The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After (review)

May 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Review copies of books often yield atrocious reads — no wonder “reviews” need to be sought out…. So when I was offered a copy of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor (Regnery Publishing) I was skeptical, … and reluctant. Ultimately, I said “what the hell” and gave my mailing address.

Marketing links The Jane Austen Guide to the self-help genre; one dust jacket review even terms it an “advice book”. This is definitely a misnomer for this erudite and thought-provoking treatise on Austen’s novels and the exploration of relationships within those novels. Kantor has given readers a detailed and well-argued dissection of relationships, and the comparison with today’s marriage and dating market not only serves to point up what might be missing in our current hustle-bustle living arrangements, but also to give point of reference to readers who may have little background knowledge of the early-nineteenth-century English gentry Austen writes about. Certainly, buy this book if you wish to change your current dating pattern. Better yet, buy this book and pull out your Austen novels; explore the novels with Kantor, and if you happen to live a bit more happily ever after, count that as a bonus.

Indifferent to The Jane Austen Guide’s effect as self-help advice, why recommend this volume take up precious space on your bookshelf beside your collection of Austen novels? From the introduction onwards, Kantor’s sly humor is evident, whether she’s discussing Bridget Jones’s Diary or her own relationship disasters. The quality of the writing and the discourse make this a delightful read.

“[Jane Austen’s] ideals are all about rational balance, not about running screaming from one extreme only to fall off the edge on the other side. If you’ve escaped from a fire, it’s still not a great idea  to jump off a bridge and drown yourself.”

Beneath this effervescent surface, which does keep pages turning, are nuggets that will have Janeites reaching to take the novels off the shelf (as opposed to turning on the DVD). All the characters are there: from level-headed Lizzy Bennet, to boy-crazy Lydia; from Maria Bertram who “sells herself for ‘an escape from Mansfield’ and a ‘house in town’” to Charlotte Lucas, who wants to be assured of “three square meals a day” and discussions of why proud Darcy makes a better mate than the jocular, popular Wickham. No matter which novel, which couple, is your favorite, you will find a whole variety of characters given center-stage. Even the Juvenilia come under consideration, whenever a story involves love, happiness, and marriage. Love and Freindship’s heroine Laura “is proud of herself for allowing her life to be governed by intense emotions at the expense of common sense and even common decency. She falls in love in the approved Romantic manner, at first sight: ‘No sooner did I first behold him, then I felt that on him the happiness or Misery of my future Life may depend.’” Instantly, a precursor to Austen’s better-known Marianne Dashwood is established, and this makes for more correlations between Marianne and today’s reader – much as there would have been correlations felt by Austen’s original audience for Sense and Sensibility.

Male characters come under Kantor’s scrutiny as well. For instance, she nails down Wentworth’s character with this short portrait: Wentworth “was honor-bound to wait and see if his attentions to Louisa Musgrove had made Louisa expect to marry him. It was ‘dreadful,’  Wentworth tells Anne, ‘to be waiting so long in inaction.’ He never stops to think that he’s complaining about six weeks of terrible suspense to a woman who waited for him for seven years.” The crux behind Edmund Bertram’s stars dropping from his eyes is given as briefly and succinctly: “Mary’s reaction to this adulterous affair {Maria Rushworth running off with Mr. Crawford} finally opens Edmund’s eyes. He can hardly believe that the woman he wanted to marry thinks that Maria’s only real mistake in her affair with Henry was … getting caught.” Nowadays, that is the typical reaction; the ramifications of how this affair would have affected an entire family, like the disappearance of Lydia Bennet with Wickham, sometimes needs to be reasserted for less tutored readers. Kantor accomplishes that tutoring with ease, especially when she can equate past behavior with today’s behavior. For instance, in Mary Crawford’s handling of Edmund Bertram in a most “calculating way–as if the dating game were some kind of competition in looks, money, and status.” To Kantor much of Austen’s character-actions have “a very familiar flavor.”

Families, living arrangements, even “elbow room” then and now, help readers to see historically and rationally Austen’s milieu and how our own compares. “[C]olleges building new dorms with only ‘singles’ to accommodate freshman classes full of kids who’ve never shared a room in their lives; cell phones so ubiquitous that it’s becoming awkward even to ask a stranger the time”. Such comments cull current information for points of study that will make readers think about life today, i.e., what we might be missing as our lives continue to become more insular — as well as more insulated by parents and society. Food for thought, on many levels.

“[L]iving in the eighteen-teens, you pretty much had to learn to live with other people in a way that twenty-first-century people can mostly avoid. …. To hear music, you had to actually collect live musicians in one place. Games were with fellow guests around a card table, not at your solitary screen. And getting to a ball often meant having to be grateful to more well-to-do neighbors for a place in their carriage.”

In the end, Kantor recognizes, “It does make it dangerously easy for us to fall out of the habit of getting along with other people at close quarters. … And yet, ironically, we also find independence so compelling that we avoid putting ourselves in situations where we’re likely to form those kind of {i.e., close} friendships.”

Kantor’s delivery will delight younger-adult readers, and her lines of thought should provoke Austen scholars to think outside the box. Run to your nearest bookstore and buy your own copy of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.

four filled-to-the-brim inkwells.

Advertisements

Permalink 2 Comments

The Harmonicon

May 26, 2012 at 9:03 am (books, entertainment, history) (, , , )

As a music-lover, especially of “classical” music and opera, I’ve had fun looking through editions of The Harmonicon. So I will try and come up with some handy links to their volumes that I can then make a reference page in the blog.

Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen know that I rather have a love-hate relationship with books.google  — missing volumes, sometimes even missing pages, in books. But I sure won’t be heading to Harvard anytime soon, at least I think one volume found had that library’s markings in it.

So here’s what I’ve unearthed so far:

1823 – part I
1823 – part II

1824 – part I
1824 – part II

1825 – part I

1826 – part I

1828 – part I

1829 – part I

I’ll try to flesh out this list, especially part II’s.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Historic Tennessee Tombstones Unearthed

May 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm (history, news) (, , , )

I just had to pass along this news – eventhough it has nothing to do with Regency England, my two girls, or this research project.

What a mind-blowing find: Tombstones unearthed in a backyard!

Read the MSN story by clicking on the photo:

Permalink Leave a Comment

Little Red Bag of Emphemera

May 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm (diaries, history, news, research) (, , , , , , )

Today – 16 May 2012 – marks the fifth anniversary of the take off of this research project. That is the day I left Vermont for two months in England!

It seems a lifetime ago…

And yet, howfarthis project has come!

When I left for England, I knew there were diaries and letters – now I have worked with many of those (more to do!), and oh-so-much more besides. Private collectors have opened their vaults and drawn forth more letters, and a few more diaries, and sometimes pictures! Interested writers and scholars have offered help, tidbits, advice — and, yes, long-distance friendship. I also thank those readers who have found something of interest in this project, as it unfolds. Keep reading, for I must keep on writing.

I called this post a little red bag of ephemera for two reasons. First, last night, late – near midnight – I was rummaging for my bits and pieces: diaries, brochures from places visited – or those I had hoped to visit and never did, bus passes, grocery lists maybe too. I didn’t go through it all. Stopped when I found my plane itinerary. It is all stored in a glossy red shopping bag that once held a photo of St. Mary’s Church in Kinwarton — a framed photo gifted to me by Alan, following my talk on young Fanny Smith (aka the soon-to-be Fanny Seymour). Alan had done the legwork to bring in a very good local crowd who wanted to hear more about Fanny. Once I returned to Vermont, the photo got placed on my library table and all these little bits got put in the bag and the bag put away.

But – and here’s the second part – I’ve recently been researching for some new and different avenues of finding more letters and any other bits of paper the Smiths & Goslings might have left behind them. And that’s how I came across the Ephemera Society. Hey! who knew I was right “in style” keeping things like bus ticket stubs! Makes me feel like a collector.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Such a pretty picture

May 12, 2012 at 11:10 am (fashion, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

A reader of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, SUSAN, has sent this photo. She adores this print — and who wouldn’t?! But she’s also curious to learn MORE about the picture.

Can other Two Teens readers help??

Of great interest is the Spencer jacket; the curled hair; the delicate gloves – one on, one off.

I am convinced — since it’s a print — that it must be based on some portrait or miniature. But by whom? Of whom?

Susan and I are all ears to hear more!

Permalink 2 Comments

In Nelson’s Navy: Seaman Hodge

May 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm (books, diaries, history, jane austen, news, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Searching for letters and manuscripts (I need to tap into the network of people who buy/sell letters – I want MORE scans of MORE letters!), I came across old information – but it’s too good to miss passing along to readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen — for what did Jane Austen follow with great intensity, but the exploits of the Royal Navy. Specifically, of course, the movements of her Sailor Brothers.

It seems we are still – 2/3 years later – in the dark about the purchaser of this little gem: See this wonderful post by Joan Druett.

Joan also fills in the background of the Diary of Seaman George Hodge. In 2009 – and you can find many press stories about this – the diary was put up for auction through a firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire [so close to my home in Vermont!].

As you can guess from the above illustration, Seaman Hodge was an able artist as well. So I join the cry, if a bit late then at least with some earnest shouts: Please Publish the Diary of George Hodge!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Need Help: Susannah Smith, nee Mackworth Praed

May 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm (diaries, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been thinking of letters and diaries these last couple of weeks. Some diaries are in the 1810s; others propel me forward to the 1840s; and the letters have been as early as the 1790s!

Today I want to make a special appeal to anyone who might have knowledge of letters written by or to Susannah Smith, the wife of Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Susannah and Thomas married in 1800; Thomas was a brother of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, so he was Augusta (Mamma) Smith’s Uncle and therefore a great-uncle to my Emma.

This close-up is from a miniature that recently sold at auction. How can you resist this face?!?

Susannah had a twin-sister: Arabella, Countess of Mayo. She became a lady-in-waiting.

Knowing well that LETTERS were the bread-and-butter of life then, I suspect Susannah’s letters, at the very least to and from her sister, but probably also to others in the Smith’s extended family, must exist. Mrs Thomas Smith was of the generation who visited Tring Park to stay with Mr and Mrs Drummond Smith – and also visit Roehampton, where resided Eliza Gosling (Mrs William Gosling), sister to Mary, Mrs Drummond Smith. How wonderful it would be to read comments – even slightly negative ones! – about my Smiths & Goslings.

Even hints to possible whereabouts of some correspondence would be welcome! Published sources as much as manuscript sources.

* * *

UPDATE: it was stupid of me not to include more information on Susannah’s sister and brother-in-law. The Earl of Mayo had the familial name of BOURKE. Some places associated with the family include Naas and Palmerstown. The Praed family were also related to the Shore family, which produced the delightful publication The Journal of Emily Shore.

Permalink 4 Comments