Miss Austen—No Politician, She

In this, the 200th anniversary year of Jane Austen’s death, we learn that white supremacists are co-opting the English author in support of a racial dictatorship, shocked opponents are claiming that true readers are “rational, compassionate, liberal-minded people,” and conservatives are chiding Janeites for assuming that great literature can be written only by great liberals.

All these political takes on Austen, yet whenever someone describes her political views, they get them wrong, because they have no idea what hers actually were. As an individual and an artist, she kept her political mouth firmly shut. She had other—I would claim—more important things to write about.

This silence can be confounding, for Austen lived in a time tumultuously like our own. Slavery—the “alt-right” issue of the day—was bitterly fought over. War, political corruption, and disparity in wealth had England on the brink of breakdown. Factory automation was destroying the middle class. Sound familiar?

Yet, when asked about her aunt’s political views, Caroline Austen, who wrote a memoir of the author, said: “In vain do I try to recall any word or expression of Aunt Jane’s that had reference to public events—Some bias of course she must have had—but I can only guess to which quarter it inclined.”

As today, the politics of 1800-1820 had many “quarters.” Radical Tories believed that God had put themselves and the King in charge; the poor deserved their lot because God had made them so. Radical Whigs, full of entrepreneurial zeal, believed that the poor deserved to starve because they were too lazy or incompetent to rise from their rags.

In between was a shifting coalition of moderate Tories, who felt a responsibility to those beneath them, and moderate Whigs, who sought to spread the political and social wealth—mostly to themselves, the rising business and technical class.

Lower-case “republicanism”—power to the people by putting them in charge, rather than an anointed king—drew the same reaction among conservatives then as “socialism” does today—the fear of the leveling of society (and power). A few desperate citizens pushed for revolt out of despair at the lack of economic and political justice.

Many of the issues are woven into the fabric of Austen’s work, but none plays out in the foreground. Thus, people take a slice here and there to justify their own political stances. Sheryl Craig, in her book Jane Austen and the State of the Nation, goes so far as to conclude that Austen’s novels are “carefully constructed texts … about political economics. The love stories came later.” Despite much great information in her work, Craig’s conclusion strikes me as exactly wrong.

A few feminist scholars were also described as “startled” to discover that a Wikipedia entry on Austen claimed she supported traditional marriage. Sorry, but she did.  Every woman in her novels outside of traditional marriage, unless she started out rich, ends up impoverished, disgraced, or dead. The women in traditional marriage end up happy—or make a conscious and occasionally odious tradeoff for its security (see Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins). What Austen insisted upon is that traditional marriage include love and respect.

Naval officers like Frank Austen needed patronage to move up in the navy; otherwise, an officer could languish for years. All but a wealthy oldest son faced an uncertain future.

The poet W. H. Auden wrote a ditty noting that her supposed love stories actually describe the “economic basis” of society. Four of her six novels open with a reference to wealth, and conversations regularly involve finance. But this “economic basis” develops not through political discourse but through her factual descriptions of life.

Naval officers like Jane’s brothers needed patronage to move up in the navy; otherwise, an officer could languish for years. All but a wealthy oldest son faced an uncertain future.

Being dependent, women must be canny in their romantic choices (see what happens to Marianne and Lydia when they are not). The non-inheriting males must find a career (see all younger sons). The lower classes need patrons to move up (sailor William Price, along with Jane Austen’s sailor brothers).

One sees in these stories her liberal sympathies, but it is not a sympathy of class. While self-made naval heroes return from war to supplant the attenuated aristocracy in Persuasion, the author holds in equal esteem the dull but reliable Col. Brandon, the grouchy aristocrat Darcy, the energetic Mr. Knightley, the farmer Martin—anyone who shares the virtues of industry, intelligence, and generosity.

The telling issue of that era was the slave trade, which became illegal in 1807, when Austen was 31, in her maturity as an author. As I have discussed before, Edward Said and other scholars claim that she turns a blind eye, particularly in Mansfield Park, where the family’s money comes from slavery on a West Indies plantation. Paula Byrne and others, in contrast, claim that Fanny Price in Mansfield Park speaks “truth to power” about slavery.

As today, racial issues divided society. Economic and religious traditionalists supported slavery and evangelicals led the bitter fight to end it.

Austen’s admiration for the poet-abolitionist William Cowper and for Thomas Clarkson’s abolitionist book indicate her opposition to slavery. Despite a few anti-slavery winks, however, Mansfield Park does not prove

As today, racial issues divided society. Economic and religious traditionalists supported slavery and evangelicals led the bitter fight to end it.

these personal views. Apologists cite Fanny’s comment that, when she raises the issue of the slave trade with her family, she is met with “dead silence!” The inability of anyone to respond to her question demonstrates Fanny’s—Austen’s—moral rebuke.

Only it doesn’t.

Fanny explains the silence: Her cousins simply have no interest in their father’s business, and Fanny does not wish to “set myself off at their expense,” by showing any curiosity about his topics. Earlier, she makes similar, maddeningly oblique comments. She could mean that she’s interested in the plantation reforms that were beginning to make slavery somewhat less horrific. We don’t know. Slavery adds a subtle metaphor about Fanny’s own lowly status, but Austen is too talented to turn her most complex novel into a political tract.

In attitude, Austen was a moderate Tory—the equivalent of a moderate Republican. Austen never challenged the existing order. Like the abolitionist William Wilberforce, she wanted to reform it—not abolish it. She believed in merit as the economic salvation for herself and her brothers. She was a proto-feminist in the sense that she was a pragmatist. Dependent on the men in her family for most of her life, she needed to be able to support, as well as express, herself. That ability became critical when her brother Henry’s bank collapsed, taking much of the family’s wealth with it. (Most of Jane’s funds were safely deposited in Navy Fives–stock paying five percent.)

Practical economic considerations fill her books, but to read the novels as political commentary is to miss the point. Austen creates a rich, original world in which complex, believable human beings interact at their best and worst.

Any political lessons flow from the way human characteristics manifest themselves at all levels in the real world. Life experience, not ideology, dictates any political take-aways from her plots. She demonstrates that women should be able to accept relationships on their own terms and to provide for themselves as their needs require.

In the 200th commemoration of her death, it is disquieting that these lessons of a woman’s right to basic self-determination remain too often unheeded—even disputed.

 

Strolling in the Pleasure Gardens of Jane Austen’s Bath

Whereas the first day of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath was as dreary as anyone could wish to avoid—enlivened only by the gaily dressed ladies and gentlemen who braved the rain for the Promenade—the next day broke off as sunny and pleasant as anyone in England would wish to enjoy.

The major activity for our group was a tour of the pleasure gardens, beginning at the Holburne Museum, which now as then is the entrance to Sydney Gardens. In Austen’s day the building was called the Sydney Hotel, though it was not a hotel in the traditional sense but a place of entertainment. All of the activities of the Gardens—public breakfasts, music, fireworks, and special events—began at this building. The Gardens were behind.

The public could buy subscriptions for a season of activities, though occasionally special events required additional admission. Jane Austen is known to have participated in some public breakfasts.

moira-at-gardens
Moira throws herself energetically into her history of  Sydney Gardens

Our tour was led by an architectural historian by the name of Moira, a knowledgeable, energetic, theatrical, R-trilling woman of a certain age and build. She walked us through—literally—the layout of the Gardens, which as originally constructed had a variety of features including a canal, Chinese-style bridges, a waterfall, serpentine promenades, a grotto, and a labyrinth.

Progress has reduced the size of the Gardens and eliminated a few features. The Great Western Railway swallowed the labyrinth in the 1830s, for instance. Most of the Gardens remain, however, and it’s still a lovely place to promenade of a pleasant afternoon, as Jane and her sister Cassandra were fond of doing.

lady-in-blue
The only way for a lovely woman to dress for an afternoon promenade

On our Sunday, the Gardens were full of visitors, including a few dressed in Regency wear. (Being in costume can lead to discounts at some haberdashers and eateries, we learned.) Our group featured a stunning young woman in a blue Regency walking outfit carrying complementary ivory parasol and gloves. It’s this sort of thing that gives credence to the concept of time machines.

The one thing that surprised me was the extent to which the Gardens sloped up from the entrance. Given that the canal cuts across the Gardens along the back, I had assumed that the elevation would be relatively flat or would slope downhill rather than up.

We finished at Jane Austen’s three-story house at 4 Sydney Place across the street from the Gardens. The building is rather austere, with a plain front of light-colored local Bath stone. Next to the red door is a small plaque giving the dates of Jane’s tenure there.

The family lived at Sydney Place from 1801 to 1804, after her father retired and they moved from the country in Steventon, about eighty miles east, to Bath where her parents had met and married as young people.

The location of their house, just off the Great Pulteney Bridge and across from the Gardens, was, however, too expensive for a retired clergyman and they ultimately moved to cheaper quarters. The plaque incorrectly gives the end date as 1805. Likely, the person who commissioned the sign assumed that the family moved upon the death of her father in January 1805; in fact, it was before then.

4-sydney-plaque
In her first few years in Bath, Jane Austen lived in a townhome at 4 Sydney Place, across from the Gardens

We couldn’t go into the house because it’s now part of a boutique hotel group—so any Janeite can settle in for a long weekend. The price is somewhat dear! A member of our group who recently stayed there says it is well decorated and has a number of Austen-related books but, curiously, none of Austen’s own novels.

Moira the tour guide had a book of illustrations that she used to point out details of the Gardens to the tour group. I noticed that one illustration showed a hot-air balloon, which she had not mentioned by the time the tour concluded.

I discreetly asked whether that drawing might be of the flight from the Gardens in September 1802. She laughed with surprise and excitement. The illustration was from a much later flight in Vauxhall Gardens, London—there is no artwork apparently of the 1802 flight by Monsieur André-Jacques Garnerin in Bath. The story is that the balloon was intended to remain tethered, being moved about by ropes above the heads of the admiring crowd. But the balloon got away, causing great mischief and alarm.

Moira wondered how an ordinary modern-day American might know about Bath’s aviation history. Before I could answer, my companions leapt in to explain that I had written a novel about Jane Austen, the critical scene coming when she is launched in a runaway balloon from Sydney Gardens. Furthermore, they announced, after hearing all the details about the Sydney Gardens, the Sydney Place home, and the balloon flight—I had got all the details right.

(Actually, there’s one detail I might have fudged, but I will wait for a diligent reader to point it out.)

Did Austen Speak Posh?

In our last blog, we heard how Shakespeare’s English much more resembled the accents of the provinces than the “proper” English favored today by actors and newscasters, the latter being an accent called “Received Pronunciation” or “RP.”

Jane Austen had knowledge of and appreciation for Shakespeare. There are parallels between her social comedies and his, Willoughby reads “Hamlet” in “Sense and Sensibility,” and Edmund Bertram discusses Shakespeare in “Mansfield Park.”

Austen has other passing references to the Bard, one of which, Sonnet 116, is given prominence in Emma Thompson’s screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility,” as explained  here (with some additional theorizing).

Seeing that Austen, like Shakespeare, is considered one of the masters of impeccable English, the question naturally arises as to whether the speaking language in her sitting rooms was closer to RP or to the “Original Pronunciation” or “OP”–a rich, earthy, older dialect similar to Scottish, Irish, and American English.

Austen’s novels are set in different counties in south England. Each dialect would have varied somewhat, but there would have been many similarities. To pick one county to stand for all, let’s use Hampshire, Austen’s home for most of her life.

Tony Grant, a scholar from Hampshire, says the county’s sound “is a warm, gentle sort of accent with a soft burr to it … You could not mistake somebody speaking with a Hampshire accent … as coming from anywhere else but Hampshire.”

According to Grant, the famous first proposal by Darcy to Liz in “Pride and Prejudice” would have sounded much different if rendered in the Hampshire speech that Austen herself likely used. First, here is Austen’s graceful prose:

“In an unhurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. … He came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began: ‘In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ ”

Once she overcomes her astonishment, Liz responds:

“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. … If I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. … ”

Darcy’s plea and Liz’s response is transformed thus:

“Ize a bin struggling wi meslf, Lizzie. It won’t do nay more. Me feelins will not be [reprezz’d] nay mar. Yee mussle allowz me t’ tell yee ’ow, wi some power’ul emotion me admires and loves ee.”

“In sich as this, it is ’stablished thing t’express a sense a obligati’n fer the sen’imen’s avowed, ’owever unequalz they be. … If ay could feel grat’tude, I’d now thank ee. But ay can’t – I’ve ne’r wannered yer good thoughts like, and yee’ve cert’nly bin unwillin’ aven’t ee.”

Grant admits that this accent is exaggerated; he says he mixes in other accents from farther west. In addition to changing the pronunciation he also modifies much of Austen’s formal language to Hampshire colloquialisms. Even so, the dialog should make it clear that Liz would have spoken much differently than most of us assume. If she were to break into that dialect in a BBC episode, we would likely be as astonished as Liz was at Darcy’s unexpected proposal.

It does not appear that anyone has done a recording of Austen’s work in a Hampshire dialect. For comparison, though, here is a recording of a local Hampshire man born in 1898. The Austen accent, from eighty to a hundred years earlier, would have been at least as thick and likely thicker (one might say, “richer”).

Here is another one from the county, a woman born in 1920. In just one generation, the accent has become less distinct, but it’s still noticeable. To an untrained American ear, the woman’s accent sounds like the maid Rose from the series “Upstairs Downstairs” rather than from one of the gentry upstairs.

It would be fascinating to hear how the use of Austen’s native tongue might change the speed, rhythm, and emphasis of the dialogue. There is a very noticeable difference in Shakespeare plays, as comparison. The original accent is faster, spoken from the belly rather than the vocal cords, and brings out more puns in the text.

The International Dialects of English Archive includes accents from other locales in which Austen set her scenes. None of the accents resembles the posh English of today’s Shakespeare plays and Austen movies.

Both Austen and her characters would have been immediately recognized as being from the country when they went up to London, which then as now has its own distinct sound. Locals would not necessarily assume they were bumpkins; the country had too many regional accents to allow discrimination by sound; one could tell the “right sort” of people by their wealth and manners.

It was, however, during this time that the speech of the well-to-do in and around London began to assume its modern form. A major change was the loss of ‘rhoticity’—the ‘r’ sound after a vowel, so that “park” became “pahk.” There’s a chance that Londoners—and perhaps Darcy—would have begun to pick up the distinct RP accent that the modern listener associates with upper-crust England.

That accent is relatively easy to learn, according to a young woman who promises to teach us how to speak like Hermione from “Harry Potter.”

But what is posh is a matter of fashion rather than linguistics. At least one young London woman considers “RP”—as spoken by Dowager Countess Grantham in “Downton Abbey”—to be an accent that can be used credibly only by old people. She distinguishes between old-fashioned RP and modern “standard,” in which people are allowed to maintain their natural accents.

Under this definition, Jane Austen’s Hampshire accent would be perfectly acceptable because she always wrote proper English, no matter how she spoke it.

Note and tip of the hat: I came to the article about Austen’s accent through a long interest in Shakespeare’s tongue, which led to the previous blog post here. As I was working on both of these blogs, Vic at Jane Austen’s World published the blog by Tony Grant, which I cite here. I independently came upon several other links included in that blog. Jane Austen’s World is a lovely website, and I encourage everyone to visit it.

 

UK Winner of Sweepstakes Announced for Bath Festival

Drum roll, please!

It’s time to announce our Grand Prize Winner from Great Britain in “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen” Sweepstakes 2016.

Vicki Smith of Manea in Cambridgeshire, England, is our lucky Grand Prize Winner! She has won an exciting Grand Prize trip for two to the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, England, to attend the Jane Austen Festival in September 2016!

We’ll be announcing our Grand Prize Winner from the U.S./Canada next week so stay tuned for that exciting news. You just could be our lucky winner!

Vicki’s Grand Prize includes two round-trip train tickets to Bath, three-night lodging with daily breakfast for two, and local tours and activities including the Jane Austen Festival.

In Bath, which is famous for being Austen’s one-time home, Vicki and her guest will enjoy exploring the cobblestone streets of the city and the picturesque valley of the River Avon. The city of Bath and the surrounding area is the setting for several pivotal chapters in “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen,” Collins Hemingway’s new novel reimagining Austen’s life.

The Grand Prizes include free two-day admittance to the Jane Austen Festival, which begins Friday, Sept. 9; a three-night stay with daily breakfast for two at Three Abbey Green, a Four Star Gold Award guest house in the heart of central Bath; a tour of Bath and the surrounding countryside including Jane Austen’s house, the famous Bath Abbey, Roman Baths, the iconic Pulteney Bridge and Weir, Royal Crescent and King’s Castle among other sites; an exclusive tea with Collins Hemingway and signed copies of his novel.

If you didn’t win this fantastic Grand Prize, please don’t despair. As a special thank you to everyone who entered our sweepstakes we are offering a special discounted price ($11.50 for paperback; $19.50 for hardcover) for a limited time for your purchase of “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen” on Jane Austen Books.

A Taxing Subject for Americans–and for Austen and her Peers

April 15 being tax day in the U.S., I thought it appropriate to celebrate the many ways the tax man visited Jane Austen and her fellow citizens during Regency times.

The tax philosophy of the day echoed the views of the famous tax philosopher, George Harrison of the “Beatles”: “If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”

Well, they didn’t tax feet in the Regency era, but they did tax other modes of transport such as horses and carriages.

Among the items taxed between 1795 and 1820 were: almanacs, bricks, candles, carriages, dice, glass, gloves, hair powder, hats (men), horses, leather, letter franks, newspapers, perfume (women), ribbons, servants and gamekeepers, shooting licenses, sporting dogs, spirits and wine, starch, timepieces, tobacco, wallpaper, and wills.

Taxes ranged from threepence for a cheap worker’s hat to several pounds for luxury items. Though the tax on alcohol and tobacco affected everyone, most taxes were geared toward the wealthy. Riding horses, for example, were taxed, but working horses were not.

In “Pride and Prejudice,” Mr. Bennet’s horses, which were farm horses first and pulled a carriage in their spare time, would have escaped taxation. Otherwise, the Bennet family probably could not have afforded a carriage. The carriage tax was among the highest: £8.16s for one four-wheel carriage; £9.18s for a second ; and £11 for each one after that, as Hazel Jones documents in “Jane Austen’s Journeys.”

By comparison, an unskilled laborer of the day made about £25 a year, and the Austen women, after the death of Mr. Austen, lived on about £400 annually.

Most of the tax revenue went toward the war with France, which carried on for most of Austen’s adult life.

The window tax, which had been around for many years, is a tax Austen mentions in “Mansfield Park” as a proxy for wealth. Henry Crawford gravely shakes his head at the size of Sotherton Court, the Rushworth house, and the narrator comments that there are more windows “than could be supposed to be of any use than to contribute to the window-tax.” This comment may have originated with Jane’s mother after Mrs. Austen’s trip to the fabulous Stoneleigh estate.

Tax policy and its implications arise subtly in the opening scene of my trilogy, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, in which Austen observes the entrance of a young man, Mr. Ashton Dennis, who quickly emerges as the male protagonist. After describing his wardrobe, the narrator observes: “He wore his own hair, whether because of the new fashion or unsuitable political views, it was impossible for Jane to know.”

The reference is to Ashton’s lack of a traditional wig and the hair powder used to keep it fresh. Old-fashioned Tories wore wigs and gladly paid the tax on powder as a patriotic show of support for the war with France. Some people, however, stopped wearing wigs to avoid the tax, while many Whigs disposed of wigs to protest the war itself, which ran counter to their commercial interests. Walking into a room, one could often tell political affiliation at a glance.

Having failed to raise as much money as expected, the hair tax was ultimately reduced; but by then a more natural look was in, sporting real hair in Roman styles. Vic Sanborn provides a lovely tutorial on changing men’s hairstyles in this era. This was also the beginning of the Romantic era, when hair could be as wild as the heath.

Despite the lack of revenue production, the hair-powder tax did have a positive effect. The powder was made from wheat; by discouraging its use, the tax somewhat reduced the pressure on food supplies for the army.

Every tax has such unexpected consequences, some negative, some positive. The tax on English newspapers led to the start of book clubs and subscription libraries, several of which Austen joined. These groups greatly increased the number of readers, and politics were often discussed at the meeting places, likely speeding up efforts at reform.

Most of the taxes remained in place during the war with France, but the ladies got a break. The men’s hat tax was not repealed until 1811, but the perfume tax ended in 1800.

Readers: What do you think—have I missed any other tax-related commentary in Austen’s works?

Were there other unintended negative consequences of these taxes?

Sexism in Film, Part II: What’s the Solution for Hollywood?

Recently, I wrote about sexism in films today and the general lack of strong roles for women. The blog noted that Jane Austen has been the source for at least ninety TV or movie productions, nearly half of all female films in the last twenty years.

Though the quiet perseverance of her characters has a universal appeal, the point was not so much hooray for Austen as it was a raspberry for the dearth of female roles from other sources.

The discussion over women in films, it turns out, was only beginning to gather steam in the industry, and the numbers that have turned up are damning.

In a survey of movies from 2007-2012, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) found that only 31 percent of all speaking characters in film are women. Nearly 30 percent of all women in movies wear revealing clothes or become partially naked, versus less than 10 percent of men. Women characters tend to be younger than men and ancillary to them.

Gena Davis, star of “Thelma and Louise” and other female-driven films, points out that in family films the percentage of speaking female roles is even lower (28 percent) and the female roles are often stereotypical.

In animated films, in which the production company can include as many females as desired, women compose only 17 percent of crowd scenes! Are they that much harder to draw?

Black women have particularly difficult problems getting roles or visibility. By overwhelming numbers, black women in films are homeless, powerless, abused, or alone. Even when they achieve recognition, it’s often for a menial position. Two of the six academy awards won by black females in 88 years were for servant roles, Hattie McDaniel in 1941 and Octavia Spencer in 2011.

The lack of roles for women translates into a lack of leverage for paychecks. NYFA found that men took home the top 16 biggest paychecks in Hollywood. The highest salary for a woman, Angelina Jolie, was equal to the lowest two salaries for men on the list.

Nancy Myers, the acclaimed director of movies about women, said in a New York magazine interview in Sept. 2015 that, except for a “couple” of bankable female stars, most women are fighting over the same small number of roles. This gives them less negotiating power than men. She also said it’s hard to get male movie stars to play in a movie if a woman is the lead.

The assumption is that putting women in positions of power will help female actors, and that turns out to be true. NYFA found that a female director results in nearly an 11 percent increase in female characters and a female writer leads to a nearly 9 percent increase in female characters.

Female directors, however, find it difficult to obtain employment.

Vulture columnist Kyle Buchanan documents that, in 2015, not a single film directed by a woman was produced by 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, or the Weinstein Company.

Movies in the pipeline for 2016 have a similar tale: A USC study found that just 3.4 percent of working film directors were female and only 7 percent of all films reflected the country’s diversity. A USA Today analysis of 184 movies by 14 studios slated for release this year found little female presence.

Even the next in the female-based “Divergent” series, which stars Shailene Woodley, went to a male director. And, in the entire history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for best director, and only one has won, Kathryn Bigelow in 2010. Surprise: 77 percent of Oscar voters are male.

Barbra Streisand observed that women were doing better 100 years ago, when 12 women were working as directors in Hollywood.

Directing is only part of the equation, of course. Women are vastly underserved in the Hollywood power structure. According to NYFA, women comprise only 25 percent of producers; 20 percent of editors, 15 percent of writers; and 2 percent of cinematographers. Women constitute 9 percent of directors; if only 3.4 percent made a studio film in 2016, then two-thirds of women are unable to find a major directing job.

To the complaint that there aren’t enough good women directors out there, Buchanan of The Vulture provides a list of one hundred female directors Hollywood should be hiring .

Nancy Myers, the director, says that the problem is part cultural and part psychological, because in Hollywood a male director can have a flop and get another chance, but a woman cannot. Shonda Rhimes, considered the most powerful female in television for her hit shows featuring strong black females, echoes these remarks, saying that men consider successful female productions to be a fluke—even when the “fluke” repeats.

What drives women film professionals crazy, of course, is that female films, when they can be made, are often very successful. Seven of the top twenty movies of 2015 were primarily female-driven, including “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which was really a women’s liberation movie in which the male lead is dragged along for the ride. “Pitch Perfect 2” and Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” trounced their male competition on release. Yet it’s also true that all but “Pitch Perfect 2” (Elizabeth Banks) was directed by a man.

The Motion Picture Academy has since announced changes designed to double the number of women and minority voters by 2020, which over time should help create more visibility for female and minority projects come award season.

But there’s the chicken-and-egg problem: What difference will that make if women and minorities continue to be overlooked for roles by the Hollywood establishment, which continues to make action-oriented movies primarily for young men?

It’s great that Austen is the go-to source for female movies, but there’s also only so much Austen material available. Though the newly released “Love and Friendship” is an excellent movie, the other new flick, “Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies,” is as awful as the book that spawned it. We’re now dredging the bottom of Austen’s manuscript drawer.

What’s the solution, readers?

Should women boycott male movies? Start a petition drive? Institute a quota system? Insist on equal pay for women actors? Is it enough that a few powerful women have created their own production companies?

Women in Films has started an online campaign, #52filmsbywomen, to encourage people to see at least one movie a week by a woman. One can rush out to see the lovely “Brooklyn,” for instance. Its star, Saoirse Ronan, was nominated for an Academy Award, and another dozen women are featured in prominent roles. Then one learns—it was written and directed by men.

First Monthly Winner of 2016 Bath Sweepstakes

We have our first winner of the monthly prize of our 2016 Bath Sweepstakes, which is a signed copy of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen. This is the first of several smaller prizes before we select the grand prize winner, which will be a trip for two to Bath, England.

Click on this link to see the details of this month’s drawing!

Don’t wait to enter if you have not already.

Reader Thoughts on ‘Marriage,’ Austen’s Journey of the Soul

’Tis better to give than receive, but in this holiday season I would like to take a moment to thank readers for what I have received—their very generous thoughts and comments on my novel, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.

What touched me most was the number of times “beautiful” and “delight/ful” came up:

“A delightful book, beautifully researched with historical tidbits.”

“This beautifully constructed book transports the reader. … The exchange of letters was exquisitely beautiful.”

“The escapades of the couple made me laugh and the beautiful letters brought a depth of character to Jane and Ashton while also bringing them together.”

“This book is beautifully written. It was so engaging that I didn’t want it to end. … This is one of the best love stories I have read in a long time.”

“How delightful to read a novel so creatively written which explores what many JA fans have wondered—did she ever fall in love?”

“The book is a delight—readers are transported to another time and place with amazing detail and accuracy.”

“I have just finished reading this delightful book. … It is not too far from Austen’s life story—with a twist that intrigues. …[T]he ending is quite lovely. … The best ending of its sort I have read.”

Beyond being glad that any reader enjoys a novel, an author feels a special joy when readers appreciate things that he worked hardest to achieve. Professional reviewers all cited the language:

“The irony and sly humor of Jane Austen herself, complete with the stylistic language of the Regency period” (Blueink starred review). “A talent for witty banter and wry observations that would make Elizabeth Bennet proud” (Kirkus). “Wry, observant, laconic—much like Jane Austen herself, without ever dipping into pastiche or mimicry” (Jane Austen’s Regency World).

And a regular reader: “The language, timing and historical accuracy were all perfect. I found myself reading the last of this book rather than preparing for a party I was to give that evening.”

Ultimately, novels rise and fall on characterization, and these comments engender pride:

“The characters jump off the page with their captivating personalities.”

“This author has fleshed out a Jane Austen who remains true to what I felt she might be like reading her novels in my teens. He makes her come alive—her quick wit, intelligence, eagerness to learn new things, and thoughtful reflections. … How dear to me that she becomes a woman of strong passion!”

Kirkus found my Austen “true to life, an intelligent and determined young woman.” Others referred to “a very human Jane” and “a believable version of her character, truly a worthy addition to the Jane Austen legacy.”

My favorite was a four-star review from Foreword CLARION Reviews, which described the novel as “an imaginative journey of the soul.” More than a historical romance or a period piece, I wanted to create a flesh-and-blood reality for a sensitive woman caught up in a turbulent time in a relationship with a man very much her equal. Volume I is the start of a journey that will test her character and her soul.

Many thanks again to all who have read the book and especially to those who have taken the time to comment.

Happy holidays, everyone!