Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel — A Review

Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel (2018)Honestly, to be a fly on the dining room wall of author John Kessel when in between passing the potatoes he announced to his family that his next book would be an amalgamation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What a mischievous rogue he is. I was intrigued to discover if he could pull it off.

The story begins thirteen years after the close of Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet and her two middle daughters, Mary and Kitty, both well on their way to spinsterhood, are on holiday in Lyme Regis—that famous Dorset seaside village renowned for its large stone Cobb seawall and its deposits of ancient fossils. Mary has matured quite a bit since her sanctimonious and mortifying youth. Her interests have shifted from the pious study of doctrinal extracts and observations of thread-bare morality to a more scientific vein of natural philosophy. Her mother is still determined to see her last two daughters advantageously married and is delighted when Mary beings an acquaintance with a fellow fossil hunter, Mr. Woodleigh, who she met at the local Assembly Rooms.

Kitty, on the other hand, is bored to tears with their small social circle in Lyme and dreams of dancing in London again. On their way to meet Woodleigh for dinner, the Bennets learn that a young woman has fallen from the Cobb and seriously injured herself. Never one to suffer fools, Mrs. Bennet is quick to point out that, “No well-bred young lady should trust a man to catch her if she goes leaping from public landmarks.” Put off by Mrs. Bennet’s judgments, Mr. Woodleigh soon announces his departure. Realizing that no offer of marriage for Mary is forthcoming, Mrs. Bennet caves to Kitty’s pleas to leave, and the party soon departs for London.

Across the channel on the Continent, a Creature is in pursuit of his creator. Stowing away on a cattle boat, he crosses the ocean and arrives in London without any knowledge of the language or customs, connections or the means to find the one man who has promised to create a companion for him.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are also in London attending the first ball of the Season where she directs her daughters attention toward rich, eligible young men with the precision of Wellington aiming “his cannon against Napoleon’s marshals in the Peninsula” Also, in attendance is the Rev. Mr. Collins, (the Odious One), a recent widow in pursuit of a reluctant Kitty Bennet, and, the reserved and brooding Mr. Victor Frankenstein, newly arrived from Switzerland. Mary is introduced to this handsome, younger man and soon they realize that they may be the only two people in the room who have a common interest in science. When Frankenstein also indecorously shares the story of the murder of his younger brother to a relative stranger, Mary is in turns drawn to, and cautious of, this enigmatic man.

Frankenstein soon discovers that the Creature has followed him to London. To avoid meeting him, he promptly departs for Scotland with his friend Henry Clerval. He knows that he must acquire the knowledge to create the monster’s mate before another member of his family dies.

Kitty’s cough develops into a troubling concern, prompting the women to return to Longbourn so she can recuperate. While at home, Mary has a serious conversation with her father who warns her of the sad fate of the female bookworm. “Beware, Mary,” he said impishly. “Too much learning makes a woman monstrous.” (foreshadowing?) While Mary realizes she is bound for spinsterhood, she knows that there is still hope for her younger, and still beautiful sister Kitty. Looking out for her, she encourages her father to let them go to Pemberley, the home of their elder sister Elizabeth in Derbyshire. He agrees, and soon she and Kitty are off in pursuit of husbands, or in the case of Mary, watching out for her impetuous younger sister.

Fate again intercedes, bringing Mary and Mr. Frankenstein together. Along the road to Scotland, he and Mr. Clerval arrive in Matlock, an ancient Roman town not far from Pemberley. Meeting at a local library and museum over a fossil unearthed in a local lead mine, they discuss Darwin’s theories of evolution and how the hand of God is everywhere. They walk with Kitty, Mr. Clerval, and Georgiana Golding nee Darcy, along the Derwent River to view the sheer cliffs along the banks. Mary observes the scenery and philosophizes on her place in the world. “These rocks, this river, will long survive us. We are here for a breath, and then we are gone. And through it all we are alone.” Frankenstein is amazed by Mary, who he thought was just another aging spinster. I, on the other hand, am remembering the, “What are men to rocks and mountains,” line in Pride and Prejudice.

Back at Pemberley, Mary asks Elizabeth if Messrs. Frankenstein and Clerval might be invited to be their guests while they are still in the area. She agrees and the gentlemen soon arrive for a short stay. At dinner, the local vicar, who was in his cups, shares a story of him interrupting grave robbers in his own churchyard. Many in attendance are shocked, not believing that such atrocities could happen in their community. (more foreshadowing?) Mr. Frankenstein is silent. The next day as Kitty and Mary are deep in conversation while walking the estate grounds, they are caught in a downpour, profoundly affecting both Kitty’s health and Mary’s trust in Frankenstein.

A Flash of lightning lit the forest, and Mary saw, beneath the trees not ten feet from them, the giant figure of a man. The lightning illuminated a face like a grotesque mask: long, thick, tangled black hair. Pale skin, milky, dead eyes beneath heavy brows. Worst of all, an expression hideous in its cold, inexpressible hunger. It was all the matter of a split second; then the light fell to shadow. (p 127)

The Creature has followed Frankenstein north and is lurking in the woods.

From its ominous opening line, “At the age of nineteen, Miss Mary Bennet had believed three things that were not true,” this Austen fan was optimistic that Kessel had taken his task of reverently setting the style and tone seriously. Combining two divergent novels—a romantic comedy and a Gothic horror—and creating a believable story from their union is an unfathomable accomplishment. As the story developed and the pages flew by, my confidence grew in Kessel’s skill as a storyteller, and as a writer.

The narrative alternates from the point of view of Mary, the Creature, and Frankenstein. Mary’s voice is in the third person, the form that Austen chose to use in her novels, and the Creature and Frankenstein’s are in the first person. At times the shift in voice by the three main characters was jolting, but I suspect that this was chosen for effect. In the first half of the novel, Austen fans will be frequently rewarded with witty, laugh out loud dialogue and enough Easter eggs from the original to keep them comfortably in situ. Kessel totally captures the characterization of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. With Mary, he has brought her out of that awkward, self-righteous persona that she was trapped in as the middle sister nobody wanted around. She is thoughtful, measured, and brave throughout Pride and Prometheus. A true heroine, surpassing even her sister Lizzy Darcy nee Bennet’s capabilities.

In the second half of the novel, Mary Shelley fans will be rewarded with a dark story deftly told. There are some twists in the plot that will really shock the tender-hearted Austen fan and delight those who are #TeamShelley. Readers from Scotland need to be forewarned bout the portrayal of Scottish hospitality, and those firmly in the Austen camp may be miffed that they do not get their Austenesque happily ever after for Mary. Kessel chose a denouement for his heroine that many will not anticipate yet was satisfying for me. The Creature and its creator land in the same icy circumstances that Shelley devised.

If you are in an adventurous mood and would like to experience lush, atmospheric, and compelling storytelling at its finest, I can highly recommend Pride and Prometheus. There are few writers who have the skill or talent to pull this type of mash-up off without making it a burlesque comedy a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The struggles of its characters, its themes, and its brilliant prose are nonpareil.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel
Gallery / Saga Press (2018)
Hardcover, Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (384) pages
ISBN: 978-1481481472

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased a copy of this book for our own enjoyment. We only review products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Autenprose.com is an Amazon Affiliate. We receive a small remuneration when readers purchase products using our links. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of Gallery / Saga Press © 2018; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com

The #Janeite Blog Tour of The Bride of Northanger Begins on October 28th

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall (2019)Those of you who are fans of Austenprose know how much I enjoy Jane Austen’s lively, burlesque comedy, Northanger Abbey. In 2008 I hosted a month-long event here called, Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey, where we read the novel and explored its history, characters, locations, and legacy. I am a big #TeamTilney fan.

Sadly, there are not many Northanger Abbey-inspired novels in print. Margaret Sullivan, who is also a great admirer of Austen’s lesser-known work, wrote There Must Be Murder in 2010. There is also Henry Tilney’s Diary, by Amanda Grange, and Searching for Mr. Tilney, by Jane Odiwe, and a few others.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Diana Birchall was publishing a Northanger Abbey continuation, The Bride of Northanger and that her new novel was going on a celebratory book release tour across the blogosphere, just in time for the Halloween reading season!

Here is information on the book, and the tour.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share – that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real…until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied – events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other…

EARLY PRAISE: Continue reading

In Conversation with Janet Todd, Editor, and Essayist of Jane Austen’s Sanditon

Jane Austen's Sanditon, edited by Janet Todd (2019)I recently read and reviewed the delightful Jane Austen’s Sanditon, an excellent new edition in the crowded Austen book market whose timely release, along with the new ITV/PBS eight-part television adaptation/continuation inspired by the unfinished novel, has brought Jane Austen’s last work into the limelight. I have long followed the career of its editor, Janet Todd, and own several of her books, including the soon to be re-issued Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels (February 4, 2020).

For years I have been reading about Janet’s friendship with a mutual Janeite, Diana Birchall, who was also one of my contributors on Jane Austen Made Me Do It. There is so much serendipity in this triangle of friends that I knew that I needed to get Diana and Janet together for an interview regarding her new book.

Diana tells me that she and Janet first met “in 1983, at an early Jane Austen conference at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and chatted away during a lovely side trip to Stoneleigh Abbey.” Okay, I wasn’t there for that one, but wish I had been. “Their conversation continued over the years between visits back and forth to California (Diana’s home) and Cambridge (Janet’s) as well as myriad hiking trips and holidays in places ranging from Rum and Eigg in the Hebrides, the Scilly Isles, Sequoia, and Venice.” Here is the result of their tete-a-tete on Janet’s new book, Jane Austen’s Sanditon, for our enjoyment.

WELCOME TO AUSTENPROSE LADIES:

Diana Birchall: You write that in Austen’s works you encounter political and social opinions sometimes gratifyingly liberal, at others sternly alien to our way of thinking. Can you give an example or two?

Janet Todd: The importance of religion. Jane Austen was a rector’s daughter; her eldest brother was a clergyman and the speculating brother Henry took Holy Orders while she was writing Sanditon. Mr Parker seeks a doctor for his resort but makes no mention of a clergyman. I think this is significant.

Like other heroines, Charlotte isn’t overtly pious but she’s firm in ethical judgments. We now praise someone for being ‘passionate’ about what they do, but Charlotte is repeatedly called ‘sober-minded’. She doesn’t admire enthusiasm and activity uncoupled from moral purpose. She can’t approve Robert Burns’ poetry, however appealing, because of his unprincipled life where we forgive celebrities almost any excess.

On the other side Jane Austen often seems modern in her liberal take on feminism and in her subordination of class and birth to merit and integrity.

DB: Do you think Charlotte and Clara are shaping up to be an Emma/Jane Fairfax sort of relationship? Continue reading

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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A Preview of The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, by Jane Austen & Devoney Looser

The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, by Jane Austen & Devoney Looser (2019) coverHot off the presses is a new Jane Austen quote book.

I know what you are thinking. Why do I need yet another pithy volume of my favorite author’s best lines jockeying for position on my bedside table along with my Jane Austen bobblehead and my “Waiting for Mr. Darcy” candle?

Well, …it really helps that this new compilation of daily quotes has been edited by, and the foreword written by, Stone Cold Jane Austen, a.k.a. Devoney Looser, Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. Who could possibly be better qualified to compile my daily prayers? (Please. no trolls about my religious beliefs.)

Each chapter opens with a memorable passage heading up the month followed by daily quotes from Austen’s six major novels, minor works, and her letters. In the foreword, Looser extolls upon the significance of Jane Austen’s famous opening line in Pride and Prejudice, so often quoted in the news media, popular culture, and by fellow writers, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” If you are not familiar with Jane Austen’s most famous quote you must be from another planet and desperately need this book to communicate with humans! (brainwashing included)

My Good Opinion Mug quoting Mr. Darcy

My Good Opinion Mug not included with The Daily Jane Austen, but it pairs beautifully.

Austen and her words have influenced movies, television, books, and world culture. She is indeed everywhere. I am staring at a “My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” tea mug sitting beside me. I can totally relate to Looser’s admission that her, “…acknowledged truth is that I treasure the “sensibly scented” cardboard Austen that hangs in my car, just as others embrace their dashboards Jesus, fuzzy dice, or mud-flap girls.”

Okay, Enough with the Austen pop culture palooza. Here is the publisher’s stuff.

DESCRIPTION:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is eminently, delightfully, and delectably quotable. This truth goes far beyond the first line of Pride and Prejudice, which has muscled out many other excellent sentences. So many gems of wit and wisdom from her novels deserve to be better known, from Northanger Abbey on its lovable, naive heroine—“if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad”—to Persuasion’s moving lines of love from its regret-filled hero: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late.” Continue reading

A Preview of Jane Austen’s England: A Travel Guide, by Karin Quint

Jane Austen's England: A Travel Guide, by Karin Quint (2019)Every Jane Austen fan dreams of visiting her England – strolling through the Georgian streets of Bath in the footsteps of Catherine Morland; visiting Lyme Regis where Louisa Musgrove jumped from the Cobb seawall missing the arms of Captain Wentworth; picnicking on Box Hill like Emma Woodhouse and her party from HIghbury; touring Austen’s haunts of Regency London; and exploring her last home at Chawton Cottage in Hampshire. It is the ultimate pilgrimage to experience the rolling hills of her England, her fabled country homes, and the cities she frequented and wrote about in her novels.

Planning a trip like this could take months of research, or the services of a skilled company who specializes in Austen tours. Imagine having all that knowledge and expertise at your fingertips in one beautifully illustrated and detailed book?

Karin Quint’s new travel guide, Jane Austen’s England claims to be the “first and only travel guide that focuses on Austen’s life, work, and legacy.” Hmm? There are many other Austen-themed travel guides in print, but I do agree that this takes it to an entirely different level by focusing on her life, work, world, and country. Here is a preview of this new guide.

DESCRIPTION:

Walk in Jane Austen’s footsteps with this unique travel guide – the first book to explore England in relation to its most beloved Regency author. Rambling across the rolling fields of Hampshire, along the bustling streets of London and around the golden crescents of Bath, Jane Austen’s England is the perfect companion for any Janeite planning a pilgrimage.

Functionally arranged by region, each chapter tracks down the most iconic scenes from both the big and little screen, as well as the key destinations where Jane lived, danced and wrote. Descriptions of each location are interspersed with biographical anecdotes and local history. Subsections focus on various stately homes that have been featured in every adaptation of every novel, from the beloved Pride and Prejudice television series (1995, Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016).

With a compilation of websites, seasonal opening hours and tour details, this compact book contains everything you need to immerse yourself in Austen.

A LOOK INSIDE:

 

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ADVANCE PRAISE:
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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

Preview of Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England, by Rory Muir

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen's England by Rory Muir (2019)In Jane Austen’s novels, we discover the plight of younger sons who because of the English primogeniture laws, could not inherit their father’s estate and must find their own way in the world. Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey come immediately to mind. This father to first son inheritance tradition is the axis of the social structure of British society and is tightly bound to its restrictions. Historian Rory Muir explores this dilemma and the courses available to younger sons in his new history book, Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England. Using Austen’s characters, her own family, and historical figures as examples, we are taken on a journey through the era to discover what options were available to younger sons of “good families” to find an acceptable profession and earn an independent living.

DESCRIPTION:

A portrait of Jane Austen’s England told through the career paths of younger sons—men of good family but small fortune.

In Regency England, the eldest son usually inherited almost everything while his younger brothers, left with little inheritance, had to make a crucial decision: what should they do to make an independent living? Rory Muir weaves together the stories of many obscure and well-known young men, shedding light on an overlooked aspect of Regency society. This is the first scholarly yet accessible exploration of the lifestyle and prospects of these younger sons. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Sanditon: With An Essay by Janet Todd — A Review

Jane Austen's Sanditon: With an Essay by Janet Todd (2019)Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel is in the news. A new TV adaptation and continuation of the same name premiered in the UK on ITV on August 25, 2019. The new eight-part series was written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) and will be shown on MASTERPIECE PBS in the US starting on January 20, 2020. Inspired by Jane Austen’s 11-and-a-half-chapter fragment, Davies claimed in an early interview that he used up all of Austen’s text in the first 30 minutes of his screenplay. That was about 24,000 words or about one-quarter of an average-sized fiction novel today. To say I was shocked by this admission is an understatement.

Alas, because it was never completed, Sanditon has not received much attention in comparison to Austen other popular novels: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. I am so pleased that the new TV adaptation has brought it into the limelight. It is one of Austen’s forgotten treasures. I have written previously about it in detail, including an introduction, character list, plot summary, and quotes. 

There are few single editions of Sanditon available in print. It is usually lumped in with Austen’s other minor works in a large volume. To remedy that gap, Fentum Press in London has published a stylish new hardcover edition entitled Jane Austen’s Sanditon: with an Essay by Janet Todd. The book has been beautifully designed with interesting and amusing illustrations from Regency-era artists such as Rowlandson, Gillray, and Cruikshank. Its dainty size of 5 ½ inches by 8 inches reminds one of the elegant volumes designed expressly for the comfort of ladies’ delicate hands.

What really brings this edition to the forefront is its editor and introductory essayist Janet Todd. To have such an eminent academic and scholar on Austen and other women’s writing on board really gives the reader the confidence that they are in capable hands. Included with the insightful seventy-page introductory essay is a brief biography of Jane Austen; the complete text transcribed from the original handwritten draft work in progress held in King’s College, Cambridge; endnotes; an essay entitled Anna Lefroy to Andrew Davies: Continuations of Sanditon; further reading; a list of illustrations; and the acknowledgments. In what appears to be a diminutive volume, the reader will be delighted to discover quite the reverse. In addition to the unfinished novel, it is brimming with information and the energy that Austen brought to her final work, perfectly complementing the text. Continue reading

Winners Announced in The Jane Austen Society Giveaway

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)It’s time to announce the winners of the giveaway contest for The Jane Austen Society cover reveal. The three lucky winners of an ARC paperback copy of the book drawn at random are:

  • Stacy Edwards who left a comment on September 15, 2019
  • Lynne Lewis who left a comment on September 17, 2019
  • Miranda Liasson who left a comment on September 15, 2019

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by October 16, 2019, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments and to St. Martin’s Press for the giveaway prizes.

Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © 2019, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com

The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser—A Review

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser (2017)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I remember what I felt when I discovered that Jane Austen was not famous in her lifetime: Outright shock. I had been a self-proclaimed Janeite for years when I discovered this fact. I had read her books multiple times, collected movie adaptations, researched and written papers about her novels in college, etc. The enormous amount of 21st-century hype around Jane led me to believe that, like Charles Dickens, her fame began in her lifetime. How wrong I was; in fact, many of Austen’s early readers never even knew her name until after she died.

Discovering you are mistaken is always a jolting experience, and I felt like my own literary world had shifted on its axis. Somehow not knowing this fact earlier was very unsettling, and with hindsight, I think it was so unsettling because my ‘Jane Austen timeline’ was thrown off. The little fact about when Jane was famous shouldn’t be a footnote in her history because how and when she became THE Jane Austen is of cultural and historical importance. Not only for what we know about the author, but what we know about ourselves, her fandom. Timelines really do matter. Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen is a gem of a book because, in it, she answers the integral questions of “how” and “when” that has rarely been asked. How did the early illustrations in Sense and Sensibility affect people’s views of the novel? When did the idea of a brooding Heathcliff-esque hero replace Jane Austen’s original reserved Mr. Darcy? These questions and answers are only a few of the many addressed in The Making of Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park illustration from Groombridge 1875 edition

Image from chapter two, of an illustration by A. F. Lydon from Mansfield Park, Groombridge & Sons’ (London) 1875. Fanny Price gazing over the verdant park to the manor house.

As advertised on the cover flap, the key question of this book is “How is a literary icon made, transformed, and handed down through the generations?” Each of its four parts contains anecdotes and research that generally follows a chronological journey from the 1800s to present. In the first – “Jane Austen, Illustrated” – Looser gives an in-depth analysis of the artistic interpretations of Austen’s novels. She includes some pictures which are fascinating to view, although I wish there had been more. A highlight for me was learning that Victorian illustrators updated the clothing styles from the Regency to be more “modern” in their images – although these clothing choices are severely outdated now! Continue reading

Cover Reveal of The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner & Giveaway

There’s a new debutante at the ball Janeites, and she’s going to knock your bonnets off.

Meet author Natalie Jenner. Her debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, arrives on May 26, 2020—that’s 8 months and 17 days and counting.

Mark your calendars.

You will thank me!

Image of the cover of The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)

Today, I am honored to reveal the gorgeous cover of this amazing Jane Austen-inspired novel. As you can see, the design represents five individuals lined up arm-in-arm facing Chawton Cottage, Austen’s final home near Alton, Hampshire. Any Austen fan worth their weight in syllabub recognizes it is as the epi-center of the Austen universe.

Designed by Michael Storrings at St Martin’s Press, the cover features five of the main characters: a widowed village doctor, an heiress to the Knight family estate, a young house girl on that estate, a local schoolteacher and recent war bride, and a middle-aged bachelor farmer. This group is rounded out by a local solicitor from the neighboring town of Alton, an appraiser from Sotheby’s in London, and a Hollywood movie star and lifelong Janeite—all drawn together by their mutual passion for Austen’s work and a desire to preserve her legacy. Continue reading