Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “#Jane Austen”

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #51: Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen

I’ve had this tiny little volume on my shelf for quite some time. I’ve been saving it, you see, because it was my last new Austen. Even though I’ve read a good chunk of the classics for both my graduate and undergraduate degrees, Jane Austen’s books remain the only classic literature that I have ever re-read for pleasure. When I read Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and Persuasion*, I always feel like they were written just for me. It seems monumentally unfair that we should have only six full works by Miss Austen, but wah wah, that’s a battle long over, anyway why don’t I just stop whining and write fanfic like everybody else*. BECAUSE I REFUSE THAT’S WHY. Long after her death, scholars managed to cobble together some of her unpublished writing, and the result is about 211 pages of cruelty — the three surviving fragments in this book end up being more of a tease than anything else.

*I don’t care so much about Emma, Northanger Abbey, or Mansfield Park. Emma herself is kind of a turd even if that whole thing turns out okay anyway, Northanger Abbey is fun but it doesn’t punch my emotional buttons, and Mansfield Park has a weaksauce heroine and is waaay too long.

*To the middle aged ladies who insist on writing dirty novels with all of Jane Austen’s characters, PLEASE STOP. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon are all abandoned or unfinished stories that Jane Austen either never wanted published (in which case, uh, too bad?) or that she never finished (in the case of Sanditon, it was because she died, so that sucks). I wouldn’t recommend reading this book to any but the most hardcore Austen fans or scholars. Lady Susan is the only finished work in the book, and it’s from such an early period in her career that it’s almost unrecognizable as being Austen’s writing. And The Watsons and Sanditon are both unfinished.

The most notable thing about Lady Susan is that it marks a failed experiment on Austen’s part to write in the popular but annoying and much less effective epistolary style of the day. Austen’s cleverness shows through in the first person narration of the letters, but all the subtle witticisms derived from the saucy narration in her other workds are missing, and while there is some fun to be had with the unreliable voices of her characters, the style constricts her more than it helps her. Also notable about Lady Susan is that its main character is actually a villain. The titular Lady Susan is a charming and beautiful widow with high aspirations and an empty soul. While it’s fun to see Austen experimenting with her style, and fun to see her play around with an evil protagonist who ultimately gets her due, the style and story don’t ultimately suit her, which is why I’m sure she never sought to publish the thing. Alas.

The Watsons is much more classic Austen, albeit messy and unfinished. For whatever reason, good old Jane gave up on this story, but I wish she had continued with it. The heroine of The Watsons is Emma Watson (no relation), the youngest daughter of the poor Watson clan, which also includes three older sisters and a brother. Emma is raised away from her family by a wealthy and childless aunt, but when the aunt marries again, Emma is forced to move home and re-acquaint herself with her family and her drooping prospects. But of course this is Austen, so her prospects don’t droop for long. Pretty soon she’s got the rich and handsome Lord Osborne chasing after her, and she couldn’t care less, preferring his less important and rich tutor, Mr. Howard, who acts as if she doesn’t exist. The text of the thing is all over the place in that special way all first drafts have, but I think if she could have gotten over whatever was blocking her and finished it, this could have been great. I would have liked to see Austen do an anti-Cinderella story, the prince courting the peasant.

Of the three fragments, Sanditon is the most well-realized — it was the last thing Austen was working on, even as she was dying. Not coincidentally, a large part of the narrative is devoted to siblings who are hypochondriacs, and the namesake town of Sanditon is a place of healing, even if Austen is poking fun at it the whole time. Her special power of affectionate satire is in full force in Sanditon and the characters are fully formed almost from the get go.

Again, reading this collection was by no means a waste of time, but it’s more of an educational interest sort of reading. You’re not going to get any narrative satisfaction out of it (although apparently many people have tried their hands at finishing The Watsons, which might help you out with the satisfaction thing if you’re so inclined). Ultimately, reading this just made me want to re-read the good stuff all over again.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review #27: Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

As I’ve admitted before, I am a sucker for Jane Austen and all of her books, as well as the many many many many many re-tellings of her classics.  I am a particular sucker for Pride and Prejudice.  Book, movies (I like Firth, but I kinda like Macfadyen a little bit more), and Bridget Jones, I’ll take them all.

When I heard that PD James — the wonderful British writer who has brought us so many excellent classic mysteries, as well as Children of Men — had written a mystery taking place several years after the end of P&P, I couldn’t resist.

Death Comes to Pemberley has all of our favorite characters from P&P (as well as some of the characters we might not have liked so much). Lizzy and Darcy are happy with their children at Pemberley, Jane and Bingley are right down the road with their family, and Mary is happily married to a reverend not far away.  And then there are Lydia and Wickham.

The mystery tells the story of a tragic murder that occurs on the grounds of Pemberley, a night before Darcy and Elizabeth are to host a lavish ball.  The Darcys, the Bingleys, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and young Georgiana’s new suitor, Mr. Alveston, are all at the house when Lydia shows up screaming that there has been a murder out in the woods and that they must save her Wickham.

The book slowly unfolds the mystery, answering the usual questions: who is dead, how were they killed, who was the murderer, and why?

And while I enjoyed the book and was somewhat surprised when the killer was revealed and what his motives were, I found that I really didn’t care all that much. Sadly, I just wasn’t really excited about the book as a whole, and was a bit disappointed.

One thing I didn’t care for were the shout-outs to Persuasion and Emma.  I really could have done without those.

If you love P&P and all things Austen, by all means, read this.  If Austen isn’t really your thing, I would probably skip it.

Jelinas’ #CBR4 Review #27: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

isabella and catherine

Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) teaches Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) about friendship, but not in a good way.

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I didn’t care for it much. But the second time around, I realized that the focus was friendship, and not romance, and I liked it better.

Jelinas’ #CBR4 Review #21: George Knightley, Esquire, Book One: Charity Envieth Not by Barbara Cornthwaite

charity envieth not

Full disclosure: The author of this book is a friend of mine. I read the book as it was being written and provided feedback. I am thanked on the flyleaf.

But, with that said, I thoroughly enjoyed Charity Envieth Not, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma from Knightley’s point of view. It’s a well-researched, well-written book.

Since you’re not likely to find it at your local library, you can buy it on Amazon. Or e-mail me, and I might let you borrow my copy.

Jelinas’ #CBR4 Review #18: Emma by Jane Austen

knightley and emma

Mmm, Northam.

Emma is my favorite of Jane Austen’s books. Some people complain that she’s spoiled, arrogant, and selfish, but that’s what makes Austen’s magic all the more impressive: she makes you like an unlikeable character.

funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #02: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand.”

About ten years ago, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice with my mother. Lizzie’s spritely banter and Mr Darcy’s awkwardly smouldering passion – not to mention the pond scene – inspired me to read Austen’s novels in a big flimsy omnibus paperback with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle on the front. I loved Pride and Prejudice, adored Emma, and found the rest irritating. After some thought, I concluded that this was due to the heroines – Fanny, Catherine, Eleanor and Marianne seemed to me to be such wet fish that their stories, however exquisitely constructed, felt like damp squibs.

In the last week, I reread Northanger Abbey, and enjoyed it greatly. The story of Catherine Morland, a parson’s daughter swept up in the social whirl of Regency Bath, and the wild fancies of her own Gothic-novel-influenced mind, it breezes along like a summer’s day, with the occasional rumble of thunder or shaft of lightning directed towards the superficiality of courting rituals, the shallowness of fashionable friendships, and the good-natured pomposity of young men straight out of Oxford. Bath is full of flirtations and intrigues; the innocent Catherine becomes confidante to Isabella Thorpe, a dashing young lady, and accidentally observes Isabella’s transgressions of convention. Nevertheless, Catherine attempts, in what has become such a hackneyed reality-show phrase, to “remain true to herself.” While Catherine lacks Elizabeth Bennet’s wit and Emma Woodhouse’s will-power, she possesses an engaging directness, a tender heart, and an honest soul. Most amusingly, Catherine has a tempestuous imagination, fed on the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, that draws her to see murder and dark deeds wherever the environment is remotely suitable, such as the titular Abbey.

The narrator wields this quality of Catherine’s with zest, using it as an opportunity for sartirizing both the trappings of the Gothic mode – creaky staircases, mysterious bloodstains, walled-up nuns etc. As Mr Tilney, a man who becomes an admirer of Catherine’s and knows her reading habits, teases her on their way to Northanger Abbey:

Nothing further to alarm perhaps may occur the first night. After surmounting your unconquerable horror of the bed, you will retire to rest, and get a few hours’ unquiet slumber. But on the second, or at farthest the third night after your arrival, you will probably have a violent storm. Peals of thunder so loud as to seem to shake the edifice to its foundation will roll round the neighbouring mountains—and during the frightful gusts of wind which accompany it, you will probably think you discern (for your lamp is not extinguished) one part of the hanging more violently agitated than the rest. Unable of course to repress your curiosity in so favourable a moment for indulging it, you will instantly arise, and throwing your dressing-gown around you, proceed to examine this mystery.

The narrative voice also plays with the conception of the heroine of popular fiction, indeed one that still may be popular today as main female characters are often angst-ridden with dysfunctional family backgrounds. Catherine is essentially ordinary, and that is part of her appeal. She is introduced as follows:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings—and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution.

The omniscient, penetrating, but ultimately benevolent narrator continues throughout the story in the same vein, forming an entertaining counterpoint to Catherine’s ordinariness and adding some much-needed spice and humour to the otherwise fairly conventional “innocent abroad” tale of thwarted romance and misunderstood friendship.

Quotes copy-pasted from the Project Gutenberg Northanger Abbey.

Original blog post:

Countfosco’s #CBR4 Review 01: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

“The entertainment and seasonal diversions of country living are neither as numerous nor enticing as to make the social obligations of a great house a matter of indifference to those neighbors qualified to benefit from them; and Mr. Darcy’s marriage, once the wonder of his choice had worn off, at least promised that he would be more frequently at home than formerly and encouraged the hope that this new wife would recognize her responsibilities.”

 If you made it through that sentence without it triggering your literary gag reflex, please read on.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#01:Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James

P.D. James is probably best known for her Inspector Adam Dalgleish mysteries, which have been adapted for TV and have won James loyal fans the world over and several writing awards. In Death Comes To Pemberley, James applies her formidable skills as a crime writer to the early 19th century and creates a sharp murder mystery that happens to involve characters from one of British Literature’s best loved novels — Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie, Jane, Darcy, Bingley, Lydia and Wickham are all featured, as well as a few minor characters from P&P and characters of James’ own invention. Other authors have tried before to recreate the magic of P&P with novels that try to imagine “what happened next.” I haven’t read ’em because I love that novel and Darcy and Lizzie too much to risk the inevitable disappointment, but in addition to being an Austen fan, I also respect and admire James’ work, so I gave this a chance. Whether you are a lover of Austen or of murder mysteries, you should be quite satisfied with Death Comes To Pemberley.

The action opens at Pemberley, the Darcy family estate in Derbyshire, with plans underway for the yearly ball. Lizzie’s sister Jane and her husband Bingley are there, as are Darcy’s sister Georgiana, his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam and a newcomer, Mr. Alveston, barrister from London and acquaintance of the Bingleys. The servants are all on active duty in busy preparation for the ball, when crashing (almost literally) onto the scene comes Lydia Wickham, her carriage approaching Pemberley at breakneck speed. Lydia practically falls out of the carriage, looking crazed and hysterically screaming that her husband George Wickham and Captain Denny (friend of Wickham from P&P) have fought in the woods and that Wickham is dead. A search party consisting of Darcy (who happens to be a local magistrate), Fitzwilliam and Alveston, return with the carriage driver to the woods and discover Wickham weeping over Capt. Denny’s body, confessing responsibility for his best friend’s death. But did Wickham kill Denny? Why were they in the woods? Lydia hadn’t been invited to the ball and Wickham was not welcome at Pemberely as everyone from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire knew. What sort of scheme was Wickham hatching this time?

I am happy to report that in the hands of PD James, Lizzie and Darcy do not become some sort of “McMillan & Wife” who sleuth around and solve mysteries. Having made Darcy a magistrate, James is very careful to detail what sort of responsibilities he would have in a crime of this nature and how his responsibilities would be complicated by the fact that the crime occurred on his property and involved a member of his family.  Other local officials, such as Magistrate Sir Selwyn Hardcastle and Dr.Obadiah Belcher, the medical examiner/coroner, take on the initial investigation of the murder, resulting in an inquest at which 12 local men determine that there is enough evidence for a trial. From there, the action moves to London’s Old Bailey for the murder trial.

James deftly lays out both how the early 19th century criminal system worked and where it failed: the lack of care with evidence (moving the body and murder weapon before they could be examined by “experts”); the role of juries made up of local men; the need for trial reform. James also shows that trials often provided entertainment for the masses, much like today, with average folk clamoring for a seat in the courtroom when someone with connections and wealth was on trial and loudly protesting verdicts rendered.

If your main reason for reading Death Comes To Pemberley is the Austen connection, James does an outstanding job of maintaining the integrity of her characters and consistency with the plot of Pride and Prejudice. James seamlessly weaves concise plot summaries into her own story as needed so that those unfamiliar with P&P will be able to follow along. James also cleverly fills in some blanks from P&P using her own imagination. For example, she provides her own explanation as to how Lady Catherine DeBurgh came to  suspect a budding relationship between Darcy and Lizzie. She also provides a family history for the Darcys which involves the suicide of a great grandfather and its impact on the family through the generations. And there is the inevitable romantic conflict, this time involving Darcy’s younger sister and two possible suitors for her hand.

But what most impresses is the way James channels the spirit of Austen’s writing. The opening paragraph is so perfectly Austenesque, I swooned:

“It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourne had been fortunate in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters. Meryton, a small market town in Hertfordshire, is not on the route of any tours of pleasure, having neither beauty of setting nor a distinguished history, while its only great house, Netherfield Park, although impressive, is not mentioned in books about the county’s notable architecture. The town has an assembly room where dances are regularly held but no theatre, and the chief entertainment takes place in private houses where the boredom of dinner parties and whist tables, always with the same company, is relieved by gossip.”

Death Comes To Pemberley works as a P.D. James crime novel and as a paean to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I do believe Jane would approve.

Post Navigation