24 September 2010

A Bag of Books

Over the weekend, a favorite aunt gave me a bag of books that had been assembled by a librarian in her town. "I don't know what's in there," she told me, "but I hope you enjoy them."

Mind you, this is the same favorite aunt who trekked with me on the cobbled streets of Camden, despite a broken tibia, trying to tack down the fisherman who dove repeatedly from the upper top gallant mast during the filming of Captain's Courageous in 1977 (we were ultimately unsuccessful, but I did talk with the captain of the ship who assured me it was true).

And what did the bag contain? A veritable gold mine of Jane Austen books! Here they are:

Jane Austen, by Elizabeth Jenkins
Jane Austen’s Novels, the Art of Clarity, by Roger Gard
Jane Austen: Her Life, by Park Honan
The Watsons, by Jane Austen
Austen, Selected Letters, edited by R W Chapman
A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil
Persuasions 12-22
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, by Fay Weldon

Only the Elizabeth Jenkins book, The Watsons, and selected letters are duplicates! And here I was, bemoaning the fact that I had just finished Jane Austen Among Women and was feeling at a loss!

I am reading Letters to Alice now and finding it compelling. Not only is it a thorough examination of Jane Austen and her works, but an examination of writing fiction as well. Add to that the fact that Fay Weldon wrote the screenplay of the very best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in my opinion (the early 1980s BBC production starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul), and well, bliss...

I am lucky, indeed, to have such an aunt. Fortunate are those who have her in their lives!

28 July 2010

Summer Reading

Ah, the lazy days of summer... No summer would be complete without a book--or many.

Here's what I've been indulging myself with this summer:

Jane Austen, a Life by David Nokes: This was a fascinating book, for it took advantage of some letters and papers more recently discovered. Though I knew how it ended, I still cried.

Jane Austen's Letters collected and edited by R W Chapman (second edition): These letters are amazing. They're biting, funny, sad, intelligent. It makes me long to read all the other letters that had been destroyed all the more.

Behind Closed Doors, At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery: Vickery has done it again. Because I had enjoyed reading her earlier book, The Gentleman's Daughter, Woman's Lives in Georgian England, I was excited to read Behind Closed Doors when it was published. It's well worth every penny. This book gives a complete and often stark look at men and women's lives in Georgian England. For anyone who enjoys the period or likes to write about the period, it's a must-have.

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester: This is an engaging book and very well-written. However, it's a bit light in details, such as management of an estate or servants. For more detailed information on some subjects, it's better to find those books that specialize in them, such as The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams, Vickery's books, or period works.

Jane Austen in Context edited by Janet Todd: This book is fascinating. One of my favorite sections dealt with the use of language by Jane Austen's characters; how the language was as much a description of the character as a physical description. An example was how Marianne's language was very much like that of the Romantic authors Jane Austen and Cassandra Austen liked to satirize in their letters, and how Elinor's language was closer to that found in Samuel Johnson's dictionary. Another interesting section dealt with Jane Austen in translation and how, in some countries, her works were so outside the norm for that country's accepted literature, that her works were edited to fit taste of that country--to the point of even leaving off the ending of one of Jane Austen's books entirely.

Thank goodness summer's not over. There's so many more books to read!

14 May 2010

Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation and Jane Austen

I am most of the way through the section devoted to Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation in Natalie Zemon Davis's fascinating book Women on the Margins, Three Seventeenth Century Lives, and am struck by the similarity in the manner in which Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation and Jane Austen were portrayed after their death by their male relatives.

Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation became an Ursuline nun and left France to live in Québec where she worked closely with the Iroquois, Micmacs, Abenaki, Algonquins, Hurons and other Indian tribes who lived in the area where the Ursuline convent was established. This woman risked her life by devoting it to bringing the word of God to the native people she termed "savages". She translated essentially primers on religion and Catholicism in the Indian language, and wrote more than one book about theology. She also wrote a long journal of her life both in France and in Québec, which she sent to her son, Claude Martin, with the instruction that the journal was only for his eyes or those of another relative upon his death.

However, soon after Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation's death, Martin not only published the journal but edited them. As Davis writes, three concerns motivated him:

"to make sure that Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation was always in safe ground in regard to the doctrine and obedience to the Church... that Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation appear a trustworthy mystic... [and] to rid her language of elements offending elements of late seventeenth-century politesse..."

He also made reference more than once that since his mother was a woman and not learned (she did not go to school as he himself did, but was self-taught), allowances must be made for her and her published work.

The manner in which Martin engineered how his mother and her work was portrayed after her death reminded me of similar elements in A Memoir of Jane Austen by Her Nephew. J E Austen-Leigh wrote that Jane Austen was:

"a humble, believing Christian. Her life had been passed in the performance of home duties, and the cultivation of domestic affections, without any self-seeking or craving after applause. She had always sought, as it were by instinct, to promote the happiness of all who came within her influence, and doubtless she had her reward in the peace of mind which was granted her in her last days."

He is also quick to point out that his beloved aunt, of whom he seems to know very little,

"is entirely free from the vulgarity, which is so offensive in some novels, of dwelling on the outward appendages of wealth or rank, as if they were things to which the writer was unaccustomed; and, secondly, that she deals as little with very low as with very high stations in life."

Perhaps he had not taken into account that society frowned upon women speaking openly about sex and the embedded meaning behind the words his aunt used (read Austen's Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Language, Embedded History by Jill Heydt-Stevenson) or not understood the shock value of Mr Woodhouse quoting the first lines of the scandalous poem, "Kitty, a Fair But Frozen Maid" in Emma (for a discussion of that poem see http://addictedtojaneausten.blogspot.com/2008/06/mr-woodhouse-kitty-fair-but-frozen-maid.html).

Why is it that the next generation of men-folk see the need to sanitize the portrayal of two powerful and fascinating women? Is it because of their power and ability? In Claude Martin's case, is the sorrow and possibly, anger at his mother's abandonment of him when he was eleven, part of his motivation?

While both women, Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation and Jane Austen, had some rough edges, that did not make them any less valuable or worthy of respect. I wonder what makes those in their own families unable to accept these women as they were and to value them for themselves without feeling the need to gloss over qualities that might be seen as objectionable. Do the male relatives feel threatened by the women who are entering into their realm and are having some measure of success?

07 May 2010


On May Day, I discovered that I won a grant through Demand Studios to put toward my third historical novel, which is set in 1800 England, and entitled Lord Wellesbourne, AKA The Return of Hope. The company broke new ground by awarding me that grant, for it was the first to have been given to a work of fiction.

As if that were not enough, I also learned that a publisher requested the full manuscript for my second book, The Lobsterman, which is set in past and present Portland, Maine.

What a way to start the month of May!

12 April 2010


This weekend I was able to do a bit of work on my book.

It felt so good to be able to spend almost two hours on it, on a Sunday no less...
Lately, what with being a homeschooling mother of two, my life has been a balancing act where my writing has been relegated to the time spent in hallways or waiting rooms, during my daughters' dance lessons or waiting for the doctor or dentist. To be able to sit in front of the wood stove (not lit, for a change), on my own couch, felt luxurious.

Just as I know I will probably pay for it by having to do more during the week on my freelance job to make up for those stolen hours, I know I will have to do it again.

It felt too darned good...