Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers, by Margaret C. Sullivan: Cover Reveal & Preview

Jane Austen Cover to Cover, by Margaret Sullivan 2014

I am very pleased to have the ironic honor of officially revealing the cover of a new book about Austen-inspired book covers, Jane Austen: Cover to Cover, by Margaret Sullivan. I think it rather handsome myself. My background in design gives it two big thumbs up to the artist commissioned by Quirk Books and to the author for having the good taste of approving it.

Cover design is a tricky thing that I am quite opinionated about. Over the years there have been many good, bad and down-right ugly Jane Austen book covers and I am so excited to see what Margaret has selected illustrating our favorite author’s novels, nonfiction and more. Here is a brief preview of the book from the publisher and the author.

Congratulations to Margaret.  Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers releases on 11 November, 2014. Pre-orders are available through Quirk Books and many online and brick and mortar booksellers.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: 

Jane Austen’s six novels are true classics, still immensely popular some 200 years after their first publication.

But although the celebrated stories never change, the covers are always different. Jane Austen Cover to Cover compiles two centuries of design, from elegant Victorian hardcovers and the famed 1894 “Peacock” edition to 1950s pulp, movie tie-in editions, graphic novels, foreign-language translations, and many, many others. Filled with beautiful artwork and insightful commentary, this fascinating and visually intriguing collection is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.

FROM THE AUTHOR:

In the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the aspect of Jane Austen’s life as a professional author. There is ample evidence that Austen took a very pragmatic and careful approach to the business of being an author. She sounds like any modern author, complaining about the slowness of the printers and the business practices of her publishers. When Quirk Books approached me to write Jane Austen Cover to Cover, it was probably my interest in this subject that made me want to write it.

The other reason I wanted to write it was the splendid opportunity to snark funny book covers! I’ve been doing that for years on my blog and among friends online and off, and even had a modest collection of Austen novels with amusing covers. There is certainly a representation of silly covers in the book, but as it developed I was really thrilled to find out how many truly beautiful covers and designs I found, particularly from recent years. Designers are doing some great work for our favorite author.

I’ve read and written extensively on Jane Austen’s novels and the time in which they occur, and Jane Austen Cover to Cover is a different look at the novels–the actual production of the objects that we read. It’s a two-century journey from handmade paper and handset type through everything digital, and the lodestar is the novels themselves–those gorgeous, wonderful stories that never change, and are always there to delight us.

GIVEAWAY CHANCE FOR

JANE AUSTEN COVER TO COVER 

Enter a chance to win one of thirty print copies available of Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan offered through goodreads until 01 August 2014. Just follow this link and click on the “enter to win” button to be qualified. shipment to US addresses. Good luck to all!

margaretcsullivan2014x150AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Margaret C. Sullivan is the founder of AustenBlog.com and the author of The Jane Austen Handbook and There Must Be Murder, and contributed the story “Heard of You” to the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Her favorite Austen novel is Persuasion. She Tweets as @mcsullivan and hangs out on Facebook. By day she is a web content coordinator for a large international law firm, and by night attempts to convince the world that Henry Tilney really is the best Austen hero.

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers, by Margaret C. Sullivan
Quirk Books (11 November 2014), 224 pages
eBook: ASIN: B00KEOF6LU
Hardcover: ISBN: 978-1594747250

Cover image courtesy of Quirk Books © 2014; text Margaret C. Sullivan © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow: Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)We are very happy to share the exciting news of the upcoming publication of Shannon Winslow’s next book, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, to be released on August 11, 2014. Those who are familiar with her bestselling The Darcy’s of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn will be thrilled to learn about this new “what if” story focusing on Jane Austen’s personal inspiration to write her final novel, Persuasion. Here is a brief preview and exclusive excerpt to peak your curiosity.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

For every fan who has wished Jane Austen herself might have enjoyed the romance and happy ending she so carefully crafted for all her heroines… 

What if the tale Jane Austen told in her last, most poignant novel was actually inspired by momentous events in her own life? Author Shannon Winslow theorizes that Austen did in fact write Persuasion in homage to her one true love – a sea captain of her own – and that she might also have recorded the details of that romance in a private journal, written alongside the progressing manuscript. In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, Winslow weaves the two together, and we finally hear Jane’s own parallel story of lost love, second chances, and finding her happy ending.

EXCERPT (from Shannon Winslow)

Here is a never-before-seen excerpt of how Jane first met her Captain Devereaux. She was just twenty-two at the time, and the date was December 31, 1797.

“Jane, do allow me to introduce to you a very good friend of mine,” said my cousin Eliza (newly made my sister-in-law) at the breakfast following her wedding to my brother Henry. “This is Captain Philippe Devereaux.”

I looked up and there he was. The second before, I had been laughing and rattling on with someone else – who, I really cannot remember – in a most frivolous fashion. But my chatter died instantly away when I saw the dashing gentleman in naval uniform before me. He was tall, and, as I have now written of Captain Wentworth, a remarkably fine young man. My breath caught in my throat as he reached out his confident hand for mine, and I stood frozen for a moment, unable to do anything more than stare at him.

I had beheld plenty of handsome men before, of course, none of whom had demonstrated any ability to deprive me of my considerable powers of speech. This was different, however; I knew it at once, even before Captain Devereaux opened his mouth. Perhaps it was the soulful way he returned my gaze with those searching, dark eyes of his. Or perhaps I had a certain sense, even then, that my life would be forever changed because of the stranger before me.

The gentleman bowed deeply over my hand. “Enchanted,” he said in a low rumble. I believe I murmured something unintelligible in response, and then Eliza, looking at me archly, got on with the business of making us acquainted.

“Captain Devereaux has been a friend to me – as he was to my first husband – for many years. He did me a great service at the beginning of the Revolution, seeing to it that my son, my mother, and I came safely away from France.” Then, addressing the gentleman, she added, “Dear Jane is by far my most favourite cousin, sir, and it is my considered opinion that two such charming people ought to know one another.” With no more than that, she left us together.

We continued to stare at one another until finally the captain said, “I am very happy to make your acquaintance at last, Miss Austen. In truth, it was all my own idea. So highly has your cousin spoken of you that I insisted on receiving an introduction.”

His English was flawless. His elegant accent, however, although faint, was decidedly French like his name. A French expatriate in the British navy? My quick curiosity demanded satisfaction. But first, I nodded, acknowledging his compliment, and I managed to say, “I am pleased that you did, sir.”

This is when I should by rights have smiled coyly. Here was my opening for trying my powers of flirtation on a new and very appealing subject. Yet I was too much overcome by the strength of the man’s mere presence to attempt it. His nearness made my every nerve come alive. It excited an almost painful mingling of attraction and agitation. Ordinary flirting was out of the question. How could I hope to be clever when I could neither think clearly nor still the violent flutterings inside my breast? Besides, some inner voice told me that this was not a person to be taken lightly.

So instead, I did my best to swallow my discomposure as I said in earnest, “Eliza has the most remarkable friends. I am already intrigued by what she says about you, Captain, that you helped her to escape from France. I can only suppose that there must have been considerable danger involved.”

He dropped his eyes for a moment. “Some, yes, but I would not wish to excite ideas of heroism. It was my own life I was saving as well as hers when we sailed for England.”

This surprising humility impressed me. “I am sure you are too modest,” I said. “May I know more about how it happened?”

A shadow crossed his face. “Oh, no. Reciting my sad history can be of no use on a day meant for celebration. Let us find a more suitable topic. Your cousin has told me that you possess a very keen interest in literature, Miss Austen. Pray tell me, what is the kind of thing you most like to read?”

As disappointed as I was to have been turned aside from the first subject, the second was equally compelling. “All kinds, Captain, or very nearly all. How could I chuse only one food when there is a banquet spread before me?”

One side of his mouth pulled up into a half smile. “That is well expressed, mademoiselle. I myself take my reading pretty equally from biographies, plays, poetry, and the papers. For moral extracts, I like Dr. Johnson. Have you read Dr. Johnson, Miss Austen?”

“I have indeed! He is a great favourite with me as well.”

“Excellent. We have already found one thing we have in common. I very much look forward to discovering many more.”

By this time, my initial unease was fading, nearly done away with by growing exhilaration. Abandoning my last scruple, I plunged ahead. “Then, at the risk of offending you, sir, I will be so bold as to ask you this. Do you admit to reading novels?”

“I do! And furthermore, I am not ashamed of saying so. Although novels may not yet enjoy the respect they deserve, I believe nowhere else is the excellence of the human mind and imagination so well displayed. I have novels to thank for taking me on some very fine adventures – to the far corners of the world as well as to the hidden reaches of the soul.”

I could not trust myself to speak at this, so deeply were my already-excited feelings gratified by the captain’s warm commendation of that art form which meant the world to me. It seemed there could be no better proof of our compatibility.

“You smile, Miss Austen, and yet I cannot judge what you are thinking. Do not leave me in suspense. What do you say to my confession that I esteem the novel?”

I gathered my wits together again. “I could not agree with you more, Captain, I assure you.”

We pursued this happy line for several minutes longer, comparing lists of our preferred novels and discussing in further detail those we had read in common. Nothing could have been more satisfying or more thrilling. It was not that our opinions, Captain Devereaux’s and mine, always coincided; they did not, in truth. But here at last was an attractive gentleman – a very attractive gentleman – with excellent manners, a well-informed mind, and a wealth of intelligent conversation. I had nearly despaired of finding one such; now he stood before me. And, of equal importance, he appeared to be as taken with me as I was with him.

I saw and heard nothing beyond ourselves. For the moment, my world had contracted to that one conversation, and yet it had at the same time immeasurably expanded to encompass all the pleasurable possibilities as to where it might lead…

END OF EXCERPT

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow will be available from Heather Ridge Arts on August 11, 2014 in trade paperback and digital eBook. 

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY

I am also happy to announce that Austenprose.com will be hosting the official online book launch party kicking off the release of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen on Monday, August 11, 2014. The celebration will include a guest blog from the author and fabulous prizes, so please mark your calendar and return for the festivities!!!

Author Shannon Winslow (2013)AUTHOR BIO

Author Shannon Winslow specializes in fiction for fans of Jane Austen. Her popular debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, immediately established her place in the genre, being particularly praised for the author’s authentic Austenesque style and faithfulness to the original characters. For Myself Alone (a stand-alone Austen-inspired story) followed. Then last year Return to Longbourn wrapped up Winslow’s Pride and Prejudice saga, forming a trilogy when added to the original novel and her previous sequel. Now she has given us a “what if” story starring Jane Austen herself. In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, that famous author tells her own tale of lost love, second chances, and finding her happy ending.

Her two sons grown, Ms. Winslow lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mt. Rainier.

Learn more at Shannon’s website/blog (www.shannonwinslow.com). Follow her on Twitter (as JaneAustenSays) and on Facebook.

Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; excerpt Shannon Winslow © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Winner Announced of Two Jane Austen Note Cards

Syrie Notecards. x 200jpg

We have a winner of the two Jane Austen-inspired note cards offered with the excerpt of Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James. Drawn from the comments, our lucky recipient is…

  • Patricia Finnegan who left a comment on July 01, 2014

Congratulations Patricia. Please contact me with your address by July 16, 2014. Shipment to US address.

A big thank you to all who left comments and to author Syrie James for contributing the cards that she purchased at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, England. The sneak peek of her new novel Jane Austen’s First Love was fabulous. I look forward to its release on August 5, 2014 from Berkley Trade.

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY

Be sure to mark your calendars for the official online book launch party on July 28, 2014 for Jane Austen’s First Love right here on Austenprose.com. Syrie will be contributing a blog about her inspiration to write her new novel and will be revealing the back story of Edward Taylor, the dishy young man who the teenage Jane Austen fondly admired.

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2014, text Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com

Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James: Preview, Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )Austenesque and historical fiction readers will be thrilled to learn that bestselling author Syrie James will be releasing her next novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, on August 5th. For those who have had the pleasure of reading her previous two Austen-inspired novels: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, this will be welcome news indeed; and for those new to her writing, be sure to make room on your reading list immediately. You are in for a wonderful treat.

Lauded as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings”, James has a special affinity to my favorite author, Jane Austen. She has studied her life and times extensively and is not only renowned for her historical accuracy, but for her skill at creating romantic stories, fascinating characters and witty dialogue. I am very excited to say that I have had the honor of reading an advance copy of Jane Austen’s First Love and am delighted to share a preview and exclusive excerpt for Austenprose readers.

Be sure to leave a comment to enter the GIVEAWAY chance for two Jane Austen-inspired note cards! 

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS

Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention.

Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY

I am happy to announce that Austenprose.com will be hosting the official online book launch party which kicks off the blog tour for Jane Austen’s First Love on Monday, July 28, 2014. The celebration will include a guest blog from the author and fabulous prizes, so please mark your calendar and return for the festivites!!!

EXCERPT (from Syrie James)

Jane Austen, lively, clever, and fifteen years of age, is traveling with her sister Cassandra and brother Charles from Godmersham to Goodnestone Park in Kent, to attend the festivities celebrating the engagement of her older brother Edward Austen. Their carriage is proceeding down a small incline, when it suddenly pitches to one side and sinks into a muddy rut.

The postillion picked up the reins and spoke sharply to the horses, urging them forward; but although they strained and pulled, the chaise did not move. A few minutes passed thus engaged, with no more promising outlook. I was feeling very discouraged, and wondering how we should ever be liberated from the mire, when I heard the sound of horses approaching.

Through the window of the chaise, I caught sight of two riders coming towards us across the empty fields. As they drew nearer, I became aware of their distinguishing features. They were young men, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age, and from the quality of their clothes, hats, and tall leather boots, and the way they held themselves in the saddle, I knew them to be the sons of gentlemen. The first had a ruddy countenance which, although pleasing, was not regular enough to be called handsome. My full attention, however, was directed at the young man riding beside him, who was so good-looking as to make it difficult to look away.

“Good morning,” said he to the postillion, drawing up beside our disabled carriage. “My cousin and I could not help but see your predicament. I hope no one is injured?”

“They are not, sir,” responded the postillion.

The young man had a long, oval face; dark eyes flashed beneath arched brows; his nose was perfectly straight; his lips were full and well shaped above a determined chin. His complexion was clear and a shade or two darker than my own, suggesting that he had recently spent time in sunnier, foreign climes, or spent a great deal of time out of doors. His hunter green coat and dark brown breeches were so perfectly tailored as to shew off his fine figure to great advantage; and contrary to fashion, he sported no wig or powder; rather his hair, which fell in a haphazard manner to just below his ears, was as sleek and silky as the mane of his magnificent horse, and in precisely the same shade of deep auburn.

Nimbly dismounting, and unheedful of the mud (his tall, sturdy boots giving him some protection), the young man walked around the vehicle, and bent to study the half-submerged wheels. “From what I can determine, the wheels are not broken, but only stuck in this quagmire. I have already sent a servant to fetch two dray-horses. They should be here momentarily, and can pull you out.”

“Why thank ye, Mr. Taylor, sir. We’d be most grateful, for surely otherwise we’ll be stuck here till nightfall and beyond.”

The young man inquired as to wither we were going and who was on board, to which the postillion replied, “I am taking Mr. Knight’s house guests to Goodnestone for a visit, sir. There are two young ladies, sisters as they are, and a lad.”

“Well, let us get them out. Even with our dray-horses, it will be a piece of work to pull this chaise from the mire, and harder still with three people weighing it down.”

Sam pulled down the steps and threw open the chaise door. “You’d best all step down.”

Charles moved dexterously to the opening and hesitated, frowning. I perceived the difficulty: the chaise was positioned at such an angle that the doorway partly faced the sky, and the steps led more to the side than down, complicating one’s descent; moreover, the road was deep in mud.

“I have got you,” said Mr. Taylor; without further ado, he picked up my little brother and carried him to the safety of the road-side.

Cassandra was next.

“Take my hand, miss,” said the postillion.

Mr. Taylor’s as yet nameless companion leapt from his horse and crossed to the carriage’s open door, silently offering his own assistance—an action no doubt prompted, I deduced, by my sister’s beauty.

Both men held out their gloved hands to Cassandra and helped her out, although so awkwardly as to result in her landing in a deep pocket of mud, which engulfed her feet to the ankles.

“Oh!” cried she in dismay, raising her skirts as she was assisted through the mud to the firmer bank immediately adjacent. While Cassandra’s rescuers quietly apologised at the road-side, I attempted to determine my best means of exit; but before I could proceed, Mr. Taylor walked back to the open doorway of the chaise and stopped before me. With an accent and inflection on the final appellation so flawless as to resemble (at least in my imagination) a native Italian speaker, he said, “May I help you down, signorina?”

I froze; I could not avert my gaze; Mr. Taylor’s handsome countenance was but a foot or two from mine, and his arrival, like a knight in shining armour, had been so unexpected, his eyes were so dark and sparkling, and the overall effect was so appealing, that for the space of a breath, I forgot where I was or that any action was required of me.

“Miss? Are you quite well?”

I nodded.

“May I help you descend?”

“Yes.” I cleared my throat. “Thank you.”

“I ought to carry you. Otherwise, you will ruin your shoes, as did your sister.”

“Carry me?” A picture formed in my mind, as I envisioned his proposal: my arms were wrapped around his neck, and my face was against his silken hair, as he swept me into his arms and brought me to the embankment. The notion caused my heart to beat with more rapidity than usual and a warmth to rise to my cheeks. Such familiarity would be most inappropriate. “I think,” replied I quickly, “I had rather climb down myself.”

He looked dubious. “Well then, if you want to avoid the mud, I only see one option. You must climb out past the back wheel and over the rear platform. From there I can jump you down to the bank.”

I stared at him in quiet disbelief. “A daring proposal, sir, and one which I imagine you could execute with ease. But it will be rather difficult to accomplish, wearing a gown.”

“I imagine you can find a way, mademoiselle. But it is up to you, and whether or not you wish to sacrifice your shoes.”

I paused, considering. His suggestion involved some risk, as the vehicle lay at a very marked pitch; but it was admittedly preferable to walking through the mire. Moreover, his tone, and the look on his countenance, seemed to me akin to the throwing of a gauntlet. “Very well. I shall try it.”

“Jane!” cried Cassandra from the embankment where she waited with Charles and the other gentleman. “Do not attempt it. You might fall.”

“I will not fall,” answered I, with more confidence than I truly felt.

Not wanting to soil my new gloves, I removed them and stowed them in my reticule; then, holding up my skirts, I placed my hands on either side of the carriage door, and propelled myself up and out. It was a precarious business; by supporting myself on the large, very muddy wheel, I managed to scramble from the steps onto the rear platform, but so precipitous was it, that I nearly slid off. Throughout my exertion, Mr. Taylor stood close by (I suppose to catch me if required); but with the greatest of efforts I was able to right myself, and from there to jump down as directed, onto the bank into his waiting hands.

I was vaguely sensible of a cheer (from Charles) and applause from Mr. Taylor’s cousin; but these sounds melted away, so overpowered was I by the circumstance in which, for an instant, I found myself. My hands were pressed against the soft wool of Mr. Taylor’s coat, and his large hands were firmly clasping my upper arms as he looked down at me. There was a fluttering in my heart and stomach such as I had never before felt or imagined, and my cheeks burned—from fear or exertion, I knew not which. Did he feel a similar emotion? I could not say; but during the brief interval in which he held me thus, as his dark eyes gazed down into mine, I imagined that they held a look of deep interest which matched my own.

Releasing me, he said, “There. That was not so hard, was it?”

“Not at all,” lied I, relieved that the exercise was completed, that I was safely on the ground, and that there was again some physical distance between us, so that I might regain some semblance of composure. It was ridiculous, a voice in my head cried, to swoon so over a total stranger, no matter how handsome he might be; but at the same time, another inner voice exulted over this unexpected meeting—for was it not exactly the sort of circumstance of which I had been dreaming for many years? These inner musings were instantly terminated when Cassandra, shaking her head, said:

“Thank goodness Mamma was not here to see that.”

Mr. Taylor now turned to her and Charles. “And how are you,Miss? I trust you both have suffered nothing worse in this misadventure than a pair of muddy—” (glancing down at Cassandra’s shoes with mock alarm) “very muddy—slippers?”

“We are quite well, sir. Thank you for stopping to assist us.”

“Yes! Thank you!” cried Charles, regarding our rescuer with undisguised gratitude, wonder, and veneration.

Mr. Taylor only shrugged his shoulders. “It was my duty. You broke down on the road passing my family’s estate. I could not ride by and do nothing. It is just lucky it occurred today, while I happened to be at Bifrons—I am not living here at present, but with my cousins at Ileden, a few miles distant—and a fortnight ago, I would have been out of the country.”

“From whence have you returned?” inquired Cassandra.

“From Italy. My family is still abroad.” He paused then, and with a smile, removed his hat. “Forgive me, here we are chatting away without a proper introduction. It is very awkward—but I trust that the necessity of the case will plead my excuse—it seems we have no choice but to circumvent convention. This fellow here—” (waving his hat towards his companion) “is my cousin Thomas Watkinson Payler, Esquire.”

Mr. Payler bowed, with a particular smile for my sister. “A pleasure to meet you,” said he quietly but elegantly.

With a bow of his own, our rescuer added: “I am Edward Taylor.”

END OF EXCERPT

Be one of the first Janeites to receive Jane Austen’s First Love by pre-ordering it today for week-of-release delivery. Please join us on July 28th for all the book launch festivities.

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (August 5th, 2014), 400 pages
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0425271353
Digital eBook ASIN: B00G3L7VES

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.

 

GIVEAWAY OF JANE AUSTEN NOTE CARDS

Enter a chance to win two beautiful Jane Austen-inspired note cards of scenes from her novels from the Jane Austen House Museum gift shop by leaving a comment about the excerpt from Jane Austen’s First Love before 11:59 pm, Wednesday, July 09, 2014. Winner to be announced on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Shipment to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Syrie Note cards

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

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Belle by Paula Byrne 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Commissioned by the producers of the new movie Belle, acclaimed biographer Paula Byrne aims to reveal the true story behind the main characters in the movie: Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an African slave, and her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is both a companion volume to the popular movie and a time capsule into the turbulent abolition movement in the late eighteenth-century England.

Inspired by the 1779 portrait of Dido and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, screenwriter Misan Sagay has written a compelling story based on facts she first learned of while visiting the 2007, Slavery and Justice Exhibition. Dido and Elizabeth were Lord Mansfield’s wards and raised together at Caen Wood House, now know as  Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath near London. While the screenplay is based on actual facts, it also incorporates a fictional narrative worthy of a seventh Jane Austen novel. In contrast, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is an historical account of the people and times and not a novelization of the movie.

Movies (and novels) based on real people and events always intrigue me, especially those set in my favorite time period, Georgian England. I was aware of the Jane Austen connection to this story from a JASNA Persuasions Online article Ambiguous Cousinship: Mansfield Park and the Mansfield Family, by Christine Kenyon Jones. We know from Austen’s letters that she met Dido’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Finch-Hatton (nee Murray) several times from 1805-1813 while visiting her elder brother Edward in Kent. If Lady Finch-Hatton or Austen’s family revealed the story of the two cousins is uncertain, but she would have known of their guardian Lord Mansfield’s significant 1772 ruling against slavery. There are also many striking similarities beyond her use of Mansfield in the title of her third novel. Was Austen’s heroine Fanny Price inspired by the circumstances of Dido Elizabeth Belle and the strong winds against slavery in the air? Fanny is not black, but she is a slave to the Bertram’s all the same. Janeites will be also pleased to find that Byrne has included an appendix detailing Jane Austen’s Mansfield Connection.

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle, once attributed to Zoffany 1779
Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Belle,
attributed to Johann Zoffany (1779)

Dido’s story begins justly with the inspiration to the movie—the girl in the picture. This is the perfect setup for those (like me) who are fascinated by portraiture during this era. Attributed to Johann Zoffany, who has also been mis-credited for a portrait of a young girl strongly thought to be Jane Austen,the painting is indicative of this time portraying so much more than the subject’s likeness. Through composition, color, light and iconography the artist reveals their sitter’s personality and social status through choice of clothing, position and attitude, objects that they hold or are placed near them, and the landscape that they are situated within. However, this portrait of two young women is significant beyond its subject’s beauty, or its artistic merits; it displays two finely dressed young women, one white and one black, positioned as equals. This mixed-race pairing, when African people where considered inferior and presumed to be slaves because of the color of their skin, would have been shocking to eighteenth-century society. The fact that Lord Mansfield commissioned the portrait of his two nieces together is a testament to his beliefs and his underlying commitment to aid, through his rulings on British law, the abolition of slavery. That is the axis of the movie and this book.

Captain Sir John Lindsay, by Alan Ramsay 1768

Captain, Sir John Lindsay, by Alan Ramsay 1768

In subsequent chapters Byrne continues to reveal what is known of Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788), a captain in the Royal Navy and later Rear Admiral of the Red, and her mother Maria Belle, his prisoner after capturing a Spanish ship bound for the West Indies. Chapters continue on William Murray, the most distinguished and powerful lawyer of his day, sugar plantations in the English colonies, Liverpool as a hub of import and despair, the anti-slavery movement, Murray and the Zong massacre, and the eventual marriage of Dido and her death.

William Murray. 1st Earl of Mansfield

The Right Honourable, William Murray. 1st Earl of Mansfield

In 1772, William Murray, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench ruled that no slave could be taken from England or Wales under force, saying: “The state of slavery is of such a nature and so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it”. This judgement was a crucial early step towards the international abolition of slavery.

While much is known about Britain’s slave trade economy during this time, and Murray’s legal decisions that helped to abolish slavery, history reveals only basic information about our main subject, Dido Elizabeth Belle. She was after all, not a public figure, but a mixed race woman during a time of great prejudice and persecution who was educated to be a lady, yet was not welcome in that social sphere. Her personal story had been forgotten with time—even by the Murray family who still own the portrait. Until the 1980′s, they assumed that the young black woman next to their kinswoman Lady Elizabeth Murray was her servant. Bell: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice thoughtfully reveals how Dido’s story is both emotionally moving and historically significance.

Caen Wood House. later known as Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, near London
Caen Wood House, Hampstead Heath, residence of Lord Mansfield
later known as Kenwood House

Byrne’s research and writing was as enjoyable as her approach to The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. She has the ability to mine gold from dry facts and spin them into a bewitching web for the modern reader. While the historical details about the slave trade and the abolition movement were very interesting, there is very little detail about the main subject, Dido Elizabeth Belle. No letters, no diaries or family recollections of Dido survive. Only historical documentation: her christening, her marriage, her inheritances and her death. At first I felt deceived by the title and cover. Was this really her story? No, in all honestly, it is not. But on deeper reflection, the fictionalized movie gave me what I craved: the personal drama, romance and moving character arc. In this instance it is her portrait, the people and history surrounding her that tell us the story of a young woman who changed the outcome of slavery by just being herself.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne
Harper Perennial (2014)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0062310774

Cover image courtesy of Harper Perennial © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

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