There Must be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan – A Review

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)I was once told by an academic that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was the least read of her six major novels. Shocking. I can’t think why; or why we even need to rank masterpieces among masterpieces. I adore it. I will admit that it was the last of her major novels that I read, so I may be proof to her pudding. Yes, the academic shall remain unnamed and duly forgotten; but Northanger Abbey should not.

I sincerely regretted waiting so long to read it. I laughed and rolled my eyes at the incredible skill of Austen at parodying Gothic romances, and for creating a hero, unlike any of her others, whose sense of humor and endearing charm make the über romantic icon Mr. Darcy dull in comparison to Mr. Tilney’s sparkling wit. Who, pray tell, could not love a man who loves a woman who thinks she cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible, or who thinks people who have no pleasure in a good novel are intolerably stupid? *swoon*

Northanger Abbey sequels are as scarce as a comely heiress. I can count them on one hand. There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan is a welcome addition to the slim collection. At 118 pages and twelve chapters it qualifies as a novella. I am not complaining. At all. I will take a Jane Austen sequel continuing the story after the wedding of our heroine in the making Catherine Morland and Austen’s most underrated hero Henry Tilney without hesitation, but with a wary eye. The story has a promising beginning. The tone is pleasing and the reverence to canon characters a relief.

We find Catherine and Henry comfortably settled as newlyweds at Woodston parsonage in Gloucestershire. Ever the thoughtful romantic, Henry proposes that they celebrate the anniversary of their first meeting in Bath with a visit to the city. Once there they are reunited with Henry’s sister Eleanor and introduced to her new husband Lord Whiting. Also in attendance at the Lower Rooms is Henry’s father the dour autocrat General Tilney, his recently widowed wealthy neighbor Lady Beauclerk, her twenty-seven year-old unmarried daughter Judith, and her husband’s nephew and heir Sir Philip Beauclerk. Catherine is happy to dance the night away, while family differences bubble and stew.

Illustration by Cassandra Chouinard in There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)As Henry and Catherine continue to enjoy the delights of Bath attractions, they begin to learn that there are suspicious circumstances involving the death of General Tilney’s neighbor Sir Arthur Beauclerk brought forward by his widowed sister Fanny Findlay. She believes his death had not been natural – and it appears that many in this unhappy family would benefit from his early demise. The suspects stack up like winter cordwood ready for the fire. Is it the wife, Lady Beauclerk, eager to be free of his miserly pocketbook?  The daughter, Miss Judith, squashed by parental oppression? The dissipated nephew, Sir Philip, prohibiting his uncle from changing the will? Or the sister, Mrs. Findlay, ready to bump off all the heirs in line before her to regain the family fortune? Catherine’s Gothic inspired imagination may serve her well as a detective, if Henry can temper her impulses and guide them to a logical conclusion.

There Must Be Murder had me hooked at Henry reading Udolpho, Anne Radcliffe’s classic Gothic novel, to his young bride in bed. Brilliant. It is exactly how I envisioned their marriage would continue: Henry romantically feeding his wife’s passion for a horrid novel and Catherine finding new insights from the text from his patient and humorous explanations. The story cleverly builds, slowly layering in new characters, revealing family conflicts, planting evidence. Along the way we revisit Milsom-street, Beechen Cliff, the Pump-room, Laura Place and all the highlights of Catherine’s first adventure in the beautiful Georgian-era city. Sullivan has captured the charm and endearing delight of Austen’s characters beautifully, added new ones rich in folly and nonsense, and a Newfoundland dog named MacGuffin who steals every scene. The numerous illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard are enchanting. My only disappointment was in the length. It was over much too quickly. Austen’s Henry Tilney would have been annoyed, claiming this shortcoming was “nice.”  We will agree.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard
LibriFiles Publishing (2010)
Trade paperback (118) pages
ISBN: 978-0615425870

© 2007 – 2010 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

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy: Author Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Blog Tour

The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2011)Please welcome Austenesque author Mary Lydon Simonsen on the first stop on her official blog tour today for her new Pride and Prejudice variation, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy. This new novel released on New Year’s Day and my review was posted yesterday. After reading it, I was curious about Mary’s inspiration and choices that she made in expanding characters and changes to the original Austen storyline. She offers this blog in celebration of her book’s release, elaborating on her creative choices and insights that readers will find quite helpful.

Thank you, Laurel Ann, for inviting me to join you today to talk about my new book. As a long-time reader of your blog, I consider it to be an honor.

The first failed proposal – second thoughts and explanations…

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy begins shortly after Darcy’s awful proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford Lodge.  After parsing Darcy’s letter, Lizzy begins to have second thoughts about rejecting so worthy a suitor. As for Darcy, he quickly realizes that such a self-righteous, unfeeling response to Lizzy’s refusal probably closes the door to any renewal of his attentions. Between the letter and Lizzy’s harsh words, both parties leave Kent feeling that they will never come together. So that’s that. Right?

Fortunately, for our favorite couple, there are those who disagree. First, Anne De Bourgh, after realizing that Elizabeth is perfect for her cousin, sets a plan in motion to bring the two together at Pemberley. Along the way, she enlists the aid of an eager Georgiana Darcy.

When I first read Pride and Prejudice many years ago, I was about the age of Georgiana, and although I would have preferred to be more like the spunky Elizabeth Bennet, I was quiet and shy like Darcy’s sixteen-year-old sister. Because of that, I wanted to know more about her. I also thought that Anne de Bourgh got the short end of Austen’s pen. After all, she had to live with Lady Catherine and had to accept the fact that her mother had decided that she was destined to marry Mr. Darcy without having any say in the matter. Wasn’t that punishment enough? Little did I know that more than three decades later I would have an opportunity to stage an intervention with these characters. Continue reading

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen – A Review

The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2011)I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I labeled Pride and Prejudice as Jane Austen’s most popular work. In fact, I will take it one step further and proclaim it one of the most beloved novels of all time. It is no surprise to me, at all, that readers want to revisit this tale, and movie makers and writers keep pumping out P&P inspired fare. In the past fifteen years, we have seen a plethora of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet prequels, sequels, retellings, variations and inspired books. Mary Lydon Simonsen’s new offering The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy falls into the variation category. She has reworked the classic love story of misconceptions and misunderstandings offering her own unique take. Purist, fair warning if you are easily “put out” by tampering with your cherished classic. Be advised to make haste and head back to the unadulterated original, now! You will not find faithful adherence to Austen’s characterizations here. But if you are liberal in approach and tempered for a good lark, there are abundant amusements to be had in this new novel.

The plot line runs parallel to Jane Austen’s original. Mr. Darcy, an arrogant, wealthy young man snubs Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited, overly confident gentleman’s daughter at a local assembly Ball. Her sister Jane and his best friend Charles Bingley fall in love but are separated by him. She is convinced that Darcy has spitefully withheld a promised living to her new flirtation Mr. Wickham. Mesmerized by her impertinence and fine eyes, he is compelled to propose despite his own objections to her family. She flatly rejects him. He writes the “Be not alarmed madam letter” of explanation then promptly departs. How will they reunite and find love? Austen’s narrative and denouement is famous for its plot twists and gradual reversal of his pride and her prejudice. Simonsen walks the same path, but her characters react differently changing the outcome requiring other minor characters to be developed to facilitate their eventual love match. Enter Mr. Darcy’s sickly cousin Anne de Bourgh and his shy younger sister Georgiana Darcy. Both ladies have had major character make-overs. Anne is now a dear friend and adviser to her cousin; Georgiana, a spunky and adventurous kid sister. Both heavily advocate and plan their reunion.

After Darcy returned to his room for the night, Anne thought about all that had happened between Will and Elizabeth and recognized that her cousin had got himself into a real mess. But Fitzwilliam Darcy was in love with Elizabeth Bennet, and Anne had seen real interest on Elizabeth’s part during their evenings together at Rosings Park, so something had to be done. Before retiring, she had settled on a course of action. It was as complicated as any battle plan, and it would take luck and timing to make it work. But her cousin’s happiness was at stake, and so she began to work out the details of her scheme. Page 37

Continue reading

The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011

The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 20112011 is a celebratory year for Jane Austen and her legion of fans. It marks the bicentenary of her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. Since 1811, we have been enjoying her romantic, dramatic and witty story filled with divergent characters – the Dashwood sisters: cool, practical Elinor and emotional, impulsive Marianne, and the men in their lives: stoic Edward Ferrars, staid Colonel Brandon and rakish Willoughby. There is much to praise in this novel which has inspired many movie adaptations, book sequels and spinoffs.

The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011

We are very pleased to announce the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011. If you have not read Jane Austen’s masterpiece or would like to revisit it in honor of its significant anniversary, seen all of the movies or read all of the sequels and spinoffs, this is the year to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction readers and period drama movie lovers.

Challenge Details

Time-line: The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011 runs January 1, through December 31, 2011.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

Enrollment: Sign up’s are open until March 1, 2011. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011 graphic and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2011. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of this announcement post. If you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments below.

Check Back Monthly: The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011 officially begins on Wednesday, January 26, 2010 with my review of the novel The Three Weismanns of Westport. Check back on the 4th Wednesday of each month for my next review in the challenge.

Your Participation: Once the challenge starts you will see a tab included at the top of Austenprose called Reading Challenges. Click on the tab and select the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011. Leave a comment including the name of the book or movie read or viewed and a link to your blog review. If you do not have a blog, just leave a comment about your selection that you finished with a brief reaction or remark. It’s that easy. Continue reading