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review 2018-09-29 09:19
. It was hard to be a woman in the Regency period and Austen knew it all too well! A must read for Austen lovers.
Rational Creatures - Christina Boyd

I thank Christina Boyd for sending me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review and for offering me to the opportunity to join the blog tour for its launch.

I have read and reviewed one of the Austen based collections Christina Boyd has edited in the past (Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, check that review here), and when she told me what she was working on, I did not hesitate. I have met many talented writers through her collection and the books she has edited and have to warn any readers that you are likely to end up with a long list of authors added to your favourites if you keep on reading.

I am sure no Austen reader would think that, but some people not so well versed in her work sometimes think that her novels are only about silly girls of the Regency period, normally of good families, flirting and forever plotting to marry a rich and attractive man, with nothing of interest in their heads other than attending parties and fashionable balls, and not a hint of independent thought or opinion. Nothing further from the truth. The title of the collection highlights the status of Jane Austen’s female characters. There are nice women, some cruel ones, vain, prejudiced, stubborn, naïve, impulsive, but they are not the playthings of men. They work hard to prove they are “rational creatures” and they try, within the options open to them at the time, to take charge of their lives and their own destinies.

In the foreword, Devoney Looser writes:

In its pages, the best of today’s Austen-inspired authors use their significant creative powers to explore new angles of love and loss, captivity and emancipation. These stories reimagine both, beloved female characters, like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, and loathed ones, such as Persuasion’s Penelope Clay. The results are comical, disturbing, and moving.

I could not have said it better. While when I reviewed Dangerous to Know I said anybody could enjoy the stories but connoisseurs of Austen would likely delight in them, in this case, I think this is a book for Austen fans, and those particularly interested in feminism and in the early supporters of the education of women. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is mentioned in the foreword and also makes its appearance in some of the stories, and it clearly informs the readings the authors make of the characters and the novels they pay homage to. In a matter of fact, the book could also have been called A Vindication of Austen’s Women.

While some of the contributions are short stories in their own right, although centred on one of Austen’s female characters, some are vignettes closely linked to one of her novels, showing the background to some events in the story, or exploring the reasons for the decisions taken by some of the female characters that might have surprised us when we have read the novels, particularly so, perhaps, due to our modern sensibilities. Each story is introduced by a quotation from the novel in question that helps us get into the right frame of mind.

The catalogue of stories and characters is long and inclusive. We have: “Self-Composed” (by Christina Morland) about Elinor Dashwood, “Every Past Affliction” (by Nicole Clarkston) about Marianne Dashwood, “Happiness in Marriage” (by Amy D’Orazio) about Elizabeth Bennet (one of the most famous and well-known heroines in the Austen canon and I think most readers will easily identify with the character and her plight), “Charlotte’s Comfort” (by Joana Starnes) about Charlotte Lucas (I will confess I’d always wondered about Charlotte’s decision to marry the horrendous Mr. Collins. I enjoyed this version of events and it makes perfect sense), “Knightley Discourses” (by Anngela Schroeder) about Emma Woodhouse (it was a pleasure to catch up with Emma again, a happily married Emma, here), “The Simple Things” (by J. Marie Croft) about Hetty Bates (perhaps because I’ve never been married, I am always drawn towards characters who remain single, and I found this episode particularly touching), “In Good Hands” (by Caitlin Williams) about Harriet Smith (it was good to see Harriet get her own voice and not only be Emma’s plaything), “The Meaning of Wife” (by Brooke West) about Fanny Price (I liked this rendering of Fanny Price as she gets enlightened thanks to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication), “What Strange Creatures” (by Jenetta James) about Mary Crawford (which introduces a touch of mystery), “An Unnatural Beginning” (by Elizabeth Adams) about Anne Elliot (another one I found particularly touching), “Where the Sky Touches the Sea” (by Karalynne Mackrory) about Sophia Croft (this is not a character I was very familiar with but I loved her relationship with her husband, her self-sufficiency, and the realistic depiction of grief), “The Art of Pleasing” (by Lona Manning) about Penelope Clay (as a lover of books about cons and conmen, I could not help but enjoy this fun story full of twists and fantastically deceitful characters), “Louisa by the Sea” (by Beau North) about Louisa Musgrove, “The Strength of Their Attachment” (by Sophia Rose) about Catherine Morland, “A Nominal Mistress” (by Karen M. Cox) about Eleanor Tilney (a fun story with its sad moments, and a good example of the type of situations women could find themselves in at the time), and “The Edification of Lady Susan” (by Jessie Lewis) about Lady Susan Vernon (an epistolary story that I thoroughly enjoyed, and another one recommended to people who love deceit and con games).

The writing styles vary between the stories, but there are no actualisations or reinventions. The stories are all set within the Regency period, and the authors observe the mores and customs of the period, seamlessly weaving their vignettes and stories that would be perfectly at eas within the pages of the Austen novels they are inspired by. The characters might push the boundaries of gender and social classes but never by behaving in anachronistic ways, and if anything, reading this book will make us more aware of what life was like for women of different ages and different social situations in that historical period. What we get are close insights into the thoughts and feelings of these women, many of whom were only talked about but never given their own voices in the original novels. It is amazing how well the selection works, as sometimes we can read about the same characters from different perspectives (the protagonist in one of the stories might be a secondary character in another one, and the heroine in one of the stories might be a villain in the next), but they all fit together and help create a multifaceted portrait of these women and of what it meant to be a woman of a certain class in the Regency period.

I have said before that I feel this collection will suit better readers who are familiar with Austen’s universe, but, to be fair, I have enjoyed both, the stories centred on novels I knew quite well, and those based on characters I was not very familiar with, so I would not discourage people who enjoy Regency period novels and have read some Austen, but are not experts, from reading this book. By the time I finished the book, I admired, even more, the genius of Austen and had decided to become better acquainted with all of her novels. Oh, and of course, determined also to keep sharing the collections and books by this talented group of writers.

In summary, I recommend this book to anybody who loves Austen and has always felt curious about her female characters, protagonists and supporting players alike, and wished to have a private conversation with them, or at least be privy to the thoughts they kept under wraps. If you want to know who these women are and to see what it must have been like to try to be a woman and a rational creature with your own ideas in such historical era, I recommend this collection. As a bonus, you’ll discover a selection of great authors, and you’ll feel compelled to go back and read all of Austen’s novels. You’ve got nothing to lose other than a bit (or a lot) of sleep!

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text 2018-09-14 02:51
At Least It Was Free
Emma: An Audible Original Drama - Morgan... Emma: An Audible Original Drama - Morgana Robinson,Joseph Millson,Aisling Loftus,Isabella Inchbald,Anna Lea - adaptation,Audible Studios,Jane Austen,Joanne Froggatt,Emma Thompson

Introducing Audible Originals. Each month, members may pick two out of six selected Audible Originals to download for free. The only one that had any appeal this month was Austen's Emma. Sadly it is an adapted dramatization, Austen Light for those whose only knowledge of Austen is from the television. After 8 minutes I had had more than enough, DNF'ed it and moved on.

 

It flips back and forth between dramatized dialogue and narration, with little connection between the narrator the subsequent dialogue, The dialogue sections are Foley-enhanced and the background noise is super annoying. Enough. You get the point. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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review 2018-09-06 16:12
Painting on a Small Canvas: "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park - Jane Austen


"Here's harmony!" said she; "here's repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here's what may tranquilize every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene."

In “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen



Many eons ago I was reading Austen's "Mansfield Park" in high school when the leader of a group of teenagers commented on the "puff with the specs reading girlie books." I paid him no mind at that particular moment. I waited till I could catch him alone in the playground without his bunch of cronies around him. I asked him then if he'd care to repeat what he'd said before. He said he didn't. 

The old adage you can't judge a book by its cover surely applies to the title as well. What's next? Nick Hornby's "About a Boy" should only appeal to paedophiles? "Animal Farm" to sheep-shaggers (or more accurately pig-shaggers). Such immature, hating comments belong in the 1970s.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-06 05:13
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen,Marilyn Butler,Claire Lamont

This book was lovely, unexpected fun. After reading Mansfield Park and Persuasion in recent years, I concluded that Jane Austen’s work was not for me: their characters seemed bloodless, their heroines prim and infallible, their subject matter a tedious catalogue of the social lives of the independently wealthy. But I may have fallen into the trap of judging an author by her worst works, having read her three most popular books while too immature a reader to judge them. Northanger Abbey, now: this book is just fun, a lively tale of a teenage girl discovering the world outside her town for the first time, falling in with some of the wrong people, having a bit of an adventure, all while the book pokes fun at melodramatic Gothic novels of the period.

Discussion of this book generally seems to revolve around Catherine’s wilder fantasies about Northanger Abbey, the home of some of her new friends, so I was surprised to find that this section is the smaller part of the book – most of which takes place in Bath – and the least convincing. Up to that point, Catherine is portrayed as a sensible if inexperienced girl, raised by an endearingly sensible mother (whose reaction to Catherine’s being sent on a sudden road trip alone by post is “well, that was strange and uncivil behavior on your host’s part, but now you’ve had to rely on yourself and managed, which is good for you"). On arriving at the abbey she abruptly throws common sense to the winds, only to regain it just as rapidly after a talking-to, the gist of which is “be sensible, those terrible things couldn’t happen here in England.”

That said, I enjoyed Catherine as a protagonist; she’s a naïve but appealing teenage girl, capable of standing up for herself and going after what she wants and not intended to be a paragon. The secondary cast is also strong, with believable and incisive characterization despite the book’s relatively short length. And I found Austen’s wit genuinely humorous, particularly enjoying the passages contrasting the characters’ real-life behavior with novelistic expectations. Here, for instance, is Catherine encountering her crush in public:

“He looked as handsome and as lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasing-looking young woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister; thus unthinkingly throwing away a fair opportunity of considering him lost to her for ever, by being married already.”

This book may be 200 years old, but it sped by for me. Life is an adventure for Catherine, and that energy seems to transmit itself to the pages. Perhaps I should be giving Austen more credit.

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review 2018-08-16 06:50
Fun running over tropes
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen,Marilyn Butler,Claire Lamont

Why did I take this long to read this? From Austen's big six, this is the last I got to. I mean, I know what my reasoning was: satire and humour was not what I was looking for when I searched for an Austen volume. But I was wrong to, because this was a great romp.

 

(On that note, one day I have to write long and hard on how the prominence of Pride and Prejudice in pop-media puts an expectation on what Austen writes about that is a total disservice to her body of work)

 

If you put this and Persuasion together, it's impossible to ignore that the woman's common thread is not romance, but social critique, and tropes and expectations. In this one she takes Gothic literature ones, and more than run with them, runs them over. Anne Brontë kinda did that in a very understated way. There is nothing understated here, and I was laughing from the opening lines alone... Actually, the overall initial setting is quite similar to Brontë's Agnes Grey's opening, just, you know, absolutely savage. Much like the whole book.

 

The charming part comes from Catherine being a sincerely good-natured soul, and pretty sensible on the whole, so even where she hypes herself from much sensational reading (and hell, like nobody ever got jumpy in the night after reading or watching some horror), and builds some weird fantasies on it, she never quite finds herself carried away on over-dramatic feelings of angst, be it romantic or otherwise. Even when other characters ask about them on hilariously detailed, over the top descriptions.

 

I get now why it is the favourite Austen among many. I had lots of fun with it.

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