Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Title:  Neverwhere

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Paperback: 400 pages

Date Published:  1996

Publisher:  Harper Torch (div of HarperCollins)

ISBN:  9780380789016

“So what are you after?”  Richard asked Hunter.  The three of them were walking, with extreme care, along the bank of an underground river.  The bank was slippery, a narrow path along dark rock and sharp masonry.  Richard watched with respect as the gray water rushed and tumbled, within arm’s reach.  This was not the kind of river you fell into and got out of again; it was the other kind.

“After?”

“Well,” he said.  “Personally, I’m trying to get back to the real London, and my old life.  Door wants to find out who killed her family.  What are you after?”  They edged along the bank, a step at a time, Hunter in the lead.  She said nothing in reply.  The river slowed and fed into a small underground lake.  They walked beside the water, their lamps reflecting in the black surface, their reflections smudged by the river mist.  “So what is it?”  asked Richard.  He did not expect any kind of answer.

Hunter’s voice was quiet and intense.  She did not break her step as she spoke.  “I fought in the sewers beneath New York with the great blind white alligator-king.  He was thirty feet long, fat from sewage and fierce in battle.  And I bested him, and I killed him.  His eyes were like huge pearls in the darkness.”  Her strangely accented voice echoed in the underground, twined in the mist, in the night beneath the Earth.

“…And I shall slay the Beast of London.  They say his hide bristles with swords and spears and knives stuck in him by those who have tried and failed.  His tusks are razors, and his hooves are thunderbolts.  I will kill him, or I will die in the attempt.”

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, pages 226-227

Meet Richard, Richard Mayhew… Dick.  Mild-mannered, Scottish born, hard-working London resident and all-around nice guy.  Richard is affianced to the eager, forward-thinking and career-driven (read:  controlling and pushy) Jessica who sees Richard as a project:  lots of potential, but also lot of work.  Richard’s life is dull, he has no family, and Gary, his co-worker, is his only friend… other than Jess… I mean Jessica.

Then, as he and Jessica are on the way to dinner with her boss, they come upon a strange girl, hurt and bleeding, in need of help.  Richard is compelled to help the girl, to which Jessica gives him an ultimatum:  Either he leaves the girl for someone else to help, or he can consider their engagement over.  Richard has no choice BUT to help and leave Jessica to dine with her employer alone.

However, in helping the girl, whose name is Door, he quickly finds his life is turned upside down, literally.  Suddenly, he no longer exists.  People don’t seem to see or hear him.  Cabs won’t stop for him.  Even the people in his office don’t know him and his desk and all his cubicle’s contents are gone.  Bewildered and feeling alone, he returns to his apartment to take a bath, only to be surprised by his landlord showing his place to a couple looking to rent.  He is forced to return to London Below to find Door and to find a way to get his life back.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is like Alice in Wonderland meets Grimms Fairy Tales, with a bit of Wizard of Oz and an ending reminiscent of El Dorado.  London Below is like a walk through history.  Every thing and everyone who has slipped through the cracks and has been lost, overlooked, and forgotten can be found in London Below.  Creatures lurk in the sewers and under subway platforms, and everyone is dangerous. 

Neverwhere is an urban fairy tale, with the teeth to scare you and fill your inner child with wonder.  I really enjoy Gaiman’s writing style, as well as his ability to weave a magical web of a story that draws you in and keeps you entranced.  When it was exciting and intriguing, I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what happened next.  And when it wasn’t being scary, I didn’t wantto put the book down because I was enraptured by the story itself.  The idea that somewhere Roman soldiers who deserted are huddled around a campfire, telling dirty jokes in Latin.

With Neverwhere, Gaiman flexes his imaginative muscles, but it’s more than just a fantasy book.  It has  a mystery to solve, both Richard and Door mature through their adventures, and prejudices have to be overcome if they want to survive.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a well-crafted story and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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Ever wonder where Gaiman gets his story ideas? In this vid clip, he reveals his source 🙂

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Title:  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author:  Winifred Watson

Paperback:  234 pages

Publisher:  Persephone Books Ltd

Publish Date:  2008

ISBN:  9781906462024

…She must state her errand and go.  She must give up her position of equality as Miss LaFosse’s ally and take her correct one of humble applicant for a job, which she felt in her bones she would never get.

She knew too much about the private affairs of Miss LaFosse.  Miss Pettigrew had endured many hard knocks from human nature and understood how intolerable to a mistress such a situation would be.  She felt a hopeless, bitter unhappiness invade her.  But there was nothing she could do.  She must at last get her presence explained and end this wonderful adventure.

She couldn’t bear to do it.  She had never in her life before wanted more to stay in any place.  She felt she couldn’t endure to leave this happy, careless atmosphere… where some one was kind to her and thought her wonderful…  She felt the tears of loneliness and exclusion sting her eyes.

… Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her here, to see for one day how life could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew lived.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, pages 52-53

I have not enjoyed reading a book as much as I did reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson since my last Stephanie Plum book!  I literally laughed out loud in several spots, and wore a silly grin of delicious pleasure throughout most of the book. 

There was something about Miss Pettigrew, weird as this sounds, that reminded me of Amelia Bedelia.  Perhaps it’s that both characters are domestics, Amelia being a maid and Miss Pettigrew a governess, and both have a charming simplicity about them.  Both characters are not very bright nor skilled in their professions, yet they are greatly cherished by both their employers and readers alike.  Both are unfamiliar with the slang phraseology used (it has never left my memory when Amelia was asked to “draw the curtains” she pulled out paper and pen), and seem to be out of a different era altogether from the rest of the characters in their worlds.

Miss Pettigrew had spent all but the last ten years of her life in the northern, more provincial areas of England before moving to London.  The forty-year-old spinster is the daughter of a clergyman, has lived a virtuous life, has never tasted alcohol nor worn make-up, and has never been flirted with, kissed, or otherwise known the affections of a man.  When she arrives at Miss LaFosse’s door, she is there to apply for a position of governess, painfully aware that if she does not get the job, she will be homeless and will be forced to go to the workhouse.

However, it is quickly apparent that the starlet LaFosse not only doesn’t have any children, but is the antithesis of everything Miss Pettigrew has ever been or known.  In the span of a few hours, she observes her would-be employer physically amorous with three different men and LaFosse tells her of even more men who have professed love for her.

LaFosse invites Pettigrew into her exciting world of glamor, flirtations, vices, night clubs and parties, and all sorts of naughtiness, as her friend and equal.  Miss Pettigrew is led away from her “dowdy, spinster governess” self like a daughter of Hamlin and LaFosse the pied-piper, and decides that if she could just have this life of the other half for just one day, the memories of that day could carry her through all the bad remaining in her life.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not only a fun little tale the adventures of a woman who finally decides to LIVE, it is also a peak into a past era.  Set in the mid to late 30s, the reader is treated to a fascinating glimpse of the society of women in a time when “talkies” are a new, exciting thing and telegrams are still sent, when Vaudeville acts and stage performers were on equal ground with film stars, and where the “upstairs-downstairs” mentality still abounded along with the old families-versus-new money tiffs, though social mindsets were beginning to change.

I cannot say that this book was profound or changed me, if all books were like that I’d probably stop reading, but it was a treat and a joy to escape in.  The writing isn’t hard, though some of the words are out of date and I had to look a few up (curate, “funked it,”and a Chesterfield are a few that threw me… and “cheroots?”  I divined there were something between a cigar and a cigarette given the context).

For the gift of laughter and rapturous pleasure this book brings the reader, I give Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s  a classic and now one of my favorite books 😀

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has been adapted (albeit loosely from the looks of the trailer) into a movie. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue, but I’ll probably wait a bit before getting it. Like most people, I get so frustrated and angry when Hollywood ruins a book I really love. BUT… I thought I’d include the trailer for your viewing pleasure 🙂 It does look like an equally fun movie.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Title:  Silas Marner

Author:  George Eliot

Paperback:  218 pages

Publisher:  Watermill Press

Publish Date:  1983

ISBN:  0893759961

Miscellaneous:  Mary Ann Evans was born in Warwickshire, England on November 22, 1819.  Under the name of George Eliot, she wrote several novels including Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and  Middlemarch.  George Eliot died in London on December 22, 1880.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshiped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself, but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit…  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winterflies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy.

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, or in the later afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the Stone Pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favorite  bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling “Dad-dad’s” attention continually by bringing him the flowers.  Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they might listen for the note to come again:  so that when it came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.  Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in Eppie’s little world that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory:  as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

Silas Marner by George Eliot, pages 149-151

Silas Marner by George Eliot tells the story of the socially withdrawn weaver.  Once in love and a vibrantmember of society, Silas was betrayed by his best friend, who framed him as a thief who stole church money in order to steal Marner’s fiance.  Silas leaves the land where he has always lived and moves to the southern English country communtity of Raveloe, a town that is far out of the way of the main roads and therefore has retained its simpler, pastoral beliefs and ways.

For fifteen years Silas works at his loom, usually sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, in pursuit of his only companion,  the gold guineas he receives as pay for his work, and shuns all society.  However, when he falls victim to a robbery that separates him from his 270 pounds that he had hoarded over the years, he begins a journey of reclamation and healing.  The arrival of Eppie, the gold-haired girl he, at first, mistakes as his returned gold, slowly reawakens feelings of faith, trust and love within him.

 But… can it be meant to last?

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I vaguely remember reading Silas Marner in high school as part of the advanced English Honors program.  As I read through this a second time, I remembered why.  Eliot’s language is slow and thick, at times mind-numbingly so, and some of the descriptions of the society of a bygone era drug on and on with the inane details of gowns and cows and ghosts and blah blah blah.  I found myself wishing for a good Austen novel.  And now I’m not nearly as convinced I want to crack open Middlemarch, a book at least three times the length also by Eliot.

I did, however, love the story itself.  I felt such sympathy and excitement for Silas as I followed him through all his heartaches and then as rejoiced with him as Eppie, the orphaned child who came into his life by chance, becomes the salvation of his humanity and restores all that he once lost.

A few years ago, Hollywood modernized this story in a movie starring Steve Martin as Silas.  The movie is “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and I recommend it to anyone interested in the story (don’t post hate comments for this, but I’d rather watch the movie than read the book any day!).  Of course, the movie is not a substitute for the book as an assignment for school, but could be watched AFTER you’ve read it. 😉

Obviously, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a literary classic and therefore has merit, but it’s definitely not my favorite classic.  I give Silas Marner 3 out of 5 stars.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Borders Classics
ISBN: 9781587265402

Published in 1814, Mansfield Park was Austen’s third published novel. More serious and complicated than the previous two, Mansfieldis the story of a young woman, Fanny Price, who is brought from her povertous family of 7 siblings to live with and under the care of her very wealthy aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. If young Fanny is the Mansfield heroine, then Mrs. Norris is certainly her arch nemesis, and it is this same “Mrs. Norris” that is Argus Filch’s cat’s namesake (from the Harry Potter series) .

The book begins with three grown sisters who take different paths in marriage: the eldest becomes Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park, the second marries Mr. Norris of Mansfield’s parsonage, and the third, Fanny’s mother, marries a man with little money and has 8 children in 10 years without the means to take care of them. Mrs. Norris decides that Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram and herself should take one of their youngest sister’s children off her hands, and Mrs. Norris decides it should be Mrs. Price’s eldest daughter. Of course Mrs. Norris has no intention on spending a penny on Fanny’s care, but she claims all the credit and pain for the kind rescue of her niece from skid row… and Mrs. Norris never misses an opportunity to remind Fanny where she came from and how she owes her life to the Bertrams and herself for putting forth the idea to bring her to Mansfield.

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up: how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram. I should wish to see them very good friends and would, on no account, authorise in my girls the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different…”

After her cousin Maria marries and takes her younger sister to Brighton, Fanny is the only girl left in the main at Mansfield. Having always been the shy, nervous wall-flower who never goes out, she suddenly finds herself the center of attention. She is romantically pursued by the disreputable flirt Henry Crawford. Edmund, the only person in Mansfield who has always treated with respect and love and with whom Fanny is secretly in love, is in love with Mary Crawford, Henry’s sister.
When Edmund leaves to make his living as a minister, Fanny finds herself in crisis as Henry Crawford proposes marriage. If she says yes, she betrays herself… but if she says no, she will be perceived as an ungrateful, wicked, proud and obstinate wretched girl with whom everyone will be disappointed. What can she do?

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Mansfield Park. This was my first experience with this story, having never read nor seen any movie of it. It was fantastic, and I felt the same joy and discovery I found when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I had forgotten how exquisitely Austen could put different story lines together into on main work.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like taking a walk through an expertly landscaped garden, where new and wonderful things are revealed gradually and build upon the whole, not a fast and flat snapshot.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like eating a fine meal of several courses until you nearly weep from appreciation of the culinary arts, not like a number 4 at the fast food joint.

Fanny Price is definitely not one of my favorite of Austen’s characters.  She’s too mousy, weak and put-upon.  I just wanted her to scream at them.  I wanted her to take the ice pick to Aunt Norris… but I guess that’d be a different genre.   She’s Austen’s answer to Cinderella, with a wicked aunt instead of a step-mother.  Lady Bertram is worthless as a wife, mother and person in general, doting completely on her pug.  As a mother Lady Bertram is wickedly bad; she is willing to sacrifice the happiness and future of her own children in deference to her own comfort.  It’s sickening to watch so many worthless people place themselves as superior to one of the only decent people at Mansfield.

Despite it all, horrible as it might be… I must admit that Mansfield holds one of my favorite Austen characters.  I cannot help but love Mrs. Norris as a character.  I have laughed so hard at her vexations and everytime she is foiled in her self-promoting schemes.  What’s more, Mrs. Norris is the literary twin of my grandmother, so I laugh even harder since I’ve met the woman.  Austen’s characters are my recycled relatives!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Publish date: 2003
ISBN: 1593082010

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Pride and Prejudice, or First Impressions, was first published in 1813 simply “by a lady”.  It is the story of two sisters, the one prefers to view the world through optimism, while the second with sarcasm and pleasure with her own wit and views.  While the first sister, Jane, learns by the end of the book that evil can and does exist in people, and that people can be vicious and cruel all the while wearing a pleasant face and friendly voice.  The second sister, Elizabeth, learns that all is not as it seems on the first impressions, and judgement should be reserved until more facts have come to light.

In Pride and Prejudicewe see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s family of five girls and no sons,  whose estate must fall to a male heir,  deal with concerns for their future.  Mr. Bennet prefers retreat to his study and occasionally regret not having saved for his family’s future after his death.  He is permissive of his youngest daughters’ wild and flirtatious behaviour chasing after soldiers.  He continually berates his younger three daughters in deference to the older two “sensible” daughters.  Mrs. Bennet chooses to contrive opportunities for her daughters to be alone with a potential suitor, such as sending her daughter out in the rain so she can catch a cold and be forced to stay at the suitor’s home.  She shows wanton favoritism of her silly, ill-behaved youngest daughters, making a fateful choice to send her to Brighton where the daughter makes a socially reprehensible choice that threatens to ruin the family all together.

The lesson learned in Pride and Prejudice is that appearances are not often what they seem.  Mr. Bingley’s sisters seem friendly and doting to Jane, but it is all an act, as their true feelings are that of superiority and disdain.  Mr. Wickham is attractive, affable, and pleasant, but in truth is a wicked womanizer who runs out on his debts and responsibilities.  Mr. Darcy seems cold, snobbish, proud and ill-mannered, but this is really how his shyness and fear of meeting new people, as well as his choice not to reveal the truth of his past with Wickham in order to defend Wickham’s maligning him.

I have read Pride and Prejudice before, and rereading it reminded me how much fun and funny it was.  Many of the tete a tetes between different characters are delightful: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s interactions, Elizabeth and Darcy’s verbal volleys, and best of all, Lady Catherine’s demand the Elizabeth NOT to accept a proposal from Darcy is met with the latter’s socially inexcusable refusal which leaves the Lady sputtering and hissing disdain for the entire Bennet family.

I have found that the first time I read this book, I was definately Elizabeth.  Now, about 15 years later, I am still Elizabeth Bennet.  I tend to jump to judgements, though not as quickly as before.  I am a fierce defender of my family, more now than before.  I have a sarcastic wit that I enjoy in myself, which is richer with the experiences of life and a better understanding of people.  I love and respect those who champion integrity and help the loved ones of the one one loves.  I am, however tempered with a little Jane: I do choose to believe people good until they prove themselves otherwise.

Like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice could be modernized and be just as true and socially relative as in 1813.  Parents still desire for their grown children to be successful and  happily married to a good person.  Children still die of embarrassment when out in public with their parents.  And the fiercest enemies of happiness is our own friends and family. 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

“You have no confidence in me, Marianne.”
“Nay, Elinor, this reproach from you – you who have confidence in no one!”
“Me!” returned Elinor in some confusion. “Indeed, Marianne, I have nothing to tell.”
“Nor I,” answered Marianne with energy. “We have neither of us anything to tell; you, because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing.”

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel, and, as writing wasn’t considered something a “proper” woman would do, it was released anonymously as simply “by a lady”. It was never expected by Jane or her family to do well, and they were shocked when it sold out within two years.

Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who couldn’t be more different. Elinor prefers decorum and reserve, biting her tongue and following the rules or polite society. Marianne, on the other hand, is passionate, impulsive, and speaks her mind, society be damned.

When it is revealed to Elinor in confidence that Lucy is engaged to the man Elinor loves, it is a crushing blow. She cannot relieve herself of this burden by “getting it off her chest” because she has promised Lucy to tell no one on her honor. In contrast, when Marianne discovers the man who made promises of love to her by his actions is to wed another, she falls into an uncontrollable downward spiral of depression, at one point nearly dying from the sorrow.

Both sisters approach life from different view points, both thinking the other wrong for theirs. But in the end, like most black-and-white views, they come to realize the validity of the other’s point.

What is interesting to me is that I have read this book twice in my life: the first time when I was about 21 or so, the second one now, on the precipice of 35 (my birthday is in four days). At each point in time, I have been first Marianne and now Elinor. I, like Marianne, had to learn that passion burns fast and leaves you with nothing but an empty stomach and disconnect notices. Like Marianne, I also had to learn that a handsome face that spews sweet words and then disappears like a fall-morning fog when the sun comes out cannot compare to an average man who’s not quite so eloquent but is there for the long hall and can be trusted.

The main points I think Austen was making in this book is that the society of her time was too quick to judge and condemn a woman for doing the same thing it found amusing in its men. A woman who expressed her mind was considered ill bread and of low-class, whereas a man doing the same thing went to Parliament.

Austen shows the results of society’s double standards with the dinner party at the Dashwood’s party. As the women are sitting at dinner, Austen describes the conniving thoughts behind Mrs. Ferrar’s behavior and treatment of Lucy over Elinor, whom she believes is trying to trap her son into marriage (Lucy is really the one she should worry about, yet she unwittingly encourages her in order to humilate Elinor). An argument begins over whose son is taller, Fanny’s or Lady Middleton’s, and lines are drawn, offending each other, in an attempt to gain superiority.

Ultimately, of course, love wins out, wrongs are righted, and justice is served.

Jane-A-Thon In Progress!

Jane Austen

I have finally begun my Jane-a-thon, which I’ve been dying to do for some time now. I’m putting aside ARCs, books to review and overdue library books. But such is the sacrifices I make for my obsession!

Jane Austen (1775-1817) is one of the greatest authors of all times, and possible the greatest woman author as well. She cleared the way for many others, the Brontë sisters, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolfe, and so many others. There were women writers before her, but there was something in the way that Austen wrote that proved a woman could write with a balance of logic and emotions, and that both sexes could enjoy her work. In Austen’s short life of 41 years she published a book every year or so after the 1811 publication of Sense and Sensibility.

When I was in my high school honors English reading club, I read Pride and Prejudice, and I read Sense and Sensibility after watching the Thompson-Grant movie. These two are the only Austen’s I’ve read before, never really taking notice of the others. However, a couple months ago, I thought it might be interesting to read all of them, straight through chronologically to see how Austen grew as a writer, and to get a fairer sense of the life and times of Georgian England.

The following are the Austens in chronological order:
Sense and Sensibility published in 1811
Pride and Prejudice published in 1813
Mansfield Park published in 1814
Emma published in 1816
published in 1818
Northanger Abbey published in 1818

And now… a Janing I must go!