A Fatal Likeness: A Novel, by Lynn Shepherd – A Review

A Fatal Likeness, by Lynn Shepherd 2013 From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP

The Young Romantics have inspired hundreds of books, plays, and films over the last two centuries, and there have been many accounts of that famous summer they spent together on Lake Geneva in 1816, when Frankenstein was conceived. But all the same there remain many inexplicable gaps and strange silences…A Fatal Likeness is an attempt to weave a new story between those gaps, and create a narrative to connect those silences” (from the Author’s Note).

For fans of Jane Austen’s virtue-oriented, Christian novels to appreciate how very odd and outrageous some of her contemporaries really were might be as easy as looking at the bevy of bad boys and girls she features in each of her novels. Think of Henry and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, George Wickham and Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Captain Tilney and Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey. These wild youths desperate to break free bear a striking (if superficial) resemblance to some of the most liberally minded literary stars of the late Regency Period–philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, their novelist daughter Mary Shelley, her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his fellow poet and friend Lord Byron. Certainly, it was an exciting age of revolution, but every revolution comes with a heavy price. For this circle of geniuses, the price was one untimely death or devastating heartbreak after another. But why? Continue reading

Jane Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for Summer 2013

Summer is here — and it time to head to the beach or take that well-earned holiday and read great books!

Summer reads are always fun—and little light-hearted and playful—and the Austenesque & Regency faire in the queue is so exciting that the Jane Austen Book Sleuth is thrilled to share what we will be reading and reviewing here on Austenprose in the coming months. Included are release dates and descriptions of the titles by the publisher to help you plan out your summer reading. Pre-order and enjoy! 

Austen-inspired Nonfiction 

Walking Jane Austen's London, by Louise Allen 2013Walking Jane Austen’s London, by Louise Allen (June 25) 

The London of Jane Austen’s world and imagination comes to life in this themed guidebook of nine walking tours from well-known landmarks to hidden treasures –each evoking the time and culture of Regency England which so influenced Austen’s wise perspective and astute insight in novels such as Pride and Prejudice. Extensively illustrated with full-color photographs and maps these walks will delight tourists and armchair travelers as they discover eighteenth-century chop houses, elegant squares, sinister prisons, bustling city streets and exclusive gentlemen’s clubs among innumerable other Austenesque delights.  

– During Jane Austen’s time, 1775 – 1817, London was a flourishing city with fine streets, fashionable squares and a thriving port which brought in good from around the globe. Much of this London still remains, the great buildings, elegant streets, parks, but much has changed. This tour allows the reader to take it all in, noting what Jane may have experienced while citing modern improvements such as street lighting and privies! 

ISBN: 978-0747812951
© 2013 Shire   Continue reading

Giveaway Winners Announced for The Solitary House

The Solitary House, by Lynn Shepherd (2012)24 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win one of three advanced readers copies of The Solitary House, by Lynn Shepherd. The winners drawn at random are:

  • Aurora who left a comment on February 07, 2012
  • Debra E. Marvin who left a comment on February 07, 2012
  • Melissa who left a comment on February 20, 2012

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by February 29, 2011. Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments for the giveaway, and to author Lynn Shepherd for her great guest blog in celebration of Charles Dickens bicentenary birthday.

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

In Celebration of Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday: From Jane Austen to Charles Dickens: Guest blog by Lynn Shepherd, & a Giveaway

Google Celebration of Charles Dickens 2012

We are basically a tried and true Janeite, but quietly confess to admiration of another nineteenth-century novelist also born in Hampshire; – Charles Dickens. His style is entirely different than the witty underpinnings of our beloved Miss Austen, but one cannot ignore his fabulous characterizations and amazing plot twists.

Charles DickensToday is the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth on February 7, 1812 at Landport, in Portsea, near Portsmouth, England. If Miss Austen is wholly a Regency author, then Dickens is her Victorian counterpart in popularity. He would become the most famous author of his day, writing sixteen major novels, traveling the world with his speaking tours and publishing other authors works like Mrs. Gaskell.

Like Jane Austen, Dickens has a huge following of admirers and sequelers. I was thrilled to learn last year that Murder at Mansfield Park author Lynn Shepherd was also a fan of Dickens and had written a novel inspired by one of his most popular works, Bleak House. Published last week as Tom-All-Alone’s in the UK, Lynn’s new novel will also be released in the US in May by Random House as The Solitary House: A Novel.

Lynn is the perfect fellow Janeite to share her thoughts on Dickens’ bicentenary celebration with us on his special day. She has generously contributed a guest blog and a very special chance for readers to win one of three advance readers copies available of The Solitary House. Details of the giveaway are listed below. Welcome Lynn:  

Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd (2010)The last time I wrote a piece for Laurel Ann it was because I had just written Murder at Mansfield Park; I’m back now to help celebrate Dickens’ 200th birthday because I’m just about to publish a new murder mystery, inspired by his great masterpiece, Bleak House.

It’s a very long way from the elegant ambiance of Regency country houses, to the dark and dirty world of Victorian London, so why did I decide to make the move from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens? And having made that decision, what challenges did I face?

The first thing I realized was that I didn’t want The Solitary House to be the same sort of book as Murder at Mansfield Park. In the latter I had worked very hard to mimic Jane Austen’s beautiful prose style, rigorously checking my vocabulary to ensure it was in use at the time, and replicating the special rhythm of her sentences. But I knew at once that I didn’t want to do the same thing with Dickens. His style is almost as distinctive as hers, but I suspected any attempt to pastiche it would descend very quickly into parody.

Likewise I made the conscious decision not to even attempt to cram in everything Dickens does – his books are astonishingly broad in their scope, with comedy and satire at one extreme, and drama and psychological insight at the other. I’ve always been more interested in the latter than the former, and I confess I do find his caricatures rather tiresome in some of the novels.  So by now I was clear: I wanted to write a book inspired by Dickens, but ‘darker than Dickens’, with no comedy, no caricatures, and in a voice of my own.

The Solitary House, by Lynn Shepherd (2012)The result is a book that runs in parallel with the events of Bleak House, with some of Dickens’ characters appearing in mine, and the two stories coming together and intersecting at crucial moments.  Bleak House is, of course, the very first detective story in English, with the first fictional detective, Inspector Bucket. He appears in my story too – my young detective, Charles Maddox, was once fired from the Metropolitan Police at Bucket’s insistence, and their paths cross again as Charles’ investigation deepens.

Anyone who’s read Murder at Mansfield Park, will recognize the name ‘Charles Maddox’ at once, but we’re now in 1850, not 1811, and this new Charles Maddox is actually the great-nephew of my original Regency thief taker. Old Maddox appears in the book as well, but he’s now an elderly man, and suffering from a disease that we recognize at once as Alzheimer’s, but which was unknown at the time. But when Maddox has lucid periods he is still one of the sharpest minds in London, and Charles will need all his help if he’s to unravel the terrible secret at the heart of this sinister case.

One of the great delights – and challenges – of writing The Solitary House was to go back and re-create Dickens’ London. As many people have said, London is not just a setting in Dickens’ novels, but a character in its own right, and I had the opportunity to be even more forthright about the realities of life in the city than Dickens was able to be. We know far more, in some ways, that Dickens’ middle class contemporaries did, and I’ve tried to bring the 19th-century city to life in all its splendor, all its sin, and all its stink.

Great Expectations (2011) UKOf course many of us owe our mental pictures of Victorian London to the screen adaptations of Dickens’ works, and he does translate particularly well to film and TV. The BBC aired a new – and I think excellent – version of Great Expectations this Christmas, with Gillian Anderson as a chillingly beautiful and aloof Miss Havisham. There was also a new adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with a new ending, and some wonderfully atmospheric scenes. There are many other excellent BBC adaptations of the books, and I’m also a great fan of the 1998 Our Mutual Friend, which has a marvelously intense Bradley Headstone, as played by David Morrissey, but my favorite – perhaps unsurprisingly – is the 2005 Bleak House.

Once again Gillian Anderson is utterly convincing and impressive as Lady Dedlock, and she’s supported by a wonderful cast of British character acting at its best. My only quibble is the choice of actor to play Tulkinghorn, as Charles Dance (in my view) is far too young, attractive, and just plain tall, to play the wizened old lawyer I have in my own imagination.

Bleak House (2005) BBCThe other fascinating thing about that Bleak House adaptation was that it was deliberately constructed in half-hour episodes, thereby mimicking the ‘serial publication’ of the original novel. It was a brilliant coup to screen it that way, since it helps us understand how Dickens structured his story with cliff-hangers at the end of each ‘number’, to keep people coming back for more.

And, of course, they did. And they still do, even 200 years after he was born, whether as readers, viewers, or – in my case – writers inspired by his great genius to create something new of their own.

Author Bio:

Lynn Shepherd studied English at Oxford, and later went on to do a doctorate on Samuel Richardson, which has now been published by Oxford University Press. She’s also a passionate Jane Austen fan, writing the award winning Murder at Mansfield Park in (2010), and just released another murder mystery Tom-All-Alone’s in the UK, inspired by Charles Dickens Bleak House. Retitled The Solitary House, it will be released in the US by Random House in May. You can visit Lynn at her  website, on Facebook as Lynn Shepherd, and follow her on Twitter as @Lynn_Shepherd.

A Grand Giveaway of The Solitary House: A Novel

Enter a chance to win one of three advance reading copies available of The Solitary House: A Novel, by Lynn Shepherd by leaving a question asking Lynn about her inspiration to write a Dickens sequel, her research process, or if you have read Bleak House or seen any of the many film adaptations, which your favorite character is by 11:59 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, February 23, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks for joining us today Lynn in celebration of one of literature’s most revered and cherished novelist of all time on his special day. Best of luck with your new mystery novel The Solitary House. I am so looking forward to reading it. 

© 2007 – 2012 Lynn Shepherd, Austenprose

Follow Friday: The Jane Austen Twitter Project

Jane Austen Twitter Project banner

Would you like to be part of a new Jane Austen story developing on Twitter? Join the Jane Austen Twitter project in progress.

This has to be a first for Twitter! We’re planning a completely new experiment in creative collaboration, and would love you to get involved. The idea is to work together to write a whole new Jane Austen-style story, with a plot chosen on Twitter, developed on Twitter, and published on Twitter.

Hosted by Murder at Mansfield Park author Lynn Shepherd @GhostingAusten and Adam Spunberg @AdamSpunberg, check out the stories in progress and join in the fun!

The Jane Austen Twitter Project blog

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Upcoming Reading & Writing Challenges, & Literary Blog Events in 2011

Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration at My Jane Austen Book ClubThere are great reading and writing challenges, and  literary events in the queue around the blogosphere that have come to my attention. So many in fact, that I decided to combine the announcements into one grand post, so here goes.

Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration

Maria Grazia at My Jane Austen Book Club is celebrating the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility by hosting a year-long blog event. Each month will feature a blog on a topic inspired by S&S from Austen enthusiasts and authors. I will be contributing as the final leg in December with my essay, Marianne Dashwood: A Passion for Dead Leaves and Other Sensibilities. You can check out the full list of bloggers participating and all of the prizes offered each month at Maria’s great Jane Austen inspired blog.

Jane Austen Twitter Project

Author of Murder at Mansfield Park, Lynn Shepherd asks if you would like to be part of a Jane Austen story project? If you are on Twitter, you can participate in a new multi-author story in the works.

She has been developing the idea with Adam Spunberg (@AdamSpunberg on Twitter) and they plan to run a storytelling session one day every week for about three months this year. Each week’s chapter will be posted online and on www.AustenAuthors.com on Sunday. You don’t have to be a published writer to join in – you just have to love your Jane! If you are ready to get your creative juices jumping, then check it out.

The Gaskell Reading Challenge

Katherine at GaskellBlog is hosting a six month reading challenge, January to June, 2011 of Mrs. Gaskell’s works. It’s as easy as selecting two to read and leaving a comment to commit. I have selected Moorland Cottage and will be participating also in her reading group event on the book February 1st to the 15th, 2011 to fulfill one of my challenge commitments. We shall see what my second book is as the year develops. Wives and Daughters? Ruth? Sylvia’s Lovers? I’m undecided. Any suggestions?

The Classics Reading Challenge 2011

Courtney at Stiletto Storytime is hosting a classics reading challenge in 2011. What is a classic you ask? To Courtney, a classic is a “book that has in some way become bigger than itself. It’s become part of culture, society or the bigger picture. It’s the book you know about even if you have not read it. It’s the book you feel like you should have read.” I heartily concur. There are four levels of commitment from 5 books to 40 for those seriously addicted classics readers. I have committed to the Student level at 5 books and will be reading Sense and Sensibility, a Gaskell novel, and three Georgette Heyer novels, because I consider her a classic of the Regency romance genre.

Heroine Love

Yes. We can never have enough love! It makes the world go around. Erin Blakemore, author of that great celebration of our favorite heroines, The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder is hosting a blog event February 1st – 18th, 2011 featuring 12 book bloggers writing on their favorite heroine’s and how they changed their lives. Yours truly will be participating on February 18th, (Last again. I know!) honoring one of my favorite heroines Elizabeth Bennet. In addition to the great gush of love for the literary ladies in our lives, there will be tons of swag, yes, great giveaways to reinforce the love all around!

Well gentle readers, get motivated and join in the literary love of writing, reading and books. My two challenges for 2011 are still open: The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge and the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge 2011. So…take the leap, and join the celebrations.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

Jane Austen and the ‘father of the novel’ – Samuel Richardson

Gentle readers: Last week I reviewed Lynn Shepherd’s new Austen inspired mystery Murder at Mansfield Park. Not only is she an accomplished novelist, she is a distinguished Samuel Richardson scholar with a new book Clarissa’s Painter: Portraiture, Illustration, and Representation in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, published by the venerable Oxford University Press. Richardson was Jane Austen’s favorite novelist and I could not pass up the opportunity for Lynn to chat about his impact on her writing and the English novel. This is her generous contribution. Enjoy!

What influence did Samuel Richardson have on novels like Mansfield Park?

Jane Austen’s biographers often have to resort to guesswork and speculation about many aspects of her life, but there’s one thing we do know, and that’s who her favourite author was. According to her nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, her knowledge of Samuel Richardson “was such as no one is likely again to acquire . . . Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of [characters like] Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.”

Richardson is a literary hero of mine, too, and I always think it’s sad that so few people read him nowadays. Not only because Clarissa, in particular, is one of the great masterpieces of European literature, but because it’s only by reading Richardson that you really understand the tradition Austen was writing in, and where she got some of the inspiration for her books.

So who was Samuel Richardson?

Academics and critics have been arguing for years about who wrote the first English novel. Some argue for Defoe and Robinson Crusoe, others for Fielding, but I’ve always been a firm supporter of Pamela, which Richardson published in 1740.

Pamela is a novel-in-letters, written by a young serving-maid to her parents, in which she describes her master’s attempts to seduce her. But as the subtitle (‘Virtue Rewarded’) suggests, all’s well that ends with a wedding. It sounds pretty standard stuff now, but at the time it was a publishing sensation.  There were 5 editions by the end of 1741, with an estimated 20,000 copies sold. It was also the first book to have what we would now call a ‘promotional campaign’. As a printer himself, Richardson employed all the tricks of the book-trade, including newspaper leaders and celebrity endorsement, and may even have encouraged the publication of a pamphlet that denounced the novel as pornographic, which certainly had a predictably healthy effect on sales!

But if it was Pamela that was ground-breaking, Richardson’s next novel, Clarissa, is the one that really established a new kind of prose fiction in English. This, like all Richardson’s books, is an epistolary novel, and it’s worth remembering that when Austen first put pen to paper seriously herself, she chose exactly this form – first in Lady Susan, and then in Elinor & Marianne, the first version of Sense & Sensibility. Clarissa is the story of a young woman who’s tricked away from her family by the libertine, Robert Lovelace, and eventually raped. The story evolves through two parallel correspondences – Clarissa’s with her friend Anna, and Lovelace’s with his confidant Belford. The depth and subtlety of the psychological characterisation is extraordinary, and you can see immediately why Henry Austen says his sister was such an admirer of “Richardson’s power of creating, and preserving, the consistency of his characters.” However, Clarissa is undeniably a very long read, so if you’d like a taster first, I recommend the BBC adaptation starring Sean Bean. It’s quite old now, but really worth taking a look at.

Sir Charles Grandison

The interesting point about that last quote, though, is that it’s actually about Sir Charles Grandison, Richardson’s last, longest, and least interesting book. All the same it was undeniably Austen’s favourite, and the one that had the most direct influence on her literary technique. As the critic Marilyn Butler has said, “Sir Charles Grandison contributed more than any other single book to the tradition of social comedy… which Jane Austen inherited.” Again and again, you can see Austen using characters and episodes from Richardson, and re-working them for her own purposes. If you’re interested there’s an excellent book on this whole subject by Jocelyn Harris called Jane Austen’s Art of Memory.

The parallels between Grandison and Mansfield Park, in particular, are especially interesting. Both books deal with similar themes, like marriage, education, and the relationships between parents and children, but there are also some striking similarities between many of the characters, notably the respective heroes and heroines – Fanny Price and Harriet Byron, and Edmund Bertram and Sir Charles. For example, both Fanny and Harriet are either literally or effectively orphans, who are adopted by a much richer family: as a result they both acquire two ‘sisters’ and a ‘brother’ they rapidly fall for, even though the man himself is in love with someone else entirely.

There’s no question that Austen loved Sir Charles Grandison, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t prepared to send it up gently. Isabella Tilney famously calls it an ‘amazing horrid book’, and sometime in the 1790s Jane and her niece Anna worked together to turn Richardson’s million-word novel into a ten-minute comic play for the family to perform. Though that’s rather easier than it sounds, because so little actually happens in Grandison: Sir Walter Scott recalled an old lady telling him she always chose to have that book read to her, because “should I drop asleep in course of the reading, I am sure, when I awake, I shall have lost none of the story, but shall find the party, where I left them, conversing in the cedar-parlour.”

One reason I mention this is because it’s something I always say to people who say you should never tinker with a literary classic like Austen, whether by writing sequels or pastiches, or creating new versions based on her works, like my own Murder at Mansfield Park. It’s useful to remind ourselves that Jane Austen did exactly the same thing, using Richardson both as the source text for a youthful skit, and – more seriously – as an important inspiration for her mature novels.  On that basis I think she’d be flattered that nearly 200 years after her death, so many of us still turn to her books to find inspiration for new work of our own.

Fast facts about the ‘Father of the Novel’

  • Born near Derby in 1689, Richardson was married twice and had six sons and six daughters, of whom only four girls survived.  His education was limited, but he became an extremely successful printer in London, not putting pen to paper on his own account until he was 50.
  • At the age of 13, Richardson was making money writing love-letters for young women he knew, an experience he claimed gave him his knowledge of the female heart.
  • When the villagers of Slough read of Pamela’s wedding in the newspaper they ran the church bell in celebration.
  • You can actually read Clarissa in ‘real time’, starting on January 10th, and finishing on December 18th.

They said…

“This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him, and eagerly read him, nay, sob over his works in a most scandalous manner.” Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

“If you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment”.  Samuel Johnson

He said…

“I thought [if Pamela were] written in an easy and natural manner… [it] might possibly introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance-writing”

Want to find out more?

There are good basic introductions to Richardson and his novels here:

The site below is also really interesting. Richardson didn’t just publish the first English novel, but the first illustrated novel too. He took advantage of Pamela’s runaway success by issuing a lavish ’collector’s edition’ two years later (though there were pirate illustrated versions before that). Richardson went to great expense to commission his own illustrations from two of the leading book engravers of the time. It’s fascinating to see him using these images as a way of ensuring that readers only saw ‘his’ version of Pamela the demure and virtuous heroine, and not – like many of his contemporaries, including Henry Fielding – “a pert little minx, whom any man of common sense or address might have had on his own terms in a week”!

Lynn Shepherd studied English at Oxford, and later went on to do a doctorate on Samuel Richardson, which has now been published by Oxford University Press. She’s also a passionate Jane Austen fan, and has just published Murder at Mansfield Park. You can visit her website and follow her on Twitter as GhostingAusten.

Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd – A Review

Mansfield Park is considered (by some) to be the dark horse of Jane Austen’s oeuvre and her heroine Fanny Price intolerable. Poor Fanny. She really gets the bum’s rush in Austenland. The patron saint of the weak, insipid and downtrodden, she is Jane Austen’s most misunderstood heroine. In fact, many dispute if she is the heroine of Mansfield Park at all, giving that honor to the evil antagonist Mary Crawford.

Much has been debated over why Austen’s dark and moralistic novel has not been embraced as warmly as its sparkling siblings. Personally, I delight in reading Mansfield Park and root for Fanny Price’s principles to prevail. So when I read a book announcement last July that Jane Austen’s classic would be re-imagined as a murder mystery “whereas Fanny is quite a pain in the arse in Austen’s version, Lynn’s [Shepherd] Fanny is an outrageous gold-digger”, my rankles were ired. First it was zombies in my Austen, then vampires and now my gentle Fanny was under attack. What next?

Reading Murder at Mansfield Park with a chip on my shoulder made for a difficult beginning. I was resistant and confused by all the character changes. Shepherd mixes up Austen’s classic story by switching the protagonist and antagonist, morphing other characters and plot points and spotlighting the murder instead of the moralistic undertones that Austen chose to soft shoe her narrative. This was Austen’s setting but in an alternate universe. Meek, poor and principled Fanny Price was egotistical, rich and underhanded. Selfish, coquettish and manipulative Mary Crawford was generous, demure and obliging. Edmund was no longer a Bertram but the son of Rev & Mrs. Norris, now rich gentry. Henry Crawford was no longer an estate owner but a renovator of estates. There were the familiar private theatricals, the gift necklace and ball, the excursion to view a picturesque estate, and the elopement, but all tweaked and scrambled. There are other changes, but you get my drift. If Mansfield Park nay sayers wanted a complete renovation, this was it. The only constant between both novels was the officious and abrasive Mrs. Norris. Obviously Shepherd knew a good/bad thing when she saw it, and let her be.

I was immediately charmed by Shepherd’s command of Regency-era language. Not since Diana Birchall’s Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma have we been treated to such effusions of fanciful Austenesque styling. As the prose eloquently rolled through the first few chapters I set aside my resistance to change and began to appreciate the craft behind the concept of turning everything we knew about Austen’s characters and plot completely asunder. This was a pastiche written with great respect for the original by an author who understood the novel as it was evolving during the early nineteenth-century and had a superior command of the language.

When the insulting and underhanded Fanny Price is finally bumped off half way through the book, few will grieve and many will cheer. She had now become Shepherd’s Fanny and not Austen’s, so it is all forgivable. Enter thief-taker Charles Maddox hired by Tom Bertram to sleuth out the criminal and the novel becomes a murder mystery. Since I have a penchant for handsome and clever gumshoes who swoop in and put the world to right, it was an easy step to acquiescence. Shepherd had achieved the impossible by renovating Jane and totally charming me in the process. Her characterization of Henry Crawford proclaimed that it was his “role is to improve upon nature, to supply her deficiencies, and create the prefect prospect that should have been the imperfect one that is.” I will argue that Lynn Shepherd has accomplished just the same.

5 out 5 Regency Stars

Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd
St. Martin’s Press (2010)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312638344

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

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

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

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

Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd

Mansfield Park is considered (by some) to be the dark horse of Austen’s oeuvre and her heroine Fanny Price weak and insipid. I do not agree, but the majority of readers might find this new novel an improvement since the narrative is “renovated” (not unlike Sotherton) and Fanny gets bumped off. Shepherd mixes up Austen’s classic story by switching the protagonist and antagonist, morphing other characters and plot points and spotlighting the murder instead of the the moralistic undertones that Austen chose to soft shoe her narrative. Personally, secondary to Jane Austen, I enjoy a good murder mystery, so this reader is quite charmed at the possibility of having both together. (Publishers description) In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price–whom Jane Austen’s own mother called “insipid”–has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor. It’s only after Fanny is murdered on the grounds of Mansfield Park that Mary comes into her own, teaming-up with a thief-taker from London to solve the crime. Featuring genuine Austen characters–the same characters, and the same episodes, but each with a new twist – Murder at Mansfield Park is a brilliantly entertaining novel that offers Jane Austen fans an engaging new heroine and story to read again and again. St. Martin’s Griffin, Trade Paperback (384) pages, ISBN: 978-0312638344

Review of Murder at Mansfield Park in the Sterling Observer

Austen’s Oeuvre

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, illustrator Chris Hammond, introduction by Joseph Jacobs

Dover has done it again! They have taken a classic Victorian illustrated edition of a Jane Austen novel and reproduced the interior exactly offering the book lover the next best thing to the original. Their first volume in this series of hardback collector editions was Pride and Prejudice. For any of you who collect vintage Austen editions it is a reproduction of the popular and pricey 1894 ‘Peacock’ edition illustrated by Hugh Thomson. This edition of Sense and Sensibility illustrated by Chris Hammond is even more beautiful and my personal favorite Victorian edition of a Jane Austen novel. Enjoy! (Publishers description) A delightful comedy of manners, this novel concerns the romantic travails of two sisters, who struggle to balance passion and prudence. It abounds in the author’s customary wit and engaging characterizations. This handsome hardcover gift edition features a dust jacket and more than 60 charming drawings by a leading Victorian-era illustrator. Dover Publications, Hardcover (416) pages, ISBN: 978-0486477435.

Audiobooks

The Watsons/Sanditon (Naxos Complete Classics), by Jane Austen, read by Anna Bentinck

Now available outside of the audio collection Jane Austen: the Complete Novels, readers can listen to two of Austen’s unfinished works professionally produced and read by BBC Radio personality Anna Bentinck. They are gems, and you might be pleasantly surprised. (Publishers description) One abandoned, one unfinished, these short works show Austen equally at home with romance (a widowed clergyman with four daughters must needs be in search of a husband or two in The Watsons) and with social change (a new, commercial seaside resort in Sanditon). Typically touching, funny, charming and sharp. Naxos AudioBooks, 4 CDs, 4h 29m, ISBN: 978-9626342817

Read my review of The Watsons/Sanditon

Austen’s Contemporaries & Beyond

Helen, by Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) was a major “best selling” novelist of her day, surpassing many of her male counterparts. Jane Austen admired her so much that she sent one of the 12 presentation copies of Emma that she received from her publisher even though they had never corresponded or met. Regretfully, Austen did not have the opportunity to read Helen since she died in 1817, but you can judge for yourself why she and her contemporaries valued Edgeworth and why she merits this re-issue of her 1834 novel. (Publishers description) The last and most psychologically powerful novel by Jane Austen’s leading rival, the newly orphaned Helen Stanley is urged to share the home of her childhood friend Lady Cecilia. This charming socialite, however, is withholding secrets and soon Helen is drawn into a web of ‘white lies’ and evasions that threaten not only her hopes for marriage but her very place in society. A fascinating panorama of Britain’s political and intellectual elite in the early 1800s and a gripping romantic drama, Helen was the inspiration for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Sort of Books, Trade paperback (544) pages, ISBN: 9780956003898

Review of Helen in the Scotland Herald

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann