The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

“I should never sleep easy, Mr. Crawford, did you not hasten to Mr. Dobbin this very moment. God forbid that Jane Austen should stand in justice’s way!”

~Jane and the Man of Cloth

 

Wishbone and Pride and Prejudice were my first introductions to Jane Austen, but I really fell in love with both the authoress and her time period through Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries. They actually inspired me to write my high school English lit research paper on the topic. It’s been several years since I read them, and wanted to go back to the beginning before continuing the series. The first volume is Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.

Jane is spending the holiday with her friend Countess Isobel Payne and her recent husband Frederick, Earl of Scargrave. During that time, the Earl is discovered dead in his bed, perhaps poisoned. Then an anonymous letter shows up suggesting that Isobel and Viscount Fitzroy Payne, the earl’s nephew and heir, had a certain tenderness for each other. The allegation is unfortunately true, though the pair never acted on their feelings. When additional implicating evidence turns up, the two are put imprison. Isobel’s reputation may never be saved, but she begs Jane to do what she can to at least save her life.

The cast of characters is quite entertaining, and well-written. Though you can see subtle nods to Jane’s own characters, who have by this point practically become tropes of Regency fiction, the book shies away from obvious doubles. It does not in any way feel like a retelling. My favorites were Isobel’s empty-headed cousin Fanny, and rakish lieutenant Tom Hearst, a younger brother who makes up in charm what he lacks in fortune. My soft spot for rogues will be the death of me someday.

My favorite part of the book, however, is the vast amount of historical detail and context it contains. Stephanie Barron fits her fictional tales in with Jane’s life experiences and correspondence. There are also several footnotes, which come across as informative rather than heavy-handed. As someone who can never keep straight the rules relating to various English titles, I find the included details both interesting and helpful.

One of the few aspects, perhaps even the only, that mars my enjoyment of the series is the presence of Lord Harold Trowbridge. Even though this is a reread with a fuller knowledge of events, I still do not like the man.

I read this for the Jane Austen Mysteries reading challenge.

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Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Being the Only Reading Challenge In Which I Partake

Let me tell you about my love for Jane Austen. For Christmas several years ago, my mom gave me the first six books in the Jane Austen Mysteries series, and I absolutely loved them. At the time I knew relatively little about Jane beyond the plot of P&P (because everyone knows it, and I’d seen it on Wishbone).  Stephanie Barron made Jane and her world come alive, and by the time I actually read Pride and Prejudice for school that year I was hooked on Austen. I even wrote my research paper on Jane’s love life, inspired by Jane and the Man of Cloth.

I read the next two in the series but eventually got sidetracked, and I know I want to reread the earlier ones before catching up on the series. This time around I will have actually read the Jane Austen novels (except for Sense and Sensibility*, but I’ve seen the movie umpteen times). In fact, it’s the perfect opportunity to sign up for the

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011

from Laurel Ann at Austenprose

We are very pleased to announce the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. If you have not discovered one of her wonderful mysteries, this is a great opportunity to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction and mystery lovers.

Challenge Details

Time-line: The Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge runs January 1, through December 31, 2011.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 novels, Disciple 5 – 8 novels, Aficionada 9 – 11 novels.

I’m only doing the 1-4 level to start, but I’m so excited to go back and read these again! As an added bonus, Stephanie Barron is contributing posts to the challenge about writing and researching the books.

It’s funny, because when I was in high school I would read entire series at a time, like these or Laura Childs’ Tea Shop mysteries or Alexander McCall Smith–every book available all at once–and then never catch up afterwards. Now I try to pace myself and dislike reading a lot of books by the same author, but it seems like at this rate I will never be able to catch up. This just might be my experiment at going back to the old method!

*I will definitely play along with the Austenprose Sense and Sensibility Challenge, but it’s too late to officially join. Good year for me to catch up with Jane, I guess! : )

Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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Everything Austen II Challenge

Unfortunately I don’t think I can let the Everything Austen II Challenge slip by without trying it again–especially because, as the title suggests, I can switch to things like movies or cross-stitch or tea parties if there are too many other books on my plate.

Everything Austen II Challenge

Graciously hosted  by Stephanie at Stephanie’s Written Word

The details! The Everything Austen Challenge will run for six months (July 1, 2010 – January 1, 2011)! All you need to do is pick out six Austen-themed things you want to finish to complete the challenge. You have until Thursday, July 15th 2010 to officially sign up.

What is considered Austen-themed? Obviously, any of the books Jane wrote herself count, so if you’ve been contemplating reading one of her novels, now is the time! Or, maybe watch the different movie versions of Pride and Prejudice. You could even try reading one of the many sequels written by various authors or listen to the audio book version in your car on your way to work. There were even a few people during last year’s challenge who worked on cross-stitch patterns inspired by Austen.  Truly, the list can be endless!

Because this is my “fun” challenge, I’m making a personal exception to allow it complete overlap with the other challenges I’m trying. That way there’s even less pressure in terms of overall numbers. Here are some possibilities.

  • Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris, as well as later books: mystery series featuring Elizabeth and Darcy with appearances by other Austen characters
  • Jane and the Barque of Frailty, by Stephanie Barron: I’m not sure if she will be continuing the series, but I never read the last mystery featuring Jane Austen (are you noticing a pattern?)
  • Murder on the Bride’s Side, by Tracy Kiely: I’m declaring that this counts because the previous book was a more obvious Austen homage
  • Intruder!, by Carolyn Keene: Nancy Drew, Girl Detective book where the crime occurs at a Jane Austen tea party
  • The Watsons, by Jane Austen: I’m already planning on reading this for the Classics Challenge
  • watching Lost in Austen (thank you, Netflix!)

It may also be time for a reread of Pride and Prejudice, as it’s been six years and I have the traitorous suspicion that it’s not my favorite Austen (which could also just be my love for all things Persuasion). Whatever treats the challenge brings, I’m looking forward to them!

Published in: on July 11, 2010 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Murder at Longbourn

“Our only pets, if you could even call them that, were two goldfish purchased during a rare fit of domesticity. Unfortunately our local pet store didn’t stock a particularly hardy variety,resulting in bimonthly replacement visits. As a result, I’d named each new pair Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It didn’t change their fate, but it added a little drama when I had to announce it.

I had originally planned to read Murder at Longbourn for the Everything Austen Challenge, but every time I went to the library it was checked out. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.

image from macmillan.com

Elizabeth Parker is looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve at her Great Aunt Winnie’s Vermont bed-and-breakfast, Longbourn. She has recently broken up with her cheating boyfriend and hopes a new love-interest might turn up among the guests (preferable British dreamboat Daniel). Unfortunately, two events put a damper on the situation. Peter McGowan, her tormentor from childhood summers, is back to help Winnie fix up the inn. In addition, during the murder mystery dinner local businessman Gerard Ramsey dies for real. Lots of people might have wanted him dead, and Winnie is high on the list. Elizabeth is determined to clear her aunt’s name, sorting through all the mysterious happenings that seem to be occurring.

This book is a refreshing change from the slew of Austen-related material available; despite what the title suggests it is an homage rather than a retelling. It includes a Mr. Collins but also hints at Emma, with many other literary references as well. Having Elizabeth as a general book lover rather than just an Austen addict makes her a more believable character. It also means that readers will be kept guessing, rather than automatically searching for a Bingley.

Astute readers might pick up on the solution before Elizabeth does, but the mystery is clever enough to be satisfying regardless. Her relationship with Detective Stewart reminded me Laura Child’s Tea Shop Mysteries. My only complaints about the plot were the slow start (it’s quite a while before the body shows up) and the overly dramatic ending. That many broken bones seems unnecessary, and makes it less plausible that Elizabeth would choose to continue her amateur sleuthing career as we know her to do in the next book.

I really enjoyed Murder at Longbourn, and am looking forward to the sequel. The series promises to be a nice blend of mystery, bibliophilia, gentle humor,  and likable characters.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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Everything Austen Challenge Summary

The Everything Austen Challenge

July 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010

Completed

everythingausten1

  1. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
  2. Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
  3. Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (group read)
  4. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler
  5. Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler
  6. Listening to the exquisite 2005 P&P soundtrack

There are so many more Austen-related books I’d love to read that I’ll have to try this again. Thanks again to Stephanie for hosting the challenge and inspiring me to pick these up!

Contrary to my original intentions,  I didn’t watch any Austen movies. That will change when Masterpiece Classics airs the new Emma!

Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 1:25 am  Comments (1)  
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Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

So the miraculous appearance of a Pride and Prejudice play in the glass box in my bedchamber is a movie? How will I ever get by without a lexicon for all these words? It is one thing to feign memory loss; it is quite another to be without even a basic vocabulary in such a place.

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is the flip side of Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. This is my fifth book f0r the Everything Austen Challenge. Many bloggers have commented on the clever insertion of the iPod into the picture, and I have to say it redeems what would have been just another headless lady.

While Courtney Stone is thrown into the body and life of Regency gentleman’s daughter Jane Mansfield, Miss Mansfield herself must cope with waking up as a single gal in L.A. Suddenly she is surrounded by a world she had never dreamed existed. There are loose morals, a confusing lack of social codes, and several accumulating bills, but there is also the independence Jane has always longed for.

Although the two books are parallel stories, it definitely helps to have read Confessions first. Rigler gives details on the personal lives of Courtney and Jane only as they fit the narrative here. I liked this approach as it meant very little repetition between books, but readers new to the premise would probably be a bit confused as to who Frank, Wes, and Edgeworth were, as well as other minor characters and incidents.

The premise of this volume entertained me the most. What would it be like to suddenly arrive in a different country almost 200 years in the future, where the only continuity is Jane Austen novels (six now, with accompanying movies)? In most stories like this someone takes the befuddled newcomer under his or her wing; that happens here to some extent, but everyone believes that Jane actually is Courtney, so she has little excuse for her ignorance. Luckily physical learned behaviors kick in, so if she doesn’t think too hard Jane can drive a car or use a keyboard. Plus, Google is a most informative resource.

Laurie Viera Rigler throws in a few slightly philosophical bits as well, trying to make Jane see that truth is often a matter of perspective, that “what makes a story true in that there is the truth of human nature and self-reflection in it.” Jane needs to learn not to superimpose judgment on everything she sees and hears, especially when modern codes are different from what she has known.

As much as Courtney loved Regency England, it seems kind of clear here that Jane got the better part of the bargain. Once she gets over her horrified sensibilities she thoroughly enjoys her new-found freedom. The first book gave us most of the answers, so this excitement of seeing things for the first time makes up for the relative lack of suspense. I was however, a little confused by the ending.

Spoilers below, so please skip unless you have already read the book or do not plan on doing so.

*SPOILER*

I kept getting the impression from the fortune teller that the girls would switch back when their work was done, and pick up from the new spot in their lives. The diary excerpt at the end of the first book suggested to me that when Jane later returned to Regency England she simply couldn’t recall their courtship but had occasional memories of things from the future. Now it seems as if Jane is staying in Courtney’s life, and Courtney-as-Jane forgot the courtship because to survive in the past she needed to forget that she came from the future.  Their memories seem to have merged together somewhat. The further inconsistency is that even while succumbing to Edgeworth Courtney was thinking of Wes, while Jane is clearly in love with Wes and has forgotten Edgeworth, She doesn’t even know that he wasn’t unfaithful. Does anyone who’s read both have any clarifying thoughts?

END SPOILER

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 11:35 am  Comments (1)  
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Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

The more I stay here, the more difficult it is to have some semblance of detachment. After all, I’m doing more than just wearing a costume. I’m wearing another person’s life. And face. And body. I’m looking at that face in the mirror, brushing that hair. […] here, living Jane’s life, it’s a challenge not to get sucked in; how could I function on a daily basis otherwise?

With the sequel out there seemed to be no reason not to read Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. It took me a while to get used to Courtney’s voice (frank, first person present tense juxtaposed against Regency dialogue is comically jarring), but the story is engaging on several levels.

During a rough patch in her life Courtney Stone falls asleep reading Pride and Prejudice and wakes up in the body of Regency miss Jane Mansfield. She has no idea how she got there or how to get home, but quickly realizes she had better keep up appearances. And that includes the reappearance of dashing widower Mr. Edgeworth. Courtney knows how she feels about him, as he is similar to her friend Wes, but does that correspond with Jane’s opinion? As she tries to piece together Jane’s life with the help of her friend Mary and maid Barnes she discovers that perhaps Austen’s time still has a few lessons left to teach her.

The story focuses on Courtney’s personal growth as she learns to cope with betrayal and a lack of confidence. After a tailspin when her fiancé cheated on her she sees Jane’s perfect life as an antidote. Jane can embroider and dance, and has a figure that actually looks good in empire waistlines, not to mention access to Pride and Prejudice first editions. This could be a chance to start fresh without getting hurt. On the other hand, she comes to realize that even her actions here have consequences; mistakes are just a part of life.

Life in the Regency era isn’t all glamour. The current beliefs about medicine and hygiene are a horror to Courtney’s twenty-first century sensibilities. She soon learns to hold her tongue on these and other matters, however. Independence is restricted for a woman pushing thirty, so that Jane cannot travel alone and still lives with her parents. If she does not marry she faces years ahead with an ice queen who makes Mrs. Bennet look serene, which is enough to make Courtney long for Los Angeles. Rigler manages to sneak in the right amount of Austen references, so that Courtney the addict catches them but the story remains fresh and unpredictable.

Finally, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict brings new perspective to the philosophy of time traveling. As Courtney realizes, the physical bodies that she and Jane swapped included the wiring of their brains. Courtney has access to muscle memory so that courtseying and pouring tea seem second nature, but she also has occasional access to Jane’s actual memories. Even though these complicate the experience they also give a more complete picture of who Jane is. Courtney finds herself struggling to hold onto her own identity as acting and thinking like Jane becomes more automatic with the passage of time.

The overall effect is a story chronicling Courtney’s interior life and Jane’s exterior life. I can’t wait to read about the flipside in Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. My only complaint was that we got Courtney’s backstory all at once. I agree that starting in media res was the way to go, but that doesn’t mean the whole expository chapter should be just shifted to a later slot. Weaving it in to the current narrative would have been a bit smoother. I have to include the darling UK cover here as well. Much more appealing than the cropped head trend!

This book is my fourth for the Everything Austen Challenge. I also started wondering whether I myself qualify as a Jane Austen addict. Probably not yet. I haven’t read the books 20 times like Courtney has, and I still don’t find Mr. Darcy completely swoonworthy (though he has grown in my esteem). But I do continue to admire both her talent and her influence.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 1:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lady Susan

“She does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.”

I did after all decide to forego Sense and Sensibility in order to participate in the group read of Lady Susan at Austenprose, and am quite glad I did so. It forced me to take a deeper look at the work than I might have otherwise, and also enables me to read the insightful opinions of others. Check out Laurel Ann’s series of posts if you’re interested!

This epistolary novelette  is the border between Austen’s melodramatic juveneilia and later widely read works. It lacks the polish and refinement of her later works, though a clean copy rewritten in 1805 suggests that she later considered revisiting it. What it wants in plot, however, it makes up for in wit and characterization, perhaps providing a side of Jane not seen in her other novels. In addition, the heroine is a stark contrast from her usual fare.

Lady Susan Vernon, recently widowed, must leave her current lodgings and stay with the family of her husband’s brother in the country. Her reputation precedes her, however, and Mrs. Catherine Vernon is right to be worried when her younger brother Reginald seems to take an interest in “the most accomplished coquette in England.” Meanwhile Lady Susan is  bent on forcing a loveless match onto her fifteen-year-old daughter Frederica, to make her a fortune and be rid of her. The action is conveyed in letters mostly between Lady Susan and her equally conniving confidante Alicia Johnson, and between voice of reason Catherine Vernon and her mother Lady de Courcy.

Isabella Thorpe is unpleasant, and Lady Catherine odious, but Lady Susan is downright malicious. Being privy to her innermost thoughts I personally was able to escape the seduction she practices so well on most characters, but if not likable she is nevertheless intriguing. Lady Susan is a mistress in more ways than one. She thrives on control, and only seems to like those characters whom she is able to manipulate or use to her advantage (which seems to be mostly men). At the same time, however, she has full confidence in her power of eloquence and attempts to disarm even her opponents. Austen shows off her irony when Lady Susan complains that she is “tired of submitting [her] will to the caprices of others!”

While Lady Susan herself is convincing and fully rounded, younger characters like Frederica and Reginald lack the depth and maturity of later Austen creations. Of Frederica we only have the conflicting reports of her mother and aunt, while Reginald comes across primarily as fickle and foolish. Commenters pointed out that other Austen heroes make mistakes in their judgment, most notably Darcy and Edmund, but in my opinion poor Reginald has more error and less redemption. Nothing like Henry Tilney! It seems his folly is primarily meant to emphasize the prowess of Lady Susan.

There are some interesting consequences of the epistolary form for this novel, as in the various letters we see different sides of the characters. Catherine Vernon’s wary account of Lady Susan’s demure behavior and deceptively syrupy tone is a marked contrast to the titular character’s letters to Alicia, in which she reveals all her machinations. This is even more true for characters like Mr. Vernon and Frederica whom we only know through the descriptions of others. In addition, the absence of a reliable third-person narrator means that every event or written opinion is open to interpretation. Is Lady Susan ever sincere, or does every sentence have a hidden agenda? The form also has limitations for Austen, however, especially in that it is not conducive to dialogue. This takes away some of the immediacy of the story, which is especially apparent in the conclusion. However, I don’t believe Lady Susan could have been as effective in a narrative format, and if Austen had expanded the ending and added a bit more anecdotal dialogue the result would have been more satisfactory.

As I mentioned, her wit is fully present in the novelette, especially from the pen of Lady Susan. We are treated to quips such as “facts are such horrid things,” and “artlessness will never do in love matters.” She goes on to say that grace and manner alone will bring suitors, and that jealousy is the best support for kindling love! You cannot help but marvel at her social knowledge, even at a young age.

The discovery of this much-overlooked story reminded me all over again of why I love Jane, as her writing itself can often be lost in the flurry of films and spin-offs. Not that I mind them, course! This is my third read for the Everything Austen Challenge.

Updated to add: I was fortunate enough to win the giveaway for for the Penguin copy of Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition. I look forward to reading the other included works. Thanks again Laurel Ann, for this an all you did in hosting the soiree!

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Comments (4)  
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Bridget Jones’s Diary

You completely forget the fact that when you were twenty-two and you didn’t have boyfriend or meet anyone you remotely fancied for twenty-three months you just thought it was a bit of a drag. The whole thing builds up out of all proportion, so finding a relationship seems a dazzling, almost insurmountable goal, and when you do start going out with someone it cannot possibly live up to expectations.

I saw the movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary a few years ago but had never read Helen Fielding’s original novel until now (I think; chick lit tends to blend together for me). I wish I had because I couldn’t read it without picturing Renee Zelwegger or Colin Firth, though the latter is not necessarily a bad thing.

Bridget Jones is a thirty-something Singleton whose New Year’s resolutions run the gamut from being more confident to falling out of love with her boss Daniel. And also not to be overwhelmed or pushed around by her mother, who has issues of her own. Through the course of the year Bridget must reevaluate her career goals, support her parents during a crisis, support her friends during crises, and be supported herself when her own love life becomes a crisis. Not to mention make a humorous daily analysis of the intake of calories, cigarettes, alcohol units, lottery tickets, and negative thoughts.

I have a love/hate relationship with first person perspective because it so often has the tendency to become whiny, but the diary format kind of makes that all right because everything is so concise that if Bridget complains it’s only for a couple sentences at a time. This brevity of form is where a lot of the humor comes in too because of how matter-of-fact things are.

Bridget is brutally honest in this diary, and I think part of her many flaws is that everyone can find something to identify with. For me, it’s the constant weight fluctuation of the same five stubborn pounds. She smokes, she drinks, she obsesses over boys (well, boy, really), she procrastinates, she fails in the kitchen, she doesn’t know how to stand up to her mother. Sometimes she seems superficial, but other days she reveals a depth like the quote at the top. Deep down she knows her weight doesn’t really matter, and that she has a healthy social life and shouldn’t let the Smug Marrieds badger her about finding a boyfriend. But she’s human, and societal pressures are no small thing.

Of course Bridget gets her man in the end, but what really struck me is that she doesn’t go through any huge changes through the course of the book. She still counts calories and feels cowed by her mother. But she’s still the same witty, caring, and vulnerable person she was all along, and I think that’s the real point Fielding might be trying to make. Despite all her feelings to the contrary Bridget doesn’t need to change to gain anyone’s approval. She just needs to be herself, warts and all, and wait for the right person to come along.

On another level Bridget Jones’s Diary is also a Pride and Prejudice homage, and in my opinion the best kind because it doesn’t try to retell the same story. Bridget is certainly not Lizzy, and not just because she has no sisters. She is a memorable character in her own right, and Fielding merely adapts some characters and and plot devices from Austen’s original to suit the narrative here.

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much was the fact that it’s British. I always have fun looking at day-to-day life across the pond where people talk about things like cricket and Bank Holidays and 1471 calls. In many other ways Bridget Jones’s Diary is not that different from a lot of chick lit on the market today–but then I reminded myself that this was published way back in 1996 and was probably very original at the time.

I’ll most likely read the sequel at some point to see how the story continues, but that one won’t count for the Everything Austen Challenge like this does. Apparently this is also on the Guardian list. I guess as an exemplar of the genre?

Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 10:52 am  Comments (4)  
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The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

“It is a truth (I believe, universally acknowledged) that, with few exceptions the introduction of the hero in a love-story should never take place in the first chapter, but should, ideally, be deferred to the third; that a brief foundation should initially be laid, acquainting the reader with the principal persons, places, circumstances, and emotional content of the story, so as to allow a greater appreciation for the proceedings as they unfold.”

I have a more than casual acquaintance with Jane Austen’s love life, having written a research paper on it back in high school and also having watched the more recent “Becoming Jane.” I  genuinely enjoyed the latter, especially because I adore both Anne Hathaway and James McEvoy, but though based in assumed fact it seemed to take great liberties with Jane’s character. I cannot comment on the book, but Syrie James’ attempt to give her some romance in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is in many ways superior.

The well-known rumor holds than Jane had a brief affair with a clergyman by the sea and expected a proposal but later learned that he had died. This volume, supposedly written by Jane close to her death, is the story of a passion that did not die at Lyme, but continued on and became far more important to her than she had ever expected.

As an actual memoir, the book is presented with scholarly accuracy and impeccable details like a family chart in the beginning (the large Austen brood has many similar names), and occasional footnotes to give insight. Syrie James has certainly done her research–into Jane’s writing, life, and setting. I’m not enough of an expert to comment on whether she captures Jane Austen’s tone, but she certainly writes in the Regency style very well and provides her fair share of wit, humor, and entertaining characters (like Isabella Churchill).

Mr. Ashford is certainly a hero worthy of Jane Austen. He is handsome, wealthy, kind, and every ounce her equal in terms of literacy and wit. Frankly I never understood the attraction to brooding Darcy, and would much rather swoon over Mr. Ashford. One quote I couldn’t ignore, though, on Jane’s desire to publish anonymously:

“It is one thing to write for one’s family and most intimate friends. But if this book were to have a more wide-spread audience, it would be an uncomfortable sensation to think that strangers knew my name and were making uninformed judgments about me.”

I’m not sure if this sentiment is based on one of Jane’s letters, which Mrs. James sometimes did, or entirely of her own creation. But it makes you wonder how Jane would really feel about all the mania surrounding her–not just the atrocitities being done to her works (P&P&Z…), but the speculation surrounding her personal life. I suspect she would be glad of the popularity but shocked at the publicity.

One of my favorite things about The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is that it fully develops Jane as a writer as well. Giving Jane inspiration for the things that later turn up in her novels is sheer brilliance on Ms. James’ part. I loved all the small similarities, everything from an afternoon in Lyme discussing literature to spending time at an abbey. Even character names will often be familiar to readers. The footnotes would sometimes point out major things and mention where they showed up in Jane’s work. On one level this bothered me, as I felt that those familiar with the novels would be able to spot them on their own and smile secretly; on the other hand, and real memoir would be similarly annotated, so I have to once again commend the completeness of the presentation. One of the biggest influences is that Jane is revising Sense and Sensibility during the time of this narrative. Though I know the story I have never read it, and now want to more than ever. Good thing it’s on my challenge list! She also has Jane praising contemporary books like Sir Charles Grandison and Margiana, which now I am tempted to look for.

A final note on the introductory quote: I checked the books I had handy, and indeed Mr. Tilney and Mr. Darcy do not appear until their respective third chapters. Mr. Knightley is on the scene immediately, but then again we do not recognize him as the hero until much later in the book. Ironically, though, chapter three brings the first mention of Frank Churchhill. Beyond this specific phenomenon, however, the quote also shows a general familiarity with the structure and content of Jane’s work that is evident even in this book.

Syrie James has been kind enough to answer questions about her books around the blogosphere, including at Jane Austen Today. It’s great insight into her research and writing. I can’t wait to look for The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte.

This is my first book for the Everything Austen Challenge.

Published in: on August 18, 2009 at 10:44 am  Comments (3)  
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