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

Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV.  Austen privately abhorred the Regent for the treatment of his wife Princess Caroline and his dissipated lifestyle. In 1813 she wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd, “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” She did, however, recognize the value of his name and agreed to the dedication. Upon publication, Emma also had its own share of critics. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked “incident and romance” and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? Continue reading

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, Read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobook), Review & Giveaway

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 opinions 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.  It is a great time to tune out the traffic, clear my head, and get lost in a good story. When I decided that I wanted to listen to an audio version of Northanger Abbey I discovered that there were three new unabridged audio editions that had been produced in the last two years to choose from. The first Blackstone Audiobooks (2007) was read by Nadia May, the second by Tantor Media (2006) and read by Donada Peters, and the third by Naxos AudioBooks (2006) and read Juliet Stevenson. The first two readers appeared to be professional narrators specializing in the classics with a diverse range of authors, and the third Juliet Stevenson is a well known British stage and screen actress, whose performance as the acerbic Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma was so hilarious, that I knew she would be an excellent choice to read the novel with the extra bit of animation that I desired. 

Ms. Stevenson did not disappoint and far exceeded my expectations. She added just the right amount of irony and humor to the reading of Northanger Abbey that no one would be in doubt that it is a burlesque on the sensational 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.

I was happy to learn that Naxos AudioBooks has made quite a solid commitment to present quality productions of all of Jane Austen’s six major novels in unabridged and abridged formats. You can read about all of their recordings on their excellent web site and listen to a PodCast of an interview of Juliet Stevenson as she discusses her involvement in the audio recordings and her affinity to Jane Austen. Of note is the free download for this month of Feuille D’Album, an 1917 short story by Katherine Mansfield and read by Juliet Stevenson.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 11 Giveaway

 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen 

Naxos AudioBooks (2006), Read by Juliet Stevenson 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one unabridged, and one abridged copy of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey read by Juliet Stevenson, Naxos AudioBooks (2006)

(US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 12 – Oct 20          Guest Blog – Valancourt Books
Day 13 – Oct 21          Group Read NA Chapters 18-21
Day 14 – Oct 22          Book Review – OWC NA
Day 15 – Oct 23          Group Read NA Chapters 22-24

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks), Read by Juliet Stevenson-A Review & Giveaway

I adore audiobooks and always have one playing away in my car during my commute to work; — so when I went hunting to purchase a new unabridged audio edition on CD of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, I was quite surprised to learn that my choices were very few at exactly two; a Blackstone AudioBooks, Inc (2008) read by Johanna Ward and a Naxos AudioBooks (2007) read by Juliet Stevenson. My first choice was, of course, the Juliet Stevenson version, for what Janeite could ever forget her outrageous performance as Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma?  My abject apologies to Johanna Ward, who I am sure must be a very fine reader since she has several audiobooks to her credit, but the thought of listening to Mansfield Park read by Mrs. Elton just intrigued me and gave me the giggles. If anyone could liven up Mansfield Park, reputed to be Jane Austen’s most complex and dark novel, she could!

Being a reader for an audiobook is not an easy task since so many different ‘performances’ are required to distinguish each of the characters for the listener. I have found through a course of trial and error that I enjoy audiobooks read by classically trained actors. Juliet Stevenson fills this qualification perfectly for me using every inch of her Royal Shakespearean Company training. Her understanding of Jane Austen’s use of language and her true British accent added greatly to my enjoyment of this fine production.

Naxos AudioBooks has made quite a solid commitment to present quality productions of all of Jane Austen’s six major novels in unabridged and abridged formats. You can read about all of their recordings on their excellent web site and listen to a PodCast of an interview of Juliet Stevenson as she discusses her involvement in the audio recordings and her affinity to Jane Austen. Of note is the free download for this month of Milton’s L’Allegro read by Samantha Bond (Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park 1983 and Mrs. Weston in Emma 1996)

It has been said that Jane Austen often read her writings to her family as entertainments. Her beautiful use of language which just flows effortlessly is completely suited for the spoken word. When you add to perfection an accomplished actress with a keen sensitivity to Jane Austen’s particular style, the results truly are remarkable.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 4 Giveaway

Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for the free drawing on August 31st. for one abridged and one unabridged copy of Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen audiobook.

FREE JANE AUSTEN AUDIO SAMPLER

Available to all participants of Mansfield Park Madness. Just leave a comment between August 15-30, 2008 and e-mail your physical address to Austenprose at Verizon dot net before September 1, 2008, and you will receive one copy of the following sampler by mail. US residents only.

Jane Austen Naxos AudioBooks Sampler, read by various artists

Naxos AudioBooks, Ltd. (2008). A lively sample reading of the Biography of Jane Austen by Elizabeth Jenkins, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and an interview with actress Juliet Stevenson. 1 CD, 75 minutes.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos AudioBooks (2007)
Unabridged 14 CD’s (17 hours)
ISBN: 978-9626344675

Upcoming posts
Day 5 – Aug 19            MP novel discussion chapters 9-16
Day 6 – Aug 20            Metropolitan movie discussion
Day 7 – Aug 21            MP novel discussion chapters 17-24
Day 8 – Aug 22            MP great quotes and quips

Cover image courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks © 2007; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com