When Providence provides, what can Jane do but investigate?

Jane and the Waterloo Map

Being the thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries. Jane, as the newly revealed author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, is summoned to Carlton House. Not, as you might expect, to meet its tenant, the Prince Regent, who is occupied by sitting for his Waterloo portrait, but to view the prince’s magnificent library and to avail herself of its amenities as a room in which to write her next book. Jane does not approve of the regent and after she fulfills her duty to this royal command is going to do no such thing, until a Hero (Jane and Barron make that a proper noun in the stile [sic] of the day and I follow suit) of the battle of Waterloo falls at her feet, in death throes from poisoning by yew needles. When Providence provides, what can Jane do but investigate?

From the body in the library [squee!] to the cameo appearance by the Duke of Wellington and the reappearance of that dashing painter slash spy, Raphael West (whom we first met in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas) Jane ignores, avoids and denies the constrictions and shibboleths accruing to her sex in this time and place to seek out the villain and bring him to justice. There are false starts and red herrings, her brother Henry’s annoyance at his sister’s predilection for these unladylike exploits and her own attraction to West to navigate, but never doubt that Jane will get there in the end.

In her literary persona Jane is currently editing Emma, or she is when her new publisher finally gets the proofs to her.

“Suprizes are foolish things,” I intoned in Mr. Knightley’s voice. “The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.” I have a decided talent for an epigram; I hope it delights my readers as much as myself.

It does, Jane, it does, and Barron knows this full well and shamelessly and delightfully exploits Jane’s own real world words to enhance Barron’s narrative. There are echoes, too, from Jane’s novels in this one that are so poignant as to be a little painful.

I should have spoken. I should have said, loudly or softly, You know that you may command me in anything, Raphael West.

Jane Bennet, anyone, who nearly lost Bingley because Darcy thought her indifferent? And see Jane’s thoughts on Anne Elliott, the heroine of her next novel, Persuasion.

I shall spend my hours in consideration of a young woman long since On the Shelf, the daughter of a foolish by privileged family, whose good sense in chusing a man of action and prowess is rewarded as such wisdom usually is: by being dissuaded from risk, and channeled with the best possible motives into an oppressive and stultifying spinsterhood.

Ouch. Jane’s voice is so clear and so real and often so acerbic in these novels that you feel as if you are residing behind and just to the left of her occipital lobe throughout. I could move in for good.

And great news for Barron and Austen fans, Stephanie Barron is signing Jane and the Waterloo Map at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale at 7pm tomorrow! Click here to order your signed copy.


A Paean or a Lament?

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2011]

…Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”

…“Is this,” thought Elizabeth, “meant for me?”

—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

At the time she had wondered whether the remark had held a warning and the suspicion had caused her some embarrassment which she had attempted to hide by turning the conversation into a pleasantry. But the memory of the incident had been far from pleasant. She had not needed Colonel Fitzwilliam’s warning to remind her of what a girl with four unmarried sisters and no fortune could expect in marriage…The warning might have been necessary but it had not been well done. If he had never entertained the thought of her it would have been kinder had he been less openly assiduous in his attentions.

—P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley

Into the current overabundance of books about, based on and borrowed from Jane Austen’s novels now marches P.D. James with Death Comes to Pemberley. It is six years following the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy, and on the eve of Pemberley’s annual ball commemorating Darcy’s mother, a body is discovered in Pemberley woods. Victim and suspect are both well known to you, as is the plot, which includes an almost case file exposition of crime scene, investigation, inquest and trial. Really, it’s sort of Law and Order:UK, circa 1803. BUM-bum.

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I wonder who else in Jane’s life is being pilloried here.

persuasionThe Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen, David M. Shapard

This is the second of Mr. Shapard’s Annotated Austen series I have read (see my review of his Annotated Pride and Prejudice), and again he does an excellent job of making Jane’s novels contemporary to the modern reader.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Persuasion and some passages fairly jumped out at me, as in:

Lady Elliot [Anne’s mother] had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation with made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence afterward…

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Top 10 Books That Make Me Want to Quit Writing

[From the stabenow.com vaults, October 16, 2009]

Here’s my top ten list of books that make me want to quit writing,
because I’ll never write anything this good, so why am I bothering.

pp1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
I know, kind of obvious, but I defy anyone, whether they’re reading it for the first time or the fiftieth, not to have at minimum twenty laugh-out-loud moments. We are most seriously pleased.

monte2. Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer.
A new addition to the list, and please note how far up. Phenomenal prose style (by page 30 I was looking for people to read aloud to), delightful characters, and you can smell the dust on the trail. A lot to say about frontiers and what gets left behind when they’re gone.

tey3. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.
A British policeman flat on his back in a hospital solves a double homicide four hundred years old. Terrific on every level, characters, plot and setting(s).

lamb4. Lamb, the gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal by Christopher Moore.
First time Jesus ever died that I felt like I’d lost a friend. Entirely too many great scenes to recount here, beginning with Jesus resurrecting his brother’s lizard and, later, a jittery Jesus on a caffeine high buzzing around Antioch marketplace healing everybody. A funny book, yes, but also very, very smart.

civil-contract5. A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer.
Actually, pretty much anything by Georgette Heyer, who wrote the best dialogue in the English language. I love this book because it’s her most realistic novel, but I also love The Unknown Ajax, Frederica, The Foundling, Venetia, Cotillion, Friday’s Child, okay, I’ll stop.

trustee6. Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.
You’ll remember Nevil Shute for On the Beach and A Town Like Alice, but this was his best story, about engineer Keith Stewart’s round-the-world journey to recover his orphaned niece’s inheritance, and the adventures he has along the way. Illiterate heart-throb sailor Jack Donnelly is one of my all time favorite characters.

folly7. The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.
A book which informed my entire world view. In it, Tuchman posits the existance of folly, or the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest–in other words, why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She uses the Trojans taking the Greek horse inside the walls of Troy as her template, and then goes on to talk about how the Renaissance popes caused the Reformation, how the British lost America, and how the US lost in Vietnam. A lively, engaging prose style with more than a hint of “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

lion8. The Lion’s Paw by Robb White.
I grew up on a fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska, and I was always looking for books about other kids on boats. In this one, Ben, Penny and Nick run away on a yacht called the Hard-A-Lee, and they’re not coming back until they find a rare sea shell called a lion’s paw, because when they find it Ben’s father will return from the war in the Pacific. Great details, great characters, and White’s heirs finally got it together to bring this book back into print, yay! See also The Pearl Lagoon by Charles Nordhoff and The Sea Flower by Ruth Moore.

gate9. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper.
In post-apocolyptic America, the women have a plan to study war no more. Tepper doesn’t chicken out, either, she’s got an idea and she sees it through to the bitter end. Or as she puts it, the Damned Few.

seersucker10. The Seersucker Whipsaw by Ross Thomas.
A couple of American politicos go to the African nation of Albertia to run the election campaign of Chief Sunday Akomolo, and there is nothing they won’t do to win. Funny, smart as hell, and an ending that will knock you sideways.


Part dystopian future, part teenage love story, all Jane Austen

For Darkness Shows the Stars (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #1)For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Part dystopian future, part teenage love story, part philosophical debate on whether a man’s reach should or should not exceed his grasp and what either might mean to the larger community of mankind (but don’t let that scare you), told through a clever replotting of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Well into a post-apocalyptic future Earth history, Luddite Elliot refuses to run away with Post Kai, choosing to sacrifice her own happiness to ensure the survival of the Reduced workers on her family estate. Four years later Kai returns triumphant, rich and successful beyond their wildest youthful dreams. Elliot still loves him, he appears to hate her, and his intelligent, able Post companions only emphasize the differences between his life and hers, spent everlastingly cleaning up after her spoiled sister, her cruel father and her wicked cousin.

Horror and Jane don’t pass the smell test for me, but science fiction and Jane sure did. I especially enjoyed that Anne — sorry, Elliot — got to have a job and to do it well.

Note: My book club is going to be reading and discussing this book together with Austen’s Persuasion later this year.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged…

…that any book you truly love is in need of a properly annotated edition.

The Annotated Pride and PrejudiceThe Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Here is one such. Let me just start quoting:

“…A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

Mrs. Bennet on Mr. Bingley, of course, but just how worthy was Bingley of Jane’s love? Editor David Shapard annotates, not without learned caveats

By some calculations, the effects of inflation mean that a pound in Jane Austen’s time has the same value as almost forty pounds today; if so, Bingley’s income would be the equivalent of 150,000 to 200,000 a year in today’s [2007] pounds (or around $250,000-$300,000 in current U.S. money).

So, Bingley could definitely afford to rent Netherfield Park, and later to give it up just to move nearer to Darcy (and farther away from Mrs. Bennet). Shapard continues

Another way to look at the issue is to note that in Sense and Sensibility a mother is able to support herself and three daughters in reasonable comfort in a nice home she has rented, and with a staff of three servants,on five hundred a year. Jane Austen herself lived most of her life on less than that.

An historical fact that not only puts Jane’s books in present-day perspective but Georgette’s as well.

The text of Pride and Prejudice appears on the left hand page of this volume, Shapard’s annotations on the right-hand page, and there is some tidbit at least that beguiling everywhere you look. As in

Mr. Bennet was glad to take [Mr. Collins] into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies…after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons.

Shapard annotates

James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, a widely read book of the time. Collections of sermons were often issued in book form. Such choice of material could be considered presumptuous of Mr. Collins, for he is effectively taking it upon himself to preach good conduct to his cousins, on the first evening of his acquaintance with them and in front of their father, who is supposed to be in charge of such matters.

One cannot ever consider Mr. Collins too presumptuous.

From Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth

Your sister I also watched–Her look and manners were open, cheerful and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment.

Shapard annotates (can’t get enough of that word)

…Darcy’s style is very formal, with many elaborate sentences and difficult words and phrases. In these respects it bears some resemblance to Mr. Collin’s efforts. But while the latter’s formal and long-winded phrases are merely verbal padding or the repetition of empty cliches, Darcy’s complex phrases exist to convey complex thoughts, ones that display his intelligence, just as his careful wording displays the deliberation and scrupulousness that mark his character generally.

As many times as I have read Pride and Prejudice, never before have I seen so clearly the differences between the way Mr. Collins expresses himself and the way Darcy does, and what Jane meant those differences to mean.

This is the very best kind of marginalia, informative, insightful, surprising, and irresistible. Highly recommended.

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Jane’s ring.

A ring that was once privileged to grace the hand of Jane Austen, which may have been given to her by Tom LeFroy, was estimated to be auctioned off for £20,000-£30,000.

Try £150,000.

Wonderfully informative Jane blog here.

watercolor by Cassandra Austen

And FYI, on this 200th birthday of Pride and Prejudice, this may be the best adaptation ever:

(You’re welcome.)