Thursday, September 30, 2010

Profile: Elinor Dashwood

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;--her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

Name: Elinor Dashwood

Age: 19

Hobbies: Drawing

Most charming quality: A satiric wit that gently admonishes those in error, amuses the perceptive, and never disrespects those who are not.

Most detrimental tendency: Emotional repression

Greatest strength: Emotional intelligence

Truest friend: Marianne Dashwood

Worst enemy: Lucy Steele

Prospects: Greatly reduced from what she would have expected had her father lived. She has one thousand pounds (approximately fifty a year), and can expect her share of the seven thousand pounds belonging to her mother upon that good lady's death.

Favorite quotations: "It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."

"Infirmity!" said Elinor, "do you call Colonel Brandon infirm? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to my mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the use of his limbs!"

"You decide on his imperfections so much in the mass," replied Elinor, "and so much on the strength of your own imagination, that the commendation I am able to give of him is comparatively cold and insipid. I can only pronounce him to be a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart."

"I confess," replied Elinor, "that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence." 

"But perhaps the abuse of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for the regard of Lady Middleton and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust."

"Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah! if you knew!--And can you believe me to be so, while I see you so wretched!

Musings: Elinor and Marianne are two side of the same coin, and it is difficult to discuss one without considering the other. It's very clever what Austen does in Sense and Sensibility, her only novel featuring two heroines. By balancing a lady of nineteen against a sister of sixteen, she provides perspective on the development of a young woman's mind. Of course, there is Margaret in the background, who, at thirteen, gives the reader a complete picture of a woman's journey from childhood to adulthood, and the remarkable changes that occur during this time. While Marianne is physically mature, her mind has not yet developed beyond the passionate and oh so selfish transports of the teenage years. Most women were like Marianne once, ready to be catapulted to the highest peaks of excitement only to plummet afterward into self-exasperated wallowing. Then we become Elinors (hopefully), and while we might remember our youthful exploits fondly, perhaps even mourning those days of dizzying emotion, we are thankful we have learned to govern ourselves. It reminds me of the beginning of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey", and I unconsciously just echoed some of his language: "That time is past,/And all its aching joys are now no more,/And all its dizzy raptures."

So while Elinor has grown beyond the time of "aching joys", Marianne, who in proper teenage fashion contributes the drama to our tale, is right in the middle of them. The result is that Elinor is presented as almost inconceivably perfect: a clear predecessor to Anne Elliot. She never makes a social misstep, privately or publicly, absorbing the kind of abuse that would drive Elizabeth Bennet to deliver an indignant set down with graceful indifference. Who does not wish to be so reasonable? So much in command of one's self at all times? It is impossible, but we are certainly better for trying.   


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Profile: Catherine Morland

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Name: Catherine Morland

Age: 17

Hobbies: Novel reading

Most charming quality: Disarming sincerity

Most detrimental tendency: Fancifulness

Greatest strength: Apologizing

Truest friend: Elinor Tilney

Worst enemy: John Thorpe

Prospects: As one of ten siblings, she will always have a roof overhead, but her portion is necessarily small.

Favorite quotations: "What beautiful hyacinths! -- I have just learnt to love a hyacinth."

"A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another."

"I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London."

"I never look at it," said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, "without thinking of the south of France."

"Oh! dear, there are a great many people like me, I dare say, only a great deal better."
"And as to most matters, to say the truth, there are not many that I know my own mind about."

Musings: While all of Austen's heroines grow during the course of their respective books, Catherine's story is the only true Bildungsroman, or coming of age story. We dwell on the Gothic aspects of Northanger Abbey, but I always felt the parody was just a device Austen used to chronicle Catherine's emotional maturation, which is the true subject of the story. From unpromising beginnings, she leaves her home for a series of adventures which teach her to judge people by their actions, not their words, and to curb her speculative imagination. Upon first arriving in Bath, she is not even capable of deciding for herself whether or not to venture out in Mr. Thorpe's gig, but by the end of the story she is traveling alone through the country, a thing that Miss Morland, upon our first acquaintance with her, would never have been able to accomplish without a debilitating concern for highwaymen. I always thought Mrs. Morland's comments upon her return most telling:
"It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets."
While some concern for the child that was remains, Catherine has proven herself a capable young lady, and though her adventures were mostly mundane, encompassing nothing more horrid than some malicious gossip, atrocious hospitality, and an unchaperoned journey, they have, nevertheless, transformed her into a true Austen heroine. The meaning that I derive from this story, both now and when I first read it as a rather awkward twelve year-old, is that all woman have the potential to become beautiful and captivating: the heroines of their own stories, their own lives, and loves. A heroine need not be a princess locked in a tower or an heiress persecuted by malignant forces. All she needs is a hero, and even a mere clergyman can appear a knight in shinning armor in the eyes of the lady who loves him. When I felt doomed forever by acne and braces, Catherine both gave me hope for the future and ignited my obsession with Miss Jane Austen, teaching me to seek romance in reality rather than fantasy.   


Monday, September 27, 2010

Dancing With Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House

Ever since I learned of the existence of Dancing with Mr. Darcy, I have been aching to read this collection of twenty short stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House Library. Now I wish I had waited until October 19th, when the US edition comes out, rather than importing a copy from the UK. The collection did not live up to my expectations. First of all, there is a noticeable absence of both dancing and Mr. Darcy. Secondly, though many of the stories were sweet, rather than having clear Austen connections most only vaguely invoke my favorite lady. The majority of the book resembles modern memoir more than Austen. It may not be very highbrow to say so, but I would have far more enjoyed a collection of pure JAFF. As a result, I have been at a bit of a loss regarding how to proceed with this review, and have decided to restrain myself to only commenting on those tales I found superior to the rest, not wishing to turn this post into little more than a rant about which most annoyed me.

I feel I must mention the winning story from the competition that compelled this collection of stories, which is also the first in the book. Entitled Jane Austen over the Styx, Victoria Owens tells the tale of Austen's descent into Hades, where she is confronted by her older female characters, accusing her of portraying them in a negative light. Our witty, fast-thinking Jane offers no better defense than showing younger woman negatively as well, using the interactions between Emma Woodhouse and Miss Bates as her example. It's a cute a whimsical story, but it infuriated me as much as it entertained.

I much prefer the second story in the collection. Second Thoughts by Elsa A Solender tells of the evening Jane Austen said yes to an offer of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, following her thoughts into the morning when she changes her mind. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection, and I wish most were in a similar vein.

The forth story was quite whimsical. In The Delaford Ladies' Detective Agency, Elizabeth Hopkinson casts a mature Elinor Ferrars in the role of local sleuth, whose skills are required when a house party at Delaford is thrown into fear by a phantom embroiderer, covertly working on the ladies' sewing projects in the night.

The eighth story is called Miss Austen Victorious by Esther Bellamy. While I found it, quite frankly, a bit weird, it's nevertheless an enjoyable tale that transplants Mrs. Bennet to WWII England, where she is ironically engaged in directing a dramatization of Pride and Prejudice.

Number nine is another of my favorites: Cleverclogs by Hilary Spiers. It is the story of a young bookworm who forges a special bond with her grandmother through Austen's novels. I could deeply relate to this story and consider it one of the few masterpieces in the collection.

I really enjoyed what Kelly Brendel did with the the twelfth story, Somewhere, in which she tells the story of the Mansfield theatrics from Mrs. Grant's perspective. She demonstrates great empathy for this often overlooked character.

One Character in Search of her Love Story Role by Felicity Cowie is the sixteenth story, an amusing meta analysis of the continuity in character types. It forges an interesting relationship between Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre that is sure to entertain.

Story nineteen is entitled We Need to Talk About Mr. Collins, by Mary Howell. It is a terribly depressing story about a modern Charlotte enjoying her regular appointment with her hairdresser, Eliza, that does much to boost sympathy for Miss Lucas' famously unromantic perspective of marriage.  

O.K. Despite my best intentions, I cannot help myself but include one rant. The story that infuriated me more than any other was number fifteen, The Jane Austen Hen Weekend by Clair Humphries. All I will allow myself to say is that I would hope any intelligent woman, let alone four, would know to turn off the water on an overflowing toilet rather than let it run all over a historical home. I'll say no more on the subject.

Has anyone else read this book and felt similarly disappointed? I'd like to hear what others think. In the meantime, if you are looking for a truly satisfying collection of Austen-based short stories, I highly recommend pursuing Jane Greensmith's Intimations of Austen (read my review here) instead.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mr. Darcy's Steeds

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Mr. Darcy must ride a superior horse. I have read a lot of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction and have come across a lot of different depictions of the animal in question. It's kind of fascinating, all the different names and temperaments, and I thought it would be fun to look at some of his more memorable steeds. So often these horses reflect essential aspects of a novel's plot. Let's take a look, shall we?

I love the name Regina Jeffers gave to Mr. Darcy's horse in Darcy's Passions: Cerberus, the hell hound. How very appropriate, especially in this scene:
Shocked, Darcy felt revulsion run through him. It was George Wickham! He was here in Hertfordshire - his former friend! The man whom he hated the most in the world stood in the streets of Meryton talking casually to the woman he found most exciting. What a twist of fate this was! How could God send him such a trial? The maligned feelings must have been obviously written on his face for he noted the surprise in Elizabeth's eyes as she observed Darcy's and Wickham's silent exchange. Wickham recovered from the initial revelation quicker than did Darcy. With a smirk, he tapped his hat in an extemporaneous greeting. Darcy's repugnance would not allow his returning the greeting; instead, he stiffened from the contemptible display and spun Cerberus away from the group.
In Abigail Reynolds' The Last Man in the World (rereleased under the title Mr. Fitzwiliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World), Elizabeth and Darcy marry after his first proposal, without establishing any kind of true understanding. The subsequent turbulence in their marriage is well reflected in the names of both their horses, which echo their emotions. Elizabeth's Pandora represents the pent up chaos of her feelings, while Darcy's Hurricane aptly echoes his stormy sentiments.
Ignoring her thanks, he mounted his horse and started off down the path. Pandora followed her stablemate's lead, which was fortunate, since Elizabeth felt unequal to putting her lessons in horsemanship to the test. She could find no relief for her sense of loss. 

He made no effort to converse as they continued their trek, and Elizabeth was grateful to see the stables coming into view. She did not realize until she dismounted at the block that in her distress over their discussion, she had not given a second thought to her fear of riding. Excitedly she turned to Darcy, wanting to share this success with him, but his back was to her. Her courage failed her as she heard him brusquely ask the stable boy to saddle Hurricane.

She could not face him. Instead, she collected Pandora's reins and led her towards the stable. One of the stable hands offered to take her, but Elizabeth shook her heard. At Pandora's stall, Elizabeth removed her bridle and found a wizened apple. The horse took the treat from her happily, then whickered in her ear.

She saw Hurricane being led past on his way to Darcy. With a shiver of something that might have been pain, Elizabeth buried her face in Pandora's mane, letting the horse's warmth comfort her.
I love this scene from The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street, in which Mr. Darcy rides a horse named Starlight to Pemberley when he unexpectedly comes upon Elizabeth and the Gardiners, leaving him appropriately starstruck:
An hour later, Starlight freshly shod, I resumed my journey. Ad sometimes happens in the heat of summer, there was a swift, sudden downpour of rain, shortlived but drenching. I grimaced as I felt the dampness penetrate my clothing, but I forgot my discomfort at my first sight of Pemberley.

Over the amber-coloured stone of the buildings, a perfect rainbow arched the sky and, in the watery light, the house seemed suspended in another dimension, shimmering with an unreal, almost magical quality.

I reined in and stared silently as a strange, dreamlike feeling took hold of me, as though the earth was holding its breath, as though time was standing still.

Gradually, the illusion faded in the sun. Starlight whinnied, and I again became aware of discomfort from my damp clothes. I rode on. In the stable yard, I handed the mare to a groom and turned towards the house. 

The I started, fo a mometn believing myself in the grip of another illusion: I had caught sight of a bonnet I recognized.

This time, it was no illusion; this time, I couold be in no doubt; this time, I beheld the beloved face.

The beautiful dark eyes were regarding me in consternation and dismay.
Perhaps Mr. Darcy's most memorable horse is Nelson, as in Admiral, from An Assembly Such as This: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman by Pamela Aiden. The untamed power of this animal perfectly compliments Ms. Aiden's Fitzwilliam Darcy as he struggles to contain his feelings for Elizabeth Bennet.  
Stationed at the bottom of the carriage stairs, Nelson shook his head, stepping forward, then back, and generally intimidating the Netherfield grooms. His ears pricked at the opening of the door, and he swung his great head toward the sound. Upon beholding his master, he made a great show of stamping a hoof perilously close to the groom's foot and gave an indignant snort, sending trails of vapor into the cold morning air.

"G'morning, sir," the groom panted, making no attempt to disguise the relief on his face. "He's a bit high in the instep this morning, sir."

"So it would appear! He's been giving you trouble again?" Darcy frowned into Nelson's face, but the animal merely shrugged off the reprimand, tossed his head, and sent another flume of breath into the air. "You do look the veritable dragon this morning, old man." He took the reins and, declining a leg up from the beleaguered groom, vaulted into the saddle. Nelson took advantage of the lull in control as Darcy attended to the stirrups to execute a jolting dance, reminding his rider that, in the world of horseflesh, he was just as well connected as Darcy. "Oh, so that is how it is! So puffed up in your own conceit that you disdain to prectice the manners of a gentleman." Darcy gathered the reins and drew them back until contact with Nelson's mouth was firmly established and then nodded at the groom to let go his head.

The horse's excitement as Darcy allowed him to break into a stiff-legged trot was palpable, confirming his rider's suspicion that this morning's outing would be a test of wills. Strangely, the prospect was not unwelcome. The rigors of such an exercise would surely distract or perhaps banish entirely the constriction that still hovered under his heart. "Evidently, we both need the blue devils ridden out of us!" Darcy whispered. Nelson's ears flicked back at his voice, and his snort assured his master of his complete agreement

Darcy signaled the advance to a canter as they approached the fence that girdled the wide field east of the hall and set his jaw as he felt Nelson gather speed for the fence. In a matter of moments, it loomed before them, wavering in the morning mists. They thundered forward; the entire world was become only those sounds of pounding hooves and the creaking leather, and the brutal fact of the fence before them. Suddenly, the fence disappeared as Nelson's forelegs came up. His back arched, and in a silence outside of time, he carried his rider over the fence. He landed with a jolt that forced a grunt from his great lungs, but his hindquarters were already gathered for the long gallop across the field. Impulsively, Darcy gave him his head, man and beast throwing caution to the wind, flying as if chased by the Devil's own hounds.
Have I missed your favorite horse of Mr. Darcy's? Please share the name of your preferred steed!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Janeicillin Resumes! Persuasion: Take Two!

 I previously posted a rougher version of this segment but, since the hiatus has been so prolonged, decided it would be easier to start fresh. I have tweaked the beginning a bit, for those who have already read it, and extended the end. I'm also going to move the Janeicillin post day from Thursday to Friday, in hopes that it makes it easier for me to stick with the schedule. Enjoy everybody! 

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part One

"You wished to speak with me, Captain Wentworth?"

It took all of Frederick's willpower, the ingrained inscrutability of nine years in command, to maintain his composure.

“Indeed I do, Sir Walter. I have something of great importance to lay before you.”

“Yes. Anne suggested you might call today. You do understand that I am escorting my cousin, Lady Dalrymple, and Miss Elliot to a card party this evening and have only limited time to spare before I must attend to my preparations, but as Anne was insistent, I made sure to lay aside a quarter of an hour for you.” The impecunious baronet's smile was intended to convey the full honor of such condescension, but Frederick only perceived its absurdity.

“Then you know my reasons for requesting an audience?”

“I do, and let me assure you that I feel quite confident bestowing my youngest daughter's hand on you. When we last discussed such an arrangement, it was, of course, out of the question, but I am not blind to how you have distinguished yourself. Why, Lady Dalrymple herself commented on your fine appearance.” It was of some chagrin to Sir Walter that this young man seemed totally insensible to the magnitude of such a compliment, but as he supposed him already overwhelmed by the honor of marrying an Elliot of Somersetshire, he overlooked the offense. “Of course, you do understand that current circumstances might render it inconvenient for the estate to part with the entirety of Anne's portion, ten thousand pounds, at this time. I will write to my lawyer, Mr. Shepherd, and he will advise me as to what can be done.”

With that, Sir Walter felt he had covered all the salient points of interests while behaving exceedingly handsomely throughout the interview. It was unfortunate his future son-in-law did not share this opinion. Frederick Wentworth felt all that remained unsaid. What did it matter if Sir Walter Elliot no longer deemed him a nobody? With five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, should he be thankful that he was now deemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him? He felt nothing but scorn for the pompous man before him, one of the most worthless specimens of humanity he had the misfortune to encounter (and this from the man who once captained Dick Musgrove!), but love for his daughter, a woman of such perfections that her paternity was astonishing, held his tongue. He bowed so curtly that Sir Walter was left in wonder, bemused by the odd manner in which some men respond to good fortune, and exited the room, just pausing long enough to bow in response to Elizabeth's acknowledgment when he encountered her in the passageway before departing Camden-place.

“Captain Wentworth left rather abruptly, Father,” she commented lackadaisically as she entered the smaller drawing room, gracing a particularly elegant chair with her equally elegant self.

“Poor man! He was quite overwhelmed by my generosity, I am sure, and removed himself rather than make a spectacle. Quite right to have done so, too. Few things are more diminishing to a man's person than an excessive display of emotion, and the morning light is particularly unfavorable. I had wondered that Anne should not have thought of it – to arrange for me to speak with Captain Wentworth one evening when we are at home – but now that I have seen him in broad daylight, I find his complexion perhaps the most impressive I have encountered amongst our naval man, and as Bath has given me ample opportunity to observe the race, I feel I can speak with some expertise on the subject.”

“Undoubtedly, Father.”

“The concern must be for what the future will bring. Having already been so exposed to the elements, and very likely to be so again, I think I can do no better service for him than to recommend the constant use of Gowland when aboard ship. I shall do so when we next meet.”

“I am sure he will receive your advise just as he ought. Captain Wentworth has an unusual degree of countenance for a man of his station. His presence will be an asset to my drawing-rooms.”

“I agree. A very acceptable match for Anne, all in all. Captain certainly sounds better than a mere Mister, and I do believe there must have some connection to the Strafford family after all, though it be distant and possibly unknown. It would not do for Captain Wentworth to pursue the acquaintance, of course, but the name sounds rather well, do you not think? Anne Wentworth. My daughter, Mrs. Wentworth.”

Elizabeth could not be as enthusiastic as her father on such account, for the notion of being both the eldest and only unmarried Miss Elliot was far from felicitous, but she found ample consolation in knowledge that Anne's ineligibility would restore Mr. Elliot's attentions to their proper quarter.

Lady Russell had only just entered the salon when her goddaughter was announced. Readily did she acquiescence to her admittance. A visit with Anne was always a pleasure, and under current circumstances, Lady Russell was quite prepared to encounter a lady experiencing the second bloom which only love can bestow. However, she was not braced for the the vision that entered. Before her stood the image of Anne Elliot – not the near daughter she had reared for so long, but her dear departed friend. Never had the younger Anne so resembled her mother. Here was the woman whom the vain Sir Walter Elliot had found beautiful enough to marry. The roses on her cheeks and sparkle in her eyes had greater depth than the simple bloom of youth, so unappreciated until its inevitable departure. Here was beauty of soul, exploding in full force after prolonged containment.

“My dear Anne, don't you look lovely this morning! I wasn't expecting you until this evening.”

“I had my reasons for wanting to escape Camden-place, and have long delayed an intended visit to you. Are you at leisure?”

“For you I have all the time in the world. Do sit down.”

“Thank you, Lady Russell.”

Such formality was unusual in Anne, who had always felt more at ease in her godmother's home than her own, and it gave Lady Russell pause. Anne was amply aware that she approved of Mr. Elliot, so why hesitate to share her obvious success? Never before had she more clearly felt the justice of her own words, “You are your mother's self in countenance and disposition,” and never before had she more wanted Anne to be the future Lady Elliot.

Anne, feeling the necessity to speak, said, “I have something of great import to impart to you, which I hope will not cause you undue distress.”

Lady Russell's smile twitched. At such a moment, what could Anne possibly say to distress her?

Anne continued, “I have been given an offer of marriage, and I have accepted.”

Here the smile grew firm. “My dearest Anne! From the first moment I saw you together, I was sure how it would come to pass. You have my utmost felicitations.”

Anne looked concerned. “From the very first, madam? I was always of the opinion that you disapproved of Frederick.”

The smile fell. “Frederick?”

“Yes. Captain Wentworth. You thought I referred to Mr. Elliot?”

“Oh, Anne! I'm afraid I did.”

She rose and took a chair closer to her godmother, clasping her hand warmly. “I could not marry Mr. Elliot, even if he had asked me. There are things you do not know about his character. We could not be happy together. I will tell you all.”

And so she did. Anne revealed the entirety of Mrs. Smith's disclosures regarding Mr. Elliot to Lady Russell. His ill-usage of those who had been true friends to him, and his irreverence for the Elliot name, predictably shocked the upright lady. To have been so familiar with such a moral bankrupt was distressing in itself, but to have been so blinded by pleasing manners and desirable connections shook Lady Russell on a deeper level. By failing to discern Mr. Elliot's true character, she had failed Anne. She recalled her own bad advice to Anne on the subject - "A most suitable connection everybody must consider it - but I think it might be a very happy one" - and shuddered at the thought. She said a silent prayer of thanks that her goddaughter had not been forced to learn what misery life with such a man could bring. Here sat Anne beside her, sparkling and glowing with a healthy radiance presumed long lost to age and sorrow, and the man who inspired her dear girl's happy countenance was the very same man she had once advised her against. Now that she reflected on the matter, Anne's looks had been in constant state of improvement ever since her stay in Uppercross. Lady Russell had observed it with pleasure when Anne had arrived at the Lodge, but had failed to attribute the cause to its source: Captain Wentworth. How very wrong she had been in all her attempts to guide Anne!

They had sat for several moments in silence, Lady Russell contemplating her many blunders while Anne continued to caress her hand affectionately. Finally, the elder lady spoke, feeling very much like the woman she addressed, whom she had known since birth, was her superior in understanding. "I know not how you can ever forgive my interference all those years ago."

"I do not blame you, no more than I blame myself for being guided by you. You have stood in place of a mother to me, for which I am immeasurably grateful. I know you only acted as you thought best."

"But what of Captain Wentworth? He has no ties of affection to me, nothing but you to help secure my forgiveness. He must resent me terribly."

Anne worded her response carefully. "I believe he did, but recent events help negate the past. It will take time, but I have great hopes that you will be friends before long."

“I could not bear to lose your company, Anne.”

“There is no fear of that. Soon you will learn to love Frederick as a son, increasing your intimate circle, not contracting it. We shall have wonderful times together at Kellynch.”

Lady Russell managed a weak smile. It would be awkward, but she would try.

Captain Wentworth restlessly paced the stairs leading up to the gravel-walk as he waited for Anne, his temper still disordered by his meeting with Sir Walter. Valiantly did he struggle to bring himself to order before Anne arrived, but all was in vain. His mind would not be quieted.

“How dare the pompous fool, blessed with ready-made reputation, which he did nothing to earn, condescend to me? Captain of the Laconia! Had his parents sent him to sea, I would have whipped the self-satisfaction from Sir Walter Elliot's soul, if I had to scrub it myself! How am I do bear him? I swore to myself eight years ago that I would never allow him to treat me like an inferior again, but the man knows no other means of proceeding! If I hadn't seen him kowtow to his great cousins with my own eyes, I would think he ranked himself royalty. Whoever created the title Baronet surely had no notion that one day someone as undeserving as Sir Walter would inherit it!”

So his mind raved on, his thoughts only interrupted when a gentle, “Ahem,” caught his ear, followed by a musical laugh that wiped the severe countenance from his mien, revealing the sentimental smile that was only for Anne. Without a word he took her hand and, having placed it securely upon his arm, lead his betrothed to the gravel-walk, where they had enjoyed their first moments of true understanding.

“You were quite intent upon your musing. May I presume their subject was your meeting with my father?”

He grimaced, “Sir Walter Elliot, forgive me my dear, is an insufferable fool. I will never say so again, so you need not reprimand me for expressing such sentiments towards the man I must thank for your existence, but I must expunge the bile this once, while I still do not call him Father.”

“You shall hear no censure from my lips. He has given you his blessing?”

“He has expressed gratification in our engagement, yes. It seems I have Lady Dalrymple to thank for being the making of me; she was so good as to declare me handsome, thereby negating my many other shortcomings.”

“Oh dear,” Anne sighed. “At least we face no opposition. I would not have enjoyed marrying against his will.”

“But you would if necessary?”

“I am no longer a girl and may marry where I choose.”

“And Lady Russell?”

“Is ready to make amends for the wrongs of the past. The news was shocking to her, I admit, but after laying Mr. Elliot's sorry history before her, she had little choice but to admit that she had been completely wrong in her previous opinions. She has taken up a new set of hopes, and they are entirely focused on you, my dear Frederick.”

“I love to hear you say my name, Anne.”

“I remember, Frederick.”


Come back next Friday for another weekly dose!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer

The Importance of Being Emma is the first Austen modernization I have read that I absolutely adored. Having long been reluctant to read modernizations, the first few I have tentatively pursued were enjoyable, but not mind boggling. Juliet Archer has boggled my mind. The thing is, I believe that reading The Importance of Being Emma has taught me something fundamental about Emma that I never knew before: how to hate Emma Woodhouse.

I have never really understood why everyone seems to dislikes Miss Woodhouse so much. Yes, she's egotistical and meddlesome, but I identify with her more than with any of Austen's other heroines and proudly display my badge bearing Gwynth Paltrow's picture from the "Which Austen heroine are you?" quiz (see the sidebar). Yet Ms. Archer's modern portrayal of her made my skin crawl. I need to dwell on this for a moment, though I do not mean to criticize the novel, which I loved. Please do not misunderstand the nature of the following rather snippy complaints. It is just that the opportunity to lend my voice to the ranks of those who detest Emma is too novel to waste.

Emma Woodhouse is the new marketing director at Highbury Foods, her family's business. Fresh from an impressive college career, she sets out to bring the old fashioned company her father runs into the 21st century. Perhaps her cause would be aided if she dressed a bit more professionally. As the book opens, she is dismayed by a magazine article featuring a very leggy image of herself but does not learn from this incident to present herself less sexually. The descriptions of her clothing are remarkable. Stilettos, plunging necklines, and skintight skirts are apparently quite unexceptional office attire. I love what she wears to the company Christmas party:

Stunning dress, white and strapless and hugging her body as though she'd been poured into it. Hair falling in glossy waves around her face. Eyes and lips provocatively defined, as if daring someone to accuse her of wearing too much make-up.
Such an ensemble doesn't exactly correspond to what all the female executives I have ever known are likely to wear at a company function, especially those who work at conservative, family-run businesses. Furthermore, she's caddy, selfish, and, in summation, the kind of woman I wouldn't be adverse to running over with my car. Is this not what most fans feel for Austen's Emma Woodhouse?

So why did I love this book so much while positively loathing the heroine? It has everything to do with Mark Knightley. This too makes me feel at one with many of my fellow Janeites, all adoration for Mr. Knightley while despising his lady love. Ms. Archer's development of his character takes him beyond the staid Regency gentleman we know and love, presenting him as an incredibly passionate, socially conscious, and far from perfect modern man. The book is structured so the point of view switches back and forth between Emma and Mark, allowing us inside his head and revealing the not so very gentlemanly thoughts he has. When reading period JAFF, I have a very hard time with the heroes and heroines being presented sexually, but have found that sexual content does not bother me nearly so much when the stories are transposed to the modern era. Mark Knightley is an extremely sexy and sensual character. I found myself unable to put the book down as I waited for Emma to stop scheming and the perspective to flip back to Mark and his struggle over his feelings for Emma. All the intense emotion we imagine Austen's George Knightley to masterly repress is conveyed in indulgent detail through Mark's voice. For example, note the clarity of his emotions upon meeting the modern Frank Churchill:
I walked into the room and stopped short.

They were on the sofa together, their knees almost touching; he was half turned towards her, his hand on her arm. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled. I couldn't see all of his face, but I knew who he was, instantly.

Flynn Churchill.

Several seconds passed before Emma noticed me. 'Oh, there you are,' she said, dismissively, and looked straight back at him. 'Flynn, this is Mark Knightley, I'm sure Tom will have mentioned the name.'

He jumped to his feet and tried to win me over with the same engaging grin I'd seen in that photo-shrine on the Westons' sideboard. We shook hands - he wasn't as limp-wristed as I'd have liked - and I schooled my features into a mask of polite indifference; inside, I was wishing him miles away.

So he'd finally shown up in Highbury, after all those false boasts and empty promises. Putting the Westons to great inconvenience, no doubt; I vaguely remembered Emma saying he wasn't expected until the end of the week. And, with impeccable timing, he'd decided to visit Hartfield at a critical moment between Emma and me.

I took a seat opposite them and willed her to look at me. All in vain; it became increasingly obvious that I may as well not be in the room. He was centre stage, the focus of her attention.

I'd only just met him, yet I hated him - more than I'd ever hated anyone in my life.
The book held me totally riveted from beginning to end. A nice touch were the chapter titles, named in honor of the food industry interests of the Woodhouse and Knightley families, each a course in the grand feast Ms. Archer presents for our delectation. Though I will continue to love and defend Austen's Emma Woodhouse, I have to admit that I never thought I would enjoy disliking a version of her so much. It has been a most enlightening experience, and I cannot wait to see if Ms. Archer causes a similar revolution in my persepective of Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel, in her next book in the Jane Austen in the 21st Century series, Persuade Me. You can learn more about the series and read an excerpt on Ms. Archer's website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Darcy's Voyage by Kara Louise

I really love Kara Louise's books. I've read several, but for some reason never purchased a copy of Pemberley's Promise, her retelling of Pride and Prejudice set on the high seas. The notion just didn't appeal to me very much, seeming rather far fetched, but I always assumed I would eventually read it. So when Sourcebooks asked if I would review Darcy's Voyage, the title with which they have rebranded Pemberley's Promise for mass publication, I was ecstatic. I received my very first advance copy with glee and really tried to wait to read it until the time to post my review drew near, but self control was never my strong suit. When September finally did roll around, most of the story was clouded by all the other Pride and Prejudice variations I have read since completing Darcy's Voyage. A reread was imperative and, I am pleased to say, the book was just as enjoyable on the second go round as on the first.

Elizabeth Bennet embarks for the United States to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, who are temporarily living there for business reasons. Fitzwilliam Darcy is traveling on the same ship (his own), off to collect Georgiana, who traveled to New York with Mrs. Annesley to attend the birth of the latter's first grandchild. Though there are no balls and dinner parties, the early interactions between Elizabeth and Darcy mirror the events of Pride and Prejudice. For example, this rather familiar conversation:
"Do not worry yourself, Captain. I have only seen meagrely tolerable women on this ship; certainly none handsome enough to tempt me in the least."

The captain laughed. "Darcy, you have not changed one bit in the years I have known you. You and your impeccable, fastidious nature. I have seen several whom I would regard as quite pretty."

"I have no intention on this voyage to give consequence to ladies who have been unable to secure a husband for themselves in England and who are determined to find one aboard this sailing vessel even before arriving in America. it is apparent to me that the ladies on this ship, for the most part, have little beauty and no breeding at all. Most are decidedly beneath my station."
Of course, his very prejudiced opinion was overheard. At the Meryton Assembly or on the deck of a ship, Elizabeth and Darcy get off on the wrong foot. Though the unusual intimacy afforded by weeks at sea (including a horrifying but fascinating storm) allow them to recognize their feelings for each other much sooner than they do in Pride and Prejudice, once they leave the ship our hero and heroine are in very much the same place that Austen leaves them at the Hunsford parsonage: divided by misunderstanding. In the process of bringing them back together, Ms. Louise turns the events of Pride and Prejudice completely on their head, allowing all the familiar episodes to unfold in reverse order. The result is a remarkable treat for Austen fans, allowing us to relive our favorite moments from a thoroughly fresh perspective.

I did, as feared each time I chose not read Pemberley's Promise, find that the premise required a bit of a mental leap. No matter how much I enjoyed everything else about the story, I still can't quite wrap my mind around the notion of Elizabeth traveling steerage and alone. Her place there is absolutely essential for the plot to function, but the unlikelihood of her family agreeing to her traveling in such a matter, especially for no more urgent reason than a vacation, continues to irritate me. Upon return to England, the interpretation that unfriendly parties (namely Caroline Bingley) place upon such unusual travel arrangements helped to assuage my chagrin, but still I wish there was a way of setting up the story without subjecting Elizabeth to such precarious conditions.

The beauty of Austen variations and "What if?" JAFF is how twists in events elucidate the emotions of characters we love, like in this scene at Netherfield:
"Why...I would have to object, Miss Bingley!" Elizabeth protested.

Darcy looked to Elizabeth, recognizing the look of anger and insult written across her face, coupled with a very determined look of wishing to speak her mind. She continued, "We may not have all the advantagesone has in town, but we certainly have opportunities that we may take advantage of to improve ourselves."

"Perhaps it would not be the norm," Darcy interjected, "but I do believe one could easily find an unblemished pearl - or two - in a country neighborhood such as this, if one knew where to look and what exactly he was looking for."

Elizabeth's anger was somewhat appeased by Darcy's words. He had, at least, stood up for her, and for that she was grateful. If he had remained silent, she could only suppose he agreed with Miss Bingley, and she did not think she could bear that.
I love how Elizabeth's insecurities remain precisely what they were in the original story, only intensified by her greater emotional involvement in Darcy. It's moments like this that lead me to assert that fan fiction, at its best, is one of the most relevant and direct forms of literary criticism. All of Ms. Louise's novels excel in this area, and I do hope that Darcy's Voyage will be followed by more of her other novels being released by Sourcebooks. My very favorite is Master Under Good Regulation, the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of Mr. Darcy's dog.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Amazing Grace - 2006

I ought to be in Texas, visiting family and friends, but the day before we were set to depart I fell and injured my neck, leaving me with some unexpected time on my hands. And what better to do when convalescing than to watch a movie? I rewatched Amazing Grace, a film about the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, and felt the need to share how my thoughts here. We all know that Austen only mentioned the slave trade twice in her novels. The first time she is subtle about it; Fanny Price says to Edmund Bertram, "Did not you hear me ask [my uncle] about the slave-trade last night?", upon Sir Thomas' return from the Indies. But during this famous exchange between Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton, she is rather more explicit:

"Excuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something--Offices for the sale--not quite of human flesh--but of human intellect."

"Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition."
"I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade," replied Jane; "governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do."

Amazing Grace takes place between 1782 to 1807, the bulk of Austin's life. Abolition was much talked about during this time, and we must assume Jane had some opinion on it (which we would like to deem "correct" by our modern standards), but attempting to pinpoint what her thoughts actually were through the fog of not only time, but also the radical changes in notions of equality developed over the past two hundred or so years, is pretty futile in my opinion. Though it is interesting to speculate and debate upon the matter, it is not my purpose behind this post. The film is fascinating - the story it tells, intensely moving (if a bit prettied up for the screen) - but what I find of particular interest, at least in the context of this blog, is the gorgeous chronology of the changes in fashion between the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, and a cast that is jam packed with Austen veterans.

Romola Garai, so very familiar as the heroine everyone loves to hate in last year's production of Emma, plays Barbara Spooner, the wife of Wilberforce. I wish I could find endless images of her costumes, which were one of my favorite parts of the film (particularly the bib front dress she wears as a bride), but few are to be had. Her Emma costar, Michael Gambon (Mr. Woodhouse), portrays a surprisingly endearing Lord Charles Fox (historically The Honorable Charles James Fox). Nicholas Farrell is Henry Thornton, Wilberforth's cousin, familiar as Mr. Musgrove in the 2007 production of Persuasion, while his wife, Marianne, is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel, memorable in her recent performance as Mrs. Allen in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abby. As soon as I saw her, however, I thought not of the silly shopaholic who provides such ineffective guardianship to her young companion, but of my very favorite portrayal of Fanny Price from the 1983 version of Mansfield Park. Ciaran Hinds represents the opposition as Lord Tarleton (historically General Sir Banastre Tarleton, titles being one of the bigger inaccuracies in the film), a far cry from his depiction of Captain Wentworth in the 1995 version of Persuasion, though both are military men. The remainder of the cast, though not known to us from Austen, have a multitude of costume drama credentials. All demonstrate their remarkable abilities in this film; there is not a weak performance amongst them.

The issues debated in this film - slavery, revolution, religion, morality - are the same as those that formed the intellectual discourse of Austen's era. Though she scrupulously avoided including politics in her novels, knowledge of the ideas that permeated her society undoubtedly help us develop a better understanding of who she was. Amazing Grace is a beautiful vehicle towards that end. I highly recommend it to all.