Jane austen

For sale: Jane Austen’s birthplace

‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,’ wrote the eminently quotable Jane Austen in Emma, in 1815. ‘Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am.’   If the incomparable Regency writer and social critic could see Steventon House, on the site of her birthplace and childhood home in Hampshire, she would doubtless approve. Although it’s not quite on the scale of the manicured estates that feature so largely in her property-obsessed novels, the Grade II listed 1820s home is all Georgian elegance, with 7,000 sq ft of living space, beautifully proportioned high-ceilinged receptions and fine period features including decorative fireplaces, cornicing, and working shutters.   The six-bed

Most-read 2022: Everyone involved should be in prison: Netflix’s Persuasion reviewed

We’re finishing the year by republishing our ten most popular articles from 2022. Here’s number nine: Deborah Ross’s piece from July on the pitfalls of adapting Austen. You may already have read early reviews of Netflix’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion saying it’s ‘the worst adaptation ever’ as well as ‘mortifying’ and ‘a travesty’, but I know you won’t believe it unless you hear it from me, so here you are: it is truly horrible. I would also add that everyone involved should probably be sent to prison. Not for life, but until we could be confident they’d learned the error of their ways and there was minimal risk of

Reworking Dickens: Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver, reviewed

Putting new wine into old wineskins is an increasingly popular fictional mode. Retellings of 19th-century novels abound. Jane Austen inevitably leads the way, with Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, and no fewer than four recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Dickens, too, has been updated, with Michael Rosen’s Bah Humbug and Lorie Langdon’s Olivia Twist. Now Barbara Kingsolver pitches in with a contemporary version of David Copperfield. Her Demon Copperhead is a russet-haired, mixed-race boy from the backwoods of South Virginia. His father died before he was born and his mother, like many of the novel’s characters, is addicted to opioids, leaving

When did cheerfulness get so miserable?

We’ve all met the sort of facetious oaf who orders any non-giggling woman to ‘Cheer up, love, it might never happen’. As Timothy Hampton grasps, enforced cheeriness feels about as much fun as compulsory games. His invigorating book about the quest for true cheerfulness in literature and philosophy dismantles the various ‘prosthetic or counterfeit’ versions of the real thing that bullies, bosses, self-help gurus and household tyrants inflict on their victims. Jane Austen’s heroines, as he shows, chafe against the elevation of cheerfulness into a ‘social norm’. It suffocates them like stays: ‘Thou shalt be cheerful, at least if thou art woman.’ For sound reasons, the prospect of cheerfulness fails

Everyone involved should be in prison: Netflix’s Persuasion reviewed

You may already have read early reviews of Netflix’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion saying it’s ‘the worst adaptation ever’ as well as ‘mortifying’ and ‘a travesty’, but I know you won’t believe it unless you hear it from me, so here you are: it is truly horrible. I would also add that everyone involved should probably be sent to prison. Not for life, but until we could be confident they’d learned the error of their ways and there was minimal risk of reoffending. A probation officer would possibly be required to keep a close eye, just to make sure. Better safe than sorry. There are ways to adapt Austen

The not-so-sweet roots of ‘nice’

‘That’s nice,’ said my husband, taking a Nice biscuit with his coffee. It was his little joke. The biscuit is named after the French city, though no one knows why. Like the trainers, the city was named after the goddess Nike when it was founded by Greeks in the 4th century bc. Nice, as in ‘a nice cup of tea’, was a word loathed by my schoolmistresses, like got. Their cue may have been Jane Austen. ‘This is a very nice day,’ remarked Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, ‘and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice

Howard Jacobson superbly captures the terrible cost of becoming a writer

Howard Jacobson, who turns 80 this year, published his first novel aged 40. Since then he has produced roughly a book every two years, including The Finkler Question, which won the Man Booker in 2010. Given that he was put on Earth to write, why the wait? This is the subject of Mother’s Boy, a tale of self-persecution in the form of a monologue which includes interjections from the ghosts of his parents and one chapter, recording a period in his twenties that he drifted through in a dream state, printed in a font resembling handwriting. ‘How’s the novel coming along?’ his father would routinely ask after Jacobson graduated from

An affectionate exercise in comic sabotage: Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) reviewed

Let’s be honest. Jane Austen is popular because War and Peace doesn’t fit inside a handbag. Austen’s best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, has been updated in a fetching new production that treats the sacred text as a screwball comedy. The fun starts before curtain-up with the cast of five girls messing about on stage and struggling with a chandelier that almost shatters but doesn’t. This improv bit is irritatingly predictable. Then the show begins and the girls start to curse, laugh and pontificate their way through the tale. We get a feminist lecture explaining that Mrs Bennet’s predicament owes itself to the laws of bequest that prevented women from inheriting

Superb but depraved: BBC1’s The Serpent reviewed

The Serpent is the best BBC drama series in ages — god knows how it slipped through the net — but I still think it most unlikely that I shall stick it through to the final episode. It’s not the style that’s wrong but the subject matter: do we really want to spend eight hours of life in the company of a smug, ruthless serial killer who murders at least 12 people — and more or less gets away with it? Up to a point The Serpent has addressed this problem by trying to make the central figure not the killer, Charles Sobhraj, but the persistent Dutch junior diplomat, Herman

Sumptuous and very promising: A Suitable Boy reviewed

Nobody could argue that Andrew Davies isn’t up for a challenge. He’d also surely be a shoo-in for Monty Python’s Summarise Proust competition. After turning both War and Peace and Les Misérables into satisfying, unhurried six-part drama series, he’s now taken on Vikram Seth’s 1,300-page novel A Suitable Boy. The first episode started with a wedding that immediately established the programme’s visual sumptuousness, while also serving as a handy introduction to the main characters. The groom’s rebellious brother Maan, for example, chafed at the idea that he was supposed to be next. The bride’s spirited sister Lata protested that the newly weds hardly knew each other, before hearing the chilling

Watch: Andrea Leadsom hails Jane Austen as one of our ‘greatest living authors’

Oh dear. Although there has been much excitement this week at the news that Jane Austen will feature on the new ten pound note, some appear to have got a bit carried away in their celebrations. Speaking in the Chamber this morning, Andrea Leadsom shared her personal joy at the news: ‘I’m delighted to join in celebrating Jane Austen, who will feature on the new ten pound note – one of our greatest living authors.’ However, given that Jane Austen sadly passed away in 1817 it appeared that Leadsom had got her dates mixed up. Happily, she was quick to realise her error – rephrasing to say that Austen was one of the

Jane Austen finds a surprising fan in the Bank of England’s Mark Carney

Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen was laid to rest 200 years ago this week, was the venue chosen for the unveiling of the new £10 bank note, which will feature a portrait of the English novelist. On a humid July day, tourists, pensioners, banknote geeks and a few noisy children packed the aisles. The atmosphere was expectant, as worshippers gathered to get a glimpse of ‘Reverend’ Carney at the pulpit. Smartphones were whipped out as soon as he started speaking. I travelled with my family as an off-duty journalist and was expecting the rather dry and technical explanations favoured by the Bank of England governor in the inflation report. But

Would Jane Austen be amused or bemused by her £10 note quotation?

So, the new tenner has been unveiled today. Two centuries after her death, Jane Austen replaces Charles Darwin, who has enjoyed a 25-year sojourn with his hummingbirds. And yet it feels like this new note has been in the air for a while, though obscured by the hazy fug of controversy. First there was the (largely vegan) stew about animal tallow remaining part of the production process. All protests about what we’re doing with the natural world are worth hearing, so long as they are proportional. Quite what percentage of society occupies the intersection of the Venn diagram where strict boycotters of plastic bags, soap and cosmetics overlap with those

More sinned against than sinning

The 55-year-old ’flu-ridden John Charles Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, his feet in a basin of warm water, shivered in the dock with fever but also with fear. Would the jury, assembled in 1823 in London’s jam-packed Freemason’s Hall at the end of an unpredecentally sensational two-week trial, find him eccentric, delusional, simple-minded or, instead, stark raving mad? Elizabeth Foyster, a historian and senior lecturer at Clare College, Cambridge, was alerted to this enthralling, almost unbelievable true story with the caveat that the vastness of the material in Lambeth Palace archives concerning a scarcely remembered trial of a hugely wealthy, relatively obscure aristocrat had deterred anyone else from attempting to

Playing at shepherdesses

Oh, the longueurs of aristocratic Georgian leisure. What on earth did they do all day, with no domestic chores, no Wi-Fi, no television, no telephones for chatting and the slowest of transports to move their lives from the sticks to the bright lights of London or Bath? Kate Felus has written a fascinating book which tells us how the 18th-century landed gentry whiled away their summers out of doors. On winter she does not dwell, because, as she says, summer was the time when all the great landowners were likely to be at their country estates. Apart from Margaret Willes’s excellent Gardens of the British Working Class, the documented social

A few good books

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever ITV or the BBC decides — the latter usually with charter renewal in the near or middle distance — that it needs to make some of that World-Class Drama it’s so proud of, its thoughts turn to regency frocks, scruffy urchins, pea-soupy London, agreeable country houses and the incessant clip-clop of hoof on cobble. Classy costume drama — invariably based, for extra classiness, on classy fiction of the sort you might find in Penguin Classics — is one of our major exports. But in the range of its source material they consider, its makers are as blinkered as the inevitable horse that

The eyes have it | 23 June 2016

Tchaikovsky knew what he thought of the title character of his Eugene Onegin. ‘I loved Tatyana, and was furiously indignant with Onegin who seemed to me a cold, heartless fop,’ he wrote to a friend; and directors, by and large, have been happy to leave it at that. And why not? Dishy but emotionally unavailable Regency dandies have been a growth area in recent years — blame it on Colin Firth, if you like — and Eugene Onegin is probably the standard repertoire opera you’re least likely to see subjected to a directorial updating, in the UK at any rate. Michael Boyd’s new production at Garsington certainly doesn’t update anything.

Jane Austen on speed

Love & Friendship is based on the little-known Jane Austen epistolary novella, Lady Susan, which was not published until after Austen’s death, and was then ill received. As G.K. Chesterton declared: ‘I, for one, would have willingly left Lady Susan in the wastepaper basket.’ Knowing what I know now and having, in fact, read Lady Susan, I, for one, would have willingly punched G.K. Chesterton in the head, had I been around at that time. And, had I wished to torment him further, which is highly likely, I might have then told him that it would one day be turned into the most delicious hoot of a film, so put

Pride, prejudice, celebrity…

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Eligible is a page-turning romantic comedy which is very funny and entirely ridiculous: each of the short chapters is as unwholesomely addictive as a Pringle coated in crack cocaine. It’s clearly influenced by writers like Tina Fey, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. But that isn’t the point. Because with a certain punky insouciance, Sittenfeld has closely modelled her entertainment on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The Bennet sisters are now a quintet of unmarried women aged between 20 to 40, hailing from Cincinnati: Liz Bennet is a journalist working for Mascara magazine in New York; her elder sister Jane is a yoga instructor, her younger sister Mary

Come rain or shine

‘Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr Worthing,’ pleads Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest. ‘Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.’ Weatherland would make Gwendolen very nervous indeed. Our observations of the sky, Alexandra Harris reveals in this extended outlook, have always meant something else. Weatherland is a literary biography of the climate. Beginning with the Fall (in the Biblical rather than the autumnal sense) and ending with Alice Oswald, Harris condenses 2,000 years of weather ‘as it is recreated in the human imagination’. It is the weather-consciousness of