A Useful Work…

I am not ashamed to admit that I am addicted to books.  I buy books the way some women buy shoes or some men buy fishing lures.  I simply cannot resist a book, whether it be a beautiful book, an enjoyable book or a useful book.  Now that dinner is over and the dishes done, I am perusing one of my favorites, a book that is both beautiful AND useful.

JANE AUSTEN’S TOWN AND COUNTRY STYLE, by Susan Watkins (1990: Rizzoli International Publications Inc., New York, NY)  is a very satisfying book.  Whether you are interested in Jane Austen and her writing, the history of the Regency period, or architecture and the decorative arts, this book is a treasure.  Ms. Watkins helps us to see how people lived in Jane Austen’s time (admittedly the gentry class, but still…) by using illustrations (paintings, photographs, account records, fabrics, and more are all here) and by writing fascinating text.  She uses characters and quotes from Austen’s novels, as well as from her letters,  as lead-in’s to provide more detailed information about daily life at this time.  The final chapter on entertaining includes photographs of food prepared based on period recipes.  (If they taste as good as they look, it helps me to understand the Prince of Wales fondness for stuffing himself!)  Interior and exterior design, gowns, table settings and more all appear here with a wealth of information in a friendly format with text that is as enjoyable to read as it is informative.   

Ms. Watkins also provides a chronology of Jane Austen’s life, and a directory of Georgian design information sources, ranging from museums and houses, , to fabric and wallpaper  purveyors, to societies, in England, the USA and some fashion/costume sources in France.  Her bibliography is organized relative to the different subjects, and is very user friendly, which is a blessing if you want to look more deeply into one area or another. 

This is one of my favorite go-to books, whether for reference, or just to enjoy a browse.  Even though it is a bit older, it is a valuable addition to any Janeite’s library.

Back to Work!

This weekend, I have been watching the weather, as have so many of us, and my thoughts and prayers have followed Irene up the east coast. My extreme gratitude for not having the storm here in Florida has been tempered by knowing what those who did experience Irene will be dealing with in the aftermath. These storms cannot be taken lightly.

This is a beautiful morning, and I have been able to return to work with a renewed energy. I’ve added some thoughts to a paper I’ve been working on, and have continued some research for the novel I’m currently writing.

I am currently reading PASSION & PURSUIT The Loves and Lives of Regency Women, by Jane Aiken Hodge. I had not heard of this book, until running across it in a bibliography. Published in 1996, Ms. Hodge examines the role of love in the lives of specific women during the Regency era. This book is an excellent read. Ms. Hodge is a wonderful writer (I’ve been a fan of her fiction for years).  She provides interesting background information about the period (“setting the scene,” as she describes it), and then discusses a range of women of the time, and the effect of love in their lives, whether romantic love, friendship, the love of children or the love of one’s art. This book provides a lot of biographical information, including excerpts from diaries and letters, although certainly not a comprehensive biography of any of the women portrayed. Ms. Hodge’s subjects range from Harriette Wilson, to Hester Stanhope, from Caroline Lamb to Jane Austen, and she brings each woman’s individual circumstances to life. It is an excellent reference in itself, and has whetted my appetite to read more about several of the ladies mentioned. Even if you are familiar with each of these ladies’ stories, this book may give you a new viewpoint, and some new points to consider about women’s lives during this fascinating time.

Rainy Day Musings…

It is absolutely pouring here today… 

I’m off work, and don’t have to go anywhere.  There are things I SHOULD be doing, but, instead, I am curled up with my cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot, of course!) and a good book.  An old friend, this time.  I’m enjoying THE MUMMY CASE, by Elizabeth Peters.  One of the early Amelia Peabody Emerson novels, it is a wonderful book, full of (dare I say?) eccentric characters, and glimpses of 19th century archaeology in Egypt, with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.  These books are always a satisfying read, fun and well-paced, and full of interesting details designed to capture and keep the reader’s attention.   Can you think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon?

Breakthrough!!!

Well, my writer’s block is finally broken! I received some long-awaited information, which lead me to some additional research, which took me to a different site where I found a small but significant detail,which resulted in a new addition to my plot! (It sounds much more circuitous than it really was.) It is very satisfying to finally have my plot back in motion. Sitting in front of a word document with nothing going on is NOT my idea of entertainment! (It tends to be dangerous as well; it’s too easy to look at the work already done and think, “This is total tripe-I should just start over!”) It is also tempting to keep researching just for the sake of research! There is nothing as satisfying as finding that nugget of fact that leaves one thinking, “Well, no wonder!” At any rate, the new novel is back on track, as well as back in focus!

Rejection…Where Is Thy Sting?

I recently submitted a short piece of writing for publication, and was just advised that it was not going to be used. Rejected!!! This was the first time I had ever submitted in that format, and had had such high hopes! My first reaction? I was, to say the least, disappointed. Then, when I read the response again, I realized something: most of the comments made were actually complimentary, and the criticisms were useful (and valid, it must be said!). While this piece may not fit for that publication, they have left me the hope that a future piece could be accepted. They have also given me some useful comments and suggestions that will help me improve my writing in general. Even though this was a disappointment, I can’t regard it as a set back. It is actually a huge step forward. I know that all rejection notifications are not as kind as this one was. However, this experience has taught me that even rejection can be a positive thing. That piece? I am going to rework it, using the comments made, and submit it in its improved state. Maybe other publications will be interested. Even if no one publishes it, I know it will be better than I had thought it was. All in all, even though I was disappointed, this experience has left me with nothing but positive feelings, and hope for my future efforts.

English: The Last Frontier…

I have just received a wonderful book, by Caroline Taggart, called “Her Ladyship’s Guide to the QUEEN’S ENGLISH.” It is absolutely delightful, covering English words, phrases, and structure. This little book not only addresses many of the differences between American and British English, it strives to help us attain elegant English. While this may sound like a subject from the Victorian era, the book itself is delightful. It is written with a light hand and a delightful sense of humor, and provides extremely useful insight into the English of England. While it is invaluable to anyone reading, studying or writing English literature (or fiction set in England!), it is a surprisingly entertaining read. I have been dipping into different sections with great pleasure. This little book just may be a bridge between American and British English speakers: two groups separated by a common language!

It’s A Scandal….

In the 18th and 19th centuries, women were extremely limited in their options, and one false step could literally ruin them. In MY LADY SCANDALOUS The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan, by Jo Manning, we read of a woman whose choices were frequently (to say the least) unconventional. There is no doubt that Grace Dalrymple’s life story is extremely colorful, ranging from her love life to her time in France where she may have obtained useful information for her country. However, what made this book fascinating to me were the many notes, sidebars, quotes, illustrations and comments that illuminate Mrs. Dalrymple’s story. This book is full of historical snippets, anecdotes and explanations that bring many of the personalities, and the era itself, to life. It also highlights just how limited the choices were that women had, and how devastating the wrong choices could be. Grace’s life was frequently not a particularly comfortable life, and she died alone, in obscurity. Her story certainly provides some insight to the difficulties that someone like Eliza or Young Eliza in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY would face as a result of their poor decisions. (Very few rose to the heights (?) that Grace did in her hey-day, after all.) It is very well-written, and is an excellent source of period information for any one interested in the Georgian period.

Sincere Appreciation

I believe that one of the most satisfying things is to share an appreciation of something you love with someone else.  Both people get the opportunity to express just what aspects of the loved object is pleasing and why, which leads to a thoroughly enjoyable conversation.  A case in point is a book by Richard Jenkyns, titled A FINE BRUSH ON IVORY An Appreciation of Jane Austen.  In his acknowledgements, Mr. Jenkyns indicates that this book stems, at least in part, from conversations he had had.  This is a very readable book, in which he discusses various questions about Jane Austen’s writing.  This is not a detailed comprehensive analysis of each of Austen’s works, but is a fluid essay on aspects on her writing, characters, etc. that apply to all.  I enjoyed Mr. Jenkyn’s book enormously because it made me think about why I enjoy Austen’s books so much.  I have subsequently reread PERSUASION,  and believe that my pleasure in this story has been enhanced by the thought process generated by reading A FINE BRUSH ON IVORY.  I highly recommend it.

Would you care for a cup of tea?

We are finally getting some much-needed rain, and nothing goes better on a grey, rainy day than a nice, hot cup of tea! It is especially enjoyable when paired with a leisurely perusal of TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN by Kim Wilson (2004: Jones Books, Madison, WI). While “tea” as a meal was a later innovation, tea as a beverage was very popular in Jane Austen’s time, and this beautiful little book combines tea history in general, tea in relation to Jane Austen and her life and her writings, and some delicious recipes based on those contemporary to Jane Austen. Interesting facts regarding tea equipment, such as “sugar nippers”, proper tea sets, and so forth bring the references to tea in Jane Austen’s novels to life. A special pleasure to me was the information that Twinings, my favorite tea brand, was a purveyor of tea to Jane Austen! (My personal favorite, Earl Grey, alas, was most likely blended after Jane’s time.) This book is crammed with all kinds of details to interest a serious historian or a lover of period fiction. I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon than to curl up with this lovely book and a cup of my favorite blend.

Good morning!

First of all, it is a beautiful day here in Florida.  Summer has definitely arrived, and everything is lush, green and blooming.  I am happy to trade the earlier warmth for scraping ice in January!

Secondly, HEYERWOOD: A Novel is live!  I have the finished, printed book before me as I write, and it is beautiful. 

Thirdly, I want to tell you about another favorite author:  Amanda Vickery.  I have two of her books: THE GENTLEMAN’S DAUGHTER Women’s Lives in Georgian England, and BEHIND CLOSED DOORS At Home in Georgian England.   These books are treasur trove.  Both are absolutely jammed with all kinds of information about life in the Georgian era, especially the lives of women.  Her writing is lively and interesting, and her sources are the nitty gritty details of daily lives: letters, account books, diaries and other such records.  THE GENTLEMAN’S DAUGHTER is an account of the daily lives of genteel women, based on their personal records (seldom, if ever, addressed in traditional histories); BEHIND CLOSED DOORS provides detailed information about how English men and women lived in the Georgian period: what they bought, who bought what, and the domestic details so seldom provided.  Ms. Vickery’s writing style holds one’s attention, and the information she provides in these two books brings the Georgian period (which includes Jane Austen’s time) to life.  Well worth reading just for the pleasure of it, and invaluable source books to students and writers.