A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: Jane Austen

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is the cleverly developed and expanded story of Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Austen’s posthumously published melodramatic and insufficient novel depicts “the most dangerous coquette in England”, a self-serving and selfish heroine. The title character, Lady Vernon, is redeemed in this well-written and researched adaptation.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775-1817) probably wrote Lady Susan between 1793-4 during the same period she wrote Elinor and Marianne and First Impressions, her first attempts at what would become Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Lady Susan was written in the epistolary style, or in the form of letters, popular during the 18th century. This faulty mode of expression is problematical as it is unable to establish nuances in characterization and storyline being limited to the letter writer’s particular point of view. This may explain why Jane Austen abandoned the form and never sought publication of the story although she did take the trouble to make a fair copy in 1805. It was published in 1870 by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh along with his memoirs of his aunt.

The heroine is one of Austen’s most egotistical, self-serving, and narcissistic; a deliciously established villainess. She blatantly revels in her actions which go against all of society’s observations and rules. She is a young and beautiful widow who prowls for a suitable gentleman to marry her daughter to while simultaneously and heedlessly attracting the attentions of men to herself. Like Catherine, or The Bower this story serves as a link between Austen’s Juvenilia and her later books. Her writing still tends to be exaggerated but begins to display the subtlety and maturity of characterization familiar in her later published books.

Adaptation in Lady Vernon and Her Daughter

In the adaptation Lady Vernon and Her Daughter the authors’ abandon the letter-writing format. The story they tell preserves Jane Austen’s original plot but because it is no longer restricted to the epistolary framework they are able to establish the character’s motives and sentiment beyond what is written in letter form. The third person narrative satisfactorily expands the story beyond the affected and limited conventions of Lady Susan and allows for a satisfying unfolding of action devoid of melodrama.

Lady Susan, now correctly titled Lady Vernon (as established by the English conventions of given titles), is still a vibrant character. She maintains all her strong-willingness, recklessness, and maliciousness but the justification of her actions in the end absolves her of any truly unethical motives. She is a widow and mother who realizes the importance of prudent marriage for herself and her daughter to avoid penury, a theme cultivated and consistent in Austen’s later novels. The selfishness and self-serving of the original novel survives simply as misunderstanding, conjecture, and malicious gossip.

What Would Jane Have Done?

In most of Jane Austen’s published novels her heroines, although beloved, are not the “pictures of perfection” that made Austen “sick and wicked” but rather each has her flaws. In each of the mature novels the young women eventually achieve a self-awareness and overcome their shortcomings. The back drop to these realizations are most commonly formed within a quest for one acceptable object – a suitable marriage.

Rubino and Rubino-Bradway rehabilitate Lady Vernon’s seemingly mercenary behavior by emphasizing her comprehension of the realities of her world. They endow her with the understanding that advantageous marriages for her and her daughter will save them from a life of poverty and humiliation. This does not mean that the character believes in an attachment devoid of affection. In true Jane Austen fashion Lady Vernon pursues marriages but only if accompanied by similar sentiment and love.

This adaptation is well researched and written and reads as Jane Austen herself may have envisioned and re-worked the story had she lived longer. We’ll never know what Jane Austen had intended for her heroine but adherents to her novels will enjoy the efforts and understanding offered by the authors of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter.

Primary Sources: Austen, Jane. Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon. (New York: Penguin Classics, 1974); Rubino, Jane and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway. Lady Vernon and Her Daughter. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2009)

Secondary Sources: Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2002); Poplawski, Paul. A Jane Austen Encyclopedia. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998)


A Book: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

It has been several days since Christmas and the flurry of paper and string and bows have had time to settle, candy canes have been eaten, the tree has become a tinder box, and finally I can settle down to read the books I received as gifts.  I love receiving books (or money so I can purchase them on my own).  I remember at a young age being thrilled to find books in my stocking; even once reading a tome in its entirety in the wee hours before waking my mother at a more civilized hour.  Yes, my sister and I were quite courteous on Christmas morning!

This year, without fail, I found a few books under my tree and in my stocking.  My loved ones certainly know that diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but there is nothing like a book to make this girl’s heart skip a beat.  So, here it is my Christmas books and with any luck I’ll be engrossed in one of these as the ball falls in Times Square to ring in 2012.  (Hint:  It will most likely be the P.D. James).

Firstly, everyone knows my obsession with Jane Austen so it wouldn’t truly be a MERRY Christmas without a little Jane.  Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is a wonderful re-working of Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan.  I have read this before (I borrowed it from the library) and enjoyed it so much that I recommended it to be read by my Jane Austen reading group.  I suppose Santa thought I should have my own copy.  I also received from a friend, who occasionally leaves offerings of books, the recently released murder mystery by P.D. James Death Comes to Pemberley.  Clearly he understands that goddesses (or undervalued administrators) need to be kept happy.  Thank you so much, it is much appreciated.

A very fun book which will have pride of place on my coffee table is The Word Made Flesh:  Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide.  All I have to say is WOW!!  Were I to get a tattoo (read lack of bravery here) it would definitely have to be something literary inspired because I have never seen anything so cool.

Cover of "Tinkers"

Cover of Tinkers

Because everyone should read a Pulitzer prize winner and it was my pick from the Christmas book swap I have Tinker by Paul Harding.  Flipping through the pages it promises to reaffirm my love of the written word.  This is a first novel, and a seemingly powerful one.  The first line is staggering, “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.”

I also received and already finished The World of Downton Abbey.  There isn’t really much to say here except the book is a wonderful companion piece to the television series.  I love this book.  Just turning its pages brings me much joy and happiness.

My obsessions with Jane Austen and Downton Abbey are mediocre compared to that with good penmanship.  I am always cursing the decline of the art of writing (with a pen and paper); for crying out loud they don’t even teach children cursive writing anymore in schools!  It is an abomination.  Needless to say I am obsessed with handwriting.  I practiced for hours as a child and pride myself on my penmanship to this day.  I insist on using fountain pens and writing (almost daily) in my Moleskine journal and handwriting notes and cards.  I am quite snobbish about this so it is with great delight that I have received Script & Scribble:  The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.  Kitty Burns Florey is a kindred spirit in that she too professes to be a “penmanship nut”.

And because a girl cannot live on books alone I will get frequent use from reading my 2012 Zagat Guide for New York City.

Truly, books are the gift that keeps on giving!

Winter Is Coming

Cover of "A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ic...

I recently finished reading the first book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series,  A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I enjoyed it immensely and have just started the second book, A Clash of Kings.

I felt it appropriate, in honor  of George R.R. Martin’s epic to offer, for your perusal, my winter reading list.  Winter is coming.

  1. The Cranford Chronicles  Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. The Children’s Book   A.S. Byatt
  3. The Queen of Fashion:  What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution  Caroline Weber
  4. You Can’t Go Home Again  Thomas Wolfe
  5. Jane Eyre  Charlotte Bronte
  6. Jane Austen’s Christmas  Maria Hubert
  7. Elizabeth’s Women  Tracy Borman
  8. Divergent  Veronica Roth
  9. Birthright:  The True Story That Inspired “Kidnapped”  A. Roger Ekirch
  10. Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion:  1795–1815  Christina Beneto and Martin Lancaster


Thanks Jennifer for sharing this.

Happy Birthday Jane Austen

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

It’s Jane’s 236th birthday and yet her writing is still fresh and vibrant and has much to say to a more modern sensibility.  In honor I am going to re-read Persuasion.  Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Jane Austen Knits

I picked this magazine up because clearly I am crazy.  This Jane Austen obsession is becoming all consuming.  I can’t even knit but the projects in this magazine are so enticing that I could not resist.  I want to learn and I am told that learning to knit is not that difficult.  So perhaps I will give it a go if only because I really, really want a knit Spencer to go with my Regency day dress.  But perhaps, it is best if I start off simply beginning with a scarf or a pair of mitts.

Did Jane Austen knit?  And if she did, what would she have knit?  In a period before industrialization it is not unlikely that women knitted blankets, shawls, scarves, cushions, and stockings.  Austen makes mention in Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Jenning’s plans for a knitting project and in an 1807 letter she describes her own knitting of a lap rug.

Martha’s rug is just finished, & looks well, tho’ not quite so well as I had hoped.  I see no fault in the Border, but the Middle is dingy.–My mother desires me to say that she will knit one for you, as soon as you return to chuse the colours & pattern.

The knitting of stockings was an undertaking easily employed by the poor to supplement their meager incomes.  It is probably not an unlikely supposition that Jane Austen and her sister, as daughters of a clergyman, may have knitted stockings for charitable distribution amongst the impoverished members of their village.

And besides, how can one not want to undertake some of these very beautiful pieces?

Questions for the Latter-day Bluestocking

  1. What author do you own the most books by?   Jane Austen
  2. What book do you own the most copies of?  Pride and Prejudice
  3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?  Yes!
  4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?  Stephen Maturin
  5. What book have you read the most times in your life?  probably Pride and Prejudice
  6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?  Fellowship of the Ring J.R.R.Tolkien
  7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?  Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?  Room by Emma Donoghue
  9. Brits or Americans?  Brits
  10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?  Me
  11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?  None, they would just fuck it up!!
  12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?  Go the Fuck to Sleep
  13. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.  I dreamt of Winston Churchill and he told me that I should not be afraid.
  14. What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict.
  15. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?  The Rape of Nanking.  Actually, anything about Chinese history
  16. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?  “Titus Corialanus.”
  17. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?  Unfortunately, the French.
  18. Roth or Updike?  I don’t know who they are.
  19. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?  Sedaris
  20. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?  Milton
  21. Austen or Eliot?  Really!!!!!  See questions 1, 2, 5, 21, 23, 29, 31, 32.
  22. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?  I would have to be on life support for there to be a gap in my reading.
  23. What is your favorite novel?  Persuasion.
  24. Play?  School for Scandal  Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  25. Poem/Poets?  John Keats
  26. Essay?  Do not know
  27. Short story?  Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  28. Work of non-fiction?  The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
  29. Who is your favorite writer?  Hmm, that’s a tough one.  I’m going to go with Jane Austen
  30. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?  Anyone after 1951
  31. What is your desert island book?  Pride and Prejudice

And … what are you reading right now? Mary Wollstonecraft:  A Revolutionary Life by Jane Todd and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

Catharine, or the Bower by Jane Austen

Today was a great day.  I presented at a book discussion Catharine, or the Bower, an unfinished story written by Jane Austen when she was 16 years old.  It is one of only two stories contained in Volume the Third of her youthful and ebullient writings, called the Juvenilia.  Her father wrote of them “Effusions of Fancy by a Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new.”  Austen’s earlier Juvenilia stories are literary parody consisting of coincidences, lurid horrors, and comic situations.  They are boisterous and youthful and border the ridiculous and satirical towards the sentimental.  Despite being written by such a young person (beginning at the age of 12) the stories are chock full of theft, drunkenness, sexual indiscretion, and lewdness, found to be most shocking by the Victorians.  Her family refrained from publishing the volumes of the Juvenilia wanting to keep the reputation of the demure and devout maiden aunt pure.  They were not published until 1933 (Volume the First), 1922 (Volume the Second), and 1951 (Volume the Third).

Catharine is considered important because, albeit raw, it intimates the maturity of her later published novels.  Austen is beginning to direct her wit towards her interests of courtship, romance, and family relationships; the range and depth of her characterization, clarity of dialogue and action is emerging.  Discernible are familiar character types that will be more fleshed out in the novels:  self-centered, selfish, and empty-headed young ladies; thoughtless, idle, and seductive young gentlemen; vivacious, witty, and bright heroines, and conservative, over-protective and hypochondriac elders.  Catharine also hints at acceptable principles of behavior and class distinction characteristic of her fully developed novels.

So, yes, today was a good day.  I got to express my own “effusions of fancy” about my favorite author and am still allowed to join in next month when we will discuss A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft.  I already have this and a biography of the early feminist in my To Read list!

Probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever set for myself

I am in the midst of writing a one-page abstract for a break-out lecture I would like to present at the 2012 Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting to be held in Brooklyn, NY.  Editing down a 40 minute lecture into a page is extremely difficult, harder even than childbirth!  As you probably have guessed Jane Austen is involved and since the theme is Sex, Money & Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction those who know me will assume that sex is involved too.  And they would be right!  Stay tuned to see how I manage to introduce a topic not usually associated with the gentle world of Jane Austen.

In the meantime, back to writing!!

‘with ships and sailors she felt herself at home’

Detail from a modern reproduction of an 1805 p...

Image via Wikipedia

It is, perhaps, not known Jane Austen’s personal connection to the Battle of Trafalgar.

Those at home always await patiently for word from their loved ones at sea and this was especially true 206 years ago when Jane Austen eagerly awaited the letters of her brother Capt. Francis W. Austen on board Canopus in the Mediterranean.  Canopus was a prize ship (formerly L’Admiral) captured by Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile; Nelson subsequently was responsible for Frank taking command of this ship.

“You may rely upon all attention in my power to Capt. Austin [sic].  I hope to see him alongside a French 80 gun ship and he cannot be better placed than in the Canopus, who was once a French adl.’s ship and struck to me.  Capt. A. I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man.
I am, &c
Nelson and Bronte”

The French fleet had been alluding the British for months and the situation had become precarious.  On board was Admiral Louis, Nelson’s second in command.  Frank and the Admiral would be shocked when on September 28 Nelson arrived off Cadiz and gave orders for Canopus to sail to Gibraltar to fetch urgently needed water and stores.  Louis complained of being sent away with hostilities promising to escalate.  Nelson, assuring Canopus of its role as his right hand, promised that they would be back before the French dared to come out.  Frank wrote home of his disappointment.

“Having borne our share in a tedious chase and anxious blockade, it would be mortifying indeed to find ourselves at last thrown out of any credit and emolument which would result from such an action.  Such, I hope will not be our lot.  ….if there has been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious of my life.”

On October 19 the French and Spanish fleets left Cadiz, led by Admiral Villeneuve, making their way along the coast to Cape Trafalgar.  On the morning of October 21 Nelson, glorious in his military honors hoisted the signal, “England expects every man to do his duty”.  By the end of the day the British were victorious and Nelson was dead.

Frank could not help but lament his regret at having missed the battle which was only intensified by the news of Nelson’s death.

“To lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience.  ….A melancholy situation, great and important as must be the victory, it is alas! dearly purchased at the price paid for it.”

And as the female members of his family enhanced their needlework with the ‘Trafalgar stitch’ Frank Austen wrote of Nelson:  “His memory will long be embalmed in the hearts of a grateful Nation, May those he left behind in the service strive to imitate so bright an example.”


%d bloggers like this: