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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

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

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

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

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway winner announced for Sense and Sensibility (Naxos Audiobooks)

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobooks)42 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobooks). The winner drawn at random is haliegirl who left a comment on September 22, 2011.

Congratulations haliegirl! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by October 19th, 2011. Digital download or shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments! Juliet Stevenson has recorded several of the Naxos Audiobooks recordings of Jane Austen novels. They are excellent! I often pop them into my CD player on the way to work. You can check out the full inventory at the Naxos Audiobooks website. Enjoy!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobooks) 2005Even though it has been two hundred years since the world was first introduced to sisters Marianne and Elinor Dashwood’s financial, social and romantic trials, their story remains for me, as fresh and vibrant as any contemporary story you might read of, experience yourself, or hear tell tale of today. I give full credit, of course, to Jane Austen. Her understanding of human nature and how to craft emotions and characters into an engaging story remains unparalleled. Add to that a delightful twelve hour and forty-three minute reading by the accomplished British actress Juliet Stevenson’s polished interpretation of memorable personalities and you are primed for unsurpassed entertainment. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

When Mrs. Dashwood is forced by an avaricious daughter-in-law to leave the family home in Sussex, she takes her three daughters to live in a modest cottage in Devon. For Elinor, the eldest daughter, the move means a painful separation from the man she loves, but her sister Marianne finds in Devon the romance and excitement which she longs for. The contrasting fortunes and temperaments of the two girls as they struggle to cope in their different ways with the cruel events which fate has in store for them are portrayed by Jane Austen with her usual irony, humor and profound sensibility.

It is amazing to think that Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel. As a debut author she showed incredible understanding of characterization and plot development. Many of the personalities contained in this novel remain the most memorable for me of her entire canon. The affability of Sir John Middleton, the persistent meddling of Mrs. Jennings, the droll indifference of Mr. Palmer and the malleable weakness of Mr. John Dashwood are played against the narrow greed of the unscrupulous Fanny Dashwood and her officious, spiteful mother Mrs. Ferrars. These secondary characters really make our heroes and villains shine, and withstanding the two heroines Elinor and Marianne, it is amusing to see how Austen plays with our emotions in guessing who the heroes will be and how the morality will play out.

Sense and Sensibility does have a few plot wholes and loose coincidences that readers will be raising eyebrows over, but it remains a novel wholly entrenched in the passionate joys of youthful love and emotional loss, cruel social snobbery and biting social reproof as relevant today as it was in 1811.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

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

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one unabridged CD or digital download of Sense and Sensibility (Naxos Audiobooks) by leaving a comment by midnight PT, Wednesday, October 5, 2011 stating which character you love to hate in Sense and Sensibility or what motivates you to read Jane Austen’s classic for the first time. Winner to be announced on Thursday, October 6, 2011. CD shipment to US or Canadian addresses only. Digital download internationally. Good luck!

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen and read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos Audiobooks (2005)
Unabridged audio CD’s, 12 hours, 43 minutes
ISBN: 978-9626343616

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

An Arranged Marriage, by Jan Hahn – A Review

An Arranged Marriage, by Jan Hahn (2011)Guest review by Christina Boyd

Debut author Jan Hahn’s novel, An Arranged Marriage, begs the question, “can a marriage of convenience ever lead to true love?”  In Hahn’s impressive alteration of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, days after Miss Elizabeth Bennet stringently refuses the proposal of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy at Hunsford, her beloved father dies, leaving the family with meager resources and an estate entailed to their toad-eating cousin, Mr. Collins. Half a year later, as the ladies of Longbourn are packing to make way for the new owner, Mr. Darcy offers for Elizabeth’s hand once again. Despite her passionate dislike and distrust of the man, Elizabeth, with a grievous and bitter heart, accepts his proposal, saving her family from ruination and despair.  Refreshingly narrated from Elizabeth’s keen and often caustic perspective, we are privy to her inner most thoughts as she struggles to conquer her turmoil of the loss of her father; the disgrace of her youngest sister; the humiliation of her eldest sister; the anxiety of nearly losing her home; and of course, the distress from this arranged marriage.  And yet most disconcerting to her psyche is her blossoming passion for the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry.

Hahn’s mastery of Regency eloquence, as well as the seamless injections of Austen’s most famous prose, is pitch perfect. Most appreciated is her deft understanding of romance– sans all the tiresome throbbing and moaning one reads so often in many Darcy and Elizabeth adaptations. “His voice was as low and resonant as the diva’s was high and clear, and I thought how lovely it would be to hear such words on his lips if we truly cared for each other. ‘Caro mi ben, credimi almen, senza di te languisce it cor.’ ‘My dear beloved, believe me at least, without you my heart languishes.’ With that last phrase, I turned and found him gazing directly into my eyes as he spoke.” p.80. Without forced melodrama, Hahn spins an intriguing back-story, weaving Darcy’s sister Georgianna, Mrs. Darcy’s new lady’s maid, George Wickham and even Colonel Fitzwilliam through a snare of secrets and deception.  Like Austen, Hahn successfully balances drama and humour.  Even showing the stoic Mr. Darcy to behold a cutting wit in regards to his loose-lipped cousin, “Fitzwilliam? What is he now, an old woman?” p.172

As in Austen’s original, Elizabeth has not yet discovered that Darcy rescued Lydia from disaster, or comprehends that he could still be in-love with her after her headstrong refusal at Hunsford.  His blunders as a new husband and his propensity to hold private matters close, feed her doubts and suspicion.  I found myself holding my breath on more than one honest sparring – hoping and praying they would be able to “endeavor to practice the niceties of polite society.” p.77.   But as they learned to get on, more often I found myself laughing out loud at Elizabeth’s musings. “He smiled and kissed my hand before releasing it. We then retired for the night, each to our separate rooms, and I was even more aware than usual that we lay sleeping with only a wall and an unlocked heart between us.  Did I say heart?  I meant door.  Truly, I did.  Indeed, I meant door.” p.94

I first discovered the writings of “JanH” in February of 2007 on-line at Mrs. Darcy’s Story Site.  In fact, I read this very story in one sitting, into the wee hours of the morning, only to discover to my horror, for some unknown reason, my computer would not scroll past Chapter 12!  Fortunately, some kind soul at the site’s Forum sent me a link so that I could finish the story.  Ever since I have long wished that this talented author would publish her stories in print, so that this confirmed fan-girl could have them in my belonging.  Alas, this whimsical wish has come to fruition.  Congratulations, Jan Hahn! In a demesne of numerous Darcy and Elizabeth books available these days, An Arranged Marriage is at the top of my stacks, ready to be re-read.  Again, and again, wherever the book falls open.  It’s THAT enjoyable!  A must read.  I look forward to reading her next offering, The Journey due out in Fall 2011.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

An Arranged Marriage, by Jan Hahn
Meryton Press (2011)
Trade paperback (232) pages
ISBN: 978-1936009145

© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour: North and South (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Book Review

Welcome to the 5th stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell 200th Anniversary Blog Tour! Please join me and other Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiast in honoring her on birthday today with a blog tour featuring  a biography of her life and times, reviews of her books, novella’s and movies, reading resources, and a photo tour of her homes.

Visitors leaving a comment at any of the posts on the tour will qualify for a drawing of one unabridged copy of the Naxos Audiobooks edition of North and South read by Clare Willie. Deadline to enter is midnight Pacific time October 7th, 2010. The winner will be announced on October 8th, 2010. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses, digital download internationally. Good luck!

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell – A Review

First published as a magazine serial of twenty-two installments in Household Words edited by her mentor Charles Dickens, North and South was later expanded by Mrs. Gaskell into the format we know today and publish in book format in 1855. The story explores some of Gaskell’s favorite topics: social division and class struggles, religious faith and doubt, and the changing landscape of mid-Victorian England from an agricultural nation to industrial giant. Interlaced in these conflicts are genuine characters as passionate in their social convictions as they are in their quest for understanding and love.

Opening with the wedding of her vivacious cousin Edith Shaw to Captain Lennox, our nineteen year-old heroine Miss Margaret Hale is at an important juncture in her life. Raised in London by her wealthy Aunt Shaw, her duties as companion to her cousin are now over and she returns to her family as an educated and sophisticated young lady. Her parents live in Helstone, an idyllic rural Hampshire village where her father is the local Church of England minister and her mother a former county belle. Higher born than her husband she married for love against her family’s wishes. They lead a comfortable, but frugal life until her father’s decision to leave the church on principal; uprooting his family to the only opportunity available to them. His former Oxford tutor Mr. Bell has connections in Milton-Northern, an industrial city of cotton mills and coal smoke in the north of England, a far cry from the comforts, sunny climes and verdant countryside of the south in Hampshire. On the same day of Margaret’s fathers shocking announcement, Henry Lennox a young lawyer and brother of Edith’s husband visits the Hales in Helstone with the objective of proposing marriage to Margaret. Because she feels no affection other than friendship for him, his offer is rejected.

Margaret: ‘I have never thought of–you, but as a friend. I like to think of you so; but I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Pray, let us both forget that all this’ (‘disagreeable,’ she was going to say, but stopped short) ‘conversation has taken place.’

He paused before he replied. Then, in his habitual coldness of tone, he answered:

Lennox: ‘Of course, as your feelings are so decided, and as this conversation has been so evidently unpleasant to you, it had better not be remembered. That is all very fine in theory, that plan of forgetting whatever is painful, but it will be somewhat difficult for me, at least, to carry it into execution.’

The Hale’s are aided in their search for a new home in Milton by Mr. Bell’s tenant John Thornton, a young successful mill owner who has worked his way up from working class to respectable tradesman after the tragic death of his father when he was fifteen. The ladies find Milton smoky and stifling, especially Mrs. Hale and her personal maid Dixon who are always ready to complain about the dirty air, the unsophisticated town and its lowly people. Because of their reduced circumstances and the lack of help in a mill town that can offer higher wages to young girls, Margaret fills in as maid with the household duties. Margaret is happy to help, but her mother is horrified that her daughter, a lady, must work as a menial. To support his family Mr. Hale has found work as a tutor. One of his best students is John Thornton who is eager to improve himself and catch up on his education. Mr. Hale invites him to tea much to the bemusement of Margaret and Mrs. Hale who are arrogant and cold to him, believing him below their notice. Margaret is outspoken, voicing her opinions to him of Milton, their odd northern customs, and critical of Mr. Thornton’s comments about the differences in the south. Margaret thinks he is coarse and harsh with his workers. He thinks she is beautiful and intriguing, but proud and full of airs for someone new, poor and uninformed.

Margaret: ‘That is a great admission,’ said Margaret, laughing. ‘When I see men violent and obstinate in pursuit of their rights, I may safely infer that the master is the same that he is a little ignorant of that spirit which suffereth long, and is kind, and seeketh not her own.’

John: ‘You are just like all strangers who don’t understand the working of our system, Miss Hale,’ said he, hastily. ‘You suppose that our men are puppets of dough, ready to be moulded into any amiable form we please. You forget we have only to do with them for less than a third of their lives; and you seem not to perceive that the duties of a manufacturer are far larger and wider than those merely of an employer of labour: we have a wide commercial character to maintain, which makes us into the great pioneers of civilisation.’

As Margaret begins to acclimate to her new home, she makes friends with Nicolas Higgins, one of the mill workers and his sickly daughter Bessy. They are skeptical of her intentions when she visits and very proud not to take charity. Through them she comes to understand the hard working conditions in the mills and sees the result of their unhealthy environment in Bessy, whose work from a young age has infected her lungs from inhaling the cotton fluff that floats through the factory. Mrs. Hale’s health is also in steady decline and the doctor warns Margaret that there is not much more time before she is gone. Margaret keeps this news to herself and shoulders the burden as she has done to protect each of her parents from bad news. With his urging, John Thornton’s mother begrudgingly makes a social call at the Hales with her daughter Fanny, privately offering her assistance with her mother to Margaret.

Margaret visits Mrs. Thornton at their home next to the mill and finds herself in the middle of a workers strike. Desperate to fill mill orders and keep his business solvent, Mr. Thornton has brought in cheaper Irish workers to break the strike and an angry mob has amassed outside the mill ready to riot and kill the blackleg workers in protest. Margaret admonishes Thornton to talk to the crowd and appease their anger.

Margaret: ‘Mr. Thornton,’ said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, ‘go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don’t let the soldiers come in and cut down poor-creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.’

But, it is too late. A stone thrown from the crowd intended for Thornton strikes Margaret in the head instead. The crowd is hushed and shocked as Margaret lies on the ground. The army arrives to violently disperse the crowd and Thornton carries the unconscious and bleeding body of Margaret inside. At this moment, he realizes how much he loves her. Against his mother’s wishes, he is compelled to ask her to marry him and visits her at her home the next day. She has recovered enough to be repulsed by his offer and flatly refuse him. He is crushed.

John: ‘One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.’

 

Of course Gaskell has built up to this moment so beautifully that we are crestfallen by Margaret’s reaction to his admission of love. It is the axis of the novel. She despises him and accuses him of ungentlemanly behavior, the worst insult to throw at a man trying to win the heart of a lady. He is hurt yet dignified in rejection. That is indeed an act of a gentleman that she does not recognize yet.

How these two strong minded and opposing personalities will come together, and we are never in doubt that they will, is one of the most moving and satisfying love stories that I have ever read. Often compared to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Gaskell’s North and South parallels many of the same misunderstanding and misconceptions that the two protagonists go through to reach mutual respect and love. This was the first Gaskell novel that I have read, and her style, while more effusive and descriptive than Austen’s was a welcome surprise. Interlaced with this study of the diametric personalities are the differences in the lifestyles from agricultural southern England to the industrial north. Her characterizations were so detailed and real, that I cared deeply about the outcome of each of them. I recommend North and South highly. It will remain one of my cherished novels that I reread regularly. That is the greatest compliment an author can hope for.

This Naxos Audiobooks edition was sensitively read by Clare Willie whose characterizations reminded me of the voices of the actors in the 2004 North and South mini-series. I was so drawn into the story by her melodic intonations that I have never enjoyed my commute to work as much as the 18 hours and 36 minutes during this audio book recording. Gaskell’s powerful story of the division of workers and master told through the eyes of a haughty girl from the south of England who is thrown against her wishes and better judgment by her father’s life choices into a foreign world of the working class struggles of a northern mill owner is her most beloved work for good reason. Margaret Hale and John Thornton are a romance to remember and savor again, and again.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, read by Clare Willie
Naxos Audiobooks (2010)
Unabridged audio book, 15 CD’s, 18h 36m
ISBN: 978-962634185-8

Follow this link to the next stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Celebration Blog Tour a review of the North and South (2004) mini-series by Maria at Fly High

Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.” Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

© 2007 -2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose