A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: Literature

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

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!

Quote of the Day: George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones

“…a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”  (Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones)  George R.R. Martin, born 1948

 

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!!

Lost in Austen

I have recently picked up a book that I can’t seem to embrace.  Not because of the subject matter, March, an historical fiction by Geraldine Brooks, would normally be something I would be all over.  It is the story of the absent father, Mr. March, of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and documents his experiences during the Civil War while his “little women” tend to the home fires.  I will go back to it certainly but right now I have many on-going  literary projects focusing on Jane Austen and I find myself preoccupied by her and repeatedly drawn into her world.

This month my book club, The Petty Rebuttals, are reading Pride and Prejudice.  It is my turn in the line-up, and since we collectively decided to read classics this cycle, I chose to introduce the group to Jane Austen.  We are a mixed bag,  evenly divided of those who have read P&P and those who have never had the pleasure.  I am excited to give my insight to the group and share my love and enthusiasm for this novel (and of Jane) and only hope that I don’t overwhelm the group with my zeal.  P&P is universally acknowledged (yes, that was intended) to be one of Austen’s best novels and I am currently trying to decide what of the novel I want to focus upon.   Do I focus on character, storyline, class?  My latest re-reading I specifically examined the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy, their imperfections and their strengths.  I am intrigued how they evolve through the story and am struck by their capacity for self-awareness.  Both come to terms with their pride and prejudice and become mindful of helping one another to overcome their shortcomings and give prominence to their assets.  In other words, form a true partnership of  like mind and heart.  I think I will allow the group to take initiative though, regardless of where the discussion leads it, no doubt, will be stimulating.

I am also preparing to lead a discussion next month for the Jane Austen Reading Society.  I am thrilled to be presenting Catharine, or the Bower.  A work of Jane Austen’s Volume, The Third of her Juvenilia.  A charming piece, written in 1792 when she was only 16 years old.  It is an unfinished story,  predominately for the gratification of her family but has enticing elements present in her more mature works.  The diversity in characterization and domestic realism is already evident in this short piece; it exhibits her wit and seemingly light and playful prose but also emerging is her perceptive understanding of class, gender, social decorum, and wealth.  It is an important piece still raw in its youthful vivacity but intimates a more developed novelistic approach as she attempts to move away from her earlier mocking works.  Catharine highlights the potential of the young Jane Austen’s scrutinizing eye and sardonic humor that fans know and love and appreciate.

A lamentable picture of an insipid Victorian-friendly Jane Austen. She's wearing a wedding band for crying out loud!!!!

In anticipation of all of this, or perhaps in consequence of, I have undertaken a biography I have not read before.  My favorite has always been that by Claire Tomalin but I decided to give David Nokes’s biography, Jane Austen:  A Life, a go.  Both biographers diverge from the generally accepted portrayal of Jane Austen as the staid and dour spinster, happy and accepting in her quiet life of little event.  This myth of Jane Austen was perpetuated by her family soon after her death, in fact, her tombstone at Winchester Cathedral doesn’t even mention that she was an author and became more pronounced as Georgian England became Victorian England.  In the Victorian era, a woman’s place was the domestic sphere; home life and motherhood were considered all that was necessary for a woman’s emotional fulfillment.  Reading the little that is left of Jane Austen’s letters, her Juvenilia, and her novels it is clear that Austen was not willing to place her well-being in a virtuous ideal of femininity.  She was feisty, opinionated, mirthful, and cutting.  She wasn’t one to not cut to the chase and often described things the way they were, albeit with a derisive wit.  Comments to her sister in letters emphasize her dry humor: 

 “I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.” [upon the birth of a nephew]

“Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my morals corrupted.”  [upon arrival in London]

“How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”  [commenting on the Peninsular War]

“You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.”

I love the “rebellious, satirical, and wild” Austen!  This Jane and I could be great friends unlike the virtuous, devoted, and retiring maiden Aunt popularly portrayed for nearly 200 years.

Autumn is Here!

John Keats, by William Hilton (died 1839). See...

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As the air gets chillier, the days shorter, and the memory of summer begin to gather in a miasma I often find myself reflecting on more light-hearted times as I physically and mentally prepare for the short, cold days of winter.  Often melancholia sets in as the leaves begin to turn and finally fall; a reminder that all care-free delights must end.  But even as the earth prepares itself to sleep there is a sense of  promise, an assurance of future renewal.  Since I, myself, lack the talent to capture the essence of what autumn means to me I offer an ode from my favorite poet of the Romantic period, John Keats.

 To Autumn
John Keats, 1795–1821

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer had o’er-brimm’d their clammy shells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind:
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Quote of the Day: Louisa May Alcott

Headshot of Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 18...

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“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” 
Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888 (from Work: A Story of Experience)

Out and About with Jane and the Sordid in 7 hours

A corned beef sandwich from Katz's Delicatesse...

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This weekend is again shaping up to be perfectly literary.  Today I meet with my book club, The Petty Rebuttals where we will be discussing Room by Emma Donoghue and tomorrow is the Brooklyn Book Festival where I will be manning the Jane Austen Society of North America’s table for an hour in full Regency dress!!  But more about that later because I want to tell you about last weekend that proved to be very literary as well.

Saturday began quite bookish.  Its scope spanned the centuries beginning with Jane Austen and ending with what was promised to be a sordid foray into international erotic writing.

My day began with the New York Regional meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).  A group of like-minded admirers of the works of Jane Austen who come together at regional meetings throughout the year, an annual national general meeting, and at splinter group meetings such as a monthly discussion group, book reading groups and the Juvenilia (a group for the young and the young at heart).  This meeting was especially enticing for me as it would be a lecture on fashion of the Regency era and how best to outfit yourself at any budget entitled, Dressing the Miss Bennets.  The speaker was Lisa Brown who led the informative lecture with modeling (which I happily participated in).

I had such a wonderful time, catching up with friends, volunteering, and talking about an upcoming general meeting which our chapter is hosting in Brooklyn next autumn.  It was exciting to discuss Jane Austen with other enthusiastic readers.  It is a wonderful place to socialize with the scholarly as well as those who have newly discovered our favorite author.  I was able to discuss with fellow members of the Juvenilia the possibility of a lending library amongst our members of our personal Jane material and the possibility of leading a group discussion in November of Catherine, or the Bower an unfinished fragment written in August 1792.  This is an important fragment as it is believed to be a segue between Austen’s youthful juvenilia to her mature published works.

After tea and cucumber sandwiches with the group-at-large, myself and members of the Juvenilia group headed to Manhattan’s lower east side to participate in the 4th Annual Lit Crawl NYC.  This event is sponsored by the Litquake Foundation, founded in San Francisco, to give readers more against the back-drop of technology by promoting readings, classroom visits, youth projects all “to foster interest in literature for people of all ages and perpetuate a sense of literary community.”  The Crawl was broken up into three 45 minute phases in which you chose from several topics and venues (coffeehouses, bars and lounges).  The first venue we decided to attend was sponsored by The Center for Fiction in which authors came up with he first line of books based only on the title and a blurb.  Audience participation involved trying to guess what the correct first line was.  It was very fun and sometimes raucously hilarious!!  The second venue we chose was Nerd Jeopardy presented by publishers Farrar, Straus, Giroux.  This one is pretty self-explanatory and one would be led to believe a fun choice but because of the lack of organization and slim audience participation it proved a bit boring and pretentious.  The best part of this venue was the Heineken Dark Lager.

Next venue, in the hopes of more than just intellectual stimulation we chose to attend Down and Dirty Round the World the blurb read as follows:

“…an evening of hardboiled, pulpy, and erotic international literature read by some of our favorite authors and translators…”

It proved less than exciting.  None of the selections even came close to being pulpy or erotic.  Halfway into the first reading my friends and I were wondering if we should just bail.  One author/translator read so poorly that if she were to read hard-core porn her monotone voice would fail to titillate.  At last it was over!  It had one thing going for it, it gave us something to talk about.  The only thing about that evening to arouse my desire was the to-die-for pastrami Reuben at Katz’s Deli!  That succulent pastrami, its juicy goodness tantalizing my tongue, the tender flesh melting in my mouth… See what I mean?

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