An Austen-inspired Weekend in Seattle

Diana Birchall, Laurel Ann Nattress and Syrie James after the play "You are Passionate, Jane" in Seattle (2012

It’s almost been a week since my august guests, authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James, departed from Seattle to their homes in Los Angeles, but the memories of their visit are as sharp and engaging as the moment when they transpired. What a whirlwind of Austen-packed five days we had together. Much talking, eating and laughing ensued! I have never been in such company of clever, well-informed ladies who had such a great deal of conversation in my life! Jane Austen herself would have been highly amused. I, dear reader, was in a constant state of amazement and laughter.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)How this Austen weekend came to be is a great story in itself that I will of course share with you! I had visited both Diana and Syrie in Los Angeles, not once but twice last year when I was promoting my anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Both ladies are contributors: Syrie’s “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” and Diana’s “Jane Austen’s Cat” are amazing pieces of Austen-inspired para-literature. After their gracious entertainment, I was selfishly determined to get them up to the Pacific Northwest and show them the wonders of my adopted State. (“What are men to rocks and mountains?”) Fate would present an opportunity through my Puget Sound Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), who needed a guest speaker for their August meeting. Hmm? My mind started whirling. Didn’t Diana write a playlet about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen meeting in heaven that she sent me last year? Yes. Would they be interested in performing “You are Passionate, Jane” for my group? Definitely! After playing agent and negotiating with the chapter on their behalf, the wheels were set in motion. It was that easy, sort of. I felt quite pleased with myself for about 10 seconds until I realized the challenge ahead of me. My cottage needed primping and the garden? Oh good gracious, the garden. It was sadly lacking in proper shrubberies to walk in. *gulp*

Authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James (2012)

You may well ask what one does to entertain such witty and well-traveled ladies in a fashion that they were accustomed to? I asked myself the very same question after I dreamt up this scheme. I knew the bar was high. Syrie has traveled to England, Italy, France and Greece in the past few years – and – lived in France and traveled throughout Europe as a young girl with her family. Diana had journeyed to England no less than thirty times, let alone trips to Italy and goodness knows where else. If Mr. Darcy thinks young ladies should improve their minds with extensive reading, then I would argue that extensive travel should be added to his list in the twenty-first century. These two ladies would definitely be among his list of “half a dozen, in the whole range of acquaintance, that are really accomplished.” Ack!

Woodston Cottage garden mixed border summer (2012)

After months of planning and planting a garden at Woodston Cottage, they arrived on Friday, August 10th, a day that will live in infamy (for me). To say that I was all anticipation is an understatement. Mrs. Bennet had loaned me a dose of her nerves and only she knew how I suffered! But from the moment we were reunited at the Alaska Airlines baggage claim carousel number 14, all my fears were assuaged. It was just the lovely Diana and Syrie, and not Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, the two authors that they were portraying in Diana’s play on Sunday, that had arrived. Now, on to having fun.

Tea at the Queen Mary Tea Room with Shannon Winslow, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James, Diana Birchall and Susan Mason-Milks (2012)

Our first stop was at the famous Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle. I had planned an author get-together with fellow Seattle area Austenesque authors Shannon Winslow (The Darcys of Pemberley) and Susan Mason-Milks (Mr. Darcy’s Proposal). Five Austen authors and two hours later, we had chatted, ate scones, tea sandwiches and drunk tea until we would pop. Susan gives the blow by blow in more detail on her post at Austen Authors. Stealing among fellow tea drinkers not-with-standing, I lifted her lovely photo that our gracious waitress snapped of the group. To say the least, we had a great get-together. Now, off to my Barnes and Noble in Lynnwood to sign copies of the ladies books and meet the staff, then off to Woodston Cottage for the grand tour of my home and garden. Evening would bring a trip to Redmond for the welcome dinner at the Three Lions Pub with the JASNA – Puget Sound members: Charlene, Marion, Julie, Jeanne, and Ken, the token male who sported a bow tie emblazoned with the British flag! This was just the first day. Phew!

The mad, bad, and dangerous to know Lord Byron (2012)

Since my home (Woodston Cottage in Snohomish) is very snug, Diana was staying in Redmond with JASNA chapter member Julie A. and her cat Lord Byron. He is a British Shorthair and has the attitude befitting his namesake: mad, bad and dangerous to know! Diana is quite a cat lover and Julie the perfect hostess, so it was a great match from the start.

Shopping in Snohomish with Syrie, Laurel Ann, Diana and Julie (2012)

They arrived at Woodston (sadly without Byron) on Saturday morning for our excursion to the city of Snohomish for a day of antiquing and, yes, wait, wait, eating. For the benefit of anyone who has not visited this historic town on the Snohomish River, it is filled with oodles of antique shops. And when I say oodles, I am not exaggerating. One exits ones car and does not know which way to head. Every window reveals enticing delights. It took about five steps and one window before we were waylaid and already buying goodies at DMarie Vintage. The selection of clothing and accessories was amazing. Then, on to refuel at The Cabbage Patch for Dungeness crab Louie salad and more scones. Jane Austen may have written in Mansfield Park that “A large income is the best recipe for happiness”, but I think she forgot to add scones into the mix. After prying Diana away from shopping, we closed down the street and headed to my favorite local fruit stand Stocker Farms to buy fresh blackberries for a pie and local corn for our salmon dinner back at Woodston Cottage.

Syrie James at Woodston Cottage after a day of shopping in Snohomish (2012)

Once home, Syrie collapsed on my sofa!

The table setting for dinner in Woodston Cottage garden (2012)

We dined in the garden at twilight!

Blackberry pie for desert at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Here is the pie. Thanks for taking a photo before we consumed it Diana!

Herman at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Dinner of salad, salmon, fresh corn and sour dough bread was enjoyed by all but my kitty Herman who is not used to so much commotion in the cottage and lived behind the sofa for most of the weekend.

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte banner

Sunday was all about the playlet, “You are Passionate, Jane”, and it was an amazing day. We all met on Mercer Island where the play would be performed at the Aljoya. Beforehand, I set up the display of the seven gift bags filled with Jane Austen-inspired books, DVD’s, CD’s and jewelry for the raffle. Here is a picture of the lovely Julie and her shocking pink raffle tickets. How apropos.

Julie A. with the raffle tickets for the JASNA Puget Sound raffle (2012)

You can read a full description of “You are Passionate, Jane” here, but in short, Jane Austen is the gatekeeper in heaven for literary souls. When author Charlotte Bronte arrives, they meet and Jane must decide based on their interview if Charlotte will pass into literary heaven. Considering the long standing debate about Bronte’s view of Austen’s writing style, you can only imagine our sharp tongued Jane asking some piercing questions of the passionate Charlotte Bronte. The performance was delightful. Syrie, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, looked fittingly ethereal all in white as Jane Austen, and Diana, the author of Mrs. Darcy Dilemma, was all in black looking passionate and moody as Charlotte Bronte. “You are Passionate, Jane” was a clever imagining of what their conversation was like: Jane pert and perceptive in her evaluation of Charlotte’s life, and Charlotte, defensive and dramatic in her delivery. The chapter members and guests laughed and hissed and had a merry time. Happily, Janeites will be pleased to know that our Jane had a bit of an ego and won the throw down. No contest!

Authors Syrie James and Diana Birchall after play "You are Passionate, Jane" (2012)

Sunday evening found us exhausted, but ready to eat (again) a wonderful light (ha) Chinese meal and then head home to collapse. Whoever said that you are soon hungry after eating Chinese food got it wrong! After day three of eating, and eating, I was stuffed and ready for bed, but no, Syrie and I found our second wind and talked and watched Crazy, Stupid, Love until the wee hours! Too fun.

Monday, our last full day together, would have a Box Hill picnic theme. Both Diana and Syrie love nature and hiking, so I was determined to show them the local scenery. Literally in my backyard (2 miles) is the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve with an easy 3 mile hike to the Snohomish River. Even though it is a short drive from my cottage, and it had been highly recommended, I had never visited it before. So, we headed out in my carriage (sending the servants ahead of course) arriving in the hot midday sun, (an unusual event in the Pacific Northwest). It was in the mid 80’s so we applied sunscreen and bonnets and headed out through the pristine alder woods and meadow. Not far into our walk, we encountered a group of handsome young gentlemen bearing fishing poles and entreated them to take our picture which I entitle: a country walk sans sense and servants. Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen intrepid heroine had the right idea about a country outing to Box Hill. Send the servants ahead with the picnic and pillows. Arrive in your barouche landau driven by coachman James and alight in a delicate frock with a parasol looking the picture of ladylike perfection. Our modern version is, as you can see, in the picture: four Janeites comfortably attired: no makeup, in a state of inelegance, but having a great time. We lost the trail only once. I got us back on track and we made it to a large rocky beach to view the beautiful Snohomish River, but alarmingly, no shady grass for our picnic! Drat! With nowhere comfortably to alight, we rested for a while in the shade of a tree and then headed back to a stretch of verdure by the parking lot that mercifully contained a cool breeze and soft grass. Then, home to Woodston for more talk and eating, of course.

Syrie, Laurel Ann and Diana at the Snohomish River (2012)

Tuesday brought a trip to the airport and sad adieus. How could it be over? So many months of planning – but what memories. Many thanks to the JASNA – Puget Sound Chapter for presenting the premiere of “You are Passionate, Jane”, to member Julie A. and Byron the cat for hosting Diana at their lovely condo, and to my dear friends Diana and Syrie. I am already planning your trip next year!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

“You Are Passionate, Jane”, a New Playlet by Diana Birchall to Premiere in Seattle

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte banner

Seattle area residents are in for a treat next month when the premiere of “You Are Passionate, Jane” is presented on Mercer Island on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm by the Jane Austen Society of North America Puget Sound chapter.

Written by Austenesque author Diana Birchall, this light, bright and sparkling diversion imagines what it would be like to be privy to an intimate view of two literary legends in tête-à-tête when they meet in heaven for the first time! Staring author Syrie James as Jane Austen and Diana Birchall as Charlotte Bronte, here is a teaser description by the playwright:

“Jane went to Paradise:  That was only fair,” wrote Rudyard Kipling, and generations of readers have agreed with him.  Now, in “You are Passionate, Jane,” we follow Jane Austen right past the Pearly Gates.  She has been given the important job of Gatekeeper in Heaven, deciding which other literary figures will be allowed to ascend.  A position that has been held by dead white male authors for eons, but at last the most deserving woman novelist gets her turn.  So, when she is not writing one of her new heavenly novels, Jane passes Judgement, and in the fullness of time, the newly deceased Charlotte Bronte is brought before her.  The two women are temperamental opposites, and don’t appreciate each other’s viewpoint in the least.  As Charlotte’s passionate life and works come under scrutiny (the title quote refers to Jane Eyre), the literary sparks fly – upward.

The literary feud between these two famous authors has been long debated. Was Bronte truly devoid of any sympathy to Austen’s style? Here is a bit of backstory on how it all began…

In 1847, literary critic G.H. Lewes suggested in his review of Jane Eyre that Charlotte Bronte might benefit from writing less melodramatically, offering up Jane Austen as example and inspiration. Bronte’s strong response to Lewes’ admiration of Miss Austen has raised many eyebrows in literary circles over the centuries.

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say you would rather have written “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tom Jones’” than any of the Waverly Novels? I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with near borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk. – Charlotte Bronte in a letter to G.H. Lewes, 12 January 1848

As “passionate” as Bronte was about her style in writing Jane Eyre, Austen is in turn, stoic and elegantly understated in her Pride and Prejudice. Two entirely different approaches; but both masterpieces of world literature. Imagine if you will, these two authors meeting and broaching this sensitive ground? It should be a very interesting and entertaining meeting.

Diana Birchall and Syrie James (2012)

Diana Birchall, who wrote “You are Passionate, Jane,” is a story analyst who reads novels for Warner Bros Studios.  She is the author of the Jane Austen-related novels Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, and also a scholarly biography of her grandmother, Onoto Watanna, the first Asian American novelist. Her story “Jane Austen’s Cat” appears in the Random House anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and her Austen-related plays have had readings around the country and in Canada.  She has given many talks on Jane Austen, at such venues as Yale, Oxford, and the Chawton House Library in England.

Syrie James, hailed by Los Angeles Magazine as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings,” is an admitted Anglophile who loves All Things Austen.  She is the bestselling author of five critically acclaimed novels: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (Best First Novel, Library Journal); The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (2011 Audie Romance Award; Great Group Read, Women’s National Book Association); Nocturne (Best Book of 2011, The Romance Reviews, Suspense Magazine, and Austenesque Reviews); Dracula, My Love; and Forbidden, a YA paranormal romance that she co-wrote with her son, Ryan M. James. Syrie’s books have been translated into 16 foreign languages.  Her short story leads the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It.  A lifetime member of JASNA, RWA, and WGA, Syrie’s next novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen—the romantic story of a woman who discovers a previously unknown Austen novel—will be published by Berkley/Penguin Books in January 2013.  Visit Syrie on Facebook, Twitter, and at syriejames.com.

Please join the JASNA Puget Sound chapter for this exciting and humorous event. The meeting is free, our guest speakers will kindly sign pre-purchased copies of their books, and participants will have the opportunity to buy raffle tickets for Austen-related merchandise.

RSVP to regional@austenps.com for location in Mercer Island. I will be in attendance with bells on. Hope to see you there!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austenalia at Chapman University

Austenalia panel: Diana Birchall, Syrie James, Laurie Viera Rigler and Karen Joy Fowler (2011)Austenalia panelist, left to right: Diana Birchall, Syrie James,
Laurie Viera Rigler and Karen Joy Fowler

Last February, (on a whim, because that is the only way to live, right?), I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles to attend an Austen-inspired event that I just could not pass up. Authors Syrie James, Laurie Viera Rigler and Diana Birchall, who have contributed stories to my Austen-inspired short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, were part of a panel discussion aptly entitled Austenalia, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility. Chaired by Dr. Lynda Hall at Chapman University in Orange, California, the panel also included bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler. All five of these ladies are tried-and-true Janeites and I hoped that it would be a lively and enlightening experience. It was. And so much more.

Prof. Lynda Hall introduces the Austenalia panel

Prof. Lynda Hall introduces the Austenalia panelist

The ladies spoke to an SRO crowd at Leatherby Libraries on campus! Prof. Hall, who is a scholar of 19th Century British literature introduced the four panelist and asked each of them probing questions on how they were introduced to Jane Austen, their road to publication and their reactions to marketing of their works, namely cover designs. Interestingly, each of the panelists has strong ties to Hollywood. Diana Birchall, author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, is a story analyst for Warner Brothers Studios, Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, worked as screenwriter for several years before tuning her pen to novels, Laurie Viera Rigler has worked in the industry including turning her popular Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict series into an original web comedy series, Sex and the Austen Girl, and Karen Joy Fowler’s bestselling novel The Jane Austen Book Club was made into a movie in 2007.

Austenalia panel viewing 1st American edition of Sense and Sensibility

Austenalia panel viewing 1st American edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility

A lively discussion ensued matched by the spirited reaction of the audience, many of which were a large group of students from the Orange County High School for the Arts. The event was followed by a book signing by the panelists of their novels and a viewing of a first American edition of Sense and Sensibility recently purchased by the library in honor of the bicentenary. Fortunately for us, the event was filmed in entirety. Please enjoy all one hour and twenty three minutes of pure Jane Austen passion.

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New Jane Austen Short Story Anthology Announced Today

Hot off the presses is an announcement today in Publishers Weekly of a new Jane Austen short story anthology to be published by Random House in 2011. The collection will include approximately twenty stories inspired by Jane Austen, literature’s witty muse of the modern novel and astute observer of human nature and the heart.

Readers familiar with Austen inspired paraliterature will recognize many popular authors among the list of those contributing and a few surprises from best selling authors who greatly admire Austen’s works. Contributing to the line-up are best selling authors Karen Joy Fowler (Jane Austen Book Club), Stephanie Barron (A Jane Austen Mystery Series), Adriana Trigiani (Brava, Valentine), Lauren Willig (The Pink Carnation Series) and the husband and wife writing team of Frank Delaney (Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show) and Diane Meier (The Season of Second Chances). Approximately twenty Austenesque authors and others from related genres have already committed to the project including:

Pamela Aidan (Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman Trilogy)

Elizabeth Aston (Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, & Writing Jane Austen)

Stephanie Barron (A Jane Austen Mystery Series, & The White Garden)

Carrie Bebris (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries Series)

Diana Birchall (Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, & Mrs. Elton in America)

Frank Delaney (Shannon, Tipperary, & Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show)

Monica Fairview (The Darcy Cousins, & The Other Mr. Darcy)

Karen Joy Fowler (Jane Austen Book Club, & Wits End)

Amanda Grange (Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, & Mr. Darcy’s Diary)

Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, & The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte)

Diane Meier (The Season of Second Chances)

Janet Mullany (Bespelling Jane Austen, & Rules of Gentility)

Jane Odiwe (Lydia Bennet’s Story, & Willoughby’s Return)

Beth Pattillo (Jane Austen Ruined My Life, & Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart)

Alexandra Potter (Me & Mr. Darcy, & The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather: A Novel)

Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino Bradway (Lady Vernon & Her Daughter)

Myretta Robens (Pemberley.com , Just Say Yes, & Once Upon a Sofa)

Maya Slater (The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy)

Margaret C. Sullivan (AustenBlog.com, & The Jane Austen Handbook)

Adriana Trigiani (Brava Valentine, Very Valentine, & Lucia, Lucia)

Laurie Viera Rigler (Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, & Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict)

Lauren Willig (The Pink Carnation Series)

In addition, a short story contest hosted by the venerable The Republic of Pemberley website will be held to fill one slot in the anthology for a new voice in Austenesque fiction. Further details on submission and manuscript deadlines will be posted here and at Pemberley.com.

And if you were wondering how I know so much about the project, I have been secretly working on it for months and will be the editor. I’m the luckiest Janeite in the world!

Cheers, Laurel Ann

© 2007-2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 9

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

April 12th – 18th, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

New author Jenni James of Northanger Alibi, a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey influenced by Twilight, lands the Austenesque book publicity coup of the decade! Wow. This might be a first for Austen on TV.

Noteworthy:

Author and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum website.

The beautiful new hardback editions of Penguin Classics are featured in a Elle Decor article including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interview of Monica Fairview, author of The Darcy Cousins at Austenprose. Swag contest ends 23 April 2010.

Author Jane Odiwe of Austen Sequels Blog features a preview of the new debut novel First Impressions, by Alexa Adams.

Regency Mourning Fashions in England by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World is featured in the Suite 101.com online repository of insightful writers and informed readers.

Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe’s favorite Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho that they read together in Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey is highlighted on Jane Greensmith’s blog Reading, Writing, Playing in a great post on The Gothic Novel.

Shameless self promotion here, but Maria Grazia has interviewed moi for her lovely blog Fly High. Leave a comment and enter a chance to win your choice of selected Austenesque books. Ends 25 April, 2010.

Another interview of note is of Vera Nazarian, author of Mansfield Park and Mummies at Jane Austen’s World.

Vote for your favorite Pride and Prejudice book cover from my top ten favorites. As of today, there is a dead tie between White’s Publishings lovely new release showing a graphic rep of Regency dancers from the waist down and the classic cover design by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 peacock edition of P&P.

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont blog posts info on Soethby’s The English Country House auction results. Oh my. Beautiful Regency-era items, but the prices Lousia!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane invented baseball since she mentioned it in her novel Northanger Abbey. Doubtful? Read further proof in the third installment of posts by Mags at AustenBlog.

Entertainment:

British actor Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen 2009) opens in The Scottish Play in London next week. Read about the lore and superstition behind the Shakespeare play that we dare not mention.

The Jane Austen Story opened at Winchester Cathedral on 10 April, 2010. Read more about this new exhibit spotlighting Jane Austen’s burial place and life in Hampshire that will run until 20 September 2010.

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has always been a lively affair and this year one of the guest speakers is author/editor Susannah Carson of the Austen anthology A Truth Universally Acknowledged that we reviewed and enjoyed. Jane Austen Today has a featured article on the the LA  festival which makes me homesick for outdoor book fairs that I frequented while I lived in California. *sigh*

New Austenesque Book Announcements:

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly — 16 Sep 2010

Book Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

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Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Blogger Isabella Thorpe Chats about Horrid Movies

 

Austenprose recieved a misdirected letter from Isabella Thorpe in the post this week intended for her dearest friend Catherine Tilney nee Morland. Since she dicusses the two movie adaptations of Northanger Abbey, we thought it quite timely, and decided to include it as a guest blog during Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey. Enjoy!   

Putney, October- 

My dearest Catherine, 

It is an age since I heard from you; I have received no reply to my last, but I suppose you are too happy with your Mr. Tilney to remember poor me. I saw the news of your marriage announced in the papers and I am sure you are amazingly lucky, for you were a girl as portionless as myself, and we all know what is the wealth of the General. My brother John (who still pines for you amazingly, you know, and would be charmed to wait upon you at Woodston at any time) has told me all the particulars he heard at Oxford, how the General threw you into the street, but that it was all made up in the end. Well, my dear, it may be a fine thing to be married into such amazing wealth, but I would not marry into that family, all eaten up with temper and pride as they are, for any consideration. The General is a perfect monster, as wicked as any we used to read about in our delightful horrid novels, do you remember those dear, long ago days when we were such friends, Catherine?  I swear I long to renew our friendship; you always were the sweetest girl, not another of your sort is to be seen in all the world, I can assure you. 

I always read about weddings, having nothing else to do here in Putney, which is the most amazingly disagreeable place in the world.  Picture to yourself the being confined with only my mother and sisters, who are insipid enough. My bloom is being thrown away, and unless we can go back to Bath next spring, I fear I will have no chances at all. Beauty does not last long, you know, and mine is of a peculiar sort that is not much admired by the villagers hereabouts, though in Bath, I admit, I had a certain amount of attention. I have never ceased to hate that odious Captain Tilney, whom I cannot call any thing else, in all honesty, even if he is your brother-in-law now.  Confess, Catherine, he is one of the worst of the fickle sex, and I have no doubt that he has made many a girl miserable since we parted. Not that he made me so; I would not wish him to think I was such a fool as to care whether he stayed in Bath or left. A coxcomb like that has no heart. Does Captain Tilney visit you at Woodston? I wonder that he and your Mr. Tilney can get along at all, they are so very different; but perhaps, being brothers, your beloved sometimes thinks it proper to invite him. Though if I were the Captain, I should rather spend my idle days with my sister the Viscountess, than visit your little parsonage, or worst of all, be driven to haunt Northanger Abbey. 

Do write, my sweetest Catherine, and tell me all the news. Are you expecting a little one yet?  I would suppose so, as that might be a reason why you have not written to me.  I cannot bear to think that your affection might have diminished; mine certainly has not.  Do you remember the frolics we had together, at the Play and the Rooms, and how we quizzed your Mr. Tilney and my brother and all our wicked beaux?  Oh Catherine, I never before encountered such a heart as yours, and I never shall again. There was only one heart I ever met to match it – and that was the heart of your dear brother.  Dear James! I have thought of him ten thousand times, and how I long to hear of him, you cannot conceive.  I am in the most hideous agony, from my painful ignorance.  I can only hope that your tenderness of heart will take pity on me and write a minute description of his health, and how he is occupying himself without poor me to tease him, and if he is married?  I have seen nothing about it. 

The fashions are more hideous than ever, this autumn, I collect from my reading, since I never see a fashionable creature from one end of Putney to the other. I have picked and torn apart all my turbans, in an effort to contrive some new bandeaux, in which I believe I have not been altogether unsuccessful; it is amazing how every other girl in town copies them, but they all do not have the knack of wearing them becomingly, as I have. 

Do you know, Catherine, that even though horrid novels are impossible to obtain in this wretched town, some enterprising man has put up a Pan Opticon device, and I have seen two remarkably horrid picture shows!  Oh, they were more dreadful than Udolpho, and The Monk, and Children of the Abbey, all together!  And do you know what they were?  Why, they were tales of girls in Bath, that were so amazingly close to our own selves and circumstances, you would swear the authoress was listening over our shoulders to our intimate conversations!  Let me tell you about them. 

Katherine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland

The first of these horrid pictures was painted, they say, in 1986, if you can believe such a thing.  I was shocked speechless at my first sight of the heroine: she is the most hideous girl I ever saw, with popping eyes and a crooked nose, and I thought I had taken leave of my senses, that anyone could think that was my appearance. But no, for some strange, inexplicable reason, they have made you the heroine, and this remarkably plain girl, Katherine Schlesinger, is meant to represent you!  You are certainly not flattered in the least, I can tell you. I cannot think how this actress has been chosen to portray you, in all your sweetness and prettiness; unless the maker of the piece took too seriously those lines of Miss Austen’s:  “She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features.”  They do not seem to realize that was a description of you at ten, and that by seventeen you were quite a pretty girl. Sure Miss Schlesinger is not unpretty, but with those affected curls she looks like an Italian harlot.  And with that nose and chin, she could play the young Queen Victoria, which is not a compliment.

Peter Firth as Henry Tilney 

But worse is in store. Never could I have believed that an actor who is squat and plain, with blond balding locks, and a self-important air, seemingly about five and thirty years old, could ever be selected to portray your Henry, who is tall, and dark, and young, and altogether really very handsome.  This fellow, Peter Firth, is a smug priss, old enough to be your father. It is such a vile piece of miscasting as to spoil the picture in every possible way. 

Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen

Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe

The other actors are better cast: Googie Withers is your Mrs. Allen to the life, and Robert Hardy is a most magnificent General.  I had to hide my face, to be sure, when that Cassie Stuart was playing me.  To be sure she is a pretty girl, as she would have to be, with a plentitude of golden curls; but she has always the same inane giggle, and that, you know, is not like myself at all. 

Henry Tilney sings?!?

If you can ignore the casting of the lead parts (though to be sure that is not an easy thing to do), this is a very pretty Northanger Abbey.  The Rooms look very natural, and the music and dancing are particularly good: Peter Firth, for all he looks like a Scottish butler, sings enchantingly (that must be why he was chosen, and a very poor reason too, since Henry Tilney does not sing in Miss Austen’s book, so why chuse an ugly, middle aged, songster to play him?). I never saw such graceful country dancing, but it does not last long enough. Every thing else lasts much too long, however, and when you, Catherine, or rather that thyroid-eyed girl with greasy curls was rummaging through the trunk at Northanger (in a night scene that was inexplicably brilliantly lit), I thought I would go to sleep, if she would not. 

Catherine and Mrs. Allen take the Baths

There is one effect that I love in this picture, perhaps my favourite in any Austen panopticon performance (and I have seen them all, as there is nothing else to do here in Putney), and that is the scene with the ladies and gentlemen wandering like automatons chest deep in the steaming Roman Bath waters.  It is a most magnificently surreal image, the fanciful hats, the wet gowns, the walking through water, though of course it is like nothing that ever happened on this earth.  We never got our gowns wet in such a way, you remember, though some invalids were dipped; and the 2007 picture is far more realistic in the way its ladies and gentlemen merely sip the waters. 

Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchoiness and Robert Hardy as General Tilney 

Then I must mention another strange going-on at Northanger Abbey, that you would abhor: the General has his mistress there, a masked Venetian witch who seems to have wandered in from some other film, Casanova perhaps. She has a little black servant, too, who makes up to Catherine and does cartwheels.  I have seen nothing like it these thousand ages. It puts me in mind of my own brother’s description of Camilla, as recounted by Miss Austen:  “it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not.”  That is much the way I feel about this 1986 version of Northanger Abbey.  There is nothing in the world in it but a Venetian masked pocked harlot in the same room with respectable ladies (which could never happen) and a little black boy turning cartwheels.

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland 

Now, my sweet Catherine, have patience, and I will tell you about the 2007 Northanger Abbey. This one is as your own Henry would describe it, “nice.” Just that. Maggie Wadey’s eccentric version, for all its bizarreness, yet uses more of Austen’s language, and has a more natural look. This one, the Andrew Davies version, is improved in only one important way: the casting. This new young Catherine, Felicity Jones, is all loveliness, with a real look of yourself, an ingenuous young thing, who conveys real feeling, just as you do, my sweet one.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney

Her Henry is not your Henry, to be sure; he is strangely gangly, just made to play Mr. Abraham Lincoln; but JJ Feild is an unspeakable improvement over that hideous elderly chap in the other version. This Catherine and Henry manage to have some chemistry, as it is called, together, while the other pair looked all mutual aversion. In my opinion, however, the actress playing Eleanor Tilney, Catherine Walker, “stole the show,” as they say in the hideous twenty-first century. She exuded warm womanliness that informed the whole production, and filled up the chilly gaps. The General here, Liam Cunningham, was a cardboard ogre.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe and Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

I have left mention of the portrayal of myself by Carey Mulligan to the last, because it deserves no better. This Isabella is a stick, your eyes glide past her on the screen because she barely registers a presence. You cannot think why the gentlemen, such as Captain Tilney and James Morland, would be falling all over her, as they certainly did with me once, did they not, my Catherine?  In short, I have never been properly represented yet, in either version; my odd character, I suppose, is very difficult to execute, but in short, I am not satisfied.

Catherine Morland in a fantasy bath scene cut from the US version 

What more is there to say? The first film was a botch; the second is mighty insipid. There is little real, genuine Austen dialogue, and the tedious, metronome-like flashes of Gothic scenes, although pretty and operatic-looking, I found tiresome beyond measure, interrupting what little action there was. 

Catherine Morland goes Gothic

And now, my dearest Catherine:  I hope you appreciate my describing these amazingly horrid movies for you (and they were horrider than Udolpho, were they not?  That wall-eyed troll who played my brother, William Beck, was certainly more terrifying than any skeleton of Laurentina’s could possibly be). In exchange for my telling you so much, in the goodness of your heart, do you not feel inclined to invite me to Woodston? Sure you would like a female companion to help you while away the tedium of your confinement, and your sisters are really too young for such an office.  And if your brother, or your husband’s brother, should chance to visit while I was in residence, I should not be ashamed to see them.

Your most loving friend,

Isabella Thorpe

Many thanks to Miss Isabella Thorpe who was channeled by author Diana Birchall, whose creative Austen-esque stylings can be found in her highly acclaimed novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America available through SourceBooks. You can also catch her weekly column Mrs. Elton Sez at Jane Austen Today if you are in need of some sage and sardonic advice, or just a good laugh.

Upcoming event posts
Day 06 – Oct 9             Group Read NA Chapters 8-10
Day 07 – Oct 13           Guest Blog – Margaret C. Sullivan
Day 08 – Oct 14           Group Read NA Chapters 11-14
Day 09 – Oct 15           Guest Blog – Kali Pappas

The 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 September 14th.

The Jane Austen Centre’s September newsletter arrived in my mailed box. You can sign up for your very own free monthly copy here.

Austen-esque author Jane Odiwe has announced the publication by Sourcebooks, Inc. of her new book Mrs. Brandon’s Invitation, a sequel to Sense and Sensibility. The release date is set for September 2009, but well worth the wait since her other novel Lydia Bennet’s Story is due out next month and will tide us over for a bit. Congratulations Jane!

Its Book Blogging Appreciation Week, September 15-19 at My Friend Amy Blog with many daily giveaways. Check it out. Becoming Jane Fan Site offers a great Austen quote of this week from Pride and Prejudice. The Jane Austen for President campaign continues at Jane Austen Addict.

Another Austen sequel you say? Well, gentle readers, this one will be something very special and already highly prized by me. Janeite Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont has all the scoop on the upcoming The Independence of Mary Bennet by best selling author Colleen McCullough (of The Thornbirds fame) due out in Australia on October 1st, and in the US on December 9th. Could this be the first time a best selling author has taken on a Jane Austen sequel? I think so, and all of the Jane Austen community is all anticipation.

Austen-esque book reviews for the week include New Friends and Old Fancies, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, The Darcys and the Bingleys, Seducing Mr. Darcy, and The Annontated Pride and Prejudice, Sandition, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

Take a journey through Jane Austen’s Letters as Janeite Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont reads and writes about our strongest primarary source on Austen’s life.

Lost in Austen continues to garner quite a bit of attention in the press and online. Episode 3 aired this week, and you can catch up on all the dish at AustenBlog. You can read reviews of Episode 2 at Jane Austen’s World, & Austenprose. This critic gives it a thumbs up, but needs to use another first line phrase to open her article, cuz we already know that it is a truth universally acknowledged, and this critic gives it a thumbs down, prefering not to have fun with Dickens and Jane.

We can rest assured that the BBC is still pumping out quality costume dramas after the reviews and news of the new Tess of the d’Urbervilles TV movie this week. This new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1891novel has an Austen connection through the talented and stunningly beautiful Gemma Arterton who plays the heroine Tess Durbyfield and also portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in the new ITV Lost in Austen currently airing in the UK, and with Anna Massey as Mrs. d’Urberville whom veteran Austen movie watchers will remember as Mrs. Norris in the 1983 BBC adaptation of Mansfield Park. Hopefully this production will make its way across the pond to PBS next year.

Actress Carey Mulligan who played Isabella Thorpe in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey will be trodding the boards on Broadway this month continuing the role that she originated in The Seagull from London.

The Duchess opens on Friday September 19th in the US staring Keira Knightley as the 18th-century “it” girl of fashion and society, Lady Georgiana Spencer. Readers will remember that she portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice who in that particular version frolicked through fields and played with pigs. This outing gives Knightley the chance to highbow with hobnobs, wear resplendent finery and really big hair. Austen-esque author Diana Birchall was priveldged to see an advance screening of the movie with JASNA-SW and personally interview author Amanda Foreman at their Q & A. Wow, good job Diana. Isn’t it amazing what connections Jane Austen opens up for us!

And finally, Austenprose is happy to announce its second Austen novel event entitled “Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey” during the month of October, 2008. We shall be exploring Jane Austen’s gentle parody on Gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey with a group read and chatting about all of the famous Northanger Cannon, the twelve Gothic novels that are mentioned by Isabella Thorpe to the heroine Catherine Morland in the novel. There will be a reading challenge, book reviews and plenty of Northanger Abbey themed giveaways, so please visit and join in, starting October 1st.

Until next week cheers to all,

Laurel Ann