• Jane Austen,  Research

    Rings and things

    I was going to write today about how, according to brainyhistory.com, on this day in 1820 tomatoes were proved to not be poisonous! A breakthrough even though ketchup had been on Regency tables for some time, Thomas Jefferson had cultivated them (surely not for the flowers?), and in South America people had been chowing down on them for centuries. However I’ve not found any supporting evidence for today being the day, so forget about that…

    I expect you’ve read about Jane Austen’s ring coming up for auction. It’s been in the family for almost two centuries, going to her sister Cassandra on Jane’s death. Cassandra then gave it to her sister in law Eleanor (who married brother Henry), who childless, gave it to her niece Caroline  who was the daughter of brother James. It makes me sad that this may be the one and only glimpse of her ring we’ll get unless (please, please) someone buys it and donates it to the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. Because otherwise what do you do with it? Wear it on special occasions and hope you don’t absentmindedly leave it somewhere (like in a public restroom over the sink)? Keep it in a safe and have dates with it where you open the door and gaze upon it? I just don’t get it.

    The big news of the day is that I have three well-muscled young men in the house doing things for me. If you follow me on FB, which is generally very unrewarding, you’ll know that I’m undergoing a massive and exciting kitchen/downstairs of the house remodel (it’s a very small house). Today is granite day! Pics will come later. I’m keeping out of the way. It will be very spiffy.

    And that’s about all that’s going on with me at the moment. Conspicuously short on writing news, you may notice although I’m reading–latest great read was The Private Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan, one of my very favorite writers. What have you read recently and what do you think of the Austen ring auction? If you bought it, what would you do with it?

  • Uncategorized

    Happy birthday, William Godwin!

    Today’s the birthday of William Godwin, born March 3, 1756 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, the son of a nonconformist Calvinist minister, who became a journalist, novelist, publisher, and founder of philosophical anarchism.

    He who should make these principles would not rashly insist upon instant abolition of all existing abuses . . . . Truth, however unreserved by the mode of its enunciation, will be sufficiently gradual in is progress. It will be fully comprehended only be slow degrees, by its most assiduous votaries; and the degrees will be still more temperate by which it will pervade so considerable a portion of the community as to render them mature for a change of their common institutions . . . we shall have many reforms, but no revolutions . . . . Revolutions are the produce of passion, not of sober and tranquil reason.

    His life is a fascinating mass of contradictions: the radical who didn’t believe in formal institutions married Mary Wollstonecraft when she became pregnant for reasons of propriety; he strongly disapproved of his daughter Mary‘s elopement with the (married) poet Shelley but accepted Shelley’s money; in his old age he accepted a pension from a Tory government.

    Throughout his life, Godwin kept a journal, a brief daily listing of people he had meals, conversations, or meetings with, now transcribed and analyzed online courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, The Godwin Project. His meetings with Mary are recorded in code.

    Godwin and Mary, UR Getting It Wrong…

    After three failed attempts to consummate their attraction, recorded concisely in Godwin’s diary as ”chez moi,” ”chez elle” (twice), victory is finally denoted by ”chez elle toute” — surely one of history’s most succinct sexual success reports.

    Wollstonecraft’s diary indicated that while it was not entirely ”toute” for her — not the ”rapture” of Imlay, her only other lover — it was an experience of ”sublime tranquillity.”

    Once starting their affair they meticulously practiced the most sophisticated birth control of the day: abstention for three days following menstruation and then frequent sex for the remainder of the month (frequency was thought to lower the possibility of conception.) Bingo! Within a few months Wollstonecraft was pregnant and these two outspoken opponents of marriage, married, though they maintained their separate abodes and their mutual, and separate, circles of acquaintances. Toni Bentley’s review for the New York Times of Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon. More.

    Here’s the page from Godwin’s diary that records the birth of his daughter on August 30, 1797, in the rather cramped entry added in halfway down the left page: {Birth of Mary, 20 minutes after 11 at night. Ten days later Mary Wollstonecraft was dead of childbirth complications. An entry on the right page reads: …dying in the evening.

    I’ll recommend once again Jude Morgan’s wonderful novel Passion about Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Shelley and Byron and the women who were their lovers and victims.

    I’m fascinated by the story of Wollstonecraft and Godwin and the fact that she’s still an icon of feminism whereas he’s pretty much sunk into obscurity. Have you read any of his works? Here’s a bibliography. I’m tempted to try his novel, if only for the reason that anyone Mary Wollstonecraft loved has to be okay.

    What do you think? Who are your favorite couples, fictional or historical, where the women outshine their men?

    And in self-promoting news (you knew it had to be coming) check out the great review for Mr. Bishop and the Actress at Dear Author. Pam Rosenthal will be holding a contest to win copies of both Mr. Bishop and the Actress and Improper Relations starting tomorrow.

  • Uncategorized

    My 2010

    Eek, the year is almost over and there’s still so much to do …

    OK, stuff this year. I know I read lots of books but what were they?

    It was something of a banner year for Jude Morgan fangirls since he had two books out, and like Amanda I loved his retelling of the Bronte story, A Taste of Sorrow (the UK title), and while I thought A Little Folly wasn’t as strong as Indiscretion, it was intriguing if a little disappointing on the first reading. A second reading though left me feeling happier about it.

    I dipped a toe or two into the Romance Waters and absolutely recommend my buddy Miranda Neville‘s latest, The Dangerous Viscount, which is funny, witty, and smart (and has a virgin hero if your socks are rocked by that sort of thing).

    Another buddy, Lorelle Marinello, had her debut book out, Salting Roses, this fall. Now normally if I encounter the term southern women’s fiction I run a mile. But this was my buddy’s book and besides she mentioned me in the credits, and I bought it. I read it. I loved it. It’s smart and mercifully free of cliches and beautifully written. Go get it right now!

    I’ve just finished Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, which is wonderful, about aging and families and rock n roll and sharks washing up on English seaside beaches in 1964 and all sorts of great stuff. I also have just read the first Sookie Stackhouse book after becoming very irritated with True Blood, and I loved it. It’s one of those examples of a book that when it was translated to a visual medium lost the nuances and verve of the narration (and as cute as Anna Paquin is, I think her character is considerably watered down for TV). What a great voice!

    Talking of TV, a couple of great UK imports arrived on BBCAmerica this year: The Choir, which is a series about conductor Gareth Malone going into unlikely places and getting people to sing, particularly those who can’t/won’t/don’t, inspiring me to do it in my own town (I’m still looking for more men, btw). And also Law & Order UK which is fabulous–full of angst and moral ambiguity and cups of tea and starring Mrs. Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter) as the Gov.

    This is the year in which I decided I didn’t like Heyer much any more (sorry, Carolyn, though I’m keeping an open mind) but I became a great admirer of Stieg Larsson’s Girl… series, and finally got to see the movie of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, riveting to me, confusing to my husband who hadn’t read the book. Months after everyone else did I also saw Young Victoria. But the best film of the year for me (other than the last five minutes) was An Education, screenplay by Nick Hornby.

    I spent a lot of time this year reading about and researching Austen, and discovered Laurie Viera Riegler‘s wonderful Confessions of a Jane Austen addict, and I intend to buy the sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict very soon.

    I have a couple of Xmas presents to look forward to, At Home by Bill Bryson and the annotated Pride and Prejudice, both too big and heavy for the commute which is where I do most of my reading.

    But the highlight of 2010 was that this was the year in which I reached out to old friends and although we have been dreadful about keeping in touch since, I know that great gaps will not take place again.

    Happy new year, everyone, and may 2011 be filled with great books and great friends!

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