Editor: Christina Boyd
Narrator: Victoria Riley
Length: 18 hours and 3 minutes
Series: The Quill Collective, Book 3
Publisher: The Quill Ink, LLC
Released: Jul. 18, 2019
“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” (Persuasion, Jane Austen) Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels are timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary – because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after. In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, 16 celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s heroines, brave adventuresses, shy maidens, talkative spinsters, and naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity. Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism. “Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; – that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” (Mary Wollstonecraft) Stories by: Elizabeth Adams, Nicole Clarkston, Karen M Cox, J. Marie Croft, Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Jessie Lewis, KaraLynne Mackrory, Lona Manning, Christina Morland, Beau North, Sophia Rose, Anngela Schroeder, Joana Starnes, Brooke West, and Caitlin Williams
CHRISTINA BOYD wears many hats as she is an editor under her own banner, The Quill Ink, a contributor to Austenprose, and a commercial ceramicist. A life member of Jane Austen Society of North America, Christina lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two busy teenagers, and a retriever named BiBi. Visiting Jane Austen’s England was made possible by actor Henry Cavill when she won the Omaze experience to meet him in the spring of 2017 on the London Eye. True story. You can Google it. Victoria Riley is a British voiceover artist and audiobook narrator. Originally trained as a theatre actor, she gradually moved into voice work and is now happiest behind the mic. She loves classic literature and travelling the world. If she isn’t recording, she’s probably lying in a hammock in some far-flung place, reading book after book after book. I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Christina Boyd. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
Feminism in the Hearts of Austen’s Most Beloved Females?
By Christina Boyd, editor, “Quill Collective” anthology seriesJane Austen’s novels evoke romantic imaginings of gallant gentlemen and gently-bred ladies. Achieving social, economic, and political equality amongst the sexes isn’t a concept one would imagine in a novel from the 1800’s, especially if the novelist was Jane Austen, whose characters are in pursuit of good matches and whose novels all end in weddings. How could a woman who was poor, never married, and lived with her mother and sister in a cottage on her brother’s estate authentically write about equality? Yet through her veiled wit, honest social commentary, and cleverly constructed prose in a style ahead of her day, Austen’s heroines manage to thwart strict mores—and even the debauchery of Regency England—to reach their fairytale endings. Have you never wondered about her other colorful characters like Mary Crawford, Penelope Clay, Charlotte Lucas, et al.—and how they came to be? In Persuasion, Mrs. Croft says, “But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” Those words have always struck me as terribly modern and I have wondered what Mrs. Croft might have been thinking of when she said those very words to her brother Captain Frederick Wentworth. It is not a reach that several of Jane Austen’s characters might have had feminist sensibilities, even if they yielded to the expectations of their sphere. Further, I like to speculate that Austen was cleverly revealing her own feminist discourse using “her fine brush” on her “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory.” When choosing authors for the soon-to-be released anthology Rational Creatures, I wanted strong women, not just strong writers. Like several of my Rational Creatures authors, Brooke West believes, “There is no singular way to be a feminist. Feminism, to me, is about the ability to choose. To choose whether to have children, to marry, to pursue a career, to wear a suit and tie or a frilly pink dress. It’s that choice that is so often taken from women and rigid expectations put in choice’s place. A woman deciding for herself is the simplest—and best—expression of feminism, to my mind.” West goes on to say about Mansfield Park’s quiet heroine, “Many readers find Fanny weak and boring. I’ll admit—I did, too. At first. But after another read, I found Fanny’s feminist spirit. She won my respect by showing a quiet and enviable strength. She was the victim of everyone’s expectations, but she stood firm in her principles, rejecting Henry’s offer because she knew it would not bring her happiness. Though her ultimate decision to marry Edmund seems predictable—exactly what one would expect of a young woman of her time and exactly the opposite of what one might expect from a tale with a feminist twist—I saw bravery behind her choice. Her choice to marry up when she’d always been told she’s lesser. Her choice to marry at all when it’s perceived she missed her only chance to avoid spinsterhood. Her choice to accept a man who overlooked her.” “The reserved inner strength of Fanny appears to be in counterpoint to that other memorable female character of Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford,” says author Jenetta James. “Where Miss Price is muted and seemingly beholden to others, Miss Crawford is outspoken, charismatic, and independent. Mary Crawford gets all the best lines, but there is more to her character than moral bravado. She is after all a discerning and mostly kindly critic who speaks plainly and lives honestly. The candor which Edmund reviles has about it the stamp of the modern, and in depicting it, Austen was considerably ahead of her time.” Moreover, it seems as unlikely that Austen’s least beloved heroine would forward or embrace any cause besides her own. “With societal conventions thrown aside to make way for a seemingly pampered heroine who, although innately good, appears oblivious to the problems of the world, we have Miss Woodhouse,” says author Anngela Schroeder. “Emma, willing to leg-shackle every other single creature in Highbury to another, refuses to do so for herself. ‘And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all.’ And why should she? She has all that is needed by a woman, or a man for that matter. She has fortune, connections, the adoration of her father, and management of his house where she knows that most women are ‘half as much mistress of their husband’s house as [she is] of Hartfield.’” In modern day translation: I don’t need a man or marriage to be happy. Author Lona Manning says, “Penelope Clay, the artful, designing young widow in Persuasion, tries to wheedle her way into Sir Walter Elliot’s heart. She has the ‘art of pleasing,’ and hopes he’ll overlook her low birth, her crooked tooth, and even her freckles. A ‘good’ woman was supposed to sit back and accept the extremely limited choices which restricted her life. Mrs. Clay, left with two children, was supposed to live under her father’s roof, and hope for some other offer of marriage to come along. But Penelope Clay does not sit back and accept this dismal fate. She is active; she smiles, talks, and charms her way into the household of the vain baronet. And why not! The opportunity is there, and it’s the rational thing to do!” In Pride and Prejudice, “Charlotte Collins née Lucas seems the Queen of Compromise,” says author Joana Starnes, “because what can her marriage to a self-absorbed fool be but a compromise? She seems the archetypal Regency female who sees marriage as her only object in life, however unappealing the partner and however small the chances of happiness. “Yet should she be censured for her choices or applauded for having the courage to grab any weapon at her disposal and fight the system from within? What can she do with herself if she refuses Mr. Collins other than become a figure of pity to her friends and family, someone taken for granted and expected to keep house or help raise other people’s children for the ‘privilege’ of being tolerated in their home? “ ‘Not Charlotte!’ says Starnes. “She seizes the one chance that comes her way. And if that means indulging Lady Catherine with smiles and nods and playing the part of the model wife while she adroitly coaxes her weak-minded husband into doing her bidding, then so be it! Her envisaged reward is financial security and the privileges that come with being the actual head of her household. And there is always the promise of becoming the mistress of Longbourn someday…” Although the idea of “feminism” was coined long after Austen’s time, the contributing authors to Rational Creatures wrote backstories or parallel tales off-stage of canon, remaining true to the ladies we recognize in Austen’s great works—whilst stirring feminism in the hearts of some of her beloved characters. Surely that is why so many adore Elizabeth Bennet best: her moral strength to reject not one but two advantageous proposals, choosing love and respect over wealth and social status. West proclaims the project’s intent best: “I wanted to show Fanny as a part of the beginning [of feminism]—as a young woman who sticks to her morals and does not let anyone else tell her what her happily-ever-after must be. A woman who would think for and choose for herself.” Isn’t that one of the reasons millions have loved Austen’s novels and her rational creatures these last two-hundred years? I daresay, it’s those little bits that will endure another two hundred. “Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; —that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” —Mary Wollstonecraft
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