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THE LATEST FROM LISA BERNE

“Young Jane Austen” Spotlight and Giveaway

Lisa Pliscou’s recently published Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer is featured today on Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century.

Says Abby Stambach, College Archivist and Reference Coordinator Librarian at the Sage Colleges: “Young Jane Austen is a fun and charming book that is a must read for any Janeite or any future Janeite.”

A giveaway for a signed, print copy is being offered, which runs through September 30, 2015.

To read Abby Stambach’s full review, and to enter the giveaway, click here.

To learn more about Young Jane Austen, click here.

Lisa Pliscou Featured on the Regency Explorer

Lisa Pliscou’s guest post, “Jane Austen’s ‘Secret’ Brother,” recently appeared on the Regency Explorer blog. 

Lisa’s post begins:

As I was making my way through a stack of Jane Austen biographies — what began as pure enjoyment and ultimately became research for my Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer — I was surprised to see that occasionally, an author would tally Jane’s siblings and end up with six.

The correct number, of course, is seven; altogether there were eight Austen children, beginning with James and ending with Charles. Jane’s older brother George, somehow, slipped between the cracks.

And why? Because he was the “defective” Austen child.

"Changes" by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou's "Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer"

“George had been put somewhere else. They might see him sometimes, but he would never come home. . . . Poor George.” From “Young Jane Austen”; this illustration is “Changes” by Massimo Mongiardo.

Read the full post here.

More about Lisa’s recently published biography, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writerhere.

The “Secret” Brother of Jane Austen

As I was making my way through a stack of Jane Austen biographies — what began as pure enjoyment and ultimately became research for my Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer — I was surprised to see that occasionally, an author would tally Jane’s siblings and end up with six.

The correct number, of course, is seven; altogether there were eight Austen children, beginning with James and ending with Charles. Jane’s older brother George, somehow, slipped between the cracks.

And why? Because he was the “defective” Austen child.

Aside from this one key characteristic, almost nothing is known about George Austen. As mysterious as Jane Austen’s appearance is, there are, at least, two verifiable images to date; there are none of George. We have no idea as to what he looked like, what he sounded like, how he behaved on a day-to-day basis, who he loved or what he loved. For some biographers, it seems, he may as well have never existed — a pitiable footnote in the otherwise exhaustively exhumed and analyzed Austen lore.

Born in 1766, the second baby, George early suffered from what his parents described as “fits.” As with so many other aspects of Jane’s life, her brother’s ailment, or ailments, cannot be definitively identified.

He was “mentally defective,” says Park Honan, and “probably a deaf-mute.” George Holbert Tucker describes him as both “mentally abnormal” and “mentally retarded.” Joan Klingel Ray mentions his “illness” and says that he was epileptic. Claire Tomalin wonders if he had cerebral palsy.

Paula Byrne, in her discussion of George’s “special needs” in The Real Jane Austen, says that he was “mentally incapacitated,” “epileptic and possibly deaf”; she also comments upon a “spectacular streak of madness” that afflicted Jane Austen’s maternal line, seeming to leave open the question as to whether George was ‘mad’ as well, as opposed to having purely physical handicaps.

Apparently, like his other siblings, George was sent as an infant to board with a village family nearby. However, unlike them, he remained there. It’s unclear how great a role he played in the everyday life of his own family over the next several years.

"In the Evening": illustration by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou's biography YOUNG JANE AUSTEN: BECOMING A WRITER

Here, a cozy evening in the Austen household, as envisioned by illustrator Massimo Mongiardo in “Young Jane Austen.” Might George have been among the young people, enjoying the talk, jokes, laughter?

In the 2007 film Becoming Jane, George is — in an appealing portrayal — shown as an adult, an integrated family member, capable of communicating through sign language and sensitive to the interactions of those around him.

The reality is more likely that George ultimately became, to Jane at least, a shadowy figure. When Jane was three years old, George, thirteen, was put into the care of a family eight miles away — a significant distance from the Austen home in Steventon. He would join his uncle Thomas, the younger brother of Mrs. Austen, an even more elusive figure, said variously across the centuries to be an “imbecile,” an “idiot,” and “handicapped.” No letters, no records, exist to indicate how often, if at all, Thomas and George were visited by their family.

In writing Young Jane Austen, I was mindful of Jane’s own experience in being ‘farmed out’ as a baby, and wondered what kind of impact it could have had on her. It’s thought that she may have gotten to know George quite well during this interval.

"In the Village." Illustration by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou's "Young Jane Austen."

Jane spent around a year and a half ‘farmed out’ with a village family. Although her other family members were said to have visited quite often, her older brother George lived there and would have been a constant in her life; the two siblings may have formed a very real bond. “In the Village” by Massimo Mongiardo.

At around the same time that George was sent permanently away, other major events within the family were occurring: Jane’s oldest brother, James, left to attend Oxford University, fifty miles away, and Edward, eleven, was whisked away on a long journey with wealthy older cousins.

What was George’s departure from Steventon like? Unlike James or Edward, he could not, realistically, anticipate the pleasures of travel, education, advancement, independence. He was going to be placed into the care of strangers. Was he aware of this, lucidly or dimly? Did he set off in innocent excitement, or with reluctance or fear?

We have no way of knowing. Nor can we know if Jane was present as he began his journey, or her own feelings about it. So in the narrative I speculate, as if through Jane’s puzzled perspective:

“And George, who had fits, who could neither speak nor hear, would never, Mama said, reach the age of reason, and so he was sent to live with a kind family who would take care of him, in a village far away. Mama said they must be rational and they must accept.”

As I remark in the annotated section of Young Jane Austen, it’s to be hoped this family was kind. Here again, we have no idea how they treated these two handicapped inmates. Debate continues to rage as to whether Mr. and Mrs. Austen were callous, even cruel, in sending George away. Some condemn them outright. Others point out that within the context of the time, their actions were perfectly normal, even solicitous: many people who were categorized as “mad,” “imbecile,” or otherwise ‘defective’ were consigned to asylums where they generally lived in deplorable conditions.

For me, with my focus on young Jane, the lingering question is that of how she experienced George’s removal. How was it explained to her? Was it explained? Was she left with an enduring impression that powerless children could be similarly removed at any time, as she had been as an infant?

"Changes" by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou's "Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer"

“George had been put somewhere else. They might see him sometimes, but he would never come home. . . . Poor George.” From “Young Jane Austen”; this illustration is “Changes” by Massimo Mongiardo.

As it happened, four years later, at the age of seven, Jane herself was sent away again — to the faraway little school of a distant relative. It was there, in fact, that she nearly ended her short life in a severe bout of a dangerous, highly contagious illness, thereby nearly rendering her exile a permanent one.

However, unlike her “secret” brother, Jane was allowed to come home. For a while.

 

 

This post appears with the kind permission of Regency Explorer, where it originally appeared. 

 

Lisa Pliscou Featured in ‘Austen in August’ Event

Author of the recently published Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, Lisa Pliscou is featured in the annual “Austen in August” event hosted by the Book Rat.

To read Lisa’s guest post and an excerpt from Young Jane Austen, and to learn more about a giveaway for two signed copies, click here. The giveaway runs through September 5th, 2015.

To learn more about Young Jane Austen, which has been praised by Jane Austen’s Regency World, Austenprose, VOYA, Luxury Reviews, Austenesque Reviews, and more, click here.

 

 

‘Young Jane Austen’ via Roof Beam Reader Austen event

Two copies of Lisa Pliscou’s recently published biography Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer are being offered as a giveaway in the 2015 Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

The giveaway is open until 10 pm CST on August 21st.

Austen in August - Roof Beam Reader

For more info, click here.

More about Young Jane Austen here.

 

“Dude” to Be Featured at the Art of Surfing Festival 2015

Lisa Pliscou’s book Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty will be featured at the 2015 Art of Surfing Festival in Ocean City, New Jersey, which runs from July 30 through August 1st.

Art of Surfing Festival 2015

Published by HarperCollins and praised by the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Booklist, the Associated Press, and more, Dude is a comic surf-speak riff on the classic “Dick and Jane” primers.

More about the festival here.

More about Dude here.

 

 

 

 

Lisa Pliscou Featured on the Madame Gilflurt Blog

Lisa Pliscou’s guest post, “Jane Austen at School: I Could Have Died of Laughter,” appears today on the Madame Gilflurt blog, ‘A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life.’

Lisa’s post begins:

When Jane Austen was seven, she and her older sister Cassandra were sent to boarding school in the house of a distant relative. This Mrs. Cawley was said to be cold and stiff — hardly a warm motherly figure welcoming the arrival of two little girls now far from the familiarity, the security, the friendly routine of home.

"Leaving Home" by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou's "Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer"

“Leaving Home” by Massimo Mongiardo in Lisa Pliscou’s “Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the full post here.

More about Lisa’s recently published book, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, here.

 

The Maiden’s Court on “Young Jane Austen”

“I should start this by saying . . . I’m not a Jane Austen fan! SHOCKER!” begins Heather of the Maiden’s Court blog on Lisa Pliscou’s recently published biography Young Jane Austen. “I’m never interested in the Austen spinoffs, sequels, prequels, what-have-you that have come out in recent years. However, something about Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer stood out to me. . . . I found it very enjoyable. . . . Even if you are not a Jane Austen fan, you will likely enjoy this book too.”

Read the full review here.

More about Young Jane Austen here.

 

“Young Jane Austen” & Austen in August 2015

Lisa Pliscou’s recently published biography, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, will be featured as a giveaway in Roof Beam Reader’s 2015 Austen in August event. This annual reading event was originally inspired by a Twitter conversation between three founders of the Classics Club.

Austen in August - Roof Beam Reader

More about Austen in August here.

More about the Classics Club here.

More about Young Jane Austen here.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodreads Giveaway for “Young Jane Austen”

A Goodreads giveaway is on for Lisa Pliscou’s acclaimed new biography Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, with five signed copies up for grabs. Some recent praise for Young Jane Austen:

“Delightful and infinitely readable.” —Austenprose

“A charming little book, daintily produced.” —Jane Austen’s Regency World 

“Appealing and handsome. . . . This lovely, delightful biography is a wonderful choice for all Janeites wanting to learn more about Jane Austen’s childhood.” —Austenesque Reviews

“This is a beautifully crafted book with an old-fashioned style that almost feels like the diary of a young girl of the eighteenth century.” —VOYA

“A joy. . . This is a gorgeous book, inside and out. The illustrations by Massimo Mongiardo . . . help bring the print alive for the reader; the layout, colors, and even textures make you feel like you’re holding something precious.” —Delighted Reader

“Beautifully illustrated . . . Very readable and engaging.” —Babblings of a Bookworm

“I loved the presentation, with illustrations by Massimo Mongiardo that are simple yet beautiful and transport readers back to Jane’s time . . . Young Jane Austen is a must-have for any Austen fan’s collection and another contender for my ‘Best of 2015′ list.” —Diary of an Eccentric

The giveaway runs through August 10, 2015. To learn more, and enter, click here.

More about Young Jane Austen here.