A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons & Mistletoe, by Carlo DeVito – A Review

A Jane Austen Christmas by Carlo DeVito 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite author celebrated Christmas in the 18th century—or just know someone who has—A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito is the perfect package to place under the tree this holiday.

A Jane Austen Christmas takes us through Jane’s life story but focuses only on events that happened around Christmastime. We begin with the holiday season of 1786, when Jane is only 11-years-old and spends time with her visiting cousin, Eliza, and ends with the Christmas of 1815 when Emma is published for the first time. On the way, we get to know more about Jane Austen and her family, read about holiday traditions in 18th-century England, and learn to make some delicious, Regency-era Christmas treats. Yum!

At first, I thought there might not be much to say about Jane Austen at Christmastime. Though all her novels mention Christmas, the season isn’t a big focus, except perhaps as a backdrop for Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal in Emma. But, the narrow seasonal scope of this book really makes it an easy-to-read guide to some of the important moments in Jane Austen’s life. Because the author is just touching on Christmas memories, the reader isn’t overwhelmed with tons of details about the author’s life story. We just get to focus on key events in her journey. Continue reading

The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London, by Hannah Greig – A Review

The Beau Monde by Hannah Greig (2013)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Several recent histories have popularized Georgian England as “The Age of Scandal” with members of the beau monde starring in colorful “stories of gambling, adultery, high spending, and fast living” (30). Author, lecturer in 18th-century British history, and historical consultant Hannah Greig takes an alternate approach in The Beau Monde. By focusing on the fortunes of the beau monde as a whole, rather than concentrating on the biographies of a few individuals, such as the Duchess of Devonshire, she seeks to present the culture as “a new manifestation of social distinction and a new form of social leadership, one oriented to the changing conditions and contexts of the period.” (31)

After ousting James II from the throne with the support of the English nobility, William III began a series of wars that required him to summon parliament regularly to secure funds for his war chest. Beginning in 1689, the titled nobility came to London for the yearly meeting of parliament and the London season was born.  Continue reading

Life in an Eighteenth Century Country House, by Peter and Carolyn Hammond – A Review

Life in a Eighteenth Century Country House Peter and Carolyn Hammond x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

The Grove was a large country house and estate in Chiswick, England owned by Humphrey Morice, the son a highly successful London merchant and slave trader. Morice was an animal lover, and in contrast to the common practices of his day, did not destroy animals that were unable to work any longer. He kept a number of horses, dogs, and other animals at Grove House, causing many of his contemporaries to consider him an eccentric.

The main attraction of Life in an Eighteenth-Century Country House is the series of letters written by head groom Will Bishop to Morice during his stay in Italy from 1782-1785. Bishop wrote regularly to his employer, sending detailed accounts of all the bills for the house and stables for Morice’s approval. This was unusual, as most estate owners employed a “man of business” to handle these matters. As head groom, Bishop was mostly concerned with the welfare of the animals of the estate and wrote extensively about them, especially those that were unwell. He also kept Morice abreast of the personal lives of the staff, recounting their illnesses and conflicts with other workers, as well as general news about local people Morice would have known. One of my favorites was the “he said, she said” battle in the kitchen between the cook and stable lads: Continue reading

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy – A Review

The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.

Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.

As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:

…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)

Continue reading

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Belle by Paula Byrne 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Commissioned by the producers of the new movie Belle, acclaimed biographer Paula Byrne aims to reveal the true story behind the main characters in the movie: Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an African slave, and her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is both a companion volume to the popular movie and a time capsule into the turbulent abolition movement in late eighteenth-century England.

Inspired by the 1779 portrait of Dido and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, screenwriter Misan Sagay has written a compelling story based on facts she first learned of while visiting the 2007 Slavery and Justice Exhibition. Dido and Elizabeth were Lord Mansfield’s wards and raised together at Caen Wood House, now known as  Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath near London. While the screenplay is based on actual facts, it also incorporates a fictional narrative worthy of a seventh Jane Austen novel. In contrast, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is a historical account of the people and times and not a novelization of the movie. Continue reading

A Social History of Tea: Expanded 2nd Edition, by Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson – A Review

A Social History of Tea 2013Tea passed pleasantly, and nobody seemed in a hurry to move. – Jane Austen, Emma, Chapter 41

Taking tea is so quintessentially British. You cannot think of that noble nation without envisioning its residents with a teacup in one hand and a cucumber sandwich in the other. English novelist Jane Austen mentions tea no less than 58 times in her major works. The popularity of tea has grown even more since her Regency times, evolving during the Victorian era into a light meal served at four in the afternoon: resplendent with white linen, silver trays, scones, and clotted cream. Today, in our fast-paced-world of takeout food and frozen dinners, attending a tea party at a friend’s home or tea room is an event to be cherished and savored. The calming ritual and lively conversation is the ultimate indulgence that has not changed for polished society for four hundred years.

The tale of tea is a captivating story revealed in A Social History of Tea, a new expanded second edition by British tea authority Jane Pettigrew and American tea historian Bruce Richardson. Originally published in 2001 by The National Trust, this new edition has been revised and expanded and includes the research of two tea authorities from both sides of the pond. We are so internationally bipartisan these days—I am sure that mad King George III must be rolling in his grave! Continue reading

Jane Austen’s England Virtual Book Launch Party with Authors Lesley and Roy Adkins & Giveaway

Jane Austen's England, by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2013)Let’s face it. Life in a Jane Austen novel is a fantasy to us two-hundred years after they were originally set. Who wouldn’t want to wear a pretty silk frock, dance with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball or ride in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s barouche? But life in Jane Austen’s England was not all elegant country houses and fine carriages. It took an army of servants and working class people to make life comfortable for the landed gentry and aristocrats.

Authors and historians Lesley and Roy Adkins have taken us behind the green baize curtain in their new book Jane Austen’s England. Here we discover what life was really like for a gentleman’s daughter like Elizabeth Bennet or the Bertram’s of Mansfield Park and all of their servants.

In celebration of the launch of Jane Austen’s England, Lesley and Roy Adkins are visiting us today to share their inspiration to write their new snapshot of the Georgian-era. Leave a comment to qualify for a chance to win one of three copies available of their intriguing new book. Contest details are listed at the end of this blog. Good luck to all.

Welcome Lesley and Roy:

Thank you, Laurel Ann, for inviting us to an online Austenprose launch party of Jane Austen’s England. We raise our glasses to you all (filled with smuggled wine and port, of course, because Jane Austen’s England is at war with the French and such liquor from Europe is hard to obtain). Continue reading

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe – A Review

Among the Janeites, by Deborah Yaffe 2013 There are Trekkies and Potterheads and Twifans, but nothing in the pop culture universe can compare to the passion, dedication, and eccentricity of a Janeite. I know this because I am one.

For the benefit of the un-indoctrinated, a Janeite is a fan of English author Jane Austen (1775-1817) who wrote six novels before her untimely death at age 41. Many have read Pride and Prejudice for a school assignment and then moved on. Others, like myself and former journalist Deborah Yaffe, were so enchanted by her humor, characters, and Regency world that we read not only her major works but everything she wrote: juvenilia, minor works, novella, fragments, and letters. That was not enough. We were compelled to become her fans.

In Among the Janeites, a new nonfiction book to be released next week by Mariner Books, Yaffe boldly ventures into the land of Janeites to discover what makes them tick and why they “feel an intensely personal affection for the writer and her books…whom they often call “Jane,” as if she were a neighbor whose kitchen door they could knock on to borrow a cup of sugar.” Yaffe’s journalist background gives her the perfect training for such a task, striving to form an impression of what it is like to live with the obsession and “tease out some common threads that weave this diverse array of individuals into a community.” And tease she does, interviewing and meeting a wide range of her fans, traveling to England for a Jane Austen pilgrimage to her homes and haunts, and attending Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meetings in Portland, Oregon and Fort Worth, Texas.

After the lively introduction which explores her motivations for writing the book, it is broken down into three parts, much like the dramatic structure of Austen’s three-volume novels. Within the ten chapters, one or two different personalities in the Janeite world are featured as an example of the diversity of Austen’s fans and how they express their passion. First, we meet Regency fashion aficionados Baronda Bradley and seamstress Maureen O’Connor and learn all about corsets, pelisses and the lives of these two fashionistas. Multimillionaire Cisco founder and Chawton House Library creator Sandy Lerner has her share of the conversation in a chapter called “Sandy’s Pemberley,” writers Pamela Aidan and Linda Berdol are included in the chapter on Jane Austen fanfiction, and Austen scholar Devoney Looser rattles the ivory tower of academia by admitting to Austen fandom and expressing it with the roller derby persona “Stone Cold Austen” in “The Knowledge Business.” Continue reading

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith – A Review

Miss Jane Austens Guide to Modern Lifes Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith (2012)I am late out of the gate in reviewing this book. It’s been sitting here on my desk for months. Released on 25 October 2012, it has not garnered much attention and I don’t know why. Honestly, I am a bit burned out on Jane Austen advice books after two great submissions arrived earlier this year: The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and The Jane Austen Guide to Life. We also missed reviewing Finding Mister Darcy: Jane Austen’s Rules for Love, by Diane Clark which arrived on 31 Aug 2012. And, gentle readers, there are more Jane Austen advice books in the queue: Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift: An Independent Woman’s Advice on Living within One’s Means, by Kathleen Anderson and Susan Jones will arrive on 3 April 2013. It’s a focused topic and quite amazing to see so many competing with each other.

Regardless of past releases, or future, this clever tome deserves your attention. First off, the cover will make you smile: the vintage image of a Regency-era lady holding an iPad is very apropos and the subtitle will pique your interest: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and what to wear) from the Great Novelist Herself. At 27 words, this book might have the longest title I have ever seen. Let’s hope that it is more succinct with the text!

Happily, it is broken down into six chapters: Love & Relationships; Friends & Family; Fashion & Style; Home & Garden; and Leisure & Travel. This is a good start—and I must state right up front that the writer Rebecca Smith brings an air of authority and distinctive pedigree to the subject and that few can boast: she is the great-grandniece of Jane Austen, four times removed. She was also the first official writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England with previously published books: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That, and A Bit of Earth. Brava Ms. Smith! Continue reading

The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, by Laura Dabundo – A Review

The Marriage of Faith Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth, by Laura Dabundo (2012)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP: 

“What I want to examine in this study is how the poet Wordsworth and the novelist Austen represent a marriage of interests, an economy of literary sympathies, and a shared thematic melody that plays across their often-disparate works” (Dabundo, 9).

Laura Dabundo joins a number of scholars who have begun to show great interest in examining the works of Jane Austen in light of her Christian faith. One thinks of Laura Mooneyham White’s Jane Austen’s Anglicanism (2011), Peter Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen (2004), Michael Giffin’s Jane Austen and Religion (2002), and Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy (1993), not to mention more devotional and reflective works like Steffany Woolsey’s A Jane Austen Devotional(2012) and William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education (2012). It seems the trendy intellectual bias against discussing religion is giving way to a greater emphasis on appreciating the complete context of beloved and respected authors like Austen. This is particularly important in Austen’s case because, as Dabundo states from the very start: “The deeply rooted significance of church and faith creates the rich earth out of which characters develop, her plots blossom, and her themes flower. It was her reality; it is the reality of her art” (1). To ignore Austen’s Anglican faith and spirituality, therefore, is to only half-read her novels and so to potentially mistake her intention entirely.

Given the many works listed above and the many others not mentioned, Dabundo has to create a niche for her discussion of Austen’s Christian faith. For this, she incorporates a comparison with William Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet and contemporary of Austen. But what do these two literary giants have in common? Simply put, faith in Anglican Christianity as the saving “glue” of British society, for both believed that in Anglicanism the British people found the harmonious marriage of nationalism and Christian morals—a marriage that gave birth to the ideal community. Indeed, this community is not only the source of obligation (duty to others), but also the deeper motivation for the individual’s being (inspiration) (64). Dabundo unpacks this interesting claim over several chapters, but she does so by examining the two artists’ works separately. While I understand her reasons for doing so, I found the four Wordsworth chapters to be of less interest to me than the three Austen chapters, mainly due to my own unfamiliarity with the poetry being discussed and my greater interest in the novels. As such, I will restrict my comments to the book’s later chapters, perhaps to the chagrin of the author and Wordsworth devotees. Continue reading

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane, by Amy Elizabeth Smith – A Review

All Roads Lead To Austen, by Amy Elizabeth Smith (2012)From the desk of Syrie James:

Amy Elizabeth Smith, an English professor at a private California university, uses her development leave to test a theory: how do Jane Austen’s novels resonate with readers in Latin America? Do people identify with her characters and storylines? In other words, does Austen translate across time, distance, and language? In All Roads Lead to Austen, Smith explores these questions and more in six different countries, conducting Jane Austen reading groups “on the road.” Along the way, she’s immersed in the local culture, history, and literature makes valuable friendships, and… meets and falls in love with the man she is going to marry.

Yes, you heard right! Smith hooks us Janeites right off the bat by revealing that her real-life adventure has a very Austen ending—and what could be better than that? She writes in a clear, personable style that is witty, intelligent, engrossing, and filled with interesting details.

Smith’s travels begin with a Spanish language immersion course in Guatemala, followed by a romantic stay in Mexico where, on the first day, she spends all her money on books instead of groceries. She (alarmingly) becomes seriously ill with a life-threatening tropical disease, thankfully recovers, feeds tame iguanas in Ecuador, flees the police in Chile, dines on delicious food in Paraguay, and encounters tango dancers on the street in Buenos Aires.

Amusingly (at least to this reader), it seems that everywhere she goes, Smith is hit upon by men looking for a hot date. She learns the hard way that her naturally friendly disposition is unintentionally giving the wrong signals. When she innocently accepts an invitation from a (married!) older man—the doorman of her apartment building—to “have coffee, just as friends,” to her shock and dismay, he grabs her and French kisses her. Later, one of Smith’s new female friends tells her:

“You’re pretty dumb for a smart woman… First of all, you can’t be friends with Chilean men. Period. Any Chilean man asking you anywhere, unless it’s strictly work related, is coming on to you… Second… university professors do not date doormen. I’m not saying this is right—I’m just telling you how it is. This Alberto knows that university professors don’t date doormen, so he naturally assumed that if you were willing to go out with him, it’s because you were looking for some fun. You know—something physical.”

Continue reading