Tuesday, March 30, 2010

First Impressions Giveaway

Wow! The author copies are here already! I have found a couple of formatting issues, but overall they look very agreeable. So, in honor of all the good news I can possible tolerate in a single day, I am giving away one brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice. All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment before 12:00 AM (EST), Sunday April 4th, stating which character from Pride and Prejudice you would alter the fate of (if you could) and how, along with your email address. I'll try to inspire you by dropping some hints regarding one of the destinies I play with in the book: Wickham's

In my version of events, Wickham and Lydia never marry - in fact, they barely converse. Having been warned away from him by Mr. Darcy, our rogue sets his sight on another eligible lady in the neighborhood. Anyone who can guess her identity will get a second entry in the giveaway.

So to recap: leave a comment with your email, which character's destiny you would change, and, for a second entry, guess the name of my mystery lady before Easter Sunday to win a copy of First Impressions. Good luck!

First Impressions Published!

O.K.! You can now actually buy First Impressions on Amazon! Barnes and Noble still hasn't gotten the book listed, but Amazon has copies in stock and ready to ship! No image of the book is yet posted, but still! In a few days (hopefully), I will receive my first round of author's copies in the mail! I'm so excited. Now I just have to wait around with bated breath for reviews to come in. I feel like Marianne waiting for Willoughby to write to her, or Anne, "deep in the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness." Either way, I'm bouncing off the walls.

Monday, March 29, 2010

First Impressions Animated Scene 2

As if it wasn't bad enough to have already wasted one day in this manner, I have now wasted the better part of a second at XtraNormal, all to bring you another jilted, Lego rendition of a scene from my book. It's just too much fun, even though the results are less than overwhelming. The following is actually a bit edited (you know, film adaptations must always be given some leeway), so I have included the excerpt it is based on (below), so you can judge for yourself how bad my animated rendering really is. The text is not from the final draft, which I can't easily paste into Blogger, and I have decided not to edit it. Call it laziness or an interesting glimpse into the writing process, either way I apologize for some of the choppier prose. The scene takes place towards the end of the Bennet ladies' stay at Netherfield between our hero and heroine, who have established a rather playful rapport. It's rather silly. I hope you enjoy it.

Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy, despite their best resolutions, were able to steel themselves against their susceptibility to one another. In each others' company they could not help but enjoy themselves in defiance of Elizabeth's vulnerability and Darcy's pride. Miss Bingley, remarkably subdued, avoided any intercourse she could with her unwanted guest, adding relief from the lady of the house's glares to the incentives Darcy had to seek Elizabeth out. He began to wonder if much of her bravado towards himself was a facade for they had, of late, taken to gazing at each other in what he believed was a tender way. He sincerely wanted the attraction he was experiencing to be mutual though he had no doubts that, should he ask, she would accept his proposal regardless. All the Bennet girls were surely obligated to marry as well as possible: everyone was, including himself. Therein lay his dilemma.

What constitutes a good marriage? Should wealth and breeding be the utmost concern? Many a marriage that perfectly fulfilled the worldly qualification ended in misery, as Darcy had far too often observed, and a lack of refinement was not an accusation that could be leveled at Miss Elizabeth. He marveled at how she maintained her grace and composure in the face of the incivility of her hostess. 

“Mr. Darcy, you really must not continue to frown so,” Elizabeth admonished. “If you persist you will force me to do something most unbecoming and childish”.

“And what would that be,” he asked, instantly intrigued.

She spoke softly and conspiratorially: “When no one else is looking I shall stick my tongue out at you!”

He laughed, “Oh how ever will I survive such an attack.” Temporarily all his concerns were forgotten. She had a unique and delightful way of causing him to lose himself.

The passing of another day saw Jane well enough to join the party after dinner, where Mr. Bingley fawned over her while his sister glowered. On the other side of the room Darcy and Elizabeth were discussing their favorite poets. Observing Elizabeth's approving glance at her sister and Bingley, Darcy decided the time was right to fulfill a determination he had made, upon the evening of Elizabeth's arrival and the declaration of Bingley’s intentions, to inquire into the state of Jane's affections.

“Your sister seems much improved.”

“Yes,” she responded brightly, though he thought he could detect a tinge of regret. “I believe we shall return to Longbourn soon.”

“When Miss Bennet has not yet had the opportunity to enjoy her stay?”

“For someone who has been ill she has had a remarkable time I assure you,” Elizabeth laughed.

“She does seem to enjoy Bingley's company.”

“I believe she said he is everything a gentleman should be.”

“High praise indeed.”

“From Jane it certainly is.” She grew serious, “Your friend would not toy with a lady's affections, would he sir?”

He responded in kind, “He has been known to fall in and out of love with great rapidity.” Noticing Elizabeth's frown he hurried to reassure her, “But he does seem to be experiencing a most sincere attachment to your sister.”

“Does he indeed?” Elizabeth asked excitedly, her sparkle returned.

Darcy laughed, thrilled to see her joy, “I cannot betray my friend's confidence. I have already said far too much.

“So you have, sir, as have I. Shall we resume the much safer subject of poetry?”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Published? Maybe?

So this is where the self-publishing world gets frustrating. Today I finally received the long awaited "Your Book Has Been Published" email from Outskirts Press, but you can't actually buy the book yet. Furthermore, I have absolutely no notion when it will actually be available. In limbo I continue to wait, wondering when I will finally get the darn thing in my hands. The thing is, if I go to the website Outskirts has assigned me - outskirtspress.com/firstimpressions - I can hit on a buy button for Amazon and end up on a page graced with my name and book title. That's kind of like an actual book in my hands, isn't it? Sort of? I can't get there by entering my info in Amazon's search field, and even once I access the page there is no information available able about the book, but still, it is there, and I'm excited. I can even pre-order it for some magic, undefined time down the road. No matter that the corresponding Barnes & Nobel buy button does nothing. Nothing shall burst my bubble. How shall I bear the joy of a physical book? I'm sure I will somehow manage, if only given the opportunity. 

In the name of shameless self-promotion, please let me refer you to the sidebar where you can read my "apology" and link to the first three chapters of the book. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sexy JAFF: A Conversation with Lory Lilian

Back in January, after reading and commenting on Mary Simonsen's interview with Lory Lilian, the author of Rainy Days and Remembrance of the Past, I began an email conversation with this latter lady in which we discussed the prevalence of sex in Austen fan fiction. I have some pretty strong feelings on this issue and had used what was theoretically supposed to be a review of Remembrance of the Past to rant and rave about it. Imagine my mortification when I learned that Ms. Lilian had read my crazy ramblings! I ran right out and purchased Rainy Days (reviewed here), which I very much enjoyed, in order to repay her kindness in debating with me by giving her work proper recognition. Here is the result of our conversation.  Ms. Lilian would like me to emphasize that these are her personal, private opinions put forth (just as mine are) and that she is not attempting in any way to speak on the behalf of other writers or readers of Jane Austen fan fiction. I hope you enjoy this debate on the reasons for and merits of the inclusion of sexual activity in JAFF, the effects film has had on the sexualization of Austen, and what it's like to actually write one of these steamy scenes. We certainly enjoyed ourselves having it!

Alexa: I'm a bit ashamed that you read the review I did of Remembrance of the Past, having used it as an opportunity to rant and rave rather than give your book proper attention. I read it right when the question of sex in Austen fan fiction was the focus of my mind, having just finished reading a slew of books in which it was a prominent feature. I know many fans love these scenes and the pressure to include them, especially when writing in an online forum, must be intense. I would love to have a conversation with you on this subject, if you are interested in pursuing the topic further. If not, I understand. It certainly is not my intention to force you into the role of defender of all the many writers who decide to follow Lizzy and Darcy into the bedroom.
Lory: First of all – let me say I would love to talk to you, too, on any subject regarding Jane Austen, including hot mush scenes and why people love them :) . However, I can only speak for myself, not for the other authors, so if my opinion is enough for you – it’s fine with me.
Alexa: Of course, your voice is your own and cannot speak for anyone but yourself - still, I think the conversation will be both enlightening and entertaining. Thank you for taking the time. I believe you are the ideal person to help me, because I am afraid I just don't get it: I cannot figure out what it is that makes Austen fans want these scenes in the first place. As you read in my sorry excuse for a review, you know I am not generally prudish - sex scenes do not offend me elsewhere in literature - but they are just so incongruous with Jane Austen. I guess I feel protective of her for some completely irrational reason. It's silly, I know, but in this way I am like E.M. Forster, "slightly imbecile about Jane Austen."
Lory: I agree with you on some points regarding Pride and Prejudice variations; the most important thing I want to repeat is that Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book in the world (and I really read a lot), so I am very protective over it, too. I have very strong, sometimes silly reactions about it, too, and I don’t hesitate to express my opinion openly on forums every time I have a chance. I do not like reading some online fanfiction stories that are changing Regency Darcy and Elizabeth in a dramatic way… For me, Darcy and Elizabeth can only belong together with no other men or women interfering with them; this is why I love this story so much (besides Jane Austen’s genius and her awesome writing) – despite pride, prejudice and many other things, Darcy and Elizabeth are meant to be together and they will be ‘the happiest couple in the world’, no question about that!!!!  And I think this is part of the answer regarding the desire of reading (and writing) more about this aspect of their happy married life. Jane Austen implied so much and told us so little, and we simply cannot have enough of it.
Alexa: The sexual fascination with these characters is astounding to me. I guess their status as the most perfect couple in literature (in my opinion) leads people to want to imagine the perfections of their love life. If they are, indeed, "the happiest couple in the world", as you said, it seems safe to assume that their love life would correspond to that state. Personally, I require no elucidation to be assured of the fact. I also often wonder how much of this fascination can be laid at the feet of Andrew Davies and Colin Firth, though I still adore both men even if they are culpable. Do you know how prevalent such imaginings were before 1995?
Lory: Pride and Prejudice1995 had a dramatic and devastating impact on people's sexual fascination with Darcy and Elizabeth. As far as I know, the process of Pride and Prejudice fanfiction itself started immediately after the 1995 film was aired (somewhere around 96 - 97), and it turned into a major phenomenon that grew year by year.
I, for one, started to fantasize about Darcy and Elizabeth's extra scenes right after I saw it and discovered that Colin Firth was my perfect Darcy. His gazes at Elizabeth, his silence, his body language, his small gestures, the expression on his face, the pain on his face when he was rejected, the embarrassment when he met Elizabeth at Pemberley, the happiness when he stared at Elizabeth at the pianoforte, his briefly holding her hands at the Lambton Inn and their final kiss in the end, all these were the reasons that made me start writing fanfiction. Each of Colin and Jennifer's glances, each of their interactions, each of their sparkling dialogs were inspiration for my writing, and all I had to do was to put them in different circumstances and to guess how they would react, based on what I had seen and read. When I first saw the movie, I had already been in love with P and P for many years, but I never consider imagining anything beyond what Jane Austen wrote. An aspect of Jane's genius is that she said (wrote) little but suggested so much about the hidden part of Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship, and allowed the reader’s imagination to work and to explore it. Well, after I saw the miniseries, my imagination turned wild – and I was grateful when I discovered the fanfiction world.
Alexa: I must emphatically agree that Colin Firth is incredibly swoon worthy and the perfect Mr. Darcy. There is huge sexual tension in the film and it is almost all expressed in his eyes. This certainly explains why so many of these books are a) written from Darcy's perspective and b) focus in on his dirty thoughts. But there is Pride and Prejudice fan fiction that predates this film, just not the treasure trove that we now have. I adore this movie and fully understand why it would inspire so many, but I will admit that I get kind of irritated when fan fiction is based more on the movie than the book, because it is very different in many ways (not so much sexual tension in the book, is there?). This is why the sex sometimes bothers me so much - Jane Austen could never have written such scenes, not only because of her sexual inexperience but because of her own sense of what was seemly and what wasn't. I think I am most appalled when the moral strictures of the day are completely disregarded, displaying Elizabeth and Darcy, before they are married, getting it on in a field or some such craziness, or flirting in a manner that would have been considered totally disgracefully while in public. But then of course, some of my favorite books are Abigail Reynolds' Pemberley Variations, which almost always seem to involve extensive premarital sex, so I am obviously quite capable of overcoming my qualms.
Lory: I love Abigail's stories, too. She was the author who made me a JAFF addict five years ago. I still remember the day she invited me to post at Austen Interlude (there were only a very few authors there at that time) -  I was soooo flattered, so happy!

I have studied the Regency period a little and have also asked many questions of our "Regency experts" in fanfic; I know that sexual interludes between engaged people were not rare at all. and while nobody openly approved it, everybody expected it to happen. Even more, I read that children conceived during the engagement were considered legitimate if they were born after the marriage. This is why it was such a big deal for a woman to break an engagement: everybody expected that some sexual things already happened during the engagement and, consequently, she was not so pure anymore.

Despite all these, I do not like much the idea of Darcy and Elizabeth engaged in premarital sexual relations or in any kind of intimate interludes in places where they could have been seen. Darcy would never expose Elizabeth or himself to public censure for improper behavior. This is my opinion, and this is what I did in my books.
As for their wedding night, as my Darcy said in Remembrance, I wanted it to be perfect, in the privacy of their home. In my opinion, I doubt Darcy would spend his wedding night in an Inn, surely he could have waited a few more hours to reach his Town House, as London was pretty close to Hertfordshire. (However, there are a few stories which I love, in which they did spend the wedding night in an Inn, so I am not very strict about it -- LOL ). On the other hand, I am sure they would indulge their passion with some small, half-guilty pleasurable moments, like kisses, touches, holding hands and all, with extreme caution to keep it private.
Alexa: As I said in my blog post on Remembrance of the Past, I was very appreciative of the fact that you did not include scenes of premarital sex between Elizabeth and Darcy. The prevalence of sex in the book put me off a bit, I admit, but you incorporated it with a lot more taste and decency than is often employed.

I'm very curious about both why and how you decided to take what had been an explicitly PG text (Rainy Days) and increase its adult content. I assume that fans of your writing requested these additions, is that correct?
Lory: In none of my stories do Darcy and Elizabeth have premarital sexual interludes. There are many more sex scenes in Remembrance than in Rainy Days because the story continues after their marriage, and I used the sex scenes to show the development in their relationship as a married couple, to illustrate the process of knowing each other better and sharing everything, including marital happiness. I also used two sex scenes between Cassandra and David in two critical points of the story. To be honest, I agree I could have done the same thing without those detailed sex scenes, but I wonder if the impact on the readers would have been equally as strong. (I really wonder, not sure at all...) All I know is that Remembrance was planned from the very beginning to include detailed, hot scenes and more angst than my first book, because I felt the story itself asked for it. I know some people agree, some disagree; I just hope the readers do not consider the sex scenes gratuitous and unnecessary.
As for Rainy Days – it was my first book and first I posted it on DWG, so it was PG general; I finished it and I even wrote the wedding night, keeping it PG 13! Then, I started posting it on HG – which was an adult site – and some cyber friends started to ‘demand’ to enhance some scenes, to explore more of Darcy’s thoughts, to write more details about their touches and kisses and passion. I confess I was a little shy at the beginning, but then I started to enjoy entering deeper into Darcy and Elizabeth’s thoughts, wishes, fears, desires, to put a stronger touch of passion into their love. And, since the readers’ reaction was very positive, this was an incentive to continue this exploration. I will only say that, while writing, I had screen captures from Pride and Prejudice 95 on my desktop LOL, and I could easily tell you which scene inspired me to write a certain scene in Rainy Days. However, though there are many hot scenes in Rainy Days, in my opinion – and in some of my readers’ opinion –  the hottest scene in the book is the one in the library during the Netherfield Ball, when Darcy took off Elizabeth’s gloves and kissed her hands. It is hot and it is PG general, right? Sothe question is: Could I write hot scenes and keep them PG-13? Probably yes… but I confess my guilty pleasure in writing hot mush, and I most likely will continue doing it as long as my readers join me in this guilty pleasure. I also hope that the readers who do not approve of these kinds of scenes will find it easy to simply skip them and still enjoy my stories.
Alexa: Well I can certainly assert that I still enjoyed both your books, in spite of my Austen-sepcific prudishness. When I return to enjoy them again (as I will surely do - especially Rainy Days, which I really loved) I will do as you suggest and jump over those scenes that make me blush. While I'm not sure we reached any revolutionary conclusions here, I do think I now have a better sense as to why other people so enjoy these scenes that make me cringe. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. It has been excessively diverting! 

Lory discovered JAFF in 2004 as an avid reader then a year later as a tentative author. She lives in Bucharest, Romania, with her dear husband, her dear daughter of 15 and her dear dog ( a French bulldog). She is 41 and works as a Recruitment and Training Manager in a multinational company, and when she is not working ( which is very rare), she loves reading ( Pride and Prejudice is the all time favorite), going to the theater and writing ( JAFF, of course).

Images of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in varying stages of undress borrowed from What Kate Did Next, My Pride and Prejudice, The Republic of Pemberley, and My Pride and Prejudice again, respectively.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Epistolary Fan Fiction: Letters From Pemberley and More Letters From Pemberley by Jane Dawkins

So I am currently reading My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt, an epistolary mystery that makes free use of quotes from Jane Austen's letters, and it has gotten me thinking about Austen's use of the epistolary form and the temptation it poses for writers of JAFF. We know one of Austen's biggest influences, Samuel Richardson, was something of the king of the epistolary novel, and that she frequently experimented with it, both in her juvenalia (like recently reviewed The Three Sisters) and early novels. Lady Susan remains intact as an example of Austen's prowess with letters, giving ample food for our fantasies about what Elinor and Marianne (Sense and Sensibility) and First Impressions (Pride and Prejudice) might have been like. For unknown reasons, Austen decided to abandon the format (not that I am complaining), but it seems to be a favorite of her fans, especially those who have opted to pick up the pen and elaborate on her work. I have read two short series written in epistolary form: Letters From Pemberley and More Letters From Pemberley by Jane Dawkins and A Visit to Highbury and Later Days at Highbury (both of which are in desperate need of reprinting as copies are getting scarce and expensive) by Joan Austen-Leigh. As I have commented on the books by Ms. Austen-Leigh previously (you may read my glowing reviews here and here), today I'd like to focus on Ms. Dawkins' work.

Letters From Pemberley was one of the earliest pieces of Austen fan fiction I read, and I continue to return to it to pursue its peaceful pages again and again. Ms. Dawkins' books are my favorite Pride and Prejudice continuations available, as they provide those desperately wanted glimpses of Darcy and Elizabeth's lives at Pemberley (it chronicles the first year of their marriage) without including anything untoward like over the top drama and gushy sex scenes. The epistolary form works very well towards this end. As Elizabeth is our letter writer (Jane is the recipient), Ms. Dawkins is freed from the burden of trying to capture Austen's voice, saving her energy for creating a years worth of activity upon nothing more than those few teasing words at the end of Pride and Prejudice, indicating what the future holds in store for our happily married couples.

More Letters from Pemberley is also excellent, though perhaps not quite as fulfilling as it's predecessor. Here we learn about the next five years of married life, rendering this book more speculative than the first, and the picture is broadened by including Elizabeth's correspondence with several parties: Jane, Aunt Gardiner, Georgianna, Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Charlotte, Darcy himself, several new acquaintances (some bearing a striking resemblance to characters from Austen's other novels), and even Mr. Humphrey Repton! In one carefully worded letter to Lady Catherine, Ms. Dawkins demonstrates her excellent grasp of Elizabeth's voice and character while playing with some of the advantages the epistolary form allows:
I am also deeply obliged to you for your words of advice; it was most kind of you to take so much of your valuable time to impart your own experience , and I intend to make careful study of your words, particularly since you mention that my dear friend, Mrs. Collins (whose good sense I value highly) has benefited so greatly from the. Your Ladyship may rest assured that I am resolved to be a good Mother to my Children, to pray for the, to set them good examples, to give them good advice, to be careful of their souls and bodies, and to watch over their tender minds. Since (as you say) my Children will have all the advantage of wealth and position, I am sure you will agree that as their Parents, Mr. Darcy and I will be obliged to remind them how priviledged they are, and instill in them the qualities of good character, modesty, integrity and compassion for others, without which wealth and position are meaningless.
Now, we never read the letter to which this was written in response, just as we never hear Lady Catherine's reply, but the epistolary format allows us to infer what both might have looked like. Knowing Lady Catherine as we do, the high handed condescension (or is it honesty and frankness?) doled out in the former is easy to envision, as is her vocal response (perhaps "Obstinate, headstrong girl!") upon reading the above. And isn't it just like Lizzy to choose her words so carefully, so as to claim agreement while simultaneously undermining the sentiment expressed? Lady Catherine's outrage, though never witnessed, is palpable: therein lies the beauty of an epistolatory narrative.

As I consider the novels of both Ms. Dawkins and Ms. Austen-Leigh some of the very best JAFF available, I hope that more sincere Janeites will follow their example by adopting this somewhat archaic format. Its use both honors Austen's literary foundations and encourages her style of witticism, all while providing an excellent vehicle for capturing her tone without besmirching her subject matter with our modernism.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fresh Air Review of Jane's Fame by Claire Harman

I just had to share what one of my very favorite book reviewers, Maureen Corrigan of NPR's Fresh Air and Georgetown University, has to say about about Claire Harman's new book, Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. I still haven't decided whether or not I will actually read this book, but the review is magnificent!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sanditon by Jane Austen and "Another Lady"

I had a lovely week By the Seaside with Sanditon, hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose, rereading this precious fragment - Austen's last, incomplete novel. Not content to let the tale end on one of my favorite lines in Austen ("Poor Mr. Hollis! lt was impossible not to feel him hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham."), I continued reading my favorite of the two completions I own, that by "Another Lady". One of the joys of By The Seaside with Sanditon was learning the name of our anonymous authoress - Marie Dobbs, also known as Anne Telscombe - but as I do not know if either of these are real names or both pseudonyms, I am going to continue referring to her as Another Lady. This version seamlessly picks up where Austen abandoned us. So flawless is Another Lady's adoption of Austen's style that she has fooled many an expert, including myself (if I dare claim myself as such) and The University of Virginia Library Systems' Electronic Text Center, who mistakenly posted this version of the completed novel instead of Austen's fragment (another discovery uncovered during By the Seaside with Sanditon). This completion was the first piece of Austen fan fiction I ever read, thus the inspiration for a considerable obsession, and it remains my absolute favorite.

There is only one complaint I have about this book and that regards Another Lady's development of Mrs. Parker, as I believe it exceeds the bounds of her promise, but every other character (and she only introduces two not named by Austen, Sidney Parker's friends Henry Brudenall and Reginald Catton) perfectly conform to the identities originally designated to them. Charlotte Heywood comes alive, every jot the practical young heroine, and Sidney Parker, the hero Austen left so very undeveloped, is utterly charming, quite in the manner of Mr. Tilney, with a bit of Frank Churchill mixed in. Another Lady's ability to weave all the loose ends into a complex, highly amusing, and thoroughly satisfying novel astounds me. Take this piece of dialogue:
"Oh sensible, prudent Miss Heywood, how very correct in you to rebuke me," said he, very much amused. "You are already so well acquainted with my family that I had forgotten how short a while we have known each other. I should, of course, have waited at least a month before trying to compare our opinions on all my relations."

"I very much doubt that a month would bring any great change in my outlook," replied Charlotte, quite firmly. "Very few of us lack superficial faults and we must rely on each other's kindness to overlook them."

"But people take such trouble with their faults and go to such lengths to make them fascinating to others that it is really very unkind to overlook them," protested Sidney. "They would much rather be laughed at on their own merits than politely ignored as members of a community."
Now is that not quintessential Austen? Another Lady fulfills my utmost fantasies, allowing me to suspend reality and pretend for a moment that here, indeed, is another complete Austen novel. Yes, as Laurel Ann so rightly pointed out, the end does get rather silly, but even the slightly ludicrous scenario our heroine finds herself in holds me completely captive (and highly amused). Note the following passage, in which Another Lady gives voices to the Miss Beauforts, who Austen tells us "were very accomplished and very ignorant, their time being divided between such pursuits as might attract admiration, and those labours and expedients of dexterous ingenuity by which they could dress in a style much beyond what they ought to have afforded." These ladies, having ignored Miss Heywood previously, seek her out in hopes she will introduce them to the new gentlemen in town:
"We have been longing this age -- oh, quite aching, I assure you, dear Miss Heywood -- for some chance of furthering our acquaintance with you. We have been making the most delightful schemes for days past. But there! We both have the greatest horror of being thought forward or pushing! It is amazingly difficult for us to get to know anybody at all."

"Sanditon is a most charming place, we find -- perhaps a little thin of company. But more people are beginning to arrive now, I dare say. The hotel seems to be filling up at all events ..."

"Oh! I am dotingly fond of Sanditon already in spite of it being a little secluded," interrupted Miss Beaufort, feeling her sister was being a shade premature. "My particular friend, Miss Nicholls, a dear creature and most truly modish, tells me there is far more going on in Ramsgate. There one sees new faces every day -- but here the stranger is quite a rarity."

"Lord yes, I always say these small, retired places are infinitely to be preferred to the bustling, popular resorts," agreed Miss Letitia. "When one comes from a largish inland town, one longs only for solitude in a seaside retreat. I must declare the view from our balcony quite delights us. Not a soul to be seen on the beach for hours at a time."

"Oh yes, we both rave about the peace -- about the generally deserted air of Sanditon. Within a few days one knows virtually every face in the district -- "

"Exactly. So I really could not help exclaiming to Lydia the other morning when I saw -- nothing beyond the merest glimpse really, you know -- two, no less than two, complete strangers."

"Ah! now you mention it, Letitia, I do remember them. They seem to be putting up at the hotel -- some connection with the Parkers I did overhear -- most genteel-looking young men, both of them so excessively well-dressed."

"The sort of people, one would imagine, more likely to be found patronising Brighton rather than Sanditon."
Their blatant shallowness and insincerity seems so authentically Austen, very much in the style of what one would imagine of the Miss Steeles, had they greater affluence.

Another Lady is more than your average Austen fan fiction writer - she has meticulously studied Austen's style and thought deeply about her appeal. At the end of Sanditon she writes "An Apology from the Collaborator" in which she states:

Ever increasing numbers, seeking to escape the shoddy values and cheap garishness of our age, are turning to Jane Austen's novels to catch glimpses of life in what appear to be far more leisured times.

Like Mr Woodhouse, we enjoy the company of these old friends best; and though we prefer their actual company to second-hand discussions and speculations about them, anything concerning them will always hold a fascination for us.
No, this isn't Miss Austen's hand at work, finishing the story that torments her devotees with its potential, but I think it's as good as we're likely to get. I have also read Juliet Shapiro's completion, which was interesting but not nearly as satisfying. Laurel Ann wrapped up By the Seaside with Sanditon by listing some of the fan fiction available for this book, and in response I have ordered two more completions: The Brothers (which was Austen's original title for the work) by Jane Austen and (yet) Another Lady, Helen Baker, and Jane Austen's Charlotte by Julia Barrett, author of Presumption, the first Austen sequel I ever read. Of course, I will share my thoughts on these versions as I read them, but today it was oh so pleasant to spend time with this dear friend: a beloved book that sits on my shelf next to Austen's six novels, as close as anything has ever come to reviving her long lost voice. Can I possibly rave more?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Three Sisters

After all this talk of Bronte, Heyer, and now Dumas, as I prepare for his Classics Circuit tour, I needed some Austen time. Not Austen spin off, rewrite, or continuation time, but just the lady herself. So I've been rereading some of her juvenalia and would like to focus today's post on a short piece of epistolary fiction, presumably incomplete, entitled The Three Sisters, about the three Misses Standhopes response to a marriage proposal. Follow this link if you would care to read it online at Pemberley.com.

Many of Austen's novels have the marriages of three sisters at their core. Sense and Sensibility has the Dashwood sisters: Elinor and Marianne are of perfect, marrying age, though Margaret is rather too young to fit this pattern well. Mansfield Park begins with the three sisters Ward, whose fates we discern after many years as Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram, and Mrs. Price. And of course Persuasion finds the daughters of Sir Walter Elliot in a mixed way, one acceptably married while the other two are quickly surpassing the common marriageable years. Parallels are easy to draw between these many sets of sisters' circumstances, and have been done so to particular effect particularly in Jane Greensmith's story Three Sisters, which I will return to in a moment. However, when I review Austen's The Three Sisters, I think it is the antecedents of Pride and Prejudice, a story of five sisters, which are most obvious in this quirky text, certain of it's characters baring a strong resemblance to those of her most famous novel.

In this story, the eldest sister has been proposed to by a man her mother approves of, for he has "six times as much" income (which makes her's five hundred a year, approximately the Dashwoods' - if you include the three thousand left by their grandfather to the girls), but there are other objections to Mr. Watts, namely that Miss Stanhope declares, "He is extremely disagreeable and I hate him more than any body else in the world." If Miss Stanhope declines the offer, he will ask Sophy, and then Georgiana, much in Mr. Collins' style of deference to the claims of birth order. The story lasts only long enough to see the decision made, reveal some of its consequences, and demonstrate the character of each sister.

Mary, Miss Stanhope, is immediately revealed to be a shallow lady as she writes to her friend Fanny of the honor of the proposal. She says, "I do not intend to accept it, at least I beleive not, but as I am not quite certain I gave him an equivocal answer and left him." Quite in the manner of "elegant females", isn't it? Why is Mary uncertain of her intentions? Because, while it would be "such a triumph to be married before Sophy, Georgiana, and the Duttons" and she "could not bear to have either of [her sisters] married before" her, she cannot decide if that would be worse than being married to a man who would make her "miserable all the rest of [her] Life, for he is very ill tempered and peevish extremely jealous, and so stingy there is no living in the house with him." Imagine how Lydia Bennet would have felt about the import of marrying first had she been the eldest rather than the youngest! Miss Stanhope decides to turn to her sisters, not for advice but to learn if they would accept Mr. Watts if she rejected him. If they will, she will marry the man, if not, it is safe to refuse.

This is where Georgiana claims the pen, and the rest of the story is told via a letter to her friend Anne. She and Sophy have been warned by their mother that "she certainly would not let him go farther than our own family for a Wife. 'And therefore' (says she) 'If Mary won't have him Sophy must, and if Sophy won't Georgiana shall.' Poor Georgiana!" Echoes of Mrs. Bennet perhaps? Anyway, these two younger Stanhopes are not so silly as their elder sister, and, not wanting to be forced into the marriage themselves, engage in a "little deceit" with which they "are not perfectly reconciled". In short, they allow Mary to believe that they would certainly snatch up an opportunity to marry Mr. Watts, though their feeling are quite the opposite. In the following quote the younger Miss Stanhopes are assessing the predicament when Mary comes in to feel out their opinions of Mr. Watts. Notice that both have qualms about their deception, but that it is Georgiana who can laugh them both into comfort while Sophy demurs, deterred by her conscience:

"Let us flatter ourselves (replied She) that Mary will not refuse him. Yet how can I hope that my Sister may accept a man who cannot make her happy."

"He cannot it is true but his Fortune, his Name, his House, his Carriage will, and I have no doubt but that Mary will marry him; indeed, why should she not? He is not more than two and thirty, a very proper age for a Man to marry at; He is rather plain to be sure, but then what is Beauty in a Man? -- if he has but a genteel figure and a sensible looking Face it is quite sufficient."

"This is all very true, Georgiana, but Mr. Watts's figure is unfortunately extremely vulgar and his Countenance is very heavy."

"And then as to his temper; it has been reckoned bad, but may not the World be deceived in their Judgement of it? There is an open Frankness in his Disposition which becomes a Man. They say he is stingy; We'll call that Prudence. They say he is suspicious. That proceeds from a warmth of Heart always excusable in Youth, and in short, I see no reason why he should not make a very good Husband, or why Mary should not be very happy with him."

Sophy laughed; I continued,

"However whether Mary accepts him or not, I am resolved. My determination is made. I never would marry Mr. Watts, were Beggary the only alternative. So deficient in every respect! Hideous in his person, and without one good Quality to make amends for it. His fortune, to be sure, is good. Yet not so very large! Three thousand a year. What is three thousand a year? It is but six times as much as my Mother's income. It will not tempt me."

"Yet it will be a noble fortune for Mary" said Sophy, laughing again.

"For Mary! Yes indeed, it will give me pleasure to see her in such affluence."

Thus I ran on, to the great Entertainment of my Sister, till Mary came into the room, to appearance in great agitation. She sat down. We made room for her at the fire. She seemed at a loss how to begin, and at last said in some confusion,

"Pray Sophy have you any mind to be married?"

"To be married! None in the least. But why do you ask me? Are you acquainted with any one who means to make me proposals?"

"I -- no, how should I? But mayn't I ask a common question?"

"Not a very common one Mary, surely," (said I). She paused, and after some moments silence went on --

"How should you like to marry Mr. Watts, Sophy?"

I winked at Sophy, and replied for her. "Who is there but must rejoice to marry a man of three thousand a year?"

"Very true (she replied), That's very true. So you would have him if he would offer, Georgiana, and would you Sophy?"

Sophy did not like the idea of telling a lie and deceiving her Sister; she prevented the first and saved half her conscience by equivocation.

"I should certainly act just as Georgiana would do."

"Well then," said Mary, with triumph in her Eyes, "I have had an offer from Mr. Watts."

We were of course very much surprised; "Oh! do not accept him," said I, "and then perhaps he may have me."

In short, my scheme took, and Mary is resolved to do that to prevent our supposed happiness, which she would not have done to ensure it in reality. Yet after all, my Heart cannot acquit me and Sophy is even more scrupulous. Quiet our Minds, my dear Anne, by writing and telling us you approve our conduct. Consider it well over. Mary will have real pleasure in being a married Woman, and able to chaperone us, which she certainly shall do, for I think myself bound to contribute as much as possible to her happiness in a State I have made her choose. They will probably have a new Carriage, which will be paradise to her, and if we can prevail on Mr. W. to set up his Phaeton she will be too happy. These things however would be no consolation to Sophy or me for domestic Misery. Remember all this and do not condemn us.
While I can't actually imagine Jane and Elizabeth Bennet behaving quite so shabbily (and it is fortunate their circumstances never required it), I can't help but see parallels between their sisterly confidences and those portrayed here . Clearly, Sophy and Georgiana are far superior in understanding to Mary, and it is Georgiana who has the wit while Sophy is a kinder creature. Do I reach too far in seeing a resemblance to the eldest Bennet ladies? When Mary and Mr. Watt squabble over her very unreasonable demands for the marriage, he, with absolutely no sensibility, proceeds to carry out his threat of pursuing her sisters:

"And pray, Miss Stanhope (said Mr. Watts), What am I to expect from you in return for all this."

"Expect? Why, you may expect to have me pleased."

"It would be odd if I did not. Your expectations, Madam, are too high for me, and I must apply to Miss Sophy, who perhaps may not have raised her's so much."

"You are mistaken, Sir, in supposing so, (said Sophy) for tho' they may not be exactly in the same Line, yet my expectations are to the full as high as my Sister's; for I expect my Husband to be good-tempered and Chearful; to consult my Happiness in all his Actions, and to love me with Constancy and Sincerity."

Mr. Watts stared. "These are very odd Ideas, truly, young Lady. You had better discard them before you marry, or you will be obliged to do it afterwards."

Sophy's scrupulously honest reply so reminds me of Jane's sincerity. This indeed seems how she might respond if confronted with such a situation, though the frankness is more reminiscent of Elizabeth. We feel bad for Mary marrying such a man, as do the Duttons, for whom "that anyone who had the Beauty and fortune (tho' small yet a provision) of Mary would willingly marry Mr. Watts, could by them scarcely be credited," but see the tragedy would have been far worse for Sophy and Georgiana, who would find no solace in mere material triumph. Young ladies of small fortune, especially those without father or brothers to aid them, certainly did face a terrible position during Austen's time. We modern readers tend to be harsh on characters, like Charlotte Lucas, who succumb to the very real pressures of survival in their choice of spouse, while undermining what courage rejecting a suitable offer really took, as well as the consequences for
such actions.

Here's where I return to Jane Greensmith. If you do not own a copy of Intimations of Austen, I highly recommend you buy one (read my review of the book here), but the short story Three Sisters can be read at The Derbyshire Writers' Guild, where it was originally published under the name Jane GS. Before you read this, read that. It will only take a few minutes and will prevent me from spoiling an excellent tale, as I have every intention of now doing.

Three Sisters crosses the story of the Misses Elliots with that of the Misses Ward. It begins with what is clearly a description of the Elliots:
Sadly, their mother died when they were still young—the eldest being sixteen and the youngest but twelve when this sad event occurred. The girls were left to the care of their father, a vain man, more concerned with the hue of his complexion than the order in his household. Fortunately, an old family friend stepped into the breach left by the mother's passing, and this lady—Milady as she was called by the girls—counciled the daughters of her friend as if they had been her own.
Each sister declares her hopes for marriage - the eldest wants wealth, the youngest respectability, but the middle sister will marry only for "the deepest love". A young sailor comes into her life and they fall in love but, unlike Lady Russell, "Milady" does not succeed in stopping the engagement. The fate of what seems to be Anne Elliot becomes that of Francis Price, living in squalor, with too many children, and demanding of Milady, "Why did you let me marry for love and love alone? You were the one I looked to after my mother died. Why didn't you persuade me to give him up? I would rather be alone than to have married for love."

I adore this story, turning as it does all our assumptions about Austen on their head. Seen in this different context, Lady Russell's persuasion becomes admirable prudence and Francis Prices' choice far more sympathetic. It reminds us how very different was Austen's world from ours and that those dear beliefs and moral code that pervade her work, which Janeites so proudly promote, can be seen as rash and foolhardy in their contemporary context. Three Sisters highlights the extreme difficulty of the Miss Stanhopes' circumstances, even as I laugh at Mary's contradictory nature and Georgiana's feisty social critique. While Austen's work is almost always humorous, it is useful to sometime stop and remember that the issues she tackled were of the utmost consequence. Truly her work is a towering example of laughter therapy.

Just one last thought I cannot resist sharing - how about that song from Fiddler on the Roof, "Matchmaker"? Could the writers of the musical have found inspiration for their three young, Russian Jewesses, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, in Austen?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

I'd like to thank those of you who urged me to read Laurie Viera Rigler's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict after expressing my disinclination for it in my post on the novel's predecessor, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. I enjoyed Rude Awakenings far more than I had imagined. In fact, it in many ways told the story that I have long been telling myself in my mind: the narrative that sparked my Austen mania. I can't tell you how often I have envisioned one of Austen's heroines, usually Anne Elliot or Elizabeth Bennet, sitting beside me in a movie theater or in the passenger seat of my car, expressing her awe at the spectacle. Such imaginings as these were what initial drove me to start rereading Austen's work. This book is, in that sense, is much like a fantasy come true for me.

Jane Mansfield (of Somerset, not pinup fame) awakens one morning to find herself in the body of Courtney Stone, 21st century Californian. She must adapt to both her unusual situation and the modern world, which, while difficult, she manages with a deal of finesse. I must say I like her much more than Courtney, whose irritating personality greatly impeded my enjoyment of Confessions. While Courtney, with the benefit of knowing something about the time she is in, bungles her way through Jane's life, Jane, though she commits more overall blunders, is far more conscious of her role as "steward", thereby doing more to improve Courtney's situation. I think Ms. Rigler intended both ladies to bring fresh perspectives to their respective situations but, by my way of thinking, it is not an even trade.

The one benefit Courtney bequeaths to Jane is a set of steadfast friends, without whose help Jane would really have had a hard time. With good intentions, they whisk her off to a psychiatrist when she insists she is not Courtney. I love this scene between Jane and the doctor:
She poises her writing instrument atop her paper. "Do you have any history of mental illness in your family?"

What an impertinent question. As if any family would reveal such information. "Indeed not."

"Have you any thoughts of hurting yourself? Any suicidal thought?"

"Of course not. Are you a magistrate as well?"
But other than highly devoted friends, Courtney has given Jane a life of dead end work, overdue bills, and a wreck of a relationship. All this Jane goes about setting to right, and her observations on modern dating are some of the most intriguing moments of the book. These range from highly humorous, like this exchange ...
"Let me buy you a coffee. An iced coffee, if you like. And I'll tell you all about it, okay?"

I manage a smile. "Only if you allow me to buy the coffee."

For that is what independent women may do with their non-boyfriend gentlemen friends, is it not?
... to far more serious, philosophical observations on the state of gender equality ...
"No man expects his wife to be untouched. Maybe our grandparents might have, but even that I doubt. Birth control changed everything."

"Doesn't look to me like much has changed."

"Oh, so I suppose we can just ignore the entire women's movement."

"Movement? Towards what - a lack of respect for oneself?"

"I've never heard you talk like this, Courtney. I thought you were a feminist."

"If that means I am a defender of my sex against blackguards like you, then yes, I suppose I am a feminist."
By the end of the story, Jane has succeeded in incorporating her 19th century values into the modern world. Amusingly, not much has really changed, as the solution to a lady's predicament apparently remains a good marriage, regardless of the century.

The book is simply fascinating. I still feel like the body swapping mechanism is poorly explained but was glad, at the end, to have a better understanding of our heroines fates. I am considering rereading the series with my husband, who enjoyed Lost in Austen (my review of which you can read here) and is generally open minded to Austen based narratives, especially when there is a fantasy twist. I recommend this book to anyone who, like me, spends hours wondering what kind of reaction Marianne Dashwood would have to techno music and Emma Woodhouse to flip flops.

Georgette Heyer Poll Results & Classics Circuit Check Up

So 75% of participants in my little poll enthusiastically exclaimed, "Oh yes! Please oh please provide Heyer reviews!" Ask and you will receive. As I do with Austen inspired fiction, I will review the Heyer's books that I enjoy as I peruse them. The problem is that I've already read several very good selections, so I think I will need to go back and at least briefly describe the very best. I will start by mentioning my two favorites, both Regency romances. For those of you who haven't been there before, Georgette-Heyer.com, "the definitive fan website for Georgette Heyer", provides excerpts from all of her books, quite useful in navigating (and remembering!) all of this prolific lady's work.

I think my favorite book so far is Friday's Child, a remarkable thing considering the incredible shallowness and one dimensionality of Lord Sheringham and Miss Hero Wantage, the main characters. I love that this is a tale that begins with a marriage rather than ending with one. The foolhardy couple mentioned above decide to marry under most exceptional, hasty, and unpromising circumstances, engage in a totally ridiculous and most improper series of escapades, and eventually find perfect happiness in their silly selves. The plot and dialogue are absolutely hysterical, our heroes admirably supported in their absurdity by a cast of equally inane supporting characters. This is the first Heyer book I read aloud with my husband, immediately after finishing it myself, and the one that made him open to more. We laughed from beginning to end, thoroughly enjoying this vicarious romp through Regency London.

Not everyone was so charmed. Read The Classics Circuit reviews by Sparks' Notes sasha & the silverfish, and Reading, Writing and Retirement.
Cotillion is also great fun. The characters, though also not brilliant, are far more personally endearing that those of Friday's Child and engage in a similarly ridiculous and equally charming plot. Kitty Charing has been put in the awkward circumstance of having to marry one of her cousins or forsake any inheritance. One of said cousins is the Honorable Freddy Standen, whom she convinces to fake an engagement, giving her the freedom to kick up a lark in London (for who knows what the future may bring) and attempt to entice the cousin she really wants, Captain Jack Westruther, to ask for her hand. The result is a cacophony of secrets and intrigues that remarkably work themselves into a satisfying conclusion. Mr. Standen, a kindhearted but vacant man of impeccable ton, is shockingly endearing, as is another hapless cousin, Lord Dolphinton, though for very different reasons.
Read the Carol's Notebook review for The Classics Circuit.
Several other Regency romances that I enjoyed are being featured in this month's Classics Circuit. Here are links to reviews of other books that I particularly liked (I will add to this list as the Circuit progresses - last updated 4/7/10):

Yes, Frederica and The Grand Sophy were popular picks for good reason. Also, you can visit my review of Black Sheep, which was wonderful (the book I mean, not my review, which I am only willing to deem adequate), right here.

Above image borrowed from Historical Tapestry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

Rereading The Professor after all these years was fascinating, but I have been dawdling for three weeks now over this post and still feel uninspired. My first issue is that I have to somehow relate it all back to Jane Austen, as I declared I would upon accepting the All About the Brontes Challenge. Secondly, I don't want to engage in the rather boring exercise of critiquing a text that is blatantly stamped with all the hallmarks of "a first attempt", despite the authoress' protests to the contrary in her preface. Where does this leave me? After assuring you that this tale of a young man making his way in the world, finally finding his path at a Belgium boarding school, is very worthwhile reading in spite of its foibles (or, perhaps, because of them), I propose to write about some archaic nonsense, which I shall impose upon my reading and thereby color it . What kind of archaic nonsense did I have in mind? Have you ever heard of the noble Science of Physiognomy?

In brief, and according to Wikipedia, physiognomy "is the assessment of a person's character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face." In essence, facial features are said to be measures of intelligence, kindness, stupidity, and madness. It belongs to the same school of thought as phrenology, but physiognomy has the added distinction of being highly subscribed to by the artists of the time. Its influence is easy to see in Victorian literature, writers often describing their characters' "physiognomies" in depth. The Brontes are no exception; indeed, Charlotte is the darling of feminist literary theorists exploring the implications of the physiognomy of madwomen. In The Professor, William Crimsworth judges everyone based upon such notions, from his estranged brother's wife ...
I sought her eye, desirous to read there the intelligence which I could not discern in her face or hear in her conversation; it was merry, rather small; by turns I saw vivacity, vanity, coquetry, look out through its irid, but I watched in vain for a glimpse of a soul.
... to the entire Flemish race (of whom I beg will take no offense at the following quote) ...
Flamands they certainly were, and both had the true Flamand physiognomy, where intellectual inferiority is marked in lines none can mistake; still they were men, and, in the main, honest men; and I could not see why their being aboriginals of the flat, dull soil should serve as a pretext for treating them with perpetual severity and contempt.
The novel even catalogs his students, in almost epic style, based upon such observances of their appearance and characters. Physiognomy is so much an assumption that we must conclude that, for Charlotte, it was a truth, as incontestable as God.

Here's where Jane, with a mischievous smile, chimes in with a witty set down, for well she knows that while "one [might have] all the goodness" another might have "all the appearance of it." Austen pays not the slightest heed to physiognomy, which was only just coming into prevalence during her lifetime. In fact, she emphatically warns us how deceptive appearances can be in the form of charming rascal after charming rascal: Willoughby, Wickham, Crawford, Churchill, and Elliot. The entire plots of Pride & Prejudice and Emma are based upon how one should never make assumptions based upon appearance. Austen barely even provides a basic description of her heroines' looks, drawing only the vaguest pictures of what these ladies look like (to the convenience of modern cinema).

On that note, I abruptly wrap up my musings on physiognomy and leave you with one last quote from and thought on The Professor, having absolutely no relevance to the previous subject. I find it remarkable that Charlotte Bronte, the orchestrator of all Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester's violent emotions, wrote the following:
Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life. If they observed this duty conscientiously, they would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of light and shade; they would seldom elevate their heroes and heroines to the heights of rapture - still seldomer sink them to the depths of despair; for if we rarely savour the acrid bitterness of hopeless anguish ...
Though this is the policy she employed in writing The Professor, we'll see how well she adheres to it in Villette, my favorite Bronte novel and the one which I am reading next.

Read my review of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.