I know I’m no fun, but I think we’ve established that Jane Austen prequels, sequels, mash-ups, and other literary Photoshoppings make my heart sink and my blood pressure rise. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fandom (heaven knows I appreciate fandom), or that I don’t have a sense of humor about Jane—I do, and anything else would miss the point. This isn’t even a Jane Austen Hates You post; it’s just that, well, I don’t want the Darcys’ sex life play-by-play, and I don’t want to see the Bennet sisters fight monsters (sea, nocturnal blood-sucking, or otherwise), and I don’t want to hear about Jane coping as a swingin’ modern-day vampire looking for love in the big city.
To which I say, who doesn’t love a good bhangra number?
For me, it’s all a question of basic (if implied) intent. Austen sequels, mash-ups, and the like so often come across as attempts either to paint Jane in a hipper, funnier light—as if she needs the help—or to add to the canon she left behind. The implication is that Jane’s work has no place in contemporary culture if we don’t see it through the familiar lenses of bodice-rippers/Sex and the City/debilitating irony; even straight-up sequels set in Austen’s universe, which are clearly labors of love on the parts of the authors, tend to imply that Jane’s work deserves some kind of follow-up (and, with a brand of guts that I personally could never muster, that they are the one to provide it!). On the other hand, Bollywood Jane is—so far—a work of pure appreciation. In Bride and Prejudice, nobody ever implies that Austen needs changing or supplementing, or that the Indian audience wouldn’t relate to a straight re-telling. There’s no sense that the original novel would be better with a modern-day Indian setting; if anything, it’s the other way around. In fact, the change of scenery and style occurs almost separately from the story, and function as a tribute to the universality of Austen’s themes—as the setting changes, the narrative and key themes remain surprisingly the same.
Besides, Bollywood Jane gives a whole new meaning to the term “choreographed group dance.” I love a ball, indeed:
If Aisha can offer the same thoughtful, affectionate take on Emma, well, bring on the dhol.
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.
INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
We open on a television set. The screen is black.
An eerie chord sounds and splinters; text appears.
EXT. REGENCY HOME – DAY
When we return, gone is the island! Instead, OUR HEROES materialize, bedraggled and apparently out of thin air, on the grounds of a grand Regency estate. CHARLES WIDMORE looks on from a nearby window, twirling his nonexistent mustache.
You’re gonna love it. LOST: The Regency Season! What a way to go, right?
We zero in on the action.
You fell down a hill and twisted your ankle? I’ll save you! Don’t you love me? Fine. I’ll be off crying in the forest if you need me TO AMPUTATE YOUR LEG.
JAMES “SAWYER” FORD
I challenge you to a duel, Mr. Shephard! I say, have I misplaced my shirt again?
KATE (ahem) AUSTEN
I love you, Mr. Shephard! No. I love you, Mr. Ford! No, I love you, Mr. Shephard! No, I love you, Mr. Ford! No, I love you, Mr. Shephard! What? You want your gun(s) back? La la la I can’t hear you! What?
Tell me where Wickham and Lydia went, or I’ll kill you with my thighs!
That Churchill fellow cultivates an admirable air of mystery. Care for some backgammon, shooting, and/or pseudo-religious posturing? Don’t tell me what I can’t do!
I can kill every single one of these ladies with my brain.
Gypsies warned me not to send my baby away, but what do they know?
These ladies are tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me…away from mah Penneh. PENNEH!
This time-travel nonsense is no match for the majesty of Rosings Park!
Memo, Anne Elliott: Don’t let your man go off to sea. The only thing worse than years of crushing loneliness is having to rescue him from a lifeboat in the South Pacific ten years later. Ask me how I know!
Dude, where’s the Dharma cold meats platter?
We close on the castaways burning a bonfire as the sun sets. They’re alone. OR ARE THEY? Mr. Collins skulks around the shadows, unbeknownst to all.
Memo, universe: We at Austenacious have had just about enough of this “rain” business. Yes, we’re in California; yes, Minnesota, we feel you staring daggers at the backs of our heads right now. But you’ve got to know: it is the birthright of all Californians to experience 365 perfect weather days a year, and so far 2010 is just a giant vitamin D deficiency waiting to happen. And I think it goes without saying that you don’t want to see us cranky and/or with impaired bone mineralization.
In the mean time, as one does, we look to the grey-weather experience (see what I did there, Anglo-spellers?) of a people so steeped in precipitation, so accustomed to mist and gloom, that anything less than moss-growing conditions may as well be July in Death Valley. Would Jane mope when things get rainy? Would the young ladies of Jane’s novels faint when the sun seems simply gone forever? They would not, because they are English, and the English would never get anything done if they let the perpetual drizzle get them down. The English simply keep calm and carry on being . . . whatever it is they are. Awesome, I suppose?
And so, today, we present the Jane Austen Ladies’ Survival Guide for Soul-Crushing Weather, AKA Tips For the English, From the English (Regency Edition):
Tip #1: Become accomplished.
This is Priority One, obviously, and also blends conveniently with damp conditions. While your skin pales and your muscles atrophy, brush up on your painting! Practice that piece for next week’s ball, so as to avoid Mary Bennet Syndrome! Laziness is unbecoming, and the picturesque (though, of course, visibility-impaired) scene outside your (closed) window isn’t going to sketch itself, ladies, so let’s get moving, shall we?
Tip #2: Freak yourself out with Gothic tales.
This works better when things get truly squally, but with a little imagination, you, too, can slash the fine membrane between fiction and reality! Bonus points if you accuse your future husband’s father of killing his wife.
Tip #3: Matchmake.
Hey, we watched the premiere of Emma too, okay? Social parties and romantic walks are out of the question for now, sure, but bracket charts, Rolodexes, and sheer intuition function just fine under persistent cloud cover.
Tip #4: Go for a walk.
What have we Austenites learned, but that a nice stroll in a driving rain is sure to net 1) the sudden appearance of a dashing young man on horseback (blessing or curse? Discuss!), 2) a muddy hem, 3) brightened eyes (it helps if they’re “fine” already), and 4) a flu the likes of which will let you stay in the home of your crush for as long as you like! Game, set, match, my friends.
Tip #5: Read.
This falls under the umbrella of Tip #1, technically—nothing says “accomplished” and/or “sexy” like a great reader—but we think it bears repeating. Find yourself a soft surface and a cozy blanket and spend a few hours in another world. May we recommend one Jane Austen? You’ll like her. Promise.
I know. We is a terrible Jane Austen blog because we did not post on Jane Austen’s birthday! Miss Austen, ladies and gentlemen, please forgive us! But maybe on her 234th bday, Miss Austen wouldn’t see being a day or two late as being very late at all? . . . No, you’re right, I’m sure she was a stickler about that sort of thing. Anyway, Happy Belated Birthday, Miss Austen!
Mystery author P.D. James has a new book out, Talking About Detective Fiction, and this book contains, I think, a birthday present for Jane Austen. P.D. calls Emma “the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story.” What is the secret in the novel? Of course it is the “unrecognized relationships” between characters caught up in Emma’s romantic machinations, says Lady James, adding: “The story is confined to a closed society in a rural setting, which was to become common in detective fiction, and Jane Austen deceives us with cleverly constructed clues.” I’ve read mystery stories my whole life, and I’d never thought of that. At last, a fresh voice in Austen debate! (Unless this is well-known in academic circles, and I just missed it?) And it’s true. Critics are usually so caught up in hating Emma to bits that they don’t talk about the craft that Jane Austen uses to give us these situations that can be read in a number of ways. And she plays fair—if you know, you can see the significance of Frank Churchill’s going to get his hair cut and Mr. Elton’s giving the poem to Emma instead of Harriet. But, and this is the mark of a good detective story, the first time around, I completely misread those clues! I totally bought Emma’s reasoning about Mr. Elton and missed all Jane Fairfax’s telltale blushes. How about you? Are the Emma-haters so angry because they were deceived by her too?
Interestingly, there’s also a mystery in Northanger Abbey, at least in Catherine’s mind: the mystery of Mrs. Tilney’s death. But this mystery, Jane Austen’s avatar Henry Tilney tells us, is ridiculous—it’s too like a Gothic novel to believe that a wife could be killed under the eyes of a physician, or locked up without anyone’s protesting! Miss Brontë and we think differently, and the long lineage of detective and Gothic/horror stories certainly has something to do with that. But Jane Austen sympathizes a lot more with Emma’s self-deception than she does with Catherine’s.
It’s too like a Gothic novel. . . Jane Austen liked those, but she thought they were silly (hence Northanger Abbey). She followed the old adage about writing what you know about, and not about long ago and far away with monstrous creations wreaking havoc. She appreciated girls trapped by monstrous men in exotic Italian castles hundreds of years ago, so I think she would understand our fascination with girls trapped by werewolves in exotic English country houses two hundred years ago. But there’s no doubt she’d think it and us more than a bit silly. I wish she were here to tell us how much. But at least now someone is appreciating her real sense of mystery.
Also known as, what we want for Christmas, part 2.
Freeverse says we want a game for our iPhone “featuring a Jane Austen character in a lacy dress who karate-chops her way through hordes of advancing zombies.” (Not out yet. Coming soon.) Do we? I can only imagine this would be followed by an underwater version fighting off sea monsters, and (cue eyeroll) Emma and the Werewolves.
- Lizzie would not wear lace to kick zombie ass. Entirely inappropriate. Long sleeves, maybe?
- Well, I hope Seth is getting some royalties off this. Then when he dies I hope Jane takes them off him. With sharp words.
- On iPhone? Wouldn’t Wii be lots more fun?
- Do you think Lizzie will just kick ass like every other game heroine? How about the really difficult moves, like managing a train? At least Jane didn’t have to sit down in a hoop-skirt. FUN, I tell you. Ooh, can I watch people jump around trying to kickbox in a corset? With a fan and soft slippers and a train tripping them up?
- Don’t we all think Lady Susan is much more the Lara Croft/Aeon Flux type than Eliza Bennet?
- Pretty soon, if not already, there’ll be a World of Warcraft: Jane Austen Edition. I know my GM friends would be ever so grateful if you zombie hunters would mind your manners on the Quest to Lady Catherine’s, OK? No whining in the ha-ha. No hacking with scripts to get Darcy to propose to Lizzie every 2 seconds until she beats him over the head with her slipper.
- A friend of mine has already rebuilt Pemberley in Second Life. I don’t even want to know what goes on there!
- Hey! To my friends at Zynga: why not combine Mafia Wars and Farmville, and have a Build Your Own Fighting Regency Estate? Stick with me here a minute. You build up the family fortunes: add a living and you get a crazy aunt or maybe a hero (luck of the draw!). Attract heroines with spacious grounds and/or ruined abbeys! Once you have a heroine, you can build up suitors, and then use your army or navy to totally beat up the other estates and steal their heroines! Not so hot an idea? Oh well, if it sells, I still expect royalties. I know where you live, guys!
- When are all you entertainment types going to get creative and explore the clone angle? I believe we at Austenacious were the first to propose this, no, with our special Halloween header? If I don’t see The Matrix: Jane Austen Reloaded with thousands of simply but elegantly attired Eliza Bennets fountaining up in the Netherfield ball/fight scene within the year, I shall be severely disappointed. (Yo, Wachowskis: they have corsets built in! Bondage for all!)
- But seriously now, and brushing aside this tomfoolery: it’s my birthday next Saturday, and then Christmas two weeks later. May I not expect to see at least one first edition Jane Austen novel peeping out of my stocking?
So I’m sure by now y’all have heard about the new book A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson. There has been a review in The Economist and an excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, of all places. I haven’t read the book yet—have any of you? I’m kind of torn between wanting it for Christmas [hint hint], and feeling just a mite rebellious about it. For one thing, my friends will tell you that I’m a little contrary, and I can’t help but think of the pamphlet 100 Authors Against Einstein, who were all denying his General Theory of Relativity, and his response: “Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!” But I guess this does not hold in reverse: 33 reasons to read Jane Austen doesn’t mean one reason not to read Jane Austen would be enough if you never have.
Also, the excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, by James Collins, is, as alert reader Rosemary pointed out, stuffy and patronizing. Oh please, like no one but James has used Jane Austen as a moral compass in his, or, thank you very much, HER, life! When we’ve all been discussing this very thing for months. OK, not “moral” sometimes, but thanks very much, the Austen fan base is not just a bunch of drooling romantics! OK, maybe we drool sometimes (you know what I mean), but we appreciate subtleties too, you know! Mr. Collins (LOL) is just like Lady Catherine, all affability and condescension. Pooh!
Then, once nicely annoyed at being patronized at, my hackles got raised by Robert Fulford, writing in The National Post. He really does seem to read Jane Austen without any eye to what she’s talking about, and calls her just “a vicious gossip.” Now, many of my friends would take that as a compliment, and maybe Miss Austen would too, but he seems also to take pleasure in patronizing the fans, assuming we can’t see and enjoy her sharp side as much as her romantic side. Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns has an interesting reaction to Mr. Fulford (though this link isn’t working for me now, so good luck . . .). She points out the “pen envy” and contradictions in his article.
So what do we think about all this? I think, yay, at least they’re (good old “they”) talking about her. As Harriet Evans says over at The Guardian, female authors often don’t get talked about. I think, people underestimate us, and underestimate her. Somehow, Miss Austen’s reputation as a serious author is still on the line. Almost 200 years after her death, do people still see her as an early chick-lit figure? Heck, maybe she was chick-lit because she just wrote about ordinary women and men doing ordinary things. Depends on what you think about chick-lit, I guess. At least they’re talking about her? That makes me so mad! But then, it’s always hard for comedy to get much respect.
Maybe the 33 would be better, would be spiced up in a truly Austen way, if there was some dissension among their ranks, or if they weren’t universally praising. Only Jane Bennet gets to be so sweet and still be interesting.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Have some pie, on us!
Now that that’s over with, let’s be serious. The holidays are coming, and you know what that means: joy, wonder, and sparkly lights? No. (Well, yes, but…no.) Think shopping. Think six a.m. crowds. Think finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones, unless you’d rather bless them with a mounted faux fish that sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” every hour on the hour. Fun for the whole family!
We at Austenacious are here to help, whether you’re making up your own wish list or shopping for the Austenite in your life. We’ve scoured Etsy—land of the vintage, the handmade, and the vintage handmade—for the coolest, prettiest, funniest Janely goods out there, and we think you’ll like what we found.
Paper and pen! How quaint! Give the writer in your life a bit of Janely advice and a cool place to record Important Thoughts. This medium-sized Moleskine has 96 pages (80 plain, 16 detachable); the cover features an original illustration of a Regency-era dress and a quotation from Jane’s early novel Love and Freindship (sic). Jane would have loved it; we certainly do.
Calm down: It’s not a real page. (We checked.) But it is a reproduction of the title page from a first edition of Pride and Prejudice, printed on 100% cotton, lined with striped pink fabric, and made into a wallet/card-holder, and it’s also a pretty awesome gift for your favorite P&P fan, especially if he or she tends towards disorganization or likes giving heart attacks to fellow book-lovers. Not that we know anybody who needs this. Ahem.
To be honest, practically everything from Brookish would be a great gift for the Austen-fan set, but we think these Christmas ornaments filled with nearly two sliced-up pages from Pride and Prejudice (again, copies—we hope) are especially elegant. Did we say Christmas ornaments? Nothing here is red or green: keep them out all year long for a shot of literary decor whenever you need it.
Need a little romance in your life? What about your kitchen? This dish towel screen-printed with Mr. Darcy’s proposal (in pretty handwriting, no less) to Elizabeth Bennet is just the thing to put you in the mood…what for, we don’t really want to know. Just promise us you won’t swoon with anything hot in your hand, okay? Safety first.
Words escaping you? Really need to get your point across, but not looking forward to catalyzing epic drama over the holidays? Maybe Jane can help. Say what you really mean with these eight beautiful and beautifully snarky Jane-quotation greeting cards by letterarypress–after all, Jane says it best, and she’s not around to get in trouble!
Carry your baggage—emotional and otherwise—in style with this vintage suitcase hand-illustrated with the silhouettes of a Regency couple. Lined in red, with amenities of the luggage of yesteryear (movable compartments!), the suitcase measures 18″ x 21″ x 8.5″—perfect weekend size—and trust us, you’ll never lose your stuff on the airport baggage carousel again!
Looking for a gift that doesn’t require extra postage? This gift is the card: a double-sided Jane Austen finger puppet greeting card! Make a cut-out or leave her whole; if you think a paper finger puppet isn’t hours of entertainment for the likes of Jane’s fans, well, we must have just met. Nice to meet you.
For the reluctant, impatient, or charmingly sarcastic host in your life, Mr. Bennet comes through…as always. Guests staying too long at the piano? Guests staying too long, period? This switchplate comes in a variety of styles (to accomodate all your lighting-control needs) and is certain to make your friends laugh…as the door shuts behind them. See? Form and function: together at last.
Now, get out there, people! Shop! Find cool handmade stuff for the people you love!
Oh, and one more thing:
All I can say is, we here at Austenacious are currently on the prowl for a good photo of a disco ball to add to our header. We’ve long felt that the combination of Jane and the 20th/21st century needs a little fun, a little surrealism. Clearly, That Mitchell and Webb Look agrees!
In The Divine Jane, Fran Lebowitz says, “Any artist who has that quality of timelessness has that quality because they tell the truth. Obviously, details change. . . . Her perceptions don’t date because they are correct. And they will remain that way until human beings improve themselves intrinsically; and this will not happen.”
Witness Sir Walter and Miss Elliot confronting their financial situation at the beginning of Persuasion: “. . . he had gone so far even as to say, ‘Can we retrench? does it occur to you that there is any one article in which we can retrench?’—and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardor of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy: to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne, as had been the usual yearly custom.”
Oh yes, Jane knew what happens when people who have a lot have to face having less.
Do our times make us hunger for truth? Escaping the truth? Both? Lately I’ve read some interesting articles on desire for truth: truth in the bodies of models who walk the catwalk, the eroding and perhaps gone-forever truth of our photographs, the uncanny valley of avatars who look so like the humans (or monkeys) that they are not. Escapism is thriving too, of course—”reality shows,” alcohol sales, zombies, Mafia Wars, and Farmville, to name a few.
I like reading fiction because it’s easier than non-fiction. In non-fiction, you have to always be evaluating what the author says: is this true? Or does the author have some agenda? But in fiction, you just know whether it’s true: if it isn’t, something cracks, and you put the book down. Or did Jane actually teach me what is true in human relationships? This is possible. And in fiction there is of course the element of escapism: the characters seem to have so much time, and servants, and barouche-landaus. Their problems do not affect your life (except in certain modern adaptations.) The problems of non-fiction are all too depressingly real.
Do you read Jane Austen to find truth or to escape reality? Or both?
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.