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Archive for March, 2009

Two Saturdays ago (March 14th, to be exact) I ventured up to Bishop’s University (Lennoxville, Quebec) for a Pride & Prejudice Weekend – a symposium, thanks to English department professor Claire Grogan; a delicious ‘Jane Austen’s Cream Tea’ at Uplands; a Pride & Prejudice play, adapted by drama professor George Rideout; and an Austen-era Sunday Service in the university’s beautiful chapel. Sure the footlights have dimmed, the curtain has dropped, and the weekend’s events have faded into memory – but readers should know what they missed; and why they should keep an eye out for a production of this well-thought-out new play.

Saturday afternoon’s symposium featured three speakers; a full-hall (a good 70 people) had gathered to hear them.

Prof. Peter Sabor
McGill University, Montreal
“Portraying Jane Austen: How Anonymous became a Celebrity”. 
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Illustrated by images, Dr. Sabor brought the audience along Austen’s circuitous route to celebrity – beginning with the original “BY A LADY” title page of Sense and Sensibility and showing near the end a publicity photo that made everyone chuckle: Jane Austen Hollywood-ized, complete with cell phone (the giant, 1980s version), conducting business while lounging on a poolside chaise.

In between these humble beginnings and the 20th-century hype lay a lot of Austen territory to be explored. Austen, of course, sold the copyright to Pride & Prejudice – her most popular novel – for ₤110. In 1813, the three volumes sold for 18 shilling (“about $2 Canadian today”).

Austen’s name has been located on a few subscription lists (Burney’s Camilla; the 1808 sermons of the Rev. Thomas Jefferson). Dr. Sabor explained that it was costly to purchase books by subscription. Such lists, however, can be invaluable to the researcher (I have located many Goslings and Smiths on subscription lists; it gives a thrill to realize they knew the author or valued the work enough to purchase a copy – or more than one – before the presses rolled).

The anonymous review (in reality Walter Scott) of Emma highlights Austen’s soon-acknowledged authorship a few years later: Although the title page of Northanger Abbey cited “By the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Mansfield Park,’ &c,” the first volume included brother Henry’s biographical notice – thereby naming in print for the first time exactly who authored all six of these novels. [See also Henry's updated version in the Bentley edition (1833) of S&S.] Beginning in 1818, we see reviews that mention Austen by name. (In an aside: Emma Smith, the future Mrs James-Edward Austen, was in 1817 already citing her as the author, specifically, of Mansfield Park; though Emma spelled the last name, as many did and often still do, Austin.)

A French translation of Austen’s last completed novel – published under the title La famille Elliot – becomes the first book in which Austen’s name appears as author on a title page. The year is 1821. [For information on the translator, see Ellen Moody.]

When discussion of the known and purported Austen portraits began, the audience was given a truly informative lesson on the pitfalls, as well as hopes and shattered dreams, of claimants to “authentic Janes”. Even the 1804 sketch: Is it a depiction of Jane by her sister Cassandra?? Anna Lefroy (half-sister to James-Edward Austen) inherited it, and to this day it resides within the family. (It was first presented by Chapman in his volume of Letters.)

The illustrations of Austen grow more wild as the publicity picks up – paper dolls, figures made for ‘action,’ plush and bobble-headed dolls, even an Austen Powers ‘superhero’. From recreations to fantasy depictions, Austen’s ‘anonymity’ has certainly turned a complete 360-degrees.

ADDENDUM: for an observation on the so-called ‘wedding ring portrait’ of Jane Austen (which Dr. Sabor called “bizarre”, see SEPARATED AT BIRTH?)

*

next: Prof. Robert Morrison (Queen’s), “Getting Around Pride & Prejudice: Gothicism, Fairy Tales & the Very World of All Us”

Waiting in the Wings: read insights into the character of Miss Bingley by actress Stephanie Izsak.

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Boston in the Austen Era: A Lady and a Maid. This special “Women’s History Month” presentation takes place at Waltham’s elegant Federal period Gore Mansion at 7:00 p.m. on Friday 27 March 2009. This Chautauqua performance feature “fact-based, first-person” costumed-interpreters who focus on life stories — in this case the life stories of two women Catherine Codman (played by Diann Ralph Strausberg, a founder of The Storied Past) and Mary Stone (played by Camille Arbogast). Guitarist Chris Renna entertains with period music during the interlude. Mrs Codman, widow of a wealthy Boston merchant, tells of her life among Boston’s elite — including visits to London and the English countryside. She’ll share a scandal or two to rival any in Austen’s fiction! Mary Stone, a servant who immigrated from England, gives her persepctive on what goes on “behind the scenes” in these “fine” households. $8 in advance/$10 at the door; for tickets call (781) 894-2798.

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Late to the table, but here is a reminder about the first issue of the Marvel Comic’s Pride & Prejudice  due out April 1st.  See the story and images from the first issue at Marvel.com :

Two-time Rita Award-Winner Nancy Butler and acclaimed artist Hugo Petrus bring PRIDE & PREJUDICE #1 to life—and we’ve got an exclusive preview for you! Follow the gripping story of Lizzy Bennet and her loveable, yet eccentric, family as they navigate the treacherous waters of British high society, in this faithful adaptation of the seminal Jane Austen novel.

Further reading:

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mpFINALLY!

Internet Archive now has all twelve volumes of the 1906 edition entitled “The Novels & Letters of Jane Austen”. Especially, I was happy to see the second part of Mansfield Park (the illustration is the volume’s frontispiece).

The search is still on to provide our audience with the missing volume of Pride & Prejudice‘s first edition; ditto the entire three-volume set of Sense & Sensibility.

Find all the online editions via our bibliography, or click on the tabs above to go to the individual works.

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Here is a quick link to a very informative fashion-related post with illustrations:

‘A History of Purses and Handbags’ at Rubell’s Antiques [scroll down through the post]

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[photo from Rubell's Antiques Blog]

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book-cover-whom-gods-loveJulian Kestrel is back in this third Kate Ross mystery, Whom the Gods Love [Viking 1995], again faced with a murder the authorities cannot solve.  The larger than life Alexander Falkland, one of the leaders of The Quality, young, handsome, with a beautiful wife, elegant home and many admirers, is found murdered in his study, bludgeoned with a fireplace poker during a house party.  Falkland’s father, Sir Malcolm, so frustrated by the dead-end investigations of the Bow Street Runners, turns to Kestrel to find his son’s killer.  Faced with a good number of suspects among family, friends and servants (so many in fact, that Ross prefaces the work with a listing of the cast of characters!), Kestrel falls whole-heartedly into his role as amateur sleuth.  A dandified man of fashion [but we the reader know him to be so much more], Kestrel knows many of Falkland’s set and embarks on his questioning of all suspects in his charming way, all the while wondering if Alexander Falkland may not be all that he seems. 

Ross is a master of plot and character – even the minor parts are well-fleshed out, and as the story turns and clues are uncovered with each chapter (Ross’s chapter headings alone are perfectly tuned), the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the complicated mystery surrounding Falkland’s death.  Kestrel stumbles upon another murder, and as in Ross’s previous two mysteries, Cut to the Quick and A Broken Vessel, Kestrel needs to identify an unknown woman as well as unravel the mystery of who had reason to kill her. 

We are again transported into Regency London, with all the social life at Almacks, Tattersalls, Cornhill, Rotten Row, the Grand Strut in Hyde Park, and various outlying Inns, all portrayed as it would have been.  The language of the lower classes and the “Beau Monde” is spot-on [blue-deviled, missish], the carriages: gigs, cabriolets, hackneys, etc.; architectural details abound; fashion description is so exact, you feel you are there, sitting in the room:  in this passage, one of the “Quality” suspects is thusly described:

 Felix was about Julian’s age, the son of an autocratic peer from the bleak northeastern counties.  Julian suspected that the grey, barren landscapes of his childhood accounted for his taste in clothes, which certainly needed excusing.  Today he was wearing a canary-yellow tailcoat, white trousers, and two waistcoats, the inner of scarlet satin, the outer with black and white stripes.  His neckcloth was a cherry-coloured India print, splashed with blue and yellow flowers.  A bunch of gold seals, all shaped like chessmen, dangled from his watch-chain.  He had an amiable rangy figure and curly brown hair that tended to stand on end.  [p. 132]

[Yikes!]

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[from The Regency Fashion Page]

Ross depicts the legal system in England at the time – Lincoln’s Inn figures prominently, and Kestrel is often critical of the lack of a strong police force and the present state of law enforcement [the magistrate system and the Bow Street Runners].  There is much scholarly discussion between the characters, with references to Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and the state of the woman’s position in society; there is even a bit of phrenology thrown in! 

But it is Julian Kestrel who pulls all these diverse goings-on together.  He is witty ["I'm afraid I'm obliged to trample on your sensibilities"], with a ready retort always at hand to put one on edge, but also sensitive and sympathetic, always with a kind word or deed to put one at ease.  And, as in the previous two books, Ross gives us fleeting glimpses of Kestrel’s own past, his background as mystifying to the other characters and to us readers as the mystery he is set on solving.  In this book, we hear only a faint mention of Sally from A Broken Vessel; we learn that he and his father went to London plays; that he gained his wide knowledge from his own stay on the Continent where he read the controversial Wollstonecraft in French translation; and we learn more about his actress mother and his disinherited father.  Kestrel remains the most loveable enigma, with all his shadowy past life, his apparent shallow present life of leader of fashion extraordinaire:

      In the afternoon, Julian went home for a session with his tailor.  His hobby of detection could not be allowed to interfere with his profession of dress.  The tailor measured him for some sporting garments for the autumn and made yet another attempt to persuade him to pad his coats.  ‘The very latest fashion, Mr. Kestrel!’ he pleaded.

      ‘My dear man, if I followed the fashions, I should lose any power to lead them.  And not for you nor anyone else will I consent to look like a pincushion with legs.’ [p. 169] 

With all this, Kestrel masterfully guides us along in solving the murders, feeling at home in the halls of the Quality, as well as in the environs of the poorer classes. I will tell no more of the plot – it is a fabulous journey, and leaves me quite anxious to get on to the next book!

5 full inkwells

 See my reviews of Cut to the Quick and A Broken Vessel

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Robert Goolrick, author of the upcoming book A Reliable Wife, has this to say about Jane Austen:

If anything, I was inspired by earlier writers. I’m always inspired by Jane Austen, curiously enough. She has a great thing that she does, which is her novels are about complicated, romantic situations in which all the happiness comes at the very end—like a magic trick. I love that about her, and I wanted to write a novel in which people seemingly unable to be happy suddenly find redemption and happiness all in a second.

[Quoted from Publisher's Weekly]

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Goolrick’s new work, following his memoir The End of the World as We Know It, will be released on March 31, 2009….

 

 

Synopsis:

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.” But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the “simple, honest woman” that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.

With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick’s intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

[from the Barnes & Noble website]

[BTW, the book has already been optioned for a movie and is hitting various favorite lists, so this is not the first you will hear about this book...]

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