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Jane's Fame LGIn 1820, three years after her death, Jane Austen’s publisher remaindered all copies of her books. She sunk into obscurity “out of print, out of demand, and almost out of mind.” Today, of course, Austen is a worldwide phenomenon.

Claire Harman offers an engrossing account of the erratic and somewhat inexorable rise of Austen’s popularity in Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. Harman flavors her narrative with diverting bits of trivia, for example Rudyard Kipling was a fervent Janeite! He considered Austen’s gravesite at Winchester Cathedral to be the second holiest place in England after Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford.

Harman begins with a look at Jane the author. In particular, I was fascinated to learn that Austen devised a proto cut-and-paste approach to revision by pinning small paper cutouts with new wording over sections of a working draft.

Austen struggled, however, to get her works published. Ultimately she sold both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at somewhat bargain rates just to see them in print. The success of these books allowed her to get a better deal for Mansfield Park, which financially was her most successful work, earning her £30 a year. Emma, however, sold the most copies on its initial run.

Tragically, it was just as Austen was gaining success and recognition—albeit anonymously as her works were published by “a Lady”—that she died. Her tombstone made no mention of her as an author.

 

An 1816 first edition of Emma.

An 1816 first edition of Emma.

During the nearly 13 years her books were out of print, copies were treasured and traded by a niche of faithful readers, including several luminaries of the literary world. Sir Walter Scott had the full set and read Pride and Prejudice at least three times. Other admirers included Robert Southey, Maria Edgeworth, Benjamin Disreali, Lord Tennyson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—but not William Wordsworth because, according to Coleridge’s daughter, he had no sense of humor.

Both English and pirated translations of Austen’s novels were read in France, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and even in America. I was gobsmacked to learn that James Fenimore Cooper’s first novel was actually a reworking of Persuasion titled Precaution, which flopped.

In 1833, Austen’s books were reissued as part of low-cost series, Standard Novels, sort of the Penguin Classics of the day. These editions began to sell steadily, gaining steam as the Victorian age took hold. Interest in Austen the author also grew steadily, erupting by the 1870s into the cult of the “Divine Jane.” Noted literary critic Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf, lampooned this as “Austenolatry”—a riff on “Bardolatry” the cult of Shakespeare. Not long after, another critic named George Saintsbury coined the term “Janeite,” still so popular today. At Winchester Cathedral, so many visitors turned up looking for Austen that her nephew and biographer James Edward Austen-Leigh erected a memorial plaque.

Janes Fame pb

During World War I, Austen’s novels were a favorite among British soldiers and were well stocked in the trenches. They were also prescribed reading material to the wounded for their soothing and “salubrious” effects. By the 1920s, a “Janeite cabal” ran the Royal Society of Literature which would brook no criticism of the author. Beyond these hallowed halls, Austen had also exploded into the mainstream, via magazine articles, compilations, decorative special editions, and Austenalia: sequels and continuations of her novels. There was also a clamor for her letters, juvenilia, portraits, and any other related memorabilia, all of which were unearthed and published.

Jane had her share of detractors, though. Ralph Waldo Emerson had found her to be without genius or wit—a startling and somewhat paradoxical appraisal, but then he was rather severe. Surprisingly, Henry James felt she was overrated. Mark Twain’s derision of Austen has long been celebrated by her detractors, but what I didn’t know is that Twain repeatedly tried to read her works.

Still, Austen continued to gather fans: W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, E.M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Rebecca West, and even the crotchety Winston Churchill. Another unlikely candidate, Aldous Huxley, wrote the screenplay for the first film adaption of Pride and Prejudice in 1940.

Memorial plaque honoring Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

Memorial tablet honoring Jane Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

There are so many other delicious tidbits, as Harman takes us through different film adaptations and pop-culture trends to the current online zeitgeist of fansites and blogs. But I don’t want to give away the too much of the book, which I highly recommend. Throughout, Harman manages to keep Jane very much in the present with anecdotes, family memories, quotes, and a clever musings as to how Austen would react to all this. Indeed, we all wonder and that’s part of what drives our Janeite mania.

Even after reading her novels, her letters, various biographies, and, yes, many of the Austenalia takeoffs—we still thirst for more of Jane Austen.

As Harman quotes Katherine Mansfield:

“The truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone—reading between the lines—has become the secret friend of their author.”

I read this book as part of the Austen in August annual reading event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. #AusteninAugustRBR

Worn Out With Civility at Mansfield Park

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How Did I Not Know About Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice?

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks, from Boring to Brilliant

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–Viva La Bloggiesta!

Bloggiesta Sept 2015I somewhat dropped the ball with my blog posts. Oops. I’ve had all sorts of other commitments … but don’t we all?

But, I’m turning over a new book leaf and looking to Bloggiesta for insight and inspiration. This event, which runs through Sunday, offers amazing advice on key blog improvement topics, everything from Building an Email List to TweetDeck to Search Engine Optimization to Digital Photography and many more. There’s also a primer on basics for new bloggers.

The team behind this is a pretty sophisticated and successful bunch of bloggers. So whether you are a new blogger or have been at it a while, you can find a helpful (and generous!) stream of information and resources. Bloggiesta makes it fun via mini-challenges and twitter chats. But all of this is archived and accessible at their website … even topics and challenges from all the previous Bloggiestas. It’s a veritable encyclopedia of blogging … available to all!

In particular, I found the Creating Post Templates for More Streamlined Blogging mini-challenge extremely helpful. Now I can create templates and just upload the content without clicking all the Word Press options or writing html to create each post. Clutch! I’ve had a lot of experience working with html so I was just coding the blogs via the html option. Timesuck. Templates sound so easy but it does take some time to figure this out on your own via the idiosyncracies of WordPress. Trish from Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity gives a step-by-step instruction complete with screen shots and useful tips.

My Bloggiesta To Do List:

–create templates as part of the mini-challenge

–crank out a few advance posts so I am not writing them on the fly

–write up an edit calendar for scheduling said posts
(I did this when I first started blogging and it really helps.)

–post one blog a week going forward

This is behind-the-scenes stuff, so by next spring’s Bloggiesta my To Do List will be more whiz-bang.

To learn more or to participate, check out Bloggiesta.com or @Bloggiesta or #Bloggiesta.

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Today I am writing about Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park over at Sarah Emsley’s blog. Mine is the twenty-seventh in a series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Mansfield Park. For more details, open Your Invitation to Mansfield Park.

Practicing the art of Regency Era manners.

One of the great pleasures of reading Jane Austen is that while you are lured along by her refined and carefully measured prose, suddenly off the page jumps one of her distinctive zingers: “I am worn out with civility,” says Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. Read more …

Read Mansfield Park with us!

Sarah Emsley on Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Edith Wharton

 

Word Hits posts on Jane Austen

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checkpoint 8 picStatus: 7 of 12 read

–5 books read and reviewed

Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

–2 books read (review pending)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

–5 books still in TBR Challenge Pile

The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

–2 alternates

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

–1 book tossed aside

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Well, the pile has shrunk considerably from my original, towering TBR Challenge Pile of 15 books, but still more reading to be done.

2014 TBR challenge

 2014 Pile Challenge Master List

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TBR checkpoint 5 chromeI’ve skipped a couple of checkpoints, but I’ve managed to make some progress in the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. Still, I’ve got a bit of reading to do this summer to clear the shelf!

I started with 15 books in my original TBR Challenge Pile, which stretched across the cupboard. So I am a little over one third of the way through, having knocked off six books so far.

I’ve read and reviewed 3 books :
Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz
A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

I’ve read 2 more that need to be written about:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

And I’ve given up on one book that I just couldn’t get into after 81 pages:
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I must say, it is truly gratifying to see the TBR pile shrinking and to link up the reviews. So I must thank Adam at Roof Beam Reader for organizing this challenge. Now, back to the books!

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Checkpoint 2: Progress as of Feb 16

Checkpoint 1: Progress as of Jan 15

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Very Long EngagementI greatly enjoyed A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot, but for me it was a bit of a bait-and-switch book. It starts off very much like a suspense novel, with tension and mounting dread. I found myself completely riveted by the first chapter in which French soldiers are marching through one of the First World War’s infamous trenches.

“Watch out for the wire.”

Indeed, Japrisot is known for his crime writing and has been nicknamed the “Graham Greene of France.”

But then, the novel takes on a more quiet and reflective tone—somewhat the inverse of say, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which begins with more reserved prose and moves to breathless action at Dunkirk.

I had a little trouble shifting gears with Japrisot. I flew through the opening scene, and then it took me a while to get into the rhythm of the rest of the book. This is not a subway read but is best enjoyed if you can spend some time sinking into it.

Overall, I found A Very Long Engagement to be rewarding, moving, and thought-provoking—somewhat reminiscent of a Marcel Pagnol novel in the sense that it offers a glimpse into this fleeting, evolving moment in France. The characters are trying to put their lives back together while dealing with grief, hardship, and the aftershocks of the Great War. This novel feels especially resonant as we head into the 100th anniversary of the start of that conflict this July.

Now I am eager to see the film.

Now, I am eager to see the film.

A thread of mystery pulls us through the story, as the heroine Mathilde searches to find out what happened to her fiancé Manech, who has been reported “killed in the line of duty.” She goes on a scavenger hunt, sifting through a tangle of clues gleaned by word-of-mouth, letters from survivors, ads placed in newspapers, and the work of a private detective. I won’t offer any other plot details, except to say that the ending offered a satisfying resolution that was not predictable.

I went back to reread the first chapter and found that I had missed this lovely, layered transition from the trenches to Mathilde, which also somewhat encapsulates the essence of this book:

“There was still that wire, mended whenever it broke with whatever came to hand, a wire that snaked its way through all the trenches, through all the winters, now up at the top, now down at the bottom, across all the lines …

Mathilde has seized hold of it. She holds it still. It guides her into the labyrinth from which Manech has not returned.”

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

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I just loved the cover!

I picked Arabian Nights & Days by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz to start off the Dewey’s Readathon in April, which fell on a drizzly, cheerless morning. As I love to travel to exotic and faraway places via books, I thought a trip to medieval Arabia would offer a nice antidote to such a rainy day.

Mahfouz wrote this as both a sequel and a tribute to the classic One Thousand and One Nights, and the book picks up the day after Shahrzad has told her last story. Though billed as novel, it’s really a collection of interwoven short stories that feature many of the same characters as the original fables. I do suggest reading them in order as there are a progression of subplots.

Though the stories are told as episodic vignettes, I found myself invested in the fates of the characters—particularly of the families of both Sannaan al-Gamali and Gamasa al-Bulti—as they continued to make cameos. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Shahrzad and her sister, Dunyazad, the only two female characters that are even remotely developed.

Despite the enchanting prose, the magical realism of his setting, and familiar characters like Aladdin and Sinbad, these stories feature somewhat dark and jarring plotlines. It felt a bit like the jolt one might get by turning to Grimm’s Fairy Tales after seeing the sugar-coated Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella (and Aladdin for that matter).

Except for one charming love story, Mahfouz uses his allegorical world to spotlight modern-day problems such as police corruption, dirty politics, unjust rulers, greedy power struggles, assassinations, and the misfortunes of the downtrodden. Genies here do not seem to grant wishes but rather wreak havoc on feckless humans, forcing them to do things against their will.

“We love what you love, but between us and people is a barrier of destinies,” explains the genie Singam.

I’m sure there are many layers and allusions that I missed because I am not versed in One Thousand and One Nights—so I would especially recommend this book to readers who have an appreciation for that classic. Still, I enjoyed being transported by Mahfouz’s alluring prose to the fragrant courtyard of the Café of Emirs, to eavesdrop on conversations and people-watch vicariously.

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2014

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