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.)

Fake Love Conquers All

I don’t know if anyone else has heard but Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have called it quits, and I for one am more disappointed about it than I would like to admit. I don’t usually follow the trajectory of relationships involving people that I don’t personally know (or are non-fictional), but for some inexplicable reason I’ve always had a soft spot for Ben and Jen. Bennifer. Jenjamin. Garfleck. I mean, the romance just writes itself. Or wrote.

So this comes as a bit of a nasty surprise, and I find my belief in couplehood bliss a little bit shaken. And where can one turn to for comfort in times of such amorous trouble? Fiction, of course.

Hence, as evidence of happy coupledom, I’ve compiled a list to set the most cynical heart aflutter.

*Sources are linked in the images.

1 Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth from Persuasion

Yes, they got off to a rocky start, but these two lovebirds pretty much sang the same besotted tune for the eight years they were apart from each other. I know Anne tried to put Wentworth out of her mind, and Wentworth was kind of a jerk at the start, sticking his flirting in her face, but the truth is, try as they might, they could not get over their love for each other. Constancy is an amazing thing for a cynical romantic living in the twenty-first century.

persuasion

2 Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

The above two shouldn’t really come as a surprise. They are after all the quintessential couple. They probably epitomize coupledom in all its glory – two people who, though they initially grate on each other, mature by learning from one another, and admitting their flaws in the process. That’s the kind of character development that ensures a deep and abiding bond.

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3 Betty Suarez and Daniel Meade from Ugly Betty

Speaking of a deep and abiding bond. You can’t get more deep and abiding than these two. Betty and Daniel started off their relationship as boss and employee, which then blossomed – beautifully, heartbreakingly, and so wonderfully satisfyingly – into one of the best friendships I’ve seen portrayed on television. Friendship is so underrated, in itself, or as a prelude to romance. This show, however, showed how important and beautiful a friendship could be. Betty and Daniel learned from each other, and were better with one another, and seeing them together, even as friends is heart-warming. When the series ends, it’s on the cusp of something more, a tiny exhilarating hint that suggests a fulfilling future for the two, but even without the that you know the two are better for having one another in their lives.

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4 Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing

Ah yes, Beatrice and Benedick. These two captured my heart with their incessant squabbling and caustic sparring. Even when they were throwing vitriolic insults at each other their chemistry was undeniable, and I’m in quiet awe that a man who lived hundreds of years ago could have me agonising over the fact that this couple absolutely, indisputably, irreversibly had to be together. May you make many cynical babies together, Beatrice and Benedick.

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5 Howl and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle

Can we all just take a moment to pay obeisance to Diana Wynne Jones, who told a story that was not a romance but made me pine anyway for the joining of Howl and Sophie with all the fire that would take to run a moving castle? I think we can.

Howl and Sophie are a bit like Benedick and Beatrice. Or rather, I should say Sophie is a bit like Beatrice, all spitting insults and sharp edges, while Howl sheepishly maneuvers himself around her, trying to avoid her rages, or simply igniting them further with his charming smiles, or his humouring, patronising attitudes. The charm and quiet power of this story, is that, just like Sophie, you don’t realize there is a romance unfurling until you’re in the thick of it. It’s beautifully done, more so because it’s not typical. Jones made me sigh about a couple that says nary a soppy word of romance to each other, and for that all I can say is: Kudos, Ms Jones, kudos.

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6 Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox from You’ve Got Mail

Ah, my obsession with You’ve Got Mail rears its head again. Seriously, people of the world, do yourself a favour and just watch this movie already. We can all thank me later.

But you guys! Kathleen and Joe bond over letters! Online letters (I think they’re called e-mails?), but still. And books! And all the weird, and quirky and ordinary things they see around each other. And they both own bookstores. Could there be a better love story? I think not!

ygm

This film pays homage to the Lizzy/Darcy and Beatrice/Benedick type of relationship out there. You’re happy to cheer from the sidelines whenever these two share screen/page time together, be it for clashing or kissing.

There, I feel a lot better already. Now tell me, reader, which fictional couple makes you believe in true love?

Persuasion 1995

    Park me in front of a television playing the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion” and you can be assured that I’ll be reduced to a sighing, heart-clutching, swooning, sappy mess. And I’m not even ashamed to admit it. 
 
Proximity excites me.
   
   You wouldn’t be either if you knew the story of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. Estranged after Anne is persuaded to reject Frederick’s proposal, the couple meet again after eight years only to find that the feelings which they thought to be so strong in their past have yet to go away. Ah, constancy! How you make me swoon. 
Anne Elliot
    And this film captures all that is swoon-worthy about this Austen novel. The chemistry between the two leads is palpably sizzling. The air around the screen crackled with it.
Amanda Root plays the quietly strong Anne Elliot. Following her rejection of Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), she has not given thought to marrying anyone else. With that desire, her ‘bloom’ in life also fades, apparently, and so she is relegated to the background of everyone’s lives, forced to tolerate their snubs and attempt to right their wrongs. Root is great at portraying Anne’s infinite patience and ultimate resignation when it comes to the way the Elliot family treat Anne. Respect is something that is utterly foreign to them, and, if anything, Anne is viewed at best as a lady’s maid. Anne, too, has accepted her position without question and goes about her tasks without any contempt or bitterness. It’s evident in every word, look and movement delivered by Root that Anne views this as her punishment for having turned on the one man who was willing to accept all of her. 
Frederick Wentworth
   Speaking of whom – Ciaran Hinds is impeccable  as Captain Wentworth. He dominates his role so well that he totally submerges himself in the character of Frederick Wentworth. Frederick’s attempt at indifference, his hurt at Anne’s rejection – still there after so many years, his inability to ignore Anne’s well being, are so masterfully portrayed by Hinds. The interaction between Anne and Frederick – and believe me when I say there aren’t many – were brilliantly layered, with the superficial niceties blanketing their painful history but never banishing it from the viewer’s mind. Also, Hinds cuts a very dashing figure in his navy coat. No wonder the Misses Musgrove were all over him. 
The most tantalizing shot in the entire film.
   Anne and Wentworth’s reunion following the letter is perfection – it weighs with all their unsaid words, and yet displays the joy that both undoubtedly feel at such an event. It is poignant and perfect, and, in my opinion, has yet to be topped (yes, I’m looking at you 2006 adaptation!). The kiss is a brief one, but the small gestures – Wentworth taking Anne’s hand in his, Anne weaving her arm through his and then looking up at him are subtle but very overpowering. All this occurs with some street performers in the background, a travelling circus that has captured everyone’s attention. Everyone’s, that is, except Anne’s and Wentworth’s. Yes, my inner Austenite is squealing.
   
  However, let’s not ignore the supporting cast, because it’s a brilliant one. Sir Walter Elliot is exquisitely portrayed by Corin Redgrave. I wanted to strangle him – I wanted to rip off his insufferable cravat, mess up his hair and tie him up with his own pantaloons. That kind of reaction must indicate a good performance, methinks. His arrogance and vanity were undeniable, but it was his almost indifferent attitude towards others that really caught my eye. Yes, it’s a given that he would be indifferent to Anne, but it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t care for anyone really but himself. 
Sir Walter Elliot & Hideous Outfit
   Lady Russell was played by Susan Fleetwod. My only real problem with her is a superficial one. What is going on with that hair? I had no idea they had that kind of fringe in the nineteenth century. Other than that she was a wonderful Lady Russell, portraying a compassionate and caring confidant for our heroine. There are some truly sweet moments between her and Anne. 
Lady Russell
   Mrs DurselyFiona Shaw plays Mrs. Croft, Frederick’s brother, and it warmed my old romantic heart to see her get on so well with Anne. The chemistry between those two was believable as well. There was a very clear wish on both sides to better their acquaintance and Fiona Shaw has this subtle way of acting as if Mrs. Croft knows what’s going on with Frederick and Anne. 
Anne & Mrs. Croft
   
   Sophie Thompson is utterly insufferable as Mary Musgrove, Anne’s youngest and most aggravating sister. She nothing but bitterness, arrogance and laziness. I couldn’t fathom why they chose the person they did to play Elizabeth, however. From what I remember Elizabeth is supposed to be the best looking of the Elliot sisters and this woman was definitely not beautiful. I know she is supposed to be arrogant and slightly short-tempered but she only came across as petulant and childish. Not my favourite portrayal.
 
Mary Musgrove
Elizabeth & Mrs. Clay
   
    Speaking of being miscast, Mrs. Clay seems to be another error. Sir Walter Elliot seemed to favour her so much due to her good looks – at least, that was the case with the novel. I’m not quite sure why he favours her so much here. All his barbed jokes regarding the navy’s lack of good looks seem to fall flat with Mrs. Clay laughing so heartily at them. Do I sound horrible? Yes, I do. But I’m speaking for the novel! And that‘s what the novel feels, apparently.

Mr. Elliot
   Mr. Elliot, Frederick’s ‘rival’, was played by the good-looking Samuel West. He‘s very good at portraying the subtle self-interest that propels all of Mr. Elliot’s actions. All of his smiles and words are lined with an artifice, while still appearing to be genuine.
   The cinematography was unexpectedly impressive. There are some beautiful shots, especially of the seaside – but also some visual metaphors and juxtaposition to keep your eyes peeled for. I feel as if the cinematography could have been better – especially with a story like “Persuasion” where there isn’t a swirling plot to reel the viewers in, but as I say it was better than expected. I would love for someone to give it the visual vibrancy that Joe Wright injected into the 2005 Pride & Prejudice. 
At Lyme
   
   I had one major problem with this film. People’s table manners seem a little ill-suited to their time period and class distinction. There’s a breakfast scene at Uppercross with Charles Musgrove vacuuming the table’s toppings and I was little disgusted at how did it. But even more unacceptable was the way in which Elizabeth chewed her sweets. I expected more from the daughter of someone who holds a baronetcy but I suppose that was mere foolishness on my part. 
   Aside from questionable table manners, however, the film is a thoroughly enjoyable one. It gives off a very ‘raw’ and real vibe; there’s a sort of tangibility there, a realness is created for a time that’s very far from modern-day viewers. The acting from everyone was spot on, and if you’ve read the book, very easily recognizable, too. 
Wentworth & Anne
    
   This adaptation makes for a very pleasant viewing and will leave you with warm fuzzies to last you for an entire day. Possibly more. And we could all of us use some warm fuzzies, don’t you think?
   Sincerely,
     Lady Disdain

Being Lady Disdain Includes…

1) Meaning to write up blog posts on several things (some of which include comparing both Persuasion adaptations and episodic reviews of BBC Sherlock) but never actually finding the time to do it. This will change.

2) Walking into stores and finding life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Justin Bieber and resisting the urge to roundhouse kick them. 

3) Almost giving into the urge upon hearing the overhead speakers talk about “Bieber’s new perfume: a fresh and flirty mixture, combining the sweet scent of blah blah laced with a hint of lusty blah blah, a scent that Bieber himself fancies in a girl”. Then making this face:

Mark Gaitss as Mycroft Holmes, BBC Sherlock

4) Reading Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, having my brain addled and feeling, alternately, fascination and revulsion for the killers. 


5) Finding this awesome site and finding these pictures there and squealing like a deranged harpie. 

I challenge you not to drool.

Al Pachino & Christopher Walken

Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry
Roald Dahl & Ernest Hemingway
Albert Einstein & Rabindranath Tagore
Truman Capote & Harper Lee
Fred Astaire & George & Ira Gershwin 

So. Much. Talent. 

6) Only just realizing that there is soon going to be a performance of Much Ado About Nothing in my city and barely being able to control my excitement. It’s this Saturday!
 “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more…” Not long to wait now. 

7)  Envying bears and their caves. Autumn’s looking beautiful but she’s making the way for winter and the thought is filling me with dread. I would dearly love a cave in which to hide away for all of winter.


8) Not being able to get this song out of my head: 


9) And loving Meaghan Smith’s outfit in that song. Everything about it is perfect. 


10) Joining twitter for the simple reason of stalking following Mark Gatiss in the hopes he’ll let something drop about BBC Sherlock. Also he’s just plain awesome. 

That’s right, Mark Gaitss. I became a twit for you.
You better make it worth my while, sir.


Sincerely,
  Lady Disdain

"Persuasion" by Jane Austen

   For some reason, a lot of sources seem to categorize Persuasion as a ‘Cinderella’ story and this infuriates me to no end. I fail to understand why. Or why it should be completely categorized as such, anyway. Except maybe for the complete transformation that Anne Elliot undergoes I fail to see any similarities between Anne, who through her experiences and hardships manages to grow and develop into a confident young woman and Cinderella, who, endlessly optimistic despite the number of mice inhabiting her bedroom has everything pretty much handed to her on a silver platter. Or a glass shoe, as the case may be.
   Persuasion is Austen’s last novel to be published and, according to many critics, her most mature. It is the story of Anne Elliot, quiet, gentle Anne Elliot who lives with her eldest sister, the cool and haughty Elizabeth and their arrogant and pompous father, Sir Walter Elliot. It seems as if Anne is forever overruled by those around her, not simply because she is quiet and gentle, but also because her disposition is one that is self-less and, as a result, she is continually putting the needs of others before her own.




   The extravagant and frivolous lifestyle that Anne’s father and eldest sister have adopted soon makes it incumbent that they give up their current impressive residence of Kellynch Hall, and seek a more modest abode elsewhere. Thus, the story begins with moving house. The most common, and sometimes the only adventure, that many undertake. This particular adventure throws Anne into the way of Captain Wentworth – a name which instills both dread and longing in our protagonist’s heart. The two have met some eight years prior to the beginning of this novel and readers soon learn that Frederick Wentworth’s was Anne’s first love – and, much to the gratitude of this romantic reader, her only one. However, due to Wentworth’s lack of position, or financial security, Lady Russell – Anne’s godmother and greatest confidante, since the passing of her own mother – persuades our heroine to break off the engagement. Now, nearly a decade later, Wentworth returns, secure in his position as a successful captain and determined in his efforts to find a wife. And this time he is adamant that he will not allow Anne Elliot an opportunity to reject his hand again


   At the heart of this novel is, undoubtedly, a love story. However, as the title suggests, the novel also deals with that innate ability which we all possess to a certain degree – that of persuasion. A few months before beginning Persuasion Austen, too, found herself with the power to decide the outcome of her niece, Fanny Knight’s engagement. Upon her opinion being sought Austen was determined to make it clear that this decision should be Fanny’s and Fanny’s alone – on no account should she be swayed by the opinions of others, regardless of how beloved an aunt they may be, as Austen was to Fanny. Bestowed with such a frightening power, and no doubt, forced to consider the many ways in which she and others might affect the lives of many through the insistence of an opinion, Austen pens “Persuasion” and invites her readers to consider the same issue.


  It is the persuasion of Anne which begins the novel, but it is the persuasion, and persuading, of the surrounding characters which drive the plot. Austen does not just invite us to consider how frequently we attempt to persuade others, but also how easily and how quickly we allow ourselves to be persuaded. Though Anne’s decision to break off her engagement with Wentworth may be justified (as she was not simply thinking of her difficulties, but of Wentworth’s also, in the troubles that should inevitably arise for a young man of no means attempting to support a wife) the persuasions of other characters are displayed and gently mocked for the willingness with which they allow their opinions to be swayed. It is through this discussion of such innate human qualities that Austen renders her novels as being timeless stories. For persuasion, and the act of persuading, is something we can all be guilty of having undertaken, for better or worse. The novel simply highlights the ways in which we experience both, either knowingly or unknowingly.


   For me, however, the ultimate pleasure I derive from this novel is from the story of Anne and Fredrick. Of how their love was able to endure the test of both time and distance. The length of eight years, and the distance of thousands and thousands of miles. For a reader in the twenty-first century, this seems like the makings of a fairy tale. And, indeed, at times I find myself scoffing at such an idea. Can anyone’s first love ever really be their last? And can it really stand the test of such a long period of time? Doesn’t out of sight mean out of mind?


   Anne and Frederick prove otherwise. Theirs is a love so strong, that despite their own attempts to overcome it, they cannot. It’s a love that not only stands the test of time – but challenges it, faces it head on, and ultimately triumphs. Their love, after such a long estrangement, only proves to be stronger. From having watched friends go through date after date, and fall out from one relationship and into another with the weakest of excuses, this novel,to me, acts as a beacon of faith. I want to believe that such a love can – does – exist and as long as I’m rifling contentedly between the pages of Persuasion, I can. And I invite you to do the same.

 “…they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment…”

5 out of 5 stars.