First, let me take the opportunity to wish readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen a (belated) “Happy Holidays!”
I’ve been at work transcribing a diary, written by Emma’s “Aunt Emma” (Mamma’s youngest sister, Emma Smith) in 1819. Maddeningly, this diary volume begins already in the midst of this “tour,” and seems to end on a point prior to her return home, too. I hate to say it, but: For every piece that falls my way, there often are indicators of even MORE that is (currently?) MISSING.
However: I have to take whatever I get.
Aunt Emma and an unnamed companion have obviously left from Erle Stoke Park (the estate of the now-deceased [spring 1819] Joshua Smith, MP, Aunt Emma’s father) at some point in the recent past, and arrived at Plymouth Dock in the county of Devon. She opens with a complaint about the proceedings of the morning, but bypasses further elucidation with the comment that it would take “too long” to recount. A bitter loss of information!
Emma and her companion tour the “lions” of Dock (as she writes the place-name); they are shown over several ships – one which, because it is set to soon sail, has its full complement of men (which causes GREAT excitement!!), and also necessitates the ladies being hoisted aboard! They tour from stem to stern and from bowels to poop deck. Amazing that a pair of English citizens could simply ask, and, being treated with “great civility”, be shown around by some one or two of the naval men.
I could go further – but really want to talk today about on specific tiny side-tour taken after they’ve left Dock and come to Tavistock.
Emma, who would have liked to have descended in the Plymouth Diving Bell that EVERY tourist to the area in this era commented upon, desired to descend into one of the Copper Mines. She applied to a Mr. Paul, who was attached to Wheal Friendship. Permission was granted, and Emma writes of “descending” via the SLOPE.
I must admit that the “image” I had in mind when transcribing this section was not at ALL correct. Having read more about Salt Mines in Austria, my idea of a “slope” was more akin to a “slide”. Thank goodness I found a drawing of the tunnel opening at Wheal Friendship:
Please visit the website (click picture) to learn more about the mine; they offer a fascinating historical overview, culled from such sources as newspapers. I have a feeling the 1816 “report from Mr. Burge signed by Captain’s Bassett, Paul, Sarah and Brenton” points to Aunt Emma’s escort “Mr. Paul”.
Just finding this photo crystallized WHAT Emma was trying to tell me about her experience in entering the tunnel; why the men had to stop working in order for them to descend into the mine; and why “ladies” did not go beyond a particular point (which was approximately beyond 600 yards “instead of nearly half a Mile to where the Miners were at work”). Emma described it as a “wet and rough” descent.
I’m still in the midst of my transcription – and Emma in the midst of her travels! – so will leave it here, but invite readers to take a look at the travels of Mrs. Trollope in Austria (and vol II), published in a memoir from the 1830s. It never ceases to amaze me how intrepid women travelers could be – going where few living today have gone: Climbing hills in long skirts in order to traipse over ancient ruins, descending into the sea in leaky diving bells, walking on to chaotic industrial production floors, peering into hissing steam engines. For them, it was all in a day’s work at pleasuring their inquisitive minds.
Reading the monthly newsletter of BIOGRAPHERS INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION (BIO) is always informative, and often quite a delight, biography being a favorite area of shelf space (at home and in the stores).
Being the end of the year, ” BEST OF LISTS” are of course beginning to turn up. And the newsletter mentioned biographies that had made “the list” of the Independent. I was QUITE surprised to read that TWO Charlotte Brontë biographies were on the list! The first one was listed on the first line – ah, Claire Harmon has a new book! (NB: not out in the States until Spring 2016.) Although she was already known to me thanks to her biography of Fanny Burney (2000), Harmon undoubtedly gained LOTS of press when she published Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (2011) – especially in light of Harmon’s treatise being called a populist take on the earlier “scholarly” Jane Austen’s Textural Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood (2005) by Kathlryn Sutherland. I’ll leave it to readers of both books to comment (should you so wish).
As my eyes scanned the rest of the *short* list (six book), it settled upon the second Brontë biography. It is HARDLY “new”: Catherine Gaskell’s biography! Frankly, reading the original article (though the headline says “six”) I’m stymied: Gaskell’s work seems there merely to introduce Harmon’s biography of the same person, using the “same papers”. Was the Independent really THAT hard up to name a sixth worthy biography to recommend for Christmas giving?
Another thing hard not to notice: Harmon’s book in the U.K. is titled, Charlotte Brontë: A Life – whereas the U.S. has been given a much more dramatic subtitle — Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart. The covers even look hot and cold, with their blue versus red motifs:
Must admit, I don’t always understand the marketing strategies of the two countries, nor the time-lag in offering the same book to another English-speaking country. NB: where’s Harmon on Canada’s Amazon site??
For anyone waiting until the U.S. release – or wanting the rest of the clan too, might I recommend a duo by Juliet Barker: The Brontës: A Life in Letters and her hefty biography of the family unit (even heftier in a 2013 updating), The Brontës.
Readers looking for a fresh update of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will be pleased to pick up Lynn Messina’s PREJUDICE & PRIDE.
There are some familiar characters and names, but Messina has created her own “world” – and in this world Darcy is a woman! Netherfield has settled in the midst of chic Manhattan, which makes both the apartment and its occupants readily accessible to any reader with even a remote passion for the tabloids or some reality TV. Bennet works in a small (but excellent) museum in Queen’s called the Longbourn. Readers just know that he’s destined for better things… Luckily, in the midst of a fundraising campaign, Bennet meets Charlotte Bingston (known as “Bingley”).
Writing and plotting make a difference in any “kindred spirit” Austen-based novel. Lynn Messina displays a stylish wit that raises PREJUDICE & PRIDE alongside some of the more interesting re-visitings (I can think of one I enjoyed in the past: Lydia Bennet’s Story). The narrative moves along, and its glimpse into the art museum world provides a neat setting from which to view the rich jet-set.
Due out in mid-December, provides an unfamiliar romp through familiar territory – and it’s often quite fun (and funny). An entertaining 3 out of 5 stars.
Received notice in the mail of an upcoming (January 2016) biography:
Read more about the author, Terese Svoboda or the book,
Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet
click the cover photo
Lola Ridge was born in 1873 in Dublin; she emigrated first to New Zealand and then the U.S. Her first book of poetry, The Ghetto and Other Poems came out in 1918. Her papers are held at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.