Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween and... our last Pride and Prejudice question

Well, it's Hallowe'en, and apart from the spooky stuff, this is also the night when the barrier between the future and the present is at its thinnest, and you can try and divine who your future life partner will be. At the turn of the 19th century, there were many different traditions to determine this. Here's one of them, from Robert Burns' 1786 poem, Halloween. Jane Austen may well have read this poem, since we know she read Burns' poetry.

Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.-R.B.

The auld guid-wife's weel-hoordit nits
Are round an' round dividend
An' mony lad an' lasses' fates
Are there that night decided
Some kindle couthie side by side
And burn the gither trimly;
Some start awa wi' saucy pride,
An' jump out owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

The Jane Austen's Centre Online Magazine has a great article on All Hallow's Eve. Click here to view.

By the way, traditionally, turnips and not pumpkins were carved, but were quickly abandoned once people discovered how much easier it was (?) to carve pumpkins.

Once the candle is lit, the result is apparently much more eerie than a pumpkin

Pride and Prejudice Question 31

Jane Austen presented herself very modestly and famously as a miniature worker on her "bits of ivory".  Subsequent Victorian biographers entrenched her image very firmly as Auntie Jane, a secluded spinster who scribbled her little books on a little table and consequently was confined to writing about the domestic matters of women.

How would you account for Jane Austen's appeal today? Do you agree with this assessment of her as an author? Does the rise of Chick Lit (significantly, beginning with Bridget Jones' Diary) have anything to do with her current popularity?

How much of that image is true?

(PS You may rant and rave if you wish, it's your last chance!)

Friday, 30 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice's Popularity, and question 30

We have one additional contender so far for Mr Darcy: Eric Dane. What do you think? I picked an image where he could well be Darcy at his most arrogant.

I hope people will continue to post some other ideas for either Elizabeth or Mr Darcy so I can put up the photos.

Meanwhile, there was some great answers as to why more people tend to gravitate towards Pride and Prejudice rather than Jane Austen's other works: the timeless and archetypal love story which is at its centre, the witty remarks, Mr Darcy as a hero who drives the plot, the multiple themes of the novel, Elizabeth as a strong heroine, amount of exposure, its youthful energy and vibrancy, its realistic events.

At the same time, in answer to the original question as to whether sequels to other novels could be successful, a number of people said that they would be very happy to read sequels to other Jane Austen novels.

We're down to one more question after this one. I will be announcing our 5 winners on Sunday 1st November. If there are people out there who have been following the discussions (I know there are quite a few of you) but haven't pitched in, you're running out of time.

Pride and Prejudice Question 30

We haven't talked at all about Jane and her relationship with Bingley on the novel, though we touched upon it briefly. Was Charlotte Lucas right when she said Jane should show her affection more openly? What do you make of the fact that Bingley is so willing to listen to Darcy?

Do you agree with Mr Bennet's assessment: "You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income"? How do you think Jane Austen meant us to see this couple?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Alternative Mr Darcys & Elizabeths, and Pride and Prejudice question 29

Well, we had some fun suggestions for Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, though I think we need new blood. The idea was that it would be younger versions of some of these actors that played the roles.

New input would be welcome. If you can think of other actors that would work, please don't hesitate to make suggestions, and I'll put them up on a later blog.

So here's what we have for Elizabeth Bennet: Zooey Deschanel, Scarlet Johansson, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet

For Mr Darcy we have Jude Law, Liam Neeson,

Adrien Brody, Richard Armitage, and James McAvoy.

Pride and Prejudice Question 29

Publishers tend not to publish too many sequels that are not Pride and Prejudice, because they say they don't sell as well. Why is it that people generally seem to prefer Pride and Prejudice to Jane Austen's other novels?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Marriage in Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice question 28

The general consensus yesterday about Jane Austen's concept of marriage was that, though sad, it's true that Jane Austen would not encourage her heroines to marry for love if there was no money. Poor Mr Darcy may never have had the chance to marry Elizabeth if he wasn't fabulously rich, though I'd prefer to think she would have loved him anyway.

It's hard for us to understand this now, when there are career opportunities out there for people who are determined to improve their lot in life (though with the economic crunch, there are certain limitations), but in Jane Austen's world, few people could aspire to move beyond their class. People like Captain Wentworth are all the more "heroic" because they actually succeeded. The general objection to the Navy was that people could rise from the ranks and advance despite not having the backing one would need in the army. (If you haven't seen/read Sharpe, that's a great place to see how hard it is to become an officer if you're a commoner). With the prize money involved during war time, you could accumulate a fortune. Otherwise, if you did manage to make money some way or the other, it was considered "trade", which automatically excluded you from the ranks of the gentry. Luckily, with the industrial revolution, the middle class became much bigger, and the kind of social structure we know today grew out of it. Certainly for women marriage is no longer one of the few possible options. But in Jane Austen's world, it was a given. You had to marry well, and marrying for love was a luxury few could afford, if you happened to love the wrong person.

Well, we're almost at the end of this wonderful month of questions. Three more questions, and I'll be announcing the winners. Make sure to tune in on the 31st to find out if you're one of the five winners. You might have a book and a box of chocolates coming your way!

Pride and Prejudice question 28

Today's question is a film question: Setting aside previous actors who have played these roles, which actors would you like to see in the roles of Elizabeth and Darcy? Why would they be good in these roles?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice question 27

I enjoyed all your posts yesterday. You've pinpointed yet another example of Jane Austen's independence of spirit and refusal to give in to what was fashionable at the time. Her refusal to allow sentimentality to cloud her characters' relationships sets her aside from earlier writers such as Richardson, whose works were a mix of lustfulness and morality, and from the Gothic writers of time, with their fainting and terrified heroines beating off evil villains, and from the Brontes with their brooding dark heroes, and even from those of our contemporary romances "teeming with throbbing passion" as Elizabeth B puts it. If Elizabeth and Darcy are soul-mates, it is only because they have changed and learned to adapt to each other, as Laura's Review points out, not because they are consumed by passion. Or, as kt says, Jane Austen isn't concerned with the "drama" of love, she's concerned with the practicality of it.

My question today springs directly from what you have said. Feel free to object strongly to the question.

Pride and Prejudice question 26

What is Jane Austen's concept of marriage? She describes in some detail the economic status of each of the eligible gentlemen, while she says very little about their physical attributes. Is that an indication of her own view or society's? Would Pride and Prejudice work as well if Darcy were poor? Does the practical streak she brings to love go so far as to have a woman reject a suitor if he couldn't support her?

Monday, 26 October 2009

BBC Emma Episode 4 and Pride and Prejudice Question 26

Well, the new BBC interpretation of Emma is over. Just when I was really getting into it! As I don't want to introduce any spoilers (as if everyone doesn't know what happened!) I won't talk about it in any detail except that I found it very satisfying. Jonny Lee Miller could never rival Mr Darcy for romance, but he plays his role as Mr Knightley admirably. Certainly this is the most romantic production of Emma I've seen. I really loved the way Garai's Emma developed gradually from a really naive, overconfident young woman into a responsible adult who recognizes that people's lives are not to be trifled with, and realizes the very serious consequences of doing so.

I can't help marvelling at the versatility of Sandy Welch, who can move from the dark grit of Gaskell's North and South and the intensity of Jane Eyre to produce a light and airy piece like Emma.

My overall evaluation: Too slow at the beginning (personally, I'd cut the first 20 minutes), and perhaps too rushed at the end, but a very memorable production and one that I know I'll be watching a few times! I learned a lot about Emma from it. This is a very cheerful and heart-warming interpretation, not for the stricter Jane Austen purists, perhaps, but nevertheless a very original and insightful approach.

Pride and Prejudice Question 26

Speaking about romance: It’s been said of Jane Austen: “she refuses to romanticize romance”. What do you think of this statement? What does it mean? Do you agree with this perspective?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 25

We're almost at the end of a long month of quite challenging questions. For those of you who've been following along, great job! We're in the home stretch! Don't lose energy now! For those of you who're just joined us -- feel free to jump in!

Pride and Prejudice Question 25

What role does Lady Catherine play in Pride and Prejudice. Would you call her role positive or negative?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Elizabeth Bennet's Endearing Qualities, and Pride and Prejudice question 23

Well, there was no disagreement about Elizabeth being a very likeable heroine!

I would have been shocked if there had been. Among her positive qualities people named her affection towards her sister (Laura's Reviews), her determination and ability to stand up to society and marry for love (Meredith), her lack of self-consciousness (Tracygrrrl) and her ability to laugh at her mistakes and move on (Elizabeth B).

Can you think of other qualities which make Elizabeth so endearing? You can add to the answers any time.

Well, it's raining here in South London. You may think that's the norm here, but in fact it always seems to take us by surprise. People turn very surly on rainy days. It's not at all like when I lived in Oregon, where there would be long stretches when you didn't see the sun at all. Over there, you get used to the on-off drizzle, and of course you have all the jokes about moss growing between your toes, and about recognizing people who weren't from Oregon by the fact that they bother with umbrellas.

In London rain seems to be an insult. People are at their worst when it rains. It's certainly a conversation starter. For while the myth of rainy London doesn't seem hold (but perhaps I have a skewed view of things, having lived in the American Northwest for three years), the legendry conversation about the weather typical of the English definitely does. But this is because the weather shifts and changes constantly. It's very unpredictability leads to good conversations. If it rained constantly, there wouldn't be much to say, would there?

It's time for the question of the day, which hopefully is an easy one for the weekend.

Pride and Prejudice Question 24

What makes Mr Darcy a hero? (If you wish, you can compare him to other heroes of 19th century novels)

Friday, 23 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 23

I won't post a response to yesterday's questions here, as I posted an exceedingly long comment already.

There isn't any consensus about whether Elizabeth sees Caroline as a rival. In many senses, asking whether Elizabeth unconsciously perceived Caroline as a rival goes against the time period. Since the idea of the unconscious didn't yet exist, JA herself, at least, wouldn't have thought about it that way.

Still, it's fascinating to look back and see if and how writers who are so very skilled at portraying human nature were able to portray this aspect even if the concept didn't exist. I think that's part of why the production of Emma is a bit jarring at the beginning. It's trying to bring in a psychological reading of the novel by giving a background to the characters. I don't think it works initially, but as the play unfolds I can see that it brings a new dimension to the character.

Should we interpret classics using modern concepts? It's a hard call to make, but the argument could also go the other way. Even when we think we're being very objective and historically accurate, who's to say that our twenty-first way of thinking (no matter how accurate we think we are) bears any resemblance to the original? Jane Austen was seen by the later Romantics as very much a part of the old world order, which balanced Neo-Classical concepts such as Wit, Reason, and Order against the cult of Sensibility. We have forgotten these concepts, and we translate Wit as being witty, but there was far more to it than that. It was a whole way of doing things.

This way of thinking is as alien to us as the way we think is to hers. To grasp some of these ideas you have to read Alexander Pope, who lays them out very nicely. But then Pope doesn't have a memorable character anywhere. Jane Austen, on the other hand, was able to create warm blooded human beings whom we can have a crush on in 2009!

I don't know what's up with me today. I seem to be going on and on...

I had better give you my question now, before I start up again. And since there's a general resistance to seeing Elizabeth as "flawed" in any way (though Jane Austen herself famously says: "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked"), I'll give you the chance to sing Elizabeth's praise.

Pride and Prejudice Question 23

What, in your opinion, (in addition to her fiesty personality and her intelligence) are Elizabeth Bennet's best qualities? What makes us like her so much?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 22

Your enthusiasm is so infectious I think I might rush off and watch Pride and Prejudice yet again, even though I did a marthon viewing just a bit more than a month ago of the Firth version. I'm glad some of you mentioned the Macfadyen version, too. Yes, those gazes are really heart melting, aren't they?

My question for today is something that came up earlier in discussion. A point was raised that Caroline never really took Elizabeth seriously as a rival until the end, despite her catty behavior, because she could never have believed Darcy could  be serious about someone like Elizabeth.

At the same time, Elizabeth's flawed viewpoint presents Caroline almost immediately as very disagreeable, despite Jane's protests that they were perfectly nice to her. Putting the two together, here is my question.

Pride and Prejudice Question 22

How much do Caroline and Elizabeth consciously or unconsciously see each other as rivals throughout the story?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Emma Episode 3 and Pride and Prejudice Question 21

Finally caught up with Emma on the BBC iplayer, and I have to say I really enjoyed this episode. I confess that Emma grows on me. Now that I know where Welch is going with it, I rather like it.

(from Shootastic)
Much as I loved the previous versions of Emma, Garai's makes the most sense. It explains why she's so much into matchmaking: tied down to her father and his ailments, unable to travel and see the world, having few young people in Highbury to associate with. This is most definitely an aspect of Emma that is brought to light. The fact that she is childish and in need of guidance, too. In the past, I always wondered what she saw in Knightly (sorry, Knightly fans). But now I can see that she does need someone to keep her in check, and Knightly is perfect for her. The romance blossoms, by the way, and Knightly redeems himself as a hero.

I also loved the dancing. This is the first time I've actually seen the illustrations of Regency dancing put into practice, and I was delighted at the active and energetic dancing that they do. Now you can see why Mr Darcy disapproves of dancing, and why Knightly hesitates to dance. I had a sudden flashback to a scene in The Sound of Music (if any of have seen it) where Maria and Captain von Trapp are dancing a traditional Austrian dance, and they use the same dance move. Which makes sense. I have read about the waltz at the time being very little like our modern version of it, but this finally puts things in perspective.

A very nice scene, even if they don't say the right words. There's no conversation here about being brother and sister. It does come up later,  though, when Emma talks about him being an older brother. However, there is the GAZE, and it's very well done indeed! This is the first production I've seen that succeeds in bringing out the romance.

I'm very happy the whole thing is coming together.

Now for my daily question.

Pride and Prejudice Question 21

There’s been a lot of discussion of the “gaze” scenes in P and P 1995, the scenes in which Elizabeth and Darcy exchange glances. Which is your favourite gaze scene and why?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

November is National Novel Writing Month

Well, it  looks like things haven't changed that much in two hundred years. You've named most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice as people you could come across today! No one mentioned Mr Collins, I noticed.

The end of November is coming closer, as is the time for the draw. I really can't believe how quickly this month has passed! As a reminder, for copyright reasons, the contest is open only to those in the US and Canada. I'm looking forward especially to seeing who the lucky person is who is going to win that Grand Prize!

At the moment I'm gearing up for National Novel Writing month, a misnomer of course because it's pretty international. NaNoWriteMo, if you haven't heard of it, is a frantic month of writing in which your goal is to produce a 50,000 word novel by the end of November, and is a wonderful goal setting exercise. This will be my third year doing it. I haven't done anything with the "novels" I wrote during this month, but I've used the time to experiment, and to play about with genres that are different from my own, and it's been very useful that way. It's also a wonderful excercise in letting go of my critical self and just letting my creative part take over. It's also a great time to communicate with other writers who are doing the same thing, and to share goals, frustrations, and surprises.

My usual style of writing is very organized. I plan a great deal beforehand, and I write very clear outlines that get updated continuously along the way. In NaNoWrite I do no planning. I just scribble frantically, and let the ideas flow. This year I have a clearer idea about what I want to write, but I haven't outlined because that would spoil the whole thing. I can't wait to start!

But I digress. I'm sure you're much more interested in what's coming up, so here's the question for today:

Pride and Prejudice Question 20:

What role does Mrs Bennet play in the novel? Do you think she deserves any credit for bringing the couples together? Is she actually successful at the central interest of her life, marrying off her daughters?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 19

Well, I do admit it's difficult to pick out just one passage/section out of the book. I would have picked most of the ones you picked, as they're really hillarious. I like this passage, both because it's funny but also it's an unusual moment in which we suddenly see Elizabeth from Darcy's perspective.

"I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."
"The present always occupies you in such scenes -- does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wondered from the subject..."

Exquisite! A few skilful strokes of the pen, and you have it!

And now to my new question:

Pride and Prejudice Question 19

Jane Austen is often praised for her knowledge of human character. If you had to choose a character in P&P who was the most “human” in the sense of being someone you could easily meet in the world today (and isn’t typical of a particular time or period), who would that character be and why?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

These are my favorite things and Pride and Prejudice Question 18

Today's the end of my official Blog Tour, which ends with a bang (not a whimper) since Fresh Picks have chosen The Other Mr Darcy as an official Pick for today! I'm very flattered because this isn't a paid ad. The Fresh Picks are chosen by a number of readers who vote for the novel.

The Blog Tour has been a great experience, and I'm sure I'll be having withdrawal symptoms. I was having such a good time reading the reactions to my interviews, meeting people, and answering questions. Sigh. Now I suppose I'll have to settle down and actually write!

I still have the Pride and Prejudice contest going strong here, however, which is wonderful. As usual, I loved your answers, which this time seem to be pretty unanimous. The verdict then, is that Elizabeth is every bit as proud at the beginning as she was at the end, but she has come to recognize Mr Darcy's emotional generosity and his willingness to give without return, which is much more "humbling" than her awareness of their limited circumstances. I like that. To me it puts a finger on the essence of the romance that Jane Austen portrays so beautifully.

The question today is completely different, and gives you a break from all the hard thinking you've been putting into your answers. Have fun with this!

Pride and Prejudice Question 18

What is your favorite quote from the films or the novel(s) that best shows Jane Austen's wonderful humor?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Jane Austen's Villains and Question 17

The reponses to the question yesterday about Wickham overall articulated an issue in Jane Austen that is really fascinating, and that is, her way of depicting her villains, more particularly her male villains. As Laura pointed out, even though they do terrible things that we condemn whole heartedly, they somehow seem to get away with it, perhaps because they continue to be "charming" in spite of being caught out, or perhaps because of the general attitude of Regency society towards bad boys, rakes, and sharps, who were never really held accountable, unless they did something against the nobility, in which case duels were really the only way to respond. There was the legal system, of course, but that was so slow and so public (especially when it came to a women's reputation) that it was rarely the first recourse. In fact, in my novel The Other Mr Darcy, I have a discussion about the issue of making duelling illegal at the time, in which I let my characters have their say. But when you think about it, there was very little you could do in response to someone like Wickham or Willoughby except challenge him to a duel.

I always wonder when we read Jane Austen how much we're actually missing, even though her writing sets out things so clearly that we think we're following along quite happily. But it seems to me there is a whole undercurrent in Pride and Prejudice about social status that is expressed through Lydia and Wickham, and I'd like to set it up as a question for discussion. For, as Mr Bennet says quite hopelessly, "Wickham's a fool if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds." Mr Bennet is obviously distraught by the whole episode. It reveals his complete powerlessness to do anything. He is unfortunately aware that the only way he could have forced Wickham to marry Lydia is by physically fighting with him, and of course Wickham would have won. It is only when the powerful Mr Darcy steps in and pays off Wickham that the marriage can take place.

But here is my question:  

How much of Elizabeth's dismay at discovering that it was Mr Darcy who rescued Lydia comes from being put into her place i.e. really fully understanding the inescapable difference in their social levels? In other words, did Elizabeth's pride (despite seeing Pemberley and comparing it to Longbourn) and her insistence on their equality as descendants of gentlemen receive a heavy blow? Did Jane Austen intend her to be humbled at this point?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Dancing with Mr Darcy and Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice Question 16

                (a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House)

Yesterday I attended the launch of Dancing with Mr Darcy at "London's most famous bookshop," which is... Foyles, of course (established 1903). Before the event, I met up with fellow author Jane Odiwe (Lydia Bennet's Story and soon to be released Willoughby's Return) in Leicester Square. I really enjoyed comparing notes and discussing our reasons for choosing less popular characters in Jane Austen's cannon to write about.

We sauntered down full-of-life Charing Cross Road, narrowly avoiding being run over by the abundant bicycle rickshaws (pedicabs) on our way to Foyles. I couldn't help reimagining the scene in my mind, with the rickshaw runners carrying ladies to the theatre or a ball amidst the bustle of carriages instead of cars.

At the entrance to the Gallery at Foyles we were met by Helena Earnshaw, from Honno, the Welsh publishers of the book, and, wine glasses in hand, Jane (Odiwe, not Austen) and I took our seats.

Award winning author Sarah Waters talked to us about the judging process and her rather tough criteria for selecting the entries (I have to say I was quite intimidated), and introduced the winner of the competition, Victoria Owens.

(Victoria Owens)

An excerpt from the winning short story followed, with Victoria giving us a wonderfully dramatized reading of Jane Austen being judged in the afterworld (no spoilers here) which revealed a quirky sense of humour and a wonderfully creative look at JA.

Afterwards, we got a chance to take photos of a number of the authors with stories in Dancing with Mr Darcy.

It was a lovely occasion, with a definite air of excitement prevailing around the room. I obtained signatures from a number of contributors as well as from Sarah Waters, and I also met Tom Carpenter, trustee of Chawton House. There's a picture of Tom with Jane Odiwe on her blog.

And now for the daily ritual:

Pride and Prejudice Question 16

Jane Austen has her share of youthful male villains, from Willoughby (sorry, Jane!) to John Thorpe and Henry Crawford, though generally she tends to underplay their villainy. What do you think of Wickham as a villain? How is he presented?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mr Darcy's Marriage, and Pride and Prejudice Question 15

I can't believe it, but we're already half way through the Pride and Prejudice questions, and it has passed so quickly. It's been much better that I could ever have expected. I really didn't think the discussions would be so varied and so ... long(?). Just kidding. I love the long answers. It shows how much you all have to say about Pride and Prejudice, and of course, I have a lot to say.

Of course yesterday's question is in the realm of speculation, and as such there can't be any wrong or right answer because we don't know enough. By and large, most of you discarded Anne, though of course, as kt says, family wishes and duty may have prevailed, given the fact that he was very concerned with family connections when he proposed initially to Elizabeth. He certainly was not happy to have fallen in love and gone against them! He gave no sign of favoring Anne. Yet at the same time, he and his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam did make it a habit of going and staying with her for extended periods of time. As some of you have pointed out, it took Elizabeth to give him a different perspective on things. Clearly, he's embarrassed at the way Lady Catherine talks to Elizabeth, and it's a novelty for him to realize that he, too, has something to be ashamed of in his relations. As Sarah-Wynne points out, Elizabeth opened his eyes to a lot of things. Certainly the old Darcy might have been capable of putting family pride first.

As for his relationship to Caroline, it is very puzzling. I've wrote about it elsewhere on my blog tour, since obviously I've been giving it a lot of though. The fact is, he spends a great deal of time with the Bingleys. He comes and stays with them in Netherfield for weeks on end. Later, after he has been rejected by Elizabeth, he invites them for a long stay in Pemberley. Why does he enjoy their company so much? Enough to want Caroline and Mrs Hurst to spend time with Georgiana?  I would have thought that their background in trade, as jnaj notes, would have prevented him from wanting to associate too closely with them. But clearly, as Tracygrrrl says, he regards them as equals in that first Meryton assembly, and refuses to dance with anyone else, and in the early days, before he has fallen in love, he seems to enjoy gossiping with Caroline. I just love the way Jane Austen shows us how he starts to disagree with and move away from the people that he somehow took for granted earlier. Still, even though he now looks at Caroline differently, he does not try to get rid of her. Is it loyalty? Is it habit? Why is Caroline at Pemberley? He could easily have invited Charles without his sisters. I can only conclude that there must have been something positive in them.

But I've gone on long enough (far longer than anyone yet). So time for the next question. Since it's the middle of the contest, and we haven't given people a chance to talk about the actors yet, my next question is:

Pride and Prejudice 15 Hurray! It's the middle of the Contest!

How would you describe Darcy in any of the productions of Pride and Prejudice (not the novel)? You can compare and contrast them if you prefer. (This is a great excuse to go off and watch your favorite production). You can also include Elliott Cowan from Lost in Austen if you are so inclined (I'll admit I would be inclined to do so myself).(Olivier)


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 14

A variety of reactions here to Longbourn in comparison to Netherfield, though overall, everyone seems to agree that Longbourn is more chaotic, while Netherfield is more proper and well kept. If you're like Meredith and Laura Hartness, you find that the chaos adds as sense of warm and family. Others, like jnanj, think the chaos as a humorous reflection of the dysfunctional inhabitants. Certainly, as people pointed out, the two households, especially the number of servants, are far apart. I should point out that in the 1995, Netherfield is accurately shown to have a lot of male footmen and servants. Male servants at that time were much more expensive, so they indicated wealth and status.

On to the next question:

Pride and Prejudice Question 14

Knowing Mr Darcy's snobbish attitude before he met Elizabeth, would Mr Darcy have have married his cousin Anne or Caroline Bingley? Why/Why not? 

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

BBC Emma, Episode 2, and Pride and Prejudice Question 13

On Sunday I watched the second episode of the new production of Emma, staring Ramola Garai. I have to say it's growing on me. The first episode grated. It took such a long time to introduce the characters and set the background (including Emma's mother in a coffin) that I found it difficult to get involved in it.

(Blake Ritson)
This second episode, however, shows a great deal of promise. Two characters in particular stand out. Blake Ritson as Mr Elton provides such a wonderful mix of smooth sensuality (he can certainly use his voice to good effect!) and creepy calculation that I'm beginning to think he's the best Mr Elton so far. And Mr Woodhouse's fretfulness, which I usually find quite irritating, is so well done that I find him adorable. I'm actually looking forward to seeing the next episode.

As for yesterday's question, high scores for those of you who answered yesterday, for originality at the very least. JaneGS, I love your comparison of Pride and Prejudice with Beauty and the Beast. You were careful, of course, not to imply that Mr Darcy was at all ugly, but your argument about his transformation, and Elizabeth's role in it, was convincing. Very nice indeed. Tracygrrl, you're determined to bring up the most outrageous things! Mrs Bennet as a fairy godmother?  I love the idea that Elizabeth, instead of being a Cinderella who depends on the fairy godmother's help, is actually strong enough to turn her away and say: "I'll do this my way, thank you very much!" And janj, I liked the idea of pride and prejudice as the obstacles that the fairy tale characters much overcome to reach their goal.
The new Pride and Prejudice Question today is meant for those who have watched any production of Pride and Prejudice. If you've watched more than one, please feel free to compare.

Jane Austen is quite particular about giving us details about the financial and social standing of the main characters in her novel. This is sometimes difficult to translate onto the screen, especially since we don't really know the subtleties of class and status at the time, but one way that we can understand it visually is through the main characters' homes.

Pride and Prejudice Question of the Day 13

In any of the productions of Pride and Prejudice that you've seen, what is Elizabeth's home, Longbourn, like? What does it tell us about the Bennet family and about Elizabeth? How does it compare to Netherfield, the Bingley's home?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Perfect Accord: Elizabeth loves Darcy! and Pride and Prejudice Question 12

What happened to you all? How did such perfect accord happen? jnaj, what did you do to them? Is it possible that there is absolutely no controversy about the question: did Elizabeth love Darcy??

I suppose, given that Pride & Prejudice provided the blueprint for one of the most basic plots upon which many romance novels afterwards were based, it makes no sense to question whether the hero and heroine really love each other.

So, without much ado, on to the next question, which is related, but which requires a little more work. [I did give you a break].

In my Fallen Angels Review guest blog, I talk about Pride and Prejudice as a blueprint, and compare it to the Cinderella story (scroll down the page to find it). In what way is Pride and Prejudice an archetypal love story, one that we see over and over in romance, and in what other ways is it totally unique? (reading the guest blog will give you a starting point, I hope).

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Dinner in St James's, Madam? and Pride and Prejudice Question 11

To judge by the discussion yesterday, I was (perhaps mistakenly) taking for granted the fact that Elizabeth does fall in love with Darcy. But reading your comments, especially jnaj's, made me wonder if this is something which needs to be discussed. So, at the risk of being a sacreligious here, I'm going to ask this as my next question.

Meanwhile, this has been an eventful week for me. As well as having several guest appearances on blogs as wonderful and diverse as Books Like Breathing, The Burton Review, Bloody Bad Books, Austenprose, The Long and Short of It, and Love Romance Passion, I've had a couple of new reviews.

In her review on Bloody Bad, Katrina picked up on an added dimension of Robert Darcy: his position as an American on British soil during the war, and his reliance on Caroline for the nuances of English polite society. Her conclusion: "just what I needed on a rainy Saturday night."

Marie Burton provides a detailed review of the plot and cast of characters which focuses on some of the twists and turns of the novel, and brings out some of its Regency aspects. She characterizes Robert Darcy "as a sexy, steamy kind of guy" and concludes that the novel is "rollicking fun."

The highlight of a wonderful week was a dinner with my publisher, founder of Sourcebooks, Dominique Raccah. The dinner was held at an exclusive former gentlemen's club, The Reform Club, in Pall Mall, just off St James's, which will  be of particular interest to the history buffs among you (well worth googling).

As I entered, I felt transported back in time. Established in 1836, with the current building completed in 1841, it was not Regency, but it was grounded in a history not too far away from it, and certainly captured the sense of power and privlege these gentlemen had. Membership was exclusive to those who supported the Great Reform Act of 1832. This was where some of the biggest reforms of the Industrial Era were discussed and eventually implemented. History was made here. Some famous names that trod those halls were J. M. Barrie,  E. M. Forster, Henry James, Lord Palmerston, William Makepeace Thackeray, and H. G. Wells. I was on hallowed ground.

My bubble has since been burst by a friend of mine, who reminded me that the gentlemen in clubs like these were precisely the same type who turned Virginia Woolf away when she walked on the grass in "Oxbridge":

"I found myself walking with extreme rapidity across a grass plot. Instantly a man’s figure rose to intercept me. Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a curious-looking object, in a cutaway coat and evening shirt, were aimed at me. His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help; he was a beadle, I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the fellows and scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me. Such thoughts were the work of a moment. As I regained the path, the arms of the beadle sank, his face assumed its usual repose, and though turf is better walking than gravel, no very great harm was done." Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own.

The Reform Club, despite its reformist tendencies, did not allow women to become members until 1981, and it was the first gentlemen's club to do so.

Alas, (though not surprisingly), I was prevented from taking photos of the amazing interior by a very polite young man who worked there, though no one objected when I took pictures of us in the shining dark mahogany bookroom (very appropriate for us writers), where we had our dinner.

(left to right me, Jane Odiwe, and Helen Hollis)

(right to left: Jill Mansell, Elizabeth Chadwick, Dominique Raccah, and Helen Hollis)

(Elizabeth Chadwick and Jill Mansell)

Attending the dinner were fellow Sourcebook writers Jane Odiwe (who like me writes Jane Austen sequels, Lydia Bennet's Story, Willoughby's Return), Helen Hollis, Jill Mansell, and Elizabeth Chadwick. We had an exuberant evening. Dominique filled us in with very good news about Sourcebooks' current growth and success, and reiterated the Sourebooks policy: "We publish authors not books" which I already feel to be true, though I only recently joined. Dominique and her husband Ray were charming hosts, and conversation flowed round the table as quickly as champagne and wine glasses were filled. The bubbles went to my head, as did being in such august company and in such a historically significant setting.

But time to come down to earth, and the next question in the contest. (bg! How can I ask this?)

Pride and Prejudice: Question 11

Was Elizabeth Bennet in love with Mr Darcy?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mr Bennet, and Pride and Prejudice Question 10

What wonderfully diverse answers, as always. You're right, jnaj, I did work you too hard for a Friday. But I'm so glad I did. I love all the different opinions. Meredith, your point about Eliza bottling everything in and perhaps being too independent strikes a cord with me. Funnily enough, that's exactly what Caroline says to Elizabeth in The Other Mr Darcy, at a moment when the two of them bury the past behind them: "I thought you were too self-sufficient," she remarks.

As for Mr Bennet, as several of you indicated, he is quite a mixture of things. Though in many ways he doesn't seems to be the traditional patriarchal figure who rules the household with an iron fist, he enjoys his position of privilege in the household and makes the best of it in many ways. The opening scene where he pretends he will not go and visit Bingley is a typical example. He holds the upper hand, because they are all completely dependent on him paying Bingley a call, yet he pretends he doesn't understand this, toying with Mrs Bennet's feelings, when he intended to go all along.

Having cultivated an amused distance from his wife and children, he maintains it with almost everyone except Lizzy. In many ways, therefore, despite the fact that he is not an authoritarian parent, he is a typical father of the time, keeping aloof from his offspring and escaping into the library (as Lori points out) -- generally male territory in those days -- whenever anything threatens his peace. And he certainly does not go out of his way to do anything for his offspring. As Sarah-Wynne indicates, his refusal to take his five marriageble daughters to London simply because he doesn't like it shows how self-centered he is. It's an irony, therefore, that one of the consequenses of his refusal to go is that he is forced to ride to London in search of Lydia!

The flip side of it, as Serena says, is that all the girls (except perhaps Kitty) are quite outspoken and opinionated, because of the absence of anyone to put them down. Which is a very positive thing, obviously.

You all had very brilliant points about Elizabeth's resemblance to her father, particularly Milka and Cheli's comments about Mr Bennet's indifference to convention, which perhaps is one of his strongest contributions to Elizabeth's character. And of course, as most of you mentioned, Elizabeth shares with her father her intelligence as well as her quickness to judge others and derive amusement from their foibles. I won't repeat all your arguments, but I do recommend that people read through them, because they really provide some orginal insights into Elizabeth's relationship with her father.

Since it's a weekend, and we've had a complaint about working too hard, here's an easy question for today, but one you can have fun with, I hope.

Pride and Prejudice Question 10

"I can comprehend you going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?" Elizabeth asks Darcy very coyly, once they've sorted everything out. But Darcy doesn't ask the question back. So here it is. When did Elizabeth fall in love with Mr Darcy?

Your answer can include any unconscious attraction, paying him more attention than she normally would, or any other signs of interest.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Of Flawed Perceptions, and Pride and Prejudice Question 9

I was just over at Marilyn Brant's page (author of According to Jane) and spotted a JA quote I didn't know (oh, how did I miss this one?)

"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not disguised, or a little mistaken." JA

It's so perfect for the discussion, and I think it's crucial to bear it in mind as we're going through Pride and Prejudice.

As for your responses yesterday, what can I say? You're outdoing yourselves. Pretty much everyone brought up something to think about. Of course, Charlotte is the perfect example, particularly since the she and Elizabeth seem to be close friends. You'd think she'd realize that Charlotte needed to get married and wouldn't turn down an opportunity. Which goes along with what Lori and Kt say about Eliza not understanding her mother, either. Mrs Bennet is silly, but she knows how important it is to secure Longbourn, yet Eliza never really "gets" it -- like her father, she dimisses Mr Collins completely. And yes, as Tracygrrrl says, she could have handled this better, and tried to get Mary together with Mr Collins, and tried to solve the problem that way. (However, very likely this wouldn't have worked -- see answers to Question 2 which addresses this).

Serena and Lynnquiltsalot, you're right on target when you talk about Wickham. Because there are lots of signs along the way that she choses to ignore, even when Wickham gets engaged to Miss King, and Mrs Gardiner criticizes Wickham's conduct. Yet Elizabeth obstinately defends him. She ends the conversation with a dismissive comment which has echoes of Mrs Bennet in it (?!):
"I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all."
(Remember Mrs Bennet's exclamation of frustration at the beginning of the novel: "I am sick of Mr Bingley!"?)

As usual when it comes to JA's characters, there's always more complexity to them than you think, isn't there? There's more to Charlotte than meets the eye. Lori and Jnan's discussion about her being the source of information about Darcy's relationship with Eliabeth is one example, as well as her very correct prediction about Jane and Bingley's relationship (kt, Milka and Tracygrrl). In some senses, Charlotte and the Gardners are the voices of common sense in the novel (and to a lesser extent, Jane, as Lori pointed out, though her perception is also flawed). Elizabeth really flounders by herself. Her father, who could have been a guide, is even more clueless (witness his laughter at the very idea that Elizabeth would want to marry Darcy at the end), and he makes that crucial error of judgement about Lydia which, as Serena says, she tries to prevent. Of course, his marriage is the best indication of his poor judgement! Her mother has a certain level of shrewdness, but no common sense. So really, you can see that Elizabeth would have a hard time finding a basis on which to judge others.

Which brings me to my next question, a simpler one this time.

Pride and Prejudice Question 9

What do you think of Mr Bennet as a father? To what extent does he make Elizabeth who she is (pluses and minuses)? What positive or negative qualities of his do you see in her?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 8

Oh, I absolutely loved your responses. Tracygrrl, if you're being dorky, long live dorkiness! Every one of you brings in a slightly different angle, which reminds me again of the complexity of Jane Austen's characters, because even Caroline, who is really generally seen as quite one-sided, does things that can be interpreted differently by different people. Of course, I wrote about Caroline, so I can't possibly think that she's bad all the way through, but I would be blind not to see that Caroline's sneering way of approaching the whole issue was obnoxious. If she meant it in any positive way, she certainly didn't handle it very well! It's almost as if, by telling Elizabeth about Wickham, she accomplished a number of things: she could be "helpful," while at the same time showing Elizabeth how mistaken she is to favor Wickham, pointing out that Wickham's background wasn't good enough for Elizabeth (which is fascinating, because no one objects to the idea of Elizabeth being interested in the son of a steward), imparting "insider" information, and potentially scoring a brownie point with Darcy, as Meredith points out.

My reading of her character is based on a few scenes like this one, where Austen's brilliance shines through. I could spend hours thinking about how cleverly this scene was put together (talk about a dorky!). Caroline approaches Elizabeth with information that is really crucial, but because Caroline presents it in this condescending manner, and because Caroline uses the information to put Elizabeth down (or at least seems to be doing that, because really we're not seeing things objectively), and because Elizabeth feels insecure around Caroline and Darcy, Elizabeth is going to discard the information completely. And Caroline, of course, mentions Wickham's social standing, which is the last straw for Elizabeth, whose own social standing is unclear.

I know I asked the question about Caroline, but there's another aspect to the question, too. Elizabeth's perky self-confidence is one of the things we admire about her. But few people talk about her embarrassment about her family and her sense of her own superiority to them. So I wonder sometimes how much Elizabeth's reaction to her new neighbors is biased by the fact that she is suddenly having to look at herself differently (she is no longer content to be one of the prettiest girls in the neighborhood, knowing how limited that is), and finding herself at a disadvantage. In the scene with Miss Bingley, for example, her heartfelt response to Caroline's snobbish remark about Wickham's descent is particularly strong, and her reaction is to give it the worst possible explanation. "Insolent girl!" [an interesting way of referring to Caroline] said Elizabeth to herself. "You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in it but your own wilful ignorance and the malice of Mr Darcy."

Which leads me to my next question:

Pride and Prejudice Question 8

Although supposedly told from the third person point of view, most of Pride and Prejudice is presented through Elizabeth. Yet Elizabeth is prejudiced, she is proven to be wrong about a lot of her perceptions (especially of people), and she is also quite embarrassed about her family. We of course sympathize with her and like her, so we accept it. What are some of the examples of Elizabeth's failure to understand other people?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question a Day 7

What great responses we had yesterday! It made me want to jump in and make a comment myself. I restrained myself, however.

Funny how we take for granted a term like "passion" when two major writers who are so different have almost opposite concepts of what it is. I really liked the way both Laura and Tracygrrl expressed the contrast between the stormy passions of Bronte and the "uber-polite" world of Jane Austen. But do you really not see Mr Darcy hiding a madwoman in Pemberley? Hmm, I'll have to think about that. What do the rest of you think? I do agree, though, that a common theme in Jane Austen is tempering excess.

Thank you all for your insightful comments. And thank you, jnaj, for your link.

Today's question is about Caroline : )

Why does Caroline warn Elizabeth about Wickham? You would think she would be pleased to have Elizabeth out of the way with someone other than Darcy, so logically speaking, she should encourage the connection and let Elizabeth deal with the consequences. What do you think?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Jane Austen Question-a-Day 6

Yesterday's question clearly wasn't challenging enough. Too easy. Still, the answers were good. I perhaps should have asked it another way: does Jane Austen create a real character in Georgiana, or is she just a prop intended to show the positive side of Darcy?

This is a discussion question I've encountered a few times, and it came up again recently on a small group I was in, though I can't for the life of me trace it back. It's a general JA question, but since we're discussing Pride and Prejudice, I'd would appreciate examples from the novel. It's a long question, and might elicit some long answers, but hopefully some enjoyable ones.

Pride & Prejudice Question 6

Many people think of PandP as the epitome of romance. Yet Charlotte Bronte's famous criticism is that: "Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré or extravagant... The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood."
Would you agree? How does Bronte's concept of "the passions" differ from Jane Austen's (neither of them are explicit, so it's not that). Do you agree that Jane Austen scorns passion? (For those of you who know both authors well: where was Bronte coming from?)

Monday, 5 October 2009

New Emma production and Pride and Prejudice Question 5

Yesterday's question was a tough one, but some of you had some very perceptive answers. Well done!
Recognize the village from my previous blog?

I watched Emma last night, as I said I'd do in my last blog. I'll give you a quick summary of how it went, and my general impressions.

The mini series starts with a review of Emma's childhood. We see Miss Bates as a fixture in Emma's childhood, constantly reading out letters detailing Jane Fairfax's accomplishments. We see her as she grows up, with Mr Knightly another fixture. Knightly seems inclined to reprimand both Emma and Miss Taylor. We catch a glimpse of John Knightly and Emma's sister, whose marriage Emma believes she engineered. And then Miss Taylor's marriage with Mr Weston.

The action starts after Miss Taylor's wedding, where Emma is left quite lonely in a big house with her father. Consequently she seeks out a companion, and she chooses Harriet, who is very pretty but quite empty-headed. Knightly warns that no good will come of it. Emma meanwhile, starts her machinations.

The first episode concludes with a big fight between Knightly and Emma, after Knightly learns she has twisted Harriet's arm to reject Mr Martin's proposal.

First I should say that this production deliberately sets out to be a modern interpretation. Consequently, Emma intentionally appears very contemporary. Even her hair and shots of her clothing from certain angles make her seem like someone dressed in current fashions (not all the time, but there is a deliberate attempt to do this, despite the fact that the period costumes are very accurate). One of the ways Sandy Welch brings it up to date in our post-psychoanalytic world, is to deliberately introduce a psychological approach to the characters. We understand Mr Woodhouse as a hypochondriac better, for example, when we know that he fears illness because of his wife's death.

We are also treated to beautiful views and lush landscapes. Mr Knightly is shown to be a very rich landowner, and his house is magnificent.

Romola Garai plays a perky, cheerful Emma, wide-eyed and full of well-meaning innocence. She is resolutely bustling and active, and generally sunny except when she fights with Knightly. She brings a new perspective to the character, emphasizing Emma's youth and her isolation, which goes a long way to explaining her errors in judgement. Sir Michael Gambon as Emma's father is wonderfully expressive. Jonny Lee Miller is so busy being Emma's older brother, the chemistry hasn't kicked in yet. I'll have to wait and see.

I need to defer judgement on the mini-series so far, though. I found it unexpected, but the plus side of it is that the approach is original and very different from any other productions before. There's a lot of new dialogue added. This is in keeping with the characters, but it is a bit disorienting if you know the novel. So far my sense is that it would be more enjoyable if I didn't know the novel (isn't that true of a lot of adaptations?), but there as still three episodes to go.

I'll keep you posted over the next three weeks.

For more images of the production, please visit Robert Morris via The Republic of Pemberley.

Meanwhile, the question you've been waiting for

Pride and Prejudice Question 5

What is the role of Georgiana in the novel? Would the novel have been different if Georgiana wasn't there?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Jane Austen's Emma airs tonight! Plus P&P Question-a-Day 4

I loved some of your answers yesterday. Wet shirt = washing?! That pulls Colin Firth down a peg or two! Some complex answers in there too. I have to say, apart for the eye candy, I do think the scene works so well for other reasons. As Emily puts it, it mirror the changes that have occured from within. The intimacy, the fact that it is startlingly private is in stark contrast to the Meryton assembly. It does give us a different glimpse of Darcy (the "uncivilized" side as South Bay Ladies Tea Guild points out), whom we haven't seen since Netherfield. I read somewhere that it puts both characters at a disadvantage. Elizabeth is very embarrassed at being caught ogling Pemberley, and of course, he's extremely embarrassed to be seen this way by a lady he wants to impress. It's also an unusual scene because he's half undressed (extremely improper) whereas she's fully clothed. The scene has many interesting angles to it.

I'm settling in tonight to watch the first episode of the new production of Emma. I've been looking forward to it since it was announced some time ago, so I hope it won't be a disappointment.

In anticipation of the production, I set out a few weeks ago with my family to visit the tiny village of Chilham, Kent where part of the action was filmed. On the way we passed by Canterbury, which we had visited before. I was very tempted to stop, since it's such a lovely place. But as dark rainclouds were threatening, we decided to press on.

We parked in the parking lot and took the steep lane up the hill and into the village. Although I knew the village would be tiny, I didn't expect it to be so miniature. It consists of four narrow lanes that lead into a square surrounded by black and white Tudor half-timbered houses. On one side is an old 12th century church, and on the other, visible through the gate, the impressive structure of Chilham Castle.

I peered through the wrought iron gates at Chilham Castle (1616) to try and catch a glimpse of the gardens designed by Capability Brown. I eyed the Bed and Breakfast set up within the castle walls, and promised myself I would stay there some time. I strolled through the village, peering into the small shops and snapping away with the camera (which was difficult, as cars blocked the way). There was something picturesque in every corner.

I planned to go on one or two of the walk around the village, on Pilgrims Way (the old way to Canterbury) or North Downs way with their woodlands and views of the river Stour. Not all the way, of course! I was thinking of Chaucer and wondered if any of his characters had walked that way. The village of Old Wives Lees struck a particular cord in that respect.

I was also tempted by the idea of walking though the apple orchards, but it all came to nought. As we passed through the village and entered the old churchyard, it started to drizzle. I stopped to examine an old yew tree carefully protected behind iron rails. I just managed to go into St Mary's, and to sign my name in the guest register. When I emerged, the landscape was awash with rain.

As water poured down in buckets, we took urgent refuge in a teahouse in the village. There, I asked the woman who waited on our table about the production. Clearly, this was a question she was used to. She was more than ready to tell us about it, and explained how the facades were changed to fit in with the film.
"That there was a butcher's shop," she said.
I peered through the rain to look at a shop and tried to imagine it as it would look in the film.
She then whipped out an envelope with all sorts of photos of the actors in costume.
"So was it very exciting so see how the whole thing worked?" I asked her after salivating over them and wondering if it would be horribly tacky to ask if I could buy one or two of them from her.
"It was at the beginning, but I was glad when we got back to normal again."
I can imagine. With the village as small and tranquil as this, the arrival of all the hustle and bustle of crew and cast must have caused quite a disruption.

And now for:

Pride and Prejudice Question 4

Why does Wickham pay so much attention to Elizabeth, and why does he choose her in particular to "confide" to about his past with Mr Darcy?