Hello everyone, Marietta here! Yes, I’ve finally crawled out of my Internet Silence Hole and am ready to blow you all away with a fascinating post about the most exciting, fast-paced books you’ve ever read, written by the most awesome author in the world: Jane Austen!!
Right? Don’t you all agree with me?
(Say yes, it’s the safest answer.)
OK, I’ll admit it – Jane Austen isn’t exactly known for action scenes, fast-paced, witty dialogue or content that needs to be censored. But there are a lot, LOT of good reasons why she is one of the most famous authors in the world and why every book she wrote is a classic. Her books are FANTASTIC, you all. And I know this for a fact, because I just finished reading through all of them this past year. I discussed them with my mother and a friend here in Wisconsin, and together we compared, contrasted, attacked, defended and lauded all of her excellent works. (Then we watched the movies and criticized the way that BBC did Persuasion, because it could have been so much better.)
But since I don’t have enough time to do 6 reviews and since you don’t have enough patience to read 6 reviews, we’re going to do 6 bite-sized reviews in two chunks and you can go do those really, really important things that you should be doing right now. Here goes.
Sense and Sensibility
Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood, along with their mother and younger sister, are ousted from their home by their step-brother upon their father’s death, and must manage by themselves in a small cottage with barely anything – and yes, there are a couple of important guys and some terrible obstacles. (Obviously)
My sister and I have sometimes been compared to the heroines of this book, Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood, with me as sensible Eleanor and my sister as sensitive, headstrong Marianne. Having read the book I am now going to take that as an insult on behalf of my sister, who has far, far more common sense than Marianne does. (I should hope I’m as calm and steadfast as Eleanor, but I can’t really judge.) Needless to say, Marianne was not a favorite of mine – her self-centeredness and lack of self-control was not very endearing (and perhaps a little bit too much like how I’ve acted sometimes.)
One of the things which struck me most in this book (and which strikes me, in varying degrees, in every Austen I’ve read) is the ability of our main character to remain calm, polite, and charitable when she is constantly surrounded by people who range from stupid to downright wicked. Eleanor’s ability to control herself in any circumstance was incredible; whether she’s being sincerely told by her rich brother that he would love to help them with his massive inheritance but he’s just too poor, or whether she’s dealing with one of Jane Austen’s ridiculous plot twists, she controls her emotions and puts the feelings and desires of other people ahead of her own.
We watched the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, which was fantastic. Definitely one of the best Austen movie adaptions we’ve seen.
Um, so this one is currently fighting Pride and Prejudice for first place, because I absolutely loved it. Anne Elliot, who was persuaded by a very good friend to refuse Mr. Right (Frederick Wentworth) on account of his lack of money, meets him again eight years later after he’s made his fortune in the navy.
First of all, as you can probably guess from the summary, the awkwardness level in the book is way high. So many laughable ‘squirm-with-awkwardness’ scenes: Oh, she’s meeting the guy she dumped. Oh, he’s paying attentions to someone else. Oh, he helped her do something and we’re all blushing and wishing we were dead. (It was great.)
Secondly, this one is probably my favorite because of Anne Elliot herself. I don’t think I’ve ever met a heroine before who made me think “This is the kind of girl I want to be. If I could be just like her in her virtue and patience and concern for others, I would be happy.” Anne is surrounded, even more than Eleanor Dashwood, with idiots of the first degree. Add to that a guy that she’s still in love with, but who’s currently snubbing her because he’s still mad, and Anne’s humility and lack of bitterness do her credit. Jane Austen also said some neat things about meekness vs. weakness – Frederick Wentworth believes that Anne has rather a weak will because of how easily she was persuaded to drop him, but in a crisis it is Anne who takes over and directs everything, while the rest simply stand there helplessly (or go into hysterics). Again and again it is proved to us that a willingness to help others and a lack of defense when criticized is not weakness. In reality it speaks a kind of strength.
We watched the BBC Persuasion, which while being good and faithfully following the book did some weird things to Anne’s makeup so that she looked like a consumption victim at the beginning. The main disappointment was that we felt it didn’t do the book justice.
The first line of this book says everything: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Desiring that others should be just as happy, she determines to find the right spouse for every one of her acquaintances, except that….she isn’t very good at it. (Correction – she’s horrible.)
This book gets top marks for Mr. Knightley, the most awesome Austen Hero to date (with a nod to Mr. Darcy, but sorry, Knightley wins).
I know that many people don’t like Emma (the book and character) because of her interference in other people’s lives and her selfishness. Both of those things annoyed me too, but here’s what saved it for me – she honestly and sincerely loves her annoying, worrisome father. She takes care of him with perfect cheerfulness, and not because when she gets done with him she can have fun, but because she really does love him. That’s a big thing, and that love is what saves her from gradually becoming a wicked person. She may have terrible judgement, a high opinion of herself, and an inability to be kind to the annoying people around her, but she loves the troublesome person right in her house, and because the very inner core of her life is oriented correctly, it will be so much easier for her to change the outer circles. And with Mr. Knightley’s good judgement, what could go wrong? (This was an actual debate we had in my house – what makes Emma different from your average selfish brat? Is there really any hope for her change? I say yes.)
We watched a number of Emmas, actually, and our favorite, hands down, was Gwyneth Paltrow’s version. She perfectly captured the essence of Emma’s personality and played it in a way that made everyone like and understand her, despite her numerous faults. The Romola Garai version comes in second, with the perfect Mr. Knightley, but an Emma that was all wrong – too much like a moody teenager, none of the dignity that the real Emma prized so highly. Finally, the Kate Beckinsale version was awful (we thought) because Mr. Knightley was such a JERK in every single scene.
As of now, my Austen Favorites List stands, from greatest to least, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility.
To be continued….