Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Austen in Walking Land

Burghley House - Rosings Park 2005
How wonderful to be included in the Austenesque Extravaganza, hosted by Austenesque Reviews! Thank you so much, Meredith, for both allowing me to participate and also for kindly scheduling me at the end of the month, giving me a few extra weeks to adapt to new motherhood. I have tried to switch back into my normal Austen/Austenesque obsessed state, but right not even dear Jane can garner my attention: life is all about baby. So as the month kicked off and I still had no notion what this post would be about, I had good reason to fear that my offering would be pitiful indeed. Instead, I found a delightful new method of incorporating Austen into my life! It is my pleasure to be able to invite you to join my wonderful daughter and I as we take our morning walk through the neighborhood - a seemingly magical place where all of Austen's characters reside in close proximity to each other, regardless of geographical boundaries. One just steps out my door and proceeds southwest to encounter the sprawling grounds of Rosings Park (Lady Catherine is so kind as to provide common land). We can pursue the very paths which Elizabeth explored while visiting in Kent. I believe I might even have identified the grove in which Mr. Darcy gives her his letter. It is not long before the house itself comes in sight. We walk along the park's handsome gate, the numerous chimneys, certainly connected to impressive chimney-pieces, casting shadows across our path. Several carriages. To the right of the house, Hunsford Parsonage comes into sight. We pass directly by Mr. Collins' book room, from where he can see all the comings and goings at the Park. As we turn the corner and stop to admire his gardening skills (such healthful exercise!), we can spot the window of Mrs. Collins' backward facing parlor.

Groombridge Place - Longbourn 2005
Remarkable to discover that on the very next corner the county of Devonshire is to be found! Nevertheless, there is Barton Cottage, right down to the casement windows which Sir John favors speaking through to waiting at the door. Though an orderly house, the grounds are highly picturesque, and I can see the Dashwood ladies making themselves perfectly comfortable in it. For some unknown reason, Mrs. Dashwood's improvements have included painting the facade blue, a poor choice I fear. The ladies are in good company, for as we proceed here is Longbourn on our left. Though the park is small, there is the "prettyish kind of a little wilderness" to one side. Maybe someday we will be allowed to explore it in search of the hermitage Mrs. Bennet recommends to Lady Catherine.

Sheldon Manor - Uppercross 2007
While the presence of Devonshire and Hertfordshire on the very same block might be disconcerting, it is highly orderly that Somersetshire adjourn the former. Conveniently, here on our right, we find the Great House at Uppercross, with its "high walls, great gates, and old trees," while almost directly across the way lies the Cottage, complete with veranda and French windows. Directly passed this modernized edifice we again skip counties (please ignore the presence of Tara on our left, as it is not relevant), landing squarely in Surrey. The younger Musgrove branch has amiable neighbors in the residents at Randalls, who in turn couldn't be more happily situated than precisely where they are, directly behind Hartfield. That house has also undergone improvement, for Mr. Woodhouse was so concerned about the ordeal his horses endured each time they journeyed forth to Randalls that he relocated the sweep drive onto his own grounds, thereby saving them all the trouble. Across the street lies Donwell Abbey, which I must say is my favorite of all the homes, "rambling and irregular" though it be, especially when compared with the orderliness Hartfield. The view is particularly breathtaking, as it overlooks sprawling park land.
Broughton Castle - Donwell Abbey 1995 (ITV)

Not unlike the Royal Crescent in Bath, in that they loop around adjacent park land, we have arrived at a strip of particularly fine houses, in which some of our most affluent characters reside. After Hartfield and Donwell we encounter Norland Park (Marianne will be pleased to know that despite the improvements enacted by her brother, there are still ample quantities of leaves to admire, all of which are sure to die in time). Next we pass Kellynch, so fashionably situated. Everything, by the way, looks ship shape under the Crofts' stewardship, as might be expected. Then comes Netherfield Hall, rounding out this impressive address. We are left to traverse a comparative social wasteland. Lovely houses abound, but none are of any import but Rosings, which we are again passing on our right (whether or not the presence of Rosings actually does anything to rectify the social void is an issue that will not here be addressed). Eventually, we find ourselves at Fullerton, fronted by a perfect hill for the children to roll down. Soon we turn right, but before we do let us look southeast, for one can just make out Northanger Abbey. It is worth investigating, but considerably out of our way. If you should ever venture in that direction, be sure to note the windows. Yes, they are indeed disappointingly modern in their functionality, but the form is unquestionably Gothic.

Kirby Hall - Mansfield Park 1999
We proceed along into the orderly village of Mansfield. Here is the Park on our left, nice and tidy. Almost immediately to its right you see the parsonage. Note the evergreens. Farther along, also on the left, we come upon Mrs. Norris' White House - just one spare room for a friend. Here is a surprise, for this is surely the Elton's parsonage on our right, instantly recognizable by the sharpness of the corner upon which it stands. Very gentlemanly, if a bit showy. Perhaps we have entered into a clerical neighborhood, for here a block up we find Woodston. Mr. Tilney must have his capable hands full, for in the smaller homes across the street one must surely find the Price's Portsmouth home, and there, above the shop on the corner, is the house where the Bates' reside.  I am sure Miss Bates and Mrs. Tilney are great friends.

If one were to head North from here and continue for quite a distance, one might happen upon Pemberley. Little Girl and I have not yet ventured so far, and sometimes I wonder if we ever shall or even should. We have driven by, of course, and ache to get a closer glimpse. The house is spectacularly magnificent, so much we can ascertain, and the knowledge that an exploration of its grounds could only surpass our expectations is a wonderful assurance to have, but I still hesitate to undertake the journey. Pemberley, perhaps, should not be so much a concrete location as a place of dreams. Besides, the Darcys can always visit Longbourn or Netherfield. Maybe we'll even cross their path one day.

Montacute House - Cleveland 1995
We turn right, and right again, in order to start the walk back towards home. As we proceed we pass Cleveland, identifiable due to the presence of the pagoda, which sits just across the street from Combe Magna (it seems Mrs. Palmer was more correct in her estimation regarding the distance between these two estates than was her husband). We are almost back at Rosings, but before we reach it we must stop and admire the house that stands directly behind it. A stone building, situated in the old style upon a sheltered grove, it is almost eclipsed by the flashiness of Rosings until one pauses to examine the place. The slopping lawns are unadorned but still beautiful, and while the house can boast only a reasonable number of chimneys and windows, the wealth of the proprietor can nevertheless be perceived in the tasteful elegance of the property. This is Tegginton, seat of the Stratton family and future home to one of the heroines in my next novel Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Continues. I will not reveal anymore on that subject now, except to remark that the hero's association with Lady Catherine should be not be held against him, and to confess that the baby and I spend a great deal of time in contemplation of this house, which we find very much to our liking. It is time to return home now and have our morning nap. Thank you for joining us on out walk! We do it everyday the weather allows and are always happy to enjoy the company of Janeites, so please consider this an open invitation to accompany us whenever your imagination allows. 

Don't forget that every time you comment on any post related to the Extravaganza, you have another opportunity to enter the Amazing Austenesque Giveaway! Do you ever dream that the homes in your neighborhood house characters from your favorite books? Do you think the Crofts would find Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood to be desirable neighbors? Or for that matter, how would Mr. Knightley deal with this couple on a daily basis? I think he might have a very decided opinion about Mr. Dashwoods intention to enclose the parkland, don't you?

Burghley House - http://www.hha.org.uk/Property/223/Burghley-House
Groombridge Place - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/170963

Sheldon Manor - http://drmikesheldon.org/Gen/genresources04.html
Broughton Castle - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatpicturegalleries/7472910/Jane-Austens-England.html?image=11
Kirby Hall - http://felicelog.blogspot.com/2010/07/mansfield-park-1999-photo-gallery.html
Montacute House - http://www.talktalk.co.uk/travel/features/silver_screen.html

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mr. Bennet Visits Netherfield Park

"Mr. Bennet, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," pronounced the young man with a warm smile, his complexion ruddy from a morning in the saddle. "Do sit down, please."

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Bingley. Thank you." Mr. Bennet chose a chintz chair that was as familiar as the man in front of him was strange, having known the set during the reign of Netherfield's former occupants, and settled himself to be amused at the newcomer's expense. If his years had taught him to trust anything implicitly, it was that the addition of a new and eligible young person to a society was sure to be excessively diverting. "I bid you welcome to the neighborhood and offer my assistance, if I can in anyway provide it, in helping you settle."

"Thank you, Mr. Bennet, that is quite kind of you, but matters are well in hand. The greatest service you might do me was already been performed when you paid me the honor of calling," he declared enthusiastically, exposing a boyish grin.

"So word of my daughters has proceeded me, has it?" Mr. Bingley crimsoned slightly, but seeing nothing but humor in his guest's face, nodded good-naturedly in agreement. "It would be astonishing to learn that it was my company so sought in this country, and not that of five pretty maids, but as we need never put the question to the test, I'm willing to concede that the honor I impart by merely calling suffices for hospitality."

Mr. Bingley laughed, "As you should, Mr. Bennet. Surely you acknowledge that a large family of ladies is always an asset to a neighborhood?"

"Oh come now, Mr. Bingley!" Mr. Bennet shrewdly replied. "I challenge you to ask the mothers of other unmarried women that question. My answer concurs with theirs."

"I suppose I need only apply to my sister, who is rather jealous of all female company," he laughingly conceeded. "Dear me! What utter nonsense have I been proposing? I certainly should have qualified my question as pertaining to the bachelor's perspective."

"My wife would have it that you move here precisely to accommodate the neighborhood by distinguishing one of its daughters with your hand. Beware, Mr. Bingley. You will certainly be the darling of every matchmaker in Hertfordshire. Though the prospect of a society teeming with young ladies might seem, on the surface, to your taste, I am not sure your lot is so very enviable."

"Yes, Mr. Darcy, a good friend, warned me that might be the case, and of all men he certainly should know. He will be joining me here when I collect my two sisters and brother from London. An excellent man, and a far more exciting prospect for scheming mamas than my insignificant self. I plan on enjoying what company the neighborhood has to offer, Mr. Bennet, both male and female, as I am of a sociable disposition, but my chief purpose in Hertfordshire is to establish the family on a country estate, as my father had planned to before his death. Therefore, you may rest assured that my conduct will always be that of the gentleman he raised."

"Your reassurance must be appreciated by a man in my position," replied an amused Mr. Bennet. "I find your affability most refreshing. You will certainly raise quite a stir in my household, never mind how grand your Mr. Darcy may be. Forgive me if I do not share the details of our meeting with their eager ears, but I shall hear of nothing else if I do."

"Not at all. I shall look forward to meeting the entire family, sir. Will you be attending the next assembly in Meryton? Sir William Lucas was so kind as to invite my party."

"Sir William is nothing but gracious, and yes, the ladies are sure to be in attendance, though I will seize the opportunity of enjoying a quiet evening alone with my books," he smiled as he rose.

"I think you and Mr. Darcy share many tastes in common. It will be a pleasure to introduce you once he arrives, as it was making your acquaintance this morning, Mr. Bennet."

"And yours, Mr. Bingley. Welcome to the neighborhood." They parted amicable, the enthusiasm of the young man and the cynicism of the elder having done little soil the appreciation of each for the other.

As Mr. Bennet rode home to Longbourn, he reflected with a wry smile on how his wife would respond were he to tell her that not one but two unmarried gentlemen were soon to be in their midst. Such good fortune was sure to completely over set a good many of the ladies in his household, and though the accompanying fervor would try his patience, he looked forward with no small degree of anticipation to the amusement such circumstances were sure to provide. After all, other than causing a great deal of commotion, the arrival of the gentlemen was highly unlikely to alter life at Longbourn, for what had such town swells to do with his brood? Lack of fortune, while leaving the future unpredictable, certainly had its compensations. How excellent to be able to sit back and observe the follies of humanity, secure in the knowledge that one is safe from their influence!

Images borrowed from kellynch.com

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sass & Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler

Upon receiving an email from Jennifer Ziegler's publicist, asking if I would be interested in reviewing her new young adult novel inspired by Sense & Sensibility, I was happy to agree for three reasons: 1) with the new baby, young adult lit conforms to my attention span, 2) the book would count towards my completion of the Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge, and 3) I love free books. Sass & Serendipity fulfilled my expectations, providing me with a quick and easy read - the perfect source of light entertainment while breast pumping (about the only time I have the opportunity to read these days). Though the book bears little resemblance to Austen's novel, except in its focuses on two sisters of differing personalities, it kept me engaged and amused, a rather impressive feat when one considers that I could barely tolerate the main characters.

Gabby and Daphne live in the imaginary Texan town of Barton with their divorcee mom. Gabby, the older sister, copes with her extreme anger at her father and feelings of abandonment following her parent's divorce, emotions that have left her bitter and alienated from everyone in the town except her best friend, Mule. Daphne, on the other hand, is peppy and popular, having managed to maintain a rather naive sense of romantic idealism in spite of her broken home life. The story focuses on Gabby dropping the chip on her shoulder, while Daphne gains a more realistic perspective on love and romance.

Though Daphne's story does in ways resemble Marianne Dashwood's experience, Gabby, while cast as the "responsible" sister, is nothing at all like Elinor. Instead of inspiring admiration, I actually found myself hating her, as her negative energy taints everything around her. She continuously accuses Daphne of selfishness when she is equally so, revealing herself to be completely lacking in Elinor's self-perception and consideration. Daphne too, while more tolerable than Gabby, lacks the intelligence and conviction that makes Marianne so appealing in spite of her flaws. However, there is a chance this criticism is unfair. I usually avoid young adult novels, as they tend to be a bit emotionally transparent for my taste, and perhaps that is what really bothers me about these characters. Those who enjoy the genre might be more tolerant.

For me the bottom line is that if Sass & Serendipity inspires a young reader to pick up Austen's first novel, it is worth its weight in gold, but for those already familiar with her masterpieces of literature, this book doesn't particularly add to ones appreciation. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning of this post, it was the perfect light read for me to pick up and put down again when able to grab those few moments available to me. I recommend it to any of you who find yourselves in similar circumstances and need something to just pick up now again.