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?
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.
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?
Welcome, yogis, to Jane-asana, and thank you for taking this time out of your day to do something good for your body and spirit. Today we’ll be focusing on core strength, flexibility, and deep truths about life and love, while finding our inner plucky heroines and searching for love among our intellectual and emotional equals. Any requests today? Handsome scoundrels? Yes—I think we can work that in.
Cow Pose: Kneel on all fours. Inhaling, drop the belly, finding a back bend and allowing your head to rise last. Make mean comments about the countryside and about your crush’s crush’s dirty hem. Find yourself summarily smacked down, to the remorse of absolutely nobody.
Peaceful Warrior (for Colonel Brandon): With one leg bent deeply and the other straight and strong through the knee, windmill your arms up to horizontal for Warrior II pose. With the breath and finding a back bend, drop the back arm down the hamstring and raise the front arm vertically, as if it were a bow. Wear flannel waistcoats, provide for the abandoned illegitimate daughter of another man, and eventually marry a much younger woman, whom you love for her emotional acuity.
Wild Thing Pose: Beginning in Downward Dog, flip your dog by lifting one hand and flipping upside down in the opposite direction, supporting yourself in a back bend with both feet and the remaining hand. Extend the leg on the same side as the supporting hand, and with the non-supporting hand, make a clawing motion. Run off to Scotland with a handsome scoundrel, only to return and brag obliviously to your sisters when he’s been forced to marry you. Hope for the best.
“Captain Wentworth is on a” Boat Pose: Sit with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend one leg and then the other, shifting your weight backwards so that your torso and upper legs form a V and your lower legs are parallel to the ground. Lift one arm and then the other to extend alongside your legs parallel to the ground. Pine. Repeat for seven years, then return to check out the situation with the girl you secretly wanted to marry this whole time.
Corpse Pose (Mrs. Woodhouse-asana/Mr. Dashwood-asana): Settle onto your back with the legs as wide as your mat, allowing the feet to splay sideways. Allow the arms to fall at a forty-five-degree angle to the body, or, if it helps you to connect with your inner Mrs. Woodhouse, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Allow the spine to become long, tucking your chin slightly. Remain here until your daughter marries a nice but vaguely judgmental young man. And, well, beyond.
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!
This Thursday it will be a year since my beloved Mr. Fitzpatrick died. I am finding myself in much the same position Austen was when her family moved to Bath and her father died: just not in the mood to write. So, I give you instead Mr. Fitzpatrick’s favorite Austenacious post, originally published last May.
You are in a car going @#&%$* mph on Interstate 5 towards Los Angeles. An officer pulls you over and asks, “What’s the reason for your speed today, miss?” What do you say?
Mrs. Bennet: Mr. Bingley is come! He is indeed! Officer, hurry up, can’t you?
Mr. Bingley: My ideas flow so rapidly that they make me drive very very fast.
Mr. Bennet: I thought I saw Mr. Collins in my rear-view mirror. And don’t call me “miss.”
Mr. Collins: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my eminent patroness, most urgently desired me to find a wife, and I have heard there are many fine young ladies in Los Angeles.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Sir! How dare you question me! I shall make sure you NEVER find a wife!
Mr. Darcy: I saw Mr. Wickham tailgating a young lady, and was about to perform a citizen’s arrest. Or make him marry her, if necessary.
Mr. Wickham: I thought I saw Mr. Darcy in my rear-view mirror.
Lydia and Kitty Bennet: We were in search of officers! And it looks like we found one!
Elizabeth Bennet: I do apologize, officer. My sisters just don’t stop making trouble. I have to run after them all the time.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick was hoping to give us an update on her travels, but apparently Internet access is a bit spotty in the wild English countryside. Instead, you get to hear about the Brits in the great state of New Jersey!
One of the things I like about visiting my home state is the age of some of the surroundings. You can’t go two miles without seeing a “George Washington Slept Here” or similar sort of historical marker. (Sure, in California you have the Spanish missions and the occasional Native American burial ground that serves as the foundation for a shopping mall. But there’s a distinct feeling of newness to the buildings that I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to.)
This weekend, not only did I have the requisite good pizza and bagels, I also was around to witness the 234th anniversary of the Battle of Bound Brook. The good people of Bound Brook and South Bound Brook celebrated by reenacting the battle in full Revolutionary War regalia. (My brother, who lives a half hour away in Princeton, also noted that he saw some red coats out and about near the Princeton battlefield when he was getting his morning coffee.) I swear to you that I never experienced anything like this in my town when I was growing up. There were always Revolutionary War things going on in other towns—the most entertaining being the reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware every year on December 25—but the most exciting local event I ever attended was the South Bound Brook flea market! So what a surprise to suddenly feel like I was in Stars Hollow rather than home. (Though unlike the Battle of Stars Hollow, the red coats and Hessian mercenaries really did show up in Bound Brook.)
All weekend I kept hearing Lydia Bennet’s voice from the 1995 Pride & Prejudice sighing while envisioning a whole campful of soldiers. That isn’t actually a quote of Lydia from the book, but I never get tired of Julia Sawalha‘s delightful reaction to the idea of seeing so many soldiers in Brighton. I wonder if the young ladies of the area were equally swoony over the Colonial soldiers that were walking around town. I, for one, found the current-day soldiers on both sides of the battle charming. (And, I suspect, a lot cleaner than the men they were portraying.)
Photo credits: John Catral
Thanks, Miss Ball, for stepping up to the tea-plate with your New Year’s Resolutions. They made me realize that I had . . . not read Pride and Prejudice since we started Austenacious! Oh, the horror!
I have now remedied the omission. And really I think the break was good. I knew P&P too well, you know? 42 is the approximate number of times I’ve read it (twice a year since seventh grade), and I can practically recite the thing—just ask Miss Ball and Miss Osborne! I’m sure you all know the feeling, or, she says darkly, you will . . .
Now, after writing about Jane Austen for over a year, and having quite the eventful year in my own life, I see Pride and Prejudice with fresher eyes.
The family dynamics struck me strongly. Mrs. Bennet is so very realistic! And she gets a lot of . . . I was going to say dialog, but she doesn’t do dialogs, does she? Mrs. Bennet just talks a lot, almost as much as Miss Bates in Emma. More than Jane had an ear for pillow talk, more even than for girlfriend time, she had a pitch-perfect ear for silly women.
“We’re marrying each other, not our entire families” might be called the central debate of the book. In the end Lizzy, Jane, and the boys admit that, but it takes a lot of work for them to get there. I know a lot of people are chilled by Lizzy and Jane throwing off their mother and less savory relations in the end, and I was too. But then I thought, who doesn’t avoid certain relatives as much as possible? Especially if they are as annoying as Mrs. Bennet! The Darcys and Bingleys do see Kitty, who lives with them, and “improve” her. They see Mr. Bennet, and of course the Gardiners. They even see Lydia and Miss Bingley sometimes. It’s just easier to accept your family when they’re not, um, living with you.
On reflection, it was probably P&P that taught me that you are not your family. Everyone has some strange ones stashed away, and you shouldn’t judge people by their relatives.
One other thing: The back cover of my copy of P&P says that “early 19th century English country society . . . is not very different from society today.” Sure, not so surprising, right? But then: “Mothers are determined that their daughters should marry well, daughters are determined to do what they wish, and fathers retire to their studies until the confusion is over and it is time to march down the aisle.” (!) This was my mother’s paperback, and it cost 95¢, and it just reeks of the 50s, doesn’t it? Today we still think Jane Austen reflects truth in society (of course!), but we focus on different things. Jane Austen for all time. It fascinates me.
It’s rainy and muddy in Austenland right now, and the good people there were thinking of passing the time with a little amateur dramatics when, lo and behold, a wormhole opened up and a copy of the Harry Potter series dropped back in time and into our heroes and heroines laps! While Fanny Price looked on in horror, a fantasy casting frenzy commenced.
Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley: All the heroines wanted to be one of these two. Hermione has the best brains and get the most to do, while Ginny is, of course, the love interest, and feisty in her own right. Emma tried to claim Hermione by pointing out that she read the most, but Lizzie pointed out that making lists of books is not the same as reading them! Also, who sticks up for herself and her friends most in a tight spot? All right, Lizzie, fine, you can be Hermione. Anne Elliot gently reminded the others that Ginny was also a put-upon member of a large family, but Catherine Morland pointed out that she was the only one who played a sport, baseball, so she should be Ginny. . .
Harry Potter: Most of the men made a claim to this, but the ladies agreed that none suited so well as Captain Wentworth. He was dashing, he was a common (not too bright) man who did things, won hearts, stirred up controversy . . .
Ron Weasley: Mr. Darcy disdained being Capt. Wentworth’s sidekick, even for Lizzie’s sake, but Mr. Bingley said he didn’t mind if he did.
Lord Voldemort: Of course, Darcy was attracted by the role. But everyone agreed quietly than it really belonged to his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And she agreed that it was fitting she should play a noble role.
Professor Albus Dumbledore: Mr. Knightley or Mr. Bennet, for sure, the from-the-side-watching know-it-alls.
Professor Severus Snape: Lizzie laughed, and said surely this role belonged to Mr. Darcy!
Draco Malfoy: Henry Crawford, to be sure. Draco doesn’t get much action, poor boy, but Crawford could identify with his halfhearted redemption.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart: For sheer daffiness, vanity, and ego, everyone agreed, Sir Walter Elliot should have the honor here. (Mr. Collins would have done, had he been handsome.)
At this point, the ladies’ scuffles over who was to be Ginny Weasley became really quite alarming. Mary Crawford was heard to say that Ginny had always had plenty of boyfriends to choose from, and that therefore she should be Ginny. Then Lydia Bennet proclaimed loudly that she had more, and should be. Mr. Bennet went into one of his rages, and took his whole family back to Longbourn, leaving the others to practice riding their broomsticks in the drawing room and casting spells at the card table.
. . .
Obviously, I have merely scratched the surface here! Readers, what do you think? What obvious character connections have I missed?
Photo credit: Magic wand image ©amanky. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
Recently I’ve been pondering this quote from Northanger Abbey, which is surprising full of clothes.
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.
Do women like their friends to look shabby, worse than them? Obviously, women these days fall on a broad spectrum of caring about their appearance, but I think the more a woman cares about her appearance, the more she cares about her friends’ appearances, and the more she wants them to look fashionable (whether goth, moth, preppy, etc), so as not to embarrass her. I think wanting to look better than your friends is on a different axis altogether, one more to do with self-confidence and all that. We probably need a graph or a Venn diagram to settle the question, and an Internet quiz you can take. Maybe later.
Having come to that conclusion, I think Jane Austen was there ahead of me, and she was talking about a frivolous b-word like Isabella Thorpe, and not any of us. Oh no. We are nice girls, and not being as innocent as Catherine Morland, we know quite well what men want to see in our clothes. Jane Austen, for all her delicacy, is perfectly clear about it, and so is Mrs. Bennet of all people. I present to you, in fact, what Mr. Wickham was no doubt thinking when Lydia “tucked a little lace.” Note, this is NOT safe for work!