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An Interview with Author Rachel Knowles

What regency Women Did For UsNot all Regency women were alike… Author and Regency history blogger Rachel Knowles came to visit us at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath recently, and she was kind enough to tell us a little more about her latest book, What Regency Women Did For Us, and about some of the amazing women of the Regency. Over the next few weeks we’ll be uploading Rachel Knowles’ interview about Jane Austen, blogging and Regency women in regular episodes and then posting them all here. Enjoy! Part One Rachel Knowles introduces herself and explains how why the Regency appealed to her and is still relevant today: (more…)
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In Defence of Jane Austen

by Rhian Helen Fender

Olivia Williams as Jane in the BBC film Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

 

“Mrs Edwards thinks you are a child still. But we know better than that, don’t we.”

So began the 2008 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, with the cad Willoughby seducing the naïve ward of heroic Colonel Brandon. The atmosphere seductive with low-light and fireplace burning, ripping bodices and whispered words… In its review, the Telegraph described how viewers tuned in “with jaws dropped, to this unexpected opening for an Austen adaptation.” The question is, why? Why would viewers deem a sultry scene unexpected in an adaptation of the work of Austen? Austen appears to have a reputation for representing everything that is light and lovely, with the admiring Sir Walter Scott describing Pride and Prejudice (1813) as “a very pretty thing.” Austen herself seemed aware – and concerned – of her delicate reputation, stating her fear that the novel Scott so admired was “too light, and bright, and sparkling.” Whilst it is true to state that Austen was largely focussed on the lower gentry of which she was personally aware, it would be a disservice to her work to suppose she did not consider larger social influences or events, nor the more scandalous actions of those whose world she so accurately depicts. Within Austen’s novels are various themes that are often ignored or unseen when analysing her work, considered too sinister in the works of the purportedly genteel Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park (1814) tells the story of young Fanny Price, a girl able to rise above her station due to the wealth and goodwill of her extended family. The source of that power, however, is controversial due to the head of the household’s links to the slave trade. It would be an exaggeration to proclaim the novel as slavery prose – allusions to the system are rare and implicit – yet the very fact that Austen chooses to even subtly reference slavery is a bold move. The one direct reference to slavery comes as Fanny describes a family conversation with her cousins and uncle: “And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence. And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject.” Austen leaves it to the reader to deduce why Fanny’s family might be silent when discussing slavery – disinterest, embarrassment, shame, ignorance –and it is this empowerment of the reader in reaching their own conclusions which gives this brief passage weight. Austen does not preach to her readers, but allows them to make their own deductions. Sir Thomas Bertram’s years at his plantation in Antigua is what allows much of the action of the novel to occur – unloving marriages, flirtation and seduction – and the reader is not incorrect in supposing that Sir Thomas’s focus would have been better placed at home, rather than in underhand dealings abroad. Continue reading In Defence of Jane Austen

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François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand

François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand ( September 4, 1768 in Saint-Malo – July 4, 1848 in Paris) was a French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian, who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany, Chateaubriand was a royalist by political disposition; in an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he authored the Génie du christianisme in defense of the Catholic faith. His autobiography Mémoires d’outre-tombe (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'”, published posthumously in 1849–1850), is nowadays generally considered his most accomplished work. Born in Saint-Malo, the last of 10 children, Chateaubriand grew up in his family’s castle in Combourg, Brittany. His father, René de Chateaubriand (1718–86), was a former sea captain turned ship owner and slave trader. His mother’s maiden name was Apolline de Bedée. Chateaubriand’s father was a morose, uncommunicative man, and the young Chateaubriand grew up in an atmosphere of gloomy solitude, only broken by long walks in the Breton countryside and an intense friendship with his sister Lucile. Combourg by Targut – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons Chateaubriand was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan. For a time he could not make up his mind whether he wanted to be a naval officer or a priest, but at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military career and gained a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based at Navarre. Within two years, he had been promoted to (more…)
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Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême

Antonin Carême, one of the first “celebrity” chefs. Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême (8 June 1784 – 12 January 1833) was an early practitioner and exponent of the elaborate style of cooking known as grande cuisine, the “high art” of French cooking: a grandiose style of cookery favoured by both international royalty and by the newly rich of Paris. Carême is often considered as one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs. Abandoned by his parents in Paris in 1794 at the height of the French Revolution, he worked as a kitchen boy at a cheap Parisian chophouse in exchange for room and board. In 1798, he was formally apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. The post-revolutionary Palais Royal was a high profile, fashionable neighborhood filled with vibrant life and bustling crowds. Bailly recognized his talent and ambition. By the time he was prepared to leave Bailly, he could stipulate that he should be free to leave his new employer when a better offer came along. He opened his shop, the Pâtisserie de la rue de la Paix, which he maintained until 1813. A few of Careme’s complicated designs. Carême gained fame in Paris for his pièces montées, elaborate constructions used as centerpieces, which Bailly displayed in the pâtisserie window. He made these confections, which were sometimes several feet high, entirely out of foodstuffs such as sugar, marzipan, and pastry. He modeled them on temples, pyramids, and ancient ruins, taking ideas from architectural history books (more…)
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Thomas Hope: Banker, Author, Adventurer

Thomas Hope (30 August 1769 – 3 February 1830/1831), was a Dutch and British merchant banker, author, philosopher and art collector, best known for his novel Anastasius a work which many experts considered a rival to the writings of Lord Byron. His sons included Henry Thomas Hope and Alexander Beresford Hope. Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey. The eldest son of Jan Hope, Thomas was descended from a branch of an old Scottish family who for several generations were merchant bankers known as the Hopes of Amsterdam, or Hope & Co. He inherited from his mother a love of the arts, which the efforts of his father and grandfather made possible by acquiring an enormous wealth. His father spent his final years turning his summer home Groenendaal Park in Heemstede into a grand park of sculpture open to the public. After he fled to London with his brothers to avoid the French occupation of the Netherlands from 1795–1810, he never returned. The Hope Dionysus is a statue of Dionysus, the god of wine, wearing a panther skin and casually stretching his left arm over a smaller figure of a woman, in a Neo Attic or archaic pose. This statue, 821⁄4 in. (2.1 m) high, dates to between 27 BC and 68 AD. It was once owned by the 18th Century English antiquities collector Thomas Hope (hence the name), and later belonged to a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, before being acquired by the (more…)
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Jane Austen Waxwork

Jane Austen Waxwork We had a great time unveiling our new Jane Austen waxwork to the assembled media folk on Wednesday 9th of July. L to R. Andrea Galer, Mark Richards, David Baldock, Jane Austen and Melissa Dring Reaction was overwhelmingly positive when the curtains were parted. The waxwork is now on public display. Developed from a forensic portrait of the author by Melissa Dring, the waxwork has been over 2 years in the making. Members of the team behind her creation, especially brought together for the project, were in attendance at the event, – the internationally-renowned sculptor, an FBI-trained forensic artist and a Bafta and Emmy award-winning costume designer. (See their biographies below) The novels of Jane Austen are known throughout the world, her heroes and heroines have been brought to life in many adaptations, and the industry which has built up around her name is significant. So whilst people happily associate Jane Austen’s characters with the actors who portray them, perhaps most famously Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, there remains a real desire to possess a likeness of the writer herself. Uncovering the Real Jane Austen (taster) from Grace Productions on Vimeo. The only verifiable image of Jane Austen is a small watercolour painted by her sister Cassandra but it has been acknowledged by experts as a poor attempt and was described by her niece as ‘hideously unlike’ her aunt Jane. However, there are many contemporary descriptions of her by friends and this is where the Jane Austen Centre enters (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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If you are reading this page, chances are you have a deep and abiding love for Jane Austen and her works. Like many of our readers, you may also enjoy writing about Jane, be it research about her time period, her life, her novels, or reviews of her works (and those inspired by her works). We love hearing from you, and we love posting articles from Janeites around the globe. If you have a question about a piece posted on our site, or would like to submit your own work for inclusion on this site, please contact Matthew Coniam by email at info@janeaustengiftshop.co.uk. Our website is free and open to the public. The Jane Austen Centre does not offer financial return in exchange for articles. All pieces submitted to the site must be family friendly in nature. Articles submitted for review are not guaranteed to be posted, but we do include as many as we can. When we reprint a piece, we rely on the integrity of the author regarding the work’s originality and accuracy. It is also up to the author to determine if the images they have included are copyright free and able to be reproduced under the creative commons, public domain or fair use doctrine: …the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or (more…)