Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd – A Review

Jane Austen Her Life Her Times and Her Novels by Janet Todd 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

One of my greatest discoveries while touring Jane Austen’s England last year was on our first day in London. Our group was at The British Library to see Jane Austen’s writing desk (awe inspiring) and of course we hit the library gift shop on our way out. We were delighted to find a whole table display featuring books by and about Jane Austen. Dead center was the striking purple cover of a large, over-sized book that I did not recognize entitled, Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels. It had just been released in the UK in honor of the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice. On first impression it appeared, by its size and design, to be one of those glitzy oversized gift books that had pull out facsimiles of letters and documents along with big glossy images – a trophy book that you might place on your coffee table as a display piece or give as a gift to friend that you were trying to convert into a Janeite. When I noticed that the author was the celebrated Austen scholar Janet Todd, my first impressions changed immediately.

Weighing in at 2.7 pounds and sizing up at 11 X 10 inches, this full feature Jane Austen experience packs a wallop – a giant adrenalin rush for any fan or neophyte. Not only is the book beautifully bound and designed, it seeks to dispel any speculation and myth about the author’s life and works. The text has been laid out logically within twenty-two chapters covering biographical material, her early writing, published and unpublished works, history in context to her life and writing, and concludes with her legacy entitled, The Cult of Austen. Drawing on previously unseen documents from The British Library and the archives of The Bridgeman Art Library, Todd offers sixteen facsimile copies of Austen’s handwritten letters, manuscripts and notes, period maps and illustrations, and a frontis piece from the 1833 Pride and Prejudice. Her brilliant introduction will draw you into Austen’s Georgian world and the handy index in the back allows for quick reference to facts and details. Continue reading

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice Book Tour with Author Jennifer Paynter & Giveaway!

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )Please join us in celebration of the new release of author Jennifer Paynter’s debut novel, The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, published this month by Lake Union Publishing. 

Jennifer has joined us to chat about her inspiration to write her book, a revealing look at one of Jane Austen’s most misunderstood characters from Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet. Her publisher has generously offered a giveaway chance for a paperback or Kindle digital edition of The Forgotten Sister to three lucky winners. Just leave a comment with this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Welcome Jennifer.

What first led me to think of Mary Bennet as a possible heroine was an observation by Jane Austen scholar, John Bayley. In his memoir of his wife, British novelist Iris Murdoch, Bayley wrote that ‘the unfortunate Mary is the only one among Jane Austen’s characters who never gets a fair deal from the author at all, any more than she does from her father.’  Continue reading

Giveaway Winner Announced for Jane Austen Made Me Do It Week Five

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)18 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win one signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The winner drawn at random is:

  • Rachel who left a comment on September 04, 2012

Congratulations Rachel! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by September 12, 2012. Shipment to US addresses.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a new short story anthology containing 22 original stories inspired by Jane Austen. It is available in print and eBook format from Ballantine Books.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to my anthology authors for their great answers to my question. See everyone tomorrow for question number six!

Read: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4, Question 5

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Top 20 Jane Austen-inspired Books of 2011

Jane Austen Warhol Banner

Happy New Year Janeites! 2012 promises to be a glorious Jane-packed reading extravaganza for Austenesque and Regency fans.

In the next few months we are looking forward to several novels: the debut of Austentatious, by Alyssa Goodnight (January 31), a new mystery, Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale (Jan 31), and Jane Vows Vengeance: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (February 28), the third novel in the hilarious Jane Bites series. This summer we can look forward to no less than two novels from the venerable Amanda Grange: Pride and Pyramids: Mr. Darcy in Egypt, co-authored with Jacqueline Webb (July 01), and Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (August 01). Such a bounty!

There are also quite a few new nonfiction titles in the coming year focusing on insights into why we love our dear Jane so much: Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells (Mar 29) and Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, by Claudia L. Johnson (June 01), should put Janeites under a microscope; The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor (April 02), intrigues us to find out how Jane can help in the “fix your life department,” and All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane, by Amy Smith (June 01) is an curious title that may take us on a Jane Austen road trip!

In the queue on the Regency front: Pistols for Two, by Georgette Heyer (Feb 7), the long awaited re-print of Heyer’s short story anthology that has not been in print in North America for several years; The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig (Feb 16), the ninth, and highly anticipated installment in the popular Pink Carnation series (Woohoo); and Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal (April 10), the second in her Regency magic series.  Huzzah all around!

2011 was another stellar year for Jane Austen inspired sequels, et all. There was a plethora of “Mr. Darcy does something” to choose from. Dear publishers, we do dearly love Mr. Darcy, but please, we really would read other Austen-inspired books that did not include the most popular romantic icon ever, or the greatest novel ever written! We hope you will take this gentle nudge in the spirit in which it was offered from those who are quite passionate about their Austenesque fare.

There were literally dozens of new Jane Austen inspired novels and nonfiction books published in 2011. One of them, *blush,* was my own Austen-inspired short story anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Our top choices of the year represent selections first published in 2011 and reviewed here on Austenprose. So, if your favorites are not represented, please don’t be miffed. Amazingly, we did not read everything Janeish that was published this past year, but we gave it our best try.

Top 10 sequels, prequels, retellings or contemporary inspired (alphabetical order):

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman (5 Stars)

Henry Tilney’s Diary, by Amanda Grange (5 Stars)

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (5 Stars)

Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, by Kara Louise (5 Stars)

Persuade Me, by Juliette Archer (5 Stars)

The Trouble with Mr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan (5 Stars)

The Truth About Mr. Darcy, by Susan Adriani (5 Stars)

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath (5 Stars)

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly (5 Stars)

A Wife for Mr. Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen (5 Stars)

The best of the rest…

Regency inspired:

The Orchid Affair, by Lauren Willig (5 Stars)

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer (5 Stars)

Best Mysteries:

Jane and the Canterbury Tale, by Stephanie Barron (5 Stars)

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, Lindsey Ashford (5 Stars)

Best Paranormal:

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (5 Stars)

Mr. Darcy Bites, by Mary Simonsen (5 Stars)

Best Nonfiction:

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, by William Deresiewicz (5 Stars)

Best Indie:

An Arranged Marriage, by Jan Hahn (5 Stars)

Best Young Adult:

Sass and Serendipity, by Jennifer Ziegler (4 Stars)

Debut Author: (tie)

My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, by Cindy S. Jones (4 Stars)

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos (4 Stars)

Many thanks to the authors for offering up another great year of reading. 2012 already promises to be quite engaging.

Happy reading,

Austenprose review staff

Related posts

2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Review

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

“In the days when success in life had depended on marriage and marriage had depended on money, novelists had had a subject to write about. The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely. What would it matter whom Emma married if she could file for separation later? How would Isabel Archer’s marriage to Gilbert Osmond have been affected by the existence of a prenup? …Where could you find the marriage plot nowadays? You couldn’t. You had to read historical fiction. You had to read non-Western novels involving traditional societies. Afghani novels, Indian novels. You had to go, literarily speaking, back in time,” (22).

The above quote is great, because I suspect it reflects a tongue-in-cheek challenge that Jeffrey Eugenides put to himself when writing The Marriage Plot, a modern novel that revolves around marriage, but which faces the very plot difficulties mentioned above: gender equality and divorce—along with the giant elephant in this story’s fictional room: mental illness. In writing this tale, Eugenides shows that one need not go back in time to write a novel about marriage, for just as in the Austen canon, the main crux of this story revolves around the question of who will marry whom.

To construct the marriage plot of The Marriage Plot, Eugenides introduces to the reader three main characters—Madeleine Hanna, Leonard Bankhead, and Mitchell Grammaticus—the three points of a classic love triangle: Mitchell loves Madeleine who loves Leonard who loves Madeleine who likes Mitchell. All three also attended the same school for undergraduate studies: Brown University. Like Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, Madeleine is from an upper, middle class family, popular, pretty and smart. Also, like Elizabeth Bennet, Madeleine can be rather “blind” to the faults of the young men she is interested in. Unlike the more famous heroine, however, she lacks both a strong moral compass and wise friends who could have given her much needed advice. Is it any wonder then that she finds herself mixed up with two young men who, rather than forming mature partnerships with her, cause her a great deal of emotional stress?

To be fair to her, Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus are both interesting, handsome, intelligent young men whose flaws are not so readily apparent. Leonard, whom she meets and bonds with in a semiotics course, is something of a maverick and scientific genius with a campus reputation for sexual prowess. In contrast, Mitchell is more like the cute boy-next-door who secretly pines for the girl he will never get if he doesn’t quit acting more like a brother than a suitor. Will Madeleine choose Leonard the wounded soul/psych patient whom she likens to Bertha Mason, the crazy woman in Jane Eyre (340) or will she choose Mitchell the Christian mystic-in-the-making?

There is more to both of these young men than their attraction to Madeleine, however, and it is really their inner lives that give the novel its fascinating flavor. Eugenides does an excellent job in exploring the relationship dynamics of loving someone with a mental illness, as when he writes, “The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places,” (64-65). He also paints a moving example of the type of dysfunctional family life and difficult childhood that can contribute to the development of such diseases, along with the arduousness of seeking treatment and therapy that may or may not bring results. Likewise, his depiction of Mitchell’s quest to find God, first through study, then charity work, is equally written with powerful credibility, particularly the scenes where Mitchell volunteers for the Missionaries of Charity in India. Both storylines are sure to conjure up empathy from the reader, forming the kind of bond between characters and audience that transforms a good story into a great read.

If The Marriage Plot is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially Austenites, it could be because drugs and sex are major details of the characters’ lives. Indeed, what could be more anti-Austen than a marriage proposal delivered only after the couple has had a rather aggressive bout of sex? It could be, too, that some will be unimpressed by the storyline, which does not involve a great deal of dramatic events and flips back and forth in time. Yet, for those interested in a love story with flawed characters that seem eerily similar to themselves or people they know—thoroughly modern, yet similar to the Regency and Victorian characters they love—then Eugenides’ superb writing style and narrative crafting is sure to satisfy.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2011)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-0374203054

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard – A Review

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard (2011)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

‘What is it that you read now?’

Mrs. Cobbold gestured to the volume on Harriet’s lap.

‘Another stupid book.’ Harriet put it down. ‘First Impressions is its title; and by A Lady, as usual.’

‘It does not divert you?’

‘Divert me, Aunt! I have no wish to be diverted, though it is witty and charming. The lady authoress believes that girls think only of marriage and a husband.’

So begins a tongue-in-cheek discussion on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book the heroine of Stella Tillyard’s historical novel Tides of War dislikes because of its seeming lack of social context. It is fitting, then, that Harriet Raven should be the heroine of a story drastically different from those written by Austen. Tillyard’s novel weaves together science and medicine, politics and war, economics and industry, religion and atheism through the interconnected lives of a large cast of characters scattered across Europe, twenty-two of which are based on real people.

Readers meet Harriet during Britain’s war with Napoleon. She is a young bride, eager to learn, but inexperienced and socially clumsy. Her husband goes off to fight under the direction of the future Duke of Wellington, and while he is away, Harriet is left to be charmed by another man. Her relationship with the inventor, Mr. Winsor, is just one of the many examples of the story’s thematic examination of sexuality and marital commitment.

Another even more moving example of this theme, is the subplot belonging to the character Thomas Orde, a British soldier fighting in Spain. Like many of the other soldiers, Orde has been schooled in the idea that “Women [are] the spoils of war,” (204). Caught up in the jubilation of victory and still reeling with the savage energy of battle, Thomas participates in the rape of a young Spanish woman. Tillyard writes, “Coming around again, Thomas saw that his left hand, loose against the stones, was closed tightly around something. He opened it out finger by finger. Flat on his palm lay a twist of black hair; more than a twist, a whole handful of hair, pliable and young. Silk-soft. He had pulled it from her scalp, and blood and flesh clung to it,” (79). Thomas attempts to rationalize what he has done, as if war gives special license for cruelty and immorality, but he is ultimately unable to suppress his conscience. Tillyard masterfully describes Thomas’s struggle to return to his old life in England under the shadow of his crime.

Rape is only one of the disastrous effects of war on women and children discussed in the novel; sickness, hunger, poverty, and loss of one’s home and family, if not death, create a situation of desperation, leaving children, the elderly, and women vulnerable while making a handful of people powerful. Reflecting on this situation, an officer named David Heaton is led to muse “War never finishes…and never will. It simply moves about the world like the ocean current that touches now one country, now another. Why? Because in the same way that a rash upon the skin is merely a symptom of a fever that rages in the body underneath, war is only the visible shape of all the forces that nature has planted in us,” (349). War’s corrupting and degrading influence on individuals and society, and the subsequent attempts to recover from it, either through confession or deception, are subjects that make this novel a fascinating commentary on the wars of any age.

Tillyard’s ability to balance so many storylines, thereby creating a sense of the grand scope of things, is impressive. This is her first sojourn into fiction after the highly successful historical biographies: Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 (1994) and Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings (2006). Unfortunately, I found her heroine unappealing. Harriet’s perspectives and values seemed more those of a twenty-first century American than of a woman of Britain’s Georgian Era, particularly her torpid religiosity and her blasé attitude about adultery.  Unlike the Austen heroines whom she professes to be bored by, Harriet lacked sparkle, wit, faith, insight, creativity, and an interesting plot. She was just a privileged young lady playing at adult life.

Despite the heroine’s shortcomings, I confess Tillyard’s novel held my interest from beginning to end. The imagery—like in the scene of a Spanish bull fight—is elegant and vivid, and I loved how she incorporated unexpected historical points of interest in the story, such as the development of blood transfusions, the economic maneuverings of the famous Rothschild family, and the art of celebrated Spanish painter Goya. Her writing style is clear and even, and the scenes related to death and new beginnings are poignant. In short, Tides of War was believable and pleasurable, with the literary feel of a national saga.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard
Henry Holt and Co. (2011)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0805094572

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

Winners Announced in the Mr. Darcy’s Secret Giveaway!

Mr. Darcy's Secret, by Jane Odiwe (2011)29 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a paperback copy of Mr. Darcy’s Secret by Jane Odiwe. The five winners drawn at random are:

• Katie who left a comment on 28 February

• Chelsea B. who left a comment on 28 February

• Jakki Leatherbury who left a comment on 1 March

• Rhonda who left a comment on 7 March

• Rebecca W. who left a comment on 7 March

Congratulations to all the winners! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by March 16, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks again to author Jane Odiwe for your great blog and excerpt from Mr. Darcy’s Secret. I hope you all have a chance to read it.

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose