Category Archives: Jane Austen

Howards End/Sanditon Review

Classic and beloved novels are easy targets for stage and screen reboots. The question that fans have to ask is if these reboots hold up to the text.

Last night, the new adaptations of Howards End and Sanditon premiered on Masterpiece.

Based on the E.M. Foster novel, Howards End is the story of the intermingling of three families in the early 20th century in England. The Wilcoxes are upper class, the Schlegels are middle class and the Basts are lower class. With a cast led by Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen, this story of cross-class differences and secrets is bound to delight audiences.

I have a confession to make: I have heard of the book, but I have never read it. That will soon be remedied. In the meantime, I was completely taken in by the first episode and as of now, I plan on completing the series.

Sanditon was started by Jane Austen just months before she died. An eleven chapter fragment of a novel, respected television writer Andrew Davies continued where Austen left off. Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) is part Elizabeth Bennet and part Catherine Morland. The daughter of a large landed gentry family from the country, Charlotte is young and eager to spread her wings.

When an offer comes her way to visit Sanditon, an up and coming seaside resort, she immediately says yes. But Sanditon is a different world than the world she grew up in. One of the people she meets is Sydney Parker (Theo James, who played the infamous Mr. Pamuk on Downton Abbey), the brooding and sometimes rude younger brother of the couple who she is staying with.

For many Austen fans, Sanditon is a what-if experience. With only eleven chapters completed, we can only guess what the completed novel would have looked like. As an adaptation, so far, I have to say that I am impressed.

Like his previous Jane Austen adaptation, Davies knows when to stick to the script and when to add a little something extra.

What I liked about the series so far is that unlike most Austen heroines, Charlotte’s main reason for going to Sanditon is not to find a husband. Most of her heroines (with the exception of Emma Woodhouse) are motivated to marry because of family pressure and/or financial needs. Charlotte goes to Sanditon to see the world and experience life outside of the family that she grew up in. She is also curious about the world and shows interest in certain subjects that would not be deemed “appropriate” for a woman of this era.

I really enjoyed the first two episodes. It is a love letter to Austen fans and contains plenty of Easter eggs if one knows where to look.

I recommend both.

Howards End and Sanditon air on PBS on Sundays nights at 8:00 and 9:00 respectively.

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Filed under Books, Downton Abbey, Feminism, Jane Austen, Television, TV Review

Best Books of 2019

To say that I am a bookworm is an understatement. As you might expect, I’ve read quite a few books this year.

Without further adieu, my list of the best books of 2019 is below.

  1. The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power: This book is #1 because it represents how far American women have come and how far we need to go before we are truly equal. In celebrating the success of these female politicians, the authors are paving the way for the next generation of women to represent their country.
  2. The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between: This compelling and true story of one small town and it’s Jewish residents during World War II is as compelling as any fiction novel of the Holocaust.
  3. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II: Telling the story of Audrey Hepburn‘s childhood during World War II, this book is a must-read for both movie junkies and history nerds alike.
  4. Summer of ’69: History is not just facts in a book. It the lives and experiences of those who lived through that period. In telling the story of one specific family, the summer of 1969 comes alive.
  5. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators: The revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s actions two years ago was appalling and world-changing. In bringing his actions to the light, the authors are giving his victims what should have been theirs in the first place.
  6. Unmarriageable: A Novel: This adaptation of Pride & Prejudice set in Pakistan proves why Austen’s novels are universally loved and rebooted time and again.
  7. The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria met Patrick: The previously untold story of Maria Bronte (nee Branwell) is a fascinating story of the women who would bring Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte into the world.
  8. Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman: It takes guts to be yourself. It takes even more guts when being yourself means that you are no longer part of the community you grew up in.
  9. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement: The reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal knew what they were up against. They also knew how important it was for the public to know the truth.
  10. The Winemaker’s Wife: Love and betrayal are enough to handle. Add in war and you have this marvelous novel set in France during World War II.

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Filed under Anne Bronte, Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Movies, Pride and Prejudice

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern Book Review

History is made in small moments. When we are in that moment, we cannot see how things are changing. We can only see how things have changed when we step back and are able to see the big picture.

Earlier this year, Professor Robert Morrison published his new book, The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. In the book, Professor Morrison explains how the Regency era was the beginning of the political, cultural and religious shift that would later create modern Britain.

Using noted figures of the period such as writer Jane Austen, aristocrat, poet, and politician Lord Byron and French statesman Napoleon Bonaparte, Professor Morrison deconstructs the period and changes that would forever affect Britain as we know it to be today.

I liked this book. It was a deep dive into a period that I thought I knew a lot about. I was wrong. This book took me into the intricacies and details of the Regency era that would only be known to someone who lived in that time or a modern historian who had done their homework.

I will say, however, that this book is not for everyone. It is for someone like me who wants to know more about the period outside of the novels of the era. Or, it can be used for academic purposes. But it does not read like a dry college textbook. Professor Morrison writes in such a way that the reader is quickly absorbed and taught about the Regency era without feeling like they are in a lecture hall.

I recommend it.

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Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

On December 16th, 1775, a remarkable woman was born. Her name was Jane Austen.

In her time (and to a certain degree, still in ours), a woman’s path in life was clear. She was to receive an education that was considered to be appropriate for a woman. Upon reaching adulthood, she would marry, bear children (i.e. sons) and live the rest of her life in the quiet dignity that was expected for a woman.

Jane could have married. His name was Harris Bigg-Wither. He was the younger brother of her friends. By the accounts of the day and family members, he was not the most attractive of men. But he had one thing going for him: he was the heir of a wealthy and respected family. At that time, those facts were all that was needed to determine if someone was a good match.

He proposed when Jane and Cassandra were visitors to the Bigg-Wither home. On paper, they were a good match. She was in her late 20’s, nearly impoverished and without a marriage proposal in sight. Upon his father’s death, Harris would inherit a stately home and a comfortable fortune. He proposed in the evening. Jane said yes, but something was not right. In the morning, she took back her yes and changed the course of her life forever.

As a single and childless woman of a certain age, I look to Austen as a role model. She could have easily folded into the preordained path that was expected for a woman. But she didn’t. She chose her own path and in doing so, pave the way for future generations of women to do the same.

Wherever you are Jane, Happy Birthday.

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Filed under Books, Emma, Feminism, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Writing

Thoughts On the New Emma Trailer

In Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma, the novel’s titular heroine, Emma Woodhouse is introduced as “handsome, rich and clever”. She thinks that she knows the ways of the world, especially when it comes to love and marriage. Thinks is the keyword in the sentence.

The latest film iteration of this beloved novel will be released into theaters in February. Stepping into the well-worn shoes of Miss Woodhouse is Anya Taylor-Joy. Starring opposite her as George Knightley, Emma’s neighbor/verbal sparring partner is Johnny Flynn.

This is one movie that I am looking forward to seeing. Austen’s comedy of manners is more than the story of who will hook up and when they will hook up. It is the story of a young woman who learns that she does not know everything, but it is written in such a way that the reader does not hate Emma.

I hope that this version will make Jane Austen proud.

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Filed under Books, Emma, Jane Austen, Movies, Thoughts On....

defending mansfield park: a series of rebuttals

She read my mind. It’s about time that Fanny Price was appreciated.

coffee, classics, & craziness

Image result for mansfield park book cover(source)

I recently reread Mansfield Park for the first time since 2016 and found that many of my thoughts about the novel had changed.  I’ve always liked it more than most other Austenites do (not trying to sound prideful or anything – it’s just the way my tastes go) but I found myself enjoying it even more this time around.  I feel as though I’ve matured into it; it’s become a novel that speaks to me even more than it entertains. 

I wanted to write a post defending Mansfield Park from some of its usual criticisms, while sharing why I love it as much as I do.  It was hard to figure out a format though because Mansfield Park is such a dense read – there’s so much to discuss!  I ended up deciding to list several of the most common complaints leveled against the book and its characters and…

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A Life of My Own Book Review

Writing about your own life requires introspection, honesty and the ability to examine what you have or have not accomplished.

Claire Tomalin is known as the author of quite a few successful biographies. Her new book, A Life of My Own, is her autobiography. Born in 1933 to a French academic father and an English musician mother, Tomalin used books and reading as an escape hatch from her tumultuous and painful life. As a child, she watched as her parent’s marriage crumble.

In her adult years, her own marriage was far from picture perfect. Her late first husband was not exactly loyal to his wife or his vows. Her son was born disabled and she lost one of her daughters to suicide. But she was able to maintain a respected literary career and find love again, even after her disastrous first marriage.

I have to be honest. I love Ms. Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen. It is brilliant and as perfect as a biography can get. However, I found this book to be on the boring side. I should have been inspired by how she overcame what stood in her way. But I wasn’t.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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North and South Book Review

Love at first sight is cheesy, predictable and boring. Hate at first sight is fun, interesting and when done well, has the ability to suck a reader or viewer into the story.

Elizabeth Gaskell‘s 1854 novel, North and South, starts with the standard hate at first sight narrative with issues of politics, wealth and worker’s rights thrown in. Margaret Hale lives a comfortable life with her parents in the south of England. When her father is forced to leave the Church because of a disagreement with his bosses, the Hales move to Milton, a town in the north of England.

While Mr. Hale is employed as a tutor to the mill owner John Thornton, Margaret begins to explore. She is quickly disgusted by the poverty, the dirt, the grime and an obvious distinction between the mill owners and the mill workers. She is also disgusted by her father’s pupil, who she believes to be cold and emotionless.

Then Mr. Thornton proposes marriage. The battle of misunderstood messages, a polar opposite world view and the fight to hide their mutual attraction begins.

Though this book is set in the mold of Pride and Prejudice, Gaskell takes it to another level. She is telling the story of the working class in 19th century mill and factory communities that often seen and not heard in these kind of stories. I have seen the miniseries, but up until recently, I had not read the book. I loved the chemistry between the lead characters and the brilliant way that the author highlights the real issues of working class characters.

I recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

The Song of the Jade Lily Book Review

Jane Austen once wrote the following about friendship:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

The new book, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning is about the power of friendship during difficult times. The book is set in two different eras. In 1939 Shanghai, native born Li and Jewish refugee Romy are best friends. Like millions of others across the world, the girls are unaware that the coming war will forever change their lives and their friendship.

In 2016, Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra leaves London with a broken heart and takes refuge in her grandparent’s home in Australia. Her grandfather is dying and the secrets of her grandparent’s past are slowly being revealed.

After her grandfather passes away, Alexandra moves to Shanghai for work. But she is also curious to see if the city can reveal the secrets of her family’s past. What she discovers will finally reveal what has been kept locked away for decades.

This book is amazing. Ms. Manning tells the story of friendship that remains strong, even when war threatens to tear the friendship apart. She also tells the story of Shanghai, the only port that would take Jewish refugees who could not obtain visas. It is a narrative that in the overall Holocaust narrative, that does get the spotlight that it should.

I recommend it.

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The Jane Austen Society Book Review

Today, Jane Austen is everywhere. 200 years after her passing, she is one of those authors who is as popular as an author whose book is on the New York Times Best Seller list.

But it was not always this way. It is thanks to the original members of the Jane Austen Society that Jane Austen is alive and well in our culture.

Coming out next Spring, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner tells the story of the founding of the Jane Austen Society. Just after World War II, Chawton, the village where Austen wrote and/or revised her six novels is a sleepy little English town. There is a trickle of visitors to Chawton House, the ancestral home of Jane’s older brother, Edward Austen Knight, but not enough to call it a tourist attraction.

Through their love of their local celebrity, the original members of the Jane Austen Society are able to preserve the memory of Austen’s name and work for generations to come.

I really liked this book. Though the characters are fiction, they embody why Jane Austen is still one of the most popular authors today. The characters in this book are all different, but what brings them together is the love of Austen and the beloved fictional worlds that she created.

I absolutely recommend it.

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