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

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Annotated & Edited by David M. Shapard (2011)How appropriate that The Annotated Sense and Sensibility is being published during the bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s first published novel.

This new book includes the complete text of Jane Austen’s classic with annotations by Dr. David M. Shapard, an expert in eighteenth-century European History who also brought us similar annotated editions of Pride and Prejudice in 2007 and Persuasion in 2010. I enjoyed both of his previous works. I find annotated editions of classics fascinating, especially if they are written from the perspective of historical and social events and not weighed down with scholarly opinions. Dr. Shapard’s agenda here is obviously to enlighten the reader by opening up Austen’s two hundred-year old text with facts, tidbits, asides, and information that a novice reader or veteran can relate to so they can appreciate the story even more.

This volume weighs in at a hefty one pound and six ounces and contains 784 pages of wow factor for any Jane Austen fan or literature lover. Jane Austen’s complete and unabridged text is included on the left hand page and the enumerated annotations on the right. No stone has been left unturned. Even the illustration on the front cover depicting two fashionably attired Regency-era young ladies walking in the countryside with an umbrella receives its own corresponding page of enlightenment on the history of the umbrella, walking as an amusement, large muffs as a winter accoutrement, and an observation on the picturesque landscape depicted in the illustration. This keen sense of the era in relation to the text continues throughout the over 2,000 annotations including: textural explanations of historical and social details, black and white illustrations of art works, caricatures, cartoons and maps, definitions of archaic words, citations from Jane Austen’s life and letters, a chronology of the novel, extensive bibliography, fifteen page introduction by the editor, and his literary interpretations of plot and characters. It is a monumental achievement that I will spend years coming back to and exploring.

I know that there has been criticism of Dr. Shapard’s unscholarly approach to annotation in his two previous editions. He uses open and accessible language for the layperson, and for the sake of clarity, he repeats definitions so the reader does not have to jump back and forth throughout the book for answers. In my view, this is considerate and not tiresome as some have complained. After all, who is this book’s primary audience? Pleasure readers and students, or scholars?  If you are a scholar you should be seeking primary source material and interpreting it in your own style, as Dr. Shapard has chosen to do in this volume. Amusingly, I find objections to the un-pedantic qualities of his writing an irony that Jane Austen would take delight in.

Overall, this new edition was mesmerizing. My only complaint is that not every inch of the right hand page is packed to the brim with annotation – but I am a greedy Janeite. Retailing at $16.95, this is a bargain resource book that every Jane Austen and Regency-era history enthusiast should own.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my fifth 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 copy of The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, June 14, 2011 stating who your favorite character is in Sense and Sensibility and why, or what intrigues you about reading an annotated edition of Sense and Sensibility. Winners will be announced on Thursday, June 15, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2011) New York
Trade paperback (784) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390769

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries, by Emma Thompson – A Review

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries, by Emma Thompson (1995)Nominated for seven Academy Awards®, the 1995 movie Sense and Sensibility remains one of my most cherished interpretations of a Jane Austen novel. Everything about this film project seems to be touched with gold; from the award winning screenplay by actress Emma Thompson; to the incredible depth of British acting talent: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, Harriet Walter, Greg Wise, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson; stunning film locations in Devonshire; and the fine brush-work of the Taiwanese director Any Lee. The movie touched many and introduced Jane Austen’s classic story of two divergent sisters searching for happiness and love to millions. I never tire of viewing it, basking in its beautiful cinematography, enjoying its thoughtful performances and marveling at its exquisitely crafted screenplay – both reverent to Austen’s intensions and engaging to modern audiences.

Reading The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries written by Emma Thompson and introduced by the movie producer Lindsay Doran was such a pleasure. What a labor of love this movie was for both actress/writer Thompson and producer Doran who spent fifteen years to bring it to the screen. This highly acclaimed film won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and Golden Globe in 1996 for Thompson and the praise of hundreds of film critics and fans. Her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes was so witty and Austen-like that the film clip is a perennial favorite on Youtube. This book contains the complete screenplay, over fifty photos of the actors and scenes from the film and Thompson’s candid and often hilarious daily entries of what it was like to be involved in this incredible project. Here is a great excerpt:

Tuesday 11 April: No one can sleep for excitement. Costume designers John Bright and Jenny Beavan wish they had three more weeks but have done truly great work. The shapes and colours and inimitable. Lindsay’s already in Plymouth frantically trying to cut the script. It’s still too long. The art department object to us bathing Margaret in the parlour. Apparently they always used a kitchen or bedroom in the nineteenth century. Perhaps the Dashwoods are different, I suggest, unhelpfully.

“Thompson’s rare and personal perspective makes The Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries an irresistible book for students of film and Austen devotees, as well as for everyone who loved this extraordinary movie.” This is a must read for Jane Austen and period movie fans, and I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my fourth 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 copy of The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, by Emma Thompson by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, May 11, 2011 stating who your favorite character is in the 1995 movie or what intrigues you about a movie adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 12, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, by Emma Thompson
Newmarket Press (2007) reprint of 1995 edition
Trade paperback (288) pages
ISBN: 978-1557047823

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

Just when I thought I had more editions of Pride and Prejudice than I should ever own up to, I will freely admit to just one more. After all, what Janeite could resist this tempting package? An unabridged first edition text; Annotations by an Austen scholar; Color illustrations; Over-sized coffee table format; Extensive introduction; And, supplemental material – all pulled together in a beautifully designed interior and stunning cover. *swoon* Where are my aromatic vinegars?

This new annotated edition appeals to modern readers on many levels beyond being a pretty package of a beloved classic. Austen is renowned for her witty dialogue and finely drawn characters, but not for her elaborate physical descriptions or historical context. When Pride and Prejudice was originally published in 1813, this brevity was accessible to her contemporary readers who assumed the inferences, but after close to two hundred years words have changed their meaning, insinuations and subtle asides have become fuzzy, and cultural differences from Regency to twenty-first century are worlds apart. Anyone can read Pride and Prejudice and follow the narrative, but it is so much more enjoyable if you can read it on an expanded level understanding it in social, cultural and historical context. Editor Patricia Meyer Spacks has not only added extensive notes on plot, characters, events, history, culture and critical analysis from a vast array of Austen and literary scholars, but added her own personal insights and observations from years of reading Austen and her experience as a college professor. From shoe roses to Fordyces Sermons to military floggings to the 19th-century meaning of condescension, readers will be informed and enlightened on every aspect related to the novel, the author and her times. In a nut shell, she has vetted great resources, gathered nuggets of knowledge and placed them at our feet.

As with all of Austen’s characters, this new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice has its own charms, “frailties, foibles and follies.” Weighing in at over three pounds, and encompassing 464 pages of unabridged text and fine print margin notes, this book easily reigns as the most all-inclusive and well-researched editions of Jane Austen’s masterpiece that I have ever encountered. Considering that the elaborate annotation classifies it as a reference work in addition to a full text, it is quite puzzling that it lacks an index. In addition, the illustrations are expertly selected but sadly lost some of their refinement in the printing process, coming across dark and murky in places. However, I was pleased to see a list of further reading and illustration credits listed in the back of the book to encourage readers to “add something more substantial, in the improvement of [their] minds by extensive reading.

Beautiful, sumptuous and satisfying, Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition is a monumental achievement that should be on the top of your holiday wish list and considered one of few editions available to be esteemed truly accomplished.

5 of of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2010)
Hardcover (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0674049161

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Which edition of Pride and Prejudice should you read?

“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 11

There are hundreds of Pride and Prejudice editions currently in print. Which ones do I like, and why? Here is a list of my ten favorite award winners (if I was giving out awards).

Best “prettyish kind of wilderness” cover

Pride and Prejudice (White’s Fine Edition), cover design by Kazuko Nomoto. Let’s start with the vanity editions because we all know that “vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride — where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” Thank you very much Mr. Darcy for giving me permission to buy yet another edition of Pride and Prejudice for my library solely based on pride in my library. This lovely new edition of P&P has a striking cover design by Kazuko Nomoto of Regency-era slippers, Hessian boots, frocks and breeches that wraps around to the back; Decorative end papers; Colored page tops; Marker ribbon; Elegant type face; An authorative text (without attribution) and Thick, acid-free paper. Elegant and stylish, the couples are facing each other and I assume dancing, but since we do not see above their waists, they could be kissing! Naaagh. It is truly an edition to “exhibit” on your coffee or bedside table and not one to just read; its hefty 1 pound 9 ouches alone being the main deterrent. White’s Books (2009), hardcover, unabridged text (376) pages, ISBN: 978-0955881862

Best not your “common garden variety” cover

Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), cover design by Reuben Toledo. Even though the silhouettes might look like stick insect runway models strutting to the black and white ball at Netherfield, I recognize them as our favorite literary duo appropriately walking away from each other after Darcy steps on her dress! I just imagine that Darcy has just given Lizzy the “be not alarmed Madame letter” and it all works for me. Get hip Janeites. We can now all be Austen fashionistas and exhibit our superior designer taste on our bedside tables. Now, (pray forgive) if our husbands, boyfriends, significant others or friends were ever in doubt of our obsession, this will certainly seal the deal. In defense, you can remind them that this new edition with the haute couture cover contains Penguin Classics definitive text and a brief biography of Jane Austen that Paris Hilton won’t read, but she might deem useful as a door stop. Read my full review of this edition here. Penguin Group (2009), trade paperback, unabridged text (339) pages, ISBN: 978-0143105428

Best “classic commentary” by dead authors

Pride and Prejudice (The Modern Library Classics Edition), introduction by Anna Quindlen. Supplemental material: Commentary by noted authors; Notes on the text; Brief biography of the author and a reading group guide. This compact and lightweight edition’s highlights (besides the obvious text) are the essays by authors Margaret Oliphant, George Saintsbury, Mark Twain, A. C. Bradley, Walter A. Raleigh and Virginia Woolf. Great for a student or veteran who needs to stash an extra copy in their car boot or desk drawer at work just in case you get in a debate and need a quick reference to quote passages illustrating why Mr. Darcy is proud and not shy. Random House (2000), trade paperback, unabridged text (304) pages, ISBN: 978-0679783268

Best “copycat” edition

Pride and Prejudice (Dover Classics Edition), preface by George Saintsbury, illustrated by Hugh Thomson. This beautiful replica of the ‘peacock edition’ of Pride and Prejudice is the next best thing to the ‘real thing’ since original copies of this highly collectible 1894 edition now command a handsome sum. Hugh Thomson’s illustrations tempered for the Victorian-era book market are a bit saccharine for me, but still beautiful. The preface by leading historian and literary critic of the day George Saintsbury is amusing. Even in 1894 Jane Austen had her fanboys. “In the novels of the last hundred years there are vast numbers of young ladies with whom it might be a pleasure to fall in love, – but to live with and marry, I do not know that any of them can come into competition with Elizabeth Bennet.” Dover Publication (2005), unabridged hardcover, text (476) pages, ISBN: 978-0486440910

Best “Twilighted” marketing ploy

Pride and Prejudice (Harper Teen Edition), no introduction. Supplemental material: No forward, no notes or appendixes in sight, but cool (for teens) selection of P&P Extras: The Jane Austen – Twilight Zone, by Shirley Kinney and Wallace Kinney; Which Pride and Prejudice Girl are You? Quiz; 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen; What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy Lived Now and Were on Facebook?; and a short biography of the author thrown in for good measure. I will side with Mr. Collins in his evaluation of young ladies book taste in that “I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction.” The lack of supplemental information that might have “explained” the hard bits to young or neophyte readers would in this case, have been an advantage. Otherwise, the cover is a nice rip-off of the Twilight black background and inanimate objects representing the Twilight characters and wholly unconnected to Miss Austen’s. Harper Teen, trade paperback, unabridged text (472) pages, ISBN: 978-0061964367

Best “anecdotes and asides” for young readers with a Christian slant

Pride and Prejudice (Insight Edition), foreword by Nancy Moser. Supplemental material: Questions for conversation and a short biography of the author. The editors attempt to disarm reproof right out of the gate by stating that no “Regency historian, Austen scholar or doctoral literary critic” was harmed in the making of this edition. Well not quite. But that is my pithy (or not) take. The tidbits and factoids listed in the margins are from Austen fans and admirers from the Bethany House staff (one presumes since no individuals are credited) and they “highlight, inform and entertain” by tagging passages or words with symbols for: Historical and cultural details and definitions from England in the early 1800’s; Facts and tidbits from Austen’s life that parallel or illuminate the novel; References to Pride and Prejudice in today’s culture, particularly in films; Tips for love and romance; Themes of faith drawn from Austen’s life and Pride and Prejudice; Comments and asides on the book’s characters and plot and parts of the novel that just make us smile. They are very user friendly and not scholarly pedantic or religiously didactic. So sorry Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, but you must look elsewhere for the advantages of instruction along the Fordyce’s Sermon’s vein. Great for a new readers, or fans that just want to squee along. Bethany House Publishers, trade paperback, unabridged text (360) pages, ISBN: 978-0764203886

Best “midlin” supplemental material

Pride and Prejudice (Oxford World’s Classic), introduction by Fiona Stafford. The supplemental material includes: Notes on text; Select bibliography; Chronology of Jane Austen; Explanatory notes on text; Appendix A Rank and social status; Appendix B Dancing and Textural notes. One of my favorite compact working editions of P&P, the supplemental material is excellent (except for the eh introduction) and the definitive text and notes are very “instructive”. Great for students who want a bit more explanation with notes that are presented in the back of the book highlighting historical, cultural and personal references to Austen and her family throughout the text. Pleasure readers will appreciate the compact size and beautiful design. Read my full review of this edition here. Oxford University Press (2008), trade paperback, unabridged text (333) pages, ISBN: 978-0199535569

Best “kick ass” introduction

Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics Edition), introduction by Vivien Jones. Supplemental material includes: Brief author biography; Reinstated original Tony Tanner introduction; Chronology of Jane Austen; Further reading and General notes on the text. It is not often that when a new edition of a classic novel is re-issued that it also includes an introduction from a previous edition from thirty years ago. Tony Tanner’s 1972 introduction is considered one of the best ever written and so popular that it was also included as an appendix in this edition. This volume is very similar in size of supplemental material to the OUP edition mentioned above. In quality and purpose, they are neck and neck, with OUP having slightly more info and this edition the better introduction. Either one is an excellent choice for students and pleasure readers. Penguin Books (2005), trade paperback, unabridged text (435) pages, ISBN: 978-0141439518

Best “friendly” edition

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (Anchor Books), introduction and annotation by David M. Shapard. Supplemental material includes: Note on the text of the novel; Chronology of the novel; Bibliography and Maps. The most extensively noted edition that I have read, it is packed full of every cultural, historical and aside on Jane Austen and her family’s that one could wish for. The book is easily navigated with the text on the left hand page and the annotation on the right. This makes for a hefty volume of 739 pages of pure text and facts culled from innumerable resources. I like having so much information at hand in one volume. First time readers, student and veterans love this edition. So do I. Random House (2007), trade paperback, unabridged text (739) pages, ISBN: 978-0307278104

Best “powerhouse” edition

Pride and Prejudice (Longman Cultural Edition), edited and introduced by Claudia L. Johnson and Susan J. Wolfson. In addition to a biography, chronology, maps and a bibliography, this densely supplemented edition with a full text has numerous essays and selected excerpts of Austen’s contemporaries. This is definitely a labor of love by two eminent Princeton professors who present Jane Austen’s famous novel in several provocative and illuminating contexts – cultural, critical and literary. Suitable for AP high school & college students and serious Austen enthusiasts.  It is an impressive Austen achievement and a solid chunk of Pride and Prejudiceism, but the average pleasure reader could read this till the cows come home and not understand it all. Pearson Education (2003) trade paperback, unabridged text (459) pages, ISBN: 978-0321105073

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

Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press): A Review

On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. Her declining health robbed her of what she dearly loved most, writing, and on the 18th of March 1817 after penning 22,000 words she wrote the last lines of chapter twelve and put down her pen. Four months later at age 41 she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease. 

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 of turning a fishing village into a fashionable watering place offering the therapeutic or curative benefits of sea-bathing 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.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood, a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Parker. Sanditon is populated by a comical ensemble of residents and visitors who upon Charlotte’s first acquaintance are altogether different than they later appear. Lady Denham’s nephew Sir Edward Denham is handsome, amiable and titled but is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style in an attempt to reinforce his own notion that he is a romantic character born to seduce women “quite in the line of Lovelaces.”  (Lovelace refers to the villain Robert Lovelace in Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa who rapes and ruins the young heroine.) He has designs upon Lady Denham’s companion Clara Brereton who he shall either woo with affection or carry off. Clara is a poor relation of Lady Denham’s who is maneuvering to be her heir and in direct competition with Sir Edward for her favor.

Also sharing the spotlight is Mr. Parker and his four siblings, three of whom Charlotte is told are sad invalids, but after their arrival talk a great deal about their maladies but exhibit little consequence of their afflictions. Here we see Austen at her comedic height characterizing the foibles of those who attach illness as an identity and hypochondria as their religion. The one bright light of hope in the novel is Mr. Parker’s brother Sidney who we know of only through letters and others descriptions. He may be the only character besides Charlotte who has the potential to set things in balance with his sense of humor and honest opinions. Sadly he is destined to remain the mystery hero of Austen’s oeuvre. Add to that a lineup a nest of plot ironies to raise an eyebrow at business speculation and hypochondria, and a sharp jab at the effluvia of novels and poetry and you have a narrative that whizzes along until an abrupt halt just when we are hooked.  

The uncompleted novel is a great loss to literature but also to the characters who after a bright and comical beginning are left with uncertain futures. What does remain is more than a novelty of Austenalia. Sanditon’s levity despite the author’s failing health when it was written is quite remarkable. On first reading I thought it quite energetic and satirical, similar to the burlesque humor of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I then put it aside and did not reflect on it further. My second reading after several years brought an entirely new reaction. Austen has taken a new and fresh direction from her usual three or four families in a country village and sets her novel not about an individuals struggle but an entire community. Money is still the fuel that powers the plot, but her physical descriptions of the landscape and town are entirely new in her cannon foreshadowing what may have been an evolution in her style. Sanditon is a gem that no Austen enthusiast should miss.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sandition, by Jane Austen, foreword by Prof. A. C. Graying
Hesperus Press, London (2009)
Trade paperback (85) pages
ISBN: 978-1843911845

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Day 6 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by midnight PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winners to be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Shipment worldwide, but it might have trouble reaching Antarctica.

On an aside. For any of you that are curious about the backside of a chicken staring at us on the cover, the Hesperus Press publicist offers this revealing insight. “Regarding the cover design for this title – our designers try to avoid clichés and so don’t always go for literal covers, thinking laterally instead. The tone of the image and its colour range suit the book well, and chickens and eggs are often taken as symbols of new life, which links to Sanditon’s plot, being about a new town.”

Upcoming event posts

Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Continuations

Day 8 – March 22 Event Wrap-up

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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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Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review and 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 “defence 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 shear 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 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. 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 continental US addresses only. Good luck!

UPDATE 02/24/10: The giveaway has concluded. The winner was announced. Follow this link to learn if it was YOU!

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