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.
Poor Henry Tilney. He’s got to be the most underrated of Jane’s leading men (okay, except maybe Edmund Whats-His-Face), and for what? Has he ever called a Bennet girl unsatisfactory in a semi-public manner? Left Anne Elliott to pine in virtuous misery? Used his good looks and white-hot charm to lead anybody at all into less-than-virtuous situations? No. No, he has not. Yet, next to the likes of Mr. Darcy and his pirate friend, Captain Wentworth, what kind of love does he get?
Well, no longer. Team Tilney—which, !—seeks to give sweet Henry his due, and does so in spectacular manner. And why not? For all we know, good old Henry really does look great in a towel.
For the first time in a good long while, we have a Disney fairy tale on our hands—a true “Once Upon a Time,” sugar-coated Grimm’s-ripoff fairy tale—and all the buzz over this Rapunzel business has the generic Prince Charming type on my mind. Surprise! But really: his name is Charming. Blame me if you must.
Jane, of course, isn’t in the business of fairy tales. Happy endings? Yes. True love’s kiss? Usually. But Jane is fundamentally a realist, and in her version of Regency England, sometimes perfectly intelligent and likeable ladies end up with guys like Mr. Collins—who never turns into a prince, no matter how many kisses he gets (to be fair: twice, max).
Oddly enough, with a slight change of scene and a good fairy godmother, many of the heroines of the Austen universe would make pretty good fairy tale princesses, or princesses-to-be—think smart, dreamy, plucky, maybe a bit bossy (ahem, Miss Woodhouse), and generally virtuous even in the case of undeserved poverty. The men, however, definitely tend away from the Prince Charming type—probably, to be honest, because Austen took the time to develop her gentlemen in a way that isn’t on the menu for most Disneyfied princes. They’re handsome, those princes, but let’s say complex emotional arcs aren’t exactly their bag (though 30 Rock tells me that Prince Eric, the gold standard for animated hotness, was based on fictional Jon Hamm‘s high school swim team photo—and I’ll take that fake fact to my grave).
Sorry, Austen gents. We’re taking away your…well, whatever it is you call a prince’s little crown (tiaros?), and here’s why:
Mr. Darcy: Prince on the inside, Beast on the outside. Surely in possession of a trusty steed (for that fifty miles of good road) and a true heart, but a bit on the oversensitive side. Definitely doesn’t hold with fairy godmothers; is probably made extra cranky by extraneous acts of the supernatural.
Mr. Knightley: Definitely the most outwardly princely of the bunch—handsome and well-intentioned, and ripe for occasional high-horse unseating at the hands of his lady love, which of course is always a nice touch. Prone to snootiness and angry speeches—theoretically appropriate for the position, but ultimately unbecoming to a man with the last name Charming (who, remember, may eventually need to get it on with a very recent scullery maid).
Captain Wentworth: He’s a pirate, not a prince. I mean, come on.
Col. Brandon – Too old for the Prince Eric treatment. Also, princes don’t have wards or wear flannel waistcoats. Unlikely to burst into song.
Henry Tilney – Okay, cute and clever. He’s the prince’s bookish little brother—sarcastic, and into a good novel and the price of muslin. Possibly too detail-oriented and not take-charge enough for the average dragon-slaying mission, though excellent for an entertaining retelling later.
Edmund Bertram – A clergyman! And not even a first-rate one! Certainly a good guy, but too much in need of a rich princess to bail him out of his own financial duress.
The book describes the dress as something that “stepped out of an [Jane] Austen movie,” meaning very Victorian; lots of lace, mounds of tulle and slightly overworked.
NO, IT BLOODY WELL DOES NOT MEAN THAT! Could you go learn some effing history, already? Jane Austen was NOT NOT NOT a Victorian! How many times do I have to tell you?! I may be slightly overworked at this time, but Austen’s clothes were not.
Whew. OK, calming down now. But clothes are important, my friends, really they are. Jane Austen and her beautifully warm and rational heroines wore simple, rational clothes. Victorian thought and Victorian clothes were lots more about emotion and repressions. It’s just a totally different world. Maybe we don’t think Regency clothes were simple and rational, but they did. We think a) They look good wet; and/or b) Boobs! but then so did they. No really. At least these days filmmakers can get the look of the clothes right, even if they miss on when those clothes would come off. (The pond scene . . . not so much. Sorry, everyone!)
Jane Austen said a lot about her characters through their clothes. Think of Lady Catherine, who “will not think less of you for being simply dressed. She likes to see the distinction of rank preserved.” Or think of Mrs. Elton, going on about her fancy new gown, but, oh, she has such a horror of being “fine!” (OK, maybe Bella will wear Mrs. Elton’s wedding dress. Poor girl.) We don’t think Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney are silly for talking about muslin, though maybe Henry talking about it is meant to show that Catherine and Mrs. Allen are silly. And I entirely sympathize with Catherine for thinking Henry looks so handsome in his greatcoat! But Isabella Thorpe reveals her scheming mind by plotting what she and Catherine will wear, and dear Mrs. Bennet shows her silliness when she’s crying to Mrs. Gardiner about all their troubles one minute and being cheered up by the news of “long sleeves” the next. And let’s not even get started about Miss Bingley’s rants about certain people’s muddy petticoats!
The moral of all these stories seems to be: you should look good, but not look like you thought about it much. Not like you tried too hard. And is that not the very essence of cool?
Image credit: Dolley Madison, c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart.
Lauren Miller, posting over at nameberry, a baby names site, sounds like someone we’d like to know: she’s a true Austen enthusiast, and we appreciate her thorough knowledge of and appreciation for the names in Austen’s books. And I appreciate her suggestion of naming your child after the hero or heroine of your favorite book—a friend of mine named her daughter Serenity, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that (though I would not name my child Enterprise.) Yes, your Elizabeths, Janes, Emmas, Annes, bring ‘em on!
However, I do think Ms. Miller is a trifle naive in some of her name suggestions. To wit:
Kitty: Ms. Miller realizes you probably don’t want to name your kid Fanny. But naming her anything that can be twisted into the name of another female body part is really not a good idea. Alas, I speak from experience here.
Lydia or Maria: There’s nothing wrong with either of these as names. But do you want to name your progeny in honor of Lydia Bennet or Maria Bertram? Why not call her Scandal and be done with it?
Benwick: “It’s ‘Ben-ick,’ not ‘Ben-wick.’ On second thought, just call me Ben. Ha ha, Icky Ben! Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
Bertram: What ho?
Bingley: Is it my own dirty mind, or is this potential phallic territory? Rhymes with Dingaling, doesn’t it?
Dashwood: Similarly . . . Though we may have to face the possibility that NO name is safe from that sort of thing. But this one really does sound like a porn name. Sorry.
Wickham or Willoughby: See above re Lydia and Maria, plus, I think I’d kill my parents if they named me Wickham. At least Willoughby could be Will.
Darcy: As a girl’s name there’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s so . . . 80s. Isn’t it?
Grey: I know people can get used to virtually anything being someone’s name, and can forget its original meaning. But Grey, especially for a girl? Why not name her Dreary or Grim and be done with it? Also, small point, but Miss Grey in Sense and Sensibility was not exactly a nice person.
Price: LOL, think of the emotional scarring! Poor girl, branded as a prostitute from birth. “The Price is right!” The jokes are really endless.
Tilney: More random than anything else, I guess. But, Tilney? Really?
For the record, Ms. Miller, I love your other suggestions. Isabella: a nickname of mine, actually; Emma: a name I’ve considered for my own (strictly potential) daughter; Georgiana: just plain awesome! And considering some of the actual names people have actually named their actual children, I know it could be worse. But, please, think of the ramifications before you suggest these things! And, we’d love to hang out sometime and talk Jane Austen with you. You can even call me Isabella.
First of all…huh? This woman wants to dance with Obama/Darcy instead of a husband? Is this a War on Husbands? Yeah, man. HUSBANDS SUCK.
Second, what’s with people who use the men of Austen as a shorthand for exotic romantic heroes?
As I see it, there are two options here: either people who do this have not read Jane Austen, or they have read Jane Austen and then had their memories wiped by aliens. Take your pick.
It’s not that the Austen men aren’t romantic; they are. I think we can all (mostly) find common ground in the notion that our heroines’ love interests smolder on at least an occasional, private basis. But Jane is nothing if not consistent: nice guys finish first, and guys with wicked notions of sweeping ladies off their feet finish in disgrace (and, in my imagination, duels). Yes, Darcy scours the countryside in the dark of night, looking for Lydia and Wickham, but he does so because he cares for Lizzy, not because he’s into midnight scavenger hunts—and I wouldn’t call him “dashing” so much as “painfully awkward, yet rich.” Captain Wentworth is a sailor, but he’s been pining for nearly a decade and is ultimately just looking for some monogamy. Both Knightley and Henry Tilney like giving advice to the flighty. Colonel Brandon wears—wait for it—a flannel waistcoat! He’s practically Mr. Rogers! So: romantic, yes, but maybe not quite Romantic in the technical sense.
Furthermore, Jane warns us of the dangers of dashing young men to a degree that borders on silly: in each novel, any man who seems like fun from the get-go, is a hit with the ladies (on purpose), or otherwise seems too good to be true, gets pegged as a scoundrel—by Jane and by the reader, if not by the characters in the novel—at a hundred paces. In Jane’s world, sweeping the ladies off their feet (without a very impressive show of loyalty and/or self-sacrifice, at least) isn’t an indicator of hero status; it’s a giant red flag and a cue to go looking for the faithful guy on the sidelines.
Perhaps this is part of Jane’s point: the difference between romance—true romance—and being swept away by a good horseman with an eye for pretty hat ribbons. It doesn’t lend itself well to use in unthinking literary allusions, but then, Jane probably wouldn’t mind that so much.
So where does this leave us? With a grudging understanding that people don’t understand the difference between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Rhett Butler? With a campaign for public education on the actual, and not assumed, characters in Austen’s novels (please send poster ideas to missb at austenacious dot com)? With a call for a national discussion on the nature of romance? Or maybe just a polite request and a library card. I don’t know.
But if anybody starts equating the President to everybody’s favorite cousin/suitor, I’m writing my representative.