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Archive for the ‘Janeites’ Category

When the world is topsy-turvy and my heart is heavy, many of us find comfort in the beauty of Austen’s novels, in the richness of the movie adaptations, and even in the thought of the lovely Hampshire countryside, secluded and beautiful, tucked away and secure.

The world inside Austen’s novels never changes. The familiar scenes and characters are always there and waiting. Elizabeth and Darcy never fail to spar and flirt in the drawing room in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Woodhouse continues to eat his porridge and worry comfortably over the weather in Emma. And at the end of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth always sits down to write his letter to Anne Elliot.

Perhaps that’s why many of us (and why so many others throughout history) have found solace and comfort within the pages of Austen’s novels, especially during times of turmoil. And why her novels have been reprinted and translated and enjoyed around the world by so many people for over 200 years.

Familiar Faces

I find similar comfort in the film adaptations. When I sit down to watch a Jane Austen movie (or even have one playing in the background as I do chores), I love knowing just what to expect. I can’t wait to hear the music I love, listen to the accents and voices of characters and actors I adore, and watch the ever-amusing (and always touching) storylines unfold.

Sense and Sensibility, 1995.
Pride and Prejudice, 1995.
Emma, 2009.

The comfort and familiarity of Austen movies keeps us coming back for more, year after year. There are always new adaptations to enjoy and critique (because there’s nothing better than debating this Emma over that Emma with Austen friends).

Familiar Sights

And then there’s the comfort of Jane Austen’s actual world. Although I know Hampshire is a real place with its own fair share of regular, everyday life activities and stormy days, both figurative and literal (such as when Storm Eunice brought down many trees on the Chawton estate and in Mingledown Woods just last month), the England described in Austen’s novels never fades.

Jane Austen’s House Museum, 2022.

I think the charm of the setting in her books is another reason so many of us as lifelong students and fans of Austen love to learn about her life, her family, and the places where she lived and wrote. During the height of the pandemic, we all did what we could to support the historic sites in England and watched for updates whenever possible. We dreamed of the day when we might get to visit those precious sites again or for the first time. Many of us even took virtual tours so we could “be” there.

Benches Along the Way

That’s probably why I was so overjoyed when I saw the good news a few weeks ago that the bench my local JASNA regional group sponsored had been installed in the Chawton House Gardens. In fact, the entire bench project fundraising is now complete! (I know many of you have contributed in various ways to the care and keeping of the historic sites as well.) Here is a snippet of the announcement:

“This month, we are pleased to announce that thanks to the wonderful support of the North American Friends of Chawton House (NAFCH), we have received the final 17 benches donated through the ‘Share a Bench with Jane’ scheme, just in time for our Spring Flowers season.

Photo: Chawton House. Bench, 2022.
Location 22: at the head of the Pride and Prejudice Rose Walk.

If you’d like to see all of the bench locations, you can find them HERE.

As I read through the announcement and looked through the photos, I was comforted. I thought about how peaceful it would be to sit on a bench and enjoy the garden around me. I even thought about how I should install a bench in my own small garden area.

And then I came to this lovely quote that was included in the announcement from Chawton House:

Although the recent storms have caused significant damage to parts of the estate, these latest additions mean that visitors to Chawton House will still be able to rest among the spectacular displays of snowdrops and daffodils as we move into a warmer season.”

Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I made me think. Though storms come in this life, there are benches along the way where we can rest. When the journey is long, it’s important to stop and sit. And though some winter seasons are particularly difficult, spring always comes and bright new flowers always bloom.

Signs of Spring

I’ll leave you with that lovely thought and a few photos of the “snowdrops and daffodils” mentioned above. I hope that each of you is finding comfort in the glimpses of beauty around you, in friends and family, in faith and home, in lending a helping hand to others when you can, and in the enjoyment of Jane Austen.

Photo: Chawton House. Snowdrops, 2022.
Photo: Chawton House. Daffodils, 2022.
Photo: Chawton House. Daffodils and Snowdrops, 2022.

Your turn: What is it about Jane Austen’s novels and life that brings you comfort? Why do you think people continue to turn to her work in life’s difficult seasons?


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional just released and is available now! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Gentle readers, Downton Abbey, Season 2 will be shown on PBS, Sunday, January 8, at 9 PM local time. I will be writing a series of posts to help illuminate some historical details that might help the viewer who is not familiar with the events of this era. World War I’s connection to Jane Austen is poignant: soldiers in the trenches and those who were shell-shocked or recovering from injuries read Jane Austen’s novels to escape the horrors of war and relive a gentler, more civilized time. Here then is meaning of the white feathers. In the interest of not spoiling the plot, certain facts will not be revealed.

Handing a white feather to an unlisted man.

World War 1 was meant to last only a few months in the eyes of Great Britain, who entered the war to support its allies, France and Belgium. The mighty British empire had an army second to none, and had resoundingly defeated the Boers in South Africa using battle tactics that had been finely tuned by generals since the Napoleonic wars a hundred years before. At the start of the Great War, Englishmen  enlisted in droves. Men were not conscripted at the time and enlistment was wholly voluntary.

Almost from the very beginning, British Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald created the “Organization of the White Feather’ as a means to pressure men to enlist in the army. At first able bodied men served willingly, but as the war dragged on and the staggering losses of life and limb added up in vast unforeseen numbers, the need for fresh troops became vital.

Admiral Charles Penrose-Fitzgerald

There were perfectly good reasons for men not to enlist: many were needed at home to oversee crucial jobs, such as farming; others had medical conditions that precluded them from serving. This was the case with Rudyard Kipling’s son, Jack, who was so short-sighted that he needed glasses to see clearly. (Vehement in his patriotism, Kipling was able to cut through red tape so that his 18-year-old son could serve. Sadly, Jack was reported missing in action and his body was never found. Kipling found solace in reading Jane Austen’s novels to his wife and daughter as they awaited word of Jack’s fate and penned a short story about the Janeites, who found respite from that terrible war by reading Jane’s books.)

In Downton Abbey, two able-bodied characters were officially exempt from serving: William Mason, the footman, and Moseley,Matthew Crawley’s butler/valet. Two women rose from their seats in the middle of a concert at Downton Abbey to benefit the hospital; they began handing out white feathers to the men not in uniform, starting with William.

The expression of the woman at right (above) is one of disgust at those who they thought shirked their responsibilities to serve. This scene occurs in 1916, when it became clear that the war could only be won through slow stubborn attrition and by the side that lasted longest with men, ammunition, food, and sheer will power. Men were hunkered down in miserably uncomfortable circumstances in the  trenches and died by the tens of thousands in order to claim a few hundred shell-pocked yards of enemy territory. The slaughter was immense and of a proportion never before seen in civilized society, for new horrific weapons had been designed to kill and maim from a distance (flame throwers, mustard gas,  machine guns, bombs dropped from airplanes). Fresh troops were needed to replace those who were killed or wounded.

As early as 1915, a mere year after the war started, pressure began to be placed on able bodied men who did not serve, and the practice of handing out white feathers stepped up. The pacifist Fenner Brockway quipped that he had enough feathers to make a fan.

Men who wore no uniform, including soldiers on leave, were targeted to receive white feathers. Home Secretary Reginald McKenna authorized a badge that bore the words “King and Country,” which told onlookers that the man wearing it was excluded from the pressure to enlist.  – First World War.com

Reginald McKenna

Read my posts for Downton Abbey, Series One in the sidebar.

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, the Insight Edition from Bethany House is a lovely annotated version of this classic novel. The intended audience is obviously a young Christian girl or someone who is reading the novel for the first time. The notes sit in the margins; they are not too obtrusive or overly verbose, but they do add a dimension to reading the book. Symbols indicate what sort of comment to expect. For example, a feather tells us that we will learn a tidbit about Jane Austen’s life. A small cross will indicate themes of faith drawn from the novel or her life; a small crown leads to historical facts. (“Consumption: tuberculosis; once referred to as consumption because it “consumed” the body. P. 189.)  Smiley faces tell us about parts of the novel that make the reader smile, and frownies assure us that the character has become nothing but irritating. (On page 133, “ranking our dislike: 1. Fanny; 2. Lady “Passive-aggressive” Middleton, 3. ..”etc.)

Many of the annotations deal with scenes from film adaptations, which help to clarify them in relation to the book (look for the camera symbol). With the inclusion of these film annotations, Bethany House rightly assumes that many people reading Jane Austen for the first time seek out her novels only after seeing a movie based on her novel.

The foreword by Julie Klassen is short and to the point, and the book group questions in the back are neither pompous nor difficult to discuss. In short, this book provides a wonderful introduction to Sense and Sensibility, one of Jane Austen’s earlier novels and, next to Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, the most accessible to her new fans. Bethany House also offers a Pride and Prejudice edition, which I surmise must contain similar annotations and book group questions.

I highly recommend this book to new readers of Jane Austen, especially those who possess only a cursory knowledge about her life or the Regency era. Before purchasing the book for yourself or a friend or loved one, you should aware of the many notes that pertain to faith. The quotes are informative and not preachy, as on p. 145: “The hard core of morality and even of religion seems to me to be just what makes good comedy possible…where there is no norm, nothing can be ridiculous…” C.S. Lewis, “A Note on Jane Austen, Essays in Criticism.” This edition of Sense and Sensibility points out how Jane’s faith informs her writing and her life, which is natural given that her father and two of her brother were men of the cloth.

In reading this book I am enjoying my revisit with Marianne and Elinor, and the shenanigans of the devious Lucy Steele and mean-spirited Fanny Dashwood. I still find Willoughby’s conduct reprehensible for a man in love, but Colonel Brandon, though a tad boring, makes my heart patter with his devotion and strength of character . The margin notes, written by Jane Austen fans (not scholars)  have enriched my enjoyment of this edition, and thus I give it three out of three Regency fans.

About Bethany House: Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, has been publishing Christian fiction books for 50 years. Nearly 120 titles are published annually, including historical and contemporary fiction, Christian living, family, health, devotional, children’s, classics, and theology subjects.

Sense and Sensibility, insight ed. by Jane Austen
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0740-2
Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Division: Bethany House

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I had just about given up on reading advance copies of Jane Austen sequels, prequels, and mash-ups, when A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson and published by Random House, arrived in my mailbox. A sigh of relief swept over me as I opened the mailer and saw that I had received a serious book about Jane Austen’s body of work – I would not be subjected to reading another mash-up of vampires and zombies, or a sequel with Mr & Mrs Darcy making babies.

I prefer to read literary appraisals written by professional writers. They often express their thoughts about other writers more clearly than academics, whose use of lofty terms, elaborate theories, and learned analysis in their critiques tends to befuddle all but a handful of their colleagues and students. Except for her own essay, editor Susannah Carson (a doctoral candidate) takes a back seat to Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Alain de Botton, Jay McInerney, Anna Quindlen, and Eudora Welty. Esteemed literary critic, Harold Bloom, wrote the foreword. As I read this new book, my gratitude towards these eloquent writers grew.

L-R: Alain de Botton, Anna Quinlan, Harold Bloom, Eudora Welty, E.M.Forster, and Virginia Woolf

Each of the book’s thirty-three essays gave me a new insight about Jane Austen’s novels. While I did not agree with every writer’s take on Jane’s work, I felt that I had been exposed to a variety of new ideas. I’m not sure Jane is quite the paragon of moral virtue as depicted by James Collins. Nor do her novels necessarily end happily ever after. (Witness the number of unsuccessful marriages in her books, and her newly engaged/married characters still have the majority of their lives to live.) Not all her mothers are awful, nor is Mr. Bennet an especially noteworthy father. Regardless of my disagreements, I felt after finishing the book that I had attended a two-day symposium in which bright literary minds discussed and debated my favorite author.

L-R: Benjamin Nugent, Amy Heckerling, C.S.Lewis, AS Byat, J.B. Priestley, & Margot Livesey

Ms. Carson chose essays from both classic and contemporary writers, all of whom are ardent admirers of Jane’s writing. Some essays are long, and some are short, a nice mix. I would have preferred to read essays from a few detractors as well, for unlimited admiration can sometimes seem treacly. Still, I was as thrilled with Eudora Welty’s observations on the “real secret of the six novels’already long life,” as with director Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of the movie “Clueless” from Emma. Amy Bloom, whose “Terrible Jane” was my favorite essay, asserted that Jane knew her own worth as a writer and that, far from being the mild and shy spinster her Victorian family tried to reinvent after her death, she was a witty, fallible, full-blooded, and clear-sighted woman who liked a good party, hated being poor, and was often unkind. (Cassandra did not quite succeed in cutting out all of Jane’s acerbic observations in her letters.)

In her introductory essay, Ms. Carson (r) asked the question: Why do we read Jane Austen? Why indeed? As I read the essays, I began to understand that above all, Jane Austen makes me smile, think and ponder, and reach eagerly for the next page. She created characters that I want to revisit over and over again. As I have aged and grown wiser (presumably), her novels revealed new layers of depth and insights that I had not noticed before. This book has enriched my enjoyment of Jane, and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. I give it three out of three Regency fans.

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christineInquiring readers, Several weeks ago, Chris asked me to link to her blog. Looking at it and reading her posts, I asked her to keep me updated on her work, which she describes as a personal journey that she is doing “for the pleasure of pursuing a course of study in a structured manner, which I greatly miss from my time in graduate programs. And to have fun and explore, more deeply, the work of a writer I admire and the time period in which she lived.” Below are her thoughts, and a link to her blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, which I encourage you to visit.

Would you, if you could, spend a year entering ‘on a course of serious study’ as Marianne Dashwood vows to do at the end of Sense and Sensibility? If the answer is yes, please join me in an Austen-inspired project of that nature. Specifically, “A writer, reader, and Austen lover spends a year (or more) embarking on a course of study similar to that probably undertaken by Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, without the benefit of Colonel Brandon’s library and with room for diversions, digressions, and (hopefully) fun fieldwork.”

I’ve begun by rereading the novels (which has been both a joy and a frustration at times, and I’m sorry I waited so long to pick them up again!), and Austen’s letters. I’m contacting Austen scholars for reading suggestions and to interview them. So far the Chawton Library has been the most helpful. Sadly, JASNA, not so much.

I have my first interview with a professor at St. Mary’s College here in Maryland, who is offering a class on Austen that examines the important aspects of the time period in which they were written: poliltics, economy, social codes, etc.

I admit the fieldwork so far has been the most fun. I’ve been country dancing (a real thrill, but surprisingly hard to learn and hot/sweaty!), am working on a silk ribbon embroidery project, and am deciding between hat decorating and archery classes. I have the Jane Austen Cookbook, as well, and plan on cooking one or two items for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve promised my family not to make pigeon, which I admit I was not sorry to give up.

The reading list is growing and my goal is to alternate the serious with the silly. So – Mrs. Richardson then Sir Walter Scott, and on like that.

I hope to attend the festival in Bath next fall, so will probably need to find a seamstress to make me something fabulous or brave the process myself. Let’s see how well I do with the silk ribbon embroidery first!

This is not a project in the vein of a PhD dissertation or an intellectual discussion, though I welcome ideas, comments, and suggestions of all kinds. I’m trying to stay as true to Marianne as I can, but also see where this path leads me, personally.

Based on my post a few weeks ago (‘The Ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute’), that could be to a class in NYC on walking in heels at ‘Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls.’

You just never know where we’ll end up!

My latest post is on Elinor vs. Marianne. Who would you rather have as a friend? Who are you most like? Would love to hear from you.

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