Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

La! What fun I've had reading this weekend! Or should I say, "fa la la la la," since the book I've just finished reading is Christmas-themed?

Long-time readers know that I am a huge fan of the Pink Carnation books, commencing with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and progressing through The Betrayal of the Blood Lily. The books, for those not yet familiar with them, are a combination of modern-day romance involving Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick (moving slowly across the course of the series) and a string of Regency romances involving a variety of French and English spies, many of whom have floral names (from the Purple Gentian to the Pink Carnation to the Black Tulip to the Moonflower). They are light-hearted yet still compelling, tend to include a large number of allusions to Shakespeare, Elizabethan poetry and other literature popular during the Regency era, and tend to be well-researched and well-written.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe is set entirely in Regency times, with no mention whatsoever of Eloise and/or Colin, in part because Willig has set it in a time period she's already covered - sometime between the end of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, and immediately prior to (and slightly overlapping in a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead kind of way) with the very beginning of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, meaning that we get a peek at the start of Charlotte's story from the perspective of our main characters in this book: a rather beleaguered Arabella Dempsey (based in premise on the character of Emma Watson from Jane Austen's unfinished novel, The Watsons) and Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh, first introduced in the second book of the series, The Masque of the Black Tulip as a good-natured, good-looking, extremely wealthy man - ordinarily immediate romance hero material, except for his being perceived as bumbling, with poor taste in clothing and a complete lack of mental faculties.

Where Lord Vaughn, the intriguing man who winds up being the reluctant hero of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, is so oblique as to be completely opaque, Turnip Fitzhugh is almost completely transparent. But it turns out that when one spends time and gets to know him, he is not, in fact, the dimmest bulb in the string of heroic lights after all. Where some of the male characters in the series - Vaughn, Miles Dorrington, Richard Selwick and Robert Lansdowne, for example - are able to mask their emotions, at least on occasion, Reggie Fitzhugh simply cannot. He is cheerful and earnest and completely sweet, unless, of course, he is coming to Arabella's defense, in which case he can be quite intimidating. *swoon*

Arabella is the eldest daughter of a widowed vicar, now unable to maintain his parish duties as a result of terrible health. She had been taken under the wing of a wealthy aunt for nearly a decade. It had been expected that her elderly aunt would adopt her and she'd be an heiress; instead, her aunt married a fortune-hunter half her age (and a man who had led Arabella to form a bit of a tendre for him). The book opens with Arabella telling her good friend, Miss Jane Austen, about her plans to work at a local boarding school for young ladies - something Arabella prefers to returning to live with her aunt and her new "uncle", or to living in the cramped quarters with her father and three younger sisters. Jane Austen decides to write about Arabella's story, renaming Arabella "Emma Watson". (Janeites will be delighted with the happy fictional reason provided for Austen's abandonment of The Watsons, which is so preferable to the raft of decidedly dour propositions that are generally put forth.)

Turnip and Arabella meet because his younger sister, Sally, is a student at the school where Arabella is to teach - as are the younger sisters of Alex and Jack Reid (from Blood Lily) and Jane Wooliston (from Pink Carnation) - in a story line that involves several Christmas puddings, a notebook, a trellis, a Christmas pageant, and a party at a country house. It is entirely charming and engaging, and also very PG-rated (not always the case with Willig's books). I find it charming, witty, clever and, occasionally, hilarious. And so, I suspect, will you.

Also? Further good news for Pink Carnation fans: We get to see the heroes and heroines of books one through five in this one, but we do not get to see Jane Wooliston (or either of the Reid brothers).

Also-also: The Orchid Affair hits shelves in January of 2011, and one of several author's notes at the back of Mistletoe implies that romances will be coming for all three of the younger sisters mentioned in this one. Squee!

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ten Ways to Be Adored by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean is back with another romance novel for grownups, and it was so good it kept me up into the wee hours of the morning because I so wanted to finish it. Entitled Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, this one follows the story of Sir Nicholas St. John, twin brother of Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston (who starred in her first adult outing, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake).

Ten Reasons I thought Ten Ways to Be Adored was adorable:

1. Girls in drag. Long-time readers know I'm a sucker for girls who cross-dress as boys (it's one of my favorite tropes EVER!), and this book has quite a lot of them. The female main character, Lady Isabel Townsend, runs her estate with the help of lots of cross-dressed women.

2. Lady Isabel runs a sort of halfway house for women who are escaping from abusive or oppressive situations (be it employment or marriage), which means she is breaking the law. That takes "feisty heroine" to a whole new level.

3. Lady Isabel's father, the Earl, is such a waste of breath that he is known as (wait for it) the "Wastrearl". Oh puns, how I love you.

4. Lady Isabel's father has actually wagered her hand in marriage in a card game. Many, many times.

5. Lady Isabel's younger brother James (who becomes the Earl after her father's death) is adorable with his jammy cheeks and earnestness.

6. Sir Nicholas has a savior complex - he loves to rescue damsels in distress. His first rescue is accomplished with smashing results. (I kill me - but if you read the book, you will appreciate my meagre efforts, I assure you.)

7. Sir Nicholas never, ever acts like a cad. This is one of the things I absolutely loved about Nine Rules as well - Sarah writes male main characters who might have colorful backgrounds (Gabriel was quite a rake and Nicholas appears to have been some sort of secret agent/tracker guy for England), but they do not behave badly toward the female lead, as sometimes occurs in other romance novels. I love this.

8. Sir Nicholas has a Turkish sidekick named Durukhan, a large, wonderful man who goes by the name of "Rock". I love him. For serious. He's an excellent foil for Nick and is just a truly lovely person. I wish he were real. So there.

9. Steamy kissing and sex scenes. Including small but swoonworthy descriptions, as when Isabel licked the scar next to Nick's eye. *fans self* And this time, I have not a single word of complaint about any of those scenes. (I had one minor quibble about the last book.)

10. Pearls and Pelisses. My hat is off to Sarah for the many laughs I got over the gossip rag she invents, which dubs Nick "London's Lord to Land". Many chapters open with an excerpt from the so-called ladies' magazine, which offers tips on what to do (or not do) in order to "catch" a landed, titled husband. Needless to say, Isabel doesn't always comply with the guidelines - and any time her conduct does fit the description in the magazine, it's pretty much accidental.

I wish I didn't have to wait until next summer for Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart! I also wish I knew if/when to expect a sequel to her YA title, The Season!

Edited to add: I just realized that the title of this post sounds like a "how to get Sarah MacLean to love you" piece instead of a book review. LOL!
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 2 (ch 24)

Behold Elinor Dashwood, Queen of Double Meanings!

I love the conversation between Elinor and Lucy. Elinor never says an untruthful word; instead, she speaks in double entendres (but not of the naughty kind). E.g., In response to Lucy's assertion that she believe Elinor had been offended during their last conversation, Elinor says this: '"Believe me," and Elinor spoke it with the truest sincerity, "nothing could be farther from my intention than to give you such an idea."' In fact, Elinor was upset/offended by their last conversation, but her goal in this conversation is to smooth that over so that Lucy won't suspect her of being dismayed. Note that she doesn't say she wasn't offended, just that she doesn't want Lucy to think she was offended. Clever, clever Elinor (or, if you prefer, clever, clever Austen).

Austen makes sure that we see Lucy's uneducated mind at work, in part through the use of irregular verb tenses. Lucy's lack of polish is clearly evident in sentences such as this one: 'I felt sure that you was angry with me; and have been quarrelling with myself ever since, for having took such a liberty as to trouble you with my affairs.' (In my mind, this sentence calls to mind Jean Hagen's performance as Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain, who says "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'." God, I love her lines - and Hagen's performance! But I digress, even though both Lucy Steele and Lina Lamont are manipulative women who are beautiful, but crass.)

Elinor susses out Lucy's true feelings for Edward, which are, essentially, disregard of him as a person and deep interest in his income. Elinor feels especially sad for Edward, because "he had not even the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage, which sincere affection on her side would have given". And Lucy can no longer be certain that Elinor loves Edward, but she continues to suspect her of doing so.

We learn that Lucy continues to rub her engagement to Edward in Elinor's face at every turn, that Elinor shuts Lucy down ASAP when she brings it up, and that the Steele sisters hang around through Christmas ("that festival which requires a more than ordinary share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim its importance").

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All Hallow's Read selections for teens

There are tons of scary books that work for teens - including some adult titles. I for sure read Carrie and The Shining (both by Stephen King, as if I truly need to tell you that) when I was a teen (junior or senior in high school) and they were perfect for me at that age. (I am, in fact, giving these books to my girls for All Hallow's Read this year.) One Stephen King book that works for younger teens is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, in which a 9-year old girl named Trisha gets lost in the woods, straying far from the trail. She spends days on her own trying to make her way back to civilization, eventually succeeding, aided by her determination and her fondness for pitcher Tom Gordon.

Devoured by Amanda Marrone is one of the scariest YA books M has ever read, which is why it makes this list. Not only is the main character enlisted to dress up as Snow White for a particular attraction, but she is also subjected to the owners' hall of mirrors, which includes a particularly nasty sort of magic mirror. There are ghosts in this book as well, but the ghosts are actually far less scary than some of the actual humans with whom Megan must deal.

Killing Britney by Sean Olin is creepy/scary indeed. The main character, Britney, proves to be completely unreliable in this book, which I found so disturbing I didn't want to keep it in the house, so I donated it to the library. The body count piles up and it appears that someone is trying to kill Britney, but most readers will not see the twist coming in this one.

In stores now, Zombies v. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, is one heck of an anthology, combining funny with wistful and including a bit of the scary. My favorite story in the book might be Margo Lanagan's A Thousand Flowers, and it's decidedly a twisty/twisted tale that will horrify you for sure.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 1 (ch 23)

To quote Dana Carvey-as-John-McLaughlin: "Elinor, gee I think you're swell-inor."

POOR ELINOR!

Here Marianne has been weeping and moping for weeks over a temporary separation from Willoughby (for which we have no patience, yes?), and Elinor - who has every reason to be truly unhappy at this point - puts on something approaching a happy face, choosing to follow the advice of the dance instructor in the movie Object of My Affection: "Chin up, young person."

Here's where we start to see something like a balance of sense and sensibility (remembering that the second word means "feeling"). Elinor takes her leave from the odious Lucy Steele and goes home to cry it out - alone. She doesn't FORCE herself to cry, the way Marianne did; rather, she allows herself to feel her sorrow, then takes some time to think things through.

She quickly determines that Lucy and Edward truly are engaged, and at first, she's angry with Edward for having led her on. She's not able to sustain that anger all that long, however, since she starts to look at things more reasonably: Edward, now 23, got engaged to Lucy when he was only 19 (and she was probably about 17 or so). Elinor reasons her way through what must have happened, and is able to explain to herself (and to us readers) precisely what must have happened - Edward committed himself to Lucy too early, then outgrew Lucy, then fell in love with Elinor. Elinor realizes that his hot/cold behavior was him trying NOT to lead her on, and she forgives him easily for his behavior - and so tender are her feelings, that she cries again: not for herself, but for poor Edward, who is in for a lifetime of disappointment.

Truly, Elinor has a big heart, and a great burden of grief. The only people who know it, however, are Elinor and us - the readers, who are privy to her secret and to her pain. Elinor also has massive balls - or whatever the feminine equivalent are - for this:

Much as she had suffered from her first conversation with Lucy on the subject, she soon felt an earnest wish of renewing it; and this for more reasons than one. She wanted to hear many particulars of their engagement repeated again, she wanted more clearly to understand what Lucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him, and she particularly wanted to convince Lucy, by her readiness to enter on the matter again, and her calmness in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested in it than as a friend, which she very much feared her involuntary agitation, in their morning discourse, must have left at least doubtful. That Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her appeared very probable: it was plain that Edward had always spoken highly in her praise, not merely from Lucy's assertion, but from her venturing to trust her on so short a personal acquaintance, with a secret so confessedly and evidently important. And even Sir John's joking intelligence must have had some weight. But indeed, while Elinor remained so well assured within herself of being really beloved by Edward, it required no other consideration of probabilities to make it natural that Lucy should be jealous; and that she was so, her very confidence was a proof. What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there be, but that Elinor might be informed by it of Lucy's superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him in future? She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of her rival's intentions, and while she was firmly resolved to act by her as every principle of honour and honesty directed, to combat her own affection for Edward and to see him as little as possible; she could not deny herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy that her heart was unwounded. And as she could now have nothing more painful to hear on the subject than had already been told, she did not mistrust her own ability of going through a repetition of particulars with composure.
That's right - Elinor wants to find out whether or not Lucy is actually in love with Edward, and she also wants to be sure to things over so that Lucy won't be sure she's gotten to Elinor. It's for that reason that she accepts an invitation to an assuredly tedious dinner party with Lady Middleton, who passive-aggressively gets Lucy to work on a gift for that three year-old that was crying a few chapters back.

We are again invited by Austen to compare the Dashwood sisters: Both have something they'd like to do far more than playing cards with Lady Middleton. Marianne declares that she hates cards and will play the piano instead, thereby offending her hostess. Elinor (who wants a chance to chat with Lucy) offers to help Lucy with the filigree basket, allegedly out of a desire to please Lady Middleton's child. She manages to be excused from cards AND earn Lady M's approval, a point Austen can't help but belabor.

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Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 22

The news in this chapter is SO SHOCKING that Mrs. Bennet hustled over here to be in the icon photo - completely aghast - because IT IS ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!

Let's cut to the chase: The insufferable, manipulative Miss Lucy Steele has been SECRETLY ENGAGED TO EDWARD for four years! I know!

This makes so much sense - to Elinor and to us - when we think about Edward's conduct. Every time it started to seem obvious that Edward had feelings for her, he pulled back. He arrived at their house after being in Plymouth - WHERE LUCY LIVES - and was absolutely devastated/depressed. Why? Well, you've spent time with both Lucy and Elinor - wouldn't you rather hang out with Elinor? And wouldn't you be sad if you had a lifelong commitment to spend time with Lucy instead?

Let's get to the worse part: Lucy swears Elinor to complete secrecy, and Elinor promises not to tell a soul. With Elinor, this means not her mother, not Marianne - nobody.

Lets get to the worst part: Lucy may be ignorant, illiterate, and not particularly classy, but she is street-smart and manipulative. She has sorted out that Elinor likes Edward, and quite possibly suspects that Edward may like Elinor as well, and she wants not only to claim Edward as her territory, but to completely crush Elinor in the process. After telling Elinor that they are engaged, she proves it with the following things - all of which are symbolic of a secret engagement. (Some of these have come or may come into play with Marianne, so here's the full list.)

1. Lucy possesses a miniature portrait of Edward.
2. Edward's ring contains a lock of Lucy's hair. (By the by - I guess this means that Edward has a "type" of sorts, since given the earlier suppositions, this must mean that Lucy Steele and Elinor Dashwood have the same or similarly-colored hair.)
3. They correspond with one another. (Letters between unmarried young men and women were restricted to those who were engaged and those who were already related.)
4. He sneaks off to visit her about twice a year (under pretext of visiting her uncle, who may or may not know of the secret engagement).

Lucy toys with Elinor, saying perhaps she ought to break it off and asking Elinor's opinion on the matter - she's obviously fishing to see if Elinor is interested in Edward, as well as lording it over Elinor. And the mention of the correspondence is especially bitchy, because it does more than substantiate Lucy's claim that they're engaged - she waves Edward's letter to her under Elinor's nose, pretty much taunting her with it. She might as well caper about chanting "I got a le-tter and you go-ot nothing!", with possibly a "na-na-na-na-na-na" for good measure.

Elinor saw that it was his hand, and she could doubt no longer. This picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward's gift; but a correspondence between them by letter, could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a few moments, she was almost overcome--her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary; and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

"Writing to each other," said Lucy, returning the letter into her pocket, "is the only comfort we have in such long separations. Yes, I have one other comfort in his picture, but poor Edward has not even that. If he had but my picture, he says he should be easy. I gave him a lock of my hair set in a ring when he was at Longstaple last, and that was some comfort to him, he said, but not equal to a picture. Perhaps you might notice the ring when you saw him?"

"I did," said Elinor, with a composure of voice, under which was concealed an emotion and distress beyond any thing she had ever felt before. She was mortified, shocked, confounded.

Fortunately for her, they had now reached the cottage, and the conversation could be continued no farther. After sitting with them a few minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched.
Poor, poor Elinor. She's just received soul-crushing news and she's not at liberty to tell a single person about it. And we've reached the end of Volume I. Am I right in thinking there's no way you can put this book down now? If you'd like to see a filmed version of this conversation, look no further - and with subtitles in Spanish!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All Hallow's Read suggestions

For the picture book set:

Not scary, but tension-filled with a funny ending:

A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown begins "in a dark, dark wood", with illustrations that follow, camera-like, as a black cat enters a house and investigates what's up "the dark, dark, stairs" and "in the dark, dark closet". (Spoiler: It's "A MOUSE!")

Definitely quirky, possibly a bit creepy (according to some camps), but I found it funny and clever:

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, progenitor of "All Hallow's Read" as an event, illustrated by Dave McKean, tells the story of a nuclear family (father, mother, daughter Lucy & a son) whose house is overtaken by wolves. Lucy hears the wolves in the walls making "sneaking, creaking, crumpling noises", but her family doesn't listen . . . but "if the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."

For the middle-grade set:

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp, now available as a reprint is creeptastic. It was one of my favorite books as a fifth-grader, and I still harbor terrific fondness for it. Nine-year old orphaned Jane goes to visit an aunt for the summer, where she stays in the room that once belonged to willful Emily - now a malevolent spirit. Mwahahaha.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman opens with mass murder, is set in a graveyard, and involves plenty of the undead. Creepy, wonderful, and deserving of the many awards showered upon it, Gaiman based the structure and general plot of the book on Kipling's The Jungle Book: a series of related short stories, each complete in itself, but that join together to form a single tale of an orphaned boy being raised (somewhat communally) by strangers, who is being stalked by the same evil force that killed his family.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (including a graphic novel version illustrated by P. Craig Russell (pictured)) tells the story of an only child named Coraline who feels (and sometimes is) overlooked - until she goes through the door in the wall and meets the Other Mother, whose world almost literally revolves around Coraline. Can Coraline outsmart the Other Mother, saving herself, her parents and the souls of the other children the Other Mother has claimed? (Spoiler: She can - but it's a creepy ride to get there!)

Troll's-Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales is a short story collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I reviewed it not all that long ago, but it would make a fantastic choice for All Hallow's Read. Some of the stories are more comical than creepy, but the collection includes a mix.

Invasion of the Road Weenies (seen here), The Curse of the Campfire Weenies, Invasion of the Road Weenies, and In the Land of the Lawn Weenies by David Lubar are all most excellent choices, full of witty, creepy tales - some of which will make you squirm, some will make you laugh, and some will make you check under your bed at night. I interviewed David Lubar in 2007 as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, which included quite a lot of discussion about the Weenie books.

Tomorrow: All Hallow's Read recommendations for teens.
Later tonight: A Sense & Sensibility post - we're at the end of Volume I!

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All Hallow's Read

This year, I'll be doing something I've done once before, which is giving a scary book to someone for Halloween. Of course, when I did it, it wasn't exactly a scary book, since I've given copies of Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman to Angela's younger son and to the Horace Mann Elementary School library. (Long-time readers know how much I LOOOOOOOVE Big Pumpkin.)

However, the wise, witty, wonderful Neil Gaiman has put forth A Modest Proposal that involves the giving of scary books on Halloween. Here's the crux of his post:

I propose that, on Hallowe'en or during the week of Hallowe'en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they'll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they'll enjoy.

I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands -- new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe'en. Make their flesh creep...

Give a scary book.

If you don't know what kinds of books there are, or what would be appropriate for the person you're giving a book to, talk to a bookseller. They love to help, most of them. (The ones that don't tend not to be booksellers for long.) Talk to librarians. (Do not plan to give away their books though, unless they are having a library sale.)
I'm in. And you?

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 21

We come today to the penultimate chapter of Volume I of this book. I can assure you that when you read the next chapter, you will admire the wisdom of the editor in splitting the book into volumes where he does (Volume I consists of 22 chapters, while Volumes II & III have 14 chapters each). I say this because once you read the information in the next chapter, I think it likely you'll agree that there's no way most readers would be able to avoid wanting the NEXT volume, in order to see what happens.

In this chapter, we meet the Steele sisters. Sensible Elinor decides that the elder Miss Steele is vulgar (her poor grammar and nonstop discussion of "beaux" bears this out - and brands Miss Steele as one of Austen's comic characters) and that Miss Lucy Steele is a conniving bitch (not her exact terms, but I am running with it). With the close proximity to Barton Park, where the Steeles are now staying, they cannot be avoided.

This chapter has a plethora of hilarious Austen lines. Today, I'm flagging some of my favorites:

The entire second paragraph is hilarious, and you can totally picture how things went down, but I especially love the concluding sentence: "As it was impossible, however, now to prevent their coming, Lady Middleton resigned herself to the idea of it, with all the philosophy of a well-bred woman, contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject five or six times every day." It's so funny because, although overstated, it rings so true. We've all done something similar, or observed someone who has, yes?

The third paragraph, where Sir John tries to get the Dashwoods to rush to Barton Park to meet the Steeles, concludes with two short sentences from our omniscient narrator, ostensibly in praise of Sir John's good nature - again, it rings true, even though we know the narrator is being sly: "Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to keep a third cousin to himself."

I have to laugh at Sir John's notion of the definition of "family", and at Elinor's sly observations about how savvy the Steele sisters are for being sycophantic. (I'm sure that they'd be like the guy who works for Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, who replies to the question "What kind of sycophant are you?" with "What kind of sycophant would you like me to be?" - a bit you can see at about 1:15 into this clip, but I digress.)

The bit with Lady Middleton accidentally scratching her three year-old with a pin is pure Austen gold, is it not? It opens with slapstick and proceeds with characters speaking at cross-purposes in a most uncomfortable sort of way:

"And here is my sweet little Annamaria," she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes; "And she is always so gentle and quiet--Never was there such a quiet little thing!"

But unfortunately in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship's head dress slightly scratching the child's neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams, as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother's consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and every thing was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother's lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected.--She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother's arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.

"Poor little creatures!" said Miss Steele, as soon as they were gone. "It might have been a very sad accident."

"Yet I hardly know how," cried Marianne, "unless it had been under totally different circumstances. But this is the usual way of heightening alarm, where there is nothing to be alarmed at in reality."

"What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is!" said Lucy Steele.

Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. She did her best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Middleton with more warmth than she felt, though with far less than Miss Lucy.

"And Sir John too," cried the elder sister, "what a charming man he is!"

Here too, Miss Dashwood's commendation, being only simple and just, came in without any eclat. She merely observed that he was perfectly good humoured and friendly.

"And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine children in my life.--I declare I quite doat upon them already, and indeed I am always distractedly fond of children."

"I should guess so," said Elinor, with a smile, "from what I have witnessed this morning."

"I have a notion," said Lucy, "you think the little Middletons rather too much indulged; perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is so natural in Lady Middleton; and for my part, I love to see children full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and quiet."

"I confess," replied Elinor, "that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence."
This is followed by questions from the Misses Steele about Norland and about gentlemen in which the Dashwood sisters might be interested, including this almost shocking and decidedly hilarious bit from Miss Steele: "But perhaps you young ladies may not care about the beaux, and had as lief be without them as with them. For my part, I think they are vastly agreeable, provided they dress smart and behave civil. But I can't bear to see them dirty and nasty." I am sure that we can all agree that we don't want our beaux to be dirty and nasty (unless, perhaps, it is in the boudoir, but I rather suspect that even Miss Steele wouldn't go there in conversation - at least on such short acquaintance).

The chapter concludes with an indication that the Steele sisters know Edward Ferrars. Elinor's curiosity is piqued, as is mine. Tomorrow we shall find out a good deal more about that!

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Scary Things Come Out at Night - an original poem

It's Tuesday, and I often like to post poetry on a Tuesday. And it's nearly Halloween, so to get in the mood, I thought I'd post an original poem. I posted it a few years ago on Halloween, but I think it would like another outing.

Scary Things Come Out at Night
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Scary things come out at night
Ghosts that boo! and bats that bite;
Warlocks cloaked in purple capes;
Satyrs wearing wreaths of grapes.
Sometimes you might spy a witch
Or a hunchback with a twitch
Don’t be frightened by this scene –
After all, it’s Halloween!


Are you dressing up for Halloween this year? If so, what will you be?

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 20

Some things Mrs. Palmer communicates:

1. Mr Palmer's house in Town is in Hanover Square, a section of London that wasn't built up at all in the early 1700s. This means that as these things go, his house is in a relatively new section of the city, and one that was largely inhabited by Tories - people who supported King George. It's name comes from the House of Hanover, the German family name of King George, and the highly sought-after and prestigious St George's Church is located there - it's where the most fashionable marriages among the Ton were performed.

This means, of course, that the Palmers are quite well-off and well-connected (something we will learn more about later, when we learn that Mr Palmer is running for Parliament - I don't consider it a spoiler since it doesn't really impact any of our main story lines). It also means that they are likely Tories (Austen certainly was).

2. Charlotte Palmer is very kind-hearted and extremely social, but vapid. She has taken an instant liking to the Dashwoods (one assumes she's not overly particular, which will be borne out), and she wants to spend time with them and know them better. She invites them to take a house in Town, probably not thinking about the financial implications of that at all. No way the Dashwoods can afford any house in Town (although perhaps they might swing lodgings, but that's a moot point), let alone one in such a posh neighborhood.

She later invites them to visit their country home, Cleveland, at Christmas time. The Dashwoods decline (again) because they simply don't want to go (same reason they truly decline the London proposition), not because they don't want to be away at Christmas time. Christmas was not nearly the "time for family" that it's become in the years since the Regency, and it was not unusual for people to go visiting during the holidays; in fact, it was rather a common course of action.

She then declares that she has heard in Town that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged - although truly, her mother hinted at it in a letter, and nobody has confirmed it for her. She ran into Colonel Brandon and asked him about it, but he didn't actually answer her inquiry - indeed, I rather expect that the proper way of characterizing what has occurred is that Colonel Brandon has heard about the engagement in Town, and not the other way around.

3. Charlotte Palmer acts within the bounds of propriety. Even though she's knocked up, she offers to chaperon Elinor and Marianne in London if their mother doesn't want to go out. Her offer is based on her knowledge that Mrs Dashwood hasn't been a widow for a full year yet, and while the deepest mourning period would have been considered over, it was common for some widows to stay out of society functions for a full year. Charlotte is aware, however, that she can only chaperon up until the point where she is confined - meaning until she goes into labor or has to take to her bed for some pregnancy-related reason.


Mr Palmer is a curmudgeon, but he often speaks the truth.

Although often described as 'comical' or 'droll' by his wife, Mr John Palmer is generally unpleasant within the book. That said, his character is actually 'comical' or 'droll' to most readers. He's grumpy because it rains, finds his (admittedly chatty) wife annoying, and resents not having something to do indoors to while away the time (besides reading his newspaper, which he enjoys, or engaging with other people, which he only likes on his own terms).

1. He calls Sir John "stupid," probably meaning that he's in need of common sense, and not that he's actually unintelligent. We are meant to infer that Mr Palmer is a plain-speaker, and not necessarily that he's unuterrably rude, even though that's an interpretation one is free to make. We've all spent time with Sir John already, and we know he can be as high-spirited and chatty as Mrs Palmer and that, although good-natured, he's lacking in seriousness.

2. He's stuck with Charlotte. It's hard to remain completely unhappy with Mr Palmer when he starts correcting his wife about Willoughby's home at Combe Magna (that first word is pronounced as if it were COOM, btw), because it doesn't take much to see that Charlotte has little idea what she's talking about - not that she lets that stop her, of course.

3. He then calls Mrs Jennings "low-bred", and Charlotte calls him out for being rude. He doesn't apologize, exactly, but he displays his complete lack of understanding of how other people might perceive him. And Mrs Jennings, bless her, doesn't take offense - she laughs at him and says my favorite line from this chapter: ''"Ay, you may abuse me as you please," said the good-natured old lady, "you have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you."

Two things: First, as we will see later in the book (through implication), Mrs Jennings is in fact not high-bred; her husband made his fortune in trade, and her daughters were able to "catch" well-positioned husbands because they were wealthy. So there's some truth to Mr Palmer's statement. Second, an explanation of the term "whip hand": it's the hand holding the whip while driving a coach, the one perceived as holding all the power. Mrs Jennings is saying she's the one with the advantage here, since now that Mr Palmer has married Charlotte, he's stuck with her and she's no longer Mrs Jennings's problem. Bless.

4. He is actually mannerly (in his way) toward the Dashwood sisters. He's clearly not shy about correcting or opposing his wife when she is wrong or when he disagrees with her. So when she invites them to Cleveland and asks him if he doesn't "long for them to come to Cleveland", he doesn't deny it. Instead, he gives something close to a ringing endorsement to the idea. And when Charlotte later says that he's quite taken with the Misses Dashwood, it seems unlikely that she's wrong. Although she is singularly amused by her husband's manners (proving the old adage that there's a lid for every pot), she is probably not mistaken in her assessment that he likes the Dashwoods, and that will later be borne out.


Elinor's opinion.

As readers we are meant to find Mr Palmer slightly off-putting, and I daresay most readers do, even though we understand why he doesn't enjoy meaningless conversation with frivolous people. The two things that keep him comical are, in my opinion, that he mostly limits his curmudgeonly comments to other comical characters who are essentially foolish, so his lack of patience is somewhat understandable, and that we have Elinor's insight into the fact that he's not nearly as awful as he makes himself out to be.

Dudes, I have an uncle just like that. He refers to himself as "the grump", and he's really fond of his rep as a bit of a curmudgeon. Underneath that? SUCH a nice guy. Would do anything for you. Just wants to be left alone to read his books and listen to his opera CDs and such without being constantly pestered by people, and once upon a time my aunt and cousins were the queen and princesses of pester. Hence the development of the reputation of which he's so proud.

Same goes for Elinor, whose observations we are privy to - she notes that he's married to a very silly woman (shades of Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice!), but that the reason for his acting in the way he does is out of a sense of inferiority/desire to be perceived as superior. Way to go, Dr Freud Miss Austen, explaining this sort of psychological impulse so very well.


Willoughby is a Whig

Charlotte explains that Mr Palmer doesn't call on Willoughby overly much, despite them living in the same county and despite Mr Palmer's Parliamentary aspirations, because Willoughby belongs to the opposing party. As we've already been able to ascertain from other things Mrs Palmer has said that her husband is a Tory, this makes Willoughby a Whig - and I am sorry to tell you that this does not bode well for him. Austen and her entire family were staunch Tories. However, Austen really didn't care for the Prince Regent with his extravagant lifestyle and his loose morals and his treatment (some would say mistreatment) of his wife - as well as his tendency to pal around with noted Whigs. I'm just saying, Willoughby's being a Whig doesn't seem to be an issue for Elinor, but I can assure you it is not perceived as a positive by Jane Austen.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quoteskimming

Readers, forgive me, for I have sinned: It's been quite some time since my last quoteskimming post, and I aim to be better about it.

First up, an excerpt from An Appeal to Poetry Editors by Robert Lee Brewer over at Poetic Asides, in which he calls into question at least four editorial practices that he'd like to see stop:

No Note
First, there's the case of editors who don't include any sort of note--even a form letter--with rejected poems. I totally understand if you can't afford to print up form rejection letters, but surely you at least have a pen that can write something on the poems. The word NO would probably convey your meaning.

No note gives poets a false sense of hope. For instance, they may think, "Hey, there was no rejection included, so maybe...maybe they liked what I sent?"

Don't laugh. Poets are a hopeful people.

Second, just when you think there's nothing new under the sun, something turns up. Like a new species of butterfly, or this article about Jane Austen's poor spelling and punctuation. Having read transcribed versions of all her known letters, and having seen some original documents, I was aware that Austen's letters contain spelling errors (she was notoriously bad at the "I before E" rule, for instance, even as an adult), erratic capitalization of nouns, and unusual punctuation.

In advance of the release of digitized versions of her original correspondence and other papers, the news has broken about her irregular spelling and grammar - and about the editorial work done in the second two novels published during her lifetime, Mansfield Park and Emma, which were "cleaned up" by William Gifford. Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of the English language and literature faculty at Oxford University, has done an extensive study of Austen's writing style and concludes two things:

1. Some of the typos and irregular punctuation in the first editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice that have long been blamed on sloppy typesetters might in fact be the result of lax (or nonexistent) editing. Many of the "errors" in the text are similar to Austen's writing style in her correspondence and other known documents, so it seems they may have set it based on the "fair copy" given them by the author.

2. Some of what got altered by Gifford diminishes Austen's forward-looking genius, according to Sutherland:

"Does it make her less of a genius? I don't think so. Indeed, I think it makes her more interesting, and a much more modern and innovative writer than had been thought.

In particular, her use of dashes to heighten the emotional impact of what she is writing is striking: you have to wait for Virginia Woolf to see anything comparable."
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

5 entertaining things

1. M and I saw RED: Retired, Extremely Dangerous on Wednesday, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We each gave it a thumb's up, and probably a 4 out of 5 rating. Guns! Explosions! Your favorite award-winning actors looking amazing & acting cool!

The TV spot says it has the best cast in an action/comedy ever and, having seen the movie, I believe it could legitimately support that claim. First off it has FOUR Academy Award winners in it (Borgnine, Freeman, Mirren, and Dreyfuss) along with Oscar nominee Malkovich. Allow me to list for you, in something close to their order of appearance, the awesomeness that is this cast.:

Bruce Willis This is his best role in this vein since the first Die Hard, imo, and I am a big-time fan of Willis in this sort of role. Manages to seem real, convey a sense of calm control, and manages his stunts with panache. The one in the trailer below, stepping out of the spinning car, looks AMAZING on screen, although I understand it was CGI. A true man's man, he finds many uses for duct tape. Total suave badass.

Mary-Louise Parker Starts as a corporate drone with a rich fantasy life; turns out to be relatively badass. I appreciated that she didn't develop amazing skills the way Cameron Diaz's character did in Knight and Day, even while liking that Diaz did it. Her chemistry with Willis worked for me, her interrogation-room scene with Urban was completely satisfying, and she worked extremely well as the viewer's proxy in the strange world presented in the movie.

Karl Urban Described in the movie as "about 6'1, cute hair". Totes HAWT. Works for the CIA; appears to be a true "company man", but is obviously a family man as well. Even hotter with his own short, dark hair than with Eomer's blond locks. Complete and total badass.

Ernest Borgnine Possibly my favorite cameo appearance this year.

Morgan Freeman Both of my children persist in calling him "God" from prior roles. Plays a low-key retiree who nevertheless manages to be completely badass.

John Malkovich Quoth M: "John Malkovich makes this movie" - and really, isn't that true of so many of his roles? Nobody does paranoid badass like John Malkovich, who totally steals nearly every scene he's in.

Brian Cox Played a Russian named Ivan Simonov with a shared, antagonistic history with several of our CIA favorites. "Gas! I smell gas!" was our favorite line of his, but he was a sexy, subversive badass.

Helen Mirren SMOKIN' hot - M and I agreed on that point. She is completely and totally awesome in this role. Complete and total (sexy-hott) badass.

Richard Dreyfuss Can anyone do pushy, overbearing and slightly annoying like Dreyfuss? I don't think so.

Julian McMahon did a creditable job as Vice President Stanton. Quoth M: "he was in CHARMED!" *wonders if he likes being known for that role*





2. Mark at Mark Reads Harry Potter has gotten to Chapter 28 of The Deathly Hallows. I may have stayed up until 5 a.m. this morning finishing my re-read of it. *guzzles more tea* Once I hit Chapter 23, I couldn't bear to put the book down. I have no idea how Mark is managing to stick to his one-chapter-at-a-time reviews. I am also, as previously noted, already excited for the midnight showing of the movie, to which I already have tickets. Note: the first midnight show is not yet sold out. I rather suspect people aren't aware that tickets are already on sale.

3. The Phillies are still alive in the World Series. Game 6 is in Philadelphia tonight. I'll be hoping the Phils win.

4. I won't be watching any (or much) of the Phillies game because I'm going to the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey to see the up-and-coming Philly-area band Sexoffice. My friend Lisa's son is the drummer, and I know from having seen his School of Rock gigs once upon a time that Ethan has mad skillz. Also, he's one of S's friends, and she told me when they were only in 6th grade what talent he had - and she was right. Heck, he's played Lollapalooza already, and he's not out of high school just yet!

I'm not certain their MySpace account is up to date, but you can hear four or five of their songs over at at their Facebook page.


5. Tomorrow night, I'm seeing MUSE in concert! Yes, again. When I got my check from tiger tales books for At the Boardwalk, I treated myself to tickets to see MUSE at the Prudential Center in Newark. Tickets were pretty inexpensive, actually, and I'm pretty excited to see the band again. And METRIC is opening, which makes me that much happier - LOVE Metric! I'm taking hubby along. Here's hoping he doesn't hate all of it.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 19

The chapter opens on Edward Ferrars, martyr extraordinaire: I love it here, hate everywhere else. I MUST THEREFORE GO ANYWHERE ELSE BUT HERE!

Elinor reluctantly chalks all this up to his mother, finding herself seeking to make excuses for Edward's diffidence just as Marianne needed to find excuses for Willoughby's sudden absence. She continues to believe that it's her hair in Edward's ring.

And Mrs Dashwood tells Edward (somewhat patronizingly, I feel) that he might be better off if he had a bit of a backbone profession. Edward agrees with her, as it turns out, and tells us a great deal about the professions that were considered "acceptable" and "appropriate" for gentlemen in his day, and why none of them worked out for him:



"I do assure you," he replied, "that I have long thought on this point, as you think now. It has been, and is, and probably will always be a heavy misfortune to me, that I have had no necessary business to engage me, no profession to give me employment, or afford me any thing like independence. But unfortunately my own nicety, and the nicety of my friends, have made me what I am, an idle, helpless being. We never could agree in our choice of a profession. I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. The law was allowed to be genteel enough; many young men, who had chambers in the Temple, made a very good appearance in the first circles, and drove about town in very knowing gigs. But I had no inclination for the law, even in this less abstruse study of it, which my family approved. As for the navy, it had fashion on its side, but I was too old when the subject was first started to enter it--and, at length, as there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing. I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."
After Edward leaves, Elinor spends time drawing and acting normally, unlike a certain someone else. *cough*Marianne*cough* We're told that Elinor doesn't reduce her own grief this way, but manages not to have it increased by her family tiptoeing around her on eggshells.

Marianne, meanwhile, concludes (wrongly) that Elinor must not give a fig about Edward, since she's not weeping and rending her garments. In fact, Marianne makes it all about herself: Let down my Elinor's lack of melodrama, Marianne praises her own self for nevertheless loving Elinor even though Elinor is so very deficient/defective. Oh, Marianne - you probably think this song is about you.

In fact, Austen lets us know that Elinor thinks of Edward quite often - and her thoughts and opinions vary, depending on her mood and what memory she's pulling forth. Sometimes she approves of his behaviour, sometimes she condemns it. That she remains in doubt as to his true feelings is plainly stated.

The Palmers are here! HOUSE fans rejoice!

A few days after Edward leaves, Sir John turns up at the house with Lady Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, as well as a couple whom Elinor doesn't yet know.

I love how very eager Sir John is to see Elinor. The party is walking to the front door, but he spies Elinor through the sitting room window - just a few feet away - and comes to the window to say hello and tell her who he's brought along. Meanwhile, the party is arriving at the door so they can knock and the servant can open the door, allow them in to the front hall, then announce them to Elinor. I love that Sir John has decided to form the third wall of a triangle through his actions (both my shortening the announcement/introduction and by literally walking that third side).

Mrs Jennings, bless her, can't contain her own excitement and comes crashing into the garden as well to speak through the window. Gotta love their enthusiasm, even if they show a bit of disregard for the proprieties. So much so that Mrs Jennings is blathering on about her surprise at her other daughter's and son-in-law's arrival through the window as Lady Middleton and the Palmers are admitted to the sitting room by the servant, and Elinor has to turn away from her to curtesy, etc.

Mrs (Charlotte) Palmer is her sister's opposite - short and plump and far more earthy, with her mother's good nature. She smiles and laughs and chatters at all times, but her husband, Mr Palmer, is grave and antisocial, preferring to read the newspaper rather than to engage in polite conversation. He determinedly avoids listening to his wife, who finds his behaviour funny, rather than taking offense.

Mrs Jennings makes open reference to Mrs Palmer's pregnancy, which is decidedly a faux pas in that society, especially as things were becoming more conservative when it came to sex and breeding. During earlier, earthier Georgian times, talk about pregnancy and sex was pretty open, but as the 18th century came to a close and the 19th started, British society became more priggish about those topics (a trend which continued into the Victorian era).

Lady Middleton, scandalized by her mother's insensitivity in mentioning Charlotte's upcoming confinement, asks Mr Palmer if there's any news in the paper, to which he replies "No, none at all". So droll, our Mr Palmer - and so determined not to involve himself in inane parlor chatter.

I love how Marianne complains about having to go to the big house for dinner the following day - as if being out and about socially (and fed for free) is an imposition. Elinor reasonably responds that Sir John et al. are merely being civil and sociable. And we are left to wonder what is to happen next.

The next S&S post will be on Monday, but I'll have other things over the weekend.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 18

First off, what does NOT happen in this chapter:





Heh. Yeah, that's what Andrew Davies concocted for the 2008 BBC version. Remember how Darcy went for a swim in his knickers and then turned up in dishabille? Here we have Edward Ferrars, known milquetoast, manfully chopping wood in dishabille whilst uttering sensitive, taunting comments. UNF!

What really happens in Chapter 18:

Elinor wonders what's up with Captain Mood Swing:

Elinor saw with great uneasiness the low spirits of her friend. His visit afforded her but a very partial satisfaction, while his own enjoyment in it appeared so imperfect. It was evident that he was unhappy; she wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished her by the same affection which once she had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of his preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner towards her contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one.
Poor Elinor.

The picturesque: what it is, how it's used here

Then Edward comes in and tweaks Marianne about ideas of "the picturesque", a popular topic of conversation in Austen's time and in her books. We've talked about the picturesque (and William Gilpin's writings on the topic) before, last year when we read Northanger Abbey. A summary of it can be found as part of this post, but as it is a quite lengthy post, I've copied and pasted the part I wrote about the picturesque here:

The idea of the picturesque as an aesthetic ideal comes from William Gilpin's Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770, but did not truly become a talking point in British society until the mid-1780s. The image to the left is Gilpin's picturesque portrait of Tintern Abbey (yes, the same place that Wordsworth referred to in "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798", published by Wordsworth and Coleridge as part of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and marking the start of the English Romantic movement in poetry, later taken up by others including Byron).

The notion of the picturesque ideal was part of the emerging Romanticism of the late 18th century, and dovetails nicely with the Romantic movement in poetry and in, say, Gothic novels. Austen is known to have read and admired Gilpin's work. The picturesque represented a middle ground between the rational extremes of "beauty" and "the sublime" – two ideals that came out of the Enlightenment. The picturesque was a term "expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture", or so Gilpin wrote in an earlier work from 1768, his Essay on Prints.

We are told in Northanger Abbey that Catherine is unfamiliar with this notion, whereas Henry and Eleanor Tilney both know and discuss it at length. We are told that "the little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day." This leads the narrator of Northanger Abbey to a very funny bit of musing on the nature of forming attachments. In Sense and Sensibility, Edward is using some of the language of the picturesque to profess his own ignorance of the idea. It's plain that he knows the ideas, but does not necessarily agree with them, finding them to be a bit pretentious and silly. Rather than saying so plainly - and offending Marianne outright, since she buys into them wholeheartedly - we get his send-up of the idea. Elinor "gets" him; Marianne does not. Edward is funny and enjoys himself, and we all get to laugh along with him as he expresses a preference for straight, tall trees and neat, tidy cottages, rather than gnarled, twisted trees and ramshackle buildings, horrifying Marianne in the process. (Elinor and Edward are practical - Marianne is . . . not. A theme that Austen hammers home in these "Edward visits" chapters, as with the notion of what constitutes a "competence".)

Edward's ring raises a hairy issue

Marianne notices that Edward's wearing a ring containing a coil of hair and comments on it. This isn't mourning jewelry - where a clipping of hair is set into jewelry as a memento of a beloved deceased person. It's kind of like a promise ring - a clipping of hair (like the one Willoughby took from Marianne) is set into a piece of jewelry so that the wearer has a reminder of their beloved quite literally at hand during separations.

Marianne and Elinor have both noticed that the hair in Edward's ring is the same color as Elinor's. And Edward has turned scarlet and glanced at Elinor during this discussion, which leads them to conclude that it is Elinor's. Marianne believes that Elinor and Edward have a secret relationship and that Elinor has given her hair to Edward (project much, Marianne?) and Elinor thinks he has swiped it somehow.

Teasing

Goodness, but I love Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, both of whom are fit to bust with their desire to torment Elinor over Edward Ferrars, whose name begins with an F. Instead, they settle for inviting them to tea that night, and to dine tomorrow. Meanwhile, the real teasing is attempted by Edward, who, having heard mention of Willoughby and seeing Marianne's blushes, seeks to tweak Marianne - only to be met by a heartfelt comment on her part. I love the closing of this chapter: "[H]ad he not imagined it to be a joke for the good of her acquaintance in general, founded only on a something or a nothing between Mr. Willoughby and herself, he would not have ventured to mention it."

Gotta love Austen's drollness.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spirit Day

Like so many writers, I work at home. And like a lot of people, I sometimes fall out of touch with the world, which is how the observance of Spirit Day eluded me until just the last hour or so. I stand as an ally with LGBTQ people everywhere, whatever their age. I am thinking especially of the following young men who took themselves out of the game because they didn't realize things would get better: Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and all the other children we've lost whose names we may not know.



LGBTQ youth in need of immediate help should contact The Trevor Project's 24/7 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Please know that you are not alone. And that things will get better.

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Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 17

Edward accompanies the younger Misses Dashwood back to Barton Cottage, where Mrs Dashwood is delighted (if surprised) to see him. Edward didn't send a message ahead that he was coming, you see, which is rather thoughtless of him, really.

I really appreciate this bit of narration that opens the chapter. The italics were added by me:

Mrs Dashwood was surprised only for a moment at seeing him; for his coming to Barton was, in her opinion, of all things the most natural. Her joy and expression of regard long outlived her wonder. He received the kindest welcome from her; and shyness, coldness, reserve could not stand against such a reception. They had begun to fail him before he entered the house, and they were quite overcome by the captivating manners of Mrs Dashwood. Indeed a man could not very well be in love with either of her daughters, without extending the passion to her; and Elinor had the satisfaction of seeing him soon become more like himself. His affections seemed to reanimate towards them all, and his interest in their welfare again became perceptible. He was not in spirits, however; he praised their house, admired its prospect, was attentive, and kind; but still he was not in spirits. The whole family perceived it, and Mrs Dashwood, attributing it to some want of liberality in his mother, sat down to table indignant against all selfish parents.
We are reminded how very enthusiastic Mrs D can be about seeing people she likes, and you can just picture Edward defrosting as the warmth of her welcome washes over him. I especially like the sentence I added italics to - it makes plain how easy it is to love Mrs Dashwood, but the narrator here also strongly implies that Edward is in love with Elinor. Is it a mistake on Austen's part to put this here when it's never been established as fact, or is it a deliberate choice to tip the reader that this is so when the characters themselves are uncertain? I have no clear answer, but boy, do I hope it's the second.

Throughout this scene, we see that Edward is somewhat lacking in spirits and seems prone to become lost in thought. Marianne's accusation of him being "reserved" at the end of the chapter seem to send him off into a melancholy reverie. Clearly, something is weighing on Edward's mind. I can say for certain that when I first read this chapter, I discounted Austen's representation of a pensive Edward and was quick to accept Mrs Dashwood's conclusion that it's all related to his mother, but looking at it again now, it seems plain that there's something else going on besides anything to do with his mother.

I especially like the conversation about money in the middle of the chapter, which begins with Marianne's question to Edward:

"What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"

"Grandeur has but little," said Elinor, "but wealth has much to do with it."

"Elinor, for shame!" said Marianne, "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."

"Perhaps," said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."

Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end."
First off, a reminder as to what a "competence" is (per the Merriam Webster dictionary): "A sufficiency of means for the necessities and conveniences of life". In other words, it is the minimum amount required for a married couple to support themselves and their family. Marianne claims she needs about two thousand pounds per year as a competence (i.e., just to get by on), whereas Elinor believes that she'd have plenty to get by on (with some to spare) at only half that amount. We shall see if they each get at least what they claim to seek by the end of the book!

Now let us leave Edward to brood a bit until tomorrow, when we get a further hint as to what he may be brooding about.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 16

Marianne overindulges in her grief over Willoughby's departure, her mother refuses to ask if she's actually engaged because Marianne would feel compelled to answer her, and she doesn't want to cause Marianne any further grief by mentioning Willoughby or by "forcing" Marianne to disclose something that she has promised to keep secret (!), and here we are, to the halfway point of this chapter, more or less.

Marianne's insistence on not just being miserable, but on actually doing all the things that will make her the MOST miserable is something to take notice of - it's in keeping with her melodramatic tendencies, which we've already seen plenty of, but it is decidedly something we'll be seeing more of as we go along.

A word about a comment made about Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, because you know I love those two characters. It is easy, with our modern understanding of the word, to think that Austen is only casting aspersions at them in this paragraph:

It was several days before Willoughby's name was mentioned before Marianne by any of her family; Sir John and Mrs Jennings, indeed, were not so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour;--but one evening, Mrs Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,

"We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again...But it may be months, perhaps, before that happens."

"Months!" cried Marianne, with strong surprise. "No--nor many weeks."

Mrs. Dashwood was sorry for what she had said; but it gave Elinor pleasure, as it produced a reply from Marianne so expressive of confidence in Willoughby and knowledge of his intentions.
"Sir John and Mrs Jennings, indeed, were not so nice". Those of you who read the "August at the Abbey" posts about Northanger Abbey last year may recall a discussion of the word "nice" from the post where Catherine and the Tilneys take a walk together, in which I said that according to Dr. Johnson's dictionary, "'Nice' meant 'accurate, scrupulous, or delicate' – more to do with things being neat or tidy or precise or particular, and not at all to do with being pleasing or agreeable". I rather suspect that Austen is using it in both senses: She intends it seriously in its Johnsonian sense (Sir John and Mrs. Jennings are not behaving with delicacy, nor would we expect them to), and somewhat teasingly in its more modern sense - it would be perceived by Marianne as an unkindness.

We also see from this passage that Marianne is quite certain that Willoughby will be back extremely soon. (Imagine how much more miserable she'd have been otherwise - as if there were somehow lower depths of misery for her to plumb!)

About a week after Willoughby's departure, Marianne finally deigns to go walking with her sisters, and what should they espy but a man! On horseback! Oh joy! Oh rapture! It is Willoughby! It must be! Marianne practically races toward the lane where the man is, so Elinor (bless her) tears off, too, because although she's pretty sure it's NOT Willoughby, she doesn't want Marianne to look like a lunatic for rushing off on her own toward whomever it is. And when Elinor figures out who it is, she probably didn't mind rushing at all, since it is EDWARD FERRARS! (Dun dun dun . . . )

Edward is there and acting dutiful, muttering about being in Devonshire for a fortnight (two weeks) but staying at Plymouth (whence departed the Pilgrims), and saying he'd left Norland a month ago.

One of my favorite lines from Sense & Sensibility is Elinor's, the last in this section:

"And how does dear, dear Norland look?" cried Marianne.

"Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, "probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."

"Oh," cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."

"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."
Marianne is so forthright with Edward that she tells him she doesn't care for Sir John and the rest of his family, which is a pretty bit gaffe on her part, manners-wise. Marianne gets so vexed with Edward's observance of the proprieties and his lack of swooning behaviour toward Elinor that she treats him "as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection." I suspect that's rather less warmly than he actually OUGHT to be treated, but closer to what is proper.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Got Magic?

I do!

There in today's mail was my contributor copy of Mountain Magic: Spellbinding Tales of Appalachia, an anthology edited by Brian J. Hatcher, which includes my poem, "Margaret Rose". It's a lovely book, just as lovely as it looks as if it might be from the picture you can see here on the right.

Here's the first stanza:

She loved her William – black his hair,
His hands so soft, his face so fair.
She sang her love; she swore her life
Was nought if she were not his wife.


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 15

Let me say that what I perceive as Willoughby's sarcasm pisses me off. Confused by that? Allow me to 'splain.

Mrs Dashwood allows Marianne to stay home alone while Mrs D., Elinor and Margaret head to Barton Park to visit (the insipid) Lady Middleton. Mrs D figures that Marianne is going to spend time alone with Willoughby, and she's employing the Regency version of "don't ask, don't tell" - she's turning a blind eye to the impropriety, figuring that they are either already engaged or about to become engaged.

Turns out that Mrs D was right about the Willoughby visit, but wrong about the reason. Willoughby has shown up to announce that he's taking off for London. He (somewhat crassly) mentions the financial situation between himself and his aunt, Mrs Smith, and basically says that he's being sent away. Stat. And Mr "that Brandon sure is a killjoy, I'll bet he doesn't have a good reason since he won't tell us why he's going away" Willoughby doesn't really give any good explanation either. Just says he's headed to London, adding "and by way of exhilaration I am now come to take my farewell of you."

I was terribly curious as to whether the word exhileration meant something different in Austen's time than it does in ours, since that sometimes happens (think, for instance, of the word "nice", which now means things like "good" and "kind" but used to mean "particular"). Here's what Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (the go-to dictionary in Austen's day) says:

EXHILERA'TION [from exhilerate]
1. The act of giving gaiety.
2. The state of being enlivened.
That's right. Willoughby claims he's there to provide them with gaiety, after Marianne has just bolted from the room in tears. Dear Sir: You are not funny. As Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo once observed, "Sarcasm is the refuge of a shallow mind." Sincerely, Kelly Fineman However, you've got to hand it to Austen here, because she is a bit funny here. You've got the overly dramatic Marianne in tears, and Willoughby apparently trying to paste a smile on while being a bit of a jerk, really. You can bet there's little she likes more than messing with her characters, and all these characters are messed around and good here.

Sometimes characters mean exactly what they say

Willoughby basically allows that he has been thrown out of Allenham, makes clear that he is not coming back anytime soon, rejects Mrs Dashwood's attempt at inviting him for a visit, and shifts from maintaining his attempt at a happy face/good manners to this extremely blunt statement:

"It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy."

I will now observe that sometimes, it pays to take the statements of men at face value. I urge those of you reading this book for the first time to assume that he's telling the truth; I urge those of you who've read this before to look hard at these sentences and take them at face value.

Summary of the conversation between Mrs Dashwood and Elinor

Willoughby bolts, and Mrs D leaves the room in order to compose herself - after all, emotional outbursts were not something to be encouraged (part of that "keeping a stiff upper lip" mentality, and interesting, I think, to see it at work within an extremely intimate family circle). She returns with an explanation of Willoughby's conduct that makes perfect sense - Mrs Smith learned of his affection for Marianne and disapproves, so he's being sent off in order to separate him from Marianne. Mrs D goes ahead and proactively attacks Elinor for imputing any fault at all to Willoughby for his conduct.

Mrs D: Why are you so negative? I SAY THE GLASS IS ALWAYS HALF FULL, DEBBY DOWNER!

Elinor: But . . .

Mrs D: Keep your but to yourself Elinor!

Elinor: He was NOT ACTING IN CHARACTER!

Mrs D: You can't claim he's secretive now when you wanted him to act with more discretion. NO TAKEBACKS!

Elinor: I just want proof of their engagement. Neither of them has said a syllable about it.

Mrs D: Like Marianne before me, I sense his feelings and therefore need no syllables. He loves her, ergo they are engaged. Ipso facto. Quod erat demonstrandum. Et cetera, et cetera.

Elinor: This walking the walk thing is not enough - I insist that they talk the talk. Also, I'm pretty certain that you do not know Latin.

Mrs D: You are an evil thinker of evil thoughts.

Elinor: A little healthy skepticism never hurt anyone.

Mrs D: I will now ask the $20,000 question: "Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side to create alarm? can he be deceitful?"

Elinor: I'd love to be able to say for certain that he's on the up & up, but I can't.

Mrs D: I hereby declare them engaged in secret with their marriage now delayed due to new circumstances until someone says otherwise.

Marianne: *sobs uncontrollably* (ON PURPOSE) (ALL NIGHT)

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 14

Today's summary is short because in this mid-length chapter, precious little happens.

Oh Mrs. Jennings! I love you and your babbling about possible Things Gone Wrong for Colonel Brandon. And how each and every completely different one seems equally probable to her.

Meanwhile, Elinor is wondering about a different sort of mystery. She's pretty sure that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged, and she can't figure out why they aren't announcing it. She wonders so very much, in fact, at why no announcement has been made when neither of them seems particularly secretive or bound by convention, that she begins to suspect that maybe Marianne is not engaged to Willoughby, so she doesn't want to ask.

Still, Willoughby spends nearly all his time with Marianne, most of it at Barton Cottage. He seems so attached to Marianne and her family that his attachment extends to their residence, and he opposes any suggestions of change/improvements and declares his affection for all of them (with particular focus on Marianne).

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A.S. Byatt in Philadelphia

Last night, my friend Lisa and I went to the Free Library in Philadelphia for a major author event: A.S. Byatt was there to talk about her writing, including Possession (one of the best and best-crafted books I've ever read EVER) and The Children's Book. The format worked well - she was interviewed by Paula Marantz Cohen, who is, like Byatt, both an academic and an author.

A.S. Byatt was interesting, opinionated, charming and intelligent, but not at all full of herself. She shared interesting personal information about herself without getting too intimate, and she was entirely likable. In fact, my author crush deepened into true author love, I must say.

She had interesting things to say about the differences between American and British literature, including her opinion that women authors in England were never actually at a disadvantage until the past 30-40 years, when gender studies really kicked up and they started claiming there was a bias; she does think that America has relatively few great female authors (she named Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Willa Cather, and Toni Morrison), although she says American has gobs of outstanding female poets - she credits Emily Dickinson for having demolished any barrier for women poets in this country.

She said that one of the things she learned from writing Possession is that it's more interesting if you write novels from many characters' perspectives, rather than just from one authorial voice. She said that she based Cristobel La Motte's character a bit on Christina Rossetti, but Rossetti was too Christian for Byatt's liking. She said that the poems she wrote as La Motte were a tribute to Emily Dickinson. Randolph Ashe was an amalgam of Robert Browning and Tennyson, with the love letters being based on Browning's correspondence with his wife. That said, his poetry was a bit of early Ezra Pound (which is precisely how it reads, to be honest). True fact: Byatt hadn't written poetry before she wrote the book, and she didn't initially intend for the poems to be in the book, but realized that they were integral, since part of the point of the book is that the individual artist may die, leaving lots of unknowns, but their work lives on without needing to know that. This is true even though if you read the book, you conclude that knowing about the poets' lives brings new meaning to their work (which she acknowledged was a takeaway of the book, even though it was the opposite of her intention - she said the questioner (open Q&A at the end) had "caught her out" on that point and identified where she'd failed!).

She never bases a character on a single person, because then she feels too constrained in writing about them. She said that her books always begin with a small idea, then somehow snowball into larger things. The Children's Book started with an idea about the children of writers who write for children, and some article or statistic she'd seen that said the children of children's writers have a higher suicide rate than those of other sorts of stories. (EEP! I hope this is not true!) She started with an idea of Kenneth Grahame, whose son killed himself, and E. Nesbitt, who wrote hundreds of books and had lots of children, some of whom were not her own, and the idea of Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. She was surprised to discover that E. Nesbitt was a founding member of the Fabian Society, and wondered how those politics squared with her being a children's writer. Byatt then decided to add in some Grimm fairy tales - being German, she decided there would be Germans, and eventually, she decided there would be German puppets. It all moved somewhat organically, at least based on her story, and she was surprised to find that her story's timeline ended up with World War I, saying that since WWI was a surprise to so many people, it worked well that it was a surprise in her writing.

If you get a chance to hear her speak, by all means, take it. She was brilliant and funny and inspiring and realistic all at the same time, even when she says things about how she believes life is ultimately tragic, and utopia is impossible, and therefore she believes that if you hit a good patch, you ought to be grateful, but you shouldn't expect it to last.

I'm looking forward to finishing the stories in Little Black Book of Stories*, and to reading The Children's Book. She signed both of them as well as my copy of Possession. *The first story in the Little Black Book is called "The Thing in the Forest" and it's horrifying and perfect and perfectly horrifying all at once. I told her I thought it was a piece of "creepy perfection" as she was signing my book, and she said that it was actually really disturbing to write, but that the more scary it got, the more fun she had. I know several of you who will understand that sort of author glee extremely well!

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Publication News

Ever wonder what my poems for adults are like? If so, wonder no more - you can read three of my poems at the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook, in Issue 21. They are "Shelling Peas", "Lessons I Wish I Could Share With My Teenage Daughter", and "Us".

The first poem is written in 7 parts, each one a separate reflection/image/observation that occurred to me as I shelled peas a few years back. The second is a form of Italianate sonnet, written in iambic pentameter and rhymed ABBAABBACDCDCD, and is exactly what the title proclaims it to be. The third ("Us") comes from one of my weekly writing exercises - this particular one was chosen by Angela De Groot from Bonnie Neubauer's wonderful writing inspiration book, The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing - you had to list two magazine titles, two book names and two song titles, then incorporate them in your writing. (The book anticipates that you will write short stories - I usually write poems instead.) And yes, "Us" was one of my magazine titles. That leaves one more magazine title, two book titles, and two song titles to find. (The song titles are conveniently labelled as such - one song and one book title are hiding, however.) The poem is not autobiographical per se, in that none of it ever actually happened, yet there are elements that are true as truth. Funny how that happens, yes?

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