Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jane who?

I finally got around to reading "The Jane Austen Book Club" by Karen Joy Fowler, which I have to say, I enjoyed very much. My favorite addition to the book was a list of quotes and reviews from other sources over the last 200 odd years about Jane Austen and her books. What is so amazing is the way she had been perceived over the generations, from patronizing quotes, to damning ones, to absolute admiration and respect.

1898-"Every time I read "Pride and Prejudice" I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone." Mark Twain.

What's up with that? Is he saying he's jealous because she's so good or that he hates every word she'd ever written. And if he hates her, why keep reading her books? I wish I could ask Mark Twain the answer to that one.

1913-"Jane Austen was born before those bonds which,(we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Bronte's or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her." G K Chesterton

I like that one. that's how I see Jane Austen as an acute observer of the little things that make up the big picture, the small unpleasantness, the snide snub, the obstacles of class and money. And she writes about them all in a way which I think still appeals to us because we love to see weakness in those who are held up to us as our betters, these days mainly celebrity's and sports stars, in her day the upper classes.

Long long ago when I was in my twenties, (in black and white land when I was chased to college by dinosaurs according to my 14 yr old) I wanted to be Jane Austen. I tried to write like her and failed miserably because, well, I had to learn to be myself and find my own voice. but I took away certain things from her writing that I believe help me today. The layering of subtlety, the implications of the class system and her sly wit-I hope I incorporate those elements into my love stories.

My favorite Austen book used to be "Pride and Prejudice", mainly because I have 5 sisters myself and I suspect my father used to worry about how he was going to get us all out of the house. He left a ladder leaning up against the back of the house for 2 years but unfortunately no one took him up on the offer and eloped. Now, it's Emma, because I love the flaws in her, and the way Mr. Knightly 'knows' her and loves her despite herself.

My favorite TV film adaptations are the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" with Colin Firth and film-wise I love Emma Thompson's "Sense and Sensibility" and Gwenyth Paltrow at "Emma".

I'm not a big fan of "Mansfield Park" I had to do it for my A' levels and hated every page. Seriously, Fanny is the one I'd like to attack with her own shin bone.

So would anyone like to tell me how they see Jane and pick their favorites?


Jane Lockwood said...

That's how I see Jane Austen as an acute observer of the little things that make up the big picture, the small unpleasantness, the snide snub, the obstacles of class and money.

That's a great definition, Kate. My favorite Austen is Emma, too, but despite, not because of, her relationship with Mr. Knightley. I love the way she dissects the community, and the novelistic teasing she does. She gives us enough of each character to make us see them very clearly, yet at the same challenges us to fill in the gaps.

Good point about Twain, too--he kept reading her even though he didn't want to!

I very much want to read The Jane Austen Book Club and see the movie too. Has anyone seen it yet?

Kate Pearce said...

Jane-the other Jane :), The book is different and interesting and I think you'd enjoy it. My critique group is planning on going to see it together so we can annoy everyone by whispering criticisms very loudly.

Sharon Page said...

I do love that quote of yours that Jane Lockwood put in her comment.

I'm reading Pride and Prejudice at the moment, and am captivated. What still amazes me is how dialogue-driven the book is--as I read, I think of the Colin Firth BBC version, and I admire how Jane Austen allowed her characters to speak and create the drama, how tight her pacing is, and how the narrative she adds is so astute. Mr. Darcy's horrible proposal is simply brilliant!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Emma fascinates me. There's so much anger in that book. It seems to float like a mist, depending on whose point of view you try to adopt.

The fact that Austen teases you into wanting to try on alternative points of view is what makes the book an English department standard; I'm not sure that the anger is always given its due.

But imagine an inwardly seething Miss Bates, sick to death of being patronized by everyone in Highbury and avenging herself on them by her endless tiresomeness. I can (well, I can now -- it was Jane Lockwood who made me see it). Imagine Jane Fairfax written by Charlotte Bronte. Imagine a confused and bitter Frank Churchill, whose father didn't want to be bothered bringing him up.

My favorite filmed Austen is a made-for-TV Emma with Kate Beckinsale and a very angry and not very handsome Mr. Knightley (such a relief after the airbrushed, velvety Jeremy Northam). Regency writer Cara King once wrote she preferred the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma because that Emma -- the character -- is admired by all. I prefer a different take on that very volatile book.

Kate Pearce said...

Pam, I agree-the English are so 'polite' about their anger, aren't they?
"I'm so sorry, you bag is on my foot."
How often have you heard that in the USA? Often in the UK.

Jane Austen alsoshe reminds me of Agatha Christie's, Miss Marple who is basically a Victorian who despite her spinsterish ways sees the dirt beneath the surface and revels in exposing it.

Sharon, yes, the thing I love most about Jane Austen's style, and the thing I try my hardest to emulate, is that every word counts-her writing is so tight and precise and meaningful.

Jane Lockwood said...

I've also thought Emma is about depression. There are too many characters, Emma herself included, trying to persuade the world what a wonderful life they have. Her manifesto of the single gentlewoman of means, frittering away hours and days on music and needlework and good works, is quite terrifying in its bleakness.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Leading me to post this poem on Emma, by poet and essayist Katha Pollitt:

Rereading Jane Austen's Novels

This time round, they didn't seem so comic.
Mama is foolish, dim or dead. Papa's
a sort of genial, pampered lunatic.
No one thinks of anything but class.

Talk about rural idiocy! Imagine
a life of teas with Mrs. and Miss Bates,
of fancywork and Mr. Elton's sermons!
No wonder lively girls get into states --

No school! no friends! A man might dash to town
just to have his hair cut in the fashion,
while she can't walk five miles on her own.
Past twenty, she conceives a modest crush on

some local stuffed shirt in a riding cloak
who's twice her age and maybe half as bright.
At least he's got some land and gets a joke --
But will her jokes survive the wedding night?

The happy end ends all. Beneath the blotter
the author slides her page, and shakes her head,
and goes to supper -- Sunday's joint warmed over,
followed by whist, and family prayers, and bed.

(of course, Lizzie Bennett does walk 5 miles -- I wish there weren't that inaccuracy, but I still quite love it)