Shamela (Naxos AudioBooks) , by Henry Fielding, read by Clare Corbett  – A Review

Shamela, by Henry Fielding Naxos AudioBooks (2013)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

“In my last [letter] I left off at our sitting down to Supper on our Wedding Night, where I behaved with as much Bashfulness as the purest Virgin in the World could have done. The most difficult Task for me was to blush; however, by holding my Breath, and squeezing my Cheeks with my Handkerchief, I did pretty well” (297).

Reading Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded, as I recounted in my previous review of it, is not for the faint of heart; but I am happy to say that it was all made worthwhile just this past week as I listened to a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Henry Fielding’s masterful parody fittingly entitled Shamela. Many know Fielding for Tom Jones, but his satirical powers are at full and outrageous height in Shamela. In a quarter of the number of pages found in the original story, Fielding highlights and lampoons all of Richardson’s characteristic tropes, transforming Miss Pamela Andrews from a paragon of female virtue into an archetypical scheming hussy. The great irony is that, as shamefully vicious as Shamela maybe, she is a great deal more fun to listen to than her saintly prototype.

Central to Richardson’s sentimental plot was Pamela’s virtue. By virtue, readers must understand two things: her honesty and her virginity. Understandably, Pamela insists on protecting these, since they are her only means for attracting a worthy and, hopefully, wealthy suitor. Because these two meanings of virtue are at the heart of the conflict in Pamela, Fielding places them squarely at the heart of his comedic retelling. Shamela, as her name implies, is anything but honest. In her letters to her mother, she makes it plain that her every action toward Squire Booby (Mr. B’s new name) is aimed at provoking the young man’s sexual passion as a means to coerce him into marriage. Accordingly, her protestations against that gentleman’s sexual advances, while they mirror Pamela’s, are all pretense. She would like nothing better than for her employer to seduce her, but not before she secures a share of his fortune for herself. As she tells Mrs. Jervis: “…Fellows have often taken away in the Morning, what they gave over Night. No, Mrs. Jervis, nothing under a regular taking into Keeping, a settled Settlement, for me, and all my Heirs, all my whole Liftetime, shall do the Business–or else crosslegged, is the Word…” (283). Of course, as the quote with which I opened this review indicates, Shamela is no virgin anyway!

As you might have guessed, Pamela is not the only character whose personality Fielding changes for comedic effect–all the major characters are the opposite of their originals. Mr. B is a fool, Mr. Williams is a lascivious skamp, Mrs. Jervis is a coconspirator, and, best of all, Pamela’s parents are low-class trash. Indeed, while the original Pamela’s father writes ad nauseum to his daughter about her Christian duty, Shamela’s father is serving time in prison. And Shamela’s mother is little better. Readers are told she “sold Oranges in the Play-House,” a not so subtle way to say she was a prostitute (280).

In fact, Shamela’s mother–whose regal name, Henrietta Maria Honora Andrews, belies her tawdry lifestyle–steals this story’s spotlight, for it was her corrupting influence that produced Shamela. As a result, Shamela repeatedly articulates pithy proverbs of vice in her letters to her mother, as if to illustrate just how well she has been schooled. For example, she writes, “What a foolish Thing it is for a Woman to dally too long with her Lover’s Desires; how many have owed their being old Maids to their holding out too long” (294). When things go sour between mother and daughter, however, the result is a venomous act of retaliation on the part of Mrs. Andrews: the publication of her daughter’s letters–an act to which we owe Fielding’s “corrected” version of events.

Since Richardson’s Pamela was aimed at didactically preaching the rewards of virtue, then Fielding’s parody presumes to take the same stance, mocking the original Pamela for its sexual lewdness, its rather scathing portrayal of the vices of the upper class, and its encouragement of disobedience in servants (279). Ironically, however, the two authors actually manage to achieve the same end–the condemnation of hypocrisy–just through very different means: Richardson through sentimentalism, Fielding through satire. Fortunately, Jane Austen was a fan of both authors, and she perfectly combines and tempers, sentimentalism and satire in her novels by adding a healthy portion of realism. True, her early short works like “Love and Freindship” and “Lesley Castle” lean more toward the absurdities of Fielding, but by Lady Susan, she has already learned to soften her satire with realism, making it clear she supports virtue and condemns vice, but not at the cost of her sense of humor. She, like Fielding, enjoys a good laugh at the follies of others, but that is because she doesn’t like to take herself or others too seriously. After all, the ability to laugh was just as important to the Austen family as the ability to pray.

That said, I highly recommend the audio recording of this hilarious work, which I award five bright stars. After listening to Pamela, you will laugh out loud when you hear the same voices transform their accents, grammar, and diction, bringing to life the scandalous characters and conflicts that make Shamela an impressive example of parodic humor. 

5 out of 5 Stars

Shamela,by Henry Fielding, read by Clare Corbett
Naxos AudioBooks (2013)
Unabridged audio recording (2) CD’s, 1 hour, 30 mins
ISBN: 978-1843797463

Cover image courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks © 2013; text Br. Paul Byrd, OP © 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.”

   

 

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (Naxos AudioBooks), by Samuel Richardson, read by Clare Corbett – A Review

Pamela, by Samuel Richardson, Naxos AudioBooks (2013)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

Her knowledge of Richardson’s works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master.” – J.E. Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, ch. 5

Listed among Jane Austen’s most beloved authors is the rebellious printer-turned-novelist Samuel Richardson, creator of such potboilers as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). The novel opens at the death of Pamela Andrew’s employer, the woman who has educated her to be as accomplished as any young woman could hope to be, by eighteenth century standards. And from there commences a rather strange and disturbing plot in which Pamela must fend off the unwanted advances of her new male employer—and I’m not simply talking about sexual harassment, which would have been bad enough; I’m talking about outright attempted rape. Indeed, the main dramatic question of the novel is whether Pamela will forfeit her honor (read “her virginity”) for the sake of wealth and safety, or will she display a heroic level of Christian virtue, and risk the possibility of public disgrace. Spoiler Alert: the novel’s subtitle gives the answer away from the start.

Although this novel is incredibly didactic, overly sentimental, and downright maudlin, it does have its high points—one being the character of Pamela herself. She may be pretty and sugary sweet, and sound like a flaky saint most of the time,  she’s also fantastically brave and sassy. Indeed, the best scenes in the book are those in which Pamela wages verbal war against her oppressors. When, for example, Mr. B. has attempted his first physical assault against her and then dares to chide her for speaking back to him, Pamela exclaims, “Well may I forget that I am your Servant, when you forget what belongs to a Master.” (23). This rebuttal underscores the novel’s major theme regarding the equality of all people based on moral education.

Indeed, Richardson is rather scathing of the corruption of England’s upper class, especially as regards the treatment of the lower classes. He has Pamela write: “…proud People never think what a short Stage Life is; and that, with all their Vanity, a Time is coming, when they shall be obliged to submit to be on a Level with us; and true said the Philosopher, when he looked upon the Skull of a King, and that of a poor Man, that he saw no Difference between them.” (258). She further argues that even the claims the gentry make to noble birth are spurious, given that if family lines were traced back far enough, or if the future could be seen, it is clear that social rank fluctuates; the noble families of today are the serfs of tomorrow and vice versa (think Kate Middleton). It is the way Richardson wrestles with social questions about rank and gender that make this novel so valuable and interesting. Yes, it’s didactic, but sometimes in all the right ways.

That said, what I loved most about this novel was speculating on the ways it may have inspired Pride and Prejudice. Firstly, I thought Mr. B. was a combination of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Like Wickham, Mr. B. plays with the affections of young women, preying on them. But like Mr. Darcy, Mr. B. is actually a generous young man who wants to be good, and who is capable of recognizing the good in others, even if their social status was below his own. Also like Darcy, Mr. B. braves the censure of society to love where he wills, despite having an interfering relative determined to marry him off to another. Lady Barbara Danvers, Mr. B.’s sister, attacks Pamela’s marriage to her brother, and is so vicious she makes Lady Catherine’s attack on Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice look like tea time with the queen. Of course, for both Pamela and Elizabeth the problem is that they are intelligent, beautiful, moral women who happen to be of “inferior birth;” and Georgian England, Christian though it was, valued money above goodness. Fortunately for both heroines, the voice of society is no match for their wit, honesty, and good sense. Indeed, Mr. B. confesses, “How then, with the Distance between us, and in the World’s Judgment, can I think of making you my Wife? —Yet I must have you; I cannot bear the Thoughts of any other Man supplanting me in your Affections.” (213). I can just imagine the young Jane Austen reading and loving these words, turning them over and over again in her mind until she felt compelled to create a hero—albeit a morally superior one—who could also say such a thing to a woman and mean it.

Richardson’s novels might also have inspired Austen in other ways, not only in terms of plot, but in terms of form. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were both originally composed as epistolary narratives, that is, as a series of letters, but she thought better of this later, and substantially revised the two novels. Perhaps she felt the form too restricting, as it can seriously limit the ways in which plot information can be revealed, besides necessitating a physical distance between the principle correspondents.  Even so, Austen’s Lady Susan is a fine example of a novel in letters. Interestingly, it, like Pamela, also features a roguish aristocrat and a virtuous damsel—though, in this case, they are mother and daughter.

Granted, I found this novel’s lack of variety in plot, despite its being 503 pages long, to be trying, but I have to award it five stars just the same, for its hilarious banter alone. I highly recommend that those brave enough to take it on should do so with the help of Naxos’ excellent audiobook recording, starring Clare Corbett as the voice of Pamela. It draws readers in from the first letter, and clarifies and enlivens a sometimes tedious text. With Naxos, even busy readers may take the drama wherever they go—in the car, at the gym, or even soaking in a tub on a snowy winter’s night.

5 out of 5 Stars

Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded (Naxos Audiobooks), by Samuel Richardson, read by Clare Corbett
Naxos AudioBooks (2013)
Unabridged CD, 21 hours 51 mins
ISBN: 978-1843797432

Further Reading:

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks © 2013; text Br. Paul Byrd, OP © 2014, Austenprose.com

Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul (Pride and Prejudice Untold), by P. O. Dixon – A Review

Lady Harriette, by P. O. Dixon (2013)Starting with the third book in any series is certainly a challenge. One feels rather late to the party when one has missed out on major events and character development in two previous novels, so why would I attempt it? Add to the fact that they were Pride and Prejudice “what if” stories changing the plot of Jane Austen’s classic tale, and the problems intensify. What could possibly tempt me to move beyond my prejudices and give, Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul, a chance? The plot appeared to be focused on the married life of Colonel Fitzwilliam and his new bride Lady Harriet Middleton. His cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy is married to Elizabeth Bennet already too? What? No courtship? Where was this going? I was intrigued.  

The book’s description and first few chapters truly peaked my curiosity. Lady Harriette was a beautiful young heiress twelve years younger than her husband, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the second son of an earl with no fortune. How had he snagged HER, and what did the families think of this misalliance? We learn that he was a rake with a long standing history of dalliance. I wondered if he had married for love or for money? The elephant in the room was how he will he ever keep his privileged and spoiled bride happy? Pressure mounts on Fitzwilliam after he discovers the ancestral property is near bankruptcy. Trying to keep this startling fact from his wife and family, while he and Darcy attempt to catch the thief, seemed wise, but later backfires. Even close friends Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose happy life at Pemberley appeared untouchable, are faced with a ghost from the past when a young woman working as a housemaid at the Fitzwilliam estate has a painful connection to both Darcy and Fitzwilliam. Why is she there? Blackmail, or the evil workings of a disgruntled relative? The possibilities for conflict were mounting with every chapter.

Only a creative and skilled writer could truly pull all of these conflicts and challenges together. Author P. O. Dixon, known for her Pride and Prejudice variations, succeeded triumphantly. I was amazed at how she began the story after the marriage of the Fitzwilliam’s and then proceeded to fill in the backstory quite seamlessly. Having not read the first two novels in the series I did not know if she was back peddling or showing off her storytelling skills. It mattered not. Either way it resulted in a page turning plot. There were times when I found myself at a loss when characters like Jane Bennet, elder sister of Elizabeth, where not married to whom Austen paired them off with, or other sisters like Lydia had died. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the new twists taken from Austen’s plot that had transpired in previous novels, an author’s forward or a character list in the back would have answered those nagging questions that left me hanging. The character development of Col. Fitzwilliam and Lady Harriette was quite absorbing. I was skeptical that she would truly change, or that he really loved her. I knew that I would like the Col. from the start, and did, but Lady Harriette was another matter. She was a spoiled, rich girl who I could not connect with and wondered why the Colonel loved her beyond her youth, beauty and money. You will have to read the novel to find out if they have their happy-ever-after.

I listened to an audio recording of Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul, read by Pearl Hewitt. The fast paced story lent itself to a theatrical reading enhanced by Hewitt’s characterizations. This is truly a romance novel with some steamy love scenes, so please take heed. You are forewarned and forearmed for a great read. I highly recommend it.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul (Pride and Prejudice Untold), by P. O. Dixon (audio recording) read by Pearl Hewitt
Audible (2013)
Digital audio recording (6 hours and 13 minutes)
ASIN: B00GS8HJ3E

Cover image courtesy of P. O. Dixon © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley (Audible Audio Edition) – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my tenth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review:

This Pride and Prejudice variation asks readers “What if Elizabeth Bennet had accepted Mr. Darcy’s first proposal?” After reading this question in the book’s description my first reaction was, ACK, why would she?

Like the two other novels by this author that I have read, the story begins on familiar ground at a certain point in Austen’s novel and then quickly takes a left turn—changing the course of the plot and the characters’ lives. In this case it starts at a very critical moment, the first proposal scene when Mr. Darcy so arrogantly assumes that the less-socially-endowed Elizabeth Bennet would jump at the chance to accept his generous offer of marriage. Reynolds’ Lizzy is still repulsed by the thought of this man as her husband and frozen with disgust. Since Austen’s last sentence in Elizabeth’s refusal contains the title of this novel, I was all anticipation of reliving Elizabeth’s famous put down:

“From the very beginning — from the first moment, I may almost say — of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

But no—this is where the road veers and Reynolds’ twist begins. Darcy misinterprets Elizabeth’s hesitation as acceptance and kisses her, witnessed by his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam and a gamekeeper. Unaware of her true feelings, Col Fitzwilliam congratulates Darcy while a panicked Elizabeth spins the reasons in her mind why she cannot deny it: her reputation has been compromised and if she does not marry him the future happiness of her family, and her sisters prospects will be dashed. Trapped, she cannot decline and agrees to marry him.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds Audio (2013)Their one-sided marriage begins on rocky ground. Wrought with misunderstandings: his cold indignation, and her fear and depression, Elizabeth is hindered in her attempts to fit in and learn her new duties as mistress of Pemberley. She is not allowed to be very useful—in fact, anything she does seems to anger and annoy her new husband. After Mr. Darcy is involved in a life-threatening riding accident she dutifully cares for him day and night until she is past exhaustion. During his illness she comes to realize that she really does love him and tells him so when he is finally conscious. They are reconciled, until the laudanum wears off and he returns to his sour and confusing self. When she learns from a servant that he is leaving for London, even though he has not fully recovered and fit for travel, she is crushed blaming his dislike of her. While he is away she learns of her younger sister Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham and their subsequent marriage, facilitated by her husband. She is thankful to him for helping her family out of this devastating scandal, but he again misinterprets her gratitude for wifely obligation and not love. Her unhappiness continues until she reaches the point where she feels the only solution to their dilemma would be her death—relieving him of the disgrace of her inferior connections and releasing him to marry another.

One thing that readers new to variations must embrace immediately is change. The point in re-inventing the plot in a “what if” is the experience of revisiting beloved characters in new scenarios. You are not reading a sequel or a continuation of Austen’s story, but a re-imagining of what her characters might do if the action changed. Logically those characters would exhibit the same personality traits that Austen awarded them, but that can be changed too. Just think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You are not in Kansas anymore. If you are open to change and can accept tinkering with Austen’s creations and complete changes in her plot, then variations are for you.

In this sub-genre of Austen paraliterure Reynolds reigns supreme in her level of creativity and fluent prose. She is very skilled at crafting tension between lovers and can think up innumerable ways to keep them apart to prolong our anticipation. Her ardent love scenes were passionately rendered, reaching the blushing point for me every time. One of the major challenges I found with the premise of this story is that I did not like Reynolds’ Mr. Darcy. He was not the honorable man that Austen had crafted, nor a man that I was attracted to. He had duped Elizabeth into marrying him (albeit ignorantly) and he is pretty oblivious to his wife’s feelings, misreading her kind intentions continually. Or so it would appear on first impressions. The couple are at continual crossed purposes, going in circles of misunderstanding and rejection, to a glimmer of brief reconciliation, then back to total despair and unhappiness. After about the third time I was as depressed as the heroine. Once I got over my fixed notions of how Austen’s characters should deport themselves and accepted Reynolds’ alternate universe for Elizabeth and Darcy, I began to enjoy their twisted, tormented souls. It was like Jane Austen morphing into Charlotte Bronte, even though neither author would approve of each other’s style.

This audio edition of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World was aptly read by Rachel E. Hurley with entertaining variations in voice to character and scene. Reynolds has crafted a clever love story and applied familiar characters to suit. That dear reader is what variations are all about. If you are prepared to be taken down the yellow brick road, this is a great introduction to the genre.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley
Audible Audio Edition (2013)
Digital, unabridged (6 hrs and 27 min)
ASIN: B00BCXCZCU

Cover image courtesy of Audible © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

Mr. Darcy’s Diary (Audiobook), by Maya Slater, read by David Rintoul – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my eighth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review:

Ever wonder if a book you read several years ago and loved still stacks up? I did, and was tempted to revisit one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, in audiobook for my summer listening. Read by Mr. Darcy himself—well not quite—but close, the narrator is British actor David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. After a second pass “my affections and wishes are unchanged” and I am incorporating my original review (slightly amended) and finishing with my impression of this audio version.

If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the “dark side” in writing her re-telling of Austen’s classic tale of  misunderstandings and reconciliation. Not only are we privy to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint!

The story opens with Mr. Darcy as a house guest of the Bingley’s at Netherfield Park the night of the Meryton assembly. Caroline Bingley is up to her usual kowtowing activities and insists upon embroidering slippers for Mr. Darcy, even though he inwardly fumes that he has no use for them. He is ruminating over his sister Georgiana’s letter and sees no solution to her predicament, the particulars of which are not yet known to us. The party arrives at the assembly rooms and there is little of interest for him there. Seeing the dance unfold from his perspective is an interesting vantage: the rooms, the music and the “superfluity of raw young ladies eager for dancing partners were all disenchanting to him.” His breeches are too tight so he does not sit down! Beyond the perfunctory dances with his two hostesses, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, he saw nothing in the room to tempt him. No mention is made of his slighting our heroine Elizabeth Bennet, but this is Mr. Darcy’s diary after all, and an event of no consequence to him would surely not be recorded in his personal diary.

Mr. Darcy's Diary, by Maya Slater (2008) audio And so the first few entries of the diary were pleasant enough. The language and style was respectful to Austen’s, the story line consistent with Darcy’s view, and the characters well thought out. A good beginning. My interest builds as I realize that I am reliving Pride and Prejudice from a new perspective, told by an author who understands the novel, is well researched in Regency history and can turn a phrase quite neatly. Better and better. Whoa! Darcy has just admired a housemaid’s “pleasing embonpoint” removed her starched white apron and tumbled her on his bed! (Okay, I just heard the pounding exodus of Austen purist as they run out the back door.) The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. This is not the Darcy that we know from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, and the author has just made her point.

Uncertain if I could get past this bit, I venture on. We follow Darcy to London with his faithful valet Peebles in tow. Their Jeeves and Wooster relationship is amusing. I smile. Darcy unknowingly crumples up his leather gloves in a coat pocket, scuffs his boots, and wants to wear the wrong clothes for the wrong occasion. It is of little consequence to this wealthy and overly confident man, but Peebles is beside himself. I laugh. In addition to Charles Bingley, we are introduced to Darcy’s friend, George Byron. Yes, the poet and notorious, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron. He lives up to his reputation and influences Darcy into dubious deeds that most Regency men of his position in society amuse themselves with like cards, drunken debacles, and escapades with women. At this point we are experiencing Darcy from a totally male point-of-view, but the transition into events that Austen would never have included in her heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s female world, are more acceptable because this author’s skill at making Darcy’s diary so believable and amusing is effortless. By the midway point in the diary, it has become a page turner, and I am totally captivated.

So how did author Maya Slater woo a Janeite who openly admits contempt for renovators who sex up or steal Austen’s good name? She actually did not have to. Once I abandoned my expectations of reading another prequel, sequel or re-telling bent on ripping off Jane Austen’s stories or characters, I realized that this was not Elizabeth Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, but Mr. Darcy’s, and Maya Slater was not renovating Jane or sexing up Lizzy but telling a man’s story. What other authors have attempted in their Darcy re-tellings by mirroring Jane Austen’s text word-for-word has been replaced by sheer creativity and respect. Slater expands our understanding of the plot and characters that Jane Austen introduced making Mr. Darcy’s Diary unique and yet blend-able to the original story. It made me laugh-out-loud repeatedly as she expounded on the smarmy antics of Caroline Bingley whose continued attempts to worm her way into Darcy’s affections fall flat, fume over the officious arrogance of his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, hiss at the deceit and destruction caused by that lout George Wickham, and revel in a love story that I listened to as freshly and intensely as the first time this writer experienced the original many years ago. That, gentle Austen readers, is quite an achievement. Even Mr. Darcy might consider Maya Slater worthy of inclusion in “the half a dozen women in the whole range of (his) acquaintance that are truly accomplished.”

My original review of this novel was 4 out of 5 stars, but I am upping the audio version to top honors of 5 stars because of the captivating, velvety voice of actor David Rintoul. Wow. He is just perfection.

 5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Diary, (audiobook) by Maya Slater, read by David Rintoul
AudioGO Ltd. & Audible.com (2008)
Unabridged digital download (8 hours and 33 mins)
ASIN: B001LNK94C

Please join us for next month’s Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge when we review Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, by Linda Berdoll (2004) on Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

Cover image courtesy of AudioGo © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review & Giveaway

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)Today marks the official opening of The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. *throws confetti* Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

Considering the origins of this celebration how could I possibly not start with the inspiration of it all, Pride and Prejudice? It is really no burden considering that it is one of my favorite novels. No, I correct myself.  It is my favorite novel, bar none.

I first read Pride and Prejudice over thirty years ago and have re-read it every year since. For years I worshiped in silence, but now thanks to the Internet I can sing its praises to the skies by openly admitting that it far surpasses any other novel of my acquaintance in wit, vivacity, and romance. As Kathleen Kelly states in the movie You’ve Got Mail, “I get lost in the language.” And so I do…every time.

I will tell you another secret. I own over fifty different editions of Pride and Prejudice! Hardcover, softcover, audio, illustrated, collectible, vintage, movies, mini-series, graphic novels, quote books, greeting cards, board games—you name it. I have a whole section in my library devoted to it—my shrine of homage. There. It’s now out in the open. I am truly a Pride and Prejudice addict.

One is humbled to review a book considered a classic of world literature. What could I possibly say about Pride and Prejudice that has not been scrutinized by scholars, exalted by enthusiasts, or bemoaned by students who have been forced to read it and just don’t get what all the fuss is about? Plenty—and that is one of its enduring charms. It is so many things to different people. After repeated readings I still laugh out loud at Austen’s dry wit, wily social commentary and satisfying love story. It often tops international polls as the “the most loved” or “favorite book” of all time; numerous stage and screen adaptations continue to remind us of its incredible draw to the modern audience; and its hero and heroine, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, may be the most famous romantic couple short of Romeo and Juliet. High praise, indeed, for a novel written almost two hundred years ago by a country clergyman’s daughter, home schooled by her father, and un-exalted in her lifetime.

Set in the early nineteenth-century country village of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, the story revolves around the Bennet family and their five unmarried daughters. They are the first family of consequence in the village. Unfortunately, the Bennet estate is entailed to a male heir, a cousin, Mr. William Collins. This is distressful to Mrs. Bennet who knows that she must find husbands for her daughters or they shall all be destitute if her husband should die. Mr. Bennet is not as concerned and spends his time in his library away from his wife’s idle chatter and social maneuvering. Elizabeth, the spirited and confident second daughter is determined to only to marry for love. She teases her beautiful and kind elder sister Jane that she must be the one to catch a wealthy husband to support them all. The three younger sisters: Mary, Catherine and Lydia, hinder their elder sisters chance for a good match by inappropriate and unguarded behavior.

When Mr. Bingley, a single man of large fortune, moves into the neighborhood with his fashionable sisters he attends the local assembly ball and is immediately taken with the angelic Jane Bennet. His friend Mr. Darcy is even richer with a great estate in Derbyshire, but he is proud and arrogant giving offense to all, including Elizabeth when he refuses to dance with her. She overhears him tell Bingley that she was only tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt him. This amuses and annoys her enough to repeat it to her friends and family. The whole community declares him the most disagreeable man, eaten up with pride.

And thus the famous love story begins. How Mr. Darcy’s pride will be humbled and Elizabeth’s prejudices dissolved is one of the greatest stories of all time. Austen’s astute characterizations and clever plotting never cease to amaze. Society has changed in two hundred years, but human nature—foibles and all—remain constant, much to our amusement and delight.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (Naxos Audiobooks) 2005Naxos Audiobooks presents us with a professionally produced and finely crafted jewel in this audio recording of Pride and Prejudice. Narrated by British actress Emilia Fox, viewers of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle will remember her fine performance as shy Georgiana Darcy and be pleasantly surprised by her vocal range and emotional depth in characterization. I particularly appreciated her interpretation of Mrs. Bennet’s frazzled anxiety and Lady Catherine de Bourgh imperious resolve. Listeners will enjoy all thirteen hours of this unabridged recording honoring one of the greatest novels ever written and want to seek out the other six Austen novels that they have also recorded in audio format.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox
Naxos Audiobooks USA, (2005)
Unabridged, 11 CD’s (13 h 02 m)
ISBN: 978-9626343562

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one CD or digital copy of Pride and Prejudice (Naxos Audiobooks) by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, January 16, 2013 stating which character in the novel is your favorite, and which is NOT. The winner will be announced on Thursday, January 17, 2013.  Shipment of CD to US addresses only please and digital download internationally. Good luck!

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobooks) 2005Even though it has been two hundred years since the world was first introduced to sisters Marianne and Elinor Dashwood’s financial, social and romantic trials, their story remains for me, as fresh and vibrant as any contemporary story you might read of, experience yourself, or hear tell tale of today. I give full credit, of course, to Jane Austen. Her understanding of human nature and how to craft emotions and characters into an engaging story remains unparalleled. Add to that a delightful twelve hour and forty-three minute reading by the accomplished British actress Juliet Stevenson’s polished interpretation of memorable personalities and you are primed for unsurpassed entertainment. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

When Mrs. Dashwood is forced by an avaricious daughter-in-law to leave the family home in Sussex, she takes her three daughters to live in a modest cottage in Devon. For Elinor, the eldest daughter, the move means a painful separation from the man she loves, but her sister Marianne finds in Devon the romance and excitement which she longs for. The contrasting fortunes and temperaments of the two girls as they struggle to cope in their different ways with the cruel events which fate has in store for them are portrayed by Jane Austen with her usual irony, humor and profound sensibility.

It is amazing to think that Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel. As a debut author she showed incredible understanding of characterization and plot development. Many of the personalities contained in this novel remain the most memorable for me of her entire canon. The affability of Sir John Middleton, the persistent meddling of Mrs. Jennings, the droll indifference of Mr. Palmer and the malleable weakness of Mr. John Dashwood are played against the narrow greed of the unscrupulous Fanny Dashwood and her officious, spiteful mother Mrs. Ferrars. These secondary characters really make our heroes and villains shine, and withstanding the two heroines Elinor and Marianne, it is amusing to see how Austen plays with our emotions in guessing who the heroes will be and how the morality will play out.

Sense and Sensibility does have a few plot wholes and loose coincidences that readers will be raising eyebrows over, but it remains a novel wholly entrenched in the passionate joys of youthful love and emotional loss, cruel social snobbery and biting social reproof as relevant today as it was in 1811.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my ninth selection in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011, my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. You can follow the event as I post reviews on the fourth Wednesday of every month and read all of the other participants contributions posted in the challenge review pages here.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one unabridged CD or digital download of Sense and Sensibility (Naxos Audiobooks) by leaving a comment by midnight PT, Wednesday, October 5, 2011 stating which character you love to hate in Sense and Sensibility or what motivates you to read Jane Austen’s classic for the first time. Winner to be announced on Thursday, October 6, 2011. CD shipment to US or Canadian addresses only. Digital download internationally. Good luck!

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen and read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos Audiobooks (2005)
Unabridged audio CD’s, 12 hours, 43 minutes
ISBN: 978-9626343616

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour: North and South (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Book Review

Welcome to the 5th stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell 200th Anniversary Blog Tour! Please join me and other Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiast in honoring her on birthday today with a blog tour featuring  a biography of her life and times, reviews of her books, novella’s and movies, reading resources, and a photo tour of her homes.

Visitors leaving a comment at any of the posts on the tour will qualify for a drawing of one unabridged copy of the Naxos Audiobooks edition of North and South read by Clare Willie. Deadline to enter is midnight Pacific time October 7th, 2010. The winner will be announced on October 8th, 2010. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses, digital download internationally. Good luck!

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell – A Review

First published as a magazine serial of twenty-two installments in Household Words edited by her mentor Charles Dickens, North and South was later expanded by Mrs. Gaskell into the format we know today and publish in book format in 1855. The story explores some of Gaskell’s favorite topics: social division and class struggles, religious faith and doubt, and the changing landscape of mid-Victorian England from an agricultural nation to industrial giant. Interlaced in these conflicts are genuine characters as passionate in their social convictions as they are in their quest for understanding and love.

Opening with the wedding of her vivacious cousin Edith Shaw to Captain Lennox, our nineteen year-old heroine Miss Margaret Hale is at an important juncture in her life. Raised in London by her wealthy Aunt Shaw, her duties as companion to her cousin are now over and she returns to her family as an educated and sophisticated young lady. Her parents live in Helstone, an idyllic rural Hampshire village where her father is the local Church of England minister and her mother a former county belle. Higher born than her husband she married for love against her family’s wishes. They lead a comfortable, but frugal life until her father’s decision to leave the church on principal; uprooting his family to the only opportunity available to them. His former Oxford tutor Mr. Bell has connections in Milton-Northern, an industrial city of cotton mills and coal smoke in the north of England, a far cry from the comforts, sunny climes and verdant countryside of the south in Hampshire. On the same day of Margaret’s fathers shocking announcement, Henry Lennox a young lawyer and brother of Edith’s husband visits the Hales in Helstone with the objective of proposing marriage to Margaret. Because she feels no affection other than friendship for him, his offer is rejected.

Margaret: ‘I have never thought of–you, but as a friend. I like to think of you so; but I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Pray, let us both forget that all this’ (‘disagreeable,’ she was going to say, but stopped short) ‘conversation has taken place.’

He paused before he replied. Then, in his habitual coldness of tone, he answered:

Lennox: ‘Of course, as your feelings are so decided, and as this conversation has been so evidently unpleasant to you, it had better not be remembered. That is all very fine in theory, that plan of forgetting whatever is painful, but it will be somewhat difficult for me, at least, to carry it into execution.’

The Hale’s are aided in their search for a new home in Milton by Mr. Bell’s tenant John Thornton, a young successful mill owner who has worked his way up from working class to respectable tradesman after the tragic death of his father when he was fifteen. The ladies find Milton smoky and stifling, especially Mrs. Hale and her personal maid Dixon who are always ready to complain about the dirty air, the unsophisticated town and its lowly people. Because of their reduced circumstances and the lack of help in a mill town that can offer higher wages to young girls, Margaret fills in as maid with the household duties. Margaret is happy to help, but her mother is horrified that her daughter, a lady, must work as a menial. To support his family Mr. Hale has found work as a tutor. One of his best students is John Thornton who is eager to improve himself and catch up on his education. Mr. Hale invites him to tea much to the bemusement of Margaret and Mrs. Hale who are arrogant and cold to him, believing him below their notice. Margaret is outspoken, voicing her opinions to him of Milton, their odd northern customs, and critical of Mr. Thornton’s comments about the differences in the south. Margaret thinks he is coarse and harsh with his workers. He thinks she is beautiful and intriguing, but proud and full of airs for someone new, poor and uninformed.

Margaret: ‘That is a great admission,’ said Margaret, laughing. ‘When I see men violent and obstinate in pursuit of their rights, I may safely infer that the master is the same that he is a little ignorant of that spirit which suffereth long, and is kind, and seeketh not her own.’

John: ‘You are just like all strangers who don’t understand the working of our system, Miss Hale,’ said he, hastily. ‘You suppose that our men are puppets of dough, ready to be moulded into any amiable form we please. You forget we have only to do with them for less than a third of their lives; and you seem not to perceive that the duties of a manufacturer are far larger and wider than those merely of an employer of labour: we have a wide commercial character to maintain, which makes us into the great pioneers of civilisation.’

As Margaret begins to acclimate to her new home, she makes friends with Nicolas Higgins, one of the mill workers and his sickly daughter Bessy. They are skeptical of her intentions when she visits and very proud not to take charity. Through them she comes to understand the hard working conditions in the mills and sees the result of their unhealthy environment in Bessy, whose work from a young age has infected her lungs from inhaling the cotton fluff that floats through the factory. Mrs. Hale’s health is also in steady decline and the doctor warns Margaret that there is not much more time before she is gone. Margaret keeps this news to herself and shoulders the burden as she has done to protect each of her parents from bad news. With his urging, John Thornton’s mother begrudgingly makes a social call at the Hales with her daughter Fanny, privately offering her assistance with her mother to Margaret.

Margaret visits Mrs. Thornton at their home next to the mill and finds herself in the middle of a workers strike. Desperate to fill mill orders and keep his business solvent, Mr. Thornton has brought in cheaper Irish workers to break the strike and an angry mob has amassed outside the mill ready to riot and kill the blackleg workers in protest. Margaret admonishes Thornton to talk to the crowd and appease their anger.

Margaret: ‘Mr. Thornton,’ said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, ‘go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don’t let the soldiers come in and cut down poor-creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.’

But, it is too late. A stone thrown from the crowd intended for Thornton strikes Margaret in the head instead. The crowd is hushed and shocked as Margaret lies on the ground. The army arrives to violently disperse the crowd and Thornton carries the unconscious and bleeding body of Margaret inside. At this moment, he realizes how much he loves her. Against his mother’s wishes, he is compelled to ask her to marry him and visits her at her home the next day. She has recovered enough to be repulsed by his offer and flatly refuse him. He is crushed.

John: ‘One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.’

Of course Gaskell has built up to this moment so beautifully that we are crestfallen by Margaret’s reaction to his admission of love. It is the axis of the novel. She despises him and accuses him of ungentlemanly behavior, the worst insult to throw at a man trying to win the heart of a lady. He is hurt yet dignified in rejection. That is indeed an act of a gentleman that she does not recognize yet.

How these two strong minded and opposing personalities will come together, and we are never in doubt that they will, is one of the most moving and satisfying love stories that I have ever read. Often compared to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Gaskell’s North and South parallels many of the same misunderstanding and misconceptions that the two protagonists go through to reach mutual respect and love. This was the first Gaskell novel that I have read, and her style, while more effusive and descriptive than Austen’s was a welcome surprise. Interlaced with this study of the diametric personalities are the differences in the lifestyles from agricultural southern England to the industrial north. Her characterizations were so detailed and real, that I cared deeply about the outcome of each of them. I recommend North and South highly. It will remain one of my cherished novels that I reread regularly. That is the greatest compliment an author can hope for.

This Naxos Audiobooks edition was sensitively read by Clare Willie whose characterizations reminded me of the voices of the actors in the 2004 North and South mini-series. I was so drawn into the story by her melodic intonations that I have never enjoyed my commute to work as much as the 18 hours and 36 minutes during this audio book recording. Gaskell’s powerful story of the division of workers and master told through the eyes of a haughty girl from the south of England who is thrown against her wishes and better judgment by her father’s life choices into a foreign world of the working class struggles of a northern mill owner is her most beloved work for good reason. Margaret Hale and John Thornton are a romance to remember and savor again, and again.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, read by Clare Willie
Naxos Audiobooks (2010)
Unabridged audio book, 15 CD’s, 18h 36m
ISBN: 978-962634185-8

Follow this link to the next stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Celebration Blog Tour a review of the North and South (2004) mini-series by Maria at Fly High

Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.” Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

© 2007 -2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose