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I almost didn’t see him.

Nearly passed right by those handsome features, noble mien, and that shock of dark hair falling becomingly over his forehead.

You’d think I’d have been on the lookout. Kept my eyes peeled wide open.

I was in his house, after all.

Pemberley. Or, em, Chatsworth, which is what the place is really called. Chatsworth, not Pemberley, though it’s quite the grandest house in all of Derbyshire, and most certainly the place Jane Austen had in mind for this favourite literary hero, if the experts have it right.

Yes, there I was, at Pemberley, and I nearly missed my chance to meet Mr. Darcy because I had my eyes on the gift shop. The gift shop. Coasters and tea towels, and things like that.

But John called my name, and I swung round

and there he was.

Just waiting.

He even posed for a picture.

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But that’s not the real Mr. Darcy!” you may be muttering, or even shouting at the screen.

Well, I was at the other Mr. Darcy’s house too (Lyme Hall in Cheshire)! BBC fans, you may now breathe a sigh of relief.

Only there, I didn’t see him.

Though I did see this fair prospect . . .

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I laugh a little now.

I almost didn’t see Mr. Darcy!

And oh, doesn’t it seem just a world away.

Not only that we’re in America and can’t just pop down to England to see Elizabeth and Darcy and all our other favourites like we did when we lived in Scotland.

But even having time to think about it all. To dream.

Finding time to put two of my own thoughts together seems like a luxury these days, what with all the loving I’m blessed to pour out on my three precious little men and their daddy.

The making of tea and the making of beds. The raiding of the kitchen and the cleaning it up. The folding and folding and folding of laundry, and the trying to find the time to put it away. The potty accidents to clean up, the littlest one to pick up, and the trying to look above and through it all to find just what gifts there are in today.

But it’s worth it, I’d say.

Worth taking time for stories.

Worth taking time to be still and (with a cup of tea!) examine and consider the finer, the truly beautiful and good.

And it’s worth, most of all, taking time to be with Him.

To be with Jesus.

How many times do I race through my day with my eyes on the gift shop? On running my errands, making my phone calls, and leaving my house at least as clean as it was that morning?

But how would it be if I took more time to look for treasures along the way?

To realize there is someone far nobler, realer, and more beautiful than even Mr. Darcy?

Someone who’s not just waiting, but knocking.

Knocking at my door, knocking on my heart,

and not just to pause for a picture,

but to spend the day with me.

JEREMIAH 29:13

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

 

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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AileenDonan5

It all began with a cup of tea.

He wanted one.

And so did I.

We were the only ones.

Earlier, on that cold walk through the night to the student flat where a group of us were meeting for a DVD, there were questions about peanut butter (isn’t that what Americans eat?), and secret smiles, and I thought he must be very young.

I was in Scotland.

The world was green, and there were castles, and though I could hardly understand a word of what he said, my red-haired Scottish loon from the village on the sea,

on the pages of my journal I swore I could marry that boy.

And, more to my amazement than anyone else’s, I did.

We moved to Scotland, and life began.

It began. It didn’t end.

Not like the movies or the books, where it ends with “I do.”

No, that was the beginning.

And I went to teaching and he went to working. And meals were cooked, and floors were swept, and a baby came. And although it happened, every few months, that I’d pinch myself and wonder how little me ever ended up there, in the Highlands of Scotland, most of the time it was just life.

And while life was happening, it also happened—as it happens to us all, I think—that somewhere between the tenth time washing the dishes and the hundredth time making the bed, between the hundredth night up with a crying baby and the thousandth time wiping a toddler’s face, that I began to wonder.

I wondered if this was right.

Because this was not how happily ever after was supposed to go.

Castles and Scottish mist aside, I wasn’t supposed to be tired all of the time, and the housework wasn’t supposed to take so long. I wasn’t supposed to get lonely, and we weren’t, no we weren’t supposed find within our hearts such moments of hate that with our words and our eyes and a turning of our backs we would wound each other. Leave each other bruised, starved, and with our very hands widen the cavern between ourselves and God and between each other.

And yet we did.

And the days were dark.

We could have walked, either one of us, in search of our real life. Our real fairy tale. And though we didn’t feel it, we chose to believe it when we heard that the grass is always greener where you water it.

And even yellow grass, or even brown and dry, can become green. But you’ve got to water it every day.

Even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

And you can try to be happy with it just being all right, or so-so, but I’ve got to ask you, like I asked myself, don’t you want the very best?

AileenDonan AileenDonan3

More than anything, I love to talk of those first days.

The first dance. The first giggle. The first time I dared to touch his shoulder with my head.

Because I know I must remember who he is. Who he really is, deep inside—that boy I first met.

We’re the same people, he and I, deep, deep inside.

Oh, sometimes we’re both still so angry, we’d like to do a whole lot more than spit. And it takes a whole lot more than a little grace to make it through.

But love is not self-seeking.

And real love gets a little less sleep, a little less time for what we want, a little less of what we most love to eat, to make the other person happy. To give them joy. To make them strong.

Never underestimate the power of a smile. The power of a kind word.

Like water to grass, they are spring rain to the soul.

AileenDonan2-001

No, life doesn’t end with “I do.” That is where it begins.

For you and your Mr. Darcy.

For me and mine.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
~ C.S. Lewis

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Going from a big church to a small one is akin to moving from bustling New York City to the village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Or so it seemed to me. After moving from Scotland, we spent our first 8 years in America at a mega-church. We loved the cookies and the coffee with flavored creamer pods. The choo-choo train in the nursery. The worship band. And how easily we could apply the teaching to our lives. But after 8 years of striving to find a steady small group, and volunteering weekly in Sunday School, we still hadn’t found our people. We made friends, but American life is busy, and distance made actually seeing those friends a problem. We longed for nearby friends. You know, kindred spirits. Friends you call last minute to join you for a walk in the woods, or a cup of tea on the porch. Friends who know you . . . and love you anyway.

Then Covid came, and our church closed. For quite some time. More than ever, we ached to share life with friends. So we started attending a small church. And fell in love. Here’s why . . .

1. FriendshipSome churches have the population of a small country. You could go months without speaking to anyone. Spend years giving a cheery smile and answering “Great! You?” when asked how you’re doing, even if you’re dying inside. At least that’s how it was for us. In some ways, it’s easier. But if you long for a place where you’re noticed, wanted, known, try a tiny church . . . Shortly after starting at our little church, we met two families who wonderfully, surprisingly, almost instantly, became an intimate part of our lives. Sarah and her husband and children, who live locally. And Ann and her husband and children, who were here for a year of aviation training before heading for the mission field. At first it was the children running circles together and playing tag in the church lawn, while the adults made small talk. But small talk at church quickly turned to invitations to Sunday lunch, then time together during the week.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

– I Corinthians 12:26

2. Breaking BreadIn case you’re wondering, Church Picnics, Ice Cream Socials, and Pot Lucks are still going strong in many small churches. And yes, you might find meatloaf, casseroles, and Jello salad, if you’re lucky. But invitations for Sunday lunch or Saturday cook-outs are also not extinct. And we know eating together is about a lot more than putting food in our mouths. It’s about sharing our joys and burdens. Lightening each other’s loads with a listening ear and a hug . . . We “broke bread” with our new friends in the church hall, drinking hot cocoa after a drive to see the frozen waves of Lake Michigan. At picnic tables, before a hike in the woods to see the first green haze of spring. Under the stars, roasting s’mores and watching fireworks. On the porch, sipping coffee and talking about marriage, our children, the tough lessons God was teaching us. True friendships were built, and trust too, over refills of coffee and wiping our children’s sticky popsicle hands. With trust came the ability to speak honestly, bare our souls, and lift each other up. Life is so much sweeter when you don’t eat–or hurt, or laugh–alone.

“breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”

– Acts 2:46

3. Finding Your PlaceBig churches run on an army of volunteers, and we were blessed by the loving hands that served in our big church. But in a large congregation it can be intimidating to offer your services as a musician, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader, especially if you don’t consider yourself a semi-professional, or at least really cool. With our busy lives, having all the slots filled might feel like a good thing. But it also deprives us and our children the opportunity to serve . . . We soon found how useful we could all be at our little church, and what a blessing it was to serve alongside others. At Christmas we drove to the homes of those who couldn’t get out, singing carols and leaving cookies. In the spring my oldest sons and I cleaned the church windows while the two little boys helped the pastor heap mulch around newly planted petunias. On hot summer days, we hung out together at church with Sarah, Ann, and the pastor’s wife, crunching celery sticks and creating a Wild West town for Vacation Bible School. I started buying flavored creamer for Sunday morning coffee, and Sarah brought red and pink zinnias from her garden to brighten the women’s Sunday School. My oldest started to play cello for “special music.” The younger ones sang on stage and made cards to give out. And yes, the church needed cleaning, bulletins needed handed out, and people needed shown to their seats. No one did everything, but everyone did something. Our children learned that they, too, are a valuable part of the church family, and have something worth contributing to bless others. It’s so precious to know you belong.

Spur one another on to love and good works.

Hebrews 10:24

If you find yourself in-between churches, or feeling alone, get connected to a truth-teaching local church. Yes, you could slip in and out without speaking to anyone–but this might be a challenge! Always choose to take this as friendly curiosity and a desire to welcome you in. For you are wanted, you are valued, you are needed. If you’re already part of a small church, make sure you warmly welcome newcomers in the warmest kind of way. Jesus would want you to.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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Six fingernails. Only six. That’s how many I had time to cut that day, into short, blunt squares. The other four were left long and ladylike for a few days longer, until I noticed, and remembered that I’d been interrupted, called away from my task to see to the needs of one of my wee men.

And that’s how life’s been since the arrival of Little Bear, my fourth son. A sprinkle of time here, a sprinkle there, and not much more, for all the little extra things I love.

Those non-essentials that relax me and that I really enjoy, but that somehow don’t seem as pressing as cleaning up the raspberries someone smashed all over the kitchen floor, or icing a bleeding lip, or stopping someone from over-cuddling the baby.

Those non-essentials

like exfoliating with Dead Sea salt scrub.

Or watching a new version of Jane Eyre.

Or reading my Bible.

You know, extra, non-essential things like that.

And where can I possibly fit them into to my hectic life, when there isn’t even time for the essentials?

Like sleeping.

Or taking a trip to the bathroom.

Or drinking enough water.

How can I possibly find the time?

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Four months, we’ve been back from our visit to Scotland. Four months, which is the same length of time we spent back there. And I meant to keep you abreast of it all, every visit, every city, every castle that we saw.

But the arrival of Little Bear, and traversing up and down the country, and the jumble that went on inside my own head made it difficult. But there are things, there are moments, I remember. And I’ll tell them, I’ll tell them to you, if you’ll stay with me and you’ll wait.

Because they’re worth the telling.

Like what I spotted in the new mud room at my friend Katie’s.

When we lived in Scotland I’d set aside time nearly every week to visit with Katie and a few other treasured friends at one or other of our houses.  And they were sanity for me, those times, as I sat across from their smiling faces, corralling crumbs from my oat biscuit into a pile on the table top while I sipped my tea and we talked about life—children, husbands, our walk with God.

And I was there again at Katie’s house this winter. Sat at her table. Heard her laugh. Sipped my milky tea.

And yes, saw the new mudroom, with its tidy place for Wellington boots, jackets, mittens, and hats. And it was all quite something, but it wasn’t that which made me smile. Pause.

In a corner beneath a window, where the sun could lay a beam of light, sat a chair. A chair, and a little shelf in the wall just the size for a Bible, and a picture frame on the wall with this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-8

A place made in her home just for this. Just for reading God’s word, and speaking and listening to Him.

A place for making every effort.

Not a casual squeezing it in every few weeks when there’s a sprinkle of time, but a place. A purposeful seeking after Him. Every effort.

Because reading my Bible, knowing God, is not a non-essential after all. Not if I want to be like Christ.  Not if I want to be for my family a refreshing stream, instead of the dried up desert that I so often feel.

His delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:2-3

I don’t have time aplenty. Not the luxurious hours to read and ponder that I once did. But if I’m to make the most of the time with my family, if I’m to help lead them in the everlasting way, then I must find the time to be in God’s Word, and find even a simple line of truth and goodness on which to meditate throughout my busy day.

Finding time will be a challenge. But my soul is dry, and I feel it. I feel it, and it shows. I feel it, and it’s worse, even, than only six short fingernails.

Make every effort.

I’ll start today.

How do you make time to be in the word? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

 ❤ For LITERARY INSPIRATION for Heart & Home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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The second Christmas, and the world still upside-down. We find our souls unsettled. Find our eyes gazing wistfully out the window. Find our hearts a little achy for times past. Maybe a time from our own lives, or maybe a time from longer past, like the days of Little Women, or Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps those times weren’t free from fears and trials of their own. But they were, in many ways, simpler times with simpler pleasures, and a sense of community, where everyone knew their place. It’s not too late to slow our pace, adjust our focus, and make this year different. Following are five easy ways to have an old-fashioned, Anne of Green Gables Christmas.

1. Find Scope in the Out-of-Doors – Anne wasn’t just a fan of Octobers! She also said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts.” She would have definitely found “scope for the imagination” in every season, including winter. Bare branches lacy against a pink sunset. Sunlight sparkling on newly fallen snow. A chickadee singing from a treetop. Yes, it’s cold! But tell yourself it’s refreshing and bundle up! Build a snowman. Deliver something by hand. Go for a walk. Taking a walk together is a simple, favorite pastime from years gone by. Hearing your feet crunch in the snow, and seeing the beauty of the season is calming for the mind and soul, and gives us time to reflect on God’s blessings in our lives.

2. Care for Your Community – Anne and Matthew didn’t hesitate a moment when they heard little Minnie May Barry was in trouble. And whether it’s bringing food to someone stuck at home, inviting over someone that lives alone, or singing carols at a nursing home, there are endless ways to bless people in our communities. Yesterday, I found I’m an awful caroler. Not that my singing is so bad, but I kept choking up with tears. It wasn’t so much the nursing home residents who stared glassy-eyed, uncomprehending as we sang “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” but those who sang along, or moved a crooked finger in the air, trying to keep time with the music. It was their shadowed memories from their former lives that moved me so much. I focused on a few faces, tried to to imagine them as they were in their youth. Did the staff remember they were once more? I knew God remembers, that they are lovely in his sight, and that one day soon His love will restore His children to their best selves. But for the present, I was glad our church was there to share God’s love as we sang, “Born to raise the sons of Earth, born to give them second birth.” Too often today, we are strangers with our own neighbors. Looking out for those in our community is certainly an old-fashioned quality we could use more of today.

3. Do Night by Firelight – In the days before electricity (and smartphones), the light and warmth from the fire drew families together. Here, they played card games or did puzzles, worked on handicrafts such as knitting or whittling, and simply talked with each other. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, you can dim the lights and light candles, or try playing one of these literary-inspired Christmas ambience videos on low volume to create a calming, old-fashioned atmosphere. Then add games, cocoa, or a Christmas read- aloud. Candles in the dark also remind us of the Christmas star that shone over the manger, and of Jesus being the Light of the World. Anne wasn’t a fan of sewing in her youth, but she certainly would have loved reading by the fireside, and I imagine she and Matthew and Marilla had many heartfelt talks there.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

– John 8:12

4. Decorate with Real Greenery – Anne would have loved combing the woods for winter treasures to adorn the house! Simple decorations are often the most effective, and definitely create old-fashioned charm. Greenery like cut pine, fir, or holly, plus berries from flowering bushes and other dried plants and wildflowers can be found in our own backyards (or from a friend’s, with permission!). A walk to collect such greenery is a wonderful way to spend a morning–follow up with tea and Christmas goodies, then start arranging. Simple twine, ribbon, candles, cranberry or popcorn strings, pinecones, or dried oranges are the perfect complement to outside finds, and can be used in vases, as mantel décor, or as centerpieces or garlands. Fabric can be used as a table cloth or runner and paired with burlap or lace.

5. Celebrate with Those You Love – Perhaps we can’t buy all our friends the puffiest puffed-sleeved dress of their dreams, but we can be there in some form for those that matter most. A small, thoughtful gift or heartfelt card sent to someone who’s made a difference in our lives. A cozy get-together with our BFFs. A special hot-cocoa bar and read-aloud or game night with our family. Use this season to share the good tidings of Christmas, and tell those who have blessed your life how much they mean to you.

Merry Christmas!

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

 ❤ For LITERARY INSPIRATION for Heart & Home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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If you caught my post Bring Your Book to Life, featuring ambience videos for 12 classic novels, you’ll know how magical they are! Not only are ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) or ambience videos themselves scientifically proven to aid relaxation, they’re also the perfect way to recreate the atmosphere of your favorite read! Reading one of these 6 classics this holiday season, either to yourself or as a read-aloud? Try playing the corresponding ambience videos on your TV or laptop while you read to bring them to life!

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Many of us are familiar with the opening line, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” but this story of the March family, set during the American Civil War, has more than one Christmas scene to warm your heart this season.

2. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy – Chapter one of this 19th century romance novel brings us to “a cold and starry Christmas-eve,” while chapter two gives details of the Christmas decorations in Dick Dewy’s thatched cottage. The perfect happy-end book for Christmas!

3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – I probably don’t have to explain the Narnian’s fear that their land would be forever under the spell of the White Witch, who made it “always winter, but never Christmas.” Thankfully, that wasn’t the end! Experience the land of Narnia with this video while you step into this wonderful book.

4. Little House on the Prairie/A Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I know of few more heartwarming or dramatic Christmas scenes than when Mr. Edwards wades through a stream in a blizzard, carrying his clothes on this head, to deliver Christmas gifts to the Ingalls family. “Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.” Oh, for simpler times! This video will take you right to that scene!

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – This very manageable-sized story never ceases to make me smile. Instead of watching the transformation of the miserable, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge, why not read about it yourself, accompanied by this Victorian London Ambience video? And don’t say, Bah! Humbug!

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – You might not consider this a Christmas book, but it has plenty of winter cheer and Christmas scenes to make it perfect for this time of year. Anne did say, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts.” (AOGG, ch.18). And don’t forget the Christmas ball! Find “scope for your imagination” with the Anne Christmas ambience link below.

For Anne-inspired ambience for Christmas reading, click here !

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday  ❤

❤ For LITERARY INSPIRATION for Heart & Home & a PERIOD DRAMA in your inbox EVERY Friday sign up here! ❤

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To open a book is to step into another world. We book lovers know that! Oh, but what if there was a way to make that journey more real, more immersive? To engage all your senses, making it almost possible to believe you’re really with Anne Shirley that first night at Green Gables? Or really on a dark London street watching Sherlock Holmes solve a crime?

I have a secret–it’s called Ambience Videos or ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and is described as a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck. The appropriate reaction to a good book! *happy little sigh.*

What if there was a way to make that journey into a book even more real?

I’ve selected Ambience Videos to immerse you into 12 Classic novels. Simply tap below links to play on your laptop or cast to your TV to create the perfect mood for each book and delight your eyes and ears. Next, brew a cup of tea or coffee to delight your taste and smell (which drink or cup would suit each book?). Finally, get a cozy blanket and get ready to step into your book in a whole new way! OR simply use as a peaceful background during your morning quiet time or as you go about your day.

*Note – some videos include soothing music, while others have relaxing sounds such as rain, a crackling fireplace, or murmured voices. I included two videos for each novel, so choose the one that inspires you. Adjust the volume to add to your reading experience, not distract from it.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Who’s coming to visit? Could it be Bingley and Darcy? And what secrets are Bennet sisters Lizzie and Jane sharing as they get ready for the day?

  • Bennet Family Lounge (Pride and Prejudice) by Overarch
  • Sunny Morning Bedroom (18th Century Georgian/Colonial) by Ambience of Yesteryear

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Will you stay at Bilbo’s cozy hobbit hole, or venture into the Shire?

  • Hobbit Study Session by ASMR Weekly 
  • 6 Hours The Shire ASMR by ASMR

3. Middlemarch by George Elliot – Does Casaubon’s library inspire you, or does the dreariness of pouring over manuscripts alongside Dorothea make you long for a visit to her sister’s country estate?

  • Relaxing Library – Relaxing Rain, Thunder and Crackling Fireplace by Cozy Moments  
  • English Estate Morning Tea by Scenic Inspirations

4. The Complete Father Brown Mysteries by G.K. Chesterton – What mysteries will you solve alongside this eccentric sleuth as he pokes around his quaint English village (occasionally stopping for tea), or hops aboard a train in search of clues?

  • Edwardian Parlour with Tea & Fireplace by Ambience of Yesteryear
  • 1940s Train Journey by Overarch

5. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – Can you hear Anne (with an ‘e’) poor herself a cup of tea in her peaceful bedroom at Green Gables? She will need it, in preparation for her upcoming exam at Queen’s!

  • 3D ASMR Anne of green gables | Anne’s Bedroom by ASMR Movely
  • 3D ASMR Anne of Green Gables | Queen’s Entrance Exam by ASMR Movely

6. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Would you prefer sipping tea in 221B Baker Street, or joining Sherlock on the streets of London as he masterfully works to solve the latest crime?

  • Ambience/ASMR: Sherlock Holmes Parlor, 221B Baker Street by Ambience of Yesteryear
  • Victorian London Thunderstorm by Autumn Cozy

7. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper – The peace of the wilderness is calling your name–or perhaps you fancy a venture into the Colonial town?

  • Smoky Mountains Morning by Travel Ambience
  • Colonial New York City Federal Hall by P&E Soundscapes

8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Begin reading with a trip to the English wetlands, where Pip spent his youth, then move on to the bustling streets of London.

  • English Wetlands by Ambience World
  • 19th Century London by Overarch

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Rain lashes down outside the March home, but inside, Jo is busy scribbling away on her latest novel.

  • Thunderstorm in the Lake District by Outdoor Therapy
  • Thunderstorm and Rain by Dreamy Sound

10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane doesn’t know what to expect as the carriage takes her through the night to Thornfield Hall, but it’s not long before she enjoys conversations with Mr. Rochester in his study.

  • Riding a Carriage by TERAVIBE
  • Rain and Thunderstorm Sounds by Guild of Ambience

11. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Would you prefer strolling the winding lanes of Casterbridge or sitting beside the fire, listening in as Michael Henchard tells his life’s tale?

  • Cozy Country Village by Dragonfly Mage
  • 19th Century Cottage by Ambience of Yesteryear

12. White Fang by Jack London – Whether journeying through the wilderness with the dogsled team, or finding solace at Weeton Scott’s cabin, it’s sure to be an adventure!

  • Wolf Forest by Michael Ghelfi
  • Cozy Cabin Porch Ambience by The Alley of Ambience

*BONUS! Which book could be read using this 1930s library ambience? It’s one of my favorites.

Avonlea x

Find me on . . .

Instagram/Facebook/MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

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What is about a story that makes it a classic? And what is it about Jane Eyre, in particular, that has helped it stand the test of time, and inspire so many theater productions, film adaptations, and spin-offs? I know what I love about it–Jane’s character, for starters. She’s so mistreated, yet stays true to herself and her beliefs, even in the most tragic of circumstances, and is rewarded so wonderfully in the end. Then there’s Jane’s time both at Thornfield Hall and with the Rivers family, with such beautiful surroundings, and time for reading, painting, and longs walks. But let’s not forget the excitement of the gothic influence on the story, and the less-than-serene moments that put us on edge. But what do YOU love about Jane Eyre? And which of the following color adaptations is your favorite?

Jane Eyre 1970 – Susannah York & George C. Scott (1 hr 50 min)

This adaptation brings us our only blonde Jane! The actress who plays the young Jane did an excellent job. And I like the spirit Susannah York brings to grown-up Jane, despite the 70’s vibe of her appearance (Let’s call her Big Hair Jane), and the fact she looks closer to 28 than 18. Rochester, too, looks much older than his supposed 38 years. But he also brings passion and emotion to the role that make it come to life (though with a bit more growling than necessary). We get the scene where Jane collapses on the moors, but don’t see St. John (pronounced “Sinjin”) Rivers carrying her home (I like that scene). St. John himself speaks in an aloof, cold manner, and something about him unsettles me, but I like the scenes with his sisters. Some of the scenery around the Rivers’ home and Thornfield Hall is beautiful, though the film quality isn’t great. The colors are too saturated in some scenes and too dark in others. BUT a big plus for this version is the music score by John Williams, who is known for composing the scores for Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, E.T., and others. Though this is the earliest color version I know of, I enjoyed it more than some of the later adaptations.


Jane Eyre 1973 – Sorcha Cusack & Michael Jayston (4 hr 35 min)

This version stars Sorcha Cusack, who you might recognize as housekeeper Mrs. McCarthy from the Father Brown detective series! She has a very cute, expressive face, which shows a lot of what Jane was feeling inside, and I thought she did very well with the part. I had a harder time warming up to Michael Jayston as Rochester (is that eyeshadow he’s wearing?!), who speaks in a very clipped, upper-class sounding voice, but that could just be me. The cinematography leaves something to be desired, the only music is at the beginning and end of each episode, and the many voiceovers take away from the acting. BUT it is a much more faithful version, and includes a lot more exact dialogue and details from the book than other adaptations, which is always fun to see on screen. And with over FOUR hours of watching time, it’s the perfect version if you’re bedridden or need company when you have a big project to work on!


Jane Eyre 1983 – Zilah Clarke & Timothy Dalton (3 hr 59 min)

While watching this adaptation I couldn’t forget that this Mr. Rochester went on to be a future James Bond! Timothy Dalton does superbly with this part–dark and brooding and full of emotion. And Zilah Clarke is perfect as Jane–small and doll-like but with fierce inner passion and strength. St. John Rivers stood out to me in this version–he looks precisely as I pictured him from the description in the book, with his “Grecian profile,” although the actor portrays the character as a cold, judgmental religious fanatic without any love for the people he would help with his missionary work. With its longer length, you get a lot more details, scenes, and characters from the novel than the shorter versions–such as Jane’s wanderings through both town and countryside before finally collapsing on the moor (can you tell I like this scene?). In fact, this version is probably truest to the book. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d say give it a try!


Jane Eyre 1996 – Charlotte Gainsbourg & William Hurt (1 hr 56 mins)

Young Jane (Anna Paquin) and housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Jane Plowright, Tea with Mussolini, Enchanted April) are the real stars of this adaptation. Although he’s not on screen, Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet 1968, Tea with Mussolini) brings another star to the film. While I found some of the other Mr. Rochesters too blustery and angry, William Hurt’s take on the character seems too placid and uninteresting. Charlotte Gainsbourg did well as Jane (although she’s too tall!), but would have been better opposite another male lead. The music and scenery are an improvement from previous versions, as is Jane’s attire. With its shorter length, many scenes from the novel are missing, as expected. But the plot also veers off completely at times, such as Jane first meeting St. John Rivers at Gateshead when she goes to see her dying aunt, instead of him discovering her on the moors. And as soon as Jane leaves after discovering Mr. Rochester is married, Thornfield is already on fire! Overall, most of the story is captured in the adaptation. But with many details that add depth and breadth to the story missing, and with the mis-portrayal of Mr. Rochester, the film is not as good as it might have been.


Jane Eyre 1997 – Ciaran Hinds & Samantha Morton (1 hr 48 mins)

This was the first version of Jane Eyre I ever saw (anyone else?) Samantha Morton has the right “Jane-ish” look, and Ciaran Hinds fits the Rochester profile, too. But I found her a bit too mechanical at times, while Hinds comes across as too shouty and angry (as he is in a lot of roles), and I couldn’t help but find it hard to believe that Jane would actually fall in love with him. This is the first version where St. John Rivers, played by Rupert Penry-Jones, seems like a real contestant for Jane’s love (we DO get the wonderful scene where he finds Jane on moors and carries her home–Love!). And if you didn’t know, both Penry-Jones and Hinds play Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion in the 2007 and 1995 versions, respectively. So I suppose Jane had a choice between Wentworth and Wentworth! I liked Gemma Jones as Mrs. Fairfax, but found the girl who played Adele too old for the part. Also, because of time constraints, this version left out a lot. But it’s still worth watching, even if just for comparison, for all the familiar faces, and because there’s always something to like about a version of Jane Eyre!


Jane Eyre 2006 – Ruth Wilson & Toby Stevens (3 hr 50 mins)

Cinematography had come along way by the time this mini-series was made, which alone makes it a more enjoyable watch. There are dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, and creative camera-angles. The music score is good, and the scenery and settings are stunning. But I also think that both Ruth Wilson and Toby Stevens brought so much to their roles. Wilson both looks the part of Jane, and brings Jane’s uncertainty, humility, and passion to life. Stevens is a wonderful mixture of brooding, fear, and playfulness, and it’s easy to see what draws Jane to him. I loved the conversations between them, in which they discuss their pasts, or issues of morality, and you can sense their growing attachment to each other. Georgie Henley (from the Narnia films) looked just the part as Wilson’s younger Jane self, and I really liked Lorraine Ashbourne’s portrayal of Mrs. Fairfax. We have the scene where Jane gets lost on the moors (yay!), and a good portrayal of St. John, although he didn’t quite look the part. I appreciated how this version had the time to portray many of the details of Jane’s inheritance and discovery of her relationship with the Rivers. I also think the ending of this adaptation is the very best! But if you want a more accurate representation of the book, you might not like that this version adapted some of the dialogue for modern ears, and took creative licenses in telling the tale.


Jane Eyre 2011 – Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender (2 hrs)

This adaptation boasts more beautiful music, cinematography, costumes, and settings. But similar to the 2019 adaptation of Little Women, the film starts later in the story, which can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the book. This version begins with Jane running away from Thornfield Hall (a gorgeously filmed scene), and then moves back and forth between the past and the present to tell the story. Mia Wasikowska looks just the part of the reserved Jane, and you can sense the fire behind her eyes. But I would have liked to see more of that passion escape, especially during certain scenes. We only get glimpses of smiles and few real tears. In parts, she seems plain depressed. I would have loved to see real laughter, or the occasional raised voice, and all those emotions we know are trapped inside–especially during the proposal scene. Likewise, though Fassbender shows plenty of moodiness and pent-up frustration, we don’t see much of a playful, teasing side, or any lighter interactions between him and Jane. Judy Dench (A Room with a View, Ladies in Lavender) does, of course, steal our attention when she’s on screen as Mrs. Fairfax. But Jamie Bell (Nicholas Nickleby), although he’s a talented actor, didn’t quite make a believable St. John, in my opinion. Going back to Jane and Rochester, the natural chemistry between them wasn’t what it could have been. But this beautiful film is definitely worth watching, if you’re a Jane fan or not.


SO . . . which of these Jane Eyre adaptations is YOUR favorite? Have you seen them all? If not, which one above will you be running to watch next? I’d love to hear!

Avonlea x

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Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

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Summer is almost here, which means nights watching sunsets at the lake, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and sitting on the porch listening to the crickets. But there’s also nothing like kicking back with a cold drink for a summer movie night! Besides, I know my friends Down Under are saying Goodbye Summer and Welcome Autumn, and are ready for cozy nights in. So this is my gift to all of you–thirty period dramas you might never have seen! All are set from the 1700s to the 1950s (apart from one exception–you’ll see why), and all can be watched in a single sitting–2.5 hours or less (we’ll get to the best mini-series another time!). I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below . . .

1. Somewhere in Time (1980) – Which of us period drama fans don’t dream of traveling back in time and stepping into our favorite film or book? That’s almost what this young playwright (Christopher Reeve) does when he falls in love with the photo of a famous turn-of-the-century actress (Jane Seymour). This time travel movie has the added benefit of whisking the main character and the viewer back to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. Yes, it’s a little hokey at times, but it’s worth it to see these two amazing actors together. Also starring Christopher Plummer. Rated PG


2. Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991) – Take a a trip back to America’s Great Depression years and the exciting but dangerous world of diving horses. Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar) is a runaway, trying to find a way to support herself. What she finds is adventure, her life’s passion as a diving girl, and a place to call home. If you’re a horse lover, like a happy ending with a few tears along the way, and like being whisked to another time and place, this might be a good pick for you! It’s based on a real story, and it’s one the whole family might enjoy. Rated G


3. Under the Greenwood Tree (2005) – based on the book by Victorian author Thomas Hardy. If you’re a period drama fan, you might recognize Keeley Hawes as Fancy Day, the new school teacher in town who, with her beauty and vivacity, attracts not one but three different suitors. The educated parson, the wealthy farmer, and the poor young tradesman. Who should she choose? Although Hardy’s books don’t all have a happy ending, I will tell you that this one does. But what I love most about the story is the peek into a small 1840s English village, and all the traditions and goings on that made up the villagers’ lives (including some wonderful English folk music!). Rated PG


4. Wildflower (1991 ) – Back to the years of the Great Depression. This time we’re off to the South, and the unlikely heroine is a beautiful, deaf young woman, Alice, who is kept locked in a shed by her violent stepfather. Enter spunky Ellie, played by a young Reese Witherspoon, and her sensitive, college-bound brother Sammy, who try to help Alice by teaching her poetry and showing her what life in a family is supposed to be. Of course her stepfather isn’t amused by all this, and of course Sammy can’t help but notice just how lovely and sweet Alice really is. I love this one! Rated PG-13


5. Love and Friendship (2016) – If you think you’ve watched and read all of Jane Austen’s works, you might be wrong if you missed this one! Austen was just eleven when she started this novel, and it was probably written only for the pleasure of her family and friends. It is dedicated to her French cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, an extremely colorful woman who’s husband was guillotined during the French Revolution. For the young Jane, these events must have been sheer inspiration to a writer’s imagination. It’s full of the wonderful wit and social criticism we expect from her later novels. Also, the deliberately complicated plot has plenty of fainting spells, deaths due to a variety of causes (including “galloping consumption”), elopements galore, unbelievable coincidences, and unscrupulous cads. One thing that struck me is that the “heroine” Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale, Emma, 1996) isn’t a particularly likable character, but the truest-hearted girl does, in the end, get her perfect match. Rated PG


6. Miss Potter (2006) – About the life of Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger), creator of Peter Rabbit and her other wonderful children’s characters. Flashbacks take us to her childhood visits to Scotland–where she began her love of nature and developed her skills as an artist. And in the present, we walk with her in her struggle to break into the publishing world as a woman and author of children’s books in Victorian England, and also through her true love, heartbreak, and eventual move to Hilltop Farm. While this film is aimed more at adults, we see cheeky Peter Rabbit and the other animals come to animated life through Potter’s imagination. Also starring Ewan McGregor. Rated PG


7. Swallows and Amazons (2016) – This adventure is one for the whole family! Four siblings in the countryside, a sailboat, and an island–what could go wrong? Maybe just a few close calls with spies, a small tribe of wild girls, and a lot of adventure. Based on the 1930s book series by English author Arthur Ransome. Rated PG


8. Tolkien (2019) – Based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the Elvish language and author of The Lord of the Rings. Much like Miss Potter didn’t have Peter Rabbit as an actual character–although he came alive to Beatrix Potter–in this film Hobbits and Orcs march across the screen as figments of Tolkien’s imagination. They are products of his university studies, of the fellowship he formed with his school friends, and of the horrors he saw in the trenches of WWI. There’s a lot of back and forth between the different stages of his life. There are so many subtleties to catch, and it’s one I’d like to watch again. It’s moving, informative, and creative. Rated PG-13


9. Emma (2020) – I didn’t think I’d like this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel after reading a few reviews. Several complained that it was all too perfect. And it’s true that many scenes seem choreographed (with the characters moving almost as if in a dance) and coordinated (with wallpaper, and cake frosting, and Emma’s intricate hair styles matching just a little too perfectly). But for me, this only made the feast for the eyes all the more sumptuous. We still see Emma’s emotions as she navigates first her friend’s heartbreak, and then her own. And Mr. Knightly has enough ruggedness to balance out the finery. Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle, 2003) is brilliant as Mr. Woodhouse. And the music! It made the film, if you ask me. The only scene I wasn’t a fan of was the proposal scene. Rated PG


10. Brooklyn (2015) – My mother grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, though her family wasn’t Italian. And her story–or maybe that of my grandparents–is in so many ways like the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women, 2019), the young Irish woman who leaves her tiny Irish village to begin a new life in big New York city in the 1950s. It’s a story of family, of home, of love . . . it’s a story of America. Based on the book by Colm Tóibín. Rated PG-13


11. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Huge Victorian houses, wonderful costumes, and Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Did you know it came from this film? Oh, and ketchup making, possible long distance phone proposals from New York City, misunderstandings with handsome neighbors, and a Victorian Halloween. I think this movie goes through all the seasons. And I can’t forget the excitement of the St Louis Fair. Rated PG


12. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – In this film both Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, Downtown Abbey) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, Nicholas Nickleby) star together in the story of how Dickens created A Christmas Carol, about the most famous miserly bachelor of all time. This book forever changed the way we view and celebrate Christmas. If you haven’t seen it, do! If you have, see it AGAIN, even if it’s almost summer. There are so many details to catch! It’s also the third movie listed (see 6,8) about characters coming to life to inspire an author. Rated PG


13. Belle (2013) – Tells the story of a real-life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose father was an English sea captain and whose mother was a former slave on a Spanish ship that her father captured. As a girl, Belle is brought to England to be raised alongside her cousin, Elizabeth, by their great uncle, Lord Mansfield, at his estate. As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Belle endures coldness and even cruelty by some, even as the niece of a wealthy and powerful man. She has the attention of some undesirable suitors–but also of a man who loves her, truly. While Belle’s active involvement in the abolition movement is probably fictional, her uncle, Lord Mansfield, was indeed involved in a court case involving a slave ship and murdered slaves. This has led many to speculate that Jane Austen named her book Mansfield Park after Lord Mansfield, as she calls attention to the evils of slavery in this book. Rated PG


14. Chariots of Fire (1982) – This may be our only official academy award winner 🏆though every movie I’ve suggested is sublime, of course! Wonderful in its subtlety and understated beauty, and the fact that it’s based on the lives of two real British men. Harold Abrams, a Jewish Cambridge University student, and Eric Liddell, Scottish athlete and Christian missionary. Each was an amazing man, full of determination to do their best running for Britain at the 1924 Olympic Games. Each had a different force driving them. The writing, the acting, the scenery, all superb–and the music by Vangelis–love it!!! The running scenes are also inspiring! But what’s most inspiring to me is the life of Eric Liddell, who went on to dedicate his life to the Chinese people. Rated PG


15. The Young Victoria (2009) – The name Queen Victoria often gives us a picture of the plump, dignified, but rather dour looking woman who was photographed in her later years. But of course everyone was young, once, and this film is about just that–Victoria’s adolescent and newly married years. She was next in line to the throne after her uncle, King William. As he nears death, the ambitious Lord Conroy hopes the 18-year-old Victoria will appoint him as regent to rule in her place. Of course she turns out to be far more strong-willed and independent than expected. Meanwhile, Prince Albert of Belgium is being schooled on Victoria’s likes and dislikes, with the intent the two will marry–though he doesn’t like being told what to do any more than she does. The rest is history, but I’ll let you watch and figure it out. Screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. Rated PG


16. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – You can have Romeo and Juliet if I can keep THIS. I’m much more of a happy endings kind of girl. And none of Shakespeare’s comedies end happier, or are more relatable and appealing than this adaptation. This play gave us lines like, “Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love.” And “Claudio is in love. With whom? . . . Look how short the answer is–with Leonato’s short daughter.” Ah, me. Quick summary – The kindly noblemen Leonato, his lovely daughter Hero, and playful niece Beatrice welcome friends home from the war. Among them are Prince Don Pedro, his sullen and bitter brother Don John, witty Benedick, and the handsome young nobleman Claudio. Benedick and Beatrice engage in a battle of wits, and Claudio falls in love with Hero. To pass the time till the wedding, they try to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don John plays a cruel trick, making Claudio believe Hero has been unfaithful to him . . . With beautiful Italian scenery, a wonderful soundtrack, and a cast of MANY period drama favorites (Emma Thompson, Sense & Sensibility 1995, Kate Beckinsale, Emma 1996, Robert Sean Leonard, Swing Kids 1993), this film is a treat. Rated PG-13


17. Ladies in Lavender (2004) – I’m not sure if it’s the wonderful soundtrack with music by Joshua Bell, the 1930s setting, the gorgeous Cornish scenery, the simple lives portrayed by the main characters (Hello Maggie Smith and Judy Dench), or the idea of a mysterious stranger washing up on a beach that makes me love this film so much . . . do you want to watch it already? When sisters Ursula and Janet find a young man, Andrea, washed up on their beach, unconscious and with a broken ankle, they take him in and care for him. He doesn’t speak English, so who he is and how he ended up there remains a mystery. The two sisters form an attachment to him, treating him as the son neither had–though in Ursula’s case, one wonders if it’s more of a longing for the romantic relationship she never had. They soon discover his talent on the violin . . . unfortunately, this also comes to the attention of a beautiful, foreign painter who is staying in the area. There are rumors the two are spies, but Ursula and Janet are suspicious of the woman, and remain protective of Andrea. I won’t give away the end! It’s a bittersweet film that stirs up emotions of longing for times past, forgotten memories, and people we’ve had to let go. Rated PG-13


18. Letters to Juliet (2010) – This is the only movie set after the 1950s. But with the beautiful Italian scenery, and the theme of both WRITING and ROMEO & JULIET, I thought I’d make an exception. Sophie is an American journalist visiting Verona with her fiancé, who’s there to find products for his restaurant. While he’s busy exploring vineyards and eating cheese, Sophie does her own exploring. On a visit to the house allegedly inhabited by Shakespeare’s Juliet, she notices a stone wall stuck with letters–and then sees a woman take all the letters and put them in a basket. Intrigued, Sophie follows, and finds a secret society of women who make it their business to answer each and every letter written to Juliet, asking for advice on love. On a return to the wall, a stone comes loose, and Sophie finds a letter that’s been hidden for 50 years. Sophie decides to answer the letter, and soon English Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) comes to Italy with her grandson, Charlie. This is when the journey really begins, as Sophie joins Claire and Charlie on their hunt for Claire’s lost love. Rated PG.


19. A Room with a View (1985) – One of my favorite movies ever, ever, EVER!!! The MUSIC, the SCENERY, the COSTUMES, the ROMANCE. Happy, happy, happy sigh!!! Lucy Honeychurch is in Italy as a tourist under the care of her cousin, Charlotte (Maggie Smith). But alas, they weren’t given a room with a view of the Arno River, as promised. An English father and son offer to switch rooms with them, but Charlotte worries it’s not quite proper. Despite her efforts to keep Lucy from the son, George, Lucy ends up being kissed by him (best movie kiss ever). Their new novelist friend, Eleanor Lavish (Judy Dench), thinks it’s romantic, but Charlotte is horrified and whisks Lucy back to England. There, Lucy becomes engaged to bookish Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis). Everything seems to be going well until George and his father take a house in the village. Based on the book by E.M. Forster. Have you seen it? Do you love it too? *This film is not rated. There’s a scene where the men go for a swim in their birthday suits, so get your remote ready.


20. Tea with Mussolini (1999) – Not only does this film take us back to stunning Florence, Italy, but we’re joined once again by Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, who were in both A Room with a View and Ladies in Lavender. In this film, they’re joined by Joan Plowright (Jane Eyre, 1996). A group of cultured ex-patriot British women meet weekly in a local museum for tea, as Europe is on the brink of being thrown into WWII. Then they have Luca, the young boy that Mary (Plowright) has charge of, and who they all keep a watchful eye over. The Fascists may be planning some big changes in Italy, but these strong women aren’t interested in letting Mussolini or anyone upset their ways–or harm the people they care about. They will be brave–and they’ll do it with style! *Another fascinating thing about this film is that it’s based on the autobiography of the director, Franco Zeffirelli. Rated PG


21. Swing Kids (1993) – A romantic but also more serious movie than the others I’ve suggested. Swing Kids, starring Christian Bale (Little Women,1994) and Robert Sean Leonard (Much Ado About Nothing,1993), brings to life the Swingjugand (Swing Youth) of Germany, who risked everything to stand for freedom–specifically by daring to meet together for the forbidden but popular swing dance and jazz music. These young people admired the American way of life and sought to oppose the National-Socialist ideology. It wasn’t a stand for their faith, but it was a stand for freedom. This film is about friendship, love, and standing for what is right. You will love the dancing. The soundtrack is amazing!!! But also expect the heavy themes included in most WWII films. Rated PG-13


22. I Capture the Castle (2003) – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink . . . ” I’ll begin the review the way the book begins, in a most quirky, inviting sort of way. The book continues as it began… surprising, interesting, delightful at every turn. The film is also sweet and quirky, but what the movie fails to capture is the magic, the voice, the insight into the head and heart of a 1930’s English girl living in a damp, ruined castle. Cassandra Mortmain’s (Romola Garai, Emma, 2009) father (Bill Nighy, Emma 2020) is a struggling author who just received the final royalty check from his last book. Just when the family are desperate, and scheming ways to make money for food, enter two handsome, confident young Americans who have inherited the estate next door. The girls scheme to get Cassandra’s older sister Rose engaged to the eldest brother, and it seems to work . . . the problem is that Cassandra herself falls desperately in love with him. Meanwhile, their hired hand, Stephen (Henry Cavill, Enola Holmes) is in love with Cassandra. Written by Dodie Smith (author of 101 Dalmatians) when she was stuck in America during WWII, and had a serious homesickness for England. I think you’ll LIKE the film and absolutely LOVE the book. Surprisingly, rated R. Apparently for brief nudity (when Cassandra sunbathes on the castle roof or bathes in the moat)?


23. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – WWII has ended, and people are still picking up the pieces of their lives–some still left wondering about the fate of their missing relatives. Orphaned writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), is feeling lost herself. Her latest book didn’t sell well, she’s out of ideas, and she doesn’t know where to call home or what to do next. One thing she does have is a friendship–by letter only–with the unlikely members of a literary society on the British Island of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Nazis during the war. They are still waiting for the return of one of their members, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay). Juliet is recently engaged, but feels compelled to go to Guernsey to meet her friends and perhaps write about their society? What she finds on the island is a whole lot more than she expected. Here’s where I HAVE to say again that this film is really so good, but based on a book that is EVEN better!!! Also, you will recognize 4 cast members from Downton Abbey! Rated PG-13


24. The Man From Snowy River (1982) – Some of the most epic films were made in the 80s, and in my opinion, this is one of them. This movie is based on a poem, which in turn is based on the legend (or history) of a great horse rider who could tame wild horses and stay on his saddle through any terrain. It’s the movie that changed how I see the name Jessica (beautiful). It’s also the classic Cinderella story, but reversed, where a poor but hardworking young man falls for the beautiful, wealthy rancher’s daughter . . . oh, and it’s all done Australian style. With a wonderful cast, including Kirk Douglas, Sigrid Thornton, and Tom Burlinson, this movie has all the adventure, romance, breathtaking scenery, and beautiful music you could ask for. It’s also a horse lover’s dream. Rated PG


25. Little Women (1994) – I like every adaptation of the book by Louisa May Alcott, but for me, this version will always be best. I find it to be a masterpiece for the eyes, the ears, and the heart. If you don’t know the story, the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are home with their mother while their father is fighting the American Civil War. The girls stay busy with attic theatricals, playing the piano, writing, and other pursuits meant to improve themselves. Meanwhile, young Laurie (Christian Bale, Swing Kids,1993) moves in with this wealthy grandfather next door, and can’t help but be drawn to the March family–especially Jo, though she isn’t sure she feels the same. Rated PG


26. Great Expectations (2012) – A must-watch adaptation of Charles Dickens’ must-read novel. One thing I love about watching multiple film adaptations of a favorite classic is comparing how different actors play a part. Helena Bonham Carter (A Room with a View, 1985) was perfect as eccentric Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes very emotional as escaped prisoner, Magwitch, who’s helped by young orphaned Pip. Pip is later brought in to be a companion to Miss Havisham’s ward, Estella. He was meant to love her, and she was taught to never love him. But then one day Pip finds he’s been left a fortune by a mysterious benefactor. Could this change everything for him and Estella? Rated PG-13


27. Swept from the Sea (1997) – Based on the story “Amy Foster” by Joseph Conrad, this tragic tale of love between Russian emigrant Yanko Goorall–who is washed ashore in England when his America-bound ship is lost–and a girl from the Cornish coast. While most people in the small village are afraid of Yanko, he is befriended by the local doctor (Ian McKellan, Lord of the Rings), who finds Yanko is very good at chess. He also gets the notice of loner Amy, who is an outcast because of circumstances surrounding her birth. This one might leave you bawling, but I loved the cast of familiar British actors, the scenery, and the unusualness of the story. Rated PG-13


28. Nicholas Nickleby (2002) – Dark and frightening, romantic and sweet, funny and clever, and very sentimental. This story is all that a Dickens story should be (based on his novel of the same name). It follows the young Nicholas Nickleby, from his idyllic country home, to the streets of London, to the horrors of Do the Boys Hall, the boarding school in Yorkshire where he lands a post as teacher’s assistant. The boarding school bits really are quite frightening! Favorite line “I stuck up for thee. He said thee weren’t fit to live with pigs. I said thee were,” (Said in a heavy Yorkshire accent). Boasts a wonderful cast, including Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas), Romola Garai (Emma, 2009), Jim Broadbent (Brooklyn, 2015), and Jamie Belle (Jane Eyre, 2011). Rated PG


29. A Royal Night Out (2015) – Britain has been cooped up for six long years during WWII, and now the whole world is out celebrating–At least it seems so to 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth (called “Lilibet”) and her 14-year-old sister, Margaret Rose (nicknamed “Princess 2” or simply “P2”). The two hatch a plan to join the masses incognito. Elizabeth convinces her father that if she’s in the crowd, she can much better assess what the honest public response is. Her 14-year-old sister, Margaret, just wants to drink champagne and show off her passion for the Lindy Hop at the Ritz Hotel dance. Their father, The King, insists on two officers as chaperones (This really happened in 1945), but it doesn’t take long for the girls to fix this problem, and what results is a night full of romance, mishaps, and fun. Most of their adventure is probably just fanciful imaginings of what the two young royals might have gotten up to during their one night living as commoners, but I loved “seeing” our Queen as she might have been as a young woman. Rated PG-13


30. Jane Eyre (1996) – A little investigation might reveal the existence of more adaptations of Jane Eyre than you’d realized! I love them all, and this version directed by Franco Zeffirelli (director of Romeo and Juliet, 1968, and whose life Tea with Mussolini is based on) is no exception. Have you seen it? If you aren’t at all familiar with Jane Eyre, it’s the story of an orphaned girl cast off by her wealthy aunt and sent to a harsh charity school for girls. She eventually advertises, and finds a place as governess at the grand but eerie Thornfield Hall. She loves her young French charge, but many clues lead her to believe all is not what it seems, including the brooding owner. Starring Dame Joan Plowright (Tea with Mussolini, 1999) and Charlotte Gainsboroug (Le Misérables, 2000). Not rated.

31. Mansfield Park (2007) – I know I said 30 movies, but I love giving a bonus! Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy relations at Mansfield Park. While the family treat her tolerably well, they also like to remind her of her lower place. It’s only her cousin, Edmund (Emma, 2009), who treats her as an equal. They are the best of friends, and Fanny hopes they can be more. Enter attractive, stylish new neighbors, brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford, and things begin to change–but Fanny isn’t sure it’s for the better. Based on the book by Jane Austen. Rated PG

Still need something to watch? Did you know there are two other versions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park?

I’d love to hear below–did I list one of your all-time favorites? Did you find one you’ve never seen before?

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Romantic as they seem to us modern folk, stage coaches and sailing ships and horses weren’t the fastest or easiest way to travel the world–nor were they something that everyone in Jane Austen’s England could afford. Unless you were a sailor, a soldier, or a diplomat, you likely spent most of your life in The British Isles. Many never left the county or shire where they were born, and spent their lives with the people in their village. That’s why so much hubbub and excitement ensued when a new teacher, or minister, or peddler arrived in town–or when the gentlefolk from London came to stay at their country estates (we readers and watchers of period dramas could give you plenty of examples here!). Even if you were among the very privileged English youth who took the Grand Tour of Europe, you weren’t as likely to come into contact with non-Europeans. Many parts of the world were yet undiscovered by the West, or were shut away from outsiders, and so it wasn’t often that people saw–much less interacted with–people who looked different from themselves. It’s not like today, where most of us can freely explore almost every corner of our beautiful earth, and where we come in contact with people of different ethnicities and cultures almost every day–if not in real life, than on the Internet or TV.

The Cast of Sanditon

Sadly, the African slave trade was still in existence during Austen’s time, and it was this evil practice that brought many from the African continent into contact with Europeans. Much of this contact was in the Caribbean, where some British had plantations. In my post Jane Austen and Slavery I explored the abolitionists that Austen knew or admired, and the way she raised awareness of slavery in her book Mansfield Park (did you know there are three film adaptations?!). From Austen’s prayers, we can assume she held to the Christian faith–or at least held to the Christian belief that we are ALL descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore all created in the image of God. Not only did she point out the evils of slavery in Mansfield Park, in her unfinished book Sanditon, she went a step further by including a black character, Georgiana Lambe. Georgiana’s father was a plantation owner, and her mother was originally a slave. But now the young heiress has been taken from sunny Antigua and placed in England, in the care of Sidney Parker (heroine Charlotte Heywood’s love interest). In the mini series adaptation of Sanditon, Georgiana (Crystal Clarke) isn’t happy with her situation. But some good things do come from her stay in England–the friendship that forms between Georgiana and Charlotte (Rose Williams) . . . and a little romance, which Charlotte helps Georgiana keep secret from Sidney (Theo James).

Heiress Georgiana Lambe & Charlotte Heywood
Georgiana & sweetheart, Otis

Jane Austen sadly passed away before completing Sanditon, so we don’t know how the book would have been received at the time. But I couldn’t help but recognize the similarities between the fictional Georgiana and the real life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose story is told in the 2013 movie, Belle. I love searching for connections between fiction and real life! Could Austen have heard of–or even known someone who met–the real Dido Belle? Dido was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Naval officer, John Lindsay, and a young black woman named Maria Bell, who was a slave on a Spanish ship that was captured by Lindsay. Their daughter, Dido, was eventually taken to England and put in the care of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised on his estate in north London. It’s been speculated that Jane Austen intentionally chose Mansfield as the name of the estate and title of her book, Mansfield Park, in which she addresses slavery. Perhaps with the way her character Georgiana’s life resembles Dido’s, Austen also intended to make connections between the two women.

Dido & Elizabeth, Belle (2013)

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Dido (Belle), like the fictional Georgiana, faced challenges in English society. The film explores some of the coldness and even open hostility that Dido likely had to endure, even as the niece of a powerful and wealthy man. But she was raised with a cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two seem to have been best friends. One of the wonderful things left from this relationship is the painting we have of the two young women. Today, the painting hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland, which I visited many times when I lived there. If only I’d paid more attention!

Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth
Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth as portrayed in the movie

As Austen only wrote about 20,000 words of Sanditon, we don’t know exactly what she had planned for the life of Georgiana Lambe. Many have continued the work as they thought it should go, beginning with Jane’s niece, Anna LeFroy, who claimed to have discussed the novel with Austen (though Anna wrote quite a lot, she sadly didn’t finish the story). And of course producer Andrew Davies (Screenwriter for Pride & Prejudice, 1995) continued the story as he thought it should go in the 2019 miniseries, Sanditon. There, Sidney, who believes Otis is a no-good fortune hunter, seems to succeed in separating him from Georgiana. In the film, Belle, we also see Dido being pursued by fortune hunters.

Dido and suitor Oliver Ashford (James Norton)
Dido & John Davinier

While we don’t know Davies’ future plans for Sanditon Season 2, and the rest of Miss Lambe’s story, we do know that Dido fell in love and married a Mr. John Davinier, who–from what we can gather–truly cared for her. While the film portrays him as a minister and abolitionist, he was in fact a Steward for a wealthy employer. Dido was left with a modest inheritance from her father and uncle, and the two must have lived in relative comfort. They had 3 sons. Much like Jane Austen, Dido passed away in her early 40s. But for those years she had with her husband and children, I hope she was happy. I hope Andrew Davies will give Georgiana a happy ending, too. Jane Austen insisted that all her heroines have a happy ending, and so I really feel he must!

Have you seen the miniseries Sanditon or the film Belle? Did you notice any similarities between them? How do you think the story will end for Miss Lambe? Belle is the final film in my Countdown to Spring Weekend Movie Pick 🌷 – Find Happy Little Sigh on Facebook, Instagram, or MeWe for the complete list of 26 favorite period drama films!!!

Avonlea x

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Instagram / Facebook / MeWe @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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