From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
Could you tell the story of Pride and Prejudice in 60 pages and make the world of Regency England come alive for a young reader? I pondered this question before reading the author Susanna Davidson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. The Usborne Young Reading Series provides young readers with stories adapted from literature classics including works by Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Charlotte Bronte. Pride and Prejudice is a Level Three reader with an intended audience of young readers who are reading independently but are not ready for standard length books. How would a re-working of Austen’s masterpiece of complex social relations fare in this format?
Before I could turn my mind to this question, I was dazzled by the illustrations on the opening pages. Scenes of the Bennet family at Longbourn, Meryton quickly progressed to the Netherfield Ball where Elizabeth breaks her promise never to dance with Mr. Darcy. The soft, muted colors of the ladies’ gowns contrast with the scarlet regimentals of the militia and evening dress of the gentlemen. Earlier, at the Meryton assembly-room, the depiction of the entry of Mr. Bingley’s party is framed with architectural details from the walls and a chandelier hangs above the illustrated figures between the text. These elegant visual touches enliven the entire book. Lady Catherine’s Rosings glows with burnished gold and candlelight. Following Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy, as she reads his letter, we see a facsimile of the letter above an atmospheric scene of the heroine out of doors. The illustrations evoke the emotion of many memorable scenes from the story. Many readers may note the resemblance of characters to the actors and actresses of the 2005 film adaptation. I particularly enjoyed looking for similarities and differences as I re-read the story.
Happily, the text retains several of my favorite conversations from the original. Mr. Bennet chides his wife about her much-overlooked nerves, “On the contrary, I know them well. They’re my oldest friends. You’ve talked about them for twenty years.” (5) Seated at the piano at Rosings, Elizabeth delivers a restrained but pointed critique of Mr. Darcy’s reticence with strangers, “That is because you do not make the effort. I am not talented at playing the piano, but I have always supposed that to be my fault, for not trying harder.” (29) And finally, the explosive scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine that ends with Lady Catherine declaring, “I am most seriously displeased.” (58) Continue reading
From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:
Mary Lydon Simonsen is one of the most versatile Austen fan fiction writers out there. She’s given us contemporary Pride and Prejudice retellings that take place in WWII England, what-ifs that pose Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh as matchmakers, stories where Mr. Darcy is a werewolf and one particular tale with a widowed Darcy in Italy getting a second chance at love with Elizabeth Bennet. This is just a small sampling of the creativity present in Simonsen’s stories. And now with the publication of her latest novel, Another Place in Time, time-travel gets added to that list!
In an exciting take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we find Mr. Darcy approached by Hannah and Jacob Caswell, time-travelers from the modern era, who inform him of the existence of Elizabeth Bennet. After he is saddened by her rejection at the Parsonage, he is counseled by them to travel to the future (2012) to seek out the assistance of Ms. Christine O’Malley, an expert on both Jane Austen and the Regency era. Upon his arrival, Darcy finds Christine engaged in a panel discussion about Austen in Baltimore. Although his arrival excites many at the conference, Christine is reluctant to assist him as she feels he is an actor and an imposter. Finally, after much coercion, Darcy is able to convince Christine to travel back in time with him in order to help him win Elizabeth back. During their time in Regency England, Christine soon finds herself falling for Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Will she be able to consolidate her rational, modern-day attitude with her heart’s yearning for a man from the past? Continue reading
From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:
Contemporary Pride and Prejudice re-tellings are my second favorite types of Jane Austen fan fiction. (What-ifs own my heart!) I love seeing how authors attempt to believably transport Elizabeth, Darcy, and their story into a modern setting. Seeing the juxtaposition of such a timeless story with modern technology and social cues is always an interesting and fun experiment. Therefore, when I saw Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson available on NetGalley I knew I had to request it! Mr. Darcy and dogs? Could there be a better combination of things on Earth!?
Elizabeth Scott has no need for a man in her life. Especially after the havoc, one man, in particular, wreaked on her career. The only thing in her life she cares for now is her show dog, Bliss, whom she shows at competitions and loves more than life itself. After a scandal rocks her career as a teacher in Manhattan, she finds a way out of the mess by agreeing to care for a group of show dogs in England. Now thousands of miles from her problems, she breathes a sigh of relief, until a Mr. Donovan Darcy takes her breath away. A wealthy dog breeder from London, Darcy has a healthy dose of arrogance to counterbalance his charm, and Elizabeth seems determined to ignore him and devote her time to her dogs. However, she can’t deny the sparks that are beginning to fly between them, and she must make a choice: should she stay single or let another person join her pack?
I was completely charmed by this Pride and Prejudice re-telling! From Elizabeth and Donovan’s first meeting I was hooked. Their flirtatious dialogue was a perfect blend of equal annoyance and attraction to each other. I looked forward to each scene they shared with an eagerness I haven’t felt in a long time. I simply could not read fast enough. When I finished reading the entire book I was so disappointed that it was over, I promptly started it again. I should also mention how effortlessly the world of dog showing was weaved into their relationship and the story overall. Although at first you wouldn’t imagine show dogs in a traditional love story, Wilson made the two pair wonderfully. Continue reading
Huzzah! It has been a banner year for Jane Austen-inspired books in 2013. The bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice motivated many authors to take up their pens in celebration resulting in a fabulous selection of new titles. From historical and contemporary novels to non-fiction and scholarly, Austen-inspired books were present in several genres making our favorite author even more popular than ever.
We reviewed 76 books and short stories in 2013. Here is our annual list of top favorites .
Top 10 Austenesque Historical Novels:
- Return to Longbourn, by Shannon Winslow (5 stars)
- One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy, by Diana J. Oaks (5 stars)
- Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley, by Nancy Kelley (5 stars)
- The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (4 stars)
- Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker (4 stars)
- The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan (4 stars)
- Falling For Mr. Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory (4 stars)
- Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (4 stars)
- When They Fall in Love: Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy, by Mary Simonsen (4 stars)
- Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys) (Volume 7) by Marsha Altman (4 stars)
From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:
Oh, Mary Bennet. What is there to say about her? Unfortunately, the most pedantic, priggish and un-proprietous Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice has not received the attention from Austenesque authors that her sisters have enjoyed so regularly: Jane is known for her beauty and kindness, Lydia and Kitty for their rambunctiousness, and of then, of course, there is the spirited and witty Lizzy. But where does poor Mary fit in? Perhaps you could say, “there’s something about Mary,” and now we have The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle to find out just what that something is.
In Mingle’s new Pride and Prejudice sequel, we meet a Mary that has begun to change and move away from her lack of social graces displayed so humorously in P&P. Now older, she has become more mature and composed, but unfortunately, her singing voice has not improved with age, much to the chagrin of those around her. Things soon change as the wild, thoughtless Lydia returns to the Bennet household pregnant and scandalously estranged from her husband. So, both Mary and Kitty are soon dispatched to their married sister Jane Bingley’s home to give Lydia more room to deal with the situation. There, Mary is introduced to Henry Walsh, a friend of Charles Bingley. Taken unawares by his attentions, and completely out of her element, she is quite uncertain of how to proceed. However, this may be the outlet and door to self-discovery that Mary desperately needs. How will she handle this new and exciting romantic opportunity? Continue reading
From the desk of Diana Birchall:
Does anyone remember Daddy-Long-Legs, the enchanting 1955 movie in which Fred Astaire is the benevolent, mysterious, rich sponsor who sends the exquisite young French girl Leslie Caron, to college? It was a favorite musical of my childhood, along with a string of other Caron and Audrey Hepburn films. Daddy-Long-Legs actually started life, however, as long ago as 1912, as a bright, effervescent, epistolary novel by Jean Webster. It enjoyed a huge success as a Broadway play and was filmed several times, including a Japanese anime version.
Now new author Katherine Reay, instead of penning yet another in a lengthy backlist of Jane Austen updates, has cleverly chosen to write a modern retelling of Daddy-Long-Legs. Her Dear Mr. Knightley has a thoughtful literary setting, with enough Austen and Bronte references to provide intellectual mind candy for the reading woman. She also bestows an unusually satisfying romance upon her heroine, and succeeds in creating a portrait of a young writer that is so poignantly fresh and full of growing pains and uncertainties, that you question why she ever needed to lean on somebody else’s old classic at all.
In Jean Webster’s original version, the heroine, Jerusha Abbot, was fifteen and still working in the orphan asylum where she was raised, when her rich benefactor sends her to a posh college. In her version, Katherine Reay advances her orphan’s age to twenty-three, and this constitutes my main problem with the novel, and the reason I wish she’d left the Daddy-Long-Legs template behind her. Samantha Moore has already graduated from college and failed in her first job, when she is offered a full tuition grant to the master’s program of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, by a wealthy philanthropist. The only stipulation is that she write him personal progress letters, which he will not answer. His assistant suggests she address him as “Mr. George Knightley,” in tribute to Samantha’s own love for Jane Austen and Emma. Continue reading
From the desk of Heather Laurence:
“And now, Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “that you have made us understand each other, you may as well make Miss Morland understand yourself … Miss Morland is not used to your odd ways.”
“I shall be most happy to make her better acquainted with them.”
Modern readers encountering Northanger Abbey for the first time may find themselves like Catherine Morland: eager to become better acquainted with the wealth of background information that brings the world of the Morlands, Thorpes, and Tilneys vividly to life. The Annotated Northanger Abbey, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard, is a new resource designed to guide aspiring heroines (and heroes) safely through the perils of obscure Gothic references and identify the treasures – hidden away in Japan cabinets and curricles, of course – that make Northanger Abbey even more enjoyable.
Shapard has previously annotated and edited editions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Many fans who have grown well acquainted with Jane Austen’s life and times through years of their own independent research may not find much new about the information in the annotations. However, even for the veteran Austen reader, this edition is appealing for its convenient access to a wide range of definitions, contexts, and clarifications. For those who are reading Northanger Abbey with fresh eyes, these annotated editions can be a convenient resource to gain a basic understanding of the language and details of the time. And, as Catherine grew from an indifference to flowers to learn to love a hyacinth, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but a new reader may be inspired to explore Regency fashion, history, or Gothic literature in greater depth?
While reading The Annotated Northanger Abbey, several different types of references are at the ready on the opposite page for easy access. This edition features over two hundred illustrations, again conveniently appearing as they are mentioned in the text rather than grouping several illustration plates in the book’s center. Mrs. Allen and her friends will especially appreciate the fashion plates, from Eleanor Tilney’s white beads and spotted muslin to Isabella Thorpe’s turban. Continue reading
From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP
“This book is something different and more experimental. Rather than rehearsing all the known facts, this biography focuses on a variety of key moments, scenes and objects in both the life and work of Jane Austen…In addition, this biography follows the lead of Frank Austen rather than Henry. It suggests that, like nearly all novelists, Jane Austen created her characters by mixing observation and imagination” (6-7).
I was very excited to be asked to review Paula Byrne’s new biography on Jane Austen. Not only is it the first rigorous biography on Austen to appear in print since Claire Tomalin and David Nokes both published their works in 1997 (both entitled Jane Austen: A Life), but it is also an example of a refreshingly different approach to biographical presentation. Like the famous British hermit and art critic, Sister Wendy, Byrne begins each chapter with an image and a short commentary which then serve as gateways into the central details about Austen’s life that she wishes to highlight. This allows her to avoid the expected plodding pace of a chronology so that she can then linger over the events, relationships, or ideas that she finds most compelling. And, as one might hope, Byrne’s fresh analysis extends to Austen’s oeuvre.
Fine. But were there any surprises, any moments when I felt like I was getting a glimpse into Austen’s life, personality, genius? I am glad to say there were many moments like this. For example, I so enjoyed chapter three in which Byrne contradicts the common opinion that Austen’s major influences were male writers like Richardson and Fielding, positing that, in fact, she more admired female novelists who were taking risks with their novels, like Burney and Edgeworth who “led [her] to see that the novel could be a medium for showing how seven years, or seventeen, were enough to change every pore of one’s skin and every feeling of one’s mind.” (88). Similarly, I enjoyed chapter five, which reexamines the relationship dynamic between Jane and Cassandra. How charming it is to contemplate Austen embracing the role of the younger sister, viewing Cassandra as her primary confidante and someone with whom she could be catty and silly (98). Perhaps more interesting is Byrne’s theory that Cassandra was the greater romantic of the two, meaning the traditions that she passed on about her younger sister, particularly those regarding Austen’s romances, may more reflect her own regrets rather than Jane’s (103). Continue reading
From the desk of Jeffrey Ward
We know from the surviving canceled chapters of Persuasion that Jane Austen penned an alternative conclusion to her final novel, with stunning results. Based on the now 200-year-old masterpiece Pride and Prejudice, debut Author KaraLynne Mackrory has likewise crafted her own romantic detour. Let us find out, through the eyes of this old-school traditionalist reviewer if this spin-off embodies similar gratifying qualities.
The opening deviates immediately following the disastrous Meryton assembly with Mr. Darcy taking a morning horseback ride out from Netherfield, trying to calm his already intense attraction to Elizabeth and his mortification for insulting her. Miss Elizabeth Bennet simultaneously is taking her morning walk and pauses to rest in her favorite wooded copse. Darcy spots and admires her from afar. Suddenly, a gust of wind snaps a dead oak that Miss Bennet scrambles to avoid being struck by. Her ankle injured, Darcy comes to her rescue showing great concern. This chance meeting between hero and heroine fills many pages with absorbing and delicious detail which typifies the author’s unique style. As Darcy attempts to lift the injured Miss Bennet to his horse, as gentlemanly as possible, this charming dialogue ensues:
“Miss Bennet, I must help you to the horse, if you will give your consent again.” Mr. Darcy tried to sound as casual as possible even as his mind was screaming – yes, say yes! You belong in my arms Elizabeth! She laughed, and the hair on his neck stood up at the musical sound. “Mr. Darcy, I cannot see any other way I could get up there unless another gust of wind were to pick me up and place me atop your horse! You may assist me, thank you.” p. 21
The author’s route then heads straight from Longbourn to London, bypassing Pemberley. Things are proceeding much too smoothly between Darcy and Elizabeth when at about the half-way point his pride rears its ugly head, he comes to his senses, (loses his senses?) and affirms to himself that he can never marry a lady with poor connections and embarrassing family members. Continue reading