What Did Mr. Darcy Actually 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 —  about 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.”  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, of knowing how to move gracefully, and of having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I personally can’t be too surprised to learn that  the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain late 20th-century English actor.

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What surprises me, instead, is that seems to be seen as surprising. Continue reading

‘Eligible’ and the Tradeoff of Updates

eligible-by-curtis-sittenfield-2016-x-200 I stayed up too late reading “Eligible”;  I snorted with laughter; I rejoiced in Curtis Sittenfeld’s clever updates  to plot points in the original and in her cool, dry wit.

Sittenfeld, an accomplished creator of her own plots and characters, here  was given the literary counterpart of a paint-by-number kit: Austen’s people, Austen’s plot, Austen’s wit. But make it modern, please.

Some things are obviously funny, like making Lydia and Kitty crass devotees of CrossFit and paleo diets; others more subtly so, Continue reading

‘Longbourn’ and Pig Shit Realism

 

Longbourn

All the time I was reading Jo Baker’s “Longbourn” I had the sensation of not being able to decide if I liked it.  This is unusual;  feckless and tentative as I am in most realms of human activity, I am generally confident in my literary judgments.

The story, in case anyone  missed the large splash it made upon publication in 2014, is “Pride and Prejudice” from the viewpoint of the Bennets’ servants. A brilliant, can’t-miss idea. I like to imagine Ms. Baker, tormented by insomnia and casting around for her next idea for a novel, sitting up in bed.

HOLY SHIT! I’LL CALL IT ‘LONGBOURN!’ Continue reading

Fanny Burney’s ‘Cecilia’: Blame It on Pride (and Prejudice)

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I’ve just finished this, Fanny Burney’s second novel, published 1782. It hurt like a toothache the whole time I was reading, yet I feel strangely bereft now that I am done.

People who complain that “Pride & Prejudice” lacks passion, a large group that includes not only Charlotte Bronte but also, apparently, the authors of “Pride & Promiscuity,” “Pride and Prejudice: The Wanton Edition” and “Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife,” should try reading “Cecilia.” Compared to it, “Pride & Prejudice,” with Darcy’s “fine, tall person, handsome features and noble mien” as well as Elizabeth’s “light and pleasing” figure and “fine eyes,” is like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover.”

But, really, anyone who likes “Pride & Prejudice,” a far larger group, should consider reading this work.  There are weird echoes of “Cecilia” all over “P&P,” not least the very title, an allusion to a comment late in “Cecilia” that everything that went wrong between the lovers could be attributed to the twin woes of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. (As is well known, P&P’s original title, “First Impressions,” had already been used by the time Jane Austen got around to finding a publisher in 1813.) “P&P,” like “Cecilia,” owes a debt to Samuel Johnson in its magnificent sentence structures, and explores how misunderstandings and status differences can thwart mutual attraction.

Unusually for a woman of the 18th century, Cecilia is wealthy in her own right, with (as we learn early on) £10,000 free and clear  from her parents and an estate from an uncle that assures her an additional yearly income of £3,000. She is also beautiful, kind and intelligent. And  an orphan! Continue reading

The Darcy Perplex

Inspired by a need to understand the market, and my potential readers, I’ve recently embarked on a different kind of Jane Austen Project: reading more widely wildly a thing I’d been largely avoiding until now, out of fear it would either make it me give up in despair or unintentionally become a plagiarist: fiction inspired by Jane Austen.

So far, I am left with one overwhelming impression: astonishment at the iron hold that Mr. Darcy (specifically, as depicted by Colin Firth in the 1995 A&E film version) has left on the imagination of the producers, and, one can only suppose, the consumers of this kind of fiction. I’ve joked about the wet shirt scene

as much as anyone, but I shall do so no longer, for at a certain moment this notion stopped seeming funny to me, and become horrifying. Continue reading

Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Rochester

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orson rochester

No one today seeking to write about love, a group I must, however reluctantly, class myself with, can escape the towering shadows of two 19th-century romantic heroes: Jane Austen’s Darcy and Charlotte Bronte’s Rochester.

What has brought this to mind was rereading “Jane Eyre,” a work I had avoided for years; I think I feared it. I recalled from last reading a vague sense of its force, closely connected to the powerful first-person narrator, who grabs the reader by the throat, relates uncomfortable truths, refuses to shut up. The initial account of the cruelty of her life with Mrs. Reed and the early days at Lowood is even more ghastly than I remembered. Continue reading

Further Reading: Second Impressions

Knowing little of the person but what I read in The New York Times, Sandy Lerner, as an idea, has long fascinated me, to the extent that she inspired a minor character in The Jane Austen Project, an ancient Ph.D. mathematician and tech billionaire with an obsession with literature, thought to be bankrolling the Jane Austen Project. When it turned out that Ms. Lerner (who for the record is neither ancient nor a Ph.D.) was giving a talk at my own local Jane Austen Society chapter, on a night that I already had off, no less, that I would be going to hear her was obvious.

I don’t know what I expected, except that it was certain to be interesting. It was that, and much more. Ms. Lerner, it turns out, has written a novel, having spent 26 years researching a historically accurate sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Continue reading