Monday, November 29, 2010

Charlotte Collins Giveaway Winner!!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of Charlotte Collins (read my review here), and especially to Jennifer Becton for her generosity in both offering the giveaway and for submitting to my interview questions (read her answers here)! Unfortunately, there can be only one winner, but I encourage those of you who were not so fortunate to purchase a copy on Amazon where it is very reasonably priced in both paperback and Kindle format. With no further ado, the lucky winner is:

Jamie Council!

Congratulations Jamie! You will be recieving an email from me shortly requesting your mailing address. Enjoy this satisfying tale of Charlotte discovering the happiness she so deserves!

And for those of you who have already had the pleasure of reading this novel, please visit Ms. Becton's blog, Skidding in Sideways, where you will find a link to Maria's Romance, a short story continuation to Charlotte Collins.

Happy reading to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am thankful for Jane Austen ...

I have so much to be thankful for this year - a beautiful new home, a healthy, loving, and thriving family, a husband without whom I would be lost, my first novel published, a second book in the works, and, above all, what seems to be a healthy pregnancy (finally!). Yet with all the blessings in my life, I find my thoughts drift to Jane Austen. Now perhaps these are just the ramblings of an obsessive compulsive fan girl, as I certainly cannot claim that Jane made my life as beautiful as it is, but I do sincerely believe that I would not appreciate how fortunate I am without her guidance. Miss Austen has taught me to make the most of every situation I find myself in, be they positive or negative. Our first house may not be terribly large, but the Dashwood sisters proved to me that it is not the size of the abode that matters, but the people who inhabit it. While my family may at times annoy me, Emma's devotion to Mr. Woodhouse reminds me that they are to be honored regardless of their foibles, particularly their highly overprotective tendencies. Mr. Darcy showed me what kind of character is required to make a good husband, and I cannot thank him enough for letting me recognize one when he crossed my path (even if, like Elizabeth, it took me a while). When I first began writing, I tried desperately hard to produce something I considered "literary", having always been a book snob, but Mr. Tilney taught me to not be "so intolerably stupid" and freed me to pursue fan fiction, without which I would not only have never finished a novel, but would also have been deprived of the many hours of reading pleasure this genre has provided me. As for the second book, which has not poured out of me with the same ease as the first, Fanny Price serves as a source of inspiration - a ray of hope that just doing what I can, and what I feel to be right, will pay off in the end. Finally, in regards to this hard earned pregnancy, I turn to Anne Elliot, whom, when miscarriages made me despair, taught me two invaluable lessons: that one must roll with the punches life deals us, and that what is meant to be will be, but in its own time. Without her example, I'm not sure how I would have endured the disappointment, and I don't think that I would now be able to be so thankful for what, just a few months ago, felt like tragedy. For just like she finds greater happiness in her delayed union with Captain Wentworth, I feel far more joy in this pregnancy than in the previous ones, now so certain that I want this child more than anything and brave enough to face the tribulations that motherhood brings. Fear and uncertainty checkered my previous experiences; now I am free to indulge in unmitigated glee. Thank you, Miss Jane Austen, for the countless ways in which you enliven my life. Your novels are a priceless gift, and I do not know how I would survive without them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Charlotte Collins by Jennifer Becton - Review and Giveaway!

I love continuations that develop the stories of Austen's secondary characters, and I know I am far from alone in my desire to see the former Charlotte Lucas find far more happiness than life with Mr. Collins could possibly provide. Jennifer Becton provides that happier fate in her novel Charlotte Collins, which begins with the very cathartic burial of that sad excuse of masculinity, the Reverend William Collins. Though this is not a story about the Bennets, such an event not only liberates Charlotte, but also the residents of Longbourn from that "odious entail", making it just about the pleasantest funeral I have ever had the pleasure to read about. Yet this story is really not a happy one, at least not in the beginning. We begin our tale with a Charlotte almost maddeningly uptight, terribly censorious (it is hard to imagine this creature once irreverently laughed with Lizzy Bennet behind the backs of all their neighbors), and perfectly content to live a life of quiet respectability in the little cottage she rents on the edge of the Rosings estate. I admit, I felt rather disgusted with the widowed Mrs. Collins at the start of the book, though I suppose that such behavior is the inevitable result of submitting oneself to such a ridiculous man as Mr. Collins for the better part of the decade.

Relief comes in two forms: the first, an extended visit from Maria Lucas, still unmarried, very beautiful, and, in her adult form, not terribly dissimilar from the former Lydia Bennet. Though chaperoning her younger sister brings out Charlotte's most repressive qualities (not inappropriately, I should add), it also forces her to come out of mourning and rejoin the world. The second factor that pushes Charlotte out of her dour (no pun intended) state is the arrival in the neighborhood of two American gentleman. The younger, a Mr. Westfield, to all appearances a proper English gentleman (much to the shock of the neighborhood, who rather expected a barbarian), immediately becomes a source of near-obsessive interest for Maria. His chaperon and uncle, Mr. Basford, is much more in keeping with what the area's residents expected in an American: loose manners, a disregard for social propriety, and an irreverent sense of humor. Charlotte is appalled by him on their initial encounters, as in the following scene, in which the two gentlemen pay a call a the cottage:

"Shall we hace tea? Maria, ring the bell and inform Mrs. Eff that we require another pot."

Maria went obediently.

"Why do the English have such an obsession with tea?" asked Mr. Basford, still leaning precariously on the back legs of the chair. "It is nothing but a few died leaves after all."

Charlotte studied him. "Indeed, your censure is unwarranted, for I have heard that Americans are quite mad for the stuff as well. Particularly in Boston, I believe."

Charlotte was pleased with her retort, and so was Mr. Basford, who leaned his head back, causing the chair to tilt even further, and laughed heartily.

"She has you there, Uncle."

"Yes, indeed, she does."

"Mr. Basford seems to believe that the customs of our country are quite stilted and unnecessary," Charlotte said to Mr. Westfield.

"I confess that I do," Mr. Basford replied, letting the front legs of the chair return to the ground. "Take for instance the custom of calling people by their family names. I've seen close friends referring to each other as Mr. or Mrs. Whatnot, It's rediculous."

"In your opinion, perhaps, Mr. Basford. I have never called social acquaintances by their first names unless I have known them since childhood. It is too familiar and uncomfortable."       

"That is only because you have not practiced. Call me Ben, and you'll soon see how nice familarity is."

Charlotte looked at him with horror. "Indeed, I will not! That sort of familiarity is only permitted in private moments between married couples, and perhaps not even then!"

He spoke as if she had not. "And I'll call you Charlotte."

"Indeed you shall not! she objected, leaning forward as though to apprehend his words.

Mr. Westfield came to her rescue. "Uncle, do stop tormenting Mrs. Collins." He turned to Charlotte. "He is still reacting to your tea comment. He does not like to be bested in a battle of wits."

Regaining her composure somewhat, Charlotte asked Mr. Westfield, "Are all people in America this informal?"

"No. In truth, the rules of propriety are somewhat relaxed in our country, but many of us are almost as formal as you. However, Uncle believes strongly in informality and fancies himself ahead of his time."

"Someone ought to tell him that it will do him no good to be ahead of his time if he is rejected by society in the present. He will have no acquaintances to speak of and even fewer friends."

"You are probably correct," Mr. Basford said conversationally. "I care nothing for mere acquaintances, but a true friend will accept my eccentricities, Mrs. Collins."

He emphasized her name, causing Charlotte to flush. "With such appalling manners, it is unlikely that you will ever develop true friends, Mr. Basford." She emphasized his last name in the same manner.

Now such animosity on Charlotte's part is a clear signal to every observant reader that here is precisely the man to cure her of an overdose of propriety. Unfortunately, she must first learn the hard way that not even the most rigid defense against social misstep is a guarantee of that very respectability she clings to so desperately.

I only have one complaint about this novel and that is a slight inconsistency in the social censure dolled out by Charlotte's neighbors. Maria, like her sister, must learn to better guard her behavior, and receives the cold shoulder from all her former friends upon rejecting a very eligible marriage proposal in a rather unfeeling manner. I thought the reaction was rather severe, especially as the gentleman in question fails to receive his share of blame for publicizing the incident so very widely. My discomfort with this episode increased when Maria, in an attempt to make amends, sends him a letter of apology - a definitively compromising action in Regency society between a man and woman not engaged. However, despite this one, really very minor, criticism, the story is highly engaging and a thoroughly sweet tale of regeneration for the long suffering Charlotte Collins. Though she has clearly brought her fate upon herself, all of us who know and love her will be delighted to see her find the happiness she so clearly deserves.

Enter the giveaway! Ms. Becton has been so kind as to offer my US readers a signed copy of her novel. The giveaway was first announced last Sunday when I posted my interview with the author (read it here), and will continue through Sunday, November 28th. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or on the interview (or both, for two chances to win!), including your email address, by midnight, EST of the final day of entry. Good luck to all who participate!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins, plus a giveaway!

Not only did I recently read Jennifer Becton's Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which I will be reviewing this week, so stay tuned!), but I also got to know the lady a bit through an email exchange regarding the joys and sorrows of self-publishing. The happy offshoot of this was Miss Becton's agreement to not only answer my questions regarding her novel, but also to allow me to post them in the form of an interview! Furthermore, her generosity has extended to you, dear readers, to whom she offers a copy of her novel. See the bottom of the post for more details on how to enter the giveaway. In the meantime, enjoy the interview!

Welcome to First Impressions, Jennifer, and thanks for agreeing to the interview! When did you first discover Jane Austen?
My love for Austen began with BBC/A&E’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which I watched in my college dorm room between bouts of study. Upon its completion, I immediately bought and read as much Austen as I could. I had finally found my literary idol: a woman whose work had endured for almost 200 years and didn’t end tragically.
Is Pride and Prejudice your favorite Austen novel? If so, why?
I do enjoy Pride and Prejudice a great deal, but I also like Persuasion. I adore the characters of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth was surrounded by such amusing companions, and I felt as if I knew them by the end of the novel. But I am drawn more to the redemption plot of Persuasion. I love that Austen gave Anne Elliot the opportunity to redeem herself and make the choice she hadn’t been brave enough to make earlier.
Persuasion is my favorite! Understand you have a background in editing. Did you always want to be a writer, or was this career path the result of your experiences as an editor?
From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with books in some capacity. I was that nerdy kid who actually liked learning grammar and writing essays, but writing a novel seemed like a fantasy, not a real potential for the future. After college, I chose to focus on editing, and I got a job at a local publishing company. Eventually, I began to freelance, and I occasionally wrote nonfiction articles for magazines, but writing a novel was still my dream. After one failed attempt, I decided to try again, and Charlotte Collins was born.
It is always gratifying to converse with another book geek. What inspired you to write a continuation of Pride and Prejudice focused on Charlotte Collins?
Traditionally, Austen sequels have focused on Darcy and Elizabeth, and while I certainly enjoy reading the retellings and what-if scenarios, I couldn’t stop wondering what happened to poor Charlotte. What had become of her? Was she happy with Mr. Collins? I couldn’t imagine that she would be, so I decided to write her continuing story so that she might have a hopeful, bright future like her friend Elizabeth.
You present an adult Maria Lucas in your book, a character who Austen barely develops. What details from Pride and Prejudice influenced your portrayal of Maria?
As you said, Austen provided very few details about Maria, so I had to begin with what she gave us: “good humoured,” “empty-headed,” “had nothing to say that could be worth hearing,” and was intimidated and easily influenced by wealthy characters. I tried to be true to this characterization but also allow her to mature somewhat. But even with the benefit of years, I didn’t imagine that she would become a great intellect or make choices based on a great deal of deep thought, so in my novel, she always took the easiest path available.
A major theme in Charlotte Collins is, as Maria puts it puts it (paraphrasing Mary Bennet), "Our reputation is truly all we have, and we must guard it jealously and give no one cause to speak ill of us." Of course, when Mary expresses this notion she is mocked, yet the sentiment is rather poignant in light of the events of Pride and Prejudice. What made you choose Charlotte Collins as an appropriate character to illustrate this point?
Charlotte was, in my view, the ideal character to exemplify this reality. In Pride and Prejudice, she did everything that was expected of her. She obeyed society’s rules, and she banked on the fact that she would have a comfortable life as a result. What would happen if her adherence to these norms did not result in the expected outcome? She had already discovered that marriage for security might not be the best choice, what would happen if she lost her reputation as well? I wondered these things, so that’s what I wrote.
Another theme you develop is the former Charlotte Lucas’ very pragmatic perspective on marriage. In Pride and Prejudice she says, “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins' character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” By the time of your story, her opinions on the matter have changed rather dramatically, yet you still portray another marriage that follows the model she formerly subscribed to. Do you believe, despite your depiction of Charlotte’s unhappiness with Mr. Collins, that her former feelings represent a realistic and pragmatic perspective, especially considering the realities of the era, or do you feel that the marriage of convenience you describe is doomed to failure?
My decision to have Maria follow in Charlotte’s footsteps and opt for a marriage of convenience was quite deliberate. Charlotte’s views on marriage were certainly representative of the prevailing views of the day, and the pressures of culture cannot always be as easily borne as Elizabeth Bennet seemed to bear them. Even if Maria desperately wanted to marry for love, women simply did not have the same freedoms as modern females or even the wealthy daughters of her day. In addition, even though I enjoy happy endings, I dislike books where every plot is neatly wrapped up with a bow on top. It would have been easy to have Maria fall in love with her husband in the last few pages, but it wouldn’t be realistic. She wasn’t at that point by the end of the novel. On Black Friday, I’ll be releasing a free short story that tells what happens to Maria next.
I can't wait to read it! Two American gentleman take center stage in Charlotte Collins as the potential love interests of both Charlotte and Maria. Several characters in the book express their beliefs in the unrefined and nonconforming nature of Americans, Charlotte included. Did you choose to emphasise this point as a foil to Charlotte’s rather starchy perspective, or was it being American yourself that compelled you to incorporate representatives of our country into your tale?
The decision to incorporate Americans into my novel was multifaceted. I did want to provide a foil for the traditional British views that Charlotte espoused, but I also felt a bit odd writing a book completely outside my nationality and culture, though my heritage is strongly British. I had not settled on making the uncle and nephew American, however, until I read some amusing primary source material about American customs during this time period. Then, I found I could not resist.
I understand you are now working on another continuation of Pride and Prejudice, this time focused on Caroline Bingley. What made you choose Elizabeth’s nemesis (if I may term her so) as the subject for a book, and is it your intention to redeem her character?
I chose Caroline Bingley for the same reason I chose Charlotte Collins as the subject of a book: I wanted to know what happened to her next. I have no intention of explaining away the nefarious deeds she undertook in Pride and Prejudice; there is no doubt that she was the villainess of the novel. Instead, I want to follow her as she undertook life without Mr. Darcy, the gentleman she clearly intended to marry. She may not make the best heroine, but she might make an interesting anti-heroine.
Do you have plans for any Austen inspired novels that are not based on Pride and Prejudice, or, if not, are there other secondary characters from this most famous of Austen’s novels that you wish to take on?
Apart from Charlotte Collins and my next novel featuring Caroline Bingley, I do not currently have plans for more Austen sequels, but I’ll still be writing. I’m working on a mystery series, the first of which I hope to release next year, and coauthoring a nonfiction book about overcoming horseback riding fear with Laura Daley. Please visit my website ( and blog ( for more information and to learn more about Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Thank you again, Jennifer, for sharing your insights with my readers!

Thank you, Alexa, for taking the time to read and review my book. I really appreciate it, and though I don’t do reviews on my blog, I’ll be plugging your book in my next post.
I look forward to it!

Giveaway Details: Leave a comment including your email address before Monday, November 29th for your chance to win! Sorry, but the giveaway is limited to residents of the United States only (postage is expensive!). For a second chance to win, be sure leave a comment on my review of Charlotte Collins when it posts this week. Good luck!
Product Description:  "When Charlotte Lucas married Mr. Collins in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, she believed herself to be fortunate indeed. Her nuptials gained her a comfortable home and financial security. If she acquired these things at the expense of true love, it did not matter one whit. To Charlotte, love in marriage was nothing more than a pleasant coincidence.

As the years of her marriage dragged by, Charlotte began to question her idea of love as she suffered continual embarrassment at her husband's simpering and fawning manners. When Mr. Collins dies, finally relieving everyone of his tedious conversation, she must work feverishly to secure her income and home. She gives no further thought to the prospect of love until her flighty sister Maria begs her to act as her chaperone in place of their ailing parents. Hoping to prevent Maria from also entering an unhappy union, Charlotte agrees, and they are quickly thrust into a world of country dances, dinner parties, and marriageable gentlemen.

But when an unprincipled gentleman compromises Charlotte's reputation, her romantic thoughts disappear at the prospect of losing her independence. As she struggles to extricate herself from her slander, her situation reveals both the nature of each gentleman and of true love." 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Profile: Anne Elliot

... but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way - she was only Anne.

Name: Anne Elliot

Age: 27

Hobbies: Music, reading, and making herself useful to others.

Most charming quality: Her remarkable listening skills.

Most detrimental tendency: A strong inclination towards melancholy.

Greatest strength: Her sense of compassion.

Truest friend: For better or for worse, Lady Russell.

Worst enemy: Elizabeth Elliot, as she is the only person foolish enough to develop an aversion to Anne.

Prospects: Diminished. She has ten thousand pounds - the majority of which, at the time of her marriage, is somehow wrapped up in Sir Walter's debts - and the joys of pedigree.

Favorite quotations: "If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty, but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated."

"Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."

"This," said she, "is nearly the sense, or rather the meaning of the words, for certainly the sense of an Italian love-song must not be talked of, but it is as nearly the meaning as I can give; for I do not pretend to understand the language. I am a very poor Italian scholar."

"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."

"There is always something offensive in the details of cunning. The manoeuvres of selfishness and duplicity must ever be revolting, but I have heard nothing which really surprises me. I know those who would be shocked by such a representation of Mr. Elliot, who would have difficulty in believing it; but I have never been satisfied. I have always wanted some other motive for his conduct than appeared."

"Yes," sighed Anne, "we shall, indeed, be known to be related to them!" then recollecting herself, and not wishing to be answered, she added, "I certainly do think there has been by far too much trouble taken to procure the acquaintance. I suppose" (smiling) "I have more pride than any of you; but I confess it does vex me, that we should be so solicitous to have the relationship acknowledged, which we may be very sure is a matter of perfect indifference to them."

"Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures! I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as--if I may be allowed the expression--so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."

"What wild imaginations one forms where dear self is concerned! How sure to be mistaken!"

Musings: When I reviewed Persuasion before writing this profile, I was astounded to realize how very little Anne ever says in the first volume. Unlike most of Austen's heroines, whom we get to know through their words, Anne is entirely developed in her own thoughts and contemplations. Not a single one of the above quotes is taken from the first volume of the book, during which she is talked at a great deal, but all her responses - those deep, philosophical observations which mark her (in my opinion) as Austen's most perfect creation - are completely internal. This is a woman who lives entirely within herself. None of her companions offer her equality of mind and intelligence. Though we like to remember how wrong Lady Russell was in her advice to Anne regarding her youthful engagement, I was struck by how correct Lady Russell sentiments are when she considers that, "Anne had been too little from home, too little seen. Her spirits were not high. A larger society would improve them. She wanted her to be more known." For our almost silent Anne, with the commencement of the second volume, becomes quite verbose, beginning in her conversations with Mr. Elliot, then expounding in her interactions with Mrs. Smith, until she unleashes a virtual torrent of ideas upon Captain Harville. My huge love of Persuasion has always stemmed from my belief that the book is structurally magnificent, and these recent observations just magnify my awe at one of the most beautiful novels ever written. Anne begins the story worn and faded, "haggard" in her father's estimation, a shadow of her youthful self, and then comes alive again before us, as blooming as any young creature Austen ever devised. The journey is magnificent - beginning with the palpable nature of Anne's agony and reaching a crescendo of "senseless joy" at the end - and the resulting catharsis, unparalleled. 


Friday, November 19, 2010

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part Seven (Conclusion)

Read Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.

It indeed was a very pretty laundaulette that promptly made its appearance in Camden Place the following morning, arousing more than passing interest in the residents of the house. Sir Walter abandoned his effort to write to Mr. Shepherd with the delicate news of Mrs. Clay's downfall, which was far more focused on the baronet's magnanimous condescension in maintaining the business relationship than on offering condolences to a longtime acquaintance, in order to survey the equipage and express his approbation. Elizabeth, following a polite acknowledgment of the vehicle's charms, hurried to compose her own letter to the doubtlessly jealous Mary, containing far more details than her very cursory inspection of the conveyance would be expected to provide, and offering sympathy for her youngest sister's continued dependance on the old fashioned coach of her in-laws. Once Sir Walter had tired of his inquisition into the make and model of the Captains's new acquisition, Anne and Wentworth were finally free to depart for Westgate Buildings, having to endure only one passing comment on the surprise the inhabitants of that domicile were sure to express upon sighting such a fashionable carriage in their humble midst.

The now familiar face of Nurse Rooke ushered the couple into Mrs. Smith's noisy parlor, where they were greeted with an outpouring of gratitude (though Sir Walter would be shaken to learn of the complete lack of observance paid to the laundaulette). A note from Anne had prepared the widow for both the visit and news of her good fortune, and it was clear that all of her limited resources had been utilized in providing her guests with as sumptuous an offering of refreshments as could be mustered. Despite the celebratory nature of the meeting, Mrs. Smith seemed to pay an undue amount of attention to Anne's comfort, a solicitousness which could not proceed unremarked for long. Upon Nurse Rooke looking in upon the guests for a third time, and Mrs. Smith inquiring once again into the satisfaction of Anne's chair, that perplexed lady was finally driven to inquire, “My dear friend, we are here to plan your own improved well-being. I myself, being perfectly healthy and secure, require no solace. So why trouble yourself so, when the subject of relocating you to the more comfortable lodgings available in Charles Street is far more pertinent?”

Mrs. Smith cast an uncomfortable glance towards Nurse Rooke, still lurking in the doorway, who, in turn, quickly made herself scarce. “But I am quite comfortable where I am. I do not pretend that my lodgings are ideal, but I am situated at a very convenient distance to the warm bath.”

“My dear Mrs. Smith,” interposed the Captain, “the distance is immaterial. Besides, as I am now the executor of your husband's estate, I shall happily advance you the funds. Your health will undoubtedly benefit from the fresher air to be had in Charles Street. Now, what else is troubling you.”

Casting her eyes downward, Mrs. Smith uttered these conscious words, “I am afraid I have been on the receiving end of some very disturbing gossip regarding Mr. Elliot.”

Anne and Wentworth glanced at each other. “So it begins already,” sighed the former.

Mrs. Smith looked up, “But do you already know?”

“If you seek to inform me that my cousin has entered into a most disreputable arrangement with my sister's former companion, then yes, I am sorry to say that I am fully aware of the disgraceful situation.”

Mrs. Smith looked at once relived and, simultaneously, concerned. “Nurse Rooke brought me the news just this morning. She had it from Mrs. Wallis.”

“I am not surprised.”

“I am afraid it is already much talked of in the town. Such things will not be kept secret, you know, particularly in a place like Bath. And the gossip, unfortunately, has taken a rather ugly turn.”

Captain Wentworth looked surprised, “Uglier than what is to be expected? I cannot see how it could be.”

“I am afraid many have surmised that Mr. Elliot's motivations were specifically intended to harm you, Miss Elliot.”

“Me?” cried Anne. “What can I possibly have to do with the affair?”

“Many believed that Mr. Elliot was on the verge of asking for your hand when your engagement was announced. Indeed, some even speculate that you had already received an offer. In such circumstances, creative minds will spin the most outlandish tales. Those of us more intimate with Mr. Elliot's character may recognize his true motivation was pure avariciousness, but one cannot deny that depressed hopes make for a far more romantic story.”

“Well,” replied Anne, “I do not see how either version of events undermines Mr. Elliot's culpability. I am an innocent bystander. Indeed, it is my father and sister who feel a personal injury in his defection. I am just relieved that neither he, nor Mrs. Clay, shall be allowed to impose upon my family any longer.”

“Be that as it may, do not be surprised to find yourself the subject of interest in the coming weeks.”

And so she was. Much of the quiet laughter that should have been reserved for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, instead manifested itself as whisperings and conjectures wherever Anne made an appearance. The constant presence of the Captain, however, deterred those who might be so bold as to question her directly on the subject, and the engaged couple's obvious devotion did its office in quelling the worst suppositions. Only two parties were so forward as to comment to the Elliot's directly on their predicament. Lady Dalrymple did not hesitate to inform Sir Walter as to her disillusionment in the young man, whom she had considered as much under her own wing as he ever had, and expressed a great deal of concern over the fate of Miss Cateret, having exposed her delicate sensibilities to such an unscrupulous associate. It was quickly decided that the acquaintance with the Wallis' must be dropped by the entire family, and while Sir Walter felt some pain over never having had the pleasure of meeting the beautiful Mrs. Wallis, on which event he had set such store, it was a sacrifice he did not hesitate to make. As a result of the couple finding themselves quite shunned by the best of Bath society, they quickly made their exit following the lady's recovery. As Nurse Rooke's services were no longer required, their presence was mourned by none of concern to us.

The other party who felt empowered to comment on the situation, though only to Anne and Wentworth, were the Crofts. The Admiral expressed his indignation at the usage the Elliots had endured, and seconded the Captains sentiment that a good flogging was what Mr. Elliot required. Mrs. Croft was more pragmatic in her approach, and while she never mentioned the scandal to anyone in her own circle, she did make sure that everyone of her acquaintance was left in no doubt of the long-standing devotion of the engaged couple.

Mary had much to say on the subject, but most of her diatribe was reserved for her husband's ears. She begged quite ceaselessly for a return to Bath, in order to both provide support and show solidarity with her family in their time of need, but the better information Charles received from Wentworth regarding the Elliots' impenetrability on the subject decided him firmly against such a display. The duty of attending his own sisters' approaching nuptials far outweighed the inconvenience of Mary's complaints, and, it should be said, that she found her own consolation in the added consequence attendant on her position as the future mistress of the Great House that the departure of the eldest daughters of the estate provided.

Who can be in doubt of what followed? Time past quickly, what with wedding preparations, gossip quelling, attending to Mrs. Smith's affairs, and bridging the narrowing gulf between Captain Wentworth and Lady Russell. Much faster than she had ever believed possible, Anne's wedding day was upon her. Frequently, a couple embarking on the adventure that is marriage express a great deal of nervous anxiety, and very understandable so, but on this occasion both bride and groom entered the Abby with perfect confidence. Years of separation and the attendant sorrow, followed by the joy of reaching a long overdue understanding, had effectively overpowered any and all doubts the happy couple had about their union. If any questions still lingered in the minds of those in attendance regarding the bride's relationship with her cousin, the assurance with which her vows were spoken forever laid them to rest. Nothing but goodwill remained for the newlyweds as they departed for Camden Place, where a select few had been invited to a wedding breakfast. Anne and Wentworth did not linger long, as they were anxious to begin their lengthy journey to Plymouth, having planned several strategic stops in coastal towns along the way.

Sir Walter was highly gratified by the proceedings. The Bishop had done great honor to Anne's illustrious heritage during the ceremony, Lady Dalrymple expressed her approbation for the entirety of the event, and Bath had relished the opportunity (the late gossip playing no little part in their interest) to witness his handsome family at great advantage. All this, assisted by the Captain's well-sounding name (though no connection ever was established to the Strafford family), enabled Sir Walter at last to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honor. Elizabeth's feelings upon having recorded in the book of books not just one, but the marriage of both younger sisters, can be so easily surmised that we shall not waste the reader's time by recording such sentiments here. Instead, let us concluded on Sir Walter's happier reflections, or , better yet, on the far more appropriate sentiments of those character's whose opinions matters: the Crofts, Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, and, of course, Captain and Mrs. Wentworth, whose felicity stands without question.

The Pemberley Ball

My Mr. Darcy (is he not handsome? I love they eyebrows!) just made an appearance at The Pemberley Ball, hosted by vvb32 Reads! And just in case my Mr. Darcy isn't enough Darcy for you, there are a medley of other, highly notable Mr. Darcy's in attendance, so please go check it out! The event runs through tomorrow, with a near onslaught of books and other prizes on giveaway (including a copy of First Impressions). It's a must attend even for all Pride and Prejudice fans!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I've been "Talking Jane Austen" at My Jane Austen Book Club - Interview & Giveaway

Please take a moment to check out the lovely Maria Grazia's blog, My Jane Austen Book Club, where she has posted an interview with yours truly. She asked a variety of fascinating questions, to which I had a ton of fun responding, and I hope you all find equal enjoyment in reading the interview. A copy of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice is on offer, internationally. The giveaway starts today and lasts through the 24th, so please take advantage of the opportunity if you have not yet broken down, in a fit of frantic anticipation, no doubt, and bought a copy yourself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

My husband and I just finished reading this rollicking tale and, it must be said, I think it is one of my favorite Heyer novels to date. Chock full of colorful and endearing characters, witty dialogue, and swashbuckling adventure, there is little not to love in The Masqueraders. It is set after the Jacobite Rebellion (not exactly sure which one), and our heroes find themselves, at the behest of their incomparable and consummate con artist of a father, on the wrong side of the conflict. Forced into hiding, brother and sister journey to London, where their sire has directed them. En route, they rescue a young lady, who has decided eloping was not the best notion, and meet her father's friend, set in pursuit. Thus all our main characters are in motion, bent on a series of mind-boggling adventures that no one but Georgette Heyer could ever devise.

I do not wish to give away the story by revealing much (including names), but let me just assure you that this is a must-read Heyer romance. It reminds me very much of These Old Shades (read my review here), not in the least because of the similarity in time period. We have certainly departed from her more commonly used Regency era, but please do not let that deter you. As a demonstration of the joy this book brings I'd like to resort to a tactic I often use when reviewing Heyer novels and provide a long swath of text to tempt you, but to do so would expose those identities I am taking such pains to protect. Instead, I am just going to transcribe a few, priceless lines that issue from the mouth of our patriarch, "the old gentleman" himself, who forever now stands in my mind as one of the most memorable father figures in literature.

"Henry," said my lord. "You are fortunate. You serve a master of infinite resource."

"Yes, sir," said Henry stolidly.

My lord looked at him, but it is doubtful whether he saw him. His gaze seemed to go beyond. "I am a great man," he said. "Oh, but I am a great man!"

"That I expect," said his lordship loftily. "To see my daughter is to become her slave. I exact such homage on her behalf. She is incomparably lovely. But I - I am different. My children are very well. They have beauty, and wit - a little. But in me there is a subtlety such as you don't dream of, sir." He pondered it sadly. "I have never met the man who had the vision large enough to appreciate my genius," he said simply. "Perhaps it was not to be expected."

"And why not?" my lord demanded. "I had an alibi for her - I should have intervened in a manner quiet, and convincing. All the dignity of my proceeding has been upset; my son is forced to escape at night, and in secrecy; a hue and cry for the Marriots must of course arise, and I - I must set all straight again! If I were not a man of infinite resource, and of resolution the most astounding, I might well cast up my hands, and abandon all. If I had not the patience of a saint I might be tempted to censure the whole of this affair as it deserves. But I say nothing. I bear all meekly."

The old gentleman shut his gold snuff-box with a snap. "My dear March," he said haughtily, "there is nothing I have not been!" He looked again at Mr Markham. "Are you quite sure I did not give you a lesson in fencing? Let me think a moment! Yes, I had an establishment in Rome once, and - yes, yes, another in Turin!"

"It's quite possible, no doubt," sneered Mr Markham. "I don't trouble to remember all my fencing instructors."

"Then of a certainly you are not a pupil of mine," said my lord. "Me you could never forget. For those whom I taught are masters of fence. It goes without saying. I am incomparable. I have no equal in the art!"

"Do not doubt it," answered his lordship. "I have made up my mind that my son must inherit an Earldom at least. I shall once more contrive. do not doubt that I shall contrive! I am a great man, Therese: I realize it at last. I am a very great man."  

And so he is!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part Six

Read Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

That evening, following an awkward departure from Mr. Shepherd, who, upon Anne's advice, driectly followed his daughter to London in hopes of tracing her whereabouts, the Elliots gathered around their dinning table, accompanied by only a rather smug Lady Russell. After the blow to her understanding delivered by knowledge of Mr. Elliot's perfidy, the correctness of her instincts regarding Mrs. Clay provided an understandable source of gratification, especially as the threat Elizabeth's companion posed to Sir Walter proved unfounded. “I never was able to trust that woman,” she confided to Elizabeth. “In the future, I hope you will choose friends from more acceptable quarters.”

Elizabeth, properly indignant at the disgrace attendant upon Mrs. Clay's defection, nevertheless resented the implications of Lady Russell's speech. “That's all very well, ma'am, and I happily acknowledge that I was misled regarding Mrs. Clay's character, but such censure coming from the lady who encourages my sister's visits to Westgate Buildings is rather questionable indeed.”

“Mrs. Smith's circumstances are not of her own construction, and I have great hope that Captain Wentworth will return with news of her improving fortunes. Poverty is not a reflection of character, and it is precisely Mrs. Clay's character that has always been subject to question,” retorted Anne, though how much of this sentiment was heeded by Elizabeth, consumed as she was with her own displeasure, and, furthermore, in the habit of dismissing her sister's comments, is highly questionable. Sir Walter, it is certain, heard not a word, as made evident by his contribution to the conversation.

“If one thing is certain, it is the lesson to be derived from this shocking episode. A clear countenance is a sure reflection of a proper mind. Blemishes, such as freckles, should be held as a warning of deeper impurity,” he said with great satisfaction, eying his own remarkable features in a large mirror, conveniently hung directly across from his seat. “I must say it bodes well for your captain, Anne. Lady Dalrymple continues to remark on his very favorable aspect, but of course we Elliots have always been known for our impeccable taste. When do you expect his return? It would be convenient if he could join us for the concert this week. Since Mr. Elliot's departure, our party includes far too many women. It is unfortunate that Colonel Wallis feels unable to leave his wife at such a time, but such devotion is to be expected when one is married to a beautiful wife. Perhaps she will be well enough to attend your wedding ceremony, Anne?”

“Have you thought to invite the Crofts, Father? I think they would make a most welcome addition to our group.”

“My tenant, the Admiral? I had not thought of it, but yes, I suppose, under the circumstances, it would be appropriate to extend an invitation. I shall consult Lady Dalrymple. Unfortunately, their attendance will not alter our male to female ratio.”

“I do so enjoy Mrs. Croft's company, Sir Walter,” said Lady Russell. “Such a practical, good natured lady is not what one often meets. I shall be very pleased to spend the evening in her company.”

“I fear the concern must be that the Crofts are already engaged,” said Anne. “They have such a wide acquaintance here in Bath.”

“I am sure the honor of our invitation will supersede all others, Anne. It is not often that the Admiral has the opportunity to be seen in public with such exalted personages as our cousins, the Dalrymples.”

“We shall see, Father. I am sure, regardless of their current plans, that they will appreciate the overture.”

“Of course they will, Anne!” exclaimed an exasperated Elizabeth. “Will you not allow that my Father knows the ways of the world far better than you? The Crofts will be delighted to join us, I am sure.”

Anne exchanged a skeptical look with Lady Russell, but said no more.

It was not a cheerful party that adjourned to the drawing room while Sir Walter enjoyed his after dinner drink. Elizabeth, neither of the other ladies' preferred companion in the best of times, was very nearly surly in her behavior on this evening. A knock on the door was a welcome distraction from the stilted conversation Lady Russell was taking extraordinary pains to maintain, and it was with great excitement, much surprise, and a good deal of relief that Anne heard Captain Wentworth announced. She stepped forward to greet him with a girlishly enthusiastic step, quite unlike her usual, sedate self, but was quickly checked by the disturbed look in his eyes. He bade the company hello with all due propriety, but his manner was distracted and lacking in the rigid formality he typically adopted when interacting with people for whom he harbored mixed emotions, into which category both Lady Russell and Elizabeth fell. As soon as the formalities were complete, Anne ushered him into a private corner of the room and asked with urgency, “What has happened Frederick? Was Mr. Elliot unwilling to cooperate?”

“No, Anne. You may rest assured that my mission was successful. I am now empowered to act upon Mrs. Smith's behalf and have already begun inquiries into the reclamation of her property.”

Anne felt somewhat appeased at this information, but she could not be easy when a weighty matter so clearly weighed upon the Captain. “Then what is it that troubles you? You have not been summoned to duty, have you.”

Frederick managed a small chuckle at this, “No, my dear Anne, you will not see me wear such a troubled expression when mobilized by my superiors, even if such an event should happen so close to our nuptials. Nothing would please me more than to return to sea, assuming you will stay by my side.”

“I have told you I will.”

He smiled, “Then we have nothing to fear from the Admiralty.”

“But clearly something is amiss. Will you not confide in me?”

“I rather think I ought to speak with your father first. It is a matter of some delicacy.”

“Come now, Frederick. You know as well as I that, when matters of delicacy are at hand, my father's counsel will prove thoroughly ineffectual. You had much better rely on me, or Lady Russell, if you will trust her.”

“I do believe what you say, but on this particular matter, I think propriety can only be served by my speaking with Sir Walter before relaying my shocking tale into ladies' ears.”

Anne turned pale. “Shocking? Oh, Frederick, what on Earth could have happened? If you feel so strongly that my father must be the first informed, it must be horrible indeed. I have no doubt whom it concerns. My cousin's behavior can never be … ” she paused mid sentence, her skin loosing even more of its color. “Mrs. Clay!” she declared, looking to Frederick for confirmation. His abashed countenance confirmed her suspicion, and she said no more. They sat in silence, each contemplating how this revelation would be born by the remaining inhabitants of Camden Place, and each watching the clock in hopes of Sir Walter's speedy arrival.

They did not have to wait long. Sound of a visitor hastened Sir Walter appearance in the drawing room, and pleased he was to discover Captain Wentworth, though his obviously travel worn condition caused something of a jolt to the fastidious man's sensibilities.

“Captain Wentworth! You haven't just returned to Bath? Well, I have heard of the impetuosity of lovers, but never before did I imagine to see such evidence of it in my very own drawing room!”

“Sir Walter, I came directly to Camden Place from London. Forgive my appearance, but I have a matter of some delicacy to discuss with you. Might we adjourn to a more private location?”

“By all means, Wentworth! I have just been enjoying a spectacular brandy, quite old and rare. Will you join me in a glass?”

“That would be most welcome, Sir Walter. Thank you.”

The gentleman departed, and Lady Russell looked to her goddaughter with concern. “Anne, is something amiss?”

“I am afraid so, Lady Russell. It appears we are to learn of Mrs. Clay's whereabouts much sooner than expected.”

“Whatever could the Captain know of Penelope?” exclaimed Elizabeth. “He saw her in town, I suppose?”

“I believe so,” replied Anne, tentatively. “We shall have to wait for the full story in order to understand the matter, but I fear her situation is far worse than what we had expected.”

“Oh, Anne!” exclaimed Lady Russell. “She has not done anything completely untoward, I hope?”

Even Elizabeth showed signs of great discomposure, and Anne wondered if her purpose in providing such hints, intended to brace her companions for the revelation, was not mistaken. “I do not know the details, only what I have surmised. For the moment, we must be patient.”

All three ladies settled down to their needlework, though not one set a single stitch.

Captain Wentworth anticipated Sir Walter's reaction – that it would be less concerned with Mrs. Clay, the lady whom he had interacted with daily for the better part of a year, and who had formed a member of his household, than with the disrespect Mr. Elliot's actions displayed towards himself. Mrs. Clay had formed her own fate, and he happily relegated the lady to it, but that his heir, whom he had openly accepted after long estrangement, and after having so publicly, once again, taken him by the hand - even introducing him to the Dalrymples! - should deliver such a blow to his consequence was unforgivable. The man raged quite openly, and while his tirade only confirmed Captain Wentworth's perspective on his vanity, he felt more sympathy for his future father-in-law at this moment than he had ever done so in the past, even taking it upon himself to refill the older man's glass when he finally collapsed in his chair, such an unaccustomed display of emotion having drained him of energy.

“Thank you, Wentworth. I do now understand your haste in making an appearance here this evening. But what is to be done? He will parade her quite openly in London, and soon all of our acquaintances will know of the ill-use we have suffered at both of their hands. There is no way to stem the tide of gossip, is there?”

“I am afraid that I do not know of one, Sir Walter. The best that can be done is for you to display a face of unconcern to the world.”

“True. I am Sir Walter Elliot, and what such disreputable relations do cannot diminish my position. Nevertheless, it is a blow, and I feel it, I do assure you, as will Elizabeth. But we will hold our heads high, as we Elliots always have. I will consult with Lady Dalrymple tomorrow. She will know how to proceed.”

“We must tell the ladies, Sir Walter. It will not due for them to learn of these events from an outside source.”
“Yes, yes, you are right,” agreed the weary baronet, showing his age far more than usual. “I do appreciate the service you have rendered, Wentworth. You are a most welcome addition to the family, and I must say that the timing of your wedding could not be better, as it will give the gossips something else to think of.”

This was as high praise as the Captain had ever expected to hear from Sir Walter, and while he could not help but censure the man's principals, it was an understandable source of satsfaction to be sincerely embraced by his beloved Anne's father.

After making some adjustments to his appearance and steadying himself to putting the best front on the situation he could, Sir Walter led Captain Wentworth back to the drawing room, where three blatantly uneasy ladies rose expectantly at their entrance. Elizabeth came forward, “What has happened, Father? Anne believes the Captain has learned of Mrs. Clay's location.”

“Yes, indeed he has, my dear. Do sit down. I have some unpleasant news to share. We have been most ill-used, but we must remember who we are and not let it discompose us. The duplicity of others is not of our concern.”

“Certainly, Sir Walter,” concurred Lady Russell. “If you have been mistaken in Mrs. Clay's character, the fault lies entirely with she who worked so hard to insinuate herself into your good graces. Do not let it trouble you a moment longer.”

“I am afraid this goes beyond Mrs. Clay,” replied Sir Walter. “Wentworth, will you tell your tale?”

The Captain nodded his head and proceeded bluntly, in much the same manner that he delivered reports to his commanders when at war, “While in London I called upon Mr. Elliot. It was in his home that I found Mrs. Clay ensconced. She is under his protection, and soon to be settled in quarters of her own, which he will provide.”

“No!” cried Elizabeth, much to the shock of the entire room. Captain Wentworth had been most unhappy in being the bearer of such tidings, but was surprised to learn that in discomposing the arrogant Elliots, he found them to be far more human than he ever had before.

“I am afraid it is true, Elizabeth. She was your friend, and you do not deserve to the recipient of such treatment, especially by one who ought to be grateful for your patronage,” consoled Sir Walter, rather missing the point.

Anne rose and went to her sister, saying quietly. “Do not give him the satisfaction of learning of your hurt, Elizabeth. He is beneath your contempt. Do not let his actions trouble you.”

These were the words with which to work upon Elizabeth Elliot, and she quickly composed herself. “Indeed,” she agreed, moving to her father's side, “they are both undeserving of our concern.”

“Very true,” agreed Lady Russell. “We will not give them another thought, though someone ought to write to Mr. Shepherd and tell him what we have learned.”

“It will be taken care of, Lady Russell. Though it leaves us in something of a predicament. Shepherd has handled my affairs for decades, and it would be a sad loss to have to replace his services with that of another.”

“As long as he renounces that dreadful daughter of his, Sir Walter, I see no reason why you cannot maintain the relationship,” was Lady Russell's retort.

“Quite true. I will write to him in the morning.”

Though Captain Wentworth had long bemoaned the Elliot pride, on this evening it was impressed upon him how useful such self-consequence could be. The family would stand together, an impenetrable wall guarding their humiliation from the eyes of the world. As he said good evening to Anne that night, he reflected aloud, “You know, though they would certainly object to the consequences to their complexions, your relatives would make excellent sailors.”

Anne was happy to smile after the tumultuous events of that night, “And what makes you say so?”

“They rise to the occasion. I may not agree with their values, but one cannot deny that your sister, in particular, displayed great strength of character this evening.”

Such words acted as a balm to Anne, so long had she been disappointed in her family. Rather than comment, she hugged his words close to her heart, and said, “Shall we visit Mrs. Smith in the morning and share our good news?”

“I shall collect you after breakfast. Look for your new laundaulette, which should have been delivered to the Croft's today.”

“Oh Frederick!” she cried in happy surprise. “There was no need for you to do that!”

“Tell your father and sister. It is a very handsome equipage, if I may say so myself, and will be sure to provide a pleasant distraction to their woes.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

This is an out of print Heyer Regency (which will hopefully be reprinted by Sourcebooks in the not so distant future), that I decided I had to read after learning on some blog, somewhere, that an Austenesque story was partially based on Bath Tangle. I have been desperately trying to retrace my steps and figure out where I read this and what the title of the book in question is, but I have been thoroughly unsuccessful. So let me begin this review with a plea. If anyone knows what I am speaking of, I would really appreciate it if you would enlighten me. The mystery has left me feeling quite idiotic, as well as a bit insane.

This story begins with the funeral of the wealthy and eccentric Earl of Spenborough: "No one, least of all himself, could have supposed that the Earl, a fine, robust man in his fiftieth year, would owe his death to so paltry a cause as a chill, contracted when salmon-fishing on the Wye." His death displaces his hoydenish (but, of course, beautiful and charming) daughter Serena, as well as his youthful, innocent, and incorrigibly romantic bride, Fanny, from their home at Milverley Park. At first, they attempt to live in the Dower House, but as Serena finds the small rooms confining, and herself unable to help meddling in the affairs of the estate, now the property of a cousin who was not raised to his new role, they relocate to Bath to see out their year of mourning in a more congenial environment. But this is a Heyer novel, and such a straightforward plot will not suffice. The twist that makes these happenings interesting is the fact that the deceased Earl, instead of leaving his daughter's large fortune, including two estates, in the hands of an appropriate and respectable relation, has instead made the Marquis of Rotherham, Ivo Barrasford, her trustee until the time of her marriage, of which he must first approve. This is rather awkward, as Serena and Ivo were once engaged, an arrangement which she broke off, much to the shock and amusement of society.

Like almost all of Heyer's novels, the fate assigned to our hero and heroine is blatantly transparent. When two main characters show such antipathy for each other as Ivo and Serena display, it is certain that they will, eventually, fall in love. What makes the plot compelling, and the appropriately named "tangle" of the title, are the romantic fates of several secondary characters. First there is Fanny, whose gentle nature and immaturity make her a rather laughable chaperon to the willful and worldly Serena. Then we have Emily Laleham, the beautiful daughter of Lady Laleham (that "odious Laleham-woman", whose "beginnings must have been wholly vulgar", and prove to be a great comic addition to the tale), who is about to embark on her first season. Furthermore, we have one Major Hector Kirkby, a genteel young man of small fortune and estate who once offered for Serena's hand, when both were far too young to marry, and was deemed unsuitable by the Earl. He becomes reacquainted with Serena in Bath, having held her in his heart for all the intervening years, idealizing her into an angelic creature that she in no way resembles. The final component to our tangle is Gerald Monksleigh, the young, rather stupid, dandified ward of Rotherham, who has fallen hard for the lovely Miss Laleham. Each player becomes engaged to the wrong person, and our plot focuses on restoring them all to their proper mates.

While I very much enjoyed this novel, I found it to be extremely conservative when compared to most of Heyer's books, due to the fact that the end result returned each character to their proper sphere in society. Heyer is often compared to Jane Austen, and I have long argued that, while her books offer much to fascinate the Austen devotee, and that they certainly owe a debt of inspiration to to her, the two authoresses are really nothing alike. This is particularly apparent in this story, as Austen almost always has her heroes and heroines marrying across social stratification, a reflection of the weakening of class rigidity brought about by a rising bourgeoisie in the years proceeding the Industrial Revolution. In Bath Tangle, Heyer adamantly upholds the class divides: the aristocrats marry aristocrats, the gentry marry gentry, and the middle classes are confined to their appropriate sphere. The book was written in 1955, and while I am not overly familiar with modern British history, I cannot help but wonder if this is a reflection of the same kind of backlash against Communism that we saw in the United States at that time. I read this book twice, and while, on the first go round, I was highly amused by the comic elements of the story, the second time, which was my verbal recitation with my husband, I found myself frustrated by Heyer's inflexibility. Nevertheless, if you are a fan of Heyer's Regencies, the book is a must read, and I will attempt to counter my criticism by ending on this wonderful scene, perfectly emblematic of why I read Heyer, in which Serena makes a new acquaintance in the Pump Room:
Mrs. Floore poked a finger into the ribs of a mild-looking man seated in the chair beside her, and said: "I don't know where your wits have gone a-begging, Tom Ramford! Get up, and offer your place to Lady Serena, man!"

In great confusion, Mr. Ramford hastily obeyed this sharp command. His apologies and protestations were cut short, mrs. Floore saying kindly, but with decision: "There, that'll do! You take yourself off now!"

"Poor man!" said Serena, as she seated herself. "You are very severe, ma'am! Pray, how do you come to know my name?"

"Lord, my dear, everyone knows who you are! I'll wager you don't know who I am, though!"

"You would lose, ma'am. You are Mrs. Floore, a resident, I believe, of Bath," retorted Serena.

The old lady chuckled richly, all her chins quivering. "Ay, so I am, and I'll be bound you know it because you asked someone who the deuce that old fright could be, dressed in a gown with panniers!"

"I did ask who you might be, but I did not so describe you!" instantly responded Serena.

"Lord, I wouldn't blame you! I'd look a worse fright if I was to stuff myself into one of these newfangled gowns you all wear nowadays, with a waist under my armpits and a skirt as straight as a candle! All very well for you, my lady, with the lovely slim figure you have, but I'll tell you what I'd look like, and that's a sack of meal, with a string tied round it! Ay, that makes you laugh, and I see that it's quite true about your eyelids, though I thought it a piece of girl's nonsense when I was told about it: they do smile!"

"Good God, who can have told you anything so ridiculous, ma'am?" demanded Serena, colouring faintly.

"Ay, that's just it!" said Mrs. Floore. "I daresay you've been wondering what made me wishful to become acquainted with you. Well, I've got a granddaughter that thinks the world of your ladyship, and by all accounts you've been mighty kind to her."

"A granddaughter?" Serena repeated, stiffening suddenly in her chair. "You cannot mean that you are - But, no! Surely Lady Lale - the person who springs to mind - was a Miss Sebden?"

"So she was," agreed Mrs. Floore affably. "Sebden was my first, and Sukey's papa. I've had two good husbands, and buried 'em both, which is more than Sukey can boast of, for all the airs she gives herself!"

"Good gracious!" Serena exclaimed, wishing with all her heart that Rotherham could have been present, to share (as her certainly would) her own enjoyment. "Well, then, I am very happy to know you, Mrs. Floore, for I have a sincere regard for little Emily Laleham. She has often taken pity on our dullness this winter, you know. We - Lady Spendborough and I - missed her sadly when she went to London."

Mrs. Floore looked gratified, but said: "That's just your kindness, my lady, that makes you say so. I don't deny I'm uncommonly partial to Emma, bit I ain't a fool, and I can see who it was that took pity, even if Emma hadn't talked so much about you I was in a fair way to hating the sound of your name! Sukey - for Sukey she's always been to me, and always will be, let her say what she likes! - sent her to spend New Year with me, and it was Lady Serena this, and Lady Serena that till I'd very likely have had a fit of the vapours, if I'd been a fine lady, which I thank god I'm not, nor ever could be!"

"What an infliction!" Serena said, smiling. "I am astonished you could have wished to become acquainted with me, ma'am! I think, you know, that when she was only a child Emily thought me a very dashing female, because I used to hunt with my father, and do all manner of things which seemed very romantical to her! I hope she may be wiser now that she knows me better. I fear I am no model for a young female to copy."

"Well, that, begging your pardon, is where you're out, my dear!" said Mrs. Floore shrewdly. "You've done Emma a great deal of good, and I don't scruple to tell you so! She's a good little soul, and as pretty as she can stare, but she hasn't a ha'porth of common sense, and between the pair of them, Sukey, and that piece of walking gentility which calls herself a governess and looks to me more like a dried herring in petticoats, were in a fair way to ruining the poor child! But Emma, admiring your ladyship like she did, had the wit to see the difference between your manners and the ones her ma and that Miss Prawle was trying to teach her! Prawle! I'd Prawle her! 'Grandma,' Emma said to me, 'Lady Serena is always quite unaffected, and she is as civil to her servants as to Dukes and Marquises and all, and I mean to behave exactly like her, because she came over with the Conqueror, and is a great lady!' Which", concluded Mrs. Floore, "I can see for myself, though what this Conqueror has to say to anything I'm sure I don't know!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Profile: Emma Woodhouse

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Name: Emma Woodhouse

Age: 20

Hobbies: Other than matchmaking, Emma is the consummate dilettante. She reads, plays the pianoforte, draws likenesses, engages in fine needlework, and even collects the occasional riddle, all with a great deal of natural skill but no diligence.

Most charming quality: Her devotion to her family, particularly her rather trying father. 

Most detrimental tendency: "A disposition to think a little too well of herself."

Greatest strength: A willingness to correct her faults, once they become manifestly clear.

Truest Friend: Mrs. Weston, nee Taylor

Worst enemy: Pick one - Mr. or Mrs. Elton

Prospects: Very good. She is mistress of her father's home and possesses thirty thousand pounds. No other lady in Highbury is her equal.

Favorite quotations: "But, with common sense," she added, "I am afraid I have had little to do."

"Perhaps you may now begin to regret that you spent one whole day, out of so few, in having your hair cut."
"I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.--It depends upon the character of those who handle it."

"These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear!—I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?"

"I would much rather have been merry than wise."

"You are sick of prosperity and indulgence. Cannot you invent a few hardships for yourself, and be contented to stay?"

"Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other; and, therefore, you must give me a plain, direct answer."

"Can you trust me with such flatterers?--Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?"

Musings: It seems that Emma Woodhouse is, after Fanny Price, the most despised of Austen's heroines, and while I feel called upon to defend Fanny (read my profile of her here) because she is so misunderstood, my desire to espouse Miss Woodhouse is based in purely selfish motivation, much like her own. For better or for worse, she is the heroine in Austen that I can best relate to. We are almost sickeningly alike - spoiled, self-consequential, and meddling - but we also share our good qualities. As stated above, Emma's greatest strength seems to be her willingness to learn from her mistakes. So if we acknowledge that she begins the novel as a flawed creature, she is undoubtedly a far superior one by the end. And I think this is really the crux of Emma. It is a tale of blunders, and of learning the hard lessons they teach. The word is used repeatedly throughout the novel, most memorably in the scene where Frank Churchill spells it out with the young Knightley's alphabet letters. However, all of Emma's amendment and repentance does not seem to be enough to excuse her in the minds of the many readers who insist upon hating her. I have only been able to construct two explanations for such unreasonableness. The first is that Austen herself declared that it would be so in her famous statement, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." The second is that Emma is far more privileged than Austen's other heroines, and therefore not an object of commiseration. In regards to the first argument, I suggest we all try to cultivate such good taste, and as for the second, which I find more convincing, I propose comparing Miss Woodhouse to the Austen heroine she most resembles: Elizabeth Bennet. Both are clever, charming, and make mistakes based upon an over dependence on their own intelligence, yet Miss Bennet is universally beloved. Granted, she does not interfere in other people lives the way Emma does, but she is also not so fortunate as to be the most consequential lady in her neighborhood. If we reversed their circumstances, I think we would find them to be uncannily similar. It is interesting that Austen declared her intention of creating a heroine whom no one but she would like almost immediately after receiving the criticisms of Mansfield Park, which always have and always will focus on Fanny Price's lack of Elizabeth Bennet's charms. Perhaps Emma can be viewed as a criticism of the public's taste? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.