Monday, November 30, 2009

Mrs. Elton in America by Diana Birchall


Last week I read Mrs. Elton in America, published in 2008 by Sourcebooks, which comprises all three of the Mrs. Elton stories by Diana Birchall. It's a fascinating notion - taking one of the most hated characters in Austen and attempting to redeem her. This began with In Defense of Mrs. Elton, the second story in the volume, which is a fairly straight forward retelling of Emma from Mrs. Elton's perspective. The entire text of this story can be found online at jasna.org along with a set of quirky illustrations by Juliet McMaster which are sadly absent from the Sourcebooks edition (like this one of Mr. Elton). Mrs. Elton is displayed as a misunderstood woman, aware of her own social awkwardness and inclined to put her foot in her mouth when sincerely attempting to endear herself to her new neighbors. It is a pretty story and the depiction of the relationship between Emma and Mrs. Elton, which is followed many years beyond the end of the original novel, is highly believable.

The first story in the volume (the second one composed by Ms. Birchall) is entitled The Courtship of Mrs. Elton and is available online at jasnasaz.org. I understand that this has been adapted into a short play. It is my favorite of the stories in this collection. Miss Augusta Hawkins is a young lady in Bath for yet another season and is absolutely determined that this year will find her married. She meets Mr. Elton almost immediately upon her (and his) arrival and they are instantly taken with each other:

There was nothing new in this social round to Augusta, with her eight seasons' experience of the place; but it did often occur to her, in the course of her multifarious activities, that, of all the people she had met during them, none had ever been more attractive to her than this Mr. Elton. He was very handsome, and decidedly agreeable; that he liked her was beyond question; and the Miss Milmans had swiftly found out, and swiftly related to her, that he was installed in an excellent and modern vicarage in one of the very finest towns of England, as well as being possessed of a comfortable competence of his own. Augusta had lived enough years in the world to know that she could hardly do better; that this might, indeed, be her last and best chance; and though she did not call herself desperate, she had already made up her mind, before she set eyes upon him for the second time, that, if he were ever to ask her to marry him, she would accept.

Surrounded by company so vulgar that she seems (comparatively) the embodiment of refinement, Miss Hawkins fastidiously encourages Mr. Elton in a manner that must be gratifying, considering his recent rejection. So satisfied are both parties by the success of the courtship that one may honestly remark (without the bitterness that tinges Frank Churchill's words), "Happy couple! How well they suit one another." This story inspires much more sympathy in me for Mrs. Elton than the other two. It is a thoroughly sweet tale and I will certainly reread it many times in the future.

The final (and longest) story in this book is Mrs. Elton in America. I have been puzzling over what to say about it for a week and am still at a loss. The story sees the transformation of Mrs. Elton from the character created by Jane Austen into an entirely new and unrecognizable creature. Roughly picking up where In Defense of Mrs. Elton leaves off, the Eltons, having over spent, retrench to the United States as missionaries. Here they survive horrific hardships as they head West in the ubiquitous covered wagon, where Mr. Elton is sent to convert the Comanches. By the end of the book Mrs. Elton has been fully democratized, turning into a sensible, no nonsense woman. I admit to being transfixed by the story as I read it but cannot actually say I liked it. It is a curious read but one too far outside the scope of Austen for me to feel comfortable with it.

Mrs. Elton in America leaves me wanting more books of redemption for Austen's less likable characters. As far as I know, no one has yet to defend Elizabeth Elliot, Lucy Steele, or Isabella Thorpe, all of whom seem ripe for such treatment. Aunt Norris would also be a challenging but fascinating character to defend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Later Days at Highbury by Joan Austen-Leigh


I just read this absolutely delightful epistolary novel by real life descendant of Jane Austen and co-founder of JASNA, Joan Austen-Leigh. Later Days at Highbury might be out of print - I have yet to confirm this and it does seem to be available direct form Barnes & Noble, though not at Amazon (where I was able to purchase a cheap used copy). The book is primarily the correspondence between Mrs. Goddard and a saucy younger sister in London, Mrs. Charlotte Pinkney, who has a tongue worthy of Elizabeth Bennet or Marianne Dashwood. There are occasional letters by secondary characters (including those exchanged between Mrs. Elton and her sister, Mrs. Suckling). The year is 1817 and great changes have come to Highbury since the end of Emma. We learn about the different fates of familiar characters but the story mostly focuses on the new players Ms. Austen-Leigh has introduced to the society.

I do not want to give away the details of this story, much preferring to urge others to read it themselves, but will disclose that there is a strong abolitionist narrative in the tale in order that I may wonder out loud if this might be a direct response to criticism of Mansfield Park (the author takes great pride in her heritage and Austen's legacy, as made evident in this pleasant article, My Aunt, Jane Austen, published in Persuasions #11, 1989). Instead of elaborating on the plot, I want to discuss the prose. Ms. Austen-Leigh has a voice distinct from that of her inimitable aunt but shares her ability to capture the simple truths of human existence. This struck me in a particularly personal way in Letter 46, in which Mrs. Pinkney explains to her husband something I have long struggled to express to mine:

Mr. Pinkney remarks that it is quite amazing the degree of pleasure a female appears to derive from the prospect of a new gown. I try to explain to him that there is more to it than the mere gown, itself. It has something to do with being a woman, a desire to have other people regard one with approval. He asks if I suppose that a stranger seeing me for the first time would discern any difference between my wearing a new gown or an old one. I tell him that a new gown gives a woman a presence, a radiance, an ├ęclat. Because she knows she is looking her best she is affable and amiable, which indeed can be observed by everyone. This would not be the case, I assure him, if she were feeling inferior or dejected for being seen yet again in the same old dress.

Now this isn't exactly deep philosophy, but it is an interaction that has occurred millions of times between couples across the ages and it made me laugh aloud - not with the cackle Austen's wit inspires, just a polite chortle. As in those of Jane Austen, this book captures the simple pleasures and follies of human kind, wrapped in the comfort of early 19th century gentility and, in this case, the familiar pleasantries of Highbury. There is a deficit of Emma sequels available and this is one of the best. It is a safe recommendation for even the fiercest Austen purist's reading list.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

All About the Brontes Challenge 2010


Before there was Jane, there was Charlotte. Well, maybe not chronologically, just in my life. While as an adult my fixation has been everything Austen, as a teenager I was all about the Brontes. I read and reread Villette, dramatically relishing the heartbreak every time (very Marianne Dashwood-like, I was such a drama queen and loved to wallow). At sixteen, I could truly relish "the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness." So after some deep reflection, I have decided to use this forum to join the All About the Brontes Challenge 2010 on Laura's Reviews. The thing is, this is supposed to be a place to exclusively contemplate Austen. In order to rationalize my participation I intend to tie all my Bronte postings back to Austen, somehow or other. This isn't strictly complying with the rules of the challenge but, as long as I still provide a review of the Bronte related items I consume, I don't think it's too out of line. Let's just pray this doesn't turn into a series of rants about passion.

This brings me to the question of what to read (or watch). I have read all the Bronte texts before, including the juvenilia, and have absolutely no interest in rereading either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. I've never read any Bronte fan fiction (wait a minute - I did read The Wide Sargasso Sea years ago at the recommendation of a teacher - not repeating that one) so feel I would need to do quite a bit of research before learning what, in that genre, is most worthwhile. It's not like Austen, where I am willing to read almost everything: if I am to read Bronte fan fic I want it to be the best. At this stage, I am willing to commit to the following reviews, with the intention of adding in some fan fiction and maybe a movie or two later:

1) Villette (for old times sake)
2) Shirley
3) The Professor (which I had totally forgotten about)
4) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
5) Agnes Grey

So now I need to go find my copies of these books and hope against hope that they aren't completely filled with totally embarrassing notes and insights from my youth (which they most certainly are as I used to write incessantly in the margins). Maybe I need to go buy new copies to prevent this experience from being polluted by dismay at my childish scribblings.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Regina Jeffers & Wayward Love


I read Wayward Love: Captain Wentworth's Story last weekend and have waited to blog about it until I could finish rereading Darcy's Passions by this same author. The fact of the matter is that I have now read four books by Regina Jeffers and, for the most part, I have greatly enjoyed them. So in this post I not only want to review her newest book but also think a bit about her career publishing Austen fan fiction.

Ms. Jeffers' first book, Darcy's Passions: Fitzwilliam Darcy's Story, was written in response to a challenge from one of her students while she was teaching Pride & Prejudice. Though the concept has been done several times before, this book is one of my favorite versions. I love her take on Darcy. As she explains in the Preface:

Most believe George Wickham to be the villain in this classic tale, but I am of the persuasion Darcy is both villain and hero - disdainful pride to benevolent rescue. Yet, I also do not believe that anyone changes completely; Darcy's transformation must be based in all his previous experiences. The disagreeable social facade and the potential lover lie within the same man. This is the tale one finds in Darcy's Passions.

Being amongst those who are guilty of thinking far too well of Fitzwillaim Darcy, this perspective of Darcy as "the bad guy" is both refreshing and perfectly in keeping with the original story. I only wish she had ended the book with their marriage instead of pressing on. This is largely because I did not at all enjoy the second volume Ms. Jeffers wrote, Darcy's Dreams: A Sequel to the Fitzwilliam Darcy Story, the plot of which is set up at the end of the first book. Now it's not that this book is bad, it's just that its subject is so distressing to me I hate to even think about it. After all the emotional turmoil Elizabeth and Darcy go through to reach the happily married state, Ms. Jeffers sends Darcy off to have an accident in which he looses his recent memory and cannot fathom what on earth would have possessed him to marry Elizabeth Bennet. It's so upsetting. Here's that "villain" from the Meryton Assembly back in full force. I honestly found this book traumatizing which, I happily will admit, it would not have been was it poorly executed. Still, poor Elizabeth!

Darcy's Passions was first released in October of 2008 followed by Darcy's Dreams that June by Xlibris, a self-publishing company. They were then rereleased as Darcy's Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes in February of 2009 and Darcy's Temptations: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in September of 2009 by Ulysses Press, a traditional publisher. The particularly strange thing about this is that both editions are still available. If you go to Ms. Jeffers' website you will be linked to the Xlibris site for purchase. I don't know much about Ulysses but it's very interesting that they would option a book without demanding full publication rights.

This is not the case for Vampire Darcy's Desire: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation, which was released directly through Ulyssses Press in October 2009 and so is not available for sale via Ms. Jeffers' website. This is by far my favorite of the monster takes on Austen. You can read my pseudo review in an earlier post, Jane Austen and the Gothic.

This brings us to the subject at hand. Wayward Love: Captain Fredrick Wentworth's Story, released by Xlibris in April 2009, is a wonderful retelling of Persuasion. The story begins a few months after Anne and Fredrick's marriage when they are on ship, the British Navy having been recalled following Napoleon having escape from Elba. Captain Wentworth is injured and, as he recuperates, he relives his courtship with Anne in his dreams. The story then follows them back to land where they begin to establish their married lives. Unlike the other books I have read of this nature, Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange and the Fredrick Wentworth, Captain series, None But You (which, by the way, is phenomenal) and For You Alone by Susan Kaye, Wayward Love shows us what Anne and Fredrick's life might have been like after marriage, in the same manner as so many of the Pride & Prejudice sequels. I would love to see Ms. Jeffers write another volume, continuing the tale where she left off (as long as Captain Wentworth doesn't bump his head and develop amnesia that is).

This same book under a new title, Captain Wentworth's Persuasion: Jane Austen's Classic Retold Through His Eyes, is due out from Ulysses in March 2010. I'm seriously thinking about sending my manuscript to Ulysses and seeing if I can't cut a similar deal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith


Earlier this week I read this wonderful collection of short stories entitled Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith. I really enjoyed these surprisingly modern "backstories, sequels, and what-ifs", all of which play with the basic assumptions we make about Austen, the best in a manner which adds new dimensions to the way we analyze the complete body of Austen's work. My two favorite stories were Three Sisters, which provides a new perspective on Mansfield Park and Persuasion (and which hits on a point raised in the first class I ever took on Austen, much to my delight), and Heaven Can Wait, which imagines an entire love affair out of Mrs. Bennet's mention at Netherfield that Jane Bennet once was courted by a man who "wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."

I must admit that some of these tales made me cringe a bit, largely because they were premised upon ideas that made me uncomfortable. For example, I was frustrated with Ms. Greensmith's portrayal of a rather incompetent Fanny Price (now Bertram) in Bird of Paradise as I believe her to have largely run Mansfield, especially at the end of the book, rendering Thornton Lacey an easy house for her to manage. Similarly, while I was absolutely enthralled with the concept behind All I do, a "What If?" story of Elizabeth and Darcy that has them just finding each other in middle age, I couldn't reconcile myself to the absence of decorum between the characters, especially as we're now talking about a Victorian Darcy and Elizabeth who should be even more socially inhibited than their youthful selves. Cringing aside, these stories caused me to think deeply about the characters in ways I hadn't previously. My petty complaints should really be ignored; the entire book is thoroughly worthwhile.

This is a literary collection. The stories are written in a manner that at first seems shockingly stark but that is just because the modern language and prose style is in such huge contrast to Austen's writing and the conventions usually adapted in Austen fan fiction. The prose are simple and poetic, not at all something that could have been written before the 20th century. I would love to go through this book, story by story, and write an essay on each one but that would ruin them for those who have yet to read the book. Instead I will urge anyone with a passion for Austen to bump this book to the top of their reading lists so they can relish Ms. Greensmith's unique rethinking of these beloved stories as soon as possible. Maybe sometime down the road I'll pull the stories apart in detail. They are just begging for close analysis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Cover!!

I finally bought the rights to the cover art and so can now share what First Impressions will look like! We are reviewing the pdf, ready to be sent to the publishers, one more time for any obvious mistakes. Once that clears, it's off to the printer!

I had such a good time helping to lay out the book and design the cover. It has totally changed the way I think about books. I always considered myself a bit uptight about which publications I preferred and why but I never really thought too much about what I based those preferences on. This entire process has been extremely diverting.

So both of the images are engravings that we toned for depth and color. It seems to be de rigueur to have a period looking lady on the front of these things; while these ladies aren't precisely period, I have seen worse (for example, the ladies gracing the cover of this Barnes & Nobles Classic Edition of Sense & Sensibility - I feel like it gives me a good bit of leeway).

I would really have liked to use the engraving on the back cover (doesn't it just feel like Meryton?) but the image was too small. I wasn't able to make this jpeg big enough for any but the most nearsighted to read so here's the blurb in a more legible form:

"In Pride and Prejudice Fitzwilliam Darcy begins his relationship with Elizabeth Bennet with the words: 'She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.' What would have happened if Mr. Darcy had never spoken so disdainfully? First Impressions explores how the events of Jane Austen's beloved novel would have transpired if Darcy and Elizabeth had danced together at the Meryton Assembly. Jane and Bingley's relationship blossoms unimpeded, Mary makes a most fortunate match, and Lydia never sets a foot in Brighton. Austen's witty style is authentically invoked in this playful romp from Longbourn to Pemberley."

So what do you think? Since it's too late for me to change this, I sincerely hope your responses are positive.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Personal Austen Rankings

This comes up all the time. What is your favorite book by Jane Austen? Of course they are all amazing but everyone must have their preferences. Here's my sure-to-anger list and why:

1) Persuasion

For me this is Austen at her best. First off I should admit that I adored Cinderella as a child and Persuasion is the ultimate Cinderella story. Watching Anne Elliot, really Jane's most perfect heroine, bloom into such deserved happiness is one of the most fabulously cathartic experiences literature has to offer. I will also admit that I love depressing stories (despite what one might assume based on the thoroughly happy tale I just wrote) and there is A LOT of melancholy in this story. It's difficult not to attribute it to the circumstances of Austen's life while she was writing it. For that reason, this is an extraordinarily personal tale, as close to the writer as we ever get in her fiction.

2) Northanger Abbey

This book is such a remarkable delight to read. Henry Tilney, after Mr. Darcy of course, is my favorite Austen hero and Catherine Moreland has to be the sweetest heroine she ever created. This was the first book I ever read of Jane Austen's, so it holds a special place for me in that respect, and it still makes me laugh aloud every time I read it. I get a silly grin on my face whenever I read Austen (it just makes me really happy) and it's at its biggest when I read Northanger Abbey.

3) Mansfield Park

This is Austen's most ambitious work and her most flawed novel (the attempt in and of itself is remarkable). So much more complex than her other stories, Mansfield Park depicts a rather frightening world of ambition, lust, and folly. This book is much more than a romance: it's deep social philosophy, much more akin to George Elliot's work than Austen's other novels. In Mansfield Park we see the remarkable heights of Austen's potential. It's a book that inspires awed respect.

4) Pride & Prejudice

This is the perfect romance: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet personify true love. Of course its appealing. Every time I pick up this book I know I shall laugh, cry, and feel triumphant (sometimes all in the course of one page). Pride and Prejudice is a highly emotional story and the reader becomes fully engaged in the dramatic roller coaster that forms the plot. This is why I think so many revere this tale - it gets you about as close as anyone can come to perfect happiness. Vicariously, we bask for a moment in Darcy and Elizabeth's glory. It's terribly gratifying.

5) Emma

Now I have to move into defensive mode and say why I put these last two books at the end of this list instead of just declaring what I love them. Emma is wonderful but this story has just never grabbed my imagination to the same degree as the others. I suppose this is because I'm a spoiled brat myself and Emma's faults too closely resemble my own. It's very painful when your too-good opinion of yourself takes a beating, to that I can attest, but all Emma's happy ending teaches me is that, though there may be some trials along the journey, I am sure to get my way in the end. This is the only one of Austen's books that doesn't demand I try to be a better person.

6) Sense and Sensibility

After having read all of Austen aloud to my husband last year, I must acknowledge that this is the worst written of Austen's book. Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful story but the writing is choppier and more contorted than her later work. I wish she could have done another draft of this one, just to smooth out the language. I adore the dynamic between Elinor and Marianne but think that Austen had a hard time working with two heroines. Notice she never attempted to do so again.

So there you are. Please argue with me: this entire exercise is totally arbitrary and demands it. I love debating Austen.

Note added 12/5/09: I just began A Truth Universally Acknowledged (which, so far, seems an attempt to raise Austen to the level of a divinity) and came across the following quote in Susannah Carson's intro which is very relevant to this post: "Some readers are certain there is a fixed hierarchy and take no greater pleasure than in defending their choices and converting opponents. Others find the question as impertinent and irrelevant as if they had been asked to pick a favorite child." I like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another "What If?" Post - Why must we follow the Darcys into the bedroom?

I just read Remembrance of the Past by Lory Lillian, a Pride and Prejudice variation premised on the idea of Elizabeth and Darcy meeting in London before she travels to Derbyshire, Mr. Gardiner's business having postponed their trip. This book is a tomb and there are parts of it I quite enjoyed but, like so many in this genre, it's too sexy for my taste.

Let me clarify a few things. First of all, I appreciate the fact that Ms. Lillian does not include any incidents of premarital sex between our hero and heroine (which really upsets me), though they do become fairly intimate and visit each other's bedrooms (cringe). Second of all, despite appearances, I am not a prude. I do not at all mind sex scenes in literature, particularly if they have a valid reason for being included, but it just feels so wrong in Austen. After all, what would Jane think? Does it matter?

Obviously there are two camps on this issue. I has to admit I think mine is rather weak. I base this on the fact that the vast majority of Austen fan fiction I read depicts Darcy and Elizabeth, particularly, in some sort of sexualized encounter. So I ask why? What is it about these two characters that inspires eroticism? Is it in the book somewhere? Did I miss it? Certainly no one is rushing off to depict Fanny and Edmund Bertram in the sack; it must be something about Elizabeth and Darcy. Perhaps, like the growth of the internet, sex could be the secret to Pride and Prejudice's status? I shudder at my reasoning.

Elizabeth and Darcy certainly have the most passionate romance in Austen, a result of their torment and inherent to the nature of their characters. Their marriage holds every promise of perfection. Of course this is probably why so many love this story: what woman doesn't want to be swept away to Pemberley by Mr. Darcy? The problem arises, so my theory goes, in the fact that modern readers have such vivid imaginations about what follows. Did Jane Austen intend to write a bodice ripper? I really don't think so.

These are deep philosophical questions to tackle and I am likely to spend a good portion of my life attempting to resolve them. I would love to know what other's think about this phenomenon - someone please defend the sex scenes and offer a better rationale than mine! I can't bear to think of dear Jane this way.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about Remembrance of the Past, almost 500 dense pages of Elizabeth and Darcy. Its steamy aspects aside, the book's scenario allows the romance to unfold with a satisfying rapidity, though an understanding between our heroes does not come easy. Ms. Lillian has introduced a new, rather compelling character, Lady Cassandra, a longtime friend of the Darcy's and a new, thoroughly despicable villain, Lord Markham. It was a fun read, much better written than some of the other novels of this kind, but I would have enjoyed it more if everyone had kept their stockings on.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Willoughby's Return by Jane Odiwe

A warning for the wary: this post contains a few mild spoilers, more like hints, but nothing overt.

Finally we have a Sense & Sensibility sequel I can love! Jane Odiwe, as she did in Lydia Bennet's Story, has written a tale that clearly demonstrates her deep love of and respect for Austen and her characters. As I read Willoughby's Return: A Tale of Almost Irresistible Temptation, I never once had to stop and moan about a character acting in a manner incongruous to his or her essence (one of my greatest pet peeves). I must admit I found the subtitle a bit misleading and was very grateful that this story did not find Marianne Brandon doing anything untenable: her love of Colonel Brandon is pervasive throughout. Instead of confirming his roguishness, this story gives Willoughby the opportunity to complete the redemption Austen began.

More than Willoughby, this story is about the misunderstandings that result from the difficulties of communication in a highly regulated society - a rather constant theme throughout Austen. Even after marriage, Marianne and Colonel Brandon find themselves restrained from openly sharing their insecurities and fears. The same issue plagues Margaret Dashwood, now a grown lady of 18, as she negotiates her budding romance with a nephew of Colonel Brandon, Henry Lawrence.

The structure of the story largely mimics that of Sense & Sensibility, beginning in the country and moving to London for the season, the removal from which is marked by an illness. We again meet Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, Lucy & Robert Ferrers, and Anne Steele in all their glory. Surprisingly absent are John and Fanny Dashwood, the latter being replaced (in spirit) by Lady Lawrence. Eliza Williams and her daughter are brought to life in a very sympathetic manner and Marianne's response to them is thoroughly realistic. I could have wished that Elinor and, particularly, Edward Ferrars played a larger role in the story but, as Ms. Odiwe has firmly establishes them as perfectly happy, they do not have much momentum to offer the plot. My only real complaint is that the book seemed to end too quickly. I'll just leave it with the statement that Margaret Dashwood is a far more forgiving lady than I could ever be.

This is definitely a book I will read again, probably directly on the tail of my next reading of Sense & Sensibility. I have long been a big fan of Lydia Bennet's Story and I must admit I like this book even better (the course of events in it are a bit more historically believable). Willoughby's Return is an excellent example of why Austen fan fiction should be left in the hands of those who ardently love and faithfully study Jane's work. It's one of the most satisfying sequels I have encountered.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Emma Mashup

So there are now four cinematic adaptations of Emma available to the modern audience (there were apparently versions made in 1948 and 1960 but I can't find them): BBC's 1972 mini-series, Douglas McGrath's 1996 Hollywood adaptation, Andrew Davies' 1996 TV version, and the new BBC mini-series we've all been abuzz about. All have their strong points but I find none of them perfectly satisfying. So here's an endeavor in futility - if I could pick my favorite portrayals of each character, this is the Emma that would result. A lot of this is arbitrary and based on my personal biases; I would love to hear how much you disagree with me!

Emma Woodhouse - I have to go with Gwyneth Paltrow. She just looks the way I think Emma should. I like all the different portrayals of Emma for one reason or another but her's is the one that stays in my mind. She has all the beauty, poise, arrogance, and petulance that the character requires.



Mr. Knightly - Who am I to break up a Hollywood match? Jeremy Northam captures Mr. Knightly's maturit, kindness, and, most importantly, he is swoon worthy. I really like some of the other portrayals of him but they're just not attractive enough. I am vain creature, aren't I?



Mr. Woodhouse - Some actors I absolutely adore have played this character (Bernard Hepton, Michael Gambon) but my favorite is Donald Eccles from the '72 version. He looses none of the humor of the character, admirably balancing courtly instincts with hypochondria.



Mrs. Weston - Samantha Bond from the '96 TV version. This is a very biased decision. I loved her portrayal of Maria Bertram in the '83 version of Mansfield Park and am always pleased to see the same actors in Austen adaptations. Besides, she made a very fine Mrs. Weston.


Mr. Weston
- Raymond Adamson, '72. I can't find a picture of him in this role but he was the perfect, jolly Mr. Weston.


Jane Fairfax - I have to favor Olivia Williams in the '96 TV adaptation. She does an excellent job of balancing Jane's refinement with the awkwardness of her predicament. I would like to prefer Polly Walker from the Hollywood version (I have been rather obsessed with this actress ever since she blew my mind away as Atia in Rome) but I cannot.


Frank Churchill - This is a really arbitrary choice as none of the portrayals of this character truly satisfy me. Falling back on looks again, I have to say Robert East from '72 but alas, no picture. I like Raymound Couthard's portrayal from the '96 TV version but just cannot reconcile myself to the idea of Frank Churchill as a blonde.


Harriet Smith - Without hesitation I say Debbie Bowen from '72. She is the only actress to have ever played the role to my satisfaction. In appearance and deportment she is the perfect Harriet Smith.


Miss Bates - Another one for Hollywood! Sophie Thompson portrays all the sweetness and silliness that this character requires. Most importantly, she keeps me laughing, as Miss Bates should. I must admit that Tamsin Greig in this role in the new version of Emma left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. It was a creepy portrayal.

(In regards to Mrs. Bates I have nothing to say. They are all silent old ladies in frilly caps and rather interchangeable).



Mr. Elton - Blake Ritson in the new version nails this role! He's absolutely fabulous, simpering and smirking to my heart's content. This portrayal so far surpasses all the previous Mr. Eltons that I can barely tolerate watching them anymore. He is one of the highlights of this adaptation.


Mrs. Elton - This is a much harder call. Each portrayal has its merits (it must be such a fun role to play) but I think I have to go with the Fiona Walker in '72, probably because she's the one who I would be most tempted to hit if forced to endure her company.



Mr. John Knightly - A favorite character of mine. Dan Frendenburgh did an excellent job in the new mini-series of portraying his cantankerous nature. You would think with all the wonderful pictures available of this version online I could find at least one of him, but I can't. Why is he always overlooked? They didn't even bother including him in the Hollywood adaptation.


Isabella Knightly - Another overlooked role. I thought Meg Gleed did her credit in '72. Again, no pictures.


Mrs. Goddard - My own biases make me prefer Mollie Sugden, of Are You Being Served? fame for this small part.


Robert Martin - Edward Woodall, Hollywood. He just has such a pleasant, cheerful face, exactly as I always pictured Robert Martin.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Favorite Austen Book Covers

I have a cover for First Impresions! I'm so excited and would love to share it but, as I still need to pay for the rights to the pictures, I will have to be patient. The process of designing a book cover and interior has totally changed the way I think of books. I have always been uptight about page layout, paper quality, and typeset but I never before broke down all those elements and thought about how they were constructed. My main interest has always been the words on the page (which, of course, it still is) and as a result I have often ignored the details that have caused me to prefer one publication to another. With these thoughts in mind, I present for your gratification my favorite cover designs (not necessarily my favorite editions, which are almost always Norton Critical) for each of Austen's novels.

Note: Deidre Gilbert has a wonderful essay entitled "From Cover to Cover: Packaging Jane Austen from Egerton to Kindle" that was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Persuasions. Follow this link to jasna.org to learn more about the history of Jane Austen cover designs.


I don't actually own this Everyman's Library edition (hardback) of Northanger Abbey and have been unable to determine where the artwork came from but the naivety of Catherine Moreland is well represented by the young lady pictured. This might be what she looked like when she first arrived in bath, before updating her wardrobe with Mrs. Allen






I love the cover of The Modern Library Classics edition of Sense and Sensibility. While I'm not crazy about the repetition of the main image behind the title field the picture is so prefect it overrides that complaint. This is exactly how I picture Elinor and Marianne (probably influenced by Kate Winslet's portrayal of the latter). The picture is entitled The McEven Sisters and was painted by the American portraitist Thomas Sully.





This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Pride and Prejudice designed by Ruben Toledo is on my wish list. I love the use of period silhouettes (just like the beautiful opening credits for the BBC's new Emma) and the wonderful tension between the two figures, nicely capturing the dynamic between Elizabeth and Darcy. It sort of reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley, whose work I adore.




The Arcturus Paperback Classic cover of Mansfield Park appeals to me for a number of reasons. The approaching storminess of the sky seems to invoke the more troubling content of this novel. In regards to the stylized trees, I can almost hear Fanny exclaiming, "The evergreen!-How beautiful, how welcome, how wonderful the evergreen!-When one thinks of it, how astonishing the variety of nature!" The picture used is entitled The Manor House and is attributed to an unnamed artist of the English School.




I don't exactly love this cover but as I can't find an Emma with a cover I do love I thought I might as well throw out the Vintage Classics's version. I am generally drawn to their Austen covers, all of which are done in this same style, reminiscent of period watercolors (like the one Cassandra did of Jane from behind). You can see all the covers in this series at the Adventures in Reading blog.





I really adore the cover of this Barnes & Nobel Classic Series edition of Persuasion. Again, I don't own the book and haven't been able to learn where the artwork came form but the standing lady seems to me a perfect Elizabeth Elliot, in all her haughtiness, while the seated figure could easily be the long-suffering Anne. I can't say I am as fond of the back of the book, which I could access online. The blurb is the first paragraph of the introduction by Susan Ostrov Weisser in which she says that "Persuasion has often been seen as the thinking reader's Pride and Prejudice." Can this be true? Despite the fact that Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, I find this sentiment rather offensive. The entire intro is available on the Google Books preview for this edition. While Ms. Weisser makes a wonderful argument for the complexity of Persuasion, I believe the intricacies she highlights are found in all of Austen's work, not just her "autumnal" novel.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

For the love of Austen! Let's boycott the monsters.

Usually I try to maintain a respectful tone but I have been driven over the edge! Jane Austen Today has announced that there is a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel coming out. According to the comments, a Mansfield Park and Mummies is also being published. This madness must end! I am calling for a boycott of this dribble. I do not know if more than one or two people are actually paying attention to anything I have to say but perhaps those kind readers will join me in spreading the word. We can't keep the general public from reading this nonsense but those of us who truly love Austen certainly don't need to. I will begin by returning the copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters that has graced my coffee table for three weeks, waiting for me to be able to tolerate the idea of subjecting myself to it, to the book store. Join me in thwarting those who want to sensationalize Austen for profit. Austenites of the world unite!

Note: I am not including those writers who have long proven their true love and devotion for Jane Austen in my boycott. If there must be monsters inserted into Austen, its best left in those writers' hands and I would hate to hinder them.