Today, readers, is the big day: the end of the era of Emma! Should we all hug and cry and say we’ll see each other during summer? Shall someone play ”Free Bird” as our class song? I don’t want to make a speech. Someone else should do that. And then in four to six weeks, someone can mail us that all-important piece of paper, to declare that we all read this really long and cringe-inducing novel and came out the other side. Ready?
First, a few minor observations:
- You know, I WANT to be cool about Mr. Knightley and his crush on the junior-high set, because it was a different time and I don’t think Jane meant anything by it (though we’re certainly allowed to be scandalized by Wickham and fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy, over in that other universe), and we all know Mr. Knightley is nothing if not an obnoxiously upstanding citizen. But that “saucy looks” comment is totally not helping.
- I do, however, love Mr. Knightley’s comments about the inconvenience of giving a large musical instrument as a gift. Once, a college friend spontaneously gave my roommate and me a betta—Simon the Wonder Fish!—who was beautiful and a source of great joy for about six days, when he died, probably because we were keeping him in a plastic lychee-jelly bucket, which in retrospect was likely full of BPA and other fish-murdering toxins. That was one dramatic fish funeral (in the bathroom, naturally). I feel like a pianoforte at a house that isn’t even your own is probably kind of like an unexpected pet that’s going to die in less than a week.
- And, okay, it makes me so happy that Mr. and Mrs. George Knightley live happily ever after in her home, or rather her father’s home—that Mr. Knightley gives up his estate for the good of goofy old Mr. Woodhouse. Because he is judgy, yes, but sweet! Which I suppose is the conclusion I’ve come to in general. Judgy, but sweet. I think I can live with that.
- As delightful as Paul Rudd is in Clueless—and everything else; let’s be real—I keep trying to insert him into a plain old Regency adaptation of Emma, and failing. I just don’t think he’s stern enough unless he’s talking Clinton-era environmentalism, you know?
Sooo, this is the end of Emma. And…what? We started this read-along primarily because Mrs. F couldn’t hang with Emma herself long enough to get through the book. I guess the question is: do we feel differently now, about her or about the novel?
I think I’m mostly relieved: not because Emma marries Mr. Knightley in the end, though I enjoyed the romance portion about a thousand times more than I remembered, but because she doesn’t stay who she was at the beginning of the novel. (This is my main complaint about Mansfield Park—Fanny Price never learns anything, so what, exactly, is the point?) I don’t know that I hate Early Emma as much as many of you, but can you imagine—nobody points out the horror of her comment to Miss Bates (or anything else), and Emma remains exactly who she is and continues leaving a wake of social and emotional havoc behind her, and maybe she never marries, or maybe she marries somebody like Frank Churchill, who thinks she’s always right. Hartfield and the surrounding area, and eventually Earth and the moon and the sun and the universe, are sucked into a black hole of her self-regard. And that’s the end. And all because Mr. Knightley failed to deliver that key lecture in that benevolently affronted tone of his!
Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but…kind of. In any case, Emma is the Austen heroine who most harms other people with her flaws—the rest simply hang themselves with their judginess/lack of self-control/overabundance of self-control/overabundance of imagination—which I think makes her redemption seem extra necessary. When she finally does change, the release of tension is palpable.
I still have my doubts about Frank and Jane Fairfax, but you all already know about that. I just don’t know, you guys.
So. Now that it’s over, how are you and Emma? Lay it on me.
Here we have the answers to last week’s game of failed New Year’s resolutions. Thank you all for playing along—your hemming and hawing and theorizing in the comments was delightful! Let’s play again soon.
1. Resolves to practice the power of positive thinking. Is already so thoroughly positive as to succeed just by getting up in the morning. Is impressed by the power of positive thinking. - MR. BINGLEY
2. Resolves to run off, experience the world, and achieve self-actualization, possibly becoming a lady-pirate with much cooler younger sister in the process. Fails to account for the medium-sized drop-off, meant to thwart wandering cows, at the edge of the estate. – FANNY PRICE
3. Resolves to be more in control of her emotions. Is in raptures about how controlled her emotions are going to be, now that she’s resolved. Faints with excitement. – MARIANNE DASHWOOD
4. Resolves to get out of bed. Is seduced by cuteness of pug face. Stays in bed. – LADY BERTRAM
5. Has no resolutions. Life is already perfect: wife supportive of gardening habit; house next to awesomest house in the world. – MR. COLLINS
6. Resolves to be a lady with a grasp on reality. Is pretty sure husband is pushing her towards this resolution in order to lure her into cave of godlessness and drink her blood. But at least she likes her father-in-law. – CATHERINE MORLAND
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.
Let’s face it: the range of Austenian Halloween costumes for ladies is not that great. Like, congratulations! You have a lovely empire-waist gown and a spencer! You are…one of any number of unidentifiable Regency characters? No clever object costumes, either—bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, as I imagine the Sound of Music folks would do, assuming there are in fact Sound of Music folks out there (who aren’t also attending the sing-along)—which brings up a whole thing about the relative unimportance of objects, symbolic or otherwise, in Jane’s work, but we’re not here to talk about objects symbolic or otherwise. We’re here to talk about Halloween.
(Somewhat ironically for a writer whose works are so generally female-centric, more recognizable male-oriented costumes spring to mind. Wear a pink cloak and be Mr. Rushworth! And of course, all glory, laud, and honor to any man who has the foresight to wear wet breeches and a soaked shirt and call himself Mr. Darcy.)
In any case, may we offer a few last-minute costume ideas for the Regency-attired?
- Action Jane
White dress, green spencer, plastic face—or at the very least, painted-on smile. Arms that bend only in unnatural ways. Photo album of all your adventures?
- Kitty Bennet
Be as suggestible as possible. Cough.
- Fanny Price
Sit on a bench somewhere, preferably near a locked gate. Disapprove.
- Marianne Dashwood
Tumble down a hill; if nobody handsome appears, lather, rinse, repeat. (Liability? What liability?)
I feel like I’m missing someone. Who am I missing?
(Also, we might judge you just a skosh for adding “slutty” to any of these costumes…but then, you don’t have to tell us.)
This morning, I was thinking—as one does—that I would not make a very good Austen heroine. Here’s the thing: I am, and nearly always have been, a follower of signs and rules. I take instructions at face value. I hate being caught out of line; I stress out over the most minor infractions; people who ignore the rules make me crazy, mostly because I’m following them, so why shouldn’t they? Because of all these things, and also possibly because—this paragraph informs me—I am old and crotchety, my tolerance for handsome scoundrels is, I think, unusually low. The “falls for cute guy who’s kind of a jerk” phase would never work. Wickham? Willoughby? Henry Crawford? Not for me, right off the bat. (OMG, you guys. Am I Fanny Price?)
Then I realized: any one of Jane’s heroines could say the same. It’s not like the douchey decoy love interests in Austen ride into town on their Harleys, blaring Steely Dan and smoking unfiltered cigarettes. They’re sweet-faced. They pretend to be nice. Moms like them. It’s only later that they’re exposed as cads, liars, and seducers of the very young, and most of them end up alone when their natures are revealed. That’s the pattern: handsome guy shows up and makes nice with local ladies, handsome guy is exposed as terrible, handsome guy loses all credit in the neighborhood and is pushed out by the more honorable suitor who’s waiting in the wings. (I suppose the exception here is Mr. Wickham, as he ends up married…but Lydia doesn’t really know what’s up, and let’s be honest: this is karmic retribution of a very particular and satisfying type.) Anyway, I have to assume that none of Jane’s characters mean to get sucked in by these guys.
The twin assumptions here, of course, are that a) nobody—no lady—likes a scoundrel once he’s revealed as such, and that b) handsomeness never trumps skeeviness, which I think Hugh Grant and reality TV generally have pretty much proven incorrect. And so I wonder: what would Jane have done with a scoundrel who was unashamed—someone openly rebellious, especially when it comes to the ladies? Could she (or any of her heroines) have been drawn to the wild side, or would obvious rule-breaking have disqualified a man from her personal “gentleman” category? Why don’t any of these men end up the way they might in real life: eventually okay, and not smacked down by the universe?
Readers, what do you think?
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!
Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
…and they all lived judgmentally ever after.
We’re done! We finished! We read a very long Jane Austen book, and all we got was this satisfyingly growing Mansfield Park tag! (This is the kind of thing that thrills your average Austen blogger.) And, you know, a string of posts and thoughtful discussion. Which brings me to another thing: You guys are the BEST. Thank you so much for reading along, and chatting it up in the comments, and being hilarious and heartfelt and wonderful. The Austen Nation is the best nation, I think, and I’ve been to Austria, where they have cheese inside sausage inside bread! So.
Having now read every word, I think what makes Mansfield Park hard to swallow isn’t just Fanny’s insistence on being a total doormat (unless, and this is to her credit, somebody’s trying to force her down the aisle); it’s that nothing about her changes. Every other Austen protagonist–and protagonists generally, because this is fiction and there has to be an arc somewhere–learns something. Grows up. Sees the error of her ways. Stops chasing the handsome rogue and falls for the old dude. SOMETHING. Fanny does none of those things. Personal change doesn’t seem to be the point for her, somehow, which begs the question: What IS the point? Mrs. Fitzpatrick suggested that perhaps everybody ELSE is changed because of Fanny’s golden presence, but upon further reflection, I don’t see it; the only character redeemed at the end is Tom Bertram, and that’s thanks to the power of the almighty virus more than anything else. Readers?
That said, I enjoyed it, in a pleasant and immediate kind of way. Fanny and Edmund’s “romance” aside—I’m not sure what “a classic romance” means to the good people at Oxford University Press—Jane’s ear for terrible people being terrible kept me entertained and ready for scandal to strike at any moment. Personal journeys of growth aside…that’s good enough for me, sometimes.
Various and sundry final thoughts:
For all the crap Fanny takes nowadays about her shrinking-violet ways, her dear Edmund is, I think, way worse. He’s controlling; he (I think) knows he’s wrong about Mary, but refuses to pull the plug; he says he loves Fanny, but constantly abandons her; “I could never marry anybody but Mary Crawford,” he moons, twenty pages from the end, and I want him to go to Thornton Lacey AND STAY THERE.
You guys. Maria lives happily ever after (or something)…with Mrs. Norris! I subsequently die of joy.
Sue me; I still like Mary Crawford, “maybe it would be okay if Tom died, because then Edmund could have his money!” comment and all. She’s shallow, but she’s (usually) neither malicious nor clueless—the two great sins of Austenian women. She’s neither rewarded nor truly punished in the end, which seems fair, and I hope she lives to liven up many a party. By which I mean “novel.”
And now, let’s all have snacks (BYO) and read something trashy!
That’s Vol. 3, Chapters 3 – 13, or regular chapters 34 – 44. Oy with the multiple editions, Jane!
So. Last week, everybody was horrible to Fanny about refusing Henry Crawford’s proposal. This remains the case. HOWEVER. There’s knowing you’re not into a guy who’s kind of a tool, and then there’s doing everything you can to AVOID being into a guy who maybe acted kind of like a tool once but has since proven pretty stellar. Guess which one our dear Fanny chooses?
And look: I know a little of what’s coming. This is not my first Jane Austen rodeo, and I know that in her world, handsome gentlemen who look too good to be true usually are. But for just this shining moment, when he comes to visit her and get her out of the hovel and walk arm in arm along the waterfront and say nice things to her little sister, would it kill her to get over herself and think maybe? Isn’t it possible that a guy could be kind of a jerk, then have a change of heart and prove his excellence? Wait, I think I read a book once that went kind of like that. IT WAS CALLED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
Also, let’s talk about Fanny’s Stockholm Syndrome. On one hand, of course her parents’ house is cramped and crowded and noisy; that’s why she was shuttled off to Mansfield in the first place. Nobody (except Fanny herself) expects her home visit to be all puppies and rainbows and high degrees of female accomplishment. But it’s not only the shrubberies that she misses—she loves Lady Bertram! She misses Mrs. Norris! This is the talk of a crazy person, which I might have thought was my newfangled modern brain talking, had not half the characters in the novel tried to point it out to her as well. Apparently the occasional fire in the East Room means true love.
And finally, a few assorted points:
- It is my dearest hope that Susan Price will accompany Fanny back to Mansfield, take one look at the whole situation, and drag her sister off to become pirate queens on the Thrush or something.
- “Fanny requires constant air and exercise”? REALLY, JANE? The girl who can’t make it past the cattle guard?
- Heh, Mr. Price is gross.
I am pleased to announce that the official Austenacious Mansfield Park read-along will, barring unwanted advances from a handsome scoundrel or a particularly vexing ha-ha, conclude Wednesday, April 18! Get your final chapters in now, folks, and bet on who Fanny ropes into marrying her with the power of her deep passivity.
(For those without volume numbers, that’s chapter 26 through chapter 33.)
Well, at least she picks her battles: Fanny may not be able to get past the ha-ha or figure out which necklace to wear, but at least she stands her ground through the Henry Crawford proposal debacle—even when everybody around her is TERRIBLE about it. At least she has a fire* (finally) to sit and brood over. If only someone would get the poor girl a drink.
* HOWEVER. Sir Thomas! Fire or no fire, is that any way to speak to a lady? Or, like, a human being? Get it together, man! It’s the nineteenth century!
Various and sundry thoughts:
The necklace situation was goofy—she gave it to you, and it’s fine, and jeez, calm down—but I did love the way Jane captured the moment of ridiculous relief when something stressful is resolved without the expected amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Fanny’s “darn, looks like your chain’s too big for my cross” moment was like that split second where you think you’re about to be sent to the principal’s office, but the hall monitor’s after the kid next to you. That’s it? The chain’s too big? Well, then.
So sorry to hear about “…that independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence.” Somehow I don’t think Sir Thomas would be that excited about the ladies of Austenacious. Whoops.
And finally, I’ve been holding this in for entirely too long and I think it’s time I let it all out: I suspect whoever cast Billie Piper in that BBC version may ALSO have never read the novel. I love me some Rose Tyler—like, a lot—but that? Is a horrendous idea. TAKE IT BACK.
How’s the reading going, people? Fourteen chapters and counting! And where the heck is Edmund? Come back, Edmund. Unless you’re just going to be stupid and marry Mary, in which case…go away, Edmund.