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by on April 27th, 2010
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gen·til·i·ty (jn-tl-t) n. The quality of being well-mannered; refinement.

jane·til·i·ty (jān-tl-t) n. A salon where all discourse is carried out with refinement and courtesy.  Where the spirit and civility of Jane Austen’s work is upheld, while exchanging news, views, and reviews on Austen, literature, tv, movies,special events, pop culture, food & cooking, and our pets.

10 Useful Maxims for Writers

by on June 4th, 2014
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Elizabeth Meade Smith: “Inspiration is the grandest of all gifts for the fiction writer, but he must not suppose that it comes daily, and if he never writes except when he thinks it has visited him, he will seldom or never write at all. “

Sir Walter Besant: “We know how sometimes, even from a practiced hand, there comes a work marred with the fatal defect that the writer does not believe in his own story.”

Eudora Welty: “Fantasy itself must touch ground with at least one toe, and ghost stories must have one foot, so to speak, in the grave.”

Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro: “In every house, in every street, in every place where human beings meet together and in every walk of lonely thought and meditation, there is a scene to make a chapter in a novel. “

William A. Jones: “We sincerely believe that every good book, even of the lightest character, should carry its moral with it and that, a good moral. What we doubt is, whether the morality of the book should be made offensively prominent, should stand foremost, casting all its other merits into the background.”

John Pierpont: “…there is a great intrinsic difficulty in writing for children so as to be instructive without being dull and simple without being silly.” 

Sydney Smith: “Run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.”

Edward Young: “Write and rewrite, blot out and write again,  And for its swiftness, ne’er applaud your pen.”                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Sarah Josepha Hale: “A new book is published, the production of one writer, and forthwith, a dozen critics shall set to work and analyze, compare, select, reject, praise, condemn, and each individual, feeling himself to be considered a Sir Oracle in the opinion he offers on the volume before him.”

Raymond Chandler: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”                                                                                                                                    






The Twelve Minus One Books of Christmas

by on January 3rd, 2014
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images-2  As is usual for our family, there was an unusually eclectic mix of gifted books under the Christmas tree, including:

1. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke, by Suze Orman.

2. 50 Shades of Chicken, by F. L. Fowler.

3. Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers, by Adam Leipzig

4. Steadicam Operators Handbook, by Jerry Holway and Laurie Hayball

5. Life Inside the Bubble, by Dan Bongino

6. Things That Matter, by Charles Krauthammer

7. George Washington’s Secret Six, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager

8. The True History of Jack the Ripper, by Guy Logan, with Jan Bondeson

9. Lady Athelyne, by Bram Stoker

10. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell

11. Write Your Own Story Book, by Louie Stowell


Twelve Minus One Tales of Christmas

by on December 11th, 2013

The Christmas season has been a gift to authors. Christmas has been the colorful backdrop for mysteries, romance, ghost tales and children’s fiction; it lends itself to episodes of humor, compassion, tradition and nostalgia; and the observance that is integral to Christmas – the act of giving – will often become the linchpin of the plot.

Here are a list of couch-and-cocoa worthy works that are about the Christmas season, or feature a key Christmas episode.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry works one of the author’s signature plot twists into this ironic parable of gifting and giving, wherein a poor young couple can only purchase the perfect Christmas present for the other by giving up their most valued possession.

Mary Mapes Dodge’s classic, Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, was a best-seller in its day. Set in the season between the Dutch St. Nicholas Day and Christmas, is a pay-it-forward tale, of Hans Brinker, the recipient of kindnesses who shows kindness in return by sacrificing his lead – and the prize of silver skates – in an ice-skating race to his friend.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women opens with the March sisters forgoing presents for themselves to buy gifts for their mother, and giving their Christmas breakfast to an indigent family. Generosity inspires generosity; their wealthy neighbor rewards their kindness by delivering refreshments and flowers to them on Christmas night.

In Margaret Sidney’s classic, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, the widowed “Mamsie” Pepper and her five children endure poverty with perseverance, mutual support and Christian faith. Only the two eldest are old enough to remember better times when there was a Christmas celebration, and they decide to give the younger ones their holiday experience. Sympathetic neighbors and a generous benefactor turn their homespun efforts into a festive celebration.

Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, is a fragile reminiscence of the Christmas preparations of Buddy (Capote) and an elderly relation, who spend their year’s savings on the ingredients for fruitcakes, to be given away to strangers and casual acquaintances who have done them a kindness. With nothing left to spend on each other, Buddy and his cousin fall back on the customary exchange of homemade kites.

Anne Shirley, in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables receives her first real Christmas gift from her kindred soul, the elderly Matthew Cuthbert; but it is not simply that it is Anne’s first genuinely pretty dress (“Puffed sleeves!”) that makes the gift remarkable, but Matthew’s poignant and humorous struggle to overcome his congenital shyness in order to procure it.


The Christmas Child, a little known tale by the little-known author Hesba Stretton (aka Sarah Smith), has such distinct similarities to the Anne of Green Gables series that I wonder whether it might have influenced Montgomery. Not unlike Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are the stern spinster Priscilla Parry and her sympathetic old farm worker Nathan. Priscilla has raised her two nieces, Rhoda and Joan, disowning the former when she elopes with a local rogue. The discovery of Rhoda’s baby in the barn one Christmas morning exacts from Priscilla the important gifts of forgiveness and compassion.

Forgiveness is also the gift of the impoverished, blind spinster Margaret Snow in The Sixth Customer and the Silver Teapot. The story appears in Fergus Hume’s Hagar of the Pawn Shop. As the holiday season approaches, Margaret is compelled to pawn the silver teapot in which a series of love letters have been sealed. At a point in the story, the teapot is unsealed, the letters read, and Margaret realizes that the break with her wealthy fiancé had been brought about by a treacherous friend, now the former fiance’s wife. Empowered by evidence of the deception, the dying Margaret conceals the truth from her former love and forgives his remorseful wife.

Another Christmas tale that ought to be better known was originally published under the title The Melodeon, later retitled A Christmas Gift (titled A Christmas to Remember for a television movie). Glendon Swarthout (whose eclectic output includes Where The Boys Are as well as The Shootist) weaves this Depression era tale of a 13-year old boy send to live with his grandparents on their Michigan farm. His grandmother decides to donate their little-used melodeon (a small pump organ) to their rural church, which leads to a Christmas Eve ordeal as the melodeon is hauled through the snow with the help of four lively neighbor girls and a mysterious helper, in a tale that is equal parts humor, nostalgia and ghost story.

A Christmas night party is the gift of the lonely bachelor in Robert Grant’s humorous and highly underrated turn-of-the-century tale, The Bachelor’s Christmas. Resigned to another Christmas Eve, a “…gloomy diabolical anniversary…for old maids and bachelors [who] had no things-in-law to invite them to dinner”, an inspirited Tom Wiggin decides to “…give an entertainment to all the old bachelors and maiden ladies of my acquaintance…” on Christmas night. There is, of course, the girl-who-got-away, still a spinster, a misunderstanding explained away and an agreement “…to live as bachelor and maid no longer.”

And finally, there is delightful, little-known 1879 story, A New Departure, by Mary B. Horton, gently tweaking the budding women’s rights movement with Mrs. St. Nicholas attempting to usurp her husband’s position. After airing her “eighteen hundred years, and odd” of complaints, she presents to the hapless Brown family a succession of gifts that fall far short of the St. Nicholas standard. Santa arrives in time to mollify his wife and distribute the Browns’ proper gifts.

I invite you to round out a “Twelve Tales of Christmas” by adding your own recommendation!


Pride and Prudence

by on October 11th, 2013

 images-2Mr. Bennet had very often wished, before this period of his life, that, instead of spending his whole income, he had lain by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him.”

Austen’s plots are often advanced by the conduct of the negligent father: Sir Thomas Bertram’s inattention to principles; Mr. Woodhouse’s self-absorption; Sir Walter Elliot’s pretentious vanity. Even the late Mr. Ferrars, by leaving control of his sons’ fortunes in the hands of his widow, puts Edward’s happiness at risk.

But Mr. Bennet, in failing to provide for the financial security of his daughters in the event of his death, may be the worst of the lot. Even Catherine Morland, with her nine siblings, is somehow provided with £3000. Mrs. Bennet’s father, a country attorney, left her £4000, and we may suppose that he did as well by Mrs. Phillips. Yet, the Bennet girls could count on no more than a share of the £5000 (separate from their mother’s £4000 dowry) “...settled by marriage articles on Mrs. Bennet and the children…”

What could Mr. Bennet’s survivors have had? How much of his income might have been set aside for his wife and daughters in the event of his death without sacrificing an acceptable standard of living during his lifetime?

To know what Mr. Bennet might have done, you have to start by estimating what his “whole income” was, what his ordinary expenses would have been, and what was left that could have been set aside for his daughters. It appears that Longbourn, with its £2000 income has been the Bennets’ home from the time of their (approximately) twenty-five year marriage. Mrs. Bennet brought £9000 into the union – her £4000 dowry, which Mr. Bennet might claim upon the marriage, and an additional settlement of £5000 that was to be preserved for the benefit of Mr. Bennet’s widow and children and would have been placed in a sort of escrow and “…in what proportions it should be divided…depended on the will of the parents”.

Mr. Gardiner’s “All that is required of you is to assure to your daughter, by settlement, her equal share of the five thousand pounds secured among your children…” confirms that it had been the will of the parents to divide the sum evenly among their children. Lydia’s marriage articles secure one fifth, or £1000 that, at 5% interest (not the four percent that Mr. Collins assumes, when he proposes to Elizabeth) will yield “… fifty [pounds] after I [that is, Mr. Bennet] am gone.” The fact that the principal sum is still being referred to as “five thousand pounds” in Mr. Gardiner’s letter, means that Mr. Bennet had not allowed the sum to compound, but had been drawing out the interest, leaving the principal intact.

If Mr. Bennet’s income had included this annual £250 interest, he may also have invested, rather than spent, Mrs. Bennet’s £4000 dowry at that same 5%, which would add another £200 to his annual income; the combined income from the estate and the annual interest on the £9000 that came with Mrs. Bennet, would then make the “whole income” £2450 per annum.

Now, let us estimate what Mr. Bennet’s household expenses might be. The outlay for food, even for a family of six, a household staff and hosting those four-and-twenty families with whom they dined, would have been quite reasonable, since most of the food would have been supplied by the estate. Much of the meat and dairy would have come from the farms, game from shooting, fruit and vegetables from orchards, gardens and kitchen gardens (unless the pigs got to them); kitchen gardens were also the source of basic roots and herbs that were used in household medicine. Supplementary purchases would address items that either the estate did not produce, or ones that might have to be imported: flour, sugar, chocolate, coffee, tea, wine and spirits, hothouse fruit and Eastern spices (and perhaps tobacco, though it does not appear that Mr. Bennet was a smoker). These items may have cost Mr. Bennet much as £300 per annum; probably far less.

There would also be servants’ wages. We know that at Longbourn there was a butler and housekeeper (Hill), whose combined salaries would have been in the area of a £100 per annum (approximately £40-60 pounds per annum for him, £5-10 pounds per annum less for her). We also hear of a footman, a cook, two housemaids, the servant who answers the door when Bingley and Darcy return to Longbourn, and the Sarah, who is to tend to Jane’s dress. It is unlikely that this “Sarah” was a ladies’ maid, but rather one of the two housemaids who is called to assist the ladies in dressing. (If she had been a ladies’ maid, she would have been addressed by her surname). It is also possible that either the footman or the butler was the same servant who answered the door. That leaves four servants in addition to the housekeeper and butler, as well as a land steward who, while not mentioned, would have been essential to the estate. A reasonable estimate for such a staff would be around £250 per annum.

Then there are the horses. Mr. Bennet keeps no horses solely for riding or his carriage; his farm horses are all-purpose animals; one may be spared for Jane to ride to Netherfield, but not a pair for the carriage. Since maintaining a horse was a costly proposition – approximately £100 a year per horse – and Longbourn is not a very large estate, is likely that four horses would have served.

So now, we have accounted for essential household expenditures of £950 per annum – £300 for supplemental food purchases; £250 for servants’ wages; £400 to maintain four horses – leaving Mr. Bennet £1500 out of his £2450 income.

What else had come out of that £1500? When Lydia’s marriage arrangements are made, Mr. Bennet “…would scarcely be ten pounds a-year the loser, by the hundred that was to be paid to them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money, which passed to her, through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expenses had been very little within that sum.”

Now some of that hundred a year assigned to Lydia has already been covered by her “board” (food and shelter), so the additional amount would be limited to her pocket money and presents. Let us allow £50 per year for that, and assign the same amount to all five girls: 5 x £50 = £250 annually. Mrs. Bennet’s board would also have been covered by the household budget, but she no doubt had an allotment of pin money, the source of whatever passed through her hands; it is unlikely that she would have been maintained in a state of querulous serenity on an allowance of less than £100 per annum. So the annual allowances, exclusive of board, for a wife and five daughters would have been £350.

Of course, the household budget would fluctuate. Infants and small children would not demand an allowance, but over time there would be clothing, wet nurses for the infants, concoctions for Mrs. Bennet’s poor nerves, all the books and masters necessary for his daughters’ education; music and an instrument for Mary, travel (for while Mr. Bennet “hates London”, the girls evidently visited the Gardiners; it was there that Jane attracted the interest of the young man who wrote her some very pretty verses) sundries (paper, ink, postage, candles, coal and firewood, laundry, the shoe-roses for the Netherfield ball); so, while there would be years when nothing like £350 was spent on Mr. Bennet’s wife and children, there would also be occasions for spending more, so we will allow the £350 per annum to be a reasonable average.

Subtract that £350 from the £1500 and now you have a residue of £1150 per annum. We know that Mr. Bennet has a good library and that there are novels from a circulating library at Longbourn. A book catalogue of the day lists an illustrated copy of The Compleat Angler for just over £2, though a text-only version might be had for twelve shillings; Fordyce’s Sermons was priced at 7s-8s, and since even Mr. Collins is able to afford a newspaper (unless it was handed down from Rosings), we can assume that Mr. Bennet treated himself to a few periodicals, and girls’ library subscriptions might each run £1 a year. Allowing Mr. Bennet the very generous library and personal allowance of £100 per year still leaves £1050 per annum unspent, but any gentleman’s budget would include charity and the tithes that, according to Mr. Collins, were a matter of mutual agreement. So we will allow Mr. Bennet to be generous and place that sum at £150 per annum, leaving him a surplus of £900 a year.

Of course, this surplus would periodically have to go toward big ticket items: replacing farm horses, repairing or replacing machinery, the carriage, or household furnishings; or in increasing his property’s value by buying farms (as John Dashwood has done) or in necessary projects like the plan of a drain, the change of a fence or the felling of a tree that preoccupied Mr. Knightley. In the first years of his marriage, perhaps it seemed more sensible to Mr. Bennet to invest this annual £900 in the improvement of Longbourn for the anticipated son, instead of saving for the five daughters who successively entered the world. But at what point, should he have begun to feel some financial responsibility for his daughters’ future maintenance?

The hoped-for son was not despaired of until “many years after Lydia’s birth, but how many is “many?” Since Mrs. Bennet has not gone much more than two years between pregnancies – Jane is 23, Elizabeth is 20, Kitty is 17, Lydia is 15, so Mary must be 18 or 19 – five years after Lydia’s birth would be a reasonable point at which the hope for a son might be despaired of. If Mr. Bennet had begun saving at this point, by putting aside that £900 a year for ten years (as Lydia is fifteen when the story opens) at 5% interest compounded annually, he would have had nearly £12,000 in addition to the £9000 of untouched principal that came with marriage to Mrs. Bennet.

Better still, Mr. Bennet might have tailored his budget solely around Longbourn’s £2000 annual income and secured both Mrs. Bennet’s £4000 fortune and £5000 settlement at 5% interest, compounded annually. Assuming that the Bennets have been married for twenty-five years, that strategy would have allowed Mr. Bennet to accumulate more than £30,000 by the commencement of Pride and Prejudice leaving a comfortable £5000 for each girl and for Mrs. Bennet if he dropped dead at the end of it.



by on September 5th, 2013

“She leant on an ivory-headed crutch cane and was followed by a fat phthysicky [ that is, asthmatic] dog of the pug kind who commonly reposed on a cushion and enjoyed the privilege of snarling at the servants, occasionally biting their heels with impunity.” Francis Grose, 1792

 Jane Austen’s novels often observe the symbiotic relationship between human and canine. In Sense and Sensibility, we get our first glimpse of Willoughby with “…two pointers playing around him”, and when he visits the Dashwoods, he invariably brings his favorite, presumably Folly, “the nicest little black bitch of a pointer”. When Willoughby’s deceitfulness is exposed, Sir John’s dismay comprehends the loss of a puppy from Folly’s litter as well as the loss of Willoughby’s friendship.

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland patiently hears John Thorpe’s boasting of an exchange of terriers with a friend, and his skill with the fox-hounds on a hunt, but is more captivated by Henry Tilney’s Newfoundland puppy and terriers that are “the companions of his solitude”, and her visit to Woodston includes a “charming game of play with a litter of puppies just able to roll about”.

In Persuasion, the gentlemen make the mistake of taking out a young, untrained dog who ruins their morning sport, and in Mansfield Park, Rushworth bores Maria with talk of his sport and his dogs.

But it is Lady Bertram’s pug, who is the most conspicuous canine in Austen’s canon. While Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris debate the merits and objections of bringing Fanny to live at Mansfield Park, Lady Bertram’s principal concern is that “I hope she will not tease my poor pug…I have but

Angela Pleasance as "Lady Bertram" with Snuff as "Pug"

Angela Pleasance as “Lady Bertram” with Snuff as “Pug”

just got Julia to leave it alone.” When Fanny does come, Lady Bertram attempts to ease the child’s anxiety by offering her a place on the sofa beside herself and the pug. Austen charges Lady Bertram with “…thinking more of her pug than her children”, and pug is, indeed, a more constant companion than any of her family. Lady Bertram excuses herself from visiting her daughter’s future home and is content to wave off the party with the barking pug in her arms, and her notion of exertion is to move from her couch to the outdoors where “Sitting and calling to Pug and trying to keep him from the flower beds was almost too much for me.” Only when the surprise arrival of Sir Thomas puts his wife “nearer agitation than she had been for the last twenty years”, does she put pug aside to give Sir Thomas a place on the sofa, and Lady Bertram’s inducement for Fanny to marry Crawford is to offer her a greater wedding present than she had given to Maria; i.e., give her a puppy from the pug’s next litter.

Lindsay Duncan as "Lady Bertram" with ? as "Pug"

Lindsay Duncan as “Lady Bertram” with ? as “Pug”

It seems reasonable to conclude that Lady Bertram had a fondness for the breed. The average life span for a pug is approximately a dozen years, so the one domiciled on Lady Bertram’s lap when nine-year-old Fanny comes to Mansfield Park may not be the same one whose next litter will provide a puppy for eighteen-year-old Fanny. The Pug (upper case) who runs through the flower beds is a male, and while he may sire a litter, that litter will more likely be the offspring of one of a succession of lower-case “pugs”.

How did the pug make its way to Lady Bertram’s sofa? Early Chinese imagery and writing depicted the lo-sze, short-nosed dogs, the long-haired Pekinese and the short haired predecessor of the pug. Specimens of this popular Asian dog were imported by Holland in the 16th century, where it became a national favorite when (as the story goes), an attempt to assassinate William the Silent was foiled by the persistent yapping of his not-so-silent pug, Pompey.

The pug was popularized in England in the late 17th century when the grandson of William the Silent married Mary II of England; pugs, collared with orange ribbons (signifying William’s House of Orange) became a familiar sight at court, and were soon the status dogs in aristocratic households.

In the mid-18th century, a papal ban on freemasonry that threatened members with excommunication, prompted the Duke of Bavaria to found a short-lived society, the Mopsorden, or The Order of the Pug (“mops” being the German, and Dutch, word for a pug), allowing Catholics to maintain an organization, similar to freemasonry. Members, referred to as Pugs, were expected to exemplify the qualities associated with the pug; i.e., loyalty, reliability and steadiness of character.

Why was Lady Bertram attracted to the pug? Perhaps it was as a status symbol, or for its colorful history, or for the positive reinforcement that she derived from the pug’s affectionate, responsive, loyal temperament. Perhaps the compact, couch loving pug was a lap warmer, easing the hypothermia resulting from the hypothyroid that might explain Lady Betram’s chronic lethargy and mental fog. Or, perhaps, before she gave up her house in town, Lady Bertram took in the comedy Fortune’s Fool, and was enchanted by its popular canine performer. The play was a hit in London in 1796, but the favourite moment was the Epilogue, that might have been recited by Lady Bertram herself:

        “But here’s my comfort, this I’ll fondly hug”

       “Your favorite work?” “No, Miss, my favorite pug.”

       “This is his kennel. Oh, the pretty creature,

  “How neat and elegant in every feature!”

“It drinks noyau and dines upon boil’d chicken,

But ragouted sweetbread is its favorite picking.

Lest the hot son should tan the charming fellow,

When it walks out, I carry this umbrella;

But when cold frosty weather comes to nip it

It wears a little spencer and a tippet.

Come, Pug, to bed, Lord who could think it dear,

To pay five shillings for thee every year!”

Jemina Redgrave as "Lady Bertram" with Holly as "Pug"

Jemina Redgrave as “Lady Bertram” with Holly as “Pug”


A Father’s Day Poem

by on June 16th, 2013
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In 1805, American poet Isabella Oliver, later Mrs. Sharp,  published a small volume of verse titled Poems on Various Subjects. Oliver was a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, and the daughter of a prominent mathematician and scientist. When she was fourteen, her father died; deeply affected by the loss, she later wrote a poem titled Inscribed to My Brothers, an exhortation to her brothers that they remember and emulate their father’s conduct. Here is an excerpt:

Those virtues were not of the dazzling kind;

But deep and solid as the golden mine;

His dress was simple and his manners plain;

Frugal, without a sordid love of gain;

Unalterably just, but not severe;

His temper steady and his judgment clear;

With courage still th’ oppressed to defend,

He always prov’d himself the poor man’s friend,

According to this rule, I saw him live;

His left hand knew not what his right hand gave,

He never deem’d it courage to blaspheme

Nor madly sport with the Eternal name,

But to his maker, daily homage paid

With decent reverence and without parade.

His genius – but I must myself command

Nor speak of what I do not understand:

But well I know the sciences he loved,

And many a youth his lessons have improv’d.

He in his fam’ly had the happy art

Without constraint to reign in every heart,

His wife and children on his will could rest

And thought whate’er he did or said was best.

His modest merit general notice drew,

His friends were num’rous and his foes were few.

Such was your father; strive to be the same,

Copy his virtues, and deserve his name.

What Did Austen Read? Who Was “Saunders?”

by on June 11th, 2013

In April, 1805, Jane Austen wrote a long, chatty letter (Letter #44) to her sister; it is the one in which she pens one of her more well-known observations, that on a certain occasion “There was a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing & common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any Wit.” As the letter progresses, she ponders “…whether Mr. Hampson’s friend Mr. Saunders is any relation to the famous Saunders whose letters have been lately published!” The Saunders asterisk in LeFaye’s  Jane Austen’s Letters, reads, “I have not traced this author, who may be fabulous.” [RWC]. (The RWC is Robert W. Chapman).  The exclamation point is Austen’s.

Is it possible to identify Saunders – or to conclude that he was, indeed, “fabulous” (in the sense of “mythical” or “unreal”) – from the tone of Letter #44? Probably not. The letter is written in a breezy style and peppered with the sort of Austen drollery that might suggest a similarity between the “famous Saunders” and his letters to other excessively diverting fare that Austen frequently enjoyed – something in the vein of The Heroine or The Female Quixote. However, it’s helpful to remember that Austen’s reading material was not confined to burlesque novels; it includes works on military institutions, the slave trade, foreign travel and Sherlock’s sermons. If Austen’s literary taste is the indicator, “Saunders” is as likely to be the author of a comic romance as a volume of theological essays.

Back to square one. What epistolary “Saunders” would have come to Austen’s attention around 1805?

In 1794, the playwright, poet and Christian ethicist, Hannah More, proposed that a series of morality tales should be published, with the intention of counteracting the flow of lurid penny literature aimed at the lower classes. At a gathering of potential supporters, More asked a guest to read a story that she had written as a sample of the sort of tale she would like to see published. That story, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, recounts a meeting and dialogue between a gentleman, Mr. Johnson, and a humble shepherd. The shepherd, living in a rural hut, with a number of children, an ailing wife, threadbare clothes and little to eat, is nonetheless cheerful, faithful and trusting in divine providence, the embodiment of the simple “cottage piety” that



More wanted to represent in her proposed project. The reading was a success, and More began to plan for the writing,



publication and distribution of a number of simple stories illustrating the consequences of sin, and the virtues of godliness. These works – Cheap Repository Tracts – were published and distributed from mid 1795 to the end of 1797,  with The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain being among the first to be issued. The circulation was about two million copies per year, and when More, who was writing at least half of the material, was unable to continue the effort, the Cheap Repository Tracts offered very little new material, relying upon reprints and repackaging of previously published work. While many of the tales were forgotten, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain was frequently reprinted, increased in popularity and continued to appear in collections and as an individual pamphlet, for nearly a hundred years after its initial publication.

What is the link between Austen’s April, 1805 letter and the “fabulous” Saunders?”

In January, 1805, a few months before Austen’s “Saunders” comment, The Evangelical Magazine, published an article titled A Short Memoir of the Late David Saunders, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain. This article served as a reminder to readers that More’s still-popular story, which had rarely been out of print since its first appearance ten years earlier, had been based on an actual encounter: “Mr. Johnson” was More’s friend, the Reverend James (later Sir James) Stonhouse and the nameless title character was the Wiltshire shepherd and “cottage preacher”, David Saunders.

Saunders, born in 1717, though a simple country shepherd, was renowned for his thorough knowledge of Scripture and pious life. He worked as a shepherd for thirty years, and was also an unofficial clergyman, preaching and holding prayer meetings at his cottage. When infirmity and blindness compelled him to retire, he was supported by his neighbors, and also by Stonhouse who remained a lifelong friend. Throughout his life, Saunders enjoyed a reputation for his humility, Christian faith and self-discipline, but it was More’s tract gave him renown. When a grave stone was placed at his burial site some thirty years after his death (in 1796), part of the inscription read: Known through every quarter of the globe, under the pious appellation of The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain whose little history has now been read with admiration by multitudes of Christians in Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

By April, 1805, More’s tract had been frequently reprinted, in editions that often supplemented the text with biographies of Saunders and copies of his letters. Austen would certainly have heard of him and would have had reason to believe that Mr. Hampson’s friend was a Saunders relation, as the shepherd and his wife had sixteen children. The only remaining puzzle is the plural, letters in Austen’s “…whose letters have lately been published.” I could only find a single letter of Saunders’ that was published prior to 1805; it appeared in an 1803 issue of The Evangelical Magazine. it was not until 1806 that any publication advertised itself as The True History of David Saunders, the Pious Shepherd of Salisbury Plain: To which are Added, Some of His Letters, Never Before Printed.

An Austen Writer’s Library

by on April 30th, 2013
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For more than a hundred fifty years after her death, the canon of Jane Austen inspired a memoir, a few works of literary criticism and a a quarter shelf-full of sequels and adaptations of her work, but in the past fifteen years or so, Jane Austen has become a literary star, generating everything from critiques and biographies to annotated editions, sequels, adaptations, character spinoffs, modern takes, graphic novels, and mashups.  Jane Austen has outlasted popular contemporaries like Mary Brunton, Sydney Owenson and Eaton Stannard Barrett, and touched off a market for derivative work comparable only to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and with a considerably smaller canon – talk about the six that keep on giving!

If you are thinking about writing a sequel, adaptation, or new novel featuring a minor Austen character as Austen might have done, it helps to decipher how Austen writes. It is more than a matter of knowing the period – in fact, knowing the period may be least important component. After all, Jane Austen did not write historical novels, she wrote contemporary novels, so it really is not important for an adaptive writer to explain how an entail works or the color of someone’s barouche. Writing like someone else can be tricky; if you have ever seen an impressionist, the good ones do more than getting the voice right – they get the inflection, the cadence, the body language. There is a book called What Jane Austen Ate, and What Charles Dickens Knew; to write like Austen, you have to grasp, not merely what Austen ate or knew, but what Austen did, not only regarding setting and  social order, but what techniques she employed as a narrator and wordsmith.

It helps (that is, it helped us in writing Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, and with our current project), to have a few key volumes on the Austen shelf (or shelves) in your home library. A few may be taken for granted – Deirdre LeFaye’s Jane Austen’s Letters, and perhaps something like LeFaye’s  Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. You may pick up an annotated book, or James Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen or something fun like So You Think You Know Jane Austen?, and of course you have all of Austen’s fiction. Here are a few more that I think would be excellent additions to the Austen writer’s library.

I would consider Mary Lascelles’ Jane Austen and Her Art (Clarendon Press, 1939) to be an essential. Lascelles begins with a brief bio of Austen and the evolution of her literary taste, and then goes into a very clear study of Austen’s narrative style, with wonderful kernels of observation, such as Austen’s suggesting of her characters’ social variants in syntax and phrasing rather than vocabulary when they speak, or the pithy observation that a literary strategy – “What a young woman needs if she is to become a heroine of fiction is a little neglect and ill usage” – may have been extracted from experience. Of course some rules are meant to be broken and in Lady Vernon we did depart from two of Lascelles’ observations: that the marriage proposal of a lover is never verbally expressed (Mr. Collins doesn’t count; he cannot be considered an authentic lover); and a conversation exclusively between gentlemen (with a lady participating or at least being in the room), does not occur.

I had once remarked to an editor that Austen’s novels come down to two interconnected issues: marriage and money.  Except for Emma Woodhouse, none of Austen’s heroines are so well off or well connected that they can anticipate “marrying up”; a number of siblings, a neglectful or imprudent father, a reversal of fortune threaten to keep many of Austen’s heroines from that “… pleasantest preservative from want” and “…the only honorable provision” for a gentlewoman of modest means, which marriage certainly was. Unknown-1How a marriage was contracted, how a wife, a widow and children were provided for was as inextricably linked to material assets as to personal ones. It’s helpful to understand what Mrs. Bennet means when she exclaims “What pin money…” Lizzy will have, or how Mrs. Jennings comes by her jointure. Amy Louise Erickson’s Woman and Property in Early Modern England (Routledge, 1993) takes the reader only to the early 18th century, but otherwise is a very clear, and clearly documented, study of women’s rights to ownership of money and property as unmarried women, as wives and as widows, and the precise meaning of terms like “dower” and “settlement”, with some interesting case studies. As a counterpart, Susan Staves’ Married Women’s Separate Property in England, 1660-1833, studies four categories of women’s property: dower; jointure; separate property and pin money; allowance for maintenance.

A profession common to Austen’s novels was one with which she was personally familiar: the country clergyman. The church may be the profession of choice for the hero – Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney – or it may be the comfortable resort of the self-important and the ambitious – Mr. Elton or Mr. Collins – or it may be the prospect of securing nothing better than the lowly curacy, which limits the aspirations of a young man like Charles Hayter or Edward Ferrars. If you are writing Austen, it does help to be somewhat familiar with what livings were (and when they provided enough to live on) as well as what a clergyman’s obligations were to his patron and his parish. Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy (Hambledon and London, 2002) takes the reader through theUnknown-2 education, obligations and living situations of the country clergyman and links what Austen must have observed: that the English clergy represented a variety of individuals, from those who were genuinely called to the vocation to those who did not have the talent or ambition to distinguish themselves in the military or the law. There is even the suggestion that those clergymen who are particularly animated – Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton – may have been so well-drawn because Austen saw them as a more accurate representation of the clergyman’s covetousness for a good living; even in Persuasion, there are schemes to oust poor Dr. Shirley, who has “zealously” discharged his duties for more than forty years, from his post in order to free up the Uppercross parish.

Among my favorite books about Austen’s work is Peter J. Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals; The Christian Novels of Jane Austen (Canon Press, 2004). (Chapter One is titled: Real Men Read Austen. What’s not to love?) Leithart describes the “miniaturist” nature of Austen’s writing, proclaiming that “…she does more with less than any other writer in English.” Like Lascelles, Leithart observes the relationship between syntax and character in Austen’s dialogue. Unlike Lascelles, Leithart defends the theory that Austen’s Christian morality is the underpinning of her narrative style; he even concludes that Austen is “a humorist because she is a moralist”, noting that, like Elizabeth Bennet, Austen “never mocks what is genuinely good.” After the initial introduction to Leithart’s analysis of Austen’s style, a chapter is devoted to each of her major novels in relation to the moral principles that determine not only the content, but literary style: morals and manners in Pride and Prejudice, charity in Emma, restraint in Sense and Sensibility and so on. Unknown-3Beyond Leithart’s cogent, and good-humored, analysis of Austen’s novels, is a well-organized format with each chapter beginning with a synopsis and ending with both “review questions” and “thought questions”. Not only should this be an essential on every Austen writer’s shelf, it would be an excellent text for an upper high school study of Austen’s work.

So, if you’re writing an Austenesque work, what books do you keep on the Austen section of your shelves?

Stolen Magic Is Out!

by on April 2nd, 2013
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Stolen Magic, the third novel in Stephanie Burgis’ infectiously adorable Kat Stephenson trilogy is out today!  I am heading out to the various bookwilds of NYC to see which lucky store is going to get my money, and I highly encourage you to do the same. (With your local bookstores, that is.  You don’t have to head up to NYC.)  I am so excited that this book is finally out, I think I will have to invent a new word for how I’m feeling.  ‘Exhubergast,’ I’m thinking.

5 Reasons Why Renegade Magic Is Awesome

by on March 28th, 2013

Renegade MagicWelcome to the second part of our look at Stephanie Burgis’ Kat Stephenson trilogy, the third and final novel of which is out on Tuesday. April 2nd. On Amazon and IndieBound and Abebooks and Alibris and yes, this is a hint. Just in case I’m being too subtle.


Sequels are tricky things. Can you recapture the magic of the original while telling an entirely new story? Can you satisfy both your old readers without losing your new ones? Should you have that Babysitters Club second chapter where they explain that Kristy came up with the idea but they hold meetings in Claudia’s room because she’s the only one with a private phone line? Or is that going to get really old around the tenth book, when the Pikes take Stacey and Mary Anne to the shore to help out with their annual vacation?


Happily, this is not a problem for Burgis, as Renegade Magic, the second book in Stephanie Burgis’ phenomenal Kat Stephenson trilogy, is every bit as fun as it’s predecessor.  And, happily for both me and the Universe (though not so happily that we won’t be sending that memo), I learned of Renegade Magic immediately after learning of Kat, Incorrigible, so there was none of this ‘being oblivious for a year’ nonsense to make me feel like an idiot. So I was able to put down #1 and pick up #2 immediately.  Which is a wonderful thing, because it is Completely Awesome.


How? (you ask.)  Well, let me give you a few reasons…

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