Hearts Through History Hop

From February 10-16, 2013, I am participating in the Hearts Through History Blog Hop.  There are 24 blogs involved, each with a special giveaway in honor of Valentine’s Day!   (A list is at the end of this post.)  Our blogs will feature our favorite romantic anecdotes.

One of the most romantic real-life love stories is that of poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, a love story that began through poetry and grew in their letters.  During their correspondence after their meeting, before Elizabeth consented to their elopement and marriage, Robert wrote, “…Will it help me to say that once in this Aladdin-cavern I knew I ought to stop for no heaps of jewel-fruit on the trees from the very beginning, but go on to the lamp, the prize, the last and best of all?….”  [Letter dated September 16, 1845]  They finally married secretly on September 12, 1846 at St. Marleybone Church, almost a year to the day.  I am not, in general a fan of poetry, but their correspondence and poems, when read together, are simply exquisite.  To be the prize…   (Sigh!)

My favorite fictional romantic anecdote comes from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  The letter written by Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot is one of the most beautiful love letters.  “…You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.  I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago….”   The ultimate second-chance-at love story.  Who could possibly resist?

What is your favorite romantic quotation or anecdote? 

It is easy to enter the giveaway; just leave a comment for a chance to win!  The giveaway will close on February 16,  and the winner will be drawn by February 20, 2013.  I will post the name of my winner on this blog.  (Please leave contact information if you want to receive an e-mail!)   The prize will be a signed hardback copy of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, with some special surprise treats to enjoy with it.   This giveaway is open to the US, Canada, UK and Europe. 

Cover for HEYERWOOD a novel

Be sure to enter on each blog for a chance to win the prizes.   Visit each of the blogs featured, so that you won’t miss out!  The list of participants follows:

Merry Christmas!

Bramantino, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1500-1535
Bramantino, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1500-1535

            It is Christmas Eve.  All the decorating is done, presents wrapped and shipped.  Now it is time to  let the holiday soak into us.  Time to look around and enjoy our family and friends, to enjoy traditions we cherish and maybe to start new traditions, too.  Special food and drink to enjoy-so many of us have those secret recipes we only serve for the most special occasions, like Christmas.  The matter of faith.  There is something special and magical about this time of year.  Even when there is stress or strain, there is still a glow.  The ideals of peace on earth and goodwill to men resonate now as much as ever.   At Christmas, all good things seem possible.

           I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas!  Thank you for reading-I appreciate it so very much.  I hope this is a warm and wonderful holiday for you all. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/15/Bramantino_-_De_aanbidding_der_herders.jpg/403px-Bramantino_-_De_aanbidding_der_herders.jpg

Christmas Dinner Now and Then

Christmas Time Here's The Gobbler by Sophie Anderson
Christmas Time Here’s The Gobbler by Sophie Anderson

      Now that the decorating is finished, and the gifts are wrapped and shipped, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas dinner (if you haven’t already!)  We will be celebrating with dear friends, and I will be taking a particularly decadent vegetable dish, with parsnips, cream and rosemary.  For many of us, the main course will be the traditional favorites: turkey, ham, roast beef, possibly even roast goose.  Stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) will also be present in some form.  The desserts are usually fairly traditional as well: various pies and cakes, sometimes a version of the old-fashioned Christmas pudding.   It was the parsnips that got me thinking…

          What would have been served at a Christmas dinner in late 18th century, early 19th century England?  What might Jane Austen have eaten?  As always, when confronted with a culinary question, I turned to old cookbooks.  In my facsimile copy of THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith, she helpfully included diagrammed dinner services for summer and winter, showing two courses.  The first winter course includes a giblet pie, roast beef with horseradish and pickles and a boiled pudding; the second features a roasted turkey and an apple pie.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith did not include vegetable suggestions. 

          I turned to another old friend: The ART OF COOKERY Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Glasse (a new edition published in Alexandria in 1805).   While Mrs. Glasse did not lay out the settings, she did include”Bills of Fare” for each month of the year.  December’s menu included three courses, again with no vegetable suggestions, except for mushrooms.  One dish in the third course did catch my eye…  Ragooed Palates.  What, I asked myself, could that be?  Surely not what it seems.

          Yes, dear reader, it is exactly what it says.    The palate is, of course, the roof of the ox’s (or cow’s) mouth.   It was apparently considered a form of offal, like kidneys or tripes, and required extra preparation involving blanching and skinning and so forth.   I also learned that a “ragoo” or “ragout” is, essentially a stew, so possibly Mrs. Glasse’s Stewed Palates may have been served as Ragooed Palates for a December dinner.   Fricassee also seems to be very similar to a stew.  Both involve long cooking and a rich, heavily seasoned gravy.   

           Mrs. Smith’s fricassee of Ox-Palates included stewing beef, salt, pepper, onion, eschalot (shallot?), anchovies,  and horseradish to make the gravy: then she stewed the palates until tender, cutting them up, and putting them aside.  Then she cut up chickens, seasoned them with nutmeg, salt and thyme and fried them with butter.   The palates were peeled and cut up, then were combined with the chicken in half of the gravy and stewed.  While the stew was cooking, the rest of the gravy was put in a pan, thickened with egg yolks, white wine added with butter and cream.  When ready to serve, the gravy in the pan was blended into the stewed palates and chickens.  When dished up, a garnish of pickled grapes was recommended.  When all is said and done, this sounds like it could be delicious!  (Please remember that this is one dish of several in a course.)

         Both cookbooks contain instructions for vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, carrots and (of course!) parsnips.  I feel confident that, season permitting, some sort of vegetable dish would have been included.   However, it is interesting to see how heavily the winter menu relied on meat dishes.  It is also a timely reminder that little was wasted in those days.  Somehow, I can see Jane Austen (or the heroine in my work-in-progress!)  sitting down to a festive Christmas dinner of turkey, possibly some parsnips, a Fricasee of Ox-Palates, and a boiled pudding, with great enjoyment. 

Sources:

Glasse, Mrs.  THE ART OF COOKERY Made Plain And Easy.  A New EDITION, with modern Improvements.  Alexandria: Printed by Cottom and Stewart, 1805.  (First American edition.)  In Facsimile, with historical notes by Karen Hess.  Bedford, MA:  Applewood Books, 1997.  P. 59

Smith, Eliza.  THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion.  The Sixteenth Edition, with Additions.  London.  (Facsimile)  London: Studio Editions Ltd., 1994.  P. 52.

Web Sources:

CooksInfo.com  “Ox Palate.”  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.5.3.9?rgn=div4;view=fulltext

Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Mrs. Taylor’s Family Companion… “Of Ragouts”.  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.9?rgn=div2;view=fulltext;q1

Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Mrs. Taylor’s Family Companion… “To Stew Ox Palates.”  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.5.3.9?rgn=div4;view=fulltext

Food Information.  “Ragout.”  http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~sayyid/culinary/dlist.cgi?food=ragout

Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/08/Anderson_Sophie_Christmas_Time_Heres_The_Gobbler.jpg/450px-Anderson_Sophie_Christmas_Time_Heres_The_Gobbler.jpg

Getting Ready for Christmas…Again

       Well, here we are, exactly two weeks before Christmas.  It seems like I just undecorated and put everything a couple of months ago.  Time passes way too fast…but enough about that.  This time of year is a beautiful time, full of major celebrations, of which Christmas and Hanukkah are only two.  My particular celebration is Christmas, but those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas may have a similar situation involving other holiday traditions.  Everyone is very busy decorating, shopping for gifts, sending cards or letters, cooking and baking, and otherwise preparing for their own special traditions and celebrations.    All of these activities are going on at the same time we continue to live our regular routine, work, writing, researching, family, and so forth.  We try so hard to make it all perfect…  Which leads us directly to the all-to-common Christmas meltdown.  This year, I am determined NOT to experience one.

Christmas Tree 2011

        I have put up my tree and some decorations.  Being a woman of a certain age (don’t you love that phrase?),  I have lots of decorations that have been accumulated over years and years.  Many memories are involved.  Have I dragged them all out and made careful choices?  No, I have not.  I have put up what came to hand first, and stopped when I felt that it was time.  The tree is in the library corner, just like it was last year, and looks very similar.  (The picture shown  is last year’s tree.  I haven’t gotten around to taking pictures yet.) 

        Our Christmas card list and cards are waiting on the dining room table.  We will get them out.   My husband and I have already received a number of lovely cards, and a few newsletters, and we are so glad to hear from dear ones at this time of year.  I have at least sent the e-cards to friends and family on-line.  Gifts?  Some shopping is done, some still in process.  I’ve even had a couple sent.   Giving back to my community is also on the agenda.  A new feeling this year-I don’t feel guilty for not having my mailings done at the time I had so hopefully planned.

        This year, I am going to take full advantage of the 12 days of Christmas.  (Not that this is new…  My nearest and dearest usually get cards and packages on a flexible calendar.)  The difference this year is that I refuse to get stressed and upset about it.  It is more important to relax, enjoy the season and the opportunity to share with our loved ones and others.  Getting upset about things only ruins the time you have, it doesn’t make anything happen differently or go more smoothly.   Surely it’s more important to be able to enjoy the time you have with the people you love than it is to have ticked every item off your list on schedule even if it burnt you to the socket.  We are too hard on ourselves.  It’s time to put the focus where it belongs: the meaning of the holiday we celebrate, and the joy of being with those we love.

Merry Christmas!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Home to Thanksgiving-Currier & Ives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s just a few days until Thanksgiving!  Some of us are getting reading to make the trek to be with family; others are getting ready to celebrate at home with family and friends.  The illustration above makes me think of a childhood song, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go….”  Whether travelling or staying, spending the day with family and friends (or a family of friends!) is a beautiful thing.  It shouldn’t take a special day to count one’s blessings.  On the other hand, it’s nice to have a special day dedicated to appreciating just how blessed one is, and be grateful.  

Thanksgiving Greetings 1900-Football and Turkey

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a big turkey dinner, hours of football are all time-honored traditions in the American Thanksgiving.  However one celebrates, the important thing is to recognize the good things in one’s life and appreciate them when there is an opportunity.  I hope your Thanksgiving is beautiful.  Thank you for reading my blog! 

 

 

(Images from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

Creating an atmosphere…

       As the festive season approaches, I am seeing more and more advertisements for scents for the home.  Pine, bayberry, the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla…  The all important creation of the holiday atmosphere.  The sense of smell is so important-a quick sniff of a particular odor can bring a place to mind; a waft of a special perfume, a face immediately appears.  Scent has been an  important issue down through time.  My old cookbooks render numerous recipes for a variety of scented products for the home.   Roses were an extremely popular scent.

‘Julia Gathering Roses’ by Daniel Ridgeway

     THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith contains a recipe “To make the burning Perfume”, which appears to be a form of incense.  The ingredients include damask rose leaves (petals), musk, civet and sugar in rosewater, formed into little cakes and dried in the sun.  I have seen biblical references to “burning perfume in vessels” and imagine Eliza’s recipe smoldering in a saucer, or possibly even tossed on a fire, as we toss pine cones or other scented material.  The same volume also includes instructions “To make a sweet Bag for Linen”-dried citrus peel, dried roses, coriender, nutmeg and cloves, as well as other herbs are combined, to be put into silk bags to put with linens or possibly garments.

     The Jane Austen’s House Museum blog recently gave Martha Lloyd’s recipe for pot-pourri, which combined roses with lavender, cloves, cinnamon and other ingredients.  This is designed to be kept in open vessels in a room, or in bags to place in linens or clothing.   In earlier times, when rushes were strewn on the floor, sweet-smelling herbs, including lavender and rosemary were included to make the atmosphere more pleasant.  

      In our modern time, with our plug-in air fresheners, commercially scented candles, and other devices to sweeten the air, it is easy to consider this a modern concern.  I enjoy thinking of the history behind them, the purely human desire to make one’s atmosphere as pleasant as possible.

 

Sources:

Smith, Eliza.  THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE.  The Sixteenth Edition, with Additions. Reprint published 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum Blog.  “At Home with the Austens: Receipts for ‘Milk of Roses’ and ‘Pot-pourri’ from Martha Lloyd’s Household Book” posted 11/1/2012.  http://janeaustenshousemuseumblog.com/2012/11/01/at-home-with-the-austens-receipts-for-milk-of-roses-and-pot-pourri-from-martha-lloyds-household-book/

 

Ghoulies and Ghosties

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-legged beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

(Traditional Scottish prayer)

It’s Hallowe’en, and, at this time of year, my thoughts turn to an American classic, Edgar Allan Poe.  I grew up with the old Hammer films, and loved Vincent Price in The Mask of the Red Death, The Tomb of Ligeia, and others.  (I remember looking into and under the car in which I was travelling after seeing Ligeia at the theater!)  However, no movie ever had the ability to create an atmosphere of sheer skin-crawling creepiness the way Poe’s writing did.   In Poe’s classic stories and many of his poems, the line between this world and the next was very thin, and both sides were inhabited by beings human and… something else.  Horror and romance, love and hate, were all combined into a misty other-world.  Poe was a master of creating things that went bump in the night!

   The poem The Conqueror  Worm starts with a gala night, and proceeds to madness, horror, and an unexpected end.  The last verse illustrates the atmosphere Poe created:

“Out – out are the lights – out all!

And, over each quivering form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the angels, all pallid and wan,

Uprising, unveiling affirm,

That the play is the tragedy, ‘Man,’

And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

Of course, any celebration of Hallowe’en brings forth The Raven with all its moody repetition…

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary….”

Illustration for THE RAVEN by Paul Gustav Dore’

                     

Then, there are the short stories.  Once read, who can forget Berenice?  “…But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born.  Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.”  This musing leads to a conclusion.  “Yet its memory was replete with horror – horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity.”  (I won’t tell you what it was…)  I don’t read Edgar Allan Poe’s work as often as I once did.  However, when I do, it’s still important to have a good light, a cozy blanket and a locked door.  It also doesn’t hurt to say an old Scottish prayer just before turning out the light to go to sleep!

Good Lord, deliver us!

Sleep tight (don’t forget the night-light)!

COMPLETE STORIES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE.  Doubleday & Co. Inc., Garden City, NY, 1966.

Scottish Prayer, Traditional. Things That Go Bump in the Night. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/bump.html

Image: Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Gustave_Dore_Raven3.jpg

The Elusive Lady Sefton

“Miss Maria Margaret Craven” by Thomas Beach 1776

          Maria Molyneux, Countess of Sefton, was one of the famed Lady Patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms.   She is mentioned frequently in Regency novels, such as REGENCY BUCK by Georgette Heyer.    Lady Sefton had the reputation of being extremely good-natured; in fact, there is speculation that she was happy to leave to the question of blackballing of potential members, or revoking the vouchers of erring members, to the other patronesses.  (Harriet Cavendish supposedly disagreed with this assessment, but seemed to be in the minority.)  However, outside of her position as Almack’s patroness and Lord Sefton’s wife, very little is known about her personally.

          Born Maria Margaret Craven, she was the daughter of William Craven, 6th Baron Graven and Hampsted Marshall and Lady Elizabeth Berkley on April 26, 1769.  Her mother was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Berkley.    Lady Elizabeth was an author and playwright known for her travelogues, and a socialite with a reputation for multiple affairs.  Baron Craven was also reputed to have had numerous affairs.  Maria’s father separated from her mother in 1780; there after, Lady Elizabeth lived in France.   The Baron passed away Sept. 27, 1791 and Lady Elizabeth remarried Oct. 13, 1791 to the Markgraf von Brandenburg-Ansbach, with whom she had supposedly had a relationship for several years.    There is no indication of Maria having a relationship or even contact with her mother after her parents separated.

           On Jan. 1, 1792, Maria married William Philip Molyneux, Viscount Sefton, the son of Charles William Molyneux, 1st Earl of Sefton, and Isabella Stanhope (daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harrington).   Available information indicates that William’s mother Isabella is the Lady Molyneux who was one of the fourteen original founders of the Almack’s Assembly Rooms about 1765 with Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady Pembroke, Miss Pelham, Miss Lloyd and Mrs. Meynell (all mentioned by Horace Walpole in 1770 when he wrote about “The Female Coterie” – Maria Craven was only about a year old at that time).   It is also probable that Isabella was the Lady Sefton who sponsored Maria Fitzherbert into society (Mrs. Fitzherbert may have had a connection with Charles and Isabella’s family).   William succeeded his father in 1795 becoming the 2nd Earl of Sefton.    

          Known as  “Lord Dashalong”,  Lord Sefton, a friend of the Prince Regent, was passionate about racing, hunting, coursing and steeple chasing,  was a founder of the Four-Horse (also referred to as the Four-in-Hand Club).  He was Master of the Quorn Hunt from 1800-1805.  He was a member of White’s Club. Lord Sefton was known as a liberal and a reformer, and was a Member of Parliament, in the House of Commons (his title was Irish and did not automatically give him a seat in the House of Lords until 1831 when he was created Baron Sefton of Croxteth in the Peerage of the United Kingdom by William IV).   

          With his political career, as well as his club and sporting interests, Lord Sefton was obviously very active in society and was known for a magnificent mode of living and hospitality, which included setting an excellent table.   He and Maria had at least five children, possibly more.  Maria was a patroness of Almack’s by 1812, at which point she was one of the older (if not the oldest) of the group.  With the reputations of her parents and the scandal of their separation and her mother’s remarriage, it seems probable that Maria had high standards of behavior, if only to preserve her own reputation and standing.  Obviously, Maria would have been  very busy managing their homes and acting  hostess in Arlington Street in London, Stokes Farm in Berkshire and Croxteth Hall near Liverpool, in addition to her social life and her responsibilities as a Patroness of Almack’s.  However, I have yet to find any indication of letters or diaries or other information detailing her daily activities, personal feelings or friendships.  Clearly, she was also very discreet.

          Lord Sefton had a falling out with the Prince Regent, when he protested the Prince of Wales effort to cause the exclusion of the Princes of Wales from the White’s Club ball in 1814, which was ultimately cancelled.  Although this greatly reduced his involvement with court activities (and possibly, by extension, Lady Sefton’s presence at court as well, to some degree), his political and sporting activities continued.  There is no indication of any reduction of Lady Sefton’s activities in Society in general, although it appears that the responsibilities of the Lady Patronesses declined around 1824.  He was restored to favor at court by William IV, who was reported to be an admirer of Lady Sefton.

          Lord Sefton died Nov. 20, 1838.  He was succeeded by his son with Maria, Charles William Molyneux.    Maria survived him by almost twenty-three years, dying at the age of 81 Jan. 1, 1851.  As of this writing, I have found no information about her life during the period from the death of Lord Sefton until her own death.    It’s strange and rather sad to think that so little personal information survives about a woman of so much influence in her time.  Hopefully, more information will surface.

REFERENCES

Hibbert, Christopher.  GEORGE IV The Rebel Who Would Be King.  2007: Palgrave MacMillan, New York.

Murray, Venetia.  AN ELEGANT MADNESS High Society in Regency England.  1999: Penguin Group, New York.

ANGLOCENTRIA. Almack’s.  http://anglocentria.com/Almacks.htm

CROXTETH HALL Liverpool online.  http://www.bygonetimes.org.uk/croxteth_hall.htm

Dandysme Blog.  THE EARL OF SEFTON. Posted 2/7/2012 by von Melanie Grundmann.  An obituary taken from THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAXINE, Dec. 1838, Vol. X.

HISTORICAL AND REGENCY ROMANCE UK blog.  Regency Connections. By Nicola Cornick.Posted 9/7/2009.  http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/2009/12/regency-connections.html

THE HISTORY OF PARLIAMENT ONLINE.  Molyneux, William Philip, 2nd Earl of Sefton [I], of Croxteth Hall, nr. Liverpool, Lancs.  Published in the History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986.  http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/molyneux-william-philip-1772-1838

THE JANE AUSTEN CENTRE website.  The Patronesses of Almack’s: The Arbiters of London Respectibility, by Laura Boyle.  Published 7/17/2011.  http://www.janeausten.co.uk/the-patronesses-of-almacks-the-arbiters-of-london-respectibility/

THE PEERAGE ONLINE. Person Page 2080. http://www.thepeerage.com/p2080.htm  [Information about the Hon. Maria Margaret Craven and William Philip Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton]

THE PEERAGE ONLINE.  Person Page 10875. http://www.thepeerage.com/p10875.htm [William Craven, 6th Baron Crafen of Hampsted Marshall and Lady Elizabeth Berkley]

A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY.  Sir William Philip Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton (1772-1838).  Dr. Marjory Bloy.  (no date)  http://www.historyhome.co.uk/people/sefton.htm

Wikipedia.   William Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Molyneux,_2nd_Earl_of_Sefton

Wikipedia.  Almack’s.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almack’s

  (If you would like to read about another Patroness, please check out an earlier post on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about Princess Lieven!  http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2011/11/dorothea-christorovna-benckendorff.html )

Image:  http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_373952/Thomas-Beach/Portrait-Of-Miss-Maria-Margaret-Craven

Happy Anniversary, English Historical Fiction Authors!

     This week, the English Historical Fiction Authors’ blog is celebrating its one year anniversary!   Author Debra Brown, who spearheaded this blog, has written a great article providing some highlights, the top ten posts and other items of interest.   (One of my posts is number 3!)  Be sure to take a look at the various posts-there is truly something for everyone, from food to fashion to politics and war.  There is also a great giveaway of books by associated authors to celebrate this milestone.  Please go HERE http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/   and check it out!  You’ll be glad you did!

Jane Austen and Modern America

     As a reader and admirer of Jane Austen’s works, I have been told on occasion that her works, as delightful as they may be, are not really relevant to today’s world, and are escapist or elitist, or basically “chick lit”.  As pleasurable as I have found them, it must be said that the movie adaptations do little to counter this judgement.  I was browsing through my library’s on-line catalogue, and ran across two books whose titles caught my attention:

A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz, and

A WALK WITH JANE AUSTEN A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith by Lori Smith

     Both authors wrote memoirs that discuss their personal lives in relation to insights from Jane Austen’s life and novels.  That said, it would be hard to find two more different people and life experiences.  It is intriguing to note just how much each author was inspired by Jane Austen, and how they applied the insights they gained to their personal lives.

     Mr. Deresiewicz studied Austen’s novels, and by extension, her life as part of a graduate program, ultimately including his findings in his dissertations.  Facing emotional and physical problems, Ms. Smith took a walking tour in England, following Jane Austen’s life, seeking answers to questions of faith and personal fulfillment.  Both found more than they bargained for.    Both authors learned life lessons, internalized values and ideas, and acquired a knowledge of themselves that they had not had not previously had.

     These books are, of necessity, very different.  The authors are two completely different human beings, of completely different backgrounds.  They approach Austen from different places in their lives, for completely different reasons.  Mr. Deresiewicz was totally uninterested in reading Jane Austen, and Ms. Smith was an ardent fan.  Both travel with Austen (Mr. Deresiewicz on an intellectual  journey of maturation, and Ms. Smith on a literal journey of faith) and come away with unexpected knowledge of themselves.

     After reading them and thinking about them, I went back and read some reviews of each.  Interestingly, some reviewers commented on both authors’ self-indulgence and whining.  Since these are memoirs of the authors’ experiences and emotions, I think one must expect to share some of their angst and less positive issues; it is unrealistic to expect all sweetness, light, and moments of ecstatic recognition.  There were aspects of both authors that made me want to smack each, for completely different reasons.  However, I found both books to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.  Reading their experiences and viewpoints of one of my favorite authors has helped me to understand and clarify much of what I find appealing and relevant to my own life.  The universal truths that Jane Austen addresses so subtly in her novels, and the way she lived her life, still have much to do with our lives today.  Mr. Deresiewicz and Ms. Smith have demonstrated that in their respective memoirs.  I recommend them both.

Deresiewicz, William.  A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things that Really Matter.  2011: Penguin Press, New York, NY.

Smith, Lori.  A WALK WITH JANE AUSTEN A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith.  2007: WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO.