Sanditon is the last novel that Jane Austen ever worked on, though not one that she finished. Have you read it? Do you know it? Time to test your knowledge with our Sanditon special quiz!
Every year hundreds of thousands of fans come together to The Jane Austen Centre in Bath to celebrate the talent and artistry of Jane Austen, but for those who work at the Centre there can sometimes be occasion to stop and marvel at the incredible works of devotion created by our visitors. An exceptional instance of this came to us this summer in the story of Julie Mountford.
Julie’s husband Keith wrote to us in a heartwarming email this year to describe the predicament of his late wife’s own Austen-inspired ‘amateur’ masterpiece: a Georgian dolls house. As part of her passion and love of all things Georgian, Regency and Jane Austen, Julie crafted this 1.6m tall house over a period of five years. It contains eighteen rooms (five of which are large hallways typical of the Georgian era) and each room has been lovingly filled with tiny furniture of the same period. Keith described how ‘everyone who has ever seen the house has been gobsmacked by its beauty and by Julie’s attention to detail’ and we found ourselves similarly enchanted.
Sadly Julie passed away in March 2015 after having lived with cancer for five years. Keith described how Julie had been a mental health social worker by profession and was also an extremely talented and creative person, writing period novels in her spare time as well as sewing beautiful historical-attired cloth dolls as gifts; one of these has even found a home in our Exhibition at the Jane Austen Centre, a place that Julie loved and visited many times in her visits to Bath.
Keith generously offered for this magnificent work to be displayed at the Centre so that it might ‘inform, educate and entertain’ as is our mission statement and was also Julie’s passion. Unfortunately, we were unable to give a home to her beautiful Jane Austen Dolls house but we hope that in sharing this story we can echo Keith’s wish that it serves as an example of ‘what an ordinary person with a passion can design and create as part of their love of all things Austen’.
Please visit www.juliemountford.org to learn more about the Julie Montford Dawson Foundation.
MR BENNET IN BATH
Ladies and gentlemen, admirers of Jane and lovers of literature, I give you the true hero of Pride and Prejudice – and of possibly the entire Austen canon – Mr Bennet!
For who else can compare with the Sage Seer of Longbourn, that Witty King of Herts, that most rueful of husbands, fathers and philosophers?
No character from the pen of Miss Austen is a mere cypher or convenient foil. Even the haughty stuff shirts and dissembling charmers have beguiling depths. But for rueful complexities, admirable strengths and regretful weaknesses, Mr Bennet is surely as alone as he likes to be in his library.
I have long been his admirer, mostly for the delicious wit, but it wasn’t until I decided to star him in a short story that I fully appreciated as rounded a character as you will encounter in fiction, portrayed by Jane with an affection that triumphantly survives her beady acknowledgement of his failings.
When the great crisis of Lydia and Wickham erupts it is the Austen wizardry to make his feebleness not only a surprise, but also to make us feel sorry for him. And how much more predictable it would have been to transform him into the hero of the hour! Not for the first time you wonder how close the Reverend George Austen is to Mr Bennet. And how being a father of a certain type yourself fosters your affection.
Whatever, I decided that he could certainly do with a bit more fun, and that there was no finer place to give it to him than Bath, where he has arrived – reluctantly, obviously – for a stay with his wife and daughters.
But first there is my account of his first visit, as a young man, which had at least one highly significant consequence. Among the characters he encounters are Dr Johnson, James Boswell and that notorious Bath highwayman, Sixteen String Jack Rann.
From there we move to his present day, and an escape from the back window of the house – unsurprisingly in Gay Street – and back down to the famous Pelican inn, which stood where now the Hilton Hotel stands in all its not universally praised modernity.
Obviously I cannot give too much away, but he does have a narrow escape from a fate even worse than having to make small talk with Fitzwilliam Darcy, take tea a deux with Lady Catherine de Bourg, or witness Mr Collins meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I must also confess to another impudence: I have given Mr Bennet a first name! Gordon and Alan had their merits, but in the end I settled on Anthony, for the euphony.
So, apologies all round to all; but I also like to imagine the perceptible uplift of Mrs Bennet’s husband’s eyebrows at these liberties. And Miss Austen’s, together with, I hope, the trace of a smile.
Charles Nevin is an award-winning journalist, national newspaper columnist, author and humorist.
*Get a signed copy of Charles Nevin’s book here.*
All across Bath, bonnets have been sewn, dresses ironed and buckles polished, as we’ve welcomed visitors new and old to this year’s Jane Austen Festival!
The yearly festival favourite, our costumed promenade, saw hundreds of visitors in their finest Regency outfits basking in the late autumn sunshine as they sauntered through the streets of Bath.
Starting in Sydney Gardens, the parade was led by His Majesty’s 33rd Regiment of Foot.
The Guildhall played host to the Festival Fayre, where visitors could find everything Regency, from bonnets to books.
Events have been taking place all week, including theatrical performances, book readings, events at the Regency Tea Rooms, crafting workshops, tours and much more.
Is we write there, there are still two full days of the festival to go, so it’s not too late to take part – head over to the Jane Austen Festival website for a full schedule of this weekend’s events!
What was Jane Austen’s income? A fair price for her genius?
According to documents published by the Bank of England, Jane Austen’s third published novel, Mansfield Park made Jane just £310, or £22,000 in today’s money.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it wasn’t. For comparison, Maria Edgeworth, a writer who was very popular in Jane’s time, received £2,100 for her novel Patronage. Mansfield Park may not be the most popular of Jane’s novels now (it was very well received in its time and sold out it’s first print run in under six months), but at least we’ve heard of it. Not many have heard of Patronage, yet it was that much better in terms of author profits.
The investigative research conducted using the Bank of England’s archive showed that Jane would have made £575 after tax, which would be equivalent to just over £45,000 at today’s rates. In their piece about the research, the Financial Times noted that, even compared to those making their living as full-time adult fiction writers in the U.K. today, Austen’s earnings were pretty small: the average income for full-time fiction writers is £37,000 a year.
The research was conducted by John Avery Jones, who is the first of an occasional series external researchers who will be using the Bank of England’s archives for their work on subjects outside traditional central banking topics. The full article is well worth a read and can be found here.
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Visitors come to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath for many reasons. Some come as part of a tour they are doing of Jane Austen locations across the UK, some stumble upon us while visiting Bath, some visit us on specific family outings, or on school trips. The list of reasons goes on. However, we were recently visited by a gentleman who had a more unusual reason for coming to see us.
Last week one of our visitors came to the Jane Austen Centre to propose to his girlfriend. And we’re delighted to say that she said yes!
It was a very special moment for the couple, and we wish them many years of happiness.
Book Review: Should You Read Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal?…(Yes, Probably)
by Katharine Coldiron
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice will be rewritten, recontextualised, imitated, and adapted to the needs of the zeitgeist until the practice of reading books passes out of existence altogether. Assessing Austen adaptations is a lopsided, subjective undertaking. That is, whether Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stacks up to the original in literary quality isn’t really the point, and a book like Mr. Darcy’s Daughters likely gave one Austen fan exactly what she wanted, while dissatisfying another such that she vowed never again to read a third-party Austen sequel. Ahem.
Thus, Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal, is assessable from multiple perspectives. The book is an adaptation of P&P set in Pakistan in the present moment, and as a spin-off, it’s enormous fun. It’s also an excellent gateway book for people who’ve never read Austen and feel intimidated about trying her—even more so than Heyer—and a welcome injection of diversity into the world of Austen fandom. But it hews so closely to the source material that the result is a bit daffy, and it works so hard to be itself that Kamal’s shining wit and tenderness only sometimes bubble to the surface of her heavy intentions.
- Too-close names. Jane and Lizzie Bennet are Jena and Alys Binat. Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are Mari, Qitty, and Lady. Darcy is Darsee, Bingley is Bungles, Charlotte is Sherry, Wickham is Wickaam…you get the idea. This starts to feel parodic instead of useful or delightful.
- Too-close plot. The plot is exactlythe same as the plot of P&P, moved into the modern era and the setting of Pakistan (more on that later), like a song transposed into another key without a single note of difference in the melody. The precision of this transposition gives the book a feeling of going through the motions, rather than a joyful exploration of a plot’s twists and turns.
- Confusion about the existence of Austen. The characters in Unmarriageableare clearly aware of P&P, because they talk about the book several times, but all the coincidences between P&Pand the characters’ actual lives—the way every character and event in P&Phas a corresponding character and event in Alys Binat’s life—is somehow never seized upon. That’s a difficult balance to strike in a book that adapts another, but acknowledging the existence of the inspiration without acknowledging similarities makes the characters seem oblivious.
And now for the positives:
- Shifts in the characters. Kamal has remolded many of the characters in P&P usefully or interestingly. For example, Mary is a little better in this adaptation. Her religious fervor points toward Islam instead of Christianity, and Mari’s selective application of the religion’s strict (often contradictory) rules makes for a lot of humor. She’s a total pill, and it’s great. Lydia, meanwhile, is a little worse, as Lady is childish, bullying, scheming, and self-centered. Lydia Bennet is all those things, too, but Lady is a viper, not a blunderer. The best shifts are in the smallest characters: Annie dey Bagh (Anne de Bourgh) has an autoimmune disorder, actual dialogue, and a Nigerian boyfriend, while Jujeena Darsee has much more direction and voice than Georgiana. Raghav Kumar (Colonel Fitzwilliam) is gay, which of course he is, that’s been obvious for decades. The older generation, Mr. and Mrs. Binat and their siblings and friends, have richer backstories and better definition.
- It’s a shorter book. In a mortal lifespan, this is an underrated quality in books.
- Added scenes. Multiple scenes that exist only in letters or later conversations in P&P are laid out in full glory in Unmarriageable, which is great fun. Mr. Kaleen’s proposal to Sherry is both hilarious and moving, while Bungles’s proposal to Jena is as sweet and romantic as anyone could want.
- The present day in Pakistan is a perfect context for the two-century-old story of P&P, and I would not have known this if Kamal hadn’t written the book. Moreover, Regency-era white Europeans’ marriage and money problems being transposed into modern Pakistan is not just a gimmick. It’s a necessary recontextualization, in a time when publishing cannot ignore the extraordinary diversity of the English-speaking (and -reading) population. Readers of color can feel more representationally present in Austen, with Kamal as an interpreter, and white readers can reexperience Austen in fascinating, unfamiliar surroundings. Everyone wins.
- Plenty of quick minds have reworked Austen in modern idiom (Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s “Texts” from Sense and Sensibility and Emma, and Twitter’s own Drunk Austen, for instance), but this book is an entire compendium of it. From the big proposal scene:
“Will you marry me?”
Alys stared at him.
“I love you.”
This was so preposterous, Alys let out a hearty laugh.
“My admission is a joke to you?”
“Is this a prank?” Alys looked around. “Is there a hidden camera somewhere?”
- General delight. When the book is able to get out of its own way, to stop holding itself in such a meticulous posture against Austen’s most famous work, it’s a wonderful experience. The details are the best part; Bungles’s sisters (whose names rhyme) call everyone “babes,” Kaleen is a physiatrist who is constantly mistaken for a psychiatrist, and Darsee and Alys bond over a book he recommends to her.
The book’s main asset is not its inspiration, but the mind of its author. Kamal is funny and intelligent and she gets it, the spark that brings us back to these narrow Regency problems again and again, sometimes in lieu of facing our own. Darsee’s first name in this adaptation is Valentine. Valentine! For that alone, pick up Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal and dive in. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Austenian problems are more enjoyable than the real world’s, whatever the year.
Interested in reading the book? You can find our limited signed editions of Unmarriageable here.
Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, LARB, Horoscope.com, and many other places. She lives in California and at kcoldiron.com. You can find her on twitter @ferrifrigida.
This review of Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal originally appeared on Jane to Georgette. It is reprinted here with permission.
Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr
My kids saw that scoundrel Willoughby at Chic-Fil-A last night.
Or so they thought.
We had just finished our chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and were headed off to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, but all four kids stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the unsuspecting dark-haired, large-eyed teenage boy behind the counter. I could read their body language; if this was indeed Willoughby, as they frantically whispered in my ear, he would surely do something reprehensible at any moment. And they weren’t going to miss it.
Much to their chagrin, we ushered them out the door, and the Willoughby look-a-like was left to finish his work without further danger of besiegement.
In their overactive 10-, 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old minds, they had seen a villain behind the counter. The details of this poor boy’s true identity are of no consequence. The more important reality is that Jane Austen had captured their hearts and imaginations, and my children have not yet entered adolescence.
This surely qualifies as a parental milestone.
Now, I know the purists contend that the consumption of the screen portrayal should never precede the consumption of the written. I don’t hold to that particular standard (but undoubtedly have my own purist standards in other areas). As such, when we began the several-hour long 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, my kids were immediately enthralled and the questions came with great rapidity.
With my finger perpetually on the pause button in order to field the inquiries, I responded to these (and more) from both my daughters and my son:
How could John Dashwood be so weak? And Fanny be so evil?
Why don’t Elinor and Edward marry each other?
Why exactly is Marianne so foolish?
What does Elinor mean when she says she doesn’t disapprove of Marianne, but only her conduct?
Why doesn’t Willoughby act like a gentleman?
Colonel Brandon is the hero; right? Why can’t Marianne see that?
Why is Lucy Steele engaged to Edward when Edward is clearly meant for Elinor and Lucy seems so sneaky and unkind?
How can Mrs. Ferrars be so utterly vicious and yet everyone is falling down to worship her?
Can we please, please, live in a cottage by the seaside and string up seashells in the garden?
Other than the last one (which breaks my heart to say probably not), I delighted in pausing the visually stunning jewel to help my young children frame the story, discern wisdom from folly, and mourn over the broken hearts of Colonel Brandon and Elinor.
The sumptuous period dress, the breathtaking landscape, the awe-inspiring country manors, and the rapid-fire colloquy amongst some of Austen’s most remarkable characters were exactly the type of feast my kids deserved. Not a culinary feast, mind you; but a literary, moral, and visual one.
No, my children did not understand every aspect of the witty repartee. Nor could they grasp the magnitude of the moral and social norms under Miss Austen’s microscope. But every morning, I read my children the Bible, and they also read it for themselves. We require this in our family, even while knowing that they cannot possibly understand the depth of the riches contained therein. But their current ages and developmental limitations should not preclude them from partaking in the banquet table in whatever ways they are able.
In the same way, when I first began reading Austen’s works 16 years ago, in a Brit Lit college course, I am quite certain I appreciated only a minuscule percentage of what Jane Austen was doing. Two years later, I spent a semester researching and writing an honors thesis on the French Revolution’s impact on Austen’s body of work. Clearly, I was smitten with her literature and desired to dig deeper. And yet, every time I revisit Emma or Pride and Prejudice, I surely continue to miss nuances and connections, all these years later. But I keep savoring the feast, both by book and by screen – and it is altogether better to do so alongside the inquiring, hungry minds of my children.
Note: I recommend, without reservation, this series of 12 audio lectures by Professor Jerram Barrs of the Francis Schaeffer Institute on the life and works of Jane Austen. The series is free for download, after a quick registration process, courtesy of Covenant Seminary.
Parental disclaimer: Because my children are so young, I skipped the (brief) opening scene of the 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, and instead gave a brief synopsis to my children of an immoral man victimizing a young girl.
About the author Allison Burr:
Allison Burr resides in Franklin, TN, with her husband and four children. Allison Burr is primarily a homeschooling mama, but also an adjunct professor at New College Franklin, co-founder of Sword & Trowel, and resident domestic theologian at TruthBeautyGoodness.