Saturday, July 9, 2011

Austenesque Extravaganza at Austenesque Reviews

I'm so pleased to finally be able to tell you all about the spectacular event being planned by one of my very favorite bloggers, Meredith of Austenesque Reviews. Austenesque Extravaganza is a "month long celebration of Austenesque novels and writers ... each day of the week will have a different theme and event, like a weekly twitter party with several Austenesque authors." Meredith has lined up nearly 50 writers to participate in this unique event, including myself, and it is sure to be a fabulous blog tour. The party starts in August, so mark your calenders. You won't want to miss this one!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton

Before I commence this review, I must apologize in advance for not doing the book justice. You see, I read it over a month ago, in that long ago, pre-mommy time, but never got to writing the review. Though I can fully attest to the novel's ability to distract and sooth at a most apprehensive time, I'm afraid I forgot some of the finer details of the plot. I hope readers will, nevertheless, find the following valuable.

Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman is a classic "What if?" reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. Maria Hamilton begins her story as Darcy and Fitzwilliam depart from Rosings, the former devastated by Elizabeth's scathing rejection of his hand. The plot veers when our hero decides to rectify some of the wrongs Elizabeth accused him of by returning to Netherfield in order to ascertain if Jane Bennet really does have deep feelings for Mr. Bingley. From this first humbling decision, Darcy pursues a course designed to improve his own temper and win Elizabeth's heart. The book follows the couple through courtship, providing a highly pleasant sojourn (despite one explicit scene, which I could have done without) within the world Jane Austen created.

One amusing consequence of Darcy's inquiries into Jane's heart is the inevitable misconstruction Mrs. Bennet places upon his actions, the consequences of which are obvious. Another fun twist arises from Ms. Hamilton's construction of a rival for Elizabeth's hand in the form of John Lucas. Darcy attends a summer assembly (an unusual occurrence) in Meryton, providing him with an explicit opportunity to reform his past behavior. I thought this scene between the two gentlemen, fueled by Mrs. Bennet's gossip, particularly interesting:
"What intrigues me is your offensive movement to this unguarded position. Clearly, something has drawn you out. You must be seeking something or someone already on the dance floor." Seeing Darcy color and the set of his jaw tighten, it was John Lucas's turn to retreat. "Please, do not worry. I have only said as much because that is why I am here as well." Looking significantly from Darcy to where Jane was dancing, he added, "I am no threat. While she is very beautiful, my tastes run elsewhere."

Darcy was in a quandary. He was relieved that his real purpose was not revealed, but upset that he may have unwittingly added fuel to any gossip about himself and Miss Bennet. If he denied that Miss Bennet was the reason for his coming over, it might open up speculation as to what it was he had been doing. John Lucas seemed to clever to let the matter drop so easily. Hoping to avoid further comment on the subject, Darcy turned the tables and asked, "And where do your tastes run?" 

"Ah, a direct question. A brilliant strategy. I see I was right in seeking you out. You also reject the confines of social rules.We must play chess someday. I will reward your boldness with a response." Looking significantly at Elizabeth, he said, "I find her sister most appealing."

Trying to hide his intense and conflicting emotions, Darcy asked, "You must be well acquainted then."

"Oh, yes, I have known her since she was a girl.But our dispositions are too similar. I often provoke her. I doubt she will accept my invitation to dance; I recently enraged her by disagreeing with her about a passage from a play we had both read. But I have reread the entire book and am armed with evidence that my position is superior. I will attempt to dazzle her with my wit and undoubtedly will leave defeated. But a man must always make an effort. Do you not agree?"
So much for books being inappropriate in a ballroom! The novel is full of both familiar (Miss Bingley's role is particularly gratifying) and new twists and turns that drag out our time with this most beloved couple, providing yet another new path to their ultimate happiness. I recommend this sweet retelling to all of you who can never get enough of Elizabeth and Darcy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mansfield Park Janeicillin: Part One

Many pens have been charged with dwelling on guilt and misery, so I shall not lament the fact that it falls to my lot to take up that well-honed task, my explicit purpose being to thwart impatience and explore precisely how everyone – those not greatly at fault and those who are thoroughly guilty – might be punished or restored to tolerable comfort, as befits their fate. Along the way I will have the fortunate gratification of exploring how the truly worthy might discover something a bit better than mere contentment, giving me the pleasure of consigning them, instead, to perfect happiness, but first I must confront those players who are fully deserving of all the misery I can dole out.

I begin with those unfortunate creatures who will never again enjoy the comfort and niceties of life at Mansfield Park. Some might consider such banishment from that house's hallowed halls ample punishment for any crime, no matter how extreme, but the world has its ways of making the sinful pay two fold for their misdeeds. Mrs. Rushworth, deprived of those honors conveyed upon her by marriage and having forsaken those that, as Miss Bertram, she had been born into to and so long taken for granted, was certainly responsible for her own downfall. While no one could rightly argue that she had not only brought this fate upon herself, but also magnified it by her refusal to abandon her lover, as her father most urgently begged her to, some pity, as difficult as it might be to excite, must be reserved for the greatest sufferer in this tale. Regardless of her misdeeds, when comparing her lot to that of her partner in iniquity, we must acknowledge that an unfair bulk of the consequences were to be endured by her alone. No matter how much credit we give to a man of sense, such as Mr. Crawford, to provide for himself no small portion of vexation and regret for having so lost the woman whom he had rationally as well as passionately loved, his exemption from the punishment of public disgrace, which should in a just measure attend his share of the offense, must go a long way in providing him with undeserved consolation. Indeed, as his cohabitation with Mrs. Rushworth proved increasingly unendurable, he made ready use of those resources of society that were available to him, yet not her, in order to escape the discomforts of his home. As he fled her presence with increasing frequency, and her obstinate and fruitless hopes that he would someday marry her began to evaporate, her wretchedness became unquestionable. She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happiness in Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him than that she had divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mind in such a situation?

As if rejection and exile were not sufficient sources of mortification, Maria Rushworth's woes were further compounded by that of uncongenial company. For who was to be her chaperone in disgrace but that most vile creation of our beloved authoress: the abhorrent Aunt Norris. Although admittedly an altered creature by the tragedies that had befallen the Bertram family – quiet, stupefied, and indifferent to everything that passed – she was not so very changed as to have learned to improve her temper and ways, rendering her departure from Mansfield, though not conducive to Maria's comfort, a great relief to those who remained at the house. No compassion will be invoked for this character, who never herself thought to feel a twinge of sympathy for those whose concerns were not her own. That desperately valued regard from Sir Thomas which had so long provided her with place and position was deservedly withdrawn, rendering the aging lady embittered and discontent. She was forced to fruitlessly pursue a similar place in the heart of her favorite niece, with whom no amount of flattery and favor had ever succeeded, at the best of times, in creating a reciprocal attachment. Shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment. Let us now leave these gloomy considerations . We have more deserving destinies to contemplate.

If pity can be justly apportioned, let the lion's share be conveyed upon Sir Thomas. Poor Sir Thomas! So determined to be a good father, yet so mistaken in his methodology. And worse yet, rational enough to accept his share of fault when the consequences of his approach were made manifest. No one remaining at Mansfield evoked such sympathy, for Lady Bertram lacked the mental powers to agonize longer than her own discomfort remained, Tom Bertram only ached in body, not mind, and if Edmund endured heartache at the loss of Mary Crawford, it was to be of very short duration indeed. But for Sir Thomas, as a parent, and conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, it was rather inevitable that he be the longest to suffer. Nevertheless, his was not to be an inconsolable fate. Relief was found in Julia's match proving a less desperate business than he had considered it at first. She was humble, and wishing to be forgiven; and Mr. Yates, desirous of being really received into the family, was disposed to look up to him and be guided. There was comfort also in Tom, who gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits. He was the better for ever for his illness. And let us not underestimate the good to be derived from Mrs. Norris' departure. Her removal from Mansfield was the great supplementary comfort of Sir Thomas's life. To be relieved from her was so great a felicity that, had she not left bitter remembrances behind her, there might have been danger of his learning almost to approve the evil which produced such a good.

So cheer was not forever banished from Mansfield Park. Though the bulk of the residents were, for a time, as unhappy as they had ever been, solace was not unattainable, and for at least two members of the household, happiness was available in abundance. Shall we blame the two Price ladies for being merry amidst such despondency? Susan, whose lack of previous attachment to the family at Mansfield provides ample exoneration for her feelings, was elevated to a state of bliss she had never previously known. Her escape from the bad environment that was her Portsmouth home fully explains such spirits, and those who would accuse her of lack of familial duty I dismiss as either blind or unfeeling, particularly as those relatives who should have held such prominence in her heart certainly did not mourn for her lost presence. In regards to our heroine, of whom it has often been suggested by the critical that she is a creature too good to be attractive, let this moment counter that argument, for Fanny was, at this desolate time, very happy in spite of all that she felt, or thought she felt, for the distress of those around her. She had sources of delight that must force their way. She was returned to Mansfield Park, she was useful, she was beloved, she was safe from Mr. Crawford, and when Sir Thomas came back she had every proof that could be given in his then melancholy state of spirits, of his perfect approbation and increased regard. Furthermore, happy as all this must make her, she would still have been happy without any of it, for Edmund was no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford. Of course, she had the sensibility to not demonstrate her peace of mind, particularly to that gentleman whose concerns she most valued. To have openly rejoiced would have been to alienate Edmund, thereby depriving him, and us, of the joyful ending about to unfold.