Monday, December 27, 2010

New Grandson

Last night, my husband and I became grandparents for the second time, and so I will be taking time off to enjoy my new grandson, Skyler, and to help my daughter who delivered by C-section. See you in a few days. Mary

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analysis of Sense and Sensibility

Screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff analyzes "Act I" of Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility. There is so much more in the first 45 minutes of the movie than meets the eye. It is a fascinating look at this wonderful film. Thanks to Susan Kaye at Austen Authors for finding this.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Feast of Santa Lucia - December 11 in most Nordic countries

In the 1980s, my husband and I hosted an exchange student from Sweden, and he shared the custom of the Feast of Santa Lucia with us. Basically, it is light chasing away the dark.

From Wikipedia: St. Lucy/Lucia is one of few saints celebrated by the overwhelmingly Lutheran Scandinavian peoples (Danes, Swedes, Finns and Norwegians). The St. Lucy's Day celebrations retain many indigenous Germanic pagan, pre-Christian midwinter elements, and the practices associated with the day, predates the adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia, and is like much of Scandinavian folklore, and even religiosity today, based on the annual struggle between light and darkness.

The Nordic observation of St. Lucy is first attested in the Middle Ages, and continued after the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s and 1530s, although the modern celebration is only about 200 years old. It is likely that tradition owes its popularity in the Nordic countries to the extreme change in daylight hours between the seasons in this region.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Handel and the History of the Messiah

Handel Commemoration in
Westminster Abbey
In today's post, Sharon Lathan of Austen Austhors has a post on how Handel's Messiah came to be associated with the Christmas season. Scheduling concerts to raise money for charity is older than you may think, and one of the reasons why The Messiah is perfectly suited to the giving of alms that we associate with this time of year.

From Wikipedia:  Handel's  festival or ‘Commemoration’ took place in Westminster Abbey in 1784, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of George Frideric Handel in 1759 and was organized by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The Concert of Ancient Music took the form of a series of concerts of Handel’s music, given in the Abbey by vast numbers of singers and instrumentalists.

The commemoration established a fashion for large-scale performances of Handel’s choral works throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. E.D. Mackerness in A Social History of English Music described it as "he most important single event in the history of English music."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas at New College Oxford

If you are curious about what would have been served at a Christmas dinner at Oxford College in 1773, I just so happen to have a post today on Austen Authors that will give you a pretty good idea. But here is a sampling:

We had for dinner two fine cods boiled, with fried soles round them, and oyster sauce, a fine sirloin of beef roasted, some pease soup and an orange pudding, for the first course; for the second we had a lease of wild ducks roasted, a fore-quarter of lamb, and salad, and mince pies.

Since I don't eat fish, beef, duck, or lamb, I would have pretty much have been dining on salad and dessert. I might have had a bowl of pease soup, but was it nine days old?

For this bit of history, I consulted two friends, Tony Grant and Lynn Shepherd. Thank you. Now continue on to my favorite Holiday Movies post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Americans Have Been Big Eaters at Thanksgiving for a Long Time*

Proclamation of Thanksgiving:  In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Although a proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued in 1863 by President Lincoln, it was not until December 26, 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law making the fourth Thursday of November a national day of Thanksgiving. But long before those dates, Americans had set aside a day in late November to give thanks for a multitude of blessings. The turkey and all the fixings, the visiting, and church attendance that we have come to associate with a modern Thanksgiving were already well established by the time of Federal Era in America, a time that corresponds to the Regency Era in England.

In 1834, the New Hampshire Patriot made note of the approaching holiday: A moderate rise in the price of molasses and spices—the increased demand for laces, ribbons, and dancing pumps—the hurrying of tailors, milliners, and mantua makers—frequent and important consultation of young gentlemen—whispering, flushed faces, and anxious looks among young ladies—and lastly, a string of proclamations announcing the 27th of November as a day of Thanksgiving in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont.”** Farmers harvested their pumpkins, gathered their eggs, fatted their pigs, and selected the best turkeys and chickens for slaughter, all in preparation for the biggest holiday of the year.

I recently completed a story at A Happy Assembly, Mr. Darcy in Old New York, where Mr. Darcy, Georgiana, and Mr. Bingley travel to Tarrytown in the Hudson River Valley to visit Charles Bingley’s Uncle Richard, who has been living in America for twenty-five years. Of course, Darcy falls in love with American, Elizabeth Bennet, but a lot of the history of the region, including the Thanksgiving traditions, is included. Here are three excerpts:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mining P&P Nuggets

Although I love to write Jane Austen fan fiction and novels with Austen tie-ins, I do not profess to be an Austen scholar. But because so many people out there DO know a lot about Austen and her works, I am learning something all the time. At present, I am reading the annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks. In her notes, Ms. Spacks states that when Mr. Darcy tells Bingley that "I am in no humour at present to give consequece to young ladies who are slighted by other men," there is more there than I thought. When Darcy declares that he will not give consequence to Elizabeth, what he is actually saying is that because of his rank in society, by dancing with Elizabeth, he would have elevated her status. So not only did Darcy insult Elizabeth by saying she is merely tolerable, he knowingly refused to confer status on her. No wonder she disliked him!

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated EditionThe second nugget I mined was when Mrs. Bennet was recapping the night of the assembly for her husband. "Only think of that my dear; [Mr. Bingley] actually danced with [Jane] twice, and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time." Again, according to Ms. Spacks, when "a man asked a lady to dance, he would be expected to remain her partner for two dances. If he invited her a second time, they would share two more dances," i.e., four dances. That's a nice chunk of time to spend with one partner. So Jane truly was honored by Mr. Bingley's attentions.

Stay tuned for more nuggets or share your own. Mary

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kitten Overboard

I have a post on Austen Authors today about an 18th Century kitten who fell overboard from one of those great wooden sailing ships. It's an amazing story. Better yet, it's true. And this provides me with an excuse to introduce you to the newest member of the Simonsen household, our cat, Lucy, who showed up at our house every day for a month. Her persistence paid off. I relented and now she runs the house.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What to wear to the Pemberley ball?

I can whip out a blog post in a fairly short amount of time, but yesterday I spent an hour looking for a dress to wear to the Pemberley ball. Being a woman of a certain age, I wanted to wear something elegant, but nothing that would steal the limelight away from the younger girls who had just come out. I chose the dress at left. What do you think? Did I choose well?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Come One, Come All, To the Pemberley Ball

Velvet at vv32reads is hosting her Second Annual Pemberley Ball. (Please see invitation in the sidebar.) You may know one of the surprise guests. (That's a hint.) I hope you will join Velvet starting tomorrow. Let the dancing begin.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pictures and Text to Supplement Mr. Darcy's Angel of Mercy

Hospital at Le Touquet
w/covered chandeliers in casino
Here are a few pictures that might help people visualize some of the people and places mentioned in my story. (Click on title, Mr. Darcy's Angel of Mercy, in the sidebar to read the story.)

One of the most famous of the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) of World War I was Vera Brittain, who wrote Testament of Youth. As Paul Delany wrote in Literature Criticism: When Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth was published in 1933 it struck a deep chord among those in England who felt, as she did, that their youth had been 'smashed up' by the Great War. Nearly a million men of their generation lay buried in Flanders and Gallipoli; many of those who remained felt condemned to hollow lives, haunted by loss and grief. They believed that those sacrificed had been men of special grace, the irreplaceable flower of the nation's youth; and they blamed the post-war decline of Britain on their absence. The survivors—guilty, perhaps, simply of having survived—were left to bear the burden of a disappointing and mediocre peace.

In the early days of the war, the Duchess of Westminster, who was married to the wealthiest peer in the realm, the Duke of Westminster, Bendor Grosvenor, outfitted a hospital in the casino at LeTouquet. She is pictured below with her Irish wolfhound and is surrounded by her nurses and VADs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dancing with Jane Austen

While compiling a list of songs for my sister's birthday, I found myself thinking of how each song applied to one of Jane Austen's novels or their adaptations, so I thought I would share them with you. Keep in mind my sister was listening to these songs in the fifties and sixties.*

Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love? by Dion and the Belmonts – Catherine Morland falling in love with Henry Tilney

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron - A Review

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being A Jane Austen MysteryJane and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephannie Barron is a multi-layered Regency mystery, and the sleuth is none other than Jane Austen. Following the death of Henry Austen’s wife, Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide, Jane and her brother make arrangements to visit the seaside town of Brighton. However, their plans for a quiet interlude fall by the wayside when a stop at a posting inn results in Jane and Henry rescuing a young lady, Catherine Twining, from a forced elopement with the scandal-ridden Lord Byron. When the girl’s body is discovered a few days later, a drowning victim, who is sewn into a canvas shroud and deposited in the bed of Lord Byron, the poet becomes the prime murder suspect.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shocking News: Jane Austen Needed an Editor!

Jane Austen Could not Spell - What Does This Change?

From Jane Austen apparently could not spell. The exquisite writer was not only a poor speller, but also a poor grammarian at times. Austen had a lot of help from her editor.

A recent study by Oxford University English Professor Kathryn Sutherland revealed the truth about Austen’s spelling and grammar usage. Sutherland looked at 1,100 handwritten pages from Austen. Although Austen’s brother Henry claimed that "everything came finished from her pen," it appears that that claim was not the truth.

Sutherland read several unpublished manuscripts and found that the delicate precision of spelling and grammar is missing. In fact, there are blots and general messiness throughout. Also, Austen, like many, actually ended up breaking nearly all the rules for good English writing...

Continue reading the article at NEWS ( and...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Little G, the Daughter of the Duchess of Devonshire

Castle Howard, Yorkshire
The snuff box sold at the Duke of Devonshire’s attic sale showed a picture of the most famous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, and her eldest child, Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish. (See picture in post below.) The Duchess, who was married to the 5th Duke of Devonshire, was bound to him in a loveless marriage, one in which he showed no affection for her, probably because he was showering his love on the Duchess’s dearest friend, Lady Elizabeth Forster, his mistress of 25 years, and co-resident of Chatsworth. Lady Elizabeth became the Duke’s second Duchess upon the death of Georgiana in 1806.

Duchess and Little G by Reynolds
 But what happened to Georgiana's little girl? Little G married the 6th Earl of Carlisle and took up residence at their beautiful home in Yorkshire, Castle Howard, the setting for the television series, Brideshead Revisited. The earl served in the moderate Tory government of George Canning. However, Carlisle split with the Tories over electoral reform and later served as a member of the cabinet in the Whig administration of Lord Grey. Ironically, Lord Grey had had an affair with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and together they had had a child, Eliza Courtney Ellice. Lord Grey was married to Mary Ponsonby, a descendant of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire. Are we clear on this?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Duke of Devonshire Cleans Out His Attic

Snuff Box with
Georgiana and Little G

When Peregrine Cavendish, the present Duke of Devonshire, inherited Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire, five years ago, he discovered that the attic of the manor house was stuffed to the gills with centuries of accumulated bric-a-brac. Crates of china, glass and silver, lanterns, lacquered screens, paintings, rocking horses, train sets, globes, a pram, stuffed animals and birds were among the attic’s treasures. According to His Lordship, “It was scarcely possible to open doors, let alone to store anything else.” His response was to contact Harry Dalmeny, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, and to conduct “the greatest attic sale ever held.”
Duke of Devonshire

Sotheby’s estimated that the three-day sale in early October of 20,000 items would raise £2.5m. The final total was closer to £6.5m. The 400 people in attendance competed with 1,000 more registered remote bidders. The highest price was £565,250, almost twice the top estimate, paid for a 1735 white marble fireplace designed by William Kent for Devonshire House, the family’s enormous London home that was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the Green Park tube station. The fireplace had been dismantled into 30 pieces and stored in a building once used to repair tractors.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13 - A Busy Day in History

Nero Fiddles While
Rome Burns
*54 – Nero ascends to the Roman throne – not a good thing for Rome or anyone else
Knight Templar

*409 – The Vandals cross the Pyrenees into Spain – not a good thing for civilization in general

*1307 – Hundreds of Knights Templar in France are arrested by agents of Philip the Fair. They were tortured until they confessed to heresy – not a good thing for the Templars. However, Philip the Fair enriched his coffers from the fabulous wealth of the Templars. “Fair” refers to the color of his hair not his treatment of others.

*1362 – The Chancellor of England opens Parliament with a speech in English for the first time. Prior to that, the address was made in French. In the same year a statute decreed that English was to be the official language of the courts, and English replaced French in the schools – good for the common folk who spoke only English.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Story of Old English - The Building Blocks of a Language

I love English. It has a richness and depth that is unmatched by any other language. German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 and French fewer than 100,000. Compare that to the 650,000 to 750,000 entries in an unabridged English dictionary. According to The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg, “Our everyday conversation is still founded on and funded by Old English… We can have intelligent conversations in Old English and only rarely do we need to swerve away from it. Almost all of the hundred most common words in our language, wherever it is spoken, come from Old English. There are three from Old Norse: “they,” “their” and “them,” and the first French derived word is “number” at seventy-six.” Here are the 100 most commonly used words:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Venn Diagram

I thought this Venn diagram was a riot. It appeared last week on Austen Authors, but I thought I would kick off the week with a chuckle.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

One Hundred Best First Lines

The American Book Review has posted what they consider to be the best 100 opening lines. Guess who is in the top ten? But here is my favorite:

In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point. —John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960)

Thanks to Vic at Jane Austen's World  for finding this.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fascinating Find Near Stonehenge: The Boy with the Amber Necklace

Amber Boy,
A Neolithic Robert Pattinson
A group of scientists and researchers have gathered near Stonehenge in preparation for the the publication of a collection of research papers on Stonehenge. The following is one of the subjects under discussion:

Chemical tests on teeth from an ancient burial site containing the 3,550-year-old remains of a teenage boy wearing a unique necklace unearthed near Stonehenge indicate that the person buried there grew up around the Mediterranean Sea… A previous skeleton unearthed near Stonehenge was analyzed and was found to also be a migrant to the area.

Amber Beads or
Honeynut Cheerios
  The “Boy with the Amber Necklace,”* as he is known to archaeologists, was discovered in 2005, about three miles southeast of Stonehenge on Boscombe Down. The remains were found next to a Bronze Age burial mound, during construction of a road for military housing. The boy is around 14 to 15 years old and “is buried with this beautiful necklace,” said Professor Jane Evans, head of archaeological science for the British Geological Survey. “The position of his burial, the fact he’s near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he’s of significant status.” Professor Evans compared the Stonehenge in the Bronze Age to Westminster Abbey today: a place where the “great and the good” were buried.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Austen and Gaskell

There is a lot going on out there that I think may be of interest to my readers:

Austen Authors: Author and illustrator Jane Odiwe is the spotlight today. In addition to her excellent post, in which she speaks about Austen and her books, Jane has shared several illustrations with her readers. Also, in celebration of MARILYN BRANT'S second novel, Friday Mornings at Nine, her publisher, Kensington Books, is giving away a free ebook download of her Austenesque debut novel, According to Jane. Check Austen Authors for details.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Must Reads

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated EditionVic at Jane Austen World has an interview with, Patricia Meyer Spacks, editor of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Any Austen fan would love to have this book on their shelf. Tony Grant has a post about the education of Jane Austen, also at Jane Austen World, with lots of illustrations.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elizabeth Bennet's Inbox

I know that many of you probably saw this over at Austen Authors, but I thought it was worth a rerun. This laugh is courtesy of E-mail Marketing Reports.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Star-Spangled Banner

On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, finished his poem, Defence of Fort McHenry, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

On September 3, 1814, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison to secure the exchange of prisoners. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and then-Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. During the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Key noted that the fort’s smaller storm flag continued to fly, but during the night, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised. Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Battle of Britain Day

RAF Fighter Pilots
In honor of the Battle of Britain Day, I am posting excerpts from two of Winston Churchill's speeches:

After the fall of France: "What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dorset Hall - A Refuge for Britain's Suffragettes

In an earlier post, I wrote about the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. Tony Grant, from London Calling, mentioned that the home of Rose Lamartine Yates served as a refuge for these persecuted women. Tony rode into the London Borough of Merton and took some pictures of Dorset Hall. He also provided a link to My Merton, a publication of the Merton Council, which included the following:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Austen Authors - Day 5

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
Amanda Grange, author of Mr. Darcy's Diary and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, is featured on Austens Authors today. Also Sia McKye of Thoughts Over Coffee is featuring Austen Authors as well. Hope you will visit her blog and say hello.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jane Austen and Napoleon - 1812 - Two People Who Changed the World

Jane Austen spent most of the year 1812 making extensive revisions to First Impressions, but while Jane toiled away on her manuscript, events were taking place in Russia that would change the world. However, not a word about the Napoleonic Wars would appear in her masterpiece, the renamed Pride and Prejudice.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Prince and the Author - Dedication of Emma

After finishing the post, please read the important postscript because it is, well, important.

One of Jane Austen’s most ardent supporters of her writing efforts was her brother Henry. Despite being cautioned by his sister that she did not want her identity known, Henry could not help but brag about his younger sister’s success, especially when the very popular Pride and Prejudice went into its third printing. It was Henry, from his sickbed, who successfully negotiated her agreement with John Murray, Lord Byron’s publisher, for her fourth novel, Emma. After an agreement had been secured with Murray, Jane went up to London to see if she could expedite the printing of her book. During her stay, she was contacted by Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Regent’s librarian. His Royal Highness had learned that Jane was in town from his physician who also happened to be her brother Henry’s doctor.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom from an Edwardian Nursery

I am reading An Edwardian Childhood by Jane Pettigrew. In this charmingly illustrated book, Pettigrew recounts what it was like to be a child growing up in an Edwardian Era home where there was sufficient income to hire a nanny. One of my favorite passages was "Nursery Philosophy," that included favorite sayings of Nanny, some of which have been around for hundreds of years: "Save your breath to cool your porridge," which appears in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or "Eating toast crusts makes your hair curl, so eat them up," a wisdom shared when I was growing up. (It'd didn't work.) Here are a few others:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

I love witty quotes, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a noted wit during his lifetime.

Before Noel Coward, there was Sheridan, poet and playwright, who wrote the brilliant comedy of manners, The School for Scandal, which was performed at the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane, during Jane Austen’s lifetime. She most assuredly would have been acquainted with the play as we know that she had read The Critic.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) was born in Ireland and was the owner of Drury Lane. On February 24, 1809, the theatre burned down. He observed the conflagration while drinking a glass of wine, and Sheridan was famously reported to have said: “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.” This  man, who had once served as Treasurer of the Navy, was a notorious spendthrift and refused to satisfy his creditors on the grounds that “paying only encourages them.” For thirty-two years he was also a Whig member of the House of Commons and friend to Charles James Fox and the Duchess of Devonshire. He is buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mrs. Bennet's First Name

What is Mrs. Bennet's first name? According to someone at Yahoo Answers, it is Blossom, which the respondent says Mr. Bennet used quite a bit. Who knew? LOL

P.S. Someone on just informed me that Mr. Bennet calls Mrs. Bennet "Blossom" in the 2005 movie. I'll have to rewatch it now.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary EditionThis year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of the great novels of American literature. The story centers on the defense of a black man in Depression-era Alabama, who is accused of raping a white woman. A local lawyer, Atticus Finch, agrees to defend Tom Robinsion even though he knows that an acquittal is virtually impossible in the South of the 1930s. When asked by a neighbor why he is doing something that will only anger the town, he states: “[Even though] you’re licked before you begin, you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.” It is simply a matter of a decent man doing the right thing.

The heart of the story belongs to Atticus's six-year old daughter, Scout, her older brother Jem, and a visitor, Dill (based on Harper Lee’s friend, Truman Capote). Although they are merely children, they sense that a great injustice is about to descend on the head of Tom Robinson, whose only crime is that he is black. Forbidden by their father to attend the trial, they sit in the “colored gallery” in the courtroom and watch as Atticus destroys the case against Robinson.

Foreshadowing the tragedy that will soon unfold, when his children receive air rifles for Christmas, Atticus tells them that they can “shoot all the blue jays they want,” but they must remember that “it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”  As a neighbor explains, “They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” To Kill a Mockingbird is not a story about justice, because there is none, but individual courage and the death of innocence.

This is Harper Lee's one and only novel, but when you write a masterpiece your first time out, it is enough.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Emily Brontë and Claudette Colbert

On this day in 1818, English novelist, Emily Brontë, was born in Thornton, near Bradford in Yorkshire, to Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell. From Wikipedia: "She was the younger sister of Charlotte Brontë and the fifth of six children. In 1824, the family moved to Haworth, where Emily's father was perpetual curate, and it was in these surroundings that their literary oddities flourished. In 1847, she published her only novel, Wuthering Heights, as two volumes of a three volume set (the last volume being Agnes Grey by her sister Anne). Although it received mixed reviews when it first came out, the book subsequently became an English literary classic. In 1850, Charlotte edited and published Wuthering Heights as a stand-alone novel and under Emily's real name.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, a Book Review

Tea with Jane AustenCome, come, Miss Prissy, make it up,
And we will lovers be,
And we will go to Bagnigge Wells,
And there will have some tea;
It’s there you’ll see the lady-birds
Upon the stinging nettles,
And there you’ll see the waiters, ma’am,
With all their shining kettles.

“The Prentice to His Mistress” - 18th Century Song

Tea with Jane Austen is a charming book, a lovingly told tale, of the importance of tea in the life of those who lived in the Regency Era. It is all here: How to make tea, tea and toast for breakfast (the usual breakfast fare for all but the wealthiest households), seeping the tea leaves, tea caddies and miscellaneous utensils, shopping for tea sets, and the different types of teas. In Austen’s time, tea was a valuable commodity that was kept under lock and key. In the Austen household, Jane was the keeper of the keys to the tea chest.

But, for me, the most interesting part of the book was Jane’s excursions into London to buy the best tea from Twinings warehouse. “[Jane] would have walked through a doorway that looked virtually the same as it does today... Once inside, she would have been greeted with the aromatic scent of many different sorts of teas… [S]he would probably have smelled the tea to judge its fragrance and character before she bought it.”

This was the most expensive way of buying tea, but there was a reason for buying the best. Tea was regularly adulterated with things you don’t want to think about. Dregs were sold out the back door by kitchen maids. After being dried, they were mixed with “leaves, twigs, and sometimes floor sweepings.” That’s if you were lucky. “The dyes used on adulterated tea were often quite poisonous.”

Although the afternoon tea we associate with the British belongs to the Victorian Era, there were rituals aplenty in the Regency Era, and this book shows how important tea was to Jane Austen and her contemporaries. Five stars.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners

Josephine Ross's  Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners, Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (with illustrations by Henrietta Webb) is a little book, duplicating the size of Austen’s original volumes. (Pride and Prejudice was published in three volumes.) It fits perfectly in my delicate feminine hands. The book is chock full of rules that kept everyone on the straight and narrow (at least for the middle and upper classes). For example, all ladies and gentlemen should carry calling cards, and once you visited with someone, you could not call again until the visit had been returned. This might leave someone twiddling their thumbs for a very long while if the visited party chose not to come a-calling.

Of course, the rules for young people were quite exacting, and if a lady was able to secure the affection of a gentleman, there was a whole other set of rules to observe, most especially, avoiding open shows of affection. Kissing, at any time, was out of the question. And so it went through marriage, child rearing, maturity, and death.

Occasionally, the author includes an interesting tidbit, such as “Manners Makyth Man is, of course, the famous motto of Winchester College, where the Authoress’s much-loved nephews were pupils; and it is no coincidence that… she gave the name of Winchester’s revered headmaster, Dr. Goddard, to the fictional proprietress of the modest little ladies school in Emma.” But mostly, it is a recitation of those rules that governed the lives of Jane Austen and her contemporaries.

Since we live in a time where just about anything goes, it might appear that people living in the Regency Era walked around in a cultural minefield. On the other hand, think how thrilling it would be for a young girl, new to society, to learn that a gentleman had approached a master of ceremonies at a dance for the purpose of seeking an introduction. It could almost make you swoon. Ladies, get out your fans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She Done Him In - 1793

Today is the day in 1793 that Royalist supporter, Charlotte Corday, stabbed French Revolutionary, Jean Paul Marat, a supporter of Robespierre, to death. Because he suffered from a skin disease, Marat often spent hours in his bath, and it was there that he met his death. Corday did not try to escape and was sent to the guillotine four days later.

The painter, Jacques Louis David, was a disciple of the Revolution. He had visited Marat the day before his assassination and was able to recreate the scene of the crime.  However, he depicted an idealized version of Marat, free of all evidence of his skin disease.

With Robespierre's overthrow and execution in July 1794, David fell out of favor and went into exile in Belgium. Fortune signed on him once again with the rise of Napoleon.

David's death: "When David was leaving a theater, a carriage struck him, and he later died, on 29 December 1825. At his death, some portraits were auctioned in Paris, they sold for little; the famous Death of Marat was exhibited in a secluded room, to avoid outraging public sensibilities. Considered a regicide of King Louis XVI, the body of the painter was buried at Evere Cemetery, Brussels, while his heart was buried at Père Lachaise, Paris.

"In one of history's great coincidences, David's close association with the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror resulted in his signing of the death warrant for Alexandre de Beauharnais, a minor noble. De Beauharnais's widow, Rose-Marie Josèphe de Tascher de Beauharnais would later be known to the world as Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of the French. It was her coronation by her husband, Napoleon I, that David depicted so memorably in the Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, 2 December 1804." Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marie Therese, Marie Antoinette's Daughter, Jane Austen's Contemporary

Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's DaughterMarie Therese (1778-1851) is the story of the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France. Because of their tragic end on the guillotine, the royal couple is a favorite of biographers and historical novelists, and the first third of the book recounts the circumstances that led to their execution, the difference being that, in Marie Therese, we are looking at these events through the eyes of a young girl. The downward spiral that began with the storming of the Bastille and led to the Reign of Terror started when Marie Therese was only 11 years old. While at Versailles, "Madame Royal" was forced to hide from armed mobs screaming for her mother's blood and to step over the butchered bodies of servants.

Three years later, the king, queen, Marie Therese, and her brother, the Dauphin, Louis-Charles, are incarcerated in the Temple Prison in Paris, and the horrors begin: the execution of her parents, the prolonged torture of her little brother who would die of neglect, and her own imprisonment. When she is finally released 3-1/2 years later, she is allowed to join her mother's brother, Emperor Franz II, in Austria. However, "The Orphan of the Tower" is now a young woman of steely resolve and one who recognizes the importance of her role as a representative of the Bourbon dynasty in exile.

In the years following her release from prison, Marie Therese and her husband, the Duc D’Angouleme, lived a peripatetic existence, finally ending up in England, where they watched the events unfolding in France. With Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the Bourbon dynasty was again restored. For the next 15 years, France would be Marie Therese's home until, once again, the French wanted to be rid of their king, Charles X.

Marie Therese is an exhaustive, highly detailed account of the life of Madame Royal, the French Revolution, and the complexities of European politics in the early 19th century. In addition to the great events in the lives of the royals, minutiae, such as travel itineraries, meals, the appearances of numerous pretenders to the throne, are recorded. At times, the inclusion of so many mundane details bogs down the book, but for anyone who ever wanted to know what happened to the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, they will have to wonder no longer.

* * *

After exile in Vienna, Marie Therese and her husband moved to Great Britain in 1809 where she settled at Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire. Marie Therese's  father-in-law, the Comte d'Artois, spent most of his time in Edinburgh, where he had been given apartments at Holyrood House.

The long years of exile ended with the Napoleon's abdication  in 1814 and the restoration of Bourbon dynasty. The ascension of  Louis XVIII  to the throne of France took place twenty-one years after the death of his brother, Louis XVI.