Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, by Lucy Worsley — A Review

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, by Lucy Worsely (2017)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

What can the places that Jane Austen called home tell us about the author’s life and work? In Jane Austen at Home, historian, author, and BBC presenter Lucy Worsley looks at the author’s life through the lens of Austen’s homes.  As Worsley notes in the book’s introduction, “For Jane, home was a perennial problem. Where could she afford to live? Amid the many domestic duties of an unmarried daughter and aunt, how could she find the time to write? Where could she keep her manuscripts safe?” (1) Worsley seeks to place Jane Austen “into her social class and time” while admitting that, as an Austen reader and biographer, she has a vision of the beloved author that allows Jane to speak for her and to her circumstances. “Jane’s passage through life, so smooth on the surface, seems sharply marked by closed doors, routes she could not take, choices she could not make. Her great contribution was to push those doors open, a little bit, for us in later generations to slip through.” (4)

Jane Austen at Home is divided into four major sections, titled as acts in a play. I thought this a lovely touch by Ms. Worsley, reminding readers of the Austen family’s love of amateur theatricals. “Act One: A Sunny Morning at the Rectory” covers Austen’s early life at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire (1775-1801). During this period, Jane traveled to relatives’ homes and even lived away at boarding schools for several years. Nonetheless, Steventon remained her place of safety until her father’s retirement forced Mr. and Mrs. Austen, along with Cassandra and Jane, to move to Bath.

Steventon Rectory, Hampshire

Steventon Rectory, Hampshire

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Love & Friendship, by Whit Stillman – A Review

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman: 

Lady Susan is my favorite of Jane Austen’s minor works. A scheming widow who also happens to be “the most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan Vernon is intelligent, attractive, and unscrupulous, agreeing with her immoral friend Alicia Johnson that “Facts are such horrid things!” (256) Her letters to Alicia detail her plans to snare wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter Frederica while causing pain and suffering to those she deems detestable. As she includes her own daughter in this camp, calling her a “stupid girl,” she has no qualms in forcing Frederica to marry a decidedly silly man with a large fortune. Lady Susan is a terrible person, but a wonderful character. While the novella lacks the depth of later works, it is a wickedly funny short story in epistolary form; its tone is reminiscent of the snarky comments found in many of Austen’s letters.

Who better to capture Austen’s witty social commentary than filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman?  His first film, Metropolitan, was one of my favorites from the 1990s, but I confess that I didn’t catch its similarities to Mansfield Park until many years later. Now Stillman has written a companion piece to his latest film Love & Friendship in straight narrative form. He introduces a new character to the story: Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. Rufus has penned his “true narrative of false-witness” to expose Austen’s supposed hatchet job on his aunt. His loyalties are made clear with the novel’s subtitle, “In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated (Concerning the Beautiful Lady Susan Vernon, Her Cunning Daughter & the Strange Antagonism of the DeCourcy Family).”

Readers familiar with Austen’s Lady Susan will notice an inversion of good and evil from the outset. Rufus has dedicated his novel to none other than the Prince of Wales, mimicking Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent, but in a much more effusively toad-eating style. After two knowing winks from Stillman in two pages: consider yourself warned. Rufus is the quintessential unreliable narrator, writing his rebuttal of Austen’s version of events from debtors prison in Clerkenwell in 1858. The vindication of his maligned aunt, riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre logic, is peppered with tirades on a range of subjects: history, theology, and grammar. These make for some of the funniest passages in the novel. Continue reading

The Janeite Blog Tour of Love & Friendship Begins June 13

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200A new Jane Austen-inspired movie released on May 13th. Love & Friendship has received rave reviews from critics and Jane Austen fans alike.

  • “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph
  • “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com
  • “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety

Written and directed by renowned independent filmmaker Whit Stillman, (a big friend of Jane Austen with his previous movies Metropolitan and Last Day of Disco), the movie has been adapted from Austen’s comic gem, Lady Susan, and features an all-star cast reuniting Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny and featuring a string of British period drama acting royalty: Steven Fry, James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave. I saw it on Sunday. I was astounded to discover there were actually people in the theater laughing louder than me, inspired by Tim Bennet’s performance as the rattle, Sir James Martin, and the all-around witty banter and comedic timing!

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200In addition, Stillman has written a companion novel to the film also entitled Love & Friendship with the added subtitle: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. For those who have read Austen’s original novella, you will remember that Lady Susan Vernon is described by Reginald De Courcy as “the most accomplished coquette in England.” and by others as devious, wicked and “with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.” To vindicate her scurrilous behavior is an intriguing premise indeed!

Love & Friendship, the novel, is told from the perspective of a new character, Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. His voice throughout the book is very Austenesque, with tongue-in-cheek humor and inside Austen jokes that will delight Janeites. Continue reading

Giveaway Winner Announced for Love & Friendship Prize Pack

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway of the Love & Friendship prize pack offered in honor of the new movie release. The lucky winner was drawn at random and is:

  • Amanda Mauldin who left a comment on May 11, 2016

Congratulations Amanda! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by May 25, 2016, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments and to Roadside Attractions for the giveaway prize package.

Cover image courtesy of Roadside Attractions © 2016, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2016, Austenprose.com

Love & Friendship — Whit Stillman Brings Jane Austen’s Comic Gem Lady Susan to the Screen

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200The highly anticipated release of Love & Friendship, filmmaker Whit Stillman’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, arrives this Friday, May 13 in Los Angeles, New York and Paris with national release set for May 27, 2016. Early praise for the film is more than encouraging: “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph; “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com; “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety.

We have long been a champion of Austen’s Lady Susan. So much so we dedicated an entire blog event to it in 2009, A Soiree with Lady Susan. For those who have not read this delightfully wicked novella by Austen written in the 1790’s and published posthumously in 1871, I highly recommend it. Besides changing the title to Love and Friendship, (also the title of one of Austen’s juvenilia), Stillman has added his movie magic and adapted the story into a screenplay.

Here is a description from the distributor Roadside Attractions:

Humorous and witty, devious and scheming, or Downton Abbey with laughs, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is an adaptation of young Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, believed to have been written in the mid 1790s but revised up to a fair copy prepared in 1805 and finally published by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in 1871. Continue reading

A Man of Genius, by Janet Todd – A Review

A Man of Genius Janet Todd 2016 x 200From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

Once as a child he’d had himself electrocuted to see how it would feel. He’d let the current course through him. He’d felt vibrant. 

Perhaps he’d never been the same since, just full of sparks. Perhaps touching him she’d taken on some of his electricity, only instead of making her more alive, it had singed and dulled her.

Confident, theatrical, and opinionated, the genius anti-hero of Janet Todd’s novel—which is a departure from her well-known nonfiction work on Jane Austen and others—positively reeks of potential for unusual behavior, right from the start. He’s fussy and aloof; he gets upset if he is forced to walk through pale-colored soil in dark boots; he balks at teacups that are “coarse” or “thick” and favors a more delicate model of his own choosing. He is Byronically volatile and tense, but in Ann’s eyes, Robert James is the picture of perfection, a man she simply cannot ignore. Their first meeting at a party in 1816 leaves her reeling with a desire to hear more of his rhetoric, and to become familiar with his not-so-attractive yet completely arresting face—for this face, at that moment, becomes the face to Ann. “Robert James,” she acknowledges within five pages, “changed everything.”

And it’s true. At the beginning of the story, Ann St Clair is a different person. She’s plainly-dressed—relying as she does on her Gothic writings as her only source of income—and “not dissatisfied with her mode of life” in her small lodgings. Yet as soon as she connects herself to Robert James, she must change, first by demurring to his opinions of proper dress, and later, far more destructively, by abandoning her life in order to accompany him to Italy. This, in fact, is the point in the story where the relationship begins to degrade in haste: With one snide comment after another, one slight, one violent outburst, one mad musing after another, Ann and Robert James fall apart. Quality of life deteriorates for both of them, and in a long crescendo, we are swept to the inevitable conclusion of a relationship built on half-truths and unspoken grievances. Yet you need not worry that it will be predictable; rather, it’s quite surprising how it all shakes out in the end. Continue reading

Giveaway Winners Announced for Ross Poldark and Demelza Books

Ross Poldark A Novel of Cornwall, 1783 to1787 2015 x 200        Demelza A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 by Winston Graham 2015 x 200

It’s time to announce the giveaway winners of the first two novels in the Poldark Saga: Ross Poldark and Demelza. The lucky winners drawn at random are:

1.) Eight (8) trade paperback copies of Ross Poldark

  • lex6819, who left a comment on June 22, 2015
  • Bookfool, aka Nancy, who left a comment on July 13, 2015
  • Ladycrumpet, who left a comment on August 05, 2015
  • Trudystattle, who left a comment on June 9, 2015
  • Veronica Sweet, who left a comment on June 7, 2015
  • Patricia Barraclough, who left a comment on July 19, 2015
  • Elizabeth, who left a comment on August 3, 2015
  • BeckyC, who left a comment on June 10, 2015

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Poldark Season One Episode Seven on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner). Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner). Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

Last week in episode 6 of Poldark, we had the “Pride and Prejudice Poldark Edition,” in which talk of frocks, balls and beaus resounded with snappy repartees and witty retorts, in true Jane Austen style.

This week in episode 7 of Poldark, it’s just another day in Cornwall when an epidemic strikes the community, tragedy befalls the Poldark family and a rip roaring shipwreck sends more than a ship to the bottom of the sea, in the thrilling and heartbreaking 2 hour season 1 finale.

Side Note: Masterpiece Classic chose to combine episodes 7 and 8 of the UK broadcast into one episode. This will be confusing to some. Do not be alarmed. Both episodes are included.

(Fair warning. There be spoilers ahead)

RECAP (longish)

Where’s Verity?”—Elizabeth Poldark

While George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) reminds Ross Poldark’s (Aidan Turner) business partner Sir Jonathan Tressider (Mark Seaman) where his true interests lie in light of the debt that he owes to Warleggan Bank, Verity (Ruby Bentall) makes her move (finally) and elopes with Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington). Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller), the narcissistic cad that he is, does not take the news well. He is convinced that Ross aided them in their plans. His wife Elizabeth (Heida Reed) questions his rash accusations, defending Ross proclaiming, “I stand up for no one, but it’s the merest justice not to condemn people unheard.

Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) leave Nampara in Poldark. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) leave Nampara in Poldark. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

Don’t bend ye brows at me girl. You ain’t nothin’ but a trull from Illugin.”—Jud Paynter

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Poldark Season One Episode Six on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Image of Demelza Poldark (Eleanor Tomlinson) at the Warleggan ball in Poldark (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS

Image of Demelza Poldark (Eleanor Tomlinson) at the Warleggan ball in Poldark (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS

Last week in episode 5 of Poldark everyone was reckless and bold—gambling on their future and love. Miner Mark Daniel married a questionable woman, Ross began a copper smelting company, Demelza played defiant matchmaker and Francis had a meltdown after losing his mine in a card game.

This week: The Pride and Prejudice Poldark edition. In which talk of frocks, balls and beaus resounds with sparkling repartees and retorts, echoing Jane Austen’s prose.

(there be spoilers ahead)

RECAP

Francis (Kyle Soller) scythes. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

Francis (Kyle Soller) scythes. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS

You’ll never get it Ross.”—Francis Poldark

What?”—Ross Poldark

Justice for all.”—Francis Poldark

Fair wages would be a start.”—Ross Poldark

With the image of the shirtless and buff Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) scything his field in episode three still fresh in our minds, the scene of his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) attempting the same sends an entirely different message. Moral fortitude vs. weakness has won the day. Taking the initiative and rebuilding your life has paid off for Ross. Will his cousin rise to the challenge? The omen that Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) foretold of the dark and fair Poldark, “The stronger rises as the weaker falls,” has flipped in the five years since Ross’s return. The only ammunition that Francis has left to wound his cousin is sarcasm and doubt. Continue reading

Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham – A Review

Demelza A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 by Winston Graham 2015 x 200From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

If you’re like me, you are spending your Sundays killing time until Poldark lights up the TV screen. When I learned that Season One would be based on Winston Graham’s first two books in the series, Ross Poldark, and Demelza, I was determined to read them before viewing the adaptation. Although the episodes I’ve seen so far can stand on their own merit, reading the books has given me a richer understanding of the two protagonists. If Ross’s character functions as the moral compass of the story, Demelza’s represents the emotional heart of the books. Her struggle to be accepted as Ross’s wife makes us empathize with her, root for her, right from the start.

Demelza opens with the birth of Ross and Demelza’s baby girl. The new mother plans two christening parties, one for the country folk and another for the gentry. Trouble arises when her father, now a Methodist and wearing his religion like a cloak of righteousness, shows up on the wrong day and promptly insults some of the guests. Put in the uncomfortable position of defending his father-in-law, Ross must intervene. Demelza flees to the house, mortified. “…I thought I would show ’em I was a fit wife for you, that I could wear fine clothes and behave genteel an’ not disgrace you. An’ instead they will all ride home snickering behind their hands…” (51) Continue reading

Q&A with Poldark Historical Advisor Hannah Greig

Captain Ross Poldark in His Majesty's 62nd Regiment of Foot regimentals (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS

Captain Ross Poldark in His Majesty’s 62nd Regiment of Foot regimentals (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS

Getting the historical details correct is so critical in period drama today. Gone are the days when Greer Garson could wear a hoop skirt in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice and get away with it. The production team of the new BBC/PBS Poldark, at Mammoth Screen Ltd., have stepped up to the mark depicting late eighteenth-century Cornwall, warts and all. Advising them in this monumental task is lecturer, author and historian Hannah Greig who joins us today to answer a few questions about her role in the production of Poldark and the historical context that it is set in.

An illustration "A Beauty in Search of Knowledge" derived from a print by John Raphael Smith, 1782 (c) British Library

An illustration “A Beauty in Search of Knowledge” derived from a print by John Raphael Smith, 1782 (c) British Library

LAN: Welcome Hannah. One has visions of historians entrenched in musty library stacks secretly pining for their favorite reference librarian! Besides teaching and writing, you have carved out an interesting niche as Historical Advisor for films, television and theatre. This seems like a very glamorous job. Can you share with us what your duties are, what a typical day would be like, and what kind of questions are asked by the production team? Continue reading