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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s World’ Category

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.

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“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. 

Screen Shot 2022-10-04 at 6.50.40 PM

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!

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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.

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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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Gentle Readers, This review discusses an historical novel based on one of Jane Austen’s least admired characters, Mary Bennet. Katherine Cowley manages to keep my interest in the growth of Mary in her self-confidence and talents.

The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception is Katherine Cowley’s third installment of a series of five books based on Mr and Mrs Bennet’s middle daughter. Cowley, in her three published novels, has captured Mary’s qualities and mannerisms, as well as her vulnerability and insecurities. In three novels Mary’s been transformed from a character living in the shadows of her vivacious sisters to a woman with the daring and tenacity of a spy. The background of the three novels is the Napoleonic Wars. 

Covers of Katherine Cowley's first three books

In the first novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, we met Mary sitting by her father’s deathbed alone at night. During this sad time, she anticipated a life of silent misery under the rule of her widowed mother. In the early hours someone knocks on the door. Enter Lady Trafford and her nephew Mr Withrow. Claiming to be a distant relation, she invites Mary to visit her in a castle along the shores of the Sussex Coast. Lady Trafford sees a silent strength in Mary and recognizes her isolation from her family, and her patience, and accurate observations. After a time as her guest, she invites Mary to become a spy and promises to train her. 

Author Katherine Cowley astutely endears the reader to Austen’s Mary, while pointing out the skills that this middle sister learned as she lived in her sisters’ shadows, for Mary’s strength as a spy lies in her natural state of invisibility. She’s a nobody. Anonymous and unnoticed. Therefore, she’s the perfect spy. She’s also a stickler for keeping copious and accurate notes. 

Oh, Mary’s still self-deprecating and annoyingly awkward, but these traits are familiar to the Austen reader. Her transformation as a double agent and her release from dependency on her family as an unmarried female makes sense. (Read my review of the novel in this link.)

In book two of the series, entitled The True Confessions of a London Spy, Mary travels to London to ostensibly visit the Darcys, who are residing in their splendid London townhouse. We see this couple through Mary’s eyes. Better yet, her younger sister Kitty is visiting as well, as is Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Cowley’s descriptions of Mary’s interactions and perceptions with her relatives and acquaintances are developed in a satisfying way.  

In True Confessions Mary must wend her way to follow Mr Darcy’s strict rules for single female visitors to his house and the freedom she needs to spy on an assortment of gentlemen, one of whom is suspected of murder. The author writes a fascinating account of our revisit with a beloved Austen couple along with Mary’s growing self-awareness and as a spy. Better yet, Mary receives her first proposal!  In this novel the reader discovers that while Mary does not regard herself as particularly beautiful or interesting, some men found her fascinating. Cowley threads many historical details in this tale, while keeping the spotlight on our spy heroine.

Book Three takes us to The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception, one of five novels she’s contracted to write for Tule Publishing. The third installment about Mary’s journey as a spy does not disappoint. In this book, she and the spy team of Lady Tafford and Mr Whitford are shipped off to Brussels, a city that plays an important part in the events prior to the battle of Waterloo. Mary’s honed her spy skills. She’s learned to shoot a pistol and has improved her disguises in a variety of roles and accents.

Cowley weaves fiction and history together in a way that satisfies both my love for historical novels and romance. Her Mary Bennet is written with great respect towards Austen’s character. 

As a wide-eyed and bushy tailed 20-something and in love with Jane Austen’s novels, I was aghast to learn she had written only six. In desperation to find another Austen, I turned to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. My flat mate and I DEVOURED them. Now, in my (ahem) more mature age, I appreciate Heyer’s historical novels more than her light comedies.

Heyer’s An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride are considered to be so historically accurate that few find fault with her research. Cowley’s writing style is her own; like Heyer she weaves a romance and a mystery into an account of the weeks prior to Waterloo. The Book Tour’s media kit succinctly states:

Life changes once again for British spy Miss Mary Bennet when Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from the Isle of Elba. Mary quickly departs England for Brussels, the city where the Allied forces prepare for war against the French. But shortly after her arrival, one of the Duke of Wellington’s best officers is murdered, an event which threatens to break the delicate alliance between the Allies.

Investigating the murder forces Mary into precarious levels of espionage, role-playing, and deception with her new partner, Mr. Withrow-the nephew and heir of her prominent sponsor, and the spy with whom she’s often at odds. Together, they court danger and discovery as they play dual roles gathering intelligence for the British. But soon Mary realizes that her growing feelings towards Mr. Withrow put her heart in as much danger as her life. And then there’s another murder.

Mary will need to unmask the murderer before more people are killed, but can she do so and remain hidden in the background?”

While Cowley is spare in her descriptions, she offers more details than Austen. She includes important characters like Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Prussian General Blücher and William of Orange (later King William II of The Netherlands), who at the time of Waterloo was a Lieutenant-General. All interact with Mary in her various guises. I found Cowley’s details of Brussels with its many canals and the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball satisfying. She did not dwell overly long on the battle, but gave it enough pages to recount its horrors, just as she provided more than an amuse-bouche to Mary’s budding romance. 

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One last observation for purists: At the end of the book, Cowley acknowledges that for the sake of her plot she changed some historical facts. She lists them and mentions why the changes were made. Of Cowley’s three novels, I found this one the most satisfying and look forward to reading the remaining two Mary Bennet adventures.

Author Bio

Katherine-Cowley-225x300

Author Catherine Cowley

Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Mary Bennet spy series continues with the novels The True Confessions of a London Spy and The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception. Katherine loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she has taught writing classes at Western Michigan University.

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