Why read Jane Austen?

{2017 celebrates the life of Jane Austen, and her death 200 years ago, on 18th July 1817}

I suppose most of us were made to read one or another of Jane Austen’s small output of novels while we were at school, and many didn’t enjoy the experience. Something about the combination of old-fashioned language and compulsory reading can be off-putting. Still, haven’t we all watched the TV or film adaptations, and enjoyed her portrayals of the high life in Eighteenth Century England? But it’s all a far cry from the modern world, where’s there’s surely no place for essays in etiquette, or comedies of manners.

Au contraire. For in Jane Austen, we have someone who may have danced at balls, guested at fine mansions, and observed the behaviours of high society, but she didn’t belong to the upper echelons. Jane was a vicarage child; her parents were would-be gentry without the means to achieve gentility. Due in part to her brother’s Edward’s adoption by genuinely wealthy people, Jane frequently visited and stayed in the smart and expensive households of the era, but she never belonged there. She was always the observer. And as she was clever, and witty, and enjoyed writing about her experiences, we are graced today with some of the best observations on human behaviour ever recorded.

You don’t have to plough through Pride and Prejudice, or suffer Sense and Sensibility, to see the truth of this. If you hated the novels – or simply didn’t get on with them – you can get a quick and clear sense of Jane’s wit from reading her letters. Here she is replying to her niece, Fanny Knight, who has forced her boyfriend to read one of Jane’s books, only to discover that he didn’t enjoy it:

Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked: but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind. And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works.

A pithy sentence deals with the poet Byron – she gives the clear impression she doesn’t think much of him.

I have read [Byron’s] The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.

On the other hand, if you read between the lines of her apparent complaint about Sir Walter Scott, it’s clear that she likes his writing very much. This is the writing style seen in the novels, where keen observation of humanity’s follies is delivered in a droll and humorous style, with the wit carefully concealed in words that can be read two ways. Does she ever write straight? Or is her view always slightly slant?

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair. — He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it — but fear I must.

She can be just as tart in making non-literary references. To her sister Cassandra (with whom she kept up a long and extensive correspondence):

I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.

And in another:

Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend.

This is both amusing and poignant. As Jane’s income was limited, and she wished to continue to move in the wealthier circles frequented by members of her extended family, such a comment is both a joke (we know perfectly well she is too intelligent to take more than a superficial happiness in material goods) and heartfelt – the hat represents her need to present herself well, despite her circumstances, and it therefore stands for her material condition, which well might affect her ability to feel happy.

One of her most famous quotes – now enshrined on the new English £10 note – simply says:

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! 

(It continues, 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.)

On the surface, and particularly if you haven’t read the book, this is a straightforward comment. Of course Jane Austen feels this way about reading. How lovely. However, she puts these words into the mouth of Caroline Bingley, a woman who most definitely does not enjoy reading, but pretends she does in order to impress her wannabe beau, Mr Darcy. Wicked Jane. We know she believes this – but in the novel it actually means the opposite of what it says. Do you feel manipulated? So you should – that is her intent – and the disjunct between the superficial meaning of the words and the intent of the character who speaks them is deliberate. It has caused much discussion online, as Janeites and literary scholars weight out in favour of, or against, the quote on the bank note.

How nice to see Jane getting lots of free press in this, the bicentenary of her death!

Sources:

Quotes came from the wonderful Pemberly.com, a tremendous resort for Janeites of all stripes.

Some of the information came from Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home – a well-written and very entertaining biography which gives us Jane for our age. Previous biographies have been quite different, and this new take is well worth reading.

 

 

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Great Summer Reads 1

historical cc for summer 2017

Do you want to travel this summer? Come on a journey without leaving your armchair. No matter what the weather is like, I can take you on a trip around the world to sunny climes, to sinister places, to past times as you’ve never experienced them before.

Journey across Europe on the hunt for lost treasures in Nancy Jardine’s thriller Topaz Eyes. Or relax in sunny Corsica while brave Rachel traces her family history through a cache of love letters (The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman).

What if the story of Romeo and Juliet didn’t end the way we think it did? Travel to medieval Verona to relive the events of the famous play, in Sue Barnard’s The Ghostly Father.

Cathie Dunn takes us to the twelfth century in Dark Deceit, where England and Normandy are being torn apart by a bloody civil war. Young Alleyne de Bellac must decide which of her would-be protectors she can trust – the other is deceiving her for his own gain. Jennifer Wilson’s Kindred Spirit is a light-hearted look at the dead kings and queens of England – Richard III haunts the Tower of London, and he has plenty to say about modern day visitors to his haunted home.

And in Lamplight Olga Swan takes us on a journey across the world at the beginning of the twentieth century – from impoverished Birmingham to the bright lights of New York, David Klein seeks his vocation as a war photographer, finally finding himself recording the rise of Nazism in pre-war Germany.

And my books? The Calgary Chessman and its sequels are contemporary romances, but each has an archaeological theme. The first introduces the early mediaeval Lewis Chessmen, the second involves a dig at a 6th century monastic site, and the third investigates the march of the Roman Empire into eastern Scotland.

These are just a taste of what Crooked Cat has to offer. Why not join our reader community https://www.facebook.com/groups/crookedcat/? We love to hear comments from our readers – and if you’re fascinated by a particular part of the world or period of history, let us know. There might just be someone out there writing about it.

The Calgary Chessman myBook.to/CalgaryChessman

The Ghostly Father http://authl.it/B00IBZ96JC

Topaz Eyes http://getbook.at/buymehere

The House at Zaronza http://getbook.at/Zaronza

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

Lamplight authl.it/4q0

Dark Deceit http://mybook.to/Dark_Deceit

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Jardine – Romans north of the border.

Hello Nancy, welcome to my blog. I know you from our Crooked Cat Publishing family, and I’m a fan of your Celtic Fervour books. Thanks for joining me to answer some of my questions.

ccnancyjardineJanuary February  posterTE Jan 2015

Tell us about your Celtic Fervour series. What genre does it belong to? What inspired you to write it? How closely is it based on history – or is a wild flight of fancy?

The Celtic Fervour Series stems from me planning topics on Celtic/Roman Scotland for my upper primary classes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. ‘Celts v Romans’ was a particular favourite.
The Celtic Fervour Series is marketed as historical romantic adventures. They’re about members of a Celtic clan from the (fictitious) hillfort of Garrigill, so they aren’t traditional historical novels which tend to be about real monarchs, or recognisable, notable individuals. The series has varying degrees of romance across the 3 published books but romance is not central to the plots, and they don’t all have HEA endings. There are adventurous battles between Romans against Celts, some of these details too bloody for a historical romance. All have been written from a very thorough and sound research base with much more detail than would be found in a historical romance.
There are links between all of the novels yet each is intended to also be a complete full-length read. Book 1 is set in AD 71 and is about Brigante Lorcan of Garrigill, and Nara of the Selgovae tribe. Books 2 & 3 are about Brennus of Garrigill (Lorcan’s brother) and Ineda of Marske. Roman expansion causes them to be separated in Book 2 after which they live out their own adventures in Book 3 till AD 84, when they are reunited in the far north of Britannia. Books 2 & 3 roughly mirror the gradual infiltration of Roman troops from approximately Chester all the way to Aberdeenshire.
Written evidence of the era is scant, written by Roman or Greek historians. The accuracy of Tacitus, Cassius Dio and even Suetonius have to be used with caution – except when there’s verification of some fact via recent archaeological studies. The time lines involved, re Roman expansion in Britain, have presented considerable but exciting challenges to me since interpretations by historians and archaeologists prior to 2000 have been lately disputed by dendrochronological interpretations. As an amateur, I’ve tried really hard to base realistic events in my novels according to the most recent theories and where they seem reasonable to me, as well. Reviewers have praised the fact that I’ve created a believable landscape for my characters. My favourite comment might be this one: “Most of all, I would say that The Beltane Choice is one of the most convincing evocations of Celtic Britain that I have ever come across, and the central romance stands out against that background with great passion and immediacy.”

Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?

In Book 1, I loved creating the irascible old Tully, Chief of Garrigill and Lorcan’s father. Though a strong secondary figure in the story, he’s quite a character. I’m extremely drawn, though, to Brennus whose story takes centre stage in Books 2 & 3. I’d given Brennus a raw deal in Book 1, so I decided he needed his own tale told. Brennus is thought to have died at the battle of Whorl, which occurs at the end of book 1, since he doesn’t return to Garrigill. Book 2 reveals Brennus’ story. As a severely wounded survivor of the battle, for varying reasons, he’s unable to return to his clan. He assumes a new identity as Bran and spies for the Brigantian King Venutius. Creating the Brennus of Books 2 & 3 was different from his portrayal as the happy-go-lucky, handsome warrior of Book 1. I had to don more of a ‘male mindset’ to work though how such a wounded man could find honour and self worth again in his life. I feel this would have been an incredible feat for a wounded Celt at a time when the whole territory is in turmoil and upheaval, the Roman army presence a daily and dominating threat. In Book 2, Brennus is a man who at first denies love and then finds the possibility of it snatched from him. In Book 3, he throws off many of his feelings of failure and emerges as a man of incredible integrity.
Though a man with a lot of baggage in Books 2 & 3, Brennus is a lovely guy and very dear to me!

How do you choose your characters names? Are names important?

Most of the character names in my Celtic Fervour books have been chosen with great care. My Celtic and Latin names nearly all mean something that links to their character traits. In Book 3, After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, there’s a hapless, clumsy and gullible Roman recruit who is called Zosimus. Zosimus means one who is likely to survive. I’ll leave it to the readers of Book 3 to find out if I allow him to do that!
In my contemporary mysteries, many of the names have also been particularly chosen- especially the European names used in Topaz Eyes, my mystery thriller which was a Finalist in The People’s Book Prize, 2014. Some of the names, like Inike and Teun, were chosen because I once knew people of those names when I stayed in Holland for 3 years. I had to do a fair bit of internet digging to find suitable European names for the extended family tree structure that I created for Topaz Eyes, but it was great fun and a wonderful challenge to make sure they didn’t sound too alike for my readers. Topaz Eyes is essentially a treasure hunt mystery thriller where the third generation cousins who are brought together aren’t all nice to each other.

What’s coming up next? Are you working on a new novel? What else have you written?

The Taexali Game, Book 1 of my Rubidium Time Travel Series for a YA audience, is launching soon. I’m intending to self-publish in early March (awaiting a cover design as I write this). Book 2 is conceived but needs to be nurtured during the spring and summer.
Monogamy Twist and Take Me Now, contemporary mysteries, are about to be re-launched by Crooked Cat, hopefully also in spring 2015. The re-worked, re-launched novels are more like my original romantic mystery manuscripts- quite different from the previously published very sensual versions for a US romance only publisher.
Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series is slowly progressing. Most of the characters from Books 1, 2 and 3 continue on in some capacity in Book 4 as the Garrigill clan has migrated to the Caledon ‘Aberdeenshire’ area to remain free of Roman domination. The displacement of people during wars is an ever recurring situation!
I’ve also started a Family Saga which might cover 3 books. This is set mainly in Scotland and begins in 1850. I’m desperate to write these novels since I also loved teaching the Victorian period.

Tell us something about yourself.

Your favourite colour? Green
Favourite animal? Horses, especially Gypsy Vanner breeds, though I’d be too much of a feartie to ride them.
Favourite food? Haggis, neeps n’ tatties. No, that’s a lie it would be a rare steak!
Favourite tipple? Malbec red wine, though I also love Aurum, a wonderful Italian orange liqueur.
Favourite part of writing a novel? Editing! I actually love editing my work.
Favourite country? Heaps of them, but I’m an ardent Scot and think Scotland is the best place in the world – which is why I sneak a Scottish aspect into nearly all of my writing.

Short bio

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her published work to date has been two non-fiction history related projects and six novels. By spring 2015, she’ll have published The Taexali Game, the first of her Rubidium Time Travel series for a YA market. She’s a novice at short story writing having only produced 3 to date- one published in an anthology Crooked Cats’ Tales, the others written for blog publication.
All matters historical are a passion; Ancestry research a lovely time-suck. She regularly blogs; loves to have guests visit her blog; and Facebooking is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds! Any time left in a day is for reading, writing and occasional fair weather gardening. Family obligations are high at this present time since her 2 very young grandchildren are around her house 24/7 till they have a new house built next door.

Author links:

http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk http://nancyjardineauthor.weebly.com/ Twitter @nansjar Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG
Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:
US http://amzn.to/RJZzZz UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nancy-Jardine/e/B005IDBIYG/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Novels also available from Barnes and Noble; W.H. Smith; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other places