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

Confessions of Marie Antoinette: A Novel, by Juliet Grey – A Review

Confessions of Marie Antoinette, by Juliet Grey 2013 From the desk of Lauren Puzier:

In 1789, Marie Antoinette was a thirty-three year old queen, a wife and a mother.  One day in October she took her last walk through the Trianon gardens, her peaceful respite from the demands of palace life, fully unaware that for the next five years she would ride the waves of one of the most moving revolutions in modern history.  Author Juliet Grey invites readers to join Marie Antoinette on a sympathetic journey through this period, in her third fictional narrative of the young queen’s life.  Grey offers a detailed glimpse into Marie Antoinette’s own thoughts as she experiences events and situations, interacts with family and politicians, and tries to understand what is happening to the world around her.

“…I sink to my knees in a deep court curtsy, inclining my head in a show of profound humility. The roar diminishes to a murmur. And when I rise, I lay my arms across my bosom and raise my eyes heavenwards, offering a prayer to God to spare my husband and children…” p. 37

Confessions of Marie Antoinette is set in Versailles, The Tuileries Palace, The Temple and finally, the Conciergie. The royal family of France is moved along from one new home to the next and forced to manage their family life in unthinkable circumstances.  Well researched, Grey provides plenty of detail about main events of the period to create a sense of chaos and reality.  Life was hard outside of Versailles; politicians were serious and mobs were a very dangerous reality.  There was not a week that would go by during this time when a new scandal, trial or story was published fueling the hostility towards the queen and aristocracy.

Peppered with hope, the story is full of attempts and plots presented to save the monarch.  Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette make seemingly logical decisions regarding all their actions.  Louis’ main concern is the safety of his people and Antoinette’s is for her two young children’s.  The informed reader (or anyone who is familiar with the history here) may feel a bit uncomfortable knowing what these actions will lead to and how they appear to be folly rather than sound judgment.

“At his age, while he plays he should be singing the nursery rhyme my friend the Duchess of Devonshire taught him…Instead, he dreams of another desperate flight to safety.” p. 324

Grey’s Antoinette is heartbreaking.  She spends much of the book seeking out friends, trying to find any friendly face that can show her some kindness.  Limited to her own perspective, she evokes our compassion.  I found myself dabbing my eyes while sitting in Whole Foods right around chapter twenty-five (you will know when you get there…)

Through all the losses, husband and wife strive to keep their children safe by maintaining a somewhat normal daily life. They continue their education and give them all the love they can.  Perhaps a more apt title for this novel would be Realizations of Marie Antoinette, because she is not truly confessing anything, but she is learning much, and realizing a lot about her past, present and future.

Alfred Elmore, The Tuileries, June 20, 1792. 1860, oil on canvas. Musée de la Révolution francaise

Alfred Elmore, “The Tuileries, June 20, 1792.” 1860,

oil on canvas. Musée de la Révolution francaise.

Although Confessions is the third novel in a trilogy about Antoinette, I found it read as a stand-alone story. I have not read the earlier books, although now I am curious to see how Grey’s Antoinette grew as a character over the series.  I have a feeling the first two novels are full of the 18th century court life and etiquette we miss out on in Confessions, so you may want to start there.  Some readers might find the first person present-tense narrative strange if you have not read the previous books.  I found myself struggle a little to connect with Marie Antoinette through the first chapter. However, the author succeeds in giving a voice to this historical figure; she writes with clear passion for the subject and the story moves so fast you fall right into it.

A particularly strong scene is the storming of the Tuileries Palace.  A mob of citizens breaks into the palace seeking out the king and queen. Without time to join each other or come up with a plan, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are each forced to face the mob on their own. They are caught in separate rooms with only their courage to pull them through. With a table separating mother and children from the mob, Grey describes this frightening scene beautifully, full of emotion and descriptive detail.

Anonymous, “Marie-Antoinette montant dans la charette.” Engraving. Musée de la Révolution francaise

Anonymous, “Marie-Antoinette montant dans la charette.”

Engraving. Musée de la Révolution francaise.

 “I glance down at my trembling hands. ‘God Himself has forsaken me,’ I murmur in reply. ‘I no longer dare to pray.’” p. 334

You may wonder what the point is of reading a book when you already know the ending. I admit I thought this too as I started the book. In a moment of self-amusement I remembered the opening credits of HBO’s The Tudors. “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends.Confessions of Marie Antoinette gives us an alternative and deeper look at this fascinating woman, and the opportunity to walk in her shoes through the French Revolution.

4 out of 5 Stars

Lauren Puzier is an art historian specializing in late 18th century French aristocracy.  Visit her at her blog Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century.

Confessions of Marie Antoinette: A Novel, by Juliet Grey
Ballantine Books (2013)
Trade paperback (441) pages
ISBN 978-0345523907

Cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books © 2013; Text Lauren Puzier © 2013, Austenprose.com

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell – A Review

Edmund Persuader From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

Would Jane Austen love reading this book today? She admired Sir Walter Scott, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth but what about this epic regency romantic adventure encompassing some 1,500 pages? Within its sweeping span are familiar elements of the gothic in her Northanger Abbey, the ironic humor in Emma, overcoming class barriers in Pride and Prejudice, the romantic treacheries of Mansfield Park, the familial loyalty of Sense and Sensibility, and the steadfast endurance of love in Persuasion. Yes, dear Jane, I think you would!

The “persuader” is larger-than-life hero Edmund Percy who fits the description because he is aptly tall, strong, and handsome. But what elevates him to heroic status is his unique melding of courage, insightful intellect, persuasiveness, humility, and a loving generous heart. The youngest son of a landed gentleman, he has dedicated himself to the clergy.

It is 1810 and his father asks him to temporarily suspend his clerical studies and sail to Antigua to rescue his failing sugar plantation. There, he encounters exhaustive work and intolerable slavery conditions, but ultimately Janetta, the exotically beautiful mulatto daughter of a cruel neighboring slave master. Wild and unpredictable, the slaves fear her bewitching power. Edmund falls madly in love and a torrid erotic relationship ensues, but he is torn by guilt and lost virtue. The supernatural scene of Edmund being confronted by Janetta over a chilling vision only she can see but neither can understand is the story’s ultimate mystery:

“No,” she said bitterly. “I see this woman – I see this dark queen; and you will love her more than you ever loved me.” He laughed and tried to take her in his arms, but she would not let him; she evaded his embrace and slipped away from him. “You will love her more than me! “she said angrily. “Who is this woman? Janetta!” he said soothingly. “Do not be silly, I know no queen; nor is it likely I ever shall. You are the one I love…” p. 307

Only Janetta is aware of the hopelessness of their love and she accurately predicts their ultimate separation. At the loss of his first love, heart-broken Edmund returns to England. On that return voyage he becomes a notable English hero as he prevents an American privateer from boarding and capturing the ship he is on. This action proves pivotal to his future.

Edmund confesses his sins to his mentor and is still encouraged to take up the clergy. Seeking a living, he travels to Hampshire to visit Andromeda, his beloved aunt and mother-figure. She describes the most noble, wealthy, and powerful family in the area—the Esquith De Foyes—and strongly warns him to avoid at all costs their untouchable daughter Mariah and her companion, the lovely but enigmatic Elizabeth Brownton, who manifests an autism-spectrum syndrome. Yet, at a ball the inevitable happens as he meets the entire family. Mariah is regal, impossibly beautiful, and brilliant of mind, and like Edmund, gifted with a supremely compassionate heart. Edmund also meets Mariah’s brother and family heir Tarquin Esquith De Foye. Reckless, competitive, and fiercely protective, “Tark” and Edmund become closer than brothers. The family has learned of Edmund’s high-sea heroics and motions are put into place to award him a living as temporary rector in their village church.

Mariah’s compassion and Edmund’s exceptionally persuasive gifts improve the lives of everyone within their sphere of influence, and they become more than just a friendly partnership. Yet, in spite of their growing love for each other, Edmund cannot persuade Mariah to marry him and is unaware that she is none other than the prophesied “dark queen!” Her own deeply-hidden secret prevents her marriage and will eventually turn deadly enough to threaten her entire family if Edmund fails in his quest to uncover it.

With a half-million words to work with, all of the characters are so totally and fully fleshed out that I found myself weeping over their misfortunes, laughing with their moments of merriment, and hoping beyond hope for their happy future. Yes, there are places in the story that may plod for some readers, such as an entire chapter describing a fox hunt, the intricacies of chess games, and side-plots drawn out in the minutest detail. Yet, soaring above all and not-to-be-missed is what I consider to be the most magnificent unconsummated love story I’ve read since Jane Eyre. In attempting to compare the romantic grandeur and Gothic underpinnings of Edmund Persuader, only Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece comes to mind. Don’t be intimidated by its length. The determined reader will seldom encounter a more soul-satisfying reward for the effort.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell
Mermaid Press of Maine (2009)
Trade paperback (1555) pages
ISBN: 978-0984103218

© 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson – A Review

Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson (2012)I love to discover new authors to gush about. It’s just so hard to find them.

Yes, I can be as fastidious as Mr. Darcy when it comes to reading new works. He enjoyed reading too—and has an extensive library at Pemberley—the work of many generations! I don’t make 10,000 pounds a year off this blog, so I am quite reserved with my purchasing. In the instance of Edenbrooke, a debut novel by Juliann Donaldson, all the features worked to motivate me to pay top dollar for a digital copy for my Nook: Regency-era setting, snappy repartee, clean romance, illusions of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, swoon worthy hero, flawed heroine, and a boatload of beaming reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Donaldson must have gotten it right to have so many raving about her first novel. I had to find out.

After the tragic death of her mother, our heroine Marianne Daventry has been sent to Bath to live with her elderly grandmother, while her beautiful and refined twin sister Cecily lives in London with her more fashionable cousins. She is rather bored with Bath and the attentions of one odious Mr. Whittles, who like Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shares an absence of natural gifts that had not been improved by education or society. When an invitation arrives from her sister to stay at Edenbrooke, a country estate in Kent owned by a wealthy and titled man who Cecily hopes to marry, Marianne is ecstatic at the possibility of being in the country again. Her grandmother consents to the plan on one condition: she must change her wild ways and behave like an elegant lady. This is challenge to Marianne who prefers twirling under the open sky to just about any activity. This defines Marianne’s personality perfectly. She is a bit of wild child that does not fit into society’s expectations of proper conduct befitting a young lady. Her grandmother also reveals she is disinheriting her heir, the Nefarious Nephew Mr. Kellet, and is instead bequeathing her fortune to Marianne. She is even more surprised that she must keep it a secret.

Off to Edenbrooke Marianne and her maid Betsy go by carriage on their big adventure. We were worried for her safety, and for good reason. Ladies in this era, young or old, did not travel without proper male escort and we sensed trouble with every jolt of the carriage. It appeared like clockwork in the form of a masked highwayman welding a big gun who proceeds to shoot the carriage driver and steal her mother’s locket before Marianne retaliates and shoots him. This is all highly amusing in a comedic/tragic sort of way. Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey would be thrilled to read this bit of drama made famous in her favorite Gothic-fiction novels. Our heroine in the making also faces other challenges at a local Inn where she seeks assistance and meets a disenchanted young gentleman who does not act like a gentleman.

“I blushed at his disdainful look, and then my nerves, strung so taut with everything that had happened, suddenly snapped. How dare he speak to me like that? Anger flared hard in my chest and pride reared its head. In that moment I felt as strong and haughty as Grandmother.

I lifted my chin and said, “Pardon me. I was under the impression that I was addressing a gentleman. I can see that I was, as you said, mistaken.”” p. 25

There are many mistaken assumptions and misunderstandings throughout the novel. Amusingly, it makes for great comedic moments full of witty dialogue and hijinx. For example, after falling in a river, twice, Marianne meets the man who was so rude to her at the Inn and the banter continues. He is a Wyndham and they soon spend a week together riding the estate and talking in the great library. There are many other page turning episodes which I will not reveal further, but readers can look forward to a ball (Yes, what Regency-era novel would be complete without one?), an abduction (Shades of Georgette Heyer), and plenty of clean romance (That Jane Austen would approve of).

Ms. Donaldson shows great promise. As a debut novel Edenbrooke was delightful and diverting. She particularly excelled at the witty repartee between the main characters and developed the second string beautifully to support the narrative. My disappointment, and there are only a few niggling objections, is with the length of the novel at 222 pages. It was almost as if one hundred pages were lopped and cropped out for some reason that we shall never know of. Once I was at Edenbrooke, I craved more story and felt we were short sheeted. In addition, even though her publisher gave her a stunning cover, I think they should have made pecuniary adjustments because of the length of the novel.

All in all, Edenbrooke was a agreeable excursion into the country and into my heart. I look forward to following this author as she develops into an even more accomplished and elegant writer.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain (2012)
Trade paperback (222) pages
ISBN: 978-1609089467

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus – A Review

My Particular Friend, by Jennifer Petkus (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

In her fledgling foray into the growing field of Austenesque fan fiction, author Jennifer Petkus takes an entirely new direction from her first novel, Good Cop, Dead Cop, with My Particular Friend, mixing up Regency match making and mystery, which some may argue are one in the same. My attempts to further sub-categorize it utterly fail.  But, let’s try a recipe: Combine the crime-solving of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the location and dialogue of Jane Austen, the humor and romance of Frances Burney, mash-up thoroughly and you get something like “Matrimonial private investigators, Inc.”

The adventure is set in Bath, England during the Napoleonic Wars and showcases three totally un-alike heroines: The first is the mastermind, Miss Charlotte House, who is one of the most fascinating fictional personalities this reader has yet come across.  She is stately tall; her elegance turns heads all over Bath; her presence commands awe and respect; her enigmatic mind is near-genius in its capabilities; nothing in Bath of any consequence escapes her notice.  She is relentless and unconventional.  Neither is she above thievery or deception in order to accomplish her mission.  Mercurial and unpredictable, she can be fiercely loyal, generous with her wealth, and often kindly to everyone.  Or, she can be mercilessly uncompromising in the demands on her partners and clients.  The second is Miss Jane Woodsen, the first-person narrator of the tale.  She is young and naïve but shows the potential analytical skills that Miss House seeks.  The third is Mrs. Margaret Fitzhugh, the mother-figure whose relationship to the leader is a closely-held secret.

Miss Woodsen is in desperate straits since her gentleman father committed suicide over losing his fortune and his property has been entailed away.  Miss House rescues destitute Jane off the streets of Bath and offers her a situation.  In exchange for shelter, raiment, and a living, all Miss House desires of Jane is for her to become a “particular friend” and protégé’.  She is thus welcomed into Charlotte’s home as a respected “gentlewoman.”

What is Miss House’s “living?”  In her own words: (Charlotte conversing with Jane) “I suppose you could say I’m an intermediary. Mothers come to me and ask my aid in the matter of their daughter’s matrimonial prospects.”  “I see,” I said, puzzled.  “And of this service….”  “I am NOT in trade, my dear.”

Within this affair are five matrimonial episodes that defy solving until the parties seek Miss House for assistance.  The episodes tax the ladies and their informants to the limits of their abilities.  Each Episode contains its own distinct mood from the sinister to the wildly funny to the deceitful to the romantic.

The prime cargo is the suspense generated within these romantic mysteries but the engine that drives that cargo along is the exquisitely entertaining dialogue between the three ladies, their friends, acquaintances and clients. In true Austen style the author just nails the quaint civility and manners that predominated that time period without any overt sexuality, profanity, or unnecessary violence.

A sample quote from the clever wit of the author had me laughing out loud in its ridiculousness: (Jane speaking to Charlotte) “I often wondered aloud how troublesome it would be to retain so much knowledge, but she always said when information no longer was useful she promptly forgot it. I found difficulty believing her statement and asked her to give me an example of knowledge she no longer found useful.  She countered that she could not because she had forgotten any examples.  I countered that she could not cite an example because knowledge never becomes useless.  She merely looked at me, blinked twice and said ‘I’m sorry, what were we talking about?’”

Two significant threads woven through the entire affair bind the episodes together.  A tantalizing romance slowly blossoms between Miss Woodsen and one Mr. Wallace, an erstwhile military field physician who assists Miss House in her tasks. And, what is the source of the tragic sorrow of Miss House that surfaces at times but remains a mystery for the entire affair?  Why does this oh-so eligible lady, with such beauty, wealth, and brilliance remain single into her late twenties?

The conclusion of the affair is enticingly open-ended as the ladies plan a season in London. Will there be new romantic tangles to solve? Will Mr. Wallace follow them?  Will Charlotte find love?  These questions BEG for a sequel! Or, will author Jennifer Petkus take an entirely different direction? Perhaps the author’s fertile imagination will prove to be as unpredictable as Miss Charlotte House herself.  Whatever the outcome, I sense we have uncovered an emerging literary talent here of considerable promise.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus
Mallard Classics (2012)
Trade paperback (302) pages
ISBN: 978-0615597461
Kindle: ASIN: B005UF4Z6U

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Accustomed as she was to the more retiring life on her father’s estate, Jane had not looked for any honors when she married Mr. Vincent.  The few months of their marriage had been filled with work and the joy of learning to shape their lives together.”

It’s a sequel!  To Shades of Milk and Honey!  Are you excited?  After the resounding success of that, Mary Robinette Kowal’s first book, you probably should be.  But beware as you peruse this, gentle readers, for I have written it under the assumption that you’ve read and enjoyed the lovely first novel.  Spoilers abound!

The end of Shades of Milk and Honey brought an explosive duel, the victory of a suitor, and, as all Regency-era novels tend to do, a wedding.  Vincent and Jane are as happy as they’ve ever been, enjoying life not only as a romantic pair, gazing into each other’s eyes and invoking pet names at every opportunity, but also as a creative partnership.  They effectively go into business together as England’s Best Glamourists and are swiftly snapped up by the Prince Regent and his cohort.  Jane soon finds herself rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, and feels a certain apprehension at the new attention.  Any mistake in her creations now affect her partnership, her place in the world…everything!  Needless to say, she’s always the first one to leave the party and go upstairs.

Not that she’s unproductive.  Much of the story is taken up by the discovery and implementation of Jane’s transport theories for magic, something she discovers by accident as she’s bouncing around Belgium on a working vacation/honeymoon.  She explores, experiments, figures a few interesting things out…a few, uh, remarkable surprises.  One is highly predictable.  One is not.  Another is utterly absurd. Blowing the cover on all of them now would be unkind, suffice to say that Jane’s life is again thrown into turmoil and she’s forced to call upon all her knowledge and expertise (and call in a few favors) to get everything to settle down again.

All of this is superimposed over Ms. Kowal’s elegant magic system, “glamour” as she calls it.  Using the language of textiles, glamourists pull sheets and strands of glamour out of the “ether” and manipulate them in the way a master weaver would.  Folding, braiding, knotting, and tying-off are all common acts with glamour, but it’s in the doing where creativity and deftness of hand where Jane really shines.  She’s totally devoted to her craft, her confidence having grown exponentially as she took her first timid steps away from her father’s home.  Yes, it’s a lovely arrangement, yet it still remains as mysterious and under-explained as it was in Shades of Milk and Honey.  The only moderate salvation to the magic-curious people who take up Glamour in Glass is in a 2-page Glamour Glossary, tucked into the back of the book almost as an afterthought.  Now, to be fair, Ms. Kowal does make the attempt to showcase the logistics of the magic with Jane’s stay at a school for glamourists, an innovative move but one that still left me guessing.  For an author who’s so widely known for her fantasy and science fiction work, I’m still wishing for more!  Certainly more than a glossary.  Please?

But in general, the story bounds along in an elegant way.  Kowal’s writing style is beautiful and engrossing, not to Regency-y but still conforming to the canon of the time.  It’s a noble effort for a second novel, and displays a lot of growth and maturation for her second attempt.  Her characters are still a little shallow, her pace a bit too quick, but a trip through Glamour in Glass shouldn’t leave you disappointed.  If you enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey, give this one a shot!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2012)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325570
NOOK: ISBN: 9781429987288
Kindle: ASIN: B006OLOUQY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard – A Review

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard (2011)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

‘What is it that you read now?’

Mrs. Cobbold gestured to the volume on Harriet’s lap.

‘Another stupid book.’ Harriet put it down. ‘First Impressions is its title; and by A Lady, as usual.’

‘It does not divert you?’

‘Divert me, Aunt! I have no wish to be diverted, though it is witty and charming. The lady authoress believes that girls think only of marriage and a husband.’

So begins a tongue-in-cheek discussion on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book the heroine of Stella Tillyard’s historical novel Tides of War dislikes because of its seeming lack of social context. It is fitting, then, that Harriet Raven should be the heroine of a story drastically different from those written by Austen. Tillyard’s novel weaves together science and medicine, politics and war, economics and industry, religion and atheism through the interconnected lives of a large cast of characters scattered across Europe, twenty-two of which are based on real people.

Readers meet Harriet during Britain’s war with Napoleon. She is a young bride, eager to learn, but inexperienced and socially clumsy. Her husband goes off to fight under the direction of the future Duke of Wellington, and while he is away, Harriet is left to be charmed by another man. Her relationship with the inventor, Mr. Winsor, is just one of the many examples of the story’s thematic examination of sexuality and marital commitment.

Another even more moving example of this theme, is the subplot belonging to the character Thomas Orde, a British soldier fighting in Spain. Like many of the other soldiers, Orde has been schooled in the idea that “Women [are] the spoils of war,” (204). Caught up in the jubilation of victory and still reeling with the savage energy of battle, Thomas participates in the rape of a young Spanish woman. Tillyard writes, “Coming around again, Thomas saw that his left hand, loose against the stones, was closed tightly around something. He opened it out finger by finger. Flat on his palm lay a twist of black hair; more than a twist, a whole handful of hair, pliable and young. Silk-soft. He had pulled it from her scalp, and blood and flesh clung to it,” (79). Thomas attempts to rationalize what he has done, as if war gives special license for cruelty and immorality, but he is ultimately unable to suppress his conscience. Tillyard masterfully describes Thomas’s struggle to return to his old life in England under the shadow of his crime.

Rape is only one of the disastrous effects of war on women and children discussed in the novel; sickness, hunger, poverty, and loss of one’s home and family, if not death, create a situation of desperation, leaving children, the elderly, and women vulnerable while making a handful of people powerful. Reflecting on this situation, an officer named David Heaton is led to muse “War never finishes…and never will. It simply moves about the world like the ocean current that touches now one country, now another. Why? Because in the same way that a rash upon the skin is merely a symptom of a fever that rages in the body underneath, war is only the visible shape of all the forces that nature has planted in us,” (349). War’s corrupting and degrading influence on individuals and society, and the subsequent attempts to recover from it, either through confession or deception, are subjects that make this novel a fascinating commentary on the wars of any age.

Tillyard’s ability to balance so many storylines, thereby creating a sense of the grand scope of things, is impressive. This is her first sojourn into fiction after the highly successful historical biographies: Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 (1994) and Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings (2006). Unfortunately, I found her heroine unappealing. Harriet’s perspectives and values seemed more those of a twenty-first century American than of a woman of Britain’s Georgian Era, particularly her torpid religiosity and her blasé attitude about adultery.  Unlike the Austen heroines whom she professes to be bored by, Harriet lacked sparkle, wit, faith, insight, creativity, and an interesting plot. She was just a privileged young lady playing at adult life.

Despite the heroine’s shortcomings, I confess Tillyard’s novel held my interest from beginning to end. The imagery—like in the scene of a Spanish bull fight—is elegant and vivid, and I loved how she incorporated unexpected historical points of interest in the story, such as the development of blood transfusions, the economic maneuverings of the famous Rothschild family, and the art of celebrated Spanish painter Goya. Her writing style is clear and even, and the scenes related to death and new beginnings are poignant. In short, Tides of War was believable and pleasurable, with the literary feel of a national saga.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard
Henry Holt and Co. (2011)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0805094572

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe – A Review

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe (2008)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

A deranged nun cloistered away in a convent hidden in the forests of southern France tells the story of when she used to be a beautiful, love-crazed noblewoman, the climax of which is her confession to persuading a married man to poison his wife—and that is just one of the many bizarre twists of Ann Radcliffe’s exciting classic Gothic tale, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance,¹ the novel that inspired Jane Austen’s Gothic parody Northanger Abbey. It was because of Austen’s praise of Radcliffe’s novel, that I purchased Udolpho as summer reading—and how could I not, when sensible Mr. Tilney had this to say of it:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time” (Ch. 14).

Udolpho is the story of the worst year in Emily St. Aubert’s life. Her mother dies, then her father dies, and she ends up in the care of an aunt with about as much sympathy and tenderness as the hideous Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park. This same aunt blocks Emily’s marriage plans to Valancourt, the man she loves, and takes her to Italy to live under the power of the tyrannical Montoni, the handsome fiend the aunt has just married. The narrator says, “As the carriage-wheels rolled heavily under the portcullis, Emily’s heart sunk, and she seemed, as if she was going into her prison; the gloomy court, into which she passed, served to confirm the idea, and her imagination, ever awake to circumstance, suggested even more terrors, than her reason could justify” (210). In fact, Emily’s fears are quite justifiable. While some of the subsequent terrors, seemingly supernatural, are eventually explained, the real dangers are horrific enough. Indeed, one of the most frightening scenes has nothing to do with ghostly apparitions, mysterious voices, veiled images, and haunting music—Radcliffe’s favorite tricks—rather it has to do with two drunken men chasing after Emily through the dark passages of the castle, competing to get to her first (398).

Not surprising, the vulnerability of women is a major theme of Udolpho—a theme cleverly symbolized by a bedroom door that cannot be locked from the inside (217-218). Radcliffe exposes not only the violence of men against women, but also the social system that limited women’s decision-making power over their own futures. There is no better symbol of this than the tragic character of the marchioness, forced by her father to marry a man she did not love for the sake of money, only to be poisoned by that same man when she was falsely suspected of committing adultery (606-607). In contrast, the strength of women is also highlighted in the novel, mainly through the portrayal of women as virtuous, rational human beings, as with Emily and several of the female side characters, such as the nuns and the female servants who care for Emily. Even the two villainous female characters—Laurentini di Udolpho and Madame Montoni—have conversions. Indeed, the former  exclaims: “What are riches—grandeur—health itself, to the luxury of a pure conscience, the health of the soul; and what sufferings or poverty, disappointment, despair—to the anguish of an afflicted one!” (596).

The above points to the most important theme of the novel, virtue rewarded, a common religious theme in novels of the Georgian Era. Udolpho is an important historical text, precisely because of the way it handles the subject of religion. Although the novel is set in 1584, in Catholic France and Italy, it has tale-tell signs of Eighteenth Century anti-Catholic British prejudice. Catholic devotions are frequently labeled superstitious (29-30, 84, and 194), and the regulated life of monks and nuns is condemned by one character as pretentious and stifling to real prayer (436, 439). There are also interesting touches of Rationalism’s emphasis on self-control (7, 539, 596), typical of the Anglicanism of Radcliffe’s time, and Romanticism’s emphasis on the power of nature to help the human person experience transcendence (8, 224, 436), a combination which reminds one of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

Some of the less brilliant elements to the novel include the interspersion of poetry throughout the story, the interruption of the central plot by subplots, and the flatness of the characters, even the heroine. The mixing of poetry with prose in Udolpho is distracting, especially since the quality of it is not as high as that of the prose. The subplots, while tied in with the main plot eventually, are rather fantastic in subject and action. That said, they help sustain the agonizing pace that Radcliffe establishes from the beginning. These stories are designed to tantalize the reader’s imagination and keep the pages turning, which they do quite well, but they nevertheless seem to derail the main storyline. As for flatness in characters, that may be allowed for minor characters, but when the entire cast is flat, there is a problem. Even Emily, with all her tears, sighs, fainting spells, and prayers, lacks depth and development—though she is not without her moments of triumph, particularly in the wonderfully written scene in which she defends herself against Montoni when the latter attempts to bully her into a marriage with an Italian nobleman she despises (183-191).

At times, Udolpho is grossly melodramatic and sentimental, overly and simplistically pious; but despite these limitations and failings, Radcliffe’s novel is a wonderfully entertaining story, vividly described, with a roller-coaster plot that keeps the reader on the edge—a mix of the real and the imagined, with characters you love to hate, and others you would hate to see lose—all of which makes Radcliffe the rightful mother of a genre of literature that encompasses works ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  And lest we forget, Udolpho is also an interesting piece of Christian art, designed, like a parable, to teach its readers a simple biblical premise: “though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain…innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune!” (620).

[1] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe
Oxford University Press, USA (2008)
Trade paperback (736) pages
ISBN: 978-0199537419

Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win a copy of Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about this Gothic novel, or why you would take Henry Tilney’s excellent advice (or Br. Paul’s) and read it. Deadline to comment is midnight PT, Wednesday, August 17th, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, August 18th, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, Austenprose