Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Susan Lyons, updates Jane Austen’s tale of a young woman in high society who starts meddling in the lives of those around her.  Smith’s Emma Woodhouse is far more brazen in her comments of others, and its clear that when she returns from university that she wants to make her mark by making people happier.  Unfortunately, taking her interior design education and applying it to the relationships of her friends and neighbors is not a good fit.  Lyons does an excellent job with the narration, and she really knew which parts to emphasize.

Unlike her sister, who is happy to meet a man and start a family, Emma doesn’t have a conventional future in mind.  She wants to start her own business in the suburbs, rather than in London, which suits her hypochondriac father well.  He thinks London is a place that will make people ill, but his eldest daughter takes off with her new husband to begin their family there.  Meanwhile, Emma is content to stay in the village and take the summer to assess her options.  Smith follows the original plot pretty well with his rendition, with many of his modern elements woven in well, but some of the main conflicts appear glossed over — beginning and ending swiftly.

One area that is tough to take is Emma’s harsher characterization, which can be attributed to the much harsher and self-absorbed nature of today’s society.  However, how Emma is still given a pass in a modern society where class does not hold as much respect or weight as it once did in Austen’s time is left unexplained.  Smith creates a different backstory for Emma and Mr. Knightly, which works in this modern retelling, but may not win points with Austen’s fan base.  Mr. Woodhouse, however, is treated with a bit more respect than he was in Austen — he’s a little less ludicrous, which was a refreshing change.  The governess, however, seems to be a mouthpiece for the author, steering Emma in the right direction and the relationship between the two seems flat.

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Susan Lyons, was a mixed bag with modern updates, like including cars and women going to college, but lacking in the obsession with selfies, cellphones, and other technology.  It also was mixed in terms of Smith’s treatment of the characters and the original story.  While Knightly was a guiding force for Emma, here he is relegated to the sidelines and a new character emerges, the governess.

About the Author:

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit him online at www.alexandermccallsmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Pride & Prejudice: Retold in Limericks by Seamus O’Leprechaun

Source: Borrowed from Diary of an Eccentric
eBook, 65 pgs
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Pride & Prejudice: Retold in Limericks by Seamus O’Leprechaun is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Limericks! Yes, you read that correctly.  When Anna told me she had something I could read for 24-hour Read-a-Thon, I was all over this one.  I LOVE Limericks!

O’Leprechaun, which clearly has to be a pen name, captures the wit and tension between the characters so easily in just a Limerick.  It was highly appropriate that I read it for the read-a-thon and National Poetry Month.

From "Chapter Six":

Now Darcy has altered his drive.
What haunts him? A pair of dark eyes.
     The girl he rejected
     Now leaves him affected
Liz Bennet - he years for this prize.

From "Chapter Seven"

Jane Bennet, meantime, has caught cold,
Through a rain-soaked contrivance most bold.
     Now she must stick around
     At the Bingley compound,
Where Liz waits as the symptoms unfold.

The machinations of Mrs. Bennet to ensure that her daughters are married off before her husband dies, and her anger at Lizzy for turning down Mr. Collins also come off as ridiculous as Austen intended.  O’Leprechaun uses his skills well in these poems to flesh out the novel in poetic form.  Many of these poems will make readers laugh out loud, giggle, and shake their heads in amusement.

From "Chapter Fifteen"

But this Collins has come for a wife -
Either Lizzy or Jane will suffice.
     And as Jane is bespoke,
     Looks like Lizzy's up, folks,
To be wed by a blockhead - that's life.

Pride & Prejudice: Retold in Limericks by Seamus O’Leprechaun is just so much fun, and totally worth the short time spent reading it, reliving the best moments of Austen’s book. Also, it’s a great way to celebrate poetry.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 410 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, which was our May book club selection, is a suspenseful story centered around Rebecca de Winter, who by society’s standards was charming, beautiful, and unmatched by other ladies of the upper class.  It has been about 10 months to a year since her passing when Maxim de Winter meets a young woman, who remains the unnamed narrator of the story, in Monte Carlo as the paid companion of Mrs. Van Hopper a gossipy and grasping woman who uses any tiny connection to weasel her way into parties, etc.  Once her employer contracts influenza, the narrator is free to do what she likes since a private nurses is necessary.  As a result, she ends up spending a number of afternoons with the enigmatic Mr. de Winter and later agrees to marry him.

“The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end.  They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive.  The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church.” (page 1)

While my copy’s jacket cover speaks of the novel as a “classic tale of romantic suspense,” there was little romance between the unnamed narrator and Mr. de Winter.  While the new Mrs. de Winter is naive and unable to cope with running a magnificent household like Manderlay, she has zero backbone, even as Mrs. Danvers, the home’s housekeeper, plays the dirtiest trick on her.  This narrator is an unlikeable character from the start with her whiny nature and her inability to speak her mind, even to her husband.  Even though in this time period, women were supposed to be obedient and meek, they also were expected to run entire households with a forceful hand.  The new Mrs. de Winter is Rebecca’s antithesis in every way.

“I listened to them both, leaning against Maxim’s arm, rubbing my chin on his sleeve.  He stroked my hand absently, not thinking, talking to Beatrice.

‘That’s what I do to Jasper,’ I thought. ‘I’m being like Jasper now, leaning against him.  He pats me now and again, when he remembers, and I’m pleased, I get closer to him for a moment. He likes me in the way I like Jasper.'” (page 103)

Neither of the main characters are likeable, as the retrospective narrative keeps readers at a distance from their love affair and their romance.  The highlights of the novel were the comical Mr. Favell, Rebecca’s first cousin, and Beatrice, who is plain spoken.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is suspenseful, though ridiculous at times, and there are highly descriptive paragraphs about nature.  The narrative is bogged down by the descriptions and the dream-like conversations she has with herself about upcoming events and confrontations.  While the plot is interesting, it is tough to feel empathy for the main narrator and to cheer her on.

About the Author:

Daphne was born in 1907, grand-daughter of the brilliant artist and writer George du Maurier, daughter of Gerald, the most famous Actor Manager of his day, she came from a creative and successful family.

The du Maurier family were touring Cornwall with the intention of buying a house for future holidays, when they came across “Swiss Cottage”, located adjacent to the ferry at Bodinnick. Falling in love with the cottage and its riverside location, they moved in on May 14th, 1927, Daphne had just turned 20.

She began writing short stories the following year, and in 1931 her first novel, ‘The Loving Spirit’ was published. It received rave reviews and further books followed. Then came her most famous three novels, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and Rebecca’. Each novel being inspired by her love of Cornwall, where she lived and wrote.

What the Book Club Thought:

The book club had a mixed reaction to this one; there were several members who enjoyed the story, but not the descriptions of nature.  There were too many words, one member said.  Others saw the background of the narrator as an obstacle she needed to overcome in order to mature.  One member pointed out that the narrator — even in retrospect — did not seem to offer any judgment about herself and behaviors, leaving readers to wonder whether she had matured at all.  The whiny nature of the character was tough to take for some readers, while other were interested in her little internal debates about others’ reactions to her actions or the actions she could have taken.  A few did not see the relationship between Max and the new wife as very loving, especially when she talks about him petting her like a dog.

11th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in Monaco)

18th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

31st book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 236 pages
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Persuasion by Jane Austen (on Kobo) is her final, full manuscript, and it is one of the most mature of her works. Anne Elliot is the heroine of this novel, but often in the beginning of the novel she is in the background as an observer, as she is talked about or looked over by even her own father and older sister. She is 27, unmarried, and by all appearances, a wallflower, who loves to read. Through the influence of Lady Russell, a friend of her deceased mother, Anne broke off an engagement with Frederick Wentworth because the match was imprudent as he was not yet established in a career and was not of the same social standing as the Elliots. Lead by her friendship with Lady Russell and a sense of duty to her family, Anne broke the engagement and suffered for more than eight years, though she did have other prospects. Austen seems to remind us that when love is true and deep, it can cut us just as deeply when things end poorly, but it also can continue to live inside of us, even when all hope is lost.

“A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own); there could be nothing in them now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.”  (page 7)

The contrasts set forth by Austen in this novel between the Musgroves and the Elliots is almost as wide as the Grand Canyon, and yet, Anne finds herself easily swept into either family — adaptable to any situation — but she seems to feel the most comfort when surrounded by the jubilant Musgroves.  Her adventures with her younger sister, Mary, and the Musgroves bring Anne a stroke of not only luck but happiness when she is reunited, if only in proximity, to Captain Wentworth.  Although she spends a great deal of time making excuses to be absent from gatherings where she knows he will be present, she eventually has little choice but to be in his company, finding that it is not as horrible as she imagined.

“Doubtless it was so; and she could take no revenge, for he was not altered, or not for the worse.  She had already acknowledged it to herself, and she could not think differently, let him think of her as he would.” (page 57)

Austen’s tale of a second chance at love is more about the anxiety that can plague new love and acquaintances, but also the reunited lovers who misunderstood one another’s motivations in their youth.  There are missteps to be sure, as Wentworth unwittingly finds himself engaged to another without explicitly making his intention to be so known and Anne is led to believe that Mr. Elliot has his eye set on her.  These characters are more mature in their motivations, while there are still some who are a bit ridiculous — from her father’s obsession with status and how handsome he still is to Mary’s constant complaining and hypocritical behavior — most of the characters are mature enough to know their own desires and to seize opportunities when they are presented.  Persuasion by Jane Austen is a fine novel, less about Anne’s initial persuasion away from Wentworth and more of her persuading herself that he still loves her and that hope lives.

About the Author:

Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature.

9th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in England)





14th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a Gothic novel with strong themes of corruption, innocence, and the “grand” Faustian bargain.  The novel begins with Basil Hallward who speaks of a mysterious and beautiful young man, Dorian Gray, to his friend Lord Henry Wotton who has some very hedonistic world views.  With elements of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, Wilde has created a critique of the Victorian era by exaggerating elements of the Romantic age, particularly the horror, awe, and aesthetic experience, which is embodied in Lord Henry and eventually Dorian Gray — in the most absurd way.

Dorian is an insanely narcissistic man who meets Basil and Lord Henry, two men obsessed with beauty and pleasure and its fleeting nature.  Basil is more obsessed with Dorian’s stunning beauty as a fuel for his art, while Lord Henry pontificates his various theories about pleasure and beauty and its transient nature in an effort to garner Dorian’s favor and fuel his own ego that loves the art of influencing others.  Dorian is ripe for Henry’s picking as he seems to be — at least initially — like a child seeking stimulation and knowledge, but like a child, he does not have the tools to question what he is told and what he experiences.

“There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence.  No other activity was like it.  To project one’s soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or strange perfume:  there was a real joy in that — perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aims . . . ” (page 26)

Wilde’s prose is full of contradictions and theories about the age in which these characters live, and many of these theories (contradictory and otherwise) are espoused by Lord Henry, who remains a catalyst for Dorian’s thinking, which ultimately leads to his tragic downfall.  What’s interesting is that the Faustian bargain is not an outright bargain made by Dorian, but simply an expressed wish that comes true.  This technique is typical of Gothic literature in that some supernatural elements occur and are not explained.  However, Dorian is not blameless in the events that befall him because he is given several opportunities to amend his ways and to experience life more deeply than his superficial pleasure seeking.  For instance, he meets a young woman, Sibyl Vane, who mirrors his older self in that she is innocent of influence and able to see the good and beauty in all of life before her, in spite of its obvious crassness and dingy elements.  But rather than seizing the moment to become something more, Dorian again falls into Lord Henry’s mold, only able to see the superficial and abandons Sibyl, who like Ophelia and Juliet has little choice but to exit from his world.

“There is something of a child about her.  Her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder when I told her what I thought of her performance, and she seemed quite unconscious of her power.” (page 39)

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is like a flippant response to an age where pleasure was the main concern, but its dark, Gothic undertones provide a horrifying examination of how pleasure-seeking and narcissism can lead to a corruption of the soul.  Dorian is a young man led willingly astray by his peers and willingly ignores reason and his conscience to improve his treatment of others and himself.  When the portrait takes on his sins, he becomes free of accountability and engages the world in more than one way that dirties his soul and that of those around him.

***This was the first selection for my new book club***

Only one member did not finish the book, and he said that the language and dialogue between the male characters was unrealistic to him and he had a hard time connecting with the characters and their story.  Other members seemed to like the book well enough, but no one was overly impressed with it, though it did generate a great deal of discussion as to whether Lord Henry was the devil or merely an influencer and why Dorian was so eager to follow the path laid out for him by Lord Henry.  There was a great deal of discussion as to what caused the painting to reflect Dorian’s sins and how that came about and whether the fact that the painting absorbed all his evilness allowed him to not be accountable for his actions and fueled his downfall.

There were some in the club who wanted to know more about certain events in the book (i.e. a poignant blackmail letter), and most of us agreed that the pages of description of Dorian’s collection of fabrics, jewelry, and musical instruments was dry and excessive, it did point to Dorian’s excessive existence.

While it was no one’s favorite book, it certainly generated a great deal of discussion.  I may have liked the book a little more than others and kept pimping the movie version with Ben Barnes.

We’re looking forward to March’s pick:  Star Wars & Philosophy by Kevin Decker and Jason Eberl

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those classics that defines an author.  Set during the 1920s just after WWI, Jay Gatsby is a mysterious rich man who lives on the wrong side (West Egg) of the Manhasset Bay in New York.  Nick Carraway, who narrates this tale, is like Gatsby in that he is from the middle west and comes to New York after the war to make his fortune.  Unlike Gatsby, this self-made man has not taken great pains to hide his true past.  Carraway informs the reader of how he meets Gatsby and how he comes once again into contact with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, who live on the right side of the bay (East Egg).  While little action goes on in the book until the end, the interactions of the characters and their reactions to one another and Gatsby are telling of how class differences remain even in the United States where you’re supposed to lift yourself up by your bootstraps.  There is a distinct disdain on the part of Carraway for opulence and excess, which had become prevalent among the upper class and bootleggers.

“‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'” (page 5)

Carraway has his suspicions about Gatsby’s fortune, but eventually, his charisma wins him over and he goes beyond any of Gatsby’s friends in the end, demonstrating that true friendship has little to do with one’s background or wealth.  Daisy is the great love in this novel, and while readers may not see her appeal, they must remember that she is seen through the eyes of Carraway, who already has expressed a bias against the wealthy and high social class since returning from the war.  Fitzgerald has not set up a love triangle that is difficult to uncover, but the conclusion of that love triangle — really its more like a love square — is utterly tragic.

“‘Anyhow he gives large parties,’ said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban distaste for the concrete.  ‘And I like large parties.  They’re so intimate.  At small parties there isn’t any privacy.'” (page 54)

In many ways, Gatsby has romanticized his time with Daisy and he hopes to rekindle what he lost when he was shipped off to fight in WWI.  However, the question remains whether what he had with Daisy before the war was real, romanticized, or even imagined by a soldier looking for something to cling to in an effort to survive the horrors of war.  Carraway is just as enigmatic as Gatsby, and while their initial circumstances differed in terms of riches, they both pursued the American Dream of success — albeit in different ways.  These two characters are juxtaposed for a reason, and Fitzgerald leaves it up to the reader to determine why.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning –” (Page 189)

Fitzgerald’s writing was easy to understand, while there were moments where there were names dropped and mentioned in great paragraphs, if only to demonstrate the connectedness of the characters to high society and other “important” people.  Those moments were not necessary given the conversations Gatsby had at his parties.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an enduring look at a time when men and women were fully grasping at anything to improve their situation and earn their way in the world.  However, there is a blissful disenchantment with this way of life by the end of the novel that will have readers questioning their dedication to the rat race and beating out the Joneses.



This is my 11th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.



This is my 5th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan by Jane Austen is a short novel written in the form of letters until the conclusion where the author takes over.  Lady Susan is the widow of Mr. Vernon’s brother, and she has a daughter named, Frederica, whom Lady Susan believes needs more schooling and is better off in the care of others.  Lady Susan has a rather sultry reputation in society as a woman who flirts relentlessly and may even take it too far for polite society.

“She is really excessively pretty.  However you may choose to question the allurements of a lady no longer young, I must for my own part declare that I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan.”  (page 49)

What is truth and what is fiction about Lady Susan is tough to discern as each character’s opinion of her becomes more fluid, changing as new situations and information come to light.  She comes to live with her brother-in-law and his wife, Catherine, whom she tried to prevent from marrying her husband’s brother.  Once in Churchill, she meets Catherine’s brother Reginald, who already has a negative opinion of her, and she takes on the challenge of changing his mind, though to outsiders it looks as though she is flirting and making romantic inroads with him.  Enter Frederica, and her “lover” Sir James Martin.  The stage is set for great drama and entanglements.

“Her behavior to him, independent of her general character, has been so inexcusably artful and ungenerous since out marriage was first in agitation, that no one less amiable and mild than himself could have overlooked it at all; and though as his brother’s widow and in narrow circumstances it was proper to render her pecuniary assistance, I cannot help thinking his pressing invitation to her to visit us at Churchill perfectly unnecessary.”  (page 46)

Unlike Austen’s other novels and unfinished pieces, Lady Susan is not the typical heroine because she lives on the outskirts of society and enjoys herself in many ways.  She’s conniving in her machinations to find a match for her daughter, convince others of her propriety and social graces, and rightness of her decisions.  She is not a character that many readers will like or even come to like, but Austen seems to be using her negative personality traits to illustrate the machinations that are often done behind the scenes in Regency society as mothers seek husbands for their daughters and widows seeks to find another husband at an advanced age.

Overall, Lady Susan is an ambitious short novel that attempts to tackle society from a different angle.  Rather than place the young ladies eligible for husbands at the center of a (sort-of) conceit in which Lady Susan is the opposite of well-mannered society women and the men in her life are not in control of the situation nor their emotions.  Austen has tackled another difficult aspect of Regency society.

***I’ve wanted to read this novel since Anna embarked on her journey to read all of Austen’s works.***

This is my 2nd book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

Interested in my other reviews of Austen’s unfinished novels, check out The Watsons and Sanditon.

Villette Read-a-Long

I’m sure you’ve heard of UnputdownablesVillette by Charlotte Bronte read-a-long, which begins next month.

I have not officially signed up, only because my due date for the baby is fast approaching.  However, I do plan to participate as much as possible before she’s born and afterward, so some posts may not meet the current schedule:

Beginning Tuesday, February 1st and ending Thursday, March 31st

Week #/ dates :: Chapters to Read

Week One/ February 1st-7th :: ch. 1-5 (i.e. read chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5)
Week Two/ February 8th-14th :: ch. 6-11
Week Three/ February 15th-21st :: ch. 12-17
Week Four/ February 22nd-28th :: ch. 18-22
Week Five/ March 1st-March 7th :: ch. 23-27
Week Six/ March 8th-March 14th :: ch. 28-32
Week Seven/ March 15th-March 21st :: ch. 33-37
Week Eight/ March 22-March 28th :: ch. 38-42

Catch up days, and extra days to process book before final review :: March 29th-31st.

It looks like the Thursday discussion post dates are as follows: (from what I’ve deduced)

Week 1: February 10
Week 2: February 17
Week 3: February 24
Week 4: March 3
Week 5: March 10
Week 6: March 17
Week 7: March 24
Week 8: March 31

If I don’t participate in all the discussions or postings, I will for sure continue reading along and post my final review at the end of March.

I hope others will join the read-a-long challenge; this is one book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time, along with some others from the Brontes.

If you want more information about the Villette Read-a-Long, please visit Unputdownables.

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Sanditon, another unfinished novel and the last that she was working on before her death, by Jane Austen begins with the Parkers in search of a surgeon to bring back to the seaside town of Sanditon from Willingden to care for the sick tourists and travelers seeking the medicinal attributes of the small town.  Unfortunately, the Parkers’ carriage runs into rough roads in a different Wilingden without a physician and it overturns.  Mr. Parker ends up with a sprained ankle and the adventure begins.

Meeting these characters initially, readers will find Mrs. Parker of few words and Mr. Parker very vocal about his town and his life.  Parker in many ways is similar to Mr. Collins in how he pontificates about Mrs. Denham, the town’s patroness.  Despite an invitation to the Heywoods to spend time in Sanditon, the Parkers had to be content to take one of the daughters, Charlotte.  On the way home, Mr. Parker tells Charlotte about Mrs. Denham and the rest of Sanditon.

“‘There is at times’ said he — ‘a little self-importance — but it is not offensive; — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far.  But she is a goodnatured woman, a very goodnatured woman, — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character.  — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education.”  (page 166)

Parker believes the sea waters will cure all ills and make sure everyone is healthy, even those who claim to be healthy already.  The introduction describes the outrageous nature of Austen’s hypochondriacs in this novel and attributes the characterizations to her need to lighten her burdens since she had been ailing for about a year before her death.  Whether true or just speculation is hard to say, but it is clear that Austen’s experiences in Bath and with the healing waters got her thinking about her own society and its dependence on these waters to cure their ills.

As the novel progresses, readers will find that Austen has ventured into territory that she is not as familiar with, in that Charlotte Heywood becomes a narrating commentator on this new society in Sanditon.  Readers will enjoy the fresh look at society and their tendency to become ill and recover miraculously when they are needed.  Austen clearly had begun branching out beyond simply highlighting the societal hypocrisy among courtship rituals to discuss other topics like charity to those less fortunate and generating a prosperous town without commercializing it too much.

Overall, Sanditon by Jane Austen may be unfinished, but well worth reading to see how Austen’s work had grown and was about to flourish further.  It is not quite clear who the hero of the novel would have been — although it could be speculated that Uncle Sydney Parker is the hero.  It is clearly not Sir Edward, and the heroine could be Charlotte, though readers’ connection to her because of her observer status and her plight is not all that strong and could signal that Austen had another heroine in mind.  Readers will have fun visiting this seaside resort and its quirky characters, as well as fun speculating where Austen was heading with this story.

The Watsons by Jane Austen

The Watsons by Jane Austen is an unfinished novel, but encompasses many elements from her finished novels, such as Emma and Sense & Sensibility.  Elizabeth and Emma Watson hail from a poorer family than the Osborne or the Edwards families.  Emma had been living with an aunt for many years, only to return home to a sickly father and a devoted sister, Elizabeth, who has not married despite her advanced age to care for their father.  The story begins with Elizabeth escorting herself to the Edwards’ home before the ball.

“‘I am sorry for her anxieties,’ said Emma, ‘ — but I do not like her plans or her opinions.  I shall be afraid of her.  — She must have too masculine and a bold temper.  — To be so bent on marriage — to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation — is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it.  . . . ‘” (page 110)

Again we see Jane Austen’s insistence that marriage for wealth or improved situation are appalling, yet often done in society.  Emma is a bit more outspoken than Elizabeth Bennet, while Elizabeth has a sense of duty to the family, much like Elinore in Sense & Sensibility.  The sickly father is reminiscent of the father in Emma.  In may ways, The Watsons seems to be a starting point for many of Austen’s novels or at least an earlier work that inspired her to keep writing.

Although unfinished, readers can clearly see where the story would have gone eventually given the sickly nature of Emma and Elizabeth’s father.  One of the most interesting parts of the work are the relationship or lack there of that Emma has with her other brothers and sisters.  The love interests in the novel range from a self-indulgent, young man to an older Lord who knows his place in society and believes women should just fall for him instantly no matter how distant and self-indulgent he is.  Of course, there also is the quiet preacher who has caught the eye of a wealthy woman, but has a silent adoration for another.

The Watsons, like Austen’s other completed novels, has a depth that may be missed upon first reading, but her characters remain enduring and witty.  Gossip is prevalent in many of her novels, but the Watsons provides a great deal of snide remarks and backhanded comments.  Another enjoyable Austen read.

**Thanks to Anna for letting me borrow her copy so I could finish the Jane Austen Challenge.  I’ll probably be reading the other two novels in the new year.***

This is my 14th and final book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.  I’ve officially completed my 9th challenge.

This is my 10th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

The History of England by Jane Austen

The History of England by Jane Austen is the final story in the Love and Freindship collection, and the author warns you from the beginning that there are very few dates in this history.  For readers unfamiliar with most of English history, some of these obscured events may be harder to decipher.  However, this story is not to be taken as truth given that it is mainly a commentary on history, rather than a unbiased account of past events.

She begins the narrative with Henry the 4th, of whom she says, “Be this as it may, he did not live forever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays, and the Prince made a still longer.”  (page 63)

Throughout her history, Austen often refers to other writers and plays.  Items that may color the perspective of society on certain historic events, which Austen readily talks about in reference to herself.  In fact, she often refers to her own religious proclivities and the biases those entail.  Many times throughout the narrative, her wit will have readers scratching their heads or giggling.

With regard to Richard the 3rd, she writes, “It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephew and his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to believe true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard.”  (page 65)

The History of England is another piece by Austen from her earlier years, and she took true events to highlight the follies of others and the ridiculous nature of royal society.  Effectively, she shows how these royals are no better or different from others in society, complete with love, hate, and secrets.  For another look at her earlier writing, readers will be able to see how her love of societal commentary began.

Also within this volume from Barnes & Noble’s Library of Essential Reading is A Collection of Letters, which comes with an introductory note from the author that alliteratively describes the letters wherein.  These letters are equally witty and fun and should not be missed.

This is my 13th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 9th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters by Jane Austen

Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters by Jane Austen is part of the Love and Freindship collection and is written in letters mostly between Margaret Lesley and her friend Charlotte Lutterell.  Readers will see a little bit of Emma in Charlotte as she talks about her matchmaking work and her failures at it.  In each letter, Austen uses societal norms of the time to poke fun at traditions and exaggerate the reactions of women in highly emotional situations.

“And now what provokes me more than anything else is that the Match is broke off, and all my Labour thrown away.  Imagine how great the Disappointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by Night and by Day, in order to get the Wedding dinner ready by the time appointed . . . ” (page 37)

Again, Austen shows adept understanding and mastery of the time period and traditions, turning them over and exaggerating their dramatic side.  In typical Austen style, the characters become connected in unusual and unexpected ways. Some of the best scenes involve societal gossip, and the dialogue that impugns the reputation of the Lesley women spoken by their latest stepmother.

While this story is not as over the top or outrageous as Love and Freindship, Lesley Castle shows the darker sides of friendship but also the ability of friends to be frank with one another even if it is hurtful or causes disagreement.  Austen’s early attempts at writing novels are indeed full of entertainment, and readers will instantly see why they captured her family’s attention.

This is my 12th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 8th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.