Austen Tattler: News and Gossip around the Blogosphere

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“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of February 1st

Hot News of the week

Definitely the upcoming release of the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which was taken the Internet by deathly storm prompting the publisher Quirk Books to move up the release date. You can read my first thoughts about it at Jane Austen Today, this week on the reaction, and the controversy regarding the author’s attitude toward Janeites at AustenBlog.

Noteworthy

Jane Austen in the City of Bath, England is a lovely article with beautiful photos at Quillcards Blog

Get ready for Valentine’s Day with snarky Austen themed valentines at Elegant Extracts Blog.

Sense and Sensibility (2008) is being rebroadcast on Masterpiece Classic on Sundays Feb 1st & 8th. You can catch up on the first episode by reading the synopsis of episode one at the Masterpiece offical site and read reviews at Jane Austen’s World and here at Austenprose. Tune in to PBS this Sunday for the conclusion.

The Excessively Diverting Blog Award recognizes seven writers of note on the Internet presented by the Jane Austen Today blogging team.

Over at Risky Regencies indulge in a little escapsism with Highwayman of the High Seas: The Romance of the Smugler by Julia Justiss. Everyone loves a naughty pirate, yo ho!

Of Books and Bicycles is reading Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life and has some interesting thoughts on her insights.

Arti at Ripple Effects asks which Austen Heroine was Jane herself most like?

Entertainment

The Black Moth is available from GirleBooks for free. Ms Place (Vic) at Jane Austen Today and Jane Austen’s World is an ardent Heyer fan and tells us that this is one of Heyer’s first novels, and now ready for you to download and read for free from GirleBooks.

The roundup of upcoming Austen inspired books for February is available for your persual here at Austenprose

The DVD of Lost in Austen will be available for purchase in North America on April 14th.

British actress Ruby Bentall is truly an up and commer. I have recieved more hits on her name in the past month than any other Austen actress. More than Gwenyth or Kiera or Kate. No lie! You can read about her at my post Ruby Bentall – A Most Memorable Mary Bennet at Jane Austen Today.

Book Reviews

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

Jane Austen Biographer: Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh

Portrait of Mary Augusta Austen-LeighWas Jane Austen a Moralist? No! many of her fervent admirers will exclaim – ‘Thank Heaven – that she was not!’ Her mission was to amuse, to delight, to refresh us – but neither to reprove nor to condemn us! Those who want ‘Moral Tales’ must seek them elsewhere; they are not to be found among Jane Austen’s writings! Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen, Chapter 5
Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh (1838-1922) was the author of a biography of her great aunt, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen. She was the daughter of James Edward Austen-Leigh who wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870. Inheriting her family views, she firmly believed in protecting Jane Austen’s reputation. This slim biography had an interesting beginning as an article in the Quarterly Review of 1919 which became chapter five in the book published the next year. It firmly defends ‘Jane Austen’s earnest adherents’ [1] who were recently under attack by critics also bashing Austen with the same tired complaints; her ‘narrow experience, reclusiveness, her life lacking in incident and consolations of culture.'[1] The pettiness of this argument and Miss Austen’s hyperbole (she dedicated the book ‘To All True Lovers of Jane Austen and Her Works’) sparked two witty and now famous reviews by two authors that Jane Austen would have been happy to have tea with, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

Portrait of author Katherine MansfieldKathleen Mansfield Murry (1888 – 1923) was a prominent New Zealand modernist writer of short fiction who wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield. Her review of Personal Aspects of Jane Austen by Mary Austen-Leigh, was first published in the periodical The Athenaeum on December 3, 1920, and reprinted in the book Novels and Novelists, edited by her husband John Middleton Murry posthumously 1930. I was fortunate to find this except in my 1982 copy of Persuasions, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

It seems almost unkind to criticize a little book which has thrown on bonnet and shawl and tipped across the fields of criticism at so round a pace to defend its dear Jane Austen. But even with the undesirable evidence before us of the stupidity, nay, the downright wickedness of certain reviewers, we cannot help doubting the need for such a journey. True, Jane Austen exists in the imagination as a writer who has remained wonderfully remote and apart and free from the flying burrs of this work-a-day world, and it does come as a surprise to learn that so-called friends of hers have said these dreadful things. But, begging Miss Austen-Leigh’s pardon – who cares? Can we picture Jane Austen caring – except in a delightfully wicked way which we are sure the author of this book would not allow – that people said she was no lady, was not found of children, hated animals, did not care a pin for the poor, could not have written about foreign parts if she tried, had no idea how a fox was killed, but rather thought it ran up a tree and hissed at the hound at the last – was, in short, cold, coarse, practically illiterate and without morality. Mightn’t her reply have been, ‘Ah, but what about my novels?’ Though the answer would seem to us more than sufficient, it would not satisfy Miss Austen-Leigh…

Each of these charges can be met – and they are met, though, to be quite candid, it is somewhat quaintly at times. Take, for instance, the ‘baseless accusation that she always turned away from whatever was sad.’ It cannot, says Miss Austen-Leigh, be allowed to pass unnoticed. And she cites a family letter written by Mr. Austen on the occasion of a young friend’s having been invited to their house to have her attack of measles there: ‘She wanted a great deal of nursing, and a great deal of nursing she had,’ the nurses being Jane, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd. Well, that may go to prove that Jane was willing to face an unpleasant ordeal and to play her part, but we should not like our belief in her tenderness to depend on it. Does it not sound just a little grim? Might not a timid mind picture patient and pillows being shaken together; and, as to escaping one’s medicine, Cassandra and Martha to hold one down, and Jane to administer something awfully black in a spoon? The, again, someone having said that sermons were wearisome to her, Miss Austen-Leigh contradicts him triumphantly with Jane Austen’s own words, ‘I am very fond of Sherlock’s Sermons, and prefer them to almost any.’ But stare at that sentence as we may, we cannot see an enthusiasm for sermons shining through it. It sounds indeed as though Sherlock’s Sermons were a special kind of biscuit – clerical Bath Olivers – oval and crisp and dry…

[‘Ah, but what about my novels?’]

…For the truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friends of their author.

Virginia Woolf had pretty much the same thing to say in response to the book, which leads me to believe that they influenced each other.

Ever since Jane Austen became famous they [critics] have been hissing inanities in chorus ….  [D]ebating whether she was a lady, whether she told the truth, whether she could read, and whether she had personal experience of hunting a fox is positively upsetting.  We remember that Jane Austen wrote novels.  It might be worth while for her critics to read them.

Even though I agree with Mansfield and Woolf, ‘Who cares? – What about my novels?‘ we should be thankful that Miss Austen-Leigh got up on her soapbox and passionately defended her ancestor. In addition to her denunciation of Austen’s critics, she actually revealed some new information not previously included in other family biographies. I do confess to cringing when I read the introduction and came upon her statement that Jane Austen died in her forty-second year. Ok, I’m not good at math either.

Frontispiece and title page of Personal Aspects of Jane Austen (1920)

The biography is a quick read at 129 pages and happily available online through Canadian Libraries Internet Archive. Go to the ‘View Book’ on the left sidebar and then check out the “Flip Book” reader. Quite impressive software that I wish Google Books would adapt. Just to be contentious, I could not pass up including the title page for your amusement. Notice the comments by previous readers scribbled near the center of the page! They are tough critics those Canadians, and great Austen scholars I might add. I would not have been so severe on poor Miss Austen-Leigh. She was just defending her turf. Flip through the pages and you will notice additional marginal notes which I always feel are a bonus. This was timely for me as Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont Blog and I were just chatting about marking up good books with marginal notes and underlining. I know it is a personal thing, but books are so sacred to me that I just can not do it. Though, I confess I encourage others to leave their brilliant thoughts for posterity. Jane Austen did, and people are still talking about it!

A Secret Life, by Claire Tomalin (1988)And finally, the last serendipitous connection to this post is with Jane Austen’s biographer Claire Tomalin who wrote Jane Austen: A Life. She also wrote a biography of Katherine Mansfield. Now that I know Mansfield is a friend of Jane, and Tomalin thinks highly enough of her to write a biography, it is worth a gander.

1. Southam, B.C. (editor) Jane Austen, Volume 2, 1870-1940 The Critical Heritage, Published by Routledge, (1999) Introduction pp. 96-97

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Blogosphere

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.”
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of October 13th

The movie The Duchess staring Keria Knightley (Pride and Prejudice 2005) opened in national release this last week and I am all anticipation to see. It has received mixed reviews and a lot of press about comparisons of Georgiana Cavendish to Princess Diana, claims that producers asked Knightley to allow a boob job to the movie posters and all sorts of hooey. The movie is based on the 1998 biography entitled Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman and also features other actors with Austen connections; Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park 2007), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility 2008), Joseph Beatie (Mansfield Park 2007), Alistair Petrie (Emma 1996) and composer Rachel Portman (Emma 1996). The costumes look sumptuous and it is on the top of my list of must see movies this fall.

My Austen friends in Canada are definetly the favoured nation, again! First they get a new production of Pride and Prejudice in Edmonton, NOW, they get Lost in Austen on TV! Geesh, I am feeling out of the loop here in the States. ; (

Join romance author Stephanie Sloan as she discusses Jane Austen every Friday with An Austen Friday on her blog.

Austen and Austen-esque book reviews for the week; Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Mr. Darcy Present his Bride, Pride and PrejudiceCassandra & Jane, and a second review of Cassandra & Jane, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet.

One of the October Austen-esque books that really intrigued me was Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terence Hill. What a fascinating premise, — well from a feminine perspective that is! Check out author Steve Chandler’s insights on how the book came about and other musing on the experience of writing it with his friend at his blog. No surprised that their wives put them up to it. ; )

Writer Marilyn Brant shares her wonderful experience at the 30th annual AGM of JASN which concluded in Chicago earlier this month. I am pea green over her Jane Austen watch. You can get your very own at Jane Austen Books. Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont continues her reports from JASNA also with The Adventures Befalling a Janeite in Chicago – Part 3, and Part 4.

Chawton House Library is offering a short story competition to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. There are cash prizes and trips to a writer’s retreat at Chawton House. The deadline is March 31st, 2009 and the complete details can be found here.

The Becoming Jane Fansite has an uplifting quote of the week from Jane Austen’s letters, The Happiness Project has another great quote from Miss Bates from Emma, and The Rest is Still Unwritten offers a long quote from Persuasion that sets men straight.

Aimee at Saccharine Irony imagines herself as Mrs. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and has tea. Is that Mrs. Dashwood senior or Fanny Dashwood the daughter-in-law? Hope it’s the former.

What was Jane Austen really like? Find out what author Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields have to say and then vote for which heroine that you think Jane Austen was most like on Ripple Effects.

Find out if Jane Austen was a hot surfer chick as Niqel of The Trim of My Sails blog explains it all for us.

Want to check out the shelves in the closet at Hunsford Parsonage, that humble abode on the Rosings estate of The Rev. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice ? Well, here’s your chance to get about as close to a fictional structure as can be if you rent the house used in the filming of the Pride and Prejudice movie of 2005. The present owners of Almshouse in Weekley near Kettering in Northamptonshire will let you have it for a song, if your like the tune of £2,350.00 a month!  One wonders out loud if perchance the house is misnamed. ; )

I had been ignoring the fact that the holidays are quickly aproaching and then I received my monthly Jane Austen Centre online newsletter in my mail box and read about fruit cake! If you are wondering what the connection to Jane is, then brace yourself gentle readers, Jane does discuss it in her letter to her sister Cassandra in 1808. Well almost fruit cake since she mentions the family being anxious to receive wedding cake, which was similar to today’s fruit cake and prized by the Regency era. I am one of those odd creatures that adores fruit cake. I know, I just heard you all gasp in horror. You all think of fruit cake as that sticky gooey super sweet concoction that grandma used to send to your family during the holidays and was re-gifted to other family members for 20 years as a joke. Granted, fruit cake has gotten a bum rap since it was cherished in the 1800’s (or lately by your granny), but you might be interested to read over the recipes in the Centre’s article and see for yourself that it does not contain any lost mittens or old socks! I have a cherished recipe too, which will go unshared until someone admits they like it! Subscribe to the Centre’s newsletter here.

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey continues here at Austenprose. I am really enjoying the group read of Northanger Abbey, the guest blogs this week by Margaret Sullivan (Mags) on Henry Tilney, Vic (Ms. Place) on dancing in Bath, and fashion in the 2 Northanger movie adpataions by Kali Pappas. Be sure to check out all the free giveaways, and leave a comment to qualify for the drawings before October 30th.

Until next week, happy Jane sighting,

Laurel Ann

Jane Austen and the Modesty of Genius

I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, and am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. She is very cunning, but I saw through her design; she means to publish it from memory, and one more perusal must enable her to do it. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 11 June 1799 

Jane Austen’s Biographer Claire Tomalin has a nice article in the Guardian today about how modesty and secrecy fueled Austen’s genius. Tomalin’s bio Jane Austen: A Life was published in 1997 and is one of my favorites. It’s good to see that she is still interested in writing about Austen after the publication of her book over ten years ago. It’s a short piece, but packed full of historical nuggets of Janeisms, and centered around Jane Austen’s now famous small writing table. 

This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod must be the smallest table ever used by a writer, and it is where she established herself as a writer…having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door, and here “she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper”.  

Reading her insights made me reflect on Jane Austen’s unique writing environment, and the odds of anyone ever producing anything of merit under such restrictions. It is amazing to think that the majority of her writing and re-writing transpired on one small wooden table, and that upon her death it passed to her sister Cassandra, and then out of the family to a servant. How it made its way back to Chawton Cottage intact must be a very interesting tale indeed! 

I have not had the pleasure of seeing Jane Austen’s writing table personally, but for those of you who have made the pilgrimage, I would love to hear your story of your visit to Jane Austen’s last home in Chawton, how it felt to see her personal environment, and gaze upon the biggest little table in literary history. 

Writer Claire Tomalin is an English biographer and journalist who was educated at Cambridge University. She has written several biographies; notably Thomas Hardy (2007), Samuel Pepys (2002), The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (1992) and Shelley and His World (1992). She is married to playwright Michael Frayn and lives in London. Of course, her most important work to date is Jane Austen: A Life!