A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

A Very Plain Young Man by Christina Dudley 2014 x 200From the desk of Katie P.:

In most novels, the heroine has some kind of quirk, trait, flaw, or unique quality—physical or otherwise–which the hero (and the reader) falls in love with. She could have a temper (Serena, Bath Tangle) or a limp (Sorrel, Friends and Foes). She might stutter (Horry, The Convenient Marriage) or make judgments too quickly (Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice). She could love to twirl (Marianne, Edenbrooke) or love to take charge (Sophy, The Grand Sophy). She might be stubborn (Margaret Hale, North and South) or love matchmaking (Emma, Emma). She might love to read novels (Catherine, Northanger Abbey) or collect insects and plants (Alice, The Naturalist). The list could go on and on. But the one characteristic not often seen (or ever seen) in a Regency heroine is shortsightedness. In Christina Dudley’s latest continuation of the Hapgoods of Bramleigh series, A Very Plain Young Man, readers meet a rake in need of a bride…and a heroine in need of spectacles.

Frederick Tierney is three things: the heir to two estates, a rake, and an extremely handsome man (which he is very much aware). While in London, he breaks off his relationship with his latest conquest, for the first time getting tired of living the life of a profligate (which disappoints his family), saying false ‘I love you’s’ and being chased after by shallow women. He travels to Somerset for his younger brother’s wedding, and to escape his ex-lover’s clutches, he sends her a letter saying he’s soon to be married.

At the Midsummer Ball, Frederick overhears his sister-in-law’s eldest sister, Miss Elfrida Hapgood, commenting on his looks, but is shocked to hear her analysis that he is a very plain young man. Reluctantly intrigued by her, the only single woman of his acquaintance to have no interest in his opinion or attention, he decides that he has three goals concerning Elfrida: 1. Break her reserve by any means possible 2. Make her find him attractive and 3. Persuade her to become his fiancée.

Elfrida Hapgood is known by her family to be beautiful, calm, stubborn, and near-sighted. Everything farther than a few feet in front of her is blurry, and when she spots the supposedly attractive Frederick Tierney at a distance all she sees is a (very plain) blur. When he volunteers to sit for her sister’s painting and Elfrida gets roped into being another model, she discovers in their close contact that he is the very opposite of a plain young man and not her presupposed idea of a rake. She is mystified as to why he chooses to ignore all the beautiful women throwing themselves at him, instead choosing to spend his days with the Hapgoods.

Frederick’s bright taste in coats and inability to remain serious for any length of time irritates Elfrida, but when he makes it his mission to ruffle Elfrida’s usually unruffled feathers, she discovers that, for good or bad, her feelings for him are much stronger than she thought. When a woman from Frederick’s not so distant past returns, can he convince Elfrida that his life as a rake is over and that he loves only her? And when Elfrida’s cousin offers for her, will she choose security or will she choose love?

A Very Plain Young Man was such a delightful read. While I enjoyed The Naturalist with Alice and Joseph, the second in the series (and especially Elfrida and Frederick) stole my heart. The story and characters were far from predictable, and by the time I read the last page I had filled my Kindle copy with so much highlighting (223 highlighted sections to be exact) that it’s impossible to pick just one favorite quote or section. While this novel can be read by itself I suggest reading The Naturalist first, not because A Very Plain Young Man is not a strong enough novel to stand on its own, but because The Naturalist provides back story and gives the reader more time with the entertaining Hapgoods and Co.

One of my favorite things about A Very Plain Young Man was Christina Dudley’s take on the reformed rake archetype of Regency hero. While staying true to the historical time period’s view of male indiscretions, she created a hero who doesn’t fit the stereotypical “rake” mold. High society accepted affairs and indiscretions (as long as they were handled fairly discreetly), and while Frederick lived this life initially, he felt guilty not only because of Elfrida, but also (and what stands out to me) because of his family.

The two best words I can use to describe Frederick Tierney, Elfrida Hapgood, and the entire novel are ‘enchanting’ and ‘sparkling’. The characters were unique and had depth, and the novel overall was both a witty comedy of manners and a beautiful love story. While considering the pros and cons of A Very Plain Young Man (“Think, Katie, surely there must be at least one negative!”) I can honestly say that I found nothing I disliked about this novel. I highly recommend both books in The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series and look forward to any future Regency romances by Christina Dudley!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2014)
Trade paperback (380) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072140

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2014; text Katie P. © 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.”

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

It seems only natural that an author would be interested in names. My writer friends collect interesting names for future characters and are constantly putting together different combinations. A young Jane Austen playfully tried out a selection of husband names for herself in her father’s parish register of marriages. Expectant parents pour over lists of baby names and struggle to find just the right one. As Maggie Lane points out in the introduction, “The pleasure of choosing names for progeny is one that maiden aunts normally forfeit. But not Jane Austen.” Jane Austen and Names explores her choice of character names and what these choices reveal about the culture she lived in. We also learn about Austen’s personal likes and dislikes through excerpts from her letters.

Ms. Lane begins with a chapter titled, “A Brief History of Names” in which she outlines the changing “common stock” of English Christian names. Names are drawn from a variety of sources and each name has an origin and meaning. The author asserts that these are much less important to most name choosers (parents and authors) than the cyclical rise and fall of names on the social scale. The following describes the cycle that applies as much to our current-day name choices as it did to Regency England.

“Typically, a name or set of names will be taken up at the top of the social hierarchy, being found alien, even absurd, by the majority. Eventually, through familiarity, it will become acceptable to a broad range of people; and by the time it has percolated to the very base of the pyramid, it will have long been shunned by the trend-setters, who are now looking elsewhere. Elsewhere might be a new set of imports, or more likely the revival of an old set of names.”

The next chapters examine the social status of various categories of names as well as naming patterns and practices at the time Austen’s novels were written. Jane’s own name is used to illustrate the trend away from diminutive forms (Sally, Nanny, Betty) very soon after her birth. Her father wrote to relatives in 1775 to announce her birth, declaring, “She is to be Jenny.” However, she was never known by this name, presumably because Jenny began to seem dated, a name for old ladies or servants.

In the last three chapters, the book comes into its full power, examining the use of Christian names to mark the level of intimacy in a social relationship and Austen’s “Feeling for Names.” In our much more casual society, we may miss the full meaning of referring to someone as Catherine rather than Miss Morland. But, as Maggie Lane points out:

“To use a person’s Christian name was a mark of intimacy. Well-bred people with feelings of delicacy towards others did not presume on this intimacy until it was clear that an acquaintance was becoming a real friendship. Most acquaintance, of course, never progressed this far, and people would remain on formal terms for as long as they knew each other.”

Here the author contrasts the friendships between Catherine Morland, Isabella Thorpe and Eleanor Tilney in Northanger Abbey. Where Isabella rushes Catherine into premature intimacy “with no foundation in real feeling” and the two are quickly calling each other by their Christian names, Eleanor and Catherine’s friendship progresses much more slowly and is based on “secure knowledge of one another’s character and values.” Examples from Jane Austen’s other works are included in this chapter, and I look forward to re-reading each novel while paying special attention to the use of names.

The book concludes with an alphabetical index of the names used in Jane Austen’s novels. Ms. Lane’s research is impressively detailed and even includes characters referred to in other people’s conversation. I found only one minor error, referring to “Admiral Crawford” in Persuasion rather than “Admiral Croft” under the listing for the name Stephen. Thanks to Ms. Lane, I now know that Stephen was rarely used by the gentry in Jane Austen’s day, and that she used this name for two servants, one of whom was the Admiral’s man in Persuasion and the other was a groom or postilion in Mansfield Park.

Originally published in print format by Blaise Books in 2002, this digital eBook was recently re-issued by Endeavour Press Ltd. Well-written and engaging in its tone, Jane Austen and Names provides a wealth of information about Jane Austen’s time and a greater understanding of her works. It would make a wonderful addition to any Janeite’s bookshelf.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane
Endeavour Press Ltd. (2014)
Digital eBook (91) pages
ASIN: B00JYJ0WWO

Cover image courtesy of Endeavour Press Ltd. © 2014; 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.”

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – A Review

Secret Diaries Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In 2012, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries debuted on YouTube. Smart, confident (and only slightly prejudiced) grad student Lizzie Bennet posts videos twice a week all about her life, friends, and family. The Internet promptly fell in love. But, there were some things Lizzie couldn’t share in her videos. Luckily, she kept a diary… and now we finally get to see it.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion book to the excellent LBD web series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out. Elizabeth Bennet is transformed into a 24-year-old graduate student from California with her own video blog. She posts all kinds of insightful and hilarious content about her wacky family, which includes her two sisters—sweet Jane and energetic Lydia. Oh, and a certain boring, stuffy, and unbelievably rude guy named William Darcy occasionally pops up (but let’s not talk about him because Lizzie just cannot stand him). The videos are an absolutely amazing update on Pride and Prejudice. Very smart, very funny, and very Jane.

But, if you’re not already pretty familiar with this information, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet won’t really make much sense to you. The book is very tied into the web series—so much so that it often feels like a retelling of the content from the videos. Lizzie begins and ends her story like her vlogs do. She starts off by explaining the new online project she’s about to embark on and ends with a happily-ever-after that will make any Austen fan smile. She sometimes even transcribes whole scenes directly from the videos. (To be fair, it’s only the really important ones.)

The big draw for this book is the promise of new content (in fact, that seems to be their main marketing message per these new videos from Lizzie and Darcy). I was hoping that the book would really deliver in this area. After all, the web series is based on a 200-year-old story that anyone with access to Cliff’s Notes can figure out the ending of. Yet, every video makes Austen’s original feel fresh, engaging, interesting, and really funny. If anyone could pull off a great tie-in novel, it would be the folks at Pemberley Digital.

Unfortunately, these new tidbits might not be enough to justify a whole book. Sure, it’s neat to see Darcy’s letter to Lizzie in print and to get some more time with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. There’s even some cool behind the scenes type stuff about making the videos and more frank details about the Bennet sisters and their sexy times that didn’t make it to the air. But, all this stuff sort of existed in the background of the videos as subtext already. Are those small, new details really worth the price of admission?

One of the things I did love about the book is that we’re in Lizzie’ s head the whole time. Sure, she narrates almost all the videos, but those are for public consumption. Sometimes she’s holding back what she really thinks, and here we’re getting more unfiltered access. And, since the book is written by two of the writers from the web series, they really nail Lizzie’s voice. On the page, she’s just as smart, funny, and awesome as she is on video. Honestly, the fact that the writing is really strong and compelling saves this book from getting a little dull at times.

Because I’m such a huge fan of the web series, I was super excited to read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. Sadly, the additional content just can’t justify an entire book. If you love her vlog and can’t get enough of every little Lizzie Bennet detail (or just want to support the creators), I’d definitely suggest getting a copy. Otherwise, you might be safe re-watching the series or developing a healthy obsession with Pemberley Digital’s latest Austen update, Emma Approved. I’m already way ahead of you there.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: A Novel, by Kate Rorick and Bernie Su
Touchstone (2014)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1476763163

  • Catch up on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries by reading our closer look at the hit web series in our LBD archives.

Cover image courtesy of Touchstone © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 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.”

Haunting Mr. Darcy: A Spirited Courtship, by KaraLynne Mackrory – A Review

Haunting Mr. Darcy A Spirted Courtship by Karalynne Mackrory 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder: 

One of the best parts about the Jane Austen fan fiction scene is its unlimited possibilities. Almost every genre and plot device has been molded and formed to accommodate the style and characters we all know and love from Austen herself. One of the more unconventional styles that has made its way into this arena is the paranormal genre. However, in all of these variations, I have yet to come across a book where ghosts have been included, until now.

Haunting Mr. Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory begins with a terrible carriage accident involving Elizabeth Bennet. Although she survives the accident, she is left in a coma and doctors are unsure as to whether she will ever regain consciousness. While she is unconscious, a curious thing happens. Her spirit parts with her physical being and is magically transported to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s London home, where we find Darcy, residing alone for the winter. As if this wasn’t enough to agitate Lizzy, Darcy does not believe that her ghost is real and instead thinks that she is a manifestation of his amorous thoughts about her. How can she possibly begin to get him to trust and believe in her if he doesn’t even believe that she is a real ghost? Somehow, Lizzy has to convince Darcy of her fate, and together they must work to get her spirit back in touch with her physical body before it’s too late. Will this even be possible with Lizzy lacking any physical properties at all?

This book is a little present, wrapped up in charm and emotion and love. In a word, it’s adorable. One important thing to note is that the emotional content of the work is high. Darcy’s despair over losing Elizabeth is highly palpable and I felt as if I was Darcy and had lost a loved one myself. It brings to mind the way I felt when reading Consequences by C. P. Odom (LINK). Both novels weren’t afraid to “get dirty” with the writing. It went to dark places that made you feel despair, so when you arrived at positive point in the work they were that much more poignant compared to the depravity beforehand. I felt the same way with Haunting Mr. Darcy. Darcy’s actions after losing Elizabeth are stark compared to the lighter portions. He locks himself away at Pemberley, immersing himself in work at a breakneck, exhausting pace to distract him from the pain. All he can think about is work so that his mind has no time to think of Elizabeth. Conversely, the absolute beauty of when Darcy and Elizabeth first tell each other that they love one another, as well as their subsequent first kiss, are made that much better when contrasted with these previous dark portions.

For those of you who are skeptical about reading a book that involves ghostly spirits and all the tropes that go along with them, I highly encourage you to throw away all your preconceived notions. As I said earlier, this book is just charming. Elizabeth as a spectral apparition is at times hilarious, especially when she tries to have conversations with Darcy knowing he can’t respond to her due to the presence of others. His reactions to the things that she says cause the people around him to think that he is going mad. One particular occurrence is when Col. Fitzwilliam gets drunk and begins yelling obscenities and Darcy is mortified of Elizabeth hearing this. His strong retort to Fitzwilliam to watch his language only garners more strong language from him. Another scene that follows this example is when ghost Elizabeth accompanies Darcy to his fencing club. Her exclamations about the good looking men and Darcy’s jealous reaction had me chuckling.

In all, this was one book that caught me by surprise. With its sharp writing, deep emotional connections, and great comedic scenes this has definitely been a highlight of my summer reading.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Haunting Mr. Darcy – A Spirited Courtship, by KaraLynne Mackrory
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 9781936009350

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 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.”

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Belle by Paula Byrne 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Commissioned by the producers of the new movie Belle, acclaimed biographer Paula Byrne aims to reveal the true story behind the main characters in the movie: Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an African slave, and her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is both a companion volume to the popular movie and a time capsule into the turbulent abolition movement in the late eighteenth-century England.

Inspired by the 1779 portrait of Dido and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, screenwriter Misan Sagay has written a compelling story based on facts she first learned of while visiting the 2007, Slavery and Justice Exhibition. Dido and Elizabeth were Lord Mansfield’s wards and raised together at Caen Wood House, now know as  Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath near London. While the screenplay is based on actual facts, it also incorporates a fictional narrative worthy of a seventh Jane Austen novel. In contrast, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is an historical account of the people and times and not a novelization of the movie.

Movies (and novels) based on real people and events always intrigue me, especially those set in my favorite time period, Georgian England. I was aware of the Jane Austen connection to this story from a JASNA Persuasions Online article Ambiguous Cousinship: Mansfield Park and the Mansfield Family, by Christine Kenyon Jones. We know from Austen’s letters that she met Dido’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Finch-Hatton (nee Murray) several times from 1805-1813 while visiting her elder brother Edward in Kent. If Lady Finch-Hatton or Austen’s family revealed the story of the two cousins is uncertain, but she would have known of their guardian Lord Mansfield’s significant 1772 ruling against slavery. There are also many striking similarities beyond her use of Mansfield in the title of her third novel. Was Austen’s heroine Fanny Price inspired by the circumstances of Dido Elizabeth Belle and the strong winds against slavery in the air? Fanny is not black, but she is a slave to the Bertram’s all the same. Janeites will be also pleased to find that Byrne has included an appendix detailing Jane Austen’s Mansfield Connection.

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle, once attributed to Zoffany 1779
Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Belle,
attributed to Johann Zoffany (1779)

Dido’s story begins justly with the inspiration to the movie—the girl in the picture. This is the perfect setup for those (like me) who are fascinated by portraiture during this era. Attributed to Johann Zoffany, who has also been mis-credited for a portrait of a young girl strongly thought to be Jane Austen,the painting is indicative of this time portraying so much more than the subject’s likeness. Through composition, color, light and iconography the artist reveals their sitter’s personality and social status through choice of clothing, position and attitude, objects that they hold or are placed near them, and the landscape that they are situated within. However, this portrait of two young women is significant beyond its subject’s beauty, or its artistic merits; it displays two finely dressed young women, one white and one black, positioned as equals. This mixed-race pairing, when African people where considered inferior and presumed to be slaves because of the color of their skin, would have been shocking to eighteenth-century society. The fact that Lord Mansfield commissioned the portrait of his two nieces together is a testament to his beliefs and his underlying commitment to aid, through his rulings on British law, the abolition of slavery. That is the axis of the movie and this book.

Captain Sir John Lindsay, by Alan Ramsay 1768

Captain, Sir John Lindsay, by Alan Ramsay 1768

In subsequent chapters Byrne continues to reveal what is known of Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788), a captain in the Royal Navy and later Rear Admiral of the Red, and her mother Maria Belle, his prisoner after capturing a Spanish ship bound for the West Indies. Chapters continue on William Murray, the most distinguished and powerful lawyer of his day, sugar plantations in the English colonies, Liverpool as a hub of import and despair, the anti-slavery movement, Murray and the Zong massacre, and the eventual marriage of Dido and her death.

William Murray. 1st Earl of Mansfield

The Right Honourable, William Murray. 1st Earl of Mansfield

In 1772, William Murray, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench ruled that no slave could be taken from England or Wales under force, saying: “The state of slavery is of such a nature and so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it”. This judgement was a crucial early step towards the international abolition of slavery.

While much is known about Britain’s slave trade economy during this time, and Murray’s legal decisions that helped to abolish slavery, history reveals only basic information about our main subject, Dido Elizabeth Belle. She was after all, not a public figure, but a mixed race woman during a time of great prejudice and persecution who was educated to be a lady, yet was not welcome in that social sphere. Her personal story had been forgotten with time—even by the Murray family who still own the portrait. Until the 1980’s, they assumed that the young black woman next to their kinswoman Lady Elizabeth Murray was her servant. Bell: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice thoughtfully reveals how Dido’s story is both emotionally moving and historically significance.

Caen Wood House. later known as Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, near London
Caen Wood House, Hampstead Heath, residence of Lord Mansfield
later known as Kenwood House

Byrne’s research and writing was as enjoyable as her approach to The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. She has the ability to mine gold from dry facts and spin them into a bewitching web for the modern reader. While the historical details about the slave trade and the abolition movement were very interesting, there is very little detail about the main subject, Dido Elizabeth Belle. No letters, no diaries or family recollections of Dido survive. Only historical documentation: her christening, her marriage, her inheritances and her death. At first I felt deceived by the title and cover. Was this really her story? No, in all honestly, it is not. But on deeper reflection, the fictionalized movie gave me what I craved: the personal drama, romance and moving character arc. In this instance it is her portrait, the people and history surrounding her that tell us the story of a young woman who changed the outcome of slavery by just being herself.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne
Harper Perennial (2014)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0062310774

Cover image courtesy of Harper Perennial © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased a copy of this book for our edification and enjoyment. 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.”