On My Bookshelf: Beau Brocade

I own several copies of each of Jane Austen’s novels, but my favorite edition is a compilation of Austen’s novels that include wonderful illustrations by C. E. Brock and Hugh Thomson.

Hugh Thomson created the illustrations for another book I own: The Ballad of Beau Brocade by Austin Dobson.

Beau Brocade was published in 1893. It’s a light-hearted collection of poems about imaginary characters of the Georgian era. Here’s the title page, designed by Hugh Thomson:

One of the poems is titled “A Chapter of Froissart.” Hugh Thomson’s whimsical illustrations grace the first page:

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The language of this poem is a sometimes difficult to follow, but I love all the sly little references to Hogarth, Murray, Bonaparte, and Ann Radcliffe.

Although I’ve had the book for many years, it was very well read by the time I gave it a home. The pages are yellowed and loose, and there’s some foxing here and there; but this slim little book is definitely one of my favorites. I hope you enjoyed reading an excerpt.

How about you? Have you seen Hugh Thomson’s illustrations in other books? Did you enjoy this poem?

 

 

 

 

New Journal Find

I’m a slow writer. I freely admit it. There are times when I envy other writers who can produce four or five (or more!) books a year, and have them all hit best-seller lists (an indication that those high-producing writers are publishing quality stories). But I’m the proverbial turtle when it comes to the writing race.

Still, I like to document my progress. I keep a journal open on my desk, and every day I write down things I do related to my writing career, like the number of new words I write each day, or the research I conduct.

Here’s the journal I kept last year when I was writing Mary and the Captain:

There’s nothing fancy about it; 300 lined pages, which gives me plenty of room to document my progress on a new page every day. Here’s an entry for a book I’m working on right now:

And yes, I use stickers to show when I’ve met a daily goal.

I’ve come to rely on stickers. They keep me focused. They motivate me. I hate having to turn a page in my journal if I haven’t first applied a sticker on it. To me those stickers validate that I’m doing my work and meeting my goals.

On average I go through two journals a year. Here’s a new one I picked up this week at my local Tuesday Morning store:

The cover has a soft, suede-y feel. I can’t wait to begin writing in it (although I think I should finish filling my current journal first).

And here’s the pen I just started using to write in my journal. It’s brand new; I picked it up as a souvenir at the theater when I saw Hamilton:

Journals and pens and stickers may not seem like very much; but combined together, they help make writing fun. They’re also my way of rewarding myself for plowing ahead, meeting my goals, and writing my book . . . no matter how slowly I do it!

 

 

A Celebration of Jane Austen

200 years ago today, Jane Austen passed away. She left behind an enduring legacy of much-loved novels and correspondence that—to this day—still captivate readers and inspire writers.

Around the globe today are celebrations of Jane Austen’s life and works. If you cannot attend an event in person, I hope you will join one of the many observances taking place on social media today.

On Twitter you can follow hashtag #janeausten200

On Facebook you can go to one of these pages:

@janeausten200

@janeaustenauthor

You can also read a blog post by Kyra Kramer on AustenAuthors.com. Kyra’s post is a lovely and thoughtful tribute to Jane Austen’s life.

Jane Austen’s final resting place is in Winchester Cathedral. Her memorial stone makes no mention of her novels, but today we celebrate them along with her life, and thank her for 200 years of enjoyment and inspiration her books have given us all.

Sir Walter Elliot and Me

I’ve been fascinated by English nobility for as long as I can remember. And like most writers who pen stories set in the era of Regency England, I’ve made a study of the peerage with its ranks and titles, hierarchies and presidencies.

That explains why—whenever I read the opening paragraphs of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—I feel a strong connection with Sir Walter Elliot and his preoccupation with his own book about the baronetage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

There are plenty of instances in Persuasion where Austen gives readers reasons to dislike Sir Walter Elliot for his arrogance, or holds him up to ridicule for his vanity; but I have to agree with Sir Walter on one thing: I love a good book about the peerage.

Several years ago, I found my own copy of a book like Sir Walter’s Baronetage, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

In a used book store in southern California I found a battered 1806 edition of Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland. Here’s the title page:

It’s a thick book, weighing in at over 400 pages of very tiny type; but it contains everything you’d ever want to know about the hereditary peers of Great Britain and Ireland in the early Nineteenth Century.

The book names each peer by rank, his wife (if married), his children (detailing whether they’re alive or deceased), and the name of the peer’s heir.

It even includes illustrations of the major peers’ coats of arms, and their mottoes. For example, the Marquis of Downshire’s motto is:

“Either attempt not, or accomplish.”

That sounds a lot like Yoda’s “Do or do not; there is no try,” doesn’t it? Here’s a page showing some of the coats of arms for English Marquisses:

And like Sir Walter Elliot, I enjoy browsing through the pages of the book whenever I have an idle moment.

In my novel Mary and the Captain, my copy of Debrett’s played a pivotal role in the story. Mary Bennet used the entries in Debrett’s to figure out the identity of a boy apprentice she and Captain Robert Bingley (Caroline and Charles’ brother) rescue from a cruel taskmaster.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s nothing to Debrett’s but a long list of peers, their ancestors, and heirs.

My 1806 edition includes a handy explanation of heraldic terms. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours poring over these pages with a magnifying glass trying to reason out for myself what each symbol meant on a given coat of arms.

Every little detail on a coat of arms means something. For someone like me who enjoys solving puzzles, interpreting the arms shown in the book has been a fun challenge using the illustrations of terms.

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Like Sir Walter, my Debrett’s has given me “occupation for an idle hour” and I’m still discovering fascinating new bits of information in its pages; like this entry for Elizabeth Rawdon, Baroness Hungerford:

What?!? I was pretty startled to see a woman listed among the barons, since all my research showed noble titles were passed from male to male in each generation. But with Lady Hungerford’s entry, I charged off on a new flurry of research to figure out how it was possible that a woman inherited a baronetcy.

I’m still working my way through the book, and with each reading I seem to discover new revelations that fascinate me. That’s why I can whole-heartedly agree with Sir Walter: poring over the pages of a book about the peerage never fails to hold my interest.

 

 

Want to Walk the Streets of Meryton?

Did you know Castle Asby in Northamptonshire inspired Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? Or that Lacock in Wiltshire was used as the setting for Meryton in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice?

These are just a couple of the reveals in the April edition of Discover Britain magazine. Their article “Mansions & Manners” includes some drool-worthy photos as they explore locations that inspired Jane Austen’s writings and the filmed versions of her books. My favorite is the photo of the dining room at Lyme Park, which was filmed as Pemberley in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. The detailed craftsmanship in the room’s mouldings and ornamentation is simply stunning.

Lyme Park Dining Room

The dining room at Lyme Park

If you aren’t a subscriber, you can click here to visit the magazine’s website and see a few photos of different Austen-inspired locations that didn’t make the issue.

The drawing room fireplace at Lyme Park

The drawing room fireplace at Lyme Park

If magazine subscriptions aren’t your thing, I recommend you visit www.RegencyHistory.net, which is the website of author Rachel Knowles. Her posts are chock-full of great photos of Regency era locations and interesting historical trivia. I never miss it!

Would you like to see more Jane Austen inspired locations? Visit my Pinterest board Jane Austen Country, where I’m collecting photos of places Jane lived, as well as the locations that inspired her work. Thanks for stopping by!

Austen in August – Part 2

Are you reading “Austen in August?” In a prior post I mentioned Roof Beam Reader’s annual Austen in August reading challenge.

1923 editionSo far I’m on track to meet my “Austen in August” goals—I just finished Jane Austen’s Sanditon and tomorrow I’ll start reading Lady Susan.

It’s been a couple years since I last read Lady Susan, but it’s still one of my favorite Austen novels. Lady Susan showcases Jane Austen’s humor and wit in a way that’s completely contrary to the sometimes loving, sometimes sly, and always charming humor we see in her other novels.

The title character, Lady Susan, is absurdly funny and deliciously evil as she schemes to find a rich husband, no matter the cost.  She bewitches men at the same time she despises them, and she knows her power. Here’s Lady Susan’s reaction after meeting the hero Reginald de Courcy for the first time:

There is something about him which rather interests me, a sort of sauciness and familiarity which I shall teach him to correct. He is lively, and seems clever, and when I have inspired him with greater respect for me than his sister’s kind offices have implanted, he may be an agreeable flirt. There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority.

Carlo Ferranti 1She’s perfectly awful … but she draws me in and I can’t wait to see what kind of havoc will result from Lady Susan’s grand schemes.

When I read the book I marvel over the fact that Jane Austen—who was only 19 or 20 years old with a life experience that was somewhat limited—could create such an accomplished coquette like Lady Susan. It’s yet another example of her immense talent as a writer.

Here’s a video that gives some insight into Jane’s life at the time she wrote the novel.

If you’ve never read Lady Susan, I hope you’ll give it a try. Here’s a link to a free version at Amazon. Let me know what you think of the book.

What Jane Austen novel will you read next?

Austen in August

It’s August and that means two things:

  1. It’s time to start muttering, “No way, is it really August already?” and,
  2. Read Jane Austen.

If you’re like me, you don’t really need a reason to read a bit of Jane. I keep a copy of my favorite Jane Austen novels on the shelf beside by desk so I can read a chapter or two whenever the mood strikes me.

My much-read copy of S&S needs a ribbon to hold the cover in place.

My much-read copy of S&S needs a ribbon to hold the cover in place.

I also keep a complete library of her books on my bedside table; and with a copy of all Jane’s books on my PC, laptop, Kindle and Nook, I manage to have a complete Austen library in every room of my house and everywhere I go.

But in case any of us needs a reason to read Jane Austen’s books once again, Roof Beam Reader is hosting his annual Austen in August reading challenge.

The challenge is simple: read one or more of Jane Austen’s works during the month of August. Biographies, spin-offs, and re-reads count.

For me, this is the motivation I need to reread Sanditon, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time.

What will you read? Click here to check out Austen in August details, and be sure to sign up for Roof Beam Reader emails so you can keep up to date with giveaways, guest posts and “other shenanigans.”