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
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?
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?
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our tape-delayed evening coverage of the Ladies’ Terrible Sisters, or ‘Bitchiness,’ competition. I hope Twitter hasn’t told you the outcome! Here we are in the third rotation of the individual all-around, and the rivalries are fierce! Let’s check in with a few of the top contenders.”
“Miss Caroline Bingley is the heavy favorite coming into this evening’s rotation, and she’s worked hard for the title of frontrunner. Her bold style and her role in Austen’s most-read novel certainly places her at the head of the pack, but for Miss Bingley, it’s not just a label. We’ve seen that she is especially strong in the ‘direct insult’ and ‘letter of malicious intent’ events.”
“I have seen Miss Bingley stumble occasionally; her periodic lack of subtlety has been known to reveal her true character to the observant viewer, including that famous interaction regarding Elizabeth Bennet’s dirty hem and fine eyes. She would do well to proceed carefully this evening if she wants to keep it under wraps and get the guy. Remember, being terrible without being obviously terrible is key to this sport.”
“Mrs. John Dashwood might be a surprise contender, what with the ‘well, they don’t really need MONEY to LIVE ON’ maneuver—we haven’t seen much of her, but her skilled manipulation of her husband shows skills that might easily take on this field. What Mrs. Dashwood lacks in name recognition, she makes up for in subtlety—just look at the way she talked John Dashwood out of providing for his half-sisters and their mother.”
“She’s so effortless. Just look at that—a picture of grace. And by grace I mean incredible selfishness.”
“You’re so right about that. Now, what you do think about Mary Crawford’s standing in the competition?”
“Mary is something of a dark horse here tonight. Her performance during Tom Bertram”s illness last year really put her on the map—viewers will remember the way she implied that perhaps Tom’s death and the distribution of his fortune might actually be a boon to his family and ‘friends’—but with the tough competition this year, I don’t think she’ll end up on the podium. She might be prettier and more socially adept than Miss Bingley, but I just don’t think she has the killer instinct.”
“So right. And here we have the underdogs of the group, the sister-pair Julia and Maria Bertram. What’s your take on their act tonight?”
“Ooh, Julia and Maria have really been struggling this week—they obviously passed the Trials stage, but I just don’t think they have the consistency to excel in this event. Athletes like Miss Bingley and Mrs. Dashwood make clear that this field isn’t just about mild cluelessness; it really has to be pointed and intentional, and oh, look at that display of compassion. That’s not going to help them at ALL.”
“They have got to be wondering what they’re doing here. I mean, rumor has it they’ve been laughed mirthlessly out of the athletes’ locker room and have resorted to sitting in the corner, eating their own hair.”
“Ooh, that’s not good. For them, I mean. It’s pretty good for everybody else.”
“Well, we’re only twenty seconds from the conclusion of this rotation, so let’s break for commercial. Stay tuned for further coverage of the Shrill Mothers competition later tonight; we guarantee you’ll need your earplugs. We’ll be back in just a minute; don’t touch that remote.”
I know Mother’s Day was three whole days ago. My mom and I spent the day together—in Idaho, in fact—until I got on a plane and she and my dad hopped in the car and started driving to California. But it seems that 2012 is the Year of Mom and Jane Austen, and so here we are. It’s Wednesday, but hey, I can still talk about my mom.
I mentioned it briefly during the read-along, but my mother read Mansfield Park along with the rest of the Austen Nation. (She even commented semi-anonymously, like the ninja she is, on one of our read-along posts! Can you spot the rogue parent?) It was her first time—not just her first time reading The Chronicles of Fanny and her Ha-Ha, but her first time reading Austen, period. Shortly afterwards, she joined my Beloved Sisters and me for the second half of Pride and Prejudice and immediately absconded with Miss Osborne’s DVDs, which were apparently better than the identical set that lived on her daughter’s bookshelf from late 2009 through the middle of 2011.
People, I think we have a new member of the cult. I mean, family.
According to mom, that Henry Crawford wasn’t such a bad guy until the whole wife-stealing thing. That was unexpected, but anyway, Maria and Julia weren’t very nice anyway. But before that, why was she so set against him? HE WAS NICE. And why do they call this a romance, again?
Also, Mrs. Bennet is hilarious and having to choose between never speaking to her mother again and never speaking to her father again is great. But is Jane supposed to be prettier than Lizzy? Because that woman looks like a man. And wait, what actor is that? Oh, right, Colin Firth. I liked him in The King’s Speech.
Rumor has it she might pick up Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice (the novel) (though I keep trying to press the Keira Knightley movie on her, for Colin Firth/Matthew McFadyen comparison purposes) next. I promise to stand supportively by, books in hand. Happy reading, Mom!
Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
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!
…and they all lived judgmentally ever after.
We’re done! We finished! We read a very long Jane Austen book, and all we got was this satisfyingly growing Mansfield Park tag! (This is the kind of thing that thrills your average Austen blogger.) And, you know, a string of posts and thoughtful discussion. Which brings me to another thing: You guys are the BEST. Thank you so much for reading along, and chatting it up in the comments, and being hilarious and heartfelt and wonderful. The Austen Nation is the best nation, I think, and I’ve been to Austria, where they have cheese inside sausage inside bread! So.
Having now read every word, I think what makes Mansfield Park hard to swallow isn’t just Fanny’s insistence on being a total doormat (unless, and this is to her credit, somebody’s trying to force her down the aisle); it’s that nothing about her changes. Every other Austen protagonist–and protagonists generally, because this is fiction and there has to be an arc somewhere–learns something. Grows up. Sees the error of her ways. Stops chasing the handsome rogue and falls for the old dude. SOMETHING. Fanny does none of those things. Personal change doesn’t seem to be the point for her, somehow, which begs the question: What IS the point? Mrs. Fitzpatrick suggested that perhaps everybody ELSE is changed because of Fanny’s golden presence, but upon further reflection, I don’t see it; the only character redeemed at the end is Tom Bertram, and that’s thanks to the power of the almighty virus more than anything else. Readers?
That said, I enjoyed it, in a pleasant and immediate kind of way. Fanny and Edmund’s “romance” aside—I’m not sure what “a classic romance” means to the good people at Oxford University Press—Jane’s ear for terrible people being terrible kept me entertained and ready for scandal to strike at any moment. Personal journeys of growth aside…that’s good enough for me, sometimes.
Various and sundry final thoughts:
For all the crap Fanny takes nowadays about her shrinking-violet ways, her dear Edmund is, I think, way worse. He’s controlling; he (I think) knows he’s wrong about Mary, but refuses to pull the plug; he says he loves Fanny, but constantly abandons her; “I could never marry anybody but Mary Crawford,” he moons, twenty pages from the end, and I want him to go to Thornton Lacey AND STAY THERE.
You guys. Maria lives happily ever after (or something)…with Mrs. Norris! I subsequently die of joy.
Sue me; I still like Mary Crawford, “maybe it would be okay if Tom died, because then Edmund could have his money!” comment and all. She’s shallow, but she’s (usually) neither malicious nor clueless—the two great sins of Austenian women. She’s neither rewarded nor truly punished in the end, which seems fair, and I hope she lives to liven up many a party. By which I mean “novel.”
And now, let’s all have snacks (BYO) and read something trashy!
That’s Vol. 3, Chapters 3 – 13, or regular chapters 34 – 44. Oy with the multiple editions, Jane!
So. Last week, everybody was horrible to Fanny about refusing Henry Crawford’s proposal. This remains the case. HOWEVER. There’s knowing you’re not into a guy who’s kind of a tool, and then there’s doing everything you can to AVOID being into a guy who maybe acted kind of like a tool once but has since proven pretty stellar. Guess which one our dear Fanny chooses?
And look: I know a little of what’s coming. This is not my first Jane Austen rodeo, and I know that in her world, handsome gentlemen who look too good to be true usually are. But for just this shining moment, when he comes to visit her and get her out of the hovel and walk arm in arm along the waterfront and say nice things to her little sister, would it kill her to get over herself and think maybe? Isn’t it possible that a guy could be kind of a jerk, then have a change of heart and prove his excellence? Wait, I think I read a book once that went kind of like that. IT WAS CALLED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
Also, let’s talk about Fanny’s Stockholm Syndrome. On one hand, of course her parents’ house is cramped and crowded and noisy; that’s why she was shuttled off to Mansfield in the first place. Nobody (except Fanny herself) expects her home visit to be all puppies and rainbows and high degrees of female accomplishment. But it’s not only the shrubberies that she misses—she loves Lady Bertram! She misses Mrs. Norris! This is the talk of a crazy person, which I might have thought was my newfangled modern brain talking, had not half the characters in the novel tried to point it out to her as well. Apparently the occasional fire in the East Room means true love.
And finally, a few assorted points:
- It is my dearest hope that Susan Price will accompany Fanny back to Mansfield, take one look at the whole situation, and drag her sister off to become pirate queens on the Thrush or something.
- “Fanny requires constant air and exercise”? REALLY, JANE? The girl who can’t make it past the cattle guard?
- Heh, Mr. Price is gross.
I am pleased to announce that the official Austenacious Mansfield Park read-along will, barring unwanted advances from a handsome scoundrel or a particularly vexing ha-ha, conclude Wednesday, April 18! Get your final chapters in now, folks, and bet on who Fanny ropes into marrying her with the power of her deep passivity.