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Lizzy & Jane by by Katherine Reay

indexA review by Meredith Esparza

“Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.”

Lizzy – a thirty-three-year-old gifted New York City chef who seems to have temporarily lost her magic in the kitchen. Her restaurant isn’t packed, her dishes aren’t as focused and vibrant, and her financial backer thinks she is distracted by events in her personal life.

Jane – Lizzy’s older sister. A mother of two, who, at the age of forty-one, is battling the very terrifying and unpredictable disease known as cancer. While Jane’s cancer isn’t aggressive and was diagnosed at an early stage it has created a vast amount of tension and upheaval to every aspect of her life.

Lizzy and Jane – sisters who lost their mother to cancer fifteen years ago and still have emotional scars that have not yet healed. Jane left home at eighteen and never came to visit while their mom was sick. Lizzy, feeling abandoned by her sister, left home as well and the two now have a very distant and cold relationship full of unresolved issues and pain. But due to the situations in both their lives they are brought together for an extended visit…

With Dear Mr. Knightley, we’ve seen how skilled story-teller, Katherine Reay, can take a very serious and difficult situation like growing up in the foster system, and pen a heartfelt and honest story full of challenge, growth, and realism. She does the same with Lizzy and Jane. Cancer and overcoming fear and grief are very tough and sometimes off-putting subjects, but blended with Ms. Reay’s thoughtful and sensitive prose and accessible characters, these subjects are more inspiring and uplifting than they are depressing and dark.

As with Dear Mr. Knightley, my favorite part of the story was witnessing the main character’s emotional journey and growth. Their mother’s death affected Lizzy and Jane in so many ways; they lost a lot more than their mother when she died. I especially enjoyed Lizzy’s journey to find herself and discover what she was missing. When Lizzy traveled to Seattle to visit her family, she was hoping to solve her problems with cooking and find her magic again, but she ended up learning so much more, she ended up finding love, family, forgiveness, and a life.

It was so easy to fall in love with the characters in this story – my heart was engaged by each and every one of them and I thoroughly enjoyed observing how they grew closer together. Besides her relationship with Jane, I enjoyed seeing Lizzy’s interactions and friendships with Nick, a single father who feels guilty about a past mistake, and Cecilia, a nurse at the infusion center with so much heart and spirit. I enjoyed how so many characters connected to each other through Jane Austen and other authors; and I loved how Jane Austen was so full of meaning and history to both Lizzy and Jane (there are plenty of fun nods to Jane Austen for readers to discover!) And the food references and descriptions were so delectably tempting! Whether it was food Lizzy was preparing, eating at a restaurant, or purchasing at a market – my senses were tingling with all the fresh, vivid, and tantalizing ingredients described. (I think I may have learned a cooking trick or two, as well!) And while I loved how this tale integrated so many diverse elements, I did sometimes find myself wanting a little more attention and page time devoted to certain aspects of the story.

Profound, perceptive, and poignant – Katherine Reay once again delivers a story that will pull at your heartstrings, make your eyes well up with tears, and in this case, give you plenty of food for thought! An incredible read!

  • RRP: £9.99
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401689736
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401689735

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Meredith Esparza is music studio director and private piano instructor living off the coast of North Carolina with her very own Mr. Bingley.  She is a long-time admirer of Jane Austen and an avid reader.  For more than five years her blog, Austenesque Reviews has been devoted to the reading and reviewing of numerous Jane Austen sequels, fan-fiction, and para-literature.  She loves being able to connect with readers and authors online through a shared love and admiration for Jane Austen.  Visit Meredith at her blog Austenesque Reviews, follow her on Twitter as @austenesque and on Facebook as Austenesque Reviews.

 

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Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan, a review

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

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I was recently asked to review Margaret C. Sullivan’s latest book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover, and I was only too happy to! I had heard about this upcoming book and I was very much looking forward to it and already had it on my wish list!

“In the short forty-two years of her life, Jane Austen wrote six novels that would endure long after her death in 1817. The texts are true classics, unchanged and yet still immensely popular some 200 years later, but the covers have changed with the times-from the elegant inscriptions of the famous Peacock cover, to pulpy sixties pop art, to graphic novels, Twilight-inspired copycat covers, and mystifyingly bad digital editions. With over 200 images of covers spanning as many years of Austen books, this fascinating, funny, and art-filled book is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.”

I always knew that there were lots of different covers and editions of Jane Austen’s novels – I own quite a few versions myself! – but I didn’t realise how many there really were!

This book was absolutely fascinating to look through and spot the ones I own, how many I don’t – and seeing how many editions I want to own! There is an unbelievable amount, many more than I ever imagined, some I recognised but others that were completely new to me! It really was amazing to see the wide range of publications and their interpretations of the books for the covers. There was everything ranging from beautifully simple to really quite funny and a little scary!
Continue reading Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan, a review

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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 Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel – A Review

The pursuit of Mary Bennet

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel

Review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Oh, Mary Bennet. What is there to say about her? Unfortunately, the most pedantic, priggish and un-proprietous Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice has not received the attention from Austenesque authors that her sisters have enjoyed so regularly: Jane is known for her beauty and kindness, Lydia and Kitty for their rambunctiousness, and of then of course there is the spirited and witty Lizzy. But where does poor Mary fit in? Perhaps you could say, “there’s something about Mary,” and now we have The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle to find out just what that something is.

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In Mingle’s new Pride and Prejudice sequel, we meet a Mary that has begun to change and move away from her lack of social graces displayed so humorously in P&P. Now older, she has become more mature and composed, but unfortunately her singing voice has not improved with age, much to the chagrin of those around her. Things soon change as the wild, thoughtless Lydia returns to the Bennet household pregnant and scandalously estranged from her husband. So, both Mary and Kitty are soon dispatched to their married sister Jane Bignley’s home to give Lydia more room to deal with the situation. There, Mary is introduced to Henry Walsh, a friend of Charles Bingley. Taken unawares by his attentions, and completely out of her element, she is quite uncertain of how to proceed. However, this may be the outlet and door to self-discovery that Mary desperately needs. How will she handle this new and exciting romantic opportunity?

First off, I’m so glad that we finally a book that focuses on Mary. I know she has gotten the short end of the stick as far as attention is concerned (well, Mr. Collins may actually have it worse, but I digress), so I’m glad that she can finally come into her own as an independent woman. Before I began reading, I had read that a few readers were slightly put off by Mingle’s choice to write the work in first person. After the first few chapters flew by, however, I was fully immersed in the story and not bothered by its format in the least. In fact, it was interesting to see things from Mary’s point-of-view directly, and I believe it added to her characterization and interactions with Henry and others. Speaking of Henry, he’s swoon-worthy for his love and defense of Mary. I love how mad he gets when he hears others speaking ill of Mary. He’s a perfect mate for her.

I think Mingle handled Mary’s characterizations in a fantastic way. I always love journeys of self-discovery and empowerment, and this one was a joy to read. The way in which Mary transforms from a woman who is only beginning to understand her new maturity to someone who is fully enveloped in love with another person is heartwarming. I couldn’t help but think that Austen and her penchant for happy endings would have been satisfied by this tale for Mary.  We’ve seen so much praise heaped on Lizzy and Jane especially, so if you were as curious as I was about how a work centered on “plain” Mary would shape up, wonder no longer. This is definitely one to try!

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle

  • William Morrow (2013)
  • Trade paperback (320) pages
  • Price: £10.99/ $14.99
  • ISBN: 978-0062274243

 


Kimberly Denny-Ryder is a self-professed book addict, who challenges herself to read 100 books a year. This eventually grew into a full-time blog entitled Reflections of a Book Addict where she (and an ever-growing staff) began reviewing books and writing about the effects books have on us. She is also a regular contributor at Austenprose, a Jane Austen themed blog that feeds her Jane Austen addiction. She is obsessed with Twitter, coffee, traveling, and cooking, and when she’s not reading or copyediting, you can find her in New Jersey watching old films and brewing beer with her husband, Todd, and their two cats, Belle and Sebastian. Follow Kim on Twitter as @lifeand100books and Facebook.

This review orginally appeared on Austeprose.com where it was reccommended as one of the “Top 10 Austenesque Historical Novels of 2013”. It is used here with permission. Visit Austenprose to read more from author Pamela Mingle.

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Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker

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Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker

Review by Syrie James

What was happening below stairs in Pride and Prejudice? Who were the ghostly figures that kept both the storyline and the Bennet household going behind the scenes? That is the premise of Jo Baker’s engrossing novel Longbourn, which takes Jane Austen’s famous work, turns it upside down, and shakes out a fully realized and utterly convincing tale of life and romance among the servants.

Although Longbourn begins slightly before Pride and Prejudice and continues beyond Austen’s ending, for the most part it matches the action of that novel, focusing almost exclusively on the domestic staff. The protagonist is the young, pretty, feisty, overworked housemaid Sarah, an orphan who turns to books for escape from the menial daily duties which repel and exhaust her.

At first, reading about her duties repelled me as well, and I yearned to go back to the nice, clean world of Pride and Prejudice, where young ladies in pretty gowns dance at balls and engage in clever conversation with handsome gentlemen in frock coats and breeches. Longbourn reminds us that our perception of that world is highly idealized, and that the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the Darcys enjoyed a lifestyle which depended entirely on the hard work of people whose lives were anything but pretty:

Sarah lifted his chamber pot out from underneath the bed, and carried it out, her head turned aside so as to not confront its contents too closely. This, she reflected, as she crossed the rainy yard, and strode out to the necessary house, and slopped the pot’s contents down the hole, this was her duty, and she could find no satisfaction in it, and found it strange that anybody might think a person could. She rinsed the post out at the pump and left it to freshen in the rain. If this was her duty, then she wanted someone else’s. (p. 115)

The book offers an unflinching look at the unpleasant physical realities of life in the early nineteenth century, from chilblains and lice to hauling water on freezing mornings, polishing floors, scrubbing food-encrusted dishes, laundering filthy clothing, washing rags soaked with menstrual blood, and even the sight of Elizabeth Bennet’s underarm hair. Did I want to read about such things? Not really! But Sarah’s spirited nature and her fierce desire for a more fulfilling existence immediately endear her to us, and make us eager to learn more. She yearns to be appreciated by the people she serves, yet remains invisible to anyone other than the exacting housekeeper Mrs. Hill.

Things change when a handsome new footman seemingly appears out of nowhere and is employed by Mr. Bennet. Sarah isn’t sure what to make of James Smith at first, and is both worried and intrigued by his mysterious past. Although her head is momentarily turned by Mr. Bingley’s rakish footman Ptolemy, there is never any doubt about who the real hero is—and what a divine hero he is. James Smith may be dirt poor and hiding secrets, but he is smart, thoughtful, hard-working, and gentle, a committed abolitionist, a great reader, a lover of horses, and a gentleman; and he is always on the lookout to protect our heroine.

The characters from Pride and Prejudice are only shadowy figures in this novel, and not always presented in a favorable light; there is nothing much to like about Elizabeth Bennet as seen through Sarah’s eyes. The gentlemen seem larger than life to her, as in this moment when she opens the door to admit Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam:

A blur of rich colours—one green velvet coat, one blue—and the soft creak of good leather, and a scent off them like pine sap and fine candlewax and wool. She watched their glossy boots scatter her tea leaves across the wooden floor. The two gentlemen were so smooth, and so big, and of such substance; it was as though they belonged to a different order of creation entirely, and moved in a separate element, and were as different as angels. (p. 198)

Baker has a way of using an unexpected word here and there which I quite liked, as in her description of rain that “bounced off the flagstones, bumbled down the gutters, juddered out of the down-spouts.” Some of the gaps and allusions in Pride and Prejudice are filled in: Mr. Bingley’s inherited wealth is based on the sugar, tobacco, and slave trades; we become aware of the vicious realities of slavery; and army officers are not merely flirtatious objects in red coats; here, they are subject to brutal acts and shipped overseas to fight in horrific conditions. While these are all very worthy subjects, I had trouble with the section of the book that covers a character’s experiences in the Napoleonic War. It was overly long and violent, spent too much time away from the main story, and it didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the novel.

The narrative in Longbourn shifts between third person perspectives, usually from Sarah’s point of view, but occasionally from others such as Polly, the innocent scullery maid (tempting prey for a particularly fiendish Wickham), Mrs. Hill (who harbors her own secrets and deep disappointments), and our hero James Smith. Unlike Austen, Baker gives us a taste of the passion we crave to read about between our romantic protagonists:

Here was James, now, with his hand wrapped around her arm, and his touch and his closeness and his voice pitched low and urgent, and it all seemed to matter, and it was all doing strange and pleasant things to her. She felt herself softening, and easing, like a cat luxuriating in a fire’s glow. And there was just now, just this one moment, when she teetered on the brink between the world she’d always known and the world beyond, and if she did not act now, then she would never know. 

She caught him, as it were, on the hop. Her lips colliding with his, surprising him; he swayed a little back, against the arm she’d reached around him. Her lips were soft and warm and clumsy, and her small body pressed hard against his. It was too much to resist. He slid his arms around her narrow waist, and pulled her to him, and let himself be kissed. (p. 154)

Tension builds as an unexpected turn of events separates the young lovers, and Sarah is forced to deal with James’s problematical past and the Bennets’s endless demands. There is a great twist to the story, and although I saw it coming early on, it was handled in a touching manner. I found the plot sequence involving Sarah at the end of the book to be rushed and implausible. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that you will get your happy ending; however, the scene was so brief as to be unsatisfying, with only a single line of dialogue. Jane Austen often similarly glosses over her lovers’ climactic moments, and it’s one of the few faults I have with her writing. When you spend an entire book invested in these characters (especially when they’ve been apart for such a long time), you look forward to a romantic climax that plays out and stirs the emotions. I was dying to hear Sarah and James voice their feelings aloud to each other, and disappointed that they didn’t.

These quibbles aside, I found Longbourn to be a fascinating novel with unforgettable characters who I truly cared about. I will never read Pride and Prejudice or any novel about the “upper classes” in the same way again.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • RRP: £7.99
  • Publisher: Black Swan (1 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0552779512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552779517

Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2012Syrie James is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Forbidden, Nocturne, Songbird, and Propositions. Her next novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, which brings to life the untold story of Jane’s romantic relationship as a teenager with Edward Taylor, is due out from Berkley on August 5, 2014. Follow Syrie on twitter, visit her on FaceBook, and learn more about her and her books at syriejames.com.

This review originally appeared on Austenprose.com. It is used here with permission.

 

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Project Darcy: A Review

Project Darcy

indexProject Darcy: A Review

Jane Odiwe writes from the heart. This is evident to anyone who has ever read one of her novels, but particularly so in her newest work, Project Darcy. Published just in time for Christmas, it is surely her gift to Austen fans everywhere.

The story centers on a group of friends who join an archeological expedition at the site of Steventon Rectory. The five girls mirror the Bennet sisters in personality and even name choices, and just as in Pride and Prejudice, Ellie (our heroine) and Jess share a special bond.

The purpose of the dig is to discover the actual layout of the Austen’s home, and it is clear from the writing that Ms. Odiwe is intimately familiar with the Austen haunts mentioned throughout the book, from Steventon to Ashe and Deane, Bath and London. Relationships among the other workers and staff form the backdrop of a fairly straightforward retelling of Pride and Prejudice, cleverly repackaged though, in order to drop twists and turns throughout, and laugh out loud moments at just the right time.

This is, however, a time travel story, as well. Like her previous book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Ellie has the ability to travel between the 21st century and Regency England. Unlike the other book, however, these time jumps are uncontrolled by temporal items, and are brought on by the proximity of so many Austen locations. In Ellie’s jumps, she literally becomes Jane Austen, creating a story within a story, as she relives many of the poignant memories of Austen’s past, and seeks to shed light on her oh-so-mysterious relationship with Tom Lefroy.

Although the archeological dig takes place in summer, Ellie’s jumps, for the most part, return her to the winter of 1795/96 when we know, from Jane Austen’s own letters, that she met Tom while he was visiting his aunt. The descriptions of Christmas at Steventon and the Manydown  ball are delightful, and it is fun to fill in the gaps in what we do know, fleshing out a story of love won and lost. Traces of Austen’s “later” works are visible and it is clear that Ms. Odiwe let her imagination have full reign in giving Jane the romantic past that we all might wish for her. While many scenes are reminiscent of Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane, we are also treated to the history of Jane’s turquoise ring which came to public attention this past year.

Continue reading Project Darcy: A Review

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Jane Austen’s England by Roy & Lesley Adkins

“In her novels Jane Austen brilliantly portrayed the lives of the middle and upper classes, but barely mentioned the cast of characters who constituted the bulk of the population. It would be left to the genius of the next generation, Charles Dickens, to write novels about the poor, the workers and the lower middle classes. His novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with celebrated words: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ This is a succinct summary of Jane Austen’s England, on which we are about to eavesdrop.” p. xxvi

jane-austens-england-by-lesley-and-roy-adkins-2013-x-200A review by Shelley DeWees

You’ve been warned. Should you wish to maintain the sanctity of your internal imagery of Jane Austen, turn back now, before you step into the not-so-forgiving light of real history. Do thoughts of frocks and frolicking and tea cakes and rainbows seen through the thin gauze of parasols really blow your skirt up? Wishing you could be amongst the ladies and gents of an Austen ball? Hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you could be transported into Jane’s idyllic agrarian life? Jane Austen’s England, in all its cool clarity and detail, is probably not where you should look for inspiration, and may in fact leave you reeling; your perfect imaginary life forever ruined! The humanity of it!

But if you’re still with me (and I hope you are), prepare yourself for an eye-opening journey, most especially if this is your first foray into the real daily experiences of English Austen life. You’re in for more than a few surprises. Those who have already dabbled in history will find themselves going, “Huh! Really?” often enough, too! Don’t believe me? Behold the following snippets that stupefied me, an Austen lover well versed in the ways of history who, even still, wasn’t at all prepared:

  1. Able-bodied men were constantly worried about being forced to join the Royal Navy. Many thousands were dragged out of their lodgings and off the streets, fitted for a uniform, and directed toward the nearest ship despite having foreign citizenship and the passports to prove it. A rude way to wake up indeed, and ruder still if you found yourself fighting against your own country. Score one for England!
  2. Jane Austen’s visits to her brother’s fashionable London apartment took place only blocks away from unspeakable squalor. Traveling there, she would have undoubtedly passed at least a few decomposing corpses strung up alongside the road as a warning to criminals. Seeing as how death was the penalty for almost every crime, even trivial ones, sights such as these were commonplace but probably still fairly distracting.
  3. In an effort to free the local parish from the unwanted costs of raising illegitimate children, the pregnant woman was compelled, under the Bastardy Act (giggles!) of 1733, to name the father of her child, who then had the choice to either pay the church for the upkeep of the kid or to go to jail. Barring the ability or desire to do one of those things, he could choose to marry the lady, or run away. A perfect beginning to a perfect marriage, it would seem. Extremely desirable, right?

Candles smelled like the slaughterhouse, income gaps between rich and poor were ridiculous, and medical staff were almost hysterical in their ineptitude. But, all of this is ignored in Jane’s masterpieces, swept under the rug along with the burned remains of last year’s dress that, oops, accidentally set on fire (small price to pay for sitting in the part of the room with a temperature above 30 degrees, because seriously, that corner over there is literally frozen). Austen’s works were created by a lovely lady who, despite her apparent grace, must’ve been stinky beyond all comprehension. And even though it hurts to say it, she probably, just like the rest of her monied comrades, possessed an excessive amount of free time and thus, led an epically idle lifestyle. I suppose it’s no great astonishment that she chose to leave that kind of information out.

Oh, it stings, but it stings so good. While this beautiful, impeccably-researched volume will rob you of your fancies, it leaves in their place a much more interesting and dynamic picture of Austen’s life and times. Never will you have more appreciation for Jane until you fully understand the world she occupied while spinning peaceful, blissful tales of country life, tales that always, somehow, end just the way they’re supposed to despite being outlined on a napkin in the back of a filthy carriage, squelching through 3 inches of mud. Jane Austen’s England is the first book to address the daily lives of Austen’s contemporaries, stocked full of interesting facts and firsthand accounts (those of governess Nelly Weeton are particularly intriguing). The considerable skills of Mr. and Mrs. Adkins have never been put to better use, something which will become obvious after you stroll brightly from cradle to grave through marriage, child-rearing, fashions and filth, sermons and superstitions, and wealth and work. You’ll be clinging to your wool socks and smartphone like never before. Also, inquisitive researchers and flippant dabblers alike will find lots of goodies lingering in the back pages: a chronological overview, chapter-by-chapter notes, a full index, and a dazzling bibliography all await.

So pull up your petticoats and start trudging through the mess, because the real world is truly an amazing place, even more amazing that Jane Austen was a part of it all. Jane Austen’s England will leave you dumbfounded! And for those of you who fear the lamentable loss of your Regency idealism, don’t worry, there’s always Colin Firth.

This book was published in the UK as Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived 200 Years Ago and republished in the United States as Jane Austen’s England. It can be purchased in either format

  • List Price: £20.00/$27.95
  • The Viking Press (2013)
  • Hardcover (448) pages
  • ISBN: 978-0670785841

Originally from Montana, Shelley DeWees is a Professor of English at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and a confessed lover of all British literature (though her writings would lead you to believe she’s a bit Jane-obsessed…an assumption she wouldn’t work too hard to thwart). Her writings and reviews have been seen on Austenprose, Jane Austen’s World, and Jane Austen Today, as well as in several periodicals, both scholarly and popular. This review originally appeared on Austenprose and is used here with permission.

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Austenland: The Film

MV5BMjE2MTUzMjgyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjY4NDM4OQ@@._V1_SX214_We have viewed the approach of the release of Austenland with very mixed feelings. On the good side, the trailer looked like fun, and Jennifer Coolidge is usually a riot. On the other side, we read the book by Shannon Hale quite a while ago and had a hard time remembering much about it, other than we felt that for a book allegedly about an obsessed Janeite, we did not find the protagonist sympathetic or even likable. With the film coming out, that time seemed to have come to give it another try; and when an opportunity arose to see a preview of the film, it seemed even more pressing. We got through the prologue and part of the first chapter when we decided we had better stop reading until after seeing the movie.

We were hoping for better things from the movie, and were determined to go into the movie with an open mind. The cast looked pretty good, and the trailer made us smile. How bad could it be?

For those who haven’t read the book or kept up with the publicity (which is really quite extensive for a “small” film), the general plot is that the protagonist, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice–more P&P95 than the book, as far as we can tell, but at one point she volunteers that she memorized the first three chapters of the book when she was a teenager. Jane’s obsession with P&P seems to have affected her love life; she only attracts losers. Any “nice” men, we are shown, are turned off by her insistence on watching the pond scene rather than making out with them, and no doubt by the existence of a life-size Flat Darcy in her apartment. When a co-worker crudely hits on her in front of everyone, rather than report him to HR for sexual harassment, she spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, where she will have an “immersive Regency experience” and live like a Jane Austen heroine–complete with costumes, a Regency ball, and romance with one of the establishment’s hired actors. Continue reading Austenland: The Film