Tag Archives: England

Words Not Needed


“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

I almost wonder if the picture suffices.  There’s virtually nothing that Churchill did or touched, or wrote about that isn’t worthy of studying or reading for its own merit. Yes, I am an unabashed Churchillphile.  Franklin Roosevelt scores high on the Those-Whom-I-Admire meter too, but I find Churchill a more substantial personage.  He did and accomplished more, over a greater period of time than any of his contemporaries.

In that vein, I was fortunate enough to be in Winston Spencer heaven by being in London for a week.  No, I did not go to his gravesite, the seat he occupied in Parliament, or even to the home at Chartwell.  My fascination isn’t that maudlin. We did however go to one of the most fascinating historical sites I’ve ever been to: The Churchill Centre & Museum at the Churchill War Rooms.

The Churchill or Cabinet War Rooms are a warren of living quarters, communication centers and meeting rooms underneath HM (His or Her Majesty’s) Treasury Building that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz (the bombing of London.)  The War Rooms are where the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet met during the course of the war.  Work began on them in 1938 and they were first utilized beginning in 1940.  They were vacated and locked-up at war’s end on August 16, 1945 – in a way like some of our steel mills were – without really being emptied out.  In 1948 Parliament took steps to ensure their preservation and they were opened to the public in 1984.  The British take their WWII secrets very seriously.  In 2005 the IWM (Imperial War Museums, the authority responsible for the site) added the Churchill Museum to the complex, the only major museum display dedicated to Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.

My fascination with Churchill stems from his character and personal experiences, and his almost unmatched ability to convey them.  Here was a man who wholly embraced the notions of the (Victorian) day about empire and personal courage, and recognized early on that he had no “marketable skills” save for writing.  Perhaps Churchill’s most important attributes though – the ones truly admirable in my eyes – were his personal integrity and his resoluteness in the face of failure and derision. At significant points in his life, especially in later middle-age, he was both fairly and unfairly ridiculed, rejected and disparaged for sins real and assigned – the Dardanelles fiasco of WWI being the most notable.  For almost 10 years Churchill was one of the lone voices in London warning that Hitler and the Nazis (Narzis in his vernacular) posed a real threat to Europe and the world.  More than most, Churchill was prescient, and obnoxious.

What struck my wife and I during our trip was the affection in which he is still held, and the significance of his role as the wartime leader.  We were surprised at the mentions we heard that still referred to the Blitz, the Queen Mother (wife of George VI – mother of Queen Elizabeth,) and Churchill himself.

– Richard


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What’s New in Austenland 2013

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”  Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey


Jane Austen, watercolor by her older sister, Cassandra

Guess what? It’s that time once again when I highlight some of the newest titles in Jane Austen scholarship. As I’ve happily written about for the last two years, Austen continues to be an endless inspiration for writers to discover new and different topics of discussion about the celebrated early nineteenth-century author. Nearly 200 years after her death in 1817, how many authors can you say that about?


 Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures by Claudia L. Johnson. Just how popular is Jane Austen? Well, there are two JASNA* chapters in the state of Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh is one of them and I’m proud to say that I am a member. Austen scholar Claudia Johnson traces Austen’s fame throughout history, from soon after the author’s death through the Victorian period, and into the middle of the twentieth century when landmarks began to be set aside and preserved for their historical affiliation with the novelist.


Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination by Juliette Wells. Similar to the above, however, Wells’s focus is on the present day amateur madness for all things Austen, from book spin-offs–into diversities as graphic novelszombies, vampires, mysteries, and even (gasp!) erotica–to the tourism industry of Jane Austen’s England tours, and  individual collectors and their impressive collections.


Image source: austenprose.com

Emma: An Annotated Edition edited by Bharat Tandon. Harvard University Press has produced yet another gorgeous coffee-table edition of annotated Austen novels. These are truly gift editions for the Austen aficionado. Reproductions of period fashions, maps, advertisements, and artists‘ portraits provide an understanding of not only Austen’s arguable masterpiece, but also early 19th century England.


The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. Paying attention to the smallest details of Austen’s brief life, such as her topaz cross (a gift from a beloved brother), a shawl, a hat, and other personal artifacts, Byrne attempts to go beyond the published literature and delve deeper into the novelist’s personal life.


What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Problems Solved by John Mullan. In this elegantly written and fascinating book, many interesting facets of Austen’s novels  are discussed with intriguing chapter titles such as: “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?”–yes, there is–, “What Do Characters Say When the Heroine Isn’t There?,” “How Much Money is Enough?,” and “Why Do Her Plots Rely on Blunders?”

Same time next year!


*The Jane Austen Society of North America


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Belle of the Ball or Wallflower?*

2. a. a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity (as a dance) Merriam Webster dictionary

I was a wallflower. You know, one of those women who go unnoticed (deliberately or not) in a room for whatever silly reason. Perhaps she’s bookish, doesn’t like (or know) how to dance, or is simply shy.

The theme of the wallflower is a popular trope in fiction, especially in historical romance. And there are several unique twists to that trope. But, oh, how I love that moment when the wallflower shines and is appreciated for just who she is by the handsomest gentleman in the room.


One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

Lady Philippa (Pippa) Marbury is a bluestocking–”I’m odd” she  declares–from a well-heeled family who wants to learn more about exactly what happens on a wedding night before her actual wedding night in two weeks. She approaches her brother-in-law’s notoriously scandalous friend, Cross, an earl in hiding from his past to aid in her “scientific research experiment.” What follows is a battle of wills, witty dialogue, and an unforgettable heroine. Funny and poignant, I found myself rooting for Pippa’s happy ending all the way. This is the second in MacLean’s very entertaining and engaging Rules of Scoundrels series about four owners of a successful Regency England gambling hell.


The Charm School by Susan Wiggs

Isadora (Dora) Peabody is a misfit, an ugly duckling overshadowed by her talented and attractive aristocratic Boston family. She longs to escape her life and herself, so she maneuvers her way into a high seas adventure much to the dismay of the arrogant Captain Ryan Calhoun, a man who prefers to run away from his problems rather than face them. Along the way, Dora’s charm and  power are revealed and she befriends everyone she meets, effectively coming out of her shell. Calhoun comes to realize and appreciate her strength of character as well as her courage in the face of hardship. Note: Wiggs has said that Dora is “modeled after yrs truly.” Book one in a series.


Mistress by Midnight by Nicola Cornick

Lady Merryn Fenner is only interested in academics and has long given up girlish dreams of love and marriage after watching her dearest brother destroyed by it. And she’s determined to bring down the man she believes is responsible: Garrick, the Duke of Farne. When a freak accident traps them alone together forcing their marriage, they discover the truth about the past as well as their conflicting feelings for one another. I especially enjoy how Cornick’s stories are inspired by real life historical events. Book three in her provocative Scandalous Women of the Ton series.


The Reasons for Marriage by Stephanie Laurens

This is an early Laurens’ novel and I think it’s one of her best. Jason, the Duke of Eversleigh, needs to marry after the death of his eldest brother, the heir, and he sets his sights on his friend’s sister, Lenore Lester. Miss Lester is perfectly content to be mistress of her brother’s large household in the country, with her books and her gardens, and has no reason to marry; in fact, she adopts a dowdy exterior just to discourage suitors. But the Duke sees through her ruse and is determined to win her and show her the real reasons for marriage. Book one in the Lester family series.


Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

“On-the-shelf” spinster, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell, has had enough of her dull life. So she creates a list of things she wishes to accomplish: learn fencing, gamble at a gentlemen’s club, and fire a pistol to name a few. She also needs the help of someone not afraid to break the rules: the scandalous–and handsome– Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston. First in MacLean’s Love by Numbers series.


A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

Geologist Minerva Highwood is on a mission. Well, make that two missions. She is determined to present her research to an academic society in Scotland and also to prevent a certain roguish lord from marrying her beloved and fragile sister. She approaches the wicked Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, and proposes he escort her, thus avoiding marrying her sister, for which she will pay him handsomely. And so begins their hilarious road trip in a tiny carriage where they will confront their fears, their secrets, and their passion. This is the second book in Tessa Dare’s delightful Spindle Cove series, about a militia that comes to a seaside English village where mostly spinsters reside. Note: Dare (a librarian) has said that her inspiration for this series was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, when the militia came to Meryton, thus causing the youngest Bennet girls to go crazy for the handsome officers.


*This post is the first in a series highlighting my favorite historical romance novels, my new favorite genre, because it is filled with only happy endings,  history, wonderful stories, enchanting characters, and amazing writing. Many thanks to Eleventh Stack bloggers Jess and Sheila, for inspiring me to try them, and to the authors themselves for writing stories I love to read.


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Need a Fix Between Downton Abbey Episodes?


So I hear that this Downton Abbey show is getting to be a pretty big deal. People at work are talking about it. People on Facebook are talking about it. (I’ve even seen pictures of people in funny hats who have tea parties during the show.) People on the Internet in general are talking about it. I get it. People like this show. They really, really like it. But hey, there are only so many episodes shown only so often. You’re going to have some down time to fill in between. May I recommend a book for you to read while you wait for the next juicy installment?

I figure those who enjoy Downton Abbey are attracted by the themes—the inner lives of the rich in their grand English country estates, the behind-the-scenes lives of their servants, the subjects of love and war. So with this understanding, I offer these suggestions…

The Tregenza Girls by Rosemary Aitken – WWI changes a blind young woman and her vain sister for both good and bad.

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier – A fateful meeting in a cemetery brings together three people from very different backgrounds and changes their lives in unexpected ways.

Kate Hannigan by Catherine Cookson – Classic tale of love between the classes against the backdrop of northern England and the Great War.

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster – This masterpiece of English novels examines the connections made between friends and family and the consequences of those connections.

Love Is Not Enough
Love and War
Forbidden Love by Anne Herries – Saga of the Trentwith family and their personal conflicts and relationships with peers and staff.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton – A novel of secrets kept between servants and the family members they serve.

Fateful Voyage by Pamela Oldfield – Romance on board the Mauretania’s maiden voyage sets into motion a series of nasty events.

No Graves As Yet
Shoulder the Sky
Angels in the Gloom
At Some Disputed Barricade
We Shall Not Sleep by Anne Perry – Brother and sister team of sleuths solve mysteries during World War I in various locations on the European front.

Ask Alice by D.J. Taylor – An American marries up, becomes a famous actress, and is the toast of London society, but a secret from her past threatens to shatter her new life.

I’m thinking you should wear fancy hats and drink tea while reading these books too.

-Melissa M.


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