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.
9. Walks. Lots and lots of walks.
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
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>)
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.
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.
So, it seems that our dear Jane Austen might be turning up as the face of the new British ten-pound note.
I love this because, although I’m sure the guy who comes up with these things was probably just thinking, “Hey, there’s a British person with ladyish bits; let’s put her on a tenner,” anybody who’s read any Austen knows that Jane felt some feelings about money. It’s everywhere in the novels: Bingley has five thousand a year, and Darcy has ten thousand, and it’s the first thing we know about either of them; the Dashwoods are suddenly impoverished, and there begins the story; Fanny Price is suddenly un-impoverished, and there begins the story; Emma Woodhouse is “handsome, clever, and rich.” A debate-team captain of average skill could probably convince me, without undue effort, that the Austen canon is as much about finances as it is about love and respect between equals.
Jane herself was a gentleman’s daughter—not necessarily champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but enough. But being ON money? Like, printed there to (apparently) represent the female gender to the entirety of her own United Kingdom?* Along with the Queen? I’m pretty sure she couldn’t even have imagined. And THAT—the fact that it makes so much sense to us—makes me really, really happy.
I hope they choose a flattering picture, anyway, because: PRIORITIES.
*My favorite part is actually this: “‘[Governor Sir Mervyn King's] comments followed fears that the imminent removal of social reformer Elizabeth Fry from the £5 note would mean there were none in circulation featuring women – other than the standard image of the Queen’s head.” A country that worries about gender representation on its currency! HOW NOVEL, she says, side-eyeing the Sacagawea dollar, which only ever comes from public-transit change machines.
Austen Nation, it has been a long week, and it is summer, and I think that if we are not ACTUALLY on a beach somewhere, forgetting all the drudgeries of our everyday lives, that we should be VIRTUALLY on a beach somewhere, forgetting all the drudgeries of our everyday lives. And I have to ask you: Where else but Tumblr? Where else but Tumblr can you feel like your brain is actually
losing valuable cells taking a vacation? Nowhere, that’s where. So let’s take this end-of-week by the horns and enjoy the many Austenian joys of the Tumblr universe. Shall we?
May I refer you to:
The Jane Austen Tumblr tag: Unfiltered, uncurated. Like the real world, but with more .gifs.
The Other Austen: Still pretty amazing.
Jane Austen is for lolz: Ignore the name. There is greatness here.
The Jane Austen Project: Pretty, fun. Yay.
Jane Austen Ryan Gosling: Obviously. Hey, girl.
Oh….you meant to be productive today? Sorry about that.
(P.S. Not sorry.)
I like to poke fun at the delicate natures of our Austenian characters as much as the next modern-day gal. But now the internet tells me that I shouldn’t make fun of them, as people from that time period apparently got sick much more easily that we do. But as I hurl myself—mind and body—through the mad dash of finishing my master’s degree, I can’t help but be reminded of poor Marianne Dashwood. Except that if I get sick I won’t have servants or siblings taking care of me. (When I’m ill, there’s no calling up mom to say, “Please make me some udon,” because she lives 3,000 miles away. Though I’m pretty sure if I texted Miss Ball, she’d go out and get me some apple sauce or whatever I wanted. Because that’s how she rolls.)
Like Mrs. Bennet, I could really use some compassion for my poor nerves. During the next 12 days I have one exhibit to install, one thesis to get printed and bound, one thesis presentation in front of a roomful of people (including a panel of Judgey McJudgersons) that makes me freak out like I’m about to go to a wedding hosted by Walder Frey, and a visit from the parental units to witness my graduation. I feel like the stress makes me susceptible to bugs that will land me in bed for a few days. So now I’m wondering if we are any different than the folks in the Regency era. Sure, a walk in the rain or post-shower wet hair won’t make me “catch my death of a cold” (as my mom and grandma would say). But hasn’t everyone had a physical breakdown of some sort at the end of a long project at work or a busy semester at school? I guess we’re not any less likely to experience self-imposed stress and fall ill; we just have better drugs to fix us up again.
Let’s hope I buck the trend and survive the next few weeks without melting into a puddle of goo. I’ll leave you with this blast from the past, which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I starting thinking about long walks in the rain. You’re welcome.
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from everywhere else match wits and fists for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and possibly some Regency medical care for all your combat-induced wound-care needs!
Today’s contestants: Mr. William “Pride” Darcy, disastrous proposer and saver of family reputations, and Gilbert “Slatehead” Blythe, who knows now not to resort to name-calling. Both won over the high-spirited ladies of their dreams, but who gets the upper hand in this Clash of the Dreamboats?
In their corners:
Darcy’s handsome, wealthy, good-hearted, and determined (but not so determined that he won’t let it go…and then pi
ne heroically forever and ever). He proposes awkwardly, but then saves the Bennets but doesn’t want them to know about it. He’s nice to his little sister, but calls Caroline Bingley out on whatever it is she’s doing. And we love him. LOVE HIM.
Gilbert’s handsome, not very wealthy, good-hearted, and determined. He saves Anne Shirley from drowning by Tennyson, gives up his job so she can have it, outwaits Roy Gardner (SIGH), then becomes a doctor and has lots of kids, and it’s wonderful, okay? WONDERFUL.
Darcy is…how do we put this? Awkward. Rude at parties. Sometimes a giver of bad advice to his BFF. In fact, you kiiiind of can’t take him anywhere.
Gilbert, well, he did call the girl of his dreams Carrots. I guess he’s pretty full of himself as a kid, but he gets over it. Right?
Um, are you asking me to make a DECISION? Have we met? AM I NOT HUMAN? DO I NOT HAVE A HEART, AND OVARIES?
Readers, help me out! Which literary unicorn of handsomeness wins this fight? Leave your explanations in the comments.
Today, readers, is the big day: the end of the era of Emma! Should we all hug and cry and say we’ll see each other during summer? Shall someone play ”Free Bird” as our class song? I don’t want to make a speech. Someone else should do that. And then in four to six weeks, someone can mail us that all-important piece of paper, to declare that we all read this really long and cringe-inducing novel and came out the other side. Ready?
First, a few minor observations:
- You know, I WANT to be cool about Mr. Knightley and his crush on the junior-high set, because it was a different time and I don’t think Jane meant anything by it (though we’re certainly allowed to be scandalized by Wickham and fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy, over in that other universe), and we all know Mr. Knightley is nothing if not an obnoxiously upstanding citizen. But that “saucy looks” comment is totally not helping.
- I do, however, love Mr. Knightley’s comments about the inconvenience of giving a large musical instrument as a gift. Once, a college friend spontaneously gave my roommate and me a betta—Simon the Wonder Fish!—who was beautiful and a source of great joy for about six days, when he died, probably because we were keeping him in a plastic lychee-jelly bucket, which in retrospect was likely full of BPA and other fish-murdering toxins. That was one dramatic fish funeral (in the bathroom, naturally). I feel like a pianoforte at a house that isn’t even your own is probably kind of like an unexpected pet that’s going to die in less than a week.
- And, okay, it makes me so happy that Mr. and Mrs. George Knightley live happily ever after in her home, or rather her father’s home—that Mr. Knightley gives up his estate for the good of goofy old Mr. Woodhouse. Because he is judgy, yes, but sweet! Which I suppose is the conclusion I’ve come to in general. Judgy, but sweet. I think I can live with that.
- As delightful as Paul Rudd is in Clueless—and everything else; let’s be real—I keep trying to insert him into a plain old Regency adaptation of Emma, and failing. I just don’t think he’s stern enough unless he’s talking Clinton-era environmentalism, you know?
Sooo, this is the end of Emma. And…what? We started this read-along primarily because Mrs. F couldn’t hang with Emma herself long enough to get through the book. I guess the question is: do we feel differently now, about her or about the novel?
I think I’m mostly relieved: not because Emma marries Mr. Knightley in the end, though I enjoyed the romance portion about a thousand times more than I remembered, but because she doesn’t stay who she was at the beginning of the novel. (This is my main complaint about Mansfield Park—Fanny Price never learns anything, so what, exactly, is the point?) I don’t know that I hate Early Emma as much as many of you, but can you imagine—nobody points out the horror of her comment to Miss Bates (or anything else), and Emma remains exactly who she is and continues leaving a wake of social and emotional havoc behind her, and maybe she never marries, or maybe she marries somebody like Frank Churchill, who thinks she’s always right. Hartfield and the surrounding area, and eventually Earth and the moon and the sun and the universe, are sucked into a black hole of her self-regard. And that’s the end. And all because Mr. Knightley failed to deliver that key lecture in that benevolently affronted tone of his!
Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but…kind of. In any case, Emma is the Austen heroine who most harms other people with her flaws—the rest simply hang themselves with their judginess/lack of self-control/overabundance of self-control/overabundance of imagination—which I think makes her redemption seem extra necessary. When she finally does change, the release of tension is palpable.
I still have my doubts about Frank and Jane Fairfax, but you all already know about that. I just don’t know, you guys.
So. Now that it’s over, how are you and Emma? Lay it on me.
So am I right, or am I right, or am I right: this penultimate section is where Emma gets good.
Because: the strawberry patches of Donwell, and then Box Hill. Ohhhh, Box Hill. What I love about the climax (or whatever the bad version of “climax” is) of the novel is how very Emma it is—just a thoughtless remark, something true but unspeakable, aimed at someone so helpless that it’s like a hawk attacking a baby bird without realizing that it’s a terrible thing to do. Like, maybe it wouldn’t get EATEN so much if it would stop being such a BABY BIRD.
But after the carnage (and Mr. Knightley’s lecture; I don’t know WHAT kind of bird HE is, and maybe this simile is dying anyway) comes what I see as the greatest single moment of character growth for Emma in the whole novel. Of course the best recompense for Emma’s words is the one thing she never wants to give Miss Bates: her time, and therefore her respect. I love this—it’s not an elaborate apology, which would only embarrass Miss Bates further. Emma’s deliberate visit to the Bates house displays the kind of thoughtfulness she’s never been thoughtful enough to realize she was missing. It’s a nice moment, is what I’m saying.
(I forgot to say earlier that I love the part where Mrs. Elton is pleased to see the strawberry patches of Donwell, but would have been just as happy with the cabbage fields, because she really just wants to go somewhere. Anywhere! It gives me such comfort to know I’m not the only one who gets this way, even if it’s me and Mrs. Elton. Usually, it ends with my mom and a spontaneous ice cream cone. So that’s nice.)
And then scandal—scandal!—comes to the Bates-Fairfax home, and you guys, I have such conflicted thoughts about Frank Churchill. On one hand, I think he’s the least of the Austen scoundrels. Can we even call him a scoundrel? How about just a garden-variety tool? So he flirted with the ladies while he was secretly engaged to a nice girl. Because my previous memory of this book was practically nonexistent, I kept waiting for him to have defiled somebody and left her pregnant and alone. But no! He got cranky in the heat, kept his engagement on the DL (by mutual consent, though), and anonymously bought the lady a pianoforte. Gee, that guy’s the worst!
But then I also think: is this the ending we want for sweet, pretty-much-awesome Jane Fairfax? Jane the author presents Jane the character’s happy ending with Frank Churchill as…well, a happy ending. And I just keep thinking that, pianoforte aside, she could do better than that guy. Doesn’t Jane deserve someone noble, who has a good relationship with his mom and doesn’t use his undercover-taken status to hit on girls in front of his fiancee?
Maybe this is just Jane being realistic: the nice girl ends up with the guy who’s kind of a jerk without being actually THAT bad, and likes it. I guess that’s a thing that happens.
Aaaand then we waltz our way into the home stretch of romantic-comedy territory, and seriously, it’s so much fun. Emma loves Mr. Knightley, but oh no, maybe Harriet ALSO loves Mr. Knightley, and Emma’s really trying to stop screwing poor Harriet over, but maybe in this situation it would be worth it, and Harriet thinks MAYBE Emma might be wrong about something, but anyway it’s all okay because Mr. Knightley loves Emma too. And only since she was thirteen! So THAT’s a relief.
“…If he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he would have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.” IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT MR. KNIGHTLEY? (This is like that one time in Jane Eyre where there’s a joke, and it throws me off every time.) Not a natural comedian, and not really a graceful subject of humor, that George Knightley—he’s too busy being noble. But I guess in his moment of romantic bliss, Jane gets away with it.
What do you think, readers?