Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Frank Churchill's haircut was more expensive than you think.

When Frank Churchill rides off to town to buy Miss Fairfax a piano, he claims to have gone for a haircut. Emma consequently thinks Frank very frivolous. I propose that this is not simply because of the long ride in the summer heat, but because the road between Highbury and London would have contained numerous tolls, resulting in frivolous expense as well.

Tolls were one of the factors that made travel so expensive. The tolls were collected and used by Turnpike Trusts who were created by legislation and who maintained the roads.

You had to pay the toll regardless of whether you were walking or riding a horse or driving a carriage, though various fees applied. It cost more to drive a carriage with narrow wheels, for example, because this caused more damage to the roads. I am not sure if walkers in the countryside had to pay at all turnpikes, but I have been told that they did in town.

The idea of the toll road, or turnpike, came into being around the mid 1700s when traffic on highways started increasing and it became too difficult for parishes to maintain them. The word turnpike describes the spikes that could be erected at the toll gate by turning a wheel, to prevent people from crossing. Turnpike trusts had to erect signs, often in the form of a painted or engraved rock, indicating how far it was to the next town, which I think might have been the beginning of this practice on highways today, and is the origin of the term "milestone."

At first, the system wasn't too bad. The expenses were covered, and some trusts even leased out the right to collect tolls. This way, the trust had a steady income and less managing to do, and a privateer could make a bit of money. But as trade and traffic increased, the whole system became insupportable.

In isolated areas where there were not many roads, the introduction of tolls became a real hardship. The local residents who had used the roads for centuries could no longer afford to use them.

Most of the roads in London were toll roads, making it very expensive to get from one end to the other. This became a serious problem for the working class, who lived on one side of the city and worked on the other. Even though they walked to work, the better part of their wages was eaten up by the tolls. And it was the city. It wasn't like they could get where they were going without using the streets, so they really had no choice.

This, among other things, led to the Open Roads Movement. In the 1830s there were riots against the tolls, and the leaders of the uprising were transported to Australia.

It seems logical to us that the government should build and maintain the roads; in fact, I would say it is the one thing we can all agree on about the role of government - somebody's got to take care of the roads. But it was not so clear in pre-Victorian times. It was really the advent of the railway that did away with the turnpike trusts, which came to be seen as a barrier to free trade. Consequently, by 1888, the expense of roads was turned over to the local councils. And the government became justified in the eyes of the people ... sort of.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Monday, 28 April 2014

Longbourn - a Non-Review

Disclaimer: this is not a review in the traditional sense. I am just trying to help readers decide if this is a book for them. I make comparisons between the featured book and my book, Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, because if you are visiting this blog, you probably at least know about that book, and may have read it. Also, I am shamelessly plugging my own work. Please forgive an indie author her flagrant self-promotion.

I recently read Longbourn, by Jo Baker, which was a book I was very excited to learn about and really looked forward to enjoying. I particularly loved the cover design.

If you don't know already, this is a book about the servants at Longbourn, during Pride and Prejudice.

The most important thing to know before reading this book is that it does not read at all like a Jane Austen novel. It is not supposed to. This is the author's own story, told very much in her own voice. It is a very different kind of book from Follies Past. It does not use period language. It does not follow Austen's rules. The point of the book is to reveal the gritty underbelly of Regency life, the dark and smelly things that were every day life for most people, and that Jane Austen chose not to write about. There are menstrual rags and hogshit and piss and violent, horrible war. There is also a love story, and the English countryside.

The lead character (the housemaid) exhibits, among other feelings, some moderated resentment towards the Bennett girls. On the first page of the book, she reflects on how the ladies present themselves as sealed, ivory beings, but she carries out their chamber pots. She washes their armpits. She knows they are just as human and as messy as she is.

Reading this book is a post-modern exercise. It is not like watching Downton Abbey - which I sort of thought it would be - because you don't get both stories at once. The upstairs story has already been told. This is just the downstairs story. I think this is an important thing to bear in mind before reading this book.

The book does not mess with the original. When we do encounter Austen's characters on the page, they are quite in keeping with her descriptions, except perhaps Wickham, who is a bit creepy. I know he is a creep, but in Pride and Prejudice, everyone is taken in by his impeccable appearance of goodness. Elizabeth cannot imagine him to be the blackguard he is because it so strongly contradicts all her Spidey senses. In Longbourn, we only see Wickham interacting with the staff, however, and not with the company, and we all know him to be two-faced, so this is not necessarily a contradiction. Longbourn is certainly accurate and you will not encounter anything that runs afoul of your expectations based on the original novel.

I must note one caveat to that, which I cannot explain without a serious spoiler. Let me just say that one principle character has a secret, and it is not one that Jane Austen so much as hinted at. It is rather scandalous, but not at all impossible. I will not tell you who has this secret, only that it is not Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane or Bingley. If you have read Follies Past, I can tell you that it is sort of like the history I invented for Caroline. It does not contradict anything in the original but it is certainly not contemplated by it.

The research in this book is immense; it is absolutely dripping with period detail. The prose is quite poetic in style - lots of imagery and metaphor and the like. I didn't notice any proofreading issues, and I am quite picky.

Those are the things I think are helpful to know about this book. I hope this assists you in deciding whether to read it. There are certainly plenty of reviews of this book to tell you whether the story is good or not, and whether other people enjoyed it. And feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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If you would like to submit your Austen-inspired novel for a non-review like this, please visit the Non-Review Submissions page.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Review from blog For the Passion of Romance

As a reader I can honestly admit that I have never been swept away by the works of Jane Austen. In fact dare I say that I haven't read most of the novels that Austen penned in her lifetime. So when I was asked to review Follies Past, A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice I was a little hesitate. After all there are already an overwhelming number of remakes hitting the shelves everyday of the original novel and leaves myself to wondering when the the publishers will bring the craze to a steady halt.

What drew me into reviewing Follies Past was the concept of just two words, “a prequel.” Follies Past isn't a remake of Austen's original novel as Follies Past does not retell the story of Darcy nor Elizabeth's, two of the beloved main characters from Pride and Prejudice romance. So I accepted the offer to review the novel and I loved it! 

Author Melanie Kerr created a refreshing and a divine storyline in Follies Past that it literally felt like a breath of fresh air had been blown into the original novel and the countless remakes. The writing flow is outstanding as the novel is very well written. By far Kerr was able to pen an inviting world that I think will appeal to all readers both the ones that cherish Austen and those like myself who only wish to admire the brilliance behind classic novels from afar. 

Follies Past opens at a year before Darcy and Elizabeth wed. It's Christmas time at Pemberley and fourteen year Georgiana has recently just been taken from school and is preparing to transfer to London in the Spring. We follow Georgiana on her journey to London and into the arms of perhaps one of the greatest wrongdoer ever to be written, the infamous Mr. Wickham.

I think it is only fair to warn all readers that Kerr presents a worthy read that stands apart from Austen. There are many similarities between both authors but I much prefer the writing style of Kerr. It is more modernized while still capturing the original tone and era of Austen's own writing. 

In the end I highly praise Kerr for a job well done not only in her writing, but the time and effort that the research must have taken to create such a new look into a classic novel as readers will surely rejoice that finally a novel such as Follies Past as earned the equity of standing proudly next to Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

4/5 Hearts

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Regency Michaelmas Ball

This is to announce that there will be a costumed ball at the Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton on Sunday, September 28, which is the eve of Michaelmas.

Upper Rooms, Bath
I will be arranging some dance lessons leading up to this event, so that guests will be familiar with the dances before the night. I will also be posting tutorials here on costume-making.

If there is enough interest, I can also arrange for costumes to be made overseas for a reasonable price. I can also recommend people to a Mantuamaker of reproduction calibre in Alberta, if they would like to order something of real quality and value.

Comments, questions and ideas welcome. Please email me or leave a note in the comments below.

To inspire you, here is a picture of the Upper Rooms at Bath, where Jane Austen herself would have danced.

And below is a picture of Mr. Darcy at the Hotel Macdonald, to show that I am in earnest.

Mr. Darcy at the Hotel Macdonald

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review from blog Pen and Paper

I was approached by the publishers of Follies Past who, despite my concerns that I wasn't a big fan of the so-called classics or of authors such as Jane Austen, were confident enough in the appeal of this debut novel by Melanie Kerr to send me copy to review regardless.

A prequel to Pride And Prejudice written in the style of its author, Jane Austen. As I last read anything by Ms Austen as a girl I cannot in all conscience say just how successful this was but I will say that the writing felt authentic, the spirit of the original, from what I can remember, upheld.

Whilst not exactly a fast paced thriller, indeed compared to the genres I tend to favour it was undeniably slow, but in its favour were the well depicted characters. Characters such as the wonderful Caroline Bingley who considering I'd always thought women of this genre to be simpering came as a delightful revelation.

So, will I be reading Pride and Prejudice or indeed any of the other so-called classics as a result of reading this? As hugely impressed as I am with Follies Past and its author I can't make any promises but one thing I can say for certain is that I will be sure to keep a look out for any of the future books written by such an obviously talented writer as Ms Kerr.

Link to original post on Pen and Paper

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This really is the best review ever.

“Follies Past” should be the name of the file folder for every other Jane Austen spin off, because this book blows them all out of the water.
This is by far the best Austen spin off I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  Most Pride & Prejudice sequels or prequels read like fan fiction, but Kerr has managed to construct a novel that reads like one of Austen’s own making.  It could very well have been a long lost manuscript of Jane’s, documenting the characters of Pride & Prejudice before they encounter the Bennets.
I was so happy reading this, I’ve always longed to get a bit more of Georgiana’s story.  Kerr does an excellent job of taking the small tidbits of information we know about characters and giving them a full and lush back story without straying from our vision of them.
I think Caroline Bingley was truly brought to life as well.  I both hate her more and less – how is that possible?  Through Darcy’s eyes:  “He ought to have known that a lady who is too sparkling and clever is also cunning and insolent and not to be trusted.”
Much is learned from Darcy’s perspective without the act of spelling everything out, something other books have done in diary form turning Darcy into an effeminate sap.  Instead, from Kerr, Darcy expresses himself naturally and in his own fashion: “Gibbon’s History is worth an entire library of your sentimental drivel.  The depth and breadth of his scholarship paints a picture of the Empire that may never be surpassed.  How can you compare such an achievement to your works of vapid sentiment.”
Kerr has stayed true to the characters, true to the time, and yet wielded a rich and elaborate story.  It’s beautiful and brilliant, and I cannot imagine an Austen fan who would not love it.
My one criticism is this: I ADORE the front cover of this book – but my first and continuous reaction is that it is not a cover that belongs on *this* book.  It’s a fun and awesome piece of art, I’d even hang it on my wall I like it so much, but it doesn’t truly portray what is within the pages.
Below, Miss Golightly is caught on film inspecting Kerr’s book.  She had the same reaction I did to the cover, “Oh I love that cover! Wait, her writing sounds like it could be Jane Austen! That’s incredible.  I’m a little confused by the cover now.”
Five stars for the story.  Five stars for the cover art.  But only three stars for matching the cover art to the story.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Jane Austen's brothers might have washed their mouths out with urine

Some of Jane Austen's brothers were in the navy. We all know that sometimes British people, especially English people, are sometimes called Limeys, and most of us know that this is because the Royal Navy made its officers drink lime juice to prevent scurvy. In fact, it is to this practice that is largely attributed the great success of the British Empire.

What most people don't know is how long it took to have this practice recognized as a valid means of preventing the disease. It took at least 50 years for the science to be accepted. It was first proven effective by a German scientist in the 1750s, but people continued to ignore the evidence in favour of their own hack beliefs. Many people believed that washing your mouth out with urine was the best way to prevent scurvy. Some people thought scurvy came from tainted food. Some people thought it could be prevented by exercise.

I do not know precisely when the Royal Navy started mandating citrus juice for its officers, but it was in the early 1800s. So, I cannot say for certain what practices Jane Austen's brothers followed for the prevention of scurvy, but there may have been some dubious ones.

It was not until a good hundred years later that vitamin C was actually identified - more than 150 years after the first conclusive evidence that citrus fruits prevented scurvy. Vitamins were initially believed to be amines, which is where their name comes from: "Vital-Amines" but once it was discovered that they were not amines, the 'e' was dropped from the name.

Although limes became the popular fruit among the British due to its ready availability in the Caribbean colonies, the original fruit was actually lemons, so we could, in fact, call the Brits Lemonies.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Q: Do I need to read Pride and Prejudice before I read Follies Past?

A: It is not at all necessary. Because my book takes place before Pride and Prejudice, there is nothing you need to know before reading it. 

However, if you do plan to read Pride and Prejudice one day, you might want to do so before reading Follies Past, only because reading Follies Past might spoil Pride and Prejudice. It gives away some of the surprises in Pride and Prejudice, discoveries about the past that are crucial to the suspense of the plot.

But I suspect that anyone who has any interest in reading my book probably already knows at least the bare essentials of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, if not all the lines from the mini series. And if they just want to read it because they are my friend, but they know nothing about Jane Austen or Pride and Prejudice, then they probably don't care about a few spoilers.

So, in brief, no. You don't have to read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Follies Past.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Is schedule pronounced "skedule" or "shedule"?

This may be my favourite etymological mix-up.The answer is, neither.

Because it begins with "sch" it was thought by some to be of Greek origin, like "school" and was therefore pronounced by some the same way, with a "sk" sound. There were others who read it as a German word, and as you may know, in German "sch" is pronounced "sh." That is where the "shedule" pronunciation comes from.
I have always insisted that the "skedule" pronunciation is preferable, and I do still think it sounds better, but in fact, neither assumption about the origins of the word, and therefore about its pronunciation, is correct. The word is actually an English word, not a Greek or German borrowing. It was originally spelled "cedule" and was pronounced just like it is spelled, "sedule." That is terrible, isn't it. But it's true.

I learned this anecdote in a university course that I took on the history of English, but we were not taught how this came to be. I have come up with my own theory.

As I have mentioned several times, spelling did not used to be as consistent as we have come to regard it. I suspect that the first spelling was "cedule" and possibly sometimes "sedule" and most likely was also written "scedule." S and C together are sometimes used when one or the other would suffice. My authority for this is the word "reminisce." The mistake about the pronunciation and origin of the word might have originated from this last spelling of the word, and the "h" might have been added latter in both cases to make it consistent with the emerging orthographic conventions of German and Greek borrowings.

I have no idea if that is true or not, but it accords with what I know about the history of the English language.

According to the free dictionary, schedule is actually a Greek word in origin, and so my preferred pronunciation is vindicated. According to dictionary.com, the word is Latin in origin, totally unrelated to Greek or German, but the "sch" spelling replaces the Middle English spelling of "cedule." I leave you to make up your own minds about the true etymology. If anyone would like to quote the OED, please do so.

While I have your attention, I would like to clarify one thing about another word which contains "sch" and that is "bruschetta." Please not that this lovely appetiser is NOT GERMAN! It is an Italian word, for an Italian item. In Italian, you place an H after a C when it precedes a front vowel but you don't want it to become soft, i.e. you want to keep it as a "k" sound. This is also true with the letter "g" which is why we don't pronounce "spaghetti" as "spajetti." Think also of chianti wine, starting with a "k" sound. Please, please, please say "brusketta" - if only for my sake.

And you can say "schedule" any way you like. You'll still be wrong, but what are we to do, mark things in our cedule?

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Spotlight on Book Viral

"Weaving a delightfully feisty tale that courts intrigue, she admirably maintains the tone and tenor of Austen's original work, her bygone era lovingly resurrected with an infallible eye for detail and a keen ear for dialogue..."

Click the Book Viral button on the right to see the full review and spotlight!

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Jane Austen could have called Sir Walter Scott English

My husband, who is Scottish by heritage, but born and raised in England, often faces the perplexing question from his Canadian countrymen, "so, are  you Scottish or are you British?" (that is to say, when people don't mistake him for Australian). Now, you must forgive us Colonials. There are a lot of names for the Old Country - Britain, Great Britain, England, the British Isles, the United Kingdom/UK.

So, I think the reasoning of Canadians and our ilk, is that England refers to the culture, and Britain is the name of the modern state. A parallel is Persia vs. Iran. Persian refers to the people, the culture, the history, etc. Iran is the name of the modern state. This is a good parallel, assuming, perhaps falsely, that Canadians know anything about Persia.

For the benefit of the confused, here is my brief explanation. England is a country within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the island that contains England, Scotland and Wales. The British Isles is a term used to refer to Great Britain and Lesser Britain, which is what the island of Ireland used to be called, and which includes Northern Ireland (the small part at the top of the island that is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (the rest of the island, which is not part of the UK).

As an aside, I have, in former times, referred to this southern part of Ireland as Southern Ireland. Apparently, this is not technically correct, as this is what it used to be called by the colonial English powers. In my defence, I have heard it called this on the BBC. Now that I have been corrected, however, I will cease to use that nomenclature.

In summary, if someone is from the UK, they are British. You can be more specific and ask them if they are English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. It is quite simple, really, as long as you remember that  Irish may be British or not, depending on which part of the island the person is from. Northern Irish is British. Republic of Ireland Irish is not.

What you might not know is that it used to be quite normal and acceptable to refer to the whole of Great Britain as England. They were interchangeable. (At least to foreigners and to English people. I'm not sure whether the Scots ever referred to themselves as English.)

According to Simon Schama in his excellent series "The History of Britain" the division between Scotland and England was primarily a Roman invention. He points out that a famous speech about Scotland attributed to a Roman commander was actually written centuries later by Shakespeare, or something.

Britain is even a Roman word. England is a much later, Germanic word. I was taught in a university course on the history of English that the word derives from the word for angel because the people were so fair and blond. I have a suspicion this is not the case. The cherubic imagery of blond baby angels surely post-dates the Anglo-Saxon invasions... right?

Well, that's all I've got. Feel free to share this post with your colonial friends for their general edification and enjoyment. I hope it is useful in sparing you the trouble of explaining it all yourself every time you are asked if you are from the country of Great Britain.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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