I know. We is a terrible Jane Austen blog because we did not post on Jane Austen’s birthday! Miss Austen, ladies and gentlemen, please forgive us! But maybe on her 234th bday, Miss Austen wouldn’t see being a day or two late as being very late at all? . . . No, you’re right, I’m sure she was a stickler about that sort of thing. Anyway, Happy Belated Birthday, Miss Austen!
Mystery author P.D. James has a new book out, Talking About Detective Fiction, and this book contains, I think, a birthday present for Jane Austen. P.D. calls Emma “the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story.” What is the secret in the novel? Of course it is the “unrecognized relationships” between characters caught up in Emma’s romantic machinations, says Lady James, adding: “The story is confined to a closed society in a rural setting, which was to become common in detective fiction, and Jane Austen deceives us with cleverly constructed clues.” I’ve read mystery stories my whole life, and I’d never thought of that. At last, a fresh voice in Austen debate! (Unless this is well-known in academic circles, and I just missed it?) And it’s true. Critics are usually so caught up in hating Emma to bits that they don’t talk about the craft that Jane Austen uses to give us these situations that can be read in a number of ways. And she plays fair—if you know, you can see the significance of Frank Churchill’s going to get his hair cut and Mr. Elton’s giving the poem to Emma instead of Harriet. But, and this is the mark of a good detective story, the first time around, I completely misread those clues! I totally bought Emma’s reasoning about Mr. Elton and missed all Jane Fairfax’s telltale blushes. How about you? Are the Emma-haters so angry because they were deceived by her too?
Interestingly, there’s also a mystery in Northanger Abbey, at least in Catherine’s mind: the mystery of Mrs. Tilney’s death. But this mystery, Jane Austen’s avatar Henry Tilney tells us, is ridiculous—it’s too like a Gothic novel to believe that a wife could be killed under the eyes of a physician, or locked up without anyone’s protesting! Miss Brontë and we think differently, and the long lineage of detective and Gothic/horror stories certainly has something to do with that. But Jane Austen sympathizes a lot more with Emma’s self-deception than she does with Catherine’s.
It’s too like a Gothic novel. . . Jane Austen liked those, but she thought they were silly (hence Northanger Abbey). She followed the old adage about writing what you know about, and not about long ago and far away with monstrous creations wreaking havoc. She appreciated girls trapped by monstrous men in exotic Italian castles hundreds of years ago, so I think she would understand our fascination with girls trapped by werewolves in exotic English country houses two hundred years ago. But there’s no doubt she’d think it and us more than a bit silly. I wish she were here to tell us how much. But at least now someone is appreciating her real sense of mystery.
Also known as, what we want for Christmas, part 2.
Freeverse says we want a game for our iPhone “featuring a Jane Austen character in a lacy dress who karate-chops her way through hordes of advancing zombies.” (Not out yet. Coming soon.) Do we? I can only imagine this would be followed by an underwater version fighting off sea monsters, and (cue eyeroll) Emma and the Werewolves.
- Lizzie would not wear lace to kick zombie ass. Entirely inappropriate. Long sleeves, maybe?
- Well, I hope Seth is getting some royalties off this. Then when he dies I hope Jane takes them off him. With sharp words.
- On iPhone? Wouldn’t Wii be lots more fun?
- Do you think Lizzie will just kick ass like every other game heroine? How about the really difficult moves, like managing a train? At least Jane didn’t have to sit down in a hoop-skirt. FUN, I tell you. Ooh, can I watch people jump around trying to kickbox in a corset? With a fan and soft slippers and a train tripping them up?
- Don’t we all think Lady Susan is much more the Lara Croft/Aeon Flux type than Eliza Bennet?
- Pretty soon, if not already, there’ll be a World of Warcraft: Jane Austen Edition. I know my GM friends would be ever so grateful if you zombie hunters would mind your manners on the Quest to Lady Catherine’s, OK? No whining in the ha-ha. No hacking with scripts to get Darcy to propose to Lizzie every 2 seconds until she beats him over the head with her slipper.
- A friend of mine has already rebuilt Pemberley in Second Life. I don’t even want to know what goes on there!
- Hey! To my friends at Zynga: why not combine Mafia Wars and Farmville, and have a Build Your Own Fighting Regency Estate? Stick with me here a minute. You build up the family fortunes: add a living and you get a crazy aunt or maybe a hero (luck of the draw!). Attract heroines with spacious grounds and/or ruined abbeys! Once you have a heroine, you can build up suitors, and then use your army or navy to totally beat up the other estates and steal their heroines! Not so hot an idea? Oh well, if it sells, I still expect royalties. I know where you live, guys!
- When are all you entertainment types going to get creative and explore the clone angle? I believe we at Austenacious were the first to propose this, no, with our special Halloween header? If I don’t see The Matrix: Jane Austen Reloaded with thousands of simply but elegantly attired Eliza Bennets fountaining up in the Netherfield ball/fight scene within the year, I shall be severely disappointed. (Yo, Wachowskis: they have corsets built in! Bondage for all!)
- But seriously now, and brushing aside this tomfoolery: it’s my birthday next Saturday, and then Christmas two weeks later. May I not expect to see at least one first edition Jane Austen novel peeping out of my stocking?