Monday, August 30, 2010

The Heir to Longbourn by Laurence Fleming

I paid the import fees to get this book from England, thrilled to read an Austen continuation written by a man. After three years of devouring this stuff, Laurence Fleming is only male author I have come across (excluding those who insist on incorporating zombies and sea monsters, who I don't, frankly, count). As I cannot find a web page on him, I am assuming that he is not a woman writing under a masculine pen name. We need more men writing JAFF to help dispel the ridiculous notion that Austen wrote chick lit. The Heir to Longbourn is a fine contribution to this cause.

As the title suggests, the main plot line of this story revolves around who shall inherit Longbourn. The question is not as clear as Austen painted it, for with the death of Mrs. Bennet (and a bit of a makeover for Mr. Bennet), the possibility of a second marriage becomes quite probable, much to Mr. Collins' chagrin:
"But it is not only that," he said, "not only that at all. I gave myself the trouble of a journey to Longbourn only to find that your father, a grieving widower of less than a month's duration, had left there for Bath, of all frivolous localities, and that the house was actually in process of new decoration. There are to be new curtains, which I understand to be yellow, of all inappropriate shades, in the drawing-room, new paper in the room where Mrs. Bennet died - it was as though all memory of your mother were to be expunged. It was all too soon, Mrs Darcy, Miss Bennet. A year's deep mourning, in closed solitude at Longbourn, would  have been suitable. But to be Gallivanting off to London, in all the present circumstances, is by no means the action of a person worthy of respect."

"I think you forget yourself," said Elizabeth angrily. "The memory of the mother of five daughters cannot possibly be expunged so long as those daughters are alive; and the changes at Longbourn have been under consideration for a long time. My mother wished to bring them about herseld and would have certainly done so. We thought it best to have them made while my father was away."

"But to come to Bath, Mrs Darcy, a place known for its thoughtless frivolities and which can offer him no opportunity for serious reflection on the permanence of the event which has recently overwhelmed him - who can have made such a decision?"

"In choosing Bath, Mr Collins," said Elizabeth coldly, "I though only of the benefit to my father's health and spirits. e live very quietly here."

"And very well," retorted Mr Collins. "I am astonished to think that the estate at Longborn can support the expense of such a residence as this."

Elizabeth was now too angry to speak, and did not do so. It was Catherine who said, and in a voice which Elizabe5th had never heard before: "You may be quite easy, Mr Collins. It is the estate at Pemberley that supports us here."

"And not content with coming to Bath," continued Mr Collins, in royal rage and as though Catherine had not spoken, "he must needs go jaunting off to London before he has been here a week. Pray, what is the reason for that?"

"The reason for that," said Elizabeth, with an edge to her voice which she made no attempt to conceal, "is that my father is urgently in need of some new clothes. The last person to die in his family was his father, some thirty years ago. He has gone to purchase his mourning which, as you have said yourself, is liable to last for a year. I presume you have no objection to that?"

"I should have thought it possible to purchase mourning a little nearer home," said Mr Collins sullenly. "At his age there can be no requirement to be at the height of the mode. But none of this alters the fact that at no time have I been consulted. As the heir to his estate it is my right to be closely consulted about everything that appertains to that estate. The changes in the house at Longbourn are costly and unnecessary. This visit to Bath is costly and unnecessary. I can hardly express my sense of outrage sufficiently."

Elizabeth stood up, and Catherine with her.

"You appear to be under some misapprehension, Mr Collins," she said very politely. "It is my mother who has died, not my father. Until that event occurs you have no right whatever to concern yourself in what goes on at Longbourn, unless my father specifically invites you to do so. He has been his own master for a great many years and he is most unlikely to require any assistance, or brook any interference, from you or from anyone else."
Take that, you pompous windbag!

The Heir to Longbourn is not just a Pride and Prejudice continuation, also incorporating characters from Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and especially Mansfield Park, with Maria and Tom Bertram taking center stage. Like Maria of Birkthwaite by Judith Brocklehurst, this book seeks to redeem Maria and free her from her exiled state. I find Mr. Fleming's method of doing this far more believable than Ms. Brocklehurst's, but take issue with his handling of other characters from Mansfield, particularly Fanny Bertram nee Price. Though we never hear or see her directly, an insider's account of Fanny makes her appear as dour as possible. I will not turn this review into a defense of Fanny Price, but I do so wish lovers of Austen would be a bit more sympathetic towards this most maligned heroine. I find it particularly frustrating when she is disparaged while Mary Crawford is lauded, as occurs to a degree in this book. Why are these two characters the only ones that Janeites do not trust Austen to have rewarded and punished appropriately?

There are two more books in this series by Mr. Fleming: The Will of Lady Catherine and The Summer at Lyme. I imagine they will continue to combine the stories of Austen's other characters with those of Pride and Prejudice. Both are now in my Amazon shopping cart. I look forward to further enjoying Mr. Fleming's thoughtful and surprising imaginings of where fate might have led these beloved characters.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Third Sister by Julia Barrett

As August draws to a close, I find my pile of to be reviewed books appallingly large. All summer long I have been reading JAFF, but, instead of immediately posting my thought there, I delay and procrastinate until the details become foggy, blurred by time and the succeeding round of Austenesque. It's a bad habit I have fallen into, and which I hope will amended itself as fall begins. In the meantime, since I have no intention of rereading all these books (at least not yet), I will throw up a few more of these vaguer reviews, so at least the books are off my desk. I apologize to my readers and, more particularly, to the authors of these novels, for not giving each the comprehensive review it deserves.

Since I've been in Sense and Sensibility mode, I am going to start with The Third Sister by Julia Barrett, a continuation of that novel focusing, as the name implies, on Margaret Dashwood. This is the third book by Ms. Barrett I have read, experiencing very different reactions to the previous two. The first, Presumption: An Entertainment, was one of the earliest bits of Austen fan fiction I read. Its subject is Georgiana Darcy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story, Ms. Barrett's use of language, and her ability to capture Austen's tone. Then I read Jane Austen's Charlotte (read my review here), a Sanditon completion, which I found convoluted in plot and almost incomprehensible. This latter experience made me a bit apprehensive of The Third Sister, but though it wasn't as pleasing as Presumption, I found it far superior to Charlotte. Here again Ms. Barrett successfully captures Austen's witty style, providing a pleasing continuation to Sense and Sensibility. I could not help but compare it to another Sense and Sensibility continuation - Willoughby's Return by Jane Odiwe (read my review here) - as both focus on Margaret. For a variety of reasons, I prefer Ms. Odiwe's book, but am nonetheless excited to have discovered another fulfilling Sense and Sensibility continuation.

The Third Sister is structurally similar to Sense and Sensibility. Margaret meets first one gentleman, then a second. She believes herself in love with the first, but, upon discovering him to be a scoundrel (which event allows gentleman number two to demonstrate his superiority), reassesses her affections. There is a removal from Barton Cottage to a place of hustle and bustle (Brighton, in this case) under the aegis of an older widowed woman, just like Elinor and Marianne went to London with Mrs. Jennings. But the Margaret Dashwood Ms. Barrett presents does not particularly resemble the original we know from Austen. In fact, the entire book seems to be written because she took offense at one particular line:
Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
Hence Ms. Barrett opens her story with, "Sorry is the portion of a third sister," proceeding to dedicate the majority of the first several pages of the book to admonishing Austen for being so cruel. Now this is very difficult for me: though I understand Ms. Barrett is being tongue-in-cheek on this point, I still shudder at the daring involved in leveling such a critique. Still, these passages admirably demonstrate Ms. Barrett's agile use of Austen's style, and I cannot but imagine the the "Genius" would approve:
To the contrary, by the time she reached her seventeenth year, our Margaret Dashwood stood proof that even Genius might at times be disposed towards too hasty an estimation. Margaret's singularity, when examined, was considerable. Not only was her judgment precise, her understanding was swift. She had read more widely as many, and comprehended more than most: nor was this learning achieved at any sacrifice to her sweetness of nature. Let her word be taken as of little weight, her own comfort regarded as disposable; her mind and temper persisted, one as good as the other, worthy enough, in short, to secure for her just tenure as our heroine.
Unfortunately, I never was able to feel much connection to "our Margaret Dashwood", enjoying far more the parts of the book that followed the actions of the Brandons and both of the Ferrars couples. If I had one complaint about Willoughby's Return, it was the almost complete absence of Elinor and Edward. No such issues here! Ms. Barrett flips back and forth between Margaret and her older sisters quite easily. The Third Sister is out of print but can be easily found used on Amazon (in hardback too!). I happily recommend it to all those craving more of the Dashwood sisters. .  

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sense and Sensibility Mash Up

Today I tackle mashing up Sense and Sensibility, which I think may be the book of Ms. Austen's that best translates to film. All the adaptations done of this story stick fairly closely to the original text, and all are satisfying in their own ways. Nevertheless, as each film has improved on its predecessor, the first - a 1971 BBC mini-series in four parts - cannot really compete in this contrary exercise in which I intend to indulge. It is for this reason that I posted a review of the film last Friday, as it is entirely unrepresented here. Still, between the 1981 BBC mini-series (this one was allotted an enormous seven parts, though in only half hour increments), the 1995 Ang Lee film, and the 2008 Andrew Davies mini-series, this was still the hardest mash up I have yet attempted. Some of the characters have been repeatedly represented phenomenally - like Fanny Dashwood and Willoughby - making selection very difficult. I know many will disagree with my final calls, but as I acknowledge the entire endeavor to be partial and prejudiced, I hope no one may think I slighted anyone intentionally. That being said, for your delectation may I present my Sense and Sensibility Mash Up? I hope you enjoy it!

(Check out previous mash ups - Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion)

Elinor Dashwood - Though Irene Richard charmed me in this role (also familiar to Austen fans as Charlotte Lucas in the 1980 production of Pride and Prejudice), and Hattie Morahan was positively exquisite, I still prefer Emma Thompson in the role (despite being a bit too old for it). Yet I cannot watch the film without remembering those awesome final episodes of "The Vicar of Dibley", so memorable to Richard Armitage fans, in which Dawn French refers to Emma Thompson's reaction when Hugh Grant finally asks her to marry him. If you've ever seen it, by all means get a copy a check it out!

Marianne Dashwood - I'm sticking with 1995 on this one, though it was a tough call between Kate Winslet and Charity Wakefield. I went with the former because, frankly, I just really like Kate Winslet. Ever since first seeing the film (not long after first reading the book), she has been the Marianne in my mind's eye whenever I read the book.

Edward Ferrars - By far and away, I vastly prefer Dan Stevens' 2008 portrayal to any other Edward. He is more charming than Edward is usually imagined to be, which might have something to do it with it. I must admit that Edward is not one of my favorite Austen heroes.   

Colonel Brandon - On this one I am decidedly biased towards 1995. I adore Alan Rickman andwill always think he's the best Brandon, no matter how many phenomenal performances David Morrissey gives. I have nothing else to offer in justification of myself. 

John Willoughby - If I could blend Greg Wise's 1995 performance with  Dominic Cooper's physical appearance I would, but, as that would be against my self imposed rules, I'm going to pick Dominic Cooper (2008) for this role. He just looks exactly like I have always imagined Willoughby to appear (a slight resembles to my first boyfriend doesn't hurt either).

Mrs. Dashwood - Everyone who has played this role has done a fine job, but I prefer Janet McTeer's 2008 portrayal. She captures the sensitivity towards her children that Austen develops so well and looks every inch the lady of the manner. We really feel her the magnitude of her indignation at her social descent in this adaptation.

Margaret Dashwood - I lean towards Lucy Boynton in the 2008 production for this role, although her interpretation seems more based on Emilie Francois' 1995 performance than anything one might find in Austen. As none of the previous adaptations bother to include Miss Margaret, I guess we can assume that this hoydenish portrayal is the version cinema is sticking to.

Lucy Steele - I am going back to the 1981 version for this selection. Julia Chambers is the only actress who seems able to balance her innocent facade and the deceitful nature. The other portrayals lean either too far one way or the other for my satisfaction. Unfortunately, I could not find a better quality photo. 

John Dashwood - This was a very hard decision, but in the end I think I favor Mark Gatiss' 2008 performance, as he really comes off as, frankly, whipped, and inclined to act better were his wife not such a harpy. This feels, to me, more in keeping with Austen's intentions for him.

Fanny Dashwood - I imagine this must be a wonderfully fun part to play, as most of the actresses who have attempted it have done it so well, but I like Amanda Boxer's 1981 performance best. She has such a sneer! Her self-satisfied condescension is perfect.

Mrs. Jennings - Again, 1981 holds sway here. I really like Annie Leon's motherly portrayal of this part. She is both the ill-mannered and jovial lady Austen created while perfectly capturing the truly good heart that lays beneath the unpolished exterior, yet not an image can I find! You'll just have to watch the film!

Sir John Middleton - This is another role that just seems like fun and has been repeatedly performed well. I like Mark Williams' 2008 portrayal best. He's a perfect country squire while not being overly course. I also like how his friendship with Colonel Brandon is developed further in this adaptation.

Mrs. Ferrars - For whatever reason, none of the actresses who have played this role seem to quite capture the essence of the part, at least not at well as some Austen's other grand-dames have been portrayed (like Lady Catherine). I think Jean Marsh did the most justice to the part in 2008, incorporating a very appropriate haughtiness into her performance, but I wish she would have been less stoic (especially when she confronts Edward and Lucy).

Charlotte Palmer - I really like Hetty Baynes thoroughly silly portrayal of this part from 1981. Her incredibly annoying giggle sticks with me far more than any aspect from any other lady's performance as Charlotte, although a personal bias makes me long to give this role to Imelda Staunton -1995 (especially as I lament the lack of a decent image of Ms. Baynes).

Mr. Palmer - Although the interpretation of Mr. Palmer presented by Hugh Laurie in 1995 is significantly more sympathetic than anything Austen could have envisioned for the man, I like it, and I like Mr. Laurie. His performance emphasizes the similarities between the relationship of the Palmers to that of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, a parallel which has long intrigued me.

Anne Steele - I prefer Daisy Haggard's 2008 portrayal of this part. Something about her toothiness makes her performance work far better for me than the others. It should be noted that Miss Steele was completely absent from the 1995 film - a sad omission of a fabulously comic character in my mind.

Robert Ferrars - There is a propensity to cast rather doughy-faced actors in this role, a practice I do not fully understand. Of the doughy-faced portrayals of this part, I think I find Richard Lumsden's 1995 performance most satisfying. Perhaps he is just less doughy than the other actors, but I do think he has a bit of the Ferrars haughtiness, which helps to make him rather convincing.

Images -

Emma Thompson -
Kate Winslet -
Dan Stevens -
Alan Rickman -
Dominic Cooper -
Janet McTeer -
Lucy Boynton -
Julia Chambers -
Mark Gatiss -
Amanda Boxer -
Mark Williams -
Jean Marsh -
Hetty Baynes -
Hugh Laurie -
Daisy Haggard -
Richard Lumsden -

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sense and Sensibility - 1971

I have been waiting for this film to become available on DVD for a long time, hoping to include it in my Sense and Sensibility cast mash up, which I plan to post this weekend (check out my similar treatments of Mansfield Park, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion). While I found it a lovely adaptation in its own right, none of the performances displaced the actors I already preferred in each role, leaving the 1971 BBC production of Sense and Sensibility totally unrepresented in my dream casting. However, having long anticipated watching this film and, of course, having an opinion on it, I decided to devote a post to it, thereby allowing me to share some of the highlights of the production with you, my always-hungry-for-Austen-adaptations readers. If you have no tolerance for other BBC productions of this era, there is no reason to believe that you will find this miniseries any more to your liking than Emma 1972 or Persuasion 1971. I, on the other hand, who am rather enamored of the style, found it a thoroughly enjoyable film and, in quality, rather more high budget than its contemporaries. One delightful surprise was recognizing Joanna David (below right), the actress who plays Elinor Dashwood, from another beloved Austen adaptation. Do you recognize her? I'll tell you why she looks familiar at the end of the post.

This production sticks fairly close to the book, the absence of a Margaret Dashwood perhaps the biggest deviation. Lucy Steele, as portrayed by Francis Cuka, is incredibly malicious: far more so than any other actress has played her. She is positively vicious. On the other hand, Kay Gallie provides the most mild Fanny Dashwood imaginable, allowing the viewer's hatred to lay more squarely on the shoulders of John Dashwood (Milton Johns) than is typical. Mr. Johns helps incite our antipathy by being perfectly odious - his resolve to help his step-mother and sisters even weaker than it is in the book. Avariciousness defines his performance.

Mrs. Jennings, played by a rather young Patricia Routledge (well-known as Hyacinth on Keeping Up Appearances), is extremely jolly with a hint of melancholy (perhaps a manic tendency?) to render her more sympathetic than usual. Unfailingly kind, she is also fidgety and rambunctious, often repeating her mantra - "I do, above all things in this life, adore the company of lively and entertaining young people" - which almost becomes a lament by the end. The emphasis is on her loss of daughters to marriage, particularly apparent in a monologue she gives after saying goodbye to the Dashwoods at Cleveland. I found it a thoughtful development of what Austen only hints at in the text, and a strong explanation for some of Mrs. Jennings more emphatic behavior.

Another interesting performance was provided by Robin Ellis at Edward Ferrars. He has a slight stutter than ebbs when he is amongst the Dashwoods and increases when he is uncomfortable (like when Lucy is around). It's a rather obvious device, but Ms. Ellis does it well. I was particularly impressed during the scene in which Elinor tells him about the living at Delaford, altered here so that she visits his lodgings to convey the message (and she finds him dishabille), where his repressed passion is manfully displayed. I thought he did a fine job of portraying the heartache of Edward's predicament.

I began skeptical of Marianne, played by Ciaran Madden, because she looks extremely mature for seventeen, but the performance grew on me as she presented a highly passionate portrayal. It doesn't hurt that she's positively stunning. Her Marianne is an extremely spoiled child, very much in need of those worldly lessons her sister anticipates. In spite of her tendency towards tantrums, the eagerness with which she greets what interests her is infectious. We can well understand what Colonel Brandon sees in her. I must mention an odd scene at the end when she instructs him on the proper pronunciation of the name Cowper, and that her flight from ball where she encounters Willoughby was rather over the top, but overall it was a fine rendition of Austen's most self-absorbed heroine.

Now I return to the very lovely Joanna David, whose performance is the best in the film. She is a very stoic Elinor (in proper contract to Ms. Madden's exuberant Marianne), betraying none of the struggle with her emotions that other Elinors so depend upon until the very end, when the relief that Marianne is out of danger finally causes her to break down, though just for a moment. Other members of the cast fling the words "prudent" and "practical" at her almost like a taunt until Edward makes them terms of ardent affection in his proposal. Ms. David's Elinor endures all her trials like a champion, making her just reward all the sweeter at the end. And where do we know this fine lady from? Why, she is none other than Mrs. Gardiner from the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice! How I love Austen synchronicity!    


Joanna David 1 - 
Patricia Routledge -
Robin Ellis -
Ciaran Madden -
Joanna David 2 -

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Celebrating Georgette Heyer" with my review of Cotillion at Austenprose!

It's finally my turn to review for the Georgette Heyer celebration going on all August at Austenprose! I was thrilled to be able to blab about one of my favorite Heyer novels, Cotillion, a charming tale of one young lady's first trip to London. How innocent that sounds! Let me assure you that Kitty Charing, like all good Heyer heroines, has one too many pokers in the fire. Chaos and mayhem abound until everything remarkably works out all right. The book contains some of Heyer's most memorable characters. Read my review at Austenprose!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Read my interview with Kelly Yanke Deltener, the Jane Austen Squel Examiner

After reviewing First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice two weeks ago week (read it here), Ms. Deltener requested an interview which I was, of course, ecstatic to grant. Please check out her question and my answers over at Interviews have a remarkable way of teaching the interviewee more about themselves, and Ms. Deltener's thought provoking questions were no exception. Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Those of you who have already read the wonderful interview Laurel Ann of Austenprose posted today with Vic of Jane Austen's World ("Why we love to read and reread Georgette Heyer") are aware that today is Georgette Heyer's birthday. In light of this event, and inspired by Kara Louise's wonderful review of Arabella last Saturday, I 'd like to add my own thoughts on this fabulous book, which I have enjoyed even more on the second perusal than I did on the first. Since Ms. Louise has already provided an overview of the book's plot (read it here), I am not going to bother with basic summary, instead indulging in some of the most memorable moments and morals of the book, celebrating Heyer's birth by emphasizing her incomparable flair for comic dialogue.

In Arabella, Heyer teaches us the importance of proper familial feelings. I love his adoring children's fine appreciation of Mr Tallant's benevolence:
'Bertram, I had rather by far he had beaten me!' said Arabella earnestly.

'Lord, yes!' agreed Bertram, shuddering. 'What a shocking thing! I'm glad I wasn't downstairs! It makes me feel like the devil when he gets to blaming himself. What did you say?'

'I could not utter a word! My voice was wholly suspended by tears, as you may imagine, and I was afraid that he would be vexed with me for not being able to contain my feelings better! But he was not. Only fancy! He took me in his arms, and kissed me, and said I was his dear, good daughter, and oh, Bertram, I'm not!'

'Well, you need not put yourself in a pucker for that,' recommended her matter-of-fact brother. 'He won't think it above a day or two. The thing is that his dejected fit is at an end.'

'Oh, yes! But it was much, much worse at breakfast! He would keep on talking to me about the London scheme - teasing me, you know, about the giddy life I should lead there, and saying that I must be sure to write very long letters home, even if I cannot get a frank for them, for he would be so much interested to hear of all my doings!'

Bertram stared at her in undisguised horror. 'He did not!'

'But he did! And in the kindest way, only with that sad look in his eyes - you know! until I was ready to give up the whole scheme!'

'My God, I don't wonder at it!'

'Mo, and to crown all - as though I had not borne enough!' disclosed Arabella, hunting wildly for her handkerchief, 'he said I would want something pretty to wear in London, and he would have a pearl pin he wore when he was a young man made into a ring for me!'

This staggering intelligence made Bertram's jaw drop. After a moment's stupefaction he said resolutely: 'That settles it! I shan't come downstairs today after all. Ten to one, if he saw me he would blame himself for my frisk, and I should be driven into running away to enlist, or something, because, you know, a fellow can't stand that kind of thing!'

'No, indeed! I am sure all my pleasure has been quite cut-up!'
Furthermore, Heyer reminds us that persistence and loyalty have their rewards:
In pursuance of this resolve, Mr beaumaris sent for his curricle next morning. Ulysses, who had shared his breakfast, bundled ahead of him down the steps of his house, leaped into the curricle, and disposed himself on the passenger's seat with all the air of a dog born into the purple.

'No!' said Mr Beaumaris forcibly. Ulysses descended miserably from the curricle, and prostrated himself on the flag-way. 'Let me tell you, my friend,' said Mr Beaumaris, 'that I have a certain reputation to maintain, which your disreputable appearance would seriously jeopardize! Do not be alarmed! - I am not, alas, going out of your life for ever!' He climbed into the curricle, and said: 'You may stop grinning, Clayton, and let 'em go!'

'Yes, sir!' said his groom, obeying both these behests, and swinging himself expertly up on to the curricle as it passed him. After a minute or two, having twiced glanced over his shoulder, he ventured to inform Mr Beaumaris that the little dog was following him.

Mr Beaumaris uttered an oath, and reined in his reluctant pair. The faithful hound, plodding valiantly along, with heaving ribs, and several inches of tongue hanging from his parted jaws, came up with the curricle, and once more abased himself in the road. 'Damn you !' said Mr Beaumaris. 'I suppose you are capable of following me all the way to Wimbledon! It now remains to be seen whether my credit is good enough to enable me to carry you off. Get up!'

Ulysses was very much out of breath, but at these words he mustered up enough strength to scramble into the curricle once more. He wagged a grateful tail, climbed on to the seat beside Mr Beaumaris, and sat the panting blissfully. Mr Beaumaris read him a short lecture on the evils of blackmail, which sorely tried the self-control of his groom, discouraged him peremptorily from hurling a challenge at a mere pedestrian dog in the gutter, and proceeded on his way to Wimbledon.
Most importantly, in Arabella Heyer reaffirms the universally acknowledged truth that nothing is so likely to snare a man than a lady treating him with a hearty display of indifference:
Arabella approved so heartily of this arrangement, that he took the risk of saying in a melancholy tone: 'Yes, but if it succeeds, I shall be at a loss to think of a pretext for getting you to drive out with me.

'Dear me, have I shown myself so reluctant?' said Arabella, raising her eyebrows. 'I wonder why you will talk so absurdly, Mr Beaumaris? You may depend upon it that I shall take care to be seen every now and then in your company, for I cannot be so sure of my credit as to run the risk of having it said that the nonpareil has begun to find me a dead  bore!'
Happy Birthday Georgette Heyer!

Continue to enjoy the Heyer celebration at Austenprose throughout the month!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice by Abigail Reynolds

I never read this book when it was titled Pemberley by the Sea, as at that time I was not reading Austen modernization. But, having opened my mind to the genre, it seemed Abigail Reynolds was the logical writer to turn to. I have long admired her Pemberley Variations and had heard many good things about Pemberley by the Sea, so when The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice was released, I immediately put it in my to be read pile.

Cassie Boulton is a tenure-track marine biologist at Haverford College working on Cape Cod for the summer when she meets Calder Westing III, the heir to a Kennedy-esque family of politicians. Cassie believes her background - thoroughly blue collar Chicago - an insurmountable obstacle to friendship, let alone a romance, with Calder, but, just like Mr. Darcy, there proves to be far more to the man than meets the eye.

This is a sweet, romantic story, and a thoroughly American approach to the Pride and Prejudice dynamic (especially in regards to the communications dilemmas). While I enjoyed the read, I am afraid I am finding my initial prejudices against modernization to be somewhat justified. When you take Elizabeth and Darcy's story and place it into the modern context, while it makes for a pleasant romance, it just lacks the charm, at least for me, that a tale set in the Regency possesses. Nevertheless, Ms. Reynolds' adaptation of technology into the story is very well done. For example, this series of email communications between Cassie and Calder does a fine job of capturing the spirit of Elizabeth and Darcy:
I'm looking forward to seeing Haverford and meeting some of those students you're teaching how to think. Here's hoping they don't eat me alive--it's not as if I've ever taught anything in my life

It's easy. Just listen to them, and talk to the like they're adults. You'll do fine.

Talk?? Me? I hope they don't expect the seminar to last over five minutes!

Now, now, I've heard you talk very nicely on occasion. Sometimes ever four or five words at a stretch. We'll advertise you as laconic.
Very cute, but still I prefer Ms. Reynolds other books (which I praised here). Perhaps I'm just a sucker for bonnets and cravats - if so, at least I'm in good company.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pistols for Two by Georgette Heyer

I accidentally came across this collection of short stories by Georgette Heyer when browsing on Amazon. What could I do but immediately order a used copy, imported or not? I very much enjoy short stories, as I very much enjoy Heyer, so I anxiously awaited its arrival and, as soon as I got the volume in my greedy little hands, immediately began to read it. Eleven stories in high Heyer style comprise Pistols for Two, an irrepressibly delightful book. Readers of Heyer will recognize many of her stock characters: young bucks teeming for a fight, jaded beaus intolerably bored with their privileged existences, miserly old men who determined to marry servants as a means of cheaply insuring their domestic comforts, impoverished young woman resigned to unpromising futures as governesses, hoydenish heiresses who actively flout convention, and schoolroom misses who are as ignorant as they are charming. Though the stories are familiar and formulaic, like all of Heyer's work, they are also irrepressibly delightful: their very reliance on cliche providing the bedrock for the misadventures that ensue. I will briefly summarize each story and, as I do so, will continue to marvel at authoress' ability to compress all the liveliness and excitement of her novels into a few short pages.

Pistols for Two

When Marianne Treen returns to the neighborhood, transformed from the irritating girl she was into an incomparable beauty, best friends Tom and Jack become amiable rivals for the fair one's hand. But when Tom thinks Jack has dealt him a false turn by giving Miss Treen a bouquet when Tom has none of his own to bestow, the two friends see no other option but to meet with pistols at dawn. Fortunately for the boys, Sir Gavin Kilham, a renowned nonesuch, is on hand to grace the duel with his impeccable presence while making his own bid for the lovely Miss Treen.

A Clandestine Affair

When her niece, Lucy Tresilian, and Arthur Rosely request her blessings on their engagement, Miss Nell Tresilian find herself in an awkward predicament. While she thinks they make a fine couple, Arthur's uncle, Lord Iver, is dead set against it. When the young people elope, the aunt and uncle set off for the Scottish border in pursuit, thrown together for the first time since their own broken engagement, many years ago. How can such a premise be anything other than utterly charming?

Bath Miss

Sir Charles Wainfleet is not pleased when he is requested to collect the young Miss Massingham, granddaughter of a family friend, from her school in Bath. Little did he know that such a seemingly mundane task would involve clandestine trips to the mantua maker, the acquirement of a dog, and a run in with his most outraged fiancee.

Pink Domino

Letty Wrexham has a talent for getting into mischief, and when she orders a pink domino her brother, Giles, knows she is determined to go to the Pantheon masquerade despite being forbade to do so. So to the Pantheon he goes, determined to catch Letty in the act, only to mistake her pink domino for that of another lady, a Miss Ruth Welborne, who turns out to be exactly who he has been searching for all along.

A Husband for Fanny

The widow, Mrs Clarissa Wingham, after spending years in country seclusion, returns to the world of the ton to present her only daughter, Fanny, having scrimped and saved in order to provide her with a proper London season. When the Marquis of Harleston shows Fanny marked attentions, Clarissa is ecstatic, despite the warnings that no lady has ever succeeded in catching the Marquis' heart. But is he really interested in Fanny or is there another motive for his regular calls in Albemarle Street?

To Have the Honour

Lord Allerton returns home from the Peninsular Campaign to find his late father's debts immense and his mother living on credit extended under the presumption he shall marry his cousin, Hetty Clitheroe, longtime resident of the Allerton household. Aghast, he hurries to assure Henry (Lord Allerton's particular name for Hetty) that she is under no obligation to him. While both are relieved to escape a marriage of convenience, there is far more to this thoroughly lovely tale, and it is Miss Trix Allerton who provides the answers.

Night at the Inn

In this story Heyer indulges her penchant for mystery, depicting a single night spent at a lonely inn with only three guests: a Miss Gateshead, daughter of a clergyman embarking on her first position as a governess, one John Cranbrook, a young man recently returned to England from Lisbon, where he worked as a clerk in a counting-house, and Mr Waggleswick, a silent man in a moleskin waistcoat.

The Duel
(Read this entire story in the preview to The Greatest Romance Stories Ever Told, complied by Nancy Butler (2005), on Google Books, p, 5-19)

A board "Pink of the Ton" discovers new interest in life when he finds a young lady, Dorothea Saltwood, hiding behind the curtains of his dining room. When she confesses that she is trying to contact the disreputable and deadly Lord Rotherfield, whom her brother has insulted and must face at twenty five paces on the morrow, what can he do but aid her in her task? This might be my favorite story in the book.


This story begins with one of the darkest scenes I have yet read in Heyer, in which a drunken Sir Ralph Morland, having lost everything, stakes his unmarried half-sister, Helen, to the also intoxicated Lord Carlington Carlington in a game of hazard. Carlington wins and, insulted and disgusted, Miss Morland goes with him. So begins a flight to the border, impeded by only one obstacle, other than the obvious scandal: Lord Carlington's engagement to a different lady. Be assured, as seedy as the story begins, it is equally lighthearted by the end.


Two cousins race to Bath at a miserly relative's command, Miss Sophy Trent as determined to beat Mr Joseph Selsy there as he is to beat her. When the post coach overturns on an icy road, Miss Trent receives some unexpected help from Sir Julian Arden who, despite being "Beau Arden", is unaccountably (and delightfully) totally unknown to her.

Full Moon

Lord Stavely can no longer ignore Sir Walter Abingdon's incessant invitations to Melbury Place. But when he gets lost en route and meets Mr Tom Hatherfield, drinking away his regrets that he must elope with Sir Walter's daughter, Annabella, that very night in order to save her from the horrible old man invited to Melbury expressly to marry her, Lord Stavely finds the visit holds far more promise than he ever expected.

 Don't forget to check out all the Heyer happenings this month during "Celebrating Georgette Heyer" at Austenprose!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wonderful First Impressions Review at Citivolus Sus

If you have yet to discover the lovely blog Citivolus Sus (if I am not mistaken, that means something like Flying Pig - really drudges up those memories of Latin class), I suggest you take a browse. Jj writes about Austen, Heyer, food, drink, and all those other things that make life so meaningful. Yesterday she posted a fabulous (and funny) review of First Impressions. I am so pleased she enjoyed it and hope everyone will go take a peak. Jj seems to have the uncanny ability to focus in on some of my very favorite lines from the book. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing

I read this book in a little over an hour last week. It is a Shire Library publication, a press known for their slim volumes exploring niche topics. Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen is a useful overview of the politics and technologies that influenced fashion during the Regency. Beautiful images throughout make it both a charming read and useful resource.

I am fairly familiar with this topic (though by no means an expert), so there wasn't much in this book that was new to me. However, any discussion of the radical shift in fashion between the Georgian Era and the Regency always fascinates me. While Ms. Downing discusses the role of the French Revolution in popularizing classical style, she puts less emphasis on it than most books I have read on the subject, focusing instead on the pivotal role of industrialization in the "battle between broadcloth and silk", as Balzac termed it. Industrialization meant that the lush fabrics popular in the 18th century (like brocades) were now accessible to the rising middle class and could no longer be looked to as a confirmation of the wearer's status. Led by Beau Brummell, perfect tailoring replaced luxurious fabrics as a sign of sophistication:
Cut and fit were everything, creating a codified language for those in the know. Brummell's credo was, 'If John Bull turns to look after you, you are not well dressed'. wealth was whispered in the skill of the tailor, not precious fabrics, and class was implied by the hauteur given by a correctly tied cravat that held the head high causing movement to be limited and precise.
Woman's fashions followed a slightly different course, though the availability of mass produced muslin was certainly key to the popularity of that ubiquitous material. In a fascinating chapter entitled "Rousseau and Fashion Au Naturel", Ms. Downing traces the effects of Rousseau's Emile and its romanticization of childhood and espousal of freedom on fashions in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. She begins by showing the effects of this philosophical shift on children's attire, creating for the first time distinct children wear, and goes on to compare the noticeable differences between boy's clothes and menswear, while girl's and women dressed almost identically:
[Girls] were not emancipated from their infant frocks into adulthood through an equivalent to 'breaching' because they were never expected to be emancipated at all - not even by Rousseau. He had almost completely neglected women in his philosophies, and they are the only group for whom he does not advocate freedom.     
Amidst all this social theory, Ms. Downing provides details on all manner of male and female dress, from the evolution of top boots and tails to the many functions of the reticule, muff, and parasol. I highly recommend this book to anyone requiring a brief and accessible guide to the fashions of the era as well as to seasoned enthusiasts, who will appreciate the perspective provided when fashion and social developments are explored in tandem. It is a lovely little book which I intend to keep on my desk as a quick reference point for the questions I often find myself asking as I write, such as what color stockings would Miss Darcy wear or were Mr. Darcy's boots "straights". One can never know when such tidbits will make or break the authenticity of a scene.

Portrait of Pierre Seriziat by Jacques Louis David, 1795 (p. 13)  

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Youngest Miss Ward by Joan Aiken

It has been a few years since I read a Joan Aiken book, which I why I have never previously commented on this blog about her work. Her novels were amongst the first I discovered when I started reading JAFF as she was very prolific, writing six Austen sequels. She deserves recognition as a I pioneer of the genre, and for her part in popularizing Austenesque and proving its profitability to the publishing industry I am eternally thankful. That being said, I do not love her novels. They have a sinister quality to them - wholly absent in Austen - that taints my ability to enjoy them. The Youngest Miss Ward is my fifth Aiken book. Before proceeding to my thoughts on it, I would like to comment on her other novels, in the order that I read them.

The Watsons and Emma Watson was my second JAFF ever. I had just finished reading the completion of Sanditon by "Another Lady" and yearned for a similar treatment of The Watsons. I mostly recall my disappointment, while the actual details of the story are hazy. I remember Ms. Aiken incorporated many fascinating historical details, including an agonizing trip to a dentist, but the predominant feature of the tale was its misery. Emma Watson is subjected to a series of outlandish degradations, her "happy ending" not ample enough compensation for the reader who has toiled through the plot. Very few of the characters in this story are likable: most are repulsive. I also wish she had done a seamless transition between Austen's work and her own, instead of splitting them into self-contained stories.

After disliking Emma Watson so much, perhaps it is surprising that I went on to read more of Ms. Aiken's novels, but as the book store was my first source for JAFF, the number of writers available was slim. Furthermore, Ms. Aiken had a book entitled Jane Fairfax, and I was itching for Emma retellings. I enjoyed this book far more than Emma Watson but found Ms. Aiken's animosity for Emma Woodhouse extremely disconcerting. The concept of the story from Jane Fairfax's perspective intrigued me enough to seek out another attempt that proved much more to my liking: Lover's Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman. I had to purchase the book online, thereby opening a new world of reading options (including more Aiken novels) and hugely facilitating my growing JAFF addiction.

By now I had consumed a respectable sampling of published JAFF, but had yet to read anything pertaining to Austen's most controversial novel. Mansfield Park Revisited is probably my favorite book I have read by Ms. Aiken, despite the fact that Fanny and Edmund are totally absent from the plot (very irksome). Instead this story follows the developing friendship between Susan Price, happily ensconced at Mansfield, and Mary Crawford, who returns to the area as an invalid. Ms. Aiken paints a very sympathetic portrait of Mary, a subject for whom my sympathies cannot be engaged, especially when Fanny is neglected in her favor, but I love how she handles Susan, even though I can't quite like the match she makes for at the end.

Mansfield Park Revisited left me hungry for more of Aiken's work, quite curious to learn where else her fancies had led her. Eliza's Daughter tells the tale of the child born to Colonel Brandon's ward and Willoughby, the third generation of sad Elizas. This book bothers me in so many ways. First of all, we must believe that Colonel Brandon and Marianne would allow the child to grow up neglected and friendless and, secondly, when she encounters Elinor and Edward Ferrars, any hopes devotees of Sense and Sensibility had for happiness in the quarter are shattered by the dejection and poverty that encompasses their lives. Like Emma Watson, this book is an exploration of suffering and not at all to my liking.
After Eliza's Daughter I lost my interest in Ms. Aiken's work. The reason I finally picked up a copy of The Youngest Miss Ward is because I thought it would be about Francis Price, Fanny's mother, which I found irresistibly intriguing. I was wrong. After reading the first chapter and realizing that Ms. Aiken had invented a forth sister, Hatty, I put the book down in disgust and did not open it again for a month. However, I am very glad I picked it up again, in spite of the fact that the book has many of the qualities that I dislike in Ms. Aiken. It makes me resigned to pursuing Ms. Aiken's remaining Austenesque book, Lady Catherine's Necklace, it the not too distant future.

If we deplore the way in which Fanny is treated by Mrs. Norris, it is nothing to what Ms. Aiken subjects poor Hatty to in that same tormentor's hands. United with a formidable cousin, Lady Ursula, Mrs. Norris persecutes Hatty is the most unfeeling manner. Banishing her from her beloved mother when that lady is on her death bed, Hatty is sent to spend several years with her Uncle Ward's family. There she is fortunate to find a friend in both her Aunt Polly and her cousin Ned. She also meets the charming and eccentric Lord Camber who, aside from Lady Ursula and Mrs. Norris, has more direct influence over her life than anyone else she meets, before being unceremoniously thrust from the house due to little fault of her own. Fortunately, Hatty has a backbone, and despite being foisted off on Lady Ursula's family as a governess (which part of the book reminds me acutely of Agnes Grey), she takes control of her life and finds happiness. As with Susan Price in Mansfield Park Revisited, I cannot feel satisfied with the match she makes in the end, but overall I enjoyed the novel.

The sinister quality that I earlier applied to Miss Aiken is apparent in The Youngest Miss Ward, though not as prominent as in some of the other novels. Many of her character's are unjust, dictatorial, and sadistic. Lady Ursula and Mrs. Norris certainly fall into this category, though perhaps it's the former's redemption towards the end that makes this book more palatable than some of her others. Ms. Aiken frequently gives her characters handicaps (for example, Eliza in Eliza's Daughter has six fingers on each hand) thereby increasing the feeling of instability in the worlds she portrays. This feature of her work is particularly apparent in The Youngest Miss Ward, which features two eerie twin cousins, "forlorn and listless", who would probably be quite normal if nursed less, and Lady Ursula's sisters, the elder of whom is a kleptomaniac with a lazy eye, while her younger sister is a musical idiot savant. Yet through it all Hatty remains unbroken and undaunted. A poet, it is in one of her dreariest times that she composes this little witticism:
Throws the ball to me
But I
throw it to him. Why?
I and Me, Him and He
What a fuss
when there are only two of us!
I don't know if it is Hatty's resilience that allows me to enjoy this book so much more than some of Ms. Aiken's others, or if it is the fact that her villainous characters are less effective in their persecution here than elsewhere. Perhaps my ever fluctuating mood has more to do with my response to her books than anything else. Regardless, anyone exploring JAFF will come across Ms. Aiken and, whether her work tickles your fancy or not, it is undeniable that she set many of the standards and conventions of the genre. I just wish she were more light, bright, and sparkling. If I wanted toil and hardship, I'd turn to the Brontes.