Austenacious readers, today’s post is not for you. Today’s post is for your loved ones—those wishing/required to give you a gift this holiday season. Specifically, those hoping not to find themselves in a picked-over Walgreens on Christmas Eve (or, you know, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa Eve), weighing the costs and benefits of a pair of LED-lighted Babylon 5 socks. So just hand this on over to them, and you’re welcome.
To the friends and family of the reader at hand, it’s nice to meet you. We’re here to help—we’ve scouted the coolest, funniest, prettiest, and Jane-iest stuff at our beloved Etsy and laid it out here for all your gift-giving needs. We recommend shopping early, as shipping time is of the essence, but we hope you’ll find what you’re looking for and give the Austen fan in your life something a little special to get excited about this season.
Students of modern typography and/or fictional geography, take heart! Brooke and Justin made you a shirt. From Longbourn all the way to Pemberley, this top is stylish and modern, and also offers endless chances to say to yourself, “IN CHEAPSIDE!” (Austenites, you know what I mean. Confused non-Austenites, nothing to see here. Except a really cool shirt that your loved one will wear all the time.)
Are you looking for a way to show your lady friend how much you care? Has it been more than half a decade? Are you handsome, and basically a friendly pirate? This print commemorating the proposal of Captain Frederick Wentworth to his once and future intended, Anne Elliot, should do the trick. Also comes in black on white.
Wrap your favorite Austenite in romantic angst this holiday season. Like, literally. Around the neck. But not like a psychopath! More like a Naval captain who’s been pining for his ex-girlfriend, who has, thankfully, been pining right back. Does that sound good? Then give someone this scarf. Also comes in Darcy’s proposal.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady in possession of a sense of adventure (so, not Fanny Price) must be in want of a nine-hundred-year-old anthropomorphic alien to whisk her around time and space in a blue police box and then probably be separated from her in some amazingly poetic and heartbreaking manner. At least, we THINK that’s how the saying goes. Anyway, anybody who loves Elizabeth Bennet AND Doctor Who cannot go wrong with this set of prints commemorating their theoretical meeting.
For all the essentials: pragmatic elder sister, romantic younger sister, handsome tool, guy who regrets promising himself to someone else, older gentleman who doesn’t mind an age difference. Also keys, phone, wallet, lip gloss, mints, emergency earrings, tiny notebook of mostly to-do lists and brunch menus, The New Yorker, half-empty tub of hummus. (Just me, then?) Also comes in Persuasion and, for the heavy packer in your life, Seven Novels.
It has been a long time since I’ve been to a ball. Er, dance. Whatever. From prom to the annual college Christmas swing dance (what up, late ’90s?) to the occasional Saturday night at a friend’s salsa club, my sashaying hips are…out of practice, to say the least. (By the way: Does anybody else associate the noun “dance” with the camp dance scene from the original The Parent Trap, where they cut off the back of the girl’s dress? No? Just me? No wonder I don’t go to these things.)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance. I love dancing, especially when there are prescribed steps. I do well with instructions. Not so much with just move to the music and do what feeeeeels right! Because what feels right? Is having steps to follow.
Which is why I would have made such a good Regency ball guest, or so Susannah Fullerton tells me in her awesome article on ball etiquette for The Lady. Such common sense: Don’t show up without an invitation! If you see a lady without a partner, dance with her! Only turn down an offer if you’re ready to gossip on the sidelines! It really is an excellent article, and you all should read it…and then impose its order the next time you’re out on a Saturday night. Right? LET’S BRING BACK THE REEL, YOU GUYS. Who’s with me?
This has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves dating terminally ill women, just to be clear.
- This is some amazing Austenian…is dollcraft a word? It is now. In context, they’re are actually kind of strange, in the sense that they’re for little kids AND skip approximately 63% of the novel (the MIDDLE 63%, so…good luck with that), but the visuals are fantastic. Action Jane weeps with envy; the only man she gets is Action Poe.
- Need some advice from a two-hundred-year old fictional character? Of course you do, and you’re in luck: Mrs. Elton Sez, everybody’s favorite Austenian Agony Aunt, has deep archives and plenty to say! I mean, of COURSE she does.
Enjoy, Austen Nation.
Good job, guys! According to a study by people who track library loans, Pride and Prejudice is the most loaned classic in the UK! (Wuthering Heights is #2.) Jane takes three more of the top 20 spots as well:
- #8 Emma
- #11 Sense and Sensibility
- #17 Northanger Abbey
The Telegraph‘s article says, “The study involves a comparison of lending data from Britain’s libraries for 50 classics by British and Irish authors from the literary canon from the early 1990s, a decade ago, and last year.”
Mission #1: People of Britain, read more Austen! I want to see Persuasion and Mansfield Park on this list next time too. We can’t leave Anne Elliot out in the cold and Fanny Price sitting on her bench, now can we?? And let’s get those other numbers up, too. (Special Sneak Preview: Austenacious will do our part by hosting another read-a-long soon!) People of Not Britain: don’t think I’m not watching you too!
Also according to The Telegraph, “Works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and EM Forster have seen their popularity plummet over the last two decades . . ..”
I’m not going to say a word for Thomas Hardy. (Anyone want to take that on in the comments?) But, EM Forster, you guys! I love EM Forster. A Room With a View, anyone? Howards End? So beautiful! So smart! The article says maybe Austen got more popular because of the adaptations, and because of her “rather too light, bright, sparkling tone.” (Though George Orwell also got more popular, and he’s, like, super-funny, right?)
Forster is comic, just as much as Austen, so maybe we need more adaptations? I love the 1985 version of A Room with a View—Helena Bonham Carter, before she was crazy! Naked guys! … Good lord, has it really been that long? IMDB says there’s also a 2007 version, which I completely missed. Have any of you seen it? Thoughts? We could do better, though, right?
For Howards End there’s just the 1992 version with Emma Thompson. I’m conflicted here—I really don’t think this book is adaptable. But if anyone wants to have a go, feel free!
Then there’s our girl George Eliot. I’ll admit I’ve only ever read Middlemarch, and I only read that because of the 1994 version. (See, TV adaptations pay off!) Middlemarch is pretty awesome—though it’s not as joyous as Austen and Forster, it does have depth, without being as, um, self-conscious as the Brontës. Do we want a new Middlemarch adaptation? But Rufus Sewell and Colin’s brother Jonathon are so cute… Juliet Aubrey is so Dorothea…. I don’t know. What do you all think?
Mission #2: People of Britain and Not Britain, read more Forster! Read more Eliot! Demand quality adaptations, or make your own crazy vlogs! Or both! Think, live, breathe fiction!
P.S. (Mission #3: Contemplate Colin Firth’s legs.)
Photo credit: dbking. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
I gotta tell you guys: I am having a Sense and Sensibility THING.
Do you all do this? A few years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read Pride and Prejudice, watched the Keira Knightley version, watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary, watched THAT movie a hundred million couple of times, sought out Bride and Prejudice…there are just a lot of Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there, and I watched and read a bunch of them, is what I’m saying. (I did not watch the 1980 BBC version, as this was before the days of this site and I didn’t know any better, but I want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to know that I hear her exasperation in my head retroactively.)
That was awhile back. Where this new Sense and Sensibility yen came from, I couldn’t say, but here we are.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I think, I skipped the actual novel this time; I’ve read it relatively recently, and decided to opt for Netflix and instant gratification instead. And, okay, the pickings for Sense and Sensibility adaptations are slimmer than they are for Pride and Prejudice, but I think what Sense and Sensibility lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: the modern adaptations of it are both excellent. (The other option here is From Prada to Nada, which I haven’t seen, but which has jumped up the Netflix queue in recent weeks.)
I don’t own a single adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which now strikes me as completely insane. Why don’t I keep the Emma Thompson version on hand? I love the Emma Thompson version! (Fun fact: I have a clear memory of seeing it in the theater, then promptly and enthusiastically re-creating the entire plot for a friend the next day. This is, of course, why I’m so great at parties.) Being from the mind and the pen of Thompson herself, it understandably does many many things well; despite the 90210-ing of several actors’ ages, she makes it work (mostly). Elinor’s freakout at the end, in particular, never fails to impress.
(Speaking of the aging-up of actors, both modern adaptations cast Colonel Brandon as significantly older than he is in the book—fifty-one for Alan Rickman and forty-four for David Morrissey—which I think makes cultural sense, considering the shift in life expectancies since the good old days. Otherwise, the old dude is, like, Ryan Gosling or something.)
I remember liking the 2008 version very much…and then never tracking it down again. I’m now about halfway through, and enjoying it completely—among other things, it’s from that post-Ruth Wilson Jane Eyre period where the BBC decided to get with the times, visually, and it’s both true to the novel (despite some dialogue modernization magic on Andrew Davies’s part) and modern enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’m particularly loving Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood and the girl who plays Margaret—Lucy Boynton, IMDB tells me, and she is comic gold here—and I have to say that if anybody is going to make a better Edward Ferrars than a young Hugh Grant(!), I think it has to be a young and extremely floppy-haired Dan Stevens, playing to type in the best way possible. (Will Edward and Elinor ever be able to express their sweet selves properly and live happily ever after? Don’t tell me how it ends!) (Poor Marianne. I love her, but I’m such a fan of Elinor that I tend to overlook her a bit. Also, ever since Miss Osborne brought it up, I’ve been a little horrified that she ends up with only a nice, relatively happy marriage to the good Colonel.)
Since I took up this new, uh, interest, I’ve been thinking about what makes Sense and Sensibility such a crowd-pleaser. Why do I recommend it to so many new Austen readers? Why does it lend itself to such good adaptations? But also, why is it similar to Pride and Prejudice but always a little in its shadow? My current theories have to do with the simplicity of the story and the relatively small cast of characters (compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park); it’s a pleasant story with something for everybody, regardless of temperament; on the other hand, maybe neither Elinor nor Marianne carries as much sparkle as Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t know. So many thoughts! What do you think, readers?
So… I was planning to post this before the World Series ended, but Detroit just didn’t have any stamina, did they? Let’s go, Giants! (The Beloved Sisters are Oakland A’s fans, but San Francisco is very nearby.)
“Oh, but you write a Jane Austen blog” they say. “That must be about tea and flowers. What does Jane Austen have to do with baseball?”
Ha! Sister and brother Janeites, remember that a Jane Austen book contains the very first reference to baseball in the OED itself!
Cue excerpt from Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Jane’s setting up Catherine Morland as someone you would never have picked to be a Gothic heroine, because she’s so ordinary.
…it was not very wonderful* that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least to books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all.
*Wonderful here means “full of wonder,” i.e. surprising.
Here is a Jane Austen heroine to-be not just watching baseball, but actually playing it! (Let’s put her up against the zombies…) Now, Catherine Morland goes on to learn to read Gothic novels and sigh artistically, and famously “curl her hair and long for balls,” the dancing kind, and not cricket or baseballs.
Jane Austen has a lot of affection for Catherine, and though she also likes Gothic novels, Northanger Abbey is a straight-up lesson in the folly of considering them a model for life. It contrasts the simple health and sanity of the Morlands with other peoples’ deceptions, follies, and evils.
So I’m going out on a limb and saying that Jane Austen also loved cricket, horseback-riding, books that are all story and no reflection, and of course baseball!
And I think we can totally see her at work when Miss Osborne bakes cakes for every A’s playoff game, when Miss Ball tweets about Josh Reddick’s hair, and when Mrs. Fitzpatrick calmly eats baseball cake and cheers when she remembers.
I think she would understand and laugh at us, I hope with affection. And I think she’d find the World Series pretty funny too. Pity we’ll never know…
People, this is awesome. Have you seen this week’s New Yorker?
You all know Mr. Collins’s proposal. I know you do.
Turns out we—or I, at the very least—have been missing a whole joke all this time. Sure, it’s a super weird proposal. Sure, Mr. Collins’s priorities seem…unusual. But guess what? There’s a whole other layer of humor there, and it’s ALL BECAUSE OF THE ANGLICANS!
It all starts on page 76, toward the end of a review—if you can call it that—in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. (You know, as you do.)
Says the critic James Wood, “Every reader notes that the pompous parson neglects to mention love or even the happiness of the woman he wants to marry; every reader notes the sly vaudeville whereby Austen makes us think that Mr. Collins’s third reason for matrimony will be his most important (‘which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier’), only to have him announce that his third reason is the approval of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But how many readers note that this classic comedy is really a joke, from an Anglican vicar’s daughter, about the order of the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer?”
He’s totally right. He goes on to compare the substance and order of Mr. Collins’s talking points (1. A clergyman should set the example of marriage; 2. Marriage would make me happy; 3. THIS marriage would make Lady Catherine happy) with those of the church’s (1. The procreation of children; 2. Remedy against sin [apparently]; 3. Mutual society, help, and comfort—the “I GUESS” being heavily implied). “Thomas Cranmer’s words live on in Jane Austen’s,” says Wood, “even if not in the form he would have desired.”
Leave it to Jane to make Mr. Collins’s decision to speak, ever, into a double-decker joke AND a social statement; leave it to Jane to make a continually relevant joke out of a text that was antique even at the time; leave it to Jane to hit a little close to home for her own time and place. It never gets old, does it?
It’s all right, Cranmer. It could have happened to anybody.
Let’s face it: the range of Austenian Halloween costumes for ladies is not that great. Like, congratulations! You have a lovely empire-waist gown and a spencer! You are…one of any number of unidentifiable Regency characters? No clever object costumes, either—bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, as I imagine the Sound of Music folks would do, assuming there are in fact Sound of Music folks out there (who aren’t also attending the sing-along)—which brings up a whole thing about the relative unimportance of objects, symbolic or otherwise, in Jane’s work, but we’re not here to talk about objects symbolic or otherwise. We’re here to talk about Halloween.
(Somewhat ironically for a writer whose works are so generally female-centric, more recognizable male-oriented costumes spring to mind. Wear a pink cloak and be Mr. Rushworth! And of course, all glory, laud, and honor to any man who has the foresight to wear wet breeches and a soaked shirt and call himself Mr. Darcy.)
In any case, may we offer a few last-minute costume ideas for the Regency-attired?
- Action Jane
White dress, green spencer, plastic face—or at the very least, painted-on smile. Arms that bend only in unnatural ways. Photo album of all your adventures?
- Kitty Bennet
Be as suggestible as possible. Cough.
- Fanny Price
Sit on a bench somewhere, preferably near a locked gate. Disapprove.
- Marianne Dashwood
Tumble down a hill; if nobody handsome appears, lather, rinse, repeat. (Liability? What liability?)
I feel like I’m missing someone. Who am I missing?
(Also, we might judge you just a skosh for adding “slutty” to any of these costumes…but then, you don’t have to tell us.)
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?
Are you in or near San Francisco? Do you like people talking about Austen? Do you enjoy dancing on tables? Oh, wait.
LitQuake is coming, and Janeites from near and far (probably mostly near) are gearing up for Jane Austen A Go Go: The Enduring Appeal of Jane Austen, otherwise known as A Panel. We love panels! Get ready to talk Austen with Karen Joy Fowler, Kirke Mechem, Sandy Lerner, and Elizabeth Newark. We are!
What we’re saying is, you should go, ask some questions, drink some tea, and absorb the ambient Janeosity. Miss Osborne and Miss Ball will be there (not onstage), and we’d love to see your pretty/handsome faces!
When: Tuesday, October 9, 6 p.m.
Where: Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter St.
The event listing says there’ll be tea, but we’re bringing our white boots and miniskirts just in case.