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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What I’m reading: It by Stephen King

I never did trust clowns. Never did understand how anyone could find them amusing. Or fun. When I see a small child crying at the sight of a clown at a birthday party, I’m like, hey, I feel you. Now, after listening to the mega-long-and-worth-every-second-of-it audiobook for Stephen King’s “It” (over 30 hours!), I feel vindicated. About the clown thing.

I also feel inspired. And awestruck. Because King is truly the master. There is so much depth, insight, compassion, and food for contemplation along with the edge-of-your-seat thrills, that I will be pondering this book for a long time.

I’ve always believed that to write well, one must read. A lot. And reading Stephen King is not only engaging, it comes with a brilliant display of particularity and “show, don’t tell,” and best of of, insightful commentaries on human nature in all its flawed, many-faceted, and endlessly intriguing forms.

“It” deals a lot with childhood. The sheer hellishness of it–bullies, clueless and cruel adults, the phenomenal willpower it takes to withstand parents who are bent on crushing every bit of individuality and light from their children. “It” also sings of the magical power of childhood–the ability to see and sense what adults are blind to, the belief in the existence of magic and all the things, good and evil, that adults simply cannot or refuse to acknowledge. And the life-changing, dragon-slaying power that childhood belief can wield.

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Now that I’ve read 11.22.63 and It, I can’t wait to read more. But which one to read next? Thankfully, there is much to choose from; the man is seriously prolific.

I’m thinking maybe Dolores Claiborne, since I saw the movie at least three times and couldn’t stop thinking about it for many reasons, including its echoing of the myth of Persephone, its themes of surviving trauma, and its multi-layered performance by the inimitable Kathy Bates.

What I’m Reading: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Who would have thought that the powerhouse creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and The Catch was an introvert? How could someone who “owns Thursdays” become so overcome with fear at the thought of giving a commencement speech at Dartmouth, her alma mater, or being a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, that her strongest impulse is to say no?

Except that she doesn’t say no. After years of giving into extreme shyness and its attendant fears of public exposure and ridicule, after years of saying no to everything that would make an introvert shudder, Shonda Rhimes forces herself to say yes. That journey is the essence of her book YEAR OF YESyear-of-yes-9781476777092_lg

With humor, generosity, and tremendous relatability, the author reveals the extent of her terror and how she blasted through it.  I am loving this book, which I’m listening to on audiobook, beautifully narrated by the author herself.

Here’s a clip of Shonda Rhimes on the Stephen Colbert show.

I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the book. As someone who spent her childhood as an extremely shy person (and still sometimes fights those tendencies), I highly recommend YEAR OF YES to anyone who wants to break the cycle of “no” and step outside of their comfort zone.

What I’m Reading: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I’ve decided that the definition of “unputdownable” in the OED should now be “11/22/63 by Stephen King.” I have lost sleep and work time racing through yet savoring every word of this masterfully written time-travel, what-if, alternate-reality tale of a man who travels back through a time-warp/rabbit hole in the back of a diner that lands him in 1958, where he must spend the next five years planning how to thwart the assassination of JFK. On the way, there is more of the past to tamper with, survive, and fall in love with–especially because it is where he meets his soulmate. But nothing is ever easy when it comes to changing the past, no sir. The past will do anything it can to stay put. “The obdurate past,” as King puts it. Indeed.

The past is also “harmonic,” according to 11/22/63. In fact, the act of reading 11/22/63 seems to generate its own harmonies, for as I entered the last third of the novel, an ad for the event series based on the work caught my eye on the Hulu home screen. Now I won’t have to feel as sad as I usually would do upon turning the last page of such an enthralling, mind-expanding read. I’ll have eight episodes to look forward to. Am hoping they do this brilliant work justice.

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EMMA 200th Anniversary Edition

This luxurious new edition of EMMA features a series of pieces by Austen scholar and professor Juliette Wells, who informs us in her introduction that this is “a reader’s edition, not a scholarly one.” With the needs and wishes of her students in mind, Dr. Wells has included in this edition an abundance of extras that make EMMA’s world and its language as accessible as possible. There are tips for first-time readers of Austen, a series of short pieces that illuminate aspects of everyday life that Austen’s contemporaries would have taken for granted but which often elude today’s readers, a glossary of words that are now either obsolete or have evolved in meaning, plus maps, illustrations, and more.

EMMA is a novel that, like all of Jane Austen’s major works, I have read at least twenty times. A great part of Austen’s genius is that there is always something new to be discovered in her novels, no matter how many times one reads them. Now, thanks to this lovely new edition, there is even more. For there is enough substance in this annotated edition to enlighten and entertain not only novice readers, but Austen devotees.

As an object of beauty, this book deserves high marks as well, with its eye-catching graphics that express both contemporary relevance and period authenticity, its textured, matte apricot-colored background, and its deckle-edged pages that remind us of the days when books had uncut pages to be opened by their first readers.

A conversation with JULIETTE WELLS, Editor and Introducer of EMMA: 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition

Click here to read more…