A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: English Literature

My Christmas Wish List 2013

fezziwig-all-night-raveDear Santa,

I’ve been very good this year. Especially when it comes to reading, I’ve been reading voraciously all year. And I’ve been especially good because I have tried very hard to save my pennies by borrowing from the library as well as from family and friends rather than buying the books.

So all I want for Christmas this year are the following titles:

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps by Chris West

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs

Thanks for considering my list.

Love,

A Latter-day Bluestocking

PS. Cookies and milk will be left on the table as always. As well as carrots for the reindeer.

 

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Jane's quill

Wherein I ponder Saint Crispin’s Day, the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V, and Tom Hiddleston

Agincourt

Upon Saint Crispin’s Day
Fought was this noble fray
Which fame did not relay
To England to carry.
O when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen?
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry?

hollowcrownSometimes my passions for history and literature feed one another and ultimately leads to obsession.  This is the predicament I find myself in now.  It all started with the PBS airing of The Hollow Crown, the three Shakespearian history plays of Richard II; Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; and Henry V.  These BBC produced productions have all that one has come to expect from British history/costume drama:  spectacular scenery, lavish costumes, and superb acting.  This production has the latter in spades with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart, and Tom Hiddleston to name a few.  But Tom Hiddleston who plays Prince Hal/Henry V is the one responsible for my current fascination with the Lancasters and their usurpation of the Plantagenet throne, the re-launching of the Hundreds Years’ War with France, and the eventual overthrow of this dynasty by the House of York which would lead to the War of the Roses, a tumultuous period that would only come to an end with the accession of the Tudors in 1485.

But let’s get back to Tom Hiddleston for a moment.  This man who has acting talent to match his wonderful aristocratic good looks was able to move me to laughter and then to tears in this version of the plays.  He lifted my spirit and made me feel I would do my all for King and country.  He truly encapsulated the character of Prince Hal/Henry V.  the-hollow-crown-bbc-henry-vHis portrayal of the rapscallion Prince of Wales who hangs out with miscreants and purposefully antagonizes his father is nonetheless charming and fun and sexy but upon the death of his father, Henry IV, leaves his wayward conduct behind him to become one of English history’s greatest warrior kings and the one who, had he not died at the age of 32, would have returned most of France to English dominion.  His Henry V is a man with the common touch and an excellent commander and tactician who can rally his men, high and low, to his cause.  But, of course, the history plays are not true history and Shakespeare takes artistic license where it suits him in his need to honor the Tudor monarchs who were his patrons.

So even as I sat fantasizing about Tom/Henry going once more unto the breach at Harfleur and rousing his men with the “band of brothers/St. Crispin’s Day” speech at the Battle of Agincourt I began to consider the real history.  And so, I began to read about this fascinating man and king.  I work in a place that has a terrific library at my disposal so I began with Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s short and straightforward Crispin’s Day:  The Glory of AgincourtCrispinsDayI finished it in two days and it left me thirsty for more.  I had read years ago The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin which chronicles the undeniably extraordinary thehollowcrownbookand brutal period in British history.  Set amongst the backdrop of the Black Death, The Peasants Revolt, the Battle of Agincourt, and the Wars of the Roses were the reigns of exceptional kings, from Edward I to Richard III.  It was a time of great turmoil, brutality, as well as great artistic achievements.  During this latest obsession I found myself going back to this book again and again.

Henry V

Henry V

I knew that Henry V believed his conquest of France was virtuous by divine right but also discovered that he was also opportunistic.  He exploited the divisions of the French and used diplomacy to make sure France’s  usual allies stayed away.  The French believed they would win.  They can be excused for such presumptuous feelings for on the morning of October 25, 1415 they outnumbered the English by 4 to 1 (although some historians say 6 to 1), they were healthy, well-fed, and positioned upon their own turf were a majority of France’s great military commanders and royal nobility.  In extreme contrast the English army were far from home, exhausted, malnourished, and sick, many still feeling the effects of the dysentery that had killed more men than any actual battle had.  Some of the men were barely clothed.  A mere four hours later after the battle’s start the field was strewn with the dead, the majority being French with almost all of their nobility wiped out.

Agincourt bookIt is fascinating stuff and I have several other titles in my reading queue because once the preoccupation grabs me it has to be sustained to the end.  So I have borrowed from my public library, Agincourt:  Henry V and the Battle that Made England by Juliet Barker (she of the tome-licious The Brontes), History of the Battle of Agincourt, and the expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, to which is added the roll of men at arms, in the English army published in 1832 by Sir Nicholas Harris and An historical account of the reign of Henry the  Fifth, intended as a companion to the great historical picture of the memorable battle of Agincourt painted by Robert Ker Porter, Esq. now exhibiting at the Lyceum, Strand published in 1805.

And because I like to share my passions I have suggested to my book club the historical novel, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina.  It is a story told as an autobiography with the great man himself describing his tumultuous youth, difficult relationship with his father, his victory at Agincourt, hopes for his own son, and eventual death from dysentery on the battle fields of France in 1422.  Hopefully it is a good read but we’ll see.  I suspect that I will have to follow-up with Bernard Cornwell’s treatment of this particular episode in history.  That guy does his research!!

Tom HIddleston as Henry V

Tom Hiddleston as Henry V

On this Saint Crispin’s Day, I would personally like to thank Tom Hiddleston for his brilliant performance which inspired me to read up on the real history and learn about the real man who was Henry V.

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.

cucumber-tea-sandwiches-bridge-recipes-mdn

How I learned that sex, indeed, does sell at a JASNA AGM. No, not like that!!

“It’s a very select Society, an’ you’ve got to be a Janeite in your ’eart … You take it from me, there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place.”
“The Janeites,” by Rudyard Kipling

The 2012 Jane Austen Society of North America AGM (annual general meeting) is over.  And on a cold and wet Sunday, having changed into my comfy new Jane Austen t-shirt, lying curled up in my bed, I took immense pleasure in my reminiscences of the past weekend, like Cinderella after the ball.

This was my first-ever AGM, an annual gathering of a like-minded mix of academic and non-academic followers of all things Jane.  I sit writing with my “Jane Austen’s Regency World” pen, sifting through the myriad postcards, flyers, refrigerator magnets, and bookmarks, while recollecting the lectures, banquet, Regency Ball, and all the wonderful people who I met.  I can’t help but feel sad that it’s over, the camaraderie, the vast amounts of information, the books for sale (that could possibly put me in a poor house), and the immeasurable satisfaction of being around so many who understand the obsession.  There was no eye-rolling (except perhaps when I chose to read from Fordyce’s Sermons aloud), no bored stares or incredulous looks, just others who wanted to gush about our favorite author, the ubiquitous Jane Austen.

I am still savoring the high of giving my first break-out lecture.  This is one of the highlights of my life.  I had been a bundle of nerves in the weeks leading up to this moment.  I am insecure when it comes to this kind of thing and even more so because I do not have an academic background in English Literature, therefore feel some inferiority and lots of fear that I will make a fool of myself in front of those who can claim extensive credentials.  I am a frustrated wannabe academic and I so yearn for acceptance and praise from those I consider to be “real” scholars.  This, compounded with the fear of suddenly forgetting my material, not being able to answer questions and looking like an idiot, and worrying that the sound of my voice (which I personally loathe) would be grating to others put me in a near state of panic.  It further did not help when I learned that I had one of the biggest groups (132) signed up for my lecture.  But I need not have worried.  My little talk “Fallen Women of the Regency:  Mistresses, Courtesans, and Prostitutes” was very well received (see sex does, indeed, sell even at Jane Austen themed events) , the questions asked were insightful and thought-provoking, and I was told that my presentation and handout were very interesting and that I had a very good speaking manner by no less an author whose books I admire.  High praise, indeed.  This wonderful experience has left me wanting more and I am already thinking of my next paper proposal for next year’s AGM celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice.

The Banquet and Regency Ball was so much fun!  For five hours I ate, drank, and danced the night away like I was at the Netherfield Ball.  There were so  many beautifully dressed people and the music was lively and fun.  I spent a good deal of the time admiring the general splendor of it all.  I did find myself having to loosen my stays if I wanted to keep up with the highly aerobic Regency-era dancing.  Thanks, mom, for my ballet training!

Another highpoint of the weekend was the author book signing.  Bleary-eyed and exhausted from the previous night’s exertions I lugged the books that I had carefully chosen, by the authors I was desperate to meet.  To speak with those who have written some of the most well-informed and wonderfully written books about Jane Austen was akin to meeting (for me) rock stars!

What a memorable weekend!!  I can’t wait for next year in Minneapolis, MN (and the year after that, Montreal, and the year after that, Louisville, KY).

Clearly the subject matter of my talk went to my head!

Quote of the Day: Jane Austen

“…but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”  Jane Austen, 1775-1817

I am Seriously Considering Bank Robbery…

…So that I can get my hands on first editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.  These lovely volumes are on offer through AbeBooks.com.  Of course, if anyone wants to donate these to my addiction…

Sense and Sensibility  by A Lady

Published in 3 volumes by T. Egerton, London in 1811

A smart and highly collectible First Edition of Austen’s classic novel, complete in three volumes. Rebound in half-leather with spine labels, gilt lettering and decoration, and marbled paper-covered boards, with a cloth-covered slipcase. Published under the pseudonym, ‘A Lady’. With facsimile half-titles in each volume, and a facsimile title page in volume I. Bears Walter Hore’s signature on the first page of volume I, and dated inscriptions on the title pages of volumes II and III. Condition: Overall a good unmolested copy that has not been cleaned or restored and would come up a treat in the hands of a professional restorer. A pleasure to see a copy of this important work before the attentions of a restorer so that the purchaser can decide on how far to restore and know what has and has not been done. Rebound sympathetically. The bindings are tight and firm. There is very little wear to the extremities or to the slipcase. Internally the pages have light scattered foxing throughout, with occasional marks and mild browning. In volume I there are some closed tears and chips to the lower margins of the first quarter, with the lower corners of a couple of pages missing, not affecting text, a hole to the margin of page seventy-one, and repairs to closed tears on a few pages and to a split across page sixty-five. There are stains to the top corners of pages 292 and 293, and 158 and 159. In volume II there is light ink staining to the margins of pages 114/115, which does not affect the text. The bottom corners of a couple of pages are missing, and there is a small hole to the margin of the last page, none of which affect the text. The lower corner of page ninety-one is missing and has been repaired,with the loss to the text replaced in handwritten ink. The lower section of page 139 has been repaired, with the last four lines handwritten on both sides. In volume III there is very slight evidence of damage to the lower margins of the title page to page forty-four. There is also an ink mark to page sixty-three and smudged early copper-plate notes to the top margin, and a note to the top margin of page fifty-nine. With a small tidemark to the outer margin of 149, chips to the lower margins of pages five to nine, and closed tears to the lower margins of several pages. The lower corner of page nineteen is missing, and there is light staining to the lower corners of pages 102 and 103. There are small holes to the lower margins of pages 159 and 161. A small section of the first page of volume I has been removed, and small sections of the title pages of volumes II and III have been removed and repaired. Overall the condition is very good with a good interior.

Price:  $63,006.62

Pride and Prejudice  by A Lady

Published in 3 volumes by T. Egerton, London in 1813

First edition. Three volumes. 12mo. Bound in a fine early 20th century full brown crushed morocco Riviere binding, gilt titles and decorations to spines. All edges gilt, marbled endpapers, gilt inner dentelles. Binding shows very minor wear, a few light scuffs to corners, and few small spots to volume III. While often lacking, the half titles are present, vol I and III appear to be supplied from a second edition. Volume I: minor chips to pages 143/144 and 157/158; and a few minor creases to gatherings M and N. Volume II: tiny tear to rear flyleaf, small tear to outer margin of page 77. Some very minor scattered spotting. Volume III: small repair to upper corner of page 129, repair to lower corner of page 137/138, tiny pin hole to page 259/260. A beautiful, clean and very attractive set. Gilson A3. Austen’s second work, Pride and Prejudice, is her most famous and one of the most popular books ever written. The unforgettable story of the Bennet sisters quickly sold out of the first printing, and editions of this 1813 original are very scarce. Austen was highly praised by Sir Walter Scott, among others, for her proficiency in describing human emotions and the complexity of relationships. Pride and Prejudice established Austen as one of the most relevant and important female writers of her time, and it’s popularity is a prime example of why she is so highly regarded even today.

Price:  $60,000

Fallen Women of the Regency: Mistresses, Courtesans, and Prostitutes

A Harlot’s Progress: The Harlot Deceiving Her Jewish Protector by William Hogarth, 1732

“I could not trace her beyond her first seducer, and there was every reason to fear that she had removed from him only to sink deeper in a life of sin.” (Sense and Sensibility, ch. 31)

As a writer, Jane Austen does not shy away from the topic of sexual indiscretion and its consequences for women.  Three of her six published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, tell of the risks that befall females who step outside the bounds of social propriety.  Whether they pursued, without thought of consequence, the rousing attentions of men or were unsuspecting impressionable victims of exploitative rakes, a woman’s position was precarious, their sexual purity a commodity in the marriage market, and any stain upon that reputation devastating in its ramifications on inheritance, status, and prospects.  Regency society pardoned and even tacitly condoned licentious behavior in men yet censured “fallen” women, labeling them mistresses, courtesans, and prostitutes.

Colonel Brandon’s description of the tragic story of Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility suggests a realm not usually associated with Jane Austen.  A study of Austen’s novels and letters, biographies of courtesans and mistresses of the period, as well as contemporary documents it is possible to illuminate a world that exists upon the periphery of Austen’s writing.  In an era when women had no social authority or control and were susceptible to the power of the men around them, the women of the Regency demi-monde ranged from poverty-stricken to very powerful. Accruing wealth, running their own households, obtaining the trappings of society without ever gaining access to “polite” society, those women at the fortunate end of the spectrum dominated the realm of the “half world” and, despite their scandalous existences, became arbiters of style and fashion.

On October 5, at the 2012 AGM of the Jane Austen Society of North America, I will present my research which investigates the position of mistresses, courtesans, and prostitutes of the Regency.  Any one of Jane Austen’s heroines could have ended up in a career of vice had they succumbed to sexual recklessness.  The unthinking, like Lydia (had Mr. Darcy not intervened) might have ended up a darling of Covent Garden with an entry in Harris’s List .  Others, like Elizabeth, may have used their charms to gain the adoration of powerful men, playing them against one another to gain wealth, power and control.  It is this parallel world to Jane Austen’s well-mannered drawing rooms, existing yet hidden, a very real possibility for any woman, that will form the basis of my lecture.

The Hobbit, or There And Back Again

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973

I discovered Tolkien when I was 9 years old.  I had seen the Ralph Bakshi directed Lord of the Rings and it made such an impression on me that it was absolutely imperative I read the book.  And read it, I did.  I still have that worn-out copy of The Fellowship of the Ring; I treasure it as a sacred relic, one that opened up a whole new wonderful world to me.  A special place for a 9-year-old, one populated with magic, kings, elves, dwarves, hobbits, good and evil.  I read The Hobbit soon after and received the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for Christmas.  Tolkien’s profound realm not only served as escapism for me but had wide-ranging influence that Prof. Tolkien never foresaw.  Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, Skyrim were all inspired by Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

My 11-year-old son is enchanted, much to my chagrin, by World of Warcraft, a pale facsimile to the world created by Tolkien.  He does love the LotR films but it always makes me cringe when he says that something was ripped-off from WoW.  My churlish response (complete with eye-roll):  “Listen, kid, if it were not for J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, and “The Lord of the Rings” there would be no World of Warcraft.  This reality baffles him.  I think his introduction to the books is long past due.  The new film, The Hobbit,will be released in December which gives me the perfect excuse and opportunity to re-visit Middle Earth and introduce it to my son.

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world.  Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Happy Birthday Samuel Johnson

“Books like friends, should be few and well-chosen.”

Happy Birthday Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709-December 13, 1784)

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