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This is the first day of Advent with Austen, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility.

Hope to see you later today for AwA Twitter Movie Night’s viewing of Pride and Prejudice (2005).

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This is the third time I’ve read Persuasion, the first two were very close together, about 10 years ago. Just as I suspected even back then, this time around it became official: Persuasion has overthrown Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel.

New things caught my attention this time around. I realized for instance, how innovative Persuasion must have been at the time, with its focus on a woman’s intimate point of view. Her earlier novels use an objective narrator, but Persuasion goes further and we get an “interior” perspective of Anne’s thoughts. At times I think it even comes close to stream of consciousness.

She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go, one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained.

Notice the subtle self-awareness and even mockery. It must have been a writing style completely new at the time and we can only wonder where Austen would do if she lived longer. Charlotte Brontë does something very similar with Jane Eyre, but that’s 27 years later! JE was also considered radical because it put a plain woman in the lead, but Anne is not far from it, with her “lost bloom”. Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: a Life said something very interesting about this:

[Persuasion is Austen’s] present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd.., to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring.

On a different note, Austen is not the revolutionary type and is far from wanting to challenge the social status quo (Mrs Clay, shame on you for wanting to step out of place!). Yet, Captain Wentworth is an ode to the self-made men if there ever was one. How heroic, how strong and dignified he is, compared to the Elliot family and their pedigree.

On yet another note, this time around I couldn’t help comparing Anne Elliot with Fanny Price. Their families undervalue them, both have strong moral compasses and a discreet presence. Fanny would probably be the only other Austen heroine who could support Persuasion’s plot. I think Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor and Marianne wouldn’t be persuaded and Catherine wouldn’t wait eight years. What do you think?

(By the way, if you’re a Fanny Price lover, please let YvannIris or Violet know. There have been talks on Twitter about forming a Fanny Price Secret Fan Club…)

I’ve often seen Anne and Fanny compared, so it was interesting to try to figure out what makes Anne loved and admired by some many, while Fanny is often the least popular of Austen’s heroines.

First, as a friend of mine said, Anna has “eaten her own dust”. She’s suffered a big disappointment of her own making and that makes her less naïve than Fanny. Age, of course, also helps, as well as the fact that Anne has a “place” in her family (even if undervalued), while Fanny is almost a non-person at Mansfield.

But what makes Anne so great are the moments when we see her sharp mind in action. She’s ironic and often we see her mentally roll her eyes at the silly people around her. In one scene she’s even positively scheming, when she expertly maneuvers herself to a chair close to Captain Wentworth at the concert in Bath. One of my favorite moments in the book is when she’s returning to Uppercross after Louisas’s fall:

Don’t talk of it, don’t talk of it,” he [Captain Wentworth} cried. “Oh God! That I had not given way to her at the fatal moment! Had I done as I ought! But so eager and so resolute! Dear, sweet Louisa!”

Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is proof of Anne Elliot’s subtle mental subversion. I love all the little indicators about Anne’s “level-headness”, intelligence and her own value of these traits. She is the perfect mix of passion and practicality. Fanny on the other hand, is more of an early version of the future Victorian feminine ideal: suffering in silence, docile, erased, stoic.

I tried to look for evidence whether or not Austen knew she was dying while writing Persuasion. She started it in 1715 and finished it in mid 1816, by which time she and her family probably knew she was seriously ill. She died late 1817, still revising the novel. Wikipedia says that “Austen wrote Persuasion in a hurry, during the onset of the illness from which she eventually died.

If she did know she was sick and feared for her life, did that somehow influence Persuasion‘s plot and characters? It’s interesting to think about the book in this light. It’s a novel about second chances and the right to personal pursuit of happiness. On purpose or not, it is a lovely message to leave behind in a last novel. As Mrs. Croft said, “We none of us want to be in calm waters all our life.

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Other thoughts: Fyrefly’s Book Blog, The Blue Stocking Society, Dot Scribbles, The Literate Mother,  Jayne’s Books, The Literary Stew, Open Mind, Insert Book., A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook, Just Books, Rebecca Reads, All Consuming Books, Fashion Piranha, Presenting Lenore, Alita Reads, Worthwhile Books,  LesleyW’s Book Nook, The Book Pirate, Fingers and Prose, Desperate Reader, You’ve GOTTA read this, Adventures in Reading, MariReads, Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Stella Matutina, Deliciously Clean Reads, Lost in Books, Reading Reflections, My Random Acts of Reading, Stacy’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, Books. Lists. Life., Tony’s Reading ListA Striped Armchair, Lit Endeavors, Aneca’s World, Bookworm Nation, Shelf Love

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(yours?)

Make haste, Advent with Austen is upon us!

Starting Sunday 26 November until Christmas Eve you are invited to post about all things Austen. My plan is to read these:

Yvann over at Reading Fuelled by Tea will lead a read-along of S&S so keep an eye out for the schedule.

Another part of the fun will be the AwA’s Twitter Movie Nights. Join us as we press “play” together every Sunday at 7PM GMT, and then just chat away using the #AwA tag.

To help us decided which movies to watch we’ve prepared a pool and the 4 most voted will be randomly assigned to each Sunday. We’d love to do some series as well, but they’re just too long. Maybe next year we’ll do a P&P 1995 marathon, one episode per chat!

So vote wisely (poll closes: Sunday, 20 November, 11.59PM GMT) :


And just like that, I’m in love.

It’s at such times I realize how falling in love with a book is so similar to falling in love with a person. You don’t really know why it’s happening, but you feel a connection, a feeling of hopeful expectation, which over time, if you’re lucky, is happily confirmed. Or at least that’s how I do it 🙂

If you like historical fiction, sooner or later you’ll hear about Patrick O’Brian. I’ve been meaning to give him a try for a long time, but was afraid – when I read stories set at sea I often have no idea what’s happening because of the naval-speak, it’s almost like a foreign language.

The truth is, I did get lost at times while reading M&C, but I worked for my reward. I used Wikipedia, Google Earth, O’Brian’s fandom, videos of boats maneuvering on YouTube, and watching the movie also helped. Even with this amount of information there were times when I lost my thread, but soon realized that O’Brian uses the same tricks as the wonderful Dorothy Dunnett: they throw you into the action and ask you to go along until everything is explained. That’s when you become aware what an amazing time you’re actually having.

Also like Dunnett, O’Brian is completely at easy with cultural references. He mentions obscure details which must have involved a lot of research (see Johnson’s quote below), without insulting the reader with an explanation. The only time he does this is right at the start of the book, when Stephen is taken on a tour of the Sophie, but like us, he also feels an information overload. It’s said O’Brian kept a 1810 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica close to him while he worked, as well as early editions of Jane Austen, who he thought the finest of all novelists.

M&C is first book of a series of 21 (!) books. It’s here that Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin meet. Jack is a British lieutenant who’ll soon become master and commander of HMS Sophie and Stephen is a half-Irish/half-Catalan physician and naturalist who’s fallen on hard times and so decides to join the Sophie.

I’ve been trying to pin-point what exactly grabbed me so much. There’s 1) the vivid images of life aboard the brig, including the use of language that could be taken out of a real 18th century novel.

‘You know Dr. Johnson – Dictionary Johnson?’ ‘Certainly,’ cried Stephen, looking strange. ‘The most respectable, the most amiable of the moderns. I disagree with all he says, except when he speaks of Ireland, yet I honour him; and for his Life of Savage I love him.’

2) There’s the wit, which was a surprise until I knew he was an Austen fan.

‘There is a systematic flocci-naucinihilipilification* of all other aspects of existence that angers me.’

‘I have done with all debate. But you know as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean wither my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.’

‘I have never yet known a man admit that he was either rich or asleep: perhaps the poor man and the wakeful man have some great moral advantage.’

Also, 3) Stephen showed enough potential to likely become a Great Favorite, and may even be invited to my select dinner of fictional characters, if he plays his cards right. There are many layers to him, and an interesting past. (It also helps that Paul Bettany played him so perfectly in the movie.)

M&C has 4) one of the best opening scenes ever, probably because it’s so unexpected in a book about war and naval life. It begins at a concert. Still strangers, Jack and Stephen sit next to each other. Jack is so focused on the music that he start to tap to the beat. This annoys Stephen so much (Jack wasn’t even being accurate!) that they almost agree on a duel (the start of The Three Musketeers, anyone?). In the end, it’ll be this mutual love of music that’ll unite them. Another favorite was the 5) lovely scene where they play together for the first time.

‘I am really pleased with tonight’s exercise,’ said Jack, tuning his fiddle. ‘Now I feel I can run inshore with a clearer Conscience – without risking the poor sloop too much.’

‘I am happy you are pleased; and certainly the mariners seemed to ply their pieces with a wonderful dexterity; but you must allow me to insist that that note is not A.’

‘Ain’t it?’ cried Jack anxiously. ‘Is this better?’

Stephen nodded, tapped his foot three times, and they dashed away into Mr Brown’s Minorcan divertimento. ‘Did you notice my bowing in the pump-pump-pump piece?’ asked Jack. ‘I did indeed. Very sprightly, very agile. I noticed you neither struck the hanging shelf nor yet the lamp. I only grazed the locker once myself.’

I never studied literature and usually don’t think about the narration style, unless it’s either 6) especially good or especially bad. I did notice M&C’s narrator. It was like a camera that gets close to a character, then subtly moves to another only to, seemingly without a break, open the angle for a wider view. Author Jo Walton, when talking about O’Brian’s narrator on Tor.com said,

There’s also the camera eye omni, that sees everything but never gets drawn close to anything. There is a variant of that I call Lymondine, which can be seen in Dorothy Dunnett and Guy Gavriel Kay, where you’re usually very closely in somebody’s head but occasionally you pull right away and get a distant perspective. O’Brian’s glide is closest to that, but it’s also really different. He draws in and out almost imperceptibly. It’s very effective and very addictive.

It cannot be a coincidence that I’m such a fan of these three authors. If you spot any other good examples of this “camera eye omni”, send them my way.

Post Captain, the next book in the series, is set mostly in country houses and apparently it’s as much a novel of manners as a naval story. It’s said to be O’Brian’s homage to Austen. How can I resist? 🙂

Browsing the fan sites I saw this great quote:  “You know that’s not just a series of books, right? It’s a major lifestyle decision. You start reading those and you grow a new space in your brain devoted to them.” I don’t doubt it!

And another fan said: “Will someone write as lovingly about the Internet Age in 170 years as O’Brian wrote of the Age of Sail?” That’s a great image, and it does make you wonder…

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Other thoughts: The Literate ManProSeEve’s Alexandria (yours?)

*The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant.


Whenever I think “hype victim” Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norris always comes to mind. Remember when the book took the world by storm? When Gaiman was saying it was the best thing since bread came sliced? 10-years in the making yady bla. It’s hard to live up to all those expectations, but the book put up a good fight. Despite it all I liked it and at the time gave it a 4/5. It’s obvious Clarke’s a talented writer, but the real thing could never be as good as the book in my head. I ended up admiring it for its execution, but it didn’t steal my heart.

Or maybe I just got a bit hurt by the way she described Portugal and its natives.

In any case, for me the jury is still out on Susanna Clarke until her next novel, so while waiting I’ve read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, a collection of eight short stories, all but one set in the same world as JS & MN. I was still delighted by her version of a past England where real magic is part of everyday life and influences history. She once again put footnotes to good use and got off to a good start with an introduction by fictional Professor James Sutherland, the present-day Director of Sidhe studies at the University of Aberdeen and editor of the collection:

The sad truth is that nowadays – as at all periods of our history – misinformation about Faerie assails us from every side. It is through stories such as these that the serious student of Sidhe culture may make a window for herself into Faerie and snatch a glimpse of its complexity, its contradictions and its fascinations.

One of the reasons I’m still looking for a satisfying Austen prequel, sequel or spin-off is that the ones I’ve read so far don’t sound authentic. But this book confirms a suspicion I’ve had since JS & MN: Susanna Clarke’s 19th century English is close to perfection. As a Janeite I especially appreciated the homage-story Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower. If you’ve read Pride & Prejudice (or watched the 1995 adaptation) you can’t miss the similarities with Mr. Darcy’s letter. Clarke’s version begins like this:

Madam,

I shall not try your patience by a repetition of those arguments with which I earlier tried to convince you of my innocence. When I left you this afternoon I told you that it was in my power to place in your hands written evidence that would absolve me from every charge which you have seen fit to heap upon my head and in fulfillment of that promise I enclose my journal.

My favorite story was set in the same world as Gaiman’s Stardust and it’s called The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse. The Duke of Wellington chases his horse beyond the Wall and has to use all his wits to be able to return. It involves the Duke’s attempts at embroidery – so funny.

The reason why I bought the book in the first place was the wonderful edition and its illustrations by Charles Vess. It was just the thing to add to my collection of Penguin’s hardcover classics.

If you’re a fan of JS & MN, you’ll like The Ladies of Grace Adieu, if you felt intimidated by JS & MN’s size and extensive historical notes, this might be a good introduction. Actually, everyone who welcomes a good world-building should recognize Clarke as one of the best.

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Other thoughts: ProSe, The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (and yours?)

My Dearest Readers,

Wanting to celebrate the first “Talk like Jane Austen Day” I have endeavored to write this review in the style appropriate to that most beloved of periods – Regency.

The Erast Fandorin Historical Mystery Novels first came to my attention with the praise sang by Lonely Planet as a fine example of modern Russian literature. During my stay in Russia earlier this year, I endeavored to look for it but alas, when we found ourselves at a delightful little English book seller, it pained me to discovery that our guide had been left at our lodgings, and I could not, try as I might, remember the name of the author. I insisted on inquiring after a “Winter Queen” and even my references to the “Russian Sherlock Holmes” failed in bringing about success. So I was left with no other choice but to immediately order it from the kind people at Book Depository as soon as we returned to our humble Abode.

As I have earlier mentioned, “The Winter Queen” is but the first of the Erin Fadorin Mysteries and also the realization of a fascinating Idea by Mr A. – he believes there are 16 different types of Mystery Novels and decided to dedicate each of Mr. F’s books to a different one. This first example is a Conspiracy Mystery, the following a Spy Mystery, then a Closed Set-up Mystery and so forth. I hope you agree with me on how Devilishly fun this endeavor sounds like?

At the start of the narrative, in the year of 1876, Mr. F is not yet one-and-twenty and has just started his career at the Criminal Investigation Department of the City of M–, Russia. His first real assignment is the investigation of a university student who unfortunately decides to kill himself using the so called Russian Roulette – which at the time was called American Roulette!

 

On his search for the Truth, Mr. F finds himself in the middle, if you can believe it Dear Readers, of a far-reaching International Conspiracy. Mr. A very effectively contrasts the comical innocence of his Hero – who is by no means lacking in intelligence – with the decadence of XIX century M–, not unlike that of our own Victorian London. Indeed, Mr. A shamelessly describes aristocrats giving way to the most appalling of vices while the winds of Revolution surround them.

So it came to pass that I found in The Winter Queen exactly what I was looking for – lively descriptions of life in Czarist Russia, a main character who is not perfect (as you well know, pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked), but who you can see is learning from his mistakes. I also took great enjoyment from the very melodramatic Russian ending.

I am very much looking forward to the next one in the series.

I remain yours, etc,
Alexandra

Post Scriptum: Halloween has almost come and with it the end of my very first RIP Challenge. Oh what good fun we had!

I wish I could say I’ve been an Austen fan forever, that I started at 12 and never looked back, but I’m sort of embarrassed to admit I’m part of the 1995 BBC adaptation wave. I can image how those who were Janeites before felt: that mix of pride and resented ownership that happens when all of a sudden that obscure band you’ve been a fan of for years is suddenly TOP 1 and everyone’s favorite.

I didn’t read Austen in school and only picked up Sense and Sensibility when I was about 17. It was such an awful translation that I completely forgot about it 2 minutes after turning the last page. It had no impact what so ever.

I don’t know if P&P 1995 ran in Portugal before, but I only saw it in 2002 (o the wasted time!) and like half of the world, immediately got hooked. After watching it several times I got the book in English (by that time I had done the ERASMUS programme in Glasgow so was comfortable reading it in the original) and surprise, surprise: it was even better than the series! Then I got the rest of her novels, juvenilia and letters. Then I entered into biographies and afterwards found the fun world of sequels, prequels and inspirations.

So that’s why I have a dedicate Austen shelf, which for the moment shares its space with our assortment of travel-books.

I felt quite isolated in my obsession until I decided to see what the internet could offer. You can never feel alone online, can you? There I discovered the wonderful world of The Republic of Pemberley, which became my online home for many years, and the world-wide Janeite community.

As people around me got used to my wacky obsession with a long-dead lady author, they started to indulge me by giving me JA-related gifts – nice or very old editions of her books, mugs, postcards, etc. Those who travelled started getting me editions of Pride and Prejudice in different languages and I got into it myself. These lovely friends usually bring back great stories of them trying to hunt down Jane Austen in e.g. Seoul or Bucharest.

At the moment, I have Pride & Prejudice in 25 languages: Danish, Greek, Czech, Italian, Turkish, Romanian, Korean, German, Norwegian, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), English, Chinese, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Russian, Catalan, Croatian, Dutch, Farsi, Spanish and Swedish.

Am I crazy or am I crazy? 🙂

I never buy these books online, I either get them on location, through friends or (as it happened with the Farsi edition) through fellow Bookcrossers. I might try Bookmooch soon and see what I can find there.

If you can get me an edition in a language I still don’t have, I’d be more than happy to trade it for a book in your wishlist!

Do you also have dedicated shelves for anything (authors, themes)?

(click the photos to enhance – sorry, some are not as high-quality as I hoped for, I’ll replace them with better ones later)

Multilingual P&P

Other cubes
(the little bottle you see below is a sample of the Waters of Bath)

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” I won’t be able to participate in Dewey’s Read-a-ton after all, a friend is visiting right on that weekend 😦 It will be lovely to see her again, but what a disappointment, I was so looking forward to the sleepless night! Now I’ll have to wait until April for the next edition. Leeswammes, I hope you’ll find someone else on this time zone who can support you.

On the other hand, I’m still a part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth Gaskell’s birth. One lucky commenter will win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. The winner will be selected among all the people who during that day comment on the participants’ blogs. Full list here.

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Chekhov: hummm I don’t know… Russian literature is not really my thing.

But!

Fry: he could read the phone book and it would still be interesting.

So I gave it a try and was agreeably surprised. Fry’s characterful narration is the perfect complement to Chekhov’s bitter-sweet stories. The Russian melancholy and introspection was there but the language was beautiful and surprisingly accessible – translator Constance Garnet did a great job. Stephen Fry is my favorite reader and listening to him now made me want to go through the Harry Potter audiobooks all over again. I know that in the States they were read by Jim Dale (he was great on Pushing Daisies and on the Around the World in 80 Days audiobook), but I cannot imagine Hagrid with any voice other than the one Fry gives him.

For this Chekhov compilation, Fry chose these 7 stories:

An Avenger (my favorite)
Fyodor Fyodorovitch Sigaev plans to kill his adulterous wife and goes into Schmuck and Co.’s (lol!), the gunsmiths, to select a suitable revolver. He is determined, he is unmovable, but an extraordinary conversation with the shop keeper slowly makes him change his plan. For the fellow Janeites out there: do you remember that brilliant conversation in Sense & Sensibility between the Dashwoods’ brother and his wife about how much income he would give them? An Avenge is like that, but with a good dose of Russian black humour.

A Blunder
A mother and father plan to bust into a private conversation between their daughter and one of her suitors. They will wave an icon above the couple’s heads and the suitor will have no way to escape a marriage thus blessed. You won’t be able to keep a straight face when you know the results…

Boys
I’m ready to bet money that this story really happened and that Chekhov was the main protagonist. Velodya returns to his family home from school and brings a friend. While enjoying the warm welcome, the two boys are plotting to run away from home to join California’s Gold Rush.

The Huntsman
This story is one single conversation between the rascal Yeagor Vlasic and a peasant woman he was forced to marry many years ago. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s griping. According to Wikipedia, Dmitry Grigorovich, a celebrated Russian writer of the day, wrote to Chekhov after reading this story: “You have real talent—a talent which places you in the front rank among writers in the new generation.”

The Lady and the Dog
The longest story is a love story. Gurov, a middle-aged Moscovite, does not love his wife and has constant affairs. While in Yalta he meets Anna Sergeyevna. He seduces her, makes her love him but when they part he’s already ready to move on. However, Anna unexpectedly keeps hunting his thoughts and dreams – he simply can’t stop thinking about her. He then realises something extraordinary: for the first time in his life, he’s in love.. and he needs to see her again.

My favorite thing about reading short-stories is how they produce such powerful endings. If it’s well made, they can give you an emotional hit that make you stand quietly for a while to absorb it. This story’s ending was exactly like that.

Misery
A cabman called Iona is mourning for his son who die a week ago. He’s sad and trying to cope, he wants to speak about it desperately, but no one around him listens. The story is about Eona trying to find empathy and solace among his clients. This was also one of my favorites.

“Cabman, are you married?” asks one of the tall ones.

“I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the damp earth. . . . He-ho-ho!. . . .The grave that is! . . . Here my son’s dead and I am alive. . . . It’s a strange thing, death has come in at the wrong door. . . . Instead of coming for me it went for my son. . . .”

And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they have arrived at last.

Oyster
And to end on a happy note – not! – the starving 8-year-old son of a beggar is standing at the door of a restaurant and sees a sign saying ‘Oysters’. He asks his father what they are and immediately starts fantasizing about what it would be like to eat them. Passers-by hear him and decide to take him into the restaurant and feed him real oysters. Again, unexpected results follow.

It was a great introduction to Chekhov and Fry does not disappoint. I might check out Chekhov’s plays next. It you know someone who, like me, is Russian-lit-resistant, these short-stories are a great way to make them re-think their attitude  🙂

It’s not that it’s very bad, it’s just that I was fifty-odd pages in and couldn’t help constantly listing all the other books I would like to be reading instead. Ever got that feeling?

(At least up to the point where I gave up) the text is very much the one from the original P&P, only England is in the midst of a strange plague that turns people into zombies. To survive, men and women have to become experts in combat. The Bennett family gave preference to the ninja arts and Mr. Bennett even took the girls to the East for training.

The problem here is that Grahame-Smith decided not to change the storyline, but just inserted zombies and battles once in a while. I think he picked up the text, a highlighter in hand, and stated to choose the parts where he could insert an attack (walks to Meryton, end of the Assembly Ball) or a reference to e.g. katanas and Shaolin masters. It felt too artificial.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be more ruthless about dropping a book that’s not working for me. It will still look nice  in my dedicated Jane Austen shelves, but I’ll wait for the movie with Nathalie Portman (!!).  I’ll have to choose a replacement for the RIP Challenge eventually, but right now I’m happily moving on to Parrot and Olivier in America.

PS: An afterthought – although the concept didn’t bother me (and in many ways I’m an Austen purist), one thing did: the women’s dresses in the illustrations seem to vary from the 18th century all the way up to the Industrial Revolution. How about some research Mr Smiley?

GNRT

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