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To be at the beginning of life, one must start at the end of the novel.  For although Jane Austen concludes her books with the marriage of the hero and heroine to which the whole thrust of the narrative has been leading, and the reader rejoices in the perfect happiness of the union, in reality the best is yet to come: they will have children – procreation  being not only the natural and desirable end of marriage, but also an economic and dynastic necessity.  And those children will have their own stories…What will become of the Darcy children?…”  (Ch. 1, Confinement, p. 5)

And thus does David Selwyn begin his treatise on Jane Austen and Children (Continuum, 2010), a most enjoyable journey through the world of childhood and parenting and education and growing-up in the life of Jane Austen, and the lives of her fictional characters.  If you are perhaps one of those people who think that Jane Austen does not like children, an idea certainly fed buy such comments about women “breeding again” or the child-generated “dirt and noise” or “the two parties of Children is the cheif Evil” [Ltr. 92], or the proper child-rearing “Method has been wanting” [Ltr. 86], etc. – you need to read this book!

Selwyn takes his reader essentially through the nine ages of man [with apologies to Shakespeare] beginning with confinement and birth, through infancy, childhood, parenting, sibling relations, reading and education, and finally maturity, as Selwyn says, the “end of the novel” when the Hero and Heroine come together, after all manner of trial and tribulation, to begin their own family.

We are given a general survey of the shift in the attitudes toward children, that late eighteenth – early nineteenth century view that fell between viewing children as not just “little adults” to the Victorian view of “seen but not heard”, following Locke and Rousseau and believing children to be natural innocents.  In each chapter Selwyn seamlessly weaves pieces of Austen’s life as gleaned from her letters and scenes from all her writings – and it is masterly done, all with a historical perspective.  We see Jane as a child, as a madly composing adolescent, a loving and humorous Aunt imaginatively interacting with her nieces and nephews, and as an accomplished writer whose fictional children are far more worthy of our notice than we have previously supposed: the frolicsome Walter hanging on Anne’s neck in Persuasion; the spoiled Middletons; the noisy and undisciplined Musgroves; the grateful and engaging Charles Blake in The Watsons; the John Knightley brood in the air courtesy of their Uncle George; the dynamics of the five Bennet sisters; Henry Dashwood the center of attention for the manipulative Steele sisters; the reality-based scenes of Betsy and Susan Price at Portsmouth; and finally Fanny Price, Austen’s only heroine we see grow up from childhood, having an elegant come-out, finding true-live and ends “needing a larger home.”

In all her works, Austen uses children as “a resource for her narrative strategies” (p. 4), be that comedy, a plot device to further the action, or a means of revealing attitudes and responses of the adults around them (p. 3).  Austen’s children are easy to miss – they won’t be after reading this book – here they are brought to life, given character and meaning, and you will see what Selwyn terms “Austen’s satirical delight in children behaving in character” (p. 73)

If Austen’s fiction seems to gloss over the reality of childbirth [the exception is Sense and Sensibility’s two Elizas], her letters tell the tale of its dangers [Austen lost three sisters-in-law to death in childbirth], and Selwyn links all to the social structure of the day, the nursing of babies and swaddling practices, to child rearing theories and moralizing tracts, and governesses and Austen’s ambivalence toward them. We visit boarding schools along with Jane and her characters and we hear the voices of a number of contemporary diarists (Agnes Porter, Sophia Baker, Susan Sibbald, Elizabeth Ham and Sarah Pennington).  There is a lovely in-depth chapter on the reading materials written especially for children and Austen’s first-hand knowledge of these titles.  The discussion on sisters and brothers, those so important in Austen’s own life, and those in her fiction, for example, characters with confidants (Lizzy and Jane, Elinor and Marianne), those isolated (Fanny, Anne Elliot, Emma Watson, Mary Bennet), and those with younger sisters (Margaret Dashwood and Susan Price).  As part of the growing-up process, Selwyn uncovers much on “coming-out” as Austen herself writes of in her “Collection of Letters” [available online here] – with the emphasis here on Fanny as the only heroine to have a detailed “coming-out” party.

The chapter on “Parents” starts with the premise that “in Jane Austen’s novels the parents best suited to bringing up children are dead” (p.95) and Selwyn takes us from the historical view of parenting, through Dr. Johnson’s “Cruelty of Parental Tyranny” [shadows of Northanger Abbey] to a full discussion of the marriage debate in the 18th-century – that between the worldly concerns of wealth vs. choice of partner based on emotional love as personified in Sir Thomas and Fanny Price respectively.  Excerpts are included from James Austen’s very humorous Loiterer piece   “The Absurdity of Marrying from Affection.” (p. 207) and Dr. John Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (1774) [viewable at Google Books here] , and the Edgeworth’s Practical Education (1798) [Vol. III at Google Books here].  One finds that in reading all of Austen’s letters and all the works you can indeed discover a complete instruction manual for good parenting!

Jane Austen and Children appropriately ends with Selwyn’s speculation on what sort of parents her Heroes and Heroines will be, all of course based on the subtle and not-so-subtle clues that Austen has given us throughout each work – conjecturing on this is perhaps why we have so many sequels with little Darcys, Brandons, Bertrams, Knightleys, Tilneys, and Ferrars running about!

Just as in his Jane Austen and Leisure, where Selwyn analyzes the various intellectual, domestic and social pursuits of the gentry as evidenced in Austen’s world and her works, he here gives us an accessible and delightful treatise on Austen’s children, culling from her works the many quotes and references related to children and linking all to the historical context of the place of children in the long eighteenth century.  The book has extensive notes, a fine bibliography of sources on child-rearing, contemporary primary materials, children’s literature, and literary history, and several black and white illustrations.  (I did note that there are a few mixed up footnotes in chapter 3, hopefully to be corrected in the next printing).  What will this book give you? – you will never again miss the importance of Austen’s many children, peaking from behind the page, there for a set purpose to show you what great parents the Gardners are, or just to make certain you see how very selfish the John Dashwoods and the Miss Steeles are, or to see the generosity of an Emma Watson in her rescue of Charles Blake, or to feel the lack for the poor Musgrove boys having Mary for a mother, the playfulness of an otherwise conservative Mr. Knightley, and the unnerving near touch of Captain Wentworth as he relieves Anne of her burden –  thank you David Selwyn for bringing all these children to life for Austen’s many readers – you have given us all a gift!

Emma – ‘Tosses them up to the ceiling’
[by Hugh Thomson, print at Solitary Elegance]

 __________________

Jane Austen and Children
Continuum, 2010
ISBN:  978-1847-250414

David Selwyn is a teacher at the Bristol School in Bristol, UK.  He has been involved with the Jane Austen Society [UK] for a number of years, has been the Chairman since 2008,  the editor of the JAS Report since 2001, and has written and edited several works on Austen.  He very graciously agreed to an “interview” about this latest work that you can find by clicking here.  See also the post on the various illustrations of Austen’s children by the Brocks and Hugh Thomson.  And finally, I append below a select bibliography of Selwyn’s writings on Jane Austen and her family.

 Select Bibliography:  

  1. Lane, Maggie, and David Selwyn, eds.  Jane Austen: A Celebration.  Manchester: Fyfield, 2000. 
  2. Selwyn, David, ed.  The Complete Poems of James Austen, Jane Austen’s Eldest Brother. Chawton: Jane Austen Society, 2003. 
  3. _____. “Consumer Goods.” Jane Austen in Context. Ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge Ed. of the Works of Jane Austen. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005. 215-24. 
  4. _____, ed.  Fugitive Pieces: Trifles Light as Air: The Poems of James Edward Austen-Leigh.  Winchester: Jane Austen Society, 2006. 
  5. _____. “A Funeral at Bray, 1876.” Jane Austen Society, Collected Reports V (1998): 480-86. 
  6. _____. “Games and Play in Jane Austen’s Literary Structures.” Persuasions 23: 15-28 
  7. _____. “Incidental closures in Mansfield Park.”  [Conference on “Jane Austen and Endings”, University of London, 17 November 2007] – unpublished paper. 
  8. _____. “James Austen – Artist.” Jane Austen Society Report 1998. 157-63. 
  9. _____.  Jane Austen and Leisure.  London: Hambledon Continuum, 1999. 
  10. _____, ed.  Jane Austen: Collected poems and Verse of the Austen Family.  Manchester:  Carcanet / Jane Austen Society, 1996. 
  11. _____, ed.  Jane Austen Society Report, 2001 – present. 
  12. ­_____. “Poetry.” Jane Austen in Context. Ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge Ed. of the Works of Jane Austen. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005. 59-67. 
  13. _____. “Shades of the Austens’ Friends.” Jane Austen Society Collected Reports V (2002): 134. 
  14. _____. “Some Sermons of Mr Austen.” Jane Austen Society Collected Reports V (2001): 37-38. 

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Last week I ran into Barnes & Noble to pick up the latest annotated Pride and Prejudice, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, and since then I have been “gadding about” as Austen would say – so no time to really give it a complete read and review; but in another trek yesterday into yet another Barnes & Noble [no worries, I also have haunted the local USED booksellers!], my husband stumbled upon the just published [as in October 5, 2010]  The Annotated Persuasion, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard [New York: Anchor Books, 2010; paperbound; ISBN:  978-0-307-39078-3] – and I have discovered a veritable feast! 

Shapard is known for his annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice [which I have but it is not in hand, as I am in “gadding about” mode as mentioned above…] – so I cannot compare this book to that edition [his annotated Sense & Sensibility is to be, I believe, published in April 2011] – though I have found that work quite useful as a reliable reference source – it was first published in hardcover followed by a paperback edition; this Persuasion is only in paperback… it is also a smaller format, likely because the novel is so much shorter, but this renders the many illustrations quite small – but I quibble about these few drawbacks …. publishers decisions do not always make the most sense… 

I first look for the extras:  

An Introduction which gives a brief history of the publishing of Persuasion, and the differences in this final novel from Austen’s other works

A Chronology of the novel [will compare this to Ellen Moody’s calendar 

Maps of sites that relate to the characters and storyline: the world, England, Somerset, Lyme, and two of Bath 

A good number of b/w Illustrations – there is unfortunately no listing of these; the source is indicated under each picture, but a listing would have served as an index to the subjects, which cover all manner of Regency life:  architecture such as that in Bath with interior and exterior scenes of the Assembly Rooms; various carriages; fashion; furniture; Naval life; the Cobb in Lyme Regis; etc.  – many of these illustrations will be familiar to most readers with a modicum of knowledge about the period – and color would have been nice – but the point here of these illustrations is to serve as a starting reference for further research, and it is an added plus to have any of these included. 

Bibliography:  this also serves as a starting point – it is in no way a complete listing of sources, but likely those sources that Shapard relied on for his research.  How complete can a bibliography of Austen be without mention of Claire Tomalin’s biography under that category, or Claudia L. Johnson’s Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel or Kaplan’s Jane Austen Among Women nowhere to be found – but as Shapard is an historian, it is that strength that resides in this bibliography, again a great starting point for further study – it is organized by broad subjects:  language; cultural and literary background; marriage and the family; position of women; children; housekeeping and servants; entails and estates and the landed gentry; rural and urban life; the military; medicine; the law; education; books, media, libraries; writing; postal service; transportation; theater [but no mention of the two works Jane Austen and the Theatre – two works with the same title and both quite comprehensive]; music and dance; sports; weather; the seaside resorts; houses and gardens; fashion; food; etiquette and female conduct books; and others – again, a good select listing of resources on various topics.   

The Literary commentary and annotations:  Shapard begins with the caveat that “the comments on the techniques and themes of the novel represent the personal views and interpretations of the editor…such views have been carefully considered, but inevitably they will still provoke disagreement among some readers “ [xi] – which Shapard encourages…; these annotations include such literary commentary, historical context, and definitions of words in context if they had a different meaning in Austen’s time, some repeated when necessary or cross-references provided.  

The book is arranged with the original text on the verso, the annotations and illustrations on the recto – the annotations are extensive as the following few very random examples show: 

  1. Persuasion starts with the full description of Sir Walter Elliot’s obsession with both his own personal charms and his listing in the baronetage – Shapard here provides information on that book and others of the time and the definition of “baronet” and how Sir Walter acquired his own status…
  2. Gout is fully described on pages 311 and 315, when Anne learns that the Crofts are removing to Bath dues to the Admiral’s “gouty” condition.
  3. “replaced” – [p. 103] – “they suspected great injury, but knew not where; but now the collar-bone was soon replaced”   – the annotation explains that the word “replaced” had the meaning in Austen’s time of “to be put back in its original position” rather than “to take the place of” – there is also a description of anatomical knowledge as understood at the time.
  4. Carriages get much attention whenever they are mentioned in the text – so we have descriptions and illustrations of barouches and chaise and fours, and chairs and of course Anne’s pretty little “landaulette” [p. 483]                                                                         
         

    a barouche

     

  5. Money and wealth – Wentworth’s income explained [p. 145]
  6. Servants:  various duties outlined [p.  87]
  7. Street names, shops, locations explained throughout; e.g. The Cobb; Tattersall’s [a mention on p. 14 with an illustration]; Milsom Street; Westgate Buildings;…etc…
  8. The Clergy in Austen’s time
  9. Austen’s language as delineating character:  as in the following: “Lady Russell had only to listen composedly, and wish them happy; but internally her heart reveled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt” [p. 232] – and the annotation reads:  “Her reveling in such emotions indicates her moral inferiority to Anne, who never derives pleasure from anger or contempt.” [p. 233]
  10. Social rules and strictures:  some examples – Sunday traveling [p. 305]; shaking of hands between men and women [p. 427]; not using first names, even those of friends such as Anne and Mrs. Smith

 A look at a few key scenes will also illustrate Shapard’s invaluable commentary: 

  1. Wentworth removing young Walter Musgrove from around Anne’s neck [pp. 152-5]:  Shapard emphasizes the importance of this scene in displaying both Anne’s and Wentworth’s feelings – he quotes William Dean Howell’s how “this simple, this homely scene, is very pretty, and is very like things that happen in life, where there is reason to think that love is oftener shown in quality than quantity, and does its effect as perfectly in the little as in the great events. [from Heroines of Fiction].  Shapard also suggests that Wentworth’s reluctance to converse with Anne about what has just happened is as much due to his efforts to remain aloof as it is to a “simple dislike of thanks,” [p. 155], as is true of Mr. Knightley in Emma. 
                                                                                                        

    Brock illus - from Molland's

     

  2. Louisa’s fall in Lyme Regis [p. 210-15]:  Shapard describes the Cobb, the steps that were the scene of The Fall, comments on the feelings of Anne and Wentworth, the strength of the former and the uncharacteristic weakness of the latter; Anne’s carrying the “salts” [have you ever wondered why Anne IS carrying smelling salts and conveniently has them in her possession? – “here are salts – take them, take them.” [p. 210]]; the calling for the surgeon and the differences between he and an apothecary; the comic relief of “the sight of a dead young lady, nay, two dead young ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report.” [p. 213-4] 

    "The horror of the moment" - from Molland's

     

  3. and of course, The Letter! [p. 452] – Shapard so rightly states that “Wentworth’s passionate language contrasts him with other Jane Austen heroes, who are often much cooler and more rational.  It also fits with the more intense emotional tone of this novel … the letter itself is arguably the moment of highest emotion in her works…” [p. 453]  – and we are given a picture of a writing table of the time [p. 457] – there is also extensive commentary on the conversation between Capt. Harville and Anne. 

As referred to above, there are disappointments in this work – I would most wish for an index to the annotations – these could be just general subject areas, such as similar divisions as in the bibliography – so for instance – all annotations which discuss medicine could be cited, or any references to carriages, or fashion, or Bath locations, the Navy, or examples of Free Indirect Discourse, the literary allusions such as Byron’s The Corsair and Matthew Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma”, etc.  As it is, one needs to read through the entire work to find the references, and as Shapard wishes for this to be a work for reference purposes, this addition of an index would seem to be a necessity.  A index of Characters would have also been a helpful addition – one must reach for their Chapman for this information; and finally there is also no “note on the text”, important information in any such reference source – the bibliography lists Chapman’s 1933 edition, Spacks’s Norton critical edition [1995]; and the latest Cambridge edition edited by Janet Todd and Antje Blank [2006] – but I would have liked to see from whence he took the exact text…

That all said – this is a delightful and fact-filled addition to your Austen Library – and if you are already fairly well-versed in the Regency period and Austen criticism, this will serve as a copy of Persuasion where much of this information is at your fingertips; if you are just starting your adventure in reading Austen, this will be a great introduction to the very rich world of her writings, her world, and her literary themes – what more can we ask for!  [other than a hardcover with an index!]

 4 full inkwells out of 5

[please note that the illustrations are meant to illustrate this post and are not illustrations in the work being reviewed] 

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Inquiring Readers:  I welcome guest blogger Janeite Lynne, a JASNA-Vermont member, who has penned a review of Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.  Thank you Lynne for sharing your thoughts about this book that everyone I know has been touting very loudly!

When I first began reading Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend a whole book with Major Pettigrew, a widower and retired military man living in Somerset, England.  He seemed like a mix of Jane Austen’s minor characters—a stuffy member of the local gentry focused on his position and his guns.  But Simonson deftly lets the Major develop and come to life in the first half of the book, and I became engrossed in his story. 

The Major, (please don’t refer to him as Mr. or Ernest), is the center of the book and the reason to read it.  He is an opinionated man.

 On women drivers:  “He didn’t like being driven by a woman.  He hated their cautious creeping about at intersections, and their heavy-handed indifference to the nuances of gear changing, and their complete ignorance of the rearview mirror.”

 On Americans: Americans seemed to enjoy the sport of publicly humiliating one another.  The occasional American sitcoms that came on TV were filled with childish fat men poking fun at others, all rolled eyeballs and metallic taped laughter.”

 On the golf club: “It was a source of annoyance to the Major that what had once been a very refined black tie dance, with simple steak menu and a good band, had been turned into a series of increasingly elaborate theme evenings.” 

                                                              And…

“…it freed them from the sullen charms of waitresses who, culled from the pool of unmotivated young women being spat out by the local school, specialized in a mood of suppressed rage.  Many seemed to suffer from some disease of holes in the face and it had taken the Major some time to work out that the club rules required young women to remove all jewelry and that the holes were piercings bereft of decorations.”

As Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand opens, the Major has just learned that his only brother, Bertie, is dead.  It is through his reaction to his brother’s death, as well as his growing relationship with Mrs. Ali, a local shop keeper, that Simonson shows us Major Pettigrew as a whole person.  As he struggles with the changes in his life, his opinions become less strident and more blurred by the human relationships that he allows himself to experience. 

 Later in the novel, Mrs. Ali must make a decision to mail a letter that will likely change her life.  Major Pettigrew watches her at the postbox. 

“He never imagined so clearly the consequences of mailing a letter—the impossibility of retrieving it from the iron mouth of the box…It suddenly seemed horrible that one’s words could not be taken back, one’s thoughts allowed none of the remediation of speaking face to face.” 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, for me, came down to the importance of risking the face to face relationships of life.  There are many other plot elements in the book.  There are issues of prejudice, land development, and prickly relationships between parents and children.  Simonson competently explores each of these, but her writing is at its best when she is drawing the Major and his re-entry into his emotional life.  When the book ended, I had come full circle.  I was happy in Major Pettigrew’s company, and I wanted to know what he would do next.

**********************************

Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Random House, 2010
ISBN:  978-1400068937

[Posted by Janiete Lynne]

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book cover the-importance-of-being-emma

 

 

“You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister!  no, indeed.”

[Emma, vol. III, ch. II, Chapman, p.331  ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juliet Archer in her Author’s  Note to The Importance of Being Emma, quotes this passage as the inspiration for her rollicking take on Jane Austen’s Emma.  If you like imagining your Knightley as a to-die-for, sex-obsessed hero, or in the words of Emma at fourteen, “Mark Knightley:  twenty-five, tall, dark, and handsome, and known among my older sister’s crowd as the Sex God” [p. 1] – then this book is a must-read, a perfect end of summer “choc-lit”* confection.

Emma Woodhouse, rich, lovely and clever, is back home at twenty-three, fully armed with an MBA from Harvard, to take on the role of Marketing Director at Highbury Foods, the family business, a “supplier of non-perishable delicacies to upmarket homes and hotels.”  She is young and naive, and who should appear but Mark Knightley,** home from India temporarily to help with HIS family business, Donwell Organics, and the perfect “mentor” to guide Emma in the realities of the business world.  They have not seen each other for years, and Emma is still smarting at Knightley’s discovery of her teenage crush – she is determined to keep her distance and not fall prey to the Knightley charm.

Knightley on the other hand is stunned to find his “Mouse” as he calls her with “long legs silhouetted against the window, lines and curves in perfect proportion.  Short beige skirt stretched taut across more curves – nicely rounded, a pert promise of pleasure.  Matching jacket with side vents, no doubt designed to draw the male eye to the symmetry below” [p. 10] – then promptly criticizes her for overuse of make-up and the plot is set for 398 pages of misunderstandings, concealed emotions, and an inordinate amount of sexual tension.  This is Emma in the 21st century, as the series is aptly named, and for those of you eternally frustrated by Austen’s not giving her readers nearly enough of the inner-musings of her heroes – indeed the Darcy in the 1995 P&P is so gripping because for the first time we are privy to his emotional state – and who of you has not yearned for much more to YOUR imagined Knightley – a more ardent lover, a fully-expressed proposal scene…?  Well, it’s ALL here folks! – Knightley it seems is wholly driven by sex, and everyone is happy to oblige – except of course Emma, who really has her heart set on the yet-to-be-met Flynn Churchill.

Told in a first-person narrative, with alternating Emma / Mark chapters, we see the same events from their individual perspectives.  This approach increases the intensity of the action, allows for much humor, and of course puts the mind of the hero front and center.  Knightley, as I’ve always believed Austen portrays him, subtle though it be, is really an emotional mess – here he is confused by his feelings for Emma, no longer brotherly, his every sighting of her expressed in such strong sexual terms – all making for one awkward encounter after another.  No spoilers here, just suffice it to say that Ms. Archer creates a few fairly explicit sex scenes…nicely done I might add…

And thankfully, all the usual suspects are present – Henry Woodhouse, head of the business and a chronic hypochondriac; Philip Elton, CFO [yikes!] with his “Gusty” ever obnoxious; Harriet, a bit of a dim but lovely bulb with a bizarre fashion sense as a personal assistant; Rob Martin in trade of course; John and Izzy Knightley; George Knightley, the father, still alive and running Donwell Organics, but off traveling the world with his young and demanding selfish wife; The Westons; Jane Fairfax, beautiful and aloof and the source of much of Emma’s jealousy; Mary “Batty” Bates endlessly chatting away; Flynn Churchill, a chef of all things! but still two-faced and a tad sleazy; a few other characters thrown in to round out the modern picture [hint:  Knightley has a girlfriend]; and Emma, still “clueless” to all the relationship mix-ups around her and still thinking SHE is pulling all the strings. 

One knows of course how the book ends – it was after all written nearly 200 years ago! – so it must be Archer’s endearing re-creation of the story and characters with a super-modern spin that keeps one turning the pages – Austen purists may blanch at seeing their Knightley sex-crazed and at times cruel ["it was badly done indeed!" turns into two pages of a blistering, swear-filled argument], but the heart of the story is still here, and it is an enjoyable romp to search for Archer’s re-imagining the many side stories into a modern-day England – seeing the hero and heroine come to terms with their conflicting emotions, their many tense and often humorous misreads of each other, [and do I dare mention quite a hot Knightley!] to make this indeed a great fun read – you just need to suspend your Regency sensibilities before entering!

******************************

 * Choc-Lit - “Where heroes are like chocolate – irresistible!”  The Importance of Being Emma is the first in the series by Juliet Archer, “Jane Austen in the 21st Century”.  Her take on Persuasion is up next [click here for an excerpt of Persuade Me].  See the Choc-Lit website and the author’s website at www.julietarcher.com for more information and other related links.

**Ms. Archer has changed several names: Mr. Knightley is now “Mark”, as father George is still in the picture; Flynn Churchill sounds a bit more modern, etc.  She discusses this in a posted comment on Austenblog [see comment #12].  For this reader, the name “Mark” brought to mind the actor Mark Strong who played Knightley in the Kate Beckinsdale “Emma”… [Strong does indeed get better with age, and this film adaptation of "Emma" has grown on me more and more after a number of re-viewings...]

4 out of 5 Full Inkwells

The Importance of Being Emma
by Juliet Archer
Harpenden, UK:  Choc-Lit, 2008
ISBN:  978-1-906931-20-9

Posted By Deb

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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!]

regency-male-fashion

[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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ross-broken-vessel-coverJulian Kestrel returns in this second mystery by Kate Ross [Viking 1994], A Broken Vessel.  Several months after his amateur but superior sleuthing at Bellegarde, home of the Fontclairs, [see Ross's first book, Cut to the Quick, and my review] Kestrel is again thrown into the mix of murder and mayhem when the sister of his manservant, Dipper, shows up in her brother’s life after a two-year absence.  Sally Stokes is a prostitute and a thief, made of the same cloth as her now-reformed [hopefully] pick-pocket brother. After an evening of turning tricks with three very different “coves,” from each of whom she steals a handkerchief,  she discovers a letter written by an unknown woman, mysteriously locked up in an unnamed place, begging forgiveness and help from her family.  But whose pocket did Sally lift the letter from? – Bristles, the middle-aged skittish man; Blue Eyes, the elegant and handsome gentleman of the “Quality”; or Blinkers, the be-speckled young man who played all too rough with Sally, leaving her sore, battered and frightened. 

Here is how we first see Sally: 

She pulled the pins out of her hair and put them on the washstand for safe-keeping; she was always losing hairpins.  Her nut-brown hair tumbled over her shoulders: long at the back, but curling at the front and sides, in imitation of the fashion plates in shop windows.  Not that she would ever look like one of them, with their fair skins, straight noses, and daintily pursed lips.  She had a brown complexion, a snub nose and a wide mouth, with a missing tooth just visible when she smiled.  Still, she was satisfied with her face.  There was not much an enterprising girl could not do with a little cunning and a pair of liquid brown eyes.

So Dipper brings Sally to his apartment to get her off the street and give her a chance to heal.  He shares this apartment with his employer, Julian Kestrel, the Regency dandy, known far and wide for his fashion and manners, the man everyone emulates in all things dress and gentlemanly behavior.  We have already learned in Ross’s first book that there is so much more to Kestrel than this dandified appearance – his growing friendship with Dr. MacGregor serves as a foil for the reader to see Kestrel in more human terms, and MacGregor’s unasked questions become ours: all we know is that Kestrel’s father was a gentleman, disinherited upon marrying an actress, and that Kestrel has been an orphan for a good many years.  Although he appears to have money and is viewed as such by his cohorts, we, the reader, and Dipper know this not to be the case – but where DOES he get the funds to lead this gentleman’s life, buy these fine clothes, live in France and Italy for years before settling in London?  We learn a bit more in this book…but not much!

 Here is Dr. MacGregor, not of London and critical of all the goings-on there, learning about the gentlemanly art of duelling:

 ‘If you thought he was lying or hiding something. Why didn’t you tax him with it?’ asks MacGregor.

[Kestrel]  ‘If I called him a liar point-blank, I should have had to stand up with him, which would have been deuced inconvenient, and not at all part of my plans.’

‘Do you mean to say you’d have exchanged pistol shots with him over a mere matter of words?’

‘Not if there were any honourable way to avoid it.  But accusing a gentleman of lying is the deadliest of insults. If he’d insisted on receiving satisfaction, I should have had no choice but to give it to him.”

‘But that’s preposterous! It’s criminal!  I don’t understand you at all.  One minute you’re investigating a possible murder with all the seriousness it deserves – and the next minute you say you’d stand up and shoot at a man because he took offence at something you said!’

‘Duelling isn’t murder, whatever the press and pulpit say about it.  If one gentleman insults another, he knows what the consequences will be: they’ll fight according to the laws of honour, as nations fight according to the laws of war.  Killing an unarmed man, or -God forbid!- a woman, is completely different.’

‘Well, I suppose you can’t help those wrong-eaded notions.  You probably learned them at your father’s knee before you were old enough to know better.’

‘Oddly enough, my father had much the same view of duelling as you do.  But then, my father was too good to live.’ He added quietly,  ‘And he didn’t.’
  

 

 The discovery of the letter wrapped up in one of Sally’s stolen handkerchiefs sets the plot in motion – they must find which of the three men carried the letter, who the woman is, and where she is being held.  Many plot twists, many characters appearing, each with a tale to tell – are they all connected in some way, or are they all separate unrelated but oh so interesting mysteries of their own?  When Sally finally discovers that the woman who wrote the letter was an “inmate” of the Reclamation Society’s prison-like home for recovering prostitutes and has been found dead from an apparent suicide, Kestrel’s shackles are raised, his detective skills in high gear, and he, Sally and Dipper pursue the three men to find out the truth.  And along the way, we see Dr. MacGregor’s astute eye upon Sally and her effect on Kestrel – can this street-wise, sharp little spitfire possibly soften the edges of the leader of the ton?  Or is Kestrel immune to such feminine wiles? (and those “liquid brown eyes!) 

Ross writes a compelling tale, her research into Regency England, its language (she is adept at presenting the dialect of the streets and the Regency-speak of the “Quality”), the manners and mores, evident on every page; her knowledge of the underside of London life makes the telling very graphic and realistic – you will learn much about prostitution on the streets of London, the religious zealots who acted against it (indeed, the title is from a Psalm), the Bow Street Runners and the all too-ineffective police forces of the time, and best of all, the mystery is excellent!  and while I often “figure” these things out, I was most pleased to have the various side stories pull together with a few surprises along the way.  All in all, a fine mystery, with wonderfully drawn characters, and enough tidbits about Kestrel’s background to more than gently coax this reader into the third book in the series, Whom the Gods Love.

 4 1/2 full inkwells (out of 5)

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cut_to_the_quickI spent a good part of the December holidays making the acquaintance of Julian Kestrel – Regency dandy, amateur sleuth, and main character in a series of mysteries by Kate Ross [alas! not unlike Jane Austen, Ms. Ross died of cancer at a young age and we have only four of these Kestrel novels to read, and re-read, and likely read again.]  I highly recommend you head immediately to your local library or local bookstore and start the first book, RIGHT NOW.  You are in for a most fabulous journey!

 

 Cut to the Quick [Viking 1993] is sort of an Agatha Christie whodunit – all the characters together in a large cavernous country house named Bellegarde, partly built in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, with winding staircases and secret passageways; an unknown woman is found dead, everyone in the house has a back story and the plot unfolds…. 

The novel begins with Julian Kestrel rescuing a very “in his cups” Hugh Fontclair from a game of hazard at a London gaming establishment. In gratitude Fontclair asks Kestrel to be best man at his wedding, though they have only just met, and as Kestrel has no idea why he is being asked, he decides to head to the country to find out why. 

Enter the characters:  Hugh Fontclair, just 21, forced into a marriage with a woman he does not know; Sir Robert and Lady Fontclair, Hugh’s parents, agreeing to the marriage but obviously hiding something; Lady Tarleton, Sir Robert’s sharp-tongued, very angry sister; Colonel Fontclair, Sir Robert’s brother, a war hero; Guy, the Colonel’s son, a likeable, ne’er do-well, often drunk rake; Philippa Fontclair, Hugh’s eleven-year old sister, immediately smitten with Kestrel; Isabelle, the orphaned cousin with hopeless feelings for Hugh; Maud Craddock, Hugh’s wife-to-be, a pawn in her father’s plans, who befriends Kestrel; Mark Craddock, Maud’s father, a wealthy tradesman shunned by the Fontclairs – but he holds all the cards; Dr. MacGregor, summoned to the house to deal with the dead body – he becomes Kestrel’s confidante and friend; Dipper, Kestrel’s manservant; and of course, the unidentified corpse … WHO is found dead in Kestrel’s bed.  As they are the unknown house quests, both Kestrel and Dipper are the prime suspects, and Kestrel is drawn into solving the crime, at first to prove his own and Dipper’s innocence and then because his sleuthing skills are far superior to anyone else’s, including the local magistrates and London’s Bow Street Runners.  Not all is as it seems at Bellegarde. 

And so we are introduced to Ross’s alter ego, her young Regency dandy, the “top of the tree,” the fashionista of London’s “Quality”, where what Kestrel does (or doesn’t do) is copied by one and all: 

Kestrel had first appeared in London society a year or two ago, and hardly anything was known about him, though he was said to be related in some dubious way to a landed family in the north.  If he had been anything but a dandy, such vagueness about his pedigree would have been fatal, but of course the most spectacular of the dandies was absolved from society’s usual inquisition into breeding and birth.

 ‘He always wears black in the evening – it’s all the crack in the dandy set, and of course Kestrel, being such a howling swell, was one of the first to take it up…’

 And we learn more about his appearance through the eyes of 11-year old Philippa when she first sees him:

 She looked at him approvingly, liking him much better that the dull, handsome men [her sister] Joanna admired.  He had a dark, irregular face and hair of a rich brown, like mahogany.  His eyes were brown too, but with a green gleam about them, especially when he smiled, or was looking at you very intently.  He was slender and spare and not above medium height, but he had presence - the way royalty probably did in the old days, before it was fat and fussy and came from Germany.  He looked splendid in his clothes, and yet there was nothing showy or striking about them, except that his linen was so spotless, and everything fit him so well.  Being a dandy was not so much what you wore, Philippa decided, but how you wore it.

regency-dandy

But we quickly learn that Kestrel too is not what he seems – he has a past we only see glimpses of, his present life of apparent wealth not quite the case; he has a thief for a manservant; and he has a charm and a wit that disarms most every woman he encounters, and many of the men as well.  His integrity is never in doubt – he is honest and true, and he can read others with little fuss – in short, the perfect objective detective [even his name is telling!] – he is another Peter Wimsey, Adam Dalgliesh, Alan Grant, Roderick Alleyn – all themselves a mystery to draw the reader in, but here with the setting of Regency England.  And in each book, Ross gives out a few tidbits of information about him: see how much we discover about him from this description of his home:

 Julian Kestrel lived in a first-floor flat in Clarges Street.  The ceilings were high, and the windows large.  The walls were painted ivory.  The mahogany furniture was handsome but not too plentiful; Julian hated clutter.  Here and there were keepsakes he had picked up on his travels:  a Venetian glass decanter, a Moorish prayer rug, a marble head of a Roman goddess, an oil painting of the Tuscan hills.  Crossed rapiers hung over the mantelpiece; they looked ornamental, but closer inspection revealed they had seen a good deal of use.  A small bust of Mozart occupied a place of honor by the pianoforte.  Under the piano was a canterbury full of well-worn sheets of music.

 And Ross showcases the Regency in all its glories – it helps to know something of the period (the Regency Lexicon is most useful!), as she weaves her story through country roads, in carriages and coaches, in London’s streets, the architecture of the houses, the description of the fashions, the elegant social life – it is all here.  And did I mention that this is a MYSTERY?? – it is deftly drawn, Ross a master of characterization and plot.  No more on that score, as you must just read the book! But as for me, I am on to the next, Broken Vessel, another mystery with hopefully a few more facts about Kestrel and I will continue my reviewing henceforth!

4 1/2 full inkwells (out of 5)

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