The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes 2015 x 200Will we ever be able to explain the phenomenon that is the television series Downton Abbey? Watched by millions and showered with awards, I find the reason for its success as elusive to pinpoint as Jane Austen’s lasting appeal. It means so much to so many. In two hundred years time will people be watching and reading about this period drama as passionately as we do Austen’s novels?

Quite possibly so. Their common link is the witty writing. Clever bon mots and cheeky retorts never go out of fashion. They make us smile, laugh-out-loud and reflect upon what makes us tick as humans. They are a window into our souls.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes is a collection of those fabulous zingers that make this series so “light, bright and sparkling” to Austen fans and the bazillion other viewers around the world. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes must love Austen as much as this Janeite. He certainly recognizes how her prose can sing with humor and social reproof using the same technique in his own dialogue. Whenever anyone complains about anything I am tempted to use a little Lady Catherine, oops, Lady Violet on them… Continue reading

Longbourn’s Songbird: A Novel, by Beau North – A Review

Longbourns Songbird Beau North 2015 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:

Much of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction that I read usually falls in to two categories: works that take place during the Regency Period and works that take place during contemporary times. Works that take place during times of war are fairly rare (Darcy Goes to War by Mary Lydon Simonsen being a notable exception) and works that take place in the South (Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series being the only other example I’ve read) are also unfamiliar to me. Enter Longbourn’s Songbird by debut author Beau North, a re-imagined version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice taking place in 1940’s South Carolina.

It’s 1948, only three short years since the end of the Second World War. The setting is the small, sleepy town of Meryton, South Carolina in the American south. Will Darcy has come to visit Charles Bingley and conclude some business in the acquisition of Longbourn Farms. While there, he comes across Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who despite the painful events of her past finds that she can’t stop thinking about Mr. Darcy, who engages and challenges her enough to bring her out of the vanilla monotony that she has settled in to as of late to protect her emotionally. Not only do we get to experience the charged and engaging dynamic between Lizzie and Darcy, but we also have a host of other interactions that play out, including an interesting relationship between Bingley and Jane Bennet. Jane is terrified when she realizes that Charles fancies her and has recently purchased Netherfield Plantation, because she is afflicted by diabetes, which she knows will limit her lifespan and may make Bingley rethink his choice. Continue reading

Q&A with Juliette Wells, Editor of Emma: 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen

Emma 200th Anniversary Edition edited by Juliette Wells 2015 x 200We hit another publication milestone this year with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s most lauded novel, Emma. I have previously reviewed the novel and the 2010 film adaptation extensively, so I thought for this new 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition by Penguin Deluxe Classics that you might enjoy hearing from another source—someone who is an Austen scholar, college professor and all-around-friend of Jane—editor Juliette Wells. Here is an informative interview by her publisher that I am happy to share.

When we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Emma, what in particular are we celebrating? What’s new about this edition? 

We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emma’s original publication, in London in December, 1815. The date of publication is a little confusing because “1816” was printed on the title page of the first edition of the novel, but it was actually released in December, 1815. I think this gives us the right to celebrate for a whole year!

And what better way to celebrate than to re-read Emma, or read it for the first time? Our 200th anniversary annotated edition has everything you need, all in one place, to help you appreciate this wonderful novel. You can immerse yourself in Austen’s world and also have, right at your fingertips, explanations of some of the elements of the novel that tend to trip up or puzzle today’s readers.

In the Austen canon, what would you say makes Emma special and unique?  

Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle. Continue reading

Brinshore: The Watson Novels Book 2, by Ann Mychal – A Review

Brinshore 2015 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

Open any of Jane Austen’s six completed novels and you’re guaranteed a moving story told with wit and insight, but what fan doesn’t wish Austen had time to complete more books. That’s why I treasure well done Austen-inspired fiction, so when I discovered Ann Mychal had written Brinshore, her second Austen themed book, I was full of hopeful anticipation. Mychal’s first novel, Emma and Elizabeth, is among my favorite adaptations. It completes Austen’s intriguing unfinished novel The Watsons by telling the story of two Watson sisters, Emma and Elizabeth, daughters of an impoverished clergyman. The girls were raised separately under very different conditions, but reunited when they were both young ladies. Brinshore continues the tale, this time focusing on their daughters Emma (named after her mother) and Anne, and it takes its inspiration from another of Austen’s novel fragments, Sanditon.

Cousins Emma Osborne and Anne Musgrave could not be more different in temperament. Emma is an outspoken girl, direct in her opinions in the mode of her Mr. Darcy-like father, Lord Osborne, while Anne is a gentler, nature-loving soul who goes into rhapsodies over a piece of seaweed. Neither girl has experienced the hardships of their mothers because both of those women married well. The novel opens in 1816 so the wars with Napoleon are over and Captain Charles Blake will soon be returning to their community, a circumstance that Emma awaits with much excitement.

The end of the wars also mean that people are ready to enjoy themselves more, and in that spirit the girls’ utterly practical, unromantic Aunt Harding (reminiscent of Charlotte Collins) shocks everyone with a big announcement. She’s decided to sell the Chichester house she shared with her now deceased husband to move to Brinshore, a tiny seashore town not far from Sanditon, and she’s inviting both her nieces to come stay with her. Anne is excited right away–the seashells she can collect! The tide pools she can sketch! But Emma is indifferent, she’d rather go to more fashionable Brighton, until she learns that Captain Blake will be spending time in nearby Sanditon. Continue reading

The Lure of the Moonflower: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig– A Review

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig 2015 x 200All good things must come to end. And so it seems must my favorite historical romance series, The Pink Carnation—offering us its twelfth and final installment, The Lure of the Moonflower. *deep sigh*

For eleven novels author Lauren Willig has enchanted us with Napoleonic spies, romance and laughter. It has been an amazing ride while it lasted. Now with one last fling ahead of me I started to read (and listen to the audio edition) this new novel. Pushing aside my deep lament, I came to the realization that I am a sappy sentimentalist. Honestly, how could I not be? I had been duly “Pinked”.

It is very fitting that this final book in the series focuses on Miss Jane Wooliston – the Pink Carnation herself, the infamous English spy who gave “the French Ministry of Police headaches” and “who had caused Bonaparte to gnash his molars into early extraction…” Let’s hope I have teeth by the end of the book.

It is 1807 and Napoleon’s army has invaded Portugal. At the urging of the British government, the Royal family has fled, sailing away to their colony in Brazil. Working as a British spy Jane is in Lisbon, the capital of a country that she is not familiar with nor does she speak the language. Her local contact is Jack Reid, aka the Moonflower, a rogue operative whose notorious turncoat antics are as fluid as the tide. The natural son of Scotsman Colonel William Reid and an Indian Princess, Reid is unaware of his connection to Jane through the marriage of her fellow spy Miss Gwendolyn Meadows to his father. She must convince Reid to assist her in discovering the whereabouts of the Mad Queen Maria who has been sequestered away by loyalists. The French are looking for her too in the hopes of using her influence to manipulate their cause. Besides the touchy family connection, Jane’s paring with Jack Reid is more than a bit awkward. He does not believe she is the Pink Carnation. She is very leery of his true loyalty. Continue reading

Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story, by Carolyn V. Murray – A Review

Jane Austen by the Sea by Carolyn V Murray 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Who was Jane Austen’s seaside gentleman, the man she had fallen in love with at Sidmouth, who tragically died soon after their end-of-vacation parting? Readers and fans of Jane Austen have pondered this question for decades, without there being any definite answer. Jane’s surviving letters remain silent on the issue, and any information about the man’s name and the details of his relationship with Jane has been forever hidden from the public through Cassandra’s choice to destroy much of her sister’s (most likely, more personal) letters. All readers can do is imagine: just who was the seaside gentleman? How did he meet the witty, brilliant, outspoken young woman who became one of literature’s greatest authors? And how deeply did Jane fall in love with him? Carolyn V. Murray answers these questions—as well as many others—in her fascinating 2015 debut, Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story.

Opening in 1787, the precocious twelve-year-old Jane Austen sneaks into the classroom of her father’s all boys’ boarding school and entertains the students with a comedy of murder and mayhem. Despite her mother’s horrified declarations of family shame and the state of her irritated bowels, Jane is irrepressible, already looking forward to the prospect of an event which promises much more material for new stories: “A ball,” I announced. “For though I have never been to one, I hear there is much opportunity for treachery and pandemonium.” It would be some years before I could test the truth of that statement. (5)

Flash forward eight years, and Jane, now twenty-one, is preparing for a ball. Soon after entering the grand hall filled with dancing couples and beautiful music she meets the young, attractive, and very charming Mr. Lefroy. “Tom’s smile was a dizzying ray of sunshine. ““Miss Austen, are you engaged for the next two dances?” ”  And so it began.” (15) 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 history, 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