Thursday, December 16, 2010

To Celebrate Jane's Birthday: Free eBooks of her Novels!


Everyone's mentioning it in the Jane Austen blogosphere, so we might as well, too: is offering free downloads of all Jane's major novels -- illustrated! You can find them here.


Happy 235th Birthday Jane!


Miss Jane Austen
16 December, 1775
Steventon, Hampshire

The watercolor by her sister Cassandra
c. 1810
She grew up to be, in my opinion, the greatest author to ever grace the English page with her pen. Yet she led such a humble life, and wrote about such everyday subjects, little could anyone during her lifetime know how highly praised and popular her work would be!

She was born during a cold winter, but on the day she was born the famous naturalist Gilbert White noted: "fog, sun, sweet day." It was as if God was showing us what a happy event was taking place! Jane's father George wrote of her to a friend that she would be "a present plaything to her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny."

She was a loving daughter, sister, aunt and friend. And as great a writer as she was, that love was what makes her truly great and her work so enduring. God blessed this world when He gave us Jane Austen!


"Jane lies in Winchester—blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made!"
-- by Rudyard Kipling from The Janeites                           

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sacramento JA Book Club: Week 6

Fun With Frank and Jane
A lecture by Dr. David Bell at the Sacramento Library JA Book Club

"Sometimes one conjectures right and sometimes one conjectures wrong." - Frank Churchill

Sadly, I missed this meeting, but the podcast is available from the Sacramento Library website, along with Dr. Bell's paper, which I have read, and they are masterful. To put it in a nutshell: the plot of Emma is one of the best mysteries or detective stories ever written. If you possibly can, read Dr. Bell's paper here, it's fascinating!


Monday, November 15, 2010

'Pride and Prejudice' Preview from Ross Valley Players


The Ross Valley Players have posted a video preview of their upcoming production of 'Pride & Prejudice' which has made me quite excited about going to see a performance! The costumes look very well done -- especially Mr. Darcy's, which makes him look quite the Regency gentleman.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain!"


I've decided to post this little ode to the sweet and refreshing rain that I woke up to this morning:

"With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate.
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A view we had from a Derbyshire moor.

But when I came alas to wive,
By swaggering could I never thrive.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
The toss-pots still had drunken heads.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago, the world began,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our song is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day."
-- Attributed to William Shakespeare                

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sacramento's JA Book Club: Week 5



Ah, Emma! Jane called her the heroine "whom none but myself will much like." Although I, for one, am actually fond of Miss Emma Woodhouse and before you question my judgment of character, I call upon the excellent judgment of Mr. Knightley (who was quite fond of her) as my defense! She certainly has her flaws and I believe much of my fondness comes from my having many of the same. And she did catch a man like Mr. Knightley, which is no small feat. Anyway, enough of my opinions on Emma.

We began with a book introduction by Dr. Bell which was very enlightening. He first cleared up the issue of volumes. Which I was excited about! None of the editions of my Jane Austen novels is divided into volumes as the originals were, and as some editions now are. Emma contains three volumes: Volume I is chapters 1-18, Volume II is chapters 19-35 and Volume III is chapters 36-55. Each volume represents a section of the plot, beginning with a shift in the storyline, "dramatic divides," they could be called. Volume I ends with the overthrow of all of Emma's plans for Harriet and with Mr. Elton heading off to Bath in a huff. Volume II begins with Jane Fairfax's, and thus Frank Churchill's, arrival at Highbury and ends with Mrs. Elton's settling into the vicarage. Volume III begins with Frank Churchill's return to Highbury, the ball ensuing, and of course the happy ending of Emma's and Mr. Knightley's union!

Just as the volumes are dividing points in the story, Emma is a dividing point in Jane Austen's writing. Emma was a product of her more mature writing period at Chawton, when she was settled back in her beloved Hampshire countryside. Emma is also thought to be her most complete novel in terms of plot and character development. Dr. Bell brought up the widespread wonder at how the authoress of Pride & Prejudice could turn around and write a novel in the style of Mansfield Park, then immediately after that write a novel such as Emma! (Technically MP was written years after P&P, as many of you know.) But that was how Jane Austen was as a writer; she was always experimenting with her stories. All of her stories are different -- different in style, plot, mood and point. All three of those aspects are different in P&P, MP, and  Emma. It is quite apparent that she was born to write Pride & Prejudice! Yet each of her other novels is brilliant in its own way. I believe that's one reason why her writing is still so well-loved. Some people claim that all her plots are the same (none of said people has read any of the novels, of course) that each is merely a romance novel with people sitting around drinking tea and talking, talking, talking. In truth, the only similarities are that each contains a heroine (or two), a hero (or two) who are united in the end! They all also take place during the same historical period.

The second half of the lecture focused exclusively on Emma. What do you think dominates this novel? Well...

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
    She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.
    Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgement, 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; these were the disadvantages which threatened to alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her."

The very first words are Emma Woodhouse, and from then on the story is dominated by her consciousness! Jane even titled the book Emma! And it's the only one of her novels that is titled after its heroine. Emma is dominated by Emma! She is infused into its every aspect; its narrative, its opinions, its observations are all her's. And they are all right -- until Emma herself finds out differently. We experience the whole story through Emma's eyes. It's dominated not only by her opinions and observations, but by her social status. She is at the top of Highbury's and Donwell's social scale, the lady of the parishes at twenty years old! Being independently wealthy, with a fortune of thirty thousand pounds (fifteen hundred a year) helps secure Emma her current position. So, in light of Emma's dominance, evaluating her character is absolutely necessary before any discussion of the novel can take place.

The last point brought forward by Dr. Bell was what P.D. James, the well-known author of detective fiction, said about writing your own novel, specifically mysteries. Although I don't remember the precise words, the gist of it was this: When constructing a plot, consult Jane Austen's novels -- particularly Emma.

Dr. Bell then turned the podium over to Vima de Marchi Micheli who is a true expert in the area of historic textiles, especially lace, which was the focus of her presentation to us that day. She was introduced by Stephenee Borelli, our gracious hostess and a librarian for the Sacramento Library system who faithfully gives us introductions and announcements at every meeting, and keeps the website updated. Stephenee gave us quotes from Jane's novels that refer to lace; she also read passages from the novels referring to a variety of refined accomplishments displayed by her gentlewomen characters (other than lace making). Fineness of one's lace, or indeed the very presence or lack of, gave some indication of one's social status, and, as Jane so superbly and satirically points out, one's aspirations to appear to belong to a higher one. The ladies noticed for their lace are Mrs. Hurst, the "pretty, silly, expensive" Mrs. Wallis and the unforgettable Mrs. Elton, "as fine as lace and pearls could make her."

Vima de Marchi Micheli

Now, if you want all the excellent details of Vima de Marchi Micheli's expert presentation, I very highly recommend listening to the podcast of this week's meeting on the Library website, here. My notes are rather sketchy, and my reporting of the event will not be nearly comprehensive of what we actually heard! (And saw!) That is my disclaimer!

Mrs. Micheli brought many beautiful examples of antique needle lace, bobbin lace, battenburg lace, crochet work, tatting and netting. The amount of skill needed for the more complex of these methods, namely needle lace, is enormous! It is so exquisitely detailed. It cannot be exactly reproduced today because the needles and very fine thread are not manufactured anywhere; sadly there is not enough of a market for them anymore.

She informed us that they used the same stitches that are used today, such as the closed buttonhole stitch. That surprised me! White was the most common color used, which is called "white work." I think all of her lovely worked pieces were examples of white work; however, color was used occasionally.

Modern lacework was begun in the mid-15th century in Europe. The "needle lace" or embroidery with needles, and the "bobbin lace" or weaving the threads around pins in a special sort of pillow techniques began at that time. Also for most of lace-making history the netting that the lace was embroidered on was hand-made also!

Other popular, and less difficult, techniques included Renaissance or Battenburg lace, crochet work (which was used in less wealthy homes and looks much like needle and bobbin lace), and tatting (which has more limited shapes). Below are a few examples of some of the different techniques.

White work

Battenburg lace
Bobbin lace
Needle lace
So exquisite! So much skill and training was needed to produce these beautiful patterns and stitches. Girls learning needle or bobbin lace would spend an entire year just perfecting one pattern! A piece of lace a little larger than a foot square would take any lace-maker about a year to complete by hand! It's no wonder that lace was considered a symbol of wealth. It wasn't something that one could just run down to the nearest Joann's and buy a yard of!

All fine lace was made exclusively by trained lace-makers but the well-born of Jane Austen's time did contribute to their families' fine apparel by making all the shirts and cravats for the men and all the nightdresses. As we see in Mansfield Park, while Fanny is in Portsmouth helping her brother Sam get ready to go to sea:

"Fanny was very anxious to be useful... and therefore set about working for Sam immediately, and by working early and late, with perseverance and great dispatch, did so much that the boy was shipped off at last with more than half his linen ready."

As for dresses, coats and breeches, they were handed over to the skill of seamstresses and tailors (for the most part).

In the next book club post: the mystery in Emma!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jane Austen and Our Election


Since today is Election Day in the U.S. I got to wondering which of Jane's heroes would be the best candidate to vote for in an important election (such as, in California's case, for governor). What do you think?

Who would be the best candidate in an important election?
Mr. Knightley, with his experience as a magistrate
Capt. Wentworth, with his experience in being captain of a ship
Mr. Darcy, in caring for such a large estate with many tenants
Col. Brandon, in being an officer over many men
Mr. Tilney, with his ability to think clearly, wisely and quickly
Edmund Bertram, in taking his responsibility of leading people's souls seriously free polls

Saturday, October 23, 2010

'Pride and Prejudice' Play


The Ross Valley Players Present
Pride and Prejudice!

You've read the book and its sequels and retellings, seen all the movies and own the soundtracks -- what's next? May I suggest the play! The Ross Valley Players, possibly the oldest community theater group this side of the Rocky Mountains, having performed for eighty years, is including "Pride and Prejudice" in their production line-up this season, from November 11 to December 12.

The play was written in 2006 by playwright Jon Jory and has been described as comprehensive, yet fast-moving, just the way Jane wrote P and P:

"All of the wit and romance of Austen's classic 1813 novel come to
life in this refreshingly fast-paced and engaging new adaptation.
The San Francisco Chronicle said that Jory has crafted an
exceptionally clear, funny and moving version. The Tucson
said that Jory gets the entire story told without either
cramming the script with detail or omitting anything crucial."

Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets and from the RVP website.

The theater is located in Ross, California, just north of San Francisco near San Rafael. 

So for anyone living near the bay area or who is planning to be nearby, this would be a special way to experience more of Jane Austen and her beloved Pride and Prejudice!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Talk Like Jane Austen Day


I came across this announcement when I was doing my daily Jane Austen blogosphere reading, and it sounds truly delightful to me!

October 30th 

 To celebrate the 299th anniversary of the publication of 
Sense and Sensibility, Jane's first novel in print

Go for a long walk, visit friends, and Talk Like Jane Austen

This page has much information on exactly how you can speak as Jane would have. For example, never use contractions, such as "isn't" -- it would be "is not." There's even a link to Doctor Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language

I think I'm going to have fun with this! Perhaps have a tea, or some such thing.

Do take a look! It will only take a few moments.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Jane Austen Picnic: A Recap

"He was a blessing to the juvenile part of the neighborhood, for he was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors."
Sense & Sensibility, on Sir John Middleton

And that is just where we (my mother and myself) seemingly found ourselves when attending the P.E.E.R.S. Jane Austen picnic, at one of Sir John's delightful parties! Only, instead of in the country surrounding Barton, we were in Lincoln Park of Alameda, California. One would certainly be hard-put to find a difference between the two settings by merely examining photos from that delightful event, for nearly all it's attendants were attired in empire gowns or wool frock coats and breeches, and our lunches laid out on china plates with silver ware.

See for yourself!:

The festivities began with the eating of "cold ham and chicken" out of doors at eleven o'clock, and lasted until two, when the dancing began.

Our own picnic spread, complete with tea, cookies and juice. 
(For a detailed list and period recipes from our menu click here.)

Cold chicken pies and salmagundy
When most of us gathered had finished our luncheon, the announcement came that the dancing was  to begin!

Our excellent band 'Bangers and Mash'
Many in attendance regularly appear at P.E.E.R.S. and other re-enactment events, and are experienced dancers.
It was delightful to see men who took such care in the period details of their dress!

Yours truly in the lavendar spencer jacket.

There were a good many waltzes, which would put us in the late Regency, I suppose.
Dancing the famous "Sir Roger de Coverley"
Here I am again.

Some more examples of the lovely gowns and smart suits in attendance:

A very smartly dressed group of gentlemen!

A charming group of ladies we were introduced to.
Even some of the youngest gentlemen were dressed in their smartest attire!
And the young ladies in their loveliest!

A stroll in the shrubbery with the dancers behind.

The festivities ended at four o'clock or thereabouts with one last waltz. We then expressed our appreciation for the musicians, packed up our plates and "called for the carriages" before heading home.

For more pictures visit the P.E.E.R.S. album.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sacramento's JA Book Club: Week 4


Pride & Prejudice

[I'm a little behind with my posting -- my apologies! But hopefully I'm back on track, now.]

And now to the completion of our P&P study at the book club: We resumed our discussion using the questions previously handed out, which proved to be immensely interesting and insightful. Circles of chairs were scattered about the hall, almost completely filling it, and discussion filled the air! With the echo it was sometimes difficult to hear what the ladies in my group were saying, especially across the circle. We arrived a little late, so I came in to find myself apparently in the middle of a  discussion of this question: "To whom would you least wish to be related -- Elizabeth's mother or Darcy's aunt?"

    "To whom would you least wish to be related -- Elizabeth's mother or Darcy's aunt?"
The P&P Postcard, by Sue Harrison

As light-hearted as this question might appear, some very important observations arose from it. One is that Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine alike in that they are extremely intent on getting their daughters married to particular young men. I'd never really thought about that before! Now anyone who's read P&P knows that Mrs. Bennet employs all her powers to get Mr. Bingley married to Jane. Yet the earnestness of Lady Catherine is hardly less, when you consider she traveled all the way to Longbourn to make Lizzy promise not to marry Mr. Darcy because, as Lady Catherine angrily points out, "he is engaged to my daughter." Someone observed that Lady Catherine is herself quite un-intentionally instrumental in bringing Lizzy and Mr. Darcy together. For example, while they are both staying in Kent Lady Catherine invites Lizzy to Rosings often and Mr. Darcy has ample opportunities to meet her walking in the surrounding countryside. These meetings reach their climax with the disastrous first proposal and the ensuing letter which turns out to be the catalyst for both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy to begin seeing themselves as they really are and thus to their being finally drawn together. Of course we all remember the effect on Mr. Darcy of Lady Catherine's visit to Lizzy '"It allowed me to hope,' said he, 'as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.'"

    '"It allowed me to hope," said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before."'

 Another insightful part of the conversation stemmed from this question: "In their conversation after his proposal, Elizabeth makes two accusations against Darcy, one concerning Wickham and one concerning Jane. In his subsequent letter how does Darcy defend himself against each of these accusations?"
The P&P Postcard, by Sue Harrison
Someone made the point that Lizzy is able to see more clearly, from reading Mr. Darcy's uncomplimentary description, how socially deficient her family really is. She'd always thought their behavior to be mortifying, but to think something to oneself is one thing; to hear it from an outside observer is quite another altogether! This realization cannot help but make small inroads toward softening Lizzy's opinion of Mr. Darcy's character. His observation of Jane's behavior, though partial, helps Lizzy to see how Jane is seen by other people, that her reserved nature does not convey an appearance of strong feeling to outside observers. This insight also aids in softening her opinion towards Mr. Darcy. Someone pointed out that Mr Darcy has a personality very similar to Jane's, another thought that had never occurred to me! Just as Jane's reserved is misread, so is Mr. Darcy's -- only instead of being seen as having a lack of strong feelings, as in Jane's case, he is seen as an uncaring and haughty man.

A discussion of Charlotte's and Lizzy's views on marriage then took center stage in our circle. How aware was Charlotte of what she was getting into? We all seemed to decide that she was quite aware, and had planned to find contentment in keeping a good household rather than in having a husband who is equal in mind and goals. "But were they really so incompatible, with not a single goal in unison?" someone wondered. (For, we all agreed, a common goal is indispensable to a successful marriage). Their marriage would not  necessarily be labeled an unsuccessful one; they don't seem to have argued or even complained. Their goal seems to have been to have a suitable marriage, as far as society's standards went, in regards to income, property, comfortable provision and producing an heir. Voila! With all those things present, we can just pronounce their marriage to be successful, and move on... Or can we?

The P&P Postcard, by Sue Harrison

While looking at Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, I believe some criteria should be added to what constitutes a successful marriage. Lizzy was looking for something more than Charlotte: a man who could meet and help provide for her needs on deeper levels, such as emotionally and in rational conversation. And of course she wanted romance! We all know that Mr. Collins falls short in all these categories. Jane Austen tells us that Lizzy and Mr. Darcy bring elements into their marriage that will add to it and improve each other.

"It was a union which must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance."
The P&P Postcard, by Sue Harrison

There could not be a much happier ending to a book or discussion than that!
The discussion time having ended, the entire room then cleared their chairs away, making ample space down the gallery for a short and comprehensive lesson to us all on English Country dancing! This was provided by a group connected with the Sacramento Country Dance Society (or SCDS). After a demonstration, they called everyone on to the floor to join in. What great fun! There were smiles and laughter everywhere as we all tried to remember what we were supposed to do. I've never seen such long lines of dancers! Except for the missing period clothes and the sideboard with a bowl of punch, the long gallery with it's balcony above and live music below, almost transported me back to Regency England!

A view of the dancers from the balcony

A view of the balcony from the floor below

The next meeting will be on September 12 and will focus on Mansfield Park. It will consist of an introduction by Dr. Bell, and a discussion of volume I. (Get a copy of Dr. Bell's discussion questions here.)

In the next book club post: Emma! (My favorite!) 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

PEERS Jane Austen Picnic: a Day of Sense & Sensibility


"He [Sir John Middleton] delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold... He was a blessing to all the juvenile part of the neighborhood, for in summer he was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors..." - Sense & Sensibility

Date: Saturday, August 7th
Time: Suggested set-up time is 10:00 a.m., Luncheon begins at 11:00, Dancing is from 1:00 - 4:00
Location: Lincoln Park, 1450 High Street, Alameda CA
Admission: Free!

For more details, check out P.E.E.R.S. Jane Austen Picnic Dance page.

This is an opportunity to go back in time, where lots of people are wearing period clothes and all of them eating period lunches, and joining in period dancing! Costumes are not required, of course. But for people who have them, this is a chance to indulge ourselves and wear them out and about!

P.E.E.R.S. is the Period Events & Entertainments Re-Creation Society, which puts on different events with period themes throughout the year around the San Francisco Bay area.

(Check out the pictures from their 2007
Pride & Prejudice picnic here.)

Most of us from Thither will be there and we hope you will join us for a delightful afternoon!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Jane Austen Ate...

I've decided at last to read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, since it seems to have been popping up in every search for "Jane Austen" that I make on Amazon ever since I can remember. If it's so well-known and well-read, I feel it my duty to read it as an admirer and scholar of Jane Austen. My procrastination to read it has been quite irrational, now that I consider it. Because I'd never thoroughly investigated it before and just assumed that it wouldn't have very much of Jane's world since it included Dickens. I know, all unfounded! Once I'd picked it up from my library, and read the contents and description, I became quite excited! I can see there are some questions I have that will be answered in it's pages.

I'll be giving my opinion on it when I've finished it! So check back for that.

'Til the next post!