The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser—A Review

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser (2017)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I remember what I felt when I discovered that Jane Austen was not famous in her lifetime: Outright shock. I had been a self-proclaimed Janeite for years when I discovered this fact. I had read her books multiple times, collected movie adaptations, researched and written papers about her novels in college, etc. The enormous amount of 21st-century hype around Jane led me to believe that, like Charles Dickens, her fame began in her lifetime. How wrong I was; in fact, many of Austen’s early readers never even knew her name until after she died.

Discovering you are mistaken is always a jolting experience, and I felt like my own literary world had shifted on its axis. Somehow not knowing this fact earlier was very unsettling, and with hindsight, I think it was so unsettling because my ‘Jane Austen timeline’ was thrown off. The little fact about when Jane was famous shouldn’t be a footnote in her history because how and when she became THE Jane Austen is of cultural and historical importance. Not only for what we know about the author, but what we know about ourselves, her fandom. Timelines really do matter. Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen is a gem of a book because, in it, she answers the integral questions of “how” and “when” that has rarely been asked. How did the early illustrations in Sense and Sensibility affect people’s views of the novel? When did the idea of a brooding Heathcliff-esque hero replace Jane Austen’s original reserved Mr. Darcy? These questions and answers are only a few of the many addressed in The Making of Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park illustration from Groombridge 1875 edition

Image from chapter two, of an illustration by A. F. Lydon from Mansfield Park, Groombridge & Sons’ (London) 1875. Fanny Price gazing over the verdant park to the manor house.

As advertised on the cover flap, the key question of this book is “How is a literary icon made, transformed, and handed down through the generations?” Each of its four parts contains anecdotes and research that generally follows a chronological journey from the 1800s to present. In the first – “Jane Austen, Illustrated” – Looser gives an in-depth analysis of the artistic interpretations of Austen’s novels. She includes some pictures which are fascinating to view, although I wish there had been more. A highlight for me was learning that Victorian illustrators updated the clothing styles from the Regency to be more “modern” in their images – although these clothing choices are severely outdated now! Continue reading

Polite Society: A Novel, by Mahesh Rao–A Review

Image of the cover of Polite Society, by Mahesh Rao (2019)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I have loved Jane Austen’s Emma for as long as I can remember. Yes—I mean that literally. When I was six, my first introduction to the Regency and the magnificent world of Jane Austen began with a battered VHS copy (Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version) and, well, has never ended.

In fact, my first classic ever read was a neon yellow copy of Emma gifted for Christmas at the age of ten. It is now battered and torn, but will forever hold a place on my shelves. To me, the heroine Emma has always gone beyond the place of a lovable but mistaken fictional friend; she’s been in some ways, a mirror of myself. Perhaps this quality is why people love to hate her – she reflects how we all would be if given enough time, money, and influence. And that is: Sure that our way is the best way. Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society shows a world and cast of characters where this idea is everything.

Retellings can always be tricky – there’s a whole host of questions we ask ourselves. Will the modern setting give or detract something from the original? How much do morals connect to ethics, and ethics to society’s rules, and society’s rules to good behavior? Etc. etc. etc. We as readers can forgive much, including creative license with the original, as long as we find some kind of spark. Of wit, or romance, or searing visions of who we are (when we didn’t even realize it)…any or all of these can grab us and not let go. Polite Society attempts all of this, and its success depends on the reader.

Self-styled by Rao, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, as a book that “mines a much darker seam” than Crazy Rich Asians (a book it’s already being compared to), Polite Society definitely accomplishes this vision. Ania Khurana, the 21st-century version of Emma Woodhouse, and the elite in Delhi are terrible. Oh, I can make all kinds of beautifully polite parallels between the glittering sparkle of diamonds and Ania’s society, but at the core, their world is shallow and rotting. Rao has the eye and the heart of an anthropologist. He writes the elite with all their poison, all their attempts at climbing higher and higher on their social ladder, with a just pen. In the middle of the well-written nastiness, there are surprising moments of kindness (Dev/Mr. Knightley), true interest in others (Renu Khurana/Mrs. Weston), and self-realization (Colonel Rathore/Mr. Weston). Continue reading

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

The Work of Art Matthews 2019 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell

Recently, I discovered the joy that comes from not reading the description on the back of a book prior to opening page one. When I was asked to review The Work of Art, I heard “Regency” and “Laurel Ann recommends” and I was all for it. After downloading this novel, I opened my Kindle edition to a story as beautiful, atmospheric, and arresting as its haunting cover—one that captured me from the very first line…

“Captain Arthur Heywood had never seen such an ill-mannered assortment of canines in his life.”

…to the very last line, with its soul-satisfying conclusion.

When Phyllida Satterthwaite’s grandfather dies, she is plucked from her freedom in the Devonshire countryside and sent to Town to the constrained, shallow world that her vile aunt and uncle and odious cousins bask in. She lives for the few nature-filled walks she can take, with her dogs as her only companions. When she meets the solemn but kind Captain Heywood, Philly discovers that she’s not the only one yearning to be free from London society’s iron rules.

Captain Arthur Heywood, ex-Corinthian and ex-soldier, is facing his own bleak future. His life is ruled by the terms set by his injuries. His memories of the Napoleonic Wars and what gave him his scars haunt his dreams, as do the visions of the carefree life he’s lost. When Arthur meets Philly by chance he finds someone who quietly treats him with the same intuitive kindness she treats her dogs—which he quickly finds is a compliment of the highest sort. Continue reading

Love, Lies and Spies, by Cindy Anstey – A Review

Love Lies and Spies by Cindy Ansley 2016 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Espionage. Matchmaking Mamas. Pretend Romances. Ladybugs!

Who would have thought that these four things are closely related? Yet these tantalizing details (and much more!) can be found in April’s latest Regency novel involving spies and traitors to the English crown, conniving young heiresses, dashing rescues, and one very independent, insect-loving heroine. In Cindy Anstey’s debut, Love, Lies and Spies, readers are whisked away from the chill and rain-streaked windows of early spring to the shores of Devon, crowded streets of London, and glittering, secret-filled ballrooms of Regency England. 

Love, Lies and Spies opens onto a scene of danger and a dramatic cliffhanger—a quite literal moment of cliff-hanging peril, underwent by the brave (and very embarrassed) heroine, Juliana Telford. Up until her buggy overturned and she found herself dangling far above the English Channel, Miss Telford had managed to avoid potential scandal. For eighteen years she had grown up with only her scientist father for company, running the estate and filling her spare hours with her favorite pursuit: studying the ladybug. But her growing dread that she’ll die before completing her plans is calmed at the hope-boosting sound of approaching footsteps. Continue reading

Jane Austen Lives Again, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Jane Austen Lives Again by Jane Odiwe 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

What would Jane Austen say and do if she lived in the 1920s instead of the late 1700s/early 1800s? Would she wear a drop-waist dress that showed her ankles and bob her auburn hair? Would she dance the Charleston or listen to Jazz music? How would she react to being called ‘baby doll’? And would being handed into the front seat of a car by a young, eligible man just as romantic as being handed into a Regency carriage? These fascinating questions and more are imaginatively answered in Jane Odiwe’s latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again, where readers—and Jane Austen herself—are transported to the chaotic, electrifying Jazz Age.

1817: After days of sickness, Jane Austen closes her eyes on this world for the last time. Or so she thinks. When she opens them again—to her, only a few moments later—her doctor informs her that he found the secret to immortal life, and the year is… Continue reading

The Painter’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Painters Daughter Julie Klassen 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Digital Cameras. Laptops. Word documents and Note Apps. In 2015, these and countless other electronic items are used to quickly capture memories and jot down thoughts. But in 1815, the primary means of recording moments and ideas was through paper, pen, and paintbrush. Novels, journals, and artwork show moderns what life was like in the early 1800s, bringing readers and viewers into the thoughts and events of two centuries ago. In The Painter’s Daughter, Julie Klassen’s latest Regency romance set against the backdrop of Devon’s towering cliffs, readers discover a story of secrets and danger, prophecies and hope. But unlike the portraits from the Regency period, “viewers” are not given a glimpse of 1815 through the paint on a canvas, but rather through the story of the painter herself.

March 1815: Captain Stephen Marshall Overtree has only a few short weeks left of shore leave before he returns to the Navy, and he has one last family duty to perform: Locating his wayward brother, Wesley. Stephen digs up his brother’s last address at a painter’s cottage and rides to the small seaside town, Lynmouth. His plan is simple—find Wesley, and return to his blissfully regimented life in the Navy. But his retrieval plan is ruined when on his arrival at the Devon seaside, all he finds is a locked cottage, crates of paintings, and a beautiful woman standing perilously close to a cliff’s edge. Continue reading

Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story, by Carolyn V. Murray – A Review

Jane Austen by the Sea by Carolyn V Murray 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Who was Jane Austen’s seaside gentleman, the man she had fallen in love with at Sidmouth, who tragically died soon after their end-of-vacation parting? Readers and fans of Jane Austen have pondered this question for decades, without there being any definite answer. Jane’s surviving letters remain silent on the issue, and any information about the man’s name and the details of his relationship with Jane has been forever hidden from the public through Cassandra’s choice to destroy much of her sister’s (most likely, more personal) letters. All readers can do is imagine: just who was the seaside gentleman? How did he meet the witty, brilliant, outspoken young woman who became one of literature’s greatest authors? And how deeply did Jane fall in love with him? Carolyn V. Murray answers these questions—as well as many others—in her fascinating 2015 debut, Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story.

Opening in 1787, the precocious twelve-year-old Jane Austen sneaks into the classroom of her father’s all boys’ boarding school and entertains the students with a comedy of murder and mayhem. Despite her mother’s horrified declarations of family shame and the state of her irritated bowels, Jane is irrepressible, already looking forward to the prospect of an event which promises much more material for new stories: “A ball,” I announced. “For though I have never been to one, I hear there is much opportunity for treachery and pandemonium.” It would be some years before I could test the truth of that statement. (5)

Flash forward eight years, and Jane, now twenty-one, is preparing for a ball. Soon after entering the grand hall filled with dancing couples and beautiful music she meets the young, attractive, and very charming Mr. Lefroy. “Tom’s smile was a dizzying ray of sunshine. ““Miss Austen, are you engaged for the next two dances?” ”  And so it began.” (15) Continue reading

A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony, by Patrice Kindl – A Review

A School for Brides, by Patrice Kindl 2015From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In 2012, author Patrice Kindl published her Regency debut, Keeping the Castle. Heralded by critics as part Jane Austen and part I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith’s classic), Keeping the Castle is set in the memorable town of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, and filled with quirky (and mostly loveable) characters, witty and very quote-worthy lines, and one very spectacular heroine. Really, what’s not to love? Sadly, a return to the characters and town discovered in Keeping the Castle seemed only possible through a re-read rather than a sequel…until this month, that is! In A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl’s companion novel to Keeping the Castle, readers return to the small village of Lesser Hoo to see the latest comedic mayhem caused by old and new residents alike.

“Mark my words. If something drastic is not done, none of us shall ever marry. We are doomed to die old maids, banished to the seat farthest from the fire, served with the toughest cuts of meat and the weakest cups of tea, objects of pity and scorn to all we meet. That shall be our fate, so long as we remain in Lesser Hoo.” (A School For Brides, p. 1)

Continue reading

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

  • Betrayals and Lies. Harmful Secrets. Surprising Redemption.

For the past several years, Austenprose has had the joy of reviewing books inspired by a beloved author, Jane Austen, as well as those set in the Regency period. One author, in particular, has appeared more than once and has written numerous Regency books inspired by the timeless novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters: Julie Klassen. In her latest novel Lady Maybe, Klassen blends notes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to create a mystery-filled Gothic romance about the power of truth, and the lengths people will go to conceal it.

Lady Marianna Mayfield: Pressured into a marriage to Sir John Mayfield by her money-obsessed father, Lady Marianna ignores her older husband to instead focus on her many flirts, especially her lover, Anthony Fontaine. When her husband suddenly decides to take her with him to a house far away from Bath, she obeys—her silent companion and husband beside her, and the surety that her lover will do anything to find her. Continue reading

The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

One crumbling manor house. Three estranged sisters. And a garden full of roses. All of these and more are ingredients in The Rose Girls, the latest novel by Victoria Connolly, author of the currently six-book Austen Addicts series. While not a book connected to Jane Austen’s novels or the Regency period, The Rose Girls is a story that shares timeless themes from Austen’s own masterpieces: the importance of family, forgiveness, healing, nature, and love.

After the news that her mother recently died of cancer, Celeste Hamilton is called back home to Little Eleigh Manor and Hamilton Roses, the family rose business, to support her two sisters. Still recovering from a divorce and memories of a painful childhood, Celeste plans only on spending a few weeks at her old home to sort through things and comfort her sisters, before escaping with her dog, Frinton, to somewhere much better and (hopefully) memory-free. On arriving back at her family home, Celeste realizes her responsibilities are much more than she bargained for. Little Eleigh Manor desperately needs repairs, and she’s the only sister willing to sell possessions to keep the house from (quite literally) falling down around them.

Supported by her sister Gertie, resented by her other sister Evie, and hearing the echoes of her mother’s past verbal abuse in her ears as she wanders Little Eleigh Manor’s halls, Celeste is surprisingly comforted by the forgotten beauty of the roses her family has grown and sold for years. With her beloved sisters distant and hiding their own secrets, and a friendly, perceptive, and surprisingly young art auctioneer interested in more than just family paintings, Celeste finds reasons to put off her escape for a few more weeks—and with her two sisters, a few roses, and a lot of love, forgive the past and change the future. Continue reading

Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith – A Review

Emma Alexander McCall Smith 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Two years ago The Austen Project launched their first reimagined Jane Austen novel in the series, Sense and Sensibility (by Joanna Trollope), that has so far included Northanger Abbey (by Val McDermid), and the most recent, published in April of this year—Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith. Heralded as ‘Jane Austen—Reimagined,’ each successive book has gathered mixed reviews, yet also a wide readership, as many fans of Jane Austen’s beloved classics look forward to finding out (with anticipation or trepidation) how each of Austen’s six novels have been modernized.

While I’ve enjoyed reading each of The Austen Project books so far, there’s a common issue faced in each of them, one that should be addressed in reviews and even everyday conversation. This issue is: How much can be modernized in any classic update without detracting from the original book? It’s always difficult to decide, as a reader and I’m sure as an author, what can be updated and altered for the 21st century, and what has to stay the same in order for the story to honor the original (and author’s intent). For instance, there are some things—such as views on love, sex, and marriage—that have been updated in this version of Emma to fit the author’s modern beliefs, which do not fit with the original Emma’s written views on these issues or Jane Austen’s beliefs. Some things hold true throughout the centuries, and sometimes removing these in a modern interpretation of a classic significantly takes away from the integrity and meaning of the story. Some of the differences found in this modernization include: Miss Taylor initially moves in with Mr. Weston before their marriage, Emma casually calls her dad ‘Pops’ all the time, Isabella Woodhouse and John Knightley are expecting twins before saying ‘I do,’ and Emma wonders if she’s attracted to females while painting Harriet in the nude. Continue reading

Becoming Lady Lockwood: A Regency Romance, by Jennifer Moore – A Review

Becoming Lady Lockwood by Jennifer Moore 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

While most of Jane Austen’s beloved novels are set in the countryside or resort towns, there is one that stands out from the rest because of its tantalizing glimpses of life at sea: Persuasion. In Jane Austen’s novel, readers discover her own admiration for the daring men in the British Navy with her addition of the remarkable Captain Wentworth into her cast of Regency heroes. Debut author Jennifer Moore follows Jane Austen’s lead by focusing on Navy life during the 1800s in her 2014 Regency romance, Becoming Lady Lockwood, a novel featuring a brave heroine, heroic captain, and the excitement and peril of life on the high seas.

At twenty, Amelia Beckett has happily accepted her sudden widowhood—after all, she’d never met Lord Lawrence Walter Drake, Earl of Lockwood, the man her father had forced her to marry. Amelia expects her life to continue as before; her father, now content, would continue living a debauched lifestyle in London, and she would run the family’s sugarcane plantation in Jamaica, finally free of chaperones and matchmakers. But Amelia’s plans are dashed when her father commands her to travel to London in order to fight for Lord Lawrence Drake’s fortune, and he sends the one man who will fight against her rights in court to pick her up: Captain William Drake, brother to Amelia’s deceased husband, and new Earl of Lockwood. Continue reading