The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy – A Review

The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.

Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.

As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:

…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)

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Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor, by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand

Mr. Darcy's Guide to Courtship 2013 From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

In the modern era, more than 200 years since Jane Austen’s time, there is still a strong and robust following and appreciation of her works. Most notably, there is a nod to her forward-thinking views about women and how they should behave and act, which were at odds with the conventional wisdom of the time. What if we stood this entire paradigm on its head and acted as though these conventions were true? What would men of this era have to say about women, and more importantly how would they rationalize these opinions? We must look no further than Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship by Emily Brand, which offers up a very tongue-in-cheek view on this very subject.

Written from the point of view of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself, Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship is a work loosely based on Regency-era advice publications, which instructed readers on how to behave and the socially acceptable guidelines to which men and women should adhere. Of course, it speaks volumes on how men perceived women in that time period, and it still remains relevant today as we see the implications of these points of view on how men act in present day. Additionally, the reader is treated to sections written by other characters, such as Mr. Collins and Wickham, as well as Darcy’s own personal correspondence with other characters.

First off, this book is downright hysterical. Of course, I kind of saw this coming, as the back cover of the book states, “For two hundred years, the mere mention of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has caused hearts to flutter and bosoms to heave. The feeling has not been reciprocal.”  I was already laughing at that, and thus knew I was in for a fun time. I especially enjoyed a piece in the work entitled “Complementing With Delicacy, W. Collins” which, according to Darcy, is a list of “ludicrous examples” of complements put forth by Mr. Collins. The one that really got me was “Your noble forehead is like a rock of alabaster.” Swoon! Unfortunately Collins ended up crossing that one out, but he leaves in many other excellent examples of how to give the most hysterical compliments ever. I also enjoyed Darcy’s “Dear Abby” type section, where other literary characters wrote to him for advice. The things that Darcy would come up with are both exactly what I imagine he would say; just as condescending as ever. Emily Brand does a wonderful job in taking the spirit of Darcy’s character and infusing it into her own pen, as her words seem to flow effortlessly out of his consciousness. This is definitely a fun and quick read that will keep you laughing for a while. I heartily recommend it.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor, by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand
Old House (2013)
Trade paperback (192) pages
ISBN: 978-1908402592

Cover image courtesy Old House © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose.com

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith – A Review

Miss Jane Austens Guide to Modern Lifes Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith (2012)I am late out of the gate in reviewing this book. It’s been sitting here on my desk for months. Released on 25 October 2012, it has not garnered much attention and I don’t know why. Honestly, I am a bit burned out on Jane Austen advice books after two great submissions arrived earlier this year: The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and The Jane Austen Guide to Life. We also missed reviewing Finding Mister Darcy: Jane Austen’s Rules for Love, by Diane Clark which arrived on 31 Aug 2012. And, gentle readers, there are more Jane Austen advice books in the queue: Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift: An Independent Woman’s Advice on Living within One’s Means, by Kathleen Anderson and Susan Jones will arrive on 3 April 2013. It’s a focused topic and quite amazing to see so many competing with each other.

Regardless of past releases, or future, this clever tome deserves your attention. First off, the cover will make you smile: the vintage image of a Regency-era lady holding an iPad is very apropos and the subtitle will pique your interest: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and what to wear) from the Great Novelist Herself. At 27 words, this book might have the longest title I have ever seen. Let’s hope that it is more succinct with the text!

Happily it is broken down into six chapters: Love & Relationships; Friends & Family; Fashion & Style; Home & Garden; and Leisure & Travel. This is a good start—and I must state right up front that the writer Rebecca Smith brings an air of authority and distinctive pedigree to the subject and that few can boast: she is the great grandniece of Jane Austen, four times removed. She was also the first official writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England with previously published books: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That, and A Bit of Earth. Brava Ms. Smith!

So, enough set up, let’s get down to facts. My first impressions of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide is that it is intriguing eye candy; a thorough exploration interspersed with vintage images and text boxes of tidbits. It is set up as a Q&A: Ms. Smith presents questions of modern topics and Jane Austen answers directly from her novels and letters, or more precisely, Ms. Smith selects quotes and brief excerpts from Jane Austen’s prose and correspondence. It is quite a clever premise. Who better to answer your questions on life’s mysteries than the renown authoress whose astute skills of characterization and social machinations are unsurpassed? Here are a few examples of the questions presented: What Should I Be Looking for In a Man?, How Can I Make My Friend Stop the Baby Talk?, How do I Out a Cheating Spouse?, To Tattoo or not to Tattoo?, How Can  I Delete a Contact on Facebook without Causing Offense?, What Can I Do to Control My Shopping Binges?, and, many, many more. In addition to using Jane Austen’s text in reply, Smith offers pithy supporting text in her own words illustrated with a vintage images:

What Should My Book Club Read?

Q. One thing you never seem to find the time for these days is reading. As you were a bookworm when you were younger. You have decided to start a club in order to get back to basics and take some time to improve your mind. But your group is made up of some very different people with very different tastes. So how do you choose which kind of books to read?

A. “I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library … As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so …” — Letter to Cassandra, Steventon, 18 December 1798

Smith then elaborates on Austen’s view of reading, especially the not so well-thought of fiction of her day and how it influenced Austen’s own writing, and then offers her own advice:

“Your club’s first choice is important. You could start with Northanger Abbey. It is certainly not desultory, and is a novel about novels, so should get you talking about reading and please everybody you’d like to keep as a member of your book club.” p. 213

I am always a bit leery of advice books; even though I am the first person of my acquaintance that should heed their wisdom. Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, I find Lady Catherine’s arrogant pontificating tiresome and not always spot on. Not so here. The one thing that saved me from total ignominy in reading this book was the arrangement of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide in an encapsulated manner. One can pick it up, open it to any page, and then just read one question and answer a day—almost like a daily devotional with Austen as your adviser. Taken in smaller doses, I found it amusing and enlightening.

So, gentle readers, as I present my last book review of the year, take Miss Jane Austen’s advice from this clever book and look life in the face and laugh …

I am glad you are so well yourself, and wish everybody else were equally so. I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”—Letter to Cassandra, Chawton, 31 May 1811

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to Wear) from the Great Jane Austen Herself, by Rebecca Smith
Tarcher (2012)
Trade paperback (224) pages
ISBN: 978-0399160615

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith – A Review

The Jane Austen Guide to Life, by Lori Smith (2012)If you could be swept back in time two hundred years ago to have a cup of tea with Jane Austen, what would you ask her? Any question. No bars held. If I had the courage, I might ask her how did she become so wise in the ways of human nature and love? Or, did she intend to craft stories to entertain, or to enlighten?

Since time-travel has yet to be invented, we can only surmise how Austen would have replied. Yet, for centuries she has been speaking to readers in an intimate way without many of us realizing it. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life, author Lori Smith decodes Austen’s philosophy on life and love by combing through her novels and personal correspondence for lessons relevant for the modern woman. Is Jane Austen the relationship coach that we should all be learning from? Smith thinks so and has carefully selected key topics that we can contemplate and learn from such as: Living Your Dreams; Pursuing Passion; Marrying Well; Cherishing Family and Friends; Enduring the Hardest Things; and the final chapter Austen’s Ethos. You might say this is a self-help book applying the principals and morals that Austen used in writing her fictional characters translated into the nonfiction world. In the introduction, Smith sums it up very nicely…

“This book mines Jane’s life and her stories for the lessons she would teach us if she could. Thankfully, through her writing, she can and does speak today.” p. xi

I never feel more like Lydia Bennet when someone recommends a self-help book to me. Remember in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins reads from Fordyce’s Sermons and she gaped in horror? I can totally relate. I deplore being preached to and am quite the skeptic. Even though I opened this book with grave trepidation, I was soon won over by the author’s knowledge of Jane Austen and her upbeat, approachable style. Each chapter is well researched offering topics and examples from the novels that modern readers can relate to. My favorite chapter was the last: Austen’s Ethos.

“As I’ve written about Austen, several themes continue to come back to me. They’ve surfaced throughout the book, but, at the risk of redundancy, may bear repeating, because in so many ways I think they capture her heart. They were lessons her heroines knew, or came to know through the course of the stories, and may in fact be the central, overarching lessons that she would want to pass on to us today. They’re also lessons that, because of two centuries that separate us from Austen, we may be less likely to take away from her light stories.” p. 197

I will leave you dangling in suspense with that tempting nugget of knowledge yet to be revealed. After reading The Jane Austen Guide to Life I understand more fully why I have been so attracted to Austen’s writing since first reading Pride and Prejudice over thirty years ago. I had the privilege of reading an early advance copy and wholeheartedly can attest that this engaging book, part biography and part self-help guide, it is all heart. Janeites will embrace its common sense and insights into their favorite author, and everyone else should buy it for their daughters and best friends.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith
Globe Pequot Press (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
ISBN: 978-0762773817

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor – A Review

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor (2012)How many Wickhams, Willoughbys or Mr. Collins’ have you met before a Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightley, or (miracle of miracles) Mr. Darcy landed on your doorstep? For the benefit of those who may not know who those gentlemen are, they are male characters in Jane Austen novels. They teach her heroines important life lessons about romance and love, and if one is paying attention, one can glean more than just the experience of reading a masterpiece of literature. Not only is Jane Austen a brilliant writer, she is a great life coach too.

We have long harbored the belief that everything you need to know about life and love is right there among the pages of Austen’s six major works. So does author Elizabeth Kantor. Her new relationship book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, will explain it all in an insightful and entertaining way. Even this grizzled Janeite learned more than a thing or two.

The book is broken down into sixteen lively chapters, like: What Do Women Really Want from Jane Austen?; Don’t be a Tragic Heroine; Jane Austen’s Skeleton Keys to a Man’s Potential;  or Arrange Your Own Marriage in the Most Pleasant Manner Possible. There’s even a fifteen page appendix questioning if Jane Austen novels are just entertainment or did she really intended to give us relationship advice – and eighty-four pages of numbered notes citing every source used on every page. Yes, gentle readers. Kantor has researched the heck out of this subject and it shows.

There is just so much to delight in this book that one barely knows where to begin praising it. Besides the friendly and accessible voice by its benevolent authoress, we just love the helpful format. Kantor has a lot to say in each of the chapters, but the density is broken up with insightful “Tips for Janeites” text boxes, subheadings categorizing subjects within the chapters, and a chapter summary at the end featuring three highlights: Adopt a Jane Austen Attitude; What Would Jane Austen Do?; and If We Really Want to Bring Back Jane Austen. In between there is a wealth of relationship knowledge, helpful advice, and a whole lot of fun. Connecting Jane Austen’s characters, plots and shrewd observations of human nature is just what our often befuddled twenty-first century relationship sensibilities need. Our favorite part was chapter twelve: “He Had No Intensions At All” How to Recognize Men Who Are “Just Not That into You.” Wow! We wish we had this book in our teens. *queue to every mom, aunt, or friend to buy The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After for a loved one*

We had the honor of being one of the first to read an advanced copy and were immediately smitten. It was no hardship to offer this blurb for the back of the book:

“Influenced by the master of love and romance, Elizabeth Kantor’s wise, witty, and insightful book should be added to Mr. Darcy’s reading list for any truly accomplished woman. It will transform you into the heroine of your own life.”

Now…off to re-read the important bits, again.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor
Regnery Publishing (2012)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1596987845
NOOK: ISBN: 9781596983182
Kindle: ASIN: B007NJPVOG

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

A Jane Austen Devotional, by Steffany Woolsey – A Review & Giveaway!

A Jane Austen Devotional, by Steffany Woolsey (2012)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

This book is crafted with the hope that readers would take the opportunity to get lost in the world of Jane Austen—a place where we can all pause in solitude, as though we’ve just finished a stroll in the garden with Jane and are now sitting down with her to tea, reflecting on important life lessons and taking in the beauty of the countryside. Through excerpts from her work, short devotions, and Scripture, we hope this book will bring you moments of peace while you allow God’s word to shape your own character, (introduction).

Jane Austen, Virgin and Doctor of the Church? One might look forward to the Anglican Communion adding Blessed Jane to its calendar of saints with the publication of Steffany Woolsey’s A Jane Austen Devotional (a measure this Catholic would whole-heartedly support). When Laurel Ann first told me she was sending me this book, I was off-the-charts thrilled. The title alone was enough to evoke in me a childlike eagerness to hold the book in my hands and celebrate that such a thing existed. Why this near-absurd ebullience? Well, my particular area of Austen studies focuses on Jane Austen’s religious context and the religiosity of her novels, thus a book that purposefully examines her stories in a Christian light was sure to interest me. One that does so as a devotional—a book designed as an aid to the reader’s spiritual contemplation—promised to take things to a higher, more personal level.

With over one hundred meditation reflections, paired with favorite snippets from the novels we love so well, along with corresponding scripture passages, this devotional is sure to please Austen fans of faith. Subjects covered vary widely, but may be categorized by Austen’s common religious themes: the rewards of virtuous living, the ugliness of vicious behavior, and the duty owed to one’s family, neighbors, and society. Chapter titles give you further clues into themes: “Being Generous,” “Spiritual Bankruptcy,” “Respecting One Another,” “Flirting with Sin,” and so on. By combining scenes from Austen and scenes from Jewish and Christian scriptures, the author builds the foundation for the little morals she offers or reflection questions she poses at the end of each two-page chapter. In doing so, Woolsey helps readers to do what Austen always intended them to do: to use her characters—the good and the bad—to critically examine their own behavior. Are we more like Mary Crawford or Fanny Price? Mr. Wickham or Mr. Darcy?

One reflection I particularly liked was entitled “Following the Golden Rule.” This chapter held up the example of Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice for the reader’s consideration, reminding him or her of Jane’s propensity to see the good in everyone, and her avoidance of malicious speech. As Woolsey writes, “Jane lives out this truth [the Golden Rule given by Jesus] by employing a simple philosophy: if we want to be loved, we have to give love. Likewise, if we want meaningful relationships, we need to treat others with respect and esteem. Forgiveness, kindness, generosity—in all these areas, we must lead without expectation of reciprocity,” (21). The concluding reflection questions that then follow are deep, in their own way, helping the reader to really sit and delve into the true motivations for his or her behavior and interaction with others.

A Jane Austen Devotional is a spiritual tool, not merely a gimmicky Austen collectable. If used once a day (as devotionals usually are), this book can slowly help a spiritual seeker to develop or strengthen his or her practice of reflection and contemplation, using as a starting point Austen’s very practical Anglican Christianity. In this way, it’s not a book you sit down and read through in a weekend, but one you keep around all year long, on your nightstand with your Bible, at your desk at work, in your glove compartment, or in your purse.

I give this book 5 Stars, and highly recommend it.

A Grand Giveaway of A Jane Austen Devotional

The publisher Thomas Nelson, Inc. has generously offered a giveaway contest of three copies of A Jane Austen Devotional. To enter a chance to win one copy, leave a comment stating which quotes from Jane Austen you think are inspiring, or which of which of Jane Austen’s characters would greatly benefit from this devotional and why by 11:59pm PT, Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, January 19, 2012. Shipment to the US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

A Jane Austen Devotional, by Steffany Woolsey
Thomas Nelson, Inc. (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
ISBN: 978-1400319534

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. He is in the writing and publishing graduate program at DePaul University. He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2012 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan – A Review

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2011)Everyone loves a new frock to brighten their day, and authors are as equally excitable when it comes to re-issues of their works. We were very happy for Margaret C. Sullivan of AustenBlog fame when we learned that her excellent The Jane Austen Handbook (2007) hardcover edition was getting a second go round from its publisher Quirk Books in a new and more accessible paperback format. Not only does the pretty new cover catch the eye, the price leaves a bit more pewter in ones pocket without any changes to the original text and illustrations.

Filled with pertinent facts that every Regency Miss should be aware of to become truly accomplished, it is easy for us to recommend this great little how-to book to our readers because we have used it personally over the past four years whenever we had a question regarding deportment, dancing, playing an instrument, frock shopping and making love (in the Regency context mind you) – the top five most critical social aspects to any young Regency ladies life. One can also throw in letter writing, entertaining house guests and managing a household and just about anything else our dear Austen heroines Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse or Anne Elliot already know that might qualify them as a truly accomplished young lady in Mr. Darcy’s eyes. We shall not add Catherine Morland and Fanny Price into the mix. They are exceptions to the rule and shall be forgiven their lack of education, and might well benefit from this slim volume.

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke from The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2011) pg 17

Besides being wise, this volume is also very witty, and that is where we take full enjoyment of its tongue-in-cheek manner. Who would not want to know how to choose a prospective husband (What? They do not choose us? Is that not the unspoken belief among all beaux?), how to decline an unwanted marriage proposal (Lizzy Bennet might offer some advice to Fanny Price on this too!), carry off a secret engagement (Lucy Steele and Jane Fairfax would benefit from modern Prozac no doubt), or elope to Gretna Green (Lydia Bennet FAIL). There are also other tidbits that really made us laugh too. Each page turn brought more delightful and humorous illustrations by Kathryn Rathke and informative vignettes of examples from Jane Austen’s novels like: Who Died and Made Mr. Collins the Heir of Longbourn? or the  Worst (and Funniest) Proposals in Jane Austen’s Novels. *snort*

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke from The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2011) pg 165

Informative, impertinent and indispensable, The Jane Austen Handbook is a must have for anyone eager to understand anything from the obvious to the nuanced differences of society in Regency England. Lest we think this frivolous fare, it also contains a brief, but well-written bio of Jane Austen, summaries of the major novels and minor works, a glossary, a list of modern film adaptions through 2007, resources online: websites and blogs (we are forgotten, *sniff*), Austen societies, Austen places to visit, libraries and archives, and a select bibliography. Lastly, we know that Mary Bennet would happily offer her pedantic stamp of approval of this volume because it contains a full index for ease of access to Janeites on the fast track to becoming truly accomplished.

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke from The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2011) pg 120

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England, by Margaret C. Sullivan
Quirk Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (224) pages
ISBN: 978-1594745058

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose