Ranking the Jane Austen Novels

Hello, everyone! I can finally say that I’ve read every full-length novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817); Mansfield Park being my most recent Austen novel. It’s been a fun literary adventure. So now let’s rank them from least favorite to top favorite. And I hope you’ll share your favorite Austen novels in the comments!

No. 6Mansfield Park (1814)

Mansfield Park is my most recent read. While it’s a compelling story that contains several serious themes (slavery being one of them), it’s my least favorite Austen. I was not able to get past the love interests being first cousins. That’s honestly the only reason.

No. 5Emma (1815)

Emma is #5 on my list for the pure reason that the main character, Emma, is not likable. But the joke is on us since Jane Austen said that she purposely wrote about a character that only she would like. But it’s not fair to write off this book. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it because out of all the Austen heroines, Emma goes through the steepest learning curve in terms of character development. And that makes for an interesting read.

No. 4Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful story. The friendship between Elinor and Marianne (the two sisters who are also the main characters) is heart-warming. It’s a fascinating and highly entertaining read. This is one of the novels where Austen shines! She uses her skills to weave a story that has love, heartache and tons of humor.

No. 3Pride and Prejudice (1813)

It’s not a surprise that Pride and Prejudice is next on my list. The story sparkles with humor and misunderstandings that are nicely resolved by the end of the book. Lizzie Bennet is a great heroine. Intelligent, opinionated and fearless. Lizzie refuses to bow down to social norms and remains true to her principled self. Sometimes I wonder if Jane Austen wished she was a little more like her. And who knows, if Jane Austen was more financially independent she could have been a real-life Lizzie.

No. 2Northanger Abbey (1817)

Northanger Abbey was published posthumously. I really enjoyed reading this story. It very rarely makes the top three for readers but I think it’s genius. The theme is a mock-gothic tale. Jane Austen was brilliant because she took a fad (in this case the Gothic romance novels) and made it funny and timely for her readers.

No. 1Persuasion (1817)

My top favorite Jane Austen is Persuasion, also published posthumously. This book is my comfort read. I’ve read or listened to it many times over the years and I never tire of it. Anne Elliot is a nice woman who endures a lot of heartache. She has ridiculous sisters–to the point of being comedic. And it makes it all the more wonderful for Anne when she gets her happy ending.

It’s been a fun literary adventure! Persuasion was my favorite long before I finished reading the other novels. If you haven’t read Jane Austen yet I hope you’ll consider it!

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (A Most English Princess)

A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is about the life of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria (Vicky). When she was 17, she married Frederick (Friedrich or Fritz), the Crown Prince of Prussia. Their first child was Kaiser Wilhelm II. As far as dynastic marriages go, Vicky and Fritz shared a very happy and fulfilling marriage. A rarity in their era, they remained very much in love and committed to one another. The story takes you from Vicky’s childhood in England to married life in Prussia. It’s a fictionalized account but the author’s research shines through every conversation.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia painted by Oskar Begas, 1867.

Unfortunately their marriage was marred by hardship. First, their first born, Wilhelm, was a difficult child and grew into an obstinate, unkind adult who hated his “English mother.” On top of that, Bismarck never trusted Frederick and Vicky; they were too liberal and open-minded. For example, Frederick and Vicky believed in a free press. Bismarck did not. So Bismarck successfully convinced the Emperor not to allow the Crown Prince Couple to have any say in policy. Lastly, by the time Frederick took the throne as Frederick III, he was already terminally ill with cancer. He died just 99 days later. Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power and we all know how that went and where it led. (Though I should note that the book does not end with Frederick’s death. It ends much earlier and on a good note.)

Wikimedia Commons. Frederick in 1874, painted by Heinrich von Angeli.

The year 1888 is known as the Year of the Three Emperors (Wilhelm I, Frederick III, Wilhelm II) . And it’s easy to remember the year because just think of the three eights as the three emperors.

A Most English Princess is very well written and entertaining. I could not put it down. The history was accurate. Every character has both flaws and positive traits, which made me sympathize with and better understand the various historical characters. All this to say that if you enjoy royal history, British history or Prussian history, I highly recommend this book.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, painted by Franz Winterhalter, 1867.

Now on to our question of the day. Which tea should we pair with this novel? Well, in honor of Vicky, I’m pairing it with a fine English tea called Albion, which is the ancient name for England. I think Vicky would approve!

xoxo, Jane

PS. If royal history is your thing, I write about it here.

Paintings of Women Writing

A Lady Writing a Letter by Johannes Vermeer.

A year into the pandemic and we still can’t visit museums or other venues. At least we can enjoy art online. A number of my favorite museums are hosting virtual lectures and tours. You can even take 360° tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the National Museum of Women in the Arts has an online exhibition you might like, The Book as Art: Books in Disguise.

Last week we looked at paintings of women reading. Today, let’s take a look at women writing.

I don’t know how I feel about this painting by Vermeer. The subject in the painting must be upper class because her coat is lined with ermine. Also, is she wearing large pearl earrings? She must be very rich indeed. How do you feel about this painting?

Young Woman Writing by Giovanni Boldini

The first thing that popped into my mind about this painting is that the subject doesn’t look very comfortable. But maybe that doesn’t matter since she seems focused on the letter she’s writing. Maybe she’s writing a love letter to a suitor…

Phillis Wheatley writing.

This is an etching of Phillis Wheatley. She was an enslaved woman who secured her own freedom. Phillis became a literary prodigy and visited London in 1773 to promote her poetry. I hope you want to learn more about Phillis. If you do, you can learn more about her on this podcast by The History Chicks.

Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid by Johannes Vermeer 

I don’t know Vermeer well, but I am catching on that he enjoyed painting vivid scenes of women while they were writing. The detail in this painting is incredible. Did you notice the sealing wax on the floor? There is even a painting in the painting!

What’s your favorite painting of women?

xoxo, Jane

Spell the Month in Books – February

Hello! I saw this fun tag on Elaine Howlin’s blog and thought I’d give it a try. I think the idea is to spell out the books you want to read this month, but I’m cheating because I’m going to spell books I’ve read, books I won’t read and books I want to read. Here we go!

First up is Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. I picked it up at Costco and it’s been worth the purchase. It’s about the history of fashion and includes detailed timelines for every era. There is also an overwhelming amount of gorgeous illustrations and photography. I never tire of reading this book. For some reason, Amazon sellers are charging over $100.00 for a new copy. I bought mine at Costco for around $20.00. If you are interested, you should buy a used copy. I’d never pay that much for a book. There is no reason for it.

I haven’t read Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess yet, but I know I will enjoy it. I love reading Megan Hess’s beautiful books. If you haven’t heard of her, she is an illustrator and her books are illustrated tales of fashion history. This particular book is about the iconic fashion houses of Paris. Ooh la la.

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi is a must read if you are interested in royal history; especially if you are fascinated by the descandants of Queen Victoria. The five granddaughters that are the subjects of the book are Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Marie, Queen of Romania, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and Queen Maud of Norway.

The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes edited by Elizabeth Longford is a fun compilation of facts and tidbits about the British royals from Boudicca to Elizabeth II. I picked it up at a library book sale and it’s fun to peruse it from time to time. The book also contains numerous genealogical charts which I find useful since I love reading royal history.

I have no intention of reading Urban Guerrilla Warfare by Anthony James Joes. I don’t own any books that begin with U so I borrowed this from my husband’s office. If you are interested in the guerrilla conflict of Warsaw in 1944 or Budapest in 1956 then you may want to pick up this book as it comes highly recommended by my lovely husband.

A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton is about 19th century Viennese history, first published in 1980. I haven’t read it yet, but I will.

The publisher’s description: On January 30, 1889, at the champagne-splashed hight of the Viennese Carnival, the handsome and charming Crown Prince Rudolf fired a revolver at his teenaged mistress and then himself. The two shots that rang out at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods echo still.

Frederic Morton, author of the bestselling Rothschilds, deftly tells the haunting story of the Prince and his city, where, in the span of only ten months, “the Western dream started to go wrong.” In Rudolf’s Vienna moved other young men with striking intellectual and artistic talents—and all as frustrated as the Prince. Among them were: young Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, and the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde was the great erotic drama of the fin de siecle. Morton studies these and other gifted young men, interweaving their fates with that of the doomed Prince and the entire city through to the eve of Easter, just after Rudolf’s body is lowered into its permanent sarcophagus and a son named Adolf Hitler is born to Frau Klara Hitler.

The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of the history of the Romanovs, from beginning to end. I briefly began to read it just to get a taste, but I haven’t finished it yet. I do plan to read it soon though. It’s an excellent, detailed account of the fascinating history of the Romanovs.

I don’t own books that begin with Y (I do borrow from the library quite often and my personal collection is not extensive), so I paid a visit to my husband’s office and found Ypres: The First Battle 1914 by Ian F. W. Beckett. I have no intention of reading this book, but if you are interested in Word War I history my husband highly recommends it. (He is a WWI buff.)

And there you have it! February spelled out in books. This was super fun and I may do it again for March.

Have a great day!!

xoxo, Jane

Paintings of Women Reading

The Reader by Renoir

Do you like looking at paintings? I’m not an expert and I’m sure when I view a painting at a museum I’m probably not seeing what the artist meant for me to notice. But I do know what I like, whether I can explain it or not. This painting by Renoir is so interesting to me. It appears that the woman is wearing make-up and some type of overcoat. Maybe she’s at work but taking a brief moment to read her book? She seems lost in her novel and that’s nice to see.

Young Girl Reading by Fragonard

I’ve always loved this painting by Fragonard. I use it in my reading wrap-up posts. And a framed copy hangs on the wall above my reading chair. The young lady looks very comfortable in her chair and leaning against that puffy pillow. She seems lost in the story she’s reading.

Girls at the Piano by Renoir

This is also a Renoir, but not of women reading. I included it because the two sisters are reading; they’re reading music sheets. I’ve always loved this painting because of the comradeship between the sisters and the elegant but cozy room they’re spending time in.

Woman Reading by a Window by Gari Melchers

I saved the best for last. The woman in this painting looks so peaceful. I love the vibrant red hue peeking in from the garden. Also, from what little I can see of her house and garden, it appears to be a dreamy space.

Do you have favorite paintings of women reading?

xoxo, Jane

Retail Therapy: Book Haul

I needed a little retail therapy so I treated myself to some new books, which I’m very excited about.

I’m becoming a fan of Georgette Heyer, so I picked up another novel by her. This one, Devil’s Cub, is a Regency romance (possibly Georgian, I haven’t figured it out yet) and the hero is dashing and the heroine is smart and has a mind of her own. Yes, please.

I also bought The Odyssey by Homer. I’ve been meaning to read this book for, oh, about 25 years or so. So I thought now might be a good time. I also bought the audiobook version so I can listen while I’m cooking or cleaning. I have a feeling this book, while a fascinating and adventurous tale, might take me a while to get through.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali is set in 1953 Tehran and in modern-day USA. I will admit to you that I picked up this book purely because of the beautiful cover, but it appears to be a poignant story of an idealistic teenager in Tehran and I look forward to diving in.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre is a nonfiction book about a KGB spy, Oleg Gordievsky, who ended up helping the West. In my mind, I have a vision of Costa Ronin who played Oleg in The Americans. It’s described as “a riveting story of Cold War intrigue…” and I cannot get enough of Cold War tales so this is on the top of my list.

Have you read any of these? What’s on your nightstand these days?

xoxo, Jane

Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner

Description

A practical, armchair travel guide that explores eighty of the most iconic literary locations from all over the globe that you can actually visit. A must-have for every fan of literature, Booked inspires readers to follow in their favorite characters footsteps by visiting the real-life locations portrayed in beloved novels including the Monroeville, Alabama courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird, Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and the Kyoto Bridge from Memoirs of a Geisha. The full-color photographs throughout reveal the settings readers have imagined again and again in their favorite books. 

My Thoughts

If you miss traveling, then I think Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner might be for you. It takes you to all the real-life locations mentioned in various novels (even Harry Potter earned a spot).

I like that the essays are organized by region (Americas, Europe, Africa, etc.) and that there is plenty of scenic photography to provide visual context to the literature. The section on Pemberley is my favorite part of the book.

As a writer and reader, I appreciate the sentiment in this thoughtful book. If you are in need of some arm-chair traveling, then this book might fill that need. The only downside is that the author primarily focuses on literary novels. I would have also liked to have read about cozy mysteries or romance novel locations. And it was a little disappointing that just one Jane Austen novel location is featured in the book.

Many thanks to The Unapologetic Bookworm for bringing this book to my attention.

xoxo, Jane

January 2021 Wrap-Up

I usually write quarterly wrap-ups, but this year I want to aim for monthly reading wrap-ups. In January I read A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and an adorable book for children (but for grown-ups too), Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography.

January Reading

Now that I’ve read Mansfield Park by Jane Austen I can finally state that I’ve read all of the full-length Jane Austen novels. Initially I avoided this particular Austen novel because of the cousin factor. First cousins Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, who grow up together in the same household, fall in love with each other. I know it used to be a social norm to marry your first cousin, but I still couldn’t get past it. While I enjoyed reading Fanny’s journey, she is very sweet and dear, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as the other Austen novels. But don’t let me put you off, it’s truly an excellent book that touches upon several of society’s dark undertones. I don’t regret reading it, but it won’t be a re-read for me. Have you read it?

January Flowers

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer is a Christmas-themed, cozy murder mystery. The setting is a Tudor-era estate in the English countryside. In the beginning of the novel I was overwhelmed by the numerous character introductions, but once I got past the initial chapters I enjoyed reading this mystery. The owner of the Tudor estate is killed while in his bedroom, but the issue is that the door is locked from the inside and presumably none of the guests were able to enter the room to commit the murder. I thought I had the murder solved, but I was wrong and taken by surprise by the actual murderer. If you like murder mysteries set in the English countryside this book might be your cup of tea.

Last but not least, I read Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography (Library of Luminaries). It’s a whimsically illustrated biography and the perfect introduction to Jane Austen for the toddler in your life.

xoxo, Jane

Happy Book Birthday to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice was published on this day in 1813!

And just like that, readers were introduced to the ever-popular enemies to lovers romance trope. It’s true! Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet initially loathed each other, but later fell passionately in love. It’s a trope still popular in romance novels today.

Pride and Prejudice is a romantic and humorous tale set during the Regency era. It’s the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. But it’s also the story of Elizabeth’s sister, Jane Bennet and her beau Charles Bingley. It’s a love story filled with humor, misunderstandings and silly people. It’s one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. If you haven’t read it yet, you are in for a treat.

Fun Facts about Pride and Prejudice

  • Jane Austen enjoyed weaving a really good bad boy into her stories. Pride and Prejudice is no exception. Mr. Wickham is probably the baddest boy in her literature. He elopes to Gretna Green with the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia.
  • Jane Austen loved a man in uniform. She grew up surrounded by brothers in the military as the Napoleonic wars raged in the background. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters are beyond excited when the militia comes to town (Fleet Week, anyone?).
  • The novel was initially titled, First Impressions. Makes sense, because the first impression between Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet was…not so good.
  • The first edition of Pride and Prejudice cost 18 shillings. According to a historical currency calculator, that’s about $80.00 today.
  • Also, a gorgeously illustrated edition was published by The Folio Society.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice?

xoxo, Jane

Podcasts for Royal History Lovers

Via Wikimedia Commons. Empress Joséphine in her coronation regalia painted by François Gérard, 1807-1808.

If you like reading about royal history, then you may enjoy listening to podcasts about royals. There are a number of excellent podcasts I subscribe to that I think you might find of interest.

The Exploress Podcast is incredibly well-researched and a fun way to learn about ancient historical women. The recreations of historical dialogue are entertaining and a must-listen. Though there are many episodes on historic noble women, some of the women featured are commoners. It’s still an entertaining resource and I highly recommend the outstanding four-part series on Cleopatra. Plus, the website has a page devoted to book recommendations. Enjoy!

Noble Blood is a podcast about the footnotes of royal men and women; the stories we don’t learn in school. It’s well-researched and told in a narrative style, as if a good friend is sitting near you and whispering a gossipy tale. The episodes are about tyrannical royals, murdered royals and tragic princesses. Very entertaining. I can’t recommend it enough.

The History Chicks is run by two very good friends who enjoy talking about historical women. They began the podcast ten years ago because they couldn’t find any podcasts devoted entirely to women. Though a good number of royals are featured, they are not the main focus of this podcast. However, it’s worth perusing their catalog since it features many episodes of interest to royal history fans. I recommend their episodes on Gilded Age HeiressesCatherine the Great and Empress Sisi of Austria

The Art of Monarchy is no longer updated, but the past episodes about decorative arts of The Royal Collection are a must-listen for royal history lovers.

Last but not least, if you enjoy royal fashion, then you may enjoy listening to Dressed. The two hosts are experts in fashion and textiles and are a joy to listen to. Their well-researched episodes feature everything from the history of haute couture to Oscars fashion and feature a good amount of interviews with experts.

xoxo, Jane

(This article is also posted at my other blog, The Royal Archivist.)

Books for the Romantic

With the holidays behind us and Valentine’s Day in the near future, can we talk about books for the romantic at heart?

It’s no secret that Persuasion by Jane Austen is my favorite novel. It’s about the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Anne is persuaded to end her relationship with Wentworth because he has no prospects, a decision Anne regrets almost immediately. Luckily for her, the young man, now an older Captain Wentworth, returns home, rich from the Napoleonic wars. Captain Wentworth, at first weary and hurt, plays a little hard to get. No one said the path to love wasn’t going to be rocky. It’s a very satisfying and fulfilling love story.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson is the story of an older, down-on-her-luck governess. She has no money to buy food, no money to pay her rent and the workhouse is looming. Things can’t get any worse when she accidentally lands a job with a young American nightclub singer, Miss LaFosse. Miss LaFosse, not a child nor in need of a governess, nevertheless takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing. Before the employment agency is made aware of their error, Miss Pettigrew embarks on a mad-cap tour of London with Miss LaFosse, where she finds mayhem and true love. It’s silly, frothy and romantic. It’s a Cinderella story and Miss LaFosse, young, beautiful and silly, acts as Miss Pettigrew’s godmother. I highly recommend reading it.

Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole is a short story set in the court of King James IV. Agnes Moor, an African woman, is considered the “exotic” of the court. She also acts as an informal adviser to the King. But when the King organizes a tournament, a Scottish knight vies for Agnes’ heart and uses the tournament to prove his love for her. It’s so romantic and perfect to read for Valentine’s Day. If you are in need of a Scottish Highlander tale, then look no further.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (of The Secret Garden fame) is part Cinderella-story, part dramatic thriller. The heroine, penniless and with no options left to better her situation, attracts the eye of a wealthy Marquess. They marry and live happily ever after. Or at least that’s how the story is supposed to end. But in this story, the ending doesn’t come with the wedding. After the wedding, ominous characters appear out of the woodwork to make the Marchioness disappear. I won’t give away anymore, but I’ll just say that love conquers all.

The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly is an excellent regency romance. The heroine, Sally Paul, is living on her last penny when she meets Admiral Charles Bright. The Admiral swiftly marries her, but as they embark on their new life together trouble looms ahead. This Cinderella story has tension, a little mystery and a very satisfying ending.

These are just a few of the romantic books I’ve read over the years and still love very much.

What are your favorite romantic novels?

xoxo, Jane

New book for my TBR pile: A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh

I’m excited for my next read. A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh is a novel based on the life of Princess Vicky, the daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She married the Crown Prince of Prussia, Frederick (later Kaiser Frederick III). Before diving in, here are some of the facts I know about Vicky: She truly loved her husband and he loved her. Their eldest son, Kaiser Wilhelm II treated her in an atrocious manner. Shortly before she died in 1901, Vicky sent her letters and other documents home to her brother, Edward VII, because she knew Kaiser Wilhem II would confiscate or destroy them. This correspondence included letters her mother, Queen Victoria, had written to Vicky over the decades. Also, Vicky’s husband was Kaiser for less than 100 days before he died of his illness. Though this novel is fiction, I’m really looking forward to diving in.

xoxo, Jane

From HaperCollins Publishers:

To the world, she was Princess Victoria, daughter of a queen, wife of an emperor, and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. Her family just called her Vicky…smart, pretty, and self-assured, she changed the course of the world.

January 1858: Princess Victoria glides down the aisle of St James Chapel to the waiting arms of her beloved, Fritz, Prince Frederick, heir to the powerful kingdom of Prussia. Although theirs is no mere political match, Vicky is determined that she and Fritz will lead by example, just as her parents Victoria and Albert had done, and also bring about a liberal and united Germany. 

Brought up to believe in the rightness of her cause, Vicky nonetheless struggles to thrive in the constrained Prussian court, where each day she seems to take a wrong step. And her status as the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria does little to smooth over the conflicts she faces. 

But handsome, gallant Fritz is always by her side, as they navigate court intrigue, and challenge the cunning Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, while fighting for the throne—and the soul of a nation. At home they endure tragedy, including their son, Wilhelm, rejecting all they stand for.

Clare McHugh tells the enthralling and riveting story of Victoria, the Princess Royal—from her younger years as the apple of her father Albert’s eyes through her rise to power atop the mighty German empire to her final months of life.