Austen In August: Year 5! (Call for Participants)

AustenInAugustRBR-Button

Welcome to the sign-up post for AUSTEN IN AUGUST, an annual reading event celebrating one of literature’s greatest writers! This event was inspired by a Twitter conversation that took place five years ago between three founders of The Classics Club. We’ve had ever-growing participation and excitement over these last four years, and I hope this year will see that trend continued! 

Call for Volunteer-Participants: I am currently looking for people who would like to host/sponsor a giveaway or provide a guest post. If you’re interested in doing either (or both) of these, please fill out this form. One of the reasons this event is so great every year is because of the awesome content provided by our participants and partners – I know this year will be no different! Please submit your participation request by July 5th so that I have plenty of time for scheduling. I’ll be responding as your requests come in.

So, why is Jane Austen so interesting? Pemberely explains: Jane Austen is very resistant to being classified as part of a literary “school”, or being placed in any customarily-defined literary period — partly because none of the obvious available terms, “18th-century, “Romantic”, or “Victorian”, would appropriately describe her. Almost all of the major figures who were literarily active in the period 1800-1837, and who are currently deemed worthy of remembering (i.e. are “canonized”), fall into one of a few categories — either they launched their literary careers before 1800 (Burney, Edgeworth); or they were part of the Romantic movement (or were more or less strongly influenced by romanticism, or wrote in self-conscious reaction to romanticism); or they did most of their writing and publishing after 1837 (e.g. Dickens). Jane Austen is the conspicuous exception who does not fit into any of these categories.”

The Goal: To read as many of Jane Austen’s works (finished or unfinished) as you want or are able to, during the month of August. Biographies, audiobooks, spin-offs, and re-reads also count. I will post throughout the month on different subjects, as well as with my own reviews of the Austen books I finish. We will be offering giveaways, guest posts, and other shenanigans, all of which are meant to inspire a great, interactive event. If you are going to participate, you can read any of Jane Austen’s novels, a biography about her, or any contemporary re-imaginings (such as Austenland or The Jane Austen Book Club, for example). All posts will help you qualify for prizes, which I’ll explain in a later post!

If you want to sign-up to join us as a reader during the Austen in August, simply leave a comment stating such! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read. I will be hosting a read-along of Northanger Abbey as the August selection for the Classic Book-a-Month Club. I also plan to read Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. I’ve long argued that Austen was more politically aware than people allow; Kelly’s book has received some harsh criticism for suggesting as much. I’m looking forward to reading her arguments to see where we agree or disagree about Austen. I know, for example, we probably agree about the importance of Mansfield Park. 

Sign-ups are open throughout the month of July. If you sign-up after July 31st, you can still participate, but may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes. To Share/Discuss on Twitter and Facebook, Use Hashatag #AustenInAugustRBR. Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (maybe in an announcement post or on your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation. The more of us reading Austen together, the better!


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Roof Beam Reader’s Best of 2013

Hello, Readers!

Since I surpassed my 2013 goal of 60 books read (I’m up around 64, right now, with 2 books in progress and likely at least 1 more to go) before year’s end, I thought I would take a cue from some of my favorite bloggers who are posting a “Best of 2013” list.

The list below includes a small selection of categories from which I’ve read this year, with one “favorite” spotlighted for each category.  These are books I’ve read in 2013, not necessarily books that were published in 2013.  I hope you enjoy!

Best Academic Text

15793484From Queer Theory and Feminism, to Linguistics, Rhetoric, and Film Studies, this was a year of heavily theory-based, academic reading, for me.  I read some incredibly interesting texts on the history of sexuality, the French Revolution, bibliographical and textual studies, and the creative writing process.  Of all of these academic texts, though, I think my vote goes to a short little book called Responding to Student Writers, written by Harvard Professor Nancy Sommers, whom I had the honor to meet and work with this summer.  As an English instructor (and, more specifically, a teacher of first year college composition), I found the suggestions, tips, tools, and resources in this booklet to be helpful, as was the CD of student interviews that came with it.  Nancy Sommers is a well-respected expert in the field, and for good reason.  If you are a teacher who often assigns essays/research papers, analyses, etc., then Sommers’ work shouldn’t be missed.

Best Book on Writing / Literary Theory

340793I read a number of books this year which would fall into the category of literary theory and/or “on writing.”  I thought it prudent, then, to mention some of these and to pick a “favorite” amongst a group of rather good texts.  These include, for instance. E.M. Forster’s groundbreaking Aspects of the Novel, Terry Eagleton’s How to Read a Novel, Jim Powell’s graphic guide Postmodernism for Beginners, Judith Mayne’s brilliant collection of essays on feminist film studies, The Woman at the Keyhole, and Anne Lamott’s wonderful Bird by Bird.  Of all the books that fit this category, though, my favorite overall has to be Virginia Woolf’s lecture series, A Room of One’s Own.  Anyone interested in writing, and particularly the historical connection of women and/or socioeconomic status to the process, should definitely check this one out.

Best Contemporary Fiction

13596166I did not read all that much contemporary fiction this year, which is not unusual (I tend to lean towards classics and/or academic texts).  Still, there were enough to be considered and I believe this is a popular category for many of my readers, so I thought I should name a few standouts. First is a wonderful collection of short stories by E.J. Runyon called Claiming One.  Another was the highly controversial but interesting Tampa by Alissa Nutting.   My favorite, though, had to be Stephen King’s Joyland.  Normally, King would probably be the stand-out in the horror/mystery/paranormal genre, and he certainly nailed it with Doctor Sleep, his sequel to The Shining, but Joyland was much more akin to some of his earlier stories, such as “The Body.”  There was some suspense, some magical realism, and a bit of crime-thriller to it, but mostly it was a book about summertime, coming-of-age, and living life. I absolutely loved it.

Best Genre Fiction Book

15819028I read much more genre fiction this year than I did general fiction (other than classics, which will be addressed below), so I am excluding a general fiction category and simply focusing on those books which might be considered fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.  Of these, I have read a number of works, including The Gunslinger and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, both of which I highly recommend.  Also,  Inferno by Dan Brown, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Although Shirley Jackson’s book came close to taking the title, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by The Golem and the Jinni.  I finished it recently and have not had time, yet, to write & post a review, but it was a stunning piece of work.  There’s something of the old-fashioned Romantic wonder and awe of nature in this one – it is bits and pieces of Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson fused with contemporary narrative style. Loved it.

Best LGBT Book

17237214This is an important category for me.  As most of you know, I’m currently in my second year of Ph.D. studies in English, but I’m also about to finish my graduate certificate in LGBT studies.  That said, I have not limited this category to works “of literary merit.”  In this category, I considered books on theory, books which would be called “classics,” and also contemporary fiction, young adult, and whatever else. This made it a bit tough, as I had to choose from a range which included Gods and Monsters by Christopher Bram (fantastic), Sexuality in Europe by Dagmar Herzog (fascinating), and Shine by Lauren Myracle (touching).  Others that deserve mention include Sodom on the Thames by Morris Kaplan, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  It was such a great pleasure to read so many awesome LGBT works of fiction and nonfiction this year.  The ultimate prize, though, has to go to the incredible Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. This book touched my soul – it is a book that I felt had been missing from the conversation for far too long, and Levithan delivered it to us beautifully.

Best Nonfiction Book

18238043This is probably the largest category that I had to consider this year, with texts ranging from biography and autobiography to cultural studies, gender and sexuality, literary theory and criticism, and so much more.  It almost had to become separate categories, almost. Some of my favorites of the year included How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, Queer Theory by Annamarie Jagose, Vive la Revolution by Mark Steel, and Colonialism and Homosexuality by Robert Aldrich.  One of the books that I found most helpful, interesting, and readable was Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters.  When all is said and done, though, my absolute favorite nonfiction read this year was Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno.  If you settled for watching the documentary, then you are missing out on so much.  This biography, unlike others on Salinger, was in-depth, unbiased, well-researched, and revelatory in many ways.  Anyone interested in the life and works of J.D. Salinger should put this at the top of their list.

Best Work of Classic Literature

46133This was my second largest category to consider, and this final call was so difficult!  I love classic literature, so picking one book from such an incredible list of authors, periods, and subjects is almost impossible.  Some of the best of the year include O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, which shouldn’t be missed, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, which was a difficult but rewarding read, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams which was stunning, The Adventures of Don Quixote which was hilarious and which I enjoyed far more than I had anticipated. My favorite, though, goes to one of the first books I read this year and one which has stuck with me throughout 2013 – Orlando by Virginia Woolf.  It is poetic justice for Woolf, perhaps, that she has landed on this “best of” list twice, considering I used to vehemently refuse to read her books (I had one bad experience with her many years ago, and swore never to return!).  But Orlando is a stunning, daring epic.  She was disappointed with it (or, more accurately, with the supposed lack of focused attention she paid to it), but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Best Young Adult Book

11861815Winger by Andrew Smith.  Not only was this the best Young Adult book that I read in 2013, but it was one of the best books I read this year, period.  The competition for this category was stiff, with books by Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Benjamin Saenz, Rick Yancey, Cassandra Clare, and Michael Scott to be considered. All of these books were enjoyable and some of them were downright incredible, but Smith’s Winger is a force to be reckoned with.  If you haven’t yet read this book, I would encourage you to read my review and see if it’s for you. Odds are, it is. I also highly recommend his other works, especially Stick, and I look forward to his next publication, Grasshopper Jungle, which is due out early in 2014.

Other Favorite Things

My favorite post of the year: On Horrors and Heroes

My favorite event of the year: Austen In August

My favorite review of the year: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

One blogger I couldn’t get enough of this year:  O of Behold the Stars

So, those were my favorites of 2013.  I am currently reading Ulysses by James Joyce and On What Grounds (Coffeehouse Mysteries #1) by Cleo Coyle, both of which I’m enjoying, for different reasons.  I plan to read one more this year – so that’s a possible three books I could add to this list of “favorites,” but let’s just leave them here as honorable year-end mentions, shall we?

What were YOUR favorite books this year?

Jane Austen and the Subversion of Sexist Tropes (#AustenInAugustRBR)

Caro is a 20-something Lit student with a tendency to ignore the world in favor of books and coffee, prone to having far too many projects going on at once, and destined to become a drunken cat lady. She blogs about books over at Wuthering Reads and writes TV recaps at NoWhiteNoise.


Jane Austen & the Subversion of Sexist Tropes

We live, for the most part, in a largely patriarchal society – so it’s not surprising to find that many storytelling tropes ooze sexism. A conversation I had with an extremely intelligent, articulate and socially aware friend re: this sort of trope and its subversions got me thinking – what sexist tropes did Jane Austen deconstruct and subvert in her novels?

Entitled to Have You and Nice Guy™

Mr-Collins-shocked-(1)-copyThe Entitled to Have You trope presents a man who, because of whatever reason, feels entitled to a woman. If she rejects him, the man in question will usually show remarkably selective hearing and interpret her “no” as a “maybe” and keep harassing her with invitations, convinced that his relentlessness will eventually pay off. And the worst part is that, in most cases, it does.

Austen presents this trope in Pride and Prejudice, through the one and only Mr. Collins. Elizabeth very clearly tells him that, while she’s flattered by his interest, she doesn’t feel the same way. Instead of taking it at face value, Mr. Collins assumes that she’s playing hard to get. Now, in many other works of fiction, his perseverance (see harassing) would have paid off and Elizabeth would have eventually ~seen the error of her ways and married him – but not in an Austen novel. No, Mr. Collins isn’t portrayed as sympathetic for his insistence, but rather as pathetic, annoying and incapable of taking a hint.

Another trope, often closely linked to Entitled to Have You, is the Nice Guy™.  John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey is the perfect example of this. Thorpe believes that because he’s such a Nice Guy, he’s entitled to Catherine’s love. When she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, he sulks forevermore and decides that her rejection stems from Catherine not Appreciating Him Like She Should, instead of realizing that hey, the lady has the right to want whoever she decides.

Bad Boy Woobie, or Jerkass Woobie

This is another particularly annoying trope, especially because it’s everywhere lately. Writing the Big Bads as, you know, bad, and still going out of their way to make them sympathetic is something that narrators everywhere do all the time; and after over two decades of being exposed to storytelling, I have no patience for it anymore.

Apparently, neither did Jane Austen. The Jerkass Woobie was not at all woobified. We’re not only not expected to excuse his faults because of his Daddy Issues, but we’re actually encouraged to hold him accountable for his actions, as we would any functional adult. An example of this is Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham, whose lies, manipulations and tendency to prey on young girls are by no means excused by the trauma of losing his father as a child.

One Special Girl

jane-austen-copyThis one’s tricky, because at first sight, it doesn’t seem sexist. What’s wrong about portraying a woman as a human being worthy of respect, after all? But scratch a little under the surface and you’ll realize that there are few things as insulting as a normally assholish man suddenly wanting to be ~good and ~different to a woman he perceives as The Paragon of Right Womanhood. This is problematic because it implies that certain women are ~deserving of being treated horribly, unlike the One Special Girl who makes the otherwise horrible guy want to respect her because She’s Not Like The Other Girls. That One Special Girl is usually also a Madonna, never a Whore.

Austen subverts this trope in Sense and Sensibility, through the relationship between Willoughby and Marianne and the fact that he’s not magically redeemed by her love. Being a serial player is part of who Willoughby is, and somebody’s personality is not about to change because The Right Person entered their life. It’s one thing when a person wants to change – but placing the responsibility of somebody’s change on an external party is not the way to go, partly because it’s too much responsibility and partly because it quite simply doesn’t work.


Thanks, Caro, for the excellent guest post on sexist tropes.  A lot of food for thought!  What do you all think? Have you noticed anything similar in Austen’s works?  Can you give other examples, from other texts?


What Marriage Really Meant to the Women of Austen (#AustenInAugustRBR)

Hello, Ladies & Gents! Today’s guest post is all about marriage (that inescapable theme) in the works of Jane Austen.  It comes to us from the wonderful Sarah of The Every Day Reader. Please give her a warm welcome!


Austen’s major works have many commonalities, but there is one glaring similarity that stands out above the rest: Marriage. All of Jane’s heroines begin their stories unmarried and end it married to a man they not only love, but who are an advance in social status and/or wealth.

Why was marriage so important to them? The heroines of Austen are strong women, who face trials that we would today see as completely unconnected from the marriage institution. Yet, marriage was important enough that Charlotte Lucas accepts Mr. Collins. Why? Because for them, marriage was more than a love match. It was their salvation.

Financial Security: Austen lived and wrote in a time without pensions, unemployment, health insurance or social benefits. Women also had extremely limited opportunities for independent employment and those they did have, such as being a live in governess, were not well-respected or well paid. Mrs Elton in Emma expresses her surprise that Emma’s former governess is ‘so very lady-like.’ Marriage to a wealthy (or at least financially secure) man was the dream, because it gave Austen’s heroines their only realistic chance at a secure life. Austen knew what a strain financial insecurity could be, spending several years traveling between relatives and friends with her mother and sister after the death of their father.

An Escape from their Family: It would have been unheard of in Austen’s time for a woman to live alone, or with friends. Family, or family approved guardians were the only options. Jane Austen herself would have known the reality of such a situation, never leaving the companionship of her family. Austen was blessed with a family that she enjoyed the company of, but if a woman of her time wasn’t so blessed, marriage would be her only permanent escape. Imagine Elizabeth Bennet’s reaction if she had to resign herself to spending her life in the company of her mother!

Social Status: Connections-connections-connections. Life then, as is now, was just as much about who you knew as what you knew (in fact, perhaps even moreso than now). Advancing up the social ladder was also far more difficult than it is today. Men could do so by earning a fortune through trade or being promoted within the military, though would still be looked down upon by those who hadn’t had to earn it. For women, advancement was through marriage. Making a fortuitous connection not only immediately advanced their own status in society, but meant their children would likely have opportunities that they had not.

A House of their Own: The importance of this factor can not be underestimated and goes far beyond escaping family or having financial security. Being able to manage their own home was a woman’s greatest chance at independent action. These were the days before vacuum cleaners, online shopping, Chinese made clothing and disposable lifestyles in general. Managing the household, especially a large one, was a career in itself. Even Elizabeth Bennet would have found a match for her quick mind in the management of Pemberly and indeed, it is seeing the estate which first makes her rethink her attitude to Darcy.

From Jane Austen’s point of view: It is well-known that Jane Austen never married, despite having at least one serious offer (and another mutual attachment that was never acted upon because of that darned financial insecurity). It’s nice to think that by marrying off her heroines Austen was giving them the future she never secured for herself. Although she later expressed relief at having avoided the pitfalls of married life (especially the risks of childbirth) her heroines still all hit the jackpot. They have everything that could have been desired in a late 18th century marriage and something more besides. They had love, which Austen believed to be the most important factor of all. Indeed, many scholars believe was the true reason she never married. Marriage was important to Austen not only because of societal constraints, but because of the relationship that it represented in its best manifestation.


Thanks, Sarah, for these great thoughts on Marriage in Jane Austen’s books!  What do you all think?  Have you noticed anything similar in your reading this month?  How do the Austen works (or reimaginings) that you’ve read this month, or are reading now, treat marriage?  Are there any differences in the marriage of Austen’s works versus marriage in the more contemporary remakes?  Let’s discuss!


Thoughts: Persuasion by Jane Austen

11758566Persuasion by Jane Austen
Final Verdict: 3.75 of 4.0
YTD: 47

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle-daughter of Sir Walter and Lady Elliot, the latter of whom died fourteen years prior to the start of the book.  Elizabeth and Anne are both single, but Mary, the youngest, is married to a wealthy man called Charles Musgrove.  Sir Elliot is on the brink of ruin, having spent lavishly and recklessly for some time, but particularly following the death of his wife.  He is a vain man who must be “convinced” by a trusted family friend, Lady Russell, to limit his spending, relocate, and rent out their expansive manor (Kellynch Hall) to raise income.  Lady Russell is also responsible for Anne’s somewhat melancholy state, having persuaded Anne to reject the proposal of one Captain Wentworth who, at the time, was without name or income.  As the story unfolds, secrets are exposed, friends and family are reunited and divided, and the questions of enduring love and what it takes to create a meaningful and functional marriage are raised.


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

lge_Persuasion_080606024745140_wideweb__300x300Many, if not all, of the characters in this book are important and necessary to the plot.  In Sense and Sensibility, it can be argued that perhaps not all of the Dashwood sisters were necessary to the story; here, however, each character who is introduced seems to serve a purpose – the prose, plot, and character development, then, are all concisely and purposefully crafted.  That being said, however, and while much can be found laudable in the Crofts and Anne Elliot, and even Mrs. Smith, most of the characters, even the primary ones, do not seem deeply developed in such a way as to be truly engaging – to connect the reader with their stories and lives more personally.  This could be because the larger theme of the novel is social change, rather than personal growth, but I still would have liked to have been more personally vested in Anne and Captain Wentworth’s interests.  Anne certainly is an Austen heroine – so much so that Austen herself said that Anne was “a heroine who is almost too good for me.”  She has her flaws, including being “advanced” in age and lacking somewhat in beauty, and also her openness to persuasion (hence the title of the book).  Yet, she stands above her female contemporaries by being calm, collected, and rational, not to mention constant in her friendships and affections.  She earns the admiration of not only Captain Wentworth, but also of Charles Musgrove and Mr. Elliot.

Captain Wentworth, too, is interesting as the representative of a “new gentleman.”  He has excellent manners, he is considerate of those around him, and he is hard-working, brave, and independent.  Also, instead of being born of land and title, he represents a shift in or softening of the potential for social, upward mobility in Britain at this time.  As a naval officer, he worked hard to advance through the ranks and create wealth for himself, rather than “earn” it through inheritance.  We can contrast him with Sir Walter Elliot who is largely a caricature of the very same titled, upper class nobility mentioned above.  Austen’s wit and satire play heaviest on Sir Walter – she shows no mercy, really, when describing him as a vain, imbecile spendthrift whose dressing rooms are lined with mirrors and who refuses to be seen in public with any but those who are incredibly attractive.  He is in many ways a sort of “dandy” to Captain Wentworth’s more masculine presence.

Still, although the characters do what they are supposed to, thematically, they do not reach me, personally, in the way that those of Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice have.  Of course, there are many fans of Anne and Captain Wentworth out there, and of their romance, and I certainly see them as a good match – still, a small “something” – some kind of spark, could have given the more clinical craftsmanship of these characters the personable touch I was hoping for (with the exception of the Crofts – I really enjoyed them!).


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

50336_184189786197_7310_nThe story is told in the third-person omniscient, like most of Austen’s works.  And, also like most of Austen’s narrators, this one is very closely allied with the main character, in this case, Anne Elliott.  Although the narrator is not Anne, and not directly involved in the story, she does make judgments that are similar to Anne’s, while maintaining a point of view that is separated from the story by means of free indirect discourse. Keeping the narrator separate from but close to the character of Anne allows for slightly more honesty in describing the motives and personalities of the various characters, and also some distance between Anne and the others, which is necessary in creating tension and mystery (which we found out near the end of the story is rather important, as certain schemes have been developing behind the scenes).  The narrative voice is softly satirical and at times subtly subversive, making it very interesting to compare with Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey, which was ultimately published at the same time (and which is much more obvious and raw in its humor and parodist tone).  Some of Austen’s most tried and true devices, such as the “big reveal” being delivered via letter (in this case, Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne; in a previous instance, Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth), as well as the motif of walking to advance a character’s conscience or growth, or to provide opportunity for necessary meetings between key players, are included here again and, again, work quite nicely.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

353px-Northanger_Abbey_and_PersuasionJane Austen wrote Persuasion in 1816, while she was extremely ill and just before her death.  The book would not be published (with Northanger Abbey) until 1818, after she had already passed away.  Like many of her stories, this one is a novel of manners.  Its focus is not so much on any one character’s growth, as would be the case in a coming-of-age story, but, instead, it is concerned with a group of primary characters who interact with one another and who are learning to navigate their lives within new rules and structures of a changing world.  Although Austen is widely, and rightly, considered to be a writer of marriage plots which lead to happy endings, what some miss in their readings is Austen’s deep concern for the complexities of gender relations and class structures, both of which were rapidly changing in the early 19th century. Persuasion, while certainly constructed as a marriage plot, is absolutely concerned with the latter interests as well.   It is clear that Persuasion is Austen’s later work, as it demonstrates great maturity and mastery of purpose and of craft.  This is evidenced in her subtle but biting satire of the upper middle classes, represented primarily by the character of Sir Walter Elliot.

Persuasion questions the idea of “Separate Spheres,” which has been a traditional way of viewing male and female roles in Britain and much of Europe.  Men would live in the public sphere, taking care of finances and legalities, while women were in charge of the private sphere, including tasks such as running the home and managing the servants.  With the introduction of the Crofts, however, Austen challenges this dichotomy and offers the option of a true marriage partnership, where husband and wife share equal responsibility in both spheres.  That the Crofts are the ideal married couple, and the one which it is presumed Anne and Captain Wentworth will evolve into, it is safe to assume that Austen, who never married, had rather progressive opinions about what a happy and functional marriage could be.

Austen is also often criticized for creating “bubble” worlds, stories which are narrowly confined to their own small towns, without concern for larger world issues.  Yet, it cannot be denied that Austen is aware of the fact that Britain is at war with America and France during this time, and her representation of the British Navy and Naval Officers both pay dues to the “real” Navy and also introduce, in literature, a mirror of what, in real life, was becoming an ideal of manliness – a new gentleman who can rise, through the military, to fame and wealth, if not necessarily to title. Austen does indeed understand the world around her and, just as with Mansfield Park, she incorporates elements of that world into her stories in ways that are so natural, they hardly stand out.  That these issues flow so neatly into the plot is a sign that Austen is an extraordinarily adept, socially aware novelist, not, as some would argue, of a writer oblivious to the world around her.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Novel of Manners; Marriage; Separate Spheres; Persuasion; “The Gentleman”; Class; Social Mobility; Family.


Notable Quotes:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

“Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter.”

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

“Facts or opinions which are to pass through the hands of so many, to be misconceived by folly in one, and ignorance in another, can hardly have much truth left.”

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

“One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best.”

“She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! Alas! She must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.”

“Time will explain.”

“Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”


Fitzwilliam Darcy, Such As I Was! (#AustenInAugustRBR)

Hello, Austenites!

Please welcome Carol Cromlin, author of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Such as I Was!


Staying True to the Original Work

Calling_Card[1]-A

Jane Austen fan fiction falls into two categories. Some prequels and sequels follow the premise of the original work, while others veer off into uncharted waters (think vampires, modern day adaptations, &c.).

For the prequel or sequel author who chooses to stay true to the original story, it is at once a help and a hindrance that many elements of your story are predetermined. Clearly, you have a head start because the main characters and their personality traits are known; their relationships with each other defined and the world in which they exist established. The challenge is in setting a course for your story that does not contradict any of the established “facts.”

.

Fitzwilliam_Darcy_ADb-aWhen I was writing my Pride & Prejudice prequel, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was, a significant challenge arose as I tried to imagine how Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley came to be such good friends. This back story was of no importance in the original work, so Jane Austen never explained it. What she did tell us is that Mr. Bingley was 22 – or two and twenty, for he “had not been of age two years when he [let] Netherfield House.” We also know Mr. Darcy was eight and twenty when Elizabeth’s censure began to make him see the deficiencies of his character. This was a significant difference in age. Distance was an issue as well. One gentleman was from Derbyshire; the other from “the north of England.”

What circumstance could possibly account for so strong a friendship developing between two men who, on its face, shared no similarities and seemingly would have had no occasion of ever crossing each other’s path? I finally settled on what seemed to me a logical and plausible explanation, based on Austen’s facts.

Another challenge lies in staying on course when your story begins to take on a life of its own. For me, the timing of the death of Mr. Darcy senior proved a complicated issue. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy, in his letter to Elizabeth, says his father had died, “about five years ago.” Thank goodness for me he added the qualifier, “about” because meshing the loss of his father with other events that would certainly have been occurring in the life of a Georgian gentleman, aged three and twenty, was a very sticky wicket. In order to present the story line I envisioned, I needed to stretch the “about” as far as reason would allow; I placed the loss of his father 4½ years prior to the writing of his letter to Elizabeth.

Staying true to the original work requires an author to constantly validate his or her story line but this test makes you a better writer and in the end you prevail because you are determined to pay homage to an Author you greatly admire.


About the Author:

IMG_2258-150x225 Carol Cromlin has a great appreciation for history, tradition and all things British, and is someone who has always needed to know how and why; researching and writing this book drew naturally on those traits. Cromlin graduated from Hofstra University and has a graduate degree from Fordham University. She lives in the United States with her husband, son and dogs. You can visit Carol’s website to learn more about her and her books.

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About the Book:

Fitzwilliam Darcy is arguably the best known, most charismatic hero Jane Austen ever created but he is also the most unfathomable. Who exactly was Mr. Darcy? What principles guided him? What desires drove him? How did he come to be the character Austen, so vividly, portrayed?

Carol Cromlin offers a window into the private life of this young, landed, Georgian gentleman. Her story presents events during the first eight and twenty years of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s life that shaped his personality and established his character, making him the man who so decidedly won Elizabeth Bennet’s heart, despite her absolute determination against him.


GIVEAWAY: Congrats to our winners, Kai and Jean!

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Carol has generously offered to give away two signed paperback copies of her book, each with a pair of custom book marks (US, Canada, UK)! The giveaway is open only to participants of this event. To enter, just engage with us in the comment section below (be sure to leave an email where you can be reached, if you want to be entered into the drawing). A winner will be chosen on August 15th! Good luck!

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Jane Austen & the Tyranny of Illness (#AustenInAugustRBR)

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Self-sacrifice & the Tyranny of Illness inEmma

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by Monica Fairview

Of course, everyone who knows anything about Emma knows Mr. Woodhouse to be the ultimate hypochondriac. Yet it takes only a superficial comparison between Mr. Woodhouse and Mary Musgrove in Persuasion to see why Mr. Woodhouse is so well-liked in spite of his obsessive phobias about health. Unlike Mary, who uses her illness to her own selfish advantage, Mr. Woodhouse’s concern for everyone’s health is far-reaching. It extends even as far as worrying about the horses that bring Isabella and John Knightley to Hartfield.

As readers we can accept Mr. Woodhouse as we could never accept Mary. He is a gentle figure of fun, but Jane Austen never subjects him to the lashing whip of her judgement. Everyone in Highbury knows of his anxieties — “his neighbours knew that he loved to be inquired after,” — and they are happy to oblige, since Mr. Woodhouse’s anxiety for others translates into concrete terms – into, for example, supplying  the Bates’ with cuts of meat from the Hartfield pigs, since he regards those pigs as more healthy than others.

Yet there is no question that Mr. Woodhouse’s “peculiarities and fidgetiness” would be enough to drive anyone to distraction. Certainly they require a great deal of sacrifice on the part of Emma, who has formed a “fixed determination never to quit her father.” On the extreme end, she cannot marry, though admittedly, when she considers Frank Churchill’s “proposal”, she doesn’t think turning Frank down for the sake of her father is too much of an obstacle. “I do not find myself making any use of the word sacrifice,” says Emma. However, when it comes to marrying Mr. Knightley, the idea of leaving her father even for a man she loves makes her so guilty she feels almost like a criminal. “Poor Mr. Woodhouse little suspected what was plotting against him in the breast of that man [Knightley] whom he was so cordially welcoming, and so anxiously hoping might not have taken cold from his ride.” Under such circumstances, the fact that Knightley himself is actually willing to perform the sacrifice of leaving Donwell Abbey to live with Emma at Hartfield does not strike us as in any way unusual, yet for a gentleman of his position it is a major undertaking.

Emma_Jane_Austen_book_coverBeyond this, there are the restraints that Emma has to endure on a daily basis. Her father’s anxieties have restricted her life so severely that she has never been to visit her sister in London, a short journey away. The picnic on Box Hill is the longest way she had ever travelled. When Emma and Harriet have an unpleasant encounter with the gypsies, Mr. Woodhouse’s alarm is such that the whole of Highbury hears of it. “Poor Mr. Woodhouse trembled as he sat, and, as Emma had foreseen, would scarcely be satisfied without their promising never to go beyond the shrubbery again.”

Yet Mr. Woodhouse is not the only person in the novel whose “illness” (or in his case, obsessive fear of illness) affects those around them and limits their movements. For years, Frank Churchill has been held in check by his aunt’s ill health, even though many in Highbury believe Mrs. Churchill’s illness to be imaginary. Mr. Knightley, for example, suggests to Emma that Mrs. Churchill’s health is simply an excuse for Frank – who is now too proud to deal with his poor relations – to stay away from Highbury. Even Frank himself is not entirely clear whether her illness is real or a means of controlling him. “That she was really ill was very certain; he had declared himself convinced of it… Though much might be fancy… he could not be prevailed upon, by all his father’s doubts, to say that her complaints were merely imaginary.”

Still, as in Emma’s case, Frank cannot marry the woman he is engaged to because he’s afraid to upset his aunt and make her illness worse. The deceit he practices as he tries to cover up causes a great deal of confusion and turmoil, particularly for Jane Fairfax. When they plan to have the first ball Highbury has seen for year, they are forced to abandon their plans after Frank receives a letter from his uncle calling him back to his aunt’s bedside: “Mrs. Churchill was unwell – far too unwell to do without him; she had been in a suffering state… but now she was too ill to trifle.” In general, the inhabitants of Highbury consider his aunt a selfish, tyrannical woman. It is only after she dies that they come to realize that she was genuinely ill. In any case, her death liberates Frank and enables him to finally announce his engagement to Jane.

Another person who is subjected to this tyranny of illness is Miss Bates. Miss Bates represents what Emma’s situation would have been, if she didn’t have financial resources. A poor spinster forced to look after her mostly deaf and poor-sighted mother, Miss Bates is an object of pity (and even ridicule) while Emma is not. Yet Miss Bates is cheerfully self-sacrificing. Not only is she unstintingly kind to her mother, but she releases Jane Fairfax from any obligation to be physically present in Highbury, unlike Mr. Woodhouse, who is too fearful to let Emma out of his sight.

Ironically, Miss Bates doesn’t just have to look after her mother. She takes care of Jane as well. When we first hear of Jane Fairfax we hear that she is coming to Highbury instead of going to Ireland with her friends. Emma, who is sceptical of anything to do with Jane, is surprised that Jane is willing to sacrifice herself: “Miss Fairfax prefers devoting the time to you and Mrs. Bates?” Considering that Emma has given up all possibility of seeing the world to stay with her father, she expects the same of Jane, only to learn that the situations are, in fact, reversed. Jane is coming to Highbury, it seems, because “she is far from well,” and “nobody could nurse her as we should do.”

emma-meets-frank-churchillMiss Bates’ solicitous attitude to her mother now extends to Jane as well: “My dear Jane, where are you? Here is your tippet. Mrs. Weston begs you to put on your tippet. She says she’s afraid there will be draughts in the passage.” Throughout, Jane’s bad health is a matter of concern for everyone, but in her case, too, we discover that there is a strong emotional component to her health, since her health grows worse the more Frank flirts with Emma. Later, Frank, who has been conditioned by his aunt to respond to illness, seems more affected by Jane’s physical suffering than her psychological one.  He tells Emma: “Do not pity me until I reached Highbury and saw how ill I had made her [Jane Fairfax]. Do not pity me till I saw her wan, sick looks.”

It is tempting to read into Emma, particularly the mother-daughter-younger niece pair (Miss and Mrs. Bates and Jane) in the novel, some of Jane Austen’s own uncertainties.  We know that Jane Austen’s mother was something of a hypochondriac herself, and suffered from a variety of illness that were sometime called into question, especially considering her longevity. Moreover, Austen’s sister Cassandra did not marry and remained at home with her mother. Are Miss Bates and her mother somehow reminiscent of Cassandra and her mother?  Was Jane Fairfax a kind of alter-ego to Jane herself (particularly since JA herself suffered from similar headaches). Were Jane Fairfax’s anxieties about being forced to work for a living a reflection of JA’s own? If so, then Jane Austen gave her a happy ending at least, or as happy as it could be with an unreliable husband like Frank Churchill. Was Emma what Jane Austen herself would have loved to be – free of the obligation to marry, independently wealthy, yet dutiful towards her parent?

We can only speculate.


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This topic fascinated Monica Fairview enough to write a short story sequel to Emma which explores Mr. Woodhouse’s reaction the day Mr. Knightley moves into Hartfield. The story can be found in the collection Jane Austen Made Me Do it. Fairview is also the author of two full length Pride and Prejudice sequels: The Other Mr. Darcy (Caroline Bingley’s story) and The Darcy Cousins (Georgiana’s coming of age story).

Visit Monica’s website for more information about her and her books!