Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

It's Jane Austen's birthday today and over at My Jane Austen Book Club, there are books and prizes to be won, as well as contributions from authors, like myself, which will be posted over the next 24 hours - don't miss it! In celebration, Project Darcy and Searching for Captain Wentworth are both on offer on Kindle, as well as Mr Darcy's Secret - I hope you'll enjoy them if you get a chance to read them!

 This week I went to see the Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library. It's well worth going to see and imaginatively put together. Sadly, I was unable to take photos to give you a glimpse of what's on offer, but a plethora of imagery was used to illustrate the themes of Homes and Gardens, Shopping and Fashion, Culture and Ideas, Leisure and Pleasure. Some of my favourites included Humphry Repton's Sketches and Hints in Landscape Gardening, with examples from his 'red books' where he showed before and after images of how a garden might be 'improved'.
I used this idea in Mr Darcy's Secret. Thomas Butler designs a folly for the Darcys in my Pride and Prejudice sequel - he is a young landscape gardener, and has a 'green book' to display his designs, which more than capture Miss Georgiana Darcy's fancy!

One of the exhibits I really enjoyed was a pamphlet displayed about the tea-table. Of course, taking tea was a fashionable and expensive business, and so the genteel ladies who indulged were given guidance on suitable conversation whilst taking tea. It reminded me of Mr Collins with his practised bon-mots, and surely reading a publication like 'The Tea-Table' and handbooks like Jonathan Swift's 'Polite Conversation, consisting of smart, witty, droll and whimsical sayings collected for his amusement and made into a regular dialogue', would have prompted many a practised discussion!
I was reminded of Jane Austen so many times, not only because her writing desk formed part of the exhibition, but because of the activities we know she indulged in. It was interesting to see originals of the Ackerman prints, we love and know, to do with shopping - The Linen Draper, Wedgwood's Rooms, and Harding, Howell and Co's Grand Fashionable Magazine, etc. Shopping and consumerism were gaining new heights - I loved the prints of shop-fronts and the highly decorated trade cards, there were examples of Wedgwood and Blue and White china, which we know Jane Austen's family enjoyed, and examples of mass-produced staffordshire ware which was made for the middle classes.
Mrs Siddons
I was reminded very much of the times we live in now as I wandered round the exhibition, and I couldn't help thinking how much our society has in common with the Georgians. Celebrities of the day seemed to enjoy the same sort of adulation as they do now, and the rise of the theatre had much to do with this phenomenon. The exhibition shows playbills of the time advertising plays and shows, and has examples of celebrities in printed form like Joseph Grimaldi who was one of Britain's best-loved clowns. He also performed in pantomime which was really coming into its own at this time. Mrs Siddons and Dorothy Jordan were famous actresses of the day - Jane Austen really wanted to see Mrs Siddons perform, but she didn't get the opportunity to her great disappointment.
The Georgians were well known for scandal as well as culture, and Elizabeth Chudleigh became a celebrity for exposing 'her charms' at a Ranelagh masquerade, dressed as Iphigenia. The word 'dress' here is improperly used-it is said she was near-naked and prints of the time bear this out, though some were imaginary like the one shown!

  Elizabeth came from an upper-class background and entered court circles as a maid of honour to Augusta, the young princess of Wales in 1743. She married, but by 1749 she had separated from her husband because of her infidelity. The same year she made her appearance as Iphigenia and instantly became the talk of the town! She became mistress to Evelyn Pierrepoint, Second Duke of Kingston upon Hull and married him in 1769, after a court ruled that her first marriage had not taken place. After the duke died, questions were raised about her marital status - she was tried in 1776 and found guilty of bigamy and consequently was shunned by most of society. The trial and several accounts of her life were published in various forms.

The exhibition shows several prints and books which show the notation of dancing and how popular dances were performed. I found these fascinating as a past student of ballet and dance! It was also lovely to see originals of Philip Astley's Circus, which Jane Austen went to see. I set a scene in Project Darcy at Astley's where Jane goes with her brothers and a certain young Irishman to see the entertainment.

Four white horses trotted in sideways marching in time to the music of the band. A troupe of young men in skin-tight breeches leaped and jumped from one to the other drawing gasps of approbation from the crowd.
‘Do you think you’re up to the challenge of a bareback ride, Miss Austen?’ Tom whispered, as the sight of the steaming horses diverted my brothers’ attention. Thundering round the circus arena, two of the riders stood aloft, performing acrobatics as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
I laughed and whispered back, ‘I could do anything if you were willing to catch me.’
‘And I should be most happy to oblige, Miss Austen.’
His fingers found mine for a second, and when the inevitable happened and my brother Edward remarked on the warmth of my complexion, I made the excuse that it was the heat of the August night that made me so pink. From Project Darcy
Jane Austen at her desk

I hope you've enjoyed a glimpse at the exhibition - there is much to see! Don't forget to visit Maria Grazia's blog for the birthday celebrations. Happy Birthday Jane Austen! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Introducing Liz Monahan - Illustrator!

I'd like to welcome Liz Monahan to the blog today - Liz is a wonderful illustrator of Jane Austen's books/characters and she has a new kindle book out which I highly recommend! I asked Liz to tell us a little about herself-

Liz Monahan
 I love your illustrations in your illustrated Pride and Prejudice. Could you tell us about your interest in Jane Austen and why you decided to start illustrating her books.

 I first read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was sixteen, and was instantly smitten. I fell in love with Jane Austen’s writing, and my passion for her works endures; I never seem to tire of them. I studied English Literature at Southampton University, and wrote my final year thesis on Austen’s work, for which I received a First Class Honours degree.
Pride and Prejudice-illustrated by Liz Monahan
I decided to illustrate ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in December 2012. Prior to that, I’d produced a set of paintings, which I called ‘The Cast Of’ series, featuring all the main characters from each of Austen’s six novels, prints of which I’ve been selling through my Etsy shop: ‘BlueSkyInking’. I’ve also sold them at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Inspired by the feedback that I received there, I presented my portfolio to ‘The Jane Austen House Museum’ in Chawton, Hampshire. They agreed to sell prints and greeting cards through their shop. Like many artists, I tend to inhabit of a world of self-doubt, wondering whether my interpretation of Austen’s works will find favour with more ‘traditional’ readers. I’ve been heartened by the positive reaction from the global community of Jane Austen fans. It would appear that Austen’s popularity shows no sign of waning, especially in her bicentenary year. I’ve always loved Hugh Thomson’s original illustrations, but sensed that there was scope to develop and explore the satirical themes of the book for a more contemporary audience. Many of the recently illustrated adaptations of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ had left me disappointed; they tend to trivialize the characters and overlook the subtle nuances that make the book such a pleasure to read, and re-read. Like everybody else, I adored Andrew Davis’ seminal 1995 BBC production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but thought that the time was right to offer an alternative to those adaptations that had used cut-and-paste, photo-shopped images of Colin Firth (gorgeous though he is!) emerging half-dressed from a lake. I decided to take the plunge when I read a timely observation from Chris Riddell, a British illustrator whose work (‘The Edge Chronicles’, ‘Ottoline’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’) I really admire. “If nobody will commission you to illustrate a book, you must commission yourself.”

 Could you tell us something about yourself and your work. When did you decide that illustration was something you’d like to do for a career?

Lizzy Bennet and Miss Bingley - copyright Liz Monahan
 I trained as an illustrator at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design – illustrating stories was something I’d always wanted to do from a very early age. I’ve illustrated a number of children’s books, and also undertake private commissions. I recently moved to the beautiful city of Norwich, with my own Mr. Darcy – my librarian husband Kevin, and our beloved, retired greyhound (that we’ve re-christened Mister Bingley!). I love doodling (on any available scrap of paper), music (I play the trumpet), reading, and the theatre. What’s your favourite medium? My preferred medium is watercolour. I find it very versatile, and chose it for this particular project because of its lightness and clarity.

 What is next for you?

 I’d like to illustrate all of Austen’s novels, so I’m steeling myself for my next big project, which will be ‘Mansfield Park’, for its bicentenary in 2014. I’ve done a few preparatory sketches, which I hope to post on Twitter, to gauge the reaction. I plan to follow it with ‘Emma’ in 2015 and ‘Persuasion’ in 2017. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ will hopefully appear in 2016, but by then I might need to have a lie down in a darkened room! I’ve learnt so much from the experience of self-publishing Pride and Prejudice, and it’s been incredibly hard work but hugely satisfying. I’d also like to illustrate Jane’s lesser known work ‘The History of England’, written in 1791, when she was just sixteen, and illustrated by her sister Cassandra. I am also working on a children’s story with my husband, who has a way with words, featuring our beloved greyhound Mister Bingley, as detective Shylock Bones, assisted by his dim-witted sidekick Doctor Flotsam.

Lady Catherine de Burgh and Lizzy - copyright Liz Monahan
If you had to choose, which illustration would you pick of your own as a favourite?
Oh, that is such a difficult question to answer. It’s so hard to pick a favourite! I like drawing those characters that offer a supporting role in the story. They are easier to draw because they carry less ‘baggage’. I spent a lot of time researching the book, trying to decide how the characters could and should look. Jane Austen gives very little away in terms of her characters’ physical appearance, which offers plenty of scope to freely interpret them. I was acutely aware that everyone has their own ‘take’ on Elizabeth and Darcy – it was important that I got them right! My husband is forever reminding me of the old saying (that we keep stuck on the fridge). It reads: ‘I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure - which is: try to please everybody’. After a lot of worrying (and a lot of preparatory sketching), I decided ‘to please myself’ with my own personal vision of the characters, the one I had formed on first reading the book when I was sixteen. I hope others will enjoy my interpretation, and understand that it was a labour of unconditional love.

Liz Monahan and Mr Bingley
I'm sure they will, Liz! Thank you so much for visiting me on the blog today - I wish you huge success with your work - what a talented lady, I'm sure you'll all agree!!!