Today, readers, is the big day: the end of the era of Emma! Should we all hug and cry and say we’ll see each other during summer? Shall someone play ”Free Bird” as our class song? I don’t want to make a speech. Someone else should do that. And then in four to six weeks, someone can mail us that all-important piece of paper, to declare that we all read this really long and cringe-inducing novel and came out the other side. Ready?
First, a few minor observations:
- You know, I WANT to be cool about Mr. Knightley and his crush on the junior-high set, because it was a different time and I don’t think Jane meant anything by it (though we’re certainly allowed to be scandalized by Wickham and fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy, over in that other universe), and we all know Mr. Knightley is nothing if not an obnoxiously upstanding citizen. But that “saucy looks” comment is totally not helping.
- I do, however, love Mr. Knightley’s comments about the inconvenience of giving a large musical instrument as a gift. Once, a college friend spontaneously gave my roommate and me a betta—Simon the Wonder Fish!—who was beautiful and a source of great joy for about six days, when he died, probably because we were keeping him in a plastic lychee-jelly bucket, which in retrospect was likely full of BPA and other fish-murdering toxins. That was one dramatic fish funeral (in the bathroom, naturally). I feel like a pianoforte at a house that isn’t even your own is probably kind of like an unexpected pet that’s going to die in less than a week.
- And, okay, it makes me so happy that Mr. and Mrs. George Knightley live happily ever after in her home, or rather her father’s home—that Mr. Knightley gives up his estate for the good of goofy old Mr. Woodhouse. Because he is judgy, yes, but sweet! Which I suppose is the conclusion I’ve come to in general. Judgy, but sweet. I think I can live with that.
- As delightful as Paul Rudd is in Clueless—and everything else; let’s be real—I keep trying to insert him into a plain old Regency adaptation of Emma, and failing. I just don’t think he’s stern enough unless he’s talking Clinton-era environmentalism, you know?
Sooo, this is the end of Emma. And…what? We started this read-along primarily because Mrs. F couldn’t hang with Emma herself long enough to get through the book. I guess the question is: do we feel differently now, about her or about the novel?
I think I’m mostly relieved: not because Emma marries Mr. Knightley in the end, though I enjoyed the romance portion about a thousand times more than I remembered, but because she doesn’t stay who she was at the beginning of the novel. (This is my main complaint about Mansfield Park—Fanny Price never learns anything, so what, exactly, is the point?) I don’t know that I hate Early Emma as much as many of you, but can you imagine—nobody points out the horror of her comment to Miss Bates (or anything else), and Emma remains exactly who she is and continues leaving a wake of social and emotional havoc behind her, and maybe she never marries, or maybe she marries somebody like Frank Churchill, who thinks she’s always right. Hartfield and the surrounding area, and eventually Earth and the moon and the sun and the universe, are sucked into a black hole of her self-regard. And that’s the end. And all because Mr. Knightley failed to deliver that key lecture in that benevolently affronted tone of his!
Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but…kind of. In any case, Emma is the Austen heroine who most harms other people with her flaws—the rest simply hang themselves with their judginess/lack of self-control/overabundance of self-control/overabundance of imagination—which I think makes her redemption seem extra necessary. When she finally does change, the release of tension is palpable.
I still have my doubts about Frank and Jane Fairfax, but you all already know about that. I just don’t know, you guys.
So. Now that it’s over, how are you and Emma? Lay it on me.
So am I right, or am I right, or am I right: this penultimate section is where Emma gets good.
Because: the strawberry patches of Donwell, and then Box Hill. Ohhhh, Box Hill. What I love about the climax (or whatever the bad version of “climax” is) of the novel is how very Emma it is—just a thoughtless remark, something true but unspeakable, aimed at someone so helpless that it’s like a hawk attacking a baby bird without realizing that it’s a terrible thing to do. Like, maybe it wouldn’t get EATEN so much if it would stop being such a BABY BIRD.
But after the carnage (and Mr. Knightley’s lecture; I don’t know WHAT kind of bird HE is, and maybe this simile is dying anyway) comes what I see as the greatest single moment of character growth for Emma in the whole novel. Of course the best recompense for Emma’s words is the one thing she never wants to give Miss Bates: her time, and therefore her respect. I love this—it’s not an elaborate apology, which would only embarrass Miss Bates further. Emma’s deliberate visit to the Bates house displays the kind of thoughtfulness she’s never been thoughtful enough to realize she was missing. It’s a nice moment, is what I’m saying.
(I forgot to say earlier that I love the part where Mrs. Elton is pleased to see the strawberry patches of Donwell, but would have been just as happy with the cabbage fields, because she really just wants to go somewhere. Anywhere! It gives me such comfort to know I’m not the only one who gets this way, even if it’s me and Mrs. Elton. Usually, it ends with my mom and a spontaneous ice cream cone. So that’s nice.)
And then scandal—scandal!—comes to the Bates-Fairfax home, and you guys, I have such conflicted thoughts about Frank Churchill. On one hand, I think he’s the least of the Austen scoundrels. Can we even call him a scoundrel? How about just a garden-variety tool? So he flirted with the ladies while he was secretly engaged to a nice girl. Because my previous memory of this book was practically nonexistent, I kept waiting for him to have defiled somebody and left her pregnant and alone. But no! He got cranky in the heat, kept his engagement on the DL (by mutual consent, though), and anonymously bought the lady a pianoforte. Gee, that guy’s the worst!
But then I also think: is this the ending we want for sweet, pretty-much-awesome Jane Fairfax? Jane the author presents Jane the character’s happy ending with Frank Churchill as…well, a happy ending. And I just keep thinking that, pianoforte aside, she could do better than that guy. Doesn’t Jane deserve someone noble, who has a good relationship with his mom and doesn’t use his undercover-taken status to hit on girls in front of his fiancee?
Maybe this is just Jane being realistic: the nice girl ends up with the guy who’s kind of a jerk without being actually THAT bad, and likes it. I guess that’s a thing that happens.
Aaaand then we waltz our way into the home stretch of romantic-comedy territory, and seriously, it’s so much fun. Emma loves Mr. Knightley, but oh no, maybe Harriet ALSO loves Mr. Knightley, and Emma’s really trying to stop screwing poor Harriet over, but maybe in this situation it would be worth it, and Harriet thinks MAYBE Emma might be wrong about something, but anyway it’s all okay because Mr. Knightley loves Emma too. And only since she was thirteen! So THAT’s a relief.
“…If he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he would have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.” IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT MR. KNIGHTLEY? (This is like that one time in Jane Eyre where there’s a joke, and it throws me off every time.) Not a natural comedian, and not really a graceful subject of humor, that George Knightley—he’s too busy being noble. But I guess in his moment of romantic bliss, Jane gets away with it.
What do you think, readers?
So you might have heard that this guy named Michael Chwe has written a book called Jane Austen, Game Theorist. Austenacious reader Mr. Henke pointed us to The New York Times’ article about it. (So did three of my friends—thanks, Ms. Hobza, Ms. Reynolds, and Mr. West!)
Mr. Chwe, game theorist, watched Clueless and was impressed with Austen’s grasp of the technical elements of strategy. In 2010 he wrote a paper about game theory in Austen, but only the alert Miss Ball noticed: it was a scoop for Austenacious! (We’re in ur discipline, teaching ur colloquia) And I attempted to explain things a bit in Game Theory, SCIENCE!, and Other Hobbies of Jane Austen.
Now the book’s out, and it should totally be my thing. It combines three of my main pursuits: Austen (duh), math, and games. But this Slate article summed up my thoughts at first: “Political Scientist Realizes Jane Austen Knew Something About Human Relationships.” Kind of “Aw, isn’t that cute? I like it when scientists discover the arts … But humanities get no respect unless scientists are into them, grrr…. He’s just riding on Jane’s popularity wave with a tenuous connection like that Proust was a Neuroscientist book… Bah!”
However, I thought that instead of grumbling at length, I’d tell you a little about game theory and how YOU can use it in your own lives. (I figured you’re probably good on the Austen part.) Which meant I had to read up on game theory, and hey, I got all excited and into new things about math! Go, learning! So I thank Mr. Chwe for that, and will probably read his book after all. Meanwhile. . .
Game theory is the mathematical study of games, such as card games and board games. Game theorists want to know how to “solve” a game—determine an optimal strategy for the players. This is more complicated than it sounds, unless the game is tic-tac-toe. You probably know (or is it just me?) the exact best move to make in any situation in tic-tac-toe, whether you are X or O. That’s an example of a solved game.
There are a lot of different types of games in terms of strategy: is the game cooperative or not? symmetric (strategy doesn’t depend on WHO is playing it) or not? do you know everyone’s previous moves? do you know their strategies and possible outcomes? are there A LOT of possible moves at any given time (think chess or go)? Etc.
I know this sounds really abstract, but game theory is also super-useful in economics, biology, politics, and whenever people are trying to figure out the best outcome for a “player” in a situation, and how they should go about getting it. For example, apparently biologists have used the game of chicken to analyze fighting behavior and territoriality. (That sentence is a direct quote from Wikipedia and I think it’s one of the most hilarious things ever.)
How do you actually analyze a game? Probability comes into it a lot—if the words expected value mean anything to you, you’re doing well. But there are actually other methods, ones that don’t assume that players will act “rationally,” or realize that acting rationally may not mean choosing an outcome based purely on the payout (as you probably would in a casino, but not in the Real World). This is where fuzzy logic comes in, and other hard-core math/computer science stuff I could go on about but will spare you.
Here are a few ideas you may think about that are used in game theory:
- How to fairly divide something—Mr. Fitzpatrick and I used to split our pizzas in half meticulously. One of us chose the cut to split along (pizza cutters are not very precise) and the other chose which half to take. I think all moms know this method, which is called the cake-cutting problem.
- Zero-sum games—In a zero-sum game, anything you gain is someone else’s loss, and vice versa. Do you think this is a fundamental rule of life? I don’t, but a lot of people do! Whether you believe this in different situations can really affect your outlook.
- Minmaxing—Formally this means minimizing the possible loss for a worst case (maximum loss) scenario, or maximizing the minimum gain. Day-to-day I think about this in terms of taking small precautions against relatively large risks and NOT taking large precautions against smaller risks. Sometimes I also think about it in terms of efficiency, but I’m not sure that’s right.
- And actually, something new from Mr. Chwe’s book, the concept of “cluelessness”—that highly privileged people, AKA Lady Catherine, cannot know the strategies of “lower class” people, AKA Elizabeth Bennet. I think this one is called “white privilege” these days. I shall be interested to see how game theory tackles it.
OK, that’s probably FAR MORE than you wanted to know about game theory! Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Emma, the originator of cluelessness.
Photo credit: Michael Chwe’s video for Jane Austen, Game Theorist
Congratulations, Team Emma Read-Along! You’ve made it halfway, and you haven’t even thrown your copy of the novel into the fire in disgust. (At least, I assume you haven’t, or at least that you bought a new copy and continued. We’re not quitters here.) In this section, things are starting to get REAL around Highbury, like so:
“Oh, Miss Woodhouse,” says Frank Churchill, “Why are you always so right?” Aaaaand here we are at the crux of the issue, man-wise. No wonder Emma likes him! And no wonder Mr. Knightley wants to throttle him 100% of the time! Seriously, though: Churchill, you are not helping. As much as I complain about Mr. Knightley, I think it’s refreshing that Emma’s choice is less about the manly attributes of her suitors and more about who she is around them. (I suppose this halfway answers my earlier question about whether Mr. Knightley changes at all over the course of the novel—maybe he doesn’t, but since the novel isn’t called Mr. Knightley, maybe he doesn’t need to. I find this slightly unsatisfying, but I get it.)
In other news, I hope that I am supposed to be enjoying Mrs. Elton, because she is the worst, and I love her. (I have a long history of liking detestable characters—Pete Campbell on Mad Men, I’m looking at you—but Mrs. Elton isn’t even bad for a reason. She’s just terrible for the sake of being terrible, and it is GREAT.) Just an endless stream of awful from Mrs. August Elton, and I never get tired of it, either.
So, do we think Maple Grove is next door to Rosings Park, or just around the block? (But also, oh gosh, Mrs. Elton and Lady Catherine! I would pay some body parts to see THAT dinner party.)
Sooo, here’s the part where Mrs. Elton & Jane Fairfax compare being a governess to being a slave—an actual, literal slave—which sounds tremendously tone-deaf (at best) to modern ears. However! Emma takes place right in the middle of the British abolitionist movement—and so this strikes me as a small but fascinating insight into the social environment of Jane’s time, and a rare glance outside the immediate situation of the novel.
I loved the part at the ball where Emma realizes how hot Knightley is. (Can I call him “Knightley,” or does that make me the worst?) His “tall, firm, upright figure”! His “gentlemanlike manner” and “natural grace”! Because here’s the thing: it takes something for a man to impress Emma Woodhouse, and here we see the once-over of realization, pretty much in real time and pretty much for the first time.
And then he dances with Harriet, and I die. This is what does it for me and Knightley: the kindness of his dancing with Harriet, who’s already in an awkward situation and probably steaming in her own embarrassment at being partnerless, well, FINE, JANE, THE JUDGMENTAL GUY IS AWESOME. (Never mind that it causes Harriet strife later. She gets her happy ending! IT’S A GESTURE.)
Readers? What do you think? Lay it on me.
Here we are in early-to-middling Emma, otherwise known as “the introduction section.” Jane Fairfax! Mrs. Augusta Elton! The Campbells, the Dixons, and the Coles, and one mysterious pianoforte! Some of these people are important and some of them are not, and one of them is an inanimate object, but Jane wishes you to remember them all. (It’s okay if you have to page back to remember about the Dixons. Not that I would do that. But you, my friends, are perfectly allowed.)
Harriet, sweet Harriet. (Anybody? Anybody?) In this section, the true suckitude of Harriet’s situation comes into focus—for the reader if not for Emma. She’s running into her ex at the store! Her not-really-ex is showing up with his new wife! Whether Harriet herself sees the ways in which Emma’s screwed her over is anybody’s guess.
(I’ve been thinking more about Emma and what she does to Harriet, and I love how Jane makes her so totally confident in the bull-in-Royal-Doulton-outlet effect she’s having on Harriet’s life. Not a doubt to be seen! I read recently that the key to writing a good villain is creating a character who believes 100% that he or she is in the right; I don’t think Austen meant for Emma to be a villain, exactly, but I don’t think “heroine” is quite the word at this juncture, either.)
Aaaand here we meet Jane Fairfax, a character I cycle between half-forgetting (“…Jane. Right. The orphan. Yes. I knew that.”) and not knowing what to make of. And I suppose that’s what Jane/Emma/Mr. Knightley means by “one cannot love a reserved person”—we’re continually told how lovely this beautiful and accomplished orphan-and-governess-to-be is, but we never get a grasp on her, even when things get, ahem, REAL. This sensation intensifies towards the end of the novel (wink wink, nudge nudge, all of you who’ve read this before), and maybe it’s a story for a later post, but for now let’s just say: frustrating and fascinating and also kind of a ghost. WHO ARE YOU, JANE FAIRFAX?
Hee, Frank Churchill goes sixteen miles each way ON HORSEBACK to get his hair cut. Emma thinks this is kind of dumb. There’s “an air of foppery and nonsense in it which she could not approve,” and if you think I won’t be working the words “an air of foppery” into casual conversation this week, well, we must not know each other very well.
And finally, Emma condescends to have dinner with the Coles, who are “only moderately genteel,” and now you know what I’m getting embroidered onto satin jackets for my immediate family this Christmas. The Coles probably eat squeeze cheese on Triscuits during the Super Bowl, too. Finally, I’ve found my people in the Jane Austen universe!
Did we surprise you? Did you think we’d abandoned our Emma readalong in a fit of pique? Did you put the novel down, or finish it without us? Might you be stuck in the middle of what is turning out to be a surprisingly long book? No matter what the situation, we do hope you’ll come back and read with us: Mrs. Fitzpatrick is indeed taking a brief holiday from posting, on account of the Emma-rage-induced coma she’s currently experiencing (not really), but I’ll be taking over and continuing our stroll through the novel. Probably with Mr. Knightley. The man loves a good walk almost as much as he despises a graceless lady. Or so I hear.
If you’re questioning my credentials as Emma readalong ringmistress, let me tell you: I may not have Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s existential malaise about it, and about Emma in particular, but I do have my own complete lack of opinion, which surely must be just as good? It’s been so long since I’ve encountered Miss Woodhouse that I’m practically, as they say, experiencing it again for the very first time.
Even better, my own mental landscape for Emma is the weirdest possible mishmash: since I barely remember the novel, my brain is like some kind of crazy Regency Surrealist painting, mostly of Clueless and the most recent BBC adaptation. It’s Romola Garai and Michael Gambon (pterodactyl arms and all) and Breckin Meyer and everything else, and let me tell you, it’s super strange and entertaining.
But let’s get down to business.
So, it’s not exactly that I have a problem with Mr. Knightley in the broad sense—there’s some stuff later that’s downright delightful—but I sometimes think he’s my least favorite Austen love interest (though that may have been before I met Edmund Bertram). Here is why I have a hard time with Mr. Knightley: “Hey, let’s be friends and make up,” he says, three seconds after calling her a spoiled child who’s always wrong. To her face! I guess we’re supposed to think that because he’s kind of right, he must not also be kind of a jerk. I just, I don’t know, think those things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Which brings me to something else: Does Mr. Knightley learn anything over the course of the novel? Does he change at all, or is it only Emma who needs to get in touch with her better self? (I suppose in a book called Emma, the onus of personal growth might lie with, well, EMMA. But he can be awfully judgy.)
So, there’s half an inch of snow on the ground, and Isabella’s freaking out about getting home. Which I would mock if I hadn’t once made Miss Osborne drive us through Rocky Mountain National Park in exactly this same situation. Snow is scary, people! It will make your car slide off the road, and nobody will ever find you, and if you fall asleep, you’ll freeze to death (or so my fourth-grade reading book told me) and be one of those people who’s uncovered six months later, at the thaw. Or, you know, after the half-inch of snow melts. I’m from California! What do you want from me?
Anyway, Jane calls Isabella Knightley “the good-hearted Mrs. John Knightley,” which I’ve now decided is the Regency version of “she has a good personality.” Well, bless her heart.
Every once in awhile, it kills me that Jane lived and wrote before the heyday of the screwball comedy film. The part with Mr. Woodhouse and the new maid and the perfect consistency of gruel? You guys, that is a bit, and neither Laurel and Hardy nor Lorelai Gilmore could do any better.
On the other hand, neither Laurel and Hardy nor Lorelai Gilmore had the endurance to write an entire chapter of Miss Bates (Chapter 19, or Volume 2, Chapter 1, if you’re using my weird library copy). Nor did, I must say, I have the fortitude of heart to read it all in one sitting. Or, like, five sittings. That woman makes my everything glaze over, AND SHE ISN’T EVEN REAL.
So what do you say, Austen Nation? Another ten chapters? See you soon; same bat time, same bat channel. Same bat judgmental dude out for a walk.
So I was watching the end of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last week, and I was thinking about adaptation—as you do—and I came up with one very simple principle: We can never allow Joss Whedon to adapt Pride and Prejudice.
I want to be clear: I love me some Joss. It’s not that. Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, Dr. Horrible, whatever. I’m in. It’s just that I can’t allow any of Jane’s characters to end up in Joss Heaven.
You see, there is a tiny room in heaven that I like to believe is reserved for the fictional characters created and then killed by Joss Whedon. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I mean: it’s the nicest, most patient, and most loving characters who tend to die, nearly always unexpectedly and in gruesome fashion. In my mind, these fictional darlings—Tara, Wash (WAAAAAASH!), Felicia Day in Dr. Horrible—spend fictional eternity together, being nice and noble and agreeing about things. And it’s pleasant! But it’s always, always too soon. And in the Jane Austen canon, I can think of exactly two characters clearly destined for Joss Heaven:
That’s it. Just the two of them. (Other Austen characters tend in that direction, but I think the Bingleys-to-be are the height of it.) It happens just as Bingley’s approaching Longbourne to propose, too, so that neither of them will ever know the happiness that was approaching, and readers’ hearts are pierced at the moment of peak fullness. (Don’t you think so? I think so. Yes, this is definitely how it happens.)
And so you see, readers, that we must be vigilant. We must protect these sweet characters from shocking moments of impalement, which are sure to come even in a canon-compliant adaptation. (I don’t know how. But I DON’T TRUST HIM.) Save the future Bingleys!
See you in Joss Heaven.
One week from this Thursday, the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will hit one hundred episodes and call it quits. This, of course, is probably our cue to sneak a little LBD action in around here. We at Austenacious are nothing if not standing on the cutting edge of culture and technology, right?
Here’s one thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I think it’s good. I think it’s smartly written and well-performed. I like the transposing of romantic situations into professional situations, in sometimes surprising ways—I can’t be the only one who, for example, was pleasantly surprised when, duh, Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was wasn’t Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins at all, because modern-day Charlotte doesn’t need to marry for practical reasons! Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, OBVIOUSLY! I think the writers made a lot of smart choices and came up with something that’s a lot of fun.
Here’s another thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I do not have a lot of things to say about it, except “Aww!” and “Well, that was clever,” and “How can I have hair like Laura Spencer‘s?” (HER HAIR, YOU GUYS) and “Okay, just one more.” If that were less true, I can assure you I’d have talked about it more here. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it without much comment.
What I DO want to discuss is the fandom that’s cropped up around the series—a discrete fandom, separate from Pride and Prejudice itself, complete with all the trappings: fanart, fanfiction, pre-episode squee spills all over Twitter and Tumblr and basically the rest of the Internet where people hang out, and, of course, a hearty band of trolls, presumably in empire-waist dresses. People are INTO IT, easily as taken with Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh as they are with plenty of traditional Lizzie/Darcy pairs. They’re agonizing over the ending: where will we leave Lizzie and Darcy, and will there be making out (“fingers crossed” seems to be the consensus, or maybe “THERE HAD BETTER BE MAKING OUT OR ELSE”), or will there be vague maybe-someday dating implications, or everything, or nothing, heaven forbid? They’re also discussing it—its relationship to the original text, its relationship to the ancillary series by Lydia and Maria Lu, a kitty named Kitty, the triumphs and vagaries of the web series medium, and especially the portrayal of Lydia, and whether the writers got her right or got her wrong, or were true to Jane’s vision or turned her into something new and incorrect. Some of this stuff is super smart, and some of it’s less smart, and some of it’s silly on purpose, and some of is decidedly not. Put it all together, and it’s a real live fandom.
And that, my friends, is a little amazing. All this for a story people already know, have already read and seen and talked through a million times and in a million forms. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Jane—she wrote a story that resonates with people, even if the regiment is really the swim team and a decent job at a start-up is just about as exciting as finding your true love. But the team behind the series must be doing something interesting, or I don’t think the discussion surrounding the LBD would be as vibrant as it is. It’s the difference between rehashing Pride and Prejudice and thinking about something new, with new creative choices—even when people don’t like what’s happening, they want to talk about it. And that seems, to me, like the real accomplishment: a new discussion of an old story. For me, watching the fans has been at least as exciting as watching the series.
So, tell me, readers: Are YOU in the LBD fandom? How are you doing with things coming to a close?
Sometimes in this universe, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or so I hear. Ask and you shall receive, they say. I’d like to propose an alternative: get yourself to a good used-book sale.
It was just days ago that I was complaining about my ugly movie-tie-in copy of Pride and Prejudice. What would I do, I asked, if faced with a newer, prettier copy—a copy lovely of face but without the “I lived life with Miss Ball and all I got was Colin Firth’s face on my dust jacket” attitude? Would I betray my roots and run off with this sexy upstart?
WELL. Sunday, I was trawling the Classics section at the annual church book sale, sifting through the castoffs of a year of Presbyterian reading, and what did I find? A mint-condition Everyman’s Library hardcover copy of P&P, staring up at me with its handsome dotted spine. For a dollar. ONE DOLLAR.
You should know that I ran over to Miss Osborne, over in History and Biography, with my conundrum. To sacrifice valuable parking-meter quarters and a good two inches of shelf space for a book I already own? Or to leave this lovely orphan for somebody else to find? Well, people, I am either a selfish jerk or a huge softie with a tendency to over-anthropomorphize, because that book was in my purse before you can say “Fitzwilliam Darcy.” I shifted things around on my shelves, and the new girl took her place…right next to the old copy. And why shouldn’t they coexist? Old and well-loved and fairly hideous, meet your twin, new and rescued (RESCUED!) and so so pretty. No betrayal necessary. Now I have two copies of Pride and Prejudice, and I think I can live with that.
I have to tell you, readers, that when I visited my local Anthropologie today, I was not looking for books. (I was, in fact, looking for a sale-priced cocktail dress, and I found one! Friends with upcoming weddings: I will not be arriving in the nude. You’re so welcome.) But: there were books. There were these books:
And also THESE books:
Surreptitious iPhone photos aside, aren’t they just about the loveliest? They’re Penguin Classics hardcovers with covers designed by Mr. Boddington’s Studio, and let me just recommend that you don’t click that link, because if you do, all your money are belong to them. No, actually, DO click that link and check out their lookbook, and then wonder why you are not currently getting married in a picturesque ceremony in Italy/Minneapolis/the Rocky Mountains/a ranch on the California coast. Not that I would spend half an hour doing exactly that. Noooope. Not this girl.
Anyway, I don’t know about you, readers, but I am a picky lady when it comes to covers—especially covers for classics. The truth is that I don’t own a complete set of Austen’s novels, in part because I can’t commit to a cover design. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle movie tie-in version, and I’m not sure how that happened—I think it must have been a gift. I love it for sentimental reasons, but it’s ugly. And oh, my library-paperback copy of Emma provokes such internal conflict (much like Miss Woodhouse herself)! It’s hot pink, and clearly intended to snare unknowing chick-lit fans trawling the stacks. It is simultaneously better-looking than many other library copies, and a little offensive to my smart-lady sensibilities. I see what you’re doing there, library, and I’m not sure whether I like it. But I’m going to keep reading.
The recent smattering of well-designed Penguin Classics and other versions helps all this. And, really, these may be my Platonic classics covers, especially the Sense and Sensibility—I feel like that lovely design is going to age well. But the question remains: will I replace my ugly P&P with one that’s prettier but hasn’t traveled through life with me? Will I buy a stylish copy of Mansfield Park (I borrowed Miss Osborne’s copy for last year’s read-along; she read along on her iPad like the tech ninja she is) that I’ll hate in ten years? Why do I even care?
So, readers, tell me: what editions of Austen do you have? Which editions of Austen do you WANT? Or are you above all that and just in it for the language? Hit me.