This winter, I have not been reading much Jane Austen. And by “not much” I mean “any at all.” Jane has been on the bookshelf, and tucked away with the rest of the DVDs, and not even running on Masterpiece. (THANKS, DOWNTON.) 2012 is, so far, Janeless.
I have, however, been watching a lot of Fringe. (This is a thing that happens: Pacey from Dawson’s Creek grows up handsome and outs himself as a huge, hilarious nerd, and I’m supposed to stay away?) It’s great genre television: exciting, well-acted, and just sliiiightly off the deep end. In a nice way! For the uninitiated, Fringe is a show about parallel universes–our own, but also the one next door, where everything’s the same…except when it’s not the same at all. All this dimension-hopping, where every choice offers the potential for a new reality, has me inspired and on a spree of fictional universe creation; I’m tacking new dimensions onto stories right and left in my head, just because. Harry Potter? Great! Mindy Kaling’s memoir? Perfect! Genre is irrelevant. What this story needs, I think to myself, is more universes!
When it comes to Jane, of course, this is all downright enticing. What if there’s another Elizabeth Bennet, one who isn’t an eavesdropper OR a spectacular holder of grudges? What if some other John Dashwood marries the perfectly nice lady we know he deserves, and the Dashwood ladies don’t have to move into a hovel near some other handsome dudes? What if Catherine Morland meets an alternate version of herself (this is ALSO a thing that happens)–one who has an extra dash of common sense? Just think!
And then it occurs to me: I’m way behind the curve, AND I’m missing out. Jane already HAS parallel universes, fueled by the publishing market and the apparently endless thirst for Austen spin-offs, sequels, and spoofs. Writers and fans around the world have already imagined and executed a thousand parallel Austenian universes, both published and unpublished–ones with zombies and murder and sex scenes that would have made Jane blush all the way down to her toes—all in the name of what if? It’s my fault that I stay in Jane’s home universe; since I generally steer clear of non-canon Jane, I’m aware of these universes but generally don’t hang out in them. It’s not a choice I regret—even on Fringe, our universe is always a grounding force—but I think, suddenly, I get it a little better. There’s something nice about narrative flexibility.
If the membranes between universes start to break down, though, I think we know who to call.
Action Jane and I have a confession to make: We did not go to Bath. Jane, you know, never wanted to go there at all, and she convinced me that a fine spring day would be better spent in the countryside than in the glare of a town. I’ve been to Bath before, so my regret is all for you. But there you have it. A fine estate (formerly an abbey!) appealed to us more. For Miss Morland’s sake, we also looked at many real ruined abbeys, and a ruined castle or two.
Lacock Abbey was indeed bought from Henry VIII after the Dissolution and converted into a private home.
Catherine was pleased that, even though most of the building looks like an ordinary manor house, the cloisters and some abbey rooms still remain.
Only the ghosts of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Snape walk here, though. (At least they did in the first two movies.) Being good guests, we did not search for mad Mrs. Tilney’s bedroom.
To cheer Catherine up, we took her to Tintern Abbey in south Wales. Catherine declared Tintern a little too clean for pure Romantic atmosphere, but at least better than Glastonbury Abbey, which was in the middle of a bustling market town!
However, we all acknowledged Conwy Castle to be a fine, manly pile of a ruin.
Jane and I then returned Catherine to her village to await Mr. Tilney, and headed north on a mission of our own . . .
To enter the Brontë Parsonage by stealth! The sisters’ home was indeed interesting, though they forbade photographs.
Our mission accomplished, we moaned supernaturally in the graveyard, and headed for home.
Photo credits: ©2011 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
It’s rainy and muddy in Austenland right now, and the good people there were thinking of passing the time with a little amateur dramatics when, lo and behold, a wormhole opened up and a copy of the Harry Potter series dropped back in time and into our heroes and heroines laps! While Fanny Price looked on in horror, a fantasy casting frenzy commenced.
Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley: All the heroines wanted to be one of these two. Hermione has the best brains and get the most to do, while Ginny is, of course, the love interest, and feisty in her own right. Emma tried to claim Hermione by pointing out that she read the most, but Lizzie pointed out that making lists of books is not the same as reading them! Also, who sticks up for herself and her friends most in a tight spot? All right, Lizzie, fine, you can be Hermione. Anne Elliot gently reminded the others that Ginny was also a put-upon member of a large family, but Catherine Morland pointed out that she was the only one who played a sport, baseball, so she should be Ginny. . .
Harry Potter: Most of the men made a claim to this, but the ladies agreed that none suited so well as Captain Wentworth. He was dashing, he was a common (not too bright) man who did things, won hearts, stirred up controversy . . .
Ron Weasley: Mr. Darcy disdained being Capt. Wentworth’s sidekick, even for Lizzie’s sake, but Mr. Bingley said he didn’t mind if he did.
Lord Voldemort: Of course, Darcy was attracted by the role. But everyone agreed quietly than it really belonged to his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And she agreed that it was fitting she should play a noble role.
Professor Albus Dumbledore: Mr. Knightley or Mr. Bennet, for sure, the from-the-side-watching know-it-alls.
Professor Severus Snape: Lizzie laughed, and said surely this role belonged to Mr. Darcy!
Draco Malfoy: Henry Crawford, to be sure. Draco doesn’t get much action, poor boy, but Crawford could identify with his halfhearted redemption.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart: For sheer daffiness, vanity, and ego, everyone agreed, Sir Walter Elliot should have the honor here. (Mr. Collins would have done, had he been handsome.)
At this point, the ladies’ scuffles over who was to be Ginny Weasley became really quite alarming. Mary Crawford was heard to say that Ginny had always had plenty of boyfriends to choose from, and that therefore she should be Ginny. Then Lydia Bennet proclaimed loudly that she had more, and should be. Mr. Bennet went into one of his rages, and took his whole family back to Longbourn, leaving the others to practice riding their broomsticks in the drawing room and casting spells at the card table.
. . .
Obviously, I have merely scratched the surface here! Readers, what do you think? What obvious character connections have I missed?
Photo credit: Magic wand image ©amanky. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, of disputed causes, making this the 193rd anniversary of her death. Is it weird that we haven’t seen a book yet with Jane Austen as a ghost, ala Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter? We’ve been through swathes of the Austen undead without coming to this fairly obvious choice. Is it passe, perhaps? Rather than having a vampire Austen chomping on wine and chocolate, how about a ghostly Austen flitting through a Gothic story or setting, making sure all the mysteriously locked chests are only filled with laundry lists? I could go for that.
Or what about a banshee Austen shrieking when people misunderstand her take on marriage, again? Psst! Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was doomed because they got married out of lust and boredom, not because they got married quickly. And actually, it wasn’t all that quickly. Jane would have agreed that you should marry the “right” person (duh), but it’s a considerable leap from that to hustling to the church/registry office/destination wedding with any old man you happen to pick up. Quoth Charlotte Lucas, “It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and we all know how she fared at the marriage market.
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. We were discussing sarcastic ghosts who make fun of the Gothic, and ironic banshees. Let’s see, what else has been missed? We could make a case for Jane Austen, Necromancer, raising armies of spin-offs, but I think my favorite glimpse of Jane Austen’s life after death comes from E.M. Forster, in “The Celestial Omnibus.” Jane drives a carriage to heaven. And it’s not a barouche-landau.