Search This Blog

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Review of Miss Austen Regrets

Miss Austen Regrets is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Jane Austen film/TV industry. The use of Austen’s letters gave an authentic ring to this biopic. A couple of scenes had me raising an eyebrow. I am doubtful Austen was quite as free and easy in company as Olivia Williams’ portrayal; I was also uncomfortable with the budding ‘affair’ with Charles Haden.
But writer Gwyneth Hughes can be forgiven some deviations from the strict historical record for her portrayal of the power dynamics in the Austen family, especially Jane’s tense relationship with her mother. Greta Scacchi gives us a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Cassandra, and I was pleased with Adrian Edmondson as Henry.
Olivia Williams plays a fragile Jane with a hint of steel. However, although we know from the letters that Jane enjoyed a drink, was she really the boozy flirt portrayed here?
Imogen Poots gives a convincing portrait of that spoilt little madam, Fanny Austen Knight. Jane loved Fanny; one can only be thankful she never knew about Fanny’s disparaging comments about her Aunt Jane and family in later life.

Cassandra’s ruthless, loving destruction of the most intimate of Jane’s letters means we will never really know the ‘real’ Jane Austen. We’re left to pick over the bones; a forensic recreation of her innermost feelings from the remaining letters, the novels, and anecdotes from friends and relations. This is probably what Jane herself would have wanted.
To sum up, Miss Austen Regrets is beautifully presented and enjoyable to watch. Providing one remembers it's one writer’s personal 'take' on Jane, rather than a documentary, it’s a good introduction to her life for those new to Austen and her work.
I defy any Austen fan not to be moved as Jane faces death, knowing she will never be able to write down all the characters and stories still waiting for her to bring them to life.

A big 'Thank You' to Jane Odiwe for her lovely drawing of Jane Austen. You can also see more of her work at Jane Austen Sequels.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The Weaver Valley

It's been brought to my attention that there is a new website about the Weaver Valley to help people explore its unique heritage. A number of local organisations are hoping to develop our area into a Regional Park; amongst many other projects, a new footpath called the Weaver Way is planned. If you click on Weaver Valley Fly Through you can enjoy a balloon ride through the Valley; a great opportunity for those of us who get vertigo just climbing the kitchen steps. You get a lovely overview of our area and its contrasting landscapes shaped by the industrial past and framed by the rolling Cheshire countryside.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Reviews of Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives

“Sue Wilkes' book …gives some staggering insights into how the workers lived in those dark satanic days… Far from being a depressing descent into that drabness, she enlivens it with poignant nuggets…It's a must for anyone studying the period, those who want to learn about their heritage or 21st century citizens who simply need convincing about how lucky they are to live in our pampered times.” Tim Gavell, Lancashire Evening Post.

“This book goes much further than the history books. It offers not just a social history of the time – a time of great upheaval in the general population – but also a valuable snapshot of life during the time. It has been extensively researched so that the reader can understand the hardships suffered by the ordinary worker…” Middleton and North Manchester Guardian.
Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives: “pays special attention to the human dimension of this period. It has condensed a great deal of evidence into its 147 pages, and commendably focuses on what all this meant for the workers…” Alan Crosby, BBC Who Do You Think You Are?

“I really enjoyed this wonderfully researched book, which provides a fascinating insight into the lives and conditions of working people from our not too distant past. I love the way Sue Wilkes describes and sets the scenes - I could almost smell the squalor! …I wished I'd had this book in my history teaching days for there is much that ties in with the curriculum and would make the subject come alive for pupils.” Mrs Jane Odiwe, England.

“It’s a great read – I really couldn’t put it down!” Mrs J. K. Scattergood, England.
"I found the book really interesting as it brought the past vividly to life. The description of life on the canals along with the beautiful photographs was of special interest to me, as my father was born on a narrow boat..." Mr D. Millward, England.

Update 19 Nov 2013: You can see a reader's feedback on Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives here on LeighLife.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Chester Walls are tumbling down!

I was very worried to hear that Chester Walls are having a midlife crisis, according to this BBC News report. I hope they can be mended. I think the affected section is near the Eastgate Clock. It would be interesting to know the date of the section which has collapsed, as the walls have had a number of makeovers over the centuries.

My book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives has been getting some good press; it's been featured in Lancashire Life and the Lancashire Evening Post gave it a terrific review. All good news!
Image of Eastgate Clock © Sue Wilkes.