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Regency thrills and chills: Jane Austen's "horrid novels"

Do you think that the popularity of dark, scary thrillers is a recent phenomenon? If you do, I’d like to introduce you to the “horrid novels” of the Regency era – just in time to add to your Halloween reading list. If you read Austen’s Northanger Abbey you’ll find a discussion of seven "horrid" novels that the worldly Isabella Thorpe insists that Catherine Morland, the naïve young heroine, read straight away. Not only were these stories familiar to Jane Austen, she satirizes them in  Northanger Abbey.  In Austen's story, 17-year-old Catherine is heavily influenced by the Gothic novels she reads. As a result  she believes she sees evidence of sinister deeds,  including murder, when she visits her friend's home, Northanger Abbey. Before we can get to a happy ending, Catherine must mature, rein in her imagination and appreciate the difference between fiction and real life.  The Horrid Novels Here are the seven Gothic novels (with their actual publication dates) that Is
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Caroline of Brunswick: England's "Injured Queen"

1804 portrait of Caroline, Princess of Wales August can be an unlucky month for European royalty, and that was especially true during the Regency. Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in August of 1815. And in August of 1821 Caroline of Brunswick, the unacknowledged Queen of England, died a lonely death in London just three weeks after her estranged husband, the erstwhile “Prinny” or Prince Regent, was crowned King George lV. 1795 portrait of Caroline An arranged marriage  Caroline was unlucky throughout her life. Growing up in the German province of Brunswick, she was kept secluded by her family. They were especially determined to keep her away from the opposite sex.  Her companions were mostly elderly females and governesses. She was sent to her room when guests came over and usually couldn't go to court functions or balls. And when she was permitted to attend a ball, she wasn't allowed to dance.  She had even less luck in her married life. Caroline’s husband, chosen for her, wa

Napoleon's last cruise

  On deck looking towards St. Helena (photo by Andrew Neaum, CC BY-SA 3.0) In this strange pandemic year, most summer cruises have been canceled. But during another summer 205 years ago it was a different story for at least one man.  That August the former Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, set out unwillingly on a special cruise, designed just for him. His ship was no luxury liner; it was more like a prison transport, taking him to his final place of exile.   Consequences of Waterloo I doubt Napoleon knew he’d wind up in St. Helena after the British coalition of armies led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army commanded by Field Marshal von Blücher decisively defeated the French forces at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. But Napoleon probably suspected that his glorious career as a general and an emperor had run its course. St. Helena, circled in red, on a map Napoleon’s first stop after his defeat was Paris. There he methodically prepared for the next phase of

Party at Pemberley

  The exterior of Lyme Park doubled as Pemberley in the 1995 BBC version of  Pride and Prejudice . (Wikimedia Commons; photo by Mike Peel, CC-BY-SA-4.0) I’ve noticed that Jane Austen doesn’t go into a lot of details about food in her novels. But there’s one meal in Pride and Prejudice that’s described in some detail: the refreshments Mr. Darcy serves Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt when they pay a social visit to Pemberley.  By this point in the story, Elizabeth has roundly rejected Darcy’s awkward and rather insulting proposal of marriage. But Elizabeth’s hard feelings towards Darcy begin to melt when she sees him in his natural surroundings at Pemberley, his impressive country home.  Austen describes the informal meal like this: “The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss

Wedding bells for Mr. Darcy

I just love it when a romantic story ends with a wedding. And few stories are as romantic as Pride and Prejudice . But where’s the wedding at the end? You see, during quarantine, I decided to copy Jennifer Ehle and re-read Pride and Prejudice . (You may remember Ehle as the actress who played Elizabeth Bennet, opposite Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice .) Reading Pride and Prejudice helped me cope with lockdown. Even though I’m very familiar with the story, Jane Austen’s prose was delightful. No movie can really do her words full justice.   But when I got to the end of the book, I confess I felt a little cheated. Though we know Darcy proposes again to Lizzie and she accepts him at last, we don’t get a description of their wedding. I was surprised – I guess that in the years since I’d read the book I’d forgotten the story didn’t end with an actual marriage ceremony.  You can pardon my confusion - the final scene in the BBC mini-series is a joy

"Bright Star" - John Keats's quarantine poem

Where I live in Oregon we’re going on 10 weeks of “shelter-in-place,” an order from the governor that feels very much like quarantine. Movie theatres, dine-in restaurants, hair salons, shopping malls, parks, playgrounds – all are currently closed in an effort to stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Like many of my friends, family, and neighbors, I‘ve been experiencing a range of emotions as the weeks drag on. At times I’ve felt anxious, depressed, confined, and even angry. That's to be expected, or so we're told. But what I didn’t expect was to feel a surge of creativity.  Since lockdown I’ve worked on revising a novel, started another blog, planted flowers, tried new recipes, spackled and painted dings in our walls (that I’ve been meaning to get to for years), de-cluttered closets and crocheted a blanket, a wall hanging and an amigurumi cat. Who knew that staying home could be so productive? Just about everybody, I guess. It should be no surprise that if you c


Last March, just before COVID-19 caused most of the world to go into lockdown, I actually went to a movie theater. That’s how I got to see Emma. in all its glory on the big screen, just like God and Hollywood intended. And what a treat it is! Emma. is a confection of a movie, whipped up in pretty candy color hues of yellow, blue, and pink. This visual sweetness is offset by Jane Austen’s tart observations. The story is further embellished with lush scenery, beautiful costumes (I don’t think Emma wears the same gown twice), and a soundtrack featuring Mozart and Haydn as well as traditional English melodies. Emma was the fourth novel Jane published, and by 1815 when the book came out she was a successful author writing under her own name. Her fame was such that even the Prince Regent was an admirer. Through an intermediary, he invited her to dedicate Emma to him. The Prince Regent in 1816 That request must have bemused Jane. She was no fan of Prinny; she s