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  • Jane Austen Sings the Blues: Essays in Honour of Bruce Stovel
  • Jocelyn Harris (bio)
Nora Foster Stovel , editor. Jane Austen Sings the Blues: Essays in Honour of Bruce Stovel, with companion CD featuring blues performers Graham Guest and Grant Stovel, producers University of Alberta Press. 2009. 283 + CD. $26.95


As I write, the CD I found tucked inside the cover of Jane Austen Sings the Blues is playing on my computer. That title combines Bruce Stovel's enthusiasm for eighteenth-century English literature with his passion for the blues, for as Nora Stovel puts it, in Edmonton her husband 'landed in a blues brier-patch,' where he ran a blues radio program for a decade. Jazz musician Graham Guest comments, 'I can see Bruce hosting a dinner party with Jane Austen, Muddy Waters, and Howling Wolf. Muddy is saying, 'Miss Austen, I have to thank Bruce for introducing me to your novels. Now I have eternity to read them." Both Austen and the blues, says Nora Stovel, have 'a common love of life, a profound understanding of human nature, and a wicked sense of humour' - like Stovel himself. Those who attended the famous conference that Bruce Stovel and Juliet McMaster organized at Lake Louise for the Jane Austen Society of North America in 1993 are envied by those who did not.

Jane Austen Sings the Blues is a tribute volume of forty-two essays and poems. Isobel Grundy speaks for all those family members, colleagues, students, and friends remembering Bruce Stovel, who died suddenly in 2007, when she says that he was 'someone that everybody liked, that everybody trusted, that everybody was always glad to see - and that everybody had banked on seeing around for a whole lot longer.'

The Austen section contains a variety of treats, with two essays by Stovel himself displaying his gift for attentive reading. In 'Secrets, Silence, and Surprise in Pride and Prejudice,' he argues persuasively that these literary concepts 'form a single entity at the very heart of the notion of plot'; and in 'Emma's Search for a True Friend,' he concludes that the notion of friendship serves to 'crystallize the moral issues' in that novel, with Emma finding her best friend in Mr Knightley. In spite of their brevity, all the essays in the collection are just as substantial and nicely turned. Margaret Drabble goes to Kew Palace to find out about the jigsaw puzzles in Mansfield Park; Peter Sabor follows in Stovel's footsteps as he comments on Austen's prayers; Mary M. Chan explores Austen's notions of height, perception, and power in 'Insignificant Dwarves and Scotch Giants'; Laura Capello Bromling identifies Austen's 'spirit of complicity' with readers in her treatment of quixotism; and Natasha Duquette demonstrates Austen's changing use of the sublime. [End Page 312]

For the movies, Jessica Wallace discusses narrative point of view in Joe Wright's film of Pride and Prejudice; Kelly Taillefer discovers creative 'reinventions' in adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park; and Kelsey Everton shows how dancing is a visual equivalent to Austen's language. Amy Stafford reads the complexity of marriage in the novels as Austen's commentary on that institution, and Juliet McMaster writes in champagne style about the 'endlessly comparable and endlessly different' husbands to be found in Austen. In "Our Miss Austen': Women Writers Reading Jane Austen through Two Centuries,' Isobel Grundy tells how women writers were hurrying even in the 1820s to share their 'word-of-mouth discovery' of a little-known novelist. They wrote, she says, 'to pinpoint and express the meaning of their lives, and their reading was an important constituent of that meaning.' Inspired by Stovel to read Austen afresh, all these contributors appear to be doing the same.

Doug Barbour's ventriloquizing of a triumphalist Mrs Bennet and Elaine Bander's singing of Anne Elliot's blues, 'Been sittin' here, seven long years alone,' launch tributes by jazz friends, one of whom takes Stovel the Austen scholar into Sneeky Pete's, a 'dingy, dark, and not particularly inviting' blues joint, where he was just as much at home as in the classroom. Conversely, Stovel's transferable...


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