WANTED: Country home, not too Gothic and not too far from town, in a nice neighborhood of at least five-and-twenty families and the possibility of balls at least monthly. Good library space, land to wander in search of romantic adventure, and probably a letter-writing desk required. Slightly hysterical neighbors preferred.
In other words, it’s moving season here at Austenacious! Mrs. Fitzpatrick has moved to the sea–basically to the California equivalent of Lyme, so that’s nice as long as she doesn’t fall off the seawall–and is probably a) without the internets and b) buried in boxes as we speak. (It’s rather far from her Beloved Sisters, actually, but what is fifty miles of good road?) I, Miss Ball, have agreed to take new quarters after spending the season in the country with Mr. and Mrs. Ball, but have not yet taken possession of the place. One hopes the neighbors are all atwitter (if not <a href=”http://twitter.com/#!/austenacious”>aTwitter</a>), especially those with single gentleman children. And by “children,” I do not exactly mean “children.”
I feel like Jane gets the experience of moving house–perhaps the upsides, but definitely the stress of it. After all, she moved a number of times: to Bath, within Bath, and eventually to Chawton, plus ferrying back and forth to school as a child. And she certainly internalized the experience: people move all the time in Austen! Both Fanny Price and Catherine Morland move (permanently or temporarily) away from home; Charlotte Collins moves to Rosings, while Lydia Wickham (nee Bennet) only comes to visit and rub her sisters’ noses in…uh, whatever it is she’s got going. Sense and Sensibility is, in the beginning, basically a novel about downgrading houses. I think it’s safe to say, taking her body of work into consideration, that Jane considered moving traumatic. Maybe it’s because she never experienced the thrill of the Craigslist hunt and the joy of her own parking space, but it’s nice to carry a little bit of Jane (not to mention a Little Jane) as we go from place to place.
In the mean time, may you all have spacious living rooms and exactly the kind of flooring you prefer!
Readers, you’ve got to know: we at Austenacious read what might be considered a lot of Jane Austen stuff on the internet. For everything that appears on this site, there’s an awful lot that doesn’t make the cut—and it’s all due to that wonder of the postmodern world, the Google Alert. The whole concept of this is pretty mind-boggling, when you think about it: every time anybody anywhere says anything about Jane Austen, we know about it. That’s insane! But what is equally insane to me is this: fully a quarter of the links that come through our inboxes have something to do with stage productions of Austen works, usually Pride and Prejudice.
My Beloved Sisters and I saw some live-theater Jane action once, in opera form at a weekend workshop at San Francisco State University. It was delightful, and we all came out wondering why nobody’s made their millions on Universally Acknowledged: The Musical, or whatever. So it’s not the concept or the general appeal that confuses me, exactly; it’s just that I have so many questions! Such as:
- Are there really that many theater troupes doing Jane at one time? I mean, I love Pride and Prejudice as much as (probably more than) the next girl, right? But the numbers on this just seem unreal. It’s gotta be some kind of conspiracy. By which I mean a conspiracy of sweetness and relational equality, but still.
- Is it all the same play? There are two options here, more or less: either somebody wrote the definitive Pride and Prejudice stage adaptation and I missed it, or many, many people have written un-definitive versions and are having them performed worldwide. This seems like a bizarre duplication of effort, but hey. More playwrights making it, I say! Congratulations to all of you! Enjoy your name in lights!
- Musical, or no? I’m just saying: I need my singing Mr. Collins, stat.
- Why has Jane On Stage never made it to the big time? If that many people in Cleveland/Yorkshire/Manitoba/Tallahassee are making the regional/local/village-wide production worth it, just think how many tickets Broadway could sell! I’m calling it out now: I don’t know who Neil Patrick Harris is going to play, but we’ll get him in there somewhere.
Readers, have you ever seen a Jane work on the stage? Please advise.
I recently got a note on Facebook from a friend of the family. “You’ll be so proud!” it said. “I just read my first Pride and Prejudice!”
We get a lot of this sort of thing, we Austen bloggers.
And the thing is, mostly, that we are proud. But then, proud is also a misnomer. What we are is pleased—for ourselves, and for the first-timers. For our part, we get new Austen pals with whom to discuss and enjoy! And—not that we’d ever bring this up, being of fine breeding and proper training—we’ve been proven right! People like what we like, and that’s always nice, not to mention a sign of excellent judgment on their parts. OBVIOUSLY.
But we’re even more excited for them. What could be better than seeing Lizzy and Darcy (or Emma and Knightley, or Elinor and Edward, or Anne and her Captain) with fresh eyes? It’s an accomplishment, yes, but it’s also a kind of engagement; especially in a literary and pop-culture landscape that embraces primarily the very new, there’s a sense that discovering the Austen universe is a bit like discovering that old things can be funny, and sharp, and hit romantic notes that we somehow expect them not to know about. (Jane’s humor is, I think, the most surprising thing to new readers. They just seem so shocked! Wry humor: not invented by Mark Twain, or so we hear.) From that first page, there’s so much to enjoy, and I, for one, just want to hear about it.
And so, if you’re just reading your first Pride and Prejudice—or Emma, or Sense and Sensibility, or (let’s be brave) Northanger Abbey—do an Austenite near you. (Or not near you. We’re on Facebook! HINT HINT.) You just might make her day, as long as you’re also making your own.
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
England is a lovely country. Everyone’s so polite and so friendly. Which I guess is why they need sarcastic outlets like Time Out London‘s Lies to Tell Tourists column. My personal favorite:
When on the tube it’s customary to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to and opposite you. (@magiczebras)
I never need a sarcastic outlet, which is why I immediately started thinking of Lies to Tell Jane Austen Tourists.
When at a party it’s customary to introduce yourself to all those present, particularly superior nephews of your noble patroness.
Respectable, marriageable gentlemen will flock instantly to your side should you fall down a hill. Important: It must be raining at the time.
When conversing with a new acquaintance, you should comment on their father’s ill health and be surprised they were raised by a lady.
Lockets of hair possessed by significant others always represent true love.
The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his ha-ha. OK, the quickest way to a man’s aunt is through her ha-ha.
If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your first duty is to suspect your host of nefarious activities and scour the place to find the truth.
One’s first impressions of people are invariably right.
And, the best way to get a girl to break up with your son/nephew is to insult her.
My efforts just scratch the surface. Come on, readers, show us your stuff! I’m sure you can lie to Jane Austen tourists like anything. Bring it on!
Readers, do you remember those hilariously sexy coffee ads? Carte Noire? Greg Wise? Joseph Fiennes? “Are you sitting comfortably”?
For $1 a minute, BBC Radio correspondent Alex Collins will ride his bike to the location of your choice and put his professionally trained speaking voice to work reading the novel of your choice. You, the listener, lie down for optimum relaxation; he sits. He wears a tux and bow tie. He says our Jane is quite popular.
To those of you who don’t live in or near San Francisco…well, I’m sorry. You’re just going to have to move.
The literary internet is a weird place, you guys. I recently stumbled upon the Dickensblog, an active site that ostensibly runs up against some of the same cultural silliness as we Janeites do—sighing over the reading of classics in schools, or indeed the reading of classics anywhere—without, as far as I can tell, the blessings and occasional hilarity of a saturated blogosphere.
So where are all the Dickensphiles? Aren’t we due for a resurgence of interest in good old Charles, or was the BBC’s semi-recent Bleak House/Little Dorrit double-header it? Because I’m pretty sure that, by volume, there’s plenty of material for many a studio to feed on for quite some time. And who doesn’t like squalor and satire in Victorian London?
Perhaps Dickens needs (“needs,” she says, as if widespread pop-culturization and frequent watering down were the goal) a breakout star: a Firth-as-Darcy performance to force the issue, fanwise. But who would that be? The Dickens canon is packed with characters—so many characters!—yet few of them strike a pose that’s either romantic (or Romantic) or especially heroic. Who is there for readers to fall in love with, either by admirable strength of character, recognizable weakness of character, or a particular chemistry with another character? Certainly Dickens tells a mean story with a downright Austenian kind of character satire, and of course he hasn’t exactly dropped off the face of the earth, but general Dickens Fever hasn’t hit—we know because Great Expectations of El Chupacabra hasn’t yet hit the mass-market shelves.
I wonder, a bit, about the romance element: I despise and reject the notion that Austen fans are only in it for the happy (or fascinatingly unhappy) couples, or that Dickens’s stories don’t speak for themselves; on the other hand, there’s nothing like impending romance, or romantic conflict, to hook new fans and bring fan communities together. (Admittedly, I believe the mid-90s Great Expectations adaptation with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow tried to circumvent this, which only brought out the inner literary curmudgeon in my young self, with unfortunate consequences for all.) Surely there’s a pond somewhere that somebody handsome could dive into? A good, sexy kiss in the early morning light? I mean, you know, if they’re looking for advice.
Or is Dickens just not at the front of the line in the year 2011? Maybe in the great cosmic marketing catalog, he’s just waiting for the Brontes to go out of fashion so we can all fully appreciate the complexity of his Industrial Revolution without the crazy folks out on the moors to distract us.
Or maybe—just maybe—Dickens and his people would rather just be left alone. Which, I suppose, isn’t the worst thing in the world. But you know they’re missing out on all the fanfiction.
(Incidentally, Dickensblog informs me that we can expect new adaptations of Great Expectations on both the big and small screens in the near future–with Gillian Anderson and [somewhat inevitably] Helena Bonham Carter as competing Miss Havishams! Or is it Misses Havisham?)
This week we saw the Doctor and Captain Wentworth go up against each other in Jane Austen Fight Club. Miss Ball pronounced Wentworth the winner; the commenters favored the Doctor, mostly because of the TARDIS. (And old-skooler Mrs. Fitzpatrick can’t get Tom Baker as Wentworth out of her mind. Steampunk Regency naval captains sailing around the galaxy? Anyone?)
However, in a happy outcome, we no longer have to choose!
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from everywhere else match wits and fists for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and possibly some Regency-era medical care for all your combat-induced wound-care needs!
Today’s contestants: Captain Frederick “Kindly Pirate” Wentworth, professional piner and warrior in the name of handsomeness, and The Doctor, time-traveling alien and occasional heartbreaker. Both have loved ‘em and left ‘em; which one’s worth chasing after?
In their corners:
Wentworth is a clear winner in the world of Austenian good guys: anyone worth pining after for eight perfectly good man-catching years (and by the generally sensible Anne Elliot, no less!) must be, ahem, spongeworthy. We’re told he’s handsome and adventurous, yet gentle and willing to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his lady love; after all, he’s been waiting, too.
The Doctor is good, and wise, and full of adventure and a particular brand of romance; he’s been rather handsome lately, and he wears a variety of vintage suits with great skill and aplomb—and if you don’t like the Doctor you’ve got, you can just wait for the next one. He’s charming, and kind, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s a dude who’s capable of loving deeply. And…look. He DRIVES A SPACESHIP. THAT IS BIGGER ON THE INSIDE! And he travels through time and space, because why wouldn’t he? So…there’s that.
Is it possible for a man to be too patient? Because Wentworth waited an awfully long time (admittedly at sea) before getting back on the horse, love-declaring-wise. We’re not saying it’s insensitive, just that a man’s gotta stake his claim, you know?
The Doctor…well. He is all of the things we said, and more—which is why such stellar young ladies continue to steal away with him—but he always leaves eventually, and he doesn’t come back. Even if by “leaves” I mean “gets caught on the wrong side of a closing dimensional portal and makes Miss Ball cry and cry and cry.” He keeps his beloved in his heart(s), but he doesn’t keep them in his sights, and that’s going to be a problem. Plus, you know, alien.
It’s gotta be Wentworth. It’s hard out there for a guy without a phone-box spaceship, but Wentworth’s general faithfulness and ability to commit long-term without great emotional harm puts him over the edge. However, if he would like to try on a fancy pair of suspenders and a nice tweed-or-TARDIS blue suit, and perhaps a well-loved pair of Chuck Taylors, I believe the ladies of Austenacious would not object. Ahem.
If ever you question the definition of a true Beloved Sister—in the Janely “let’s write affectionately newsy letters!” sense—I’d like to offer up a jumping-off point. Beloved Sisters are those people who, when you move far away, are gracious and encouraging and stay on Skype with you for hours at a time so that you feel as if you’re in their living rooms. And then when you move back home, they embrace you and offer you places on their couches just because, and spend hours in coffee shops with you, doing whatever needs doing (or not). And then when you move away again, they just tell you it’s because you’re doing something great in the pursuit of a spectacular life, and quietly hook up the webcam again. And when you move back home a second time, they don’t say anything at all except “You’re back! When can we have baked goods and conversation?” and offer hugs.
It’s true: the Beloved Sisters of Austenacious are reunited once more, not by miles of cable and the affection of our hearts, but by the (latest) homecoming of perhaps our cagiest member (I can say that). And so I’d like to remind you all, Austen Nation, to find your Beloved Sisters and give them a hug at your earliest convenience: they are, after all, the best.
Or you could make a silly video to celebrate your friendship and the nearby presence of the greatest low-budget baseball team of all time, as Miss Osborne has so thoughtfully done. (Action Jane: “Go A’s!”) You know, whatever works.