Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE ANNOTATED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen, annotated by David M. Shapard:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/07/2008]

THE ANNOTATED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen, annotated by David M. Shapard (ISBN-13 978-0-307-27810-4, ISBN-10 0-307-27810-7) is well done. First, the text is on the left-hand pages and the notes on the right-hand ones, with every note on the page opposite what it is annotating. If that meant that there would be blank space at the bottom of the text page (because of lengthy notes), then there is. The notes are very thorough, covering definitions as well as comments on mores and attitudes, and even drawings of various types of carriages and so on.

To order The Annotated Pride and Prejudice from amazon.com, click here.


THE ANNOTATED SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen, annotated by David M. Shapard:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/30/2011]

I re-read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen only eight months ago, but when I saw THE ANNOTATED SENSE AND SENSIBILITY with annotations by David M. Shapard (ISBN 978-0-307-39076-9) in the library, I couldn't resist it. The annotations are of three sorts: short notes explaining vocabulary; longer ones discussing customs, attitudes, laws, etc.; and other longer notes commenting on characterization, plot, and other literary aspects. The first kind sometimes seem unnecessary--the meaning of the word is perfectly clear from context--but on the whole the annotations enhance the reader's understanding of the book. Even so, I would not recommend it for a first reading, because there are so many that they would cause constant interruptions to the flow of the novel. Shapard uses the same format as he did for his earlier annotation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: the book has the novel on the left-hand pages and the annotations in a smaller typeface on the right-hand ones, meaning the annotations are approximately as long as the novel itself. This is definitely recommended, as is Shapard's ANNOTATED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. One can only hope he will continue with the rest of Austen's novels.

To order The Annotated Sense and Sensibility from amazon.com, click here.


NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/04/2005]

NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen (ISBN 0-375-75917-4) is a wonderful send-up of both Gothic novels and some of Jane Austen's own works. She knows all the cliches, and nails them. For example, she begins, "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard--and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings--and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on--lived to have six children more--to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself."

And Catherine Moreland has been reading all those novels, and she has expectations that life will be like that. When she is invited to be a guest at Northanger Abbey, here is her reaction: "She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized--and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney--and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire. And yet, this was to happen. With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun."

And Austen is cognizant of some of the cliches and stereotypes she had written when she writes, "Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; and to her treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. But Catherine did not know her own advantages--did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward."

What more needs to be said? This is definitely my favorite Austen novel, and I don't know why they don't made a film of this instead of re-doing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE again.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/27/2006]

Our discussion group read NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen (ISBN 0-375-75917-4) this month. Although the basic plot is very similar to other Austen works, the style is not--it is a send-up of all the conventions of the Gothic novel, and to some extent those of her own novels. For example, when our heroine s forced to sit out a dance for lack of a partner, Austen writes:

"She could not help being vexed at the non-appearance of Mr. Thorpe, for she not only longed to be dancing, but was likewise aware that, as the real dignity of her situation could not be known, she was sharing with the scores of other young ladies still sitting down all the discredit of wanting a partner. To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine's life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character."

The one question none of us could definitely answer was how "Northanger" was supposed to be pronounced. Is it "north-anger" or "nor-thanjer" or what?

To order Northanger Abbey from amazon.com, click here.


PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/11/2005]

Last week we went to see the film BRIDE & PREJUDICE, a Bollywood-UK co-production that is an adaptation of Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (ISBN 0-553-21310-5). Screenwriters Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha have transposed the Bennets into an Indian family in Amritsar, made the Bingleys an Indian family living in the United Kingdom, and made Darcy and Wickham Americans. This allowed them to film in three countries, giving a wide visual palette for the film. I definitely enjoyed the film, and particularly enjoyed the songs. (Many of them were dubbed into English, and fairly well, because I didn't realize that they were dubbed until I went to a web site to play samples of them and discovered that there they were in Hindi.) One song ("No Life Without Wife") was staged in a manner reminiscent of a song from "Fiddler on the Roof", and the songs in general showed a wide range of other influences. And the adaptation worked--the use of the Indian culture allows for a stronger emphasis on arranged marriages and family dynamics in a modern-day version than if someone attempted to set it in a strictly Anglo-English family. Of course I recommend the book, but I recommend the film as well. Even if you're not an Austen fan, if you like romantic musicals, go see BRIDE & PREJUDICE.

To order Pride and Prejudice from amazon.com, click here.


THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN by Edward Copeland

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/14/2016]

THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster (ISBN 978-0-521-49867-8) is a collection of thirteen articles, rather than an encyclopedia with hundreds of entries for each character, location, and so on. (There is an index, but it does not includes entries for the fictional entities in the novels.)

It starts with a chronology of Austen's life and an essay on her situation as a professional woman writer in the nineteenth century. Two essays cover her earlier and later works, two more her letters and short fiction, and one on further reading. The most interesting to me were the remaining six, on class, money, religion and politics, style, literary traditions, and Austen cults and cultures. These are extremely useful in providing the necessary background for understanding the characters and motivations in Austen's works. For example, understanding the relationship between a lump sum of money and an annual income is critical--an inheritance of a lump sum of 1000 pounds will result in an annual income of 50 pounds, while an annual income of 100 pounds is the minimum necessary to support anyone above the level of farmhand--in other words, anyone worth noting.

To order The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen from amazon.com, click here.


SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/25/2011]

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters (ISBN 978-1-59474-442-6) is a cute idea for about two pages. After that comes an overwhelming desire to read Jane Austen's prose before Ben H. Winters started modifying it.

As an example, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY begins:

"The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old Gentleman's days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.

By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father's inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life-interest in it."

Winters changes this to:

"The family of Dashwood had been settled in Sussex since before the Alteration, when the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep.

The Dashwood estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the dead centre of their property, set back from the shoreline several hundred yards and ringed by torches.

The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. Her death came as a surprise, ten years before his own; she was beating laundry upon a rock that revealed itself to be the camouflaged exoskeleton of an overgrown crustacean, a striated hermit crab the size of a German shepherd. The enraged creature affixed itself to her face with a predictably unfortunate effect. As she rolled helplessly in the mud and sand, the crab mauled her most thoroughly, suffocating her mouth and nasal passages with its mucocutaneous undercarriage. Her death caused a great change in the elderly Mr. Dashwood's home. To supply her loss, the old man invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it.

By a former marriage, Henry had one son, John; by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady, respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother. The succession to the Norland estate, therefore, was not so really important to John as to his half sisters; for their mother had nothing, and their fortune would thus depend upon their father's inheriting the old gentleman's property, so it could one day come to them."

The new version is 12% shorter (at least for the opening paragraphs), but to achieve that and add the sea monster parts, a lot of the original prose has been omitted.

Now, I know that this "mash-up" sub-genre is popular now (or has it already passé?), so there must be some appeal. And if I had chosen something like QUEEN VICTORIA, DEMON HUNTER, then I would not be "distracted" by the original prose. But this particular type of book just does not work for me.

To order Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from amazon.com, click here.


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