Posted in Historical, Loved It, Mystery, Uncategorized

Jane and the Waterloo Map

Author:     Stephanie Barron

Genre:      Mystery, cozy

Rating:    L

Synopsis

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.

 

Opinion

It’s been far too long since Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas was published.  For those of you who don’t read a lot of Austen, one of her books, Emma was dedicated to the Prince Regent, a man Austen was known to dislike.  The beginning of this book explores how Jane ended up dedicating her book to this royal.  In this book we are introduced to the character James Stanier Clarke, who bears a passing resemblance to Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (though by this point in the timeline, this book has already been published.) There were some interesting character developments in this book.  For starters, Jane seems to have replaced Lord Harold Trowbridge with her regard for Mr. Raphael West (who was introduced in the last book).  It’s really not surprising.  Both men possessed formidable intellects.  In addition, both men were secret agents.  Also, Jane’s niece Fanny plays a part in the investigation.  It seems as though Jane might actually have a real sidekick.  Although Jane was close to her sister, Cassandra wasn’t the sort to have the adventures with Jane.

The Waterloo Map.  I was really hoping that there was such an item that was lost in the antiquities of time.  Alas, it is not so!!!  But what a thought, that Napoleon might have concealed a treasure in Russia during his retreat.

I’m beginning to get a little bit sad with regards to this series.  About 4 of Jane’s novels have been published.  So that means we are getting nearer to her death, and nearer to the end of this series.

With regards to this book, I decided to read it quite slowly and savor it, particularly as it will be a while before the next book comes out. I did not figure out who dunnit until the very end.  I was pretty shocked actually.

This was a great read.  I loved it!

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Posted in Belles-Lettres, Literary Themes

I’ve Unearthed a Secret

I’m scheduled to be a guest on That’s How I Blog, which is hosted by Nicole at Linus’ Bluanket.  I chose Sense and Sensibility for the book club read, so I thought I should start thinking about this book critically.  I’m out of practice, so I must confess that I looked online for themes.  The one theme I saw that struck me was a quesiton about how the tension in this book is created through secrecy.

This was so obvious.  So obvious that I’m rather embarrassed that I missed it.  But yes, everything about this book is a result of secrecy. People hide their feelings and indeed their relationships from everyone else. So here are some of the secrets that I noted.

1.  Mr. Dashwood and John Dashwood.

Mr. Dashwood made his son promise to take care of the step-mother and half-sisters.  I believe that this was a gentleman’s agreement similar to the one in Lady Vernon and Her Daughter.  Unfortunately, this agreement did not have a single witness, not even a doctor.  This agreement caused a great deal of tension.  First it caused tension between John and Fanny.  John would have done the right thing had he married a better woman.  But Fanny is a proud creature- not to mention greedy.  She looks down on the Dashwood ladies anyway because they are not women of rank.  And now for them to be needy relations.  It didn’t help that Edward Ferrars appeared to have a preference for Elinor.  It led Fanny to say things that ought not to have been said.  Second, it created tension between John and his stepmother.  Mrs. Dashwood lived in constant expectation that her stepson would step in at some point to assist them.  It never happened.  Mrs. Dashwood was a gracious woman, and remained eternally hopeful; but even Mrs. Dashwood could not be unaware of how much her stepson casted off his relations.

2. Marianne and Willoughby

On one hand, the pair carried on their relationship in such an open way that it gave rise to impertinent remarks and a general expectation of marriage.  But in another way it was very secretive.  We see during the story that Willoughby and Marianne steal away one afternoon to visit Allenham where the pair would have eventually lived had they married.  When Mrs. Jenkins blurted this fact out during dinner, it created quite a bit of tension between the two sisters.  Elinor felt that Marianne’s actions were improper and inappropriate.  The other secret was their “engagement.”  During this time, women and men did not write each other unless they were either related or engaged.  Everyone, took Marianne’s writing Willoughby as confirmation that they were in fact engaged.  While Mrs. Dashwood, the Middletons, and Mrs. Jenkins invented all sorts of reasons for Willoughby’s behavior, Elinor was not convinced.  She could see no real purpose in a secret engagement; she thought something about Willoughby’s behavior was not right.  Of course, her viewpoints put her at odds with the rest of the family.  This secrecy took such a toll on Marianne that when the truth finally came out, it pushed her into such a despondency that she made herself ill almost to the point of death.

3.  Willoughby and Miss Williams

Willoughby was a libertine.  He seduced a young girl.  Obviously this was done in secret.  I’m not sure how he lured a young 16 year old girl away from her guardian at the time, but he did.  Then he left the girl pregnant with his child and unable to find him.  The secret of his seduction really did not create tension in the book; it was when what he did was revealed that provided the tension.  First, he lost his inheritance.  Lady Allenham insisted that he marry the girl he seduced.  Because he was in love with Marianne, he refused and was casted out of Allenham to find his own way in the world. Of couse this caused a problem with Col. Brandon who called him out.  Then of course he unceremoniously kicked Marianne to the curb to find and marry a woman of means.

4.  Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele

The pair entered into an engagement when they were very young.  For Edward this created tension with pretty much every relationship that he had.  First, his mother was trying to marry him off to Lord Morton’s daughter for her 30,000.  Then Edward met Elinor, a woman superior to Lucy in every way.  But his prior commitment preventing him from securing the affections of a woman that he truly loved.  He tried to suppress how he felt about Elinor, but he wasn’t successful.  It was plainly written in his face where Lucy could read it.  So to secure her interest, Lucy set out to meet Elinor by way of flattering herself into the Middleton family circle.  Then once she got in, she made Elinor miserable.  She took every pleasure of rubbing it in that Edward was hers.  Of course, Lucy’s behavior showed Elinor that Edward really did have feelings for her, which in my opinion would have made the whole thing worse.  Of course, once knowledge of the engagement came out, that created a whole new sort of tension.  Edward lost everything-fortune and family.  Lucy was a mercenary minx.  Don’t get me wrong, Edward was quite the gentleman, but Lucy had 1,000 reasons to like Edward and all of them were in the bank.  Lucy deluded herself into thinking that the Ferrars family would accept her.  They didn’t.  She brought a great deal of misery to the Ferrars family for a while.

1. Colonel Brandon

The Colonel’s past was shrouded in secrecy. Sir John was one of few people who knew the full story behind Beth William’s existence. Col. Brandon was carrying the torch for Eliza after all these years. It created tension because in Marianne he saw Eliza returned to life. Then of course there was the whole incident of Willoughby seducing his charge. Col. Brandon never spoke it, but could you imagine loving a woman who was in love with the man that ruined your second cousin’s life? I don’t understand why Col. Brandon did not crack sooner. Now when he choose to reveal the truth, I think that the tension in the story eased. I definitely think that his revelation aided Marianne in getting over Willoughby as well as changing her view towards him. Without that knowledge, I’m not sure Marianne would have ever married the Col. But that’s just my opinion.

1. Elinor

Last but not least, the eldest Miss Dashwood. What fortitude she showed! Her silence, no, concealment of her feelings for Edward created tension with everyone. Her sister saw her as being cold and unfeeling. Her mother completely overlooked that fact that she might be suffering. She was the constant butt of the Sir John’s and Mrs. Jennings jokes. She was also the unwilling confidante of Lucy’s hopes and dreams. Not to mention she undeservedly earned the wrath of Fannie and Mrs. Ferrars. I can’t imagine the strain that she was under. And the fact that she behaved so well to all those who really were mistreating her.

In general “secrecy” was a key concept. For the most part, everyone was trying to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, but there were some like Mrs. Jennings and Anne Steele who were quite determined to reveal everything.

These are the instances of secrecy that I noticed. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. Feel free to add to this list. If you feel so inspired, write your own post and link up. This wasn’t the greatest essay that I’ve written, but I hope to become better with practice.

Posted in Classic, Loved It

Lady Susan

This work of Jane Austen is a complete novella in the epistolary form. She never made it into a full sized novel. Some speculate it’s because epistolary novels were out.

Lady Susan is an attractive mid-30’s woman. Much like today, beauty lets you get away with everything. The only people who saw her for what she was were the women of course.

Lady Susan in addition to being attractive is somewhat poor as her husband has died. So she tries to marry her daughter Frederica off to a peer in order to be financially secure. Of course the whole thing is complicated by the fact that her daughter runs away, and of course she is caught trying to seduce a married man. She is aided and abetted by her friend Alicia Johnson. Then she tries to seduce her sister-in-law’s brother. There were enough plot twists and capers for a full sized novel. This book is different from other Austen works, because this one deals with the lives of aristocracy rather than the lower level gentry. The story has an interesting ending; but all’s well that ends well.

Posted in Classic

Northanger Abbey

This is probably one of Jane Austen’s lesser known books. This is a rather mild satire on gothic horror novels. Specifically, it pokes fun at Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Catherine Morland’s family is most like Jane Austen’s in that she is a daughter of a clergyman who has approximately 10 children. She is the oldest daughter. Unfortunately, because her family is large, she is somewhat neglected in her education. Like many young women she becomes overly enamoured with gothic horror novels (which would probably correspond to teenager girls obsession with romance novels be they teen, Christian, or harlequin). Anyway, the Morland’s family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, take Catherine with them on a visit to Bath (popular social local during winter). Throughout these introductory chapters Austen is constantly drawing a distinction between Catherine and the typical heroine of a gothic novel.

At first their time in Bath is a little bit boring. The Allen’s do not have any acquaintances to provide variation to Catherine’s amusement. The first person Catherine meets is Henry Tilney, who is introduced to her by the master of ceremony at a ball.

Back in that time, people didn’t just walk up and introduce themselves the way they do now. I believe the thought behind this was that you never wanted to impose your acquaintance upon someone. There were ways of obtaining introduction, usually by the gentleman of the house leaving his calling card with another gentleman. Anyway, it is complicated. I just wanted to give you background to understand why Catherine and the Allens were isolated in their visit.

Anyway, Henry is quite an engaging young man, who gently yet mercilessly teases Catherine. He leaves for a few days, leaving Catherine quite desolate. However, new acquaintances arrive in the form of the Thorpes. Mrs. Thorpe was a school chum of Mrs. Allen. John Thorpe, the eldest son, turns out to be the friend of Catherine’s older brother James. Isabella Thorpe soon become Catherine’s bosom buddy.

Now Mr. and Mrs. Allen although kind in inviting Catherine to spend time with them are not the best guardians. Mr. Allen does not figure much into the story. Mrs. Allen can be best described as a vain, vapid, twit! The only thing she cares about is her clothing. She really did not consider the character of the Thopre’s and whether they were appropriate friends for Catherine

The Thorpes are a mercenary family. It seems as though the father was dead by this point. As a result, John and Isabella must make their fortunes by marriage. For some strange reason, John and Isabella think that the Morland family is well off. So Isabella goes after James and tries to encourage a relationship between John and Catherine. Isabelle does become engaged to James; however it is readily apparent to the reader that Isabelle quickly falls out of “love” with James when she discovers his yearly income.

While James is away, Isabelle meets Henry Tilney’s elder brother Captain Tilney and begins a flirtation with him in hopes of marriage. Isabelle keeps this up even once James returns. By this point Catherine has also met Henry’s sister Eleanor as well as their father. John Thorpe, braggart that he is, boasts of the Morland’s supposed wealth to the father. (He imagines that Catherine is the heiress to Mr. and Mrs. Allen). Henry is not deceived as to Isabelle’s actions. He fears for her because he knows how his father is about money.

Anyway, the Tilney’s invite Catherine to their ancestral home. Catherine expects the Abbey to be like Udolpho and is quite disappointed to find that it is merely a good house. Anyway, there is a section in the house that no one goes into- Mrs. Tilney’s old rooms. Catherine imagines that the father has done away with his wife. Her imagination gets the best of her, and she is gently set right by Henry.

Meanwhile the engagement between James and Isabelle is over. James tells Catherine by letter to be careful with entrusting her heart. Isabelle also writes Catherine asking for information about James. General Tilney heads off to London, and Henry, Eleanor, and Catherine enjoy themselves without the General’s dour presence. He comes back abruptly and sends Catherine away immediately.

Catherine goes home quite unhappy. It isn’t till Henry visits a few days later that she finds out what happened. When John Thorpe became disappointed with Catherine, he slandered her and told the General that she was destitute. Henry is still in love with Catherine; but the General will not give his blessing. Finally when Eleanor marries a titled man, the General assents due to good humor.

I think it is so funny how things go awry because of Catherine’s over active imagination. This story was what finally made me try to find The Mysteries of Udolpho. Having read this book, I see how Austen took many of Radcliffe’s plot elements to satirize in this story. Catherine was a little naive for my taste but I think that was Austen’s way of emphasizing how “unlikely” a heroine she was.