Questions – and a Few Answers

Are you one of those Austen fans who are full of questions? (No, not questions about what was quite so excellent about the boiled potatoes. Mega-serious questions!)

Questions, for example, such as why Lady Catherine WAS allowed to inherit Rosings when Mrs Bennet would NOT be allowed to inherit Longbourn… when they were equally female. 

Questions about manners, customs and travel or weddings and divorce in the Regency. 

Questions about which professions were considered genteel, and in which order. 

Maybe you’re thinking of writing an Austenesque novel and are afraid you’ll get something wrong (as I did in my first, a prequel to Lady Susan). 

Or maybe you’re just a lifelong Jane Austen freak – guilty! – and you’re still looking for little nuggets about her life and works that you’ve never heard before.

Well, I have good news. Devoney Looser has the guide for YOU! In The Life and Works of Jane Austen – 24 lectures and a bookshe has banged the nail on the head, aced it, holed it in one, and knocked the ball straight out of the park. 

Not only is it “everything you ever wanted to know about Jane Austen but was afraid to ask” – but her voice and style is so easy to listen to in the lecture/podcasts AND you also get a priceless cheat-sheet: a book with every word of the lectures included, plus extras.

 And, as you’d expect from one of THE Austen scholars, it’s so very comprehensive! Not only society and manners, as you might suppose, but the impact of the French Revolution on Austen, slavery in Antigua, typical illnesses, the Gothic novel, etc. It’s an endless and amazing source of inspiration. While among her beautifully written thoughts on the novels themselves, there are nuggets of absolute gold. For example, I was rocked back to learn that the year in which PERSUASION supposedly took place carried such huge significance.

Now I’d known how Napoleon had escaped from Elba and how Britain went straight back to fighting him but NOT that this occurred just after PERSUASION finished. Probably, while Wentworth was penning his immortal letter to Anne, Napoleon’s escape was being plotted – or was even occurring. Certainly, shortly after Anne married Wentworth, the short-lived peace would have been over, and Britain back at war. 

In short, the Wentworths’ marriage would have scarcely begun before Frederick Wentworth was back in active service and daily danger. How much more potent does the very end of PERSUASION feel – and Anne’s “quick alarms” – now? Especially as every reader of the period would have known how short-lived the window of peace had been. In fact, Napoleon’s escape from Elba – for them – might well have held the same kind of horrific resonance that 9/11 has for us today.

If interested, here’s the link to the course:     And if the cost scares you, all of these courses are regularly half-price (two or three times a year).

If interested in more handy tips as authors/writers/Janeites etc., sign up for my monthly newsletter on  The third in my Austenesque series (Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation) will be published next month. 

XX, Alice

P.S. – Devoney Looser has recently published yet another stunning work, as well, about two scandal-ridden sister writers and contemporaries of Jane Austen whom she MUST have known about. 

Here’s my review on, and the link, if interested:

Sister Novelists by Devoney Looser

This non-fiction tour-de-force is as pacey as a novel – never a dull moment. A mesmerizing and impressively well-researched work which makes Georgian England spring to life.
In fact, as I read it, I kept thinking what a fantastic TV series it would make.

Here we have the tale of two lovely, dramatic, and gifted young Regency sisters – though disconcertingly poor – triumphing, despite being mostly taken for granted by men, whether the men concerned were rivals, publishers, potential suitors or even their own brothers. Both Jane and Maria expended no little energy keeping their brothers out of debtor’s prisons, while otherwise dodging the advances of older men, being manipulated by publishers, and breaking hearts – or, having their own hearts either sprained or else broken.

In other words, in Devoney Looser’s Sister Novelists we’re gifted with an utterly believable glimpse into what living in Georgian times might have felt like – at least, if literary – rubbing shoulders with Byron and Scott (and royalty) while simultaneously, sometimes desperately, trying to keep up appearances.

The sisters are fascinating. Jane is a powerhouse: passionate, resourceful and resilient, holding the family together even when the world’s most famous actor, Edmund Keen – no less – deliberately chooses to shipwreck the premiere of her first play at Drury Lane. Maria – almost as gifted and much more prolific – emerges as rather more vulnerable and romantic, capable of falling for a young Guardsman on sight and – the scandal! – even conducting a clandestine correspondence with him.

It is also Maria who suffers upon ending up, in hopes of assisting their brother’s career, in a ‘nest of vipers’. This particular nest is dominated by a rich aristocrat who makes Lady Catherine de Bourgh look like a badge-laden Girl Scout – fomenting rumour, violating her houseguests’ private correspondence, and messing about with her underlings’ love lives. Not to mention the appalling Mrs Campbell, who attempts to blackmail Jane’s love, Henry, by threatening to besmirch Jane Porter’s own reputation – a blackmail he scorned.

At about two inches thick, this book is a massive achievement in every sense, but the pages just fly by. Austen lovers will relish such wicked subtleties as ‘Mrs Crespigny, handsome, clever, and rich, had been known to Jane and Maria for several years.’ And, ‘by eleven, he had delighted Mrs Porter long enough’ (!) Looser is mischievous – but also intensely serious. She makes a powerful case against the sexism that held back not only the Porters, but Austen and many other female novelists of the time.

To sum up, we have a elegantly written, beautifully presented book with:

1) a thrilling storyline
2) vivid characters – and they’re all real, as well!
3) meticulous research
4) silky prose
5) immaculate pacing
6) and as neat a summation of what it felt like, to be a supremely gifted member of London society without either a famous name or money, as could be contrived.

Sister Novelists is a TV series crying out to be made. It has the lot: the manipulative Margravine of Ansbach, the sensitive Maria, the passionate-but-less-impulsive Jane, not to mention all the men who pursue or annoy them. And we even have the dramas of the stage: the struggles to be ‘seen’ as women as equal artists to a man – and even a brush with plagiarism.

Whether Sir Walter Scott really acted as ‘vampire’ to Jane Porter’s own work for his Waverley series is not made entirely clear, but that the pair of sisters succeeded, by talent and guts alone, against all odds, is perfectly obvious. Even their own brothers cheated them, but their final image here is one of resilience – yes, and of triumph, too.

2 responses to “Questions – and a Few Answers”

  1. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Great post! Lots of info on lots of things!lol Can’t wait for Darcy to come out!

  2. Alice McVeigh Avatar

    Thanks so much, Cindie!!! I think you’ve summed up Looser’s course, there. I’ve recommended it to soooo many that I deserve to be an affiliate (if books HAD affiliates, lol!!! Thanks too for kind words about Darcy, though it’s a bit nerve-racking, because, while – for example – few Austen-lovers have bothered to read LADY SUSAN, everybody in the world has read P&P…

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