Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small ThingsThe Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best Austen biography I've read. By anchoring each chapter on a physical object, the author has given each facet of Austen's life, and larger life in Georgian England, a realness and intimacy that is often lacking in history or biography. Rather than surmising about what Miss Austen may have thought about this or that, Paula Byrne delves into the facts of life in Georgian England, and particularly of the Austen family. Jane Austen is revealed as a very human, complex woman. Is it any wonder that her works have endured and continue to engage so many different kinds of readers?

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Who Would Know Himself

"It is a very wise rule in the conduct of the understanding, to acquire early a correct notion of your own peculiar constitution of mind, and to become well acquainted, as a physician would say, with your idiosyncrasy. Are you an acute man, and see sharply for small distances? or are you a comprehensive man, and able to take in, wide and extensive views into your mind? Does your mind turn its ideas into wit? or are you apt to take a common-sense view of the objects presented to you? Have you an exuberant imagination, or a correct judgment? Are you quick, or slow? accurate, or hasty? a great reader, or a great thinker? It is a prodigious point gained if any man can find out where his powers lie, and what are his deficiencies, — if he can contrive to ascertain what Nature intended him for: and such are the changes and chances of the world, and so difficult is it to ascertain our own understandings, or those of others, that most things are done by persons who could have done something else better.

If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table, of different shapes, — some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong, — and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole. The officer and the office, the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly, that we can say they were almost made for each other."

--Sydney Smith, Lecture IX: On the Conduct of the Understanding, (the origin of the phrase a square peg in a round hole)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elegy for Jane

“She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
― Cassandra Austen

This makes me wish I had a sister.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Death in the Floating City

Death in the Floating City (Lady Emily, #7)Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I've said about other Lady Emily stories in this series, I really like the premise and the ideas behind these mysteries better than the execution of them. I wish I could identify what it is that leaves me feeling a bit flat whenever I read one.

This time around, we are treated to a visit to Venice, unarguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is the star of the show and the descriptions are excellently done. Of course, there is a murder to solve and Lady Emily and her husband Colin get right to work. Along the way, they eat delicious food and drink a fair amount of prosecco. Lady Emily samples limoncello while her husband sticks to whisky and scotch, out of national pride or just to needle his wife, it's never clear. The mystery is slowly unravelled and it hinges on a love story from the late 1400s Venice involving two influential families. Their names are not Capulet and Montague, but you get the picture.

Maybe I am just out of sorts with mysteries these days. I find all the other aspects of the story engaging, but the actual mystery seems inconsequential to me. That could explain why I keep coming back to this series but never find myself wowed by it. Since that's a little like reading Dostoyevsky and complaining it's depressing, I'll give "Death in the Floating City" a 3.5 because it can't help being a mystery. That's what it is. And as a vehicle for a luscious travelogue, it's really quite good.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Death in the Floating City (In the Rain)

Reading a Victorian-era historical mystery set in Venice, while rains patter on windshield and windows. Extra points for atmosphere! This photo reminds me of the scene in "Cotton Club" where shadows from a lace curtain fall on Diane Lane's face.