Tag Archives: Jane Austen

In “Vein” Have I Struggled: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

Ah, Mr. Darcy: he’s handsome, he’s haughty, he has 10,000 a year, but just when you think you know someone…
The year is 1802; Europe is experiencing a brief lull of calm between the signing of the Treaty of Amiens and the onslaught of the Napoleonic Wars, and in Hertfordshire, the entire town is abuzz with excitement at the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and the proud, handsome, and abundantly rich Mr. Darcy—one of the most illustrious persons in the land. As Lizzie and Darcy embark on their wedding tour, Lizzie thinks happily of the vow she and Darcy had made upon their engagement to be the happiest couple in all of England, but their travels take an unexpected turn when Darcy announces that rather than taking his bride to the Lake District as arranged, he has decided to take advantage of the temporary calm on the Continent to show her Paris.

At first delighted, Elizabeth, who has never been out of England, finds much pleasure in visiting the sights of Europe with her husband, until Darcy’s mysterious disappearances and sudden alternations between bursts of passion and bouts of brooding aloofness begin to trouble her. By day, they wander the streets of Paris as blissfully happy newlyweds; by night, they are strangers, for Darcy, despite his apparent longing, has failed to consummate the marriage. As he whisks Lizzie on a whirlwind tour from the glittering lights and salons of Paris, to the picturesque mountaintops of the Alps, to the liquid streets of Venice, introducing her to an alluring circle of friends and acquaintances, Lizzie begins to wonder: just who is this man she married? A man who claims to love her, but fears to touch her; a man who, at only 28, has friends who regale Lizzie with stories of Venice at the height of her glory in the sixteenth century with the detail of first-hand accounts; a man in whose eyes Lizzie glimpses the shadow of a dark and dangerous secret that threatens to engulf her life.

In the style of Austen’s satirical treatment of the Gothic novel, Grange both parodies and pays tribute to the Romantic and Gothic literary traditions; her vivid, breathtaking descriptions of the Alps resonate with echoes of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” and the isolation, superstitious murmurings, and hidden passages of Darcy’s enigmatic uncle’s castle will be frighteningly familiar to readers of Ann Radcliffe’s novels. In true Austen style, the novel’s title reminds us that the fun of reading any Austen novel is not the discovery of what will happen next, but how Grange will take us there. As readers, we know more than Lizzie; our only suspense lies in wondering just when, and how, she will discover her husband’s secret.

Like any derivative work, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre demands that you read it with a healthy sense of humor; a story in which Darcy is a 150 year-old vampire instead of a 28 year-old wealthy bachelor in want of a wife naturally requires a few timeline adjustments. Grange softens the suspense with a fair bit of fluff, and she handles Mr. Darcy with loving authenticity; he is just as intriguing, just as handsome, and at times, just as irritatingly proud, as Austen intended him. With the perfect blend of romance and intrigue, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre is sure to deliver enough thrills and chills to satisfy the Catherine Morland in all of us.

Whatever Their Souls are Made of, His and Hers are the same: Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise

Author’s Note: the following review may contain SPOILERS! Proceed with caution!

A year has passed since Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s ill-fated proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Since that time, Mr. Collins and his wife have come to claim Longbourn as their own following Mr. Bennet’s sudden death. With the estate entailed away and none of the Bennet girls comfortably married, Mrs. Bennet’s worst fears have been confirmed; she and her three younger daughters (Mary, Kitty, and Lydia) have moved into the near-by home of her sister, Mrs. Phillips. Jane has taken up residence with her Uncle and Aunt Gardener in London, where she cares for her young cousins, and the family’s circumstances have compelled Elizabeth to seek a position as a governess in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Willstone for their little girl, Emily.

When Mrs. Willstone’s sister Rosalind Matthews comes to stay at their home, Elizabeth discovers that not only are the Willstones acquainted with Mr. Darcy, but that Rosalind has set her eye upon Mr. Darcy as the only man in the world she could marry. When Mr. Darcy extends an invitation to the Willstones and Rosalind to visit Pemberley—an invitation that includes Elizabeth, so she can mind Emily, of course—she finds herself in the troubling yet tantalizing position of being a guest in the home of the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed on to marry. As Rosalind attempts to draw Elizabeth into her own schemes to win Mr. Darcy’s affection and Elizabeth’s position as governess makes her more keenly aware of her former suitor’s illustrious position in society, Elizabeth begins to discover, perhaps too late, just how wrong she was. With a reverent handling of some of Austen’s most beloved characters that readers and writers of fan-fiction will appreciate, Kara Louise’s Only Mr. Darcy Will Do turns Pride and Prejudice on its head in a “what If” scenario that will warm the heart and delight the imagination of romance readers and Austen fans alike.

As a work of fan-fiction, this novel delivers every promise you’d expect of the genre: romance, suspense, and a healthy indulgence in fantasy and wishful thinking. I’ve heard readers raise questions about some of the historical accuracy of Louise’s work in general, and while I had a few quibbles in that area, the key to enjoying this novel is to just accept it for what it is—the chocolate éclair of romance fiction: decadently sweet and all the more delightful for it. True, such details as Mr. Bingley and Georgiana attending a dinner party together when they are neither engaged nor married and have no intention of becoming so seems highly unlikely given the societal customs of the time. Readers get the impression at first that the couple is “dating” in the modern sense. Even considering that Bingley is a dear friend and that Darcy might well trust Georgiana with him, Darcy’s overprotective nature and Georgiana’s history (that unfortunate incident with Wickham) makes guarding her reputation all the more important. Couples didn’t exactly “date” during Austen’s time in the manner in which we do today, but as historical accuracy quibbles go, this one might easily slip under the reader’s radar because it isn’t drawn attention to in excessive detail. I only noticed it because I was looking for it, and never having read any of Louise’s other work, I was curious about this particular criticism.

The chess-match between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in the drawing-room probably also oversteps the boundaries of propriety given that Elizabeth’s place as a governess would make her presence in the drawing-room with her employers and the other guests unlikely. However, Louise uses such moments to remind us that, however badly Mr. Darcy communicated his feelings to Elizabeth, his own definition of a “lady” has nothing to do with wealth and position and everything to do with character.

With a wink and a nudge to her fellow Austen fans, Louise pays homage to the Austen Film Phenomenon and the various renderings of Mr. Darcy on screen. Most notably, in several scenes when Elizabeth accidentally encounters a wet and disheveled Darcy, readers cannot help but think of the now (in)famous encounter in the BBC’s “Pride and Prejudice” when Darcy (Colin Firth) encounters Elizabeth on the grounds of Pemberley after an impromptu dive into the lake to cool his passion. The chemistry in this novel between Elizabeth and Darcy is heart-poundingly palpable, straining at the boundaries that social convention has placed upon them. Every glance, every touch, every smile convinces the reader that when it comes to the tall, dark, and handsome hero of romance, only Mr. Darcy will do.

Click here to find the book on Amazon.

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a department holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and… ‘available.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.

Just a Little Smile is All it Takes: Happy Birthday Colin Firth

Winter, 2008: the near-end of my first semester as a PhD student. In the midst of end-of-semester insanity, I’d gone home for the Thanksgiving holiday to see my family. While everyone else in the family gathered in the living-room to decorate the Christmas tree, I sat curled on the sofa watching the BBC television adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for a seminar paper due two weeks later. My father, as he so often does when I visit, wandered into the room at intervals to inquire about my progress and whether or not I needed anything (AKA another cup of coffee…or a tranquilizer). What he discovered probably made him suspect I’d require the latter. There I was, feverishly pecking at the keys on my laptop: pausing, rewinding, scribbling, rewatching, and—it goes without saying—occasionally attempting, without much success, to suppress a fangirlish squeal of delight.
“Research?” Dad asked delicately while I manufactured an expression of intense concentration.
“Yes, for my Jane Austen course.”
Dad’s gaze swiveled to the wet-shirted, dripping delight that was Colin firth and then settled back on me. “Well
, I’m glad your graduate studies are being put to good use.”
Just then, my mother joined him, took one look at the television, and declared, “So this is why you declared a specialization in nineteenth-century literature. Suddenly it all makes sense.”

My fascination with Colin Firth has been something of a family joke for as long as I can remember. One long-ago Christmas during my childhood, a distant relative I no longer remember sent me a gift that at the time, he or she had probably only picked out because it was the nearest to hand: a video of Hallmark’s 1987 television adaptation of The Secret Garden.

The day after Christmas, I sat curled on the rug in front of the television, the distant shouts of the neighborhood children trying their new bikes and roller-skates drifting in through the open window. At that moment, it didn’t matter that they never included me in their games—that I couldn’t ride or skate or run as quickly as the rest of them; I was far too engrossed in the story unfolding on the screen in front of me. At the time, I still had enough usable vision that if I sat close enough to the screen, I could still distinguish faces. Suddenly, in the final scene, I found myself scooting as close to the set as I could without actually pressing my face against the glass.
“This wasn’t in the book,” I thought as I watched, intrigued. A grown-up Mary Lennox was standing in her garden with Ben Weatherstaff, and suddenly from behind her came a voice, tender and caressing, and slightly crisp at the edges—a summer breeze with just a hint of fall: “Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.” I shivered as Mary turned and saw who it was, and as I caught a glimpse of his face, I thought, “That’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

Why? Why that man? Why that face? There wasn’t anything immediately remarkable about it; neutral in appearance, passive in expression, but with a hint of something rippling beneath the surface like a lake stirred by a light breeze. That was what intrigued me—that carefully modulated reserve, that passion kept in check. Then I watched him kiss her, and I think my heart spilled into his hand then and there.

That was the first time I saw Colin Firth, though it wasn’t until quite a few years later—after I’d become much more familiar with his work—that I made the connection. Since that moment, I’ve been mesmerized and a bit haunted by that face—a face I’ve never forgotten, though it’s been years (longer than I feel comfortable admitting) since I’ve actually seen it. Over the years, I’ve made (and have been the subject of) plenty of jokes about this…lifelong love affair, for lack of a better term: that Colin Firth is the reason I can’t walk past a fountain or make an omelet without smiling; that (according to my mother) I’ve taught so much of his work in my courses I should probably list him as a guest lecturer; that he’s the reason why I refuse, on principle, to accept a marriage proposal that does not begin with or contain the words, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Admittedly, in fairness to Mr. Firth, even though I can no longer reread Pride and Prejudice without hearing his voice, I really think the blame for that last one should be laid at the feet of Jane Austen, since she introduced me to Mr. Darcy long before I became acquainted with Colin.

The truth is, though, that I’ve cherished a long admiration of his work that has deepened as I’ve been given opportunities to study it more closely, both in my own work and with students. He reminds me daily that passion for one’s work is often more rewarding than recognition (though he’s certainly deserving of every accolade he’s received) and I love his obvious appreciation in so much of his work for the value and utility of literature. I cannot reiterate enough that I think the roles he’s had in literary adaptations are some of his best performances. (And before anyone asks, yes, I have had the privilege of listening to his recording of Graham Green’s novel The End of the Affair, and I was entranced).

I don’t know why I feel compelled to share this story; it isn’t a remarkable one by any means, but it’s one that never fails to make me smile. In my mind, I associate Colin firth with some of my last, and clearest visual memories. Over time that image, like so many of the others, has begun to fade, but whenever I hear his voice, if I close my eyes, I can just see that face—can just picture that tantalizing half-smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Maybe I’m no longer the best judge, but that smile is still one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

The happiest of birthdays to you, Mr. Firth, and many happy returns!

Open Your Eyes: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

Those of you who know me or who have been following this blog for any length of time know that in addition to being sexy, intelligent, witty, a decent cook, and modest to a fault, I am blind: or rather, I am a person who happens to be blind. There is a difference between being a blind person and a person who happens to be blind, and it is not a subtle one. Every day, we tell ourselves stories about who we are, and those stories shape the images we create of ourselves and the world in which we live. To call myself a blind person would be true, but it would also be a severe understatement—an oversight of the many ingredients that, mixed together, make up the unique flavor of my personality.

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day, and as I reflect upon the ways in which society defines me by the disable label, I also find myself thinking about the eye-opening moments I have been privileged enough to share with those who have been willing to look beyond that label.

Last spring, I taught a course in 20th Century British Literature, but I was transparent about my passion for my area of specialization—the Nineteenth Century—and especially my Jane Austen fanaticism. One of my students, who I afterward affectionately termed my “Jane Austen student,” came gushing to me after class one day about her trip to England the previous summer and, in particular, her visit to Chawton House—the residence of Jane Austen.
“I have pictures,” she informed me. “If you’d like, I can bring them next class and show you.” Insert very long, uncomfortable pause punctuated by chirping crickets. Class had been in session for roughly four weeks at this point; either this student was terribly unobservant of the Labrador that sat curled at my feet during every lesson, or she needed to have her own eyes checked out. That said, I have non-confrontational tattooed across my forehead, so rather than point out the obvious and add an even thicker layer of awkwardness to an already awkward situation, I smiled and responded, “I’d love to be able to see them.” ‘Hurrah,’ I thought. ‘I am a paragon of inner poise and diplomacy.’ I said “I’d love to be able to see them,” which was, I thought, the truth. I would, but I could not.

“great!” responded my student. (Did she need a bomb to drop on her?). In this case, it was my dog discretely, or not-so-discretely, treading on her foot with his paw.

When I walked into class the following day, I wondered whether or not Jane Austen student would in fact remember to bring her pictures of Chawton and, if she did, how I would explain to her that I would not, in fact, be able to see them, much as I wished to. ‘Idiot,’ I thought. ‘Golden opportunity for a teachable moment here, and because you’re such a politically-correct chickenshit, you’ve let it slip right past.’ As I suspected, Jane Austen student did in fact bring her pictures and suggested walking to my office with me so she could share them. Now the moment had come; there was no way out, but how could I offend her when she’d gone out of her way to bring the pictures and seemed so enthusiastic about sharing them with me?

We walked across campus together, chatting about the weather, classes, my dog—safe subjects. As we drew nearer my office, I was still wondering how I might be able to salvage what was left of this uncomfortable situation and transform it into a teachable moment. While I rarely if ever call attention to my blindness, I try whenever possible to educate my students about how best they can be of service to someone with a disability when the need arises.

When we arrived at my office, I thought I’d let the student initiate the dreaded picture conversation and see what might happen; I was buying time. At this point, “Lovely, but I can’t see it” was still the only thing I could conceivably think of saying. Subtlety is not a virtue I claim to possess in large quantities–in any quantity actually. To my astonishment, with no prompting from me, Jane Austen student brought out her pictures and, flipping through them, proceeded to describe each and every shot to me in detail. It was as if she were simply sharing her adventure with me, using the pictures as a way to refresh her own memory. She must have spent a good hour with me, describing in detail the landscape surrounding Chawton House and sharing the story behind each picture—like the one of the exit-ramp off the highway where she and her friend had accidentally found themselves when her GPS inexplicably switched from the pedestrian setting to the car setting.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this instance, it truly became that, and so much more. In that moment, it was my ignorance, and not my student’s, that had been exposed—my assumption that this girl wouldn’t be able to fathom how to bring the world into view for someone who couldn’t see it.

In honor of Blogging Against Disablism Day, I urge you to check out Gin and Lemonadea wonderfully witty blog by a wonderfully witty woman who, among other things, writes prolifically about living with a disability. She rocks—and (quite literally) rolls.