Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kindle Edition of Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid Available Now

I had intended to announce the publication of Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid on Kindle with a great deal of pomp, it being a surprise I saved for after the final post of the story, but my glee was been tampered upon learning that I can't offer it for free. If anyone knows how to get around the mandatory pricing limits Amazon imposes on Kindle books, please let me know and I will change the current price, which I was forced to set at $0.99. I really wanted this to be a freebee and am very disappointed that it seems impossible to do. To make some amends, I am posting the story here on its own page. I hope this accommodates those who want to read or revisit the story for free, but who don't care to go jumping about from post to post. Alternatively, here is a link to a PDF of the story:

Again, I am so sorry that this didn't work out as I intended. I am all ears if anyone has other suggestions as to how I can make the story easily available. Thanks to all who read Emma & Elton, and particularly those who commented! I trust everyone had a happier Halloween than poor Miss Woodhouse, of whom I really am very fond.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Profile: Edmund Bertram

Edmund's friendship never failed her: his leaving Eton for Oxford made no change in his kind dispositions, and only afforded more frequent opportunities of proving them. Without any display of doing more than the rest, or any fear of doing too much, he was always true to her interests, and considerate of her feelings, trying to make her good qualities understood, and to conquer the diffidence which prevented their being more apparent; giving her advice, consolation, and encouragement.

Name: Edmund Bertram

Age: 24

Hobbies: Reading, star gazing, listening to the harp, and moralizing.

Most charming quality: General goodness, combined with a perception for the best in others.

Most detrimental tendency: Blindness

Greatest strength: Strong moral character

Truest friend: Fanny Price

Worst enemy: Himself

Prospects: For a second son, quite good. He has the living of Thornton Lacy, worth 700 pounds, to which he adds Mansfield, worth "less than a thousand a year".


"My dear little cousin," said he, with all the gentleness of an excellent nature, "what can be the matter?"
"Poor Fanny! not allowed to cheat herself as she wishes!"
 "If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself..."
"Believe me, I have no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours. No, I can safely say, I have no pleasure so complete, so unalloyed. It is without a drawback."
"She does not think evil, but she speaks it, speaks it in playfulness; and though I know it to be playfulness, it grieves me to the soul."
"You are the only being upon earth to whom I should say what I have said; but you have always known my opinion of her; you can bear me witness, Fanny, that I have never been blinded."
"I was playing the fool with my eyes open."


Observant followers might notice that I avoided the descriptive "favorite", per my habit, when listing quotations taken from Mr. Bertram. It is not that he doesn't say anything I particularly enjoy (though that is very nearly true), but I have opted to take this character sketch in a slightly different direction. In the name of disclosure, let me loudly proclaim that Edmund is my least favorite of all Austen's heroes, and while I find him agonizingly frustrating, it does not mean that I do not care for him at all. My challenge here is to articulate what it is that redeems him, and I hope the quotes selected above will assist me in that effort.

Above all else, Edmund is worthy of his hero status because of his ability to properly value Fanny.  It is upon this fact that Austen builds her entire premise for his being worthy of the heroine's affection. Though Austen illustrates his good qualities throughout the book, it is mostly through acts of kindness to his cousin. As I looked at his statements in the text, I was struck by the fact that pretty much all  of the quotes I preferred were addressed to Fanny. Granted, the story is from her perspective, but he says a great deal in conversation with others (actually speaking far more than most of Austen's heroes). So I began with those quotations which seemed to best illustrate his relationship to Fanny, for here lies his foundation.

Part of the problem with Edmund is that outside of his appreciation for and care of Fanny, we are asked to pretty much take it for granted that he is a superior man. Austen always demands that we look to a character's behavior when sketching them, so it is particularly notable that Edmund never does anything even remotely astounding to illustrate his worth. In fact, in his biggest moment of moral dilemma, regarding the play, he proves himself inferior. He also fails to discern what is lacking in the Crawfords and his sisters, almost willfully assuming everyone is as innocent as he. He proves a terrible judge of character in almost every instance but in regards to Fanny. Even when he acknowledges misgivings about Mary Crawford, he remains stubborn in his blindness. The pain he inflicts on Fanny by dismissing her scruples when she tries to give him warning is insulting to her good sense, let alone that he suppresses internally. The bulk of the quotes I selected speak to his lack of self-knowledge.

Interesting that in Mansfield Park, while Austen usually subjects all her heroes and heroines to some sort of journey towards self-discovery, we meet a Fanny Price already fully self-aware. It instead becomes Edmund's burden (shared with his father) to illustrate the all importance of knowing thyself, and I'm not sure he succeeds. He says when recounting his last leave of Mary:
I only said in reply, that from my heart I wished her well, and earnestly hoped that she might soon learn to think more justly, and not owe the most valuable knowledge we could any of us acquire, the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to the lessons of affliction, and immediately left the room.  
This is just like him - to make declarative statements and offer advice without applying any of it to himself. How ironic that such recommendation of self-discovery comes from this most obtuse gentleman! In the same speech he argues with Fanny over Mary's cruelty, as if his opinion on the subject can still can be considered credible. Further, he is so oblivious that he actually considers that speaking of Mr. Crawford might pain Fanny, as if she ever had the slightest attachment to him and wasn't the one to mistrust him from the very first! I have no patience for him at all. I will conclude by repeating the notion that Edmund is only worthy because Fanny finds him so. In her judgement, certainly, we can have faith.


Friday, October 19, 2012

A MIxed Up Mashup: An Awkard Business

Emma Woodhouse had her hands full. In their master's absence, Mr. Knightley's servants naturally looked to her for direction, and amidst such unprecedented circumstances, much was required. To further play hostess to three such contrary characters as were left upon her hands taxed her ingenuity in no small degree. Little did she recognize, however, the many undercurrents compelling her new associates, a wonder for one so perceptive to the affairs of others. The strain of the present crisis must stand as excuse for such uncharacteristic stupidity.

It was not long following the gentlemen's departure that Sir Walter returned, bringing with him John Dashwood, Captain Wentworth, and Admiral Croft. An intense dispute had arisen amongst these men. Sir Walter, claiming the loss of Camden Place, demanded to resume his position as master of Kellynch. Yes, he understood that he had signed a contract with his tenant, precluding any legal claim, but yet he insisted that the present predicament render it null and void. Surely had he foreseen such a need, he would never have then permitted such restrictive terms.

Rupert Penry-Jones 2007
This was the first meeting Captain Wentworth had been forced to endure with the foolish baronet since his broken engagement to her daughter some eight years ago. He could not regret the lost connection, nor had he forgotten the very insulting way he had been treated by Sir Walter at that time. To have him appear out of nowhere now, and behaving so incredibly unreasonable, was almost more than the Captain could stand. Stubbornly he defended his brother's rights, but Sir Walter grew increasingly dictatorial. Proclaiming he was sure his new acquaintance, Sir John Dashwood, would be so hospitable as to provide accommodations for the displaced Crofts, that gentleman stalled and stammered over a response to such presumption, neither wanting to offend Sir Walter nor house the strangers. The end result was the gentlemen carried their dispute all the way back to Donwell, leaving Mrs. Croft at Norland en route, in hopes she and its mistress might have better luck resolving the conflict than their husbands.

The distraction of their arrival was welcome to Emma for the garrulousness they added to the conversation, as the ladies had been proceeding very poorly on their own. Lady Catherine had established herself in the room's most imposing chair and ordered about the servants as if she were in her own home. As they insisted on deferring to Emma in everything, she quickly became a focus for all her ladyship's chagrin, and had been enduring a barrage of slights with far more grace than she had ever thought possible. Reflecting that one never knew one's strength until tested, she congratulated herself on maintaining her pose, and concentrated her attentions on getting to know Miss Morland, whom she found perfectly charming. One so innocent and artless had instant appeal to Emma, and she further ingratiated herself by proving so accommodating to these more difficult new acquaintances.

As unable to shake off her wounded dignity as Lady Catherine, though she expressed in a quieter fashion, Elizabeth Elliot found it expedient to make herself that lady's ally. It was clear who would be dominant in their strange tea party, and the discussion enjoyed its most peaceful plateau while they contentedly compared genealogies. Emma could not like the disdain of Miss Elliot's tone upon learning that Mr. Morland was with the church, nor Lady Catherine's officious questions regarding his income, but as Miss Morland seem to take this treatment in stride, she was loath to intervene on her behalf. Anything that kept the peace she welcomed, until the two ladies began to attack the accommodations at Donwell.  Here she would speak, and it was a good thing the gentlemen entered when they did, for she feared that the conversation was in danger of becoming an outright argument.

The servants now reached a fevered pitch of confusion. Were all these people dining at Donwell? Where was a butcher to be found in these strange surroundings? Though no one was dressed to dine, Emma thought Mr. Knightley had best provide at least a light repast, and she excused herself to consult with Mrs. Hodge in the storeroom. Never before had she delved this deep into the Abbey, and her eye was alert to every convenience and arrangement. After such a day of previously unknown excitement, Emma was of a mind to find interest everywhere, and she praised the housekeeper's methods with enthusiasm, thereby placating her troubles to no small degree. Emma hoped, upon returning to the drawing room, that Mrs. Hodges would pass her cheered demeanor onto the rest of the staff, giving her an opportunity to get to know some of the gentlemen. She was very pleased with the appearance of Captain Wentworth, an impression increased when she noted Miss Elliot's cold reception of him.

John Woodvine 1995
Frederick was happy to speak with a companion both pretty and intelligent. To forget the Elliots at such a moment was no small luxury. As the Admiral seemed pleased to sit between Miss Morland and Lady Catherine, happily regaling both with tales of high adventure on the sea in spite incessant interruption, and Elizabeth had quickly commanded her father's full attention, alive with concerns for the slighted Dalrymples, for whom Mr. Dashwood found surprising quantities of sympathy, he could only count himself fortunate in his companion. Here was sweetness of manner, more than a little beauty, and what he suspected was an uncommonly strong mind. Well did he recall reciting these qualification to his sister, not a week before, and despite the urgency of their circumstances, he could only wonder, as he listened to Miss Woodhouse speak of her father, if he had not fallen in with precisely the lady for whom he had been searching.

When Anne Elliot entered the room, he tried to grasp onto these thoughts and cling to them, much like lifeboat, for protection. With renewed intensity did he attend to Miss Woodhouse, determined that Anne should not perceive what pain her mere presence caused him, but unfortunately, his temptress was accompanied by two companions, one of whom immediately claimed Miss Woodhouse's full attention. Consumed by her delight to see Mrs. Weston, the charming captain was forgotten, left to stand in uncomfortable state before the newcomers, struggling to avoid Anne's eye.

Anne was equally disconcerted to come upon Captain Wentworth in such a manner, and the surprise of being reunited with her father and sister before him intensified her discomfort. Mr. Darcy saw her unease, and grateful for the way in which she had soothed his own disordered nerves at Longbourn, he now put his efforts into returning the favor. Seeing that Miss Elliot and his aunt had come to a sort of understanding, he found himself secluded into an area of the room that contained its most haughty inhabitants. Still suffering under Miss Bennet's rebukes of the previous evening, it was only Miss Anne whom he could tolerate amongst their select group, and the two engaged in a more animated conversation than was customary to either, she seeking relief for feelings most overwrought, and he hoping to distinguish himself from the pretensions of the others. It was at this moment that another group was announced, and he heard, with something between panic and delight, Miss Bennet announced.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Mixed Up Mashup: Somewhere Over Surrey

Mr. Knightley sat some hours with Mr. Woodhouse. It was impossible to make the distraught man even remotely comfortable in any less time. Though relieved to know Emma was safe at Donwell, he could not make his mind up to her being sent for, just in case the world turned upside down once more while she was walking about, nor could he allow Mr. Knightley to leave, for much the same reason. It was only when Miss Bates and her niece called, in company with the Eltons, that he could even begin to believe that reality bore the slightest resemblance to its own self.

Sophie Thompson 1996
They had met Mr. Tilney, who steered them in the direction Donwell and Hartfield currently lay. "My dear Mr. Woodhouse! How very strange! I was just telling Jane, I do not know what to make of it! Is it not extraordinary? My mother and I were breakfasting. Jane was not yet about, as she is unused to our early hours, you know. The Colonel and Mrs. Campbell rose far later, but of course they would need the sleep, with all their many evening engagements. The very quiet manner in which mother and I live must be very difficult for Jane, following such fine style. Of course, Mr. Perry does think the quiet will do her good, Mr. Woodhouse -"
Donald Eccles 1972

"Indeed, my dear Miss Bates, you must do precisely as Perry prescribes! No one understands the cause of headache better than Perry!"

"Certainly, my dear Mr. Woodhouse - and how kind of you to take such interest in Jane's health - but I do think the change in environment must require some time for adjustment. So you see Jane was not in the room at the time, but mother and I were, and we saw it all happen just as clear as I see all these good friends before me now. Well, it is possible Mother did not, for while with her spectacles - so cleverly secured by Mr. Frank Churchill: is he not gallant? - she can certainly see well enough for her work, and thank goodness for it, but I often wonder if she has difficulty at a distance. Just the other day, I saw Miss Cole and William Cox walking together. "Mother," I said, "is that not Mr. William Cox escorting Miss Cole?" and mother could not confirm that it was. I am very sure I was correct, however, because I saw Mrs. Cole later that morning, and she told me they had met at Ford's - Poor Mrs. Ford! - and William brought her home. I wonder where they all can be? One moment all of HIghbury was just where it ought to be, and the next moment I was looking at an entirely unfamiliar set of houses! Is it not extraordinary?"

Fiona Walker 1972
"It is highly unusual!" concurred a piqued Mrs. Elton. "I never heard of such goings on at Maple Grove!"

Blake Ritson 2009
"Exactly so, Augusta! Highly unusual! What is to be done?"

All naturally looked to Mr. Knightley for direction, and he told them of the meeting that had taken place at Donwell, and what had there been decided. He would like to have sent them all on to his home, that they might gather as many of the residents of this bizarre neighborhood in one place, but having already determined that no good could come from trying to move Mr. Woodhouse, he recommend they all remain at Highbury except Mr. Elton, who might assist him in canvassing the area. This, however, Mrs. Elton could not bear. She was not of a nervous nature, being blessed with those precious resources that preclude such disorders, but under these exceptional circumstances, she thought it not unreasonable for a new bride to require her husband's attentions. Mr. Knightley would not deign to argue such points, and assured that these Highbury notables would be pleased to commiserate with each other for no short period of time, Mr. Knightley said his goodbyes and made good his escape.

He had not walked far down the lane when he met Mr. Tilney, who was leading an assortment of incongruent characters to Donwell. "Mr. Knightley!" he hailed him. "I have not managed to find Mrs. Adams, but I have found the family she recommended to me, the Prices. This is Sir Thomas Bertram, who was so good as to offer his assistance, and Mr. Crawford. I found the latter in company with Mr. Price and his daughters, who were walking in Norfolk when they found themselves stranded on this strange road. Amazingly convenient that Mrs. Adams told me precisely where their home lay, is it not, for they knew not in which direction to turn. I thought to bring them with me first, that they might share in our conference."

"You have been far more productive than I," Mr. Knightly said upon completing the introductions. "I have only been to one house, the owner of whom was already known to me, and though several more members of my own neighborhood found us there, at your direction, I am only now setting out to explore the road ahead."

"I do not think it worth your time," replied Mr. Tilney. "I did venture some distance that way and found nothing but park land. It would take a great deal of time to explore it further, and I think our hours of daylight dwindle. Let us return to Donwell."

Mr. Knightley looked to the sky and saw the truth. Though spring, the day seemed not nearly as long as it ought - yet one more unfathomable puzzle to solve. He turned his steps towards home, falling in with these new companions.

It quickly became clear that there was more connection between the newcomers than appearances would have suggested. Though never fashionable, Mr. Knightley knew a perfectly tailored coat a well as the next gentleman, and thought it rather odd that a man of Mr. Crawford's stamp should be paying court, as he transparently was, to the daughter of such a creature as Mr. Price. So much was the attestation of appearance alone, but the relationship took on a still odder appearance when it became clear that the Misses Price were nieces to Sir Thomas. It was to this gentleman whom Mr. Knightley felt instinctively drawn, hoping the conscientious stamp of his brow would prove him an asset, but he found him taciturn and withdrawn.  At first he supposed this an understandable result of their unusual predicament - an excuse he had been making for many a new acquaintance that day - but upon understanding he was a relation to Mr. Price, the reasons behind the man's chagrin became more transparent. Clearly, here was not a connection of which he boasted. It was impossible the men were brothers, so Mr. Knightley assumed their wives must be sisters, and either Mr. Price had done very well for himself in marriage, or Sir Thomas rather poorly.

The former gentleman proved more garrulous than the baronet, eagerly questioning Mr. Knightley as to his business. Upon learning him a gentleman farmer, he expressed himself thusly:

David Buck 1983
"Are you, sir? That may do very well for some; Mr. Crawford's in the same line, and he's as right a lad as ever I met. But the call of the sea was all I ever knew, and my sons are just the same. My boy William was just made lieutenant, and prouder of him I could not be!"

"Very understandable, sir! I congratulate you."

"Lord knows it would have been the devil to pay had I to sponsor them myself - I've lost count of how many boys I've had! But Sir Thomas has been a fine one for patronage. He nearly raised Fan there, my eldest, and neither hide nor hair of her have we seen these many years, but even he never was able to see them promoted. Then here comes along Mr. Crawford, nephew to the admiral of same name, and before we know it William's made! Just like that! It goes to show how important grand connections are at sea, and if you had none yourself, I do not blame you one bit for keeping firm anchor on land."

Mr. Knightley saw Miss Price's conscious blush, and Mr. Crawford's attempt to shield her from the worst of this speech. Instinctively, she shed away from him and towards her uncle, who seem to find her companionship a cordial under trying circumstances.

Bernard Hepton 1983
"I trust we will soon be at our destination," he heard Sir Thomas saying. "You know poor Tom is sick abed, and I do not like to leave Lady Bertram alone under such strain."

Sylvestra Le Touzel 1983
"Is not my Aunt Norris with her, sir?" questionsed a concerned Miss Price.

"Indeed she is, Fanny, but I begin to wonder of late if she does not aggravate your aunt more than she helps. She has not proved of much assistance in this late crisis."

"I am sorry to hear that, sir."

"You shall return with me to Mansfield tonight, Fanny. We need your calm presence. Your things, it seems, can be readily sent for, and as your family is now located so nearby," he suppressed a weary sigh, "there is no need for you make a formal goodbye."

Miss Price seemed grateful for this consideration. Mr. Knightley thought he began to know these people and wondered how their familial tensions might cause further havoc amidst the existent chaos. Mr. Tilney's thoughts must have been similar, for the two men shared a concerned glance. Little did they know what greater trials lay immediately ahead.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Annotated Emma, Edited by David M. Shapard

I have raved about the excellence of David M. Shapard's annotated edition of Austen novels before. Though I was not yet writing when I read The Annotated Pride & Prejudice, I have often acknowledged that it was the inspiration for First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice. Without his meticulous chronology, I would never have been able to write the story in the manner I did. A new revised and expanded edition comes out on November 13th (order it here), and I will certainly be purchasing it and reviewing it on this blog. Even if my first edition weren't ragged and worn, a condition testament to the adoration of its reader, I would still be buying this invaluable book. I believe it the most useful tool any writer of Pride & Prejudice fan fiction can own.

When he next released The Annotated Persuasion, followed by The Annotated Sense & Sensibility, I wrote rather extensively on how his annotations illuminate the text in manners informative to even the most devoted Janeite, using as an example his notes on Nurse Rooke in my review of Persuasion, and his translation of The Cult of Sensibility for a modern audience in my review of Sense & Sensibility. Now tackling The Annotated Emma, I wish to focus less on the value of his annotations in and of themselves, instead dwelling on the fabulous reading experience he provides. In doing so, I am treating Mr. Shapard a bit more like a fiction author in his own right, rather than just an expert. This is a little strange, I know, but I hope the end result will be its own defense.

I've read Emma countless times, but of all Jane Austen's novels, it is probably the one I turn to the least. That does not mean I do not adore it, but Miss Woodhouse and I have some personal issues. I think most would agree that a quintessential aspect of any Austen novel is a heroine confronting either a previously unknown or unacceptable part of herself, forcing her to conquer her feelings or behavior. As Mr. Shapard puts it in his note on a line in Volume III Chapter XI, "To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavor.":
The need for self-knowledge is a crucial part of a Jane Austen heroine. At a critical moment, when she realizes her past errors ... Elizabeth Bennet, declares, "Till this moment, I never knew myself." In Emma's case her willingness immediately before this to acknowledge that she has deceived herself even more than others have deceived her - in other words, that she has been the principal author of her trouble - represents an important step in the direction of better self-knowledge.
As readers of Austen, we join her heroines on their journeys of self-discovery, and from each one I have learned something about how I want to conduct myself. This lesson is hardest for me with Emma, because she is the heroine I most resemble. As unpleasant as it is for Miss Woodhouse to confront her own failings, so is reading her story rather upsetting to me. It all hits too close to home, recalling miserable moments in my own life, and those regrets that plague me most persistently. Perhaps it is for this reason that I often defend Miss Woodhouse to those who revile her as meddling, conceited, and, let's face the nasty word, "a bitch", for I am defending my own character, which I maintain is mostly good in spite my flaws, just like Emma. Yet if her story pains me, it also gives me hope, as Mr. Shapard writes at the novel's climax: " ... even at this moment of supreme personal importance and happiness, Emma thinks of another person, an act that, like her encouraging Mr. Knightley to speak out of concern for him, shows her morally deserving of happiness." So you see, we're not all bad.

Yet this reading of Emma, with Mr. Shapard's observation by my side, caused me to come to a harrowing conclusion. Miss Woodhouse resembles another creature in Austen, and one who is found to be not so deserving: Miss Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park. Just as I have often defended Emma, so have I spoken out on behalf of poor Fanny Price, a creature who really does not deserve the censure she receives from so many. Countless times have I argued that the Crawfords, both Mary and Henry, are unworthy the sympathy they receive from readers. I have called them selfish, morally bankrupt, and vile, but as I read the end of Emma, the following line made me pause: "Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other". Mr. Shapard does not comment on the statement itself, and though I have often pondered this quote before (it may even be scrolling by in the sidebar right now), for some reason, my mind attuned to new notions by the careful reading his annotations demand, this time I was instantly struck by the affinity between this statement and Mary's, "Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure." The two might even be paraphrases of the same notion, the essence being that bad behavior deserves some sort of reward. Oh Mr. Shapard! "Till this moment, I never knew myself," indeed!

From here a onslaught of resemblances pummeled my brain. Does not Frank Churchill occupy somewhat the same role in Emma as Henry Crawford does in Mansfield Park, and is not Emma's relationship to Mr. Churchill similar to that shared between the brother and sister? If nothing else, the indulgence and leniency Emma shows towards Mr. Churchill is certainly like Mary's to her brother, so very repugnant as it is to Edmund Bertram. Does not Mary's willingness to manipulate, as displayed when she uses subterfuge to give Fanny the necklace from Henry, echo Emma's presumption in arranging Harriet Smith's destiny? If anything, Emma is the far more privileged character, and therefore more blameworthy in having failed to imbibed the strong morality by which she is surrounded. My "mind had never been in such perturbation"!

"To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma's, though under temporary gloom at night, the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits." And so the morning brought better thoughts. Emma, and perhaps Mary, too, has many good qualities. As already established,  she is "morally deserving of happiness." Perhaps I have been too hash a critic of Miss Crawford, who though not blessed with redemption, certainly learns her lesson (Austen writes of "the better taste she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and manners could authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learned to estimate..."). What solution to my predicament is there but to resolve, as I have after previous readings of Emma, to guard against future bouts of "blunders" and "folly", to be mindful of my own arrogance, and to learn from the mistakes of the past. Are not such lessons precisely why I read Austen?

A similarity Mr. Shapard does dwell upon is that between Emma and Mrs. Elton. Uh oh! I dare not open that can of worms. Enough about me, for though this has been a rather fitting demonstration of my selfishness, I feel something must be said of the book's structure. Emma had the most drawn out ending of Austen's novels, six chapters following the climax of the story. I always find myself sort of checking out after [SPOILER ALERT] Emma and Mr. Knightley declare their love for each other. W still have to sit through an entire chapter of Frank Churchill's letter to Mrs. Weston, and yet another on Mr. Knightley's reaction to it. It is all very well done, of course, but knowing how everything concludes, I admit to finding it all a bit boring. Even Harriet's engagement to Mr. Martin, though satisfying in its tidiness, is pretty anti-climatic after the intense emotion of the proposal scene. As I read this edition, I wondered if Mr. Shapard did not agree. Though he never says anything of the sort, it is only in the last few chapters of this novel that I have ever perceived any inconsistency in his meticulousness. Suddenly there are illustrations inserted that do not really seem relevant to the text. In one image depicting "clothing from a slightly earlier period" a thing he always notes, there is no mention of the discrepancy, which struck me as odd. I may be over analyzing his analysis, but it seems confirmation of my long standing belief that the end of the novel is rather superfluous in the reread. I also wonder if Mr. Shapard did not find this book a bit harder to annotate than his others, as there are so many opportunities for spoilers. He studiously alerts the first time reader before prematurely exposing any essential detail of the plot, using the same format which I borrowed above, but the very nature of Emma as a proto-detective novel renders his task awkward.

I think it notable that The Annotated Emma, just like The Annotated Pride & Prejudice, has inspired me to write a "What-if?" retelling of the story. Again, Mr. Shapard chronology was absolutely necessary to the undertaking. In case you have not yet heard, I intend to post Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid on this blog. It will be in eight parts, beginning on October 24th and ending n Halloween. As you may gather from the title, my affinity for Miss Woodhouse does not preclude me from punishing her a little (actually, it may be my main impetus). Obviously, and despite any lessons in self-awareness I may have recently received, I am not above interrupting a perfectly sincere review to engage in shameless self-promotion. Enogh of my nonesens! Let me conclude by emphasizing once more how excellent a service Mr. Shapard has done the world by giving us these beautiful annotated editions. I eagerly anticipate more from him, though in regards to an annotated Mansfield Park, perhaps I should rather be feeling dread. No matter what conflicting emotions such a volume might cause me, be sure I will read and review it here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid

So I was wanting to do something to celebrate Halloween, one of my most favorite holidays. While the creatures typically associated with this day are not really my forte, I thought I could delve into the realm of suspense for the occasion. Those who read my first book, First Impression: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice, will remember how thoroughly happy a tale it was, everything proceeding smoothly and devoid of angst. This is to be an exercise precisely opposite to that: how could everything go most wrong? And so I give you Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid. The name really says it all. Here is Emma reimagined along lines most unhappy for the heroine, exploring where her pride and interference might have led had she been made aware of Mr. Elton's affection for herself at an earlier date. I plan to post the story over eight days, beginning Wednesday, October 24th. Those who know me might wonder that I, a frequent defender of Miss Woodhouse, would treat her so shabbily, but I think it is in the spirit of the holiday to confront those notions usually confined to the realm of nightmare. Here is the product of my bad dreams. If the venture does offend anyone, please accept my apologies in advance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Isabella Ingram-Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

I recently found a prettily framed print at a yard sale, obviously from the Regency Era and credited to Joshua Reynolds. For $20, I readily claimed it as my own. A quick Google search confirmed my good taste. The lady is one Isabella Ingram-Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford, and one of the Prince Regent's many mistresses. One must feel for her husband, Francis Seymour-Conway, who apparently relocated his family to Ireland in order to keep his wife away from Prince George. This seems to have been to little avail. Isabella was married at age sixteen, so I cannot find her terribly to blame if her eye wandered in later years. Their relationship was a long one, spanning from 1807 to 1819. As it seems she maintained relations with her husband throughout, I suppose he reconciled himself to sharing his wife. Most interesting is the influence she used with the Prince to align him with Tory politics. 

I still need to find a place on my wall for her, but once I have it will be my delight to suppose she and her royal paramour spent quiet evenings together reading the Austen novels he so admired. If anyone can furnish me with additional informat6ion about her, I am all ears.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Jane Austen Litmus Test

I usually do not bring up politics on this blog. Jane Austen doesn't discuss such matters in her books, and so my perspective has always been that they have no role to play here. Besides, I would hate to alienate those followers who do not agree with me. Yet ever since watching the US presidential debate last Wednesday, I have been obsessing about what Jane would have to say about it, prompting me to break my previous silence on the subject. I doubt I will ever bring it up again, so if I offend today, please forgive me. A difference of opinion today should have no bearing on our future happy relations.

My goal is not to endorse a candidate; I really have no desire to open that can of worms. But Austen provides rather precise criteria for judging character, and it is those standards that I want to apply to Obama and Romney. Over and over again in her novels, Austen emphasizes the importance of weighing what a person professes against their action to determine trustworthiness. For example, Anne Elliot's mistrust of Mr. Elliot stems from the discrepency between his past and present actions:
Though they had now been acquainted a month, she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character. That he was a sensible man, an agreeable man, that he talked well, professed good opinions, seemed to judge properly and as a man of principle, this was all clear enough. He certainly knew what was right, nor could she fix on any one article of moral duty evidently transgressed; but yet she would have been afraid to answer for his conduct. She distrusted the past, if not the present.
And when Elizabeth Bennet struggles to determine who to believe, Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickham, it is the latter's inconsistent behavior that determines her against him:
She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear of seeing Mr. Darcy -- that Mr. Darcy might leave the country, but that he should stand his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball the very next week. She remembered also, that till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had told his story to no one but herself; but that after their removal, it had been every where discussed; that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking Mr. Darcy's character, though he had assured her that respect for the father would always prevent his exposing the son.
Over and over again, Austen distinguishes bad characters from the good by exposing their hypocrisy. When Isabella Thorpe writes to Catherine Morland, asserting all that her actions negate,  the letter's "inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehood struck her from the very first." Catherine later says, "She must think me an idiot," a very reasonable conclusion to come to when a person expects you to have no memory of their past statements and actions. Isabella is a perfect example of this phenomenon in Austen, for she is constantly saying one thing before doing the other. Lucy Steele is another such character, always maneuvering through falsehood, as in this scene where she tries to extinguish Elinor Dashwood's interest in Edward Ferrars by saying precisely the opposite of what she feels:
"Indeed you wrong me," replied Lucy, with great solemnity; "I know nobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe, that if you was to say to me, 'I advise you by all means to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars, it will be more for the happiness of both of you,' I should resolve upon doing it immediately."

Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward's future wife, and replied, "This compliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high; the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferent person."

"'Tis because you are an indifferent person," said Lucy, with some pique, and laying a particular stress on those words, "that your judgment might justly have such weight with me. If you could be supposed to be biased in any respect by your own feelings, your opinion would not be worth having."

So when we listen to two men debate, especially when we can so easily look back and see what they have said and done in the past, we should ask ourselves if they pass the Austen test. Are we listening to an Isabella Thorpe, so certain that we will believe anything and everything, no matter how contradictory, or is the speaker more like a Mr. Darcy? Maybe he does not always behave exactly as we would like, but he is true to himself and therefore trustworthy. I like what Emma Woodhouse says of Frank Chruchill, once his deception is revealed: "So unlike what a man should be!--None of that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which a man should display in every transaction of his life."

As I listened to the debate Wednesday night, I heard much to frustrate me from both candidates (they are politicians, after all), but while one emphasized pretty much the same themes and ideas espoused 4 years ago, the other denied several of the main points he has been campaigning on for two years or more. As I watched, I could see Jane Austen in my mind's eye, an amused smirk on her face as she shook her head disapprovingly. Certainly there is no love affair between the two gentlemen, but I think Mr. Obama must have felt something like Marianne Dashwood that night, when she confronts Willoughby in London: "Here is some mistake I am sure--some dreadful mistake. What can be the meaning of it?"


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

Despite the appearance of grey cloud, briefly overhead, the sun decided to challenge the densest vapor, evaporating all into whipped confections like floating meringues in the cobalt sky. The sisters returned. Jane's mood was bright, but if anything she was overly talkative and I wasn't completely convinced that she was as happy as she appeared. She sat down a little way in front, looking out a the view across Bath. I watched Cassandra reach inside her basket producing a pocket sketchbook, a pencil, a bottle of water and a small box of paints.

"Do not move, Jane," she called. "I shall picture you for posterity ... a portrait of unwearied contemplation."

"Just as long as you do not paint my face!" Jane called, turning her back to us, arranging her dress and striking a pose.

"I would not dare ... I know how much you dislike sitting for me. No, I shall not ask you to turn. I shall capture the folds in the back of your gown instead and paint your elegant bonnet."

With swift strokes of her pencil, Jane's figure was outlined. Dressed in turquoise blue with her bonnet strings undone, she sat upon the grass, one neat little foot poking out from under her gown, her hand resting upon her knee. Only the most tantalizing curve of her cheek was displayed so it was impossible to guess her expression or sense any emotion. After a few minutes, she protested at sitting still for so long. Ignoring her sister's request to sit for five minutes longer, she was on her feet in a second and came over to my side. Ever restless, Jane held out her hand to me.

Cassandra Austen's portrait of her sister, Jane.

I begin my review of Jane Odiwe's newest book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, with this quote from the beginning of Chapter 23 because it is the kind of stuff to make a Janeite weep. I was already entranced by this novel when I came to this scene, having stayed up way past the time I ought to have already been asleep in order to read it, but this moment overwhelmed me. To be a fly on the wall when Cassandra Austen painted her enigmatic portrait of Jane! This book is as close as one will ever get.

I've read fictionalized accounts of Jane Austen before, but usually I find such portrayals disappointing. The best I came across prior to this book was Janet Mullaney's Jane and the Damned, but as Austen is a vampire in that novel, though a very engaging one, all sense of the historical figure gets submerged by fantasy. Not so here. Ms. Odiwe has brought my favorite writer to life in a way I have seen no one else accomplish, endowing her with nervous energy, a rebellious tongue, and infinite charm. She is just as I like to imagine her, and it was an absolute joy to spend three hundred pages in her presence.

But this book isn't about Jane Austen. The main character, Sophie Elliot, is a modern woman and an aspiring writer. After a bad breakup, she seeks refuge in the house her family has owned in Bath since the 18th century. Quickly discovering how she can pass from her own time into the Regency Era, she inhabits the body of her ancestor and namesake, who just so happens to live next door to the Austen family. At first her experiences terrify her, but Sophie finds the desire to return to the past irresistible, and even when she tries to remain in one time or the next, happenstance intervenes to send her hurtling back. One of the biggest lures of the 19th century is her growing friendship with Charles Austen, who is visiting his family while on leave from the Navy, but how can she allow herself to fall in love with a man who has been dead for two hundred years?

Ms. Odiwe's version of Cassandra's portrait

As I have read other novels featuring Austen as a character, so have I read Austenesque books involving time travel. Ms. Odiwe's stab at the genre is as good as the best of these, beautifully depicting a historical time and place. My husband and I (both confirmed food geeks) have an ongoing discussion regarding the value of sauces, and so I particularly got a kick out of this passage:
I chanced to look up from the plate of food that I wasn't entirely certain about. Everything had arrived on the table at once. Arranged symmetrically on white gilded Wedgewood with a laurel motif, the mahogany table gleamed under candlelight, bearing plates of salmon with bulging, glassy eyes, jellied tongue glistening with gelatine, Florentine rabbits complete with heads and furry ears, oily mackerel that stared at me balefully from my plate. Was it my imagination or was the green gooseberry preserve that covered it doing more to disguise the fact that the fish had not seen the sea for quite some time?
Though the food be rancid, there is so much to relish in this book! Truly something for everyone, Searching for Captain Wentworth beautifully combines echoes of Persuasion with paranormal fantasy and history. Reality interposes as well. Ms. Odiwe has been championing The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen (featured on the book's cover) on her blog for some time now, and the painting itself plays a role in her plot. Her depiction of Jane Austen also seems inspired by it, as in this first description of the authoress: "The girl whose broad smile reached her twinkling eyes had round rosy cheeks like a painted doll and unruly chestnut curls dancing under the brim of her bonnet in the breeze." Ms. Odiwe's novels usually feature artwork and very appropriately, as Ms. Odiwe is the artist behind some of the most touching Austen inspired renderings I have seen. One of my favorites is her version of Cassnadra's portrait, in which she shows Jane glancing back at us. This book is like that painting, provinding a tantalizing glimpse of Jane. Paintings like Cassandra's watercolor and The Rice Portrait provide a foundation for Ms. Odiwe's story, bridging the distance between past and present.

Cassandra & Jane Austen, imagined by Ms. Odiwe

If you have not had the pleasure of reading Ms. Odiwe's books, let me recommend them to you with enthusiasm. I have loved each of her novels, from Lydia Bennet's Story (one of the first Austenesque books I ever read, which is why I never reviewed it on this blog, even though it is amongst my favorites) and Willoughby's Return (which was one of my first reviews) to Mr. Darcy's Secret. Each is an entirely different undertaking from the next, and  is a remarkable addition to an already diverse body of work. I cannot wait to find out in what manner Ms. Odiwe will delight us next! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Mixed Up Mashup: Finding Hunsford

Mr. Darcy hurried beside Bingley towards Longbourn, quite forgetting his purpose as he rushed towards where he hoped Miss Elizabeth Bennet might be found. He could feel the letter still in his breast pocket, the slight friction it created a constant reminder of his disappointment and the agony suffered in its writing. But if she were there, how would he ever be able to deliver it? It was impossible. He would have to find a way to meet her in private, which is precisely the circumstance she would be most determined to avoid. Perhaps she remained at Hunsford, wherever it might be. Regardless, he knew not why he continued to hurry towards the one familiar object in a most bizarre landscape, for he could only expect a very cool reception, assuming Elizabeth's feelings for him were indicative of her family's.

And how would they greet Bingley? What would he say upon learning of Darcy's involvement in separating him from Miss Bennet? His pace slackened, and he began to fall behind his friend. There was every possibility that Elizabeth would write to her sister regarding what she had learned.  Looking about him, he saw with guilty feelings all the houses they had passed by, the residents of each requiring interview. "One moment, Bingley!" he called out, coming to a complete stop.

"What is it Darcy? Do you not see it is Longbourn? I know you think she thought little of me, but I have been unable to forget her. I must see if Miss Bennet is home."

"For once I am as anxious to greet familiar faces as you are, but we really should not have hastened here so. It was negligent. We have a responsibility to fulfill."

"We can retrace our steps as soon as our call is complete, but I for one will begin nowhere other than Longbourn."

"Very well," Darcy conceded, loath to come between Bingley and the Bennets again, and he lengthened his strides once more. It was only a few minutes before they were at the door.

"Mr. Bingley! How excellent to see you again. And Mr. Darcy, too." He noticed how her suddenly cold tone raised the eyebrows of the three ladies on the sofa, two of which shared a significant glance. If Mrs. Bennet's lack of hospitality did not make him uneasy enough, their acute inspection solidified his discomfiture. Instinctively, his hauteur rose.

Anne perceived Mr. Darcy's response to the close scrutiny he and Mr. Bingley received, not just from those who had not previously made his acquaintance, but also from the two youngest daughters of the house, who were giggling and whispering to each other in a most conspicuous manner. She dropped her gaze and focused upon her work, supplied from Mrs. Bennet's poor basket, relieving him of at least one set of prying eyes. Her response did not go unnoticed by Mr. Darcy, who was instantly reminded of Elizabeth's recent rebukes. He forced his face into an expression he hoped was amiable.

"You find us in uproar, as I am sure you know," continued their hostess, having completed the introductions. "Do tell me, Mr. Bingley, if you returned to the neighborhood on purpose, or just happened to find yourself amongst us again?"

"The latter, I am afraid, but I always intended to return to Netherfield. It was really very convenient that I just happened to wake up there this morning. Oddly enough, I now find myself neighbor to your cousin's benefactress. Are your older daughter's at home?"

"Sadly not. As I have been saying to Mrs. Dashwood, who too has daughters in town, no one can know the agony we suffer, not knowing where our dear ones might be!"

"And I have repeatedly assured you, Mrs. Bennet," said Mary Musgrove, "that all mothers know such suffering. I have two boys of my own, gentlemen, and very find lads you will find them. You must come to Uppercross and shoot with my husband. It is not a quarter mile from here." She smiled amiably, very pleased with the appearance of these new acquaintances.

 "You forget, Mary, that the park is quite gone," reminded Anne.

"Oh dear! I quite forgot. We must hope that someone has retained their park, or else I know not what Charles will do with himself. He must have something to hunt."

"Perhaps he will begin with his own grounds."

Mr. Darcy looked eagerly towards Anne. "That must be the first object with us all. We passed several homes on our way here. In which direction is Uppercross?"

"Due North," Anne replied.

"Then we must have passed it on our way here."

"It is a Tudor building and quite conspicuous sitting in prominence on the corner. It was much more at home in its cozy grove in Somersetshire."

"I recall it well. Your description is most apt." Darcy was please to discover a sensible lady amongst the party assembled, even if she was not the one he had hoped (and feared) to find.

"My husband and I live in the Cottage, which is now just a block beyond." Mary supplied.

Mrs. Weston looked interested. "The pretty little place with the French windows? The trellis in my garden at Randalls lies directly to your left."

"It is very convenient we have met you all here," said Mr. Darcy seriously. "Several of us have banded together to search the area, discovering who it is we all find ourselves amongst, and trying to see if we cannot locate this strange woman who seems to be implicated in whatever it is that has happened."

"You mean Mrs. Adams," said Mrs. Dashwood.

"Have you seen her?" asked Mr. Darcy eagerly.

"Yes. Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Bennet, and I have all conversed with her, and we agree she seems a pleasant, if unusual, lady. She is undoubtedly the person to speak to, if your goal is to make some sense out of our predicament."

"What else could it be? We all must want to get to the bottom of this."

"I for one am very pleased to find myself amongst so many new acquaintances," declared Mrs. Bennet defiantly. "Even you, Mr. Darcy, can no longer find the society of our neighborhood limited. Only think of the dinner parties we are sure to have!"

"Forgive me, madame, but I cannot think of such things at a time like this. It is imperative that we learn what has happened to us, and in order to do so, it seems we must find this Mrs. Adams."

"I think Mr. Darcy is quite right," defended Mrs. Musgrove. "Social concerns certainly must wait until some very pressing questions have been answered. Then we may consider entertaining, and I have no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove will be amongst the first to open their doors to our new neighbors." secretly, she worried that such behavior would force her to associate with those beneath her notice, but she wisely kept such concerns to herself.

Julia Sawalha 1995
"Perhaps Mr. Bingley will have another ball at Netherfield," giggled Lydia Bennet. "The last one was marvelous! I'm sure I danced with every one of the officers."

"Certainly there will be quite a competition to see who can be most hospitable," said Darcy dryly, "and my friend Bingley can be counted upon to enter the ranks, but to keep to the matter at hand, is your home located in the vicinity as well, Mrs. Dashwood?"

"Barton Cottage is not a block away. You can see it from the window."

He looked where she pointed, to a picturesque cottage not one hundred yards away, but his eye was caught elsewhere. Directly beside it stood the familiar rectory of Hunsford.

"Mrs. Bennet, are you aware that your cousin's home at Hunsford is also within sight?" He instantly found himself crowded out by the three Bennet girls, who all jockeyed for position at the window.

"Mr. Collins? Dear me! How disagreeable! Well, at least we will have Lizzy at home, though Jane would be much more to the point! You will excuse me, I'm sure, but I must collect her at once. There is no need for her to be keeping Charlotte company when I could very well use her assistance here. Mary, you will entertain our guests until I return."

Tessa Peake-Jones 1980
"Yes, Mama," she replied importantly. "Shall I open the pianoforte? Perhaps some of our new neighbors are musical."

"Yes, yes! Whatever you like. I must be off! Kitty, you are to accompany me."

"But I do not want to see Mr. Collins anymore than you do, Mama! Why must I be the one to go?"

"As Darcy and I are heading in that direction ourselves, we would be happy to escort you to Hunsford, Mrs. Bennet," offered Bingley.

"Thank you, Mr. Bingley! Always such a gentleman!"

Polly Maberley 1995
"Then you will have no need of my company, will you Mama?"

"No, Kitty, I have no need of you. Surely a lady of my age does not require a chaperone!' she giggled as girlishly as her daughters.

Darcy struggled to not show his contempt, bringing his thoughts back to Elizabeth and how she would react to him showing up at Hunsford in the company of her mother. It was a circumstance to be avoided at all costs."

"Is Mr. Bennet at home?" he asked hopefully. "We should really speak with him prior to our departure. Perhaps I might interview him while Mr. Bingley sees you to Hunsford?"

"No. Mrs. Adams carried him off with her. Something about a most impressive library it was imperative he see. I know not when we shall see his return."

"That is unfortunate," he conceded, knowing not how else to avoid a most uncomfortable meeting with Elizabeth. "I suppose we might as well continue southward from the Rectory, and then we can call at the homes we missed as we return to Donwell."

"Donwell Abbey!" exclaimed Mrs. Weston excitedly. "Dear Mr. Knightley's home! How good it will be to see a familiar face."

"I well know the feeling," chimed in Bingley. "It was familiarity that hastened Darcy and myself here. Are you acquainted with Miss Woodhouse as well?"

"Dear me, yes! I was her governess before I married Mr. Weston."

"Her governess!" cried Mary and Mrs. Bennet in tandem, the former raising her chin disdainfully, while the latter began to lecture Mrs. Weston regarding the vast difference between a mother's tender feelings and that of a hired caretaker.

Perceiving the discomfort of her companion, Anne was quick to advise Mrs. Weston to call on Donwell posthaste, that she might be reunited with her friends. "I will join you," she said, rising from her seat. "I am afraid my curiosity is far too engaged to tolerate sitting here and waiting for something to happen. Would you care to join us, Mary?"

Mrs. Musgrove was unsure. She was not eager for more walking, but she also had no desire to become further acquainted with Mrs. Weston.

"If you like, Mrs. Musgrove, Darcy and I could call here again to escort you either to Donwell or your own home, once we again head in that direction." It was his ardent desire that Miss Bennet would somehow materialize in her family home before they returned, in a similar way to that which Miss Elizabeth had been located.

"Thank you, Mr. Bingley. That is most attentive. I will remain here, Anne."

"Very well. I shall see you shortly. Are you ready, Mrs. Weston?"

"I certainly am. Surely learning of my dear Emma's whereabouts was precisely what Mrs. Adams intended in directing me here."

"You know, Bingley, perhaps I ought to see the ladies on to Donwell. From there I could call at the houses that remain unaccounted, meeting you somewhere in the middle. We would cover ground far more quickly in such a manner."

"Excellent notion! I will see you shortly."

So Anne, Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley all said their goodbyes to Mrs. Musgrove, Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret, who was looking on in wide eyed fascination as Lydia dictated to her older sister what pieces she ought and ought not to play, and the three Bennet daughters. Upon reaching the road, they parted ways, Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Bennet bound for Hunsford, while Darcy enjoyed the surprisingly felicitous companionship of Mrs. Weston and Miss Elliot as they made their way back up the hill. He looked behind him one last time towards Hunsford, simultaneously yearning to enter the parsonage doors and congratulating himself on his near escape.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Winner of the Extravaganza Inspired Giveaway Announced

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and this first day of October leaves us without the joys of the Austenesque Extravaganza. It was a wonderful September, and I have only to regret that I didn't get a chance to read every post (in my defense, there were A LOT). Congratulations to the Extravaganza team for pulling off such a tremendous event, and to JEWELS1328, the winner of the copy of First Impressions that I am giving away in its honor! I will be contacting you shortly so that you may claim your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered, and to the many bloggers and writers who made last month so very special.