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.

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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!

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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?

Austen Made Me Do It, I Swear

   So I’m a little late on the uptake. I mean, I knew that this year marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of “Pride & Prejudice”. What I didn’t realize was that the actual date was the 28th of January. Today, to be precise. 

   The Austenite in me won’t allow the day pass by without commemorating it in my own small way so here we are. I figured I‘d just post one of my favorite scenes – if not the favorite – from the novel. It offers a tantalizing glimpse of Lizzie’s and Darcy’s life together and confirms all our beliefs that these two do belong with each other. 

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    Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness gain, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. 
   
   ‘How could you being?’ she said. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?’

   ‘I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.’

   ‘My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners – my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?’

   ‘For the liveliness of your mind, I did.’

   ‘You as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less. The fact, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but, in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and, in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There – I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you know no actual good of me – but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love.’

   ‘Was there no good in your affectionate behaviour to Jane, while she was ill at Netherfield?’

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   ‘Dearest Jane! Who could have done less for her? But make a virtue of it by all means. My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teazing and quarrelling with you as often as may be; and I shall begin directly, by asking you what made you so unwilling to come to the point at last? What made you so shy of me when you first called, and afterwards dined here? Why, especially, when you called, did you look as if you did not care about me?’ 

   ‘Because you were grave and silent, and gave me no encouragement.’

   ‘But I was embarrassed.’

   ‘And so was I.’

   ‘You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.’

   ‘A man who had felt less, might.’

   ‘How unlucky that you should have a reasonable answer to give, and that I should be so reasonable as to admit it. But I wonder how long you would have gone on if you had been left to yourself! I wonder when you would have spoken, if I had not asked you! My resolution of thanking you for your kindness to Lydia had certainly great effect – too much, I am afraid; for what becomes of the moral, if our comfort springs from a breach of promise? For I ought not to have mentioned the subject. This will never do.’

   ‘You need not distress yourself. The moral will be perfectly fair. Lady Catherine’s unjustifiable endeavours to separate us were the means of removing all my doubts. I am not indebted for my present happiness to your eager desire of expressing your gratitude. I was not in a humour to wait for an opening of yours. My aunt’s intelligence had given me hope, and I was determined at once to know every thing.

   ‘Lady Catherine has been of infinite use which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use. But tell me, what did you come down to Netherfield for? Was it merely to ride to Longbourn, and be embarrassed – or had you intended any more serious consequences?’

   ‘My real purpose was to see you, and to judge, if I could, whether I might ever hope to make you love me. My avowed one, or what I avowed to myself, was to see whether your sister was still partial to Bingley, and, if she were, to make the confession to him which I have since made.’

   ‘Shall you ever have courage to announce to Lady Catherine what is to befall her?’

   ‘I am more likely to want time than courage, Elizabeth. But it ought to be done; and if you will give me a sheet of paper, it shall be done directly.

   I love this passage for the ease and familiarity between Darcy and Lizzie that is on display. There is none of that rigidity from their days of hating each other – or I should say of Lizzie hating Darcy. And there’s none of the romantic, ‘dearest, loveliest Elizabeth‘ stuff either – which is all great! I mean, as a “P&P” lover it’s very gratifying to reach that bit and be present for when everything comes into the open. But my preference is for the moments that come after the great declaration has been made.

    It puts a sappy smile on my face to read Darcy saying Lizzie’s first name with such normality – after that huge struggle, here they are, teasing and being teased, discussing their past  mistakes and just generally enjoying each other‘s company. And it makes me so happy to read it! None of the screen adaptations that I’ve seen include this particular dialogue, but I would love it oh so incredibly much if someone were to capture the warmth, the playfulness, and the the way in which both Darcy and Lizzie are so obviously relishing feeling out each other’s characters in this scene. We’ve watched them struggle throughout most of the novel for each other‘s love, so I say give us more of a chance to see the delicious rewards they’ve earned.

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     I absolutely love this picture of these two! It captures that playful side to their relationship which I can’t help but find appealing, especially considering that Darcy seems as stiff as the proverbial upper lip to begin with . Lizzie obviously finds something funny and Darcy seems to be verging on the beginnings of a smile (because an actual smile would be too much, wouldn’t it Darce? Am I allowed to call him that? Does that make me as bad as Mrs. Eton?) Ah, my P&P fangirl’s showing  and it’s all Jane Austen’s fault.

   Sincerely,
     Lady Disdain       

Jan Hahn’s "The Journey" – a surprise for my inbox

Dear Reader,

To my delight, I found Jan Hahn’s “The Journey” when I clicked open my inbox this morning.Quite awhile back I entered a giveaway contest at My Jane Austen Book Club, and luckily I won – it was a first time experience for this reader, winning a copy of a novel, and as all first-time experiences it generated a sufficient amount of excitement. 

I haven’t read much P&P fan fiction – especially one that deviates so wildly from the original plot, so this should be a fun undertaking. The premise of the book is as follows: after Lizzie’s refusal of Mr. Collins’ proposal she is invited by the Gardiners to stay with them in London. Lizzie accepts, but is slightly miffed to find that her traveling companions will be none other than Mr. Bingley’s two sisters, and the proud, insufferable Mr. Darcy himself. She resigns herself to a tedious journey, but nothing is as expected. On the way, they are set upon by highway men, and when it looks as if Lizzie could be carted off Mr. Darcy declares her to be his wife and threatens any man who dares to lay a finger on her.

That is the gist of the book description provided on Amazon and I for one cannot wait to start reading this novel. And I promise as soon as I have (which hopefully shouldn’t take me too long, as I have a few weeks break coming up) I shall post a review.

In the mean time, if anyone’s interested, you can check out Jan Hahn’s website here.

Sincerely,
 Lady Disdain

Tuneful Tuesday – "Dawn" from P&P 2005 soundtrack

Dear Reader,

  I’ve been on a bit of a P&P binge lately. I managed to watch the entire BBC adaptation of the novel in two days (and two weekdays, too, so you can see that  I was doing some serious procrastinating). And then I decided that I would watch Joe Wright’s film adaptation of the novel as well. I know there are a lot of Austen fans who find many things to be outraged at in this latest adaptation (and there are several things which irritate me to no end) but you can’t deny that Joe Wright’s cinematography and Dario Marianelli’s music are just brilliant. The soundtrack is so achingly beautiful and brings the movie to life.

  All the tracks are superb, and so unique to the film, but my favorite out of them is “Dawn”. Listening to it gives me the impression that I could float up on the most delicate breath of wind. This is the one that immediately makes my brain think of Pride & Prejudice. There might’ve been several things that the 2005 adaptation got wrong but the music was definitely not one of them. Dario Marianelli, I am on my figurative knees.

 Sincerely,
   Lady Disdain