I like to poke fun at the delicate natures of our Austenian characters as much as the next modern-day gal. But now the internet tells me that I shouldn’t make fun of them, as people from that time period apparently got sick much more easily that we do. But as I hurl myself—mind and body—through the mad dash of finishing my master’s degree, I can’t help but be reminded of poor Marianne Dashwood. Except that if I get sick I won’t have servants or siblings taking care of me. (When I’m ill, there’s no calling up mom to say, “Please make me some udon,” because she lives 3,000 miles away. Though I’m pretty sure if I texted Miss Ball, she’d go out and get me some apple sauce or whatever I wanted. Because that’s how she rolls.)
Like Mrs. Bennet, I could really use some compassion for my poor nerves. During the next 12 days I have one exhibit to install, one thesis to get printed and bound, one thesis presentation in front of a roomful of people (including a panel of Judgey McJudgersons) that makes me freak out like I’m about to go to a wedding hosted by Walder Frey, and a visit from the parental units to witness my graduation. I feel like the stress makes me susceptible to bugs that will land me in bed for a few days. So now I’m wondering if we are any different than the folks in the Regency era. Sure, a walk in the rain or post-shower wet hair won’t make me “catch my death of a cold” (as my mom and grandma would say). But hasn’t everyone had a physical breakdown of some sort at the end of a long project at work or a busy semester at school? I guess we’re not any less likely to experience self-imposed stress and fall ill; we just have better drugs to fix us up again.
Let’s hope I buck the trend and survive the next few weeks without melting into a puddle of goo. I’ll leave you with this blast from the past, which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I starting thinking about long walks in the rain. You’re welcome.
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
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.
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.)
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our coverage of the final round of Men’s Debauchery competition in these Olympic games. It’s been a harrowing week of faked backstories and false seductions, and I can’t imagine that tonight will be any different. What do you think lies in store?”
“Well, any talk of debauchery—and its better-known cousin, cross-country douchebaggery—must begin with George Wickham. Wickham has been the most dominating force in both sports for nearly a decade. After his promising debut of demanding his inheritance and then declining to join the clergy, back when he was the youngest guy in the game, we’ve seen victory after victory for him.”
“It’s true. Is there anybody more decorated in his field? I mean, his classic performance with regards to Georgiana Darcy says it all. Look at the way he convinced her to run away with him in the previous round of competition—she was a nice girl from a good family, and he got her all the way to the seaside! And she was only fifteen! Just an amazing performance from a debaucher at the height of his fitness and skill.”
“Let’s not forget about Wickham’s closest competitor, though. For my money, John Willoughby demonstrates a superior technique and perhaps a siren song for the classic moves of the old guard. Let’s take a look at the tape of that amazing, amazing scene on the hillside near the Dashwood cottage—there. Look at the way he uses the rain and Marianne’s natural drama-queen tendencies to turn a perfectly fit young lady into a damsel in distress! I’ll never forget the reaction of the crowd that day, and I think Willoughby represents a new era for showmanship in the sport.”
“It’s true that Willoughby appears to have been training hard for this competition, and in some ways may already have surpassed his rival. Wickham, after all, never consummated his dalliance with Miss Darcy; Willoughby managed to conceive a secret child and abandon her to the fates, and you know the judges can’t resist that kind of solid performance.”
“Tough luck for him, though, in the aftermath. Who knew Colonel Brandon would find out about the child, provide for her in every possible way, and expose Willoughby in the process? I just don’t think there’s any way he’ll end up on the podium after a misstep like that.”
“Well, we’re only thirty-eight seconds from finding out. Will either gentleman—and we use that term loosely—make it to Scotland and then abandon his teenage bride, alone and confused? Stay tuned and we’ll see you after the break.”
So, I just read a new book that I think might explain a little bit about Jane Austen and Fanny Price—QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Here’s a good article summing up the book: The Rise of the New Groupthink.) No surprise that Fanny’s a world-class introvert; I think we can all agree on that. But part of Ms. Cain’s point is that extroversion has become much more important over the past few hundred years, and something called the Culture of Character gave over to the Culture of Personality, in which we live today. Here’s the ideal self the Culture of Character self-help books described:
- Golden Deeds
That doesn’t [hint hint] sound familiar at all, does it?? Anybody we know? Not little Miss Price, sitting in the corner?
And what about the ideal self from the Culture of Personality? Here’s what her self-help books describe:
Hmmmm….. Is there anyone in Mansfield Park who embodies those traits? And might she just coincidentally be Fanny’s rival just a teeny bit? I think Jane Austen actually uses at least half those words to describe Miss Crawford.
Now, the odd part is that Ms. Cain and “influential cultural historian, Warren Susman,” who she gets all this from—they both say that this switch from admiring Character to admiring Personality happened roughly at the end of the 19th century, when people were moving to cities and working with people they didn’t know, and having to sell themselves. And yet, here we have Mansfield Park almost 100 years earlier, and Jane Austen seemingly talking through Character vs. Personality. (That’s not foreshadowing in any way, Miss Ball.)
In a way, this makes Fanny more believable to me; that Our Jane would write a heroine like her makes sense if those qualities were more important. And yet, everyone in the book clearly finds Fanny awfully trying—they don’t hold her up as an ideal, no, they’re all over Miss Personality Crawford. So… maybe what Jane Austen is doing is looking at books that idealize the Fanny Price type and saying, “You pretend you like this girl, but in real life you think she’s a drip. See, I’ll prove it.”
When you think about it, that’s what Jane Austen does. Take stereotypes and look at them in real life: Catherine Morland vs. the Gothic novel. Marianne Dashwood vs. Ro-mance. Elizabeth Bennet vs. Prejudice . . . Wow, looking at it like that, Mansfield Park actually makes sense to me. And are we surprised that Jane Austen picked up on how people really thought of each other years before the self-help books did? No. No, we are not.
England is a lovely country. Everyone’s so polite and so friendly. Which I guess is why they need sarcastic outlets like Time Out London‘s Lies to Tell Tourists column. My personal favorite:
When on the tube it’s customary to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to and opposite you. (@magiczebras)
I never need a sarcastic outlet, which is why I immediately started thinking of Lies to Tell Jane Austen Tourists.
When at a party it’s customary to introduce yourself to all those present, particularly superior nephews of your noble patroness.
Respectable, marriageable gentlemen will flock instantly to your side should you fall down a hill. Important: It must be raining at the time.
When conversing with a new acquaintance, you should comment on their father’s ill health and be surprised they were raised by a lady.
Lockets of hair possessed by significant others always represent true love.
The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his ha-ha. OK, the quickest way to a man’s aunt is through her ha-ha.
If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your first duty is to suspect your host of nefarious activities and scour the place to find the truth.
One’s first impressions of people are invariably right.
And, the best way to get a girl to break up with your son/nephew is to insult her.
My efforts just scratch the surface. Come on, readers, show us your stuff! I’m sure you can lie to Jane Austen tourists like anything. Bring it on!
Well, it’s happened. The lovely Miss Mason has drawn my attention to a new Jane Austen video game: Matches and Matrimony. In this “visual novel,” Reflexive Arcade’s Russell Carroll does something new—he mashes up three Austen novels with each other. Here is a turn no one had thought of! I don’t have a PC, so I haven’t played, but Emily Short over at Gamasutra gives an in-depth review (also funny for her exhaustive—one hopes—list of Austen fanfic). Apparently you play Elizabeth Bennet, and your goal is to marry Mr. Darcy. Or, if you fail with him, Colonel Brandon and Captain Wentworth show up in their turns for you to take a shot at.
Does the deep irony of this strike anyone but me? Who wrote this game, Mrs. Bennet?! When was it Lizzie’s goal to marry Mr. Darcy? When was it Marianne’s goal to marry Col. Brandon?? Not even after she did, you could argue! It was not even Anne Elliot’s goal to marry Capt. Wentworth, though she wanted to. Any and all of these ladies would scorn to set their cap at any man, to scheme and plan and work on pleasing him—for that is how you move ahead in the game. Uh, excuse me? This is the behavior of Caroline Bingley, not Elizabeth Bennet. And we know how that match-up turned out!
In this same vein, Jane Austen’s Games is working on a game called Matchmaker. Sigh. At least there you’ll be the mother trying to marry your daughter off, and not the daughter herself.
Do you know, this actually makes me wish for Wii games with heroines in Regency dresses and corsets where if you took a deep breath your avatar would faint, and for Jane Austen first-person shooters in which you lose a life (social) if your petticoat gets dirty.
Seriously, though, assuming such a thing was necessary, how would you envision a Jane Austen video game? I think it’d have to be like The Sims or Second Life. (The aforementioned Miss Mason did build her own Pemberley in The Sims, so she’s been onto this for awhile.) Austen wrote about daily life and realistic encounters with family, friends, and local annoying people. Her heroines moved within strict boundaries, which makes programming their choices simpler, perhaps, but they were searching for happiness. That did mean moving away from home and marrying, but that did not, as Lizzie tells Jane, make marriage a goal to be worked towards. It’s a subtle story, and not one that lends itself to dramatic game-play or special effects. So my game would just be a Regency world where you have to act properly or take the consequences, but in which you’d be as you chose. Finding love and happiness would be, well, exactly like in real life. Without Austen’s voice telling those stories, I don’t know how compelling it would be, but Electronic Arts would probably go for it. There’s already a Sims: Medieval, apparently.
However, even Austen heroines kicking unrealistic butt with major weaponry sounds better than Austen heroines competing on The (Regency) Bachelor.
. . . as the sign for Hampshire County proclaimed! Action Jane and I have been having a jolly time here, with her showing me all the sights. In London, we stopped at the British Library. My dear friends, I cannot even describe to you the treasures in their little gallery. Even the sight of one of Jane Austen’s handwritten volumes of juvenalia was overwhelmed by the sheer physical presence of so many manuscripts handwritten by her, by Wordsworth, by Chaucer, and, yes, by Charlotte Brontë (and that was just part of one display case). In the spirit of Brontë/Austen relations, I’ll admit that seeing “Reader, I married him.” in Charlotte’s own hand was simply stunning. And that her writing was more legible than Miss Austen’s. We’ve talked before about how indescribable it is to see handwritten copies of Jane’s work. I think, more than anything, the proof that she and these other were all real people, is overwhelming.
Jane frowned on my friend Mr. Coles’ suggestion that I sit on her tomb and sing New Age chants, so we headed on to her last house, where she lived from 1809 to 1817.
Chawton is a lovely little village, and Jane Austen’s House Museum quite worthy of pilgrimage. Really ridiculously so, given the number of things that were hers and that clearly inspired something in one of the books. I found the lock of her hair another shocking proof that she really lived. Some other highlights:
The sacred writing table. It is, as mentioned, very small! In fact, I can’t see how Jane’s writing desk, which was at the British Library, actually fit on it. I’ve heard people say that everything in Austen’s life was small: her paper, her table, the rooms in her house. Paper and table, yes, but to this apartment dweller, the rooms in her house seemed plenty commodious! Not huge, but nothing I’d turn my nose up at.
The actual dress worn by Kate Winslet as she fell down the hill in Sense and Sensibility! Really! Squee!!
Miss Osborne and other aspiring Regency chefs: Here is the recipe book Jane’s friend Martha Lloyd kept when she lived with them. I couldn’t read it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt it’s for jugged hare or some other delight.
And here is Action Jane in the kitchen. To the left of the fireplace is the safe that Miss Austen had the keys of, where the sugar and tea were kept.
In reward for our pilgrimage, we had an amazing cream tea at Cassandra’s Cup across the street. Cream tea consists of tea, plus one or two scones with jam and clotted cream to spread on. Clotted cream! Heavenly. Then, because I am a thorough pilgrimess, we headed down to Lyme Regis.
Lyme is the seaside resort on the south coast where Louisa Musgrove falls down the Cobb steps in Persuasion. (Falling down things is a favorite among Austen girls, isn’t it?)
We arrived in Lyme at sunset, and went to the sea first, as Jane says “lingering, as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who ever deserve to look on it at all.” Believe it or not, we actually stayed at the Cobb Arms, and next morning, we walked along the lower Cobb.
Jane wanted to walk along the upper Cobb, but I wouldn’t let her. Indeed, considering that it’s a sloping stone walkway, with no handrails, 8 feet above the lower Cobb and probably 20 feet above the harbor, and very windy, I’m surprised the ladies were walking there at all.
I liked Lyme Regis, but then I do have a weakness for seaside resort towns. And Lyme has some commercialism, but not too much. I don’t think Jane would be displeased, were she to return. However, as far as I know, I didn’t see any unknown cousins who will later be charmed by my beauty. One can always hope.
Next up: Bath!