So am I right, or am I right, or am I right: this penultimate section is where Emma gets good.
Because: the strawberry patches of Donwell, and then Box Hill. Ohhhh, Box Hill. What I love about the climax (or whatever the bad version of “climax” is) of the novel is how very Emma it is—just a thoughtless remark, something true but unspeakable, aimed at someone so helpless that it’s like a hawk attacking a baby bird without realizing that it’s a terrible thing to do. Like, maybe it wouldn’t get EATEN so much if it would stop being such a BABY BIRD.
But after the carnage (and Mr. Knightley’s lecture; I don’t know WHAT kind of bird HE is, and maybe this simile is dying anyway) comes what I see as the greatest single moment of character growth for Emma in the whole novel. Of course the best recompense for Emma’s words is the one thing she never wants to give Miss Bates: her time, and therefore her respect. I love this—it’s not an elaborate apology, which would only embarrass Miss Bates further. Emma’s deliberate visit to the Bates house displays the kind of thoughtfulness she’s never been thoughtful enough to realize she was missing. It’s a nice moment, is what I’m saying.
(I forgot to say earlier that I love the part where Mrs. Elton is pleased to see the strawberry patches of Donwell, but would have been just as happy with the cabbage fields, because she really just wants to go somewhere. Anywhere! It gives me such comfort to know I’m not the only one who gets this way, even if it’s me and Mrs. Elton. Usually, it ends with my mom and a spontaneous ice cream cone. So that’s nice.)
And then scandal—scandal!—comes to the Bates-Fairfax home, and you guys, I have such conflicted thoughts about Frank Churchill. On one hand, I think he’s the least of the Austen scoundrels. Can we even call him a scoundrel? How about just a garden-variety tool? So he flirted with the ladies while he was secretly engaged to a nice girl. Because my previous memory of this book was practically nonexistent, I kept waiting for him to have defiled somebody and left her pregnant and alone. But no! He got cranky in the heat, kept his engagement on the DL (by mutual consent, though), and anonymously bought the lady a pianoforte. Gee, that guy’s the worst!
But then I also think: is this the ending we want for sweet, pretty-much-awesome Jane Fairfax? Jane the author presents Jane the character’s happy ending with Frank Churchill as…well, a happy ending. And I just keep thinking that, pianoforte aside, she could do better than that guy. Doesn’t Jane deserve someone noble, who has a good relationship with his mom and doesn’t use his undercover-taken status to hit on girls in front of his fiancee?
Maybe this is just Jane being realistic: the nice girl ends up with the guy who’s kind of a jerk without being actually THAT bad, and likes it. I guess that’s a thing that happens.
Aaaand then we waltz our way into the home stretch of romantic-comedy territory, and seriously, it’s so much fun. Emma loves Mr. Knightley, but oh no, maybe Harriet ALSO loves Mr. Knightley, and Emma’s really trying to stop screwing poor Harriet over, but maybe in this situation it would be worth it, and Harriet thinks MAYBE Emma might be wrong about something, but anyway it’s all okay because Mr. Knightley loves Emma too. And only since she was thirteen! So THAT’s a relief.
“…If he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he would have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.” IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT MR. KNIGHTLEY? (This is like that one time in Jane Eyre where there’s a joke, and it throws me off every time.) Not a natural comedian, and not really a graceful subject of humor, that George Knightley—he’s too busy being noble. But I guess in his moment of romantic bliss, Jane gets away with it.
What do you think, readers?
The great ebook wars started innocently enough in June, 2012. A single alert blogger, Philip Howard, noticed that the Barnes & Noble version of War and Peace had erased all instances of the word Kindle—an competitor at the time—with their own brand-name, Nook. (“It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….”) One or two blogs picked it up, the people lol’ed, case closed.
An simple mistake with search-and-replace, but it started people thinking. . . hackers had already inserted zombies into Pride and Prejudice in the careless spirit of the 2000s, so why not make some money by selling product placement in the books? Anyone can publish e-versions of books no longer in copyright. Starbucks was first on the bandwagon in late 2012, with their special Frappuccino Editions of the classics (Frappuccino was a curious coffee-like drink). These editions merely replaced all coffee and tea, coffeehouses and tea shops in the classics, with Starbucks. The changes to the coffee shop scene in Persuasion did cause some comment on the primitive “social networks” of the time, but marketers and companies eagerly lined up to have their products inserted in some edition, any edition of a classic, and by 2015 generic ebooks were becoming rare and collectible.
The sudden rebirth of the bowdlerizers, and their tireless campaign to find and replace smut where ordinary dirty-minded citizens couldn’t even see it, spun off into its own crusade. Of course, the main target in Austen was “intercourse.” The mere thought of Emma and Miss Bates having “a regular and steady intercourse” caused President Sarah Palin to mandate bowdlerized versions of all classics in 2020.
The fall of America into chaos, the rise of the underground movement for Pure Classics, and the petty in-fighting of the various Jane factions (Austen, Eyre, Bennet, and Cobb), need not be gone into. Every schoolchild knows that in 2072, the Pure Classics broke away from the Altered Versions, and the two empires have been fighting ever since. It has been a long and terrible history. But on this, the 1,000th anniversary of the first shot of this massive war, let us stop and remember that it need never have happened.
. . .
Ok, so this could also be called Leo Tolstoy Hates Your Search-and-Replace. But, you know, once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it guide your destiny! So, beware!
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.
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.
And cue two young women in front of a TV. (Miss Osborne would have joined them had her health permitted it.) Due to technical difficulties (curse you, Comcast!), Miss Ball and Mrs. Fitzpatrick arrive on the scene ten minutes in. Please supply your own witty dialog for that period.
[Jane Fairfax leaves Donwell secretly.]
Miss Ball: I think Emma’s been running around Salzberg in nothing but some old drapes . . . from 1988. That dress is appalling.
[Mr. Knightley says that Emma might be mistress of Donwell, ha ha ha.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Hint, hint.
[Emma rants about Miss Bates.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: A bit of foreshadowing, is it?
Miss Ball: For the awkwardness that is to come. Sure.
[Mr. Knightley makes a rude comment about Frank Churchill, but it falls flat.]
Miss Ball: I love how Switzerland is the ends of the earth, instead of . . . the middle of Europe. I feel like, instead, he should backpack through Nepal with like six sherpas (because it’s not like he’s going to carry his own stuff) and listen to a lot of Dave Matthews Band.
Miss Ball: I know beer and cold meats do wonders for my constitution. Especially . . . together?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse just isn’t right. He doesn’t strike the sort of kindly silliness of Mr. Woodhouse.
Miss Osborne, there in spirit: The real Mr. Woodhouse wouldn’t have pterodactyl arms.
[A green blob—continued technical difficulties, we hope—appears on Mrs. Fitzpatrick's TV just as the party arrives at Boxhill.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s THE BLOB!! From original Star Trek! It’s going to EAT THEM!!
[Frank Churchill inadvertently and singlehandedly chases the entire party away (therefore saving them from a green and blobby death, v. difficult to explain to the pre-NASA set).]
Miss Ball: Frank Churchill, Captain of Awkward Conversation.
[Mr. Knightley yells at Emma.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He just seems like a blustering schoolboy to me. No dignity. No style!
Miss Ball: I think he sounds like he’s yelling at a pet. Like she’s been scratching on the couch again.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: FAIL, Jonny Lee. FAIL.
[Emma converts to thoughtfulness and grace.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Look, she’s stepping into the light! I can’t stand it!
[Emma goes to the Bates's.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I swear Mrs. Bates is a zombie.
Miss Ball: I believe you could write a book about that and make some serious money.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That is SO five minutes ago, Miss Ball!
[Mr. Knightley thinks about kissing Emma's hand, but doesn't. Miss Ball thinks he was shaking it.]
Miss Ball: The 2005 P&P did that so much better.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They didn’t do that very well. Especially since you didn’t even get it!
Both: Clearly, we have moved past the time when a man taking a woman’s hand = HE’S GOING TO KISS HER HAND!!! [spontaneous flaily jazz-hands duet]
[Emma wants to reupholster Mr. Knightley's chair (or whatever the kids are calling it these days).]
Miss Ball: …with angels and unicorns, perhaps?
[Mrs. Churchill dies; everybody pretends to be sad while actually forming an emotional conga line.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That was actually pretty well done—that pretty much sums it up.
[Baby Frank Churchill rides away in his carriage in the past. Again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Flashback attack!
[Frank and Jane Fairfax are reunited.]
Miss Ball: I’m sort of disappointed in Jane now. He’s such a douchebag. You can do better, Jane Fairfax! (Governess-hood notwithstanding.)
Frank Churchill: Now for the first time in our lives we can do anything we want!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That isn’t a Regency thought in the least—or at least not a Jane Austen thought.
Miss Ball: That’s a relief. Ugh.
[Emma hides behind a shrub, poorly, when Mr. Knightley arrives in the garden.]
Miss Ball: Don’t worry, Emma. . . we’ve all been there.
[Emma and Mr. Knightley walk and chat.]
Miss Ball: Are her long sleeves attached to anything, or are they just. . . sleeves? Because that’s sort of brilliant.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I actually don’t know. I do know Mrs. Bennet liked them! Kind of a punk look, you think?
Miss Ball: Just add safety pins. I like it.
[Mr. Knightley tries to propose.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He’s squinting. Why is he squinting?
Miss Ball: No room in those tight pants for his sunglasses.
[Emma bursts into Donwell crying, says she can't marry Mr. Knightley because of her father, and then bursts out again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What is this, a French farce? She’s not Lucille Ball, for goodness’ sake!
Miss Ball: A little abrupt, sure, but I think it’s okay. We’re running out of time.
[Mr. Knightley volunteers to move to Hartfield.]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley, you’ll never make it with the ladies if you keep telling them your heart is at your house.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: No, no, he means his heart is with Emma! He’s pointing at her!
Miss Ball: Ah, his heart—her—is at his house. Currently. But not forever. Riiiiight.
[Frank Churchill apologizes to Emma.]
Miss Ball: I do not forgive you, Frank Churchill.
[Mrs. Bates speaks.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: GASP! The zombie speaks!
Miss Bates: Mother has recovered her voice!
[Emma says goodbye to her father pre-honeymoon.]
Miss Ball: That is one yellow dress. Lucky for her she’s a summer.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Wait—they’re going on a honeymoon? So they must be married? These quick cuts are making me dizzy!
Miss Ball: I had the same question. Harriet and Robert Martin get married, and Emma and Mr. Knightley take a honeymoon? That’s some set-up.
[Emma rests her head on Mr. Knightley's shoulder.]
Miss Ball: That looks really uncomfortable. Much better after the carriage era.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They must be going to the seaside.
Emma: Oh! It’s the seaside!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I’m freakin’ prescient!
The Curmudgeonly Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Well, it had its moments. When they just let the actors speak and feel what Jane Austen wrote, it was fine—though really none of the main parts were convincing to me. But the additions were SO cheesy (Slow-motion flashbacks? Children torn asunder in the rain?) and the transitions were SO film-school (Look, there’s flowers now, it must be spring!), that I couldn’t really believe I was in the story. It’s a hard novel to adapt, but . . . they should have tried harder. Or less hard? It was too forced, and too sloppy for this purist.
The Happy-Go-Lucky Miss Ball: I agree with Mrs. F’s assessment of the hilariously melodramatic editing, but in general, I liked the whole product pretty well—it was certainly modern in feel, but not in a way that generally offended my not-very-strict sensibilities. I especially liked Romola Garai: she makes some fabulous faces, and her ability to both play and acknowledge awkward moments served her well in this particular instance. So, they certainly played fast and loose with the text, but I didn’t mind too much. Also, I sort of like Jonny Lee Miller in hero mode. (Less so in scoldish pet-owner mode.)
Miss Osborne: I ended up watching the rest of Emma this morning, and it almost made up for the earlier installments. With the exception of the sun rising over Emma and the unnecessary flashback of Frank Churchill leaving as a child, this installment was more thoughtful. I finally found myself rooting for Emma—for her emotional growth and the love between her and Mr. Knightley. Knightley, of course, is wonderful (though I think Jonny Lee Miller looks like a muppet when he’s not smiling). Unlike Mrs. F, I didn’t find him blustery in the Box Hill scene. He has every right to scold Emma, and I felt her pain. Hasn’t everyone been scolded at one point or another for doing something they knew was stupid? It hurts when someone you love is rightfully giving you the smack down. Overall, this mini-series was uneven, but the last hour was enjoyable.