Friday, November 21, 2014

Jane Austen's First Love

As part of the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour, I’m pleased to share my review of Syrie James’ latest Austen-inspired novel.

Before I ever read a page of Jane Austen’s First Love, I was predisposed to enjoy it. I had the pleasure of visiting Jane Austen’s England last year as part of an Ingenious Travel tour with Syrie James and Laurel Ann Nattress. Our small group spent eight days visiting places Austen lived, visited, or mentioned in her novels. I remember Syrie soaking up all the locations and noting details wherever we went, but especially at Steventon, Godmersham Park, and Goodnestone Park. When Syrie’s latest book was released, I was anxious to revisit the places I had seen and discover the world that she had created.

Jane Austen’s First Love begins with Jane and Cassandra in Bath on a “cold morning in late November.” Cassandra is re-reading old letters, prompting Jane to ask, “My letters? Why do you keep those old things? Re-reading them can hardly prove to make lively entertainment of a morning.” Cassandra begs to differ, and within the first pages we have one of James’ signature touches of ironic humor. One of the letters mentions a man on whom Jane says she “once fondly doated” and this phrase triggers memories of the summer of 1791, when Jane met and fell in love with Edward Taylor.

Throughout the narrative, James weaves her research on Austen’s life with a realistic story of an intelligent and lively young woman eager to experience the adventure of an extended trip away from home. Visiting her newly engaged brother and the family of his fiancĂ©e Miss Elizabeth Bridges at Goodnestone Park in Kent, Jane is thrilled that she will be allowed to participate in the festivities celebrating the engagement. Her mother has even consented to allow her to attend her first ball, although she is not “out.” But when Jane meets the Bridges’ handsome neighbor Edward Taylor, the prospect of a month in his company causes even greater excitement. Taylor, the wealthy heir to a nearby estate, has just returned from the Continent and is a close friend of the Bridges. He is clever, well-read, and daring. To the fifteen-year-old Jane he seems to be the perfect leading man to star in her personal romantic adventure.

Edward Taylor has ambitions to leave the comfortable life he will inherit in favor of a military career and encourages Jane to strive for greater achievements in her writing. She discusses literature and history with him and playfully muses, “It makes me wonder just how brief a ‘History of England’ can be, before it loses any meaning entirely!” Observing several of the Bridges sisters bickering and complaining about their beaux, she pens The Three Sisters and shares it with Cassandra and Edward Taylor. These are just two of the many literary allusions that serve as whimsical “Easter eggs” for Austen fans as they follow Jane’s adventures in Kent. I found myself hunting for favorite scenes from Austen’s Juvenalia and published novels as the story unfolded.

Unfortunately, Jane also decides to use her creative skills outside the fictional realm. Observing the guests assembled for the engagement party, she becomes convinced that several are paired incorrectly and decides to play matchmaker. When an amateur theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is undertaken as a rainy day amusement, Jane uses her power as casting director to manipulate the players according to her design. Romantic misunderstandings ensue and the happiness of the celebration is threatened. Jane does finally manage to untangle the mess she helped create, but has to leave Goodnestone without her happily-ever-after.

Syrie James excels in imagining the voice of a young Jane Austen, full of the exuberance and energy of youth. The voice of the mature woman is equally compelling and poignant. I enjoyed the final pages of the novel where in 1804 Austen writes:

"I have, as of yet, formed no other lasting romantic attachments; nor has Cassandra, who swore to never love again after Tom died. If one of my mother’s and father’s hopes in leaving Steventon and removing to Bath was that we should find husbands, they must be very disappointed. Nevertheless, I count myself fortunate, for I enjoy a loving connection with a sister who is the sun of my life, the keeper of my every thought, hope, joy, and sorrow; I have a large and happy family, and enough nieces and nephews to occupy my time and fill my heart."

Looking back on the summer of 1791, Austen is grateful to Edward Taylor and all the other people she met in Kent:

"I learned so much that summer…about the human mind and heart—about what motivates people to marry—about what really matters when two people are falling in love."

Jane Austen’s First Love bridges a number of genres: Austenesque, Historical Fiction, Romance, and Young Adult. It will appeal to Austen fans as well as readers less familiar with her works or biography. And it might inspire a visit to Jane Austen’s England someday.

I received a free copy of Jane Austen’s First Love provided by the publisher, Berkley Trade (Penguin Group) © 2014, in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are my own opinion.

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie James is giving away five prize packages filled with a selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books. (The grand prize giveaway is pictured at right.) The contest is open to everyone, including international residents.

Visit multiple stops along the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour to increase your chances of winning! The contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014.

To enter the giveaway contest, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

There is Nothing Like

It is 31F/-1C this evening, prompting me to agree, "Ah! There is nothing like staying home, for real comfort."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Try Something New

The local organic produce CSA that I joined is making sure I don't get into a food rut. Have you ever had celeriac root? Me neither.

But I found a recipe from Jamie Oliver and gave it a try this afternoon.

It turned out pretty well for something that looked a little scary in its natural state.

Smashed Roasted Celeriac. It's like a potato mixed with celery flavor.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Train Your Cat

I sure wish my cat could do this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tweet from British Museum (@britishmuseum)

British Museum (@britishmuseum)
Cnut the Great died #onthisday in 1035. He conquered England with an army of Vikings.

My son and I have been reading a great deal of British history this year. Vikings and Normans are particular favorites.

Canute (Cnut) did not begin by being a good king. At first he was bad and cruel. But he ended by being very good and wise. In fact he seems to have ruled so well that the English came to love him almost as if he had been an English king.

They loved him, but they flattered him too. He was certainly a great king, for he ruled not only over England, but over Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The nobles thought it pleased Canute to be told of his greatness, so they used often to let him hear them praise them.

One day as they were walking upon the seashore, the nobles began, as usual, to tell Canute how powerful he was.

"All England obeys you," they said.

"And not only England, but Denmark, Norway, and Sweden."

"Should you desire it, you need but command all the nations of the world and they will kneel before you as their king and lord."

"You are king on sea and land. Even the waves obey you."

Now this was foolish talk, and Canute, who was a wise man, did not like it. He thought he would teach these silly nobles a lesson. So he ordered his servants to bring a chair.

When they had brought it, he made them set it on the shore, close to the waves. The servants did as they were told, and Canute sat down, while the nobles stood around him.

Then Canute spoke to the waves. "Go back," he said, "I am your lord and master, and I command you not to flow over my land. Go back, and do not dare to wet my feet."

But the sea, of course, neither heard nor obeyed him. The tide was coming in, and the waves rolled nearer and nearer, until the king's feet and robe were wet.

Then Canute rose, and turning sternly to his nobles, said, "Do you still tell me that I have power over the waves? Oh! foolish men, do you not know that to God alone belongs such power? He alone rules earth and sky and sea, and we and they alike are His subjects, and must obey Him."

The nobles felt how foolish they had been, and did not try again to flatter Canute in such a silly way. From that day, too, Canute never wore his crown, but placed it in the minster at Winchester, as a proof of his humility. From this story we learn that Canute was a Christian, although many of the Danes were still heathen, but no doubt they very soon followed the example of their king, and became Christians too."

--Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, (c) 2010 Seven Treasures Publications, originally published in 1920 by Frederick A. Stokes Company

It seems to me that from this story we learn that Cnut disliked sycophants. Perhaps he took his crown off his head so that his nobles would tone it down when they were around him.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Jane Austen Rules

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern LoveThe Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by Sinead Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy. This slim send-up of The Rules (and dating guides in general) blends "light-hearted charm with reflections on the serious business of love and life."

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tweet from Downton Abbey (@DowntonAbbey)

Downton Abbey (@DowntonAbbey)
Although the Crawleys may have a varied life at home and socially, for the servants, their day is almost the same every day! #Downton

I had a rather different experience of this a few weeks ago. 

Fired up an episode of Downton Abbey. The Crawleys were in the sitting room, having tea. Mary being bitchy, Edith looking pinched, Branson making a brave face of it. Then, the action switched downstairs and as soon as Mrs Patmore started talking I realized it was an episode I'd already seen. The people downstairs are actually accomplishing something everyday, whereas the Crawleys are usually just entertaining themselves, so their lives run together in a long, velvety blur.

Now, I sound like Miss Bunting don't I?