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.

Love & Freindship by Jane Austen

Love and Freindship by Jane Austen is among her earliest stories written for her family’s entertainment, and she’s said to have written it sometime between ages 14 and 17.  Yes, it is complete with misspellings in the title and throughout the short story, which unfolds in letters mostly from Laura to Marianne.  Laura tells a tale of misfortune and love to an apparently young and impressionable Marianne, her friend Isabel’s daughter.

The story begins with a plea from Isabel to Laura to discuss her misfortunes with Marianne, perhaps as a way to warn Isabel’s daughter away from similar hassles and heartache.  It is clear that Laura and Isabel’s relationship has been long given the frankness of the letters, which in some instances clearly illustrate flaws they find in one another.  In a letter from Isabel to Laura, “Surely that time is now at hand.  You are this day fifty-five.  If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers, surely it must be at such a time of Life.”  (page 3)

Much of this story is comical in that Laura is always fainting with her friend Sophia or she is running around madly because of one misfortune or other.  Otherwise, there are chance meetings with unknown and lost relatives that send Laura into dramatic action.

“She was all sensibility and Feeling.  We flew into each others arms and after having exchanged vows of mutual Freindship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each other the most inward secrets of our Hearts–.”  (page 11)

Love and Freindship shows some signs of the writer Austen became, but it also showcases her novice writing skills.  Entertaining as this short story is, readers may find it too short to fully grasp the depth of these characters.  Marianne and Isabel are merely on the periphery and their characters are only seen through Laura’s eyes, who has her own biases.  Laura’s explanation of her marriage and other events often includes highly dramatic, even soap opera-ish, description and commentary.

This is my 11th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 7th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

Everything Austen Challenge Is Back

Stephanie’s Written Word has resurrected the Everything Austen Challenge for another go around.  The challenge runs from July 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011.  Check out last year’s list of Austen reads.

All you have to do to join is pick 6 Austen-themed things, which can be books, movies, crafts, etc.

I know what you are saying; I’ve already signed up to do the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.  Check out my selections for that challenge.  I haven’t finished it yet, but I have time (until Dec. 31) and books from Everything Austen can count for the other challenge.  Is that enough incentive?  For me, it is.

Here’s my list of books for this challenge, though it is subject to change due to my mood:

1.  To Conquer Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

2.  Emma and the Vampires by Wayne Josephson

3.  Persuasion by Jane Austen

4.  Love & Friendship by Jane Austen

5.  Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson

6.  Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters is another mash-up of classic fiction and fantasy.  The basic story is the same as the Marianne and Elinor deal with abject poverty, searching for love and affection, and relatives who are less than pleasant, while at the same time navigating their sisterly relationship. The twist is that sea monsters have taken control of the water and attack humans daring to cross the sea or live below it in Sub-Station Beta.

“Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, suffered from a cruel affliction, the likes of which the Dashwood sisters had heard of, but never seen firsthand.  He bore a set of long, squishy tentacles protruding grotesquely from his face, writhing this way and that, like hideous living facial hair of slime green.”  (Page 37)

Readers will either enjoy reading a mash-up of Jane Austen’s work with its fantastical and historically inaccurate elements (i.e. the existence of wet suits, submarines, and underwater domes where people live and work) or they will throw the book aside as ridiculous.  The trouble with these genre benders is that they often polarize readers in one camp or another.  Unlike Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which merely inserts new sentences to achieve the goal of making the Bennets zombie slayers, Winters creates a story nearly all his own, but using Austen’s Dashwood sisters.

“‘It is impossible that she did not know,’ Sir John answered, ‘For a sister to a sea witch is certain to be a sea witch herself.’  . . .  ‘As I said, the witches take the physical form of human women,’ explained Sir John.  ‘There is nothing they can do about their personalities.'”  (Page 320)

By remaking Austen’s world and threatening the characters in it with deranged sea monsters, Winters takes a number of liberties with the text, although he does maintain Austen’s style for the most part.  However, unlike Grahame-Smith’s mash-up where readers discover how the Bennets became skillful zombie slayers, the mysterious Sub-Station Beta and its “experiments” are not revealed or even hinted at for most of the book.  This flaw can make it difficult for readers to continue reading this adventure because so much is unknown and the readers are scrambling in the dark as characters run from monsters, play games, chat while being attacked by monsters, bring up mysterious smoking mountains and five-pointed stars, and generally seem to shrug off the danger.

Overall, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters resembles the dangers of other sea-faring novels — even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — and mixes it with ramped up social commentary a la Jane Austen.  The latter half of the novel is the most action packed and is almost hurried along.  But by the end, readers get swept up in adventure, myth, and outrageous challenges and have nothing to do but enjoy the ride. 

To Enter to win 1 copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith and 1 copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters:  (This giveaway is global)

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what Austen novel mash-up you want to see next.
2.  Leave a comment on my review of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies.
3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. and leave a comment with a link on this post.

Deadline is Feb. 19, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

About the Author:

Ben Allen H. Winters is a writer who lives in Brooklyn with all the other writers.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from the FSB Associates and the publisher for review.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 Jane Austen Challenge.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

“Sadly, this action prevented her from saving the second musket man, who had been pulled from his perch.  He screamed as the dreadfuls held him down and began to tear organs from his living belly and feast upon them.”  (Page 117)

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, and a zombie conflict.  Grahame-Smith effectively weaves in the zombie attacks and how the Bennet clan dispatches them with skill.  A majority of this novel is Austen’s words, but the dialogue and descriptions that are modified to accommodate zombies are done with aplomb.

“‘My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding, particularly in the slaying of Satan’s armies, but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy.  After all you may wield God’s sword, but I wield His wisdom.  And it is wisdom, dear cousin, which will ultimately rid us of our present difficulties with the undead.'” (Page 77)

Fun and entertaining on a base level, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an exercise in revision and an examination of Austen’s characters in a new light.  Many readers will disagree with Grahame-Smith’s portrayal of Lizzy as a cutthroat assassin who is quickly turned by her own emotions or strict sense of duty and honor, particularly since she often talks of dispatching her peers for slighting her family, imagines beheading her own sister Lydia simply because she prattles on, and other unmentionable actions.

“‘Jane, no one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection.  Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot.  She may not be a warrior, but she has cunning enough.  Dearest sister, I implore you — this unhappiness is best remedied by the hasty application of a cutlass to her throat.'”  (Page 95)

However, one of the most perceptive and playfully done sequences in the novel is the sparring match between Mr. Darcy and Lizzy.  Some readers could find this sequence too forceful, but others may view the physical combat between the characters as just a manifestation of their verbal tete-a-tete in the original novel.  The elements of zombies and ninjas provide additional circumstances that further delineate the class differences Austen sought to examine in her novels, enabling readers to further investigate the social conventions and prejudices inherent in this society.

There are other instances, however, in which these revised scenes do not work as well, and many of the social conventions of the time are overlooked in favor of ensuring the Bennet sisters, who are of little means, were shipped to the Orient for training in the deadly arts — even if it was with the inferior Chinese Shaolin monks –and were prepared for combat, which is inevitable in a nation nearly overrun by the undead.  In Austen’s novel, it would be unconventional for Lizzy to converse so openly with Wickham about Darcy, and it would be outside convention for Darcy to write her a letter to explain himself.  Here, convention is defied even more so in that the Bennet women are trained to kill — even if it is only zombies — and Lizzy openly displays her talents and shuns marriage.

Austen purists will NOT enjoy this novel unless they loosen their reverence for the author’s work.  Overall, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a creative revision with an edge that modern readers may enjoy for its drama and action-packed zombie slayings.  There is a lot more to this rendition than simple entertainment.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge, though should I consider it a new author if a majority of the book is written by Jane Austen, who is an old favorite.

This is my 2nd book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010!

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from FSB Associates for review.  Clicking on titles or images can bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated. 

Classic Love Affair and Commentary on Society

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen is more than a romantic love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, it is also a commentary on the society of the times. It pokes fun at how mothers and fathers “conspired” to marry off their daughters to men for wealth, rather than, dare we call it, affection.

***Spoiler Alert (though everyone should have read this classic by now)**

Elizabeth Bennett may be the heroine of this novel, but her sister Jane, the county beauty, takes center stage as the newest member of the community comes to town–Mr. Bingley. Her mother is immediately set on marrying her daughter to him regardless of his looks or affections for Jane, simply because he is wealthy. Through several machinations, including sending her daughter on horseback to visit Bingley’s sisters in the rain, her mother pushes the two together. Luckily, Jane and Bingley really do enjoy one another’s company. However, several things come into play to separate the lovebirds, which aggrieves her sister Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy who is berated and belittled by Mrs. Bennett and Elizabeth on several occasions appears to feel some affection for her in his glances and approaches to Elizabeth, but after being basically called common and not beautiful enough to tempt Darcy to dance, the battlefield between the two is set. And yes, I do mean a battlefield of wits. The interchanges between them and Bingley’s sister Caroline are hilarious and witty.

I want to comment on how this novel not only brings to light the ridiculous tradition of marrying one’s daughter for money and higher societal standing through dialogue and interactions between the wealthiest characters and the most lowly, but it also is a romance between Elizabeth and Darcy. How could a woman so uncivil to a man’s proposal of marriage against all societal predispositions still maintain his affection? How could he see fit to propose to her against society’s wishes when he is a man of position? I can tell you the answer to both of those questions: Pride. They are both proud of themselves and their demeanor and to have anyone think less of them is unthinkable. It spurs them onward to prove the other wrong in every sense of the word, but in the end, these characters realize they are just like one another and no one else would bear their behavior. They are in love with themselves and one another in spite of themselves. They are attracted to one another by circumstance, whether created by themselves or others, and are attracted to one another because of their mutual admiration for the other’s mind and behavior that contradicts society’s wishes and protocols. No one wishes to believe they have faults, but when one finds happiness it is usually with the one person who can tolerate those faults and love that person in spite of them.

***End Spoiler Alert***

What I love best about Austen is her heroines, written during a time when women were submissive and thought of little as little more than property. The heroines strive within the confines of their place in society to set wrongs right and to voice their opinion with a modicum of decorum. It is not like today’s society where women are so liberated that they use poor language to express themselves, much like proverbial truck drivers. While I enjoy such freedoms, I would love to see another writer in today’s society take on such societal norms and pinpoint their follies as well.

Austen is a woman to be admired even though her body of work is small compared to many males in the current literary cannon. I only wish that a small portion of my writing will garner this much attention after I have left this world. Though I guess I better spend more time writing and less time reading, but that is the rub here. I love both passionately.

This Book Also Was Reviewed Here:

The Bookworm