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?
“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.”
Why, Colonel Brandon! How nice of you to drop by! And may I say how dashing you look—I’m sure Mrs. Brandon is quite proud! I didn’t know colonels could be promoted to admirals—I thought admirals were navy only? … Oh, really? How kind of Miss Austen!
And this must be Captain Picard, I mean, Wentworth, of course! A natural for the admiralty! Do I think Persuasion is ripe for a slightly more … mature… adaptation? Is it me, or is it getting very warm in here? Miss Osborne? Oh, she’s fainted. Miss Ball, stick a pillow under her head, would you?
Mr. Downey, do you know I don’t know why you have that on at all. Is it Iron Man, or Sherlock Holmes, or just some cosplay? Oh, Mr. Wickham makes admiral, does he? Anything is possible, I guess. And, uh, I think I finally see Lydia’s point. So! Moving on!
Did I just say anything is possible? I take it back. Shatner, stop staring at me like that or I’ll push you into the ha-ha. What? You’re Mary and Henry Crawford’s uncle? The Admiral Crawford who’s steeped in sin and vice? I certainly can believe it! Now I understand their messed up personalities so much better!
SO nice of you to call, gentlemen! Do stop by anytime you’re passing. We love us some gold tassels around here.
Photo credit: I don’t know who to credit for this, but would love to, as it’s awesome! Let us know if you do.
This Thursday it will be a year since my beloved Mr. Fitzpatrick died. I am finding myself in much the same position Austen was when her family moved to Bath and her father died: just not in the mood to write. So, I give you instead Mr. Fitzpatrick’s favorite Austenacious post, originally published last May.
You are in a car going @#&%$* mph on Interstate 5 towards Los Angeles. An officer pulls you over and asks, “What’s the reason for your speed today, miss?” What do you say?
Mrs. Bennet: Mr. Bingley is come! He is indeed! Officer, hurry up, can’t you?
Mr. Bingley: My ideas flow so rapidly that they make me drive very very fast.
Mr. Bennet: I thought I saw Mr. Collins in my rear-view mirror. And don’t call me “miss.”
Mr. Collins: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my eminent patroness, most urgently desired me to find a wife, and I have heard there are many fine young ladies in Los Angeles.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Sir! How dare you question me! I shall make sure you NEVER find a wife!
Mr. Darcy: I saw Mr. Wickham tailgating a young lady, and was about to perform a citizen’s arrest. Or make him marry her, if necessary.
Mr. Wickham: I thought I saw Mr. Darcy in my rear-view mirror.
Lydia and Kitty Bennet: We were in search of officers! And it looks like we found one!
Elizabeth Bennet: I do apologize, officer. My sisters just don’t stop making trouble. I have to run after them all the time.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
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.
Recently I’ve been pondering this quote from Northanger Abbey, which is surprising full of clothes.
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.
Do women like their friends to look shabby, worse than them? Obviously, women these days fall on a broad spectrum of caring about their appearance, but I think the more a woman cares about her appearance, the more she cares about her friends’ appearances, and the more she wants them to look fashionable (whether goth, moth, preppy, etc), so as not to embarrass her. I think wanting to look better than your friends is on a different axis altogether, one more to do with self-confidence and all that. We probably need a graph or a Venn diagram to settle the question, and an Internet quiz you can take. Maybe later.
Having come to that conclusion, I think Jane Austen was there ahead of me, and she was talking about a frivolous b-word like Isabella Thorpe, and not any of us. Oh no. We are nice girls, and not being as innocent as Catherine Morland, we know quite well what men want to see in our clothes. Jane Austen, for all her delicacy, is perfectly clear about it, and so is Mrs. Bennet of all people. I present to you, in fact, what Mr. Wickham was no doubt thinking when Lydia “tucked a little lace.” Note, this is NOT safe for work!
There was an article in yesterday’s Telegraph—an advice column, I think—that, quite simply, erases the entire section of the space-time continuum between the Regency and the twenty-first century. It’s easy: snip-snip, stick-stick, and here we are! The link has disappeared, but some inquiring British mind wanted to know:
How can I stop village gossips from talking about me?
First of all, you have village gossips? That’s so cool! Man, between Cadbury chocolate and this, England’s kicking our butts, awesome-wise.
Also, based on her experiences with people doing ridiculous things—or not—and then getting talked about, I think Jane might have some suggestions for you:
- If he seems cute and nice, run away. And we don’t mean with him—clearly he’s run off with some fifteen-year-old’s honor, lied about wanting to be a priest (avoid that lightning bolt), is drowning in gambling debts, and is also hitting on your sister.
- If you’re male, be poor. If you can’t be poor, don’t talk about your salary. For, you know, whatever it is you do all day.
- If you have sisters, try to be the least awful one. Do you really ever hear anybody talking about poor Kitty?
- Don’t marry a creep just for the sake of marrying, Charlotte.
- Don’t horn in on a rich old lady’s plans for her studly and equally rich nephew. News does tend to travel.
If these seem unmanageable, well, maybe you deserve a bit of chatter. Or you can just take the opposite tack: do what you want, see what happens, and get somebody to write a timeless novel about you.
That’s gotta shut ‘em up.
Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, of disputed causes, making this the 193rd anniversary of her death. Is it weird that we haven’t seen a book yet with Jane Austen as a ghost, ala Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter? We’ve been through swathes of the Austen undead without coming to this fairly obvious choice. Is it passe, perhaps? Rather than having a vampire Austen chomping on wine and chocolate, how about a ghostly Austen flitting through a Gothic story or setting, making sure all the mysteriously locked chests are only filled with laundry lists? I could go for that.
Or what about a banshee Austen shrieking when people misunderstand her take on marriage, again? Psst! Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was doomed because they got married out of lust and boredom, not because they got married quickly. And actually, it wasn’t all that quickly. Jane would have agreed that you should marry the “right” person (duh), but it’s a considerable leap from that to hustling to the church/registry office/destination wedding with any old man you happen to pick up. Quoth Charlotte Lucas, “It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and we all know how she fared at the marriage market.
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. We were discussing sarcastic ghosts who make fun of the Gothic, and ironic banshees. Let’s see, what else has been missed? We could make a case for Jane Austen, Necromancer, raising armies of spin-offs, but I think my favorite glimpse of Jane Austen’s life after death comes from E.M. Forster, in “The Celestial Omnibus.” Jane drives a carriage to heaven. And it’s not a barouche-landau.
Photo: The ghost of Barbara Radziwiłł, by Wojciech Gerson.
Guess what? Austenacious is going to the West Hollywood Book Fair! We would love to hook up with any of our LA fans at the Fair on September 26, 2010. (Well, or have tea, I mean.) We are so excited about this event! We even hope to have delicious new swag out to test your pocketbooks. But mostly we’d just like to see you.
Based on my previous experiences at the West Hollywood Book Fair and the inclusion of Austenacious at this year’s event, we might expect, among other delights, Zombiefied Regency figures posing for pictures with tourists, and children acting out Pride and Prejudice in their own words. “Hi my name is George Wickham and I look nice, but I’m evil!” I wouldn’t even be too surprised to see panels on new possible avenues for Austenploitation, and Carol Channing and Reza Aslan in conversation with Jane Austen about seances and big hair in the Middle East. Given the incredible confluence of different worlds at the Book Fair, our minds actually boggle at what might come of it all. We can’t wait!
Hope to see you there!
Photo credit: ©2009 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Miss Osborne asks: Why does everyone go to Gretna Green to get married?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s short answer: Vegas, baby—Vegas!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s longer answer: Miss Osborne is really asking why everyone who elopes does the deed in Gretna Green. Or at least, why does everyone assume that eloping couples have fled to Gretna Green? The only Austen couple I can recall who actually make it there are Julia Bertram and Captain Yates (whose rates were smaller than his rants—good one, Miss Crawford. ). Everyone thinks Wickham and Lydia have gone there, but actually they went to London. I mean, why Gretna Green? Why not Penzance or Stonehenge or Edinburgh?
This really is a Vegas thing. Gretna Green was the first village you got to in Scotland along the road at that time. And Scotland makes it easier to get married than England does. You don’t have to hang around for 21 days being “in residence” and you don’t need your parents’ consent. You don’t even need a priest or a church. All you need is two witnesses, a blacksmith, and an anvil! Woohoo! Elvis impersonators are optional.