A New Project

As I am very interested in textiles, I thought I would embark on a project exploring textiles and needlework in Austen’s novels and her world.

Shawl at the Jane Austen House Museum (embroidered by Austen)
A Quilt made by Jane, Cassandra and their mother – at the Jane Austen House Museum

I have many embroidery history books, Austen’s novels and letters, plus Austen biographies and regency histories to which I can refer.

This is a long term project – I am going to start by reading this book (I might even attempt some of the projects)

Jane Austen Embroidery – Regency Patterns Reimagined for Modern Stitchers – Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larken

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Fathers in Jane Austen – I P Duckfield

Fathers in Jane Austen – I P Duckfield

My local Jane Austen group chose to read this for one of our meetings – various people were assigned (or volunteered) to read particular chapters. I read the chapter on Emma.

Here’s the blurb …

The role of fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels, showing how the destiny of the daughter is dependent upon the father’s character and foibles.

Fathers in Jane Austen puts forward the view that fathers hold the key to the novels and the destinies of the daughters Austen portrays. Mr Bennet is completely detached (Pride and Prejudice); Mr Woodhouse is self-obsessed (Emma); Sir Walter Elliott is vain and profligate (Persuasion); Sir Thomas Bertram is emotionally anorexic (Mansfield) – these and other fathers leave their daughters exposed to destitution, seduction, financial ruin and unhappiness.

IP Duckfield shows that the heroines of Austen’s novels are caught in a trap made by their fathers’ failure to observe their parental duties, and argues that the fathers’ weaknesses lie at the heart of Austen’s novels.

Duckfield judges the fathers on three points (or at least he thinks Austen assesses them on three points):

  • Financial security
  • Education
  • Inculcating moral principles

So we can see someone like Mr Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) is hopeless. He has made no provision for his daughters’ futures – once he is dead the Collins can kick them out as soon as they like. I don’t think he did much for their education (although he does have a good library and he seems to have let those who wanted to read what they liked). Given the way he spoke about his wife and younger daughters and Lydia’s flight I think we can say he didn’t do too well on the moral principles either.

Mr Woodhouse (from Emma) seems to fair a little bit better. She’s financially secure (although that is probably because Mr Knightley is taking care of their finances).

Mr Knightley […] being again at Hartfield on business with Mr Woodhouse […], as soon as Mr Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away.

Chapter 3, Volume 2

He, Mr Woodhouse, has engaged Miss Taylor, so he is looking after the education of his daughters (or at least out-sourcing it). I am not sure how he scores on moral principles because I think Mr Knightley does that too. So he is fortunate in his friends, but does that make him a good father?

This is an interesting book, which provides another way of thinking about the novels. I have yet to read the remaining chapters, but plan to in the future.

A review from JASNA

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The Nonesuch – Georgette Heyer

The Nonesuch – Georgette Heyer

I love a good regency romance and Georgette Heyer is one of the best.

Here is a link to my book review blog with a review of The Nonesuch.

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Interesting JASNA Article

I am not sure where I first saw a mention of this article – Instagram perhaps?

Why was Jane Austen sent away to school so early?


Essentially the girls (Cassandra and Jane) were sent away to school to create space for paying students. But this article is full of information about the houses that could be Steventon (there are two possibilities), number of students at any time, number of servants (because some of them have to be housed too) and number of family members (remember two of the boys were also sent off to the naval academy).

I have read a lot of Austen biographies and I have never noticed the two different Steventon houses.

Both of the below images are from the article.

Version 1 – the smaller house
Version 2 – The Bigger House

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Emma, Annotated by David M Shapard

Emma – Jane Austen, Annotated by David M Shapard

It has been an enormous length of time since I have written a blog post (7 years!). It’s not that I stopped reading everything relating to Jane Austen, or watching adaptations, etc. I think it was a time thing – it takes time to read the book, watch the movie and then write a review, but I am hoping that now I have made a start I will keep going.

I came across David M Shapard from Page Girl’s blog – she was doing a close reading of Sense and Sensibility definitely worth reading. As Emma is my favourite Austen, I thought I would start my re-reading with it. Such a joy to be back in Austen’s world.

Here’s the goodreads blurb …

From the editor of the popular Annotated Pride and Prejudice comes an annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Emma that makes her beloved tale of an endearingly inept matchmaker an even more satisfying read. Here is the complete text of the novel with more than 2,200 annotations on facing pages, including:
Explanations of historical context
-Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
-Definitions and clarifications
-Literary comments and analysis
-Maps of places in the novel
-An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
-Nearly 200 informative illustrations

Filled with fascinating information about everything from the social status of spinsters and illegitimate children to the shopping habits of fashionable ladies to English attitudes toward gypsies, David M. Shapard’s Annotated Emma brings Austen’s world into richer focus.

The annotations are fabulous, I have read Emma countless times, and there was still things that I learnt or hadn’t ever noticed.

I wouldn’t recommend reading the annotated version for your first reading (to be well-annotated means spoilers), but for subsequent readings definitely read this version. It was fascinating just noticing the evolution of words.

It is possibly geared more towards an American audience – I thought some of the things annotated were obvious, but perhaps only to English or commonwealth readers.

A review.

Re-reading Emma made me realise how isolated, and possibly, lonely Emma was. Her social circle is extremely limited; the Westons, Harriet, Mr Knightley, and the Eltons and the Bates (and she doesn’t like them). Also, there is not a lot to keep her busy; looking after her father and managing the house, no wonder she’s a bit of an imaginist.

And Mrs Elton is like an extreme form of Emma without the elegance and good breeding.

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Jane Austen at Home – Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen at Home – Lucy Worsley

I pre-ordered this and have been waiting and waiting and finally it arrived.

Here is the blurb …

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

This is (currently) my favourite biography – easy to read, insightful (and the cover is beautiful). I have read several biographies and you would think there would be nothing new to say, but each author interprets things differently or writes from a different perspective. In this case, Worsley uses each of Austen’s homes as her starting off point. I learnt new things – for example, Mr Austen might have died from malaria.

If you are interested, you can watch this …


More reviews …



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First Impressions – Charlie Lovett

First Impressions – Charlie Lovett

I felt a bit of trepidation about reading this one – I have been burned before (sometimes I even wonder if we are reading the same novels to start with!), however, this one is a pleasant surprise.

Here is the blurb …

A thrilling literary mystery co-starring Jane Austen from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale.

Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.  Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

It is written in two different times – modern day and 1796 – one with Austen as the heroine and one with Sophie. It is a mystery (who is Richard Mansfield? and who can Sophie trust?), romance and historical fiction all rolled into one. It has a very interesting premise, which I won’t spoil for you, that I found to be plausible. The writing was lovely and swapped easily between the two time periods. My main issues were with plot – the villain was a tad too obvious and Jane Austen attended a funeral (women didn’t attend funerals in her day – pedantic I know).

It is an enjoyable to read and makes me want to read Pride and Prejudice again (not to mention Agatha Christie and several other novels mentioned in the text). It is a book for book lovers as well as Austen fans and would make a great movie.

More reviews

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett – A Review


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Female Maturity from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood – Michael Giffen

Female Maturity from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood – Michael Giffen

I bought this at the Jane Austen conference in Canberra two years ago and have only just got to reading it.

Here is the blurb …

This book proposes a relationship between the novel that explores the heroine’s maturity (bildungsroman) and the spirit of her age (zeitgeist). Put another way, how an author of bildungsroman defines and measures maturity, and the process through which her heroine matures, changes between the neoclassical, romantic, realist, naturalist, modernist, and postmodernist periods, and continues to change in the post-postmodernist period. In demonstrating this proposal, Michael Giffin considers the trajectory bildungsroman has made during the 19th and 20th century, with reference to Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”, Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”, Henry Handel Richardson’s “The Getting of Wisdom”, Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell”, Muriel Spark’s “Robinson”, and Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace” (30,000 words).

It is actually very easy to read – each author has a chapter devoted to them, their novel is summarised and then Giffen makes his argument about the zeitgeist and bildungsroman, which essentially boils down to the zeitgeist of the time in which the author is writing affects the trajectory of the hero.

It was fascinating and made me want to read the novels again – I kept asking myself why I hadn’t noticed whatever point it was Giffen was making. At first I thought it might be too religious for me, but it wasn’t. Religion was certainly part of Bronte and Austen’s times (and even Eliot’s)  and therefore does need to be considered in this context, but I wouldn’t describe this book as religious.

Here is a link to the author’s website and an article her wrote on Emma.

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Pride and Prejudice 1995

Pride and Prejudice 1995

I have been watching Pride and Prejudice while knitting. This might be my favourite P&P adaptation.

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Jane Austen The Secret Radical – Helena Kelly

Jane Austen, the secret radical – Helena Kelly

I can’t remember where I first heard of this (or when), but, of course, I wanted to read it. Then there was a scathing review by John Mullan and I had second thoughts, but I had already purchased a copy by then.

Here is the blurb …

A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring–how truly radical–a writer she was.
In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly–dazzling Jane Austen authority–looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen’s work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman “of information,” fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel–until then seen as mindless “trash”–could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.

Ms Kelly has a warning at the end of chapter 1

If you want to stay with the novels and the Jane Austen you already know, then you should stop reading now.

and I think for many people that is good advice.

There is an introductory chapter, a chapter on each of the 6 novels and a concluding chapter. Each chapter begins with an imaginative excursion into Austen’s life – I must admit these sections annoyed me. The rest of the chapter is devoted to convincing the reader of Austen’s hidden meanings. Ms Kelly has an accessible style – no dense academic jargon – and reading this book made me want to read Austen again (surely a good thing).

Some of her theories I agreed with (Mrs Tilney dying from a miscarriage or ‘a disasterously mismanaged early labour’) and others I didn’t (Mr Knightley is my favourite hero, so I might be biased, but I refuse to believe he married Emma for her money and land).

Some of her arguments were of the type A relates to B, B relates to C, so A relates to C. It is impossible to know what Austen was thinking, so people need to decide if a series of coincidences are in fact coincidences or a code that Austen was using that contemporary readers would comprehend (do any contemporary reviewers comment on this stuff?). It reminds me of other Jane Austen conspiracy theorists, however, Ms Kelly has written her book and put her ideas out in the world and I am glad that I read it even if I didn’t agree with everything.

Another review …




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