Polite Society: A Novel, by Mahesh Rao–A Review

Image of the cover of Polite Society, by Mahesh Rao (2019)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I have loved Jane Austen’s Emma for as long as I can remember. Yes—I mean that literally. When I was six, my first introduction to the Regency and the magnificent world of Jane Austen began with a battered VHS copy (Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version) and, well, has never ended.

In fact, my first classic ever read was a neon yellow copy of Emma gifted for Christmas at the age of ten. It is now battered and torn, but will forever hold a place on my shelves. To me, the heroine Emma has always gone beyond the place of a lovable but mistaken fictional friend; she’s been in some ways, a mirror of myself. Perhaps this quality is why people love to hate her – she reflects how we all would be if given enough time, money, and influence. And that is: Sure that our way is the best way. Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society shows a world and cast of characters where this idea is everything.

Retellings can always be tricky – there’s a whole host of questions we ask ourselves. Will the modern setting give or detract something from the original? How much do morals connect to ethics, and ethics to society’s rules, and society’s rules to good behavior? Etc. etc. etc. We as readers can forgive much, including creative license with the original, as long as we find some kind of spark. Of wit, or romance, or searing visions of who we are (when we didn’t even realize it)…any or all of these can grab us and not let go. Polite Society attempts all of this, and its success depends on the reader.

Self-styled by Rao, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, as a book that “mines a much darker seam” than Crazy Rich Asians (a book it’s already being compared to), Polite Society definitely accomplishes this vision. Ania Khurana, the 21st-century version of Emma Woodhouse, and the elite in Delhi are terrible. Oh, I can make all kinds of beautifully polite parallels between the glittering sparkle of diamonds and Ania’s society, but at the core, their world is shallow and rotting. Rao has the eye and the heart of an anthropologist. He writes the elite with all their poison, all their attempts at climbing higher and higher on their social ladder, with a just pen. In the middle of the well-written nastiness, there are surprising moments of kindness (Dev/Mr. Knightley), true interest in others (Renu Khurana/Mrs. Weston), and self-realization (Colonel Rathore/Mr. Weston). Continue reading

Preview of Jane Austen’s Emma: A Musical Romantic Comedy at the Old Globe

Jane Austen's Emma: A Romantic Musical Comedy at the Old Globe (2011)

Jane Austen’s Emma, the new romantic comedy from Tony Award nominated composer Paul Gordon and directed by Tony Award nominee, Jeff Calhoun, is a musical production of Austen classic story of our favorite nonsensical girl. It premiers January 15, and runs through February 27, 2011 at the Old Globe Theatre in Dan Diego, California.

Emma, a timeless love story from one of the most widely read writers of all time, is now a musical, and will once again entice modern audiences to fall in love with one of Jane Austen’s most adored characters. Emma, a beautiful and clever young woman who prides herself on her matchmaking ability, is preoccupied with romance yet is clueless to her own feelings of love. When she takes on a young friend as her latest project, her well-intentioned efforts misfire, leading to a whirlwind of complications. Deliciously charming, this new romantic comedy from Tony Award nominated composer Paul Gordon and directed by Tony Award nominee, Jeff Calhoun, brings Jane Austen’s masterpiece to musical life.

Cast

  • Emma Woodhouse – Patti Murin
  • Mr. Knightley – Adam Monley
  • Robert Martin – Adam Daveline
  • Miss Bates – Suzanne Grodner
  • Mr. Elton – Brian Herndon
  • Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Elton – Kelly Hutchinson
  • Mr. Woodhouse – Jerry Lanning
  • Harriet Smith – Dani Marcus
  • Mrs. Weston – Amanda Naughton
  • Mr. Weston -Don Noble
  • Jane Fairfax – Allison Spratt Pearce
  • Frank Churchill – Will Reynolds

Complete cast and creative team

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for June 2010

The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in June, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Austen’s Oeuvre

Pride and Prejudice (Fine Edition), Jane Austen

How many editions of Pride and Prejudice do YOU own? I won’t even begin to give you a hint as to how many are in my library. I’d be embarrassed to tell you. A dear friend recently gifted me another new hardcover edition by White’s Books out of London released in the UK exactly a year ago sporting an incredibly intriguing cover design by Kazuko Nomoto. It is even more stunning in person as the design actually wraps around the spine and continues on the back. I was so impressed I listed as one of my top ten favorite Pride and Prejudice covers to date. But what’s inside you ask? More decorative end papers, colored page tops, marker ribbon, elegant typeface, a text based on the first edition with minor emendations (R.W. Chapman or Kathryn Sutherland?) and thick, acid-free paper. Unique to the fine editions series is an “unusual text setting method rarely seen in the last hundred years. Each right-hand page sports what is known as a ‘catchword’: a hanging word that provides the opening of the following page. This aids the flow of reading, especially when using a larger, heavy page with a slow turning rate.” (Hmm? Not sure I buy into that last bit.) Weighing in at a hefty one pound nine ounces, this is not the edition you want to buy if you have carpal-tunnel syndrome, but it is the most distinctive edition available to enjoy prominently displayed on your bookshelf.  White’s Books, London. Hardcover, (416) pages. ISBN: 978-0955881862

Emma (Fine Edition), by Jane Austen, foreword by Andrew Lycett

Also in White’s Fine Editions series is this new hardcover edition of Emma with a foreword by Andrew Lycett and cover illustration by Amy Gibson. This cover does not give me goose bumps like the P&P edition does, mostly because it is too generic and offers no visual connection to the novel that I can think of. If anyone can help me out here, please have your say. I guess I am a book cover traditionalist. It should relate and enhance its content. Anyway, it is part of the set and will sit nicely with P&P and the other classics by the Bronte’s, Stevenson and Dickens offered by White’s Books. Publisher’s description: Emma, the comic and sharply observed story of young Emma Woodhouse’s education in life, is regarded by many as Jane Austen’s most perfect novel. Introduced to the reader as “handsome, clever, and rich,” Emma Woodhouse is also a spoiled, meddling matchmaker—Austen’s most flawed, and possibly most endearing heroine. Her fourth published novel, and the last to appear before her death, this lively comedy of manners is the work of an incisive writer at the height of her powers. Jane Austen is a renowned Regency novelist. Her other works include Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Andrew Lycett is the author of Dylan Thomas: A New Life, Ian Fleming, and The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. White’s Books, London. Hardcover, (384) pages. ISBN: 978-0955881886

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

Northanger Alibi: The Austen Diaries, by Jenni James

A new author on the Austen sequelsphere is Jenni James, whose debut novel to be published in her new Austen Diaries series will be Northanger Alibi. Combining Austen’s early nineteenth-century Gothic parody Northanger Abbey with a modern vampire twist a la Stephenie Myers’ Twilight series, it  should raise a few eyebrows and our spirits just in time for summer light reading fare. The premise sounds like great fun, but as a professional bookseller I wish the cover was more appealing to the young adult (and young adult at heart) crowd that it is targeting. Publisher’s description: This modern Gothic remake of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with a nod to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, will leave you in stitches. Seattle Washington, and the Russo family, are no match for Claire Hart and her savvy knowledge of all things vampire-related. Thanks to her obsession with the Twilight series – if there is anyone who would know a vampire when she saw one, it’s Claire. She’s positive that the totally hot Tony Russo is a vampire, and she just has to prove it! Follow Claire’s hilarious journey on her first summer adventure away from home, where she learns that everything isn’t what it seems, and in some instances, reality is way better than anything she’d ever find in a book. Valor Publishing Group. Hardcover, (310) pages. ISBN: 978-1935546153

A Woman of Influence: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series, by Rebecca Collins

The ninth book in Ms. Collins’ Pemberley Chronicles series takes us well into Victorian-era England of 1868 continuing the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters with Collins’ new tribe of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins filling out the bill-o-fare. The further that Collins has progressed into the nineteenth-century, her writing style and the logic of this series has grown on me. Like a cherry on top of the cake, the cover design is one of the most stunning of the season. Publisher’s description: Acclaimed author Rebecca Ann Collins once again turns to the rich tapestry of Pride and Prejudice, moving the beloved characters forward and introducing new characters into a complex social history of an evolving period in English history. Contrary, opinionated, and headstrong, Becky Collins – daughter of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins – has always defied her staid upbringing with a determination not to submit to the pressures of Victorian domesticity and class distinction. She marries Anthony Tate, a man of wealth and power, believing it will enhance her opportunities to make something significant of a hitherto ordinary life, but quickly discovers that it brings her neither happiness nor contentment. Becky’s story is a glimpse behind the scenes of the complicated struggles that often lay behind the seemingly calm exterior of Victorian womanhood. Sourcebooks Landmark. Trade paperback, (336) pages. ISBN: 978-1402224515

Ransome’s Crossing (Ransome Trilogy), by Kaye Dacus

Last summer I read Ransome’s Honor, the first book in this series and was smitten. I am such a sucker for a Royal Navy man in a blue uniform a la Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion or C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower that I am totally ready to nail my colours to the mast for this one. Publisher’s description: Set in the early 1800s, this captivating, romantic second book of the Ransome Trilogy from author Kaye Dacus unfolds with the grace, power, and excitement of an ocean storm. Charlotte Ransome, desperate to reach Jamaica to see her secret fiancé, disguises herself as a midshipman for a convoy led by her brother, Captain William Ransome. Meanwhile, William and his new bride, Julia, face the rough swells of the sea and of marriage as they try to adjust to life together. When yellow fever befalls Charlotte and her identity is discovered, she begs first officer, Ned Cochran, and Julia to keep her presence and illness from her brother. But could this secret create insurmountable waves between Julia and William? And will Ned’s tender care of Charlotte change the tide of her affections forever? This smart, engaging tale is about holding on to faith during the journey to love and be loved. Harvest House Publishers. Trade paperback, (336) pages. ISBN: 978-0736927543

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

Rare Presentation of Copy of Jane Austen’s Emma Commands £325,000

Jonkers Rare Books, of Hart Street, Henley-on-Thames has announced today that an undisclosed British collector has paid £325,000 for the rare first edition presentation copy of Jane Austen’s novel Emma once owned by her dear friend Anne Sharp. Jonkers has owned the three volume set since June 2008 when it outbid all other participants at Bonham’s Auction House in London. The £180,000 sales price set a new auction record for a printed book by the British author. 

Bookshop director Christiaan Jokers revealed some amazing facts in his statement to the Henley Standard regarding the copy of Emma that I find quite debatable. 

“The important thing is the signature of Jane Austen to her best friend. That’s what moves it from being a £20,000 book to a £300,000 book.” 

“The fact that it is the only presentation copy is also really something.” 

When the copy was presented for sale in 2008, Bonham’s researched the history of its provenance and the hand writing prior to listing for auction. Since this was a presentation copy sent directly to Anne Sharpe from Jane Austen’s publisher John Murray, Bonham’s did not believe that the inscription was Jane Austen’s but had been written by her publisher before it was sent to Anne. I also doubt that it is the only known remaining presentation copy of Emma. Out of the twelve copies sent, nine went to her family and one to the Prince Regent. There must be another one still in the family or in the Royal library. 

Come what may, I am quite pleased that the sale was to a British collector and hope that it was to a museum or a certain millionairess in Chawton who will exhibit it to the public. 

  • Read my original post regarding the history of Anne Sharp’s presentation copy and her relationship with Jane Austen.

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Winner Announced in the Emma (Naxos AudioBooks) Giveaway

It appears that Miss Woodhouse is not such a “troublesome creature” after all! The response to the giveaway of the Naxos AudioBooks edition of Jane Austen’s Emma was fantastic. The lucky winner is in for 16 hours and 40 minutes of Juliet Stevenson reading one of Austen’s funniest novels. Here is the winner drawn at random:

Lynnae

Congratulations to Lynnae. To claim your prize, please e-mail me at austenprose at verizon dot net by midnight PST on February 26th, 2010. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Romola Garai’s Emma Woodhouse is ahead in the Which Emma Woodhouse do you prefer poll. Don’t let your favorite actress’ portrayal go unappreciated. Vote today!

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Maria Edgeworth – One of Jane Austen’s Favorite Novelist

“And what are you reading, Miss –?” “Oh! it is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5 

Portrait of Miss Maria Edgeworth, by John Downman (1807)Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) was an Anglo-Irish author most famously remembered by Janeites as being favored by Jane Austen with a presentation copy of Emma in 1816 which Edgeworth read, did not understand, or appreciate. “There’s no story in it,”  she wrote to a friend and then never acknowledge or thanked the author for sending it to her before publication. Previously, Austen had paid homage to Edgeworth’s talent by mentioning her with another famous female novelist of the era in her reproving “In Defense of a Novel passage in Northanger Abbey quoted above. 

In Jane Austen’s time, novels were considered low-brow and unworthy of serious consideration by critics and general society. By mentioning Cecilia: or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) and Camilla: Or, A Picture of Youth (1796) by Frances Burney and Belinda (1801) by Maria Edgeworth, Austen ironically defends writing and reading novels in the midst of a novel parodying gothic novels. A nice bit of genteel saber rattling indeed. 

When you read Maria Edgeworth’s works, she takes a much different perspective with her characters and plot than Austen, delving into areas where she never chose to tread: politics, religion and social unrest. Edgeworth’s reaction to the level of everyday events and secluded activity of a few families in Highbury must have bored her to tears to have made such a biting comment and exemplifies how progressive Austen’s advancement of the English novel truly was. 

Further links 

*Portrait of Miss Maria Edgeworth (1807) by John Downman (1750-1824), pencil and watercolor heightened with white from the Bloomsbury auction  2009

Collector’s Library Re-issues Jane Austen Classics

Collector's Library Banner

Great news for Jane Austen readers and book collectors. The Collector’s Library, a UK publisher has re-issued their popular and distinctive editions of Jane Austen’s six major novels. These compact 5.9 x 4 inch volumes are beautifully designed for easy handling and include these great features: 

  • Full-cloth hardcover bindings
  • Ribbon markers
  • Head and tail bands
  • Gilt edges
  • Classic illustrations by Hugh Thomson

Sense and Sensibility (Collector's Library) 2009Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by Henry Hitchings
Illustrated by Hugh Thomson

Two sisters of opposing temperament but who share the pangs of tragic love provide the subjects for Sense and Sensibility. Elinor, practical and conventional, the epitome of sense, desires a man who is promised to another woman. Marianne, emotional and sentimental, the epitome of sensibility, loses her heart to a scoundrel who jilts her. True love finally triumphs when sense gives way to sensibility. ISBN: 978-1904633020 

Pride and Prejudice (Collector's Library) 2009Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by Henry Hitchings
Illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

A tour de force of wit and sparkling dialogue, Pride and Prejudice shows how the headstrong Elizabeth Bennett and the aristocratic Mr. Darcy must have their pride humbled and their prejudices dissolved before they can acknowledge their love for each other. ISBN-13: 978-1904633013 

Mansfield Park (Collector's Library) 2009Mansfield, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by Nigel Cliff
Illustrations by Hugh Thomson  Park

Mansfield Park is a novel about town and country, surface dazzle and lasting values. Fanny Price, a poor relation, is brought up at the wealthy Bertrams’ country house and falls for Edmund, the younger son. Their lives are disrupted, however, by the arrival of the worldly Mary Crawford and her brother Henry. With her usual psychological insight and attention to detail, Jane Austen paints an irresistibly lifelike portrait of shifting values and split loyalties. ISBN: 978-1904633297 

Emma (Collector's Library) 2009Emma, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by David Pinching
Illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

When Emma Woodhouse sets out on a career of match-making in the little town of Highbury she manages to cause confusion at every step. Jane Austen was particularly proud of Emma, in which she takes apart the desires and foibles of small-town society with unnerving accuracy. ISBN: 978-1904633006 

Northanger Abbey (Collector's Library) 2009Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by David Pinching
Illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

Northanger Abbey tells the story of Catherine Morland, a naive young woman whose perceptions of the world around her are greatly influenced by the romantic gothic novels to which she is addicted. When she moves to Bath she sees mystery and intrigue all around her. This is one of Austen’s early works, a broad comedy about learning to distinguish between fiction and reality. ISBN: 978-1904633303 

Persuasion (Collector's Library) 2009Persuasion, by Jane Austen
With an Afterword by Henry Hitchings
Illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

Jane Austen’s final novel, her most mature and wickedly satirical, is the story of Anne Elliott, a woman who gets a second chance at love. To achieve happiness she must learn to trust her own feelings and resist the social pressures of family and friends. ISBN: 978-1904633280 

Enjoy!

James Fairfax: A Gender Bending Alternate Regency Universe Will be the Next Austen Mash-up

James Fairfax, by Jane Austen and Adam Campan (2009)Gentle Readers: In yet the third announcement in less than a week, another publisher is jumping on the classic literary re-imagining/mash-up band wagon and hitching their star to Austen’s prose. Independent publisher Norilana Books has announced today a new novel entitled James Fairfax, combining Jane Austen’s original text of Emma with new scenes by Adam Campan. Described as a “re-envisioning of Jane Austen’s world, where gay marriage is commonplace and love is gender-blind,” one is all astonishment as to this new premise.

Here is the publicity blurb:

In this stunning, gender-bending, stylish dance-of-manners version of Jane Austen’s beloved classic novel EMMA — an alternate Regency where gay marriage is commonplace and love is gender-blind — matchmaking Emma Woodhouse tries to find a suitable spouse for her lover Harriet Smith, and is embroiled in the secrets of the relationship between the mysterious and accomplished James Fairfax and the handsome Frank Churchill…

Last week Quirk Books, the publisher of the surprising best-seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, revealed its next Austen mash-up would be Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, followed by Beautiful Books announcement of Murder at Mansfield Park on Monday. With recent deluge of Jane Austen inspired books, this writer like Austen’s character Mary Bennet, “wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.”

Further reading

A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone – A Review

A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone (2009)Try if you can, to imagine two twenty-something over-educated cocktail waitresses, bored with their lives, embark on a road trip of discovery, end up in an Iowa cornfield, get tattoos, and begin transforming into their favorite fictional characters – Don Quixote and Emma Woodhouse. Whoa! The title A Body at Rest appears to be a total play on words. 

I’ll admit immediately that if the main character Martha Andrevsky had not morphed into a character created by Jane Austen, I would not be reviewing this book. The fact that she is becoming Emma Woodhouse is truly intriguing. Of all of Austen heroines, she is the most fallible with plenty of defects to play off of: snobbery, intolerance, condescension, manipulation, meddlesomeness, ignorance and on and on! The potential for a hilarious transformation was ripe with reproof. 

This novel originally caught my attention as a semi-finalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Consequently, there are numerous beaming five star reviews on Amazon by readers who only read an excerpt. That can be misleading to potential buyers unless they see what is happening and try to fish through the reviews and find someone who actually read the entire novel. They are there, and they are positive too. I was ready to suspend disbelief and give this first time author my unerring attention. 

Martha and her roommate Nina return home to Cleveland, Ohio from their self actualizing sojourn to Iowa with new tattoos, no jobs, and odd things happening to them. Martha is speaking with an English accent, has a desire to wear a Regency frock and bloomers that mysterious appeared in her bedroom, and Nina is growing inches a day, sprouting a beard, and something else much more distressing that is definitely male. When Martha had secretly wished for something magical to happen to her to change her life, she never imagined that becoming a fictional character would be the answer. Neither did Nina! Besides the physical transformation that Martha and Nina are experiencing, they are starting to think and talk like the characters which further complicates interaction. When Martha becomes concerned for Nina’s declining health, she takes her to a clinic to be evaluated by doctors who are baffled by her symptoms and complaints ordering tests at the local hospital. Once there, she can no longer control her Don Quixote impulses; her affected speech, uncontrolled outbursts and growing appendage becomes unexplained ‘complications’ that the hospital staff resolves by placing her in the psych ward. Martha defends her friend against over zealous medical staff and is arrested and banned from the hospital. Now she needs others to help get her out, and calls in the big guns – her mother and Nina’s father, explaining the whole unbelievable story to them. They finally suceed in ‘breaking’ her out of the hospital, but Martha and Nina have had enough. They just want their own identities back and the logical solution is to go back where it all started, the tattoo parlor in Iowa. 

Author Susan Petrone has taken a quirky paranormal concept, laced it with literary allusions and created an imaginative story with a surprising ending. This high concept novel was an ambitious undertaking for a first time novelist who obviously enjoys titling at windmills. Martha and Nina’s transformation into Emma Woodhouse and Don Quixote was gradually complete right down to its fateful fictional conclusion. Even though we did not see as many personality foibles that make Jane Austen’s Miss Woodhouse so endearingly flawed as I would have wished, nor was Don Quixote quite so delusional, the plot line parallels to Emma and Don Quixote were very fun to discover. Unfortunately, at times I felt disconnected to the story and wondered where it was all going, craving more laughter to help it along. I tried to stay open to the possibility of her two fictional characters becoming fictional characters and interacting in the real world, but their full potential was never reached to my satisfaction. In the end I can recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary fantasy, but would forewarn Janeites that this is definitely not your mothers Emma Woodhouse, only a milder version of her. 

3 out of 5 Regency Stars 

A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone
Drinian Press, Huron, Ohio (2009)
Trade paperback (264) pages
ISBN: 978-0982060919

Jane Austen’s Emma: English verdure – a sweet view

Illustration from Emma, by Phillip Gough, Macdonald & Co (1948)It was hot; and after walking some time over the gardens in a scattered, dispersed way, scarcely any three together, they insensibly followed one another to the delicious shade of a broad short avenue of limes, which stretching beyond the garden at an equal distance from the river, seemed the finish of the pleasure grounds. It led to nothing; nothing but a view at the end over a low stone wall with high pillars, which seemed intended, in their erection, to give the appearance of an approach to the house, which never had been there. Disputable, however, as might be the taste of such a termination, it was in itself a charming walk, and the view which closed it extremely pretty. The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.  

It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive. Narrator, Emma, Chapter 42 

We are having exceptionally fine weather in my neck of the woods in the country near Seattle, with nary a cloud in the sky and warm temperatures. The fruit trees are blooming and spring is in full flower. There is green everywhere, reminding me of this beautiful passage in Emma. As Austen describes the sweet view of the English landscape that her characters are experiencing, I am amazed how similar it is to my local landscape on a rare day when it is not raining or overcast. One wonders if Austen was feeling the same amazement with a fine clear day as I am, close to 200 years later. 

Wishing everyone a great holiday weekend in the states. 

*Illustration by Phillip Gough from Emma by Jane Austen, Macdonald & Co Publishers, London (1948)

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Austen at Large: Mr. Elton on Facebook

My class assignment taken to the fullest extent!

Mr. Elton on Facebook

 

 And of course he must have his say.

Mr. Elton's Facebook Page Notes

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

Jane Austen’s Letters: What a bit of pewter will supply

Illustration from Ackermann's Repository, a Walking Dress (1817)My Dearest 

The parcel arrived safely, & I am much obliged to you for your trouble. It cost 2 shillings 10 but as there is a certain savings of 2 shillings 4 ½ on the other side, I am sure it is well worth doing. I send 4 pair of Silk Stockings but I do not want them washed at present. In the 3 neckhandfs, I include the one sent down before. These things perhaps Edward may be able to bring, but even if he is not, I am extremely pleased with his returning to you from Steventon. It is much better – far preferable. I did mention P.R. (Prince Regent) in my note to Mr. Murray, it brought me a fine compliment in return; whether it has done any good I do not know, but Henry thought it worth trying. The Printers continue to supply me very well, I am advanced in vol. 3 to my arra-root, upon which peculiar style of spelling, there is a modest query in the Margin. I will not forget Anna’s arrow-root. I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate &c for fear of being obliged to do it & that she is thoroughly convinced of my being influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives. I have paid nine shillings on her account on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no more owing. Well, we were very busy all yesterday; from ½ past 11 to 4 in the Streets, working almost entirely for other people, driving from Place to Place after a parcel for Sandling which we could never find, & encountering the miseries of Grafton House to get a purple frock for Eleanor Bridges. Letter to Cassandra, 26 November 1815 from Hans Place, London 

1815 were heady times for Jane Austen. Her novel Emma had been accepted for publication by John Murray, one of the most important and influential publishing houses in London. She would be in fine company with Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Lord Byron, George Crabbe (her personal favorite) and many others on Murray’s roister of prestigious authors. She had learned that the Prince Regent so admired her first three novels that he would endorse her new effort by allowing her to dedicate it to him. Though she did not agree with this lifestyle, she did not decline the honor, knowing full well what the publicity and sales would generate. “…but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.”(Letter to Cassandra, 30 November 1814). Even though she has book royalties coming in, she is still keenly aware of how much a shilling is worth! 

You can feel her energy and confidence in her letters of this period. As a spinster, she was dependent on her family for financial support. Emma would be her fourth novel to earn her ‘pewter’, and even though it would be published at her expense, she would realize the profits after the payment of a 10 percent commission was paid to Murray. [1] With money coming in and further recognition of her talent, she was experiencing a bit of pride and self-assurance in her life. In this letter to her sister Cassandra from her brother Henry’s residence of Hans Place in London, we see her bustling about town to purchase or collect items for neighbors and family, and a few niceties for herself. The bit about the 4 pairs of silk stockings always makes me smile. It pleases me to think of Jane Austen able to purchase such a luxury items from her own hard earned funds and so concerned over their care. Silk does shrink when you wash it! 

Reading her letters brings her life closer to heart. Even the smallest enjoyment of silk stockings, or her kindness in running errands for her in-law Eleanor Bridges, who was the wife of a Baronet and far richer than Austen would ever be, is enchanting. I can just envision her calling at Grafton House, a stylish linen-drapers on New Bond Street to collect Mrs. Bridges frock, and being amazed at the choice of the color purple. One can only imagine what she had to say to her sister Cassandra in private over her color choice! Oh what a bit of pewter can supply! 

Further reading 

1. David Gilson, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, 2nd ed., Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware (1997) pp 67

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