How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Thursday, December 27, 2012


We come to my last post for December, but I’m not through with the Jane Austen theme yet! I just got on a roll! So, although I’ll be skipping January 1st, I plan to get back to Jane Austen next Friday, or maybe the Tuesday after that if I do a special New Year post. I have a couple more ideas for posts, and even more might come after that ….

And now, to Jane Austen’s last full-length novel. Persuasion was the last thing she ever completed, and there is some question as to whether she meant to edit it one more time. It was published in December 1817 after her death along with Northanger Abbey.
                                                      Anne & Captain Wentworth: Persuasion

The heroine, Anne Elliot, is 27 years old, about 6 years older than any other JA heroine and considered past her bloom, past hope for escaping spinsterhood. Through her Jane Austen was able to present the mind of a woman who is beyond youthful self-absorption and can look back on fancies objectively, as she herself could. I wonder if Jane Austen felt any special affinity for Anne. (It sure seems odd to think of age 27 as past bloom! Nowadays 27 is still quite young.)

But Anne is not like Miss Austen, who, as much as history can tell us (what was in those letters that Cassandra burned??), was never deeply in love with someone. For Anne, there was a man -- his name is Captain Frederick Wentworth -- but eight years have faded away since their romance and engagement ended when Anne was persuaded by several circumstances to break it off.

But through the course of the novel Anne and Captain Wentworth discover, through much pain, that it was only an interruption.

Persuasion features the most touching romance by far of Jane Austen’s bibliography. Unlike her other heroes and heroines, Anne’s and Captain Wentworth’s love has been proven -- it has rekindled, never actually dying, after eight long years. They have been through more than any other couple. Their union has been eight years in coming; this story tells how it at last came about. That makes the happy ending achingly satisfying.

Anne is my second or third favorite JA heroine, and, as I am rereading Persuasion right now, I’m often reminded why. She is self-giving and unassuming, but intelligent, perceptive, and tasteful. Time and time again she proves herself the most superior person of her company, but she certainly doesn’t think of herself that way. She is a role model; I love characters I can truly learn from.

Captain Wentworth is superior, too, once he leaves his grudge against Anne behind, and when I think of the two together, I picture them on a dais of personal exceptionality, steps above the rest. They make an extraordinary couple. “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.” And here is there second engagement: “… how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?” It’s perfect.

Anne’s only fault is that she is too unassuming to withstand her motherly friend Lady Russell’s persuasion to give up her engagement to young Frederick Wentworth. Hurt to the bone, he subsequently regards her as weak, yielding, and indecisive. But he learns again to observe her character, and contrast it with inferior ones. His faults include stubbornness. In the end, however, both their characters prove strong as they overcome opposition to their union -- particularly the opposition found in their own selves.

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s second novel to deal extensively with members of the Navy. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s brother William became a midshipman and their family lived in Portsmouth, a seaport. Jane Austen could write with authority on this occupation because two of her brothers were naval officers, and Persuasion’s cast of naval officers are shown to be decent, upright people, more admirable than the inherited gentry. Persuasion is, I think, Jane Austen’s second best work; contrasting with Emma (which I think is her best), it’s wide in scope, more like Mansfield Park, but better done, because not so many issues are raised that aren’t satisfactorily wrapped up.

I feel like I’m visiting an old friend with a cozy mug of tea and blanket as I’m rereading Persuasion, even if I do my visiting while I take a walk in this cold, crisp weather or sit in the house I’m helping to remodel ….

What do you think of Persuasion? Any preference in movie versions?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Northanger Abbey

This week I am moving up the posts one day, to Monday and Thursday. Tuesday is Christmas, and Friday I will be deep into the visit of my very dear friend (and Wise- and Light-Hearted co-author).

Northanger Abbey was published with Persuasion in December 1817, five months after Jane Austen’s death. In one bound book, readers had the first complete novel of the well-loved author together with the last. Northanger Abbey was actually finished in 1803 under the title of Susan (Jane Austen later renamed the heroine Catherine), but because the publisher who bought it didn’t publish it, it sat until Miss Austen’s brother Henry “redeemed” it in 1817. Jane Austen revised it a bit before her death.                                                                                                        Pinned Image                                                                                                                                pinterest

Northanger Abbey was written for an earlier time than when the public finally got its hands on it: It satires Gothic romances, which were wildly popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but declining somewhat by 1817. So long as readers keep the concept of a Gothic romance firmly in place, however, Northanger Abbey loses little of its bite, and even if you’re not entirely aware of its satire, you’ll find it a rich story.

Gothic romances are frightening tales that take place in wild European castles and ruined abbeys. A beautiful, orphaned young woman is often the protagonist; there is a handsome, devoted hero and a dastardly villain. I’ve never read one, but its descendants might be today’s vampire and werewolf books. You get the idea.

Beyond the satirical elements, however, which poke fun at the exaggerative and “horrid” Gothic depictions of life, there is a further layer of irony: some of it turns out to be true! There is villainy in Catherine Morland’s real world, threatening her happiness: Isabella Thorpe, a bad friend who also breaks Catherine’s brother’s heart; John Thorpe, a loutish contender for Catherine’s hand; General Tilney, the heartless father of Henry and Eleanor Tilney (Catherine’s dearest friends) who seeks to separate Catherine from Henry. Jane Austen is parodying and commenting on the way young women were wont to devour Gothic novels, but she also shows that sometimes the novels’ black-and-white good-and-evil situations can help us identify and eschew the evil of our everyday situations.

Catherine is much more than a parody of a Gothic romance heroine; she learns and grows and is a delightful, realistic teenager. She meets a young man, Henry Tilney, at a ball in Bath, and is immediately attracted to him; it grows into love throughout the story. She has much to learn about the world, however, but he has the happy role of teaching her. He has a sister, Eleanor, whom Catherine adores in her own right, and they make a sane, agreeable threesome. As opposed to the not-so-amiable Thorpe siblings, John and Isabella, who take possession of Catherine and her brother James, even going so far as to lie to keep Catherine from the Tilneys’ company.

I don’t find Catherine’s personality as well-defined as Jane Austen’s other heroines, but she’s perfectly realistic because she is sort of an “every-girl.” The large majority of young girls have naivety that needs dispelling and vivid imaginations that need a reality check. Some may be tomboys as little girls but they all grow up to value prettiness and compliments. They get a crush on a young man and every moment they can spend with him is exciting. They have hard-to-get-rid-of friends that are a bad influence and quality friends that they fear losing.

Henry Tilney is probably my favorite character. He’s witty and wise, upright and gentlemanly, and a fitting hero because he takes care of Catherine, watching over both her safety and her growth. Eleanor, his sister, is a bit reserved, mainly because she is afraid of her father, General Tilney, but Catherine’s warmth melts her. She gets a happy ending, too, one that is even more from a storybook than Catherine and Henry’s.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the title character, Northanger Abbey, because, as in Gothic romances, where the setting is often a character in itself, General Tilney’s estate plays a big role in the story. Surely, then, the abbey is wild, dangerous, and decrepit? Surely it is the scene of mystery and horror? Alas, no -- it is a renovated abbey, as modern and respectable-looking as the General himself. But, like the General, it may hide a dark secret … and both those secrets may determine the outcome of Catherine and Henry’s romance.

What do you think of Northanger Abbey?

Friday, December 21, 2012


“I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” So said Jane Austen of Emma Woodhouse. True, she isn’t as virtuous as other Austen heroines; in fact, she is rather selfish, the root of all her faults. (And everyone’s faults, for that matter.) But she is so tangible, so human, in a loveable way, that more people than her crafter expected can say that they like her.

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Would you say that she’s the second-most popular JA heroine, after Elizabeth Bennet? Readers like her boldness, her wit, her prosperity. Unlike the other girls Miss Austen has written about, this one need not fear for her future. She’s got everything going for her. Or does she?

Emma has never been crossed, so she’s certain that whatever she thinks is correct is correct. Her opinion matters more to her than any other, except for occasionally Mr. Knightley’s, an old family friend and the brother of her sister’s husband. This means that her acquaintances must be interpreted by how she sees them -- the spinster Miss Bates is silly because Emma thinks her silly; Miss Bates’ niece Jane Fairfax is likewise tiresome; Emma’s friend Harriet Smith is a dear; Harriet’s love interest Robert Martin is a bumpkin; and so forth. Emma sees circumstances the same way, there is no room for her to be mistaken -- until her mistakes flare up in her face. Emma’s slightly flawed character is endearing to readers, because it makes her just like us.

Much of the impact of Emma comes from the intimacy the narrator creates between us and the title character. The narration is most often filtered through Emma’s perspective, and we usually get to see her thoughts taking place as impressions are made: “She then took a longer time for consideration. Should she proceed no farther? Should she let it pass, and seem to suspect nothing? Perhaps Harriet might think her cold or angry if she did; or perhaps if she were totally silent, it might only drive Harriet into asking her to hear too much; and against any thing like such an unreserve as had been, such an open and frequent discussion of hopes and chances, she was perfectly resolved….” (chap 39) This is called free indirect discourse and novels did not always do this; our Miss Austen was one of the first novelists to make such strides in character and reader connectivity.

Emma teaches us the lesson that self-focus will sooner or later rear its ugly head for all to see, including you yourself. Emma thinks she’s being benevolent by arranging matches for Harriet Smith, but she’s really feeding her own ego and not taking Harriet’s true needs into consideration. She thinks she’s civil to poor Miss Bates, but eventually her real, contemptuous feelings come out and wound that lady -- earning a justified rebuke from Mr. Knightley. Emma sees herself for what she really is -- and repents. Her vanity ultimately brings her to the lowest point imaginable: the point where she believes she might lose the man she loves. After all, it was she who encouraged Harriet to think so high as to aspire to Mr. Knightley’s affections.

But Emma gets a happy ending. (And so does everybody else!)

I think Emma, published December 1815, is Jane Austen’s best-written novel. Everything contained in it she does well: comedy, a believable heroine, a well-drawn cast of characters, amusing subplots, an accurate picture of life in a small town, etc. It may be Miss Austen’s exact element: “3 or four Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on.” (A letter to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy) If I’m not mistaken, despite her rank, Emma is the only heroine who doesn’t travel in the course of her story. The result is a highly concentrated image of the small town of Highbury.

Mr. Knightley is someone Emma looks up to, and as I said before, about the only one whose opinion sometimes matters more to her than her own. He’s the only one who ever crosses her, and the fact that she ends up with him leaves us readers with the satisfaction that she’s in good hands. I think she’s a good match for him, too, because she has a strong, intelligent mind that will oppose him if he ever needs opposing. Their dynamic shows itself throughout the novel.

What is your favorite Emma movie? Who’s your favorite character in Emma, or who do you think the most amusing or well-drawn? I would be hard-pressed to give you my opinion -- every character is so distinct! Do you like or dislike Emma? She’s my least favorite JA heroine, but that’s not saying much, because I like them all so well ….

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Austen-Inspired Snippets

This is my first time to participate in Katie Sabelko’s wonderful Snippets of Story on her blog Whisperings of the Pen. The idea is to post excerpts of any writing you’ve been doing over the past month. So, since my latest writing has been for my co-written, Austen-inspired Regency novel, and all my posts this month are required to pay homage to Jane Austen, everything matches up. For more on the story behind these snippets, you can go to its own special post here.

                                             Snippets from The Wise- and Light-Hearted

“Mrs. Dawson might think it more than odd to receive an invitation to such a sudden event.” [said Mrs. Edwards to her daughter Cassandra.]

Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Dawson were friends and thought very highly of each other, but they were always endeavoring to keep one another’s good opinion. Mrs. Dawson was of an extremely old and respected family, and Mrs. Edwards never liked to do anything that might cause her to think she or Cassandra lacked in genteelness.

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

William reached out for Joseph, and so the man took him into his lap. “Very well. I think William wants his animals. One mustn’t deprive a gentleman of his horse.”

Cassandra smiled as she handed him the basket. “Have you seen his rocking horse? It is so darling.”

“Mama gave it to him from the attic not two weeks ago,” Sophia explained. “Cassandra loves it more than William, I think, for the memories.”

“I was surprised Mother kept that old thing. I had quite forgotten it ever existed,” Prescott remarked. “It’s dashed incredible that it still holds together.”

“I shall be pleased to meet your steed, little man,” Joseph said, making a white cow trot in the air just out of William’s reach. “Now, what is the task that we have the honor of doing for you?”

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

“No, not in the least. Their eyes will be on other things!” responded Lucy gaily. She wondered if Sophia caught on to her jest, but when she saw Sophia rapturously watching a butterfly, she surmised that she hadn’t. It was just as well. Sophia had never been less in the mood for jokes than in the past two days. She had confided to Lucy how greatly heartened she was to learn that the Browns were leaving, but she could not be merry until she was sure they were gone. She did not want herself disappointed, and so she would keep her cheerfulness under guard. Aside from that, she did not want anything at all to appear attractive to Mr. Stephen Brown.

“Indeed they will,” Cassandra echoed, likewise letting her gaze rest upon Sophia.

Sophia then became aware of their gaze and smiled at them. “Did you see that butterfly? I’m certain it was a pearl-bordered fritillary. It was dramatic as a leopard with its spots.”

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

The week passed quickly. Not a day went by that Sophia was not put into the Browns’ company. Every encouragement was given to Stephen Brown by her family members, each in their own way: Mr. Edwards never lost an opportunity to speak and joke with him or offer him some favor, ensuring he knew how much he approved of him; Mrs. Edwards outdid herself with hospitality and always found something relevant to say to him, something she didn’t exert herself to do for everyone; Cassandra was always gently encouraging conversation between Mr. Brown and Sophia and praising them to each other; Prescott lavished attention on Mr. Brown and even offered a clumsy compliment or two whenever Sophia was around. Sophia bore it because she had no other choice. She was always with her family.

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

Sophia rose from the stone bench and paced, her mind pacing more erratically. At length she decided: the one thing that was settled was that Mr. Brown was leaving tomorrow. She had only one more day of enduring him. And one more day could be endured, not in skulking and hiding, but in brave determination to behave at her best -- to live -- despite him.

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted


I do my best to mix my natural writing style with Miss Austen’s, but no one writes quite like Miss Austen, least of all me. I’ve read one spin-off of Pride and Prejudice but thought it very dull indeed compared to her books; I don’t really desire to try any others (unless you, readers, can recommend something to me!).

Here’s a short list of things I find particular to her writing, and how my writing relates:

- A sense of humor and sarcasm beyond comparison; her language is so elegantly formal that the joke catches you off-guard and you’re chuckling before you know what hit you. (I feel my writing reflects my role model best when I’m funny or sarcastic. But I’m not a very sarcastic writer, so I don’t try over-hard.)

- Quick and complete character sketches. A sentence or two and you know what to expect from the person being described. (I love this about her, and I’m trying to get better at it.)

- Lack of minute physical detail. This allows her to focus on characters and their personalities. (I actually prefer detail to no detail, so I’m perhaps a little more descriptive than she is.)

In the end, it’s best to be myself, but I still get a thrill whenever I read something and think, That sounds like it came from Jane Austen!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mansfield Park

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Mansfield Park, published in 1814, is one of Jane Austen’s “mature” novels, one that she wrote entirely as an adult. This shows, because the story is more complex than Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice; symbolism appears, the problems are more intense and far-reaching, and the plot is more entwined with the world at large. Slavery in the West Indies is mentioned; a rather rough family home is visited; deception and rebellion run rampant; matters of faith are discussed; Fanny Price, the heroine, is treated far worse than any other Austen character I can think of. With all this, Mansfield Park can almost be seen on another plane from the other books.

I like it. It is gripping. I remember reading part of the last third late at night, and almost feeling like crying with the pathos of Fanny’s situation. So many things go wrong for her -- but the sun breaks through in the end, and she can at last be happy and get what she deserves. Even a few of the not-so-nice minor characters get a pleasant ending, while the darkest characters receive their comeuppance or disappear into the world, into what I assume is the dismal abyss where they belong. (Okay, okay, I’m getting melodramatic. I really do feel sorry for Henry and Mary Crawford. If only they could have reformed, but still left Edmund and Fanny alone. But that would have been unrealistic.)

Fanny reminds me of Cinderella -- neglected and treated as second-rate, yet basically an angel. I can hardly think of one thing she’s done wrong, but what is more, she doesn’t become embittered by the wrongs done to her. She feels grateful to be where she is, and she should be, because later on we see what she came out of. But then comes the problem of belonging nowhere. The big house doesn’t particularly want her, she doesn’t want the Prices’ Portsmouth house … but finally, finally, her cousin Edmund wants her, and they can go establish their own house.

I wish Jane Austen had fleshed out the turn of Edmund’s mind as it was slowly drawn in the right direction, like a sunflower to the sun. Mary Crawford had blocked out the sun for so long, but when she was removed, it was only a matter of time before Edmund discovered his source of light and warmth. I would have liked some lovers’ exchange between Edmund and Fanny, not just a number of paragraphs on the very last pages of the book, as satisfying as those are: “…what was there now to add, but that he would learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones. -- And being always with her, and always talking confidentially, and his feelings exactly in that favorable state which a recent disappointment gives, those soft light eyes could not be very long in obtaining the pre-eminence.”

I think Fanny and Edmund make a lovely couple. Edmund frustrates me at times by his infatuation with Mary Crawford and blindness to Fanny, but Miss Crawford is more blameworthy than him. Men by their very nature are captivated by what their eyes see, by liveliness that calls out, “Come with me.” It’s very realistic, and shows that Edmund isn’t perfect: he must grow. Meanwhile, Fanny carries on quietly and heroically, knowing deep down just what she wants, just what is right, though everyone else tries to tell her otherwise, even the man she loves. Although we see her often bowing to “stronger” personalities, her core muscles are yet stronger and she triumphs in the end.

Henry and Mary Crawford are masterpieces of villainy. They even deceive readers -- I’ve heard one commentator say something like “Mary Crawford is the real heroine of Mansfield Park,” and people in Jane Austen’s time believed that if Henry Crawford could have reformed just a bit more he could have earned Fanny’s love. But, no -- the Crawfords represent countless people of the world who are basically “good,” very fun and attractive, and yet are rotten in their core. Their childhood accounts for much of it, and, as I said before, I come off feeling a little sorry for them (do you?) but when they are finally revealed for who they are, they reap the consequences of what was there all along. It makes us ponder our motives; are we really as good as we think we are? No, we are not, if the Spirit of God is not in us ….

What do you think of Mansfield Park?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is about to celebrate its 200th anniversary -- on January 28th of 2013. I hope there’ll be celebrations somewhere for the world’s favorite romance. I’d participate if I knew of any ….

Before we get any farther, I’d like to say a word about Hanukkah, which spans the eight days from the evening of December 8th to the evening of December 16th. “Dedication” is the English word for Hanukkah, and this festival is certainly about that concept in all its forms. The first Hanukkah was about the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem two years after the Greeks had defiled it in 167 BCE. That two-year fight-to-the-death to keep the light of God’s presence on earth took extreme dedication … Christians, too, would do well to realize how vital it is that we are committed to our Lord and to doing whatever it takes to cling to Him. The Maccabees’ story is inspiring and I encourage you to read about it.

Okay, returning to the trail, I, of course, have some things to say about Pride and Prejudice. I think it’s safe to say Elizabeth Bennet is just about everyone’s favorite Austen heroine, or if she isn’t the absolute favorite (for example, of people like me), she’s at least well-loved. Modern readers especially delight in her wit, her spunkiness, and her independence. She’s the epitome of an engaging protagonist. Even her faults are ones that readers readily identify with.

On the other hand, there is Mr. Darcy. I have to confess that praise fails me when it comes to describing Mr. Darcy. The people who delight in Lizzy also seem to think Mr. Darcy the most attractive hero in literature, but I don’t follow suit. He does improve in the end, but not substantially enough to explain why so many female readers are in love with him … maybe you, readers, can help me understand what the draw is in his character? Let’s see if I can reason through some of this on my own … he’s deep, he has a good heart towards those he loves, he’s rich, he’s handsome, he needs Elizabeth, he changes his manner because of her … maybe a second reading will reveal more. What makes him real and fascinating as a character, though, is his growth. Don’t get me wrong, I like him well enough, but I’m just not one of his ardent fans.

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What else can we talk about concerning Pride and Prejudice? I like Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley as a couple, but, being not so interesting as Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, they’re a good secondary couple.

Which movie version of Pride and Prejudice is your favorite? I like the five-hour BBC miniseries for its actors and its closeness to the original story: I think it holds the book’s spirit, besides containing so many of its beloved scenes.

I hope this post didn’t seem rushed -- I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on it today. Notice how late I posted …. Pride and Prejudice really deserves more than I was able to give it!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

First of all, I would like to acknowledge today is Pearl Harbor Day. I can’t imagine the horror of that attack, and I hope all of you reading this (even if not on the actual date) will take a moment to reflect on what happened, who experienced it, and what occurred as a result.

In 1811, when Sense and Sensibility was published, Great Britain was also at war, this time with France. Jane Austen penned her book first in the 1790s as an epistolary novel called Elinor and Marianne and later revised it into the narrative we know today. The 1790s date is important to me because, if we accept that the story should then take place at the time it was first written, Elinor and Marianne did not wear Regency dresses. They wore those equally beautiful but not so comfortable Georgian gowns with tight waists and full skirts, though fashion was well on its way to becoming simpler. I was surprised when I learned that -- Jane Austen’s heroines are very hard for me to separate from the Regency era!

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Sense and Sensibility is probably my favorite Austen novel because of a special character named Elinor Dashwood. I firmly believe Elinor was Austen’s picture of an ideal woman. She’s very different from the fainting ladies of earlier novels - like those of Evelina and The Vicar of Wakefield and others that I haven’t read. She’s resolute, resourceful, and reserved, at nineteen the most capable of her mother and sisters. She believes in keeping things hidden that might wreak havoc if revealed. This calls, many times, for extreme strength of character. None of Elinor’s traits are presented to us as faults, though some today find fault with her reserve. But she’s also sensitive and caring, putting others’ needs above her own; she knows how to hold conversation and show genuine interest. An all-around character model if you ask me.

But I also love Marianne like a sister. She’s a lot of fun -- until she reacts so drastically to Willoughby’s betrayal. Then I start to think, Come on, girl, you’ve imbibed too much of those fainting heroine novels. However, I identify with her devotion to beauty and her sensibilities about poetry, music, art, and nature. Both sisters would make great friends for anyone.

Edward Ferrars usually gets a bad score on the hero scale. But I beg to disagree. Part of it may be my tastes -- he’s quiet and unassuming, but warm once the Dashwood ladies get to know him. He’s straightforward, intelligent, and sincere, not flighty, arrogant, or fake. He made a mistake with Lucy Steele, but in the end he’s willing to own up and stand by her like a man -- unlike Willoughby, who’s afraid to stand by Marianne when things get rocky. I’ve marked the passages best describing Edward’s character because he may perhaps be the Austen hero that intrigues me the most. (Well, there is Henry Tilney ….)

Those three are my favorite characters, and I’ve spent a lot of thought contemplating their personalities. They’re an intimate part of why I like Sense and Sensibility, which is ultimately a grand character sketch.

And I’d like to give one more reason for my fondness: Devonshire, the story’s setting. Usually we’re so caught up with the characters in Austen’s novels that we don’t immediately think of their surroundings; Austen tends to minimize physical description. But on my second and third reading of Sense and Sensibility I got a definite picture of the Dashwoods’ abode, and it sounds like the setting of my dreams: “The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.” Not an extremely poetic description, but photos of Devonshire (Devon) speak for themselves.

What do you think of Sense and Sensibility?

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Celebrating Jane Austen

I am a Janeite. I’ll admit it - and proudly, too. Well, mostly proudly. I don’t like to identify with the girls who swoon over Mr. Darcy. And I’m not so sure Jane Austen would put herself in that category, either. She seemed too level-headed, too entirely mistress of everything going on, in her books and otherwise, to do any swooning.
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How did I come to acquire this moniker? It was gradual, and yet sudden: I listened to an audio book of Pride and Prejudice and hardly understood a word, much less the plot. Some time later I tried Sense and Sensibility. I guess it must have clicked, because I soon after read the book, loved it, and read the other five novels in less than a year. That was November 2007 - September 2008. (It coincided with PBS’s airing of the A & E versions of all her novels that winter.) I wasn’t aware of my mania taking over until it was upon me. I read Sanditon, an uncompleted work, during that time as well, and this past year I read Lady Susan, an epistolary novella, and The Watsons, another incomplete work.

December 16th should be a national holiday, or at least a British one that Americans can celebrate if they want to. Do you know why? It’s Jane Austen’s birthday! And for many of us - or at the very least, for me - it’s the whole reason we even heard of the Regency period in England’s history, or love those empire-waist dresses, or have so much interest in British literature.

I’ve always wanted to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday in some way, so this year (her 237th birthday)I’m going to make December’s blog posts all related to Jane Austen. This is primarily a “literary” blog, so I thought it would be appropriate. I highly encourage you to join in if you’re a fan! We’ll have fun with her books and biography, and I may share some thoughts about her writing style that inspired my friend’s and my Regency novel. I don’t have everything planned out, so I don’t know what each post will hold, but rest assured, they will all have something to do with this favorite author.

Today I’ll talk about why I like her so much, and if you have reasons why you like her that I don’t mention, feel free to comment!

Miss Austen was a brilliant writer - even the greatest scholars, like C. S. Lewis and E. M. Forster, admired her. Her novels were a turning-point in the tradition of British fiction. She was devoted to portraying reality - in plot, in dialogue, in the conscience - and she translated that reality into a work of art. The earlier British novels I’ve read are melodramatic in comparison. Jane Austen sized down her situations and characters so that they were utterly believable and relatable, even to today. Her character portraits are complete, thus producing memorable characters that feel like people you’ve met - and yet they are not so complex that you can’t easily identify their types and traits. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, pointing out the ridiculous and potentially teaching the reader to evaluate herself for damaging peccadilloes.

Miss Austen wasn’t trained at a school - her novels come from an uncommon intelligence and talent. Countless people could enjoy and study them, recognizing themselves in the pages and being enriched by the sketchbook of a culture that was quickly passing away.

Oh, dear - I know that sound-bite doesn’t do her justice. Hopefully I will be able to expand on it in my following posts. Until then, here’s some trivia about me and her works:

Order Read:

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Northanger Abbey

3. Persuasion

4. Pride and Prejudice

5. Emma

6. Mansfield Park

In Order of Favorites (though they really overlap):

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Persuasion

3. Pride and Prejudice

4. Mansfield Park

5. Northanger Abbey

6. Emma

Favorite Heroines:

1. Elinor Dashwood

2. Anne Elliot

3. Elizabeth Bennet

4. Fanny Price

5. Catherine Morland

6. Marianne Dashwood

7. Emma Woodhouse    (Notice that this ordering pretty much coincides with my ordering of the novels above it.)

Number of Times Read:

1. Sensibility - 3

2. Northanger Abbey - 2

3. Persuasion - 1

4. Pride and Prejudice - 1

5. Emma - 1

6. Mansfield Park - 1

What is your favorite novel or heroine? Who are you most like?