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.
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.
I know Mother’s Day was three whole days ago. My mom and I spent the day together—in Idaho, in fact—until I got on a plane and she and my dad hopped in the car and started driving to California. But it seems that 2012 is the Year of Mom and Jane Austen, and so here we are. It’s Wednesday, but hey, I can still talk about my mom.
I mentioned it briefly during the read-along, but my mother read Mansfield Park along with the rest of the Austen Nation. (She even commented semi-anonymously, like the ninja she is, on one of our read-along posts! Can you spot the rogue parent?) It was her first time—not just her first time reading The Chronicles of Fanny and her Ha-Ha, but her first time reading Austen, period. Shortly afterwards, she joined my Beloved Sisters and me for the second half of Pride and Prejudice and immediately absconded with Miss Osborne’s DVDs, which were apparently better than the identical set that lived on her daughter’s bookshelf from late 2009 through the middle of 2011.
People, I think we have a new member of the cult. I mean, family.
According to mom, that Henry Crawford wasn’t such a bad guy until the whole wife-stealing thing. That was unexpected, but anyway, Maria and Julia weren’t very nice anyway. But before that, why was she so set against him? HE WAS NICE. And why do they call this a romance, again?
Also, Mrs. Bennet is hilarious and having to choose between never speaking to her mother again and never speaking to her father again is great. But is Jane supposed to be prettier than Lizzy? Because that woman looks like a man. And wait, what actor is that? Oh, right, Colin Firth. I liked him in The King’s Speech.
Rumor has it she might pick up Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice (the novel) (though I keep trying to press the Keira Knightley movie on her, for Colin Firth/Matthew McFadyen comparison purposes) next. I promise to stand supportively by, books in hand. Happy reading, Mom!
What is Mother’s Day without fondly remembering the times when our mothers were looking out for our best interests? Mrs. Bennet certainly took great pains to ensure the future happiness of all of her daughters. When Jane asked for the carriage to visit the Bingley sisters, Mrs. Bennet replied, “No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” Always thinking ahead, that Mrs. B. And she wasn’t wrong, was she?
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I have collected some wisdom bestowed on me and my friends by our dear mothers.
On marriage prospects…
• When you get on the plane, you have to be nice if there is a man sitting next to you. He might be single and marry you.
• The entire family is going to fast for one meal every day until you find someone and get married.
• After receiving an email saying I was dating someone, her response was, “I’m so happy! I’ve been praying for this for so long!”
On personal safety…
• No, you can’t go to the New Kids on the Block concert. If you were to go to a concert, you’d probably stand up on a chair to see better. Then you might fall off the chair and break you neck!
• Whatever you do, don’t try on clothes in a Parisian boutique. If you do, you will be abducted and sold into white slavery in Saudi Arabia! I read about it in a magazine.
On the lack of hardiness of subsequent generations…
• Your Great Grandmother Lizzy would wipe her arse with a broken gin bottle.
On becoming a lady of musical accomplishment…
• Don’t bother playing those country songs. Just scream rock ‘n’ roll and kick up your leg and shake your bum!
On the importance of an heir…
• Just get pregnant, you don’t have to get married. I want great grandchildren.
• What? Why would you adopt? You don’t know where that baby came from! If you can’t find a husband, just go out and get pregnant. (Note: This occurred when I was in my 30s.)
On appropriate clothing…
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.
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.
Send us your questions! Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike. “Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick” will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in “What Would Jane Do?” Write to us using the contact form on the About page. We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Susan D. asks: The Burning Question. Anyone who spent their formative years reading Georgette Heyer and rounding them off forever with Jane Austen understands that, the tyranny of patriarchy and primogeniture being what they are, it is the Male Heir who must inherit an entailed estate. Not only male himself, but male in his antecedents. Why then does the heir to Longbourn bear the name Collins? Clearly, he has some distaff in his Bennet family history, perhaps Mr. Bennet’s grandfather’s sister’s grandson. That being the case, why wouldn’t a son of one of the girls, a wee Wickham or a baby Bingley or darling Darcy, be prime heir material here? I’ve always wondered. Help me sleep at night, dear Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Ooh, Miss Susan, that’s a tricky one! I used to feel superior to Mrs. Bennet when “Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason . . .”, but having looked into the subject, I feel a new sympathy for her. Luckily, our friends on the Austen-L mailing list (hosted at The Republic of Pemberley) have delved into this question already. Briefly, you are right that if all the strict-male-line heirs have died out, precedence is given to the estate owner’s daughters—the Bennet sisters—rather than to the sons of his sisters, his cousins, or his aunts. (The sons of the Bennet girls aren’t relevant, though I must say my blood runs cold at the thought of a wee Wickham!) Therefore, Mr. Collins is not Mr. Bennet’s grandfather’s sister’s grandson.
So, the Austen-L’s conclude, either one of Mr. Bennet’s male ancestors or one of Mr. Collins’s male ancestors must have changed his name on receiving an inheritance. This was not so uncommon; it happened three times in Jane Austen’s immediate family. The very emphasis on “passing on the name” that entails emphasize meant that people would cheat by adopting a boy and having him change his name. Like Frank Churchill in Emma, whose father was Mr. Weston but who was adopted by the Churchills and became their heir. This leads me to wonder whether Frank would also inherit Mr. Weston’s property if the second Mrs. Weston had a son. Is Frank legally a Weston and a Churchill? Hmm . . .
Actually, I would guess that Jane Austen, having this option open to her, preferred not to have two characters named Mr. Bennet. So there you have it. Sleep well, Miss Susan!
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.
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?
Image credit: Dolley Madison, c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart.
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!