My Winter Reading Book Reviews

December 1, 2021
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My Winter Reading Book Reviews

Hello everyone,
I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas time! I hope the holiday season brings you lots of wonderful family moments, delicious treats, and most of all, some great books in your stockings! 

Speaking of books, (well, this IS a website about books!) I realized recently that I am in danger of breaking a promise, a promise I made about 6 months ago! Remember my blog My Winter Reading List? Well, winter has come and gone in Queensland Australia, and I promised a review of the titles I had ordered. These were The Jane Austen Diet; Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters; and Jan Ellen Delman’s Love’s Perjuries. So without more ado, let’s do this!

The Jane Austen Diet
by Brian Kozlowski

The Jane Austen Diet: Austen's Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness, by Brian Kozlowski.

What a fascinating book. Kozlowski uses sources ranging from Austen’s letters, her works, and general Regency life, to take a closer look at how the Georgians ate, slept and exercised, and what, if any, science is behind the cultures of that time around lifestyle and food.
I’m going to address the elephant (or cow??) in the room here and jump straight into what some critics of his book found to be the most controversial part of his findings: Yes folks, the Georgians ate meat, and enjoyed good health as well, so get over it and move on! Meat was considered essential for good health and while eaten in moderation, it was fresh, unprocessed, and was the main dish on the table.

I found it amusing that other reviews of this book were sometimes quite scathing of Kozlowski’s findings. It seems some readers took exception to this finding, and couldn’t help but display an unwillingness to accept that perhaps the extreme, religious veganism of the twenty first century which seems to have been almost forced upon us in the west, may not be the only way to enjoy stable, robust health. What critics missed, perhaps deliberately, was that Kozlowski also found that Austen and her contemporaries were all for moderation in everything, including sugar, meat and exercise.

The book also talks about different foods available, mealtimes, quantities of food taken, timing of food, exercise in the Georgian period, and drinking (Jane herself was no teetotaller!)
Mental and emotional health as related to what foods they partook of is also looked at, and overall the book brings to our sometimes extreme views an admonition from Austen and her contemporaries, that moderation is the key to good mental, emotional and physical health.
Kozlowski brings in lots of ‘modern’ scientific morsels which back up the wisdom found in the Regency lifestyle as presented by Miss Austen, and although the writer almost borders on being a tad preachy at times, this quality was very infrequent and I would not say it was intrusive. He did well to balance the ‘sciency’ aspects with the literary aspects, and the quotes were really quite fun.
Overall a well-researched and interesting look at the Regency table and lifestyle, from which the reader may take morsels of knowledge which they might then incorporate into their own lives, as they see fit. Strongly recommended for its clear, accessible style and fun presentation of fascinating details of the Georgian lifestyle. Nine out of Ten.

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters
by William Austen-Leigh

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters by William Austen-Leigh

It is always fascinating to peer behind the curtain and observe how others live, and to be able to have access to Jane Austen’s private letters to her family and friends is no exception. This book, compiled and supplemented with commentary from her brother William Austen-Leigh, is a really fascinating and detailed look at Austen’s life as seen through her letters. Her voice, so unique, really comes through just as clearly as if she was speaking to us directly, her acerbic wit and sarcasm are combined with her very humble attitude to life, and her love for her family and friends. I learned so much about Austen reading this book, and it was a pleasure from beginning to end.
Having said that, I think you would have to be a Janeophile to enjoy it, or very interested in Regency life, as some parts of the book might read very slowly with an attention to detail which might deter anyone but the most avid Austen fans. My rating: Eight out of ten.

Lovers' Perjuries
 by Joan Ellen Delman

Lovers' Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman

Oh, what a delight to read this gem! Delman’s Austenian style just shines, and her talent is amazing. The style of writing was my most favorite thing about this novel; she truly captures Regency idiom, spoken English and written. It could have been Jane writing her own sequel. I always look for authenticity, and strive to create it in my own novels, so I am in awe of Delman’s ability to do this. The story, that of the love affair between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, which is merely implied in Emma, is given thorough justice to, and nothing is left wanting in the way of a satisfying experience. The characters are given much loving attention, so that they blend seamlessly with Austen’s, and are the very same we came to know in Emma. The story is faithful in its detail to Emma, and it blends, again seamlessly, with the narrative given us by Austen in Emma. Everything is in place, nothing is wanting, to enjoy a transition from one writer to another, telling the same story but through different eyes. Ten out of ten to Delman.

So there you have it, three great books you might like to order for yourselves, as a new year treat, or pop onto your wish list for your next birthday maybe! Enjoy, and catch you all again soon!

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Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Bridgerton: Playing the Race Card Badly

November 11, 2021
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Bridgerton: Playing the Race Card Badly 

have been reading recently a lot of critical reviews of Bridgerton and I have found it fascinating, although not surprising, at the range of reactions to the show. This post will look at the gamut of emotions the show has inspired, and I will particularly talk about historical accuracy or lack thereof.

Based on a fictional set of novels by Julia Quinn, Bridgerton the televised series spanned one season with another in the works. It is steamy, juicy and opulent, a visual spectacle in terms of the costuming and scenery. It has garnered a lot of interest, and reportedly has an audience of 82 million viewers. However not all viewers were pleased with what they saw. Hardcore regency buffs have been quick to point out the sometimes glaring historical inaccuracies, which a quick google search will find listed in lots of different articles and reviews. As a pure fantasy, however, it excels, and as much as I consider myself a regency buff, I definitely found myself lured in by the sumptuous costuming and entertaining characters, and on that basis willing to overlook the historical inaccuracies.

Die-hard regency buffs have criticized the show for various reasons, not least of which is the ethnic diversity which seems contrived for the greater part. The number of ‘NPC’ non-white characters which inhabit the background scenes, as well as those in the main storyline, is quite large. And when anyone questions the historical accuracy of this particular motif, there seems to be a hysterical response to a genuine enquiry. It got me thinking and wondering, how wrong have we got history? Were there really that many African people in England at the time? Just how black was Queen Charlotte? And if the show appears to address race in its themes, does it actually say anything worthwhile about the issue?

According to popular history, black people numbered around 20,000 in England around the time of the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. Predominantly, these would have been people in service as footmen, valets, housemaids and the like, or even poorer folk, who had low trades such as seamstresses, staff at inns and cooks and cleaners. Some black people turned to trades such as army, navy and other trades, so a black tradesperson, storeowner, or soldier would not have been so rare that it raised eyebrows. But as for the middle and upper classes, I contend that there were so few people of colour in these realms that to suggest that every third person in a ballroom in London was a finely dressed black male or female, is ridiculous. Certainly there were historically named black figures of rank and wealth: Dido Elizabeth Belle and Queen Charlotte spring to mind. But on the whole, it was unusual to see person of colour who was not of the lower classes.

It can be garnered that black people were still not really thought of as equals, which can be seen from the 1803 illustration below. Entitled ‘Advertisement for a Wife’, the artist has drawn a black woman in the gathering of potential wives for the gentleman on the right. However, if you read the commentaries, the black woman’s supposed thoughts are not very erudite and make fun of her by stereotyping her speech, as she thinks, ‘You be pretty man, Massa’ while the other white figures think using full grammar and proper English. The poor would-be husband also makes it clear that the black woman is not his equal in contending for his hand. “Mercy me, there’s a black among them!”
If this idea that black people are not equal to white people in society, then it is unlikely that the scenes presented in Bridgerton are a faithful representation of society in England—in 1803 at any rate!

But Bridgerton takes artistic license with these historical details, and does so freely. The actress who plays the part of Queen Charlotte, a real historical figure in the regency era, is very much of African origin, with quite dark skin, whereas the real Queen Charlotte (1738-1820), the wife of the English King George III (The Mad King) was apparently not so dark-skinned. She is supposed to have directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, of the black branch of the Portuguese Royal House, although this is speculation. However, even with a somewhat light skin, she was ‘black’ enough to be often called ‘Mulatto Face’ as an insult. Again, this shows a general trend toward non-acceptance of blacks in English society. Allan Ramsay painted several portraits of her, and although we may surmise that her negro features may have been downplayed in his paintings, to create an image which was more acceptable to society, her appearance in these portraits bears little resemblance in skin tone to the actress who plays her in the show.
All this aggrandizing of black people in Bridgerton, this romanticization of colour and race, of course is almost what most audiences have come to expect; we now live in a society where truth and historical accuracy is less important than not offending anyone. But this does not mean Bridgerton is necessarily “bad” although it might be fair to question if Bridgerton’s creators are trying to socially manipulate its audiences. But as a fantasy piece it excels, and we must grant that the show allows opportunities for actors who would benefit from playing parts and genres they normally would be excluded from playing. We could even consider Bridgerton’s overuse of black characters of rank and consequence as an overt statement about the ease with which history can be diluted and even deleted, according to whoever has control of the history books—or the film.

But in deliberately provoking its audiences to divide like the Red Sea in front of Moses, and form two standing parts, one all for the truth and one all for the fantasy, did Bridgerton succeed in creating a meaningful dialogue about the age old ‘race question,’ or didn’t it? Could we accuse Bridgerton of not actually creating a meaningful dialogue about race and inclusion, but rather of burying the real issue, Imperialism, under a heap of luscious, glistening costumes, and behind beautiful sets, and distracting us from distasteful truths with head-turningly gorgeous actors? When real Imperialist stories which are galling and chilling, are hidden and given mere lip service, (yes there are some black people in service in the show, but where are the slaves, bought and sold on the markets? Unless in Bridgerton’s phantasmagorical universe, slavery was abolished way, waay, before 1833) where the show’s heroine, Daphne, is pure white, and has the whitest worldview to impose on her audience (she just want to get married and have children, a narrative so powerful and so pervasive that it overpowers and crushes the race issues which Bridgerton ought to raise), when the real issues are hidden behind the glitz of a fantasy piece, and where no other cultures and races are showcased as ‘equal’ ( I did see one token Asian female in a diaphanous gown) I cannot take Bridgerton seriously in terms of its colour-baiting promises to address the race question.

For a show that wanted to declare itself ‘woke’ (a political term I dislike immensely by the way, for its inherent untruthfulness and inverted intentions), it did not do very well. Bridgerton pleases the eye, and that is what it does well. But as for anything else, it is clear the show’s creators and producers did not wish to do anything more than soothe the guilty white conscience through active denial, and in the end, instead of celebrating race, it has succeeded only in creating a raceless, homogenous, snow-white fantasy world.

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Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

What would Jane Austen have ordered if she had Amazon?

October 11, 2021
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What Would Jane Austen Have Ordered if She Had Amazon?

A  few months back I revealed my winter reading list, and invited you to share with me your own winter/summer line up, depending on where you are in the world. But while I was writing that post, I began to wonder: if Jane Austen had had access to Amazon, what exactly would she have picked out for herself? (Besides a Thermomix and a Kindle). Just what did Jane Austen read on a rainy afternoon when she wanted to curl up with a glass of hot negus and a good book? If you want to know what negus is there is a blog on my website.

Austen mentions several books that she seems to favour in her letters and novels, as well as ones that she would have been familiar with, including those which she allows her characters to be fans of, so I thought I would make a list of books which she appears to favour – and which she might, if she had had Amazon, have ordered for her own winter/summer vacation reading fare. On researching, I found a really comprehesive list which someone had already compiled, saving me the trouble! It was on a great little website called Bookriot, a book recommendations and literary chat website. I had a look around and it seems like pretty cool place to hang out if you are a book lover. While the purpose of this blog is not usually to talk up other websites, but as a reader myself I could not help being impressed by this one, especially as they had this page on Jane Austen all written up. The link to Bookriot is below, which will take interested readers to the page on Jane Austen, where you can peruse this list and even better, you can apparently download free version of these books. How cool!

Okay, so below is a list of some of the books which Jane Austen was at least familiar with and would likely have read herself. Some of these appear in her letters to family members, and some of them appear as ‘mentions’ in her own novels. I’ve no doubt there would have been many more, (including Pamela, by Samuel Richardson—a long book, and quite didactic in style, and as I recall I think it is epistolary in form, ((letters)) but I really enjoyed it in any case) and other works by the novelists mentioned below. In any case, these are a great start; hopefully, like myself, you will find that there is something satisfying in knowing you are reading something Jane Austen read and enjoyed!

  • 1752 – Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennon
  • 1753 – The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson
  • 1778 – Evelina by Frances Burney
  • 1782 – Cecilia; Memoirs of an Heiress by Frances Burney
  • 1783 – Adelaide and Theodore, or Letters on Education by Madame de Genlis
  • 1785 – The Task: A Poem, in Six Books by William Cowper
  • 1791 – The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
  • 1794 – The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • 1796 – Camilla: A Picture of Youth by Frances Burney
  • 1796 – The Monk by Mathew Lewis
  • 1798 – A Practical Education by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1800 – Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1801 – Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1801 – The Children of the Abbey, a Tale by Regina Maria Roche
  • 1806 – Letters from The Mountains by Anne Grant
  • 1808 – Calebs in Search of a Wife by Hannah More
  • 1808 – Marmion (poem) by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1809 – Woman; or, Ida of Athens by Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan
  • 1810 – The Lady of the Lake (poem) by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1811 – Self Control by Mary Brunton
  • 1813 – The Heroine; or, Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader by Eaton Stannard Barrett
  • 1814 – The Corsair by Lord Byron
  • 1814 – Alicia De Lacy, an Historical Romance by Jane West
  • 1814 – Patronage by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1814 – The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties by Frances Burney
  • 1814 – Waverly by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1816 – The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1816 – A Narrative of the Events… by Helen Maria Williams
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A Day in the Life of Jane Austen

September 10, 2021
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A Day in the Life of Jane Austen

I have always been fascinated by the details of Regency life, and how different or similar it was for a middle-class woman compared to our twenty-first century lives.

For an upper-class woman, of course, there was much more leisure time than there would have been for a lower-middle class woman, since there were, generally speaking less servants, depending upon the household income, and some females would have had to lend a hand with some of the chores, such as helping with setting up the table for meals or perhaps lighter cleaning or hanging out the wash, beating carpets etc. I have often wondered what a day in the life of Jane Austen would look like, so I have done some research, and here is what I have found:

Chawton Cottage where Austen resided for the last eight years of her short life.

For more well-to-do ladies, the day did not begin until about ten o clock. Servants were up around five or six, making breakfast, taking care of household cares and so on. In the Austen home, at Chawton cottage, they did not have many servants, and Jane was up at the crack of dawn, around 6am. She would likely have sponged herself off at a basin, unless it was bath day, since most women would still only bathe once per week. She would have put on her undergarments and morning dress, and probably covered these with an apron. Her sister might have sometimes helped her lace her stays and petticoat, as there were a lot of strings to tie. She would likely have put up her own hair also.

Jane was an accomplished pianist and she spent most mornings practicing the pianoforte before breakfast. This was also the time that small chores were done, and often a walk was taken before breakfast. Then around 8.30am or so she would go into the kitchen and help prepare breakfast for her family. Jane’s particular duty was making the tea. Their breakfast might have been a simple light fare of rolls, muffins or toast, perhaps eggs. She apparently used a long-handled fork to toast bread over the fire.

Jane Austen’s piano at Chawton Cottage

After breakfast, at around 10am, Jane usually worked on her novels, wrote letters, walked, paid or received social calls, pottered in the flowerbeds as she was a keen gardener, or carried out little errands in the town. This period before dinner time, which for the Austens was usually somewhere between 3 and 4pm, was always called ‘morning’. Thus we have the confusion that often arises when people read in novels of the time, about ‘morning calls’. Calls from others or paying calls to another, were always carried out before the dinner hour, and thus the term ‘morning calls’, can be understood to mean a call paid perhaps before 4pm in the afternoon.

Jane’s writing table and chair at Chawton Cottage

Jane wrote at her little writing table and chair, which was in the drawing room, placed by a window for light. She would work until dinner time, which was for the Austens, around 3.30pm. The ‘dinner’ period was marked by a change of clothes, thus the ‘dressing for dinner’ habit we read of in novels of the time.

Dinner at home generally consisted of two courses, with roast meats, or fish if they could get it, a soup, and a few dishes of vegetables much as we would have today. They were also usually treated to a pudding or sweet course, and wine was usually drunk at dinner as matter of course. A more lavish dinner would have been three courses, two of meats and vegetables, and a sweet course which more often than not consisted not only of puddings like ‘wypt blancmange’ but nibbley finger foods like fruits and nuts and little cakes. The Austens were quite social and often had guests. Jane enjoyed wine and her letters mention that their family made wine and brewed their own beer and mead, which was quite common back then. She enjoyed her tipple, and sometimes talked of what wine she had taken in her letters.

The dining room at Chawton cottage

After dinner, the family usually took tea together, and remained together for the evening. This time they would spend reading, and Jane would have read aloud parts of her work in progress for critique. This was the time the family might play cards, read riddles (called charades back then) and by 8 or 9pm they would have a light supper and perhaps by 10 or 11pm go to bed. Jane would have enjoyed playing the pianoforte for her family during the evenings also. Sometimes of course, they would prepare to go out, if there was a local dance to attend or a card party at a private house, and for these the girls would spend an hour helping each other do their hair and dress.

Toothbrush made of horse hair

Bedtime was a ritual in which Jane, like another other regency lady, would have disrobed and put on her nightgown, perhaps put her hair in paper curls and tucked it into a sleeping cap, and brushed her teeth with a toothbrush made of horse hair, and a tooth powder of soda ash and salt. The maid would have brought her up a heated brick for her feet if the weather was chilly, and then she likely either poured over her writing desk to write a little more of her work in progress, or climbed into bed, ready to do it all over again at 6am the next day.

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Writing Regency; How Not to Plan your Novel

August 14, 2021
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Writing Regency; How Not to Plan your Novel 

I know there are countless excellent writing courses, and lots of them free, which will teach you how to write a romantic novel. When I was thinking, five years ago, about how to begin writing, I googled tons of them…and never used any of them.

It can be counterproductive to try to follow a formula, and that is certainly how I felt after I had researched so many courses, hints and tips. It was overwhelming, and that is why, in a previous post, I talked about how to get started—simply by writing a sentence and taking it one sentence at a time. Pretty hard to get overwhelmed by too much advice when you have no stake in the outcome and just take it bit at a time. This blog I wanted to talk about how to plan—or not—your novel.

Some people might find a course or a bunch of tips, helpful. For myself, feeling as overwhelmed as I was when I first began, I decided not to plan ahead, and my first novel kind of wrote itself. I really just gave up any idea of controlling my pen. I let the characters write their own dialogue, and it seemed to free me up enough to allow a storyline to develop of itself.

In A Scandal at Delford, my first novel, I began with a very simple premise; a girl goes to visit her cousin and ends up in love. The rest of the story evolved as the chapters flew by. I tried to remember to include things I had always enjoyed in Austen and other regency novels; balls, walking in the country, dressing up in regency dress, country life in general, afternoon tea—all those quintessential staples of regency novels which makes them authentic and different from our own twenty-first century lives.

Then I made sure each action led to something—did we learn  more about a character, or a situation, to make that action or event worth including in the story? Its no good writing endless details about how the heroine rode her horse over a park, sat under a tree and rescued a kitten, unless it moves the story forward, unless it serves a purpose. So I made that rule for myself as I went along, and if the action seemed not to be pertinent to the story line, I added in something that made it important, or I cut the writing out and did something different.

One thing you have to get used to is being ruthless when it comes to critiquing your own writing. You must be prepared to determinedly ruthless, and discard anything you find useless or not of the quality you are aspiring to. It can be very hard to cut pet scenes and stuff you toiled over for hours, but if you don’t, you won’t ever be a good writer. Point.

Another trick I discovered which produces creative ideas while writing, is to think on a theme or two, an idea in general, a statement you want to make. Examples might be redemption, weakness, loyalty, grief, cruelty, joy, aging, deceit, etc. Themes or issues give your plot ‘body’ or flesh it out—they give your heroine a mental or emotional challenge to work out. You may not preplan your novel’s storyline in detail, but if you hold a theme or idea in mind which you’d like to explore, scenes will naturally mold themselves to that theme as you work out in the moment how this might be explored in a certain scene or dialogue.

For example, in Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh, I really wanted to explore the idea of what a hero really is. So my heroine, Georgiana, has to think about why she puts certain men in her life on a pedestal, and how that has affected her attitudes. My hero, Asher Brandt, also confronts heroism and what it is. If you have read this novel, you will remember how this theme recurs in the story. Once you have a theme or two, as you write with that in mind, scenes then develop which bring this idea to the fore, and these scenes bring characters closer to resolving their issues. Writing with this idea in mind, you will find that each scene you write will naturally move the action forward and your scenes will be relevant rather than superfluous to the story.

From there, your storyline becomes more clear as you then realize you could make this or that happen in order to explore this theme further or to make sure your character comes to some kind of understanding by the end of the novel. You may begin your novel with little idea of the story line except a very brief premise, and a theme or two to explore, and by half way you may now have a very clear idea of where it is going to the point where you may have to sit down and make a list of things that need to happen to bring the story to a successful conclusion.

Always resolve your character’s challenges, no matter if they are mental or physical. Always give the reader closure on an idea or theme, by allowing your character to overcome, understand, face, explore, or accept their ‘theme’ issue or challenge.

Something I found really helpful too, is to make sure that even though I don’t exactly know where my plot is leading just yet, my characters are well rounded and have their unusual and interesting quirks; they are not all generic NPCs playing a role. This can then lead to more ideas on scenes and plot lines, which can give cohesion to a story line.

For example, in A Bath Affair, my heroine Clemence is very outspoken, and thinks of her unspoken sharp and witty retorts as bees buzzing in her head, trying to get out. Now my heroine has a quirky personality trait, which makes her more interesting as a character, more authentic as a human, and moves the plot along since she is often saying outrageous and unacceptable things (in a Mayfair drawing room anyway) and leads her to be courageous when the plot calls for it.

There are lots of different ways to generate plotlines and move your story forward and to give it body, but these I have mentioned have really worked for me. Something else may work for you, and that’s fine—the point is to write, and the fun is in the discovering how YOU as a writer, work best.

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Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

What is Negus?

July 15, 2021

What is Negus? 

Feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus…’
(Mansfield Park).

I have long been fascinated by the types of foods and drinks which are mentioned in many eighteenth-century novels, especially in those of Jane Austen. When I come across a drink I have never heard of, I like to look up what it was, and usually someone has, very kindly and conveniently posted up a recipe for it. 

So I decided to do a post on Negus, for a few reasons.

Firstly, it sounds so mysterious! Like some sort of bizarre, catatonic state, eg .’She was in a state of utter Negus…’ Perhaps after a couple of glasses…

Negus is also interesting to me because it appears in two of Austen’s novels; once as part of the supper fare provided at a ball in Mansfield Park, and again in her unfinished work, The Watsons. I like to include new, useless bits of information in my novels, so I had Catherine Moreland serve Negus at a dinner party in my upcoming work-in-progress, Woodston, a sequel to Northanger Abbey. So, I have no excuse not to have a quick look at it's origins, and to make some to see for myself to see what all the fuss is about!

On looking up Negus in Wikipedia I found it was usually served hot, in cooler weather, and seems very much like mulled wine. It is made from port, hot water, oranges or lemons, and spices, usually nutmeg, and sweetened with sugar. It was actually invented by a Colonel Francis Negus in the early 18th century, and retained its popularity as a winter warmer as late as 1880s. The website however reports that by Victorian times it had become more of a children’s drink—I assume it was diluted down quite a bit for the kiddies, but who knows! It does have added water, and is heated, but not enough to evaporate all the alcohol.

Anyway, one cool winter afternoon recently, I browsed the various recipes online and found this one on Epicurious which looked pretty easy to make, and I tried making some myself.
Here is a link to the recipe I used:

I used a midrange priced port. I made half this recipe, as it calls for a quart, which is 4 cups and too much for me. I halved the recipe to 2 cups of port and two cups of hot water.

I grated my zest of the citrus I had chosen, and squeezed the juice. I chopped my mandarin skins, as they were soft, and it looks a bit chunky in the pot (pictured below) but you don’t have to do that, especially if you are only using lemon or oranges which are easier to zest.

The recipe called for lemons, but I added a mandarin, juice and rind, which I really think added extra sweetness, and a lovely flavour. Once I had all my ingredients in the pot and had added the hot water, then steeped it for half an hour, and I think the flavours will get stronger as it sits.

I like the idea of serving it as per the next illustration, with a cinnamon stick and a piece of cut orange!

So that was my midwinter afternoon foray into Negus production, and I have to say, I might just go into business! I liked it, although not sure how it might keep. But it really is very reminiscent of Mulled Wine…and just as delicious!

And with that said, I raise my glass in a toast to good old Frank Negus, for coming up with the idea for this delicious hot drink…. and to Jane Austen, of course! Cheers!

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Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Fans and Fanatics: Why we just can’t get enough Jane Austen Fan Fiction

June 25, 2021
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Fans and Fanatics: Why we just can’t get enough Jane Austen Fan Fiction 

The world of Jane Austen-inspired ‘pop lit’ is, unarguably, a huge one. So large, in fact, it seems almost limitless. There are a sizable number of fan fiction works available to purchase on sites like Amazon, and with the dubious advent of self-publishing some years back, this number increases exponentially each year.

A quick search on Wikipedia tells us that even back in 2003 there were already over 900 Pride and Prejudice-inspired fan fiction works alone, and who knows what that number is now as I write in June 2021. From sequels and prequels, alternate views and spin-offs, to stand-alone romances in the style of, we are voracious readers, and loquacious writers, of it all. Some of these works seek to emulate or even directly imitate, Austen’s style. Conversely, some take a fair bit of the modern world back to the regency era, in the use of modern language and idiom, and the misrepresentation, deliberate or unintentional, of the historic period in which her works are set.

Despite these differences in style and approach, it cannot be ignored that Austen fan fiction is a now a fully-fledged alternate universe, in and of itself, one where we, the reader, can escape to when the hard realities of life have us yearning for afternoon teas on the lawn, sprigged muslin gowns, silk cravats and waistcoats, candlelit balls, long solitary walks over the moors, and heart-fluttering romances between restrainedly sexy nineteenth-century hotties and babes. This absolute fervour for Austen fan fiction can easily be said to parallel that for other cult followings like Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars, to name a few. So just what is our fascination, as readers and writers, with Austen fan fiction? Why do writers write Austen fan fiction, and why do readers read it? 

As a reader and a writer of Austen fan fiction myself, I would suggest that a large part of this growing fascination for Austen-inspired literature–the spin offs, continuations, sequels and prequels—originates in Austen’s own intense focus on domestic, middle-class English life, manners and culture. There is something which we are attracted to in Austen’s comfortable, cosy world, where fires burn cheerfully and long walks can be had to wile away the endless hours of leisure which denote a middle-class, genteel lifestyle. We are, I suggest, fascinated by the idle, pleasure-seeking lifestyle of the moderately wealthy. Deny it if you will, but consider this: neither the Brontes, nor Dickens nor Hardy, nor any other nineteenth century author who wrote primarily about the poverty-stricken English lower classes, could boast the cult post-humous following which Austen can. I’m not saying that is the only reason for her cult following, but there is a certain charm in being swept away by one’s imagination to an Austenian world where one doesn’t have to worry about having to work, nor where your next dish of roast beef is coming from. Granted, Marianne and Elinor were pretty poor, but even they did not have to work! There is something fascinating in reading about people like us, people who could have been us, and whose lives we could easily slip into, given a time machine and the right muslin gown and spencer. Deny it as much as you like, I hold that we really just want to be them, even if only for a day.

In many ways, Austen was pretty avant-garde for her time. One of the attractions to her work is, I think, the way she approaches women’s issues. Austen wrote about a world where women existed, for the most part, behind closed doors; the front door of a Georgian house hid the secret domestic world of women. Women were, in most homes, especially those of the middle and upper classes, cloistered –waiting for marriage or spinsterhood, whichever came first. As Anne Elliot reminds us in Persuasion, ‘we live at home, confined, and our feeling prey upon us.’ And yet Austen balances these few and far between poignant moments with acerbic wit and without a hint of cloying sentimentality. She simply gets on with the business of living—and telling it as it is. Perhaps it is this attitude, this determination not to be a victim, and to present women as courageous beings with agency to grow and flourish, despite their social circumstances, which attracts us to her work as much as anything else.

There is another aspect of English culture which I feel holds the secret to Austen’s fanatical fan-fiction following. It is not surprising that we, living in an era where sexuality and passion are expressed without reservation, we might be drawn toward a binary opposite, a culture which has typically represented itself, in literature of the nineteenth century middle class particularly, as cool, refined, passionless, circumspect and hidden. That cool, passive English protagonist has been typified in characters such as Thomas Hardy’s protagonists both male and female, and in even earlier literary works which would have influenced Austen’s writing, such as those by Fanny Burney, Grandison, and so on. This refined, cool, completely controlled Englishman or woman, I would argue, is the skeletal protagonist for all Austen’s major characters. If Austen ever represents any warmth of passion, any overtly sexual behaviours in her characters, it is severely punished; even the ‘secondary’ character of the coquettish Lydia Bennet, who is overtly sexual and passionate arguably gets her just desserts at Austen’s hand, by inciting her sisters’ clucking disapproval, and being forced to marry a loser. Austen makes use of this stereotype of the English ethos and makes it the backbone from which she works to flesh out her characters. Her novels are populated with proper, refined, sometimes prim, females and males, who if they ever lose their shit, either do it behind closed doors, where readers are not invited to peer, or are relegated to playing bit roles, NPCs, the non-playing characters she can afford to take punitive measures with. This is, both in a literary sense and a cultural one, the opposite of many of our 21st century values, where openness, warmth, passion and sexuality are freely expressed.

I am not, of course, ignoring the countless number of racy ‘regency’ romances that have been written and are still being churned out onto Amazon websites like pizzas out of a Domino’s on a Saturday night. Those are not Austen fan fiction, however. They are a different genre. But in purist Austen fan fiction, especially ones which aspire to emulation or imitation of style and narrative subject, sex before marriage is rarely mentioned, and if it is, it is usually represented as shameful. I’m not saying all Austen fan fiction should treat passion and sexuality as taboo, to be imagined only, behind the bedroom door. Some writers have done a very good job of such scenes of connubial bliss, but part of the pleasure of immersing oneself in the world of nineteenth century middle class manners and everyday life, is remaining as true as possible to the social mores of the day, of preserving the credibility of the ‘Austenesque’ narrative, and that means no orgies in the drawing room. Austen fan fiction, when it is traditional fan fiction, never dreams of writing such scenes, and few purist readers want to see it. For that, they will go to another sub-genre of regency romance.

Of course, we love to love the gowns, the clothes, the food, the balls, the card parties and so on, which are described in Austen’s novels and which a lot of the fan fiction strives to recreate. These things, according to Austen’s works, are the material evidence of English life, culture and manners. I suspect this is a significant part of the attraction to Austen’s work too, and similar types of contemporary fiction, that we are drawn to those old morals and values and simple ways of life. In the 21st century, where life is a lot less ‘civil’ on the whole, we have to a great extent lost those societal values which proliferate Austen’s novels; politeness in all circumstances, behavioural rules of etiquette in social situations, modesty in dressing in both sexes but particularly females, good old-fashioned values, advice and go-to remedies for what ails mankind. We love fan fiction because it strives to recreate these values, particularly in the purist fan fiction, which is so traditionally focussed. I know that I am personally drawn to read and write fan fiction which seeks to express these old-fashioned values and social mores.

I have only touched on some of the characteristics of Austen fan fiction which may make it so fascinating for readers and writers alike. Reading Austen and Austen-inspired fiction gives us a sense of a culture which existed 200 years ago, and perhaps we yearn, even subconsciously, to be a part of it. Of course, there were many aspects of English middle-class life which today would not be seen as positive, such as the sometimes blatant denigration of women. Austen certainly used her novels as platforms to highlight the plight of women in her society. But despite this truth, she creates for us a world which is so different to our own, populated by people with different, almost enviable values, living a life of leisure, where each level of society has its hierarchy in the greater social system. No matter the motivation for each individual reader or writer, the bottom line is that we love to see the lifestyle, culture and manners of the Georgian era through Austen’s lens, and we want more of it. We will take anything which looks, feels, sounds and tastes like Jane. We are addicted.

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Jane Austen Fan Fiction – Recommended Favourites List

May 27, 2021
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Jane Austen Fan Fiction- Recommended Favourites List.

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There are few writers who can claim to having created a post-humous cult following, but Jane Austen is one of them. Her novels have inspired literally hundreds of fan-fiction writers, who have gone on to create hundreds upon hundreds of prequels, sequels, spin offs, alternative endings and alternate-view narratives. Thank god, for those of us who cannot get enough Austen, we now have a virtually unlimited supply of novels, novelettes, spoofs and short stories from which to choose.

I have by no means read all or most or even half of these offerings, but for what it is worth, I decided to make a short list of eleven (it was meant to be ten, but I couldn’t pick which one not to mention!) of those works I have read, and would recommend for other Janeites, Austen-lovers, and JAFF-devotees. This is my list only, and it is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive—these are just the ones which spring to mind as ones which I have read and personally loved, for one reason or another.

In no particular order of excellence, I therefore present The List:

The Assistant
by Riana Everly

by Jane Austen and "another Lady"

The Watsons
by Jane Austen and Joan Aiken

by Jo Baker

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
by Syrie James

Murder at Northanger Abbey
by Shannon Winslow

by Kwen D Griffeth

The Third Sister
by Julia Barrett

The Youngest Miss Ward
by Joan Aiken

by Jane Austen and Juliet Shapiro

Pride and Promiscuity –
by Arielle Eckstut

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My Winter Reading List

May 8, 2021
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My Winter Reading List...

what's yours?

It is the beginning of autumn here in Queensland Australia, and while we don’t get really cold weather this time of year, some rain has in recent weeks brought us definitely cooler temperatures. All the rain has given me the perfect excuse to be indoors, curled up on the sofa as the rain falls outside, with my head in a novel.

I am rereading Northanger Abbey at the moment, for the umpteenth time, since my next JAFF work, Woodston, will be a sequel to that book. And it is about this time of the year I go on Amazon and order up a few new offerings—all in the name of ‘research’ of course.

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen

Regency House Party
by Richard E. Grant

So recently I ordered, and await with anticipation the arrival of Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters by William Austen-Leigh; an Emma sequel called Love's Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman; and because I am always fascinated by food in the regency, and Austen’s attitudes to living and health, I could not resist this gem, The Jane Austen Diet by Brian Kozlowski.

I’ll do a review of each one when I read it, so stay tuned!

Just on a side note, I also nipped over to the DVD section, and ordered a DVD copy of the rather dated reality TV show called Regency House Party. The idea of seeing a non-fictional representation of how Austen and her contemporaries lived back then was just too hard to pass up. And I expect it to answer some enduring questions we all have; I mean, how often DID Lizzy Bennet bathe? And who really emptied those nasty chamber pots? 

Understanding more thoroughly some of those perennial facts of British life, like the class structures which were accepted as the norm, and the importance for women of beauty and breeding to make a good marriage give a more rounded out view of the period and help us to understand the dilemmas of Austen’s (and her contemporaries) female characters particularly. So I have high hopes that the series will be serious in sticking to the social mores and strict hierarchies which dominated the era.              

In the meantime, I would love to hear what your own winter/summer reading list is, depending on where you are in the world, and if you have any favourites you would like to recommend!

Look forward to hearing from other readers and writers!

Love Kate

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters
by William Austen-Leigh

Love’s Perjuries
 by Joan Ellen Delman

The Jane Austen Diet
by Brian Kozlowski.

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The Captain and the Coquette Chapter 4

April 16, 2021

The Captain and the Coquette 

A Short Story Prequel to  

Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh. 

From material which inspired my second novel. 

I hope you enjoy the read.
Please be sure to comment and share! 

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Chapter Four

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Brandt did not have time to raise his weapon.

The tallest of the highwaymen spoke in rough tones. ‘Step out, gentlemen! No hasty movements! Leave the pistol behind, I think, Sir!’

Brandt reluctantly placed the gun on the floor and followed Osmand and Charles to step from the carriage onto the road. The woman in the dark cloak remained inside, and Brandt prayed the creature would stay quiet. The highwaymen had not thought to check for other occupants, and he hoped they would not think to do so.

The driver lay on the road, moaning, blood gushing from a wound on his leg, and the post-boy was disappeared.
‘Naval fellows!’ exclaimed the leader of the pair. ‘Aye, then you might have some pretty coin in your pocket, and a trinket or two, I suppose, hey fellows? Empty your pockets, boys, while my friend here searches your trunks!’

True to his word, the other masked man had opened the trunks and was flinging clothes and papers onto the road, until he found a wad of pound notes. The first man waved his pistol again and indicated they ought to turn out their pockets.
Suddenly, a very uneven but decidedly female voice cried, ‘Put down the gun or I will shoot! I am determined!’

Five men swung around in astonishment.
‘Good God! Miss Hailsham!’

These two exclamations were uttered at the same time, for both Charles and Brandt had recognized the young woman who was half kneeling in the door of the carriage, her hood flung back from her fair hair.

The footpad with the pistol turned his weapon upon her, but she had already fired. Eyes closed, she had fired as straight as she could, and struck the fellow on his arm. He tumbled, clutching the arm, and the other masked fellow, still clutching the wad of pound notes, stumbled and struck off for the woods on their left, in as much haste as he could make.
Brandt lost no time. He strode to the young woman and gently removed the pistol which was now smoking darkly from the tip.

She opened the eyes which had been squeezed shut. ‘Is he dead?’ she asked in a wavering voice.
He shook his head grimly. The other fellow now got to his feet and made off, limping badly, in his friend’s wake. Osmand, at first making an attempt to follow, was prevented by Charles, and the party turned instead to Catherine, in a great astonishment. A volley of questions followed, which led her to hang her head in shame.

‘I only wanted to see Charles off! Yes, it was very foolish of me, but I thought, what a lark, and I never have adventures, and I thought I should be perfectly safe with you all, and now I feel foolish and silly, but after all, I did save you all, did I not?’ she ended hopefully.
Brandt recalled the conversation in the carriage earlier, and bit his tongue. Miss Hailsham had been through enough today. He wished he had not spoken so. He put his hand gently upon her arm. ‘Despite your foolish behavior, Miss Hailsham, I believe we have you to thank for our lives, if nothing else. You were very courageous, was she not, Hailsham?’

Charles put his arm around his sister. ‘Yes, you’re a jolly good girl, Cathy, but what possessed you to endanger yourself, and travel in disguise I do not know. You know if you had come to harm, I could not have faced Mama,’ he chastised. ‘What she will say, I can hardly guess!’

‘Yes Charles, I am very sorry for the nuisance I have been. I only wanted to see Cap—I mean to see you off. War is so very a dangerous thing, is it not?’ With this remark, she began to cry, and was inconsolable for some minutes.
Brandt thought to himself that this was the first time he had seen the real Catherine Hailsham, and he liked her rather the better for it.

When they had seen to the injured driver and bandaged him up with pieces of shirt, they struck out again, with Charles at the reins this time. They made for the nearest inn, where, to Catherine’s dismay, they insisted that they were bound to set her home again on whatever hired hackney they could cajole from the innkeeper, and with the indignity of woman to keep her company. True to their word, upon reaching the nearest posting house they saw to it that after a fortifying meal and glass of wine, Miss Hailsham was bundled into a hired chaise. With a mixture of awareness of her own foolishness and the new misery which she now must conceal from them all, especially Captain Brandt, Catherine allowed herself to be tucked into the carriage. 

Before closing the door, however, Brandt leaned in and said in surprisingly gently, ‘You were very brave today, Miss Hailsham. I shall not forget what you did.’
She nodded stiffly, and felt herself the fool for more than just her actions today. But he obviously meant to go on.

‘It is perhaps better not to speak of what was said in the coach in your hearing, particularly when you should not have been there in the first place,’ he added in chastising tones. ‘But I never meant you should hear ill spoken of you. Forgive my impudence.’ His voice was soft, kind, the voice you use on an infant.

Catherine felt herself colour deeply, and did not know where to look. Finally, she looked him in the eye, almost defiantly. ‘It was nothing, Captain,’ she said lightly, ‘pray do not be anxious over it. I am thicker-skinned than my friends give me credit for. Besides, due to my having but little real substance,’ she added tartly, ‘I collect we should both find each other tiresome, if we were to spend any time together.’

Truth obliged him to acknowledge privately that she had not misjudged the general suitability of their characters, but he felt, all the same, the sting of that judgement, since he certainly might have misjudged the lady on one point. He said gently, ‘I collect that you have more substance than I gave you credit for, Miss Hailsham. I own that I rather mistook you. I beg your forgiveness for that, too.’

She kept bright, defiant eyes fixed upon him, but seemed as if she could not speak. 

He admired her courage, but repressed the chivalrous urge to comfort her, for he knew he could not. She would take refuge in her pride, and he would not take that from her. He said lightly, ‘I am afraid I must leave you; time awaits no man, and I must now be away to sea with your brother, and only God can say if we shall return and when.’

There was kindness in his eyes, but it was the kindness which arises from pity, and she looked away. Brandt stepped back and closed the door to the carriage. ‘Goodbye.’ He gave the post boy a nod and the carriage jolted slightly and moved forward. 

The woman they had hired to see her safely back to town made some general remarks upon the weather, and the amount of work she would come back to that evening, but Catherine did not reply. She pulled up her hood, and turned her face, once again, to the window, and even the woman did not notice the tears which rolled down her cheeks for some time in the shadows of the carriage as it moved inexorably forward, taking her back to the city.

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End Chapter Four

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