Friday, 29 July 2011

The Final Jane Austen Book Club: Pride and Prejudice


Wednesday night was the final meeting of the 2011 Jane Austen Book Club, and a big thank you to all who participated. It's been a lot of fun, and I think we've learned a lot.

I made the above cake in honour of the occassion, copying the picture from the sketch done by Cassandra, Jane Austen's sister. I'm not very good at drawing, and as you can see, I did take some liberties with her facial expression. I've made her smile!

We saved the best until last, choosing to do Pride and Prejudice in the last week. However, we did find that it was mentioned nearly every week!

Hopefully, you all know the story... It's a plot I've always likened somewhat to Beauty and the Beast, but perhaps I would be one of the few people who could understand that comparison.

Interestingly enough, we started the night's discussion with a question: Why Charlotte Lucas and not Mary? I have a vague memory of them playing on this very question in the Keira Knightley version of the the film and that may possibly be where I got the idea from. Collins comes to the house determined to be, what is by his standards, agreeable. Of course, he is by everyone else's standards, a pain in the you know what. He wants to make up for some of the hard feelings that may be caused by his inheriting Longbourn by marrying one of his fair cousins. Immediately, he settles on Jane. Why wouldn't he? Jane is so very good and so remarkably beautiful. But, he is warned by Mrs. Bennett, she is already soon to be engaged to the lovable Mr. Bingley. So, his choice skips to Lizzy Bennett, the protagonist. But she knocks him back, and so he marries their neighbour Charlotte Lucas.

Why Charlotte though? Charlotte is said to be very plain and she is quite old for an unmarried woman, something like twenty seven or twenty eight I believe. It seems to come down to the fact that she listens to Collins when no one else will. I'll just say, she must have a remarkable amount of patience in her. But I believe that Mary could have been just as good if not better for a wife. She would have youth and accomplishment to her name. While she is nothing to look at, she is extremely musical and very well read.

But the strength of my feelings on this subject are just testament to the strength of Jane Austen's minor characters, I suppose. This is actually one of the few novels where everyone doesn't end up paired off. The world of Pride and Prejudice is much like the real world, in that there are more women in it than men to marry them. This is exactly the problem facing the Bennett family, who have five daughters and no sons. And when it comes to the mother and the two youngest daughters, they also have no sense.

It is interesting to note the authorial devices at work in this book. For example, those true, good characters like Jane and Mr Bennett call Elizabeth Lizzy, which is her 'true' name in the mind of the reader, if you would. Those less likable characters (Mrs. Bennett, Caroline Bingley) all call her Eliza. And this is how we are let know that they are not in the same class of person as the very much liked Elizabeth.

Although, at risk of facing the literary firing squad here, I must make a note that we have a similar situation to that of Persuasion here, what with so many men all falling for Elizabeth. Mr Collins, Mr Darcy, there is some discussion the Colonel Fitzwilliam might fancy her, although that might be wishful thinking on her part.

There is lots I could say about this book really, but it's so much more magical for you to discover it yourself. I am indebted to CH for bringing a list of discussion questions to the session compiled from here, here and here, as it prompted much debate.

Happy reading, everyone. I would love to read your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice in the comments section of this post.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Welcome to the Sausagefest

Earlier this year, in Sydney, the shortlist for the 2011 Miles Franklin Award was announced- and suddenly, my Twitter account was on fire. It was perhaps one of the shortest shortlists ever, including only three books and overwhelmingly, without a woman’s name to any of them. The response from the online literary community was near-immediate, with one contributor to the Melbourne-based Kill Your Darlings blog referring to the list as a literary ‘sausage-fest.’ It is the second time in three years that the shortlist has been devoid of female writers, according the Meanjin blog ‘Spike’, leaving the blogger wondering if we still see our quintessential Australian experience as being a rural male one.

While there has not been any deliberate attempt to serve an ‘anti-female agenda’ in this short-list or the 2009 one, many critics are left scratching their heads.

As a young woman with lofty aspirations to one day win the award myself (perhaps even multiple times), I am left wondering who my own role models are. A scan of my shelves provides the answer. I can list perhaps only a handful of women writers still writing today that I’ve paid attention to. This is worrying. And perhaps it is a condition shared by many others like me; readers who have admired the Austens and the Brontes and the Whartons and the Plaths and the Alcotts, but have ignored those newcomers who deserve our attention.

So who are the contemporary women writers who warrant a place in our waning collective attention-spans? Does women’s writing still suffer from pigeonholing? Why do some people think that women write only for women readers, and men write for all?

Walk into any creative writing class (or literature class for that matter) and the presence will overwhelmingly be female- or at least, this has been my experience. Where do they go after graduation? (Is there a sequestered island somewhere for women writers? And if so, why haven’t I received my invitation?) There is no simple answer to this question, and no logical explanation that I can see. Does it boil down to the fact that we really are still living in a man’s world, at least when it comes to our conception of ‘literature?’

If you’re a woman writing today, you’re more likely to publish within four genres: romance, ‘chick lit’, mystery/crime or speculative fiction. The assumption seems to be that if you’re a woman writing, you’re writing about women’s concerns- something that will only interest other women. Moreover, you’d be most likely to write about WASPy twenty or thirty-somethings who just want to have a baby. (Thank you, Bridget Jones.) In 2010, I was lucky enough to see a panel at the Perth Writer’s Festival entitled ‘Escaping the Pigeonhole’ in which my eyes were opened by three very inspirational women. Local writer Liz Byrski defies the idea that books need to be about young people- and she does it with style; Dr. Anita Heiss challenges the white domination of the genre with her “deadly” indigenous heroines; Sara Foster’s books integrate marriage and child-raising with reality, albeit through her compelling mixture of crime and ‘chick lit.’ While each of these women are inspiring in their personal lives, and have certainly made some success for themselves as writers, I challenge you to find a man out there who would list himself as a fan. To quote another ‘chick lit’ writer, Lisa Heidke, “[A fellow writer] exasperated that I was sticking with the novel idea, asked me why I was writing chick lit. ‘You should write a real novel.’ And a real novel would be?”

Speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy, for those not in the know) seems to be a much more forgiving genre, but if you thought that it was free of gendered concerns, you were wrong. Many authors revert to using androgynous sounding nom de plumes in order not to discourage male readers from picking up their books. To quote one reader it “took me ages to click with the fact that Robin Hobb is a woman!” Ever wondered why J.K. Rowling didn’t publish as Joanne? It happens in the crime genre too, although nowhere near as much. (Heard of P.D. James?)

It’s all so very... backwards. One is inspired to think of the Bronte sisters publishing as Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell, or Jane Austen publishing simply as ‘an author.’ There’s got to be more than this. There’s got to be more to it than write for women, or write as a man.

We’re heading that way already. Think of the Lionel Shrivers of the world, the Donna Tartts, and the Alice Sebolds. But until we no longer need to make a distinction for ‘women’s writing’, until we no longer need panels about escaping the pigeonhole, and until woman writers stop feeling the need to conceal their gender, we’re not there.

If you’re hearing me, raise your glass. No, better yet, raise your pen, and get scribbling. Be a Melina Marchetta, or a Honey Brown, or a Kirsten Tranter (or a Helen Garner, or a Helen Oyeyemi, or a Jhumpa Lahiri.) And who knows? Maybe you’ll make the shortlist one day.

Because, after all, an all-sausage barbeque is no fun.

She is indebted to Shaneyah Galley, Christopher Grierson, Elisa Thompson, Kash Jones and Deblina Mittra for their help with this article.

Killings, The Kill Your Darlings Blog

Harry Potter

Southerly's July Guess Blogger

The coverage on this issue in the Meanjin blog, Spike, is also pretty great but I can't find the exact article that I was thinking of... so here's a similar one.

And finally, Lisa Heidke:

This article originally appeared in Murdoch University's Metior Magazine during Semester 1, 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Jane Austen Book Club Week Five: Emma

This picture was done at the most recent book club by the lovely Lauren! Isn't she super talented? If we're lucky, she may post you all a link to her deviantart portfolio in the comments. Come on Lauren! Pretty please? :)

With all the recent hooplah about women in writing, I think it's kind of great to be re-reading Emma.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Emma's not exactly out there saying men are the root of all evil or anything. In fact, she's kind of doing the opposite. While she vows never to get married herself, it is only to take care of her elderly, miserable father. And her one joy in life is marrying her women friends off. She's got a Noah's Ark view of the world. It must go two by two.

We all have that friend, don't we? I fear, in my group, it may occassionally be me.

But the book is named after her. She is the only Austen heroine who has that after final publication. And the story is her coming of age.

The Emma plotline, that of the "humbling of a pretty, know-it-all girl" (Jocelyn, the Jane Austen Book Club film) is supposed to be one of the most popular of all time. Published in Decemeber 1815, it was reviewed favourably by Sir Walter Scott, and was dedicated at his own request to the Prince Regent. Pretty cool, hey? But there is another plotline to the story as well, and that is the story of Jane Fairfax. Someone at my book club on Wednesday night actually said that it could be argued that it is the parallel story of Jane which is actually the more interesting one.

Jane Fairfax (and here the author does what any confident writer would do in naming an accomplished character after herself! ha!) is an orphan who has been taken in by a family friend and has grown up to be an accomplished young lady. She occassionally visits Highbury to visit her grandmother and aunt, Mrs. and Miss Bates. She 'belongs' to Highbury. And being Emma's exact age and everything, she is also unwittingly Emma's rival. I see some structural symmetry here between the stories of the two girls, or at least some sort of authorial device. Being the only two women of about 21 in Highbury who warrant a mention aside from Harriet who I think must be younger, I see Jane and Emma as akin to Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre- arguably two sides of the same coin. I see Jane as a lesson to Emma, foreshadowing the kind of person she will become over the course of the book. Perhaps Jane is Emma's rival but she is also not attempting to be and by the end of the book, Emma feels sad that she never tried to be better friends with this girl.

This novel is the first time we have encountered the high end of middle class British society. Well. I think thats where they would be. The Woodhouses are landed gentry and most importantly, they still have their money and their house. The Dashwoods WERE landed gentry. The Eliots still are to a degree but they're strapped for cash. The Morlands certainly aren't and Fanny Price is not but her cousins' family is. But Emma is still very much assured of her station. And rank is of utmost importance to her. Now listen carefully because I am going to tell you the best kept secret of the novel.

Emma is a snob.

Ha, you say. I already knew that. So how is it that Emma is a snob and we still love her? I think the answer there lies in the fact that we see the world through her eyes. We see the absurd little world of Highbury in Emma's very judgemental black and white way and we laugh at it, but we also laugh at her somewhat. We find her lovable in her oh-so-very-wrong-about-everything way. Because she's mostly harmless in it. Mr. Knightley on the other hand is pretty much right about everything, as is his brother. They see when people are lying before anyone else. George Knightley (Emma's Knightley) is the first to suspect Frank Churchill of carrying on with Miss Fairfax. And it is he that guides Emma. When she is wrong about things he is the only one who tells her she is wrong and then she corrects her ways, such as when she is cruel to Miss Bates at Box Hill and he scolds her. She then goes to make amends. I think because Emma Regards Donwell Abbey, Randalls and Hartfield as the height of society, it is really only the Westons and Knightley who could have this effect. She doesn't listen to anyone else. When the Coles presume to have a party, she wants to say no outright just on principle because they think they are high society. But then she is not invited and its a huge slight. And she hates that Mrs. Elton presumes herself to be the first lady in every room even when Emma is there too. But then again she hates Mrs. Elton and so do I.

If you've ever seen the version with Juliette Stevenson playing Mrs. Elton in it, you'll know what I mean. Ugh, horrid woman. There are no words.

We see in some of the male characters a few archetypes that Jane Austen goes to again and again. First of all, there is Mr. Elton. He is a clergyman, but for the first time he is not the love interest. He is not Edward Ferrars or Edmund Bertram. At first, he is seen to be a potential love interest by Emma for Harriet, and she convinces her protegee as such, but then it turns out he loves Emma. And suddenly she is no longer seeing him so favourably. Because it turns out that Elton is a worse snob than Emma. He believes, possibly, that to attract a snob, one must be one. And this is true when it comes to Augusta, his disgusting bride. But Emma's snobbery is a facet of her youth and in a way this story is her coming of age. Snobbery in others eventually teaches her to abhor it in herself.

Then there is Mr. Frank Churchill. Another example of Jane Austen never trusting men who are too charming. Like Willoughby and Henry Crawford except it is not the heroine who rejects Frank but Frank who cannot attach himself to Emma. And Emma is impervious to his charms because she really loves Knightley and can't realise it until she is in danger of losing him to a Mrs. Knightley who is not herself. Yet Frank does not end up hated, and therefore he is more like Willoughby than Crawford. He writes a letter and explains himself, and Emma finds that she cannot stay mad at him, just like Jane has been magnanimous in not blaming Emma for her flirting with Frank. Which is really very big of her when you consider how cruel Frank is to Jane.

I haven't said much about Harriet yet, and really there isn't much to say. Emma likes Harriet because (as the Josh character says of Cher in Clueless) she never had a mother and needs a human doll to play with. It is very much like that. Emma needs to be adored and Harriet hangs on her every word. In the end, however, Emma could not truly dispell the true feelings between Robert Martin (a non character in that the letters he writes are only ever paraphrased by others and he only occurs as an off the page character) and Harriet. Which is excellent because by the time his second proposal occurs, Emma has changed and wants her friend to accept. Also, it is convenient because Emma has accepted marriage from the man Harriet loves, i.e. Knightley.

When one really takes into account the lying, backstabbing and manipulation, it's no wonder the story was so easily adapted for a teenage drama like Clueless.

What do you think?

Next week we read Pride and Prejudice. Finally! Mr. Darcy!!!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Jane Austen Book Club Week Four: Persuasion

Ahhh the long suffering Anne Elliot. Like Cinderella in muslin.

Book club last night was... somewhat serene. There were two of us in attendance. I didn't even need to use the teapot. And in fact, we didn't discuss the book at all, considering CH got back from New Zealand just in time to make it to Harry Potter Tuesday night and didn't finish the novel. Mores the pity.

I shall continue nonetheless with regularly scheduled blogging. Without further ado... Persuasion by Jane Austen.

The story begins with a little bit of family history. Sir Walter Elliot, the proud fool, unaware in fact of how foolish his pride really is, becomes a little less rich than he would like to be. He is advised to let his house, Kellynch Hall and retire with his eldest daughter the beautiful and equally insipid Elizabeth. His second daughter, Anne, is an infinitely helpful girl who never asks for anything. Perhaps her one fault is that she would rather please others than herself. So, when her father DOES go to Bath with Elizabeth, Anne is not to go too because she won't be of any use. And yet, Elizabeth's horrible divorced/ widowed (can anyone clarify why she's not with her husband?) friend Mrs. Clay IS to be useful, despite Sir Walter at first thinking Mrs. Clay a total waste of space. Which she is.

Kellynch is let to Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia. Sophia's brothers used to both live in the area and it just so happened that eight years previously, Anne had been engaged to her brother Frederick Wentworth. He is now CAPTAIN Wentworth and has become accordingly dishy and eligible. But Anne broke up with him because he was not good enough for her in the eyes of her family and great friend Lady Russell, and therefore when he comes to stay with his sister, and she meets him at her Brother in Law's parents' place for dinner, he won't give her the time of day. Rightly so really. Even she knows that she was wrong.

Anyway, Anne is staying at Uppercross in the house of her younger sister Mary and her husband Charles, who proposed to Anne first but married Mary after she refused, which frankly is a bit strange. I see Anne as a bit of a Mary-Sue in this book at times, simply because she is so good and misunderstood and everyone falls in love with her. Charles Musgrove does, and later so does Captain Benwick. Charles Musgrove has two sisters, Louisa and Henrietta and for a while they both throw themselves at Captain Wentworth but eventually Louisa gains primacy and Henrietta goes back to her old flame, her first cousin Charles Hayter the future-clergyman. (Oh look, Jane Austen has written yet another clergyman in her novels. What a surprise.)

They all go to the seaside at Lyme because Captain Wentworth is to go and see some friends, and while they are there, Louisa falls and hits her head and is slow to recover. She is thrown together with Wentworth's friend Benwick and soon falls for him, leaving Wentworth unnattached. Some people posit that Wentworth's flirtation with Louisa was an artificial one anyway, because he wanted to make Anne jealous. Personally, I think he was so hurt by seeing Anne again that he was desperate to feel loved, and he didn't even know he was using her.

Anne eventually heads to Bath to join her family, only to discover that it seems like Mrs. Clay has designs on her dad (ew) and her cousin, William Elliot has arrived (he is the heir to Kellynch) and is paying great attention to her sister. His affections soon transfer to Anne herself. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are grubbing as much attention as they can from anyone in a high place including some very rich so called cousins of theirs. Anne, meanwhile, spends some time with Mrs Smith, who is poor and widowed and was a friend of hers at school, proving she is more kind hearted than her awful, awful family. Wentworth shows up. They have a few awkward moments. Wentworth becomes jealous of Mr. Elliot. Anne is appalled that he thinks she would even be considering Elliot. Mrs. Smith reveals Mr. Elliot as a low disgusting slug creature. Wentworth writes to Anne to say he loves her still. Anne returns the sentiment. Happily ever after, The End.

Basically, that's what happened, but I do hope you pick up the book for yourself because it is actually much better than I made it seem. I left a lot of good little details out, and the details make all the difference in novel writing. No one can write an English village like Jane Austen. She treats her minor characters like her primary ones.

For example, Mary Musgrove. She's both annoying and amusing at once! She's always whinging about how put upon she is, and really she's just stupid and lazy. But oh, she makes me laugh. In a way, Elizabeth is the same, only less comic. But of course, she's not supposed to be funny. She's sort of an ironic character because here is this person who is so awful that if you don't laugh you may cry. And of course, people like that truly existed. Poor Jane Austen. She saw things so differently, she must have been appauled at people's behaviour every day.

Persuasion was Austen's last novel, written while she was quite ill. It has a much more mature tone than any of the other novels and is indeed more mature in theme. To quote Prudie again, it has an 'Elegiac Tone', which as my Grandpa says, means it is pervaded by a great sense of loss. I know want to include some thoughts from Elisa of I'mJustElisa.

"I did think it was quite a mature novel in a lot of ways which kind of makes sense as it was the last complete one she wrote, and I myself find it quite relatable because unlike a lot of romantic novels it's not like a misunderstanding or mistake that causes the drama. Rather it's a timing issue, and i think that in life this is often the case."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

What are your thoughts? Did you like Persuasion? Did you hate it? Why or Why Not? Drop me a comment and tell me your thoughts, or even just tell me you were here.

See you next week when we read Emma.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Harry Potter Freaks

As I am waiting on the couch for my ride to get here, my phone beeps. It is not the friend who is supposed to have picked me up ten minutes ago (and to clarify, if we’d been going to any other movie, I probably wouldn’t have been so on edge) but another friend who is going to a different session at the same time. “There are so many Harry Potter freaks here, lol” she says. I look down at the robes I borrowed from my boyfriend’s sister and suddenly feel a little ill.

At the cinema there are many more dressed like me, or worse, but it’s hard to see them because Hoyts has us all sitting in the foyer and it looks like they’ve tried to cram the 300 Spartans into that tiny space. The whole room smells a bit funky. On the opposite side of the room to where my friends are, there are some girls dressed as house elfs, although I’m not sure the word ‘dressed’ applies here. There are also quite a lot of Luna Lovegoods. You can tell who is dressed as Luna because they mostly have Dame Edna glasses on. From where I’m standing, I spot several people in robes like mine, but a little better even because they have a crest. I join my friends, but the one who texted me is absent. And then we wait.

In fact, we’ve been waiting about a decade for this, so a couple of hours in a lobby shouldn’t be much. I got my first Harry Potter book in ’97, as a reward for going to the orthodontist to talk about getting two plates for my killer overbite. We’d gone to the clinic, and then gone to Dymocks before I went back to school. Dymocks looked different back then. The top ten section was on a different wall, and the carpets were oh so very nineties. It was the era of awkward clothing, and glasses that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Professor Trelawney. My mother still had a ponytail, I think. The book I got that day was The Chamber of Secrets. It was shiny and blue and sat on that top ten wall innocently unsurrounded by all the hoopla that now follows it everywhere. All I saw were two boys in a car, and an owl and some bags. And my mum said she’d heard the book was good on the radio. So we bought it. And then I went back to school. I didn’t touch the book for a while, not until after I’d been given the first one by Santa later that year.

From that moment, I’d been hooked. I remember ordering The Goblet of Fire through the bookstore at the uni where mum worked. I remember reading all the letters from fans printed inside the back of Chamber of Secrets. I remember getting to school the Monday after book five came out and hating this girl in the year below me for blabbing that Sirius had died. Likewise arriving the day after The Half Blood Prince came out, and those two friends of mine who never stopped talking Harry Potter spilling the beans on Snape and Dumbledore. Vowing never again. Taking the day off work when The Deathly Hallows came out, and leaving my friend’s sleepover just before eleven to go and pick up my preordered copy, so that I could spend the rest of the day in bed. I barely stirred to go to the bathroom. Mum brought me an emergency ham and cheese toastie at one point because I hadn’t eaten, and she was worried. But I finished it. I was triumphant.

I’ve always been more of a reader than a movie buff, but the Harry Potter movies became, for me and many others, somewhat of a tradition. Those same two diehard Harry Potter fans who gave away the ending to Book Six have become some of my oldest friends simply by being around every time a new movie in the series comes out. (And in one of my old journals, I have an essay that one of them wrote about why she couldn’t believe Snape was evil. So I’d like to say publically to her, you were right.) I don’t remember going to the first few movies, but I do remember huddling on the couch at my old house with the other one of these girls watching the first three movies. That was the first time I saw Prisoner of Azkaban. Playing the clinker game while we watched, asking “Will Harry marry Ginny?” and getting a green clinker for no; asking “Will Ron marry Hermione?” and getting a yellow clinker for maybe. Asking “Will Ron marry Ginny then?” in a fit of giggles and the clinker being pink, for yes.

The first time going to the film was a big to do would have been around June of Year nine. Eleven of us went to The Goblet of Fire for my clinker-eating friend’s birthday. I remember we went to the film on a Thursday night, thinking we were obviously very grown up, and then walking through the shopping centre connected just before nine to pick up the friend who’d been working. Going back to Clinker-girl’s for a sleepover. Positing what would come next.

The next big milestone for me was movie six. We went for the Snape-Essay friend’s birthday this time, totally on a whim, during the day on the first day it was out. We saw someone from our school there, and hid in the big crowd to not have to sit with him.

Then, finally, last year I dressed up for the first time. My very first midnight screening.

It wasn’t the best costume in the world: dumpy old school shoes, knee high socks, a black skirt, a blouse and a vest. I looked a little more like a badly made-up Gossip Girl character than a Hogwarts student. My friends all had scarves in house colours and things like that. We arrived early and sat in a line that snaked down past all the cinemas. Someone was dressed as a Golden Snitch and a boy dressed as Harry put a broom between his legs and chased her up and down the corridor while we all laughed and cheered. The manager had to tell us all to behave. I wished I’d brought cards.

Perhaps I will never again don a silly costume and wait around in a cinema lobby talking about Horcruxes and House-Elves. Perhaps I will never again see a movie at midnight. But it is the future generations that I feel sorry for, the kids who won’t get to grow older with Harry Potter, waiting for his next adventure to be published. The kids who won’t be disappointed when their Hogwarts letter doesn’t come on their eleventh birthday. The kids who won’t whisper lumos into the end of a torch as they read under the covers past midnight because they’re terrified of snakes and the basilisk has Ginny and their mum said time out but they’re so wired they can’t close their eyes because they just know they’ll have a nightmare... anyone else? No? Just me? There will be future generations of Harry Potter lovers, but only mine will be the true Harry Potter freaks.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Jane Austen Book Club Week Three: Sense and Sensibility

To quote Emily Blunt's character, Prudie, in the film of the same name, Sense and Sensibility is about "two sisters moving separately towards what they each believe to be the perfect love." Well. I can certainly relate to the two sisters moving separately part.

At the risk of sounding like a nerd here, allow me to suggest that Jane Austen does in Sense and Sensibility what D.H. Lawrence would do on the topic of sisterhood nearly a century later when he wrote Women in Love, which I studied this semester. There are, of course, several very important differences, such as, you know, the entire themes and points of the book not being at all the same. But both novels feature two very different sisters each working out what it is to be in a relationship with another person, and those departures very much represent the gap between Realism and Modernism, in a way.

One thing about the book that really struck me was the significance of the title. I discussed this with my group tonight (the group consisting of LP and DM, because lucky CH is in New Zealand!) I didn't quite understand what Sense and Sensibility were supposed to mean; certainly not in the same way that one understands what Pride and Prejudice mean instantly. But it appears to be all about context. Sense is rationality and responsibility and control, prudence etc. Therefore, Sense is Elinor. Elinor almost seems to be the minor character in the novel because she is so reserved. Her story is less told and therefore not as romantic. One is almost inclined to feel that it was less important to Jane Austen herself, and yet at the same time, Elinor is clearly more the protagonist than Marianne. We often see things about Marianne from Elinor's point of view, but that role is seldom reversed. This is much due to Elinor's feelings of responsibility towards her sister, which at time tend to be even maternal. That two sisters so opposite should get on so well astounds me. Marianne is the Sensibility of the book, meaning in this instance to experience everything fully... with all five sense, feeling all, and expressing all she feels. If she is sad, she weeps, if she is happy, she laughs. She enjoys cavorting about with Willoughby and ignores the impropriety of their doing so in the absence of a formal engagement. I guess this is why her relationship to Col. Brandon almost seems like that of daughter and father. Plus he's 20 years her senior. But I'd still go there.

That was a rather large paragraph, so here's a picture to look at while you rest your brain.

Now, let's talk about some boys.

I'd have to say, Willoughby showing up through the rain to rescue Marianne after she falls is akin to Darcy coming out of the lake... but then again, Austen never trusts the 'pretty guy.' In a way, it was the same with Henry Crawford last week. Too good looking, too charming, too easy a conquest to be true love seems to be the right way to think about it. And she turns out to be right. Shame.

Colonel Brandon on the other hand seems very... okay so he's kind of doting in that he takes an interest in what Marianne does, and he listens to her play music and stuff, but does anyone else think that it's quite... wrong... for him to be pretty much seeing a relationship with her as a do-over for missing out on loving Eliza? And also, if I were Eliza Williams the younger, and my dad married a woman who was younger than me, AND also a woman who had been attached recently to the man who'd knocked me up and run away, I might be a little annoyed. Just a little. Yet, I am whole heartedly on the Colonel's side. Who doesn't want a man who is faithful, and strong, and loves them ferociously? (And who doesn't want the first declaration of this to be to their mum? Awww.)

Finally, Edward. Egh. Boring. The special features on the 1995 film version DVD have Emma Thompson saying that Edward is funny in the book, but I must have missed that. Edward is almost as bad as Edmund Bertram except that he is also deceitful. And foolish. And Elinor is probably going to wear the pants in THAT relationship. Also comparing him to Edmund Bertram, I am inclined to wonder whether Jane Austen had a thing for men of the cloth.

I'm actually with Mrs. Jennings on this one, much as I loathed that character. I would have loved to see Elinor end up with the Colonel and Marianne living with them like their grown up daughter. She was quite resigned to living out her days divided between books and music, and she has to pretty much change her whole personality in the course of the novel just to justify the match. Plus, the elopement of Lucy Steele with Robert Ferrars (even more snorey than his brother) is so ludicrously contrived that I must condemn it as a transparent deus ex machina. Bad form. It's set up much nicer in the film that Emma Thompson wrote because at least it is foregrounded.

But please, for your own safety, do not get me started on Lucy. I may accidently wound you with the harsh things I have to say about her and her insipid sister.

I hope, after all that, that you don't mistake me for hating the book. I actually loved it. There was such a liveliness in the prose, and after struggling through Mansfield Park, that was very refreshing.

What did you all think?

Next week, we cover Persuasion.