Posts Tagged With: Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

cover44728-mediumTitle: Jane Austen’s First Love
Author: Syrie James
ISBN: 978-0425271353
ASIN: B00G3L7VES
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: 5 August 2014 (Paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Inspired by actual events. Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention

Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

Review:
As a big, fat Austenite, I love reading novels written by the well-loved English novelist, but in recent years, I have also begun enjoying all the spin-offs, mash-ups, sequels, and semi-autobiographical material that has been released. This novel is inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s teen years, and offers up plausible sources of inspiration for her wonderful writing which continues to delight readers to this day.

It’s an interesting look at a headstrong young woman, finding love for the first time, as well as the push to concentrate more on her writing, offering it up to a wider audience than just her immediate family to enjoy. I found this representation of her to be entirely believable and this little glimpse into her formative years is both fun and fascinating. At a time when women were entirely dependent on the men in their family for any kind of social standing, or a living of any kind, Austen struck out and earned a living with her wit and her winning way with words.

Many of the characters from Jane Austen’s established novels, as well as the plots for some of them, can be seen as having their seeds sown in this summer of social engagements surrounding the engagement of her elder brother. It’s a nice, knowing little nod for those of us who are familiar with these works, but is unobtrusive and as subtle as her own subplots.

This is a must-have addition to any Austenite’s collection, and will provide several sublime hours of entertainment in the reading, which will linger long after the last page has been turned.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author by Charles Jennings

Title: A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author
Author: Charles Jennings
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: Robinson
First Published: 5 February 2013 (paperback) / 15 November 2012 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 288

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Jane Austen is a mystery. The first incontrovertibly great woman novelist, she is, among other things, one of the finest prose stylists in literature; the first truly modern writer, the Godmother of chick lit. She is also the greatest enigma (next to Shakespeare) in English literature. Soldiers in the First World War sat in the trenches and read them for the civilising comforts they provided. Hard-nut literary critics such as F. R. Leavis lauded their austere complexity. World Book Day, 2007, found that Pride and Prejudice was the one book ‘The nation can’t live without’. In this witty, accessible guide, Charles Jennings goes in search of this enigma through her words as well as her times, including a short biography, an overview of the novels, as well as the world that she inhabited. Finally, the book contains Jane’s very own words of advice for the modern life.

Review:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader with a complete lack of shelf space must still be in want of yet more books! It is also universally acknowledged that Jane Austen, after 200 years, still features on the top ten favourites lists of readers all around the world. She is an enduring icon, a woman whose writing has stood the test of time despite being very much of its time, and this brief guide examines some of the reasons behind that.

Set out in four distinct sections, the guide covers Jane’s life, her novels (in order of publication), the Regency period that her novels have come to so beautifully represent, and the after effects of her work on the world of literature.

Never before have I had so many people interested in the book I am reading – I read this in various public places and could barely finish a page without someone asking which Austen novel I was reading or if I was enjoying the book – even those who professed not to like her novels asked what it was I so loved.

I’ll confess, I’m only partially a Janeite – I find Persuasion slow, Sense and Sensibility dull and Emma infuriating. However, I grew to love Mansfield Park, delight in Pride and Prejudice, and hold Northanger Abbey among my all time favourites. Her Juvenilia, I find, is hit and miss, underdeveloped and very much a product of a writer still trying to develop her craft, but all this is beside the point. The fact remains that people couldn’t resist quizzing me the moment they saw me holding a book bearing the name of Jane Austen – she truly is the world’s favourite author.

This brief guide to Austen and the world around her is absolutely fascinating. Janeites will devour it, but even those of us who have mixed reactions to her work will find themselves pulled into the genteel world of the lady who left us six of the best-loved books the world has ever known.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Catherine Morland is a young lady, naive but well intentioned and good natured, and a lover of Gothic novels.  When friends of her family take her to Bath, to introduce her into society and increase her social circle, she makes friends with two particular families.  The first are the Thorpes, and a close friendship quickly develops between Catherine and the eldest Thorpe daughter, Isabella.  Isabella’s pompous brother John takes a fancy to Catherine, but the feeling is not returned.  The other family she befriends are the Tilneys – and she is immediately attracted to Henry Tilney, a witty and charismatic young man, although she is not sure that her feelings are reciprocated.  When Henry and his sister Eleanor invite Catherine to stay at their home, Northanger Abbey, her over-active imagination, caused by her love of novels, starts to go into overdrive!  But more adventures await Catherine at the Abbey, and her resolve will be tested…

After reading this book, I looked at some reviews of it, and it would appear that this is probably the most maligned book that Jane Austen wrote.  However, I found it delightful and perhaps more accessible than some of her other works (all of which so far I have enjoyed).  Austen’s famous wit shines throughout; my favourite sequence was the teasing conversation which passed between her and Henry on the way to Northanger Abbey, where he played on her imagination – in consequence, she imagines all sorts of things when she arrives at their destination, with hilarious results.

Catherine is a lovely heroine, although a less obvious one than some of Austen’s other heroines.  In fact, Austen herself often addresses the reader directly, acknowledging that this is a book which she has written, and making reference to Catherine’s qualities as the heroine of such a story.  The other characters are also very well drawn, in particular Henry Tilney and the vivacious but self-absorbed Isabella Thorpe.

Essentially, this is a charming coming-of-age story, where we see Catherine learn about herself and the world around her, and deals with disappointments and uncertainties in life and love.

The writing is fabulous – descriptive and witty, and capable of first making the reader laugh out loud, and then in the turn of a page, making them wonder what is going to happen.  It was impossible not to warm towards the main characters, and I certainly found myself caring about what happened to them.

I won’t give away the conclusion of the story for anyone who has not read it – Austen fans may well be able to guess at the flavour of the ending of it in any event.  However, as is so often the case with Jane Austen, the destination is less the object of reading than the journey.  Highly enjoyable, very charming, and definitely recommended!

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Lady Susan by Jane Austen

lady-susanSynopsis:

One of Jane Austen’s shortest works, “Lady Susan” is an epistolary novel, a novel told entirely in the letters of its title character, her friends and family. “Lady Susan” is the story of a recently widowed woman who is actively searching for a new marriage while trying to play matchmaker for her daughter as well.

This is not a well known Austen book, and is rather short. Austen adopts a different writing style, and narrates the whole book in a series of letters. This did not ruin the story however, as each letter was extremely descriptive, so one also knew what was going on. In fact, this way of narrating gave each character a little more depth as it allowed the reader to see what the character was really thinking.

The story follows Lady Susan, who had not been widowed long, search for a new husband. She is manipulative and cunning. She goes and stays with her brother-in-law and attempts to make a union with her sister-in-law’s brother. We follow her through her bid to do this, and see the reaction of her sister-in-law and the other side of the family. Susan also attempts to sort out a suitable marriage for her daughter, who seems timid and shy. She is not a nice character, however I was intrigued by her and wanted to know the outcome of her fate.

This is not my favourite Austen, even though it did contain the usual Austen traits, of love, class, manipulation and family. I did find I had to force myself to finish the book, and the ending was fairly predictible.

The book did make me ask a few questions though – such as who was Austen? Does she relate to any of the characters in her books? Was she manipulating, or just surrounded by it?

Overall, I found this book to be just OK. I can see why it isn’t one of the more popular Austen novels.

6/10

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The ‘Blurb’
Pride and Prejudice, which opens with one of the most famous sentences in English literature, is an ironic novel of manners. In it the garrulous and empty-headed Mrs Bennet has only one aim – that of finding a good match for each of her five daughters. In this she is mocked by the witty cynicisms of her indolent husband.

One of her daughters, Elizabeth, becomes prejudiced against her future suitor Darcy, because of his arrogance and uncalled-for interference with his friend Bingley’s courtship of her sister Jane. In spite of this, Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth – a blow to his pride – proposes, but is rejected. However, his sensitive assistance when Lydia Bennet elopes, dissolves Elizabeth’s prejudices, and the two are reconciled.

Oh wow. I can’t believe just how my feelings for this book turned round. I went from feeling so indifferent to it at the start that I kept finding excuses not to read it to wanting to read it slowly in order to make it last.

I wanted to slap some of the female characters hard to start with. My head could tell me that the ladies would have behaved that way in 1813 when the novel was first published, but my heart couldn’t stand the way they were so pathetic! However, I soon got over that and warmed to them.

I especially loved the characters of Lizzy, Mr Darcy (despite never having seen P&P on the TV, I still pictured Darcy as Colin Firth – which is no bad thing!) and Mr Bennet. Oh, and Jane.

I wanted to slap Lydia for being so selfish, and give Mrs Bennet a damn good shake by the shoulders for being such an embarrassment.

It had humour in spades. It was sad too. Mr Bennet being trapped in such a loveless marriage was a tragedy considering his lovable and amiable nature.

I have quite a few ‘favourite bits’, but I think the one that stands out for me was where Jane stood up to Lady Catherine when she came to dissuade Elizabeth from having a relationship with Darcy – this bit showed just how strong the character of Lizzy really was.

As a ‘modern’ woman, it seems very strange to me how society worked back then. For Charlotte to marry someone after only knowing them for such a short time to secure a future for herself seems very alien!

I don’t think a book has caused so many different emotions in me for a long, long time. After feelings of total indifference I simply grew to love this book.

10/10

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Emma by Jane Austen

Date of Publication: 1815 (Wordsworth Classics)

Number of Pages: 350

Synopsis (from back cover): Jane Austen teased readers with the idea of a “heroine whom no one but myself will much like”: but Emma is irresistible. “Handsome, clever, and rich”, Emma is also an “imaginist”, “on fire with speculation and foresight.” She sees signs of romance all around her, but thinks she will never be married. Her matchmaking maps out relationships that Jane Austen ironically tweaks into a clearer perspective. Judgment and imagination are matched in games the reader too can enjoy, and the end is a triumph of understanding.

Review: For some reason, I always think of Emma, which is the July/August selection for The Book Club Forum’s Jane Austen Book Group, as my least favorite Austen, but I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it. Emma is a very imperfect heroine, but Jane Austen was wrong in supposing that no one but herself would like her. I find Emma to be refreshing as a heroine, and she stands is stark contrast to Fanny Price in Mansfield Park (my least favorite Austen heroine). There is none of Fanny’s timidness or inability to stand up for herself. Emma is independent and strong, and much more modern than other female characters in classic literature. Her mistakes in pride and arrogance are such as we all make on a daily basis. She presumes to understand people’s emotions and thoughts and thinks she has a right to order things as she would have them be…very type “A”, in my opinion. But, as her intentions in every case are good, as she only wants those she loves to be happy and prosperous, one cannot really blame her.

The other characters in this book are also very satisfying, particularly Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley. Jane is the poor orphan on whom everyone in Highbury, the village in which Emma lives, dotes upon. Emma, of course, can’t stand her at first, but only because of the knowledge that Jane is superior to her in many ways. How many of us have declared that we don’t like someone simply because they’re better at something than we are? Mr. Knightley, Emma’s neighbor and long-time family friend, is her conscience, calling attention to those errors in judgment that Emma constantly seems to make. He often lectures her, but only in an attempt to set her on a better course. When faced with the prospect of losing him, Emma must confront her own feelings and question her own situation in life.

It’s altogether an enjoyable read, with plenty of twists and blunders, and should appeal to any fan of Jane Austen…or just anyone who wants to read the real version of the movie “Clueless”.

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Published: 1814

Summary (taken from blurb):
Fanny Price has always felt like an outsider. She was adopted by her uncle as a child and now lives in luxury at Mansfield Park, but doesn’t fit in somehow. Shyer and much sweeter than the glamorous cousins she has grown up with, she feels she can only stand by and watch from the sidelines, never living her own life.

Fanny won’t admit – even to herself – who she really loves. Her uncle conducts the search for a husband as if it were a business deal, and when the time for Fanny to marry comes, will she be handed over on a handshake? Or will she have the strength to make her own mistakes – and finally find true happiness?

Comments:
Another brilliant offering from Jane Austen, although I have to say that it’s probably my least favourite of the four I have read so far. I found all of the characters hard to sympathise with, although I did like Fanny. I can understand why people would think she is a weak character and dislike her because of it, but she reminds me quite a lot of myself, and I don’t necessarily see myself as weak – I can probably understand her motives and feelings a bit better.

As usual, Austen’s writing is beautifully lyrical throughout the book, and interspersed with subtle humour and irony. Another thing I keep forgetting with her books is that everything gets resolved in the last few pages, and they’re usually rapped up very quickly and with little dialogue. Sometimes it’s a little disappointing and you wish she would give as much time and care to the end of the book as she did to the rest.

Nevertheless, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

Review: 8/10

Review by Kylie

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Published: 1814

Summary (taken from blurb):
Fanny Price has always felt like an outsider. She was adopted by her uncle as a child and now lives in luxury at Mansfield Park, but doesn’t fit in somehow. Shyer and much sweeter than the glamorous cousins she has grown up with, she feels she can only stand by and watch from the sidelines, never living her own life.

Fanny won’t admit – even to herself – who she really loves. Her uncle conducts the search for a husband as if it were a business deal, and when the time for Fanny to marry comes, will she be handed over on a handshake? Or will she have the strength to make her own mistakes – and finally find true happiness?

Comments:
Another brilliant offering from Jane Austen, although I have to say that it’s probably my least favourite of the four I have read so far. I found all of the characters hard to sympathise with, although I did like Fanny. I can understand why people would think she is a weak character and dislike her because of it, but she reminds me quite a lot of myself, and I don’t necessarily see myself as weak – I can probably understand her motives and feelings a bit better.

As usual, Austen’s writing is beautifully lyrical throughout the book, and interspersed with subtle humour and irony. Another thing I keep forgetting with her books is that everything gets resolved in the last few pages, and they’re usually rapped up very quickly and with little dialogue. Sometimes it’s a little disappointing and you wish she would give as much time and care to the end of the book as she did to the rest.

Nevertheless, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

Review by Kylie

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Date of Publication: 1811

Number of Pages: 312 (Barnes & Noble paperback edition)

Synopsis (from back cover): Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility is a wonderfully entertaining tale of flirtation and folly that revolves around two starkly different sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. While Elinor is thoughtful, considerate, and calm, her younger sister is emotional and wildly romantic. Both are looking for a husband, but neither Elinor’s reason nor Marianne’s passion can lead them to perfect happiness – as Marianne falls for an unscrupulous rascal and Elinor becomes attached to a man who’s already engaged.

Startling secrets, unexpected twists, and heartless betrayals interrupt the marriage games that follow. Filled with satiric wit and subtle characterizations, Sense and Sensibility teaches that true love requires a balance of reason and emotion.

Review: For a long time, this was one of my least favorite of all Jane Austen’s novels. But having re-read it recently (it was the first selection for our Jane Austen Book Group on The Book Club Forum), I found myself falling in love with the story for the first time. Elinor is a heroine that one can easily love and respect, especially in the way she controls, and yet deeply feels her emotions. Marianne, however, did grate on my nerves some, but I respect her allowing herself to give herself completely to Willoughby. Elinor and Marianne really do seem like opposite sides of the same coin: one hold everything in, one lets everything out.

This book also has some of the best comic characters, especially Mrs. Jennings, the jolly matchmaker. One has to admit how uninteresting her life has to be if her ambition is to marry off every eligible young woman she meets! I also think that Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood, the sisters’ half brother and sister-in-law are hilarious in their coldness and selfishness. You can tell that John likes to think of himself as charitable toward his sisters, but in reality he is completely self-centered. His wife, Fanny, is a wonderful villain for the book; she makes her husband seem positively warm.

Rating: 9.5/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

Date of Publication: 1818

Number of Pages: 237

Synopsis (from back cover): “All the privilege I claim for my own sex…is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”

Anne Elliot’s heartfelt words strike the keynote of Jane Austen’s last completed novel. It features a heroine older and wiser than her predecessors in earlier books, and its tone is more intimate and sober as Jane Austen unfolds a simple love-story with depth and subtlety.

She described her heroine in a letter as “almost too good for me”: Anne Elliot’s goodness is not of the cloying kind, but an unsentimental quality that, combined with stoicism and integrity, enables her to find happiness in love after seven years when it seemed she had for ever put an end to such a prospect.

The settings of Lyme Regis and Bath are evoked no less vividly than the characters who frequent them, and Jane Austen’s achievement is exemplified by Tennyson’s famous remark when visiting Lyme in 1867: “Now take me to the Cobb, and show me the steps from which Louisa Musgrove fell.”

Review: This is my favorite Jane Austen, and I tend to read it when I have that need for some “Austen therapy”. Anne is much older than any other Austen heroine (she is 28 by the end of the book), but that difference in age has made her more wise, thoughtful, intelligent, and sensitive. She has known the pain of disappointed love, and has lived through it. She didn’t “die of a broken heart” or anything like that. She suffered, learned from it, and managed to come out the other side with her senses intact.

Like all Austen heroines, there is nothing sentimental about her or her romance with Captain Wentworth. In fact, their interactions with each other, after an absence of eight years, illustrate how very realistic the story is. Wentworth is angry and resentful, and uses the young, spirited Louisa Musgrove to make Anne see that she has no power over him, even to make her jealous. Most of us have had similar experiences with ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. The book is completely relevant to the lives of modern readers, which is the very thing that keeps Jane Austen fresh after all these years.

Persuasion is also supremely entertaining, with delightful and hilariously vapid characters, such as the vain Sir Walter Elliot, the conniving William Elliot, the the petulant and constantly ill-used Mary Musgrove, and the scheming Mrs. Clay. Any fan of Austen will already have read this book, but any beginner Austen fan, or someone who has not yet ventured to try Austen yet, but is curious, should read this book.

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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