Friday, March 27, 2015

Edgar and Emma: Chapter 1

“I cannot imagine,” said Sir Godfrey to his lady, “why we continue in such deplorable lodgings as these, in a paltry market-town, while we have three good houses of our own situated in some of the finest parts of England, and perfectly ready to receive us!”
“I'm sure, Sir Godfrey,” replied Lady Marlow, “it has been much against my inclination that we have stayed here so long; or why we should ever have come at all indeed, has been to me a wonder, as none of our houses have been in the least want of repair.”
“Nay, my dear,” answered Sir Godfrey, “you are the last person who ought to be displeased with what was always meant as a compliment to you; for you cannot but be sensible of the very great inconvenience your daughters and I have been put to during the seven months we have remained crowded in these lodgings in order to give you pleasure.”
“My dear,” replied Lady Marlow, “how can you stand and tell such lies, when you very well know that it was merely to oblige the girls and you, that I left a most commodious house situated in a most delightful country and surrounded by a most agreeable neighborhood, to live cramped up in lodgings three pair of stairs high, in a smoky and unwholesome town, which has given me a continual fever and almost thrown me into a consumption.”
This Sir Godfrey could not let pass. He set down his newspaper and looked across the table at his wife, which was not something he did often; so that on this occasion he was momentarily diverted from his impatience by a tremor of surprise at what she looked like—which was, several years older than the last time he had bothered. But this he put aside and in great indignation said, “And what ever did I hear from you, when we were happily housed in the country, but how you missed society, and the theatre, and shops? So that eventually I was compelled to find us lodgings here in Chipping Norton, where I have presumed you were perfectly contented.”
Lady Marlow regarded him with as much surprise as if he had climbed atop the table and mewed like a cat. “What can you mean by such nonsense?” she asked. “We see no one here, for there is no one worth seeing; the shops, while more numerous, are inferior to those in the country; and never once in seven months have we been to the theatre. Indeed I am entirely uncertain whether there is a playhouse in town. No, no, husband,” she said, setting down the tambour on which she was embroidering a floral scene, “we came to Chipping Norton solely that you might be closer to your business interests.”
Sir Godfrey was all astonishment. He had perhaps forgotten he had any such thing as business interests. “My dear,” he said when he had recollected himself, “I employ agents to act on my behalf specifically that I might live far afield from the world of commerce. It is distasteful to me; surely that much has been made plain to you, over the long period of our marriage.”
But Lady Marlow was no more accustomed to looking at her husband than he at her, so that it was a surprise to both to be seeing each other, after so many years of wedlock, as if for the first time. Yet each was possessed of a congenial, imperturbable character, and thus found in the discovery of their mutual misunderstanding no cause for vexation or regret. Indeed, once they had concluded that the only persons to benefit from their seven-month sojourn in Chipping Norton were Sir Godfrey’s agents, who had needed to travel so much shorter a distance to report their activities to their employer, they could not withhold their laughter.
“Well,” said Sir Godfrey once he had recovered from this attack of mirth, “I see no reason for staying any longer in these cramped rooms than we already have. I will this very day begin arrangements to leave them.”
“I will certainly not hinder you,” said his wife. “But we ought first to determine where we will go.”
“For my part, I would be content with any of our houses,” said Sir Godfrey. 
“As would I,” agreed Lady Marlow.
This was the disadvantage to the congeniality of their characters; it often rendered them helpless in the face of a decision.
“Let us apply to the children,” said Lady Marlow at last. “They are far more particular than we.”

These children were three in number. Sir Godfrey and Lady Marlow had two grown daughters, Frances and Emma, the former of whom had nineteen years, the latter, eighteen. They also counted as their own a boy, Thomas Peake, who was the son of one of Sir Godfrey’s cousins; the Marlows had taken him in after his parents perished at sea. This was not entirely a philanthropic arrangement, for they had assumed the lad would grow up to marry one of their daughters. 
But with every passing year it became increasingly evident that Tom was the kind of man who would never marry at all. At twenty, he possessed all the settled, unvarying qualities of a man thrice his age, and a steadfast disinclination ever to alter them. He had accepted Sir Godfrey’s offer to finance his training for the law, and had undertaken his studies at Cambridge, so that his immediate future was as thoroughly charted as he could wish it. In the meantime, he made himself valuable to his guardians in an hundred different ways, which ameliorated their disappointment that he would be taking neither of their girls off their hands.
Alas, in this present difficulty he was of no use whatsoever. “I feel I have already prevailed too much on your good natures,” he said with genuine humility when asked where he thought the family ought next to move. “And as I am soon to return to university, and will thus spend little time at whichever house is eventually chosen, I feel my own preference—if I had one—which I do not—must be disregarded.”
Emma was applied to next. She was very glad to hear that the family was to depart Chipping Norton, as she had not thrived here; she was a delicate and sensitive creature, and the hustle-and-bustle of the market town’s streets buffeted her like a bit of flotsam on a rough sea. She was also afflicted with a short temper, so that there had been occasions on which her treatment at the hands of the town’s populace had been unusually brusque, when she had very sharply made her displeasure known; this had not increased her popularity.
But in general she was a sweet girl, and strove to be kind, and to be fair. To which end she now gave the question her parents had put to her, her most impartial consideration.
The Marlows’ three houses were Graftings in Sussex; Dunfosters in Wiltshire; and Penwether in Cornwall. The latter was the least to be desired, simply because of its distance—its sole appeal being its connection to the family of Lady Marlow, whose grandfather had inherited it from a distant relation. 
Dunfoster’s was a very fine house in very fine neighborhood, situated amidst nearly five-and-twenty families of quality, which made for a rich, invigorating society. Dunfosters was also the house in which the family had traditionally spent Christmas, so that it afforded many happy memories of that kind. And finally, Dunfosters was the house from which they had repaired, seven months before, to their lodgings in Chipping Norton; so a return to its doors would be akin to picking up a thread that had been but momentarily dropped. Their Wiltshire friends and acquaintances were a mere seven months the older, and could be counted on to be still in sympathy and accord with the Marlows’ manners, habits, and tastes.
Graftings, by comparison, was a smaller house, located in a village—Marlhurst—whose society was restricted to a mere thirteen families, and not all of unimpeachable reputation. (One household numbered among its progeny a daughter who had made a profession of the London stage; another, a son who had married an American.) And as the Marlows had not stayed there for nearly five years, most of those families would, encountered anew, seem akin to strangers. In addition, the countryside was the hilliest in all Sussex, which made walking more effortful than Emma generally liked. And the house itself was enclosed by a large copse, which tended to render its rooms chilly even in high summer. Lady Marlow had asked to have the trees cut down, but Sir Godfrey refused her, on the principle that they were “fine old yews” and afforded them such a cloak of privacy. At which point Emma had suffered one of her fits of temper, and asked for what reason the family of Sir Godfrey Marlow required privacy, adding that she supposed they were too far inland to make smuggling at all practical.
Sir Godfrey had not appreciated her wit; and the memory of this moment’s disgrace, along with all the other inconveniences, ought to have stricken Graftings from consideration. And yet the property boasted one other feature that, for Emma, overrode all the rest; which was its proximity to Willmot Lodge.
This was a villa on the outskirts of Marlhurst which served as the residence of Mr. Erasmus Willmot, his wife, and their nine children. One might be forgiven for thinking that in so large a family, it would be difficult to distinguish any individual; but for Emma, there was one inhabitant of Willmot Lodge who outshone all the others.
Edgar, the eldest son, was seven years her senior, and had been a romantic figure in her impressionable girlhood. This had required a good deal of imagination, for he was a quiet, aloof, serious-minded young man, with dark hair and dark eyes, whose conversation ran from little to none at all. Indeed there was nothing about him that might charitably be called attractive—especially with a brother, a year younger, who was everything he was not: fair-haired, jovial, and eager to please. Yet Edgar had the aura of The Heir about him; and as his father had a considerable share in a lead mine and ticket in the lottery, there was, as sometimes in society there was not, a substantial inheritance for The Heir to be heir to.
This initial fancy might have faded over time, as Emma grew to young womanhood and gained a deeper understanding of the wider world and her family’s place in it. But such was not to be. For one day when she was just thirteen, she had gone out for a walk—her youthful determination not in the least thwarted by the unruliness of the hills or the briskness of a late October morning—and badly turned her ankle while descending a slope too quickly. Unable to carry herself farther, she sat herself upon a stone and examined her injury, and attempted to gauge whether she risked greater impairment if she forced herself to walk on it, or whether she would be obliged to hop on one foot all the way back to Graftings, (which seemed to be an ideal plan for similarly disabling the other ankle).
She was considering this dilemma—and, being a merry, agreeable girl, was not at all insensible to the humor in it—when a rustling in the fallen leaves very near to her drew her eye; and therein she saw a long, brown snake.
She screamed; and as if considering that this single emission did insufficient justice to the full horror of her situation, she paused but briefly, then screamed again.
The snake—which was perhaps deaf—did not flee or retreat, or bury itself more deeply in its cover of leaves, but slithered closer to where Emma sat, and coiled itself around her heel.
She was up in a heartbeat and began to run away; but on her second step, when her injured ankle bore the full measure of her weight, she flinched in pain and folded like a rag doll; and while she managed to hop a few more paces in blind panic, it was inevitable that her lurching and flailing should end in a fall.
She lay for a moment in the dirt, panting in fear, then propped herself up on her elbow to see whether the snake had given pursuit.
And what she saw instead was Edgar Willmot. He came over the rise, his bearing stately and his manner phlegmatic, and accompanied by one of the family’s Irish setters, which he then gestured into a sit. Upon which he turned to Emma, clicked his heels and tipped his hat, and said, “I heard you cry out. May I be of assistance?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Emma burbled. “I’ve hurt my ankle—I cannot walk—” And at this, Edgar began to approach her, so that she must exclaim, “—Be careful, there is a snake!”
He stopped and cast his glance at the ground, though appearing to be more curious than fearful.
“I see none,” he said calmly.
“It was just there,” she whimpered, indicating the stone from which she had recently propelled herself.
Edgar turned his scrutiny in the direction she had pointed out. Then a sudden movement galvanized his searching eyes, and he stepped forward very decisively, reached down, and plucked something up.
It was the snake.
Emma could not but feel somewhat foolish on seeing the creature dangle between Edgar’s thumb and forefinger, for it was rather slight. It had seemed so much longer when oscillating between the leaves.
“This is a mere grass snake,” he explained; “it is not venomous. It poses no threat of any kind, to you or to anybody.”
Her face burned, and she felt her angry wit well up. “I daresay I should not be lying here, if that were so.”
He took no offense; in fact, he smiled. “In your predicament, it was fear of the creature that harmed you, not the creature itself,” he said, and he masterfully flung the thing many yards away. 
She lowered her eyes. “How stupid you must think me!”
“Not at all. I can perfectly understand how its discovery must have startled you.” He approached her anew. “I often think there is nothing quite so disconcerting as stumbling upon life against one’s expectation.” He crouched down next to her. “Several weeks past I opened a drawer in my room, and reached into it for a pocket handkerchief; but what my hand closed about, was a mouse.”
“Oh!” Emma squealed. “How dreadful! Were you quite alarmed?”
“No less so than the mouse,” he said with a grin. “Though that was considerably. Shall I lift you?”
She felt her face flush. “You needn’t put yourself to such trouble; if you but lend me your arm, I can hop alongside you.”
“That ill suits your dignity as the daughter of a baronet,” he said. And with that, he scooped her into his arms and raised himself to his feet. Emma felt the sensation of the earth moving away from her, and without thinking sought to steady herself by throwing her arms around his neck.
He was unfazed by this sudden intimacy. He quarter-turned his head and said, “Come, Baron,” and his dog happily leapt to his side.
Twelve minutes later—during which not a single word passed between them (she being unwilling to add to his exertions by forcing him to talk)—he delivered her to the front door at Graftings, and into the care of her mother. He tipped his hat again and bade them both good day, before turning and departing, Baron bounding at his heels.
Since that day, for Emma, there had been no other hero in all of Britain, but Edgar Willmot.
Alas, there had been little chance for further encounters between them. Autumn swiftly gave way to winter, and within two months the Marlows relocated to Dunfosters for Christmas; and at Dunfosters they remained for four additional years, until they moved to Chipping Norton. 
There was nothing in the world that Emma wished more dearly than to return to Marlhurst, and to see Edgar Willmot once more. She wondered what changes five years might have wrought in him; he would now be twenty-five! A vast age. But no change in him could compare with the alteration in her; for she had been a mere child when last they met. Now she was a grown woman of eighteen; would he even know her? Would he care to know her? She yearned to find out.
And yet she was a conscientious girl, and meant to do her duty by her father and mother; and it was so seldom that they asked her opinion on anything, she felt she must honor their request by responding as selflessly as possible. Which, all things considered, must mean Dunfosters.
And so she said as much.
They thanked her for her deliberation, and behaved in such a manner as to suggest that Emma’s word had settled the matter. This was a compliment to her, which she did her best to enjoy; it might be the only reward her integrity would afford her.
But no; for here came her sister, Frances, into the room—and since she was the elder of their daughters, Sir Godfrey and Lady Marlow did her the courtesy of asking her opinion as well.
Frances did not hesitate in her reply. “If it’s all the same to you, dear Papa, dearest Mama, I should very much like to return to Graftings. It has been entirely too long since we have settled there.”
“By that token,” said Lady Marlow, “we ought to make for Penwether, from which we have been even longer away.”
Frances waved the point aside. “Penwether has waited this long; it can wait longer yet. But I must tell you, Papa, what I miss most keenly about Graftings is Uncle Baldwin’s kennels. You know it has been my desire since childhood to take them over. You promised me that I should, someday. Why may not that someday be today?”
Sir Godfrey, reminded of his pledge, was forced to submit to it; though it seemed clear he had made it only because its object had seemed, at the time, no more than a young child’s fleeting fancy. He would scarcely have agreed otherwise to allow his fair young daughter sovereignty over the kennels which his late brother, ever prodigal, had had affixed to the property some quarter-century earlier. A baronet’s daughter belonged in a drawing room, not a dog run.
Yet the ensuing years had done nothing to dim Frances’s love for all things canine. She scorned society, disdained distaff pursuits, neglected young men, and turned her back on all accomplishments. Her world revolved around her two King Charles spaniels, Dash and Cannon, and she longed for the day when she might make them the progenitors of a great spaniel dynasty.
Thus, as she was the only member of the family whose preference was cast in iron, she carried the day.
The Marlows would return to Graftings.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Edgar and Emma: an excerpt

As previously posted here in August, I’ve undertaken a new Austen project: turning Edgar & Emma—the hilarious four-page story Austen wrote in her teens—into a full-length novel in the mature Austen style (or at least my best approximation thereof).

Alas, I’ve only made incremental progress since announcing the project, because as a freelance writer I’ve had to set it aside whenever paying gigs have presented themselves. And they’ve presented themselves frequently lately…though without paying quiiiite enough to enable me to make any real commitment to Edgar and Emma.

So I’ve decided to mount a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to let me do just that. I’ll furnish the relevant details here, once the campaign is live; but as a precursor, I thought I’d give you all a glimpse at how Emma and Edgar has been progressing. Hence, the excerpt below.

But first, a few words about our dramatis personae:

Emma is the daughter of a baronet, Sir Godfrey Marlow, who has just moved his family back to Malhurst, the Sussex neighborhood of their early childhood. Emma has many fond memories of this place, particularly of a very intense young boy, Edgar Wilmott, who once, when they were both eight years old, rescued her from an encounter with a very long (yet entirely harmless) snake.

In the interval, Edgar has gone on to study Classics at Oxford, and now desires nothing more than to pursue an academic career. His dream is to produce a new English translation of Plutarch’s Lives, which pairs biographies of great Greeks and Romans…and also to add a third chapter to each entry, focusing on a corresponding British statesman. But these scholarly ambitions are thwarted by his wealthy father, who has decreed that as the eldest son, Edgar must instead inherit and run the bulk of the Wilmott estate.

Edgar’s dashing younger brother Ralph, meanwhile, has set his sights on social advancement, and sees the nubile young daughter of a baronet as just the ticket for his first step up the ladder. Edgar knows of Ralph’s self-interested plans for Emma, but can’t bring himself to declare himself in his brother’s place; he’s too shy, and too uncertain of his own qualities.

In the meantime, Edgar himself is pursued by Alice Nesmith, the grasping young daughter of the local vicar. Alice scorns country life; she wants London, and she wants money. Edgar, the educated son of a very rich man, can furnish her with both.

The only other character to feature in this excerpt is Emma’s aunt, Mrs. Curtis—a comparatively young woman who at a tender age married a much older man, so that she’s never had a proper outlet for her girlish need to flirt and be coquettish. Now she funnels all this stored-up sexual energy into her niece. Mrs. Curtis’s chief aim is to see Emma married to handsome, debonair Ralph Wilmott.

In the excerpt that follows, Emma and Mrs. Curtis have come to Malhurst town to do some shopping. They’ve no sooner arrived than they bump into Alice Nesmith. The three women saunter up the high street together.

“What do you think Emma has just been telling me of?” said Mrs. Curtis.
“I am sorry to say,” said Alice with perhaps too much satisfaction, “that I have not heard Miss Emma Marlow speak sufficiently often to guess at what she might say.”
“Why, she has only been telling me which of the Willmot brothers she finds the most handsome. I think you may surmise which she chose.”
“I beg your pardon, Aunt,” said Emma, feeling color come to her face. “I have said not one word on the subject. The discourse has been entirely your own.”
“But there are so many Willmots,” said Alice, ignoring Emma’s protest; “I don’t like to venture a guess as to which one you mean.” But her eyes—which she now turned on Emma—betrayed that she had indeed ventured a guess.
“Difficult creature,” said Mrs. Curtis, and she playfully tweaked Alice’s arm—a familiarity that made Emma feel quite faint. “Why will you never guess when I ask it of you?”
“I am sorry, but I am very stupid at it.”
“I will have to tell you, then,” said the older woman, and she drew Alice closer that she might lower her voice. “It is of course Ralph whom Emma favors.”
“Aunt,” Emma cried, “forgive me, but I never said such a thing! It was yourself who named him.”
“Ralph is very fair,” said Alice with a nod of approval. “Though I confess I prefer a darker complexion. No doubt Miss Emma Marlow and I do not share the same taste in men.”
Emma, who did not like to consider that she and Alice Nesmith might share the same taste in anything, stilled the protest that was poised to leap from her tongue; in which interval her aunt renewed her discourse on the male Willmots.
“That is the benefit, you see,” she said, taking Alice in one arm and Emma in the other and leading them up the high street, “of having so very many brothers in a single family. There is certain to be one to fit every fancy. Think of it, girls: Ralph is light, Edgar is dark; Richard is slender, David is burly; and Peter—well, Peter is too young yet to say what he will be. I suppose we must be content to wait.”
“I think he will be tall,” said Alice. “He is very high already, for just twelve years.”
“Then the Willmots must be persuaded to have another son,” quipped Mrs. Curtis, “that there may also be one who is short.”
“But what if he should instead be round? Then the Willmots must have two more sons: one who is short, and another who is gaunt.”
“Mrs. Willmot will not thank you for that, my dear,” said Mrs. Curtis, and the two laughed very wildly. Emma, whose elbow was securely interlocked with that of her aunt, could think of no greater mortification than to be seen with them behaving thusly, and indeed several heads turned in response to the noise they were making. But alas, she was to learn that greater mortification always awaits those helpless to defend against it.
“Why, bless me,” cried Aunt Curtis, “are those not two of the gentlemen we have only just named?”
Emma looked up, and to her horror saw that indeed Edgar and Ralph Willmot were a short distance ahead, very near to the milliner’s shop.
“Emma, my dear,” said Mrs. Curtis with telling deliberation, “was not our principle destination this morning the milliner’s?”
“No, indeed, Aunt,” said Emma, pretending not to take her meaning, “we have no business to transact there.”
Mrs. Curtis gave her arm a little shake. “Silly creature! You understand me, I am sure. I mean to say, what a chance this is to speak extemporaneously to your lover, Mr. Ralph Willmot!”
Emma felt her face burn again. “I have no such lover,” she insisted.
“Ah, but here is an opportunity to make it so!”
“The mere fact that an opportunity presents itself,” Emma said desperately, “does not make it advisable to take it.”
Mrs. Curtis cawed out a laugh. “How clever you are! Ever ready with a turn of phrase. I suppose you think that gentlemen find cleverness an attractive quality in a lady. They do not. You may trust me on this, my dear; I know it for a certainty.”
“I am sure no one knows it better,” snapped Emma; and as soon as she had said it, she regretted that provocation had rendered her pert.
Fortunately her aunt was oblivious to her meaning, and merrily pulled her in the direction of the milliner’s shop. Emma was chastened enough by her momentary rudeness to allow it.
“I declare,” said Mrs. Curtis when they came within hailing distance of the brothers, “here are friends of ours! Look, girls; it is the Misters Willmot.”
The brothers, who had been conferring together, lifted their heads at this, and a momentary look passed between Emma and Edgar—a look of such candid, unaffected interest that each was embarrassed by it, and turned their glances quickly away, and did not risk allowing their eyes to meet a second time.
“How do you do, ladies,” Ralph said as he and Edgar tipped their hats.
“Very well, thank you,” said Mrs. Curtis. “We are just come to visit the milliner’s. And what,” she added with unconcealed glee, “do you think we have all been talking about?”
Emma, whose skin was so recently reddened by shame, now felt it go pale with anxiety. “Aunt, no,” she whispered.
“You must not ask us to guess,” said Ralph. “For we might inadvertently scandalize you by deducing quite wrongly.”
“Mrs. Curtis is fond of guessing,” said Alice, who seemed to direct the observation directly at Edgar. He gave her a grateful smile, but said nothing in reply.
“Then I will have to tell you,” said Aunt Curtis, and as Emma felt herself begin to sink into the ground, she declared: “We have been singing the praises of this lovely springtime weather.”
“Indeed it is very clement,” murmured Edgar, whose gaze remained downcast, as though in search of coins from Roman Britain that might be easily unearthed by the toe of his shoe.
“Such a wonderful moistness in the air,” said Mrs. Curtis with a quick glance at Emma; and the spark in her eye revealed how much she enjoyed causing her niece trepidation, then relieving it at the last possible moment. “So beneficial for the skin. Does not Emma’s face have a particular glow this morning, Mr. Willmot?”
“Indeed it does,” said Ralph, at whom she had quite pointedly directed the question; for Edgar seemed to drift ever further to the outskirts of the group. “And yet she looks no less fine than Miss Nesmith—or dare I say it, yourself, ma’am.”
Mrs. Curtis laughed wildly again. “You must not say such things to me, Mr. Willmot! I am an old married lady.”
He flashed her a dazzling grin. “Then this moist air is more efficacious than any I have yet known; for you look no less a maiden than your two companions.”
Again she shrieked with laughter; up and down the street heads turned in curiosity at such stridency, and Emma longed to be gone. But she knew she was fixed in place for the time being. It was unlike her aunt to hurry away from a place where compliments were aplenty.
“To be sure,” Mrs. Curtis said, “there is but a difference of seven years between my niece and myself. My brother Marlow is fully a dozen years my senior, you know; so that I was but a child myself when Emma was born.”
“That explains it,” said Ralph with another bow. “I congratulate your husband, ma’am, on his good fortune in winning so young and comely a bride.”
“As well you might,” she said with a little smirk of pride. “For Mr. Curtis was nearly forty when I married him and might have done much worse, as I often tell him. But I daresay I have made him happy. He will not say so; but as he has not got rid of me in all these years, I must conclude he is not unsatisfied.”
“He is the happiest of men, I am certain,” said Ralph.
She crowed again. “Oh! if Mr. Curtis is the happiest of men, then what dour creatures all the rest of your sex must be!” She turned again to Emma. “I shall wish better for my niece, sir; that I shall. For her, I shall wish a husband who is always gallant, always gay, always ready with a compliment.” She took another quick look at Ralph, as if requiring further inspiration, then added, “A well-looking fellow, who is always attentive and smiling. That is my ideal. That is what I wish for Emma.”
“Such a paragon of positivity!” said Ralph, shaking his head and feigning a dubious look. “I wonder whether he exists in the world.”
“I am certain he does, and in quantity. In fact, you may be sure there is one to be found wherever you go.” She gave him a very sly look, as if daring him to take her meaning.
“Aunt,” Emma whispered frantically; “you grow too bold.”
“And Miss Nesmith,” Ralph said, nodding his head at Alice; “is she not included in your marital good wishes?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t like a cheerful husband,” protested Alice. “I should be much more contented with a sober-minded man—a scholarly man of great, mindful silences.” She did not look at Edgar as she said this; but Emma saw Edgar color and turn further away, as though he felt Alice’s eyes on him all the same.
“Then at least,” said Ralph, “you ladies will never be rivals for the same suitor. I congratulate you on the safety of your friendship.” He turned his head, as if to say something to Edgar, then appeared momentarily confounded at finding him so far off. “It appears my brother is impatient to depart,” he said, “and indeed we have lingered here longer than we had ought. But with such company as this, none would dare to blame us.”


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wishing you a Bitchin' New Year

Welcome to 2015, everybody! I'll be in touch a little more regularly, beginning soon (he said cryptically). Meantime, to start the year with a laugh, here's a great sketch from the wonderful comic Jane Horrocks (best knock as Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous), which in my humble opinion is only a little bit wilder than the juvenile Jane Austen. Well...okay, maybe a lot wilder. But closer to her anarchic spirit than Merchant & Ivory, in my humble opinion. Anyway, enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays, Part 2

And if by chance you've already bestowed Volume 1 on all your nearest and dearest, let me just note that Volume 2 is the perfect way to show them you still love them. In case you need reminding, here are a few excerpts:

"Emma is literary champagne; but of the very driest variety. In it, we find Austen at the height of her narrative powers, and clearly aware of it; she indulges herself—in fact, a bit too much so for my taste. She doesn’t make light of the world she creates, but she doesn’t exactly make heft of it, either. It’s a frolic—a gambol; a sunny roundelay. We love Emma, but we never feel any kind of anxiety for her, as we did for the Dashwood sisters, and for Lizzy Bennet. We never feel anxiety for anyone in the cast of characters. It’s as though Austen has invented such a group of darlings, she can’t bear to afflict them with any real tribulations. There is—as there always is, in Austen—a rival and a cad; but the rival is never seriously a rival, and the cad only intermittently caddish. The book’s only two villains are married off to each other and pushed to the margins so that their hideousness can only delight, never threaten. In a way, Emma is Jane Austen writing her own Jane Austen fan fiction."

"Northanger Abbey is probably the least regarded of Austen’s novels—not in the sense that it’s the least liked (Mansfield Park takes that prize), but in the sense that it’s the least often read, the least often discussed, the least often considered. There’s just too much in it that throws your average dingbat Austen fan into confusion: an unexceptional heroine who never rises to anything beyond a certain baseline competency, a foppish hero whose motives are never entirely understandable, and a one-sided love affair whose only triumph is that the diffident party is eventually flattered into signing on. But it’s my own favorite in the canon, after (of course) Pride and Prejudice. Because its first draft was written early in Austen’s career, it retains much of the swagger of the joyfully anarchic fiction she wrote in such quantity during her adolescence. And this is balanced by the psychologically nuanced character portrayals we associate with Austen in her full maturity. To me, it’s the most representative of her works, twining the brash irreverence of her juvenile period with the sagacity and reflection of her mastery."

"Persuasion is the last novel Jane Austen prepared for publication before she died, and it was released posthumously. For that reason, many people have come to regard it as valedictory; and this illusion is aided by its heroine, Anne Elliot, who, as a lifelong spinster disdained by her family, appears on the surface to be a stand-in for Austen herself. In granting Anne Elliot a second chance at love, and with the man she’d foolishly rejected in her youth, some readers—stupid readers, I think; sentimental and sloppy ones—view Persuasion as Austen’s attempt to live vicariously through a fictionalized version of herself; to bring her own story to a happy resolution before death claimed her. Like Prospero in The Tempest, Anne Elliot becomes the author taking her leave of her readers, by way of a dramatic stand-in.
You only have to take a look at the novel Austen was working on when she died to realize that Persuasion is no such thing. Sanditon clearly shows Austen back in biting social-satire mode, and even extending her palette to include sharp satiric jabs at commerce and industry. At the end of her life she was expanding her focus, not narrowing it."

"[Austen] began as a rollicking farceuse; developed into a relentlessly funny social satirist; and matured into a brilliant ironist. There’s no telling where she might have gone from there, had she not died so terribly, almost criminally young. But one thing seems certain: she would never have become a sentimentalist…never a romantic…never a safe little scribbler of mawkish, soft-core valentines. And if there is a literary heaven? Those writers are the souls who flee the fastest when she enters a room."

What better stocking stuffer for the culture maven, Janeite, or bitch (bonneted or otherwise) on your list? 

Finally: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks again for supporting me in this project and for being such wonderful sounding boards, critics...and friends. I wish you the best of everything.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays (volume 1)

Just a reminder that the ideal holiday present for every discriminating palate on your gift list does in fact exist. And you can get it by overnight delivery, so I don't even feel bad about taking this long to remind you.

What I will remind you of are some representative passages from its pages:

"Here are a few things you won’t find in Sense and Sensibility: a passionate kiss or a violent embrace...a kiss or embrace of any kind, for that matter...any portrayal of a marriage proposal...any depiction of a wedding ceremony...anyone speaking the words 'I love you.' Here are a few things you WILL find in Sense and Sensibility: ruthlessness...venality...arrogance...avarice...fecklessness... snobbishness...shamelessness... two or three of the most unbridled talkers in all of western literature...and an authorial voice that merrily mocks them all into immortality."

"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I laugh. It’s the laughter of philosophy; the clear, cold laughter of those who reside in the abyss but are untouched by its sweat-soaked, writhing tumult. We laugh, because Austen lifts us above the fray and nimbly escorts us to a farther shore, where there are kindred spirits waiting. We can’t stay there long; but we can return whenever we like...again, and again, and again, and again."

"I’ve conjectured long and hard about why Austen wrote Mansfield Park; but whatever the reason, the good news is, she learned from the endeavor...and she shows as much in her next novel, which is basically Mansfield Park turned on its head. Its heroine, Emma Woodhouse, is a revisionist Mary Crawford—a sly, feline charmer who’s quick to judgment and carelessly glib, and who is made to pay for it; but this time, crucially, she’s forgiven. Her rival, Jane Fairfax, is a new incarnation of Fanny Price—chilly, impenetrable, aloof; and like Fanny, her imperturbable stillness wins her her man in the end. But in this case it’s exactly the right man for her: Frank Churchill, a second Henry Crawford, whose wily roguishness will force her to enlarge her own capacity for understanding; as her quiet determination will galvanize his. Because of this ingenious inversion, Emma scintillates where Mansfield Park stalls out; Emma delights where Mansfield Park frustrates; and Emma is beloved, where Mansfield Park, despite its many brilliant facets and enduring moments, seems fated to remain only tolerated."

Go on then...share the love. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dang, but the holidays are difficult.

I mean, where do you find the perfect present for every highly intelligent, supremely cultured tastemaker on your gift list? It's so very, very vexing. But don't give up...keep looking...surely something will occur to you...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More home news: Volume 2 ebook, and NEW Austen project

Two news items today:

First, BITCH IN A BONNET Vol. 2 is finally, at long last available as an eBook. Your choice: Kindle or NookOther platforms will be added in due course. Thanks for your patience, enjoy!

Second: I've begun a new Austen project. I'll be adapting EDGAR AND EMMA—taking the rollicking three-page story Austen wrote in her teens, and fleshing it out into a full-length novel. And, I'm sure, having the time of my life while doing it. Aiming to have it finished and available in early 2015; I'll keep you apprised of my progress. Meantime, enjoy what's left of summer!