Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane

Jane Austen's England cover

I actually ran out of books to read when I was on that recent Baltic cruise, I think I read seven books in two weeks, which just shows you that I found being on board rather boring. I ended up having to peruse the books in the very small library and I settled on Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane.

This was an enjoyable read although more than anything it made me think it was probably time that I reacquainted myself with some of Austen’s books that I haven’t read for decades. The author writes about the books as well as accounts of Jane’s life and death and the places that she lived. A previous reader had helpfully numbered in pencil all of what are now A roads whenever two towns were mentioned, just in case any reader wanted to pinpoint the road exactly. There are plenty of interesting illustrations too – as I recall.

A few Guardian links

With it being Jane Austen’s bicentenary (of her death) there are lots of things in the newspapers about her. Some well known authors write about their favourite Austen books here.

Jane Austen stars in a Bank of England literary links exhibition. It looks like it would be worth going to – if it wasn’t in London! You can read about it here.

I’m interested in the way language changes so a book called That’s the Way it Crumbles: The AmericaniZation of British English by Matthew Engel might be one I’ll seek out, you can read about it here.

One thing that really amazed me when we were in the Netherlands recently is the amount of English that appears everywhere. There’s no doubt that it must be a great help to people who wish to learn a language to have signs in that language all over the place, but I’m just wondering why the Dutch aren’t ‘up in arms’ about it (as the French usually are). On many shop doors in Dutch towns there were signs saying – Come in – We’re OPEN And also MID SEASON SALE signs were on many shop windows. These were in towns where tourists will rarely visit – we were only there because some members of my family live nearby. I even heard Dutch teenagers speaking in English to each other in the street – I suppose it must be fashionable. Can you imagine teenagers in Britain choosing to speak in a foreign language – for fun?!

Guardian Review links

If you’re interested in the Brontes and Anne in particular you might find this article interesting. It’s a review of a book called Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis.

As a teenager I went on a Thomas Hardy binge and read most of his books, so I was interested in reading a review by Dinah Birch of Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner by Mark Ford.

We’re approaching the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and the historian Lucy Worsley writes here about why such a well loved author remains so mysterious.

Last but not least Susanna Rustin looks at the career of Winifred Holtby here.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan was published in 2012. It’s subtitled – Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved.

Chapter 1 is titled – How Much Does Age Matter? and I wasn’t too impressed with this one because it seemed to be aimed mainly at people who probably hadn’t actually read any Austen books, but had just watched the films or serials. I didn’t learn anything from it but as I read my way through the book I did find bits and pieces of it interesting.

However chapter 11 is titled – Is There Any Sex In Jane Austen? Really!! her books are full of sex, and even Mrs Bennet hadn’t given up all hope of ever having a son, which was not actually mentioned in the book but was clear to me even the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. Although Mullan does mention that Mrs Bennet is probably only just past 40.

This book will be more useful for people who don’t have a reasonably good idea of what life in Georgian England was like, or people who don’t read her books carefully, savouring the details.

It has however made me think that it’s high time I reread some of the Austen books which I haven’t read since I was a teenager.

Books and such

I hardly dare say it, but today it didn’t rain and there was this strange yellow orb hanging in the sky. No doubt it was just an aberration and normal services will return soon – rain and storms are forecast for later in the week again. Very depressing, but I mustn’t grumble as at least we aren’t living in any of the many flooded areas of Scotland and northern England. You can read about storm Desmond here. We had intended going down to Dumfries and Carlisle for a few days before Christmas too, thank goodness I suffer from terminal procrastination otherwise we would probably have been caught up in it all. At least I’ve been getting plenty of reading done.

In the Guardian Review section this week there’s an article you might be interested in if you are into Jane Austen. Is anyone not a fan? – I ask myself. You can read How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the shape of fiction by John Mullan here.

Meanwhile, back at the library I’ve been borrowing these:

Borrowed Library Books

the distance between us by Maggie O’Farrell
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The Lonely Skier by Hammond Innes
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Whay Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

I’ve finished Go Set a Watchman which I swithered about reading but I really enjoyed and have plenty to say about it, soon I hope.

I’m annoyed about the Louise Penny book because it’s one which I somehow missed when I was working my way through the Three Pines series, so it’ll be all out of whack!

Buxton, Derbyshire – a Georgian Spa Town

The main street in Buxton has some lovely buildings in it, although the shops aren’t exactly high class nowadays, it’s easy to imagine how it must have seemed when all the shops were independent ones.

Buxton

Buxton is a town which I’ve long fancied visiting, probably because it’s one of those spa towns, mentioned in Jane Austen’s and Emily Bronte’s books. In fact it’s a very old spa town and Mary Queen of Scots went there to take the water in 1573.

Buxton  spa
Buxton has a classic Georgian Crescent, such as I’ve only seen in Edinburgh, although Bath is probably more famous for them, I haven’t been to Bath yet though, I’m saving that for another road trip to the far south west.

Buxton  spa

It seems that everywhere we go places are swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulin, these old places cost a fortune to maintain, so it’s just as well that the lottery fund has given ¬£millions for the refurbishment.

Buxton  spa
As you can see, Buxton has a very grand opera house which seems to be well used for various productions.

Buxton  Opera House

Right next to the opera house, vewry close to the centre of the town there’s a great park, beautifully set out and planted and obviously a favourite place to go for locals and trippers alike.

Buxton park

Buxton Park Bridge

I love that rope effect edging, I’ve only ever seen it straight before, I think the curved swags are very unusual.

Buxton  Park planter

You don’t often see Victorian post boxes like this one nowadays. The nearest one to me that I know of is one in South Queensferry.

Buxton Post Box

The photo below is a stitch of the spa and as you can see there are several advertising boards around the place. One of them pointed up the hill and said there was a secondhand bookshop 5 minutes walk away. So we legged it up a very steep long hill, which was definitely nearer ten minutes away – but lo and behold we reached what seemed like another town, Buxton has an upper and lower town and the upper part is even older and that’s where the high street is. I think a lot of visitors must miss that part altogether, we nearly did. Anyway, suffice to say that books were bought, by me anyway. The shop is ancient with lots of nooks and crannies, an original old cooking range still in place downstairs and – a ghost in residence – allegedly!

Buxton spa stitch

Buxton is definitely worth visiting, unfortunately – or maybe fortunately for us – St Ann’s Well wasn’t in working order, I think it’s being refurbished too. Not long ago Jack read Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker and one of the characters in it said of Bath’s spa that he was sure that people had already bathed in the water they gave you to drink. Let’s hope Buxton wasn’t the same!

An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym

It’s a while since I finished reading An Unsuitable Attachment. Judith, Reader in the Wilderness and I were going to have a bit of a readalong originally but I’m not sure if she ever got around to it, due to her work commitments.

If you want to read about Barbara Pym’s career you’ll find this Telegraph article by Philip Hensher interesting.

An Unsuitable Attachment was first published in 1982, after Pym’s death. It had been turned down by her publisher in 1963, deemed to be too old fashioned for the times and thought to be unlikely to sell well. It isn’t one of my favourites but it’s still worthwhile reading.

The setting is London and there’s the usual cast of characters, a vicar and his wife, some librarians, neighbours, church parishioners and of course I can’t miss out the cat called Faustina. The book does seem quite dated, for instance ‘shillings’ are mentioned and of course by the time the book was eventually published the UK had embraced decimalisation and shillings didn’t exist any more.

There is a foreword by the poet Philip Larkin who was a friend of Barbara Pym’s and he said: ‘She has a unique eye and ear for the small poignancies and comedies of everyday life.’

I must just mention that I was perusing a blog a while ago and came across a post about Barbara Pym in which the writer claimed that Pym’s career had been successful because of readers who had sort of passed the word around about her. I had to laugh as that seems like teenagers who always think that THEY are the ones who discovered sex.

Barbara Pym’s career in writing was at a standstill for years after An Unsuitable Attachment, her seventh novel was rejected by her publisher. It wasn’t until Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin wrote praising her work in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977 that her career was kick started again and her books have all been in print since then. I know this because I was one of the many people who started reading her books then, well as a Jane Austen fan I had to compare the two, as Pym was being hailed as a modern day Austen.

It does help to have friends in high places, it’s a shame that all deserving authors don’t have the same luck.

The Guardian Review 02.11.13

For those who don’t read the Guardian Review I’m just going to link to a few articles which appeared in last Saturday’s Review which I think some people might find interesting.

It’s fifty years since JFKs asssassination, here is a list of the ten best books inspired by it.

Albert Camus seems to be flavour of the moment in the paper and on radio. I haven’t read anything by him yet but I think I’ll remedy that soon. Geoff Dyer writes about him here.

Are you a Penelope Fitzgerald fan? I haven’t read anything by her for some time but there’s a new biography of her out now – Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee, have a look at Philip Hensher’s review here.

Today in the car I was listening to Margaret Drabble being interviewed on the radio, speaking about her new book The Pure Gold Baby amongst other things. I’m putting it on my ‘must read’ list. Have a look at Alex Clark’s review here.

Last but certainly not least if you’re keen on Doctor Who you might want to read this article by Simon Winder.

Sometimes there are only a couple of articles in the review which really interest me, this was a particularly good one.

Austenland – the film

Kirkcaldy Film Theatre has been having its very first Film Festival this week, which is why they had the Scottish premiere of the film Austenland at the Adam Smith Film Theatre this afternoon. I didn’t know a thing about the film but I’ve read and re-read Jane Austen’s books over the years and although I wouldn’t call myself a Janeite I couldn’t pass up the chance to see this film’s premiere.

I was surprised to see a red carpet had actually been rolled out at the front of the theatre, actually it looked great and I was cursing because I didn’t have my camera with me. Before the film began there was a short talk by Sharon Bassett, the treasurer of the Scottish Branch of the Jane Austen Society.

Austenland begins in the US where Jane a 30 something woman is obsessed with the Colin Firth Mr Darcy. Her home is full of Austen related stuff, dolls, a cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth as Darcy and lots of twee Georgianesque country home china bits and bobs.

As she’s having no luck with the US men she dates she decides to splurge all her savings on a trip to a Jane Austen themed stately home in England, the stay culminates in a ball where she will be guaranteed a romance with one of the gentlemen there. It’s the Jane Austen equivalent to one of those murder mystery weekends which were so popular a wee while ago.

From the beginning her expectations are dashed when she discovers that she has only paid for the ‘copper’ experience, whilst her older and wealthier compatriot has opted for the platinum deal. Poor Jane is treated like the poor relation.

This film has many of the elements of a Jane Austen novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it, there were plenty of laugh out loud moments, it’s all very tongue in cheek of course, but I think Jane Austen herself would have had a good giggle if she had been able to watch it herself. I’ve just had a look at some film critic reviews of the film and it was only given 3 stars which I think is harsh. It is after all a rom-com and it drives me round the bend when people say that Jane Austen things are cliched – that just can’t be helped as everybody else has copied her down the years, somebody has to do things first!

If you want to see what else is on at the Kirkcaldy Film Festival this weekend have a look here.

Guardian Review Articles

I must admit that I’ve never read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I suppose I should have by now, but I’ve always thought it might be a bit too sad. If you are one of the many who have read it then you’ll be interested in this week’s Guardian review. As it’s the 50th anniversary of Plath’s death they have asked writers and poets to reflect on what her work means to them. You can read it here.

Elsewhere in the Guardian review there’s an article by bibliotherapists who explain the power of books to change your mood. If you’re interested have a look here.

And if it’s more about Jane Austen that you’re after you might like to take a look at the article headed Sensational,exotic,dramatic – in which Simon Callow writes about the new biography titled The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.

Lastly, have you heard that they’ve given Anne of Green Gables a make-over and she’s now a blonde!! Have a look at this article about it. As a redhead myself I’m not a happy bunny. Not only blonde but she now apparently has bedroom eyes. For goodness sake – she was a wee girl with red hair and freckles, and her appearance is quite a large party of the stories, why should she be dipped in bleach and sexed up. It’s sick.