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Posts Tagged ‘Patricia Meyer Spacks’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sense_Sensibility_Spacks

Publicity materials for this annotated edition explain that:

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jane Austen scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks has written many books, but none so lush and lovely as Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Not only will this beautiful annotated edition of Jane Austen’s beloved novel look fabulous on your coffee table, but after reading it you will feel that you’ve come to understand Pride and Prejudice as you never have before.

Dr. Spacks’s definitions, descriptions, and clarifications of arcane words, Regency customs, and obscure passages add dimension to a novel that I have read over 22 times and thought I knew inside and out. But I was wrong. Take her annotation of this rather unassuming sentence in Chapter 4, for example:

With no greater events than these in the Longbourn family, and otherwise diversified by little beyond the walks to Meryton, sometimes dirty and sometimes cold, did January and February pass away.”

Dr. Spacks explains that in this instance, dirty meant muddy. Thinking of how uneventful life in a semi-rural setting must be, she adds, “Aside from the arrival of the militia and of Wickham, virtually everything of significance that has happened in the novel so far has been psychological…” She then goes on to describe the states of mind in Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy and Mr. Collins as they interact with each other.

In Chapter 2, Volume III, she introduces Michael Kramp’s idea that Mr. Darcy’s kindness to Mrs. Gardiner during Elizabeth’s and the Gardiners visit to Pemberly is evidence of the changing nature of England’s social arrangements and that “the gap between new and old money is shrinking.” (p. 307)

Dr. Spacks’s new annotated edition provides an erudite commentary on Pride and Prejudice, refers to many scholarly sources, and includes a large assortment of images. As she explained in a recent interview with me: “we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.”

Her 24-page introduction explores the continuing appeal of Pride and Prejudice: that it is considered safe for teaching in school and appeals to both feminists and sentimental individuals who are attracted to a romantic English past.

It has also emerged clearly as a repository for and stimulus of fantasy, and thus possibly less safe than it seems. In the film versions…Darcy, romanticized, tends to turn into a Heathcliff figure, passionate, beautiful, and overwhelmingly physical.”

A visitor to this blog recently asked how this annotation of Pride and Prejudice differed from David M. Shapard’s 2004 annotation. The Spacks volume comes in a lavishly color-illustrated, hardback edition, while Shapard’s book was published as a trade paperback. Scattered thinly throughout its pages are a few black and white illustrations. Aside from the difference in physical appearance, Spacks’s annotations are more scholarly.

Flipping through the first page of the novel, you can immediately spot the difference between the two approaches. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, Emerita at the University of Virginia, discusses the famous first sentence as material for a critical debate on the ambiguity of “want”, whereas Dr. Shapard, an 18th century expert, emphasizes the introduction of two central themes of the novel – marriage and financial considerations. These two annotations are so different, that I believe there is room on the shelves for both of them.

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks is a perfect gift for oneself and for a beloved friend or family member. If the $35 purchase price is a bit steep in this economic downturn, place it on your Holiday gift wish list. You will not be disappointed when you unwrap your package.

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Dr. Patricia Meyer Spacks

Inquiring Reader: This interview is with Patricia Meyer Spacks, the editor of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia, has written a number of books, including ”The Adolescent Idea,” ”The Female Imagination,” “Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels,” “Reading Eighteenth-Century Poetry (Blackwell Reading Poetry),” “The female imagination,” and various studies of 18th-century literature. Her most recent undertaking, the annotation of Jane Austen’s most beloved and popular novel, resulted in a beautiful and elucidative book. I know that Jane Austen lovers will find this illustrated volume a useful and informative addition to their book collection.

How old were you when you first read Jane Austen and which book was it? Were you instantly taken by her writing, or did you develop an appreciation for her over time? Why?

I was probably ten or eleven years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I wish I remembered what I saw in it then; I’ve often had the same wondering about college students of mine who read the book early, because now it and the rest of Austen’s novels seem to me very much books intended for grown-ups. For some reason, though–perhaps because of its plot’s resemblance to those of familiar fairy tales–I loved P and P on first reading and read it several times more before ever studying it. As for “develop[ing] an appreciation”: one of the wonderful things about Austen (and other great writers) is that you can appreciate her novels in different ways over time and develop gradually wider areas of appreciation. This is one reason, I think, why many people frequently reread Austen, even as often as every year. Like many others, I have appreciated her for different reasons as I keep rereading her novels.

Image in the book: Carlton House, Blue Velvet Room, Charles Wild, 1816. From the Royal Collection*

How did you come up with the idea of writing this book? What were some of the challenges in researching the information?

The book wasn’t my idea. John Kulka, who became my editor at Harvard University Press, came up with the idea and persuaded me to execute it. That indeed took some persuasion, because I was engrossed with another project at the time he proposed it, but I finally agreed because I had read the novel probably 40 or 50 times; had taught it to college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students, as well as one faculty seminar; and thought I could pretty much annotate it out of my head. Big mistake! I learned a great deal in the course of annotating it, but I don’t recall any particular challenges. Every time I decided that something needed annotating, I had no difficulty finding the information I needed.

I am curious how you decided which sections of Pride and Prejudice required annotation, and how much explanation a term or concept needed. Also, how did you decide on which images to include?

As I said earlier, I’ve taught Pride and Prejudice many times; therefore I had a good idea what words were likely to cause students difficulty. So I started there, annotating language, with special attention to words that we still use but that meant something different in Austen’s time. Beyond that, it was just a matter of paying attention to the text and of thinking about how Austen’s knowledge and assumptions differed from our own. Sometimes one thing led to another. For example, I started wondering why the novel specified Brighton as the place where the militia were stationed. I read a book on eighteenth-century Brighton and learned that because of the nature of the harbor, that was the locale thought the most likely for invasion from France. That made me think about the Napoleonic Wars, which Austen is thought to have ignored, and I was able to discover and annotate a number of references to war that it’s easy to miss.

One of the images in the book: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney, by John Smart. Image from V&A Collection.**

In this kind of book, though, it’s not always a matter of how much explanation is “needed.” I had plenty of room to annotate whenever I thought of something about the text that struck me as interesting, and room to include quotations from other critics that suggested points of view different from my own. Many of the notes suggest connections between Pride and Prejudice and other works of Austen, including her letters.

About the images: John Kulka, my wonderful editor, found most of them. I came across some in my own reading. For instance, in establishing a text I used a first edition of Pride and Prejudice in the Houghton Library at Harvard. The books–the novel was in three volumes–had belonged to Amy Lowell and contained her bookplate. Moreover, they originally belonged to a circulating library and had the original wrappers, specifying the fees for different levels of borrowing and the rules of the establishment. I very much wanted images of the cover, the bookplate, and the text—and they’re in my book. As with the notes, necessity didn’t govern the choices: we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.

What were some of your favorite sources for information and where or how did you access them? Which of them do you think a serious Janeite should absolutely have in her library collection?

I used the internet, the Harvard University libraries, and my personal library as sources. The only “favorite” source I can think of is the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, which was indispensable–and I suppose I think it’s indispensable for any serious student of any literature from the past. It’s available on line now, and the on line edition is both more flexible and more up-to-date than the printed one. Otherwise, I used many many different sources, and I can’t think of any that I think Janeites MUST have.

Which author/s among Jane Austen’s contemporaries do you think exerted the most influence on her while she was writing First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice?

Maria Edgeworth, Austen’s contemporary, and Frances Burney, her predecessor. Pride and Prejudice contains some apparent allusions to Burney’s novel, Evelina, and the title itself may come from Burney’s second novel, Cecilia. Austen praises Edgeworth in her letters, and although Pride and Prejudice doesn’t directly allude to any Edgeworth novel, it takes up some of the issues that interested Edgeworth.

Thank you so much for your illuminating thoughts, and good luck with the book!

Additional links for this post:

*Carlton House Blue Velvet Room – Royal Collection

**Victoria and Albert Collection: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney

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Coming in October is the new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice by Patricia Myer Spacks. Here’s a peek I took for you of this beautifully illustrated and informative book.

Click here to view this blog listed at Harvard University Press. I’m chuffed!

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The new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice by Patricia Meyer Spacks, a professor of English, Emerita, at the University of Virginia, is so beautiful a book, so lush to the touch and rich with beautiful color images and scholarly insights, that I cannot wait to spend the weekend reading it.

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition is substantially different from the 2007 Annotated Pride and Prejudice by David Shapard, a trade paperback. At $35, this hard cover book will make the perfect gift for the Jane Austen lover in your life. Click here to read more about it. Look for my review soon.

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