Sunday, August 31, 2014

Austen in August Wrap-up

Coming from Abbeville: Austen's notebooks
Well, my blog "vacation" ended up being pretty busy. Participating in Austen in August hosted by Lost Generation Reader kept me quite occupied with reading and writing about Austen-related books, and reading other people's posts. You can see the summary of my own posts here, and here are some others that I especially enjoyed:
I was honored to be able to contribute a guest post on Illustrating Jane Austen. The other guest posts  were excellent:
I even won one of the giveaways, and I never win! So I'm sure I'll be back next year for this very enjoyable event. I'll just have to plan my vacation for another time.

This Friday, I'll be back to my regular schedule of posting once a week (plus additional random times), with an exciting announcement! I hope you'll join me to find out what's in store this fall.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Second Chances: A Solitary Blue

Cynthia Voigt, A Solitary Blue (Atheneum, 1983)

I owe Cynthia Voigt an apology. When she won the Newbery Medal for Dicey's Song in 1983, beating out my favorite book at the time (The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley), I retaliated by refusing to read it or any others in what came to be an acclaimed seven-book cycle about the Tillerman family and their friends. But when A Solitary Blue, the follow-up to Dicey's Song, came again to my attention through the Phoenix Award list, I thought I would give it another chance after 30 years. And I found that the award committee has a point: this is a beautifully written, deeply affecting book, with much insight into the painful process of loving and accepting one another and ourselves, while knowing when and how to walk away from unhealthy relationships.

To be fair, I doubt I would have enjoyed or appreciated it as a teenager. At the time, McKinley's thrilling tale of adventure and magic in the desert was exactly what I wanted, not a slowly-paced story about a boy abandoned by his mother and learning to understand and live with a distant father. So maybe it's a good thing I waited until now.

As a parent myself, I was already engaged--to the point of anger--from the first page, when seven-year-old Jeff Greene reads a letter from his mother telling him that she has to leave him in order to help other people, and stifles his tears because his father, whom he calls The Professor, doesn't like emotion. How could they do that to him? Wouldn't he be completely messed up?

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Regency Sketchbook: Mrs Hurst Dancing

For my next (and possibly last) Austen in August contribution, I wanted to let readers know about a lovely book I chanced upon through this post at Charlotte's Library: Mrs Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes from Regency Life, 1812-1823 (Victor Gollancz, 1981). This reproduction of two volumes of sketchbooks by a young lady of Jane Austen's era provides an unusual glimpse into the daily life of an English country house of modest size.

The artist, Diana Sperling (about whom little is known, and who apparently abandoned art upon her marriage in 1834), has a delightfully unconventional and unstuffy approach to her sketches of family and friends. Slippery grass, recalcitrant donkeys, electrifying machines, lovelorn brothers, pesky flies that need to be "murdered" by maids standing on windowsills -- these are just some of the subjects that inspired her, with charming results.

Diana's artistic gifts are of the naive variety; her figures are not anatomically convincing, and she tends to make their faces very small and hide them behind large hats. But the liveliness and sheer fun of her compositions makes up for this. An introduction by Gordon Mingay gives the historical context, with brief notes opposite each picture (reproduced at their original size, and, as in the sketchbooks, on the right side of each spread).

We often read in nineteenth-century novels about young ladies industriously drawing and sketching. Here is a rare opportunity to see what a talented member of this legion of amateur artists produced, and to experience some of the forgotten details of their lives. Mrs Hurst Dancing is out of print, but used copies can be fairly inexpensive; check your library, too. For anyone interested in the era, it's really worth seeking out.

Linked in:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A video interlude: My reading habits


I would never have dreamed of making a "booktube" video if I hadn't been tagged by Girl with Her Head in A Book in her "Booktube #3: Reading Habits" post. She kindly allowed the option to respond in words only, but I thought I'd challenge myself and make a video, at least of the more visual parts of my answers.

It wasn't specified that we should keep the chain going, but I'm tagging Monica, Brona and Lark in case they would like to join in, whether by booktubing or blogging (of course, anyone else is welcome to do so as well). Here are the ten questions about reading habits, with my responses. Do let me know if you're posting about them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Partial and Prejudiced: Austen's History of England

Jane Austen, The History of England (Quince Tree Press, 1999)


Austen juvenilia history
Someone gave me this little booklet years ago, but I'd never actually read it. I decided that Austen in August was the perfect occasion -- I don't have time to read lots of full-length novels at the moment, but a sixteen-page pamphlet is manageable. And I'm glad I finally cracked it open -- it's a delightful glimpse into Austen's early creative work.

Dedicated to her beloved older sister Cassandra, who also provided the illustrations, this history is a comic parody of the ponderous tomes that were foisted upon the young in the eighteenth century. Consisting of a series of brief characterizations of the English monarchs from Henry IV to Elizabeth I, it reveals the author as a fanatical champion of the Stuart cause and of the executed Mary Queen of Scots. Pulling no punches, she describes herself from the outset as "a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian," thus slyly suggesting that perhaps some published historians should confess themselves the same.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Austen in August Guest Post

Today, I'm over at Lost Generation Reader with an "Austen in August" guest post on illustrated Jane Austen editions! I hope you'll check it out.

Balbusso Austen illustrations Folio
Two favorite illustrations from the new Folio Pride and Prejudice

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