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.)

Would You Be My Literary Valentine? (Fictional Crushing: Part I)

Takes a lot to set my prickly heart aflutter

As everyone knows (everyone who would care to know) one of the many perks of reading is that  you’re bound to stumble upon that one fictional character who manages to set both your heart and the pages aflutter.After awhile, though, you notice that it isn’t just one and that your literary loves stack up at an alarming rate, making both you and those around you begin to question your mental stability. So behold, my disintegrating mental stability collection of literary heart-throbs.

(Yes, I do realize Valentine’s day is come and gone, but you know what? When you have fictional loves like these, everyday is Valentine’s day.)

1) Jesse de Silva from The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

The Mediator series follows the adventures of Suze Simon, snarky, kick-ass and cursed with the ability to see ghosts. But this curse soon transforms into a blessing when she  stumbles across the (very drool-worthy) ghost that inhabits her new bedroom in her new house.

Jesse receives first place for the simple and privileged reason of having been one of my longest and most ardent crushes ever. There were many high school days spent swooning over the gentle-mannered, well-spoken and oh so wonderfully well-read Jesse who supported Suze through her many ghostly adventures, while murmuring Spanish endearments at the most unexpected times. Of course, the fact that he was tall, with dark curls that were always depicted as being thick and luxurious enough to run your fingers through was simply a delightful bonus.

(Jesus Luz; original picture via)

2) Mr. Knightley from Austen’s Emma
Yes, despite Persuasion being my favourite Austen novel, it’s Knightley who snags the very honoured position of being my favourite Austen hero.

True, he doesn’t brood darkly and then write heart-stopping letters like Captain Wentworth; and he many not be prone to grand, romantic gestures like Mr. Darcy, but the allure of Mr. Knightley lies in his easy, yet increasingly sizzling relationship with Emma. Their uncomplicated friendship and obvious respect for each other is something everyone should aspire to (in my very humble opinion). Plus, the snark. Oh Mr. Knightley, you do snark so well.

(Jeremy Northam; original picture via)

3) Sydney Carton from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
Yes, I managed to fall for this dissipate lounge-about despite the fact that he spent most of the novel in either a drunken stupor or love-induced stupor (and let me tell you, I was not impressed by his choice of simpering beloved). I was, however, very impressed with his knowledge of legal intricacies and his obviously extensive intelligence. I can’t help it – the smart ones really get me. And, oh yeah, there is that whole giving up his life to make his beloved happy thing as well. 

(Original picture via)
4)    Sherlock Holmes from Sir ACD’s Sherlock Holmes
As I said, the smart ones really get me. There’s nothing to be said about Sherlock Holmes that hasn’t already been said. Intensely good at what he does and unfailingly dedicated to his work, he is one of those characters that I started out admiring deeply when I was just a child. And even now, I can’t be sure whether I’m attracted to all that intelligence, or attracted to the idea of being as intelligent as he is. I think it’s a little bit of both. My infatuation with him is probably the same as Watson’s for Holmes – I’d be content to spend my days just observing this man in action and being privy to the mysterious and adventurous world he inhabits.

(Original picture via)

5) Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

All I can say for this is: duh.

Or maybe, not so duh, because just because I happen to like Beatrice doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to like her counterpart right? Wrong. Well, it wasn’t automatic, but just like Beatrice, I couldn’t help be charmed by Benedick’s snark and his eventual support of her in the whole Hero debacle. Nothing appeals to a girl like you acknowledging that she’s right. I kid, I kid. But the fact that Benedick could tease her so relentlessly, and then be serious when needed certainly raises the appeal factor to the nth degree.  Also Kenneth Branagh with a beard is kinda nice, and lends him a certain dignity. At times.

Disdain would certainly die without you, Benedick (via)
 
)     6)   Kartik from Libba Bray’sThe Gemma Doyle Trilogy 

       Kartik is the delicious babe who’s sent to first keep tabs on Gemma Doyle and her newly     acquired magic, and afterwards to take her life. There’s nothing like a hint of danger to set a girl’s heart aflutter right? Wrong. You think Disdain can be taken in so easily? Once again, it was good-old reason, and apparently not so common common-sense that Kartik oozed that really sent Disdain’s blood fizzing. I suppose it was only in such emphasis because practically everyone else around him seemed to be acting as stupidly as they possibly could. 

      Not to mention the fact that he’s loyal and so self-less that he ends up being turned into a tree just to spare the heroine’s life. (I know, I was outraged, too. A TREE?!) Also, Indian hottie, hello. How often do you get to see an Indian leading man in Western YA?

(Sendhil Ramamurthy; original picture via)
And what about you, dear readers? Who would you like for your literary Valentine? Because let’s face it, we’ve all spent a considerable amount of time imagining that delightful scenario.