Saturday, March 27, 2010

Batteries Not Included

A number of years ago my loving husband returned from a business trip with a little present for me. It was a slender, hardback book with a prettily garlanded cover, titled "Pride and Promiscuity" by Arielle Eckstut.

"Pride and Promiscuity" purports, jokingly, to be a collection of the lost sex scenes from Jane Austen's novels; scenes she had been forced to excise by her prudish publishers. In my best Victorian manner I was not amused, but I read it anyway. Because, you know, my husband would have been offended if I hadn't. And for research. Of course.

"Pride and Promiscuity" is actually much better than it sounds. It is written by a true Austen devotee, and Eckstut's writing perfectly imitates Jane Austen's own style. It's really quite good fun.

One or two of the chapters in the book seemed more far-fetched than others, however; particularly "Jane at Netherfield", during which Jane Bennet, while staying at Netherfield, is visited during the night by both Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. Their object is to ascertain whether Jane would be able to "satisfy" their brother, should they marry. I was greatly amused by the unlikeliness of the following passage:

At one point their introduction of a curiously-shaped carved wooden object into the evening's diversions aroused the most strenuous expressions of concern from Jane; but her objections were quickly silenced by the application of the experienced and skillful hands of Mrs Hurst.

Oh honestly, thought I, a wooden dildo? In Regency times? Ridiculous.

How naive am I? The lovely Elizabeth Chadwick, @chadwickauthor on Twitter, tweeted this article this morning, about an auction of two hundred year old wooden sex toys. One phallus measures 10 inches with testicles, the other 11 inches without testicles. Wow.

I've led such a sheltered life. I blame it on the nuns. Comments? Or are you all stunned into silence?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Willoughby's Return by Jane Odiwe - a review

It is with considerable trepidation that I ever read a sequel to one of Jane Austen's novels, because they seldom accord with my own opinion of how the story could or should continue. The tagline of Willoughby's Return, though, drew me in straight away - "A tale of almost irresistible temptation".

The premise is delicious. Marianne Dashwood is now happily married to Colonel Brandon, and mistress of Delaford. Her life is everything it should be, and she is perfectly happy and conscious of her own good fortune. All that remains is to see her now eighteen-year-old sister Margaret settled as advantageously.

Enter the "almost irresistible temptation". Willoughby's sudden return into the neighbourhood disrupts this happy scene and makes Marianne increasingly uneasy. He makes it clear, very early in their reacquaintance, that he greatly regrets his marriage and is as much in love with her as ever.

Colonel Brandon's ward's daughter, Lizzy, is a frail, ill child, and Brandon frequently travels away from home to help tend to her. This places an increasing strain on the Brandons' marriage, and makes the temptation of Willoughby's attentions all the more powerful.

Jane Odiwe follows the form of Jane Austen's novels admirably. She weaves the existing characters with such new characters as Jane Austen herself would approve. We are introduced to the indolent invalid Lady Lawrence; her dashing son Henry; and my favourite new character, Mademoiselle de Fontenay, who is surely modelled on Jane Austen's own cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. Old favourites, such as Lucy Ferrars, make a number of appearances and are as irritating as ever.

But, here's the rub. My objections to Willoughby's Return are not based on any failings in the novel itself, but rather in my own expectations - as I mentioned at the beginning. My Marianne would be happily married, but in a quieter, more sedate way, rather than the passionate love affair portrayed here. My Marianne would be more jaded, grateful to Colonel Brandon for loving her despite her indiscretions, because my Marianne was no virgin when she married.

(Regular readers of this blog might remember an earlier post on this subject - if you'd like to read it again, it's here: )

However, the ending is satisfying and is all that it should be, even for me. Jane Odiwe's interpretations of Jane Austen's works might differ slightly from my own, but I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel, and the characters have stayed with me - particularly the masterful creation, Mademoiselle de Fontenay, who could have been created by Jane Austen herself.

As an Austen-related work I give it 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"I think he must be Irish by his ease"

For the day that's in it (as we say here in Ireland), I thought I'd look very quickly at Jane Austen's attitude towards Ireland in honour of St. Patrick's Day. Please pardon the extremely short synopsis of Irish history which is to follow!

Ireland, to Jane Austen, was an alien country. In a letter to her niece Anna in 1814, famously advising her on her own novel, she wrote:

"And we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representation."

It was advice she had used herself in her own writing. In The Watsons, her incomplete novel begun while living in Bath, we learn that Emma Watson's aunt has married Captain O'Brien and gone to live with him in Ireland. Captain O'Brien's character is not good; he appears to be a fortune hunter, and it is likely that the marriage will be unhappy. Of Ireland, Mr Edwards says "I do not wonder that you should not wish to go with her into that country, Miss Emma." In her later novel Emma, Jane Fairfax returns to Highbury to live with her Aunt Bates rather than accompany the Campbells, with whom she had been living, to Ireland.

Although Jane Austen grew up during a time of great unrest in Ireland, like many of her peers she seems to have known little of events there. Ireland at the time was divided squarely into two categories; the poor Catholic "native" Irish and the (usually) wealthy, land-owning Protestant Irish (Church of Ireland). Even the disastrous Irish rebellion of 1798 went unremarked upon by her letters or novels, even though she alludes to news of her "Irish friend" in letters of that year.

When Jane Austen refers to Ireland or the Irish in her books or letters, she is referring not to the ordinary Catholic Irish, but rather to the Protestant ascendancy; a group of people still thought of by "native" Irish people as English, regardless of how many generations they had lived in the country. However, it seems as though the Irish ascendancy were generally more relaxed in their manners than their English counterparts. A couple of throw-away comments of Jane Austen's show us her opinion of what Irish men's manners were, or should have been.

Even of her one-time beau, Tom Lefroy, she writes:

I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together... He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you.

Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 1796

The last seems to be added to contradict some of Cassandra's expectations to the contrary, based on her knowledge - or rumours - of Irish manners.

Perhaps those rumours were not always unfounded. In 1804, while on holiday in Lyme Regis, Jane is both flattered and affronted by a young man at a ball who makes clear his interest in her.

...had I chosen to stay longer I might have danced... with a new, odd-looking Man who had been eyeing me for some time, & at last without any introduction asked me if I meant to dance again. - I think he must be Irish, by his ease, & because I imagine him to belong to the Honble Barnwalls, who are the son & son's wife of an Irish Viscount - bold, queerlooking people, just fit to be Quality at Lyme.

Jane Austen to Cassandra, September 1804

Yet there was a romantic sensibility about Ireland that was in vogue at the time. Although Jane Fairfax did not follow the Campbells to Ireland, we are given an image, through her correspondence with the new Mrs Dixon, of a beautiful verdant country that would be pleasant to visit. Irish linen and lace were popular above other varieties, and Irish airs and melodies were to be found in every drawing room and ballroom.

Jane Austen may have never followed Tom Lefroy to Ireland; but in 2007 "Jane Austen" (Anne Hathaway) did. The atrocious film "Becoming Jane" was shot on location in Wicklow and Dublin, which interestingly were the real-life haunts of the real Tom Lefroy. Ireland was chosen as a location because

"Hampshire now is groomed and manicured and what we were able to find in Ireland was a sense of countryside that felt more unchanged. That was one of the things that I really wanted to get... a sense of the landscape in which Jane Austen grew up. Ireland also has a great variety of Georgian houses and older houses as well. I think it gave us quite a different and interesting look for the film."

(Julian Jarrold, director)

So, would Jane Austen actually have liked Ireland if she had ever visited? I'm inclined to think that she would have loved the countryside, and equally inclined to hope that, like Jonathon Swift, she would have been appalled by the poverty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I am greatly indebted to Ann at Inkpots 'n' Quills for kindly and graciously giving me this award. I'm quite sure I don't deserve it. Really. As though I would ever be "creative" in my blogging...


But I digress. In receiving this award, I am obliged to post six untruths about myself, plus one half-truth; and you, the reader, get to guess which one is the half-truth.

Then I nominate six other blogs to receive the award, and they must in turn post six untruths/one half truth. And so on.

Without further ado, my nominees are:

And *drumroll, fanfare* here are my untruths/half truth. Have fun guessing! Answers in the comments, pur-lease.

1. I pride myself on being a good Catholic. I attend confession at least once per fortnight, and receive the Eucharist weekly.

2. I'm really quite sporty. I swim long-distance, used to ride competitively, and am big into orienteering.

3. I once won the Lotto (Irish National Lottery) jackpot.

4. I take great pride in my personal appearance, especially in the area of grooming. My eyebrows are threaded, my moustache electrolosys-ded, and my bikini area waxed, regularly and without fail. There is no excuse for neglecting these basics.

5. I am allergic to peanuts.

6. My home reflects my OCD tendencies - it is perpetually neat, I cannot bear for it to be any other way. I'll prioritise cleaning and tidying over anything else.

7. I have secretly always wanted to be an actress.

Right, there you go. *Sings* "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is not quite the same...."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Jane Bites Back", a review

It was with some trepidation
that I started reading
"Jane Bites Back" by Michael Thomas Ford.

At first glance, it seemed to be the perfect book for me; a crossover between my two favourite genres, bloodsucking fiends vs. pelisses and petticoats.

However... such crossovers are notoriously difficult to pull off. There may be a current fashion for bastardising Jane Austen's life and works with added zombies and sea monsters, but in my opinion very few are successful.

Still, I embarked on "Jane Bites Back" with good will and an open mind. I stormed through the entire book in a day, which is one thing that I can say in its favour, since not many books hold my attention so fully at the moment when I am constantly in the middle of half a dozen at any one time.

As a vampire novel it is quite delicious. Jane's vampire sire/suitor is absolutely perfect, everything one would want; and her nemesis (whose identity I guessed straight away) made me laugh out loud.

However, as a Jane Austen related book it falls decidedly flat - Janeite purists will not enjoy it! I found the character of Jane to be interesting, as long as I thought of her as Jane Fairfax - but Jane Austen she was not. There was no wit, no cutting remarks (all of those came from her assistant, Lucy), no savvy, no fire. She was ignorant of custom and etiquette in certain facets of modern life, in a way that I feel sure Jane Austen herself (she who was a stickler for manners) would never allow herself to become.

As a novel generally, the ending was also rather rushed and pat. It smacks of "buy the sequel", but without making that quite an enticing enough prospect.

While puzzling over this book last night, and trying to put my finger on what my issues with it were, I came to this final conclusion:

This book is about a modern day vampire, who just happens to be Jane Austen.
It is not about Jane Austen in the modern day, who happens to be a vampire.

It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

So, as a vampire novel I would award it three stars out of five; but sadly as an Austenesque work, only 1 out of five.

Have you read it? What's your opinion?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Horror in Fiction Land!

Inspired by question 7 (Is your book autobiographical?) on Lauren B. Davis' excellent blog post, Ten Questions Not to Ask Writers, I'd like to share with you all a little horror story connected to my first novel.

This novel (for which I'm currently seeking representation) is called "Growing Up. Again." Just to explain it briefly, here's my own tag line:

Most people grow up, figure out who they are, and leave home – once.

After the sudden death of her husband, thirty-five year old Emma Thomas has to do it all over again.

On her journey she battles her manipulative mother-in-law whose plans for Emma's future border on the incestuous; unearths a number of family skeletons; and encounters bullying of various forms.

She also finds a second chance at love – if she can forgive herself for taking it.

When I was close to finishing the first draft I asked two friends - lets called them Ann and Amy - to read it for me and give some honest feedback. That's when "it" happened.

Both of those early readers read the book, and decided - independently of each other - that the love interest in my work of fiction was based on a mutual friend: a happily married man with three children and the husband of another close friend, who we'll call Alice.

Their basis for this assumption? The fact that I had told them I had gained inspiration for my character's house from Alice's new house; and that his name had the same first initial. That's it.

What could I do? I laughed it off and reminded them that this was fiction.

And changed the character's name.

Two weeks ago I had a girls' night out with Ann, Amy and Alice. Foolishly I mentioned something about my progress on getting published, and Ann and Amy burst out laughing. Then they decided to tell Alice about my supposed lust for her husband.


After I'd finished turning an incriminating shade of scarlet, and had failed to ooze through a crack in the floor, I tried to laugh it off again. Alice didn't seem terribly impressed, but I think she saw the funny side.

When we were leaving, she said she was going to tell her husband.

Oh God.

Every Friday a gang of us meet for breakfast and a natter; it's a date that's carved in stone. When Alice's husband turned up and sat down opposite me I didn't know where to look. It was like being back in primary school, when your friend has told his friend that you like him, but you don't know if his friend has told him yet, so you're trying to act cool...

Except we're not in primary school, and I really, really don't have a crush on my friend's husband.

It's fiction, people!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" by Laurie Viera Rigler

Courtney Stone wakes one morning in her beautiful four-poster bed in her sumptuously arranged bedroom.

The only problem is that it's not her bedroom. In fact, it's not even her body.

Somehow, 21st century Courtney has woken up in the body - and the life - of Miss Jane Mansfield, a lady from the early 19th century.

Astonished and objecting, Courtney soon learns to hold her tongue about her true identity when her less than maternal "mother" threatens her with exile to an asylum - permanently. Over time, Courtney adapts to living in Jane's body and life, and begins to recall memories that are not her own. She also begins to fall in love with Jane's suitor, the enigmatic Mr Edgeworth.

With no idea as to whether she will ever escape to her own (albeit disastrous) life in the 21st century, Courtney/Jane has to learn to live in the present - even though that present is two hundred years in the past. She gradually accepts a slower pace of life and, in time, comes to feel that maybe she doesn't want to return to her own time, after all.

Laura Viera Rigler leads us on a fun, light, guided tour through the early nineteenth century, as seen through the eyes of a disillusioned modern woman. We are allowed to experience personal hygiene, travel, shopping, and love, all on a much slower and more considered scale than the one we're used to.

Gradually, along with Courtney/Jane, we overcome our own cynicism and preconceived notions about the time, and to see them with a new understanding.

The only factor lacking in this enjoyable book is the flip-side of the story; where has the "real" Jane Mansfield gone? If she has taken up the mantle of Courtney's 21st century life, as is hinted, how is she coping?

Obviously, I will now have to read "Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict" in order to answer those questions. ;)