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By Brenda S. Cox

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book can change a life.”—The Jane Austen Remedy, by Ruth Wilson

I’ve certainly found this true in my life; haven’t you? This statement opens Ruth Wilson’s memoir of how a “careful re-reading of Jane Austen’s six novels” enabled her to “re-examine [her] lived life in the context of [her] reading life.”

In The Jane Austen Remedy, by Ruth Wilson, the author explores her life through the lens of Jane Austen’s novels.

When Wilson turned sixty, she realized she was “out of love with the world and . . . not happy.” She says, “my body was telling me that my soul, however such an entity is conceptualised, was ailing.” She grieved for herself, for what she had not achieved, and for “the years that lay ahead.” She identified with Elizabeth Bennet who says, “The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it.”

So, Wilson bought a small cottage two hours from her home in Sydney, Australia. Her goal was to have “a room of one’s own,” as Virginia Woolf puts it in her book with that title (which I highly recommend, by the way). Woolf is talking about women writers, but Wilson says, “All women need their own space to inhabit, their own air to breathe.” She hoped, in that place “to find a happier way of being.”

Wilson left her husband and family for a time and determined to re-read Austen’s novels. She says,

I was making Austen’s novels a starting point for exploring the satisfactions and dissatisfactions of my own life, framed and illuminated by her fictional universe.

The Jane Austen Remedy takes readers along with Ruth Wilson on this journey through her life. She discusses many books that impacted her, some of which were familiar to me and some not. But the Austen novels were at the heart of her journey.

Wilson begins with her own discovery of literature and how it impacted her life. Her “reading life truly began with Pride and Prejudice,” which made reading into “a source of nourishment and imaginative expansion” for her. She says from that point on, Austen’s novels

shaped the course of my future: because of them, I became a lover of language, a teacher of literature, a parent-reader, and, in a broader sense, an educator. My inner life has been nourished, illuminated and comforted by the empathetic voices, the complex characters and the challenging ideas in Austen’s novels – and they have changed, as I have done, over a lifetime.

As Ruth Wilson was growing up, Austen filled personal needs that her family and the people around her could not fill. She says, “I think of Jane Austen as a writer whose novels never stop helping readers to grow up.”

 

Northanger Abbey covers, like this one from Barnes and Noble Classics, tend to emphasize the Gothic connection. But Wilson suggests a different emphasis for teenage readers.

Northanger Abbey

When she set out to re-read Austen, she began with Northanger Abbey, since it was the one she remembered the least. She discussed it with an English teacher, who taught it with a focus on the Gothic novel. (I have taught it that way myself, I confess.)

However, Wilson says we should teach literature by helping students look for ways the story relates to their own lives. I love this idea! She says, “The nature and authenticity of friendship and romantic intimacy are central ideas that shape the events of Catherine’s holiday in Bath.” Friendship and romantic relationships are likely to be the most relevant issues for young people reading the novel.

Re-reading Northanger Abbey led Wilson to consider her own friendships throughout her life. She identifies herself as being, like her father, “both Jewish and Australian.” She meditates on how those parts of her identity affected her relationships.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, Wilson found “an exploration of what it means to be human, of the consequences of daring to make bold choices about how to live.” She repeatedly finds new insights and new connections to her own life as she re-reads it. Elizabeth became her heroine as soon as Elizabeth laughed when telling Charlotte about Darcy refusing to dance with her. When you think about that, what an amazing and joyful response it was!

Sense and Sensibility

The Dashwood family’s displacement in Sense and Sensibility led Ruth Wilson to consider her own family’s displacement when they moved to Israel for some years. This move had repercussions for her children, her marriage, and her extended family. She considered her expectations, losses, and gains as she read about Elinor and Marianne’s experiences. This chapter also delves into the implications of Austen’s grammar and use of free indirect discourse to share the Dashwoods’ experiences.

Fanny Price shows her “strength of character” in refusing Henry Crawford.

Mansfield Park

Wilson looks at the moral dilemmas raised in Mansfield Park. She points out that many readers are drawn to the Crawfords, “despite continuing evidence that pursuit of their own happiness inflicts pain on those they call their friends.” Fanny’s “strength of character” shows up in strong contrast. Wilson appreciates Fanny’s “bold” claim that:

“it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he might happen to like himself”!

Wilson also considers times of displacement in her own childhood as she sees young Fanny’s homesickness and adjustments.  

Emma

Wilson’s reading of Emma is subtitled “A Critique of Love.” She found that each time she re-read one of Austen’s novels, she connected with “a different stage of [her] life” and found “a different significance in each novel.” She thought about Emma’s early loss of her mother, and how her indulgent governess might have encouraged Emma toward self-love and slowed her emotional progress toward loving others. Emma investigates “filial love, neighbourly love, romantic love, love of others, self-love, and love of self.” Since Emma treats her self-centered father with love and respect, her story led Wilson to examine her relationship with her own father.

In thinking about film adaptations of Emma, Wilson makes a telling comment:

The point of making a film about a novel, surely [is] to illuminate or enrich or comment intelligently on the novel that is being glossed.

I suppose this is why we react strongly to some Austen adaptations; they may not fit our own understanding or interpretation of the novel, or they may give us new ideas about it which we love or don’t.

Persuasion

Wilson reads Persuasion with an old friend. They examine choices they have made and what second chances might look like. A theme of feminism runs through this book, and her friend Tamar has chosen a more independent course than Wilson has, but both have struggles and regrets. Wilson concludes that the people who love us can help us change. They can teach us how to love ourselves.

Conclusions

Wilson rebuilt her life in new ways. She began her PhD at age 84 and completed it at age 88. She researched “how and why Jane Austen’s novels were read and studied at school.” She says,

Fiction shows us possibilities; in real life we make our own choices and learn to live with them, one way or another.

She ends with a series of “Jane Austen remedies” for various maladies. For example, she prescribes Pride and Prejudice for “heartache” and Mansfield Park for “anxiety.” You’ll need to read the book to find the relevant symptoms, treatments, dosage, side effects, and benefits!

I found this book enjoyable and interesting. It does ramble, as the author takes us with her on her personal journey. Occasionally, she went off on tangents related to books and ideas I didn’t connect with, and I was lost for a bit. However, she soon returned to Austen, her own life, and how those intersected. The idea that Jane Austen can help us grow personally, at different stages in our lives, appeals to me and will probably appeal to most of our “gentle readers.” So, I recommend The Jane Austen Remedy to you all. 

Please tell us in the comments:

What is something new you’ve learned this year from Jane Austen?

Or, for what situations or feelings would you recommend a particular Jane Austen novel as a remedy?

 

From the press release:

An uplifting memoir of love, self-acceptance and the curative power of reading, The Jane Austen Remedy raises big questions about truth and memory, personal loyalty and betrayal, prudence and risk, reason and passion. It is an inspirational account of recovery and self-discovery. Ruth travels through nine decades of living, loving and learning, unravelling memories of relationships and lived experiences, looking for small truths that help explain the arc of a life that has been both ordinary and extraordinary.

 

Ruth Wilson, author of The Jane Austen Remedy

Ruth Wilson read her first Jane Austen novel in 1947 and in 2021 completed her PhD on reading and teaching Austen fiction. In between, she taught English and worked on oral history projects including one with Holocaust survivors. She encourages her four children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren to read widely, wisely and well. She and her husband are a married couple who live apart together.

 

 

Brenda S. Cox writes for Jane Austen’s World and for her own blog, Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England is now available.

Rachel Dodge’s Book Debut November 1st

Our very own author and contributor to this blog, Rachel Dodge, debuts yet another devotional on November 1st. Entitled The Secret Garden Devotional, the book offers inspiration that explores the themes of faith, family, contentment, wisdom, and joy based on the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, cherished by generations. Purchase this book at stores near you or online in a variety of formats. Read the outstanding reviews on Goodreads. Average stars: Five!

Learn more about Rachel’s books in this link.

Student Contribution To Our Blog

Several weeks ago Mr Philip Turner, who volunteers with a children’s history club, described independently researched projects and presentations on topics of the children’s choosing. One group chose 19th century England. Their presentation was so successful and interesting that Mr Turner reports he learned a great deal of new information!

Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 6.37.05 PMThe students used our links page (https://janeaustensworld.com/links/) for their research. One of the kids, Alice, suggested that our blog add a link to an article they found about the History of Big Ben

They thought that our readers would find this site interesting. I love that they wanted to share  their find!

Mr Turner, and a number of other teachers and students over the years, have regularly sent their appreciation of our links. We are more than happy to include Alice’s suggestion! Thank you for contacting us, Mr. Turner, and please let your class know we’ve included the link in our list!

Pride & Prejudice 1995 China Pattern

Inquiring readers, Krissy, who enjoys our blog’s posts, alerted us to yet another china pattern used in the 1995 film that featured Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. She writes: “I‘ve especially enjoyed reading the articles about the china patterns in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so when I came across the breakfast set used by the newly minted Mrs. Charlotte Collins at Hunsford Parsonage I thought I’d send it in!

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This Mandalay Blue Multicolor set by Mason’s was, no doubt, suggested by Lady Catherine herself as we all know that nothing is too small to be beneath her notice. (The photo is from Replacements.com.)

Where’s Jane? Find Jane Austen Hidden in Her Novels

Where's Jane bookThis book, published in 2018, and written by Rebecca Smith and illustrated by Katy Dockrill, is still available. I purchased mine at the Walters Art Museum gift shop recently. Amazon still sells it (although with postage added, it is the same cost as the museum’s). The reading age is for 6-9 year olds. What a perfect time to introduce Austen to children!

Images below show how the main plot of Pride and Prejudice (one of six novel examples) is introduced in comic book form, as are the characters in oval vignettes. Part One introduces the first half of the book, then provides two pages of wonderful images. Readers are asked to find the characters, as well as Jane Austen, whose image sits on the ‘About this Book’ page. 

The solutions sit at the very end.

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Images from Amazon.com from a preview of the book.

Part Two introduces the last half of the novel and more characters. As a tutor of adults, adult literacy, and children, I found this book not only a delightful introduction to Austen’s novels, but also a perfect way for a child to interact with texts and images, and provide them to answer question and ask questions of customs 200 years ago.

Our very own Brenda S. Cox has just published her new book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. It’s already receiving a wonderful reception, and I know it will continue. For those of us who are always expanding our understanding of Jane Austen’s life, and particularly her personal life and faith, this new book is an essential resource.

When I was writing my book Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, I read every article and book I could find on the topic of religion and faith as it related to Austen and her family. I scoured every available resource on Austen’s personal faith, her family’s daily and weekly religious habits, and the Anglican church at large. I discovered many wonderful details about her religious life, but as I worked, I always felt as though I was putting together a giant puzzle. And when it came to understanding more fully the implications of her religious beliefs and background in her novels, I felt as though the puzzle was missing many important pieces.

In Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, Brenda has finally put the puzzle pieces in their rightful places and collected all of the information one might want to know about Jane Austen’s religious life in one handy place. This book covers a broad range of topics that any Jane Austen lover can benefit from knowing, especially for those of us who enjoy looking into the varied layers and greater context of her writing.

Of particular interest is the clever manner in which Brenda has organized the information in this book. Each chapter is easy to find, plus she has included many helpful resources at the end of the book, including handy tables with income information, terminology, ranks within the church, and denominations; several appendices; detailed chapter notes; a hefty bibliography; a glossary of terms; and a topical index. You can read this book cover-to-cover or you can pick and choose the topics that interest you most.

I highly recommend this book for any Austen fan or scholar. Without this book, you can only know part of what makes Jane Austen’s characters and plots so intriguing. Thank you Brenda for creating this invaluable resource!

(See below for giveaway details.)

St. Nicholas Church, Steventon
Photo: Rachel Dodge

About the Book:

“Brenda Cox’s Fashionable Goodness is an indispensable guide to all things religious in Jane Austen’s world. . . . a proper understanding of 18th century Christianity is necessary for a full appreciation of Austen’s works. Cox provides this understanding. . . . This work will appeal to novice readers of Austen as well as scholars and specialists.”

Roger E. Moore, Vanderbilt University, Jane Austen and the Reformation

The Church of England was at the heart of Jane Austen’s world of elegance and upheaval. Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England explores the church’s role in her life and novels, the challenges that church faced, and how it changed the world. In one volume, this book brings together resources from many sources to show the church at a pivotal time in history, when English Christians were freeing enslaved people, empowering the poor and oppressed, and challenging society’s moral values and immoral behavior.

Readers will meet Anglicans, Dissenters, Evangelicals, women leaders, poets, social reformers, hymn writers, country parsons, authors, and more. Lovers of Jane Austen or of church history and the long eighteenth century will enjoy discovering all this and much more:

  • Why could Mr. Collins, a rector, afford to marry a poor woman, while Mr. Elton, a vicar, and Charles Hayter, a curate, could not?
  • Why did Mansfield Park‘s early readers (unlike most today) love Fanny Price?
  • What part did people of color, like Miss Lambe of Sanditon, play in English society?
  • Why did Elizabeth Bennet compliment her kind sister Jane on her “candour”?
  • What shirked religious duties caused Anne Elliot to question the integrity of her cousin William Elliot?
  • Which Austen characters exhibited “true honor,” “false honor,” or “no honor”?
  • How did William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and William Cowper (beloved poet of Marianne Dashwood and Jane Austen) bring “goodness” into fashion?
  • How did the French Revolution challenge England’s complacency and draw the upper classes back to church?
  • How did Christians campaigning to abolish the slave trade pioneer modern methods of working for social causes?
Interior of St. Nicholas Church, Steventon
Photo: Rachel Dodge

About the Author, Brenda S. Cox:

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen since she came across a copy of Emma as a young adult; she went out and bought a whole set of the novels as soon as she finished it! She has spent years researching the church in Austen’s England, visiting English churches and reading hundreds of books and articles, including many written by Austen’s contemporaries. She speaks at Jane Austen Society of North America meetings (including three AGMs) and writes for Persuasions On-Line (JASNA journal) and the websites Jane Austen’s World and her own Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Buy the Book:

You can purchase Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England here:

Amazon and Jane Austen Books
International: Amazon


Book Giveaway:

To enter for a chance to win a copy of Brenda’s book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, please leave a comment below with an answer to this question:

What is one question you’ve always had about Jane Austen’s faith or the role religion plays in her novels?

Giveaway Details: This giveaway is for ONE (1) print copy and ONE (1) ebook (Kindle) edition for readers of this blog. The winners will be drawn by random number generator on November 18, 2022.

Note: This giveaway is limited to addresses in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, or Italy for a print copy of the book. The author can only send a giveaway ebook (Kindle) to a U.S. address. (However, both the ebook and paperback are available for sale to customers from any of these countries, and some others that have Amazon.)


Blog Tour Schedule


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Coming soon: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

by Brenda S. Cox

“I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries.”—Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, April 25, 1811, quoted in AGM brochure.

On this day, Oct. 30, 211 years ago (1811), Jane Austen’s first novel was published, Sense and Sensibility! A few weeks ago, the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) met to discuss and celebrate “Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens.” The garden city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, hosted this 2022 AGM.

Lovely logo for the 2022 JASNA AGM, Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens (Victoria, Canada)

Getting to Victoria was challenging for those of us on the east coast, but it was rewarding. The city is on an enchanting island on the west coast of Canada. Those who came early or stayed late were able to visit famous Butchart Gardens, a nearby castle, or other local sights. Personally, I chose to go whale watching, which was a delight. We watched a pod of orcas and saw a humpback whale waving his front flippers back and forth at us!

During the conference itself I got to choose between many great options. The schedule overflowed with fascinating talks, fun workshops, and great events. Of course an Emporium offered great books from Jane Austen Books as well as other goodies from Jane Austen’s Regency World and regional JASNA chapters. And I found many wonderful “kindred spirits” to talk with between events.

Plenaries: Cowper, Sin, and Duels

Each speaker showed us Sense and Sensibility through a unique lens. The first plenary speaker,  Dr. Emma Clery, spoke on “‘Our Garden is Putting in Order’: The Place of William Cowper in Jane Austen’s Thought-World.” Having studied Cowper extensively for my own book, I was intrigued by Clery’s ideas on Cowper’s influences in Sense and Sensibility. She said the Dashwoods were expelled from the “garden” of Norland, as Jane Austen was expelled from her “garden” at Steventon. This “paradise” is regained at Delaford, which is described in terms of garden walls and fruit trees. People in Austen’s works are like plants, needing the right conditions to grow. I want to explore the many references to trees, timber, and woods that Clery said are found in S&S.

The most controversial talk of the weekend was Robert Morrison’s “‘Deeper in a Life of Sin’: The Regency Romance of Sense and Sensibility.Dr. Morrison, author of The Regency Years, showed the bad sides of all the men in S&S, claiming that none were real heroes. He also suggested that the first Eliza’s baby might have been Brandon’s, and that Marianne might have been losing Willoughby’s baby when she was so ill at Cleveland. He got a lot of pushback on these ideas; we can find potential evidence both for and against his suggestions. But his talk did start some great discussions through the rest of the weekend!

Finally, during Sunday brunch, we heard all about “The Many Duels of Sense and Sensibility” from Susannah Fullerton, author of Jane Austen & Crime. Fullerton told us that dueling at this time was not legal, but was rarely prosecuted. In this “Age of Politeness,” looking too closely at a man or brushing against him could result in a duel. She went on to describe the duels in S&S which were fought with words. She sees duels between John and Fanny Dashwood (Fanny wins), Fanny and Elinor’s mother (Fanny wins), Elinor and Lucy (goes back and forth), and more. From this perspective, as a novel of cutting and thrusting, Fullerton challenged us to look at the references to needles, pins, scissors, and knives in S&S, as well as “cut” and “sharp.”

Activities and Options

Outside of the plenaries, we had many great activities to choose from: workshops (including, as always, lots of dancing), special interest sessions, an improvised play, and great breakout sessions. Breakouts focused on a wide range of topics, including the arts, Austen in Spanish, specific characters in S&S, military service in the East India Company, information literacy, landscapes, a “playlet” dramatizing Lucy Steele’s tactics, and much more. Articles based on many of these are likely to appear in the next editions of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line, so be on the lookout!

Breakout Sessions on Religious Themes

Besides religious echoes in the three main talks, three of the breakout sessions focused on one of my interests, the religious aspects of the novel. Laura Dabundo, author of Jane Austen: A Companion, shared about “Jane Austen’s Ode to Duty: Morality and Conscience in Sense and Sensibility.” Comparing S&S to Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty,” Dabundo showed that “duty is manifest in one’s principled obligations to family, friends, church, and nation, personally and in community.” 

Roger E. Moore, author of Jane Austen and the Reformation, asked whether S&S might be “Jane Austen’s Most Religious Novel.” He examined the idea of religious enthusiasm, overly emotional reactions to religion, feared in Austen’s day. Many of Marianne’s thoughts, feelings, and actions fit with this religious enthusiasm. So it is possible Austen was showing the pitfalls of that contemporary concern.

I (Brenda S. Cox) also had the privilege of sharing my thoughts about “Faith Words in Sense and Sensibility: A Story of Selfishness and Self-Denial.”  I explored themes of vices and virtues in the novel. Austen, rather than preaching like many of her contemporaries, chose instead to use examples to encourage moral behavior. Elinor’s selfless behavior throughout, and Marianne’s repentance late in the novel, give strong examples to follow. Austen used “faith words” that had strong religious connotations in her time to reinforce her messages.

A Few of My AGM Highlights, in Pictures

Bookbinding workshop: Richelle Funk taught us some basic bookbinding skills, and we made lovely little notebooks; I used mine to take notes during the conference. Here, Baronda Bradley, in one of her gorgeous outfits, prepares her booklet for binding.
Beading with Jane Austen Workshop: Kim Wilson displays a replica of Jane Austen’s bracelet, along with other variations that can be made with her instructions and supplies, soon to be available online; sign up for her newsletter list to be notified. With her instructions and materials, I was able to start a lovely single-strand bracelet, and finish it as soon as I got home.

In a special interest session, Kristen Miller Zohn told us about “Gender and Decorative Arts in Austen’s Novels.” She explored how decorative arts, interiors, and clothing presented in Austen’s novels, particularly Northanger Abbey, speak to the unique roles of women and men in Austen’s era.
Cecily Van Cleave, a historical fiction writer, led another special interest session on “Beyond the Garden Wall: Priscilla Wakefield, Women in Botany, and the Intersection of Art and Science during the Austen Era.” We learned that women wrote science guides in this time, intended to help young ladies replace frivolous pursuits with more serious, intellectual hobbies.
Donna Fletcher Crow, dressed in a replica of Austen’s costume in the Byrne portrait, showed us maps and scenes of “Jane Austen in London with the Dashwoods.” She also explained the significance of Austen’s choices for locations. Listeners, though, seemed to be most fascinated by her mention of pencils as cutting-edge technology of the time, with graphite as a precious English product.
The Banquet and Promenade were a lovely time for many to dress up and show off their outfits. Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, coordinators of the 2021 Chicago AGM, at the banquet.

For many of us, the Ball is always a joy and delight. Most people dressed in lovely costumes, like those in the above photos of Renata Dennis (head of the diversity committee) and myself, Jeanne Talbot, and Baronda Bradley (whose bustle held a bouquet of fresh flowers) with her husband Eric Fladager. We all danced the night away.

Next year, I hope you will join us at the 2023 AGM in Denver for “Pride & Prejudice: A Rocky Romance.”

 

Brenda S. Cox, author of the new book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, writes for Jane Austen’s World and for Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. You can also visit her on Facebook.

 

 

 

Fashionable GoodnessGentle Readers:

One of our blog’s writers, Brenda Cox, is introducing her book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England this week to the Jane Austen community. I am not only excited about its publication, but honored to be the first person on this tour to interview her. 

Prior Praise: 

“Finally! Fashionable Goodness is the Jane Austen reference book that’s been missing from the bookshelves of every Austen fan and scholar.”

— Rachel Dodge, bestselling author of Praying with Jane

You will look at Mr. Collins, the Crawfords, the Dashwoods, the Tilneys, the Wickhams, and Willoughbys–and especially Fanny Price!–with new and surprising insights. Bravo to Brenda Cox for giving us this very accessible, illuminating take on the ‘fashionable goodness’ of Austen’s era!”

— Deborah Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont

Vic: What prompted you to write Fashionable Goodness? Was your decision a quick one, or was your journey long and thoughtful?

Brenda: It was a long journey. I first intended, about ten years ago, to write a novel based on Sense and Sensibility. But I always want to get things “right,” so I began to research. I wanted to include the church and faith in the story, since those things are important to me and I knew they were important to Austen. I discovered some fascinating churches, with their own stories, on a visit to Bath. I got hold of all the relevant books and sources I could. As I learned more and more about the church in Austen’s England, my notes multiplied. 

Finally, I realized that I needed a book about this topic, and it might benefit other readers as well. Therefore, I decided to put together a book that would bring together a wide range of information in one place. I wanted it to be accurate, affordable, and accessible for any reader. The book grew, I cut it back, grew, and I cut it back, multiple times. The text is easy for anyone to read, plus I have included resource lists and notes for scholars.

Eventually I shared it with friends, writers, and my wonderful editor, who all told me I needed to publish it. It’s been a  journey of several years even from then. I am such a perfectionist that it’s hard for me to let go of the book and release it into the world, but I’m excited to see it become “real” at last!

Vic: How did researching and writing Fashionable Goodness give you insights about Jane Austen as a person and a writer?

I can see now how deeply Austen’s faith affected her life and novels. I can also now understand her references to the church and clergy. That gives even more depth to the stories and characters.

Vic: How did your research change your personal feelings towards Jane?

Brenda: I feel closer to her now, since I’ve spent so much time in her letters and books. I looked at many small details to gain a clearer picture of her values. I can understand and appreciate her views, even when they are not quite the same as mine.

Vic: Do you have any advice for authors who are thinking about self-publishing? What tools do they need? What support system would help them along?

Brenda: For myself, I spoke to a number of agents and publishers during my journey, and their input was helpful. Some really liked the book and wanted to read it when it came out. However, it didn’t fit into their “categories,” since it’s about literature, history, and religion, and the intersection of all three. Also the book is fairly long, but my editor and beta readers kept wanting me to add more rather than take things out! So finally I went with self-publishing, which gives me the freedom to publish something “outside of the box” and charge what I think is a reasonable price.

But, I made sure to do it right. I have been writing for publications for many years. I know the craft well, from books, courses, and workshops about writing. I attended writers’ conferences to learn and to network. I hired a professional editor: a Janeite I providentially met at an AGM, who has edited for major publishers. I got extensive feedback from other writers and from beta readers. I got very involved in JASNA and gave JASNA talks, which honed my information and showed me what Janeites wanted to know. And, in the book, I show extensive documentation (with many pages of endnotes and a long bibliography) for those who might wonder about a self-published work.

The mechanics of self-publishing are much easier than in the past; Amazon keeps honing the process. A friend recommended Vellum as a formatting program, which I found excellent and reasonably priced. Once you have a good, professionally written and edited book, getting it online is not difficult, if you are at all technically inclined. (If you are not, you can hire people to do that part.) 

I am thankful that self-publishing has allowed me to get this book out into the world without the long lead time and higher prices of more traditional publishers. But I do encourage anyone considering self-publishing to get good help and make sure your work is done well.

Thank you, Brenda, for your thoughtful answers. You are the fourth writer I know who is self-published. While the journey is not easy, all feel such satisfaction in finding their hard work in print. I wish you all the luck in the world with this book!–Vic

Brenda CoxAbout the author, Brenda S. Cox:

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen since she came across a copy of Emma as a young adult; she went out and bought a whole set of the novels as soon as she finished it! She has spent years researching the church in Austen’s England, visiting English churches and reading hundreds of books and articles, including many written by Austen’s contemporaries. She speaks at Jane Austen Society of North America meetings (incuding three AGMs) and writes for Persuasions On-Line (JASNA journal) and the websites Jane Austen’s World and her own Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Where to Buy:

Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England is now available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books. International link: Amazon

Blog Tour Schedule

Austen in the News

R.I.P. Marsha Hunt: Mary Bennet Actress in 1940’s Cinematic Treatment of Pride and Prejudice

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Marsha Hunt as Mary Bennet

Marsha Hunt, Pride and Prejudice’s Mary Bennet in the classic 1940 film, died a few weeks ago at 104 years of age. Those of us of a certain age recall this first full feature film of Pride and Prejudice well (view a description on IMBD). This flawed (yes, FLAWED classic in my opinion – the comments in this post, including mine, are quite heated. Many readers and classic film aficionados have disagreed with my opinions) introduced the Bennets and Mr Darcy in full black and white glory in a Mr Dickens wonderland. Still, Marsha’s Miss Mary left an indelible memory in my mind – the middle child, striving to compete awkwardly but in her own way with her more noticed and beautiful sisters – struck much empathy in my heart. 

The female costumes in this film were awful, for they were NOT vintage 1813, when P&P was published, but were repurposed from another studio film that dated in the Victorian era. Greer Garson’s advanced age (36) in playing Elizabeth had me snort wine out of my nose. Laurence Olivier as Mr Darcy (and the same age as his character) looked as if he fought a burr in his pants throughout the entire production. (He was unhappy with Greer, wanted Vivien Leigh to play the part, but the studios nixed this because of their scandalous love affair, which would be no more than rubbish today.)  

In addition, the film’s ending was changed in a manner that defied Jane’s intentions: Lady Catherine de Bourgh was the Deux et Machina who reunited Darcy and Elizabeth in marriage. When I saw that scene, I could no longer hold in my popcorn. (This JASNA article from 1986 holds a different view from mine. It was written years before subsequent adaptations when 1800’s Regency empire fashions were accepted as romantic and accurate by contemporary audiences.)

marsha hunt glamorous

Marsha Hunt

This P&P adaptation IMO was not a Jane Austen adaptation – it was a fantasy Hollywood re-creation. I don’t care how much Aldous Huxley was/is admired – he messed with my Jane.  Marsha Hunt is still my most memorable Mary (She acted in over 60 films in her career). Whose Mary is your favorite in subsequent P&P film adaptations? Informed minds want to know!

IMBD Obituary of Marsha Hunt.

Now Available: Jane Austen: Connecting the Dots (Her Letters Explained), Edited by Harvey T. Dearden

Jane Austen Connecting the Dots - Her letters explainedHow could any book compete with Deirdre Le Fay’s 4th edition of the Jane Austen’s Letters, I wondered? None in my opinion, for her last edition provides all the information I needed when reading Austen’s letters. YET. Harvey T. Dearden assembled a resource of her letters for people new to Austen who wanted an annotated edition that was easy to use and follow.

Let’s be honest. Le Faye’s excellent book is hard to use. While her content includes the letters, abbreviations and citations, notes, general notes, select bibliography, biographical index, topographical index, subject index, and general index – the size and arrangement of the book is awkward. I experienced a lot of back and forthing, and needed to tag the pages when reviewing the history and details of the letters. Le Faye’s research is definitive and the best in the business, but the hard book is difficult to use because its size is small (8 ¾” x 5 ½”  x 2 ½ “) and incredibly thick (667 pages). One cannot keep the book open without breaking its spine and placing heavy weights on it to read it while taking notes.

Mr Dearden’s new edition introduces the letters to a newer reading audience. His annotations are simpler, his book’s contents are more straightforward, and the size of his paperback allows the book to lay flatter, while the font size s larger.  In short order, Jane Austen: Connecting the Dots (Her Letters Explained) target an audience of Austen fans who are curious to know more about Austen’s personal life, thoughts, and family and friend connections in a relaxed manner.

Mr Dearden’s book is designed for Austen fans. Ms LeFaye’s book is the definitive scholarly edition of Austen’s letters. Her book is rich with scholarly information; Mr Dearden’s book is easy to handle and use.

Find Jane Austen: Connecting the Dots book by Harvey T. Dearden at Amazon UK.

For US citizens, enter the title of the book and author in Amazon US. This works best if you already subscribe to Amazon Prime.

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As promised, I’m back with a reminder and announcement about Regency Marketplace’s brand-new seasonal Jane Austen Box! I’m delighted to share that the theme of this new box is “Christmas In Highbury”! If you missed my review of the lovely Autumn in Chawton Box I received, you can read about it and see photos HERE.

Christmas in Highbury

This Christmas, be transported to the little hamlet of Highbury in County Surrey. Here we find Emma and her friends and family preparing for a delightful country holiday, and you’re invited! Regency Christmastide for the aristocracy was often celebrated at the families’ country estates, and in Emma, we see her sister Isabella and Knightley’s brother John bring all their children to Hartfield for the occasion, enlivening the quiet household with their fun and noise. Mr. Woodhouse would have them stay forever!

The Perfect Gift

The “Christmas In Highbury” Jane Austen Box will be filled to the brim with a cozy and elegant medley of Emma and Regency-inspired Christmas gifts! A perfect gift box to send or receive this holiday season, it also makes a wonderful hostess gift. December 16th is Jane Austen’s birthday, too, so celebrate in style!

At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.

Jane Austen’s Emma

Place Your Order

The “Christmas In Highbury” Jane Austen Box will be available to reserve from Saturday, October 15th-Tuesday, November 15th, 2022. All boxes will ship out the first week of December! These boxes sell out quickly, so do not delay. Place an order for yourself or as a gift for a friend or relative today.

If you are longing to receive a box for Christmas, send this link to a friend or loved one as a big HINT: https://regencymarketplace.com/collections/jane-austen-box.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can subscribe to the Quarterly Jane Austen Box and receive a box every 3 months, or purchase as a One-Time Gift option (non-recurring). Free Shipping in the USA! International Flat Rate Shipping available.

Coupon Code

Many thanks to Regency Marketplace for providing me with a discount code that I can share with all my friends and readers this Christmas ordering season. If you would like to receive a discount, you can use my special COUPON CODE for 10% off the Winter Box! *While Supplies Last.*

Previous Winter-Themed Jane Austen Box

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Coming soon: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Jane Austen in a Box

I just received my first Jane Austen Box from Regency Marketplace, and the minute I opened it, I knew I had to share it with all of my friends here at Jane Austen’s World. This is a beautiful Jane Austen-themed experience not to be missed–and it comes right to your own front door!

Special thanks to @regency_marketplace for sending me the “Autumn At Chawton Cottage” box this month so I could fully experience it for myself! This delightful box is filled to the brim with cozy Autumn and Jane Austen-themed items! I can’t wait to put on my cute new socks and have a cup of tea!

Box Full of Surprises

Each Jane Austen Box features a range of products from items of historical interest to lovely items you can incorporate in your everyday life, edibles and fine teas to Jane Austen inspired products. All boxes also include some form of book — expand your library!!

Categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Fine Teas
  • Books
  • Candles
  • Edibles
  • Wearables
  • Items of Historical Interest
  • Jane Austen Inspired Products
  • Bath and Body
  • Home Decor
  • Writing Accessories
  • Booklovers Paraphernalia
  • And More!

Subscription boxes are delightful because there are so many surprises held within each box. Regency Marketplace does a lovely job of keeping the mystery alive. They give hints and a theme for each box, but they never show what specific items are coming in each new box. That makes it even more exciting to open when it comes in the mail!

Unboxing

One of the most exciting parts about getting any kind of subscription box is the actual unboxing. When it arrived, I was so impressed with the packaging and the beautiful box. When I opened it and saw the pretty tissue and the sticker, I almost couldn’t bring myself to open it. I snapped a picture because it felt like my birthday and Christmas had arrived all at once.

If you’d like to watch an unboxing video of me opening the box, you can view it HERE. I had a blast (and it was my first time making a video reel like it). Here’s a peek inside:

Stay Tuned

The Winter Jane Austen Box will be available for Pre-Order October 15th – November 15th, and boxes will ship in early December. Regency Marketplace offers free shipping in the US. (International flat rate shipping is also available.) These luxurious boxes sell out quickly, so mark your calendars to reserve one for yourself or for a friend.

Enjoy this box for yourself, or gift one to a friend or family member for the holidays this year! Once the Winter Theme is announced, I will post a reminder to place your orders and a coupon code.

Sample of a previous Jane Austen Box

About Regency Marketplace

Regency Marketplace is run by the lovely Christina Denton. It was envisioned many years ago as a beautiful oasis for all things Regency and Jane Austen: a place where one could escape from the breakneck pace of today’s world, and enter into an era of elegance, charm, and wit.

A lifelong love of Jane Austen and the Regency Era is the guiding influence behind Regency Marketplace. As a family-run company, they work hard to source the best products for their discerning customers and fellow Janeites! They focus on celebrating the grace and beauty of an Era so distinct that it still captivates us two hundred years later.

Is this something you would like to receive as a gift? Would you buy it for yourself or for someone else as a lovely surprise?


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her new release is The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

“Jane and her family simply had to put up with the small aches and ailments of life.” – Lucy Worsley, Jane Austen at Home

cassandraleighausten

Cassandra Leigh Austen

When Jane Austen was seven, her mother, Cassandra Leigh Austen, lost several foreteeth, which made her look older. One can tell the absence of those teeth in this profile. 

Healthy teeth and gums are signs of a good constitution. Throughout her adulthood, Mrs Austen was known for her many ailments. One wonders if there was a connection between her poor health and missing teeth. One also wonders if tooth problems were regarded as small aches and ailments of life, or something more.

In fall of 1813, Jane Austen visited her brother Henry in Henrietta Street in London, along with Edward Knight, their older brother and his three daughters, 20 year old Fanny and Lizzy (13) and Marianne (12). In two letters to her sister Cassandra,  Jane described pleasurable family pastimes and shopping purchases, but her most vivid recollections are of two visits to the dentist. Her first account is of an hour-long visit to a dentist named Mr Spence. On September 15, she wrote:

“Going to Mr. Spence’s was a sad business and cost us many tears; unluckily we were obliged to go a second time before he could do more than just look. We went first at half-past twelve and afterwards at three; papa (edward) with us each time; and, alas! we are to go again to-morrow. Lizzy is not finished yet. There have been no teeth taken out, however, nor will be, I believe, but he finds hers in a very bad state, and seems to think particularly ill of their durableness. They have been all cleaned, hers filed, and are to be filed again. There is a very sad hole between two of her front teeth.”

London was apparently filled with a tribe of Mr Spences, all of whom were dentists. Braving the Dentist with Jane Austen conjectures that the individual who treated the Knight girls might be George Spence, dentist to George III. This makes sense, for Edward Austen Leigh was rich enough to afford a dentist whose career and a patented brand of tooth powder made him “wealthy enough to buy a country estate at Cranford and to see his sons well educated.”

The Regency Era was not known for gentle dentistry practices. Jane’s letter on the 16th details a harrowing scenario:

“The poor Girls & their Teeth!—I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, & Lizzy’s were filed & lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the Eye teeth, to make room for those in front.When her doom was fixed, Fanny Lizzy & I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty Screams.”

– Fanny’s teeth were cleaned too–& pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold & talking gravely–& making a considerable point of seeing her again before winter.–He had before urged the expediency of L. & M.s being brought to Town in the course of a couple of Months to be farther examined, & continued to the last to press for their all coming to him.—My Br[other] would not absolutely promise.

—The little girls teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischeif to parade about Fannys. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it.—It was a disagreable hour.”

I’m amazed that Mr Spence’s efforts took only an hour, for in that time he cleaned Fanny’s teeth and put in gold, pulled two of Marianne’s teeth, and filed Lizzy’s. I wonder if he gave laudanum (10% opium powder solution in alcohol) to poor Marianne. Had she taken the tincture it would not have helped her immediately, for she let out two short screams. Relief would come only 15 minutes or so later. (Nitrous oxide was not generally used as a dental anesthetic until 1844.)

As for filing Lizzy’s teeth, this was a common practice at the time (and even today) to smooth out uneven teeth. This practice achieved both good or evil results, for if too much of the tooth was filed (especially in a young person), the enamel could be significantly thinned in subsequent filings and make the teeth more sensitive. Jane used the words mischief and disagreeable to remark on Fanny’s unnecessary treatment, and emphatically wrote she would not subject herself to Mr Spence’s care.

Daily Dental Hygiene

By the late 18th century, people used a variety of means to take care of their teeth: toothpicks made with the quills of goose feathers and toothbrushes created with horsehair or hog’s hair. These implements created as many problems as they solved, for they were unsterile and distributed  germs while “cleaning teeth.”

In Sense & Sensibility, Austen connected toothpicks with privilege. She described Robert Ferrars as he carefully chose a toothpick case at Gray’s jeweler’s in Sackville Street, detaining the Dashwood sisters:

‘At last the affair was decided.  The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment; and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care and … walked off with a happy air of real conceit and affected indifference’.

The jewellery shop on Sackville Street, near Regent Street, was likely well known to Jane, who frequently visited her brother Henry in central London. This scene is a reminder to Austen’s contemporaries that implements for dental hygiene, although affordable for the upper and middle classes, were unaffordable to the poor, who had to make do with whatever was at hand, such as soda ash (lake brine or naturally occurring mineral deposits) or salt. Both were clean products. 

The toothpaste of that era or tooth powders were also problematic. Ian Mortimer lists a recipe in his book for white tooth powder: 60oz chalk, ½oz of cassia powder and 1oz of orris root.* Other recipes included pulverized charcoal, brick or salt. All could destroy tooth enamel.

Austen described the effects of Harriet Smith’s tooth extractions in Emma:

“Pretty little Harriet Smith was usually the most cheerful, happy natured young lady, but just now she was leaning on the sofa in a despondent, listless posture, and not seeming to even notice Isabella’s five children, who were romping at their feet, in various states of frisk and noise. As Harriet normally loved to play with the children, and made herself the most useful guest possible, Isabella ventured a question.

“Miss Smith – may I ask? Are you in pain – are your teeth hurting still?”

Harriet roused herself to smile and demur. “Oh! no, Mrs. Knightley, I do assure you. The tooth-pulling was hard, I cannot deny; but you know it is better when it is all over, and I have felt no bad sensations now for at least a week.”

Emma had arranged for Harriet to stay with her sister Isabella’s family in London, in order to consult the best dentist, as there were wisdom teeth to remove. If any wry thought, that the extraction of any part of Harriet’s wisdom might be to her detriment came to her mind, Emma did not venture on that bon mot to anybody. She was trying to become a kinder person, and in the first rapture of her engagement with Mr. Knightley she was beginning to feel that it might not be altogether difficult to achieve.”

This scene accurately described the after effects of wisdom tooth extraction, which must have been quite painful. The favored extraction instrument, called a tooth or dental key, often caused gum damage or even a fractured jaw. Jane contrasted Harriet’s sweet acquiescent nature against Emma’s exalted opinion of herself, even while she strove to become a kinder and more compassionate person. The reader senses in this passage that Emma’s improvement took conscious effort and did not come at all naturally. 

It is significant that Emma sent Harriet to her sister’s house in London for the tooth extractions. In town, she would receive the services of a dentist. Barbers also pulled teeth in cities. The rural populace might visit the blacksmith, or, as in this 1823 Rowlandson print below, a village practitioner.  One imagines that to dull the pain, patients imbibed  laudanum or copious amounts of alcohol before submitting themselves to the procedure. The instrument used until the late 19th century was called a dental key. 

Rowlandson, 1823, The Tooth Ache or Torment & Torture

Thomas Rowlandson | The Tooth-Ache, or, Torment & Torture | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A woman, who has called upon a village practitioner for a toothache, sits in a chair at center, while he places his finger in her mouth. His assistant brings him a pair of horse pliers at left. Another woman waits in the background at left, clenching her mouth in agony.

Dentalkeyusage

Dental Key Usage, Print, Wikimedia, Delabarre, 1815

By the end of the 19th century dental forceps were developed and replaced the key. The improved instruments were less likely to do major damage to gums or jaws.

Emma’s concern for Harriet is affecting, as is Austen’s description of her three nieces under Mr Spence’s ministrations. Upper and middle class ladies treasured white teeth and fresh breath, which in an age of poor dental hygiene was quite a brash goal. Ladies who belong to the upper strata of society could afford sugar, whose costs were out of reach for the lower classes. Interestingly, they had healthier teeth than their betters. (Queen Elizabeth I’s teeth were black from the sweets she loved to eat. Her teeth rotted. After losing so many, listeners were hard put to understand her speech.) 

In ancient cultures, chew sticks in the form of thin twigs whose ends were frayed were used to clean teeth and gums by rubbing them. Other ways to clean teeth were to use tooth cloths, sponges, and fingers dipped in alcohol. Tongue scrapers, a piece of liquorice, peppermint leaves, cloves, cinnamon, salt water rinses, and apple cider vinegar were natural means for bad breath control.

Dentures

Unlike George Washington in the United States, Jane’s mother did not wear dentures. During this time artificial teeth were acquired in a number of ways.

Waterloo Teeth

The battle of Waterloo was a watershed moment in more ways than the loss of the French on the battlefield.  Artificial teeth were expensive.  The 47,000 young men who died had healthy teeth and were freshly dead. This sounds awful, but the trove of almost perfect teeth for dentures, pulled out by the men who combed through the bodies to find teeth to sell, was morbid to say the least. 

Resurrection Men

Also known as  grave robbers, resurrection men dug bodies up in cemeteries. Sad to say, the corpses were not fresh or uniformly young, and thus provided teeth that were not of premium quality and could spread disease and infection.

“Donations” from Slaves or  the Poor

Worse than grave robbery was the purchase of healthy teeth and pulling them from the mouths of the desperate and powerless. Slaves in the east and west Indies had no choice, but neither had the hungry poor who needed the money to feed their starving families or themselves. These teeth were the “freshest.” 

The purloined or so called purchased teeth were set into dentures or into the holes left by extracted teeth. Fresh and healthy human teeth were preferred, of course, but cow and horse teeth were also used, as were expensive French porcelain teeth made to order for the rich. Natural materials included tusks. All dentures created from these mediums were for the rich only. They ironically had the worst teeth due to their sugary diets. 

In addition, the dentures were often made with lead, whose slow poisoning presence caused irreversible damage to brains or kidneys. Hygiene was practically nonexistent and dentures were seldom cleaned. Those made of wood rotted inside the mouth and the stench of bacteria forming under them must have been overpowering. Women who valued clean breath must have gone from one embarrassment to another. Perhaps Mrs Austen’s choice to live her life without upper dentures was a wise one.

Improvements in dentistry kept apace with inventions and scientific advances. The need for oral surgery in the general populace attracted dentists, apprentices, oral surgeons, and apothecaries. The possibility of generating a good income in cities, towns, and the countryside on rotting teeth seemed endless.

Tooth brushes improved as well.  They were first mass produced in the 1780s, but did not trickle down to the lower classes until they became affordable. 

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Ancient toothbrushes

Evolution of Toothbrush | Download Scientific Diagram

Napoleon’s_toothbrush,_c_1795._(9660576547)

This toothbrush with a silver gilt handle was made for Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) of France.

File:Napoleon’s toothbrush, c 1795. (9660576547).jpg – Wikimedia Commons

By 1820, advances in tooth powders had reduced their abrasive quality. These tooth powders were homemade or purchased from an apothecary, and placed in jars or boxes. Eventually they became a paste that was more effective in cleaning and protecting teeth and tasted good as well. The collapsible toothpaste tube, invented by Dr Washington Sheffield, appeared in the 1880s.

By the mid-19th century, dental practices were strikingly less painful due to the application of nitrous oxide, which for a time fueled laughing gas parties for the rich. Once that fad faded, the gas turned out to be a wondrous invention for medical applications. Thomas Beddoes, an English Physician conducted experiments on the therapeutic properties of the gas, and James Watts, he of steam engine fame, invented a way to deliver it to patients more efficiently. Humphry Davy used himself as a guinea pig and tested the pleasurable sensation he felt while inhaling the gas. Poet Robert Southey wrote that “Davy has actually invented a new pleasure for which language has no name.”

Resources:  

While this list of resources is extensive, the information is fascinating!

Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“Trusting providence [God] seemed to lead to trusting people, as well. How differently the world appeared, when one stopped cringing away from it and faced it in the light.”—Fanny Bertram in The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery? Gather a large group of unconnected people for an English house party at a manor house. There should be one member of the party who is hated by all, though each has his or her own reasons. Snow them in or otherwise disconnect them from civilization, and the nasty one of course gets murdered (in the middle of the night while somehow most people are wandering around the house). Then an incompetent policeman tries to figure it out, and one or two members of the group actually uncover “whodunnit,” at great danger to themselves.

Now in this fun cozy mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray, the manor house belongs to George and Emma Knightley. Their guests are some of our favorite people—Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, Anne and Frederick Wentworth, and Fanny and Edmund Bertram. Each has a plausible reason for being there. Of course, Wickham also shows up, and he gets himself deservedly killed (the title told you this already).

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray, is a fun cozy mystery starring many of our favorite Jane Austen characters.

Frank Churchill, local magistrate, is the incompetent sleuth (with a flirtatious daughter). The Darcys’ oldest son (who we can see is mildly autistic) and the Tilneys’ teenage daughter try to solve the mystery, while not transgressing propriety any more than absolutely necessary–sort of.

Well, all that would have sold me on the book already. It’s also beautifully written and consistent with Austen’s characterizations. Gray has even postulated dates for each novel’s events and given the characters appropriate ages (though she’s made Sense and Sensibility rather late, apparently in order to make Marianne and Brandon newlyweds, which is fine).

Now, the stresses of Wickham’s dastardy toward each family, and then the suspicions aroused by his murder, awaken marital tensions in each couple. (The Darcys are also grieving the death of a loved one, and Fanny is keeping a secret.) So we get to see each pair struggling to communicate better, and growing in their marriage relationship. To me, the most interesting couple is Fanny and Edmund, whose conversations deal with deeper issues of judgment, mercy, and family loyalty.

Of course there is also a delightful budding romance between Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney. After a rocky start, Juliet is very accepting of Jonathan’s quirks. When he tells her that when he gets overwhelmed, he rocks back and forth, she says she would not mind that. She adds, “It is peculiar, of course, . . . but my mother has often told me that most people are really very peculiar, once you get to know them. The only difference is in how well we hide our peculiarities. Your habit seems harmless.”

By the way, Juliet’s mother, Catherine Tilney, is not in this story. But we’re told she has become a successful novelist. A hint to Claudia: I’d like to meet Catherine in another story . . .

In the story, Wickham, the charming rogue, has deceived various characters into investing in a false scheme and stolen their money, which is quite plausible. (It seems less likely that after this has been revealed, he’s still legally able to force them to give the money they promised him.) We’re also not surprised that when he discovers a compromising letter, he steals it and holds it for ransom. (Whether that letter would have been written and mailed around the world through various hands in the first place seems less likely to me.) All this fits Wickham’s character very well. And his final demise is appropriate.

If you enjoy mysteries and sequels to Jane Austen, I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham to you. I loved being with all these characters again for an extended time. The themes are good, and the ending is satisfying. Great summer reading!

See Claudia Gray’s website for more on her wide range of books.  

Brenda S. Cox blogs at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England should be out this fall, Lord willing.

As the entire world mourned the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II this last two weeks, I have spent time honoring her life and reign, learning more about her personality and leadership, and watching countless hours of television coverage.

I was home on September 8, 2022 and watching the news, as I had heard the reports of her health failing. When her death was announced and the national anthem played, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing; it was so surreal.

Once reality set in, I found myself weeping.

Her Majesty, the Queen

The Queen was a beautiful lady in every respect, a wonderful wife and mother, and an exemplary queen. And though I honor her role as the Queen of England, I most admire her character, her steadfastness, and her strong faith.

The beautiful sight of a double rainbow over Buckingham Palace just before her death was announced, and the sound of the crowd outside the Palace singing “God Save the Queen” right after, brought immense joy to my heart. Her life meant so much to so many people.

Photo: Yahoo!News

Days of Remembrance

Her Majesty’s funeral was quite touching, as were the many other events and processions leading up to it, especially the Vigil held by her grandchildren.

Vigil at Westminster Hall

I watched the funeral processional and funeral service on television and read the Committal program. As I read and listened, I greatly admired the thoughtful prayers, Bible verses, and songs that were selected. Everything was quite fitting for such an honorable woman of such deep conviction.

The Committal Program

Her Life

Like many of you, I enjoy exploring the many biographies, movies, miniseries, and documentaries about the Queen, the history of the House of Windsor, and the Royal Family. I think that we honor people best when we spend time finding out more about their lives, experiences, and history.

Below are a few of my all-time favorites. There are countless others to explore.

The Queen (2006)

The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, is a 2006 British film that depicts the events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Initially, the Queen and Royal Family regarded Diana’s death as a private affair and thus not to be treated as an official royal death, in contrast with the views of then Prime Ministry Tony Blair and Diana’s ex-husband, Prince Charles (now King Charles III), who both favored an official, public expression of grief.

WAYS TO WATCH

The Crown (2015)

As most of you probably know, The Crown is a fascinating and resplendent Netflix television series that follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century.

IMDB Trivia: “The series is one of the most expensive television series ever made. Each episode is budgeted at £5 million and it had already been commissioned for two seasons, with the intention of four more, before the first episode had even been completed, or any episode broadcast.”

WAYS TO WATCH

The Royal House of Windsor (2017)

Drawing on newly available evidence, The Royal House of Windsor, an epic Netflix series, explores the Windsor dynasty’s gripping family saga, providing fresh insights into how our royal family have survived four generations of crisis.

I have watched this series twice, as so much of it was absolutely fascinating to me and my family. There was so much that we did not know about the Windsor family that helped connect many dots for us.

WAYS TO WATCH

Listed below are several lists of other documentaries, films, and television series you might be interested in watching:

Biographies on Queen Elizabeth II

There are, of course, dozens of books you can read about the Queen, her life, her family, and her reign. I love reading biographies, but I have yet to read one about Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve been perusing these lists, in order to select 1-2 biographies I’d like to read:

The biography I’ve had in my Amazon cart for quite some time is The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace, and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown by Dudley Delffs because I have always admired and been curious about the Queen’s personal faith.

Book Description: “Discover the inspiring spiritual legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Sharing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of this notoriously private monarch, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth features intimate stories and inspiring reflections on the personal faith behind the Crown.”

Life and Legacy

If, like me, you enjoy learning more about Britain’s current Royal family and British history as a whole, I hope that this commemoration of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s life has been meaningful. Please comment below with your favorite shows, biographies, and resources so we can all learn more about her life and legacy. Finally, please share what Queen Elizabeth’s life and reign have meant to you.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her new book The Secret Garden Devotional releases October 31. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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