What with Miss Ball’s recent Mansfield Park deflowering, (and some of you got deflowered along with her, I know), it’s been a confessional little old time over here at Austenacious. And since they say confession is good for the soul . . . or catching, at any rate . . . I too have a confession to make. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice!
Ha, ha, no, psych! I’ve read all Jane Austen’s major books many times, I’ve read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon each more than once, I’ve read Jane’s History of England—I’ve even read the Juvenilia, which are pretty hilarious and a lot less refined in more than one way, if you know what I mean. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet read the complete Letters, but that is not my deep dark secret. No, gentle readers, the secret that I have hidden from you all this time . . . is that I have never seen the 1995 BBC Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Nope! Never seen him jump into the lake even once! (How do I know he jumps into a lake? Have you met yourselves at all, AustenFirth fans??)
“But how can this be, Mrs. F?” I hear you cry. “Were you not raised by a good, Austen-lovin’ mamma?” Well, I was. But those were different times, and I was raised on the clean, wholesome 1980 BBC version, always dear to my heart. I did see 2 minutes of the 1995 version when it first aired, and, bear with me here, I thought Jennifer Ehle was far too sappy to be Lizzie. No Colin Firth onscreen, and I didn’t stick around.
Well, that was 1995 and this is 2012. And here I am, ready to give this another try. Miss Ball and Miss Osborne will be on hand to laugh at my ignorance. And if you haven’t seen the Colin Firth version recently, say this year, you can laugh along with them! We’ll be liveblogging Pride and Prejudice this coming weekend:
4/28, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 1-3
4/29, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 4-6
Will my curmudgeonly heart stay true to Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, or will I be swayed by the wet, billowy cotton of Colin Firth? Stay tuned! And come on, I know you all need a refresher course, right? I mean, can you think of a better way to spend the weekend?
See you on Saturday!
Lovely Jenn over at Citivolus Sus asked us whether she was the only Austenite who like beer. Well, I hardly think so. She even posted recommendations on which beers go with which books. I am, sadly, allergic to beer, but I do like to eat and drink (and travel), so here are my own recommendations on the right ambiance for each book. I won’t insist on Regency dishes. I won’t even go into the hardback/paperback split, and how the musky odors of old books bring out the woodier notes in certain pinot noirs, changing the whole dynamic. Just imagine Giles twittering on in the background, and making you read your Kindle only on the airplane, eating airplane food.
Northanger Abbey has a hard feeling, and such sharp edges and corners. So I see it as going well with Chinese food. I’m not particular as to the dish. Something spicy hot, perhaps with fermented black beans in it. You should drink lots of jasmine tea and get a really surreal Jane Austen fortune cookie afterward. Try to be in a restaurant that at least has Chinese people in it. No P.F. Chang’s, please. If the people are speaking Mandarin or some other form of Chinese, this is a bonus.
Sense and Sensibility: What a weird book, foodwise. There’s no doubt it can be unsettling to the stomach. I think a nice butternut squash soup. Or maybe Welsh rabbit. Orange food is called for, apparently. Orange juice? Sure. Maybe you should be in Orange County, too, whatthehey. Or in any one of these fine Orange places.
Pride and Prejudice: There is no wrong thing to eat or drink with Pride and Prejudice, right? And no wrong place to read it. For all that I have to say: No junk food. Do not insult Miss Austen with McDonald’s, or I will kill you. There are some things beyond even irony. If you must have a specific setting, I seem to see you in a wonderful Belle Epoque patisserie in Alexandria, sipping your tea and eating French/Egyptian sweets. It’s probably sunset or something, too.
Mansfield Park: Somehow, I see Mansfield Park as going best with Indian food. A good rogan josh and a steaming cup of chai make a nice counterpoint to the sometimes startling flavor of this book. You should be somewhere rainy. By the ocean.
Emma is a summertime book. Think a picnic lunch on the lawn, with strawberry shortcake. Please be nice to Miss Bates. Do try the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, and make the Assam tea strong, with plenty of cream. As long as you sit in the sun, you may be anywhere you like.
Persuasion: This is also a book that makes me want to feel cozy and warm. It has, yes, autumnal overtones. A traditional Irish dinner followed by a really good whiskey, and some chocolate cake, maybe? Please curl up on the couch and enjoy a roaring fire while you read.
Lady Susan and The Watsons: You really should be absolutely drunk to read these, and possibly high on opium as well.* I don’t mean this in a bad way! Absinthe, I think, is the way to go. If you want to smoke a hookah and be in Istanbul as well, just to get the feel right, we’re down with that.
Sanditon: With its emphasis on health fads, I do see Sanditon as a breakfast book. You can do the straightforward hippie thing with yogurt and granola, or go all ironic with croissants and coffee. I seem to see you doing this in Paris, I don’t know why. Can you even get granola in Paris?
As a final note, I feel that all Jane Austen is most properly accompanied by chocolate. Dark, rich, delicious chocolate. Any other suggestions are optional. Readers, what do you think?
*Austenacious does not endorse the use of illegal drugs, even if they are picturesque. Note that absinthe is not illegal in the U.S. anymore. Yay!
Photo credit: ©Ed Yourdon. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
On this special day, I’d like to thank you for introducing me to many fine authors throughout my childhood, all of them sarcastic, most of them British, and one of them Jane Austen!
I’d also like to thank you for not being a Jane Austen mother. I’d like to thank you for not giving me away in childhood, like Fanny Price’s mother (and thank goodness you didn’t have to). I’d like to thank you for not sitting on the sofa playing with your pug dog while my evil aunt ruined my childhood, ala Lady Bertram. And I’m certainly glad you didn’t die in my formative years like Mrs. Woodhouse and Lady Elliot. Though, if you had been like Lady Susan, I might have wanted you to! Most of all, I’m glad you didn’t try to force me into marrying my own cousin, because he may be cute like Mr. Darcy or ugly like Mr. Collins, but either way, EWW! You haven’t even been explaining all about my love life to anyone who would listen, like the amiable Mrs. Bennet. Geez, Mom, how do you expect me to get a husband, anyway?!
That’s right, you didn’t ever pressure me one way or another. Like Mrs. Dashwood, you were always supportive but discreet, respecting my privacy. It’s just lucky Mr. Fitzpatrick didn’t turn out to be the Willoughby type. (For the record, gentle readers, Mom’s reaction to my announcement that I was getting married was, “Do I know him?” Sarcastic through and through, that’s my aged relative!)
To the other mothers out there: take a moment to reflect on your behavior. Have you emulated any of Jane Austen’s mothers? If so, which ones? Because if you’ve taught your daughters to read Jane Austen (and I hope you have), they’ll know how to deal with you!
Likewise, daughters, thank your mothers for any non-cousin-marrying behavior. It’s hard to be a mother, so they tell me, and Jane Austen certainly showed us how low the bar could go.
So, Mom, happy Mother’s Day! I hope you enjoy our traditional out-loud reading of “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” by Mark Twain. We can certainly follow it up with some P. G. Wodehouse or Jane Austen if you want!
Your loving daughter,
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
I’ve come to a realization, lately, about Jane. Or, rather, about myself and Jane, and about myself and Jane’s works. This winter, I think it’s time for me to venture off the trodden path of the usual Austen brain-space and explore the parts of her oeuvre that I don’t know much–some might say anything–about. This is my brand of winter adventure: like telemarking for the brain! Like snow-cave camping minus the frostbite! I am extreme!
By which I mean: I really need to read Lady Susan.
It was A Woman’s Wit that got me in the mood: their description of Lady Susan and its wily, worldly heroine (or “heroine”?) struck me in the moment, and has attached itself to my brain. How does Lady Susan–her personality and her situation–fit into the Austen canon? Or does she fit in at all?
Here’s what interests me: as much as Jane’s other protagonists differ in status, personality, and degree of pleasantness, they’re all Misses. They’re young, relatively innocent, and looking for love the first time around; we’re supposed to root for them because they are heroines and because they have their whole adult lives ahead of them, to be filled with a satisfying, loving marriage and a bountiful life–or not. And that’s what I don’t know about Lady Susan: if Lady Susan herself is a social cruiser, a ladder-climber, how does Jane present her? Is she sympathetic? Is she desperate? A party-crasher with a heart of gold? Scamming for a husband, but with honorable intentions? Or is this the Caroline Bingley novel? Social “sharks” are so often despised in Jane’s work that I can’t quite grasp how things look when she chooses to feature one as her protagonist.
So, coming up, Lady Susan and, I hope, a little foray into unknown territory. Hot chocolate and crampons (hee, crampons) optional.
Also known as, what we want for Christmas, part 2.
Freeverse says we want a game for our iPhone “featuring a Jane Austen character in a lacy dress who karate-chops her way through hordes of advancing zombies.” (Not out yet. Coming soon.) Do we? I can only imagine this would be followed by an underwater version fighting off sea monsters, and (cue eyeroll) Emma and the Werewolves.
- Lizzie would not wear lace to kick zombie ass. Entirely inappropriate. Long sleeves, maybe?
- Well, I hope Seth is getting some royalties off this. Then when he dies I hope Jane takes them off him. With sharp words.
- On iPhone? Wouldn’t Wii be lots more fun?
- Do you think Lizzie will just kick ass like every other game heroine? How about the really difficult moves, like managing a train? At least Jane didn’t have to sit down in a hoop-skirt. FUN, I tell you. Ooh, can I watch people jump around trying to kickbox in a corset? With a fan and soft slippers and a train tripping them up?
- Don’t we all think Lady Susan is much more the Lara Croft/Aeon Flux type than Eliza Bennet?
- Pretty soon, if not already, there’ll be a World of Warcraft: Jane Austen Edition. I know my GM friends would be ever so grateful if you zombie hunters would mind your manners on the Quest to Lady Catherine’s, OK? No whining in the ha-ha. No hacking with scripts to get Darcy to propose to Lizzie every 2 seconds until she beats him over the head with her slipper.
- A friend of mine has already rebuilt Pemberley in Second Life. I don’t even want to know what goes on there!
- Hey! To my friends at Zynga: why not combine Mafia Wars and Farmville, and have a Build Your Own Fighting Regency Estate? Stick with me here a minute. You build up the family fortunes: add a living and you get a crazy aunt or maybe a hero (luck of the draw!). Attract heroines with spacious grounds and/or ruined abbeys! Once you have a heroine, you can build up suitors, and then use your army or navy to totally beat up the other estates and steal their heroines! Not so hot an idea? Oh well, if it sells, I still expect royalties. I know where you live, guys!
- When are all you entertainment types going to get creative and explore the clone angle? I believe we at Austenacious were the first to propose this, no, with our special Halloween header? If I don’t see The Matrix: Jane Austen Reloaded with thousands of simply but elegantly attired Eliza Bennets fountaining up in the Netherfield ball/fight scene within the year, I shall be severely disappointed. (Yo, Wachowskis: they have corsets built in! Bondage for all!)
- But seriously now, and brushing aside this tomfoolery: it’s my birthday next Saturday, and then Christmas two weeks later. May I not expect to see at least one first edition Jane Austen novel peeping out of my stocking?
What can we learn about Jane Austen from her things, from the physical objects surrounding her and created by her? How much of her is contained in her handwriting, in the straight and even lines of her letters, and how much is contained in her work? If any writer’s soul is in her novels, what is there to be gained in discovering her personal artifacts? If anything calls for a field trip, these questions call for a field trip—and I love a good field trip. Last weekend, I visited New York’s Morgan Library and Museum (the sacrifices I do make!) to check out their new exhibit A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy.
The exhibit is much as Jane might have liked: a clean, well-lighted place for books filled with her letters (mostly to her sister, Cassandra), hand-written manuscripts, and artifacts of other pertinent writers and artists, as well as a darkened corner featuring the short film The Divine Jane. (There’s also one very zealous security guard who does not appreciate back-talk, or, uh, so I hear. What? I don’t know what you’re implying.)
Over a third of Jane’s surviving letters are in the Morgan’s possession and on display in the exhibit. In a sense, it’s frustrating not to be able to handle the letters—in Jane’s scrawl, written horizontally and then vertically and mounted for viewing, they aren’t exactly readable in the way that they might be if we were left to, say, hold them close, squint a bit, and follow the rabbit trail of beginnings and endings. The museum plaques accompanying each letter transcribe bits and pieces, but viewing them is not the same as reading them. My recommendation? For full appreciation, read a published version of Jane’s letters beforehand, bring it along, and pick out your favorites among the collection.
The same goes for the manuscripts—it’s lovely to see them, to read the interpretive plaques, and to admire the straightness of Jane’s writing and think of her pen scritch-scratching away, but the soul of them comes in the reading of them. On the other hand, the Morgan’s description of Lady Susan sold me instantly—a romantic black comedy! A “cruising shark in her social goldfish pond”! Delicious!
One of my favorite parts of the exhibit wasn’t by Jane at all, but by the illustrators willing to take on the challenge of her work over the years. There’s a sense that these are the pre-broadcasting version of the BBC miniseries, visual representations of Jane’s works according to the times, including notions of fashion and beauty—one Victorian illustrator, for example, had transposed the look of Pride and Prejudice into the key of his or her own style sensibilities. I was especially taken by the illustrations of Isabel Bishop (1902 – 1988), who dressed Elizabeth Bennet just as Jane would have, but struck me as particularly beautiful (though, of course, not made in the Regency style at all, if Cassandra Austen’s sketches of her sister are any indication). Lovely.
So where is the person of Jane Austen in all of this? In knowing the lace pattern of her new cloak (which she’s written out in one of her letters) or in finding her penchant for writing backwards to her young niece, do we know her any better than we did before? Can we see any more of her in the things that she called her own than we can simply by reading her works? I think the answer is yes—but only if we have read her works. Alone, they’re objects. Taken in tandem, they’re shading details on a picture we already know—a picture of wit, of humor, and of order. Jane’s spirit isn’t in her things, and her things aren’t the place to get to know her. But they may just be the place to appreciate the woman behind the work.
A Woman’s Wit: The Life and Legacy of Jane Austen appears at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City through March 14, 2010.
I took up my pen tonight intending to tell you all that “Jane Austen Loves Emoticons.” It would be a steep leap, I knew. She was not the girl for happy faces lying down beside her words. But—she was the woman for dashes—! Dashes of all kinds, & all sorts of other slapdash grammar by our standards;—Miss Osborne is going to go crazy when she sees this post. — She usually cleans up our punctuation. (That’s what you get for reading the blog-child of a writer, an editor, & a copyeditor.) But—Miss O—I’m saying lay off this one!—This is the homage to Miss A’s own crazy punctuation.
When I first read Lady Susan, The Watsons, & Sanditon as a teenager I was struck, by the plots, by the rawer picture they present as compared to the polish of the finished, longer works;—but also, by the punctuation. As a good little student, it had simply never occurred to me that punctuation could be a means of expression!—Not to mention the charming, erratic Capitals. Punctuation, until then, was a list of rules, not a playground.—So, I started Wildly Varying the style of my grammar, and even of my spelling. I used punctuation in my writing to indicate the Quality of different Types of Silences. . . the questioning silence —? . . . the shocked silence —! . . . the “I can’t believe my ears; how could you suppose I’d be so stupid” silence —?! . . . or —!? I even, you can see it coming, started drawing little happy faces beside my notes to indicate that I was being sarcastic (who, me?) . Though I never liked the winky face or the sad face; they seemed to me insincere at the time. Mind you, this was in the dark ages, back when I wrote LETTERS to people, and they wrote letters back to me. Now, everyone understands what those little faces mean.
It was Jane who taught me to play with punctuation, to make sentences read the way they sound in your head. Why then, am I not telling you that Jane Austen loves emoticons? — Two reasons: one, I have a feeling she’d think they were lazy (though maybe space-saving in letters); and two, flipping through my copies of the aforementioned works and the complete letters, I noticed that she uses dashes after almost, if not every sentence. — This is in addition to using them mid-sentence, and to using other ending punctuation after phrases and sentences.
What’s up with this? Was it a convention of the age, a stylistic peculiarity all her own, a device to make it easier to read cross-hatched letters, or what?—I sincerely hope some scholar of the age can enlighten the grammar geeks of Austenacious on this point, or we may be drowning in our own dashes. Though I have noticed scholars seem to fight passionately about editing Austen’s punctuation, so they may not have time for a simple question from the likes of me.
In the meantime, though I may edit other people’s work with the sparingness of modern punctuation, I reserve the right to be as profligate as I like with my own.
Ooooh, you lucky New Yorkers! Go check out the new exhibit A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy at the Morgan Library & Museum! From today through March 14, 2010, you can see the original handwritten copy of Lady Susan, letters by Jane, and drawings of people, places, and events of the times. Miss Ball will be in NY over Thanksgiving, and Miss Osborne over Christmas, so I know we can expect a full report from them. CAN’T WE, LADIES? And if any of our dear readers go to the exhibit, we’d love to hear about it!
Even without going to New York, you can look at the pictures and facsimiles of the letters and manuscript on the website. A highlight for me was a portrait of what Jane Bennet really looked like—my mom always maintains that she was blonde, and guess what, Mom?, you were right! There’s also the short film, below, produced for the exhibit. (Watch a larger version here.) I found the film unexpectedly moving. Philosophers, writers, scholars, (including Fran Lebowitz!) talking about Jane Austen, her work, and what it meant to them. The film says a lot about what I feel about Jane Austen myself. They talk about the physicality of the handwritten letters and manuscript, “proof that she was human after all.” That physical connection in almost overpowering, I think—and why we care about these things.