On My Bookshelf ~

I love my mailman!  He brings me such gifts almost on a daily basis – yesterday he brought these two books:

book cover ja unrequited love 

Jane Austen: an Unrequited Love, by Andrew Norman [The History Press, 2009] – where the author proposes “that Jane and Cassandra had a falling out over a young clergyman, whom he identifies for the first time.  He also suggests that along with the Addison’s disease that killed her, Jane Austen suffered from TB.”  [from the jacket]




book cover jane austens sewing boxJane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft projects and stories from Jane Austen’s Novels,  by Jennifer Forest [Murdoch Books, 2009] [see Janiete Kelly’s post on this title] – it is a sumptuous book! 

Please join us tomorrow when I will post an interview with the author, as well as review the book. ~

[I am now going in search of my long-abandoned embroidery supplies… ]


 … and today he brought me the latest issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World [July/August 2009] – as always cram-packed with interesting articles and lovely illustrations – on Austen, Mary Shelley, Queen Caroline, global warming in JA’s time, book reviews, and much more [I will post the full contents tomorrow], but you can see hightlights of the issue as well as download a sample article from a previous issue at the magazine’s website [note that this is the NEW website for JARW, so change your links in your “favorites.”]



How sad to be burdened with a day-job with all this reading to be done!

Posted by Deb

Book Review ~ “Jane’s Fame” by Claire Harman

book cover jane's fameMany of us who grew up in the late 40s – early 50s had our Jane Austen force-fed to us in high school (unless we were fortunate enough to be blessed with an Austen-loving mother or father!).  Pride & Prejudice was the standard text with little reference to the other works; followed by George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and / or Great Expectations, Shakespeare (hopefully!), and Hemingway, Steinbeck, Salinger for contemporary authors.  But I’ve often thought that Austen got a bum-rap with this “required-reading” status, the educational system’s way of compensating for what an early critic said in calling Austen “a critic’s novelist – highly spoken of and little read.” [p. 120]  And while I am the first to admit that Austen is not for everyone [their terrible loss!], I have long believed that this approach to Austen added to her suffering from the great reader-turnoff. 

For me, a voracious reader as a youngster and teenager, I went on to read some of her novels, but alas! not all, feeling more at home with Alcott, the Brontes, Dickens, and later Wilkie Collins, all those more accessible Victorian novelists.  So it was in later life that I returned to Austen – and I perhaps needed that distance of time (and some wisdom!) to re-appreciate her brilliance – the humor and irony, the language, that characterization, and of course, the age-old love stories.  So from my current vantage point I marvel at Austen’s ability to stay fresh, to speak to different generations, and to speak to each individual in different ways through one’s own life. And in these fifteen plus years of “re-Austenising” myself, I’ve gone much beyond the novels, to the biographies, criticism, her Regency / Georgian world, and the current surfeit of films, and sequels and continuations, and even the latest parodies, creating quite a book collection in the process – and I have really barely begun!  

So I was most excited to hear about the release of Claire Harman’s new book, Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World [Canongate, 2009], stirring up controversy even before it hit the bookstores [see my previous post, “Discord in Austen Land”].  [Harman has authored Fanny Burney: A Biography (Knopf, 2001) and works on Sylvia Townsend Warner and Robert Louis Stevenson].   It is an engaging read – historical, biographical, critical and anecdotal, all rolled into a capsule of Austen’s claim to fame – and just why was she so popular?  “the public whipped into a frenzy” [p. 243]  in the late nineteenth century and again in the late twentieth? – by “[James Edward] Austen-Leigh’s Memoir in the first instance, and in the second, a man in a wet shirt” [p. 243] [with thanks to Colin Firth!] – simplified reasoning perhaps, but a good chuckle and that glimmer of truth. 

Harman explains that

…this book charts the growth of Austen’s fame, the changing status of her work and what it has stood for, or been made to stand for, in English culture over the past two-hundred years.  In the foreground is the story of Austen’s authorship, one of persistence, accident, advocacy, and sometimes surprising neglect.  Not only did Austen publish her books anonymously and enjoy very little success during her lifetime, but publication itself only came very late, after twenty years of unrewarded labor.  I have sought to reconstruct these pre-fame years in the spirit of uncertainty through which Austen lived them.  Her prized irony and famous manipulation of tone I believe owes much to it; part of the reason why she pleases us so much now is that she was, for years, pleasing only herself.  [p. 7-8]

Thus, Harman starts by placing Austen squarely in the context of her times – her family and friends as writers – her mother, brothers James and Henry, her friend Anne Lefroy’s brother Samuel Egerton Brydges, and her pride in her own quite delightful juvenile writings.  Incorporating a general account of Austen’s life [Harman assumes the reader brings much knowledge of Austen’s life and gives only a cursory telling], she presents us with a great summary of Austen’s writings, the publication history and early responses to each work, drawing heavily on Brian Southam’s Jane Austen, The Critical Heritage [London 1968], and emphasizing Austen’s literary ambitions. [for more on this, see Jan Fergus’s The Professional Woman Writer” in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, one of the earlier scholarly arguments to clearly see Austen in this light, far removed from the portrait painted by her brother Henry and later her nephew.]

Following Austen’s death in 1817, her copyrights still owned by Cassandra were sold to Richard Bentley and his issue of all six novels in 1833 did much to keep Austen in print; but her popularity waned, the rise of the Victorian novel sending Austen to the shadows, not to mention Charlotte Bronte’s dislike of Austen, quoted by Elizabeth Gaskell in her Bronte biography in 1857 [but ironically, how close is Gaskell’s North & South to Pride & Prejudice!]  So Austen remained largely unread until the Austen-Leigh Memoir of 1870, followed by various new editions of the novels and the selected letters in 1890. 

Harman explores in her chapter on the “Divine Jane” [quoting W.D. Howells] the publishing of these new editions and the illustrated versions that sought to “fix the characters in one’s mind” [p.159], the biographies, and critical analyses in this first burgeoning fame-fest, and her new status as darling of the intellectual snobbish-elite, championed by the likes of Leslie Stephen, Henry James, George Saintsbury, and Howells [and of course, not to leave out Mark Twain’s adamant dislike!] – all this culminating in R.W. Chapman’s Oxford edition of her works in 1923, “the first complete scholarly edition of any English novelist.” [p. 192]. 

In “Canon and Canonisation,” Harman chronicles the scholarly critical analysis that continues unabated to the present – the vast extent of academic and non-academic writing – on the one hand, Austen as a pleasure-read, the writer “who wrote so clearly and simply, and who was so small scale” [p. 200] – and on the other, the critical study of Austen’s “unconsciousness and brilliance” and here we see her “easy passage into English literature courses” [p. 201].  Austen makes critical literary history as manuscripts and contemporary memoirs became available for study – resulting in library collections, various illustrated editions, Jane Austen Societies, interest in her “homes and haunts,” more biographies from various standpoints, new paths of criticism taking into account the political, sociological and historical elements, and the many works on the manners and mores, fashion and handiwork, cookery and letter-writing – all things Austen indeed! [A friend visiting my home recently asked me what could all these Austen-related books on my shelves possibly be about when she only wrote six books!] 

And finally to film and what she terms “Jane Austen TM”, Harman again summarizing all that came before the “wet shirt” and after – the movies, the sequels, the internet and YouTube concoctions, the blogsphere , the Societies, the fan-fiction sites, the costume-driven fanatics, etc.  And Harman ends with the question, “What would Austen have made of all this? [p. 278] – in answer, she cites the differing views of D.W. Harding, Lionel Trilling, Henry James, and E.M. Forster to prove to us that “the significance of Jane Austen is so personal and so universal, so intimately connected with our sense of ourselves and of our whole society, that it is impossible to imagine a time when she or her works could have delighted us long enough.” [p. 281]

 One of the criticisms of Harman’s book has been her light non-academic approach to Austen [and perhaps her re-working of others’ ideas into this “popular” framework] – but it all works so well for what and for whom it is intended.  Harman’s gift is taking an inordinate amount of primary and secondary material and presenting it into a very readable, information-packed and anecdotal whole – everything you would ever want to know about Jane Austen all put together in a neat little package of 342 pages.  This of course may be its greatest shortcoming – too neat a package with strong authorial opinions thrown in [and a feeling to this reader of all being rather rushed at the end – “let’s wrap this up, throw in a few final tales and get it published” sort of feeling…] –  it must needs be leaving something out! [Indeed, the 2005 Pride & Prejudice barely gets a mention, either an oversight or the expression of the author’s opinion of that film – but no matter what your views of that adaptation might be, it has to be praised for bringing Jane Austen and P&P  to yet another generation who do not find Colin Firth’s wet shirt scene all that WE make it out to be – and thus it is a clear topic for Jane’s current and ongoing “fame.”] 

But as a resource, with a terrific reading list to be gleaned from the text and bibliography [though I do quibble with the number of un-sourced quotations and overly shortened citations that are unclear (especially in regard to the letters – a number and date would have been most helpful!)], Jane’s Fame should be required reading [not force-fed please…] for anyone interested in the facts of Austen’s writing life and how she has risen to such heights and commands such a presence in so many people’s lives.  And you will likely take away new and interesting tidbits such as finding what Katherine Mansfield had to say about Emma:  “Mr. Knightley in the shrubbery would be something!” [p. 247] [aah! indeed!]

4 1/2 full inkwells [out of 5]

 Further Reading: [all page citations above are to Janes’ Fame]

  • See my post on the various Reviews of Jane’s Fame
  • Copeland, Edward, Juliet McMaster, eds.  The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen.  Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Fergus, Jan.  “The Professional Woman Writer” in The Cambridge Companion, pp. 12-31, where Fergus summarizes and expands these arguments first presented in her Jane Austen: A Literary Life. London: Macmillan 1991.  These are must-reads…
  • Sutherland, Kathryn.  Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood. Oxford, 2005, pb 2007.  Note that it is Professor Sutherland who started the controversy that Harman essentially lifted her ideas – I have this book and have skimmed it only, so cannot comment fully – but just looking at the table of contents, one finds the similarities a little alarming, and the Sutherland book has far more depth to the notes and bibliography – but again, I emphasize the “popular” nature of Harman’s book. 
  • Todd, Janet, ed.  Jane Austen in Context.  Cambridge University Press, 2005, 2007 with corrections. 
  • Claire Harman’s website with cites to reviews of Jane’s Fame
  • Austenblog:  Mag’s review of Jane’s Fame

Posted by Deb

Calling All Janeites & Crafters

Two “pleas” from the Vermont Chapter of JASNA:

  • A request from a member (or members) of our chapter to serve in the capacity of Refreshments Coordinator for the September 27th meeting here in Burlington. Lynne, who has served in that capacity for the past year-plus (thank you Lynne!), is resigning the post.
    Please contact Kelly and Deb.

lizzy not for sale

  • A request to crafters in and around the State of Vermont who may be interested in selling items at an Austen Boutique at the 6 December meetings. We would request that a small portion of your sales proceeds benefit the JASNA-Vermont chapter. English-inspired, Austen-inspired, Regency-inspired… — merchandise project ideas are limitless! Please contact Deb and Kelly with your product ideas, or to request more information.

Masterpiece announces BBC “Emma”

Our very own Janeite Mae filled my inbox today with the welcome news that Masterpiece Theatre has announced the BBC Emma dates for 2010!  Here is the press release from PBS: [and thank you Mae, for the heads-up!]

BBC Worldwide Sales and Distribution and WGBH today announced co-productions of two star-studded dramas: the beloved classic, Emma, and the sequel to BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated drama Cranford, Cranford 2. Both programs will make their U.S. premiere in early 2010 on WGBH’s MASTERPIECE CLASSIC on PBS. 

Commented Susanna Pollack, SVP, Sales & Distribution and Children’s, BBC Worldwide, Americas, “Following Cranford’s success in the U.S. and UK, we are excited to be working with WGBH again to bring its sequel, Cranford 2, as well as the Jane Austen’s classical tale, Emma, to audiences next year.” 

“Our viewers have been clamoring for more Jane Austen and more Judi Dench,” said MASTERPIECE executive producer Rebecca Eaton “These new productions add up to a very strong MASTERPIECE CLASSIC season in 2010.” 

Emma (4 x 60)

Romola Garai (Atonement, Daniel Deronda), Sir Michael Gambon (Cranford, Gosford Park), and Jonny Lee Miller (Byron, Eli Stone, Trainspotting) star in this BBC and WGBH co-production which follows the dire consequences of Emma’s failed matchmaking schemes. Michael Gambon plays Emma’s affectionate, neurotic father who allows her to be mistress of their household. Jonny Lee Miller—(who stars in MASTERPIECE’s Endgame, premiering in October) plays Mr. Knightley, Emma’s shrewd and attractive neighbor, who provides a welcome counterpart to headstrong Emma. Fresh and funny, this perceptive adaptation by Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre, North and South) brings Jane Austen’s comic masterpiece to life.

Cranford 2 (2 x 60)

The BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated drama, Cranford, starring Dame Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Shakespeare in Love), Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, Fingersmith), Francesca Annis (Jane Eyre, Reckless), and Eileen Atkins (Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Gosford Park), returns as a two-part sequel, Cranford 2. The original drama chronicled a small Cheshire market town in the early 1840s on the cusp of great change. The BBC and WGBH co-production in association with Chestermead Ltd, picks up the story in 1844. New faces coming to the close-knit town include Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean), Tom Hiddleston (Wallander), and Tim Curry (Spamalot). Based on the novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford 2 is written by Heidi Thomas (I Capture the Castle, Madame Bovary).       

Other shows  announced for the early 2010 lineup are:  

  • A Small Island [based on the Orange Prize winning novel by Andrea Levy]   
  • Framed, adapted from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (The Last Enemy) children’s novel 
  • Sharpe’s Peril  & Sharpe’s Challenge, with Sean Bean playing Bernard Cornwall’s character 
  • The 39 Steps, starring Rupert Penry Jones (Persuasion, Burn Up, MI-5 [Spooks]) as Richard Hannay, in this classic John Buchan mystery.

[see the PBS site for more information on all these new shows – it makes one ALMOST long for winter…]

*And because we cannot get enough of all things Austen,  see this BBC article on filming Emma in Chilham

*And a lovely 5-minute YouTube montage of production shots here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF_cOGGM7QI

*And full cast information at the Imdb site

emma bbc emma

Romola Garai as Emma  and Johdi May as Miss Taylor [Ms. May was in the  The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003) with Ciaran Hinds


Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley [Miller also played Edmund Bertram in the Rozema Mansfield Park – this seems to always be left off his credits – we continue to live in hope that he will be as good a Knightley as Richard Armitage would have been!]

[above photographs from Pemberley.com]

emma bbc blake ritson

and “dear” Mr. Elton will be played by Blake Ritson [who was Edmund Bertram in the 2007 Mansfield Park – are we sufficiently confused?!

emma bbc rupert evans

And finally then there is Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill [Evans played Margaret Hale’s brother Frederick in North & South [with the aforementioned Richard Armitage…(sigh!)]


PS:  this added July 9, 2009 – the BBC has the trailer for this new Emma now available online.  Go to the BBC site here, scroll through the carousel and click on “Emma” to view the trailer – quite lovely! [and thanks Mae for the heads-up!]

Posted by Deb

A Little Help with Your Next Read ~

pile of booksMost of us are always looking for a recommendation of what next to read – despite our toppling TBR piles, there is always room for a new title! – And those of us who read Jane Austen, and then re-read Jane Austen, are forever asking what to read after you have read it all, again and again. 

So I enjoyed this article I found at the Guardian.com book blog on “the murky business of book recommendations” by Chris Powell – he refers to a website that offers book suggestions by just typing in the last book you have read:  The Bookseer at www.bookseer.com– there are two lists, one from Amazon.com [they are everywhere; so much for your local bookseller], and Library Thing.

This is sort of fun, so try it [though when I tried it tonight, there was a problem with Library Thing loading its data – Powell in his article says that when he loaded Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, Library Thing brought up Wuthering Heights and then a slew of Jane Austen books – so a tad off course perhaps – for me tonight, all I get is “nada” for the Library Thing list [the Bookseer is also on Twitter where there is some talk about this problem…]

Anyway, this is too much information – I have typed in Emma, and get all six Austen novels and nothing else;  Our Tempestuous Day by Carolly Erickson and get a list of other Regency-related works [including a new one I did not know about!];  John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men, and I find I should read Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Blood Brothers, Lord of the Flies, and A View from the Bridge [all your basic uplifting stories, and all of which I have read… thank you very much, but it is a nice list] – and if you type in The Grapes of Wrath, it is a similar list with the addition of a few other Steinbeck titles and The Great Gatsby.  Library Thing is still saying “nada” – so still not working, which is too bad because I think that list is more interesting [I think that Jane Austen titles come up for all requests…]

But you can really get into this and try to figure out the brain behind the computer – if you put in Evelina by Fanny Burney, you get the expected 18th century staples and then Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson pops up!  [I am having way too much fun…] – but if you type in any book by Mark Twain, all you get is a list of Mark Twain titles [he would be pleased…] [BUT Huckleberry Finn brings up Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest – go figure…

And here is my favorite:  The Bible [no author] [it came back and said, “by Jove, I need an author for that!] so I typed in “God” and these titles came up:

THE SHACK!! – OMG, now that’s some incredible marketing! And Amazon must assume the Bible is a childrens’ book…yikes!

But I save the best for last – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and along with a picture of P&P and Zombies [I am not kidding…] we get the following booklist:

…and LibraryThing recommends:


Ok, I am done with this…but I just HAD to share – let me know what YOU come up with!

Posted by Deb

Auction Results ~ Austen on the Block

The Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice  for sale at the New York Bloomsbury Auction of June 23, 2009 with an estimate of $50,000. – $70, 000.  remains unsold [for more details on this see my original post here]

A quick summary of a few other items of interest:

Bronte [Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell]. Poems. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848. first american edition. est. $800 – $1000. Sold for $700

Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Poems on Various Subjects.London: for G.G. and J. Robinsons, and J. Cottle, Bristol, 1796. first edition of Coleridge’s first book of poems, issued together with the first published verses of Charles Lamb, signed C.L. Hayward est. $1000 – $1500.  Sold for $2600 [a few other Coleridge items either did not sell or sold for less than the estimate]

John Keats – a first edition of his last collection of poems estimated at $12,000 – 15,000 was unsold

Percy Bysshe Shelley. Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem: With Notes. London: privately printed by P.B. Shelley, 1813. very rare. est. $12000 – $18000; Sold for $11000 [ most other Shelley items did not sell]

William Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and Other Poems, in Two Volumes. London: R. Taylor and Co., 1805. 2 volumes [the last edition in which Coleridge’s poems appear]. est. $1500 – $2000; Sold for $1700 [other Wordsworth items sold for lower than estimates or not at all]

Thomas Hardy. There were 22 Hardy items for sale, many of the books remain unsold, but most of the autograph letters sold mid-range or less than the estimates- here is one example:   Three autograph letters signed to Florence Yolland on the Death of Emma, Hardy’s first wife.Max Gate, Dorchester: 24 December 1912 to 22 October 1913. 6 manuscript pages, 8vo (varying sizes). Mourning stationery, three autograph envelopes (all labeled “opened by censor” when sent to F. Adams in 1939) est. $2000 – $3000; Sold for $1000.

Full auction results can be found at the Bloomsbury Auction website.

Christies auction room image

[image from the NYPL.org]

Posted by Deb

Jane Austen’s Sewing Box

sewingAusten-lover and author Jennifer Forest sends information about her new book (due out in the UK July 6 and available for pre-order), Jane Austen’s Sewing Box (Murdoch Books; 224 pages; £14.99).

If you love handicrafts, this books contains 18 projects, which involve sewing skills, needleworking, netting, painting, paper craft and knitting! Forest has set the projects in their history and literary context, placing Regency-era handiwork alongside extracts from the novels; an explanation of why women made such items; full color photos; and step-by-step instructions.

“Yes, all of them [are accomplished women] I think. They all paint tables, cover screens and net purses.” — Charles Bingley

Jennifer describes the book:

The projects in Jane Austen’s Sewing Box are both objects of beauty and useful for our contemporary lives. Using a range of techniques and readily-available materials and tools, the projects are easily accessible for all skill levels and interests.

All projects are modelled on:

  • projects worked by Jane Austen’s characters
  • work of her circle, and noted in her letters
  • original objects from the Regency period

As a sewer-knitter-crocheter-needleworker, I can’t wait to see this book.

Look for information on Jennifer Forest, and Jane Austen’s Sewing Box, on her website. And stay tuned for a guest appearance by Jennifer on this blog…

[submitted by KM]