Friday, October 30, 2009

Books That Currently Go Bump in the Night

Thanks so much for your comments about Gothic novels! From Mysteries of Udolpho to Northanger Abbey, Frankenstein to Dracula, the nineteenth century was blessed with some awe-inspiring novels of terror, adventure, and romance.

And they inspired a whole slew of current novels too!

It’s no secret that Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice stands as the prototype for many a romantic hero. Now his story is being taken to a whole new level, blending with the terrifying, in no less than two novels! Mr. Darcy Vampyre by Amanda Grange was out this August from Sourcebooks. According to its publisher, the story “starts where Pride and Prejudice ends and introduces a dark family curse so perfectly that the result is a delightfully thrilling, spine-chilling, breathtaking read.” Sounds intriguing, eh? (Well, maybe to some of you. Full confession time—I overdosed on horror novels in the third grade, and I haven’t been able to force myself to read one since! I write YA, and I can’t convince myself to read Twilight.)

Regina Jeffer’s Vampire Darcy’s Desire, out from Ulysses Press just this month, also sees the dangerous Mr. Darcy as a vampire. The teaser is “Two lovers trying to overcome that which separates them: their pride, their prejudice, Darcy's vampirism and the evil workings of master vampire George Wickham.” Hm, maybe I might bite, er try this one.

But wait, there’s more!

Jane Austen’s novels seem to scream paranormal to a whole bunch of folks. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone? No? What about Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters? I haven’t read either, but supposedly they are wildly popular. Not sure they’re my cup of tea, er blood, er sea water.

Still want more? The end of December, Ballantine will release Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Bites Back. The teaser? “Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves—but now it's because she's the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves—along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own.

"To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers—116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide her real identity—and fend off a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the inimitable Jane Austen be able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?” Okay, you may get me to read this one!

If you truly want the feelings of a nineteenth century novel, with the spice of the Gothic, I definitely recommend Carrie Bebris’ series. In these the married Darcys take on paranormal mysteries. With such lovely titles as Pride and Prescience, Suspense and Sensibility, North by Northanger, and The Matters at Mansfield, you know Carrie has some of Jane Austen’s wit along with her own imagination and impressive writing skills.

Have you seen others? Or is there a Jane Austen character you’d love to see taken to Gothic extremes? Let us know, and happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Books That Go Bump in the Night, Part 5

And then there are the books that giggle in the night.

Jane Austen must have enjoyed a good laugh. How else could she have created Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, and today's topic, Northanger Abbey?

Much of the divine Jane's early work was outright comedic, written to amuse her family; she especially seemed to have enjoyed parody, gently making fun of existing works and genres (her A History of England, a parody of Oliver Goldsmith's book of the same name and dedicated to her sister Cassandra, is pure silliness.) We've discussed the Gothic novel craze as a brief thing of the past, a temporary blip on the history of the English novel...but Jane experienced it in real time. And just as there are people who find today's vampire craze amusing, it's pretty clear that Jane got a chuckle from Gothic novels.

Northanger Abbey, though not published till after her death in 1818, is one of Jane's earliest major works: a first draft, entitled Susan, was probably written in 1798 or 1799. It's also the most explicitly literary of her major novels in that it's very much a book about books. The story begins with the introduction of the heroine: "No one who had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman...and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense...and instead of dying in bringing [her] into the world, as anyone might expect, she still lived on...."

Jane is poking fun here at the convention in Gothic novels that the heroine be perfect and either orphaned or subject to the whims of a parent who has suffered a clouded past which will of course rebound upon his or her hapless child. The book continues in this vein with frequent authorial intrusions to point out how boring and normal Catherine and her life are...much to Catherine's dismay, for she is a devotee of books "provided they were all story and no reflection." Poor Catherine, with a head full of stories and a life full of commonplaces, for "There was not one lord in their neighbourhood; not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintances who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door; not one young man whose origin was unknown....But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way."

Of course Catherine does find a hero while visiting Bath. Handsome Henry Tilney and his sister invite her to visit their country home, Northanger Abbey, and Catherine is in raptures at the thought: will it be infested with the ghosts of murdered monks and inhabited by ancient retainers who know all the awful secrets of the family they serve? Jane has a field day with Catherine's visit: the Abbey is no crumbling, battlemented ruin but a comfortable, modern house; a dusty scroll hidden in a strange Japanese cabinet turns out to be an old laundry list. But then poor Catherine does indeed get a fright when the Tilneys' father, hitherto almost fawningly nice to her, suddenly turns cold and declares her visit at an end. Catherine learns that being the heroine in a dramatic story isn't as much fun as she thought it would be, but all ends happily: Henry Tilney follows her home and proposes, explaining that his rather money-grubbing father had thought her an heiress, but is told (falsely) that she was a penniless adventuress. Papa is brought round when he learns that Catherine has a respectable dowry, and all live happily ever after.

Northanger Abbey is probably the most light-hearted of Jane's books, with even its central love story being something of a joke (Henry Tilney takes no real notice of Catherine until he realizes she admires him enormously: "in finding him irresistable, becoming so herself." Read it, and laugh along with its author across the centuries.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Books That Go Bump in the Night, Part 4

She doesn’t look like a revolutionary, does she? Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin had a father who was a radical political philosopher and a mother who was one of England’s first feminists. Today, we would consider her homeschooled, but her “teachers” were the radical thinkers of the times, who flocked to her father’s drawing room. At sixteen she fell in love with the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was one of the flock. As he was married at the time, they ran away to Europe together. They later married when his first wife committed suicide.

In 1816, when she was 18 years old, Mary and Shelley spent the summer on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, with another famous poet and all around bad boy, George Lord Byron; his friend John William Polidori, a physician; and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont. It proved to be an unusually wet summer, and the group spent a lot of time inside around the fire, often reading German ghost stories. Bryon challenged each to write their own ghost story. Polidori penned a short story called The Vampyre, which was immediately attributed to Byron. Mary took the challenge more seriously, however, and her novel, which she published anonymously in 1818, became one of the most iconic stories of all time.


It’s been called the first science fiction novel, as it deals with a scientist taking his science a bit too far and playing God to create a man. Mary claimed the story came to her in a vision. Many modern day critics, however, claim Mary wasn’t all that original. Some say she visited Castle Frankenstein on her way to Lake Geneva and read about scientific experiments there. Others claim the book’s hero was modeled a bit too closely on Percy Bysshe Shelley. If so, Mary must have been a bit miffed at him at the time, as the poor scientist is thoroughly tormented for his efforts. In fact, one could wonder whether Mary was rethinking some of her revolutionary ways by this quote from the novel:

“You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.”

Regardless, the book was a huge success. It was reprinted in 1823 and again in 1831, revised and expanded by an older, wiser Mary, who is finally listed as the author. It has gone on to inspire dozens of films and adaptations.

Not bad for a homeschooled revolutionary, eh?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Books That Go Bump in the Night, Part 3

A discussion of 19th century books that go bump in the night would certainly not be complete without a look at two of the warhorses of all scary stories, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Regina will take a look at the former on Friday, while today we will sink our teeth (sorry, just couldn't resist!) into Dracula.

Dracula just squeaks in as a 19th century book, being published in May of 1897. Its author, Bram Stoker, was the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London and the right-hand man of the great actor Henry Irving, who owned the Lyceum. Managing the theatre and working for Irving led to a a great deal of travel for Stoker; this and his life-long interest in history and folklore were fodder for the short stories and books he wrote in his spare time, ranging from fairy tales for children and fantasy and horror novels to civil service manuals and travel memoirs (he became a friend of Teddy Roosevelt during visits to America and stayed twice at the White House).

Dracula is an epistolary novel, told via letters, journal entries, and faux newspaper clippings, which adds a creepy sense of reality to it. Also eerily familiar is the vein of forbidden sensuality that runs through it; today's vampire stories aren't breaking new ground there! Reviews of the book on its initial release were very good (the British Weekly said, "One of the most interesting and exciting of recent novels is Mr. Bram Stoker's 'Dracula. ' It deals with the ancient mediaeval vampire legend, and in no work of English work of fiction has this legend been so brilliantly treated."), though a few found the conquering of a supernatural creature with the tools of "modern" science to be jarring (The Spectator said, "The up-to-dateness of the book--the phonograph diaries, typewriters, and so on--hardly fits in with the mediaeval methods which ultimately secure the victory for Count Dracula's foes").

Dracula, however, wasn't the first popular vampire story of the 19th century. Twenty-five years before Dracula's release, Stoker's fellow Irishman, author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published his novella Carmilla, the story of a young English girl nearly taken by a beautiful girl vampire staying with her and her father in a castle in Austria. And more recently, Bram Stoker's great-nephew has co-written a sequel entitled Dracula, The Undead that was just released this year.

Are you a Dracula fan? How do you think today's popular vampire fiction stacks up against it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Books That Go Bump in the Night, Part 2

One of the most popular of the Gothic writers, long after her death, was Ann Radcliffe. Originally published in 1794, her Mysteries of Udolpho continued to be a bestseller, particularly among young ladies, throughout the nineteenth century in both England and America.

Born Ann Ward in 1766, she married William Radcliffe, a journalist and newspaper publisher, in Bath in 1788. Like her heroines, she was beautiful, quiet, and virtuous. She turned to writing for amusement and was amazed at her own success. She hated being in the limelight so much that, when she ventured to the opera with her husband, she sat in the pit rather than in a box so no one would recognize her.

But she understood that fine line between being terrified and being horrified. Because of her success, she inspired countless imitators, some of whom took their suspense stories like those she penned and added gruesome murders or detailed tortures.

But Ann drew the line at such things. She saw a huge difference between enjoying a good scare and being grossed out. “Terror and horror,” she wrote in a preface to her book of poetry, “are so far opposite that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties, to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.”

That is perhaps the true power of the Gothic novel. It titillates and teases us, suggests something amazing is afoot, and keeps us turning the pages to find out. Her stories epitomize that philosophy. Take this description of a spooky ruined abbey from The Romance of the Forest (1791), her most popular work:

He entered what appeared to have been the chapel of the abbey where the hymn of devotion had once been raised and the tear of penitence had once been shed sounds which could now only be recalled by imagination--tears of penitence which had been long since fixed in fate. La Motte paused a moment for he felt a sensation of sublimity rising into terror, a suspension of mingled astonishment and awe. He surveyed the vastness of the place and as he contemplated its ruins fancy bore him back to past ages. And these walls, said he, where once superstition lurked and austerity anticipated an earthly purgatory now tremble over the mortal remains of the beings who reared them.

Not horror, then, but a fascination of things beyond them is what drove young ladies to read Gothic novels long into the night. And isn’t that what all good books do today?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Books That Go Bump in the Night, Part 1

We're well into October now, which means chrysanthemums and pumpkins adorning yards and doorsteps... and not a few white muslin ghosts hanging from trees and lamp-posts and giant spiders, fake tombstones, and other scary appurtenances scattered about yards as Halloween approaches.

What is it about Halloween and the cult of spookiness? Is it the fun of getting a scare without really being…well, scared? We know that ghosts and witches and monsters aren’t really lurking around the corner, but sometimes it’s just fun to pretend that they might be…and Halloween is the time of year to indulge in that kind of fun.

But we aren’t the first to enjoy a good shiver and nervous glance over the shoulder. Our young ladies of the 19th century liked it just as well as we did. I rather think the vogue for ghost stories and other scary literature that first arose in the late 18th century and continued to blossom in the 19th is probably a direct result of the Enlightenment, that intellectual movement of the 18th century that, among other things, rang the death knell of common belief in things like witches and curses and other supernatural beliefs. People stopped believing that their horse had gone lame or their child taken ill because they had been “overlooked” by the old lady at the end of the lane with a wart on her nose and poor personal hygiene…but once the real fear of the supernatural waned, I think they also kind of missed the frisson of excitement that it lent to life.

The frisson came back in 1764 when Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto, what's now known as the first Gothic novel...and for the next decades young ladies shivered over its haunted corridors, evil villains, and gigantic ghosts. I'll let Regina tell you more about the Gothic novel craze, and hope you'll come back from now through the end of the month as we look at 19th century Books that Go Bump in the Night!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cattle Call

We’ve devoted considerable attention to how the young ladies of quality would have spent their time in nineteenth century London: paying calls, shopping, attending various balls and routs. But what were the young gentlemen doing? Well, on most Mondays and Thursdays, you could find a great many of them at Tattersall’s.

Tattersall’s Repository was then and still is Britain’s foremost auction house for horses (called cattle in those day). And not just any cattle. The description of the drawing from the early nineteenth century states, “Cart and agricultural horses are seldom offered for sale at this place, as the purchasers who attend here are devoted rather to the pursuit of pleasure than of business.”

Founded in 1773 by Richard Tattersall and operated in the nineteenth century by his son, apparently also Richard, Tattersall’s was the place you went to purchase a saddle horse, carriage horse, hunters (horses you rode while hunting), and racehorses. They also auctioned carriages and coach-harness and hounds. It was located on the south side of Hyde Park Corner until 1865, when it relocated to even bigger digs near Knightsbridge Green.

But the idea wasn’t just to buy a horse. A young gentleman might go to Tattersall’s even when it wasn’t a sale day on Monday or Thursday, just to be seen around “sporting” types. Tattersall’s was the home of the Jockey Club, the body that makes the rules for England’s races, so you were sure to run into people famous in the racing world. Then too, for about a pound a year, you could buy a subscription to a private room at Tattersall’s, where you could settle your bets. You see, true gentlemen didn’t carry sums of cash to the track. They met at Tattersall’s a few days later and settled their debts. So you could look like you were wealthy and privileged just by hanging around.

Approximately 100 horses a week passed “under the hammer” of the auctioneer. Saddle horses cost 40 to 200 pounds , a pair of coach horses from 150 to 420 pounds, outstanding hunters around 350 pounds, and racehorses 1,500 pounds.

Think you’d like to purchase one? Think again. Women were not welcome at Tatt’s. You’d have to send a male agent if you wanted to purchase one of the prime bits of blood there. Or even a horse.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Which One of the Bloggers Desperately Tries to Find Some Unifying Title for a Lot of Snippets of Information and Fails Miserably

First, thank you all for your kind words on the release of Betraying Season—they’re very much appreciated! For one last bit of book release fun, I offer this video from M2 Productions, which I am smitten with:

Second, the winner of the drawing from Friday for a signed copy of Betraying Season is Miss Eliza! Miss E, please contact me here so we can arrange to have your book sent to you.

In the snippets department, I’ve been fortunate to acquire a number of issues of a magazine called The Mirror dating from 1824 and 1825. They make fascinating reading: what do you think of the illustration here for a proposed tunnel to be built under the Thames in the May 22, 1824 issue?

Then there’s this extract from an article about ballooning, entitled “On Aerial Travelling”, from the June 19, 1824 issue:

"We have yet to contrast this mode of travelling with that in ordinary rides, over which it maintains a vast ascendancy—you have not to tolerate those perpetually recurring delays occasioned by changing the cattle [horses]…no tiresome tax is levied by coachmen or guards…you are free…from the uncomfortable snatches of refreshment they may choose to provide which, however unpalatable, you are obliged to discuss amidst a heterogeneous assemblage as diverse in their tastes as in their appearance and manners…”

Hmm…flight delays? Extra charges for luggage? Bad airline food? Sounds like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And last, there are lawyer jokes. No, I’m not kidding. How about this bit from the December 24, 1825 edition?

"Saint Evona, a lawyer of Britain, went to Rome to entreat the pope to give the lawyers a patron; the pope replied that he knew no saint not disposed of to some other profession. His holiness proposed, however, to saint Evona, that he should go round the church of San Giovanni di Laterano blindfold, and after saying a certain number of Ave Marias, the first saint he laid hold of should be his patron. This the good old lawyer undertook, and at the end of his Ave Marias, happened to stop at the altar of saint Michael, where he laid hold not of the saint, but unfortunately of the figure of the devil under the saint’s feet, crying out, “This is our saint, let him be our patron!”

Ah yes—the more things change…!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Which (Witch) Sister Are You?

Between your wonderful comments and the great reviews for Betraying Season, Marissa is really feeling the love this week! Booklist, the review magazine for the American Library Association, says, “As in the previous book, this is a full-bodied story that wonderfully combines elements of romance, fantasy, and history....Whether Doyle is describing the Irish countryside, a magical incantation, or a lover's kiss, her writing is compelling, and it will be hard for readers not to be swept away by this invigorating story."

Kirkus, which can be one tough reviewer said, “The mixture of historical detail and magic makes this...another page-turner...."

And VOYA, the journal for librarians, educators, and other professionals who work with young adults , said, “Seamlessly weaving elements of historical fiction, romance, and magic, Doyle creates believable characters in a realistic setting set in a fascinating plot. Extremely well written and utterly delightful, this book should appeal to female readers fourteen and older."

How cool is that!

So, in honor of Betraying Season’s debut, we offer you a quiz. Many of you know that the heroines of Marissa’s books are twin sisters with unique personalities. Which personality is most like yours? Answer the following questions, and let us know the results in the comments section. Remember anyone who comments today will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Betraying Season.

1. On a rainy day, you'd rather
a) Curl up with an obscure magic text and learn a new spell
b) Take tea with the handsome viscount next door

2. When attending the first ball of your London Season you
a) Dance with your gangly cousin out of kindness and retreat to watch the rest of the ball safely from behind a potted palm
b) See how quickly you can fill your dance card

3. In your family you're known for your
a) Intelligent conversation
b) Witty banter

4. Your stockings are
a) Sensible white silk or cotton--after all, who will be seeing them?
b) Any color but white, and definitely embroidered--even if no one can see them, *you* know what they look like

5. You'd prefer to live in
a) The rolling countryside
b) A bustling city

6. You find your abilities in a kind of magic that is
a) Traditional and passed down through the ancient literature
b) More earthy and passed down by story and deed

7. That forward hussy Miss Oliphant has been flirting dreadfully at a ball with your innocent younger brother, who seems in a fair way to having his head turned. You
a) Cast a concealing spell on him so she can't find him when the orchestra starts up a waltz
b) Cast a dissolving spell so that her corset strings suddenly fall to shreds, forcing her early retirement from the dance floor

If you have more a’s, you’re more like Persy, heroine of Bewitching Season; more b’s and you’re more like Pen of Betraying Season. Me? I’m a Persy all the way!

Oh--and the winner of a signed copy of Betraying Season from Tuesday's post is ChaChaneen! Please contact Marissa through her website to arrange mailing. And don't forget, there's another copy to be won for commenters on this post!