Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley – A Review

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Just in time for the premiere on 13 January 2019 of the third season of Victoria on Masterpiece Classic on PBS, Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life is a new biography of one of the United Kingdom’s (and the world’s) most famous queens. Arriving like a gift on a royal red velvet cushion, fans of the TV series and British history will devour and adore this book.

In her usually upbeat and engaging style, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, television presenter, and one-woman British history hurricane, Lucy Worsley’s biography of Queen Victoria is a selective and sympathetic view of the life of the most powerful woman of her generation. Structured as twenty-four significant dates in her life, it is a personal look at her family history, social context, and her inner thoughts and impressions. Drawing upon a variety of sources, including her own personal diaries and of those around her, Worsley also adds quotes and references from the Queen’s major biographers and historians of the Victorian era.

Some readers may assume that the most significant dates in the Queen’s long life such as her coronation, marriage or the death of her beloved husband Albert would be the most interesting dates of her life. However, I found the quieter moments, even more, moving, insightful and tragic. For example, on the 20th of June 1837 not only did she learn that her uncle William IV had died, making her Queen, but she also met privately for the first time with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne who would become a close advisor, stalwart advocate and dear friend to the young Queen. Starved for male companionship after the death of her father in her infancy and a childhood dominated by a weak mother and her circle of cronies, Melbourne would become the antidote to her lonely and isolated life helping her to transition to a monarch and rule her country. Continue reading

Austenprose’s Best Austenesque & Jane Austen Era Books of 2015

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What a great year of Austenesque reading! We reviewed 40 fiction and nonfiction books in the Austenesque, Regency or Georgian genre this past year and would like to share our list of what we feel were the most exciting, memorable and rewarding books of 2015. 

Best Austenesque Historical Novels 2015:

  1. Brinshore: The Watson Novels Book 2, by Ann Mychal (5 stars)
  2. Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story, by Carolyn V. Murray (5 stars)
  3. Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds (5 stars)
  4. Pride, Prejudice and Secrets, by C. P. Odom (5 stars)
  5. The Darcy Brothers, by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds (4.5 stars)
  6. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy, by Jenetta James (4.5 stars)
  7. Yours Forevermore, Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory (4.5 stars)
  8. The Second Chance: A Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility Variation, by Joana Starnes (4.5 stars)
  9. A Will of Iron, by Linda Beutler (4.5 stars)
  10. Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow (4 stars)

Best Austenesque Contemporary Novels 2015: Continue reading

A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons & Mistletoe, by Carlo DeVito – A Review

A Jane Austen Christmas by Carlo DeVito 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite author celebrated Christmas in the 18th century—or just know someone who has—A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito is the perfect package to place under the tree this holiday.

A Jane Austen Christmas takes us through Jane’s life story but focuses only on events that happened around Christmastime. We begin with the holiday season of 1786, when Jane is only 11-years-old and spends time with her visiting cousin, Eliza, and ends with the Christmas of 1815 when Emma is published for the first time. On the way, we get to know more about Jane Austen and her family, read about holiday traditions in 18th-century England, and learn to make some delicious, Regency-era Christmas treats. Yum!

At first, I thought there might not be much to say about Jane Austen at Christmastime. Though all her novels mention Christmas, the season isn’t a big focus, except perhaps as a backdrop for Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal in Emma. But, the narrow seasonal scope of this book really makes it an easy-to-read guide to some of the important moments in Jane Austen’s life. Because the author is just touching on Christmas memories, the reader isn’t overwhelmed with tons of details about the author’s life story. We just get to focus on key events in her journey. Continue reading

Downton Abbey – A Celebration: The Official Companion to All Six Seasons, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Downton Abbey a Celebration 2015 x 300“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love” … with Downton Abbey all over again. The final season starts in less than one month on Masterpiece Classic PBS on January 3, 2016. My anticipation of another season of great drama, romance, and witty retorts runs high.

I am, of course, paraphrasing The Christmas Waltz; the famous 1954 holiday song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra. There is nothing like listening to Christmas carols to make me sentimental. Coupled with the fact that this will be the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, one of my favorite period dramas on television, and I am ready for a double shot of brandy in my eggnog.

Despite my melodramatic angst over the conclusion of the Crawley family and their servants’ story, fellow Downtonites can revisit the fabulous plots, locations, and characters by reading the final companion volume to the series, Downton Abbey – A Celebration, by Jessica Fellowes. This is her fourth large and lavish book spotlighting the phenomenally popular, award-winning television series.  And, it truly lives up to its title—a jubilant fête worthy of her uncle Julian Fellowes’ vision of portraying the changes in the British aristocracy through the Crawley family and their servants from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to the Jazz Age of 1925. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, by Margaret Doody – A Review

Jane Austens Names Margaret Doody 2015 x 200From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

Historical allusions abound in [Austen’s] fiction–they are part of the consciousness of each novel in itself. Combinations of place names and personal names point both back and forward. Or rather, references and images are more than just allusions; we find we are within history all the time. The writing is dense with allusion, thick with multiple sensations and meanings.” (389)

If I could, I’d drop everything to go study at the feet of the great Canadian, Margaret Doody, professor of literature at Notre Dame University. In her latest book, Jane Austen’s Names, Doody offers readers insights into the history that saturates each of Austen’s novels. In this way, the text resembles Janine Barchas’s excellent work Matters of Fact in Jane Austen (2013); but Doody’s work is both more minute and more expansive than Barchas’s in how it incorporates etymological origins for names and places, both real and imaginary, and cross-references many of the historical events and literary texts that influenced Austen. Of course, when Doody adds her own analysis of Austen’s novels, the effect is bewilderingly fascinating, like the publication of any gifted professor’s notes after a long tenure of research and teaching.

In Part I of the book, Doody introduces the fine line that Austen walks between allegory and allusion on the one hand and restraint and originality on the other. Doody reminds us that Austen’s Britain is a complex etymological canvas thanks to the presence of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and others; she further reasons that “No set or string of events is ever entirely over. Austen’s England is a place of strains and tension, of disharmonies potentially revived or momentarily perhaps forgotten.” (14). To lay the foundation for the other two parts of the book, Doody gives a quick overview of major topics of British histories, such as the Norman Conquest, the Tory/Whig divide, and the Tudor/Stuart tug of war for the throne. These topics are important, because they underlay Austen’s word choices, thereby exposing her political and religious sympathies. Continue reading

The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London, by Hannah Greig – A Review

The Beau Monde by Hannah Greig (2013)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Several recent histories have popularized Georgian England as “The Age of Scandal” with members of the beau monde starring in colorful “stories of gambling, adultery, high spending, and fast living” (30). Author, lecturer in 18th-century British history, and historical consultant Hannah Greig takes an alternate approach in The Beau Monde. By focusing on the fortunes of the beau monde as a whole, rather than concentrating on the biographies of a few individuals, such as the Duchess of Devonshire, she seeks to present the culture as “a new manifestation of social distinction and a new form of social leadership, one oriented to the changing conditions and contexts of the period.” (31)

After ousting James II from the throne with the support of the English nobility, William III began a series of wars that required him to summon parliament regularly to secure funds for his war chest. Beginning in 1689, the titled nobility came to London for the yearly meeting of parliament and the London season was born.  Continue reading

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, by Lisa Pliscou – A Review

Young Jane Austen by Lisa Pliscou 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Very little has been written about Jane Austen’s life before she started writing at the age of 12. That’s probably because so very little is known about that time. In Young Jane Austen, author Lisa Pliscou focuses on these early years to give us a better understanding of how one of the greatest novelists of all time got her start.

The author begins by letting us know that this particular biography will be a “speculative” one. Since so little is known about Jane Austen’s early years, Lisa Pliscou draws on a wide variety of Austen scholarship to give us a charming portrait of the artist as a young girl. She begins in 1775 with the birth of little Jane—nicknamed Jenny—and takes us up through 1787 when Jane first decides to put pen to paper for the amusement of her family.

Along the way, the author includes short scenes from Austen’s life but presents them in a narrative format. We meet Jane at various moments in her journey—playing with siblings, spending time with her family, lounging in her father’s library, heading off to school with her sister, Cassandra. Each step of the way, the author reflects on what a young Jane Austen might have felt and thought in these moments.

Most Austen biographies I’ve read tend to gloss over Jane’s early years. They focus more on her evolution as a writer and her years as a successful author. The typical Austen biography also tends to be a little more dense and scholarly because it’s just trying to pack so much information into one little volume. But, Young Jane Austen avoids these pitfalls and, as a result, becomes a delightful and infinitely readable story. Continue reading

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, by Maria Grace – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

A Jane Austen Christmas by Maria Grace 2014Christmastide holiday celebrations were much different during the Regency-era than the Victorian traditions that many people celebrate today. If you are curious about how Jane Austen, her family, and friends decked the halls, what food they ate, games they played, and gifts they exchanged, then A Jane Austen Christmas by Austenesque author Maria Grace will be of great interest to writers and readers of the era.

Maria has written five Regency-era novels inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, notably the Given Good Principles series and Remember the Past: …only as it gives you pleasure. Writing period-accurate novels requires extensive research, so it seems only logical that Maria should turn her hand to nonfiction. If this new release focusing on Regency-era holiday traditions is as delightful as her novels, we are in for a treat. Here are a preview and exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.  

DESCRIPTION: 

Many Christmas traditions and images of ‘old fashioned’ holidays are based on Victorian celebrations. Going back just a little further, to the beginning of the 19th century, the holiday Jane Austen knew would have looked distinctly odd to modern sensibilities.

How odd? Families rarely decorated Christmas trees. Festivities centered on socializing instead of gift-giving. Festivities focused on adults, with children largely consigned to the nursery. Holiday events, including balls, parties, dinners, and even wedding celebrations, started a week before Advent and extended all the way through to Twelfth Night in January.

Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the traditions, celebrations, games, and foods that made up Christmastide in Jane Austen’s era. Packed with information and rich with detail from period authors, Maria Grace transports the reader to a longed-for old fashioned Christmas.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:

Celebrating a Jane Austen Christmas  

Each year the holiday season seems to begin earlier and earlier. Complaints about holiday excesses and longings for ‘simpler’ and ‘old fashioned’ holiday celebrations abound. But what exactly does an ‘old fashioned Christmas’ really look like?

Many Christmas traditions and images of ‘old fashioned’ holidays are based on Victorian celebrations. Going back just a little further, to the beginning of the 19th century, the holiday Jane Austen knew would have looked distinctly odd to modern sensibilities.

How odd? Families rarely decorated Christmas trees. Festivities centered on socializing instead of gift-giving. Festivities focused on adults, with children largely consigned to the nursery. Holiday events, including balls, parties, dinners, and even wedding celebrations, started a week before Advent (the fourth Sunday before Christmas) and extended all the way through to Twelfth Night in January.

Like today, not everyone celebrated the same way or observed all the same customs, but many observances were widely recognized. Some of the traditions and dates that might have been observed included:

New Year’s Eve

For some, New Year’s Eve meant thoroughly cleaning the house to start the new year clean. Old superstitions required ashes, rags, scraps and anything perishable to be removed from the house so that nothing carried over from one year to the next. In this way, the family would preserve their good luck and banished the bad.

Some celebrated with the family or a party gathering in a circle before midnight. At the stroke of the midnight hour, the head of the family would open the front and back doors to usher the old year out the back and welcome the New Year in the front.

First Footing

Some Scots and residents of northern England believed the first visitor to set foot across the threshold (the first-footer) after midnight on New Year’s Eve affected the family’s fortunes. Ladies, in particular, wished for a tall, dark, and handsome male stranger without physical handicap, especially if his feet were the right shape.

High-insteps implied that water would run under—that is bad luck would flow past. A flat foot meant bad luck, as did women in most cases. Not all agreed on these omens. For some, blonde or red-headed, bare-foot girls brought good luck.

The first-footer entered through the front door, ideally, bearing traditional gifts: a coin, a lump of coal, a piece of bread or shortbread, whiskey, salt and a black bun—representing financial prosperity, warmth, food, good cheer, and flavor in the new year. Tradition held that no one spoke until the ‘first-footer’ wished the occupants a happy new year.

Once inside, the first-footer would be led through the clean home to place the coal on the fire and offer a toast to the house and all who lived there. Then the first-footer might be permitted to kiss every woman in the house. The first-footer would leave through the back door and take all the old year’s troubles and sorrows.

Dark haired young men often made the rounds of the neighborhood houses, bringing good luck to the homes and to themselves when invited in for a holiday toast.

New Year’s Day

A variety of traditions for New Year’s Day suggested how one might discern or influence fortunes for the coming year.

In one, a farmer hooked a large, specially baked pancake on one of a cow’s horns. Others gathered about to sing and dance around the unsuspecting bovine and encourage it to toss its head. If the cake fell off in front of the cow, it foretold good luck, if behind, bad.

In Hertfordshire, at sunrise on New Year’s Day, farmers burned a hawthorn bush in the fields to ensure good luck and bountiful crops.

Creaming the Well

In some regions, young women raced to draw the first water from the well, a practice known as ‘creaming the well.’ Possession of this water meant marriage within the coming year if she could get the man she desired to marry to drink the water before the end of the day.

Others believed the water had curative properties and even washed the udders of cows with it to ensure productivity.

Until the 18th century, gifts of food, money and clothing (especially gloves) were exchanged on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas or Twelfth Night.

In Scotland and the northern regions of England, traditional New Year’s foods included: shortbread, venison pie, haggis, black bun (similar to mince pie) and rumbledethumps, similar to bubble and squeak or colcannon.

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Wassailing

Wassailing and caroling are often used interchangeably as terms for singers going from house to house. But in the Regency era, particularly in cider producing regions, wassailing had a different meaning.

Wassailers might go from door to door, with a large wassail bowl filled with spiced ale. They sang and drank to the health of those they visited. In return, recipients of their blessings gave them drink, money and Christmas food.

On the Twelfth Night or its eve, wassailers also blessed orchards and fields and sometimes even cows. A wassail King and Queen led the singers in a tune as they traversed from one orchard to the next.

In some traditions, the Queen would be lifted into one of the trees, often the largest, where she placed wassail soaked toast as a gift to the tree spirits.

Other customs had the men bless the tree and drink to its health. They would circle the largest tree in the orchard while singing and splashing it with cider. The rest of the group would sing, shout, blow horns, and bang drums or pots, until gunmen fired a volley into the branches in hopes of chasing away evil spirits. Sometimes, fires were lit and tended through the night while the wassailers went to the next orchard.

In Herefordshire, wheat fields were lit with bonfires and wassailed similarly to orchards.

AUTHOR BIO:

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sewn six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

Website | Facebook | Twitter  | Goodreads | Pinterest

SUMMARY:

Many thanks to author Maria Grace for sharing a peek at her new nonfiction book with us during the holiday season. I would love to see the tradition of Twelfth Night established in the US. The beautiful cake alone has won me over.

Twelfth Night Cake © Ivan Day x 350

Image courtesy of Austenonly ©Ivan Day 

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, by Maria Grace
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (131) pages
ISBN: 978-0692332332

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; excerpt Maria Grace © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy – A Review

The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.

Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.

As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:

…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)

Continue reading