Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Books’

MP-Atlantic2012-ebay

Have finished yet another re-read of Mansfield Park, in celebration of its bicentenary, and as always with a slow, deliberate re-read of anything Austen, one finds all sorts of new insights, new sentences, new cause for chuckles [yes! even Mansfield Park is chuckle-worthy!] – but as I have little time at present to engage in long semi-thoughtful posts on this novel, I shall just begin posting every few days some of my favorite lines, passages, all exhibiting the best of Jane Austen … and welcome your comments…

Today I start with a sentence in the first paragraph. Without the legendary opening line of Pride & Prejudice’s “a truth universally acknowledged” to start the tale, Mansfield Park begins rather like a family accounting – how the three Ward sisters fared with husband finding. And then we have this sentence, rather snuck in there I think to echo Pride and Prejudice:

But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them.” 

[MP, Vol. I, Ch. I]

And we find in the three Ward sisters the limited options available to women of limited fortune in Jane Austen’s day: Maria lands the baronet, Frances marries for Love and ends up the worst of the lot, and the eldest becomes a vicar’s wife and one of Austen’s most beastly characters … and thus begins Mansfield Park

Thoughts anyone?

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

darcy_cover

I most fortunately stumbled upon this book My Mr. Darcys when searching for another Austen title and found the bookseller had this title as well – but alas! no available copies. So I went straight to the source and found not only this but other delightful books from the Boston-based book artist Laura Davidson – we got into a conversation about what inspired her to create this miniature book [4 ¼” x 3”] about the various Mr. Darcys in film:

LD My Mr. Darcys: An Appreciation (2009) is a tribute to the many actors who have played the role of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice adaptations. It includes portrait miniatures of six actors along with text from each film.  It is especially made for the true Austenite.

There are 500 copies, each signed and numbered. $28.00

When I was doing research for this book, I had to re-watch all of the films, taking notes about which line would work with each painted miniature of the actors. This was easier than one might think, and also really fun. When it came to the text on the back of my book, I knew which line from P&P I wanted to use, but had no idea where to find it quickly. I phoned my older sister Paula, a devoted Austenite and the one who introduced me to Jane originally. She was driving, pulled off the road, and reached into the side pocket of the passenger door to pull out her emergency copy of P&P and found the passage for me right away. At the time – I was amused by this. But now, of course, I carry an emergency copy of P&P on my phone (along with Persuasion). [Ed. I am not going to tell you which passage Laura chose for the back of the book - you will just have to buy your own copy to find out! - but what passage do you think she might have chosen?]

JAIV:  Why did you feel compelled to do this book – you refer to your sister being an “Austenite” – are you as well?  

LD:  At the time, my sister and I were talking quite often about the various adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and it occurred to me that there must be women everywhere having the same conversations and comparing Darcys. I’m a book artist, and much of my work is making visual lists, drawing everyday items, familiar yet very personal things. My work often reflects my passion for art history, maps and architecture. My Mr. Darcys was a bit out of the blue. I don’t really know how it came into my mind to do the book exactly, but once the seed was planted there was no turning back. I like that a book a woman wrote 200 years ago still resonates today and inspires artists, writers, and filmmakers to keep the characters alive. So, I would say that yes, I am an Austenite.

JAIV:  Which of the novels do you like the best?

LD: Persuasion. I adore Anne Elliot, because she always knew her own heart even though she was afraid to follow it.

JAIV: Which adaptation do you like the best?

LD:  I love the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I think it was perfectly cast. Of all the Austen adaptations I’ve seen though, the Persuasion from 1995 is my favorite. Watching it is like comfort food to me.

JAIV:  And which Mr. Darcy is your favorite, and why?

LD: Laurence Olivier was in the first “Hollywoodized” version which was terribly cast, except for him.  He played Darcy’s imperiousness beautifully, but the compromised ending let him down.

Colin Firth was absolutely perfect in the role, getting the arrogance right, but showing the vulnerability beneath.  Plus, all the Darcys that came after were a direct result of his performance, and that of the rest of the cast.  If he hadn’t had the charm and charisma to pull off the Darcy character, I doubt any of the other adaptations would have been made.

So, Colin Firth, to me, is the definitive Mr. Darcy. And we can’t forget the lake scene…!

darcy 2

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

So fellow Darcy fans, this is must have book – know that some of you like David Rintoul the best from the 1980 BBC production – he is, sorry to say not in this book – but everyone else is, each with an appropriate quote that sums up his character best… it is small, doesn’t take up much shelf space, but I think you will choose to display it in a prominent place somewhere as a centerpiece to your Austen collection.

What else I had to buy: for an obsessed Red-Sox Fan! [and a best friend, even though I am, dare I say it, a Yankee Fan…]

fenway-tunnel

Fenway Park Tunnel Book: This tunnel book shows a view of Fenway Park and the skyline of Boston. The images were painted, then offset printed, laser cut and pieced together by hand. Each copy is signed.

2007, 2008; 2nd edition (with 2007 world championship flag); 6.5 x 8 and 3/16 inches, 6 two-sided pages;  $38.

I bought another book but as it is a gift for a friend that I have not yet given it to, I must wait – but will say it has something to do with Birds!

And what book-loving person would not require this:

block4_read_art

Block Prints: Read Art

2012, 10 x 14” hand printed on Kitakata rice paper, two colors. One small print on a book page is attached, printed in an edition of 12. Unframed  $125.

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

Here is Laura’s website and contact information:  http://www.lauradavidson.com/ – take some time to look at her various creations – time well-spent I assure you! If you have a question or a comment for Laura, please do so here and I will pass them on to her for a response…

[all images copyright Laura Davidson and used with permission]

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

Guest post by JASNA-Vermont member Lynne H.

Our JASNA Vermont reading group recently discussed Georgette Heyer’s Frederica.  A skeptical member asked the question: why should we read Heyer?  Georgette Heyer is a prolific 20th century novelist known for writing Historical Fiction, Regency Romances, and Mysteries.  Frederica is one of the Regency Romances. (Think Harlequin not Hawthorne….)   So, why should a thoughtful group of Austen devotees choose a Heyer Romance?    Below are some of the answers from our group’s discussion.

Layout 1

Reason # 7: It’s summer.  Let’s face it, we don’t have to read Tolstoy, Dickens, or even Austen all year.  Go to the beach and relax!

Reason #6: Heyer, as mentioned above, is prolific.  If you like one of her Regency Romances, you have 33 more to choose from.

Reason #5: Heyer researched and included wonderful Regency detail.  She described the carriages, dress, and food, for example, in specific detail.   You can read about phaetons and curricles, neck-cloths and laces, and jellies and sauces.  If you have any interest in the Regency period, it is both fun and informative to have such specifics included in the novels.

Reason #4: Ditto for Regency language, cant, lingo, etc.  Heyer used Regency cant in all of her Romances.  What does it mean if someone is a “nodcock”  or a “ninnyhammer”?  What about if someone is trying to “gammon” another person?  Usually the meanings of the expressions are clear from the context; however, members of our group also mentioned further Regency reading to fill in more information about the period.  Two of the books were Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, and Carolly Erickson’s Our Tempestuous Day. 

Reason #3: Heyer’s dialogue.  She used dialogue extensively. Her dialogue is witty, but it is also artfully constructed to expose and develop character.

Reason #2: Heyer’s characterization.  While her main characters are usually from the aristocracy (these are Romances after all!), they are not two dimensional ladies and gentlemen.  Within the structure of the Romance, Heyer adeptly fills in the motivations, foibles, and flaws, of her main characters.  Her writing usually depends on the characters to move the books forward.  In the following excerpt, you can see both the characterization and dialogue at work.  This is from an early episode of Frederica in which Frederica and Lord Alverstoke have their first meeting.  Frederica begins by responding to him:

            “I see. You don’t wish to recognize us, do you?  Then there isn’t the least occasion for me to explain our situation to you.  I beg your pardon for having put you to the trouble of visiting me.”

            At these words, the Marquis, who had every intention of bringing the interview to a summary end, irrationally chose to prolong it.  Whether he relented because Miss Merriville amused him, or because the novelty of having one of his rebuffs accepted without demur intrigued him remained undecided, even in his own mind.  But however it may have been he laughed suddenly, and said, quizzing her: “Oh, so high!  No, no, don’t hold up your nose at me: it don’t become you!”

Reason #1: Her books provide both escape and solace.  One of our members mentioned that she read Heyer while she was undergoing chemotherapy.  She said that during this difficult time in her life, Heyer made her laugh and gave her a place to retreat to for comfort and solace.  For Janeites this is very familiar ground!

So…if your interest has been piqued by our reasons to read Heyer, we’d suggest that you start with Frederica.  Just about all of our group members enjoyed it.    And remember, unlike Austen, there are many, many more novels to choose from for those lazy summer days or for times when you just need to escape.  Don’t be a ninnyhammer, try one.

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

Frederica
Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008
ISBN:  1402214766
[originally published 1965]


Further reading:

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

book cover-Frederica1st

[Image: 1st edition cover, Bodley Head, 1965 - Wikipedia] – I love this cover!

What is your favorite Georgette Heyer? – i.e, after starting with Frederica, which Heyer would you recommend to our book group to read next?

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

I posted several months ago about a miniature Emma, published by the bookbinder Tony Firman at his Plum Park Press. Since then I have received my very own Emma and am delighted with it:

Miniature Emma from Park Plum Press

Miniature ‘Emma’ from Park Plum Press

And now doubly delighted to hear from Tony that he is planning a similar miniature edition of Pride and Prejudice – perfect timing for this bicentenary year.  It will be another triple-decker, as was the original, in the same format and size as Emma with the same typeface. Each of the three volumes is to be published separately, in April, June, and August; the third volume will include a slipcase for the set.

Volume I and II will contain 240 pages, and 260 pages for Vol. III, all bound in a lovely soft faux leather, in a pretty butterscotch color. The endpapers will be decorated with colored illustrations from the 1907 Dent edition, four different pictures in each volume. The slipcase will be decorated with some of the same illustrations. It will be a limited edition of 15 copies. [no image is yet available]

C. E. Brock - Pride and Prejudice, Dent 1907 - Mollands

C. E. Brock – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – Dent 1907 – Mollands

The first volume will be available near the end of April; price is $35. / volume, the complete set with slipcase, $105.  You can order either by volume as they become available or wait for the complete set in August, but with only 15 sets available, you best get your order in soon!  [There was a second edition of Emma, and there are copies still available.]

Other titles that Tony has published in this miniature format: [see his website for more information on each]

  • Priestley: Experiments and Observations of Different Kinds of Air
  • Curtis: The Botanical Magazine
  • Housman: A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems
  • Davenport: English Embroidered Bookbindings
  • Hubbard: William Morris
  • Crane: A Floral Fantasy
  • Huygens: Treatise on Light
  • Morris: A Dream of John Ball
  • Higgin: Handbook of Embroidery
  • Browning: The Last Ride
  • Blades: The Enemies of Books
  • Geikie: Geology
  • Einstein: Relativity
  • Austen: Emma
  • Wells: The Time Machine
  • Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Lavoisier: Elements of Chemistry
  • Fitzwilliam: Jacobean Embroidery

firmanlogo
Tony Firman Bookbinding
205 Bayne Road, Haslet, TX 76052
www.TonyFirmanBookbinding.com

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

Further reading: and if you have any questions, please comment below…

In the United States, a miniature book is usually considered to be one which is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness. Some aficionados collect slightly larger books while others specialize in even smaller sizes. Outside of the United States, books up to four inches are often considered miniature.

 c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

Today I again welcome Stuart Bennett, for Part II of our interview where we discuss his new book The Perfect Visit, a time-travel tale, a romance, and a pure escape into the Regency world of Jane Austen and the Elizabethan world of William Shakespeare! [Please go to this link for Part I of the interview.]

You can enter the book giveaway by commenting on either post before 11:59 pm 15 April 2012.  Winner will be announced on Monday April 16, 2012. [worldwide eligibility]

Talking about the Feminist Question: [because I always have to ask…] 

JAIV:  Vanessa is in all ways a 21st century woman, yet when she finds herself stranded in the early 19th century England she is “visiting” she must, I assume, “just fit in” – she even goes to the lengths of wanting marriage for protection alone – she cannot earn a living as she would have done here in the present – she is trapped and at times just so incredibly sad. You do have her debating women’s rights and voting and the realities for women publishing, and she does stand up for herself innumerable times – and you did create Meg, a lovely character, true to her time and herself – but I am perhaps taking Vanessa and her story too much to heart here? –  she feels very real to me [and I thought only Jane Austen’s characters are really real!] – and I felt that if I were there, I would be pushing Wollstonecraft’s Vindication on every passer-by, screaming for equality, hanging out with the bluestockings! – yet you have her taking such a back seat in these socio-political conversations of the day.  I just see that as a difficult issue for you as a writer – making her a very modern woman living in an earlier time and not scaring all the people around her! Did you feel this in creating her? – needing to make her an almost “invisible” being, with your own time travel rules at play to not change things, to lay-low so to speak, to not bring too much attention to oneself? …  And did you find her enforced silence painful as well? Or is this more my response as a female reader moved by her inability to speak out – more so than even for you who created her? [you might just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and head on to the next question!]

[Image: wikipedia]

SB:  It is tempting just to say “yes” and move along.  But a question that shows such close and sympathetic reading deserves better than that.  Vanessa is young at the beginning of The Perfect Visit.  Resourceful and tough as she is, she still has to deal with the triple-whammy of being trapped in another time, imprisoned, and ill.  Without Meg (and other interventions which I hope readers will discover for themselves) Vanessa would surely have died. 

And so she does her best to lie low, to get by, to fit in.  And at times it all makes her feel like she is about to explode.  This is the Vanessa who came alive for me, and as a writer it brings me joy to know that she came alive for you too.  Thank you!
 

Talking about Books

 

JAIV:  All references to book titles, authors, prices, etc. are you say valid – in your words, you may have “tinkered a little with history, but I have done my best not to tinker with bibliography.” [p.341] – and this book abounds in Bibliography! I love to come away from such a story with pages of things, people and places, and books to research! – And I thank you for your “Historical postscript – the truth in Jane Austen’s life and her fiction, and the amalgamations of real people to create your heroine and hero and all the various booksellers… [though I did miss the Godwin reference I am ashamed to say! – so clear after reading your postscript…]  

So I would ask, can your story be enjoyed by the non-Austen aficionado? The non-bookseller? The person little acquainted with Shakespeare bibliography? – What can you tell us about your basic plot without all these fabulous extras that give the book such depth and meaning…? 


SB:
  I suspect most authors, like me, have readers they can count on for honest opinions.  Several of my readers, warned that the typescript was on its way, voiced advance worries about the time-travel, others about the bibliographical elements.  Virtually all reported that neither got in the way of what I wanted above all to be a romance: a romance for those who wish we could meet the authors we love, and for those who love (or wish they could love) someone as bookish as they are.  The rest of the novel could perhaps be seen as illustrating the old adage “be careful what you wish for. . . .” 

JAIV:   The value of Jane Austen’s books today either seems outrageous [to those who know that she received so little for her labors] or a fair accounting of what the market will bear… what are your thoughts on this, as a bookseller and an author?

 [Pride and Prejudice - 1st edition, 1813.  Sold for $35,000, Sotheby's, June 17, 2011]

SB:  First, I don’t think Jane Austen fared too badly in the context of the commercial publishing world of her day.  It may have helped (here comes the gender discrimination again) that she had her father and brothers on her side in dealing with publishers, and she certainly had the last laugh when in 1816 (through her brother Henry) she bought back the manuscript and copyright of what became Northanger Abbey, for the same ten pounds a neglectful publisher had paid for it in 1803.  The net proceeds to JA’s heirs from the first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion amounted to a hefty £453.14.11 – somewhere (by my rough reckoning) on the order of £35,000 in today’s money.

Second, I suppose if JA’s first editions are selling at today’s hefty prices (a nice Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, the two most difficult first editions, might well appear on the market for the same £35,000 I just mentioned) then those prices must surely be judged a fair accounting. 

But I’m not sure those prices are sustainable.  When I was selling J.A. first editions in the early 1980s, auction prices were normally in the mid-hundreds of pounds, and my copies – almost never more than £1,000 – flew off the shelf.  When the modern movies came along prices went up, and up, and up – and now many high-end antiquarian booksellers have copies of the first editions that have lingered for years.

JAIV:   You have published the book Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles (2004), which surely comes into this story with the variety of publishers and booksellers and Vanessa’s publication of children’s books. What were the realities of publishing in the Regency period? And how different from today? …

 Oak Knoll Press, 2004

Indeed, you created your own press [the aptly named Longbourn Press!] to publish your book, as well as offer it as a kindle ebook.  Did you try to publish with a traditional publisher? And how is this form of publishing any different from what was available to Jane Austen as a first time novel-writer [sell her copyright outright or pay for printing and marketing costs herself, etc.]? 

SB:  I’ve given a couple of clues about Regency publishing in my previous answer.  “How different from today?”  Well, today’s publishing, with Kindle etc., seems to me to be reverting more to the Regency model than otherwise, with those able to pay for self-publication able to get their books printed and distributed more easily than in the last half-century or so.

Regency publishers were, of course, always on the lookout for potential blockbusters, especially if they could buy the copyrights outright (often for small sums, like the ten pounds originally paid for Northanger Abbey – then titled Susan).  Many women writers, often publishing anonymously, produced novels and other works, especially children’s books, at their leisure; others were desperate for money and sold manuscripts and copyrights for whatever they could get.  Those (men and women) able to pay the cost of their own publications could negotiate commissions with commercial publishers.  John Murray took only ten percent of the net proceeds of Jane Austen’s later novels, a deal which if available to J.K. Rowling might have made her a whole, whole lot richer than the Queen of England.  

The Perfect Visit had wonderful literary agents in London and New York who offered the manuscript to commercial publishers in the even-darker-than-usual publishing days of early 2009.  There were no takers; one London publisher described it as a nice “potential mid-list” novel, but not the blockbuster they were looking for.  But some wayward typescripts kept bringing notes and e-mails, and when a couple of enthusiastic ones came from perfect strangers as far away asAustralia, I decided to consider the Amazon route.  Another bonus, as a much-published friend observed: printing the book meant I had to stop revising.

JAIV:   Well, I for one am certainly glad you listened to those perfect strangers!  And yes, it is interesting to read about Austen’s publication history – very ironic that the only work for which she sold the copyright outright was Pride and Prejudice, always her most popular and enduring work.

One question I have about the story:  what might the ethical issues be about this bringing of old manuscripts and books into the present to sell? even if the resulting profit is for a good cause?

SB:  I think any reader’s guess is as good as mine.  Would it be unfair to the original author? If so, how?  Certainly if I could go back to Jane Austen’s time (not to mention Shakespeare’s) and buy new copies of her first editions to bring back to sell in 2012, I could also undercut the prices of my high-end bookselling colleagues.  Does caveat emptor apply in such circumstances? 

But of course the paramount ethical issue involves time-travel itself.  Surely time-traveller appearances would change the past, à la Ray Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder,” and so skew subsequent history.  People who should have been born might not be, and vice versa.  

Someone once wrote an apocalyptic story where only the very rich could afford to travel back in time to escape the end of the world.  Against those kinds of fantasy possibilities, surely sneaking a few otherwise-vanished books and manuscripts out of their own times seems comparatively harmless.  Or not? 

JAIV:  Yes, it is an interesting question – one way to look at it is to believe you might be preserving a work that would have been destroyed in a fire or such, and otherwise lost to posterity…. [and I do have to remember, this is a fiction, after all!]

Here is a very specific question about a book you mention: You place your heroine in a library reading The Invisible Gentleman – I had to research this one I confess – written in 1833 by J. Dalton, author of Chartley the Fatalist, and The Robber, all published by Edward Bull of Holles St, London… you call it “a heavy-handed historical romance set in the twelfth century” [p. 312]… no wonder Vanessa tossed it aside! – So I ask, why this book for that scene?? –


SB:
  Because Vanessa wished she were invisible – and because I found it on an 1833 list of novels “just published” and couldn’t resist. 

JAIV: Oh good! glad I don’t have to add this to my TBR pile! 

Can you share anything about your writing process? – When, Where, and How [and maybe even Why?] – any advice for budding writers? 

SB:  I don’t think this is any kind of advice for budding writers, but here’s the truth behind my Perfect Visit process.  I’d written a couple of non-fiction books, lots of magazine articles on rare books and auctions, and during the 1980s attempted and abandoned a couple of novels.  I knew a little bit about sitting down and writing, and even writing with deadlines.  This helps.

 But the inspiration for The Perfect Visit and its (unpublished) sequels came as a surprise.  I have George R.R. Martin to thank – and if your readers aren’t sure who he is, the ubiquitous advertisements for the television version of his Game of Thrones gives the clue. 

[SPOILER ALERT re: Game of Thrones] At the beginning of 2006 I started reading Martin’s “Fire and Ice” series (Game of Thrones is Book One).  Initially I was hooked, but I started having doubts somewhere in Book Two.  By the middle of Book Three (I’ve repressed the books’ individual names) I felt like I was being had, that the author had realized he was onto a cash cow and decided to turn what might have been a trilogy into a five-parter (is there a name for that?)  

And Martin also killed off the one character I felt close to, whose name happened to be Ned.  Sometime towards the end of January 2006 – I remember the moment – I flung Martin’s Book Three across the room, stood up, and said “I’m going to write a book I’d want to read.”  The result was The Perfect Visit, central male character by name of Ned Marston. 

I should add, in case I appear delusional, that I am in no doubt Mr. Martin’s formula has a much broader appeal than mine. 

Are there any nuggets of gold here for budding writers?  I don’t know.  All I can say is that once I started, my characters took over large parts of my life.  They woke me up in the middle of the night with their dialogues; I started walking to work with bits of paper in my pockets so I could write down what they were doing and more of what they had to say.  And I would scribble, or clatter away on the computer most mornings, until I thought I’d done them some kind of justice.  Then I’d work at my business until the characters interrupted all over again.  The original typescript of The Perfect Visit went on, and on. . . . 

JAIV:  I love this story of your inspiration! [I have always thought a really good blog post would be to question people about the one book they most remember throwing across the room!]  I have not read the “Fire and Ice” books but do admit to being quite absorbed with the Game of Thrones on HBO, and like you, stunned at the outcome of Book I – indeed the only character I liked as well [being Sean Bean helps too!] 

You mention above other books revolving around The Perfect Visit. Can you tell us more about these? A sequel to this tale, or another time-travel book to another time? And if so where would you next most like to go? 

SB: Oh yes, there are a couple of sequels, one close to finished, and a kind of “part-prequel” set in 1823 in which Vanessa discovers the “truth” behind a lost episode in Jane Austen’s life.  There’s even, for better or worse, a half-written (maybe “half-baked” would be a better term) prequel about Ned Marston’s adventures in classical Greece. 

JAIV:  Can’t wait! 

And finally, in your answer to my question on London  – because it was so convoluted and actually contained four questions, so no guilt please for missing it! –  I asked what is your favorite London haunt, other than perhaps the British Library? 

SB:  I confess I love the London Library more than the British.  It’s climbing around in the stacks that does it, and all the books you find that way that you’d otherwise never known existed.

London Library - Geograph.uk

London Library label – wikipedia

But you asked my favorite London haunt, and I have to confess a hopelessly bourgeois affection for the Wolseley restaurant on Piccadilly.  I take myself there for breakfast whenever I can, all alone, reveling in perfectly-cooked bacon and eggs, and the best pastries in the universe.  People-watching there brings me as close as I can get to the way I think Vanessa must have felt at Molland’s Tea-Rooms in Bath.

The Wolseley, London

JAIV:  You make me want to go back to 1833! Just for a cup of tea!

Thank you Stuart for answering all my questions – you have been a gentleman and a scholar and I appreciate it!

Readers, please ask any question you might have for Stuart or leave a comment on either this post or the Part I post, and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy of The Perfect Visit. Please do so by 11:59 pm, April 15, 2012. The winner will be announced on Monday April 16, 2012 – all are welcome to particpate, i.e. worldwide eligibility.

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

Stuart Bennett was an auctioneer at Christie’s inLondon before starting his own rare book business. He is the author of the Christie’s Collectors Guide How to Buy Photographs (1987), Trade Binding in the British Isles (2004) which the London Times Literary Supplement called “a bold and welcome step forward” in the history of bookbinding, and many publications on early photography, auctions and auctioneers, and rare books. He currently lives and works near Boston, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

  The Perfect Visit, by Stuart Bennett
Longbourn Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780615542706

For more information:

C. E. Brock. illustration for Persuasion, image from Molland’s

Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

The Perfect Visit (Longbourn Press, 2011) is, no way to say it otherwise, a perfect treat – who of us would not want to spend a few days [or pull an all-nighter!] in the company of a time-travelling couple who are each in turn lovers of books, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and just possibly each other? –

Today I welcome the author Stuart Bennett for a blog interview where we talk about how a rare bookseller became a writer of a first novel that brings to life both Jane Austen and Shakespeare, takes us on a whirlwind tour of their times, regales us with book history as we trek about the bookstalls of London and Bath, and all this in a mere 342 pages, a book sure to take a prime spot on your bookshelf.  So join us today for Part I of the interview, stay tuned for Part II this weekend, and enter the Book Giveaway by commenting or asking a question on either post before 11:59 pm 15 April 2012. Winner will be announced on Monday April 16, 2012 (worldwide eligibility).

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

Welcome Stuart!  Thank you so much for joining us here at Jane Austen in Vermont. I have known of you for a good number of years as a rare bookseller and for a time president of the ABAA [Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America] – needless to say when I discovered you had recently published this book on Jane Austen [the title even comes from Emma: “It was a delightful visit; – perfect in being much too short.” [Vol. I, Ch. XIII]] – I saw my two worlds colliding in the most marvelous of cosmic alignments! I was so greedy to begin, I immediately downloaded it on my kindle, my hardcopy order far too slow to arrive, and was happily transported to the various times in your tale. So lets talk a bit about your background as a rare bookseller, your love of Jane Austen and Shakespeare [and how you dared to put both in the same tale!], the history of books, the time-travel bits, the woman-issue, and of course, just the sheer pleasure of a really nice romance…

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

Talking about the story:

JAIV: To start, please explain the premise of your tale – a time-travel, book-loving love story that you say was first titled “A Bibliographical Romance” – so tell us about “The Project,” or at least a quick synopsis without giving too much away!

SB:  It starts as the tale of two bibliophiles planning to go back in time to rescue lost books and manuscripts. Vanessa decides on Regency England; Ned goes to Shakespeare’s. But they both have their own agendas as well.  Vanessa wants to rewrite history. And Ned wants to meet the Bard himself. 

Vanessa falls foul of the law, transported from Jane Austen’s genteel world to the dark underbelly of a Regency prison. 1607 London shows an equally black side to Ned when he antagonises one of Shakespeare’s rivals, escaping with his life only to find that an accident of time takes him only halfway home.

Talking about Jane Austen: 

“It was a delightful visit; – perfect, in being too short.” [Emma, vol. 1, ch. 13]

JAIV:  I know of your background as an antiquarian bookseller and former ABAA president – you have spent most of your life in books published before 1850.  So why Jane Austen for you? And why Shakespeare? Why not Frances Burney or Chaucer? Is it their times or their works, their continuing popularity today? 

SB:  Jane Austen and Shakespeare are central to my book because I love them.  A bookseller writing a “bibliographical romance” is committing a self-indulgent act – the more so with the presence of time-travel – and these two authors are part of it.  Frances Burney is intriguing, but I confess that had Jane Austen never written (could I have written any kind of  Perfect Visit without J.A.? – I doubt it) I might have been more tempted by Maria Edgeworth as a character.  Or maybe Hester Lynch Piozzi.  Chaucer and his world needs a true mediaevalist: I don’t have the knowledge of or empathy to go there.

JAIV:  You say in your postscript: “It is a presumption of a very high order to bring both Jane Austen and William Shakespeare into a single work of fiction, let alone a first novel … of the two, somehow Jane Austen intimidates me more, even though Shakespeare is perhaps the greater genius.” Explain your thoughts on the intimidating Miss Austen!

SB:  Wonderful question.  What is it that’s so intimidating?  I think it may be that, compared to Shakespeare, we really know quite a bit about Jane Austen’s life, notwithstanding the wholesale destruction of her letters by her sister and niece.  And what we know seems domesticated and uneventful. 

So how and why did she become, as I see her, the greatest novelist ever to write in English?  One could ask a similar question about Shakespeare and his plays: how did the grammar-school boy from provincial Stratford manage those.  And of course the fact that we know so little about Shakespeare’s life allows those in Shakespeare-denial (Oxfordians and similar snobs) scope for their own inventions. What we have of Jane Austen’s personal history is secure. 

As a novelist it’s a relief to have no sense of what Shakespeare was like as a man, let alone as a conversationalist.  I could invent quite freely.  The real Jane Austen, on the other hand, survives in family memoirs and letters, and I considered it my job to try to be true to her.  All I felt confident about at the time went into The Perfect Visit , but she haunts me still, and features much more largely in one of the two sequels/prequels to P.V. which are complete in first drafts but still have a long way to go.

JAIV:  How and when did you first discover Jane Austen? – as a reader or a collector or as a bookseller?  Or was your name [despite that extra “t”!] the impetus behind reading and writing about Jane Austen?! 

SB:  No to the last – I didn’t know there was a character in Jane Austen with my name mis-spelled until I was in my early twenties.  J.A. wasn’t quite the household name she’s become in the last thirty years, and I think I was lucky in being no younger than twenty-one, at university in England, when first introduced to the novels via Emma.  I couldn’t put it down.  

(I should add, however, that I take comfort in the fact that my spelling of “Bennett” is the same as the street in Bath.  Perhaps J.A. – or so I like to think – was recollecting the street as a good character name and simply forgot the last “t”.)

JAIV:  I don’t like to ask this question because who can ever work through such a dilemma, but I always do because the answers are so enlightening – but first I would ask if Persuasion is your favorite Austen novel? – it figures prominently in your story: Ned’s reading Persuasion; he and Vanessa are in Bath and literally take a Persuasion tour [which was great fun!]; and their romance has echoes of the Anne / Wentworth story.  ….

SB:  Your question – I’m sure this won’t surprise you – contains its own answer.  All the elements you describe in my book derive from my love of Persuasion. which seems to me to express most clearly Jane Austen’s own longings and losses, as the most autobiographical of all her novels.

JAIV:  A lovely answer! Persuasion is my own favorite, and it is wonderful how you weave Anne Elliot’s tale into your own. 

Is it every antiquarian bookseller‘s dream to actually visit the time of their literary hero[es]? To meet them as Vanessa meets Jane Austen and Ned William Shakespeare – is this your own vicarious dream? And has this time-travel story been in your head for the longest time?  I know you have written non-fiction works on book collecting, but have you written other yet-unpublished novels or fictional pieces?

 SB:  I think I may have answered the salient points of this great question in the course of dealing with other questions, but I would add this:  The most successful antiquarian booksellers I know don’t spend time dreaming about time-travel.  Instead they get to the auctions and flea-markets I didn’t know existed, woo wealthy collectors, and have healthier bottom lines. 

JAIV:  Yes! That bottom line does get in the way of day-dreaming and novel-writing, doesn’t it?! Jane Austen’s very own problem as well! 

 We find, along with your heroine, that we are soon to be in Jane Austen’s presence: 

“The first response to Vanessa’s knock was a rustle of papers, receding footsteps, and the creak of an interior door.” [p.5] 

– and we know we are in Jane Austen’s house in Chawton! … and we are there almost holding our breath as Vanessa first meets her, describes her – how difficult was she to create on your page, knowing readers all have their very own Jane Austen in their head?

Chawton Cottage

SB:  I did my very best to describe the physical J.A., and also Martha Lloyd, that emerge from contemporary accounts.  As to that first conversation, as well as later ones, the Jane Austen I hear is graceful, a little shy, with a ready wit and even sarcasm, but fundamentally kind.  Can any J.A. aficionado really demur to that?

JAIV:   Your heroine Vanessa Horwood is what Mr. Darcy would call an “accomplished woman” – even your Jane Austen character says “I have, it seems, in one young woman a literary critic, a musician, a financier, and an apothecary.”  [p. 7]. Is it fair to ask a male writer with a female protagonist, for a good part of the book at least – are you a little bit in love with your Vanessa?

SB:  All’s fair, and of course I am.  But I was also a little taken aback when many who know me best said that my Vanessa reminds them of me, and not always my most lovable side.

JAIV:  Aah – you have created your own better half it seems! 

 The description of clothing is very exact! – may I ask if you tend toward Henry Tilney in “understand[ing] your muslins, sir”?

Morning Dress @1819, R. Ackermann [wikicommons]

SB:  I hope so.  But Ackermann’s Repository and other contemporary sources are a great help too, not to mention the modern books by the Cunningtons, e.g. Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century

JAIV:    As you mention above, these times had heavy realities that Austen kept in the background for the more astute reader to find – but they are there – your heroine is jailed for forgery and will likely hang or will be transported – so this part of your story tells this darker side, the underbelly of Regency life, especially for women.  What was prison like and what resources did you use to make this seem so real? 

Newgate Prison - eb.com

SB:  I’ve read, and also bought and sold, so many accounts of English malefactors and their punishments in Regency and earlier times that I can’t really cite many of the sources that contributed to my sense of what a prison must have been like at that time.  Did I get it right?  Perhaps partly so, but I suspect the reality of most female penitentiaries was worse than I describe.  

Two essential sources for the Regency period are those to which Elizabeth Fry (who makes an appearance in The Perfect Visit) contributed: Notes on a Visit to some of the Prisons in Scotland and the North of England with Elizabeth Fry (this was published by Elizabeth Fry’s brother Joseph John Gurney) and Observations, on the Visiting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners.

 

Elizabeth Fry, by Charles Robert Leslie - wp

 
Talking about Time-Travel:

 “Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.” [Twelfth Night, Act V, Sc. 1] – [p. 113]

JAIV:  This is a time-travel book: and filled with “Rules of Time –Travel” – are these of your own creation for this story or from other sources? A few of the “rules” for example: 

  • -you cannot kill anyone
  • -cannot play modern music [in this case Vanessa playing Rachmaninoff if anyone is present]
  • -only organic clothing and material will pass through the time portal, so books, coins of the times, etc. will go, but no illuminated manuscripts
  • - the loss of the language of our 21st century life
  • -can only go the past, no travel into the future

SB:  As a child I watched, and was haunted by an episode of The Twilight Zone in which (as I recall from my single viewing close to fifty years ago) a criminal transports to the past, remains a criminal, and murders his own grandfather. 

Was it in the Wild West?  I’m not sure.  But what I remember is the image at episode’s end where the onscreen modern criminal dissolves saying something like “If I’ve just killed my grandfather, then how” [more dissolve] “can I” [almost gone] “exist?”  That was the origin of the first rule.  The others I developed as I sought consistency

JAIV:  Yikes! I remember that Twilight Zone episode! [also quite a faded memory!]. My other favorite was the 2-part Star Trek tale when Captain Kirk goes back in time and falls in love with Joan Collins – her character dies in “real life” and he must watch this and not step in to help so as not to completely alter the socio-political history of the future – I think I’ve seen that show 10 times! And it breaks my heart every time… 

So, I must assume you are a fan of time-travel literature? Your favorite? 

SB: As a kid I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s Door into Summer.  And Ray Bradbury wrote perhaps the greatest of all time-travel short stories, “A Sound of Thunder,” from which “the butterfly effect” has become a scientific term of art.  Alison Uttley’s Traveller in Time is a children’s book that transcends the genre (but then so do many of the best children’s books).  More recently I sobbed my way through The Time Traveler’s Wife (too bad about the movie though).

JAIV:  I haven’t watched the movie because I heard it was so dreadful – and yes, the book was sob-city-central! 

Shakespeare’s time reads like a gazetteer of London as Ned tours around looking for booksellers and all things Shakespeare, with detailed street names and historical sites and bookseller stalls – You must be familiar with London, so I must ask what is your favorite book on London? And London during the Elizabethan period?  The Regency period? And your favorite London haunt? [other than perhaps the British Library?!]

[Map of London 1593 - Internet Shakespeare Editions]

SB:  Oh dear, I didn’t want to sound like a gazetteer.  I lived more than ten years in London, and three in Bath, so much of what I wrote was from recollection.  Then I went back, retracing my characters’ steps with period maps and other clues to get the street names right, and to remove bridges and buildings that weren’t there at the times I was writing about.  I consulted all kinds of odd books, especially Regency ones, that I’d put aside during the course of my bookselling.  Pierce Egan’s Walks through Bath (1819) is a good example, and a useful one too.  For a modern book on London in Shakespeare’s time, the Oxford compendium Shakespeare’s England, first published in 1916, is still (I think) as good as it gets

JAIV:   On no! I meant that your book reading in parts like a gazetteer was a GOOD thing! I love the old London maps and had great fun following Ned around! 

The topic of carriages interests me very much, and the question of calculating distances and times is a difficult one: you say a coach traveling to London from Winchester in 1817 [50 miles] took 7 hours.  What sources did you use for those calculations?

SB:  Contemporary travel guides are not easy to come by, and sometimes even give conflicting information, but quite a few of the Regency and later guides to London have appendices of travel times.  I did the best I could with several of these.

JAIV:   I love the little bit about Fanny Dickens, Charles’s oldest sister, though you do say you muddled the dates a bit  – why Fanny and not other characters from the London or Bath of the time?

SB:  My brain accumulates trivia, and from somewhere or other I knew Fanny Dickens was a talented pianist.  That scene in Perfect Visit (I love it too – thank you) unexpectedly wrote itself one afternoon in the London Library where I was supposed to be doing other things.  I couldn’t let go of that scene, even when I found out I’d muddled the dates.  But with Fanny, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Fry, John Payne Collier, et al., already in the Regency parts of the novel, I felt that cluttering it up with even more celebrities would be too much of a good thing. 

JAIV:  Your Part III and IV are set in September 1833 [I will not ruin the plot and tell anyone the how and why!] – so without giving too much away, why this date? 

SB:  Touché!  September 1833 imposed itself on an early draft of the novel when I was trying to figure out a way to get Ned to the early 19th century.  My justification seemed compelling at the time, and then, quite suddenly, didn’t much matter at all.  But I’d gone to a lot of trouble getting the topography and costume of 1833 London as close to right as I could, so I kept Ned there.  I could invoke other reasons too, but I agree they would spoil the plot.

***************************** 

Thank you Stuart! – we will continue our conversation this weekend – Gentle Readers, please ask any question you might have for Stuart or leave a comment on either this post or the Part II post, and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy of The Perfect Visit. Please do so by 11:59 pm, April 15, 2012.

Stuart Bennett was an auctioneer at Christie’s in London before starting his own rare book business. He is the author of the Christie’s Collectors Guide How to Buy Photographs (1987), Trade Binding in the British Isles (2004) which the London Times Literary Supplement called “a bold and welcome step forward” in the history of bookbinding, and many publications on early photography, auctions and auctioneers, and rare books. He currently lives and works near Boston, Massachusetts.

The Perfect Visit, by Stuart Bennett
Longbourn Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780615542706

For more information:

Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

This book I shall get straightaway – available in paperback or for your kindle – and as this one looks like a keeper – books! bibliophiles! manuscripts! Shakespeare! Austen! – kindle will just not cut it…

Quoting full text from the Fine Books & Collections blog, by Rebecca Rego Barry:

If you enjoy novels with bookish characters and antiquarian themes, have I got a recommendation for you! Bookseller Stuart Bennett‘s debut novel, A Perfect Visit, is the story of a modern-day librarian and graduate student who get involved in a time travel project aimed at acquiring books and manuscripts to bring back to the future for profit and preservation. The American librarian, Ned Marston, travels to Shakespeare’s London to rescue lost quartos and ends up befriending the Bard, while the Canadian student, Vanessa Horwood, hopes to score a Jane Austen manuscript but gets sent to jail soon after meeting the dying author. If you can put aside your misgivings about a time travel plot (and you should, despite Dickens biographer Peter Ackroyd’s statement that “If a late-20th-century person were suddenly to find himself in a tavern or house of the period, he would literally be sick — sick with the smells, sick with the food, sick with the atmosphere around him” ), Ned and Vanessa’s experiences among famous authors and book collectors make for a perfectly delightful read.

In the postscript, Bennett, formerly with Christie’s rare books department and more recently past president of the ABAA, writes that the working title of this book was “A Bibliographical Romance” — less creative than the final title, taken from Austen’s Emma, but more descriptive. He goes on to say, “If I have tinkered a little with history, I have done my best not to tinker with bibliography…Every reference to books, authorship, texts, publisher’s imprints, and prices is, as far as I know, accurate.” It brings to mind the PBS slogan, “entertainment without the guilt.”

 Do you think Mr. Bennett was destined to write this book because of his name?? [despite the extra 't'...]
 
Further reading:
The Perfect Visit, by Stuart Bennett
  • ISBN-13: 9780615542706
  • Publisher: Longbourn Press
  • Publication date: 12/2/2011
  • $14.95 at your local bookseller [$10. 76 at B&N; $2.99 on your kindle...]
Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,494 other followers

%d bloggers like this: