Austenacious
Jane will keep us together.
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Emma Approved, the new adaptation of Emma from the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, premiered yesterday on YouTube. We’re exactly four minutes and twenty-four seconds in…which sounds like Judgmental Conjecture Time to me!

My first thought was, “…Do I like this person? I’m not sure that I do.” Which, of course, is the beating heart of Emma. I assume that I feel like giving her the side-eye because Emma Woodhouse is cutesy and self-important, and I’m watching an excellent portrayal of those elements of her personality, and not because the performance itself is cutesy and self-important. I reserve the right to change my mind. Much like Miss Woodhouse, I accept only the best from my webseries.

Not to generalize too much, but I wonder whether Emma isn’t also a slightly harder “get,” demographically.  In terms of Austen fans on the Internet, nerdy, goofy Lizzy Bennet is Our People, and Ashley Clements is Our People (if you don’t know this, you clearly are not Twitter-stalking her, as we are), and so it was easy to embrace her. Emma, aside from being a less wholly likeable character than Lizzy, is less Us than Lizzy. After all, who feels handsome, clever, and rich—or beautiful, clever, and brilliant, as it’s put here—on a daily basis?

Also, you guys, can we all agree that “beautiful, clever, and brilliant” is no “handsome, clever, and rich”? As with every time Jane brings up money—which was, oh, only ALL THE TIME—I think the “rich” part of Jane’s original equation is important. I miss it, and also I wish “clever and brilliant” were less redundant.

Anyway, all that said, I think their take on a modern Emma is spot-on. She’s a lifestyle blogger, because of course she is, and the Emma Approved tie-in website is perfect (check out the outfit roundup!), not to mention a brilliant marketing opportunity. The modernization of these stories is something I think these folks do really well—I keep going back to my deep relief that, in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Charlotte Lu got a job with Mr. Collins, and not a lifelong relationship built mostly on gardening; the shift makes perfect sense for the modern world without losing emotional heft. I look forward to seeing how they take on a particular mysterious pianoforte.

(I gotta say, though, the name changes totally take me out of it. That dude is adorable, but Alex Knightley? GIRL, PLEASE.)

One down, many many to go.

 

 

 

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This is a story about shopping. And paper goods. AND LOVE.

Here’s what happened: one rainy day last winter, I found myself in a shop in the teeny Gold Rush foothill town of Murphys, California, and I threatened to move in, on a permanent basis, right then and there.

The shop was Maisie Blue, which is a yarn store and a bookstore and an everything-I-love store, really, and although I coveted nearly the entire contents of the shop, I spent most of my time there picking out the proper selection of Jane Austen postcards. You know, like you do.

Actually, I have to tell you: I am not a huge collector of Jane Stuff. I have my Action Jane, of course, and a sweet Jane-silhouette bud vase that Mrs. Fitzpatrick brought me from the UK awhile back, but I don’t generally NEED Jane paraphernalia. These, I needed: pretty and tasteful, in a palette of oranges and grays and yellows, with a genuinely excellent selection of quotations from Jane’s works and personal correspondence—but, mysteriously, no brand name printed anywhere. I sorted through the basket numerous times and culled my stack down to just four (from ALL OF THEM), and I brought them home. They live on my desk in the naive expectation that I will someday paint my office walls and hang them up in some charming fashion.

Then! This week, a gray-and-orange postcard arrived in my mailbox, sent by Friend of the Blog (and Friend In General) Miss Tarango: “I am not at all in a humor for writing: I must write on till I am.” The postcards, they stalked me! Also, my friend has really good taste! But where were they FROM?

And then…I found them. They’re made, unsurprisingly, by the good people at Potter Style; they come in a pretty paper box, and Paper Source, aka Cute And Unnecessary Source, sells the entire collection of one hundred postcards for $20. Which is not as much fun as sorting through them in a basket in your new favorite store on a rainy day—I recommend this for a variety of reasons—but will keep you in notes to your beloved sisters for a good long while either way.

I’m not saying you definitely should buy one hundred Jane Austen postcards…I just thought you, of all people, would want to know.

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You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers.

A few weeks back, we solicited your questions—Austen-related or not—and the Austenacious team will be answering them in upcoming posts.

This week we have a double header!

1) Reader Megan asks:

Why doesn’t Edward Ferrars throw off Lucy Steele early on in Sense and Sensibility? She’s horrible. Is she just Austen’s MacGuffin, or is there a good reason for his dedication to this succubus??

Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers:

Poor old Lucy Steele. Players never get any respect, know what I mean? Reader Miss Moore asked a version of this question several months ago, and I answered in Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Is Lucy Steele evil or dumb? (For the click-lazy, the short answer is that Edward was like Lucy’s job, therefore she wasn’t going to throw him away until she got another one, and therefore there were laws and conventions ensuring that he wouldn’t throw her away.)

Having said that, though, there are an awful lot of stories in English literature that rely on this gambit of a man getting into an engagement, changing his mind, and not being able to just tell the lady to get lost—I’m looking at you, P.G. Wodehouse. Unlike Bertie Wooster, though, Edward doesn’t get creative in getting Lucy to break off the engagement. But of course the existence and secrecy of it does form a good part of the tension in the story. Austen didn’t have to have Lucy there to keep Edward and Elinor apart, because Mrs. Ferrars objected to Edward marrying Elinor anyway, and there was the lack-of-money complication. But she did get a lot of use out of her. Does that make Lucy Steele a Quasi-MacGuffin? Better experts than me will have to say.

2) Reader Mrs. Davis asks (via Facebook):

Are you going to see Austenland?

Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers:

I polled Team Austenacious on this, and the answers were “No!,” “Hell no,” and “Only if everyone else is going and I’m bored that night.” Bit of a secret, but we actually aren’t all that into these endless spinoffs/adaptations/etc. And I’m smelling a lot of meh coming off the reviews. For example, the Las Vegas Weekly explains that ‘Austenland’ is a tacky insult to Austen fans. And when the City of Tack calls something tacky. . .

Closer to home, I asked a friend what she thought, and got this: “It was cute. You can wait until it’s on Netflix, I’d say. :-)  I had a couple cocktails before seeing it and it was girls night so perfect movie for that. It could use more character development. I wonder if the book is better?” I haven’t read the book, but Miss Osborne did. She was not impressed. And I’ve heard, though I forget where, that the movie carefully removed any subtlety the book might have had. However, if we’re bored in the future you may see a(nother) drunken Austenacious live-blogging event. That does sound kind of fun, actually.

 

 

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You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers.

A few weeks back, we solicited your questions—Austen-related or not—and the Austenacious team will be answering them in upcoming posts.

First up! Reader Kaye asks:

“Well, my dear,” said he, when she ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy.”

We’re all familiar with these lines, but I can never decide how he means this. Does he mean no one could be less worthy than Mr. Darcy? This seems plausible, given the way his behaviour came across on previous occasions. Or does he mean that by virtue of Elizabeth’s glowing statements in the previous paragraph, he has suddenly become worthy in Mr. Bennet’s eyes?

Miss Ball answers:

To be honest, I had never thought about much the intention of this statement—I assumed the latter. Now that you point it out, Reader Kaye, I see what you mean—but I haven’t changed my mind.

Textually, I think the evidence is in that penultimate sentence: “If this be the case, he deserves you.” I don’t think this is any kind of ironic jab; I think Mr. Bennet means what he says.

Non-textually, by which I mean “manufactured entirely by my brain,” I think Mr. Bennet trusts Lizzy’s judgment. He may, on the evidence of his own experience, believe Darcy to be an uptight jerkface (again, non-textual), but he also knows Lizzy’s head is screwed on straight—and I think this is him giving his sincere blessing based on that knowledge.

(Incidentally, this relates to something I noticed, but failed to mention, during my reading of Death Comes to Pemberley—P.D. James asserts that Darcy and Mr. Bennet ultimately become BFFs, dismissing the awkwardnesses of the past and bonding over their love of books and solitude (and, ostensibly, Lizzy). I balked a bit at first—Darcy’s good opinion having been lost, and all—but eventually we see Mr. Bennet essentially vacationing in the Pemberley library….which actually sounds about right. Anyway, for what it’s worth, Mrs. Fitzpatrick didn’t think it was such a crazy idea.)

 

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I don’t know what happened to me this week…but I read Death Comes to Pemberley.

I don’t really read Austen sequels/take-offs/embellishments/reinterpretations, and by “don’t really read,” I mean “have never read, not even one.” But I was at Miss Osborne’s and raiding her bookshelves, and she told me about the copy of Death Comes to Pemberley she’d found on the book-trade shelf at a friend’s apartment building. I don’t know what came over me, but I took it home.

I read the whole thing, and…I still don’t get it. I like Jane Austen, of course, and I like a good mystery novel, and I see the theoretical pleasure of mixing the two; it’s just that, in practice, the two don’t really mix in any substantive way. They can’t, really, unless you make someone big and important—say, Elizabeth or Darcy—the killer, in which case you’re kind of veering into Pride and Prejudice and Zombies territory, messing with the genre just for the sake of it. And because—spoiler alert!—that’s not the case here, the mystery lives in the realm of supporting and original characters, and we essentially have a historical mystery existing alongside familiar background that doesn’t actually mean anything.

This isn’t to say the book was bad; it wasn’t. It was fine—solid mystery, a little funny, mostly well-written. It’s just…I don’t see the point.

A few specifics (nothing TOO spoilery, but if you don’t want to know anything, consider yourself warned):

- Oh, Denny. He always seemed like a good guy! I think he’s actually a great choice of victim—being somebody we know, but not somebody we care about in particular—though he would also have made a good up-and-coming character, had he lived.

- My favorite parts, by far, are the moments where James executive-decides that the Austen canon is, in fact, a single Austen Universe, and incorporates the other novels in small ways. Wickham gets a job with Sir Walter Elliott! Something spoilery happens to Harriet Smith! This kind of goofy continuity is insubstantial but makes my heart sing nonetheless.

- One moment that stood out to me was James’s assertion that Darcy and Mr. Bennet are friends—not just friendly, but some kind of genuine kindred spirits. I’m undecided. These guys love their books, and they love Lizzy Bennet, and maybe that’s enough…but maybe I just think Mr. Bennet doesn’t really have any friends.

- Well, I’m glad Georgiana ends up with cute Henry Alveston, because he is cute. Not that there’s anything wrong with Colonel Fitzwilliam! But: cute. Get it, girl.

- I have nothing to say about Elizabeth, which I think sums up my whole feeling about this book. How can there be nothing to say?

Have any of you read Death Comes to Pemberley, Austen Nation? What’d you think?

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This week, just for fun, the ladies of Austenacious are taking questions. Any questions. All kinds of questions! There are no stupid questions! LET YOUR QUESTIONS OUT.

Here’s how this works: You leave your question or questions in the comments. Ask us pretty much whatever you want—Austen-related or not! You can address your question or questions to Miss Ball, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Miss Osborne, or all of us. We’ll divide up the questions appropriately and post the answers in an upcoming post. BOOM. Questions: answered.

Ready, set, ASK.

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A handful of Jane-osities this week:

1. The trailer for Austenland is out!

SO. Having not read the novel—you know how we can be about modern Austen take-offs around here—I keep trying to suss out what I think about this, purely via the trailer. Part of me wonders about the codification of Austen fans as such a Type: sad single women (who may or may not knowthey’re sad) so engaged in a fictional universe as to ignore the non-fictional one, particularly the handsome men inevitably trying to get their attention. (Which is an obnoxious assumption, but also…if only.) This isn’t a new phenomenon, but I find it interesting that we’re essentially one step below Trekkies in our identification by the outside world. Another part of me assumes we’ll be subverting this paradigm, hopefully in smart and interesting ways. The rest of me is silently screaming JANE SEYYYYYYMOUUUUUR IN A MOOOOOOVIE! So there you go.

2. From reader Sophie: Caroline Bingley’s chicanery to appear on England’s money! We’ve all heard by now that our Jane’s been chosen to appear on the new British ten-pound note. Less widely recognized is that Jane’s portrait—the Cassandra one—will be paired with what looks like a statement of sincere enthusiasm for books, but is actually Caroline Bingley’s thinly veiled attempt at convincing Darcy that she’s into reading. On one hand, this seems like the kind of thing a basic Google search could have caught; on the other, I kind of like it. It seems kind of appropriate for Caroline to elbow her way into everything, no?

3. Jane Brocket, chronicler of all things cozy, has just finished Mansfield Park  for the first time, with—what else?—mixed feelings. Her main concern is that Jane builds a cast of complex and well-realized characters, only to bow out on them in the end: “the bad ‘uns must be punished and the good ‘uns rewarded, and the stock endings go against all our carefully raised expectations and vested interests.” What do you think, readers? Could, or should, Jane have done better by Fanny & Co.?
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10. Baseball!

9. Walks. Lots and lots of walks.

8. Someone’s sitting in the shade on a fine day, looking upon verdure, getting perfectly refreshed

7. Someone wants to sit in the shade on a fine day with a cute boy, but is too afraid to cross the ha-ha

6. Someone’s getting seduced at the seashore

5. Someone’s falling off a wall at the seashore

4. Someone’s in a constant state of inelegance

3. Someone’s being mean at a picnic

2. (Non-canon) It’s awfully hot! Better jump in the trout pond.

1. Someone’s too busy to go to the north, and settles for vacation in Derbyshire, the land of large houses and loooooove

 

 

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I remember the first time the North and South miniseries crossed my path–an old internet friend (so, like, from 2005) was telling me all about it, and I was all, “You’re really into that old Civil War series with Patrick Swayze?”

As, I said, it was 2005. I was a child! I didn’t know!

Last fall, I dove in and read the novel, which I loved for being like an Austen character stepping out into Dickensland, and for having capital-p Plot. But it took me until this week, a week of relative calm and solitude, to sit down and watch the miniseries. (I just finished the new Arrested Development. I needed a break.) Mostly what I have to say is: Well, that was delightful.

I mean, it’s just…it’s everything the novel is, and everything the novel is is wonderful. It’s complicated and suspenseful and lovely and swoony-romantic and a fantastic coming-of-age story. Surprise! I like all of these things!

And—not to start out with the gentlemen, when Daniela Denby-Ashe is so good, and so much more the point of the story—is there a better romantic lead out there than Richard Armitage? Obviously, this is a pro-Colin Firth zone, but Miss Osborne is out of town, and so I feel confident in saying that I think Richard Armitage could give The Firth a run for his money, smolder-wise. (<Tangent:> This is why it makes me so sad that the new Hobbit is so wan and vague in the character department. Could Armitage break out as the new heartthrob of Middle Earth? Easily, on account of his handsomeness and general air of nobility, but Thorin Oakenshield is no Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Sorry, dude.</tangent>)

Anyway.

I love that the miniseries is from that mid-2000s period where the BBC was just starting to embrace artsy direction—you can tell they’re just showing off in that scene where Margaret first approaches the mill floor, with the cotton floating around like snow. I feel like they were actually using their “digital snow” setting, probably just to say, “Hey guys! Digital snow!…I mean, cotton, or something.” Awww.

So, can we talk about Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins? On one hand, my brain is confused. Isn’t Nicholas Higgins pretty much elderly in the book? I’ve been calming my cognitive dissonance by chalking it up to historic life expectancies: for a mill worker in the Victorian North of England, maybe 41—Brendan Coyle’s age at the time—WAS pretty old, what with all the cotton fluff in his lungs.

But. I can forgive all this, because SIDEBURNS. And that short hair! Why can’t Bates have ‘burns? They make him look like a rapscallion, in the best way. I think Anna would be totally into it. (Let’s face it: I am totally into it.) Anyway, blah blah, Brendan Coyle plays a good guy with twinkly eyes pretty well I guess.

I think my other favorite character in North and South is Mrs. Thornton—she occupies a similar space to a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but with an extra layer of complexity and an extra degree of involvement in the story. I like that she’s strong-willed, but not crazy; she’s willing to confront Margaret and be honest, but also accepts and then honors Mrs. Hale’s deathbed request, even if she’d rather not. She’s a difficult egg, but a good one, that Mrs. Thornton—not unlike her son. It’s a nice touch.

And then they met at the train station and made out a little (ignoring the previous standard of you hugged a man at the train station AT NIGHT, you hussy, but I’m trying to let it go), and my heart grew three sizes that day. The End.

Have you seen North and South, readers? What do you think?

P.S. It’s streaming on Netflix in the States, and it’s almost the weekend! DO IT.

 

 

 

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The Lord of the Lake!

My friends, I honestly can’t decide whether This Week in Austen is a fit of hilarious headlines, whether we all need an immediate field-trip to London, or whether I need to take my meds. Possibly all three. Let’s see…

Giant Colin Firth Emerges from Lake – That’s right, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what victory looks like! According to the Daily Mail (Britain’s finest news source) “The installation was commissioned to celebrate the launch of UKTV’s new TV channel Drama and Mr Darcy was chosen because Colin Firth’s lake exit from the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was named the most memorable British TV drama moment of all time in a recent survey.” Pedants such as myself and John Mullan note that this scene isn’t even in the book, but I think Jane Austen—were she to be able to stop laughing—would appreciate the irony in that.

Related News: Women Scream as Men Discover Their Historic Erogenous Zones - Yeah, apparently “Nobody had the slightest inkling that Colin Firth, wearing a lightweight cotton voile shirt with his nipples showing underneath, would have such an effect.” By “nobody” we mean Simon Langton, director of the 1995 version. HAS HE NOT MET US? Has he not even read his Austen, who goes on about Mr. Tilney’s greatcoat in Northanger Abbey? I mean, I personally have had a Thing for these shirts since I was 12, long before Colin Firth came out of the water in one. And then sideburns…  so there was this: Hugh Jackman Says Wolverine’s Chops Look Ridiculous!, and then I had a vision… of Hugh Jackman in a billowy shirt… as Mr. Darcy…possibly crossed with Wolverine… I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Ahem!

Protesters Rally in Support of Jane Austen –  Miss Ball mentioned that Jane might be getting her face on the money (and we know it’s going to be Cassandra’s portrait, don’t we? Sigh.) Well, the new chairman of the Bank of England backpedalled and said she was waiting “quietly in the wings.” Yeah, with a blunt instrument, I don’t think! There’s been thoughtful soul-searching, grumblings about Jane as the perennial token woman, and protesters cosplaying as Queen Boudicca, Emily Pankhurst, and I sincerely hope as Jane Austen as well. Only time will tell.

Austenland Trailer Released – We’ve spoken of the book Austenland before. Oddly enough it combines the first three headlines, being about elaborate cosplay undertaken to fulfill sexual fantasies about Mr. Darcy. So of course the movie will be out this summer (August 16). Have to say, the trailer looks pretty funny, if formulaic. I love Jennifer Coolidge.

Missing Character Discovered in Pride and Prejudice – Rebecca Jane Stokes outlines the delightful character of Sarah Pebbletush, Lizzie Bennet’s “unnoticed best friend” who was “excised from the book for fear that her stolid, faithful nature and kind heart might misdirect the reader’s sympathies from Elizabeth.” Now here is a spin on Austen I might watch. :-) Though I wonder if Jennifer Coolidge’s character in Austenland essentially is Sarah Pebbletush. Sarah really does seem like an earlier Austen character, like she’s from the Juvenalia, or is a nicer Isabella Thorpe.

So, what say, my friends? I think we’ll have a great time in London together! After our ritual viewing of the Darcy statue, and our protesting at the Bank of England, we’ll already be dressed to live out our Austenland fantasies. Then we can hang out with this guy and write beautifully worded memos, which we’ll post to our social media, all with Our Jane’s blessing. We’ll have a fab time! Now I’m off to take my meds and fall asleep laughing at our wonderful Austen world.

 

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