Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bookspotting: Jane Austen's First Love, Blog Tour and Giveaway

I just want to direct the novel-consuming readers out there to the attention of a new Jane Austen inspired novel that may be of interest: Syrie James’ latest book, Jane Austen’s First Love.  Little is known about Austen's  love-interest, Edward Taylor, who may have inspired some of her admired male protagonists, however James has unearthed some new information about him in the process of writing her book.  From the publishers:



In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

The book has been receiving great reviews and is currently making the rounds on its blog tour.  There is also an amazing giveaway where you can get all sorts of Austen prizes just by leaving a comment here or on other stops along the tour.  


In the meantime we are lucky enough to have an excerpt from the book on a subject close to my heart: hair powdering:


It is June 1791, and Jane Austen is at Goodnestone Park in Kent visiting the Bridges family. Jane, age fifteen, is not yet “out,” but her mother has allowed her to attend her first ball that evening to celebrate her brother’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges. Jane is all dressed in her best gown and filled with excitement, her only regret that her mother will not allow her to powder her hair, as her older sister Cassandra and the preponderance of the company is expected to do.

As I emerged into the passage, Louisa and Harriot appeared, attired in their new gowns, their hair elegantly styled with supplementary hair pieces, and fully powdered in bluish gray—the very image of all the fashionable ladies of the age whom I had so long admired.
I had never seen girls so young attired in such a manner except in old paintings, and the picture they presented was very striking. The young girls skipped up to me.
“Do not we look magnificent?” cried Harriot, beaming, as she paused to twirl in all her finery.
“You both look fit to be presented to the queen,” replied I sincerely, to which the girls broke out into giggles and ran off.
I stood still for half a minute, steeped in misery, listening to the laughter from behind the closed doors along the passage, wherein the other young ladies were dressing. Lining the corridor were various ancestral pictures of regal men and ladies, all of them wearing wigs or with powdered hair. I yearned with all my heart to look just like them. My melancholy and despair grew to such a height, that I could no longer bear it. Tears started in my eyes; and, sobbing, I ran down the hall to the bedroom which I knew to be newly occupied by my mother. I rapped urgently on the door, identifying myself; she bid me to come in.
“What is the matter, Jane?” exclaimed my mother from the chair where she was reading. She was fully dressed in her best russet gown and white fichu, her curly hair already powdered beneath her white cap. “What do these tears signify?”
“Oh! Mamma! You cannot mean to humiliate me like this!” I flew to her side and knelt before her, taking one of her hands in mine, as my tears flowed.
She set down her book. “How have I humiliated you?”
In between sobs, I told her about Louisa and Harriot. My mother looked surprised.
“I have wanted this for such a long time, Mamma. It is my only opportunity to feel what it is to be truly grown-up. Will not you consider and relent? Otherwise, I am to be the only person at the ball to-night with natural hair! I will be laughed at!”
My mother was silent for a moment; then she patted my back distractedly. “Well, well, we cannot have that, can we? We are not at Steventon now. If those are the rules of this house—if little Harriot Bridges, at age ten, is to have powdered hair—well!”
I glanced up at her, hope rising. “Do you mean—”
“I have been here but a few hours, Jane, but already I have sized up Lady Bridges. That woman has her nose so high up in the air, it is a wonder she can take a step without falling on her face! We cannot have her looking down on us! Why, her daughters are all so beautiful and accomplished, nobody else’s daughters can hope to hold a candle to them! Even her strawberries are the best in the land, or so she claims, and her precious roses won a prize at some fair or other; well! My own roses are equally as fine, I assure you, for all that they have not been judged and won ribbons! You are a young lady now, Jane! Even if you are not yet out, we cannot have Lady Bridges or any of her ilk looking at you like a child!”
“Oh! Thank you, Mamma!” I threw my arms around her, so filled with relief and happiness that I thought I might burst.
“There, there, Jane,” said my mother, “you will ruin my ensemble. Now dry your tears, and go get your hair powdered. Mind you, this indulgence will apply this one night only.”
“I understand.”
“One thing further: remember what I said, you are not to dance to-night with any strange men, only your brothers or your cousins.”
“Only brothers and cousins?” cried I, distressed once again. “But Mamma, there are but a handful of young men who meet that description! I have been here some days already. I have become good friends with some of the Bridgeses’s friends, and in particular with their cousin, Edward Taylor. He is a remarkable young man, Mamma. I would give anything to dance with him.”
“Edward Taylor?” She pursed her lips. “Is he the young man just come back from abroad, who is heir to that big house down the road, what is it called?”
“Bifrons. Yes. That is he.”
“Well, Lady Bridges has her cap in a twist about that young gentleman; she seems to perceive anyone who is musical, well-educated, or well-travelled as a threat to her own precious progeny. Let us give her something else to fret about, Jane! He is, in any case, soon to be our cousin through marriage, is not he? You have my permission, my dear; you may dance with him—and I suppose with anyone else you call a friend. But I still say: no strangers.”
“Thank you!” cried I again, kissing her cheek with relief; and I flew from the chamber.
I returned to my own room, where the scent of lavender hung heavy in the air, and I found that my sister had been transformed into a regal beauty.
“You look stunning,” cried I, and without pausing added, “and you will never guess what has happened! Mamma has just given her consent for me to powder my hair! And to dance with any friends I like!”
“Has she?” replied Cassandra. “I am happy for you, Jane.”
“Well done, miss,” said Sally, beaming.
I resumed my seat at the dressing-table, my heart drumming with anticipation, as Sally covered my shoulders and upper body with a protective drape; she then applied pomatum to my hair, and liberally added the fragrant, bluish gray starch with a puff. Very quickly, powder filled the air and got up my nose and into my mouth, causing me to choke and sneeze. When she had finished and removed the drape, I was so enveloped by the flowery aroma, I felt slightly ill.
Cassandra, who had been watching from a chair by the hearth, said:
“There, you have achieved your goal. Are you content?”
“I am not sure.” Coughing and brushing off the excess powder from my gown, I added, “I did not realise it was such a messy business.”
“I tried to tell you.” She smiled. “You look very elegant, Jane.”
“Do I?” Turning and glancing in the mirror again, I viewed my reflection with a start. “I hope so. For in truth, I do not recognise myself.”


Jane Austen's First Love is out now where all good books are sold.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tart of the Week: Eglantine, Lady Wallace

Like many little sisters of celebrated big sisters, Lady Wallace was stuck in the shadow of her elder sister, Jane, Duchess of Gordon.  However, just like the Harriet to Jane's Georgiana, Eglantine, or Betty as she was known, proved to be just as interesting of a character.

Betty and her sisters were brought up by their mother, Lady Maxwell in a tenement in Edinburgh.  The girls were known to be a bit wild (especially for daughters of a baronet) and rode pigs down the street with all the local children (hence the term 'piggy-back rides').  While Jane seemed to have curtailed the majority of her wild personality as she successful moved up the social ranks, Betty never seemed to lose her fire.  She married Thomas Dunlop in 1770 who was made the 5th Baronet of Wallace shortly afterward.  The marriage only lasted eight years; the couple legally separated on the grounds of Thomas's cruelty.  However, I wouldn't be too surprised if Betty didn't give back as good as she got.  Around this time she was summoned before a magistrate to answer for assaulting a female companion.  She had to answer the same charges in 1793 when she assaulted a servant.  Lady Wallace was a honey badger.

In 1793 she snuck into the House of Commons to watch a debate.  Since women were forbidden from the public gallery Betty disguised herself in mens' clothing and managed to see much of the debate before she was discovered and consequentially kicked out.  After her separation, she moved to London and took up the playwrights' pen.  Three of her plays seemed fairly well-received in the late 1780s, with Sarah Siddons even taking up one of the roles.  Her 1795 play, The Whim: A Comedy, however was banned by the licenser for an unknown reason.  One can only hope it was because it was too racy.

Betty had a few close calls in her adventurous life.  In 1789 she decided to travel to France to take the spa waters for her health, not thinking, perhaps this wasn't the best time to do so.  After speaking her mind about the current political situation to, erm, the wrong people, she was arrested and accused of espionage - a crazy accusation considering Betty would have been the worst spy ever.  She luckily managed to escape the situation with her head intact. 

Not deterred by the continent after that experience, Lady Wallace seems to have spent the remainder of her life traveling in London through Europe.  She died in Munich in 1803. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Movie Review: Belle

I feel as though I am possibly the last person to see Belle so this review is late in coming.  Luckily it just came to my local theatre recently so I was finally able to see it.

In summary, Belle is based on the true story of Dido Belle Lindsay, the mixed-race daughter of the Navy officer, John Lindsay.  The film opens with Lindsay, a melodramatic man of feeling 'rescuing' Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) from a slum and dropping her off at his uncle's (Tom Wilkinson) house after being very, very preachy about family duty.  She is thus raised with her sister-cousin, and fellow-unwanted daughter, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  The film centres around issues of race, class, and privilege.  The plot thickens when Dido's father (who she never met again) dies, leaving her an heiress.  Meanwhile her sister-cousin must find a husband or risk being penniless.  Moral of the story: it sucks to be an elite, eighteenth-century woman.
My love interest: that green gown

I enjoyed the movie: it was a good story, full of pretty, and the historical inaccuracies were at a minimum.  However the writing was very black and white, which left me wanting more nuance.  So many things were explained blatantly, as if it was in a school report.  This meant there was very little character development.  Dido and Elizabeth's close relationship was established through a shot of them laughing together and then substantiated by a lot of conversation about how close they were; yet it was rarely felt (from a viewer's point of view).  Dido's close relationship with her adoptive parents was much in the same way.  The love story was very 'meh,' possibly because her love interest (Sam Reid) was in the same ilk as Dido's father, a man of feeling.  If you haven't gathered already, that meant I was not in love

with him either.  Boyfriend needed to put a little more effort into his hair as well.  There was also an overarching issue of race vs illegitimacy.  Throughout the film Dido is told her race has put her in an inferior state of limbo, however many of the social issues she faces realistically stem from her illegitimacy. 
Lord Malfoy the Devonshire doppelganger

The acting was great from the more senior members of the cast.  I found Reid's performance melodramatic and although Mbatha-Raw was very talented, she definitely studies under the school of Kiera historical acting.  Oh and did I mention that the baddy in the film was played by Malfoy?  I kept waiting for him to spit 'Potter!' at Dido.  Lord Malfoy's brother was also the spitting image of Batoni's portrait of the Duke of Devonshire.

Belle was a lovely film in which you could easily lose yourself however it left me wanting more in terms of the writing.  What did everyone else thing?

For those who have already seen it you may be interested in this article, What Happened to Dido After the Film Ended?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Gossip on Bloglovin

Thames Waterman, Lewis Walpole Library
Sorry for my horrible blogging absence! There has been a lot going on behind the blog recently including blog upgrades (coming soon), a potential academic publication in the works, and a pesky personal life getting in the way.  In the meantime I've just entered 2014 and have registered with Bloglovin which is what all the hip kids are doing nowadays so when I finally get my posts going again, you will instantly know!  In the meantime I still manage to update in 140 characters or less on twitter.

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