Romance

Pemberley, Manderley and Howards End: the real buildings behind fictional houses

31 July 2017
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From The Guardian:

Howards End, Manderley, Brideshead – some fictional houses are as unforgettable as the characters who inhabit them. They can provide a sense of identity, as in the novels of Walter Scott, which were set in a time when a man was distinguished by the land and house from which he got his name. They can convey ideas of personality, as Charles Dickens’s living spaces reflect the quirks of his characters. They can offer us symbols of social status, as with Jane Austen’s Pemberley, or some tangible link to the past, as so ardently forged by writers such as Evelyn Waugh.

The house that commands the fictional centre of a story exerts a power over the characters: their behaviour, aspirations and fate. In my research into houses in British literature, I wanted to find out what drove authors, from Austen to Alan Hollinghurst, to home in on a particular house or type of house as the focus of their fictional worlds. The British may not have the monopoly on house-centred stories, but the literature is filled with thinking, writing, and imagining houses in ways that betray a particular consciousness of house and home. Some of the most celebrated novels, such as Howards End or Brideshead Revisited, signal this from the title, while others sneak us in through the back door, as it were, so that we understand the importance of the house only once we’re ambling along the passageways, scrutinising the furnishings. But once over the threshold, fictional houses have us in their spell. As Daphne du Maurier said of Menabilly, the house that inspired her characters’ devotion to Manderley, it possessed her “even as a mistress holds a lover”.

. . . .

Godmersham Park, Kent:
Jane Austen 

The daughter of a vicar, Jane Austen grew up in a household of more modest means than many in her circle. She attended parties, balls and other social gatherings at plenty of grand Hampshire country houses, writing to her sister Cassandra in 1800: “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not else how to account for the shaking of my hand today.” But it was Godmersham, in Kent, and the smaller, less spectacular but still impressive Chawton House in Hampshire, two properties inherited by her brother Edward after he was adopted by childless relatives, that helped her to inhabit the world of her more privileged characters.

In Edward Austen’s day, Godmersham had 5,000 acres of land (today it still has 2,000). The house was built in 1732 by the Knight family, who added two wings in the 1780s before Edward inherited the property in 1797. It still has several wings and retains its elegant Italianate style. It is sometimes speculated that the more famous Chatsworth in the Peak District was the inspiration for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley, but it was at Godmersham that Austen experienced living in a large house, with many servants and entertainments. She spent long hours writing letters in the library, and the vicarage – still extant on the property – is thought to have inspired Mr Collins’s house in Pride and Prejudice. The place was luxurious to Austen: “I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now; – let me shake off vulgar cares & conform to the happy Indifference of East Kent wealth.” By contrast, writing in 1798 from the rectory at Steventon in Hampshire, where she grew up, she complained: “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. – Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there.”

. . . .

Rooks Nest, Hertfordshire:
EM Forster

Few can read Howards End without longing for a golden afternoon in the garden of an English cottage. The house represents the England of the past, threatened by a modern world in motion where motorcars speed people through a landscape they have no time to appreciate. “Only connect” is the motto of the book, and conveys a possibility for spiritual fulfilment that Forster felt strongly could be imparted through the life of a house. He was very clear about the inspiration for the house of his eponymous novel – Rooks Nest, his childhood home. After his father died of tuberculosis, when Forster was not quite two, his mother decided it would be healthier to move to the country. In 1883 she took the lease on Rooks Nest, near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, where they lived for the next 10 years. The house had belonged to a family named Howard, who had farmed there for three centuries. Forster began memorialising it while still in his teens. “I took it to my heart,” he later wrote, “and hoped … that I should live and die there.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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The Enduring Legacy Of Jane Austen’s ‘Truth Universally Acknowledged’

29 July 2017
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From National Public Radio:

Shortly after Amazon introduced the Kindle, they put up a page with a ranked list of the most frequently highlighted passages across all the books. It’s not there anymore, but when I first looked at the list in 2013, the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice was in third place. That was all the more impressive because eight of the other top 10 finishers were passages from the Hunger Games series, which was the hit of the season that year, as Austen’s novel had been exactly 200 years earlier.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

We can argue about whether that’s the most famous first line in English literature or whether the honor belongs to the opening sentence of Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities or 1984. But there’s no other opening sentence that lends itself so well to sampling, mash-ups and adaptation.

If you’re looking to add a literary touch to your article on pension schemes or emergency contraceptives, you’re not going to get very far with “Call me Ishmael.” But “It is a truth universally acknowledged” is always available as an elegant replacement for “As everybody knows” when you want to introduce some banal truism.

. . . .

Yet my guess is that a large portion of the people who adapt that sentence know perfectly well that the original version is anything but straightforward. It may be the single most celebrated example of literary irony in all of English literature. Pick up a paperback of Pride and Prejudice at a garage sale and it’s even money you’ll find the first sentence underlined with “IRONY” written in the margin.

The sentence may look like a truism, but the first part actually undermines the second. In her book Why Jane Austen, Rachel Brownstein points out that if the novel had begun simply with “A single man possessed of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” we’d snuggle in for a stock romantic story. We might expect the next sentence to describe an aristocratic Colin Firth lookalike galloping full-tilt toward the Bennets’ house at Longbourn.

But prefacing that clause with “It is a truth universally acknowledged” implies that’s only what most people say they believe — after all, if everybody really does accept it, why bother to mention the fact? In fact, as Austen says in the following sentence, nobody really cares what the wealthy man himself thinks he needs. There’s only one truth that matters to Mrs. Bennet and the other families in the neighborhood — that a daughter who has no fortune must be found a well-to-do husband to look after her, which Mrs. Bennet has made “the business of her life.”

Link to the rest at NPR

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There’s No Such Thing as Historical Fiction

26 July 2017

From The Literary Hub:

It might sound odd to say it, but there is no such thing as historical fiction. And yet if you write a literary novel set in the past, let’s say before the 1950s—though in truth, it might well be much later than that—it is a label impossible to escape. The agents, book scouts and publishers with a wistful sigh shunt you into the historical trap. The author, as the novel is brought to book, might be surprised to discover the term appearing in the jacket text forewarning the unwary reader. Watch then as the book is published and reviewers rush to box the novel as historical fiction.

The novelist bristles because the term denotes a difference. Whichever way one looks, “historical fiction” in code, category and casual shorthand, is a term that sets it apart from the contemporary novel. It is assumed, generally speaking, that the contemporary novel speaks of the times we live in, and the historical novel does something else. It is not uncommon to read journalists lauding a contemporary novel for showing us how we live now.

. . . .

Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered. The novelist can expertly summon a voice. They might evoke with uncanny accuracy the morals and codes of an era. For sure they will step carefully through the minefield of anachronisms—or blow themselves up in the name of revisionism. But any idea of an authentic past in the novel is illusion—the historical novel is an act of prestidigitation.

The novel itself is formed by unspoken rules that govern what a modern reader will recognize, borne by the history of all the novels written before it—(“The ugly fact is books are made out of books,” as Cormac McCarthy once put it). A novelist can summon what the reader believes to be an authentic past but it is an impossibility to write truthfully of any other time than your own.

. . . .

Of course, we read the “historical novel” and marvel at its simulation of the past. But pay attention and you will see the historical novel can speak with cool clarity about what is timeless in the present. The modern novelist through the prism of the past seeks to remove the reader from the noise and rush of the now. A space is made around the reader. The novelist says, let us not be concerned with who we are now, but what we are always. For the historical novel, if it sees clearly, can show us how the modern world is governed by ancient forces: power versus weakness, truth versus falsehood, life versus death. And always there is the problem of living: how can we live well, or how can we survive within a world ranged against such enormous forces?

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub 

“It is an inescapable fact that the consciousness of the writer, the deeper meanings of language, and any articulation of a world view, are shaped by the heat and pressure of the times the writer lives in . . . .  A novelist can summon what the reader believes to be an authentic past but it is an impossibility to write truthfully of any other time than your own. . . . Historical fiction is contemporary fiction and cannot be anything else.”

PG wonders if this means reading a Jane Austen novel is a completely different experience from reading a novel written by a skilled author of regency romances in 2017.

Does the modern reader misunderstand a great many of the fictional events, circumstances and emotions Jane writes about because her consciousness was shaped by a far different time and society than those in which a modern reader lives?

While Mrs. PG is an expert author of regency romances and PG is not, PG understands the experience of reading a good regency created by a modern author and the experience of reading an Austen novel is similar. Indeed, due to the fixed number of Austen novels and the desires of many readers not to end their experience with the Regency world after they finish the last one, many modern regency romances sell quite well.

As illustrated in the last quoted paragraph PG excerpted, at the end of the OP, the author describes a different view, one with which PG agrees, “Does the historical novel steal a trick from the classical novel? Perhaps it does. If you declutter the novel of the contemporary tumult, it will seek the same unswerving truths that hold us true to the classics.”

PG posits that human nature doesn’t change with the passage of decades and centuries. The surroundings, technologies, manners of speaking and writing, contemporary social expectations, etc., will certainly change, but human nature will not.

We recognize the nature of the characters that Jane describes from our own experiences with 21st century humans. The emotions Jane illustrates are the same emotions we have felt and still feel.

And isn’t that lovely?

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Cosplaying Jane Austen

24 July 2017

From The Atlantic:

Jane lies in Winchester
Blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her,
And her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester—
Or Milsom Street—remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour
Unto England’s Jane!

— Rudyard Kipling

On a spring afternoon 25 years ago, my mother took my baby sister and me to the grave of Jane Austen at Winchester Cathedral. It would have been 1992, and quite late in the spring, as photos of that day have me in short sleeves and my sister wearing a summery little dress in her stroller. She was 2, I was 6, and Austen had been dead for 175 years.

The grave left little impression on me at the time—I didn’t know much about Austen, except that she was my mother’s favorite writer and that she had died not far from where we stood and that her bones were now beneath us. In the days when England’s church was allied with Rome, Winchester had been consecrated to Saint Swithin, and—as Mom explained—it was three days after the Feast of Saint Swithin in 1817 that Austen breathed her last in that city, under the care of better doctors than could have been found closer to the Chawton cottage where she spent the last eight years of her life. The tombstone says a lot of nice things about her character but doesn’t mention once that she was a writer. My mother, an English professor whose expertise is the British novel in the 18th and 19th centuries, told me that this was an odd omission, and I wondered whether Austen’s ghost lurked, displeased, beneath the stones of the cathedral.

What my mother did not tell me, and what she could not have known, was that, two decades later, I would find myself putting on Regency costumes and attending balls and banquets across North America, nor that—in a curious inversion of roles—I would eventually persuade her to dispense with academic self-seriousness and actually start wearing the costumes herself. All of this happened after I had joined the ranks of those enthusiastic literary necromancers who regularly summon Austen’s ghost.

These are the fans and disciples of Austen, known collectively as the Janeites, a term coined in the 1890s by the critic George Saintsbury. In the 21st century, they pop about the globe, now visiting Austen’s grave at Winchester, now visiting her haunts in Bath, now attending the annual general meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), where hundreds of Janeites materialize each year in Minneapolis or Montréal or Washington, D.C., to exhibit their finest examples of Regency formalwear, to hear the brightest Austen scholars talk about their ideas of the author—was Austen a secret radical? was she a reactionary? was she queer?—and to dispute those ideas with the proprietary vim of a family member.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

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Forget George Eliot: now it’s male authors disguising their sex to sell more books

21 July 2017

From The Guardian:

Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)

Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.

“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering. Withholding his full identity was a way “to reassure myself that the voice worked”, he says. In the world of romance novels, male authors have long disguised their gender. The Glaswegian author Iain Blair wrote 29 romances as Emma Blair. Jessica Blair is really Bill Spence, Alison Yorke is Christopher Nicole and Dean Koontz has written as Deanna Dwyer. As an undergraduate, Philip Larkin wrote erotic novellas under the name Brunette Coleman.

. . . .

The recent spate of men writing with gender-neutral names seems commercially driven. It is not a necessity for acceptance, as the Brontë sisters or George Eliot felt their pen names to be. However, there are earlier examples of men who wrote as women to give voice to “female” issues at a time when recourse to the females themselves proved elusive or unthinkable. In 1747, Benjamin Franklin published “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker”, and essayist Samuel Johnson presented himself as “Misella”, a sex worker, in 1751.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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Five Things to Know About Bath, Jane Austen’s Home and Inspiration

19 July 2017

From Smithsonian.com:

Jane Austen sadly died on this day 200 years ago–leaving behind a legacy of six game-changing novels. Although Pride and Prejudice, which takes place in the countryside, might be her most well-known novel today, her two books set in the historic city of Bath capture a unique Georgian metropolis. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion both have the spa town as a primary location.

“Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?” asks the protagonist of the former novel, which was written in 1803 but first published years later. The town in which Austen’s characters tryst, shop and party is a bustling place full of aristocrats who come there to see and be seen, to exhibit fashions and socialize and to enjoy the health benefits, both real and putative, of the sulfur baths.

. . . .

“Although Austen enjoyed her early visits to Bath she was not at all happy when her father moved the family there, and she often satirised its social scene of balls, promenades and assemblies,” writes Margaret Ward for the Irish Times.

She lived for a time on Gay Street, right near the city center, Ward writes, “but had to move to less elegant lodgings as her family’s financial circumstances declined, a theme that found its way into her second Bath novel, Persuasion.” Austen’s own fabled love affair may well have taken place in Bath.

In a way, even if she did not always appreciate it, Bath offered her a perfect setting: It was an entire town devoted to forwarding the pursuits about which she wrote best–socializing and contracting arrangements like marriages.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian.com

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The Book Blind Taste Test – Pick a book… any book…

16 July 2017

From All About Romance:

I have always loved libraries, but I admit I had fallen out of the habit of using my local one recently. One of my dear friends is a middle school librarian and she (appropriately) shamed me a bit for it, telling me the best way to make sure libraries stay around and keep their funding is to use them. So, a few months back, I started building weekly trips to my local temple of knowledge into my schedule and added a particular challenge to myself. I would walk directly to the New Releases section and pick up the first book by an author I didn’t recognize.

This has led to some real gems (Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinsborough was one) and some duds (which I will leave out for politeness). I told the AAR Staff about my new project and several of them jumped on board, saying it sounded like a great challenge. So many other staffers joined me, in fact, that we’ve decided to make it a regular blog.

The parameters of the project are fairly simple: you must read one book by a new-to-you author, either one you’ve never heard of or one you’ve been meaning to get to, and give it at least fifty  pages. For AAR, our additional rule is that the book involves women; written by one or has one as a protagonist. How you acquire the book is up to you; library, bookstore, TBR pile that is threatening to overrun your house. Just make sure you haven’t read the author before.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

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The Pride and Prejudice of 21st-Century Literary Critics

16 July 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Two hundred years ago this Tuesday—July 18, 1817—the beloved novelist Jane Austen died at 41 in Winchester, England. That her era is not our own is part of the attraction. Hollywood’s Austen adaptations, more than 70 and counting for film and television, beguile with elegance, manners, green countryside, candlelit balls, handsomely dressed ladies and gentlemen—and, of course, romance.

Alas, this pleasant vision of Austenworld gets it all wrong, as literary critics insist they have discovered. Far from celebrating the genteel society presented in her novels, Austen was an angry subversive who “repeatedly demonstrates her alienation from the aggressively patriarchal tradition,” according to an influential feminist study from 1979, “The Madwoman in the Attic.”

Another critic, who wrote a book on Austen’s novel “Persuasion,” exults in an interview that its heroine has “few options in the repressive society of her time” yet still “escapes from the toxic systems of rank and gender that control her woman’s life.” Curiously, she escapes by marrying a man she has doted on for eight years.

. . . .

From the cloudy heights, academic jargon trickles down to street level. A paperback edition of “Sense and Sensibility” touts its “powerful analysis of the ways in which women’s lives were shaped by the claustrophobic society in which they had to survive.” So much for romance.

We might better mark this bicentennial by revisiting Jane Austen in her own time, without nostalgia or reinvention. She grew up in the crowded rectory of a rural village. Never married, she remained close to her many brothers and beloved sister, Cassandra. Her circle otherwise comprised local gentry and a maze of aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.

All fell under her quick observation. In one letter to Cassandra, Austen describes a guest at the ball she attended as having a “broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, & fat neck.” In another letter, a local clergyman is said to appear “in such very deep mourning that either his Mother, his Wife, or himself must be dead.”

. . . .

Austen’s assumptions were old-fashioned Tory, her political interests slight. Her novels dramatize not social ills, but individual failings: vanity, greed, pride, selfishness, arrogance, folly. For all her humor and wit, she was a rigorous moralist. Adult life demanded adult behavior: self-awareness, propriety, kindness, good sense.

. . . .

Urged to aim higher, to write a serious historical romance, she replied firmly: “No—I must keep to my own style & go on in my own way.”

That was enough for Austen, and for 200 years it has been enough for readers. But a book out this past May, “Jane Austen, the Secret Radical” reveals that her novels “deal with slavery, sexual abuse, land enclosure, evolution, and women’s rights.” The evidence? “I offer flashes of an imaginary Jane Austen,” the critic admits, “glimpses of what the authoress might have been thinking.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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Erotica publisher, author charged for manipulating book sales

17 June 2017

From the Weld County District Attorney:

A Johnstown woman who publishes and writes romance novels is facing nearly two dozen charges after altering her clients’ book sales and pocketing the stolen royalties.

Jana Koretko was arrested and charged Monday with five counts of money laundering, four counts of felony theft, nine counts of computer crime and three counts of tax evasion.

According to the arrest affidavit, Koretko owns JK Publishing, primarily exclusive to romance and Erotica authors, and is accused of stealing more than $125,000 from multiple clients over a two-year period.

The Weld County District Attorney’s Office was first notified of the alleged scheme in August 2015 when one of the company’s authors noticed several discrepancies in her royalty payments. After further investigation, authorities learned Koretko was manipulating the monthly and quarterly sales reports from E-book retailers, like Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, to indicate lower sales.

In some instances, she even inflated or exaggerated book sales to make the authors believe the novels were doing well or becoming bestsellers.

Over the course of the investigation, 15 authors were identified as victims in Koretko’s alleged scam. It was also determined she under-reported book sales by more than 10,000 books, resulting in more than $125,000 in royalty losses to her clients.

Link to the rest at Weld County District Attorney and thanks to Kris for the tip.

PG never thought about criminal prosecution for publishers who cheat their authors.

He really likes the idea.

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Is Hot the new Warm?

19 May 2017

From All About Romance:

One of the things readers consistently tell us they like are our sensuality ratings. They’ve been a part of AAR since its inception and we think they help readers find books they love. We’ve not revised them, however, in quite some time and, with the trend towards more sex and more graphic sex in romance, we feel we may need to.

Here are our current definitions:

Kisses: Kisses only. Many of these books are quite simply “sweet.”

Subtle: No explicit sensuality. Kissing and touching, but physical romance is described in general terms or implied. The emphasis is on how lovemaking made the characters feel emotionally, and not on graphic description.

Warm: Moderately explicit sensuality. Physical details are described, but are not graphically depicted. Much is left to the reader’s imagination.

Hot: More explicit sensuality. Sex is described in more graphic terms. Hot books typically have more sex scenes and are more likely to depict acts beyond intercourse.<

Burning: Extremely explicit sensuality – these books are often erotic romances or flatout erotica.

We’ve thought about narrowing the system down–this would only be for 2017 and beyond–to Subtle, Warm, and Hot. We’ve also considered leaving the four of the five levels in place and getting rid of Burning.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

You can share your opinions about AAR’s ratings system at the link.

PG has lead a largely monk-like and innocent life, so he had no opinions or knowledge of sensuality ratings. So he did some research.

RomCon’s Heat Scale ratings are:

1) None
2) Sweet
3) Mild
4) Hot
5) Wild Ride
6) Blood Thirsty

Harper Impulse’s A Romance Rookie’s Guide to Heat Levels lists:

  1. Sweet
  2. Moderate
  3. Sensual
  4. Erotic

Author Tori MacAllister discusses Romance Times’ list:

  1. Scorcher
  2. Hot
  3. Mild

PG found several references to Simon & Schuster Great Balls ‘o Fire ratings and a related flamometer system, but was unable to locate technical specifications other than one reference to a 1-5 Balls ‘o Fire scale.

Since this is such an ambiguous area, PG decided to create the Last Romance Rating System You’ll Ever Need:

  1. Buick – your grandmother’s idea of romance
  2. Cast Iron Skillet – for outdoor enthusiasts
  3. Springbok – lots of running and jumping
  4. Committee – an agenda is involved
  5. Amoebic – there’s always a split at the end

PG waives all of his intellectual property rights to the Last Romance Rating System You’ll Ever Need (LRRSYEN) and irrevocably places it in the public domain for the free use of all raters, amateur and professional.

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