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The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

George Austin

A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed by Martin J. Cawthorne

George Austin

 

Jane Austen’s father, George Austen has many connections to the city of Bath.

On the 26th April 1764 he married, by special licence, Cassandra Leigh in St Swithin’s, Walcot.  The Austen family were regular visitors to Bath and in December 1800, after 35 years ministering in Steventon, George Austen announced his retirement and moved to Bath, where he spent his final years.  He died in the city on the 21st January 1805 and is buried at St Swithin’s Church where a memorial to him has been erected.

Jane Austen lived at home with her parents all her life and the Rev George Austen played a significant part in her life.  Apart from a brief period at boarding school, Jane was largely educated at home; George also provided writing equipment for her to develop her literary talent.  The Rev Austen features in Jane’s correspondence and as a result much is known about his adult life. Very little, however, has been written about George Austen’s early life, before he met and married Cassandra Leigh.  It is known that he was orphaned at the age of six before going to school in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent, from where he won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford.  However, very little has been written about these formative early years of his life – until now.

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An Interview With Helena Kelly, Author of Jane Austen the Secret Radical

Jane Austen the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

An Interview With Helena Kelly, Author of Jane Austen the Secret Radical

Helena Kelly’s book, Jane Austen the Secret Radical,  began an interesting debate around the beloved Regency author when it was released in November 2016.  Kelly’s book explored Jane Austen as a radical, spirited and politically engaged writer, and this was a shock for
those people who’d only thought of Jane as a tranquil, smiling woman who spent her time penning purely romantic novels.

After receiving a review copy of this brilliant work, and after reading its original analysis, Jane Austen blogger Maria Grazia ended up with a few questions she wanted to ask Helena Kelly. So she wrote them down and was graciously granted the answers. Here’s the interview that resulted.

***

Hello Helena and welcome to our online Jane Austen book club! My first question is … I’ve always thought Jane Austen was rather revolutionary, but now you’ve taken a step ahead of me: a radical? 

Hello, and thank you for inviting me! The title Jane Austen the Secret Radical isn’t actually mine, but it is a good choice for the book. I don’t know that Austen wanted to overturn things, but she did want to dig down and examine them, to show people New Jane Austen portraithow they actually worked, and that’s what radicalism is about, isn’t it, getting down to the ‘radix’, the root of things.

I totally agree with you, of course. But when and how exactly did you come to realize her novels are not simply grand houses, balls and dashing heroes? 

Much as I loved – and still love – the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, I was soon introduced to a very different side of Austen. We studied Mansfield Park for A-Level; a novel which has a very un-dashing hero, only one ball, and a heroine who doesn’t end up in the big house. I really struggled with Mansfield Park and I suppose I’ve been trying to bring those two very different sides of Austen into some kind of balance ever since! 

This is more a request for confirmation, then a real question. Something I want to discuss with you. I find that Jane Austen’s  stubborn wish to write and publish novels is her first political statement and her most revolutionary act as a woman living in that time and that place.  Then came her refusal to marry.  Weren’t those truly revolutionary acts?

Certainly Austen was stubborn about her writing; hugely stubborn. She had to endure a lot of disappointments – as you probably know, Susan (almost certainly Northanger Abbey) was accepted by a publisher in 1803 but didn’t appear. She wrote to the publishers in 1809, trying to persuade them to publish the novel and her letter is shockingly forceful and really quite aggressive. Jane Austen the Secret Radical begins with her writing that letter. But she was less of a maverick than people often think; she grew up reading quite a number of successful women novelists, several of whom published under their own names. Novel-writing was a reasonably acceptable occupation for women, though (like most female occupations) not highly-valued.

With regards to marriage, there’s not any real evidence for the one-night engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither; the ‘proof’ seems to have been pieced together by a niece who wasn’t even born at the time of the engagement. So it’s possible no one ever proposed to Austen at all! 

Would she have married if the right man had come along? Maybe. But she’d seen enough of the dangers of marriage and the demands of endless child-bearing to have made her cautious. 

Among the several serious subjects Austen dealt with in her major novels – feminism, slavery, abuse, poverty, power – which is the most revolutionary and dangerous of all in your opinion?

In Mansfield Park Austen doesn’t just confront the subject of slavery, but of the Church of England’s active involvement in slavery. To take the Church to task like this really was incendiary, and it’s no coincidence, I think, that Mansfield Park is the only one of her novels which wasn’t reviewed on publication. In fact, there seems to have been something of a conspiracy of silence about it.

Which is  her most revolutionary novel?  What about her most radical heroine, instead?

As above, Mansfield Park – it’s profoundly anti-establishment. The heroine Fanny Price, though, embraces Mansfield Park and everything it stands for. I think the most radical heroine is probably Elizabeth Bennet – she who loves to question, to debate, to laugh at power and challenge authority to justify itself.

I know you teach Austen to hundreds of people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. What about one or two  tips to poor me attempting to teach Austen – among other classics – to the most difficult audience one can expect, I mean teenagers and mostly boys? 

My students have been overwhelmingly female and I think even men who do enjoy Austen tend not to come to her until Wentworthsthey’re older. So many people already ‘know’ what they’re going to find in the novels (grand houses, balls, and dashing heroes, as you say above). I’m always a bit hesitant about telling other people how to teach, but since you’ve asked for advice, I reckon start them off with Persuasion, if at all possible – it has some really manly men in it, with all those naval officers and there’s a great adaptation of it starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds which really foregrounds the war. Go for the bits that aren’t at all romantic and work backwards from there. The popular image does get in the way of the text.

May I ask  you what you think of the great deal of  Jane Austen fan fiction and film adaptations of the recent years? Do they contribute to the popularity of her work or do they contribute to their misinterpretation? 

Both! I’m really torn on this question, to be honest.

As I said above, the popular picture of Austen does conceal the text. But many of adaptations and the continuations and sequels and so on are really fun and they make Austen accessible; those aren’t bad things. I’ve just finished reading a book called Lydia by Natasha Farrant which I very much enjoyed and which I think would be a great ‘gateway’ book into the original novels. And then, look at something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – it’s absurd but at the same time anyone reading it has read a good three-quarters of Austen’s novel. Plus, of course, it makes explicit the sense of external menace in the book, though Austen’s characters are bothered about the French, not the zombie hordes!

But, yes, I suppose I’d like to see less romance, and more of the grittier adaptations, like the 1999 Mansfield Park, directed by Patricia Rozema. The Jane Austen conjured up by the adaptions, etc. doesn’t bear all that much resemblance to the authoress of the novels!

So, in conclusion, why did you feel the need to write your “ Jane Austen The Secret Radical”? 

As your readers will know, the Bank of England is about to introduce a new £10 note next year, with Jane Austen on. Except it’s not really Jane Austen. It’s an idealized portrait that was commissioned fifty years after she died, and in the background is a picture of a big house which Austen never actually lived in. It’s such a reductive image of who she was and what her novels are doing that I thought it was time for a corrective!     

 

 

Helena Kelly holds degrees in Classics and English from Oxford and King’s College London. She teaches Austen at an Oxford summer school, and for a programme for American visiting students in Bath. She has taught Austen to hundreds of people, of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Jane Austen The Secret Radical is her first book.

***

This interview was first published online on Maria’s My Jane Austen Book Club blog, and reproduced here with her kind permission.

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Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney

Visuality in the novels of austen

Jessica A. Volz’s latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), examines how four famed women novelists publishing their oeuvres in Britain between 1778 and 1815 used visuality – the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – to achieve a degree of rhetorical freedom in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language.

In contexts dominated by inexpressibility, penetrating gazes and the perpetual threat of misinterpretation, Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney used references to the visible and the invisible to comment on emotions, socio-economic conditions and patriarchal abuses. This title offers new insights into the evolution of strategic/diplomatic communications and women’s rights during a period shaped by revolutions, empires in transition, the Enlightenment and changing attitudes towards freedom of expression. Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, contributed the foreword. The cover features a painting by Mary Moser, one of the Royal Academy’s two founding female members.

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Writing In Tough Times: Jane Austen in Bath and Southhampton

Jane Austen Writers' Club

Exclusive content by Rebecca Smith, author of The Jane Austen Writers’ Club

Rebecca Smith

One of the hardest things about writing is just keeping going.

Lots of people can write well, but to finish a novel, receive rejections, keep on editing and revising and then do it all over again takes real stamina. Most published authors’ first novels aren’t their first novels at all. Lots of creative young people want to write but give up in their twenties or thirties when early success eludes them and life takes over. Jane Austen could easily have given up, and at first glance it could seem that for a while she did. It’s easy to think that Jane Austen didn’t write much during her years in Bath and Southampton.

We know from Jane’s letters and family recollections that she was at first horrified about the move to Bath but then became resigned and even looked forward to being in the city and spending summers at the seaside:

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Our Books of the Year 2016

Books of the Year 2016

It’s been an extremely varied 12 months here at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as far as reading matter goes…

colouring1-600x600Our biggest sellers have been the Jane Austen Classic Colouring Book and the Pride and Prejudice Colouring Classic. Whether young or old, it’s hard to resist getting out the pencils, paints or crayons to add a splash of colour to these enchanting illustrations. Some said the colouring craze was just a passing fancy, but if the popularity of these titles is anything to go by, there’s plenty of life in it yet, especially among Jane Austen fans!

the-annotated-emmaOf the official releases, you certainly enjoyed The Annotated Emma. This ingenious and illuminating book book pairs the full original text with explanations of historical context, maps and illustrations, definitions of historical terms and concepts, comments and analysis and cross-referencing to Jane’s other novels, letters and writings. The result is almost like reading the novel for the first time, and it’s full of information on everything from English attitudes towards gypsies to the social status of spinsters and illegitimate children, to the shopping habits of fashionable ladies. A gourmet feast for Janeites, it’s one of those books that is sure to drive your friends mad, as you constantly stop and them and say: “Did you know this?”

81_89a282jl15The big movie news of the year was the release of Love and Friendship, based on Jane’s early work Lady Susan. If that’s inspired you to catch up (or re-acquaint yourself) with the juvenilia, we have a lovely collector’s hardback of the complete early writings: Love and Freindship, with Lady Susan included of course. More controversial was the release, after years of announcements, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It sharply divided opinion among Janeites here, and doubtless everyone will have a strong opinion about it one way or another. But there’s no question that the original book deftly converts the source material into the idiom of zombie horror – if you are brave and curious, you can give it a try here!

world of poldarkOn a completely different note, it was hard to ignore the fact that Mr. Darcy has found himself up against a serious rival for the hearts of the nation in the form of Winston Graham’s Captain Poldark, in the BBC’s smash hit adapatation of the best-selling Georgian and Regency romantic novels. Our primary loyalty will always be to Jane’s characters of course, but we couldn’t ignore this phenomenon entirely! As such, we beg Darcy’s indulgence and discreetly bring to your notice the superb World of Poldark, a lavish, beautifully illustrated companion to the novels, the series and the times, with features on everything that makes the series so memorable: the characters, the plots, the locations, the costumes and the landscape. If all of that whets your appetite for the originals, don’t miss our lovely collector’s edition of the first novel Ross Poldark, or, if you just want to gaze at the images and wish you were there, there’s always the Official 2017 Poldark Calendar!

ssgraphicnovel-600x600If graphic novels are to your fancy, there’s still time to snap up the highly acclaimed Marvel adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, now out of print and highly collectable. The superb artwork and clever adaptation of the material works surprisingly well – it’s a great way of introducing the book to teenagers who think they don’t like ‘that sort of thing’, as well as a treat for confirmed fans with modern tastes. pig124-600x600

For the very young there’s a beautiful board book edition of Emma, the latest in the wonderful Little Miss Austen series. And the jury is still out as to whether you have to be very young to want a copy of A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice on your shelves… Don’t worry: we won’t tell anyone if you don’t…

 

 

 

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The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen: A Review

The List Lover's Guide to Jane Austen

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen

I am a list maker. Shopping lists, packing lists, gift lists, to-do lists– you name it. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off. As I get older and my memory gets worse, I also enjoy knowing that I’m not forgetting things that need to be done. Of course, this creates a new category of things-I-forgot-to-put-on-my-first-list lists, but that’s another story. The story I’m writing about today is the story of Jane and her novels. One might think that a book of lists would be boring. Perhaps even as dry as reading the outline of a lecture– especially for those who already have a good grasp on Jane’s life. The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, however, is anything but dry or boring. Clearly a work of love and dedication, author Joan Strasbaugh has gathered not only what we do know (lists of all locations in each novel, lists of Jane’s residences) but also pulled together an impressive array of, if not unknown, unconsidered variables. There are lists of all of Jane’s relatives that she had contact with during her life. There are lists of neighbors, lists of suitors (both those whose hearts Jane broke and those who broke Jane’s heart), her music, her favourite foods and even her hairstyles! I was hooked.

41CI48PE9nL._SX284_BO1,204,203,200_

Punctuated with period illustrations as well as whimsical original art, the lists are ordered quite methodically (see the “list” of contents at the front of the book) and highlighted with extracts from Jane’s own letters and novels wherever appropriate (most of the book!) I wished that Ms. Strasbaugh had included more of the dates and recipients of the letters, though most were to her sister Cassandra, and the dates can be had by searching either the Republic of Pemberley’s Janeinfo page, which has digitized many of the letters, or by searching through the published Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre LeFaye and available from Oxford University Press.

This is not a long read, nor a scholarly one. You might not use it to source biographical information (though the bibliographical “list” provided at the back of the book could probably set you in the right direction) but if you want to learn something new about Jane, or view her works and life in a different light, this book is for you. It should definitely be on your list of what to give the Janeite who has everything!

 

  • List Price: £8.99
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc (25 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402282036
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402282034

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

 

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So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life, A Review

So Jane

This Christmas I was given a copy of Hollie Keith’s book, So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life. This little book is filled with projects, recipes and gift item ideas to fill every aspect of your home and life. While most of the projects are not Austen-era reproductions, they are modern interpretations which keep an eye on the past. Whimsical and romantic in nature, there are crafts and recipes for every age and skill level, along with a myriad of mediums to choose from.

So JaneHand stitched, novel themed placemats share pages with dainty, appliqued egg cosies. I ♥ Darcy pillows and rose scented soaps share space with lacy aprons, wreaths and book marks. Vintage treasures, rejuventated “in a style entirely new” and new-on-the-market finds are combined with traditional craft supplies so that each project can be tailored to your personal whims and comfort level. Patterns and templates provided in the back of the book take the guesswork out of each set of instructions, while step by step photographs guide you through any difficulty.

The recipes in this book were curated by Jennifer Adams, no Austen newcomer herself. Jennifer is the author of Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen as well as the Little Miss Austen Baby Lit board books, published by the same company (Gibbs-Smith). Here, her 32 recipes, inspired by Jane Austen’s novels and time period, are broken into chapters with corresponding crafts and include breakfast, teatime, dinner, picnic, ball and cottage inspired meals.

The photographs by Susan Barnson Hayward are truly worth the proverbial thousand words, turning this fun little book into a work of art. Each page features several inspiring photographs not only of finished food and craft projects, but of individual steps along the way, making it both a beautiful display piece and practical how-to guide.

On the whole, you will find this to be a book you turn to again and again, if only for the sheer delight of flipping through its glossy, gorgeous pages. It will inspire you, as the title intimates, into a Jane Austen mindset, encouraging you to not only make your own works of art, but to see tools and supplies in everyday items, turning them into new pieces to beautify your home and share as gifts.

So Jane is now available from the Jane Austen Gift Shop here.

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

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Jane Austen and the State of the Nation by Sheryl Craig: a Review by Laura Boyle

Jane Austen and the state of the nation by Sheryl CraigJane Austen and the State of the nation by Sheryl Craig

Jane Austen is universally acknowledged as an excellent writer with a fine grasp of the human condition. Her ever increasing number of fans, her inclusion in nearly every list of worthy writers and English Literature syllabi, her marketability and timeless appeal have created what might be called an international mania. Many would attribute her success to her wit and way with words, others to the age old stories of love and romance that she tells. It seems, however, as if there was more, much more, just beneath the surface: undertones and even overt messages that Jane Austen’s readers would have seen, but which are, for the most part, lost to today’s readers. After all, as Jane herself (in the guise of omniscient narrator) explains in Northanger Abbey:

“Oh! It is only a novel!…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.”

I have, over the past few months, had the great privilege of first hearing and then reading the works of celebrated Austen scholar and international speaker, Dr. Sheryl Craig. The talk she addressed to our JASNA gathering in November, entitled “So Ended a Marriage”, looked at Mansfield Park in light of the divorce and custody laws current during Jane Austen’s day. Drawing from actual divorce transcripts, she carefully laid out a plausible defense for Austen’s use of the novel as political statement about the rights of women and their treatment as property. An abridged version of this talk can be found on Sarah Emsley’s Mansfield Park site, and the entirety has been printed in JASNA’s Persuasions #36.

Immediately following the talk, I eagerly began reading Dr. Craig’s newly published book, Jane Austen and the State of the Nation. I don’t know what I was anticipating, but what I found was truly fascinating. Dr. Craig has an easy, informed style, which makes even a subject like Georgian and Regency economics at once fascinating and accessible to the lay reader. Again, she brings her impressive knowledge of Austen’s life and times to bear with great effect. The book delves into Georgian social welfare and political response, and is rife with colorful anecdotes and period illustrations. It seems that even the counties chosen for Austen’s heroines to reside in held meaning for her period readers.

Now, of course, might be a good time to point out just how qualified Dr. Craig is. Her biography reads like a Janeite’s bucket list:

Sheryl Craig is an Austen scholar with a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British literature from the University of Kansas. She’s a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and editor of ‘JASNA News’. Sheryl has published articles in ‘Persuasions’, ‘Persuasions On-Line’, ‘The Explicator’ and ‘Jane Austen’s Regency World’, and on the websites of the Jane Austen Centre and Chawton House Library. In 2008, Sheryl was selected to be JASNA’s International Visitor, and in 2011-2012, she was JASNA’s Traveling Lecturer for the Central Region. She has presented at regional and national JASNA conferences and to Canadian and Scottish branches of the Jane Austen Society.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen wrote ironically,A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.” These words, from Henry Tilney, were meant to be taken in jest, but there may have been an element of truth to them as well. Jane, as we know, was quite clever—too clever, perhaps for her small social circle. As an avid reader of books and newspapers, a patron of the circulating library and an eager student of history and past masters, she peppered her personal correspondence with quotes both old and new, and innumerable references to current events.

Dr. Craig posits that one can not only trace the Georgian political and social climate through the chronological reading of Jane’s novels, but even more so Jane’s answer to the ever growing crisis around her. It’s easy to think that because war and poverty are hardly glimpsed in Jane Austen’s novels, that she is ignoring those unpleasant realities of life, focusing instead on the “three or four families in a country village” we are used to reading about. In reading Jane Austen and the State of the Nation, one begins to think that Austen’s novels are not at all what they seem upon first reading. Masking themselves as chick-lit romances, they find their way into the hands of men and women everywhere (including the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott) only to promote a rational, even-handed political agenda in the face of government corruption, national recession and widespread unemployment (not unlike that which is facing too many nations today.)

I feel quite foolish—as if I could not see what was right before my eyes, as though I had been duped by the pretty people, beautiful language and enduring story lines. There is so much more to Austen upon rereading through the lens provided by Dr. Craig. It’s as if, after intimately knowing the novels for more than twenty years, I’ve been given the opportunity to read them again for the first time. What I find are cleverly crafted lessons in statesmanship and stewardship which might as easily be applied to today’s foundering economy, working at such a basic level that anyone (landed gentry or not, Georgian or Generation Y) might be able to apply them to their own life.

England’s economy was falling apart at the seams, but rather than show the depravity and baseness of the human condition, rather than beat the reader over the head with everyday senseless tragedy, as Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens were wont to do, Austen’s fine hand gently paved the way for her understanding readers, and in such a way, through endless analogy, that her modern fan base can hardly see the “forest for the trees”, as it were.

As a historically interested Jane Austen fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be rereading chapters and taking my time perusing the generous bibliography before lending it out with my highest recommendations. That being said, I am feeling somewhat ignorant at the end of the day. After hearing Dr. Craig speak, I felt I had not really ever understood (my least favorite of the novels) Mansfield Park, as it was clearly a treatise on the rights of women. Now, however, I find that Mansfield Park is actually a political expose on the state of the British colonies and Parliament’s answer to it. This too, with the given facts, seems perfectly logical and reasonable. Clever, clever Jane. What else have I been missing? No doubt there are dozens of other subtexts to be found if only one will look just below the surface.

Jane Austen once compared her style of writing to that of her nephew, Edward Austen’s: “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?” (December 16, 1816) Those who have read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre are given a vivid picture of the difference of a charcoal sketch vs. an ivory portrait such as Austen describes, “An hour or two sufficed to sketch my own portrait in crayons; and in less than a fortnight I had completed an ivory miniature of an imaginary Blanche Ingram. It looked a lovely face enough, and when compared with the real head in chalk, the contrast was as great as self-control could desire.” One is harsh and realistic, the other stylized, beautified and dainty. One of the reasons we love Jane Austen’s novels so much is for the escapist feel they bring, as we enter a world of order, beauty and light. This is the very impression Jane is seeking to create with her “little bit of ivory” analogy, and yet, beneath, there lies layer after layer of depth, complexity and realism that I am only beginning to comprehend. I am so grateful to Dr. Craig for opening my eyes, and anxiously anticipate her next book (fingers crossed that it will be published soon!)

 

  • List Price: £55.00
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2015 edition (August 19, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137544544

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)