Monday, June 28, 2010


Jane Austen. ‘Nuff said.

Jane Austen

Even if you’ve never read any of her works (if that’s the case, shame on you!) you still know exactly who I’m talking about. You know exactly who she is.
Jane Austen. Beloved author.
Jane Austen. The original independent woman.
Jane Austen. The queen of the novel.

I believe that Jane Austen is the greatest writer who ever lived. An unaware reader can read right over all of her subtle sarcasm and wit. Jane Austen demands her reader's undivided attention, and her skill makes it impossible to disappoint. You can't help but be sucked into the worlds she created so flawlessly. In Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, Emma Woodhouse, Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Catherine Morland, Jane Austen gave us what many an author of the 19th Century didn’t understand we needed. Heroines.

The beauty of the Austen heroines is that they are real, believable women. They are, by no stretch of the imagination, perfect. Let’s face it, these ladies are flawed. Elizabeth Bennet is too proud and prejudiced after a poor first impression of Darcy to give him a second chance. Anne Elliot is too persuadable - she gives up the man she loves simply because he’s her social inferior, not trusting him to become successful (which he does, by the way). Elinor Dashwood has absolutely no clue how to regulate her feelings. Emma Woodhouse is a snob. Fanny Price is terrified of everyone and everything. Catherine Morland is too naïve. But along with these flaws that make Austenian heroines human, they are also quite remarkable, especially for their time. Elizabeth Bennet is headstrong. Anne Elliot has calm and capable. Emma Woodhouse really does have everyone else’s best interests at heart. Elinor Dashwood is sensible. Fanny Price is insightful. Catherine Morland sees only the good in people (except Henry's father, of course). All Austenian heriones are intelligent women, which was a bold move for an author of Jane's time. Jane herself is famous for saying "A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can." (Remember what I said about wit?) In these six characters Jane Austen has given generations of women six inspiring women who can teach us a lot. They teach us that first impressions aren't always correct. They teach us the importance of following your own heart. They teach us that when it comes down to it, nothing (not even a sadistic family, a snob of an aunt, or pride) can stand in the way of true love. Among the many things Miss Austen has taught us, my favorite is this: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone" (Persuasion).

Jane Austen’s work is so beloved it has been adapted for the screen several times. Although a movie or mini-series never lives up to the novel, these adaptations are always fun to watch. The best adaptation is widely accepted to be BBC’s 1995 6-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. It also happens to be my favourite.

Jennifer Ehle is the perfect Elizabeth Bennet, and of all the Elizabeth Bennets she is by far my favorite. Her portrayal was flawless. It astounds me how very much Keira Knightly’s 2005 performance is based on Jennifer Ehle’s. Even the way Knightly speaks, pronounces her words and the way she moves her mouth when she does is a direct copy of Jennifer Ehle! I have frequently found myself thinking that this being the case (surely you cannot argue?!) that Knightley didn’t actually deserve all of the praise she got for this role. Untill the day I die I will maintain that Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet is an attempted carbon copy of Jennifer Ehle’s. Jennifer’s being the supreme, of course.

Having said that, I really enjoy watching this adaptation. The Bennet sisters are brought to life beautifully by Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike and Talulah Riley.

In my humble opinion the worst Austen adaptation (unpleasant, I know, but we must discuss these things) must be the 1996 made for television movie of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale. I love Kate Beckinsale as an actress, I really do, but this was a horrendous adaptation, and if it weren’t for the fact that I was hoping it would get significantly better, I would not have been able to sit through the whole catastrophe. Frankly, I want my 107 minutes back! Now, I firmly believe that you reap what you sow. I don’t want to put negativity into the universe, so I hope you don’t mind that I will leave it at that.

Then there are the countless Austen inspired works. It is said that Jane Austen's greatest love story was her own. The one Austen movie you simply have to see is Becoming Jane. "Between Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice was a life worth writing about" The story follows the possible but unconfirmed romance between Jane and Tom LeFroy. "Their love story was her greatest inspiration". Though an unconfirmed love, any Austen fan will adore the possibility of such a great love story for Jane herself. Personally I choose to believe that Jane did experience such a magnificent, powerful (though tragic) love. You know what they say; It's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all... whoever they are.

As for the written works, to name but a few, there is firstly The lost memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James (which was a thoughtful gift from by best friend, Erika). This book chronicles a fictional love story for Miss Austen, but is interwoven with true Austen history, which makes it truly remarkable and interesting to read. Syrie James herself stated “I felt a great responsibility to remain true to Jane Austen's known history, and to accurately represent not only her, but her real-life friends and family members. It was a challenge to interweave my love story with the known dates, times, places and facts of Jane Austen's life. When I was finished, I hoped it would be difficult for even the most discerning Jane Austen scholar to determine where fact ended and fiction began”. Succeed she did. If you’re an Austen fan, this book is definitely worth a read! Then there is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith which more or less places the characters and events of Pride and Prejudice smack bang in the middle of a zombie invasion. Now, I love Jane Austen way too much to touch a satire of her work with a stick, but I must say that I haven't heard a bad word about this book. The AV Club, for instance, commented that "what begins as a gimmick ends with renewed appreciation of the indomitable appeal of Austen’s language, characters, and situations...", Maybe I’ll get around to reading this someday. If I do, I promise to keep you posted! My personal favorite Austen inspired work has to be Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, wherein a 21st Century American Jane Austen addict wakes up to find herself in Regency England. This book is a very clever take on the times of Jane Austen. For instance, I always imagined I would have loved to have lived in Jane’s time, but Laurie reminded me of some flaws in this plan, the biggest of which (to my mind) has to be the limitation of one bath per week. Tops! Best of all, Confessions features a hilarious cameo of Miss Austen herself. This is my top Austen inspired recommendation for you. It's fun, clever, and, well... addictive! Well worth the read to see how modern Courtney deals with the constraints (social and otherwise) of 19th Century England.

Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey

One brilliant author and six brilliant novels that changed my life.

When all is said and done I can think of many words to describe the works of this author, but the most appropriate seems to be timeless.

A picture of The Jane Austen Centre sign in Bath, thoughtfully taken for me when Erika visted Bath

1 comment:

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