Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!

We at the Jane Austen Society of Ireland would like to wish all our members, and Austen fans everywhere, a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

This was the year that we celebrated the bicentenary anniversary of the publication of 'Pride and Prejudice', so if you haven't yet read Austen's hugely popular novel, you still have a week or so to finish it before the end of this anniversary year.

This was also the year that we established the Jane Austen Society of Ireland, held our premiere event in the beautiful Farmleigh and published our first society journal, The Austen Gazette. We'd like to thank you all for the support and encouragement in all of these endeavours and look forward to more events and publications in 2014.  

But the Austen treats are not over yet.  Remember to tune in to BBC One to catch 'Death Comes to Pemberley', a sequel to Austen's novel, which was written by P.D. James and directed for television by Daniel Percival.  The story will be told over three nights this holiday season and promises to have us all enthralled.  

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Death Comes to Pemberley starts on BBC One on 26 December at 2015 GMT and continues on the 27 and 28 December 2013

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Happy Birthday Jane!

December 16th is the day, more than any other, that we think and remember Jane Austen, for that was the day that she was born.

On the following day, December 17th 1775, Rev. George Austen wrote to Mrs.Walter (wife of his half-brother William Hampson Walter.)

"You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire,and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age (he was 44 and his wife Cassandra was 36!!) grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came,and without a great deal of warning,everything was soon happily over.We now have another girl,a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion.She is to be Jenny,and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry as Cassy is to Neddy. Your sister thank God is pure well after it..."

Jane (not Jenny) was privately baptised the day after her birth but,as the winter of 1775-6 was one of the bitterest for many years, she was not taken to Steventon Church for a public christening until April 5th 1776.

By Eileen Collins Cork.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Introducing the Arrival of The Austen Gazette

At last we have our own dear child!  It is with great pleasure that we can announce the arrival of our very own JASI newsletter, The Austen Gazette.  
It is reserved for signed-up members only, but I can tell you that it includes a wonderful list of Austen related gift items that might come in handy this Christmas, compiled by Society Secretary, Sinead Ryan Coughlan. There is also a look at a very unique Austen website that is sure to improve your prose style.  
Some of our enthused members wax lyrical about their varied Austen experiences this year, and we even get a sneak glimpse into Mr Collins's little black book.  
If you are curious to find out more, you can join the Society today, and we will email your copy of the Austen Gazette straight away.  Joining the JASI is simple; just click on the 'Membership' link on the right of the page.  
Let me take this opportunity to thank all the contributors to our very first issue of the Austen Gazette; we really do appreciate you taking the time to send in pieces for publication, and a special thanks too to John Deering for supplying us with this very festive cover illustration.  John was very eager to assure us that no Austen novels were harmed in the making of this newsletter.  What a relief! Happy reading everyone! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Celebrating Jane Austen's Birthday this December

 Jane Austen was born 238 years ago this December.  What better way to celebrate the birth of our favourite author than to go along to the Gate Theatre, Dublin, next month, with the JASI, to see the latest production of Pride and Prejudice, in this the bicentenary year of that novel's publication.
But wait!  Exciting News!  The lovely people at The Gate Theatre have organised a speaker to come and talk to us before the evening performance of Pride and Prejudice on the 5th December.  Now you have a very good reason to book your tickets on that particular evening and to come along and meet your fellow JASI members after the show in the bar.  Of course, this means that you will need to be there at 6:30, an hour before the play begins.
The pre-show talk will be given by Lori Comerford, the very she who is currently presenting a course on Jane Austen every Monday evening in University College Dublin.  I am sure she will have us enthralled!  So do hurry and book your ticket for The Gate on Thursday, December 5th; it promises to be a wonderful evening.  What a fine way to celebrate Jane Austen's birthday!

Here is the cast list, just to whet your appetite:

We are excited to announce that Sam O’Mahony will play the role of Mr. Darcy.
Lorna Quinn will play Elizabeth Bennet, Eleanor Methven will play the part of silly Mrs. Bennet, while her long suffering husband, Mr. Bennet, will be played by Stephen Brennan.
Mark O’Regan will play Elizabeth’s cousin Mr. Collins.

Other cast members include:
Aoibhinn Garrihy as Jane Bennet; Rachel Gleeson as Mary Bennet; Kerrie O’Sullivan as Kitty Bennet; Genevieve Hulme Beaman as Lydia Bennet; Stephen Swift as Mr. Bingley; Rebecca O’Mara as Caroline Bingley; Maeve Fitzgerald as Charlotte Lucas; Barbara Brennan as Lady Catherine de Bourgh; David O’Brien as Sir William Lucas; Michael Ford Fitzgerald as Mr Wickham and Jonathan Delaney Tynan as Colonel Fitzwilliam.
This production will be directed by Alan Stanford.
Set & Costume Designer Bruno Schweng

Lighting Designer James McConnell
Tickets: Previews €25 | Opening Night €32 | Monday: ALL TICKETS €25 | Tuesday-
Thursday: €32 | Friday-Saturday: €35 | Matinees €25 |
Booking or 01 874 4045

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Austen's Happiest Hour

It is difficult to declare with complete certainty when Jane Austen was happiest, but I would hazard a guess that it was sometime around now, Halloween that is, on the publication of her first completed novel, 'Sense and Sensibility'.  On October 30th, 1811, Jane Austen's book about sisterly love and the right and wrong way to behave in matters of romance, was first published  by Thomas Egerton of the Military Library publishing house in London.  A connection through Austen's brother, ever the champion of his sister's talent, made publication possible in the first place.

Very few Austen fans today are aware that we owe great thanks to this small publisher of military texts for giving Austen her first taste at being a 'proper', published author.

Of course, the book itself took a long time to emerge as the novel that we know and love today.  It began years earlier, written as a collection of letters in novel form, under the rather simplistic title, 'Eleanor and Marianne' when Austen was but nineteen years old.   But after the death of her beloved father, Jane, her sister and mother, spent a nomadic existence moving from place to place, giving little opportunity, or impetus, for Austen to return to this first novel.

Luckily for us, she somehow returned once again to the characters who reveal so much about what it is to fall in love, and rewrote the novel that is both witty and brutally honest about the powerlessness of dependent, unmarried women in the Georgian period; something that Jane and Cassandra Austen knew all about.
Respectability was all important in this period, and there was no knowing the damage that could be done to a lady's good name if it became generally known that one was a writer of 'novels'.  And so Jane Austen never put her name to the books during her lifetime, only allowing the novels to be written, 'By a lady'.  What a strange, egocentric, celebrity-crazed world we live in now by comparison!

So, spare a thought this Halloween, for Jane Austen, and how she delighted she must have been to see her beloved 'Sense and Sensibility' finally in print, and how difficult it surely was to keep this secret from all the world, while taking so much pride in her accomplishment.  Oh, how things have changed...

Author - Michelle Burrowes!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

P.D. James on Jane Austen ~ Trinity College Dublin

We took our seats in the sold out old, rotund, examinations hall in Trinity College this evening and the excitement was palpable. Eyes eagerly watched the small side door, where surely the guest of honour, now in her ninety-third year, would at some point emerge. In time, she did just that to a rousing standing ovation and much applause. Yes, P.D. James is read and admired in Ireland too.

For about an hour, she spoke about her novels and those of Jane Austen, declaring that the latter's books all have the same basic Cinderella plot-line, but were written by a genius. Her love for the eighteenth century novelist was clearly apparent, as she smiled broadly every time she pondered Lizzy or Jane. She surprised us all by suggesting that 'Emma' contained many elements of the crime novel, with hints and clues as to Jane Fairfax's secret admirer, amongst other things.

She was happy to answer audience questions, though one enthusiastic gentleman managed to speak for about five minutes without actually asking a question at all! Another man asked if she had decided to write about Pride and Prejudice, because she was so old now and out of touch with the world (!) She was quick to put pay to that line of questioning and said that she was very much still living in the real world, and announced that she was in the early stages of writing another book featuring her well-loved detective, Adam Dalgliesh, much to the delight of the loyal fans in the audience, who whooped and cheered excitedly.
And then it was announced that there would be a book signing, so people stood in line to get an autograph and have their photos taken with one of the most respected writers of our time.  When my turn came, and  I told her how much I had enjoyed her book, she said, ' I am so glad; I really enjoyed writing it'.  
And as I set off home, clutching my signed, hardback copy of 'Death Comes to Pemberley', I couldn't stop smiling as I thought of how alike Phyllis and Lizzy Bennet are, both witty and beguiling, with a lively mind and happy temper, and then how P.D. James and Jane Austen might just have been a little alike too, and I suddenly felt a little closer to both writers, and grateful that such clever women decided to give their lives to writing all those wonderful books for us to enjoy.  A happy thought indeed! 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

New Austen Adaptations of Old Classics

Jane Austen 


Book publishers, Harper Collins, are bringing out a collection of Austen's novels, all adapted by modern novelists, set in the 21st century. McCall Smith's take on Emma will be published next autumn, 199 years after the original's debut, while Joanna Trollope's version of Sense and Sensibility is due out this month.  Val McDermid's interpretation of Northanger Abbey will follow next year, while a new version of Pride and Prejudice by US writer Curtis Sittenfeld comes out in 2015.

On cannot help but marvel at the world's appetite for Austen, and this project is just another testament to the durability of Austen's plot-lines and characters.  After the success of the Bridget Jones books, there can be no doubt that this project will generate great interest, but whether or not they will live up to their originator's standards, remains to be seen.

The names of two more writers who are taking part in the six-book Austen Project will be announced later this year.  Meanwhile, master Austen expert and author of the 'Pride and Prejudice' sequel, 'Death Comes to Pemberley', P.D. James, will be taking part in a public interview in Trinity College Dublin this Tuesday, 8th October, which will be a great treat for Irish Austen fans. 
See related posts:  

Monday, 23 September 2013

All's Well the Ends Well...

It is official - Jane Austen's turquoise ring has been purchased from Kelly Clarkson by The Chawton House Museum.  Sufficient money was raised by fans from across the globe, and the ring is coming home to Chawton.  Ms Clarkson is reported to be 'Happy' that many fans can now enjoy the ring at the museum.  And so, for once, it seems that all's well that ends well.
See related posts:

Friday, 6 September 2013

May Lou and Cass - Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland ~by Sophia Hillan

Sophia Hillan will be presenting a lecture based on her research into Jane Austen and her nieces in Ireland, October 3rd, at Farmleigh, Dublin, in association with the OPW and The Jane Austen Society of Ireland.  Perhaps this review might whet your appetite...

'May, Lou and Cass - Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland', by Sophia Hillan, is an extraordinary book about one of the world's favourite authors and her connection with Ireland, generally, and Donegal, specifically.   This book charts the life of Jane Austen and her association with the Knight family, her brother's children.  Of course, these children should have inherited the famous 'Austen' surname, were it not for the fact that Jane's elder brother, Edward, was adopted by wealthy cousins who had no child of their own to inherit their fortune and large estate at Godmersham in Hampshire.   A stipulation of the inheritance agreement required that Edward take the name of Knight for his own, which he duly did.  

This book follows the lives of the Knight children, some of whom were very close to their spinster aunt who lived near their large house at Chawton.  Jane was often called upon to help care for the large number of Knight nieces and nephews, when their mother was expecting a child, for example, but especially when Mrs Knight died suddenly and unexpectedly,  just weeks after having given birth to her last baby.
Jane's letters to her relatives reveal a great deal to us about her, her letters to her eldest niece Fanny especially.  However, what I found most interesting about this book was the uncanny way that the plot lines of Jane Austen's novels mirrored, so exactly, the future lives of her relatives, particularly those of her nieces, Marianne, Cassandra and Louisa Knight.  Indeed, because their aunt was long dead when some of these events occurred, one might be forgiven for surmising that Austen was some kind of clairvoyant.  But I think not; it is just a case of life imitating art and uncannily so.  Like Anne Elliot, one niece falls in love and becomes engaged, only to face serious censure from  her family and that of her beloved. The engagement is terminated, then unexpectedly rekindled, eight years later, just as she is preparing to marry another man.  The similarity to her Austen's novel,  'Persuasion',  is unmistakable.
Then there is the secret elopement, in the style of Lydia Bennet, but this time the marriage does indeed take place in Gretna Green.  The similarities are considerable, and are cleverly detailed by Sophia Hillan.  Again and again, she finds parallels between Austen's novels and the lives of her extended family, much to the delight of her readers.
Hillan also tells the story in chapters, each one beginning with a scene from an Austen novel, which perfectly reflects the theme of the chapter.  In this way, the text is very focused, yet feels not like a work of non-fiction at all, but something akin to a novel itself.  Character after character is shown to have lead a life stranger than fiction, making this book very difficult to put down.  Anyone who I have spoken to about this book has said that they read the book in only a couple of days, and I found that I too read it continuously.
For me, the sections that dealt with Donegal were particularly interesting, especially since I was visiting in that part of Ireland at the time, which really brought the book to life in my imagination.  As an Irish woman, I was very surprised to learn that three of Austen's nieces came to live and be buried in County Donegal, with a grand-niece being born there in fact, who was fluent in Irish and was very much involved with the local community.
This text is full of historical references and facts, and must be applauded for its attention to detail.  However, one need not have an knowledge of Irish history to understand the cultural context of the book, as Hillan expertly fills in much of the necessary background information on the period for her readers.  Jane Austen herself famously fell in love with a young Irish man who later left England, to settle in Ireland and became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.  Whether or not he left her with a good impression of the Irish, we will never know, but she did once famously warn her niece, who was writing a novel of her own, to beware of writing about life in Ireland,especially when one did not know what style of manners they had there.  Regardless, it is clear that her nieces adapted to their lives in Donegal and brought something of the Austen refinement and sensitivity with them when they came.
If you like Jane Austen, and are interested in the strange lives of those long gone, I urge you to read this book.  It will have you amazed and bemused at the strangeness and sometimes cruelty of life, and more than anything, it will make you realise how grateful we, as women, should be to live in this century, with the power to determine how and where we live, whom we love and marry, and how we earn our own living.  Times have certainly changed since Jane Austen and her nieces were alive, and I believe all would be glad to learn of how life has changed for many women in today's world, and thankfully much for the better.  

By Michelle Burrowes. 
JASI President.
(First published on

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Austen Course for Adults at UCD

Jane Austen: Her Novels, Times and Legacy

Here is something that I think many of you will be very interested in. A course on Jane Austen for those autumnal Monday nights. 

Course Description

What do zombies, game theory and Colin Firth have in common? All have benefited greatly from being associated with the novels of Jane Austen. 2013 marked the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, so why not take the opportunity to become acquainted or reacquainted with the novels, times and legacy of this much loved author. Whether you’re a newcomer or you know each novel by heart, this course will offer something challenging and new as we place the novels in their historical and literary context and look at the lasting effect they have had on our culture.

By accessing the novels through thematic areas such as social and literary context, as well as examining film adaptations and the threat of invasion which seemed to loom large in nearly every Austen novel, we will gain a far more nuanced and detailed understanding of Austen and her world. From the social swirl of Bath to the perfection of Pemberley, we’ll take in dancing, fashion, marriage, the Prince Regent, politics, war and explore just exactly why Pride and Prejudice is still selling an estimated 50,000 copies a year in the UK alone.

Tutor: Lori Comerford
Course Start Date: 23/09/2013
Course End Date: 02/12/2013
No. of Sessions: 10
Start Time: 19.30
Duration (Hours): 2.00
Location: Belfield Campus
Fee: €190

Course Schedule
10 Mondays 7.30pm-9.30pm
Sept 23, 30, Oct 7, 14, 21, Nov 4, 11, 18, 25, Dec 2
(No class bank holiday Mon, Oct 28)

This course is for people with an interest in literature, especially those who have a love of Austen and the Regency Period and would like to gain a more critical appreciation of Austen’s works. This course is also for those who wish to widen their knowledge of our literary landscape by examining Austen’s ability to be both a popular novelist while also being part of the traditional idea of a literary canon.

For more details click here.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

September Reflections on The Jane Austen Festival in Bath

As September approaches, those of us who love Jane Austen begin to look towards Bath and the annual Jane Austen Festival.   Luckily for us, one member of the Jane Austen Society of Ireland, Samantha, has kindly agreed to share her thoughts on and experiences of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath.  But reader beware!  After reading this you will be more determined than ever to go along too...


I've been a massive Jane Austen Fan for the last 31 years and was delighted to discover the Jane Austen Festival in Bath back in 2008 and haven't missed a festival since!
The festival takes place the 2nd/3rd week in Sept each year for nine days in Bath (this year it starts on the 13th Sept).
A core group attend the festival every year from the UK, US, Australia and all over Europe and it's great to meet everyone, admire each others costumes and generally catch up!

The week allows Janites to attend theatricals, balls, soirees (I cleaned up at Loo on the card tables last visit!), it also gives the opportunity to learn new skills such as, how to create the perfect hair style and make turbans in the Regency style.

There have been some interesting talks from the likes of Amanda Vickery and this year's speaker will be John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London and author of "What Matters in Jane Austen?". Events such as Rummaging through the Reticule and Undressing Mr. Darcy means there is something for everyone at this festival.

One of the highlights is The Grand Regency Costumed Promenade through the city of Bath, which has approx 600 attendees (last year the streets were cordoned off; it was on par with a St Patrick's Day Parade in Bath!) and finishes up with music and dancing at Parade Gardens.   It's a magical nine days for any Janeite, I wouldn't miss it for the world!


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Bronte Passion in Jane Austen

Something that I cannot understand is why the Bronte sisters did not like Jane Austen, Emily especially. She felt that Austen lacked passion and her female characters lacked spirit. But a close reading of Austen's novels reveal how many of her female characters are fighting against the norms of the day and are trying to find a balance between living within society and being accepted as a lady in that world, and being true to their own desires and passions. 
Lizzy, in Pride and Prejudice, is nothing if not passionate when she reels against Lady Catherine de Burgh's admonishments. When she tells her that she has nothing more to say to her and must beg to return to the house, it is tantamount to social suicide. 
In fact it is just what a young Catherine Earnshaw would have done in Wuthering Heights. Similarly Lizzy's refusal of both Mr Collins and Mr Darcy showed that Elizabeth Bennet was equally willful, refusing to bend to her mother's will.

And then we have the Dashwood girls, Marianne and Eleanor, in Sense and Sensibility who resemble something like the two sides of the same coin, one being wildly passionate and carefree, the other being more sensible and cautious in all things. 

Here, with these two characters  Austen openly debates how difficult it was for women of her day to deal with emotions of passion, and yet display the decorum that society insisted upon. And here we have a crucial point. The careless passion displayed by both Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, for example, or indeed by Rochester and to an extent Jane in Jane Eyre, was only possible because they were living in secluded rural communities in the middle of nowhere. Austen's heroine's on the other hand have to contend with life altering passions and emotions in the midst of society, be it in London, or in Lambton. 

Jane Bennet does not run off to the nearest cave to reveal her true feelings to Mr Bingley as Cathy does with Heathcliff.  No.  Here's is a much more difficult plight, for she must restrain herself, and disguise her deep feelings, even at times, to her sister Elizabeth. The fact that she cares deeply for Bingley and suffers a great deal when he spurns her cannot be, for a moment doubted. 

A similar situation arises for Marianne Dashwood, who must suffer the consequences of exposing her emotions too freely. She actually comes close to death, her spirits having been brought so low by her uncontrolled passion for the inconstant Willoughby. So it could, in fact, be argued that the heroines in Austen's novels are just as passionate as those in the Bronte novels, suffering equally for their passion. Just because Austen's characters must display decorum, it does not mean that they do not or are not capable of, feeling passion. 
As Austen sees it, you may feel the passion, but must learn to control it. We know this because of Austen's depiction of Marianne Dashwood , who lives to regret her unbridled display of love for Willoughby.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Bring the Ring Home ~ Just when you thought it was all over...

As interest in the current status of the turquoise ring once owned by Jane Austen continues, the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton has begun a fundraising campaign to raise enough money to purchase the ring from Kelly Clarkson, who bought the ring at a public auction last year.
News that the American singer has agreed to sell the ring for the price paid for it, has been welcomed by many Jane Austen fans around the world and fundraising has begun in earnest.  Excitement grew to fever-pitch with the announcement that an anonymous donor donated £100,000 to the fund, which must reach £154,000 by December.  As yet, there is no facility to donate online, but organizers say that it is just a matter of time before Austen fans around the world can use the internet to do so.

We at the Jane Austen Society of Ireland are particularly delighted that the Jane Austen House Museum are using a catchphrase of our own invention, for the campaign - Bring the Ring Home.  As Jane Austen most probably owned the ring when she was living at Chawton House, it seems only fitting that the ring be returned to its home place, where the only other two pieces of Jane Austen's jewelry can be found:  the turquoise bracelet and the famous amber cross.  Better there than any other place, we think.

So, should you like to donate to bring the ring home, you can ring, or email, as this Facebook message from the Jane Austen House Museum explains:

Jane Austen's House Museum is pleased to announce the launch of it's fundraising campaign 'To Bring the Ring Home'. If you would like to make a donation towards our 'Give Us a Ring' campaign to purchase the turquoise ring that belonged to Jane Austen please call the museum on 01420 83262 or email We hope to have a Just Giving link on our website by the end of next week. Fingers crossed we will be able to have the ring on display in the museum by early next year!

Any Twitter users can receive updates on the fundraising campaign by following @JaneAustenHouse and by using ‪#‎BringtheRingHome‬.

Update:  You can now donate to the Bring the ring home campaign online.

The Jane Austen House Museum 'JustGiving' page is finally online! You can now donate to raise money to help buy back the Jane Austen Turquoise ring online. Click here:   #BringtheRingHome 

Politics Beyond the Political...

The Social Conscience of Jane Austen

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Jane Austen Society of Ireland Presents 'An Evening Celebrating Jane Austen at Farmleigh'

October 3rd, 2013. Jane Austen comes to Farmleigh

Image by Harold Strong
To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, the OPW, in connection with The Jane Austen Society of Ireland, presents, An Evening with Jane Austen at Farmleigh.

Farmleigh, an estate of 78 acres situated to the north-west of Dublin's Phoenix Park, was originally a small Georgian house built in the late 18th century, so it is a fitting place to launch The Jane Austen Society of Ireland and with it our first major event: a lecture by Dr Sophia Hillan on Jane Austen and her connection with Ireland, based on her acclaimed book, 'May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland'.

 Did you know that three of Jane Austen's nieces came to live in County Donegal and are buried there? Their stories are fascinating and many of their life-events mirror, unexpectedly, the lives of the characters that dwell in their famous aunt's novels.

Her extensive research on Jane Austen's life and family connections makes Dr Hillan a leading expert on our favourite writer and we are delighted that she can take time out of her busy schedule to share her knowledge with us. Her lecture, entitled, 'Life Imitating Art', will prove interesting to all those who have an interest in the author who once delightedly declared, 'I am read and admired in Ireland too!'.

The evening promises to be enjoyable for all, featuring contemporary Regency music, a wine reception and readings from some of Austen's best loved books. There will also be an question and answers session after the lecture and for those who want to purchase Dr Hillan's book, she will be signing copies in the beautiful oval room at the evening's end. Tickets are free but limited (there will be seating for 175 people) and are chosen by random lottery. Anyone interested in applying for tickets can do so on the Farmleigh website, now. They will email you two weeks before the event to notify you if you have been lucky enough to secure tickets. Remember, you can apply many time, using different email addresses. Ask your friends and relations to email on your behalf, in increase the likelihood of being successful.
We wish you all every success in winning tickets!

For those interested to learn more about Sophia Hillan's book, click here to read a review that featured on the JASI website earlier in the year.  

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

One Ring to Rule Them All ~ The Continuing Saga of Jane Austen's Turquoise Gold Ring

When second in line to the British throne, Prince William, announced his engagement to girlfriend, Kate Middleton, it seemed only fitting that he give his mother's famed sapphire and diamond engagement ring to his future wife.  So it is with jewelry the world over, as it passes through the generations, the jewels and metal expressing so much more than just monetary value.
And so it was, last summer, when Sotheby's of London announced that a ring, once owned by Jane Austen, was to go on sale: it caused much excitement and expectation in the general public.  The ring itself had perfect provenance, having been passed,  on Jane's death, to her sister Cassandra, and so continued through the generations of the Austen family.  A family letter explains all:

It is two hundred years since the publication of Austen's 'precious child' Pride and Prejudice, and now, possibly more than ever, the world is gripped with Austen fever.  How strange then, that this simple, yet beautiful ring, with it's elegant turquoise setting and plain gold band, was only estimated to be worth £20,000 - £30,000?
Indeed, interest in the ring was such that Sotheby's actually allowed the ring be taken across the sea to their Dublin office, in Molesworth Street, where some forty to fifty people gathered to see it.  It certainly generated much interest in the general public and the media too, especially when the auction ended with the ring being purchased, not by the British Museum, nor the Jane Austen House Museum, nor even by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, but by a private bidder, who was later revealed to be none other than successful American singer, and winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson.
Clarkson, who is a self-confessed history buff, paid an impressive £152,450, for the privilege of owning a piece of Jane Austen history, but to the surprise of many, the young American was not permitted to take the ring home with her to the United States, because she was refused an export licence.
Clarkson on a recently aired episode of 'Who Do You Think You are?'
Apparently, if purchased goods are valued at more than around £43,000, one must apply for permission to export them from Britain, and if they are said to be of 'outstanding aesthetic importance', significant in 'some branch of learning or history', or 'so closely connected with (British) history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune', then the Reviewing Committee, consisting of eight experts, may not grant the export licence.
Such was the case with Jane Austen's, (now Kelly Clarkson's), turquoise ring.
Of course, this must be most distressing to Clarkson, who was clearly disappointed, so much so that her fiancĂ©, Brandon Blackstone, had a replica ring, made for her, albeit with a more glitzy, diamond encrusted band.  However, one would wonder if the original ring would or could stand the bangs and knocks of everyday wear, and maybe it is for the best that the ring, worn on Kelly Clarkson's finger on recent television appearances, is not the two hundred year old original, but a replica.
Still, it must give Clarkson great satisfaction to know that she can, whenever she likes, visit her ring, as one would a foster tiger at the zoo, and get to handle something that once graced the fingers of the great, yet humble, Jane Austen.  It might be even more delightful to imagine, that Clarkson might, one day, come to see the export ban in a positive light, and offer to loan the ring to a respected museum, when she is out of the country and cannot enjoy the ring herself.  In that way, other fans of Jane Austen might enjoy the ring too. It does not hurt to dream.
Kelly with another, but slightly larger, blue ring!
In fact, I think the claim that the ring is a national treasure, is a spurious one - it is an international treasure if anything, as and such, its importance goes beyond geographical borders.  I, as an Irish woman, claim as much fondness for Jane Austen and her writings as any UK citizen might do. Austen is as popular in India as in Indiana and no one country can claim a monopoly on her.
Also, there is something in this story which is very in keeping with the spirit of Jane Austen's work.  If we imagine this self-made Kelly Clarkson, a young woman setting out, with her sister one morning, with a purse full of money, to make their way across the wide ocean, with one purpose in mind - to do a spot of shopping.  Her mind is set upon the thing - she can not be persuaded otherwise.  'It is too extravagant', someone might have warned, 'think what you are about!'.  But the young lady persists and wins the day and a very pretty ring into the bargain.   I embellish, forgive me.  For all I know, the bidding may have happened over the phone.  Yet, when I think of how Jane Austen delighted in shopping, in the liberating freedom of riding around London in a carriage by herself, and being her own woman, I think of someone not so very far removed from Kelly Clarkson, and how the author would have, on the whole, approved; for female independence, free from monetary obligation, always pleased Jane Austen.
Replica ring available online for £130
The big question now, though, is where is this mystery ring?  The one displayed by Clarkson is clearly a replica, of sorts, so where in England resides the original?  One cannot help but imagine the ring, for the last year, sitting in a vault somewhere, like something J.R.R. Tolkien might have imagined, just waiting for its chance to come out into the light.  As an devout fan, Clarkson undoubtedly has utmost respect for the ring and cares, more than most, for its safety.  Yet, it is not known for certain who has the daily responsibility of looking after this treasure and where it is currently stored.

When contacted, a Sotheby's representative said that he couldn't comment on the ring's location, other than to confirm that it is in private possession and it is subject to a temporary block on export from the UK.
Lady Diana Spencer's engagement ring, which now belongs to Kate Middleton.

The 'temporary block' suggests that the ring will soon be reunited with its current owner, perhaps in time for her upcoming nuptials, when it will truly be Jane Austen's ring, no longer, but the prized possession of Mr and Mrs Brandon Blackstone.  One can only hope that the groom-to-be is as big a fan of Jane Austen as his bride, and that together, they become the happy custodians of an heirloom that once belonged to another very special lady indeed.


...... And in another development today, the British government has intervened to defer a decision on the future of the ring to be extended until September 30th, or December 30th, at the latest, if proof emerges of "a serious intention to raise funds" to match its six-figure price tag. Culture minister Ed Vaizey said, "Jane Austen's modest lifestyle and her early death mean that objects associated with her of any kind are extremely rare, so I hope that a UK buyer comes forward so this simple but elegant ring can be saved for the nation." (
Judging by the commentary surrounding this contentious issue, it is easy to see that fans of Jane Austen are divided about what should happen to the ring.  One cannot hope that some agreement can be made, whereby the ring could be shared, and be put on public display for half the year, say, as happens with some art collections.  The Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton stated today that they would be delighted to have the ring and are considering fundraising as an option.  Either way, watch this space and await a statement from Kelly Clarkson herself, who, though famed for her forthright opinions, but is uncharacteristically quiet on this particular subject.

Stop Press Again!!!
It is official - Jane Austen's turquoise ring has been purchased from Kelly Clarkson by The Chawton House Museum.  Sufficient money was raised by fans from across the globe, and the ring is coming home to Chawton.  Ms Clarkson is reported to be 'Happy' that many fans can now enjoy the ring at the museum.  And so, for once, it seems that all's well that ends well.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Jane Austen is on the Money

2017 promises to be an important year for Jane Austen fans.  Not only will we be commemorating the 200th year anniversary of her death, but the famous author's face will appear on the new £10 note. 

In doing so, she will be only the third woman in history to appear on banknotes in England.  The decision to put a woman's image on the new note came after a long period of campaigning and petitioning.  Currently, the only female figure represented on English notes, is the Queen. 

The design will include the familiar portrait, her writing table and quills, her wealthy brother's estate at Godmersham,  a quote from 'Pride and Prejudice' and an illustration of Elizabeth Bennet.  

It is a clear reminder, if one was needed, that Jane Austen remains at the forefront of women's issues, and as ever, shines a light, as she often did in her books, on the gender inequalities that exist in society, . 

Of course the irony is that money is often a central theme in Austen's novels, as many female characters feel the sorry lack of it.  In Austen's life too, she and her female relatives were reliant on their father and brother's financial support to get by.   
It is difficult to know how Jane Austen would have reacted to the prospect of having her image printed on a £10 note.  I suspect, she would have been delighted by the irony of it and might have preferred owning it, rather than being on it, if she had the choice.  

By Eileen and Michelle JASI

Friday, 19 July 2013

Missing Jane...

Yesterday was the anniversary of Jane Austen's death, 18th July 1817.  She passed away in a rented house they had taken at 8 College Street, Winchester, following a long period of illness, during which time she had tried to find a cure, but to no avail and seems to have spent her last months left revisiting old places that held particular importance to her.  As a Christian, she had time to prepare herself for death.  If it is hard for us to imagine, consider how much harder it must have been for Jane, knowing all the wonderful books she had yet to write, the 'children', as she called them, that had not yet seen the light of day.
This is how her beloved sister Cassandra described her last moments:

Taken from Paula Byrne's book: 'Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things'

Her memorial stone makes no mention of her novels-they were not the preoccupation of Jane Austen's Georgian age.  Thankfully, today, Jane Austen is known for the great writer that she truly was, and just by my posting this article, or by you reading it, we are all, in our own little way, celebrating the life of a one that left us too soon, but left us better-off, for all that.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Upon St Swithins Day...

A  few days before her tragically early death, Jane Austen wrote these poignant verses about the Winchester Races advertised for July 15th, 1817.

Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh! Venta depraved!
When once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me immortal! By vice you're enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer. Then farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you're debasing a neighbouring Plain
Let them stand - You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off on your course, I'll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o'er July
Henceforward I'll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers -

(St. Swithin  was Bishop of Winchester, which was known as Venta by the Romans)

Thanks to JASI member Eileen in Cork, for researching  this wonderful poem.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Double Bi-Centenary Celebration

Enjoy ‘Pride & Prejudice’, the play, coming to St George’s Church, Balbriggan, Sat. 13th July 2013.  The internationally renowned open-air theatre company, Chapterhouse, is performing Jane Austen’s
classic love-story, under a summer sky at St George’s, Church Street, Balbriggan, 7.30pm on Saturday, 13 July.
Take a step back in time 200 years to meet Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters. Enjoy the emotional gymnastics of their mother and the efforts of various gentlemen who take an interest in the young ladies.  ‘Pride & Prejudice’ was published in 1813, the same year as the building of St George’s began. The peaceful setting of the church grounds is an ideal backdrop for this period drama. Chapterhouse is travelling from England to perform this play in three Irish venues, Bantry House, County Cork, Enniskillen Castle, County Fermanagh and St George’s Church, Balbriggan.

Tickets available from the Bracken Court Hotel, phone 01-8413333, at the gate, or from 087 – 2547 836 (text or phone). Email Adults €17. Pair €30. Child €12. Family €48. Refreshments on sale.

Grounds open from 4pm for picnics and free tours of the church. Have chairs but bring seat/rug as you wish. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Little Miss Austen, 'Sense and Sensibility'. by Alison Oliver and Jennifer Adams

Here is a delightful new book that some of you might be interested in:  a 'Sense and Sensibility' board book for children.  It is produced by the same clever people who brought us the 'Pride and Prejudice' baby board book, Alison Oliver and Jennifer Adams.  Once again they have proven, that one is never too young to enjoy Jane Austen.  This beautifully produced BabyLit book, is bright, colourful and full of irony, that will not be lost on the adult reader.  As such, it is very much in the Austen vein and at under €7 from the Book Depository (including postage) this is one not to be missed, for ages 0 to 103.  Guaranteed to make you smile.

This version of Sense and Sensibility deals with opposites - could there be a more pertinent theme where Marianne and Elinor are concerned?

 Indeed, the novel, as we are simply shown, is full of opposites.  

Willoughby and Colonel Brandon...

The girls at the beginning and the girls at the end...

Norland Park and Barton Cottage...

The list goes on and on.  A worthy buy, for the delicious illustrations alone.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley ~ P.D.James

It is a truth, universally acknowledged that 'Pride and Prejudice' sequels are usually best avoided at all cost, but not so with P.D. James's 'Death Comes To Pemberley'. It is a rare thing to finish a novel with such a sense of contentment as I feel on finishing this delicious book.  Using the obligatory chocolate analogy, one would have to say that this book has all the feel of Galaxy chocolate, but with a slightly different flavour to it.  Mint or perhaps cinnamon? 
The true wonder of this book is how well ninety-two year old novelist P.D. James captures the nuances and sensibility of Jane Austen's writing-style. Her diction is almost an exact match, with her pages of dialogue being the most impressive.  There is not a syllable said by either Darcy or Elizabeth, now somewhat jarringly referred to as Mrs Darcy, that Austen herself could not have written.  It is clear that James researched her subject meticulously, indeed she is herself a self-confessed Janeite and an Austen aficionado of the highest order.
For me, P.D. James is to Jane Austen documentaries what Dame Judi Dench is to period drama: you really can't have one without the other.  So to learn that James had decided to write the one definitive 'Pride and Prejudice' sequel seemed too good to be true. The result was an overwhelming success and from here on in, a line can be drawn under the whole Jane Austen prequel/sequel phenomenon.  Quills down ladies - we have a winner!
Let us consider the plot of James's novel.  Without giving anything away, there is a murder at Pemberley some six years after Darcy and Elizabeth have set up home together.  There is an inquest and a trial and that is it.  In some ways the book begins and ends in the same way as 'Pride and Prejudice', with the arrival of a gallant stranger into the neighbourhood, with questions of the suitability of a possible suitor, and an ending very much in keeping with the Austen conventions that we are familiar with.
Yes,the plot is indeed that simple, but as with Austen, the real delight for the reader is the interplay of characters and the sparkling dialogue.  In this especially, James has kept true to the original style of the 'mother' novel.  It is simply delightful to hear Elizabeth and Darcy re-visit moments from their past and take up where they left off from 'Pride and Prejudice',as if the intervening two hundred years, were as unimportant to the reader as an ad-break to modern television audiences.  Similarly, characters like Jane and Mr Bennet wander into the story, using the phrases and idioms that we have long associated with these characters, and one cannot help but smile to hear them chime together in a worthy novel once more.  
And the resurrection of such familiar characters is not limited to the pages of 'Pride and Prejudice'.  No indeed! We hear mention of Emma and Mr Knightley, Harriet and Robert Martin, from 'Emma' and Sir Walter, Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth from the posthumous novel 'Persuasion', which serves only to enhance the pleasure for the more avid Austen fans.  Indeed, aspects of the story reflect other novels too, such as 'Sense and Sensibility' and even 'Mansfield Park', but to mention them here might impinge on the enjoyment of others.  
One aspect of the novel which is entirely James's own, is her knowledge of the legal system during the Regency period,and an in-depth knowledge of the the physicality of murder and the damage that a blunt weapon can inflict on the human body.  But fear not, this is not such a gruesome tale as all that, and the 'death' of the title, it seems to me, reflects more about the death of Darcy's pride than of anything else.  He is forced to face the flaw that almost cost him his happiness with Elizabeth in the original text and to put old grievances finally to rest. 
Similarly, the atmosphere of the novel is also true to Austen's style.  It glides along at a slow, elegant pace, with the quiet ease of satin-soled slippers on a marble floor.  And it is this aspect of the novel that separates this sequel from all others.  Being a novelist of such a high standing herself, P. D. James has, perhaps, not the pressures that less well-known, younger writers might have, believing that their novels must be rip-roaring page-turners if the reader is to remain engaged.  Here James shows her master card; being of a generation that was born between the World Wars, where life did move at a slower pace than today, James can easily slip into the more authentic Austen style of writing, where life moves to a more leisurely rhythm, which is something to be relished and enjoyed in such a novel.
The resulting effect of all this mimicry and mirroring, is to create a sense that the shadow of Jane Austen lurks amid the pages of this fine book.  It is as if the long dead Jane is standing just behind the shoulder of the author, guiding her hand and smiling.  There is nothing here to offend the staunch J. A. fan, so feel free to dispense with the guilt that Austen fans often feel as their hands reach out for the latest 'Pride and Prejudice' sequel.  I often worry that I should not be wasting my time with some second rate sequel when I could be re-reading an Austen original.  Yet here, we can have all of the enjoyment and none of the regret:  we can return to Darcy and Elizabeth, while savouring the joys of a highly crafted novel by one of the great living writers in the English language.  It's chocolate, but without the guilt?  Now there's a novel thought.  

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Falling for Captain Wentworth

'Hmmm. How can I show the Captain that I'm not so easily persuaded...'

Fan art by L. D. for JASI (c) 20013

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater ~ a book review

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy: A NovelI enjoyed reading this version oPride and Prejudice, told from Darcy’s point of view, simply because I enjoy all things Austen.  However, the author does make a few noteworthy changes to the plot line, most specifically with regard to Darcy’s friendship with Lord Byron.  This idea is quite interesting.  As Darcy did mix in the same society as the infamous poet, it is entirely probable that they knew one another. They certainly both were uncommonly fond of their sisters, although Byron, perhaps, took that sentiment to extremes.  
However, I cannot allow the idea that Darcy was 'tinkering' with the girl from below stairs in his bedroom, while Lizzy and Jane slept a few bedrooms away in theirs, during their stay in Netherfield.  It is shocking even to consider!  But, undoubtedly, the temptation to write a few passionate, period 'love scenes' featuring Fitzwilliam Darcy was obviously too great to resist. 
Yet, perhaps, Darcy was a man of the world, although I think his distaste for Wickham's wild behaviour while at college, would seem to suggest that he was above such clandestine activity and in his friend's house too! 
 Still, it was interesting to revisit Austen's story from a different perspective, especially noting when first Darcy began to fall for Lizzy and how he was wonderfully oblivious to Caroline Bennet's obvious (and desperate) attempts to flirt with him.  This was particularly enjoyable and clever too, as it was somewhat reminiscent of Austen's tongue in cheek style.  It was wonderfully pleasing to see what Darcy could not see, knowing, as we do, how Caroline desired him for a husband.  He is tantalizingly close, but just out of her grasp.  Poor Caroline!
This is not a serious book, but rather a bit of fun between reads, and for that I recommend it to all Darcy fans and deserving friends!

JASI Dublin 

Friday, 10 May 2013

A Closer look at 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' by Mike Dolan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that 'Pride and Prejudice' is one of the most classic novels ever written. For centuries it has enthralled readers with its biting wit and charming characters, and the snapshot it provides of nineteenth-century culture is a large part of what makes it such an intriguing story to consume. As such, it is no wonder that countless people have retold this story through different lenses - from the 1995 BBC miniseries to Bridget Jones, Lizzy and Darcy's story has been permuted and filtered into different forms, in many cases so far-gone from the original text that one must search deeply to find the connections between them. But perhaps the most daring adaption produced thus far has been the web series 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries', which ran over the course of a year and told the story of 'Pride and Prejudice' through the medium of the video blog of a twenty-first century graduate student. It showed her coping with the trials and tribulations of dealing with her two sisters, Jane and Lydia, her mother's frantic attempts to marry them off before they are evicted from their house, and (most importantly), how she fell in love with William Darcy, the wealthy CEO of a technology company, Pemberley Digital.

Anybody who has read the novel will have cocked their head at this synopsis which is so very similar yet so undeniably different to the original - and understandably so. But what makes the web series so fascinating is the broad way in which it adapted the novel - it sacrificed the petty details and updated others to make for a story which held the same weight which the original did at the time it was written. This thread of updating rather than emulating is sewn throughout the series with a fine hand - Charles Bingley, the wealthy bachelor of the novel, becomes Bing Lee, a medical student with a promising future. The number of Bennet sisters is reduced from a hectic five to a more manageable, modern, three (although Mary and Kitty both have occasional appearances as a cousin and a kitten, respectively). The impetus for Mrs. Bennet to marry off her daughters is changed from an unwritten social expectation to a pressing financial requirement, echoing a struggle many people face in the modern day, making the situation much more understandable. 

But the alterations to the story stretch far further than in names and numbers. The series' depiction of women and power is one which is far more fitting for a modern world than the outdated customs of the novel. In a time where a woman couldn't own property, vote, or hold any meaningful career, Lizzy Bennet stood out as a feminist heroine, challenging the cultural perceptions and ideas which clouded the views of the people of the time. She was not content to be told whom she had to marry, she turned down two marriage proposals from wealthy men, and she was in all parts a "headstrong, obstinate girl" who was never afraid to speak her mind. But when this 1800s heroine is lifted straight out of the pages of the book and flung carelessly into the modern day, it is all too easy for her to lose that unique sarcastic edge which makes her so likable. 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' chose to present her struggles and decisions in a modern-day context while letting her retain the sassy, self-assured personality which defines her as a character. This freedom to let her be herself is something which is offered to all of the characters - Lydia is just as reckless and carefree as she was before, Jane is just as lovely and wholesome, Mrs. Bennet is still a parodic pastiche (although we only see her through Lizzie's imitations). After all, what makes the novel so memorable is the distinct characters who inhabit its world. They are all unique people in their own right, and 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' managed to preserve this while still making the characters people you can imagine existing in the real world.

Of course, one can't discuss the characters of the novel without also discussing their individual stories. Each has their own side-plot which keeps you interested in them and ensures that they always remain at the forefront of your mind. This, again, is something which the series excelled in preserving. Instead of being the all-consuming social prison sentence marriage once was, it is now a lot freer as a concept, and not nearly as wrapped up in the concepts of wealth, class, and social standing. As such, the series had to find a new way to represent what a marriage proposal meant, and why turning one down was so unusual. In the novel, Mr. Collins's proposal would ensure Lizzy a reasonably well-off life, a home to live in, and lots of opportunities to have children. But in the series, Mr. Collins instead offers her a job with his company, funded by his venture capitalist Catherine de Bourgh, which, considering the Bennet family's financial standings, would be insane to turn down. Lizzie refusing the offer is something that, while appearing perhaps an obvious choice to the reader, is now seen as a lot more of a moral dilemma to the viewer. And in our society, where eloping with someone no longer means cutting yourself off from the rest of the world, George Wickham marrying Lydia doesn't mean nearly the same thing as it did in the novel. Again, the series decided to emphasise how poor Lydia's decision was by mutating it into something which could have ruined her future had it not been stopped, through his threat to release a sex tape of her. 

Over all, 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' was a fantastic idea wonderfully executed. Far too often, 'Pride and Prejudice' is brushed aside as boring, uneventful, and inaccessible. But the series managed to prove that the novel's characters and themes are just as important now as they were then - though some details were changed to make them more relatable to a modern audience, some plot lines altered to make them more impactful, the story and its core message remained fundamentally the same. It is the same story it always was. It is still a story about love and hate, marriage and independence, and pride and prejudice.