Tag Archives: Jane Austen

What’s New in Austenland 2014

Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

Emma (1815)

Greetings! It’s time once again for my annual update–this is the fourth!–about the new publications in scholarship and biography on my favorite author, Jane Austen. Despite studying her for over twenty years, the sheer volume of new books and articles that are published on her works and life continues to astound (and delight) me. Here are some of the newest acquisitions at the library:

list

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

A treasure trove of every list you can possibly imagine (and more!) about Jane Austen, her life, and her works: of suitors, first lines, places she lived and traveled, literary references in her novels, books she owned, characters in her novels, hearts she broke, and balls and dances she attended to name but a few. This is a handy little guide for scholars and students as well as a great introduction to the esteemed authoress.

northanger

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, edited by David Shapard

English professor Shapard has a clear and concise way of making Jane Austen’s works approachable and enjoyable for both students new to Austen as well as for scholars and fans; this is his fifth publication of Austen’s novels. There are period maps of England and Bath, fashion plates, vocabulary and context of the time period, remarks on questionable content pertaining to grammar or sentence structure from the original edition, and much more.  One of its best features–yes, the librarian is speaking–is the exhaustive list of works referenced on every topic imaginable: from the history of the post office, the study of the picturesque, to the architecture of abbeys in England.

england

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Many critics have lambasted Austen over the years for excluding mention of historical events of her time in her works choosing instead to describe minutely the daily lives of everyday people in a country village. This book describes life daily life during Austen’s lifetime, from the dangers of childbirth and illness to the necessities of hygiene and the practicalities (or not) of fashion.

matters

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity by Janine Barchas

Did you know that the generally accepted scholarship on Jane Austen has been that she didn’t base her stories and/or characters on real events or people she knew? But all writers are influenced in some way and Barchas’ intriguing thesis explores this in detailed and fascinating depth. The names of Wentworth (Persuasion), Woodhouse (Emma), Vernon (Lady Susan), Allen, and Tilney (Northanger Abbey) were all well-known surnames of great and landed families in eighteenth century England, suggesting that Austen did indeed borrow from celebrity and events from her day. For the devoted Jane Austen fan and scholar, this book is a treat of fun discoveries.

na

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson

Like the title below, this book is a big and beautiful gift book edition of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known novels, a spoof of the gothic novel, made popular by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolfo. The works cited list at the end of the book highlights further information and readings.

sense

Sense and Sensiblity: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks

This is the fourth gorgeous coffee-table edition of Jane Austen’s six novels to be published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University. The perfect gift for the Jane Austen fan in your life, there are beautiful illustrations and images of fashions, furniture, paintings, and maps from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century relating to the novels. And for a student, the enlightening introduction as well as the copious annotations about vocabulary and language, word use and definitions in the context of their time, commentary on scholarly opinions of critical analysis, and references to different editions make this a veritable cornucopia of helpful information.

Until next year!

-Maria A., who finally wore out her old Modern Library copy of the Complete Novels and recently purchased the lovely Everyman’s Library editions to replace it.

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Happy Birthday, Mansfield Park

mansfield

Two hundred years ago this month, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen was published.

I’m sure it was hard to top Pride and Prejudice. But if there must be a least favorite Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park leads many readers’ lists, usually right next to the humorous gothic spoof, Northanger Abbey.

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I suspect it’s because readers simply dislike the terribly shy, plain, and quiet heroine, Fanny Price, and the rather dull and proper hero, Edmund Bertram. But if you think of Mansfield Park as a novel of manners in the context of its time in history, instead of a romance–unlike Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, or the poignant second chance love story, Persuasion— you’ll discover both its richness and its brilliance.

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

At its heart, it’s really about a dysfunctional family. The Bertrams of Mansfield Park are a wealthy family who take in a poor relation Fanny Price when she is ten years old, to give her worn-out and fecund mother a break. Appearances are everything and they congratulate themselves on their benevolence, forgetting that Fanny has been completely uprooted from her immediate family in Portsmouth.

“There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry.” 

With a family like this, you might be as terrified as Fanny is:

  • Aunt Bertram, a bit dim and languorous, and who is more concerned with her dog, Pug, than in anyone or anything else; Fanny serves as her companion and errand girl.
  • Maria, Julia, and Tom, Fanny’s self-interested and privileged cousins who look down on her or worse, ignore her.
  • Uncle Bertram, with his larger-than-life austere manner, who scares her to death.
  • The downright nasty Aunt Norris, who never lets her forget her very low place in the household and how eternally grateful she should feel.
  • Edmund, the only cousin to show her great kindness and consideration. However, he also pursues their new neighbor, the beautiful and saucy Mary Crawford, and talks about her incessantly to the lovesick Fanny.

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When the elegant and sophisticated Henry and Mary Crawford arrive from London to visit their sister, Mrs. Grant, the vicar’s long-suffering wife, the two families become intimately acquainted. Henry is a dashing and unapologetic rake who lives for his own pleasure and flirts shamelessly with both Julia and the engaged Maria, creating great rivalry and tension between the sisters. Mary is gorgeous, worldly-wise, and attracts Edmund with her boldly direct behavior, much to Fanny’s disappointment. But when Henry sets his restless sights on Fanny merely to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart,” the novel kicks into high gear intrigue and drama.

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”

Many might be surprised to discover all the unsavory and titillating drama that is going on in this novel including:

  • Jealousy
  • Infatuation
  • Lust
  • Adultery
  • Slavery
  • Drunkeness
  • Gambling

All behind an elegant narrative as only Jane Austen could create.

~Maria A.

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Amusing, Whimsical, and Diverting Historical Romance

I started reading historical romance a little over two years ago because I was sick and tired of reading sad and depressing books that were highly touted in literary circles, The New York Times Book Review, and book clubs. I once derided the entire romance genre as frivolous until I actually read one.

I now only want happy endings, sparkling dialogue, and a passionate love story; even better: a book that can make me laugh and smile.

I thoroughly enjoy the witty works of Jane Austen, so historical romance is my favorite reading pleasure. I can always count on a lovely story and, with these three authors, laugh out loud humor.

wicked

The Wicked Wallflower (Wallflowers series) by Maya Rodale

We don’t own all of this author’s delightful books except for her Writing Girls series, about Regency era working women who write for the scandal sheet, The London Weekly–which, incidentally, makes a recurring appearance as it reports on scandals in almost all her novels.

Isn’t this a great cover?! In this story, the first in the series, Lady Emma Avery is a wallflower whose name is falsely linked with the handsome and rich Duke of Ashbrooke in The London Weekly. They decide to keep their pretend engagement so that he might redeem his debauched reputation and find investors to fund his invention and she, in turn, can raise her social standing in society. Of course, things don’t work out as planned. This book is part of an amusing concurrent historical/contemporary series–the contemporary part being a series of novellas called Bad Boyswith a similar theme of a pretend engagement–Rodale calls it a “fauxmance”–on Facebook and other social media. Fun fact: the heroine is a librarian at the New York Public Library.

“’It can’t be any more torturous than a wallflower’s fourth season on the marriage mart.’” (p52)

“It was official: she’d had more callers in this one hour than in four seasons combined. Behold: the power of Ashbrooke.” (p26)

heiress

In the Arms of the Heiress (Ladies Unlaced series) by Maggie Robinson

With her cheeky Courtesan Court series about the everyday lives of a group of mistresses on Jane Street to her London List series about a Regency-era scandal sheet of provocative personal ads spoofing today’s craigslist, to her most recent Edwardian-era series, Ladies Unlaced, which takes place around a slightly unorthodox employment agency, I can pretty much count on Maggie Robinson to always make me laugh.

A wacky, independent yet vulnerable heiress, Louisa Stratton hires Charles Cooper, a traumatized war veteran down on his luck, to pose as her fiancé on a visit home to her undeserving family. She hopes to display a veneer of successful independence with a loving, artistic husband while Charles just wants the cash.

“Louisa Stratton was a handful who would drive the average man to drink. Hemlock, if it was handy.” (p175)

”’If you were my wife, I’d rescue you. You could live just as you pleased—I wouldn’t interfere with whatever cork-brained scheme you dreamed up.’” (p240)

Any husband she’d have would risk being henpecked until he resembled a dartboard.” (p289)

secrets

The Secret Brides series by Valerie Bowman

Bowman is a newcomer to historical romance and her lighthearted and charming Regency era Secret Brides series is wonderfully entertaining and funny. Each title represents the scandals in the books, written in pamphlets–think of today’s zines–and are the same titles as the books:

  • Secrets of a Wedding Night is about what really happens on a wedding night as written by an unhappily married young widow.
  • Secrets of a Runaway Bride depicts the adventures of a young and impetuous debutante who tries to run away with a young man who does not requite her love.
  • Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage, the last in the series, is penned by a death-row duchess accused of murdering her husband. There are also two novellas that round out the series.

From Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage:

Since coming in the back door, she was already warming up, and she hadn’t had a proper bath in over a fortnight. No doubt she smelled like a foot. A very dirty foot.” (p44)

‘If you’re going to be a scandal, darling, be a complete scandal.’” (p318)

From Secrets of a Runaway Bride:

“First of all, you should not have been eavesdropping. It’s unspeakably rude, and second, what would you know about a marital bed? You’re not married!” (p59)

“Arthur isn’t here now to see, is he? If you’re heaven’s gift to the fairer sex, why don’t you prove it?” (p61)

-Maria, who is done with sad books forever

Note: This post is the third in a series highlighting historical romance novels I’ve greatly enjoyed.

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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

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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?

cultscultures

 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.

everybodysjane

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.

emma-an-annotated-editon-by-jane-austen-and-edited-by-bharat-tandon-2012-x-250

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.

realjaneausten

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.

whatmattersinjane

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!

~Maria

*The Jane Austen Society of North America

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Pride and Prejudice Bicentennial

Today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of British author Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Generally considered Austen’s most read, most famous, and most popular of her six novels, Austen had already made a name for herself  (albeit an anonymous one) with the 1811 publication of Sense and Sensibility, when she published the story of the independent-minded, impulsive, and playful Elizabeth Bennet and the aloof, wealthy, and socially-awkward Fitzwilliam Darcy in 1813.

PRIDEPREJUDICE

Personally, I consider Pride and Prejudice to be one of Austen’s more lighthearted, comic* and romantic** novels. Austen herself felt it needed more seriousness:

“Upon the whole… I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style”.
(Letter to her sister, Cassandra, Feb. 4, 1813)

For those who have managed to avoid Jane Austen and her works all these years, Pride and Prejudice is the story of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter, whose misplaced prejudice conflicts with the haughty and reserved aristocrat, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. The road to love is a mess of misunderstandings, confrontations, and, yes, pride. This novel has some of the wittiest dialogue in the history of the English novel and its first line is one of the most quoted (and quotable) ever:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Of course, it continues to inspire countless continuations, sequels, and spin-offs.

The library has many editions of the novel for the student, including annotated, coffee-table editions as well as books on CD, e-book and e-audiobook, Playaway, and of course, DVD. Check out our displays throughout Main library.

And, for those who still can’t get enough, Pittsburgh’s regional chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America will hold a Jane Austen Festival in March and this year’s national JASNA*** Annual General Meeting in Minneapolis will spotlight Austen’s “own darling child” in September.

~Maria, Austen’s humble servant

*Northanger Abbey is a hilarious parody of the gothic novel & Emma’s antics make for humorous reading.
**Persuasion, about true love lost and found again is, in my opinion, even more romantic.
***The Jane Austen Society of North America.

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Literary Lives: Real and Imagined

I once heard the children’s non-fiction author Seymour Simon say that library books shouldn’t be labeled ‘fiction’ and ‘nonfiction’ but, rather, ‘true’ and ‘untrue.’* Indeed, many people get the labels mixed up thinking the ‘non’ in fiction means it’s untrue; well, some of it is!

Writers have always been fascinated by famous literary figures and it sometimes follows that they inspire fictional material written in novel form: a biographical novel. As an avid reader, I am intrigued by the possibilities as it allows me to get closer than I ever would to imagined scenes and emotions. Here are a few (along with a biographical non-fiction counterpart, should you desire truth instead of imagination):

Fiction

Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

Non-Fiction

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Victorian writer Edith Wharton wrote novels depicting the strict propriety of appearances, the devastating consequences of scandal, and women whose lives were often an entrapment. Age of Desire chronicles a love affair the author had when she was in her mid-forties, a turning point in her unhappy and loveless marriage.

Fiction

Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston

Non-Fiction

The Perfect Hour: the Romance of  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, His First Love by James L.W. West

Before The Great Gatsby and before the colorful and infamous Zelda, Jazz Age author F.Scott Fitzgerald met a beautiful socialite named Ginevra King. This is the story of their ill-fated romance.

Fiction

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James


Non-Fiction

Jane Austen by Carol Shields

 Poor Jane. Everyone always wants to believe there was once a long lost love in her single life. Perhaps there was, but we’ll never really know!

~Maria

*Kind of how I believe that produce should be labeled, say, ‘strawberries’ and ‘chemically-treated strawberries’ instead of ‘strawberries’ and ‘organic strawberries!’

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What’s New in Austenland 2012

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

It continues to be a delightful fortune to live in an age where so much is (still) being written, researched, and explored about English novelist Jane Austen, her times, her works, and her life, almost 200 years after her death. We Janeites take our study very seriously and never tire in reading, writing, and talking about her.

Last year, I wrote a blog post highlighting new publications in Austen scholarship; this year, I do the same once again (and, most likely, will continue to do so annually just for the sheer fun of it).  As before, these selections are either biographical or critical analyses and do not include fictional continuations or spin-offs of Austen’s novels (although see below for an exciting event coming later this month).

 Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, edited by Robert Morrison. This gorgeous coffee table-sized book is filled with illustrations and maps printed on beautiful paper. It goes into great detail and description–there is no such thing as too much information for the Austen student–on settings, themes, unfamiliar words (and contexts), etiquette and customs, fashion, geography, and much more.

The Annotated Emma by David M. Shapard. Professor Shapard is annotating his way through all of  Austen’s novels–the library owns his annotations of Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. Like the previous title, Shapard explores all aspects of Austen’s acknowledged masterpiece in its historical context in minute detail with elegant insight; a real treat.

Pride and Prejudice edited by Laurence W. Mazzeno. A deliciously large book of essays published by Salem Press (part of their Critical Insights series) on what is considered Austen’s most popular novel, though she herself thought it “too light and bright and sparkling.”*

Jane Austen’s Letters (4th edition) edited by Deirdre Le Faye. The Austen scholar updates her earlier edition of the painfully few letters Austen left behind (or, should we say, her sister Cassandra didn’t destroy?). This edition updates notes to the letters reflecting more information discovered since the 1995 edition, expands the biographical and topical indexes, and adds a new subject index. The letters reveal Austen’s often sarcastic wit and intelligent discourse on events of her day, books she was reading, daily errands and tasks, and people that she knew. Sample: “Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.” [ouch!]

May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan. Austen’s older brother, Edward, was adopted by the Austens’ well-to-do friends (the Knights); thus, he inherited great estates as well as wealth. This is the story of three of his daughters who settled in Ireland, far from their English country home.

Jane Austen & Company: Essays edited by Bruce Stovel. The late Canadian English professor admired Austen above all other authors he studied and taught. This collection of essays features four analyzing themes of ambivalence, pleasure, structure, and conversation in the novels.

 And now for the exciting event! Please join us on June 30 at 3pm at Main Library in the Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor to hear author (and entrepreneur) Sandy Lerner (AKA Ava Farmer, author of the new novel, Second Impressions) speak about her novel and her founding of the Chawton House Library in England.**

~Maria

*Letter to her sister, Cassandra, February 4, 1813.
**Chawton Cottage was Austen’s last home before her death in 1817.

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What’s New in Austenland

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”– Jane Austen, Emma (1813)

Author's Photo

In an age when (for whatever reason) admitting you admire Jane Austen is akin to saying you loved the Twilight series, I’m proud to be a Jane Austen student. I enjoy the works of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century English novelist so much, not only do I re-read her novels (a chapter each evening from a big old fat Modern Library edition of her Complete Novels), I am also a member of JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America) as well as the local Pittsburgh chapter, and I enjoy reading critical analysis, reviews, and commentary on her works. There have been some really good ones lately that the library owns (what?! Did you think I actually bought these? Please!).

Note: I am not in the least bit interested in the “fan fiction,” those original works that expand or attempt to rewrite Austen’s works. So there are no zombies, vampires, or bedroom Darcys here.

  

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. A charming and funny analysis of Austen’s major works  as it relates to the Austen scholar and his life. From his first naïve assumption of Austen as an old form of “chick lit” to the eventual realization of the profound impact of her writing, Deresiewicz carefully analyzes each novel centered around a specific theme.

 

Why Jane Austen? by Rachel M. Brownstein. A professor of feminist criticism and English literature in New York, Brownstein explores the reasons why Austen’s work still resonates almost 200 years after her death. This is more scholarly than A Jane Austen Education but it is an interesting commentary on the novelist’s genius.

Jane Austen and Marriage by Hazel Jones. This one is on my reserve list but I have read some preview pages on Amazon. The author explores why marriage was so important in Austen’s time and why it was a prominent theme in her works. Many people today tend to dismiss Austen as a writer of sentimental women’s novels about courtship and marriage but, the fact is, as Austen wrote in a letter to her niece, “single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.”

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. This one is also on my reading list and is an updated edition of a 1997 publication. This book consists of several essays written by well-known Austen scholars including Janet Todd and Deirdre Le Faye.

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility edited by David M. Shapard. For the Austen student who just can’t get enough, this is the novel filled with notes on unfamiliar vocabulary, contexts, as well as historical references to occasions and manners. Also includes maps and an amazing bibliography for further reading. Shapard has also done annotated editions (which the library owns) of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (and Emma will be published in 2012!).

Enjoy!

~Maria

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Loads of Lovely Love

I’m a sucker for a good love story, most likely thanks to my parents. Forty years ago this weekend they tied the knot after a long and spirited courtship that nobody really believed would end in marriage, given how independent both parties were (think Beatrice and Benedick). To this day they remain devoted, affectionate sparring partners in the game of life; it’s inspirational, really, the kind of long-term success story about which epic poems and great novels are written. 

I’ve noticed, though, that in fiction and literature so many of the “great” love stories end badly, be it by death, betrayal, or temporal dislocation. That’s not exactly encouraging, now, is it? Luckily, there are also many wonderful novels with happy endings that can reaffirm your faith in true love without going overboard on the treacle factor. Observe.

PossessionPossession, A.S. Byatt. This is the best kind of love story, the kind where all the obstacles the characters encounter turn out to be worth it in the end. Getting there is half the fun, however, and there’s quite a lot to get through in this long, literary tale of two sets of lovers:  a pair of Victorian poets and the scholars who study them after their deaths. The passion and angst quotients are high, but that just makes the resolution all the better. Read the book, then pick up the film for date night with your favorite lit crit wit. 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. No offense to Colin Firth or the entire Sense and SensibilityMr. Darcy franchise, but I’ve always preferred this tale of lessons learned and love won (and the presence of Alan Rickman in the film certainly doesn’t hurt). Flighty Marianne Dashwood learns the hard way that a handsome physiognomy doesn’t necessarily house a gentlemanly heart; meanwhile, sister Elinor discovers that while reserve is admirable, it is occasionally possible to keep one’s feelings too much a secret. After much confusion and mayhem, the sisters’ double happiness is secured. Hurray!

Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. In typical Dickensian fashion, his final novel is jam-packed with enough characters and plotlines to render all but the most careful readers dizzy. These include two romantic storylines in which wealth and social class play pivotal roles. Determined to help her family by marrying for money, proud young Bella Wilfer grows to care for John Harmon, a man she thinks is a pauper. Meanwhile, Lizzie Hexam, a waterman’s daughter, finds herself embroiled in a love triangle with two gentlemen far above her station, one of whom she loves, but fears she can never hope to marry. Dickens definitely turns on the brooding and despair for this episode of his London chronicles, but brings both romances to tender, satisfying endings that will melt even the most hard-hearted reader.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Three out of four March sisters find Little Women romantic happiness against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods (I suppose there has to be a little tragedy to keep a novel interesting, but, still, poor Beth!). Conventional Meg and coquettish Amy are paired off easily enough, but the highlight of the book, for me, is when tomboyish, career-minded Jo manages to pursue her own dreams and find true love, without compromsing on either aspect. A pretty nifty writing feat, that, considering the limited range of acceptable paths for women in Alcott’s era. This is the most sentimental of the lot, so you might want to opt for the most recent film version, and fast-forward through the mushy parts (at least until Gabriel Byrne shows up).

Dared and DoneOf course, one of the best love stories ever was the real-life romance and marriage of the Brownings, poets Elizabeth and Robert. An attraction sparked by poetic skill, a disapproving papa, a miraculous recovery from long-term illness, and a dashing elopement are just the beginning of what was definitely a marriage of true minds. You can read all about it in Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, which describes in intimate detail how the couple weathered both the sunny and shadowy elements of their relationship, and helped each other grow as poets and people. 

Scoff if you like, but if life hasn’t beaten faith in true love out of me by now, it probably never will. Do you have a great romance to share, either fictional or biographical? Do you like your love stories sunny or star-crossed? 

Leigh Anne
who is more like Marianne than Elinor, despite her best intentions

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.

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Old School Literary Mash-up: Anthony Trollope

Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts of Framley Parsonage

Sometimes, I despair of modern fiction.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m down with the post-moderns and the post-post-moderns.  Really, I’m ready to read Steven Millhauser anytime.  I’ve done my fair share of Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon and all.   The most enjoyable modern literary fiction, in my opinion, is being written by women.

Still, sometimes I have to turn away.  It seems there is no heart, it all seems so hollow: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”  begins ringing in my brain.  When I start thinking this way, I head off to read a pulp novel or  cerebral sci-fi or something that goes bump in the night.

And then there are the times I head for Anthony Trollope.

Trollope is too often lumped together with the old dead white guys in the elephant’s graveyard of literary fiction.  And it’s a shame, really, because Trollope, though he is a classic in every sense, hardly ascribes to some of the less laudable characteristics of said dead elephants.  I’m thinking blatant sexism, I’m thinking overt racism, I’m thinking all-encompassing colonialism, and probably a few more isms thrown in for good measure.

If forced to describe why I enjoy Trollope so well I have to say that he is something of an old school literary mashup of the best of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.    In my current flight from recent fiction, I’m reading Framley Parsonage, the 4th volume in the “Chronicles of Barsetshire,” a six volume series set in the fictitious town of Barchester and its environs.

When it comes to relationships, Jane Austen is his most influential mentor.  Trollope learned well how to detail the extreme subtleties of social interaction and courtship, conjuring a big something from lots of little nothings.  As with the novels which preceed it in the series, Framley does not disappoint on this score.  In addition, none of the rampant sexism and misogyny of the age is present; yes, there is what, by today’s standards, might appear to be the occasional twinge of political incorrectness, but, given the times, Trollope makes sure you know at the outset, and throughout, that his heart is in the right place.

One could hardly be a student of Austen otherwise.

Dickens and his social conscience find their place firmly in the works of Trollope.  If the intricate machinations of the legal system satirized in Bleak House made your head spin, the six Palliser novels (and their wonderful BBC adaptations) will make you swoon.   The political counterpart of these legal themes may be found in Trollope’s stinging attack on the British political system in Framley Parsonage.  In addition, though no one perhaps can ever match Dickens penchant for canny names, Trollope’s Miss Proudie, Obadiah Slope, Roger Scatcherd, the Duke of Omnium, and Nicholas Sowerby do humbly follow in that tradition.

So, while I pause before I take the plunge into Rick Moody’s highly praised The Four Fingers of Death, I’m content to relax in the cozy atmosphere of what may be perceived as a precursor to today’s chick-lit novels.  Go ahead, try out The Warden, the 1st novel in the Barsetshire series.   I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  And if you are, well, there is always another of the new highly praised novels you might want to turn to.

For me, I’ll be returning to David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet; it’s supposed to be a knockout and it’s where I’ll definitely be heading after my vacation in the more relaxed, focused time of Anthony Trollope’s fiction.

– Don

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