One week from this Thursday, the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will hit one hundred episodes and call it quits. This, of course, is probably our cue to sneak a little LBD action in around here. We at Austenacious are nothing if not standing on the cutting edge of culture and technology, right?
Here’s one thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I think it’s good. I think it’s smartly written and well-performed. I like the transposing of romantic situations into professional situations, in sometimes surprising ways—I can’t be the only one who, for example, was pleasantly surprised when, duh, Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was wasn’t Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins at all, because modern-day Charlotte doesn’t need to marry for practical reasons! Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, OBVIOUSLY! I think the writers made a lot of smart choices and came up with something that’s a lot of fun.
Here’s another thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I do not have a lot of things to say about it, except “Aww!” and “Well, that was clever,” and “How can I have hair like Laura Spencer‘s?” (HER HAIR, YOU GUYS) and “Okay, just one more.” If that were less true, I can assure you I’d have talked about it more here. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it without much comment.
What I DO want to discuss is the fandom that’s cropped up around the series—a discrete fandom, separate from Pride and Prejudice itself, complete with all the trappings: fanart, fanfiction, pre-episode squee spills all over Twitter and Tumblr and basically the rest of the Internet where people hang out, and, of course, a hearty band of trolls, presumably in empire-waist dresses. People are INTO IT, easily as taken with Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh as they are with plenty of traditional Lizzie/Darcy pairs. They’re agonizing over the ending: where will we leave Lizzie and Darcy, and will there be making out (“fingers crossed” seems to be the consensus, or maybe “THERE HAD BETTER BE MAKING OUT OR ELSE”), or will there be vague maybe-someday dating implications, or everything, or nothing, heaven forbid? They’re also discussing it—its relationship to the original text, its relationship to the ancillary series by Lydia and Maria Lu, a kitty named Kitty, the triumphs and vagaries of the web series medium, and especially the portrayal of Lydia, and whether the writers got her right or got her wrong, or were true to Jane’s vision or turned her into something new and incorrect. Some of this stuff is super smart, and some of it’s less smart, and some of it’s silly on purpose, and some of is decidedly not. Put it all together, and it’s a real live fandom.
And that, my friends, is a little amazing. All this for a story people already know, have already read and seen and talked through a million times and in a million forms. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Jane—she wrote a story that resonates with people, even if the regiment is really the swim team and a decent job at a start-up is just about as exciting as finding your true love. But the team behind the series must be doing something interesting, or I don’t think the discussion surrounding the LBD would be as vibrant as it is. It’s the difference between rehashing Pride and Prejudice and thinking about something new, with new creative choices—even when people don’t like what’s happening, they want to talk about it. And that seems, to me, like the real accomplishment: a new discussion of an old story. For me, watching the fans has been at least as exciting as watching the series.
So, tell me, readers: Are YOU in the LBD fandom? How are you doing with things coming to a close?
Sometimes in this universe, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or so I hear. Ask and you shall receive, they say. I’d like to propose an alternative: get yourself to a good used-book sale.
It was just days ago that I was complaining about my ugly movie-tie-in copy of Pride and Prejudice. What would I do, I asked, if faced with a newer, prettier copy—a copy lovely of face but without the “I lived life with Miss Ball and all I got was Colin Firth’s face on my dust jacket” attitude? Would I betray my roots and run off with this sexy upstart?
WELL. Sunday, I was trawling the Classics section at the annual church book sale, sifting through the castoffs of a year of Presbyterian reading, and what did I find? A mint-condition Everyman’s Library hardcover copy of P&P, staring up at me with its handsome dotted spine. For a dollar. ONE DOLLAR.
You should know that I ran over to Miss Osborne, over in History and Biography, with my conundrum. To sacrifice valuable parking-meter quarters and a good two inches of shelf space for a book I already own? Or to leave this lovely orphan for somebody else to find? Well, people, I am either a selfish jerk or a huge softie with a tendency to over-anthropomorphize, because that book was in my purse before you can say “Fitzwilliam Darcy.” I shifted things around on my shelves, and the new girl took her place…right next to the old copy. And why shouldn’t they coexist? Old and well-loved and fairly hideous, meet your twin, new and rescued (RESCUED!) and so so pretty. No betrayal necessary. Now I have two copies of Pride and Prejudice, and I think I can live with that.
I have to tell you, readers, that when I visited my local Anthropologie today, I was not looking for books. (I was, in fact, looking for a sale-priced cocktail dress, and I found one! Friends with upcoming weddings: I will not be arriving in the nude. You’re so welcome.) But: there were books. There were these books:
And also THESE books:
Surreptitious iPhone photos aside, aren’t they just about the loveliest? They’re Penguin Classics hardcovers with covers designed by Mr. Boddington’s Studio, and let me just recommend that you don’t click that link, because if you do, all your money are belong to them. No, actually, DO click that link and check out their lookbook, and then wonder why you are not currently getting married in a picturesque ceremony in Italy/Minneapolis/the Rocky Mountains/a ranch on the California coast. Not that I would spend half an hour doing exactly that. Noooope. Not this girl.
Anyway, I don’t know about you, readers, but I am a picky lady when it comes to covers—especially covers for classics. The truth is that I don’t own a complete set of Austen’s novels, in part because I can’t commit to a cover design. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle movie tie-in version, and I’m not sure how that happened—I think it must have been a gift. I love it for sentimental reasons, but it’s ugly. And oh, my library-paperback copy of Emma provokes such internal conflict (much like Miss Woodhouse herself)! It’s hot pink, and clearly intended to snare unknowing chick-lit fans trawling the stacks. It is simultaneously better-looking than many other library copies, and a little offensive to my smart-lady sensibilities. I see what you’re doing there, library, and I’m not sure whether I like it. But I’m going to keep reading.
The recent smattering of well-designed Penguin Classics and other versions helps all this. And, really, these may be my Platonic classics covers, especially the Sense and Sensibility—I feel like that lovely design is going to age well. But the question remains: will I replace my ugly P&P with one that’s prettier but hasn’t traveled through life with me? Will I buy a stylish copy of Mansfield Park (I borrowed Miss Osborne’s copy for last year’s read-along; she read along on her iPad like the tech ninja she is) that I’ll hate in ten years? Why do I even care?
So, readers, tell me: what editions of Austen do you have? Which editions of Austen do you WANT? Or are you above all that and just in it for the language? Hit me.
Hey, Emma fans! Did you get through Emma’s snobbery and manipulative jerkiness, part 1? Good job! I really do hate this part of the book. . . That’s why we’re a little behind posting, but I’ll try to make up lost time.
Chapters 6–10, Scheming: Emma decides Harriet should marry Mr. Elton and not Robert Martin. So she makes Harriet fall in love will Mr. Elton and reject Mr. Martin, and she convinces herself that Mr. Elton loves Harriet.
OK, let’s cut to the chase. Emma, WTF are you doing to Harriet? Why do you make her reject this guy that she really seems to like? Emma seems diabolical here—Machiavellian, evil. It is so off-putting that I spend a lot of time finding excuses for her behavior.
- It’s interesting, I think, that Miss Woodhouse could never visit Mrs. Robert Martin. Snobby and weird to us, but everyone agrees about that. Mr. Knightley, everyone. So it’d be sort of like convincing one of your friends that she shouldn’t take a job 3,000 miles away. Your friend kind of likes it there, but also likes it here. You don’t have many friends and you’d be lonely without her. You also think you can get her a better job here. This is selfish of you, sure. But more understandable than convincing her not to take a job 3 miles away.
- It would be less evil if Emma just said these things. But Emma isn’t really a straightforward person. And Harriet really is pretty clueless! So Emma gives us a lesson in Machiavellian tactics and misdirection. There’s no excuse for that.
- Also interesting that Mr. Knightley thinks Mr. Martin is Emma’s inferior in society just as much as Emma does. The difference is that Mr. Knightley thinks Harriet is socially inferior too. It’s purely Emma’s imaginings about Harriet’s background that make Emma think Harriet is not inferior to her.
- And, my favorite argument about this: Mr. Darcy does exactly the same thing to Mr. Bingley! And boasts about it to Colonel Fitzwilliam! Yet we don’t hold it against him, dislike him for it, as we do Emma. Maybe if we heard how Mr. Darcy dissuades Mr. Bingley, and how Mr. Bingley responded, we would think about it more. It’s so off-camera that it’s easy to ignore. We can imagine them acting in the best possible way—we don’t have to hear Mr. Darcy manipulating Mr. Bingley explicitly.
OK, enough of that. Here are some other scenic points along the way:
- I’m fascinated by the description of Emma’s natural talent and lack of application when they’re talking about her portraits in Chapter 6. She is like the quintessential slacker gifted kid. I can relate.
- Check out the conversation on What Men Want between Emma and Mr. Knightley in Chapter 8. Emma says (playfully), men like pretty girls better than smart ones. But Mr. Knightley says, “Men of sense . . . do not want silly wives.” I love Austen and her women-respecting heroes! Mr. Knightley acknowledges Emma has “reason”—rational thought. No surprise to us now, but this was a debate that went back and forth at the time. Could women think rationally or were they entirely governed by emotion. Emma’s a flawed person, but she is intelligent. I’d love to know how readers of the time viewed that—I know they didn’t like her, but was her “reason,” her brain, a thing people doubted?
- Mr. Elton is the Justin Bieber of Highbury—everybody’s crush! So popular! So beautiful!
- Mr. Woodhouse is almost a caricature of old people in general – anything new or any change is terrible! But Emma is like her father in supposing what’s good or bad for her is good or bad for everyone. Jane makes fun of Mr. Woodhouse explicitly: “his spirits [were] affected by his daughter’s attachment to her husband.”
- It’s interesting that we see Emma’s charity to the poor family—maybe Austen felt like she needed to show us that Emma is objectively a good person. Also, Harriet is the complete yes-woman!
- I like the John Knightleys—I like the inclusion of the kids, I like the character of John Knightley as being good but not perfect—considerate and kindly, but no nonsense
But I am glad Emma’s mistreatment of Harriet is almost over. She doesn’t do her best by Jane Fairfax, but it’s all much more understandable. I guess our lesson here is, don’t make a friend of someone who worships you. No good will come of it!
In between reading a teetering stack of scholarly journals articles and books for my thesis, I’ve found myself gravitating toward funny memoirs. In the last few months I’ve read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and The Bloggess’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. A few weeks ago, I finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. In the postscript she asks,
Would Jane Austen’s characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look and who fancies them if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?
Who knows what we’d discuss with friends if woman were more powerful and/or wealthy! I don’t know how I rank in this wide world of ours, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m not in control of my own destiny. I’m educated. I’ve had a 20-year career. I’m starting on a second career just because I think it’ll be interesting. I’ve traveled to many places around the world. And I own a home. I spent New Year’s Eve with three other women, all of whom are educated, have good careers, and own their homes. That’s at least two steps ahead of most women in Jane Austen novels in terms of controlling our destinies. But you can bet your bonnets that we talked about relationships and how we look. (Though to be honest, the “how we look” discussion what more about the appropriateness—or not—of jeggings and less about whether or not we were happy with our bodies.) We talked about online dating, old fashioned dating, busted marriages, the good and the bad of single motherhood, introducing new boyfriends to your kids, what to do when 50+-year-old Canadians want to meet you on Match.com, and much much more.
I love that Moran questions how differently we’d think about things if woman worldwide were considered more powerful than men. It’s worth envisioning a different world—even a world that goes beyond simply (ha!) achieving equality. But I suspect that my girlfriends and I would still talk about relationships. My life is wildly different from the Miss Dashwoods and the Miss Bennets, and I most certainly don’t have the equivalent to Emma’s £30,000 inheritance! I support myself. I got to work (or school) every day. I hang out with men, often without a chaperone. I don’t go to balls, but I drinks pints of cider and beer at a local bar after choir practice. With single men! I don’t have to ask permission from anyone to anything having to do with money, my home, or my relationships. But I still like to hang out with other women and talk about all of it!
We need more letter-writing in our lives, right? More cute drawings of lace, gossip about balls (no comment), and generally dipping quills in ink and sealing things with wax. I mean, how can you fan yourself with a steamy text?
So! I am doing the Month of Letters challenge this year, and I invite you to do it with me! The goal is to write a letter every mailing day this month. I know we’re starting late, but since that really means writing 23 letters/postcards/parcels, there’s time to catch up. There’s forums and even Achievement Badges. One of them is for writing an Austen-style letter, because Mary Robinette Kowal, the founder, is clearly one of us.
If you want to be snail mail penpals, just friend me. I’m “Heather Dever” on their site.
I’m off to catch up on my correspondence!
Hi, Emma fans. Alas, yes, this post is almost a week later than I promised, and I also read only half as much! What can I say? Life has been too medical around here (nothing life-threatening or picturesque, just time-consuming.) Plus, I underestimated my Emma Resistance Level.
Also, I underestimated the length of the book—I figured with 55 chapters, we’d better keep moving, but I forgot how long they are, so we’re now doing 5 chapters/week until roughly Easter. So, yes, if you’re just now joining us, grab a copy of Emma and snark away in the comments!
Chapters 1–5: The Exposition. In which we meet most of the main characters. Emma adopts the beautiful but dim Harriet Smith as her friend project, and is concerned that Harriet’s crush is beneath her.
- I can’t get over the first few lines. Jane, you want us to hate Emma, don’t you? You are deliberately setting her up to be unsympathetic—I see where this is going!
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
- Interesting that Emma’s mom died “too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses.” Apparently that did not distress or vex her?—or maybe it was too common to be a big deal? In the recent BBC version (Romola Garai) they did this emotional intro about all the kids losing their mothers. Clearly trying to thwart Miss Austen’s plans for how we view Emma.
- I know I’ve got to get past the first page, but Jane makes this big thing about Emma being sad over Miss Taylor’s marriage, and I can’t decide if we’re supposed to think she’s being selfish or what? Or just has complex emotions like a normal person!
- Oh Mr. Woodhouse! I do love Mr. Woodhouse! I do love that I don’t have to live with him, because I’d go crazy. I’m remembering now how much chitchat there is in this book—how vividly Jane gets people talking on and on about the most trivial things. (That never happens in real life of course.)
- Jane really has Views on schools, doesn’t she? “not any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems…” She doesn’t usually get this worked up, does she? (BTW, I work in education, and unfortunately this is still very pertinent!)
- And so it begins—the Harriet Smith trauma. Ouch ouch ouch, this gets so hard to read! I do love how Harriet is struck Mr. Martin’s birthday being “just a fortnight and a day’s difference! which is very odd!” Poor little Harriet!
- Also, I am always struck by “the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas.” When you are happy, you do more good in the world. Very true, I think, but so debated!
- Emma attacks Mr. Martin for having no “air,” not being “genteel,” and compares the air and manners of the other men in the book. I’ve read this a dozen times, but I realized I don’t really know quite what this means! I certainly can’t put it into words. Can anyone explain what she means by this? We know it isn’t that Mr. Martin is rude…
- And then, when Mr. Knightley says, “I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good.” Ooh, the first time I read that, I was so mad! (I had never been in love myself, and was always in control.) Now I don’t know what I think. It still seems kind of callous—the sort of thing that’s easy to joke about, but hard to experience yourself… I don’t know.
What did you think of Chapters 1–5?
I am not looking forward to Chapters 6–10 (AKA Emma the Manipulative B-word), but I promise to forge ahead!
Two hundred years ago today, a little novel called Pride and Prejudice rolled off the presses for the very first time.
Here we are, still talking about it. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still getting new things from it.
In Pride and Prejudice, we have humor and romance. We have family life, and a much-beloved set of nerves. We have walks in the countryside, and a marriage based on genuine love and mutual respect. We have muddy hems and fine eyes. We have two nice people falling in love. We have accomplished ladies who improve their minds by extensive reading. We have Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, Missed Connection extraordinaire. We have Charlotte Lucas, who does what she has to do. We have Lydia. We have Kitty, who turns out okay, we think. We have Bridget Jones. We have Colin Firth as two good men named Darcy. We have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and all the rest. We have you—we have this community of funny, thoughtful people.
Hi. My name is Mrs. Fitzpatrick. I am a co-founder of Austenacious, and I have trouble reading Emma.
There! I said it!
I’ve read Pride and Prejudice roughly 42 times, and I read all Austen’s novels about once a year. I can read Persuasion in one sitting. But Emma . . . I keep putting it down and not picking it back up. I originally tried to read it three times before I got to the end—this is unprecedented.
Why do I stop? Well, I think it’s mainly because it’s too good. (“Gah! So brilliant! So true to life! Ooh, I just want to shake that girl . . . Am I like her? Hmm . . .”) I have to share, and going into rants about the Eltons leaves most people just befuddled.
So! Join us for our Emma Read-along! Starting next week (January 21–25) we’ll be reading 10 chapters a week. Grab a copy and read with us, and you too can complain about barouche-landaus like a boss.
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