reviews for JANE AUSTEN and the ARTS

January 24, 2017 at 11:11 am (books, entertainment, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

Natasha Duquette, as one of the editors (along with Elisabeth Lenckos) of Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety and Harmony, has recent uploaded some reviews of the book. One, by Audrey Bilger in the journal Women’s Studies, mentions my contribution, the chapter entitled, “‘A Reputation for Accomplishment’: Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse as Artistic Performers”.

ja and the arts

“Kelly M. McDonald examines Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse in terms of their skill as artistic performers and sees the primary lessons that each heroine needs to learn as being linked to their initial stance as artists: Marianne, who is ‘consumed with interior passions,’ must cultivate restraint; Emma ‘[c]onsumed with exterior experiences’ must develop deeper insight.”

This is a chapter that I have not revisited in the recent past, yet, given my 2016 topic for the JASNA Annual General Meeting that celebrated the 200th anniversary of the novel EMMA, the ‘art’ of Emma is definitely an ongoing preoccupation of mine. (My paper was entitled, “Sketching Box Hill with Emma”, also given to the Vermont JASNA chapter in December 2016.) I found, in revisiting the paper AFTER transcribing more Smith & Gosling family letters in October and November, that I had a few new points to make on the subject.

But to get back to Audrey Bilger’s review of Jane Austen and the Arts

Being an academic press (Lehigh University Press), Jane Austen and the Arts is currently selling for $30 (used; paperback) and up on Amazon. Bilger’s comments on the book as a whole, include:

  • “The editors perceive the arts in the broadest possible way, … encompassing painting, music, dance, and theater, … also judgment, taste, morality and ultimately reading and writing as aesthetically charged activities.”
  • “An excellent preface by Vivasvan Soni, ‘Jane Austen’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment,’ explains the meaning of the book’s subtitle.”
  • “most of the contributions are theoretically nuanced, especially with regard to the history of aesthetics.”
  • “the book’s focus on the arts illuminates aspects of Austen’s work in fresh ways…. Readers familiar with the Austen canon will appreciate the book’s numerous close readings and textual analysis.”

Another review Natasha posted is by Marina Cano, for The Modern Language Review. Cano recognizes the volume as “a highly interdisciplinary and polyphonic study”. Cano is especially enthusiastic about Jeffrey Nigro’s “The Sister Artist: Cassandra Austen’s Portraits of Jane Austen in Art-Historical Context”: “he argues, here Cassandra was experimenting with the artistic conventions of her time”.

Cano concludes, “Jane Austen and the Arts is a valuable collection in its exploration of Austen’s involvement in the aesthetic concerns of her time and in its examination of little-studied materials.”

Looking today at books.google I see Jane Austen and the Arts listed as being in 204 libraries worldwide; maybe one of these is nearby, allowing you, too, to dip your toe. Would love to hear from readers on any and all aspects of the book (ie, you don’t even have to comment on my chapter!).

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Why I read Jane Austen

December 17, 2016 at 12:51 pm (books, history, jane austen, jasna, research) (, , )

Yesterday, 16 December 2016, being the anniversary of the birth of JANE AUSTEN, JASNA – the Jane Austen Society of North America – published their annual journal, Persuasions On-Line. It is interesting to see papers presented at the Washington DC AGM (annual general meeting) that _I_ sat in the audience to hear.

[NB: I did not submit my paper, “Sketching Box Hill with Emma,” for publication.]

The article I opened, however, was among the Miscellany: Gillian Dooley‘s article on “‘The Bells Rang and Every Body Smiled’: Jane Austen’s ‘Courtship Novels’.” I think all fans of Austen have come up against the “dismissive” stares, shrugs, and “Who?” comments. Because I publish and speak on aspects of Austen and the early Austen Leighs (my research subject), I’ve mentioned “Jane Austen” in job interviews. Several interviewers had NO clue who she was, never mind what she had written. Others recalled “costumed fans” and, yes, ‘Courtship’ films.

Has it been film then that has created this atmosphere of Austen as a kind of ‘romance writer’? For, in many cinematic offerings, the dramatic underpinnings of her novels disappear in order to make a pleasing, coherent, and “short” adaptation. The one thing that is always in place (of course) is the heroine’s ‘romance’ storyline. And it’s the couples that fans remember and love to discuss:

elizabeth and darcy

Even those couples who might have been:

marianne-and-willoughby

But does that mean the films and even the novels are “Courtship”-based? I have long contended that I read Austen because they are slices of life, true windows into a time, place, milieu, that otherwise I only read about through history texts. The films may stick in the memory, but the novels are what I return to again and again. And, luckily, puzzling out the letters and diaries the Smiths and Goslings have left behind has allowed me to grasp small details that Austen’s original readers “knew” but which I have had to “learn” about.

So, this morning, I was musing over the MANY ‘romances’ of the story of my Two Teens. Would I term their lives – as any resultant writing must, out of necessity, condense their real histories – as center on ‘Courtship’ merely because courtships begin and conclude within the covers of a book about them?

To answer one question posed by Gillian Dooley, “There are courtships in the [Austen] novels, but are they in any overarching sense primarily ‘about’ courtship?” with a simplistic ‘No’ should, therefore, also cover the “history” of this large, extended family.

To take one “for instance”: The Colebrooke sisters, Belinda and Harriet, come into the circle of the Smith family in 1816/17. The basics of their history: Harriet dies young and Belinda marries Charles Smith (Emma’s brother). More can be deciphered about Belinda’s life because she married. And, it is her marriage that ended her life: Belinda Smith died in childbirth, before the age of 25.

It was all a “fact of life” back then.

Even today, we seek out a partner; live together; marry if we can. No one wants to be alone – and, given the cold world in which we live, a little human warmth within the home is something everyone can appreciate.

Carey Mulligan

(yes, I’ve long thought Carey Mulligan a quintessential Belinda)

I’ve recently found a lovely portrait (perhaps by her eldest sister-in-law, Augusta Smith) of Belinda Lady Smith. And even a tiny silhouette of her sister Harriet Colebrooke. Harriet was even younger, only 18 at her death. For the longest time her (ultimately) fatal illness was the focus for poor Harriet’s historical remembrance. She was an appendage; a younger sister who obligingly got out of the way; a dead sibling who made the “heroine” that much more attractive to the “hero”. And there was even an “over the top” drama-queen of a mother! Belinda, left on her own by her sister’s demise, was due to be “rewarded” by marriage to a good and very eligible young man.

To to my mind, however, it was hard not to think of Belinda as “the other woman”: Mary Gosling, the girl next door and Charles Smith’s second wife was the first diarist I unearthed (now, ten years ago).

Talulah Riley

Yes, young Talulah Riley, as Mary Bennet [above], put me in mind of Mary Gosling – rather tossed aside as a close friend, never mind as a potential love interest, once the doomed Colebrooke sisters came on the scene.

As an historian, I knew – nearly from the beginning – what the “end result” for EVERYone was. I knew when they were born; who they married (or didn’t); knew when they died. What I had to unearth was all the LIFE in between the pertinent “dates”.

And even now there comes surprises; welcome surprises, as it happens. Even someone like Harriet Colebrooke, on the scene for only a handful of years, takes on new importance.

“Why?” you might ask.

“Because, she had a fella!” A young man, who does appear in Emma Smith’s diaries, but who seemed just one of the crowd, was actually interested in, and pursued, Harriet Colebrooke.

Like her elder sister, Belinda, Harriet came to any relationship with a LOT of baggage. Charles Smith had the unenviable task of “approving” the young man, especially once he began to suspect that Harriet was transferring her affections to himself.

Harriet never lived long enough, of course, to see her sister married to Charles. I don’t even know if Charles ever really had to say, “I’m not interested”. That mystery is still inconclusive.

Which brings me back to Austen and the ‘Courtship’ Novel. In such a novel, there are often MANY vying for the hand of the heroine. There are those wholly unsuitable:

stillman2

There are those whom the observer hopes will win out in the end:

darcy

As Dooley asserts, “I would expect the heroine [of a courtship novel] to have one or more men actively playing court to her throughout the novel.  And I don’t think that any of Austen’s novels quite fit that standard.” She sums up by saying, “it is the assiduous attention of the hero to gain the heroine’s hand throughout the courtship novel that I think is the missing element.”

Just as in life.

Even when the “grass is greener” on the other side of that proverbial fence, as when Charles begins to suspect that Harriet’s interest in himself is pushing her interest in William Sumner (her beau) to one side. Here is no flat declaration of love, but a mystery: Does she? Doesn’t she? How do I handle it?

And everyone LOVES a mystery.

When Elizabeth Bennet turns down Darcy’s proposal, few contemporary readers would have foreseen them ending up together at the novel’s end. There might even have been NO marriages at the end of Pride and Prejudice. Contemporary Readers were enjoying the ride, living in the moment with all the Bennets. Suffering their disappointments and, yes, rejoicing over their happiness. That ‘happiness’ included marriages, and those came within pages of the end is good fortune for readers who – metaphorically AND literally – could close the book at the end of a concluding chapter in the characters’ lives.

In a courtship novel, the marriage is the “be-all”. It has to end it all because little more was the novel’s focus. In Austen’s slices of life, the characters live on. The clues of the mystery behind attraction (even repulsion), love, loss, daily life in another land and another era, keep readers coming back for more.

If a MAN had written Austen novels, would we even be discussing “courtship” as their basis – or would it be treated, as courtship (without quotation marks) deserves to be treated: as a MOST INTERESTING part of life, something in which EVERY reader can sympathize.

Austen’s novels touch on economics (those with little funds as well as those with very fat purses, indeed); privations and sacrifices; sibling love and sibling rivalries; one’s role within society; the tumult of the times – even though, like today, one lives life somewhat disconnected (unless war comes to touch one personally). Austen’s novels help explain the minutiae I’ve seen discussed or recorded in the papers of the Smiths; and the Smiths explain what should be of more importance in Austen’s novels.

They are the perfect MATCH! History informing literature, and literature helping to inform biography.

colonel brandon and marianne

marianne and colonel brandon

And a coincidence, as could only happen in real life, that Emma Smith becomes (though eleven years after the author’s death) a niece by marriage to Cassandra and Jane Austen, Frank, Charles, and Henry Austen, and Edward Knight. That Emma Austen read Austen’s Emma prior to marriage, and with her intended, is a fitting close for that chapter of her life – one which can be said to have ended in marriage. Life is about so much more than birth-marriage-death, but as a fundamental courtship and marriage is a commonality that happens to most, and interests even those who do not experience it first-hand.

The “mysteries” of their lives keep me digging for more clues – even as some “new” clue only leads to further mystery. It is the pleasure derived from “digging” again and again, that Readers, who read Austen with a mind open to discovering new clues amid well-known strophes, enjoy as much as (if not more than) the ‘courtships’ with which each novel ends.

“[T]he plans and decisions of mortals,” to use the words of the narrator of Mansfield Park, forms the basis behind Two Teens in the Time of Austen, as well as the six novels of Jane Austen. “Courtship” is part of the story of life, and “courtship” may be the most human part in general. The need to feel connected, to someone (mate or friend), is a powerful emotion.

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Austenised: a Visit to The Vyne

November 13, 2016 at 11:17 am (chutes of the vyne, estates, jane austen) (, , )

In August, Anna, on the blog AUSTENISED, wrote about her visit to The Vyne – the Hampshire estate of the Chute family. I invite you to walk in Anna’s footsteps:

austenised

I cannot subscribe to a theory of “hostility” between Jane Austen and Eliza or William Chute, but welcome the beautiful shots of the house and its interior.

Aside:
As to Jane and the Chutes: The crux lies in the liberal use at the time of the word ‘civil’, and I take into account Jane Austen’s wry humor – especially when writing to her sister. The sentence typically quoted is not a damning one, in my opinion. That Eliza Chute was drawn to James Austen (The Vyne’s local clergyman) must also be seen to play a part in the Austen family dynamics. Still, the Austen sisters did visit The Vyne; as well, the Chutes paid visits (as Jane’s comment attests) to the senior Austens at Steventon.

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For your consideration: A Botanical Blog

October 13, 2016 at 10:11 am (entertainment, history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings) (, , )

Not having picked up a paint brush in YEARS, I was looking the other day specifically for artists who paint BOTANICALS; that I found one artist’s blog who showed in words and pictures some thought-provoking work was a bonus I had to share with Two Teen Readers.

This particular post is most INTERESTING, because it tells the consequences to one business (a maker of vellum) when the UK government considered going from vellum to paper. Artist Shevaun Doherty lays out her own thoughts on “what might have been”, which gives the post a personal perspective, too:

doherty-blog

But it is Doherty’s sharing her art’s triumphs and challenges that I found especially interesting to read about. And seeing botanicals “under construction,” and how the artist must build up a picture is just a thrill to see (for a picture IS worth a thousand words). For instance, this post from March 2015 called the “War of the Roses“. Or this piece on “Challenges! Painting the Laburnum,” which provided much-needed insight into the work-a-day process of painting botanicals.

Two Teens has a large handful of botanical artists in their company, including the artist Margaret Meen – about whom I’ve written. She taught Queen Charlotte and the royal princesses, but also Aunt Emma Smith and my diarist Emma Smith (aka Emma Austen). I hope in the coming months to see a bit more of their work. Or, at least hear about it. My JASNA AGM presentation touches upon Botanicals – for Mr. Elton mentions flowers that Emma Woodhouse had painted. Thanks to Shevaun’s blog, it’s nice to see the art is alive and well.

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Book an Evening with Jane Austen

August 10, 2016 at 10:49 pm (entertainment, jane austen, news) (, , , )

Another Charlotte Frost Find – author Catherine Curzon’s new book Life in the Georgian Court plays a featured role in a September 2016 “Jane Austen” evening of music at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. “Soloists” include Adrian Lukis (Mr. Wickham, Pride and Prejudice) and Caroline Langrishe, who will perform “dialogues”, and harpist Camilla Pay and soprano Rosie Lomas. Catherine will perform introductions, as well as sign copies of her book during the interval.

life Georgian Court

Read more Catherine Curzon at her blog A Covent Garden Gilflirt’s Guide to Life while awaiting her book!

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At Home – with Jane & Lucy

July 5, 2016 at 8:06 pm (books, entertainment, history, jane austen, news) (, , , , )

2017 – the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death – will see a *new* biography published by none other than Lucy Worsley.

Worsley

We all know Worsley’s work from her many TV specials – “Tales from the Royal Wardrobe”, “Tales from the Royal Bedchamber”, “The First Georgians”, “A Very British Murder”, “Harlots, Housewives & Heroines”, etc. etc. I have certainly enjoyed her book The Courtiers: Splendour and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace, which brought some refreshing storytelling.

courtiers

In its early stage provisionally entitled AT HOME WITH JANE AUSTEN (which already exists among the “Jane Austen” series of books by Kim Wilson), the biography tell Jane Austen’s “story through the rooms, spaces, possessions and places which mattered to her”. Says Worsley’s  editor: “Lucy’s knowledge of the period makes her the perfect biographer and her wonderful writing style will truly bring Jane Austen and her world to life.”

Worsley used a Kensington Palace painting to open the oft-told history of the first Hanoverian King George. What will she use for Jane Austen? Will it look at Steventon, which is no longer existing, as well as Chawton and Bath? Chawton is a source for many items that belonged to Austen – for instance, her jewelry. Her writing slope is also on public display.

“… an everyday object that had been
important to her writing life.”

Paula Byrne’s book, The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, sought a similar approach away from the typical cradle-to-grave biography. It will be *fun* to see how Worsley works out the lack of any new discoveries. Will she recreate some of the homes, spaces, and places that Austen knew? Perhaps readers of If Walls Could Talk will have advance knowledge of the Worsley’s approach. Worsley has already been caught rubbing elbows with Regency dandies. And she’s even got a work of fiction, as well as her TV-tie-ins, on bookstore shelves. Lucy Worsley is one of four writers who back in April (2016) discussed Lizzy & Darcy and themselves.

The Hodder & Stoughton website gives the following information:

  • title (revised from above): Jane Austen at Home
  • projected pagination (nicely hefty): 352 pages
  • release date (it’ll be here before we know it): 18 May 2017

 

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Russborough House (county Wicklow)

June 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm (books, entertainment, estates, jane austen) (, , , )

If you attend Love & Friendship you’ll see RUSSBOROUGH House in several shots.

russborough3

Visiting their website allows for some peeks at the sumptuous interiors – there’s even a short video tour (click photo below).

russborough

There’s actually a Smith & Gosling connection to ‘Rusborough’ through Emma Smith’s great Aunt, Mrs. Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Mrs. Smith’s twin sister was Lady Mayo. She and the Mayos visited Ireland – Lord Mayo’s seat was Palmerstown – and often visited the Milltowns at ‘Rusborough’ (as she spelled it). I’ve no doubt that Mrs. Smith had many tales to tell her great-nieces and nephews, whenever she was newly returned from Ireland.

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Love & Friendship (the movie): a review

June 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, Uncategorized) (, )

Just back from an early evening showing of Love & Friendship, based mainly on Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan” – who is the title character (played with delicious archness by Kate Beckinsale). It is interesting (and I will get back to this point) that in adverts Chloë Sevigny shares top billing.

love and friendship

There are several decisive scenes in which the two ladies don’t so much as scheme, but rely upon the other to bolster flagging spirits when schemes don’t seem to be going as well as hoped. For instance Mrs. Johnson (Sevigny) has an older husband (Stephen Fry) who just isn’t giving in to gout and the grave as quickly as his young wife might wish.

There’s an obvious backstory that we never quite learn – the dreadful treatment Lady Susan has given her (obligingly dead) husband may include infidelity or simply ‘neglect’, but nothing is specifically mentioned. That her daughter is named Frederica and her in-laws have a son Frederick leads one to believe the two were named for the not-too-lamented Mr. Vernon.

Also referred to time and again – and, to the film’s detriment, hardly seen and not at all heard – is the “dashing” Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin). An additional ten or fifteen minutes, at the Mainwaring estate, laying out the events that caused the eventual ejection of Lady Susan would have been most welcome. More especially to allow viewers to see what Lady Susan saw: a lover worth scheming for although he was a married man.

Perhaps when it comes out on streaming video (a main title is emblazoned with the Amazon logo), a “director’s cut” will give a bit more. The mutual attraction of Lord and Lady would have helped the audience in rooting for the success of the Lady’s plan. Everyone loves a villainess.

stillman4

The machinations of Lady Susan are not quite as blatantly devilish as those of the Marquise de Merteuil. Austen may have had a passing familiarity with Les liaisons dangereuses (published in 1782) thanks to cousin Eliza de Feuillide, who, with her impeccable French, could have come across the novel. Whit Stillman, the film’s writer/director seems to have lent the film a French texture (especially in some costumes) but could have pushed the edge in order to give the film and its (anti-) heroine that tad more sharpness. Like Jane Austen, Stillman kept sex behind the scenes, but a little smoldering attraction would have been welcomed.

The sexual rivalry of Valmont and Merteuil allowed for letters of confession and letters tipping their hands regarding future schemes. In Love & Friendship those confidences are given to two women who esteem each other – though we never quite learn why. Mrs. Johnson’s husband keeps threatening to ship his American wife back to America if she continues to see Lady Susan; still, even at the film’s end, he hasn’t moved her out of England and she hasn’t cut ties with Lady Susan.

Given the convoluted emotional ties between Lady Susan and Lord Mainwaring, which (spoiler alert:) evidently becomes a menage a trois, I began to embellish Lady Susan’s fictional story with one only too well-known: the menage in the Duke of Devonshire’s household. A husband with two wives; here, a wife with two husbands.

Speculation as to whether there is meant to be some “chemistry” between Lady Susan and her confidant Mrs. Johnson is an undertone that may be just me reading a bit of “history” into Stillman’s film (the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster). But the ladies rather relish the idea of being together once Mr. Johnson kicks the bucket. Perhaps she would be allowed in to the Mainwaring menage. And remember that double-billing I mentioned at the top of this blog post.

Viewers are also left to wonder if Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark) just happened to capture her mother’s ex, Reginald deCourcey (Xavier Samuel) – or, if she has a bit more of her mother in her than either would care to admit. I, for one, would like to think that young Frederica saw and got the man she wanted. She does succeed, like her mother, by moving into the household of her future lover.

End credits gave the clue that a behind the scenes featurette was made – so maybe some of the intentions will be made clearer. (I found a short one on youtube.)

stillman1

Watching Love & Friendship was like spending the evening at the theater. The ‘feel’ of the film is highly theatrical (though not nearly as stylized as it could have been; viz, The Draftsman’s Contract, another film about sexual connivers). The movement of the actors across a room, down a passage, or up a staircase is slow and deliberate, providing time to show off gowns and location shots. The many footmen and maids seemed like so many stagehands, closing doors or removing clothes. Some viewers complained of the rapid conversational style, but I did not find it to be unintelligible – just in contrast to everyone’s slow pace, as if confined to a stage. The “introductions” to the characters, like a period handbill, were quite funny, as in “Sir James Martin: Her unintended”.

stillman2

And “the stage” is the parting thought I’ll leave with. Late in the film the sound track introduces the exquisite trio from Così fan tutte, Soave sia il vento (though a short piece, the film abruptly truncates it by cutting out the middle)  – Mozart’s moment of tranquility in an opera about shifting partners and the testing of (untrue) lovers. The trio reappears in the end credits. Knowledge of the opera, and performance ambiguities, added to the intrigue of this quiet film, leaving me with the impression that there’s more going on beneath its shiny surface. One almost wishes Stillman choose instead the subtitle of Austen’s juvenile “Love and Freindship” and called his film “Deceived in Freindship and Betrayed in Love”. (And, yes, Austen had “ie” and “ei” spelling problems.) It would be interesting to pick up Stillman’s novel, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon is Vindicated but I’ll have to settle for Austen’s original (which I deliberately did NOT read before seeing the film).

stillman_love

 

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East India Company at Home (website)

February 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm (entertainment, estates, history, jane austen, jasna, research) (, , )

East India Company

In looking for more information on Elizabeth Sykes – only daughter of Lady Smith (née Elizabeth Monckton) and her first husband Sir Francis Sykes – I came across this WONDERFUL resource for families connected to the East India Company. This includes MANY in the Smith & Gosling greater family.

There are “case studies” which you can find by family or by estate. I found the Daylesford case study to have been done by Elisabeth Lenckos. Elisabeth spoke about researching Daylesford, the estate of Warren Hastings, at last year’s JASNA Annual General meeting in Louisville, one of the break-out sessions I attended. On the East India Company at Home, she likewise writes about the Ivory Furniture Hastings brought back to England. Daylesford, of course, was known to Jane Austen’s cousin (and eventual sister-in-law), Eliza de Feuillide.

Much food for thought is offer on the EICAH website. Highly recommended!

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In Memoriam: Alan Rickman

January 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm (entertainment, jane austen, news) (, )

One of the delights of Jane Austen filmdom: Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon.

colonel brandon and marianne

He brought a gentleness to the role that really characterized the “second chance” at happiness.

marianne and colonel brandon

One of the few actors with a very distinctive and “calming” voice. He will be missed.

brandons

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