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Mr Darcy – who are you?


We think we know what he looks like, visions of Colin Firth – poor man; forever embodying this fictional character – immediately leaping into our mind’s eye as soon as Mr Darcy is mentioned. We know he is tall, handsome and rich and aloof.

We know this, absolutely we do, because Austen tells us so. She tells us that Darcy ‘drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report … of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr Bingley.’

Austen gives the barest pencil sketch, blurred around the edges and certainly with no defining features, just so her readers could imagine whomever they wanted in that role.

And so we did.

Darcy could be fair-haired: he could be dark. He could be as tall as we wanted to make him; he could be whatever we thought ‘handsome’ was. In actual fact, Darcy was a concoction of our fantasy and imagination.  Of course, since Mr Firth, that blurred outline written 200 hundred years ago has been filled in rather well, but, still, her lack of detail has meant that different Darcys have existed in millions of imaginations for the past 200 years.

Not any more.

According to Professor John Sutherland,  the Mr Darcy Jane Austen imagined while writing her barest outline was more likely to have had a long nose, pointed chin, powdered white hair, a pale complexion, slender, sloping shoulders and a modestly-sized chest. Defined legs were also considered very attractive.

scczen_100217spldarcy2_620x310Photo / UKTV


Kind of ruins the fantasy, doesn’t it?

Read the full report that sparked this post by Hannah Furness

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Book Reviews

A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion My rating: 4 of 5 stars I haven’t read a novel by Didion, only her essays, and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, her writing style – disj…

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Hardy Musings




Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native is a novel I read many years ago and being an admirer of his work, thought I would re-read it as its premise had long since slipped into the blur of Hardy novels. As any Hardy reader knows- and I don’t know who actually said this but it is very true – if you want a happy ending in a Hardy novel, then read it backwards. Which all sounds rather macabre and miserable, but it isn’t. This is because Hardy uses death as he uses life in his writing, as something that has to be endured and is unavoidable. Which also sounds rather bleak.

OK, so what he does is show us that regardless of the decisions we make, whether they are spontaneous or long deliberated on, makes no difference to the quality of our life and death. Both will occur, and our decisions will only make those occurrences more or less pleasant. The smallest of decisions, the slightest fall from grace or moral behavior can completely ruin or improve our lives. The only snag is that we don’t know when we are making those decisions what the consequence will be. No one can see into the future nor can they know what other people will do or how they will react. So essentially, the fact that all of Hardy’s novels – well, 95% of them – end tragically should act as a warning, a caution for the reader, a kind of flashing red light to check your own behavior and choices before it’s too late. It’s not bleak, it’s cathartic; a ‘thank goodness I’m not that hero/heroine, oops, maybe I should check I’m actually not acting that way.’

That said, my other observation on Hardy has to do with his wordiness, which generally has not ever worried or bothered me. To pick up a Hardy novel is to accept there will be considerable time spent, pages and pages in fact, on descriptions of characters, settings, motivations. Hardy can take six pages quite easily on the description of the interior of a cottage or the walk of a farmer. And this is not a problem. To read Hardy is to sink into his prose and let the imagination conjure up these images he draws  for you with such painstaking clarity. Unlike some other authors, he is determined there should be no mistake about what his readers see when a character enters a scene.

However, I found myself becoming impatient with the descriptions concerning the heath in this novel; Egdon Heath to be exact. The novel opens with a ten page description of the heath at dusk, the colors, the light, the sounds, and if it sounds excessive, it is. But, believe me, you can definitely see the heath by the end of it. But the heath, unusually, is not then left alone now it has been firmly fixed in your mind. No, it keeps on being described throughout the novel; every time someone walks across it, during the day, the night, winter, summer, it’s all there. The heath must be described. And I found myself losing interest in the story, the characters, and most definitely the heath.

Then I realized there is a reason for this preoccupation with an inanimate expanse of unforgiving nature: Hardy is treating it as the main character of his novel. It is the difficult place where the characters must eke out a poor living if they can from furze cutting and livestock grazing, and it rewards them poorly for their labors like a stingy relative. It is the place where characters meet and love and hate using its paths and hollows and ferns to promote or conceal their activities. It hides and reveals sides of characters that would otherwise go unnoticed in more agreeable and easy terrain. It is changeable and uncaring, focused only on its own existence. And once I figured this out, I appreciated the wordiness, the exact descriptions, and the heath’s effect on the other characters.

So now I like Hardy all over again – for his preoccupation with death and setting both. For portraying them as inanimate characters which have enormous influence on every one of us, whether we realize it or not.

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Forgiveness and Forgetting

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is outwardly a fantasy story of a quest involving a knight, a Beowulf-type hero, a dragon, mythology and various other Medieval markers such as monks and monasteries, and tribal enmity between Britons and invading Saxons.

Strangely, the idea is that the Saxons and the Britons live  side by side during a long time of peace after the ‘good works’ of King Arthur in ensuring this peace. Some, however, have faint memories or instinctual hatred or fear of the other tribe but can’t clearly remember why. There is a mist, a fog of forgetting that has worked its way into every person’s memory and all they can remember is short term and only vague shadowy long-term memories. Therefore, peace prevails.

On a whole other level, this novel posits the notion that forgiveness can only ever be achieved by forgetting what has occurred; that humans hold onto their hatreds and fears and suspicions regardless of how hard they try to forgive, that the only way to live in peace with those who have committed crimes against you is to actually forget their crime against you. On a large scale this is depicted through the Britons and the Saxons, both of whom have committed atrocities against each other in their search for land and supremacy: on a smaller scale, the elderly husband and wife in the novel have both committed sins against each other in their early marriage. Because of the fog of forgetfulness, peace reigns in the country, the villages, and the homes.

For those who have read Beowulf, or Arthurian Legends and know something of the time period, this is a very cleverly-written book just from that aspect. Being able to identify the tropes and characters is very satisfying: for those who haven’t, this is still an engaging book along the lines of Lord of the Rings and the heroic quest. The mythology referred to, especially the idea of death and the boatman who will only take one person across the lake or the sea to the ‘island’ in his boat, brings home the idea that everyone must face up to mistakes they have made during their life and meet their death alone, regardless of how attached a couple might be to each other or promises they have made to take that last journey together.
Read on this deeper level, The Buried Giant is a very thought-provoking read even if, like me, fantasy is not usually your genre of choice.

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Sneak Peek! Felicity in Marriage: Part One

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Click on the link below to read the first few chapters – novel release date September 30th, 2015

Felicity in Marriage ch 1-3

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Old Books

Given the choice, I would always choose the old, battered, secondhand book over the brand new version. I’m not sure what it is about old books – whether it’s the feel of the well-worn cover in my hands; whether it’s the faded name on the flyleaf written in an elaborate hand no longer seen nor aspired to these days; or whether it’s the idea that so many other people have used it, read it, carried it around with them. Well: maybe I am sure. It is all of those things combined.

I long to know who “Frances, Christmas 1940” was, other than being the recipient of a lovely collection of poems by Longfellow. Did she read every poem, I want to know, because there is no clue left on the pages: no pencilled-in thoughts or questions; no dog-eared corners; no tiny notes slipped between pages – Oh! the excitement that would cause! Perhaps Frances did not even like Longfellow and forced a thin smile in thanks for the unwanted present; or perhaps it was such a treasure that it remained unread, unopened, unappreciated on a shelf except for its cover which would be dusted religiously every Monday – that would be a shame indeed.

If a library is giving away books,or a second-hand book store is having a sale, I can’t walk past, and the idea of a book being tossed into a recycling bin and being mulched up is horrifying. While I know I cannot save every book I see, I certainly have come home with many more than I should. These books have all had a life and deserve to have it extended as long as possible.

Not that I can hang onto every book I save; please don’t imagine some crazy hoarder person gradually losing rooms to increasing piles of salvaged books. Some prove themselves to be worthy of the recycler’s chipper; some smugly hiding behind a very artistic and gripping cover, prove themselves unable to live up to the outward show, but I still can’t be the one to actually throw them away. I guiltily pack them up and hand them over to the nearest charity shop in the belief that someone else will not only be intrigued, as I was, by the cover, but might also find the content worthwhile, too.
One book-lover’s trash, hopefully, is another book-lover’s treasure.

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Wickham’s Wife

In a divergence from my usual posts about other writers and their novels, I thought I would introduce my new novel instead! Wickham’s Wife: A Backstory to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is now published. The cover image is taken from a 19th century playing card, and, considering the protagonist of the novel, seemed a most fitting background.
I am quite pleased with this story and hope readers will enjoy it also. Wickham’s Wife goes into the colorful back-story of that gentleman; his past, his secrets and his motivations are not quite what readers of Pride and Prejudice might have imagined! It covers more territory and time than Prudence and Practicality did, following Wickham from Cambridge to London to Ramsgate, back to London, and thence to Meryton, Brighton and back to London. We all know the hints given by Darcy in the original story with regards to Wickham’s past, but in this novel I hope to have filled out his character and presented him in a slightly different light than has previously been shone on him. After all, even Darcy couldn’t know exactly what his life was; even he admits to losing contact with him for over three years!
It has been great fun imagining how Wickham’s life unfolded between him refusing the living at Pemberley and his meeting with Darcy on the Meryton street, and has involved many hours of reading and research about the Regency lifestyle in London, Ramsgate and Brighton; particularly that of the Regency Dandy. Hopefully, I have managed to capture the essence of the time period as well as of the man.
Naturally, I bow to the imagination of the great lady herself whose vivid writing brought these ideas for her characters to light and upon which I depend for my inspiration. I often wonder what Austen would think if she knew just how much pleasure her writing has given to so many people, and just how much inspiration she has given to writers like me! I hope she would be pleased, or amused at least.
Wickham’s Wife is now available for download at Smashwords and at the e-bookstores Smashwords supplies: Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes amongst others, and on Amazon.
Go to any of those sites and enjoy the free sample of Wickham’s Wife. Happy reading everyone.

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Backstory to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice #2

For those of you who have read Prudence and Practicality, this post is to advise that the next one is just steaming along and due for publishing early 2014. It is, happily, requiring much research of Ramsgate, Brighton, and  London during Regency times, and for those of you really familiar with Pride and Prejudice you will probably already be figuring out who and what this next novel deals with; suffice it to say that “the woman in whose character we were most unhappily deceived” plays a leading role, and we have all certainly been deceived by Darcy’s opinion of her!

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