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.
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?
Well, this is sweet: Lev Raphael fell in love with Northanger Abbey.
I find this charming. When Austen n00bs ask me where to begin, I always point them to Pride and Prejudice, with a chaser of either Sense and Sensibility or Emma—best to start with the big guns, I figure, and follow up with something of approximately equal sparkle, if not quite equal stature. I recommend that they leave Persuasion for later—not because it’s worse, but, paradoxically, because it’s better. Persuasion strikes me as requiring a certain maturity, from standpoints of emotion, reading, and specifically the reading of Austen. Nobody, I figure, recommends Mansfield Park.
But then there’s Northanger Abbey. I love Northanger Abbey. It’s a weird, funny book with weird, funny characters. I like it because it’s full of straight-up jokes instead of the sly humor of her later works, and I suspect it’s what Jane wrote probably because she lived before the age of epic fanfiction novels (or maybe it’s her ageless response to the future spectre of epic fanfiction novels?). In my mind, she’s both mocking and identifying with Catherine. Surely Jane herself read a Gothic novel or two? Regardless, I assume nobody wants to start with Catherine Morland and her overactive imagination. Don’t we all want to read the good stuff? Elizabeth and Darcy and their union of hard-won mutual respect and affection? Elinor losing it, after all that stoic endurance, at the end of Sense and Sensibility? Emma just being Emma? And yet, I get that there’s something about growing into Austen by growing with Austen—about seeing the world through her eyes as she grows up, personally and professionally. And there’s nothing wrong with a good joke now and again, even if it isn’t the model of subtlety.
So: it’s nice to meet you. Can I introduce you to Catherine Morland?
Now here‘s a unique marketing strategy: To celebrate and cross-promote the new Marvel Comics Emma, the new Uncanny X-Men (#534) features an alternate cover by Janet K. Lee, the artist behind Emma, featuring Emma Woodhouse as Emma Frost. Get it? Because they’re both named Emma?
Which brings up a point that I kind of hope isn’t as original as I think it is: I’m generally in favor of spreading the Austen universe—ooh la la, genre-speak!—as far and wide as possible, but if we’re going to make graphic novels of Austen novels, why not go all the way? I’m thinking a band of accomplished ladies fighting crime by night, preferably in tall boots and elaborate hairstyles and carrying optional ladylike crime-fighting accessories. They use their powers for the good of proper young ladies everywhere, and have a futuristic lair hidden deep underneath an English country church! There’s a charming, villainous young man with a scandalous past and an insatiable hunger for young girls! Come on: leather and lycra, but with an empire waist? Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before? (Or have they? Readers?)
I call it—wait for it—The A-Team!
…Wait. That can’t be right.
Well, whatever! Behold the power of the ladies of Austen! Insert your own cool 70s artwork as needed.
Elizabeth “Prejudice” Bennet: With a muddy hem and a pair of fine (bionic) eyes, she out-snarks any man!
Fanny “The Faninator” Price: Turns invisible in the presence of basically anybody!
Emma “The Matchmaker” Woodhouse: She always gets what she wants. Always.
Elinor “Dash” Wood: Absorbs the rage and desire of those around her…
Marianne Dash “Wood”: …only to transfer them to her sister!
Anne “The Waiter” Elliot: Will wait you under the table with imperturbable patience!
Catherine “P.I.” Morland: Will ferret out the juicy details…whether they’re accurate or not!
Universe, make it happen.
Send us your questions! Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike. “Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick” will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in “What Would Jane Do?” See the contact form on the About page. We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Moore asks: I was just wondering about Sense and Sensibility . . . . Throughout the latter part of the book, does Lucy Steele have any knowledge of Edward’s love for Elinor or vice versa? Because if I’m not mistaken, they mention that Elinor is fond of a man by the name of Ferrars and then Lucy proceeds to tell her of the engagement. Just something I was wondering about.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Oh yes, Miss Moore, Lucy Steele knew about Edward and Elinor all right! At least, she had suspected Edward was falling for someone else, and when “the elusive Mr. F” is brought up, she deduces that that someone is Elinor. She knew they had been staying in the same house. And Marianne makes such a big deal of it that it’s obvious Elinor is fond of Edward too.
So at this point, Lucy knows her fiancé is tired of her and in love with someone else, who loves him back. I can see why you’re confused. Why should Lucy tell Elinor that she is engaged to Edward, unless she’s dumb or flat-out evil? You would think that she would just break up with Edward, or that he, if he had a spine, would break up with her, end of story. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. You have to remember that marriage for these women was a job: it was their source of income and social security. Quoting poor Charlotte Lucas: “[marriage] was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” Lucy doesn’t especially want the future job of being Edward’s wife, but it’s good enough until something better comes along. I’m sure we’ve all had jobs like that.
Lucy knows that Edward won’t break up with her because he is a Man of Honour. In all the English novels I’ve ever read, Men of Honour cannot ask women to be their wives and then dump them. You might call it job security for wives. Oh, men can get up to anything they want to get the woman to break the engagement, but they can’t break it themselves. If they did, the woman could actually sue them in court for Breach of Promise, so you can see how serious it was.
If Lucy was a heroically nice sort of girl, her reaction to learning that Edward loved someone else would have been to offer to release him from the engagement. But she isn’t. She’s “on the make” as they used to say—scrambling up the socioeconomic ladder by any means possible. So she lets Elinor know that Edward is taken. She says, “Back off, b****! He’s mine!” and she tries to convince Elinor that Edward really loves her and not Elinor. In doing that she’s making sure she keeps her job until she gets a better one; that is, until she marries Edward’s brother.
I hope that made sense. It’s kind of like a soap opera, isn’t it?
Hunh. So the upcoming movie From Prada to Nada is being billed as a “modern twist on Sense and Sensibility.” To quote The Wall Street Journal, it “centers on two spoiled Beverly Hills rich girls (Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega) who are forced to move in with poor relatives in East L.A. following their father’s death. Do the girls learn to embrace their Hispanic heritage? Of course they do.” See the preview below.
I think The Wall Street Journal is a perfectly appropriate venue to talk about Sense and Sensibility. They’re both so much about money, of course. But let’s go over a few problems here, shall we?
A) Do we think Elinor and Marianne are spoiled before their father dies? (Answer: It never even occurred to me.)
B) Do we think they “learn to embrace” the values of the poor relations they now associate with? (Answer: Ha! As if! Leaving aside the quibble that the relations aren’t poor, their values differ mainly by being less refined than the Dashwoods’. And we know what Jane thinks about that. In fact, I learned from Sense and Sensibility that you can and should maintain your standards even if those around you have lower ones, while at the same time being nice to them, because hey, it pays off.)
But that rich people are spoiled and stupid, and poor people are maybe a bit rough around the edges but fundamentally more real, no, Sense and Sensibility does not go there. Even in Jane Austen’s more class-conscious books, like Emma and Pride and Prejudice, there are real rich people and spoiled rich people, real poor(er) people and silly poor(er) people. It’s hard to tell from the preview, but I hope From Prada to Nada keeps at least that much shading, and even more, that it possibly, just possibly, gets into differing expectations of love and romance. I hope they manage to get anywhere near as close as the new xkcd to showing us Marianne and Willoughby’s relationship. If so, it might be a worthwhile adaptation. You see, I’m keeping an open mind!
Pop quiz: Which Jane Austen character said this?
Anyone can revolt. It is more difficult silently to obey our own inner promptings, and to spend our lives finding sincere and fitting means of expression for our temperament and our gifts.
Actually, it was none of them. The quote, according to The Happiness Project, is from a French painter named Georges Rouault. But it sounds like Elinor Dashwood, doesn’t it? Or possibly Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, or any one of Austen’s more serious heroines. (It also sounds a lot like Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch, but that’s another story.) It sounds like the backstory of any Austen novel.
I don’t think, by the way, that Georges meant this to relate to political revolt. I think he, and Jane, were talking about good old ordinary life, and how hard it can be to find your niche, your “inner resources,” as Mrs. Elton would say. Then and even more now you get a lot more attention if you are revolting (Lydia, I’m looking at you) than if you’re just trying to lead a good life, or even your own life. Perhaps sometimes you have to revolt to do that. But all Jane’s heroines learn Georges’ lesson, don’t they? They all have to spazz less and look beneath the surface of events rather than respond on a superficial level.
One of Jane’s more subtle messages, really. But a true message, I think, and one leading to happiness.
Photo credit: ©2010 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Today we lucky ladies at Austenacious have the golden opportunity to bring you an exclusive interview actor/writer/producer/personal heroine Emma Thompson, whose Oscar-winning screenplay for Sense and Sensibility and general sense of brilliance has made her an icon for smart girls everywhere. We sat down at Austenacious Studios for a brief chat:
Emma Thompson: Hello! I’m Emma Thompson.
ET: Hello? I’m Emma Thomp—Hey! What are you doing on the floor?
ET: Are you trying to kiss my feet?
ET: Yes, you are. Stop that.
A: They smell like roses after the rain.
ET: Get up.
A: Right. Let’s see. Ah, yes: In 1995, you wrote an Oscar-winning screenplay of Sense and Sensibility, as well as portraying the sensible Elinor Dashwood in the film. Can you tell us about your relationship with that character?
ET: Oh, yes, well, I’d always felt that as a woman who processes things quite intellectually, that Elinor is still quite capable of having an emotional life, and so—
A: —of course. You bawled your eyes out. It makes so much sense.
ET: Yes, and—
A: —was it you-know-who?
ET: Excuse me?
A: You-know-who. He Who Shall Not Be Named.
ET: I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.
A: Your ex? Does all the Shakespeare? To work out his pain over losing you?
ET: Ah, Kenneth.
A: Sssh! Beware the Death Eaters!
ET: That’s Ralph Fiennes. You’ve got it all wrong.
A: No, that’s just a coincidence. We called him that before the movies! Honest! What we’re saying is that he’s stupid. Stupidity is the point.
ET: ….okay, though Voldemort is in fact not stupid. I—I thought we were here to talk about Austen?
ET: Jane Austen?
A: Oh. Right. Say, what made you decide to grow your hair out?
ET: [Sighs] Well, I got tired of the idea that a woman of a certain age should have short hair, and I thought I’d challenge the the social norms surrounding middle age and sexuality—
A: That is so brave.
ET: —and also I was starting to be indistinguishable from Hugh Grant, at first glance.
A: Well, yes. But wasn’t it all part of Operation: How Hughie Got His Groove Back?
ET: I’m not familiar with that particular operation.
A: We thought it was philanthropy on your part.
ET: Getting back to the subject, I was so proud to have worked with him on Sense and Sensibility. I’ve always loved Edward Ferrars, and I thought Hugh brought such a believable sensitivity to the role.
A: Sure, whatever, but tell me: when you and Helen Mirren have sleepovers, do you dress up your Oscars?
ET: That is totally not your business.
A: We’re just saying: We would. Of course, neither of you have really braid-able hair, so that‘s out the window…
ET: I have to go now.
A: But wait! I haven’t given you my resume yet!
ET: Is that my bodyguard at the door?
A: We could do this every day!
ET: We really couldn’t.
A: Don’t you need a personal pencil sharpener? Award-polisher? Sycophant?
A: Wait! Someone told me the other day that I look just like Hugh Grant, too! I know you can’t resist a good cause!
Note: This interview is entirely a work of fiction, and is in no way meant to reflect on Ms. Thompson. In fact, it would probably be better for everybody if it also did not reflect quite so strongly on the staff of Austenacious.
Mariella Frostrup over at The Guardian recently wrote this in an advice column:
Despite achieving a position in the modern world where we are not only self-supporting but also increasingly outshining the men, we act like a gaggle of competitive girls whose most important goal is how blokes view us. Female-to-female behaviour hasn’t evolved much since Jane Austen’s day and the sad result is we continue to fail to provide sisterhood.
The rest of the column is similarly depressing. Mariella does suggest that the 40-something woman who feels life is slipping out of her grasp should age gracefully while at the same time make a noise, and “Rage, rage, rage when they attempt to turn out the light.” Sounds like a plan to me.
What about this talk of lack of sisterhood, now and in Jane Austen? Surely Jane and Cassandra Austen themselves are in the Sisterhood Hall of Fame? And Jane wrote about all sorts of sisters. Here’s Lizzie and Jane Bennet: “. . . do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” Not the words of someone who’s putting a bloke above a sister. Elinor and Marianne are another loving pair of sisters, though it’s true that Marianne does put her romantic notions above Elinor’s feelings sometimes. But isn’t that her great failing, what Jane Austen is warning us against? It’s also true that there’s some unpleasant sisters in the books. Maria and Julia Bertram certainly get into a catfight over Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and, more chillingly, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price take their separation from each other with perfect calm. As with the Elliot sisters in Persuasion, Austen seems to assume that there’s no reason that sisters would hang together, if circumstances or temperament didn’t allow it. And it’s true that we see very little genuine womanly friendship in Austen: Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas and Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney are the only examples I can think of. I guess it would make sense when getting a husband was like getting a job that you mightn’t be very nice to the competition, especially in a limited pool. So, I concede, Austen was pretty cynical about the whole sisterhood thing.
But what about now? Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and I don’t have any sisters. We came together as Beloved Sisters through a shared love of Jane Austen, eating, and talking smack. So we can’t comment on the modern state of sisterhood between actual sisters. But between women in general? I think it’s a pretty mixed bag. I personally haven’t seen much catfight action, have you? And also, isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that women should get along all the time? As if men do!
OK, obviously it’d be nice if we all got along. As it says in our header, Jane will keep us together. This may be terribly ironic, considering the above, but I suggest we try it. Send loving thoughts to all those of your acquaintance, even if there are few people you really love, and still fewer of whom you think well. It’s either that or back to the meat market, apparently.
Photo credit: ©David Stephensen. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
Evening, Miss Osborne’s apartment. A dinner of pigeon pie, forcemeat balls, and sherry syllabub sits demolished on the dining room table; Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick lounge around the living room, each trying not to be the one to have to make tea for the group.
Miss Ball: . . . so it’s like that time in Book X when Character Z says—
Miss Osborne: Wait, don’t spoil it for me!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What?!
Miss O: I-I haven’t read it yet.
Miss B: How is that possible?
Mrs. F: It’s the best book ever written!
Miss B: I read it in first grade.
Mrs. F: I read it in the womb.
Miss B: That book saved my life.
Mrs. F: You can’t be President unless you’ve read it, you know. It’s in the Constitution.
Miss B: . . . I was in a dark place.
Mrs. F: They say it was the inspiration for “Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.”
Miss B: I heard it’s what makes Superman fly!
Mrs. F: Don’t your parents like you?
Miss B: Or is this some kind of cruel joke?
Miss O: I . . . I don’t think so? I mean, I think they like me.
Mrs. F: Well, it doesn’t matter. They’re cruel.
Readers, it’s true. My parents were cruel, but only because they made me wear my brothers’ hand-me-down Toughskins jeans. They were and are avid readers, and they indulged my reading habits. Still, I managed to miss out on a few classics. To right these terrible wrongs, I’m slowly catching up on the books that apparently failed to shape my young psyche. Last summer, Mrs. F loaned me her tattered and well-loved (and fabulous) Little House books; this summer, I bought myself the entire Anne of Green Gables series. (In my defense, I had seen the movies. I’m up to the fifth book, and squeee! I do love Anne-with-an-E.)
I’ve stayed up late many nights enjoying the world of Anne Shirley, and was also pleased to find that the movie was faithful to the first novel. But I have to admit that I was surprised by the short bio about Lucy Maud Montgomery at the end of the book: apparently, during her college and post-college years, there was a tumultuous time when she was engaged to a cousin she did not love, and was in love with a farmer she thought was not a good match. She ended both relationships and eventually married a minister named Ewan MacDonald. Per the bio, “she did not love MacDonald with any passion, but she respected him, and he was a more suitable match for her than any of her previous suitors.”
I recognize it’s not uncommon to marry without passion, but I was surprised that Montgomery would do so when her heroine also made her way through a series of potential suitors (and ruminated on others’ good and bad relationships)—and then happily entered into a relationship of respect and passion with Gilbert Blythe. My mind keeps going back to Jane Austen, who is often quoted as saying, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Is that why Jane never married? I assume that when she wrote about the marriage prospects of Lizzy Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, and her other heroines, she gave the reader her ideal vision of a good marriage—one of passion, tenderness, and mutual respect—because that’s what she desired for herself. Without any hard facts to back up my assumptions, I have always felt that Austen was true to her words and chose to remain unmarried because she couldn’t find a husband that could provide her ideal marriage. Who knows? Maybe Austen secretly wished she had married for the sake of being married, and maybe Montgomery was perfectly satisfied in a passionless marriage. But I can’t help but believe that both put their innermost desires into the lives of their heroines. In the meantime, I shall keep myself out of the depths of despair over the lack of my ideal mate by entertaining myself with more stories of Anne-with-an-E, outings with kindred spirits, and tantalizing visions of men with muttonchops.