This week we were surprised to learn that a new program in New York is severely restricting the books which will be available in prisons. This new program, amazingly, has effectively banned, among other classic authors, Jane Austen’s books.
Directive 4911A, as it is known, is currently being applied to three prisons in the state, but it could soon be expanded to every facility in New York. The plan limits packages that incarcerated people in New York state prisons can receive to items purchased from six vendors (with two more expected to be added). The idea is that this will “enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities through a more controlled inmate package program.”
This in itself isn’t a problem, but the range of books on offer is shockingly limited. The first five vendors combined offered just five romance novels, 14 religious texts, 24 drawing or coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 how-to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus. (A sixth vendor has added some additional books to the list, but the full list will not be available to all prisoners.)
One group, the Books Through Bars collective, has been working to raise red flags about the directive’s unintended consequences (for more than 20 years, Books Through Bars has been sending books to people in prison in 40 states at no charge).
A spokesperson from Books Through Bars has stated the the new directive will mean “no Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human. No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. This draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people.”
We agree. Surely allowing prisoners to read Jane Austen’s books can only result in good things?
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that some marriages end in divorce. To help anyone who is currently going through such a situation, novelist Gill Hornby has compiled a list of some of the key novels to help get you through a divorce.
Included on the list were
- Naomi Wood’s captivating Mrs Hemingway; there are plenty of divorces to learn from in this book, as Ernest Hemingway liked marriage so much that he did it four times (and for each wife he also had a mistress [moral of the story: don’t marry Ernest Hemingway]).
- Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which opens with an affair that kills two marriages and throws six children into one blended family, that we then follow for years.
That moment of Anne Elliot’s departure from her beloved Kellynch Hall in Persuasion is always affecting. She stands and looks at the place that held so much pain and feeling, friendship and reconciliation. Yet she must leave it all.
We hadn’t looked at it from the perspective of divorce, but it does rather resonate.
Which are the key novels which have helped you through divorce or heartache? Have any of them been one of Austen’s books?
Are you a fan of screenwriter Andrew Davies? He was the brains behind the 1995 six-part BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, the 1996 version of Emma (with Kate Beckinsale in the lead role), the 2007 ITV production of Northanger Abbey, and the 2008 BBC production of Sense and Sensibility. He’s also written Little Dorrit (2008), Mr Selfridge (2013), and the exquisite War & Peace production which aired in 2016 (many more too, but there are far too many to mention).
Well, if you are a Davies fan, then you might be as excited as we were to learn that the upcoming Andrew Davies adaptation of Les Misérables for the BBC is finally written and due to begin filming in February in Belgium and Northern France.
This is such an intense and gut-wrenching story and I am delighted that this esteemed ensemble of actors will be bringing it to life – led by Dominic West and David Oyelowo in the iconic roles of Jean Valjean and his nemesis Javert. In Valjean, we see the terrifying anger and resentment against society but also the tenderness that is hidden deep in his complex psyche. And in Javert, the ferocious dedication to duty that takes him from obsession to madness.
Although this production will be dialogue only, without the famous songs from the musical (which has been running in the West End for more than 30 years!), it looks set to be a triumph. The cast includes:
Dominic West – Jean Valjean
David Oyelowo – Inspector Javert
Lily Collins – Fantine
Adeel Akhtar and Olivia Colman – Monsieur and Madame Thénardier
Ellie Bamber – Cosette.
Josh O’Connor – Marius
Erin Kellyman – Éponine
We get stuck in queues all the time: at the bank, at the post office, in the doctor’s waiting room… Well rather than being bored, or playing a random game on your phone, how much better would it be to discover a new author? (After all, we don’t always have one of Austen’s books to hand!)
French publisher Short Edition have created a wonderful new invention that we’d love to see installed at our local bus stations and airports. It’s called the Short Story Dispenser, and all users have to do is to press a button labeled 1, 3, or 5 (minutes of reading – depending on how long your wait might be), and they’ll have a short story or poem printed for free!
The machine takes its content from Short Edition’s website, which has more than 13 million works by 6,800 authors on it. The website includes classic literary short-form works by the likes of Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, as well as more recent authors, which is great for living writers as whenever an author’s work is printed the author gets royalties. Plus, you don’t need to worry about wasting paper as the stories are printed on “lively papyrus” which resembles a till receipt – using eco-friendly paper and no ink.
The Short Story Dispenser is available at more than 150 locations (mainly in France), but there are around 20 machines scattered across the US. Hopefully we’ll see some in the UK soon!
Fans of Austen’s books might enjoy the following.
We know many of you enjoy the Jane Austen Quiz each week. Well we thought that you might also like to know about some of the new additions which will be shortly appearing on our website.
Created by one of the lovely Jane Austen Centre guides are a series of small crosswords, which are suitable for GCSE students and foreign language students who are studying Austen’s books. As well as being fun to fill in, they’re a great way of checking if students are ready for their exam questions on Austen and know what takes place in each book.
This week we have the first in the series for you, the Pride and Prejudice crossword. Simply click on the link to open the file as an online PDF.
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