Giveaway Winners Announced for the Julian Fellowes Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour

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

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

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

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

Downton Abbey – A Celebration: The Official Companion to All Six Seasons, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Downton Abbey a Celebration 2015 x 300“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love” … with Downton Abbey all over again. The final season starts in less than one month on Masterpiece Classic PBS on January 3, 2016. My anticipation of another season of great drama, romance and witty retorts runs high.

I am, of course, paraphrasing The Christmas Waltz; the famous 1954 holiday song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra. There is nothing like listening to Christmas carols to make me sentimental. Coupled with the fact that this will be the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, one of my favorite period dramas on television, and I am ready for a double shot of brandy in my eggnog.

Despite my melodramatic angst over the conclusion of the Crawley family and their servants’ story, fellow Downtonites can revisit the fabulous plots, locations and characters by reading the final companion volume to the series, Downton Abbey – A Celebration, by Jessica Fellowes. This is her fourth large and lavish book spotlighting the phenomenally popular, award winning television series.  And, it truly lives up to its title—a jubilant fête worthy of her uncle Julian Fellowes’ vision of portraying the changes in the British aristocracy through the Crawley family and their servants from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to the Jazz Age of 1925. Continue reading

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes 2015 x 200Will we ever be able to explain the phenomenon that is the television series Downton Abbey? Watched by millions and showered with awards, I find the reason for its success as elusive to pinpoint as Jane Austen’s lasting appeal. It means so much to so many. In two hundred years time will people be watching and reading about this period drama as passionately as we do Austen’s novels?

Quite possibly so. Their common link is the witty writing. Clever bon mots and cheeky retorts never go out of fashion. They make us smile, laugh-out-loud and reflect upon what makes us tick as humans. They are a window into our souls.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes is a collection of those fabulous zingers that make this series so “light, bright and sparkling” to Austen fans and the bazillion other viewers around the world. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes must love Austen as much as this Janeite. He certainly recognizes how her prose can sing with humor and social reproof using the same technique in his own dialogue. Whenever anyone complains about anything I am tempted to use a little Lady Catherine, oops, Lady Violet on them… Continue reading

25 Downton Abbey-inspired Holiday Gifts for the Downtonite in Your Life

 Downton Abbey Season 5 poster

Acclaimed by critics and cherished by fans, Downton Abbey is the most popular period drama ever. North America is all anticipation of the premier of Season 5 on January 4, 2015 on Masterpiece Classic PBS. Until then, feed your Downtonite with these great holiday gifts.

GIFTS

     What is a Weekend Mug x 250     Countess Grantham Bear x 250

 1. What Is A Weekend Coffee Mug

When the Dowager Countess of Grantham asked “What is a weekend?” in season one of Downton Abbey, I was totally addicted to this fabulous period drama. That line summed up the classification of “aristocrat” as an endangered species and foreshadowed all the laughter to come. I now start my morning as an anachronistic aristocrat with this clever coffee (or tea) mug.

 2. Lady Cora Teddy Bear

Teddy bears became the rage during the American Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, so it seems only fitting that the American heiress Lady Cora Crawley should be featured as a Teddy Bear doll. This 14″ stuffed bear is soft and plush with old-fashioned felt paw pads, is fully-jointed and dressed to the nines in beautifully styled period costume. Continue reading

Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke – A Review

Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke 2013From the desk of Christina Boyd

It you are a fan of Downton Abbey and are jonesing for a Grantham family-like fix until season four premieres next January on PBS, Elizabeth Cooke’s latest novel Rutherford Park might be just the ticket. Set during the Edwardian era at the eponymous estate in the Yorkshire countryside, the Cavendish family are as wealthy, titled, and drama-filled as the Grantham’s, yet we are privileged to be reading a book, as opposed to watching a screenplay, so the author’s historical detail, characterizations and compelling narrative make it even more intriguing

Rutherford Park is the seat of the Cavendish family who live their lavish lives by strict rules and obligation. Not surprisingly, the beautiful Lady Octavia Cavendish is lonely and bored, even somewhat envies the servants for their work. Her husband William, bound by the obligations of his title and his vows, unknowingly feels a similar discontent. “They saw him as some sort of fixed being, a symbol, a caricature. Octavia too, perhaps, in her great wool-and-velvet shawl with her pretty little straw-colored boots under a cream dress. They were both a sort of monument, he supposed: not real in the same way that the laborers were real…” p. 52. Later when Octavia suspects William of an affair with a longtime family acquaintance from Paris, the last remnants of a charmed world seemed to disappear. Continue reading

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig © 2013 St. Martin’s PressFrom the desk of Christina Boyd

In a departure from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation Series, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig ventures into new territory with The Ashford Affair. Entwining one generation’s story with that of another, from post-Edwardian British society to modern day Manhattan to a coffee farm in Kenya, the long veiled secrets of a woman are unraveled.

Clementine Evans, a focused, driven law associate on the cusp of making partner in a large Manhattan firm, attends her beloved grandmother Adeleine’s 99th birthday and is accidentally enlightened to a family secret. At 34, Clemmie, feeling like her life is nothing but a 70-plus hour workweek, and a failed engagement, this intrigue becomes more than a distraction to the un-fulfilling, lonely details of her days.

Clemmie slid the picture back into the drawer. There was another underneath it, a studio portrait of a woman, her head tilted. Her pale hair was crimped in stylized waves around her face and her pale eyes gazed soulfully into the distance. She looked, somehow, strangely familiar, her cheekbones, the shape of her lips, as if Clemmie had seen her somewhere before.” p. 65.

But trying to get any information from her own tight-lipped mother proves difficult. And how is it that her ex-stepbrother knows more about the family histories than she does?

Adeleine Gillecote’s parents die when she is almost six and she grows up as the mouse-brown ward of her aristocratic aunt and uncle at Ashford Park, a grand English country house. Though brought up with her cousins, Addie never overcomes the status of a poor relation. Despite this, her best friend from almost the start is her vivacious, beautiful, golden cousin, Bea, who takes Addie under her wing, sheltering Addie from her unwelcoming mother, and earning her love and fidelity. As the girls grow and experience the pre-WWI balls and English society, Addie tries not to begrudge Bea’s beauty or her unaffected graces. But when a man comes between the two, it appears all loyalties come to an end, and, escaping to Kenya still isn’t quite far enough. “Addie pressed her fist to her lips, trying not to think what she was thinking. She closed her eyes, fighting a terrible certainty, the certainty that what she was hearing was true, that this was Bea, that Bea had, did, and always would do what she liked, regardless of the consequences, regardless even of Addie.”  p. 196.

Although this latest offering is a non-Pink novel, fans of Willig’s the Pink Carnation Series will be giddy with delight when they meet the handsome, cynical and witty descendant of Lord Vaughn. Yes! That Vaughn from The Masque of the Black Tulip.

“He looked feline himself, all boneless grace, with the measureless self-satisfaction afforded by knowing his ancestors had been dining off gold plate when others had still been scratching about in the dirt: the Honorable Theophilius Vaughn, the despair of the ancient line. According to his frustrated family, he had both the morals of a cat and all of its nine lives.” p. 248.

The spawn of Vaughn.”  Ha!! Her words from her website, not mine!

Some have described this novel as Out of Africa meets Downton Abbey. *sigh* Well, use those cinematic visuals if you must, but I can honestly attest, The Ashford Affair is so much more. Much more. This is the kind of the novel that will stay with you; keep you mulling over the vibrant characters and intrinsic detailing long after you’ve inhaled that satisfying last page. Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair is brilliant! Glittering brilliance.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250014498

Cover image courtesy © 2013 St. Martin’s Press; text © 2013 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace – A Review

Image of book cover of To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace (2012)From the desk of Laura A. Wallace. 

Originally published in 1989, this 2012 re-issue of To Marry and English Lord is an attractive trade paperback edition by Workman Publishing. Promoted as “an inspiration for Downton Abbey,” Julian Fellowes, the screenplay writer who created the series, has been quoted as saying that he was reading this book when approached about writing the series, and that the first character he conceived for it was Cora, Countess of Grantham, an American heiress.

This book has long been on my “to acquire and read” list so I was really looking forward to finally reading it. I found it to be fairly light reading. The chapters are divided up into short sub-headings, sprinkled with lots of side-bar quotations and tid-bits (at least one on every page), and interspersed with little mini-articles on every third or fourth page. Illustrations are copious; decorations are Victorian and Edwardian. Overall it presents a great deal of factual information in a very digestible way.

This is the sort of book that serves as an introduction to a topic, and a launching pad for further research. (It is the type of book that novelists unfortunately use as a primary source, but that is a rant for another time.) It has no footnotes or endnotes, but does have a good selective bibliography which includes a list of period fictional works. The index is good (if imperfect) and there are excellent appendices, including a “Register of American Heiresses” and a “Walking Tour of the American Heiresses’ London” which are handy references.

The text is organized in a loosely chronological way. It begins with the origins of Anglomania (the 1860 U. S. visit of the young Prince of Wales) and the beyond-Almack’s-despotic exclusivity of Old New York “Knickerbocker” society which ruthlessly excluded new money. So the first set of snubbed wives and daughters left New York for Paris and then London in the 1870s, where they scored aristocratic English husbands, got themselves into the Prince of Wales’s social set, and rarely bothered to cross the Atlantic again.

This first set was comparatively small, comprising only about half a dozen women, and it is they who earned the sobriquet “The Buccaneers.” The most famous girl in this first wave was Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became the mother of Sir Winston Churchill.

But that was just the tip of the spear of the “American Invasion.” The ranks grew steadily and kept up the pace until the death of Edward VII in 1910, after which it trickled off and ended with World War I. I had not realized, until reading this book, that the invasion was so extensive. There were at least two dozen who married into the peerage itself, and dozens more who married younger sons, baronets, M.P.s, and gentry. The “Register” at the back of the book lists about 115 of them, and this list, of course, cannot be exhaustive.

It was not just their pots of money that made these women so attractive to Englishmen.  Their manners were free, easy, and confident, the complete opposite of those of demure, shy English girls. They were well-educated and very well-dressed, usually by Worth.  They were pretty, too, their very lack of “breeding” apparently considered a bonus by their targets, if not by their mamas (appealing at a genetic level, perhaps?). The Prince of Wales loved them, and where he led, everyone followed.

I did find a few factual errors, an occasional absurd assertion, and a couple of errors in titles usage (of course), but overall the information presented seems solid. I encourage readers to use this book as a spring platform to explore other works, whether Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough’s memoirs, the novels of Wharton, James, and Hardy, or perhaps some of the lesser-known novels of the day. (The latter are featured in a mini-article, but not listed in the bibliography.) The book nicely provides the most general background material to improve enjoyment of the portraits of Sargent (there are hundreds on Wikimedia Commons) or of the costume dramas to which we are all highly addicted.

4 out of 5 Stars

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Workman Publishing (2012)
Trade paperback (403) pages
ISBN: 978-0761171959

Cover image courtesy © Workman Publishing Group; text © 2012 Laura A. Wallace

Circles of Time: Book Two of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock – A Review

Image of the book cover of Circles of Time, by Philip Rock © William Morrow Books 2013After re-discovering The Passing Bells – after a thirty year estrangement – I was thrilled to learn there were two more books in the Greville Family Saga. Originally published between 1978 – 1986, this welcome reissue of the trilogy by William Morrow Books is just in time for fans of the popular television series Downton Abbey to plunge back into the era between the wars and cocoon themselves in history, drama and romance.

Set in England during 1921 – 1923, Circles of Time opens two years after the end of the Great War and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by the Germany and the Allied Powers. The Greville family of Abingdon Pryory, like so many in Britain (and the world), have suffered five years of a devastating loss during the war and are attempting to rebound. How each of the characters deals with their pain and the future is what compels this story forward and captivates our hearts.

The fighting may be over, but the effect of the war continues for many. Patriarch Lord Anthony Greville, 9th earl of Stanmore, a staunch traditionalist chooses to turn back time and restore his ancestral estate back to pre-war elegance before it was abused as an officer’s rehabilitation hospital. Hannah, his American wife, is not only uneasy with the extravagance of living in a huge grand manor house again, but riddled with guilt by the money used for its refurbishment from her trust fund – profits earned during the war from investments in munitions plants in the US. Their three children are also suffering from the fallout of the war. Twenty five-year old daughter Alexandra, a beautiful socialite turned war-time nurse in France, has returned from Canada with her infant son. Now a widow, her father will never forgive her for the indiscretion of having an affair with a married man, becoming pregnant, and marrying a week after he obtained a divorce. Charles, their eldest son and heir to the estate, gallantly served in the war and is a severely shell-shocked amnesiac residing in a mental hospital in Wales. William, recuperating from a gunshot wound to his knee inflicted by his brother is supposedly studying for the bar, but is actually living a dissipated life of heavy drink, flappers and jazz clubs in London.

Friends and relatives of the family are challenged too. The Greville’s American cousin Martin Rilke is still grieving the loss of his wife Ivy who died in Flanders serving as a nurse in a medical unit. Awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his truthful account of his Cousin Charles Greville’s court martial, he has turned his war-time experience into a tell-all book, A Killing Ground, a savage expose on the war that has garnered praise and a libel lawsuit by an angry British general. Fellow journalist Jacob Gold has been working for the United Nations reporting on hunger in the war-torn nations, and their mutual friend Lieutenant Colonel Fenton Wood-Lacy faces painful consequence of not burying the facts of Charles Greville’s breakdown by being blacklisted by the army and sent to a bleak colonial outpost in Mesopotamia without his family.

There is a bit of romance too. Lady Hannah uses her matchmaking skills and researches eligible bachelors again for her daughter. Her top choice is Noel Edward Allenby Rothwell, Esq. – a London financier from a fine family who checks off all of the requirements for the perfect son-in-law for Lord and Lady Stanmore. Alex knows she is damaged goods and that her mother’s choice will make everyone happy – but her. She much prefers Jamie Ross, a man from her past who had been her father’s chauffeur/mechanic before the war. He has gone on to become an acclaimed aeroplane designer and owner of  a growing company in San Diego, California. He is in England again on extended business at the local plane manufacturer near the Pryory, and his easy manners and engaging spirit are far more appealing than a life with Noel which seems predestined for disaster.

The grounding force of the novel is my favorite character Martin Rilke who is catalyst for many events. Even though the narrative is told through many different viewpoints, as a journalist he is always in the thick of the social unrest and political changes sweeping Britain and Europe. Through his character and his interactions we see an array of consequences of the Great War and how it changed life so dramatically for a large estate like Abingdon Pryory, the working class who served there, the nation and the world.

Philip Rock skillfully takes us into the decadence of London Jazz clubs, the changing rural life of a country village, the growth of industrialization, social conflicts with the rise of Fascism, Communism and National Socialism, and the crippling reparations imposed by the Allied Powers on Germany and Austria that affect the world economy – all impacting the lives of this circle of friends and family that are connected to Abingdon Pryory. As a screenwriter turned novelist, Rock knows exactly how to shape the narrative to his will with brevity and emotion. I think he explains it best himself through a conversation that Martin Rilke has with his journalist friend Joe regarding the style of writing his own book: “Oh, cool, crisp prose. Nothing overwrought. Perfect use of understatement and irony. About as clean as a left jab to the jaw.” p 22.

After thoroughly enjoying The Passing Bells, I did not think it would be possible to surpass my awe and enjoyment, but Circles of Time matches my expectations with its historical drama excelling with intimate characterization. The battlefields of France and all the horrible devastation of WWI was very gripping and intriguing, but as we move with the characters into the rebuilding of the nation and their lives, it becomes more personal, positive and uplifting. If you love beautifully written historical drama, you won’t be disappointed.

5 out of 5 Stars

Circles of Time: Book Two of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock
William Morrow Boos (2013)
Trade paperback (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0062229335

Book cover image courtesy of © William Morrow Books 2013; text © Laurel Ann Nattress 2013, Austenprose

Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown – A Review

Summerset Abbey, by T. J. Brown (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd

Now that the third season of Downton Abbey has ended and left us quite reeling, what better balm to sooth our broken hearts than this new Edwardian series, Summerset Abbey by debut writer T. J. Brown. The year is 1913, the prelude to WWI, and three young women gently pursue their life’s hopes and desires, surrounded by the tacit convention of society. From almost page one, this historical fiction begins to weave its web as Sir Philip Buxton, who has raised his two beautiful daughters alongside the daughter of their governess, who is much like a sister to them, dies. Now the girls must abandon all they know, their Bohemian lifestyle, household and modern manners to live under the charge of their traditional Edwardian uncle at his extensive estate, Summerset Abbey.

Raised to esteem the person and not riches or rank, Rowena and Victoria encounter their first snag when they learn that although they will be welcomed to Summerset, their “sister” Prudence Tate is not, as she is but the daughter of a governess. In a rash moment, and fearing they might lose Prudence forever, Rowena claims they must have a lady’s maid and solicits Prudence for the job. Although claiming it is but temporary until Rowena comes into her own money and can provide for them all, balancing loyalty while attempting to fashion out a place for herself becomes her true cross to bear. “How independent had she been, really? She knew nothing of finances and had never bothered to ask. She’s had all of the freedom, none of the responsibility, and stupidly, she’d never even know what to ask for. She’d been selfish, thoughtlessly flitting from one whimsy to another, never learning anything useful. No wonder her father had given financial responsibility to his brother.” Rowena’s intentions are honorable but to have her so-called sister relegated below stairs, with the duties entailed upon Prudence, is a cruelty “suspended between upstairs and downstairs worlds of Summerset, and truly belonging to neither.”

Prudence, who was raised nearly as one of Sir Buxton’s daughters, is now nothing more than the girls’ lady’s maid and yet the household staff won’t accept her any more than Lord & Lady Buxton consider her family. Moreover she can’t shake this niggling sensation, even when she encounters absolute strangers in the village, why they shy away from her person as well. “Her mother had begun as a maid. She had no idea what her father had done for work, as her mother never spoke of him, but she had family who lived in the village. No doubt many of them had worked for the Buxtons or one of the other titled families in the area. Was there really a fundamental difference between those of the lower class and those of the upper class, aside from the circumstances of one’s birth, something over which a person has no control? Why did those of the lower classes put up with being made to feel as if they were second-class humans?”

The younger sister Victoria, although of delicate health, has a voracious, lively mind and aspires to become a botanist, as was her father. Victoria’s unconventional studies and research steer her to make a scandalous discovery about the family that powers the narrative further into intrigue.  “She was putting the books away when a newspaper clipping fluttered out of the back of one of the books. Her heart raced as she realized what it was…”

Meanwhile Prudence catches the eye of Summerset’s dashing houseguest, Lord Billingsly, as well as the comely footman, Andrew, but they only seem to add to her confusion and turmoil. ““I certainly did not promise you the second dance, Lord Billingsley,” she huffed, searching for Andrew over his shoulder. But then his hand cupped her waist, sending a shiver up her spine, and she forgot about Andrew, forgot about everything except trying to breathe.” In addition, Rowena becomes captivated by a dashing test pilot, entangling herself in another family mystery: who is this fine, young man and what does he mean to the Buxtons?

As the early twentieth century evolved with the coming industry, electricity, radio, aeroplanes and the talk of war, it also brought the end to the excesses of many aristocratic families and houses. Opinions were changing and the girls were raised to be open to itAuthor T. J. Brown has richly drawn these shifting times through well-drawn characters, compelling plotlines and conspiracy on nearly every other page. My only complaint – and it’s a major one — is that the ending was inexplicably stunted! And shocking! And unforeseen! But blessedly, book two in this three-book saga, Summerset Abbey, A Bloom in Winter was just released on March 5. Note: book three, Summerset Abbey, A Spring Awakening is coming in early August 2013. Albeit this will be catnip for Downton Abbey fans, this novel will dazzle you on its own merit.  It’s the bee’s knees!

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown
Gallery Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-1451698985

Cover image courtesy of © 2013 Gallery Books; text © 2013 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Preview & Giveaway of The Greville Family Saga: The Passing Bells, Circles of Time, and A Future Arrived, by Phillip Rock

The Passing Bells, by Philip Rock (1980)I love a good mystery. I just didn’t know that I would be so personally engaged in one for over thirty years.

In 1980 a read a book about an aristocratic English family during WWI that I absolutely adored. I was so enthusiastic about it that I promptly loaned it to my best friend who never thought of it again until about a year later when I asked for it back. She had no idea where my copy was. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down the title or author. I could only remember that bell was in the title.

Decades passed and the book never left my list of “to find titles.” When Internet search engines and online used book stores became available to me I searched again to no avail. Last month I was perusing the new release table at work and a book title caught my eye. The Passing Bells sounded vaguely familiar so I read the back description and checked the copyright date. “Originally published in 1978.” I stood and stared at the cover in stunned silence. I had found it again. It was a book miracle. After never giving up the search—we had been reunited—and, better yet, it was part of a trilogy! A red letter day all around for this book geek.

I immediately purchased a digital copy for my Nook and commenced reading. Would my endearing memory of the story of the Greville family entrenched in World War I stand up to my ideals so many years later? I was compelled to find out and share my conclusions with you all. I shall chuse to increase your suspense, “according to the usual practice of elegant females” by making you wait for my reviews of the trilogy before I reveal any insights, but here is a preview of each of the novels and a giveaway chance to win one copy of each of the novels compliments of TLC Book Tours and the trilogy’s new publisher William Morrow. Fans of the popular period drama Downton Abbey will see certain similarities and be as captivated as I was.

The Passing Bells, by Philip Rock (2012)The Passing Bells:

The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir.

But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household’s tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home.

Circles of Time, by Philip Rock (2012)Circles of Time:

A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance. Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England’s most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment.

A Future Arrived, by Philip Rock (2012)A Future Arrived:

The final installment of the saga of the Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory begins in the early 1930s, as the dizzy gaiety of the Jazz Age comes to a shattering end. What follows is a decade of change and uncertainty, as the younger generation, born during or just after the “war to end all wars,” comes of age.

American writer Martin Rilke has made his journalistic mark, earning worldwide fame with his radio broadcasts, and young Albert Thaxton seeks to follow in his footsteps as a foreign correspondent. Derek Ramsey, born only weeks after his father fell in France, and Colin Ross, a dashing Yankee, leave their schoolboy days behind and enter fighter pilot training as young men. The beautiful Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, and their passionate younger sister, Kate, strive to forge independent paths, while learning to love—and to let go.

In their heady youth and bittersweet growth to adulthood, they are the future—but the shadows that touched the lives of the generation before are destined to reach out to their own.

Author bio:

Born in Hollywood, California, Phillip Rock lived in England with his family until the blitz of 1940. He spent his adult years in Los Angeles and published three novels before the Passing Bells series: Flickers, The Dead in Guanajuato, and The Extraordinary Seaman. He died in 2004.

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Passing Bells, Circles of Time, or A Future Arrived, by Phillip Rock by leaving a comment revealing what intrigues you about the series and why it is a must read for Downton Abbey fans. The contest ends on 11:59pm, Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Winners announced on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only please. Good luck.

P.S. We are eternally grateful to the brilliant editor at William Morrow, who by choosing to re-issue this wonderful trilogy, solved my mystery book hunt of 30 years. Our only regret is that author Philip Rock is not with us still to enjoy the revival of his work.

© 2013, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose  

Wentworth Hall blog tour with author Abby Grahame & Giveaway

Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame (2012)Seven months until Downton Abbey season 3 airs on Masterpiece Classic PBS. So, what’s a Downtonite to do in the meantime besides re-watching the first two seasons again? Why – read of course.

Please join us today in welcoming author Abby Grahame on her blog tour in celebration of the publication of Wentworth Hall, released this month by Simon & Schuster. Set in Edwardian England, not only will its title intrigue most Janeites with its reference to a certain romantic Captain from Austen’s novel Persuasion, but its author was inspired by Jane Austen throughout. Abby has generously shared with us some insights on her inspiration for writing her first young adult novel and offered a giveaway to three lucky readers.

The “Persuasive” Influence of Jane Austen on Wentworth Hall

A writer’s tool chest is the mind: It is filled with all that the senses have imbibed; the memories and the emotions; the people, the places; the ceremonious days filled with frivolity and the fleeting moments when great truths can be revealed in a subtle nod.  Some things are recalled as if yesterday, others have sunk beneath the forgetful blanket of the unconscious. The profound and entertaining books one has enjoyed are in there too.

All of this comes into play in the act of writing. Sometimes a writer “borrows,” from another source in full consciousness. It is a parody or homage, or simply a theft. Other times the influence bubbles up unbidden from the underground caves of the authorial psyche. Such was the case—I realize only now—when I embarked on writing my first published novel Wentworth Hall.  The spirit of Jane Austen was there, whispering in my ear, for sure. But she was so clever that I didn’t notice her presence at first.

The immediate influence can be seen in naming the novel after a venerable location rife with history and family secrets. (Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park)  But, I have to admit this was also influenced by the luscious TV mini-series Downton Abbey.  (A title that was probably in itself influenced by Jane Austen too.) The upstairs, downstairs approach captivated me. This leads me to the next—and larger—influence.  Class!

In Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion, Ann Elliot is madly in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth but is “persuaded” that he is not of high enough social consequence to merit a match. As in so much of Austen’s work, it is a statement on the hypocrisy and changeability of social class.

In my novel, I wanted to write about these things too. The stratification of our world into a 1% elite with gradations going down to the bottom of society’s poorest has been in the news lately. It is something that has been developing over the last fifty years in an accelerating fashion. These class distinctions are as relevant now as they were in Austen’s day.

Of course there are differences too. Wentworth Hall is set in 1912. Electricity has arrived and the radio will soon be in every home. World War One is looming. The characters see themselves as being on the cusp of a new, modern world that will shake up the power of the old aristocracy around them. A space was opening for the entrenched serving class to rise above their station of birth, just as naval service in the Napoleonic Wars allows Captain Wentworth to become a man of status and wealth.

In Wentworth Hall, the central story involves a great love affair thwarted by class differences. There are also less prominent characters whose lives are affected by the positions they were born into (in some cases the upper class feels trapped as well as the lower class). Hopefully I have explored the common humanity that makes these divides so superficial even though the lock they put on the lives of the characters seems unbreakable and can be disastrous.

So when the name Wentworth Hall occurred to me as a title, I had to have been somehow remembering that Captain Wentworth was man of rising stature in Persuasion  even though at the time I simply thought it had a good sound to it. And now that I have been made aware of the connection by the Jane Austen fans of my acquaintance, I couldn’t be more pleased. I loved Persuasion when I first read it as a college Literature major. Wentworth Hall is, indeed, imbued with the spirit of Captain Wentworth, the dashing character whom Jane Austen created with, if not precognitive, then certainly with the keen social perceptivity she brought to all her books.

So, thanks, Jane Austen. I couldn’t ask for a more acute and observant guide through the halls of class, romance, and social change.

Author Bio:

Abby Grahame lives in upstate New York. Her interest in historical fiction and British period dramas inspired Wentworth Hall. This is her first novel.

Grand Giveaway of Wentworth Hall

Enter a chance to win one of three copies available of Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame. Please leave a comment revealing who your favorite character is in Downton Abbey or why you would love to read this new young adult novel by 11:59 PT, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Winner announced on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame
Simon & Schuster (2012)
Hardcover (228) pages
ISBN: 978-1442451964

© 2007 – 2012 Abby Grahame, Austenprose

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by The Countess of Carnarvon – A Review

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by The Countess of Carnarvon  (2011)Review by Laura A Wallace

The Countess of Carnarvon has written a biography of one of her predecessors:  Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, wife of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  This book lacks depth but is fairly well written and well researched.  It does not purport to be a sophisticated biography, being entirely without footnotes or endnotes, and claims, in the Prologue, to be “neither a biography nor a work of fiction, but places characters in historical settings, as identified from letters, diaries, visitor books and household accounts written at the time.”  I found this characterization a little puzzling because it is clearly a biography and does not in any way approach fiction:  there is no dialogue and very little in the way of scenes or vignettes.  I rather wish Lady Carnarvon had chosen to go in one direction or the other:  a meaty, substantive biography or a lighter, fictionalized account.  But the result is easy to read and the bibliography, if little else, is substantive (though it seems to me that little of it actually made it into the text).

I can reduce my review to three phrases:  (1) Title Abuse;  (2)  Downton Abbey;  (3) Amelia Peabody.  I’ll take them in reverse order.  To be honest, there is nothing about Amelia Peabody in the book at all.  But for those who are fans of hers (I speak of the series of novels written by Elizabeth Peters), the account of Howard Carter’s discovery (along with the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, of course) of the King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 inevitably brings Amelia and her milieu to mind.  Having long been familiar with not only Carter but other real people like Wallis Budge and even T. E. Lawrence from the Peabody novels, I felt like an insider when it came to Lord Carnarvon’s archaeological efforts in Egypt.  And this book, rather than sending me back to watch Downton Abbey all over again, sent me instead to reread the novels about Amelia Peabody (and Vicky Bliss too).

The Downton Abbey connection (in case you missed it) is that Highclere Castle, the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon, is the filming location for Downton Abbey, which is set contemporaneously with Almina’s tenure as chatelaine of Highclere.  The 5th Earl inherited his patrimony at a young age, and soon realized (as did Downton’s Earl of Grantham) that he needed to marry an heiress to secure his estates and lifestyle.  But instead of choosing an American heiress, as some other peers of his generation did, Lord Carnarvon selected an heiress from the Rothschild family.  To be fair, it appears to have been a love match—she was vivacious, charming, warmhearted, and beautiful, and they seem to have had a long and remarkably happy marriage—but, as with the fictional Granthams, money is what made the love match possible for the Carnarvons.  And the house played a great role in their lives.

The first and most obvious difference between the reality of Highclere and the fiction of Downton is that the roles of the servants were substantially reduced and simplified for television.  The “mutually dependent community” of Highclere was run, not by a butler, but by a steward.  There was also a groom of the bedchambers, butler, under-butler, and of course valets, all above at least four footmen (who powdered their hair to wait at table until 1918), who were above porters and the steward’s room boy (whose primary job was to find and alert the proper staff when one of the sixty-six bells rang).  The female staff was likewise magnified, and the division of labor among all these servants was not always the traditionally understood setup as depicted in Downton Abbey.  The outdoor staff included not only an estate agent, but gamekeepers, gardeners, coachmen, grooms, stableboys, and people to take care of the automobiles.  And that’s just for the house and its immediate environs, not even getting out into the estate’s farms and tenantry.  Lady Carnarvon rightly describes the setup as feudal—even though the house itself had been (re)built during the 4th Earl’s lifetime.  (The estate had been owned by his family since the late seventeenth century.)

Like Downton, Highclere played a role as a private hospital during the World War I, funded and run by the Countess.  But after some months, she decided that the house and location were inadequate and moved her hospital to a house in London in Bryanston Square.  She purchased the latest equipment, hired the best staff, and did her utmost to make the officers under her care feel as though they were guests in a private house rather than in an institution.  Also like Downton, several members of the estate family volunteered for service and were killed in the war.  Many of them belonged to Highclere in a very personal way:  they were members of families that had served the estate and the Carnarvons for generations.

My only real complaints about this book are legalistic, so if you’re not one for getting all the tiniest details correct, you can skip this part.  The first, and biggest, error is not, I think, all the fault of its author.  Lady Carnarvon never makes the egregious mistake of referring to the wife of the 5th Earl, the Countess who is the biography’s subject, as “Lady Almina.”  (There seems to be some sort of general but erroneous belief that using “Lord” or “Lady” with the given name is an acceptable not-as-formal usage.  It is not.  The usage of Lady with the given name is allowed only to the daughters of dukes, marquesses, and earls, and is never used for the wives of peers.)  Unfortunately, not only does the title of the book brandish this error across the front cover, but it appears even in the back cover blurbs about the book and its author (who is not “Lady Fiona”), and some of the photo captions.  I think these prove that authors ultimately have very little control over the covers of their books.

However, there is another mistake in the text that is on my list of pet peeves as well, and it occurs more than once so it is not just an isolated slip.  It concerns Almina’s parentage.  Almina’s father was Alfred de Rothschild.  He was, unfortunately, not married to her mother, whose husband lived apart from her at the time Almina was born.  But these facts did not make Almina “illegitimate.”  The only thing that word refers to is the marital status of a mother at the time of birth of her child.  It has nothing to do with the identity of the child’s biological father.  Almina’s mother was married, so even if everyone “knew” that her husband was not the biological father of her child, legally he was Almina’s father in every way, and she bore his surname.  And while it is true that Almina’s actual parentage was somewhat of a scandal, she herself was not beyond the pale.  Indeed, as the book recounts, she was presented at court and attended a state ball at Buckingham Palace as a debutante.  Her mother’s status, officially and socially, is less clear, but Almina remained close to both of her parents for their entire lives, and they were welcome at Highclere.

Overall, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is a good read on the light end of the modern biographical scale, perhaps intentionally reminiscent of the more chatty biographies popular during Alimna’s lifetime.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by The Countess of Carnarvon
Crown Publishing Group (2011)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0770435622
NOOK: ISBN: 978-0770435639
Kindle: ASIN: B0060AY7Z8

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

© 2007 – 2012 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

Hello Wharton Abbey: In Celebration of Edith Wharton’s 150th Birthday: Her Novels and Their Legacy: Guest Blog by Lev Raphael

Edith Wharton's copies of her works at The Mount. © Photo by David Dashiell

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” – Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, designer, and taste-setter of her time was born 150 years ago today. Huzzah!

Author and designer Edith WhartonRenowned for her novels: The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), The Age of Innocence (1920), and last unfinished work, The Buccaneers (1938), Wharton was also an incredibly talented garden and interior designer writing two of my favorite classic design books in my personal collection: Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904) and The Decoration of Houses (1897). Many of her works have been adapted into movies including three standouts: The Age of Innocence (1993), The Buccaneers (1995), which has thematic ties to the wildly popular mini-series Downton Abbey, whose second season is currently airing on Masterpiece Classic PBS, and The Old Maid (1939), the Warner Bros. classic starring Bette Davis. My mother introduced me to this movie as a teenager, and like her indoctrination to the classics by film with Pride and Prejudice (1940,) it piqued my interest enough to seek Wharton out and read the original novella. Thanks mom! Besides Austen and Cooper, Wharton is on my top five list of favorite authors.

Edith Wharton's works adapted into movies

In celebration of Wharton’s sesquicentennial birthday, author Lev Raphael has generously contributed a guest blog honoring Wharton, his fascination of The Gilded Age, Downton Abbey and his new novel Rosedale in Love.  

Wharton Abbey

Overwhelmed by the cascading changes at Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith’s indomitable Dowager Countess complains in Season One, “”Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Watching Downton Abbey, I’ve found find myself feeling I’m living in an Edith Wharton novel.  More than one, in fact. Wharton’s novel The Buccaneer, unfinished at her death, was all about American wealthy young woman like Cora who were launched like arrows to hit titled English targets.  Born in 1862 to old New York money, Wharton observed this international exchange as America’s Gilded Age burst into lavish bloom.  Her native city of New York was a frenzy of building, money, and that modern invention we take for granted: publicity, which the Downton family is desperate to avoid.

House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (Oxford Worlds Classics) 2009The series is imbued with the preoccupations of Wharton’s fiction.  As in The House of Mirth, the Grantham girls have few choices aside from marrying a man, preferably one with money.  New money like Sir Richard Carlisle’s may be suspect, but money is the drumbeat, even when people claim not to care about it.  Acquiring money, and the status and safety it brings, obsesses Lily Bart, the heroine of The House of Mirth, Wharton’s 1905 best seller.

Wharton lived in France during World War One, whose impact we’re seeing in the show right now, and she wrote a powerful novel, A Son at the Front, about the surprisingly high cost of war for those who aren’t in the trenches.  When war broke out, she worked with astounding energy to aid the French war effort through fund-raising and solving the refugee crisis.  But she was more than a combination of Lady Cora and Mrs. Crawley: she visited the front and wrote about it, and her extraordinary efforts earned her the highest civilian honors Belgium and France could bestow.

Wharton challenged convention by being intellectual and an author.  However, she was still a product of her class, which frowned on arrivistes of all kinds, especially Jews, who symbolized the vast social and financial changes rocking her comfortable world.  In The House of Mirth, her one Jewish character, wealthy Simon Rosedale, is frantic for status and vainly pursues Lily Bart, the faded society flower who finds him repulsive when he isn’t ridiculous.  Wharton relied heavily on stereotype to create him: he’s flamboyant, vulgar, buffonish, speaks bad English.

Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael (2011)His portrayal is an aggravating flaw in a novel I’ve read many times and love for Wharton’s profound understanding of how shame can crush our hopes–something that plays out again and again in Downton Abbey.  Having written two other books about Wharton, a mystery and a critical study, I decided to do something completely different: tell Rosedale’s unknown story.  Rosedale in Love is a reply to The House of Mirth, a book that gives Simon Rosedale a soul, a past, a family–that makes him human, in other words.

I wrote in a period voice, which I channeled after two years of reading books set in The Gilded Age. And just as Downton brings a lost way of life into our homes, I wanted Gilded Age New York to live for my readers.  I wanted them to feel the city’s obsessions, ride along its streets, dance at its balls, celebrate its weddings, marvel at its splendid hotels, dine at its elite restaurants, relish its remarkable extravagance, and savor its gossip.

So as you read the ebook, imagine it beautifully bound, pages freshly cut, being read by various denizens of Downton Abbey.  Think of Lady Mary or Anna pained by the sad search for love, Thomas enviously following someone else’s success, and the Dowager Countess sniffing at a whole novel devoted to “one of those people,” but ultimately admiring the main character’s courage.  After all, one of her ringing calls to action is “Don’t be defeatist, it’s very middle class.”

About the Author:

Lev Raphael is a former academic, radio talk show host, and newspaper columnist who’s published twenty-one books in genres from memoir to mystery with publishers like Doubleday, St. Martin’s, Faber and Walker.  His fiction and creative nonfiction appears in dozens of anthologies In the US and in Great Britain, and he has taught in colleges and universities around the country.

A world traveler and lecturer, his most recent adventure was his second German book tour for his memoir My Germany last fall, sponsored by the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and he will also be reading from his novel Rosedale in Love at the Edith Wharton in Florence conference next June (Austen and Wharton were major influences in his career). Visit Lev at his website Lev Raphael, on Twitter as @LevRaphael, and on Facebook as Lev Raphael.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of three e-book editions of Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael by leaving a comment wishing Edith Wharton a happy birthday, or by revealing which characters or plot lines in Downton Abbey are similar to any of Edith Wharton’s novels by 11:59 pm, February 1, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, February 2, 2012. Digital copies are available in Nook and Kindle formats.

Happy birthday Edith Wharton. We know you have very little in common with the other Edith, Lady Edith Crawley, daughter of the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, but we hope that screenwriter Julian Fellowes will give her a new direction and a second chance, just as author Lev Raphael has done for your character Simon Rosedale from The House of Mirth.

Other Edith Wharton Celebrations Around the Internet:

© 2012 Lev Raphael, Austenprose