Lit Lovers & History Nerds: Featured Links

Are you a bookworm, bibliophile, avid reader, nose-in-a-book sort of person? Then you’ll love Lit Hub, “the best of the literary internet,” a somewhat recent discovery of mine. You’ll find bits of wisdom from great authors, writing encouragement and inspiration from great minds, things you must know about your favorite authors, insights about the publishing biz, and much more.

So much more that, like me, you’ll want to sign up for Lit Hub‘s weekly or daily digest and dig in. Enjoy, fellow lit lovers!

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

For history nerds and avid readers of historical lit, I recently found The History Girls, “a daily blog from great writers of historical fiction.” If you love researching the periods you write about and read about as much as I do, make haste to History Girls. Although I am late to the History Girls party –their blog was founded in 2011–the great news is their vast archive to dive into. So hitch up the horses and head on over!

Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked Brings Austen Devotees to Mind

On Twitter, someone asked for book recommendations for Austen fans, and what came to mind was not a continuation, a sequel, or an inspired-by. It was JULIET, NAKED by Nick Hornby. 

Nick Hornby is my idea of a contemporary Jane Austen. So is Zadie Smith, particularly  her novel ON BEAUTY. Both authors make profound observations of human nature, give us romance without sentimentality, have a divine sense of humor, and are simply master storytellers. In my writing workshops I inevitably read passages from both Hornby and Smith. 

For me, Hornby’s JULIET, NAKED brought to mind some of the online discussions that occur amongst Austen’s most devoted readers. A central premise of the book is that no matter how much the admirers of an artist’s work examine that work, study it, parse it for meaning, and become “experts,” they can never acquire irrefutable proof that the creator felt a certain way or had a particular type of experience at the time she created it. Bottom line is that it’s nothing more than speculation. And speculation is often wrong. (more…)

Self-Control and Discipline by Mary Brunton

[reprinted here with the kind permission of The Jane Austen Centre, celebrating Bath’s most famous resident and reporting the latest Austen-related news. ]

If Mary Brunton’s name rings any bells, you are most likely thinking of this quote from Jane Austen:

I am looking over Self Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its’ being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does.

The alleged lack of ‘Nature or Probability’ has since cast a long shadow on Brunton’s work:

in fact, it seems to have become the accepted critical opinion, so much so that Brunton tends to be accused of faults she did not even have. Before I read Self-Control (1811) and Discipline(1814), I therefore assumed the novels were over-the-top in a wildly sentimental, Gothic fashion. (Several academic texts and reference works I’ve since looked at operate under the same illusion, which is making me wonder whether most academics actually read the books they write about.) I really should have paid more attention to the titles – whoever would give a sentimental potboiler such a forbidding title as Self-Control? (more…)

The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and “The Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed” by Martin J. Cawthorne

by Matthew Coniam of The Jane Austen Centre

Jane Austen’s father, George Austen has many connections to the city of Bath.

On the 26th April 1764 he married, by special licence, Cassandra Leigh in St Swithin’s, Walcot. The Austen family were regular visitors to Bath and in December 1800, after 35 years ministering in Steventon, George Austen announced his retirement and moved to Bath, where he spent his final years. He died in the city on the 21st January 1805 and is buried at St Swithin’s Church where a memorial to him has been erected.

Jane Austen lived at home with her parents all her life and the Rev George Austen played a significant part in her life. Apart from a brief period at boarding school, Jane was largely educated at home; George also provided writing equipment for her to develop her literary talent. The Rev Austen features in Jane’s correspondence and as a result much is known about his adult life. Very little, however, has been written about George Austen’s early life, before he met and married Cassandra Leigh. It is known that he was orphaned at the age of six before going to school in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent, from where he won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford. However, very little has been written about these formative early years of his life – until now.

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Are Jane Austen’s Heroines Ideal Women?

A wonderfully insightful piece on Austen’s heroines and whether they would measure up to what constituted an “ideal woman” in Regency England, 

by Jenni Waugh of The Jane Austen Centre:

I recently replied to an email enquiry from a student who was looking for an opinion on the question “To what extent does Jane Austen present her heroines as ideal women within their social contexts?” My reply ended up being fairly lengthy and is below. Let me know what you think!

Are Jane Austen's Heroine's Ideal Women?
Personally, I’d say that very few, if any, of her heroines are presented as ideal women within their social contexts. They all have their own unique flaws.

Elizabeth Bennet is outspoken and opinionated; just think of her responses to Lady Catherine’s enquires about her age, and her dismissal of Mr Collins, and then later of Mr Darcy. Were Lizzy an ideal woman in society she would have accepted Collins in order to secure her family’s home as per her mother’s wishes, or Darcy when he asked her in order to secure an even better future for herself and her family.
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A gift of love: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

If you’ve ever thought that love passed you by, or you’re just feeling blue, do something nice for yourself: read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. In the Austenian tradition of “three or four families in a country village,” author Helen Simonson takes a keen-eyed look at the flaws and glories of human nature and the never-ending quest for love.

Major Pettigrew is a relic of polite gentility in a brash world, a lonely widower getting by with what passes for friendships in his little Sussex village. He takes comfort in his books and his garden and his memories, and now and again indulges in the vain hope that his clueless London-banker son will someday grow a conscience. The rest of life is just, well, as Miss Austen put it, “a quick succession of busy nothings.” And then, a simple act of kindness from Mrs. Ali, proprietress of the village convenience store, changes his life forever.

I won’t say more, except to encourage all who have ever wished for a second chance at life to run out and buy this triumphant, life-affirming novel. It is one that I know I will re-read many times. (BTW right now the Kindle edition is only $1.99)

And happy Valentine’s Day.

What I’m Reading: On Writing by Stephen King

I loved every page of this book, which I listened to on audiobook. Stephen King generously (those darn adverbs!) shares his insights about and faith in the magic of storytelling, the nuts and bolts of the writer’s toolbox, his own creative process, and the life events that shaped the writer he is today. He does all of this with the combination of compassion, encouragement, and straight dealing from the b.s.-free zone that I adore about this master wordsmith. A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read, with excellent narration by the author himself

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Reading for Writers: The Cormoran Strike Series

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I read for pleasure, relaxation, inspiration, and insights. I’ve also discovered that for those of us who are writers, there’s a bonus feature baked into every great book: a master class on writing.

I enjoy exploring an author’s sensory descriptions, seamless transitions, witty dialogue, deft handling of POV, and judicious sprinklings of humor. I’m fascinated by the sleight of hand that plants foreshadowings and the skillful ways in which the writer made me lose sleep for turning pages late into the night. And, perhaps most important, I am always in awe of the keen eye that shines a light on the manifold facets of human nature.

Jane Austen is one of those authors with an unflinching eye for human nature at its best and its worst. So are Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, J.K. Rowling, and Aurelia Haslboeck, whose debut novel, The Journeys of John and Julia: Genesis, exemplifies why I return to the works of these authors again and again. I re-read them for pleasure, inspiration, and to marvel at the sheer brilliance of their writing.

Recently, within the space of two weeks, I devoured the first three books in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike detective series, which she writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Here’s a brief clip of Rowling talking about the creation of her series:


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