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Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid

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northanger-abbey-austen-project-val-mcdermid-2014-x-200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790’s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century.

Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where Cat “is in her element, seeing potential for terror and adventure around every twist and turn of the narrow streets.”

Introduced to theater, art and books, and thanks to fashionista Mrs. Allen, Cat soon acquires a new wardrobe and dancing lessons where she partners with a charming and witty young attorney, Henry Tilney. After researching Henry on Facebook and Google she discovers that his father is the much-decorated general who made his name in the Falkland’s war before she was born. Even more interesting to Cat’s Gothic infused imagination, he owns Northanger Abbey, a medieval Borders abbey in Scotland. Cat also meets Mrs. Allen’s long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three daughters, one of which is just Cat’s age. Bella, who recognizes the Morland last name, knows Cat’s elder brother Jamie who is attending Oxford with her brother Johnny. Before long they were “gossiping about the things that entertain young women of a certain age and type,” and becoming bff’s.

Blowhard Johnny Thorpe arrives in his racy red sports car with friend James Morland in tow. He attempts to court Cat but all she can think of is Henry and his sister Ellie. When Cat attends a céilidh, she anticipates dancing the Highland fling and hopes to encounter Henry Tilney again, who will surely save her from the unwanted attentions of crude Johnny Thorpe. As she and Bella scout the room they notice a beautiful, pale young woman dressed all in white:

“Who on earth was that?” Bella asked, “She acts like she’s in Pride and Prejudice.”
“That’s Henry Tilney’s sister Ellie.” Cat stared after the disappearing figure. There was something about Ellie, something out of time and out of style, like there would be if you were a two-hundred-year old vampire, she thought with a mixture of dread and delight.”

The story continues, mirroring the text of Northanger Abbey page for page, and scene for scene. Cat travels to Northanger Abbey as guest of the Tilney’s and the story turns Gothic and mysterious – just as Austen had devised.

McDermid made clever, creative and sensible choices in modernizing Northanger Abbey by moving the action from England to Scotland. The Edinburgh Festival easily replaces eighteenth century Georgian Bath allowing for a social hub similar in context: theater, shopping and country dancing. Later, we are treated to a really creepy medieval setting for a Scottish castle/Northanger Abbey. Cat is appropriately addicted to modern Gothic novels rivaling the famous Northanger Canon: Herbridean Harpies, Ghasts of Ghia and even Pride a Prejudice and Zombies! McDermid builds the vampire theme slowly, allowing Henry and Ellie to be pale in complexion, anachronistic in demeanor and just mysterious enough to trigger Cat’s imagination. Her characterizations are spot on: Henry is droll and swoon-worthy as ever, Cat a bit air-headed and impressionable, Bella a slick piece of work, and General Tilney deceptive and tyrannical.

The plot plays out as one would expect, and if you had not read Northanger Abbey before you would not notice that the author has really created a complete translation, scene for scene, and sometimes word for word—a No Fear Shakespeare version of Northanger Abbey. While I admired McDermid’s creative choices to bring the story into the modern world (cell phones, Facebook, language and culture), I was immediately puzzled by her choice of narrative style. This novel is really a retelling instead of the reimagining that it was advertised as. The downside of a translation is in its creative limitations, resulting in McDermid’s sentences being affected and unnatural. I just wanted her to break out of the stranglehold she had placed on herself and use the plot and characterization as a spring board, and not a noose. Limiting herself in this manner may have been her way of honoring Austen, but I think she has done a great disservice to her own writing. Having not read any of her acclaimed crime novels I have no idea of her real talent. I believe that Austen herself, who honed her craft so precisely, would be baffled at one author lessening their gifts at the expense of another.

Like the reaction to Joanna Trollope’s contemporary reimaging of Sense and Sensibility published last year, whenever you fiddle with the classics there are bound to be those who are open to the concept and those completely closed off. I read this novel in anticipation of enjoying it. In hindsight, I do not think that it was written for an Austen fan familiar with the original, but for the uninitiated who may view it in a completely different light.

RRP: £18.99
Grove Press (2014)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0802123015


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

This review originally appeared on Austeprose.com and is used here with permission.

Cover image courtesy of Grove Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com

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Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler – A Review

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dinner-with-mr-darcy-by-pen-vogler-2013-x-200A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

Imagine eating white soup with Mr. Darcy, roast pork with Miss Bates, or scones with Mr. Collins! Just thinking of those dishes transports me back into the scenes in Jane Austen’s novels and makes me smile. In Dinner with Mr. Darcy, food historian Pen Vogler examines Austen’s use of food in her writing, researches ancient Georgian recipes, converting them for the modern cook.

Even though Austen is not known for her descriptive writing, food is an important theme in her stories, speaking for her if you know how to listen. Every time we dine with characters, or food is mentioned, it relays an important fact that Austen wants us to note: wealth and station, poverty and charity, and of course comedy. While poor Mr. Woodhouse frets over wedding cake in Emma, Mr. Bingley offers white soup to his guests at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice, and Aunt Norris lifts the supernumerary jellies after the ball in Mansfield Park, we are offered insights into their characters and their social station.

In Austen’s letter she writes to her sister Cassandra about many domestic matters: clothes, social gatherings and food. When she mentions orange wine, apple pie and sponge cake we know it is of importance to her.

“I hope you had not a disagreeable evening with Miss Austen and her niece. You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June 1808

 

White soup
White soup

Vogler has combed Austen’s novels, letters and juvenilia pulling out dishes and researching them in contemporary cookbooks from the Georgian era. The sections are cleverly arranged: Breakfast with General Tilney; Mrs. Bennet’s Dinner to Impress; Pork and Apples: An Autumn Dinner with the Bateses; Jane’s Family Favorites; The Picnic Parade; Tea and Cake; The Ball at Netherfield; An Old-fashioned Supper for Mr. Woodhouse; Christmas with the Musgroves and Other Celebrations; Gifts, Drinks, and Preserves for Friends and the Sick at Heart. The recipes have been converted for the modern cook and look sumptuous from the numerous full-color pictures. I am dying to try Sally Lunn Cakes, a recipe from the famous bakery and tea shop in Bath, everlasting syllabub, ragout veal, Mrs. Austen’s pudding, rout cakes, white soup, flummery and many others. Several of the recipes have been adapted from Martha Lloyd’s household cookbook, Jane’s dear friend and confidante, who lived with the widowed Mrs. Austen and her daughters from 1807 until her marriage to Jane’s widowed elder brother Sir Francis Austen in 1823 at the age of 62! The bibliography in the back is also a great resource for those interested in Georgian cooking and its history.

Roast pork
Roast pork

While there are other scholarly books devoted to Georgian cooking focusing on Jane Austen such as The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Deidre Le Faye (1995) and Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane (1995), which we will be reviewing next month, Dinner with Mr. Darcy will appeal to the average cook who wants to experience what Austen and her characters ate and enjoyed, and discover why Austen’s choice of food and dining was so important to the plot development. The recipes are both simple and elaborate and the ingredients are available to most, even in the colonies! So if you are ready for your own picnic at Box Hill or supper at Pemberley, bon appetite!

Bath buns
Bath buns

Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler
Cico Books (2013)
Hardcover (160) pages
ISBN: 978-1782490562


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

This review originally appeared on Austeprose.com and is used here with permission.

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Jane-a-Day: The 5 Year Journal, by Potter Style

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jane-a-day-by-potter-style-2011A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

This charming journal completely missed my radar when it was released last November. Not surprising, really. Who would know from the title listed online that it was inspired by Jane Austen?

The actual cover is more helpful; it has a subtitle, 365 Witticisms by Jane Austen, that was unfortunately omitted in the online listings. Janeites will also recognize her silhouette in the cover design, but the uninitiated will be clueless. Honestly, Jane-a-Day could be for any famous Jane, like: Jane Eyre, Jane Marple or Calamity Jane! Regardless of this miss by publisher Potter Style, who have brought us a slew of beautiful Austen ephemera like: Jane Austen Puzzle: 500-Piece Puzzle, Jane Austen Mini Journal and Jane Austen Notecards, this is a gem that Janeites should be made aware of.

This classy new 5 year diary has a lot of pluses in its favor to make up for the title flub. Here is the publishers blurb from the back:

Let the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen guide you throughout the next five years. Each journal page features a memorable quote from the iconic author’s oeuvre that can be revisited each year. Created to help you make a time capsule of your thoughts, simply turn to today’s date and take a few moments to comment on the quote. When you finish the year, move on to the next section. As the years go by, you’ll notice how your commentary evolves.

Of course the best thing, besides the opulent binding, gold leaf on the edges and the prayer book size (how apt), is the selection of quotes. The unnamed editor who selected them from Jane Austen’s novels and letters did a superb job. Even this die-hard Janeite was pleased to discover a few that have not been featured in every Jane Austen quote book since time began. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man.” – Pride and Prejudice
  • “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” – Pride and Prejudice
  • “Women are the only correspondents to be depended on.” – Sanditon
  • “Where youth and diffidence are united, it requires uncommon steadiness of reason to resist the attraction of being called the most charming girl in the world.” – Northanger Abbey
  • “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” – Personal Correspondence
  • “His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything.” – Persuasion
  • “There are people who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.” – Emma
  • “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” – Mansfield Park

For those book lovers (like me) who would never think of defacing a book by writing in it, this journal may sit on your Jane Austen book shelf looking pretty forever. If you are a doodler and want to keep track of your annual reaction to Jane Austen’s pithy quotes and quips throughout the years, I can think of no finer way than including Austen in your life every day for the next five years!

Jane-a-Day: 5 Year Journal: With 365 Witticisms by Jane Austen
by Potter Style
Crown Publishing Group (2011)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0307951717


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

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Pride and Prejudice (1980)

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pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

I have been blogging about Jane Austen for over five years and I have reviewed many books and movies, yet I have held off writing about the one that really turned me into a Jane Austen disciple—the 1980 BBC/PBS Pride and Prejudice. When something is close to our hearts we want to keep it in a special place, so my personal impressions of Fay Weldon’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s most popular novel has remained my own. In this bicentenary year, I think it is time for me to share.

It first aired in five (55) minute episodes on the BBC in the UK in 1979, and on US television on Masterpiece Theatre between October 26 and November 23, 1980. I was a great fan of Masterpiece and period drama and remember being quite excited to watch the new series. I was not disappointed in the first episode—in fact, I was mesmerized—and watched each episode again when they aired again each week on PBS. Considering that in 1980 disco music was all the rage and Magnum P.I. and Three’s Company were the most popular television shows, you might understand why this anglophile was entranced by a series set in Regency England with beautiful costumes, country houses, sharp dialogue and swoon worthy romance. I was totally hooked and started reading the novel for the first time while the series aired.

pride-and-prejudice-1980-pbs-poster-1980-x-200Now, considering that many of you who are reading this review where not even born by 1980, you might not get the significance of the way in which our entertainment was doled out to us in the those early days. There was the television broadcast, and that was it. In fact I did not own a VCR yet, so I could not tape a video. I had to wait another 10 years before I saw the series again after purchasing a VHS tape of the series. Shocking, I know. But remember that the Internet would not be born until the mid-1990’s and the concept of streaming video—it was totally 21st century technology.

On reflection, why did I like P&P 1980 so much when it originally aired, and does it still stand up to the litmus test for P&P adaptations?

Even though the BBC had produced radio and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958 and 1967, this would be the first time that a US audience would see a television series of Jane Austen’s novel. Some of us had seen the 1940 MGM move of P&P staring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, but it was hardly faithful to the novel and was a two hour theatrical movie. Very little of Jane Austen’s original language had been used, Let’s not even begin the conversation about the changes that were made. Now for the first time we could hear Austen’s words and see the plot unfold as she imagined it—well not word for word or scene by scene—but screenwriter Fay Weldon did adhere much more faithfully to Austen intensions than had been experienced before, nor since. Here is a list of the cast and production team:

pride-and-prejudice-1980-charlotte-lucas-and-elizabeth-bennet-x-400

  • Elizabeth Bennet – Elizabeth Garvie
  • Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – David Rintoul
  • Mr. Bennet – Moray Watson
  • Mrs. Bennet – Priscilla Morgan
  • Jane Bennet – Sabina Franklyn
  • Mary Bennet – Tessa Peake-Jones
  • Kitty Bennet – Clare Higgins
  • Lydia Bennet – Natalie Ogle
  • George Wickham – Peter Settelen
  • Mr. Collins – Malcolm Rennie
  • Charlotte Lucas – Irene Richard
  • Mr. Bingley – Osmund Bullock
  • Caroline Bingley – Marsha Fitzalan
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Judy Parfitt
  • Director – Cyril Coke

pride-and-prejudice-1980-elizabeth-bennet-and-george-wickham-x-400I will spare you the rehash of the synopsis and cut to the chase. This adaptation flies freely by the strength of the screenplay and the interpretation by the director and actors. They act like Regency era ladies and gentlemen and in the manner that Jane Austen intended. Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet is perfection—as clever and impertinent as her book persona. If she has any defect it is that she is too perfect, appearing too controlled at every moment and not quite as spirited and flawed as one would expect. Her hero Mr. Darcy, portrayed by David Rintoul, is flawed, but that is his strength. He is stiff as a wooden solider and we hate him until we meet him again at Pemberley two thirds through the story. But, his portrayal is as Austen wrote the character: noble, proud, arrogant, overconfident and infuriating. His transition to a more open and engaging personality is a gradual shift which grows as his affection for Elizabeth does. His transformation from an arrogant prig to an amiable gentleman suitor for our heroine is a great character arch well worth waiting for.

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Every director wants to put their own stamp on a classic and I cannot condemn Cyril Coke for taking his chance. He does not swerve off the garden path too far. There are two moments that are his creations that are memorable for me. The first was when Darcy hands Elizabeth the “be not alarmed, Madame,” letter after the first proposal. Elizabeth and Darcy meet along a path at Rosings Park and he hands her his letter. She accepts it and takes a seat on a fallen tree and reads it. We hear David Rintoul’s beautiful velvet voice and perfect diction, as a voiceover as she reads the letter. As he walks away from her, the camera pulls back and follows him. As he gets father away we see both Elizabeth and Darcy in the frame become smaller and smaller. It is quite affective in relaying his presence and driving home the fact that as she reads his explanation of his behavior, and she has her “until this moment I never knew myself” revelation, we are left with the sinking feeling that he has walked out of her life, and now how will she get him back?

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The second great moment comes when Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are touring Pemberley. They have been told by the housekeeper that Darcy is far away in Town so they tour the estate with ease and awe. As they walk in a garden adjacent to the house, Elizabeth is admiring the facade and looks down to see Mr. Darcy’s dog appear around a corner of the building. His master soon follows and walks into the garden and is surprised to find Elizabeth at his home. They have an awkward meeting and Elizabeth and Darcy are stumbling for words and very uncomfortable. Mr. Darcy does not have a dog in the original novel, but this addition of the well-trained spaniel, as proud and contained as his master appearing as a foreshadowing to Elizabeth was brilliant.

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The secondary characters really shine in this production too. Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins is just priceless. He is tall and toady and just the perfect smarmy buffoon. Peter Settelen as George Wickham is such a handsome, charming cad that we want to love him like Elizabeth is tempted to do. There is a scene where he and Lizzy are walking in the garden and all I can concentrate on are his canary breeches! Judy Parfitt gives us an imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh that is quite younger than I had envisioned in the book, but still as imposing.

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Since the 1980 P&P aired there has been one major miniseries filmed in 1995 and a theatrical movie in 2005. Everyone has their favorite and I have this pet theory why Janeites love one version and abhor another. Everyone seems to bond with the first version that they see, so for those who love the 2005 Keira Knightley version with pigs in the Longbourn kitchen and Mr. Darcy walking across a misty morning glade to find Elizabeth in her nightgown, or the 1995 version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy taking a bath or a dip in Pemberley pond, think long and hard about what Jane Austen wrote about and what she wanted us to experience with her characters, and watch the 1980 version again.



And, what may you ask is the P&P litmus test? Why the first proposal scene of course. If the screenwriter, director, and actors can portray the misguided, passionate tension of Mr. Darcy and the cool indignance of Miss Eliza Bennet in Austen’s masterful scene as well as it unfolds in the 1980 version, then there is hope for the rest of the production.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice (1980)
BBC Worldwide (2004 re-issue)
DVD (226 minutes)
ASIN: B000244FDW


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

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An Introduction to Jane Austen Sequels

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By Laurel Ann Nattress

In the Beginning

We know that Jane amused her family with the future life of her characters from her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography Jane Austen: A Memoir (1870):

“She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people. In this traditionary way we learned that Miss Steele never succeeded in catching the Doctor; that Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher than one of her uncle Philips’ clerks, and was content to be considered a star in the society of Meriton; that the “considerable sum”’ given by Mrs. Norris to William Price was one pound; that Mr. Woodhouse survived his daughter’s marriage, and kept her and Mr. Knightley from settling at Donwell, about two years; and that the letters placed by Frank Churchill before Jane Fairfax, which she swept away unread, contained the word “pardon”. Of the good people in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion we know nothing more than what is written: for before those works were published their author had been taken away from us, and all such amusing communications had ceased for ever.”

Family Efforts:
As early as the 1850’s Jane Austen’s family attempted to complete her unfinished works. Some succeeded. Others did not.

Austen’s niece Catherine Anne Hubback (1818-1877), the daughter of her brother Frank, published The Younger Sister: A Novel (T. C. Newby) in 1850. It was based on Austen’s unfinished story The Watsons. Technically, it is the first published Austen sequel in the para-literature genre. It is classified as a completion.  In the 1860’s, another Austen niece, Anna Lefroy, was the first to attempt completing Sanditon, Austen’s last unfinished work written in 1817 when she was in failing health. Lefroy did not finish her task. Can you blame her? The shadow of her aunt must have been very imposing indeed.

New Friend and Old Fanices by Sybil Brinton (2007)

The First Sequel:
The first sequel written as an entirely new manuscript was Sybil G. Brinton’s 1913 Old Friends and New Fancies. It is a clever combination of characters from each of Austen’s six major novels worked into Brinton’s own unique plot. Brinton wrote her novel not knowing that she was starting a whole new sub-genre in fiction that would not see fruition for another eighty years. Imagine a book buyer’s surprise when they happened upon the title? It must have seemed fantastical. Interestingly, the author sensed her reader’s puzzlement and attempted to forestall reproof, offering this prefatory note in the beginning of the book, a ‘little attempt at picturing the after-adventures of some of Austen’s characters’, based upon ‘the references to them which she herself made, and which are recorded in Mr. Austen-Leigh’s “Memoir.”’ One can only look back at her adventurous spirit in amazement.  

The Next Generation – 1914-1995:
As new authors were moved to write Austen-inspired sequels, and more Austen family members took up the banner, the output remained slim but the genre was still flourished.

In the late 1920’s, one of the earlier authors to put pen to paper was another Hubback niece. Mrs. Francis Brown was Jane Austen’s great grandniece. Born Edith Charlotte Hubback (1876-1947), she was the granddaughter of Catherine Ann Hubback (daughter of Austen’s brother Frank) who wrote The Younger Sister: A Novel in 1850. Mrs. Brown would write a completion of The Watsons (Elkin Mathews & Marrot Ltd., 1928), and two original novels Margaret Dashwood, or Interference (The Bodly Head, Ltd., 1929) and Susan Price, or Resolution (Bodly Head, Ltd., 1930).

Pemberley Shades, by D. A. Boniva-Hunt (2008)The honor of the first Pride and Prejudice sequel would go to D. A. Bonavia-Hunt’s Pemberley Shades (Allan Wingate, 1949). Continuing Jane Austen’s famous story after the marriage of her hero Mr. Darcy and heroine Elizabeth Bennet, Bonavia-Hunt’s novel would be the precursor of many to come, remaining an amazingly fresh accomplishment today! Another significant contribution arrived twenty-five years later. Sanditon, by Another Lady (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975) is a continuation of Jane Austen’s last unfinished work. It includes all 12 chapters of the original manuscript of Sanditon and the author Marie Dobbs, aka Anne Telscombe’s vision of how Austen might have completed it. After thirty-five years it remains a stand-out.

Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Emma Tennant (1994)Only a few dozen more sequels were published until the mid-1990’s, when both Joan Aiken and Emma Tennant contributed the strongest impact to the genre by authoring a series of sequels: Mansfield Revisited: A Novel (Doubleday & Co., 1984); Jane Fairfax: A Novel to Complement Emma (Gollancz, 1990); and Eliza’s Daughter: Sequel to Sense and Sensibility (St. Martin’s Press, 1994) for Aiken and Pemberley: Or Pride and Prejudice Continued (St. Martin’s Press, 1993); and An Unequal Marriage: Or Pride and Prejudice Twenty Years Later (St. Martin’s Press, 1994) for Tennant. They were light amusements that puzzled Austen purists, and piqued the more adventuresome of Austen fans. The genre had evolved in numbers and readership, but it was not quite as widely known and accepted as it could be.

The Bar Sinister by Linda Berdoll (1999)The Wet Shirt Darcy Explosion – 1995-
Interest remained strong by the public but guarded by publishers who feared that the market could not support more than a few authors in the genre. And then it all changed when the BBC aired a new five-hour mini-series Pride and Prejudice in the UK in 1995. Screenwriter Andrew Davies had given Austen’s classic story a more energized and sexy interpretation, including a provocative plunge by hero Mr. Darcy into the Pemberley pond. The image of the dripping wet-shirt Darcy was now etched in popular culture, escalating Austen and actor Colin Firth in to mega-star status.

Looking back, it is no surprise that most of the sequels written after the airing of the P&P mini-series were inspired by its characters, especially the hero Mr. Darcy. Darcy’s Story from Pride and Prejudice, by Janet Aylmer (1996); The Diary of Henry Fitzwilliam Darcy, by Marjorie Fasman (1997); Desire and Duty, by Ted and Marilyn Bader (1997); The Pemberley Chronicles, by Rebecca Ann Collins (1999); Letters from Pemberley, by Jane Dawkins (1999); Bar Sinister, by Linda Berdol (1999); and Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, by Diana Birchall (2001) were some of the early offshoots. Even though it has been over fifteen years since the mini-series of Pride and Prejudice aired in 1995, the character of Mr. Darcy is without a doubt the most inspiring to fan fiction writers today. A quick search at Amazon.com brought up over 570 titles with his name it in!

Searching for Captain Wentworth Jane Odiwe (2012 )In the past two years there has been a small shift to sequels written after other novels.  Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion appears the runner up of her favorites with fans, so it seemed a logical choice of inspiration. Author Laura Hile has written a trilogy after the secondary character Elizabeth Elliott. Mercy’s Embrace: Elizabeth Elliot’s Story Book 1- So Rough a Course (2009) starts the series off brilliantly. Another recent addition is by the talented author Jane Odiwe is Searching for Captain Wentworth (2012).

Austenesque Fiction:
Jane Austen sequels, or Austenesque fiction, are now their own niche-genre in publishing. There are now hundreds of Austenesque novels inspired by our favorite author, her characters, her philosophies on life and love, and her world available today — and even more in the queue. Here at Austenprose, you will find many of them previewed, reviewed and author interviews for your edification and enjoyment.

“‘And what are you reading, Miss — ?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda‘; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.” – Northanger Abbey

 


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.


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Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

 

 

A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814

Mourning Fashion:

mourning fashion
Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.

One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in numbers at a time when mourning clothes became more affordable through mass production of cloth. With these cheaper, more readily available clothes, the custom of wearing specially made mourning outfits (as opposed to remade) began to trickle down the social ladder. The very poor, who often did not own more than one outfit, could not afford to follow these wardrobe rules. They could not even afford the dark or black caps and bonnets that were worn with these ensembles. All they could manage at most was a touch of black, such as a ribbon or armband.

One feature that characterized custom made or manufactured mourning clothes of the era were broad or deep hems of at least three inches. Women dressed in crêpe, the fabric of choice, or wore black bombazine silk, which had a matte finish as opposed to the sheen of regular silk, and converted their narrow hems into broad hems. Black was the only acceptable color in the first stage of mourning, which for widows and widowers lasted one year and one day.  After the initial mourning period was over, the griever could choose wear subdued grays, purples, lilacs, and lavenders, as well as white, which had been the color of mourning during the medieval period.  There were reports of widows choosing to wear heavy widow’s weeds for the rest of their lives, but in the early 19th century these decisions were made from choice and were not dictated by the inflexible example set by Queen Victoria.

Shiny material was unacceptable during heavy mourning, when only flat matte colors would do. Two stages of mourning – full mourning and half mourning – were already being followed, as evidenced in the fashion plates between 1800 and 1820. The subdued colors of half mourning were supposed to help a person transition to the brighter colors of regular wear, but for some, death was so common in an extended family that it might take some individuals years before they could safely abandon their mourning garb.

Women largely took on the burdens of official grieving. A man might be expected to wear a dark jacket black cravat, black or white shirt, black bordered handkerchief or armband, or a black ornament on his hat, but his life was not turned upside down like a woman’s, for he often wore black clothes as a matter of course.

 


Locket with Jane Austen’s hair (?)

Early in the mourning process, only matte black jewelry made with jet or black amber could be worn. During the second phase of mourning, the wearer was given a wider choice of jewelry to wear. Jewelry made with the beloved’s hair, such as this brooch made (purportedly) with Jane Austen’s hair, was extremely popular and had a long tradition harking back to the 1600′s. In medieval times, giving a token of one’s hair was a gesture of love or courtship.  (Willoughby took a lock of Marianne’s hair, which gave her family the impression that they were engaged.) Hair symbolized life, and was long-lasting. It is remarkable how “fresh” some of the hair samples in centuries old jewelry still seems today.


Evening Dress, Full Mourning, 1817

 

Widows and widowers followed stricter rules of mourning and for them the mourning period was the most intense and lasted the longest. Friends, acquaintances and employees mourned officially to a lesser degree, depending on their relationship to the dead person. ” The degree of the loss depends on the person, an infant had practically no value to society but adolescents were recognized more. Grandparents were not a marked loss as their usefulness had passed, the longest period is that of a spouse.” – Death.

Author Georgette Heyer, who knew the Regency Period backwards and forwards, included a passage in A Civil Contract in which the bride’s new family contemplated introducing her (Jenny) to Society after her husband’s father had recently died. It was obvious that her new mother-in-law could not introduce her, for she was still wearing the veil and observing the first stages of mourning:

[Lady Oversley] perceived the intricacies of the situation at once, and gave the matter her profound consideration. “She must be presented,” she decided. “It would have a very strange appearance if she weren’t, because one always is, you know, on the occasion of one’s marriage. And there is nothing improper in going to a Drawing-Room when in mourning, though not, I think, in colour—except lavender, perhaps. Only, who is to present her? In general, one’s mother does so, but poor Jenny has no mother, and even if she had—dear me, yes! this is a trifle awkward, because I don’t think you could ask it of your own mother. Not while she is in such deep mourning, I mean! Well, it will have to be me, though I am strongly of the opinion that if we could but hit on a member of your own family it would create a better impression.”
“My Aunt Nassington?” suggested Adam.
“Would she?”
“I think she might.”

It was traditional for the nation to mourn the death of a royal. Princess Charlotte’s death from childbirth in 1817 resulted in an elaborate funeral that rivaled the one held more recently for Princess Diana, and inspired the populace to wear black. This nation wide mourning was a precursor to the elaborate ceremonies that would be planned for Prince Albert’s funeral almost half a decade later in 1861.


Half mourning evening dress, 1819

More links on the topic:

  • Regency Mourning
  • The Art of Mourning: Miniatures

*A special thank you to Laurel Ann of Austenprose and my blog partner at Jane Austen Today for sending me most of the images for this post.

 


Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs. This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.

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The Jane Austen Guide to Life, by Lori Smith

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the jane austen guide to lifeA review by Laurel Ann Nattress

If you could be swept back in time two hundred years ago to have a cup of tea with Jane Austen, what would you ask her? Any question. No bars held. If I had the courage, I might ask her how did she become so wise in the ways of human nature and love? Or, did she intend to craft stories to entertain, or to enlighten?

Since time-travel has yet to be invented, we can only surmise how Austen would have replied. Yet, for centuries she has been speaking to readers in an intimate way without many of us realizing it. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life, author Lori Smith decodes Austen’s philosophy on life and love by combing through her novels and personal correspondence for lessons relevant for the modern woman. Is Jane Austen the relationship coach that we should all be learning from? Smith thinks so and has carefully selected key topics that we can contemplate and learn from such as: Living Your Dreams; Pursuing Passion; Marrying Well; Cherishing Family and Friends; Enduring the Hardest Things; and the final chapter Austen’s Ethos. You might say this is a self-help book applying the principals and morals that Austen used in writing her fictional characters translated into the nonfiction world. In the introduction, Smith sums it up very nicely…

“This book mines Jane’s life and her stories for the lessons she would teach us if she could. Thankfully, through her writing, she can and does speak today.” p. xi

I never feel more like Lydia Bennet than when someone recommends a self-help book to me. Remember in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins reads from Fordyce’s Sermons and she gaped in horror? I can totally relate. I deplore being preached to and am quite the skeptic. Even though I opened this book with grave trepidation, I was soon won over by the author’s knowledge of Jane Austen and her upbeat, approachable style. Each chapter is well researched offering topics and examples from the novels that modern readers can relate to. My favorite chapter was the last: Austen’s Ethos.

“As I’ve written about Austen, several themes continue to come back to me. They’ve surfaced throughout the book, but, at the risk of redundancy, may bear repeating, because in so many ways I think they capture her heart. They were lessons her heroines knew, or came to know through the course of the stories, and may in fact be the central, overarching lessons that she would want to pass on to us today. They’re also lessons that, because of two centuries that separate us from Austen, we may be less likely to take away from her light stories.” p. 197

I will leave you dangling in suspense with that tempting nugget of knowledge yet to be revealed. After reading The Jane Austen Guide to Life I understand more fully why I have been so attracted to Austen’s writing since first reading Pride and Prejudice over thirty years ago. I had the privilege of reading an early advance copy and wholeheartedly can attest that this engaging book, part biography and part self-help guide, it is all heart. Janeites will embrace its common sense and insights into their favorite author, and everyone else should buy it for their daughters and best friends.

List Price: £12.18
Globe Pequot Press (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
ISBN: 978-0762773817


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present she delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

 

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Death Comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James

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A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

I consider it more than a bit perplexing when an author begins their book with an apology. In this case, it is to author Jane Austen for using her characters. Since Death Comes to Pemberley is a sequel to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is like apologizing for snow being cold. If you are going to write a sequel to a classic of world literature, it is, what it is. Don’t apologize for it. It really puts me off my reading game from the get go.

Okay, I got that off my chest, so now on to more pleasant topics – the fact that the venerable mystery writer P. D. James has taken up her pen inspired by my, and her, favorite author and whipped up a murder mystery for me to devour is delightful. What Janeite in their right mind is not salivating at the thought of an Austen sequel written by such an acclaimed and exalted author? Just the thought of Austen and mystery in one sentence pushes me into the giddy zone. To say that my “wishes and hopes might be fixed” in anticipation is an understatement.

It is six years since the happy day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters in marriage: Jane to Charles Bingley and Elizabeth to Fitzwilliam Darcy. Both sisters and their husbands are at Pemberley, the palatial country estate of the Darcys in Derbyshire, whose grandeur is only equal to the ten thousand a year that it generates for its previously haughty master and decidedly opinionated mistress. Elizabeth has settled in as chatelaine to a large estate and mother to two young sons. Life is orderly and good at Pemberley, as long as one stays out of the haunted woodland.

Darcy’s younger, and still unmarried, sister Georgiana is also in residence being courted by two beaux: her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, and the young, ambitious, but dishy attorney, Henry Alveston. All have gathered for Lady Anne’s ball, an annual event in honor of Mr. Darcy’s deceased mother’s birthday. Many county families will be in attendance. On the eve of the grand event Mrs. Reynolds the housekeeper and the staff are busy preparing for the large formal gathering while the family dine and later meet in the music room. It is a windy, moonlit night, but Colonel Fitzwilliam takes his leave for his nightly exercise, a ride along the river. Later, many have said their goodnights and departed when Darcy is surprised by the sight of a carriage careening at full speed down the woodland road to Pemberley. The coach abruptly arrives depositing a frantic Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s unruly younger sister on the doorstep. She is hysterical, shrieking, “Wickham’s dead. Denny has shot him!”

The Wickhams had been traveling to Pemberley with friend Captain Denny by carriage. Even though Mr. Wickham would never be admitted to Pemberley because of his past indiscretion with Georgiana, Lydia, uninvited, had still planned to crash the party. Wickham and Denny had quarreled while traveling through the woodland, departed from the carriage, and gun shots heard soon after. Off into the haunted woods go the search party of Darcy, Alveston and Col. Fitzwilliam to discover a body in the woodland that Lydia is certain is her husband.

And now the glade was before them. Passing slowly, almost in awe, between two of the slender trunks, they stood as if physically rooted, speechless with horror. Before them, it stark colours a brutal contrast to the muted light, was a tableau of death. No one spoke. They moved slowly forward as one, all three holding their lanterns high; their strong beams, outshining the gentle radiance of the moon, intensified the bright red of the officer’s tunic and the ghastly blood-smeared face and mad glaring eyes turned toward them. p. 65

A murder in the haunted woodland. The investigation begins. The body is removed to Pemberley. Mr. Darcy notifies the local magistrate, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, who arrives to conduct the inquiries. Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley are all distraught by the shocking death. The staff is terrified that the curse of the Darcys continues in the haunted woodland. Lydia is hysterical. Lady Anne’s ball is canceled. The official inquest begins. Why did Colonel Fitzwilliam leave Pemberley to ride in terrible weather so late at night? What is the secret behind the Bidwell family who lives in the woodland cottage where Darcy’s great-grandfather committed suicide? Who, or what, is the shrouded figure who haunts the woodland? What is the motive for murder?

We are happily reunited with many of the characters from the beloved original novel and deposited at Pemberley, quite possibly the pinnacle of the Janeite world. Real comfort food for Austen fans. The first twenty page of the prologue recap the plot and details in Pride and Prejudice. Was this for the benefit of her mystery readers who have not read P&P? If so, the same effect could have been achieved by working it into the narrative in a more creative way. James continues building the mystery slowly by adding in elements of the haunted woodland, the curse, and the ghostly figures reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairytale. The plot ponders along with occasional bits of excitement from that evergreen drama queen, Lydia Wickham, nee Bennet, whose character she hits spot on. Another character who she develops interestingly is Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was the second son of an earl in Pride and Prejudice, and we all know that second sons must make their own way in the world. He chose the army. His life changes drastically, and his personality, when his brother dies and he becomes heir to a grand estate. He courts Georgiana, but don’t look for much romance in this novel. It is a mystery and her romantic triangle is second fiddle to the murder investigation. Darcy and Elizabeth are, well, an old married couple and not as interesting as the proud and prejudiced characters that Jane Austen presented. I missed their witty banter.

For Austen fans this will be an enjoyable, is somewhat ponderous, read if you overlook some of the annoying errors in continuity, and for mystery enthusiasts, James does spin a clever tale with a surprise ending that comes out of nowhere. Combined, the Austen and mystery elements do not play out to their potential. None-the-less, it is still an interesting read that has wrangled its way up the bestseller lists. That is an incredible achievement and great proof that the Austen brand continues to grow.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2011)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0307959850

Death comes to Pemberley is available at our online giftshop, click here to buy!


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present she delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.