Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, March 22, 2013

Queer Historical Romances, Anyone?

Now, you know how I love my historical romances, whether it's Jane Austen or Lisa Kleypas. Today I thought to look up queer historical romances, which I would love to find in bookstores nestled between my Nora Roberts and Lisa Kleypas. Here's a couple that I've found:

This cover is just so typically bodice-ripper, minus the bodice. I think we should dub it breeches-ripper. It makes me chuckle.

But this next one provides all the bodice we could want.

Do you know of any queer historical romances?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chronology of Jane Austen's Life

To continue this small series of posts on Jane Austen, today I'm going to do a chronology of her life, focusing on her writing. Was Pride and Prejudice Austen's first book, or just her most famous? Was it the first drafted? What about Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility? I feel like I've heard different accounts on the order that Austen wrote and published her books, so today I'm setting the record straight. You can find a more detailed version of this timeline in the Penguin Classics edition of Northanger Abbey.

1775 Jane Austen born on December 12th, the seventh child of Revd George Austen and Cassandra Leigh
1776 American Declaration of Independence
1787 Austen (now 11) begins writing what would later become her Juvenilia
1789 French Revolution begins
1795 Austen (now 19) writes "Elinor and Marianne," an early version of Sense and Sensibility
1796-7 Austen writes "First Impressions," an early version of Pride and Prejudice
1798-9 Austen writes "Susan," an early version of Northanger Abbey
1802 Austen (now 26) accepts a marriage proposal, but jilts the fellow the next day
1803 "Susan" sold to publisher, who does not publish it
1804 Austen writes unfinished novel "The Watsons"
1811 Sense and Sensibility published (Austen now 36)
1813 Pride and Prejudice published
1814 Mansfield Park published
1815 Emma published
1816 Austen's health begins to decline (she's now 40). She finishes writing Persuasion
1817 Austen works on Sanditon. She dies on July 18th at the age of 41. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published in December.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bottle A-Day

I am sure of this—that if every body was to drink their bottle a-day, there would not be half the disorders in the world there are now. It would be a famous good thing for us all... There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom, that there ought to be. Our foggy climate wants help.

—John Thorpe in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Monday, March 11, 2013

Beloved Northanger Abbey

Last week I read Northanger Abbey for the third time. It was Jane Austen’s first book to sell to a publisher, though it wasn’t actually published until after her death. It’s my favorite Austen novel, and this time I read it for my Gothic lit class. The entire book is eminently quotable. I have quoted it many times in this blog, here and here and here, and at the top of this website. Each time I read it I like it better. The jokes and witticisms have become a beloved and joyful refrain. Mr Tilney discussing the price of muslin with Mrs Allen doesn’t become boring on the third read, rather I am quite tickled and want to cackle, “What a sly, clever thing you are, Mr Tilney!”

I can’t remember if when I first read Northanger Abbey I knew it was a satire of Gothic novels, but the second time I did and had already read The Mysteries of Udolpho and possibly The Monk, and so I was keyed in to the jabs and allusions at the horrid novels. But now, reading it right alongside Radcliff and Lewis and Minerva Press, I pick up on those things even more.


I have become exceedingly fond of our heroine Catherine, her passion for rolling down hills, her unaffected sincerity and enthusiasm. On my first read of the novel I loved Mr Tilney, on my second I found him a bit misogynistic and not properly interested in dear Catherine, "dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity," but on this third I fell in love with him all over again. I like Darcy though I wouldn't call myself a Darcy fangirl, but I adore Mr Tilney. Just sensing that the paragraph on hyacinths and learning to love is approaching makes me feel tender and moved.

I am loving my Penguin Classis edition of the novel, which I arduously searched bookstore and internet to find (finally discovering it in our little local Moscow bookstore). Not only does it have a lovely cover, it also has the original biographical note made by Austen’s brother, as well as a map of Bath and two engravings of abbeys. I am highly enjoying perusing the map of Bath, following Catherine’s footsteps as she walks from her house in Pulteney Street to the Pump Room to the Lower Rooms to Beechen Cliff. Well do I relate to and vicariously live through Catherine debating whether to wear sprigged or spotted muslin to the ball, the warmth and delight that carries her home from the ball and into bed after receiving a single compliment. Nostalgia for a younger Esme, for dances and first dates, sat with me as I read the first volume of Northanger Abbey. "When a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way,” I tell my teenage self.

Reading Northanger Abbey, tracing the map, also makes me look forward to—and reinforces my plans to have—a vacation in the undetermined future where I will spend leisurely days in present-day Bath reading Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, taking in the ambiance, hopefully accompanied by my best friend (no fickle Isabelle!).

*The first three photos are from the Masterpiece Classic version of Northanger Abbey, which is quite enjoyable.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dorothy Wordsworth

Saturday [May 17th, 1800]. Incessant rain from morning till night. T. Ashburner brought us coals. Worked hard & Read Midsummer night’s dream, Ballads—sauntered a little in the garden. The Skobby sate quietly in its nest rocked by the winds & beaten by the rain.

Dorothy Wordsworth, famous poet William Wordsworth’s sister, kept a journal. I much prefer her journal to her brother’s poetry. Sometimes she recounts an event that William later made a poem about; sometimes William borrows from his sister’s journal in his poems. Dorothy’s journal is a recording of the day to day, the changing of the seasons, jam made and shoes mended, the post waited for, walks to the lake. Simple observation and sincere sentiment sometimes reveal beautiful lyricism. It makes me think of something I read in The Knitting Sutra a few days ago: “Is it possible that female spirituality through the ages may have been concealed in the minutiae of domestic life rather than expressed in the grandiosity and pomposity of churches and sermons?”

Sometimes, especially in the spring, I think I’d like to keep a journal like Dorothy’s. “Eggs for breakfast. Frost in the grass. Read Austen, taking notes to lead class discussion. Worked 8 hours at bookstore. Knitted leg warmers, pretty yarn in subtle gold & rose. Had to take out two rows of stitches.”

For this I week I would write: “Bulbs sprouting in garden—narrow-leafed daffodils, full-lipped tulips with their rosy edges. Along the Paradise Creek path, the first flowers of the season: yellow crocuses amidst the dead grass & leafless bushes & dried berries. Makes me think of Easter, & rebirth, & hope.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review of Be My Texas Valentine

Be My Texas Valentine
Four stories by Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda, and DeWanna Pace
Western Romance
Historical Romance

The last couple months have been a flurry of writing, revising, scheduling, rescheduling, contacting committees, reserving a room, and more writing. On Thursday of last week I had my thesis defense completely scheduled and a room booked, and I turned in the first draft of my thesis.

Within a few hours of handing in my thesis, I flew to SeaTac and commenced the long mutli-stage journey of getting to snowy peaceful Holden Village.

And so it was that Friday evening, in a bed above the dining hall at Holden, physically and mentally exhausted, I happily opened Be My Texas Valentine. There is nothing so satisfyingly cozy when you need a vacation as a mass market romance.

I found the book in Potty Patrol, which sounds quite odd, but is kind of like Holden Village's free bin. I'd never read any Western historical romance before, but as it was February a book about Valentines seemed quite appropriate.

The first story, "The Valentine's Curse" by Jodi Thomas, was enjoyable and fun, if not quite as well-written as I like my romances. Brody Monroe, as a Yankee in Texas post-civil war, is an outcast just trying to get by. Young Valerie Allen is twice-widowed, and people stay clear of her, believing her cursed. The two loners are thrown together at a Valentine's Day dance.

The two middle stories had good plots, but it was hard to find that amidst the bad pacing and bumbling characterization. I don't regret reading them, but I will certainly not be reading anything else from Broday and Miranda.

I haven't read the fourth story; I'll save it for a future Valentine's Day.

So, while this anthology wasn't stellar, it was easy and light-hearted when I needed that sort of reading. And it has piqued my interest in Western historical romance; I'll be keeping an eye out for some good cowboy romances. Comment if you know of any.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Reading the last book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, just out last month. So good! Yay!