The Pemberley Post, No. 8 (Feb 18-24, 2019) ~ Jane Austen and More!

Welcome to my weekly round-up: from amorous footmen to Dickens’s shoddy treatment of his wife, the upstanding Mr. Knightley, and dieting with Jane; with further thoughts on the taxation of dogs, the Mona Lisa, dust jackets and Austen’s Sanditon – can one have a life without knowing all this??


A new journal to be launched in April: The Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research‘s enthusiastic PhD students have just launched a fabulous new online, Open Access peer reviewed journal called Romance, Revolution and Reform:


If you’ve been watching Victoria on Masterpiece (and you should be…), here’s a real-life tale along the lines of The Footman and the Duchess: “The Amorous Footman”:


Mrs. Dickens (image: TLS)

So, it’s common knowledge now that Dickens left his wife for another woman – Ellen Tiernan the actress (fabulous book on this by Claire Tomalin: The Invisible Woman – if you have not read this, go out and buy it right now) – but letters recently discovered and studied by Professor John Bowen reveal that Dickens tried, like so many other men who had strayed and wanted out, to have his wife Catherine declared insane and institutionalized…

  • and also this at the Smithsonian:

Harvard University [Image: University of York]

And more on Dickens (he loved decorating his home, worked from home, had no musical talent, etc…):


Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries (Image: Spitalfields Life)

Lovely images – Cries of London:


An archived Austenonly post on Mr. Knightley, Magistrate:

New book out on Jane Austen: The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness, by Bryan Kozlowski. See the Jane Austen VOGUE (of all places!) for an article on the author, the book, and Jane as a nutritionist! (lots of meat, lots of walking…)


Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa is so famous?? (I wonder about this every day…) – here’s the answer:

For you Bard-Lovers out there (and who isn’t?), how about starting a Shakespeare Book Club?


Into Dust Jackets? – here is an old essay in Publishers Weekly about a book on jackets from 1920-1970, published in 2017: (great covers here – even one by NC Wyeth):


A Cook Book we should all have, recently catalogued at the Lewis Walpole Library:

Smith, Mary, of Newcastle. The complete house-keeper, and professed cook : calculated for the greater ease and assistance of ladies, house-keepers, cooks, &c. &c. : containing upwards of seven hundred practical and approved receipts … / by Mary Smith …Newcastle: Printed by T. Slack, for the author, 1772.

You can read it all here:


Well, since we just got a dog (our 5th Springer Spaniel), I can’t resist passing this on from All Things Georgian – we all know of some of the ridiculous taxes imposed on the Georgians (think windows, candles, hair powder, and wallpaper, to name a few), but this one took forever to pass and was difficult to implement: Parliament going to the Dogs we could say:

Hayman, Francis; A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff); Norfolk Museums Service


And because we always have to end with Jane: here are the wildly anticipated first photos of the filming of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished manuscript giving little direction with the plot and nearly no info on the possible Hero – so from what we DO know, who are these people??

[Theo James here – do hope he is Sidney Parker, who I believe IS the Hero…] – your thoughts?? [image from]

Have a good week all – send me your favorite finds on the internet!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

An Austen Sighting! ~ Mr. Knightley’s Gaiters

One often finds Jane Austen popping up in the oddest places; and this one that I stumbled upon the other day points out a scene in Emma that one can so easily pass by without much notice [Austen being such an expert at this – and the reason for repeated readings!] – this time in a book on of all things, “Buttons”!

Nina Edwards new book, On the Button: The Significance of an Ordinary Item (London: Tauris, 2012), has this little gem in the introduction:

In Jane Austen’s Emma, when Emma contrives to find out if Mr. Knightley is considering Jane Austen romantically, buttons both betray his real affections to the reader and come to his aid by concealing his distress from Emma herself: (xix-xx, I have added a bit to the quoted text]

“I know how highly you think of Jane Fairfax,” said Emma. Little Henry was in her thoughts, and a mixture of alarm and delicacy made her irresolute what else to say.

“Yes,” he replied, “any body may know how highly I think of her.”

“And yet,” said Emma, beginning hastily and with an arch look, but soon stopping — it was better, however, to know the worst at once — she hurried on — “And yet, perhaps, you may hardly be aware yourself how highly it is. The extent of your admiration may take you by surprize some day or other.”

Mr. Knightley was hard at work upon the lower buttons of his thick leather gaiters, and either the exertion of getting them together, or some other cause, brought the colour into his face, as he answered,

“Oh! are you there? But you are miserably behindhand. Mr. Cole gave me a hint of it six weeks ago.”

He stopped. Emma felt her foot pressed by Mrs. Weston, and did not herself know what to think. In a moment he went on —

“That will never be, however, I can assure you. Miss Fairfax, I dare say, would not have me if I were to ask her; and I am very sure I shall never ask her.”

Emma returned her friend’s pressure with interest; and was pleased enough to exclaim,

“You are not vain, Mr. Knightley. I will say that for you.”

He seemed hardly to hear her; he was thoughtful, and in a manner which shewed him not pleased, soon afterwards said,

“So you have been settling that I should marry Jane Fairfax.”

                                                                                          (Emma, Vol. II, Ch. XV)

Here the gaiters seen to represent his morally dependable (but compared with the dashing Henry Crawford*) unexciting character; the buttons provide a refuge, the simple task of buttoning masking his emotion.


what Mr. Knightley was so busily buttoning
image: Gaiters, 1805-10, British, the

(*I think she must mean Frank Churchill here, as Mansfield Park is nowhere in sight…!)

Isn’t this a wonderful passage? – one forgets how clearly Austen has strewn clues throughout the book as to Knightley’s true affections. Significant indeed! And it harks back to the scene with Emma contriving to repair her broken boot-lace to aid Mr. Elton and Harriet in their “courtship.”

Any thoughts?

The book, by the way, for anyone who has an  interest in fashion and its cultural history, and especially the all-important button, looks quite wonderful:

What do you use every day that is small and large, worthless and beyond price? It’s easily found in the gutter, yet you may never be able to replace it. You are always losing it, but it faithfully protects you; sexy and uptight, it is knitted in to your affections or it may give you nightmares. It has led to conflict, fostered and repressed political and religious change, and epitomizes the great aesthetic movements. It’s Eurocentric, and is found all over the world.

On the Button is an inventive and unusual exploration of the cultural history of the button, illustrated with a multiplicity of buttons in black and white and color. It tells tales of a huge variety of the button’s forms and functions, its sometimes uncompromising glamour, its stronghold in fashion and literature, its place in the visual arts, its association with crime and death, and its tender call to nostalgia and the sentimental. There have been works addressed to the button collector and general cultural histories, but On the Buttonlinks the two, revealing why we are so attracted to buttons, and how they punch way above their weight.You can view it here:
c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

Book Review ~ ‘Georgina’ by Clare Darcy


Georgina, by Clare Darcy. 
NY:  Walker and Company, 1971;
NY:  Dell, 1977 [and other reprints]


The opening scene finds us in a house on Great Pulteney Street in Bath, where a rejected marriage proposal has all the Power family at odds – we quickly see that Miss Georgina Power is not going to be forced into an arranged marriage with one Mr. Smallwoods, despite his prospective title and comfortable fortune – and to avoid the inevitable resulting gossip, she is quickly shipped off to Ireland to visit her father’s cousin, the widowed Arabella Quinlevan, who has her own plans for Georgina to marry her son Brandon.  They reside at The Place of the Oaks, a fine estate, slowing running to seed since the death of the owner, Georgina’s uncle, whose daughter Nuala had recently died and the estate rather than going to the next rightful heir, our Heroine Georgina, fell to Nuala’s “odious adventurer” rake of a husband, Mr. Shannon. [phew! sufficiently confused?] 

Now Mr. Shannon has all the qualities of the Regency Rake – but he has no place in this closed Society, as he is the “natural son” of the Scottish Lord Cartan, and this, coupled with his arrogant air and lack of proper manners and a bad reputation fueled by the gossip-mongers, sets the entire cast of characters off to a rousingly bad start when Shannon returns to The Place unannounced, asserts his rights as owner and expects the Quinlevans to vacate immediately.  

He walked into the book-room with Brandon.  Her concept of arrogance was immediately strengthened by the sight of a tall figure, carried with distinction and set off to careless advantage in a well-fitting drab coat, buckskins, and top boots, and a harsh-featured face with cool grey eyes. [p. 33]

 Georgina labels him a “rag-mannered basket-scrambler” [p.36] and the sparks begin, that ever-present in a Regency Romance “crossing of swords”.  Shannon IS an arrogant, cold-hearted Hero. They both are hot-tempered, she “devilishly obstinate” and persistent, with a sharp and honest tongue, displaying all manner of improper behaviors for a Lady; he showing no emotion, no feelings, but seemingly a hardened rake who had married Nuala for her fortune. But Georgina begins to see that in his fine management of the estate, the respect the servants and tenants show him, his growing friendship with Brandon, his protectiveness of her [like all Regency Heroes, he does have a penchant for showing up exactly when the Heroine has landed in the suds!], that perhaps the neighborhood’s opinion is not so justified after all – her efforts to defend him bring on the tattle-boxes and the damage is done. 

True to this genre, the conventional escapades begin, Georgina in numerous scrapes, masquerades, marriage proposals in abundance – some for love, some for her fortune – balls, midnight runaways, the machinations of a few nasty and jealous Matrons, and like Heyer before her, Miss Darcy’s strong, silent, Hero does indeed have feelings – all conveyed in his Eyes:  “the glad incredulous welcome in his eyes” changing to “an indifferent sardonic coolness”, “the contempt she read in those eyes”, “a look of such bleak unhappiness in those grey eyes”, “those hard grey eyes, strangely softening”, etc…, otherwise we would be at a loss…!

Georgina was Clare Darcy’s first book, though I did not read it first, and I recollect that I thought it more serious than anything Heyer had certainly ever written – truth be told, it lacks that expected humor and even Darcy’s own hand at it improves in her later works.  I wonder perhaps that she was not sure where her Regency era talents would take her in this first book.  There is a certain gravity to the narrative -we have a dark Hero, a mystery in his past about his marriage and the death of his wife, rejected by a Society that seems more mean-spirited than funny, and a Heroine who fights the fortune-focused, behavior-constraining society she lives in, breaking almost every Rule in the Book to clarify what she instinctively knows about this man.  Thankfully, her young cohort Brandon, whose mother is set to have him betrothed to Georgina, is the salvation here – the bookish, Byron-like figure [with the required limp] is quite adorable and amusing, bringing much-needed levity. 

I liked this book very much – and while we again know from the first moment that the name of Mr. Shannon is introduced on the page, where it is all headed, it was great fun.  And one must like a book where the proposing Hero says: “Nay, I’m no hand at speeches!” – even Jane Austen’s Mr. Knightley would approve!

 4/5 full inkwells

Happy Birthday Miss Austen! ~ 234 never looked so good!

[Posting this a day early – enjoy and celebrate tomorrow!]

You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago:  however last nightthe time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over.  We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion.  She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy.  Your sister thank God is pure well after it, and send her love to you and my brother, not forgetting James and Philly…

[Letter from Mr. Austen to his sister Philadelphia Walter, December 17, 1775, as quoted from Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen, A Family Record, Cambridge, 2004, p.27.]


JASNA-Vermont celebrated Jane Austen’s birthday last Sunday, December 6th,  with our annual Birthday Tea, an Austen Emporium of gifts and books, and a fabulous lecture by Professor Philip Baruth [of UVM] on “’Badly Done Indeed’: in which Austen’s Mr. Knightley is Revealed to be a Whimsical and Emotional Teen Basket-Case!”

Despite the what-now-seems-inevitable-computer-glitch, Dr. Baruth regaled us all with his take on Mr. Knightley’s not quite hidden jealousy of Frank Churchill, at least not hidden to the careful reader.  As his starting point, Baruth summarized the remonstrance scenes in three of the novels, what he calls “re-reading the remonstrance,” the point at which the characters reveal something of themselves and understand both themselves and another far better, as in Elizabeth Bennet’s off-quoted phrase “Till this moment I never knew myself.”  In Pride & Prejudice, it is Elizabeth’s “had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner” that sets Darcy on the road to understanding and redemption; in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney rebukes Catherine Morland for her gothic-like thoughts of his father as murderer: “the visions of romance were over, Catherine was completely awakened…”; and in Emma, the Box Hill scene, when Knightley defends Miss Bates against Emma’s sad joke: “She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and if she lives to old age must probably sink more.  Her situation should secure your compassion.  It was badly done indeed!…” and Emma’s response:  “Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life.  She was most forcibly struck…”

Baruth’s references to these three similar “variations on a theme” are central to the reader’s understanding of what makes a “great couple” in Austen – each must have equality, and he believes that Emma and Mr. Knightley are the most equal of all the couples – they may not appear so with the usual view that Mr. Knightley is so far superior to Emma, so mature, so above her with his ongoing corrections of her behavior.  But Baruth’s main point is that Knightley is really much more immature than appears on a first reading – he is jealous, childish, manipulative, angry and not above matchmaking a bit himself [by sending Mr. Martin off to London knowing full-well that he will see Harriet at his brother’s house].  There are a number of instances where all this is clear in the text, and Dr. Baruth pointed out several of them – his final statement that “there is no avoiding the horrible conclusion that at the precise midpoint of the novel, Knightley is actually less stable than Miss Bates!”  [HIS Miss Bates is more mature, has more penetration, and is indeed the true matchmaker of the piece!] 

So this is just a brief summation of some of Baruth’s thoughts – I have to believe that at least half of that room of over 75 people went right home to begin a re-read of Emma! – all the while looking for Austen’s hidden clues that Mr. Knightley is besotted and acting accordingly through most of the book – many of Emma’s readers have oft longed for a more romantic Knightley, and indeed I think he has been there all along!

[One funny aside of the “it was badly done indeed” quote from the book – Dr. Baruth pointed out that for some reason known only to the Hollywood crowd that this line in the movies has often been edited to “badly done, badly done indeed!”, which he thinks sounds more like what you might say to your dog after discovering a mess on the carpet!]

Anyway, lots of food for thought , especially the redemption of Miss Bates from a ridiculous chatter-box to town prophet – re-read your Emma and see what YOU find!

So now on to celebrating Jane’s 234th birthday, today, December 16, 2009.  One of the ideas I stole from the JASNA-New York Region was the composing of a birthday greeting to Jane from one of her characters, so I asked members to fire up their creative 18th-century imaginations and write a note to Jane.  Here is what we read to the crowd at the tea, all heartily received with wide laughter and applause [we also read the New York letters from their tea last year – these are on their chapter website here – scroll down to the end of the Spring 2009 newsletter for the letters.]

Birthday Greetings to Jane Austen on her 234th Birthday ~
From her devoted servants, December 6, 2009



 Dear Jane (if I may be so bold), 

Certainly those of us in the first ranks of society must take pains to do all that is right and proper, and with that in mind I am sending my very best wishes on the anniversary of your birth.  

To further celebrate the event, I would like to invite you to tea with myself and my caro sposo; it is to be a small affair, you know, with just the usual gathering of personages of good birth and breeding. I would gladly entertain you with various affecting piano pieces, which I used to play beautifully (just ask my caro sposo), but find that I am just so out of practice since becoming a married woman that no doubt you (being yet unspoken for, and so with vastly more time on your hands) would perform them far more admirably. Which puts me in mind of a jolly idea: would you like to play for us when you come? Say you will; it will be the talk of our society for ever! How clever I feel for having thought of it!

 I look forward to the honor of your acceptance of my gracious invitation. 

Yours most sincerely,
Mrs. (Augusta) Elton   

[a.k.a. Janeite Donna]


Ah, Ms. Barnum, So, very obliging of you.  Well, this is a brilliant tea party.  Oh, I declare, there’s Miss Austen,  Ah, Miss Austen, happy birthday, to be sure.  Did you ever see any thing?  Oh, look, there’s dear Ms. MacDonald.  I hope you are quite well.  So, obliged to you for the ride.  Most comfortable sedan.  Excellent time.  Never were such neighbours.  Dear Mr. Guerlain, upon my word, sir, this meeting quite in fairy-land.  Such a host of friends.  And Ms Hefferon, and Mrs. Bertolini.  How do you do?  Ah, Miss Austen’s birthday, must not forget.  Quite wonderful how she does her hair!  No hairdresser could.  Ah! Ms. Barnum, is it time for tea?

 Miss Bates babbling at the Tea
[from Janeite Marcia]


Be not alarmed, Madam, at receiving this letter, celebrating your natal day. I write without any intention of invading your privacy. However, my dearest wife has brought to my attention that without your most generous interference, she and I might never have met, might never have misunderstood and then understood each other, might never have fallen in love, and certainly might never have married. In this last point, I must disagree with my excellent wife, for once you had created Elizabeth Bennet and placed her before me, nothing (except perhaps my pride) could have kept me from loving and marrying my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. My wife now reminds me that I digress from the aim of my missive, which is to offer you our sincerest congratulations on this your 234th birthday.  You have forever blessed the Darcy family.  Not only have you left us with your six major novels, Lady Susan, two unfinished manuscripts, your Juvenilia, and many letters, but your work has spawned hundreds (perhaps thousands) of scholarly works, fan fictions, weblogs, and twitter comments. Although to say the truth, I’m not sure I approve of the inclusion of zombies and vampires. Nonetheless, I shall endeavor to find some opportunity to convey this message to you at the Jane Austen Society of North America in Vermont Birthday Tea on a date prior to your natal day in December.

I will only add, God bless you and Janeites Deb and Kelly, as well.

Your most grateful servants,
Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy

p.s. My brother and dear friend Bingley continues to torment me about my tendency to search for words of “more than three syllables.”  Could you perhaps alter the aspect of his character that compels him to tease me? As you well know, I receive sufficient teasing from my dear wife.

[Dictated to Janeite MaryEllen, December 3, 2009.]


Dear Miss Austen:  Yes, i know you have a sister, but am not sure which of you is the elder; therefore, you could be Miss Jane. Forgive me, if i have erred.  The fire needs replenishing.  I can’t tell you the satisfaction and pleasure that your unmarried state has given me.  First, my other daughter, now wallowing in young children and vapors; next, poor Emma’s governess (and to a neighbor and one i thought of as friend!), and now and , most importantly, my poor Emma herself. Forgive me, but my former friend and neighbor, Knightley, who dandled the infant Emma on his knee, has finally , after all these years, persuaded her to join him in the hateful condition of marriage.  The final and worst betrayal.   Again, dear Miss. A., why couldn’t they all follow your good example of productive spinsterhood?  There would be room by my fire.    

Yours faithfully,    Mr. Woodhouse   

[a.k.a. Janeite Ann]


My Dearest Jane,

 Oh! My heart is all a flutter that today is your birthday! – just think, you can celebrate with us and the four and twenty families I have invited for tea. I am so glad that Mr. Bennet took it upon himself to visit you … it is not often that he leaves his library. 

We are hoping that our new neighbor, Mr. Bingley [who has I hear 5000 pounds a year!] will come, and hopefully NOT bring his odious sisters [oh dear, that Mr. Hurst will surely get drunk and perhaps propose a duel with my Mr. Bennet!],  and certainly NOT bring that supposed friend of his, Mr. Darcy, who should really have stayed in Town! – even his 10,000 pounds a year cannot make me wish him for one of my daughters  [why ever dear Miss Austen did you make him so insufferably proud – it is after all hard to ignore that 10,000 pounds, not to mention his elegant looks – you must know how this Colin Firth has put your infamous “Mr. Darcy” into the heart of EVERY breathing female, and an icon with whom all the males in the land cannot possibly compete – whoever was the model for this fellow, we would all very much like to know, I can tell you that…]  Anyway, all is likely lost and Mr. Bingley will not come to tea, as Mr. Bennet has yet to make his acquaintance – he has perhaps used his time unwisely by visiting with you instead… 

But, oh, my nerves! [you did, Miss Austen, certainly saddle me with an abundance of the vapors!] – Mary is practicing the pianoforte just for your pleasure [but more importantly she will want to take you aside to discuss the finer points of one of Mr. Fordyce’s sermons that she is forever grappling with], and shopping-crazed Lydia has just bounded in with the most hideous bonnet imaginable; and to finish me off, Hill is calling – there is, it seems, a PIG in the parlor…. Oh my poor, poor nerves! 

Mrs. Bennet 

Oh, P.S. Happy Birthday…

 [a.k.a. Janeite Deb]


So we wish Jane a most Happy Birthday today!

Two questions:

  • Did you know that this is also the day that Charles Musgrove married Mary Eliot?  I wonder why Austen chose her own birthday for this? – any ideas??
  • And why of all the Austen children [James, George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Francis, Jane and Charles] is Jane the only one with no middle name?

[birthday cake image from Sweet Pea Bakery in Bozeman Montana]

[Posted by Deb]

Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea! ~ December 6, 2009

If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad….  

 [Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey] 

You are cordially invited to 
  JASNA-Vermont’s  Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea !! 

 Sunday, 6 December 2009: 2-5 pm 


Prof. Philip Baruth * (University of Vermont)
“Badly Done Indeed: In Which Austen’s Mr. Knightley is Revealed to be a Whimsical and Emotional Teen Basket-Case”


~ Classical Harpist Rebecca Kauffman **~

 ~ English Afternoon Tea ~
~ Gift Emporium with Local Artisan Crafts & Austen related Books ~

Place: Champlain College, Hauke Family Campus Center (375 Maple St.), Burlington 
$15./ person / $5. / student
Please register by sending in the JASNA December 2009 dec tea reserve form or leave a comment below 

JASNA December 2009 flyer 

Philip Baruth is a Professor of English at the University of Vermont specializing in eighteenth-century British literature.  He is also a novelist and an award-winning commentator for Vermont Public Radio.  His most recent novel, The Brothers Boswell (Soho, 2009), is a literary thriller set in eighteenth-century London.  It follows James Boswell and Samuel Johnson as they are stalked about the city by Boswell’s jealous and mad younger brother, John.  And just recently, Philip stopped writing commentary in order to run for the State Senate from Chittenden County.  His campaign website is; his blog is Vermont Daily Briefing.

**We are honored to have Rebecca Kauffman join us for this year’s Tea! She is currently principal harpist for the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, Harrisburg, PA, a position she has held for 29 years. She is also the second harpist with the Reading Symphony Orchestra, Reading, PA, and the former principal harpist with the Lancaster and York Symphony Orchestras, both in Pennsylvania. Rebecca has appeared as the featured soloist on numerous occasions with the Harrisburg and York Symphonies, the Millersville University-Community Orchestra, the Hershey Symphony, the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra in Ithaca, NY, and the Lancaster Chamber Ensemble. She has also performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Kennett Square Orchestra, Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Binghamton NY Philharmonic. She has appeared in concert with a wide variety of concert artists.   For more information, please visit her website at


Please Join Us!

[Posted by Deb]

Last Chance! ‘The Importance of Being Emma’ ~ Book Giveaway

Reminder to all:  the deadline for posting comments and / or queries to author Juliet Archer to win a free copy of The Importance of Being Emma is midnight Friday September 25! 

book cover importance of being emma

Posts to comment on:

Just a comment or a query and you will be entered in the drawing.  The book will be sent to you directly from the publisher Choc-Lit.

Thanks to all who have participated, and a hearty thank you to Juliet Archer for her very thoughtful responses!

[Posted by Deb]

Book Review ~ ‘The Importance of Being Emma’

book cover the-importance-of-being-emma



“You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister!  no, indeed.”

[Emma, vol. III, ch. II, Chapman, p.331  ]







Juliet Archer in her Author’s  Note to The Importance of Being Emma, quotes this passage as the inspiration for her rollicking take on Jane Austen’s Emma.  If you like imagining your Knightley as a to-die-for, sex-obsessed hero, or in the words of Emma at fourteen, “Mark Knightley:  twenty-five, tall, dark, and handsome, and known among my older sister’s crowd as the Sex God” [p. 1] – then this book is a must-read, a perfect end of summer “choc-lit”* confection.

Emma Woodhouse, rich, lovely and clever, is back home at twenty-three, fully armed with an MBA from Harvard, to take on the role of Marketing Director at Highbury Foods, the family business, a “supplier of non-perishable delicacies to upmarket homes and hotels.”  She is young and naive, and who should appear but Mark Knightley,** home from India temporarily to help with HIS family business, Donwell Organics, and the perfect “mentor” to guide Emma in the realities of the business world.  They have not seen each other for years, and Emma is still smarting at Knightley’s discovery of her teenage crush – she is determined to keep her distance and not fall prey to the Knightley charm.

Knightley on the other hand is stunned to find his “Mouse” as he calls her with “long legs silhouetted against the window, lines and curves in perfect proportion.  Short beige skirt stretched taut across more curves – nicely rounded, a pert promise of pleasure.  Matching jacket with side vents, no doubt designed to draw the male eye to the symmetry below” [p. 10] – then promptly criticizes her for overuse of make-up and the plot is set for 398 pages of misunderstandings, concealed emotions, and an inordinate amount of sexual tension.  This is Emma in the 21st century, as the series is aptly named, and for those of you eternally frustrated by Austen’s not giving her readers nearly enough of the inner-musings of her heroes – indeed the Darcy in the 1995 P&P is so gripping because for the first time we are privy to his emotional state – and who of you has not yearned for much more to YOUR imagined Knightley – a more ardent lover, a fully-expressed proposal scene…?  Well, it’s ALL here folks! – Knightley it seems is wholly driven by sex, and everyone is happy to oblige – except of course Emma, who really has her heart set on the yet-to-be-met Flynn Churchill.

Told in a first-person narrative, with alternating Emma / Mark chapters, we see the same events from their individual perspectives.  This approach increases the intensity of the action, allows for much humor, and of course puts the mind of the hero front and center.  Knightley, as I’ve always believed Austen portrays him, subtle though it be, is really an emotional mess – here he is confused by his feelings for Emma, no longer brotherly, his every sighting of her expressed in such strong sexual terms – all making for one awkward encounter after another.  No spoilers here, just suffice it to say that Ms. Archer creates a few fairly explicit sex scenes…nicely done I might add…

And thankfully, all the usual suspects are present – Henry Woodhouse, head of the business and a chronic hypochondriac; Philip Elton, CFO [yikes!] with his “Gusty” ever obnoxious; Harriet, a bit of a dim but lovely bulb with a bizarre fashion sense as a personal assistant; Rob Martin in trade of course; John and Izzy Knightley; George Knightley, the father, still alive and running Donwell Organics, but off traveling the world with his young and demanding selfish wife; The Westons; Jane Fairfax, beautiful and aloof and the source of much of Emma’s jealousy; Mary “Batty” Bates endlessly chatting away; Flynn Churchill, a chef of all things! but still two-faced and a tad sleazy; a few other characters thrown in to round out the modern picture [hint:  Knightley has a girlfriend]; and Emma, still “clueless” to all the relationship mix-ups around her and still thinking SHE is pulling all the strings. 

One knows of course how the book ends – it was after all written nearly 200 years ago! – so it must be Archer’s endearing re-creation of the story and characters with a super-modern spin that keeps one turning the pages – Austen purists may blanch at seeing their Knightley sex-crazed and at times cruel [“it was badly done indeed!” turns into two pages of a blistering, swear-filled argument], but the heart of the story is still here, and it is an enjoyable romp to search for Archer’s re-imagining the many side stories into a modern-day England – seeing the hero and heroine come to terms with their conflicting emotions, their many tense and often humorous misreads of each other, [and do I dare mention quite a hot Knightley!] to make this indeed a great fun read – you just need to suspend your Regency sensibilities before entering!


 * Choc-Lit – “Where heroes are like chocolate – irresistible!”  The Importance of Being Emma is the first in the series by Juliet Archer, “Jane Austen in the 21st Century”.  Her take on Persuasion is up next [click here for an excerpt of Persuade Me].  See the Choc-Lit website and the author’s website at for more information and other related links.

**Ms. Archer has changed several names: Mr. Knightley is now “Mark”, as father George is still in the picture; Flynn Churchill sounds a bit more modern, etc.  She discusses this in a posted comment on Austenblog [see comment #12].  For this reader, the name “Mark” brought to mind the actor Mark Strong who played Knightley in the Kate Beckinsdale “Emma”… [Strong does indeed get better with age, and this film adaptation of “Emma” has grown on me more and more after a number of re-viewings…]

4 out of 5 Full Inkwells

The Importance of Being Emma
by Juliet Archer
Harpenden, UK:  Choc-Lit, 2008
ISBN:  978-1-906931-20-9

Posted By Deb

Better Late than Never – Part II: Fashion in Jane Austen’s World

Please see Kelly’s post below this for Part I – we have both been swamped these past two weeks and FINALLY getting to our respective posts on Hope Greenberg’s fabulous talk on fashion at our June 7th  JASNA-Vermont gathering …  with the beautiful backdrop of the Chapel at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a capacity crowd …

First I append a guest post from our own Janeite Marcia: 

Fashionable Sunday in Montpelier

 Hope Greenberg’s presentation on Sunday June 7, 2009 provided much, much more than I imagined.  Who knew fashion was so complex? 

 For me, the most fascinating part was learning about how Austen used references to clothing and fashion to develop her characters.  While reading Sense and Sensibility, it was clear that Lucy Steele’s manners were lacking, her behavior even tacky.  Hope used the scene where Lucy inquires of Marianne regarding her clothing, and even her clothing allowance, to illustrate how Lucy is revealed as crass and ill-mannered. 

As Hope Greenberg described, in addition to Lucy’s inquires of Marianne, from Wickham’s (Pride and Prejudice) only needing regimentals, to Mrs. Allen (Northanger Abbey) talking of little but clothing, we are treated to exquisite development of many of the Austen characters by these brief, but powerful, references to wardrobe, clothing, and fashion.  We all accept that Lucy is uncultured, Wickham is without depth of character, and Mrs. Allen is a mere silly airhead.  These are the perfect, subtle, understated Jane Austen descriptions which leave the reader with no doubt of the author’s meaning, while wondering where the impression came from.  

While there are few enough references in the Austen novels regarding fashion and clothing, each of those mentioned by Hope Greenberg is amazingly revealing and powerful.  Thanks to Hope, those of us who attended on Sunday will be more aware of such references and techniques as we reread Austen and will certainly be able to better appreciate the genius of Jane Austen. 

It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Thank you to JASNA-Vermont!


fashion plate walking dress

Thank you Marcia for your thoughts!   We were most fortunate to have Hope spend a few hours with us – as a Humanities Computing Specialist at the University of Vermont, Hope has combined her love of history and 19th-century material and literary culture with her love of historic clothing and English Country Dance – she offered us a visual feast [with a new Macintosh program that presented all the fashion illustrations in the mode of flipping the pages of a book!] taking us through the process of dressing a lady of fashion from her linen shifts, corsets, petticoats, dresses, pelisses /spencers, to her shawls, hats and muffs, reticules, and other accessories; and dressing the man of fashion with his shirts, breaches / trousers, weskits, cravats, jackets and the glorious greatcoat – all this shown in the various fabrics and textiles of the time, with Hope’s actual dresses, fashion illustrations, and photographs from the trove of 18th and 19th century clothing in the UVM Fleming Museum.  Hope ended her talk with a quick run through the various changes in fashion over the short period from the late 1780s to the 1820s – the French influence; the military influence; the return to the classical Egyptian and Grecian styles; the waist going up; the waist going down; the petticoat as an undergarment to the petticoat as part of the main dress; Beau Brummel’s affect on male fashion; the central role of the fashion magazines – all this in a short 2-hour whirlwind of muslin, linen and silk!  [alas!  we did go over a bit!]

And as Marcia mentions above – I too learned much from Hope’s references to Austen’s use of clothing details [or lack thereof] to delineate character – Willoughby’s shooting jacket; Nancy Steele’s obsession with her appearance; the lack of description of Bingley and Darcy, yet the emphasis on Wickham’s “regimentals”; Mrs. Bennet’s ridiculous concerns with wedding clothes and carriages; Lydia’s silliness about her bonnet; Mrs. Elton in Emma [no more need be said!]; Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey – and only Henry Tilney [dear Henry!] being “forgiven” for his extensive clothing musings!

So we heartily thank Hope for sharing her expertise with us – we are all alot wiser about Regency fashion and more attuned to Austen’s brilliant commentary.


Ditto Kelly’s thanks for a gracious afternoon in Montreal, a la Donwell Abbey and strawberry picking; hearing a fascinating preview of Jan Fergus’s upcoming AGM talk on “Tensions between Brothers and Sisters in Austen’s Novels”; and sharing a delicious tea with other JASNA-Montreal members [my daughter joined me for this trek to Montreal – and she loved all the Austen chatter – it is my daughter after all who got me re-reading Austen when she was studying Emma in college nearly 20 years ago – she called me up to say she seemed to be the only one in the class who thought Emma was FUNNY – I knew then and there we had raised her right!]  Anyway, I digress – a huge thank you to Elaine Bander for a wonderful afternoon!


And a little counterpoint to my blogging partner and cohort in JASNA-Vermont – who ever said that Knightley was a “namby-pamby”??  – I always viewed him as a very strong character – so we need to have a lively discussion about this!  And of course lots to discuss about Mr. Collins – I agree that the 1995 makes him out to be SUCH a dolt [and the Lost in Austen character is just too CREEPY!] – the Elizabeth Garvie P&P rendition is much truer to the book [the music alone captures his essence] – but think we need to go back to the novel to see what Austen really says about him – and she makes no bones about making him out to be quite ridiculous.  Kelly, we should have a session JUST on Mr. Collins – I think we could get a rousing discussion going! [there is also a book just on him by the way, titled “Mr. Collins Considered” – a great place to start, as well as the Irene Collins [no relation!] book on Austen and the clergy…]

mr collins brock illus

[illustration from]

Posted by Deb

A few tidbits…

Lady Helga at the Jane Austen Podnovel has announced that each week shall be dedicated to one of Austen’s “golden couples” with new videos posted everyday.  She starts with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy…

And speaking of Mr. Darcy, the blog on Colin Firth has returned … see Colin Firth – An Appreciation Redux.

And Laurel Ann at Austenprose wants to know which of the film adaptations has captured best the Mr. Darcy of YOUR imagination (as Dear Jane leaves it up to each of her readers to decide!)  See her post and vote!

But enough of Mr. Darcy …. who do YOU see as the next Mr. Knightley?  Mags at Austenblog is rooting for Richard Armitage (and all the comments seem to concur!)…and I must indeed follow suit- I believe he was born for the role!




Which leads me to the PBS schedule for the upcoming Masterpiece Classics…a perfect winter adventure! and Dickens wins by a long shot!  [please note that this is the full schedule from PBS; check your local listings for times] 

  • January 4 and 11th: Tess of the D’Urbervilles [Thomas Hardy]
  • January 18 and 25th: Wuthering Heights [Emily Bronte]
  • Feb 1 and 8th: Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen] – repeat from last season
  • February 15 and 22nd: Oliver Twist [Charles Dickens]
  • March 15 and 22nd: David Copperfield [Charles Dickens]
  • March 29 to April 26: Little Dorrit [Charles Dickens] ~ with Matthew MacFadyen!
  • May 3: The Old Curiosity Shop [Charles Dickens]
  • May 10:  Persuasion [Jane Austen] – repeat from last season
  • May 17:  My Boy Jack [about Kipling]- repeat from last season



Makes one ALMOST look forward to winter!