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.


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.


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.)

A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 Dear Reader,


   I recently acquired a classic collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, which contains all the stories in the original order they were published in. Well, more or less. (There are a few exceptions much to my chagrin and bewilderment, however. Why couldn’t the compilations just have them in the original chronology? It does not make sense.) Anyway, I’ve read the first two novels, and I was waiting to find a collection that had the stories in the original order – or at least a list of the original chronology (which this edition includes as well) so I felt there would be good sense in buying it. 

    So I bought it. Because clearly I am a creature of good sense if nothing else.

   Anyway, the third story, following A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four is A Scandal in Bohemia. It’s quite a short story in itself. In the second novel, amorous Watson had decided to marry Sherlock Holmes’ client at the time, one Miss Mary Morstan. So when this story opens it’s with Watson admitting that he hadn’t seen his friend since his marriage. Which was apparently quite some time ago. Enough time for Watson to have put on seven pounds. 

Basil the Great Mouse Detective

   Why couldn’t you just continue bacheloring it up with with Holmes so that I could be privy to his amusing quirks, too, you annoying doctor?  I really think Sir. ACD should have given the two men’s friendship a little more time to develop before he introduced Miss Morstan to entrance the good doctor away.

   The story opens on one evening when Watson happens to be passing by Baker St and, upon realizing he hasn’t been around that side of town for some time, he decides to drop in on his friend. (See, Watson? See what marriage has reduced your friendship to? Just ‘dropping in’ on Holmes for infrequent visits! In the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh: “I am most seriously displeased!”) 


   However, it is clear they they are meant to be bros, because he’s very quickly calling Mrs. Hudson “our landlady” and discussing mysteries as if he hadn’t left at all. On this occasion Sherlock Holmes’s client is a masked nobleman from Bohemia who requires the detective’s assistance in procuring some telling photographs from the “adventuress”, Irene Adler. Holmes agrees to help but only after rendering his client’s disguise unnecessary by calling him “Your Majesty” (as he is, in fact, the King of Bohemia) and throwing in a few sarcastic jibes while he’s at it. 

Hattie Morahan,  Sense & Sensibility 2008

    It’s not much of a mystery, but it is an interesting little story by the end of which Holmes is utterly and thoroughly bested by Irene Adler. And you needn’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything. Those are the opening words of Watson’s recount so I’m not exactly giving away the plot. I did feel, though, that the story should have involved something more. Looking back, Adler doesn’t seem to do enough in order for Holmes to always respectfully refer to her as ‘The Woman’. But I am quite smug with the thought that he does as he apparently used to “make merry over the cleverness of women”. 
And a Holmes who stands corrected, is the best kind. 

   3.5 out of 5 incriminating photographs. 

  Lady Disdain

"Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen

Dear Reader,
            Do you ever have one of those days where you do something completely stupid and you can do nothing but berate yourself for it for the rest of the day? Today, I happened to misread an e-mail (that’s right, misread – from one who’s studying English lit) and I ended up missing the first lecture of a class I was really looking forward to. I know they would have covered nothing besides the basics and introductory outlines etc. but I am still quite dejected about it. So I figured there is nothing that can cheer me better than a post on Austen. And here we are.
            “Sense & Sensibility” is the latest Austen that I happened to read. I first read it a few years ago in high school, and at the time it didn’t have as much of an impact on me as it did the second time around. It is much more realistic novel than “Pride & Prejudice” and therefore, to a high school girl, not as appealing or glamorous I guess. With the second reading, however, I fell in love with it. 
            The Premise: upon the death of her husband, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) are forced to leave their beloved home of Norland and seek cheaper lodgings elsewhere. For Elinor, the eldest, this is doubly difficult as Norland is also the place where she has formed an acquaintance with Edward Ferrars, a respectable young man for whom she has begun to nurse deeper feelings. 
Though the move means the stalling of one sister’s romance, their new lodgings at Barton Cottage enable the introduction of the dashing John Willoughby, who’s prone to reciting poetry – the very epitome of the romantic Marianne’s ideal man. The two soon embark on a very heated and quickly progressing romance that sets the whole village talking. Colonel Brandon, a quiet, respect and reserved older man, who is taken with Marianne is pushed to the background as the two youngsters make eyes only at each other.
Things, however, are not what they seem. Mr. Willoughby is not completely what he seems to be; Edward and Elinor’s relationshipis not as secure as the Dashwood women believed it to be and Colonel Brandon seems to hiding the biggest secret of all. It is through their adventures (or misadventures) at their new home, amongst their new acquainted that the Dashwood gain a deeper knowledge of each other, the world around them, and most importantly themselves.
End Premise. 
S&S is, first and foremost, a novel about sisters and family. I think that is my favourite part about this novel; from the first crisis that they are thrown into at the beginning of the novel, the Dashwood women find strength in themselves by providing the much needed support for each other. No matter how dire their situation or how harshly they are treated by John Dashwood and his cold-hearted wife the Dashwood ladies are always able to derive comfort and cheer from each other. When I think of S &S I am inevitably reminded of the strong relationship that existed between Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra. To me, this novel is the embodiment of that relationship, of any healthy relationship between the closest, and yet most differing, of sisters that enables both to grow in their knowledge of themselves and each other. 
This novel is inevitably laced with that sharp, well-aimed irony with which the world has come to associate Austen’s writing. Throughout the novel, she is constantly poking fun at her multitude of characters – sometimes gently, and at other times viciously, with eloquent jibes that leave you wincing and chuckling. Even Elinor and Marianne cannot escape, and that’s what makes this novel engaging. Nobody is perfect, least of all the two heroines, and their faults and drawbacks are brought to light, just as our own are in life. 

I loved the writing in this novel – that goes without saying as this is an Austen novel, and I am a diehard Austen fan. But I guess what I mean to say is that I especially loved her writing in this novel, because a lot of it takes place in Devonshire, with the lush description of green cliffs and the lapping waves at their cottage doorstep. Austen’s love of the countryside is evident in almost all her novels, but to me, it was especially evident here in the way she depicted it as a haven for the Dashwood family to recuperate from whatever blows that life dealt them. 
The plot is well-paced and the story continued to be propelled forward in a believable manner. As I said, this novel is so much more realistic than P&P and that, I think, is one of its strengths. My only problem with it was near the end, after Marianne’s recovery from her illness and her affections for Colonel Brandon are described.  Their romance, and the lack of description of its evolution really got to me. In the end it is resolved far too swiftly, in a manner that is almost unbelievable because it’s described in such a dry and ironical fashion. Marianne’s realization of her ‘feelings’ for Brandon seems rather too formulaic for my taste, and that kind of calculating description sucked the whole thing dry. I guess to make it more believable Austen would’ve had to add a bit more to the novel. 
Stories of personal growth engage readers’ interests; and stories of personal growth which reflect our own mundane lives are all the more engaging for their vivid resemblance to reality. And S&S is such a story. Oh, I don’t pretend to say that my life is filled with wicked, dashing men who carry me in their arms through a downpour or shocking revelations that my beau is secretly engaged to a vindictive cow girl I’ve only just met. 
But my life isfilled with people who seem to lack principles, girls who seem to rejoice in the crushing blows they deal each other, and annoying but well-meaning relatives or friends who tease endlessly without seeming to know their limits. This is evidently why Austen’s work continues to enjoy such huge popularity; she chose to write on that which will always be the same, even as it undergoes the most drastic of changes: human character. Even after hundreds of years, these caricatures are amusing for us to read about because they’re still applicable. 
And in the conduct of such admirable characters as Elinor – and even Marianne in some instances – we come to learn of how to deal with the less than savory characters that life inevitably throws at us. Of course, it would have been satisfying if Elinor had rubbed it in Lucy’s face the obvious preference that Edward had for her, but that would be undignified and petty. And of course it would be easy to wallow in our misery and indulge in self pity, but we owe it to those closest to us to make an effort and take a step in the right direction as Marianne did. This is why I love Austen. She wrote about people in the nineteenth but two decades later, her character studies are still relevant. 
I’ve gotten a little carried way and this has turned out be a little novella of a review. Bottom line: S&S is a well-developed story with fleshed out characters, realistic plot and memorable (and familiar) secondary characters. Recommend this novel to men (if they have the courage) and women. 
Rating: 5 out 5 reticules. 
 Lady Disdain