Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Movies and Jane Austen

While watching Love Actually, it looked very much like a reunion of actors who have appeared in Jane Austen adaptations: Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I really enjoyed most of this movie. (I could skip the creep who goes to Wisconsin to find hot women and the porn couple.) But there's so much good chemistry in this film that it has now become a holiday favorite. Another new favorite is The Holiday with Kate Winslet (Sense and Sensibility) and Jude Law. If you include period pieces in my JA/classic connection, I can mention Rufus Sewell, who plays a cad in this movie and Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch (another favorite). Happy Holidays!

I know you are dying to know what my favorite movie is: While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Newark Star Ledger, Mr. Darcy's Bite and Me

When I was growing up in North Jersey, ten miles off the George Washington Bridge, I was surrounded by newspapers. Every morning, my father bought two newspapers: The New York Times (he loved the puzzles and the brain food) and The Daily News (he followed the races at Monmouth and Aqueduct Racetracks). On the way home from school, I picked up The New York World Telegraph for an invalid spinster who lived in our apartment complex. There was also the Journal American, The Post, Herald Tribune, The Sun, and various ethnic newspapers as well.

My mom worked the night shift at a bank, and when she got home from work around midnight, she would read The Paterson Evening News—every darn article in the paper—even though she had to get up at 6:00 in the morning to get her six kids off to school.

At that time, New Jersey had “the blue laws,” that is, no stores were allowed to be open on the Sabbath. For Christians, that was Sunday; for Jews, it was Saturday, which meant that the only store open on Sunday was the Jewish candy store. That was where, every Sunday after Mass, we bought The Newark Star Ledger. Before we had a car, we had to carry this ten-pound paper home. As soon as we got in the door, the paper would be dismembered as everyone went for their favorite section. (Mine was the Parade insert.) The Star Ledger was a part of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. So you can imagine how pleased I was when Mr. Darcy’s Bite was reviewed by The Ledger. Without further ado, here is the review:

This book is written with enough originality, whimsy and respect for Jane Austen’s style to make it stand out in the crowded field of Austen genre mash-ups. Simonsen revisits Darcy and Elizabeth’s tempestuous courtship and provides an explanation for Darcy’s erratic behavior: He’s a werewolf. Bitten on a childhood sojourn in Europe, Darcy has guarded his secret: He transforms at the full moon.

Because Simonsen carefully imagines how a werewolf nobleman would adapt to society and how that would play out with Austen’s characters, the story works as earnest rather than camp. After Darcy reveals his nature to Elizabeth, she must decide whether she still loves him. Simonsen’s characterizations are faithful to Austen, but engagingly playful with the possibilities of a werewolf double-life. His werewolf nature connects Darcy to the passions of the natural world, letting Simonsen ratchet up the couple’s romance. The classic love story between Elizabeth and Darcy holds firm, even if things do get a little hairy once a month.

I have not lived in New Jersey since 1977, but I have fond memories of The Garden State. So this review is something of a homecoming for me, and I’m pleased as punch that a fellow Jerseyite liked my story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Publishing...

UK Cover of Mr. Darcy's Bite
A funny thing happened on the way to publishing Becoming Elizabeth Darcy. If you remember when Mr. Darcy's Bite launched in October, it had a very rough start. The printer inserted about a dozen pages of someone else's book at the end of mine. That took about ten days to clear up. Two weeks ago, someone placed the UK version of my book (which has a different cover)  for sale on Amazon US, and for reasons known only to Amazon, that cover knocked the US version off the main page, making Mr. Darcy's Bite available only to "these sellers," none of whom happened to be my publisher, Sourcebooks. It took about eight days to work that out as well. Because I was not the publisher, there was nothing I could do except to wait. One of  the advantages of self-publishing is that you can jump right in and fix things.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving - An Excerpt from Darcy on the Hudson

Thanksgiving is such a quintessential American holiday that it was prominently featured in my novel, Darcy on the Hudson. Here is an excerpt from the story that shows a typical Thanksgiving in early 19th Century New York:
Before sunrise, Mrs. Bennet was in the kitchen seeing to the last minute details for today was Thanksgiving Day. After she was satisfied that everything was ready, she went upstairs to join the others who were waiting to leave for worship service. This was to be Mr. Collins’s first—and last—Thanksgiving Day in America, and he was aware of the importance placed on the holiday by his parishioners. Charlotte had shared with Lizzy that he had spent a good part of the previous week writing his sermon, and she thought it would be the best he had ever delivered. Lizzy, in Christian charity, refrained from making comment about the quality of Mr. Collins’s sermons as she had grown rather fond of the preacher. She especially liked how he often deferred to his wife when his thoughts were muddled, which was often the case.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Final Report from AGM on Sense and Sensibility

One of the plenary speakers for the JASNA Annual General Meeting was Joan Ray. Joan is a professor of English and President’s Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, but you probably know her as the author of Jane Austen for Dummies. Joan is a walking encyclopedia of Austen and her works. If you cut her, she would bleed Austen—not the Austen of Masterpiece Theater or feature-length films—but the writer of six novels. Here is what Joan wrote in the 200th Anniversary Guide to the JASNA AGM:

For many readers, Sense and Sensibility is Austen’s most problematic novel; they note, for example, that Edward Ferrars, the hero, is a liar and that Colonel Brandon’s (whom some scholars even deem “elderly”: he’s 36!) marrying Marianne turns her into a Regency trophy wife.

There is a difference between the novel and its adaptations. To begin with, Hollywood (a generic term for movie makers) has decided that Elinor, our heroine, is taller and fairer than her immature sister, Marianne. That is exactly opposite of what Austen had written. Because of Hollywood, we think of Col. Brandon as being something of a stick in the mud, not a good match at all for the more exuberant Marianne Dashwood. But according to Joan Ray, this too is wrong. Col. Brandon, he of the flannel waistcoat, is “merrier” than Marianne and capable of strong emotions. After all, he had enough spunk to fight a duel! Again, according to Ray, it is not that the colonel is misunderstood, but merely under read. It is Ray’s contention that Col. Brandon is perfect for Marianne, but in order to know that, we must read the novel. After listening to her presentation, I came away convinced that Marianne will be happy with the colonel, something the film and television adaptations had failed to do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Andrew Davies at the JASNA AGM – Part II

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the highlight of the JASNA AGM was listening to screenwriter Andrew Davies. The man has a natural wit, and all his stories were thoroughly enjoyable. However, he saved his funniest comments for Emma.

Davies mentioned that Austen’s novel has a young Mr. Knightley enjoying his visits to Highbury. “Why?” Davies asked. “For the sterling companionship of Mr. Woodhouse? Of course not, he was a young man, and because Emma would have been toddling about in her nappies, it couldn’t have been because of Emma. Therefore, it is obvious that George Knightley had a crush on Mrs. Woodhouse, which makes sense because, obviously, Emma did not get her personality from her father.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Andrew Davies at the AGM

One of the highlights of the JASNA Annual General Meeting in Fort Worth was listening to Andrew Davies talk about his screenplays, the most famous of which is the 1995 A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. This production was also Davies’s favorite, and he talked about how he did not want to open the drama with the usual “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Instead, he showed Bingley and Darcy riding full out with Elizabeth admiring them from a hilltop perch. He also talked about Colin Firth’s tortured portrayal of Darcy composing his letter to Elizabeth in which he explained his motives for making his obnoxious proposal. At the start of the scene, Darcy is wearing about three layers of clothes. By the end, he’s nearly down to his underwear.

With the theme of the AGM being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, Davies talked about the 2008 S&S production with Hattie Morahan and Dan Stevens. Like most readers of S&S, Davies understood that Austen’s first published novels has lots of problems, including how to get readers/viewers to like our hero, Edward Ferrars. There’s not much to admire in his behavior, and although his presence is “felt” throughout the story, we actually see very little of him. The screenwriter’s task was to make Edward “likeable” as Emma Thompson had done in her S&S screenplay with the sword-fighting scene between Edward and Margaret. Davies also used Margaret as a way to achieve his end in the scene where Edward (Dan Stevens) takes Margaret for a ride on his horse.

After softening Edward up, the producers thought that Ferrars wasn’t “butch” enough for a modern audience, and so Davies wrote the log-chopping scene (something he had always wanted to do) with Edward wielding an axe in the rain while Elinor Dashwood admires his obvious masculine skills and very wet shirt.

Davies was an absolutely delightful speaker, but his funniest comments were reserved for Emma. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Update on Mr. Darcy's Bite

The e-book of Mr. Darcy's Bite is fine. There never was a problem with it. This was a printing mistake, and Sourcebooks is checking their inventory to see if more than one box of 20 books was affected. They are really doing a thorough check which is best for everyone. I will let you know as soon as I find out anything. Thank you for your patience. Mary

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two Inches of Ivory - Miniature Portrait Painting in the Regency Era

National Portrait Gallery
The following is a combination of two articles Tony Grant wrote on his blog, London Calling, about painting on ivory. He has kindly agreed to share them with my readers.

This particular drawing of Jane Austen was done on paper, but it serves a similar purpose to those done on ivory that Jane references:

Jane wrote to her nephew, James Edward Austen, on 16 December 1816. She congratulated him on leaving Winchester College and commiserated with him about his time there. Jane writes to him in terms as an equal in novel writing.

“Uncle Henry writes very superior sermons. You and I must try and get hold of one or two and put them into our novels.”

Then she explains the difference between their writing: Uncle Henry's is “strong, manly, spirited-- Sketches full of Variety and Glow.” Hers is comparable to a “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Ivory Tusk

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How My Grandson Got His Name

Today I am the featured blogger on Austen Authors. I am writing about my grandson, Skyler, and how he got his name. I hope you will click on the link and find out. To entice you, I'm posting pictures of the little dear. He's now crawling all over the place, pulling himself up on my couch, pulling down my tablecloth, pushing over my potted plant, teething on my coffee table, and locating every electric cord in the house. But how can you complain when the little guy is so obviously adorable?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Balloon Tragedy - Part 3 of Balloonamania

de Rozier
The first balloon crossing of the English Channel was met with cheers from enthusiastic bystanders. Unfortunately, Blanchard and Jeffries's success was followed by a horrible tragedy.

On June 15, 1785, Pilatre de Rozier attempted to fly across the Channel in the opposite direction, from Boulogne to Dover, possibly to prove that England could be invaded from the air.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mrs. Sage and Balloonist Lunardi - Part 2 of Balloonamania

After Blanchard and Jeffries’ first successful cross-channel balloon flight, there was Mrs. Sage, an actress famed for her full figure, who became the “first aerial female” in June 1785.

“The launch was made from Hyde Park and was attended by a huge and raucous crowd. Mrs. Sage, in a low-cut silk dress presumably designed to reduce wind resistance, was to be accompanied by Vincent Lunardi [a famed balloonist]… In his haste to depart, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola’s door. As the balloon sailed away over Piccadilly, the crowd was treated to the provoking sight of the beautiful Mrs. Sage on all fours in the open entrance of the gondola. The crowd assumed that she had fainted and was perhaps receiving some kind of intimate first aid from Mr. Biggin. In fact she was coolly re-threading the lacings to make the gondola safe again… In due course the two of them were lunching peacefully off sparkling Italian wine and cold chicken, occasionally calling to people below through a speaking trumpet.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First Balloon Crossing of the English Channel - Part 1 of Balloonamania

On January 7, 1785, the first cross-channel crossing by balloon took place between England and France. The balloon carried Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American physician, Dr. John Jeffries, who had served as a military surgeon on the British side in the American Revolution.

On that winter’s morning, the two aeronauts (a newly coined term for the balloon age) lifted off from the top of Dover cliff to attempt the first ever Channel crossing. As they began to drift toward Calais, they steadily lost height over the water. “By two-thirds of the way across they had progressively jettisoned all the sand ballast, all their food, and most of their technical equipment, except the precious barometer and one bottle of brandy. But the balloon continued to drop, until it was well below the level of the approaching cliffs of the Pas de Calais. They now began to perform an aerial striptease.”*

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Black Tower - A Book Review

The Black Tower
I love a good historical mystery, especially if the author has successfully recreated the era in which the story takes place. The Black Tower by Louis Bayard is just such a book . Dr. Hector Carpentier is drawn into a web of intrigue when his address is found on a note in the pocket of a murder victim. Carpentier doesn’t know Henri LeClerc—yet. But when Paris detective Vidocq shows up at his door, he is about to find out who the deceased is. Vidocq is the master of disguise, and he needs every one if he is to find out if Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, survived the abuse and neglect of his guards in the Temple’s Black Tower during the French Revolution. Because if he did, he is France's rightful king.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Great Review for Diary of an Eccentric for A Wife for Mr. Darcy & Blog Stop & Giveaway

I am so pleased with the review that I received from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric. That's me jumping over the Grand Canvyon after reading my review.

Here is a part of Anna's review:

A Wife for Mr. Darcy was so engrossing that I truly feared for the happiness of Darcy and Elizabeth, and I was so wrapped up in the whole mess with Miss Montford that I didn’t even miss all the chaos associated with Lady Catherine, who did not make an appearance. Simonsen does a wonderful job making Austen’s characters her own, and the addition of her original characters make for a richer read. I can’t wait to see where she takes the Darcys, the Bingleys, and the Bennets next.

Please click here for the complete review. I am also scheduled for a blog stop at Diary of An Eccentric today where Anna is hosting a giveaway that ends on August 7.

Monday, July 11, 2011

4.5 Star Review at Austenesque Reviews - A Wife for Mr. Darcy

I have received a 4.5 star review at Austenesque Reviews for A Wife for Mr. Darcy. Here is a snippet:

[In A Wife for Mr. Darcy], Darcy and Elizabeth receive some much needed assistance from the schemes and manipulations of Darcy's meddling and well-meaning relatives. Through these characters and their clever machinations, Ms. Simonsen's penchant for humor and satire really shine... If  you are the mood to read about Darcy being embroiled in a love triangle, Bingley and Jane combating some unmanageable little hellions, and the profligate Lord Fitzwilliam constantly causing mayhem and aggravation, A Wife for Mr. Darcy is the novel for you! Hilarious, absorbing, and unique - A Wife for Mr. Darcy, is my new favorite Mary Simonsen novel! I highly recommend!

For Meredith's full review, please click here.

Also, don't forget to enter the giveaway of A Wife for Mr. Darcy at Austen Authors. Deadline is June 12. Winner will be announced on June 13.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review for A Wife for Mr. Darcy from Austenprose

A Wife for Mr. Darcy
Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder of Reflections of a Book Addict

Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of Searching for Pemberley and The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, is back with yet another opportunity for us to wander down that “what if” path with our favorite Pride and Prejudice characters: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  This time, our variation begs the question: what if, after Mr. Darcy made that terrible “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me” comment, he goes to apologize to Elizabeth and beg her forgiveness instead of never addressing it?  We find out in A Wife for Mr. Darcy, Simonsen’s third P&P fan fiction novel...
Simonsen is a master at getting her readers to feel the emotions that her characters are feeling.  For most of the book, I felt the angst that Darcy was feeling when trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.  I felt Elizabeth’s depression, as she realized she loved Darcy, and also realized that he could never marry her due to her low social standing and lack of wealth.  Simonsen’s descriptive prose flows from page to page, as you become engulfed in the emotions of her storytelling.  It’s a fantastic reading experience, one I get from reading every one of book of hers...
 I think if Austen were able to read Simonsen’s work, she would definitely approve of the new directions that her beloved characters are taking.  While Austen purists might not enjoy the new plot, I think even they would be satisfied with the characterizations of the characters.
You’re definitely going to want to add this emotional rollercoaster of a book to your “to read” pile.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
To read all of Kimberly's review, please click here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July - The View of a British Lady

The following excerpt is taken from Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans. Frances, the mother of novelist Anthony Trollope, lived in the United States for three years, chiefly in Cincinnati. Her book created a storm on this side of the Atlantic as Americans felt they were portrayed as ill-mannered boors, but it laid the foundation for her career.

And now arrived the 4th of July, that greatest of all American festivals. On the 4th of July, 1776, the declaration of their independence was signed at the Statehouse in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
I love English. I love grammar. Even when I get it wrong (dangle a particple, don't use an antecedent, run-on sentence), I love learning about the nuts and bolts of English. If you attended a Catholic school in the 1950s and '60s as I did, then you know how to diagram a sentence, that is, breaking a sentence down into its component parts so that you know how a sentence goes together. It was boring, but necessary, and it has served me well.

I am a sucker for buying books about the English language. As a result, I know about the great vowel shift and inkhorn terms and Chancery English, and so when I saw Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, and Leaves at a used bookstore, I bought it.

Publishing a book on grammar takes guts. Inevitably, you will have thousands of people poring over your every sentence looking for mistakes and posting reviews on Amazon, and in this book, it doesn't take long to find them. We all make mistakes, but the author's overuse of the semicolon borders on abuse. A similar complaint can be made for her use of the colon. Even her use of commas is questionable.

In short, this book should not be used as a grammar guide, especially if you are an American. (Truss is British.) British and American grammar differ, particularly in the use of quotation marks. Another quibble: One half of this small book is devoted to the misuse of an apostrophe. This is a legitimate complaint, but half a book? That's overkill.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Jane Austen Education - A Review

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter

Although I have greatly enjoyed most of what Jane Austen wrote, I never liked Mansfield Park. I found Fanny Price insufferable, and Edmund Bertram a bit of a bore. As for the other characters, with the possible exception of Mary Crawford, I didn’t like them enough to care about them. For me, personally, the novel was a dud, but that was before I read William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love and Friendship.

According to Deresiewicz, Austen had something to teach us in Mansfield Park: a form of usefulness. After Edmund encounters ten-year-old Fanny Price, who was crying after being separated from her family and brought to Mansfield Park, he said: “Let us walk out in the park, and you shall tell me all about your brothers and sisters.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

This Day in History - Congress of Vienna Concludes

The Congress of Vienna was a conference of ambassadors of European states, chaired by Klemens von Metternich, and held in Vienna from September, 1814 to June, 1815 for the purpose of settling the many issues that arose from the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The Congress resulted in the redrawing of the continent's political map, establishing the boundaries of France, Napoleon's Duchy of Warsaw, the Netherlands, the states of the Rhine, the German province of Saxony, and various Italian territories, and the creation of spheres of influence through which Austria, Britain, France and Russia brokered local and regional problems. The Congress of Vienna was the first of a series of international meetings that came to be known as the Concert of Europe, which was an attempt to forge a peaceful balance of power in Europe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

JASNA Annual General Meeting in Fort Worth

I will be attending the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting in Fort Worth from October 14-16. This is my first AGM, so I'm really excited. Here are the plenary speakers:

Joan Ray - Author of Jane Austen for Dummies
“Sense and Sensibility as Austen’s Problem Novel”
Friday October 14

Andrew Davies - Screenwriter of many Austen film adaptations
“Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt and Other Embarrassments: Some Pleasure and Pitfalls in Austen Adaptations”
Saturday October 15

Deirdre Le Faye - Author of Jane Austen, The World of Her Novels
David Selwyn - Austen scholar and Chairman of the Jane Austen Society
“Dynamic Duos: David and Deirdre & Sense and Sensibility”
Sunday October 16

In addition, I will be signing books on Sunday morning along with Austen Authors, Abigail Reynolds, Diana Birchall, and C. Allyn Pierson. Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose will be signing copies of her new book, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a short-story collection, along with Carrie Bebris at a nearby Barnes and Noble.

Registration is now open, and since enrollment has been set at 600, if you are attending, you might want to get a move on it as 305 people have already signed up.

I hope that lots of my readers, friends, fans, etc. will be going. Let's do lunch. :) Mary

JASNA AGM Link for registration and more information

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rare Jane Austen manuscript to go on sale

The Watsons
This really is a must read article from the Manchester Guardian's on-line site. It not only talks about the sale of a partial manuscript of Austen's work, The Watsons, but the road it traveled to get there.

An incredibly rare handwritten manuscript of an unfinished novel by Jane Austen – the only one that is still in private hands – is to appear at auction in London... The Watsons manuscript shows how Austen's other manuscripts must have looked. It also shines an interesting light on how she worked. Austen took a piece of paper, cut it in two and then folded over each half to make eight-page booklets. Then she would write, small neat handwriting leaving little room for corrections – of which there are many. "You can really see the mind at work with all the corrections and revisions," said Heaton.

The Watsons is a fragment, and it became even more fragmented upon leaving the author's hands. It is a glimpse into what can happen to even a highly-valued manuscript by those who know how to care for such things. I shall say no more. Very, very interesting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Treaty of Amiens - Yes, you do care.

The first kiss in ten years - between
Britain and France
 On May 18, 1803, the United Kingdom revoked the Treaty of Amiens that had temporarily ended hostilities between the French Republic and the United Kingdom during the French Revolutionary Wars. Who cares, you ask? If you are a reader of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, then you care, and I shall explain.

The treaty was signed in the city of Amiens on 25 March 1802 by Joseph Bonaparte and the Marquis Cornwallis as a Definitive Treaty of Peace. Unfortunately, the “definitive treaty of peace” lasted a little more than a year. Those fourteen months provided the only period of peace between the two nations between 1793 and 1815, and that is what makes this treaty so important.

With all that fighting going on in Europe, our favorite Austen characters are all cooped up in Britain with few places to go, except Ireland (too poor) and Scandinavia (too cold.). But with the Treaty of Amiens, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Tilney have an opportunity to visit the Continent without fear of harm or internment. Using this window of opportunity, in my novels, I have been able to provide Darcy with the Grand Tour experience, albeit an abbreviated one, that would have been an important coming-of-age event for someone of Darcy’s rank.
Grand Tour - Late 18th Century

Once the treaty was revoked, Darcy would have had to scoot back to England rather quickly or risk internment in France as an enemy alien. This happened to several prominent Britons, including Fanny Burney’s husband, General Alexandre D'Arblay, an artillery officer who had been adjutant-general to Marquis de Lafayette, who should have known better, and Lord Elgin (he of the Elgin Marbles), who should have guessed.

So to answer your question: Why should we care about the Treaty of Amiens? Without this break in the action, Darcy would never have gone to Paris or traveled across France on his way to the Italian Peninsula, and “a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world” should not be denied those experiences.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Very Own Limerick

Thanks to Tony Grant, I have my own limerick:

There was a great writer called Mary
Who's stories are sometimes most scary
She likes Mr Darcy
All stuck up and arsy
That Austenesque scriber called Mary

I must publish my friend Mary's response to Tony's efforts:

"I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of limericks in driving away friendship" Lizzy said.

"I have been used to consider limericks as the FOOD of friendship," said Darcy.

"Of a fine, stout, healthy friendship it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good limerick will starve it entirely away."

Fortunately, Tony and I have a fine, stout friendship. :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day Past and Present - A Repeat Performance

This post previously appeared on this blog.

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, and celebrations involving a Maypole (see picture at left). Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held in May, then known as the Month of Three Milkings. Before the English Civil War, the working peasantry took part in morris dances (see picture below), especially at Whitsun (aka, Pentecost). In 1600, the Shakespearean actor William Kempe, morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Days Wonder. The all work and no play Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell suppressed Whitsun Ales or anything else that would cause people to smile. With the restoration of Charles II, a man who knew the value of keeping his people happy since unhappy people had cut off his father's head, the springtime festivals were restored. In particular, Whitsun Ales came to be celebrated on Whitsunday as the date coincided with the birthday of Charles II.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

The ENCHANTED APRIL: THE ENCHANTED APRILYesterday, on Austen Authors, Cindy Jones, author of My Jane Austen Summer, asked her fellow authors to share where they would like to vacation if they could be dropped into one of their favorite novels. I immediately thought of Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April. The setting, post World War I England, is a sad place. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of men who died in the war, there are even a greater number of men who returned home wounded in mind and body. War widows and those who have lost fathers, brothers, and friends walk about in the dreary colors of mourning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jane Austen, A Life by Carol Shields - A Book Review

Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives)If you are interested in whether Jane Austen preferred strawberry to raspberry jam, then you will want to look for a biography other than Carol Shields’ Jane Austen, A Life. However, if you want a broad sweep of the life of the early 19th century author, then this slim volume is the perfect cup of tea. Carol Shields, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries, was asked by Penguin Books to write this biography. Because it was not meant to be comprehensive, I found it an easy read with a nice mixture of Jane’s personal life juxtaposed with her writing. From the biography:

We think of Pride and Prejudice as Jane Austen’s sunniest novel, and yet it was written during a period of unhappiness. No letters survived from the year 1797, and this is a clue, though an unreliable one. Cassandra, we know, was recovering from the death of her fiancé, and Jane from her disappointment over Tom Lefroy. The household at Steventon had shrunk. Visitors continued to arrive, but the ongoing bustle of life in the country rectory had faded… Theatricals in the barn were a thing of the past. The Austen parents were growing older, and finances, too, were thinner. Yet from this difficult time sprang a fast-paced, exuberant, much loved novel with a new kind ofheoine, a young woman of warmth and intelligence who, by the flex of her own mind, remakes her future and makes it spectacularly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When and why did Knightley fall in love with Emma?

Emma (Penguin Classics)I have a post on Austen Authors today. The question of the day is: when, how, where, and why did Knightley fall in love with Emma Woodhouse? (Choose one; choose all.) Come join the discussion.

Plus, Cindy Jones has her launch of My Jane Austen Summer. She's giving away books at each stop on her blog tour. It's time to celebrate!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dickens' Workhouse Saved from Wrecker's Ball

From the Guardian UK Online: The derelict Georgian building in Cleveland Street, London, which in Dickens's day was known as the Strand Union workhouse, has been given listed status by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. ... Built in 1775 as the workhouse for the parish of St Paul's church in Covent Garden, by the mid-1830s the building had been taken over under the New Poor Law legislation – the real target for Dickens's anger – to serve a number of poor central London parishes. Conditions there were notably harsh and it became a target for later Victorian reformers such as Louisa Twining and Joseph Rogers. The lintel over the entrance bore the message: "Avoid idleness and intemperance."

From Oliver Twist: [T]he parish authorities magnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be "farmed" ... or despatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny's worth per week is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a very accurate perception of what was good for herself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reclining Figure from Cyclades Islands

I know that I have a tendency to be all over the place, and today is no exception. When I studied art history, I was very taken with the art of the Cyclades Islands,* and a fine example of Cycladic sculpture is this figure of a reclining woman. Looks very modern, doesn't she? But she was carved in 2400 B.C.!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Brigid of Kildare

Along with St. Patrick, St. Brigid of Kildare (450-520) is a patron saint of Ireland. Like Patrick and his shamrock, Brigid used rushes from the floor of a dying chieftain to explain another Christian doctrine, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. One version goes as follows:

A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. As she talked his delirium quieted, and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he was converted and baptized at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This Day in History - The Newburgh Conspiracy

In addition to today being the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was set upon by by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and 60 other co-conspirators in 44 B.C in the Roman Senate and stabbed to death, it is the 228th anniversary of the Newburgh Conspiracy.

In 1783, there was considerable unrest among the officers of the Continental Army. These veterans of the Revolution had been promised a lifetime pension of half pay, but, instead, Congress was promising to give them five years full pay. When Washington met with the officers in Newburgh, New York, he immediately noted a lack of deference and respect and that an aura of distrust and anger permeated the room.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thank You King James’s Version of the Bible

The following are extracts from the King James Version of St. Matthew’s Gospel from which some of our most beloved expressions have derived:

Man shall not live by bread alone. (4:4)
The salt of the earth (5:13)
The light of the world (5:14)
Turn the other cheek. (5:39)
No man can serve two masters. (6:24)
O ye of little faith (6:30)
Seek and ye shall find. (7:7)
Straight and narrow (7:14)*
Wolves in sheep’s clothing (7:15)
Built his house upon the sand. (7:27)
New wine into old bottles (9:17)
Lost sheep (10:6)

*In the 1960s, there was a rehab center for alcoholics located at the corner of Straight and Narrow Streets in Paterson, NJ.

Scholars may argue about the accuracy of the translation of the King James's Version, but it would be hard to find a more beautiful one.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

British, Australian, and American Idioms Quiz

I love English. I most particularly enjoy idiomatic English and colloquialisms. So I was pleased as punch, over the moon, and walking on water when I stumbled across a quiz for the new Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, and I thought I would share it with you.

Where would you expect to hear the following? In American, Australian or British English?

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary1. They’ve been coining it in since they opened the shop on the corner.

2. I hear you’re a dab hand with a paintbrush.

3. He’s as daft as a brush. Don’t believe a word he says.

4. I tried to make a cupboard for my bedroom, and I made a real dog’s breakfast of it.

5. She said that her job was as easy as rolling off a log.

6. He hemmed and hawed and then agreed to come with us.

And here are the answers:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nazi Loot - What Might Have Been Lost

Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe's Great Art - America and Her Allies Recovered It
After posting yesterday's review of The Venus Fixers, I found another work on the same subject:  Saving DaVinci. On its cover, the piece of artwork being held by the American soldier is Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine. "In 1939, almost immediately after the German occupation of Poland, it was seized by the Nazis and sent to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. In 1940 Hans Frank, the Governor General of Poland, requested that it be returned to Kraków, where it hung in his suite of offices. At the end of the Second World War it was discovered by Allied troops in Frank's country home in Bavaria. It has since returned to Poland and is once more on display at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków." (Wikipedia)

American GI admiring a triptyck propped up against a wall above a bathroom sink! Note the painting resting near the pipe! I hope it didn't leak.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey - A Review

In 1943, the Allies appointed the Monuments Officers, a group of art historians, curators, architects, and artists, to ensure that the masterpieces of European art and architecture were not looted or bombed into oblivion. The officers of Italy shored up tottering palaces and cathedrals, safeguarded Michangelos and Giottos, and even blocked a Nazi convoy of stolen paintings bound for Goring’s birthday celebration. Sometimes they failed, but to an astonishing degree they succeeded. (from the back jacket)

The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War IIThe Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey is the remarkable tale of a small group of men who were attached to the British and American Armies for the purpose of preserving and restoring the art and monuments of Sicily and Italy. The task was daunting. Every village had a church or monument or piazza in need of preservation. The cities of Naples and Florence were mother lodes of artwork and monuments sitting in the midst of an active theater of operations. But in some cases, before they could make damage assessments, the Venus Fixers had to find the artwork first.

To protect the artwork, paintings and sculptures were taken out of the cities and moved into the country to thickly walled churches or medieval fortresses where they would be safe. Or would they?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tea in the Time of Cholera

Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of HistoryI admit to being fascinated with the subject of how commodities, such as tea and spices, end up in my kitchen half a world away from the places where they were grown. On my bookshelf is a book called Nathaniel’s Nutmeg that I found fascinating. As the title suggests, is a book about nutmeg, specifically the spice from the Dutch possession of the island of Run that involves global intrigue between the Dutch and British empires.

Being a tea drinker, I will read just about any article or book about that subject. I wasn’t always a tea drinker. When I lived on the East Coast, I put away ten cups of coffee a day easily. My mother was a Maxwell House lady, “Good to the Last Drop,” and so was I. I know people are probably shuddering at the idea of instant coffee, but I loved it. But then I moved to Texas, the land of iced tea, and things started to change. Realizing that I was consuming an awful lot of caffeine, I switched to Sanka. (Do I hear more groans from the audience?) I hated it. Little did I know that when I quit on decaffeinated coffee that I had drunk my last cup of coffee and that was more than thirty years ago.