What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
Austen and Shakespeare – Pop Culture Throughout Time
The new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington called Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity includes some of the more goofy material objects that have been made to celebrate Shakespeare or Austen in recent years. Some are more corporate than others – empty shoe boxes with Jane’s name on them, sticking plasters, etc etc, but all show what an amazing influence the two writers still have on the world. What really caught the eye of the Jane Austen News though, were the antique pieces of memorabilia; some of them over 100 years old.
Some antique memorabilia included in the exhibition are; a series of 18th-century porcelains showing famous actors as Richard III, a signboard for the Shakespeare’s Head tavern from the late-17th or early-18th century, and antique bellows carved with Shakespeare’s face. We are by no means lacking items celebrating Austen and Shakespeare today, and not all of them are received with open arms; some may be considered tacky or overly commercial. So it’s interesting to see what passed for commemorative merchandise in the past, and to consider what of today’s memorabilia may end up in a similar Austen/Shakespeare exhibition a couple of hundred years in the future.
Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity is on show at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street S.E., Washington until the 6th of November 2016.
JASNA Announces Essay Competition Winners
To foster the study and appreciation of Jane Austen, JASNA conducts an annual student Essay Contest. The 2016 Essay Contest Topic (which was in line with the JASNA Annual General Meeting theme, “Emma at 200: “No One But Herself””) was education.
The complete essay brief was:
Education is a running theme in Emma. For instance, there are teacher/pupil relationships, a school, and former and aspiring governesses. Discuss how this emphasis shapes the plot, develops characters or reflects the views of the period.
Essay writers were asked to submit their essays in the hopes of winning; a $1000 scholarship, free registration and two nights’ lodging for JASNA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Washington DC, recognition at the AGM and on the JASNA web site, publication of the essay on JASNA’s web site, one year’s membership in JASNA for both the winner and his or her mentor, and a set of Norton Critical Editions of Jane Austen’s novels. Second and third place were awarded similar smaller prizes.
The submissions were divided into three age groups: high school, college/university, and graduate, and the winners of the first, second and third place in each age group have now been announced. Their essays can be found on the JASNA website here.
Cast Announced For Pride and Prejudice Tour
In a previous edition of the Jane Austen News we announced that Matthew Kelly is set to star as Mr Bennet in the 2016/2017 UK tour of Pride and Prejudice. Well now we’re pleased to say that the full cast has been announced.
In addition to Mr Kelly, the cast will also include:
- Tafline Steen as Elizabeth Bennet
- Benjamin Dilloway as Mr. Darcy
- Doña Croll as Lady Catherine De Bourgh
- Felicity Montagu as Mrs Bennet
- Hollie Edwin as Jane Bennet
- Mari Izzard as Lydia Bennet
- Leigh Quinn as Mary Bennet/Anne De Bourgh
- Anna Crichlow as Kitty Bennet/Georgiana Darcy
- Jordan Mifsúd as Mr. Bingley
- Steven Meo as Mr. Collins
- Daniel Abbott as Mr. Wickham
- Kirsty Rider as Caroline Bingley
- Francesca Bailey as Charlotte Lucas
- Charlotte Palmer as Mrs. Gardiner
- and, last but not least, Mark Rawlings as Sir William Lucas
What a cast!
Are You Bromley’s Mr Darcy?
Good news for any Jane Austen fans living in or near Bromley in London! To celebrate the national tour of Pride and Prejudice coming to Bromley’s Churchill Theatre in September, a competition is being held to find Bromley’s very own Mr Darcy.
The competition asks for nominations to be made of husbands, boyfriends, sons, brothers, or just friends who are as dashing as Darcy. To nominate someone you need to email a picture and short reason for your nomination to email@example.com by August 19, 2016.
The finalists are decided by public vote, which opens on the News Shopper website from August 22nd.
The finalists will then be announced on August 31, 2016 and they will take part in “a fun regency themed competition” (intriguing) on the afternoon of Saturday 10th September.
The winning Mr Darcy will receive a prize of:
- A pair of tickets to Pride and Prejudice at the Churchill Theatre Bromley Friday, September 23, 7.30pm
- Pre-show meal and bottle of prosecco at the Churchill Theatre Bromley Friday, September 23, 6pm
- Overnight stay for two including breakfast at Bromley Court Hotel Friday, September 23.
- Return taxis from Bromley Court Hotel to the Churchill Theatre Friday, September 23, provided by Cannon Cars.
- £50 Intu Bromley shopping voucher
Stephanie Barron On Her New Book and Why Jane Is So Popular
While speaking in a recent interview to promote her latest book, Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie Barron (author of thirteen Jane Austen mystery novels) explained why she thinks that Austen is still so popular today.
When asked by Jane Ammeson, who was reporting for nwitimes.com, what the key to Jane Austen’s continuing popularity might be, she had this to say:
Part of Jane’s enduring appeal is that she understood how women think, and just as importantly, that women like to be appreciated and valued for their intelligence as much as their physical appeal. Austen had an acute understanding of the human heart and human motivation; this allowed her to fashion complex and compelling characters, both male and female. Her perceptions remain true to human lives today—we’re still learning from her acute understanding.
We at the Jane Austen News completely agree.
Airing Jane’s Early Work
Pride and Prejudice has to be the novel which comes up most often when talking about Jane Austen. However, while it is undoubtedly a fantastic work, many Austen fans feel that more ought to be done to promote Jane’s other writing. For this reason we were delighted to read that at the recent Holt Festival (Norwich, UK), when The Archers actress Emerald O’Hanrahan performed readings of Jane’s work in a white gown and mob cap, she dramatised not only passages from most of Austen’s novels, but also performed readings from Austen letters and several humorous snippets from her juvenilia, including her History of England.
It’s wonderful to hear that Jane’s early writing is getting some of the publicity it deserves.
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We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews [George and Edward Knight] went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley to-day; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.”
Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra
Monday, 24 October 1808 “
Netley Abbey was founded by monks in 1239. If you find Southampton on the map, you can see why Jane Austen crossed over to it by ferry. Now the distance can be covered by bus. The Abbey is close to the water in a wooded area. There must have been some facility at the ferry landing when Austen visited but not much more. The little town that is near it was not developed until Victorian times. The ruins are quite substantial. One of the windows has the same characteristics of the window in Westminster Abbey and it is believed that the same mason worked on both windows.
Richard John King’s 1876 guidebook, A handbook for travellers in Surrey, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, offers a close hand look at the history of the Abbey:
Netley Abbey, about 3 m. S. of Southampton, must not be left unvisited. It may be reached by water from the Town Quay, or by rly. (post), or by proceeding to the Itchen floating bridge, and then either walking or taking a fly at the Cliff Hotel (fare to the hospital, abbey, and back, 5s.). The abbey is open every day but Sunday and Thursday. On the latter day it may be seen on written application to W. A. Lomer, Esq., 18, Portland-street, Southampton, the agent of the owner.
The name Netley, which has been called a corruption of Letley (or, de las to loco), is more probably connected with the “Natanleaga” or “leas of Nat-e,” a wooded district, which extended from the Avon to the Test and Itchen (the S. part of the New Forest).—Br. Guest. (There are other Netleys within these bounds, as near Eling, Rte. 26). A Cistercian abbey was founded here temp. Hen. III., either by the king himself, or by Peter de Rupibus, Bp. of Winchester; most probably, however, by the former, since it was dedicated not only to the Virgin, the usual patroness of Cistercian houses, but also to Edward the Confessor, the especial patron of the king.—Moody. The monks were brought here from Beaulieu. Subsequent benefactors much enriched it, though it was by no means wealthy at the Dissolution, when its annual revenue was 160£. The site and manor were granted to the compliant Sir Wm. Paulet, the 1st Marquis of Winchester, from whom they passed to the Earl of Hertford, son of the Protector Duke of Somerset, who entertained Queen Elizabeth here in 1560. By its new owner the abbey was fitted up as a private residence, in which Charles, second Baron Seymour of Trowbridge was born; he was baptized in the church. The abbey afterwards passed to the Earl of Huntingdon, by whom a portion of the church was used as a tennis-court, a small part still retaining its sacred character as a domestic chapel, while the nave became a kitchen and other offices. In 1700 the Abbey became the property of Sir Berkeley Lucy, who sold the materials of the great church (till that time entire) to a builder of Southampton named Taylor. Of this person a remarkable story is told, which Spelman would have inserted with no small pleasure in his ‘ History of Sacrilege.’ After Taylor had concluded his contract with Sir Berkeley Lucy some of his friends warned him against touching the remains of the abbey, saying “that they would themselves never be concerned in the demolition of holy and consecrated places.” Their remarks made a great impression on Taylor, who dreamt that, in taking down the roof of the church, the keystone of the arch, above the window, fell from its place and killed him. He told his dream to Mr. Watts, a schoolmaster in Southampton, and the father of Dr. Isaac Watts, who gave him the somewhat jesuitical advice ” to have no personal concern in pulling down the building.” This advice was not followed; and Taylor’s skull, it is said, was actually fractured by a stone which fell from the window.—Moody. The accident had the good effect of staying the destruction of the abbey, which has since been uninjured except by time and tourists. The ruins are now the property of T. Chamberlayne, Esq., of Cranbury Park, near Winchester, who has done much for their preservation. During the works several interesting discoveries were made, which are described by the Bev. E. Kell, Collect. Archxol, vol. ii., pt. 1, 1863.
Much of the wood which formerly closed in the ruins has been felled; but the scene is still one of extreme beauty, and justifies Walpole’s raptures. “How,” he writes to Bentley, September, 1755, “shall I describe Netley to you? I can only by telling you it is the spot in the world which I and Mr. Chute wish. The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roof pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy. Many trees are sprouted up among the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses. A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood. The fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains, with 2 small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill. On each side breaks in the view of the Southampton sea, deep blue, glistening with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calsliot Castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise. Oh! the purple abbots! what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, that they seem only to have retired into the world.”
The situation, among woods, is the favourite one for Cistercian abbeys, and 30 years ago was quite solitary. A road now passes close to the ruins, and the vicinity of the military hospital brings great traffic under the old walls. Villas have been built, rows of ill-favoured small houses have sprung up all round, and the charm of the place is lost. There are many so-called “hotels,” and an abundance of “neat flys” offer themselves for hire. Until 1860 the ruins were utterly neglected, and the vicinity of Southampton brought crowds of visitors, by whom the place was horribly desecrated. Feasts of tea and shrimps were in constant operation: and the archaeologist,—
“Exceedingly angry, and very much scandalized,
Finding these beautiful ruins so vandalized,”
might well have followed the example of Thomas Ingoldsby,—
“And say to the person who drove his shay (A very intelligent man by the way), ‘This don’t suit my humour—so take me away.'”
Since the ruins came into the possession of Mr. Chamberlayne they have been most carefully kept. An admission fee of 2d. has been established, which, however unromantic, has operated beneficially in promoting quiet and order. By Mr. Chamberlayne’s directions also, extensive excavations have been made in the ruins; tons of rubbish have been carted away, and the floors laid bare; and trees, which threatened the stability of the walls, have been felled, for a while depriving the ruins of some of their picturesque beauty, but time is repairing this, as young trees also have been planted. Many windows which had been blocked up have been opened, and much of the brick-work, introduced by its lay occupants, removed. The immediate result was a trimness, which contrasted unfavourably with its former romantic wildness, but the general improvement is undeniable, and will be thankfully appreciated by the archaeological visitor.
The ruins consist of the outer walls of the church with the exception of the N. transept, which has entirely disappeared, but its outline is marked; the cloister court, with the chapter-house, day-room, and other monastic offices to the E. and S., and the shell of the abbot’s house. The whole are in the same style, E. E., verging upon Dec, but not of one date. The visitor enters at the S., and crossing the greensward, which conceals the foundations of the refectory (here, as at the mother house of Beaulieu, projecting southwards from the centre of the S. walk of the cloister), and passing through some modernised buildings, with the site of the monastic kitchen to the rt. and the porter’s lodge (modern) to the 1., deposits his 2d. and is admitted into the Cloister, or, as it is often called, from a conduit formerly existing in the centre, the Fountain Court, 114 ft. square, shaded by noble trees. The entrance is by the old refectory door; one of the E. E. shafts may be seen peeping out of the later work. The view here is most striking. To the N. is the wall of the S. aisle of the ch., with E. E. triplets. To the E., the S. transept, with its ivy-clad gable, and the 3 exquisite arches between the cloister and chapterhouse, and the adjacent buildings form a most picturesque group. The narrow slits between the larger windows of the later occupants, mark the monks’ dormitory, which ran over the buildings on this side. On the S. wall the remains of the lavatory may be traced. The weatherings of the cloister roofs, and the corbels that supported them, will be noticed. Two doors in the N. walk admit to the church, 211 ft. long by 58 wide. This is throughout E. E., but of more than one date. The choir and transept are the earliest. Then come the S. aisle, the N. aisle, and W. front. The E. window, not unlike those of the chapter-house of Salis. bury, was of 4 lights, with an 8-foiled circle in the head, the arch 5 times recessed. The caps and bases of 4 shafts remain in each of the jambs. The shafts themselves, and the secondary mullions, are gone. The side windows of the choir and transepts are of 2 lancet lights, with a common arch within, having E. E. shafts in the jambs. Those of the S. aisle are triplets, the centre light foliated. In the N. aisle the detached lights have developed into a 3-light window with real tracery. The W. window, fatal to Mr. Taylor, is the latest in the church. It has lost its mullions and tracery, but the arch remains. Of the arcade nothing remains but the stumps of the piers of the crossing, and one or two in the nave. The clerestory came down to the spring above the arches, and there was no distinct triforium. The church was vaulted throughout. In the S. transept the springing of a rich roof of late character, which was perfect up to a recent period, is still conspicuous. The nave was of 8 bays, the choir of 4, the transept of 3. The bases of the 3 chief altars remain, with piscina and aumbry. The E. aisle of the S. transept retains its plain quadripartite vaulting. The S. bay is said to have been the Lady Chapel. The clerestory here is perfect, and access is obtained to it by a spiral staircase at the S.E. angle of the choir. This is worth ascending for the sake of the view of the ruins it affords. The central tower is said to have served as a sea-mark.
Leaving the transept, we enter the Sacristy (with the Munimentroom above), plainly vaulted, where remark the altar-steps, the piscina, and aumbry, laid bare by Mr. Chamberlayne. Further S. is the Chapterhouse, 33 feet square, with its 3 beautiful open arches and clustered shafts, and 3 fine E. E. windows of 2 lancet lights, with foliated circles in the heads, “The arches are richly moulded with the round and fillet, deep hollows, and the scroll moulding.”—J. H. P. The bases of the 4 pillars which supported its vaulted roof are to be seen. Beyond this is the passage to the abbot’s house, which is succeeded by what is usually shown as the refectory, but was really the Monies’ Day Room, or locutorium, 70 ft. by 25. This was a vaulted room of 5 bays, divided down the centre by a row of pillars (a usual Cistercian arrangement, as at Furness and Beaulieu). One lancet remains to the E.; the other windows have been altered, and are 2-light square-headed Dee. with transoms. Proceeding still to the S., we are shown the buttery and kitchen, which, though they may have filled that character in the post-reformation days (when the buttery-hatches were opened), had a far different designation originally. The so-called kitchen, it is evident from the fireplace of domestic, not culinary character, the long drain which traverses it, and the small colls crossing the channel, was the monks’ calefactory and garderobe, a portion of the monastery always arranged with scrupulous care. It is a noble room, 48 ft. by 18, with windows that deserve notice, and vaulted roof peeled to the grouting. The fireplace is a good example of 13th-century work. “It is partly destroyed; but the trusses, part of the shafts, and a bracket remain, the chimney of which is carried up in the thickness of the wall to the corbel table, and terminates between 2 of the corbels,” a mode of contriving the chimney, of which many examples occur in Norman castles. The brickwork observed in the walls of the domestic buildings, which some authorities are disposed to regard as original, certainly belongs to the period after the Dissolution.
The abbey garden is on the E. of the cloister court, and commands the best general view of the ruins. The Abbot’s House adjoins. The vaulted substructures are lighted by E. E. lancets.
The Abbey was entirely surrounded by a moat, part of which may still be traced; and beyond it, E. are the hollows of two large fish-ponds.
The Cattle to which Walpole alludes, originally the gate-house of the Abbey, is now occupied as a private residence. It is close to the water’s edge, and was, at the Dissolution, strengthened from the materials of the Abbey and converted into one of the many small forts built by Henry VIII. for the protection of the southern coast. The tower was added in 1826, when it was altered into a dwelling-house.
Current construction may hinder some visitors from getting a close look at the ruins.
A review by Laurel Ann Nattress
There is a trail that winds through the edge of the grand country estate of Godmersham Park in Kent owned by Edward Austen-Knight, elder brother of the authoress Jane Austen. Pilgrims have traversed this foot-path for centuries on their way to the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer based his famous narrative, The Canterbury Tales, on pilgrims who travel across this path. Author Stephanie Barron places her eleventh novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in this rich, historical environment and spins a fascinating murder mystery to rival any story offered by the Knight, the Nun or the Miller in Chaucer’s original.
In the fall of 1813, while visiting her wealthy, widowed brother Edward at his grand estate in Kent, Jane attends a wedding at the neighboring Chilham Castle. Joined that day in connubial bliss are the beautiful young widow, Adelaide Fiske, and the dashing Captain Andrew McCallister. Jane’s young niece Fanny Austen-Knight is also in attendance and being courted by a queue of eager Beaux. While locals John Plumptre, James Wildman and George Finch-Hatton watch her dance the waltz with visiting dandy Julian Thane, a footman delivers a curious gift to the bride, a silken reticule that she accepts with some trepidation. Inside are dried brown beans. Jane is quick to observe that the bride’s reaction must have some hidden meaning.
The following morning a man is found dead upon the pilgrim’s path on the Godmersham estate near the ancient parish church dedicated to St Lawrence the Martyr. At first it is thought that he was felled by a stray hunting shot by one of the young local men out for a mornings sport of pheasant, but Jane sees the signs of an entirely different transgression. Her brother Edward, First Magistrate for Canterbury, is called to the scene and concurs that this was no hunting accident. The corner arrives to offer his assessment and soon discoveres that the deceased is none other than Curzon Fiske, the thought to be dead first husband of the recently married Adelaide, who after abandoning his wife in a flight from his creditors four years prior, departed for India and died there. Inside the depths of his coat pocket was a stained note with St Lawrence Church written upon it and one dried brown bean – an ominous tamarind seed.
As the mystery swiftly unfolds we are privy to an interesting collection of characters who each have their own tale to tell: a grieving widower, a young girl experiencing romance and heartbreak, an odious clergyman, a Bond Street Beau, a loose maid, a callous and calculating mother, and our adventurous detective Jane Austen, ever observant, always witty, relaying all of their stories in her journal and cleverly solving the crime.
Each chapter is epigraphed by pertinent quotes from Chaucer’s tale and every word of this novel is a treasure. Barron is a Nonpareil in channeling my dear Jane. After eleven novels I never doubt her historical detail or unerring voice. This may be the last in the series, and I am sorely grieved at the loss. Jane and the Canterbury Tale is engaging, rich and dramatic. The ending is a shock, but not nearly as devastating as the possibility of the demise of this series.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Bantam (30 Aug 2011)
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and the forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be released by Ballantine Books on 11 October, 2011. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.
As the eighth book in the Jane Austen Mysteries series opens, it is July, 1809, and Jane and her mother have arrived in Chawton to take possession of the cottage in which Edward Austen’s late bailiff lived. Village sentiment is against the squire’s womenfolk displacing the bailiff’s widow, and when a corpse is discovered in the cellar within a few hours of their arrival, suspicion falls on several neighbours who have a score to settle with the Austens—or with one another.
(The rest of this review contains a major spoiler for the previous book in this series, Jane and the Ghosts of Netley. We find it impossible to write a proper review without reference to it.)
Jane finds herself burdened not only with a mystery to solve, but with the legacy left by Lord Harold Trowbridge, killed in the closing pages of the previous book: he has bequeathed his personal letters and journals to Jane so that she may write his memoirs. Lord Harold being who he was, and living as he did, these papers are rather incendiary: his lordship’s sobriquet of the “Gentleman Rogue” was indeed well earned. He moved among the highest levels of Britain’s aristocratic and political circles and among the most dangerous company in his capacity as a spy for the Crown.
The Lord Harold fangirls who, like this reviewer, mourned his untimely death (and were exceedingly displeased with the authoress for perpetrating it) will find comfort in this volume, as Lord Harold is very much present via excerpts from his papers, which are sometimes shockingly personal. Though the presence of these papers are part of the mystery plot, they form their own subplot of sorts, one that we found at times more absorbing than the actual mystery. Ms. Barron’s knowledge of the political and military history of the time, as well as her background in intelligence work, inform these excerpts and give them a ring of veracity that will fascinate students of the time period.
We are on record as being dissatisfied with the previous volume of the series, finding the glimpses into Jane Austen’s mind rather darker than we would have imagined; also, we have long deplored the un-Austenlike excesses of language contained in all the books in the series. These problems have not been completely resolved, but we found them less distracting in the latest volume, which must be considered an improvement; however, we do wish that Jane would occasionally “relax into laughing at herself or other people.” We expect that not even a grieving Jane Austen would be so relentlessly, depressingly introspective.
However, Jane at last being settled in Chawton gives great promise for fans of the traditional British cozy mystery; “3 or 4 families in a country village” was not only Jane Austen’s preferred milieu, but also one that inspired Agatha Christie and her followers, although one cannot imagine Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot writing Pride and Prejudice. Another delicious consideration is that we are approaching the years in which Jane published her novels, which will add a new and, to Jane Austen fans, very interesting twist to this continuing series. We look forward to the next volume with great pleasure.
Hardcover: 304 pages (March 1, 2005)
Publisher: Bantam Books
List Price: $24.00/£13.21
The Jane Austen Mysteries series by Stephanie Barron feature Jane Austen as an amateur detective, presented as entries in journals recently “discovered” in the basement of an old house previously owned by one of Jane’s relatives. Some Janeites might recoil in horror at such a notion, but there are biographies of Jane Austen that have more fictional events than these books do, disguised behind the veil of scholarship. Casting Jane as a detective is inspired; the same eye for observation that makes her books such a joy to read would be invaluable to a sleuth. There are certainly enough gaps in her biographies to allow the imaginative author free rein, and Ms. Barron does a masterful job at constructing believable, enjoyable mystery stories around the real events of Jane Austen’s life.
Unfortunately, there are a few cons. Ms. Barron’s biographical facts are a bit off in places (one suspects that Ms. Barron depends overmuch upon the much-despised Halperin biography). It is doubtful that Mrs. Austen was as silly and Mrs. Bennet-ish as Ms. Barron has portrayed her, nor that Jane hung out with the aristocracy as much as these novels depict. The dialogue is more formal in tone than the dialogue in Jane’s books, and Ms. Barron needs to go over her modes of address, both for the aristocracy and other people: for instance, Jane’s father would have been referred to as the Reverend Mr. Austen, not “Reverend Austen.” But after all, these are fiction, and the problems are quite minor, especially compared to some of the huge mistakes in the published sequels. In general the series is delightfully written and puts most of the sequels in the shade in terms of sheer readability.
The most enjoyable aspect of the mysteries is Jane’s mini-romances and what can only be described as flirtations with various male characters. If you are frustrated by the whole Tom Lefroy/Harris Bigg-Wither/Mysterious Suitor By The Sea thing, here’s your cure! Well, a partial cure, obviously, since Jane never married, so the romances don’t ever seem to work out. The gentlemen always sail off to America, or skulk off to perform dangerous and dashing deeds for crown and country. It is also fun to see events that are similar to Jane’s novels, as if she drew her inspiration from real-life occurrences.
Don’t think Jane wouldn’t have approved of these novels. She had a great sense of humour, a vivid imagination, and could be whimsical. These books are a salute to her talent and her literary legacy, and a darned good read besides.
It is probably best to read them in order of publication, as there is a continuing story arc that is in the background of the main mysteries, though each novel stands quite well on its own.
In this book we are introduced to the central conceit of the series: that a set of journals kept by Jane Austen have been lately discovered in a Maryland estate previously owned by some relative of Jane’s. We are also introduced to Lord Harold Trowbridge, a “gentleman rogue” who interests–and is interested by–our Jane. Lord Harold crops up, even for a single scene, in almost all of the novels, and their friendship intensifies as the series goes on.
As the story begins, it is December, 1802, and Jane is visiting her good friend Lady Scargrave, with whom she became acquainted in Bath. Lady Scargrave’s husband of three months dies mysteriously, and when Lady Scargrave is accused of murdering him, Jane sets out to find the truth.
Ms. Barron is clearly feeling her way a bit in this one, especially as compared to the later books, but the story hangs together quite well, and if you can ignore the biographical missteps and some other problems such as the proper forms of address to peers, the books is utterly un-putdownable.
It is September, 1804, and Jane, Cassandra, and their parents are on holiday in Lyme Regis, where murder and adventure find Jane once again. She becomes involved with the search for a smuggler known as “The Reverend,” who is also considered responsible for two murders. Could the mysterious and very attractive Mr. Geoffrey Sidmouth be The Reverend? And could Mr. Sidmouth be the mysterious Suitor-By-The-Sea of every Jane Austen biography?
It is December, 1804, and Jane is back in Bath; she attends a masquerade, at which one of the revelers is murdered. Lord Harold’s nephew is accused of the crime, and Jane helps him to find the truth while getting mixed up with portrait painters, actors, and other people that a nice parson’s daughter has no business being involved with.
It is August, 1805, and Jane is visiting her brother Edward and his family at Godmersham. It is a frightening time in Kent, as Napoleon is gathering his troops along the French coast in preparation for an invasion of England. Closer to home, one of Edward’s neighbours, a lady of dubious reputation who also happens to be French, is brutally murdered. Edward is the local magistrate, and Jane helps him to investigate the crime.
Jane and the Spoils of Stoneleigh
(from the anthology Malice Domestic 7)
The Malice Domestic series features short stories by leading mystery writers. Jane and the Spoils of Stoneleigh is Stephanie Barron’s contribution to the seventh anthology.
It is 1806; Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen are staying at the mansion on Stoneleigh estate, of which a cousin has taken possession to forestall challenges to an iffy will left by the previous owner, the Honourable Mary Leigh, another cousin on Jane’s mother’s side. The first order of business for the new proprietor is to find the papers of ownership for Stoneleigh; unfortunately, the Hon. Mary had a quirky sense of humour, and she hid the papers away, leaving behind literary riddles as directions to their location. Fortunately the Austens, proud novel-readers, are at hand to help find the papers—and to uncover a long-held, terrible secret.
It is August, 1806. On a visit to Derbyshire, Jane quite literally stumbles across the eviscerated corpse of what appears to be a handsome young man, but turns out to be a woman in male clothing: a woman who was the stillroom maid at a nearby estate and known as something of a local wise-woman. Jane sets out to solve the mystery of the maid’s death and becomes entangled with the extremely dysfunctional Cavendish family at Chatsworth, which is in mourning for Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. Lord Harold, a close friend of the Cavendishes and the late Duchess, is there as well, and Jane is conflicted about her feelings toward him–and Lord Harold’s feelings about Georgiana’s daughter, Harriet.
It is February, 1807, and Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen have taken a house in Southampton with Captain Francis Austen and his pregnant wife. Frank’s good friend, Captain “Lucky Tom” Seagrave, is accused by his first lieutenant of murdering a French captain who had just surrendered to Seagrave. Seagrave will hang from the yardarm unless Jane can prove him innocent, with the help of a fascinating French naval surgeon.
It is October, 1808; Jane is contemplating a removal from Southampton, along with her mother, sister, and her friend Martha, to a house owned by her brother Edward in Chawton village, when Lord Harold Trowbridge summons her onboard a passing Royal Navy brig and requests her assistance. He asks Jane to keep an eye on a beautiful new neighbour, who might have ties to Napoleon, as port towns and Royal Navy ships are being burnt along the coastline.
We confess ourselves less than satisfied with this book than with the previous books in the series. We are not sure if that is because of the surprise ending (which we learnt of accidentally before reading the book, and with which we are exceedingly displeased) or because the overblown, melodramatic dialogue is more prevalent than usual. Even in 1808, people didn’t talk like that, and one cannot imagine Jane ever writing this stuff in her journal. A little more of Jane’s rapier wit and a little less Radcliffean word-paintings would improve the book immensely. (Oh, and Walter Scott did not become a baronet until a few years after Jane’s death; thus, she would not have referred to him as “Sir Walter.”) That being said, we are intrigued to see where Ms. Barron takes the series after the abrupt, shocking conclusion.
Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors and always has a soft corner for a Gentleman Rogue.
Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery
By Stephanie Barron
A Review by Laurel Ann Nattress
One thinks of Jane Austen as a retiring spinster who writes secretly, prefers her privacy and enjoys quiet walks in the Hampshire countryside. Instead, she has applied her intuitive skills of astute observation and deductive reasoning to solve crime in Stephanie Barron’s Austen inspired mystery series. It is an ingenious paradox that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan green with envy. The perfect pairing of the unlikely with the obvious that happens occasionally in great fiction by authors clever enough to pick up on the connection and run with it.
Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron marks Stephanie Barron’s tenth novel in the best-selling Jane Austen Mystery series. For fourteen years, and to much acclaim, she has channeled our Jane beyond her quiet family circle into sleuthing adventures with lords, ladies and murderers. Cleverly crafted, this historical detective series incorporates actual events from Jane Austen’s life with historical facts from her time all woven together into mysteries that of course, only our brilliant Jane can solve.
It is the spring of 1813. Jane is home at Chawton Cottage “pondering the thorny question of Henry Crawford” in her new novel Mansfield Park and glowing in the recent favorable reception of Pride and Prejudice. Bad news calls her to London where her brother Henry’s wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillde, is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton, “the most breathtaking and outrageous resort of the present age” for a holiday excursion.
At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue Catherine Twining, a young society Miss found bound and gagged in the coach of George Gordon, the 6th Baron of Byron, aka Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Miffed by their thwart of her abduction, Byron regretfully surrenders his prize to Jane and Henry who return her to her father, General Twining, in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen year-old daughter. Jane and Henry are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare.
Settled into a suite of rooms at the luxurious Castle Inn, Jane and Henry enjoy walks on the Promenade, fine dining on lobster patties and champagne at Donaldson’s and a trip to the local circulating library where Jane is curious to see how often the “Fashionables of Brighton” solicit the privilege of reading Pride and Prejudice! Even though Jane loathes the dissipated Prince Regent, she and Henry attend a party at his opulent home the Marine Pavilion. In the crush of the soirée, Jane again rescues Miss Twining from another seducer.
Later at an Assembly dance attended by much of Brighton’s bon ton, Lord Byron reappears stalked by his spurned amour, “the mad as Bedlam” Lady Caroline Lamb. Even though the room is filled with beautiful ladies he only has eyes for Miss Twining and aggressively pursues her. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron’s bed was their naïve new friend Miss Catherine Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him.
‘Henry grasped my arm and turned me firmly back along the way we had come. “Jane,” he said bracingly, “we require a revival of your formidable spirit – one I have not seen in nearly two years. You must take up the role of Divine Fury. You must penetrate this killer’s motives, and expose him to the world.”’ [page 119]
And so the game is afoot and the investigation begins…
It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and gossipy supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson’s daughter was just so delightfully “sick and wicked.” Their scenes together were the most memorable and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in Jane Bites Back.
Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam is publishing Jane and the Canterbury Tale next year with a firm commitment of more to follow. Huzzah!
Publisher:Bantam Books (2010)
Trade paperback (352) pages
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and the forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be released by Ballantine Books in October, 2011. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.
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