“Charlotte was frequently ‘all astonishment’, while I ‘could hardly keep my countenance’.” – Kaelyn Caldwell, Author’s Preface
All of our lives would be benefitted extraordinarily from learning a little bit more from Jane Austen. If we all acted with as much propriety, gentility and with as many manners as some of our favourite heroines (who, even in their most awful moments, are really not that bad), then we wouldn’t go far wrong. This new book is certainly going to be a huge help in providing us some life instructions to speak, and live, more like our beloved Regency characters.
In fact, the concept of behaving in a more Regency way, of acting like Elizabeth Bennet, was the topic of an eBook that I was provided a review copy of. How to Speak Like Jane Austen and Live Like Elizabeth Bennet by Kaelyn Caldwell graced the Kindle app on my iPad mini over the Christmas break and since, and has provided me some fantastic amusement – and, one would hope, some personal character improvement.
With any book that is a ‘How To’ there’s the danger to veer into self-improvement style preaching, whereby the reader comes away from the last chapter feeling as though their life is vastly subpar. However, Caldwell manages to navigate the instructive and yet light-hearted tone successfully, with its sub-head “Your Guide to Livelier Language and a Lovelier Lifestyle” really proving that this book does what it says on the box. Released in November 2013, aligning with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice (which has been a fabulous affair but and has left me with so many books to read), it was perfect timing.
There are a lot of books professing to be the phraseology of the Regency era, or Medieval or similar, however this provides a phrasebook/translation style service unlike many others. Providing us examples of how we can craft our everyday, often lazy, speech into beautiful sparkling Regency sentences, it’s both funny and enchanting.
For instance, “What the **** do you want?!” magically becomes “I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here.” Similarly, “I’m not half as rude as you are” can be directly transformed into “I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with [you].” I’m not sure I can express how much this delights me, without pulling out some Regency-fit phrases of my own, and say that I am “all astonishment” at my enjoyment of this book.
However, it’s not just direct phrases. Usefully, it provides examples of where single words can be tweaked (such as ere for before), that you can throw into conversation for that little extra sense of old fashioned Regency adoration. In fact, some of these are so subtle but fun, that it’s tempting to throw them into conversation with the taxi driver (or should that be ‘barouche landau’ driver?) and your friends and family.
It also has a collection of lengthier pieces at the end of the book, that provide advice on generally living your life to Elizabeth Bennet’s standards – such as living a literary lifestyle, and cultivating the ability to enjoy solitude. Kaelyn said to me that she likes The Bennet Sisters as she thinks it feels “quiet” rather than the usual mania on the internet – I like to think that this means we both enjoy Jane Austen’s style, and it did have me reflecting on how I can use these suggestions in my everyday life.
However, my favourite part of this book is the ‘Pride and Prejudice: The Sequel’ chapter at the end of the book. Not only do I share Kaelyn’s desire for Lady Catherine de Bourgh to die via convenient “targeted lightning strike which dramatically spares everyone else around her” but I also have the same desire for Anne de Bourgh – secretly one of my favourite, and most elusive characters – to blossom. I’m not sure whether we’re truly both fit for Regency manners with our wish for the first, but all I can say is that, Bennets, de Bourghs, Gardiners or Darcys, we just wish them all “health and happiness” (and that their daughters marry well).
Kaelyn Caldwell was lovely enough to agree to the below Q&A about her book, and to provide readers with the opportunity to receive a free copy (see end of post for details):
How long did the book take you to write and what background research went into it?
Great question … but hard to answer! The book had been percolating in my brain for a quite few years after I became enamored with the BBC A&E miniseries. My lifelong friend, Charlotte, and I became obsessed with the language and the lifestyle, both of which are very beautifully captured in that particular production. We struggled valiantly, trying to “capture” as much of the language as we could so we could incorporate it into our own conversations, but it was always so hard to remember accurately, and trying to relocate passages in the novel was frustrating! That’s when I decided we needed a “handbook” to guide us, and it was then that an actual book began to take form in my mind.
At that point, I just started rereading and rereading and rereading Pride and Prejudice, gathering together all the language that I loved and identifying aspects of Elizabeth Bennet’s personality and lifestyle that were so appealing to me – her reasoned optimism, her ability to think independently of her times, along with all the letter writing, leisurely conversations, walking outdoors, etc. I started “filing” everything, and the book began to take shape. The whole process was pretty time-consuming, which I worked on over the course of a few years. Editing, restructuring, reorganizing, refining took another great chunk of time. The “time in between” – when I wasn’t actually working on the book – was also important, I think, because it gave me the chance to let my ideas simmer and see them reflected in my own life.
As far as background research, I had already read quite a bit about Jane Austen, her England, etc., and Charlotte, my P&P compatriot, is an Anglophile, so she was a great resource. Charlotte knows a lot about English history, English literature, and travels often to England. She, in turn, has a friend who is a Fanny Burney scholar (the author who coined the term “pride and prejudice”), so I even had some access to that subject.
What is your favourite phrase that you have used?
Well, I am inclined to want to remain above stairs … though in my more engaged moments, I have been known to offer up: “A little sea-bathing would set me up forever!”, a phrase I am able to utilize more often than you might think! And, I must own, that, on occasion, I have described a woman as being an “excellent walker” – when I’m feeling particularly superior and snobbish.
Why do you think we all want to be a little bit more like Elizabeth Bennet?
Let’s face it, she had one of the best love affairs in history, with an ardent admirer (even against his own judgment!) who was rich, handsome, self-possessed, and besotted! We all want that! For me, though – and I really gave this a lot of thought when writing the book – I believe Elizabeth is an admirable person, not just a lucky woman. It was my friend, Charlotte, who said something along the lines of “Elizabeth didn’t need to marry Darcy to be the heroine of Pride and Prejudice,” and I included that idea in the book. I think it’s pivotal: Elizabeth lived a responsibly thoughtful life; she did the right thing at the right time, all the time being true to herself. I know she also had a captivating personality, and a lively persona, but beneath that, there was a substantial personhood, founded in integrity, without which I don’t think she would have ever caught Darcy’s eye, much less won his heart.
If you could trade in today’s life for a Regency one, would you?
Not ever! It was a hardship life even under the best of circumstances, considering sanitation, disease, etc. – a very tentative existence (although one doesn’t get this impression from Pride and Prejudice). The wealthy lived better, of course, but I’d take my middleclass 21st century life over that any day! Very little freedom, very many strictures – I wouldn’t even want to be a gentleman in that day, much less a lady!
Is there a certain aspect of the way Elizabeth lived that is the most appealing?
Although I’d never want to live even an upper class Regency life, I love all the implications that leisure affords – time to ponder, time to putter, time to pursue home-based hobbies, time to travel at a snail’s pace. I think this is one of the reasons the miniseries has been so phenomenally successful … it just looks so lovely! I also love how Elizabeth’s seemingly “narrow” existence was so varied and vibrant because of her own unique and insightful way of looking at the world. I have a quote in my book from the brilliant, but reclusive, poet, Emily Dickinson: “Area – no test of depth” – and I think it describes Elizabeth’s life at Longbourn to a tee. For her sister, Lydia, not so much! But, that’s only because Lydia has a shallow intellect and outlook, totally unlike Elizabeth’s enhanced perspective.
Which Austen character are you the most like and why?
Well, I’m no Elizabeth Bennet! I’d like to think – on my better days – that I’m Mrs. Gardiner-like, solid, steady, wise, and a diligent correspondent! I know I’m not as nice as she is … I have a little bit of Mr. Bennet’s caustic side in me, sorry to say.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Once I became rather obsessed with Pride and Prejudice in all its forms, I wanted to be able to distill the language and lifestyle into a moveable feast. I mean, I couldn’t be reading the book and watching the movie all the time! When I was fresh from the book or the movie, I found that I thought differently about how to use words or how to use my time … but then that inculcation would fade … and ZAP! I’d be knee-deep in the humdrum conversations and frazzled pace of the 21st century! I liked the way they talked back then; I liked the way they crafted their days – I just couldn’t keep those ideas in the forefront of my intention, so I thought I would “translate” all that and put it into an easily retrievable format.
Are you going to write any other books?
I do have an idea for a more memoir-type book … but nothing started yet.
If you’re keen to get your hands on a copy, then you can purchase it wherever eBooks are sold for $4.99. You can also see information and excerpts on austenandbennet.com.
Kaelyn has also said that we can offer The Bennet Sisters readers the chance of getting one of four free copies of the eBook, that will be provided to you as an Amazon voucher. For the chance to get your hands on one of these copies, answer the following question in the comments section below (by 5pm Friday 7th February 2014, Melbourne time!) – international submissions welcome:
How do you endeavour to live a more Pride and Prejudice style life?
For those of you looking for the book, as always – ISBN: 978-0-9828438-1-9 and published by Island Bound Press LLC.