Book Review: Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma

I am no lover of sequels. I just shut down really, when, in anticipation of a beloved author’s continued words on a character or plot or unfolding event, I run smack into a wall of some stranger’s thoughts.  I want JANE AUSTEN’s words, I want new works from her, something more to read, to savor, not a return to or a rehashing of any of the nearly perfect worlds of her six novels.  Those are complete to me, and I want them left alone, I want to protect her characters from someone else’s mutterings.  So I confess to not reading any of the many sequels and much prefer to just re-read Austen, who says most everything better than anyone. [After writing this, I was looking at Joan Klingel Ray’s Jane Austen for Dummies and find her words on pg 297, almost mine exactly…”  I have to admit that when I need more Jane Austen, I just reread Jane Austen….I am not a fan of sequels…and I would never attempt to convince [others] not to read the sequels…but I am content to let Austen’s characters’ lives end with her novels…” (p297)  So I am in good company I think!  ]… Continue reading

Rejecting Jane

Finally got around to reading the article by David Lassman entitled REJECTING JANE (published in Jane Austen’s Regency World; issue 28, July-August 2007). An experiment whereby chapters of actual Jane Austen novels were sent to publishers and agents! As an aspiring writer myself, what could be more daunting than to read of these rejections – for rejections are what came back.

For each query (18 in total), four publishers and two agents were sent sample chapters from one of three Austen novels: Northanger Abbey – very apropos to our June 22nd meeting; Persuasion; and Pride and Prejudice. The novels were all submitted by a Miss Alison Laydee, a resident of Bath, with their titles changed (ditto lead character names) to, respectively, Susan, The Watsons, and First Impressions. Gotta laugh when the “First Impressions” packets went out unchanged as to the first line of the opening paragraph… and still no one caught on – with one possible exception (though this person may have been more fixated upon the opening pages).

Responses to these queries (15 out of 18 received at the time of publication) were nail-bitingly quick, though with the usual result: thanks, but no thanks. I would quibble, however, as to why packets were mailed to publishers NOT accepting unsolicited manuscripts, or to the agent who dealt only with TV and film writers; these circumstances surely were known by the submitter – or should have been better researched.

No need to condense the story; read it yourself at Regency World. And ‘thanks, David’ for the best laugh I’ve had this week!

Online Jane Austen “find”

Some of the most difficult books to track down are those published privately by Austen-Leigh family members. These include a lot of publications from Spottiswoode (for background on the firm, see this book). Others are simply seminal Austen offerings. Tonight’s “find” is from Internet Archive: CHAWTON MANOR AND ITS OWNERS. This is one of those books referenced in footnotes, but which you might never otherwise actually see. CHECK IT OUT!!

Today, the Manor is known as Chawton House Library (see the links page for their website); the graves of Cassandra and Mrs Austen are found to the side of St. Nicholas’ Church, just a bit further down the quiet lane that passes the manor house. The photographs in this book may be the only views of the house most of us see; I was in Chawton on a day which was not a Thursday, alas that the only day it was open to the public. (Chawton House Library had also been my work venue of choice, had I gotten JASNA’s IVP nod.) And, written by family, this is a prime source for information about the KNIGHTS who adopted Jane’s brother Edward. The book also includes portraits of Edward which I’ve never seen elsewhere (though the one of his wife Elizabeth is extremely familiar).

A couple other books found at the same site: Personal Aspects of Jane Austen was written by Edward and Emma Austen-Leigh’s daughter, Mary Augusta. Not as ‘valuable’ a book, in my opinion, as her father’s Memoir of Jane Austen, never mind Mary’s own memoir of her father, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, it might find some interest among our Janeites (though not so, according to the handwritten note across the title page!). This other book looks interesting, but I’ve not yet had the chance to read much of it; so tell me whether YOU think it an overlooked early biography, terribly dated, or could never have been very good… It’s from 1920 and is divided into some thought-provoking sections: The Novelist; The Realist; The Woman.

And if it weren’t so late (at the tone the time will be three a.m. BONG!), I’d read a Jane Austen’s Regency World article on Miss Austen Regrets or their article on Rejecting Jane (how she might have fared in today’s publishing world); but that has to wait ’til “morning”… So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen.

Why is Jane Austen so Popular?

I was having dinner with a great buddy the other night and we of course got talking about Jane Austen, as we are wont to do….we have both been reading Austen for a good number of years, attend the annual JASNA meetings together, and discuss the latest movies, occasionally disagreeing, but have terrific conversations nonetheless.  We most often quibble over Fanny Price and Mansfield Park (she dislikes Fanny with a passion, loves Mary & Henry Crawford and hence the whole book tends to lose its bite!) … I have told her that there is now a wonderful new Blog just about Mansfield Park, but alas! she does not care….

But our discussion the other night, with my very NOT Austen-loving husband in rapt attention, tended to the very basic question of “why is Jane Austen so popular right now?”  We can say that the movies and Hollywood are driving the popular culture, that Colin Firth as Darcy has changed the face of the romantic hero for all time, that she has always been popular so what’s all the fuss, that she gives us a respite in the world of computers and television and cell phones and ipods always THERE demanding our attention, that her writing is so superb we cannot but read and re-read because there is nothing to compare, her wit and social commentary are unparalleled, etc., etc. …. there is no one answer for sure….but I thought I would put this to the blog test and see what sort of response we can get from the cyberspace world out there that is filled with Austen blogs, sites, comments, articles…and just give you all a chance to wax poetic on this very basic thought:  why IS Austen so popular now? and why are her 6 novels (plus all the other wonderful jottings) on YOUR reading pile?  Any thoughts and comments appreciated….especially from those who might be better than me at convincing my friend that Mansfield Park is quite a delightful book after all!

[there is a great article on this question at the Masterpiece Theatre site, titled Why Jane? Why Now? ]

Some thoughts on Cranford

The only thing I’ve ever read about Mrs Gaskell is the involving biography by Jenny Uglow. I’ve never read any of her work, and just wasn’t in the mood for Wives and Daughters when that aired last year. But Cranford won me over last night. Sure some of it is a bit beyond belief (could a cat REALLY swallow that amount of lace???), but the idea of a village with such a force of women – from gossipy to trendsetting – well, what female viewer wouldn’t consider the hours spent watching them hours well-spent indeed.

One reason I got involved in JASNA was that research into diaries (the earliest is 1814) of Mary Gosling brought up the fact that her brother-in-law was Jane’s nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh (he married Emma Smith, Mary’s sister-in-law, in 1828). But Mary lived until July 1842 — exactly the period of last night’s episode of Cranford (it began in June 1842 and ended in August 1842). Being able to picture a young Mary (she was born in 1800) in the fashions of Pride and Prejudice or Emma and later in the early-Victorian era fashions of Cranford really gets the brain juices flowing. 25 yards to make a dress! the different materials (and their differing prices…) for bonnets! the excessive darkness – yet still the needlewoman plies her needle! All of these items have to be thought of when one contemplates recreating the life of someone who lived 200 years ago.

Ms. Place IDs the gorgeous village used in filming: ‘the British Heritage village of Laycock’. I must say this village adds tremendously to the atmosphere of this production.

And the scenes really place you in the 1840s. In the Jenkyns household, the wide hearth of the era and the image of Mary reading by the light of the fire. The unrelenting darkness of interiors; the pools of light; the lonely lady of the manor; the lovelorn dutiful daughter/sister; the poor women who produced child after child; the servants who looked after the wealthier inhabitants; and you gotta love those poor (sedan) chairmen!

Mary Gosling lived in an era of change: from the horse-and-carriage to the age of steam trains; from war abroad to unrest at home. And Cranford well illustrates what life at such times of change could mean to people of a small village. I really feel for the still-in-the-18th-century patroness. Again, the strength of this program is in its wealth of women portrayed. And very hard not to think of Cassandra and Jane (had Jane lived to an older age) when watching the two Misses Jenkyns. When Miss Deborah died, my heart went out to Miss Matilda. I have no sister and cannot imagine what it must be like to live for one another, only to end up being the sister death left behind.

As an Austen-side note: nice to see Austen ‘veterans’ Greg Wise and Julia Sawalha. And it’s always a pleasure to see Julia MacKenzie and Barbara Flynn. Francesca Annis, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins (a well-deserved BAFTA win) have long been favorites.

Ms. Place – who has read the book! – says the script remains kind of close to the original. All I can say about the production is, notice what a leisurely pace will do for a storyline; ditto some excellent casting (is there even one weak link in this production?). High standards DO pay off. I will say, I wish the “background” music was a little less intrusive at times. Overall, though, a lovingly-crafted adaptation.

BTW: 1905 saw the publication of CRANFORD: A PLAY by Marguerite Marington; see And don’t forget to check out Deb’s post on Gaskell, below. I clicked on the Cranford (novel) link Deb provided and read the first chapter; interesting to now have images in the mind, thanks to the teleplay, of the lives of Miss Jenkyns, Miss Jessie Brown, Captain Brown, et al. Reading this one chapter really makes plain how a series of scenarios can be crafted into a well-rounded script with some fidelity to the original.

UPDATE: In part 2, scenes were filmed at TRING PARK (in Hertfordshire), which has an Austen connection: it was the bridal home of Edward and Emma Austen, and their first few children were born there. When Edward’s aunt died and he assumed the Austen-Leigh name, he moved his family into his aunt’s former home, Scarlets. BUT: before Scarlets, before Speen, they lived with Emma’s mother Mrs Smith at Tring, the former home of her uncle, Sir Drummond Smith, Bart. Therefore, where Judi Dench trod, so in the past did Mary Gosling (Lady Smith), Emma & Edward Austen, his mother Mrs James Austen, and his sister Caroline. Small world sometimes…