We have viewed the approach of the release of Austenland with very mixed feelings. On the good side, the trailer looked like fun, and Jennifer Coolidge is usually a riot. On the other side, we read the book by Shannon Hale quite a while ago and had a hard time remembering much about it, other than we felt that for a book allegedly about an obsessed Janeite, we did not find the protagonist sympathetic or even likable. With the film coming out, that time seemed to have come to give it another try; and when an opportunity arose to see a preview of the film, it seemed even more pressing. We got through the prologue and part of the first chapter when we decided we had better stop reading until after seeing the movie.
We were hoping for better things from the movie, and were determined to go into the movie with an open mind. The cast looked pretty good, and the trailer made us smile. How bad could it be?
For those who haven’t read the book or kept up with the publicity (which is really quite extensive for a “small” film), the general plot is that the protagonist, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice–more P&P95 than the book, as far as we can tell, but at one point she volunteers that she memorized the first three chapters of the book when she was a teenager. Jane’s obsession with P&P seems to have affected her love life; she only attracts losers. Any “nice” men, we are shown, are turned off by her insistence on watching the pond scene rather than making out with them, and no doubt by the existence of a life-size Flat Darcy in her apartment. When a co-worker crudely hits on her in front of everyone, rather than report him to HR for sexual harassment, she spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, where she will have an “immersive Regency experience” and live like a Jane Austen heroine–complete with costumes, a Regency ball, and romance with one of the establishment’s hired actors. Continue reading Austenland: The Film
“I am never too busy to think of S. and S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child. . .”
Jane Austen to Cassandra, 1811
When Girlebooks decided to publish a bicentenary edition of Sense and Sensibility, they were faced with the dilemma of how to make it “different”. Sure there were fewer ebook copies on the market than hardbound, but even a cursory search on Amazon.com offers over 2,000 Sense and Sensibility listings. How could they stand out in such a crowd?
Enter the combined creative talents of Margaret C. Sullivan and Cassandra Chouinard. Sullivan, no novice to the historical world of Jane Austen (she is the author of The Jane Austen Handbook) first collaborated with Chouinard when writing There Must be Murder, a sequel to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, set in Regency Bath. Laura McDonald, founder of Girlebooks, had recently prepared There Must be Murder for ebook publication and knew that Ms. Sullivan’s meticulous research abilities and smart, fun style were a “matchless match” with Ms Chouinard’s lively illustrations—a perfect pairing for a beloved classic.
And so, as Sense and Sensibility turned 200 years old, a fresh look was taken at the book. For the first time in years, (more…)
Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.
-Sense and Sensibility
When Laura McDonald, the publisher of Girlebooks, asked me to annotate a new edition of Sense and Sensibility, I immediately said yes, because it sounded like a lot of fun. (I am all about fun when it comes to Jane Austen.) It turned out to be a much larger task than I had imagined, though even more fun than I thought.
The philosophy of this new edition was not to create a super-scholarly edition for jaded Janeites; we wanted to create a book that would be useful, fun, and attractive for 21st-century Austen fans, who were using and enjoying the book in new ways, including digitally. I thought that the approach I took to The Jane Austen Handbook–to try to (more…)
“These are done by [Elinor],” said he; “and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well.”
-Sense and Sensibility
Several years ago, Cassandra Chouinard worked with the Jane Austen Centre, to illustrate our comissioned novella, There Must be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan. Her charming illustrations brought Jane Austen (and Ms. Sullivan’s) characters to life and we were delighted when we heard that she had again illustrated an Austen novel– this time, Sense and Sensibility, for the online publisher, Girlebooks. Here, she tells us about the challenges she faced as she brought this novel to life.
Cassi, please tell us about your background in art.
I must have started drawing once I developed the manual dexterity required for holding a crayon instead of eating it because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. After many childhood years of appallingly crude and nonsensical scribblerish, I thought about becoming an artist (and not a cowgirl). In high school, I practiced painting in oils with the guidance of my art teacher, Daphne Dain, and then I explored other media while not completing a degree in Fine Arts. Mainly I’ve drawn a bunch of cartoons and portraits (more…)
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”
“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader and has no pleasure in anything else.”
-Pride and Prejudice
Laura McDonald, founder of Girlebooks, a publishing company specializing ebook versions of classic women’s literature, recently agreed to an interview regarding Girlebooks’ bicentenary edition of Sense and Sensibility. Here’s what she had to say about Austen, digital literature and of course, Girlebooks:
Laura, Tell us about your company. How did Girlebooks get started?
The idea germinated around 2005. My mom and I had been reading ebooks, mostly free ones from Project Gutenberg, on our PDAs for several years. This was before PG started offering ebooks in various formats, so we were stuck with with the plain text version of the ebooks, line breaks and all. I had formulated a method of turning these plain texts into nicely formatted ebooks, and I would share them with friends. I did this for a couple of years and in the meantime started a web development business with my husband. In early 2007 I had the idea of creating a website to share these formatted ebooks with more than just my friends. Since I read mostly classic literature by women authors, I decided to concentrate on this niche. I also decided to make (more…)
“The bracelets are in my possession, and everything I could wish them to be…”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
December 9, 1808
Elinor Dashwood, the heroine of Sense and Sensibility, is Jane Austen’s model heroine; and yet she’s not a prig or annoying about it. She is scrupulously ethical, refusing to share Lucy Steele’s secret about her engagement, though it is painful to her to not be able to confide in her mother and sister, and the secret was only shared in the first place to hurt Elinor. Elinor is also dismayed when Anne Steele shares information she overheard by listening at a closed door, though the information is useful. When the news of Lucy’s secret engagement gets out (not through Elinor’s fault, but Anne Steele’s), Edward Ferrars shows he has earned Elinor’s trust and esteem by behaving exactly as she would have: staying true to his word, though she knows he now wishes he had not given it, and that no one would blame him for backing out. Elinor is the type of person everyone wants for a friend. She will listen to your problems, give you excellent advice, and never tell another soul if that is your desire; and she has a great sense of humor and will amuse you with her set-downs of the annoying people around you!
What Would Elinor Do? In almost any situation, it is probably the right thing. Give yourself a useful self-check for any question or problem by making this fun (more…)
The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole
Otranto is the Gothic that inspired them all, establishing the common denominators of the genre: a greedy, controlling villain; a sweet, innocent heroine (or even two); a brave hero with a mysterious past; exotic medieval European locations; a castle with many secrets; and a plethora of supernatural occurrences guaranteed to keep audiences turning the pages, their hair standing on end the whole time.
The master of Castle of Otranto, Manfred, has a weakling son, Conrad, upon whom he has pinned all his hopes. He neglects his excellent wife and good daughter, and contracts a marriage for Conrad with the beautiful, rich orphan, Isabella. On the day of the marriage, Conrad is found in the courtyard of the castle crushed under a giant helmet. Could this have something to do with the mysterious ancient prophecy about Otranto, which stated that when the current family had grown too large for the position, they would fall from power? A young peasant suggests that the helmet looks like it came from a statue of Alfonso the Great, a former prince of Otranto, that stands in the village church. The helmet proves to be missing from the statue, and in his rage, Manfred accuses the peasant of using sorcery to crush Conrad with the helmet, and locks him up. (more…)
Five and twenty years after the close of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy watch their three children’s romantic adventures in this short novel. England hovers on the brink of the Victorian era, but the Darcys’ eldest son, Fitzwilliam, has distressingly profligate tastes. Henry, the younger son, about to take orders, is more satisfactory as a son, a brother and an Austenian gentleman, and Jane, the only daughter, is preparing for her first season in town. Mrs. Darcy, in a fit of dutiful amiability, invites her sister Wickham’s two daughters for a visit at Pemberley, hoping they will be companions for Jane: Bettina, the elder, takes after her mamma, but the younger, Cloe, is preternaturally wise and surprisingly mature–surprising for a daughter of Lydia Wickham, at least. Christmas approaches, and Pemberley counts as its inmates two young men and two young ladies; we shall let your imaginations take it from there.
Ms. Birchall treads similar ground to that covered by Elizabeth Aston in her recent Pride and Prejudice sequel, but on a much smaller scale. She keeps the story close to home; it takes place almost entirely at Pemberley. It is difficult to scruple at this, as one of Jane Austen’s guiding principles, by her own admission, was to write of “two or three families in a country village;” nonetheless, one (more…)