A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Month: May, 2013

The Regal Rules for Girls by Jerramy Fine

regal rulesI picked up The Regal Rules for Girls:  How to Find Love, a Life – and maybe even a Lord – in London by Jerramy Fine because I figured it would be a fun book, especially since as a young girl I had fantasies of being whisked off to Balmoral by the Prince of my dreams and even kept pictures of eligible royal bachelors scotch-taped to my bedroom wall:  Prince Andrew and Prince Edward of the UK and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.  Yes, I always wanted to be a Princess and truth be told I still do despite the fact that I now know that the fairytale is an illusion and more bother (perhaps) than it’s worth.  There’s more to being a Royal than fabulous hats, tiaras, and riding horses.

The cover is cheesy to say the least but includes some amusing tips.  Ms. Fine explains how to begin making your dream of meeting the royals and the aristocracy come true.  Rule number 1 you need to go to the UK, specifically London, to hang where you are most likely to rub elbows with the Castle Crew.  Rule number 2 one must learn their manners and the rules of etiquette.  Manners is something which unfortunately gets short-shrift in the US but is absolutely essential in the UK.  It goes on about what to do if one is introduced to the Queen, how to dress, how to RSVP to a wedding invitation (hand-written please), where it is appropriate to wear hats, to avoid anything other than the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and the ins and outs of the British Season.  Most importantly:  Do not fake a British accent!

She advises American girls who want to nab an Englishman, royal or not, that it is good to brush up on one’s history.  It’s probably a good idea to know that Queen Victoria is Prince Harry’s great-great-great-grandmother if you plan on walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.  I think that if you don’t even know this commonplace detail you are not worth your Wellies.  I found myself giggling over this book and how it brought back memories of all my lovely fantasies of becoming royal.  I was amused right up until she answers the question, “Why are Roman Catholics excluded from the line of succession?” I nearly lost it!  This book states that this exclusion dates to the time of Henry VIII’s failed attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his eventual establishment of the Church of England when the Pope would not grant what he wanted.  This is not true; not by a long-shot.  Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tudor  reigned after the death of her brother Edward VI and was a Catholic.  She was nicknamed “Bloody Mary” for her penchant of persecuting Protestants.  Catholics were not formally excluded from the succession until the passing of the Act of Settlement in 1701.  Thanks, James II (look it up, it’s riveting history).  Up until that time it was preferred that no Catholic ascend the throne but they were not officially excluded.  She adds further insult to injury by suggesting that one read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory to gain more insight into Henry’s break from Rome.  Really, she actually suggests that an American girl read an historical fiction that takes severe liberties with “actual” events to learn about royal history?  This is ghastly advice!  We, Americans already have a bad rap when it comes to historical knowledge and this recommendation of the well-meaning author is too much to be borne.

Listen, young ladies, I am not professing that one stop dreaming of becoming a royal, it is fun to fantasize (I, myself, still have delusions of grandeur) but if you want to become knowledgeable about British and royal history pick up a history book.  The real stuff is so much more interesting than the fiction.  And even if you don’t bag a Prince you’ll be amazed at how impressed Englishmen can be when a cute American girl is informed about English history.  I recommend reading a biography of Henry VIII while practicing your curtsy.  Ms. Fine insists that you keep your heels, head, and standards high.  I agree but those high standards should also be directed to the books you use to gain knowledge.  Trust me, even if Prince Harry is not impressed by your knowledge of his family history you can bet your future father-in-law and Harry’s grandmother will be.standards high

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Quote of the Day: Barbara W. Tuchman

Tuchman-Barbara“Books are the carriers of civilization.  Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.  They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.  They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”  Barbara W. Tuchman, 1912–1989

Emma as a Microcosm of English Society and other Matters

emmaMay 4th was a lovely spring day, the air was warm, the sun was shining, and the campus of Columbia University was abuzz with activity. I was there to attend the Spring Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and hear the lecture “Emma as a Microcosm of English Society”. The speaker was David M. Shapard who has published the annotated versions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. His The Annotated Northanger Abbey will be released on September 13, 2013. And can one assume that he is hard at work on the annotated Mansfield Park? Let’s hope so!  [hint, hint Mr. Shapard]

Emma is my least favorite of all of Jane Austen’s books. I can’t stand the title character, she’s annoying, self-righteous, and a meddler. Austen herself wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” to describe her irritating protagonist. I’ve always wanted to throw this book across the room with violent force but now having heard Mr. Shapard speak, and so passionately about, I am desiring to re-read the book and perhaps re-examine the microcosm of society which Austen presents.

JASNA Lecturer, David M. Shapard

JASNA Lecturer, David M. Shapard

Emma is the only Austen novel named for its main character. Shapard suggests this is by design as she is the novel’s primary focus, Emma is the most flawed of all of Austen’s heroines and her failings affect herself as well as lead to detrimental situations for others. Her missteps, of which she is totally oblivious of, is what drives the plot. “This concentration, and the dominance of the action by a flawed heroine, allows for a superb joining of plot, character, and theme” [Shapard: Introduction The Annotated Emma, page xxv]. Each action within the novel evolves the plot revealing her character and her moral irrationality. And all the while as I read the book, I want to punch Emma in the nose because I see that she is being an idiot as we are meant to. Well, perhaps Austen didn’t envisage her readers wanting to do violence to her heroine but she did intend for us to notice her folly as Emma herself does not.

market-day-at-chilhamMr. Shapard then turned his focus to the main idea of his discussion, the book’s depiction of the society in which Emma lives. Highbury boasts a complex society, its nuances properly understood and accepted by  Austen’s contemporary readers:  who was genteel, who was not, who has fallen from the refined life and those who have risen to it, those of questionable birth, those who work the land, those in trade, the nouveau riche and those in need. Austen describes a stable society and one in which the social hierarchy is marked and described in detail. There is limited social change and forms the important backdrop for the action of the novel and gives the reader a real sense of place and the day-to-day of country living.   Mr. Shapard maintains that the novels dual focus of the individual and the social world reinforces each other “the precise delineations of the world around the heroine make her misjudgments of that world more vivid for the reader.” [Shapard: Introduction The Annotated Emma, page xxix].

It was an informative lecture and one that opened my mind about how I should read Emma. Mr. Shapard has convinced me that, perhaps, I have underestimated Emma, my good judgment clouded by my displeasure of Emma’s lack of insight.  I will read it again.

Reginald HillThe rest of the meeting was given over to the discussion of a short story “Poor Emma” written by the late Reginald Hill and published in his book There Are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union.  I do not know much about Reginald Hill except that his genre was crime writing and he was a purported “Janeite” so I was quite eager to read his sequel to Emma.  I have to say I was absolutely horrified by it which my marginalia on the copy I read will greatly attest.  As I was reading I could not help think what a travesty it was.  And that’s saying something because, as I said earlier, Emma is my least preferred book.  My favorite character, Mr. Knightley is now a drunken, obese, slothful, and loutish wretch of a man.  In a few years of marriage Mr. Knightley has turned his back on responsibility and become a truly debauched individual, a complete 180° in temperament and character.  But as I continued to read I began to take the story for what it was, a parody, and one which was written tongue in cheek.  I was even able to laugh at the story and myself for my severe reaction.  I am not a fan of Hill’s Mr. Knightley (or his Emma for that matter) but it is clever how he used his crime writing skills to exploit Emma’s habitual convention of scheming and manipulation and using her machinations, for once successful, for the most diabolical (and amusing) of ends.

The meeting ended with lots of catching up and talking Jane with my fellow enthusiasts, cucumber sandwiches and tea, and having David Shapard sign my copy of The Annotated Emma and being totally awkward as I told him that I bought his annotated P&P for my niece.  It was the perfect spring day with an abundance of delightful diversion.

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