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.
Ooooh, you lucky New Yorkers! Go check out the new exhibit A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy at the Morgan Library & Museum! From today through March 14, 2010, you can see the original handwritten copy of Lady Susan, letters by Jane, and drawings of people, places, and events of the times. Miss Ball will be in NY over Thanksgiving, and Miss Osborne over Christmas, so I know we can expect a full report from them. CAN’T WE, LADIES? And if any of our dear readers go to the exhibit, we’d love to hear about it!
Even without going to New York, you can look at the pictures and facsimiles of the letters and manuscript on the website. A highlight for me was a portrait of what Jane Bennet really looked like—my mom always maintains that she was blonde, and guess what, Mom?, you were right! There’s also the short film, below, produced for the exhibit. (Watch a larger version here.) I found the film unexpectedly moving. Philosophers, writers, scholars, (including Fran Lebowitz!) talking about Jane Austen, her work, and what it meant to them. The film says a lot about what I feel about Jane Austen myself. They talk about the physicality of the handwritten letters and manuscript, “proof that she was human after all.” That physical connection in almost overpowering, I think—and why we care about these things.
Dear readers, I have a confession to make. I’m a shipper. A hopeless romantic, fixated on relationships that are sometimes obvious and other times a figment of my imagination. When I was a kid, I thought Princess Aurora and Prince Philip were perfect for one another. I made up stories in my head about how Rhett and Scarlet would get back together. And seriously, who didn’t squee when Han Solo and Princess Leia socked us with “I love you/I know”?
But something changed in the early-1990s. AOL brought us the Internet in a way that made it possible for non-super-geeks to comprehend and take part in. (AOL also ripped us off with charges per minute—per minute!—beyond the first few hours. Holy crap, did I pay for those late-night chats!) Poking around on the message boards, I found a group of kindred spirits. Not just Star Trek: The Next Generation fans . . . TNG fans who were fixated on the relationship between Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher. And they wrote fantastic stories wherein Picard and Crusher proclaimed their love (and, ahem, made mad, passionate love at all sorts of times). I discovered my inner shipper and broadcast it to the world (at least, the world that was tapped into scifi fandom on AOL).
In 1995, AMC aired BBC’s Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Another pairing was born: Lizzie Bennet/Mr. Darcy. Yeah, yeah, I realize that people have been mooning over that couple for ages. While I will always value the joy of discovering a story or a personality through the act of reading, there’s also something about a relationship when it’s fueled by good acting by attractive people and online chats with friends about every nuance you witnessed (or imagined) when viewing something on TV. Sometimes those conversations even bleed into “real” life. And now that it would take heroic efforts to escape the Internet, it all bleeds back out into the ether. (Am I the only one hearing The Circle of Life in her head right now?)
My two favorite Austen couples are Lizzie/Darcy and Anne/Wentworth. The attractiveness of the Lizzie/Darcy combo for me is the sharp dialog between the spunky and outspoken young lady and the intelligent, handsome man who is passionate about her. One of the benefits of these folks being from a novel is that we’re not tormented for several seasons hoping and waiting for the couple to finally admit their love for one another. Fans even get a bold declaration of love half way through the story. How awesome is that? As for Anne/Wentworth, how can you not feel for the thoughtful, sensible young woman who’s lost her bloom and must ignore the nagging oh-crap-I-never-should-have-dumped-him feelings when she’s around the dashing captain? These are couples I root for unabashedly.
So there you have it. I’m a shipper. Pray, excuse me while I wander off and watch some more Lizzie/Darcy and Picard/Crusher music videos on YouTube.
Photo credit: ©2009 Christine Osborne. All rights reserved.
Several weeks ago, I was appalled to hear that a publisher had reprinted Wuthering Heights with a cover that was clearly mimicking the Twilight book covers. (And in case we didn’t make the connection, the cover spells it out: “Bella and Edward’s Favorite Book.”) Fine. I’ve never actually enjoyed Wuthering Heights anyway, so let the legion of Twilight fans be sucked in by the marketing schemes of HarperTeen.
Sadly, the trend didn’t stop there. They’ve Twilight-ified Pride and Prejudice.
Bastardos! Now, I’m down with vampire lore, old and new. Buffy, Angel, the original Dracula novel, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys (Jason Patric, boys eating maggots, Edward “Lorelai Gilmore’s Dad” Hermann, does it get any better than that?) . . . bring it on! I just don’t see why Pride and Prejudice needs to look like Twilight to get girls (or boys) to pick it up and read it. And what, what, does this cover have to do with the style of Jane Austen? It’s soppy, cheesy, and over-simplified. It has no sense of humor. Do we see Lizzie and Darcy throwing flowers at each other in the dark? No, we see them in a duel of wits on the dance floor. A pair of crossed swords would have made a better, albeit still too romantic, cover for our beloved Pride and Prejudice.
Maybe it’s that I produce books for a living, but I have strong feeling on the subject of book covers. My favorite Jane Austen cover designs are from the mid-1990s, published by State Street Press (an imprint of Borders). I like the clean look, the modern type with the old fashioned images. And, because I am a production dork, I love that the images are glossy on a matte background, making them pop.
I also like the new illustrated cover from Penguin Classics. Slightly Edward Gorey-esque style (though true Ruben Toledo fans might not like me referencing another artist), but clean and fun. You can almost see them flirtatiously throwing insults at each other the moment before.
What’s your favorite cover design for a Jane Austen book, and why?
Okay, global publishing industry. Let’s talk. Put down that Chicago Manual; I want to see the whites of your eyes. I know we’re all having great fun (and by “we” I mean “you,” and by “having great fun” I mean “swimming in your Scrooge McDuck money vaults”) with the explosion of pseudo-Austen legal-fan-fiction goodness, but there’s a new sheriff in town, and her name is Austenacious, and she’s drawing a line in the fine English country soil.
Here’s the thing: go ahead. Sequels, mashups, reimaginings; call them what you will, and print them by the thousand. Live and let live, and all that. But have a little dignity; set some standards for yourself. We’d like the Austen fandom to be a lobotomy-free zone. Wouldn’t you? We’ll even help you out: here, for future reference, are the top five Austen derivatives that let you know you’ve hit the bottom of the acceptable barrel:
Relations and the Country
Four Austen heroines (spunky Lizzy, romantic Marianne, independent Emma, and dramatic Catherine) cavort about the countryside, discover all good-looking young men to be blackguards, and attempt to find true love in unexpected (older, previously disdained, sometimes grizzled, often related)places while also having brunch and attending balls. Critics complain that nobody actually wears muslins like theirs.
We already have Mr. Darcy, Vampyre; if our dear Fitzwilliam starts to sparkle, it’s Game Over. Period. End of story.
The Anglican Code: A Mr. Collins Mystery
What’s that you say? Mr. Collins is an operative of a secret anti-Church of England sect operating from within? And the secret numerological terrorist plan is hidden in the banisters and inlaid floors of Rosings Park, which (as we know) cost 500 pounds apiece? We’d name Charlotte Lucas as the intrepid love interest/detective, but she doesn’t get to come back in the second book. Hmmph.
Consume Consider Pine
Fanny Price travels the Home Counties in search of a spine, food that isn’t cold meat, and a guy who’d rather hang out with her than be in plays. Result: Enlightenment! Find a wealthy uncle to fund your spiritual journey today!
He’s Just Not that Attached to You
Having trouble attracting a man? These easy steps, inspired by the real women of Jane Austen’s novels, are sure to garner you a steady heart and an income of five thousand a year, at least! Ladies, never forget the magnetic power of repeated rejection, the sharpened senses that come from social misunderstanding, and the no-fail trick of falling down a hill in the rain! Guaranteed to find your knight in gaiters and top hat!
Now, don’t we all feel better? Publishers, like children, need boundaries. Now go and design us some pretty, matching editions of the originals, stat!