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Two_women_are_arguing_in_the_street_watched_by_a_crowd._Etch_Wellcome_V0040755How better to start 2016 at Risky Regencies than with a cat fight? Not a real one, of course, but a literary one pitting Jane Austen against Charlotte Brontë.

I just read Why Charlotte Brontë Hated Jane Austen by Susan Ostrov Weisser (Daily Beast, 10/19/2013) and, intrigued, looked around and found The Austen vs Brontë Smackdown on the blog Austen Pride (5/16/2009). I also found a long discussion of Austen vs the Brontës on Goodreads, which I skimmed, but did not read.

Apparently Charlotte Brontë had never read Jane Austen until a critic suggested she do so after she’d written Jane Eyre. She studied Pride and Prejudice and, among other things had this to say:

She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood…

Austen Pride makes the point that Austen, who had passed away a year after Charlotte Brontë was born, could not rebut this accusation. In Northanger Abbey, Austen did, however, parody the emotional excesses of gothic tales, of which the Brontës’ books could be included.

Of course, those of us who love Austen would also argue that there is plenty of passion in Austen’s work, although it is brimming beneath the surface. How could you not think so of Persuasion?

Austen Pride concluded that the two authors were writing from different perspectives. Austen was writing about her keen observations of the world in which she lived; Charlotte and her sisters, on the other hand, wrote what was in their imagination.

Me, I was never a huge fan of Jane Eyre. I loved the beginning when she was in the orphanage, but I never believed in the romance between Jane and Rochester. And the coincidences of falling in a ditch and being found by her long-lost cousin didn’t work for me. I also hated how Rochester treated Jane. And don’t get me started on Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff and Cathy have to die to be together? And who would want Heathcliff anyway? I preferred Edgar to Heathcliff.

I think I hold my fictional heroes to very high standards, ones that the Rochester and Heathcliff don’t quite meet. I understand the forces driving the Brontë heroes, but I much prefer heroes I can admire and even fall in love with. Heroes like Austen creates.

I also love all the finely drawn characters in Austen’s books. Their actions and feelings are much more believable to me and that gives me the sense that I’m in a real place, among real people.

But that is me, thinking on the surface of the stories, which is mostly how I read books.

What about you? Do you prefer Austen or the Brontës? Or do you like both for different reasons?

Breaking news! According to the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, the upcoming Northanger Abbey television adaptation (scripted by Andrew Davies, the screenwriter of the beloved Firth/Ehle Pride and Prejudice) will be filmed entirely in Ireland. Apparently, Ireland gives much better tax breaks for television productions than Britain does, which led to the decision. So next year, when Northanger Abbey airs on ITV, all the backgrounds and buildings and assembly rooms will be Irish.

I must admit, this decision disturbs me greatly!

I do adore Bath, but that’s not the only reason I’m upset that the new Northanger Abbey will not be filmed at all there. It’s that I cannot imagine the story of naive Catherine Morland, sprightly Isabella Thorpe, boorish John Thorpe, satirical Mr. Tilney, and all the rest taking place anywhere else! (I refer, of course, to the first [and better] half of the novel. The last bit can be filmed anywhere at all, for all I’m concerned.)

Jane Austen gives our heroine the true Bath experience! She attends the Pump Room, the Upper Rooms (pictured here), the Lower Rooms, she shops on Milsom Street, she stays on Pulteney Street, she “breathes the fresh air of better company” up at the Royal Crescent. The first half of the book is truly about Bath. And Bath is immediately recognizable. How can they possibly film it anywhere else?

So, in honor of Bath, so cruelly slighted, I am sharing with you some of the photos I took of Bath during my recent trip there. In fact, I have so many pictures I want to share, that I’ve put them in two different blog posts. (Blogger gets touchy about a post with too many pictures!)

My question for today: what do you think of the decision to film Northanger Abbey entirely in Ireland? Do you think Ireland’s Georgian buildings can pass for Bath with some clever photography? Do you think it doesn’t much matter where the story is set? Do you think the previous Northanger Abbey adaptation was so dreadful that anything will be an improvement?

All opinions welcome!

MY LADY GAMESTER — Booksellers’ Best Finalist for Best Regency of 2005!

Besides anxiety about Sandy, Halloween has obsessed me for much of this week.  This past weekend I helped to run a Halloween Party for my UU church, complete with a Haunted House put on by some of the older youth including one of my daughters, who played her role to creepy perfection.

While waiting for Sandy to hit, we finished carving our pumpkins in accordance with this year’s theme, Lord of the Rings.  (My daughters dressed up as Elven maidens in medieval-style gowns and their ever-useful Vulcan ears.)  Here’s my pumpkin, carved with the head of a Balrog, the fire demon that the wizard Gandalf battles in the mines of Moria.

Carving vegetables into scary shapes was already a custom during the Regency, although potatoes and turnips were often used.  If you want to learn more, check out my post about Jack-o-Lanterns from a few years ago.

We were fortunate enough not to lose power, so I was able to toast the pumpkin seeds the next day. This year, we experimented with a Mexican-inspired version. They were quite yummy. Those that I didn’t spill on the kitchen floor while transferring from pan to storage container, that is!

Here’s my recipe should you care to try it:

Ingredients: pumpkin seeds, olive oil, chili powder, cumin, salt.

  1. Rinse pumpkin seeds. Remove all pulp. Drain and spread on a cookie sheet to dry overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 250F. Line baking sheet with foil.
  3. Toss pumpkin seeds in enough olive oil, salt, cumin and chili powder (about twice as much chili powder as the cumin) to lightly coat them.
  4. Bake for about 1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. Cool. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.

Lastly, I was browsing around Youtube and found this clip of Northanger Abbey as if it really were a Gothic horror novel.

I hope you all enjoyed or will enjoy your Halloween, if you live in an area where it has been rescheduled. I think it’s important for the children (all of us, really) to maintain fun traditions even during scary, troubling times.

So what did you do for Halloween or what are you planning?


(n) Gothic romance (a romance that deals with desolate and mysterious and grotesque events) — from the Princeton University website

My introduction to Gothic romance was in high school, where I first read Jane Eyre and got sucked in by all the classic Gothic romance elements: a romantic but dangerous setting, an innocent and vulnerable heroine, a hero with Secrets. Later (having gone to an all-girl Catholic school) I also read Rebecca, a more modern Gothic that fascinated me and many of my classmates.

I suspect a lot of Gothic romance authors have been inspired by Jane Eyre, but Charlotte Bronte was by no means the founder of the genre. During the Regency, readers enjoyed Gothic romances such as those published by the Minerva Press. It was Ann Radcliffe who made them popular with examples like The Mysteries of Udolpho, which inspired much of the foolish behavior of Catherine, the heroine of Northanger Abbey. Although Jane Austen poked fun at Gothics, I suspect she enjoyed reading some of them herself. BTW I find this cover for Northanger Abbey very funny!

Gothics can go awry. I think the concept of the TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) heroine arose with romances in which the heroine runs off in her nightie, holding nothing but a candle, to investigate an eerie sound in the attic or cellar where dire events are suspected to have occurred.

I still like Gothic romance and I happily suspend disbelief to follow the characters into situations that are wildly unlikely in real life. I played with some of these elements in my recent reissue, SAVING LORD VERWOOD. I haven’t read many recent historicals like this (though I’m admittedly way behind in my reading) but dark paranormals provide the same thrill. A well-written romance with Gothic elements is like a piece of luscious chocolate. Who cares if it’s good for you?

Do you enjoy romance with Gothic elements? What are some of your favorites, classic or modern?

I’ll be giving away 5 Kindle or Nook copies of SAVING LORD VERWOOD to commenters chosen at random. If you win, you can also nominate a friend to receive a free copy. Void where prohibited. You must be over 18. No purchase necessary. Post your comment by midnight EST on January 13. I will post an announcement on Saturday, January 14, so please check back to see if you have won.


We’re delighted to have Amanda Grange as our guest today, author of Henry Tilney’s Diary, the latest in her line of takes on Austen leading men (and yes, she’s also tackled Wickham and Darcy as a vampire!). Amanda will give away a copy of her book, so please comment or ask her a question to enter into the drawing! Since Amanda is on UK time, we’ll be choosing a winner at 12 noon EST on Monday.

I was thoroughly engaged. I believe my money and my time, well spent; surely one of her best diaries to date! Austen fans may declare Mr. Darcy as their favorite, I dare say, Mr. Tilney improves on acquaintance. Even if you are not as familiar with Northanger Abbey as other Austen works, you will still find the tendency of Henry Tilney’s Diary to be altogether recommendable. A must for your reading list. Austenprose

I adore Henry Tilney and I’m so glad your book is about him. What do you like best about Henry?

I like his wit and his irreverence, in fact, I love them. He doesn’t take himself, or life, too seriously. He has an odd life in many ways: his mother died when he was young, his father is overbearing and his brother is dissolute, but Henry manages to rise above it all and go on being amusing and entertaining. Anyone who can maintain his good humour in the face of such adversity is someone I really love.

Did you find him more difficult to write than Austen’s more alpha male heroes such as Darcy and Wentworth?

If I’d written him as the first hero, I think I might have done, but after writing so many alpha males I was glad to have a break from them and write about someone warm and witty instead. I particularly enjoyed exploring his relationship with his sister, which we know to be a close one, and I think it’s this relationship that makes him so open and comfortable around women. I think that’s why Henry avoids so many of the problems the alpha heroes have in their romantic relationships. Although Darcy is close to his sister, it isn’t a relationship of equals as there is too much of an age gap, but Henry and Isabella are friends as well as siblings.

I read somewhere that Henry and Catherine are doomed to become Mr. and Mrs. Bennett—that Catherine’s sweetness and prettiness alone aren’t enough to sustain a long term relationship. How do you expand upon Catherine’s character?

I don’t see it like that. I think there is a solid basis for their future together because Henry is a clergyman and Catherine is a clergyman’s daughter, so they have the same kind of background, whereas Mr. and Mrs. Bennet came from different spheres of life: he was a landowner and she was the daughter of a country attorney.

And of course, Henry won’t have so much to try him. Catherine’s follies are the kind that she will naturally grow out of, in fact she’s already started to mature by the end of Northanger Abbey. She realises that she was a fool – however sweet – for imagining the laundry list was something sinister, and for thinking that the abbey was the scene of a murder. But I think she will remain imaginative, and that Henry will always appreciate this, because it’s one of the things that attracts him to her. There is a bit in Henry Tilney’s Diary which sums this up for me (Henry’s words):

“Not for me the unthinking, unfeeling woman who wears a halo of common sense and sees nothing in an abbey but an old building with inconvenient passages. Far rather would I have a young lady whose head is in the clouds, when those clouds are filled with such startling adventures.”

Did you make any interesting discoveries about Henry and the rest of the Tilneys?

Oh, yes, a lot. I started the book when Henry was fifteen so that I could explore his backstory and find out what makes him the man he becomes. I delved into his relationships with his parents, his brother and his sister. This led me to elaborate on Eleanor’s romantic relationship, and the ways in which Henry helped it along. I’ve always been intrigued by Eleanor, because although Austen tells us, at the end of Northanger Abbey, that Eleanor marries, we don’t see her husband in Northanger Abbey. So I created a house party at which she meets her future husband and Henry sympathises with her difficulties, namely that her father won’t countenance a match with a poor man.

I also had a lot of fun with Frederick. To begin with, I was going to make him a Wickham / Willoughby type, as he seems like a typical rake, but there are hints in Northanger Abbey that he is something more, and so I cast him as a disappointed romantic – which is often the reality behind a cynic. I created a backstory for him which explains his behaviour and also allows him to develop a friendship with Catherine, once they come to know each other better after Catherine’s engagement. I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to spoil it, but I really enjoyed writing it.

I think we’re left at the end of Northanger Abbey with a divided extended family—the General isolated from his children, and a lot of awkwardness between Catherine and her former BFF Isabella. How do you think everyone will get on in future?

The General is reconciled to his children when the young man Eleanor wants to marry inherits a fortune and title – “never had the general loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility, and patient endurance as when he first hailed her Your Ladyship!” (last chapter of Northanger Abbey). And through Eleanor’s good offices, he is reconciled to Henry and Catherine’s match. So although he will never be close to his children, he will at least be invited for Christmas, or vice versa! And in Henry Tilney’s Diary, I have him reconciled to Frederick as well, even though he hurt Frederick a great deal when Frederick was a young man.

As for Catherine and Isabelle, I don’t believe they will ever see each other again. They will move out of each other’s lives, and a good thing, too.

What research did you do for the book?

I read Northanger Abbey again very carefully, once to put myself back into the mood of the book and then again to make detailed notes on names, places etc. Then I worked out the timeline for the book and drew up a calendar of events. And then I set about reading some of Mrs. Radcliffe’s Gothic novels again, to choose one for Henry and Eleanor to read together in the early part of the book. I wanted to use The Mysteries of Udolpho, but somehow it didn’t gel – I wanted to use some actual quotes from the book, to give readers a flavour of the Regency Gothics, and the story of Udolpho didn’t fit. So I read through about half a dozen other Gothics until I came to A Sicilian Romance, which has a plot that beautifully complements Northanger Abbey and paves the way for Catherine’s wild imaginings. As to the other side of research – the historical detail side – I’ve written so many Regency novels that I now have files of notes I can turn to when I’m not sure about something, but for the most part I can move comfortably in that world because I’m familiar with it.

Who would your dreamteam movie cast be for the book?

Although I generally think of English actors for Austen characters, I actually think that Bradley Cooper would make a good Henry. I would choose Sophie McShera for Catherine. She plays Daisy the kitchen maid in Downton Abbey and I think she would have just the right mixture of naïveté and innocence for Catherine. Plus it would give the actress a chance to wear some better frocks!

For Eleanor I would choose Carey Mulligan. She played Isabella in the recent TV adaptation of Northanger Abbey, but she’s a very versatile actress and I think she would also play Eleanor very well. For Frederick I would choose Rob James-Collier for Frederick. He plays Thomas in Downton Abbey – can you tell I’m obsessed with Downton Abbey? – and is perfect for a sleazy lothario, but I also think he’s capable of giving depth to the character, which is perfect for my view of Frederick.

So let’s get chatting! Have you read Northanger Abbey? Who’s your favorite Austen hero (other than Darcy)?

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