Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lesley Castle by Jane Austen and school is going to kill us all

Lesley Castle by Jane Austen
Hesperus Press/Fiction
Copyright 2005
113 pages

Imagine how great the disappointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by night and by day in order to get the wedding dinner ready by the time appointed, after having roasted beef, broiled mutton, and stewed soup enough to last the new-married couple through the honeymoon, I had the mortification of finding that I had been roasting, broiling and stewing both the meat and myself to no purpose. Indeed, my dear friend, I never remember suffering any vexation equal to what I experienced on last Monday when my sister came running to me in the store room with her face as white as a whipped syllabub, and told me that Hervey had been thrown from his horse, had fractured his skull, and was pronounced by his surgeon to be in the most eminent danger.

'Good God!' said I, ' You don't say so? Why what in the name of heaven will become of all the victuals! We shall never be able to eat it while it is good. However, we'll call in the surgeon to help us. I shall be able to manage the sirloin myself, my mother will eat the soup, and you and the doctor must finish the rest.'

--from "Lesley Castle" by Jane Austen

Lesley Castle is one of those books that I found so amazing that I feel inadequate to describe it, but I'll do my best.

There are three entries in the book: first, the self-titled novella "Lesley Castle", followed by "A History of England" and, finally, another novella entitled "Catharine, or The Bower". All three works were written by Austen when she was a teenager. On the merits of her writing, alone, I'd say they're shockingly good for the writing of a teenager, but even more amazing is the fact that she already had a very mature understanding of social artifice. Zoe Heller calls the first story, 'Lesley Castle', "a rambunctious parody of the epistolary novel" which is "particularly striking" in its "melodramatic incident, regal vice and other immoral behaviour", all of which are presented "in a gleefully direct way". Gosh, I wish I'd written all that. Yeah, what Zoe said.

"Lesley Castle" is written as a series of letters and is . . . well, it's funny. All three stories showcase Austen's comic genius - I'm sure Zoe said that, first - but "Lesley Castle" was my favorite. Margaret Lesley rhapsodizes about how handsome she and her sister are in one flowery sentence, then goes on to describe how they are immune to their own charms. Charlotte Lutterell hears the devastating news that her sister's fiance has fallen off his horse and is not expected to live, and her greatest concern is what to do with all that food she's cooked for the wedding. The new Mrs. Lesley, married to the father of the two Lesley girls in the castle, arrives and is instantly horrified, as she relates to their mutual friend, Charlotte:

You can form no idea sufficiently hideous of its dungeon-like form. It is actually perched upon a rock to appearance so totally inaccessible that I expected to have been pulled up by a rope; and sincerely repented of having gratified my curiosity to behold my daughters at the expense of being obliged to enter their prison in so dangerous and ridiculous a manner.

Personally, I think the first novella makes the book worth the purchase price. But, the other two entries are also loads of fun.

"A History of England" is told as a series of brief biographical sketches of the monarchy (complete with illustrations), allegedly written to form the impression that it was written by someone who was . . . shall we say, not the sharpest knife in the drawer? Henry V's description is an excellent example:

This Prince, after he succeeded to the throne, grew quite reformed and amiable, forsaking all his dissipated companions and never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went and fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King's daughter Catherine, a very agreeable woman by Shakespeare's account. In spite of all this, however, he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.

The narrator eventually shows herself to be an admirer of Mary Queen of Scots and tosses in a funny line indicating that only she and a few well-known historians have any real appreciation for poor Mary.

"Catharine, or The Bower" tells the story of a young lady whose two best friends are forced to leave their home after the death of their father, Mr. Wynne. Catharine is terribly let down after she anticipates the new neighbor her age becoming her friend, only to find the new arrival a major disappointment. Later on, when her new friend Camilla's brother shows up, Catharine somehow manages to convince herself that he's wildly in love with her, in spite of the fact that he admits to being completely disinterested. This is one of my favorite sentences, the description of how Mrs. Wynne got off lucky:

Mrs. Wynne was fortunately spared the knowledge and participation of their distress, by her release from a painful illness a few months before the death of her husband.

What a great way to describe missing out on poverty by dying first! And, here's a description of the flighty new neighbor Catharine finds disappointing as a substitute for her former best friends:

There had occasionally appeared a something like humour in Camilla which had inspired [Catharine] with hopes that she might at least have a natural genius, though not an improved one, but these sparklings of wit happened so seldom, and were so ill supported that she was at last convinced of their being merely accidental.

Now, how could you not love that? "Catharine" appears to stop abruptly without a real ending, but it still managed to be satisfying. I just gave it a mental ending of my own.

The book is immensely entertaining and, in spite of one abrupt ending and a good bit of historical silliness, I can't bear to take off even a fraction of a point:

5/5

Just finished, yesterday: Truth or Dare by Melanie Atkins - the book that set off that fascinating alien invasion dream. Honestly, I'm not quite sure how one zombie managed to trigger a dream about heartless aliens (who massacred the children, first), but I do understand that my subconscious latched onto the zombie characterization and turned it into a mannerism - the aliens walked much like zombies and that's how the renegade humans managed to walk amongst them and later fight back. It was like a little mini movie in Bookfool's brain. You should have been there. Anyway, I'll try to review Truth or Dare soon. Besides the zombie, the book has an interesting blend of ghosts, a witch, murder, voodoo, sex and a long-buried treasure. Gosh. Where did Melanie come up with that stuff?

The kiddo has us running all over the galaxy. First, the school drop-off at about 7:20 am. Then, of course, I have to sign him out in the afternoon because he doesn't yet have an athletics pass. After which, I must drop both kiddo and friend A. off at the pool - although the coach can't make it for at least another hour. So, we've got this:

followed by that:

Now, don't go telling the band director, but the kiddo was seriously dawdling, today. He should have gotten dressed quickly so I could zip him right over to school for band practice. But, first he had fire ants on his shoes (great excuse - even if you don't get bitten, you can pretend and everyone empathizes with your pain), then he goofed around and talked to A., then he took forever getting dressed. Normally, I do some major verbal nudging, but it was 101 degrees outside. I didn't feel too great about having my kid march in 101 degree weather, so I just did the wishy-washy-sorta-nudge, instead.

Which leads to the bit about the ambulances . . . Hubby decided to give me a break and pick the kiddo up from band. When he got home, he asked if I ever experienced a band practice that ended up with two ambulances, two county deputy vehicles and a few other vehicles with flashing lights present, when a handful of the kids needed tending to for dehydration. Actually, yes, I did. But we did our marching practice at 6am, so we only had that problem at afternoon contests or last-minute extra practice sessions. Fortunately, my kid takes a cooler with a minimum of 3 bottled beverages. He just kept on marching. He's fried, though. I'm not happy about all this mid-afternoon stuff. My child slathers like crazy, but there isn't a sunscreen in the world that can handle that kind of abuse. He went back to the pool for swim club practice after band. I wish I still had that kind of stamina.

So, that's our day. Well, that and bill-paying, buying milk, and a few other exciting things you probably don't want to hear about. I'm ready to pop open one of those nifty lavender fizzies and go take a nice soak. Not sure about the kid, but he definitely deserves a good night's sleep.

Nighty-night,
Bookfoolish mother of very active teenager

31 comments:

  1. Glad your child wasn't the dehydrated one! Lesley Castle sounds worth the price of admission on humor alone, think I'll have to get me a copy!

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  2. Gentle Reader,

    Me, too! I didn't mind the dawdling, really. I'm a little too protective to worry about rushing him to sweat on a hot day, you know?

    Lesley Castle is definitely worth the price. I'm sure I'll reread that book repeatedly because it's such fun. I'd say it's a good read for when one is in need of a lift.

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  3. I've never heard of this Austen offering -- thanks for enlightening me. I'll have to go hunt it down.

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  4. Tristi,

    I found this while looking specifically for anything else Jane Austen wrote, beyond her 6 well-known novels. I wish she'd lived longer and written more!

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  5. My copy of Leslie Castle from Hesperus Press arrived a couple of weeks ago, but I just haven't gotten to it yet. Your review was so much fun I think I'll get right to it. Lots to enjoy!
    I certainly hope things cool off for you soon! That heat is dangerous!

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  6. Bookfool, I always love your posts. So glad to be home so I can get back to reading them regularly. My head spins at the frantic days you are experiencing at this point in your life. Whew!

    Who knew that Jane Austin wrote a story called Lesley Castle?! Sounds great and I'm going to look for it. I'm always in need of a good laugh.

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  7. We have been instructed NOT to let any school child play outside in this heat. I think the unfortunate death of the 17-yr-old football kid on the cover of the Clarion Ledger yesterday was the cataylst. It's a ban that covers five counties and includes colleges. Band practice will be held on the basketball court-squished in between football and cheerleading.

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  8. That afternoon marching practice sounds tortuous!
    I have a couple of the Hesperus Press Austen titles but not this one yet. It's been on my list to get though. I may have to copy Danielle's idea and have an Austen reread-a-thon sometime. Maybe next year..

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  9. I am definitely looking for this one! Thanks for even making me aware of its existence.

    Just reading about the band marching in the heat made me feel faint ...

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  10. Lestle Castle is an Austen I hadn't heard of. I'll be looking for it. Thanks!

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  11. Hehehe! Now THAT sounds like a fun book!

    And sheesh, that's one brutal band practice regimen.

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  12. I had hoped to pick up Lesley Castle one of these days, you just made it move up the list!

    As to the band incident, I think we were lucky as it does not get to 101 here. I could not imagine marching in that, the weather we do get is bad enough!

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  13. Oh man, you make me glad that my kid's kind of a slug. School and work are his only activities outside of his computer stuff and parties with friends on the weekends. I'm tired just reading about your day. You wish you had Will's energy? I wish I had yours!

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  14. Gotta tell you, I was the band student who fainted in August, back when I was in the marching band. Don't remember a thing about it except waking up minutes later, but I had greatly impressed (and distressed) my friends ... lol. No ambulance was called, and I probably went back to band practice after a bit.

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  15. Robin,

    What great timing! All you have to do is walk to a shelf. :)

    The heat is supposed to continue to reach 100-102 for the next 5 days. I'm tempted to pull my son out of band. Hubby said the director was actually complaining to the kids that they need to dress better and bring drinks. There's really just no way it can *not* be dangerous at those temps. He needs his head examined.

    Booklogged,

    I'm glad you're back! School is always this way - my kids tend to be joiners. Since the pool is across town and I'm not willing to let him ride with teenagers, I do a lot of driving back and forth. Yeesh.

    Lesley Castle is really great. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did (and will - I plan to reread this one, quite a bit).

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  16. Maggie,

    I just looked up the Clarion-Ledger headlines to read about that. I think it's a good thought, but it's a little misguided. What they need to do is go for early morning, before it begins to warm back up. That's when my band practices were held in H.S. and it was a pain once the cold hit, but great for avoiding the heat. I do think mid-afternoon is just too dangerous and it's irresponsible to make the kids march in that kind of heat and light.

    You know, now that I think about it, I always had trouble getting people to sunscreen my kids at summer camps; it seems like there's not a lot of respect for sun and heat, down here.

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  17. Nat,

    This is my first Hesperus Press book. I'd read about them and I think that's why the book caught my eye when I was looking for Austen titles. I'll search for more.

    In the meantime, I've got Emma by my bedside and hope to get to that, soon!

    Bridget,

    I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    The heat is really brutal. I may protest and refuse to let my child march. I'm considering.

    Chris,

    I hadn't heard of it, either. I was just looking to see what else I could find by Austen. I think it was a very lucky find. :)

    Heather,

    It's definitely fun. I smiled a lot (and you can see I marked it with quite a few post-its, if you look at that photo).

    The band practice is a killer. I like their director, but I'm probably going to give him a piece of my mind if he continues with the afternoon practices in this heat.

    Kailana,

    Yea! Go get it! I want to hear your thoughts - you always have interesting things to say. :)

    I grew up in heat like this, so I'm just surprised they don't do morning practices to avoid the heat, like we did. People are going to faint in this kind of heat; it's dangerous.

    Kookie,

    I was so tired I could barely walk, last night. Will, who did all the real work, went to bed at 9:30. I was so glad when I walked past his door and saw that he'd gone straight to bed after showering. He needs fruit. I'd better go buy some fruit.

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  18. Bonnie,

    I only remember a few fainting during actual practices - it was during inspection in those wool uniforms that people dropped like flies. We lost 15, one time. But, that partly had to do with locked knees. Early practice helped, but even then we occasionally had a few fainters. I was a squad leader in junior high and one of my flute players fainted. That director actually stopped practice and held her in a seated position till she got her color back, which I always thought was great.

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  19. What a post! Thanks for the review and quotes from Lesley Castle. Loving Austen as I do, reading her early writing would be great fun. Can't wait for the review of Truth or Dare.

    The danger of marching or practicing in this heat seems prohibitive. Glad your son was able to keep hydrated!

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  20. Jenclair,

    Glad you enjoyed it. :) I've got Emma near the bed and hope to squeeze it in, soon. Now, I'm really excited about reading more Austen.

    We've always sent kiddo with a cooler full of drinks - usually two waters and two Gatorade-type drinks. But, even so, I think it's too hot and they should switch to morning hours. There comes a point at which you have to admit the heat could kill someone and my son being a redhead, I'm none too thrilled about having him out in the sun for several hours during the hottest part of the day.

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  21. The book sounds fabulous.

    The school activities sound terrifying.

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  22. I am definitely going to have to go on the hunt for this book. This isn't one that I had heard of before but I really do adore Jane Austen and pretty much eat up anything that she writes. Thanks so much for letting me know about this book!

    Glad to hear that your child wasn't the one the ambulance came for. This heat is exhausting and I don't understand why they make these kids practice when its this hot out. Do it in the early morning!!!!

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  23. Carrie,

    The book is fabulous. And, the kids are currently banned from outdoor activities (including swimming) because of a football player who died in northern MS. Personally, I think it's kind of ridiculous that they had to be convinced by parents and a judge to cancel outdoor events. There's this thing called "common sense", you know?

    Emily,

    Me, too! I love Jane Austen!! I'm so glad I happened across this book. It's loads of fun - hope you love it as much as I did . . . do.

    My sentiments exactly. I don't understand why they don't just do early-morning practice. It just makes sense to me. I worry about the heat and sun exposure. Such a mother. LOL

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  24. Good grief! I'm exhausted just reading about his day. It's been hot here, too, but not in the triple digits, at least not yet (today it was 99). Good friend's daughter is in marching band as a freshman and she's wiped out. I'm sure being a diabetic doesn't help, but she's trying.

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  25. Les,

    Kiddo's days just got easier as they've canceled all outdoor activities till the heat advisories end. Frankly, I think it's crazy that they're just doing so because of pressure rather than taking the time to think through how to protect the kids during the heat *every* year, but I never will understand a lot of things. Both of the people who fainted at band, this week, allegedly had "pre-existing conditions". So, why were they marching, then? Hmmm.

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  26. I'm glad your son is willing to be in the Marching Band. My son won't, he says it's too "gay". Like what, the wrestling uniform looks masculine?

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one suffering unbearable heat. I can't stand One. More. Day.

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  27. Bellezza,

    Thanks for the laugh. I don't know that we even have a wrestling team, here, but my husband was a wrestler and those uniforms are definitely funny-looking! LOL Kiddo really enjoys band. He says he's got his swimming family, his band family, his church family and us. I love that.

    The heat's really getting pretty tiresome, isn't it? We had to run some errands, today, and the car themometer said it was 104. Kentucky Fried Chicken claimed 103 degrees. Both are usually pretty close, so it's not fun weather.

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  28. Personally, I think you could fry that chicken right IN our car. No problem. The worst part is that our elementary school's have no air conditioning. I know, in 2007, go figure. Of course, the High Schools and Administration buildings are freezing.

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  29. Bellezza,

    I think you're right. You know, we had a toddler die from being forgotten in a vehicle in our area *before* it got past the 90's. I'd guess the inside of a car is probably getting up to 140-150, at this point. It's scary-hot.

    Poor students! We finally have all air-conditioned schools and our crazy school administrator says the kids can't take the heat, anymore, because they're used to air conditioning. Ummmm, no. There's only so much a body can take when it's over 100 degrees out and the humidity is high. We're in the danger zone. I think somebody needs a reality check.

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  30. Lesley Castle sounds wonderful - I am looking into procuring a copy for myself. I always do have trouble paying 'full price' for very short books - oh, well, will have to make an exception. That's probably why I choose the heftiest Persephones - more pages for the dollar.

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  31. Tara,

    It's worth the price, but I know what you mean. I have a terrible time paying full price for books - especially if they're thin.

    I've tried twice to get a Persephone catalog and I guess I'll give up. The first time, I got a lovely reply immediately but the catalog never came. The second time I requested one, I never even got a reply. Maybe a higher power is trying to tell me something (like, "Quit it!").

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