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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Looking for Jane: The Real Jane Austen

Paula Byrne, The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperCollins, 2013)


Austen biography Paula ByrneWhen we enter a preserved old house, objects are what we see. These paintings, cushions, scribbled notes, and scraps of lace are what are left to us as our link to the past. It can be a challenge to make the imaginative leap that brings the dead artifact to life, drawing out something of the living meaning it once had for the people who formerly handled and viewed it.

In The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things Paula Byrne takes up this challenge, with admirable results. She does not seek to write yet another conventional biography of the elusive author, weaving together the available evidence (not very abundant) with biographical speculation to create a coherent cradle-to-grave narrative. Rather, she takes eighteen "small things" that formed part of Austen's world, and uses them as the starting point for thematic essays that illuminate aspects of that world.

Though the essays take us on a very roughly chronological path, there are so many diversions along the way that it would be advisable to read a more traditional biography first, for orientation. With some dates under your belt, you are then free to range among the objects on display -- an east Indian shawl, a vellum notebook -- and explore how their history and significance connects with Austen's life and work.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Austen in August

The view from my window

I've been blogging for a bit more than six months, and I've so enjoyed meeting many other rabid readers and sharing my thoughts about books. This month I'm taking a break for some vacation travel and to get some other tasks done, so I'll be posting more infrequently than usual.

However, I'm still participating in Austen in August, hosted by Lost Generation Reader -- look for my guest post on illustrated editions on August 12. I'm currently enjoying the biography The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things and plan to review it some time this month, along with another book or two.

Other than that, I'll be back after Labor Day! Happy reading to all.

Updates:

My review of The Real Jane Austen is here.
Guest post at Lost Generation Reader.
A review of The History of England.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Victoriana, Early and Late: Coronation Summer and Drawn from Memory

Angela Thirkell, Coronation Summer (Oxford University Press, 1937)

Ernest Shepard, Drawn from Memory (Methuen, 1957)


Angela Thirkell comedy
By chance, I recently picked up two books that happened to be set at the beginning and near the end of Victoria's reign. One was fiction, one non, but both were entertaining glimpses of that endlessly fascinating era.

It all started because my library didn't have any of the Barsetshire novels by Angela Thirkell that I wanted, but they did have Coronation Summer, her early novel of the weeks surrounding Victoria's coronation, which sounded delicious. The somewhat elaborate conceit is that when the pseudonymous Ingoldsby Legends come out, a young woman who thinks they are by a real acquaintance of hers reads a satirical poem about the coronation, and takes it at face value. This inspires her to remember how she and her best friend went to London for the event, which had proved to be a turning point in their personal lives as well as that of the nation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten authors I own the most books from

Broke and Bookish meme
Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This was an interesting list to do. Although many favorite authors are missing either because they didn't write so many books or because I don't happen to own them, it does give a pretty good cross-section of my reading interests. I didn't count multiple copies of the same book, otherwise Jane Austen would definitely be on there -- but with only six novels she didn't have a chance.

meme top ten authors

1. Diana Wynne Jones - 38
I don't have all of DWJ's novels, though I'm quite close. I've thought about letting go of some of my less-beloved volumes but it's hard to resist the lure of completion.

2. Rudolf Steiner - 35 
Just a small fraction of Steiner's astonishing output -- mostly lectures that others transcribed and published. Not fiction, but a wealth of esoteric knowledge and guidance.

3. L. Frank Baum - 19
The complete Oz series is 14 volumes, plus I have Dover reprints of some of Baum's other standalone stories.

4. Robertson Davies - 15
I actually reduced my collection in a book purge not long ago, which I'm now regretting. I still have all the twelve novels but I wish I had kept more of Davies's witty and erudite criticism.

5. C.S. Lewis - 14
Children's book series rack up the numbers quickly, with seven Chronicles of Narnia, plus the Space Trilogy and some nonfiction.

6. Andrew Lang - 12
Do editors count? This represents my complete set of the Rainbow Fairy Books.

7. Inez Haynes Irwin - 10
Another series -- I inherited the Maida books from my mother and I'm keeping them for my child.

8. E. Nesbit -10
In a Folio Society sale years ago I snapped up sets of the Bastable books and the "Five Children" series, plus I have a smattering of others. I'd like to have more but nice editions are not that readily available.

9. George MacDonald - 9
My four-volume edition of MacDonald's fairy tales, added to his five fantasy novels, makes a respectable showing.

10. Ursula K. LeGuin - 7
I'd like to increase this number -- LeGuin has so many great books that I don't own.


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