Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guest blogger of the month - Margaret C Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook

We're delighted to welcome Margaret Sullivan to the blog. Margaret is rather fond of obscure English novelist Jane Austen, and here she talks about her obsession with Austen, which led her to write her new book, The Jane Austen Handbook.

"About nine years ago, I started writing Jane Austen fan fiction. I didn't set out to "write fan fiction," but was inspired to write a story by reading Persuasion a few too many times. The ideas for the stories came pretty easily, but the details escaped me: what was the difference between a chaise and a barouche? How long would an engagement last? What kind of needlework would the ladies be doing after dinner? When did they eat dinner, for that matter?

The research in those days was not that easy. There wasn't as much information on the Internet as there is now, and my tiny local library certainly had no dedicated Regency history section. I tried to buy books, but I quickly learned that buying anything that claimed to be about the 19th century was more likely to be about the Victorian period and anything marked 18th century tended to be pre-Revolution, neatly leaving out Jane Austen's period. However, after a persistent searching and reading, I would like to think I became, if not an expert on an academic level, somewhat versed in the period, at least enough to write fiction set in it without falling on my face too often.

I started AustenBlog in July 2004 with the idea of making it a repository for news interesting to Jane Austen fans, whether about new books or films coming out, Austen-related events, even fun stuff like the Jane Austen Action Figure.

When Quirk Books decided to expand their handbook line to create a Jane Austen Handbook, the editor found AustenBlog, and then my personal Web site ( Tilneys and Trap-doors), and asked me to write it. I was thrilled because finally I would have a use for all my period trivia! But I found that I still had some gaps in my knowledge, and I had fun researching the stuff I didn't know. One of my favorite sections is about dancing and balls; not just the actual mechanics of English country dancing (which would have been much too complicated for the scope of this book) but the social implications of dancing in Jane Austen's time: for instance, why Darcy was considered such a snob for refusing to dance with anyone except the Bingley sisters at the Meryton assembly.

I had a lot of help from Allison Thompson, a Janeite of my acquaintance who is an expert on historical dance. It was really fun to go to the JASNA AGM last year and dance at the Regency Ball after having learned so much about dancing while writing the book. My knowledge enhanced my experience, which is exactly what I hope the book will do for all those who love Jane Austen's work."

Thanks, Margaret! That's one book that belongs on the shelves of all Janeites. The Jane Austen Handbook is also a fantastic resource for the general reader, as well as writers and lovers of the period. It can be ordered from all Amazons, including Amazon UK and Amazon US


jane o said...

I just received my copy from Amazon today-it is the most beautiful little book, very wittily written and beautifully illustrated. A lovely book to dip into and one to treasure!

Melinda said...

Fascinating: I look forward to dipping into this book!

Sylvia L. said...

I love austenblog and that you've been discovered through it is very nice indeed! ;)
Am looking forward to read 'The Jane Austen handbook' also as something with real information written in a witty style.

Susan said...

I cannot comment on Ms. Sullivan's motivation for starting AustenBlog, but I can comment on how she utilizes her power now. A brief perusal of any of the articles and reviews, as well as the comments rendered by the faithful cronies, blatantly reveal a group of people who boldly and with glee pattern themselves after Caroline Bingley or Lady Catherine rather than their professed hero Lizzy. Certainly they are not even remotely like Miss Austen herself, who was a lady with grace and kindness. She would never abuse people with the purposeful intent to wound in the name of entertainment. Approach this site with extreme caution and do not trust any of them to be honest and show respect. They do not know the meaning of those words.

Charleybrown said...

Susan, I have to agree with you! and where I previously had some interest in looking up this Austen handbook, I mysteriously find that my desire to do so has been seeped away by the comments spewed by Mags on her blog.