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A Review of ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’

Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publication Date: January 1, 2013

There’s magic in reading a book that’s destined to stay with you through the years.  The act of discovery is reactive.  It ripples into perspective, tearing off rose-colored glasses or placing them back on.  As with the best books, this alchemy alters everything.  The world is suddenly different.  And this is wonderful.

The terrible part comes next.  There’s that twinge of sadness when the first impression is over because there is only one first time, one exhilarating intake of those perfect moments of pleasurable reading.  Pride and Prejudice evokes these feelings in the happy souls who experience love at first read, and the loss is enough to make readers inclined, if only for a heartbeat, to go about wailing like Mrs. Bennet.

The good news is that Janeites can save themselves the trouble.

Much like rereading P&P, spending a few hours with Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is a balm to the dismal fact that there is but one P&P among myriad imitations.  It’s a bonus that Fullerton’s enjoyment in writing the commemoration is palpable; what the book tries to accomplish and indeed does is evoke the delight of what Austen called “my own darling child” by exploring what makes the novel unforgettable.

The table of contents is enough to get this reader excited.  My favorite chapter is ‘Did They all Live Happily Ever After?: Sequels and Adaptations’ as it is an amusing summary of what happens when a novel enters the public imagination.  Visually, Celebrating also has much to recommend itself.  The pages offer illustrations adorning various editions, covers on translations and teen imprints, and historical depictions of place and person.  Fullerton’s character analyses of Elizabeth as a luminously unique heroine in her time and Darcy as the mold from which many beloved romance heroes now spring are likewise irresistible.

Underscoring all is a history of the novel’s journey, from its inception in 1796, to its underwhelming public reception before it eventually reached epic literary status.  By the book’s end, Celebrating presents an engrossing study of why P&P is so appealing.  For Janeites, it is a thoughtful guide to everything P&P.  For writers, it invites us to consider the forest for the trees.  History buffs and literary enthusiasts will also enjoy a look inside the evolution of a masterpiece, from publication to metamorphosis through films, literary sequels and adaptations, and yes, merchandising.

Verdict

I believe Fullerton has celebrated P&P in a way Jane Austen would appreciate.  The tone of Celebrating Pride and Prejudice possesses nothing of the sparkly fandom that Lydia Bennet might exhibit, nor the dry pedagogical airs of Mary Bennet.  It achieves something akin to the sisterhood between Elizabeth and Jane: best enjoyed with a warm cup of tea in a room shared with an old friend. I loved it and would highly recommend giving it a read.

~ Book Description ~

“Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure,” Elizabeth Bennet tells Fitzwilliam Darcy in one of countless exhilarating scenes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The remembrance of Austen’s brilliant work has given its readers pleasure for 200 years and is certain to do so for centuries to come. The book is incomparable for its wit, humor, and insights into how we think and act—and how our “first impressions” (the book’s initial title) can often be remarkably off-base. All of these facets are explored and commemorated in Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, written by preeminent Austen scholar Susannah Fullerton. Fullerton delves into what makes Pride and Prejudice such a groundbreaking masterpiece, including the story behind its creation (the first version may have been an epistolary novel written when Austen was only twenty), its reception upon publication, and its tremendous legacy, from the many films and miniseries inspired by the book (such as the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth) to the even more numerous “sequels,” adaptations, mash-ups (zombies and vampires and the like), and pieces of merchandise, many of them very bizarre.
 
Interspersed throughout are fascinating stories about Austen’s brief engagement (perhaps to the man who inspired the ridiculous Mr. Collins), the “Darcin” pheromone, the ways in which Pride and Prejudice served as bibliotherapy in the World War I trenches, why it caused one famous author to be tempted into thievery, and much more. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful celebration of a book that has had an immeasurable influence on literature and on anyone who has had the good fortune to discover it.
 
~ About Susannah Fullerton ~
 
Susannah Fullerton is president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia (the largest literary society in the country), a post she has held for the past fifteen years.  She is a popular literary lecturer, the author of Jane Austen and Crime and many articles about Austen, and the co-editor of Jane Austen: Antipodean Views.
 
For more about Ms. Fullerton and her work, please visit her website.

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A Broom of One’s Own – A Rambling Book Review

From the doctor who leaves his poop in the toilet (really!), his teenage children walking around in their underwear, to the broken couple who write scathing and sometimes heartbreaking notes to each other on the kitchen counter, Nancy Peacock, housecleaner extraordinaire, tells it all.  But this book isn’t about the messes people make, it’s about writing, writing from the dirt up. For the aspiring writer teeming with illusions about the fabulous writer’s life, it might just be a slap in the face, but a slap, alas, that every butterfly catching, cloud hopping dreamer should read.

The Nitty Gritty

There’s a passage in Chapter Two: Diary of a Mad Housekeeper where Peacock is talking to a guy who’s read a book or two of hers. It made me howl, especially when first, he informs her he didn’t like them and second, he suggests she read Bridget Jones’ Diary for the learning experience, a book he thought was flipping great. She thinks (and of course as a nice, tongue-frozen-in-restraint writer doesn’t say) that he should read Miss Manners. 

Some claim kids say the damndest things? No, adults do.

Being a writer, published or unpublished, provokes all sorts of comments. My recent personal favorite: “What’s the point of writing a book if it’s not gonna be published?  You’re not gonna write a second one are you?”  For the record, that was in regard to a conversation about my first book,  shelved for the time being.  It’s stewing for more flavors. Until it’s cooked, it’s going to stay there, maybe forever.

But back to the point, success doesn’t prevent a writer from catching a stinger now and then.  As Peacock writes, being published does not provide a magic shield that separates your splendid self from money woes, from the daily grind of being human. From anything. Writing makes you vulnerable, publishing even more so.

Which leads me to my next favorite part: writing is “like living a double life.” Yes, I thought while reading this. Yes, yes, yes! This may be the one thing I fail to communicate to those closest to me. My characters are real to me. They bring me pain, joy, all the emotions a friend could elicit.   And if I talk about them with as much passion as I feel, I sound crazy. I’m really not. I just live a double life. God, I love that.

Verdict:  Buy it.  A Broom of One’s Own is a short work on writing and life that is nothing short of honest, soul-tickling amazing.  It has nudged itself on my cramped keeper shelf for all it says and everything it implies.  Peacock’s words made me feel saner.  Her story reminded me that publishing is not always (or perhaps not often) the life altering earthquake it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a paycheck, a foot in the door, a badge of success, but it doesn’t make you something you’re not.  It doesn’t change your work for the better and it doesn’t make you instantly fabulous or celebrated or free from life’s hassles.  And I think that’s a good thing.  Life needs to be real for writing to stay real.  And really, what’s more real than cleaning up other people’s dirt?

Queen of Fashion – Book Review

Queen of Fashion paints a vivid picture of a defiant queen, externally frivolous, sartorially political, and, as we all know, inevitably doomed.  A queen whose legendary fashions would sweep the fabric of change before France.

 Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber

What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

Throughout her youth Marie Antoinette was a figure to be envied, despised, a foreign queen who acted more like a courtesan than a consort.  The words she never spoke (Let them eat cake!) are remembered with more vivacity than those chilling sentiments recorded in her letters (“I have seen everything, known everything, forgotten everything.” October 1789).

At the end of her life, her body wracked, hemorrhaging, her soul devoured, she would die a misunderstood queen, one that history would refuse to relinquish to the crackled pages of time.

More than any other day in her life, on October 16, 1793, she inspired a rare kind of divine awe in the populace.  As noted in Weber, “By most accounts, as the spectral white figure was escorted through the double hedgerow of navy- blue-coated soldiers who lined her path, the crowds reacted with stunned, leaden silence.”   Garbed in scraggly black mourning dress during her internment at the Conciergerie and denied those same widow’s weeds upon her death (as the privilege of mourning was associated with the aristocracy) she had one last statement up her sleeve.  In a move of fashion genius, she had saved a pristine white chemise in anticipation of her final parade .  . .

Marie Antoinette Taken to the Guillotine, William Hamilton, 1794

At the age of thirty-seven, her hair the angel white of the gaulles she wore while frolicking in the gardens of the Trianon, she proceeded to the guillotine, shorn of all royal refinement, but possessed of a final resistance: undeniable, unrelenting grace.

She went to her death as she lived her life, courageously, unwilling to confirm to the dictates of her gaolers, Versailles and later, ironically, her people.

Marie Antoinette , Joseph Ducreux, 1769

Ange ou demon?

Enemy of the Republic, royal conspirator and counterrevolutionary, that Austrian bitch or conversely, victim and bubble-headed consort, Marie Antoinette proves herself as neither.  She dusted flour in her poufs while her people starved; crippled the silk industry – a mainstay in the French luxury economy – by flaunting her preference for foreign fabrics.  She influenced Louis XVI, a soft hearted, bewildered king – a break in the imperious line his Bourbon ancestors – when consorts before her faded as forgotten queens.  Her exploits infamous far beyond France, she shadowed the already dissolute, depraved Court of Versailles in her scandals, becoming the sun itself.

January 1793:  Louis, ever faithful to her, ever weak, goes to his death wearing a coat a la cheveux de la Reine, the golden-red of his wife’s youthful hair.  The future king in an abolished monarchy, Louis Charles, her son, is ripped from her prison cell, placed in the hands of a drunkard, a fervent revolutionist bent on beating privileged sensibilities out of the boy.  Although the testimony in her trial is composed of hearsay, lies, and speculation, the memory of Madame Deficit, the Autrichienne who failed to metamorphose into a true, French royal, triumphs.

In my favorite chapter, the last entitled “White,” Weber draws her readers into this profound last vision of Marie Antoinette:  “White the simultaneous coexistence of all colors: revolutionary blue and red, royalist vilent and green.  White the color of the locks she saw the executioner slip into his pocket as her sheared her head to prepare her for her fate.  White the color of matrydom, of holy heaven of eternal life.”  And this eloquent, final prose: “White the color of a ghost too beautiful, or at least too willful, to die.  White the color of the pages which her story has been – and will be – written.  Again and again and again.”

Read it?

If, after ingesting biographies, memoirs, and blogs, Marie Antoinette still holds your imagination, your picture yet incomplete of this misunderstood queen, read Queen of Fashion.  Combining exhaustive scholarship and vast insight, Caroline Weber writes with a deft hand, reviving an icon in a flourish of silks and muslins and widow’s weeds.  Revisiting her story on a Weber’s fresh canvas, I like Marie Antoinette more and I like her less, but finally, if only a little, I think I understand her.

Book 1 of Enchanted by Josephine’s French Historicals Challenge completed!