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.

Happily, the text retains several of my favorite conversations from the original. Mr. Bennet chides his wife about her much-overlooked nerves, “On the contrary, I know them well. They’re my oldest friends. You’ve talked about them for twenty years.” (5) Seated at the piano at Rosings, Elizabeth delivers a restrained but pointed critique of Mr. Darcy’s reticence with strangers, “That is because you do not make the effort. I am not talented at playing the piano, but I have always supposed that to be my fault, for not trying harder.” (29) And finally, the explosive scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine that ends with Lady Catherine declaring, “I am most seriously displeased.” (58)

Pride and Prejudice, Usborne, Meryton Assembly (2011)

An example of the expert trimming of the story by Ms. Davidson is her handling of Mr. Collins. He is not mentioned as the heir to Longbourn or suitor to Elizabeth in the early part of the story, thus we lose the his hilarious pomposity until he comes on the scene as the husband of recently married Charlotte Lucas. “‘I see you are surprised by my choice of husband,’ said Charlotte, even though Lizzy had tried to hide it. ‘But I was never romantic, you know. I’ve only ever wanted a comfortable home. I’m not pretty like you, and would much rather have Mr. Collins than no one.’ Lizzy said nothing. She felt deeply that she could never marry without love.” (26)

The only possible criticism of this adaptation, as far as appealing to young readers is the lack of physical adventure in the story. Other books in the Usbourne series include stories with more conflict and danger such as Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, and The Three Musketeers. In being true to Austen’s story, this adaptation retains her emphasis on personal relationships, social commentary and the emotional development of the hero and heroine.

Pride and Prejudice, Usborne, First Proposal (2011)

Reading this adaptation reminded me of the hours I used to spend with favorite illustrated books, pouring over the pictures and imagining myself in the story. Many of these books contained just a handful of illustrations, but nonetheless I returned to them again and again. How much more engaging for a young reader to have beautiful illustrations on nearly every page of this delightful book.

Any remaining Austen purists who may be resistant to the idea of a condensed version of Pride and Prejudice, may be reminded of Austen’s own adaptations of lengthy novels, such as Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, to create short works and theatricals for her family’s enjoyment. Engaging greater numbers of readers with Jane Austen’s work is a worthwhile goal. This adaptation succeeds with young readers experiencing an Austen story for the first time as well as with readers familiar with her sensitivity and subtle wit.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice (Usborne Young Reading Series), Adapted by Susanna Davidson, Illustrations by Simona Bursi
Usborne Books (2011)
Hardcover (64) pages
ISBN: 978-1409522362

Cover image courtesy of Usborne Books © 2011; text Tracy Hickman © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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.

Thomas Hearne, View of Bath from Spring Garden (1790)

Thomas Hearne (1744-1817) View of Bath from Spring Gardens (1790)

In her 60 page introduction (including 7 pages of notes listing references sited) Wolfson takes us on an illuminating journey through the challenges Austen faced on the road to publication of Northanger Abbey—the first novel that Austen wrote in her twenties—and the last to be published after her death in December 1817.

“…the novel is an odd repository, of strange, uneven power…it has her youngest, most inexperienced, “strange, unaccountable” heroine, a girl “in the bloom of seventeen,” ushered by a mature, self-possessed narrator, and the only heroine, moreover, sent into the busy world, with promise and peril. On these pressure points and risky cross-purposes, Austen involved an amusing but conceptually complex relay of genres: a romantic comedy of manners and a parody of its conventions; a spoof of the gothic that also harbored an evident enjoyment of it—along with a glance at its credible language for anxieties that rational society won’t admit.” (Introduction, 10)

Wolfson also elaborates upon historical context, Austen contemporaries, biographical background, her writing and publication career, and analysis of the novel formerly known as Susan, which would posthumously be renamed Northanger Abbey when it was published by John Murray in late 1817.

I found the introduction accessible and enlightening, the illustration well-chosen, with an equal mix of the familiar and the surprising, and the annotation refreshingly unpedantic. Readers new to Northanger Abbey will be taken on a heroine’s adventure of discovery, and those familiar with the path will be equally delighted to make their appearance in the Lower Rooms with Henry Tilney or frightened with Catherine Morland as she reads The Mysteries of Udolpho at Northanger Abbey.

Catharine Moreland Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama by R. W. Buss

R. W. Buss, Catharine Moreland, from Character Sketches of
Romance, Fiction and the Drama (1892)

Was my desire for less white space and more text in the side columns fulfilled? Maybe. While this edition exhibited a vast improvement in quantity and quality, this Janeite will never be truly satisfied until every possible inch is utilized.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Susan J. Wolfson
Belknap Press (2014)
Hardcover (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0674725676

Our previous previews and reviews of the Harvard University Jane Austen series: 

Cover image courtesy of Belknap Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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, Austenprose.com

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 pemberley.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

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

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

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

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Emma, by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard (2012)Of all of Jane Austen’s six major works, I have always been daunted by Emma: both the novel and its eponymous heroine. It is Austen’s longest work and contains her most “troublesome creature” Miss Emma Woodhouse.

I am not alone in my challenge to understand and appreciate this clever tale. The first time I read it many years ago I was mystified. It took further readings and research to fully appreciate it. I only wish on first acquaintance that I had this new annotated edition of Emma by Prof. David Shapard available to me. This is the fourth Austen novel that he has annotated – and it is indeed a wonder. At a hefty 928 pages, no stone has been left unturned to offer the reader: an introduction, bibliography and detailed chronology of events; explanation of historical context; citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings; maps of the places in the novel, and nearly 200 informative illustrations. Phew! If the eBook version included film clips, we could all throw up our hands and proclaim that there was indeed nothing left to experience in the Emma Woodhouse lexicon.

Published in 1815, Austen was at the top of her game as a writer and many scholars proclaim it as her masterpiece. Readers will argue that point. I will too. There are many elements of story and characters that I adore – and some not so much. Though first time readers (especially young students and some early critics) thought it is a snooze fest, if one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Our heroine Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she match makes for her friends with disastrous results. But…what a great journey we are privileged to be take on. Here are a few of my reactions to the novel and David Shapard’s elaboration of it:

The Good: Notwithstanding Emma Woodhouse, it is the secondary characters that really shine in Emma for me. Harriet Smith, Emma’s young, impressionable friend is one my favorite of Austen’s creations. Even though she is undereducated and from the wrong side of the blanket, by the end of the novel she knows her own heart and is superior in my mind to the grand dame of the first family of consequence in Highbury, Emma herself. Austen excelled at sharp wit and comedy in this novel. None can match Mrs. Elton in snobbery and conceit, Miss Bates as the garrulous spinster who is all heart and no brains, and Frank Churchill who is so slyly smarmy that we don’t see it coming. Ha!

Shapard’s format of having the unabridged text on the left page and notes, asides and explanations on the right is continued in the edition. He writes in an accessible style that is both enlightening and enjoyable. Even after years of study this Janeite enjoyed revisiting facts, learning new ones, and delighting in the black and white period illustrations.

The Bad: Novice readers: you may think that not a lot happens in the narrative so pay attention to details and glean facts from the notes. Even though by the end of the novel Emma Woodhouse does realize her faults and missapplyments, I never really believe that she will change that much. (spoilers) I speculate that her new husband Mr. Knightley will have his hands full correcting Emma and keeping her in check. The novel would have benefited from a stronger tension than the fact that Emma does not think she has to marry but wants to match up all her friends instead. There are no real villains or serious life challenges here, so modern readers will be a bit flummoxed. The between the lines social commentary and humor are key, making it not only a literary masterpiece, but a delightfully layered and complex read.

With the annotation doubling the size, this volume becomes a doorstop quality chunkster. The publisher wisely used lightweight quality paper and the binding allows for easily movement, but at one and a half pounds, it weighs a ton and the sheer size may be intimidating. The upside is that at $17.95 the price is a steal for the amount of research material and images therein.

The Ugly: Sadly, authors have very little choice or input on the cover art. In this case, that fact is keenly apparent. The cover does not match the quality of the novel and the annotation. We realize that we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this one is just ghastly.

“Doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgments, but directed chiefly by her own. The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself….” Emma, Chapter 1

The cover follows the theme of the three previous editions in the series by using a period illustration with enumerated details – but ouch. A black background on a bulky book? A photograph of a period frock that is not very fetching? The color combinations? Ack! My artistic sensibilities pray that buyers will not turn away in fright.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2012)
Trade paperback (928) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390776
NOOK: ISBN: 978-0307950246

  • For those of you who have long harbored the notion that Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World and I are the same person…here is her review of THE ANNOTATED EMMA. Mine was so close to hers that I had to rewrite it. So for your enjoyment…here are our two dueling reviews of a great new edition to the Miss Emma Woodhouse lexicon!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility (The Jane Austen Bicentenary Library), by Jane Austen, annotated by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrated by Cassandra Chouinard – A Review

Sense and Sensibility (The Jane Austen Bicentenary Library), by Jane Austen, annotated by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrated by Cassandra Chouinard (2011)As 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, we are offered another annotated edition to help us understand the social and historical context of the world that Jane Austen places us into in late eighteenth century England.

The Sense and Sensibility (The Jane Austen Bicentenary Library) is the first Jane Austen novel, in what I hope will be the bookend of Jane Austen’s six major works, to be offered in eBook format from Girlebooks. Yes, the format is digital gentle readers – and I think it quite appropriate that Margaret Sullivan is leading the way for us as its annotator. Many know Margaret as the editrix of AustenBlog.com, but she is also a strong advocate of digital books, and has for many years been waving their flag in attempt to prepare us for the inevitable. That time has come. This is the first book I am reviewing for Austenprose that is being produced solely for the digital market.

Sense and Sensibility is the tale of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each cut from the same cloth, yet facing financial, social and romantic trials together from totally different perspectives, and – with varying degrees of hardship and success. Level headed and practical Elinor is the older of the two and often the only one in the family to keep her widowed mother and impetuous younger sister on a straight path. Marianne is wildly romantic and hell-bent to stretch the limits of proper decorum into the next county. Three men will change their life paths: Edward Ferrars, a reserved and stoic eldest son whose family aspires to greatest, yet he craves the simple life a country parson; Colonel Brandon, retired from the army and from love because of the loss of his first love many years hence; and Mr. Willoughby, handsome, charming and impassioned, but at a price. As the young ladies search for love, honor and financial security, Austen weaves in a rich social tapestry of minor characters, social commentary and the dry humor that she is renowned for.

While Sense and Sensibility offers some recognizable themes of the era of financially challenged young women searching for love and security in a society whose constraints sharply narrow their possibility of success, Austen has infused deep social context as well. Of all of Austen’s six major novels, S&S is driven by legal inheritance laws of primogeniture in England and how women were affected by them. These can be very puzzling to the contemporary reader and Sullivan’s notes throughout the text can help smooth a few furrowed brows. For example, in Volume One, Chapter two “Mrs. John Dashwood now installed herself mistress of Norland; and her mother and sister-in-law were degraded to the condition of visitors.” This one sentence is the lynchpin of the novel. If you understand why the widow Dashwood and her three daughters are be to displaced, downsized in social standing, the rest of the narrative will all fit into place. If you don’t you’re in trouble and will miss much of the inside story that Austen wants you to experience. If you tap on the numbered endnotes within the text, it will take you to the explanation. Tapping on the number again will take you back to the text. It is that simple.

With only 97 endnotes, this edition is not as extensively annotated as this year’s The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard, Anchor Books (2011), however, it does contain: A biography of the authoress; A bibliography and further reading; Information and Jane Austen’s life and culture; Author’s having fun with Jane Austen’; Fiction inspired by Sense and Sensibility; Films adapted from and inspired by Sense and Sensibility; and a buoyant forward and an unerring eye by the annotator. The illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard add levity, but are not expandable, so it was difficult to appreciate any detail. One must also take a leap of faith and assume that this is an unabridged text, but what version used, is not stated.

The eBook is available in Adobe Reader PDF, Kindle/Mobipocket PRC, ePub & Microsoft Reader LIT for the modest price of $2.99. Yes, there are a lot of “free” editions of S&S out there to be had for digital readers. Don’t be fooled by “free” gentle readers. Not all eBooks are created equal. The expert formatting and craftsmanship exhibited by this Girlebook edition is well worth the value.  For a middlin’ annotated edition, this Bicentenary Library presentation is “everything that is worthy and amiable.”

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

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

Sense and Sensibility (The Jane Austen Bicentenary Library), by Jane Austen, annotated by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrated by Cassandra Chouinard
Girlebooks (2011)
Available at Girlebooks, Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nookbook Store & Smashwords

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Robert Morrison – A Review

Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Robert Morrison (2011)Last year, the good folks at the Harvard University Press presented the first installment in their commitment to annotate all six of Jane Austen’s major novels. Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks set the standard for the series: an unabridged first edition text, annotations by an Austen scholar, full color illustrations, over-sized coffee table format (9.5” X 10”), extensive scholarly introduction, and supplemental material – all pulled together in a beautifully designed interior and stunning cover. It was a grand slam home run. Now, just in time for holiday gift giving, Persuasion: An Annotated Edition was released this month supplying the same powerful presentation; this time to Jane Austen’s final, most profound and poignant novel, Persuasion.

Packed in the side margins of almost every page are running commentaries by editor Robert Morrison. Adding explanations, asides and illuminations, readers will be aided in understanding the narrative that may appear to the first time reader as a simple story of love lost and regained, but in actuality, is quite layered in complexity: laced with historical context, social commentary and influenced by Austen’s personal life. The illustrations run the gambit from paintings and line drawings of country manor houses and city dwellings similar to the residences of the principal characters, portraits of the monarchy, political figures, contemporary authors, Austen and her family, title pages of books of the era including Austen’s, maps, fashion plates, and images from famous illustrated editions of Persuasion by A. Wallis Mills, Charles Edmund Brock and Hugh Thomson. Of note are the helpful and interesting appendixes which include the two canceled chapters of Persuasion that were deleted by Austen herself, “Biographical Notice of the Author’ written by her brother Henry Austen, a list of further reading, and credits for the illustrations.

Students will be happy to know that quotes from major Austen scholars abound: for example, the famous “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” love letter in volume II, chapter 11 (p 290) from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot rightly receives two plus pages of small type commentary from leading Austen experts such as Stuart Tave, Roger Gard, Deidre Lynch, Mary Favret, John Wiltshire, and Tony Tanner alone. There are numerous others as well, placing this edition in the scholarly category because of the numerous citations.

Besides the unabridged text, scholarly notations and quotes from deep thinkers, this edition is sumptuous eye candy for the Janeite. It is a real pleasure to have so much information collected and assembled for our edification and enjoyment. Morrison offers a lengthy and lucid introduction, but I wished that he had continued his personal observations and opinions more extensively in his annotation and not relied so heavily on quoting others. If this edition has any shortcomings, like its predecessor, the quality of the illustration does not match the content therein.

Next year we will be treated to their next annotated edition, Emma. After HUP has completed Austen’s six major novels, one secretly hopes that they might consider her novella, Lady Susan. Often overlooked, it is one of my personal favorites and could attract more readers if properly explained.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited Robert Morrison
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2011)
Hardcover (360) pages
ISBN: 978-0674049741

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose