All Things Austen, Part 2

April 7, 2018

And so we continue our heart-pounding rush through the world of Austen with….

Mansfield Park

OK, the only Austen that everyone hates. (Well, almost everyone.) Fanny Price, at 10 years old, is sent to live with her rich relatives to acquire some education and, eventually, a suitable marriage (provided it isn’t higher than her rank – we can’t all be the most important people).

I actually liked Fanny very much, aside from her name, which I would only wish on my enemies. Although she is the polar opposite of Emma Woodhouse (perhaps we shouldn’t have read them in such close conjunction) she possesses her own kind of virtue. Her humility, obedience and lack of grudge-holding towards her proud, selfish and sometimes cruel relatives shows the reader a part of her virtue, while the rest is shown in her struggles to stand her ground in the important matters.

The main reason that this book my least favorite (just like everyone else on the planet) is because of Fanny’s cousin Edmund Bertram. He was the most annoying and undeserving guy ever. I have no idea why she loved him and I think he got far, far better than he deserved. Perhaps this is a negative effect of reading Mansfield Park right after Emma, but Edmund’s lack of good judgment was a glaring flaw besides Mr. Knightley’s perceptiveness.

And somehow, despite having read 5 Jane Austens (counting this one) the plot twist at the end still took me by surprise, even though it was exactly what I should have expected. (And yet my sister, who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie, guessed everything that would happen with just a bare knowledge of the plot details. I tell you, she’s superhuman.)

We watched the 1983 BBC Mansfield Park, (which is 6 hours) mainly because it is both faithful to the book and clean, despite Fanny’s face looking, as my father so eloquently put it, like a wet Kleenex. That version gets points for making Edmund a lot more likable, although he’s still not someone I would marry. Also, by only watching the trailer for the 2007 Mansfield Park we can already tell that whatever book they based this movie on, it sure wasn’t the Austen with the shy, obedient Fanny. (Someone get that outspoken, rebellious blonde off the set. What is she doing here?) Content Warning: Apparently the 1999 Mansfield Park has nudity in it. Don’t ask me how in the world they got that in there, because I haven’t the faintest idea.

Pride and Prejudice

Ah, the most (deservedly) famous of all Jane Austen’s works. If you don’t know the plot of this fantastic book, then I’m ashamed of you, but for those of you who grew up in the desert without even watching the movie, here’s a little summary: the story revolves around the Bennet family, most notably the two oldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and their prospective husbands. It’s filled with laughably ridiculous people, one awful person, and a number of gentlemen who I would definitely marry. (No, not all of them. Not all at once. Heavens, how did you ever get such a nonsensical idea.)

Of course, this being a Jane Austen, there are characters of remarkable virtue scattered among the ones with remarkable vice. Elizabeth’s ability to laugh off the unimportant little annoyances and slights which she routinely comes in contact with is definitely something I want to work on. One thing I especially liked about this book, however, was that both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (our MCs), although quite obviously meant for each other, both have a ways to go before they’re actually ready. Both of them grow so much throughout this story and it is really because of their relationship with each other that they truly come to know themselves.

I have always, ever since I first read this book years ago, been a fervent member of the Mr. Darcy Fanclub, but it was only in this recent reading that I realized something essential about his character: Mr. Darcy is an introvert!! This is a big deal to me because I am also an introvert, and suddenly so many of his actions, and his vices especially, made sense to me. Of course he was stand-offish and moody during that first party at which we meet him. He didn’t want to be there, he knew he didn’t have the gift of talking to strangers, he knew that he was acting wrongly, he knew that everyone thought he was unpleasant and selfish and it simply made him dislike the party more, which made him more unpleasant to be around, etc. I know how this works because I’ve been in that same predicament many times, fighting against being dragged down by the Introvert Whirlpool of Selfishness. It made me admire his moral development more, and feel less like an irretrievable mess myself. (I mean, hey, he turned out pretty great, so there’s definitely hope.)

We watched the 6 hour BBC Pride and Prejudice, which is absolutely fantastic, and so perfectly captures the essence of the characters and the plot. Colin Firth is one of my favorite actors because his brilliant portrayal of Mr. Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle was Elizabeth Bennet through and through. I’ve also seen the more recent Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, which I didn’t like at all on the grounds that the director seemed to have forgotten what time period he was filming. I think someone needs to tell him that in Classical Era England, if a man and a woman had met in a field at daybreak wearing their pajamas (essentially), it would have been the scandal of the century. I may also have a slight prejudice (but no pride, I flatter myself) against Keira Knightley, because she refuses to keep her mouth closed when she isn’t using it. Someday, a fly is just going to zip right in there….

I am now entirely unsure whether I like Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice better, I really am. It’s incredibly difficult to decide which one wins the prize. They’re tied at the moment.

 

Northanger Abbey

Catherine Morland, naive, innocent, modest, and a little bit air-headed comes out in the fashionable world of Bath, and runs into a number of scrapes on account of her love for Gothic novels, and her lack of common sense.

I have a theory about this book. I think that Jane Austen sat down one day, and began to make a list of all the things in the world which irritated and vexed her, (trashy novels; amateur critics who mistake good novels for trashy novels; the streets of Bath; frivolous people; frivolous friendships; naive women; often used novel-tropes; a lack of common sense; ridiculous people; the society she lived in) in order to cram them all into one book and slam them at once. Which she does. Brilliantly. And hilariously.

Despite the fact that Northanger Abbey isn’t the deepest or most profound of Jane Austen’s novels, I still enjoyed it immensely. Jane Austen just gives her biting wit free rein throughout the whole book, essentially using the characters and plot as a vehicle for her ironic comments, her criticism of everything, and her mockery of every ridiculous person she’s ever met. She specifically directs her weapons at Gothic novels, which were the fashion in her day and some of the first trashy novels in existence. She shows the reader, by means of Catherine Morland, our heroine, the uselessness of novels like these, and the absolute lack of the realities of real life which they betray. The effect which these novels had on Catherine’s rather ignorant, unformed mind was actually pretty shocking to me, and brought home to me more closely the dangers of reading fluff and only fluff. I thought Jane Austen hit the nail on the head with this observation on the Gothic novels of her day (and any trashy novels of any day):

“Charming as were all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and charming even as were the works of all her imitators, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the Midland counties of England, was to be looked for.”

Even the Ancient Greeks understood that one of the greatest kinds of knowledge that humans can attain is knowledge of themselves. (As evidenced by the Delphi inscription: “Know thyself”). And, really, the only kind of books that will improve your knowledge of yourself are the ones which accurately portray human nature. So everything else is going to be pretty much useless.

This book was the only one of Jane Austen’s works where I questioned whether the couple who ended up together at the end were actually meant for each other. Henry Tilney, sarcastic, brilliant, and perceptive, (almost the male incarnation of Jane Austen herself) hardly seemed the right guy for our air-headed Catherine. But maybe that was another piece of brilliant irony that I missed the meaning of?

We watched the BBC Northanger Abbey┬ábecause we knew it would be clean and faithful to the book, if not fantastic. Although I haven’t seen the 2007 Northanger Abbey, there are three nudity content warnings on IMDB, so I would suggest caution. (WHY do they do this to Jane Austen?? WHY? And HOW for heavens sake??)

 

I hope I’ve convinced you all that Jane Austen is one of the most fantastic writers in the world, or at least convinced you to read one of her books! (You won’t regret it. Probably. Unless you’re an alien from outer space and you hate it, in which case I have nothing further to say to you.)

Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite Jane Austen book, your thoughts on Jane Austen, her works, the movies, the era, and your favorite chocolate cake recipe!

(What? Yes, that totally has something to do with this subject.)

 

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