My number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008
Has Jane Austen risen to a major pop-culture presence? Author Rebecca Dickson confidently th...moreMy number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008
Has Jane Austen risen to a major pop-culture presence? Author Rebecca Dickson confidently thinks so, and her thoughtfully researched and beautifully illustrated new edition Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury is quite a persuasive testament. Any doubting Thomas’ will be hard pressed to argue against the evidence skillfully presented in this volume. Not only are the carefully chosen Regency era images complementary to her expertly written text, the overall friendly and visually appealing design and its incredible value place it as my number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008.
Surprisingly, this volume is not just a fluffy image gallery packed with pretty pictures. Rebecca Dickson is an Austen scholar and instructor of writing and literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder with a doctorate in English Literature with a specialty in eighteenth-century writers. A professed Austen enthusiast since reading Pride and Prejudice in High School, Dickson has written an inspiring tribute to her favorite author geared to the everyman reader. Her style is open and engaging and I never once felt the scholarly mantle descend to befuddle the text. The opening introduction and short biography are followed by six chapters devoted to each of Jane Austen’s major novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Within each novel chapter, Dickson not only discusses the novel’s plot, characters, highlights and impact on classic literature, but places it in context to Jane Austen’s life and her times. In the chapter on Pride and Prejudice for instance, she has included its publishing evolution from first draft in 1797 as First Impressions, to Austen’s father’s failed attempt at publication, to its final acceptance and publication sixteen years later in 1813, interweaving the changes in Austen’s life and her financial situation adding impact and interest. Interspersed throughout the chapter are quotes from the text acting like ‘fact bites’ emphasizing important points. The images selected stunningly present illustrations from Austen’s novels by the late Victorian artists Hugh Thomson, C.E. and H.M. Brock, vintage paintings and contemporary movie stills. The surprise bonus is removable reproductions of actual documents ranging from copies of handwritten letters by Jane Austen to a page of the rough draft of Persuasion.
My one disappointment (and it is a trifle) is in the cover design which is adequately pretty, but has nothing to do with Jane Austen, nor adds any Regency era feel or interest to entice buyers to open, explore and purchase this book. Given the length of thoughtful research and numerous images included in this glorious edition, one hopes that buyers will truly not judge its value by its cover. Highly giftable as an introduction to Jane Austen or as a tribute to the indoctrinated Janeite, reading this lovely volume will leave few in doubt of Jane Austen’s position as pop-culture icon and literary genius.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, Chapter 9
It seems quite fit...more“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, Chapter 9
It seems quite fitting that a quote from Jane Austen’s character Fanny Price, who is an astute observer of natural beauty, should open this book with such a succinct statement expressing her delight in being planted on the bench in Sotherton’s parkland to enjoy the serene beauty of the green landscape around her. Verdure is not a word that one runs across very often in contemporary writing but we should, because it vividly describes a scene and sensations in one word. It is no leap of the imagination that Fanny’s creator Jane Austen gave her such sentiments, for Jane dearly loved nature herself and included references to it and gardening in her novels and letters.
Author Kim Wilson must be a Fanny Price too, sensitive and observant to natures beauty as her new book In the Garden With Jane Austen is a verdurous delight, introducing us to Austen’s affinity to nature through the gardens she would have experienced in her own homes, family members and public gardens of Georgian and Regency England. This beautiful little volume is packed full of quotes from her novels and letters referencing her characters experiences in the garden and her own love of garden cultivation. It has always appeared to me that some of the best plot development in her novels happened while her characters were walking and I am reminded that her heroine’s Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Morland, and Emma Woodhouse were all proposed to in a garden or on a woodland path. Hmm? Should we take a clue from this ladies and get your men outside?
Ms. Wilson has certainly done her research collecting many quotes and antecedents from Austen’s novels, letters and family lore effectively placing them in historical context and illustrated with beautiful photographs of the actual locations mentioned. I felt like I was on a personal garden tour of Austen’s life as I traveled from the cottage gardens of her home in Steventon and Chawton, to the manor house gardens of her family such as brother Edward at Godersham Park, Goodnestone Park, and Chawton House, and the estate of Stoneleigh Abbey owned by her cousins the Leigh’s. We are also treated to views of other famous estates that might have inspired settings in her novels such as Chatsworth House reputed to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice and Cottesbrook Hall for Mansfield Park.
Even though this is a lovely pictorial edition, the text is what really shines with so many facts and observations on how nature and gardens influenced Jane Austen’s life and writings. I will admit to a more than slight disappointment in the book’s small size and paperback format though in comparison to other comparably priced larger sized hardcover editions on the market.
I must confess a large prejudice in favor of this book even before it was published since it combined two of my passions, Jane Austen and gardening. When I finally had the book in hand, I was happy to discover that the last chapter is devoted to re-creating a Jane Austen inspired garden yourself reminiscent of a Regency or Georgian era. What a fanciful thought that plants that Austen admired can be obtained and grown either in a classic presentation, a few simple pots of garden herbs or her favorite flowering shrub the syringa placed by your front door to remind you everyday that looking upon verdure in the perfect refreshment.
"I know of few novels - except Pride and Prejudice - that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in the...moreA Contemporary Classic with Austen Allusions
"I know of few novels - except Pride and Prejudice - that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers as I Capture the Castle. - Joanna Trollope
One of my favorite books (outside of Jane Austen’s canon of course), I Capture the Castle is a contemporary classic originally published in 1948, but still as fresh and vibrant today. Dodie Smith, more famously remembered for her children’s classic 101 Dalmatians, has humorously assembled an eccentric cast of characters living in less than genteel poverty in a crumbling castle in England. The story is revealed through 17-year old heroine in the making and aspiring writer Cassandra Mortmain in a series of journals, an she attempt to improve her skills as a ticket out of her dire circumstances. Her sister Rose will use more avarice means to free herself from her parent’s neglect by setting her cap for their wealthy new landlord Simon, and easily succeeds. Less of a schemer, Cassandra is attracted to his younger brother Neil and is hopeful for her own romance. As the wedding plans proceed, Rose’s vain and selfish nature blossoms with her newly elevated social position causing conflict. Cassandra, left out of the plans and Simon, who Rose is treating as an annoyance are drawn into their own romance. Rose, on the other hand, is drifting away from Simon and secretly into the arms of his brother Neil. An elopement will cause a family panic, a change of heart and an unusual ending.
Filled with allusions to Pride and Prejudice, this coming of age story is more a gentle nod to Austen’s style than a copy of her novel. Witty and moving, Smith connects with readers through perceptive observation played against dry wit resulting in a moving and memorable story. It’s what makes for great literature, and also what Austen is valued for today. Enjoy!
First published in 1950, The Grand Sophy contains one of Georgette Heyer’s most endearingly outrageous hero...moreThe Grand Sophy is a devilishly fine girl!
First published in 1950, The Grand Sophy contains one of Georgette Heyer’s most endearingly outrageous heroines. In this newly released reissue by Sourcebooks, you are in for a rollicking good time through Regency era London with Miss Sophia Stanton-Lacy. As one of her many male admirers proclaims, "By all that is wonderful, it’s the Grand Sophy!" Too true.
A diplomat’s daughter, Sophy has traveled the Continent with her widowed father Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy following the British army in their pursuit of Napoleon during the Peninsular War. Two years have passed since the Monster of Elba was finally defeated and Sir Horace’s duties now take him abroad to South America. He feels it is time for Sophy to marry, and who better than to present his motherless daughter to London society than his amiable sister, Lady Ombersley. But, will her eldest son Charles approve? Things in her dysfunctional family are so oddly arranged. Her indifferent husband Bernard Rivenhall, Lord Ombersley has run through his fortune, and now relies on his eldest son Charles, who inherited another estate, to pay his debts and finance his household. Charles, known for his ill temper and tight pocketbook, is engaged to equally priggish young woman, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, whose rigid grasp on social stricture is at odds with everyone who she deigns to look down her very long equine nose at. Lady Ombersley’s beautiful young daughter Cecilia should marry the very eligible and wealthy Lord Charlbury, but prefers instead the handsome poet Augustus Fawnhope whose odds at fame and fortune are slim as his picking a Derby winner. Her second son Hurbert, whose moods sway with the tides of his debt, is ensconced with dubious money-lenders and in need of extraction. They all live a dull life according to Charles’s autocratic commands. If ever there was a family in need of a make-over, the Rivenhall’s present a tall bill.
Enter The Grand Sophy. Quick, intelligent and exuberantly capable, twenty-year old Sophy is a bracing reveille to her cousin’s the Rivenhall’s staid existence at Berkeley Square. From the moment she arrives on her aunt’s doorstep elegantly attired with her entourage of a dog, a horse, a monkey, a parrot, a groom, a maid and a mountain of luggage, they are left with no uncertainty that this is no ordinary young lady. Outspoken and unafraid to stretch the edge of decorum, Miss Stanton-Lacy sizes up the household’s problems and sets about to make them right, much to the chagrin of her cousin Charles and his meddlesome fiancée Miss Wraxton, who thinks she’s a hoyden. Sophy is fearless in the face of propriety venturing beyond the constraints of the Regency women’s world visiting banks, buying horses, a Phaeton carriage, and planning and paying for her coming out Ball, all the while pushing her cousin Charles’ buttons at every turn. Their repartees are absolutely hilarious – Sophy almost always in command of the final outcome – and Charles not knowing what hit him. Life as the Rivenhall’s had known it has been quite undone. Along the way, Sophy has a great deal of fun, and so do we.
'Life at Berkeley Square had become all at once full of fun and excitement. Even Lord Ombersley was aware of it. “By God, I don’t know what’s come over you all, for the place was used to be as lively as a tomb!”'
Visiting Regency London is always a treat through Georgette Heyer’s astute eye. Her historical references are quite amazing. The descriptions of clothing, fabrics and furnishing were sumptuous. Her attention to the details of Regency carriages and horsemanship, was spot on. The plot kept me turning pages quickly, eager to see what Sophy’s next antic would be, and which couples would be together by the conclusion of the novel. Through Sophy’s exuberant personality we meet a heroine whose qualities of self assurance, conviction and zest for life are infectious. I had to laugh out loud when even the stuffy Rivenhall butler Dassett acknowledged that Sophy is a gem.
“I venture to say, she is a lady as knows precisely how things should be done. A great pleasure, if I may be pardoned the liberty, to work for Miss Sophy, for she thinks of everything, and I fancy there will be no hitch to mar the festivities.”
Yes, The Grand Sophy knows precisely how things should be done, and I would not have it any other way. This was by far my most enjoyable read this year. Fun, engaging and hilarious, I can not recommend it more highly. Sophy is a devilishly fine girl.
This slim volume is brimming with historical information on the creation and evolution of the popular Pleasure Gardens in England....moreA great introduction
This slim volume is brimming with historical information on the creation and evolution of the popular Pleasure Gardens in England. Originally designed as a diversion for the rich, Pleasure Gardens such as Vauxhall Garden in London and Sydney Gardens in Bath not only featured beautifully landscaped walks and vistas, but halls for music and dancing. Given the size limitations of this book, it is a nice introduction to a topic that will appeal to historical fiction readers and history students. My one disappointment is that the lovely vintage images are not credited. Otherwise, the author’s research is impressive, taking the reader back to a time when the social scene meant putting on your best frock and leaving the house instead of poking your friends on Facebook.
Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Austen privately abhorred the Regent...moreEmma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Austen privately abhorred the Regent for the treatment of his wife Princess Caroline and his dissipated lifestyle. In 1813 she wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd, “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” She did however recognize the value of his name and agreed to the dedication. Upon publication Emma also had its own share of critics. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked “incident and romance” and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well read individuals attributed as a weakness is actually Emma’s greatest strength.
If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.” In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lives the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she match makes for her friends with disastrous results. It is no wonder that Maria Edgeworth gave up reading Emma after the first volume. At that point we have met most of the characters in Emma’s insular world and are coming to fully understand her ignorance and misguided perceptions in relation to them. She is truly exasperating. Austen tests our endurance fully as the novel progresses and her heroine continues to make mistakes. It is a testament to her skill as a writer and deft comedian that she holds our fascination with the “busy nothings” of every-day country life in Highbury, a small village filled with endearingly flawed characters. The transformation of the heroine from spoiled and insufferable into a contrite, mature and likeable young lady that you want to root for, is nothing less than remarkable. It is truly a shame that Edgeworth could not recognize the genius of Austen’s sly sashay of characterization into a world that could be your own neighborhood. We can only account that, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
If you liked the new BBC/PBS miniseries Emma (2009), enjoy the original novel with all of Austen’s resplendent language in this expertly produced audio recording. Read by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, viewers of the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma will remember her superb portrayal of the vulgar a vacuous Mrs. Elton and know you are in for a treat. Adding equal measure of energy and humor to each of the characters, Stevenson’s perfect blending of a classic novel and a sensitive interpretation enhanced my enjoyment greatly. Pop this one into your CD player or iPod during your commute to work. I highly recommend it. “It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do.” Ch 21