One week from this Thursday, the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will hit one hundred episodes and call it quits. This, of course, is probably our cue to sneak a little LBD action in around here. We at Austenacious are nothing if not standing on the cutting edge of culture and technology, right?
Here’s one thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I think it’s good. I think it’s smartly written and well-performed. I like the transposing of romantic situations into professional situations, in sometimes surprising ways—I can’t be the only one who, for example, was pleasantly surprised when, duh, Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was wasn’t Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins at all, because modern-day Charlotte doesn’t need to marry for practical reasons! Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, OBVIOUSLY! I think the writers made a lot of smart choices and came up with something that’s a lot of fun.
Here’s another thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I do not have a lot of things to say about it, except “Aww!” and “Well, that was clever,” and “How can I have hair like Laura Spencer‘s?” (HER HAIR, YOU GUYS) and “Okay, just one more.” If that were less true, I can assure you I’d have talked about it more here. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it without much comment.
What I DO want to discuss is the fandom that’s cropped up around the series—a discrete fandom, separate from Pride and Prejudice itself, complete with all the trappings: fanart, fanfiction, pre-episode squee spills all over Twitter and Tumblr and basically the rest of the Internet where people hang out, and, of course, a hearty band of trolls, presumably in empire-waist dresses. People are INTO IT, easily as taken with Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh as they are with plenty of traditional Lizzie/Darcy pairs. They’re agonizing over the ending: where will we leave Lizzie and Darcy, and will there be making out (“fingers crossed” seems to be the consensus, or maybe “THERE HAD BETTER BE MAKING OUT OR ELSE”), or will there be vague maybe-someday dating implications, or everything, or nothing, heaven forbid? They’re also discussing it—its relationship to the original text, its relationship to the ancillary series by Lydia and Maria Lu, a kitty named Kitty, the triumphs and vagaries of the web series medium, and especially the portrayal of Lydia, and whether the writers got her right or got her wrong, or were true to Jane’s vision or turned her into something new and incorrect. Some of this stuff is super smart, and some of it’s less smart, and some of it’s silly on purpose, and some of is decidedly not. Put it all together, and it’s a real live fandom.
And that, my friends, is a little amazing. All this for a story people already know, have already read and seen and talked through a million times and in a million forms. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Jane—she wrote a story that resonates with people, even if the regiment is really the swim team and a decent job at a start-up is just about as exciting as finding your true love. But the team behind the series must be doing something interesting, or I don’t think the discussion surrounding the LBD would be as vibrant as it is. It’s the difference between rehashing Pride and Prejudice and thinking about something new, with new creative choices—even when people don’t like what’s happening, they want to talk about it. And that seems, to me, like the real accomplishment: a new discussion of an old story. For me, watching the fans has been at least as exciting as watching the series.
So, tell me, readers: Are YOU in the LBD fandom? How are you doing with things coming to a close?
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.
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!
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?
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our tape-delayed evening coverage of the Ladies’ Terrible Sisters, or ‘Bitchiness,’ competition. I hope Twitter hasn’t told you the outcome! Here we are in the third rotation of the individual all-around, and the rivalries are fierce! Let’s check in with a few of the top contenders.”
“Miss Caroline Bingley is the heavy favorite coming into this evening’s rotation, and she’s worked hard for the title of frontrunner. Her bold style and her role in Austen’s most-read novel certainly places her at the head of the pack, but for Miss Bingley, it’s not just a label. We’ve seen that she is especially strong in the ‘direct insult’ and ‘letter of malicious intent’ events.”
“I have seen Miss Bingley stumble occasionally; her periodic lack of subtlety has been known to reveal her true character to the observant viewer, including that famous interaction regarding Elizabeth Bennet’s dirty hem and fine eyes. She would do well to proceed carefully this evening if she wants to keep it under wraps and get the guy. Remember, being terrible without being obviously terrible is key to this sport.”
“Mrs. John Dashwood might be a surprise contender, what with the ‘well, they don’t really need MONEY to LIVE ON’ maneuver—we haven’t seen much of her, but her skilled manipulation of her husband shows skills that might easily take on this field. What Mrs. Dashwood lacks in name recognition, she makes up for in subtlety—just look at the way she talked John Dashwood out of providing for his half-sisters and their mother.”
“She’s so effortless. Just look at that—a picture of grace. And by grace I mean incredible selfishness.”
“You’re so right about that. Now, what you do think about Mary Crawford’s standing in the competition?”
“Mary is something of a dark horse here tonight. Her performance during Tom Bertram”s illness last year really put her on the map—viewers will remember the way she implied that perhaps Tom’s death and the distribution of his fortune might actually be a boon to his family and ‘friends’—but with the tough competition this year, I don’t think she’ll end up on the podium. She might be prettier and more socially adept than Miss Bingley, but I just don’t think she has the killer instinct.”
“So right. And here we have the underdogs of the group, the sister-pair Julia and Maria Bertram. What’s your take on their act tonight?”
“Ooh, Julia and Maria have really been struggling this week—they obviously passed the Trials stage, but I just don’t think they have the consistency to excel in this event. Athletes like Miss Bingley and Mrs. Dashwood make clear that this field isn’t just about mild cluelessness; it really has to be pointed and intentional, and oh, look at that display of compassion. That’s not going to help them at ALL.”
“They have got to be wondering what they’re doing here. I mean, rumor has it they’ve been laughed mirthlessly out of the athletes’ locker room and have resorted to sitting in the corner, eating their own hair.”
“Ooh, that’s not good. For them, I mean. It’s pretty good for everybody else.”
“Well, we’re only twenty seconds from the conclusion of this rotation, so let’s break for commercial. Stay tuned for further coverage of the Shrill Mothers competition later tonight; we guarantee you’ll need your earplugs. We’ll be back in just a minute; don’t touch that remote.”
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: Elizabeth “Fine Eyes” Bennet, who’s spunky and sparky and holds a grudge like nobody’s business, and Katniss “I’m Super Scary” Everdeen, who will shoot you in the heart. Literally. THIS IS NOT A METAPHOR, PEOPLE.
In their corners:
Lizzy’s a smart cookie with a dirty hem, a healthy cardiovascular system (who knew Jane was so into running?), and, for all we know, a collection of survival books at the ready. Some say she battles the undead, but that’s ridiculous.
Katniss is an accidental teenage revolutionary who caused, directly or indirectly, the violent demises of a number of her competitors during a life-or-death gladiatorial reality show, then brought the oppressive government of her people to its knees. So there’s that.
Lizzy may have a sharp tongue, but that’s about it. Maybe she could sic her mother on Katniss, if Mrs. Bennet stopped talking long enough to hear her? Otherwise, she’ll have to make a run for it, and whatever shoes she has are likely not Capitol-approved.
Katniss has a keen sense of guilt and an occasional tendency to make poor decisions; if Lizzy can make her do something stupid (probably by posing as an authority figure), then make her feel super bad about it, she might have a chance.
You guys, it’s a fight. What’s Lizzy going to do, fend danger off with an embroidery needle? Miss “Arrow in the eye” wins it. She’s probably pretty haunted about it, though, if it makes you feel any better.
Next week: Fitzwilliam “The Gentleman” Darcy goes to the mats against Peeta “Frosting Stud” Mellark! Only on an Austen blog near you!
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.
So, I just read a new book that I think might explain a little bit about Jane Austen and Fanny Price—QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Here’s a good article summing up the book: The Rise of the New Groupthink.) No surprise that Fanny’s a world-class introvert; I think we can all agree on that. But part of Ms. Cain’s point is that extroversion has become much more important over the past few hundred years, and something called the Culture of Character gave over to the Culture of Personality, in which we live today. Here’s the ideal self the Culture of Character self-help books described:
- Golden Deeds
That doesn’t [hint hint] sound familiar at all, does it?? Anybody we know? Not little Miss Price, sitting in the corner?
And what about the ideal self from the Culture of Personality? Here’s what her self-help books describe:
Hmmmm….. Is there anyone in Mansfield Park who embodies those traits? And might she just coincidentally be Fanny’s rival just a teeny bit? I think Jane Austen actually uses at least half those words to describe Miss Crawford.
Now, the odd part is that Ms. Cain and “influential cultural historian, Warren Susman,” who she gets all this from—they both say that this switch from admiring Character to admiring Personality happened roughly at the end of the 19th century, when people were moving to cities and working with people they didn’t know, and having to sell themselves. And yet, here we have Mansfield Park almost 100 years earlier, and Jane Austen seemingly talking through Character vs. Personality. (That’s not foreshadowing in any way, Miss Ball.)
In a way, this makes Fanny more believable to me; that Our Jane would write a heroine like her makes sense if those qualities were more important. And yet, everyone in the book clearly finds Fanny awfully trying—they don’t hold her up as an ideal, no, they’re all over Miss Personality Crawford. So… maybe what Jane Austen is doing is looking at books that idealize the Fanny Price type and saying, “You pretend you like this girl, but in real life you think she’s a drip. See, I’ll prove it.”
When you think about it, that’s what Jane Austen does. Take stereotypes and look at them in real life: Catherine Morland vs. the Gothic novel. Marianne Dashwood vs. Ro-mance. Elizabeth Bennet vs. Prejudice . . . Wow, looking at it like that, Mansfield Park actually makes sense to me. And are we surprised that Jane Austen picked up on how people really thought of each other years before the self-help books did? No. No, we are not.
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?” Write to us using the contact form on the About page. We’d love to hear from you!
Ms. Parvate asks: How early can I read Austen with my daughter? She turns 10 next month! And which book do you suggest as the first one?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Way to go, Ms. Parvate! We like your spirit! The young ones, female and male alike, should be introduced to the great Miss Austen as soon as possible. Still, I have to say I think 10 is probably a little young, even for Miss A, who I know is precocious. (All daughters of Austenite mothers are precocious—well-known fact.)
Anecdotal evidence indicates that 11 is probably a good time to start, and that you and Miss A can’t go wrong with Pride and Prejudice. This is a good general theory, but we can refine it with a little insight into your daughter’s character.
- Is she contrary as all heck, like me? If so, not letting her read the book, while showing her that you enjoy it, may ultimately make her more of a Jane Austen fan.
- Jane’s language is a bit of a tall order for a 10-year-old. Does Miss A eat long sentences for breakfast? If not, it will help if she has some idea of the story first. So you could show her some adaptations this year. (Cue furious debate on which ones!)
- However, watching the movie first does take away some suspense. Do we want to deprive her of the true full satisfaction of the ending? I mean, to adults it may seem obvious how Pride and Prejudice will turn out, but I devoured that ending as a girl. It was touch and go there, when they come back and Bingley is trying to propose! I mean, I was worried Darcy wouldn’t make it!
- If Miss A does read at a very high level, then I’d say you can go ahead. How is she on P.G. Wodehouse? If she reads Bertie Wooster stories after school every day, she’s probably ready for Jane. If she doesn’t, well, why doesn’t she??
- I’m going to throw in a good word for Northanger Abbey here. This might have been my first Jane Austen book, and look where it’s gotten me . . . . The heroine is a bit younger, the satire is a bit broader, and the nuances are a bit less nuanced. Especially if Miss A has any sort of gothic background (as which tween girl in these vampire-ridden days does not?), she might relate more to gawky geeky Catherine Morland than cool poised Elizabeth Bennet. Just a thought.
So there you have it, Ms. Parvate. Let us know how it turns out. It’s exciting to think of reading Jane Austen for the very first time! Kinda makes me want to get out my book right now!
P.S. Even though Miss Ball is hosting an Austenacious read-a-thon of Mansfield Park right now, I do not recommend that until Miss A is much older.