Category Archives: Recommended

A Jane Austen Education – William Deresiewicz

A Jane Austen Education

A Jane Austen Education – William Deresiewicz

I thought this book was charming. I admire people who can publish unflattering truths about themselves – although I do wonder about his relationship to his father (it is one thing to write unflattering things about yourself, but other people?)

This book makes me want to reread Austen’s novels (can’t get any more positive than that!). In fact I have downloaded them all to my Kindle (from here).

What did I learn?

From Emma I learned that every day things are important they are the substance from which life is built – it is true that the knowledge of every day detail creates intimacy. You can see that when someone moves away and you no longer know all of that ‘pointless’ detail – who puts that kind of detail into an email, letter or facebook post?

Pride and Prejudice is about making mistakes (big humiliating mistakes) and learning from them. It is the learning that is important. Plenty of people don’t learn from their mistakes – Lydia anyone?

Northanger Abbey is about learning and being open to new experiences. Don’t take things for granted including traditional ideas. Think for yourself and investigate your feelings.

I have always thought that Mansfield Park is under rated. Fanny Price is stoic (boring, but stoic). Mansfield Park shows that character is more important than wit, charm, money, etc.

Persuasion is about belonging and finding your ‘family’. It is about true friendship, which is about placing the welfare of your friend above yourself.

And finally, Sense and Sensibility is about love and once again character is  most important. You grow into love by meeting someone and getting to know them. However, not everyone is capable of love. You must have a loving heart. There are plenty of characters in Austen novels who don’t have a loving heart – Lucy Steele, John Thorpe.

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Among the Janeites – Deborah Yaffe

Among the Janeites - Deborah Jaffe

Among the Janeites – Deborah Jaffe

I was keen to read this book and I wasn’t disappointed. It is easy to read and fun.

There are sections on dressing up, sequels, prequels, spin offs, conspiracy theories (Austen was writing a secret code that only one person has discovered in the past 200 years) and Austen therapy.

Ms Yaffe travels the world getting involved in all sorts of austen activities and she does it all with an open mind. I think this is an illuminating picture of the current state of Austen fandom. I’m not likely to dress up and learn a country dance, but I did enjoy reading about it.

I think this would make a great documentary – I would quite like to watch the dress fittings and the dancing and listen to the interviews – Sandy Lerner and Arnie Perlstein seem fascinating.

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A Dance with Jane Austen – Susannah Fullerton

A Dance wiith Jane Austen - Susannah Fullerton

A Dance with Jane Austen – Susannah Fullerton

At first I wasn’t entirely convinced by the need for this book. It seemed to be jumping on the Austen band wagon. A bit like  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, having read it I am convinced it belongs in the library of all Austen fans.

It is split into 12 chapters ordered in the same sequence as a ball. That is, learning to dance, dressing for the ball, getting to and from a ball, etc.

The chapters are then further divided into a section on the novels, a section on Austen’s personal experience and some interesting historical detail.

For example, did you know James Austen improved his dancing as a method of securing a second wife or that gloves were always worn?

What Ms Fullerton does particularly well is to analyse the dance scenes in the novels.

For example, describing the assembly ball in Northanger Abbey

In fact, Jane Austen describes the crowd as a ‘mob’, requiring Catherine and her chaperone Mrs Allen to make their way through all its possible dangers (such risks as damaged finery and dresses ‘torn asunder’) with ‘necessary caution’ and ‘continued  exertion of strength and ingenuity’. The rooms are so packed that Catherine cannot even get a proper view of them to search out handsome young men as potential partners. All she can see are the high feathers on the tops of ladies’ heads. The two women have to squeeze out for tea, get wearied by ‘being continually pressed by’ people and, worst of all, she finds no partner. She goes to a ball and she does not dance a single dance! The event is presented by Jane Austen with light irony as a form of ‘imprisonment’ and near-torture. Just as Gothic heroines in the fiction Catherine loves to read are locked away and ill-treated in dungeons, so Catherine is trapped and pressed by this assembly ball crowd.

This book is beautifully presented and the illustrations are lovely.

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What Matters in Jane Austen – John Mullan


I finished reading this book – it is a interesting read and makes me want to read the novels again (that has to be a good thing).

Here is the description …

 Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call each other, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? And which important Austen characters never speak? In What Matters in Austen, John Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Jane Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction – by asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals their devilish cleverness. In twenty-one short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen’s novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most to the workings of the fiction. So the reader will discover when people had their meals and what shops they went to, how they addressed each other, who was allowed to write letters to whom, who owned coaches or pianos, how vicars got good livings and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Austen explores the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and sheer daring as a novelist. Though not a book about Jane Austen’s life, it uses biographical detail and telling passages from her letters to explain episodes in her novels; readers will find out, for example, what novels she read or how much money she had to live on or what she saw at the theatre. Inspired by an enthusiastic reader’s curiosity, written with flair and based on a lifetime’s study, What Matters in Austen will appeal to all those who love and enjoy Jane Austen’s work.

There are chapters on: “What do the characters call each other”, “How much money is enough”, “Which important characters never speak”, etc. Did you know that the only married couple to use each others first names is Charles and Mary Musgrove? This book is crammed full of interesting information and also highlights parts that a contemporary reader what have interpreted differently to a modern reader. Mr Mullan has an easy (can I say non-academic) writing style, which makes this book a pleasure to read.

I think this book is a must not only for Austen fans, but for anyone interested in English Literature and the development of the novel.

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A Weekend With Mr Darcy – Victoria Connelly

My local Angus and Robertsons has gone out of business, but the space now has one of those $5 book shops, which was where I found this novel. How could I not buy it?

Here’s the blurb …

Full of characters obsessed with Jane Austen and set in Jane Austen locations in England, this lively modern Jane Austen romantic comedy trilogy features two pairs of lonely hearts who find each other and themselves at a Jane Austen Addicts weekend.

Dr. Katherine Roberts is a Jane Austen lecturer at St Bridget’s College, Oxford, who secretly loves the racy Regency novels of Lorna Warwick. But Lorna is really a man who’s slowly been falling in love with Katherine. He’s hoping that the Jane Austen Addicts weekend will be the perfect opportunity to declare his feelings..

This was a light, entertaining and fun novel that didn’t take it self too seriously. I read it on a weekend and thoroughly enjoyed myself – it is escapist fiction, but the writing is good (and Ms Connelly didn’t try to replicate Austen’s style) and the author is obviously familiar with Austen’s novels.

This novel is a good romantic comedy (which is quite rare these days) and I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of the romantic comedy genre (You don’t even need to be an Austen fan to enjoy this one).

More reviews …–-a-review/ 

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Behind Closed Doors At Home in Georgian England – Amanda Vickery

This is an interesting (not to mention easy to read) book about home and what that meant to the Georgians.

The Georgian house is a byword for proportion and elegance, but what did it mean to its inhabitants? In this brilliant new work Amanda Vickery unlocks the homes of English men and women, from the Oxfordshire mansion of the unhappy gentlewomen Anne Dormer in the 1680s to the dreary London lodgings of the bachelor clerk and future novelist Anthony Trollope in the 1830s. With her customary wit and verve, she evokes the interiors of a wide range of homes, introducing us to genteel spinsters keeping up appearances in two rooms, professional couples setting up home in rented houses, widowers frantic to keep their households afloat without mistress and servants with only a locking box to call their own.

The book is split into ten chapters; Thresholds and Boundaries at Home, Men Alone, Setting Up Home, His and Hers, Rooms at the Top, Wallpaper and Taste, The Trials of Domestic Dependence, A Nest of Comforts, What Women Made and A Sex in Things. Through exhaustive research (account books, court records, journals and letters, Vickery explores various ‘household’ issues. From the idea of privacy (which seems to be quite a modern concept – imagine having no space of your own beyond what you can fit in your locking box) to the rise of consumerism, to the different purchases made by men and women, the idea of ‘taste’ (what it meant and who had it) and also the division of power and labour in a household.

A few things that have stuck with me, it’s really difficult to determine what married women purchased because it was often done in their husband’s name, being a spinster of limited means was awful, society was patriarchal and although wise men let their wives run their households they didn’t have to and living with a tyrant in an era of no property rights was awful.

If you are interested in history, then this is definitely worth reading. It is accessible and entertaining and provides another glimpse into “Jane Austen’s World”.

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Helen – Maria Edgeworth

As Austen was a bit of an Edgeworth fan, when I saw this in the book shop I decided I had to read it (although Austen died before this novel was published).

Here’s the stuff on the back …

She was the best-selling author of Regency England. Admired by Jane Austen, whose fame she eclipsed. John Ruskin declared her books ‘the most re-readable in existence’.

On the death of her guardian, honest, generous-spirited Helen Stanley is urged to share the home of her childhood friend Lady Cecilia. But this charming socialite is withholding secrets and Helen is drawn into a web of white lies and evasions that threaten not only her hopes for marriage but her very place in society.

A fascinating panorama of Britain’s political and intellectual elite in the early 1800s and a gripping romantic drama, Helen was the inspiration for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters.

Edgeworth lacks the wit and light touch of Austen. I found this novel heavy going and I suspect it won’t appeal to a modern audience. It is about lying and liars. General Clarenden, Cecilia’s husband, declares he would not marry a woman who had been in love previously. Cecilia lied to him about a previous infatuation. Some letters, that Cecilia wrote to this man, come to light and Cecilia encourages Helen to say that the writing on the letters isn’t Cecilia’s (the implication being that it is Helen’s). Things then get worse – the letters might get published, Helen becomes the scandal of the moment.

I’ve picked a few bits out that remind me of Austen …

[…] and secondly, because every woman is willing to believe what she wishes.

and this is a bit like the part in Emma when the narrator talks about English verdure.

The road led them into the next village, one of the prettiest of that sort of scattered English villages, where each habitation seems to have been suited to the fancy as well as to the convenience of each proprietor; giving an idea at once of comfort and liberty, such as can be seen only in England. Happy England, how blest, would she but no her bliss!

It is beautifully written, romantic and full of suspense – will Cecilia ever confess to the General and what will happen to Helen? If you are a Jane Austen fan or enjoy regency romances, then you should try to read this one if only for the authentic period detail.

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Don’t Tempt Me – Loretta Chase

I’m continuing my regency romance reading marathon. I selected this one because I read Loretta Chase’s blog – Two Nerdy History Girl and I find their history posts fascinating.


Here’s the blurb …

Spunky English girl overcomes impossible odds and outsmarts heathen villains.

That’s the headline when Zoe Lexham returns to England. After twelve years in the exotic east, she’s shockingly adept in the sensual arts. She knows everything a young lady shouldn’t and nothing she ought to know. She’s a walking scandal, with no hope of a future . . . unless someone can civilize her.

Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont, is no knight in shining armor. He’s cynical, easily bored, and dangerous to women. He charms, seduces, and leaves them—with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears. But good looks, combined with money and rank, makes him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe’s risqué reputation . . . if the wayward beauty doesn’t lead him into temptation, and a passion that could ruin them both.

This book was too explicit for me – I enjoyed the setting, the research and I thought the characters were fabulous. However, I found the sex scenes cringe-worthy; euphemisms like ‘his limb of pleasure’, ‘palace of pleasure’, ‘your golden flower’, etc. However, that might just be me. The woman at my local book store tell me that Georgette Heyer is old fashioned.

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Four in Hand – Stephanie Laurens

I love reading regency romances, which isn’t to say I think Jane Austen writes regency romances or I think any of the romance authors are her equivalent. Georgette Heyer would be my favourite, but I’m always on the look out for another author. I’ve discovered through trial and error that I prefer ‘traditional’ regencies. The euphemisms for various body parts in the other more ‘sensual’ regencies just make me cringe – am I the only one? ‘Palace of Pleasure” ugh!

Anyway, I live very close to this store so I stopped by and picked up this novel.

Here is the blurb …

She was unquestionably a lady. Still, that had never stopped him before. He could see that she was not, he thought, that young. Even better. Another twinge of pain from behind his eyes lent a harshness to his voice. “Who the devil are you?” In no way discomposed, she answered, “My name is Caroline Twinning. And if you really are the Duke of Twyford, then I’m very much afraid I’m your ward . . . “

Max Rotherbridge couldn’t believe it. Along with the dukedom of Twyford, he – London’s most notorious rogue – had inherited wardship of four devilishly attractive sisters! Including the irresistible Caroline Twinning. The eldest Twinning was everything he had ever wanted in a woman, but even Max couldn’t seduce his own ward . . . or could he? After all, he did have a substantial reputation to protect. And what better challenge than the one woman capable of stealing his heart?

I quite liked it – there was probably slightly too much seduction for my liking or at least too much described seduction (We all know Willoughby seduces Eliza in Sense and Sensibility, but we don’t hear about her rosy nipples) – but I think it was well researched I didn’t get jolted back to reality by something anachronistic or simply impossible.

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport – Cathleen Schine


This novel is based on Sense and Sensibility. I have been disappointed in the past with sequels, prequels, etc, but being eternally hopeful (or just wanting more Austen) I’m always prepared to try another one.

Here’s a synopsis

Jane Austen’s beloved Sense and Sensibilityhas moved to Westport, Connecticut, in this enchanting modern-day homage to the classic novelWhen Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy eight years old and she was seventy-five . . . He said the words “Irreconcilable differences,” and saw real confusion in his wife’s eyes.“Irreconcilable differences?” she said. “Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”Thus begins The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a sparkling contemporary adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from the always winning Cathleen Schine, who has already been crowned “a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen” by People’s Leah Rozen.In Schine’s story, sisters Miranda, an impulsive but successful literary agent, and Annie, a pragmatic library director, quite unexpectedly find themselves the middle-aged products of a broken home. Dumped by her husband of nearly fifty years and then exiled from their elegant New York apartment by his mistress, Betty is forced to move to a small, run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. Joining her are Miranda and Annie, who dutifully comes along to keep an eye on her capricious mother and sister. As the sisters mingle with the suburban aristocracy, love starts to blossom for both of them, and they find themselves struggling with the dueling demands of reason and romance.

I enjoyed reading this novel. The author didn’t try to emulate Austen’s style but took the situation (mother and two sisters in reduced circumstances) and made a whole new (modern) story from it.

It is one of the better re-interpretations that I have read.

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