Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Next Read - Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,

Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;

Along the cool sequester'd vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.


The next read for The Jane Austen Tea Society in our current plan of British Victorian Authors is Far From The Madding Crowd, Hardy’s first major literary success.

Thomas Hardy was born June 2, 1840 in a small hamlet called Higher Bockhampton which is located in the southwestern English county of Dorset. His childhood was filled with a wealth of deep influences of culture and locale. From their two-storey brick and thatch cottage, Thomas Hardy naturally absorbed a love for literature from his mother, who although she had only served as a maidservant and cook loved to read Latin poets and translated French romances.

His father, a self-employed master mason and building contractor, had descended from an old Dorset family tracing back to the Isle of Jersey in the1400s and was an avid violin player who passed along his love of music to young Hardy.

Thomas Hardy’s childhood very much revolved around literature, music, the local church and life in a rustic rural setting – all of which translated into the body of work that the author became renowned for and for which he was much loved by his devoted readers.

Years ago when I was finally able to put aside the college textbooks and night times taken up with study and homework, I set out on a personal journey to read through the classics… All the ones I felt that I had missed while locked into a “school system plan” that unfortunately was a fairly Austen-free zone. Now that my reading choices were my own I delved into the Brontë sisters, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, of course – Jane Austen and… Thomas Hardy.

I didn’t lose my heart to Hardy the way I did to John Keats but his writing style totally captured my mind. His word-crafting is sublime and the wise reader will keep a dictionary handy if your love of words is equal to your love of story.

Thomas Hardy wrote six novels that were an achievement of great British literature - Far From The Madding Crowd (1874), The Return Of The Native (1878), The Mayor Of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess Of The d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude The Obscure (1895).

Far From The Madding Crowd was chosen for our current read because it was a novel of several "firsts" for Hardy. Besides being his first major success it was his first novel to include his invention of Wessex. Pastoral settings figure significantly into Hardy’s works combined with the loss of a known rural security as the Industrial Age began to change lives. As a setting for his novels, Thomas Hardy resurrected the ancient medievel Anglo-Saxon kingdom name of Wessex and it was – as Hardy described it – a “partly real, party dream” country that occupied a place in the Southwest or Dorchester region of England.

Far From The Madding Crowd first appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in the Cornhill Magazine and its rich language of place and people has the acute ability to take the reader on an atmospheric journey that is full of humor and life lived close to the rural hearth and home skillfully combine with the tragedies and twists of fate that befall the common heart.

Our next High Tea and book discussion will take place on Saturday the 21st of January, 2012 at 1pm. There is plenty of time to walk the lovely path that this book offers. Don’t pass this Thomas Hardy masterpiece by and miss the experience!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

To Autumn

by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,

Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Composed September 19, 1819 after Keats walked near Winchester along the River Itchen in Hampshire...

Celebrating John Keats' Birthday - October 31st!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Favorite Quote From Our High Tea - October 1st, 2011

Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's money, but they cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how to talk to them.
Marian Halcombe in Extracts from her Diary

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In The Midst Of... A Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve. (Walter Hartright – The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins)

Are you lost in the center of the mystery? Are you standing in a shadowed corner listening to voices down a dark and silent hall… heart beating and breath catching… what is the meaning of these events?

Are those footsteps? Have they read what you have written in your private journal just minutes ago.

That dull ache in your temple and the damp palms that you clasp together against your breast… surely they are not fevered… for then... who will protect her?

If you have experienced any of these emotions then you are happily deep into the story of The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins.

Twelve o’clock has struck; and I have just come back to close these pages, after looking out at my open window.

It is a still, sultry, moonless night. The stars are dull and few. The trees that shut out the view on all sides, look dimly black and solid in the distance, like a great wall of rock. I hear the croaking of frogs, faint and far off; and the echoes of the great clock hum in the airless calm, long after the strokes have ceased. I wonder how Blackwater Park will look in the daytime? I don’t altogether like it by night. (Marian Halcombe – The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins)

REMINDER - The next Jane Austen Tea Society Book Tea will be in two weeks – October 1, 2011!

If you haven’t started reading, it’s not too late! But you must make haste to be ready to enjoyably discuss this beloved classic over High Tea tastries, fragrant teas and the camaraderie of fellow lovers of great literature!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Old Friends To Trust & Old Authors To Read...

Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. Francis Bacon

The smell of old volumes lining fine wood shelves, gilded leather and double-shelved treasures… that is the neighborhood used bookstore.

Now, I do like to make purchases of new books whenever possible and to support the work of gifted authors and current releases. I revel in the smell of fresh print, shiny new dust jackets - bright, colorful & eye-catching – but there is something equally wonderful about diving nose first into an aisle of worn & pre-loved favorites and dusty unknown works waiting to be discovered.

It is immensely pleasing to turn pages touched before by a previous reader. And the occasional comment lightly penciled beside a deep & perplexing paragraph almost never fails to give me a smile… especially if I have had the same thought or a like-minded question.

If you haven’t already – you might venture out to your nearby Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million or local used bookstore to find a copy of The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins for our October read. Make sure that it’s one that feels good in your hands, carries well under your arm and – best of all - lures you into a quiet reading corner to lose yourself in this classic story.

"I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of work of fiction should be to tell a story." Wilkie Collins

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Moveable Feast - by Ernest Hemingway

The Restored Edition

It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

When I returned to the Tennessee from my memorable first trip to Europe – I carried something unexpected with me…. something entirely undetected by Customs… a secret thing, savored and relished, that surprised both myself and my friends… I now possessed a passion for Paris.

Did I see it coming? No. I seriously had no way to have foreseen my capture. I knew that I would find the famous city interesting, just as I would the other places on my planned route of Amsterdam, Lausanne, and a small castle town in Germany… But Paris was to be visited as a “stop along the way” as we traveled to a longer stay in Switzerland. And after only a day and a half there… I cried when I left.

Once more at home, I began to look for things in my resident town of Nashville that would remind me of the feel of Paris… scarves and light, fragrant French perfume, dark chocolate and big bowls of strong coffee,… an almond croissant from anywhere that I could find it. I began French lessons and discovered that my favorite music was comfortably seating itself in French pop/rock. And… I began to read books about France and ones that were set in… preferably… Paris.

When I discovered Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for the first time, I found an immediate atmospheric “fix” that was very satisfying. The book even starts with a sensory tingling description of Paris at the beginning of winter that is not filled with the flowery loveliness of April but presents a place real and evocative. And it takes me there in my mind in a way that causes me to breathe out a deep sigh and want to walk – again – those leave-strewn avenues.

When Hemingway began this book describing his early years in Paris as a young man, a young husband and a young writer, he entitled it “The Paris Sketches”. The chapters all tie together in an artful and cohesive way but involve many varied aspects of his life and day-to-day writing process in Paris.

Published posthumously, the title A Moveable Feast was given to the book by Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, as she and a Scribner’s editor, Harry Brague, edited and readied the manuscript for publication. The title was suggested to Mary by American editor, novelist and playwright, A. E. Hotchner, who recalled Hemingway mentioning this particular phrase to him while at the Ritz Bar in Paris in 1950:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

This new restored edition is made up of the original manuscript text as Hemingway had it at the time of his death in 1961. Some of it is troubling, raw and despondent. But there are light moments, happy times with his first wife, Hadley, and a clear, distinctive window into a Paris that included the troubled F. Scott Fitzgerald, a roughly nurturing Gertrude Stein, friend Ezra Pound and the Parisians who populated Hemingway’s world from café waiters to a young black Canadian boxer just trying to survive.

If you’ve wanted to read Hemingway – start with this book. If you haven’t read A Moveable Feast in a few years – pick up this edition! If you need inspiration as a writer – ponder this revealing of his routine and the development of Hemingway’s style and craft. If you love Paris – you will simply enjoy this journey.

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were nor how it was changed nor with what difficulties nor what ease it could be reached. It was always worth it and we received a return for whatever we brought to it.

A Moveable Feast The Restored Edition

By Ernest Hemingway


ISBN 978-1-4391-8271-0

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Next Jane Austen Tea Society Read For October 2011!

The Woman In White

By Wilkie Collins

Novelist, playwright and writer of short stories, Wilkie Collins, was born January 8th, 1824, the son of a popular London Royal Academician landscape and portrait painter. In the 65 years of his life he wrote 30 novels, some 60 short stories, 14 known plays and more than 100 non-fiction pieces. A friend and contemporary wrote that Collins was unconventional in character, a keen observer of human nature and possessed a playful humor that found easy outlet in his youthful spirit. As a young man he studied the law but never became a lawyer, preferring to become a writer instead. His legal knowledge and experience, however, became profoundly useful in the two novels that brought him the most acclaim, The Woman In White (published 1860) and The Moonstone (published 1868).

Wilkie Collins is often linked with his beloved friend and mentor, Charles Dickens in many literary commentaries. Having first met Charles Dickens in 1851, they remained constant friends until the years just before Dickens’ death in 1870. During their acquaintance, they even collaborated on several short stories and shared an equal spotlight of fame during most of Collins’ writing career.

The Woman In White first appeared during the years 1859 – 1860 in serial installments that were published in All Year Round, a weekly journal established by Dickens. The first installment happened to appear in the same edition as the last installment of A Tale Of Two Cities: November 26, 1959.

Like our July read, Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman In White falls into the category of “the sensation novel”, which is believed to have been the literary frontrunner to the detective and suspense novel. The Moonstone in particular has been cited as a precursor to detective fiction in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes. It was published as a complete novel in mid-August 1860 published by London’s Low, Son, and Company, and it broke all previous sales records for novels. There were Woman In White Waltzes and Quadrilles. Perfumes were named after it along with bonnets and cloaks.

Both The Woman In White and The Moonstone are written in an epistolary style in which different narrators relate what becomes the storyline of the novel. An excellent vehicle to draw us into the mind and emotions of the storyteller, this style gives us a vivid glimpse into the Victorian mind.

Pick up a copy and start reading for our next High Tea & Book Discussion on The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins - October 1, 2011.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter VII – Retrograde Investigation

Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance. The floating mists from the boiling liquid in which she infuses the soothing herbs, whose secrets are known to her alone, envelop her in a cloud of scented vapour, through which she seems a social fairy, weaving potent spells with Gunpowder and Bohea. At the tea-table she reigns omnipotent, unapproachable. What do men know of the mysterious beverage? Read how poor Hazlitt made his tea, and shudder at the dreadful barbarism. How clumsily the wretched creatures attempt to assist the witch president of the tea-tray; how hopelessly they hold the kettle, how continually they imperil the frail cups and saucers, or the taper hands of the priestess. To do away with the tea-table is to rob woman of her legitimate empire.

From Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Tomorrow is the Book Tea for this surprisingly good read - Saturday - July 16, 2011!

We will sip perfectly steeped tea, nibble delectables and enjoy sharing thoughts & observations. Some of us will wear jeans & some of us will appear in sun hats & flowered tea dresses... But we will all savor the happy pleasure of reading a good book and discussing it with friends.

If anyone has views that they would like to list under Comments and have us share at the Tea... jot away!

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chapter XVII – At The Castle Inn

Her pale hair was as smoothly braided, and her light grey dress fitted as precisely, as of old. The same neutral tints pervaded her person and her dress; no showy rose-coloured ribbons or rustling silk gown proclaimed the well-to-do innkeeper’s wife. Phœbe Marks was a person who never lost her individuality. Silent and self-contained, she seemed to hold herself within herself, and take no colour from the outer world.

From Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Our current read to meet and discuss on July 16, 2011 - Next Saturday!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chapter VII – On The Watch

The young lady was walking up and down the room, slashing the skirt of her habit with her riding whip. Her eyes sparkled with an angry flash, and a crimson glow burned under her clear brown skin. The young barrister knew very well by these diagnostics that his cousin was in a passion.

From Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Our current read to meet and discuss on July 16, 2011!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From Chapter VII - After A Year

It was late the next morning when Lady Audley went down to breakfast—past ten o'clock. While she was sipping her coffee a servant brought her a sealed packet, and a book for her to sign.

"A telegraphic message!" she cried; for the convenient word telegram had not yet been invented. "What can be the matter?"

She looked up at her husband with wide-open, terrified eyes, and seemed half afraid to break the seal.

From Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Our current read to meet and discuss on July 16, 2011!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lady Audley’s Secret

By Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Published in 1862 after appearing in a serial form in several publications – both partially and in whole – Lady Audley’s Secret falls squarely into the category of "the sensation novel”.

As Braddon’s most successful and well-known work – it was wildly popular, even though it took most of the comfortable and accepted Victorian standards and tipped them on their proverbial ears. Morals, ethics, criminal behavior, encroaching urbanization and its effects on good society, class divisions and roles – Braddon wrote about them all and had possibly written much of it from some questionable experiences of her own. There were several real-life cases of the time that have been conjectured to have set some of the plot lines of Lady Audley’s Secret into action, having fermented in this author’s head. Were the themes inspired by real-life Constance Kent and her case, which captured the English public’s avid attention during the summer of 1860?

During the Victorian age, there were some things that were just not discussed. There were morals and standards and ideals that were held sacred whether they originated in Scripture or were just products of the time. Class structure, the view of women and how they were to deport themselves, marriage, home as a “safe haven”, gender roles…. With the British society in the midst of an industrial age upheaval, life as a comfortable known quantity was becoming a thing of the past. Did these insecurities find their way into the exploits and misadventures of Lucy and meet with a level of recognition as the book passed from one avid reader to the next?

And a Victorian novel with the theme – “accidental bigamy”? ...Really?

Let’s read and discuss over an afternoon High Tea on Saturday, July 16th, 2011.

This book may not be the easiest to find… so you might start checking now!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

"But Arthur dislikes me to talk to him (Mr. Hargrave), and is visibly annoyed by his commonest acts of politeness; not that my husband has any unworthy suspicions of me - or of his friend either, as I believe - but he dislikes me to have any pleasure but in himself, any shadow of homage or kindness but such as he chooses to vouchsafe: he knows he is my sun, but when he chooses to withhold his light, he would have my sky to be all darkness; he cannot bear that I should have a moon to mitigate the deprivation..."


As women of today's modern world, have we not all met an Arthur Huntington during our lifetimes... at least once... or someone fearfully like him? The date who cannot bear for someone else to make us laugh? The boyfriend who enjoys our devotion while glancing about the room for a prettier face?

While nightly television and the films of our age parade Huntington-esque male villains and heartbreakers past us with a tiresome frequency, making them begin to be commonplace, I asked myself throughout this read of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall where the young Anne Brontë found the inspiration for Helen’s husband and his reckless, immoral friends? As the sheltered, motherless daughter of a curate, or humble governess – what did she see? What did she hear from her quiet corner?

It is as important today to recognize the valuable and honorable men that walk through our lives and avoid the dangerous Arthurs as it was over 160 years ago in Anne's day, but today we have the ability to support ourselves and can therefore make independent decisions. How much more vulnerable did the women of the Brontë's day find themselves when their only protection was from a man and their choices may have been few due to their range of acquaintances?

But was Helen's ultimate error the misguided belief that she could change Huntington? Redeem him herself? Her eyes were certainly blinded by her initial love for him but how willfully dangerous to choose to marry someone with the firm belief that you could turn him away from folly and evil and bring him into goodness. This is certainly not a pitfall limited to the Victorian Age but is one that has ruined many a life.

"When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone - there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection: that, though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows at least will not be more than you can bear."


At times this book was a bit melodramatic and I found myself uncomfortable with misguided actions by both hero and heroine in addition to various characters filling out the story, but the study of the time period and recognizable actions and motives that were familiar to my own era were deeply interesting.

Did you feel the same way? Whether or not you will be someone joining us in our book tea this next weekend or not, let me know what you think and I'll read your comments as The Jane Austen Tea Society meets to discuss The Tenant of Wildfell Hall on April 9th, 2011.

If you are not finished - KEEP READING!