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Austen: Keeping it real for 200 years

Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.  

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, what better way is there to honor this extraordinary author than to give thanks for what she has left us? For me, her work is a timeless guide to living life in the honesty zone, wrapped in an infinitely re-readable set of six novels.

If I could assign a motto, a credo to the the Austen canon, I would say it could be summed up in this one line from Pride and Prejudice: “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” The fact that Mr. Darcy delivers this line while in the midst of a serious marriage-proposal fail makes it even more resonant: Darcy may be honest, but the brutality of his honesty indicates that he’s hiding behind his angry pride. He’s yet to unmask that part of his own disguise, but being an Austen hero, we know that he will.

That’s the genius of Austen, who calls out her characters on their disguises and their dishonesty. Which leads them to their moment of revelation, their grand character arc, and their ultimate reward–love and happiness. 


Along the way, Austen makes us laugh, which makes the hard truths easier to bear. And thus we can begin to see ourselves in it all.

That’s Austen: keeping us real and calling us out. She’s been doing it for 200 years. And that’s no small feat for someone who lived in a society in which polite demurrals, refusals, and denials were a socially mandated matter of form.

Here are 10 gems of Austen wisdom to help you reach your own character arc.

1. A real friend is the one with the guts to tell you the ugly truth. 

In Emma, Mr. Knightley was the only person with the courage to tell Emma that her treatment of Mrs. Bates was cruel. Emma was shocked and chastened. And set about making amends. Which also put her on the road to realizing that Knightley’s bossiness was maybe just a little bit attractive; no scratch that, super hot. 

2. Self-destruction is NOT romantic.

In Sense and Sensibility, a heartbroken Marianne was well on her way to passive suicide. As she realized, once she recovered, her willful self-neglect in the wake of devastating heartbreak was nothing less than self-centeredness. As she confessed to her sister Elinor, “I wonder at my recovery,–wonder that the very eagerness of my desire to live, to have time for atonement to my God, and to you all, did not kill me at once. Had I died,–in what peculiar misery should I have left you, my nurse, my friend, my sister!”

3. You will become (or already are) the thing you judge.

Elizabeth Bennet spends a good deal of Pride and Prejudice judging Mr Darcy for his pride and his arrogance. Until she realizes that she too has exhibited exactly the qualities she disliked him for: “Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly…Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

4. Be discerning as to which book you live your life by.

Though this very post suggests that the Austen canon is full of wisdom to live by, it’s important to stress that one should not apply this advice to every other book you might like. In other words, there is no substitute for discernment. As Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey discovered, just because gothic horror novels thrilled her, didn’t mean they were also full of life lessons. Therefore, if reading horror fiction makes you think that every person you don’t like must also be an axe murderer, you might consider switching genres. 


5. You are never powerless, even if you are a creepmouse.

Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey said that women have “only the power of refusal.” But in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price shows how powerful refusal can be. Her refusal of Henry Crawford sets off a chain of events that results in scandal, divorce, heartbreak, and which nearly brings a powerful family to its knees. Not that she does it for power or even thinks of herself as powerful. She’s been a timid, self-denying doormat and neglected poor relation for so long that she could hardly conceive of herself as powerful. She may not be the most exciting or charismatic of Austen’s heroines, but that girl shows remarkable spine and resolve and courage in standing up to pretty much everyone. She knows that Henry Crawford is wrong for her, and that’s all there is to it. BTW, The Paris Review’s defense of Fanny Price is well worth reading.

6. Be a keen observer.

Anne Elliot may come off as a passive heroine, but her keen observations of human nature are almost like a superpower, much like Austen herself. Case in point: Despite Captain Wentworth’s flaunting his supposed indifference to her by publicly paying lots of attention to Louisa Musgrove, Anne knew he wasn’t in love with Louisa. There had been a ton of stinging rejection, and so even after Anne learned that Louisa was going to marry someone else, and that Captain Wentworth was now, like Anne, in Bath, most women would need the equivalent of a cartoon anvil dropped on their head to convince them that this man had the slightest bit of interest in her.

And yet Anne knew, from a single conversation in a public place, that he had much more than the slightest bit of interest in her. “His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light…all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least….She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her.” Superpower indeed.

7. Admit that you don’t know everything.

Emma is Austen’s supreme know-it-all. And like most know-it-alls, she knows nothing. Emma fancies herself a matchmaker while continuing to misread one situation after another, most especially the ones that apply to herself. She’s so busily moving people around like chess pieces that she fails to see the damage she’s inflicting. Until, that is, her friend Harriet Smith decides to fall in love with the one man who might actually inspire Emma to reconsider her decision never to marry. Thankfully, this is Austen, which means that Emma has her revelation, repents her arrogance, and all is happily ever after.

8. A good face doesn’t guarantee a good heart. 

How many of us have fallen in love with someone so gorgeous we just know he must have a heart to match? And sometimes, that gorgeous person is really, really good at hiding who he actually is. Which is how Marianne falls for Willoughby, and Elizabeth Bennet (briefly) falls for Wickham. And which is why once again, discernment and observation are key qualities to be cultivated. Because let’s face it, if Marianne (and Elinor and their mother) weren’t so enamored of Willoughby, they would have wondered aloud a lot sooner as to why the man didn’t propose to Marianne. After all, this is an age in which men propose after a few dances and maybe a dinner. And this dude was practically living at their house for a lot longer than that. As for Wickham, Elizabeth later admits to herself, when unpleasant truths come out, that it was highly inappropriate for him to share with her his personal gripes against Darcy almost as soon as they met. 


9. A reformed rake is an oxymoron.

I can’t help but be sad about this one, especially when it comes to Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park. I really wanted him to be for real, and I really wanted him to marry Fanny Price. Because Fanny Price plus Edmund Bertram pretty much equals boring. Sorry. But they’re happy, so I will endeavor to be happy for them. And I will continue to marvel at the brilliance of Austen in crafting a story that could have had an alternate ending. A very plausible alternate ending. And which I fool myself into thinking may happen every time I re-read the book. But it can’t happen. Why? Because a player is a player is a player. And we can’t have an Austen heroine marrying a player.

10. Cruelty is not okay. Even when it’s tempting.

Who wouldn’t be tempted to laugh at Mr. Rushworth of Mansfield Park? The man might as well be wearing a target in his back with his pink cloak and his “two-and-forty speeches” and his general lack of grey matter. But he’s a human being, and Fanny Price, being a kind, compassionate soul, takes pity on him. She helps him and coaches him, as he seems to be as fundamentally incapable of learning his lines as he is painfully aware of how much attention his wife-to-be is bestowing on another man. Kindness doesn’t always look to be as much fun as making someone else the butt of our jokes, but it’s the right thing, the human thing, the decent thing, to do. And darn it, Miss Austen, you make us laugh at Mr. Rushworth’s pink cloak anyway.

What gems of Austen wisdom have you discovered?


Laurie Viera Rigler is the author of the Jane Austen Addict series.

Visit her at her website

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Jane Austen News – Issue 76

The Jane Austen News celebrates the bicentenary!

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?  

  Austen’s Letter Makes A Fortune!   

We mentioned in last week’s Jane Austen News that a letter written by Jane to her niece Anna Lefroy in 1812 was going to auction for the first time. In the letter Jane writes disparagingly of Rachel Hunter’s gothic novel Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villainy, calling it “most tiresome and prosy” (although both Jane and Anna took great pleasure in reading the melodramatic, sensationalist, clichéd text; it seemed to be a case of the novel being so bad that it was good).

Well the sale took place on July the 11th, and despite the estimation being between £80,000 and £100,000, the price which the letter eventually fetched was £162,000!

Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist in books and manuscripts, had a theory about why the letter did so well. “The vast majority of her surviving letters talk about her day-to-day life, so to have a letter like we do here, that talks specifically about writing and shows her engaging with the popular literature of the day, is hugely significant.”

Celebrating July the 18th in Style! 

Fans all around the world spent July 18th celebrating Jane’s bicentenary, and the Jane Austen Centre was no exception. We hadThe Jane Austen News celebrates the bicentenary! lots of visitors come to celebrate with us on the day, but for those fans who couldn’t be with us, here’s a little bit of what we got up to:
  • Two of the Centre guides, Alice and James, donned their best Regency costumes and headed out with photographer Owen Benson to take some shots around some of Bath’s most iconic backdrops which Jane would have enjoyed (pictures soon!).
  • Martin, one of our experienced costumed guides, conducted free walking tours through the Georgian streets of Bath. These took in the places where Jane walked, shopped and visited, and the places made famous in her novels. The walk also passed the exciting new Jane Austen Floral Display in Bath’s Parade Gardens.
  • At 11a.m. BST we held a minute’s silence to officially mark the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death and to reflect on Jane’s life and works.
  • Just after our minute’s silence, micro-artist Graham Short presented us with a fifth Jane Austen £5 note, which he had engraved especially for the Centre. Graham caused a media storm last year, when he put into circulation four £5 notes which he had engraved with miniature portraits of Jane Austen, each valued at £50,000. His special fifth £5 note is now on display in the Centre.
  • After the presentation, Graham Short and some of the Jane Austen Centre guides popped upstairs to the Regency Tearooms for media interviews. (We’ll share some of our best bits with you in next week’s Jane Austen News).

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 76

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Jane Austen’s Life and Impact on Society

by Gracelyn Anderson

Jane Austen entered the world fashionably late by one month on December 16, 1775, as one of the seven Austen children. The Austens resided in a parsonage in Steventon, England, and started a small school for boys in their home to provide extra income along with working their usual occupations. Although Jane’s family was constantly working to make a living, her early life was far from dull. As Meredith Hindley writes in her article ‘The Mysterious Miss Austen’: “From an early age, Austen’s world was full of boyish antics, bawdy humor, and outdoor exploration.” Jane had a natural tomboyish instinct, which she picked up from her five brothers.

At age seven, Jane and her sister Cassandra were sent to a girl’s school in Oxford, but it was short lived as they returned home a year later when sick with typhoid. Another year passed and the Austen girls enrolled at Mrs. La Tournelle’s Ladies’ Boarding School in reading, but stayed only for a year. As Hindley writes: “Austen’s experience, however brief, left her with little regard for girls’ schools. In Emma, she writes scathingly of schools that ‘professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems-and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity.’”

Most of Jane’s education came from her father’s library and her lively and affectionate family circle. Jane used the library frequently, reading book after book and writing extensively. Mr. Austen encouraged Jane’s interest in writing and bought her expensive paper and pencils, even though he needed to save every penny. The entire family also put on home productions, adding to Jane’s dramatic experience, which would prove a help in later years when becoming an author. As Renee Warren has written: “One can only assume that it was in these excersises that the true talent of Jane Austen was being nurtured-through observation, improvisation, acting and participation.” Most of all, it was the world that Jane drew from to write. Her early experiences in life paved the way for the her well-known works.

By the age of nineteen, Jane Austen had begun working on “Elinor and Marianne,” which would later become Sense and Sensibility. Jane had been fearlessly experimenting with writing up to the point when she began her first novel. Jane acquired firsthand experience with the cruelty of a world dictated by money over love (much in evidence in her Continue reading Jane Austen’s Life and Impact on Society

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Jane Austen News – Issue 60

The Jane Austen News is arsenic poisoning!

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?   

Jane’s Death Caused By Arsenic?   
The Jane Austen News is arsenic poisoning!The cause of Jane Austen’s mysterious death at the age of 41 has been the subject of much debate over the years. Theories put forward have included cancer, Addison’s disease, and complications from drinking unpasteurised milk. However, new research conducted by researchers at the British Library, undertaken in conjunction with London optometrist Simon Barnard, has brought forward new evidence that Jane may have died as a result of arsenic poisoning.

Simon examined three pairs of glasses believed to have belonged to Austen, and said that they show evidence that her vision severely deteriorated in her final years. That kind of deterioration further suggests cataracts, and cataracts may indicate arsenic poisoning, Sandra Tuppen, a curator of archives and manuscripts at the library, wrote in a blog post on the library’s website. Arsenic was frequently found in water, medication and even wallpaper in Austen’s time, Dr. Tuppen emphasised. Unintentional arsenic poisoning was, she said, “quite common” and that “arsenic was often put into medication for other types of illness, potentially for rheumatism, which we know Jane Austen suffered from.”

Not everyone is convinced though. Deirdre Le Faye, an independent Austen scholar believes that Austen died of Addison’s disease. She said that while Austen could have ingested arsenic through medication, other elements of the British Library’s biographical analysis seemed less persuasive. One of the main arguments the library puts forward for arsenic poisoning is the claim that “she must have been almost blind by the end of her life”, but Deirdre Le Faye said, Austen was writing letters “perfectly ably” up to about six weeks before her death. Rapid deterioration of her eyesight would have had to be very sudden to fit the library’s analysis.

The mystery goes on!

Mr Darcy Nowhere In Sight In New BBC Drama  

The BBC’s next period drama is a real-life love story set in post-Regency England. BBC One and HBO have commissioned Shibden Hall, a brand new eight-part drama series created and written by Bafta-winning Sally Wainwright (To Walk Invisible, Last Tango In Halifax, Happy Valley). However, unlike in most period dramas, Shibden Hall’s heroine has no intention of marrying a man.

Set in West Yorkshire in 1832, Shibden Hall is the epic story of the remarkable landowner, Anne Lister. Returning after years of exotic travel and social climbing, Anne determines to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home.

To do this she must re-open her coal mines and marry well. But Anne Lister – who walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and charmed her way into high society – has no intention of marrying a man. True to her own nature, she plans to marry a woman. And not just any woman: the woman Anne Lister marries must be seriously wealthy.

Every part of Anne’s story is based in historical fact, recorded in the four million words of her diaries that contain the most intimate details of her life, once hidden in a secret code that is now broken.

It will rework the romantic genre epitomised by the smouldering appeal of Poldark and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, to tell the remarkable tale of the quest by a lesbian landowner to find a wife.

It’s a beautifully rich, complicated, surprising love story. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfillment of an ambition I’ve had for 20 years.

Sally Wainwright

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 60

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Jane Austen News – Issue 44

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 

Waiting for Sanditon!  

sanditon-bookNext year Sanditon, one of Austen’s two unfinished novels, will be be released as a film for the first time! It was announced a  while ago, but not very widely reported on, so we’ve been looking for as many details on it as we can. Here’s what we’ve found out so far:

  • The unfinished novel was completed by author Marie Dobbs, who was living in Moscow as a diplomat’s wife when she began work on Sanditon. The completed novel was published in 1975.
  • The screenplay is written by Simon Reade who has adapted other classic books for the screen such as Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful and RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End (which is currently being filmed).
  • The new costume drama has been described as half comedic satire, half romantic comedy.
  • It will be directed by Jim O’Hanlon (he also directed the BBC series of Jane Austen’s Emma in 2009).
  • This is a summary of the story according to Goldcrest Films who are producing it: “When Charlotte Heywood is invited to spend the summer season at Sanditon she accepts immediately, intrigued to see (not-so) polite society at play in the newly fashionable sea bathing resort. Here she meets a host of classic Austen characters from the imperious nouveau-riche Lady Denham to her impoverished ward Clara, and from the lecherous Sir Edward, to the dashing, feckless Sidney Parker and his hypochondriac sisters.”
  • Holliday Grainger (Cinderella) and Max Irons (Woman In Gold) are to join Charlotte Rampling in the Jane Austen adaptation.   
  • It’s due out next year (2017) and we can’t wait!

The Rise of the Essay Cheat   
lead_960-3While having a browse for new Jane Austen news this week, we looked forward with interest to reading an essay titled “Decisions Made by Women in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.” However, clicking on the link led to a custom essay writing site which advertised that it would write your essay for you, and that it was “100% anonymous. No plagiarism. Any topic. Any difficulty.”

Later we clicked on a link which promised an essay which looked at the essay title: “comment on the characters and behaviour of Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.” We clicked. It led us to the same essay writing site.

This happened a couple of weeks ago as well, with a different Jane Austen essay subject, and we thought it was just a one off. Sadly it looks as though more and more essays are coming onto the market which will do student’s work for them and it’s not a one off; it’s a trend. The really sad thing is, aside from grades being awarded that aren’t deserved, that it means that new students aren’t really reading Jane and so they’re missing out on the fantastic work she has to offer.

Jane Austen Book Benches Need Sponsors        

dsc_0106-1Companies from across the borough of Basingstoke are now able to sign up to sponsor one of the 25 “book benches” which are being created for the Sitting With Jane campaign. The benches will be specially decorated and shaped like an open book, and are due to go on display in different places around Basingstoke and Deane next year to mark 200 years since Jane Austen’s death. The sponsors are needed to help fund the cost of each bench and its decoration, and in return for their sponsorship, sponsors get free exposure in the project’s free app, and on plaques, and they can choose which selected design to use on their bench.

“Sitting With Jane is an exciting cultural, educational and legacy initiative that will ultimately benefit charities through the proceeds that are raised when the Bookbenches are auctioned.”

The book benches will be uniquely designed and painted by a professional artist, and will then be displayed for 12 weeks in the Basingstoke area in the summer of 2017.

A Jane Austen Kickstarter

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-14-20-10You might have seen on our Facebook page this week that a Jane Austen Kickstarter campaign is heading into its final days.

The project, launched by author Karin Quint, is asking for €14,000 by December 7th so that her book, Jane Austen’s England, “the first (and only!) travel guide devoted to exploring locations in England that have a unique connection with either Austen herself, her work, and/or the film and tv adaptations of her books” can be published in English. At present it’s only available in Dutch.

Many Janeites from countries around the world have expressed great interest in a guidebook like this – but it is now only available in Dutch! We would really like to have it translated into English to make it accessible to them. Unfortunately, a translation is a costly thing – and the book is more than 300 pages long!

In order to write her book, in 2013 Karin travelled through England and visited each location. Het Engeland van Jane Austen, as it’s known in Dutch, was published in the spring of 2014 by the renowned Dutch publisher Gottmer. So far, it’s doing very well in the Netherlands – and a second edition was just published in July 2016. Now it’s just a case of fingers crossed that she will reach her funding goal by the deadline so the book can be translated. You can click here for more information on the book and the campaign.

 An Examination of Jane and Dorothy   

dorothy-wordsworth_2652421bIn June 2017, to coincide with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death in July 2017, Sandstone Press will publish Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers.

There have been plenty of books examining the life and writing of Jane Austen, but Jane and Dorothy brings together the lives of two literary women – Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth (William Wordsworth’s sister, who was also a writer, though not one which many know about) in order to examine what it meant to be a female writer in Jane’s time, and the similarities of the two women’s lives. They were born just four years apart, both lived in Georgian England, and although they never met each other, Jane and Dorothy had friends, family and many interests in common. This is the first time their two lives have been compared in this way, offering new insights into each woman and their age, the publisher has said.

 Precious Tea!        

jane-austen-blend-24-03-2015_grande1_5eccc320-8b73-435a-bafb-cd0d9add416713We love tea! But following recent events between the UK and Europe, and the falling value of the pound, our tea is becoming threatened, or at least more costly (for the tea companies certainly). The cost of tea has skyrocketed and gone up by 50%; the price of an 80 kilogram bag of tea has increased from £100 to £150 according to Typhoo Tea. We mention this in the Jane Austen News because it reminded us of Jane’s time when tea was such an expensive and precious commodity.

The British East India Company had exclusive rights on importing tea until 1834, and this kept prices high for decades! The government also kept increasing taxes on tea to finance the wars it undertook. This meant that smuggling tea on the black market in order to avoid taxes became big business!

Not that we think that that this black market trade in tea will reemerge, but we did start to appreciate more this week our much loved tea breaks!

Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Jane Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Jane Austen Online Magazine.

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Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox

A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

One is humbled to review a book considered a classic of world literature. What could I possibly say about Pride and Prejudice that has not been scrutinized by scholars, exalted by enthusiasts, or bemoaned by students who have been forced to read it and just don’t get what all the fuss is about? Plenty—and that is one of its enduring charms. It is so many things to different people. After repeated readings I still laugh out loud at Austen’s dry wit, wily social commentary and satisfying love story. It often tops international polls as the “the most loved” or “favorite book” of all time; numerous stage and screen adaptations continue to remind us of its incredible draw to the modern audience; and its hero and heroine, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, may be the most famous romantic couple short of Romeo and Juliet. High praise, indeed, for a novel written almost two hundred years ago by a country clergyman’s daughter, home schooled by her father, and un-exalted in her lifetime.

Set in the early nineteenth-century country village of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, the story revolves around the Bennet family and their five unmarried daughters. They are the first family of consequence in the village. Unfortunately, the Bennet estate is entailed to a male heir, a cousin, Mr. William Collins. This is distressful to Mrs. Bennet who knows that she must find husbands for her daughters or they shall all be destitute if her husband should die. Mr. Bennet is not as concerned and spends his time in his library away from his wife’s idle chatter and social maneuvering. Elizabeth, the spirited and confident second daughter is determined to only to marry for love. She teases her beautiful and kind elder sister Jane that she must be the one to catch a wealthy husband to support them all. The three younger sisters: Mary, Catherine and Lydia, hinder their elder sisters chance for a good match by inappropriate and unguarded behavior.

When Mr. Bingley, a single man of large fortune, moves into the neighborhood with his fashionable sisters he attends the local assembly ball and is immediately taken with the angelic Jane Bennet. His friend Mr. Darcy is even richer with a great estate in Derbyshire, but he is proud and arrogant giving offense to all, including Elizabeth when he refuses to dance with her. She overhears him tell Bingley that she was only tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt him. This amuses and annoys her enough to repeat it to her friends and family. The whole community declares him the most disagreeable man, eaten up with pride.

And thus the famous love story begins. How Mr. Darcy’s pride will be humbled and Elizabeth’s prejudices dissolved is one of the greatest stories of all time. Austen’s astute characterizations and clever plotting never cease to amaze. Society has changed in two hundred years, but human nature—foibles and all—remain constant, much to our amusement and delight.

Naxos Audiobooks presents us with a professionally produced and finely crafted jewel in this audio recording of Pride and Prejudice. Narrated by British actress Emilia Fox, viewers of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle will remember her fine performance as shy Georgiana Darcy and be pleasantly surprised by her vocal range and emotional depth in characterization. I particularly appreciated her interpretation of Mrs. Bennet’s frazzled anxiety and Lady Catherine de Bourgh imperious resolve. Listeners will enjoy all thirteen hours of this unabridged recording honoring one of the greatest novels ever written and want to seek out the other six Austen novels that they have also recorded in audio format.

Naxos Audiobooks USA, (2005)
Unabridged, 11 CD’s (13 h 02 m)
ISBN: 978-9626343562

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of the short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.


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Sense and Sensibility: The Bicentenary Edition

“I am never too busy to think of S. and S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child. . .”
Jane Austen to Cassandra, 1811

When Girlebooks decided to publish a bicentenary edition of Sense and Sensibility, they were faced with the dilemma of how to make it “different”. Sure there were fewer ebook copies on the market than hardbound, but even a cursory search on offers over 2,000 Sense and Sensibility listings. How could they stand out in such a crowd?

Enter the combined creative talents of Margaret C. Sullivan and Cassandra Chouinard. Sullivan, no novice to the historical world of Jane Austen (she is the author of The Jane Austen Handbook) first collaborated with Chouinard when writing There Must be Murder, a sequel to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, set in Regency Bath. Laura McDonald, founder of Girlebooks, had recently prepared There Must be Murder for ebook publication and knew that Ms. Sullivan’s meticulous research abilities and smart, fun style were a “matchless match” with Ms Chouinard’s lively illustrations—a perfect pairing for a beloved classic.

And so, as Sense and Sensibility turned 200 years old, a fresh look was taken at the book. For the first time in years, new illustrations for an unabridged copy of the book were created. Characters come alive—not in a dated, Victorian tinted way, but with faces and expressions which display both sense and sensibility—along with charm, alarm and a variety of other emotions drawn from a book that seems at times to be “nothing but a succession of busy nothings.” Certainly most of the major activity happens off page, and yet, there is nothing boring or monotonous here. Ms. Chouinard has provided 23 large illustrations…and, in a nod to Hugh Thomson, a charmingly illustrated chapter header for each of the 50 chapters! These darling headers give a glimpse of “what’s to come” to even the most rapid reader, flying by the scenery in order to discover Willoughby’s secret and Marianne’s fate.

While Cassandra was busy sketching and drawing, Ms. Sullivan was hard at work, researching the allusions which would have been readily apparent to Jane Austen’s contemporary readers, but have been lost in the following centuries. Her plan was to read it with an eye towards the first time reader—not creating a scholarly treatise, so much as answering the questions that arise when considering Colonel Brandon’s supposed “nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins”, for instance. (Incidentally, I discovered that these are a: an Englishman who became rich by doing business in the Indies, b: an Indian coin, and c: a litter carried by four attendants and covered with a shade).

Sullivan’s insights also help reveal the depth of coquettish conniving betrayed by the Steele sisters in choosing to join the “Doctor” in a post-chaise all the way to London, for “it seems that the party was made up of just Anne, Lucy and the Doctor, and as a post-chaise seats only three, it would have been a very cozy party indeed.”

 “Not in the stage, I assure you,” replied Miss Steele, with quick exultation; “we came post all the way, and had a very smart beau to attend us. Dr. Davies was coming to town, and so we thought we’d join him in a post-chaise; and he behaved very genteelly…everybody laughs at me so about the Doctor, and I cannot think why. My cousins say they are sure I have made a conquest…”

Although it has been many years since I first read Sense and Sensibility, I confess that I learned more, and understand it more now, than I ever have before. It is one thing to view someone else’s impressions of the book on film, but reading the book again, this time with clever chapter notes (97 in all) which answer so many of my questions before I can even begin to ask them, I finally feel like I begin to understand the world that Jane Austen was writing in. Certainly, the book is far deeper and more complex—and better told—than any film adaptation to date.

Along with providing ample notes on the text, Ms. Sullivan has added to “the improvement of [our] mind by extensive reading.” Included in this edition are a biography of Jane Austen and inclusive bibliographies on subjects as diverse as “Biography and Criticism”, “Authors Having Fun with Jane” and “Fiction inspired by Sense and Sensibility”. There is also a complete list of Sense and Sensibility films—surely enough extended reading to satisfy even my enthusiasm for the subject!

Sense and Sensibility, the Bicentenary Edition: Illustrated and Annotated is available in paperback, as well as Kindle/Mobipocket PRC, Adobe Reader PDF, Microsoft Reader LIT and Epub editions from both Amazon and Girlebooks. Check out your favorite medium, today! All versions arrive with beautiful formatting and charming illustrations, making them instant favorites—easy to read and lovely to behold.

  • List Price: £9.57 Paperback/£1.91  Kindle
  • Paperback: 398 pages
  • Publisher: LibriFiles Publishing (December 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615568084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615568089



Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Her book, Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, is available from the Jane Austen Centre Giftshop. Visit Austentation for a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.

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