Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany and "Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater

Two more Jane Austen Made Me Do It reviews, both by well-established Austen writers. The two stories looked at side by side reveal the extraordinary diversity of this collection, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose. The first, "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany (author of the awesome vampirization of our beloved Miss Austen, Jane and the Damned), reflects on the enduring nature of Austen's appeal. Set in an all girls high school in the early 1960s, Julie Morton, the young Latin teacher, finds the satisfaction her job and personal life has previously lacked while monitoring detention. The three girls she oversees got in trouble for telling "Mrs. Henderson what we thought of Sense and Sensibility". Julie begins questioning them about the story, using their feelings for The Beatles to make Austen's work accessible. The story captures the sensations of a time of great cultural changes, both showing how the appeal of great art, like Austen (and The Beatles), is timeless, while also provoking the reader to dwell on the nature of popular phenomenon. In this sense, it is a thoroughly modern tale that Ms. Mullany presents, despite the fact that its topic is rooted in the past. It strikes me as one of the most literary contributions to this collection.

What a contrast to the next story! "Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater (author of The Private Life of Mr. Darcy) is a traditional Austenesque undertaking, an epistolary collection from the pen of Maria Lucas which presents a very different perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. The tale begins with letters from Maria while she stays at Hunsford to Lydia Bennet, the focal subject of the correspondence being the young ladies' assumptions regarding a clandestine relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The story continues through Lydia's elopement and marriage, offering explanations as to how Lady Catherine learned of Elizabeth and Darcy's potential union and hinting at Wickham's motivations when he seduced Lydia. The story is very well executed, providing precisely the kind of cathartic extras that drive Janeites to consume JAFF. It is exactly the kind of story that I hoped for in this collection. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part Three

Read Part One and Part Two

The first month of their marriage was spent by Edward and Elinor with Colonel Brandon at the Mansion-house, from whence they could superintend the progress of the Parsonage, and direct everything as they liked on the spot. They chose papers, planned shrubberies, and invented a sweep, all which went far in the elevation of the humble parsonage into a transparently genteel dwelling. Their host was all accommodation, and he would have happily kept the couple for a far longer time, but even dilatory workmen will, eventually, complete their assigned tasks, a blessing as our newlyweds were quite anxious to spend their first evening under their very own roof. They were only so slow in indulging this pleasure as their pragmatism dictated, for neither was so romantic as to believe that a roof which leaked, regardless of personal ownership, was anything but a nuisance. Such were the details that had to be completed before taking possession, but taken care of they were, and on the day they moved in all they had left to wish for was rather better pasturage for their cows.

Elinor and Edward were not now forced to discover how long they would relish being alone in each other's company, for not a week after their occupation of the parsonage, Mrs. Jennings arrived to ensure their entertainment and ward off solitude. If they resented this intrusion upon their newly-found privacy, they did nothing to betray such inhospitable sentiments. Mrs. Jennings, a lover of company herself, was not burdened with any thoughts of being intrusive. As far as she was concerned, the happy couple enjoyed her two week stay as much as she did, and all could only regret that it did not last longer. However, upon the young Palmer child coming down with its first cold, each cough causing Charlotte hysterics and her husband chagrin, the matron's presence was deemed essential at Cleveland, to which she set out forthwith upon reception of these tidings. Secretly, and guiltily, the Ferrarses were exceedingly grateful for such a well-timed ailment. Promising Mrs. Jennings that she was always welcome at anytime, they saw her off with few regrets, sincere in both their expressed sentiments and their desire that "anytime" would not come too soon.

Mrs. Jennings was not the only person anxious to grace the parsonage with her presence. She was merely the first of several guests. It was not long before Mrs. Ferrars arrived to inspect the happiness which she was almost ashamed of having authorized. What were Elinor's feelings upon welcoming the woman who had once gone to excessive lengths to offend her, and whom she now called mother? Complex, to say the least, but strict adherence to her policy of general civility did much to assist her through the ordeal. Fortunately, the grand lady did not stay long, for while she felt her own consequence increase within walls too small to retain such magnificence, she also felt enough concern for her son's welfare not to wish them to buckle under the burden of such unaccustomed pressure. Having done her maternal duty, she quickly made her way back to the more accommodating dimensions of her London town home.

There is nothing like a most disagreeable guest to make only mildly disagreeable guests comparatively attractive. Thus it was that the arrival of John and Fanny Dashwood, not long after Mrs. Ferrars departure, was greeted with less feigned pleasure than one might expect. Indeed, it was Fanny who was most discomfited by the visit, having voiced so vociferously her opposition to the match now come to fruition. She and Elinor were necessarily destined to spend a considerable amount of time in each other's company during their stay, and as loath as one is to admit it, it was to Fanny credit that she began their first day by making reference to the vast quantity of compliments she had fallen into the habit of receiving for the pair of screens Elinor had so beautifully executed on her behalf. Elinor understood this peace offering as intended, and as it was a great deal more acknowledgment of past wrongs than she had expected from her sister, the two were able to proceed amiably from that point on. Marianne occasionally joined them, the lure of Colonel Brandon's library drawing her forth to Delaford whenever she could contrive it, and while she would not so easily forgive as Elinor, her demeanor did not betray any lingering resentment.

Elinor made the most of the opportunity afforded by the Dashwood's visit to to reaffirm her relationship to her brother, recognizing that familial ties, be they agreeable or not, were vastly important to maintain, especially now that she found herself united closer than ever to him. They often walked together in the mornings when Edward's parish duties kept him occupied, and as Fanny was no great walker, this was an apt time for the siblings to share confidences. It was on one such occasion, towards the end of the Dashwood's stay, that John confessed the following:

"I will not say that I am disappointed, my dear sister," he said, as they past before the gates of Delaford House, "That would be saying too much, for certainly you have been one of the most fortunate young women in the world, as it is. But, I confess, it would give me great pleasure to call Colonel Brandon brother. His property here, his place, his house, every thing is in such respectable and excellent condition!--and his woods!--I have not seen such timber any where in Dorsetshire, as there is now standing in Delaford Hanger!--And though, perhaps, Marianne may not seem exactly the person to attract him--yet I think it would altogether be advisable for you to have them now frequently staying with you, for as Colonel Brandon seems a great deal at home, nobody can tell what may happen--for, when people are much thrown together, and see little of anybody else--and it will always be in your power to set her off to advantage, and so forth;--in short, you may as well give her a chance--You understand me."--

Elinor had the grace to not betray her own hopes in this direction, only smiling her acquisence, but when John renewed the subject with his wife on their journey home to Norland, he was surprised by her response.

"I would not be surprised if that is precisely how matters unfold, and that our next visit to your family will find us staying at the great house."

"But do you think Marianne could atract a man like Colonel Brandon? A year ago, perhaps, but having lost her bloom, I see nothing but the convenience of her company to entrance him. I have suggested to Elinor that she would do well to throw them together quite often."

"You miss a great deal, John. Marianne has almost fully recovered her looks, and her disposition is vastly improved. Her manners used to venture on embarrassing, but she has grown quite presentable. Furthermore, she seeks out the Colonel on the pretense of accessing his library with surprising regularity. I am rather shocked your mother allows it, but she never was able to regulate the conduct of her daughters. Nevertheless, when a young woman sets her cap on an aging bachelor, do not bet against her success."

John, as usual, was quite pleased to embrace his wife's perspective, especially as it conformed so nicely to his own wishes. "Indeed! I think you might be right, my dear. What a match it would be! What timber! Did you take the time to properly observe the hanger?"

"Who could not? It is a vast deal more than Marianne should be any right expect, but I always did think your sisters would do well for themselves. We must have the entire family to Norland soon. You mustn't be neglecting your mother, you know."

“No indeed!” exclaimed John, newly impressed by the infinite wisdom of his wife.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "What Would Austen Do?" by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

I'm skipping over a couple of stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It which I intend to review because I just finished "What Would Austen Do?" by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and am "all alive", as Lady Bertram might say, with the story. This tale was a very unexpected pleasure as I found the authoresses' novel, Lady Vernon and her Daughter (read my review, one of the first I ever wrote, here), extremely frustrating, and because the first paragraph seemed particularly unpromising. How wrong I was! I loved this depiction of teenage rebellion being channeled trough Jane Austen, even though it was almost as fantastic as the vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories it mocks. It was a decidedly fun tale, and I wish it was far longer than a short story.

James Austen is definitely a character I could have followed for a few hundred pages. Ordered by his Janeite mother to spend his summer constructively, he accidentally signs up for an English country dance seminar. His interest in Jane Austen explodes and instead of spending the summer months conforming to one of the dominant cliches at school, each determined to be real-life incarnations of their favorite monsters, he transforms himself into the modern parody of Mr. Darcy. When the story begins, James' parents have been called into the principals office, for such unaccountabel behavior as their son has displayed requires explanation:

"For example - the way he's been coming to school. His attire," Mr. Oakes said.

"His attire?" Mom could go the full Lady Catherine de Bourgh in three syllables flat.

Taptaptaptaptap. "I know we don't have a dress code - per se - but don't you think the way he's dressing - every day a button-down shirt, slacks. A, um, yie?"

And Mom goes, "In the hall, I saw two kids with their incisors capped with fangs, a half dozen girls with Kabuki makeup and black lipstick, and someone of indeterminate gender who was sporting a tail."...

M. Oakes sighed. "And it's his language."

"His language?"

"It's not just the 'please' and 'thank you' and "i beg your pardon' and -"

"Excuse me?"

"That too. Not just what he says, Mrs. Austen, it's the way he says it. His teachers tell me when he's called on, he stands up. He holds doors open for them. He's gotten extremely..."

"'Well behaved, polite, and unassuming?'"

This story is a Janeites daydream of the perfect teenage son, rebelling by taking to heart the lessons of Austen, making others feel good by following the dictates of polite society, and finding success with the ladies by being the perfect gentleman. It is by far one of the best modern-set, Austen-themed tales I have ever read. My prejudices against the authoresses are entire undone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Profile: Edward Ferrars

Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished--as--they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Mrs. John Dashwood wished it likewise; but in the mean while, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambition to see him driving a barouche. But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life. Fortunately he had a younger brother who was more promising.

Name: Edward Ferrars

Age: 22 or 23. He is engaged to Lucy Steele for four years and proposed sometime after leaving her uncle, Mr. Pratt's, care at age 18 and going up to Oxford at 19.

Hobbies: Unknown. He seems rather aimless in his pursuits, which consist of visiting friends and family, until necessity provides him with the profession he has so long wanted.

Most charming quality:  It must be self-deprecation, for it is only when he is criticizing himself that he says anything of substance.

Most detrimental tendency: Edward is too quick to justify his faulty actions. He finds a multitude of excuses for his engagement to Lucy, primarily blaming those who allowed him to be idle, and later justifies his conduct towards Elinor at Norland in the most selfish terms ("The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody but myself.").

Greatest strength: Ability to engage the affections of Elinor Dashwood.

Truest friend: Elinor Dashwood has his interests closest at heart, and Colonel Brandon proves an excellent benefactor, but I believe this honor must go to his brother Robert, for unwittingly releasing him from a most unfortunate attachment.

Worst enemy: I believe this honor must be shared between his fiancee, Lucy Steel, and his mother, a very sad predicament for the poor man to be in.

Prospects: Though "the eldest son of a man who had died very rich ... except a trifling sum [1000 pounds], the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother." Prudence dictates caution regarding such an arrangement, which proves to be highly justified when his capricious mother disinherits him in favor of his younger brother. He does, however, still receive 10,000 pounds upon his marriage, making his annual income, including the living he receives from Colonel Brandon, approximately 750 pounds. 

Favorite quotations: "I was engaged elsewhere."

"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must be dirty in winter."
"How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"
"Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."

 "... and, at length, as there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing."

"I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower--and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world."

"I have no wish to be distinguished; and have every reason to hope I never shall. Thank Heaven! I cannot be forced into genius and eloquence."

"I had therefore nothing in the world to do, but to fancy myself in love ..."

Musings: As the observant reader has already noted, I am no fan of Mr. Edward Ferrars. Elinor must see something in him, for there can be no doubt of the sincerity of her attachment, but what it is I am unable to fathom. I am constantly puzzled as to how a woman of her perception could fall for him. Other than his noble action in upholding his engagement to a woman he does not love (and let it be noted that to act otherwise would have been completely reprehensible according to the mores of the day, possibly even resulting in legal action), Austen endows Edward with almost no attractive qualities. It is Elinor's affections that redeem him, for it is totally inconceivable that she could care for someone who did not possess some kind of valuable characteristic or another.

While it is easy to forgive Edward for making a foolish decision in his youth (who hasn't?), it is far more difficult to excuse his behavior to Elinor at Norland. Even she calls him out for his conduct:

Elinor scolded him, harshly as ladies always scold the imprudence which compliments themselves, for having spent so much time with them at Norland, when he must have felt his own inconstancy.

"Your behaviour was certainly very wrong," said she; "because--to say nothing of my own conviction, our relations were all led away by it to fancy and expect what, as you were then situated, could never be."

He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistaken confidence in the force of his engagement.

"I was simple enough to think, that because my faith was plighted to another, there could be no danger in my being with you; and that the consciousness of my engagement was to keep my heart as safe and sacred as my honour. I felt that I admired you, but I told myself it was only friendship; and till I began to make comparisons between yourself and Lucy, I did not know how far I was got. After that, I suppose, I was wrong in remaining so much in Sussex, and the arguments with which I reconciled myself to the expediency of it, were no better than these:--The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody but myself."

Elinor smiled, and shook her head.
Would you smile at the man in your life if he explained himself thusly? The head shake indicates that Elinor is not satisfied, despite being ready to forgive. One must wonder how this issue would again arise after their marriage. If I were his wife, I'd be rather loath to let this particular gentleman to spend any length of time in company with an eligible lady. His record is not good.

What we can say with certainty is that Edward's character is sure to benefit from Elinor's influence, as can be seen almost immediately in his attempt to make amends with his mother at her urging. However, I cannot help but contemplate what such a man would have become had he been called upon to marry his first fiancee: embittered, broken, and inclined to blame everyone but himself for a predicament he created. I cannot like him, despite Elinor's preference. Thank goodness for Colonel Brandon, a far more satisfying hero, and it is he I will tackle next.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part Two

Read Part One

The welcome that Edward received when he returned to Barton Cottage was as warm and embracing as his own family’s reception had been cold and distant. In Mrs. Dashwood he discovered the motherly care that Mrs. Ferrars had never provided, in Marianne and Margaret he felt the all the sisterly affection that was lacking between himself and Fanny, and in Elinor, who had always been so guarded in her expressing her feelings, he experienced all the loving support that had been absent for so long from his life. At Barton he could be himself without fear of censure, free from all the discomfort that society and its pretensions had imposed upon him. His liberation was indubitable, and in its embrace he flourished.

“Where would I be without you, my dear Elinor?” he mused one morning as they walked along the downs, enjoying the fresh summer air.

She smiled amusedly, “Certainly not at Barton, one would imagine, though you seemed to already have had an affinity for Devonshire.”  
“It is cruel of you to tease me on that point,” he responded, though the charge was belied by the grin that graced his countenance. “I mean what kind of man would I be in the process of becoming? What sort of clergyman could I be with the burdens of an unhappy home life sapping my energy? I’m sure I would have commenced well, but as time took it’s toll and despondency set in, I would surely have deteriorated into a sad figure. With you I will have every motivation to make my flock as happy and prosperous as possible, as I will know just such felicities at home.”

“You assume a great deal, Edward. Who is to say that, upon marriage, I will not prove a harpy, the very bane of your existence? One never quite knows how such things will unfold in a marriage. I always thought Lucy was at least well prepared for the challenges of running a rectory. She would have been a far better economizer than I fear I shall prove.”

“Must we speak of her?” Edward sighed wearily.

“Unfortunately, I think courtesy demands it. When we consider how much she, in all likelihood, is discussing us, it is only right that we return the consideration.” They shared an amused glance. “In all seriousness, Edward, no one is more pleased with the outcome of our predicament than I, but had Lucy not been so accommodating as to elope with your brother, and your marriage had proceeded as planned, you would have a great deal of choice in your course of action. You might have, as described, succumbed to hopelessness, or you could have made the best of your situation and found joy and contentment in the fulfillment of your duties. Neglect would have only worsened your lot.”

“Precisely. You always know just how one should behave, and at my side will force me into being a far better man than I ever could manage to become without you.”

“What you now perceive as worthy advice, you may someday regard as a plague. I have heard many a married man dismiss his wife’s urgings as an annoyance or, even worse, a torment.”

“That will not be us,” he said with conviction.

“We will surely find out,” she laughed. “That is our luxury.”

Elinor and Edward did not spend all their time basking in the joys of newly declared love. Colonel Brandon called regularly to discuss the actions he was enthusiastically taking towards the improvement of Delaford Parsonage, which also proved the perfect excuse to loiter with Marianne over her books. Even if Mrs. Dashwood hadn’t been so forthcoming about her hopes for this pairing, it would not taken Edward long to perceive that in Colonel Brandon he might someday have that brother who, unlike Robert, would be a reliable companion and friend. Readily he joined in the conspiracy to see this worthy gentleman’s aspirations realized, often abandoning their discussion upon the most contrived excuses when Marianne entered the room, leaving one of the ladies to play unobtrusive chaperon, her attention far more consumed by her work than her duties.

And now, dear reader, I ask your pardon as I step back from the world of the 19th century to assume the voice of a 21st century observer. You see, all that stood in the way of a quick marriage between Elinor and Edward were the improvements with which Colonel Brandon had so interested himself, and it is on this note that our modern experiences provide a great deal of insight. I ask all of you who have ever employed a contractor for any work on your own home, be it the mere replacement of a deteriorating window pane or a full kitchen remodel, to empathize with the interminable nature of the wait to which our hero and heroine were now subjected. Not even the most reliable contractor can be realistically expected to finish a project within the projected time frame, and though Colonel Brandon had his own workers - ready, able, and cheap - hard at work on the parsonage, unforeseeable complications were just as inevitable two hundred years ago as they are today. And so it is understandable how, after three months of setbacks, a thousand disappointments and delays from the unaccountable dilatoriness of the workmen, Elinor declared herself unwilling to wait any longer and the wedding was held forthwith, Colonel Brandon, ever accommodating, offered the newlyweds shelter in his house as they oversaw the remaining work on the nearby parsonage. It may not be the most romantic wedding trip, but Elinor and Edward, pragmatic and complacent, were appropriately grateful for their benefactor’s hospitality. The Colonel did entertained some hope that Marianne would act as companion to her sister, an idea enthusiastically suggested by Mrs. Dashwood, but in spite of her own wish to bring the two together, Elinor refused to further impose upon her host, to his great disappointment.

The Ferrars, upon receiving news of the joyous event, put aside their great incomprehension of their son and brother and began to make their travel plans. It was of great assistance in this effort that Sir John, long before a date was set, had already invited the entire family to stay at Park “ ... for as long as it suits you. There’s sure to be some game in season and many an outing and dancing in the evening for the ladies.” Lady Middleton, after the banns were set to be read, provided a more formal invitation. All Mrs. Ferrars and the Dashwoods need do was gather their entourage and invade Barton at their leisure.

The reading of the banns not only pushed Lady Middleton into action, but also brought news of his brother’s impending marriage to Roberts Ferrars and his new wife. It was Lucy who first heard of the approaching event, her newly hired maid  proving quite the useful gossip, and she greeted the information with a mixture of glee and angst. Though she had long known the truth of Edward and Elinor’s attachment, is culmination inevitably caused her some chagrin. On the other hand, the notion of Elinor struggling along and economizing on a parson’s salary she found rather humorous, especially when compared to her own good fortune. Yet not even the acquisition of a thousand pounds a year could satiate Lucy’s ambitions, and she was quick to see in the approaching marriage an opportunity for her husband to reassert himself into his mother’s good graces and lucrative pockets.

Lucy, much to her husband’s benefit and despite all her faults, was undeniably shrewd. She knew that the reestablishment of her husband would be a difficult process, and that it was much more likely to happen if she kept herself in the background at first. Thus is was that, upon sharing her newly acquired information with Robert and enjoying, with him, a hearty laugh at our young couple’s expense, she set about trying to convince him of the benefits to be derived from his attendance at the wedding. He was understandably reluctant to present himself, not only because it meant confronting a hostile family, but also because he was certain that Edward’s wedding could be nothing but a dead bore. Nevertheless, with her careful flattery and calculated cajolery, Lucy at last convinced him how efficacious his presence at the blessed event would be. Let credit go where it is due: she managed to accomplish this while leading Robert to believe it was his good notion in the first place. Talent indeed, though his inflated sense of self-import was of great assistance in the achievement of the feat.

What Robert was inclined to condemn as a poor show, people of taste and sense would recognize in the marriage of Elinor and Edward all that was most important. Pomp might have been lacking, the bride bedecked in a useful gown that would serve many a purpose other than that of mere wedding finery, but the love shared by our couple was apparent. Marianne joyfully accompanied her sister, while Colonel Brandon stood beside his new rector, and, more importantly, increasingly dear friend. All their friends and well-wishers were in attendance, from Sir John and Lady Middleton to an elated Mrs. Jennings. Their respective families also made a strong showing amongst the observers. John and Fanny were in attendance along with Mrs. Ferrars, and while this party never dared speak to Robert when he appeared, not one of the three could help reflecting what a fine figure he cut as opposed to the groom, dressed in the humble elegance that befit his clerical pretensions. Thus the breech made its first steps towards amendment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jane Austen for President 2012

I so meant to get this post up before the holiday season, as I thought it would be such a wonderful addition to any Janeites shopping list, but alas, I again must plead baby as an excuse for my tardiness. Nevertheless, for those of you who have not yet heard of Gone Reading International, I will take a few moments to bring this important organization to your attention. Founder and CEO Bradley S. Wirz contacted me way back in early November, asking if I would help to spread the word about this new organization's noble goal to help establish libraries in the developing world. Their online boutique (gonereading.com) is full of gifts targeted to book lovers, and 100% of the proceeds go towards fulfilling their mission. Of greatest interest to readers of this blog is the Jane Austen Collection, featuring the Jane Austen for President 2012 line of goods. If only! The slogan not only makes me want to rush out and buy an absolutely adorable onesie for my little one, it also begs the question: upon what platform would Jane Austen run for office? I can't see her pandering to special interest groups, which would undoubtedly land her on the fringe of the political spectrum, but perhaps her frankness would be welcomed by a jaded American populace. If she were to grace the oval office with her hallowed presence, one would like to believe it would be the dawn of an era noted for partisan reconciliation, industrious activity, and the revival of hats. On the other hand, perhaps she would just be dismissive of all the members of Congress, conferring upon them the title of "intolerably stupid", and be known for little else than her relentless support of the arts. Either way, hers would be a fascinating term.

Here is a copy of a letter from Mr. Wirz, detailing the organization's purpose. Please think of the joy books have played in your own life and consider sharing that indescribable pleasure with those in need.

Dear Fellow Book Lovers:

If you're like me, you just can't imagine living in a world without reading. Unfortunately, for almost a billion people today, that's exactly where they find themselves. There are countless villages, towns and vast regions of this planet where the power of reading has yet to shine its light.

Gone Reading International, LLC was founded to bring the magic effect of reading to places where it doesn't exist. We believe that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes for the better. When libraries and reading materials are made available, entire villages, communities and their citizens achieve unprecedented levels of self-sufficiency.

That's why Gone Reading International, founded in 2011, has pledged 100% of company profits to fund new reading libraries and other literacy projects in the developing world. By purchasing our gifts for readers, you're changing the world while treating yourself and the bibliophiles in your life to a great gift.

We're working with great non-profits – we call them our mission partners – such as READ Global and Ethiopia Reads, amazing organizations with proven models, long track records, and dedicated teams on the ground. Such groups partner with local villages in the most underdeveloped parts of the world to build small libraries that profoundly effect their communities. Our goal is to provide significant financial assistance to such organizations, allowing them to achieve greater scale and impact.

We invite you to join the GoneReading family by making a purchase of our gifts for readers, and equally important, sharing our story with the book lovers, bibliophiles and readers in your life!

Happy Reading!

Bradley S. Wirz
Founder & CEO
Gone Reading International, LLC

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan, "The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston, and "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange

Today my daughter started preschool. Though I am feeling immense separation anxiety, the couple of days a week she will be so occupied gives me much needed time to catch up on my life, including pursuit of my Austen related interests. Therefore, I suddenly have the time to review more than one story from Jane Austen Made Me Do It at a time, and as I just completed three delightful stories in a row, all by writers I have long admired, I will address all three here. The first, "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan, whose book There Must be Murder (read my review here) is by far the best piece of Northanger Abbey Austenesque I have yet encountered, is a prequel to Persuasion, focused on how Admiral and Mrs. Croft met and fell in love. This was such a great notion for a story - recounting how one of the happiest married couples in Austen came together - while portraying Wentworth in his early days as a midshipman. I particularly appreciated how Ms. Sullivan captured Admiral Croft's (a mere Commander in our story) unique voice: "A fine day for sailing, is not it? And if we are lucky, the French wil stop skulking about and come out boldly to meet us, and then we shall have a fine battle." His joviality and enthusiasm for his profession are beautifully rendered. It is an endearing story which I highly recommend.

The next story is "The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston, author of the Mr. Darcy's Daughters series of books (excellent fun!), a tale which brings long deceased writers into the present to haunt failing writers and inspire them to greatness. In this case, one Miss Jane Austen appears before rabid Janeite Sara, whose obsession has destroyed her relationship. Miss Austen not only provides a much needed swift kick in the you know what, but also a heavy dose of reality. This is what she has to say on the subject of Mr. Darcy as an idealized man:
"I myself am Mr. Darcy. Had I been born male instead of female, and in affluent circumstances, I would have been just such a man: reserved, proud, and clever. And no doubt have made some women's life a misery. Put him out of your head, or at least leave him on the page where he belongs and, as you say today, get a life."
I love that! This story is very cute, and I adore the representation of Austen, but I do have two bones to pick with Ms. Aston. The first regards Sara, who perhaps did need to learn not to compare real men with Mr. Darcy, but she certainly did not need to settle for Charles, the so-called hero of our little tale. He is, quite frankly, an ass. I would also like to mention that if there was a locket floating around containing a lock of Jane Austen's hair, a pivotal item in this story, it would be worth far more than 5,000 pounds.

Finally I come to "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange, the author of so many diaries by Austen heroes and, more recently, Mr. Wickham (in my TBR list). So often we dwell on the problems with the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, while this story refreshingly considers the benefits of the match. Also a prequel, the tale reflects back on the pressures Mr. Bennet labored under when looking for a wife, creating a reasonable scenario for why he made the choice he did. The story echoes many of the episodes from Pride and Prejudice, particularly those enacted between Mrs. Bennet and her daughters and Mr. Collins unwelcome visit to Longbourn. I thought this series of musings from a Miss Jane Gardiner particularly poignant in the development of her latter character:
A large estate or a red coat? Happy were Jane's deliberations as the carriage took her home. Should she marry Captain Quentin or should she marry Mr. Bennet? In her mind's eye she saw both men proposing, and pictured herself, first as the wife of an officer, established in neat lodgings, and then as the wife of a landowner, established in Longbourn, the finest house in the neighborhood.

At that, the image began to fade. Much as he liked her - and she had not been mistaken, she was sure he did like her - and much as she liked him, he would never marry her. What, Jane Gardiner, daughter of a country attorney, to be the mistress of Longbourn? Such things only happened in fairy tales.
This story is definitely one of my favorites in the collection so far. It not only humanizes the Bennets, it also dwells on the very real difficulties an entail posed for a family. And as the entire thing is told in a tone worthy of Austen, I can say little more than an ardent "Brava" to Ms. Grange. It is my favorite thing I have ever read by her. 

Stay tuned for more reviews as I slowly make my way through this fabulous book, definitely the best collection of Austen inspired short stories I have come across. A hearty congratulations to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for compiling this treasure.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part One

Back in July I wrote the first part of Mansfield Park Janeicillin, but then the realities of new motherhood took over, and I never continued it. I have every intention of doing so, but at the moment, having just finished rereading Sense and Sensibility, my mind is elsewhere. I never know quite where Janeicillin will take me when I commence it, and S & S poses the problem of spanning a much greater stretch of time (that between Eleanor and Marianne's marriages) than any of Austen's other novels.  I cannot promise that the lead up to the marriage between Marianne and Colonel Brandon will be attempted in this piece. Perhaps it will only be prepared. As for now, my focus is entirely on the highly dysfunctional Ferrars family. This is where our story begins.

As he knocked on the door to his mother's house, Edward Ferrars sorely wished himself back at Delaford, or, even better, at Barton.

It had always been his policy in life to try and do what was right and honorable, as far as he was able, and this was not the first time when the disagreeably of that course challenged his willingness to proceed upon it. Sometimes his will had abandoned him, as when he embarked on a secret engagement, and when he remained at Norland with the Dashwoods after falling in love with Elinor. She had charged him with failure upon this account, and though he readily repeated the rationalizations with which he accounted for this lapse in integrity, his assertion that he believed any harm done was only to himself sounded just as weak to his ears as it had undoubtedly to Elinor's. When he had upheld his engagement to Lucy Steele, despite stringent parental disapproval, it might seem to others that he had so adhered to the honorable path as to fall into folly, but to himself he could admit that it was only his belief that lack of fortune would surely lead to Lucy's breaking of the engagement that gave him the strength to hold his ground. The misery that he suffered when things did not transpire as he had hoped was surely deserved. Indeed, it was his belief in the justice of his fate that had allowed him to bear it with anything like equanimity. The role of the martyr had a great deal of appeal to Edward, and it was this crutch that he leaned upon as he entered his mother's vestibule and awaited her reception.

"For Elinor I would bear anything," he told himself, trying not to fidget in his uneasiness. It was with great bravado that he had asserted his intentions to confront his mother in person, rather than choosing the far easier method of communication by letter. In the throes of his successful suit, he would not admit to Elinor for all the world his weakness upon this point, but now, as the dreaded confrontation became imminent, he regretted his hasty pronouncements on the subject of submission. Yet even in his unease, he could smile at the realization of how much closer his betrothed had already brought him to being the kind of man he had always aspired to be, rather than the man nature had made him.   

His mother met him in her salon where she sat in state, ensconced in her grandest, high-backed arm chair, the closest approximation to a throne that the house contained. It was not Mrs. Ferrars custom to be accommodating, and the scowl with which she greeted her disinherited son betokened the difficulty of the task in front of him. A man unfamiliar with this formidable lady's behavior might give up his cause as lost immediately upon beholding her daunting countenance, but Edward, gifted with the familiarity of kinship, knew that his very admission was already a victory. Certainly his mother would now make him pay for her forgiveness by demanding a display of proper humility, but the end result was already ordained. He was once again her acknowledged son.

"Mother, how do you do."

"I am in excellent health, though my children seem bent upon destroying it."

"I am pleased to know you are well," he replied, ignoring her jab.

"You have heard of your brother's abominable behavior. That is what brings you hear, no doubt." 

"As his action had rather a profound effect upon myself, I could not long have remained in ignorance."

"He has preserved you from a most disastrous union. That much can be said for him."

"Yes. I believe we can agree on that point. Robert might indeed be called my savior."

"I see you have come to regard the matter as you ought to have all along. That horrid girl, whose name I cannot bear to pronounce, has caused an unimaginable degree of havoc upon our family. You, at least, are well rid of her."

"Indeed, I cannot say I mourn her loss."

"Very well. I suppose it behooves me to once again call you my son, though after such a display of ingratitude and disobedience as you recently indulged, I might be thought inordinately lenient to do so."

Edward bit his tongue rather than respond.

"Well, Edward? Have you nothing to say for yourself?"

"Only that to cause you pain is one of the great regrets of my life."

"As it should be. That being said, other than the loss of your brother to that conniving hussy, no great harm has been wrought. Miss Morton is still available and will surely be inclined to accept you offer, after you exert some effort to endear her to you. A few weeks of earnest courtship should suffice."

"I am afraid, Madame, that I cannot proceed as you would wish. It pains me to go against your wishes, but my hand is already the property of another."

"Surely you do not morn the loss of that woman, she who has made a fool of all the men in this family? Why, you just as much as told me so yourself!"

"It is not my brother's wife to which I refer, but to another lady of infinitely greater worth, for love of whom my engagement with the former Miss Steele had become a source of regret long before it was the cause of my estrangement from you, my dear Mother."

Mrs. Ferrars rose to her feet in rancor. "And of whom do you speak?"

"Miss Elinor Dashwood, Ma'am."

"Miss Dashwood, indeed! I guessed as much! A lady of little fortune and no prospects! At least she is of respectable family, unlike your last infatuation, but any connection with the Dashwoods is rendered redundant through Fanny's marriage. She offers nothing of merit to our family. It is a nonsensical attachment."

"Pardon me, Ma'am, if I disagree so soon upon our reconciliation, but Miss Dashwood is a lady of education and grace. She offers not only perfect gentility to our union, but also the promise of great happiness to myself."

"That is not why people marry."

"It is why I wish to marry."

"And if I forbid you to ask for her hand?"

"I am sorry to inform you, Ma'am, but her hand I have already secured. I ask only for your blessing."

"What can you mean by this, Edward? Do you come to my house, seeking forgiveness for one clandestine engagement, only to thrust yet another in my face?"

With the knowledge of Elinor's love bolstering his courage, Edward declared, "Again I beg your pardon, Mother, but your facts are not quite correct. I have not asked your forgiveness. I should not have contracted an engagement in secret, this I own, but to have broken my promise to Lucy would have made me a scoundrel, and not even for the lady I love most in this world was I willing to proceed thusly. Furthermore, there was nothing clandestine in my betrothal to Elinor Dashwood. I have her mother's permission, and at the time of my action, no acknowledged parent of my own to consult."

Mrs. Ferrars seethed. "You would reject Miss Morton, in possession of  30,000 pounds, daughter of Lord Morton, for the daughter of a country gentleman of little connection and a mere 3?"

"Without hesitation."

"Do not think I will supplement your income should you proceed with such foolishness. You will have this living you have somehow secured - yes, I do know that much of your recent actions - and the funds due to you upon your marriage, but no more than what Fanny received shall you enjoy!"

"You will give me 10,000 pounds upon my marriage?" Edward asked in disbelief.

"Yes, and how you will survive upon a daughter's share will be entirely your own concern. I wash my hands of the matter."

"But I have your blessing?"

"Certainly not! How you can contemplate such a union when Miss Morton is available and agreeable is unfathomable! Consider your position carefully, young man, and you will surely come to realize the folly of continuing your engagement. Come see me in two days, and we will see how that matter stands."

To her great astonishment, Edward stepped forward with a joyful expression and grasped her hand warmly. "Thank you, Mother. I will see you in two days time." And with a rather ecstatic adieu Edward took himself off to his lodgings, there to write to Elinor and share his thoughts on the unexpected generosity his mother had unwittingly betrayed, leaving behind him an utterly befuddled Mrs. Ferrars, who would spend the rest of the day attempting to fathom how her own son could be such an entirely incomprehensible creature.

The next day found John Dashwood at his brother's door, sent to both acknowledged the restored relations between Edward and his family, and to put forth those arguments, so unimpeachable in the minds of himself, his wife, and her mother, that were to persuade the younger gentleman of the error of his ways. In Mr. Dashwood's defense, so rarely taken up, the task before him required an enormous amount of verbal dexterity, as he could not be reasonably be expected to deprecate his own sister on behalf of Miss Morton. It was, therefore, his lot to praise the latter lady without sacrificing the virtues of the former, a task that would have been easier had Miss Morton anything but name and fortune of which to boast. Sill Mr. Dashwood entered upon his mission quite convinced of his eventual success. What man, after all, would behave in a manner so detrimental to his own interest? This confidence, however, failed to account for his brother's previously incomprehensible behavior, and was, of course, misplaced. All his best efforts to elevate Miss Morton in Edward's esteem failed, and he returned home to share his befuddlement with those that could best understand it. Neither Fanny nor her mother could comprehend Edward's insistence on a less advantageous marriage any more than he.

Nevertheless, when Edward reappeared upon his mother's doorstep, he was greeted once again as her son, however cold her motherly embrace might be. For after enduring such uncommon fluctuations in the state of her family, having for many years been in possession of two sons, then robbed of first one, and then both, she felt that the retention of at least the elder was an asset which she could not, in good conscience, deny herself.

So it was that Edward was able to write of his triumph to both Eleanor and Colonel Brandon, whom he charged with moving ahead on the discussed improvements to the parsonage at Delaford with all speed. Be assured that the recipients of his correspondence were just as inclined to exalt in the glory of reluctant blessings and a grudging 10,000 pounds as the giver was baffled by them. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley

Maybe it was the seasonal theme of this story that made it resonate so, but I really enjoyed "Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss", Jo Beverely's contribution to Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The story is set in the neighborhood of Chawton, where Elinor Carsholt and her three daughters have settled following her husband's death. The story is not only sweet and endearing, it is also thematically in line with the notions Austen explored in her novels, while simultaneously questioning (and reaffirming) the realism of her happy endings, making it a fitting tribute to her greatness.

The Carsholt's are in reduced circumstances due to their deceased father and husband's lack of prudence: a familiar story. Elinor (aptly named) strives to provide them with a proper Christmas though her spirits are low and the future seems bleak. The family not only resides in the vicinity of the Austen ladies, they are also readers of Miss Jane's novels, whose identity is a poorly kept secret. Elinor laments the effect Pride and Prejudice may have had on her daughters' notions of what is attainable and realistic, as in this scene in which she admonishes her eldest for wanting to walk alone:
"It simply wouldn't be proper, Amy. You're a young lady now and must consider such things."

To Elinor's surprise, Amy nodded. "You mean some men might have wicked intentions."


"Like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice."

"Yes," said Elinor, wishing she'd not allowed Amy to read that book.

Sir Nicholas had brought it to Ivy Cottage as a gift. It was an amusing representation of family life, but Elinor considered the heroine pert and one of her sisters positively wicked. Their both being rewarded with marriage - in one case, a brilliant match - was designed to put fanciful notions into young women's heads, and she'd said as much to Sir Nicholas, adding that the authoress must be a little too flighty in her ways.
What Elinor does not account for is the magic that a neighbor named Jane can work upon her life, allowing those who are undoubtedly deserving of the fairy tale ending they never dreamed of attaining. This charming story not only entertains, but also reflects upon the body of Austen's work in a unique and thoughtful way. I will revisit it next Christmas as a means of getting into the spirit of the season and will also seek out more of Ms. Beverley's books (as soon as I find more time to read again - may it not be a time too far away), as she is an author I had not previously encountered.