Some reading thoughts…. Austen, etc.

Here are a few of the books lately graduated from my bedside table along with a other few random thoughts for YOUR bedside table ~

First on my list, and as soon as I get the book, will find me engrossed in the latest Keats’ biography, Posthumous Keats:  A Personal Biography, by Stanley Plumly [Norton, 2008]  Click here for the NYTimes review, and run to your local bookstore to pick up a copy…. 

I was in Rome last year and the one thing on the top of my “to-do” list was a visit to the Protestant Cemetery where Keats’s grave was covered in fresh flowers (a daily occurrence) by a still-mourning public… I was quite overcome (to the embarrassment of my husband!)…and not to mention the meandering walk to Shelley’s grave site through this haunting enclave in the center of the City, and then this followed by a lengthy visit to the Keats-Shelley House [right next to the Spanish Steps] where Keats died on February 23, 1821.  Plumly’s book is a loving tribute to Keats’s poetry and his immortality…

…but now back to Austen….

Laurel Ann at Austenprose had recommended these two books, and I quickly added them to my pile and just as quickly finished them off!

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman [Putnam’s 2006] (see the Austenprose review):  I have been reading several sequels lately in prep for the Chicago AGM, and I find that of late I am confusing the stories!  All these Austen characters who have taken on lives of their own now have these MULTIPLE lives with varying outcomes and I suppose I am left with the ability to choose which “ending” I prefer for any of them…I think perhaps this is why one takes up a pen to write ones own adventure for a given character!  So it was with all these sequels swimming in my head, as well as Laurel Ann’s glowing review that sent me to the library shelves to find Polly Shulman’s Enthusiasm, a book for young adults with the aura of Pride & Prejudice.  This has to be one of the most refreshing reads I have encountered in a long time!  I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but will quote the jacket blurb:

…equal parts romance and comedy as a series of misinterpreted messages and super-awkward incidents, not to mention some rather mystifying poetry tacked to a tree and a valiant foray onto the stage, makes Julie wonder whether she is cut out for Enthusiasm – or True Love – at all…

With characters the likes of Ashleigh, the Enthusiast (whose latest “enthusiasm” is P&P), Ned the Noodle, Amy (the semi-wicked stepmother dubbed “IA”, a.k.a. “Irresistible Accountant”) and the to-die-for Charles Grandison Parr (love the name!), this lovely tribute to P&P sent this reader back to all those wonderful and awful moments as a teenage girl that for some reason we never forget!  And I think what most surprised and pleased me was to find this library book much used!  I recommend highly that you find your way to this book as soon as possible….

Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Maya Slater [Phoenix, 2007] (see the Austenprose review):  Gentle Reader, here is the tale all told from Darcy’s point of view, thanks to the diary he so meticulously kept, and we learn of his love and concern for his sister (and what really happened with Wickham), his escapades with Byron (!), his periodic “tumbling” of the maid,  his growing obsession wih Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and his endless fencing and fisticuffs to overcome his mood swings.  Darcy is so human in this book…Ms. Slater is at turns witty and wise in portraying him in all his glory…. I liked this book more than any other of the sequels I have read so far…this is the Darcy who stays with me the most….the Darcy I had imagined off the pages of P&P.

I skimmed again through The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James in order to answer my co-blogger’s rather scathing review…(see the two reviews on this blog:  Kelly’s and mine and then contribute to the fray if you will!)…. this book seems to have generated a wide range of opinion…

Carolly Erickson’s Our Tempestuous Day [Morrow 1986] is a rapid trek through Regency England.  Erickson, the author of biographies of Elizabeth 1, Anne Boleyn, Bloody Mary, Henry VIII, Empress Josephine and many others…., Erickson here tells the tale of the times not as a linear chronological history, but rather a series of vignettes of events, people, and places, that after you are done you have a much better understanding of the times that Jane Austen was living and writing in… and really a whole new list of books to read! [I will review this book more fully in another post…] 

Charlotte & Leopold: the true story of the original people’s princess,  by James Chambers, a biography of the daughter of King George IV and Caroline, and their Regency times ….here is the blurb from Amazon:

The tragic story of the doomed romance between Charlotte, heir to the English throne, and Leopold, uncle of Queen Victoria and first King of the Belgians. A story that Jane Austen famously declined to tell, declaring: “I could no more write a romance than an epic poem.”

Charlotte was the only legitimate royal child of her generation, and her death in childbirth resulted in a public outpouring of grief the like of which was not to be seen again until the death of Diana, over 150 years later. Charlotte’s death was followed by an unseemly scramble to produce a substitute heir. Queen Victoria was the product.

James Chambers masterfully demonstrates how the personal and the political inevitably collide in scheming post-Napoleonic Europe, offering a vivid and sympathetic portrait of a couple whose lives are in many ways not their own. From the day she was born, Charlotte won the hearts of her subjects and yet, behind the scenes, she was used, abused, and victimized by rivalries-between her parents; between her father (the Prince Regent, later King George IV) and (Mad) King George III; between her tutors, governesses, and other members of her discordant household; and ultimately between the Whig opposition and the Tory government.

Set in one of the most glamorous eras of British history, against the background of a famously dysfunctional royal family, Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People’s Princess is an accessible, moving, funny, and entertaining royal biography with alluring contemporary resonance.

A new book out in March by Peter Graham, titled Jane Austen and Charles Darwin: naturalists and novelists (click for the table of contents), and a tad pricey at $99.  reads “3 or 4 families in a country village” : this phrase by which Jane Austen identifies the most congenial subject matter for novels as she chose to write them can also serve to characterize the environment that proved ideal for Charles Darwin’s naturalist observations.” 

Lady Anne at Jane Austen Today has nicely reviewed the new book Jane Eyre’s Daughter, by Elizabeth Newark.

As for the Austen sequels, head over to Austenprose for a review of several being published this September: Pemberley Shades, by Dorothy Bonavia-Hunt [I have just finished this book and will post a review this week; see Laurel Ann’s review hot off the press today!]; Netherfield Park Revisited by Rebecca Ann Collins (Book 3 of the “Pemberley Chronicles”); The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman [see Ms. Altman’s post here; I will be reviewing this book shortly], and Impulse and Initiative, a Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds. 

Just Jane: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Life, by Nancy Moser is given a lengthy review at the BC Blog Critics magazine site.

Ms. Place interviews Diana Birchall on her new book Mrs. Elton in America.

A short blurb on a fantasy fiction book which should excite Austen and Bronte fans:The Magicians and Mrs. Quent,” by Galen Beckett. (Bantam Spectra; $23)

Fans of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters will be in a familiar landscape reading “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent.” Click here to find out more!

 This fantasy debut uses those authors’ famous works as a template. Does the place name Heathcrest Hall ring any chimes? 
Ivy Lockwell is the eldest of three sisters. It is Ivy who is caught in polite society between holding the family together, after the reclusion of the sisters’ father in his library, and her chafing against the stricture of not being able to use magic (or magick, to use the genre spelling). She is female, after all, and magic also is seen as the cause of her father’s reclusiveness. Of the novel’s three parts, the second, “Heathcrest,” limns relationships nicely from Ivy’s point of view. She applies for governess to Mr. Quent and thinks her troubles eased when hired. If only she had not uncovered an ancient tome about magic still afoot in the world, she would not have met its willful protectors. [quoted from]
But also see this glowing review from Rick Kleffel on NPR, and click here for an excerpt from the book:
Though this may look like the sort of book you’d find nestled in a shelf of paperback potboilers at a beach rental, don’t judge The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by its cover. Galen Beckett’s debut cleverly mixes fantasy and literary in a novel that imagines the social strictures that hemmed in Austen’s and Bronte’s heroines are the result of magical intervention. The novel’s supernatural elements and imaginary (but familiar-seeming) setting allow Beckett to examine class and economic conflicts from the outside, without resorting to polemics. The result is a work that mixes the rich pleasures of a Victorian epic with elements of the fantastic, an imaginative eye and a dry sense of humor.

  Kleffel rates this as one of his “nine first books that make a lasting impression,” with a heroine who had a peculiar habit of reading while walking]…now there’s a heroine I can identify with! 

And on that happy note, I should get back to my reading…hope this gives you a few ideas…

“The Darcys and the Bingleys”… a visit from Marsha Altman!

Sourcebooks Inc. has several new Austen-related books coming out this month, but one by debut author Marsha Altman, gives us new insights into the Darcy – Bingley relationship:  The Darcys & the Bingleys, a Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters.  I have just started to read it and hope to do a full review by weeks end, but am delighted to find already in the first few chapters that Ms. Altman has perfectly presented the Darcy I most love [the young proud man bound to his family duties, but oh so endearingly socially inadequate, unable to “perform before strangers”….], as well as giving Mr. Bingley a voice of his own…

So today we offer you a post from the author as well as a CONTEST for a free giveaway of the book, courtesy of Sourcebooks.  Ms. Altman has been most generous in sending us her thoughts on writing this sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and I append her post forthwith…  and we invite your questions and comments over the next week with Ms. Altman answering your queries!  On September 10, we will randomly draw a name from those commenting and the happy winner will receive a copy of this latest addition to the Austen legacy.  So PLEASE JOIN IN AND COMMENT!… and thank you Ms. Altman for joining us here this week! [ and for more information on the author and her book, go to the Marsha website ]


My name is Marsha Altman and I’m the author of the Pride and Prejudice sequel, The Darcys and the Bingleys

We’re currently enjoying a wave of Austen sequels, continuations, paraliterature, or whatever fancy term you want to give fan fiction. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise – Jane Austen is very much in vogue right now, and these floods generally follow a major adaptation by a year or two. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries gave way to a lot of sequels, mostly self-published around 1997-98. With the 2005 movie, it’s not surprising that we’re in 2008 and talking about sequels again. Because publishing is sometimes based on speed and convenience, much of the current stock is composed of formerly self-published books, purchased and republished by a larger company. However, with new technologies and the internet, anyone can be an author and the potentials are therefore limitless. 

That doesn’t explain away the compulsive need to read and produce this spin-off literature, just proves the timing of production. The answer to the question of “What is all this nonsense?” in response to a torrent of fan fiction about the work of one of the greatest English novelists is simple: We can’t leave it behind. The book ends, the movie credits roll, the miniseries comes out with the definitive DVD edition and companion book, and we’re not ready to let go yet. Austen’s characters are too compelling. We want to stay with them a little longer, whatever the diminished literary quality. It’s the only way to explain how Emma Tennant’s Pemberley, a book I have never met a fan of, has stayed in print for 15 years – about 12 years beyond the shelf life of good books. 

Every sequel – and for brevity, let’s call them all sequels, as no one has written a prequel, just many books from Darcy’s POV – faces the same existential challenge: How to keep Austen on her well-deserved pedestal but take the characters down without having appeared to. The result is haphazard. Loyalists merely rewrite the story from Darcy’s perspective (or occasionally someone else’s), without adding any unexpected color that might offend purists, and lifting a lot of dialogue from Pride and Prejudice. There are sequels – actual continuations – that attempt to copy Austen’s style. Dorothy Hunt’s Pemberley Shades was probably the best attempt at that, but generally these things can fall flat because our task is different. Austen wrote contemporary fiction; we’re writing historical fiction while attempting to imitate the style of the Regency period. She wrote what she knew; we’re writing what we think she may have known. And let’s face it. None of us are Jane Austen, and no one’s claiming to be. We’re just using her public domain characters because we love them.

 Then there are authors who let themselves go and tell the story they want to tell, staying relatively within the lines when it suits them and moving into fantasy when it does not. Darcy has a scandalous past, Darcy and Elizabeth solve crimes, Elizabeth has magic powers, Darcy and Elizabeth have the best sex life in the history of mankind and the author isn’t short in the details. Purists rant and rave, but that’s usually because they’ve bought the book and read it, which meant, well, they bought the book. Linda Berdoll is reviled by many, but she’s the best-selling author of all time in this genre and she knows it. She wrote the story she wanted to write and she’s not ashamed of it.

 When I started writing Jane Austen fanfic (and I’m not going to distinguish between published work and fanfic, because much of the work on shelves was originally fan fiction), I had a story I wanted to tell. When I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I thought Mr. Bingley was shortchanged. If you read the story without knowing the plot ahead of time, you think for the first hundred pages or so that the story is about the Bennet sisters trying to marry off Jane to Mr. Bingley, and things go so well you wonder why there seem to be another 300 pages left. Darcy is a sucker-punch protagonist, the one you don’t see coming until Hunsford. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Darcy isn’t the ultimate romantic hero, but Bingley has been pretty ignored in sequels and even Darcy stories, which logically should contain a lot of Bingley. Precisely, there’s often no discussion – or just a throwaway line – to how they met, and as their friendship is so crucial to Darcy’s introduction to Elizabeth, I felt there was material there I wanted to play around with. That is how “A Bit of Advice” – the first of the two stories in my book – came about. Darcy and Bingley can be as much dramatic foils as Elizabeth and Darcy, just without the romance. 

The story was put up online and some people seemed to like it, so I rode that wave of confidence and decided to set up the ultimate challenge – making Miss Bingley a sympathetic character without making her pathetic or unrealistic. With so much ink devoted to different scenarios with Georgiana, Kitty Bennet, and Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley after their marriage, I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done yet except in a few obscure fanfics. Whether I did it successfully or not is up to the reader to decide. 

What are you looking for in a sequel? What stories do you feel are left untold?

New from Sourcebooks! The Darcy’s & the Bingleys

The latest sequel from Sourcebooks by Marsha Altman is titled The Darcy’s & the Bingleys: a Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters (Sourcebooks September 2008)


Three days before their double wedding, Charles Bingley is desperate to have a word with his dear friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, seeking advice of a most delicate nature. Bingley is shocked when Darcy gives him a copy of The Kama Sutra—but it does tell him everything he needs to know.

 Eventually, of course, Jane finds this remarkable volume and in utmost secrecy shows it to her dear sister Elizabeth, who goes searching for a copy in the Pemberley library…

By turns hilarious and sweet, The Darcys & the Bingleys follows the two couples and the cast of characters surrounding them. Miss Caroline Bingley, it turns out, has such good reasons for being the way she is that the reader can’t help but hold her in charity. Delightfully, she makes a most eligible match, and in spite of Darcy’s abhorrence of being asked for advice, he and Bingley have a most enduring and adventure-prone friendship.

(quoted from Sourcebooks) 

Please join us on Tuesday September 2nd to view a guest post from the author Marsha Altman on the recent appeal and abundance of Austen sequels!  We will also be giving away a copy of her book, courtesy of Sourcebooks, to the winner of a random drawing…so please visit and post a comment or ask a question of the author to enter the drawing!