Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler – A Review

Dinner with Mr. Darcy, by Pen Vogler (2013)Imagine eating white soup with Mr. Darcy, roast pork with Miss Bates, or scones with Mr. Collins! Just thinking of those dishes transports me back into the scenes in Jane Austen’s novels and makes me smile. In Dinner with Mr. Darcy, food historian Pen Vogler examines Austen’s use of food in her writing, researches ancient Georgian recipes, converting them for the modern cook.

Even though Austen is not known for her descriptive writing, food is an important theme in her stories, speaking for her if you know how to listen. Every time we dine with characters, or food is mentioned, it relays an important fact that Austen wants us to note: wealth and station, poverty and charity, and of course comedy. While poor Mr. Woodhouse frets over wedding cake in Emma, Mr. Bingley offers white soup to his guests at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice, and Aunt Norris lifts the supernumerary jellies after the ball in Mansfield Park, we are offered insights into their characters and their social station.

In Austen’s letter she writes to her sister Cassandra about many domestic matters: clothes, social gatherings and food. When she mentions orange wine, apple pie and sponge cake we know it is of importance to her.

“I hope you had not a disagreeable evening with Miss Austen and her niece. You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June 1808

White soup

White soup

Vogler has combed Austen’s novels, letters and juvenilia pulling out dishes and researching them in contemporary cookbooks from the Georgian era. The sections are cleverly arranged: Breakfast with General Tilney; Mrs. Bennet’s Dinner to Impress; Pork and Apples: An Autumn Dinner with the Bateses; Jane’s Family Favorites; The Picnic Parade; Tea and Cake; The Ball at Netherfield; An Old-fashioned Supper for Mr. Woodhouse; Christmas with the Musgroves and Other Celebrations; Gifts, Drinks, and Preserves for Friends and the Sick at Heart. The recipes have been converted for the modern cook and look sumptuous from the numerous full-color pictures. I am dying to try Sally Lunn Cakes, a recipe from the famous bakery and tea shop in Bath, everlasting syllabub, ragout veal, Mrs. Austen’s pudding, rout cakes, white soup, flummery and many others. Several of the recipes have been adapted from Martha Lloyds household cookbook, Jane’s dear friend and confidante, who lived with the widowed Mrs. Austen and her daughters from 1807 until her marriage to Jane’s widowed elder brother Sir Francis Austen in 1823 at the age of 62! The bibliography in the back is also a great resource for those interested in Georgian cooking and its history.

Roast pork

Roast pork

While there are other scholarly books devoted to Georgian cooking focusing on Jane Austen such as The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Deidre Le Faye (1995) and Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane (1995), which we will be reviewing next month, Dinner with Mr. Darcy will appeal to the average cook who wants to experience what Austen and her characters ate and enjoyed, and discover why Austen’s choice of food and dining was so important to the plot development. The recipes are both simple and elaborate and the ingredients are available to most, even in the colonies! So if you are ready for your own picnic at Box Hill or supper at Pemberley, bon appetite!

Bath buns

Bath buns

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler
Cico Books (2013)
Hardcover (160) pages
ISBN: 978-1782490562

Additional Reviews:

Note: My copy of Dinner with Mr. Darcy was in US measurements, but the publisher also makes a UK edition. Which version you receive depends upon the point of origin.

Cover image courtesy of Cico Books © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford – A Review

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford (2013)I had the pleasure of reading this mystery novel in 2011 when it was published in the UK as The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. I was very happy to learn that it was being published for the North American market by Sourcebooks as The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen. After a recent second reading I can honestly state that “my affections and wishes are unchanged.”

The book opens with this shocking question. Did Jane Austen die of natural causes or was she murdered? The possibility sent shivers down the back of my neck. Like many Janeites I have read of the many theories (and much speculation) on the fatal illnesses that may have caused Jane Austen’s death at age forty-one in 1817. Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, and recently Brill-Zinsser disease have all been suggested. We know that Jane Austen was a perceptive observer of people and events in her novels and in her own life. In 1817, when she had a brief remission in her fatal illness, she wrote a letter on March 23rd to her favorite niece Fanny Knight. In it she supplies us with some very important evidence of her physical condition and the appearance of her face:

“I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights, but am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour. I must not depend upon ever being blooming again.  Sickness is a dangerous indulgence at my time of life.”

These six words piqued Lindsay Ashford’s training in criminology from Queens’ College, Cambridge. Severe discoloring of the face are signs of arsenic poisoning. Coupled with the amazing discovery that arsenic testing had been conducted in the 1940’s on the sample of Jane Austen’s hair, she was compelled to write her novel – fiction yes, but based deeply upon fact.

Twenty-six years after Austen’s death, her dear friend Anne Sharp has learned of the new Marsh test that can be conducted on human hair to discover if arsenic poisoning might have killed its owner. Torn between departing with the memento and learning the truth, she sends it off to be analyzed. The results will inspire her to write down a memoir of her friend and all of the events that lay out her theories and why. A catharsis act to release all the years of pent up frustration and anger of her dear friends death, which she truly believes was not natural, but by design. And, by someone, who had both strong motive and means in Jane’s family circle.

The narrative encompasses almost a forty year span from 1805 when Anne and Jane are introduced at Godmersham Park, Kent and continues through 1843 with the result of the test that concludes her suspicions. What unfolds is a fascinating journey into the Austen family dynamics that will raise more than a few eyebrows. At times I was shocked, repulsed and appalled, but, I read on, and on, so mesmerized by the story that Miss Sharp reveals of her employer Edward Knight, his brothers James and Henry, their wives and their children. Like Catherine Morland obsessed with Gothic fiction I could not stop. However, unlike Northanger Abbey, The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is not a high burlesque parody. It is a serious mystery novel based on historical fact.

Ashford’s thought-provoking writing is both honest and intriguing. Bare to the bone with human folly of biblical proportions, I am purposely vague in my plot description for fear of revealing anything that would spoil the discovery and surprise for the reader. Ashford has captured the Jane Austen and her intimate family circle within my mind’s eye with sensitivity, perception and reproving guile. What unfolds is a gripping, page turning, toxic sugar plum unlike any other Austenesque novel I have ever read. Be brave. Be beguiled. Be uncertain. I dare you.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford
Sourcebooks Landmark (2013)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-1402282126

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

Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley (Volume 2), by Nancy Kelley – A Review

Image of the book cover of Loving Miss Darcy: by Nancy Kelley © 2013 Nancy KelleyFrom the desk of Katie P.

An innocent young lady with a secret past preparing for her first Season. Her guardian torn between chasing off suitors and becoming a suitor himself. His friends (who just so happen to be spies) preparing to do what they do best to fend off the rogues. All of this together with a dash of romance, a pinch of adventure, and a handful of espionage, and you have the Pride and Prejudice continuation, Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley.

Georgiana Darcy’s life is peaceful. Her new sister, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy has brought the family together as never before, and Georgiana has happily spent her days in the countryside doing what she loves best with those she loves best, particularly her older cousin and guardian, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam. Surrounded by her music and family, she quickly flourishes into a beautiful young woman of eighteen, with only one dark moment of her past to shade her happiness. But just as she finally manages to put her failed elopement with Mr. Wickham behind her, Georgie finds out that she must go to London for the Season to be thrown in amongst men who only desire her for her fortune, men who might turn out to be exactly like Wickham.

On the eve of Georgiana’s season, Richard rediscovers some old friends and his guardian problems are solved. After all, who better to watch Georgiana and chase off suitors who are not worthy of her (which oddly enough, happens to be all of them), than seasoned spies? And why is it that he seems so against her meeting, well, any eligible gentleman?

With her brother Fitzwilliam Darcy and cousin Richard Fitzwilliam to protect her, Georgiana feels she is safe from ever falling in love again, but what if love has been right in front of her all along? What can Richard and Georgie do when old secrets come to light, and specters from their past come back to haunt them? When her past and future collide, Georgiana must learn to rely on her family and trust the one who loves her, while Richard must begin a search to discover the traitor in their midst before it is too late.

I’ve always been wary about reading Jane Austen continuations, especially Pride and Prejudice ones. All of her characters are so special and beloved, that I’m afraid to come across one that distorts my own opinion and ideas of how they’d act or talk. So I am happy to say that Loving Miss Darcy is a refreshing continuation of Pride and Prejudice. I could easily imagine Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Kitty, Georgiana, Mrs. Bennet, and Richard in the drawing room discussing art (or attempting to, in the case of Mrs. Bennet) and exchanging witty banter. Nancy Kelley treats the characters with respect and opens them up in a natural way that holds steady to the aspects of their personalities, yet adds some new surprises. For example, sisters Kitty and Mary Bennet are both mature, and soon become Georgiana’s friends. I was pleasantly surprised to see Kitty and Georgiana’s friendship develop, as I had never thought about how Georgiana would interact with Elizabeth’s family. I also loved the new characters that were added. Richard’s family did not appear in more than a few chapters, but when they did, their scenes were so very special. Every family member, no matter how small a role, was entertaining and unique: Elaine (his nagging sister), John and Sally (his cute nephew and niece), Simon (his foppish and irritating brother), and Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam (his wise and loving parents). It was wonderful to read a book that not only had action and adventure, but also tender family scenes. More new characters included the spies: perceptive Sebastian, lovelorn Ashford, and good-natured Colin. They were all well developed, and I just have to sigh a girlish sigh over Richard’s spy friends (gotta love a mysterious and crafty secret agent).

One of the interesting things I learned more about from Loving Miss Darcy was the importance of the coming out Season. I had never thought about the details, or how frightening it would seem in a society where that was the one and only chance at an advantageous marriage—and all of us Jane Austen fans know that an advantageous marriage during the Regency was the highest aspiration for a well-bred female. Georgiana was afraid that she wouldn’t find a worthy man to marry, and Nancy Kelley did a good job portraying this so that the reader could understand the weight of her (and any Regency female’s) decision. Imagine choosing your spouse after knowing them only a short time, and only making your decision based not on character, but on the well-known facts of his or her family property and wealth! As Georgie says, “Flowery speeches have not stood me in good stead. I would much prefer an honest man who speaks from his heart.”

My only problem with this book was the flip-flopping of names. Fitzwilliam Darcy is sometimes called William, but other times called Fitzwilliam. Richard is also Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam (Richard’s parents) also go by the names of Lord and Lady Matlock. This wasn’t a huge problem when reading, but it was confusing at first.

I love three things in a book—adventure, banter, and romance. This book had all of them, and I cannot wait to read more from this author (and hopefully more about the characters)!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley (Volume 2), by Nancy Kelley
CreateSpace (2013)
Trade paperback (244) pages
ISBN: 978-1481859172

Cover image courtesy © 2013 Nancy Kelley; text © 2013 Katie Patchell

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight – A Review

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek

What’s an average girl to do when she wants to add some excitement and romance to her life? Just ask Jane Austen, of course! Sure, she’s been dead for nearly 200 years, but there are ways around that little problem.

Cate Kendall spends her days teaching the classics like Emma to a group of quasi-bored high school students and her nights dreaming of doing something adventurous. The most excitement she’s got going on in her life is her weekly Scrabble games against her best friend, and fellow teacher, Ethan Chavez. When Cate receives an invitation to an Alfred Hitchcock-themed party in Austin, Texas, she realizes this is her chance to reinvent herself into the sexy woman of mystery she’s always dreamt of becoming.

But, as she’s preparing her transformation, Cate finds a centuries-old diary. It’s blank inside, but the inscription on the first page is a quote from none other than Jane Austen herself. Cate decides to use the diary to record her new adventures and plans. What she doesn’t expect is for the diary to start writing back. And that it actually has some pretty good advice… the kind of stuff that Jane herself might say.

Slowly, Cate realizes the truth about the diary. But will she take its advice and find the love she’s been waiting for – her own Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley? Or will she wind up unwittingly chasing Mr. Wickham as part of her daring new lifestyle?

Austensibly Ordinary is really a fun, light romp into the world of Jane Austen and romance. I loved how the story stays tethered to Austen, though she wasn’t the entire focus. Cate loves and teaches Austen novels and, obviously, the diary is tied to Jane, but otherwise, most of the other characters live normal, Jane Austen-free lives. Ethan doesn’t even like Mr. Darcy, and yet I still found him charming. Now that’s saying something.

I don’t think it’s spoiling too much to say that I loved the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Cate and Ethan. From the very first chapter, when we see him playing Scrabble with Cate, the sparks are flying (though, of course, Cate doesn’t know it). The dialogue and banter between them was sharp, sexy, and fun. And when the details about Ethan’s secret background came out, it really heightened the tension between them.

The other characters were both funny and memorable. Cate’s recently divorced mother who is a bit of a cougar hunting for younger men, her sister, Gemma, a grad student, who moonlights as a sex phone operator, and Cate’s friends, especially the ghost-hunting Courtney, were all quirky, interesting, and all-around hilarious.

The book is also very, very sexy without getting graphic. The author is really skilled at the slow burn. She draws out every situation until you’re waiting with baited breath for the characters to just go ahead and kiss already. But, when a couple makes their way to the bedroom we don’t follow behind. For some readers that will be a relief, for others a disappointment. I thought it was really well done, but I’m not much into those Fifty Shades of Gray level sex scenes.

Overall, the writing is good. The dialogue especially jumps out and really gives the characters life. Though, during some of the quick exchanges, I found Cate’s constant stream of thoughts a bit intrusive. No one thinks that much. Especially not someone who is in the middle of some particularly snappy banter with the guy she has a crush on.

There were also a few situations that seemed a bit out of place. I didn’t really care for the ending where Cate finally gets the guy. Without giving away anything, I just thought it was a little off, though it didn’t completely ruin the story for me. There’s also a scene where the ghost of Jane Austen appears in a public bathroom. But, hey, once you accept that a magic, advice-giving journal is hanging around, I guess anything goes.

And, speaking of endings, until I got there, I didn’t realize that this book is actually a sequel of sorts to Alyssa Goodnight’s other novel, Austentatious. They both follow the same structure – single woman finds a mysterious Austen-inspired diary. Cate actually discovers the diary after the heroine from the first book drops it off at a random location in Austin.

For a fun, light, sexy romance, I’d definitely recommend Austensibly Ordinary. I was happy to see that, in the end, Cate also passed on the diary to some other unsuspecting future heroine. I know I’ll be putting both the first book and any others in this series on my reading list very soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight
Kensington (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0758267450

© 2013 Lisa Galek, Austenprose  

The Passing Bells: Book One of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock – A Review

The Passing Bells, by  Philip Rock (2012)I love a good mystery. I just didn’t know that I would be so personally engaged in one for over thirty years.

In 1980, a read a book about an aristocratic English family during WWI that I absolutely adored. I was so enthusiastic about it that I promptly loaned it to my best friend who never thought of it again until about a year later when I asked for it back. She had no idea where my copy was. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down the title or author. I could only remember that bell was in the title.

Decades passed and the book never left my list of “to find titles.” When Internet search engines and online used book stores became available to me I searched again to no avail. Last month I was perusing the new release table at Barnes & Noble and a book title jumped out at me. The Passing Bells sounded vaguely familiar so I read the back description and checked the copyright date. “Originally published in 1978.” I stood and stared at the cover in stunned silence. I had found it again. It was a book miracle.

I immediately download a copy to my NOOK and commenced reading. After a long and unyielding quest I wondered if time had romanticized my memory. Had The Passing Bells become my Holy Book Grail?

The summer of 1914 will mark the last days of a privileged way of life for many English aristocrats and the working class who served them. Political unrest is looming on the continent, but at Abingdon Pryory, the palatial grand manor house of the Greville family in Surrey, the pleasures of the ruling class continue as parties, dances and romances are in full swing. The lord of the manor, Anthony Greville, 9th earl of Stanmore rides his favorite hunter Jupiter through his vast estate while his wife Hanna Rilke Greville, Countess Stanmore, plans the debut season in London of their beautiful young daughter Alexandria and worries about her eldest son Charles, whose studies at Cambridge and determination to marry Lydia Foxe, a wealthy local girl with no family connections are foremost on her mind. Up for a weekend in the country are family friends Captain Fenton Wood-Lacy of the Coldstream Guards, hard up for cash and seeking a bride, and the eccentric wife of the Marquees of Dexford and her dowdy youngest daughter Winifred hoping to spark a romance with the heir. Interestingly, Hanna’s American nephew Martin Rilke, a young journalist from Chicago, arrives for a summer holiday and we see this truly English family from a new perspective.

Downstairs there is an army of servants maintaining the ancient estate and the lives of their upstairs employer in grand style. A new maid Ivy Thaxton is learning the ropes in the hierarchy of the servant class while chauffeur Jamie Ross tinkers with Rolls Royce engines and dreams of submitting patents of his designs.

The tug and pull of the family dynamics soon expands to a wider field with the outbreak of WWI. We travel to northern France with Captain Wood-Lacy with his battalion and Martin Rilke as a newspaper reporter and witness the chaotic beginnings of the war and the devastating losses at Ypres. At home, the Greville’s  neighbor, wealthy businessman Archie Foxe, uses his food empire and knowledge of distribution to aid the war effort becoming even wealthier. As all the young men are enlisted for King and Country, and the young women are employed in the cities, the staff at Abingdon Pryory dwindles down to a skeleton crew. The ladies do their part and daughter Alexandria and housemaid Ivy enlist in the women’s nursing units.

The narrative covers between 1914-1920, and we are witness to more warfare with the soldier Charles Greville and reporter Martin Rilke who witness the massive military blunders and tragic loss of thousands of lives at Gallipoli in Turkey and through the balance of the war. The effect on the home front by those who must bear the devastating personal losses and changes to a way of aristocratic life that will never be again is equally as compelling and heart wrenching. Even with all the destruction of life, family and country there is hope and romance for a few of the main characters.

Philip Rock is a fabulous writer. His screenwriting skills are wholly apparent on every page. He moves the story swiftly on with a directorial eye by including just enough fact and emotion to keep you glued to the page and engaged at every moment without looking back. Even though there are many characters and plot lines running concurrently I was able to keep up and enjoy all the great historical detail and the amazing characters that he developed. My favorites were Fenton and Martin; both men of honor and integrity who represented outsiders to the Greville family whose objective perspectives were similar to narrator Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

I am happy to say that my melancholy sentiments might have clouded my judgment just a tad while re-reading, but after 30 plus years, it was all that I remembered and more—a book to cherish and read again. Intriguing and intoxicating, The Passing Bells is a future American classic that I encourage anyone interested in historical fiction and first rate storytelling to read immediately. I am looking forward to the next two books in this trilogy: Circles of Time and A Future Arrived. I hope you will return here to read my next two reviews of the series on March 09 and April 06, 2013.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Passing Bells: Book One of The Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock
William Morrow (2012)
Trade paperback (544) pages
ISBN: 978-0062229311

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match Marilyn Brant (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

In reading a large variety of Pride and Prejudice variations, I’ve come to expect works of all shapes and sizes. What I didn’t expect, however, was a work that centers on an online dating site.  Such is the premise of Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant. Sure, we’ve seen modern adaptations on the beloved original, yet this is a new twist that adds another dimension to the story between the Lizzy and Darcy that we all cherish. How would this timeless love story survive in a world governed by digital matchmaking?

The last thing that Beth Ann Bennet wants to do is end up on a dating site, but much to her chagrin, here she is. As a social worker studying sex-based stereotypes, she signs on to Lady Catherine’s Love Match Website under a pseudonym in order to get a firsthand account of said stereotypes. She is surprised, however, when she meets Dr. William Darcy through the site. He has his own secrets, however, as he too is signed up for the dating service under false pretenses. In order to settle a bet and win funding for a new clinic he is building, Darcy agrees to sign on to the site and find a match. Now that they have met, both agree that it would be in their best interests to stay apart, yet there seems to be an invisible force that draws them to each other, making that original promise much harder to keep. Although they both assume that the site will give them a superficial and fleeting glance at a relationship, what they actually encounter is something much deeper and more personal. What will happen once they come to find that this meeting is not what they originally intended, but something much more involved indeed?

At first blush, I found the idea behind this story to be intriguing and fresh. Always up for a new take on the P&P variation genre, I was excited to see what Brant had in store. I was surprised to find that the storyline between Darcy and Elizabeth seemed to be swapped somewhat with the plot between Jane and Bingley, but this didn’t seem to detract from the flow of the work at all. In fact, it made me read faster. After a while, the old Darcy and Elizabeth I’ve come to know and love made their appearance, as the story made a course correction and we came back into familiar territory. When this was coupled with references to Roman Holiday and high tea, I began to feel like I was reading a book that was a greatest hits of all the things I love in life. Brant couldn’t have done a better job at pulling me into the story and keeping me hooked until the end. I loved how her work was different enough that I felt really out of my element at first, but then brought back to the themes of compassion, forgiveness, and love that really hold Darcy and Elizabeth together. This was an amazingly smart move that left me more than satisfied at the end of this work. In fact, I liked this book so much that I delayed watching the season 3 premiere of Downton Abbey!! (This is a huge deal) In all, if you’re up for a new and exciting change in the P&P variation world, I strongly suggest that you give this a try. Who doesn’t love a fresh look at our Darcy and Elizabeth?

5 out of 5 Stars

Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant
White Soup Press (2013)
eBook (167) pages
Nook: BN ID: 2940016076669
Kindle: ASIN: B00AYLN5TI

© 2013 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey – A Review

Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Recently I was offered the opportunity to review Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey for Austenprose.  I knew this book was generating a good deal of discussion in the JAFF world.  I’m always up for books that are labeled “controversial” as they are great conservation starters.  What could be more interesting than a book that stimulates discussions and sparks minds?

Publisher’s description from Goodreads:  A life altering event inextricably links a fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy while simultaneously creating an almost insurmountable divide. This Pride and Prejudice deviation takes the reader on a journey through a labyrinth filled with misunderstandings, bias, guilt and fear – not to mention, laughter, animal magnetism and waltzing. As Elizabeth says, ‘she shed enough tears to float one of Lord Nelson’s frigates’ but as she learned from her father ‘unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.’

Though the path for our protagonists is much more arduous than canon, the benefit remains the same; a very happy Janeite ending for these two star-crossed lovers. Along the way there is retribution, redemption and reward for other characters – including a few that recall players in two grave injustices as written by Ms Austen in ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ These grievances prompted this long-time struggle for women’s rights to write a tale that provided these women vindication.”

NOTE: For those that do wish to read the book I encourage you to stop reading my review.  I’m discussing the novel openly which may lead to their being spoilers you wished you hadn’t read.

Those that are familiar with Pride and Prejudice will notice several differences from the original text right off the bat.  The first difference is that the events of the first half of Goodly Creatures take place five years before the original, so the characters are younger than we are used to. Additionally, Darcy has entered a marriage of convenience with his cousin Anne de Bourgh.  Mr. Bennet is also going blind and heavily relies on Elizabeth to help him with handling the correspondence and finances of Longbourn.   I’m pretty liberal with my Austen fan fiction reading, meaning I’m open to the majority of different scenarios that authors come up with.  None of the above really bothered me as far as changes go.  If anything it excited me to see how Darcy and Elizabeth would overcome the obstacle that is Anne.

The majority of the discord that surrounds this works seems to stem from the character of Edmund Fitzwilliam.  He is also one of the major reasons for my dislike of the novel.  Edmund is Darcy’s cousin (Col Fitzwilliam’s older brother) and is the subject of much of this initial conflict of the first section of the book.  He enjoys watching Elizabeth at the theater because of her childlike features.  “This chit was just the way he liked them – tiny and not at all womanly.  Her face, what he could see of it, was dominated by large, expressive eyes, the way children’s are before they grow into their features – eyes so very appealing.  How he would delight in seeing them helpless.” (p 25)  Edmund’s fascination with the childlike qualities Elizabeth exhibits would be enough to make me uncomfortable, but there is more.  Anne mentions that she sees Edmund’s fascination with Elizabeth and “it did not surprise her.  During her time spent with him over the winter, she had noticed his preference for the very young.” (p 29)

I’m going to come back to these quotes in a minute, but in order to make my point I need to explain more of the plot.  Anne strikes up a friendship with Elizabeth (which we later find out is behind Darcy’s back) because she enjoys Elizabeth’s confidence and personality.  She feels that she can learn how to grow a backbone with the friendship of this witty young woman.  One afternoon Anne picks Elizabeth up from the Gardiner’s townhouse in London and is brought back to Darcy House.  Anne “goes to get a dress to show her,” essentially leaving Elizabeth alone.  Edmund walks in and Elizabeth quickly realizes all is not right.  The door is locked and he pushes her into the next room with him, which is his bedroom.  It’s quickly realized that Anne helped orchestrate the event of getting Elizabeth alone with Edmund to “visit her.”  Edmund rapes Elizabeth and then leaves her.  In Despair, Elizabeth leaves the house and runs into Darcy, who follows her home (because he’s worried about her).  He has no idea of the events that have transpired that afternoon but realizes something isn’t right.  About 2-3 months after the rape Elizabeth finds herself with child.  When her aunt and uncle reveal their increasing suspicions, she asks them, “How is it possible to have a baby if you are not married?” (p 74) My heart instantly broke for this re-imagined version of Elizabeth Bennet; moreover were the passages that followed in which she blamed herself for the rape. Claiming that it was her “silliness and pride” that allowed for it to have happened. Not only does Elizabeth blame herself, but her aunt and uncle chastise themselves for what they believe were digressions in their chaperoning duties.  This was shocking. Where is the blame for Edmund, or Anne for that matter?

Let’s go back to the first quotes I mentioned.  It’s obvious from the start that Anne knew Edmund had a thing for Elizabeth and for young girls.  Anne claims that she only thought Edmund wanted to talk to Elizabeth, yet it’s honestly not possible for Anne to have made the astute observation that her cousin enjoys young females, yet think he just wanted to talk to Elizabeth alone.  Being the daughter of Lady Catherine, don’t you think she would know the rules of propriety that do not allow men and woman to be alone in a room un-chaperoned?  The transgressions and lack of discipline that these two characters display made it more and more difficult to read Elizabeth’s self-admonishments about her own behavior.  NO. It is NOT your fault that you were raped.  All rape victims should know this, and be told it continually until they believe it.  In Elizabeth’s case she’s told she can marry Edmund or have her child raised by her aunt and uncle as their own. The decision is eventually made that Darcy and Anne will raise the baby as their own, giving Elizabeth a small fortune in exchange.

Darcy too has reservations about his cousin’s preferences for younger girls.  So imagine my surprise when a 15 year-old Elizabeth Bennet shows up at Darcy House to inform them all about her pregnancy and has to deal with the scowls coming her way from Darcy, as he concludes the fault of the rape was hers by thinking that her “poor behavior was probably the result of improper and haphazard training…”(p 91) Even with all evidence to the contrary he places the blame on the wrong person.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that for that time period, women were blamed in cases of lost chastity, whether or not it was rape.  Men were the head honchoes of the world and could do whatever they wanted.  I applaud Massey for bringing this point up.  My confusion lies with why this is being told as a Pride and Prejudice variation?  Why are the characters we know and love being changed into these unrecognizable people just so attention can be given to a serious social issue and how it was dealt with in Georgian times? I feel that the characters are being molded and changed to fit this story that essentially has no place in Pride and Prejudice.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to make others aware of the difficulties women faced during this time, but I don’t see its place with these characters.

Not only were the changes of the characters bothersome to me, but there were times where the story veered off onto other tracks which made no sense in the general context of the overarching plot.  Elizabeth is at one time given a history of the Irish Revolution.  I’m not sure what that had to do with the rape plot, or helping her find love with Darcy, or anything else for that matter.  Rather, it read like passages from history novels thrown in a story influenced by Pride and Prejudice.

The final nail in the coffin was when Edmund seemed to want to make Georgiana his next victim.  “Little Georgiana had also come to the forefront with this newest addition to the household.  For the first time he noticed his eleven-year-old cousin’s appearance.  She was very different from the baby’s mother but still another delightful variation of an appealing little girl.  Miss Elizabeth had been a joyful, intelligent and impertinent sprite with whom he could engage in a battle of wits and ultimately defeat.  Georgie was more like a spirited thoroughbred colt – all legs and a long elegant neck – waiting for someone to break her in.” (p 169)  I literally was almost physically ill after reading that passage.

As a book reviewer for over two and half years now I’ve come to realize that books fall into three categories:  books you like, books you don’t like, and books you can’t finish.  Unfortunately Goodly Creatures fell into the latter category for me.  I’m not here to write a review bashing the novel or the author, but lay claim to the feelings I had that led to me being uncomfortable enough not to finish the book. In addition, it is not my intent to discourage anybody else from reading this book either.  I’ve spoken with others who mentioned that they enjoyed it—everyone has their own tastes to discern from.  I look forward to continuing my journey in the JAFF world and discovering new books and new authors that appeal to my tastes.

Since I didn’t complete the book I feel it’s unfair for me to give it a rating.

Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (636)
ISBN: 9781470045340

© 2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy: A Parody, by William Codpiece Thwackery – A Review

Fifty Shades if Mr. Darcy: A Parody, by William Codpiece Thwackery (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd.

Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy is described as “A titillating mash-up of an erotic bestseller and a romantic classic, peppered with puns.”  As an unabashed reader of anything Jane Austen, or Pride & Prejudice… as well as a blushing, shameless fan of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, I confess, my curiosity was peaked. How could it not?  In a literary world of sequels, prequels and what ifs, it was but a foregone conclusion that someone would lampoon these two bestsellers together.  Contrived by a writer with a silly nom de plume, William Codpiece Thwackery, how could this be anything but a hoot?  (Warning: Spoilers.)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good riding crop must be in want of a pair of bare buttocks to thrash.”   Eh-hem. And that is how we find Elizabeth Bennet, tied to Mr. Darcy’s bedposts, flashing back to how she came to such a moment… Mrs. Bennet, now on her 4th husband, Billy Bob Bennett—she previously bonked to death his predecessors (Thwackery’s word choice, not mine) announces to her family, “I have heard that both men are considerably well endowed.  Both have huge packages…” Unlike Austen’s irrepressible Elizabeth who possesses a dry wit, enjoys spotting a fool, and refuses to be taken lightly, this Elizabeth is not even offended by Mr. Darcy’s initial slight; she does at least resist her mother’s pleas to don a leather mini-dress.  “If Mr. Darcy considers himself above our station, I can understand it. After all, our stepfather has but two thousand pounds a year, and Mr. Darcy is a man of vast wealth, and well known for his charitable works.” One of which is his support of unwed mothers in a business venture called Hooters. It was immediately apparent that this course, vulgar farce was simply going for shock value. And the mixing of modern with Regency made utterly no sense.  But I soldiered on.

In addition to the burlesque plunder of Austen’s beloved Darcy & Elizabeth and Bennet family, a train wreck of meanly written characters are hijacked from both novels. Elizabeth’s Subconscious and “Inner Slapper” continually argue whether Mr. Darcy is in fact gay. Bingley’s sisters have become Looseata and Carrotslime. Mr. Darcy’s grand estate, Pemberley is now “Memberle y.” Lady Catherine is a dominatrix over Mr. Darcy. Christian Grey’s helicopter, Charlie Tango is now a hot-air balloon. Mr. Wickham has become Mr. Wackem who has a penchant for hiring maidens as his unpaid interns in his publishing company. And Mr. Collins is Phil Collins.  Yes, that Phil Collins the rock star who used to be in the band Genesis.

Unlike the kinky, sexual prowess of the hero (or antihero) of Fifty Shades, Christian Grey, this Darcy flogs Elizabeth with no more than a toothbrush and an unfolded newspaper, leaving her wondering what all the bondage hype was about. (Me too, girlfriend.  Me, too.) Elizabeth often broke the third wall expressing such nonsense as, “… I must beg your forgiveness.  It is somewhat confusing being in a mash-up of two very different novels.” I might inquire why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting, Thwackery chose to self-deprecate? For me, his humour fell short.  “She could feel his grey eyes burning into her, like red-hot pokers stirring her desire. The more they poked, the higher her flames of longing rose, until the metaphor exploded in a burst of sparks and badly written prose.”

“‘I have many vices,’ Mr. Darcy said huskily. ‘My libido, for one, I dare not vouch for.  It is, I believe, too little yielding.’  ‘That is a failing indeed!’ cried Elizabeth. ‘Implacable lust is a shade in a character.’ ‘I have many shades, Miss Bennet,’ said Mr. Darcy. ‘About fifty, last time I counted.’”  I suppose the occasional mash-up of Austen and James’ famous lines were droll enough, however, it turns out that like Elizabeth, I was misled.  “‘You encouraged me to believe that “fifty shades” referred to your complex, multi-layered personality.  Not… not this.’  Fifty lampshades?  It was just a bad joke.” Yep, he was hiding a room full of lampshades.  Badly done.  Badly done joke indeed.

I’m all for diverting, quick-witted satire but indubitably, buffoonery is in the eye of the beholder.  I found myself questioning my own sense of humour, that maybe my funny bone wasn’t evolved enough to catch the satirical tone.  Despite the execution of purple prose mimicking E.L. James’ generous and often redundant adjectives, as well as the plethora of puns on characters, places and sex acts, Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy seems simply an over long collection of random absurdities and lewd wise cracks. In reviewing this, I was most diligent in my search to be able to use Christian Grey’s line of, “Good point, well made.”  I was about to remark on the eye catching cover… but then it was pointed out to me that the boots aren’t even Regency-era Hessians but army field boots from the late Victorian age. (Later Darcy’s boots are described as Cuban heeled riding boots. What? Me too. I was befuddled at every turn.) Shame on William Codpiece Thwackery’s attempt to profit by slovenly satirizing Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Pride and Prejudice and E.L. James’ uber pop-culture phenom, Fifty Shades of Grey and then hiding behind a pasquinade nom de plume.  He deserves at least 20 lashes with a wet noodle.

And what about Austen’s happily ever after?  Well, yes. Lizzy does end up with the billionaire (why she would ever want this one, still is beyond me) but I will NEVAH be able to get back the 3 ½ hours of my life spent slogging through this obscenely boorish excuse for a parody. I can only imagine a jocular bunch sitting around drinking and throwing out nonsense as someone typed — really need to be fall down, sloppy drunk to find any humour.  Real writers will be offended.  And readers will be mad for buying it. The P&P and Zombies books was far superior. My apologies for the spoilers, but hopefully the spoilers will be all you ever subject yourself to reading. (I got my advanced copy electronically via NetGalley.)

1 out of 5 Regency Stars

Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy: A Parody, by William Codpiece Thwackery
Michael O’Mara Books (2012)
Trade paperback (192) pages
ISBN: 9781843179962

© Christina Boyd, Austenprose