“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.”
Good news, beloved readers! We’ve found something to ward off those post-Austen’s-birthday blues: the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. Our lovely and talented fellow blogger (blogress?) Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose.com is editing a new anthology of fiction inspired by Jane, and she and The Republic of Pemberley want everyone to get in on the game. Enter your story in January or February, and then vote on your favorites. The Grand Prize winner gets included in the anthology! (And no, this doesn’t count as vanity publishing, as far as we can tell.) So . . . in that spirit I would like to offer a little holiday mash-up of my own.
The Nutcracker, by Jane Austen
Little Clara Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t expect too much from the Christmas assembly family party ball at Netherfield. A chance to be witty, some animated dolls, and a few partners in the Grand Dance, that’s it. However, her deus ex machina, Jane Drosselmeyer, has other plans: She gives Lizzie a Nutcracker, of all things. Despite its stiffness and unresponsiveness, Lizzie finds the Nutcracker mysteriously attractive, as does everyone else. (The Nutcracker must have at least ten thousand a year.) Everyone wants a piece of him, but nobody gets results until Lizzie’s bratty little brother(-in-law . . . to be), Fritz Wickham, grabs the Nutcracker and breaks him in two!—or his reputation at least.
Then, Lizzie has a dream in which she visits Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, and Rosings Park. (You didn’t think she’d go see Mr. Collins while she was awake, did you?) Colonel Mouse King Fitzwilliam and his minions, the Mice of Doubt and Listening to Gossip, almost manage to kill the wounded Nutcracker entirely, and he himself takes a kamikaze marriage proposal run. BUT, just when you think the Nutcracker is down for the count, he writes a letter to Lizzie and gets her to read it/hit the Mouse King with a slipper/fire a cannon at him. And then the Nutcracker springs up, he slays the Mice of Doubt, he takes off his head, and ta-da! he turns into Colin Firth!
Now I know this is just sounding more and more improbable. But it is a dream after all. So bear with me.
After all these revelations, both Lizzie and Mr. Darcy spend the winter in thought. He’s relieved to finally be a human being, and to not have a papier mache head anymore, but . . . she doesn’t hate him anymore, but . . . In some thoughts they might dance together, in others there might just be snow. Thus, intermission.
Miss Drosselmeyer Austen, having given everyone time to go to the bathroom, decides to send Lizzie off to Pemberley, presided over by the Sugar Plum Fairy Housekeeper. Mr. Darcy appears, as does most of the cast of Act I in slightly different clothing. Pemberley provides lots of food for thought for Lizzie, all of it yummy: Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, Russian candy canes, Danish marzipan shepherdesses. There’s also polichinelles that live under a drag queen’s skirt (Miss Bingley and her neverending drama), and flowers, tons and tons of flowers. The gardens of Pemberley are famous, are they not?
All this sweetness and light convinces Lizzie that Mr. Darcy is the man/prince/alien-with-two-heads for her. However, there’s a lot of serious dancing to get through yet—a sort of back and forth, moral agonizing about who’s done what, does s/he really love me, and all that. In the end, though, as we knew it would be, Lizzie runs to Mr. Darcy, he scoops her up and gets a mouthful of tutu (Mrs. Bennet), and they live happily ever after.
. . . Or do they? . . . Sometimes Lizzie wakes up from her dream, and realizes she’s back at home, with her Nutcracker toy and no prince at all. Sometimes she doesn’t . . . The top is still spinning. Will it stop? . . .
Photo credit: ©2010 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
The book describes the dress as something that “stepped out of an [Jane] Austen movie,” meaning very Victorian; lots of lace, mounds of tulle and slightly overworked.
NO, IT BLOODY WELL DOES NOT MEAN THAT! Could you go learn some effing history, already? Jane Austen was NOT NOT NOT a Victorian! How many times do I have to tell you?! I may be slightly overworked at this time, but Austen’s clothes were not.
Whew. OK, calming down now. But clothes are important, my friends, really they are. Jane Austen and her beautifully warm and rational heroines wore simple, rational clothes. Victorian thought and Victorian clothes were lots more about emotion and repressions. It’s just a totally different world. Maybe we don’t think Regency clothes were simple and rational, but they did. We think a) They look good wet; and/or b) Boobs! but then so did they. No really. At least these days filmmakers can get the look of the clothes right, even if they miss on when those clothes would come off. (The pond scene . . . not so much. Sorry, everyone!)
Jane Austen said a lot about her characters through their clothes. Think of Lady Catherine, who “will not think less of you for being simply dressed. She likes to see the distinction of rank preserved.” Or think of Mrs. Elton, going on about her fancy new gown, but, oh, she has such a horror of being “fine!” (OK, maybe Bella will wear Mrs. Elton’s wedding dress. Poor girl.) We don’t think Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney are silly for talking about muslin, though maybe Henry talking about it is meant to show that Catherine and Mrs. Allen are silly. And I entirely sympathize with Catherine for thinking Henry looks so handsome in his greatcoat! But Isabella Thorpe reveals her scheming mind by plotting what she and Catherine will wear, and dear Mrs. Bennet shows her silliness when she’s crying to Mrs. Gardiner about all their troubles one minute and being cheered up by the news of “long sleeves” the next. And let’s not even get started about Miss Bingley’s rants about certain people’s muddy petticoats!
The moral of all these stories seems to be: you should look good, but not look like you thought about it much. Not like you tried too hard. And is that not the very essence of cool?