen novels—benevolent parents, garrulous sisters, and wealth. Smith writes Lord and Lady Chadwick, their bevy of young daughters, and the widowed Aunt Sophia without any of the financial anxieties of the Bennets or Dashwoods. Aunt Sophia is Smith’s nod to Mrs. Norris, but the reader will not see Clarissa treated like Fanny Price. Though Clarissa is a child of Lord Chadwick’s first marriage, her glamorous stepmother, the present Lady Chadwick, treats her kindly.

As an heiress, Clarissa has lost her taste for romance. She has endured suitors only interested in her fortune, so she is reticent to be swept away by the popular tales of languishing love. She tells her friend Lady Kitty, “I do not see the appeal in hopelessness.”

Catherine Decourcey (Lady Kitty) lives for romance, gothic tropes, and wild narratives. Where Clarissa is wealthy, unassuming, and practical, our second heroine is beautiful, imaginative, and in desperate need of financial help. After Clarissa survives a shipwreck, she and Kitty become fast friends while she recovers at Kitty’s family home, Tarval Hall. The friendship shows both women at their best: Clarissa, wise and generous, and Kitty, earnest and sensitive. If you’ve ever wanted to refashion Elinor and Marianne Dashwood with contemporary depth, you can thank Shewood Smith for Clarissa Harlowe and Catherine Decourcey.

Though Clarissa has no desire to marry, a persistent suitor awaits her return to Hampshire: the ponderous Lord Wilburfolde. Well-born, respectable, and dull, Lord Wilburfolde prefaces every comment with, “My mother says.” With no suitors of her own, Lady Kitty accompanies Clarissa and her family to Hampshire and then to London for the Season, determined to publish her novel and marry well so she can ease her family’s financial burdens.

While the dancing romance of the novel only favors two couples, Miss Lucretia Boulderston angles for a chance to play the heroine. A neighbor to Lady Kitty, and quietly engaged to Kitty’s brother Carlisle, Lucretia uses every opportunity to gain social advantages. After her first meeting with Clarissa, Sherwood Smith writes, “Miss Boulderston curtseyed and departed, leaving behind a pleasant trace of French scent, and a general sense of constraint.” Lucretia is a calculating presence in the novel, snubbing her family and friends by turns, plying gentlemen with wine, and planning a picnic just to get caught in the rain. Her betrothal to Carlisle is privately announced early on, and inserted into the newspaper much later—without Carlisle’s consent.

Though Carlisle is not secretly engaged like Edward Ferrars, the arrangement is equally burdensome. For much of the novel, Carlisle cannot pursue the woman he loves—all because Lucretia engineered a kiss in the garden years ago. Quiet and well-read, Carlisle Decourcey inherited his father’s title as the Marquess of St. Tarval, but not his reputation as a spendthrift and rake. Our hero wants to keep his family home in good repair, spend a quiet life in the country, and introduce his sister into society. He struggles to find the means.

The final hero is Philip Devereaux, a sharp, fashionable gentleman, and the object of Lucretia’s most determined machinations. Like his cousin Clarissa, Philip is pursued for his wealth. Lucretia dreams of becoming his wife—“only two deaths away from being a duchess”—and making London society sick with envy.

The four dancers come together in the London Season, meeting at the weekly Almack’s balls, occasional soirees, rides in the park, and even a duchess’s masquerade. Smith’s writing sparkles with the historically appropriate details that contemporary readers crave—observations on fashion, etiquette, and social luminaries like Beau Brummell. While Lady Chadwick copies gown patterns from the Duchess of Devonshire, the younger Miss Boulderston has a suitor known in town for the height of his shirt-points.

Despite her fortune, Clarissa’s position in the novel is another poignant historical circumstance. As an unmarried woman, she fears being a burden to her brother James when he sets up his own household. She accepts Lord Wilburfolde’s suit so she won’t become another Aunt Sophia, living on her brother’s goodwill. But with encouragement from her formidable grandmother, she manages to create a better future for herself.

Though Smith identifies the four dancers clearly, the eventual pairings don’t ring false or shallow at the end of the novel. With a wide cast of characters, Danse de la Folie reads more like a miniseries. Aunt Sophia and Lucretia Boulderston compete for most exaggerated theatrical gestures while Lord and Lady Chadwick are the most benevolent and disinterested parents a reader could wish for. To solve her problems, Lady Kitty declares, “One must be the heroine,” but she never adopts Lucretia’s rehearsed gestures, a running joke throughout the book. Lady Kitty steps into the heroine’s position with her charming artlessness, catching the eye of Mr. Devereaux and proving that warmth and sincerity will defeat strategy and malice.

Image of author Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith

About the author: Sherwood Smith has loved Jane Austen all her life, which led to her getting a degree in European history. She lives in Southern California with her spouse, two kids, and two dogs.

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Book View Cafe (September 25, 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 9781611387407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611387407

 

About the reviewer: Emily K. Michael is a poet, musician, and writing instructor from Jacksonville, FL. She is the poetry editor for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature at Syracuse University, and she curates the Blind Academy blog. Her first book Neoteny: Poems is available from Finishing Line Press (click here to enter the site). Blind and print-disabled users can also find it on Bookshare.

Read more of her work at her website:

  • “On the Blink: How My Light is Spent.” Click on this link.
  • Watch her TEDx FSCJ talk entitled The Confluence of Disability and Imagination (Dec 6, 2016) at this link.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Image of the cover of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie JennerIt is my pleasure to introduce to you author Natalie Jenner and her debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. – Rachel Dodge

Let’s begin with a description of the novel to whet your literary appetites:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Introducing Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society:

I first “met” Natalie Jenner online last year, and we’ve since formed a lovely friendship—one that I foresee extending into the future for a very long time. That’s the thing about Jane Austen devotees: We always seem to find one another, even if we’re from different parts of the world, because of our shared love for Jane, her life, and her work. That magic is also what immediately drew me to Natalie’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, a story about a group of people who are drawn together based on their love for all things Austen and a desire to protect her legacy.

As a fellow writer, I couldn’t wait to pick Natalie’s brain about how she came up with such a beautiful concept for a novel. Her answers to my questions gave me a further glimpse into her creative process and the story of how this novel came to be. I’ve loved getting to know Natalie this past year. And I hope, once you read her interview, you’ll feel like you know her, too.

Q: When did you first discover Jane Austen and how have her books touched your life?

A: I discovered a beautiful 1976 Dutton edition of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelves when I was a child, and I remember being besotted by the fact that the book came in a box with a ribbon that ran through it, by the wonderful ink and wash illustrations by Isabel Bishop, and most of all by that crazy dialogue-heavy opening scene with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that reads just like a screenplay.

Austen’s books have touched my life in many ways: as a teenager, they introduced me to female characters with little social agency yet huge reservoirs of inner conviction and resilience and hope. As I started my own adult and family life, books like Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility in particular showed me a side to the pathos of real grown-up life that seemed missing from so much modern culture. And most recently, Austen helped me through a challenging time in middle age by her personal example of living with chronic pain and grief, and writing through illness and despair.

Q: What initially inspired you to write The Jane Austen Society? (Do you remember where you were when the idea first came to you?)

A: I remember exactly where I was. I had been spending a “quiet year” rereading all of Austen, looking for solace when my husband was diagnosed in his early 50s with a very rare and incurable form of lung disease. This led me to start reading as many books about her life as I could find, which in turn inspired me to take a bucket list trip to Bath and Chawton to literally walk in Austen’s footsteps, as well as attend my first JASNA regional event. I was also binge-watching a lot of Downton Abbey and British television during this time, including a home real estate series called Escape to the Country. When my husband’s lung decline started to stabilize following experimental treatment, I remember feeling hope for the first time in two years of what was frankly a medical nightmare. Along with hope, I was also surprised to find myself yearning to write again, after locking five unpublished manuscripts from my 30s away in a drawer many years ago. Initially I was going to write about a group of people trying to rescue an old British estate house, similar to Downton Abbey. But my daughter very clearly remembers me one day, out of the blue, looking up from my reading and saying very simply instead, “I am going to write a book about a group of people trying to save Jane Austen’s house.” And that is pretty much still the tag line for my book.

Q: At what point did you decide to write it as a fictional account? Did the story come to you all at once or did it slowly build as you planned and drafted?

A: Interestingly, because my first impulse was to write something completely fictional about a made-up house, the idea of any of it being related to Austen only came upon the heels of that. So, fictional first, then Austen second. I conceived of eight to ten characters, half men and half women, and I gave them jobs (as a career coach in my other life, I know how important one’s job is to one’s identity, and in looking back, I think that must be why so much of the action stems from the fact of someone being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a servant girl).

That was all the planning that I did in advance. When I sat down one day to write, an image immediately came to mind of a man, tired and lonely and sad, lying back on the very stone wall in the churchyard of St. Nicholas where I had rested the fall before when visiting Chawton. I remember typing that first chapter, having this man meet the Austen fan from America who has descended on his village, making up his life story, having him start reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the library (that moment we can all relate to, that very first “hit”), and then I wrote the words “He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy” and right away I knew what my book was really going to be about. People in love with Jane Austen, and then learning to love themselves. I write completely without a plan or outline of any kind—I love it, it’s so exhilarating, and it lets my characters drive the action, so everything always comes as a complete surprise to me. That’s where all the fun in writing is for me. Revision is the penance for the fun.

Q: How do your characters “introduce” themselves to you? What is the process you use to create and develop them?

A: My characters appear to me completely formed and ready, in terms of their appearance but also their temperament, personality, and mannerisms. I can’t explain it, and I haven’t asked other authors how common that is, probably because I am afraid of the answer! I can immediately picture everything about my characters when they first appear to me except—strangely—the exact features of their face. Their faces always remain a little blurry, but that does enable me to do stunt-casting later on for my dream movie or tv version.

Q: Your character names are perfectly charming! How did you come up with their names?

A: This is also a strangely intuitive part of the process, as the names for the most part just pop up in my mind. But I do remember struggling with Dr. Gray’s first name, Benjamin, because I wanted it to be traditional and strong and pleasant, but also not overly common. And I am going to give you a little nugget: I had already picked Mimi for the Hollywood actress’s name, and it was only later in researching the name that I learned that “Mimi” is also a diminutive for “Mary Ann”—which was, obviously, so perfect, and a sign that I just could not ignore. Once I had all the names in place, and because I did not want to step on any real-life people in creating this fictional work about a very real society and place, I did go through census records online for the village of Chawton, trying to the best of my ability to ensure that no real villagers now or in the past shared surnames with any of my characters, just to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

Q: What was your research process for this book and what sources did you consult? Did you visit any Jane Austen sites in England?

A: So I had actually done a year of what I now call “unintentional research” when I was sitting in my garden rereading Austen and then reading every book I could find on the story of her life. I was particularly impacted by the following books: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe, Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman, and Reading Austen in America by Professor Juliette Wells, all of which really got me thinking about Austen fandom and how it has manifested itself historically; and Caroline Knight’s memoir, Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, which introduced me to the more private, familial side of Chawton House’s history.

Throughout my life I have visited and revisited many Austen sites, but during this particular time, I was fortunate to get to spend a week on my own in Hampshire. Every morning I would make the same walk to Chawton from Alton that Austen herself used to make. I would be the first person to arrive at the Jane Austen’s House Museum when it opened in the morning, and the last person to leave Chawton House at the end of the day. All of this “research” was done before I even had an inkling that I was going to write a book about any of it one day!

Q: Are there any characters or storylines in the book that strike a chord with you personally? Do you have a favorite character?

A: I love this question, because yes! Adeline the war widow can be a polarizing figure but her total immersion in her grief really resonated with me—it was like a funhouse mirror reflection of the great parts of her character: the intensity, the curiousity, the always-up-for-a-fight. She’s just so independent and her own person, and I loved that about her. I also loved Dr. Gray, who is propping this entire little village totally at the expense of his own emotional healing, which seemed so human to me. But my real soft spot is for Evie: she is my daughter and myself at that age, so single-mindedly focused on her intellectual growth and academic ambition, and just waiting, impatiently, for her moment in the sun.

Q: Where and when do you get your writing done? Can you share any rituals or quirks you have as a writer?

A: My main quirk as a writer is the fact that I can and do write anywhere, anytime. I gave up my home office when my husband started working from home, and so far I have not yet been able to get it back! I write by the fireplace and big window in the living room, in bed, at the dining room table, by the pool, and last summer I treated myself to an 8 foot by 8 foot writing shed in the garden. My absolute favourite time to write is when I first wake up, usually around 5 am if I am in the middle of a book and can’t stand the suspense myself of what’s going to happen next. All I need when I write is just my laptop and sometimes a cup of English breakfast tea to keep me going.

Q: What do you hope the worldwide Jane Austen community will gain from reading this book?

A: My goal for this book is even more global than that: I want everyone, Austenites and strangers to Austen alike, to reaffirm for themselves, through the experiences of my characters, the critical and essential role of hope in all our lives. As I say in the book, sometimes hope is all we have: but hope can also sometimes be just enough. I know it was for me. For Austenites in particular, I would love for them to appreciate and celebrate all of our individual and collective efforts in keeping the works of Austen so thriving and alive.

Q: If you could step into one of Jane Austen’s novels, which one would it be and which character would you like to play?

A: Elizabeth Bennet. All the way. In fact, I’m already halfway there in my mind as I say this. She is undoubtably the most delightful, charismatic, and authentic character in all of literature.

Q: Who is your favorite actor from the new Emma movie and what do you like most about his/her performance. (I think I know the answer, but I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!)

A: You are a good guesser because, yes, it’s Mr. Johnny Flynn. I was so averse to his casting announcement, and superficially so—he struck me as having a very young, British-boy-band, foppish manner. My Mr. Knightley (my favourite romantic figure in all of Austen) is tall, and imposing, and so smart. What I loved about Flynn’s performance in the new Emma movie was how he retained the imposing manner in any room, but gave it a quieter confidence and vulnerability that I hadn’t seen before. I could feel how much he wanted to love and be loved, and to start a family, and I just found that all so incredibly romantic and touching.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this book?

A: I would add that I tried while I was writing, and in the dreaded revising, to throw in as many little “Easter eggs” as I could, so that the more hard-core Austen fans could have fun picking up on little allusions and parallels to events, characters, and romances from Austen’s own works. Although over the course of three drafts many of these parallels were intentional, some still surprised even me. Which, as I said before, is the total joy and fun of writing.

Image of Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the debut 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 wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Rachel Dodge, author of Praying With Jane Austen, at the 2019 JASNA AGM in Williamsburg

Rachel Dodge at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, October 2019

About Rachel Dodge, the interviewer: Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 1, 2020). . You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8

PURCHASE LINKS:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

You may order your copy of The Jane Austen Society here:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORYINDIEBOUND | AUDIBLEGOODREADS | BOOKBUB

JOHN THE BLOG TOUR!

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

May 25 Jane Austen’s World

May 25 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog

May 26 Frolic Media

May 26 A Bookish Affair

May 26 Courtney Reads Romance

May 26 Margie’s Must Reads

May 26 The Reading Frenzy

View the Rest of the Tour Schedule in the Side Bar – The blog tour lasts until June 30th!

 

Read Full Post »

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:

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: