Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

Book cover of Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme by John Matthews

Cover of Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme by John Matthews

Inquiring readers: Many of you who have visited here before are aware of Dr. Wiebracht’s online senior high school students’ research on John Matthews’s 18th century poem “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme.” This link leads to their published work, as well as Dr. Wiebracht’s description about the project and his advice for teachers on starting a similar semester-long online endeavor. Their remarkable results were published on this blog in January and spring of this year. The third step in Dr. Wiebracht’s examination of the poem – a publication – is presented in this review.

So the beaux in their boots, the belles in their slippers,

Come to walk up and down, and peep at the dippers,

For though strange it appears, I’d have you to know,

Whilst you’re drinking above, some are bathing below,

And each glass of water brought up by the pumps

Contains the quintessence of half-a-score rumps.”

Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, John Matthews

cruikshank-bathing-bath

A Peep at the Dippers, Cruikshank. Public Domain Image

The forgotten contemporaries of Jane Austen and an introduction to the first book in a series that will examine them

In his introduction of this unique annotated publication, Wiebracht writes that it:

speaks as directly as possible to the typical reader – the same reader Austen herself addressed. And teachers and students, particularly high-school students, will be inspired to know that the volume they are reading was researched, designed, and edited in large part by other high-school students. Indeed, as a teacher and scholar, one of my hopes for this series is that it challenges the narrow assumption that only university faculty and graduate students are capable of making original contributions to literary scholarship. This isn’t so.”

After the students completed their project in December 2020, Dr. Wiebracht and his academic colleagues continued to study the Adumbration. The result was this completed book, published in August of this year.

The major goals for Dr. Wiebracht, his students, and academic researchers were to find original sources to chronicle the genesis of this poem and the resources that influenced it. These sources can be found in the Table of Contents under bibliography and further reading, as well as a biographical essay on John Matthews, and an essay on Bath satire. Also included is a thoroughly accessible, but academic analysis of *Northanger Abbey (with references to Persuasion) regarding Austen’s descriptions of Bath, Anstley’s The New Bath Guide (1762), and G. Davis’s and P. Bonhall’s book, entitled A History of Bath: Image and Reality (2006). The highlight of this volume, though, is the poem, located near the very end. My close friend, H. Major, (and editor) particularly liked how the annotations were placed on the right page, next  to the archaic phrases in the poem on the left page for helpful understanding.

annotation of the adumbration

Side by side- poem on the left, annotation on the right

This 54-page book is the first in a planned series entitled Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen. The selected works will have a varied audience in mind, with characteristics that include: 

  1. The work is not available in any other modern edition.
  2. It must discuss subjects that directly concern Jane Austen and are featured prominently in her novels.
  3. It must be relatively short to enable teachers and professors to use it as a supplement in a class or unit devoted to Jane Austen.
  4. It must have merit in its own right.

I won’t reveal too many details about the information contained in this first Critical Edition, for it would spoil your fun in learning what it has to offer when you purchase the book, which I recommend highly, but I would like to mention one sequence of connections that clearly tie several topics together: Bath in the late 18th century + Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion + 18th century satire + writing in rhyme + macaronis and fops + Matthew’s one-dimensional view of fops compared to Austen’s more masterful take on that fashionable group of gentlemen.

Historical and literary connections:

In 1762, Christopher Anstey wrote The New Bath Guide: Or Memoirs of the B-R-D Family, which consisted of 15 letters in poetic verse. The popularity of this guide began a tradition of writing letters, journals, and guides in rhyme. Decades later, John Matthews followed in his footsteps by using bawdy and satiric references, while also including Greek myths and the daily habits of visitors to Bath, and the region’s topography.

A portion of the page of Anstey's guide

Anstey’s rhyme regarding a reflection on arrival in Bath

In his poem, published in 1795, Matthews describes a day in Bath from morning to night using the sharp humor characteristic of Georgian era satire (notice the quote about taking the waters in the pump room at the start of this review). Matthews was not the only one to follow this wide practice. Men and women of fashion often wrote in rhyme, as did Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra, who wrote delightful recipes in that tradition. Jane, too, wrote poetry, but her poems are merely adequate when compared to her novels.

In one passage in the Adumbration, Matthews mentions macaronis in Milsom Street:

“Where, booted and spurred, the gay macaronies, 

Bestride Mandell’s counter instead of their ponies,

Preferring the pleasure of ‘tending the fair,

To breathing the freshness of Lansdown’s pure air” – Matthews

From the mid-18th century, cartoonists and writers made merry sport of the affectations of effete fops and macaronis, who were objects of visual and verbal fun. In his Adumbration, Matthews follows his era’s sardonic judgment. The annotations offer definitions and historical context that are placed conveniently near the Georgian terms and phrases that modern readers no longer understand. 

Image of a macaroni

1774 Wikimedia image of a macaroni or fop. “What is This, My Son Tom?”

Jane Austen’s take on fops, in the form of  Sir Walter Elliot (Persuasion), a man who cared more about his personal appearance than most men and women of his acquaintance, is more nuanced than Matthews’ fops, for behind Sir Walter’s sartorial pride and conceit, is a man disdainful of the middling sort, a man whose high opinion is reserved only for those he deems his equals, and a man who squanders his inheritance in the service of his immense ego. Unlike Austen, Mathews simply makes surface sport of a macaroni’s preference for fashion, much like the caricatures of his era.

Both Austen and Matthews portrayed Bath past its prime, however. It was once a highly desired resort town that, by the 1790’s, saw the mingling of the rising middle classes with an aging gentry and those on the downward slide, like Sir Walter, or with fortune hunters. Today, we read Matthews’ guide for fun and understanding; but we tend to reread Jane’s “fun” novels for their richness and insights!

matthew.austen

Portraits of John Matthews and Jane Austen. Vic’s image is from the book

Stanford online high school student testimonials:

The Jane Austen’s World team would like to thank the students for their hard work on this project and the excellent results. We would also like to thank Dr. Wiebracht and his colleagues for illuminating this document for a wider audience. In addition to their research, students were required to read Austen’s *Northanger Abbey. They also attended two 1 hour zoom workshops, one given by Tony Grant, and the other given by me, Vic.  A number of them sent notes of thanks!

“Thank you so much for being willing to get involved in our Bath project, for your enthusiasm on our work, and for helping us learn something new and unique about Jane Austen’s era! – Josie Chan

“Thank you so much for giving us a space on your platform, and for visiting our class last year!  Your insight on both Jane Austen and the publication process was invaluable.” –  Varsha Venkatram

“Thank you so much not only for giving us the opportunity to publish on your blog but for sharing your expertise. Your advice was an invaluable guide in this process.” – Sophia Romagnoli

“Thank you for visiting our class and publishing our article on your blog! It’s an honor to have been part of a team contribution to Jane Austen’s World. – Carolyn Engargiola

Note from Jane Austen’s World: Dear students, the honor is ours. We are so proud of your research and contributions, and cannot recommend this book highly enough – Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant

Order the book on Amazon:

Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme: A Critical Edition for Readers of Jane Austen (Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen) Paperback – 8 August 2021

by John Matthews  (Author), Ben Wiebracht (Editor), Josephine Chan (Editor), & 6 more

$9.99 U.S.

54 pages

Publisher: Pixelia Publishing (August 8, 2021)

Language: English

Paperback: 54 pages

U.S. Amazon

UK Amazon

Links:

Read Full Post »

Mr Darcy, Vampyre coverInquiring reader,

Great news! I have come across some letters by Elizabeth Bennet about  Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, written by Amanda Grange
, which is coming out this month. These letters, well, critiques, really, were penned long ago and describe events that seem to have transpired in a parallel universe. I was particularly struck by how freely Elizabeth shared her thoughts with her sister Jane about her adventures with an other-worldly Mr. Darcy. I will be publishing all of Elizabeth’s critiques over the next few days. Contained herein, then, is critique, part one of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. For those to whom this matters, spoiler alert!

My dearest Jane,

I have unaccountably awoken in the 21st century and I am writing to you out of habit, though I surmise that you must be long gone, or also living in that grey netherworld of the undead fictional character into which I have landed. I’ve just discovered that Mr. Darcy and I are the hero and heroine of a spate of books that, frankly, my dear sister, make me blush from shame. Apart from their topics (imagine us as zombie fighters and being married to vampyres), I am depicted as behaving in a manner that is so unlike myself that I fear my blood shall boil from the rise in my temper.

A recent book, which has turned my Mr. Darcy into a vampyre, has me seething in particular, for, my dear Jane, you know better than anyone that I am no namby pamby missish nebbish. In this book, the author has Mr. Darcy shunning my bed. The REAL Elizabeth Darcy née Bennet, had Mr. Darcy been guilty of such a heinous offence, would not have accepted the situation without hunting him down the corridors of their cruise ship (which is what honeymoon vessels seem to be these days) and demanding an explanation of why he was unresolved in his husbandly DUTY of BEGETTING an heir immediately. Instead, this Ms Grange has me strangely accepting the situation as if I were a zombie, which I am assuredly NOT, for has not Mr. Grahame-Smith given me the warrior skills to chop off their heads?

What particularly burns me, to use 21st century parlance, is that I take pride in my conversational ability. Sparks fly when Mr. Darcy and I converse. Even when such a mundane subject as tea comes up, double entendres abound. One may be assured that Mr. Darcy and I can easily devote hours of our lives sparring verbally and taking pleasure from these seemingly uneventful encounters. But Ms Grange has us speaking in dead and flat voices, as if we were not Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from the brilliant mind of Jane Austen, but another couple conjured up by some other author who happened to have given us similar names.

My dear Jane, I can assure you that there is only ONE Mr. Darcy and his Elizabeth. And so, I do protest strongly. Let Miss Grange choose another couple to write about. Miss Jane Austen was the first to use us and she should be the last! Oh, I am exhausted. My blood has almost reached boiling point, and I must find a cooling bath for, unfortunately, more than one reason.

Signed,

Your wedded but unbedded sister, Lizzie.

P.S. Are you experiencing a rabid bat infestation? One almost flew through my window, but I slammed it shut before it could enter. I shudder to think what might have happened had it landed on my neck. (Now why on earth did I think that?) I shall write more about this situation tomorrow, for there is so much I must share with you about my new life that my thoughts cannot be contained within a mere few sheets of vellum.

Read Full Post »

Last June I wrote a review of Jane Austen for Dummies for Jane Austen Today. I liked the book then, I like it still, and I use it often for reference. Several months after I shared my humble opinion, academician Stephanie Looser made a satirical reference to Professor Joan Klingel Ray’s book in her tongue in cheek essay, Jane Austen, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda. The comments under this article are as interesting to read as the article itself, including the response from Dr. Ray, who (accidentally I hope) dissed The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by my blogger friend, Laurie Viera Rigler. A few weeks ago, Laurel Ann from Austenprose wrote her astute assessment of the situation.

Let’s face it, Jane’s writing is more than brilliant, her stories are more than about mere romance, and her observations on the foibles of human nature are spot on and timeless. We all respond to her work in a very personal way. In fact, I am always open to others’ opinions about Jane and their reactions to her work. In turn, I ask for the same forbearance from others.

While a good debate is healthy (and I have exchanged opinionated ideas with several bloggers), some of the rabid, almost viral responses in discussion boards or the comment sections of blogs utterly perplex me. One individual, for example, jumped on Joan Klingel Ray’s supposedly wrong date for the French Revolution. Disliking the book for various other reasons, she dismissed Dr. Ray’s authority. Excuse me? Dr. Ray happens to be one of the premier authorities on Jane Austen.

Let’s lighten up folks, and take Stephanie Looser’s essay for what it was: irony and fun. We 21st century denizens might have more sophisticated toys to play with than our regency era counterparts, and 200 extra years of war, famine, pollution and inventions under our collective historical belts to put things in perspective, but our predictable behavior and reactions are of the sort that Jane relished satirizing.

Read Full Post »

The Janeites on the James meet every other month or so. This past time I brought my new stash of four Jane Austen resource books and showed them around. One elicited a laugh the moment the Janeites saw it: Jane Austen for Dummies.

“Let them laugh,” I thought, handing it around and keeping quiet. Sure enough, the first Janeite, the youngest among us, opened the book playfully. As she leafed through the pages, she became thoughtful. “This is good,” she declared, keeping the book a long time.

“Hah,” I thought. “That shows ’em.” At the end of the evening one of the Janeites borrowed the book, and all declared they were going to order it as soon as possible. The majority of us have graduate degrees, and all of us can only be described as discerning females, so this was no mean feat.

The contents in this book alone are worthy of praise. In addition to a clear and concise organization of thoughts and topics, the author, Joahn Klingel Ray, PhD, writes with much authority. The book is an outstanding addition to any Jane lover’s library. Dr. Ray is an English Professor at the University of Colorado and the President of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

Believe me when I say: She knows her stuff. The book is rather large to put in one’s purse, so I would bring The Jane Austen Handbook when traveling. But for reference at home, I would turn to this book as well.

My rating? Three Regency Fans. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore or google the name to purchase this fabulous find.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: