Being the 13th


Title: Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

5 Stars *****

Publisher: Soho Crime 320pp

Genre: regency mystery, historical fiction, Jane Austen, mystery series

Author: Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews (b 1953) is a mystery writer and has written several series. As Francine Mathews, Merry Folger is a police officer in Nantucket while the Caroline Carmichael series are spy thrillers based on Mathews CIA analyst career. Her descriptive writing was influenced by one of her Princeton professors, John McPhee (one of my favourite non fiction writers!). As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen mysteries, presented as lost diaries edited by Barron. They are extremely well researched, witty, charming and a lovely homage to Jane Austen. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the first novel. Worse, this novel takes place in November 1815 and Jane died in 1816. Barron writes for the thinking reader. These are gentle, entertaining mysteries with careful staging and intricate characters. You will enjoy the wit, charm and satire of Jane Austen in this beautiful homage. There are many Austen spin offs: Barron is my personal favourite.

Story line:

Being the 13th novel in the series.

The battle of Waterloo has left the British economy in shreds, and Henry Austen is nearly bankrupt. Jane is editing her proofs of Emma while nursing her beloved brother in London. There are wonderful quotes from Emma throughout. Jane hears the two words Waterloo Map from the young, dying Calvary officer Col McFarland and sets out to unmask the poisoner. Jane’s keen observations and wit provide interesting details of social conventions, daily life, and personal reflection that make this a wonderful period piece. Misdirection gives a nice twist at the end.

I still miss Lord Harold Trowbridge, her previous romantic interest and fellow sleuth (5 books ago) but delighted to see her reacquainted with the fascinating artist Raphael West. This is a rather fast paced two weeks in her life. Persuasion is next! 

Read on:

Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries as period diaries.

For period mysteries : Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Deanna Raybourn, Barbara Cleverly, or Anne Perry.

For intricate historical novels: Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley.

Quotes:

Opening line: There can be few things more lowering to the female sensibility than to be caught in a shower of rain at exactly the moment one desires to appear to advantage.

Closing line: But as I watched West’s equipage pull away from Hans Place, I felt a blank pit of loneliness just below my heart. And hoped, for all of us, in the promise of spring.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

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Book Review – Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, it’s been with no small amount of embarrassment that I’ve been forced to admit – until recent years – that I’d never read Jane Austen’s classic love story, Pride and Prejudice.  To be completely honest, it didn’t appeal to me.  First, it was written in the 19th century, so I knew I’d have to get past the barrier of the writing style and speech.  Then, to be honest, it just didn’t sound that interesting to me.  Admittedly, I didn’t really know the whole premise of the story, but some guy named “Mr. Darcy” didn’t sound all that romantically appealing.  But, after a series of other books wherein “Mr. Darcy” or “Elizabeth Bennet” were repeatedly referenced, I figured I better just bite the bullet so that I can at least feel a little bit intelligent.  And so I sat down to read an old, dusty copy of Pride and Prejudice that had been in our family since what felt like the beginning of time.

The first few pages were a slow-go.  It took me several pages to get the rhythm of the writing style but, after about ten pages, I was hooked.  I quickly became immersed in the life of the Bennet sisters and felt the pain of their long-suffering father as he tolerated the drama of his hypochondriac wife.

Pride and Prejudice is really what every good novel should be.  It’s humor intertwined with drama, a bit of suspense, a little bit of sorrow and a whole lot of fun.  Take for example, the egotistical, self-important Mr. Collins.  He’s the distant cousin to Mr. Bennet and the next in line to inherit the Bennet properties.  He has money – which is something the Bennet sisters will be without once their father passes – so “out of the kindness of his heart” he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.  From this proposal ensues one of the most amusing misunderstandings in this book.  Mr. Collins simply cannot believe that Ms. Bennet would turn him down and so simply chooses to ignore her repeated replies of “no” to his proposal.  All young women must marry; Elizabeth Bennnet will be poor and presumably destitute upon the passing of her father, so why wouldn’t she want to marry Mr. Collins?  For the answer to that, you’ll need to read the book.

Jane Austen

Next you have the youngest Bennet sisters, Kitty and Lydia, whose behavior is so absurd for the time period that you can’t help but feel empathy for the two older sisters who must endure the embarrassment of their unrestrained behavior.  Rather than correct their behavior and rein them in, their mother dotes on them and their father just chuckles at their antics.

Then of course there’s the oldest sister:  sweet, simple Jane.  She’s in love with Mr. Bingley, and this is an obvious match made in heaven since they’re both bitten so strongly by the love bug that there can be no other match for either…though you will wonder for a while whether that match will ever solidify.

And finally – and most importantly – you have Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  I have no idea what Mr. Darcy’s first name is.  I’m not sure the author ever gives it; or, if she does, it’s just not important.  He’s Mr. Darcy.  A seemingly arrogant and snobbish gentleman and the best friend to Mr. Bingley.  Clearly from the beginning, the reader knows there’s some type of chemistry between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, but how they go from the platform of contempt and dislike of each other is a roller coaster ride involving a whole lot of pride and more than a little bit of prejudice.  Hence the title, Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice is a truly great read and one that would appeal to both young and mature adults.  Surprisingly to me, it is at the top of my list of favorite books of all time.  And to think that I was reluctant to read it!

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy - BBC Version

Since reading this book, I’ve had the opportunity to see both movie adaptations; the Kiera Knightly version, as well as the incredibly well-done BBC version.  For those who wish to see a screen version as part of the experience, I strongly recommend the BBC version starring Colin Firth.  It is the truest book to movie adaptation I’ve ever seen and is well worth the time to watch.  It brings the book to life and does so without changing the heart of the story even a fraction.  Check it out!

YouTube Video:  Mr. Collins Proposes Marriage

The Tortoise and the Hare, Elizabeth Jenkins

What a delight it was to re-read this book. I happened across it, with a new introduction (2001) by Hilary Mantel, while perusing the Library shelves. I was obviously in the mood for a bit of Jane Austen: the attention to social detail, the insightful historical perspectives, the splendid nuanced writing laced with gems of observations on the human condition.

The Tortoise and the Hare is her 6th of 12 novels (published in 1954), detailing the marriage of Evelyn and Imogen Gresham (he an aging barrister, her an ingenue) trapped not only in their social standing, but in their own self interests. I love the opening sentence of Mantel’s review “Apart from a war, what could be more interestng than a marriage?” There is of course ‘another woman’, their one son, and a variety of village characters that fascinate and repel while being exquisitely and acerbically described. The post note in this edition was also extremely illuminating (Carmen Calil, 1997) who in an interview with Jenkins discovered that this novel was largely autobiographical! And while you may detest Evelyn (I certainly did), Jenkins comment “well of course you didn’t know him” slightly throws you, while fitting in completely with the story. Are you sure you is the tortoise and who is the hare? Have they changed?

If you like Jane Austen or Elizabeth Ironside, this is definitely comparable. Most enjoyable!

This is a perfect book for a rainy chilly autumn day – today!

New Author! Bio of Jane Austen

OK all you Janeites!! there is a new (ish) biography that it utterly fascinating!
Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman (2009) How Jane Austen conquered the world. Well written, interesting critique, well researched, such that I am in search of her other three books now too. How did I miss the one on Robert Louis Stevenson?? She is prize winning author and a Fellow of the Royal Society of LIterature (2006) from her noted work : Sylvia Townsend Warner, Fanny Burney and Myself and the Other Fellow: A life of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Paraphrasing from my reading: “two hundred years and tens of thousands of books on Austen later… her fame and readership continue to grow.” the Dawn of janeism was around 1870 with Margaret Oliphant. In 2007 Pride and Prejudice was voted the book the UK couldn’t do without (the bible was 6th)…Til then Jane was an author “a critic’s novelist – highly spoke of and little read” in the 1830s-60s. Many people liked that there were no letters, no private information of either her or Shakespeare to keep the mystery and make the work more important…..
enjoy reading, and then peruse the footnotes, the biography, and be inspired again.