This week, world-wandering elder brother Mr. Ball has hung up his top hat and arrived at the family country house for a much-deserved furlough from the competitive world of international diplomacy. The whole clan is sequestered away, in fact, for a period of long carriage rides, late-night Whist (aka Scrabble), and the kind of family togetherness that only a trip to the country can bring, for better or for worse.
As any young lady returned to her family after a season away will find, there’s something about suddenly having parents and an elder brother very present that makes one’s role in life perfectly clear: come hell or high water or long periods of living independently, little sisterhood is forever.
As far as Jane goes, I think I’m doing all right. So far, I’m pleased to report that I have not yet run off to Scotland or to the seashore with any older men, only to need rescuing/marrying at gunpoint, nor have I injured myself and fallen head-over-heels for any dreamy scoundrels on horseback. I haven’t played the pianoforte in an inappropriate manner. I haven’t become “often a little unwell,” nor have I become (more so than usual) “always thinking a great deal of my own complaints”. There may have been a little bit of running wild—of which the Morlands surely approve—but have we mentioned we’re at the country house? Who do you think I am, Mary Bennet?
On the other hand, my brother hasn’t bought me any pianofortes, nor has he leapt up to defend my honor. To be fair, though, he hasn’t forced me out of my ancestral home and into a pauper’s cottage, either.
I say we’re even…as long as he lets me call shotgun on the way home.
Mariella Frostrup over at The Guardian recently wrote this in an advice column:
Despite achieving a position in the modern world where we are not only self-supporting but also increasingly outshining the men, we act like a gaggle of competitive girls whose most important goal is how blokes view us. Female-to-female behaviour hasn’t evolved much since Jane Austen’s day and the sad result is we continue to fail to provide sisterhood.
The rest of the column is similarly depressing. Mariella does suggest that the 40-something woman who feels life is slipping out of her grasp should age gracefully while at the same time make a noise, and “Rage, rage, rage when they attempt to turn out the light.” Sounds like a plan to me.
What about this talk of lack of sisterhood, now and in Jane Austen? Surely Jane and Cassandra Austen themselves are in the Sisterhood Hall of Fame? And Jane wrote about all sorts of sisters. Here’s Lizzie and Jane Bennet: “. . . do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” Not the words of someone who’s putting a bloke above a sister. Elinor and Marianne are another loving pair of sisters, though it’s true that Marianne does put her romantic notions above Elinor’s feelings sometimes. But isn’t that her great failing, what Jane Austen is warning us against? It’s also true that there’s some unpleasant sisters in the books. Maria and Julia Bertram certainly get into a catfight over Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and, more chillingly, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price take their separation from each other with perfect calm. As with the Elliot sisters in Persuasion, Austen seems to assume that there’s no reason that sisters would hang together, if circumstances or temperament didn’t allow it. And it’s true that we see very little genuine womanly friendship in Austen: Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas and Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney are the only examples I can think of. I guess it would make sense when getting a husband was like getting a job that you mightn’t be very nice to the competition, especially in a limited pool. So, I concede, Austen was pretty cynical about the whole sisterhood thing.
But what about now? Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and I don’t have any sisters. We came together as Beloved Sisters through a shared love of Jane Austen, eating, and talking smack. So we can’t comment on the modern state of sisterhood between actual sisters. But between women in general? I think it’s a pretty mixed bag. I personally haven’t seen much catfight action, have you? And also, isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that women should get along all the time? As if men do!
OK, obviously it’d be nice if we all got along. As it says in our header, Jane will keep us together. This may be terribly ironic, considering the above, but I suggest we try it. Send loving thoughts to all those of your acquaintance, even if there are few people you really love, and still fewer of whom you think well. It’s either that or back to the meat market, apparently.
Photo credit: ©David Stephensen. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
Lovely Jenn over at Citivolus Sus asked us whether she was the only Austenite who like beer. Well, I hardly think so. She even posted recommendations on which beers go with which books. I am, sadly, allergic to beer, but I do like to eat and drink (and travel), so here are my own recommendations on the right ambiance for each book. I won’t insist on Regency dishes. I won’t even go into the hardback/paperback split, and how the musky odors of old books bring out the woodier notes in certain pinot noirs, changing the whole dynamic. Just imagine Giles twittering on in the background, and making you read your Kindle only on the airplane, eating airplane food.
Northanger Abbey has a hard feeling, and such sharp edges and corners. So I see it as going well with Chinese food. I’m not particular as to the dish. Something spicy hot, perhaps with fermented black beans in it. You should drink lots of jasmine tea and get a really surreal Jane Austen fortune cookie afterward. Try to be in a restaurant that at least has Chinese people in it. No P.F. Chang’s, please. If the people are speaking Mandarin or some other form of Chinese, this is a bonus.
Sense and Sensibility: What a weird book, foodwise. There’s no doubt it can be unsettling to the stomach. I think a nice butternut squash soup. Or maybe Welsh rabbit. Orange food is called for, apparently. Orange juice? Sure. Maybe you should be in Orange County, too, whatthehey. Or in any one of these fine Orange places.
Pride and Prejudice: There is no wrong thing to eat or drink with Pride and Prejudice, right? And no wrong place to read it. For all that I have to say: No junk food. Do not insult Miss Austen with McDonald’s, or I will kill you. There are some things beyond even irony. If you must have a specific setting, I seem to see you in a wonderful Belle Epoque patisserie in Alexandria, sipping your tea and eating French/Egyptian sweets. It’s probably sunset or something, too.
Mansfield Park: Somehow, I see Mansfield Park as going best with Indian food. A good rogan josh and a steaming cup of chai make a nice counterpoint to the sometimes startling flavor of this book. You should be somewhere rainy. By the ocean.
Emma is a summertime book. Think a picnic lunch on the lawn, with strawberry shortcake. Please be nice to Miss Bates. Do try the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, and make the Assam tea strong, with plenty of cream. As long as you sit in the sun, you may be anywhere you like.
Persuasion: This is also a book that makes me want to feel cozy and warm. It has, yes, autumnal overtones. A traditional Irish dinner followed by a really good whiskey, and some chocolate cake, maybe? Please curl up on the couch and enjoy a roaring fire while you read.
Lady Susan and The Watsons: You really should be absolutely drunk to read these, and possibly high on opium as well.* I don’t mean this in a bad way! Absinthe, I think, is the way to go. If you want to smoke a hookah and be in Istanbul as well, just to get the feel right, we’re down with that.
Sanditon: With its emphasis on health fads, I do see Sanditon as a breakfast book. You can do the straightforward hippie thing with yogurt and granola, or go all ironic with croissants and coffee. I seem to see you doing this in Paris, I don’t know why. Can you even get granola in Paris?
As a final note, I feel that all Jane Austen is most properly accompanied by chocolate. Dark, rich, delicious chocolate. Any other suggestions are optional. Readers, what do you think?
*Austenacious does not endorse the use of illegal drugs, even if they are picturesque. Note that absinthe is not illegal in the U.S. anymore. Yay!
Photo credit: ©Ed Yourdon. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
We open on a multiplex movie theater. MISS BALL and MISS OSBORNE sit in the audience, watching the movie raptly. On the screen, CILLIAN MURPHY sits in a hotel bar, talking with a blonde woman in an unnecessarily complicated cocktail dress.
Miss Ball: This is awesome, but I feel like that chick is waaaay too nerdy for this.
The blonde continues to flirt.
Miss Ball: Why do I get the feeling she’s going to start spouting sermons?
The blonde gives Cillian her phone number.
Miss Ball: Does she play the piano?
Miss Osborne: SHHHHH.
Miss Ball: I don’t know why, but I get the feeling she wears contacts.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO arrives onscreen.
Miss Ball: Oh no. Ohhhhh, no. No no no no no no.
Miss Osborne: WHAT.
Miss Ball: This is suddenly a horror movie.
Miss Osborne: Why?
Miss Ball: MARY BENNET IS FAKE-SEDUCING A MAN IN A HOTEL BAR!
People, it’s true: if you’ve seen Inception—and I hope that you have—let’s take a trip down bit-part memory lane. Remember the woman in the hotel bar, who gives Fischer (Murphy) a fake phone number, just as Cobb (DiCaprio) shows up? That is one Talulah Riley…also known as Mary Bennet in the 2005 big-screen Pride and Prejudice. Think about it: dye the hair brown, switch out the dress, add some glasses, and hand the girl a book of sermons. Voila! Nobody wants your concertos here!
And you thought Inception was mind-boggling before.
Bookslut crushed my soul today, o readers of Austenacious.
It all happened during Siobhan Neile Welch’s review of Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Pop Culture, when Welch wrote:
“Pop culture implies that school has taken the joy out of literature, so in turn pop culture has taken literature out of the hands of the experts and into those with a true passion for reading.”
To quote that fine musical establishment, the Bangles, can you feel my heart breaking? Do you understand?
Yes: reading takes on less of a leisurely tinge when a grade hangs in the balance—but the idea that school reading isn’t real reading stings a bit. After all, I first discovered Jane in school, under the tutelage of a well-informed and passionate English teacher (and, I suppose, the California twelfth-grade literature requirements)—and what am I, chopped forcemeat balls? Is my passion for books, or for Jane, diminished because we first met on a by-semester basis? Clearly, Jane and I would have crossed paths eventually, but I say with great assurance that nothing about Pride and Prejudice was diminished for its association with the AP test, nor have I loved her other novels more for having read them on my own time.
In any case, aren’t “the experts” so called because they have “a true passion for reading” in the first place?
The truth is—and I know how much of a surprise this will be—I sometimes miss reading for class, not because I love being told what to read and when, but because reading with a) a group and b) a graded incentive sometimes makes for a more thoughtful and productive read. A little, er, external motivation, shall we say. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading for the joy of reading—Hi, I’m Miss Ball; have we met?—but I resent the implication that the reading we do in school doesn’t count, or is necessarily un-fun. I’ll have you know that Jane and I had a fine time in Mr. Rammelkamp’s class, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(Also, if my reading the entirety of Moby Dick in eleventh grade is now invalidated, having not been exactly “for pleasure,” I will officially be one pissed bookworm.)
No, really. Are you?
Because you’re gonna want to see this—probably behind closed doors.
Couple of Extraordinary Taste Mr. and Mrs. Porter have brought to our attention lengthy videos of Joseph Fiennes reading from Sense and Sensibility, Dominic West reading from Pride and Prejudice, and Greg Wise reading from Persuasion—and now we can’t go back to the innocent ladies we were previously. We can’t unsee those impeccably set-dressed interiors and those perfectly crisp white shirts! We can’t unhear the seductively manly voices or the passion in Darcy/West’s proposal! We can’t unimagine…well, we wouldn’t tell you even if our mothers weren’t reading this site.
It’s just like we always say: the way to a woman’s heart is through the hilarious yet spot-on sexy reading of classic literature by hot and famous men. It’s a thing we say. Really.
(The only way this could be more perfect, naturally, is via an Old Spice Guy cameo. He is, after all, on a horse. Are you listening to me, advertisers?)
You all remember that Fanny Price and Edmund walked happily off into the sunset or vicarage (admiring the verdure). Julia had run off with Mr. Yates, Maria was disgraced and living with Aunt Norris, and Fanny’s sister Susan came to live at Mansfield Park. The End.
. . .
Ten years later, Sir Thomas Bertram decided to visit his estates in Bermuda once more. And what happened then? In a most unusual burst of energy, Lady Bertram decided the entire family should go with him. Except Maria and Aunt Norris, of course. Edmund and Fanny packed up their two children, Tom and his wife packed up their four, and Susan simply had to come too, even though by this time she was running the village newspaper. Julia and Mr. Yates managed to get out of it, though, by “renewing their vows” in Gretna Green.
And off they went. . .
Did I mention that Sir Thomas, as a cost-saving measure, bunked Susan in with two of her nephews? Also, that the “staterooms” were more like cabins? Here’s one of Tom Bertram’s wee sons, Mustaschio Man, strutting his stuff before forcing Miss Osborne, er, Susan, to watch Beverly Hills Ninja and Cats and Dogs on TV.
Whoever said “you can’t feel a thing when you’re on a big cruise ship” lied lied lied. While Susan turned green and whimpered as the boat rocked to and fro, the boys got pizza and ice cream. Not gingerbread cakes. No one really eats those, you know. They’re for tourists.
At long last, the Bertrams arrived in Bermuda. While Tom and Edmund tried to convince their father that slavery had been outlawed 200 years earlier, and Bermuda was independent, and he had no more estates, the ladies lounged on the beach. That’s Fanny on the left in the pink bikini. Marriage has really lightened that girl up.
Alas, at dinner things turned ugly. The Bertrams, if you can believe it, got into a huge family row about whose estates they didn’t have, exactly, and whether Fanny and Edmund should build a vicarage on the beach. Fanny’s own sweet little daughter broke her Aunt Susan’s arm. With a fork. Maybe she’s in the . . . oh, first rule.
For the rest of the trip, Susan sported an arm sling made with muslin that she had intended to embroider. It made her look rather like the Nutcracker Prince, but that couldn’t be helped.
Susan did allow Edmund (alias Mr. David Osborne) to escort her up on some rocks to take in the beauty of the sun and surf. After he’d apologized for his daughter’s behavior, of course.
The Bertrams, happy and united once more, visited the City Hall and Art Centre in Bermuda’s capital city, Hamilton. All those pictures of men reminded Lady Bertram that her dear niece Susan really ought to find a rich husband.
As a matter of fact, Susan had her eye on a man mysteriously appearing in her magic mirror.
Then one night, Cary Grant traveled back in time, and they had An Affair to Remember. Susan decided that despite the indignities of mass family transit, Bermuda was a very beautiful place to visit. “The beaches are spectacular, the sand is soft, clean and lovely, and the water is delightful!” she wrote in the village paper.
Miss Osborne, on the other hand, has been known to sigh and say, “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories . . . we’ve already missed the spring.”
We’re glad they’re both back home, safe and sound, if devoid of rich husbands and Cary Grant.
Photo credita: All images ©2010 by Christine Osborne. All rights reserved.
There was an article in yesterday’s Telegraph—an advice column, I think—that, quite simply, erases the entire section of the space-time continuum between the Regency and the twenty-first century. It’s easy: snip-snip, stick-stick, and here we are! The link has disappeared, but some inquiring British mind wanted to know:
How can I stop village gossips from talking about me?
First of all, you have village gossips? That’s so cool! Man, between Cadbury chocolate and this, England’s kicking our butts, awesome-wise.
Also, based on her experiences with people doing ridiculous things—or not—and then getting talked about, I think Jane might have some suggestions for you:
- If he seems cute and nice, run away. And we don’t mean with him—clearly he’s run off with some fifteen-year-old’s honor, lied about wanting to be a priest (avoid that lightning bolt), is drowning in gambling debts, and is also hitting on your sister.
- If you’re male, be poor. If you can’t be poor, don’t talk about your salary. For, you know, whatever it is you do all day.
- If you have sisters, try to be the least awful one. Do you really ever hear anybody talking about poor Kitty?
- Don’t marry a creep just for the sake of marrying, Charlotte.
- Don’t horn in on a rich old lady’s plans for her studly and equally rich nephew. News does tend to travel.
If these seem unmanageable, well, maybe you deserve a bit of chatter. Or you can just take the opposite tack: do what you want, see what happens, and get somebody to write a timeless novel about you.
That’s gotta shut ‘em up.
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. . .
Today’s post over at Jane Austen’s World reminds me that, even before Anne and Wentworth come around, Persuasion already has a ridiculously happy couple, and that I love them dearly. And not even in a moony, melancholy, hopeful way! With Admiral Croft and his cheerfully hardcore wife Sophy, it’s all fun and games (and a good dose of common sense)—and a literary mirror for our star semi-naval couple.
I love the Crofts—good-hearted and capable folks with a zest for life and a healthy sense of humor. More than anybody else in Persuasion, Anne’s future in-laws are people I’d like to meet at a party, run into at the Farmer’s Market, and/or join on vacation (ostensibly sponsored by Lonely Planet…or, um, the U.S. Navy). Luckily—inspiringly!—I see modern-day Crofts all around—middle-aged (-plus) couples embracing life together as an adventure, either figuratively or literally. Need some Crofts in your life? Try REI. Or your local wilderness experience—not among the young and the stylishly decked out, but among the people who know what they’re doing. Look for people with ruddy cheeks and vintage gear, and you’ll know you’ve hit Croft jackpot.
To be fair, though—Jane would want us to be fair—the Crofts aren’t just there to offer a bracing breath of fresh air. They serve a very specific purpose in the novel: they’re the alterna-Wentworths. They’re what Anne and the Captain might have been if Anne hadn’t turned him down the first time, if instead of pining and fading away, she’d followed him off across the seas and become (basically) a pirate’s wife. They’ve lived their adventure; their relationship is full of the intimacy and humor that come with being together through thick and thin, and not just in the milieu of the Regency middle class. It’s strange to think of calm, forbearing Anne flying by the seat of her pants, but her younger self might just have ended up living True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle-style (minus the murder, obv.) if she’d taken Wentworth up on his offer—and how different things would have been! Imagine: Anne Wentworth, adventurer and pirate-novel heroine!
On the other hand, if the Wentworths had lived out their Croft-life the first time, we wouldn’t have our melancholy masterpiece. And who wants that?