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1. My Year with Jane: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

I have read Mansfield Park three times. The first time I found myself frustrated and bored. Where was the romance? Where was the satisfaction? Who was supposed to be THE HERO?! Was it really supposed to be Edmund?! The second time I read it, I found myself entertained. I also found myself falling for the wrong hero, Henry Crawford and asking plenty of what might have been questions. The third time it was a joy to revisit. This isn't the first time that it has taken multiple readings to enjoy and appreciate and love an Austen novel. I haven't decided what this means exactly. If it is a good thing that Austen's novels are layered and complex and take some time to absorb, or, if it's a weakness. If you don't exactly "enjoy" something the first time, what is there to make you want to go back and read it again and again? I think Pride and Prejudice is the one big exception to the rule. Also perhaps Persuasion.

Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park. She is intelligent, observant, selfless, and considerate. Part of this is her upbringing, she's been brought up to put everyone else's wants and needs and whims ahead of her own. Part of this is just her nature, in my opinion. She treats everyone with kindness and respect regardless of whether they "deserve" it or not.  
It would be delightful to feel myself of consequence to anybody.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them.
Edmund Bertram is Fanny's cousin. He will be a minister. He falls madly in love (if it is truly love and not lust) with Mary Crawford. For almost the entire novel, he talks on and on and on and on about Mary to poor Fanny. He can at any given time give you a top ten list on why Mary is completely wrong for him and why it would never work out in the end. But she is the ONLY WOMAN IN THE WORLD HE COULD EVER LOVE. Of course, Fanny is in love with Edmund. Fanny's patience in listening to Edmund alone would make her worthy of being a saint.
I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it.
Mary Crawford is Fanny's opposite in many, many ways. She doesn't know how to be serious. She talks way too much. She shares way too much. She's rude and inconsiderate. And her first love, her forever love, will always be herself.
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
Henry Crawford is Mary's brother. He is Fanny's opposite too. He has a very high opinion of himself. And he finds nothing so satisfying as making women fall in love with him. He loves being loved and adored. He determines at one point that it would be SOMETHING to have Fanny fall in love with him. He knows it will be the most difficult challenge he's faced so far. She's no fool. In the attempting, it is Henry who falls hard. He finds himself for the first time actually caring and loving someone else. Or does he? Austen is a bit ambiguous how far his reform goes.
I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.
They will now see what sort of woman it is that can attach me, that can attach a man of sense. I wish the discovery may do them any good. And they will now see their cousin treated as she ought to be, and I wish they may be heartily ashamed of their own abominable neglect and unkindness. They will be angry,” he added, after a moment’s silence, and in a cooler tone; “Mrs. Rushworth will be very angry. It will be a bitter pill to her; that is, like other bitter pills, it will have two moments’ ill flavour, and then be swallowed and forgotten; for I am not such a coxcomb as to suppose her feelings more lasting than other women’s, though I was the object of them. Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed: a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it, that I am the person to give the consequence so justly her due.
Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” “Nay, Henry, not by all; not forgotten by all; not friendless or forgotten. Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” “Edmund! True, I believe he is, generally speaking, kind to her, and so is Sir Thomas in his way; but it is the way of a rich, superior, long-worded, arbitrary uncle. What can Sir Thomas and Edmund together do, what do they do for her happiness, comfort, honour, and dignity in the world, to what I shall do?”   
Mansfield Park is without a doubt one of the messier Austen novels. Messy isn't the perfect word, I know. The characters of Mansfield Park are so messed up, so in need of fixing. Readers never know exactly why Fanny loves Edmund with all her heart and soul. Readers just have to take Fanny's love on faith, believing that she knows best, that she knows her heart better than we do, and, that Edmund BEFORE Mary was worth loving. Austen's ending is far from romantic in that the romance between Fanny and Edmund is not developed on the page.

I can easily imagine Fanny in these words:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, "Hello."
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don't know me.

And with a big, big stretch, maybe Edmund in these words:

Are those your eyes
Is that your smile
I've been looking at you forever
Yet I never saw you before
Are these your hands holding mine
Now I wonder how I could have been so blind
And for the first time I am looking in your eyes
For the first time I'm seeing who you are
I can't believe how much I see
When you're looking back at me

 The first is "You Don't Know Me" and the second is "For The First Time."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on My Year with Jane: Mansfield Park as of 4/13/2014 9:49:00 AM
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2. ‘Pippi Longstocking’ Author Astrid Lindgren Gets a Spot on Sweden’s 20 Krona Note

Kulturresan_20_High_PressBeloved children’s author Astrid Lindgren will appear on Sweden’s 20 krona note.

The Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, announced this news back in 2011. They plan to start distributing the note sometime between 2014 and 2015.

Artist Göran Österlund designed the note and included a drawing of Lindgren’s revered heroine Pippi Longstocking into the final image. BuzzFeed reports that 20 Krona can be exchanged for about $3 USD.


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3. Show Your Jane Austen Love

One of my coworkers who knows I am a book nerd brought in a small clipping for me from a magazine she was reading recently. What was the clipping about? A short blurb on temporary Jane Austen tattoos. The sheet of temporary tattoos comes with 22 different designs from a stack of books with Austen’s titles on them to a heart with Mr. Knightly across it to a locket with Willoughby and Wickham inside and “Bad Boys” on a banner across the bottom. So very silly but hilarious too.

The same website also offers Jane Austen air freshner you can hang in your car. It supposedly smells of “genteel lavender.” There are also Jane Austen band-aids, or plasters to you UK folk. And, of course, a Jane Austen action figure. I’ve had one of these for several years expect my Jane is wearing a green jacket. So glad I got it before they pinked her up!

Since I am on the topic of Jane Austen stuff, if you have a fountain pen you might like some De Atramentis ink in the color Jane Austen. I have a bottle and not only is the ink top notch, the color is a nice grey-green. Another ink company, Organic Studio has recently come out with their own Jane Austen color. This one is lavender/violet. It’s new and I don’t own it and probably won’t because I am not a fan of purple ink unless it is dark.

Lots of things with which to Austenize your life. And if you haven’t seen Austenland yet, well , rent it, stream it, however you view your movies these days, see it.

Filed under: Jane Austen

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4. My Year with Jane: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. 1813. 386 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Is Pride and Prejudice your favorite Jane Austen novel? Why or why not?

I must admit that Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite, favorite Austen. I almost like that it is not my favorite book by Austen. But. No matter how much I say it isn't my favorite, every single time I reread this one, I am surprised by how satisfying and lovely it really is. It is so incredibly familiar, and I think that is part of the charm. The dialogue is so familiar, the characters feel like old friends, you can't help getting swept up into the story, the romance once again. The movies probably have more than a little to do with that. Do you have a favorite adaptation?

There are so many characters to love, so many characters to love to hate. Do you have a favorite? Elizabeth is not my favorite Austen heroine, but, she is probably among my favorites from Pride and Prejudice. I love her relationships: seeing Elizabeth with Jane, seeing Elizabeth with Charlotte, seeing Elizabeth with Lady Catherine, seeing Elizabeth with Darcy!

Like most Austen novels, the more attention you pay to the little details, the more you'll be rewarded! That is why rereading is oh-so-essential.

His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters. Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it. “Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” “I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Mr. Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.” “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet. “Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.” “Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him.
“My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing? Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure when so much beauty is before you.” And, taking her hand, he would have given it to Mr. Darcy who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when she instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Sir William: “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.” Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth was determined; nor did Sir William at all shake her purpose by his attempt at persuasion. “You excel so much in the dance, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.” “Mr. Darcy is all politeness,” said Elizabeth, smiling. “He is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance — for who would object to such a partner?” Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley: “I can guess the subject of your reverie.” “I should imagine not.” My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”
“It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill.” “That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline,” cried her brother, “because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?” “My style of writing is very different from yours.” “Oh!” cried Miss Bingley, “Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest.” “My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them — by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents.” “Your humility, Mr. Bingley,” said Elizabeth, “must disarm reproof.” “Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.” “And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?” “The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.
“Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.” Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. “What could he mean? She was dying to know what could be his meaning?” — and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him? “Not at all,” was her answer; “but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.” Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in anything, and persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives. “I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. “You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.” “Oh! shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?” “Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him — laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”
It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?” “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” Mr. Bennet’s expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.
When those dances were over, she returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her: “I dare say you will find him very agreeable.” “Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”
I must stop quoting now! I have a feeling that they could get out of control!

My first review September 2007
My second review December 2011

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on My Year with Jane: Pride and Prejudice as of 3/9/2014 10:16:00 AM
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5. Northanger Abbey

This has got to be the funniest opening to all of Austen’s novels:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings—and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any.

That’s the beginning of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and why this doesn’t get more attention, I don’t know. After I read that marvelous beginning I had to stop and read it again and then spend some time giggling before I could go on.

Even though Northanger Abbey wasn’t published until December 1817, six months after Austen died, it is the first book she completed for publication. Written around 1788-99, Austen revised it in 1803 and sold it for £10 to a London bookseller who then decided not to publish it after all. Austen revised it again in 1816 intending to try publishing it again. It was during this revision she changed the name of the main character from Susan to Catherine and changed the title from Memorandum, Susan to Catherine. The title we have was very likely invented by Austen’s brother who had arranged for the book’s publication. I love Jane dearly but I think her brother came up with a better title!

Probably just about everyone knows the story. Our plain heroine Catherine is seventeen and like most ladies her age loves reading gothic novels. She has the pleasure of being invited to Bath by her rich neighbors, the Allens, to be Mrs. Allen’s companion. One day Mrs. Allen runs into an old school friend now the widow Mrs. Thorpe. She is in Bath with her daughter Isabella and her son John. Both children are pretty much fishing for rich spouses and because of Catherine’s association with the Allens, they assume she is wealthy too. John has designs on Catherine and Isabella on Catherine’s brother who happens to know John at Oxford. Much conniving and underhandedness ensues and the innocent Catherine has no idea what is going on because she is too busy falling in love with Henry Tilney.

Catherine becomes friends with Henry’s sister, Eleanor, and gets invited to stay at their home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine imagines all sorts of gothic mystery that leads to much embarrassment on her part when her overactive imagination is discovered and proved wrong.

Of course the gentle satire of gothic novels is great fun and what this book is most known for. Catherine is reading The Mysteries of Udolpho while in Bath and talks about it with whoever will listen. But this book is so much more than that. It is also a sort of coming-of-age novel as Catherine goes from sheltered innocence to a more worldly understanding and grows from a girl with a romantic imagination into one of good mannered practicality.

And then there is the commentary from Austen about the reading and writing of novels:

leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried.

To be asked what one is reading and to reply “only a novel” is the norm but within that novel one finds on display the “the greatest powers of the mind” revealing the “most thorough knowledge of human nature” and doing it with wit and humor. I could hear Austen tsking, “only a novel! Humph!”

This being a Jane Austen novel our plain heroine gets her fella in spite of herself and the no-good machinations of the good-for-nothing selfish money grubbers. I first read this book so long ago that I had quite forgotten most of it. I seem to recall not being all that impressed by it back then when I was twenty-something. I didn’t know much about real gothic novels, certainly hadn’t read any, and so much of the humor was lost on me. Now, thanks to the RIP Challenge, for which I chose to reread Norhtanger Abbey, I have read quite a few gothic novels and this time around thoroughly enjoyed the humor. And with so much mention of Mysteries of Udolpho in the book, I immediately began reading it when I finished Austen. What fun!

Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller, Jane Austen, Reviews

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6. War & Peace to be Adapted as Six-Part TV Series

9780143039990HThe Weinstein Company, Look Out Point, and BBC Worldwide will collaborate to produce a six-part television adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War & Peace.

Follow this link to download a free copy of the book.

Screenwriter Andrew Davies will write the script. In the past, Davies has adapted several books including Michael Dobbs’ House Of Cards (the UK TV series), Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (the 1995 mini-series), and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary.


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7. Penguin Cooks: Food and the young Jane Austen

The first in a series of Penguin Cooks blogs, here one of our resident food experts, Pen Vogler, tells us a little about the food featured in some of Jane Austen's earliest works.

Next year, Jane Austen’s juvenilia will be published in Penguin Classics for the first time. It may seem odd to be trumpeting this on a food blog, but the young writer delighted in culinary obsessions.  Foremost of foodies in the juvenilia is Charlotte Luttrell of Lesley Castle (written when Jane was 16) who, broiling, roasting and baking her sister’s wedding feast, is appalled to hear of the groom’s life-threatening accident; "Good God!" (said I) "you don't say so? Why what in the name of Heaven will become of all the Victuals?” Her sister is too afflicted to even eat a chicken wing.

The Georgian dinner table hosted some strange dishes and I wonder if the vile-sounding “fried Cowheel & Onion” which comes in her lampoon, The Visit, was a riposte to some adult attempt to make her eat it. A more acceptable treat is joked about by the twelve-year-old Jane whose The Beautifull Cassandra, “proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry cook and walked away.”

Even I baulk at fried cow’s heel, but I have had a lovely time cooking my way through dishes that Jane mentions in her novels and letters.  As a young woman, left in charge of the housekeeping, she writes with relish about ordering braised ox-cheek and indeed it is gorgeous; melty and tender and just the thing for a cold day.

Braised Ox-Cheek, updated from an original recipe by Mrs Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1806

Brought up, as she was, on meat from her father’s livestock, ‘haricot mutton’ is another Austen favourite that deserves to be restored to the contemporary table.  And who wouldn’t agree with her that “Good apples pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness”.

A Buttered Apple Tart, updated from an original recipe by Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1747

Dinner with Mr Darcy: Recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jane Austen is published by Cico books, £16.99 in hardback.

Dinner With Mr DarcyPen Vogler is the editor of Penguin's Great Food series. If you enjoyed the above, read more on her blog, Pen's Great Food Club, where she describes cooking with recipes from history. For more foodie updates, follow her on Twitter / @penfrompenguin




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8. Jane Austen Portrait to Be Auctioned Off at Sotheby’s


A famous Jane Austen portrait will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s. The Guardian has posted up a photo of the portrait.

According to The Telegraph, this portrait is ”widely regarded as the most famous image of the author.” The auction will take place on December 10th.

Experts estimate that James Andrews’ watercolor painting will be able to draw as much as £150,000 to £200,000 in bids.  In the future, United Kingdom citizens will carry copies of this portrait in their wallets. Starting in 2017, the £10 note will feature Austen’s face.

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9. Shakuntala Devi Gets a Google Doodle for Her 84th Birthday


Google has created a Doodle to celebrate Shakuntala Devi’s 84th birthday.

Devi became well-known for her ability to generate complicated mental calculations which earned her the nickname, “the Human Computer.” Through her lifetime, she wrote and published novels, cookbooks, and nonfiction titles. Here’s more from the Times of India:

Shakuntala Devi figured in the Guiness Book of World Record for her outstanding ability and wrote numerous books like Fun with Numbers, Astrology for You, Puzzles to Puzzle You, and Mathablit. At the age of six, she demonstrated her calculation skills in her first major public performance at the University of Mysore and two years later, she again proved herself successful as a child prodigy at Annamalai University.”


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10. John Steinbeck Gets Google Doodle For His Birthday

steinbeck doodle

Google has created a Doodle to celebrate John Steinbeck’s 112th birthday. Throughout his writing career, Steinbeck penned many beloved works including East of Eden, Of Mice & Men, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning title, The Grapes of Wrath.

To this day, Steinbeck is a widely respected and read author. According to SFGate, the organizers behind the Steinbeck Festival plan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath at this year’s event. In April, the Of Mice & Men play starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd will open on Broadway.


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11. “The exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting…is denied to me.”


These posts are going to get very short all of a sudden because Rose and Beanie have departed for a week with my parents. I’ll miss our daily Poetry 180 readings. To make up for it, I made sure to catch today’s Writer’s Almanac entry. “Yard Sale” by George Bilgere. And it seems it’s Christopher Marlowe’s birthday! He was only 29 when he died, can you believe it?

Early morning: Howards End.

After lunch: Howards End Is on the Landing. Standout bits: This quote from Sir Walter Scott:

Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.

Oh how I love to hear writers talking about what other writers can pull off that they themselves can’t.

And just a note to myself to look up Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. Hill’s description certainly sells it. Also loved this line Hill quotes from a letter Fitzgerald wrote her, on the delights of being a grandmother:

It is such a joy to have someone who wishes to sit with you on a sofa and listen to a watch tick.

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12. Jane Austen and the art of letter writing

By Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade

Jane Austen at Writing Desk 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.

Writing Desk

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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13. Persuasion

I’ve read Jane Austen’s Persuasion twice before while at college for two different classes. I liked it both times, placing it as my favorite Austen but for Pride and Prejudice. Now at last, mumble mumble years on, I have read the book for pleasure. It still holds second place for me in the Austen canon, but my esteem for it has increased and I can imagine that maybe one day it might vault into first place. But we shall see.

Our heroine is Anne Elliot, age 27, a woman of fine mind and manners who has lost her bloom and is without marriage prospects. As a girl of nineteen she fell in love with the equally young Frederick Wentworh. They got engaged, much to the proud Elliot family’s disdain (Anne’s father is a Baronet). Anne’s friend Lady Russell, who became like a mother to her after her own died, persuaded Anne to break the engagement since Wentworth was without fortune and had uncertain prospects before him. Anne was offered marriage by Charles Musgrove, a congenial man of some fortune, but he did not measure up to Wentworth and she turned him down. He then married Anne’s younger sister. All this is backstory that gets filled in as we go along.

At the time the novel opens, Anne’s father, Sir Walter, finds himself is financial difficulties. He has mortgaged everything he has to support his vanity and pride. He has been encouraged in this by his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who is a chip off the old block. She is older than Anne but still handsome and hasn’t married because no suitors have been good enough. And now she is so utterly vain and silly that she’ll be hard-pressed to marry anyone. This does not bother her though because since her mother’s death, and as her father’s favorite, she has been mistress of Kellynch Hall, the family manor.

To save money and get themselves out of financial difficulties, they are persuaded to move to Bath and rent Kellynch Hall. The Napoleonic Wars are just over and there are many wealthy and gentlemanly officers returning. Kellynch is rented to Admiral and Mrs. Croft. It turns out that now Captain and wealthy Frederick Wentworh is Mrs. Croft’s brother.

The rest of the book is about whether or not Captain Wentworth and Anne will rekindle their former love and finally get married. Of course it is not a straight arrow. There are many diversions and dangers along the way. But this being Jane Austen, you can count on a happy ending. Nonetheless, the last 50 or so pages kept me on the edge of my seat in spite of knowing full well how it was all going to turn out.

What I like so much about this book is that it is so mature, not only in the sense that is was her last novel, but also in regards to the characters. There is still plenty of sparkle and wit, but it is more measured, and if anything, Austen’s humor is even more sly and subtle. I had a good laugh at one point after the Crofts had taken over Kellynch and Anne, who was still in the neighborhood because she was staying with her younger sister, is told by Admiral Croft that they have made hardly any changes to the house except for removing all the mirrors but one from Sir Walter’s dressing room!

There are also echoes of other Austen characters. Anne is Fanny-like in some ways in that she is the one neglected and overlooked and thought little of by her family, the one most put upon, but also the one with the best character, manners, and morals. Anne also seems to me the best combination of Elinor’s sense and Marianne’s sensibility.

Persuasion is a delightful book and if you haven’t read it yet, do find a way to get it into your reading pile. It is Austen at her best and oh so bittersweet since it was her last novel.

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14. Lady Susan

Lady Susan. Jane Austen 1794?/1871. 64 pages.

I recently reread Jane Austen's Lady Susan. I remembered it as being a quick, light read full of gossip and scandal. Lady Susan Vernon is not a "nice" woman; she's a still-quite-beautiful widow with a near-grown daughter, Frederica, who sometimes forgets her place. After creating a mess--or scandal--she invites herself to her brother-in-law's estate. Of course, she's not completely honest about it--not admitting that it is her last resort and that she really has no interest in his company or the company of his wife, Catherine Vernon. If readers get an honest glimpse of the woman at all, it is in her letters to Alicia Johnson, but, even then I think she's not being completely honest all of the time.

Lady Susan is a tricky, manipulative woman who likes to keep her options open. The other women that readers get to know in this little novel are Catherine and Frederica. Catherine would find it difficult to say anything positive about her sister-in-law, Lady Susan. Though she could probably admit that Lady Susan is quite beautiful and charming--when she wants to be. Catherine thinks Lady Susan is a horrible mother--and she is. And Catherine thinks she is PLOTTING to get her brother, Reginald De Courcy--and she is. Reginald starts strong, but, within a day or two he's convinced that Lady Susan is THE ONE. In other words, he becomes horribly stupid. Frederica, Catherine's daughter, also falls for Reginald. Lady Susan is all about DRAMA. Gossip. Scandal. Lies. Manipulation. Tension. Lady Susan is a divisive woman--breaking apart families, the cause of endless quarrels. 

Lady Susan isn't really like Austen's other novels. Lady Susan, Catherine, and Frederica aren't really like Jane Austen's other heroines. And that is definitely true with the heroes as well. Reginald is not like Tilney, Darcy, Wentworth, or Knightley. Lady Susan is not a swoon-worthy romance. It is fun, lively, gossipy. 

Here's my first review.

My favorite quotes:
Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting. (7)
In short, when a person is always to deceive, it is impossible to be consistent. (27)
Facts are such horrid things! (54)

Read Lady Susan
  • If you are looking for a classic that is a quick, lively read
  • If you like stories where what is not being said is just as important as what is being said
  • If you like not-so-nice heroines; true Lady Susan is no Moll Flanders, but, she's no Fanny Price either! She just really, really likes it when men--single or married--fall in love with her.
  • If you like Jane Austen

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Jane Vows Vengeance

Jane Vows Vengeance. Michael Thomas Ford. 2012. Random House. 288 pages.

"What about this one?" Jane glanced at the magazine Lucy was holding up, opened to a picture of a bride standing in a field of daisies. 

This is the third novel in Michael Thomas Ford's paranormal series. The first is Jane Bites Back, and the second is Jane Goes Batty. If you've enjoyed the first few books in the series, you'll probably want to pick this one up too.

Jane Fairfax owns a bookshop and has recently had a novel published, even had that novel adapted into a movie, of sorts. But she's a woman keeping a secret from her husband-to-be. She's a vampire AND she's Jane Austen. While this knowledge certainly isn't common information, there are a LOT of people in her life who do know, including Walter's mother--Jane's future mother-in-law. By the way, his mother is keeping a BIG, BIG, BIG secret from him too. Poor Walter! No one ever tells him anything!

This novel sees the couple heading to Europe along with their friends and family. (Lucy, Ben, and Miriam, the mother-in-law). It isn't quite a wedding trip or a honeymoon trip--emphasis on the word quite. For Walter, it's a work-related trip, a select group will be touring historic homes. Sound boring? Well, some paranormal activity will liven things up a bit.

This novel had its moments. There were a few sparkly conversations, mainly between Jane and Byron, that made me happy I decided to continue on in this series. There were times this one almost almost worked for me. Some good scenes, some interesting developments. But at other times this novel was a mess. I'm not sure if it's because this book focused on the personal relationship between Jane and Walter, if it's because the book follows the couple's vacation, if it's because the focus was more on Jane trying to meet everyone else's expectations. But something felt off about it. This one had less social commentary, less satire, perhaps.


I think this one tried to pay tribute to Agatha Christie and mystery novels, but, that aspect didn't quite work for me. As a mystery this one didn't quite work for me. So what I was left with was a somewhat boring story about Walter and Jane trying to get married peacefully and without a lot of fuss. The scene that probably bothered me the very most was their first attempt to marry. And the wedding is interrupted by Jane's husband. And the guests talk openly about Jane being a vampire, the marriage occurring almost two hundred years in the past, etc. And Walter has not left the room. The author didn't give any indication that Walter left the room, OR, that the guests were huddled together whispering, OR, that the guests left the room to talk together...AND we're supposed to believe that Walter didn't listen closely enough to catch on to the fact that Jane is a vampire....and he's completely SURPRISED by the revelation later on in the novel. I think another issue I have with the novel, with the series, is that Walter isn't a fully developed character. We don't know him well enough to love him, though we can respect that Walter is a good match for Jane, I suppose. Mainly he's just there, and sometimes he's there and reacts.

Read Jane Vows Vengeance
  • If you enjoy paranormal novels
  • If you like satire/humor

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
16. Free eBook Flowchart

What’s your favorite kind of book? We’ve created a giant flowchart to help you browse the top 50 free eBooks at Project Gutenberg.

Click the image above to see a larger version of the book map. Your choices range from Charles Dickens to Jane Austen, from Sherlock Holmes to needlework. Below, we’ve linked to all 50 free eBooks so you can start downloading right now. The books are available in all major eBook formats.

Follow this link to see an online version of the flowchart, complete with links to the the individual books.


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17. Bride and Prejudice

I don't usually write movie reviews--in fact, I don't think I've ever written a single one, but I couldn't resist blogging about how much I enjoyed watching "Bride and Prejudice" two weekends back.

Made in 2004 and directed by Gurinder Chadhu of "Bend it Like Beckham" fame, the movie was one I've wanted to see for some time but never seemed to get around to it. Recently, however, I've been on a bit of a Jane Austen tangent, so when I was at the library the other day and saw the film on the DVD shelf, I knew it was the right time for a little fairy tale fantasy.

It turned out to be a serendipitous choice--I absolutely LOVED this movie. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice set in rural India. Aishwarya Rai (aka "the most beautiful woman in the world") and Martin Henderson play the parts of Lalita Bakshi and Will Darcy, or as we might recognize them from the original Austen text: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Moving the story up a few centuries and taking it from the English countryside to Amritsar was an incredibly clever interpretation of a much beloved classic. The Bakshi family was the perfect remake of the Bennets; Will and Lalita were just as conflict-ridden as their original counterparts; and the chemistry between all the characters--including Jaya (Jane) and Mr. Balraj (Bingley) was almost better than the book!

I've always been a big fan of Bollywood: lots of bling, embroidered silk veils and saris, singing and dancing for no reason whatsoever, dreamy couples who seem to have all the money and time they need to fly around the world to gaze wistfully at sunsets and each other, and of course the 3-hankie happily-ever-after ending. Bollywood is the ultimate escapist, love-conquers-all movie moment. "Bride and Prejudice" was no exception.

Which got me thinking about what makes a great romance book or movie. And this is what I've come up with: two strong, intelligent characters overcome their very real differences so they can learn to work together. Yep, it's all about work. Kissing is the easy part. Getting to the altar takes courage. And a lot of singing and dancing.

I've always thought Pride and Prejudice is essentially a story about marriage. The relationship between the parents--the Bennets in Pride, and the Bakshis in Bride--truly intrigues me. Mismatched on the surface but made for each other; their bond is what has made Jaya and Lalita the heroines they are. My favorite line from "Bride and Prejudice" is when a distraught Mrs. Bakshi is scolding her daughters on being so concerned about marrying for love. She turns and points to a sheepish-looking Mr. Bakshi. "Where was love in the beginning?" she chides. Where indeed? And yet here she is, with four pretty girls, a home of her own, and a husband who obviously cares for her. Awww. As the girls sing after dinner with the endearingly awful Mr. Kholi: "No Life Without Wife!"

Tip of the Day: Watch this movie! Afterward you might like to think about your other favorite romantic films or books. What makes for good chemistry between the characters? Anything you want to change in your own writing? And now it's time for some more singing:                                                                   

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18. PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Top 10 YA/Crossover Books with a Religious Theme, by Rukhsana Khan


Rukhsana Khan’s award-winning novel Wanting Mor (Groundwood Books, 2009) was one of the books on Corinne’s YA Top 10 posted last week (and it would be on mine too!).  One of the themes that runs through the book is the main character Jameela’s faith, and Rukhsana evokes great depth of feeling and understanding about Jameela’s culture growing up in post-Taliban Afghanistan.  Her other YA novel Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile (Stoddart Kids, 1999) focuses on a Muslim Canadian teen Zainab’s journey towards self-acceptance in the face of peer pressure.  Rukhsana has also written  several acclaimed picture books, including Big Red Lollipop (illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Viking Children’s Books, 2010) and The Roses in My Carpets (illustrated by Ronald Himler).

You can find out more about Rukhsana’s books on her website and keep up-to-date with her news on her Khanversations blog; and do also read our interview with her.


Top 10 YA/Crossover Books with a Religious Theme, by Rukhsana Khan

1.   The Autobiography of Malcolm X — This book absolutely moved me as a teen! It’s about a man who succumbs to a sort of personality cult (Nation of Islam)—but emerges as a truly noble man! I wanted to be like Malcolm X!

2.   Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson — A real classic! Absolutely adored this book! It’s full of quotations from the Bible and there’s a really mean and sanctimonious grandmother!

3.   A Single Light by Maia Wojcieschowska — Read this as a girl and found it haunting!

4.   Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Fanny Price is no Elizabeth Bennet! I loved that Edward chooses Fanny for her faith and good moral character.

5.   Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare — A story about tolerance but also about differences in faith. I’d never heard of the Quaker religion before this!

6.   Does My Head Look Big in This? Randa Abdel Fattah — The first book I ever read that made you root for the girl to keep wearing her hijab.

7.   Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte — Read this book as a kid and it actually confirmed my belief in Islam—Mr. Rochester and Jane would have had no problem marrying if they were Muslim!

8.   The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — Loved how Mark Twain explored the ways in which the status quo—slave ownership—was justified by the establishment. And I wrestled alongside Huck as he struggled to do the *right* thing!

9.   The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson — A lyrical beautiful book about a woman who falls in love with Egypt and the Muslim faith.

10.  The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham — I only recently read this book and realized how way ahead of its time it was! It’s about a guy who goes and finds himself, and particularly about him exploring his faith.

I know a lot of the books aren’t exactly kids’ books. I couldn’t help it. I do really like all these books! Although Randa Abdel Fattah’s book annoys me a little because it’s about a girl you’re rooting for, who has the courage to wear hijab, and yet she, as an author, no longer wears hijab; and there’s a spot in that book when they go to the cinema during Ramadan while they’re fasting and there’s no mention of prayer!!! *grrr*

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19. Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice! Would you find me a date?

By Sarah Raff

Two hundred years after the initial publication of Pride and Prejudice, commodities marketed to Janeites overwhelmingly emphasize Jane Austen’s powers as an advisor. Shoppers can choose among volumes called Finding Mr. Darcy: Jane Austen’s Rules for Love or Dating Mr. Darcy: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Sensible Romance; The Jane Austen Guide to Life, Happily Ever After, Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Dating, Good Manners, and coming soon, Thrift; older miniatures such as Jane Austen’s Little Advice Book, Jane Austen’s Little Instruction Book, Jane Austen’s Universal Truths; books called The Jane Austen Companion to Love and to Life but also the 2013 Jane Austen Companion to Life mini wall calendar; and works of fiction masquerading as advice, with titles such as The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, Dear Jane: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love, What Would Jane Austen Do?, and even Jane Austen Ruined My Life: a novel. This visibility of her so-called guidance helps to reveal how attractively Austen perfected the didactic tradition of the eighteenth-century novel. Austen’s predecessor Samuel Richardson aspired to be a guide for his readers on matters of romance and conduct, but no one today looks for counsel in A Collection of such of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Cautions, Aphorisms, Reflections, and Observations contained in the History, as are presumed to be of general Use and Service or any of the other volumes of extracts he compiled from his novels. Meanwhile, a drawback of Austen’s marketability as an advisor is that it risks branding Austen’s admirers as sexually and socially desperate. So at least my students tell me. Far from the companion who guarantees one’s literary distinction, Austen the mentor can be a style-cramper for young women in just the way that Mrs. Bennet is for Elizabeth Bennet: association with her suggests that one lacks a romantic partner and is willing to make an unseemly effort to get one.

What I find remarkable in this latest twist to Austen’s reception is how precisely yet incompletely it follows cues set up in the opening sentence of Austen’s best-loved novel. There, Austen takes Richardson’s notion that reading can turn things around for your romantic life and gives it a utopian dimension, offering up a narrator who can help readers not just with counsel but with limitless powers for active intervention in the world. When Pride and Prejudice’s narrator adopts what initially seems to be the tone of an advising aunt to give the reader’s implicit antecedent question, “will my beloved ever propose to me?” the coy but distinctly encouraging answer, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” she offers to write us the love story we want through the sheer force of her magical thinking and ours: her control over the fictional world will extend into our world and dictate the behavior of that particular man whose name we have mentally substituted for the general term, “single man.” By an entirely different logic, the words “universally acknowledged” hint that the narrator is prepared to extort a proposal for the reader from the man in question by using group pressure against him. In a society ruled by the gentleman’s code requiring that if it is generally supposed that a man will marry a particular, willing woman, he is honor-bound to propose to her, power to make matches goes to anyone who can persuasively articulate universal opinion, as the narrator here proves that she can do. The reader’s romantic hopes get an additional boost from the sanguine expectations of others—how could the narrator and a whole universe of acknowledgers be mistaken?—and from the sense that, since she herself acknowledges her beloved’s want of a wife, she belongs to a prestigious group, one whose alliance with herself can only further her chances with her beloved.

Of course, the trap laid for that straight, nubile woman and every reader willing to identify with her soon appears. The next sentences of the novel oblige the reader to recognize that the universe whose apparent prestige was the basis for her romantic optimism has boundaries: standing outside it are the single man himself, whose “feelings or views” may, the narrator warns, be “little known”; the intelligent Mr. Bennet, who sarcastically asks whether marrying a Bennet daughter was Mr. Bingley’s “design in coming here”; and indeed the narrator, who abruptly revokes her opening promises, prepares to draw a mustache on her once-flattering portrait of the reader, and transforms her own persona. Suddenly, the advisory figure to whom the reader confessed the name of her beloved no longer looks like that comfortable confidante, benign and wise, who was ready to grant the reader’s desire and testify to the dignity of that desire, but rather like Mrs. Bennet: liable to misjudge the desires of eligible men, unable to tell the difference between a vulgar local community and the world, abjectly desperate to find her protégée a husband, likely to sink rather than raise the reader’s social status and marriageability. Having unwarily accepted the matchmaking services of this Mrs. Bennet-like figure, the reader now seems to stand condemned before the new, Mr. Bennet-like narrator coming into view, who articulated that opening sentence not to endorse its assurances but to ridicule them.

By taking Austen as fairy godmother or pathetic yenta, the Janeite and anti-Janeite camps ignore this last transformation in the narrator. Perhaps their doing so represents an insight: after all, the narrator soon eases the pressure of her threatened scorn by offering up for our identification the magnificent Elizabeth Bennet, who demolishes the law that desire for a husband makes a woman contemptible. That Pride and Prejudice, with its wealth of generalizations about love, inspires so many readers with the hopeful, even euphoric eagerness for rules that it sends up in Mary Bennet, Mr. Collins, and the reader of its opening sentences suggests that Austen retained a fundamental allegiance to advice-book tradition she knew so well how to mock.

Sarah Raff is Associate Professor of English at Pomona College. She served as the foreign fiction correspondent for Publishers Weekly from 1997 to 1998. Her upcoming book about Jane Austin’s erotic evolution will be published by Oxford in September 2013.

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Image credits: (1) The submissive reader by Rene Magritte, 1928 via wikipaintings.org. (2) Altered version of Dear Abby star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Original photo by Ben McCune, 2006. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. Pride & Prejudice Turns 200

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. You can download a free eBook edition or a free audiobook copy of the novel. 

Here’s more from the BBC: “It has one of the most famous opening lines in literature, it turned Colin Firth into a heartthrob and it spawned a zombie spin-off. Now Pride & Prejudice  has reached the venerable age of 200…First published by Thomas Egerton in 1813, Pride & Prejudice  was Jane Austen’s second novel.”

According to the article, Austen has dubbed this work as her “own darling child.” UK readers purchase approximately 50,000 copies every year. To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of three ideas on how fans can celebrate


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21. How ardently I admire and love you…

On 28 January 1813, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published. Originally titled ‘First Impressions’, Austen was forced to re-title it with a phrase from Frances Burney’s Cecilia after the publication of Margaret Holford’s First Impressions. We’ve paired an extract from the book with a scene from the most recent dramatization to see how Austen’s words have survived the centuries.

While settling this point, she was suddenly roused by the sound of the door bell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of its being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to enquire particularly after her.

Click here to view the embedded video.

But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were very differently affected, when, to her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room. In an hurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began,

‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement, and the avowal of all that he felt and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority––of its being a degradation––of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience, when he should have done. He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she said,

‘In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot––I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.’

Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth’s feelings dreadful. At length, in a voice of forced calmness, he said,

‘And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.’

‘I might as well enquire,’ replied she, ‘why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?’

As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, and he listened without attempting to interrupt her while she continued.

‘I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other, of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.’

She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile of affected incredulity.

‘Can you deny that you have done it?’ she repeated.

With assumed tranquillity he then replied, ‘I have no wish of denying that I did every thing in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself.’

Elizabeth disdained the appearance of noticing this civil reflection, but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely to conciliate her.

‘But it is not merely this affair,’ she continued, ‘on which my dislike is founded. Long before it had taken place, my opinion of you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham. On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation, can you here impose upon others?’

‘You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns,’ said Darcy in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.

‘Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?’

‘His misfortunes!’ repeated Darcy contemptuously, ‘yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.’

‘And of your infliction,’ cried Elizabeth with energy. ‘You have reduced him to his present state of poverty, comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages, which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life, of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule.’

‘And this,’ cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, ‘is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,’ added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, ‘these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I with greater policy concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by every thing. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?’

Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said,

‘You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’

She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued, ‘You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.’

Again his astonishment was obvious; and he looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. She went on.

‘From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.’

‘You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.’

And with these words he hastily left the room, and Elizabeth heard him the next moment open the front door and quit the house. The tumult of her mind was now painfully great. She knew not how to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half an hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! that he should have been in love with her for so many months! so much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend’s marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case, was almost incredible! it was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. But his pride, his abominable pride, his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane, his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited…

Pride and Prejudice has delighted generations of readers with its unforgettable cast of characters, carefully choreographed plot, and a hugely entertaining view of the world and its absurdities. With the arrival of eligible young men in their neighborhood, the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters are turned inside out and upside down. Pride encounters prejudice, upward-mobility confronts social disdain, and quick-wittedness challenges sagacity, as misconceptions and hasty judgements lead to heartache and scandal, but eventually to true understanding, self-knowledge, and love. In this supremely satisfying story, Jane Austen balances comedy with seriousness, and witty observation with profound insight.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics onTwitter and Facebook.

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22. Austenland Coming To The Big Screen

I read Austenland by Shannon Hale a few years ago and thought it an interesting work. I have to say, though, for me the big draw for the movie is Jennifer Coolidge. However, Jane Seymour looks pretty commanding in the one trailer I've been able to find.

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23. Intrinsic Value: Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

This week marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, which seemed like the perfect excuse--if any were needed--to reread it.  It also seemed like a good opportunity to write about it, especially since it's the only Austen novel I haven't written about in the course of this blog's existence (well, to be precise, one of the very first Austen-related entries posted to

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24. Douglas Adams Gets Interactive Google Doodle for His Birthday

Google has created an interactive Google Doodle celebrating Douglas Adams‘ 61st birthday. The UK author is best known for his comedic science-fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Check out this YouTube video which shows how internet users can interact with this animated doodle. Random House posted a screenshot of the art piece on Facebook and drew 266 “likes.”

Here’s more from ABC News: “Google’s doodle includes references to Adams’ work: a towel, which according to Adams’ book, is an essential item for space travel, a cup of tea, a staple of his oeuvre, and when users click the door in the doodle, Marvin, the beloved ‘paranoid android,’ from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide‘ appears.”


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25. Unlikely Travelling Companions? Felix Brooke and Austen’s ‘Susan’ – or should that be Catherine Morland..?

Joan Aiken’s passion for history often led her to wonder ‘what if’ things had turned out differently.  What if, for instance,  Jane Austen’s early novel, originally entitled ‘Susan’ and sold to a publisher in 1803, and which then languished unpublished until she furiously bought it back for £10 thirteen years later, had in fact appeared, even maybe without the knowledge of its author, and had been in the pocket of a young nobleman who ran away to join the Peninsular wars in Spain at the beginning of the 19th century.

The young man falls in love, and marries an aristocratic Spanish girl who dies having his baby, and he watches over the boy, disguised as a groom until his own death, when he leaves a letter, and his treasured book to the boy, Felix Brooke,   with a message telling him to seek out his long lost family in the city of Bath, England where the action of Austen’s novel takes place.  For Joan Aiken imagines that this is in fact Jane Austen’s early novel, ‘Northanger Abbey’ which was written in the full enthusiasm and confidence of youth, and is a delightful parody of all the Gothic romances so popular at the time.  It is also a description of an innocent abroad, a heroine with a head full of fantasy from reading too many novels,  who finds herself alone in a dangerous world struggling to make sense of the behaviour of unscrupulous villains or apparently solicitous friends with nothing but the world of fiction to guide her.  This is much the same world that the Spanish orphan, young Felix Brooke encounters, but in a truly wild and Gothic landscape  with terrifying brigands and murderers, mountain tribesmen looking for a human sacrifice, pirates who specialise in the kidnap of children,  with only the assistance of Austen’s novel to sustain and comfort him.

In Joan Aiken’s Go Saddle the Sea Felix is recounting his story:

“The book, Susan, was an odd tale about a young lady and her quest for a husband; to tell truth, I wondered what my father had seen in it, that he had even carried it with him into battle; I found it rather dull, but since it had been my father’s I kept it carefully (his bloodstains were on the cover).”

Later in his adventures, having escaped various perils by the skin of his teeth and the use of his not inconsiderable wits, Felix has time to look into the book again, and reconsiders:

“I had opened it at the place where Miss Susan, going to stay with her great friends in their abbey-residence, is terrified at night by a fearful storm and the discovery of a paper,hid in a closet in her bedroom, which she takes to be the confession of some wicked deed of blood – only to find, next day, that the mysterious paper is naught but a washing bill!  For the first time, this struck me as very comical; yet, reading it through again, I could see that the writer had represented the poor young lady’s terrors very skilfully; just such a nightmarish terror had I felt myself among those unchancy people in that heathen village – and yet for all I knew, my fears were equally foolish and unfounded!  I began to see that this was not such a simple tale as I had hitherto supposed, but must be attended to carefully; and I gave my father credit for better judgement than I had at first…wondering what kind of man my father had been..and hoping that some person in England would be able to tell me more about him.”

In an article for the Jane Austen Society, Joan Aiken describes with relish the content of  Mrs. Radcliffe’s bestseller, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which Austen had gleefully satirised:

“If we take a look at the works of Mrs. Radcliffe, we can easily see what tempted the youthful Jane Austen to poke fun at them…[they were] enormous historical canvases splashed over with forests and beetling fortresses and dark crags in the Appennines.  Mrs. Radcliffe went in for immense casts of characters on a positively Shakespearian scale (she was in fact much influenced by Shakespeare for whom she had great admiration); she had stabbings and shootings, suicides and assassinations; interspersed, for comic relief, by long scenes with garrulous Shakespearian-type servants; she had immensely complicated family relationships, long-lost relatives in every possible connection, suggestions of incest, mysterious resemblances, and, besides all this, a large number of startling, apparently supernatural occurrences..”

From this we can see that these writers had an equally powerful influence on Joan Aiken’s own work, and by setting her novel,  Go Saddle the Sea in just such a rip roaring Gothic world of her own in 19th century Spain, and with a nod at Austen’s own parody, she could have the best of all worlds!


Go Saddle the Sea 1

Go Saddle the Sea is the first of the three ‘Felix’ Novels just about to come out in gorgeous new editions in the UK

For more details about all three books visit the Joan Aiken page at Random House

or visit the Felix pages at The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken


Filed under: Book Review, Joan Aiken & Jane Austen, News Tagged: Felix Trilogy, Go Saddle the Sea, Jane Austen, Joan Aiken new books coming out, Joan Aiken Page Facebook, Northanger Abbey, Random House

4 Comments on Unlikely Travelling Companions? Felix Brooke and Austen’s ‘Susan’ – or should that be Catherine Morland..?, last added: 5/3/2013
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