From 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 (more…)
A 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 (more…)
A 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, (more…)
A 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. Now, considering that many of you who are reading this review where not even born by (more…)
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, (more…)
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
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 Continue reading Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look
A 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 (more…)
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 (more…)
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