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.
Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, of disputed causes, making this the 193rd anniversary of her death. Is it weird that we haven’t seen a book yet with Jane Austen as a ghost, ala Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter? We’ve been through swathes of the Austen undead without coming to this fairly obvious choice. Is it passe, perhaps? Rather than having a vampire Austen chomping on wine and chocolate, how about a ghostly Austen flitting through a Gothic story or setting, making sure all the mysteriously locked chests are only filled with laundry lists? I could go for that.
Or what about a banshee Austen shrieking when people misunderstand her take on marriage, again? Psst! Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was doomed because they got married out of lust and boredom, not because they got married quickly. And actually, it wasn’t all that quickly. Jane would have agreed that you should marry the “right” person (duh), but it’s a considerable leap from that to hustling to the church/registry office/destination wedding with any old man you happen to pick up. Quoth Charlotte Lucas, “It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and we all know how she fared at the marriage market.
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. We were discussing sarcastic ghosts who make fun of the Gothic, and ironic banshees. Let’s see, what else has been missed? We could make a case for Jane Austen, Necromancer, raising armies of spin-offs, but I think my favorite glimpse of Jane Austen’s life after death comes from E.M. Forster, in “The Celestial Omnibus.” Jane drives a carriage to heaven. And it’s not a barouche-landau.
Photo: The ghost of Barbara Radziwiłł, by Wojciech Gerson.
I love E.M. Forster almost as much as I love Jane Austen, and how pleasant it is to discover that he understood the Austenite condition so well himself. He wouldn’t blame us for playing our Austenacious games, or girls (or boys) from being silly about Mr. Darcy, though who knows what he would say about the current spewing of adaptations. But his article shocked me. Listen to what he says about Chapter 2. Here’s the passage in my edition.
“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father. “She times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
BUT, Forster says that R.W. Chapman thought that last line didn’t belong to Kitty, since she was going to the ball, and would know when it would be. In the original edition it was on the next line and was said by Mr. Bennet. The printers forgot to indent it, and future editions ran the two paragraphs together. Chapman found other, similar errors.
Everyone in the outside world can say or do what they please to Miss Austen’s books, but inside them, I thought I was safe! I thought I knew what she was trying to tell me. But no, even after R.W. Chapman found these printer’s errors, in 1923, they have not been fixed! I am truly shocked by this. It seems like such a little thing, but who knows what other errors may be lurking? Possibly the scholars who write papers on single phrases used in books, but, like Forster, I believed Austen, and never questioned her.
I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was in seventh grade, and I accepted it as holy gospel. “This is how real people think and act,” I thought. “They are full of irony, they laugh whenever possible, they are thoughtful (except when they’re not).” I didn’t even particularly realize the book was funny until Mr. Fitzpatrick read it a few years ago! He thought it was hilarious, and was disturbed when a guy friend saw the Keira Knightley version and didn’t realize it was supposed to be funny. Talking about Pride and Prejudice with Mr. Fitzpatrick certainly helped me think about it in a new way. And now his mother has read it—I’m really interested to see how her perceptions will have differed from mine. No novel is the same to any two people, is it?
At the same time, it’s always odd when you hear or remember something differently from someone else—Liveblogging Emma highlighted that for me, as Miss Ball and I disagreed on words and actions several times. (Of course, I was always right. ) Even the 1980 BBC version, which was very faithful, strangely switches around who said what, at times. And it makes one mistake that annoys me all out of proportion. When Lizzy is looking at Mr. Darcy’s portrait at Pemberley, “she thought of his regard . . . ; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.” In the BBC version, she thinks “How stern you look in your portrait! But I remember your warmth, and would soften that look.” Not at all the same thing!
This is a long, rambling kind of post. I guess the point is that I think of Pride and Prejudice (and all Jane Austen’s other books) as real things, not just as somebody’s words. And that, as much as possible, I understand them. Other people may understand them differently, but they are still ours. To suddenly realize, even slightly, that they’re not, and I don’t, is as disturbing as realizing after 20 minutes that my husband and I have been talking about completely different things, and didn’t even know it.
Or am I just being paranoid?