Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Truth About Jane Austen

Joe accused me this past weekend of being a Jane Austen fan.

This, as I'm sure you can imagine (especially if you were around for my last Jane Austen related freak out), went over like a lead balloon.

He said it because every time he looks up lately, I'm doing something that involves Jane Austen. I recently read Pride and Prejudice. I'm currently reading Sense and Sensibility. I have a tendency to stop on the Oxygen network every time the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice is being aired (and they have a tendency to air that movie a lot.). And, in an effort to help me make it through Sense and Sensibility, I recently watched Emma Thompson film version.

But, despite all this, I am not a Jane Austen fan.

This said, I should probably explain why I routinely stop on the Pride and Prejudice movie. I like the movie. I generally like the film adaptations of Jane Austen novels (well, I wasn't so wild on the Sense and Sensibility movie but I think that's more the story's fault, not Emma Thompson, Kate Winset, Alan Rickman (because that man can do no wrong) and Hugh Grant's fault.). Instead of two weeks, it's two hours. You get the same delightful story telling and social commentary everyone seems to think is in a Jane Austen novel without having to slosh your way through two hundred pages of dinner invitations and weather conversations.

My mother and I have spent many an afternoon (probably too many afternoons) debating our dream Pride and Prejudice cast (yes, seriously.). We disagree on Elizabeth Bennett. Mom prefers Jennifer Ehle from the A&E miniseries version while I prefer Kiera Knightly. We do, however, wholeheartedly agree that Colin Firth was born to play Mr. Darcy. No offense to Matthew MacFaddyn. He was great, but Colin Firth was better.

So yeah, I like the movies (mostly). I have a thing for good looking guys with English accents. So sue me.

But I don't like the novels. Not one bit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Jane Austen herself was a perfectly pleasant person (if overly obsessed with tea and marriage). It's just that her writing isn't really my style. I met Lisa Gardner once. Nice woman, extremely nice, but I routinely (not to her face, of course...) mock parts of her books. Same with Janet Evanovich.

Even Stephen King. Ran into him at the grocery store once. I smiled and said, "excuse me," to him as I was trying to get to the bags of baby carrots in front of which he was standing. I was also cursing myself for not having a copy of my manuscript to "accidentally" slip into his shopping cart. Just for clarification, I don't really mock parts of Stephen King's books (and not because I'm scared to...well, usually not because I'm scared to.). But, they're not always my taste. I read the Dark Tower series and a couple of others that relate to the Dark Tower Series but, for the most part, I don't particularly care for his books. I still like him though. For which, I am sure, he's grateful.

The point is, I guess, I don't have to like someone's work to like them. And this would include Miss Jane Austen.

I admire her success. I admire her ability to write novels and to publish novels. I've only managed the first part of that (and the jury's still out on that, I think.). She self published Sense and Sensibility in 1811. I admire this too. Every day that goes by without a completed synopsis, I ponder the synopsis-free ways of self-publication. So yeah, I admire what she accomplished with her life.

But I'm not much of a chick-lit fan. And that's what Jane Austen is. She does it with more propriety and less sex than today's chick-lit, but the essential story is the same. A girl is without a man. Then she meets someone. Handsome, dashing, wealthy, English... everything she's ever dreamed of. Sometimes they have a cute meet. Something so adorable you just want to die. Sometimes, however, they meet in a way that makes the girl think the man is an ass, or makes the man think the girl to be anything but the somewhat strong and quasi-independent woman she kind of is (See Bridget Jones...he's wearing a ridiculous reindeer sweater badmouthing her manners and her smoking). But then the most unlikely of circumstances happen, repeatedly throwing the two who are the two together (little BtVS reference for you) and love eventually triumphs over all. The man sees past the girl's faults (whether it be nicotine addiction or lack of fortune) and the two live happily ever after.

The heroines:

Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennett = Mansfield Park's Fanny Price = Sense and Sensibility's Elinor Dashwood.

The heroes:

Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy = Mansfield Park's Edmund Bertram = Sense and Sensibility's Edward Ferras.

And let us not forget the rogues:

Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Wickham = Mansfield Park's Henry Crawford = Sense and Sensibility's Mr. Willoughby.

The modern day equivalents (using Bridget Jones's Diary):

Heroine: Bridget Jones

Hero: Mark Darcy

Rogue: Daniel Cleaver

So yeah. Chick-lit's fine and all. I'm not saying I've never read it because I have and if you read my monthly book reports, you'll know that I have. I read a lot of Elizabeth Chadwick who is a historical romance writer and while her heroine and hero rarely have cute meets, they still follow the same pattern as other chick-lit. Here's the list from my most read Chadwick novel, The Love Knot:

Heroine: Catrin

Hero: Oliver

Rogue: Lewis/Louis

Catrin and Oliver meet and fall in love but are untimely separated by the return of Lewis/Louis, Catrin's husband (who was thought to be dead...awkward!). Eventually, Catrin realizes that Lewis/Louis is a prick and leaves him to go back to Oliver. And, as soon as they survive the Stephen/Mathilda civil war thing, they live happily ever after.

I mock large parts of that book too. Elizabeth Chadwick, for me, is what Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts is to others. And I know there are some people out there who love Jane Austen. They find her to be delightful and quaint and comforting and whatever.

But I'm not one of them.

I liked Jane Eyre. I mostly liked Wuthering Heights. I like the Brontë sisters. Well, I haven't read anything by Anne, but I'm sure she was delightful too.

I just don't care for Jane Austen. Or, at the very least, her books.

I do have to admit I am looking forward to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jane is listed as a co-writer, along with Seth Grahame-Smith. So, I guess there's always hope I might end up a quasi Austen fan in the end.

Or not.


  1. Colin Firth is the quintessential Mr. Darcy. I was tempted to get an I <3 Mr. Darcy tee shirt in his honor. Can't say more- The Man is reading over my shoulder.

    Don't forget about Jane's Emma. The BBC version with Kate Beckinsale is the only one to watch. Then you can compare it to Clueless for a great updated version.

    I go in waves with Jane Austin. Sometimes I love her, and other times she makes me roll my eyes. Her voice coming through the view of the skewed narrator can make me feel manipulated if I focus on the sometimes heavy handed way she steers the reader to the same wrong conclusions of her heroines. Other times I love the between the lines wry wit as she slyly pokes fun at the society of her time.

    Love her or hate her, it's still pretty amazing that she even got her stories published in those days.

  2. I will admit, there have been a couple of moments where I felt myself delighted by Miss Austen's wit and panicked that I just may have to admit that I actually liked one of her novels. Fortunately or unfortunately, those moments have been few and far between.

    I haven't yet read Emma (I've only made it through the three I mentioned in this entry.). I'm sure I'll get to it eventually. I made it half way through the Gwenyth Paltrow movie version but I'll be sure to check out the Kate Beckinsale one. Clueless, I did like.