Guest Post ~ Julie Klassen on “A Jane Austen Promenade” ~ Blog Tour and Giveaways for “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill”

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Dear Gentle Readers: Please join me today as I welcome Julie Klassen with a guest post in celebration of the release of her newest book The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. Julie tells of visiting Bath this past September for the Jane Austen Festival and the joys of dressing the part – Regency-style – for both she and her husband Brian. Below her guest post is information on her book and how you can enter to win the giveaways.

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A Jane Austen Promenade
by Julie Klassen

This year, for the first time, I attended the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. The festival, held every September, draws hundreds of Jane Austen fans (like me) to one of the biggest gatherings of Regency reenactors in the world.

lrbrian_cravatOn Saturday, my husband and I participated in the “Grand Regency Costumed Promenade.” The Bath Jane Austen Festival achieved the Guinness World Record for “The largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes” in 2009 at 409. The number rose up to 550 in 2014. Since Bath already holds the record, they did not try to set a new one this year. Instead, we paraded through the streets of this historic city simply to enjoy ourselves, honor Jane Austen, and entertain the hundreds of onlookers who lined the parade route—locals as well as tourists from all over the world. This was fine with me, because I was not terribly interested in setting a world record, but I was determined to dress my husband as Mr. Darcy, and knew this would be my best chance.

Months ahead of time, we contacted an historical costume maker in England who has made similar gentleman’s attire. She sent us fabric swatches and I sent her Brian’s measurements. After some postal delays, we received the outfit. It did not fit Brian well at all at first—likely due to my poor measuring skills. But thankfully a friend-of-a-friend is a skilled seamstress, and she altered the pieces to fit Brian better. I also ordered Brian a top hat, gentlemen’s historically-accurate silk stockings, and pointy-toed shoes, which allowed him to dance at the ball better than he could in tall riding boots. You really can find almost anything online. He also wore his old Bell Ringer gloves. I didn’t bring any “how to tie a cravat” instructions, but thankfully another participant helped Brian tie his.

lrbrianjulieBrian’s cutaway frockcoat is a bit more Georgian in style than true Regency, which worked better with his build, though he had to add suspenders to keep up those high-waisted breeches.

And I want you to notice his long sideburns or “side-whiskers” as they were called, which he grew out to please me and look more the part of an early 19th century gentleman.

I wore my new bonnet and the spencer jacket I blogged about previously (made by Matti’s Millinery), over my gold gown (made by my niece), as well as gloves and reticule. I also brought a silk parasol. The style is not 100% historically accurate, but with rain in the forecast, I decided it was “better safe than sorry.”

And, unfortunately, it rained a LOT during the promenade, and I was very glad indeed to have the waterproof umbrella. The streets and paths we trod were wet and dirty and I saw several ladies with hems “six inches deep in mud,” to quote Pride and Prejudice. But rain or shine, it was an enjoyable time anyway.

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Have you ever participated in a Regency costume party or reenactment?
What did you wear?

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The Giveaways!

Please comment below about your own Regency fashion experiences and you will be entered into the random drawing for two giveaways! The winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). Deadline is December 21st – the winner will be notified on December 22.

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Here’s the blog tour schedule (you can comment on any of the blogs to be entered into the drawing):

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cover-innkeeperAbout The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill:

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

Visit talesfromivyhill.com to find a map of the village, character profiles, a book giveaway, and more!

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My thoughts:

I will say that Julie has done it again! – offering her readers a fully-developed world in a small English village during the Regency period, this time an intriguing tale of Inn-keeping – we have: Coaching inns and Carriages; Women characters in precarious positions trying to manage in a patriarchal world; there is Cookery and housekeeping details (love this!); every character has a secret and there is a mystery to be solved; and of course there is Love – of various sorts and with a fair amount of guessing as to who might be best suited. This is Book I of Julie’s projected series of three books – all with characters introduced here. As Julie says in her interview on the blog From Pemberley to Milton:

The series tells the stories of four women facing life-altering challenges with the help of their quirky neighbors and intriguing newcomers. Each novel will have a romance and drama wrap up in a hopefully satisfying way, while the main character’s story spans all three books. The series celebrates the strong bonds of friendship, because in a small village like Ivy Hill, everyone is connected, like leaves on a vine.

Book II, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage will be released in December 2017, and Book III, The Bride of Ivy Green, December 2018. I am only disappointed that I must wait so long to engage with these endearing characters once more!

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For more on Julie’s trip to England to research her novels, here’s her tour of Lacock Village,
the inspiration for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill:

**(You might be interested to know that Julie is going to be leading a tour next September (2017) to many of the places that have served as inspiration for her novels. You can view details here: http://concertandstudytours.com/julie-klassen-coast-tour/).

klassen_julie1About Julie:

JULIE KLASSEN loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full-time. Her books have been honored with the Christy Award for Historical Romance, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Midwest Book Award, among others. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.julieklassen.com and also at these author links:

 |  Facebook  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

You can find The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill here: [ISBN  9780764218132]  Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A hearty thank you to Amy Green of Bethany House Publishers and to Julie Klassen for inviting me to join this Blog Tour. Don’t forget to comment to be entered into the drawing – Good luck one and all and Happy Reading!

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

Julie Klassen’s “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill” ~ Blog Tour Schedule and Giveaways

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Julie Klassen’s latest book, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, has just been released and there are various bloggers offering up reviews, excerpts, interviews and guest posts. I will be posting about the book on December 20th, but wanted you to see and follow the other posts that began on December 5th – please be sure to comment on any of the blogs in order to be entered into the random drawing: the winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). The winner will be notified on December 22.

Here’s the blog tour schedule:

The Prizes:

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Stay tuned for my post on December 20th, where Julie tells of attending the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this past September!

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

Book Review ~ “Jane Austen and Children” by David Selwyn

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]

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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. 

Book Review ~ ‘The Annotated Persuasion’

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] 

Book Review ~ ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’

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.

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

[Posted by Janiete Lynne]

Book Review ~ ‘The Importance of Being Emma’

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

Book Review ~ ‘Whom the Gods Love’

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