Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Jane Austen and Food

Maggie Lane how food is portrayed in Jane Austen’s novels and juvenilia in this fascinating book.  I hadn’t appreciated how much Emma revolves around food until I read this book.  Mr Woodhouse is so much concerned about his own health and the health of other people and that includes the food he eats and the food he gives to his guests.  Then gifts of food are frequently given to the Bateses because their relative poverty is a concern of all their neighbours.

I shall now read Emma with greater appreciation of the more subtle nuances of the writing.  In the other novels food is only described in connection with relatively minor characters and usually to show what the reader is meant to think of those characters.  In Mansfield Park Dr Grant is obsessed with his food and subjects his wife to tantrums if anything is not quite right with his meal.

In Pride and Prejudice Mr Hurst main pleasure in life is food apart from playing cards.  He likes fancy food rather than the plain food Elizabeth Bennett prefers.  The book deals with hospitality as well as greed and gender and how it is mainly the male characters who display greed.

If you enjoy Jane Austen’s novels and like reading about the more minor aspects of her writing then you may enjoy this book.  Maggie Lane writes in an easy conversational style and really brings her subject to life.  There is an index of the various foods mentioned in the novels as well as notes on the chapters and a bibliography.

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The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

This is an ideal book for the general reader and for anyone studying Jane Austen. There are fifteen essays on various aspects of the six novels as well as Austen’s letters and the Juvenilia.  There is an essay on class as well as one on the professional woman writer which goes into detail about how and when the six novels were published and how much money Austen earned from them in her lifetime.

I was particularly interested in the essays on money – which shows how people with particular incomes could be expected to live and in Jane Austen on screen.  This last is covered in much more depth in Paula Byrne’s book The Genius of Jane Austen. The Cambridge Companion is particularly useful for its comprehensive section on further reading which is excellent if you want to start reading more widely about Jane Austen.

Jane Austen’s novels can be read on so many levels that any book which sheds light on minor aspects of her writing can add more depth to the reading of the books themselves.  Even the Juvenilia take on new life when you read about them here as do the letters.  Recommended reading if you are at all interested in Jane Austen and her writing.

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On the Sofa with Jane Austen

This book is a delightful collection of essays about aspects of Jane Austen’s novels which first appeared in the magazine Regency World.  I love reading books about books so I found this fascinating and read it in an afternoon.  The topics covered range from Lady Bertram’s fringe which she is always making to the way November appears in several of the novels.

I loved the way the book highlighted the small aspects of the novels which are never really obvious on first reading but only become apparent if you keep re-reading the novels.  I hadn’t appreciated how Austen creates the whole world of Highbury in Emma.  The reader sees the various strata of society from gypsy children and poor cottagers, to Mrs Goddard’s parlour boarders and Mr Perry the apothecary as well as the ‘higher ups’ such as Mr Knightly and Mr Woodhouse, Mr Elton, the vicar and the impoverished Bates family and Jane Fairfax who faces becoming a governess to support herself.

I found lots of minor details in this book which I have missed when reading the novels.  The charming illustrations are instantly recognisable to fans of the novels and I found it easy to work out which incidents the pictures illustrate even without the captions.  This is a delightful book for a Jane Austen fan and it will prove useful to anyone studying Austen’s work.

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The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Is a Hit in Hollywood

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

This is an updated edition of the book first published in 1983.  It looks at how Jane Austen loved the theatre and reflected that love in her novels and in her juvenilia.  Many critics have assumed that the failed performance of Lovers’ Vows in Mansfield Park means that Austen herself disapproved of theatre in all its forms and especially private theatricals but that is actually far from being the case.

Her letters reveal that she visited the theatre whenever she could, took part in private theatricals, and discussed the famous actors of the day with a depth of knowledge which showed she kept up with the latest developments in the theatre.  I have always thought that the first two chapters of Pride and Prejudice could be transferred to stage or screen almost without changes.  Austen excels at dialogue and many scenes do read like a play.

The author traces theatrical references through all of Austen’s work and highlights theatrical elements in many of the scenes.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the play Lovers’ Vows as I wasn’t familiar with the play.  Knowing more about it adds an extra dimension to Mansfield Park and helps the reader to understand that complex book.

For anyone who loves Austen’s work this book is a must read as it really does show how closely related to theatre the novels are and why they adapt so well for the big screen and for television.  There are notes on the text and a bibliography as well as an index

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Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

Lucy Worsley succeeds in presenting a three dimensional Jane Austen in this fascinating biography.  She shows how the Austen family tried to sanitise the picture which was presented to the world after Jane’s death but the evidence is still there if you choose to look for it.  By reference to previous biographies, primary sources, the novels themselves and the juvenilia the author pieces together a very much more robust picture – warts and all.

It is well known that Cassandra Austen – Jane’s sister – destroyed some of her letters after her death to help create the picture  of her which has been handed down through the generations.  But there is enough evidence in the surviving letters to show that Jane’s character was not all sweetness and light.  She was someone who belonged to the more robust culture of the eighteenth century rather than the more mealy mouthed and buttoned up nineteenth century culture.

You only have to read Sense and Sensibility and appreciate the earthy vulgarity of Mrs Jennings to know that Jane Austen must have been aware of aspects of life which would not automatically be associated with a maiden aunt.  Her letters show she was something of a flirt and had many possible suitors – all of whom she refused in the end.  Jane Austen was very much aware of the facts of life.

She also had a very well developed sense of the ridiculous and a sense of humour which could see something amusing in most situations.  She also enjoyed misleading people and her letters and the novels can be read on many levels and it is very far from clear whether she is joking or being serious.

This is a book to read and re-read and Lucy Worsley has written what to my mind is one of the best books about Jane Austen ever written.  The book contains a comprehensive bibliography as well as an index ad notes on sources throughout the text.  If you only read one book on Jane Austen this year then make it this one.

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The Spirituality of Jane Austen

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

Paula Hollingsworth shows how Jane Austen’s faith and spirituality runs through all her work and her life.  It is all too easy to assume because Austen makes fun of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice that she is making fun of faith and religion in general.  But if you look more closely you will see that she only makes fun of Mr Collins in social situations and we never see him in church or about his parish duties.

Mansfield Park is probably the most spiritual of the novels and it shows clearly the importance of spirituality in daily life.  Fanny and Edmund are excellent examples of faith and Christian principles in action.  They do not impose their believes on other people but they set a good example to everyone else with whom they come in contact.

The author shows that Austen makes fun of the church which allows such people as Mr Collins and Mr Elton to hold office but she does also show how spirituality and faith are so important to living a good and virtuous life without being pious or pompous.

This is a fascinating book and it has shown me how there is always something new to see in Austen’s six novels and I shall read them with fresh eyes having read the book.  It includes a reading list and an index and is a must for anyone who loves Jane Austen and books about books.

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The Jane Austen Writers' Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World?s Best-loved Novelist

Whether or not you are a writer, this is a fascinating read.  It shows, by reference to Jane Austen’s work, how to write fiction.  It includes lots of extracts from Austen’s published novels as well as the juvenilia and unfinished novels and her letters.  There are plenty of exercises for the reader to complete as well.

What I loved about this book is that it celebrates Austen’s writing and shows how universal her stories are.  The bare bones of the stories can be used at any era and in any genre.  The ways in which Austen creates her characters and uses them to illustrate the themes of her novels is examined and the same techniques can be used when writing fiction today, two hundred years later.

This book will appeal to novice and experienced writers as well as those who love Jane Austen’s work. It is a book that I can see I shall be constantly dipping into when I want inspiration for writing  or want a Jane Austen fix.

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