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.
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
People, this is awesome. Have you seen this week’s New Yorker?
You all know Mr. Collins’s proposal. I know you do.
Turns out we—or I, at the very least—have been missing a whole joke all this time. Sure, it’s a super weird proposal. Sure, Mr. Collins’s priorities seem…unusual. But guess what? There’s a whole other layer of humor there, and it’s ALL BECAUSE OF THE ANGLICANS!
It all starts on page 76, toward the end of a review—if you can call it that—in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. (You know, as you do.)
Says the critic James Wood, “Every reader notes that the pompous parson neglects to mention love or even the happiness of the woman he wants to marry; every reader notes the sly vaudeville whereby Austen makes us think that Mr. Collins’s third reason for matrimony will be his most important (‘which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier’), only to have him announce that his third reason is the approval of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But how many readers note that this classic comedy is really a joke, from an Anglican vicar’s daughter, about the order of the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer?”
He’s totally right. He goes on to compare the substance and order of Mr. Collins’s talking points (1. A clergyman should set the example of marriage; 2. Marriage would make me happy; 3. THIS marriage would make Lady Catherine happy) with those of the church’s (1. The procreation of children; 2. Remedy against sin [apparently]; 3. Mutual society, help, and comfort—the “I GUESS” being heavily implied). “Thomas Cranmer’s words live on in Jane Austen’s,” says Wood, “even if not in the form he would have desired.”
Leave it to Jane to make Mr. Collins’s decision to speak, ever, into a double-decker joke AND a social statement; leave it to Jane to make a continually relevant joke out of a text that was antique even at the time; leave it to Jane to hit a little close to home for her own time and place. It never gets old, does it?
It’s all right, Cranmer. It could have happened to anybody.
Janely bits and bobs from around the Interwebs:
- PD James on crime, Jane, boobs, and death. Not necessarily in that order. Via the Guardian.
- Want a professional to tell you the story of Emma in the comfort of your very own home? No, not that guy. The Beeb (Radio Edition) has just kicked off a new dramatization; you can catch the first episode if you’re quick, and the second if you’re slow.
In which the plot of Mansfield Park actually begins, with much manipulating and private pouting and a whole lot of sitting on a bench, and we get to giggle and say “ha-ha” a lot. I am not going to shut up about this, just so you know.
• Of COURSE Edmund falls for a lady because of her harp. That is not a euphemism.
• I very much enjoyed Edmund and Mary’s exchange about the role of the church (and not ONLY because of the payoff when Edmund busts out with “…I’m going to be a minister; didn’t you know?”)—both as keen character development and an exploration of what might have been going on in Jane’s own head, faith-wise. From a character point of view, this conversation is a rather detailed and neon sign pointing out how ill-suited Edmund and Mary are, even when it comes to the basics of family life—which, of course, does approximately nothing to stop Edmund from abandoning Fanny (“but you’re so tiiiiired!”) and heading out for some hot under-tree-sitting. It’s obnoxious, of course, because we can see what a terrible couple they’d make, but it also rings terribly true—we’ve all been there, willing things to work out with someone who is clearly not the right person. Basically: ugh, Edmund, stop being such a HUMAN.
On the other hand, we have Jane playing dueling points of view on the role of the church, the graves of Scottish clergy, and the wisdom of having a whole chapel just for the family [NB: Terrible idea, obviously]. This interests me mostly because religion is so absent from most of Jane’s work—there’s church, of course, but mostly as a cultural institution and rarely in this much detail, and the devil’s-advocate quality of this passage struck me as a) pleasingly detailed and b) surprisingly modern. Iiinteresting!
• Do you know who I love? I love dumb, rich, earnest Mr. Rushworth. I do hope he gets to spend some quality time with his cousin, Mr. Collins.
• So Fanny sits there, stuck in the park, as everybody streams past her in a collective fit of mildly rebellious fence-climbing (“Oopsy daisy,” says Hugh Grant). We’re supposed to take this as…Fanny’s captivity? Fanny’s self-restraint? I suppose it’s the latter, though not in the heroic Elinor Dashwood sense. Fanny COULD hop the gate, like everybody else. She COULD leave when Mr. Rushworth shows up with the key. She WANTS to visit the knoll and talk about improvements, or whatever; it’s just that she doesn’t want to do any of those things without Edmund, which isn’t as attractive as the kind of restraint that comes from personal virtue or discipline. This, I think, is why we don’t like her—she won’t cross the fence even when the key is present.
• “…in danger of slipping into the ha-ha” may be the most wonderful phrase ever written. I am putting this at the top of my resume as we speak, right below my address and above the part where I list “sorting jelly beans into rainbow order” under my list of skills.
• More than you ever wanted to know about ha-has. So to speak.
For next week: Chapter 15, at LEAST. Possibly further! Or possibly we will be reading this book long into the future!
How’s it going, Mansfield folks?
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from everywhere else match wits and fists for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and possibly some Regency medical care for all your combat-induced wound-care needs!
Today’s contestants: Lady Catherine “You’re in MY House Now” de Bourgh, patroness to Mr. Collins and owner of many a fine staircase, and Violet “We Can’t Have Him Assassinated…I Suppose,” the Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of matriarchs and subject of many a Youtube mashup. Both get whatever they want! Both enjoy lording it over their inferiors—i.e., everybody! When they put up their dukes, whose pride will prevail?
In their corners:
The Dowager Countess of Grantham has a big-ass house, a large and accommodating family, and a stare that would melt steel. She’s Maggie Smith. She wears excellent hats and says whatever she wants, and the Internet loves her for it. She always wins the flower show…if you know what we mean.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh also has a big-ass house, plus a dreamy nephew. She hosts a mean dinner party. She says whatever she wants, and nobody says otherwise. She does whatever it takes to get what she wants.
The Dowager Countess has a granddaughter who killed a Turk with her lady parts, the constant glare of electricity burning her delicate eyes, and a bunch of random, sick commoners sleeping on cots in her parlor. It’s rather too much to bear, one thinks!
Lady Catherine? Two words: MR. COLLINS.
This is bound to be a down-and-dirty brawl, but the Dowager Countess takes it all: the crazy but compelling family, the edgy sense of humor, and the Internet obsession. This, of course, indicates an inevitable rematch, because Lady Catherine does NOT take this business lying down. (She might, however, settle for marrying her sad, sickly daughter off to Matthew. Because THAT’s going to go over well.)
It’s that time of year again. Yeah, that’s right . . . it’s not even Thanksgiving, and Christmas songs are on the radio and glittering lights are out on the streets. In case you’re like me and haven’t started buying holiday gifts yet, here are some suggestions.
Are you tired of searching through the piles and piles of holiday cards at Target? Try these handmade Regency Christmas Cards from Etsy:
Looking for some new wall art to remind everyone that you (heart) libraries? Try this photo of Bath (Circulating Library and Reading Room) from Etsy:
And for the bookworm who has everything, how about this Pride and Prejudice necklace from Etsy:
Jane and data mining: could there be a less appealing hobby to do with a more appealing subject?
Microsoft scientist Matthew Hurst has combined our favorite topic with perhaps our least favorite topic to create something downright cool (and not inappropriate for my art-starved new apartment, hint hint): visualizations of various novels, notably Pride and Prejudice, with certain key terms highlighted and color-coded. Need to know exactly how many times Mr. Collins makes his most awkward appearance in P&P? You’re in luck: Hurst has highlighted the relevant paragraphs in purple, notable (though not readable) at a glance. He’s also done Emma and Churchill (turquoise) and Sense and Sensibility and Willoughby (yellow); apparently he has a fondness for the non-hero. Which I, being a bit of a closet fan of Mr. Collins, certainly am in no position to judge.
Enjoy, all you modern-design-obsessed, Austen-loving mathletes! I know you’re out there.
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!
Recently I went to a conversation between William “Bill” Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, and Karen “Karen” Joy Fowler, author of Jane Austen Book Club. There were about 15 of us there at Books, Inc in Berkeley, and OK, it was almost a month ago (don’t you just love instant reporting on the Internet?), but it was really cool! It was like hanging out with all you dear readers, all of us gabbing about Austen, all of us being surprised at just how differently we see the books. One of those, you know, life metaphors.
Here’s a few of the things we talked about. And because I think of you all as my Jane Austen friends, I’d love to hear what you think about any of them.
- The way that the humor of the books is generally lacking in the movies, and if this could be remedied. I and a few others said, yes, it could, but those movies would not be the rather swooshy pink rom-coms lots of people want from their Austen films. (Talk about irony . . . .) How you would do this I’m not sure, being better at watching movies than making them. Any ideas out there?
- Secularism in Jane Austen—how church and religion are hardly ever mentioned in her books, yet she was the daughter of a clergyman, etc, etc. And how the clergymen run the gamut from Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars to Mr. Collins and back again. Now my own take is that church and the clergy were such a ubiquitous part of Austen’s life that she hardly ever thought to comment on them, and that she saw the clergy in particular as just a bunch of guys. What do you think?
- Bill said that widowhood and loss are a theme in Persuasion. I’m not so sure. He pointed out that most of the characters are widows or widowers, which is true. Anne’s loss of Captain Wentworth and other losses do play a role, but as Miss Ball argued, the recovery of love and happiness is crucial to the book (and is significantly lacking in widowhood). And the way Austen treats the widows and losers of Persuasion, other than Anne, is not really very sympathetic. Like the clergy, I would venture to say that they were just more common in an age of earlier deaths. But it is an interesting thought.
- So was Karen’s comment that Mrs. Smith is a rather sinister character—she doesn’t tell Anne how wicked Mr. Elliot is until after Anne declares she won’t marry him. This is a common problem in friendship, though, isn’t it? In my own circle I know of two instances of one person on the brink of a disastrous marriage and their friend deciding whether or not to say something. One friend did, the other didn’t (having already made her opinions known). It didn’t make a difference in either case, and both couples are now divorced. Aside from the fact that it had never occurred to me that Mrs. Smith was sinister, this discussion pointed out parallels in Austen’s books to my own life that I hadn’t even thought of!
- One person asked how reading Jane Austen has enlivened your life. Do you think and act differently because of her? Karen said she suffered fools better than she used to, enjoyed them even! And Bill said she’d made him able to admit the possibility of his being wrong. For myself, I think that I started reading Austen young enough (~13) that she helped shape my entire outlook on life, both my morals and my ever-present sense of irony. Though I also simply felt that I had found a friend.
What about you? How has reading Jane Austen enlivened your life? Has she changed you?