Portland Ho! Off to the Jane Austen (JASNA) Conference 2010

I am all anticipation! Tomorrow (now today) I will be on my way to the Jane Austen conference in Portland to celebrate three days of total Austen immersion. Jane Austen and the Abbey: Mystery, Mayhem and Muslin in Portland begins officially on Friday, October 29th and runs through Sunday, October 31th.

This is my first JASNA conference. After years of hearing it praised to the skies, I too will be one of the happy revelers, attending Plenary speakers and Break-out sessions on the most interesting of topics (Henry Tilney), shopping like Mrs. Allen on Milsom Street and meeting for the first time, many of my online Janeite friends who have until this opportunity, remained cybered.

My amiable roommate Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont is already in Oregon, having traveled in style with her husband and dog across country in their elegant equipage, the Airstream. I am so looking forward to meeting her. She is a JASNA conference veteran, and has graciously promised to show this rookie the ropes.

After registration, and unpacking by the maid of all work, Deb and I shall be hotfooting it to the Portland Public Library to see the exhibit (especially created for the descending Janeites) of Jane Austen first editions. Then it’s off to dinner with whoever will have me, followed by a Social Hour and a performance by actress Angela Barlow, “Jane Austen & Character: An Actor’s View.” Delightful. I love theatricals even though they make Fanny Price squeamish.

My trip by train journey tomorrow morning should be relaxing and I plan to listen to my Naxos Audiobooks recording of Northanger Abbey, read by the Incomparable Juliette Stevenson to put me in the mood. I have been frantically packing tonight, needing to use my largest piece of luggage to fit everything in. We do like to travel with all the comforts of home and a full wardrobe (not quite the Queen arriving for a state visit, but close). I was relieved after stepping on the scale that I have not exceeded weight limits. Oh joy! I actually have ten pounds to spare, and can make up the deficit with purchases.

I will be reporting in daily, so do check back for the latest news and hopefully some photos. I just received an email from Diana Birchall who reports that the weather is fair and warm and not raining at present.

‘She hoped to be more fortunate the next day; and when her wishes for fine weather were answered by seeing a beautiful morning, she hardly felt a doubt of it; for a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.’ The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey Chapter 5

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

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Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James – A Review

What qualifies a story as a retelling of a Jane Austen novel? Reverent adherence to Austen’s plot line? Faithful interpretation of characterization?  Emulation of her prose style? I asked myself these questions several times while reading Jenni James’ new novel Northanger Alibi, the first book in her Austen Diaries series of contemporary counterparts to Austen’s six classic novels. At what point does an Austen retelling diverge so far that it is not a retelling at all? And, more importantly, does it really matter? This led me to evaluate my Janeitehood. Am I a Formidable, or an Iconoclastic Austen sequel reader? Honestly, if you can answer these questions immediately, you will know if you want to read this novel or not. I could not decide, so I continued reading.

Claire Hart is a sixteen year old country girl from New Mexico whose never been kissed. Like any teenager she’d like it to be otherwise. She is Twi-hard to the extreme having read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer numerous times, seen the movies and obsessed over its heroes Edward Cullen and Jacob Black beyond the point of redemption. She is confident that she is now an expert on vampires and werewolves and can spot them on sight. When she and her sister Cassidy are given the chance to travel to Seattle with family friends for a summer holiday she is ecstatic to be near the epicenter of the Twi-world, Forks, Washington. Her trip to the Emerald City takes an interesting turn when she is introduced to Tony Russo, a handsome young man who likes to tease her, is interested in fine fashion, uses the word nice frequently and according to Claire’s first impression is definitely a vampire. Next she meets tall, dark and overbearing Jaden Black who is Quileute, the same local Native American tribe as the Twilight character Jacob and therefore must also be a werewolf. Everything she experiences is seen through the Gothic prism of Twilight characters and she is certain that her deductions are correct. Her sister is skeptical until she too starts reading the addictive novels that Claire has brought along with her. As both of Claire’s new supposedly paranormal male friends vie for her affections, she must learn to distinguish between fiction and reality and to trust her own instincts in matters of the heart.

Northanger Alibi is a charming tale written for a pre-teen audience craving more vampire and werewolf fare after reading the sensationally popular Twilight series. As such, it gently mocks the genre and its obsessive fans while following its heroine in her first experiences with love and romance. The concept of combining Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a parody of the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in Austen’s time, with the hugely successful modern Gothic tale Twilight was intriguing to me. The story had a promising beginning and then wanders away from Austen’s classic tale to the author’s unique plot and characterizations. Her hero and heroine do have similarities to Austen’s Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney: she is impressionable, naive and obsessed with Gothic fiction; he teases, likes fashion and the word nice, but beside a few other plot comparisons and character allusions, that is just about as close as it gets to the original. The ending brings us back to some resemblance of Austen’s story, but by then this reader was baffled.

Why am I picking at this funny and exuberant debut novel written by a promising new author you ask? Because of how it has been marketed. “This modern Gothic remake of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with a nod to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, will leave you in stitches.” The Formidable in me must warn readers who purchase this book because of the Jane Austen connection that they will find very little Abbey in this Northanger. On the other hand, the Iconoclast in me admires the author’s energy and creativity, and blames her editor and publisher for not pointing out the egregious omissions and addressing them. Promoting this book as a retelling of Austen’s novel is misleading. Promoting this book as a Twilight inspired story for pre-teens pairs the author’s creative choices with her target audience. Northanger Alibi is a great concept novel and a fun read for those interested in Twilight, but not the most rewarding fare for the Janeite who is expecting more than a passing resemblance to the original story.

2 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northanger Alibi: The Austen Diaries, by Jenni James
Valor Publishing Group, Orem, Utah
Hardcover, text (310) pages
ISBN: 978-1935546153

Additional Reviews

Winner Announced in the Northanger Abbey (Naxos AudioBooks) Giveaway

It appears by your comments that Henry Tilney’s interest in muslin and charming demeanor are by far the most enjoyable aspect of Northanger Abbey! He is after all, Jane Austen’s most swoonable hero. Comments in favor of Catherine Morland were a close second, but what of one of my favs, the flippant Isabella Thorpe? 

The response to this giveaway of the Naxos AudioBooks edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was fantastic. The lucky winner is in for 8 hours and 17 minutes of Juliet Stevenson reading one of Austen’s funniest novels. Here is the winner drawn at random: 

Corina

Congratulations to Corina. To claim your prize, please e-mail me at austenprose at verizon dot net by midnight PST on March 2nd, 2010. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Get your very own official Henry Tilney thinks I’m nice t-shirt from Austenish’s Janeite Supply Shop at CafePress

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Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review and Giveaway

Northanger Abbey is the exuberant lesser known child of Jane Austen’s oeuvre. Even though it was her first novel to be completed and sold in 1803, much to Austen’s bemusement it was never published and languished with Crosby & Co for thirteen years until she bought it back for the ten pounds that the publisher had originally paid. It was finally published posthumously together with Persuasion in late 1817. If its precarious publishing history suggests it lacks merit, I remind readers that in the early 1800’s many viewed novels as lowbrow fare and unworthy of serious consideration. In “defence of the novel” Austen offered Northanger Abbey as both a parody of overly sensational Gothic fiction so popular in the late eighteenth-century and a testament against those opposed to novel reading. Ironically, Austen pokes fun at the critics who psha novel writing by cleverly writing a novel defending novel writing. Phew! In a more expanded view it is so much more than I should attempt to describe in this limited space but will reveal that it can be read on many different levels of enjoyment for its charming coming of age story, astute social observation, allusions to Gothic novels and literature, beautiful language and satisfying love story. I always enjoy reading it for the shear joy of its naïve young heroine Catherine Morland, charmingly witty hero Henry Tilney and the comedy and social satire of the supporting characters. 

It is believed that Jane Austen wrote many of her first works for the entertainment of her family and would read them aloud for their opinion and enjoyment. It is not hard to imagine that Northanger Abbey was presented to her family in this manner. The language and phrasing lends itself so freely to the spoken word, almost like a stage play, that I was quite certain that an audio book would be a great enhancement to the text. Add to that the talent of a creative narrator and you have a great combination for several hours of entertainment ahead of you. I adore audio books and listen to them in the car during my commute to work. This Naxos AudioBooks recording is read by the acclaimed British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson whose performance as the acerbic Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma was amazingly as outrageously funny as Austen’s insufferable character. Stevenson’s reading did not disappoint and far exceeded my expectations. She added just the right amount of irony and humor to the reading that I was never in doubt that it is a burlesque of campy Gothic fiction or other overly sentimental novels popular in Jane Austen’s day. Her choice of characterizations was imaginative and captivating. Hearing her interpretation of the emptiness of Mrs. Allen and her frivolous distinction for fashion, Isabella Thorpe and her shallow endearments, and Henry Tilney with his knack for reading and adapting to different personalities with wit and charm, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the novel and recommend it highly. 

“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.” Ch 5

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos AudioBooks USA (2006)
Unabridged (7) CD’s 8h 17m
ISBN: 978–9626344279

GIVEAWAY CONTEST

Enter a chance to win one copy of a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey by leaving a comment by midnight PST February 23, 2010 stating who is your favorite character in the novel or movie adaptation of  Northanger Abbey. Winners will be announced on February 24th, 2010. Shipping to continental US addresses only. Good luck!

UPDATE 02/24/10: The giveaway has concluded. The winner was announced. Follow this link to learn if it was YOU!

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Northanger Abbey (2007) Encore on Sunday

Don’t miss the encore presentation of Northanger Abbey (2007) on Masterpiece Classic PBS Sunday, February 14th 9:00 – 10:30 PM (check your local listings). This adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies stars Felicity Jones as Jane Austen’s idealistic and naïve heroine Catherine Moreland and JJ Feild as the charming and witty hero Henry Tilney. 

Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen’s most overlooked novels, but contains some great dialogue by Henry Tilney and a heroine in Catherine that most ladies will smypathize with as she ventures into society in Bath for the first time and embarks upon romance. This adaptation is both lively and beautifully filmed. 

When it originally aired in the UK in 2007 Carey Mulligan, who portrays Isabella Thorpe, was a relative unknown British actress who had a supporting role in this movie. She has since becoming the darling of British film and awarded a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for her role in An Education. What this adaptation lacks in Austen’s beautiful language it makes up for in style and charm. Enjoy! 

Why not spend Valentine’s day with Jane Austen’s ultimate hero, Henry Tilney? *swoon* Join us on Tweetgrid  or your favorite Twitter aggregator for a an informal bicoastal Northanger Abbey Twitter party during the Masterpiece Classic viewing 9-10:30 eastern and pacific times. Use hashtag #emma_pbs from the last Emma party. Enjoy!

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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!

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig (2009)In the fifth installment in her Pink Carnation Series, more Napoleonic espionage ensues as Lauren Willig spins her captivating tale of the exploits of Robert Lansdowne, the reluctant Duke of Dovedail, and his bookish young cousin Charlotte in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Set in England in 1803, Robert’s unexpected return to his ducal estate in Sussex after a decade in the Army in India rekindles Lady Charlotte’s idealistic fantasies. Fueled by her passion for romantic novels such as Evelina she is hopeful that Robert, her knight in shining amour, has come to rescue her from her from the embarrassment of three failed London seasons and her grandmother’s succession of unacceptable eligible bachelors. However, Robert’s main objective is not romance, but to track down the spy who murdered his mentor during the Battle of Assaye. Even though their reunion sparks a quick romance, Robert abruptly ends their relationship and departs for London in pursuit of the elusive spy whose signature scent is the heady and seductive night jasmine. Infiltrating the notorious Hells Fire Club, he is witness to opium induced orgies and the dissipation of London society – all in the name of duty and honor, mind you. Meanwhile, Charlotte acting as lady in waiting to Queen is witness to the madness of King George, or is she? With the aid of her friend Lady Henrietta Selwick, they undertake a bit of espionage of their own, uncovering a plot to kidnap the king. Robert and Charlotte must join forces to thwart the scheme, and learn to trust each again before they can catch a spy, and, re-fall in love. 

All of Willig’s stories in this series unfold as a parallel plot prompted by the investigation of contemporary scholar Eloise Kelly as she conducts her own historical research into the enigmatic British flower spies during the Napoleonic wars. The trail of research has led her to Colin Selwick the descendant of the Pink Carnation who holds the family archive, and her affections under his control. Having read all of the previous novels in the Pink Carnation series, I was uncertain if Willig could continue to pump out fresh and engaging stories to match the intrigue, humor, and suspense of her previous four efforts. In addition, the dubious claim in the publisher’s description of the book that “Pride and Prejudice lives on in Lauren Willig’s acclaimed Pink Carnation series” really shot up an eyebrow. Talk about hitching your star onto a bandwagon! This series is not a Jane Austen sequel, though she does amusingly nod at Austen through allusions to her characters and plot lines, especially in this novel in the early chapters with young, naïve and bookish Charlotte Lansdowne. Any reader of Northanger Abbey will immediately see the similarities to Catherine Morland and smile. But the rest of the characters and plotline is entirely Willig’s own skillful imaginings. 

Given my reservations upon reading this new release, I was happy to discover that I cherish it among the best in the series. Willig’s effervescent style in almost tongue-in-cheek in its playfulness. Her strength, however, lies in her rendering of her characters unique and endearing personalities. Like Austen, she chooses an array of foibles and follies in human nature illustrated in her secondary characters to frame her hero and heroine. Charlotte’s grandmother is a great example. 

“The Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, the woman who had launched a thousand ships—as their crews rowed for their lives in the opposite direction.  She inspired horses to rear, jaded roués to blanch beneath their rouge, and young fops to jump out of ballroom windows.  And she enjoyed every moment of it.” 

Even though I thoroughly enjoy her writing style, Willig does have a few weaknesses that I hope will improve with experience. She handles comedy, historical context, and dialogue beautifully, but like Austen’s complaint about her own darling child Pride and Prejudice, her plots lack the deep shade necessary to offset the light, bright, sparkly stuff. Not only would I like to see more romantic tension between her protagonists, a bit more dastardly doings in her villains would please me exceedingly. Just channel a bit of Dickens Lauren, and you will succeed. Furthermore, I enjoyed the historical plot line so much more than the contemporary fumbling of her Bridget Jones clone-ish Eloise, mostly due to the fact that I am just really tired of clueless young woman who are so insecure that a run in their nylons ruins their day. 

Reverently harkening to her predecessors Austen and Heyer, Willig is one talented author who I hope will enjoy a very long career. In addition to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, the Pink Carnation series included The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Her next novel in the series is The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is due out in January, 2010. If you are in the mood for a Regency era romantic spy comedy romp, I recommend this book highly. 

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig
Dutton Adult, New York (2009)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525950967

Visit Lauren Willig’s beautiful website