Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, by Deirdre Le Faye – A Review       

Jane Austen's Country Life, by Deirdre Le Faye (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Ask any fan of Jane Austen what they love about her works and they can readily describe cherished characters, pithy quotes, and probably several screen adaptations that are especially close to their hearts. But what about what Austen loved? Jane’s niece Anna Lefroy remembered her aunt as a lover of the outdoors and natural scenery. Her letters are filled with walks in all kinds of weather and you don’t have to search her novels long to find numerous scenes that take place not in a stuffy drawing room, but on a tree-lined path or windswept hill. Jane Austen’s Country Life focuses on the Hampshire countryside where she spent three-quarters of her life:

“This first-hand knowledge of country life underpins her writing and gives the time-frame against which she constructs her plots; she was not only a clergyman’s daughter, but a farmer’s daughter as well…” (8)

The first chapter “Hampshire” begins with an overview of the county, explaining the then-controversial process of enclosure that deprived the rural poor of the use of common land. Enclosure features in three Austen novels: Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma. Descriptions and illustrations of the villages of Steventon and Deane follow, as well as those of nearby Oakley and Ashe. The larger towns of Overton, Basingstoke and Odiham provided the Austen family with well-stocked market places for shopping and assembly balls for dancing and socializing. While Le Faye includes several lovely antique maps of Hampshire, I longed for a simple map showing the villages and towns in relation to one another at this point in the book. Continue reading

4th Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters Due Out in November

Jane Austens Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition (2011)Exciting news for Janeites! Deirdre Le Faye’s incredible scholarship on Jane Austen and her family continues in this new edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Many will be thrilled to learn that this 4th edition not only includes a new cover, but updates! Here is the description from Oxford University Press:

Jane Austen’s letters afford a unique insight into the daily life of the novelist: intimate and gossipy, observant and informative–they read much like the novels themselves. They bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events, all with a freshness unparalleled in modern biographies. Most important, we recognize the unmistakable voice of the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We see the shift in her writing from witty and amusing descriptions of the social life of town and country, to a thoughtful and constructive tone while writing about the business of literary composition.

R.W. Chapman’s ground-breaking edition of the collected letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. A third edition, edited Deirdre Le Faye in 1997 added new material, re-ordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence, and provided discreet and full annotation to each letter, including its provenance, and information on the watermarks, postmarks, and other physical details of the manuscripts. This new fourth edition incorporates the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index.

Teachers, students, and fans of Jane Austen, at all levels, will find in these letters remarkable insight into one of the most popular novelists ever.

“These are the letters of our greatest novelist. They give glances and hints at her life from the age of 20 to her death at 41, the years in which she wrote her six imperishable books.”

–Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday

Features

  • An unparalleled and irresistible insight into the life of Jane Austen
  • A complete and accurate transcript of all Austen’s letters as known to date
  • Integrates the discoveries of recent Austen scholarship to reveal more about her life and family
  • 2011 marks the bicentenary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of Austen’s novels to appear in print

About the Author

Deirdre Le Faye , now retired, worked for many years in the Department of Medieval & Later Antiquities at the British Museum. She started researching the life and times of Jane Austen and her family in the 1970s, and since then has written several books about them, the latest being A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family 1600-2000 , as well as numerous articles in literary journals.

The bit that really got my attention was the incorporation of new scholarship and a new preface. Huzzah!

Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye
Oxford University Press (2011)
Hardcover (688) pages
ISBN: 9780199576074ISBN10

Due to be released on 1 November 2011

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for April

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in April, so keep your eyes open for these new titles. 

Nonfiction 

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman 

This highly anticipated cultural biography of Jane Austen’s rise to fame and admiration by the masses has already raised an academic kerfuffle before it has even hit book stores. *ahem* It is on the top of my to be read pile, and I can not wait to dive in. Publisher’s description: This is a story of personal struggle, family intrigue, accident, advocacy and sometimes surprising neglect as well as a history of changing public tastes and critical practices. Starting with Austen’s own experience as a beginning author (and addressing her difficulties getting published and her determination to succeed), Harman unfolds the history of how her estate was handled by her brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and goes on to explore the eruption of public interest in Austen in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the making of her into a classic English author in the twentieth century, the critical wars that erupted as a result and, lastly, her powerful influence on contemporary phenomena such as chick-lit, romantic comedy, the heritage industry and film. Part biography and part cultural history, this book does not just tell a fascinating story – it is essential reading for anyone interested in Austen’s life, works and remarkably potent fame. Here is my previous preview post about it. 

Canongate Books Ltd, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1847672940 

Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Woman (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture), by Cheryl A. Wilson (2009)Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Womanby Cheryl A. Wilson 

We all know that Henry Tilney considers “a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” Enuff said. Jane Austen loved dancing herself and included many scenes in her novels with characters engaged in this important social communion. If one understands the dance and its significance in 18th and 19th century society, then you are in a fair way to understanding love. From the publishers website: Literary critics often pursue analyses of music or painting and literature as ‘sister arts’, yet this is the first full-length study of the treatment of social dance in literature. A vital part of social life and courtship with its own symbolism, dance in the nineteenth century was a natural point of interest for novelists writing about these topics; and indeed ballroom scenes could themselves be used to further courtship narratives or illustrate other significant encounters. Including analyses of works by Jane Austen, W. M. Thackeray, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope, as well as extensive material from nineteenth-century dance manuals, Cheryl A. Wilson shows how dance provided a vehicle through which writers could convey social commentary and cultural critique on issues such as gender, social mobility, and nationalism. 

Cambridge University Press, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0521519090 

Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, by Dr. Andrew Norman (2009)Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, by Dr. Andrew Norman 

Well, this shall certainly raise a few eyebrows! Dr. Andrew Norman has conducted a bit of Austen romance sleuthing. Touted as “The first book to reveal the identity of the mystery lover Jane Austen met in Devon in 1802,” we have read an excerpt that did not reveal who it is, but it looked promising, at least in the light of a good mystery. From the publishers website: Jane Austen is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in the English literary canon, and recent film and television adaptations of her works have brought them to a new audience almost two hundred years after her untimely death. Yet much remains unknown about her life, and there is considerable interest in the romantic history of the creator of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Andrew Norman here presents a new account of her life, breaking new ground by proposing that she and her sister, Cassandra, fell out over a young clergyman, who he identities for the first time. He also suggests that, along with the Addison’s Disease that killed her, Jane Austen suffered from TB. Written by a consummate biographer, Jane Austen: an Unrequited Love is a must-read for all lovers of the author and her works. 

Hardcover, The History Press, ISBN: 978-0752448749 

Jane Austen’s Narrative Techniques: A Stylistic and Pragmatic Analysis, by Massimiliano Morini 

It is a truth universally acknowledge that Jane Austen can put a sentence together like no other, so if you are curious how she does it so eloquently, you might enjoy this scholarly treatise that delves into the linguistic and narrative techniques of her style. For serious scholars, we are quite certain that linguistics Prof Henry Higgins Churchyard, creator of the Jane Austen Information Page will be enthralled. From the publishers website: Examining a wide range of Austen texts, from her unpublished works through masterpieces like Mansfield Park and Emma, Morini discusses familiar Austen themes, using linguistic means to shed fresh light on the question of point of view in Austen and on Austen’s much-admired brilliance in creating lively and plausible dialogue. Accessibly written and informed by the latest work in linguistic and literary studies, Jane Austen’s Narrative Techniques offers Austen specialists a new avenue for understanding her narrative techniques and serves as a case study for scholars and students of pragmatics and applied linguistics. 

Ashgate Publishing, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0754666073 

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

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith (2009)Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith 

The Internet frenzy that the announcement of this novel created may have been a huge surprise to us all, including its author and publisher, but it has caught the imagination of the public, who must be hungry for this kind of fare. Get ready to experience Pride and Prejudice as you have never read it before, resplendent with bone crunching zombie mayhem and ninja warriors. Oh dear. We all know that Elizabeth Bennet does not mind a bit of mud on her petticoat, but blood and brain matter might be a bit too much for propriety to bear.  Read my previous preview post here. Publisher’s description: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Complete with 20 illustrations, this insanely funny expanded edition will introduce Jane Austen’s classic novel to new legions of fans. 

Quirk Books, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1594743344 

Pemberley Manor: Darcy and Elizabeth, for better or for worse, by Kathryn L. Nelson (2009)Pemberley Manor: Darcy and Elizabeth, for better or for worse, by Kathryn L. Nelson 

In this new continuation of Pride and Prejudice after the nuptials, we are given an intimate view of Darcy and Lizzy as newlyweds at Pemberley, and a haunting discovery of skeletons in the closet. Read my review here. Publisher’s description: How does “happily ever after” really work? As marriage brings an end to a romantic tale, it begins a new story: how does “happily ever after” really work? While Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley might be expected to get on famously, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy will surely need to work on their communication skills. What forces in Darcy’s past would give such a good man so difficult a public demeanor? The author posits an imaginative family background for Darcy from which he would have inherited his sense of social superiority and duty to the family name. When Darcy reverts to type, will Elizabeth’s stubborn optimism win the day after the honeymoon is over? While they say that opposites attract, how long can Lizzy and Darcy’s fundamentally different personalities get along without friction? Can they learn to understand each other? Can their love prevail over the inevitable clashes? 

Sourcebooks Landmark, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402218521 

The Nonesuch, by Georgette Heyer (2009)The Nonesuch, by Georgette Heyer 

Sourcebooks continues on their quest to re-issue all of Georgette Heyer’s beloved novels with one of her better known Regency era romances. This engaging story presents finding love at any age as we are introduced to the mature Sir Waldo Hawkridge, whose reputation as a ‘Nonesuch’ precedes him. When an inheritance includes a property in Yorkshire, he travels there and meets Tiffany Wield, a spoiled and selfish heiress and her far more appealing older companion, Ancilla Trent. Along for the ride in this Regency era comedy of manners is Sir Waldo’s young cousin, Lord Lindeth, who is a bit of neighborhood Casanova, falling in and out of love on a whim. When Miss Wield’s bad behavior culminates in a flight to London, Miss Trent entreats Sir Waldo’s help to retrieve her wayward charge before her reputation is ruined. He in turn must convince her that it is not above her station as a governess to fall in love with him. 

Sourcebooks, Casablanca, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402217708   

Cotillion (Popular Classics) Naxos Audio Book, By Georgette Heyer (2009)Cotillion (Popular Classics) Naxos Audio Book, by Georgette Heyer, read by Claire Willie 

I am so encouraged that Naxos Audiobooks is venturing into Heyerland with their first audio recording of one of Georgette Heyer’s most beloved novels Cotillion, considered one of the greatest Regency romances of all time. Up until this new recording, Heyer audios could only be obtained through sources in England, at astronomical prices. This abridged audio is read by Clare Willie and contains four CD’s. Hopefully, if it sells well, they will in future bring us additional unabridged versions. Publisher’s description: Young Kitty Charing stands to inherit a vast fortune from her irascible great-uncle Matthew–provided she marries one of her cousins. Kitty is not wholly adverse to the plan, if the right nephew proposes. Unfortunately, Kitty has set her heart on Jack Westruther, a confirmed rake, who seems to have no inclination to marry her anytime soon. In an effort to make Jack jealous, and to see a little more of the world than her isolated life on her great-uncle’s estate has afforded her, Kitty devises a plan. She convinces yet another of her cousins, the honorable Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Her plan would bring her to London on a visit to Freddy’s family and (hopefully) render the elusive Mr. Westruther madly jealous. Thus begins Cotillion, arguably the funniest, most charming of Georgette Heyer’s many delightful Regency romances. 

Naxos Audiobooks, Abridged audio CD’s, ISBN: 978-9626348970 

Austen’s Oeuvre 

Pride and Prejudice (Naxos Young Adult Classics), by Jane Austen, read by Jenny Agutter (2009)Pride and Prejudice (Naxos Young Adult Classics), by Jane Austen, read by Jenny Agutter 

This abridged audio recording of Pride and Prejudice read by English actress Jenny Agutter also includes impressive selection of extras as a great introduction to young students. Publisher’s description: “Pride and Prejudice” is a key title for the new Naxos AudioBooks series “Young Adult Classics”. An abridged recording with music makes this Regency novel much more accessible to the 21st century young adult keen to get to grips with the classics. “Pride and Prejudice” is a leading title for “Young Adult Classics”, being one of the pillars of English Literature, and Jenny Agutter’s friendly reading bridges the gap between the films and the book. This edition includes a bonus CD-ROM which contains the abridged and unabridged texts, and Top Teacher’s Notes by high profile English teacher Francis Gilbert. 

Naxos Audiobooks, Audio CD’s, ISBN: 978-9626349571 

Austen’s Contemporaries  

Samuel Johnson: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (2009)Samuel Johnson: The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics) 

Some scholars believe that Samuel Johnson, above all other writers, had the greatest influence on Jane Austen’s writing. Her family declared in later biographies that Johnson was her “favourite author in prose.” This extensive collection of his works tops out at a whopping 880 pages, so if you are inspired to know who influenced Austen the most, I would say it is a must read. Publisher’s description: Samuel Johnson’s literary reputation rests on such a varied output that he defies easy description: poet, critic, lexicographer, travel writer, essayist, editor, and, thanks to his good friend Boswell, the subject of one of the most famous English biographies. This volume celebrates Johnson’s astonishing talent by selecting widely across the full range of his work. It includes “London” and “The Vanity of Human Wishes” among other poems, and many of his essays for the Rambler and Idler. The prefaces to his edition of Shakespeare and his famous Dictionary, together with samples from the texts, are given, as well as selections from A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, the Lives of the Poets, and Rasselas in its entirety. There is also a substantial representation of lesser-known prose, and of his poetry, letters, and journals. 

Oxford University Press, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0199538331 

Mary and The Wrongs of Woman (Oxford Worlds Classics), by Mary Wollstonecraft (2009)Mary and The Wrongs of Woman (Oxford Worlds Classics) , by Mary Wollstonecraft 

Even though Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft were contemporaries, we have no evidence (that I am aware of) from her letters or family memoirs that she read her works. Scholars like to think she did. I find this a bit amusing. What they do share in common is the belief that women are equal to men in many ways. This edition could shed some light of the possibility of Austen’s subliminal feminist thinking by her characters. Publisher’s description: Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for her pioneering views on the rights of women to share equal rights and opportunities with men. They are expressed here in two novels in which heroines have to rely on their own resources to establish their independence and intellectual development. Strongly autobiographical, both novels powerfully complement Wollstonecraft’s non-fictional writing, inspired by the French Revolution and the social upheavals that followed. New to this edition is a completely rewritten introduction that incorporates the latest scholarship and features a consideration of the social formation of Wollstonecraft as a Revolutionary feminist and her literary-political career, as well as a critical account of the two novels. A new bibliography includes all the latest critical writing on Wollstonecraft, while heavily revised notes link her fiction to her extensive reading, her other writings and major events and issues of the day. In addition, the text has been completely reset, making it easier on the eyes. It is by far the highest quality edition available, and a great choice for readers interested in pre-Victorian literature and feminist history. 

Oxford University Press, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0199538904 

Austen Ephemera & Fun 

So You Think You Know Jane Austen?: A Literary Quizbook (Oxford Worlds Classics), by John Sutherland & Deirdre Le Faye (2009)So You Think You Know Jane Austen?: A Literary Quizbook (Oxford Worlds Classics), by John Sutherland & Deirdre Le Faye 

In this fun and challenging re-issue of the ultimate Jane Austen quiz, Austen authorities Le Faye and Sutherland challenge your Austen knowledge with engaging questions on her life and works brimming facts and trivia. Publisher’s description: How well do you really know your favorite author? In this reissue of the 2005 edition, ace literary detective turned quizmaster John Sutherland and Austen buff Deirdre Le Faye challenge you to find out. Starting with easy, factual questions that test how well you remember a novel and its characters, the quiz progresses to a level of greater difficulty, demanding close reading and interpretative deduction. What really motivates the characters, and what is going on beneath the surface of the story? Designed to amuse and divert, the questions and answers take the reader on an imaginative journey into the world of Jane Austen, where hypothesis and speculation produce fascinating and unexpected insights. The questions are ingenious and fun, and the answers (located in the back of the book), in Sutherland’s inimitable style, are fascinating. Completing the book guarantees a hugely improved knowledge and appreciation of Austen. Whether you are an expert or enthusiast, So You Think You Know Jane Austen? guarantees you will know her much better after reading it. 

Oxford University Press, Trade paperback, 978-0199538997 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann

Apple Blossoms in June? Austen’s Literary Mystery

Image of Jane Austen commanding the apples to bloom

It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive…It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending. Emma, Chapter 42 

An orchard in bloom in June? Did Jane Austen get her seasonal timing wrong? Most fruit trees bloom in May, as my apple-trees in the Pacific Northwest will confirm. This anomaly is unusual, since Austen is so correct with other facts throughout her novels according to scholar R. W. Chapman. Many have questioned this slip-up, including Jane Austen’s brother Edward, who pointed out the discrepancy to her, ‘Jane, I wish you would tell me where you get those apple-trees of yours that come into bloom in July?‘ Well, Edward, it was June but we’re splitting hairs here. 

Image of the cover of Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet, by John SutherlandThere are two possible explanations; one by a scholar and the other by a meteorologist. In the book Is Heathcliff a Murderer: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction  (new edition 2002), author John Sutherland questions Austen’s timing in chapter two, Apple blossoms in June?  His creative theory prompted a few polite objections from leading authorities; Dr. Claire Lamont and Deirdre le Faye, which are included in the next volume in the series, Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?: Further Puzzles in Classic Fiction (1999). They pretty much shoot holes in his theory. You can read the discussion here and draw your own conclusions, but honestly, I was so relieved to discover that a meteorologist Euan Nisbet of the Royal Holloway College in London was a Janeite, and has closely studied Jane Austen’s astute observance of accurate weather in her novels and wrote this enlightening articleContinue reading

Buying Austen Books a Disagreeable Duty? Never!

Illustration of Jane Austen by J. BoneSince I wrote last, my 2nd edition (Sense and Sensibility) has stared me in the face. Mary tells me that Eliza means to buy it. I wish she may. It can hardly depend upon any more Fyfield Estates. I cannot help hoping that many will feel themselves obliged to buy it. I shall not mind imagining it a disagreeable duty to them, so as they do it. Mary heard before she left home that it was very much admired at Cheltenham, and that it was given to Miss Hamilton. It is pleasant to have such a respectable writer named. I cannot tire you, I am sure, on this subject, or I would apologise. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 6 November 1813, Jane Austen’s Letters 

Jane Austen jokes to her sister Cassandra that it is a disagreeable duty for her public to buy her books. If so, then we should all be so unhappy to bear such a burden. 

Being the attentive Austen book buyer, I felt compelled to fulfill my duty to Miss Austen and purchase a few volumes with a Barnes & Noble gift card that happened my way. I could not be happier with my recent selections. Here is a peek at my choices.  Continue reading