Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.”
Northanger Abbey – Chapter 1

Catherine Morland was a reader and a dreamer.  From modest means and one of ten children born to a country parson, she was normally “pleasing” in appearance but pronounced “pretty” when she was absolutely at her best.

However - below Catherine’s unremarkable exterior beat a heart that dreamed wildly of dark brooding mysteries, untamed heroes and dungeons filled with… well, she wasn’t quite sure, having been soundly brought up as a clergyman’s daughter.

But we all know that immense, vivid and unknown worlds open up when you lift the cover of a book.  And if you happen to admire the novels of Ann Radcliffe as Catherine did, you could easily believe that the Abbey that you are visiting might just hold the “horrors” that haunt your daydreams.

The Jane Austen works Sense & Sensibility and Price & Prejudice were in process and amidst revisions when Jane Austen completed a book that she initially entitled Susan. Written in 1798 – 1799 and revised for the press in 1803, Miss Austen sold this work for £10 to a bookseller in Bath. He allowed Susan to languish on his shelves until 1816 when Jane’s brother Henry purchased it back into their control, with the bookseller woefully unaware that the writer of this novel now had four popular novels released and much admired.

Jane Austen crafted revisions and renamed Susan as Catherine after the heroine was renamed.  But after her death in July of 1817, Jane’s brother posthumously published the work later in the year with the title Northanger Abbey as the first two of a four-volume set, which also included Persuasion.

There is a comic lightness to Northanger Abbey but also a serious undercurrent of what may happen when life is lived like a Gothic novel.  There can be a danger in believing that life is the same as fiction or even in the simple act of believing everything that you hear without first exercising a balanced discernment regarding the speaker or subject.

“A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. Store it with ideas, teach it the pleasure of thinking; and the temptations of the world without, will be counteracted by the gratifications derived from the world within.”
Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our fifth selection will be Northanger Abbey with a Winter Breakfast & Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 25th of January at 10am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Emma by Jane Austen... For October!

"Doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgments, but directed chiefly by her own. The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself....”
Emma – Chapter 1

Emma Woodhouse appears to have everything. 

Unlike most of Jane Austen’s heroines, she is not concerned about finding security in marriage, acquiring more money or avoiding relatives who are bullies.  She is clever, pretty, wealthy, spoiled and overly confident in her own powers of perception and persuasion… 

Where will it lead her?

Before she began Emma, Miss Austen is said to have written, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

And she was highly successful. For nearly 200 years later, readers are still conflicted over whether to love or hate Emma Woodhouse. Austen skillfully and lovingly created a central character in this comedy of manners that fearlessly interferes in other people’s lives and prides herself in being an expert and intuitive matchmaker.  Admired and adored by both her widowed father and Miss Taylor, her kind-hearted governess, Emma possesses one unfailing and unbiased voice into her life – neighbor to her family home of Hartfield, Mr. Knightley.  But will his voice of reason and truth break through her fearless meddling and determined self-deception?

"Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them...."
Emma - Chapter 1

Emma was published in December of 1815 in three volumes and was dedicated to the Prince Regent, George Augustus Frederick, at his request.  This uncle to Queen Victoria was Prince Regent from 1811 – 1820 and was not a favorite of Jane Austen. Actually Austen was “invited” to dedicate one of her works to the Prince and with this 4th publishing novel, she reluctantly complied.

By Jane Austen
His Royal Highness
The Prince Regent,
This Work Is,
By His Royal Highness’s Permission,
Most Respectfully Dedicated,
By His Royal Highness’s
And Obedient
Humble Servant,
The Author

This fourth published book  - and the only Austen novel to be named after its heroine - was the last to appear before Jane Austen died in 1817 and includes more detailed and vivid detail than any other Austen novel.  It is rich in Regency detail, customs and flavor and conversation that rings true to readers of any time period.

The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our fourth selection will be Emma with an Autumn Brunch and Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 26th of October 2013 at 10am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mansfield Park - Volume I – Chapter 1.

About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northhampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it.

She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.

But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them.

Mansfield Park - Volume I – Chapter 1.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


"'I think the man who could often quarrel with Fanny,' said Edmund, affectionately, 'must be beyond the reach of any sermons.'"

A child sent far from home and all that is familiar to live with unknown relatives...  Will this sudden uprooting give her the chance of a better life? Or will it make it worse by throwing her into the path of unkind people and different privations?  

Will this difficult change to her existence bring hope and new opportunities? Or will it only benefit her by assuring food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over her head?

How does a sensitive young child cope with the knowledge that she has been given up by her parents?

It is remarkably easy to turn to those who give us kindness when we are lonely. How thankful we feel. But when does simple gratitude turn to passionate love in a lonely and vulnerable heart?

And most importantly - how does Argus Filch’s cat figure into discussions regarding Mansfield Park?

These questions may be answered as you read through this third published work by Jane Austen but you will need to give the book careful attention and thought.  It is challenging in its depth but rewarding in its value of Austen’s expert execution.

Written at Chawton Cottage between February 1811 and 1813 and published July 1814, Mansfield Park remains one of the most serious and controversial of Austen’s major novels.

We are pulled into personal feelings of conflict by Austen’s expert writing.  What do we think of Fanny Price?  The tendency may be to think of her as priggish or occasionally as a - how else is it to be said - a wimp? 

But does Fanny Price have a strength of character and a moral integrity that makes her admirable and worthy of emulation?  The complex characters in this edgier Austen novel merit examination.   Give them consideration and reflection as you read.

If you have ever experienced being the “outsider” in a group then you might feel an undercurrent of empathy for this young woman.  She lives with a group of people that she is never allowed to feel quite on equal footing with or recognized as their equal.  Over the years she forms a knowledge of herself that allows her to stand firm in the face of opposition. And sometimes that very self-possession brings its own rewards… even love and admiration.

The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our third selection will be Mansfield Park with a High Tea and Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 13th of July 2013 at 2pm.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view.  They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound.  It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; -- and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance.  Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.  Elizabeth was delighted.  She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.  They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Volume Three - Chapter One

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Our Next Book Tea - Pride And Prejudice

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.  If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
                                                                   Charlotte Lucas, Chapter 6.

Charlotte Lucas’ thoughts on marriage are troubling to the modern mind.

Come to think of it, they were also troubling to Elizabeth Bennett’s mind.  She could hardly believe that her beloved friend, Charlotte could believe such things.

But on Charlotte’s behalf, she was a woman in a precarious position. At twenty-seven years old, her chances to marry were becoming significantly smaller with time.  Her parents would be able to pass along little if any inheritance to her and she felt the apprehension of her younger brothers that they would be left to care for her as the years went by. 

And for a woman of her time period, this was a precarious position.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Opening sentence of novel, Chapter 1.

First published on January 28, 1813, Pride And Prejudice recently celebrated its 200th birthday.  It has captured devoted readers in every time period and almost every language and has a well-deserved place on any recommended reading list. Jane Austen has created a host of characters that have managed to retain acute identifiability for every generation, which is a remarkable achievement for any writer.

As a woman, I feel for Elizabeth and Jane, whose hearts hold out for someone who they can admire and love.  While women around them feel the pressure to marry for financial security, they continue to hold out for a relationship that is affectionate and respectful.

The characters created in Pride And Prejudice, the second published book by Jane Austen richly portray critical issues of the day, along with the importance of money, class structure and how these matters rule the novel’s characters, their choices and their inherent societal obligations.

The business of her life was to get her daughters married.
About Mrs. Bennett, Chapter 1.

Jane Austen wrote Pride And Prejudice between October 1796 and August 1797, after staying with her brother Edward and his wife at Goodnestone Park in Kent and originally  titled it First Impressions.  Initially rejected by a publisher, Austen made revisions between 1811 and 1812 and eventually renamed the story Pride And Prejudice.

It is possible that the title Pride And Prejudice was taken from a passage in one of Jane Austen’s favorite novels of the day, Fanny Burney’s Cecilia“The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE… Yet this, however, remember: if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination…”

Jane Austen’s skill in irony, comedy and in vividly representing the intricate social mores of her time period combined with the richness and variety of the characters that she creates in her novels is all happily and abundantly displayed in Pride And Prejudice.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! – When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
Caroline Bingley, Chapter 11.

(For once, I agree with Miss Bingley.)

As leader of Britain during World War II Winston Churchill comforted himself during a bout with mid-war pneumonia by having his daughter Sarah read it aloud from the foot of his bed.  He had already read Sense And Sensibility and now enjoyed Pride And Prejudice.  “What calm lives they had, those people?  No worries about the French Revolution or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic Wars.  Only manners controlling natural passion as far as they could, together with cultural explanations of any mischances.”

You’ve rightfully admired Mr. Firth as Mr. Darcy, enjoyed Judi Dench’s rendition of Lady Catherine De Bourgh or groaned at the failure of the Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier 1940 movie to stick to the actual novel – so make sure you take the time to check out the real work itself.

The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our second selection will be Pride And Prejudice with a High Tea and Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 27th of April 2013 at 11am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

And About Barton Cottage…

A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles.  A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind.  On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and behind them were the offices and the stairs.  Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.  It had not been built many years and was in good repair.  In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed! but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy.  It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.
Sense And Sensibility – Chapter Six

Who wouldn’t want to live in Barton Cottage?  As a fervid Janeite I want to understand the dismay with which Elinor, her sisters and her mother feel on moving into their small (for them) new abode - but I confess that I can’t.

I would relish the process of returning home by entering a small green courtyard through a neat wicket gate. A tiled roof, shuttered windows, cozy sitting rooms and a passage leading into a garden behind the cottage with high hills behind and lofty green downs nearby to walk and dream upon….  It all sounds blissful. Now these ladies were in a serious downsizing situation and it is true that none of us want to leave a beloved home – yet I find myself envying this set of Dashwoods.

But what’s this about the cottage being defective because the shutters weren’t green? And not only were the outside walls sadly honeysuckle-free, but the building was regular and the roof was only… well… tiled?    From William Wordsworth’s descriptions of moss-grown huts and Keats’ autumn cottages whose thatched eves were covered with fruited vines, it’s easy to see that Romanticism had leant a yearning for the rustic, the picturesque and the irregular.

Jane Austen wrote during the time of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron, and many of this Regency work’s characters and their reactions strongly echo the period’s Sensibility Movement.  The Regency Era (1811-1820) fell directly in the middle of what is considered The Romantic Period (1800-1840) and its literature reflected the thoughts and emotions of the time.  This reading of Sense And Sensibility has awakened me to a fresh realization of how much the Romantic Movement is reflected in Marianne Dashwood with her love of beauty, her pride in unbridled emotions and her admiration of passionate hearts.  

"It was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell."
Sense And Sensibility – Chapter 21

Next weekend we will meet to discuss Jane Austen’s first published work – Sense And Sensibility - over perfectly brewed tea, fruit, pastries and savories.  

Read on!

 "Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over."
William Cowper