tempestsarekind: (not supposed to be a heroine)
In what is a slightly surprising turn of events, I've found myself avoiding much of the Austen media surrounding the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death. Much of the writing about Austen on the internet just winds up irking me and rubbing me the wrong way, and I just haven't felt like dealing with that, this summer. (I did watch Lucy Worsley having fun visiting the places Austen had lived, though. That was cute enough, without doing that "but I'm not like all those other Austen fans" thing that is frequently the cause of my irritation.)

Here, however, is a piece I somehow missed from last year, which I rather liked:

What makes Mr. Darcy desirable? - Talia Schaffer
https://blog.oup.com/2016/06/darcy-desirable/

People often declare pompously that there's no real romance in Austen's novels ("but I'm not like all those other Austen fans!"), because declaring that the matches between characters are solely economic ventures is a way of "saving" Austen from being tarred with the "girly" brush: it's all right to like her, because she's not one of those writers, who care about feelings and whatnot. But that ignores the fact that a marriage to a wealthy man can still be a nightmare; the whole point of the relationships in Austen is that they are good ones, matches of temperament and esteem, not just money. Or as Schaffer puts it here:

Yes, Darcy is rich, but his wealth will do no good if he is a gambler like Wickham. Yes, Darcy is well-born, but his class will do no good if he uses his status to crush his wife rather than raise her. Yes, Darcy may be handsome, but his appearance may cover a vicious temper. Far more important than wealth, birth, and looks is a moral sensibility that can regulate these traits in a way that will benefit the woman who marries him.
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
*eyeroll*

http://www.radiotimes.com/amp/news/2017-08-07/poldark-producers-to-adapt-pride-and-prejudice-for-itv

(via Austenblog)

Didn't ITV do that wretched Mansfield Park with Billie Piper - the one that went, "oh, who cares if our heroine is nothing like the Fanny Price in the novel, no one today could identify with her anyway"? That does not exactly fill me with confidence. (Also, I had to stop watching Poldark because there wasn't nearly enough narrative tissue between its various happenings - which seems to be this generation's period-drama affliction, not actually devoting enough time to showing why things between characters happen - so that's strike two.)

Mostly, though, I just cannot get worked up over the idea of yet another P&P adaptation. Am bored already.
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
I keep being tempted to come up with new headlines for this article, like, "Let's all celebrate a man's mediocrity!" or "Being male means never having to live up to your potential in order to still have people devote time and energy to you."

It's time to bring Branwell, the dark Brontë, into the light
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/26/its-time-to-bring-branwell-the-dark-bronte-into-the-light

I think this was the paragraph that really made my eyelid twitch:

Branwell’s imaginative terrain was vast and impressive. He had the ability to rework a variety of histories and literary genres, immersing himself in an imaginative world that showcases a sophisticated interpretation of the world around him. Yet, despite this engagement, his writings are often derivative and undisciplined, often degenerating into a rambling stream of consciousness. If nothing else, however, these early years saw Branwell as an instrumental figure that inspired his sisters to harness their own imaginations and opinions. Branwell’s contribution was influencing his sisters to become the perceptive, avant-garde writers we know. (my emphasis)


Ugh. So…he wasn't actually good at writing, is what you're telling me, but we should talk about him more anyway?

The thing is, I don't even really have any opinions about Branwell, ordinarily. It's just that every time I hear about him, it's usually someone trying to make him central to the successes of his sisters, or focusing on him and his antics rather than on the creativity and artistic discipline of, you know, the Brontes who actually had flourishing literary careers. (The recent TV costume drama about the Brontes, To Walk Invisible, was regrettably guilty of this, passing over the composition of whole novels in an eyeblink while spending whole scenes on Branwell's conning their father out of money to spend on liquor.) I'm not saying that we should never talk or think about Branwell; rather, I feel like he gets talked about all the time - and maybe out of proportion to his actual accomplishments. It's that same insidious desire we seem to be afflicted with, culturally: we rack our brains to figure out ways to make a man responsible for a woman's literary successes - whether it's spending ages trying to work out who the "Master" of Emily Dickinson's poems might be, or making whole movies devoted to the idea that Jane Austen only became a novelist because Tom Lefroy recommended Tom Jones to her and broke her heart, to this. Why is it so hard to give these women their due? It's just dressing up the Victorian idea that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell could never really have been women in slightly more modern clothing: a man had to have had his hand in the thing, somewhere.
tempestsarekind: (dido plus books)
A post from the OUP blog on Austen's teenaged works, by Kathryn Sutherland and Freya Johnston (who edited the volume of Austen's teenaged writing for OUP).

https://blog.oup.com/2017/04/jane-austens-teenage-writings-audio-guide/
tempestsarekind: (austen bonnets)
I don't think I've ever seen this painting before yesterday,* somehow - a portrait of Gainsborough's daughters chasing a butterfly - but I'm posting the link here so I don't forget it:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/picture/2012/sep/06/thomas-gainsborough-daughters-chasing-butterfly

(I keep thinking of Eleven saying "a proper artist, like Gainsborough." Hee.)



*It was on the cover of a book about Jane Austen that I saw at the bookstore, I think. Of course, I can't remember the book now; I was too focused on making sure I remembered the painting when I got home!
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth)
A Post from the Oxford University Press blog about the music Austen might have known:

http://blog.oup.com/2016/06/what-jane-heard/
tempestsarekind: (austen)
Hmm… A recent Atlantic piece on the Emma Thompson and Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility, by literary critic Devoney Looser:

Sense and Sensibility and Jane Austen's Accidental Feminists
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/02/sense-and-sensibility-jane-austen-emma-thompson/434007/

The changes Lee and Thompson made to Austen’s original story meant the title Sense and Sensibility no longer alluded to just the characteristics of its heroines. It now applied to the heroes as well, with Rickman and Grant’s characters proving men could combine a heightened emotional sensitivity (“sensibility”) with the traditionally masculine bedrock of clear-eyed rationality (“sense”).


What's maybe ironic about this quotation is that (as I'm sure you know) sensibility was absolutely a male characteristic as well as a female one in Austen's day; if Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon don't display it in the novel (snug farmhouses, etc. - although I think Brandon, with all his running off in the middle of parties and fighting duels, actually does display a fair amount; it's just that everyone forgets it because Marianne says that thing about his wearing a flannel waistcoat), it's because they serve as foils for Willoughby, who uses the idea of sensibility very much to his advantage to beguile Marianne. Austen always seems slightly skeptical of sensibility, from "Love and Freindship" ("run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint") all the way through Persuasion (where the most important question about Byron's poetry is how to pronounce the title of one of them, and Anne worries about letting the mournful Captain Benwick read too much poetry). It's worth thinking about the ways in which "masculinity" changed in order to make sensibility something that needed to be given to male characters in the film as something signaling the "new man," rather than argued against because it was commonplace.
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
Apparently I really like The Toast except when they write about Jane Austen, because I feel like every piece I have read about Austen on the site has subtly irked me in some way. I read this piece a while ago (about the Jane Austen Centre in Bath), but this quotation has been going around Tumblr lately:

To see Jane Austen’s writing desk, you have to go to the British Library in London. It’s in a glass case in their Treasures of the British Library display, across from one of Shakespeare’s folios and a few cases away from some Beatles sheet music. It is a very small desk, and foldable, designed to be easily stowed away, which it must have been often; Austen wrote in her parlor and would hide her writing whenever callers stopped by. At the British Library it is open, with very small spectacles pinned to one corner and the tiny notebook that held the first draft of Persuasion lying on top of it, splayed flat so you can see Austen’s fine, precise handwriting. Under the shadow of that desk, the disciplined confinement of her novels acquires visceral force. This much space was she permitted, and no more.

In the display case next to Austen’s desk is Dickens’s first draft of Nicholas Nickelby, in a notebook that dwarfs Austen’s entire desk, with generous margins and looping, scrawly handwriting. It is impossible for me to imagine what Austen might have done with that kind of freedom, that kind of certainty of her own right to take up space.


http://the-toast.net/2016/01/07/the-real-mr-darcy-a-literary-pilgrimage/


And, like, I get it: women's oppression, whatever happened to Judith Shakespeare*, you have the right to take up space. It's a nice contrast, Dickens' rangy, striding freedom against Austen's miniature precision and reserve. Except Austen chose to write in the parlor and hide her writing when company came over, instead of staying in her room. This idea that Austen could have just done more, just have been bigger and so much better - if she'd had the wild freedom of a Bronte, if she'd written about the Napoleonic Wars, if she'd had a bigger desk and the mazy streets of London to roam, if we added zombies - is one of those unexamined, insulting sentiments that sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to run through the streets yelling things like "Emma is a nationalist project!" and "I will fight you over Fanny Price!" Austen described her style as working on a bit of ivory, and when people told her she ought to write Bigger Things (like the time the Prince Regent's librarian suggested that she ought to write a "historical romance" about the house of Saxe-Coburg), she said, "Thanks, but no thanks,"** because - here's the shocking thing that people don't seem to Get about Austen - she knew what she wanted to do. She didn't accidentally fall into her style of writing and subject matter because it was the best she could do given her limited freedoms, or because it was the best life had to offer her after being disappointed in love, or because she was just a mimic who wrote down conversations as they happened and couldn't think beyond her social world. (I know I always say this, but read Claire Tomalin on Jane Austen's social world. If she had wanted to write some grand Gothic romance, she had several neighbors she could have chosen for inspiration, to say nothing of her cousin who married a French aristocrat who got guillotined during the French Revolution.) Austen chose to write what she wanted to write, and it makes me so mad when people don't give her that credit - whether they dismiss her for feminist reasons or not.


*Woolf's Judith Shakespeare, not the historical one.
**Or, as she put it, "No, I must keep to my own style and go in my own way." I don't know why this idea is so hard for people to understand.
tempestsarekind: (austen bonnets)
How did I miss this announcement before now? I mean, this is basically the tutorial I taught a few years ago, even down to the "Will and Jane" title!

http://folgerpedia.folger.edu/Will_%26_Jane:_Shakespeare,_Austen,_and_the_Cult_of_Celebrity

Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity

Will & Jane, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger is co-curated by Austen scholar Janine Barchas (University of Texas at Austin) and theater historian Kristina Straub (Carnegie Mellon University).

The upcoming Will & Jane exhibit explores the parallel afterlives of arguably the two most popular writers in the English language. As household names and literary celebrities, both Shakespeare and Austen are on a “first-name basis” with the reading public.

Since the year 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, just as 2017 will mark the bicentenary of the death of Austen, this exhibit is an opportunity to consider the rise of literary celebrity in terms of 200-year cycles. Does today’s Cult of Jane resemble the first exuberant wave of Bardolatry witnessed in the Georgic period?

The exhibit will zoom in on how Shakespeare was celebrated 200 years ago in order to compare public spectacles like Garrick’s Jubilee and Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery to today’s media celebrations such as BBC “bonnet dramas” made from Austen’s works. The aggressive merchandizing of Shakespeare begun in the eighteenth century also closely resembles the marketing of Austen memorabilia today.

nope

Nov. 18th, 2014 09:27 pm
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
Nope, Sleepy Hollow. Just nope. You cannot force me to like a character I really don't like, just by having him make an Austen reference. Nope. (Especially if you're using it to do that thing I can't stand, where people think that Austen's novels are about characters whose dislike for each other actually is evidence of their hidden passion for each other, because ugh, and also, that is not actually how Pride and Prejudice works.)

At least he didn't play the old, tired, "oh, I only know this because some old girlfriend made me watch the miniseries" card, though. I will give him that.

But the Ichabod Crane: Human Cat show is still running, which is nice. (Relaxing into boneless pleasure only to be pulled up short by remembering his dignity? Human cat.) And Nicole Beharie and Lyndie Greenwood were fabulous last night. Shame I still don't care about the apocalypse, but what can you do?
tempestsarekind: (ofelia reading)
(Is the New Yorker's new stance "no one should like reading anything unless it is approved by us"? Didn't they just publish one of these finger-wagging pieces for adults? Did they feel like they weren't scolding enough readers with that last one? Thought they'd cast their net a little wider, did they?)

"What if the strenuous accessibility of 'Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods' proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?"

"The Percy Jackson Problem," Rebecca Mead
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/percy-jackson-problem

(link via Neil Gaiman's Tumblr.)

Won't somebody please think of the children??? (What if the books are so enjoyable that children can't help themselves? What if they're like drugs?)

…I sometimes wonder if people would be less odd and panicky about this if we didn't live in a culture that was so concerned with precocity and early development. Let's say children don't pick up difficult incarnations of the classics - let's say they don't read them until high school or even, god forbid, college. (I'm assuming for the sake of this argument that reading the classics is a good thing that we would like people to do at some point, but it is not the only way to build a life.) Is that so bad? And let's say - brazen thought, but humor me for a second - that when they do read those classics in high school or college or even (gasp) when they're not in school at all (because I hear tell that people do still develop interests once they graduate), they feel more comfortable with them because they remember some of the stories from reading Rick Riordan's books: where, exactly, is the problem?

I feel like these articles all seem to operate under the impression that if you're not reading it (whatever it is) by the time you're ten, it's all over for you, and you're intellectually stunted forever. But I can never take these handwringing pieces seriously, because my own experience was so different. I was a pretty precocious reader as a child, in some ways: I started reading when I was two, I read well above my grade level, and I had a pretty well-stocked vocabulary. And Rebecca Mead would probably have approved of me, because for some odd reason I was obsessed with Bullfinch's Mythology (I…appropriated my mother's copy without actually thinking about it, to the extent that she found it on one of my bookshelves a couple of years ago and commented, "I used to have this book…"), and my first encounters with a lot of Greek and Roman myths happened in that book (although I have a very strong memory of first reading the story of Pandora's box in Virginia Hamilton's collection In the Beginning). (I didn't really latch on to the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - mentioned in Mead's piece - but oh, how I loved their version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I wish it would come back into print.)

But I didn't "graduate" to reading "serious" adult fiction when I was a child, or even very much when I was a teen. I was quite happy in the children's section, for a long time. I read and loved Matilda, and thought wistfully about how nice it would be to have been a prodigy, to impress somebody like Miss Honey because I loved Dickens - but I never went out and tried to read any Dickens. Even in high school, I liked most of what we read in school, and I understood it pretty easily - but even after reading and loving Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for class, I didn't run to seek out any other Austen novels. I was far too busy at the time reading Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip and Josepha Sherman, and trying to find all the Gillian Bradshaw novels I could get my hands on. I knew Fortinbras as the Murry family's dog in A Wrinkle in Time well before I knew he was a character in Hamlet.

And you know, I think I turned out okay. I read the rest of Austen's novels in college, and fell as ardently in love as anyone could wish. It turns out that I really liked Bleak House, once I got around to reading it. Shakespeare pretty much knocked me over the head and dragged me off to grad school, where I don't seem to have done any worse because I didn't read all the plays when I was twelve. And if I still haven't read Tolstoy or a bunch of other things yet - well, I've still got time. Because I haven't stopped reading, and changing, and learning that things I heard about when I was younger actually come from other sources that I can choose to explore even though I didn't then. (Baby Me would not have been ready for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, even though she had read a retelling of it. Baby Me was not ready for Twelfth Night, even though she could understand it perfectly well in her seventh-grade English class, because she hit backspace, appalled and embarrassed, at the first joke about venereal disease. Who knows what other riches Baby Me has left for Grownup Me to explore?)

The books that made me love reading - that turned me into the kind of person who could love Austen and Shakespeare as entirely as I do - were unabashedly children's books, populated with Moomins and dragons and children who ran away to hide in museums, and girls who traveled through time. The books that kept me in love with reading were the sorts of genre books that critics often sneer at (books that still have a purchase on my heart). Certainly the books that made me want to be a writer when I was younger, that made me think about how words worked together, were those kinds of books. (I literally started writing about writing because I wanted to figure out how McKillip's Riddlemaster books worked.) My reading abilities didn't atrophy and desiccate just because it took me a little longer to get around to the kinds of books that Rebecca Mead would consider important. So I bet those kids reading the Percy Jackson series are going to be fine.
tempestsarekind: (regency house party [s&s])
So, before I get started, here's a review of Belle that I don't like or agree with much:
"In 'Belle,' a complex life tangled in class and commerce"
http://www.npr.org/2014/05/02/308733902/in-belle-a-complex-life-tangled-in-class-and-commerce

If you like Jane Austen film adaptations and/or period drama more generally, I think you should go out and see Belle if it's playing near you. And obviously I can't tell anyone what to do, but if this is the kind of thing that interests you, then I think it's worth going out to see it in the theater if that is within your means - voting with your wallet and all that - rather than waiting to catch it on DVD or Netflix. Personally, having done it yesterday*, I think it was very much worth the money, and also, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has the kind of vividly expressive face that is just made for closeups. I thought the whole thing was moving and immersive, with a script that was spare but still containing a real sense of eighteenth-century cadence, and Gugu did a fabulous job.

*I got home yesterday at about ten minutes to six, took my shoes off, ate a spoonful of peanut butter and two dried apricots while I tried to figure out what I was going to make for dinner - and then abruptly remembered that Belle was opening at my local cinema that day. It turned out that there was a 7:05 screening, so I ran back out to catch it. Happily, the theater was mostly full by the time the movie started.

As I sat there waiting for the movie to start, I amused myself by trying to imagine the kinds of ways that people might discount this movie. It was going to be "too much like other period pieces," I imagined, too much like Jane Austen, not big or significant enough to be a worthy film. And sure enough, check out the end of this review:
While the basic outline of Belle's story is real, the filmmakers have invented freely within that outline, and most of what they've invented has the themes and tone of vintage Jane Austen — dowries, deceptions, suitors only some of whom are suitable. This has the effect of making the film feel elegant but a little weightless despite the weighty matters at its center.

Still, it's smartly acted, handsome and well-crafted in a way that'll make it irresistible to the Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater set — think pride, with a whole lot of prejudice.


Got it in one, guys. (This is literally the first review of the film that I pulled up.) Because you can't tell a story about slavery without showing whips and chains and suffering black bodies; because a film set in drawing rooms can't ever matter as much as one out on the open seas; because apparently the fact that women of color rarely if ever get to be the heroine of Austen-style period dramas has totally escaped this reviewer's notice. (This was in fact the director's point, but whatever.) Because everyone knows there's only one way to talk about race in the movies, and race is always the only thing that could matter to characters of color: how could Dido (the way "Belle" is referred to in the film) be concerned with…finding a husband? That paltry subject? How could she want to find the personal happiness that everyone else might want when there is slavery on the line???

[Here is an interview with the director, Amma Asante, that is *not* tone-deaf and infuriating:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/05/09/amma-asante-tells-the-story-of-a-biracial-woman-finding-her-place-in-the-world-in-belle/
“I wanted to ask the question, ‘Who defines us — society or ourselves?’ ” Asante says. “If society simply sees her as the child of a slave but she feels like the child of an aristocrat, what is the most important predictor of her success?”
]

I also probably shouldn't be as annoyed as I am about the fact that this review calls Dido a "slave girl" raised in an aristocratic family when the movie tells us in, like, minute two that Dido was born on British soil - and hence not a slave, ever - but I AM, anyway. It's like the desire to fit this movie into the particular expected boxes turned the reviewer selectively deaf. This movie is *so* much about class and status as well, not just about race - it's almost like intersectionality is an actual thing, you guys! One of the major points of the movie - I don't think this was true in actual fact - is that Dido is able to inherit 2000 pounds a year from her father after his death, because he acknowledged her while he was alive, whereas her white cousin was penniless - and that meant that in that ruthless marriage market of the eighteenth century, there were people who would see Dido as the catch, even if they felt they had to "overlook" her color; this is a plot point as well. Dido's great-uncle/adopted father (Lord Mansfield, played by that period-drama stalwart Tom Wilkinson) is terribly angry when his new law student tells Dido about the slavery-ship case that he's struggling with, because as far as he is concerned, slavery should never have to matter to her: she is a Murray, and you are the son of a vicar, how dare you even speak to her! (This is, of course, naive and infantilizing; but the point is that for Lord Mansfield, Dido's color is really not the salient fact in some ways, though of course not all. And the Black servant Mabel highlights this point: she's a servant (not a slave; Dido asks pointed questions about this when they go to the house in London), not because of her color, but because in the 18th-century English aristocratic mind, some people are servants and some people are lords - they have plenty of white servants as well. But it's like there's so little frame of reference for this reviewer to imagine a Black character in a pre-1900 period film who is *not* a slave that this just passed him by.

And I do think that this attitude has ramifications beyond this one film - because there are certain kinds of Black experiences that are considered "authentic," and some that are not, regardless of whether there are actual people who live them (someone on TV - et tu, PBS! - called The Cosby Show less "authentic" than Good Times in a documentary just the other day); because people still think there were basically no Black people in the UK before the 1950s (guess who's still mad at Downton Abbey for importing a Black character from the US instead of challenging that view and finding a character from right there at home? Go on, guess). Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. (To say nothing of the continued stupidity of claiming that the concerns that governed women's lives in the past are weightless. How dare you.)

Anyway, you should go see Belle, because Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a delight, and it's got lovely costumes, and it's romantic (because yes, figuring out whom you are going to spend the rest of your life with is a pretty big deal when you can't get a divorce and can't own your own money because you're a gentlewoman and so can't have a job; and even if that weren't the case, people have relationships and therefore stories about those relationships are important), and I cried a bunch of times, and maybe if enough people go see this movie, maybe someday I will get my Benjamin Banneker biopic, or - no disrespect to 12 Years a Slave or the real lives that inspired it - at least some other pre-1900 period drama that isn't about a slave, because I still think it's totally fishy that Hollywood overlooks the many people of color, even in slave-holding societies, who lived in the past and weren't slaves.
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
Oh great: now I'm just having a bunch of grumpy Comedy feelings, full stop. But since I'm having them - I don't really understand the idea that only tragedy teaches us about life (as opposed to the idea that tragedy, like comedy, can teach us about parts of life), because life is in fact more than death. But I also don't get the related assumption that comedy is "only" about wish-fulfillment, and that this means that it's unreal and ripe for dismissal - because the thing about watching wish-fulfillment play out in a novel or on a screen is that it helps us to figure out what our wishes are. I could probably write one of those All I Need to Know About Love I Learned from Jane Austen-style books, except that it would probably just consist of the text of that scene between Emma and Mr. Knightley at the Christmas party ("Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?"), Elizabeth's line about being proud of Darcy, and a series of exclamation points - but seriously, stories tell us how to live, and comedies can tell us what we want out of life, what we care about, what we want our relationships to look like, what values we want to hold in our everyday lives. Obviously not every comedy is perfect just because it has a happy ending, and not every comedy speaks to every reader or viewer. But what on earth is bad, or weak, or unrealistic about a genre that speaks to who we want to be, that tells us that it's good to hope for things, that lets us think about what we hope for in the first place? Why do we think that happy endings are good for children, but that we ought to give them up when we grow up? What's so wrong with a little wish-fulfillment?
tempestsarekind: (very few dates in this history)
"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."
--Mansfield Park (the first sentences of the last chapter)

In other words, happy birthday, Jane Austen! Thanks for all the heroines, light, bright, and sparkling, or serious and sensible; for Mansfield Park and Pemberley and Northanger Abbey; for books that are the nicest in the world.

meh.

Oct. 16th, 2013 03:36 pm
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth)
Longbourn, by Jo Baker:

http://www.randomhouse.com/book/231492/longbourn-by-jo-baker#aboutthebook

Here's the website copy:

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic — into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars — and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.



I've often wondered why, Austen fangirl that I am, I am so spectacularly uninterested in spin-offs and continuations of Austen's novels. I'm not against them, I don't think they're a desecration or anything; I've just never had the slightest desire to read one. (The whole "just add zombies" thing I am against. Really, really against.) Even "inspired by" fiction doesn't interest me all that much: I only read Bridget Jones because I had some idea that I was going to write a paper about intertextuality for an Austen class I took in college...but then I didn't like the novel enough to spend any more time thinking about it. (Oddly, I quite like the film. I blame Colin Firth.)

Anyway, the point is that I would be far more interested in this novel if it were simply about the lives of Regency servants, without the P&P tie-in. Something about the way that first proper line of copy - the bit about the petticoats - only has meaning because Elizabeth's muddy petticoats are so famous, and not as a sentence in its own right, rubs me the wrong way, a little: surely the stories of servants can be worth telling as more than ancillaries to the already completed narrative of Austen's novel? And if so - if those stories are genuinely separate from the upstairs events, not just a different lens through which to view them - then what is the point of the connection, except to get Austen fans to pick up the book?

This sort of thing doesn't bother me when it comes to fanfic, which seems terribly inconsistent of me. But there we are.

I suppose you could use such a book to take Austen to task for not writing about servants in the first place - and maybe that's what is setting my teeth on edge just that tiny amount: because so many people, from Charlotte Bronte to Joe Wright to all of those people who claim that Austen isn't an "important" novelist because she didn't write about the Napoleonic Wars, are already so quick to declare that there is something missing from Austen's style or from her works, that her carefully made decisions about what kinds of stories she wanted to tell are lacking and wrong. Maybe I'm just getting my ire at those people all over this author's book idea and web copy.
tempestsarekind: (excuse me what)
Sigh. I watched Leap Year the other day, and I knew, I just *knew* that it was going to be bad, but I thought that maybe at least an actor that I like, Matthew Goode, would get the chance to be charming in it. But of course, it turned out to be one of those romantic comedies where the male lead is a jerk for no reason, for basically the first hour of the film, and for some reason filmmakers are under the misapprehension that this is a good basis for a film whose outcome is supposed to be that the leads fall in love with each other.

And people always cite Austen, like these films are just part of a long lineage of jerk heroes who are irresistible to women, but that's actually what doesn't happen in Austen. Darcy is kind of a jerk, and Elizabeth is totally not having it, and then Darcy goes, "whoa, maybe I should stop being a jerk" (or, more properly, "maybe I should behave in a more gentleman-like manner"), and *then* Elizabeth starts to be interested in him. Emma and Mr. Knightley disagree archly about things, but it's always clear that they like and respect each other. (Don't mind me; I'm just perpetually over in a corner, clutching my face and wailing about "Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?") Henry Tilney is a total sass-face, but he's always kind to Catherine, even after she basically accuses his dad of murdering his mom. Edward Ferrars is an awkward little teapot who's engaged to another woman, but not a jerk, and Edmund Bertram trips over his own earnestness at regular intervals, but even when he's in love with someone else, he always loves and values and praises Fanny Price. I guess Wentworth is occasionally a tiny bit of a jerk to Anne, at first, but you know, there's a *reason* for it, since she broke his heart - which I'm not saying should give a guy the right to be a jerk, just that he's not being horrible to strangers for no reason, which is what seems to happen so often in romcoms. (And of course Wentworth actually does several nice things for Anne as the novel progresses, so.) It's like the people who make these movies once heard a garbled version of P&P and decided that the takeaway was "Step 1: insult a girl. Step 2: profit." And watching that, over and over again, just makes me feel frustrated and kind of deflated, like, *this* is the vision of romance we're supposed to aspire to? This is it? Because the underlying problem with this isn't *just* that I don't see how I'm supposed to root for a couple when I can't stand the male lead; it's that it gives us such an impoverished view of what romance and love are supposed to be. I've said this a million times, and I'll go on saying it; the most romantic line in P&P is "For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him." It's not about some supposedly overwhelming "passion" or "attraction" that means that it doesn't matter what kind of guy he is or how he treats you or other people, because you can't *help* it, you're just *drawn* to him. It's about respect and esteem and all those words that romantic Marianne shudders at in S&S - all the stuff that is the basis of something so much more interesting than hitting the halfway point in your script and suddenly flipping the switch that says it's time for these characters who couldn't stand each other to suddenly have feelings for each other, because they *argued*, right, that must mean that they're secretly into each other! Look at all that passion! That's what romance is! Forget the kind but bland fiance; everyone knows there's gotta be a *spark*! We don't need common interests or civil conversations, just that *feeling*!

There's a scene in this movie, as there often is, where the leads have to pretend like they're married. And the film doesn't do *anything* with this premise, except to stage an excuse for someone to badger the "newlyweds" into kissing (because passion! Sparks! If you wanna know if he loves you so, it's in his kiss!). And I just thought, what a *waste*. Can you imagine what this would be like, if this were between two characters who had been forced into an awkward situation but who seemed to like each other? Who picked up the pretense and both decided to *play* with it, and with each other? Who tried on the roles of husband and wife and thereby learned something about each other and themselves and their fledgling relationship? Who, I don't know, crazy thought, had *fun* in each other's company? It could have been *awesome*. And instead it was just nothing, because all they did was kiss, and suddenly all the rancor between them was supposed to have just gone away. And by the end of the movie, when you're supposed to feel like they're a couple, all they could do was parrot little catchphrases from their car trip at each other, because they didn't have anything else in common. And it just makes me so *mad*, because I love romantic comedy (when you tell people you want to write a dissertation on Shakespeare's comedies, they think you're interested in capital-C Comedy, and want to know why you're not writing about city comedies or The Merry Wives of Windsor - but the thing is, it's the romantic comedies, the ones that are about interpersonal relationships, fathers and daughters, and cousins as close as sisters, as well as soon-to-be husbands and wives, that I care about). And I would like to watch some good ones, because the genre *does* actually have great roots; recent romcoms are NOT bad because the genre is stupid or full of repeated conventions. (Action movies are also full of conventions. Westerns are full of conventions. Bond films are full of conventions. Horror movies are full of conventions. That's what genre *is* - a sensibility, a set of concerns, and repeated conventions.) But they seem, persistently, to get made by lazy people who just don't care about the format.

ha ha

Jul. 24th, 2013 01:27 pm
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth bennet is amused)
So Jane Austen is set to become the face of the ten-pound note in 2017 or so:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23424289

That's pretty cool, actually. What's funny about this is the quotation they've chosen for the bill - "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!" Fans of Pride and Prejudice might recall that this is said not by some earnest scholar or by a passionate novel reader like Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland, but by Caroline Bingley, to try to draw Mr. Darcy's attention, while reading a book that she's only chosen because it is the second volume of his.

But I guess Henry Tilney's remarks on taking pleasure in a good novel are too long to fit on currency...
tempestsarekind: (henry tilney would SO write fanfic)
Two concurrent thoughts:

1) Oh man, oh man, I really don't want to see this, it looks like that awful "Regency House Party" reality show, only worse.

(I am still mad that this was the only one of these shows to be a stupid matchmaking stunt, when all the others are living history exercises. Also, I tried to read the first few pages of Austenland once and shoved it back on a shelf when the heroine was all, "yeah, yeah, Austen's novels are fine and all, but really it's about the love story! From the miniseries! And Colin Firth!")

2) But...but...but it's JJ Feild! Curses, they have hit upon my weakness! (It is a known fact that I can't see him without crooning. This counts for Captain America and episodes of Miss Marple as well as Northanger Abbey.)
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
Apparently there's a giant fiberglass statue of wet-shirt Darcy* in the Serpentine, in Hyde Park. As advertising. For some TV network:

http://austenblog.com/2013/07/08/in-which-giant-colin-in-the-pond-moves-the-editrix-to-song/

Why would you. Just. Why.



*It's apparently some weird composite Darcy, so it doesn't really look like Colin Firth. (If you scroll down to the end of the post, you can read the press release for this nightmare. Which I use literally, as in, "if I saw this thing in real life, I'm pretty sure it would haunt my dreams.")

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