Jane, I should have trusted you. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, I was duped by the Serious People into taking something you said at face value. Out of context even.
I’ve been reading William Deresiewicz‘s new book, A Jane Austen Education, which is better than the Huffington Post feature makes it sound. (Geez, I wish I could say that about my book . . .) But we can talk about that later. The point is, all my academic life, people have told me that you repented writing Pride and Prejudice, and justified themselves by this quote:
The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling . . .
This is how they explain Mansfield Park, you see. However, Mr. Deresiewicz continues the quote:
—it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter—of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense—about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte.
Or, to sum it up in modern terms, Jane is saying, “I’m too sexy for Moby Dick.” (Oh dear . . . you all remember that song, right? . . . and anyway she is.)
Is this generally known by those that didn’t study math in college? Is it just me who’s been underestimating Miss Austen all these years? Learning the truth here is such a relief—Jane didn’t really hate P&P after all—but is also a little disturbing when you think about it. A friend once said that I was ironic at least 70% of the time, and Mr. Fitzpatrick thought he’d underestimated it. How many of my off-the-cuff remarks have been wildly misunderstood? How many of yours? If we’re still read in 200 years (ah, if only!), will the Serious People have their way with us? It makes me kind of sad to think so.
Ah well, who cares, I say! We’re too sexy for them! Repeat after me:
Jane’s too sexy for your paper, too sexy for your theory, so sexy . . .
As a final thought, I leave you with this quote from a Guardian sports article: “this Mr D’Arcy is some way removed from Jane Austen’s bodice-ripping fop.” Bodice-ripping fop. Just let that sink in. And then go hit someone with your copy of Pride and Prejudice. Repeatedly.
How is it, do you think, that Jane Austen hit on so many lessons that we need to hear, not just once, but over and over again? From Persuasion:
Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on her knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.
Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves . . .. But Mrs. Musgrove . . . concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home.
Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity. When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon . . . amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. No, these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures: her spirits rose under their influence; and like Mrs. Musgrove, she was feeling, though not saying, that after being long in the country, nothing could be so good for her as a little quiet cheerfulness.
Anne did not share these feelings.
Other people are not like ourselves; they like other things, and that’s OK. You’d think we’d have figured that out after 200 years, (and I’m sure she was not the first with this message), but it seems that everyone has to discover this for themselves, if they ever do discover it. But I think this is one truth that good fiction helps us discover. What do you think?
I hope you are enjoying a little quiet cheerfulness of your own, whatever it might be.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that everything awesome is somehow related to Jane Austen: forgiving empire-cut dresses, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, funny girls who get the guy, Colin Firth, and of course, Amy Heckerling’s contemporary classic Clueless, built on Emma. – Jezebel
True, true. I guess that’s why it’s a truth universally acknowledged . . .
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman starring in a romantic comedy, must be in want of a man — and have a best friend (or sister) on hand to crack wise and provide emotional support while she deals with him. – Vulture
That IS pretty universal, and kind of annoying.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person with a reasonably nice standard of living must be in want of a Swedish partner. – “The Official Gateway to Sweden”
Funny, I never knew that . . . Sounds like the ’70s.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a social landlord with green aspirations must be in want of a trophy wife. – Inside Housing
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a farmer in possession of gelignite is in want of somewhere better to put it than the steps of the Balclutha police station. – Homepaddock
Yeah, and that they’ll start their book with “It is a truth universally acknowledged . . . .” Alas.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone can have a blog. – Universally Acknowledged
You said it, sister. And that they’ll all NAME their blogs “A truth universally acknowledged.”
Even a science blog! – A truth universally acknowledged
Is there an echo in here?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that there are only two kinds of bacteria. One is Escherichia coli and the other is not. – “The ABC of symbiosis” by J. Allan Downie and J. Peter W. Young
So which one killed Jane Austen?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer beginning a piece with “It is a truth universally acknowledged” must be in want of ideas. – The Sydney Morning Herald
Photo credit: ©Leonieke Aalders. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
Pop quiz: Which Jane Austen character said this?
Anyone can revolt. It is more difficult silently to obey our own inner promptings, and to spend our lives finding sincere and fitting means of expression for our temperament and our gifts.
Actually, it was none of them. The quote, according to The Happiness Project, is from a French painter named Georges Rouault. But it sounds like Elinor Dashwood, doesn’t it? Or possibly Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, or any one of Austen’s more serious heroines. (It also sounds a lot like Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch, but that’s another story.) It sounds like the backstory of any Austen novel.
I don’t think, by the way, that Georges meant this to relate to political revolt. I think he, and Jane, were talking about good old ordinary life, and how hard it can be to find your niche, your “inner resources,” as Mrs. Elton would say. Then and even more now you get a lot more attention if you are revolting (Lydia, I’m looking at you) than if you’re just trying to lead a good life, or even your own life. Perhaps sometimes you have to revolt to do that. But all Jane’s heroines learn Georges’ lesson, don’t they? They all have to spazz less and look beneath the surface of events rather than respond on a superficial level.
One of Jane’s more subtle messages, really. But a true message, I think, and one leading to happiness.
Photo credit: ©2010 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Recently I’ve been pondering this quote from Northanger Abbey, which is surprising full of clothes.
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.
Do women like their friends to look shabby, worse than them? Obviously, women these days fall on a broad spectrum of caring about their appearance, but I think the more a woman cares about her appearance, the more she cares about her friends’ appearances, and the more she wants them to look fashionable (whether goth, moth, preppy, etc), so as not to embarrass her. I think wanting to look better than your friends is on a different axis altogether, one more to do with self-confidence and all that. We probably need a graph or a Venn diagram to settle the question, and an Internet quiz you can take. Maybe later.
Having come to that conclusion, I think Jane Austen was there ahead of me, and she was talking about a frivolous b-word like Isabella Thorpe, and not any of us. Oh no. We are nice girls, and not being as innocent as Catherine Morland, we know quite well what men want to see in our clothes. Jane Austen, for all her delicacy, is perfectly clear about it, and so is Mrs. Bennet of all people. I present to you, in fact, what Mr. Wickham was no doubt thinking when Lydia “tucked a little lace.” Note, this is NOT safe for work!
For those of you who haven’t already seen it, some LA Mormon girls have made a hilarious and so far fake trailer for Jane Austen’s Fight Club.
Now this is deeply satisfying; I don’t deny it. Everyone wants to see proper young ladies kick ass. Time period is not important, but the more proper, the more ass they obviously have to kick. (See: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, obviously Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Kill Bill – does she count as proper? – and so on and so on.) I’m tempted, naturally, to make a list of other movies Jane Austen could be inserted into, for copyright-ambiguous fun and profit. The Matrix: Jane Austen Reloaded springs to mind.
What about Little Miss Sunshine Bennet? In this quirky romp, the Bennet family drives their falling-apart carriage from Hertfordshire all the way to London just so Mary can compete in a talent competition. Lydia isn’t talking because she wants to join the military [wink wink nudge nudge], and Mr. Collins dies en route, the dirty old man. I think it should do well.
Or, in Eleanor and Marianne’s Excellent Adventure, the two bodacious sisters set out on a time-traveling quest to find sweet rhyme and pure reason, which will save the future universe from annihilation by evil spamlords. Along the way, they pick up a fun set of characters, including Lady Gaga, Stephen Hawking, and Stephen Colbert, all of whom embarrass them immensely. Quite by accident, they do find true love and happiness. Barack Obama advises a gathering at Sir John Middleton’s to be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!
All of this is very jolly, but I would just like to point something out here. Readers, has or has not Austenacious had a Jane Austen Fight Club column for almost a year now?! Are we owed royalties on this video? Our legal team better get busy!
In the meantime, perhaps our loyal readers could make trailers for our other columns. What Would Jane Do? is clearly a sickeningly sweet romance in which a cynical advice columnist is saved by a long-lost love (probably by falling down a hill). Jane Austen Hates You is probably an indie comedy, possibly about YouTube, MySpace, and all them there Social Networking Sites, hopefully starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick sounds like an Agatha Christie to me, and Quote Unquote is clearly the new Bond movie.
Readers, are you game? What other movies mesh well with Austen novels? Or mesh so terribly badly they just have to go?
P.S. Jane Austen’s Army of Darkness! Just saying. . .
There’s a quotation in Pride and Prejudice that always gets me—it’s the kind that keeps me up at night.
It’s right at the end, when Bingley’s finally gotten everything straightened out and made an honest woman of Jane:
“‘I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!’ cried Jane. ‘Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!’”
To which Lizzy replies:
“‘If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.’”
Readers, put me out of my misery: Is this true? Is goodness a precursor for happiness?
To be clear, I don’t think Jane is telling us that Lizzy and Darcy won’t be happy. Of course they’ll be happy; they love each other and they respect each other and they’re going to go off to Pemberley and be dazzlingly content in their wealth and unnecessary virtue. I get that she’s talking about Jane and Bingley’s ability to be content, and about their ability to not pick fights with life, and about the way that they will be eternally relieved to have actually ended up together (no thanks to you, Darcy).
But no, really. Do we—and by we I mean I—have to be good to be happy?
Let’s look at Lydia, who is pretty definitely Not Good in the context of the novel. Is Lydia happy? She certainly gets what she wants. The last we see of her, she’s all bouncy and obnoxious and rubbing her sisters’ noses in her traipsing off with Wickham—and of course we’re meant to believe that what Lydia has isn’t real (no matter what she thinks in the moment), and that it won’t last, and that she’ll end up disgraced and alone, a washed-up groupie either for the military or, slightly less likely, Phish.
It’s true that, in Jane’s novels, the virtuous and the sweet-tempered generally end up winners; the snobs, the weak-minded, and the mean-spirited, not so much. (I wouldn’t call Lizzy mean-spirited; more like mildly and wonderfully acidic. I don’t think Jane would mind.) Outside of Jane’s novels, I’m not sure: I think there are plenty of happy people who aren’t necessarily good—but are they as happy as they could be?
Shed some light, readers?
I am by no means the first person to think of quoting Jane Austen for my own profit. Indeed, the market for Jane Austen greeting cards, in particular, might be considered saturated. Funny, really, when you consider how few of her quotes say what she meant, out of their original context. That’s the good old irony at work. Even her most famous quote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” Did she mean that? I never can decide . . . However, that does not prevent me from suggesting my own line of greeting cards, and the (in)appropriate occasion for each.
It was a delightful visit; — perfect, in being much too short.
I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible to enjoy.
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.
How little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue.
A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.
You have liked many a stupider person.
My sore throats are always worse than anyone’s.
Those who do not complain are never pitied.
You have delighted us long enough.
People always live for ever when there is any annuity to be paid them.
Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.
And the Laugh-a-Minute Miscarriages
Mrs Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, ow[e]ing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
Readers, what Jane Austen quote would you least like to see addressed to you? What quote do you think is the most misapplied, or the most misunderstood?
It’s Valentine’s Day this Sunday. Being Jane Austen readers, we’re guessing you feel a complex mixture of happiness and cynicism, yearning for true love and despair that it will really be as shiny as it’s made out to be. What would Miss Austen say about Valentine’s Day? That’s a topic for another day. But guess what—it’s also Chinese New Year’s! This may suggest pink dragons and exploding hearts to some, but ingenious reader Charlene suggests combining the two events with our love of Jane Austen—because who else can console those on both sides of the fence so equally?—to make Jane Austen fortune cookies. (You probably saw that coming.) Homemade fortune cookies are divine and fun to make: you get to play with your food and call it origami. Here is a recipe. You’re on your own re the white chocolate and sprinkles in the photo.
And here, for your delectation, is a file of loving Jane Austen quotations chosen by your dedicated Austenacious literary chefs and formatted for use in fortune cookies. Go forth and rule the destinies of your friends! In bed! And let us know how it all turns out.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” – Mansfield Park
I feel like we could all use some simple refreshment. So we’ll save talking about Mansfield Park or Jane Austen’s musings on nature until another day, OK?