Austen Nation! It is Christmas Eve Day! (“It’s both an eve and a day! It’s a Christmas miracle!”) (Name that quotation? Anyone?)
We got you a present! It is called “a post.” Yes, yes, we do our Christmas shopping late. But you know our heart is in the right place. Also, it’s not a dancing Coke can wearing sunglasses, so I think we can call this a victory? YESSSSSS.
We at Austenacious, well, we opened our present long ago—it’s you guys, reading and commenting and emailing and Tweeting all year long, and sharing yourselves with us in a way that is totally amazing. Whether we’re reading nobody’s favorite Austen novel, introducing Mrs. F to Firth-as-Darcy, or dissecting EXACTLY what we love about Sense and Sensibility, you all are right there with us, in all your smart, funny, thought-provoking glory. We are incredibly fond of you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for showing up, cracking us up, and making this site a joy to produce.
Now that the mushy stuff is over with, go! Drink some eggnog! Eat some cookies and/or fruitcake and/or, if you are related to me, Chinese pork buns! Decide on a favorite holiday song and sing it at the top of your lungs! Find something wrapped and mysterious with your name on it…and SHAKE IT!
Merry Christmas and happy New Year, Austen Nation.
If you blow out all the candles on that cake, we will be seriously impressed.
(I bet Lizzy Bennet could do it. She’s ALWAYS blowing out candles in the movies.)
Here’s to 237!
This is a public service announcement.
I know we just told you what you want this holiday season, but let’s just add one more thing to the list. You want a Penelope Fitzgerald novel. I haven’t read enough of her work to know which one yet, so I’ll let you choose. I’m nice like that.
Here’s what happened: I recently got my hands on a lovely Everyman’s Library volume of three Fitzgerald novels—The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Blue Flower. I blazed through The Bookshop and I’m halfway through The Gate of Angels, and I am on the brink of buying many many copies and forcing them into the hands of my book-loving friends. And maybe a few enemies. Or…wait. Is it possible I’m behind the curve on this? Have you read her entire canon, and been talking about them, and not told me about it? Have you been holding out on me?
(Quick facts: Penelope Fitzgerald, 1916-2000, first novel published 1977. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize shortlist for The Bookshop, 1978; won for Offshore, 1979.)
I’ve been thinking about Fitzgerald and how she fits into the post-Austen world—not because I compare every writer to Austen, but because they share a certain scope and wryness, and because if you are writing small-town British romantic dramas and novels of ideas, well, Austen is there. It’s all in the lack of sentimentality, I think; like Austen, Fitzgerald writes about people and relationships with grace and sometimes affection, but also with honesty and irony and a willingness to make fun. I suppose these aren’t strictly Austenian traits, but within the genre, the resemblance is noticeable—and I can’t help thinking there’s a literary inheritance there. She’s certainly more Austen than Bronte, or Waugh, or Wodehouse. (How she approaches romance, I can’t say: The Gate of Angels is shaping up to be a love story, but frankly, I’m not convinced that requited and realized true love is where this train is heading. Will report back.)
The other voice I hear echoed in Fitzgerald’s work is that of Margaret Atwood, which may be a function of time and age—middle-aged to older women writing in the last quarter of the twentieth century—or may simply be a massive compliment to both sides. I find in Fitzgerald’s writing a prickliness that is not unlike Atwood’s, and also a sense of realism when it comes to the inner lives of women. Both have a keen eye for struggle, particularly female struggle, though the fight to hang on to the tongue of an elderly English plow horse during a dental procedure (IT’S A METAPHOR, GUYS!) reads differently than, say, dystopian robot alien lady overlords disguised as everyday Canadian life. (I’ll let you guess who’s who in those scenarios.)
In any case, Austen Nation, can I recommend Penelope Fitzgerald to you? Her writing is lovely and sharp, sad and funny, atmospheric and pragmatic. What more can I say?
We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
Austenacious readers, today’s post is not for you. Today’s post is for your loved ones—those wishing/required to give you a gift this holiday season. Specifically, those hoping not to find themselves in a picked-over Walgreens on Christmas Eve (or, you know, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa Eve), weighing the costs and benefits of a pair of LED-lighted Babylon 5 socks. So just hand this on over to them, and you’re welcome.
To the friends and family of the reader at hand, it’s nice to meet you. We’re here to help—we’ve scouted the coolest, funniest, prettiest, and Jane-iest stuff at our beloved Etsy and laid it out here for all your gift-giving needs. We recommend shopping early, as shipping time is of the essence, but we hope you’ll find what you’re looking for and give the Austen fan in your life something a little special to get excited about this season.
Students of modern typography and/or fictional geography, take heart! Brooke and Justin made you a shirt. From Longbourn all the way to Pemberley, this top is stylish and modern, and also offers endless chances to say to yourself, “IN CHEAPSIDE!” (Austenites, you know what I mean. Confused non-Austenites, nothing to see here. Except a really cool shirt that your loved one will wear all the time.)
Are you looking for a way to show your lady friend how much you care? Has it been more than half a decade? Are you handsome, and basically a friendly pirate? This print commemorating the proposal of Captain Frederick Wentworth to his once and future intended, Anne Elliot, should do the trick. Also comes in black on white.
Wrap your favorite Austenite in romantic angst this holiday season. Like, literally. Around the neck. But not like a psychopath! More like a Naval captain who’s been pining for his ex-girlfriend, who has, thankfully, been pining right back. Does that sound good? Then give someone this scarf. Also comes in Darcy’s proposal.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady in possession of a sense of adventure (so, not Fanny Price) must be in want of a nine-hundred-year-old anthropomorphic alien to whisk her around time and space in a blue police box and then probably be separated from her in some amazingly poetic and heartbreaking manner. At least, we THINK that’s how the saying goes. Anyway, anybody who loves Elizabeth Bennet AND Doctor Who cannot go wrong with this set of prints commemorating their theoretical meeting.
For all the essentials: pragmatic elder sister, romantic younger sister, handsome tool, guy who regrets promising himself to someone else, older gentleman who doesn’t mind an age difference. Also keys, phone, wallet, lip gloss, mints, emergency earrings, tiny notebook of mostly to-do lists and brunch menus, The New Yorker, half-empty tub of hummus. (Just me, then?) Also comes in Persuasion and, for the heavy packer in your life, Seven Novels.
It has been a long time since I’ve been to a ball. Er, dance. Whatever. From prom to the annual college Christmas swing dance (what up, late ’90s?) to the occasional Saturday night at a friend’s salsa club, my sashaying hips are…out of practice, to say the least. (By the way: Does anybody else associate the noun “dance” with the camp dance scene from the original The Parent Trap, where they cut off the back of the girl’s dress? No? Just me? No wonder I don’t go to these things.)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance. I love dancing, especially when there are prescribed steps. I do well with instructions. Not so much with just move to the music and do what feeeeeels right! Because what feels right? Is having steps to follow.
Which is why I would have made such a good Regency ball guest, or so Susannah Fullerton tells me in her awesome article on ball etiquette for The Lady. Such common sense: Don’t show up without an invitation! If you see a lady without a partner, dance with her! Only turn down an offer if you’re ready to gossip on the sidelines! It really is an excellent article, and you all should read it…and then impose its order the next time you’re out on a Saturday night. Right? LET’S BRING BACK THE REEL, YOU GUYS. Who’s with me?
This has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves dating terminally ill women, just to be clear.
- This is some amazing Austenian…is dollcraft a word? It is now. In context, they’re are actually kind of strange, in the sense that they’re for little kids AND skip approximately 63% of the novel (the MIDDLE 63%, so…good luck with that), but the visuals are fantastic. Action Jane weeps with envy; the only man she gets is Action Poe.
- Need some advice from a two-hundred-year old fictional character? Of course you do, and you’re in luck: Mrs. Elton Sez, everybody’s favorite Austenian Agony Aunt, has deep archives and plenty to say! I mean, of COURSE she does.
Enjoy, Austen Nation.
Good job, guys! According to a study by people who track library loans, Pride and Prejudice is the most loaned classic in the UK! (Wuthering Heights is #2.) Jane takes three more of the top 20 spots as well:
- #8 Emma
- #11 Sense and Sensibility
- #17 Northanger Abbey
The Telegraph‘s article says, “The study involves a comparison of lending data from Britain’s libraries for 50 classics by British and Irish authors from the literary canon from the early 1990s, a decade ago, and last year.”
Mission #1: People of Britain, read more Austen! I want to see Persuasion and Mansfield Park on this list next time too. We can’t leave Anne Elliot out in the cold and Fanny Price sitting on her bench, now can we?? And let’s get those other numbers up, too. (Special Sneak Preview: Austenacious will do our part by hosting another read-a-long soon!) People of Not Britain: don’t think I’m not watching you too!
Also according to The Telegraph, “Works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and EM Forster have seen their popularity plummet over the last two decades . . ..”
I’m not going to say a word for Thomas Hardy. (Anyone want to take that on in the comments?) But, EM Forster, you guys! I love EM Forster. A Room With a View, anyone? Howards End? So beautiful! So smart! The article says maybe Austen got more popular because of the adaptations, and because of her “rather too light, bright, sparkling tone.” (Though George Orwell also got more popular, and he’s, like, super-funny, right?)
Forster is comic, just as much as Austen, so maybe we need more adaptations? I love the 1985 version of A Room with a View—Helena Bonham Carter, before she was crazy! Naked guys! … Good lord, has it really been that long? IMDB says there’s also a 2007 version, which I completely missed. Have any of you seen it? Thoughts? We could do better, though, right?
For Howards End there’s just the 1992 version with Emma Thompson. I’m conflicted here—I really don’t think this book is adaptable. But if anyone wants to have a go, feel free!
Then there’s our girl George Eliot. I’ll admit I’ve only ever read Middlemarch, and I only read that because of the 1994 version. (See, TV adaptations pay off!) Middlemarch is pretty awesome—though it’s not as joyous as Austen and Forster, it does have depth, without being as, um, self-conscious as the Brontës. Do we want a new Middlemarch adaptation? But Rufus Sewell and Colin’s brother Jonathon are so cute… Juliet Aubrey is so Dorothea…. I don’t know. What do you all think?
Mission #2: People of Britain and Not Britain, read more Forster! Read more Eliot! Demand quality adaptations, or make your own crazy vlogs! Or both! Think, live, breathe fiction!
P.S. (Mission #3: Contemplate Colin Firth’s legs.)
Photo credit: dbking. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
I gotta tell you guys: I am having a Sense and Sensibility THING.
Do you all do this? A few years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read Pride and Prejudice, watched the Keira Knightley version, watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary, watched THAT movie a hundred million couple of times, sought out Bride and Prejudice…there are just a lot of Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there, and I watched and read a bunch of them, is what I’m saying. (I did not watch the 1980 BBC version, as this was before the days of this site and I didn’t know any better, but I want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to know that I hear her exasperation in my head retroactively.)
That was awhile back. Where this new Sense and Sensibility yen came from, I couldn’t say, but here we are.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I think, I skipped the actual novel this time; I’ve read it relatively recently, and decided to opt for Netflix and instant gratification instead. And, okay, the pickings for Sense and Sensibility adaptations are slimmer than they are for Pride and Prejudice, but I think what Sense and Sensibility lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: the modern adaptations of it are both excellent. (The other option here is From Prada to Nada, which I haven’t seen, but which has jumped up the Netflix queue in recent weeks.)
I don’t own a single adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which now strikes me as completely insane. Why don’t I keep the Emma Thompson version on hand? I love the Emma Thompson version! (Fun fact: I have a clear memory of seeing it in the theater, then promptly and enthusiastically re-creating the entire plot for a friend the next day. This is, of course, why I’m so great at parties.) Being from the mind and the pen of Thompson herself, it understandably does many many things well; despite the 90210-ing of several actors’ ages, she makes it work (mostly). Elinor’s freakout at the end, in particular, never fails to impress.
(Speaking of the aging-up of actors, both modern adaptations cast Colonel Brandon as significantly older than he is in the book—fifty-one for Alan Rickman and forty-four for David Morrissey—which I think makes cultural sense, considering the shift in life expectancies since the good old days. Otherwise, the old dude is, like, Ryan Gosling or something.)
I remember liking the 2008 version very much…and then never tracking it down again. I’m now about halfway through, and enjoying it completely—among other things, it’s from that post-Ruth Wilson Jane Eyre period where the BBC decided to get with the times, visually, and it’s both true to the novel (despite some dialogue modernization magic on Andrew Davies’s part) and modern enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’m particularly loving Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood and the girl who plays Margaret—Lucy Boynton, IMDB tells me, and she is comic gold here—and I have to say that if anybody is going to make a better Edward Ferrars than a young Hugh Grant(!), I think it has to be a young and extremely floppy-haired Dan Stevens, playing to type in the best way possible. (Will Edward and Elinor ever be able to express their sweet selves properly and live happily ever after? Don’t tell me how it ends!) (Poor Marianne. I love her, but I’m such a fan of Elinor that I tend to overlook her a bit. Also, ever since Miss Osborne brought it up, I’ve been a little horrified that she ends up with only a nice, relatively happy marriage to the good Colonel.)
Since I took up this new, uh, interest, I’ve been thinking about what makes Sense and Sensibility such a crowd-pleaser. Why do I recommend it to so many new Austen readers? Why does it lend itself to such good adaptations? But also, why is it similar to Pride and Prejudice but always a little in its shadow? My current theories have to do with the simplicity of the story and the relatively small cast of characters (compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park); it’s a pleasant story with something for everybody, regardless of temperament; on the other hand, maybe neither Elinor nor Marianne carries as much sparkle as Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t know. So many thoughts! What do you think, readers?
It’s Halloween again, so if you don’t normally partake in things that make you shiver in fear and anticipation, now’s the time to give it a try! I, for one, can’t deal with zombie movies. (No judgement! Zombies may move slowly, but they’re tenacious and keep coming at you.) So here are some other ideas.
• Have you read Dracula? Seriously . . . if you have not read Dracula, you need to read it. Now. I read it in high school and was a little meh about it. But I re-read it a few years ago, and I was freaked the heck out! Like, holy-crap-old-and-musty-smells-like-rot-Nosferatu-gonna-kill-me!
• And there’s always Edgar Allen Poe. Secretly, I imagine that his action figure wants to make out with our Jane action figure. But I’m pretty sure Action Jane wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him. She would have disapproved of his marrying his 13-year-old cousin and possible alcoholism-rabies-and/or-syphilitic death. (Then again, in the afterlife, Jane would enjoy a good laugh over people still trying to figure out how they both died.)
• If you’re more of a visual person, my new favorite time sink is looking at “spirit photography.” And I’m not just talking about what you see on Google. Even museums and archives have these sorts of images! Check out SFMOMA’s Artscope. Type in “spirit photography” into the search box, and all sorts of goodies show up. Those photos are almost as creepy as when Nicole Kidman finds the book of dead people in The Others. *shiver*
Jeez, now I’ve thoroughly creeped myself out. Why did I let myself watch that scene again? That’s almost as bad as when the dead girl comes out of the tv in The Ring. (There is nothing that will entice me to search for that clip on YouTube. I’ve been scarred for life seeing The Ring.) Rainbows! Unicorns! Colin Firth diving into a pond! Sunshiny goodness! Okay, I’m back.
• Maybe you should give Northanger Abbey another whirl. What’s not to love about a parody of gothic novels? It’s not scary.
• Or you could watch Revolution on NBC and wonder if it’s really possible for people to go a little feral when the power goes out. Timely, no? (Then again, Hurricane Sandy may have knocked out the power on the east coast, yet people still seem to be able to update their Facebook pages. Guess those phone chargers for the car were a good investment after all.)
Whatever your choice in spooky entertainment, we at Austenacious wish you a very safe and happy Halloween!
So… I was planning to post this before the World Series ended, but Detroit just didn’t have any stamina, did they? Let’s go, Giants! (The Beloved Sisters are Oakland A’s fans, but San Francisco is very nearby.)
“Oh, but you write a Jane Austen blog” they say. “That must be about tea and flowers. What does Jane Austen have to do with baseball?”
Ha! Sister and brother Janeites, remember that a Jane Austen book contains the very first reference to baseball in the OED itself!
Cue excerpt from Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Jane’s setting up Catherine Morland as someone you would never have picked to be a Gothic heroine, because she’s so ordinary.
…it was not very wonderful* that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least to books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all.
*Wonderful here means “full of wonder,” i.e. surprising.
Here is a Jane Austen heroine to-be not just watching baseball, but actually playing it! (Let’s put her up against the zombies…) Now, Catherine Morland goes on to learn to read Gothic novels and sigh artistically, and famously “curl her hair and long for balls,” the dancing kind, and not cricket or baseballs.
Jane Austen has a lot of affection for Catherine, and though she also likes Gothic novels, Northanger Abbey is a straight-up lesson in the folly of considering them a model for life. It contrasts the simple health and sanity of the Morlands with other peoples’ deceptions, follies, and evils.
So I’m going out on a limb and saying that Jane Austen also loved cricket, horseback-riding, books that are all story and no reflection, and of course baseball!
And I think we can totally see her at work when Miss Osborne bakes cakes for every A’s playoff game, when Miss Ball tweets about Josh Reddick’s hair, and when Mrs. Fitzpatrick calmly eats baseball cake and cheers when she remembers.
I think she would understand and laugh at us, I hope with affection. And I think she’d find the World Series pretty funny too. Pity we’ll never know…