The Six, Rated Four Ways

Most funny to least (but still) funny:

Northanger Abbey

Pride and Prejudice

Sense and Sensibility

Emma

Persuasion

Mansfield Park

The Order in Which I Advise People New to Austen to Read Them:

Pride and Prejudice

Persuasion

Sense and Sensibility

Northanger Abbey

Mansfield Park

Emma

Best Romantic Leads, in Order of Best-ness:

Mr. Tilney

Captain Wentworth

Mr. Knightley

Mr. Darcy

Edward Ferrars

Edmund Bertram (Someone’s got to be last.)

Female Leads in Order of How Much I Would Probably Actually Like Them in Real Life, From Most to Least:

Marianne Dashwood

Anne Elliot

Elizabeth Bennet

Elinor Dashwood

Mary Crawford

Fanny Price

Emma Woodhouse

Catherine Moreland (This list was even harder than the men’s list. Really I like them all.)

 

 

 

 

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Jane Austen, the Banker’s Sister

Reading this fantastic book was a little like one of those dreams where you discover an extra room in your apartment. An entire book focused on Henry Austen, a man I’ve spent years thinking about and trying to imagine! Continue reading

Reading While Human

This week I read a wonderful essay titled “Reading Jane Eyre While Black”  that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Not only does it compare two of 19th -century England’s most fascinating writers — Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen — but it hits on many of the issues I’ve been thinking about lately. About authorial intent, and how there will always  be something a little mysterious about it, even to the author. Also how as both readers and writers we bring our own biases, both the known and unknown, to the page.

Tyrese L. Coleman makes many interesting points along the way, but one key theme is how “Jane Eyre” has been ruined for her by Bronte’s depiction of Bertha Mason, whose craziness and evil is inextricably linked to her West Indian origins and implicit blackness. Continue reading

Jane Austen at 60


Virginia Woolf photograph by Gisèle Freund, 1939 Photograph: National Portrait Gallery

I’ve read this before, what Virginia Woolf wrote in 1924, but I just came across it accidentally in search of something else. It still makes me cry, because she was right, as Woolf generally is; or if not right, at the very least, wonderfully persuasive.

“She would have stayed in London, dined out, lunched out, met famous people, made new friends, read, travelled, and carried back to the quiet country cottage a hoard of observations to feast upon at leisure. And what effect would all this have had upon the six novels that Jane Austen did not write? She would not have written of crime, of passion, or of adventure. She would not have been rushed by the importunity of publishers or the Battery of friends into slovenliness or insincerity. But she would have known more. Her sense of security would have been shaken. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less (this is already perceptible in Persuasion) to dialogue and more to reflection to give us a knowledge of her characters. Those marvelous little speeches which sum up in a few minutes’ chatter all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs. Musgrove forever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. She would have devised a method, clear and composed as ever, but deeper and more suggestive, for conveying not only what people say, but what they leave unsaid; not only what they are, but (if we may be pardoned the vagueness of the expression) what life is.”

Controversy Brews in the Jane Austen World

Like many people, I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley and could watch clips of her on YouTube for hours. She has a genius for bringing history to life with her stunts, her costumes, and her general way of being in the world, which one writer has memorably compared to  “a possessed Christopher Robin.” So I was a little surprised to wake up and learn from my Jane Austen Google news alerts that she has been accused of plagiarism.

An article in Private Eye cites numerous examples of similarity in phrasing and content between Ms. Worsley’s new book,  “Jane Austen at Home” and Paula Byrne’s  2014 work, “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.”

One does not know what to think about this. Continue reading

When Ideas Acquire Solidity, Part II

Almost five years ago now, I wrote about the strange feeling of going to the a local copy shop to print out copies of my novel in preparation for a manuscript workshop. More specifically, about the strange feeling of walking out of the store with them, that something existing only in my mind had now taken a physical form, had become a thing that existed in the world, like a rock or a highway or a batch of cookies cooling on the counter. Continue reading

What Did Mr. Darcy Look Like?

 

imgresThe internet has been all over this, a “dramatic re-appraisal,” as the headline breathlessly puts it.  But we never knew just what Darcy looked like in the first place —  all Jane Austen gives us is “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand pounds a year.”  But the piece by John Sutherland and Amanda Vickery is great, a  thorough exploration of early 19th-century ideas about male desirability,  ticking through things like the importance of cravats, knowing how to move gracefully, and having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I  wasn’t surprised to learn that the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain English actor.

darcy firth

What surprised me instead was that was seen as surprising. Continue reading