Book Review: Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

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Jane Austen's First LoveTitle Jane Austen’s First Love
Author Syrie James
Reviews Goodreads / LibraryThing
Rating: 3/5

First, an explanation
Dear reader — it is so weird to have posted nothing these last few days when I’ve been posting daily since the first week of January! But I have good excuses — Mr. Lisa moved the site from one provider to another and just in time too. The old provider’s web server was awful — site timed out, WordPress would constantly break, I lost posts because of the aforementioned and there was no way for me to fix it other than keep opening up tickets which the provider was ignoring. Mr. Lisa works as a systems admin by day so he took on the job of the moving and maintaining the site to a different provider. (Mr. Lisa also maintains the back end for my regular blog, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and my profesh site, lisarabey.com. Do come visit!)

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my own book club, Austen Weekly!  This week should cover chapters 13 – 15 of Mansfield Park and um, I’ve been a bit lax on the reading.  However, I’ve loaded myself up with Jane Austenesque library books and I’ve been in touch with a few authors about getting their books to review here so!, I will be doing some kind of book review every Monday.  Phew.

Jane Austen paraliterature and how I review
Paraliterature, to me, is anything that expands, deviates, complements, enhances, or is somehow related to an author or a theme. If you’re a Janeite, you already know there is hundreds if not thousands of such books from fan fiction to indie publishing to big name presses. I created an Austenesque Amazon wish list which is bordering on 500 items (and I know there is more) most of them books. I haven’t even dived into indie publishing. My lofty goal is to, ha ha ha, read them all but l let us say I will try to read many.

So back to the paraliterature and reviews – what I look for is a good story, well constructed plot, good pacing, solid research, if about a specific period, and good writing. I’m particular, I know, but after working in a bookstore for many years, you learn to find the best needles inside of the haystacks for recommendations. That’s what I want to do – I want to give an honest and unbiased review on what I’m reading to people with similar interests. If you have Elizabeth Bennet in space and Darcy is an alien – if you can make me believe all of the above requirements, I’d totally give you a great review. So the subject matter doesn’t matter so as long you hit on my requirements, then you’re golden.

Finally, it’s totally okay for you to disagree with my reviews. We all have different tastes and requirements from a story. If we all liked the same thing, life would be pretty boring.

Finally! the Review!
Syrie James has made a living by writing and complementing works of Austen and the Brontë’s, which is great for her and great for us. I’ve recently started reading James, beginning with The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austenand have really enjoyed the book and her work. The story was fresh, the romance, not really needed, was subtle. The pacing is good. There was constant moving forward of the plot. The writing was a bit sloppy at times but overall it was well written. While the primary time period was contemporary, James seemed to have a grasp of the machinations of the Regency period, which pleased me. (Nothing like sloppy research to ruin a good book, no matter how well written.) So when Jane Austen’s First Love became available at the library, I checked it out with working knowledge it would follow the same formula described above and be a delightful read.

Jane Austen’s First Love is not that book.

Let’s start with the characters — first, we must admit, we know nothing of how Jane Austen was as what is known is based on gossip, James Edward Austen-Leigh’s sketchy biography, and the few letters not burned to a crisp by Cassandra. With this, James had carte blanc in fleshing out Jane’s personality. She failed. James portrayed Austen as this 15 year old chatterbox, worried about fitting in with her peers and stressing about boys – essentially James distilled Lydia Bennet as Austen’s personality. There were some bright moments — she made Austen fearless which seems reasonable given what we can glean from Austen’s books, if we assume Austen injected herself into some of her heroines. There was, very scant times, when James’ Austen rejected what society had planned for her. But overall it was Austen’s pining for Edward Taylor that threw the story off for me.

Secondly, the Jane / Edward romance? No chemistry!

For this book , I read far more than my usual 50 page allotment to see if a book is worthwhile to continue and this one I got to page 165! But as I read, I realised I was reading it not because I so much enjoyed it BUT because it fulfilled Jane Austen paraliterature criteria. The book isn’t so bad as much as it has a tendency to be flat and the plot isn’t moving forward and there seems to be little action with the characters themselves. Jane Austen’s First Love reminds me a lot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where in LotR, there are hundreds of pages of “we’re walking and we’re walking,” without really any action happening which begins to get tedious and nervewrecking. DO SOMETHING, I screamed at the book (internally) at least. Jane Austen’s First Love strikes me as a book people are either really going to love, Jane Austen has a romance!, or something people are going to be put off by. I am giving this 3/5 stars because the book did fulfil some of my criteria but overall I found it flat and wanting.

I will end this with saying I’m not dissuaded by reading more Syrie James – The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austen was really good and one meh book does not mean to reject an autor completely.

Austen Weekly: Mansfield Park chapters 1-3

(ed: Sorry, I had to do a lot of Real World™ stuff today so this post is a bit late!)

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Edition: Kindle

As I said last week, I wanted to start a weekly read along mainly to re-read Jane and I cannot remember the last time I read Mansfield Park so it seems as good of time as any to bump her up the reading pile.

I also choose Mansfield Park as the first read as it seems to be the least read / discussed book and there doesn’t seem to be any, and I may be wrong, modern adaptations of this novel either in print or film form. (This is not to say there isn’t any in the huge world of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) as if there can be a Pride and Prejudice and Doctor Who mashup, anything is possible.)

Summary: In chapter one we meet the three sisters: Lady Bertram, Mrs. Price, and Mrs. Norris and learn about their backgrounds. One marries for money (Lady Bertram), one marries for love (Mrs. Price), and one marries for, well, neither (Mrs. Norris). In chapter two, Fanny is introduced and sent to Mansfield Park where she meets the Bertram family, especially Edmund. The Bertrams neither hate or are enthralled with Fanny — they do not mean to be unkind but they treat her with indifference, “Fanny was good-natured enough.” In chapter three we learn more about the Bertrams, Mrs. Norris, and the state of their economies.

  1. Mrs. Norris takes great pains to be shown as benevolent and kind, yet she is indeed a very emotionless person. “Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no real affection  for her sister, it as impossible for her to aim at more than the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity;…”
  2. Mrs. Norris, it’s noted, married financially poorly and saves her income to live a comfortable life only to continue to save and pinch her funds and takes no thought to affording anything though she very well can.
  3. Fanny’s “ignorance” is implied when she does not have the breadth of education the Bertram children have — “How strange! — Did you ever hear anything so stupid?” Here, Austen is clearly showing how the class divides by education: Poor are ignorant for they cannot afford schooling while the rich are highly intelligent because they can afford an education.
  4. Lady Bertram is described as a lazy thing who gives very little thought of her children and more to her dog. How would this have affected her relationship with Fanny and Fanny’s relationships with the Bertram children?
  5. Edmund is to become a clergyman it’s interesting his countenance is a mixture of all three of the sister’s husbands: The money from his father, the duty like his uncle the pastor, and the kindness of Fanny’s father before he took to the drink. Austen created her hero out of the best qualities of all three men — why?
  6. More conversation on Mrs. Norris and her, um, particular disdain for actual kindness which we learn when the Bertrams discuss sending Fanny to live with Mrs. Norris only find said Norris will have none of that — her nerves are too shattered after the death of her husband. Right.

My take: Austen throws a lot in these three chapters which at first glance doesn’t seem to be more than just introductions and laying out the plot but I began to pick up very subtle themes as I went along like the undercurrent with Lady and Lord Bertram’s relationship which is more complicated than outrightly stated. I must confess I have always thought Edmund and Fanny’s relationship was a bit wet and my heckles are getting raised three chapters in how right I am but here’s to hoping Austen can change my mind.

Introducing Austen Weekly — A Weekly Read Along Club

When I announced to Mr. Lisa I was putting together a Jane Austen blog, he gave me that look as if to say I didn’t get enough Austen as it is. He then questioned how often I read her works since he’s never actually seen me pick up and read one of her novels (this is the same man who said he had no idea I had a stack of books on my side of the bed) and then went on to say my love of Austen came from strictly from the movies.

Well, no. As I mentioned on my about page, I have no idea when I started reading our Jane but I have been reading the six published works every couple of years. (I will not tell a lie and say I have finished Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition, and etc though I do own copies of each.) I thought, in the beginning of designing the content for the blog, one of the things I want to do is hold a weekly read along club for each of Austen’s novels to always keep her work fresh.

I have the best ideas.

(I’ll be reviewing Austen paraliterature but Austen’s books themselves will be the read alongs.)

I decided to start with poor Mansfield Park as this, in my humble opinion, tends to be the least talked about of our Jane’s work. While I do feel it’s the weakest of Jane’s work and lacks the oomph of her other novels, it still deserves our love. People love Northanger Abbey for its gothic parody. Of course, Pride & Prejudice as if we could forget. Emma helped along by the movie Clueless, and Persuasion and Sense & Sensibility always seem to rank as favorites.

According to my Penguin Classics copy, there are 47 chapters in Mansfield Park with roughly 10 or so pages per chapter. It would take us nearly a year to finish the book if we did a chapter a week so I’m going to up it to three chapters a week and may adjust as we move along.

Join me every Monday as we read Mansfield Park! It would be most delightful if you were here.