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Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love

Dear Jane Austen

Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love

When we reviewed Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating a while back, we remarked that reading the advice contained therein was like receiving a letter full of good advice from Aunt Jane. In Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love, Patrice Hannon has gone one better and provided exactly that: a series of letters in Jane Austen’s voice, full of common sense and bracing admonitions, not just on romantic matters but embracing other aspects of life on which modern women might need advice, from financial to fashion to family relations, illustrating the advice with examples from her own novels.

 

In the wrong hands, such an endeavour could turn revoltingly twee, but Dr. Hannon has a sure grasp of the tone and subject matter. A college professor who has “taught Jane Austen’s novels to hundreds of students” according to her bio blurb, Dr. Hannon knows her Austen and aptly applies the novels to the situation of each applicant for advice, reinforcing each “lesson” with an aphorism (“Jane Austen says: A heroine needs good friends as much as she needs a hero”).

Since modern “heroines in training” are writing the letters to Jane Austen, she has the advantage of a 200-year view of the situation. Though she is physically placed in 1816 Chawton, rethinking her original ending to Persuasion and trying to throw off the first pangs of her fatal illness, Jane offers wry comments on everything from the Brontës (“who, after all my labour to entertain women with comedies having only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them, set the poor creatures back hundreds of years with stories full of improbable circumstances and unnatural characters”) to Sex and the City. It may sound strange, but it works.

Like the Guide to Dating, even those Janeites who are more experienced and perhaps less in need of a stern auntish talking-to will enjoy this book, as it can be read almost as light lit-crit as well as earnestly-meant advice. The author has an impressive and detailed grasp on Jane Austen’s novels and mostly gets Jane’s voice just right: brisk and no-nonsense, with the merest flutter of poignancy where appropriate, only to be picked up by those conversant with her life story.

Dear Jane Austen is less structured than the Guide, and as a result rambles in a few places, but even the rambles are interesting, so there is no great harm in it. Various Austen family members wander in and out in the background, and Jane’s conversations with them are also recorded, making her sound rather chattier and Miss Batesish than one might expect, though we suppose that is the nature of such one-sided sort of conversations.

We found Dear Jane Austen to be meatier than expected from such a slim volume and basic premise, and we think that there are few Janeites who will not enjoy spending a few afternoons caught up in the fantasy. We are just not sure whether to categorize it as fiction for the premise or non-fiction for the common-sense self-help advice and the discussion of the books. Ultimately it doesn’t matter; the book can be enjoyed on both levels.

Plume has positioned the book as fiction.

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Plume (26 Jun 2007)
ISBN-10: 1615511601
ISBN-13: 978-1615511600


Margaret C. Sullivan is the Editrix of AustenBlog and the author of The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World.

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101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen

We must confess that we expected something rather different from 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. We expected something more like a list of overlooked scenes from the novel, or explanations of references to commonplace items or ideas from Jane Austen’s time, long since forgotten. We are glad to have our preconceptions destroyed in this case, because what we received is much richer: a book truly about Jane Austen.

The author, Patrice Hannon (author of Dear Jane Austen), has put together a book packed with biographical information and insights into Jane Austen’s novels. We often are asked to recommend a first Jane Austen biography, and we think this beautifully-presented volume would be an excellent choice for any new or longtime Janeite.

The book is organized in sections relating to Jane’s childhood, young adulthood, her writing career, her later life, and her legacy. Each of the 101 Things explores an aspect of Jane’s life or work, following the timeline of her life and how the things and people she knew are reflected in her novels. As in her first book, the author shows her deep knowledge of and insight into her subject. Ms. Hannon has an engaging writing style, and the book is easy to read without being lightweight; scholarly but not stuffy. Any biographical work about Jane Austen requires a certain amount of authorial speculation, and Ms. Hannon occasionally indulges, but her speculation is intelligent and knowledgeable, which must disarm reproof.

Like many of the Jane Austen-related books currently being published, this book is being positioned as a companion volume for the film Becoming Jane. We hope that viewers of Becoming Jane who are curious to learn more about her will find this volume and discover, as the subtitle claims, the truth about Jane Austen.

Price: £7.99
Publisher: Adams Media Corporation (27 April 2007)
ISBN-10: 1598692844
ISBN-13: 978-1598692846

Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors and The Cult of Da Man. She is the author of the recently published Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World.

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Just like a book!

I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London. On Wednesday I received one Copy sent down by Falkener, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles and sent a third by the Coach to Godmersham….
Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 29, 1813

I’m often asked how I came to write two books about Jane Austen. Many people are also curious to know how those books came to be published by major publishers. The story behind the publication of my books should give encouragement to imaginists everywhere.

I had always loved reading Jane Austen’s novels and once I started teaching college I naturally taught those books as often as I could work them into the curriculum—which was very often. Introductory literature course? Must assign Pride and Prejudice. Nineteenth-century period survey? Can’t leave out Emma. Genre course on the novel? Northanger Abbey fits the bill. Jane Austen seminar? The jackpot!—We’ll read novels, fragments, juvenilia. You get the idea. In more recent years I’ve had the rewarding experience of teaching literature courses for adults in New York City (most recently at The Morgan Library in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition of Austen’s letters). The Jane Austen course is always by far the most popular. In teaching Austen’s books to a variety of people I was struck by how involved students always became in the problems and choices facing the characters, particularly the heroines. The “truth of the description and the sentiment,” as Sir Walter Scott put it, provoked lengthy discussions about Austen’s portrayal of human nature, which has not changed since she wrote. I was thus inspired to write a Dear-Abby-style “self-help” book based on Austen’s writings and her life. Just as Jane Austen was aware of the complexity of characters and circumstances, I complicate “her” answers to letters from distressed “heroines-in-training” by surrounding the exchange of letters with a framing drama in which Austen herself is the main player.

Given Jane Austen’s enormous popularity in recent years, I thought I had a manuscript publishers would be clamoring for. I already had an agent, who was shopping a novel I had written, and I expected him to sell Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love quickly. No such luck. In a routine familiar to most writers, we received rejection after rejection. When my agent couldn’t sell the book (or my novel), I decided to take matters into my own hands. He and I parted ways. I seriously considered “self-publishing.” Hadn’t Jane Austen herself done something similar? But first I queried some small publishers directly. To my delight, Pamela Aidan, well known as the author of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, loved Dear Jane Austen. Pamela is a publisher as well as a writer: she and her husband, Michael, run Wytherngate Press, and they wanted to publish my book. I was thrilled—in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits—when Dear Jane Austen was published by Wytherngate in December 2005.

While Dear Jane Austen was not “self-published”—I had paid no money to Wytherngate Press—it was published using print-on-demand technology, which is also used by self-publishing operations. What this means is that books are printed as they are ordered and they cannot be returned to the publisher. For this reason, while the books are sold on line, “brick-and-mortar” bookstores, accustomed to returning what they don’t sell, generally won’t carry them (except, in rare cases, on consignment). It is also difficult to get print-on-demand books reviewed in the usual places. So, I was facing a new hurdle. While Wytherngate had done a very nice job with my book, it was a very small press. I was only their second author. And they were located in Idaho. How was the world going to hear about my book? Again, I took matters into my own hands, this time quite literally.

To the amazement of family and friends, I took a part-time job at Clary & Co. Antiques, a charming shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, where the owners, Denise Sheehan and Sandra Wasserman, said I could sell Dear Jane Austen in addition to the lovely antique crystal, china, jewelry, and furniture that made up the shop’s regular wares. I had never worked in retail before but my book was to me what Sanditon was to Mr. Parker—“his mine, his lottery, his speculation and his hobby horse; his occupation his hope and his futurity.” A complete enthusiast, I was determined to see Dear Jane Austen succeed. When customers entered the shop I would wait until their eyes passed over the copies of my book that were stacked on a small table or fanned out on a Limoges platter. If they were in danger of leaving without having noticed Dear Jane Austen, I would approach them, sometimes with copy in hand, and ask, “Are you a Jane Austen fan?” Many people said “yes” with that eager delight we all know so well, induced by the mere mention of the name. Some shrugged and said, “Not especially”—at which I tried to hide my surprise, this being one point upon which I can never suppose that other people could feel differently from myself. And yes, even in New York City, some people responded with a blank look and the staggering question, “Who’s Jane Austen?”

But almost everyone became interested to some degree when I told them I was the author. They would turn the book over, see my photo on the back cover, and, more often than even I could have imagined, would say, “I’ll buy a copy”—sometimes two or three—“if you’ll sign it for me.” Every single sale was a triumph. In my time at Clary & Co, I sold many hundreds of copies of Dear Jane Austen to people from all over the country and the world, aided by the fact that the shop was located in an area very popular with both celebrities and tourists (right on the “Sex and the City tour” route).

During this time, as part of my personal media blitz, I sent a copy of Dear Jane Austen to Maggie Sullivan at Austenblog. Maggie gave it an excellent review but she also did something else for which I will be forever grateful. When Paula Munier at Adams Media asked her shortly thereafter to recommend a writer for a book on Jane Austen, Maggie, on the basis of what she’d read in Dear Jane Austen and her knowledge of my academic credentials, referred Paula to me. Paula was fabulous. She and I quickly came to an agreement about plans for the new book. So, while I was selling Dear Jane Austen at Clary & Co. I was also writing 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen, which was scheduled to be published early in 2007.

Some time around Thanksgiving 2006, a woman entered Clary & Co. and I launched into my routine (while helping her find what she’d actually come for). She was very interested in learning about my book, both the content and the publishing history. As I wrote up the sales ticket forDear Jane Austen—another little victory—she mentioned that she worked in publishing. “Are you an editor?” I innocently asked as I calculated the sales tax. “No,” she replied. “I’m the publisher of Penguin. We might be interested in publishing your book.”

The wonderful Kathryn Court returned to Clary & Co. a week later and told me Penguin was indeed interested in publishing my book if Wytherngate Press would let them. Pamela and Michael graciously released me from my contract and in December I signed with Plume, an imprint of Penguin.

And that is the story of how, in the first half of 2007, my two books on Jane Austen were published.


Patrice Hannon lives in New York and is an active member of JASNA. In 2007 her book 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen won The Jane Austen’s Regency World Award for Best New ‘Regency Know-How’ Book. Patrice has recently completed a Jane Austen-inspired novel, thereby completing her personal Triple Crown.  She hopes to have news about its publication soon.

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