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. 
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