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!
Oh goodness. I mean, OH, GOODNESS. Universe, why don’t you ever tell us anything? How did we not know this already? See, according to Ancestry.com in a recent press release, Kate Middleton–excuse me, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge–is related to Jane Austen!
It’s an Independence Day* miracle!
They’re super close: only eleventh cousins six times removed! Which is only probably about how closely everybody in Britain is related to everybody else in Britain! So really, we can expect her finely observed, deeply romantic, and wryly hilarious novel any day now, right? It all runs in the family, I’m sure, so…let’s see. What could Lady(?) Catherine possibly write a novel about? Hmmm. I’m having trouble coming up with compelling content, here.
Wait, I’ve got it: aliens!
You heard it here possibly first, ladies and gentlemen.
*in the United States, which is super relevant to this story
Thanks, Miss Ball, for stepping up to the tea-plate with your New Year’s Resolutions. They made me realize that I had . . . not read Pride and Prejudice since we started Austenacious! Oh, the horror!
I have now remedied the omission. And really I think the break was good. I knew P&P too well, you know? 42 is the approximate number of times I’ve read it (twice a year since seventh grade), and I can practically recite the thing—just ask Miss Ball and Miss Osborne! I’m sure you all know the feeling, or, she says darkly, you will . . .
Now, after writing about Jane Austen for over a year, and having quite the eventful year in my own life, I see Pride and Prejudice with fresher eyes.
The family dynamics struck me strongly. Mrs. Bennet is so very realistic! And she gets a lot of . . . I was going to say dialog, but she doesn’t do dialogs, does she? Mrs. Bennet just talks a lot, almost as much as Miss Bates in Emma. More than Jane had an ear for pillow talk, more even than for girlfriend time, she had a pitch-perfect ear for silly women.
“We’re marrying each other, not our entire families” might be called the central debate of the book. In the end Lizzy, Jane, and the boys admit that, but it takes a lot of work for them to get there. I know a lot of people are chilled by Lizzy and Jane throwing off their mother and less savory relations in the end, and I was too. But then I thought, who doesn’t avoid certain relatives as much as possible? Especially if they are as annoying as Mrs. Bennet! The Darcys and Bingleys do see Kitty, who lives with them, and “improve” her. They see Mr. Bennet, and of course the Gardiners. They even see Lydia and Miss Bingley sometimes. It’s just easier to accept your family when they’re not, um, living with you.
On reflection, it was probably P&P that taught me that you are not your family. Everyone has some strange ones stashed away, and you shouldn’t judge people by their relatives.
One other thing: The back cover of my copy of P&P says that “early 19th century English country society . . . is not very different from society today.” Sure, not so surprising, right? But then: “Mothers are determined that their daughters should marry well, daughters are determined to do what they wish, and fathers retire to their studies until the confusion is over and it is time to march down the aisle.” (!) This was my mother’s paperback, and it cost 95¢, and it just reeks of the 50s, doesn’t it? Today we still think Jane Austen reflects truth in society (of course!), but we focus on different things. Jane Austen for all time. It fascinates me.