Around the Austen Web

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We have been struggling a bit with the whole blogging thing lately, but others have fortunately taking up the slack! (And there will be a announcement about AustenBlog coming very soon. Nothing bad, we promise!)

among_the_janeites_coverWe are on record as having very much enjoyed Deborah Yaffe’s book Among the Janeites, and her blog is very good reading as well. In particular we enjoyed Deborah’s recent post about the Austen Project, which brought up a point that we had been wondering about but was too lazy to blog: why haven’t the last two authors been announced yet? That is, the authors who will write updated versions of Persuasion and Mansfield Park? Being the cynical tar-hearted spinster &c. that we are, we have suspected that the project has been so unsuccessful that The Powers That Be have decided to discontinue the project. However, Deborah makes a very good alternative point: perhaps no author has been willing to take on the job. Deborah also reviews Alexander McCall Smith’s recent release of an updated Emma and looks forward to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Pride and Prejudice–which has been titled Eligible, rather than simply copying the title of the original! One hopes the publishers have responded to the general hostility with which the unchanged titles have been received by Greater Janeiteland, and retitled the novel. Or perhaps Ms. Sittenfeld simply insisted. More power to her, we say. In any event, do check out the post, as well as the rest of Deborah’s excellent blog.

young_jane_austen_coverLisa Pliscou, author of the new Austen biography Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, also has a blog with some interesting entries about Jane Austen. This post, about the books read and loved by famous authors, mentions several authors who love Jane Austen’s work, which is all perfectly delightful. (We are currently reading Bring Up the Bodies, the second in Hilary Mantel’s series about Thomas Cromwell, and were startled and amused to find “Tilney Abbey” mentioned–we’re pretty sure such an abbey never actually existed but you KNOW where she got it from.) Emma Thompson is quoted, mentioning whom she would invite to a dinner party, as saying, “I’d have gone for Jane Austen if I weren’t convinced she’d just have a soft-boiled egg and leave early.” Lisa protests against this, as did several Janeites (including the Editrix) on Twitter.

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

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Jane Austen by Cassandra Chouinard

Jane Austen by Cassandra Chouinard

“By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like.” – Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra, November 6, 1813

Dearest Jane, may you be enjoying a warm fire, good wine, and the collective love of your readers worldwide on this day.

There’s lots of cool stuff going on all over the Internets today to celebrate Herself’s birthday. We’ve been retweeting like crazy!

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath has declared December 16 Jane Austen Day. (Every day around AustenBlog World Headquarters is Jane Austen Day, but it’s nice to make it official.) They are also offering a discount today in the gift shop.

The Jane Austen Society of North America has published the latest edition of Persuasions On-line, as it does every December 16.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park, Sarah Emsley has been hosting a year-long series of posts about the novel written by Janeite scholars, authors, bloggers, and fans on her blog, and this week she’s putting up a new post each day.

Austen in Boston has collected Herself’s birthday greetings and fun from around Facebook.

Quirk Books is hosting a big giveaway in honor of Jane Austen’s Day–win a copy Jane Austen Cover to Cover, The Jane Austen Handbook, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters! C’mon, you can’t beat that combination.

There’s still time to get in on the giveaway of two copies of JAC2C on Robin Kall’s site (and check out the podcast interview with the Editrix!)

And we think we overhear Thorin and Jane having a little convo… ;-) Happy Jane Austen Day, Gentle Readers!

Jane Austen Centre at Bath Unveils Wax Figure of Jane Austen

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It’s probably safe to say that all Janeites have had at least one moment of curiosity about what Jane Austen looked like. We don’t have much to go on–a dashed-off, incomplete, badly faded watercolor by Cassandra Austen is the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face, which has both frustrated Austen fans as well as inspiring them to create something better.

Today, the Jane Austen Centre at Bath unveiled a wax figure of Jane Austen, created by sculptor Mark Richards (the BBC has a shorter piece with a video interview of the sculptor), inspired by Melissa Dring’s forensic painting of Austen, done several years ago also for the Jane Austen Centre. The painting has received a mixed reception from Janeites, and we are not terribly fond of it, but we like this wax figure rather better. In fact, we like it quite a bit. Continue reading

Countenance

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Once again the Janeite world (and the Muggle press that insists on blowing these things all out of proportion) are creating a controversy out of nothing over images of Jane Austen.

Sotheby’s is auctioning a fake portrait of Jane Austen next month. As fake portraits go, this one is probably slightly less fake than some others. It was commissioned by James Edward Austen-Leigh to be used to create an engraving as a frontispiece to Austen-Leigh’s 1869 Memoir of his aunt. The painting was done by James Andrews of Maidenhead by tracing Cassandra Austen’s watercolor portrait of her sister. The engraving was later used as the basis of perhaps the best-known image of Austen, the infamous “wedding ring portrait” included in a book of eminent persons.

There has been some concern expressed by our own correspondents over this sale, as it is feared it will share the near-fate of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring, purchased and taken out of the country rather than added to a public collection; it would probably be nearly impossible to mount a second rescue mission by Janeites and the museum at Chawton as was done for the ring. However, we find it difficult to get very upset about the fate of this portrait. It is a nice little painting, and that’s it. It wasn’t taken from life, thought it was traced from a portrait that was so taken. However, in the dearth of such images taken from life, Janeites have created new icons of our favorite author. The painting certainly deserves to be part of a museum collection dedicated to Austen. It is to be hoped that whoever purchases it can preserve and display it for all to enjoy.

This portrait has been in the news lately in other ways, as the engraving created from it was used as the basis for the image of Austen that will appear on the British ten-pound bill in a couple of years. Biographer Paula Byrne has been all over the press of late complaining about the portrait chosen for the banknote. Prof. Byrne has previously been recorded as quite passionate on the subject of images of Austen. She feels that the portrait makes Jane appear “saccharine” and that it is an “airbrushing” of Cassandra’s original portrait, and perpetuates Austen’s family’s whitewashing of her personality. We understand Prof. Byrne’s passion on the subject, though most Austen fans, scholars, and attentive readers know better than to consider Jane Austen a sweet, retiring spinster. However, we think that the portrait was chosen for a very simple reason: it is in the public domain. Cassandra’s portrait is owned by the National Portrait Gallery and it cannot be used without its permission, and probably without paying a hefty licensing fee.

All that being said–yes, let’s pick a different Austen quotation for the banknote! We still think the best one would be “I write only for Fame and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” However, the Muggle public would probably not recognize Austen’s delightful snark.

Check out our previous post, A Closer Look at Images of Jane Austen.

That sense of impending…something or other

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brace_yourself_austen_project

The rewritten, modern-set Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is due out later this month, and other distinguished authors have been lined up to rewrite Jane Austen’s novels for modern consumption: Val McDermid for Northanger Abbey, Curtis Sittenfeld for Pride and Prejudice, and Alexander McCall Smith for Emma, with two more authors to be announced later this year for Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Harper is calling this six-book series the Austen Project.

Our own feelings about this project are decidedly mixed. We are pleased by the accomplished authors who have been asked to participate, but frankly there are some red flags here in our opinion, the first of which is the fact that they apparently aren’t even changing the names of the novels. That seems to us potentially confusing to readers at best and disrespectful of Jane Austen at worst.

And really, do they think this is something new? They can’t possibly be pretending not to know about the dozens and dozens of modern-set Austen rewrites, both by authors attempting to be literary and those simply seeking to entertain. It’s like those attention seekers who proclaim that I AM WRITING PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH TEH SEXYTIMES IN IT like no one’s ever done it before; and then they wonder why we swing the Cluebat. We truly hope we won’t have to with this project, but we’ve noticed that what Janeites want and expect and what the Commercial Publishing Complex delivers tend to be very different things. Compare and contrast, for instance, the reception of Death Comes to Pemberley by the Greater Public and the mainstream media (good) and the reception in the Janeite community (reviled).

That being said, we will give Ms. Trollope’s S&S retelling a try, and report back to our Gentle Readers. It doesn’t really matter whether or not these books are any good, either; we (meaning Janeiteville, and the reading public in general) will be inundated with hype over the books. Brace yourselves.

Sick of the Very Name

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There’s an article in the Daily Beast by Susan Ostrov Weisser that discusses Charlotte Brontë’s enmity for Jane Austen. This is probably coals to Newcastle for many of our Gentle Readers, but something struck us while reading this that we wanted to share.

We know about Brontë’s opinion of Austen chiefly from her correspondence in 1848 with the respected critic George Henry Lewes, later the companion of another great Victorian novelist, George Eliot. When he wrote to give Brontë comments and advice, she took his critique of her novel very seriously. Jane Eyre had received a good review from Lewes, but he wanted to underline a fault in the novel, the moments of melodrama in it that he called “suited to the circulating library” (not a compliment), and he held out Austen as a model of calm and balanced wisdom achieved through a more naturalistic style. When Lewes praised Austen, whom Brontë had neglected to read, she went to some trouble to obtain Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice.

In Brontë’s own words to Lewes, “I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers—but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy—no open country—no fresh air—no blue hill—no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.”

We’ve read this before. We actually like the Brontës’ work (though not as much as we like Jane Austen’s) but we think Charlotte and Emily at least were not the most stable units. (Anne, on the other hand, we would be willing to bet not only enjoyed Jane Austen’s work but would have got along with her splendidly.) That being said, we think Charlotte’s comments to Lewes remind one of Emma Woodhouse on the subject of Jane Fairfax.

“Oh! yes; we are always forced to be acquainted whenever she comes to Highbury. By the bye, that is almost enough to put one out of conceit with a niece. Heaven forbid! at least, that I should ever bore people half so much about all the Knightleys together, as she does about Jane Fairfax. One is sick of the very name of Jane Fairfax. Every letter from her is read forty times over; her compliments to all friends go round and round again; and if she does but send her aunt the pattern of a stomacher, or knit a pair of garters for her grandmother, one hears of nothing else for a month. I wish Jane Fairfax very well; but she tires me to death.”

Well, at least Charlotte didn’t say that Jane Austen was “elegantly dressed, and very pleasing.”

Jane Austen’s Ring Torn From Kelly Clarkson’s Hand By Greedy, Nefarious Jane Austen Fans

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(And yes, we know we are a bit remiss on reporting this, but wanted to close the loop.)

Or so one would think from some of the press surrounding the Jane Austen House Museum’s successful campaign to raise enough money to purchase Jane Austen’s turquoise ring for the same price that Kelly Clarkson paid for it, after the UK government raised some question about whether she would be allowed to take it back to the U.S. Check out some of the headlines:

Kelly Clarkson Loses Jane Austen Ring To Museum

She didn’t “lose it,” she was paid for it, and wisely accepted the same amount that she paid for the ring, avoiding an international incident.

Kelly Clarkson denied Jane Austen ring after museum campaign

Jane Austen ring to stay in Britain after museum beats Kelly Clarkson’s £150,000 bid

Hmm. Our understanding is that Kelly was paid what she paid for the ring–she was not “outbid.”

Kelly Clarkson won’t be getting her hands on Jane Austen’s ring after all

Kelly Clarkson ring purchase thwarted by Jane Austen fans

Well, excuuuuuuuuuse us.

The Mary Sue, a site we have been enjoying lately, got it just right.

MUSEUM SUCCESSFULLY BUYS BACK JANE AUSTEN’S RING FROM KELLY CLARKSON, CAN DESTROY SAURON NOW

Ha!

BATTLE FOR JANE AUSTEN’S RING SETTLED & NOW KELLY CLARKSON KNOWS HOW JUSTIN GUARINI FELT

Okay, that’s funny.

Not completely incidentally, Ted Scheinman filed a funny, gossipy report from the JASNA AGM in the Paris Review that pretty much revealed the identity of the Anonymous Benefactor.

The Englishwoman manning the Chawton House table on floor three was far more coy. “Oh, you can unravel it,” she assured me. “Consider who can spend that kind of money, and then consider which of those people is, shall we say, involved at Chawton.”

Just as many of us thought. (Noted Janeite J.K. Rowling was the other main suspect.)

ETA: Tony Grant has written a wonderfully detailed overview of the whole episode with additional information about the ring itself at Jane Austen’s World.