All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Garden Report, Baby Stuff

It is that time of year again, when the garden is growing (unlike that one year when we put too much rabbit manure in the soil in the spring!)—and little fruits and vegetables are beginning to grow. Hurrah!

Pumpkins on the vine. The pumpkin plant has decided it is going to take over the world, or at least the garden all around it. It is out of its box and spreading through the fence and up the path to the terrace. 

There is a pumpkin (of course!) on the vine through the fence, and of course this pumpkin, if it grows as large as it could, will come crashing down at some point. Sigh. I suppose I should cut the vine now and let it seal itself off so the pumpkin can rest on the brick path instead.

Attempting to hang onto its little space in the same box with the pumpkin is a little chickpea plant, full of peapods about ready to pick.
I know very little about growing chickpeas, this being my first attempt. But I think we will have a fine harvest from this one little plant. At least it will be enough for one or two salads for the family.

I have been harvesting zucchini for several weeks, but the extreme heat wave of last week has stopped most of the blossoms from setting fruit.

However, look at the cherry tomatoes! The plant is covered with them. I found one ripe one at the bottom today, and another will be ripe in a day or two.
I did not take pictures of our big tomato plants. They are suffering from that heat wave; I think I should have watered them more. I hope they come out of their slump soon.

The corn is (nearly) as high as an elephant’s eye. It will be ready to pick very soon.

How do you you like the rubber snake artistically draped over an ear? It seems to be doing the trick of keeping the birds away.

I keep checking for bugs and such pests, but none are showing up yet. I hope we find no corn worms.

The onions are getting bigger.

Here is a sweet green pepper. We also have red and yellow peppers coming along.

And there are baby cucumbers on the vine, just starting out. There are actually a dozen or more on this plant. My husband especially loves cucumbers, so he will be happy to have these.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Poirot at His Most Ingenious

Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories: A Hercule Poirot Collection with Foreword by Charles Todd

The short stories show Poirot at his most ingenious. The novels are wonderful of course, but in the short stories the clues are more cleverly concealed, the red herrings more cunningly displayed, and Poirot’s various personas—the crafty detective, the father confessor, the oddity, the friend and ally of police, and the law unto himself—are all well developed.

(Adapted from a DVD cover)
It’s also great fun to compare the details and spot the differences between the way Agatha Christie wrote these stories and the way they were adapted for David Suchet’s amazing television series. Some are almost exactly the same. Others have great differences and I always wonder why the writers think they are better than Christie. They never are. I do like that they put Hastings, Miss Lemon, and Japp in every short story possible on the screen, though I don’t miss reading these characters when they weren’t written into the originals.

I’ve read all these stories before, and it was great fun to reread them this half a year. There are 51 of these stories, about 900 pages worth of entertaining mayhem.

This is a book I prefer on my Kindle (I almost never prefer the Kindle to paper!) because short stories are not meant to be devoured all at once like a novel. They are meant to be savored one by one, and it’s easier to lay down the Kindle and pick it back up at the same place than to find a bookmark that isn’t going to fall out somehow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

#SecondCivilWar Anthem

Have you seen Twitter today?! I couldn’t resist joining in the gag, and of course my liberal slant is showing plainly! But after you laugh (or get mad at me), take a look at Ken Burns’s wonderful new website promoting unity.

#SecondCivilWar Anthem

Mine eyes have seen the glory of their civil war retweet,
As a pink hat women’s army surged up every U.S. street,
And the red hats turned their sorry tails and beat a swift retreat.
We are Libtards marching on.

Glory, glory to the News, yeah,
Glory, glory on The View, yeah,
Glory be for what is true, yeah,
For Truth is marching on.

Their numbers were exaggerated, on their lips were lies,
Their MAGA hats were clashing with absurdly too-long ties;
They tried to foul our water and to re-pollute our skies,
But RESISTance was too strong.

Glory end the stupid rules, yeah,
Reee-unite the families too, yeah,
Hold accountable the fools, yeah,
For Truth is marching on.

The battle raged o’er wifi and on every browser’s screen,
As we broke the internet with tweets and snaps and social memes,
We will win because we have intelligentsia on our team!
And Truth is marching on.

Glory, but don’t let ‘em shoot ya,
Glory, even here in Utah,
Here we’re stuck with Romney’s future--
But Truth will carry on.

In the beauty of impeachment lies a hope for a reprieve,
If it’s followed by removal--otherwise we still must grieve,
For Congress now is led by those with treason up the sleeve,
And Wrong is Right for now.

Glory, vote for all those blues, yeah,
Glory, make a difference, will ya?
Glory, glory hallelujah,
Our Cause will thus live on.

And a Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Was Vincent the Villain?

Elisabetha Schmelzer, the adventurous daughter of Georg Schmelzer and Eva Kihm, went over to the “enemy” after the town was conquered by Napoleon’s armies, and in 1794 she married a Frenchman, Jean Pierre Julien. He was a soldier, and a few years later he was killed.

Elisabetha did not remain single for long. In February 1800 she married a widower, Vincent Meyer, after the requisite banns were published three times.

Imagine her sense of betrayal when she discovered that Vincent had concealed another marriage! She went before the town officials and made a proclamation to that effect in August 1801, declaring that by his action of having hidden this gross impediment to their own marriage, he had in effect prostituted her. She denied all knowledge of his actions and was granted a severing of their marriage.

Wait. I don’t know whether I translated those word endings correctly!

The other version is a bigger scandal to the Schmelzer family.

Imagine Vincent’s sense of betrayal when he found out and forced Elisabetha to go before the town officials and swear that she concealed an impediment to her marriage to Vincent in the form of another marriage (maybe Jean Pierre did not die after all; maybe he deserted), and that she prostituted herself by so doing!

In any case, the marriage officially ended, and Elisabetha and Vincent both disappeared from all other records of the town.

I’d have moved far away too, no matter which way the scandal went.

Photo adapted from: Benny Trapp - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

And now, you Latin scholars, help me out with the endings here! Who did what to whom?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts

The high-profile suicides this past week of designer Kate Spade and chef-travel writer Anthony Bourdain have touched off an international conversation about mental health and suicide and the importance of not assuming your strong-appearing friends are fine. It has also made me reflect on my own darkest time and how I eventually got through it.

I come from a dysfunctional family that looks pretty good from the outside. My parents stayed married to each other all their lives and were devoted to each other. My siblings and I were always playing together as youngsters and have maintained some type of relationships throughout our adult lives.

But my mother was a broken person. Her parents had had serious problems despite their very long marriage, and my mother and her siblings produced families that were full of problems. There are sad situations in the histories of many members of my extended family, not just me.

My father suffered from his mother’s death when he was just 15, and his father abandoned him in the months following. My father never recovered completely from that trauma.

I grew up learning to think that I was no good. My mother was chief director of my thoughts about myself. She frankly didn’t like me and though she tried to keep it from me, children always know. In my early adulthood, she simply told me so. Now I can’t imagine why she thought that was an okay thing to do. Then, it was confirmation of what I’d always known.

I started thinking about suicide when I was eleven years old. I took a knife one night and cut my wrist, slicing the length of a vein I could see, not knowing anything about anatomy. It bled well, but I wrapped it up and for fear of punishment lied about the seriousness and kept it hidden until it healed.

When I was sixteen I had an hysterical fit at a summer camp. They took me back to the city where my mother had to come pick me up. They told my mother I needed to see a mental health professional. That made me feel hopeful; one of my brothers at university had come home the year before to report that he had been in counseling. (But the subject wasn’t discussed after his initial announcement.) Once my mother and I were alone in the car together, she let me have it but good. No daughter of hers was going to ever need mental health help, I learned. I was punished for weeks; I felt powerless, for I had always been the child who did everything I could to please my parents, but nothing succeeded with my mother.

By the time I was in my twenties, feeling despair was normal to me. Religion provided an antidote to or a respite from my feelings. I had internalized both the idea that I was worthless, yet my religion taught me that everyone was worth absolutely everything, and within my deepest core, I believed that about myself. My mother’s feeling about me was not shared by my father, but he never did anything to rile up my mother, and that meant that he didn’t stick up for me when she was harsh with me. I do remember him saying things to me that impressed me with the opposite idea I had gotten from my mother.

Deeper depression settled on me in my twenties. I went around losing friends and not understanding why. I had always had friends. I started and lost romantic relationships and didn’t understand why they all ended the way they did. I didn’t know I was driving everyone away. At work I began to have a lot of trouble. I was a supervisor and was not managing anybody well. My employees were complaining to upper management all the time.

Meanwhile, I had begun to compile suicide plans. I had decided I needed to figure out a way out of this world that would look like a pure accident, that could not possibly be attributed to suicide. I was deeply sure that I should not involve my parents in the kind of misery that they would (or should) feel if their daughter took her own life. I had nine different plans, and I worked on one or another every night after work to make sure it was foolproof and absolutely accidental looking.

The day came when several more things had happened that tipped me over the edge and I decided I had to use one of the plans. I couldn’t bear the pain of existence any longer. But as I put the plan into effect, something odd happened. I heard a voice in my head shouting at me. Shouting! “You have another choice!” I stopped just in time.

The voice seemed to continue. It reminded me of my brother’s choice to go to counseling. It reminded me that my best friend had been recently telling me about going to counseling. It told me what I should have known all along, that attempts at suicide are always a cry for help; that help was available in this world; that there was no need to leave this world to get help.

My first counselor was the best. She turned the world upside down and inside out within a couple of weeks. I drove away thinking, “This is not the same planet I thought I was living on all these years. Wow.” I learned that the worldview of my mother was not real. That the worldview of my father was adapted to my mother’s problems. That I was independent of them both.

It wasn’t easy to throw off decades of conditioning. It took me years to break the bad habits in my thought processes, but I was determined that if the real worldview held actual happiness, and it does, I would continue to try to make it normal for me. I learned what my depression triggers are, and I learned that my cycles of depression got shorter in duration and longer between times that they came, until sometimes it was ten years between bouts, and then the battle lasted sometimes only an hour or two until I was all right again.

I have had to battle more frequently after my father died and my mother has had to live with me. Having her become increasingly helpless and yet at the beginning still with her broken view of how I should behave was hard. Being consistently kind to her despite her sometimes cruel treatment of me was a challenge at first. I got through it though, because I simply decided to tell her directly what constituted healthy emotional reactions to things and how I would behave. She did not accept it for herself, but to her credit, she accepted what I said for me. A blessing has been her loss of memory. She no longer remembers what she did not like about me! She is actually a sweet person at her core, despite her pain that made her behave badly earlier in life. Now she remembers only a little, and she is easy to deal with (and I do realize how very, very fortunate I am that this is the case).

Obviously I’m describing a kind of depression that in my case isn’t chemical. I don’t have to take medicine. For people who need medicine, I say, Take it! It’s so worth it to feel good. If you need counseling, go! If you are suffering from mental and emotional pain, get help!

The real world isn’t free from pain, but it does have absolute happiness in it too, and it is worth every struggle to get to this place where you can feel good and you can endure times of pain and trial and struggle in the knowledge that joy will reappear and that love inside yourself is the truest and best thing you can feel, because you are worth everything.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jane Austen as Sleuth

Mystery writer Stephanie Barron did a brilliant job of creating Jane Austen in the role of sleuth in her thirteen-book series spanning the years of Jane Austen’s life from her residence in Bath to nearly the end (the latest book is set at the close of the year before Jane Austen became ill and could do no more writing). Not only has Ms. Barron memorized every detail of Jane Austen’s life from 1801 to its untimely end, she apparently spent a great deal of time with every letter written by Jane Austen, every contemporary letter that mentions her, every account of her life by contemporaries (nieces and nephews who were contemporaries at least of her latest years and who would have had access to her sister’s and brothers’ memories). The level of attention to detail is simply amazing.

Ms. Barron’s attention to style, syntax, vocabulary and usage, and overall intelligence and wit in creating the character is spot on. It feels like reading about the real Jane Austen, mostly. Obviously the anachronism is the murder mystery, which admittedly can be a big distraction to maintaining the tone, but it does not overwhelm and throw the reader firmly back into reality. As a reader you feel you are in Austen’s world.

I’ve just reread the first three books this week and was struck again by how very good they are. Stephanie Barron has not fallen into any of the obvious mistakes other authors use with Jane Austen that I can perceive, beyond that of making Jane a sleuth, a conceit which, once one has suspended disbelief, and if one is a confirmed murder mystery addict as I am, is perfectly fun.

It helps that Ms Barron is superb about constructing murder mystery plots, employing red herrings to terrific effect, and being creative about the use of Austen-typical genre elements so that the element of surprise is consistent.

If you haven’t read the books and don’t want to read spoilers, stop here and go read the books. You will enjoy yourself, I promise!

I found it interesting in the first mystery, The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, that although I knew the name and character of Lord Harold Trowbridge very well, his function as a major red herring in that book remained partly intact, as I did not remember over the twenty years between readings exactly what role he played in the solution. I had forgotten completely who was the murderer and only figured it out in the latter half, even knowing Lord Harold was not in the running, which I think is a testament to the author’s skill at hiding clues. (I refuse, of course, to entertain the idea that I’m stupid about these things!)

Lord Harold’s involvement in the second book, Jane and the Man of the Cloth, was not necessary, of course, to the intrinsic story in that book, appearing on the beach at the very end as he does, but he has to be there because of the later books. The story arc that spans seven or eight of the books demands the presence of Lord Harold, as he turns out to be the tragic love of Jane’s life. One thing wrong with that other author’s Jane-Austen-romance was that it ended pathetically with a parting that had nothing of noble tragedy in it. Barron quite correctly gives Jane a high tragedy, almost Shakespearean. But in the second book there is no romance between the two. Instead, their relationship is forwarded by Lord Harold’s observation that Jane’s sleuthing skills are formidable enough that he jokes she will be right behind him in the next case and he’ll have to hire her. She retorts that he will more likely trip over her foot not looking for her to be in front of him. It’s a witty enough exchange, with just a whiff of feminist ideology, not enough to form an anachronism, but enough for piquancy.

The third mystery, Jane and the Wandering Eye, is much more complicated than the first two, and it is a terrific story.

The painter Thomas Lawrence, notorious for his affairs, in this book dallies with an actress named Maria Conyngham (a fictional character; not the real Maria Conyngham whom Lawrence painted in the 1820s—and here I’ll stop remarking on what is actual history and what isn’t, and who is fictional and who is real but acting fictionally).

In this story Maria Conyngham, with her actor brother Hugh, was brought up in the family of the famous actress Sarah Siddons. Sarah’s daughters Maria and Sally were both in love with Lawrence, and he dallied with each at different times. Maria was a fiery character, and Lawrence painted her eye portrait (literally, a small portrait of one eye only, a fashionable object in those days) and gave it to her mother when Maria died of consumption at the age of 18. Sally died of consumption not very long later, about a year before the action of the book.

So, when the novel opens at a fancy-dress Christmas party held in the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough’s Bath residence at Laura Place, at which Jane Austen and her brother Henry and sister-in-law Eliza are present, the actor Hugh Conyngham provides an entertainment of one of MacBeth’s speeches. During the speech, a murder happens in the room behind, and the doors are thrown open to reveal the Dowager Duchess’s grandson, Simon, Lord Kinsfell, standing with a bloody knife over the corpse of the theater manager, Richard Portal. Maria Conyngham stages a grief-stricken scene over the body, and Jane notes everything, except what she hadn’t seen, which was that Kinny took the eye portrait, which had been lying on top of the body when he discovered it, and secreted it in his waistcoat. He thinks it might have been of his sister, Desdemona.

When Lord Harold Trowbridge, son of the Dowager Duchess, shows up and asks Jane to help him solve the crime and clear his nephew, of course she agrees, much to the growing consternation of her family, who cannot understand and cannot be told exactly why Jane is so much in the company of this man. Jane had actually been acting for him anyway, keeping an eye on his niece, Desdemona, who had fled London to avoid an unwelcome suitor, the Earl of Swithin.

Swithin provides a great red herring by playing the role of villainous suitor, but you realize pretty quickly that the lady doth protest too much and actually likes him, and in the end he turns out to have saved his family’s reputation and fortune and thus provides a good plot twist at an important point.

Swithin’s chief rival for Desdemona is Colonel Easton, a military man who has nothing military to do at the moment, so he pursues Desdemona to rile up Swithin, whom he had thought was attracted to Maria Conyngham, so they had had a duel and Swithin wounded Easton in the right arm. Easton goes about wearing a sling for most of the book, but at the end Lord Harold forces him to reveal that his right arm is just fine, thanks, and that he has been shamming. In fact, he was the murderer.

The victim was supposed to have been the painter, Lawrence, and the main motive for Easton, jealousy over Maria Conyngham (she was having an affair with Easton as well as having had an affair with Lawrence). Maria Conyngham and her brother Hugh were both in on the plot for their own revenge; Maria because Lawrence ended their affair when he heard about Sally Siddons’s death, and Hugh because he had been in love with Maria Siddons and Lawrence had taken her away from him. Maria C wrote a note to Lawrence to tell him to meet her in the anteroom at the exact time that Hugh was speaking his MacBeth lines. Easton was supposed to appear at that point and kill Lawrence.

The problem was that the ball was fancy dress, and both Lawrence and Richard Portal were dressed in Harlequin costumes, Lawrence in red and black diamonds, and Portal in white and black. Portal had got into the anteroom first by accident, and Maria, seeing him there, left, just at the moment Lawrence entered the room and saw both Portal on the sofa asleep and Maria leaving through the secret passageway. He assumed Maria no longer wanted to talk to him and left too. And when Easton arrived immediately after, he didn’t realize there were two Harlequin costumes and killed the man in the room.

Easton tried to implicate his enemy Swithin, whose family’s device of a snarling tiger on a brooch Easton had obtained and dropped in the passageway between rooms, and whose wounding of him had been the final straw in his dislike.

The author uses symbolism to good effect in the book, especially in the scene where Jane and Lord Harold walk into the Labyrinth in Sydney Gardens. That Jane knows the way yet allows Lord Harold to take the lead is interesting, and when they take a wrong turn, Jane knows how to direct them going the right way again. But she allows Lord Harold to get them to the heart of the Labyrinth after all. And that is where the author ends that scene, with them needing to get out again. This goes well beyond this book to the multiple book story arc. It prefigures what will happen to the pair next.

Eyes, and the ability to see or not, and disguises are motifs that come up frequently, particularly with reference to people’s feelings. The “stormy” eye portrait starts the issue, but the fact of most people at the initial party wearing eye masks as part of their costumes is used to good effect when it is Desdemona of all the party goers who wears no mask and yet is masking her true feelings through much of the story. Jane’s ability to “read” Lord Harold increases throughout the novel, even when he tries to keep his expression unreadable. That very attempt at blankness is transparent to Jane’s eyes by the end. She knows the ubiquitous Maria Conyngham has managed to hurt him in spite of his earlier assurances that he cannot be affected.

Speaking of Maria Conyngham, as Lord Harold says to Jane: “It is a dreadful presumption to serve in judgement on one’s fellow men. It is to play a little at God—and though I have been accused of such a score of times before, I only now admit to approaching it.”


As I have read each book in the series, I have added it here. These reviews are intended to be read only by people who have finished reading the books, unless you are willing to learn all the solutions now!

In the fourth mystery, Jane and the Genius of the Place, Stephanie Barron has written a novel of manners interspersed with episodes of murder mystery and detection efforts. The book has a lot to say about how to behave in polite society, with Françoise Grey, the murder victim, exhibiting outrageous behavior at the Canterbury Race meeting, to the entertainment of the party of Austen ladies. They discuss her behavior inside and out through the rest of the novel, with plenty of commentary on propriety and the lack thereof, and what it might mean about her life, and the implications for the younger Austens.

That opening scene constitutes all the clues the reader gets until more than halfway through the book. If the reader did not pick up on the clues at the outset, put them together with the title, and come up with the identity of the murderer (but not the name) right then, well, the reader would be out of luck until chapter 11, when the culprit reappears and is given a name at last, but he’s been away so long you probably have forgotten all about him and don’t connect him with the mysterious man at that opening scene.

The murder mystery is a tricky problem, the solution involving the Napoleonic wars, the money financing the war and specifically the proposed invasion of England, as well as gambling, blackmail, and the role of gossip in wartime in an area likely to be invaded by the enemy. This allows the author to unfold a few twists at the end, just to keep the inattentive reader guessing who actually did the foul murder.

But I have a few complaints to make about this entry in the series, as I think these problems make this story unnecessarily weak.

How thick was that veil? How could Henry Austen discern the color of the eyes of the wearer of the veil, and yet not realize it wasn’t a lady wearing it? How closely did the murderer resemble his victim? She was supposed to be beautiful. Very few men in a wig without makeup would be beautiful like a woman. Think of the pictures you’ve seen of Jackie Kennedy at the funeral of the late President. That’s what a beautiful woman looks like wearing a black veil. You could see her features pretty clearly. And this veil that the murderer wore was described as black illusion net, which makes seeing the features, even eye color, possible. Had it been a thicker kind to disguise his features, nobody could have see the eye color.

How could he have passed his form off as that of a shapely woman? Simply donning her riding habit over his own clothes does not change his shape to hers, and he was described as slender. He should have had to wear some padding to make the disguise effective. And a thicker veil.

After the race, he returns to Mrs Grey’s phaeton, which is nearly next to the Austens’ barouche, and they watch all the action, yet none of them realize this not Mrs Grey. In a Shakespeare play where you suspend disbelief for all the conventions of men and women disguising themselves as one another, this all works. But here it does not. Not for me.

Having the governess recognize his riding posture from a long distance when he was only a spot of red color seemed a reach, especially when later he was next to them, dismounting and climbing into Mrs Grey’s phaeton and driving away. That’s when the author should have had the governess recognize his disguise. And then she should have made a noise and fainted, or something. And then he could have murdered her next to keep her quiet. No, we can’t have that, because the historical Anne Sharpe wasn’t a murder victim. At the very least, she should have been looking carefully at him to make sure that her long-distance recognition was true. Maybe she did that; we don’t get a lot of information about her actions at this point, we only know that she faints when the dead body spills out of Collingforth’s carriage.

I’m not sure I believe the characterization of the governess, Anne Sharpe. It doesn’t seem consistent. Because Anne Sharpe had felt all the force of an intimate betrayal by Julian Sothey at the point when Mrs Grey hit him with her whip before the race, I’d have expected her to be unable to continue to attend to the needs of Fanny Austen just minutes later, as if nothing had happened. Anne Sharpe seems to have extraordinary strength of mind in her ability to act, based on the next few pieces of information about her. But when the race begins and the governess recognizes Sothey in disguise as Mrs Grey, she begins to go to pieces. Why should she, if she was able to exercise such self-command at the point of the betrayal? She doesn’t know yet that he’s done anything but have a relationship with Mrs Grey. His wearing the riding habit and riding her horse would be a puzzle, but not a further shock. Having Anne faint when the dead body of Mrs Grey appears is fitting, as then the shock of murder is added in her mind to the betrayal. But a few minutes later than this, she is back to behaving with extraordinary self-control, suggesting to Fanny that they read riddles together while waiting for the gentlemen to process the murder scene. Then she again goes to pieces, pleading headache and illness. Through the rest of the novel, she behaves as a weak sort of woman, under considerable strain and not holding up well. Jane is forever suggesting she rest more, until Anne Sharpe’s behavior finally suggests suspicion to Jane’s mind.

The history of the romance between Anne Sharpe and Julian Sothey would have been better had the author not introduced that scene at the end when he bursts upon them near the front door of the house at 2 a.m., and exclaims, “You see before you, Anne, a heart now more your own than when you nearly broke it a few days ago!” Really? I can barely forgive author Stephanie Barron for stealing and adapting this line from Jane Austen’s Persuasion character Captain Frederick Wentworth, whose use was both heartfelt and accurate, since the time period he and his beloved had been parted was more than eight years, and thus there was logic to acknowledging the strengthening of his feeling despite his initial heartbreak, whereas Sothey neither suffers heartbreak nor endures pain for any significant length of time. It’s farcical, and I hate the imputation that such a bitterly laughable scene led to such an elevated scene in Jane Austen’s mind.

Jane Austen as sleuth suffers from lack of insight in this story. She sees right through Emilius Finch-Hatton (she does not believe his assertion that he and Lord Harold Trowbridge are intimate friends, though they are obviously acquainted), but she completely believes everything Julian Sothey says. This is not like our Jane. But perhaps we have to give her some latitude. Finch-Hatton betrayed himself with an incongruous statement right off. Sothey was a superb actor and we can allow Jane to be human enough not to be able to see through everybody.

I was disappointed through much of the novel that we were not to see and enjoy the company of Lord Harold Trowbridge. But he appears at the very end, climbing the hill to the little temple where Jane has been writing. Jane had gone to Goodnestone Farm at the close of the climactic scene where all was revealed, and she is back at Godmersham after a week. Jane writes that she has refused the expected proposal from Edward Bridges, as did Cassandra before her, and thus we assume that like Cassandra, Jane had to leave Goodnestone as soon as that proposal was refused. Anyway, Lord Harold comes. He and Jane exchange two speeches and walk off arm in arm.

Not totally satisfying, but it will have to do until the next book.


“Jane and the Spoils of Stoneleigh”
Time: 6 Aug 1806
Place: Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire

In a brilliant short story that extols the virtue of not neglecting Gothic novels in one’s reading of Great Literature, Stephanie Barron has her sleuth prove that the solution to a dusty old murder starts with great familiarity with Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, progresses to Cowper’s poetry and ends in an adaptation of Shakespeare, specifically Julius Caesar.

The solution means that historical figures have to be turned into murderers. Historical facts are that Jane Austen’s mother was a Leigh, and her first cousin Thomas Leigh aspired to inherit Stoneleigh Abbey under the complex terms of the will of the 5th Baron Leigh (of the first creation), Edward, who died in 1786 after having been declared insane in 1774 and consigned to the guardianship of his uncle and his sister. Twenty years later, in 1806, when Edward’s sister Mary died, various members of the Leigh family came out of the woodwork to claim the Abbey, Mad Baron Edward having died childless. Besides Thomas Leigh, another cousin named James-Henry Leigh also had a claim, he having descended from an older brother than Thomas Leigh. But Mad Edward’s will used the phrase “first and nearest” which Thomas interpreted to mean the eldest male living, himself, rather than following strict male primogeniture. So Thomas got the Abbey during his life, but James-Henry got both the Abbey and later a title as 1st Baron Leigh (of the second creation).

Is that complex enough for you? Author Barron uses these facts to construct a gothic tale well worthy of Jane Austen.

This story makes mad Edward a reputed murderer of his fiancée, Lucinda Carmichael, in 1774. This act led to his being declared insane and put under the guardianship of his sister, Mary. However, by decoding the quotes from the works of Radcliffe, Cowper, and Shakespeare, Jane and the family party discover that it was Mary who strangled Lucinda and put her body in the snow on the riverbank and sent her sensitive brother to find her. Mary wanted the Abbey for herself and decided that no heir after her would be able to claim it without the original Elizabethan-era deeds (the “Spoils of Stoneleigh”), so she created a treasure hunt with literary clues and her own diary confession hidden in a secret compartment in her tomb.

Excellent madness and horror in this tale would surely have pleased the “Fright for Fun” crowd of Jane Austen’s day.


In her fifth novel, Jane and the Stillroom Maid, Jane Austen solves a wide-open bloodbath in the crags of Derbyshire, unlike the locked-room variations of her first, third, and fourth novels. Spoilers ahead, so beware!

Tess, the eponymous stillroom maid, has a penchant for learning secrets along with dispensing her medicines. She knows that Andrew Danforth wants his brother’s lands and position; she helps by murdering Charles Danforth’s three children and his wife and has begun to poison Charles himself with arsenic. She thinks Andrew will marry her and she will be the lady of the manor. She also has had ambitions of becoming a surgeon and had roped the local blacksmith-surgeon, Michael Tivey, into helping her by allowing her to share in his nocturnal anatomisations (autopsies) of recently-dead corpses. She’s used to wandering around in men’s clothing, as that way she can more safely meet Tivey wherever necessary. It helps her in her secret meetings with Andrew as well.

But Andrew realizes that she’s become a liability, and since he wants to marry the Duke of Devonshire’s daughter, Lady Harriet Cavendish, he summons Tess to meet him in the crags above Miller’s Dale, and there he lies in wait, and he shoots her when she arrives. Michael Tivey finds her body and cuts it up in a semi-ritualistic way to throw the blame on the Masons who have rejected his application to join.

The next day Jane Austen comes across the body while her cousin the Rev. Edward Cooper (who has brought Jane, her sister and her mother to Bakewell in Derbyshire) and his friend George Hemming are fishing, and she is taking a walk to pass the time.

The only fish running in this tale are the red herrings! Lots of people are suspected of parts of the crime, and the crime turns out to be a series of crimes, committed by several people. It’s a properly convoluted and satisfyingly surprising tale as it unfolds.

Solicitor George Hemming confesses to the crime to keep the Danforths (his clients) from suspicion, but they are suspected anyway. George Hemming, it turns out, is Andrew’s natural father, so Andrew, who was supposed to be Charles’s younger half brother by a second wife, is not blood kin to Charles after all and couldn’t inherit if it were known.

Charles, weighed down with grief for his children and wife, is so silent and morose as to make the common people think that he is the guilty party. He has no alibi for the time of Tess’s murder, and he is suspected of having done away with his children and wife himself so that he could inherit her fortune and be eligible to court and marry Lady Harriet Cavendish. Michael Tivey incites a mob to lynch him, and Charles is narrowly saved by Jane and Lord Harold Trowbridge, along with members of the Cavendish party from Chatsworth. But later, Charles confesses to killing Tess to save Andrew, whom he believes killed Tess in revenge for her killing his family. In the end, Andrew shoots Charles at the site where Tess was killed.

Over at Chatsworth, Jane meets Lady Harriet Cavendish’s younger brother, Lord Hartington, the heir to the Dukedom, a volatile-tempered boy of fifteen who suffers from partial deafness and is surly to all. He hates Tess. Since Hart rides around at all hours and is suffering greatly from grief over his mother’s death, he is a suspect, if not of the gunshot, then of the mutilation. It turns out that Tess had been dosing him to cure his deafness, and of course there was no change, and Hart discovered after a few months that Tess was selling all sorts of things to someone who dosed his mother before her death. Did his mother die from Tess’s potions?

Lady Elizabeth Foster, the late Duchess of Devonshire’s best friend (and the Duke’s mistress), has been buying potions from Tess for all sorts of problems, and all the potions seem to contain increasing amounts of morphia. Did she help the death of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire? Hart thinks so, and it is strongly hinted that this lady is ruthlessly ambitious to take over the late Duchess’s place at Chatsworth, even to the point of publicly usurping Lady Harriet’s place in the usual order of precedence in the household. Did she somehow do away with Tess as well, as Tess was by then well known for blackmail?

Meanwhile, a strong thread running through this novel is that of the gradual descent of Jane Austen into despair. She tips gently over the precipice from friendship into unrequited love for Lord Harold Trowbridge in the course of the novel, never admitting it outright but employing the contrast between her happiness at being with him as they cover the ground of the crimes for several hours one day, and her heartbreak in the closing scene as Jane enters the carriage to be borne away from him. Her devastation is skillfully and subtly expressed: “But it was a considerable period before I could utter a word, or appear sensible to my mother’s cries of delight as the carriage slipped south with the autumn leaves; and of Mr. Cooper’s voice lifted fulsomely in hymns of praise, I heard not a syllable. The image of a silver head and a whipcord form—of one last, serious parting look—were all that filled my sight.” The symbol of the autumn leaves is the dying of her hopes, and the idea of her being struck nearly deaf and dumb is poignant in the extreme.

But because this is a series, and because Lord Harold Trowbridge has so far been in every novel, we readers have not lost hope. He must appear again. Add to that, that he has traveled into his own heartbreak in this novel, and add still further that he has allowed Jane to know not only that he had been in love with Lady Harriet Cavendish himself, but that he had realized that he was simply substituting Lady Harriet for his real loss, that of Georgiana herself, over whom he had despaired many years before. That he takes Jane so far into his confidence, and that he and Jane undergo parallel journeys on this theme gives us further reason to hope. Lord Harold is going to be free to see Jane more clearly. It is a bittersweet hope, of course, knowing as we do that Jane never married. But we still want her to have her true romance, and this novel, with its nadir at the end, must be the clearing of a path leading upward.

I loved this novel. I think it was one of the very best of the series.


Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House

In the sixth novel, Jane and her mother are living with Jane’s brother Frank and his wife Mary in Southampton, and their friend, Martha Lloyd, joins the household. Jane’s sister, Cassandra, is away visiting Godmersham. This is a tale of seamen, and it takes as an important theme what Jane would write in Persuasion as Anne Elliot attempts to cheer up the bereaved Captain James Benwick: he must rally, he must not give in to morbid thoughts; he must not read too much poetry but must include a dose of rational prose in his literary diet. In this murder mystery, these are the sorts of things the character Jane Austen wishes for the wife of the accused seaman, Louisa Seagrave, who seems to be giving in to morbid thoughts and a weak mind; Jane wishes as well that Louisa would stop taking laudanum, to which she is becoming definitely addicted. That this is a brilliant red herring adds to the delight of this tale.

The other Persuasion theme is that of how great seamen and the sea are. In this novel Jane takes the opinions expressed by Louisa Musgrave in Persuasion as her own. She rhapsodizes upon being in a boat on the water, never mind that she’s wet and freezing. But it is a powerful theme, as it underscores the innocence of the accused friend of Frank Austen.

I cannot fully admire the complex solution to the mystery, although I very much enjoyed this adventure with Jane and her family and new friends.

What happened is that Tom Seagrave, ironically called “Lucky Tom,” had the bad judgment to have eloped with a viscount’s daughter (Louisa), and years and years later when the viscount makes his will, the viscount’s greedy sister-in-law finds to her scheming delight that Louisa’s eldest boy could inherit all those lovely millions and Lady Templeton and her husband be assigned as trustees, IF Louisa’s husband were conveniently to die before the reading of the will, and then IF Louisa were to die of an overdose of opium . . . Meanwhile, Louisa has found her diminished social and economic condition is so galling as to kill her love for her husband, so she plays into her aunt’s scheme, thinking she is the one who will inherit everything if she can manage to make her husband hang for murder.

The murky part of the plot, that I didn’t understand, is how they managed to be able to arrange things: (1) the secret orders for Tom Seagrave to sail to a place in Portugal to pick up a Frenchman spying for the English (they bribed Sir Francis Farnham, a high-up in the Navy); (2) for the French ship Manon to pick up the spy first (who in France could they bribe?); (3) when the two ships meet and fight, the women’s double agent on Tom Seagrave’s ship, Lt. Chessyre, stabs the French captain and then lies and says Tom Seagrave murdered the captain. Then they kill Lt. Chessyre.

Lady Templeton’s plot hinges upon the timing of loosely connected events that seemed pretty improbable to me: the Viscount had to be known to be dying before Lady Templeton could bribe Sir Francis F to send Tom Seagrave on his voyage to Portugal. The French ship had to be successful in picking up the spy before Tom got there so that they would fight. Then the Viscount couldn’t die until Tom got back and was accused of murder, which took weeks. But then he had to die before Tom could be convicted and hung for the crime. Then Tom had to be convicted and hung before the will could be read a few days to a week after the Viscount’s death, which of course didn’t happen because the French spy-wildcard turned up. According to the scheme, as soon as Tom was dead, Louisa then had to die of an overdose of laudanum without suspecting Lady Templeton’s motives in giving her more. The timing is so tight and the variables so loose that I can’t believe in it. And I still don’t know how they arranged to have the French ship pick up the spy first.

The wild card in the unraveling of events is that the French spy shoots and kills the French captain, the only person who knows his identity. Chessyre takes the sword and stabs the captain after death, not knowing he was shot. The French spy, who is the eponymous prisoner of Wool House, gives Jane and Frank and Mr Hill, the surgeon Jane helps to nurse the French prisoners, this key to the mystery.

I did like how the detection fared, and I liked the way Jane related to her family, the family of the accused, and to the French prisoners held in Wool House, especially the French surgeon. However, her ironical wit seems to be suffering from absence.

Speaking of absence, Lord Harold Trowbridge has nothing at all to do with the story, except to rate a mention now and then by Jane’s mother in verbal jabs at his failure to ask for Jane’s hand, and by Jane, who thinks of him with regret, but who exercises her own advice on not giving in to depressing thoughts.


Jane and the Ghosts of Netley

Here in Jane Austen’s seventh novel-length adventure, the love story arc stretching from the first book finds its tragic climax, but along the way, Jane Austen regains her wit. Readers all know that there is no hope that this romance can end happily, but we have had hope that there would be happiness along the way. Stephanie Barron has provided us with a tale that walks along a tense line dividing happiness and grief.

I’m not sure how to take the abrupt, close to shocking proposal scene early in the novel when Lord Harold takes Jane out in his closed carriage for a conference on strategy and yet acknowledges what Jane’s mother has broadly hinted, that his actions have compromised Jane’s reputation and that in shallow society’s eyes, he “owes” her a proposal of marriage. Jane herself is distressed by his bluntness and the absence of any hint of love in the exchange. It is the same thing she has rejected twice over: the business of trading herself to satisfy societal expectations. She turns aside the proposal with a bitter joke and they land in a surprising discussion of her writing. Thus the mock proposal turns into the first time when Jane finally shares with him what is truly important to her, who and what she is at the core. The entire scene is full of tension in that we readers are pretty sure they both wish for the romance, but Lord Harold still holds back, and Jane, true to her character, will not be the one to take the initiative, lest she be proven a fool.

Jane cannot wholly believe that Lord Harold means herself when, less than halfway through the book, he says to her, “My dear Jane . . . if you have not understood, by this time, that I love but one woman in the world—then we have nothing further to say”—which should have been clear, but it is not clear because Lord Harold has a fatal flaw of not actually being able to judge people clearly. No greater example is there than his flawed judgment of women, as Jane well knows. He falls prey to pretty and scheming women time and again, as he admits to Jane in this novel. She knows he prefers physical beauty, and she is no beauty. She knows the world he belongs to values money, class, position, power; all the things she lacks.

Apparently he has at last figured out that Jane’s intrinsic worth is more than all the world’s values, but even so, we and Jane are tormented right to the end with waiting for a direct declaration that both gives and asks for a commitment. That fatal flaw in his character cannot accept that for all her actual superiority to himself, Harold should work to deserve Jane as a wife. It is too late when he admits to how much he feels for Jane, and he realizes he should have married her before it was too late—but it is everlastingly too late.

The mystery in this novel becomes clear at the inquest into the death of the little maid that Lord Harold’s valet, Orlando, is the duplicitous culprit, and this is a second blatant instance of Lord Harold being unable to judge character rightly. He thinks because he saved Orlando’s life, Orlando is loyal to him. Because Lord Harold doesn’t believe Orlando is guilty yet, unwary readers are thrown off and may still think one of the twin brothers named da Silva is responsible. Orlando is in the pay of the French, spying and reporting, and Sophia Challoner knows it. Orlando set fire to the Itchen shipyard and slit the throat of Mr Dixon, the ship builder. He knocked down Jane and attacked Jeb Hawkins, the Bo'sun’s Mate, and stole his boat when Jeb and Jane discovered him in the tunnel under the Abbey. They weren’t able to recognize him then, so they and we were still thinking da Silva was the man in the long cloak. Lord Harold chases that long cloak into Netley Abbey, and because Harold cannot instantly adjust to his error of judgment, Orlando is able to stab him.

Thus the death of Lord Harold contains the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy: the noble hero with the fatal flaw; the affairs of governments and the peace of nations resting on the outcome of the conflict; the internal struggle of the hero against his fatal flaw (that lack of true judgment of other people), shown in his otherwise inexplicable delay in committing himself to Jane Austen; elements of the supernatural in the stories of the ghosts of Netley Abbey; elements of comedic relief in the witty exchanges among characters who interact with the brilliant Miss Austen; and finally, catharsis in the terrible suffering we know Jane undergoes.

Two women characters and the men in their circle comprise the major red herrings. The mysteries surrounding these women provide much of the rich layers of this story.

Sophia Challoner, the woman Lord Harold Trowbridge identifies to Jane as a formidable French weapon, is actually just a widow who hates him for being responsible for killing a man with whom she was in love in Portugal. Sophia is neither working for France nor for England; she works only to help Mrs. Fitzherbert get her son back to safety. Harold is wrong about Sophia, as Jane has thought, and it has been a point that threatened to divide Harold and Jane (and it is yet another instance of Lord Harold judging wrongly). Sophia decides to marry the military da Silva brother and go back to Portugal, which she feels is her home.

Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Prince of Wales’s mistress and illegal wife, is the mother of the mysterious American gentleman, Mr Ord. Mr Ord and the French-speaking religious da Silva brother, who is given the title monsignor, are intent upon getting back to America to escape their various problems in England. I’m not sure what Mr Ord was ever doing visiting England anyway. Supposedly he’s making his “Grand Tour,” but since he was destined for the priesthood, what’s the point? Well, the story needed him to come and confuse matters, and he did a very good job of that.

Jane and her household—her mother, Martha Lloyd, and her sister, Cassandra (who spends the time of this novel in Kent where her brother Edward and his family are mourning the death of his wife)—are on the point of accepting Edward’s offer of Chawton Cottage for their future home, and they will move there when the heartbreaking winter is over.

This novel is certainly one of the very best of the series.


Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy

As a genealogist, I very much enjoyed that the solution to this mystery lies in a thorough understanding of very complicated family trees and family histories. This is right up my alley, but Stephanie Barron confused me with her everlastingly clever red herrings. You see, one family tree reveals the murderer, but all are necessary to understand which ones contain duplicitous branches.

Freddy Vansittart, second son of the Earl of Holbrook, becomes the Earl after his father and then his older brother both have died. Freddy, in India, returns by ship in 1785 to England. Also on board are Lord Harold Trowbridge, Freddy’s great friend, and a French girl, Hélène de Pont-Ravel, the 18-year-old daughter of the Comte de Pont-Ravel, traveling to England to be married. She and Freddy fall in love and have an affair, and she becomes his mistress in Paris. She bears him a son within the year. When the French Revolution erupts, Freddy cannot get to them, and he sends Harold to rescue them. Harold succeeds in rescuing the boy, now age 6, but Hélène de Pont-Ravel is sent to the guillotine despite everything Harold tries to do to rescue her.

Freddy in the meantime marries a proper English lady, and they have a daughter, Imogen. Freddy’s wife is actually not all that proper—she soon ran off with a Cavalry officer and is out of the picture. Imogen grows up as Freddy’s spoiled heir.

Freddy’s son grows up in Europe, has a gentleman’s education, and comes to England as a rival heir to Imogen. They both want the estate, Stonings, and Freddy is debating what to do for each of them before he reveals to the world that Julian is his bastard heir. Freddy’s title goes by entail to the grandson of a much-older cousin. Freddy’s cousin twice removed happens to be the steward of Stonings, lame Major Spence, who has tried in vain to woo and win Imogen.

(An Aside: There are genealogical problems with Freddy’s son’s history. Julian is said (p 168) by Maria Beckford to have been educated by Henry Fox, who, because he eloped with a then-married Lady, had to live abroad. This Henry Fox is supposed to be the nephew of the great, late Whig leader Henry Fox, who died in 1774. This nephew is said to be now Lord Holland. Maybe Maria got her information wrong, but she says they engaged Julian as a tutor and he lived with them for some time, and also that her brother-in-law John Middleton had been at school with Henry Fox, so she should have had the story straight. But it doesn’t fit the facts. The late Whig leader Henry Fox was the one who eloped with Lady Caroline Lennox, who was not married before, and after she was created Baroness Holland, he was given the title of Baron as well and became Lord Holland. It is his sons and grandsons who are the successive Lords Holland. His only nephew named Henry is surnamed Fox-Strangway and was the 2nd Earl of Ilchester, who died in 1802. Second, the correspondence of Lord Harold Trowbridge seems to indicate that it was the Whig politician Charles Fox, the son of Henry and Lady Caroline, who was involved in Julian’s life and education, but only very briefly, as Charles mostly lived in England. The mistakes in the story told by Maria Beckford may have been a deliberate by the author, but if so, she failed to follow up by showing later that it was a deliberate attempt at disguising the truth about Julian Thrace for some good reason or other, and this remains looking like research errors. If it is merely the author creating a fictional nephew and family for the real Lord Holland, it is awkwardly done and a mistake altogether. But if anybody figures out how this could be explained to the author’s credit, let me know!)

Secondarily to Freddy’s family tree, we learn a bit of Lord Harold’s backstory. When he was sent to school at the tender age of 7 (1767), he became Fag to an older student named Benning who treated him abominably. In 1782 Harold wounded Benning in a duel. The wound became infected, and Benning’s father, the Viscount St. Eustace, suffered a fit at the news and died, making the hated Benning the new Viscount St. Eustace, and thus a social superior to Lord Harold, who as the second son of a duke is actually a commoner. Add to that the fact that Harold had fallen in love with Horatia, the girl betrothed to Benning, and they had an affair, making her two months’ pregnant with Harold’s child when she married St. Eustace. Her husband tortured her, and in the winter of 1783 she died in childbirth along with the baby while Harold was in India.

When Harold and Freddy meet Hélène de Pont-Ravel on the ship to England in 1785, Harold discovers she is betrothed to the widowed Viscount St. Eustace because St. Eustace, a family friend, is rich enough to bail out the Comte de Pont-Ravel. Harold at first is happy to take revenge on St Eustace and encourage Freddy. But when it comes to the point, Harold empathizes with the girl and writes in his diary that he pities the powerlessness of women like Hélène, and he goes so far as to argue with Freddy against ruining her life after all.

Harold has been working in India for Warren Hastings (Eliza de Feullide’s reputed natural father), Governor-General of Bengal, and when Edmund Burke and Harold’s friend Charles James Fox succeed in having Hastings recalled, Lord Harold returns to England with Hastings (and Freddy Vansittart). When the French Revolution gets underway in June 1791, Lord Harold is happy to work with Charles Fox to forward its aims, but soon he (and the rest of the Whig party) are appalled by the bloodthirsty revolutionaries. Harold engages Geoffrey Sidmouth to help smuggle nobles and goods out of France.

Then in the present story, Lord Harold’s Bengal chest full of his papers is stolen from Jane Austen, and Jane is not able to read more, so the next fifteen years of Harold’s life is yet to be learned.

But there are other family histories we need to understand. The most difficult is the way Jane Austen’s family was related to both the Knight family of Kent that adopted her brother Edward, and to the Hinton family of Chawton that claimed to be the legal heirs-of-body of the Knight family of Chawton; and how those two Knight families were related to one another.

First, the Knight family of Kent that adopted Edward Austen consisted of Thomas Knight and his second wife, Catherine Knatchbull. Thomas Knight’s first wife was Jane Monk; she and the Reverend George Austen (father of Jane, Edward, and all the other siblings) were both great-grandchildren of John Austen and Jane Atkins. Below is a diagram that shows these details (adapted from

Now it gets more complicated. Thomas Knight was born Thomas Brodnax, a son of William Brodnax and Anne May. Thomas changed his surname to May when he inherited his grandparents’ estate. Thomas’s mother’s cousin Frances married a man named Michael Martin; Michael’s cousin Joan married a Hinton. Michael Martin’s mother was a Knight who had inherited the Chawton estate. Michael and Frances’s daughter Elizabeth Knight inherited the Chawton estates. She married but had no children, so her will set up this very complicated legal labyrinth that allowed her mother’s cousin’s son Thomas Brodnax/May/Knight of Kent to inherit the Chawton estates, rather than allowing the other cousins the Hintons to inherit them. Here is a tree that shows more clearly how the Hinton, Martin, Knight, and Brodnax families are connected (adapted from

And finally, here is the continuation of the Hinton family, including the Baverstocks, who all feature in this convoluted tale of the impact of family connections and how they can lead to murderous impulses. (Adapted from

These people were in the process of a very complex and long-lasting lawsuit against Edward Austen Knight, hoping to prove that he was not the rightful heir to the Chawton estates. This was something of a scary thing in real life for Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister. If the Hintons were to prevail, Edward would lose all the property he owned and administered in Chawton and its environs. Fortunately, the Hintons did not eventually win; but in 1814 Edward Knight had to pay them some £15,000, of which £10,000 went to Jane Baverstock and £5,000 to John Knight Hinton. Edward paid this money by selling off timber from Chawton Wood Park. During the action of this novel, Jack Hinton and his sister were living in Chawton Lodge, opposite the Great House (Chawton Manor).

Adding to the general confusion of families, we need to keep in mind a number of the inhabitants of Chawton and Alton.

The Middleton family rents Chawton Great House (the manor) from Edward Austen. They consist at this time of the father, John-Charles, a widower whose wife’s sister Maria Beckford lives with the family as hostess; the eldest son who is away at sea; daughters Susan, Charlotte-Maria, Lucy, Charlotte-Lydia-Elizabeth; and the youngest son, Frederick-Graeme, age 6.

Mr. John-Rawston Papillon, a clergyman, was given the Chawton Living by Mrs. Knight, the stepmother of Edward Austen. Mr. Papillon and his spinster sister, Elizabeth, who keeps house for him, live in the restored old Rectory. Mrs. Austen hopes to make a match between this clergyman and one of her daughters.

The Prowtings of Chawton consist of the father, William, the county magistrate in Chawton as well as Deputy Lieutenant, his wife, and his daughters, Catherine-Ann and Ann-Mary. When Catherine comes under Jane Austen’s suspicions, it develops that this young lady has people and things to hide.

Mrs Libby Cuttle of Chawton bakes bread for the village, but she won’t sell to the Austens because she is allied to the Hintons, or maybe because she doesn’t like the way Edward Austen treated the Widow Seward.

Old Philmore owns some run-down cottages in one of which lives Miss Benn, an impoverished gentlewoman, nearsighted, voluble, and easily distracted. The Philmores and the Frenches are numerous in the area and are working class. Important to our story are Shafto French, the corpse; Shafto’s wife; Bertie Philmore, who fought with Shafto and spends most of the story in jail for his murder; and Old Philmore, Bertie’s uncle, who with Bertie broke into Chawton Cottage and stole Jane Austen’s Bengal chest that Lord Harold bequeathed to her, full of his letters, diaries, and other papers.

The Widow Seward is the former inhabitant of Chawton Cottage, and she has gone to live with her daughter, now Mrs. James Baverstock, who is related to the whole Hinton-Knight mess, in Alton, within walking distance of Chawton. The Baverstocks have a brewery.

Sally Mitchell, the maid the Prowtings find for the Austens, comes from Alton. Her older brother is married to Nell, whose sister Rosie is married to Bertie Philmore.

Also in Alton are Henry Austen’s bank branch, Austen, Gray & Vincent, and the house that Frank Austen’s wife Mary has rented, Rose Cottage in Lenton Street.

Now that you know all the Who, you can figure out the why and how! I think this novel is excellently constructed (with that one exception), with Freddy’s identity as Lord Holbrook withheld until the very end, when what Jane has been reading among Lord Harold’s papers becomes crucial to understanding the present mystery. It is also entertaining to read the exchange between Freddy and Jane when she reveals to him who she is in relation to his old friend:
     “Harry’s papers?” The Earl glanced at me in a startled fashion. “Thought he left them to some light o’ love by way of payment for services rendered. Heard it from Wilborough myself. Poor old fellow expects to be petitioned with blackmail at every moment. Dashed odd of Harry, my opinion! Must have been devilish smitten with the gel.”
     “Lord Harold left all his papers to me,” I replied with what I thought was commendable command of countenance. The Earl’s expression of shock was so blatant as to border on the insulting.