Date finished: 29th May 2012
I wanted to read another of my Jane Austen inspired books, and decided to try Letters To Alice by Fay Weldon. Her niece Alice, the daughter of her estranged sister, is studying English at University and is struggling to enjoy the assigned Jane Austen works. Fay writes these letters to her, and by explaining the life that Jane would have lived, the role of women in society, the class system of the time and the expectations of females with regards to marriage, she gives her niece, and the reader, another dimension to Austen’s writing and shows how important a view of that period her novels are.
This was a totally absorbing read, and has genuinely given me more food for thought for when I’m re-reading the novels in my challenge, and has made me rethink the books I’ve already read. For anyone who loves Jane Austen’s work, I would recommend this book as a thought provoking work to read alongside them to give an additional insight into their genesis and genius.
Date finished: 20th April 2012
The diary starts back in 1778 when Brandon is still at university and comes home to visit, and asks Eliza to marry him, and follows through their story, before joining up with Sense and Sensibility and his relationship with the Dashwoods.
As with the others I’ve read in this series, I’ve loved seeing one of my favourite books told from a different perspective, and the diary format works wonderfully for this. I think it’s such a clever premise to start them earlier and give more body to the earlier lives of our heroes, and expand on the little back story that we know from the Jane Austen original.
One thing I felt with this book was how much younger Brandon felt, even twenty years after it starts, you still feel there’s a youthful side to him, despite the image of himself he projects, and it is especially awakened when Marianne comes into his life.
Another thoroughly enjoyable book in this diary series from Amanda Grange.
This is the second of the Austen inspired diaries by this author that I’ve read, and it was just as enjoyable.
Re-telling Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view gives you the feeling of reading your favourite book for the first time again, as you see the familiar story play out but from a previous hidden point of view. All the characters are known to the reader, but displayed in a different light with someone else perspective on them, and Grange captures the same tone and evokes the period effortlessly. If you loved Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, you will love him even more by the end of the story from his diary.
I’m thoroughly enjoying reading these diaries, and can’t wait to move on to the next one.
Date finished: 9th March 2012
The premise of the book is that it is the story of Jane Austen’s Persuasion told from Captain Wentworth’s point of view. It starts eight years before Persuasion, and takes us back to when the Wentworth first meets and falls in love with Anne Eliot, before picking up again when Wentworth returns from his naval duties in the Napoleonic Wars to find his sister and her husband have rented Kellynch Hall from Anne’s father, and the couple meet again.
Although I have set myself a challenge to read some of the contemporary novelists that have been inspired by Austen, I have to admit, I never expected to find any that would captivate me as much as this. I loved that in addition to reading the story from a fresh pair of eyes, it was delightful to have such a convincing episode covering the period when Anne and Frederick first fall in love and how their engagement faltered.
The author makes a very clever decision to write in the form of a diary, which allows her to write in the first person and therefore makes a distinction between Austen’s style and her own interpretation. I think she captures the period wonderfully, and really grasps the essence of Persuasion while giving an alternate view of the whole story.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book from start to finish, and I will definitely be reading more of her books, and there is one for each of the male heroes in Jane Austen’s novels, and even one for the villain in Pride and Prejudice!
Date finished: 17th February 2012
Persuasion was my second Jane Austen read of the year, and what an absolute joy it was. I’m so glad I’ve decided to embark on my year of reading her books and others inspired by them, as I’m already enjoying it more than I could have imagined.
In the early 19th century, young women who had not married by the age of twenty-seven, such as our heroine, Anne Elliot, were no longer seen as young, and often would have probably have lost any expectation of finding a husband. When her family are forced to economise and let their home to a naval man while removing themselves to Bath, Anne encounters Captain Wentworth, a man who had proposed to her when she was just a teenager, but who Anne had been persuaded by her friend, Lady Russell, to break the engagement as Wentworth had no fortune and was just embarking on his own naval career. The story follows them as they become reacquainted, all the while examining the society of the time.
I adored this book. It’s only the third time I’ve read it, and probably not since I was a teenager, and I don’t remember it affecting me quite so much back then, but now I felt every emotion along with Anne as the story progresses, and at times it is very melancholy and sorrowful. The characters are wickedly observed, including Anne’s self-centred sister Mary, her vain and snobbish father and eldest sister Elizabeth, and the salty Admiral and his friendly wife. It was also lovely to see the scene move around some of my favourite places including Lyme Regis and, of course, the city of Bath, and Austen describes the different societies beautifully and with a wit that as always, sparkles. Fabulous.
Date finished: 15th February 2012
The second book on My Year With Jane Austen challenge was The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine which is a modern day tale inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The setting is Westport, Connecticut and is based around Betty, who finds herself newly single at 75 when her 78-year-old husband decided to divorce her, and in her reduced circumstances is forced to move out of her New York apartment and decamp to a house owned by her cousin in Westport. She convinces her middle aged daughters to sublet their apartments and move in with her through the divorce. Elder daughter, Annie, is a librarian while younger daughter, Miranda, is a literary agent.
The story follows fairly closely in theme to Sense and Sensibility, but I have to say, having just read that book, it was very slight in comparison, and I just didn’t find the same wit and sparkle that the original had. I found most of the characters very unsympathetic, and some of the minor characters felt like caricatures making it difficult for me to get emotionally involved in the book. I think this is the only modern day retelling of any of Austen’s books I have on my reading plan, and if this is anything to go by, I’m quite glad of that. It’s such a shame, as contemporary versions of her books in film have often been quite good (I love Clueless for example), but as a book, I just didn’t enjoy it.
Although nothing to do with the writing, I have one other criticism, and that was the Kindle formatting of this book. There were multiple instances of an R in the middle of sentences, an S at the beginning of a word, words where there was a space halfway through it, and hyphenated words which may have been words that had spanned lines in a printed form, but not in the digital form, all of which took me out of the writing every time I came across one. I’ve had free, self-published Kindle books with far fewer formatting errors than this book, so I wasn’t impressed by this at all.
Date finished: 26th January 2012
The first read in My Year With Jane Austen challenge was Sense and Sensibility. This was the first of Austen’s novels to be published and follows the fortunes of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. After the loss of their father, their mothers meagre income forces the family to move to a cottage in Dorsetshire in much reduced circumstances. The story follows them through their romantic disappointments all the while with a witty look at the society of the period.
I haven’t read this book since Emma Thompson adapted it for the big screen, which I’ve just looked up and was seventeen years ago! I’d forgotten some of the differences, including some of the characters, such as Lady Middleton and Miss Nancy Steele, but I definitely hadn’t forgotten how lively and sparkling the writing is. I loved the second chapter where Fanny is trying to disuade John Dashwood from giving his half-sisters or his step-mother money after promising his dying father that he will look after them when he inherits his estate. I sometimes find classics hard to read, as the style of the writing and the language can feel quite foreign to a modern reader, but Austens words just seem to flow off the page, and her characters, even the ones we shouldn’t like, have a charm about them.
For me, Elinor is the heroine of this novel, the sensible, reserved sister, who hides her own disappointments in order to prevent distress for her family, and supports passionate Marianne through her more public failed romance. Interestingly, the character who I’ve really changed my opinion of from my memory of my original reading, is Willoughby, who I used to feel a sympathy for (although I suspect this is because I find him a more sympathetic character in the film adaption) but who I now feel is much more selfish and self important than I remembered. This was particularly pertinent for me after his discussion with Elinor at Cleveland, when I completely lose any sympathy I may have been holding for him up until that point.
I’m so glad I started with this novel for my Jane Austen reading, and it’s been an absolute joy to read again.
At the beginning of the year, I decided that the time had come to indulge in a re-read of the Jane Austen novels, as well as trying to actually finish Emma which I’ve never managed to do so far! I’m also going to read some of the contemporary novels that have revisited some of the characters from Austen’s books as well as Claire Tomalin’s biography.
These are the Jane Austen books I will be reading this year:
1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (finished 26th January)
2. Persuasion by Jane Austen (finished 17th February)
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
6. Emma by Jane Austen
I may look at some of her other works including Lady Susan and The Watsons.
These are the contemporary novels I will be looking at reading – I may add more to this over the course of the year:
7. Mr Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Pride and Prejudice) (finished 20th March)
8. Mr Knightley’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Emma)
9. Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Persuasion) (finished 9th March)
10. Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Sense and Sensibility) (finished 20th April)
11. Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Pride and Prejudice)
12. Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Northanger Abbey)
13. Edmund Bertram’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Mansfield Park)
14. Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James (Pride and Prejudice)
15. The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (Sense and Sensibility) (finished 15th February)
16. An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan (Pride and Prejudice)
17. These Three Remain by Pamela Aidan (Pride and Prejudice)
18. Duty and Desire by Pamela Aidan (Pride and Prejudice)
This is the biography I would like to read:
19. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Other miscellaneous books:
20. Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon (finished 29th May)