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!
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.
Eight whole chapters this week, people! We’re basically the Usain Bolts of group Regency read-alongs.
First of all:
- OH NO YOU DID NOT, HENRY CRAWFORD!
Fanny may not be the Austen Nation’s favorite heroine, but going after a lady for sport—especially a lady as prey-like as Fanny, which of course only magnifies her appeal for the huntsman—is not to be tolerated. If there was ever an Austenian “gentleman” who deserved a swift kick in the goolies, I suspect it might be our Mr. Crawford. If only Fanny could get her foot up that high without fainting.
I wonder whether Henry’s fixation on “improving” houses is meant to be a comment on how he views Fanny—so far he’s only into her as a prize, but I wait patiently for the day that he wants to tear out her barnyard (heh) and make her face east, so as to improve her “approach.” Maybe I’m making this up, but my hunt for the mighty metaphor continues. Thoughts, readers?
- Jane carefully points out that Mary puts about five seconds of effort into calling her brother off. I’m still not sure whether this makes her despicable in my mind. Maybe it should, but I’m still not convinced that Mary is bad, per se—I’m more inclined, especially after Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s most recent post, to see her as Personality rather than Character. Maybe she should have used her influence differently, maybe she’s not really ripe for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Minister, but I don’t necessarily think failing to corral her douchey brother is her great moral failing. Jane, I suspect, may have disagreed.
- So, how about that Sir Thomas? Talk about wait until your father gets home! Is “sorry we put on a play in your study and moved the bookshelf” the Regency version of “no, those red Solo cups in the recycling aren’t mine, honest”? Not gonna lie: the fatherly smackdown on the whole Lovers’ Vows situation was a relief. Even Lady Bertram put aside her pug for a moment (a whole moment!) to welcome him home! Aww, ROMANCE.
- And in case I forget, readers, don’t ever let me go on my honeymoon without my emo sister.
- Psych! I don’t HAVE an emo sister, and it doesn’t say anything about weirdo brothers, so. Home free all the way to Brighton!
- (On the other hand, who is the less lucky one here? Is it the disappointed bride who married the rich moron, or the single tag-along sister who gets to laugh at her?)
Talk to me, readers.
What up, chapter five?
…yes, five. I know I said chapter ten, but isn’t five a nice stopping place? Also, because this is a place of honesty: I kept falling asleep. (Not Jane’s fault. Mine, for trying to read in bed. At night. In my jammies, while sleepy. And clutching a glass of warm milk.)
So…how’s it going, Mansfield folks? Is it too late to make a “Man’s field” joke here?
All narcolepsy aside, and with the understanding that things might go sour later—turns out an awful lot of you are not fans of Mansfield Park, so I’m sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop—I’m really enjoying it so far. Various and sundry thoughts:
- Fanny is…well, she’s no Elizabeth Bennet, or any other booty-kicking heroine, is she? But she’s not all bad: she likes pragmatism, horses, and her cute cousin, and what’s not to like about any of those things (besides the “cousin” part)? I keep wondering what Jane Eyre would think of Fanny. What’s the opposite of Jane Austen Fight Club? Jane Austen Slumber Party? Where they braid each other’s hair and talk about how they’re surrounded by drama queens (sorry, Rochester)?
- Does it make me a contrarian if I say I sort of wish Edmund would give it a rest? JEEZ. We get it. YOU’RE AWESOME.
- On the other hand, why don’t handsome men ever give ME horses?
- Jane’s little diatribe about who’s out and who’s not out—how it’s so hard to tell and nobody’s raising their daughters right these days—is…basically a blog post, right? It’s gotta be Jane working out the repercussions of some ultra-embarrassing moment. It also assures me that Jane would appreciate this site and our moments of occasional crankiness. Get off Jane’s lawn!
- Mrs. Norris cracks me up despite being Jane’s favorite lady-trope (see: Mrs. Bennet). I assume the connection between Fanny’s embarrassing aunt and Filch’s cat at Hogwarts is intentional.
- The Crawfords have just arrived on the scene, and I have to say: I’m intrigued. If Fanny’s a wimp and Edmund’s a goody-goody, who are these interesting and independent (and possibly evil) people? TIME WILL TELL.
If you’re reading along, how’s it going? If you’re not, what do you think?
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.
We need more parties, don’t we? Well, I know I do, especially Jane Austen parties! Other people have ventured opinions on this topic. 99% of them involve a) tea, b) watching movies, or c) both. I’m in favor of all three of these activities (well, duh), but I do think we could broaden our horizons here, venture across the ha-ha, as it were.
Basic steps: This write-up has some good ideas, including period card games, period snacks, and trivia. Be warned that you are venturing into weirder territory here than you know, as Miss Osborne’s cooking experiments have shown us. Stick to syllabub, is my advice. As far as card games go, I love them, but Miss Austen did not, or at any rate none of her heroines did. So if you play them, stick to the more “comfortable, noisy” games, like Speculation, and avoid Whist as all costs. Whist (the precursor of Bridge) is bo-ring, both in Mansfield Park and in my experience. Still, you get good discussions around the card table, and good insights into people’s characters, the Crawfords’ in particular.
Crafty steps: While “painting tables, covering screens, and netting purses” may draw derision from Mr. Darcy, I am all in favor of “cutting up silk and gold paper” as the girls do in Persuasion, and crafts in general. Here’s some Regency party craft ideas.
Ballsy steps: Lots of places have Regency balls, where you can be spurned by Mr. Darcy and overhear Mr. Elton insulting your best friend, and have good times generally. You can also do this at home, even if you have to dance down the hall to lively tunes from your MP3 player. (It’s better than Mary Bennet on the piano.) Make sure to have white soup, negus, and indiscreet conversations, and, ladies, I happen to know that many gentlemen find Regency/square dancing less intimidating than ballroom. Show them diagrams! Let them figure it out!
RPG steps: It’s funny how you never hear “role-playing” and “Jane Austen” in the same sentence, especially when you consider all that fanfic out there. So, if you are really feeling adventurous, I suggest designing some sort of Austen role-playing activity. You could, you know, assign the different parts from a book beforehand, get everyone together, and let them have at it. Sounds sort of like Lost in Austen, doesn’t it? Or, since it’s almost Halloween, why not do a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies flash mob? Everyone decide beforehand whether you’ll be a zombie, a Bennet sister, or an innocent bystander; show up someplace and have it out! Regency zombie battles on the National Mall! I see this happening, people! Serious Austen party-ers will do this in full costume, of course. But watch where you put that sword. You could put someone’s eye out with that thing.
Olympic steps: OK, OK, it’s true that zombies aren’t genuine Austen. But it’s also true that whenever you get together, you are probably having a party pretty close to one Jane Austen wrote! Oh, the food, drink, dancing, and clothes might be different, but I bet the social dynamics are not far off. I know that’s not what you want to hear, though, so I suggest the Jane Austen Olympics! Events can include: the 100-meter Dash Across the Lawn to Find Mr. Bennet, the All-Terrain Walk to Netherfield (points deducted per inch of dirty hem), the Louisa Musgrove Stair-Jumping Contest, the Pairs’ Rainy Hillside Rescue Dance, Fencing Wits, and Conversational Gymnastics (Lizzie’s an odds-on favorite there, clearly), and . . . .
But you see! The possibilities are endless! Now get your corsets on, go out there, and PARTY!!!
Photo credits: ©juzka81. Used through Creative Commons licensing.
Mariella Frostrup over at The Guardian recently wrote this in an advice column:
Despite achieving a position in the modern world where we are not only self-supporting but also increasingly outshining the men, we act like a gaggle of competitive girls whose most important goal is how blokes view us. Female-to-female behaviour hasn’t evolved much since Jane Austen’s day and the sad result is we continue to fail to provide sisterhood.
The rest of the column is similarly depressing. Mariella does suggest that the 40-something woman who feels life is slipping out of her grasp should age gracefully while at the same time make a noise, and “Rage, rage, rage when they attempt to turn out the light.” Sounds like a plan to me.
What about this talk of lack of sisterhood, now and in Jane Austen? Surely Jane and Cassandra Austen themselves are in the Sisterhood Hall of Fame? And Jane wrote about all sorts of sisters. Here’s Lizzie and Jane Bennet: “. . . do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” Not the words of someone who’s putting a bloke above a sister. Elinor and Marianne are another loving pair of sisters, though it’s true that Marianne does put her romantic notions above Elinor’s feelings sometimes. But isn’t that her great failing, what Jane Austen is warning us against? It’s also true that there’s some unpleasant sisters in the books. Maria and Julia Bertram certainly get into a catfight over Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and, more chillingly, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price take their separation from each other with perfect calm. As with the Elliot sisters in Persuasion, Austen seems to assume that there’s no reason that sisters would hang together, if circumstances or temperament didn’t allow it. And it’s true that we see very little genuine womanly friendship in Austen: Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas and Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney are the only examples I can think of. I guess it would make sense when getting a husband was like getting a job that you mightn’t be very nice to the competition, especially in a limited pool. So, I concede, Austen was pretty cynical about the whole sisterhood thing.
But what about now? Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and I don’t have any sisters. We came together as Beloved Sisters through a shared love of Jane Austen, eating, and talking smack. So we can’t comment on the modern state of sisterhood between actual sisters. But between women in general? I think it’s a pretty mixed bag. I personally haven’t seen much catfight action, have you? And also, isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that women should get along all the time? As if men do!
OK, obviously it’d be nice if we all got along. As it says in our header, Jane will keep us together. This may be terribly ironic, considering the above, but I suggest we try it. Send loving thoughts to all those of your acquaintance, even if there are few people you really love, and still fewer of whom you think well. It’s either that or back to the meat market, apparently.