Giveaway Winners Announced for Love & Friendship: The Janeite Blog Tour

Love Friendship Blog Tour graphic sidebar x 200It’s time to announce the winners of the giveaway contest for the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour. The three lucky winners of hardcover copies of the book drawn at random are:

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by July 7, 2016, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments and to Little, Brown and Company for the giveaway prizes.

Cover image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company © 2016, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2016, Austenprose.com

Love & Friendship, by Whit Stillman – A Review

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman: 

Lady Susan is my favorite of Jane Austen’s minor works. A scheming widow who also happens to be “the most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan Vernon is intelligent, attractive, and unscrupulous, agreeing with her immoral friend Alicia Johnson that “Facts are such horrid things!” (256) Her letters to Alicia detail her plans to snare wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter Frederica, while causing pain and suffering to those she deems detestable. As she includes her own daughter in this camp, calling her a “stupid girl,” she has no qualms in forcing Frederica to marry a decidedly silly man with a large fortune. Lady Susan is a terrible person, but a wonderful character. While the novella lacks the depth of later works, it is a wickedly funny short story in epistolary form; its tone is reminiscent of the snarky comments found in many of Austen’s letters.

Who better to capture Austen’s witty social commentary than filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman?  His first film, Metropolitan, was one of my favorites from the 1990s, but I confess that I didn’t catch its similarities to Mansfield Park until many years later. Now Stillman has written a companion piece to his latest film Love & Friendship in straight narrative form. He introduces a new character to the story: Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. Rufus has penned his “true narrative of false-witness” to expose Austen’s supposed hatchet job on his aunt. His loyalties are made clear with the novel’s subtitle, “In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated (Concerning the Beautiful Lady Susan Vernon, Her Cunning Daughter & the Strange Antagonism of the DeCourcy Family).”

Readers familiar with Austen’s Lady Susan will notice an inversion of good and evil from the outset. Rufus has dedicated his novel to none other than the Prince of Wales, mimicking Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent, but in a much more effusively toad-eating style. After two knowing winks from Stillman in two pages: consider yourself warned. Rufus is the quintessential unreliable narrator, writing his rebuttal of Austen’s version of events from debtors prison in Clerkenwell in 1858. The vindication of his maligned aunt, riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre logic, is peppered with tirades on a range of subjects: history, theology, and grammar. These make for some of the funniest passages in the novel.

As the reader has perhaps noticed, great care has been taken with the punctuation used in this account. For me, as regards literature, punctuation is what separates true greatness from the merely good—and certainly from the false. I would commend the reader to glance (no more) at the spinster’s mendacious account included as an appendix to this volume; even a cursory look will show gross carelessness of her attention to punctuation. Can someone so careless of the rules of punctuation—known to everyone and most apparent in the breach—be counted upon to strictly adhere to truth in the absence of such direct surveillance? I think not. (131)

With a list of principal characters, locations, and a genealogical table, Rufus seeks to present his defense of Lady Susan Vernon in an authoritative manner, while simultaneously revealing his agenda. In a list displaying his own mastery of the use punctuation, he describes Jane Austen as “The Spinster Authoress, a writer careless of both punctuation and truth, zealous only to do the bidding of her Aristocratic patrons.” The inclusion of Austen’s original story as an appendix, perfect for comparing scenes between the two versions, is another strength of Love & Friendship. Rufus begins the appendix by annotating the first fifteen letters, but his weak arguments further undermine his creditability. He then tries to save face by questioning the publisher’s motive for including the letters:

I cannot forget the troubling factum that Mr. Murray is also the publisher of this Lady’s final so-called “novels.” Could his true interest be to attract Readers to these other works by attaching her history to a superior volume? Such a conflict of motives is not unknown in the world of book-jobbers, though I make no accusation. I have therefore decided to refrain further comment on these letters, the malicious falseness of which should be self-evident. (202)

I was hard-pressed to find fault with Love & Friendship, apart from wishing that Stillman had chosen a different title for his reimagining. Austen did write another short story with this name, but I doubt many readers will be tripped up by the change, so it is a minor quibble rather than a serious issue.

Since many movie tie-ins offer little more than a printed version of the screenplay, Love & Friendship surprised and entertained me. Stillman’s playfully Austenesque sensibility delivers an imaginative interpretation of the story that Austen abandoned “to the great detriment of the Post office Revenue.” (273) His clever tribute to the original Lady Susan showcases tongue-in-cheek humor perfectly suited to this comedy of manners.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Love Friendship Blog Tour graphic banner x 500

Award winning writer-director-filmmaker Whit Stillman tours the blogosphere June 13 through June 24, 2016 to share his latest release, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. Thirteen popular book bloggers—card carrying Jane Austen fans one and all—will feature interviews, book excerpts and reviews of this highly acclaimed novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including hardcopies of the book will be open to those who join the festivities. 

THE LOVE & FRIENDSHIP JANEITE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: 

  • June 13                  AustenBlog (Interview)
  • June 14                  The Calico Critic (Review)         
  • June 15                  Diary of Eccentric (Excerpt)      
  • June 16                  Laura’s Reviews (Review)
  • June 17                  My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
  • June 17                  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)                            
  • June 20                  Austenesque Reviews (Review)
  • June 20                  Austenprose (Interview)                      
  • June 21                  So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
  • June 21                  Luxury Reading (Review)                    
  • June 22                  Just Jane 1813 (Review)                                         
  • June 23                  Savvy Verse & Wit (Excerpt)                         
  • June 24                  Austenprose (Review)           

   GRAND GIVEAWAY CONTEST

In celebration of the release of Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, Mr. Stillman’s publisher, Little, Brown & Co has kindly offered a chance to win one of three hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the The Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour starting June 13, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 30, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose on July 1, 2016. Winners have until July 07, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman
Little, Brown and Company (2016)
Hardcover, eBook & Audio (288) pages
ISBN: 978-0316294126

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. 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 Little, Brown and Company © 2016; text Tracy Hickman © 2016, Austenprose.com

Giveaway Winners Announced for the Julian Fellowes Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour

Belgravia_blog-tour_vertical-final x 200It’s time to announce the winners of the giveaway contest for the Julian Fellowes Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour. The three lucky winners of hardcover copies of the book drawn at random are:

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by June 30, 2016, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments and to Grand Central Publishing for the giveaway prizes.

Cover image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing © 2016, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2016, Austenprose.com

Q&A with Love & Friendship Writer/Director/Author Whit Stillman

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200Austen scholar Devoney Looser joins us today during the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour to interview ‘Friend of Jane,’ writer/director/author Whit Stillman, whose new hit movie Love & Friendship, and its companion novel, are on the radar of every Janeite.

Welcome Ms. Looser and Mr. Stillman to Austenprose.com.

Devoney Looser: We Janeites know that you go way back as a Janeite yourself. (Would you label yourself that? I see you’ve copped elsewhere to “Jane Austen nut.”) You’ve admitted you were once dismissive of Austen’s novels as a young man—telling everyone you hated them—but that after college you did a 180, thanks to your sister. Anything more you’d like to tell us about that?

Whit Stillman: I prefer Austenite and I consider myself among the most fervent. Yes, there was a contretemps with Northanger Abbey when I was a depressed college sophomore entirely unfamiliar with the gothic novels she was mocking — but I was set straight not many years later.

DL: What made you decide that “Lady Susan” wasn’t the right title to present this film to an audience? (Most of Austenprose’s readers will be wise to the fact that Austen herself didn’t choose that title for her novella, first published in 1871.) I like your new title Love & Friendship very much, but clever Janeites will know you lifted it from a raucous Austen short story, from her juvenilia, Love & Freindship. What led you to make this switch in titles? (I do want to register one official complaint. You’ve now doomed those of us who teach Austen’s Love & Freindship to receiving crazy-wrong exam answers on that text from our worst students for years to come.)

WS: Perhaps it is irrational but I always hated the title “Lady Susan” and, as you mention, so far as we know it was not Jane Austen’s;  the surviving manuscript carries no title (the original binding was chopped off) and she had used “Susan” as the working title for “Northanger Abbey.”  The whole trajectory of Austen’s improved versions of her works was from weak titles, often character names (which I know many film distributors hate as film titles*) toward strong, resonant nouns — either qualities or place names.  “Elinor and Marianne” became Sense and Sensibility, “First Impressions” became Pride and Prejudice, “Susan” became Northanger Abbey. Persuasion and Mansfield Park are similarly sonorous.

Kate Beckensale in Love and Friendship 2016 x 500

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) keeps up appearances as the most accomplished coquette in England in Love & Friendship (2016), a new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan.

Meanwhile I saw “Love and Friendship”** as an excellent Austenian title wasted on the early story.  I also wanted to make the story about more than Susan Vernon which I think we finally did do.  I had always admired how Warren Beatty, in remaking the classic film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, filched the much better title Heaven Can Wait from the same era.  This was the first decision made when deciding to adapt the novel and I believe a positive one.

Which also relates to the controversy about calling Lady Susan an “unfinished” work.  There is a distinction between “concluded” and “finished.”  Certainly the draft of Lady Susan that Jane Austen left behind is “concluded.”  But, from everything we know about how she worked on and transformed her drafts, it was not “finished.”  S&S and P&P — the other novels she wrote in the period — she transformed from her early drafts in the epistolary form with weak titles.  Lady Susan is a very odd case, in that while it contains much of Austen’s most brilliant comic writing, in form it is clearly something she would have transformed further before publication.  The epistolary form was awkward for the story she seems to want to tell and the summary conclusion entirely perfunctory.

= = =

*I was once on a film radio show in Barcelona with the leading local film distributor who went on a twenty minute rant against films with Anglo-Saxon character names as titles. I believe it was “Agnes Browne” which had set him off.

**I do not think so much should be made of her original spelling of “friendship.” It has charm as the title of a clearly juvenile story and might be kept for that purpose but should be corrected otherwise.

Sir James Martin Love and Friendship 2016 x 500

Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) in Love & Friendship rivals Austen’s Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice for the “Best Insufferable Fool” award.

DL: As readers of your companion novel Love & Friendship will soon find out, if they don’t know it already, you give us an alternative telling of Lady Susan, choosing to move the story from epistolary to a first-person narration. You have Sir James Martin’s nephew retelling the story in 1858, defending his uncle. The nephew is an incredibly engaging character, and there were points at which I laughed out loud (Imitation, flattery, battery, etc.) It was great fun, too, to see the delightful Sir James scenes from the film amplified in your novel. You do all of this in the guise of (humorously) defending Sir James, but along the way you deprecate not only Lady Susan but Jane Austen. Would you tell us more about why the nephew, why 1858, and why (tongue-in-cheek) at Austen’s expense? (I can’t help but think of the long line of Victorian men who fought over Austen’s literary worth.)

WS: First, a blank error:  the date for Rufus’ narrative should have been 1868 which will be corrected in future printings.  The last phase of correction and copy-editing was omitted to get the novel out before the movie.  I remember speaking with Little Brown’s marketing guru about its promotion, still assuming I would have another pass at the proofs for corrections, when he announced that the printed book would be available “next week” — meaning no last round of corrections.  Look at the layout of the dedication to the Prince of Wales: it seems two styles were being considered — and in two styles it was left.  So do rush out, or type quickly, to get the first printing collectors’ edition.

Second, there is nothing derogatory in my attitude toward Jane Austen, aka the Spinster Authoress (“Authoress” was her term).  Rufus Martin-Colonna is a fool; in other words, a Martin.  Nearly all his declarations are absurd, including the idiot-savant ones; none reflect my attitude to her libelous narrative.

Finally, Rufus writes retrospectively from a Victorian perspective about those he knew in his youth on the pretext that he is the last still alive to set the record straight  to vindicate his lovely and charming Aunt Susan.

Metropolitan Audrey and Tom 1990 x 500

Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) and Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina) discuss literature in Metropolitan (1990), a loose adaptation of Austen’s Mansfield Park.

DL: You’ve famously created a snobbish character who says he prefers good literary criticism to literature (Metropolitan [1990]), so here’s a literary critical question for you. There is a long tradition of seeing Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon as like a novelist spinning a tale. There’s that line in Austen’s version of Lady Susan that gets quoted by critics for that purpose: “Consideration and Esteem as surely follow command of Language, as Admiration waits on Beauty.” You chose, in your novel, to turn Jane Austen into a nameless writer-character, often mock-mockingly referred to as the “Spinster-Authoress.” Would you talk about that choice?

WS: That character in Metropolitan, Tom Townsend, is the self-proclaimed socialist (specifically, Fourierist), not one of the socialites; his orientation is political-opinionated rather than literary.  But socialite or socialist, it is just a different set of prejudices.  Regarding the line from Letter the Sixteenth, I would not give it that great significance. Not naming persons was characteristic of the Eighteenth Century, Rufus is a true child of that period.  He is also the epitome of the unreliable narrator, everything he says either certainly or probably untrue.

DL: This is a personal question, as well as a Love & Friendship question, but I understand you live in Paris these days. Did you write the script or your novel while living in France, and does this matter? Some say Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) was a possible influence on Austen’s Lady Susan. What do you think? Might you describe the geographical literary influences on your film and on the novel? (This question of national borders seems especially intriguing as a result of your transforming Lady Susan’s best friend, Alicia Johnson, into an American who hilariously fears being sent back from England to Connecticut. Also in the novel—cough, cough—Corsica! General Paoli! Paoli’s nephew!)

WS: Yes it was written partly in Paris but also in low-end U.S. motels — and yet was not influenced by Lolita either.  I don’t see any Les Liaisons Dangereuses influence on Austen. Two hundred years later, perhaps thanks to movie adaptations, these are the two epistolary novels we know; both have morally devious principal female characters but no connection otherwise.

Austen was said to have been a great admirer of Samuel Johnson; in college my friends and I were also, thanks to Professor Walter Jackson Bate’s great “Age of Johnson” course. Fanny Burney, whom Austen admired, was the daughter of Dr. Burney who was in Johnson’s Club.  General Paoli, father of Corsican independence, was their hero and friend.  Boswell himself wrote an influential book on Corsica.  So it would seems correct that a young officer on General Paoli’s staff could have impressed and sedueced Sir James Martin’s sister Juliana. As I was far behind in delivering the manuscript I was not able to tell the full story of Giancarlo (later Jean-Charles) Colonna de Cesari-Rocca but hope to some day.

DL: You can absolutely skip this question if you don’t like it, but I’m curious. Your Wikipedia entry (sorry, sorry) says that you prefer to remain apolitical and not to comment on your past editorial work at a partisan periodical that shall remain nameless. Far be it from a Janeite to make someone talk politics, as we know from Northanger Abbey that it’s an easy step from politics to silence. But might you be willing to talk about the politics you see in Jane Austen? Do you think Austen’s fiction has an identifiable politics? How do you see the gender politics of Lady Susan?

WS: I consider myself a Rockingham Whig but, when it comes to preferred Prime Ministers, it’s the Pitts.

DL: This is a literature super-nerd question. Your novel shows great familiarity with eighteenth and early nineteenth-century authors. Not just Austen, of course, but Richardson, Burney, Cowper, Scott, the Gentleman’s Magazine, (By the way, I think my favorite line from the film is Sir James’s about Cowper, the poet, and verse. Absolutely priceless. And I love the way you end the novel with Scott’s Marmion!) What are you reading these days from this period, and what would you recommend we Janeites read that we might not yet have come across?

Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow x 200WS: Yes this is my favorite period, Boswell’s Life of Johnson (unabridged edition) my favorite book and Pope’s Essay on Man my favorite poem.  Lately I have mostly been reading history and biography:  The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff, An Empire on the Edge by Nick Bunker, Braddock’s Defeat by David L. Preston, Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, George Whitefield by Arnold A. Dallimore, Andrew Jackson by H.W. Brands, Washington by Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, The Last Founding Father (Monroe) by Harlow Giles Unger, Henry Knox by Mark Puls, Nelson: Love and Fame by Edgar Vincent & Wellington by Elizabeth Longford.

DL: You’ve finally given Janeites an Austen adaptation with a deliciously villainous protagonist-heroine—an “older” heroine—and produced a rousing, funny, thoughtful novel of the story as well. Thank you! Is this the end of the road for you and Austen adaptations, film or print?

WS: Yes I do have another Austen project — in fact, it was originally considered my serious and “stronger” Austen idea, while this was the improbably slight one.  Curiously just as the novel has been published in Britain by the successor firm to Jane Austen’s publisher, John Murray, our British distributor, Philip Knatchbull, is a descendent of the Jane Austen niece, Lady Knatchbull, to whom the manuscript of Lady Susan was originally entrusted (and who is believed to have worked on the book with her aunt).


Many thanks to Devoney Looser for her clever questions and to Mr. Stillman for sharing his insights and droll humor with us. I have seen the movie and read the book and I highly recommend them both. My only disappointment in the movie is that Chris Eigeman was not cast as Edward, the Head Footman! 

AUTHOR BIO: Whit Stillman was born in Washington, D.C., and attended Harvard, where he was an editor of the Harvard Crimson before working in book and magazine publishing. He has written and directed five films, including the award-winning Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, and Damsels in Distress, as well as the TV show The Cosmopolitans. His first novel, The Last Days of Disco, won the 2014 Prix Fitzgerald. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, The Guardian, Vogue, and other publications. Visit his unofficial website for updates on this latest Amazon series The Cosmopolitans, and follow him on Twitter as @WhitStillman and on Facebook.

INTERVIEWER BIO: Devoney Looser is Professor of English at Arizona State University, where teaches Jane Austen courses, including a new online seven-week master’s course. She’s the author of two books on British women’s literary history and the editor of Jane Austen and Discourses of Feminism (1995) and The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writings of the Romantic Period (2015). Her recent essays on Austen have appeared in the TLS, The Independent, The Atlantic, and Entertainment Weekly. She tweets from @devoneylooser and from her roller derby alter ego, @StoneColdJane. It was roller derby that led to her scoring her own square on the New York Times’s Janeiac Game and to being profiled as one of the quirky interview subjects (along with her Austen scholar husband, George Justice) in Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites (2013). Devoney’s book, The Making of Jane Austen, will be out next year from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Love Friendship Blog Tour graphic banner x 500

This informative and humorous interview is part of the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour circumnavigating the blogosphere June 13- 24, 2016 in celebration of the release of Mr. Stillman’s companion book to his movie of the same name. Learn more about Love & Friendship and enter a chance to win one of 3 hard cover copies of the book by leaving a comment at any or all of the blog stops on the tour through 11:59 pm PT, June 30, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced here on July 1, 2016. Winners have until July 07, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Book: Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman
Genre: Georgian Fiction/Historical Fiction/Austenesque 
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (2016)
ISBN: 978-0316294126 

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

Cover image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company © 2016; text Devoney Looser & Whit Stillman © 2016, Austenprose.com.

The Janeite Blog Tour of Love & Friendship Begins June 13

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200A new Jane Austen-inspired movie released on May 13th. Love & Friendship has received rave reviews from critics and Jane Austen fans alike.

  • “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph
  • “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com
  • “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety

Written and directed by renowned independent filmmaker Whit Stillman, (a big friend of Jane Austen with his previous movies Metropolitan and Last Day of Disco), the movie has been adapted from Austen’s comic gem, Lady Susan, and features an all-star cast reuniting Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny and featuring a string of British period drama acting royalty: Steven Fry, James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave. I saw it on Sunday. I was astounded to discover there were actually people in the theater laughing louder than me, inspired by Tim Bennet’s performance as the rattle, Sir James Martin, and the all-around witty banter and comedic timing!

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200In addition, Stillman has written a companion novel to the film also entitled Love & Friendship with the added subtitle: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. For those who have read Austen’s original novella, you will remember that Lady Susan Vernon is described by Reginald De Courcy as “the most accomplished coquette in England.” and by others as devious, wicked and “with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.” To vindicate her scurrilous behavior is an intriguing premise indeed!

Love & Friendship, the novel, is told from the perspective of a new character, Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s  nephew. His voice throughout the book is very Austenesque, with tongue-in-cheek humor and inside Austen jokes that will delight Janeites.

Released in hardcover, eBook and audio book, Love & Friendship debbed on May 3, 2016 by Little, Brown & Co. Here is the publisher’s description:

Whit Stillman has taken Austen’s never-finished epistolary novella, Lady Susan, re-imagined it as a straight narrative, and added the hilarious new character of Rufus, Susan’s apologist nephew, who aims to clear Susan’s good name come hell or high water (even if he is doing it from “the ignoble abode” of debtors’ prison ). Despite many indications to the contrary, Rufus insists that Susan is, “the kindest, most delightful woman anyone could know, a shining ornament to our Society and Nation.” Rufus then appends his earnest tale with a collection of his aunt’s letters, which he claims have been altered by Austen to cast the estimable Lady Susan in a bad light.

Impossibly beautiful, disarmingly witty, and completely self-absorbed, Lady Susan Vernon, is both the heart and the thorn of Love & Friendship. Recently widowed, with a daughter who’s coming of age as quickly as their funds are dwindling, Lady Susan makes it her mission to find them wealthy husbands——and fast.

But when her attempts to secure their futures result only in the wrath of a prominent conquest’s wife and the title of “most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan must rethink her strategy.

Unannounced, she arrives at her brother-in-law’s country estate. Here she intends to take refuge——in no less than luxury, of course——from the colorful rumors trailing her, while finding another avenue to “I do.” Before the scandalizing gossip can run its course, though, romantic triangles ensue.

With a devoted Austenian sensibility and absurd theological commentary, filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman ingeniously reimagines and completes one of our greatest writers’ unfinished works. As much homage to its muse’s perennial influence as testament to its author’s brilliance, Love & Friendship is a sharp comedy of manners, and a fiendishly funny treat for Austen and Stillman fans alike.

Love & Friendship brings a healthy helping of scandal, along with lots of laughs, to Georgian and Victorian London.

I am very pleased to be participating in a blog tour for Love & Friendship with fellow Jane Austen fans in honor of this new book. Continue reading

Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels & Revolutionaries, by Sue Wilkes – A Review

Regency Spies by Sue Wilkes 2016 x 200

From the desk of Stephanie Barron:

PARANOIA RUNS DEEP

From the moment I saw the title of Sue Wilkes’s latest book, Regency Spies (Pen & Sword Books, 2015), I was desperate to get my hot little hands on a copy. In a distant chapter of my life I was trained in espionage by the CIA, and I have a habit of inventing spies in my Jane Austen novels—most of them working nefariously on behalf of Bonaparte, but a few ready to die for King and Country. There’s a paucity of scholarly data on tradecraft, recruitment, and spy running during Jane Austen’s heydey, as Lauren Willig’s fictional Eloise discovers in the absorbing adventures of the Pink Carnation. A century ago, Baroness Orczy handed us the consuming history of the Scarlet Pimpernel and forever transformed our sense of the French Revolution. (Can there be any pleasure greater than tucking oneself up in bed with a soothing drink and a copy of one of these books on a stormy night?) Patrick O’Brian channeled the Secret Funds of the Admiralty’s Sir Joseph Banks into the hands of his irascible polymath Stephen Maturin, who collected intelligence wherever his voyages with Jack Aubrey took him; but O’Brian failed to detail his sources at the back of his marvelous novels.

Perhaps, like me, he had none.

So I was eager to discover what Ms. Wilkes had to share with the world.

I confess to a moment of dismay when I opened Regency Spies. As Georgette Heyer’s character Freddie Standen often observes, “I never knew a more complete take-in!” And as is so often the case with poor Freddie, the fault lay with me, not with Ms. Wilkes. I assumed that by Regency spies, she referred to dashing men in cravats and pantaloons, fencing the despicable minions of Napoleon on behalf of the Crown. In fact, Regency Spies is an impeccably researched and scholarly record of the informants recruited, generally by the British Home Office but also by local militias and constabularies, to report on the seditious conspiracies of their fellow Englishmen. Continue reading

The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson – A Review

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson 2016 x 200From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Discovering just-released fiction on my library’s New Audiobooks shelf makes me feel as if someone has let me slip in at the front of a long line. When I found Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, I was delighted she’d chosen another charming English town (I’d quite enjoyed her debut Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and the summer of 1914. Whether she planned it or not, the timing may help some of us adjust to the end of a ‘certain’ British historical drama, though enjoying this novel can’t be limited to Downton Abbey fans. What better time than the centennial of The Great War, to revisit its impact.

Protagonist Beatrice Nash is a young woman of high intellect, low tolerance for the superficial, and a middle-class income stymied by the death of her beloved father. Mr. Nash’s academic profession provided his daughter an unusual upbringing ripe with experiences beyond England, and making Beatrice independent, resilient, and practical. She was “not raised to be shy, and had put away the fripperies of girlhood.” All very good indeed when she takes a position as Latin teacher for the local children and is tested by the restrictions and social expectations of small town life in this delightful corner of Sussex. She simply must succeed or risk returning to her wealthy aunt’s suffocating control.

If this novel was a miniseries, she’d be the lead in an outstanding ensemble cast. To her left, Mrs. Agatha Kent, mentor, and “of a certain age when the bloom of youth must give way to strength of character, but her face was handsome in its intelligent eyes and commanding smile.” To Beatrice’s right, Hugh Grange, likely the most uncomplicated man in town…who happens to be a brain surgeon. The residents of Rye create the rich background we so enjoyed in Ms. Simonson’s debut, and Rye itself rounds out the cast as quintessential England. I had no trouble balancing the many characters who exit the other side of the war—the autumn after the war, so to speak—forever altered. Just as it should be. Continue reading