I have to tell you, readers, that when I visited my local Anthropologie today, I was not looking for books. (I was, in fact, looking for a sale-priced cocktail dress, and I found one! Friends with upcoming weddings: I will not be arriving in the nude. You’re so welcome.) But: there were books. There were these books:
And also THESE books:
Surreptitious iPhone photos aside, aren’t they just about the loveliest? They’re Penguin Classics hardcovers with covers designed by Mr. Boddington’s Studio, and let me just recommend that you don’t click that link, because if you do, all your money are belong to them. No, actually, DO click that link and check out their lookbook, and then wonder why you are not currently getting married in a picturesque ceremony in Italy/Minneapolis/the Rocky Mountains/a ranch on the California coast. Not that I would spend half an hour doing exactly that. Noooope. Not this girl.
Anyway, I don’t know about you, readers, but I am a picky lady when it comes to covers—especially covers for classics. The truth is that I don’t own a complete set of Austen’s novels, in part because I can’t commit to a cover design. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle movie tie-in version, and I’m not sure how that happened—I think it must have been a gift. I love it for sentimental reasons, but it’s ugly. And oh, my library-paperback copy of Emma provokes such internal conflict (much like Miss Woodhouse herself)! It’s hot pink, and clearly intended to snare unknowing chick-lit fans trawling the stacks. It is simultaneously better-looking than many other library copies, and a little offensive to my smart-lady sensibilities. I see what you’re doing there, library, and I’m not sure whether I like it. But I’m going to keep reading.
The recent smattering of well-designed Penguin Classics and other versions helps all this. And, really, these may be my Platonic classics covers, especially the Sense and Sensibility—I feel like that lovely design is going to age well. But the question remains: will I replace my ugly P&P with one that’s prettier but hasn’t traveled through life with me? Will I buy a stylish copy of Mansfield Park (I borrowed Miss Osborne’s copy for last year’s read-along; she read along on her iPad like the tech ninja she is) that I’ll hate in ten years? Why do I even care?
So, readers, tell me: what editions of Austen do you have? Which editions of Austen do you WANT? Or are you above all that and just in it for the language? Hit me.
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
Austenacious readers, today’s post is not for you. Today’s post is for your loved ones—those wishing/required to give you a gift this holiday season. Specifically, those hoping not to find themselves in a picked-over Walgreens on Christmas Eve (or, you know, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa Eve), weighing the costs and benefits of a pair of LED-lighted Babylon 5 socks. So just hand this on over to them, and you’re welcome.
To the friends and family of the reader at hand, it’s nice to meet you. We’re here to help—we’ve scouted the coolest, funniest, prettiest, and Jane-iest stuff at our beloved Etsy and laid it out here for all your gift-giving needs. We recommend shopping early, as shipping time is of the essence, but we hope you’ll find what you’re looking for and give the Austen fan in your life something a little special to get excited about this season.
Students of modern typography and/or fictional geography, take heart! Brooke and Justin made you a shirt. From Longbourn all the way to Pemberley, this top is stylish and modern, and also offers endless chances to say to yourself, “IN CHEAPSIDE!” (Austenites, you know what I mean. Confused non-Austenites, nothing to see here. Except a really cool shirt that your loved one will wear all the time.)
Are you looking for a way to show your lady friend how much you care? Has it been more than half a decade? Are you handsome, and basically a friendly pirate? This print commemorating the proposal of Captain Frederick Wentworth to his once and future intended, Anne Elliot, should do the trick. Also comes in black on white.
Wrap your favorite Austenite in romantic angst this holiday season. Like, literally. Around the neck. But not like a psychopath! More like a Naval captain who’s been pining for his ex-girlfriend, who has, thankfully, been pining right back. Does that sound good? Then give someone this scarf. Also comes in Darcy’s proposal.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady in possession of a sense of adventure (so, not Fanny Price) must be in want of a nine-hundred-year-old anthropomorphic alien to whisk her around time and space in a blue police box and then probably be separated from her in some amazingly poetic and heartbreaking manner. At least, we THINK that’s how the saying goes. Anyway, anybody who loves Elizabeth Bennet AND Doctor Who cannot go wrong with this set of prints commemorating their theoretical meeting.
For all the essentials: pragmatic elder sister, romantic younger sister, handsome tool, guy who regrets promising himself to someone else, older gentleman who doesn’t mind an age difference. Also keys, phone, wallet, lip gloss, mints, emergency earrings, tiny notebook of mostly to-do lists and brunch menus, The New Yorker, half-empty tub of hummus. (Just me, then?) Also comes in Persuasion and, for the heavy packer in your life, Seven Novels.
Good job, guys! According to a study by people who track library loans, Pride and Prejudice is the most loaned classic in the UK! (Wuthering Heights is #2.) Jane takes three more of the top 20 spots as well:
- #8 Emma
- #11 Sense and Sensibility
- #17 Northanger Abbey
The Telegraph‘s article says, “The study involves a comparison of lending data from Britain’s libraries for 50 classics by British and Irish authors from the literary canon from the early 1990s, a decade ago, and last year.”
Mission #1: People of Britain, read more Austen! I want to see Persuasion and Mansfield Park on this list next time too. We can’t leave Anne Elliot out in the cold and Fanny Price sitting on her bench, now can we?? And let’s get those other numbers up, too. (Special Sneak Preview: Austenacious will do our part by hosting another read-a-long soon!) People of Not Britain: don’t think I’m not watching you too!
Also according to The Telegraph, “Works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and EM Forster have seen their popularity plummet over the last two decades . . ..”
I’m not going to say a word for Thomas Hardy. (Anyone want to take that on in the comments?) But, EM Forster, you guys! I love EM Forster. A Room With a View, anyone? Howards End? So beautiful! So smart! The article says maybe Austen got more popular because of the adaptations, and because of her “rather too light, bright, sparkling tone.” (Though George Orwell also got more popular, and he’s, like, super-funny, right?)
Forster is comic, just as much as Austen, so maybe we need more adaptations? I love the 1985 version of A Room with a View—Helena Bonham Carter, before she was crazy! Naked guys! … Good lord, has it really been that long? IMDB says there’s also a 2007 version, which I completely missed. Have any of you seen it? Thoughts? We could do better, though, right?
For Howards End there’s just the 1992 version with Emma Thompson. I’m conflicted here—I really don’t think this book is adaptable. But if anyone wants to have a go, feel free!
Then there’s our girl George Eliot. I’ll admit I’ve only ever read Middlemarch, and I only read that because of the 1994 version. (See, TV adaptations pay off!) Middlemarch is pretty awesome—though it’s not as joyous as Austen and Forster, it does have depth, without being as, um, self-conscious as the Brontës. Do we want a new Middlemarch adaptation? But Rufus Sewell and Colin’s brother Jonathon are so cute… Juliet Aubrey is so Dorothea…. I don’t know. What do you all think?
Mission #2: People of Britain and Not Britain, read more Forster! Read more Eliot! Demand quality adaptations, or make your own crazy vlogs! Or both! Think, live, breathe fiction!
P.S. (Mission #3: Contemplate Colin Firth’s legs.)
Photo credit: dbking. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
I gotta tell you guys: I am having a Sense and Sensibility THING.
Do you all do this? A few years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read Pride and Prejudice, watched the Keira Knightley version, watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary, watched THAT movie a hundred million couple of times, sought out Bride and Prejudice…there are just a lot of Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there, and I watched and read a bunch of them, is what I’m saying. (I did not watch the 1980 BBC version, as this was before the days of this site and I didn’t know any better, but I want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to know that I hear her exasperation in my head retroactively.)
That was awhile back. Where this new Sense and Sensibility yen came from, I couldn’t say, but here we are.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I think, I skipped the actual novel this time; I’ve read it relatively recently, and decided to opt for Netflix and instant gratification instead. And, okay, the pickings for Sense and Sensibility adaptations are slimmer than they are for Pride and Prejudice, but I think what Sense and Sensibility lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: the modern adaptations of it are both excellent. (The other option here is From Prada to Nada, which I haven’t seen, but which has jumped up the Netflix queue in recent weeks.)
I don’t own a single adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which now strikes me as completely insane. Why don’t I keep the Emma Thompson version on hand? I love the Emma Thompson version! (Fun fact: I have a clear memory of seeing it in the theater, then promptly and enthusiastically re-creating the entire plot for a friend the next day. This is, of course, why I’m so great at parties.) Being from the mind and the pen of Thompson herself, it understandably does many many things well; despite the 90210-ing of several actors’ ages, she makes it work (mostly). Elinor’s freakout at the end, in particular, never fails to impress.
(Speaking of the aging-up of actors, both modern adaptations cast Colonel Brandon as significantly older than he is in the book—fifty-one for Alan Rickman and forty-four for David Morrissey—which I think makes cultural sense, considering the shift in life expectancies since the good old days. Otherwise, the old dude is, like, Ryan Gosling or something.)
I remember liking the 2008 version very much…and then never tracking it down again. I’m now about halfway through, and enjoying it completely—among other things, it’s from that post-Ruth Wilson Jane Eyre period where the BBC decided to get with the times, visually, and it’s both true to the novel (despite some dialogue modernization magic on Andrew Davies’s part) and modern enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’m particularly loving Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood and the girl who plays Margaret—Lucy Boynton, IMDB tells me, and she is comic gold here—and I have to say that if anybody is going to make a better Edward Ferrars than a young Hugh Grant(!), I think it has to be a young and extremely floppy-haired Dan Stevens, playing to type in the best way possible. (Will Edward and Elinor ever be able to express their sweet selves properly and live happily ever after? Don’t tell me how it ends!) (Poor Marianne. I love her, but I’m such a fan of Elinor that I tend to overlook her a bit. Also, ever since Miss Osborne brought it up, I’ve been a little horrified that she ends up with only a nice, relatively happy marriage to the good Colonel.)
Since I took up this new, uh, interest, I’ve been thinking about what makes Sense and Sensibility such a crowd-pleaser. Why do I recommend it to so many new Austen readers? Why does it lend itself to such good adaptations? But also, why is it similar to Pride and Prejudice but always a little in its shadow? My current theories have to do with the simplicity of the story and the relatively small cast of characters (compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park); it’s a pleasant story with something for everybody, regardless of temperament; on the other hand, maybe neither Elinor nor Marianne carries as much sparkle as Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t know. So many thoughts! What do you think, readers?
Let’s face it: the range of Austenian Halloween costumes for ladies is not that great. Like, congratulations! You have a lovely empire-waist gown and a spencer! You are…one of any number of unidentifiable Regency characters? No clever object costumes, either—bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, as I imagine the Sound of Music folks would do, assuming there are in fact Sound of Music folks out there (who aren’t also attending the sing-along)—which brings up a whole thing about the relative unimportance of objects, symbolic or otherwise, in Jane’s work, but we’re not here to talk about objects symbolic or otherwise. We’re here to talk about Halloween.
(Somewhat ironically for a writer whose works are so generally female-centric, more recognizable male-oriented costumes spring to mind. Wear a pink cloak and be Mr. Rushworth! And of course, all glory, laud, and honor to any man who has the foresight to wear wet breeches and a soaked shirt and call himself Mr. Darcy.)
In any case, may we offer a few last-minute costume ideas for the Regency-attired?
- Action Jane
White dress, green spencer, plastic face—or at the very least, painted-on smile. Arms that bend only in unnatural ways. Photo album of all your adventures?
- Kitty Bennet
Be as suggestible as possible. Cough.
- Fanny Price
Sit on a bench somewhere, preferably near a locked gate. Disapprove.
- Marianne Dashwood
Tumble down a hill; if nobody handsome appears, lather, rinse, repeat. (Liability? What liability?)
I feel like I’m missing someone. Who am I missing?
(Also, we might judge you just a skosh for adding “slutty” to any of these costumes…but then, you don’t have to tell us.)
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?
Welcome, yogis, to Jane-asana, and thank you for taking this time out of your day to do something good for your body and spirit. Today we’ll be focusing on core strength, flexibility, and deep truths about life and love, while finding our inner plucky heroines and searching for love among our intellectual and emotional equals. Any requests today? Handsome scoundrels? Yes—I think we can work that in.
Cow Pose: Kneel on all fours. Inhaling, drop the belly, finding a back bend and allowing your head to rise last. Make mean comments about the countryside and about your crush’s crush’s dirty hem. Find yourself summarily smacked down, to the remorse of absolutely nobody.
Peaceful Warrior (for Colonel Brandon): With one leg bent deeply and the other straight and strong through the knee, windmill your arms up to horizontal for Warrior II pose. With the breath and finding a back bend, drop the back arm down the hamstring and raise the front arm vertically, as if it were a bow. Wear flannel waistcoats, provide for the abandoned illegitimate daughter of another man, and eventually marry a much younger woman, whom you love for her emotional acuity.
Wild Thing Pose: Beginning in Downward Dog, flip your dog by lifting one hand and flipping upside down in the opposite direction, supporting yourself in a back bend with both feet and the remaining hand. Extend the leg on the same side as the supporting hand, and with the non-supporting hand, make a clawing motion. Run off to Scotland with a handsome scoundrel, only to return and brag obliviously to your sisters when he’s been forced to marry you. Hope for the best.
“Captain Wentworth is on a” Boat Pose: Sit with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend one leg and then the other, shifting your weight backwards so that your torso and upper legs form a V and your lower legs are parallel to the ground. Lift one arm and then the other to extend alongside your legs parallel to the ground. Pine. Repeat for seven years, then return to check out the situation with the girl you secretly wanted to marry this whole time.
Corpse Pose (Mrs. Woodhouse-asana/Mr. Dashwood-asana): Settle onto your back with the legs as wide as your mat, allowing the feet to splay sideways. Allow the arms to fall at a forty-five-degree angle to the body, or, if it helps you to connect with your inner Mrs. Woodhouse, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Allow the spine to become long, tucking your chin slightly. Remain here until your daughter marries a nice but vaguely judgmental young man. And, well, beyond.
“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 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.”