30 December 2010

Everything Austen II - The Jane Austen Handbook - Margaret C. Sullivan

Nothing like getting right down to the wire with Everything Austen II, is there? But sometimes you save some of the best for last. 
You just have to love Margaret Sullivan (Mags) from the blog AustenBlog and her book The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible yet Elegant Guide to Her World, is one of my favorite Austen-related books. It really tells you everything you need to know about Austen's world in a witty way and if you know Austen well, you will certainly read some things that make you laugh out loud. 
Some of my favorite parts are incidentals to the sections, such as "The Smell of the Shop" which Caroline Bingley most certainly tried to avoid - but we all know she's tainted. Additional sections include a variety of thing from how to have Christmas in the Country House to How to Dress (which taught me quite a bit). 
To my mind, it is always more easy to learn and remember things when you are having fun and Mags does just that.

Abita: Save our Shore

From the (very cool looking) bottle: This Abita brew is a message in a bottle: a distress signal for the troubled waters of our Gulf Coast. For every bottle sold Abita will donate 75 cents to the rescue and restoration of the environment, industry, and individuals fighting to survive this disastrous oil spill. Want to do more? Visit Abita.com

This unfiltered Weizen Pils is made with Pilsner and Wheat malts. It is hopped and dry hopped with sterling and German Perle hops. It has a brilliant gold color, a sweet malt flavor, and a pleasant bitterness
and aroma.

Let's hope people don't forget. We're still in trouble down here and it's a damn shame. Thanks Abita!*

* We purchased our own Abita. 

05 December 2010

It is December 5th and what did I find growing in my garden ...

December Tomato
Tomatoes - yep, that's right. I had no idea that the remnant of a tomato plant that I thought had long been singing with the great choir invisible is still in production even though we've had three (count them, three) nights where it's been below freezing. 
How am I to explain this? Neglect, pure and simple. I figured it was dead but hadn't take the trouble to pull it or the basil or zinnias out of the ground yet. So my reward is my first ever and probably last December tomato.
December Tomatoes
Surprise ... there were two more when I went to pick the first one. I plan on letting them ripen on the counter (which I have to do w/all tomatoes no matter what time of year because of the mockingbirds) and see what they taste like. They are certainly not beautiful, but a lovely surprise nonetheless. 

04 December 2010

Miss Austen's Pleasant Characters

There are some characters in Miss Austen's works* novels that are just nice charming people that you would like get have a pint or a cup of tea with. Oftentimes these are minor characters that other writers are now bringing into the forefront of new novels which, in my opinion is nice to see. These are in no particular order:
Robert Martin - now he may not be the most fashionable person in Highbury, but if Mr. Knightly things so very highly of him, I think it would be worth Emma to rethink her pert opinions. " I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin. He always speaks to the purpose; open, straightforward, and very well judging. He told me every thing; his circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doing in the event of his marriage. He is an excellent young man, both as son and brother. I had no hesitation in advising him to marry. He proved to me that he could afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced he could not do better. I praised the fair lady too, and altogether sent him away very happy." Robert Martin seems kind and thoughtful and will lead Harriet Smith into a happy life.

Charles Musgrove - he must be thought a nice, decent guy because he was smart enough to realize that Anne Elliot was worth marrying. He's a kind attentive brother, a VERY patient husband and easily makes new friends. He can certainly see right through the Elliot Pride and isn't above poking fun at his wife's family (Anne, excepted). In a typical conversation between Charles and his lovely wife Mary:
"Phoo! phoo!" replied Charles, "what's an evening party? Never worth remembering. Your father might have asked us to dinner, I think, if he had wanted to see us. You may do as you like, but I shall go to the play."

"Oh! Charles, I declare it will be too abominable if you do,when you promised to go."
"No, I did not promise. I only smirked and bowed, and said the word `happy.' There was no promise."
Sofia Croft - Another lovely character that Miss Austen created. She's independent, in love with her husband (after all these years), intelligent and kind. She would be someone I would love to hear more about her life, as did Mrs. Musgrove:
"What a great traveller you must have been, ma'am!" said Mrs Musgrove to Mrs Croft.

"Pretty well, ma'am in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies."

Mrs Croft continues: "And I do assure you, ma'am," pursued Mrs Croft, "that nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man-of-war; I speak, you know, of the higher rates. When you come to a frigate, of course, you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing
to be feared. Thank God! I have always been blessed with excellent health, and no climate disagrees with me. A little disordered always the first twenty-four hours of going to sea, but never knew what sickness was afterwards. The only time I ever really suffered in body or mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience."

Pride & Prejudice:
Charlotte Lucas - If she is Elizabeth Bennet's particular friend, then she must be pretty special. And she is. While she's a little older, she's practical and actual has good advice - even if it doesn't fix the Elizabeth's romantic ideals such as this:
"Well," said Charlotte, "I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow suf ciently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."
"You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself."

She may have made a disasterous marriage (there is little doubt of that), but she is smart enough to make the best of it. She's no dummy.

Northanger Abbey:
Eleanor Tilney - Eleanor Tilney's mother must have been lovely to raise such a charming, lovely, mature daughter. I actually would like to be like her. She's accustomed the General's strange ways and manages them with style. She sees right through Catherine Morland's admiration for her brother Henry (but who wouldn't fall for him, I ask you?). She is mortified at the treatment of Catherine by her father, but in the end is able to help secure Catherine's happiness. "Miss Tilney had a good figure, a pretty face, and a very agreeable
countenance; and her air, though it had not all the decided pretension, the resolute stylishness of Miss Thorpe's, had more real elegance. Her manners showed good sense and good breeding; they were neither shy nor affectedly open; and she seemed capable of being
young, attractive, and at a ball without wanting to fix the attention of every man near her, and without exaggerated feelings of ecstatic delight or inconceivable vexation on every little trifling occurrence."

Now here comes the difficult part, I'm having a hard time finding genuinely nice people in Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park. My characters have tended to be minor (ie. not the heros and heroines, esp.) characters but I'm drawing a blank in these two books.

Sense & Sensibility:
Mrs. Jennings - she does mean well, but ... all the gossiping and useless chatter
Lady Middleton - um. no.
John Dashwood - um. no.
I'm at a loss.

Mansfield Park:
There is no one - at all that's really nice. Except Fanny, and she's perhaps too much so.

* I had a college professor who hated describing novels, paintings, architecture, etc. as works. Guess she's made her point. 

02 December 2010

Agatha Christie - Poirot Investigates

I recently finished Poirot Investigates and am starting on The Secret of Chimneys next. I enjoyed PI because it is a series of 14 short stories where Poirot gets to show off in his usual fashion and frustrating Hastings the entire time.

The Collection includes:
The Adventures of the "Western Star"
The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor
The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
The Mystery of the Hunter's Lodge
The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
The Kidnapped Prime Minister
The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
The Case of the Missing Will
The Veiled Lady
The Lost Mine
The Chocolate Box

I enjoyed the Hunter's Lodge where Hastings takes the lead. I also liked very much the Kidnapped Prime Minister. And in true Poirot fashion - The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim which Poirot solves the mystery w/out leaving his rooms -- what a show off!

Need to get back to Everything Austen II and finish my over committed list, so The Secret of  Chimneys may have to wait until the new year. Perhaps I'll start on Mom's birthday - January 11.

How to spend Black Friday

I had planned on being anywhere that most people aren't and that's exactly what me and MotH did (w/dog 1 and dog 2. The Boy had to work). There is a new farmer's market-type store, taking the dogs to lunch at the Happy Pig, visiting the new cupcake shops,* and checking out the Port Street Market.
The last thing I will do is go to the mall (never do that anyway) or any shop. I certainly slept through many of the sales that took place because being around that many people would make me crazy.
I've never been out shopping on that day and don't plan to start now. Yick!

* In our typical way of being behind trends by years, we have our first two cupcake shops. NYC is so over it, so it must be time for cupcakes to be popular in the Gulf Coast.

30 November 2010

How well read am I?

The BBC contends that most people will have read only six books from their list of 100. Only 6? That's kind of sad and hopefully, it isn't true. I saw this on This Miss Loves to Read and  Austen Inspired Fan Fiction.
•Copy this list.
•Bold those books you've read in their entirety.
•Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt.
•Tag other book nerds.
•Highlight the ones that you have but haven't read.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (but hated it)
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D'Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler's Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (loved it!!)
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen

Persuasion – Jane Austen (probably my favorite JA ever)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli's Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell

The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown boring
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones's Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight's Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens ( every wanker has read this)
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte's Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (Assigned reading, but I liked it.)
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

25 November 2010

Thanksgiving .....

And what are we thankful for?
My wonderful husband and outstanding son.
Living in a free country.
A job that I enjoy and working with people that are fun.
Two great pups who take up lots of room, shed lots of fur, eat lots of kibble, and make us happy.
Gulf Coast Living (hurricanes and oil spills excepted).
Wearing shorts on Turkey Day - It's expected to be 75 degrees today.
Turkey and all that goes with it.
Having lots of things to be thankful for...
And especially a FOUR day weekend!!!!

24 November 2010

Food Network (Humor)

Food Network Humor (if you've not checked this out and you watch Food Network -- you need to take a peek) listed their version of the five worst shows on Food Network. I have to say, I've not seen Cupcake War - really a war about cupcakes? Stupid. or the Neely's - no particular reason, just not seen it before. I have not seen Meat & Potatoes because that just sounds dumb. Shows like Outrageous Food never appeal to me. Intentional excess is just silly and kind of sad. I have seen Food Feuds and while I like Michael Symon - this is just another travel around and eat things show - with judgement involved.... kind of not nice in the end for the "loser" of the feud.
So this started me thinking. I've been watching Food Network a long time (years and years). What are my top five shows on Food Network?

#1 is so. very. simple.
Good Eats
AB rocks! I learn something every time I watch and I will watch episodes about things I can't even eat (seafood). The show if fast, funny, and very informative.This to be is clearly head and shoulders above anything else Food Network puts on. And has been for years. I still remember the first show I saw and I was instantly hooked. 1999 Season one Episode nine - A Bowl of Onion (Barbie and Ken were involved).

Nigella (anything she does)
Nigella Lawson seems very comfortable cooking, baking, and talking at the same time. Her recipes are typically simple and quick and include pre-planning ideas which make it easy to come home from work and make dinner. She's calm and stable -- not running around all over the kitchen like some shows do.

Jaime at Home
I know it's over, but those shows were good and again, I learned things and I liked the fact that he used his garden to source some of the food - cool.

Well, now things are getting harder...maybe Iron Chef America (but only when they have real food people as judges and aren't dispatching live animals in front of me). I used to watch Giada at Home, but it was some much of the same over and over - and that annoy affectation of rolling into Italian every time an Italian work show up (spa get ti) -ugh. Secrets of a Restaurant Chef - Anne Burrell just got on my nerves - she's the anti-Nigella, Alex's Day Off - meh, but I do like her as a judge on ICA. Barefoot Contess has developed some annoying habits that started to get on my nerves ("really good" insert ingredient here, or "How easy is that" and the decorating the able (tablescapes anyone?) and her collection of gays (I don't care that they are gay, but don't they feel a little weird being used as props?)

I get the feeling that my cooking skills have somehow gone beyond some of the shows. Or maybe I've just gotten from them everything I need so far.

There are many shows I haven't watched because they just don't appeal to me (beyond those noted above).
Ace of Cakes - snore. I hear said snore is going to be canceled.
Anything Rachael Ray is in. She's so 2004.
Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee - tablescapes? Really tablescapes? Blech.
Private Chefs of Beverly Hills - sounds eerily like Real Housewifes of (insert city here)
5 Ingredient Fix - meh
Anything with Guy Fieri - the clothes  should explain it all. 
The Best Thing I Ever Ate - Really don't care to see you get all gushy over the best (insert here) you've ever eaten. Watch the grammar here people.
Aarti Party - I had to watch the first episode to see if it would be a train wreck. It was.
Anything with Paula Dean. Where did the real Paula go? Have the aliens abducted her and sent a creepy replacement. She's just not right.
Ten Dollar Dinners - I'm not sure I want that.

Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen are more up my alley now. They are my go to group for tested, straight forward, though sometimes time-intensive recipes. (And when are they going to send my someone to wash all the dishes I dirty in the process of making their great food?) I know I say it every time I mention them - but do yourself a favor and sign up - they are sooooo worth it. 

22 November 2010

Is it cheating ...

Is it cheating at Thanksgiving to purchase all or part of the dinner already prepared? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The only thing I've ever bought before (because I'm too chicken to make them) is Parker House rolls - which I love. But how far down the  slippery slope do you go when you purchase your turkey and a pie and maybe even the cornbread dressing?  I always called my mom to help me through the dressing, but since she's not here any more, I'm sort of at a loss. I don't want to do the first (fill in the blank) since my mom died, so I'm trying hard not it.  It's not quite Thanksgiving without smelling celery and onions first thing in the morning though. This year Thanksgiving will be for the four of us, me, the MotH*, the Boy** and my lovely mother-in-law. 
I'm accustomed to cooking for 8-12 people, so is it worth the work to do everything from scratch for just the 4 of us. So this year is an experiment... I am purchasing a few things and making the rest and we'll see how it goes. I may hate it. I may feel guilty (highly likely). Or, I might think it's the best thing I've done lately. We'll have to wait and see.  Why are holidays so full of things that are hard to deal with especially after someone is gone?

Full menu (w/recipes) to be posted on Turkey Day. 

*Man of the House
**I'll have to stop calling him the Boy in a few months - yikes!

17 November 2010

End of Daylight Savings Time - crap

I officially hate it. Hate it. Did I mention that I hate it? Throws my whole damn day off -- and for what reason? Hell if I know. All I do know are some states and some counties w/in states don't participate. So I think we should start a Gulf Coast movement to depart from the time change.We need time after work to see some day light, sit on the porch sipping a beverage of choice.
We recently elected us a new mayor who will have more power than our old time (and good ol' boy) symbolic mayor. I think he might be up for the challenge. Wouldn't the tourism industry benefit? I know the locals would benefit (esp. this slightly daft one). Consider all the people with Seasonal Affective Disorder - it would have to help them. I know this happened two weeks ago, but I was giving my self time to adjust - I haven't. I've just gotten more irritated every evening going home in the damn dark. 
I say we take back our precious winter daylight and we do it now. Bring on the torches and the pitchforks.
End of Rant (for now...).

07 November 2010

Chili Jj with (the best) Cornbread

Chili Simmering - note jalapeno
It's finally gotten cold enough here (in the great Gulf Coast) to start to want warming foods and my go-to cold (well, it's below 60 so that's at least cool weather) weather meal is chili and cornbread. While the chili takes some time to make it's important for it to have time to simmer and all the flavors mix. I often cook this on the weekend and don't serve it until mid week when all I have to do is mix and bake the cornbread and reheat the chili - simple night for me in the kitchen. 
The spices are an estimate of what I do because I don't measure w/spoons, but in the palm of my hand. Do not think the cinnamon stick is optional, it's not. 

Chili Jj
Adaption of El Cid Chili by Cid Prevost that I found in a Parade magazine years ago.
2 T olive oil
1 pound ground sirloin
2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
2 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 (14.5 oz) cans of beef broth, low sodium
1 (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes
1 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
1 jalapeno pepper, slit lengthwise
1 (14.5 oz) can of red kidney beans, rinsed well! (optional)
Ignore messy cooktop

Place oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Brown sirloin, sausage, and onion. Use a potato masher to break down meat into similar consistencies. Stir in remaining ingredients, except beans. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Break up the whole tomatoes as you stir. With approximately 30 minutes remaining, add the beans and stir well. Before serving, discard cinnamon stick and jalapeno. Garnish with the usual suspects and serve with or over cornbread. 

Best. Cornbread. Ever.

Sour Cream Cornbread (simple and delicious)
1 cup self-rising cornmeal
2 eggs
1 small can of cream-style corn
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Method: Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a greased 9" x 9" pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. This recipe comes from a great friend and I can't make cornbread any other way. It's outstanding. Oh, and did I say it was simple? Because it's really simple. 

30 October 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson

Summary: Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her luck, middle-aged governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. Over the period of 24 hours, her
life is changed forever 

Comments: I must admit I saw this movie before I read the book - which is not at all what I typically do. The movie was lovely especially with Ciaran Hinds (he can't do anything wrong in my book), but Frances McDormand stole the show - she was funny and charming and practical all at the same time - which is exactly what Miss Pettigrew is in the book. Smart, maybe not worldy, but full of common sense and quick on her feet. She's the kind of friend you would want in a tight spot. And nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse (don't you just love that name) is apparently always in some fix or another as she is juggling several men at one time - including the one that is just right for her. In addition to helping Delysia out of whatever jam she's in at present, Miss Guinivere Pettigrew does her best to assist Delysia's friends and in the process meets Edythe DuBarry and her older boyfriend Joe Bloomfield. For a book that takes place during the period of only one day, so much happens and so much of it is just pure fun, this is a easy and great read. I'm surprised it took so long before it was made into a movie. But read the book first - that's always the best way to do it.

28 October 2010

Everything Austen II - Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

Summary: Seventeen year--old daughter of a clergyman, Catherine Morland, leaves her small community with friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen for her first trip to Bath. While there Catherine is introduced to the charming Henry Tilney and becomes friends with his sister Eleanor. She also meets the daughter and son of an old friend of Mrs. Allen, Isabella and John Thorpe. General Tilney invites Catherine to spend time with his daughter Eleanor at their home in Northanger Abbey.

Comments (some spoilers): I came to Northanger Abbey rather late... ie. There was nothing left of Miss Austen's to read but this, so I read it. The first time, I wasn't sure what I thought - it seemed a bit silly, but the second time I started to see that Catherine was an experiment. Described early on as basically a tom boy, she was not set out to do great things, but as she grew older, she became a sweet girl who wanted to look for something new. She was so young and so naieve, but she was slowly learning, sometimes the hard way, what the world was about. She's also been very influenced by her recent reading of Gothic
novels. She has an internal strength that won't let Isabella or John Thorpe or even her beloved brother make her do the improper thing. She has a devotion to Henry Tilney that of course makes it easy for him to love her and a love of Eleanor Tilney as the type of true friend worth having. Were she a bit older, she might be more like Elizabeth Bennet. If that were the case, she would have seen through Isabella very early on, but Catherine has seen so little of the world, that it just wasn't possible. Just like her inability to understand why Captain Tilney acts in the way that he does when it seems so very clear to her that he is in the wrong. But she also has the ability to manage to get home from Northanger Abbey alone when the time abruptly comes. 

I just love the description of Mrs. Allen. "Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them." Her fascination with dress and have aquanticenes in Bath, was amusing.
Henry Tilney is the most charming of Austen's heros. From the very beginning he is witty, fun, smart -- and utter charmer. I can see why so many Janeites are on Team Tilney. No brooding Mr. Darcy, no resentful Captain Wentworth here, just a lovely intelligent guy with a fun sense of humor who can't help but fall in love with Catherine since it's so obvious that she is in love with him.
One of my favorite lines after a conversation between Catherine and Miss Tilney: "This civility was duly returned; and they parted -- on Miss Tilney's side with some knowledge of her new acquaintance's feelings, and on Catherine's, without the smallest consciousness of having explained them."
I've made my feeling clear on Isabella and John Thorpe before, so I won't belabor the point
All in all, I've come to enjoy Northanger Abbey and Catherine and Tilney make a lovely couple.

27 October 2010

Talk Like Jane Austen Day - October 30th

Talk Like Jane Austen Day - October 30th
What a great idea - Talk like Jane Austen for a day - This will certainly be difficult, but I shall do my best. I do not often shrink from a challenge and besides this should confuse the Boy to the point of driving him to distraction. How the lovely puppies will take this is entirely unknown. The MotH will be his usual heroic self and tolerate my strange take on the English language. 

21 October 2010

Agatha Christie - Reading in Order

This started because my mom's favorite mystery writer was Agatha Christie. About a month after my mom died, I decided to read Agatha Christie in order - I've read several before and seen the recent
BBC/Mystery shows, but in my mind to get a sense of an author, it's best to start at the beginning. So I did. So far, I've read The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), The Secret Adversary (1922), Murder on the Links (1923), and The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). I'm currently in the middle of Poirot Investigates (1924) which is a book of short story mysteries, each a chapter a piece so it's a little change of pace. I'm hoping to finish that this weekend and start The Secret of Chimneys (1925) next. I can't really say I have a favorite so far, but I did enjoy Affair at Styles quite a bit - it's rather ambitious for a first publication. Murder on the Links didn't do much for me, but it gave me a better understanding of Poirot and Hastings.  It will also be interesting to see how (if) Ms. Christie's style changes over the many many years that she published. I've not come across Miss Marple yet, but I'm sure it won't be long.
Thankfully, I own several of Ms. Christie's books already. In fact, one set is from my mom that she purchased in the 1990s. But I've been purchasing the ones I don't own. I realize that I could borrow them from the library, but I've had a terrible time doing that. I've had to return too many books to the library unread because they set off my allergies - mostly to cigarette smoke -- it's unfortunate, but it's true. So I spend a little here and there to complete my collection. Hopefully, the boy, who has shown an interest in mysteries, will be interested in carrying on the tradition.

05 October 2010

Miss Austen's Icky Characters

Miss Austen does a good job of creating some really icky smarmy characters.With few words, describing certain characters and letting them speak for themselves, she creates characters that just make your skin crawl because of the ick factor. Here are a few for consideration in no particular order.

Mr. Collins: I do think he is the height of icky in Miss Austen's works. He's just sleezy in trying (ha!) to attract on the Bennet girls because he feels some (supposed) responsibility to them for the entail. Even Elizabeth acknowledges that is just dumb. "He must be an oddity, I think," said she (Elizabeth). I cannot make him out - There is something very pompous in his style -- And what can he mean by apologising for being next in the entail? -- We cannot suppose he would help it if he could - Could he be a sensible man, sir?" I think we all know the answer to that. He certainly came to admire the Bennet daughters, but it certainly didn't stop him from admiring his future home either (creepy). I do enjoy Mr. Bennet's ability to poke fun at Mr. Collins without the latter being aware. But his confession of love and admiration for Elizabeth are just disgusting, insincere, pompous - completely false as proven by his engagement to Charlotte Lucas only days later - blech.

Mr. Elton: What's up with the clergy? Insinuating, haughty, and false. He pretends to be paying attention to Harriet Smith, which is exactly what Emma wants, but all the time, he's trying to make himself attractive to Emma herself. Just a BIT above his station, but he didn't seem to recognize that. That was until the painful truth was brought to bear on him on the way home from the Christmas party at the Weston's. "It is impossible for me to doubt any longer. You have made yourself too clear. Mr. Elton, my astonishment is much beyond any thing I can express. After such behaviour, as I have witnessed during the last month, to Miss Smith - such attentions as I have been in the daily habit of observing - to be addressing me in this manner - this is an unsteadiness of character, indeed, which I had not supposed possible! Believe me, sir, I am far, very far, from gratified in being the object of such professions." As one can imagine an declaration like that to a pompous man, can seriously damage his ego. So, off to Bath he goes to find a wife....

And his lovely wife Mrs. Elton: Who turns out to be even worse that him, if that's possible. While she may have ten thousand pounds (though we're never really clear on that, are we??), she is base, crass, insinuating and just plain annoying. "When the visit was returned, Emma made up her mind. She could then see more and judge better. From Harriet's happening not to be at Hartfield, and her father's being present to engage Mr. Elton, she had a quarter of an
hour of the lady's conversation to herself, and could composedly attend to her; and the quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr. Elton no good."
The way she tries to become top of society and place herself with Emma is just too much and such a benefactress to Jane Fairfax. Poor Jane, she deserves so much better. I think Emma says it best. ""Insufferable woman!" was her immediate exclamation. "Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley!—I could not have believed it. Knightley!—never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley! —and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and underbred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. I could not have believed it! And to propose that she and I should unite to form a musical club! One would fancy we were bosom friends! And Mrs. Weston!— Astonished that the person who had brought me up should be a gentlewoman! Worse and worse. I never met with her equal. Much beyond my hopes. Harriet is disgraced by any comparison." Enough said. 

Mr. Elliot: Smarmy - that's about all I can say. Anne describes him as being correct in manner and information, but he's not open. Do you know if what you see is what you get with Mr. Elliot - em no. Thank goodness for Mrs. Smith confirming what Anne had all along suspected. She was never in any danger from falling for him since her love for Capt. Wentworth knew no end, but it's nice to have the confirmation and the ammunition. His ending in London with a certain freckled woman was perfect if you ask me. "Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open.There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others." Mrs. Smith describes him as, "Hear the truth, therefore, now, while you are unprejudiced. Mr Elliot is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; whom for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others.Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion. Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!" Pretty damning condemnation.

Mrs. Clay: What can one say but insinuating? She's certainly out for what she can get out of her relationship with Elizabeth Elliot and dare we say also with Sir Walter. "From situation, Mrs Clay was, in Lady Russell's estimate, a very unequal, and in her character she believed a very dangerous companion; and a removal that would leave Mrs Clay behind, and bring a choice of more suitable intimates within Miss Elliot's reach, was therefore an object of first-rate importance." It seems everyone is on to Mrs. Clay's game, but it does not deter her. "Mrs Clay had freckles, and a projecting tooth, and a clumsy wrist, which he was continually making severe remarks upon, in her absence; but she was young, and certainly altogether well-looking, and possessed, in an acute mind and assiduous pleasing manners, infinitely more dangerous attractions than any merely personal might have been. Anne was so impressed by the degree of their danger, that she could not excuse herself from trying to make it perceptible to her sister." She just really creeps me out.

John Thorpe: I've said he's hateful, but he's also icky. He's pushy and bossy. He lies to elevate himself and then lies to sink Catherine - which he almost did. "Could she have foreseen such a circumstance, nothing should have persuaded her to go out with the others; and, as it was, she could only lament her ill luck, and think over what she had lost, till it was clear to her that the drive had by no means been very pleasant and that John Thorpe himself was quite disagreeable."Indeed.

Lucy Steele: Is Lucy Steele the female version of Mr. Elliot? She seems like it to me. All for what she can get. Smarmy, inscinsere. calculating. Everything a true lady is not (see: Elinor Dashwood). "Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affection for herself out of the question,with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her - illiterate, artful and selfish?" Not likely. 

28 September 2010

Agatha Christie

Have started reading Agatha Christie in publishing order. Too much fun.

14 September 2010

Everything Austen II - Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Summary: Fanny Price, niece of Sir Thomas and Lady Burtram is brought to Mansfield Park at 10 years old from the squalor of her home overflowing with noise, many other children and some degree of poverty. The Bertrams, along with Mrs. Norris, Fanny's other aunt, plan to raise her and educate her. She is younger than her cousins, Maria and Julia and even more so than Tom, eldest brother, and Edmund. What is supposed to be good for her has made her very unhappy because she's constantly reminded that she isn't really one of them. The only cousin who sees her unhappiness is Edmund and goes out of his way to make her happy at the age of 10, but also throughout her time at Mansfield Park. Change bring a new family to the neighborhood, Sir Thomas must travel for business, and all the while the Fanny and her cousins are growing up. I shall not recap the entire story because it needs to be read in its original, but it's worth the effort. You will find characters learning some important lessons about themselves and their attitudes as the novel concludes.

Comments: (some spoilers) There is such a controversy about this book or perhaps more about its heroine, Fanny Price. Most people think she's just too mousy, quiet, boring ... the adjectives go on and on. I'll admit, Elizabeth Bennet; she isn't. It took me a long time to come around to this story, but I finally think I have gotten somewhere close to understanding it. There is a certain deception that goes along with the story. The deception that surely Fanny Price isn't the heroine is the first one. It must be the bright, bubbly Mary Crawford (a new addition to the neighborhood), but we see too much of her duplicity early in the story for that to be so. Consequently we're just left with Fanny Price as our heroine. Edmund is certainly deceived in Mary Crawford, so for that matter, is Maria Bertram deceived in Henry Crawford, Mary's flirtatious brother. I could go on, but Mansfield Park points out that what is important is what you do and how you think, not just necessarily what you say. The only person who is not deceived is Fanny. She see things, the things that matter and does not let flattery or threats, for that matter, shake her sense of what is right and proper. Now maybe that's boring to us now because what is proper doesn't seem to matter as much to our culture. Maybe this is such a misunderstood text because it does not translate well into the 21st century. 
Another theme to appear in Mansfield Park is the contrast of  The Country with that of  The City. Mary Crawford sees her exile to the country as a dead bore (at least until she spends some time w/Edmund) while Edmund thinks the small character flaws he does see in Mary are from all the time in the city with her society friends. After several noisy bustling weeks at "home," Fanny longs for the green of the country and her real home - Mansfield Park. Maria and Julia long to get to the city to escape their oppressive father, but nothing happens for them there but trouble in Julia's case and ruin in Maria's with Henry Crawford.
Fanny Price is by no means the most exciting or even endearing heroine ever penned by Miss Austen, but she certain teaches a lesson to do what is right, be patient, kind, and grateful and serves as a contrast to all around her.  

04 September 2010

First Hummingbird ...

I had my first hummingbird in the garden this evening. Of course, I didn't have a dang camera, but I expect he will be back. He found the purple hyacinth vine flowers very interesting. Yipee - hummers... 

The flowers of the vine are impressive, but I love the pod even more. This year's plant just sort of showed up from seeds from last year. They are tough vines. They start of with the first few leaves kind of raggedy, but that's no big deal. It's vigorous, so it needs something tough to grow on - I use our six foot chain link fence and I still have to keep it in check from taking on the roof line of the house. Great vine though -- just lovely. And ... hummers.... Next time I'll get a picture of the little bugger.

Everything Austen II - Jane Austen Ruined my Life -Beth Pattillo

Summary: Professor Emma Grant had always believed in happily-ever-after. After all, Jane Austen and her parents were proof enough of that. But in the place of a moment, she realizes that her dream marriage was a sham and to add insult to injury, her husband and his lover ruin her academic career in one fell swoop. Who do you blame - Jane Austen of course. She taught us to believe in Elizabeth marrying Darcy at the end of the Pride & Prejudice. Lured to England with promises of letters that might resurrect her academic career, Emma has nothing else to do but try. 

Comments (some spoilers): Having an academic life (14 years - good lord have I been that long in higher education?), I know unfortunately, how things work. I know what tenured faculty can be (though thankfully only a VERY few) and I know how manipulative graduate students can be - I was one after all in this country and in England. 
Emma begins her story like this, "Most of all, I'm going to England to prove there is no such thing as a happy ending. And that I was a fool to think I could ever have one." Ouch - what a way to start. 
But philosophically, hasn't Miss Austen ruined us all to some degree. It largely turns out for the best for her heroines; they marry for love, not money, though some of them get both (think Lizzy Bennet), but that's not the real world.
I enjoyed the book. I liked the idea of Emma's story coming thorough slowly and the details not just being dumped in my lap at the beginning. The Formidables - what a hoot -- I only wish they do exist... maybe they do and are waiting for me to worthy of their work. 

I quibble with one minor thing and one maybe not so minor. Minor things - Starbucks ... over  and over  - no one goes to the bloody pub? Come on - I lived there - we drink beer at lunch. No pub visit at all? This is not the England I know. 
Okay - not major, but certainly not minor - page 44 - Adam and Emma visit Kenwood Park and Adam wonders if it  could be an inspiration for an Austen house such as Pemberley, Rosings, or Mansfield Park, to which Emma replies, "Not Mansfield Park ... Austen never really describes it, not the way she does other houses. But I can't image a family like the Rushworths living in someplace this elegant."  The Rushworths... um,  perhaps the Bertrams instead. 

Over all -- fun read, love the Formidables and of course Adam (but dear lord who wouldn't?), but Emma better get back to him soon (I'm not kidding).  Can't wait for the next book... Mr. Darcy broke my Heart.

22 August 2010

Everything Austen II - The Other Mr. Darcy - Monica Fairview

The Other Mr. Darcy - Monica Fairview

Summary: Caroline Bingley is our heroine. Caroline is sincerely broken-hearted when Mr. Darcy marries Lizzy Bennet— that is, until she meets his charming and sympathetic American cousin. Mr. Robert Darcy is as charming as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud, and he is stunned to find the beautiful Caroline weeping at his cousin's wedding. Such depth of love, he thinks, is rare and precious. For him, it's nearly love at first sight. But these British can be so haughty and off-putting. How can he let the young lady, who was understandably mortified to be discovered in such a vulnerable moment, know how much he feels for and sympathizes with her?

Comments (some spoilers): How can I possibly feel bad for Caroline Bingley - groan? Oh, but I do. Anyone who has ever had their heart well and truly broken can feel for her. But to be honest in Pride and Prejudice, I never thought Caroline had a heart at all - just ambition. And to be seen in such a state by a man you don't know - let's just compound grief with humiliation to start things off right. Ouch. Seriously, Ouch. But Caroline and Louisa return from the Darcy wedding to Netherfield to spend time with Jane and Charles Bingley. Caroline has become more civil, more thoughtful perhaps, and seems a real help to Jane. Jane seems to be counting on Caroline's assistance, But Jane is so sweet, it is hardly surprising. In contrast, Louisa Hurst has become more crass. Perhaps the death of her basically useless husband, is the case... or perhaps it's because she can't have any fun because she's in mourning.
It has been several months since Darcy and Elizabeth married, and an unexpected arrival takes place at Netherfield - Mr. Robert Darcy arrives with news for Jane to come to Pemberly as Elizabeth is unwell. Of course she does with Charles immediately, but Caroline and Louisa wait to let Mr. Robert Darcy rest and for the arrival of a proper escort in the person of Col. Fitzwilliam. Caroline couldn't be in much more of an awkward situation, but does want to be a help to Elizabeth - or specifically Jane at Pemberly.
So this is where the fun begins... the 4 journey to Pemberly, get way laid by geese (geese! of all things), visit to a fortune teller at the fair, and spend several days at the home of a friend of Col. Fitzwilliam's. There are proposals, engagement rumors, fake engagement, and finally making it to Pemberly. Where the adventure continues with the arrival of the entire Bennet clan, then Lydia, stolen jewels, and finally Caroline realizing her own self.
Caroline rises to the occasion, more than once and proves herself worthy of all that is good and will make her truly happy.

It was at the fair that I started to realize that Caroline's upbringing could not have been much fun. She and Louisa were in a position to become ladies with the knowledge that their family money came from trade. They couldn't do anything (such as attend a fair) that would place them closer to the trade side of their family instead of being girls, and later ladies, of importance. That could not have been fun. Is that what makes her so conceited? Robert Darcy hits a key point - Caroline is always blaming herself for things - does that too go back to her upbringing. We find out more about her parents and that I think illuminates something of her personality as well. Ms. Fairview has created a very three dimensional character.
There were so many funny references to Pride and Prejudice in this book. I won't point them out, but you'll see them. Some made me laugh out loud. I'm not sure about all the traveling  - the Bennet family, Lydia, etc. it gave me pause, but did not distract me nor did it distract from the novel. I really enjoyed Robert Darcy's open character and his practical way of thinking. He is a lovely character and a true American.
I enjoyed this book so much that I have added The Darcy Cousins to my ever growing Everything Austen II list. This was a great read about a character I never thought I could like, but in the end, I liked Caroline Bingley a great deal.

Lovely book Ms. Fairview!