Search This Blog

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

New Audio-book!


 I'm thrilled to announce that A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England will be released as an audio-book on 6 April! The book is narrated by Christine Rendel, and you can listen to an MP3 sample of the book here on Tantor Media

The audio-book is also available to pre-order here on Amazon. If you purchase the Kindle version of the book, then you can buy the audio-book at a specially reduced price - or you can get a free copy of the audio-book with an Amazon Audible trial


I do hope you enjoy listening to - and reading - my book!

Illustration (right). Evening dress, Ackermann's Repository, March 1816. Author's collection. 


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Jane Austen In Early 1816

Early in 1816, Jane Austen's brother Henry retrieved her manuscript 'Susan', an early version of Northanger Abbey, from a publisher named Crosby, who had bought it from Jane for £10 thirteen years earlier but never published it. It's thought that Jane revised it during this year, and gave her heroine a new name - Catherine Morland. However, Jane may have felt that her novel was now rather out of date, because although she wrote an advertisement for the work, it was not published until after her death. 

The second edition of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park was published by John Murray sometime in February 1816. (There are some fascinating documents relating to Austen in the John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland). The first edition, published by Egerton, had sold out fairly quickly but had not been reprinted, so Jane must have been hopeful that a more well-known publisher would help 'puff' her book. 

However, in the event, Mansfield Park did not sell at all well, and Murray had to reduce the price. You can see some readers' opinions of Mansfield Park and Emma (published in December 1815) collected by Jane Austen here

Image from the author's collection: a 'carriage dress' or 'morning dress' made from 'finest dark blue ladies' cloth' and head-dress 'a la mode de Paris', Ackermann's Repository, January 1816. 


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Bridgerton Begins!

It's always nice to see a new Regency-era romp - 'Bridgerton' begins on Christmas Day on Netflix. Looks like some smashing frocks are in store for us - I will reserve judgment on the story till I've seen it!  



Monday, 24 February 2020

Emma 2020: A Review


I went to see the new adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma with some trepidation, as I was very disappointed by the recent TV series 'Sanditon' (and I know that many other Austen fans were, too).

Well fear not, ladies (and gentlemen), you can visit your local cinema and watch Emma, safe in the knowledge that the movie is true to the spirit of Austen's novel.

This is not to say that it gives a completely faithful recreation of the novel - it doesn't - but I hope to whet your appetite without too many spoilers.

As you would expect, the movie opens with the marriage of Emma's governess Miss Taylor, and Emma's 'gentle sorrow' at losing her friend.

Then we have Mr Knightley's first appearance! I was initially worried by Mr Knightley's 'artistically necessary' scene - I thought, please no, not another Sanditon - but once our leading man dons his breeches, the movie soon hits its stride.

Johnny Flynn gives Mr Knightley a less stately air than in the novel - more the Romantic hero - but none the worse for that! He still acts as Emma's moral guide as she arrogantly rearranges everyone's love-lives. 

Emma Woodhouse is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who does a good job of conveying Emma's snobbiness and the high-handedness of her dealings with Harriet Smith. Bill Nighy plays a surprisingly sprightly Mr Woodhouse, but there are some good gags re his fussiness which I won't spoil for you.

Before seeing the movie, I'd had qualms when I heard that Miranda Hart was playing Miss Bates. (I feared a reprise of Alison Steadman's immensely irritating Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). But her performance is very nicely judged, and we feel her genuine shock when Emma is rude to her at Box Hill.

Mr and Mrs Elton are cringe-worthy, as they should be - Mr Elton does seem to be channeling Mr Collins at times.

The 'detective story' bits of Emma are rather underplayed. Frank Churchill is primarily the focus of Mr Knightley's jealousy, of course, but I felt we do not see enough of Jane Fairfax

There are some nicely stroppy female characters. Isabella Knightley is quite pushy, and by the end of the movie, Harriet Smith upbraids Emma very spiritedly for pushing her into refusing Robert Martin.

John Knightley does not feature quite as much as I would have liked, but perhaps this was to keep the main focus on George Knightley and Emma.

The costumes are gorgeous - and as far as I can tell very accurate - for the ladies' and men's fashions and hairstyles. Emma's frocks and bonnets in particular look as if they were copied straight from a fashion print from any of the contemporary magazines.

The sets and locations are beautifully shot and presented.  A couple of caveats - why was the Bates' supposedly humble home hung with Flemish-style tapestries? And - perhaps because of the cinema's sound system? - sometimes the 'background' farmyard noises were so loud, one wonders if Regency sheep carried megaphones!

The movie has lots of very funny comic visual touches - although in my view one was rather out of place during Knightley's proposal to Emma (!) - but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Anyway, do go and see it, and judge for yourself. I feel this is the best Austen adaptation I've seen for some time.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Out Now!

I'm very pleased to announce that Vignettes is now available in paperback! It's available exclusively from Amazon - here in the UK, and here in the USA. I do hope you enjoy reading it!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Happy Christmas!

On the left is my latest acquisition - a lovely morning dress fashion plate from La Belle AssemblĂ©e for December 1812. 

I hope to have some exciting news for you early next year. 

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Monday, 16 December 2019

A Visit to Blaise Castle

Blaise Castle
"Blaize Castle!" cried Catherine. "What is that?"
"The finest place in England—worth going fifty miles at any time to see."
"What, is it really a castle, an old castle?"
"The oldest in the kingdom."
"But is it like what one reads of?"
"Exactly—the very same."
"But now really—are there towers and long galleries?"
"By dozens."
"Then I should like to see it..."

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland, who loves 'horrid' novels, longs to explore the wonders of Blaize (Blaise) Castle and 'all the happiness which its walls could supply—the happiness of a progress through a long suite of lofty rooms, exhibiting the remains of magnificent furniture, though now for many years deserted—the happiness of being stopped in their way along narrow, winding vaults, by a low, grated door; or even of having their lamp, their only lamp, extinguished by a sudden gust of wind, and of being left in total darkness.' 


Blaise Castle House Museum
However, she was completely misled by that sad 'rattle' John Thorpe. Far from being an 'old' castle, the Gothic edifice they planned to visit was only about thirty years old when Jane Austen was composing her novel.

The Castle, built in 1766 by estate owner Thomas Farr, was described as 'paltry' in size, but a 'very pleasing object' by Charles Heath in 1819 (Historical and Descriptive Accounts... of Chepstow, 6th edition).

Farr's manor house was replaced in the early 1790s with a beautiful neoclassical house (now Blaise Castle House Museum) designed by William Paty for new owner John Scandrett Harford (the elder).


Humphry Repton's view from the House.

Nash's Dairy.
Humphry Repton designed the picturesque views and park for the house, and John Nash added a charming Orangery and thatched Dairy (1804).

 Sadly, the Orangery was looking somewhat neglected when we visited earlier this year.









Blaise Hamlet, a wonderful collection of cottages also designed by John Nash, is just a couple of minutes' walk from the Museum.

 The houses, built in 1812 by George Repton, one of Humphry's sons, are now cared for by the National Trust.

One of Nash's cottages at Blaise Hamlet.