It’s Banned Books Week; You Know What To Do

Recognize any of these book titles?

Each of these books was banned or under consideration to be banned in the United States of America.

If you love to read, you already know about the transformative power of books.

You also know how to take a book from a store shelf, skim the first few pages, and put it back as you say to yourself, “No, that book’s not for me.”

And yet there are people in this world who want to take that experience away; people who want to substitute their own judgment for yours, and tell you what you can and should read.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenged and banned books, and has some interesting statistics and graphics on the topic, which you can view on their website.

You can also visit BannedBooksWeek.org to see a schedule of events and read-alongs being held this week.

Banned Books Week may seem like an obscure cause to celebrate, but for me it’s an important one. Among other things, it serves as a reminder to me to support authors who have been challenged—and sometimes vilified—for writing the stories that were in their hearts.

I hope you’ll join me and tune in to Banned Books Week, and celebrate your right to read the books you love.

 

 

 

 

The Georgian Card Game of Tontine

In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet spent a few nights at Netherfield Park so she could nurse her ill sister, Jane. The first evening, after Jane had finally fallen asleep, Elizabeth ventured downstairs to join Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, his sister Caroline, and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.

Mr. Darcy, Caroline Bingley, and Charles Bingley play a game of loo at Netherfield in the 1985 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

There was a new card game just beginning to make the rounds in 1797, the same year in which Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. In their October issue that year Sporting Magazine took great delight in publishing the rules of the game of Tontine, writing:

The rules we here give for playing this game are entirely new; nothing of this having yet been published for the game it is almost unknown in London, except in the polite circles of Fashion.

If you’re a writer (or reader) of Regency era fiction or romance, and you’d like to give your characters a new game to play besides Whist, Loo, Piquet or Lottery Tickets, Tontine may be the game you’re looking for.

Here are the rules:

Tontine may be played by twelve or fifteen persons; but the more the merrier.

It is played with an entire pack of fifty-two cards. Before they begin, every one is to take a stake, consisting of twelve, fifteen, or twenty counters more or less; each of them they value as they please; and at the beginning of the party, each player puts three counters in the box, which is on the middle of the table; then he is to deal, being cut to him by his left hand, turns up a card from the stock, or each player, according to his rank, and gives at the same time one to himself.

The player whose card turned up is a king, draws three counters from the box, for his own profit; if it is a queen he draws two, and for a knave one; he that has a ten, neither draws or pays any thing.

He that has an ace, gives one counter to his left hand neighbour; he that has a deuce gives two to his second left hand neighbour, and he that has a three, gives three to his third left hand neighbour, as his second left-hand neighbour; and he that has a three gives three to his third left hand neighbour

As for him that has a four, he puts two of his counters into the box; a five puts one there; a six two; a seven one; an eight two; and a nine one; observing to pay, and to be paid, exactly what is due.

Then he who is on the right of the first dealer, takes up the cards and deals; and this deal is played in the same manner as the first; and each player deals in his turn.

They who have lost all their counters are dead; but they do not die without hope, seeing that any of them may revive again, by the assistance of an ace, which may be in the hand of his right hand neighbour, for which he receives a counter, or by means of two, which may be in the hand of his second right hand neighbour, for which he receives two counters; or by a three in the hand of his third right hand neighbour, for which he receives three counters.

The player who has a single counter only, has the same right to play as he that has ten or twelve; and if he should lose two or three counters that deal, he can only pay what he has got, and has his discharge.

The deceased players have no cards before them, nor do they deal, though it comes to their turn, unless they are lucky enough to come to life again, then they plan again, just as if they had never died.

Mr. Collins (left) plays a game of whist with Mrs. Philips (right) in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

He who outlives all the rest, by having counters left, when theirs are gone, wins the parly, and enjoys what the others have deposited.

If you’d like to read the original text as it appeared in Sporting Magazine, click here to view a scanned version of the article.

Now that you have the rules down, are you (or the Regency characters you create) ready to give the game a try? Gather some friends, round up some counters, deal the cards, and good luck!

 

A Georgian Staycation

Yesterday I went to the dentist, which was pretty exciting when you consider it’s the only planned outing I’ve had during the entire month of August.

With the exception of a couple of visits with my son and grand-dog, weekly trips to the grocery store, and daily walks for fresh air and exercise, I have made it my mission to stay at home, where I know it’s safe.

But that mission may soon change. My home state has been documenting a promising trend: a decline in the number of new COVID19 cases, as well as hospitalization rates. I see that as a good sign, and I wonder: Come September or October, will it be safe to venture out a bit further afield than the one square mile that surrounds my house?

I’m not thinking about taking a “real” vacation or heading off to some crowded resort, but if things continue to improve, a staycation might be in order. I could take my cue from Jane Austen, who knew all about staycations.

A view of Bywell Castle, Northumberland, by George Fennel Robson.

When Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796, Europe was at war. British citizens were cut off from their usual tourist destinations on the Continent. If they wanted to travel, they had to be content with exploring the architecture and delights of nature to be found at home.

Whitton, by Humphry Repton.

That may be why Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner chose a pleasure tour of the Lake District for their summer travels in Pride and Prejudice, and they invited Elizabeth Bennet to come along.

Elterwater and Langdale Pikes, Westmoreland.

Other Britains had similar ideas. It soon became the popular thing to stay in England and visit spa towns and seaside resorts, the Lake and Peak Districts, Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

Hillsborough Head near Ilfracombe, Devon, by John Frederick Tennant.

From all those domestic staycations sprouted a new industry: travel guides. One guidebook by Thomas West became a best seller.

Title Page for A Guide to the Lakes by Thomas West (1778)

West not only provided directions on how to reach some of the most popular destinations, he made a practice of describing “stations” where tourists could achieve the best and most picturesque views of landscapes and stately homes. Here’s one example:

Proceed through rocky fields and groves to Holker, one mile, the seat of the right honourable Lord George Cavendish; the carriage road is by Cark-Hall. At the top of the hill, there opens a fine view of Furness. Holker-Hall lies at your feet, embosomed in wood; on the left Ulverston bay opens into the great bay and is four miles over. The coast is deeply indented, and the peninsulas are beautifully fringed with wood.

Just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners set off “in pursuit of novelty and amusement” in Pride and Prejudice, Georgians flocked to to the countryside, where they visited monasteries and medieval ruins.

Tintern Abbey, by Frederick Calbert.

Derbyshire was particularly popular with tourists because it offered stately homes (like Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall) with the unmatched scenery of the Peaks.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Some grand estates received so many visitors they printed their own pamphlets so people could take self-guided tours. And historical sites, like Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, suffered when overly enthusiastic visitors chipped off pieces of stone to take home as souvenirs.

A view of Stonehenge, 1744.

If things keep going well in my home state, I just might take a page out of Jane Austen’s proverbial tour book and plan a staycation of my own.

I think I’ll start small and visit a place that isn’t too far from home. How does an afternoon at the zoo sound to you?

Suffragettes and a Really Good Book

This month marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. I decided to begin my own celebration of the occasion by reading a book set during the early 1900s when women were advocating/fighting for the right to vote.

The book I chose was Impossible Saints: A Novel by Clarissa Harwood. I thought it was going to be a romance set against the English suffragette movement, but it turned out to be so much more. Here’s the opening line:

The day her pupil’s father threw Lilia Brooke’s copy of Homer’s Odyssey across the schoolroom was the day she knew she’d have to leave Ingleford. Given time, she could forgive most offenses, but all bets were off if violence was done to her favorite book.

I felt an immediate connection to Lilia Brooke (I don’t like people who make dog-ears, cracked spines, or torn pages in books, either). Besides being a book lover, Lilia is a hard-working, spirited suffragette, willing to risk her life for voting rights for herself and future generations of women.

By contrast, Paul Harris is an Anglo-Catholic priest who doesn’t want to rock the boat. He prefers a quiet life and reading religious texts to the company of his fellow human beings.

But this book goes well beyond the opposites-attract trope. The author skillfully integrates a healthy amount of information about the early English suffrage movement, without detracting in any way from the intimate story of Lilia and Paul.

In fact, I had a hard time putting this book down, and several scenes still stay with me, days after I finished the last page. And that, I think, is the measure of a really good book.

Impossible Saints: A Novel by Clarissa Harwood is available on Amazon and other print and e-book retailers.

Note: I don’t receive any compensation for recommending this book; I just like to share good books I find with others.

Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice (1940)!

I saw my first adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on television in the 1960s, one afternoon at home with my sisters while my parents were at work. It was the 1940 black-and-white movie starring Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier. Because I hadn’t yet read Jane Austen’s masterpiece at the time, I viewed the movie as just another enjoyable Hollywood comedy.

Produced by MGM studios, the movie was released on July 26, 1940 to rave reviews. Newspaper and magazine columnists described the movie as “brilliant,” charming,” and “hilarious.”

All those descriptors suited MGM, since the studio made a deliberate decision to mine the novel for as many comedic aspects as possible, and their advertisements reflected that intention. Here’s one of their newspaper ads, which opens with the words, “Bachelors Beware!”

The ad below promised the movie would take viewers on “The Merriest Man-Hunt”:

And this movie poster proclaims the story takes place during a time “when pretty girls t-e-a-s-e-d men into marriage.”

Movie-goers ate it all up with a spoon and a smile. Book stores and movie theaters gave away copies of the novel in promotional campaigns.

Part of an ad in The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington) on Sunday, October 13, 1940.

One newspaper encouraged readers to submit stories (in 100 words or less) about how “pride or prejudice cost you a girl friend, boy friend, a friend or a job.” The prize: a copy of Pride and Prejudice autographed by the film’s star, Greer Garson.

From The Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.

A couple years after I first saw the movie on television I read the novel and found the film was only somewhat faithful to the original. Here’s an early scene in the movie where Darcy (second from left) insults Elizabeth Bennet (second from right) at the Meryton assembly:

Elizabeth overhears Darcy’s insults at the Meryton assembly. Left to right: Charles Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte Lucas.

But while the scene appears visually faithful to the book, the dialog was altered for the movie. Jane Austen wrote Darcy’s insult in this way:

She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.

But in the movie, Darcy’s insult was altered so it was directed toward the assembly in general, not toward Elizabeth in particular:

Yes, she looks tolerable enough, but I am in no humor tonight to give consequence to the middle classes at play.

In another scene that rings true, Jane and Elizabeth tend Mrs. Bennet’s poor nerves while their father looks on:

MGM’s commitment to going for the big laughs is what probably led to several scenes that never appeared in the book, like the ridiculously improbable carriage race in the beginning of the movie. It also led to scenes like this one, where Mr. Collins and Mary Bennet show off their musical talents (or lack thereof):

The studio also added an archery scene that never appeared in Austen’s novel, although it is effective in conveying Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s personalities:

For me, the most jarring aspect of the movie is the costumes, which were created by famed Hollywood designer, Adrian.

An example of the over-the-top costumes worn by the characters of Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet in the film.

Adrian did his research and was aware of the Grecian-inspired style of clothing in vogue during the time period in which Pride and Prejudice takes place; but for this film he decided to follow his own taste, instead. An article in the May 19, 1940 issue of The Detroit Free Press explains why:

Excerpt from an article in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, May 19, 1940.

Despite its outlandish costumes and emphasis on physical comedy, this movie holds a special place in my heart because it was my very first introduction to Pride and Prejudice. And despite the fact that the majority of the film strays far from canon, I like it, and I enjoyed watching it again this week.

So, happy birthday Pride and Prejudice (1940)! Your old-fashioned 1940s charm and desire to please everyone still holds up 80 years later.

Note: The movie posters and still movie photos in this post can be found at IMDB.com. Click here to see more.

Change is Good

As if 2020 hasn’t already proved that anything can (and will!) happen, I’ve made yet another life change!

Earlier this week I made the decision to leave Austen Authors.

I anticipate the posts I wrote for that site will soon be deleted, but if you enjoyed them, fear not. I’ll be re-posting them here on my blog in the near future. Stay tuned!

Pride and Prejudice and My Fantasy Library

I’ve been pretty quiet here on my blog for the last few months, but there’s a reason for that (as the saying goes). Today I’m on Austen Authors talking about a big life change I made and how it impacts one of my favorite fantasies. Just click on the image below to read on:

Lydia Bennet: She’s Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No

Hello, Austen Lovers! Can you believe the month of May is coming to an end? Sometimes it seems time is passing so slowly; and yet, we’re nearing the half-way mark of 2020 with surprising speed!

In my home state of Colorado we are still living under quarantine rules, although some restrictions have been relaxed. Now we can visit a salon to get a haircut (which I haven’t yet done, so I’m rockin’ a ponytail), and this week restaurants opened with serious limitations.

Since I have an underlying health condition to consider, I am still staying at home, where I know I’ll be safe. To pass the time, I’ve worked jigsaw puzzles, painted the entire interior of my house, and brushed up on my conversational Spanish skills.

I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and last week I watched a favorite old Hollywood musical, Oklahoma!

Now, maybe I’ve been under quarantine too long, but I hadn’t watched the movie for very many minutes before I began to notice elements of the story that reminded me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

If you haven’t yet seen it yet, the film centers on the romance between farmer Laurey Williams and cowboy Curly McLain in 1907 Oklahoma Territory.

Curley and Laurey, singing their hearts out in Oklahoma!

As usual, their course of true love does not run smooth, due in part to a socially outcast farmhand named Jud Fry, who has the hots for Laurey. I confess he reminded me of Mr. Collins’ pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet, especially when Laurey says of Jud:

“He makes me shiver ever’ time he gits close to me.”

In the film, Laurey has a good friend named Ado Annie Carnes, a boy-crazy farmer’s daughter who loves cowboy Will Parker, but can’t stop herself from seeking attention from other men.

As Ado Annie explains to Laurey: “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.”

Wasn’t that Lydia Bennet’s problem, too? Both Ado Annie and Lydia where raised in good families, and both were taught right from wrong. Yet when Ado Annie sang these lyrics in Oklahoma!, I couldn’t help but think of Lydia Bennet:

It ain’t so much a question of not knowin’ what to do
I knowed what’s right an’ wrong since I’ve been ten.
I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they are true
About how girls are put upon by men.

I know I mustn’t fall into the pit
But when I’m with a feller
I fergit!

A few verses later, Ado Annie chirps:

Ev’ry time I lose a wrestlin’ match.
I have a funny feelin’ that I won!

Despite her love for Will Parker, Ado Annie juggles a romance with Ali Hakim, the traveling peddler who promises to take Annie “to paradise.” But what Ali really means is, he wants Ado Annie to spend a few hours with him in a hotel room in the next town.

Ali Hakim, Ado Annie, and Will Parker.

Just as Lydia Bennet thought there wouldn’t be any harm in running off with Mr. Wickham, Ado Annie considers joining Ali Hakim on that trip to “paradise” he promised. And when her father finds out about it, and realizes Ali has compromised his daughter, Mr. Carnes forces him to offer Ado Annie marriage.

Ali put it this way:

I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father’s shotgun.

Shades of P&P! Lydia Bennet had a sort of shotgun wedding of her own after she ran off to London with Mr. Wickham; and, just like Ado Annie, Lydia was shameless in telling everyone she knew how her wedding came about, causing Elizabeth to scold her:

I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.

I won’t give away the ending of Oklahoma! for those who haven’t seen it, but since it’s a Hollywood musical from the 1950s, you can be sure there are plenty of happy endings to go around, just like in P&P.

And this weekend, I plan to treat myself to another old movie—most likely a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical from the 1930s.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Swing Time (1936).

I wonder if I’ll spot some parallels to Austen’s novels in that movie, too?

Are you like me? Do you see bits of your favorite Jane Austen novels in our modern movies and TV shows?

Do you have favorite movies you like to watch over and over again?