In Her Own Hand: Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third, by Jane Austen, introduction by Kathryn Sutherland – A Review

In Her Own Hand 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

The first time I read a collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, I remember relishing the sheer fun and silliness of the stories and plays. It was a slender paperback that included transcriptions of selected works from the original notebooks written from 1787 to 1793. These handwritten notebooks had circulated within Austen’s family during her lifetime and were later given to family members by her sister Cassandra, but the stories were not published until the twentieth-century. Because none of Austen’s six completed and published novels exist in manuscript form, these early notebooks are rare examples of her fiction that have survived intact “in her own hand” and reside in the collections of the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Volume the First) and the British Library (Volume the Second and Volume the Third).

The three-volume set, In Her Own Hand, gives Austen fans the opportunity to read Jane’s handwriting in facsimile pages that match the size of the original notebooks, the color of the paper, and the brown-black iron gall ink that Austen used. Inkblots, smudges, and revisions pepper the pages, giving the reader a glimpse into Austen’s early creative process. When faced with deciphering a difficult word or phrase, text transcriptions by Austen scholar Robert W. Chapman provide a handy reference. Each volume contains an introduction by Professor Kathryn Sutherland that places the writings in context and highlights important aspects of the stories and sketches such as their chronology and how they relate to later Austen works. As Sutherland points out, these notebooks were not Jane Austen’s private journals but rather “confidential publications” that were “intended and crafted for circulation among family and friends.” (6) Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice (Usborne Young Reading Series), Adapted by Susanna Davidson, Illustrations by Simona Bursi – A Review

PandP Usborne 2011 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Could you tell the story of Pride and Prejudice in 60 pages and make the world of Regency England come alive for a young reader? I pondered this question before reading author Susanna Davidson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. The Usborne Young Reading Series provides young readers with stories adapted from literature classics including works by Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charlotte Bronte. Pride and Prejudice is a Level Three reader with an intended audience of young readers who are reading independently but are not ready for standard length books. How would a re-working of Austen’s masterpiece of complex social relations fare in this format?

Before I could turn my mind to this question, I was dazzled by the illustrations on the opening pages. Scenes of the Bennet family at Longbourn, Meryton quickly progressed to the Netherfield Ball where Elizabeth breaks her promise never to dance with Mr. Darcy. The soft, muted colors of the ladies gowns contrast with the scarlet regimentals of the militia and evening dress of the gentlemen. Earlier, at the Meryton assembly-room, the depiction of the entry of Mr. Bingley’s party is framed with architectural details from the walls and a chandelier hangs above the illustrated figures between the text. These elegant visual touches enliven the entire book. Lady Catherine’s Rosings glows with burnished gold and candlelight. Following Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy, as she reads his letter, we see a facsimile of the letter above an atmospheric scene of the heroine out of doors. The illustrations evoke the emotion of many memorable scenes from the story. Many readers may note the resemblance of characters to the actors and actresses of the 2005 film adaptation. I particularly enjoyed looking for similarities and differences as I re-read the story. Continue reading

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Susan J. Wolfson – A Review

Northanger Abbey An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen edited by Susan J. Wolfson 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Harvard University Press is seriously spoiling me. With the release of Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, they have now produced five glitzy coffee table editions of Jane Austen’s major novels. What true Janeite could possibly pass up an unabridged first edition text, an extensive introduction and notes by an Austen scholar, full-color illustrations, over-sized hardcover format and copious supplemental material – all wrapped up in a beautifully designed package? Not me!

I have enjoyed all of the editions in this annotated series so far, with only one exception. I am greedy. I want more annotation and was quite annoyed when I turned a page of a previous edition and saw white space in the sidebar columns instead of text. Such a waste when there is so much to write about and Janeites and newbies are eager and grateful readers. The first thing I did when I cracked open this new edition was to skim for the dreaded white space. It looked plump and promising.

Northanger Abbey is indeed the wallflower of Austen’s oeuvre. Like its young heroine Catherine Morland, it is a naïve, wide eyed debutant in comparison to its light, bright and sparkling older sister Pride and Prejudice. My heart sinks to admit it, but it is true. While readers continually rank it as one of Jane Austen’s least popular novels, I think it is one of her hidden gems—highly under-rated and completely satisfying. I find its exuberant humor laugh-out-loud funny, hunky hero Henry Tilney witty and irresistibly charming, and the spooky Gothic parody brilliant. Why is my reaction so different to the average reader’s? Knowledge. It is extremely helpful to be able to place the novel in social context and to understand Austen’s layered tongue-in-cheek underpinnings. That’s where this new annotated edition comes in handy. I believe that editor Susan J. Wolfson has pulled together a masterpiece. Continue reading

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, annotated & edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen and David M. Shaphard (2013)From the desk of Heather Laurence:

“And now, Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “that you have made us understand each other, you may as well make Miss Morland understand yourself … Miss Morland is not used to your odd ways.”

“I shall be most happy to make her better acquainted with them.”

Modern readers encountering Northanger Abbey for the first time may find themselves like Catherine Morland:  eager to become better acquainted with the wealth of background information that brings the world of the Morlands, Thorpes, and Tilneys vividly to life. The Annotated Northanger Abbey, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard, is a new resource designed to guide aspiring heroines (and heroes) safely through the perils of obscure Gothic references and identify the treasures – hidden away in Japan cabinets and curricles, of course – that make Northanger Abbey even more enjoyable.

Shapard has previously annotated and edited editions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Many fans who have grown well acquainted with Jane Austen’s life and times through years of their own independent research may not find much new about the information in the annotations. However, even for the veteran Austen reader this edition is appealing for its convenient access to a wide range of definitions, context, and clarifications. For those who are reading Northanger Abbey with fresh eyes, these annotated editions can be a convenient resource to gain a basic understanding of the language and details of the time. And, as Catherine grew from an indifference to flowers to learn to love a hyacinth, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but a new reader may be inspired to explore Regency fashion, history, or Gothic literature in greater depth?

While reading The Annotated Northanger Abbey, several different types of references are at the ready on the opposite page for easy access. This edition features over two hundred illustrations, again conveniently appearing as they are mentioned in the text rather than grouping several illustration plates in the book’s center. Mrs. Allen and her friends will especially appreciate the fashion plates, from Eleanor Tilney’s white beads and spotted muslin to Isabella Thorpe’s turban.

She could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.

Northanger Abbey is well known for its parody of novel reading, Gothic novels in particular. Ann Radcliffe may have been the Stephen King of Jane Austen’s era, but her blockbusters and their imitators are virtually unknown today. Annotations throughout this edition provide basic information to make sense of wretched Mathildas, midnight bells and monks. The Annotated Northanger Abbey provides enough useful background to save a heroine from a disappointing trip to Blaise Castle, but if these Gothic tidbits make you wild to know what lies behind the black veil, you’ll want to read The Mysteries of Udolpho for yourself to find out.

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Catherine may speak plainly, but many common idioms of Jane Austen’s day may not be readily understood today. The Annotated Northanger Abbey provides a generous supply of definitions and clarifications to enable readers to join the ladies at the netting-basket or quiz the Thorpes. Explanations of historical context and citations from Jane Austen’s own life, letters, and other writings further enhance the understanding of Catherine and Henry’s world.

Saturday se’nnights and the expected comings and goings of characters through Bath and the Abbey are all explained by a detailed chronology of events at the back of the book. While Jane Austen provides no exact calendar dates, Shepard has constructed a sequence of events based on the months or days of the week mentioned in the text. Maps of England, the area around Bath, the city of Bath and the central Bath streets are marked with familiar plot points to assist with perspective.

An extensive bibliography provides opportunities to further explore the world of Northanger Abbey with several categories, including: the idea of the picturesque, language of the period, leisure and amusement, beauty and fashion, and many, many more.

Readers need dread no longer being left as far behind as Emily left Valancourt, or despair of catching up to Henry Tilney’s reading list, to enjoy Northanger Abbey to its fullest. Thanks to David M. Shapard’s Annotated Northanger Abbey, it’s possible to bring your Austen knowledge up to speed faster than John Thorpe’s horse. While I must refrain from calling it a “nice” addition to any Austen fan’s library, I will highly recommend The Annotated Northanger Abbey for its usefulness, convenience, and wealth of interesting information.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, annotated & edited by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2013)
Trade paperback (576) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390806

Heather Laurence currently lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two sons, and two Ragdoll cats. Like Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland, she enjoys country walks and horrid novels. Her web site, Solitary Elegance, features several illustrations from Jane Austen’s novels, an index of Northanger Abbey adaptations, and desktop wallpapers inspired by Ackermann’s Repository of Fashion.

Cover courtesy of Anchor Books © 2013; text by Heather Laurence © 2013,

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen and Patricia Meyer Spacks (2013 )From the desk of Kathleen Elder:

Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published, in 1811. A second edition came out in 1813 with author corrections, and that edition was used as the definitive version by Dr. Chapman who noted changes from the first edition. This annotated version also uses Chapman’s second edition, and changes from the first edition are recorded in the footnotes; I appreciate having that information available with other comments/explanations.

At the center of the novel are sisters, Elinor & Marianne Dashwood, who live with their younger sister Margaret and their widowed mother. The plot revolves around these two sisters and their love stories, though the novel is much more than that: it is also a social commentary on the limited options for gentlewomen with small incomes and a critique on extreme sensibility (or “emotional extravagance,”  “a matter of concern in the eighteenth century” – Introduction, p. 1).

Patricia Meyer Spacks previously edited an annotated version of Pride and Prejudice. Like that annotation, Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition contains footnotes that:

  • define/explain terms no longer used or used today in a different sense;
  • describe geographical locations;
  • illuminate characters
  • explain some of the incidents and importance thereof; and
  • offer literary criticism/opinion (both Spacks’ own and those of other scholars/critics).
Illustration from Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thomson, Macmillian (1901)Mrs. Jennings assured him directly that she should not stand upon ceremony,” illustration by Hugh Thomson for the Macmillian edition (1901). John Dashwood looks tentative, Elinor looks prim, and Mrs. Jennings looks jolly; all very appropriate. p. 269

In addition to the footnotes, this edition contains about ninety illustrations. The illustrations include: period paintings; pictures of items mentioned in the novel; illustrations by Hugh Thomson for the 1901 Macmillan edition of the novel; and screen shots from the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee.

With the exception of the footnotes in the Introduction, all footnotes are in the margins, easy to access. In one or two instances it is necessary to turn one page to read (or just finish) footnotes from a preceding page, but this is not inconvenient. The OED (Oxford Edition) is cited for some definitions, but most definitions are unsourced. There are comparisons to Jane Austen’s other writings (novels, Juvenilia, letters) that are interesting, and the scholarly analyses (about characters and motivations, extreme sensibility, inter alia) are thought-provoking. In addition to her own observations, Spacks included critical comments from more than 40 other scholars along with the sources of those comments. At the back of the book there is a list of books (Further Reading) providing materials for further study.

Kensington Gardens by John Martin (1789-1854)

Kensington Gardens, by John Martin (1789-1854). Martin produced several paintings of Kensington Gardens. An appealing subject for artists because they provided both natural beauty and human subjects, the gardens were also popular among the fashionable and would-be-fashionable. p. 313

The illustrations enhance the enjoyment of this annotated edition of the novel. In this ARC all of the illustrations are in black and white; many/most of these will be color (this is true for the illustrations in Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition), which will make them more vibrant.  Some of the illustrations are familiar, such as the watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister (p. 3), but I find the paintings from the era (e.g., gentlemen in hunting/shooting attire on p. 86 et. al.) and items mentioned in the novel (e.g., toothpick cases on p. 264) to be especially useful for a better understanding of the culture. There is also a map at the front of the book that is a great aid in placing the events of the novel in their proper locations in southern England.

I noticed a few errors which I found distracting. To start with a minor error, I found one in the text of the novel, in Volume 3, Chapter 13. In Mrs. Jennings’ letter to Elinor, the phrase “Lucy’s crossness not to take them along with them in the chaise” should read “Lucy’s crossness not to take her along with them in the chaise,” with “her” referring to Nancy Steele – this is the way it reads in Chapman’s (second) edition.

The Dance by Tomas Stothard (1755-1838)

The Dance, by Thomas Stothard (1755-1838). Private dances might provide opportunities for displaying elegant dress and elegant attitudes. Lady Middleton’s gathering lacked the kind of architectural detail indicated in Stothard’s painting, but it too included a crowd of well-dressed people. p. 220

There are also some errors in the editorial comments. In her introduction (p. 28), Spacks makes reference to “Sir John Dashwood, full of good will though he is … .”  John Dashwood is not full of good will nor is he titled Sir, so the reference must be to Sir John Middleton instead. In Volume 1, Chapter 1, footnote #28 (p. 40) states that “Henry, Edward, and George, male names in Sense and Sensibility, are names also of Austen’s brothers” – but there is no character named George in this novel. Lastly, in Volume 3 Chapter 2, the caption for an illustration of a chimney board refers to “The one that Nancy Steele’s friend, Martha Sharpe, might hide behind …” – in the text, it is Lucy Steele who hid behind the chimney board to listen to Nancy and her friend Martha talking. These errors may seem inconsequential, but they detract from what seems otherwise to be a well-researched annotation; my worry is that some of the historical/cultural comments also contain errors of which I would not be aware. At the very least, the existence of such errors shows an occasional lack of careful writing/editing.

This is a fairly good, though not great, annotated edition of Sense and Sensibility. I wish there were more source citations (for definitions and explanations regarding cultural norms) and no errors, but the illustrations, literary commentary and definitions should be useful and interesting to any student of Jane Austen’s novels.

Illustration from Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thomson, Macmillian (1901)I entreat you to stay,” Illustration by Hugh Thomson for the Macmillian edition (1901). Rendering Willoughby as distraught and Elinor as rather frightened, Thomson captures the drama of the unexpected confrontation between the two. p. 359

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
Harvard University Press (2013)
Hardcover (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0674724556

Kathleen Elder is a life-long fan of Jane Austen’s writings. Recently retired from teaching mathematics, she spends some of her free time as a moderator on the Austen-related website

Cover image courtesy Harvard University Press © 2013; text Kathleen Elder © 2013,

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


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