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.
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.
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.
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.
Because I am so interested in English history and English literature, especially the Stuart and Georgian/Regency periods, I wanted to share a book that was interesting on many levels.
IN LOVE & WAR The Lives of General Sir Harry & Lady Smith was written by David Rooney and Michael Scott. It tells the story of Napoleonic war hero, Captain Harry Smith, and his bride Juana, their marriage, and their lives during and after these battles. It is, firstly, a love story which is very famous and has been told previously, notably by Georgette Heyer in THE SPANISH BRIDE.
Secondly, it is fascinating history, covering as it does Harry’s career after Waterloo, which carried the Smiths to India and into the court of Queen Victoria.
The authors, one being a historian and the other a soldier, are very successful at capturing the romance of the marriage and the excitement of the military campaigns.
As a side note, reading this account made me recognize how thoroughly Georgette Heyer researched her subjects!
I highly recommend this book to romance readers and history buffs alike.
Copyright (c) 2011 Lauren E. Gilbert
I love history, and reading. These two passions have led me to write a novel, titled HEYERWOOD, which will be released soon. In this blog, I will talk about books that inspired me to write my book, information about source books that I read and consulted. I will also enclose some links to sites and blogs that I enjoy. My hope is to share with you sources and information that I have found that you may find interesting or helpful or just plain fun!
In this, my first blog entry, I want to talk about one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. Right now, Jane Austen’s work is extremely popular, spinning off movies, inspiring sequels and comic books (oops! graphic novels), and is the subject of classes, work shops, book clubs, and conversation. What is it about Jane Austen’s writing that so captures the imagination?
Jane Austen captured a sense of reality in her books. Her characters are people with feelings, worries, concerns. We can relate to them and empathize with them. We see people we know in the silly, annoying, or bad ones. We would like to see ourselves in the good characters. We recognize the situations in which her characters find themselves, because these situations still exist in normal day-to-day life. (You can still find articles offering advice on the pro’s and con’s of marrying for money!)
Her stories are romantic on the surface. However, as you read and re-read, the social commentary and the subtle humor become increasingly clear. Her novels continue to offer her readers something new with each reading because of the layers of meaning that become apparent as the reader gains experience or maturity. I always find something I missed when I re-read a Jane Austen novel, something I had not fully understood or appreciated.
Jane Austen’s works are more than period pieces, and much more than romance novels. They bring her time to life, and give us a chance to learn much about ourselves at the same time.
Copyright (c) 2011 Lauren E Gilbert