Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), by Robert Rodi—A Review  

Bitch in a Bonnet, by Robert Rodi (2012)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Compiling his thoughts on the first three of Jane Austen’s published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, author Robert Rodi fires a broadside at the swooning, sugary sentimentality of the modern Jane Austen fan craze.  He is appalled that such a group has turned a witty, sharp-tongued wonder into trite purple prose and slapped her silhouette on a t-shirt. Forging ahead for over four hundred pages, he dissects these Austen novels chapter by chapter, line upon line, precept upon precept highlighting a lack of romance and a decided prevalence of comedy and insight into the human condition.

I would like to give an early warning that this is not a book for those who have never read these novels. Though, it might be argued that it is exactly for those who are still considering them. My warning is for those who prefer to go into their books without spoilers and no undue influence because, reader, the author most definitely means to influence and discuss with thoroughness each character and each event and he does.

Bitch in a Bonnet begins with an explanation and a warning. Rodi doesn’t plan to take anyone by surprise or leave anyone in question of his purpose in writing his book. He basically shouts out ‘There be dragons here!’ And, I suspect for some, his method of discussion might be just that. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to bop him on the head for trashing some of my favorite characters or scenes or that I have a decidedly differing opinion on matters, particularly in Mansfield Park.

In colloquial turns of phrase and a great preponderance of cultural idioms, he dissects each of the books in his own chapters that tackle the novel’s chapters in about five-chapter sections. His sardonic humor and often sarcastic turn of phrase can be highly amusing (read, laugh out loud funny) and, once in a while, wearying (he can belabor his point now and then). Continue reading

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly—A Review

Jane Austen Secret Radical 2018From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Was Jane Austen a radical? Was she sympathetic to the “radical reforms” of Charles James Fox and others that included universal male suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights? Few would readily place her in the company of Thomas Paine, William Godwin, or Mary Wollstonecraft, but perhaps that is because she kept her dangerous views so well hidden that most of her contemporaries, as well as later generations, have missed them. While I began reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical with an open but somewhat skeptical mind, I was curious to see what evidence Helena Kelly would provide. In Chapter 1, she throws down the gauntlet: 

We’re perfectly willing to accept that writers like [William] Wordsworth were fully engaged with everything that was happening and to find the references in their work, even when they’re veiled or allusive. But we haven’t been willing to do it with Jane’s work. We know Jane; we know that however delicate her touch she’s essentially writing variations of the same plot, a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romantic comedy of the last two centuries.  

We know wrong. (4%)

Kelly cites a number of reasons for what she calls the misreading of Austen, including a lack of reliable biographical information about Austen, the destruction of most of her letters by her sister Cassandra, and a concerted effort by surviving family members to reframe Jane’s life and creative endeavors along more conventional and non-threatening lines. Delays in the publication of her early works obscured themes that were rooted in the upheavals of the French Revolution and the literary phenomenon of the Gothic novel. Add to these the many film adaptations and biopics that have nearly overtaken the original novels in the consciousness of the current age:

When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. (10%) Continue reading

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas — A Review

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barcas (2019)Today is #JaneAustenDay, marking the online celebration of her birthday. Born on a stormy night in 1775, she was the seventh child of Rev. George Austen and his lady Cassandra of Steventon, Hampshire. Her modest beginning stands in strong contrast to her international fame today. In observance, I am participating in a blog tour organized by TLC Blog Tours for a new Austen book worthy of your consideration, The Lost Books of Jane Austen.

Scholar Janine Barchas and I share a passion for Jane Austen and book collecting. In the early 1990s, I started my search for illustrated editions of Jane Austen’s novels, while she was hunting for the early inexpensive editions of Austen’s works that were marketed to Britain’s working-class folk. At the time I was actively collecting I was unaware of this niche of Austen’s novels, and until I read the description of this book, I did not know that they existed. However, Barchas presents the important story of these forgotten books in The Lost Books of Jane Austen, a heavily illustrated and informative new book for Jane Austen fans, book collectors, graphic artists, and Anglophiles.

Chronicling the print history of a classic author through the nineteenth century could be a very dry enterprise and more scholarly than the general reader could fathom. I am happy to share that there is much to celebrate and enjoy for all levels of readers in The Lost Books of Jane Austen. Barchas knows her audience, and like a skilled playwright, screenwriter, or novelist she starts off her exploration with a snappy opening line. ”Cheap books make authors canonical.” Zing! Continue reading

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, by Hilary Davidson — A Review

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson (2019)“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.” — Beau Brummell

So saith the arbiter of style in the Regency era when all of Jane Austen’s books were published and she and her characters dwelled. Since fashion is mentioned sparingly in her novels how is one to know, two hundred years after the fact, what is fashionable and what is in bad taste? Is that actress in the current period drama wearing clothing appropriate to the era, her age, and her social status? Is the hero wearing a top hat that Victorian author Charles Dickens would have worn? Is that pelisse polyester, and is a half “updo” hairstyle totally inappropriate? Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson explores these dilemmas for modern readers of Austen’s fiction, the adaptations of her works, and those set during the same timeframe.

When I first opened this book and skimmed its pages, I was overcome by its beauty. Page after page of eye-popping images of Regency clothing, portraits, landscapes, fashion plates, and cartoons by famous artists and illustrators of Austen’s day. The publisher states that the book boasts 180 full-color illustrations, and I do not doubt it. Here is a slide show of a few that I found especially significant to give you a glimpse of the extensive research that the author conducted to bring the book to life.

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Blog Tour Launch of There’s Something About Darcy, by Gabrielle Malcolm

There's Something About Darcy, by Gabrielle Mallcom (2019)For over two hundred years, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy has been an enigma and an idol—prompting Pride and Prejudice fans to re-visit the novel, create books and movies, and inspire writers to model their own heroes after his noble mien to relive their time with him in the original novel.

What is it about Darcy that makes him so admired, igniting passionate debates? Is he an arrogant snob, or a shy introvert? Why does his character arc in the novel move some so deeply, and anger others? Why do some actors excel in their portrayal of the iconic hero on screen, and others fail? While the discussions continue, Dr. Gabrielle Malcolm offers insights on all these questions, and more, in her forthcoming There’s Something About Darcy, publishing on November 11, 2019, from Endeavour Quill.

Like Mr. Darcy, this new literary criticism is much more than what appears on first acquaintance. We will not proclaim it tolerable (as he did when he first met Elizabeth Bennet), but declare it as tempting as his £10,000 a year income to any grasping Regency era mother. Here is a description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author. 

BOOK DESCRIPTION: 

For some, Colin Firth emerging from a lake in that clinging wet shirt is one of the most iconic moments in television. What is it about the two-hundred-year-old hero that we so ardently admire and love?

Dr. Malcolm examines Jane Austen’s influences in creating Darcy’s potent mix of brooding Gothic hero, aristocratic elitist and romantic Regency man of action. She investigates how he paved the way for later characters like Heathcliff, Rochester and even Dracula, and what his impact has been on popular culture over the past two centuries. For twenty-first-century readers the world over have their idea of the ‘perfect’ Darcy in mind when they read the novel and will defend their choice passionately.

In this insightful and entertaining study, every variety of Darcy jostles for attention: vampire Darcy, digital Darcy, Mormon Darcy, and gay Darcy. Who does it best and how did a clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire create such an enduring character?

A must-read for every Darcy and Jane Austen fan.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:  Continue reading

Preview of The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barcas (2019)Since the advent of mass-produced books in the late 1800’s, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different editions created of Jane Austen’s novels and minor works. While I will not publicly admit how many I own, *cough* I will share that there is more than one copy of her six major works in my bookcase. I have known a few Janeites who admit that they are hell-bent on collecting every old and new edition of Pride and Prejudice ever published. That is an obsession that will soon require a library as large as Pemberley’s expansive shelves.

After reading the description of Janine Barchas’ new book, The Lost Books of Jane Austen, I have a feeling that the author may be in that obsessed category of book collectors too. We are a rare breed and she has my total sympathy and approval.

DESCRIPTION:

Hardcore bibliography meets Antiques Roadshow in an illustrated exploration of the role that cheap reprints played in Jane Austen’s literary celebrity―and in changing the larger book world itself.

In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people. Continue reading

As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew, by Jen Chaney – A Review

As If the Oral History of Clueless Jen Chaney 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In July of 1995, I had just turned 15 when my high school girlfriends suggested we go see the new movie Clueless. At the time, I didn’t know that writer/director Amy Heckerling had based the plot of her movie about a pretty, rich girl from Beverly Hills on Jane Austen’s Emma, but that didn’t matter. My friends and I might not have been “handsome, clever, and rich” like Emma or Cher, but we were absolutely delighted by the message and world of Clueless. My love for that movie has been growing ever since. In Jen Chaney’s book, As If!, mega fans can finally learn all the behind the scenes details about what some folks believe to be the greatest Austen film adaptation of all time. (My apologies to Colin Firth.)

As you’ll see right there in the title, As If! is an “oral history” of Clueless. Basically, that just means that the author has collected interviews with the main cast and crew and patched them together into a readable order. She begins at the beginning, explaining how Amy Heckerling wrote the movie and managed to get backing from Paramount. The longer, mid-section of the book focuses on the day-to-day making of the movie during the two-and-a-half-month shooting schedule. The author ends with various reflections on how Clueless became such a pop culture phenomenon and the ways the movie changed fashion, language, and the girl-centric storytelling for the better. You can preview the basic style of the book by checking out this article Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture about the Val Party Scene.

There are some truly interesting bits in here. The author includes stories about the studios that passed on Clueless (only to really, really regret that later) and the casting process (if things had gone differently, Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie might have been explaining that Amber was “a full-on Monet”). There are scene-by-scene breakdowns of what filming was like. Did you know The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were drunk during Cher and Christian’s first date? And that Donald Faison actually shaved the top of his head at the Val party? Or that the guy who mugs Cher (and ruins her Alaïa dress) was cast only a few hours before filming that scene? Yup, it’s all true and in the book. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, by Margaret Doody – A Review

Jane Austens Names Margaret Doody 2015 x 200From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

Historical allusions abound in [Austen’s] fiction–they are part of the consciousness of each novel in itself. Combinations of place names and personal names point both back and forward. Or rather, references and images are more than just allusions; we find we are within history all the time. The writing is dense with allusion, thick with multiple sensations and meanings.” (389)

If I could, I’d drop everything to go study at the feet of the great Canadian, Margaret Doody, professor of literature at Notre Dame University. In her latest book, Jane Austen’s Names, Doody offers readers insights into the history that saturates each of Austen’s novels. In this way, the text resembles Janine Barchas’s excellent work Matters of Fact in Jane Austen (2013); but Doody’s work is both more minute and more expansive than Barchas’s in how it incorporates etymological origins for names and places, both real and imaginary, and cross-references many of the historical events and literary texts that influenced Austen. Of course, when Doody adds her own analysis of Austen’s novels, the effect is bewilderingly fascinating, like the publication of any gifted professor’s notes after a long tenure of research and teaching.

In Part I of the book, Doody introduces the fine line that Austen walks between allegory and allusion on the one hand and restraint and originality on the other. Doody reminds us that Austen’s Britain is a complex etymological canvas thanks to the presence of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and others; she further reasons that “No set or string of events is ever entirely over. Austen’s England is a place of strains and tension, of disharmonies potentially revived or momentarily perhaps forgotten.” (14). To lay the foundation for the other two parts of the book, Doody gives a quick overview of major topics of British histories, such as the Norman Conquest, the Tory/Whig divide, and the Tudor/Stuart tug of war for the throne. These topics are important, because they underlay Austen’s word choices, thereby exposing her political and religious sympathies. Continue reading

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm – A Review

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen fans cannot be filed neatly into a single category any more than Austen’s works can be limited to one literary genre. How might an editor attempt to do justice to the multiplicity of Janeite fandom in a slim volume of essays and interviews? This question was uppermost in my mind as I began reading Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen. The Fan Phenomena series website explains that the goal of the series is to “look at particular examples of ‘fan culture’ and approach the subject in an accessible manner aimed at both fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of these fascinating–and often unusual–‘universes’.” 

What is the joy of Jane? What is it about her work that keeps readers, and viewers, coming back for more? Is it the Darcy effect? Is it the irony, the wit, the romance? Or is it a combination of all these factors? Many critics and authors have compiled works to analyse this vast and still growing phenomenon of fandom…This collection offers material about the fans, for the fans, by the fans, and offers a combination of the popular and the academic. (5)

Editor Gabrielle Malcom’s introduction provides a clear description of the purpose and scope of the collection. She acknowledges the differences between mainstream fan culture and the academic treatment of Austen. After setting Austen’s work in its historical context with a few concise and insightful paragraphs, she provides brief descriptions of the essays and interviews that follow. While Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen has the look of an academic journal, its design and use of color photographs creates a visually appealing experience for the reader, with the exception of the excessively small font size used for the text of the essays. Although I suspect that the text format is dictated by the Fan Phenomena series as a whole and not unique to this volume, the cramped appearance distracted me from the content at times. I found the format used in the Fan Appreciation interviews to be much more appropriate and reader-friendly. Continue reading

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers, by Margret C. Sullivan – A Review

Jane Austen Cover to Cover Margaret Sullivan 2014 x 400

From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

In my opinion, the true sign of loving a book is owning multiple copies and versions of it. For example, I myself own six different copies of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. Over the years, I’ve found annotated versions, paperbacks, hardcovers, illustrated, vintage, and many other types of printings. I enjoy collecting different copies to compare covers, prefaces, introductions, and illustrations (if they have them.) I love finding new and used bookstores and scouring the shelves for new copies of my favorite books. As a collector will tell you, you can never have enough. I was therefore understandably excited to receive a copy of Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margret Sullivan, which is a great companion for any Austen collector. Continue reading

The Hidden Jane Austen, by John Wiltshire—A Review

The Hidden Jane Austen, by John Wiltshire (2014 )From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP: 

What is it about Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park or any other of Jane Austen’s novels that draw readers in and then keep them coming back again and again, even though they already know what is going to happen? In The Hidden Jane Austen, Australian Austen scholar John Wiltshire argues that the answer to this question lies in two related features of the novels. Firstly, Austen displays a keen comprehension of human behavior in all its complicated, messy manifestations—in particular, the way that humans misinterpret or misremember events in their efforts to build identities, establish and maintain relationships, and find a place in the community. Secondly, Austen crafts her narratives with these human behaviors in mind, making them central elements not only to characterization, but also to plot structure. But she does this in such a way that requires her readers to “keep up”—meaning they have to be attentive not only to what is on the page at hand but to what was on all the other pages before, and even to what wasn’t on any page at all, the silences that are provoking in their ambiguity. For it is in the unspoken that readers find the “hidden” Elizabeth or Fanny or, indeed, the “hidden Jane Austen” herself, the master writer relying on readers to pay attention.

To illustrate his thesis, Wiltshire conducts a psychoanalytic study for each of the six major novels, which basically means he tries to uncover the underlying motivations for character behavior. His angle for Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice is memory and attentiveness. Why, for example, does Catherine Morland forget John Thorpe’s clumsy marriage proposal hint, but internalize all too thoroughly Henry Tilney’s playful ghost stories? Simple, she was in love with Henry, not John (18). This same principle of memory is explored more deeply in Pride and Prejudice, a novel whose intelligent heroine somehow misinterprets and misremembers all too frequently. But Darcy is guilty of this too, although he is kinder to Elizabeth than she is to him (64). Wiltshire argues that it’s Austen’s memory games that make these two playful novels so pleasing to readers and re-readers—especially to those interested in finding out how they too were so easily misled.

The chapter on Sense and Sensibility is a fascinating character study of Elinor Dashwood and the way in which silence is both imposed on Elinor and used by her to wage war against her romantic rival, Lucy Steele. Wiltshire highlights the harshness of this novel’s setting and the ways in which Elinor’s manipulation of others mirrors that of Lucy. Even more fascinating is Wiltshire’s claim that while the narrative approves of Elinor’s use of concealment, it nonetheless reveals Austen’s anger at society for requiring levels of duplicity which, in turn, compromise one’s moral integrity (50). Continue reading