William di Canzio’s ALEC is an inspired tribute to E.M. Forster’s iconic gay novel, MAURICE (1971). In it, di Canzio gives the two lovers—Alec and Maurice—not only riveting back stories, but a beautifully articulated origin for their romance, all of which is wrapped up in the historical context of World War I, which was such a monumental time for Forster himself.
Forster wrote MAURICE in 1913 and then significantly revised the novel at least twice, in the 1930s and 1950s. Unfortunately, due to censorship and legalities, Forster chose not to publish the work until after he died. To me, this is one of the most heartbreaking events in literary history, as what Forster created was one of the bravest and most significant same-sex love stories in literature to that time, and it would have been groundbreaking to see it published even sooner and during the author’s lifetime. That said, Forster was certainly right that it likely would have ruined his career (as anyone who has read my book knows, plenty of gay writers were publishing gay stories in the first half of the twentieth century—even happy ones! But there were always stipulations, such as publishing anonymously, publishing with small presses, etc. And indeed, no one of Forster’s stature, save perhaps Charles Warren Stoddard, was attempting it. And what happened to Stoddard when he finally decided to publish his openly gay romance in 1903? His reputation was ruined.)
It is for this reason, then, that di Canzio’s ALEC, which openly and lovingly gives Alec & Maurice the story they deserve, as well as the ending Forster likely wished for them, is such a moving experience. In addition, it’s a superb accomplishment in its own right. Di Canzio’s style and language are rich and provocative, his descriptions resonant and vivid, and his almost defiantly open descriptions of the lovers’ sexual experiences enthralling. Significantly, I think di Canzio does a remarkable job of fleshing out a story left untold, of a particular time, that reminds the reader both how far we have come but also how fragile progress is.
ALEC isn’t just an updated love story for Alec and Maurice, it’s a love song to E.M. Forster, filled with respectful gratitude to a tortured pioneer and with a hopeful eye on the horizon. This is a worthy homage and simply one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Here’s one of those exciting times when my screw-up might result in your benefit.
A week or so ago, I ordered what I thought was one copy of Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. Apparently, I must have accidentally put it in the virtual shopping cart twice because I ended up receiving two copies. It wasn’t luck, though. I went back and checked my receipt. Oops!
Anyhow, I’m only about half-way through the novel, but I’m enjoying it. I think the two words I’d use to describe it are “beautiful” and “devastating.” Perhaps, thinking about the way part two begins, I might also add, “surprising.” I’m confident this is one I’ll end up recommending, so rather than hold on to the second copy, I’d like to offer it up as a giveaway. YAHOO!
Also, I’m looking for a second job and need some help.
Student loan debt is killing me, and I’m eager to get out of this hole. So, rather than spending twenty years paying the minimum, I’m trying to find a second job whose income I can use to pay directly toward the student loans and get it taken care of in half the time. I haven’t been having much luck, though, so if you happen to know of anything, please get in touch!
I’m looking for full-time or part-time, and it likely needs to be fully remote/from home. I’m not sure what an academic is qualified for these days, but I was thinking along the lines of general tech support, call center/customer service, proofreading or editing, data entry, etc.
I’m not particularly interested in tutoring or teaching since I do that full time already.
Thanks for any leads!
P.S. If you’re interested in donating to the blog/coffee fund, my details:
Seeking Austen on Audio: A New Appreciation
by Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story
(jorielovesastory.com | @joriestory)
My pursuit of Austen has been a lifelong journey – as originally outlined during a previous year of Austen in August, hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader. However, that particular journey has expanded and become quite more inclusive of her after canon stories as writ by writers who are undertaking bridging us back into Austen’s settings, world and characters’ lives as only they can write them. My joy of listening to audiobooks is also a fairly recent pursuit, if you consider, until 2016 I was still a traditional reader who only read books in print – the switch to off-setting my readings in print into audio was an intuitive choice on my behalf as I had a premonition my migraines might become more debilitating in future years. (2018-19 were the worst by far!)
Listening to stories in audio was a bit of a hit/miss with me at first as I had to sort out a passageway for me to both listen to the narrator and to find a way to see the world within their narration come alive for me visually through my imagination. It was a slight disconnect whenever I would listen to a story without doing something else – what worked best through that experimental process were three things: a) whenever I coloured as I listened, I gained a very intimate experience of the story and the narration as if I had lived those lives; b) if I played solitaire online I could trick my mind into hearing the story without wandering afield; and c) if I knitted, I found the same Zen I had listening to audiobooks as I had with colouring; though of the three, colouring is my top favourite choice!
When it comes to my appreciation for Jane Austen’s canon and her after canon selections, I am a bit of a purist as I like to find writers who are honing in on her legacy and her essence but still finding new ways to tell those stories with originality. I’ve also started to entertain a few writers who are re-writing how to genre bend their after canons with a likeness of Austen or with a sentimentality of Austen’s flavour for the craft as well. In other words, these years on – I am finding myself more ‘open’ to exploring new territory of how an Austenesque stories can be explored in different points of entrance.
This was quite true when I listened to the first three novels of the Jane Austen’s Dragons series by Maria Grace. The first titled as “Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon” (see also Review) and quite cleverly eludes to the kind of world your going to pursue inside this series which beautifully re-alights us into a world we fell in love with within the pages of Pride and Prejudice but respins it into a fantastical world full of dragons! Yes, dragons and I was the hardest one to sell on that idea initially as – how daresay would that work out? Yes, indeed! And, I was the one who was pleasantly surprised as I followed Ms Grace down that rabbit hole as she truly held me captive as a reader and listener – though I credit this a heap to Mr Fife’s narration.
If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice in a long while this is a wonderful re-visitation of the story – as Maria Grace aligns you so wholly true to where Jane Austen took us into her novel. The added benefit is the secondary arc wherein the dragons reign alongside the ton and country society the Bennett’s have become renown. As you take this journey each new corridor of the original story is re-explored and re-heightened by the presence of Grace’s dragons. It is hard not to spoilt what you will find within this new series because of how readily true she has written her world into Austen’s and vice versa. You almost question which of the world’s came first – even knowing the answer and that is a mark of a wicked good storycrafter who has given those of us who love Austen a new experience of her stories!
This year, during the last weekend of Austen in August, I happily stumbled across a new series of Regency inspired stories set within a dragon world by Stephanie Burgis – titled: “Scales and Sensibility” of which I’ll be discussing during my Saturday book chat (@SatBookChat) on Twitter, on the 6th of November! I was quite gobsmacked to learn another author took a chance on re-exploring how dragons & Austen inspired stories can walk hand in hand! I have not read this story (as it is not yet released) but I have very high hopes for it hence why I jumped at the chance to interview the author & discuss both the story and the forthcoming series it is attached too! All are welcome to join us.
And, yet, I have a classical approach to seeking stories of Austen in audiobook despite the appearance of being contrary to that long held passion I have for Austen’s canon. I might be under-read in her canon but her after canons have tucked themselves into my life bit by bit and this was the first year, I re-attempted to read “Persuasion” which has grown to be far more challenging than I originally predicted it would become! (see my tweets from the weekend to see my bit of angst with the beginning chapters) despite the fact I am in love with Mike Read’s style of narration! This was an audiobook I first discovered on NetGalley (as I only joined the site last year when audiobooks were first introduced as I do not read ebooks due to my chronic migraines) and have continued to listen to it via Scribd. Read has a way of illuminating this text for me in a way that both breaks it down into more palatable layers and in entertaining me with the notion that surely the whole story cannot be as droll and slow moving as it first appears!? Or perhaps I have a singular ill reaction to Persuasion?
And, yet, whenever I picked up a listen from The Quill Collective – as my first experience of their novella and short story collections on behalf of Austen was through the release “Rational Creatures” (see also Review) turnt the tables on how I believe Austen’s collective works can be re-seen through a new generation of writers. They gave my Janeite soul a renewal of joy in seeing how those stories can become alive again and how you can pick up new threads of insight through the stories their crafting together for us to find. Even in the stories you know dearly well become anew through their vision of them.
These writers (of whom I was blessed to interview and converse with during a 2020 @SatBookChat conversation) write authentically truthful canonical re-visitations of Austen’s characters & settings in such a way, it re-aligns you rather directly back into where Austen left off with her own stories. And, I love them for it!
The best bit about this opening section of the collection is how much all of us have in common when it comes to reading Jane Austen – either her original canon of stories, the letters she’s left behind or the happy niche of stories inclusive to the realms of the ‘after canon’; each of us who self-identifies as a #Janeite or an #Austenite can attest to a mutuality of interest in seeking out the stories which honour the writer we all are passionately celebrating, championing and continuing to read these many centuries after she lived and published her originals.
I had to concur with the observation that Ms Austen would appreciate this collection – as it was written as a ‘fan fictional’ account of her characters, a part of me felt she would embrace the collection as she wasn’t a high brow reader. Meaning, she did not shun different literary genres and points of interest as she was very well read and also read for the strict pleasure of the hobby rather than always astutely seeking knowledge or a higher level of literary agency. She liked to read the fluffier bits you see and also have a bit of cheeky fun with the stories she picked up to taste and see what the fuss was about over them. In many regards, she would have understood book bloggers (today) and after canon story-tellers because she truly celebrated book world in all its lovely tangents of following a story one is passionate about seeing published.
I wrote this about the Introduction within “Rational Creatures” – as I felt the piece offered the best entrance into the collection itself. The narration of Ms Riley truly captured my attention as well – as I had this to say about her style:
My goodness – such a treat for the ears and the listener alike to hear Victoria Riley narrate this anthology! She has one of those kinds of voices you could simply listen to for hours on end and never feel that you’ve heard enough of her narration! I am half of mind to see if she has narrated other Jane Austen stories – either in the classical sense or in the after canon niche market? I believe she is fast becoming one of my favourites for these kinds of stories – which is a wickedly delightful discovery for me.
How we attach to a narrator’s voice and narration style is subjective to each of us who listen’s to an audiobook. Some voices feel cosy comforting to us and that is a natural progression as we seek out more audiobooks. For me, narrators who have accents and are either from the UK or Australia tend to be my favourites as there is something about their intonation and diction which strikes my fancy as I listen to the stories their narrating. This isn’t to say I don’t listen to American narrators but overall, most of my top favourites on both my shortlist and long list of narrators are from overseas! You might be surprised by which ‘voice’ relates to you as well.
On that note – as soon as I heard Elizabeth Grace narrating another anthologist collection of Austen’s stories by the Quill Collective, I was beyond charmed with her immediate connection to those stories and to how they were waiting to be heard. The collection is entitled: “Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl” (see also Review).
Her articulation of the words is top notch and her ability to recite monologue is amongst my favourites out of all the ones I’ve heard save Jake Urry and Kim Bretton who are her equals. Whilst it is how she can shift voices and accents – between characters and give you this representation of a wider world beyond the scope of how each story is rooted in step with Elizabeth Bennett. She gives you the impression this is an ensemble cast not a one woman performance and that in of itself is also a benefit of her experience as both an actress and as a narrator; as not everyone can pull this off at this caliber of a deliverance.
The ways in which she punctuates the characters voices gives you full merit of having the whole cast playing in your mind’s eye and of seeing them not just ‘hearing’ them as they go through their entrances and exits in the stories themselves. I cannot speak higher on behalf of her performance!
Except to say, this Elizabeth was bourne to bring Elizabeth Bennett to life!
As you can see – I’ve found a hidden niche of love for pursuing Austen in Audio whilst appreciating the journey I’ve taken thus far along. I have more to seek out and more to listen too. For those of us who love Austen as much as we all do as a community of Austenites and Janeites, I do not believe we can be satisfied until we exhaust all avenues to find her and find remnants of her style being re-explored by today’s writers.
If you are finding my new appreciation for finding Austen in audiobooks intriguingly curious – I hope you’ll visit with me on my blog under these reviews and showcases to let me know which one you felt was a wicked good listen for you, too! If you’ve regularly have sought out Austen on audiobook – either of her original canon or the after canons, kindly leave me notes on this post on Adam’s blog as I’d delight in the joy of finding new narrators and stories to give a listen too!
Whilst it should be said, all the audiobooks I’ve spoken about today were given to me courtesy of either the publisher, author or narrator attached to them in exchange for an honest review as I was hosting their stories either on a blog tour or a non-blog tour review. Without being a book blogger, I know I would not have been able to expand my horizons into such wicked wonderful directions and I am truly blessed for the journey I’ve taken these past eight years whilst curating my own literary route of bookish and readerly joy on Jorie Loves A Story.
Now, I turn the conversation to you – what kinds of Austen stories would you seek out on audiobook? And, which kinds of after canon stories tickle your fancy to read or listen too as well? Are audiobooks your jam as much as they are mine or do you find them a bit daunting or off-putting? I respect that if its the case as not everyone finds them agreeable but trust me, even I find narrators who just aren’t cutting it for me and I realise that sometimes like in traditional reading, you’ll find what you love and what you dislike. Give audiobooks a chance if you’ve not yet found the narrator whose voice bewitches you with intrigue!
See Jorie’s previous guest post on Austen for Roof Beam Reader’s 2017 Austen in August event.
I’m pleased to report that I am on schedule with my Persuasion read for this month. That means I’ve just finished Volume 1 and will begin Volume 2 today. You can find my weekly reading schedule near the bottom of this post.
I’m less pleased to report that, this time around, I’m really not enjoying Persuasion. In fact, I’m a little bored. What’s happening!? Have I lost my love for Austen!?
No, nothing that dramatic.
I think it’s a combination of two things: first, perhaps not being in the right mindset for Austen right now; and second, this was never my favorite Austen (in fact, it might be my least favorite, with Emma coming in close. Or perhaps those two positions reversed, depending on the day and my mood.) I know this one is many peoples’ favorite, so I’m sorry not to like this one more, but it is what it is!
I’m also a little irritated with the writing this time. The commas and semicolons and never-ending sentences. I swore off Henry James late last year because of this style, and here I am encountering it again. Oh, help me!
Anyway, the first volume has been devoted primarily to introducing the characters and to building the tension between Anne and Captain Wentworth. Near the end of this volume, the reader also sees some progress in melting the chilliness between those two, with the help of accidental interventions from minor characters (Anne’s nephew and the Misses Musgroves.)
I have to say, I found the drama at the end of Volume 2 a little bit silly this time. Perhaps I misunderstood what happened (and I’ve never seen the movie, so I don’t know if the visual would clarify), but a goofy young woman, flirting with the Captain, jumps to her near-death?
The melodrama, y’all!
Oh well, I shall carry on and hope that Volume 2 catches my attention and imagination a bit better. The last time I read this one, I did enjoy it and finished it with great appreciation. Let’s see if I’m a completely different reader this time around.
Are you reading Persuasion? Something else? How goes it?
Apropos of writing this post: I’ve been having a terrible time with the new WordPress editor for blog posts. It’s horrendously difficult to use. Images have been a problem (hence why you don’t see one in the post above; I tried multiple times and finally gave up) as is text editing, as the new system wants to “block” (separate) every single paragraph. I now type everything in MS Word and copy it all over so it will fit into a single “block,” but then if I try to change anything, it causes problems for the rest of the post. Simply put: I might soon be done with blogging and/or considering a move to some other platform. Que sera, sera.
My Life with Jane Austen’s Face
by Janet Todd
Ok, I didn’t read her as a child. I pretended I had—unintentionally! I didn’t come from a bookish family and wasn’t pointed towards the classics at a young age. Instead, I stayed firmly with comics, Enid Blyton and boys’ own adventures. So, when for a boarding-school entrance exam taken just before my eleventh birthday, I was asked if I had read Jane Austen, ‘Yes’ I said brightly, ‘I have.’
What I had actually read was a Comic Classics version of Jane Eyre and then wonderfully muddled novel and different author. In one comic frame was a memorable image of the first Mrs. Rochester standing wild eyed over the bed of the second, the virtuous Jane. Fortunately, Jane Austen can’t have featured on the entrance exam—or the school I was headed towards was so eager for fee-paying students it didn’t matter. Once there, I must have been forced to read Pride and Prejudice but I don’t remember the occasion. I certainly went on associating Jane Austen with the face of Brontë’s Bertha.
Over long academic years of teaching and researching early women writers, I came to my adult taste for Austen’s novels. To me she is very much an author for grown-ups. I marvel at women who declare they read and loved her at the age of 7 or 8, but I’m not among them. Yet, I see that she might have been a good guide and model to the young adult just emerging into independent life. Pity I missed out there.
Some years back, when I was undergoing cancer treatment and making a great fuss about it, I started hearing from Jane Austen. For example, when I was pitying myself for my low spirits and failing body, I remembered her great word for the admirable mind and body: ‘elasticity’. That’s exactly what I wanted then. Still do.
I also tried to buck myself up by thinking of moments from her fiction, not her best but memorable ones. When for example I saw images of my unkempt self and felt like crying over them, I recalled the passage from Persuasion where bulky Mrs Musgrove is shedding real tears for her worthless dead son. It is an unbecoming conjunction, and her fat sighings simply raise colluding curls of handsome lips from hero and heroine. And the moral: good taste simply can’t accommodate the sight. That’s sardonic Jane Austen: it stopped my tears.
Another bit that floated into my panicking mind just then was the story she wrote aged 12 or so, called The Beautiful Cassandra. The heroine walks out of her mother’s millinery shop, steals, hits, scoffs, ignores people and refuses to pay for a hackney cab; when she returns home to her loving mother, she hugs her and remarks, ‘That was a day well spent.’ So, I said to myself, did Jane Austen –or Cassandra –give up, whatever was happening, or turn her face to the wall? She did not. Nothing sick there.
In my academic life I wrote critical books on Jane Austen and then became the general editor of the Cambridge edition of her complete works. I read her again and again, footnoted the texts and teased out words in manuscripts that had been overwritten and sometimes scribbled out. I didn’t feel her present, however, and there were times when I wished I’d been editing someone who was less of a global celebrity and involved fewer competitive scholars—I had had more fun with Mary Wollstonecraft and Aphra Behn, both wonderful writers but not household names and fridge magnets. But, though tricky, it was an enjoyable enterprise.
So, to the pandemic and lockdown.
It was the first and sternest shutting down in England—in March of 2020. My usual days of working a bit at home and a little in the library and scoffing a croissant or scone with a friend in a bookshop café, were curtailed. I was left to my own devices. I turned to writing a novel, my favourite post-academic pastime. This became Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden. Having given away my library of books at the last house-move, to hand I had only memories, photos, and leftover bits from earlier projects to give to the new fiction.
Then in stepped my main character—and it really felt like this! Prickly, eccentric Fran is not much like me, closer to what I would like to have been or would like a friend to be. She has had a contented rural childhood and knows about wildflowers and gardens, copes well with solitude, is a carer, a giver rather than a taker. But she shares a few of my memories. Even more than me, she feels haunted by Jane Austen.
And the Shelley of the title? The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, almost contemporary with Jane Austen and dying even younger, at 29—she was 41. In 2007 I published a biography called Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle. (Fanny was the sister of the future Mary Shelley.) This ended with Fanny’s suicide in 1816. I have always felt I had unfinished business with P.B. Shelley, who did not play an heroic part in this story of death and emotional carelessness. I felt I was due to meet him again.
There are of course those who adore the poet and find him a visionary guide to politics and life. I have given a little of this enthusiasm to two of my characters, who between them describe pursuing Shelley through moments in his life. Since in their quest they travel with Fran, it was inevitable that in time, or rather my time, Jane Austen and Shelley should meet– in a garden.
While writing this novel, I imagined my character seeing the face of Jane Austen, not as Bertha Mason this time or as the prettified image of her the later family favoured—but in the slightly sour portrait made by her sister Cassandra. Here is Fran, just arriving in Wales with her friends in search of young Shelley. At first she worries that Jane Austen has not have come with her:
Fran surveys herself in the mottled mirror on the inside of the wardrobe door. Who are you? she says. The mirror image smirks.
Though eccentric, the action improves on her habit of staring at Cassandra’s crude sketch so fixedly that the aslant eyes swivel to catch hers. That really is naughty.
She grins, sensing that, despite her doubts, Jane Austen has come…What are men to rocks and mountains? says Lizzie Bennet, heading for the barren Lake District. She’s waylaid by the romantic plot, some strategy – and that luck. But she might have gone.
Do you go to a place or does the place come to you?
Jane Austen’s busy climbing into the wardrobe ignoring its mirrored door. There are moments when Fran is defiantly angry with the Author and her free indirect manner. Such an easy way to watch others deceive themselves. For now, she simply feels deflated by this quick removal.
Until she thinks: Jane Austen, the Witch in the Wardrobe.
About the Author:
Janet Todd (Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Don’t You Know There’s a War On?, Radiation Diaries, Aphra Behn: A Secret Life, A Man of Genius), novelist, biographer and internationally renowned Jane Austen scholar, is a former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. her new novel Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden: A Novel with Pictures will be published in September 2011.
Now a full-time writer and literary critic, she is an Emerita Professor at the University of Aberdeen and an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. Born in Wales, she grew up in Britain, Bermuda and Ceylon/Sri Lanka and has worked at universities in Ghana, Puerto Rico, India, the US (Douglass College, Rutgers, Florida) Scotland (Glasgow, Aberdeen) and England (Cambridge, UEA). She lives in Cambridge, England and Venice, Italy.