Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly—A Review

Jane Austen Secret Radical 2018From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Was Jane Austen a radical? Was she sympathetic to the “radical reforms” of Charles James Fox and others that included universal male suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights? Few would readily place her in the company of Thomas Paine, William Godwin, or Mary Wollstonecraft, but perhaps that is because she kept her dangerous views so well hidden that most of her contemporaries, as well as later generations, have missed them. While I began reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical with an open but somewhat skeptical mind, I was curious to see what evidence Helena Kelly would provide. In Chapter 1, she throws down the gauntlet: 

We’re perfectly willing to accept that writers like [William] Wordsworth were fully engaged with everything that was happening and to find the references in their work, even when they’re veiled or allusive. But we haven’t been willing to do it with Jane’s work. We know Jane; we know that however delicate her touch she’s essentially writing variations of the same plot, a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romantic comedy of the last two centuries.  

We know wrong. (4%)

Kelly cites a number of reasons for what she calls the misreading of Austen, including a lack of reliable biographical information about Austen, the destruction of most of her letters by her sister Cassandra, and a concerted effort by surviving family members to reframe Jane’s life and creative endeavors along more conventional and non-threatening lines. Delays in the publication of her early works obscured themes that were rooted in the upheavals of the French Revolution and the literary phenomenon of the Gothic novel. Add to these the many film adaptations and biopics that have nearly overtaken the original novels in the consciousness of the current age:

When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. (10%) Continue reading

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