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Archive for April, 2008

Ok, I admit it!… I cannot keep up with it all!…but just in case others of you want to know what’s actually going on in cyberspace but don’t have the time to search it out each day…here is a sampling!… Jane is indeed, everywhere!

As “Miss Austen Regrets” recently aired in the U.K., there have been numerous postings about it all over again…here are a few:  Guardian online, several other links to articles in the U.K.,  and at Jane Austen’s World (where there are a few posts on the movie)  And I remind you to look again at the article on the JASNA site about the kernels of truth in the story…

And check out the Conversation Blog on the Jane Austen Addict site to learn about  The Jane Austen – MI-5 connection:  now I LOVE seeing this in writing…there are SO many connections to one of my favorite shows, MI-5 (Spooks in the U.K.) and the Austen adaptations that my head has been spinning for weeks!  Thank you Ms. Rigler for putting this all together so well! 

On the Becoming Jane Fansite, there is a post on Favorite movies and books…always fun to read someone else’s opinions… and also scroll down for a great interview with Andrew Davies done with Masterpiece Theatre  (and I too don’t agree with him about the P&P 1995 2nd proposal scene…this I think was perfectly done, exactly as Austen wrote it….not any words…and we were not privy to the passion….)

Ms. Place, as always, has penned a great article on Drinking tea, wine, and other spirits in Jane Austen’s Day.  And while you are there…look at her story from a few days ago about the Wedding Procession in the 1995 S&S.  And on her Jane Austen Today Blog, there is a great post on Fashionable Websites Jane Austen Would have liked to Visit!  THANK YOU Ms. Place for sharing your ever-interesting wealth of information!

On Austenblog there is a book giveaway contest…submit by May 2.

And Jane Odiwe  writes of Fanny Price’s room in Mansfield Park, with some lovely drawings.

And over on Austenprose Laurel Ann gives us 10 top (and very humorous) reasons to re-read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (it is being released in paperback…)  [For a nice new review of Confessions go to the Historical Fiction site ]

and I am sure this is not the half of it…. yikes!

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PBS Masterpiece will be showing Cranford May 4, 11 & 18.  It has an all-star cast, to include Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton and others. [see PBS Masterpiece for a preview and cast information.]   Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810-1865) is most known to us as the author of the then-controversial biography of Charlotte Bronte, where she laid bare the oddities of the Bronte household, publicizing the behavior of the semi-mad father and the destructive life and affairs of the son .   But she was a well-respected and popular author in her own day and we are now perhaps seeing a resurgence of that popularity with the broadcast of Wives & Daughters, North & South, and the soon-to-be-seen Cranford.  So I give a brief outline of her life and works, with a few references for further reading. 

Born in Cheshire to William Stevenson, a Unitarian minister, Elizabeth was raised by her aunt, the sister of her mother who died shortly after her birth.  The town of Knutsford and the country life she experienced there became her setting in Cranford and her “Hollingford” in North & South.  She married William Gaskell of Manchester, also a Unitarian minister, in 1832, had four daughters and one son, who died in infancy.  The loss of her son had a devastating effect on her and to keep herself from sinking into an ever-deeper depression, she took pen in hand and started to write.  She published her first book Mary Barton in 1848 (using the pseudonym Cotton Mather Mills), though there is some speculation that she actually started to write Sylvia’s Lovers (1863) first but put it aside to write the more socially-conscious Mary Barton.  Gaskell, according to Lucy Stebbins, was chiefly concerned with the ethical question of “The Lie”, i.e a belief that “deception was the greatest obstacle to the sympathetic understanding which was her panacea for individual and class quarrels.” (1)  This reconciliation between individuals of different classes and between the wider world of masters and workers was her hope for humanity and it was this zeal that often led her into false sentiment in her novels and stories.(2)  But because she saw both sides of the labor question and pitied both the oppressor and the oppressed, she was thus able to portray with often explicit candor the realities of her world.  But Stebbins also says that life was too kind to her as a woman to make her a great artist.  Her tales of vengeance and remorse were written more to satisfy public taste, after she started publishing in Dickens’ Household Words.  And David Cecil calls Gaskell “a typical Victorian woman….a wife and mother”….he emphasizes her femininity, which he says gives her the strengths of her detail and a “freshness of outlook” in her portrayals of the country gentry, while at the same time this femininity limits her imagination.  In comparing her to Jane Austen, Cecil writes:

         “It is true Mrs. Gaskell lived a narrow life, but Jane Austen, living a life just as narrow, was able to make works of major art out of it.  Jane Austen…was a woman of very abnormal penetration and intensity of genius. ….. [Gaskell] cannot, as Jane Austen did, make one little room an everywhere; pierce through the surface facts of a village tea-party to reveal the universal laws of human conduct that they illustrate.  If she [Gaskell] writes about a a village tea-party, it is just a village tea-party…”(3)

   Cecil is critical of her melodrama, her “weakness for a happy ending”, her overlong works that lack imagination and passion.  But he does credit her four major works (Sylvia’s Lovers, Cranford, Wives & Daughters, and Cousin Phillis) as classic and worthy English domestic novels. 

Anne Thackeray Ritchie, in her introduction to Cranford, published in 1891, also compares Gaskell to Austen, and finds the latter lacking:

Cranford is farther removed from the world, and yet more attuned to its larger interests than Meryton or Kellynch or Hartfield….Drumble, the great noisy manufacturing town, is its metropolis, not Bath with its successions of card parties and Assembly Rooms.” …. and on love, “there is more real feeling in these few signs of what once was, than in all the Misses Bennett’s youthful romances put together…only Miss Austen’s very sweetest heroines (including her own irresistible dark-eyed self, in her big cap and faded kerchief) are worthy of this old place….”  and later, “it was because she had written Mary Barton that some deeper echoes reach us in Cranford than are to be found in any of Jane Austen’s books, delightful though they be.” (4)

Margaret Lane in her wonderful book of essays on biography, Purely for Pleasure [which also includes the essay "Jane Austen's Sleight-of-hand"], has two essays on Mrs. Gaskell.  Lane calls her one of the greatest novelists of the time, and especially praises Wives & Daughters over Cranford for its stature, sympathies, mature grasp of character and its humour, and its effect of “creating the illusion of a return to a more rigid but also more stable and innocent world than ours” and we feel refreshed in spirit after a reading. (5)

Wives & Daughters, Gaskell’s last work, and considered her finest, was published as a serial novel in Cornhill, the last unfinished part appearing in January 1866.  Gaskell had literally dropped dead in the middle of a spoken sentence at the age of 55, and the work remained unfinished, with only a long note from the Cornhill editor following the last serial installment.  Wives and Daughters tells the story of Molly Gibson and her new stepsister Cynthia, and their coming of age in the male-dominated mid-Victorian society of “Hollingford.”

But it is Lane’s essay on “Mrs. Gaskell’s Task” in which she so highly praises Gaskell’s achievement in her biography of Charlotte Bronte.  While Gaskell obviously suppressed some facts (the letters to M. Heger) and exaggerated others (Mr. Bronte as a father and Branwell as a son), Lane says “her great biography remains a stirring and noble work, one of the first in our language…. and it is in essence ‘truer’ than anything about the Brontes which has been written since…”(6)

Such contrary opinions!…certainly reminiscent of Austen’s admirers and critics!    Perhaps as Pam Morris says in her introduction to W&D, “Gaskell resists any simple categorization…her work ranges across the narrative forms of realism and fairytale, protest fiction and pastoralism, melodrama and the domestic novel.” (7)  I confess to having only read the Bronte biography and that years ago…but I have also had three of her novels (MB, C and W&D) sitting on my TBR shelf for many a year….I see a great task ahead in order to give Gaskell her just due! (or do I dare just see the movies??!)

________________________________________

Notes:

1.  Stebbins, Lucy Poate. A Victorian Album: Some lady Novelists of the Period (Columbia, 1946) p. 96.

2.  Ibid.

3.  Cecil, David.  Victorian Novelists: Essays in Revaluation (Chicago, 1962) p. 187.

4.  Ritchie, Anne Thackeray.  Preface to Cranford (Macmillan, 1927) pp. vii, xix.

5.  Lane, Margaret.  Purely for Pleasure (Hamish Hamilton, 1966)  p. 153.

6.  Ibid, p. 170.

7.  Morris, Pam.  Introduction to Wives and Daughters (Penguin, 2001) p. vii.

* Both illustrations above are from the London Macmillan edition of Cranford, illustrated by Hugh Thomson (originally published in 1891). This copy is also available at the Illustrated Cranford site.

Further references:

The Gaskell Information Page which includes many links to other information, societies, etc.

The E-Texts of all her works.

A few biographies: by Angus Easson (London, 1979); Winifred Gerin (Oxford, 1980); Aina Rubenius, The Woman Question in Mrs. Gaskell’s Life and Work (Upsala, 1950); Jenny Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories (London, 1993)1

And see also the recent Jane Austen Today Blog where Ms. Place discusses Cranford along with an interview with Judi Dench.

Mrs. Gaskell’s Works:

  1. Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, anonymous (2 volumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1848; 1 volume, New York: Harper, 1848);
  2. Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras: A Lancashire Tale, as Cotton Mather Mills, Esquire (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1850);
  3. Lizzie Leigh: A Domestic Tale, from “Household Words,” attributed to Charles Dickens (New York: Dewitt & Davenport, 1850);
  4. The Moorland Cottage, anonymous (London: Chapman & Hall, 1850; New York: Harper, 1851);
  5. Ruth: A Novel, anonymous (3 volumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1853; 1 volume, Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1853);
  6. Cranford, anonymous (London: Chapman & Hall, 1853; New York: Harper, 1853);
  7. Lizzie Leigh and Other Tales, anonymous (London: Chapman & Hall, 1855; Philadelphia: Hardy, 1869);
  8. Hands and Heart and Bessy’s Troubles at Home, anonymous (London: Chapman & Hall, 1855);
  9. North and South, anonymous (2 volumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1855; 1 volume, New York: Harper, 1855);
  10. The Life of Charlotte Brontë; Author of “Jane Eyre,” “Shirley,” “Villette” etc., 2 volumes (London: Smith, Elder, 1857; New York: Appleton, 1857);
  11. My Lady Ludlow, A Novel (New York: Harper, 1858); republished as Round the Sofa (2 volume’s, London: Low, 1858);
  12. Right at Last, and Other Tales (London: Low, 1860; New York: Harper, 1860);
  13. Lois the Witch and Other Tales (Leipzig: Tauchnitz 1861);
  14. Sylvia’s Lovers (3 volumes, London: Smith, Elder, 1863; 1 volume, New York: Dutton, 1863);
  15. A Dark Night’s Work (London: Smith, Elder, 1863; New York: Harper, 1863);
  16. Cousin Phillis: A Tale (New York: Harper, 1864); republished as Cousin Phillis and Other Tales (London: Smith, Elder, 1865);
  17. The Grey Woman and Other Tales (London: Smith, Elder, 1865; New York: Harper, 1882);
  18. Wives and Daughters: An Every-Day Story (2 volumes, London: Smith, Elder, 1866; 1 volume, New York: Harper, 1866).

(this list from the Edgar Wright Gaskell Page)

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I am studying a letter written 1 February 1794, the subject of which, at this juncture, is the latest London fashions:

 …your Friend Mrs. Gosling has been obliged to put on the Cravat, but all Bows are left off, for the Ladies either a very full Muslin plain Stock with a larger Pudding, or the long cravats like your old one twisted round the neck & fastened behind: this moment Maria has made her appearance with the plain Stock but no pudding, she sais these are very comfortable no ends to treble [sic: trouble] her, we are really much entertained with her new appearance…

I am without my subscription to the OED at present, so my question is: What was a ‘pudding’? Any helpful hint would be appreciated! Pictures (illustrations) would be welcome.

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I’m re-reading the memoir of her father James-Edward Austen-Leigh, in which Mary-Augusta of course writes of his beloved Aunt Jane. I thought to share what she — who never knew Jane Austen, or Jane’s mother Mrs George Austen — wrote about their latter days at Chawton:

Memoir of James Edward Austen Leigh
published for private circulation in 1911, pp. 12-14

The cottage at Chawton still stands to testify that the constant hospitality of the owner, Mrs. George Austen, had to be shown within modest limits. Her income was modest also. A letter from her to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot, is extant, thanking the recipient for making some addition to her means, and explaining how the total of £500 a year was made up. Three-quarters of this sum came from three or four of her sons, and two of these, Henry and Frank, had not of late been in a position to contribute anything, as the first had failed in business and the second had now to support an increasing family. Mrs. Leigh-Perrot’s help was, therefore, very welcome, though Mrs. Austen is careful to add that her son, Mr. Knight, ‘is most kind and liberal; he allows me £200 a year, gives me my house rent, supplies me plentifully with wood and makes me many kind presents, and often asks Cassandra if she is sure I have enough, as if I have not he would most willingly give me more; but that I should be sorry to apply for, well knowing that, though his income is large, his family is large also.’ It was certainly not at Chawton and Godmersham that Jane observed the spirit in which the John Dashwoods acted towards their relations. In the Austen family, whether rich or poor, the contest generally seems to have been who should give up the most to the other, and her eldest son, James, who allowed his widowed mother £50 a year during his lifetime, probably made a larger proportional contribution from his income as a country clergyman than his richer brother, Edward Knight, contributed from his.

But, generous though they were, the sum total was not large for three ladies to live upon, and as Jane Austen was never, in her own home, accustomed to affluence, doubtless the sums received for her books, small though they seem to us, were a very welcome addition to somewhat narrow means. This was the little house and household in which Edward Austen had always been so welcome a guest, but now its brightest light was extinguished, and on July 24, 1817, he attended Jane Austen’s funeral in Winchester Cathedral, to represent the head of the family, his own father, the latter being too unwell to attend in person.

[And here's wishes for Janeite Deb's speedy recovery. Enjoying the Bowen books???]

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Ok, so I am confused.  I heard that there was a great first book written by Elinor Lipman called Then She Found Me (1990).  It tells the story of a 36 year-old high school Latin teacher named April Epner, who was adopted as a baby by a couple who had survived the Holocaust.  She has never married, has a fairly distant but caring relationship with her younger brother (Freddie, also adopted)…..we are told he is a gorgoeus hunk who indescriminately beds any women within reaching distance…she has a few friends from work, but is otherwise fairly lonely and missing her parents who have recently passed on.  Out of the blue, her birth mother comes into her life….a fairly obnoxious and quite famous tv talk-show host….telling her that she is actually the illegitimate daughter of John F. Kennedy, the result of a few mad months of passion, after which he abandoned her upon learning of the impending child.  She takes all this information as cause to research her roots and finds the school librarian (Dwight) a great (and very interested!) ally.  He is portrayed as very tall, very geeky, quite unattracive and a source for ongoing humor among faculty and students.  And then, of course, her REAL birth father shows up, obviously not JFK, bringing a whole new dimension to April’s family dynamics.  So much for the story…I leave it to the reader to decide if they want to read any more.  I will say that I enjoyed the book…but after just having finished a close reading of both Emma and Northanger Abbey, this seemed a sorry substitute.  But forever willing to give the writer her/his just due, I plodded on because in the end I did really care enough about April to want to see what happens to her and her mother, and of course, the librarian!  And I should add that the real reason I picked up this book was because I knew that it was being made into a movie with Helen Hunt (both starring in but also directing her first feature film)….Bette Midler,  and Colin Firth…and therein lies the draw!  Who can resist a Colin Firth movie….??!

So fast foward….the movie is due out April 25th.  I was a bit mystified after finishing the book, as to who actually Colin would be playing…the gorgeous brother or the geeky librarian??  Not a good fit for either…we want our Colin as the romantic lead, do we not??  But being a librarian, I was all for him playing the geeky fellow who turns out to be a prince behind those glasses and shuushhing sounds!…

But alas! as Hollywood does so well, there is nothing of the book to be found in the movie….!  I have just watched the trailer and this is the basic plot synopsis:  April, whose adoptive mother is still alive, inexplicably decides to get married to a do-nothing, self-absorbed fellow (Matthew Broderick); her real mother (Bette Midler) shows up wanting to have a relationship and tells her that her father was Steve McQueen; April’s husband decides to leave her because he is bored; she meets the father (Frank, played by Colin) of one of her students, who expresses interest in getting to know her; she asks him out on a date, they click; her husband wants her back, she sleeps with him, she gets pregnant, and we do not know who the father is, but therein lies the story’s hook…..will she end up with Colin or Matthew? and all through this her new found mother brings great trouble as well as comfort into her life….I get all this from the trailer…it is called a dramady.  Colin is supposed to throw wild fits and therefore appear to be an unstable lover and thus perhaps not the best father of her child, etc, etc… So I ask you, if you read my first paragraph, is there anything in this movie that sounds like the book??? yikes!  Steve McQueen???  (but please note that there is this interesting bit of literary trivia in the movie:  Salman Rushdie plays the gynecologist!)

So I leave further discussion for after actually seeing the movie, for who in their right mind would miss Colin Firth in any sort of movie??, though I really was looking forward to seeing him as the geeky librarian….!  We Janeites can certainly see how easy it is for movies to NOT BE ANYTHING LIKE THE BOOK, and still get made! (not to bring Austen adaptations into the discussion, but there you have it!)  Comments welcome from anyone who has seen the movie and / or read the book, though I would love to know what Ms. Lipman thinks of all this!

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Reticules, anyone?

The Kent-Delord House Museum (Plattsburgh, NY) offers a 2-day “accessories” Make-and-Take Sewing Workshop on April 26 and May 31 (11:00 a.m., in the Carriage Barn, on both days). There is a $5 fee. The accessories mentioned are caps, aprons and reticules. For more information, call the KDH at 518-561-1035. Located at 17 Cumberland Ave., the Kent-Delord House is named for its three generations of family resident in the house from 1797 until 1913.

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Musings

Yesterday I received the spring edition of JASNA News. Some interesting reading, including about our own chapter! Alas, like interviews, things get jumbled or remain unprinted. So a mixed blessing to see the activities of our Chapter’s last half-year in the News. We draw members from several counties, so it is a misnomer to say Burlingtonians alone gathered for our organizational meeting. And we actually met in the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, thanks to the efforts of Carol Madden in securing us the space. (For those who do not know Vermont geography, Montpelier, our state capitol, is about an hour‘s drive south of the Burlington area.) Our Austen Birthday tea, another event planned for the Montpelier area, indeed was blown by a strong nor’easter coming through the state the very weekend of December 15/16. However, we rescheduled, having a wonderful gathering in Deb Barnum’s Burlington home in February. There, members got to meet or renew acquaintance, and everyone read out a favorite passage from Austen. The company was most congenial, and the food and tea very appealing.

It was with great interest that I read Terri Hunter’s article JANE AUSTEN AND ME. I also applied for JASNA’s 2007 IVP (International Visitor Program). When that went unfunded, I searched high and low for affordable accommodation and lucked into a wonderful landlady in Kings Worthy. Therefore, I kept my plan to spend two months at Winchester’s Hampshire Record Office. JASNA’s Kerri Spennicchia had given me contact information for the previous year’s IVP, Alice White, who was back in Winchester for a few weeks; Alice in turn introduced me to Terri; they were both living at the dorms at Winchester University. Alice, a PhD candidate at USC, centers her research on Catherine Hubback; Terri was focusing on Chawton in the time of Austen, bringing together, as she says in her article, genealogy and history. Like others, I look forward to seeing the produce of these researches.

As I told Deb a week or so ago, one’s writing is affected by one’s reading. Reading good writing makes the words flow oh so much more easily! Having little money to spend, I’ve been combing my library for something entertaining. That’s when I picked up Evelina. But, like many a book of mine, the bookmark has remained stationary some many days… So, still searching, I took up a wonderful mystery by Rhys Bowen, the ninth in her Evan Evans series which is set in one of my favorite parts of the world: Wales. Evan Blessed whetted my appetite for more by Bowen, but South Burlington’s B&N isn’t exactly well stocked with her books. I’m really intrigued by her new series’ first entry, Her Royal Spyness. It sure starts off hilariously. (Amazon offers a sample of the first couple chapters.)

So what to read, what to read…?

I ended back in Burney territory; though – after pulling down Cecilia – not a novel by her, but a biography about her – Faithful Handmaid: Fanny Burney at the Court of George III. Hester Davenport has concentrated on Burney’s years of service to Queen Charlotte, after Burney became Keeper of the Robes in 1786. With this narrow focus, this biography becomes one of the most interesting (and well-written) biographies I’ve read in a quite a while, presenting a picture of court life as lived by one rather reluctant to be there in the first place. It’s rather like Upstairs-Downstairs; it pulls you into the lives of those served as well as those serving. And, as a piece of women’s history, it is thought-provoking to read of Fanny Burney’s reactions to her position as a paid servant, as well as her interactions with the Royal Family and of court-life during the time of Austen’s own girlhood. So, I will now restart my CD of Charles Trenet “hits” and settle in with Burney back in the year 1787.

A last little ‘plug,’ for our blog’s own AUSTEN POLL: vote for your favorite Austen novel! (See the sidebar on the right.)

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