Sometimes in this universe, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or so I hear. Ask and you shall receive, they say. I’d like to propose an alternative: get yourself to a good used-book sale.
It was just days ago that I was complaining about my ugly movie-tie-in copy of Pride and Prejudice. What would I do, I asked, if faced with a newer, prettier copy—a copy lovely of face but without the “I lived life with Miss Ball and all I got was Colin Firth’s face on my dust jacket” attitude? Would I betray my roots and run off with this sexy upstart?
WELL. Sunday, I was trawling the Classics section at the annual church book sale, sifting through the castoffs of a year of Presbyterian reading, and what did I find? A mint-condition Everyman’s Library hardcover copy of P&P, staring up at me with its handsome dotted spine. For a dollar. ONE DOLLAR.
You should know that I ran over to Miss Osborne, over in History and Biography, with my conundrum. To sacrifice valuable parking-meter quarters and a good two inches of shelf space for a book I already own? Or to leave this lovely orphan for somebody else to find? Well, people, I am either a selfish jerk or a huge softie with a tendency to over-anthropomorphize, because that book was in my purse before you can say “Fitzwilliam Darcy.” I shifted things around on my shelves, and the new girl took her place…right next to the old copy. And why shouldn’t they coexist? Old and well-loved and fairly hideous, meet your twin, new and rescued (RESCUED!) and so so pretty. No betrayal necessary. Now I have two copies of Pride and Prejudice, and I think I can live with that.
Two hundred years ago today, a little novel called Pride and Prejudice rolled off the presses for the very first time.
Here we are, still talking about it. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still getting new things from it.
In Pride and Prejudice, we have humor and romance. We have family life, and a much-beloved set of nerves. We have walks in the countryside, and a marriage based on genuine love and mutual respect. We have muddy hems and fine eyes. We have two nice people falling in love. We have accomplished ladies who improve their minds by extensive reading. We have Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, Missed Connection extraordinaire. We have Charlotte Lucas, who does what she has to do. We have Lydia. We have Kitty, who turns out okay, we think. We have Bridget Jones. We have Colin Firth as two good men named Darcy. We have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and all the rest. We have you—we have this community of funny, thoughtful people.
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?
This week, only 13 years late: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth!
As many of you know, I first saw this a few weeks ago. There’s nothing like some good MST3K time with my beloved sisters. But, I have to admit, I came out of it pretty meh. I am not the adoring fan that I know so many of you are. I can see why you love it! I can see it as a good intro to Austen. And I didn’t hate it. But it wasn’t enough to sway my persnickety self from the 1980 version, and, so much better than both, the book itself. Deep thoughts:
- It’s pretty close to the book, lots of word for word, even if they did leave out some of my favorite lines. Though the post-Lydia-eloping part gets really compacted in this version. Seems like all the characters do is get in and out of carriages.
- I actually liked the scene-setting parts that aren’t in the book—showing the countryside and town and all. You get a better sense of their world.
- Plus I liked Jennifer Ehle better than I thought I would! I thought she would be too sappy; she was not too sappy. Check.
- You want to talk Colin Firth? OK, let’s talk Colin Firth. Sure, he’s tall and cute, but he’s wooden. (Ha ha, get your minds out of the ha-ha, kids!) By which I mean he stares at Lizzie in a frankly creepy way for 3/4 of the movie. I’m spoiled by already having seen him in A Single Man and The King’s Speech, and I say he could tear the part up now 10 times better than he did it then. (Apart from being too old, and what do we think of Helena Bonham-Carter as Lizzie? . . . OK, back to 1995.)
- Let’s talk more Colin Firth! Why do we call it “the Colin Firth version?” Is fans’ love of this version simply based on the Firthy Goodness (thank you, Miss Osborne)? Is it because we’re not sure how to say “Ehle”? (AY-lee, I think.) I’m curious. Because she is after all the star, though this version does try to bring him closer to stardom than Jane put him, by showing us his Inner Feelings, and his butt, and his famous wet shirt. Thoughts?
- Jane Bennet is all wrong. No one thinks she’s prettier than Lizzie. (And she has a thick neck.)
- It was kind of amusing at first, but it grated on me more and more that all the supporting characters were seriously exaggerated from the book. Any complexity in them was left out, and they were all completely one-dimensional. It makes them more fun to laugh at and all, but it does hurt the story. I mean, who would really believe Miss Bingley was their friend? She’s totally scary! And Mrs. Bennet always shrieking flattens the drama and believability of her crazy mood swings. Etc.
So, as I said, some mixed feelings. However, at least I now know what all you crazy kids mean when you say “No one wants your concertos here!” and “Lord, I’m so fat!” And that is a comfort.
I know Mother’s Day was three whole days ago. My mom and I spent the day together—in Idaho, in fact—until I got on a plane and she and my dad hopped in the car and started driving to California. But it seems that 2012 is the Year of Mom and Jane Austen, and so here we are. It’s Wednesday, but hey, I can still talk about my mom.
I mentioned it briefly during the read-along, but my mother read Mansfield Park along with the rest of the Austen Nation. (She even commented semi-anonymously, like the ninja she is, on one of our read-along posts! Can you spot the rogue parent?) It was her first time—not just her first time reading The Chronicles of Fanny and her Ha-Ha, but her first time reading Austen, period. Shortly afterwards, she joined my Beloved Sisters and me for the second half of Pride and Prejudice and immediately absconded with Miss Osborne’s DVDs, which were apparently better than the identical set that lived on her daughter’s bookshelf from late 2009 through the middle of 2011.
People, I think we have a new member of the cult. I mean, family.
According to mom, that Henry Crawford wasn’t such a bad guy until the whole wife-stealing thing. That was unexpected, but anyway, Maria and Julia weren’t very nice anyway. But before that, why was she so set against him? HE WAS NICE. And why do they call this a romance, again?
Also, Mrs. Bennet is hilarious and having to choose between never speaking to her mother again and never speaking to her father again is great. But is Jane supposed to be prettier than Lizzy? Because that woman looks like a man. And wait, what actor is that? Oh, right, Colin Firth. I liked him in The King’s Speech.
Rumor has it she might pick up Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice (the novel) (though I keep trying to press the Keira Knightley movie on her, for Colin Firth/Matthew McFadyen comparison purposes) next. I promise to stand supportively by, books in hand. Happy reading, Mom!
Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
What with Miss Ball’s recent Mansfield Park deflowering, (and some of you got deflowered along with her, I know), it’s been a confessional little old time over here at Austenacious. And since they say confession is good for the soul . . . or catching, at any rate . . . I too have a confession to make. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice!
Ha, ha, no, psych! I’ve read all Jane Austen’s major books many times, I’ve read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon each more than once, I’ve read Jane’s History of England—I’ve even read the Juvenilia, which are pretty hilarious and a lot less refined in more than one way, if you know what I mean. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet read the complete Letters, but that is not my deep dark secret. No, gentle readers, the secret that I have hidden from you all this time . . . is that I have never seen the 1995 BBC Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Nope! Never seen him jump into the lake even once! (How do I know he jumps into a lake? Have you met yourselves at all, AustenFirth fans??)
“But how can this be, Mrs. F?” I hear you cry. “Were you not raised by a good, Austen-lovin’ mamma?” Well, I was. But those were different times, and I was raised on the clean, wholesome 1980 BBC version, always dear to my heart. I did see 2 minutes of the 1995 version when it first aired, and, bear with me here, I thought Jennifer Ehle was far too sappy to be Lizzie. No Colin Firth onscreen, and I didn’t stick around.
Well, that was 1995 and this is 2012. And here I am, ready to give this another try. Miss Ball and Miss Osborne will be on hand to laugh at my ignorance. And if you haven’t seen the Colin Firth version recently, say this year, you can laugh along with them! We’ll be liveblogging Pride and Prejudice this coming weekend:
4/28, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 1-3
4/29, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 4-6
Will my curmudgeonly heart stay true to Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, or will I be swayed by the wet, billowy cotton of Colin Firth? Stay tuned! And come on, I know you all need a refresher course, right? I mean, can you think of a better way to spend the weekend?
See you on Saturday!
For immediate release: Austenacious requests proposals for a JANE AUSTEN THEME PARK!
Goals: To have a fun place irl to hang out with our peeps, being sarcastical, laughing at our neighbors, and trying not to be sport for them in return. Why? Why not, she said!
Rules for theme park proposals:
Note, we are not talking about some kind of holodeck adventures where we roleplay with low-rent actors dressed up as Mr. Darcy, ala Austenland. That is not a theme park. Nor is it, as AustenBlog pointed out, ironic enough for the Austen fans. We are as ironic as all hell, damn it. That is why we are Austen fans!
Nor, actually, do we want some kind of honest attempt to immerse tourists in Jane Austen’s Bath, or her villages, or even her country houses, with actors waylaying you and attempting to interact or something. How pathetically embarrassing! (OK, I am scared of those people. I admit it.) That sort of thing may be fine for Dickens’ World, but honest, vulgar sentimentality is not for us.
And we have no desire to sully Chawton, Bath, or even Lyme Regis with our water slides. You are talking to someone who almost cried when she saw the Anne of Green Gables theme park, Rainbow Valley.
But Austen is not Brontë. (I guess you knew that.) We can have some ironical, Austen-spirited fun, right? Sure, Bath is practically a Regency theme park, but the essence of Austen isn’t the world—it’s the snark. So we need a theme park with some snark, some fun, a Louisa Musgrove Drop ride, OK, yes, a Colin Firth splashing into the water roller coaster, and maybe Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet paintball. The rest is up to you.
That’s the goal. Now hit us!
Do you ever wonder whether or not (if you have children) your children will grow up to be like you at all—in personality and tastes? I’ve always feared I would have a kid who uses bad grammar, hates reading, and loves the Yankees. One can only hope some of the things we love can be passed on and shared. Recently, one of my girlfriends introduced her 11-year-old daughter to Jane Austen. Here’s a compilation of our FB conversations.
Mrs. Light: To counteract Mr. Light’s ST:TNG summer marathon, I started Mags on Jane Austen movies. Mansfield Park was first—loved it…then Sense and Sensibility, then Emma. Now we are 3 episodes into P&P…she’s addicted. Last night it took away the night-before-school-start jitters. All she could say was, “Darcy is a jerk! Can we watch another tomorrow?” She tried to read Sense at the beginning of the summer. I think seeing the movie will ease the language for her.
Miss Osborne: That’s terrific! And yes, Darcy is a total jerk…in the beginning…
Mr. Light: No! THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!!!!
Miss Osborne: I heard there were 5 lights.
Mrs. Light: Tonight it all changed…@ Pemberley. Episode 4: I could see it in Mag’s face…suddenly Darcy’s lookin’ good…
Miss Osborne: I think you’ll need to also do a viewing of the short movie with Matthew MacFadyen…just to see what her thoughts are on a different version of P&P.
Miss Osborne: And yes, who wouldn’t be impressed with Pemberley? (“Does the young lady know the master?”)
Mrs. Light: I couldn’t accept him…too sad looking and altho greater in stature than Firth, no where near as grand…or SEX-SAAAAAAA!
Miss Osborne: I like MacFadyen from the early years of MI-5, but clearly he’s no match for HisRoyalFirthyGoodness.
Mrs. Light: I think Firthy has a permanent Darcy-shaped corner in an incalculable number of women’s hearts.
Mrs. Light: Add one 11-year-old girl’s.
Miss Osborne: Inquiring minds want to know…what does Mags think of the massive Regency sideburns?
Mrs. Light: After Mansfield (which was the fashion shock), she laughed a bit at Sense and the sideburns. Had to get over Snape being Colonel Brandon—and me swooning over him. By Emma, she was used to the hair—and the weird man pants and the bonnets. If anything she is starting to say which dresses are pretty and which aren’t.
Mrs. Light: I think Firthy has won her heart.
Miss Osborne: I just LOVE it! When she’s old enough, she should see Truly Madly Deeply to see Alan Rickman in a romantic role. (Tho, of course, I love him in Die Hard and that stupid Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, too.)
Mrs. Light: If I were Maid Marion, I would have pillaged the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Miss Osborne: Hahahaha! Dirty.
Mrs. Light: Oh! And she is already dissecting Jane’s plot construction and making predictions based on what she knows of how she writes about society…I may explode with joy!
Mrs. Light: It’s fabulous to hear her say, “Please…one more episode!”
Mrs. Light: We watched the rest of P&P yesterday, picking up back at the inn at Lambton when Darcy brings Georgiana to meet Lizzy. Mags was done—cooked—totally smitten with Mr D. All of the gazing back and forth…I’m so happy that this is her introduction to what “romance” is. (Yeah yeah…I know I won’t being hearing from Gloria Steinem.) Mags was outraged by Lydia running off with Wickham. Brighton must have been the Jersey Shore of it’s day, and Lydia is Snookie. It all unwinds too quickly at the end. We both longed to savor the moments when Lizzy concedes her love for Darcy. The final stroll when she tells him…Mags said, “They didn’t kiss! When are they gonna kiss!?” Then they do, and it’s over, and she said “NOOOOOO! It can’t be over! What happens next? I want to see what else happens to them!” Don’t we all?
And there you have it…one girl’s introduction to the world of Jane Austen!