Austen & Me, Then & Now

So yesterday was Jane Austen’s birthday in New Zealand. And today is Jane Austen’s birthday in most other places. Therefore, this post is still valid.

Now that we’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, we can move on. As a way of celebrating Austen’s birthday, I decided to write this completely self-indulgent post. I love looking back on books and authors I love(d) and see how my feelings have changed. Of course, I still adore Austen. She is the kind of aunt that everyone wants – witty, wise and totally ok with letting you have a bit of fun without ratting you out to the parents.

But my feelings for some of her characters have undergone changes over the years, and it always interests me how books do that. Or rather, I guess, it’s the books staying the same, and you changing. Anyways, without further ado, let’s flick through her novels, shall we? (Be warned, here be spoilers.)

Pride and Prejudice

Then: When I first came across P&P, I was maybe fourteen or fifteen. I found it boring and dull, and I’m pretty sure I called Lizzie silly. Also I remember proclaiming this very loudly in a library so I can’t believe I’m still alive to tell the tale. Not to mention I hadn’t even read the novel, yet. So this judgement was being passed with nothing to stand on. What a brat.

Now: I still think Lizzie is silly at times, but for completely valid reasons (I mean, taking the word of Wickham as truth when she barely knows him? Not thinking it was weird that someone’s willing to divulge their life story, dirty laundry and all, after you’ve just met them? Not to mention Wickham bailing on the Netherfield ball, despite his If-Darcy-wants-to-avoid-me-then-he’ll-have-to-stay-away-from-the-ball bravado). Of course, now I love this novel, and everyone in it. And if not love, then at least love to laugh at everyone in it.

Sense & Sensibility

Then: When I first read this, I admired Elinor and thought she was incredibly brave and selfless, hiding her feelings and taking care of her family. Also, I couldn’t fathom why she liked Edward Ferrars. He was so meek! So much so that I often referred to him as a Wet Rag.

Now: I don’t call Edward a Wet Rag anymore. Much. It took me awhile, but it dawned on me that it was Edward’s principles that made him stand by his promise to Lucy despite falling in love with Elinor later. Even when he realized what a cow completely different person Lucy was to the facade she presented, he knew she was relying on her. Abandoning women after he’s given them their word is just not what Edward Ferrars does.

As for Elinor, I now think that she was having a little too much fun in playing the martyr. Perhaps fun isn’t the right word. I still think she’s brave, but it helps to share your problems, at least partially, if you aren’t the type to confide in anyone. No one ever benefited from bottling anything up.

Also Elinor was far too lenient with Lucy. Surely there were ways she could have extricated herself from their little tête-à-têtes. It’s almost as if Elinor was a little masochistic. She says to Marianne, “I have enjoyed all the punishments of an attachment, and none of the advantages”, but it seems to me much of the punishment is invited by Elinor herself.

Mansfield Park

Then: I didn’t think much of this one other than that it was super boring, and that Fanny was incredibly dull, if to be pitied. Oh, and I couldn’t deny how brave she was.

Now: To be fair, my view point hasn’t changed all that much. But I can better appreciate Fanny’s resilience when it comes to sticking to her principles, especially with everyone she knows disapproving of her choice. I think I now understand more deeply how hard it can be to be true to yourself when those closest to you are trying to persuade you to do the opposite. It shows immense strength of character, and is certainly admirable. Still not convinced about that Edmund guy, though.

Persuasion

Then: When I first read this novel I was besotted with Anne and Frederick’s story. Young lovers separated for eight long years, throughout which they continued to love another? Constancy! That beautiful and rare thing, and it was all I saw.

Now: Well, now…I have to “tsk” at Frederick’s impulsive actions. After all, Anne wasn’t rejecting him, only suggesting that they postpone their plans until he was better situated. Granted he was young, and couldn’t take the sting of rejection. But then, to return later, and behave like a jerk of the highest order and shove every flirtation in her face? As if Anne had committed some heinous crime. I used to think he was my favorite romantic, but I’ve come to realize that while theirs is my favourite romance (I’m still a sucker for it, I admit), Frederick is far from being the ideal romantic hero.

Northanger Abbey

Then: I adored his story. It’s such a fun romp, and Catherine is a complete fangirl. Also, who can resist the devastating charm of Henry Tilney, whose hobbies including dancing, the science of smirking, and discussing muslin?

Now: I pretty much still feel the same way. Except now I wonder whether Henry falling for Catherine’s naivete and her unabashed adoration of him is enough of a foundation on which to begin a relationship. I suppose it’s a lot more than other couples at the time would have had to start with.

Emma

Then: I found Emma to be insufferable. At the start, she isn’t so bad, but as time goes on she become more and more … monstrous in a way. It’s like watching Frankenstein’s monster wreak havoc. If the monster was interested in matchmaking and manipulating the lives of those around them. I thought she was lucky to have someone like Knightley around her, who was perhaps the only one in her circle who wasn’t afraid to point out her flaws.

Now: I still find Emma insufferable, but I’m also a little fond of her. I suppose everyone goes through that stage where they believe they don’t need to be told anything, and that they know exactly what they’re doing. Emma’s just a much more forthright person, so all her opinions manifest into real-life catastrophes for those around here. In any case, it makes for an entertaining read. Plus, Knightley’s become my favourite Austen hero – there’s something to be said for the devastating combination of common sense and a healthy sense of humour.

~~

Looking back, I can see how my tastes have changed as I matured more. I think I’ve grown more understanding of the characters in some ways, but perhaps become more judgmental in other ways. What can I say? To judge is human.

Let me know about your Austen experiences. I’d love to hear them. She’s had such a wide ranging influence that it’s always interesting to hear how differently she’s interpreted. (And don’t worry, I can handle criticisms.)

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

I read The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind awhile back but the story’s poetic power and tones of magical realism have had the story simmering in my mind since then. Meg Medina does a good job of crafting a profound young adult story with motifs reminiscent of the magical realism that Latin American literature is famous for.

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“The tempest – like the birth – raged on for hours. But when at last Sonia Ocampo slipped into the world, blue and shivering, the wind miraculously ceased and the river calmed, leaving behind a peaceful and starry night.”

Sonia Ocampo, born into the world with the end of a destructive storm, is hailed by the villagers as a Godsend. She is the idealistic image on which they pin all their hopes – quite literally, too: Sonia is cloaked in a shawl on which are pinned all the gold metal tokens that the villagers have given to her in exchange for her prayers on their behalf. Sonia feels burdened by their beliefs, and her inability to fulfil everyone’s expectations.

The YA themes of identity, freedom and familial obligations can all be found in this novel. Teenagers will especially be able to relate to the constant tug of war between doing what’s right for you, and doing what others think is right for you.

“She only knew what she did not want to be. Not magic. Not lonely. Not trapped. Never once had she thought of what she did want, never imagined a future the way Lara did.”

Sonia’s quiet strength is the shining beacon in this novel. She feels the need to break free, but she doesn’t try to do so at the expense of raging against her parents, or by belittling their hopes and beliefs. She has a respect for their reasoning which I could appreciate. Too many stories pit adolescents against their parents in coming of age stories; it’s refreshing to read YA novels where the protagonist can appreciate their parents for the individuals they are.

Women of the Future

[May 1908]

   “I feel that I do now realise, dimly, what women in the future will be capable of. They truly as yet have never had their chance. Talk of our enlightened days and our emancipated country – pure nonsense! We are firmly held with the self-fashioned chains of slavery. Yes, now I feel that they are self-fashioned, and must be self-removed. 

 . . .Independence, resolve, firm purpose, and the gift of discrimination, mental clearness – here are the inevitable. Again, Will – the realisation that Art is absolutely self-development. The knowledge that genius is dormant in every soul – that that very individuality which is at the root of our being is what matters so poignantly. 

   Here then is a little summary of what I need – power, wealth and freedom. It is the hopelessly insipid doctrine that love is the only thing in the world, taught, hammered into women, from generation to generation, which hampers us so cruelly. We must get rid of that bogey – and then, then comes the opportunity of happiness and freedom.” 

– Katherine Mansfield: Letters and Journals
  I feel as if I’ve been given the best pep talk in – well, a very long time. How is it that this writer who lived over a hundred years ago is able to fire up my blood? For some bizarre reason, I feel the need to make her proud. To make the most of what I have, to somehow compensate for what she didn’t. To live up to her legacy of becoming whole, becoming strong, and most of all, to be free through art. 
   Sincerely,
     Lady Disdain 

Of Parsley and Hysteria

   I have been struck by the Curse of the Stubborn Parsley. 

   You might think I’m making this up, but I’m not. There is a bit of parsley stuck in my throat. And no matter what I try to wash it down with it. Won’t. Move. 

   It’s simply there, making its infernal, prickly presence felt every time I dare to swallow. Which I apparently do a lot more of than I thought I did. All it took was some obstinate herb action to figure it out. It’s ridiculous how that’s all I can think about – a bit of vegetation stuck in my throat. But then, horror of horrors: what if it’s stuck there forever? What if I have to walk around with this bit of prickly parsley stuck in my throat for the rest of my life? 

   It’s just so ridiculous. To be brought down by parsley. 

   On a happier note, I am very speedily nearing the end of “Anna Karenina”. Oh joy! I am so close to the end that I can smell it. And it smells like tragedy because I know how it ends. After all this time. I mean, the enormity of the book alone is enough to warrant loud festivities. 

   But if you’re like me, and started the book, getting way past the halfway point, only to make the colossal mistake of stopping, and then deciding to pick it up after a year and a half and re-reading it – well, you can see why I would be ecstatic. Not only that but I was in a race against the cinemas trying to finish it before the new film came out (and it still hasn’t where I am, so I still WIN). Not that that’s a good reason to finish a book, and it isn’t the only reason. There’s enough in it for me to like (and dislike, and laugh at, and scoff at, but I digress) but it’s a happy occasion for a bookworm whenever a book is adapted to the bigscreen. Even if all you’re going to do afterwards is grumble and complain about how almost everything was a mistake. 

  But! “Anna Karenina”! So near the end! 

via


    I know, Mrs. B. I can barely contain myself, either. 

  And now for something else that’s pretty up there when it comes to inducing Mrs. Bennet-level hysteria. I happened to be watching Ugly Betty recently when I noticed this:

      Need I even say more? That’s such a dead on resemblance to Sherlock that it’s not even funny. On top of which, a lot of fanart’s been depicting him with wings following “The Reichenbach Fall”, so you can see why I’m a bit of a goner. I’m not the only one seeing this right? Look at it – the coat, the hair, and this was taken several years before as well! Ah! When fictional worlds collide. Such is the exciting life of a fangirl. Envy me. 

   Sincerely,
    Lady Disdain