Chawton House Reading Group Titles

The Nobleman by Isabelle de Charriere and Tales of Fancy v. 1, The Shipwreck by Sarah Burney

I recently joined the Chawton House Reading Group when it went virtual and it has been a great pleasure to meet once per month with people who love books and who also love Austen.  The group includes many people with a wide knowledge of literature and the discussions are interesting–there is always plenty to talk about.

One of the wonderful things about joining a reading group is that it introduces you to books and writers you may not have found on your own.  That is certainly true of the last two titles, The Nobleman and Tales of Fancy v.1:  The Shipwreck.  

The Nobleman (1762) is the first published work of Isabelle de Chartierre, a Dutch noblewoman who adopted the French language.  She led an unconventional life, eventually settling in Switzerland and wrote numerous additional works, including other novels, plays, and even operas. I wish she were better known, but according to the editors of the version I read, because de Cherriere defies easy categorization, she has slipped through the cracks of literary history. Perhaps the efforts of the Chawton House library to bring women authors to the fore will help her get the place she has previously been denied.

The Nobleman is a thoroughly enjoyable read for a Janeite–it is clever and witty and pokes fun at a great many things, including the family portraits.  Julie, our heroine, meets Valaincourt, her hero, but alas, he is of the “newer” nobility and therefore unacceptable to her father, who bears a more than passing resemblance to Sir Walter of Persuasion in his obsession with pedigree.  After her father discovers this fact, Julie is locked in her room to come to her senses, but never fear, love prevails, the family portraits do not, and Julie weds her Valaincourt.  Her father learns to be satisfied with the lineage of his son’s chosen wife, and the ending of the novella has the narrator laughing with the reader at the silliness of it all.  

I must  confess that I found Sarah Burney’s book much less fun.  She was more contemporary to Austen, The Shipwreck was published in 1816, but she wrote in the popular sort of overblown style of Mrs. Radcliffe, which I find less appealing.  However, the book is interesting from a hIstorical perspective, and also because Sarah was Fanny Burney’s sister and Austen mentions Sarah’s book Clarentine in a letter to Cassandra dated February 8, 1817, though she is obviously not a fan.  In The Shipwreck, Viola and her mother are shipwrecked on a deserted island where they conveniently find a trunk full of books and linens, and eventually a man and child.  The suitor is at first thought by Lady E. to be completely unsuitable, but of course, by the end of the book his true character is revealed to be stellar and he gets the girl, or she gets him, whatever.

If you are looking for something to read that is Austen-adjacent, you could do worse than giving one of these a go.

NOTE: I read the Penguin Classic version of The Nobleman shown in the image and a kindle version of The Shipwreck.

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