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

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

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 up front. 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, she 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.

The new Countess of Rule wastes no time in becoming the sensation of the bon ton dressing to the nines, attending parties, the opera, gambling huge sums and getting into all sorts of scrapes while her husband continues to pay attentions to his mistress Lady Caroline Massey. With patience and fortitude, Lord Rule councils his stubborn young bride against excess and the dangerous liaisons of Baron Robert Lethbridge, a known rake with a history with the Drelincourt family.

Determined to teach her husband a lesson for his interference, she defies his wishes attending a masked ball. Escorted by Lethbridge, he sees their friendship as the perfect opportunity to ruin her reputation and punish Drelincourt for thwarting his elopement with his sister Louisa years before. Horry tempts Lethbridge with cards, bending his resistance by scandalously agreeing to offer a lock of her hair if he wins. Unbeknownst to Horry, her husband has followed her to the ball, overhears their conversation and intercedes by stepping on her dress and ripping it. While she is away he disposes of Lethbridge and exchanges his costume with his own. Returning, Horry loses badly at cards and must give Lethbridge/Rule his winnings. Penitent, she concedes the bet which is met with a stolen kiss. Furious, Horry rushes away running into Lady Caroline Massey who recognizes her. Certain that her husband’s mistress will reveal to him that his wife was at the ball, she confesses all to him first. The Earl in turn reveals his charade. Discovering that he has fallen in love with his wife, how will he court and convince her that love is much better than a marriage of convenience?

Heyer’s characterizations just sparkle and shine. This May/Decemeber relationship presents great opportunity for difference in opinion and blunder. If Horry had not been an impulsive, stubborn seventeen-year old there would have been little conflict and no story. Lord Rule’s patience in dealing with his teenage bride commanded respect, endearing us to him by opening up the possibility of the love relationship that we hope for.  This delightful romp was made all the more enjoyable by this new audio recording by British stage and screen actor Richard Armitage. This is his third foray into Georgette Heyer for Naxos Audiobooks. His skill at unique characterization and resonant, velvetly voice transports the listener like Cinderella to the Ball. Unfortunately, once the story ends, so does the enchantment. My solution was to start it again. For me, a new audio recording combining fanciful storyteller Georgette Heyer and the sultry and seductive voice of Richard Armitage is like la petite mort. Hopefully they are not few and far between.

Listen to an excerpt at Naxos

The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage
Naxos Audiobooks (2010)
Abridged audio recording, 4 CDs, (5h 06m)
ISBN: 978-1843794417

On a whim, Laurel Ann Nattress created Austenprose, a blog celebrating the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing and the many offshoots that she has inspired. As a bookseller at Barnes & Noble she delights in selling her favorite author’s works to the masses. In her spare time, she is currently deep into her editing duties for a Jane Austen short story anthology to be published in 2011 by Random House. An expatriate of southern California she lives in a country cottage near Seattle, where it rains a lot. You can follow Laurel Ann on Twitter as Austenprose.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 04 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage (Naxos Audiobooks 2010) by leaving a comment stating which Georgette Heyer novel you think Richard Armitage should narrate next for Naxos by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. CD shipment to continental US. Digital download internationally. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 05   Aug 08 – Review: Regency Buck
Day 05   Aug 08 – Review: The Talisman Ring
Day 06   Aug 09 – Review: An Infamous Army
Day 06   Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

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.

Others tell her the Baron, Lord Jasper Damerel is scoundrel, a rake and a libertine and not a suitable association for any young lady who does not want her reputation ruined. Their first encounter while she walks alone near his estate is one of Heyer’s most famous scenes. (I will not reveal spoilers – but it is very praise worthy.) Damerel is as brazen and unprincipled as his reputation proceeded him, but instead of swooning or running from his advances Venetia firmly holds her ground and pelts him with literary retorts challenging his intelligence and temporarily belaying his dishonorable intensions. Their verbal sparring snaps and sparkles like dry kindling to a hungry fire confirming Heyer’s brilliance with characterization and dialogue. Venetia does not hesitate to say what she thinks and that makes him laugh, a refreshing change for this world-weary social outcast. Tall, dark and disreputable, everything about rakish Damerel tells her to check herself but Venetia does the exact opposite, she befriends him. He is intrigued and continues to seduce her until the green girl before him earns his true respect and deep affection. He is in love and wants her for his wife. Venetia secretly feels the same and awaits his proposal until Damerel suddenly becomes chivalrous and will not sully her reputation by marrying her. Meanwhile her brother Conway’s young bride arrives unannounced from France with her surly mother to take possession of Undershaw displacing Venetia who quickly accepts an invitation to stay with her aunt and uncle Hendred in London. Her family hopes that the change of scenery will help her forget the unsuitable Lord Damerel, but she only fears she may never see him again. However, Venetia is a realist who knows how the world works and a newly discovered family secret spurs her into action. She will need all her wit and guile to challenge propriety and to prove to Damerel that their social standing has nothing to do with keeping them apart.

Venetia Lanyon is one of Heyer’s most liberated heroines and Lord Damerel one of her darkest rogues. They seem a most unlikely pair, but Heyer’s skill at devising impossible obstacles for her hero and heroine is like syllabub and sunshine, we just can’t get enough if it. Upon their first meeting Damerel quotes Shakespeare, ‘How full of briars is this workaday world!’ which is an important theme throughout the novel. Both Venetia and Damerel face the challenges of social stricture – the briars of the workaday world – and overcome them in their own way. The plot is simple and secondary to the romantic tension, scintillating dialogue and playful sparing which is so much sexier than any modern bodice ripper could hope to generate. Cleverly, Heyer’s Venetia does not reform a rake, she discovers that a knight errant is what she needs.

This new Naxos AudioBook abridged recording of Heyer’s classic Regency romance read by renown British stage and screen actor Richard Armitage is a perfect pairing of witty humor and smoldering syntax. His reputation for bad boy roles such as Sir Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood and John Thornton in North and South transition smoothly into his characterizations in Venetia. Classical trained, his velvety voice resonates all the dash and splash that a great rake like Lord Damerel should display in the most seductive and sultry tones. His characterization of upbeat Venetia Lanyon accentuates her intelligence, casual frankness and sarcastic humor beautifully. After listening to this recording of Venetia his legion of fans will be clamoring for another libertine with a “well-informed mind and a great deal of kindness.” A tall order to fill, unless you’re on to the next Georgette Heyer Regency romance.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage
Naxos AudioBooks, USA (2010)
Abridged, 4 CD’s, 4h 49m
ISBN: 978-1843793793

Giveaway Contest

Enter a chance to win one copy of Venetia, audio CD or digital download by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about reading a Georgette Heyer novel or who your favorite Georgette Heyer hero is and what actor you would like to see in the movie role by midnight PT, Monday, April 12th, 2010. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010. Digital download internationally, CD shipment to continental US addresses. Good luck!

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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 a float 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 seabathing 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 catalogue of Austen’s six major novels and Lady Susan in abridged and unabridged formats. This brand new recording of The Watsons and Sanditon maintains their 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!

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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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