Jane Austen July 2022
1. Read one of Jane Austen’s main six novels
This was first published after Jane Austen's death, but it's probably the first one of the big six that she wrote. It was the first one she sold, but the publisher who bought it didn't end up publishing it.
I am in a book club that is going to discuss Northanger Abbey July 28th!
2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her main six novels
This is probably the funniest of all of Jane Austen's work. I guess because it's so short– and also it's epistolary– it isn't usually included with the big six, but it's quite finished.
Frederic and Elfrida: A Novel
This is a very early work. It's funny, but in a mostly silly way. This is a teenaged Jane Austen having fun with us. I let Dr Octavia Cox read it to me.
3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
This is a biography of Jane Austen that follows the different homes she lived in. I haven't finished this yet— and probably won't by the end of the month— but I'm enjoying it so far. I've seen something like this on television before. I can picture Lucy Worsley in a field pacing out where the outside walls of Steventon parsonage would have been.
Of the places where Jane Austen lived, I have seen only one: No 4 Sydney Place in Bath.
4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book or a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (2020)
This was terrific. A sort of retelling of Pride & Prejudice from the point of view of Mary, the middle Bennet sister. Mary Bennet is mostly either ignored or laughed at in the original, but— unlike all of the other characters— she never really does anything wrong. Why not give her her own story?
Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013)
This was delightful. I love reading Jane Austen, but not because I can really identify with any of the characters. If I were in a Jane Austen novel, I would probably be a servant. This is a retelling of Pride & Prejudice from the point of view of the servants.
Charlotte by Julia Barrett (2002)
The full title is Jane Austen's Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel, Completed by Julia Barrett. This is a completion of the unfinished Jane Austen novel that most people call Sanditon. I didn't really like it, but at least Charlotte had her happy ending.
That's more than you can say for the recent ITV/PBS adaptation. That ended with something that Jane Austen would never have written. Worse, it didn't end at all, apparently. There is now a season 2 and, I guess, there's going to be a season 3. It's the new "Downton Abbey"…a show that looks like it might be Masterpiece theatre to someone walking through the room, but is in fact meaningless piffle to someone who actually sits down and watches. Embarrassing.
I guess we need to just let Sanditon go. Jane Austen didn't finish it and she never will. She left enough of it that we really want to know what happened, but we never will. Julia Barret can't change that. Andrew Davies can't change that. No one can change that. It was a great start to what I'm sure would have been a great story, but we'll never know. Let it go.
5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen (ie, published between 1775–1817)
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
I started this weeks ago, but I finished it in July. This is one of the books Catherine Morland reads in Northanger Abbey. It is not very good. I really had to struggle to get through it.
Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald
Lovers' Vows is Elizabeth Inchbald's controversial adaptation of the German play Das Kind der Liebe (The Love Child) by August von Kotzebue. This is the play the amateur actors are rehearsing in Mansfield Park. I think there is evidence that Jane Austen saw a Von Kotzebue play at the theater, but not this one.
6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book
Northanger Abbey (1987)
Northanger Abbey (2007)
This month, there appeared a new adaptation of Persuasion. I don't have access to NetFlix, so I haven't seen it. By all reports, it's not very good ("kind of a mess", "100% agony, 0% hope", "you pierce my eyeballs", "did they even read the book?"). Nonetheless, I still kind of want to see it. Ah, well. I watched these instead.
7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book
Fire Island (2022)
This was a really fun present-day retelling of Pride & Prejudice where the Bennet sisters are played by five gay men. Half the fun is matching up roles— "oh, that guy is Caroline Bingley!"
I thought about adding my own challenge: make a dish from Jane Austen's time.
The Housekeeper's Instructor and A New System of Domestic Cookery were two popular cookbooks from that time. Recipes back then were very brief, so I don't think I could follow one. But Justine at Early American has filmed several of them. I think I could follow along with her!
Alas, I did not do this in July.
Edward St Aubyn
John Mullan mentions Edward St Aubyn when asked if a living writer is close to Jane Austen, so I started reading Double Blind.
"I'm Lucy," said Lucy, lucidly.