A lady’s reputation was everything during the Regency era, as we are so sanctimoniously reminded of by Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice after her sister Lydia’s scandalous elopement.
“…loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable—that one false step involves her in endless ruin—that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful—and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” (Chapter 47)
Fallen, Jessie Lewis’ new Jane Austen-inspired novel, embraces this dictum and explores the predicament of a fallen woman and to what lengths a family will go to hide the truth to save their social standing. When that family is from wealth and circumstance, such as the Darcy’s of Pemberley, it makes the tale even more intriguing to those who enjoy Austenesque variations. We shall see what it takes to make a brittle reputation break.
The story begins cryptically with a prologue involving two unnamed men discussing the plight of a pregnant woman in their charge. She is crushed when she overhears that their decision will ruin her reputation. That leaves the reader immediately guessing and sets the theme of the story that will be interwoven throughout the narrative.
“Do not talk to me of scruples as though she overflows with them! Nothing you say will change my mind. I will not marry her.” (2)
Over a decade ago, CS Harris released the first in a long-standing series of Regency Era historical mysteries featuring an aristocratic detective who starts out as the suspect solving his first crime to a renowned amateur detective in his own right. That book, What Angels Fear, introduced a complex hero who must solve murders and at the same time, the mystery of his own past. He must deal with what he discovers, learn the hard lessons of love, and come into his own throughout the series alongside other series regulars.
From the beginning, I was enamored with Sebastian St. Cyr and the rest of the characters who joined him along the way. I was enthralled with the author’s way of writing not just a mystery, but Sebastian’s story. Fifteen books later, I am still a tremendous fan and tend to fan girl over Sebastian and stalk the author’s website to get any tidbits about the next release.
Who Speaks for the Damned opens with the murder of black sheep Nicholas Hayes. No one knew the man was still alive since it has been years since he was charged with the murder of a Frenchman’s wife and sentenced as a hard labor convict in a prison colony. Sebastian has heard of the man, of course, but now he has to discover the answers to the present murder and sudden appearance of Hayes by delving into the man’s past. There are still some around who knew him and knew him well including Sebastian’s own valet, Calhoun. Many give him half-truths and lies, but he ruthlessly picks them apart to expose a disturbing, emerging picture. Sebastian is slowly convinced that Hayes wasn’t necessarily guilty in the past and that means someone got away with murder and plans to keep it that way. Meanwhile, a young child who depended on Hayes has been missing since the murder and someone wants this last witness silenced.
Sebastian’s progressive and brilliant wife Hero isn’t idle during this time. She is conducting her own investigation in her ongoing crusade to bring to light the conditions of London’s poor. Her focus for this study are the street musicians and she observes one young musician who may be more than he seems and the key to her husband’s case. Continue reading →
I have had the pleasure of listening to and reviewing many of the Naxos AudioBooksclassic recordings narrated by a variety of talented British actors, but collectively my favorite readings are those by award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson—whose five interpretations of Jane Austen’s novels remain paramount in my personal audio collection.
Awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1992 and the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1999, Ms. Stevenson’s vocal talent is deeply rooted in her classical training at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and her time with Royal Shakespeare Company. While a friend boasts of seeing her stage performance of Hedda Gabler in London in 1989, beyond her audio recordings I have only had the pleasure of her film and television career—and that alone could sustain any lover of finely measured and intimate interpretations of human nature. Some of my favorite Stevenson performances are her tormented, grieving Nina in Truly Madly Deeply (1990), a part tailored for her by screenwriter/director Anthony Minghella, her outrageously pompous Mrs. Elton in Emma (1996), Evie in Being Julia (2004), and the Oracle in Atlantis (2013-2015). Everything she touches turns to gold. Continue reading →
“Her knowledge of Richardson’s works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master.” – J.E. Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, ch. 5
Listed among Jane Austen’s most beloved authors is the rebellious printer-turned-novelist Samuel Richardson, creator of such potboilers as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740).The novel opens at the death of Pamela Andrew’s employer, the woman who has educated her to be as accomplished as any young woman could hope to be, by eighteenth-century standards. And from there commences a rather strange and disturbing plot in which Pamela must fend off the unwanted advances of her new male employer—and I’m not simply talking about sexual harassment, which would have been bad enough; I’m talking about the outright attempted rape. Indeed, the main dramatic question of the novel is whether Pamela will forfeit her honor (read “her virginity”) for the sake of wealth and safety, or will she display a heroic level of Christian virtue, and risk the possibility of public disgrace. Spoiler Alert: the novel’s subtitle gives the answer away from the start. Continue reading →
Ever wonder if a book you read several years ago and loved still stacks up? I did and was tempted to revisit one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, in audiobook for my summer listening. Read by Mr. Darcy himself—well not quite—but close, the narrator is British actor David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. After a second pass, “my affections and wishes are unchanged” and I am incorporating my original review (slightly amended) and finishing with my impression of this audio version.
If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the “dark side” in writing her re-telling of Austen’s classic tale of misunderstandings and reconciliation. Not only are we privy to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint! Continue reading →