Friday, December 29, 2017

Jane Austen and Babies, Today at Austen Authors

Posted originally at

I'm writing this in advance, but if all goes as planned, my new son will have been born two days ago (at 8:13 AM on the 27th, a healthy 22 inches long and nearly 9 and a half pounds!). As I prepare to welcome the newest member of the family, our very own Baby New Year, my mind inevitably turns to what Jane Austen had to say on the subject. Though not a mother herself, she is known to have doted on her many nieces and nephews, and the sentiments expressed in her novels regarding babies are very touching, though tinged with her typical razor sharp analysis of human behavior. While she might have some fun at the expense of those of us obsessed with our offspring, had she ever become a mother, one must suppose that she would have been an adoring one.

Emma has the most references to babies of the six novels, and it is the only one in which the babies (two of them) are fully realized creations rather than just props. They even have names! First we meet "Little Emma," Isabella's youngest, who acts a peacemaker between Mr. Knightley and "Big Emma" (no one tell her I called her that!). I think this scene illustrates how young children can put things in perspective, allowing us to overlook our grievances and irritations to concentrate on important things. They can even, as in the case of "Big Emma," inspire an unaccustomed degree of humility and self-awareness:
She hoped they might now become friends again. She thought it was time to make up. Making-up indeed would not do. She certainly had not been in the wrong, and he would never own that he had. Concession must be out of the question; but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled; and she hoped it might rather assist the restoration of friendship, that when he came into the room she had one of the children with her—the youngest, a nice little girl about eight months old, who was now making her first visit to Hartfield, and very happy to be danced about in her aunt's arms. It did assist; for though he began with grave looks and short questions, he was soon led on to talk of them all in the usual way, and to take the child out of her arms with all the unceremoniousness of perfect amity. Emma felt they were friends again; and the conviction giving her at first great satisfaction, and then a little sauciness, she could not help saying, as he was admiring the baby, 
"What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree." 
"If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike." 
"To be sure—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong." 
"Yes," said he, smiling—"and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born." 
"A material difference then," she replied—"and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?" 
"Yes—a good deal nearer." 
"But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently." 
"I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years' experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends, and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now." 
"That's true," she cried—"very true. Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited.

Anna Weston is perhaps the more interesting child, because it is through her that we learn a bit more about Austen's perspective on children. She says:
Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl. She had been decided in wishing for a Miss Weston. She would not acknowledge that it was with any view of making a match for her, hereafter, with either of Isabella's sons; but she was convinced that a daughter would suit both father and mother best. It would be a great comfort to Mr. Weston, as he grew older--and even Mr. Weston might be growing older ten years hence--to have his fireside enlivened by the sports and the nonsense, the freaks and the fancies of a child never banished from home; and Mrs. Weston--no one could doubt that a daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again.
In a society that generally valued boys more than girls, this is a strong argument in favor of the latter. Boys would, in time, be sent off to school or to learn a career, but a daughter belonged in the family home until she married. It is Mr. Woodhouse, however, through whom we receive a more timeless perspective on parenting. I can't read the following without laughing, as it so clearly brings to mind the many alarms and terrors of being a first-time parent:
The others had been talking of the child, Mrs. Weston giving an account of a little alarm she had been under, the evening before, from the infant's appearing not quite well. She believed she had been foolish, but it had alarmed her, and she had been within half a minute of sending for Mr. Perry. Perhaps she ought to be ashamed, but Mr. Weston had been almost as uneasy as herself.--In ten minutes, however, the child had been perfectly well again. This was her history; and particularly interesting it was to Mr. Woodhouse, who commended her very much for thinking of sending for Perry, and only regretted that she had not done it. "She should always send for Perry, if the child appeared in the slightest degree disordered, were it only for a moment. She could not be too soon alarmed, nor send for Perry too often. It was a pity, perhaps, that he had not come last night; for, though the child seemed well now, very well considering, it would probably have been better if Perry had seen it."
I remember my pediatrician assuring me on my third pointless visit to his office that there really was no need to be alarmed by a stuffed up nose. How much time do you think poor Mr. Perry spends reassuring Mr. Woodhouse on any number of his many health alarms?
More than anything, Mrs. Weston as a new mother presents a picture of perfect domestic contentment. It is how I hope to feel (and not just appear) in the coming weeks, but if my previous child is any indication, I expect to have a more frazzled presence. I think I can trust, however, to be just as absorbed in my Jack as she is in her Anna, with very little attention for anything else:
Mrs. Weston, with her baby on her knee, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world. If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps.

The other prominently placed baby in Austen is that of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility. Unfortunately, these two are not models of domestic harmony. The baby is less a viable character and more a prop to illustrate the couple's incongruity:
Mr. Palmer maintained the common, but unfatherly opinion among his sex, of all infants being alike; and though she could plainly perceive, at different times, the most striking resemblance between this baby and every one of his relations on both sides, there was no convincing his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it was not exactly like every other baby of the same age; nor could he even be brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being the finest child in the world.
However, no matter how silly the wife or dismissive the father, when it comes to that universal fear new parents have for the safety of their offspring, they have the common reaction:
He came, examined his patient, and though encouraging Miss Dashwood to expect that a very few days would restore her sister to health, yet, by pronouncing her disorder to have a putrid tendency, and allowing the word "infection" to pass his lips, gave instant alarm to Mrs. Palmer, on her baby's account.
Call Mr. Perry!

I hope that now I have weathered six and a half years of parenthood I will not be quite such an alarmist as I was when my daughter was born. After all, I now know what to do for even the most dire sounding coughs, those terrifying head bumps, and can even handle projectile vomiting with aplomb. At least, I think I can. The number one parenting lesson I have learned is never to say never. So maybe I will find myself, once again, running to the doctors just to be assured that the horrifying symptom is perfectly normal and nothing to fear. Nothing like a newborn to turn us all into Charlotte Palmers.

Happy New Year, Janeites! It's sure to be a memorable one in my house. Good fortune to us all in 2018!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Textilmuseum, St. Gallen

Just crossposting a blog post I wrote this weekend for the Jane Austen Society of Switzerland, a new and (so far) small group of us who have been meeting quarterly to indulge our love of literature and history. You can learn more about the organization at

Today six of us gathered for a private tour of the Textilmuseum. The collection contains items documenting the history of fabric production, with particular emphasis on the booming embroidery industry based in St. Gallen in the late 19th century. This was enabled by the invention of the hand-embroidery machine in 1828, leading to a boom economy post-1860. While many of these machines were used in factories, in Switzerland embroidery production remained for many a cottage industry (a stark contrast to the weaving industry in England). A family, often farmers, would borrow the funds to buy a hand-embroidery machine. The man of the family would operate the equipment (traditionally, embroidery had been an entirely female art) while the women and children threaded and inserted the hundreds of needles necessary to operate the machine. The museum features a training model of a hand-embroidery machine from circa 1890. Only half the size of an industrial model, it is 2.25 meters long and utilizes 156 needles. We didn't get to see it in operation, but the museum provides a demonstration of it in action in the afternoons on Thursday, Friday, and select Saturdays.

Bestes Handwerk St. Gallen und Umgebung
Training model of a hand-embroidery machine, circa 1890.
One of the embroidery techniques for which St. Gallen is best known is chemical lace. This process produces an extremely convincing lace-like effect, imitating highly valued, handmade lace. The technique was originated in Switzerland and Saxony in the 1880's and perfected the following decade. Originally, this was done in cotton embroidery on silk, the latter being "burnt away" using chlorine or caustic soda. Today, the same effect is achieved on an acetate backing which is then dissolved with acetone. The material produced continues to be a corner stone of the St. Gallen textile industry and is featured in the works of haut couture fashion houses around the globe.

Cotton machine embroidery from St. Gallen, circa 1900. In imitation of Irish crochet lace.

Of particular interest to scholars of Jane Austen and the Regency Era in England were examples of whitework on muslin, extremely popular at the time. There was a gorgeous whiteworked gown on display from the late 1820's/early 1830s, after Austen's time but still of a similar silhouette to those of the earlier part of the century. The sleeves and skirt are fuller, moving towards the styles associated with the Victorian Era, but the Empire waistline is still the most distinguishing feature of the gown.

Cotton dress featuring hand embroidery from Eastern Switzerland, circa 1826-1830.

After leaving the museum we did a quick tour of the Christmas market in St. Gallen. The Sternenstadt runs through the 23rd of December. St. Gallen is always beautiful, but the spectacle of the market at night, which is decorated by 700 star ornaments dangling above the streets, ought to be particularly scenic. Thanks for all who were able to join us. Our next meeting will be sometime in the spring and probably to the Napoleon Museum in Thurgau. More info to come!


Campbell, Gordon. The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Volume One. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Ward, Gerald W.R. The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Wikipedia contributors. "St. Gallen embroidery." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Jul. 2017. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. "Textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Nov. 2017. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present Excerpt and Giveaway, today at Austen Authors

Join me today at Austen Authors for an excerpt from my new story and a great giveaway! Win a copy of the book, a set of my handmade Christmas cards featuring Austen quotes, and some super cute Christmas clothespins from my local market here in Switzerland. Leave a comment at the below link to enter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New Release - Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present: The Madness of Mr. Darcy Continues

I've been very remiss in promoting this (got a lot on my mind, now I am 8 months pregnant), but my short story, Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present: The Madness of Mr. Darcy Continues, was published on Kindle last week. Do check it out, especially if you are one of the many readers who told me they were wanting just a little bit more from the original story. Hopefully, this slim volume will satiate that need. The first review, by Rita of From Milton to Pemberley, was very flattering. She writes:

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Present was the best Christmas gift Alexa Adams could have given me. She gave me a loving novella where all the characters I wanted to see again are present to give me closure to one of the most intense and amazing books I have ever read.

Wow! Leaves me beaming every time I read it.

Also, just a heads up, if you want to read I am Lady Catherine for free, do so now while the getting is good. I will be removing the posts in the next week or so, that I may enroll the book in the Kindle Unlimited program.

Hopefully, you will hear from me again before the bay arrives. Afterwards, I fear this blog will be even more neglected than it has been in the 2+ years since my move overseas. Thanks so much to those of you who continue to read it and support my writing. Happy holidays to all!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I am Lady Catherine: Part One

Part One – 1784

“Is it not gratifying to have the sound of music echoing about the house once more?” Lady Cat, as everyone called her, declared contentedly upon entering the morning parlor. She seated herself beside her eldest daughter and namesake, who was busily pursuing her work. “How wonderful it is to have Anne home once more.”

“She no longer considers Ecclestone Court her home, Mother,” Lady Catherine remarked.

Lady Cat might not have heard the comment, as she continued without regarding it. “Young Fitzwilliam has grown so fast, he seems not much the baby any longer. So very handsome, with such an astonishingly serious demeanor! The obvious intelligence with which he observes all that transpires about him might lead anyone to mistake him for a child twice his age.”

“He seems a very fine boy, but of course we are partial.”

“Nonsense! Everyone who sees him declares him the most magnificent baby ever encountered.”

“One must wonder to what degree his being the future master of Pemberley influences that perception.”

“You seem rather cross this morning, Catherine,” her mother observed. “Are you not pleased to have your sister home?”

“Pemberley is now Anne’s home, Mother, and yes, of course I am pleased to have her with us again.”

“You do not seem terribly happy about it,” Lady Cat commented smugly, settling back into the cushions of the sofa. “I suppose her presence is a reminder of your yet unmarried state?”

“It need not be, would you cease mentioning it.”

“What elder sister would not resent a younger sister of better fortune?” Lady Cat queried, paying no mind to her daughter’s complaint.

Lady Catherine put aside her work and looked seriously into her mother’s eyes. “I love my sister and my new nephew; you must know that, Mother.”

“Even the deepest affection has never been a barrier to jealousy amongst sisters, and no one would blame you for such feelings. It is only natural when Anne has made such a gratifying match, though not a noble one, and produced such a fine heir so soon.”

Lady Catherine stifled a retort, resuming her work instead of capitulating to her mother’s provocations.

“We gave you plenty of opportunity to find a match before bringing Anne out. If only you would endeavor to put yourself forward, I am certain you might have half of London at your feet.”

Lady Catherine eyed her mother skeptically. “Half of London can only see my feet, I dwarf the gentlemen so.” She patted her unpowdered hair with a hint of self-consciousness. “If only such towering wigs were not the fashion, I might fare better.”

“Ridiculous! You are barely an inch taller than I was at your age, and my height proved no hindrance to making an excellent match. You must merely smile more and flirt a little with the gentlemen. It is not so very difficult.”

“I cannot perform for strangers, Mother,” she said, concentrating fixedly on her embroidery. “They must take me as I am.”

“A serious fault in your education! I suppose I must take responsibility for that. Mrs. Spencer tried her best with you, I am sure, or as well as she could with such an unyielding personality. Anne certainly prospered under her tutelage. A lady must perform for the world. It is expected of us. After you are married, you might command things as you choose, but until that time, I do wish you would endeavor to render yourself more pleasing.” She rose with a dramatic sigh and began pacing the room. “You might at least have been more diligent towards your instrument. If you had a talent to highlight your natural nobility, as Anne does, you would show better.”

“I could not tolerate the music master, as you well know.”

“Signor Abatescianni is the most sought after harpsichord instructor in London! Your father paid a vast sum to secure him for you girls, and see how you squandered the opportunity!”

“He pinched, Mother. It was intolerable.”

“You foolish girl! What is a little pinch or prod here and there? You can expect much worse from the gentlemen in town.”

“So I have learned,” Lady Catherine tersely replied, redoubling her concentration on her work as the multiple humiliations in the wandering hands of so-called gentlemen intruded upon her memory, “but I ought not suffer such treatment from a mere musician!”

“You are entirely too nice in your notions, Catherine! Senior Abatescianni knew better than to overstep the proper boundaries. Anne never complained of him.”

“Anne’s notable talent kept his attention focused elsewhere. My plodding performance was not so distracting.”

Lady Cat stopped her pacing and directed a piercing gaze upon her daughter. “Well, that is now beside the point. Signor Abatescianni has moved on to more promising students, and you remain unmarried. I have little power over the former situation, but I intend to do something about the latter.”

Lady Catherine gazed up at her mother wearily. “And what would that be?”

“Your father has invited Sir Lewis de Bourgh to stay with us after Anne and Darcy depart.”

Lady Catherine betrayed not a trace of emotion at this announcement, returning her attention to her embroidery before replying, “I have never heard of him.”

“He is recently returned to England after several years abroad and is interested in finding an appropriate match and settling down.”

“And what is that to me?”

“Do not be impossible! You know we mean him for you! He has seen your portrait and expressed interest in making you an offer.”

If Lady Catherine nearly dropped a stitch at this announcement, no one could have detected it, so determined was her sangfroid. “I know not how he can have formed such a notion without ever having met me.”

“He has purchased an estate in Kent, Rosings Park, of great potential. The land is good, but the house is in need of improvement, and a handsome dowry would go far towards its refurbishment.”

“Ah,” Catherine replied, still without looking up. “That is his only property, I presume?”


“Then not a baronet.”

“He was knighted for diplomatic services performed for the crown while in Spain.”

She finally returned her eyes to her mother’s imperious face. “So you intend for me to wed a knight of poor estate? I suppose you really have lost all hope of anything better if this is to be my fate.”

“You have had ample opportunity to do better yourself, yet you have squandered it. Now, while Anne is still with us, she will tutor you in the performance of at least one, preferably two pieces with competence on the harpsichord that you might entertain Sir Lewis in the evenings. You recite well, so prepare some flowery pieces for his amusement. You are to put your best foot forward, my girl! I will not have you ruin yet another good prospect with your haughty ways. If Sir Lewis wishes to talk with you, you will smile and flirt with him. If he requests your company in the garden, you are to walk with him, and if his hands should wander to your person, well, it is only to be expected that he would want to inspect what he is buying before finalizing the purchase.”

“Mother!” Her composure finally rattled, Lady Catherine’s cheeks flushed at this suggestion.

Lady Cat smirked, pleased to have finally unnerved her daughter. “It is well past time you recognized the world for what is it, Catherine. Do you think you might remain aloof and distant in the marriage bed? The sooner you resign yourself to overcoming this intolerable prudery, the better for us all.”

“I cannot believe you have not pride enough to be repulsed by such notions,” Lady Catherine exclaimed. “Am I not an earl’s daughter? Ought the descendent of noble blood on both sides allow herself to be subjected to the disrespectful advances of a common man?”

“You think entirely too much of yourself, my girl, and Sir Lewis is not so common as you suggest. The family is of Norman descent and can trace their ancestry farther back than we can. His cousin, the Earl of Clanricarde, is extremely influential.”

Catherine sneered. “An Irish peer?”

“One with whom an alliance would well benefit your father!” Lady Cat threw up her hands in frustration and began pacing once more. “I do not know how else to get through to you other than promise you, Catherine, that you are not too old or proud to suffer a thorough beating should my will be thwarted in this. Do not test me! The alliance is a desirable one, and when you think on it further, you will see the advantages in marrying a man whose estate is his to dispose of as he will. You are not getting any younger. Do not spoil your chances of being properly settled in life. Now, I suggest you retire to your room to consider the matter properly.”

“Yes, Mother,” replied Lady Catherine coldly, summoning all her poise to raise gracefully and calmly exit the room. She maintained her reserved pace and demeanor as she passed through the halls, nodding in acknowledgement to the servants who curtseyed and bowed to her along the way, until she reached the sanctuary of her own rooms, where she promptly burst into tears.


Over the next several weeks, Lady Catherine was forced to practice the harpsichord for several hours daily, eat a special diet of cold meats, bathe in pigeon-water, and squeeze into a new and excruciating corset. She bore it all without complaint, though her brain was in a constant state of rebellion. She was certain she would loathe Sir Lewis, though she was determined, nonetheless, to charm him. She would not tolerate again being accused of shirking her daughterly duties, nor was she willing to bear any more of her mother’s increasingly tyrannical methods of marrying her off. If Sir Lewis proved at all tolerable, or even better, pliant, she would have him. To finally be her own mistress had become the all-consuming goal.

There was another matter that checked her mutinous impulses. If in nothing else, Lady Cat was correct on one point: Lady Catherine hated having her sister so well-established while she, the eldest, remained on the shelf. It was a terrible blow to her notable pride to yield to Anne in precedence. Sir Lewis might not be noble, but his rank was high enough to ensure that proper order was restored. A title was worth something, no matter how lowly. The world would always value a Sir above a mere Mister, no matter how great an estate he owned.

When Sir Lewis finally made his eagerly awaited appearance at the earl’s table, Lady Catherine found him more to her liking than she had imagined. Certainly, he was shorter than she, and his frame was small enough that she felt much like an Amazon beside him, but he had a good figure, carried himself with grace and dignity, and showed every symptom of infatuation with the young lady of the house. Many a more stalwart woman had capitulated to such sincere flattery as that with which the young knight daily plied her. She was, furthermore, much relieved to find that he had not the disrespectful and ambling hands her mother had ordered her to indulge. She was, therefore, perfectly at ease entertaining him in the garden on several occasions, knowing she was not in danger of molestation. Her mother’s words, on the other hand, were almost as invasive.

“He sets you up like a Juno to worship on a throne,” Lady Cat gloated one evening, perhaps under the influence of too much of the earl’s best wine. “You appear an amusing enough couple, with him being so slight beside you, but I have heard of gentlemen who quite thrive on the notion of conquering large, indomitable women like yourself. Once you are married, you might find he has unusual tastes in bed.”

“Mother!” admonished her scandalized daughter. “He has not yet declared his feelings for me in any way. Such talk is entirely premature, as well as offensive. Sir Lewis has been a thorough gentleman in all our interactions.”

“Oh yes, I can see that he has been, or your embarrassment by such talk would have eased by now. You young people are so puritanical in your notions. What a very dull world we shall have when you are in charge! With any luck, I will have seen you all married, greeted my grandchildren, and moved on before that sad day.”

The anticipated proposal took place the day before Sir Lewis’s departure. Having followed form by soliciting the earl’s permission, he proposed in the arbor, where the two often strolled. He was accepted graciously, and if the bride were not in raptures, her satisfied smile provided sufficient gratification to the young knight’s sensibilities. As his carriage lumbered away the following morning, the combined promise of an elevated marriage and bountiful dowry saw him both complacent and sanguine about his prospects.         

As for the future bride, she refused to allow herself any reservations regarding the change coming upon her in a few months’ time. The prospect of being mistress of her own home, the renovation of which Sir Lewis had promised to allow her the direction, was diverting enough to keep her mind from any sense of discontent. Further, the attention her engagement garnered from her friends was pleasing. Lady Anne sent an enthusiastic letter, complete with visions of their children playing together in the years to come. What having said children might entail was banished from Lady Catherine’s mind; she would contend with such unpleasantness when the need arose.

In the meantime, Lady Cat had mercifully left off tormenting her daughter, as her mind was more happily engaged in buying clothes and planning the wedding breakfast. Catherine let her mother have her own way in all such matters, so happily did they keep her occupied. It was left to her only to complacently accept congratulations, receive presents, and count the days until she was her own mistress and could forge herself a place in the world. She would be a wife but Lady Catherine still, and the permanence of that title and identity swathed her in an immutable sense of security, one she could carry with her into the future, always and forever.

The rest of the book has been removed for enrollment in the KDP Select program. To continue reading, please download the complete novella at Amazon.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Twisted Austen Starts Tomorrow!

Tomorrow the fun begins! Please check in everyday to read the entire story for free before it disappears. It will become available for purchase on Halloween at Amazon. You still have an opportunity to win I am Lady Catherine plus all three other Twisted Austen tales at, but the giveaway ends tomorrow so hurry up and enter if you're interested. Happy Halloween my fellow Janeites!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Win big this Twisted Austen at Austen Authors!

I'm running an international giveaway at Austen Authors. Two lucky winners will win all four Twisted Austen tales! Comment on the post to enter:

While there, check out an excerpt from this year's offering, I am Lady Catherine. The story is also now available for pre-order at Amazon.

And don't miss out on the fun right here as we countdown to Halloween with one part of I am Lady Catherine published each day from 10/24 to 10/31. Happy Halloween Janeites!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Twisted Austen 2017: I Am Lady Catherine

Twisted Austen is back! It's been two years, but I've finally adjusted enough to my trans-Atlantic move to pull together a story in celebration of Halloween. I am Lady Catherine delves into the mind of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, starting at the time when she meets and marries Sir Lewis de Bourgh and continuing through the events of Pride and Prejudice. In my opinion, this story is a bit more hilarious than horrifying, but it keeps with the notion of offering a very different look at one of Austen's classic novel. The fun begins on October 24th and lasts through Halloween, with one part of the tale posting each day. As usual, the complete story will also be released as an ebook on the 31st (it is available now for pre-order if you just can't wait). I hope you'll join me!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Four Year Anniversary Giveaway: Holidays at Pemberley

Wow! Four years ago today, Holiday at Pemberleys, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes, was published, completing my first "What if?" conception. To celebrate, all three books in the trilogy are free for Kindle at tomorrow. I just realized today was my book anniversary, or I would have been on top of this and had the giveaway scheduled for today. C'est la vie.

I'm also marking the occasion by announcing my intention to rerelease the entire series as a single volume next year. I've been meaning to do this for sometime. First Impressions, particularly, has some grievous editing problems that I've never bothered correcting. The whole thing is going to be polished up and chronologically ordered into a single tale. Not sure what the new title will be, but my money's on simply Tales of Less Pride & Prejudice, which will hopefully make it crystal clear that this is, at the end of the day, the same story, with only minor alterations. Of course, the whole project is predicated on me actually being productive postpartum (little Jack is due on January 4th). Fingers crossed I'm more focused than after Eliza's birth.

Be sure to take advantage of this offer while it lasts!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Touring Austen's Country Houses, today at Austen Authors

The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking, elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene -- the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it -- with delight. As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. 
Touring Pemberley's Interior (Sudbury Hall, Pride & Prejudice 1995)
In Jane Austen's time, it was an established matter of hospitality that great country houses could be petitioned by the public for access to their grounds and public rooms. Such tours served as a means of additional income for the housekeeper and groundsmen, who one can assume were inclined to accept or reject such requests not only in deference to the family's convenience, but also based on the seeming affluence (and likelihood of tipping) of the applicant. Obviously, Elizabeth Bennet and the fashionable Gardiners are welcomed kindly to Pemberley, the same manner in which they were presumably greeted at the many other houses they are said to visit during their time in Derbyshire. It is during the tour that Elizabeth's feelings towards Mr. Darcy begin to undergo a radical change. His good taste and the testimony of Mrs. Reynolds in his favor all act to increase her opinion of his character. Indeed, throughout Austen, a man's home reflects who he is and what he values. We are privy to three thorough house tours in the six main novels, each of which illuminates the strengths and failures of their owners.

Pemberley is perhaps such an idealized place because Mr. Darcy, despite his crusty introduction, proves to be such an ideal man. In his late-father's favorite room, we see that Mr. Darcy has preserved it in his honor, even thought this means keeping a miniature of George Wickham, certainly distressing to both him and his sister, on display. We also observe his affection for his sister, both in the new pianoforte he has purchased for her, and in the care taken in having the room she favors redecorated: "On reaching the spacious lobby above, they were shewn into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley." Upon the tour's conclusion, Elizabeth has an entirely new notion of Mr. Darcy, as revealed when she seeks out and studies his portrait:

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (Pride & Prejudice, 1995)
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship! -- How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow! -- How much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression. 
What a very different notion we receive of Mr. Rushworth, when his mother conducts the guests from Mansfield Park about Sotherton Court! We already know him to be rather trifling. As Edmund Bertram succinctly puts it, "If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow." We also can judge him by the fact that he is happy, maybe even relieved, to entirely turn over the task of improving his estate to a near stranger, Mr. Crawford. Certainly, Mr. Darcy would never treat the grounds of Pemberley in so cavalier a manner. It further diminishes Mr. Rushworth's dignity that the man in whom he confides this trust is a rival for his betrothed's hand, but these damning facts aside, let's just examine what actually happens on the tour and how it reflects the man:
The whole party rose accordingly, and under Mrs. Rushworth's guidance were shewn through a number of rooms, all lofty, and many large, and amply furnished in the taste of fifty years back, with shining floors, solid mahogany, rich damask, marble, gilding, and carving, each handsome in its way. Of pictures there were abundance, and some few good, but the larger part were family portraits, no longer anything to anybody but Mrs. Rushworth, who had been at great pains to learn all that the housekeeper could teach, and was now almost equally well qualified to shew the house.
Two major points are here revealed. The first is that Mr. Rushworth entirely concedes the tour to his mother's direction, much in the same way he does his life. As mistress of the house, it is fitting that Mrs. Rushworth lead the tour, but a more engaged landowner would surely have something substantive to contribute. Secondly, we learn that the house and furnishings were once the property of another family, who presumably sold it off lock, stock, and barrel after falling upon hard times. That the Rushworths' have added no portraits of their own to the collection suggests they have no familial history of which to brag, indicating low origins supplemented by wealth, presumably gained through trade. Austen is not so terribly elitist that a made fortune renders a family unworthy (Mr. Bingley and Captain Wentworth are both prime examples of her egalitarianism), and Mr. Rushworth is obviously at least a few generations removed from the "taint" of trade, but it does, nevertheless, further weaken an already flawed character. The man and house are also diminished by its low situation, devoid of the fine prospects to be commanded from each of Pemberley's windows:

Pemberley's Exterior (Lyme Park, Pride & Prejudice 1995)

The situation of the house excluded the possibility of much prospect from any of the rooms; and while Fanny and some of the others were attending Mrs. Rushworth, Henry Crawford was looking grave and shaking his head at the windows. Every room on the west front looked across a lawn to the beginning of the avenue immediately beyond tall iron palisades and gates.

Having visited many more rooms than could be supposed to be of any other use than to contribute to the window-tax, and find employment for housemaids, "Now," said Mrs. Rushworth, "we are coming to the chapel, which properly we ought to enter from above, and look down upon; but as we are quite among friends, I will take you in this way, if you will excuse me."
They entered. Fanny's imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. "I am disappointed," said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. "This is not my idea of a chapel." 
Even Fanny Price, who barely dares offer criticism elsewhere, can speak confidently about Sotherton's deficiencies. The house is as opposite Pemberley's perfections as it could be, both "gaudy" and "uselessly fine," as made clear by the abundance of windows. Those descriptives are intended to juxtapose Pemberley's "real elegance" to that of Rosings Park, which, interestingly, is the only other house in all of Austen whose description invokes a reference to the window tax, a property tax determined by how many windows a house possessed. In Mansfield Park, Austen dismisses Sotherton's many and prospectless windows as mere pretension. In Pride and Prejudice, it is Mr. Collins who displays an absurd pride in Rosings "by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis De Bourgh."

Hugh Bonneville (aka the Earl of Grantham) as Mr. Rushworth (Mansfield Park 1999)

Such pretension seems the perfect introduction to Austen's third house tour: Northanger Abbey, home of the insidious General Tilney. This is the most complete and detailed of the tours (appropriate, as the novel takes its name from the place), revealing much about the General's character. As Mrs. Rushworth's dominant presence during the Sotherton tour reflects her relationship to her son, so does General Tilney's usurpation of his daughter's right to conduct her guest about the house and grounds demonstrate the total authority he seeks to yield over his children: "Something had been said the evening before of her being shewn over the house, and he now offered himself as her conductor; and though Catherine had hoped to explore it accompanied only by his daughter, it was a proposal of too much happiness in itself, under any circumstances, not to be gladly accepted." Yet even Catherine Morland's enthusiasm for an abbey is totally overwhelmed by the General's determination to show off his possessions, and indeed, it is he who provides all the desired admiration he intends to excite:
They set forward; and, with a grandeur of air, a dignified step, which caught the eye, but could not shake the doubts of the well-read Catherine, he led the way across the hall, through the common drawing-room and one useless antechamber, into a room magnificent both in size and furniture -- the real drawing-room, used only with company of consequence. -- It was very noble -- very grand -- very charming! -- was all that Catherine had to say, for her indiscriminating eye scarcely discerned the colour of the satin; and all minuteness of praise, all praise that had much meaning, was supplied by the General: the costliness or elegance of any room's fitting-up could be nothing to her; she cared for no furniture of a more modern date than the fifteenth century. When the General had satisfied his own curiosity, in a close examination of every well-known ornament, they proceeded into the library, an apartment, in its way, of equal magnificence, exhibiting a collection of books, on which an humble man might have looked with pride. 
Stoneleigh Abbey, believed by many to be the inspiration for Sotherton Court 

As the tour proceeds, we see that unlike Mr. Rushworth, General Tilney has taken a managing hand in everything pertaining to his home. His pride in his work is so acute that he cannot perceive how little such details matter to his audience, and he is determined, with military precision, to account for every dimension and each improvement:
From the dining-room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen at five o'clock, the General could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out the length, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what she neither doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to the kitchen -- the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls and smoke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. The General's improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention to facilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, their spacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had often produced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent. 
His persistence in flouting his family's prosperity is so complete that General Tilney totally misses the fact that modern conveniences mean absolutely nothing to Catherine, who would far prefer it were the Abbey in some half-ruinous state, more in keeping with her notions of Gothic grandeur.
With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourth side of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been removed by the General's father, and the present erected in its place. All that was venerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itself to be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable-yards, no uniformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the General allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland's, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. 
Liam Cunningham (aka Sir Davos) as General Tilney (Northanger Abbey 2007)

We see that the General not only has no notion of what might please Catherine, but that he also has formed entirely faulty conceptions of what she values (later, he proves similarly mistaken in her monetary value). Surely, after it's suggested, Catherine can acknowledge that modern conveniences in the kitchen and offices greatly benefit the staff that must toil within them, but it does not decrease her sense of loss for what was swept away to make room for such accommodations:
The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an Abbey! -- How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about -- from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost.
Let us stop to note what Catherine misses in her chagrin with the General's improvements: the rather suspicious activities of the many maidservants and inappropriately attired footmen. The General may pay scrupulous attention to the accoutrements of his house, so much of which he claims is for the benefit of his servants, but the morality of his staff seems beyond his notice. It is in keeping with the way he presents a false picture to the world, concealing his true character: domineering, materialistic, and rapacious.

Northanger Abbey (Lismore Castle, Northanger Abbey 2007)

They returned to the hall, that the chief stair-case might be ascended, and the beauty of its wood, and ornaments of rich carving might be pointed out: having gained the top, they turned in an opposite direction from the gallery in which her room lay, and shortly entered one on the same plan, but superior in length and breadth. She was here shewn successively into three large bed-chambers, with their dressing-rooms, most completely and handsomely fitted up; everything that money and taste could do, to give comfort and elegance to apartments, had been bestowed on these; and, being furnished within the last five years, they were perfect in all that would be generally pleasing, and wanting in all that could give pleasure to Catherine. As they were surveying the last, the General, after slightly naming a few of the distinguished characters by whom they had at times been honoured, turned with a 
smiling countenance to Catherine, and ventured to hope that henceforward some of their earliest tenants might be "our friends from Fullerton." She felt the unexpected compliment, and deeply regretted the impossibility of thinking well of a man so kindly disposed towards herself, and so full of civility to all her family.
The gallery was terminated by folding doors, which Miss Tilney, advancing, had thrown open, and passed through, and seemed on the point of doing the same by the first door to the left, in another long reach of gallery, when the General, coming forwards, called her hastily, and, as Catherine thought, rather angrily back, demanding whether she were going? -- And what was there more to be seen? -- Had not Miss Morland already seen all that could be worth her notice? -- And did she not suppose her friend might be glad of some refreshment after so much exercise? Miss Tilney drew back directly, and the heavy doors were closed upon the mortified Catherine, who, having seen, in a momentary glance beyond them, a narrower passage, more numerous openings, and symptoms of a winding stair-case, believed herself at last within the reach of something worth her notice; and felt, as she unwillingly paced back the gallery, that she would rather be allowed to examine that end of the house than see all the finery of all the rest.

Excessively gracious one moment and cold and forbidding the next, the General's tour of the Abbey portends much of what we learn of him (and his eldest son) as the novel progresses. Like his home, he has gilded his exterior to hide the decay beneath. Even the innocent Catherine can see there is falsity behind such display, though she imagines him guilty of even worse than his real and rather commonplace sins. It is all there for the divining reader to uncover in the house tour.

Many other country houses feature prominently in Austen's novels and most provide an accurate reflection of their owners' personalities. Prosperous Donwell Abbey is the embodiment of Mr. Knightley, just as the forsaken Kellynch Hall symbolizes Sir Walter Elliot's failures as a father and landowner. Yet it is in her three house tours that Austen really draws concise correlations between estates and their masters, capitalizing upon these scenes to provide complete character sketches of the gentlemen in question. It is a brilliant use of narrative, but I admit I am rather relieved the authoress can't knock on my door and request to inspect the premises. One can only imagine what devastating conclusions she would draw! On that note, I think I'll go clean my bathrooms ...

Friday, September 8, 2017

Jane Austen's Juvenilia, today at Austen Authors

It's my day again at Austen Authors! Come check out a post introducing the young Jane's earliest effusions of fancy:

Volume the First
My mind is well-entrenched in an article I’m writing for the October edition of Pride & Possibilities, the periodical of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (a fabulous non-profit, for those of you unfamiliar with it, promoting literacy endeavors worldwide and founded by Austen’s descendent, Caroline Jane Knight). My subject is the radical nature of Austen’s childhood writings, or juvenilia, and it occurred to me that these earliest recordings of her brilliance have been seldom discussed here. So while I’m in the zone, I thought I’d provide something of an introduction to the topic.

Between the ages of eleven and seventeen, Austen filled three volumes with her productions, simply titled Volume the FirstVolume the Second, and Volume the Third. These volumes are composed of not just “novels” (which she insistently calls them, despite the very short length of most), several of which are composed in the epistolary style, but also plays, a poem, and even a revisionist history, the work of “a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian.” The latter is probably the most famous of all her juvenilia: A History of England (lines from which I stuck in the mouth of the Mouse in my latest book, Darcy in Wonderland), featuring illustrations by her sister, Cassandra. The British Library has digitized the original manuscript so you can flip through it online. You can read it in Austen’s own hand, or, as her handwriting is a bit difficult to decipher, listen to an audio recording. Do check it out, as it is an amazing resource:
Volume the Second
Generally, it is Volume the Second that is best known, probably because it was published several years before the other two were made publicly available (1922 and 1954, respectively). It includes not just The History of England, but also the epistolary novel Love and Freindship (Austen’s spelling), which gave its name to last year’s film production of Lady Susan. Austen numbered the pages of the volume throughout, which is how we know she removed twelve of them sometime before writing the contents page. You can read the entire volume in Austen’s handwriting (with handy transcriptions for each page) at Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, an extensive collection of online facsimiles of Austen’s original manuscripts, including Lady Susan, the unfinished novels, Susan (which later became Northanger Abbey), and Persuasion. It’s such a thrill to read these works in Austen’s own hand! Here are direct links to the three volumes of her Juvenilia:
Personally, I find Volume the First the most interesting. It is in the worst repair, which is maybe why it wasn’t published earlier, or maybe it was just too different from her beloved novels for fans and academics to process. As Austen continued to pursue her writing, her father must have found that her productions warranted a better repository than their first, calfskin-bound home. Volume the Second and Volume the Third are bound in white vellum, and Austen wrote in the front on the former, “Ex dono mei Patris,” which means the gift of my father. Volume the Third contains more ambitious work – a completed epistolary novel, Evelyn, and an unfinished novel, Catherine, or the Bower – and Reverend Austen wrote inside, “Effusions of Fancy by a very Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new.” “Entirely new” is right! As I argue in the article I’m writing, nothing similar emerged in literature for more than a hundred years, when writers became far more experimental in the 20th century. Austen’s youthful voice is outrageously absurd, morally ambivalent, and insatiably hilarious. It is in that first volume that these qualities are most apparent, which is probably why I return to it over and over again.
Volume the Third
I’ve referenced one of my favorite pieces, Henry and Eliza, in a previous post. Actually, I transcribed the entire thing to this blog, so please do check it out: On my own blog, I wrote about and transcribed the text of the short but fabulous The Beautifull Cassandra (read it here: And four years ago, for Austen in August at The Book Rat (an excellent annual event that only just wrapped up), I wrote about and transcribed Amelia Webster (read it here: Lots of Volume the First ramblings for you to explore. I strongly encourage anyone who can’t get enough Jane Austen to purchase one of the many collections of her minor works that include the juvenilia. These writings are an incredible treasure, giving us unique insight into Austen’s mind and personality. We see glimpses of the writer she would become, but even more, in these less polished products, intended for the entertainment of her family and friends rather than publication, we get a sense of who she really was. Thank goodness Cassandra didn’t decide to burn the three volumes along with so many of Austen’s letters, despite the fact that they show us a very different Austen than that of the image so carefully honed by her family postmortem. I assume they meant far too much to her sister to destroy. They were an intimate part of who she was.