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Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: “Pride and Prejudice” Discussion

by Cassandra Bates, Region Treasurer

I was fortunate enough to be able to take tea with my dear friend Miss Austen Mouse this past week. With the upcoming regional discussion of Pride and Prejudice we both thought having a lively discussion of one of the most loved novels of Jane Austen fitting.

As we sat in Miss Austen Mouse’s parlor sipping a lovely new English Breakfast blend and snacking on wonderful scones, we began our discussion of all things Pride and Prejudice. I opened with two words: Mr. Darcy. My friend’s response to my utter shock, was “Yes, and what of the man, I see nothing outstanding about him”.  To this, once dear reader, I composed myself, I responded with: This is a character so deeply affected by a woman as well as his societal obligations and yet so socially awkward and shy that you cannot help but feel for him in all situations. (Dear reader, did I not preface this by telling you we had a lively discussion?). I understand where my friend was coming from for on the surface, here is a man who was taciturn, conceited, and disdainful and then once he realized his own feelings towards Elizabeth Bennet, and the subsequent loss of a relationship with her, saw the error of his ways, so to speak. However, if one were to dig deeper, it would soon become apparent that although outwardly this is a man in control, inwardly a battle is raging. He does not like to be in large groups, especially of unknown people, he knows his place in society and yet, is drawn to someone societally beneath him as she is his opposite and yet, so much like him. He is rich and handsome, so is at the top of every marrying Mama’s list. He has made himself a walled fortress and, except for those he holds in close regard, does not let anyone in. Along comes Miss Eliza Bennet and throws his world into a tailspin. She is not like any woman of his acquaintance, not swayed by his money, gives her opinion rather decidedly, and calls out his poor behavior. I like to imagine her like a bright light and Darcy stumbles backwards all whilst shielding his eyes yet keeps trying to look. My dear friend, I believe was coming around to my side (and dearest reader, pray forgive my friend); until she mentioned the possibility of what if Miss Elizabeth was not as head strong (or at least outwardly) and was not as put off by his curt behavior, but rather quickly understood, here was a man struggling. Would he have been so taken in my her? Would there even have been an Elizabeth and Darcy story? Or were these two people destined to be together?

Reaching for the tea pot, I had to ask, what makes this story so special that there have been numerous movies, various written variations, published in countless languages and recognized everywhere? Setting aside her tea (I anticipated a very elegant discourse to follow); Miss Austen Mouse informed me that it is because it is the genesis of every romance, every social situation, and every interpersonal exchange. I was taken aback, every, truly not! But my friend explained. If you (forgive the vulgarity, dear reader) strip down the novel unto its very basic parts: boy meets girl, there is a huge miscommunication, boy and girl come to an understanding, boy and girl ride off into the sunset together (I may have indulged on the last part). Throw in some social commentary, awkward family, conflict and a happy ending and you have the making of a pretty good story. Dear reader, might we say every story?

As our time and lively discussion was coming to an end, we both agreed that Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy are both swoon worthy and timeless in every sense and will continue to endure through the ages. If you thought Miss Austen Mouse and I had a lively discourse, please join the region for our very own discussion of Pride and Prejudice on Sunday, March 20th at 2:30 PM Pacific Time. Please register here: https://forms.gle/gRenAqcVjpdy6gz3A

Now, this is not tea with Miss Austen Mouse without a recipe. As she handed me the recipe, Miss Austen Mouse shared, “Tyler Florence is the Charles Bingley of chefs.”

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze by Tyler Florence

Makes 8 scones

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. sugar

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones

Lemon Glaze:

½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 lemon, zest finely grated

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Sift together the dry ingredients; the four, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like course crumbs. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Take care not to mash or bruise the blueberries because their strong color will bleed into the dough. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough.

Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12 by 3 by 1 ¼ inches. Cut the rectangle in half then cut the pieces in half again, giving you 4 (3 inch) squares. Cut the squares in half on the diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15-20 minutes until beautiful and brown. Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.

You can make the lemon glaze in a double boiler, or for a simpler alternative, you can zap it in the microwave. Mix the lemon juice with the confectioners’ sugar until dissolved in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water for the double-boiler method, or in a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk the butter and the lemon zest. Either nuke the glaze for 30 seconds or continue whisking in the double boiler. Whisk the glaze to smooth out any lumps, then drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Let it set a minute before serving.

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Miss Austen Mouse Reviews “Confined with Mr. Darcy”

by Cassandra Bates, Treasurer

The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”

“But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”

Darcy and Elizabeth – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Chapter 9

“Confined with Mr. Darcy” By L.L. Diamond

Another visit to my dear friend Miss Austen Mouse brought about the most enjoyable discussion about a book over many cups of tea and probably just as many cookies. We both stumbled upon a book by the authoress L.L. Diamond titled “Confined with Mr. Darcy”. Dare I say it, as the Pandemic continues, I thought it a wonderful premise, being under lockdown with a Mr. Darcy.

The book is short, coming in at 107 pages, this is more of a novella and was first released in June of 2020 (so right when, in some areas, were under strict lockdown). The length, Miss Austen Mouse and I decided, was perfect for a cozy afternoon with tea and cookies. This story is a modern adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and would be taking place after the disastrous proposal at Hunsford. In this story, Elizabeth is a writer (and not just any writer, she writes Regency Romance novels) and Darcy is a publisher, and the disastrous proposal is more of a guy asking a girl out after not so much as showing any interest in her and not being all that nice either (very similar to canon). Darcy then proceeds to ask Elizabeth to Pemberley to spend however long during the lockdown, with the justification that she would be able to go outside and not be as restricted in the country whereas if she stayed in London, she would be. Of course, Jane is now married to Bingley so Darcy also dangles the carrot of being able to see her sister whenever she wants as they will be staying at another cottage on the grounds. Without giving too much away, if you are at all familiar with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ this story is a cozy modern parallel using the pandemic lockdown to mirror regency era lack of easy travel. There is a fair amount of banter and flirting, Georgiana is your typical teenager, who just happens to be a musical proficient, with aspirations of Juilliard, and a cat named Tilney. We do not see Caroline or even Wickham as Darcy is pretty well capable of mucking things up on his own without the help of others.

Overall, a short enjoyable read of a modern version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ while utilizing the pandemic as a backdrop and finding some positivity while being under lockdown.

And now as the snow is falling, I am dreaming of Summer and Miss Austen Mouse had the perfect tea cookie recipe to share:

Lemon Tea Cookies

From a Spoonful of Flavor: https://www.spoonfulofflavor.com/lemon-tea-cookies/

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus 2 more cups for rolling

1 egg yolk

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 heaping tablespoon lemon zest

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and I cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the egg yolk, lemon juice, zest and vanilla until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed just until combined. If the dough is crumbly, use your hands to knead the dough gently until it comes together and forms a ball. Roll dough into 1” sized balls and place 1” apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While the cookies are still warm, roll in the remaining 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and place on a wire baking rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: What Makes a Good Jane Austen Retelling?

by Cassandra Bates

So many retellings…so little time

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if your favorite author has passed, you will indubitably want more of their works. Enter in the world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, or JAFF. Later this month our region will be discussing “What makes a good Jane Austen retelling?” So, I decided to take tea with my good friend Miss Austen Mouse and discuss what DOES make a Jane Austen retelling good, and while we are at it ask some the officers of the region what their favorite retelling is.

I met my good friend Miss Austen Mouse in her garden, as the weather was quite delightful. We took tea under a trailing Wisteria, and she provided the most scrumptious tea biscuits. We started our discussion on what makes a Jane Austen retelling good, which really amounted to more questions than answers. What is a Jane Austen retelling, does it have to be in line with her works (canon) or not? What about the storyline can deviate from canon, or does it need to follow the Jane Austen formula? Does it need to be a social commentary, which many of her works are thought to be, or something totally light and easy to read? Can it expand on Jane Austen’s stories, like a continuation of sorts, or does a retelling need to be exactly that, a retelling of her stories? What about time periods, does it need to be set in Regency era, like Austen’s novels, or can it be set in other time periods, could it, gasp, include time travel?

Since it had seemed that we were coming up with more questions than an actual discussion we decided to talk with the officers of the region to see what their favorite Jane Austen retelling is.

We started with Regional Co-Coordinator, Michele Larrow. Michele took to a very contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable. It tells the tale of a family in Pakistan over the course of a year (2000-2001). Alysba (Alys) Binat [Elizabeth] teaches English literature at a girls’ school in a fictional provincial town (Dilipabad) in Pakistan. Valentine (Val) Darsee [Darcy] meets her first at a wedding of mutual friends and has connections to the school she works at. Michele enjoyed the ways that P&P is transformed to a Muslim Pakistani family.  Alys teaches P&P to her teenage students and asks them to consider how the book’s themes apply to their lives.  Darsee and Alys have great discussions about post-colonial identity, the role of language in personal identity and literature, and the role of women in Pakistani society.  Sherry [Charlotte] gets a bit of a redemption in this telling, having a marriage to Dr. Farhat Kaleen [Mr. Collins] that seems fulfilling for her.  The descriptions of food will have you hungry and Michele has dreams of the rose-flavored rose garden cake that Nona Gardenaar [Mrs. Gardiner] makes for Darsee’s sister Jujeena (Juju).  Through the Qitty character [Kitty], Kamal explores body acceptance and oppressive standards of beauty. Showing the timelessness of P&P, Kamal addresses its themes in near-contemporary Pakistani culture, such as whether unmarried women can have independence, the role of family in our lives, the role money plays in marriage choices, and how challenging it can be to get to know people.  Michele has re-read this book several times with great pleasure!

Debra Peck, Secretary for the region had this to say about the very first continuation of Jane Austen’s novels, Old Friends and New Fancies written by Sybil G. Brinton. The book deals with many of the characters in Jane’s novels who were left without partners at the end of many of her stories. Many of the main characters of all 6 novels are a part of the story, and they all know each other! Lots of matchmaking going on, very entertaining!

Our own Miss Jane, Jane Provinsal, Regional Co-Coordinator, prefers the Southern side to Jane Austen retellings, with the Jane Austen Takes the South series by Mary Jane Hathaway! There are three books (hopefully she writes the other three, pretty please!) and she read book one Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits, and book three Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin Cornbread the last two summers for our region’s Jane Austen July. Hathaway did a beautiful job of taking the essence of Jane’s stories and setting them in the modern South. The plots feel completely new and still wonderfully familiar. She enjoyed connecting characters and scenes with Jane’s novels, but it didn’t feel like someone just copied Jane’s words. Jane’s works and characters are timeless and these books show that so well without losing the charm! Our Jane LOVED that Hathaway included some recipes for dishes included in the books and can’t wait to try them! These books are lovely, fun, and uplifting. 

With such lovely conversations that Miss Austen Mouse and I had with the officers of the region, we were sad that our garden party was at the end, and we still had so much more to discuss about what makes a retelling of Jane Austen good. We hope you will join us for more discussion on September 19th at 2:30 PM (PST) for a continuation of Miss Austen Mouse’s and my discussion on what makes a retelling of Jane Austen good (and what makes one bad, if there is such a one). For more information on joining the discussion and the form to register, please go to our events page https://jasnaewanid.org/events/.

OH, and this would not be a Tea with Miss Austen Mouse without a recipe. Here is the scrumptious tea biscuits she served me under the trailing Wisteria, fit for Royalty!

Balmoral Shortbread (from Her Majesty’s own former personal Chef)

Ingredients:

225g (8oz) plain flour

225g (8oz) butter

115g (4oz) icing sugar

115g (4oz) corn flour (corn starch)

1tsp salt

1-2tsp vanilla paste

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Add all of the ingredients, except vanilla in a large bowl and work together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla and lightly bring together.

Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead to form a dough.

Dust a classic Scottish shortbread mold with flour and press the dough into the cavity. Using a sharp knife, trim the top to make a flat surface, alternatively you can use a round cake tin, or roll out and cut fingers or rounds.

Gently turn out the shortbread and place onto a lined baking tray. Using a fork, prick the surface of the shortbread all over and bake in the over for around 20 minutes (you want the shortbread to remain a light sandy color).

Once baked, remove from the oven and, using a sharp knife, score the surface of the shortbread into wedges, this will create a defined break when it comes to portioning. Dust the surface with sugar and leave to cool for 1 hour.

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“Perfect Happiness” on Viewing Four Jane Austen First Editions

A few members of our region had the good fortune to visit the Washington State University (WSU) Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) room in the library to view four first editions of Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.  A WSU alum, Lorraine (Kure) Hanaway recently left the first editions to WSU in her will (https://news.wsu.edu/2021/06/07/first-edition-jane-austen-novels-added-wsu-libraries-collection/).  Lorraine was one of the founding members of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and was a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania region (http://jasna.org/publications-2/persuasions-online/vol-41-no-1/memorium-hanaway/). Dr. Trevor Bond, Associate Dean for Digital Initiative and Special Collections, and Greg Matthews, Special Collections Librarian at MASC, were our guides for the viewing and arranged all the books that we saw.  I think two themes that shape my reflections on seeing the first editions are:  the importance of preserving and understanding Jane Austen’s early editions and the joy of finding your “small band of true friends” who love Austen. 

Preserving and Understanding Jane Austen’s Early Editions

It seems centrally important to understanding Austen’s works to maintain the volume structure of the novels.  The three volumes structure clearly organizes the novels that were published during Austen’s lifetime.  (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously each as two volumes of a four-volume set so we can’t be sure of author intent in terms of volumes.)  For example, in Mansfield Park at the end of Volume I, the volume ends quite dramatically when Sir Thomas comes home, and his return is announced to those rehearsing the play by an aghast Julia.  While most recent edited editions of the novels preserve the three (or two) volume structure, it is wonderful to actually see the three volumes and think about what it must have been like to read one volume and then be so excited to start the next volume to find out what came next.  In the first editions we also see the ways that the printers kept continuity in the text by printing the first word of the next page at the end of the previous page (aka the “catchword”, see Deb Barnum’s blog on collecting books: https://janeausteninvermont.blog/2021/03/06/collecting-jane-austen-book-collecting-101/).  We also can see that not many words are printed on each line, so that the words on one page of a current edition might be spread out over two pages in a first edition (compare the Emma proposal scene in the first edition to the proposal scene in the Penguin edition edited by Juliette Wells, marked in the picture below by blue brackets).  It feels amazing that these volumes from the early 1800s have survived into the 21st century.

Finding Your “Small Band of True Friends”

It was so special to see the first editions with two of our region’s “founding members”.  Vic was at our very first meeting in Pullman in June 2017 and Chuck was at our first tea in Spokane in July 2017.  They both joined JASNA that year and helped our region to be recognized as an official region.  One of the joys of being a regional coordinator is getting to meet new Jane Austen fans in our region in person (such as Deb, who came with Vic) and, through social media and on Zoom, getting to meet people from all over the world who are Janeites. When viewing the first editions I also felt a connection to Lorraine Hanaway, who donated them, although I never had the pleasure of meeting her.  I could imagine her walking around the WSU campus in the late 1940s, thinking about the next edition of the student paper, The Daily Evergreen, in her job as editor.

T to B, L to R: Michele, Chuck, Vic, and Debbie are all smiling widely behind their masks!

The other Janeite I connected with at the MASC was, unexpectedly, Virginia Woolf!  The MASC has a large collection of volumes from Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s personal library (http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu/masc/onlinebooks/woolflibrary/woolflibraryonline.htm).  I knew that Woolf was a big Jane Austen fan.  Trevor Bond and Greg Matthews arranged for us to see the Jane Austen books from the Woolf personal library.  The novels were mainly the “Everyman Library” versions from the early 1900s, although there was a two volume edition of Pride and Prejudice printed in 1817 by Egerton that was given to Virginia Woolf from John Maynard Keynes (the economist, who was also a part of the Bloomsbury group) and signed by him.  I was excited to see first editions of several of the Oxford publications from the 1920s: Lady Susan (pictured), Volume the First, and the final chapters of Persuasion, including the canceled chapter 10.  Another volume was probably quite rare since it said in the volume that only 250 were published:  a special printing of the final chapters of Persuasion printed on handmade paper with a facsimile version of the canceled chapter 10 in Jane Austen’s handwriting (see picture).  Holding volumes that Virginia Woolf held was very special.

It was a dream come true for me to be able to hold some Jane Austen first editions. I need to go back and study the first edition volumes in more detail.  I also want to get a better look at the P&P from 1817 that belonged to Virginia Woolf.  If you live locally and would like to see the volumes, they are available to view when MASC is open.  See https://libraries.wsu.edu/masc/ for more information about hours and how to access material in the reading room at MASC.

Michele Larrow, Regional Co-Coordinator

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Taking Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: Gingerbread Cakes

by Cassandra Bates, Region Treasurer

With our Spring Tea quickly approaching, I felt that it was a good time to take tea with Miss Austen Mouse. You see, Miss Austen Mouse is somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to Regency Gastronomy and absolutely loves sharing when she discovers a “new” Regency recipe.  Since we were taking tea together, she decided to share a recipe for Gingerbread Cakes from The Art of Cookery: Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, originally published in 1805:

Take three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in a very find, two ounces of ginger beat fine, a large nutmeg grated then take a pound a treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff, roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut them out with a tea-cup, or small glass, or roll them round like nuts, and bake them on tin-plates in a slack oven. 

Now, I am not sure about you dear reader, but I did not find that recipe to be plain nor simple. Luckily, my dear friend Miss Austen Mouse was able to modernize the recipe for me:

1 ½ lbs. all-purpose unbleached flour

½ lb. sugar

½ lb. butter softened to room temperature

2 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. ground nutmeg

1 cup molasses

¼ cup cream

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, sugar and spices thoroughly with your hands.
  3. Warm the molasses and cream together in a small saucepan, stirring to blend. This is not to be hot but warm so that they blend together, not cook.
  4. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until it has a sort of grated bread look.
  5. Add the molasses and cream mixture and work it up into a stiff dough with your hands. If it seems dry, add a little more cream to it. The dough should be stiff but not dry.
  6. Roll out the dough on a floured surface about ¼ inch thick and cut cookies into whatever shapes please you. If you wish to form them into nut shapes as the recipe states they will look sort of button shaped when they bake.
  7. Bake these in a 375° oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. They should still be soft to the touch before they come from the oven, not hard.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more Regency Gourmandise and other adventures with Miss Austen Mouse!

If you have a request for Miss Austen Mouse, please email: jasnaewanid@gmail.com or post on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Want to snag your very own tea cozy like the one pictured here? Hop on over to BerindeensTeaTime on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BernideensTeaTime?ref=profile_header