Guest Post by Tony Grant: Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen

Dear Janeites and Other Readers:  I welcome today Tony Grant. He has just read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and asked if I would post his review. Tony for a time wrote a blog on Virginia Woolf called “The Novels of Virginia Woolf” – he is hoping to do more on there now that he is re-inspired! There are endless resources out there on Woolf (see below for a few links), but here Tony is giving his personal view of what he learned in reading A Room of One’s Own, and how it relates to Jane Austen.

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“Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen,”
by Tony Grant.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1929. Woolf was invited in 1928 to give a talk to the female undergraduates at Girton College, Cambridge on the theme of women and fiction. She came up with the title for her talk as, A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN. The premise of her argument was that women needed a room of their own and time to write, provided by an independent income. Virginia Woolf suggested £500 a year.

Coincidently that was the same amount that an Aunt, who died in India, left Virginia Woolf in her will, allowing her to be independent of her husband. She was allowed time to think and write without the constraints of the straight jacket of wife, mother, and organizer of a great man’s home. She could afford a room of her own in which to write undisturbed. She argued that women writers in history had been far and few between because of the restrictions a patriarchal society put on them, a society that actively discouraged, insulted, and humiliated women’s abilities. Men thought that women were not capable of writing great fiction or write intelligently on any subject.

She references Aphra Behn, a playwright, poet and translator who lived in the 17th century, as the first woman writer to make money from writing. She goes on to explain that later in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jane Austen, The Brontës and George Elliot began to show what brilliant writers women can be, even if hidden behind anonymity or male pseudonyms. These few, early, great women writers were however, limited in their scope by their circumstances. Virginia Woolf’s hope is that a “Shakespeare’s Sister,” will emerge one day.

We are introduced to Mary Beton, her aunt who left Virginia the £500 per year inheritance and provided the means for her to become a writer; Mary Seton, a wife and mother who is constrained by her circumstances and has no chance of becoming a writer; Mary Carmichael, an author who does not write particularly well – her sentence structures are not those of Jane Austen, from whom she should have learned, but nonetheless begins to write about women in an extraordinary way from a woman’s perspective and begins to portray the subtleties of womanhood uninfluenced by a patriarchal society. These three characters represent three aspects of the lives of women.

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf argues that intellectual freedom depends upon the possession of material things (a room of one’s own and £500 per year), a good education and well-connected families. She thinks the education the poor receive will not raise them to equality with the upper levels of society. She decries that they will have no chance of their voice being heard. Women’s lives and the poor in society are a downtrodden second class group.

Nowadays there is a sort of worship and fan cult associated with Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf would be bemused and not understand this I think. Austen is a great writer, especially in exploring the relationships between men and women which is acutely highlighted in her writing because of the patriarchy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

But because of the constraints placed on by the male members of her family, no “room of her own,” and no independent income, Austen’s world was a very narrow world of drawing rooms. There was not enough global experience of women writers and women in other aspects of society, equal to that of men’s for Austen to build on. She was and is impressive for what she achieved, but she had her limitations. Austen was timid and protective about her writing. She didn’t experience life outside of a strict set of patriarchal boundaries. It does seem extraordinary nowadays there is so much fuss over her.

The aim for women writers, in the words of Virginia Woolf, is to become “Shakespeare’s Sister.” It must be said that Shakespeare did not have a sister as far as we know. What Virginia Woolf means is that in her view Shakespeare was the greatest male writer. He had the perfect balance of the “male-female” brain, creative and fertile with ideas derived from a wide experience of the world, male histories, male experiences and male writing through the centuries. If Shakespeare’s Sister had been able to become the female version of her brother, employing the “female male” brain alongside a wealth of women’s experiences in writing and society, we would have a female writer of equal brilliance and scope.

Virginia Woolf’s presentation to the Girton Undergraduates is nothing if not meant to encourage them all to become writers, not just of fiction but scientific treatises, histories, biographies, poetry, and more besides, because as Woolf states “books talk to books,” and with a rich history of women’s writing to draw on this “Shakespeare’s Sister” can finally emerge.

Jane Austen was a step along the way to the emergence of this “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Mary Carmichael, perhaps a pseudonym for Virginia Woolf herself, represents another important step along the way. They are only steps.

“Be yourself” is a slogan Virginia Woolf leaves her young female audience with. She describes what women need to do to become writers and become themselves: “They need to build their ideas and thoughts on those of other women.” She points out how near impossible it is to achieve that without an immense struggle and everyone doing their bit. Even ninety years later, Virginia Woolf’s treatise has a freshness about it.

Virginia Woolf’s writing shed, Monk’s House

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Thank you Tony for sharing your thoughts on Woolf and Austen! You can visit Tony’s regular blog “London Calling” here: http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

Would love to hear your thoughts on A Room of One’s Own – do you think Woolf’s ideas remain relevant today? Do you agree that there was a dearth of women’s writing because of the patriarchal society and its subjugation of women? Since Woolf’s time there has been an ongoing effort to re-discover the early women writers that have been long forgotten, also a result of that subjugation, and many of these Woolf would have known nothing about. [You can visit the Library at Chawton House to read about many of these early authors: https://chawtonhouse.org/ – and especially the biographies and online novels].

Woolf references Austen in more than just A Room of One’s Own – she refers to Austen in many of her writings, and wrote several full-length essays – here are two.

  1. “Jane Austen” in The Common Reader (1925): http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300031h.html#C11
  2. Woolf’s review of R. W. Chapman’s 1923 edition of Austen’s novels at The New Republic (1924): https://newrepublic.com/article/115922/virginia-woolf-jane-austen

For some commentary on Woolf’s opinion of Austen, see:

  1. This essay in Persuasions 12 (1990) by Judith Lee on Woolf reading Austen: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number12/lee.htm
  2. Another essay in Persuasions On-Line 29.1 (2008) by Emily Auerbach, “The Geese vs. the “Niminy Piminy Spinster”: Virginia Woolf Defends Jane Austen”: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/auerbach.html

I could go on… – there’s a veritable goldmine of information on Woolf and Austen out there!

Further reading:

[Images from Tony Grant]

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

The Pemberley Post, No. 13 (April 15- 21, 2019) ~ Jane Austen and More!

April 23 – Today is the day Shakespeare died in 1616, (he may have also been born on this day – he was baptized on April 26, 1564) so let’s begin with the recent research into Shakespeare’s exact location in London: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/apr/13/shakespeare-plays-possibly-inspired-by-london-neighbours

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April 23 is also World Book & Copyright Day

“23 April is a symbolic date in world literature. It is the date on which several prominent authors, William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. This date was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone to access books – most beautiful invention for sharing ideas beyond the boundaries of humanity space and time as well as the most powerful forces of poverty eradication and peace building.”

https://www.worldbookday.com/2019/04/world-book-copyright-day-23-april-2019

Celebrate by visiting your local bookstore!

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Charlotte Bronte’s hair has been found in a ring on Antiques Road Show: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/17/charlotte-bronte-hair-ring-antiques-roadshow-bronte-society-braid-1855

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This is a look back at how the Cathedral of Notre-Dame has been portrayed in art through the ages:  https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-notre-dame-cathedral-in-art-1460-1921/

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British Book Illustration – Folger

Quite the collection of British Book Illustration at the Folger – see here for all the searchable images: https://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/FOLGER~2~2

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A few things to add to your already overburdened reading list: Twelve of the most important books for women in philosophy – a reading list of books that explore recent feminist philosophy and women philosophers: https://blog.oup.com/2019/04/12-most-important-books-women-philosophy/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=oupblog

Sophie de Grouchy. Letters on Sympathy: A Critical Engagement with Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Published in 1798 in French, now here translated.

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In case you are in need of some new reading material, the whole of the 2 volumes of the Mueller Report are available for free online (you DON’T need to buy it from Amazon): Notice all the redacted data….  https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.pdf

or here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5955379-Redacted-Mueller-Report.html#document/

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Apparently Pride & Prejudice made this art mural bookcase in Utrecht – can you find it?? http://www.openculture.com/2019/04/street-art-for-book-lovers.html

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Are you a Hoarding Bibliophile who doesn’t want to declutter your bookshelves via the Marie Kondo directive?? Here are a few people who just cannot let go: (and I am happy to find some soulmates!) https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/marie-kondo-bibliophiles-books-decluttering-tidying-a8864926.html

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UCLA will be hosting a Marathon Reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on May 9-10 – for a full 24 hours – read about it here on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exDvztcgJpo&app=desktop

And here on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/233607600848307/

Octavia Butler’s “Earthseed Series” will also be part of the reading.

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Into Absolut Vodka? You can bid on the various artist-rendered lithographs here: live bidding starts today!

https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/139611_absolut-vodka-lithographs/

George Rodrigue’s “Absolut Statehood Louisiana” – bidding is already at $1800…

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The Modern Library is launching a new trade paperback book series, Modern Library Torchbearers, that will “honor a more inclusive vision of classic books” by “recognizing women who wrote on their own terms, with boldness, creativity, and a spirit of resistance.” The books, all previously published, will be repackaged, and each will be introduced by a contemporary woman writer. The inaugural list for the series features:

  • American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Sá, with an introduction by Layli Long Soldier (May 21)
  • The Heads of Cerberus by Francis Stevens, with an introduction by Naomi Alderman (May 21)
  • Passing by Nella Larsen, with an introduction by Kaitlyn Greenidge (May 21)
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin, with an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado (June 18)
  • Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, with an introduction by Flynn Berry (June 18)
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë, with an introduction by Weike Wang (June 18)

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/79804-modern-library-launches-series-of-classics-penned-by-women.html

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I can honestly say that the only thing I really have a fancy for that one might call over-the-top decorative arts are the stunning Faberge eggs – I’ve seen them in museums over the years and two years ago at the best place of all at The Hermitage – so here in celebration of Easter is a nicely done history from Barnaby’s: https://www.barnebys.com/blog/in-celebration-of-easter-we-look-back-on-the-history/

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Historic Ashburn School

And finally, more for your book pile: here is a great story about a judge and her “punishments” for young offenders and the reading list she gave them all to choose from – everybody should read all these books – the world would improve immensely…https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/this-is-what-happened-when-a-us-judge-sentenced-teenage-vandals-to-read-books

Happy internet surfing all!
what have been your favorites this past week?

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

 

The Women’s Writing Database “Orlando” ~ Free for the Month of March!

UPDATE: The Women Writers Online database also has free access during the month of March – you can find it here: http://wwo.wwp.northeastern.edu/WWO

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Orlando, the subscription database from Cambridge University Press on “Women’s Writings in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present” – is available for free for Women’s History Month starting tomorrow and throughout March.

The Orlando Project “provides entries on authors’ lives and writing careers, contextual material, timelines, sets of internal links, and bibliographies.”

http://orlando.cambridge.org/svHomePage

Here is the login information: (no caps, no spaces)

Id: womenshistory19
pw: orlando19

As always, much new material has been added this past year: just as an example, Professor Isobel Grundy has shared with me that these four near-contemporaries of Jane Austen are now part of the database (or will be added shortly):

Mary Harcourt (later Countess Harcourt) (1750-1833), who was embedded with her husband while he commanded troops in the Low Countries during the War of the First Coalition against revolutionary France, and wrote an account of her experience and her gradual development of strongly anti-war views; and

Eglantine, Lady Wallace (died 1803), a dramatist and conduct-writer, a Scots aristocrat of rather dubious respectability who got caught up in part of the same war and was very friendly with a revolutionary leader. [entry is under Eglinton Wallace].

Jane Loudon (1807-1858), who published a science fiction novel called The Mummy, unfortunately a few years too late for Austen to read it. [to be added soon]

Anna Gordon (Mrs. Brown) (1747-1810), a Scottish ballad-collector and singer. [to be added soon]

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If you are wondering about the symbol of the Oak Tree, here is the explanation from the website:

“. . . a little square book bound in red cloth fell from the breast of her leather jacket—her poem The Oak Tree.” —Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, a Biography, 1928, inspires this work in literary history. Woolf’s biographical and historical fantasy explores the changing conditions of possibility for women writing in England from the time of Elizabeth I to her own day, and gives us a poet protagonist who is at work throughout the whole of this history on the composition of her poem “The Oak Tree”. The Orlando Project team sees in the oak tree a suggestion of the history of women’s writing in the British Isles, the growth of history from biography, and (in a kind of visual pun) the tree-like structure of our text encoding.

Fabulous resource – spend the month indulging in this feast of information!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Review: “Madison McTavish and Grandma’s Missing Ring” by Heather Brothers

Dear Readers: Today I welcome Margaret Harrington, one of our JASNA-Vermont members, with her review of Madison McTavish and Grandma’s Missing Ring, a children’s mystery novel by Heather Brothers, also one of our JASNA-Vermont members. Heather had published a delightful Regency era novel in 2013 titled The Introduction of a Gentleman (you can read my interview with Heather here.)

Margaret posted this review of her latest book (published in June 2017) on Goodreads – but thought we should give Heather some press here as well. So thank you Margaret for sharing this review and to Heather, we wish you great success with this latest book! Heather will have copies for sale at our Jane Austen Birthday Tea on December 2, 2018.

As Margaret mentions, we hope that Madison McTavish will be returning for another adventure!

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Madison McTavish and Grandma’s Missing Ring

by

Heather Brothers

Madison McTavish and Grandma’s Missing Ring by Heather Brothers is an engaging novel about a ten year old girl named Madison who lives in rural Vermont. Not only do readers get to see things through Madison’s eyes but we also get involved with her multi-generational extended family’s entanglements.

The relationship between Madison and her solid grandmother is central to the story and author Heather Brothers draws them with realistic description and believable dialogue. Readers are relieved of cliché in this finely crafted book and can be surprised just like in life when you do not know what is going to happen next but you look forward to whatever it may be.

Besides family relationships there are neighbors, friends and even suitors to Madison’s preferred aunt who populate and drive the story. The setting in rural Vermont is exquisitely visual and pungent with smells of baking, maple syrup, cow dung and roasted pumpkin seeds which bring you right into the rustic atmosphere. Most of all there is the convincing dialogue with people of all ages talking with each other.

There is a mystery to be solved and several sub-plots to the story that are written about with an incisive gentleness. This is a story well told.

I hope that Heather Brothers will continue to write about Madison McTavish because her debut story is refreshing and enjoyable to read.

Review by Margaret Harrington – Goodreads

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Synopsis: Madison McTavish has never really stolen anything. She’s never searched an old barn, investigated a mysterious Frenchman or had to be a real detective. Madison’s life has revolved around her grandparent’s farmhouse, baseball with her best friend, Santiago, and spending time with her quirky aunts, uncles and neighbor. She’s a regular, 10-year old Vermonter.

But all this is about to change when Madison’s grandma starts wearing an old ring; a ring Madison ends up stealing and losing. This begins Madison’s search to not only find a thief, help a neighbor and uncover family secrets, but to get herself out of trouble…if she can. [from back cover]

 

About the author: Heather Brothers lives with her husband and two young daughters in Vermont. She works in the student loan industry. She enjoys playing the piano, writing and imaginative play with her daughters. She also is on the Board of JASNA-Vermont and assists with Hospitality and the Austen Boutique. (And her daughter Claire is our official Janeite mascot!)

 

The book is available on Amazon here.

c2018, Jane Austen in Vermont

Charlotte Bronte ~ April 21, 1816

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[I first posted this in 2009 – here it is again, in celebration of Bronte’s birthday!]

Happy Birthday to Charlotte Bronte, born April 21, 1816 in Thornton, Yorkshire.

I just had the good fortune to finally visit Haworth and tour the Bronte Parsonage.  One of the special extras was the display of the various costumes worn in the latest BBC production of Wuthering Heights [but alas! no pictures allowed!]

I append here a few of my photographs of the Parsonage as well as several links for further reading…

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Main Street, Haworth

Main Street, Haworth

Further Reading:

My Jane Austen Book Stash ~ From the 2016 JASNA AGM on Emma

jasnabannerThere has been a good deal to write about this year’s terrific JASNA AGM in Washington DC on Emma – but while it always takes me a good while to re-emerge into the 21st century after these events, little time has been accorded me to actually write anything about it. But I did want to give you a quick summary of the books and other “stuff” I bought this year – less than usual because I bought a DRESS and a SPENCER, which did my pocketbook some serious damage…(see the image below*).

But to the matter at hand, here are the books, etc. – most would make fine holiday gifts for your favorite Austen follower, or for your own stocking for that matter… except this first one which would not in any way fit:

  1. cover-mp-harvardJane Austen. Mansfield Park: An Annotated Edition. Edited by Deidre Shauna Lynch. Harvard UP, 2016.

Very excited to have this, completing my collection of these beautiful Harvard editions. The book was released during the AGM and thankfully Jane Austen Books had copies. I have only skimmed through it, but it promises to live up to the other Harvard editions with an insightful introduction and notes by Lynch, and color illustrations throughout that give you the sense of time, place, and history that surround the adventures of Fanny Price. A must have and a perfect holiday gift for your Austen friends (and at $35, this is the best book deal out there, bar none…)

2. Alden O’Brien, et al. ‘An Agreeable Tyrant’: Fashion after the Revolution. Exhibition Catalogue. Washington DC: DAR Museum, 2016.

The catalogue that goes along with the fabulous exhibition at the DAR Museum that many of us at the AGM werecover-agreeabletyrant-dar privileged to see. Ms. O’Brien spoke at the AGM to take us through the history behind and the creation of this fashion exhibit – complete with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice found in the “Pemberley Room” – it runs from October 7, 2016 – April 29, 2017 and is described on the website as: “…displaying men’s and women’s clothing from 1780 to 1825 in a dozen period rooms throughout the museum. It considers how Americans fashioned a new identity through costume; on the one hand, Americans sought to be free from Europe, yet they still relied heavily on European manufacturing and materials.”

The catalogue is quite lovely, showing full page color illustrations of fashions of the time as well as photographs of costumes in the DAR Museum collection. A must-have for every good Janeite with any fashion sense and perhaps in need of a new dress idea…it also contains various patterns in the back. You can purchase the book through the Museum’s website here. And my friend Kelly has written about the exhibit on her blog Two Teens in the Time of Austen.

Here are a few of my shots of the exhibit:

3. Chawton House Library – their new brochure and guide, text by Helen Cole, et al. CHL, 2016.cover-chl-db2

This is Lovely! It tells the history of the Chawton Great House, Jane Austen’s connection with it, the development of it as a learning centre for the study of early women’s writing from 1600 to 1830. There is much detail with fine illustrations of the house itself: the Library; the various rooms and staircases; exhibition and conference information; the furnishings, art and portraits; the gardens and grounds; and a bit of the history of women writers and their place in our literary heritage. For $12 you get to armchair-tour the house at leisure, and then you will add this to your next-trip-to-England itinerary, as well as a commitment to become a valued Friend of the Library (also a nice gift in a friend’s name).

[Note that the CHL online shop is currently experiencing the dreaded tech difficulties – if you would like a copy, please contact me and I will get one to you.]

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Portrait of Mary Robinson, by John Hoppner c1782 (at CHL)

Also from the Chawton House Library – their table at the AGM was jam-packed with goodies – I bought their collection of 8 botanical cards from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (frameable!) – you can also “Adopt” this book as a way to support the Library!

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Also couldn’t resist this book-fan “The Rules for Love,” by book artist Angela Thames from Aphra Behn’s 1686 La Montre –  (you can read about Ms. Thames as artist-in-residence at CHL here).

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[Image from: a-n The Artists Information ]

cover-heyer-jasa-db4. Susannah Fullerton, Amanda Jones, and Joanna Penglase, ed. Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade: A Celebration. JASA, 2016.

Exactly what the title tells us and another must-have – a collection of essays from various JASA folk who have long-been or are new to the joys of reading Georgette Heyer, based on their conference on Heyer in August 2016. Complete with lovely contemporary illustrations, this was just off the press in time for the AGM – $12 (I think) – you can contact JASA for information on how to purchase.

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Alas! I was very disappointed not to find a single book on London that I didn’t already have at either of the book stalls – but did find a few oldies worth perusing:

  1. Lt. Col. W. P. Drury. A Regency Rascal. London: Collins, 1971.

The tale of Jack Peregrine, a regency rascal to say the least, who arranges a marriage of convenience for himself to helpcover-regencyrascal-db him through a financial crisis, and then finds himself the heir to an estate in Barbados – all based on the true story of Sam Lord and his Castle (most recently a hotel in Barbados*) – who cannot resist a story of such a man (Heyer couldn’t)! First published in 1937 by Hutchinson, it gives a glimpse of Regency-era life in both London and the Colonies. Will see if it lives up to the hype… [*The property was run as an exquisite hotel for many years but unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 2010 – it is currently being reconstructed and will open in 2018 as a Wyndham Grand Resort. The 450-room resort will feature 3 restaurants, meeting facilities and a luxury spa] – sign me up!

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Sam Lord’s Castle, Barbados, pre-fire

  1. J. Fairfax Blakeborough, ed. Legends of Highwaymen and Others. New York: Frederick Stokes, 1924.

Just because I am a sucker for carriages and highwaymen tales!

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(now, doesn’t that peak your interest just a little?)

  1. Hazel Mews. Frail Vessels: Woman’s Role in Women’s Novels from Fanny Burney to George Eliot. U of London: Athlone Press, 1969.cover-frailvessels-dbWhy not? – adds to my collection on women writers – but it also had an inscription that I first thought read “Catherine Morland” and that cracked me up – heavy reading for Catherine! (it reads on close analysis “Catherine R. Harland”).

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8. Joanna Trollope. Sense and Sensibility. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

Only because I haven’t read this first of the Austen Project retellings and my Vermont Jane Austen book group has scheduled an S&S re-read this year and thought we would try this to compare…(though I know we will likely be gravely disappointed…)

 

9.  Jack and Holman Wang. Jane Austen’s Emma [Cozy Classics]. Chronicle Books, 2013.

This to add to my other board books, and a generous gift from the author. He attended my talk on “Illustrating Emma” and I could not have been more embarrassed to have not included this cover in my talk! (caveat: I did not include any of the covers of the many recent renditions due to lack of time – I have added them to the talk for those times where I can speak longer than the time-constrained AGM) – so with hearty apologies to Mr. Wang – this is of course a simply delightful addition to anyone’s Austen collection!

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  1. cover-ladycyclingErskine, Miss F. J. Lady Cycling: What to Wear and How to Ride. The British Library, 2014. Originally published by Walter Scott in 1897.

I have a friend who recently gave a talk on women and bicycles and my daughter is an avid cyclist – I bought this at The Folger Library shop (there seeing the simply amazing Will & Jane exhibit) as a gift but am now loth to give it away! Women and bicycles have an interesting joint history – here is a worthy account of the whole phenomenon here: http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.html

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So, as usual, I have my reading cut out for me – I would love to hear what YOU bought at the AGM this year

*and here is my new costume – I am with my Good Buddy Marcia, who is wearing a Regency dress for the FIRST TIME!! (we bought our fabulous fashions at Matti’s Millinery & Costumes (visit their site here and have fun shopping!)

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C2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

Lecture Review: “Planting the Seed for the Austen Oeuvre ~ Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Woman” ~ Guest Post by Margaret Harrington

Gentle Readers: I welcome this guest post by JASNA-Vermont member Margaret Harrington, as she offers a review of the lecture at our last meeting by Vermont author Nancy Means Wright (I would have posted this sooner, but Hurricane Matthew and the JASNA AGM last week kept me from my duties! – thank you Margaret for this write-up, and to Nancy for her terrific talk – see below for links, etc.)

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“Planting the Seed for the Austen Oeuvre ~
Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Woman”
Presented by Nancy Means Wright,
Sept 18, 2016 to JASNA-Vermont

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Nancy Means Wright
in the Morgan Room at Champlain College

 When Nancy Means Wright started off her talk by saying that Mary Wollstonecraft was her alter ego, I knew an extraordinary experience was in store. Nancy brought up her own life and work experiences comparable to Mary Wollstonecraft’s, such as leaving home at a young age, coming from an impecunious family, all the while emphasizing the strength needed to keep trouble at bay. She quoted Mary Wollstonecraft’s early dictum, “I shall live independent or not at all.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, by John Opie 1790-91 (Wikipedia)

Mary Wollstonecraft, by John Opie 1790-91 (Wikipedia)

Then by using Mary Wollstonecraft’s own words in her letters, books, and beautiful illustrations in the power point presentation, Nancy projected us into a thrilling portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft as a caring young woman who made tremendous sacrifices for her family and friends. Concurrently Wollstonecraft formulated her revolutionary thought based on her own life experiences, her intellectual depth and daring, and her intolerance for sham and injustice.

The members of the Irish family with daughters for whom Mary worked as governess were elites of the Protestant Ascendancy. Only a few years older than her pupils, Mary labored to teach the girls to think. In a society which demanded that women obey their husbands and breed more Protestants, this was a revolutionary idea and eventually cost her that job.

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William Blake frontispiece to “Original Stories from Real Life” (Wikipedia)

The moment when Nancy Means Wright brought up the William Blake illustrations for Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories from Real Life* was when I knew I was captured by a masterful storyteller. Step by step Wright transported me into the thoughts and feelings of the founder of modern feminism. She vividly set the scene for Mary’s time in Paris when three hundred people a day passed her window on the way to the guillotine.

I am grateful to Nancy Means Wright who wove so beautifully the tragic facts of Wollstonecraft’s life into a living tapestry. A particularly moving account of Mary’s attempt to drown herself, after being spurned by her lover Gilbert Imlay, was enhanced by Wright’s reading of her own poem which evoked the sorrow which Mary herself did not write ( leaving the task to Nancy as alter-ego).

Later, participants from the audience talked about the slender but strong connection between Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft. Scholars weighed in on the lack of evidence that Austen had read or even had access to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. There was consensus that Wollstonecraft’s work magnified our understanding of the struggles of Austen’s women who are constrained in the class system of primogeniture and who use their wits to manage the inevitable marriage plot.

Wollstonecraft wanted women to take power, not over men, but over themselves. At the same time, in Wright’s words, “She herself couldn’t balance her principles with her passion.” There are so many deep thoughts that arise from Wright’s talk on the immortal, dynamic woman, Mary Wollstonecraft.

By Margaret Harrington, JASNA Vermont

You can find Margaret’s photos of the event on our facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2094244057466958/permalink/2116252491932781/

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*Full title: Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness – first published in 1788, with Blake’s illustrations in 1791. You can see all the illustrations at the Blake Archive here: http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/work.xq?workid=but244

You can find Nancy’s Mary Wollstonecraft mysteries here: http://www.nancymeanswright.com/index.htm#acts

  • Midnight Fires (2010) 
  • The Nightmare (2011) 
  • Wild Nights (2015) 
  • Acts of Balance: a Chapbook of Poems (2014) – featuring Mary Wollstonecraft
 c2016, Jane Austen in Vermont