The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer (Naxos Audiobooks), read by Richard Armitage – A Review

I had not read The Convenient Marriage before this new Naxos Audiobooks recording happily landed on my doorstep. I will confess all upfront. I did the unthinkable. I read the complete plot synopsis on Wikipedia before I delved into the first chapter. *horrors*  Don’t even think about following my example.  It will spoil the most enjoyable aspect of this novel – surprise!

The Convenient Marriage is one of Georgette Heyer’s more popular Georgian-era rom-com’s, and for good reason. It has all the requisite winning elements: a wealthy and eligible hero, a young naïve heroine, greedy relatives, a scheming mistress, and a revengeful rake. Add in a duel, a sword fight, highway robbery, abduction, switched identities, and scandalous behavior, and you are in for comedic high jinxes and uproarious plot twists. As I laughed out loud at the preposterous plot machinations in the synopsis, I thought to myself, “How does Heyer do it? How can she take us on such an outrageously wild ride and make it believable?” I was soon to find out.

Handsome and elegant Marcus Drelincourt, Earl of Rule, is comfortable in his bachelorhood. At thirty-five his sister Lady Louisa Quain urges him to marry, suggesting the beautiful Elizabeth Winwood. She is from an aristocratic family of good pedigree but little fortune. With two unmarried younger sisters, prim Charlotte and impulsive Horatia, and their self-indulgent elder brother Pelham (about as much help to his family as a rainstorm at a picnic), she must marry well. Lady Winwood is thrilled when the Earl agrees to marry Elizabeth and save the family from destitution. Seventeen-year-old Horatia is not. Presenting herself at the Earl’s doorstep she boldly offers herself to him in exchange for her elder sister who is in love with Lieutenant Edward Heron. Horry proposes a marriage of convenience to Lord Rule with the promise that she will not interfere with him after they are married. She does not bring much to the bargain. Not only is she poor, but she also does not possess her sister’s beauty, and she stutters. Intrigued by this young, brave girl, he is tempted and soon sees the logic, agreeing to her proposal. Continue reading

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for August 2010

The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in August, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Audio

The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage

In honor of historical romance novelist Georgette Heyer’s birthday this month, I am sure that Jane Austen will not mind if I place one of Heyer’s Regency romance novels first among the great selection of books available this month. If you hadn’t noticed, we are celebrating Heyer in a big way all month here on Austenprose, but this novel in particular of the 34 we will be discussing stands head and shoulders over the rest. Yes, the story is one of Heyer’s best with a strong hero and an endearingly flawed young heroine, but this audio edition really chases away any fit of the blue devils with its velvet-voiced reader, Richard Armitage. This is his third foray into reading Heyer for Naxos Audiobooks, and I cannot think of one actor more qualified to make half of the population of the world swoon. (Publishers description) Horatia Winwood is the youngest and the least attractive of the three Winwood sisters. She also has a stammer. But when the enigmatic and eminently eligible Earl of Rule offers for her oldest sister’s hand – a match that makes financial and social sense, but would break her heart – it is Horatia who takes matters into her own impetuous hands. Can she save her family’s fortune? Or is she courting disaster? Witty, charming, elegant and always delightful, Georgette Heyer – the undisputed Queen of Regency Romance – brings the whole period to life with deft precision and glorious characters. Naxos AudioBooks (2010), Abridged Audio CD, ISBN: 978-1843794417. Listen to a preview.

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Emma and the Vampires, by Wayne Josephson

More vampires in our Austen coming our way. This time, its Austen’s handsome, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse, with a comfortable home and happy disposition with very little to distress or vex her except her vampire neighbors. (Publishers description) In this hilarious retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, screenwriter Wayne Josephson casts Mr. Knightley as one of the most handsome and noble of the gentlemen village vampires. Blithely unaware of their presence, Emma, who imagines she has a special gift for matchmaking, attempts to arrange the affairs of her social circle with delightfully disastrous results. But when her dear friend Harriet Smith declares her love for Mr. Knightley, Emma realizes she’s the one who wants to stay up all night with him. Fortunately, Mr. Knightley has been hiding a secret deep within his unbeating heart-his (literal) undying love for her… A brilliant mash-up of Jane Austen and the undead. Sourcebooks Landmark (2010), Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402241345. Read the first chapter.

To Conquer Mr. Darcy, Abigail Reynolds

Originally published as Impulse and Initiative by Sourcebooks in 2008, this Pride and Prejudice variation asks “what if” after Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet he didn’t give up, but pursued her from Kent back to Longbourn? I reviewed the original edition if you would like to peruse my humble opinion. (Publishers description) What if…Instead of disappearing from Elizabeth Bennet’s life after she refused his offer of marriage, Mr. Darcy had stayed and tried to change her mind? What if…Lizzy, as she gets to know Darcy, finds him undeniably attractive and her impulses win out over her sense of propriety? What if…Madly in love and mutually on fire, their passion anticipates their wedding? In To Conquer Mr. Darcy, instead of avoiding Elizabeth after his ill-fated marriage proposal, Mr. Darcy follows her back to Hertfordshire to prove to her he is a changed man and worthy of her love. And little by little, Elizabeth begins to find the man she thought she despised, irresistible… Sourcebooks Casablanca (2010), Mass market paperback, ISBN: 978-1402237300. Read the first chapter.

Murder on the Bride’s Side: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely

 

Last year debut author Tracy Kiely blew my bonnet off with her clever Pride and Prejudice inspired whodunit, Murder at Longbourn. Now her clever, but endearingly insecure sleuth Elizabeth Parker is back with a new mystery to solve that is inspired by Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. (Publishers description) Drawing from the classic Sense and Sensibility, Tracy Kiely continues the adventures of Elizabeth Parker, the likable Austen-quoting sleuth, in this witty and charming series. Elizabeth Parker suspected that fulfilling her duties as maid-of-honor for her best friend, Bridget, was going to be murder. And no sooner is the last grain of rice thrown than she finds herself staring into the dead eyes of Bridget’s Aunt Roni, a woman whose death is almost as universally celebrated as Bridget’s nuptials. The horror only increases when Harry, Bridget’s cousin, becomes the chief suspect. The idea is ludicrous to the family because Harry is one of the kindest, most compassionate people imaginable. To complicate matters, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Peter, appears to be falling for an old flame, a gorgeous wedding planner. Determined to clear Harry of the crime, reign in Bridget’s impulsive brand of sleuthing, and figure out where Peter’s heart lies, Elizabeth sets her mind to work. Minotaur Books (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0312537579.  Read my preview and an excerpt here.

Austen’s Oeuvre

Emma (Blackstone Audio Classic), by Jane Austen, read by Nadia May

Since one can never have too many audio editions of Emma to break the monotony of the work commute,  pop this one into your car CD player and enjoy an unabridged recording of  Austen’s nonsensical girl. (Publishers description) Often considered Jane Austen’s finest work, Emma is the story of a charmingly self-deluded heroine whose injudicious matchmaking schemes often lead to substantial mortification. Emma, ”handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Her own great fortune has blinded Emma to the true feelings and motivations of others and leads her to some hilarious misjudgments. But it is through her mistakes that Emma finds humility, wisdom, and true love. Told with the shrewd wit and delicate irony which has made Jane Austen a master of the English novel, Emma is a comic masterpiece whose fanciful heroine has gained the affection of generations of readers. Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), Unabridged CD, ISBN: 978-1441755360

Nonfiction

The Jane Austen Pocket Bible: The Perfect Gift for a Literary Lover, by Holly Ivins

From the publisher’s description, this appears to be the be-all, end-all of Austen enlightenment. That is a lot of Austenology for this slim 192-page volume. (Publishers description) The perfect gift for a literary lover. Have you ever dreamt of Darcy? Wished for Wentworth? Or even envied the womanly wiles of Emma? Perhaps you want to know a bit more about the author who so accurately describes the ins and outs of courtship, and whose novels have never been out of print since they were first published nearly 200 years ago? If you’re nodding in excitement reading this then the Jane Austen Pocket Bible is one for you. This handy little book guides you through Austen’s beloved novels, explaining Regency manners, the class system, the importance of inheritance, and the delicate matter of landing a husband. Full of fascinating trivia about the world of Austen’s novels this book also contains details of Austen’s life, the writers who inspired her, the country estates which make up the settings for her romantic adventures, and details on the countless film and television adaptations which have been made. With facts on genteel dancing, a plan for an Austen dinner party and words of wisdom from the lady herself, it’s a must-have for every self-confessed Jane fan or those making their first foray into Austen’s carefully crafted world. Pocket Bibles (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1907087097

Austen’s Contemporaries & Beyond

Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch, by Kate Williams

There are a ton of Victoria biographies on the market, so why do we need another one? Kate Williams is why. If any of you missed her 2006 bio of Emma Hamilton, England’s Mistress, it is well worth a trip to the library or that gift card you have been hoarding from last Christmas. Her next venture into fascinating women from the nineteenth-century is with Queen V. Her slant is the Princess Charlotte tragedy and how it made the Royal family scamper to conceive the next heir to the throne. (Publishers description) In her lauded biography England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, Kate Williams painted a vivid and intimate portrait of Emma Hamilton, the lover of English national hero Lord Horatio Nelson. Now, with the same keen insight and gift for telling detail, Williams provides a gripping account of Queen Victoria’s rise to the throne and her early years in power—as well as the tragic, little-known story of the princess whose demise made it all possible. Writing with a combination of novelistic flair and historical precision, Williams reveals an energetic and vibrant woman in the prime of her life, while chronicling the byzantine machinations behind Victoria’s struggle to occupy the throne—scheming that continued even after the crown was placed on her head. Ballantine Books (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0345461957. Read the first chapter.

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester

Not just your average compendium of Regency-era historical facts and figures, this volume uses Georgette Heyer’s novels as a springboard and ties in social, cultural and political customs and events, explaining it all for you, clearly and concisely. Read my review for full details and insights. (Publishers description) The definitive guide for all fans of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and the glittering Regency period. Immerse yourself in the resplendent glow of Regency England and the world of Georgette Heyer…From the fascinating slang, the elegant fashions, the precise ways the bon ton ate, drank, danced, and flirted, to the shocking real-life scandals of the day, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World takes you behind the scenes of Heyer’s captivating novels. As much fun to read as Heyer’s own novels, beautifully illustrated, and meticulously researched, Jennifer Kloester’s essential guide brings the world of the Regency to life for Heyer fans and Jane Austen fans alike. Sourcebooks (2010), Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402241369. Read the first chapter.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Robinette Kowal

More fun with Jane. (sort of) This Regency-era novel has some similar Austenesque themes: two sisters with divergent personality seek love and happiness, but with Harry Potter magic thrown in the mix. It looks intriguing. Let’s hope the prose is light, bright and sparkly. (Publishers description) The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written. Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attention of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own. Tor Books, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0765325563. Read the first chapter.

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

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

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. I have read it every year for *ahem* more years than I wish to admit, and 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 unexalted 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 Longbourn estate is entailed by default to a male heir, their 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. The second eldest daughter Elizabeth is spirited and confident, wanting only to marry for love. She teases her eldest sister Jane that she must catch a wealthy husband with her beauty and good nature to support them. The three younger sisters Mary, Catherine and Lydia hinder their sister’s chances 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 beautiful 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 by refusing 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 plot machinations never cease to amaze. Society has changed in two hundred years, but human nature, foibles and all, remains constant, much to our amusement and delight.

Naxos 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 miniseries 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

‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’ Day 5 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of an audio book recording of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (Naxos Audiobooks) by leaving your favorite quote from the novel by midnight, Saturday, July 24th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Sunday, July 25th. Shipment to continental US addresses only, or digital download internationally. Good luck!

Upcoming Event Posts

Day 6  June 21     Fashion at the Netherfield Ball
Day 7  June 23     Group Read: Chapters 15-21
Day 8  June 25     Tourism in Jane Austen’s Era

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage (Naxos AudioBooks): A Review & Giveaway

Did you know that Georgette Heyer is British author and literary critic Margaret Drabble’s favorite historical novelist? I know! High praise from an author who has written eighteen novels, introductions to all of Jane Austen’s major and minor works, been awarded a Doctorate in Letters from Cambridge University and the CBE and DBE by the Queen of England. Drabble is a living national treasure, as Heyer should have been if her novels had been taken more seriously during her life-time. However, she has always been highly esteemed by her faithful readers for close to ninety years and out of her thirty-eight Regency romance novels, Venetia is one of the most beloved.

Set in the countryside of the North Riding of Yorkshire three years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Venetia Lanyon is not your conventional Heyer heroine. Unmarried at age twenty-five she has never been in love, is close to being on the shelf and has resigned herself to the narrow fate of spinsterhood. Raised by her reclusive father since her mother’s death fifteen years prior, Venetia has seen little of life beyond the family estate of Undershaw Manor or an occasional country dance at Harrogate. Since her father’s death shortly after the Battle of Waterloo, she has been overseeing the household of her younger brothers: twenty-two-year-old Sir Conway, a soldier overseas with the Army of Occupation in Cambray, France and sixteen-year-old Aubrey, a brilliant scholar studying for Cambridge who abhors his physical limitations from a pronounced and ugly limp. Also within her small sphere are two improbable suitors who would like to win her hand: Edward Yardley, a dull, pompous egoist who thinks NO is a YES, and Oswald Denny, a bumbling teenage wanna-be rake who idolizes Lord Byron. Life as a maiden aunt in her brother’s household seems a far preferable fate until a chance encounter with an estranged neighbor, the “Wicked Baron” of Elliston Priory, leaves a surprisingly favorable impression. Continue reading

The Watsons and Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks): A Review & Giveaway

“One abandoned and the other uncompleted.” The Watsons and Sanditon may be fragments in Jane Austen’s literary canon, but they still deserve due deference. Composed over a decade apart in 1803-4 and 1817, each represents Austen’s desire to continue writing during two challenging times in her life. The Watsons was started when Jane was living in Bath with her parents and sister Cassandra. Raised at Steventon rectory in Hampshire, her father Rev. George Austen’s retirement from the clergy in 1801 prompted a relocation of his family to the resort town known for its healing waters and social activity. There she and her sister found a wider social circle, Assembly Balls, and other diversions but dearly missed the pleasures of the country, her large family and circle of friends that she was forced to leave behind. Her few remaining family letters during this period reflect her unhappy situation. Austen began Sanditon in 1817 during a brief remission in an illness that would ultimately take her life seven months later. Although gravely ill, the tone and freshness of the novel is comical and upbeat and reveals an evolution in style that displays her genius as a writer and an innovator of the British novel. We may never know why Jane Austen put The Watsons aside and did not return to it as she did with her other manuscripts. Moreover, her untimely death at age 41 parallels Sanditon’s abrupt halt after 12 chapters. They both fail to reach their full potential and it is our great loss and literature’s sad regret.

The Watsons touches upon one of Austen’s familiar themes: unmarried ladies challenged by their families and financial deficiencies. The heroine Emma Watson has been raised by a wealthy aunt with the advantages of education and refinement. Her two elder brothers and three sisters remained with their widowed father, a sickly and impecunious clergyman barely able to discharge his parish duties and definitely not in control of his three quarrelsome unmarried daughters who reside with him in the Surrey village of Stanton. When Emma’s aunt remarries, she is sent back home to find mercenary husband-hunting the order of the day for her two sisters Penelope and Margaret who think nothing of stealing others beaus. Her solace is with her eldest sister Elizabeth who attempts to keep the family afloat with frugality and cheer. Residing in the neighborhood is a titled family whose loutish son Lord Osborn is attracted to Emma while her sister chases after his social-climbing friend Tom Musgrave.

Sanditon takes an entirely different direction from Austen’s usual fare of 3 or 4 families in a country village by turning the narrative away from the individual’s struggles to an entire community. Set in the emerging seaside village of Sanditon on the Sussex coast we are introduced to a large cast of characters dominated by the two minions of the community: Mr. Parker a local landowner with grand designs to turn a fishing village into a fashionable sea-bathing spa for the invalid and his partner Lady Denham, the local great lady who has ‘a shrewd eye & self-satisfying air’ and cares little about the community and only her pocketbook. There are several young people to add a spark of romance, character foibles galore, plot ironies to raise an eyebrow at business speculation, hypochondria, and a sharp jab at the effluvia of novels and poetry to keep the narrative whizzing along until an abrupt halt just when we are hooked.

Given that there are very, very few commercial recordings of Jane Austen’s minor works, I was very pleased to see Naxos AudioBooks’ continue to add new titles to their already impressive catalog of Austen’s six major novels and Lady Susan in abridged and unabridged formats. This brand new recording of The Watsons and Sanditon maintains its impeccable quality. Amusingly read by the acclaimed BBC Radio personality Anna Bentinck, the diversity of the plots and the numerous characters could have been a challenge to a lesser accomplished reader, but I admired her energetic interpretations of the female roles. She has a fine touch with Austen’s nuanced humor and I appreciated her pregnant pauses as much as her rapid-fire delivery when warranted. A must-have addition for any Austen enthusiast, download this to your iPod or pop it into your car CD player for an amusing lark.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Watson and Sanditon, by Jane Austen, read by Anna Bentinck
Naxos AudioBooks USA (2010)
Unabridged, 4 CDs, 4h 29m
ISBN: 978–962–634–281–7

Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one digital copy of Naxos AudioBooks recording of The Watsons and Sanditon, by Jane Austen by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about either The Watsons or Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by midnight PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Good luck!

Persuasion, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks) Review & Giveaway

Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last completed novel was written between 1815 and 1816, with final chapter revisions in August of that year. Published posthumously in late 1817 with her earlier work Northanger Abbey, each of the novels represents the alpha and omega of her writing career. Even though they are divergent in tone and topic, they each share a commonality in being partially set in Bath and display Austen’s trademark play on social strata, money and courtship. Austen finished the manuscript of Persuasion in declining health which may account for its slim size in comparison to her heftier previous efforts Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Or, quite possibly it is exactly the length that she preferred for her story, allowing for a simpler plot and focus on fewer characters. Its size in no way diminishes it value. Some scholars consider it her finest achievement and readers have long cherished it for its jab at social mobility and moving love story. 

In 1817 Austen wrote to her niece Fanny Austen Knight in her usual ironic manner, “You may perhaps like the heroine, as she is almost too good for me.” At age 27, Anne is not your typical Austen heroine. The middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot she is from a distinguished family of a landed Baronet. Her vain father takes their aristocratic ancestry and social position very seriously and expects his three daughters to make prominent matches. Quiet, reserved and not as pretty as her father values, Anne is often overlooked and her opinions dismissed by her family; “but Anne…was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way — she was only Anne.”  Eight years prior Anne met and fell in love with a young naval officer Frederick Wentworth. Because he did not match her social and financial status, Anne was persuaded by a well meaning family friend to reject his marriage proposal. Wentworth returned to sea and forgets her. Anne never forgets him and remains unmarried. When he returns eight years later a wealthy and successful naval hero he reenters her social sphere with heightened status. On the other hand, Sir Walter’s extravagant lifestyle has out paced his income to the point of serious debt and the family must retrench, let Kellynch Hall and remove to Bath. As Anne watches the younger ladies of the neighborhood swoon and play for Captain Wentworth’s affections she is painfully aware of her lost bloom of youth, deeply regrets her decision and pensively longs for his favor until a tragic accident at Lyme Regis and events in Bath renew her hopes.  

In yet another brilliant reading of a Jane Austen classic novel, British actress Juliet Stevenson interprets Austen’s poignant story of fidelity and second chances with wry humor and sensitive pathos. Her depth of characterization is remarkable and I am never in doubt that she is relaying Austen’s intension faithfully. Those who have previously read the novel will find new enjoyment in this beautifully produced audiobook and those new to Austen’s masterpiece will be treated to an unabridged eight hours and forty three minutes of pure perfection. Such equal blending of masterful story and artistic integrity is rarely encountered and I highly recommend it. 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Persuasion, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos AudioBooks, USA (2007)
Unabridged, 7 CD’s, 8h 43m
ISBN: 978-9626344361 

GIVEAWAY CONTEST 

Enter a chance to win one copy of a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion by leaving a comment by midnight PST March 2, 2010 stating who your favorite character is in the novel or movie adaptation of Persuasion. Winners will be announced on March 3, 2010. Shipping to continental US addresses only. Good luck!

The giveaway drawing has now concluded and the winner has been announced. Many thanks to all who paticipated. 

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Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks), read by Juliet Stevenson – A Review & Giveaway

Northanger Abbey is the exuberant lesser-known child of Jane Austen’s oeuvre. Even though it was her first novel to be completed and sold in 1803, much to Austen’s bemusement it was never published and languished with Crosby & Co for thirteen years until she bought it back for the ten pounds that the publisher had originally paid. It was finally published posthumously together with Persuasion in late 1817. If its precarious publishing history suggests it lacks merit, I remind readers that in the early 1800’s many viewed novels as lowbrow fare and unworthy of serious consideration. In “defense of the novel” Austen offered Northanger Abbey as both a parody of overly sensational Gothic fiction so popular in the late eighteenth-century and a testament against those opposed to novel reading. Ironically, Austen pokes fun at the critics who psha novel writing by cleverly writing a novel defending novel writing. Phew! In a more expanded view, it is so much more than I should attempt to describe in this limited space but will reveal that it can be read on many different levels of enjoyment for its charming coming of age story, astute social observation, allusions to Gothic novels and literature, beautiful language and satisfying love story. I always enjoy reading it for the sheer joy of its naïve young heroine Catherine Morland, charmingly witty hero Henry Tilney and the comedy and social satire of the supporting characters.

It is believed that Jane Austen wrote many of her first works for the entertainment of her family and would read them aloud for their opinion and enjoyment. It is not hard to imagine that Northanger Abbey was presented to her family in this manner. The language and phrasing lend itself so freely to the spoken word, almost like a stage play, that I was quite certain that an audiobook would be a great enhancement to the text. Add to that the talent of a creative narrator and you have a great combination for several hours of entertainment ahead of you. I adore audiobooks and listen to them in the car during my commute to work. This Naxos AudioBooks recording is read by the acclaimed British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson whose performance as the acerbic Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma was amazingly, as outrageously funny as Austen’s insufferable character. Stevenson’s reading did not disappoint and far exceeded my expectations. She added just the right amount of irony and humor to the reading that I was never in doubt that it is a burlesque of campy Gothic fiction or other overly sentimental novels popular in Jane Austen’s day. Her choice of characterizations was imaginative and captivating. Hearing her interpretation of the emptiness of Mrs. Allen and her frivolous distinction for fashion, Isabella Thorpe and her shallow endearments, and Henry Tilney with his knack for reading and adapting to different personalities with wit and charm, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the novel and recommend it highly.

“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.” Ch 5

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos AudioBooks USA (2006)
Unabridged (7) CD’s 8h 17m
ISBN: 978–9626344279

GIVEAWAY CONTEST

Enter a chance to win one copy of a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey by leaving a comment by midnight PST February 23, 2010, stating who is your favorite character in the novel or movie adaptation of  Northanger Abbey. Winners will be announced on February 24th, 2010. Shipping to the continental US addresses only. Good luck!

Cover image courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks © 2006; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com

Emma, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review and Giveaway

Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV.  Austen privately abhorred the Regent for the treatment of his wife Princess Caroline and his dissipated lifestyle. In 1813 she wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd, “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” She did, however, recognize the value of his name and agreed to the dedication. Upon publication, Emma also had its own share of critics. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked “incident and romance” and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? Continue reading

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell: A Naxos Audiobooks Review & Giveaway

To prime myself for Return to Cranford, the new Masterpiece Classic sequel to last year’s award-winning mini-series Cranford on PBS, I wanted to read Mrs. Gaskell’s original novel that it was adapted from. Since I am always short of reading time, I chose instead to listen to an audio recording, my favorite pastime during my commute to work. After a bit of research on Cranford audio book recordings, I settled on the Naxos edition. From my experience with their recording of Jane Austen’s novels I knew the quality would be superior. I was not disappointed.

A witty and poignant portrait of small town life in an early Victorian-era English village, Cranford was first published in 1851 as a serial in the magazine Household Words edited by Charles Dickens. Inspired by author Elizabeth Gaskell’s (1810-1865) early life in Knutsford in Cheshire where she was raised by an aunt after her mother’s death and father’s subsequent re-marriage, the novel revolves around the narrator Miss Mary Smith and the Amazons of the community: the authoritative Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her kindhearted but timid younger sister Matty, the always well informed Miss Miss Pole and the self-important aristocratic Mrs. Jamieson. This gentle satire of village life does not supply much of a plot – but amazingly it does not matter. Gaskell has the incredible talent of making everyday occurrences and life events totally engrossing. Miss Matty’s conservative friends, the middle-aged spinsters and widows of Cranford, do not want their quaint life and traditions altered one bit. They like Cranford just as it has always been, therefore when the industrial revolution that swept through England in the 1840’s encroaches upon their Shangri-La, they lament and bustle about attempting to do everything in there power to stop the evil railroad’s arrival. Gaskell is a deft tactician at dry humor, not unlike her predecessor Jane Austen, and the comedy in Cranford balanced with a bit of tragedy is its most endearing quality.

This unabridged audio book recording is aptly read by Claire Willie whose sensitive and lyrical interpretation of Gaskell’s narrative enhanced my enjoyment of the story by two fold. Her rendering of the different characters with change of timbre and intonation was charmingly effective. My favorite character was of course the kindhearted Miss Matty. Even though she is of a certain age she has a child-like naïveté refreshingly seeing her friends and her world in simple terms. In opposition to our present day lives of cell-phones, blackberries and information overload, a trip to Cranford was a welcome respite. I recommend it highly.

2010 marks the 200th anniversary of author Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell nee Stevenson’s birth on 29 September 1810 in Chelsea, which was then on the outskirts of London. In celebration of her bi-centenary, Naxos Audiobooks will be releasing three additional recordings of her novels: North and South in February again read by Claire Willis, Wives and Daughters in March read by Patience Tomlinson and Cousin Phillis in May read by Joe Marsh. Happily, I will be enjoying many hours of great Gaskell listening this year.

5 out of 5 Stars

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Read by Claire Willie
Naxos Audiobooks, USA
Unabridged, 6 CDs, running time: 7h 02m
ISBN: 978–9626348505

Giveaway

Enter a chance to win a copy of the Naxos Audiobooks recording of Cranford by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm PT on Sunday, January 24th, 2010 stating which character in Return to Cranford on Masterpiece Classic was your favorite, or which other Victorian era author you have read and would like to see an audio book recording made of. Winner will be announced on Monday January 25th, 2010. Shipping to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

UPDATE 01/25/10: The contest has concluded. The winner was announced. Follow this link to discover id it was YOU!

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Naxos AudioBooks Recording of Lady Susan – A Review

Naxos AudioBooks Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (2001)Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan has never received much attention in comparison to her other six major novels. It is a short piece, only 70 pages in my edition of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Minor Works containing forty-one letters and a conclusion. Scholars estimate that it was written between 1793-4 when the young author was in her late teens and represents her first attempts to write in the epistolary format popular with many authors at that time. In 1805, she transcribed a fair copy of the manuscript but did not pursue publication in her lifetime. The manuscript would remain unpublished until 54 years after her death with its inclusion in the appendix of her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt, A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871. 

Lady Susan’s greatest fault lies in its comparison to its young sisters. Since few novels can surpass or equal Miss Austen’s masterpieces, it should be accepted for what it is – a charming melodramatic piece by an author in the making. Not only are we presented with interesting and provocative characters,  Austen reveals an early understanding of social machinations, wit, and the exquisite language that would become her trademark. Its greatest challenge appears to be in the limitations of the epistolary format itself where the narrative is revealed through one person’s perspective and then the other’s reaction and reply not allowing for the energy of direct dialogue or much description of the scene or surroundings. Withstanding  its shortcomings, it is still a glistening jewel; smart, funny, and intriguing wicked.    

Given the obvious challenges of converting a novel written in letter format into audio recording, I was amazed and delighted at how listening to the novel enhanced my enjoyment. Naxos AudioBooks has pulled together a first rate production presenting a stellar cast supported by beautiful classical music. Casting British stage and screen actress Harriet Walter as the fabulously wicked Lady Susan was brilliant. She offers the appropriate edge and attitude necessary to complement the text. With Walter’s, we are never in any doubt of Lady Susan’s full capacity to scheme, manipulate and ooze immorality and deception. Unlike many audio recording where one narrator uses many voices to portray each character, this recording offers 7 actors, similar to a stage or radio production with each part cast with a unique actor offering variety and interest. We truly connect to each portrayal of the character as they write their letters, inflect emotion into their train of thought, and personalize the production. The addition of period music by Romberg and Mozart equally enhance the setting. 

Running two hours and thirty minutes, this audio recording of Lady Susan actually enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of this often neglected yet highly amusing novella. I recommend it highly.

 5 out 5 Regency Stars 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen,
Naxos AudioBooks, USA (2001)
Unabridged audio recording, (2) CD’s, 2 hours, 30 min
ISBN: 978-9626342282 

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 6 Giveaway 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks), read by Harriet Walter, Carole Boyd, Kim Hicks and cast (2001) 

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one of three copies of the Naxos AudioBooks recording of Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 07 – Sep 7       Guest blog – Lady Vernon & her Daughter
Day 08 – Sep 8        Morgan Library Jane Austen Exhibit 
Day 09 – Sep 9        LS Group Read – Letters 23-33
Day 10 – Sep 10      LS Quotes & Quips

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer, as Read by Richard Armitage – A Review

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer, Naxous Audiobooks (2009)Today, August 16th is author Georgette Heyer’s birthday. In celebration of the uncontested Queen of Regency Romance, I thought it quite fitting to read one of her novels this week and review it. However, what I ultimately selected was not based on a plot, or characters, or a recommendation by other Heyer aficionados such as Vic (Ms Place) at Jane Austen’s World, but by pure fangirl fervor. Yes, gentle readers, I do freely admit to succumbing to the charms of a handsome face and sexy voice as quickly as the next fawning female in selecting a Heyer audio book recording of Sylvester solely based on its reader, Richard Armitage. 

For those who know of this talented British actor, I need say no more. For the benefit of the unenlightened, (and I am truly shocked by your egregious remiss), he has starred in both period and contemporary television dramas, monumentally as John Thornton in North & South (2004) and Sir Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood (2006-2009). Known for his dark, brooding, bad-boy looks, piercing blue eyes, and hypnotic voice, the good folks at Naxos Audiobooks may have unknowing chosen the one actor who could elevate Georgette Heyer into the limelight that she so richly deserves. He speaks – and half the world swoons. 

On to the review … Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle was originally published in 1957, and is one of Georgette Heyer’s more popular Regency novels. The wealthy, arrogant and pragmatic Sylvester Rayne, the Duke of Salford, in his twenty-eight year has taken it upon himself to marry, much to the surprise of his widowed mother, producing a short-list of five suitable debutantes that meet his exacting standards. However, among the list of beautiful and accomplished young women she does not see her first choice, the Hon Phoebe Marlow, granddaughter of his godmother Lady Ingham. Sylvester travels to London to consult Lady Ingham, but he is put off by her inelegant First edition cover of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer (1957)attempt to fix the match solely based on the fact that her daughter, Phoebe’s mother, and his mother were best friends. Meanwhile, word reaches Phoebe’s spiteful stepmother that the Duke of Salford will shortly make an offer for her hand and commands her to accept. Horrified, Phoebe is also put off by the reasons for the alliance and her memory of the cold, proud Duke of Salford from her London season. When they are formally introduced she is shy and dull, and he is unimpressed. In a panic, Phoebe runs away to London, and the sanctuary of Lady Ingham, escorted by her childhood friend Tom Orde. A carriage accident interrupts their journey happened upon by Sylvester who thinks he has discovered a runaway marriage in progress. When a snow storm traps them all together at the local Inn, Sylvester begins to see that Phoebe is actually quite intelligent and interesting, and not at all the young woman of his first impression. Gallantly, he removes any concerns that she may be harboring on his proposing marriage to her. She in turn, is gratefully relieved sharing that nothing could possibly induce her to marry him! 

In typical Heyer fashion her independent heroine and staid hero are the most unlikely couple imaginable. How she will bring them together is a humorous and engaging adventure, filled with pride, prejudice and misunderstandings. In addition, Heyer’s cast of secondary characters are predictable, but most welcome: Ianthe the spoilt and impulsive widow of Sylvester’s twin brother who thinks he is a villianous brute, Sir Nugent Fotherby her foppish and absurd fiancé, Tom Orde the steady and trusting family friend, and Lady Ingham the meddling but well meaning older relative among others. Heyer excels at bringing out the eccentric and the ridiculous in her characters played against dry humor like few can. The subplot of Phoebe anonymously writing a Gothic novel mirroring the personalities and physical characteristics of her family and friends is brilliant. When Sylvester’s signature devilish-looking eyebrows show up on the villain Count Ugolino scandalizing the Ton, she unintentionally admits that she was the authoress resulting in a hillarious fallout. As with all of Heyer’s romances, there is a hard wrought happy ending. How all the ill-informed opinions and misconceptions will be resolved, I will leave to the reader to discover. 

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North & South (2004)Richard Armitage’s reading of this Heyer classic was a delight. My only disappoint, and he is certainly not at fault, is in the abridgement of this novel. Not only does the reader deserve all of Georgette Heyer’s witty dialogue and opulent descriptions of Regency finery, furnishing, and social machinations, but every sumptuous and simmeringly seductive word uttered by Richard Armitage possible. Like the narrator who so wisely advised us in Mansfield Park“Nobody minds having what is too good for them.”  

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer, and read by Richard Armitage
Naxos Audiobooks, USA
Abridged edition 4 CD’s (4 h 51 m)
ISBN: 978-9626349250 

Further information & reviews 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, Read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobook), Review & Giveaway

It is believed that Jane Austen wrote many of her first works for the entertainment of her family and would read them aloud for their opinions and enjoyment. It is not hard to imagine that Northanger Abbey was presented to her family in this manner. The language and phrasing lends itself so freely to the spoken word almost like a stage play, that I was quite certain that an audio book would be a great enhancement to the text. Add to that the talent of a creative narrator and you have a great combination for several hours of entertainment ahead of you. 

I adore audio books and listen to them in the car during my commute to work.  It is a great time to tune out the traffic, clear my head, and get lost in a good story. When I decided that I wanted to listen to an audio version of Northanger Abbey I discovered that there were three new unabridged audio editions that had been produced in the last two years to choose from. The first Blackstone Audiobooks (2007) was read by Nadia May, the second by Tantor Media (2006) and read by Donada Peters, and the third by Naxos AudioBooks (2006) and read Juliet Stevenson. The first two readers appeared to be professional narrators specializing in the classics with a diverse range of authors, and the third Juliet Stevenson is a well known British stage and screen actress, whose performance as the acerbic Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma was so hilarious, that I knew she would be an excellent choice to read the novel with the extra bit of animation that I desired. 

Ms. Stevenson did not disappoint and far exceeded my expectations. She added just the right amount of irony and humor to the reading of Northanger Abbey that no one would be in doubt that it is a burlesque on the sensational Gothic fiction or other overly sentimental novels popular in Jane Austen’s day. Her choice of characterizations was imaginative and captivating. Hearing her interpretation of the emptiness of Mrs. Allen and her frivolous distinction for fashion, Isabella Thorpe and her shallow endearments, and Henry Tilney with his knack for reading and adapting to different personalities with wit and charm, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the novel.

I was happy to learn that Naxos AudioBooks has made quite a solid commitment to present quality productions of all of Jane Austen’s six major novels in unabridged and abridged formats. You can read about all of their recordings on their excellent web site and listen to a PodCast of an interview of Juliet Stevenson as she discusses her involvement in the audio recordings and her affinity to Jane Austen. Of note is the free download for this month of Feuille D’Album, an 1917 short story by Katherine Mansfield and read by Juliet Stevenson.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 11 Giveaway

 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen 

Naxos AudioBooks (2006), Read by Juliet Stevenson 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one unabridged, and one abridged copy of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey read by Juliet Stevenson, Naxos AudioBooks (2006)

(US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 12 – Oct 20          Guest Blog – Valancourt Books
Day 13 – Oct 21          Group Read NA Chapters 18-21
Day 14 – Oct 22          Book Review – OWC NA
Day 15 – Oct 23          Group Read NA Chapters 22-24