The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in July, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.
Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)
Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd
Mansfield Park is considered (by some) to be the dark horse of Austen’s oeuvre and her heroine Fanny Price weak and insipid. I do not agree, but the majority of readers might find this new novel an improvement since the narrative is “renovated” (not unlike Sotherton) and Fanny gets bumped off. Shepherd mixes up Austen’s classic story by switching the protagonist and antagonist, morphing other characters and plot points and spotlighting the murder instead of the the moralistic undertones that Austen chose to soft shoe her narrative. Personally, secondary to Jane Austen, I enjoy a good murder mystery, so this reader is quite charmed at the possibility of having both together. (Publishers description) In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price–whom Jane Austen’s own mother called “insipid”–has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor. It’s only after Fanny is murdered on the grounds of Mansfield Park that Mary comes into her own, teaming-up with a thief-taker from London to solve the crime. Featuring genuine Austen characters–the same characters, and the same episodes, but each with a new twist – Murder at Mansfield Park is a brilliantly entertaining novel that offers Jane Austen fans an engaging new heroine and story to read again and again. St. Martin’s Griffin, Trade Paperback (384) pages, ISBN: 978-0312638344
Review of Murder at Mansfield Park in the Sterling Observer
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, illustrator Chris Hammond, introduction by Joseph Jacobs
Dover has done it again! They have taken a classic Victorian illustrated edition of a Jane Austen novel and reproduced the interior exactly offering the book lover the next best thing to the original. Their first volume in this series of hardback collector editions was Pride and Prejudice. For any of you who collect vintage Austen editions it is a reproduction of the popular and pricey 1894 ‘Peacock’ edition illustrated by Hugh Thomson. This edition of Sense and Sensibility illustrated by Chris Hammond is even more beautiful and my personal favorite Victorian edition of a Jane Austen novel. Enjoy! (Publishers description) A delightful comedy of manners, this novel concerns the romantic travails of two sisters, who struggle to balance passion and prudence. It abounds in the author’s customary wit and engaging characterizations. This handsome hardcover gift edition features a dust jacket and more than 60 charming drawings by a leading Victorian-era illustrator. Dover Publications, Hardcover (416) pages, ISBN: 978-0486477435.
The Watsons/Sanditon (Naxos Complete Classics), by Jane Austen, read by Anna Bentinck
Now available outside of the audio collection Jane Austen: the Complete Novels, readers can listen to two of Austen’s unfinished works professionally produced and read by BBC Radio personality Anna Bentinck. They are gems, and you might be pleasantly surprised. (Publishers description) One abandoned, one unfinished, these short works show Austen equally at home with romance (a widowed clergyman with four daughters must needs be in search of a husband or two in The Watsons) and with social change (a new, commercial seaside resort in Sanditon). Typically touching, funny, charming and sharp. Naxos AudioBooks, 4 CDs, 4h 29m, ISBN: 978-9626342817
Read my review of The Watsons/Sanditon
Austen’s Contemporaries & Beyond
Helen, by Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) was a major “best selling” novelist of her day, surpassing many of her male counterparts. Jane Austen admired her so much that she sent one of the 12 presentation copies of Emma that she received from her publisher even though they had never corresponded or met. Regretfully, Austen did not have the opportunity to read Helen since she died in 1817, but you can judge for yourself why she and her contemporaries valued Edgeworth and why she merits this re-issue of her 1834 novel. (Publishers description) The last and most psychologically powerful novel by Jane Austen’s leading rival, the newly orphaned Helen Stanley is urged to share the home of her childhood friend Lady Cecilia. This charming socialite, however, is withholding secrets and soon Helen is drawn into a web of ‘white lies’ and evasions that threaten not only her hopes for marriage but her very place in society. A fascinating panorama of Britain’s political and intellectual elite in the early 1800s and a gripping romantic drama, Helen was the inspiration for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Sort of Books, Trade paperback (544) pages, ISBN: 9780956003898
Review of Helen in the Scotland Herald
Until next month, happy reading!