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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where to wander after Austen and Heyer?

Herewith some suggestions from Michelle Kerns of

If those don't max out your Austen-ish addiction, there are handy reviews of Austen take-offs (mostly of 'Pride & Prejudice') on Austenesque

Neither site mentions Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries, which I am re-reading now in order after a few random dips over the past decade. The first book, 'Scargrave Manor,' was a bit studied, the writing somewhat stilted. The second book in the series, 'The Man of the Cloth', has a wonderful Austen-esque voice along with a creeping sense of mystery. While I still find the footnotes a distraction - they tempt me all the way down the page and interfere with my immersion in the fictive dream - the language and subtle homages to well-loved Austen characters are more than equal to the challenge of restoring my story-trance.

'Jane and the Man of the Cloth' is set in a lovely seaside village. The inhabitants are as cloistered and their lives as intertwined as any in an Austen novel, with the addition of murder and other crimes implied or actual. For those of us who spent part of childhood in smugglers' tunnels with the adventurous hero of Moonfleet and the children of Enid Blyton's novels, there's even a scene in a dank, dark, seaweedy seashore cavern and tunnel leading to... but that would be telling.

And yes, I did spend another four hours Lost in Austenprose last night. How could you tell?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lost in Austenprose

Austenprose has been doing Georgette Heyer novel reviews all month. I finally went there last evening when the yearning to participate became stronger than my common sense. I was lost for many hours, reading reviews, commenting on my favourite characters and scenes, commenting on other commenters' comments on same.  Lost... for hours... and going back for more this evening.

Heyer was my favourite author even before I discovered Jane Austen. Her books have been read to tatters multiple times. My oldest daughter shares my conviction that the best possible escape from this irksome workaday world is a retreat to the Regency... but only in the very highest-quality genuine Heyer and Austen varietals. Beware cheap knock-offs!

Discovering Heyer helped me survive more than the usual teen angst. At the start of high school, I was abruptly transplanted from West Germany to a small mill town in Northern Ontario. Even though I shared a common language and heritage (English Canadian) with my high-school peers, my clothing and attitudes and taste in music marked me as definitely different. 'Different' is not a boon in high school.

My family was dissolving around me under the doubled stress of culture shock and over-crowding: 2.5 distressed teenagers and their shaken parents, isolated in a small apartment in a town where 80% had never gone out of 'The North', where teen pregnancy, early marriage, and a life of hockey and beer were the overwhelming and accepted lot of the neighbours. We did not fit in, and knew no-one. And yet I was FROM Canada, supposedly coming 'home'. I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants, who add language difficulties on top of the rest. Moving cultures is HARD.

Finding a fictional world where heroines - bright, intelligent, creative, thoughtful heroines - faced up to such troubles and more, and found ways around them that did not often include being saved by the guy on the white horse - gave me a respite from worldly cares and some ideas for alternate behaviors in the face of scornful peers. In Heyer's world, if you are being whispered about behind the other girls' fans, you hold up your head higher, smile a little brighter, flirt a little stronger, and look as if you are having the best time in the world. Soon enough it becomes, if not completely true, at least not as much of a lie. And you don't go home from the Assembly/school dance to weep into your pillow. You go home with visions of young men coming on the morrow to leave posies (or movie tickets) at your door. And, often enough, they do.

The lesson I took away was "Some people might be mean behind your back and overtly cruel to your face, but you do NOT have to care about them. There are other, nicer people in this world too, and they will like you if given the chance."

Heyer's social lessons and high-quality escapism kept my head high and my confidence propped up through university, job interviews, a divorce, a re-marriage and integration with a new family.... and helped me re-establish my social circle following several subsequent moves. If I had spent those years retreating to 'Twilight' instead, would my takeaway lessons have had the same carryover practicality? (I don't know and can't guess because the writing in that series makes me gag every time I try it)

I have never been back to that town, and probably never will now because, like all mill towns, it was shrinking in the face of globalization even before the current economic slowdown. And the three young women who read Heyer with me all left town around the same time I did. I'm not sure any of them have been back either. When I think of the place now, the boarded-up homes and weed-grown parks are overlaid with the golden afternoons in Shari's grandmother's bedroom, reading our way through a world far removed in time and space from the angry girls and ugly boys who jostled us in the corridors of our over-crowded high school. A world of social order and nice clothes and graceful dancers.... and women who thought for themselves and were not afraid to say so, politely.

Over at Austenprose, that last describes pretty much every woman writing the reviews, and the comment trails. That place, right now, is closer to home than anywhere I've been since before high school.