By Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
No, the image to the left is not a newly discovered picture of Jane Austen. The image was taken from my copy of The Complete Letter Writer, published in 1840, well after Jane Austen’s death in 1817. But letter writing manuals were popular throughout Jane Austen’s lifetime, and the text of my copy is very similar to that of much earlier editions of the book, published from the mid-1750s on. It is possible then that Jane Austen might have had access to one. Letter writing manuals contained “familiar letters on the most common occasions in life”, and showed examples of what a letter might look like to people who needed to learn the art of letter writing. The Complete Letter Writer also contains an English grammar, with rules of spelling, a list of punctuation marks and an account of the eight parts of speech. If Jane Austen had possessed a copy, she might have had access to this feature as well.
But I doubt if she did. Her father owned an extensive library, and Austen was an avid reader. But in genteel families such as hers letter writing skills were usually handed down within the family. “I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper what one would say to the same person by word of mouth,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 3 January 1801, adding, “I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” But I don’t think George Austen’s library contained any English grammars either. He did teach boys at home, to prepare them for further education, but he taught them Latin, not English.
So Jane Austen didn’t learn to write from a book; she learnt to write just by practicing, from a very early age on. Her Juvenilia, a fascinating collection of stories and tales she wrote from around the age of twelve onward, have survived, in her own hand, as evidence of how she developed into an author. Her letters, too, illustrate this. She is believed to have written some 3,000 letters, only about 160 of which have survived, most of them addressed to Cassandra. The first letter that has come down to us reads a little awkwardly: it has no opening formula, contains flat adverbs – “We were so terrible good as to take James in our carriage”, which she would later employ to characterize her so-called “vulgar” characters – and even has an unusual conclusion: “yours ever J.A.”. Could this have been her first letter?
Cassandra wasn’t the only one she corresponded with. There are letters to her brothers, to friends, to her nieces and nephews as well as to her publishers and some of her literary admirers, with whom she slowly developed a slightly more intimate relationship. There is even a letter to Charles Haden, the handsome apothecary who she is believed to have been in love with. Her unusual ending, “Good bye”, suggests a kind of flirting on paper. The language of the letters shows how she varied her style depending on who she was writing to. She would use the word fun, considered a “low” word at the time, only to the younger generation of Austens. Jane Austen loved linguistic jokes, as shown by the reverse letter to her niece Cassandra Esten: “Ym raed Yssac, I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey”, and she recorded her little nephew George’s inability to pronounce his own name: “I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week”.
It’s easy to see how the letters are a linguistic goldmine. They show us how she loved to talk to relatives and friends and how much she missed her sister when they were apart. They show us how she, like most people in those days, depended on the post for news about friends and family, how a new day wasn’t complete without the arrival of a letter. At a linguistic level, the letters show us a careful speller, even if she had different spelling preferences from what was general practice at the time, and someone who was able to adapt her language, word use and grammar alike, to the addressee.
All her writing, letters as well as her fiction, was done at a writing desk, just like the one on the table on the image from the Complete Letter Writer, and just like my own. A present from her father on her nineteenth birthday, the desk, along with the letters written upon it, is on display as one of the “Treasures of the British Library”. The portable desk traveled with her wherever she went. “It was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in,” she wrote on 24 October 1798. A near disaster, for “in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l”.
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade has a chair in English Sociohistorical Linguistics at the University of Leiden Centre for Linguistics (Leiden, The Netherlands). Her most recent books include In Search of Jane Austen: The Language of the Letters, The Bishop’s Grammar: Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism, and An Introduction to Late Modern English. She is currently the director of the research project “Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public”.
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Image credits: (1) Image of Jane Austen from The Complete Letter Writer, public domain via Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (2) Photo of writing desk, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.
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Guess the PlotGarwaf
1. Dying solider Tony Block challenges Death to a game of scrabble in order to buy himself a couple more hours of life. But can he convince Death that "garwaf" is a real word?
2. Randy searches for a job where his speech impediment won't be an issue. Emily helps him get a job where she works, at the car wash. Or, as Randy would say it, the Garwaf.
3. After years struggling to make a go of their computer-programming business, Icelandic sextuplets Garwaf, Gafraw, Warfga, Wafrag, Fragwa and Awfgar finally strike it rich by selling their word verification algorithm to Blogger.
4. When the priest sneezes at a crucial point in the christening, Garwaf James Ackerman's destiny is set. While the blessed spittle is soon wiped from his forehead, it causes his death from pneumonia, seventy-three years later.
5. Gabriel has been turned into a wolf by his wife. When he finds himself in the royal court, the king decides to make him his pet. Can Lady Beau help "Garwaf" regain his humanity before he rips her throat out?
6. Hazel is fired from her secretarial job after Word mis-corrects the title of the book her boss is trying to submit to a big-league New York editor.Original Version
Dear Benevolent Editor:
How is a man supposed to be a man when he’s trapped in the body of a wolf? [I've struggled with that question all my life--except, for "wolf," substitute "god."]
And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation? [I once dated a woman who was trapped in the body of a wolf, and it wasn't awkward at all . . . well, except for the night we went to a dinner party at the home of a couple whose son was trapped in the body of a sheep.]
A romantic fantasy/adventure for young adults in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, GARWAF retells the story of Beauty and the Beast- with a twist.
Gabriel, a werewolf who was once the favorite knight of the king himself, was trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife when she learned his dire secret. [If I'd been unfaithful to my husband, the last thing I would want to do would be to permanently make him a creature capable of turning me into cole slaw.]
Ensnared as an animal in the woods, cut off from everyone and everything he ever loved, Gabriel is slowly losing his mind and his memory. By a trick of fate, Gabriel finds himself back in the king’s court. [Trick of fate = whim of author.]
Instead of a knight now he is the king’s treasured pet.[King: I should have a treasured pet.Trusted Adviser: Yes sire. Dog? Kitten?King: I was thinking wolfman.]
Entrusted to the charge of the sweet and steadfast Lady Beau, [An oxymoron if I've ever heard one.]
Gabriel might, with her help, be able to return to his human form. Old enemies and his own inner demons quickly converge, [How do his old enemies know he's Gabriel, and not an actual wolf?]
and Gabriel’s tentative grip on his human half is tested when he almost kills Beau, the one person who is trying to help him.
Opinionated and outspoken, Lady Beau has been packed off to the royal court by her father to snare herself a rich husband. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, Beau’s loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet. [In other words, puts her in charge of cleaning out the wolfman's cage.]
Beau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems. Resolving to do all in her power to help him if she can, she is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with the people who betrayed him lead Gabriel to stray ever closer to losing his humanity forever. [This paragraph contains information that's been presented already: Gabriel is the king's pet; he's entrusted to Lady Beau; old enemies are out to get him; he's losing his humanity.]
I did extensive research into the medieval era to help me construct this novel. [Thank you. There's nothing more annoying than finding historical inaccuracies in a wolfman fantasy.]
A synopsis, first 50 pages, and SASE for your reply are included. I look forward to sending you the complete, 90K word manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.
As you declare it a retelling of Beauty and the Beast
, you wouldn't be taken to task for calling her Lady Belle.
While it's not a strict contradiction, describing Beau as sweet and steadfast and later calling her opinionated and outspoken may give two different impressions of her.
It might be better organized if it began with Beau, something like:Lady Beau has been packed off to the royal court by her father to snare herself a rich husband. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf. Beau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Beau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his humanity.
Now there's room to tell us what happens beyond the set-up. And to tell us what the twist is. Does Belle fall for the king instead of the beast in this version?
FRAWGA--Ted Kennedy's favorite video game
GAFWAR--US invasion of IraqSelected Comments
I've struggled with that question all my life--except, for "wolf," substitute "god." ROFL, EE!!
Church Lady said...Loved GTPs 2 and 3! I'm sorry, But I just imagine (okay, dream) of putting my husband in a cage and calling him a pet. Except when it's time for sex- then he can be let out for five minutes.
Author, I agree with EE's rewrite of the opening 2 paragraphs. You're lucky he's feeling generous today.
Dave said...A few weeks ago, when this appeared on Electra's Crapometer, I suggested not starting the query with a rhetorical question. I see I have to explain this.
You ask "Is a man, a man when he's trapped in the body of a wolf " ... Notice I asked the question so that I couldn't say "NO' as a sarcastic remark and set the piece of paper down (or delete the email).
That's the first reason. Rhetorical questions are easy rejections.
What is this story about? It's a clever retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It's a love story, a romance.
That's the second reason why your rhetorical question is bad. This isn't about just the Beast, it's about Beau (or Belle, or whatever her name is). You ask the reader of the query to accept the world of an anthomorphic wolf but he can't be made human again without the love of a woman. That immediately switches the entire metaphysical basis of the story.
And one last reason.
"What makes a man, a man" (which is the essence of your opening question) says the novel is closely associated with the MALE figure. It also implies that Garwaf might not return to being human. Garwaf the lupine beast might remain Garwaf the wolf forever.
Is that the twist? Are we seeing the same gimmick as we saw in Shrek? The romantic female interest joins him in being a wolf? If that's so, I would ask "what makes a woman a woman."
Your question emphasizes the male in the story at the expense of the female. The story isn't about one or the other character, but both as they interact. At least half of the story wil be the Lady Beau's efforts to redeem Garwaf from his wolfie existance and then, i guess, they live happily ever after. (unless they go bankrupt thanks to high priced depilatory and electolysis bills).
Oh yes, what is the end of the story? Happy - they marry? Sad - they part? Furry - they have puppies? or Alien rabbits arrive and...
I think EE's given you a great start for a query, BTW.
elissa said...I like the sound of this story (but then, I'm a sucker for Beauty and the Beast stories). I like that your heroine has to participate in the intrigues of the king's court if she's to help Gabriel--this tells me that she likely grows and learns through the course of the story, since she decides to do something so distasteful and unnatural (since she's outspoken, and politics etc. often requires sneaking about and great subtlety and diplomacy) to her.
Calling her "Lady Beau" would really bug me for the whole length of the novel, however. Not only is Beau a man's name, it's the masculine form of the word meaning "attractive" or "handsome" in French. So you have a heroine with a guy's name, and a name with a mascuine meaning. You've named your girl "Handsome."
phoenix said...Poor author. You're getting a rehash of all the crapometer comments here.
I'm still comfortable with your one-two setup of questions at the beginning that focus on the hero and then the heroine. I think Dave may have overlooked the second heroine-related question?
You begin with a question that is 1) not directed to the reader of the query, and 2) not answered by a yes/no response. "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" is a actually good example of a line that is better because it's a rhetorical question.
As with all writing, cliches, stock characters/plots, and rhetorical questions can sell based on execution. Otherwise, explain the $1.5M for the cliche apocalyptic vampire novels that just sold. Never say never...
Yes, your story is a romance and therefore about both characters. By default, however, since you've set up the hero as more out of the ordinary than the heroine, attention will get focused on him. Do you mainly remember Belle or the Beast? Christine or the Phantom? Fiona or Shrek?
The conventions for a romance query are a bit different, and you've almost got it here. Your first character paragraph is about Gabriel. Good. I would then move the paragraph about Lady Beau so it comes next, but keep it tight to Beau's perspective - what she needs and wants. Then the final paragraph can talk about the trials that must be overcome before they can be together. In this case, since you've called it a romantic fantasy and given us the traditions, we know it'll have an HEA, so you shouldn't have to explicitly state that they wind up together. It's well implied.
Apologies if I led you wrong on the "twist" thing. I think it's clear, but others are apparently having a problem. Still, you don't want to make it seem it is simply a retelling. Not for a YA audience, at least. It needs something hook-y to assure the agent of that. You MIGHT get away with a non-parody retelling with the younger crowd, but YA requires something novel.
You're almost there! This version has come a long way from the one on COM. And I like the name Gabriel much better than Garwaf! (But could you rethink Beau's name, too?)
(Wowzer, just what the heck is "Benevolet Editor" filtering out??)
Um, Church Lady, let hubby out for five minutes for sex? Honey, you and me need to talk...
Ello said...To be honest, I'm a bit put off by the title and I agree that Lady Beau does not ring right. EE's rewrite is excellent and Dave makes some great points. My only addition is that you mention it is in the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones who I equate with stories of magic, but magic is really not a part of your query, just an assumption that it is involved because of the wolfman bit. It seems a disconnect. But the story idea sounds very interesting.
Evil Editor said...Your first character paragraph is about Gabriel. Good. I would then move the paragraph about Lady Beau so it comes next
It does come next. The king/adviser dialogue interrupts one long paragraph.
blogless_troll said...This sounds interesting, but I would like to know how Gabriel got permanently trapped in wolf form by someone who just found out he was a werewolf. It sounds too easy. Unless his wife could use magic, in which case that might be a better description than "unfaithful."
Also, I'm not a werewolf expert and I've never researched medieval werewolfery, but it seems there are three basic shapes: human, wolf, and the in between monster you get in movies. You're saying the longer he stays in wolf form, the less human he becomes. So, wouldn't it follow that if he stayed in human form longer, he would become less wolfy? Then why didn't the wife just trap him in human form instead? If it's because she's "unfaithful" that's kinda weak. There's gotta be an easier way to get rid of a husband you don't want.
And since this is YA, it might be less confusing to illustrate Gabriel losing his humanity with the help of some kind of mechanical device, like a Wolf-O-Meter. Nothing fancy, maybe a modest, wrist-worn gauge or something with the silhouette of a human on the left and a wolf on the right. If the needle ever crosses into the red Gabe loses his humanity forever sort of thing. You need some sort of deadline, because the query makes it sound like all Lady Beau needs to do is lock Gabriel in his cage until she finds a cure for him, even if it takes years.
dancinghorse said...This has some nice potential, but I see I'm not alone in my problem with the heroine's name.
If you claim to have done extensive research, but get a prominent and basic element wrong, that kind of blows your credibility. You'd be amazed how many fantasy editors, agents, writers, and fans are experts in the period. They will catch mistakes, and one this basic will blow you right out of the ballpark.
Now mind you, if it's short for, say, Ysabeau, and there's a story that goes with it, which indicates that you really do know what you've done here, that's different. (Hey, I can even justify naming a Viking princess Tiffany. But I don't just play a medievalist on TV, I are one. I know how to get away with it. Real expertise can do just about anything--as long as it backs it up with solid, and I mean granite-hard, research and educated reasoning.)
December/Stacia said...I agree about not startiing the query with a question, and I have to argue with at least one other statement. Claiming you did extensive research on the medieval period and then having your heroine (whose name is not great--research actual medieval names, please, and language, since for a large portion of the period the nobility spoke French) "packed off to court to find a rich husband" is a contradiction. Medieval ladies of rank and wealth had arranged marriages; they did not go off to "find a husband". Some of them were betrothed from birth, most had marriages arranged later, but it had to do with property and wealth and the decisions of the parents; there wasn't a marriage market the way that statement implies.
Those who weren't betrothed by a certain age might have been sent to Court, but not to "find" a husband; they would have been sent to be ladies-in-waiting while their parents or the King himself found a suitable husband.
It's a very Regency-era phrase you've used, and it's out of place for the medieval period. Sorry, but it really jumped out at me.
Bernita said...I think December nailed it. Your query does not reflect any extensive research into medieval realities, but rather contradicts your claim. Perhaps it is best omitted.
Anonymous said...AUTHOR HERE: This might become a little snarky. I apologize in advance. I really have learned and improved a lot from posting on this site and others. Thank you to everyone for their notes and helpful suggestions.
Now, after catching flak here AND on crapometer for my heroine's frigging name and me not knowing what I'm doing, etc I rise to defend myself.
1) Her full name is Isabeau. She goes by Beau for short.
2) I decided not to go with Belle or Beauty because those are cliche and have been done to DEATH
3) In the story she ends up rescuing her man. She is, in fact, HIS Prince Charming. So I gave her a more masculine name on purpose as a kind of amusing (to me) homage to that.
I did do my research. I do know what I'm doing and no, I'm not changing her name. So, can we please stop commenting on that?
Thanks again everyone for all your help.
Here's a revised query based on the feedback I've received. (If someone can come up with a better hook then I will ditch my rhetorical question.)
Critique away. Can't wait to see what everyone has to say.
Dear Benevolent Editor:
How is a man supposed to be a man when he’s trapped in the body of a wolf? And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation?
A romantic fantasy for young adults in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, GARWAF blends the story of Beauty and the Beast with Marie de France’s lais “Bisclavret.”
Lady Isabeau has been packed off to the royal court to snare herself a rich husband by her father so she can pay his gaming debts. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf. Isabeau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity. Trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife when she learned his dire secret, Gabriel struggles to fall into the ways of his old life and fights his wolfish urges to maim and kill.
As Gabriel and Beau grow to understand and care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncannily intelligent and mild-mannered wolf at the royal court reach the ears of Gabriel’s wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. All the circumstances of the wolf’s capture and his subsequent integration into court life lead Alison to suspect that the king’s pet “Garwaf” is none other than her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect. Though her second marriage to Reynard has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king’s new pet. Gabriel, they know, is the one creature that, should he ever return to his human self, could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain. Desperate and reckless, Alison and Reynard are unafraid to dispatch Gabriel and anyone else, like Isabeau, who might stand between them and the werewolf they need to kill.
A synopsis, first 50 pages, and SASE for your reply are included. I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.
Church Lady said...How about opening with: Gabriel is a beastly lover. Lady Isabeau has no choice but to keep him in a cage.
Okay, I know people automatically think everything I say is a joke, but I am actually serious.
I remain in the camp that's against opening with a rhetorical question.
Good luck with your query.
Ello said...Hey author! I really like your new query. And I'm really intrigued. I would want to read this book. And I don't even like medieval romances! This sounds awesome. I don't even have any quibbles. And the fact that you say Lady Isabeau first before moving to her nickname took care of my initial problem with her name. Now it makes sense! I still think Garwaf is a funny name, but it wouldn't stop me from reading the book. I can't believe how much better this query is. You did a great job. Good luck!
Evil Editor said...Desperate and reckless, Alison and Reynard are unafraid to dispatch Gabriel and anyone else, like Isabeau, who might stand between them and the werewolf they need to kill.
Drop that sentence from the end of your plot; the previous sentence is a better ending.
blogless_troll said...I liked this version much better. It flows from beginning to end instead of jumping around like the original.
And I would keep the rhetorical question opening simply out of spite. You have to keep in mind that some of these writing "rules" are just the result of a desperate need for blog content. (Not EE's, or course.)