Mini Book Review ~ Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos

Chloe Parker was born two centuries too late. A thirty-nine-year-old divorced mother, she runs her own antique letterpress business, is a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society, and gushes over everything Regency. But her business is failing, threatening her daughter’s future. What’s a lady to do? Why, audition for a Jane Austen-inspired TV show set in England, of course.

What Chloe thinks is a documentary turns out to be a reality dating show set in 1812. Eight women are competing to snare Mr. Wrightman, the heir to a gorgeous estate—and a one-hundred-thousand-dollar prize. So Chloe tosses her bonnet into the ring, hoping to transform from stressed-out Midwestern mom to genteel American heiress and win the money.

With no cell phones, indoor plumbing, or deodorant to be found, she must tighten her corset and flash some ankle to beat out women younger, more cutthroat, and less clumsy than herself. But the witty and dashing Mr. Wrightman proves to be a prize worth winning, even if it means the gloves are off…

[from the author’s website and publisher’s release]

 I often have trouble with sequels, and there are so many lately that my head spins just looking at the booklist! – I do marvel at the originality of all these writers wanting to re-tell in some fashion all that Jane Austen left unsaid, but in all honesty I want Austen’s characters left alone, to be returned to in their original state with a good solid re-read when I choose [though I am also of the school that says ‘no criticizing if you haven’t read the book’…!].  I find more to my taste the Austen-inspired fiction the likes of “Lost in Austen”, where the plot offers new characters, fresh dialogue, and inspired plots, where you are taken into Jane Austen’s world, either as a 21st century soul trying to adapt to what we think we know of the Regency Period and on that endless search for a character like Mr. Darcy, or Henry Tilney or Captain Wentworth (sigh…) – or perhaps a Willoughby if you are so inclined! – or where we are taken into her world where we meet a fictional Jane herself, as in Stephanie Barron’s creative mysteries.  Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Bridget Jones Diary, Austenland and The Man Who Loved Jane Austen  are all of this genre, and thankfully, all leave the original works quite at peace. 

The problem is that these too all start to look alike – the klutzy independent Heroine with “life issues” somehow transported into the early 1800s and found struggling against the social (and fashion!) restrictions of the times.  Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is the latest entrant in this genre:  I quote Publisher’s Weekly

Doornebos gives the historical romance a hilarious update in this delightful debut… The amusing secondary characters, sidesplitting faux pas, and fiery romance will make Doornebos an instant hit with readers.

 And from Romantic Times

Doornsbos brings readers a fresh take on Jane Austen’s world.  Mixing reality television with Regency-style romance, this tale combines a fun plot with witty dialogue, charming characters and a strong-willed heroine.  It will leave you laughing in delight and reluctant to put it down until the last page is read.

And “fresh take” though it is, one can’t help feeling “I’ve been here before.”  Ms. Doornebos states herself in the acknowledgments that she was mostly done with her writing before she even knew about the reality show “Regency House Party.”  And far too many of the characters do seem clichéd: the handsome Lord and Hero; his almost-but-not-quite dorky brother; the glamorous but really nasty American-bashing contestant; the side players with their own back stories that continually confuse the Heroine as to the truth vs. the play script; the borderline cruelty of the producer; and the Heroine, the all-American with a messy life who just needs to win the money (and a Lord on the side would be nice…), caught between this reality and her need for True Love.  Sound familiar??

Well, that’s ok – even Georgette Heyer rewrote her own formula fiction over and over again and alas! it is summer, and what better way to spend such a summer’s day than laying about with a quick read that has an engaging plot with a few twists, a Heroine you do root for as she falls into one mishap after another (she is often very wet and suffers various fainting fits!), and that irresistible Regency setting! And you will laugh out loud – the Cook, the Chaperone, the Maid, and a Footman or two who instruct and keep our Heroine in strict social compliance round out the story – you will learn the “language of the fan”, various fashion secrets, letter-writing etiquette (though this one glaring error: the constant reference to “envelopes” – yikes!) – the hated needlework assignments, side-saddle riding, a few archery lessons, the rules of dining and enough about Regency era food to turn any committed carnivore into a vegetarian, and several opportunities for dancing (the waltz!). 

Can’t tell more – would ruin your fun – just go and get yourself “lost in Austen” for a few hours and discover just how Doornebos fashions her Darcy for this latest Austen-obsessed Heroine. You won’t be disappointed! 

4 out of 5 Full Inkwells 

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
New York: Berkley, 2011
Release date:  September 6, 2011
ISBN:  978-0-425-24382-4 


 Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont 

Hot off the Press! ~ Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine ~ Issue No. 53

News direct from the publisher – the latest issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, No. 53 September / October 2011 is in the mail!

  •  KATE MIDDLETON AND JANE AUSTEN ~ How the Duchess is related to our favourite author 
  • STETSONS FOR JASNA ~ The AGM is comingTexas – and here’s a preview of all the exciting events in store
  • GORGEOUS GAINSBOROUGH ~ A new exhibition of the portraitist’s landscapes
  • THE MEDICAL REGENCY ~ Illness and death in Jane Austen’s time
  • WORDS OVERHEARD ~Maggie Lane looks at how Jane Austen uses eavesdropping as a literary device [think Miss Steele!]
  • BIRD MAN OF LYME REGIS ~ The ornithologist who became a success inAustralia
  • PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS ~ A lack of low-denomination coins caused a headache for Jane
  • AN A-PEELING TALE ~ Tackling the scandal of child labour in Georgian England
  • Plus: All the latest news from the world of Jane Austen, as well as letters, book reviews, CD reviews quiz, competition and news from JAS and JASNA. 

Jane Austen’s Regency World will be at the following events, and look forward to meeting many subscribers, old and new: 

  • Sept 17, 2011:  Jane Austen Festival,Bath,UK (country fayre) 
  • Oct 13-15:  JASNA AGM,Fort Worth,Texas,USA  [hurray!!]

 For further information, and to subscribe, visit:

[Image and contents courtesy of JARW Magazine]

The Jane Austen Made Me Do It Website Unveiling!

Congratulations to Laurel Ann of Austenprose fame on today’s unveiling of her new website!  Laurel Ann is the editor of a new Jane Austen anthology,  Jane Austen Made Me Do It – follow her tale on the journey to publication!  meet with the 22 authors included in the anthology!  read the short story summaries! subscribe to the blog! enter to win a copy of the book!  Click here to become part of the story yourself!

Best wishes to you Laurel Ann! – cannot wait for the official launch in Fort Worth at the JASNA-AGM! Offical release date is October 11, 2011 – but you can pre-order your copy now:

Ballantine Books
Trade paperback (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0345524966
Available: 11 October 2011

Pre-order the book at your local book store, or:

Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Random House

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont

The Penny Post Weekly Review ~ All Things Austen!

The Penny Post Weekly Review

  22 August 2011 

News & Gossip: 

-The Austenesque Extravaganza continues on a daily basis at the  Austenesque Reviews  blog – stop by to participate in the fun and comment to win the various giveaways ! through August:

-The Jane Austen Fan Kit for your iphone: an absolute must-have! 

-The BBC Four: Elegance and Decadence: Age of the Regency – how I hate we don’t get BBC Four; you can get more information to whet your appetite and /or get really depressed you don’t live in the UK at Lucy Worsley’s blog

-But do not completely despair: we do have this on BBC America – The Hour -a six-week series – I loved the first one aired this past week [wednesday night at 10 here in Vermont] – it is peopled with Austen “graduates”: Juliet Stevenson [the perfect Austen narrator], Anna Chancelor[Miss Bingley in 1995, following her role as “Duckface” in Four Weddings and a Funeral [Hugh Grant], and Romola Garai, the latest “Emma’ …

-More on the Pride and Prejudice,  The Musical – this time a lovely personal story with a military twist – a tale of Jane Austen bringing people together [as she does do well…]:

Frances Burney

-The Frances Burney Society invites submissions for the Hemlow Prize in Burney Studies,

… named in honour of the late Joyce Hemlow, whose biography of Frances Burney and edition of her journals and letters are among the foundational works of eighteenth-century literary scholarship. The Hemlow Prize will be awarded to the best essay written by a graduate student on any aspect of the life or writings of Frances Burney or members of the Burney Family. The essay, which can be up to 6,000 words, should make a substantial contribution to Burney scholarship.  The Prize will be awarded in October 2011.  Submissions must be received by September 1, 2011. 

 See here for more details: [scroll down for the information]


-The JASNA-Vermont September meeting, when we will be hosting JASNA president Iris Lutz, will be once again part of the Burlington Book Festival  Iris will be presenting her talk “ ‘in proportion to their family and income’: Houses in Jane Austen’s Life and Fiction.” Join us if you can [more information forthcoming]

-Laurel Ann at Austenprose attended the 20th anniversary of the Puget Sound JASNA Region and tells the tale here:

The Circulating Library:

House of Lords - Pugin & Rowlandson - Ackermann print

see the Rudolph Ackermann information at the Town and Country in Miniature online collection at Augustana College Special Collections:[see the other parts of this exhibit as well]
Websites  & Blogs:

-The Rice Portrait website

-Prinny’s Tailor: a blog by Charles Bazalgette about his ‘many greats’ grandfather Louis Bazalgette who was tailor to the Prince Regent for 32 years.  This blog follows his research – the book is due out next year:

-Jane Austen week of old fashioned dolls and Regency dresses:

-Georgian Gentleman blog You can find information on his “Journal of a Georgian Gentleman” here: 

Robert Rodi of Bitch in a  Bonnet:Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps  seems to be back in full swing blogging about his take on Mansfield Park: visit if you can and see Fanny redeemed! –

Regency Life & Fashion:

-Fashion:  Getting Dressed in the 18th Century:  love this! [[from the Jane Austen Centre Newsletter]

-Colonial Williamsburg’s online exhibition: just a lovely compilation!
Historic Threads: Three Centuries of Clothing

 [Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg website]

-An exhibition at Fairfax House in York:
REVOLUTIONARY FASHION 1790 – 1820 [from August 29 through
December 31, 2011]:


Book Thoughts:

-Hurray! Stephanie Barron’s latest Jane Austen mystery: – this one featuring her brother Edward:

-The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss:  this one I could not resist ordering and it arrived today in my mailbox! – will let you know how it fares…

Lucy Derrick is a young woman of good breeding and poor finances. After the death of her beloved father, she is forced to maintain a shabby dignity as the unwanted boarder of her tyrannical uncle, fending off marriage to a local mill owner. But just as she is on the cusp of accepting a life of misery, events take a stunning turn when a handsome stranger—the poet and notorious rake Lord Byron—arrives at her house, stricken by what seems to be a curse, and with a cryptic message for Lucy. Suddenly her unfortunate circumstances are transformed in ways at once astonishing and seemingly impossible.

With the world undergoing an industrial transformation, and with Englandon the cusp of revolution, Lucy is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in which her life, and her country’s future, are in the balance. Inexplicably finding herself at the center of cataclysmic events, Lucy is awakened to a world once unknown to her: where magic and mortals collide, and the forces of ancient nature and modern progress are at war for the soul of England. . . and the world. The key to victory may be connected to a cryptic volume whose powers of enchantment are unbounded.

Now, challenged by ruthless enemies with ancient powers at their command, Lucy must harness newfound mystical skills to prevent catastrophe and preserve humanity’s future. And enthralled by two exceptional men with designs on her heart, she must master her own desires to claim the destiny she deserves.

[From his website: ]

But see this interview at The Big Thrill where he talks about Jane Austen [and why we are here after all…] :

What is it about this time and place that compelled you to use it as the background for your story?

There are a number of factors that drew me here.  For a long time I’ve wanted to write a novel that was in communication with Jane Austen, but which deal with the economic and political issues that are absent, or at least at the margins of, her novels — the war with France, a series of devastating harvests resulting in food shortages and grain riots, an on-going economic recession, and, most importantly, changes in the labor market brought on by the industrial revolution.  This novel incorporates elements of the supernatural — specifically folk and scholarly magic as actually practiced by people who actually believed it worked — and there’s really no better time to write about such beliefs since the early industrial revolution was a period of profound change.  I wanted to write about a world that was on the verge of a major alteration, and England, at the beginning of industrialization and before the end of the Napoleonic Wars, works perfectly.

[I’m adding this because I like this answer!]  If you could meet just one historical figure, who would it be?

I have a great deal of affection for Henry Fielding, who helped pioneer the novel and the modern police force, was a brilliant legal mind, a wide-ranging intellectual, and a guy who could hang out and enjoy several bottles of wine (yes, several bottles!) while chatting with his friends.  My kind of guy.

-For a good read of something that Jane Austen read, try Patronage by Maria Edgeworth (1814) recently reviewed in The Guardian

-A book review of Revolutionary Imaginings in the 1790s: Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Elizabeth Inchbald, by Amy Garnai (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), about other writers that Jane Austen read and admired:

Articles of interest:

-This late edition news:  from Tracy Kiely of Murder at Mansfield Park fame [and other Jane Austen mysteries], Battle of the Bonnets– get your fightin’ gloves on for Bronte v. Austen, legal style!  [with thanks to Kerri S for the link]

Museums / Exhibits

-National Portrait Gallery: Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery – 27 July – 30 October 2011: “This exhibition illuminates the life and work of the Gallery’s first director, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865), a man described by one contemporary as ‘the Alpha and Omega’ of the Victorian art world.”


The “Keep Calm & Carry On” theme that has been splattered everywhere from cards to books to wall hangings and t-shirts – here is a new contender!×10?ref=sr_gallery_8&ga_search_submit=&ga_search_query=jane+austen&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=US&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_facet=handmade

-and one of my all-time favorites:

For Fun:
[what! SHOPPING isn’t fun?!]

-These are past our time period but How to Be a Retronaut offers this great collection of Victorian photographs, sure to bring you a daily chuckle:  don’t an awful lot of these husbands and wives LOOK ALIKE?! [not to mention a tad grim?]

Better Book Titles – I already posted on this about Mansfield Park, newly titled: “I Couldn’t Even Finish the Spark Notes” – – but add your comments for other Austen titles here:

Signing off – stay tuned for the next edition…

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont

A Better Title for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park?

There is a fabulous and funny blog out there called Better Book Titles, by Dan Wilbur, a comedian and writer – he says:

This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!

A new Better Book Title will be posted every weekday. Every Friday a reader’s submission will be posted. Redesign and titles by Dan Wilbur unless credited otherwise. Please use proper credits when reprinting.

 It is well-worth your time to sort through the posts [you can also search for an author – go to bottom of page and click on “Archives” and a search screen will appear at the top of the page] – as expected, the Brontes are quite funny and spot-on:

[Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre]

as is Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge:

Here is one of my laugh-out-loud favorites:

[Roald Dahl – James and the Giant Peach]

and this:

 [Norton Anthology of English Literature ]

and who can resist this by Virginia Woolf?

[ Virginia Woolf – The Waves ]

But what of Jane Austen? – well, she has only one title represented, and this a reader submission [ by Henry Schenker ] last November:

 [ Jane Austen – Mansfield Park ]

…which we can all appreciate! But surely Mr. Wilbur can come up with something for Austen’s other titles! – is it perhaps that he just can’t bring himself to read her books? – at any rate, what might you submit for an Austen “better book title”?? – put on your thinking caps and comment below!

All images from the Better Book Titles website, which you must visit – check out all the Shakespeare…

You can follow Mr. Wilbur on twitter:!/betterbooktitle

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen Weekends in Vermont! ~ Two of Them!

Well, my traveling co-hort and lover-of-London buddy Suzanne, of the Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont, will be hosting not just one but two Jane Austen weekends in a row:

Governor's House in Hyde Park, Vermont

This coming weekend [August 12-14] will be on Persuasion – come learn about the Royal Navy! discuss Anne Elliot’s dilemma! obsess over Captain Wentworth’s letter! [sigh…]

Then next weekend [August 19-21] the Governor’s House will be treading new ground – a weekend of guests who will each come in the guise of one of Jane Austen’s characters – here is your chance to dress up* [not required, but it helps…], speak, and act, well, act like anyone you want to be:  Mr. Collins, or Mrs. Bennet, or Mr. Darcy; or how about Mrs. Elton, Mary Musgrove, Jane Fairfax or Miss Bates, or can you resist trying a hand at Lady Catherine? – the list an endless one of endearing and annoying characters!  Maybe you will meet your very own Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley or find a Henry Tilney to spar with[there shall be no encouragement of the Willoughbys or Wickhams of the world, but we do hope they shall attend for the sake of the interest of all participants…]

Alas!! I cannot go, but shall try to pop in for pictures to share… but if you could go, who would you most want to be?? – remember you must act the part for the entire weekend!

You can view the details here:

And here is the upcoming schedule for future Jane Austen weekends: call early to reserve – they fill up fast.  [There are plans for another ‘in-character” weekend, so stay tuned for an announcement.] 

Special Weekend in Character
August 19 – 21, 2011

Series 4: Persuasion

Brock illus - Persuasion - Molland's


Friday evening talk: Captain Wentworth’s Royal Navy

January 28 – 30, 2011
August 12 – 14, 2011
September 9 – 11, 2011
January 6 – 8, 2012

Book Group Weekend: Pride and Prejudice
February 25 – 27, 2011
(additional availability)

Series 5: Emma

January 27 – 29, 2012
and other dates to be announced


Or come for just an evening and choose from these activities:
  Informal Talk with Coffee and Dessert, Friday, 8:00 p.m., $14.00
  Afternoon Tea, Saturday, 3:00 p.m., $20.00
  Book Discussion and Dinner, Saturday, 7:00 p.m., $35.00
  Jane Austen Quiz and Sunday Brunch, Sunday, 11:30 a.m., $15.00

  All four activities: $75.00


100 Main Street•Hyde Park,VT05655
phone: 802-888-6888 • toll free: 866-800-6888
email: info [at] onehundredmain [dot] com


*If your wardrobe is sadly lacking in proper Regency attire, here are a few links to assist you: 

So, who would you want to be?? if you had this chance, would you want to play the part of one of Austen’s annoying characters or one of her endearing ones?? – and of course that leads to – what outfit would you choose?? Please comment – inquiring minds want to know!

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont.

Why Jane Austen? ~ and the winner is….

Char Brooks! 

Congratulations Char! – Please send me an email with your address and phone number by next Monday August 15, 2011 [or the names shall be put back in the hat for another random drawing!] 

Thank you all for commenting and sharing “why Jane Austen?” in your life.  For those who didn’t win, you can find the book at your local bookstore, or you can order online from the powers that be!  I highly recommend it!

And again, a hearty thank you to Rachel Brownstein for so gracioulsy visiting us here at Jane Austen in Vermont and sharing her knowledge and love of Jane Austen with us all!

And finally, one of the comments from Lev Raphael posed this question:

Where’s your most exotic locale for reading one of her books?
For me it was in a hammock in my uncle orchard outside Tel-Aviv.

A great question! – Please comment if you would like to share!

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont.

Why Jane Austen? – Book Giveaway Deadline…

Last chance to enter the book giveaway drawing for Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein:  deadline is tomorrow Wednesday August 10th at midnight – drawing on Thursday August 18.  You can comment on either of these posts, on Why Jane Austen in your life, or just stop by and say “hello”!

Part I: 

Part II:

Winner will be announced Thursday afternoon…!

Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont

The Penny Post Weekly Review ~ All Things Austen

The Penny Post Weekly Review

  August 7, 2011

It’s been way too long since the “weekly” Penny Post has arrived in your mailbox – I am afraid to change the name to “monthly” (though more accurate today!)  because then I shall not be diligent enough to get it out at all! – so some of this may be old news, but I am including it if it is worthy of a mention in case you missed it on the first go-round on the blog-sphere … 

News & Gossip:

Book Giveaway! – Don’t forget to comment on the Rachel Brownstein interview post to be included in the drawing for a copy of Why Jane Austen? – deadline is Wednesday August 17.

Chawton House Library: Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: a bicentennial celebration – Saturday 17 September 2011:

The Austenesque Extravagana is in full-swing at the Austenesque Reviews blog – join the fun – it lasts all month! :

The Circulating Library:  

The John Murray archive at the National Library of Scotland [Murray was Jane Austen’s publisher]:

Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation – at UMass Lowell:

At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901 offers a biographical and bibliography database of nineteenth-century British fiction. Currently, the database contains 7335 titles by 2494 authors (more statistics). The database is hosted by the Victorian Research Web, a major and free research resource for Victorian scholars:

The English Novel 1830-1836

British Fiction, 1800-1839

Thackeray exhibit at the Houghton Library

Websites, blogs, etc: 

Indie  Indie Jane is a new blog and community that celebrates and supports independent/non-traditionally published Austenesque literature:   [currently discussing Sense & Sensibility:  ]

A blog just about teapots!:

Museums / Exhibitions: 

The Royal George Warship , 1756

George III ship models at the National Maritime Museum
[see other online collections here as well]

Caricature exhibition at the Library of Congress

Articles of Interest:

A follow-up on these posts on TEA by Mary Ellen Foley: here are the links to all 5 posts: 

[And see also this link ]

Henry Tilney alert!:

Thoughts on the sale of The Watsons at The Culture Concept:

WashingtonPost:  Five Myths about Jane Austen:

A blog post on the gardens at Jane Austen’s Chawton house:

On Georgette Heyer, at Abebooks: 

On Princess Diana – Magazine covers, 1981-1997: 

Byron memorial book found at a Church book sale [and thankfully donated to the Library!]: 

Diana Birchall shares her latest trip to England in ongoing posts – these so far, with tons of fabulous photographs!:

Tiles stolen from Wiltshire church where Jane Austen’s uncle was the vicar and where he is buried:

Book Thoughts:


Lev Raphael’s take on P&P – Pride and Prejudice: The Jewess and the Gentile:

To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife by Lawrence A. Stotter
– ISBN 9781587902109 – Price: $ 150.00   
From the website: 

Taking its cue from Matthew 19:6, “What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” this book describes humankind’s actions in doing just that. 

A readable selected history of family law, To Put Asunder traverses more than two thousand years of continuing attempts by various societies to inhibit the desires of men and women, kings and commoners, to terminate their unsatisfactory marriages. The stories revealed are surprisingly engaging when the reader is introduced to the lives and personalities of some who were directly affected by family law.

The Supernatural Jane Austen series website [by Vera Nazarian]:

The Regency Period:

Amanda Vickery on The Old Bailey:

A short article at How to Be a Retronaut on the science of phrenology in 1831:


Meissen gold-mounted Royal snuff box made for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland: sold for 1.3 million 

The Snuff box collection at Bonhams auction sold for:  £1,700,000 ($2.7m) in London, on Tuesday July 5:  
[see the auction link for listing of all the snuff boxes and sale prices]


18th century shoes at The American Duchess [thank you Marti!]


Jane Austen Limoges boxes on sale:

For Fun: 

Word Fighter game

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Trivia Game:


If you find any especially interesting Austen-related bits, please email me – I will include items in next week’s Penny Post Weekly Review!

Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont 

Part II: Interview and Book Giveaway! ~ Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein

Contrary to the main current of popular opinion today, Jane Austen’s novels are not first of all and most importantly about pretty girls in long dresses waiting for love and marriage; and they are not most importantly English and Heritage, small and decorous and mannerly and pleasant. Read with any degree of attention, they do not work well as escape reading: there are too many hardheaded observations and hard, recalcitrant details in them…  
[ Rachel Brownstein, Why Jane Austen? p. 247]


Hello Professor Brownstein! And welcome to Jane Austen in Vermont

I had the pleasure of hearing you read from your newest work Why Jane Austen? at the JASNA-Massachusetts May meeting [see photo below].  You have very graciously agreed to this interview (as well as to speak at our June 2012 JASNA-Vermont gathering!] – so I heartily welcome you today to discuss your new book on Jane Austen. 

JAIV:  You strive in this work to undercut conventional thinking on Jane Austen, by offering us a good number of “essays” on novels, authorship, women writers [but much on Byron!], neighbors, gossip, language, biography, the importance of re-reading – you move from the real life, the fictions, the use of words, and personal anecdote in such a seamless weaving of thoughts, that I marvel at the weight of each sentence [for example, I love this one:  “Emma is as nosy as a novelist about private lives” [p. 223] – one could think about that sentence for hours! 

But to start, just tell us a little about why you titled your book Why Jane Austen?

RB:  The book asks why there is so much interest in this particular long-dead woman novelist: why Jane Austen right now and not, say, George Eliot or Virginia Woolf, or Jane Austen’s contemporary, the novelist and poet Charlotte Smith?

JAIV:  And one must ask about the cover! – Who decided to use the Jane Austen action figure?

RB:  It was I who brought my action figure—along with other pieces of Austeniana I own–to the office of Columbia University Press.  It was the brilliant art director who decided to put it on the cover, and the brilliant photographer, I think, who placed the figure on top of the books. 

JAIV:  I completely agree with your insistence on calling her “Jane Austen” – unable to call her “Austen” (“would have startled her, makes me wince a little” [p. 11]), nor just “Jane”, nor certainly “Dear Jane” – why is this so for Jane Austen and for no other author?

RB:  I think it’s Claire Harman, in her book, “Jane’s Fame,” who observes that she’s the only author people call by her first name alone.  This is a really interesting question.  I think she’s “Jane” because of a mix of doting indulgence and a condescension that verges on contempt—the kind familiarity brings.  It’s partly a function of her being a woman, and unmarried, and long-ago, and therefore girlish, and in some way small—you know, they talk about her small canvas, her narrow range.  It’s deplorable, really—and really a function of misreading her novels as merely delightful.

JAIV:  One of the main themes in your book is based on the Katherine Mansfield quote that serves as an epigraph:

 “The truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friend of their author.”

Is this why you think that Jane Austen has and continues to have such a profound pull on her readers?

RB:  Yes.  I think her conspiratorial confidence in her readers is flattering and engaging.  After all, she’s so smart and so charming, and she takes us into her confidence. 

JAIV:  Your first chapter begins with Pride and Prejudice and its emphasis on “truth” – the first sentence staking its claim on the rest of the novel with this term: “it is a truth universally acknowledged” (certainly the most discussed opening line in literary history!) – you say the word “truth” occurs in Pride and Prejudicetwenty-four times, and one of your main themes is to show the power of the novel to reveal truths. This isn’t a question, but please explain a little if you can.

RB:  One of the reasons I start there is to begin to suggest it’s worth looking at the words in Jane Austen’s novels—not only the stories and the characters and the themes, but the words that convey all those.  Also, the great matter of truth is the question about novels, isn’t it: why spend time reading fictions that don’t tell you anything that’s true? What’s the value of other people’s fantasies? What can we learn from novels?  What truths do they have to tell?  Jane Austen wrote that novels are about human nature; George Eliot suggested later on that novels give a reader “a shape” for her “expectations.”  Neither of these is clear, but both seem to me very suggestive.   

Jane Austen’s novels, it seems to me, raise questions about the language in which we say what’s true and not true, and therefore about the capacity to know and tell truths, or the truth.


JAIV:  Your seminal book Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels was published in 1982, and re-published in 1994 with a new postscript.  You were then trying to place your own learning and thinking and writing in the context of the feminist criticism of the previous decade.  Are there any shifts in your thinking since then that you could comment on? [You mention that this new book is really an atonement – that such previous readings of Jane Austen as “a paragon of proto-feminist romance” are misreadings, i.e. “not reading her as she is meant to be read.” [p. 8]  – and that Why Jane Austen? is written in “defense of Jane Austen and in self-defense as well…” [p. 10]]

RB:  I’m a little tongue-in-cheek about the matter of atonement, and a little serious too.  I’m sorry about some things that have been done in the name of feminism, but I continue to be a feminist, and a feminist literary critic, and I am especially feminist as a meta-critic, or critic of the critics.  It seems to me immensely important that Jane Austen was a woman. 

Austen’s relationship to romance is complicated: she wrote romances that are also anti-romances.  Reading them as books about women’s issues, I think, does Jane Austen a disservice. They are about men and women, and dreams and realities, and greed and social climbing.  She said they were about human nature; and she adds that they are written in “the best chosen language.” My argument is that it’s worth paying attention to all of that, not only to some of it. 

JAIV:  Again about Becoming a Heroine: Would you write about the same books today? [note: Heroine contains a full chapter on Jane Austen that touches on all her novels; the other works discussed in separate chapters are: Richardson’s Clarissa; Charlotte Bronte’s Villette; The Egoist by George Meredith; George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda; Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady; and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf] 

RB:  No—but I still love all those novels, and enjoy teaching and talking about them. 

JAIV:  So if “No”, what works would you write about now?

RB:  I don’t think I can answer your question about the books I’d include in another version of “Becoming a Heroine”–I’d have to write another book. In other words, the novels I DID write about there come together in a series or sequence that (to my mind) suggests a development in the idea of a heroine. A novel reader who has an even slightly different idea could set up a different sequence of novels.  So no, there’s nothing I’d change, unless I changed everything–or something basic in the central idea.

JAIV:  This new work is similar to Heroine in being more a meditation on Jane Austen, combining scholarly and textual analysis, literary biography, historical context, all melded together with your own story as a reader, a student, and a teacher.  I found it a very engaging read, each sentence packed-full, the approach to the subject very different from the usual scholarly work.  As soon as I finished, I knew a re-read was required, not to mention the need to re-read all of the novels and look again with your critical eye!  If one could take only one thing from this book, what would you want it to be?

RB:  Thank you for your very kind words.  The one thing I would want a reader to take from my book is this: go and reread Jane Austen!

JAIV:  You write constantly posing questions to the reader – a wonderful teaching strategy! – and especially effective in one’s efforts to make a “Life of Jane Austen” out of the details in the novels – and in our efforts to find her in her characters, in her language, in her plots, we find her all the more illusive..  We cannot help ourselves – we have only such scant tidbits of information! Why do you think this is a dangerous approach?

RB:  It’s dangerous if you believe the life story you compose for Jane Austen—but taken with a grain or two of salt it’s fun. 

JAIV:  Your personal story that you so generously weave through this book is similar in some ways to William Deresiewicz’s new work A Jane Austen Education [and he indeed writes a lovely blurb for your work on the jacket cover (note: this is quoted in yesterday’s post)] – at least your “confession” of early on being way too clever and cool to read Jane Austen, then later way too clever and cool to not be in the know about Jane Austen – do you think that this is still the view of readers / non –readers of Jane Austen?

RB:  Deresiewicz, who is a generation younger and a man, says he started out thinking those classic novels were dull and boring, and not for readers like him. My story is very different.  When I was in college—and I went to a woman’s college, in the mid-1950s–literary girls were expected to know Jane Austen without taking a course in the novels.  My freshman English teacher engaged me in a conversation about Pride and Prejudice although it was not assigned reading: it was as if just because you were a young woman reader you already knew your Jane Austen.  Things are different now: being in the know about Jane Austen has changed a lot since then.  Today, for many people, it means being up on the latest pop-cultural Jane-related phenomenon, the zombies or whatever.

JAIV:  Any comment on Deresiewicz’s book? – it seems to have generated mixed reviews.

RB:  Let’s take another page from Jane Austen’s book—Northanger Abbey—and leave the reviewers out of it.  The Deresiewicz book is a lively read and the voice is engaging.  And I am amused by the idea of a man owning up to learning life lessons from Jane Austen. 

JAIV:  I like your answer of taking that cue from Jane Austen

There are a number of anecdotes you tell where you put yourself in time and place (and these are not always pleasant encounters!) – is there any concern of people discovering themselves between the pages? – or is everything politely disguised?

RB:  I don’t know about politely.  I scrambled details, left things out, and added bits, and no one actually real is all there, I sincerely hope.  You’ll recognize the echo of Henry Austen: my aim was to write about human nature, not individuals.

JAIV:  Which Jane Austen novel did you first read? Does it remain your favorite? [a horrible question, but one must ask!]

RB:  Pride and Prejudice: a predictable answer, but one must try to tell the truth. 

JAIV:  Your commentary about the movie adaptations – “adaptation is translation” [p. 35] is a wonderful essay.  You mention loving “Clueless” – can you share what other of the various adaptations worked the best? The least?

RB:  I admire Roger Michell’s beautiful film version of Persuasion, and I found lots to like in the astute choices made in making the Emma Thompson -Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility.  And of course I love the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice—so much that Joe Wright’s version, starring the thoroughly miscast Keira Knightley, seems to me all wrong.

JAIV:  The inevitable Sequels / Continuations question:  What are your thoughts!?

RB:  Some work; others don’t; several work well in parts, but don’t measure up.  Jane Austen sets the bar very high.  I was surprised and delighted by the first half of Colleen McCullough’s The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet.   

JAIV:  Well then, I must ask what you think about the second half!

RB:  I was disappointed in the second half of “Miss Mary Bennet” because the emphasis moved–disproportionately, I felt–from Mary to Darcy, and the plot thickened too much.  I liked the stuff that seemed Austenian but a little outre–Mary and her money falling in the muck–and was less interested in the stuff about enslaved children imprisoned in caves.  It is of course very professional–being by a pro–but then it gets extravagant and falls apart.  It’s Darcy’s fault.

JAIV: Oh dear! – I thought Darcy could never be at fault for anything! 

But as for another of Jane Austen’s heroes, you call Edward Ferrars “morose, depressed, self-involved, and boring” [p. 247] – are you in the camp of preferring Colonel Brandon as the more proper mate for Elinor? What then happens to Marianne?

RB:  I was writing as a reader, not a novelist. 

 JAIV:  Good answer! 

You speak of Jane Austen’s best readers being those who feel they are complicit with her take on human nature – I could say the same about your writing – you invite the reader into your secret world of ‘Understanding the truth about Jane Austen’ – you brought me into your world years ago when I read of you [in Heroine] as a fifteen-year-old hiding out in the bathroom reading Henry James hugging your “secret knowledge that [your parents] were harboring a viper in their bathroom.” [p. 5]  I love this!  Do you find students still coming to you with that wide-eyed wonder of discovering literature as transporter, as transformer?

RB:  Yes.  This is one important reason why I continue to love teaching.

JAIV:  You make many references to “best readers” or “reading well” or “close readers”  – how I would have loved to taken one (or more!) of your classes, where you question, question, question, to make the student sit up, take notice, and shift his / her thinking –  [you offer a wide range of bibliographical references that shall add weight to my bookshelves and deduct funds from my book budget!] –  How does one become such a reader without going back to school?!

RB:  I’m with Elizabeth Bennet, when she tells Lady Catherine, of her and her sisters, that “We were always encouraged to read.”  Read and reread, is my advice—and don’t believe everything you read.

JAIV:  Your chapter on “Why We Reread Jane Austen” focuses on Emma – and you devote a number of pages to just the use of the word “understanding” – can you tell us a little about this?

RB:  I’m fascinated by the word and by the process of coming to understand something or someone and by what Locke called “the understanding,” the mind.  And you can see that word as a key to Emma, where insistent repetitions of the word begin to make the reader understand its shades of meaning.  The heroine prides herself on her understanding, or intellectual power, but she misunderstands what’s going on, and imagines mutual understandings among her friends—relationships, we call them–that sometimes do and sometimes don’t exist. 

JAIV:  Your last sentence:

 “And in the face of the Kindle and the Nook, the iPad and the graphic novel, not to mention the ongoing crisis in education and the widely lamented decline of serious reading, there is some anticipatory nostalgia as well for the once-thriving, once-glamorous, once-literary book business.” 

Can you explain your concerns?

RB:  I was nostalgically harking back to a time when the book business was more literary, and not so commercially driven. 

JAIV:  In your Heroine, you tell an amusing anecdote about visiting your Doctor and his comments about Georgette Heyer, and in so doing give a lovely tribute to her writings.  Have you continued to read her?  Can I ask that horrible question again of which is your favorite? 

RB:  I haven’t read Heyer for such a long time – I adored all the novels with their saucy heroines years ago; I’m going to revisit them again; but I’m afraid I have nothing more to say about them now… sorry! 

JAIV:  The oft-asked question of a writer:  How do you work? 

RB:  In fits and starts—and with a lot of false starts.  I’ve finally learned to write on my laptop, but I still have to print the thing out and go over it with a pen, and that remains my favorite part of the writing process.

JAIV:  And finally, have you ever written any fiction yourself?  Is there a novel in you somewhere??

RB:  Yes I have, and Yes I think there is, but No, I’m not ready to talk about it.

JAIV:  Anything else you would like to share

RB:  Thank you.  I enjoy the opportunity to clarify what I might have left unclear, and I enjoy the chance to keep on talking about Jane Austen.  One of the things I learned from Lionel Trilling—the mid-20th-century critic whose last unfinished essay, “Why We Read Jane Austen,” is echoed by the title of my book—is that the conversation around Jane Austen is almost as interesting as what she herself says.  I am always eager to engage in that conversation, which always interests me.

JAIV:  Thank you so much Rachel for joining us today – it is true that the conversation around Jane Austen is endlessly interesting! – and your book asks many probing questions of its readers for those conversations to continue!  

l. – r.: Marcia Folsom, Rachel Brownstein, and Nancy Yee,
JASNA-Mass Meeting, May 2011 at Wheelock College
[photo – D. Barnum]


 Book Giveaway!

If anyone has a comment or a question for Professor Brownstein, please post it on either this post or yesterday’s post – – you might like to answer “Why Jane Austen? in your own life! –

 You will be entered into the Book giveaway random drawing for a copy of Why Jane Austen?  – the deadline is midnight next Wednesday night August 10, 2011 – Winner will be announced on Thursday August 11, 2011  [worldwide eligibility].


Why Jane Austen?, by Rachel Brownstein
Columbia University Press, 2011
ISBN:  978-0231153904 ; $29.50
search inside at

About the Author: Rachel M. Brownstein is professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française.

Click here for my review and bibliography

Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont