Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

It seems only natural that an author would be interested in names. My writer friends collect interesting names for future characters and are constantly putting together different combinations. A young Jane Austen playfully tried out a selection of husband names for herself in her father’s parish register of marriages. Expectant parents pour over lists of baby names and struggle to find just the right one. As Maggie Lane points out in the introduction, “The pleasure of choosing names for progeny is one that maiden aunts normally forfeit. But not Jane Austen.” Jane Austen and Names explores her choice of character names and what these choices reveal about the culture she lived in. We also learn about Austen’s personal likes and dislikes through excerpts from her letters.

Ms. Lane begins with a chapter titled, “A Brief History of Names” in which she outlines the changing “common stock” of English Christian names. Names are drawn from a variety of sources and each name has an origin and meaning. The author asserts that these are much less important to most name choosers (parents and authors) than the cyclical rise and fall of names on the social scale. The following describes the cycle that applies as much to our current-day name choices as it did to Regency England.

“Typically, a name or set of names will be taken up at the top of the social hierarchy, being found alien, even absurd, by the majority. Eventually, through familiarity, it will become acceptable to a broad range of people; and by the time it has percolated to the very base of the pyramid, it will have long been shunned by the trend-setters, who are now looking elsewhere. Elsewhere might be a new set of imports, or more likely the revival of an old set of names.”

The next chapters examine the social status of various categories of names as well as naming patterns and practices at the time Austen’s novels were written. Jane’s own name is used to illustrate the trend away from diminutive forms (Sally, Nanny, Betty) very soon after her birth. Her father wrote to relatives in 1775 to announce her birth, declaring, “She is to be Jenny.” However, she was never known by this name, presumably because Jenny began to seem dated, a name for old ladies or servants. Continue reading

Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane 2013 x 200From the desk of Sarah Emsley:

Is it easier or harder to write if you’re also responsible for feeding and looking after your family? “Composition seems to be impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1816, after a period in which she managed the household at Chawton Cottage in Cassandra’s absence. Fortunately for Jane – and for us, as readers of her fiction – most of the time it was Cassandra who filled this role, freeing Jane to write. In her writing, she doesn’t mention food very often, yet Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen and Food shows her references to it are significant because “she uses it to define the character and illustrate moral worth.” Jane Austen and Food was first published in 1995 by The Hambledon Press, and it’s newly available as an inexpensive e-book from Endeavour Press. It isn’t a cookbook, but a discussion of food in Austen’s letters and fiction.

I’ve always loved that line from her letters about composition and reading Jane Austen and Food helped me understand it better. I learned that “mutton” isn’t always just mutton, and that “rhubarb” isn’t what I think of like rhubarb. Mutton, says Lane, “seems to have become the generic word for meat – or for dinner itself.” She cites the example from Mansfield Park of Dr. Grant inviting Edmund Bertram “‘to eat his mutton with him the next day,’ without supposing, for a moment, that ‘the bill of fare’ as he calls it is actually mutton (in fact it’s turkey).” The rhubarb Austen refers to is “not the plant we think of, the stalks of which are eaten as fruit,” but “the medicinal rootstock of the species of rheum grown in China and Tibet,” imported in powdered form to be “used as a purgative by the overfed part of the population.” Lane points out that in Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland eventually realizes poisons are not as readily available as doses of rhubarb. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s World by Maggie Lane – A Review

Image of the cover of Jane Austen\'s World, by Maggie Lane (2005)

I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 26

 

Jane Austen’s World: The life and times of England’s most popular author, by Maggie Lane, second edition, Carlton Publishing Group, London, (2005) ISBN: 978-1844423682 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most popular author’s the English language has ever produced. Her six novels have charmed generations of readers – their wit and romance are unforgettable.” Maggie Lane 

Image of the cover of Jane Austen\'s World, by Maggie Lane, (1996)Author, and Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane’s lushly illustrated and thoroughly delightful volume on Jane Austen’s life, times and works is one of my Austen favorites in my library. I own the first edition (1996), and I was happy to see that the second edition was released in 2005 with a new cover. I’m not sure if the second edition’s text was updated, so this post will reflect my 1996 copy. 

I gravitate to this lovely volume on my shelf when I need a quick Austen escape. Its large coffee table format allows for lush color photographs and period illustrations on each page, and author Maggie Lane was cleverly arranged the keynotes into five chapters, representing important aspects of Austen’s world; Who was Jane Austen? Daily Life in Jane Austen’s England, Society and the Spirit of the Age, The Visual World, and The Immortal Jane Austen. This volume also includes a well written introduction, chronology, helpful index and author’s acknowledgments. Here is an example of the first topic in chapter one… 

Chapter One: Who is Jane Austen?  

The Woman: We learn about Jane Austen’s birth, family and home environment that nurtured her genius. Her physical appearance, character and personality are described and exemplified by Lane’s thorough research, aptly including insightful quotes from her letters and family reflections. 

“Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous inclined her to play with the trifling commonplaces of everyday life, whether as regarded people or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities – when she was grave, she was very grave.” Anna Austen Lefroy 

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, (1995)Inevitably, comparisons of Austen’s personality lead to the paring of her attitudes and personality with the characteristics of her own heroines. Even though each of her heroines is highly individual, Lane hints at similarities in the characters of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot, and though I agree for the most part, I was amused to see how one can find what they need to suit, by reason and ingenuity. 

The chapters are broken down further by topics and continue in chapter one as follows; The Writer, Beliefs and Values, The Letters, The Portraits, Family Background, Home at Steventon, The six brothers, Some female relations, Love and friendship, Family visits, Bath and the West Country, and Return to Hampshire. 

Illustration of portrait of Jane Austen, 1869Even though Maggie Lane is qualified to write a scholarly treatise, she knows her audience, and her light style is approachable and engaging. She includes enough biographical and historical detail to introduce us to the subject, and not weigh it down with heavy language and minutia. The photographs and illustration have been thoughtfully selected, significant to the topic, and important historically. Her scholarship is exemplary. 

This is my favorite Austen book to give as a gift as an introduction to Jane Austen, and as eye candy to the indoctrinated. It has never failed to please, and I hope that we shall see many additional editions for future readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars  

Image of author Maggie LaneAuthor biography from the publisher: An active committee member of the Jane Austen Society, Maggie Lane has written several highly acclaimed books on the author. These include;  

Maggie appeared as a spokesperson for the Jane Austen Society on BBC Television’s Omnibus documentary, Persumption – The Life of Jane Austen. Maggie is the librarian at Bristol Grammar School, the city in which she lives. 

Image of Regency World Award SilhouetteMaggie Lane’s life-long support of the education and enjoyment of Jane Austen and her times is renowned. Austenprose sends our sincere congratulations on her recent nomination for the 2007 Jane Austen Regency World Awards in the category of outstanding Jane Austen contribution. We hope that our gentle readers remember to cast their vote for their favorite before May 10th through The Jane Austen Centre’s website.