Why Jane Austen? Blog Tour with Author Rachel M. Brownstein and a Giveaway!

Why Jane Austen, by Rachel M. Brownstein (2011)Please join us today in welcoming Austen scholar Prof. Rachel M. Brownstein for the official launch of her book blog tour of Why Jane Austen?, a new literary and cultural history of our Jane’s rise and continued fame that is being released today by Columbia University Press.

Jane Austen’s eruption into popular culture in the mid-1990s got me wondering: Why Jane Austen, and not another equally long-dead novelist?  What is it about her in particular?  When the vogue spilled over into the twenty-first century, and more and more people were proudly calling themselves Janeites, I knew I was onto something.  And now, finally, here is my book: Why Jane Austen?, published in June, 2011, by Columbia University Press!

The term “Janeite” was coined in the 1890s by the English critic George Saintsbury (he spelled it “Janite”).  Picked up by Rudyard Kipling in the 1920s, it has been used in different tones of voice since then.  As words do, it has gone through changes over time; and Janeites have also changed.  Today they include admirers of Jane Austen’s novels, and of the author because she was a woman or a wit; some are fans of the dressy movies or the romantic fan fiction, while others prefer the sexed-up send-ups and the mysteries.  They include mischief-makers and members of the Jane Austen Society, bloggers and buyers of Jane-related dolls and coffee mugs, note-cards and refrigerator magnets. Writing Why Jane Austen?, I was astonished and fascinated by the range of Austen movies, spin-offs, products, and devotees—and the enormous changes in those over the last twenty years and more.

A Janeite today is sometimes exclusively interested in Austen and her novels, but she (usually) is often also involved in the culture that has grown up around them.  She revels in being a member of a club, exchanging thoughts and feelings about matters more or less related to Jane and pooling thoughts and feelings with those of other Janeites.  Janeites tend to support one another, also to seek converts.

Of course the fantasy of entering a world of Regency dresses and manners, an elegant world where people say “whilst,” begins in solitude, as fantasies do–and reading novels also does.  Ditto the dream of finding your Mr. Darcy, and being carried off by him to a Pemberley of your own.  But private fantasy turns into sociable Janeite practice once you gang up with others to hate Miss Bingley, or to compare the erotic charge of Austen’s Pemberley and Bronte’s Thornfield Hall, or to confess you can’t understand what Elinor Dashwood sees in Edward Ferrars, or to discuss why Jane turned down Harris Bigg-Wither. (The simple dropping of these names makes a Janeite feel cozy all over.)

The Janeite likes to mix it up—characters in the novels and Austen friends and family members, and people who have written about Jane Austen all tend to slide together in a blog post or a story or a conversation.  Slippage is part of the pleasure and the point: when you tell her that the woman you met on the train reminds you of Mrs. Jennings, a sister Janeite will know the kind of person you mean: affinity, complicity is the point and the pleasure.  In Why Jane Austen?, I write about Jane Austen’s family’s neighbors and also a bit about mine.

Blurring the line between actual and imaginary worlds seems to have been fun for Jane Austen herself.  She read her stories aloud to friends, looked for portraits of her characters at art exhibitions, even speculated about their afterlives. The reader who gets her tone feels as if she is in league with a friend.  Reading Jane Austen—still accessible, miraculously, after all these years—you feel invited to agree with the author about the people she reads so well; feeling (as Katherine Mansfield put it) like a secret friend of the author, you seek out her other friends, and join together with them in an Austen club.  It’s an unusually social result of a solitary practice.

Rachel M. Brownstein (2011)Author bio:

Rachel M. Brownstein is professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.  A graduate of Hunter College High School and Barnard College, she received her Ph.D. from Yale University.  She is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française, as well as many articles and reviews.  She lives in New York City and enjoys summers in Vermont.  For many years she has talked and written about Jane Austen’s novels, critics, characters, imitators, adapters, admirers, and wannabes. Visit Rachel at her website Rachel M. Brownstein, at Facebook, or at Columbia University Press.

Giveaway of Why Jane Austen?

Enter a chance to win one of two copies of Why Jane Austen? by leaving a comment answering what intrigues you about this new lit/cultural history of Jane Austen or why you are a Janeite, by midnight PT, Wednesday, July 13, 2011. Winners to be announced on Thursday, July 14, 2010. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Why Jane Austen, by Rachel M. Brownstein
Columbia University Press (2011)
Hardcover (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0231153904

© 2007 – 2011 Rachel M. Brownstein, Austenprose

Preview of the Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine Issue No 52, July/August 2011

Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine issue 52 Jul/Aug 2011The July/August 2011 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine is now on sale and has been mailed to subscribers.

In the new issue:

• JANE AUSTEN FESTIVAL IN BATH: A preview of the exciting programme lined up for September, 2011

• THEATRICAL PAINTINGS: The amazing set of costumed portraits collected by Somerset Maugham is now in safe hands

• COAST DELIGHTS: How Jane Austen depicts the seaside in her novels

• FORGOTTEN BROTHER: Maggie Lane traces the life of George Austen, Jane’s little-known brother

• LUNAR RIOTS: The day a Georgian society in Birmingham was attacked by a mob

• WHEN WE ARE GONE: How did Cassandra handle Jane’s legacy, and what about ours?

• JANE’S MEN: Our favourite author was not only an expert on women, she had a strong insight into the minds of men

Plus: All the latest news from the world of Jane Austen, as well as letters, book reviews, quiz, competition and news from JAS and JASNA.

Jane Austen’s Regency World will be at the following events, and look forward to meeting many subscribers, old and new:

  • July 9 &10 Jane Austen Festival, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
  • Sept 17 Jane Austen Festival, Bath, UK (country fayre)
  • Oct 13-15 JASNA AGM, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

For further information, and to subscribe, visit Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

© 2007 – 2011 Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle – A Review

Cast of Book-It Reperatory Theatre's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility 2011

“Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer.”

“Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah; if you knew! And can you believe me to be so while I see you so wretched!”

– Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 29

Happiness and suffering, and the emotional extremes that cause it, is an important theme in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility that was well served in a new stage adaptation of her novel premiering at the Book-It Repertory Theatre on June 3rd at the Centre House Theatre, Seattle Center. It is the Rep’s fourth Austen novel to stage production after the highly successful Pride and Prejudice in 2004, Persuasion in 2008, and Emma in 2010. Their interpretations of Austen are always brisk, lighthearted and memorable. Jane Austen has been very good to the Rep, and obviously, audiences have felt that the Rep has been likewise to Jane Austen.

Book-It Reperatory Theatre's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility (2011)Even though Sense and Sensibility is not as light, bright and sparkling as Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, it may be the most adaptable of her works for the stage. At 200 years old it remains a compelling tale touting a favorable list of dramatic attributes: dual heroines with divergent personalities; three red herring heroes who are really anti-heroes in disguise; and an incredible assortment of unscrupulous and humorous minor characters that add levity and balance to a story that is quite seriously entrenched in 19th century British inheritance laws and the plight of women who were ruled by them. Heady stuff for any playwright to embrace and adapt. Even more so for the lucky audience if they get it right.

The two heroines of this cautionary tale are Elinor (Kjerstine Anderson) and Marianne (Jessica Martin) Dashwood – one with too much sense, and the other with not enough. Each of the sisters reacts differently to their life tragedies and budding romances. Jessica Martin’s Marianne was all pure unbridled emotion: extreme, exuberant, exasperating! Never loving by halves, she gushed about dead leaves, poetry and her beaux Willoughby with a passion leaping into Bronteism.  Marianne also dips into the depths of despair after being thrown-over by her suitor, wearing her down and into a serious illness. We had wished this had been given more attention and that Marianne had not rebounded back to herself with such cheerful alacrity.

Kjerstine Anderson as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011)Kjerstine Anderson as the solid, staid and correct sister Elinor was surprisingly regal, imposing and privately snarky – a different interpretation than I had experienced in my reading of the novel, or in any of the movie adaptations. Questioning my previous conclusions, was Austen’s Elinor as introspective, subtle and guarded as I had thought? Anderson did a commendable job as Austen’s anchor of reason and rationality, albeit too emotionally at critical moments. I am uncertain if this change in characteristics was artistic license or by direction, but it altered the divergence in the sisters personalities and lessened some of Austen’s critical plot points.

Aaron Blakely as John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It  Rep (2011) x 200The three heroes (or anti-heroes): Edward Ferrars (Jason Marr), Col Brandon (David Quicksall) and John Willoughby (Aaron Blakely) were sensitively cast as the affable nerd, the gallant geezer and the charming cad to extreme satisfaction. Austen gave us an interesting assortment of suitors for our heroines. Often we are uncertain who the hero is because of major character flaws that act like red-herrings. In this interpretation (happily) Edward did not stutter, but he was so innocuous we wonder what Elinor saw in him. Really wonder! Marr was more than a bit of a milquetoast, and so was Quicksall as Col. Brandon who barely uttered a line for several scenes (to disconcerting effect) until he finally finds his voice making it all the more moving and admirable. Well done. When Blakely’s Willoughby gallantly arrives  to rescue the injured Marianne in a billowing greatcoat, our expectation of a Byronic hero was totally fulfilled. *swoon* The fact that he looked like a young Jonny Lee Miller did not hurt either. No wonder Marianne lost all sense. Who wouldn’t?  He was equally convincing in relaying his conflicted loyalties of money vs. love.

Jessica Martin and David Quicksall in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011) The minor characters in Austen’s tale are so endearingly flawed and humorous, supplying the comedy to offset the tragedy. Of note were the scheming and duplicitous Miss Lucy Steele (Angela DiMarco); selfish and manipulative Mrs. Dashwood (Emily Grogan) and her equally unappealing husband Mr. John Dashwood (Shawn Law); gossipy matchmaker Mrs. Jennings (Karen Nelson); and the jovial and obliging Sir John Middleton (Bill Johns). They brought levity to Jen Taylor’s energetic dramatization which at times had its charms and foibles. The narrative faithfully followed Austen’s own right down to some exact quotes. Huzzah! Gone though were Austen’s cynical underpinnings, subtle puns and measured pacing – all replaced by an emphasis on humor and breakneck speed. Scenes quickly altered with the draw of a curtain across the stage taking us from London to the country within seconds. Actors changed costumes by adding layers as they delivered lines on stage. Spoken dialogue shifted to narrative recited directly from the novel in one breath. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Austen encapsulated and accelerated for the modern stage.

We enjoyed every line and every moment, but we were happy to wind down afterwards with a cup of tea and the novel.

Jessica Martin and Kjerstine Anderson in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011)

Book-It’s Sense and Sensibility runs at the Center House Theater thru June 26th

Photos © Alan Alabastro 2011

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Little Women Letters, by Gabrielle Donnelly – A Review

The Little Women Letters, by Gabrielle Donnelly (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder of Reflections of a Book Addict

There are many reasons why books published well over a hundred years ago are still relevant and well loved today.  One of these reasons is that as a reader you become so invested in the lives of the characters that you can’t help but want to read their story over and over and over again.  I’m sure that this is the case for Gabrielle Donnelly, author of The Little Women Letters.  Her love for Louisa May Alcott’s beloved March sisters inspired her to continue their story by allowing the stories of Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy to live on via a much younger and contemporary setting.  The result is a great juxtaposition of old and new as Donnelly does an outstanding job at telling their stories and breathing new life into this classic.

The novel begins with sisters Emma, Lulu, and Sophie of the Atwater family, who live in London.  They are “imagined descendents” of Jo March, the second and very opinionated child in the March family from Little Women.  Lulu, the middle sister, is sent up to the attic of their home to find some recipes for her aunt, and inadvertently discovers a trove of letters written by Jo to her sisters.  Feeling a bit lost herself, Lulu takes solace in these letters and begins to discover the lives of the March sisters through their correspondence.  She discovers that she is much like Jo herself, and this empowers her to view her life in a whole new way, weaving the great stories of the March sisters in the past with her own present.

Firstly, I have to give Donnelly a lot of credit for her writing style.  She writes in a way that makes the Atwater sisters seem like your own, and the more you read about them, the more endearing they become.  I truly felt as if I was getting to know them as the book went on, and Donnelly allowed a relationship to grow between myself and the characters that made the book that much more enjoyable.  Secondly, I also really enjoyed that the plot of Little Women had so much influence in the writing of The Little Women Letters.  A lot of contemporary novels that I’ve read that are influenced by classics normally just take the plot of said classic novel and modernize it.  While that was done in this book, Donnelly finds ways to take the original story and infuse it with the new contemporary one, giving the reader an opportunity to hang out with his/her favorite characters from the original.

Finally, it takes a masterful artist to weave the lives of three characters together, let alone the 8+ that Donnelly works with.  She’s definitely something special and is a gem of a writer.  I wouldn’t be surprised if The Little Women Letters is as loved and adored as Little Women in the future.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Little Women Letters, by Gabrielle Donnelly
Touchstone, New York (2011)
Hardcover (386) pages
ISBN: 978-1451617184

© 2007 – 2011 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Annotated & Edited by David M. Shapard (2011)How appropriate that The Annotated Sense and Sensibility is being published during the bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s first published novel.

This new book includes the complete text of Jane Austen’s classic with annotations by Dr. David M. Shapard, an expert in eighteenth-century European History who also brought us similar annotated editions of Pride and Prejudice in 2007 and Persuasion in 2010. I enjoyed both of his previous works. I find annotated editions of classics fascinating, especially if they are written from the perspective of historical and social events and not weighed down with scholarly opinions. Dr. Shapard’s agenda here is obviously to enlighten the reader by opening up Austen’s two hundred-year old text with facts, tidbits, asides, and information that a novice reader or veteran can relate to so they can appreciate the story even more.

This volume weighs in at a hefty one pound and six ounces and contains 784 pages of wow factor for any Jane Austen fan or literature lover. Jane Austen’s complete and unabridged text is included on the left hand page and the enumerated annotations on the right. No stone has been left unturned. Even the illustration on the front cover depicting two fashionably attired Regency-era young ladies walking in the countryside with an umbrella receives its own corresponding page of enlightenment on the history of the umbrella, walking as an amusement, large muffs as a winter accoutrement, and an observation on the picturesque landscape depicted in the illustration. This keen sense of the era in relation to the text continues throughout the over 2,000 annotations including: textural explanations of historical and social details, black and white illustrations of art works, caricatures, cartoons and maps, definitions of archaic words, citations from Jane Austen’s life and letters, a chronology of the novel, extensive bibliography, fifteen page introduction by the editor, and his literary interpretations of plot and characters. It is a monumental achievement that I will spend years coming back to and exploring.

I know that there has been criticism of Dr. Shapard’s unscholarly approach to annotation in his two previous editions. He uses open and accessible language for the layperson, and for the sake of clarity, he repeats definitions so the reader does not have to jump back and forth throughout the book for answers. In my view, this is considerate and not tiresome as some have complained. After all, who is this book’s primary audience? Pleasure readers and students, or scholars?  If you are a scholar you should be seeking primary source material and interpreting it in your own style, as Dr. Shapard has chosen to do in this volume. Amusingly, I find objections to the un-pedantic qualities of his writing an irony that Jane Austen would take delight in.

Overall, this new edition was mesmerizing. My only complaint is that not every inch of the right hand page is packed to the brim with annotation – but I am a greedy Janeite. Retailing at $16.95, this is a bargain resource book that every Jane Austen and Regency-era history enthusiast should own.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my fifth selection in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011, my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. You can follow the event as I post reviews on the fourth Wednesday of every month and read all of the other participants contributions posted in the challenge review pages here.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, June 14, 2011 stating who your favorite character is in Sense and Sensibility and why, or what intrigues you about reading an annotated edition of Sense and Sensibility. Winners will be announced on Thursday, June 15, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2011) New York
Trade paperback (784) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390769

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman – A Review

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

If there was ever an “About the Author” section that seemed to speak to me, directly to me, it is this one:

Marsha Altman exists more as a philosophical concept than an atom-based structure existing within the rules of time and space as we know them.  She is the author of four books set in Jane Austen’s Regency England as well as the editor of an anthology of Pride and Prejudice-related fiction.  When not writing, she studies Talmud and paints Tibetan ritual art, preferably not at the same time.  She lives in New York, New York, and does not own any cats.

Diverse.  Engaging.  Just plain cool.

And somehow, someway, Altman’s distinctive personality (at least the one she’s chosen to portray publicly) has been transposed onto a 432-page doorstop of a book that is just as diverse, engaging, and cool as she is.  The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is the fourth installment in Altman’s what-happens-after-pride-and-prejudice universe, and it will have you hooked within moments.  Want to travel the world with Darcy and the gang?  Want to say HI to his illegitimate brother Gregoire in Spain before he shows you what crazy apparatus he wears?  How about India?  What would Charles Bingley look like with a monkey on his shoulder?

All this, and more, can be yours.  The story drips with spirit and intrigue while unique characters, characters who still somehow manage to stay in the realm of Jane Austen’s originals, carouse and laugh and pray their way around their various estates.  Gregoire Darcy is forced to leave his lonely monastery on the windswept shores of Spain, abandoning his life in the church and returning to England to live out the rest of his life.  But how shall he cope?  What will he do now?  With the support of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his every-expanding family, Gregoire finds himself free to explore the world and his own inner mysteries, and is quite surprised at what he discovers!

Elizabeth Darcy herself is in the background most of the time, along with all her sisters and a mountain of nieces, nephews, and children from her own loins (4 of them).  Caroline Bingley and her husband, Dr. Maddox, along with all their offspring often frequent the pages, while Georgiana and her husband, Dr. Maddox’s brother and his wife and their cohort Mugin, and even Charlotte Collins and her own brood are all present as well (which will make you very thankful for the family tree Altman has so thoughtfully included).  Gregoire himself, Darcy’s half-brother, is a likeable person, generous and reverent to the end, and although his story is mired in trouble and heartbreak while he attempts to conform to English society.  Problems are many, and finding solutions makes each character bloom all the more.

Yes, it’s a rip roarin’ good time.  Funny, well-written, and projecting the image of one seriously practiced researcher and writer.  The structure is beautiful with frequent page breaks being the only exception…but you’ll get used to it.  The book as a whole flows with a lovely sense of development and prose, which becomes all the more enjoyable when you stumble upon sassy scenes like these:

“What are rich people like?”

He laughed.  She hadn’t meant it seriously—there was no way that she could have.  That didn’t mean he was exempted from providing an answer, so he took a piece of potato floating in the soup and put it in his mouth, chewing on it to give himself time to mull over the question.  “Do you wish to know a secret?”

She squealed, “Aye!”

“They are terribly, terribly bored.”

Neither of them could hold back their laughter at that.  He was glad that he had swallowed his food properly, as he could not have held it in.  “They have their servants do every menial task.  The do not even dress themselves, and are left with nothing to do.  So they read books and go own walks and then sit down for long dinners where they discuss reading books and going on walks.  And then they write people about it, because writing takes time.”

Read this book, take a long walk, then come home for dinner and tell everyone about it.  They’ll want to read it too!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press (2011)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-1569759370

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Giveaway winner announced for Jane and the Genius of the Place

Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron (1999)18 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron. The winner drawn at random is Penelope who left a comment on April 26th.

Congratulations Penelope! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by May 4th, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. We are reading all eleven novels in this great Austen inspired mystery series this year. The challenge is open until July 1st, 2011, so please check out the details and sign up today!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose