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Jane Austen's Country Life -

Jane Austen’s Country Life -Deirdre Le Faye

This is a beautiful book – thick pages and stunning illustrations. It is worth owning for the illustrations.

Here is the blurb …

Jane Austen lived for nearly all her life in two Hampshire villages: for 25 years in her birthplace of Steventon, and then for the last 8 years of her life in Chawton, during which she wrote and published her great novels. While there are plenty of books describing her periods of urban life in Bath, Southampton and London, and the summer holidays in Lyme Regis and other West Country seaside resorts, no book has given consideration to the rural background of her life. Her father was not only the rector of Steventon but a farmer there as well, managing a property of some 200 acres. Her brother Edward, in addition, was a large landowner, holding the three estates of Godmersham in Kent, Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire. Agriculture, in all its aspects, was even more important to Jane than clerical life or the naval careers of her younger brothers. This book fills a gap in the Austen family background, discussing the state of agriculture in general in the south of England during the wartime, conditions which lasted for most of Jane Austen’s life, and considering in particular the villages and their inhabitants, the weather conditions, field crops, farm and domestic animals, and the Austens’ household economy and rural way of life. Apart from these obvious sources, there are other Austen family manuscripts, as yet unpublished, which provide particular and unique information. Richly illustrated with contemporary depictions of country folk, landscapes and animals, Jane Austen’s Country Life conjures up a world which has vanished more than the familiar regency townscapes of Bath or London, but which is no less important to an understanding of this most treasured writer’s life and work.

There are seven chapters – Hampshire (as I mentioned in a previous post, I needed a map to understand the relationships between the places), A Year in the Country Side, The Hardships and Pleasures of Rural Life, Crops, Livestock and Pleasure-Grounds, Urban Interlude and Life at Godmersham and Chawton. This isn’t an academic book it is really to help a modern audience understand and appreciate life in Austen’s time. For example, peas at Christmas is quite an extravagance! Not something that I had thought about, but it reveals information about the characters that a contemporary reader would appreciate.

It was a very easy read and makes me want to go back and read Austen’s novels again taking notice of the time of year, the weather and the food.

More reviews …

http://austenprose.com/2014/08/28/jane-austens-country-life-uncovering-the-rural-backdrop-to-her-life-her-letters-and-her-novels-by-deirdre-le-faye-a-review/

http://www.chawtonhouse.org/?library_blog=jane-austens-country-life-book-review-by-mary-besada

2014 in Review

2014 in Review

2014 in Review

It is summer holidays here – which means super hot weather and school holidays – so not a lot of time to get anything done.

For me the highlights of last year were Val McDermid’s remake of Northanger Abbey (much more successful than either Emma or Sense and Sensibilityand Austenland  – I know other people hated this, but I thought it was fun and didn’t take itself too seriously.

Currently I am reading Deidre Le Faye’s Jane Austen’s Country Life – this is a beautiful book, but I wish there was a map rather than a wordy description of where things are in relation to Steventon. For example,

To the west of the lane running from Steventon to Dean was the village of Ashe …

A map, even a very simple one, would make it all so much simpler.

Emma - Alexander McCall Smith

Emma – Alexander McCall Smith

This is the third in the Austen Project. As Emma is my favourite Austen novel, I had high hopes for this adaptation.

Here is the blurb …

Prepare to meet a young woman who thinks she knows everything.
Fresh from university, Emma Woodhouse arrives home in Norfolk ready to embark on adult life with a splash. Not only has her sister, Isabella, been whisked away on amotorbike to London, but her astute governess, Miss Taylor is at a loose end watching as Mr. Woodhouse worries about his girls. Someone is needed to rule the roost and young Emma is more than happy to oblige.
At the helm of her own dinner parties, and often found either rearranging the furniture at the family home of Hartfield, or instructing her new protégée, Harriet Smith, Emma is in
charge. You don’t have to be in London to go to parties, find amusement or make trouble.
Not if you’re Emma, the very big fish in the rather small pond.
But for someone who knows everything, Emma doesn’t know her own heart. And there is only one person who can play with Emma’s indestructible confidence, her friend and inscrutable neighbour George Knightly – this time has Emma finally met her match?
Ever alive to the social comedy of village life, beloved author Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is the busybody we all know and love, and a true modern delight.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed. As I wrote in a previous post, it is probably quite difficult to update Austen’s work (although Clueless is a fabulous modern re-telling of Emma). I liked the way Mr Woodhouse made his fortune (through an invention). We don’t see much of Mr Knightley and what we do see isn’t very compelling (or sexy) – I think if you didn’t know the original story, you would be surprised they ended up together. And finally, I didn’t like Emma. I thought she was mean-spirited. Austen’s Emma might have been a snob, but she was fundamentally good at heart.

More reviews …

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/book-review-emma-by-alexander-mccall-smith-20141110-11ih95.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/11228318/Emma-a-Modern-Retelling-by-Alexander-McCall-Smith.html

Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid

This is part of the Austen ProjectI’ve read Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and the new Emma (review of that to follow later). This one is my favourite so far.

Here is the blurb …

Internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own, witty, updated take on Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A home-schooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship.

This update of Northanger Abbey works brilliantly. Cat thinks the Tilneys are vampires (too much Twilight maybe?), rather than discussing the picturesque they talk about cinematography and John Thorpe has a sports car – he is still a bore and a social climber.

I have been trying to work out why this modern version works better than the other books from the Austen project. Is it because the situation the heroine finds herself in is more universal than in Sense and Sensibility and Emma? Let’s face it Sense and Sensibility has important plot points that are hard to modernise – what man now days would stick with an engagement he didn’t like? And Elinor and Marianne could just get a job to generate an income.

Anyway, this is a fun, light-hearted take on an Austen novel. Enjoyable on several levels.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/26/northanger-abbey-val-mcdermid-review-austen-facebook-age

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/books/review/val-mcdermids-northanger-abbey.html?_r=0

Persuasion 1971

Persuasion 1971

Persuasion 1971

I bought this adaptation at the same time as this Sense and SensibilityOnce you get past the 1970s fashion (and hairstyles) it is a great adaptation. It follows the plot of the novel closely – although some bits are left out (like little Charles’s accident and Anne missing the dinner party). There is a lot of ‘projecting to the back row’ acting (particularly by Sir Walter), but I think that is more about direction and the style of acting at the time – it feels like theater rather than a naturalistic film.

Sir Walter Eliot

Sir Walter Eliot

Anne (with Wentworth in the background) - check out the hair!

Anne (with Wentworth in the background) – check out the hair!

Elizabeth and Sir Walter

Elizabeth and Sir Walter

Lady Russell

Lady Russell

Mary, Charles and Anne

Mary, Charles and Anne

MrEliot_Anne

Mr Elliot and Anne

MrsClay

Mrs Clay

This isn’t a beautiful adaptation and it is certainly showing its age, but still worth watching if you love Persuasion and its quiet tone.

Sense and Sensibility 1971

Sense and Sensibility 1971

I didn’t know about the existence of this adaptation until someone mentioned it in passing at one of our meetings. Of course I decided I must see it.

This is very much ‘old school’ BBC adaptation – filmed on a sound stage with theater actors who feel that they have to act to the back row (or maybe that was how they were directed?). Anyway, if you didn’t like this version of Emma or this Mansfield Park then I suspect you won’t like this version of Sense and Sensibility.

What I don’t understand with adaptations is why the screen writer changes the dialogue? This one is quite close to the novel action wise, but rarely uses Austen’s dialogue (although I am pretty sure Elinor wouldn’t visit Edward at his lodgings!).

The best part of this adaptation was Joanna David as Elinor (she was Mrs Gardiner in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice) and Patricia Routledge (Mrs Bucket – in Keeping Up Appearances) as Mrs Jennings.

The hair styles are hilarious (or horrendous) depending on your sensibilities …

 

Elinor (in the foreground), Marianne and Mrs Dashwood

Elinor (in the foreground), Marianne and Mrs Dashwood

Edward Ferras

Edward Ferras

 

Willoughby

Willoughby

Colonel Brandon

Colonel Brandon

Mrs Jennings (on the right) and Mrs Dashwood

Mrs Jennings (on the right) and Mrs Dashwood

I think this one is really only for die-hard Jane Austen fans or people interested in film history.

 

 

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England - Roy & Lesley Adkins

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy & Lesley Adkins

I was browsing in The Lane Book Store and saw this book (they usually have a good selection of Jane Austen books). I had read about it, but wasn’t sure that I would like it. The Adkins are a husband and wife team who had previously written (amongst other things) Jack Tar Life in Nelson’s Navy. This book is along similar lines in fact I am sure some of the research for the former book was useful to the latter.

Here is the blurb …

Jane Austen, arguably the greatest novelist of the English language, wrote brilliantly about the gentry and aristocracy of two centuries ago in her accounts of young women looking for love. Jane Austen’s England explores the customs and culture of the real England of her everyday existence depicted in her classic novels as well as those by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth, marriage,  religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen, and superstitions.
From chores like fetching water to healing with  medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.

I think that I am quite knowledgeable about Jane Austen’s time, but that knowledge is centred on the gentry. I found this book fascinating. It was easy to read (none of that academic jargon) and each chapter covered a significant aspect of a person’s life: Wedding Bells, Breeding, Toddler to Teenager, Home and Hearth, etc.

I learnt about Bastardy Laws – apparently an unwed pregnant woman who was unable to maintain herself was bought before a magistrate and forced to name the father of her child. He then had to marry her (if he was unmarried) or support her financially or he was sent to gaol (can you imagine that marriage?) and  the Black Laws – it was a capital offence to enter a forest in disguise!

I learnt about the hard lives of chimney sweeps who often died of terrible cancers because soot is carcinogenic and they rarely had the opportunity to bathe not to mention getting stuck in a chimney and suffocating.

What this book really makes plain is how hard and depressing the lives of poor people were – work was physically hard and sometimes dangerous, food was costly and not very plentiful, housing was poor and sanitation almost non existent. Life would have been one long grind until you died (although if you were grateful enough in life you could hope for a reward in heaven).

I had to laugh at some of the medical ‘cures’ – one person had a sty and wiped the tail of his black cat across it! But, with the best of intentions, I suspect many patients doctors killed their patients. Blood poisoning (from Blood letting), infections (dirty hands and equipment) and strange drug concoctions.  Dentistry was awful – blacksmiths might remove your teeth! Painful teeth were generally just removed and the best type of dentures were real teeth – either from dead people (stolen by body snatchers) or from poor people willing to sell their teeth.

‘the new teeth should always be perfectly sound, and taken from a mouth which has the appearance of that of a person sound and healthy; not that I believe it possible to transplant an infection’. In order to avoid filing the tooth to the correct shape the ‘best remedy is to have several people ready, whose teeth in appearance are fit; for if the first will not answer, the second may’.

Life would have been miserable for the poor, but even the gentry would have found it uncomfortable; cold and smelly.

I think anyone interested in social history or Jane Austen’s time will find this book interesting.

More reviews …

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2349790/Did-Mr-Darcy-bad-breath–EAVESDROPPING-ON-JANE-AUSTENS-ENGLAND-BY-ROY-AND-LESLEY-ADKINS.html

http://writingwomenshistory.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/eavesdropping-on-jane-austens-england.html

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen's Sewing Box - Jennifer Forest

Jane Austen’s Sewing Box – Jennifer Forest

I didn’t realise how long it was since my last post! This book, as you probably know, came out a while ago and I was strong and didn’t buy it. However, I like craft and I like Jane Austen, so it seemed the perfect book when I needed a bit of cheering up. It is a beautiful book with lovely pictures and illustrations. There is a brief introduction describing the regency era  (with quotes from Austen’s novels) and a description of ‘women’s work’. Then it is into the projects: Letter Case, Linen, Workbag, Paper Flowers, Purses, Huswif, Carpet Work, Muff and Tippet, Pin Cushion and Thread Case, etc. There is historical information about each project as well as more beautiful images.

In the Letter Case Section

In the Letter Case Section

Ms Forest has found images that suit the project. The above image is included in the section on making a Letter Case.

Cravats!

Cravats!

Although, I can’t imagine ever making a cravat I liked seeing all of the different styles – very helpful for anyone who reads Georgette Heyer novels! You can make your own work bag.

Workbag

Workbag

Or a carpet work cushion. Sewing_04.jpeg

And finally someone knitting – it looks like socks.

Sewing_05

I am not sure I will make any of the projects, but it is beautiful and inspiring and I am glad I gave in to temptation.

Mansfield Park 2007

Mansfield Park 2007 - the Billie Piper one

Mansfield Park 2007 – the Billie Piper one

This is my third Mansfield Park adaptation. This one is movie length (120 minutes) like the 1999 version. As it is movie length, some things have to be left out – the trip to Sotherton and the Portsmouth scenes (instead of going to Portsmouth Fanny is left at Mansfield Park when the family go to London).

Once again, Fanny is more active than depicted by Austen and things seem to happen out of doors – instead of a ball there is a picnic. This is not my favourite version, but it is lovely to watch and sticks to the spirit of the plot if not the plot itself.

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

We never see the Parsonage in this version – in fact we only ever see Mansfield Park.

Edmund and Fanny

Edmund and Fanny

Mr Rushworth and Maria

Mr Rushworth and Maria

The Crawfords

The Crawfords

The Play - Henry and Maria flirting

The Play – Henry and Maria flirting

The picnic instead of the ball

The picnic instead of the ball

Henry Loves Fanny

Henry Loves Fanny

Happy Ending!

Happy Ending!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austenland

Austenland

Austenland

I was really keen to see this movie based on Shannon Hale’s novel, but it wasn’t played in any cinemas near me. I bought it as soon as it was released on DVD. It has had some poor reviews, but I thought it was hilarious. An over-the-top romp through most of the conventions that make up Austen adaptations. The actors appeared to be having a ball over-playing their parts – I suspect the critics were expecting something more literary.

In case you don’t know the plot …

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen;or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Austenland_02

Jane’s Bedroom – A life Sized Mr Darcy

Austenland_03

Arriving at the Manor House

Jane could only afford the Copper package (rather than the Platinum package) and hence no seat inside the carriage for her. Doesn’t Jane sit in this spot in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation?

Our first glimpse of the Mr Darcy character (played by JJ Feild)

Our first glimpse of the Mr Darcy character (played by JJ Feild)

Sneaking off and meeting the help.

Sneaking off and meeting the help.

Learning how to shoot a rifle (with the help again)

Learning how to shoot a rifle (with the help again)

Being rescued by Mr Nobley -after her horse wouldn't go.

Being rescued by Mr Nobley -after her horse wouldn’t go.

The aim was to immerse your self in regency life.

Accomplishments - singing, playing the piano and embroidery

Accomplishments – singing, playing the piano and embroidery

Reading

Reading

Having a picnic in the grounds

Having a picnic in the grounds

Jane would often sneak off and meet Martin (the stable boy).Austenland_09

Wandering the grounds.

Bit of a moment in the dark with Mr Nobley

Bit of a moment in the dark with Mr Nobley

Jane decides to be a true Austen heroine and take charge.

Here she is in charge - and with better clothes (she stole one of the other ladies clothes)

Here she is in charge – and with better clothes (she stole one of the other ladies clothes)

They put on a play to entertain themselves before the ball.

 

Rehearsing - perhaps Mr Nobley is not so bad?

Rehearsing – perhaps Mr Nobley is not so bad?

The play

The play

The night we have been waiting for the Ball!

The Ball

The Ball

Escaping to 'something real'

Escaping to ‘something real’

Returning to the real world – disillusionment.

Was Martin a cad after all?

Was Martin a cad after all?

Removing Austen from her house

Removing Austen from her house

Spoiler Alert!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Ending!

Austenland_20

Austenland_21

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