Bespelling Jane Austen, by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany – A Review

Pairing the Jane Austen and paranormal genre’s is a clever concept that has seen some hits and misses over the last few years. Bespelling Jane Austen is a new anthology offering four novellas from romance authors Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany adapting Austen novels with a supernatural spin.

Almost Persuaded, by Mary Balogh

Bestselling romance novelist Mary Balogh uses Persuasion, Jane Austen’s tender love story of second chances as the inspiration for her story about Jane Everett, the unmarried and unappreciated middle daughter of the preening Sir Horace Everett of Goodrich Hall. When Royal Army Captain Robert Mitford returns to England after a serious injury in India, he meets Jane triggering memories of past lives together. They soon discover that they are soul mates who have been fated to love and fail until they overcome the impediments to “conquer all with the power of their love of each other.”

Initially I was intrigued by reincarnation as a clever parallel to a second chance at love; after all, it is the ultimate love match do-over. Besides a deus ex machina in the guise of a hidden metal box with documents from a previous life confirming the heroine’s memories, I was unconvinced that Jane and Robert knewn each other before and were destined for one another. Furthermore, when after only one day’s acquaintance they take a roll in the grass, I was pretty certain that they were trapped in the Austenesque version of the movie Ground Hog Day for many, many lives until they could reach enlightenment and the Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth state of Nirvana.

Northanger Castle, by Colleen Gleason

In this parody of Austen’s parody on Gothic fiction Northanger Abbey, heroine Caroline “Caro” Merrill’s wild imagination sees characters from her favorite horrid novels in every new acquaintance and passerby on the streets of Bath. Armed against vampires preying on the innocent in the Pump Room, Caro carries a large reticule stocked with a silver cross, garlic and a wooden stake. With her new friends siblings Isobel and James Thornton and Ellen Henry and her guardian, the aptly nicknamed Lord Rude, she travels for a moonlight picnic to Blaize Abbey and later to Northanger Castle in hopes of confirming Mr. Thornton’s affections, discovering a maiden locked in tower, or at the very least, an evil vampire. Her imaginings come true, but not as she expected.

Colleen Gleason caught the spirit and burlesque comedy of Austen’s novel perfectly, especially in her heroine Caroline whose obsession with Gothic novels and suspicions of evil doings everywhere mirror Austen’s Catherine Morland beautifully. I loved her play on names by upgrading Northanger to a castle and downgrading Blaize to an abbey! This story could have been sweetened by less modern language and more attention to historical detail. Someone needs to inform Ms. Gleason that they did not dance in the Pump Room in Bath, but took the waters and strolled about the room and socialized, and, the homes in Bath are not called Bungalows, but Terraced Houses. Otherwise, this was an adventure worthy of an Austen heroine in the making.

Blood and Prejudice, by Susan Krinard

Lizzy and Darcy’s love story is given some bite in this contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennet’s still have five unmarried daughters and financial challenges. The family business Bennet Labs is floundering and under hostile takeover by Bingley Pharmaceuticals. Our spirited heroine Elizabeth Bennet is aptly a bookseller at Longbourn Books and Mr. Darcy a financial advisor to Charles Bingley. Also on staff is attorney George Wickham who has a long history with Mr. Darcy that goes back to childhood from the eighteenth-century – yes – two hundred years. He is a vampire whom Darcy converted without consent. Lizzy favors George’s story of Darcy the baddie and the love/hate story begins with Undead overtones that end just as expected, but not quite; — Darcy’s pride is humbled and Lizzy’s prejudice over vampires is removed, but at what cost?

Krinard has a solid understanding of the original story and characters dolling out a sagacious simile like humor coupons to win over the purist who have their guard up. It almost worked. I was amused at the clever prose but not her modern interpretation of the plot. In this instance, unfaithful adherence to Austen’s narrative would have been a bit more interesting. Retellings are tricky, especially of P&P. It is a story that so many know by heart, line for line, and just placing it in current times and mixing it up with Darcy as a vampire is not enough. Written in the first person from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, this change from Austen’s narrative voice would have been so much more interesting if Krinard had chosen Darcy’s view with his struggles as vampire instead of Elizabeth’s as a bystander. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth, literally, as Elizabeth ends up being a vampire’s donor doxy, though one assumes that Darcy was quite pleased with the arrangement.

Little to Hex Her, by Janet Mullany

Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen’s self-possessed heroine from Emma is given a modern make-over as a witch running the Hartfield Dating Agency, a paranormal dating service in Washington D. C.. Emma is still matchmaker unextraordinaire, paring up werewolves, vampires and elves until it appears someone is trying to sabotage her business when money goes missing and event bookings are canceled. Could it be the spurned elf Mr. Elton whom she rejected, the sexy, but dubious vampire Frank Churchill or her ex-boyfriend Mr. Knightley?

Granted that the “handsome, clever and rich” Emma Woodhouse is not the most sympathetic character to begin with, changing the clever to inexperienced and rich to working girl helped me like this modern Emma in a new way. It also did not hurt that Janet Mullany has to be one of the sharpest knives in the Austenesque drawer writing today. Talk about cutting wit! I laughed out loud at her paring of magical creatures to Austen’s originals. Frank Churchill as a sexy vampire? Harriet Smith as insecure werewolf? George Knightley as a wizard who hates his first name? What no zombies? Thank goodness. Austen might have joked that she created a heroine that “no-one but myself will much like,” but Mullany’s Emma was a delightful quirky surprise.

Modern or contemporary, those stories that succeeded (in my estimation) were the ones that took a chance creatively yet reverently remember its inspiration. I think you will find after reading the four novellas in Bespelling Jane Austen that when it comes to Austen and paranormals, “silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Bespelling Jane Austen, by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany
HQN Books (2010)
Trade paperback (377) pages
ISBN: 978-0373775019

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press): A Review

On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. Her declining health robbed her of what she dearly loved most, writing, and on the 18th of March 1817 after penning 22,000 words she wrote the last lines of chapter twelve and put down her pen. Four months later at age 41 she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease. 

Set in the emerging seaside village of Sanditon on the Sussex coast we are introduced to a large cast of characters dominated by the two minions of the community: Mr. Parker a local landowner with grand designs of turning a fishing village into a fashionable watering place offering the therapeutic or curative benefits of sea-bathing and his partner Lady Denham, the local great lady who has “a shrewd eye & self satisfying air” and cares little about the community and only her pocketbook.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood, a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Parker. Sanditon is populated by a comical ensemble of residents and visitors who upon Charlotte’s first acquaintance are altogether different than they later appear. Lady Denham’s nephew Sir Edward Denham is handsome, amiable and titled but is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style in an attempt to reinforce his own notion that he is a romantic character born to seduce women “quite in the line of Lovelaces.”  (Lovelace refers to the villain Robert Lovelace in Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa who rapes and ruins the young heroine.) He has designs upon Lady Denham’s companion Clara Brereton who he shall either woo with affection or carry off. Clara is a poor relation of Lady Denham’s who is maneuvering to be her heir and in direct competition with Sir Edward for her favor.

Also sharing the spotlight is Mr. Parker and his four siblings, three of whom Charlotte is told are sad invalids, but after their arrival talk a great deal about their maladies but exhibit little consequence of their afflictions. Here we see Austen at her comedic height characterizing the foibles of those who attach illness as an identity and hypochondria as their religion. The one bright light of hope in the novel is Mr. Parker’s brother Sidney who we know of only through letters and others descriptions. He may be the only character besides Charlotte who has the potential to set things in balance with his sense of humor and honest opinions. Sadly he is destined to remain the mystery hero of Austen’s oeuvre. Add to that a lineup a nest of plot ironies to raise an eyebrow at business speculation and hypochondria, and a sharp jab at the effluvia of novels and poetry and you have a narrative that whizzes along until an abrupt halt just when we are hooked.  

The uncompleted novel is a great loss to literature but also to the characters who after a bright and comical beginning are left with uncertain futures. What does remain is more than a novelty of Austenalia. Sanditon’s levity despite the author’s failing health when it was written is quite remarkable. On first reading I thought it quite energetic and satirical, similar to the burlesque humor of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I then put it aside and did not reflect on it further. My second reading after several years brought an entirely new reaction. Austen has taken a new and fresh direction from her usual three or four families in a country village and sets her novel not about an individuals struggle but an entire community. Money is still the fuel that powers the plot, but her physical descriptions of the landscape and town are entirely new in her cannon foreshadowing what may have been an evolution in her style. Sanditon is a gem that no Austen enthusiast should miss.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sandition, by Jane Austen, foreword by Prof. A. C. Graying
Hesperus Press, London (2009)
Trade paperback (85) pages
ISBN: 978-1843911845

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Day 6 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by midnight PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winners to be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Shipment worldwide, but it might have trouble reaching Antarctica.

On an aside. For any of you that are curious about the backside of a chicken staring at us on the cover, the Hesperus Press publicist offers this revealing insight. “Regarding the cover design for this title – our designers try to avoid clichés and so don’t always go for literal covers, thinking laterally instead. The tone of the image and its colour range suit the book well, and chickens and eggs are often taken as symbols of new life, which links to Sanditon’s plot, being about a new town.”

Upcoming event posts

Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Continuations

Day 8 – March 22 Event Wrap-up

Share

Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo – A Review

Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo (2009)American college professor Emma Grant always does the right thing and expects the same from others. She acquired her expectations from her minister father and her favorite author Jane Austen, who both taught her to believe in the happily-ever-after. Life was turning out as planned until she unexpectedly discovers her husband’s affair with her teaching assistant who in turn falsely accuses her of plagiarizing another author’s work. An academic scandal ensues prompting an investigation and removal from her prestigious teaching position, denunciation by academia, and an ugly divorce leaving poor Emma at a turning point in her life. She had always believed in the possibility of finding her Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley and settling down to martial bliss. How could Jane Austen have ruined her life?

Without a job, husband, reputation or money, she packs up and off to London on the invitation of an elderly woman Mrs. Parrot who claims to have a stash of undocumented letters written by Jane Austen. If this woman’s claims are true, they might be the famous missing letters that Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra inherited after her death in 1817 and supposedly burned deeming them to personal for public view. If authenticated, they represented the ultimate Holy Grail of Austenalia and the ticket to Emma’s academic and personal happiness. The enigmatic Mrs. Parrot is not quite ready to just hand them over to anyone, even if they have been summoned to her house. Emma must prove her worthiness to Mrs. Parrot, one of the ‘Formidables’, a secret society of devoted Janeites named after Jane’s own moniker of herself and sister Cassandra in their later years. Mrs. Parrot sends Emma on a series of Austen related tasks/tests to prove she’s up to snuff visiting Steventon, Chawton, Bath and other Austen haunts. Along the way she encounters many coincidences including a reappearance  after ten years of a former boyfriend Adam and a new man Barry who just happens to pop up unexpectedly along her journey all adding to the mystery surrounding the letters and their importance.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life is an intriguing and quick read that succeeds on so many levels by blending accurate biographical and historical information about Jane Austen’s life and works (major kudos to Pattillo) with a contemporary adventure romance that at times is reminiscent of The Last Templar where the heroine is thrown into a quest to discover ancient information that will change our current perceptions. Austen enthusiast will appreciate discovering all the Jane Austen lore and references, and romance readers will identify with the modern heroine and her adventure. Anglophiles will enjoy the added benefit of Ms. Pattillo’s past residence and many trips to England as she describes familiar haunts in London and Jane Austen travel destinations with aplomb. My one quibble is that Emma’s romantic decision could have ended differently. Obliviously, I am not as evolved as the heroine yet, and expect my Jane Austen happily-ever-after!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo
Guideposts, New York (2009)
Trade paperback (264) pages
ISBN: 978-0824947712

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

William Lyon Phelps: Jane Austen’s First Publicist

Image of William Lyon Phelps“The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.” William Lyon Phelps

When I ran across this quote, I was quickly struck by the similarity to one of my favorite passages from Persuasion.

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently; “that is not good company; that is the best.” Anne Elliot & William Elliot, Persuasion, Chapter 16

You will understand the coincidence after reading further.

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Mansfield Park, (1906)In 1890, Jane Austen was not widely read in American college curriculum. She had her small circle of admirers, and her fame had been slowly building since the 1870 publication of her nephew’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, but she had not been embraced by academia. Publishers such as J.M. Dent and Richard Bentley & Son in London, and MacMillan in New York saw her potential and began producing matching ‘sets’ of her novels and letters which were a great success. To meet the new public demand, publishers produced finer bindings with illustrations by the Brock brothers and Hugh Thomson, and included prefaces and introductions by leading scholars of the day.

The winds of change were building. Her public had embraced her, but academia still wavered. Happily, we can credit Yale English Literature Professor William Lyon Phelps‘ (1865-1943) influence for changing that misapplyment. Jane could not have had a more influential or noble champion to wear her colors and sing her praises. By 1900, Dr. Phelps was known throughout the world as a leading literary scholar, educator, author, book critic and preacher. When he spoke, people listened.

Professor Phelps was one of those gifted orators that could make any obscure ancient author or wayward poet shine and students flocked to his lectures. Early in his career he had been instrumental in circular reform, teaching classes in the modern novels which raised more than a few eyebrows of his tenured peers and the attention of the international press. This was the beginning of a long career of academic reform and literary influence.  Continue reading