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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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Growing Older with Jane Austen, by Maggie Lane: A Review

growing older with jane austen

indexGrowing Older with Jane Austen, by Maggie Lane

Maggie Lane is the author of Jane Austen’s World and Understanding Austen. She has lectured on aspects of Jane Austen’s life and novels to the Jane Austen Societies of the UK, Canada, the U.S., and Australia, is the editor of the Jane Austen Society newsletter, and is consultant editor to the global Regency World magazine.

Already the author of a dizzying number of fascinating books about Jane Austen’s life and environment, in Growing Older with Jane Austen, she offers this new look at a subject that permeates all of Austen’s novels, and yet, has remained, until now, relatively untouched by scholars.

There is no doubt that Jane Austen is enduringly popular with both a general readership and academics. But amid the wealth of approaches to her life and work, no one has made a full-length study of the concept of aging in her novels, and this book sets out to fill that gap. With chapters on the loss of youth and beauty, old wives, old maids, merry widows, and dowager despots, the theme allows for a lively exploration of many of Austen’s most memorable characters. There are also chapters on hypochondria and illness, age and poverty, and death and wills. The book draws on the six novels, major literary fragments, Austen’s own letters, and the reminiscences of family members and contemporaries. Real-life examples are used to underline the fidelity of Austen’s fictional representation. Austen’s wry approach to the perils and consolations of growing older is bound to strike chords with many.

Fellow editors at Jane Austen’s Regency World read and enjoyed this new look at Austen’s works, noting, ‘It is a fascinating read, allowing a great parade of characters to take their turn centre-stage. Lane covers all aspects of older age in this endlessly entertaining book – the chapters entitled ‘The Loss of Youth and Beauty’ and ‘Not the Only Widow in Bath’ are particularly revealing. Illness and death are treated with an Austenian mixture of wit and sensitivity – one cannot help but feel that Jane would have approved of such a lively study of “gout and decrepitude” and all the other ailments, real and imaginary, that assail her senior citizens.’

  • List Price: £16.99
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (29 Aug. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719806976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719806971

JARW75-COVER-WEB-204x300Review quoted from Jane Austen’s Regency World and printed here with permission.

Subscribe today, or purchase issues individually from our giftshop. Jane Austen’s Regency World is published in Britain as the official magazine of the Jane Austen Centre. It is the only full-colour, must-read, glossy magazine for fans of the world’s favourite author – delivered to your doorstep every two months direct from Bath, England. Fascinating articles highlight all aspects of Regency life, plus reports from Austen societies in the UK, US and Australia; news, letters, book reviews, quiz and much, much more!

 

 

 

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Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane – A Review

unnamedJane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane – A 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 bill of fare’ as he calls it is actually mutton (in fact it’s turkey).” The rhubarb Austen refers to is “not the plant we think of, the stalks of which are eaten as fruit,” but “the medicinal rootstock of the species of rheum grown in China and Tibet,” imported in powdered form to be “used as a purgative by the overfed part of the population.” Lane points out that in Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland eventually realizes poisons are not as readily available as doses of rhubarb.

Jane Austen and Food begins with a discussion of “domestic economy” in Austen’s life and letters, outlining the historical context for subsequent analysis of meals, menus, manners, and morals in her novels. The book is full of entertaining facts, including the Austen family’s choice of turkey at Christmas (they reared their own turkeys at Steventon) while many other families ate beef; Jane Austen’s preference for the term “garden stuff,” instead of “vegetable,” a word she didn’t use in her writing until Sanditon in 1817; the rare appearance of similes in her work (“as White as a Whipt Syllabub” and “as cool as a cream-cheese” are both in Lesley Castle); and the importance of the hour at which a family had dinner.

Lane traces a progression from the “humble” Watsons, who dine at three, to the Dashwoods and the Woodhouses (four), to the Grants (half past four), to the Tilneys (five). Those who are fashionable or aspire to be considered fashionable dine late. At Netherfield, the hour is half past six, a full two hours after the dinner hour at Longbourn. Where characters eat is as important as when they eat and what they eat. Lane talks about why Mr. Knightley objects so strongly to eating outside – it’s thought to be “dangerous because of its tendency to break down those careful rules of behaviour which have been built up over generations to protect men and women from their baser selves.”

Who has control over food is also a key question in the novels, and Lane’s analysis is fascinating. We can learn a great deal, she says, about General Tilney and Dr. Grant from their obsessive focus on the quantity and quality of their food. While the former is “active and officious” and the latter is “idle,” Austen “shows how apparently very different styles of men can use food to manipulate and tyrannise over their immediate family.” Even characters with little or no control over the type of food or the time or place it is served find ways to exert control. Marianne Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Jane Fairfax all reject food at times of intense emotional distress. Lane writes that “the eating disorders of Marianne, Fanny and Jane may thus be said to mirror a degree of social disorder.” In contrast, Austen’s other heroines are indifferent to food. They “eat to keep themselves healthy, to be sociable, to conform. But not one of them ever anticipates or expresses pleasure in a meal, or admits to liking a particular food.” Whether a character is eating or not eating, talking about food or not talking about it, Austen’s choices are always telling.

The book concludes with not one but two interpretations of Emma, a novel “so replete with food that it requires a whole chapter to itself,” and a helpful index of food and drink in the novels, so you can look up references to cherries, chicken, and chocolate, for example, or parsnips, partridges, and pineapples. Food and housekeeping may be considered “mundane” by some, as Lane says in her introduction, but her excellent analysis demonstrates that both are central to the moral world of Austen’s novels. Writers must decide for themselves whether the care and feeding of a family distracts them from writing, or nourishes their creative lives. But food in fiction will continue to fascinate both readers and writers. Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen and Food entertains us with a wealth of information about historical context, and makes a compelling argument for the moral significance of food in art as well as in life.

Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane
£1.99, Kindle Edition
Endeavour Press Ltd. (2013)
Digital eBook (218) pages
ASIN: B00GYJD9CC


Sarah Emsley is the author of Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues and the editor of  Edith Wharton’s novel The Custom of the Country. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is currently working on a novel. She spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, and later taught classes on Jane Austen in the Writing Program at Harvard University. She blogs about Austen and Wharton at www.sarahemsley.com, and to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park in 2014, she’s hosting a conversation about the novel on her blog, with guest posts by Juliet McMaster, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James, Lynn Shepherd, Margaret C. Sullivan, Deborah Yaffe, Devoney Looser, and many other wonderful writers. Follow Sarah on Twitter (@Sarah_Emsley), visit her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sarahlbemsley), and subscribe to the blog to receive updates about this exciting celebration.

This review orginally appeared on Austenprose.com and is used here with permission.

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The Jane Austen Cookbooks

Jane Austen and Food
by Maggie Lane

What was the significance of the pyramid of fruit which confronted Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley? Or of the cold beef eaten by Willoughby on his journey of repentance to see Marianne? Why is it so appropriate that the scene of Emma’s disgrace should be a picnic, and how do the different styles of housekeeping in Mansfield Park engage with the social issues of the day?

While Jane Austen does not luxuriate in cataloguing meals in the way of Victorian novelists, food in fact plays a vital part in her novels. Her plots, being domestic, are deeply imbued with the rituals of giving and sharing meals. The attitudes of her characters to eating, to housekeeping and to hospitality are important indicators of their moral worth. In a practice both economical and poetic, Jane Austen sometimes uses specific foodstuffs to symbolise certain qualities at heightened moments in the text. This culminates in the artistic triumph of Emma, in which repeated references to food not only contribute to the solidity of her imagined world, but provide an extended metaphor for the interdependence of a community.

In this original, lively and well-researched book, Maggie Lane not only offers a fresh perspective on the novels, but illuminates a fascinating period of food history, as England stood on the brink of urbanisation, middle-class luxury, and change in the role of women. Ranging over topics from greed and gender to mealtimes and manners, and drawing on the novels, letters and Austen family papers, she also discusses Jane Austen’s own ambivalent attitude to the provision and enjoyment of food.
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Hambledon Pr; (April 1995)
ISBN: 1852851244
Price: £14.95

The Jane Austen Cookbook
Compiled by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen wrote her novels in the midst of a large and sociable family. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, friends and acquaintances were always coming and going, which offered numerous occasions for convivial eating and drinking. One of Jane’s dearest friends, Martha Lloyd, lived with the family for many years and recorded in her “Household Book” over 100 recipes enjoyed by the Austens. A selection of this family fare, now thoroughly tested and modernized for today’s cooks, is recreated here, together with some of the more sophisticated dishes which Jane and her characters would have enjoyed at balls, picnics, and supper parties. A fascinating introduction describes Jane’s own interest in food, drawing upon both the novels and her letters, and explains the social conventions of shopping, eating, and entertaining in late Georgian and Regency England. The book is illustrated throughout with delightful contemporary line drawings, prints, and watercolours.

Authentic recipes, modernized for today’s cooks, include:

  • Buttered Prawns
  • Wine-Roasted Gammon and Pigeon Pie
  • Broil’d Eggs
  • White Soup and Salmagundy
  • Pyramid Creams
  • Martha’s Almond Cheesecakes

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; (May 2002)
ISBN: 0771014171
Price: $19.95

Margaretta Acworth’s Georgian Cookery Book
by Alice Prochaska, Frank Prochaska

The trouble with the old recipes or ‘receipts’ as they were called in the eighteenth century, is that they leave a great deal ot the imagination. They had no temperatures, very few instructions- most cookery information was handed down mother to daughter, and of course their ovens had no thermostats anyway. When Alice and Frank Prochaska dug up the old Receipt book belonging to Margaretta Ackworth, they decided to remedy this and spent the next months experimenting with the recipes, the ingredients and generally researching the family.

The result is this marvellous book. At once a cookbook with authentic Georgian period recipes with modern translations – and also a short history on the the cooking of the time generally, and Margaretta’s family specifically. The book tells us alot about culture in Georgian England of the eighteenth century and makes a marvellous read.

Many of the recipes just seem plain strange, they include ingredients rarely used now like carraway, rose-water, quinces and hare – well doesn’t everthing now have hershey’s chocolate or steak? Meat is often collared, scotched, potted, ragouted or colloped. I haven’t had the courage to try any of the meat dishes as yet .

The layout is really nice. The Prochaska’s use the original Ackworth recipe to precede their modern ‘translation’ of it, so you get the best of both worlds, the old and the new. There are only two colour photo’s in this book, reproductions of the portraits of Margaretta and her husband. The rest of the book is printed on a heavy cream paper in black type which feels very satisfying to read.

Hardcover – 160 pages (28 September, 1987)
Pavilion Bks.; ISBN: 1851451242
Available Used from $25.00

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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The Faces of Jane

Jane Austen's WorldJane Austen’s World
By Maggie Lane

Maggie Lane has done a wonderful job in this Austen collection. It is well set out, beautifully illustrated and a perfect introduction to Austen- especially for fans who have discovered her through the recent popularity of her books turned film and television series. It is a hardcover coffee table sized book- not something you take to bed with you- quite slim but packed full of good material. The book is divided into five chapters which cover everything from Jane Austen the person, to daily life in Regency England and the film adaptations. Each chapter is subdivided into smaller sections which are really just double page spreads on a particular subject. Don’t expect an in depth analysis of any particular subject but do expect a very competent summary. Lane includes a chronology of Austen’s life which is useful and easy to read. The only real objection I have is that many of the pictures used in here are not titled and it is difficult to find out where they are from- the illustrations index in the back is quite small and cluttered. For those of you who are thinking of buying this book second hand, watch out that you don’t confuse this book with Lane’s earlier work on Austen’s life. That is a smaller book and is more of a biography tracing her life and travels. In short- a really enjoyable book.

Hardcover – 144 pages (August 1997)
List Price: $20.00
Adams Media Corporation; ISBN: 1558507485

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart
by Valerie Grosvenor Myer

I think Valerie Grovesnor Myer has made a good stab at trying to write to a biography of Austen and she succeeds relatively well. The only trouble is, Austen biographies are all drawn from the same material- very little new information has been turned up in recent years and so biographers are forced to reinterpret the old sources to find a new angle. That really is what this author has done- with only moderate success. Obstinate Heart has 24 chapters, mostly in chronological order. The complaint that this is more about Austen’s family than Austen herself bears through- especially in the first nine chapters. To make her book different, Myer has attempted to find biographical incidents from Austen’s own life to explain incidents in her novels. Not a bad thing to do- but I found it overpowering at time- as though she were just going from one incident to another- and sometimes I felt her examples used weren’t good ones. For instance she likened Jane Austens’ brother Edward’s adoption by the Knights to Fanny Price’s living with the Bertrams in Mansfield Park. Not at all the same situation. In the novel Fanny lived with the family but was never adopted by them. In real life, Edward adopted the new surname of Knight and eventually inherited a large estate and fortune from it. The situation reminds one more of Frank Churchill in Emma- Frank Weston is adopted by his aunt, Mrs Churchill, adopts her name and becomes her heir. That seems that is a much better example- why did Myer use this much less satisfactory one? Another ‘problem’ is that though she proves that she has read various books on Austen (for instance Deidre Le Faye’s collected letters of Austen) she doesn’t seem to have done much research on the history of the period. Myer cites a letter from Austen to her neice Fanny Knight in which she talks of the whole race of ‘Pagets’. Myer has clearly used the footnote which is in Le Faye’s edition of the letters to explain this remark about Austen’s dislike of the Pagets – explaining about Lord Paget’s (later Marquess of Anglesey) elopement with Lady Charlotte Wellesley. What both Le Faye and Myer miss is that the year before this elopement there was another High profile Paget elopement when Lord Paget’s brother eloped with Lady Boringdon. A little extra research on Myer’s part would have revealed this fact. I found the book interesting simply for Myer’s ‘new’ interpretation, but I wouldn’t pick it by choice. If you are looking for a really good biography of Jane – Park Honan’s is much better – or Claire Tomalin’s. (Both are available in our Giftshop) There are many other great books on the history of the time you could read. Maggie Lane is great and Deidre Le Faye’s collection of letters is fabulous. If this is all you can get hold of though, it would do in a pinch.

List Price: $13.95
Paperback – 288 pages (April 1998)
Arcade Publishing; ISBN: 1559704357

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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