Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr – A Review

Follies Past, A Pride and Prejudice Prequel, by Melanie Kerr (2013)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

In Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy wrote that post-proposal, world-altering letter to Elizabeth Bennet, telling her the truth about charming Mr. Wickham’s duplicity, I was as shocked and shaken as she was, but due to the discretion of the characters, readers get just a bare outline of what went on between Wickham and Darcy’s sister Georgiana. What exactly did happen and how did it come about? One can’t help being curious–or at least this one would like details–so when I discovered that Melanie Kerr’s novel Follies Past centers on that event I eagerly began the book, hoping it would be an Austen-worthy story with wit, appealing characters, and maybe even a wedding.

Follies Past has three heroines and opens with none other than Caroline Bingley. She and her brother are on their way to Pemberley, and while this will be her first time meeting Darcy, Caroline is already determined to marry him, even contriving things so their arrival coincides with the flattering light of early evening. By the end of the visit Caroline is sure she is well on the way to an engagement, but back in London she becomes distracted when she falls hard for another man. He has no title or estate, but he’s disarmingly handsome, they share a wicked wit, and he’s focused on her in a way she realizes Darcy never has. The power of their attraction gives her second thoughts about marrying a man she “loves” mainly for his wealth.

True to her P&P characterization, Georgiana is painfully shy and the idea of mingling with London society overwhelms her, so Darcy allows Georgiana’s dearest, slightly older school chum to accompany her on a visit to the city. Clare, the story’s third heroine, is principled, sweet, genteelly determined, and sometimes conflicted. She loves reading novels but believing they are bad for the soul she throws all of hers away before the trip, planning to set a good example for Georgiana. Georgiana looks up to Clare and they adore each other, but their situations are very different. While Clare has a highborn grandfather, she is also the daughter of a military man and without much fortune. Unlike Georgiana she has limited marriage prospects and as the book goes on her story becomes prominent.

When the trip to London reunites Georgiana and Wickham, who Georgiana adored as a child, it is Clare who is alarmed by Georgiana’s growing and, Clare thinks, inappropriate attachment. Darcy would set things right but he’s out of town inspecting properties with Bingley. Georgiana becomes distant and secretive so Clare decides she must do something, but what? There is no one around she can trust to help or advise her. Going to London is a wonderful opportunity for Clare, but being strictly brought up she feels distinctly uncomfortable around much of that city’s society, especially Darcy’s black sheep London cousin, the now ailing Lord Ashwell. Darcy has assured Georgiana that the vile rumors circulating about him are just gossip, but might Darcy be blinded by family loyalty? Desperation to protect Georgiana forces prudent Clare to put herself in company she would avoid under any other circumstance.

I found so much to enjoy in Follies Past, including the sympathetic portrayal of Caroline Bingley. She’s the same character we met in P&P, but with more insight into her character I felt moved by her story. Passages describing Caroline falling in love are the most convincing in the book, without being lewd they practically sizzle.

Playing small but important roles in the story is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s taciturn daughter Anne, and what a treat to get to know her–she’s a closet naturalist! Get Anne going about insects and she has lots to say. Anne also retains her P&P persona, but now that author Kerr has her talking we learn she has plans for her life, and isn’t the pawn of her mother that everyone, including Lady Catherine, thinks she is.

Even Wickham gets a touch of tenderness from Kerr. We see him thwarted in love (yes, Wickham in love!) and with his hopes to lead a settled life dashed when Darcy (justifiably) denies him the living. It’s possible to (briefly) feel a little sorry for him.

I felt the foiling of Wickham’s elopement plan happened abruptly, once everyone was in place it resolved in a few paragraphs and Georgiana let it go very easily, but by then Clare has become the heart of the story. The steps Clare took to help rescue Georgiana, and how those actions affect her future bring about a very Austen-worthy happy ending. Follies Past delighted me so much I actually cheered out loud a few times while reading.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars 

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr
Petticoat Press (2013)
Trade paperback (280) pages
ISBN: 978-0992131029

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Petticoat Press © 2013; text Jennifer Haggerty © 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.”

Happy 201st Birthday Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice Brock illustrationYou must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” – Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Ch 34

Today we celebrate another anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice on 28 January 1813 in London. It’s hard to top last year’s incredible, world-wide, over the top festivities, elevating Jane Austen and her most popular novel to mega-media darlings of 2013. Who will ever forget the giant statue of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy rising dripping wet from The Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, or the announcement that Jane Austen would be featured on the UK £10.00 pound note in 2017?

I will always remember this anniversary as the year that I visited Jane Austen’s England for the first time and walked in her footsteps through gardens, stately homes, and her last residence, Chawton Cottage in Hampshire.  It was quite a year for this Janeite.

I was also very happy to see an increased interest in reading Pride and Prejudice and the many spinoffs that it has generated. Over 400 fans signed up for our own year-long Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge here on Austenprose and over of a quarter of a million visitors landed on our Pride and Prejudice Archives, detailing the novel’s characters, plot summary and significant quotes. If you have not visited our archives yet, the links to each page are listed below.

We have another significant 200th anniversary coming up on the 9th of May for  Mansfield Park. I have always been very fond of Jane Austen’s less popular novel, especially her prudential heroine Fanny Price and anti-heroine Mary Crawford. I look forward to re-reading it this year.

Happy Birthday Pride and Prejudice! I ardently admire and love you too!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann 

Pride and Prejudice

© 2014, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com

Preview of A Dance with Jane Austen, by Susannah Fullerton

That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate. – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5

A Dance with Jane Austen, by Susannah Fullerton (2012)A very special book is in the queue for fans of Jane Austen, Regency history, dancing and artwork from the era from publisher Frances Lincoln Limited of London. Fair warning: A Dance with Jane Austen: How A Novelist and Her Characters Went to a Ball will be released on October 1, 2012.

Take note gentle reader. This is not your average garden variety nonfiction reprint of images and commentary of the era that we already have in our “extensive libraries”. Written by Susannah Fullerton, the esteemed president of The Jane Austen Society of Australia, and featuring a foreword by preeminent Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye, you will be agog with this beautifully designed, sumptuously illustrated and expertly crafted volume, wanting to give it “pride of place” in your front drawing room. Here is a description from the publisher:

Jane Austen loved to put on her satin slippers with shoe-roses, her white gloves and muslin gown, and go off for an evening of fun at Basingstoke assemblies. The Bennet girls share their creator’s delight and go off joyfully to dance, and of course to meet future husbands.

A Dance with Jane Austen image 2Drawing on contemporary accounts and illustrations, and a close reading of the novels as well as Austen’s own correspondence, Susannah Fullerton takes the reader through all the stages of a Regency Ball as Jane Austen and her characters would have known it. Her subjects learn their steps, dress in readiness, find transport to convey them to a ball, choose between public and private balls, worry over a shortage of men, prefer a cotillion to a quadrille, talk and flirt with their partners, sustain themselves with supper, fall in love, and then go home to talk it all over at the end.

Susannah Fullerton is President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and has lectured extensively around the world on Jane Austen’s life and novels. She is the author of Jane Austen and Crime, a book described by Claire Tomalin as “essential reading for every Janeite.” Deirdre Le Faye is an expert on Jane Austen, and the author of several books about her, including Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels and the new edition of Jane Austen’s letters for Oxford University Press.

“Susannah Fullerton leads us at a sprightly pace through the pleasure and anxieties attendant on every ball… This is a book to enrich our understanding of Jane Austen’s world, and even to make us feel invited to the ball ourselves.” – Maggie Lane, author of Jane Austen’s World

A Dance with Jane Austen image 5

Click on the image above to read an excerpt

I don’t think that I have anticipated a new Austen-inspired nonfiction book as keenly as A Dance with Jane Austen. I feel quite giddy and hope to be all Lydia Bennetish when my copy arrives by post.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

A Dance with Jane Austen image 3

A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to a Ball, by Susannah Fullerton, foreword by Deirdre Le Faye
Frances Lincoln Limited, London (2012)
Hardcover (144) pages, color and black white illustrations
ISBN: 978-0711232457

All images and text © 2012 Susannah Fullerton and Frances Lincoln Publishers, Ltd. A Dance With Jane Austen, Austenprose

Enter a Giveaway Chance to Win a Complete Set of Penguin Hardcover Classics by Jane Austen

Penguin Hardcover Classics: Jane Austen

UPDATE 04/26/12:

Since the Penguin sweepstakes has closed as of April 24, 2012, they have generously offered Austenprose readers a chance to win a signed copy by the designer Coralie Bickford-Smith of the Penguin Hardcover Classics edition of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey! Just leave a comment  voicing your opinion on if their was a hero throw down between Henry Tilney from Northanger or Captain Wentworth from Persuasion, who would win, and why, or if you have not read either of the novels yet, what you would like to know about them from the Janeites on this blog by 11:59 PT, Wednesday, May 09, 2012. Winner announced on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Shipment of print copies to US addresses only. Good luck!

Happy dance in the book world today. With the release of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s new cover designs of Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, all six of Jane Austen’s major novels are now complete for the Penguin Hardcover Classics set.

Since Pride and Prejudice, the first book in series was introduced in 2009, book designer Bickford Smith has completed over 20 new covers of classic novels. Beside Austen, the series includes books by authors Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Elliot, William Shakespeare, Wilkie Collins, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and others. The covers are inspired by the style of design from the early twentieth-century with motifs indicative of the stories in the novels. The three new Austen titles released today include designs of a chain on the front for Mansfield Park, a feather for Persuasion and a skeleton key for Northanger Abbey.  I can guess all of the associations to the stories. Can you?

Penguin Hardcover Classics: Jane Austen

Penguin Hardcover Classics is offering a generous chance to win the complete Jane Austen set. Just click on this link and it will take you to the Penguin Group Facebook sweepstakes. Good luck to all! (The Penguin sweepstakes has ended, but your comment here still qualifies you for the giveaway of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.)

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells – A Review

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells (2012)Review by Aia A. Hussein

The epigraph to chapter 3 of Juliette Wells’ new book Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination is taken from Michael Chabon’s “The Amateur Family” in Manhood for Amateurs (2010) and is one of the most interesting, almost poetic, descriptions of amateurs that I have ever read (it is quite long but worth reproducing in its entirety):

Perhaps there is no perfect word for the kind of people I have raised my children to be: a word that encompasses obsessive scholarship, passionate curiosity, curatorial tenderness, and an irrepressible desire to join in the game, to inhabit in some manner – through writing, drawing, dressing up, or endless conversational trifling and Talmudic debate – the world for the endlessly inviting, endlessly inhabitable work of popular art.  The closest I have ever come for myself is amateur, in all the original best sense of the word: a lover; a devotee; a person drive by passion and obsession to do it – to explore the imaginary world – oneself.

Admittedly, the word amateur has negative connotations but not so in Wells’ book.

An amateur is simply someone who is passionate about books and pursues that passion as a hobby rather than a scholarly profession, she argues.  In the last couple of decades, Wells, an Associate Professor of English at Manhattanville College and features editor for the Penguin Classics enhanced e-book edition of Pride and Prejudice (2008), has noted the rise in Austen tributes – the countless fiction, nonfiction, biographies, films, merchandise, and so forth, inspired by Austen’s novels.  Wells offers through her new book what could arguably be thought of as a tribute to the tributes, a critical examination of Austen-mania that acknowledges the important role it has played in keeping Jane Austen culturally relevant.

Everybody’s Jane, released this month by Continuum, takes into account scholarly work on fan cultures and fictions to explore Austen appreciation and appropriation, particularly its appreciation and appropriation in the United States.  After introducing the book in chapter 1, Wells begins her study by looking back to the early twentieth-century to introduce Alberta H. Burke, an American collector and self-confessed Janeite who Wells argues can be thought of as a direct forerunner to modern fans.  Later chapters explore such topics as literary tourism, Austen images, and Austen hybrids where, in addition to exploring hybrids such as Austen-paranormal fiction, Wells also takes a look at the little-studied phenomenon of Austen fan fiction aimed at evangelical Christians.

One of her most fascinating chapters, titled Reading Like an Amateur, explores the sometimes sticky subject of amateur reading versus professional reading or, in other words, the enthusiast versus the scholar. Striking a conciliatory tone, Wells suggests that there is room for both and that, perhaps, the two reading practices that the amateur and scholar are thought to adopt are not so very different.  Quoting scholar Roger Sales, Everybody’s Jane suggests that:

…popular modern texts are relevant to the academic study of Austen since readers constructs an idea of the author, and therefore of her works and their historical period, from the materials that are readily available within a particular culture at a particular time.  It would be very arrogant indeed to assume that all those who teach and study Austen are necessarily exempt from, rather than implicated in, this cultural process. (10)

Wells examines such topics as why and how amateurs read Austen, the reading experience of the amateur, and the juxtaposition of amateur reading with professional reading in this very important chapter.

In the book’s last chapter, aptly titled Coming Together Through Austen, Wells shares her belief that a deep appreciation for Austen can bring together amateurs and scholars and that the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), since its inception in 1979, has auspiciously offered a home to a broad spectrum of Austen lovers.  An examination of the organization and a call to arms to continue exploring the works and influence of Austen conclude the book.

Wells uses novels, scholarly materials, sites of importance to Austen studies and fans, images, and films to beautifully illustrate her points in a way that is accessible to the ordinary reader but also valuable to the more professional one.  Each chapter begins with a clear and concise overview which helps give structure and order to an extremely comprehensive account of Austen in the popular culture.  It’s impossible to know if Austen will continue to remain a point of fascination for modern writers and fans in the decades to come but, nevertheless, the explosion of Austen-related materials over the last two decades makes this a phenomenon worth documenting and, thankfully, scholars like Wells agree.  This is a fascinating study.  I highly recommend this book.

5 out of 5 Stars

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells
Continuum International Publishing Group (2012)
Trade paperback (256) pages
ISBN: 978-1441145543
Kindle: ASIN: B0071GVQRC

Aia A. Hussein, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and American University, pursued Literature degrees in order to have an official excuse to spend all her time reading.  She lives in the DC area.

© 2007 – 2012, Aia A. Hussein, Austenprose