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A Letter to Jane Austen – Part Three

This is the third and final instalment of a most interesting letter written by Hans van Leeuwen, a lovely Jane Austen fan from the Netherlands. (Part one can be found here, and part two can be read here.)

Hans is hoping to receive remarks and tips for improvements from native speakers of English, preferably Jane Austen devotees, and the purpose of sharing the letter with us is so that some valuable feedback might be gained. 

We hope you might enjoy reading it as much as we did, and that you might share your thoughts in our comments section below.   

Jane austen biography

Being obliged to speak when not wanting to, is just the sort of thing one would give one’s right arm for to be relieved of, but there was no escaping. I dared not look at either of my parents, fixing my eyes instead on the fire or one of the dogs, whichever afforded most comfort. The first words came out hesitantly, but as I progressed my confidence grew and eloquence improved:

” Dear father, dear mother, it is with great sorrow that the books by Jane Austen, one of which you see here in my hands, prove to be a source of such discord between my dear mother and myself. On several occasions I have talked to her about them, extolled their virtues to her, but the mere fact of my always reading them seems to have made her immune to their charms. I do try to bring variety in what I read but will not be bludgeoned into valuing anything against my taste and will not subject myself to the torture of reading recommended books when I can be certain to be entertained by Miss Austen’s. To destroy one’s mind, moreover, with books firmly established in the canon of English literature, I struggle to deem possible. ”

Having finished and looking up to see what my words had occasioned, I found both my parents looking at me in such a way as seemed to invite me to continue if I had anything left to say, which I had not. My father’s reaction to my speech was as predictable as my mother’s was not. If he had not suddenly changed his mind, he could not but agree with me, but there was no knowing what, if anything, my mother would say or do. She had not given any hint as to her state of mind for a while, neither in word nor otherwise, and although the severity about her seemed less than before, I could not be certain of a fresh attack not being in preparation.

” Very well put, “ said my father with pride. ” Such a defence cannot be listened to without exciting the tenderest feelings in a parent’s heart, and even those not agreeing with you, to whom I do not belong, cannot deny its merits. Some books stand the test of re-perusal with flying colours; indeed, only gain in attraction rather than increase disgust when read a second or third time, or even oftener. Change for change’s sake is a modern disease. And to be expected to read what one’s taste would never induce one even to pick up, to have another’s taste forced upon one is a situation too embarrassing to contemplate. Only in exceptional circumstances, where a little incivility might have disastrous consequences, should one allow a book to be recommended to oneself. It is many years since I last made the mistake. The book was claimed to change my life! Nothing of the kind had ever flowed from a pen!, etc. etc. Ha! If I had been so unwise as to continue listening, I am sure I would have heard it being described as capable of ending all conflict and taking away all illness, but it proved to be one of the dullest I ever opened. Not one line in it deserving a moment’s reflection, and not one remark witty enough to be worth attempting to cheer up friends with. And so many commonplaces on every page as one would not believe possible. The experience quite cured me of feeling guilty about disappointing expectations of the kind. “

Continue reading A Letter to Jane Austen – Part Three

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A Letter to Jane Austen – Part Two

Jane austen biography

This is part two of a most interesting letter written by Hans van Leeuwen, a lovely Jane Austen fan from the Netherlands. (Part one can be found here)

Hans is hoping to receive remarks and tips for improvements from native speakers of English, preferably Jane Austen devotees, and the purpose of sharing the letter with us is so that some valuable feedback might be gained. 

We hope you might enjoy reading it as much as we did, and that you might share your thoughts in our comments section below.   

Jane austen biography

The half hour that succeeded this scene brought calm and tranquillity to the room and saw my father and myself settling down to reading and my mother to knitting. The faint sounds naturally attending these activities, the song of the fire and the occasional whining of the dogs when they were dreaming, produced an atmosphere no evilness could find fertile ground in. Since opening your book and immersing myself in it, I had been holding it flat in my lap, for a reason not needing to be explained, but the unnaturalness of having it this way could not fail to create such discomfort as was no longer to be borne. Relief came in a change quickly made, and while the cover was at risk of being seen as a consequence, my eyesight was out of danger of being destroyed. After convincing myself of my parents’ being as perfectly engrossed in their respective employments as before, I felt safe enough to direct my eyes down again, and within the space of two paragraphs your book had me transported back to Northanger Abbey again and the exciting events within its walls.

The next half hour was spent in equal harmony. It was disturbed, however, by my father, who had stirred on perceiving that the fire was dying and needed attending to. This must have caused my mother to look up and about her, to try and discover what or who had had the nerve to rouse her from the delicious reverie the rhythm of her work had helped her slip into, and her eye must have met the cover of the book in the process, for what else could explain what happened next.

” My word! ”, cried she, ” Can it be true? It is almost past belief. Northanger Abbey it says again! Good heaven! What little common sense she had left completely gone! ”

Looking up in fright, I noticed that my father had likewise started at the outburst, but his whole attention being with the fire, only sounds and no purport seemed to have reached him, for he retorted that had the fire been left to her care, some limbs would have grown black from frostbite by now. My mother’s countenance stiffened with indignation, and provoked into retaliation, in an apparent attempt not to allow him to escape his fair share of ill-treatment, she cried:

” As deaf as a doorknob! The head of the house on a certain path to deafness, I was never so sure of anything! The disgrace that will befall us! Suspicions from all quarters will be growing into certainty within a fortnight, probably sooner, and where we once walked through the door amidst bows and civilities we will no longer be admitted entrance to. ” She continued in the same style for while until she seemed to have vented enough of her ire to be tolerably comfortable again in silence.

Continue reading A Letter to Jane Austen – Part Two

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A Letter to Jane Austen – Part One

Jane austen biography

This is part one of a most interesting letter written by Hans van Leeuwen, a lovely Jane Austen fan from the Netherlands.

Hans is hoping to receive remarks and tips for improvements from native speakers of English, preferably Jane Austen devotees, and the purpose of sharing the letter with us is so that some valuable feedback might be gained. 

We hope you might enjoy reading it as much as we did, and that you might share your thoughts in our comments section below.   

 

Jane austen biography

 

Nijmegen, Gelderlandshire

13th of November 1816 2016

Dear Jane

It is no uncommon occurrence for me to be seen opening a book not written by yourself for the sake of propriety, but hardly have I progressed to chapter two of such a book when I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable from an anxiousness to replace it by one of your works. How exasperating that I should think it wrong sometimes to be always seen reading the same book or a book by the same authoress! I do, in the end, follow my own inclinations rather than bend to the wishes of others, but only after caring too much about other people’s opinions and patiently putting up with their suggestions to read what they themselves probably have not read. Yet even then I feel the shackles of conventionality, as testified by my continually looking about me when, at length, I have mustered courage enough to go to our library upstairs and choose one of your books again, on which, to your credit, dust never has time to settle.

I had gone thither for that very purpose a couple of days ago, and after hurriedly descending the stairs in excited spirits tinged with apprehension, while holding the cover of your book towards me so as to conceal it from view, joined my father and mother in the drawing room, whither they had repaired after dinner. A genial fire in the grate, lit earlier than usual by the housemaid on account of its being a remarkably cool evening for the season, made this the room all living creatures in the house were drawn towards, and when Maria came in with tea, Max and Joe, our two cocker spaniels, who had eagerly but obediently been waiting in the chilly hall for an opportunity to get in, sped past her to lay themselves to rest at our feet and, like ourselves, bask in the warm glow of the flames. After serving us, Maria was about to leave the room when my father addressed her thus:

“ The exemplary foresight shown in lighting the fire as early as has been done, is to be unequivocally commended, and I have been told that the idea proceeded from you, Maria. To have been thus saved from an evening spoilt by a fire lit too late, is a blessing indeed. ”

“ Thank you, Sir, ” was Maria’s humble reply.

Unsure whether she was meant to stay or leave the room, Maria felt all the discomfort of those finding themselves the recipients of commendation when it is neither expected nor felt to be deserved, and a hunching of the shoulders and restlessness of the hands were the surest symptoms of her agony. My father mercilessly continued his tribute, and although he now generously bestowed it on all those employed in his house, she still felt as awkward as if it had been exclusively intended for her.

Continue reading A Letter to Jane Austen – Part One

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Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd: Everyone in my world knows of Jane Austen. Alas, I can speculate that there are those who might not recognize the name. If they look her up on Wikipedia they would learn that: ‘Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”… Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”.’ Further, they would learn that this masterful writer of the social commentary and romance had never married, little is known of her love-life, yet it has been widely speculated upon in some circles. It is not a secret however that in 1802, Miss Austen had accepted the marriage proposal from family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but by the morning had withdrawn her acceptance. There are also letters from Jane to Cassandra in 1795 when she was twenty years-old about a brief flirtation with a Mr. Tom Lefroy. Sadly, his family did not approve of the match. Neither had any money and Tom was sent away, later to marry an heiress. And yet for an (more…)
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The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – A Review

From the desk of Lisa Galek: In 2012, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries debuted on YouTube. Smart, confident (and only slightly prejudiced) grad student Lizzie Bennet posts videos twice a week all about her life, friends, and family. The Internet promptly fell in love. But, there were some things Lizzie couldn’t share in her videos. Luckily, she kept a diary… and now we finally get to see it. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion book to the excellent LBD web series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out. Elizabeth Bennet is transformed into a 24-year-old graduate student from California with her own video blog. She posts all kinds of insightful and hilarious content about her wacky family, which includes her two sisters—sweet Jane and energetic Lydia. Oh, and a certain boring, stuffy, and unbelievably rude guy named William Darcy occasionally pops up (but let’s not talk about him because Lizzie just cannot stand him). The videos are an absolutely amazing update on Pride and Prejudice. Very smart, very funny, and very Jane. But, if you’re not already pretty familiar with this information, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet won’t really make much sense to you. The book is very tied into the web series—so much so that it often feels like a retelling of the content from the videos. Lizzie begins and ends her story like her vlogs do. She starts off by explaining the new online project she’s about to embark on and ends with (more…)
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Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790’s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century. Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh (more…)
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Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler – A Review

A review by Laurel Ann Nattress Imagine eating white soup with Mr. Darcy, roast pork with Miss Bates, or scones with Mr. Collins! Just thinking of those dishes transports me back into the scenes in Jane Austen’s novels and makes me smile. In Dinner with Mr. Darcy, food historian Pen Vogler examines Austen’s use of food in her writing, researches ancient Georgian recipes, converting them for the modern cook. Even though Austen is not known for her descriptive writing, food is an important theme in her stories, speaking for her if you know how to listen. Every time we dine with characters, or food is mentioned, it relays an important fact that Austen wants us to note: wealth and station, poverty and charity, and of course comedy. While poor Mr. Woodhouse frets over wedding cake in Emma, Mr. Bingley offers white soup to his guests at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice, and Aunt Norris lifts the supernumerary jellies after the ball in Mansfield Park, we are offered insights into their characters and their social station. In Austen’s letter she writes to her sister Cassandra about many domestic matters: clothes, social gatherings and food. When she mentions orange wine, apple pie and sponge cake we know it is of importance to her. “I hope you had not a disagreeable evening with Miss Austen and her niece. You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June (more…)
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Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Review by Sarah Emsley: Is it easier or harder to write if you’re also responsible for feeding and looking after your family? “Composition seems to me impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1816, after a period in which she managed the household at Chawton Cottage in Cassandra’s absence. Fortunately for Jane – and for us, as readers of her fiction – most of the time it was Cassandra who filled this role, freeing Jane to write. In her writing, she doesn’t mention food very often, yet Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen and Food shows her references to it are significant because “she uses it to define character and illustrate moral worth.” Jane Austen and Food was first published in 1995 by The Hambledon Press, and it’s newly available as an inexpensive e-book from Endeavour Press. It isn’t a cookbook, but a discussion of food in Austen’s letters and fiction. I’ve always loved that line from her letters about composition, and reading Jane Austen and Food helped me understand it better. I learned that “mutton” isn’t always just mutton, and that “rhubarb” isn’t what I think of as rhubarb. Mutton, says Lane, “seems to have become the generic word for meat – or for dinner itself.” She cites the example from Mansfield Park of Dr. Grant inviting Edmund Bertram “‘to eat his mutton with him the next day,’ without supposing, for a moment, that ‘the (more…)