Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for July 2010

The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in July, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd

Mansfield Park is considered (by some) to be the dark horse of Austen’s oeuvre and her heroine Fanny Price weak and insipid. I do not agree, but the majority of readers might find this new novel an improvement since the narrative is “renovated” (not unlike Sotherton) and Fanny gets bumped off. Shepherd mixes up Austen’s classic story by switching the protagonist and antagonist, morphing other characters and plot points and spotlighting the murder instead of the the moralistic undertones that Austen chose to soft shoe her narrative. Personally, secondary to Jane Austen, I enjoy a good murder mystery, so this reader is quite charmed at the possibility of having both together. (Publishers description) In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price–whom Jane Austen’s own mother called “insipid”–has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor. It’s only after Fanny is murdered on the grounds of Mansfield Park that Mary comes into her own, teaming-up with a thief-taker from London to solve the crime. Featuring genuine Austen characters–the same characters, and the same episodes, but each with a new twist – Murder at Mansfield Park is a brilliantly entertaining novel that offers Jane Austen fans an engaging new heroine and story to read again and again. St. Martin’s Griffin, Trade Paperback (384) pages, ISBN: 978-0312638344

Review of Murder at Mansfield Park in the Sterling Observer

Austen’s Oeuvre

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, illustrator Chris Hammond, introduction by Joseph Jacobs

Dover has done it again! They have taken a classic Victorian illustrated edition of a Jane Austen novel and reproduced the interior exactly offering the book lover the next best thing to the original. Their first volume in this series of hardback collector editions was Pride and Prejudice. For any of you who collect vintage Austen editions it is a reproduction of the popular and pricey 1894 ‘Peacock’ edition illustrated by Hugh Thomson. This edition of Sense and Sensibility illustrated by Chris Hammond is even more beautiful and my personal favorite Victorian edition of a Jane Austen novel. Enjoy! (Publishers description) A delightful comedy of manners, this novel concerns the romantic travails of two sisters, who struggle to balance passion and prudence. It abounds in the author’s customary wit and engaging characterizations. This handsome hardcover gift edition features a dust jacket and more than 60 charming drawings by a leading Victorian-era illustrator. Dover Publications, Hardcover (416) pages, ISBN: 978-0486477435.

Audiobooks

The Watsons/Sanditon (Naxos Complete Classics), by Jane Austen, read by Anna Bentinck

Now available outside of the audio collection Jane Austen: the Complete Novels, readers can listen to two of Austen’s unfinished works professionally produced and read by BBC Radio personality Anna Bentinck. They are gems, and you might be pleasantly surprised. (Publishers description) One abandoned, one unfinished, these short works show Austen equally at home with romance (a widowed clergyman with four daughters must needs be in search of a husband or two in The Watsons) and with social change (a new, commercial seaside resort in Sanditon). Typically touching, funny, charming and sharp. Naxos AudioBooks, 4 CDs, 4h 29m, ISBN: 978-9626342817

Read my review of The Watsons/Sanditon

Austen’s Contemporaries & Beyond

Helen, by Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) was a major “best selling” novelist of her day, surpassing many of her male counterparts. Jane Austen admired her so much that she sent one of the 12 presentation copies of Emma that she received from her publisher even though they had never corresponded or met. Regretfully, Austen did not have the opportunity to read Helen since she died in 1817, but you can judge for yourself why she and her contemporaries valued Edgeworth and why she merits this re-issue of her 1834 novel. (Publishers description) The last and most psychologically powerful novel by Jane Austen’s leading rival, the newly orphaned Helen Stanley is urged to share the home of her childhood friend Lady Cecilia. This charming socialite, however, is withholding secrets and soon Helen is drawn into a web of ‘white lies’ and evasions that threaten not only her hopes for marriage but her very place in society. A fascinating panorama of Britain’s political and intellectual elite in the early 1800s and a gripping romantic drama, Helen was the inspiration for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Sort of Books, Trade paperback (544) pages, ISBN: 9780956003898

Review of Helen in the Scotland Herald

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

Parting injuction

Illustration by Chris Hammond, “Marianne…walked slowly upstairs”, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 46, (1899)INJUNCTION

As soon as they entered the house, Marianne with a kiss of gratitude, and these two words just articulate through her tears, “Tell mama,” withdrew from her sister and walked slowly up stairs. Elinor would not attempt to disturb a solitude so reasonable as what she now sought; and with a mind anxiously pre-arranging its result, and a resolution of reviving the subject again, should Marianne fail to do it, she turned into the parlour to fulfil her parting injunction.The Narrator on Elinor Dashwood, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 46

This chapter is such a turning point in the novel for Marianne Dashwood. She has survived the shock of John Willoughby’s rejection and it’s subsequent debilitating illness, and has passed within a very short time from a romantically impulsive young woman into self-imposed regulated reserve, “checked by religion, by reason, (and) by constant employment.”  

My heart aches for her. That hollow empty feeling of an irreconcilable loss of a first love. Nothing can match it. Nothing.

Some say that Jane Austen never experienced the loss of a true love. I find that hard to believe. How could she have written such an emotionally wrenching character as Marianne Dashwood who experiences the heights and depths of love, without experiencing it herself? This can not be imitated. Any thoughts? 

*Illustration by Chris Hammond, “Marianne with a kiss of gratitude”, page 348, Sense & Sensibility, published by George Allen, London (1899)  

Jane Austen Illustrators: Chris Hammond

Image of book cover of Sense & Sensibility, George Allen, London (1899)ILLUSTRATOR CHRIS HAMMOND

Over the past 170 years, many have attempted to illustrate Jane Austen’s characters and scenes from her novels, but few have succeeded to complement her intent as well as the late 19th-century artists Chris Hammond. I rather think that Jane Austen would have approved of Miss Hammond. Their lives had similar parallels and they could have been kindred spirits.

She was born Christiana Mary Demain Hammond in 1860 in Camberwell near London, England. She was the first daughter of Elsa Mary and Horatio Demain Hammond who was a bank clerk in Newington, Surrey. She had a sister Gertrude who was two years younger, and they shared an interest in art and studied together at The Lambeth School of Art. Chris would later be accepted at the prestigious Royal Academy of Art in London, where she studied life drawing and excelled in watercolour painting.

In the late 1880’s, work opportunities for professional women artists were not as readily available as they were for men, so she beat them at their game and abbreviated her name to Chris. This slight deception allowed her to earn equal pay for the same work as her contemporary male artists such as Hugh Thomson and Charles E. Brock.

She was a renown painter and pen and ink artists and exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1886, 1891, 1892, 1893 & 1894; and with The Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 1886, 1895.  She illustrated for various papers and magazines including Cassells Magazine, Quiver, English Illustrated Magazine, St. Paul’s and other leading periodicals. Her book illustrations include the classic writers including Jane Austen, Thackery, Mrs. Gaskell, George Elliot, Goldsmith and Edgeworth.

Of all of Jane Austen illustrators, I find her drawings more sensitive to the characters and more expressive of their true emotions. Her pen and ink line drawings show her confident style, with her sophisticated use of light and shadow. I appreciate her astute use of appropriate attitudes and expressions of the characters, and her respect for the period costumes and scenery.

These examples are from her 80 plus illustrations from Sense & Sensibility published by George Allen of London in 1899. She also illustrated other Jane Austen novels for the same publisher; Emma in 1898 and Pride & Prejudice in 1900.

Miss Hammond would never marry, and like Jane Austen, died quite young in 1900 in London at age 39. Because of her brief career 1886-1899, her volume of work is not as extensive as her contemporaries, and sadly she is not as well known. She had the last word though, since her work survives today in her classic book and magazine illustrations which can command higher prices in the collector market than her male contemporaries.