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

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

It seems only natural that an author would be interested in names. My writer friends collect interesting names for future characters and are constantly putting together different combinations. A young Jane Austen playfully tried out a selection of husband names for herself in her father’s parish register of marriages. Expectant parents pour over lists of baby names and struggle to find just the right one. As Maggie Lane points out in the introduction, “The pleasure of choosing names for progeny is one that maiden aunts normally forfeit. But not Jane Austen.” Jane Austen and Names explores her choice of character names and what these choices reveal about the culture she lived in. We also learn about Austen’s personal likes and dislikes through excerpts from her letters.

Ms. Lane begins with a chapter titled, “A Brief History of Names” in which she outlines the changing “common stock” of English Christian names. Names are drawn from a variety of sources and each name has an origin and meaning. The author asserts that these are much less important to most name choosers (parents and authors) than the cyclical rise and fall of names on the social scale. The following describes the cycle that applies as much to our current-day name choices as it did to Regency England.

“Typically, a name or set of names will be taken up at the top of the social hierarchy, being found alien, even absurd, by the majority. Eventually, through familiarity, it will become acceptable to a broad range of people; and by the time it has percolated to the very base of the pyramid, it will have long been shunned by the trend-setters, who are now looking elsewhere. Elsewhere might be a new set of imports, or more likely the revival of an old set of names.”

The next chapters examine the social status of various categories of names as well as naming patterns and practices at the time Austen’s novels were written. Jane’s own name is used to illustrate the trend away from diminutive forms (Sally, Nanny, Betty) very soon after her birth. Her father wrote to relatives in 1775 to announce her birth, declaring, “She is to be Jenny.” However, she was never known by this name, presumably because Jenny began to seem dated, a name for old ladies or servants. Continue reading