Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid – A Review

Northanger Abbey Austen Project Val McDermid 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790’s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century.

Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where Cat “is in her element, seeing potential for terror and adventure around every twist and turn of the narrow streets.”

Introduced to theater, art and books, and thanks to fashionista Mrs. Allen, Cat soon acquires a new wardrobe and dancing lessons where she partners with a charming and witty young attorney, Henry Tilney. After researching Henry on Facebook and Google she discovers that his father is the much-decorated general who made his name in the Falkland’s war before she was born. Even more interesting to Cat’s Gothic infused imagination, he owns Northanger Abbey, a medieval Borders abbey in Scotland. Cat also meets Mrs. Allen’s long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three daughters, one of which is just Cat’s age. Bella, who recognizes the Morland last name, knows Cat’s elder brother Jamie who is attending Oxford with her brother Johnny. Before long they were “gossiping about the things that entertain young women of a certain age and type,” and becoming bff’s.

Blowhard Johnny Thorpe arrives in his racy red sports car with friend James Morland in tow. He attempts to court Cat but all she can think of is Henry and his sister Ellie. When Cat attends a céilidh, she anticipates dancing the Highland fling and hopes to encounter Henry Tilney again, who will surely save her from the unwanted attentions of crude Johnny Thorpe. As she and Bella scout the room they notice a beautiful, pale young woman dressed all in white:

“Who on earth was that?” Bella asked, “She acts like she’s in Pride and Prejudice.”

“That’s Henry Tilney’s sister Ellie.” Cat stared after the disappearing figure. There was something about Ellie, something out of time and out of style, like there would be if you were a two-hundred-year old vampire, she thought with a mixture of dread and delight.”

The story continues, mirroring the text of Northanger Abbey page for page, and scene for scene. Cat travels to Northanger Abbey as guest of the Tilney’s and the story turns Gothic and mysterious – just as Austen had devised.

McDermid made clever, creative and sensible choices in modernizing Northanger Abbey by moving the action from England to Scotland. The Edinburgh Festival easily replaces eighteenth century Georgian Bath allowing for a social hub similar in context: theater, shopping and country dancing. Later, we are treated to a really creepy medieval setting for a Scottish castle/Northanger Abbey. Cat is appropriately addicted to modern Gothic novels rivaling the famous Northanger Canon: Herbridean Harpies, Ghasts of Ghia and even Pride a Prejudice and Zombies! McDermid builds the vampire theme slowly, allowing Henry and Ellie to be pale in complexion, anachronistic in demeanor and just mysterious enough to trigger Cat’s imagination. Her characterizations are spot on: Henry is droll and swoon-worthy as ever, Cat a bit air-headed and impressionable, Bella a slick piece of work, and General Tilney deceptive and tyrannical.

The plot plays out as one would expect, and if you had not read Northanger Abbey before you would not notice that the author has really created a complete translation, scene for scene, and sometimes word for word—a No Fear Shakespeare version of Northanger Abbey. While I admired McDermid’s creative choices to bring the story into the modern world (cell phones, Facebook, language and culture), I was immediately puzzled by her choice of narrative style. This novel is really a retelling instead of the reimagining that it was advertised as. The downside of a translation is in its creative limitations, resulting in McDermid’s sentences being affected and unnatural. I just wanted her to break out of the stranglehold she had placed on herself and use the plot and characterization as a spring board, and not a noose. Limiting herself in this manner may have been her way of honoring Austen, but I think she has done a great disservice to her own writing. Having not read any of her acclaimed crime novels I have no idea of her real talent. I believe that Austen herself, who honed her craft so precisely, would be baffled at one author lessening their gifts at the expense of another.

Like the reaction to Joanna Trollope’s contemporary reimaging of Sense and Sensibility published last year, whenever you fiddle with the classics there are bound to be those who are open to the concept and those completely closed off. I read this novel in anticipation of enjoying it. In hindsight, I do not think that it was written for an Austen fan familiar with the original, but for the uninitiated who may view it in a completely different light.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid
Grove Press (2014)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0802123015

Cover image courtesy of Grove Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd – A Review

Jane Austen Her Life Her Times and Her Novels by Janet Todd 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

One of my greatest discoveries while touring Jane Austen’s England last year was on our first day in London. Our group was at The British Library to see Jane Austen’s writing desk (awe inspiring) and of course we hit the library gift shop on our way out. We were delighted to find a whole table display featuring books by and about Jane Austen. Dead center was the striking purple cover of a large, over-sized book that I did not recognize entitled, Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels. It had just been released in the UK in honor of the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice. On first impression it appeared, by its size and design, to be one of those glitzy oversized gift books that had pull out facsimiles of letters and documents along with big glossy images – a trophy book that you might place on your coffee table as a display piece or give as a gift to friend that you were trying to convert into a Janeite. When I noticed that the author was the celebrated Austen scholar Janet Todd, my first impressions changed immediately.

Weighing in at 2.7 pounds and sizing up at 11 X 10 inches, this full feature Jane Austen experience packs a wallop – a giant adrenalin rush for any fan or neophyte. Not only is the book beautifully bound and designed, it seeks to dispel any speculation and myth about the author’s life and works. The text has been laid out logically within twenty-two chapters covering biographical material, her early writing, published and unpublished works, history in context to her life and writing, and concludes with her legacy entitled, The Cult of Austen. Drawing on previously unseen documents from The British Library and the archives of The Bridgeman Art Library, Todd offers sixteen facsimile copies of Austen’s handwritten letters, manuscripts and notes, period maps and illustrations, and a frontis piece from the 1833 Pride and Prejudice. Her brilliant introduction will draw you into Austen’s Georgian world and the handy index in the back allows for quick reference to facts and details.

Jane Austen Her Life Her Times Her Novels

Stylish, expertly crafted, and surprisingly illuminating to this long-time Austen fan, Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels is just superb. You will consume this book like the richly flavored and decadent confection that it is. It now holds pride of place in my extensive Austen library and will be on the top of my list as a gift book to friends. And, as a word of extreme warning, there is a pirated copy of this book for sale on eBay which includes Todd’s text and lists Deirdre Le Faye as the author. Please do not support these thieves by purchasing it.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd
Carlton Books (2013)
Hardcover (112) pages
ISBN: 978-0233003702

Cover image courtesy of Carlton Books © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley (2013)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Traditional Regency Romance has had its ebb and flow in popularity over the years. This subgenre of romance novels was made famous by English writer Georgette Heyer with its roots deeply entwined in Jane Austen’s novels of manners and courtship. By 2005, trends were shifting and readers preferred the freedom of the Regency Historical which allowed more intimate relationships and daring plots. In the past few years I have seen resurgence in popularity of the Traditional Regency Romance and credit authors Candice Hern, Carla Kelly, Julie Klassen, Julianne Donaldson and Sarah M. Eden for its renaissance. Now, I am very pleased to add one more author to my list of favorites, Christina Dudley.

I first became aware of Dudley’s talent when I read The Beresfords, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. She had successfully transformed Austen’s dark horse into an interesting and thoughtful contemporary novel receiving such accolades as “brilliant,” “masterful,” and “endearing” from reviewers. Truly amazing. Imagine my delight when I discovered that her next novel, The Naturalist, would be a Traditional Regency, and, it was the first book in a series!

While many modern Regencies revolve around the Ton (London Society) and aristocrats, The Naturalist is set in the wilds of Somerset among the landed gentry, harkening to Austen’s fondness for three or four families in a country village. Joseph Tierney, a budding naturalist, has arrived at Pattergees the estate of Lord Marton on assignment with the Royal Society to conduct an exhaustive natural study of the realm. Lady Marlton and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Birdlow, are more interested in studying HIM and soon realize that the neighboring families will think Mr. Tierney is “the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” They immediately set about discrediting the competition including neighbors Elfrida and Alice Hapgood. Mr. Tierney, who has no designs upon marrying anyone, only wishes to find an assistant to help him discover and collect the local flora and fauna.

Alice Hapgood, also a budding naturalist, is hiding her passion for the out-of-doors from her disapproving father by disguise and stealth. When shortly after his arrival Mr. Tierney encounters a local lad poaching trout on Lord Marlton’s property, he is none the wiser, thinking he/she would make the perfect assistant for his project. Alice immediately thinks he would make the perfect husband! Spinning the persona of Arthur Baddely she deftly shows Mr. Tierney all the treasures of woodland and meadow while learning all she can from him. Their friendship soon grows until a cousin of the Birdlows publically exposes her as an imposter, scandalizing the community and forcing Mr. Tierney’s hand. As a gentleman he is honor bound to save her reputation by marrying her even though it means putting aside his dream of become a naturalist. To support a wife he must return to his family in Buckinghamshire and become a clergyman, the profession and living that he previously refused. Ashamed and humiliated, Alice does not want to be forced into marrying anyone, especially the man she loves.

A literary feast for any Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fan, The Naturalist is a wonderful escape into the verdant countryside and the lives of two young lovers of nature who learn that truth and respect are the most important foundations of any relationship. The final outcome of their romance is never in question, but their winding path of discovery for science, and their hearts, is a memorable journey. Dudley’s plot was so reverent to the Traditional Regency genre filled with original, quirky characters, witty repartee, layered secrets, blundering misunderstandings, and laugh-out-loud humor. I just cringed as heroine Alice dug herself deeper and deeper into her deception of lies to impersonate Arthur. You just knew it was going to backfire on her at some point, and when it does, the reaction of the two main characters, their families and the community was not a surprise, but how Dudley worked both of their inner struggles and points of view around to the happy conclusion was very clever.

My only quibbles are totally selfish. I saw a resemblance of the Hapgood family, with their four daughters and no male heir, to the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. Why no fifth sister? Maybe we will meet a pedantic Hapgood cousin in the future? I also craved more time with the hero and heroine as themselves, and also as Tierney and Baddely. The contrast of their personalities together in the ballroom or in a woodland forest was well crafted and worthy of further development.

If you read one Traditional Regency this year let it be The Naturalist – and save a place on your to-be-read list for the next in the series, A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, releasing this spring.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2013)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072133

Additional Reviews: 

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review & Rant

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on the release of two film adaptations of Emma staring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, Tennant’s UK publisher chose to move up the publication date to stymie its competitor, Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington. That might seem like good business (or mercenary tactics by some), but that was not the real controversy. Tennant had chosen to include a romantic relationship between the married Emma Knightley and a new female character, Baroness Elisa d’Almane. Her reasoning for this provocative choice? Why, historical precedence by scholars of course! When interviewed in 1996 Tennant boldly stated, “I am not taking any liberties. Emma is known as the lesbian book in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. It has strong lesbian overtones and undertones. In the original, Emma absolutely adores Harriet Smith, her protégé and spends a lot of time with her. There’s a passage where she describes how Harriet’s soft blue eyes are just the type of eyes that Emma loves. I am not the first to draw out her lesbianism. Serious academics have found many clues to it in Emma.” 1.

Perfect Happiness by Rachel Billington 1996 x 150I am not an Austen scholar, nor had I picked up on the hidden subtext that some have discovered in female relationships in Emma, but I was curious if Tennant’s claims were based on a real academic debate. The amiable Austen scholar Devoney Looser kindly answered my inquiry with a list of several essays on the subject and offered this comment, “Discussing lesbianism in Emma has a longer history than we might assume, as many scholars have pointed out. Sixty years ago Edmund Wilson and Marvin Mudrick remarked directly on Emma’s same-sex attractions, though in a generally unsupportive way. 2. Wilson’s essay suggests that if the novel were continued, the married Emma would continue to indulge in infatuations with women.”

We don’t know which essays Tennant read, but she obviously ran with this notion and incorporated it into her novel. Even if the premise is founded on scholarly research, the question in my mind was how far a sequalist can stray in continuing Austen’s characterizations, and would the reading public of 2014 accept it?

With nine 1 star reviews on Amazon since 1999, it appeared that the forewarning I had received was not unwarranted. Trying not to be a partial and prejudiced reader I downloaded the new digital edition onto my NOOK and settled in for a weekend in Highbury with an author who might rival Austen’s heroine as the ultimate imaginist.Dorian Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

Doran Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

The Plot:

It has been four years since Miss Emma Woodhouse and Mr. George Knightley were united in matrimony. They are in residence at Donwell Abbey, the large Knightley estate that borders Hartfield, Emma’s childhood home and residence for two years after her marriage until the death of her father, dear Mr. Woodhouse. Emma’s elder sister Isabella has also met her maker after catching a fever in London (just as Mr. Woodhouse predicted) leaving five young children and husband John Knightley in deep grief. Jane Fairfax is working as a governess to August Elton’s friend Mrs. Smallridge after her feckless fiancé Frank Churchill jilted her at the altar for a northern heiress with £50,000. It is July and the charms of the Surrey countryside have drawn the two former lovers back to Highbury; unbeknownst to each other until their arrival. Frank Churchill is staying with his father Mr. Weston and his wife at Randalls, and Jane Fairfax, obliged to travel with her employer, is staying at the Parsonage with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Both have brought a mysterious guest with them: Frank’s brother-in-law Captain Brocklehurst, and Jane’s friend, the exiled French Baroness d’Almane.

Two beautiful strangers have come to Highbury in one day! Remarkable as this is to Emma, she only sees the marriage possibilities for the single people around her and reneges on her promise to her husband never to match make again. Determined that Jane should marry her widowed brother-in-law John Knightley, she devises a dinner party at Donwell to bring them together. While walking to Hartfield to visit him and his children, she meets the very handsome Captain Brocklehurst who confides that Frank Churchill is devastated by the fate of Miss Fairfax and still in love with her. Astounded, Emma is also anxious to meet the other new visitor in Highbury and travels to the Parsonage to extend an invitation to the Baroness, Jane, the Elton’s and Mrs. Smallridge to her soiree. On the path she encounters Frank Churchill picking wildflowers in the hot sun. He entreats her to deliver them to Jane. Emma begs off and is concerned by his emotional behavior. At the Parsonage, Mrs. Elton introduces Emma to the beautiful and beguiling Baroness. She is mesmerized by her charms and annoyed by her lingering touches and loving gazes at Jane Fairfax. Feeling a pang of jealousy, Emma wonders if they are more than friends? Conflicted, Emma feels compelled to warn Jane and learn all she can about this intriguing creature.

Gwynth Paltrow in Emma (1996) x 350

Gwynth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

My Review:

Told in Austen’s inventive third person narrative style, Emma in Love reunites us with many of the Highbury characters we adore: Miss and Mrs. Bates, Harriet Martin, Mr. & Mrs. Weston, Mr. & Mrs. Elton, brothers John and George Knightley and the nonsensical girl herself, the clever, rich and handsome Emma Knightley. That is where any similarity to Austen’s tale ends.

Heavy on exposition and light on dialogue, the story begins well enough with a curious setup and conflicts, but soon lacks a balance of show and tell—and logic. To compensate, Tennant pulls in links from Austen’s original novel to tie the two together with generous abandon: Frank mends Mrs. Bates glasses again; John Knightley threatens with warnings of bad weather; Mr. Woodhouse’s worrisome predictions come to pass even from the grave; and many more. Some readers might enjoy these ah-ha moments, but after three or four they became intrusive heavy-lifting to me. Tennant continues to channel Jane Austen’s characters steadily until they go off in directions that Austen would never have broached head on: same sex relationships.

Things are definitely not as they should be in Highbury. Tennant’s Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage is very odd. They are indeed “brother and sister” – platonic and unromantic. He treats her like an errant school girl while engrossed in estate business and sleeps in his own room with his landscapes. Immature and insecure, Emma clings to the advice of neighbors Harriet Martin and Mrs. Weston before every move. Even dimwitted Harriet can see the writing on the wall. “Mr. Knightley was no more – and no less – than a father to her in reality.” 53 Mesmerized by the exotic and bewitching Baroness, Emma recognizes her intimate gestures to Jane Fairfax? My first reaction was a question. How would a Regency era woman raised in a sheltered country village, who has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old (according to Tennant), know about, let alone detect, same sex relationships? According to my esteemed Janeite friend Diana Birchall, who I hounded over this issue (and other annoyances about the book), “… mention of such things certainly wouldn’t have been bandied about among gentlefolk, as they are today. Certainly Jane Austen knew about homosexuality, her joking proves that, but it wouldn’t have been a topic for polite conversation among the middle class. Probably much more so among the aristocracy – you’d think Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her set would know all about it. Fanny Hill and other such books certainly showed female/female action, but Fanny Hill et al would NOT have been in the library of the Rev. George Austen, or in the lending-libraries Jane Austen frequented!” This only confirmed my astonishment. Tennant was beginning on very shaky ground. I didn’t believe her premise for one moment.

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Spoilers:

After Emma meets the Baroness and becomes passionately infatuated with her, she is witness to many eye-popping events in Highbury: Captain Brocklehurst in drag, Miss Bates suddenly and uncontrollably issuing expletives during a dinner party (Tourette’s?), the Baroness passionately kissing her in her bedroom, and Frank and Captain Brocklehurst engaged in a love that shall not be named. It was all so far-fetched and sensational that it just smacked of exploitation of Austen’s characters for pure monetary gain.

Had enough yet? Well, there is more. To wrap up the novel in a slapdash fashion, Tennant ends with a boating party where Emma witnesses the estranged Baroness, Mrs. Weston and her husband Mr. Knightley conversing on an island in the center of the lake while the narrator conjectures that the fake Baroness is the secret love child of Miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston) and Mr. Knightley. WHAT? As I shut off my NOOK in a defiant gesture of disgust I remembered, in ironic Austenian fashion, that it had been bantered about by Austen scholars that Jane Fairfax was the secret love child of Miss Bates and Mr. Knightley and Tennant had not only got the sexual subtext all wrong, she had the incorrect lovers as well! HA!

Emma (2009)

Romola Garia as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (2009)

My Rant: 

Reading Emma in Love brought up more questions than it answered for me. I was continually puzzled. So much so, that I sought the help of others to understand it. Why did Tennant write it? Who was she trying to appeal to? Was it written as a joke or was she truly attempting to promote the notion that Emma is a lesbian novel? Is it the book that she set out to write, or an abbreviated version because it was rushed to press? Only Tennant can answer these questions. Maybe one day she will be interviewed and reveal the answers. In the meantime we are left up a tree.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (2008)Was Emma in Love truly the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written? Quite possibly, at least by a professional, award winning novelist. (Colleen McCullough’s The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet comes in at a close second.) It failed not only because it did not present the same sex love relationship in any believable way, but it relied on sensational social issues as its axis that Austen would never have written about directly. It lacked “honour, decorum, prudence — nay, interest” as Lady Catherine would say. Yes interest. I was just annoyed and bored.

Let this novel serve as a warning to all who take up their pen to channel Jane Austen. Sensationalism may sell a few books and feed the circus animals in the press, but writing a pure bravado piece like Tennant’s Emma in Love will not earn you the respect of your readers, nor will it ingratiate you to the academics you may have wanted to please. If you do choose this route, be comforted in the fact that you will never have to meet the original author in heaven, because you will surely be in a place far below where they do not serve ice in their cocktails.

1 out of 5 Regency Stars

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant
Fourth Estate (1996)
Trade paperback (229) pages
ISBN: 978-1857026634)

1. Nigel Reynolds, Emma Sequels & Allusions: Perfect Happiness – How Jane Austen’s Emma Became a Lesbian, The Telegraph, 1996

2. Edmund Wilson, Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1950), 201-2.

Cover image courtesy of Fourth Estate © 1996; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Hot off the Presses!! ~ Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, No. 68

Laurel Ann (Austenprose):

The new issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World is “out”!

Originally posted on Jane Austen in Vermont:

JARW68-cover

New issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World!

The March/April 2014 issue [No. 68] of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine is now published and will be mailed to subscribers this week.  In it you can read about:

  • William Beckford, the remarkable author and architect who led a somewhat sordid life
  • Joanna Trollope on her rewriting of Sense & Sensibility for HarperCollins’s Austen Project
  • Mary Russell Mitford, the writer who sought to emulate Jane Austen
  • How Jane Austen supported her fellow writers by subscribing to their books
  • The story of Julie Klassen, marketing assistant turned best-selling Regency romance novelist

 ***********

Plus: News, Letters, Book Reviews and information from Jane Austen Societies in the US and the UK.

And: Test your knowledge with our exclusive Jane Austen quiz, and read about the shocking behaviour of our latest Regency Rogue

You should subscribe! Make sure that you are…

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Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame – A Review

Havisham A Novel by Ronald Frame 2013 x 200Dear Mr. Frame:

I recently read Havisham, your prequel and retelling of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, one of my favorite Victorian novels. Your choice to expand the back story of minor character Miss Havisham, the most infamous misandry in literary history, was brilliant. Jilted at the altar she was humiliated and heartbroken, living the rest of her days in her tattered white wedding dress in the decaying family mansion, Satis House. Few female characters have left such a chilling impression on me. I was eager to discover your interpretation of how her early life formed her personality and set those tragic events into motion.

Dickens gave you a fabulous character to work with. (spoilers ahead) Born in Kent in the late eighteenth-century, Catherine’s mother died in childbirth leaving her father, a wealthy brewer, to dote upon his only child. Using his money to move her up the social ladder she is educated with aristocrats where she learns about literature, art, languages and the first disappointments of love. In London she meets and is wooed by the charismatic Charles Compeyson. Family secrets surface in the form of her dissipated half-brother Arthur, the child of a hidden marriage of her father to their cook. Her ailing father knows his son has no interest in his prospering business and trains his clever young daughter. After his death, the inevitable clash occurs between the siblings over money and power. Challenged as a young woman running a business in a man’s world, Catherine struggles until Charles reappears charming his way into her service and her heart. About two thirds of the way through the novel the events of Great Expectations surface. Charles abandons her on their wedding day and she sinks into depression.

I knew that the devastating jilting at the altar was coming! We all did. When it happened, I was anticipating a full-blown emotional Armageddon—like Jane Austen’s heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility: bed-ridden crying jags, desperate letter writing to her lover, senseless walking in the rain, near-death illness, and miraculous survival. Some of that happened in Havisham, but not to the degree I anticipated. After all, we knew that Dickens’ Miss Havisham had taken this jilting business far beyond the depths of disappointed hopes that Marianne had plumbed. But why? Why did she choose not to move on—holding on to her anger and rage, becoming bitter and vengeful? It had to be something so startling that it would jar me to my core. I won’t reveal your choices, but when her tepid romance with Charles Compeyson and her reaction to his spurning were not what I expected, I was greatly disappointed. Readers had been waiting 150 years to know the story. Granted it was not Dickens’ narrative, but it could be the next best thing. You had gotten us to this point so admirably that I was inclined to close your book with an angry snap. If I had a white wedding dress, I would be wearing it right now in protest. You have jilted me at the altar of literature.

Do I regret reading your novel? No. Your prose was beautifully crafted and your characterizations entertaining. Would I like to give you some unsolicited advice on being brave enough to take your own narrative over the edge? Yes! After reading numerous Jane Austen-inspired sequels, you can’t play with classic archetypes and then not deliver the goods. While your plot slowly picked up momentum you missed the point. Catherine’s romance with Charles should have been the most compelling relationship in book, yet I was constantly on guard by his questionable behavior and never liked him, let alone loved him. I never understood why she did. That desperate passion between them should have consumed the pages, like Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff, making his final choice so shocking, so devastating, so heartbreaking, that we understood why she locked herself away from the world and enacted revenge on Pip through her daughter Estella. So close, yet miles away from the masters of human emotion, Dickens, Bronte and Austen. They would never have made that mistake.

I commend you for your attempt. It is a very tall order to write a prequel of a literary icon. Everyone who has read Great Expectations has their own great expectations for Miss Havisham. Your book exhibits many fine qualities, unfortunately your choices lacked the fire, passion, and emotional depth required to make her psychological tragedy the literary jackpot that we have been waiting for.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars     

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame
Picador (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250037275

Cover image courtesy of Picador (Macmillan Publishing) © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress, © 2014, Austenprose.com

Giveaway Winners Announced for The Harrison Duet

The Harrison Duet, by Syrie James (2014)It’s time to announce the 3 winners of The Harrison Duet, giveaway. The lucky winners drawn at random are:

One digital copy of The Harrison Duet

  • Diane who left a message on Feb 12, 2014

One Muslin Book Bag

  • Schilds who left a comment on Feb 17, 2014

Two Jane Austen Note Cards

  • Donna Holmberg who left a comment on Feb 14, 2014

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by February 27, 2014 or you will forfeit your prize! Mail shipment to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to author Syrie James for her guest blog and great giveaways.

Cover image courtesy of Syrie James © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

A Romantic Valentine’s Day Celebration with Author Syrie James: The Harrison Duet & Giveaways

syrie valentines banner

Please help me welcome multi-talented author Syrie James. In addition to her best-selling The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie has written eight critically acclaimed novels in the historical fiction, romance, young adult, and paranormal genres. Renowned for her spirited heroines, swoon-worthy heroes and romantic plots, who better to chat with us during Valentine’s week, a time when cupid’s arrow is so acute! Her latest release is The Harrison Duet, a combination of two full-length contemporary romance novels which includes: Songbird and Propositions. Originally published years before Fifty Shades of Grey changed the way we think about love affairs, you will be intrigued by their similarities and mesmerized by the Harrison siblings who each find an unexpected love. Two sexy romances in one steamy volume! 

Syrie has kindly shared a brief introduction to this new edition and offered a giveaway chance for three prizes: one digital copy of The Harrison Duet, two note cards from the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton and one book bag resplendent with all the covers of her books to three lucky winners. The Contest details are listed below. 

Welcome Syrie:

It’s February, the month of romance! To help you celebrate in style, I’ve combined two of my most romantic novels, Songbird and Propositions, into a single volume at a special introductory price. I’m thrilled to say that Christina Boyd of Austenprose gave each of the books in The Harrison Duet a five star rating, and said they kept her “turning pages well into the wee hours of the morning.” The Harrison Duet is available now for download in eReader editions (promo price ends Feb. 26) and the print edition will soon follow. As a bonus, the book also includes my short story, “Jane Austen’s Nightmare.”

The Harrison Duet by Syrie James 2014 x 200These are very personal love stories. In looking over all the books I’ve written, I find that an immediate attraction between lovers and a whirlwind courtship is a recurring theme—and here’s why! From my great-grandparents to my parents to my own relationship with my husband, my family has many examples of couples who met, fell in love, and married within a matter of weeks—or months—all marriages which have stood the test of time and have been very happy.

The lovers in The Harrison Duet are similarly overwhelmed by a powerful romance. Both novels feature strong, intelligent, accomplished heroines who meet men who are every bit their equals, and who discover a love so deep and profound, it forces them to rethink their futures and the very meaning of romance.

In Songbird, when Southern California radio deejay Desiree Germain hosts a contest on the air, she is immediately taken by the voice of caller number twelve, Kyle Harrison, a handsome, wealthy entrepreneur from Seattle. They embark on a passionate love affair that plays havoc with the life Desiree has struggled so hard to control. It might take a Maserati, dozens of red roses, and a lot of airplane tickets…but can Kyle convince Desiree to risk her heart and her career for love?

“I loved it! A beautifully written, almost lyrically told story about two people overcoming their fears and the profound love they share.” —The Book Hookup

“Provocative, sultry romance! Songbird hits all the right notes…Syrie James’s realistic characterization of two strong personalities kept me turning pages well into the wee hours of the morning.” —Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Read an excerpt from Songbird here.

Hearts from SyrieIn book two in The Harrison Duet, Propositions, freelance advertising artist Kelli Ann Harrison can’t resist teaming up with ingenious Grant Pembroke to create an ad campaign for a casino account in beautiful Lake Tahoe. But a high-voltage charge sizzles between them from the start. They make a wonderful creative team—but can business and pleasure mix? If Kelli and Grant play their cards right, can a whirlwind love affair last forever?

 “I loved, loved, loved this perfectly crafted, lush love story…This poignant, steamy romance will have you believing there can be love at first sight. 5 stars!” —Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Read an excerpt from Propositions here.

I hope The Harrison Duet will touch your heart and make you believe in love at first sight!

BONUS MATERIAL: “JANE AUSTEN’S NIGHTMARE” 

This short story, originally published in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, is a first person narrative by Austen herself, in which she unexpectedly meets some of her own characters—many of whom have a few choice words for her about how she portrayed them.

“A clever story which asks the question, what would happen if Jane Austen met her literary creations?…This story just proves why Syrie James is one of my favorite authors.” —For the Love of Austen

“It is only fitting that the collection begins with the woman who started my journey onward into the world of Jane Austen and subsequent retellings and inspired novels, Syrie James with ‘Jane Austen’s Nightmare.’… The short story personifies every writer’s nightmare – that the characters will not like how they have been drawn and will seek justice. From characters perceived as too perfect to those with a great number of flaws, Austen meets them all in her nightmare set in Bath.” — Savvy Verse and Wit 

Win an ARC of JANE AUSTEN’S FIRST LOVE!

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )

Post a review of The Harrison Duet, Songbird or Propositions on Amazon.combn.com or Goodreads, email the link(s) to authorsyriejames@gmail.com, and you’ll be entered into a contest to win one of several free advance copies of Syrie’s next book, Jane Austen’s First Love, due out August 5, 2014! For every review posted you will receive an additional chance to win! Reviews must be posted by April 15, 2014.

A GRAND GIVEAWAY 

Enter a chance to win one of three prizes being offered:

  1. A digital copy of The Harrison Duet, by Syrie James
  2. A muslin book bag featuring images of all of the covers of Syrie’s books
  3. Two Jane Austen-inspired note cards from the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton, England

Syrie book bag Syrie Note cards

To qualify for the giveaway, just leave a comment stating which one of Syrie’s books is your favorite and why, or what intrigues you about reading The Harrison Duet, by 11:59, February 20, 2014 PT. The winners will be drawn at random and announced on Friday, February 21, 2014. Shipment to US addresses only.

Author Syrie James (2012 )Author Bio:

Syrie James is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Forbidden, Nocturne, Songbird, and Propositions. Her next novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, is due out from Berkeley on August 5, 2014. Follow Syrie on twitter, visit her on facebook, and learn more about her and her books at syriejames.com.

The Harrison Duet, by Syrie James
Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (2014)
Digital eBook
ASIN: B00IDER454

Further Reading:

Cover image courtesy of Amazon Digital Servies, Inc. © 2014; text Syrie James © 2014, Austenprose.com