Monday, October 24, 2011

Northanger Abbey

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” -- Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey.

It's Gothic Literature this month at The Classics Circuit!!  And my author of choice is . . . Jane Austen!!  You would think after spending five whole days discussing Jane Austen with a bunch of other Janeites would be enough, wouldn't you? Well, I did too (and I do admit I'm just the tiniest bit sick of Sense and Sensibility), but after picking up Northanger Abbey, I'm in love with Austen's works all over again.  

For those who are not familiar, NA is the story of Catherine Morland, a young lady who is neither particularly accomplished or clever -- she grew up something of a tomboy and has really only become fairly pretty rather recently.  She's from a large family and her father is a clergyman living in the country. Mrs. Allen, the childless wife of the local landowner, has befriended her, and invites her to spend several weeks in Bath, where Mr. Allen will be taking the waters for his health.  There Catherine is introduced to some eligible young bachelors and makes some new friends, including Isabella Thorpe, who is coincidentally the sister of John Thorpe, friend and Oxford classmate of Catherine's older brother James. She also befriends Eleanor Tilney, a lovely young lady who happens to be the sister of the handsome Henry Tilney.  Following all this so far?

JJ Feild and Felicity Jones as Henry and Catherine in Northanger Abbey

While in Bath, Catherine attends balls, strolls around the pump room, and discusses shocking and decadent Gothic novels with her friends.  When she is invited to spend time with Eleanor and her family at their home, Northanger Abbey, she jumps at the chance, since it sounds exactly like the sort of thing she's been reading about in her beloved novels -- and the idea of spending more time with Henry is pretty enticing too.  She envisions secret passages, winding staircases, and things that go bump in the night.  Of course, her imagination begins to run away with her and hilarity ensues.  

This is my second read of Northanger Abbey, and quite honestly, I liked it even more this time around.  I read it for the first time several years ago and was unimpressed -- it's one of her earliest works and also one of her shortest, and it's obvious to anyone who's read Austen that her other novels are much more complex and well-developed.   But this time I was really struck by how funny it is!  I saw glimmers of her trademark wit, and it's far more satirical than her other novels.  Pretty impressive for a first book (though it was published posthumously in 1818, it was the first novel she completed, in 1803).  It's not even really that much of a Gothic novel -- our heroine Catherine doesn't even visit the eponymous abbey until the second half of the novel.   

Northanger Abbey is not considered one of Jane Austen's best works, and it's not among her most popular.  But having read it the second time, my only real complaint is that it's too short -- I wanted to spend more time with Catherine and her world. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

JASNA AGM and Some More Good News

So, I haven't posted for over a week -- it's been CRA-ZEE in Karenland.  First of all, I spent most of last week in Ft. Worth at the Jane Austen Society's Annual General Meeting (AGM).  Which was fabulous and I hope to post on it soon, as soon as I can figure out how to upload the photos from my camera, which is not cooperating.

The other big news is that just before I went out of town, I found out that I got a promotion at the library!!! Seriously!!! After working as a Library Aide (also known as a shelver) for several months, I got promoted to full-time Library Assistant!!!  Woo hoo!!  It's still not Librarian yet, but it is full-time so that means I'm one step closer, plus I have lots more responsibilities and I'll get programming experience as well!!  Oh, and paid vacations and all the other great benefits that go along with being a city employee.

Of course this also means that I'll actually have to work full-time -- which will definitely cut in to my reading and blogging time, which is the only drawback.  But as I like to tell my children, that's life in the big city.  And I have to leave my wonderful branch which was full of lovely people, but so far my experience has been that there are many, many lovely people who work in libraries, so I look forward to working with the lovely people at my new branch.  I'll spend next week training at the downtown Central Library then it's off to my new job on Halloween!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Packing for Ft. Worth

I'm almost on my way to visit Ft. Worth, Texas!  I'm a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and this week I'm going to their Annual General Meeting, also known as the AGM.  I didn't get to go last year to the one in Portland, but I went two years ago to the 2009 AGM in Philadelphia and had a wonderful time.
Last time I went with my mother, who can't attend this year, but this time I have two other Texas friends coming with me from our local chapter, so I'll have two roommates.  I'll be spending five days in downtown Ft. Worth meeting other Jane Austen fans, learning English country dancing, playing whist, and attending lectures and seminars about Jane Austen.  I'm such a literature geek, I can hardly wait!

Last time, I naturally packed waaaay too many books in my carryon -- I don't know how I imagined I'd have time to do much reading!  I did actually read two books last time, so I'm cutting back from six books packed last time, to only four.  Hey, I need to have choices!  Here's what I may be bringing with me:

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen -- I recently finished The Annotated Persuasion, which was wonderful.  The theme for this years' AGM is Sense and Sensibility, in honor of the 200th anniversary of its publication.  So of course I'll need my own copy close at hand.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer -- considered by many to be the Queen of Regency Romances, Georgette Heyer wrote more than twenty books set during the Regency period.  One of my book groups is a monthly Jane Austen group, and we have to alternate her works with other related books.  In November we're each going to talk about a different novel by Heyer.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin -- I know, it's the complete opposite of Jane Austen!  But I've been dying to read the second volume after loving the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones.  I've been saving this one, since I want to stretch the series out -- book five was just published, so who knows how long it will take before Martin finishes the next volume?  This is a big fat book, perfect for reading on planes, shuttle buses, etc., because it's lots of very short chapters, which make it easy to pick up and read just a little at a time.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen -- one of my possible reads for the October Classics Circuit -- which will also fulfill my fourth book for the RIP challenge.  

A Warning to the Curious by M. R. James OR The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime -- a couple more choices for the RIP Challenge.  It's always nice to have a book of short stories on hand, for the airport or for a quick read at bedtime -- though ghost stories might not be ideal right before I go to sleep!

And I'm also packing a few extra books about Jane Austen -- there are quite a few authors attending and they'll hopefully be able to sign my books.  But those don't count since I probably won't be reading them, just getting them signed.

I just recounted and I'm up to seven books which is more than I brought last time to Philadelphia! Am I the only one who packs books first for a vacation -- and packs way too many??  Which ones should I bring, and which ones will I have to save for later?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen (edited by David M. Shapard)

Best. Book.  EVER.

You know, I complain to myself all the time that the combination of blogging, book groups, and a library job have killed all my time for rereading, but I am so glad I made an exception and read this again.  I've read Persuasion several times (and watched the movies more times than I can count), and I still can't get enough of this book.  It's my favorite Jane Austen novel, EVER.  My apologies to Lizzie and Darcy, but Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are her most romantic couple.  

Basically, here's the setup:  Anne Elliot is 27 and unmarried; when she was 19, she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a poor but promising naval officer.  Her family and friends persuaded her to break off the engagement, but she has never stopped loving Wentworth.  Now, he's successful and back in the picture -- but does he still love her?  And can he forgive her for her earlier rejection?

This is Austen's final novel, written just before she died, herself unmarried at the age of 41.  It's a little melancholy, but to my mind also the most romantic of the novels.  There is some great comic relief, some satire, and some deliciously nasty characters as well.  Of all her novels, I think this is the one with the most social commentary, especially regarding class and rank.  

If you are a Jane Austen fan (and I assume if you've read this far, you are) I cannot stop recommending David Shaphard's Annotated editions of these novels.  These are amazing -- the novel itself is on the left-hand pages, and every right hand facing pages has corresponding explanatory notes -- vocabulary, history, drawings of items in Jane Austen's world (now I know exactly what kind of ships Wentworth sailed on!), etc., etc.  The notes also delve deeper into some of the social conventions on the time, and they include commentary on why certain plot devices do or don't work, minor plot holes, etc.  

HOWEVER -- I must point out that if you have NOT read all of Jane Austen's works, I would not read these editions -- the explanatory notes also include spoilers -- and not only for this book, but for her other books as well!!  For example, a note might mention that "Such and such turns out to be _________, just like ________ in her other book, "____________." So, if you are not familiar with the major plot points Jane Austen's novels, I'd recommend waiting until you've read all the books first.  

But if you're a Jane Austen fan who's read all the books like me, please, do yourself a favor, and get these!  You will not be sorry.  So far Shaphard has also annotated Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility (which I'm reading right now); Emma is scheduled for publication in the spring.  Hopefully Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey won't be far behind.