Author of Decorating a Room of One’s Own, Susan Harlan, tells us more about how the book came into being, and compares the merits of two of the most iconic depictions of the Dashwood’s new home in Sense and Sensibility – Barton Cottage. *** I have always loved literary homes and Jane Austen. The Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice chapters in Decorating a Room of One’s Own were originally part of my column “Great House Therapy” for the wonderful feminist site The Toast. I had started with Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but I knew that I wanted Austen to be a big part of the column: I would definitely write about Pemberley and Barton Cottage. And when I started to expand the column into the book, I wanted to squeeze in more Austen, if I could. I remember watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with my friends Erika, Ania, and Kristina during our sophomore year in college at Columbia, all of us sprawled out on the two twin mattresses that I had set side-by-side on my dorm room floor (I don’t know how I managed to snag the extra one). We had rented the first DVD from the video store down the street, the magnificent and now-gone Movie Place on 105th Street, and the moment we finished it, we called and ordered the next one. Like everyone, we were obsessed with Colin Firth’s swimming Darcy, so I put a reference to this moment in Decorating (more…)
Author Rachel Dodge details the inspirations and process behind her new book Praying with Jane.
“Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane”
My first introduction to Jane Austen’s prayers, over a decade ago, happened by chance. I was in graduate school, working on my master’s thesis on Pride and Prejudice, when I found them at the back of the Chapman edition of Austen’s novels (in the Minor Works volume). At the time, I thought the prayers were beautifully written and wondered why I had heard so little about them.
In Praying with Jane, Rachel Dodge has managed to present Jane Austen’s life “in a style entirely new”, taking a closer look at the heart behind the one of the most beloved authors of all time. Much of what is known of Jane’s life comes in the form of her (censored) letters and the reminiscences of family members. While these details paint a cheerful and amusing picture, that which made Jane, Jane, lies at the heart of the three existing prayers we have that she wrote for use during evening prayers. We do not know why she wrote them- whether out of an overflow of devotion or at the bequest of some family member, but the serious, heartfelt tone, when examined, adds a deeper shade to our understanding of the writer. These are no “vain repetitions”, but rather intimate, whole life lessons, summing up the core values of a woman once noted for her desire for anonymity.
In this book, Rachel Dodge closely examines each line of each prayer, in a day by day format, allowing for a 31 day devotional, to be used either in succession, or occasionally. Using Jane’s own historical background as well as Ms. Dodge’s extensive knowledge of Austen’s fictional works, the prayers are placed into context in Jane’s life, along with insightful ways to apply them to our own, often busy, lives. Each day includes related scripture as well as a call to prayer and worship as the reader seeks to apply Jane’s prayers to her own life. This breaking down works amazingly well to draw out the depth of Austen’s own writing and brings the reader a greater appreciation of Austen’s already acknowledged genius with language and the human heart.
by Patrice Sarath
One of the joys of re-reading Jane Austen’s novels is finding something new each time, bringing with it a deeper understanding of her characters and the society in which they live. Although Austen is known as a romance writer (and, I would argue, the inventor of modern romance structure), I find her illustration of family dynamics to be the most appealing aspect of her work, and the reason she has fans around the world, across time and culture. She invites us into her life and times, and we recognize ourselves and our families in her characters.
Sometimes a re-read lets me see something I’ve missed the dozens of reads before. For instance, in Pride & Prejudice, when Jane catches cold and has to stay overnight at Netherfield, I had read the book countless times before it occurred to me that this wasn’t a ‘Regency thing’. It was just as embarrassing for Jane as if it had happened to someone in the 21st century. Mrs. Bennet’s brazenness in engineering the whole thing became even worse when I looked at it from that standpoint. Can you imagine — going to a stranger’s house for tea and then having to stay overnight for days? And the doctor has to come? Poor Jane!
This is an important year for fans of Mary Shelley, it being the 200th anniversary of the publication of her most famous novel, Frankenstein. There will be plenty of books published this year which centre on the book and on the author herself, but one that’s caught our eye is Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel.
In the original novel, Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval run away to England and Scotland when the creature they have made demands that they make a mate for him. In Pride and Prometheus, Kessel has the pair meet Mary Bennet, the bookish and often slighted Bennet sister, who is portrayed in the novel as a keen amateur scientist who is fascinated by Frankenstein’s ideas. (Mr Darcy and Lizzy Bennet also make an appearance but it is fleeting).
Naturally the creature has followed Frankenstein and Clerval on their escape, and it’s not too long before the Bennet family is mixed up in the melodrama of the Frankenstein saga.
As book fusions go, this one is done exceedingly well, and has much that will delight fans of Austen and Shelley alike, especially if the tongue-in-cheek mockery of gothic novels in Northanger Abbey was something you enjoyed.
When she was nineteen, Miss Mary Bennet had believed three things that were not true. She believed that, despite her awkwardness, she might become interesting through her accomplishments. She believed that, because she paid strict attention to all she had been taught about right and wrong, she was wise in the ways of the world. And she believed that God, who took note of every moment of one’s life, would answer prayers, even foolish ones.