What with Miss Ball’s recent Mansfield Park deflowering, (and some of you got deflowered along with her, I know), it’s been a confessional little old time over here at Austenacious. And since they say confession is good for the soul . . . or catching, at any rate . . . I too have a confession to make. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice!
Ha, ha, no, psych! I’ve read all Jane Austen’s major books many times, I’ve read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon each more than once, I’ve read Jane’s History of England—I’ve even read the Juvenilia, which are pretty hilarious and a lot less refined in more than one way, if you know what I mean. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet read the complete Letters, but that is not my deep dark secret. No, gentle readers, the secret that I have hidden from you all this time . . . is that I have never seen the 1995 BBC Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Nope! Never seen him jump into the lake even once! (How do I know he jumps into a lake? Have you met yourselves at all, AustenFirth fans??)
“But how can this be, Mrs. F?” I hear you cry. “Were you not raised by a good, Austen-lovin’ mamma?” Well, I was. But those were different times, and I was raised on the clean, wholesome 1980 BBC version, always dear to my heart. I did see 2 minutes of the 1995 version when it first aired, and, bear with me here, I thought Jennifer Ehle was far too sappy to be Lizzie. No Colin Firth onscreen, and I didn’t stick around.
Well, that was 1995 and this is 2012. And here I am, ready to give this another try. Miss Ball and Miss Osborne will be on hand to laugh at my ignorance. And if you haven’t seen the Colin Firth version recently, say this year, you can laugh along with them! We’ll be liveblogging Pride and Prejudice this coming weekend:
4/28, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 1-3
4/29, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 4-6
Will my curmudgeonly heart stay true to Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, or will I be swayed by the wet, billowy cotton of Colin Firth? Stay tuned! And come on, I know you all need a refresher course, right? I mean, can you think of a better way to spend the weekend?
See you on Saturday!
Thanks to Mr. Miller for pointing us to Lizzie’s new video blog. Can’t wait to see how it comes out! (Re the statistics on single men of good fortune, see our informal sample. Regression analyses to come. Or possibly not.)
(Click here for video.)
So, I just read a new book that I think might explain a little bit about Jane Austen and Fanny Price—QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Here’s a good article summing up the book: The Rise of the New Groupthink.) No surprise that Fanny’s a world-class introvert; I think we can all agree on that. But part of Ms. Cain’s point is that extroversion has become much more important over the past few hundred years, and something called the Culture of Character gave over to the Culture of Personality, in which we live today. Here’s the ideal self the Culture of Character self-help books described:
- Golden Deeds
That doesn’t [hint hint] sound familiar at all, does it?? Anybody we know? Not little Miss Price, sitting in the corner?
And what about the ideal self from the Culture of Personality? Here’s what her self-help books describe:
Hmmmm….. Is there anyone in Mansfield Park who embodies those traits? And might she just coincidentally be Fanny’s rival just a teeny bit? I think Jane Austen actually uses at least half those words to describe Miss Crawford.
Now, the odd part is that Ms. Cain and “influential cultural historian, Warren Susman,” who she gets all this from—they both say that this switch from admiring Character to admiring Personality happened roughly at the end of the 19th century, when people were moving to cities and working with people they didn’t know, and having to sell themselves. And yet, here we have Mansfield Park almost 100 years earlier, and Jane Austen seemingly talking through Character vs. Personality. (That’s not foreshadowing in any way, Miss Ball.)
In a way, this makes Fanny more believable to me; that Our Jane would write a heroine like her makes sense if those qualities were more important. And yet, everyone in the book clearly finds Fanny awfully trying—they don’t hold her up as an ideal, no, they’re all over Miss Personality Crawford. So… maybe what Jane Austen is doing is looking at books that idealize the Fanny Price type and saying, “You pretend you like this girl, but in real life you think she’s a drip. See, I’ll prove it.”
When you think about it, that’s what Jane Austen does. Take stereotypes and look at them in real life: Catherine Morland vs. the Gothic novel. Marianne Dashwood vs. Ro-mance. Elizabeth Bennet vs. Prejudice . . . Wow, looking at it like that, Mansfield Park actually makes sense to me. And are we surprised that Jane Austen picked up on how people really thought of each other years before the self-help books did? No. No, we are not.
Here at Austenacious we love us some word art! So, with the help of Wordle, I bring you this summary of Mansfield Park. I think if you stare at it long enough, you’ll start to feel Fanny’s, uh, feelings. And I’m not sure Jane Austen ever cared about a character’s feelings as much as she cared about Fanny’s.
Send us your questions! Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike. “Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick” will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in “What Would Jane Do?” Write to us using the contact form on the About page. We’d love to hear from you!
Ms. Parvate asks: How early can I read Austen with my daughter? She turns 10 next month! And which book do you suggest as the first one?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Way to go, Ms. Parvate! We like your spirit! The young ones, female and male alike, should be introduced to the great Miss Austen as soon as possible. Still, I have to say I think 10 is probably a little young, even for Miss A, who I know is precocious. (All daughters of Austenite mothers are precocious—well-known fact.)
Anecdotal evidence indicates that 11 is probably a good time to start, and that you and Miss A can’t go wrong with Pride and Prejudice. This is a good general theory, but we can refine it with a little insight into your daughter’s character.
- Is she contrary as all heck, like me? If so, not letting her read the book, while showing her that you enjoy it, may ultimately make her more of a Jane Austen fan.
- Jane’s language is a bit of a tall order for a 10-year-old. Does Miss A eat long sentences for breakfast? If not, it will help if she has some idea of the story first. So you could show her some adaptations this year. (Cue furious debate on which ones!)
- However, watching the movie first does take away some suspense. Do we want to deprive her of the true full satisfaction of the ending? I mean, to adults it may seem obvious how Pride and Prejudice will turn out, but I devoured that ending as a girl. It was touch and go there, when they come back and Bingley is trying to propose! I mean, I was worried Darcy wouldn’t make it!
- If Miss A does read at a very high level, then I’d say you can go ahead. How is she on P.G. Wodehouse? If she reads Bertie Wooster stories after school every day, she’s probably ready for Jane. If she doesn’t, well, why doesn’t she??
- I’m going to throw in a good word for Northanger Abbey here. This might have been my first Jane Austen book, and look where it’s gotten me . . . . The heroine is a bit younger, the satire is a bit broader, and the nuances are a bit less nuanced. Especially if Miss A has any sort of gothic background (as which tween girl in these vampire-ridden days does not?), she might relate more to gawky geeky Catherine Morland than cool poised Elizabeth Bennet. Just a thought.
So there you have it, Ms. Parvate. Let us know how it turns out. It’s exciting to think of reading Jane Austen for the very first time! Kinda makes me want to get out my book right now!
P.S. Even though Miss Ball is hosting an Austenacious read-a-thon of Mansfield Park right now, I do not recommend that until Miss A is much older.
For immediate release: Austenacious requests proposals for a JANE AUSTEN THEME PARK!
Goals: To have a fun place irl to hang out with our peeps, being sarcastical, laughing at our neighbors, and trying not to be sport for them in return. Why? Why not, she said!
Rules for theme park proposals:
Note, we are not talking about some kind of holodeck adventures where we roleplay with low-rent actors dressed up as Mr. Darcy, ala Austenland. That is not a theme park. Nor is it, as AustenBlog pointed out, ironic enough for the Austen fans. We are as ironic as all hell, damn it. That is why we are Austen fans!
Nor, actually, do we want some kind of honest attempt to immerse tourists in Jane Austen’s Bath, or her villages, or even her country houses, with actors waylaying you and attempting to interact or something. How pathetically embarrassing! (OK, I am scared of those people. I admit it.) That sort of thing may be fine for Dickens’ World, but honest, vulgar sentimentality is not for us.
And we have no desire to sully Chawton, Bath, or even Lyme Regis with our water slides. You are talking to someone who almost cried when she saw the Anne of Green Gables theme park, Rainbow Valley.
But Austen is not Brontë. (I guess you knew that.) We can have some ironical, Austen-spirited fun, right? Sure, Bath is practically a Regency theme park, but the essence of Austen isn’t the world—it’s the snark. So we need a theme park with some snark, some fun, a Louisa Musgrove Drop ride, OK, yes, a Colin Firth splashing into the water roller coaster, and maybe Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet paintball. The rest is up to you.
That’s the goal. Now hit us!
Where early young women take walks by West Cliff Drive before breakfast (with their dogs). Where there are many many coffee shops to shelter from the rain, see, and be seen in. Where Admiral Croft’s arm really would be helpful in fending off undesirable acquaintances-to-be. And where sensible young women are indeed fine for their own pleasure alone.
England is a lovely country. Everyone’s so polite and so friendly. Which I guess is why they need sarcastic outlets like Time Out London‘s Lies to Tell Tourists column. My personal favorite:
When on the tube it’s customary to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to and opposite you. (@magiczebras)
I never need a sarcastic outlet, which is why I immediately started thinking of Lies to Tell Jane Austen Tourists.
When at a party it’s customary to introduce yourself to all those present, particularly superior nephews of your noble patroness.
Respectable, marriageable gentlemen will flock instantly to your side should you fall down a hill. Important: It must be raining at the time.
When conversing with a new acquaintance, you should comment on their father’s ill health and be surprised they were raised by a lady.
Lockets of hair possessed by significant others always represent true love.
The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his ha-ha. OK, the quickest way to a man’s aunt is through her ha-ha.
If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your first duty is to suspect your host of nefarious activities and scour the place to find the truth.
One’s first impressions of people are invariably right.
And, the best way to get a girl to break up with your son/nephew is to insult her.
My efforts just scratch the surface. Come on, readers, show us your stuff! I’m sure you can lie to Jane Austen tourists like anything. Bring it on!
This week we saw the Doctor and Captain Wentworth go up against each other in Jane Austen Fight Club. Miss Ball pronounced Wentworth the winner; the commenters favored the Doctor, mostly because of the TARDIS. (And old-skooler Mrs. Fitzpatrick can’t get Tom Baker as Wentworth out of her mind. Steampunk Regency naval captains sailing around the galaxy? Anyone?)
However, in a happy outcome, we no longer have to choose!
Recently I went to a conversation between William “Bill” Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, and Karen “Karen” Joy Fowler, author of Jane Austen Book Club. There were about 15 of us there at Books, Inc in Berkeley, and OK, it was almost a month ago (don’t you just love instant reporting on the Internet?), but it was really cool! It was like hanging out with all you dear readers, all of us gabbing about Austen, all of us being surprised at just how differently we see the books. One of those, you know, life metaphors.
Here’s a few of the things we talked about. And because I think of you all as my Jane Austen friends, I’d love to hear what you think about any of them.
- The way that the humor of the books is generally lacking in the movies, and if this could be remedied. I and a few others said, yes, it could, but those movies would not be the rather swooshy pink rom-coms lots of people want from their Austen films. (Talk about irony . . . .) How you would do this I’m not sure, being better at watching movies than making them. Any ideas out there?
- Secularism in Jane Austen—how church and religion are hardly ever mentioned in her books, yet she was the daughter of a clergyman, etc, etc. And how the clergymen run the gamut from Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars to Mr. Collins and back again. Now my own take is that church and the clergy were such a ubiquitous part of Austen’s life that she hardly ever thought to comment on them, and that she saw the clergy in particular as just a bunch of guys. What do you think?
- Bill said that widowhood and loss are a theme in Persuasion. I’m not so sure. He pointed out that most of the characters are widows or widowers, which is true. Anne’s loss of Captain Wentworth and other losses do play a role, but as Miss Ball argued, the recovery of love and happiness is crucial to the book (and is significantly lacking in widowhood). And the way Austen treats the widows and losers of Persuasion, other than Anne, is not really very sympathetic. Like the clergy, I would venture to say that they were just more common in an age of earlier deaths. But it is an interesting thought.
- So was Karen’s comment that Mrs. Smith is a rather sinister character—she doesn’t tell Anne how wicked Mr. Elliot is until after Anne declares she won’t marry him. This is a common problem in friendship, though, isn’t it? In my own circle I know of two instances of one person on the brink of a disastrous marriage and their friend deciding whether or not to say something. One friend did, the other didn’t (having already made her opinions known). It didn’t make a difference in either case, and both couples are now divorced. Aside from the fact that it had never occurred to me that Mrs. Smith was sinister, this discussion pointed out parallels in Austen’s books to my own life that I hadn’t even thought of!
- One person asked how reading Jane Austen has enlivened your life. Do you think and act differently because of her? Karen said she suffered fools better than she used to, enjoyed them even! And Bill said she’d made him able to admit the possibility of his being wrong. For myself, I think that I started reading Austen young enough (~13) that she helped shape my entire outlook on life, both my morals and my ever-present sense of irony. Though I also simply felt that I had found a friend.
What about you? How has reading Jane Austen enlivened your life? Has she changed you?