A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Giggling at the feet of Jane Austen

I'm a Jane Austen snob. Absolutely. And I insist upon it... tooth and nail... for the right occasion...
The right occasion emerges when someone somewhere (usually someone who hasn't read the book) wantonly labels Pride and Prejudice or Emma as er... "chick lit" and their screen adaptations as "chick flick".
I have read/heard this a few times... and rolled my eyes in dismay.
Them are fighting words...  like a red rag to a bull.
It's not as if I don't read "chick lit" now and again or have anything against "chick lit" as a pleasant diversion but to relegate Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or Emma into history as girly romance novels is to miss the point entirely.
How many "chick lit" writers can come up with the following:

"IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters." (P&P)

"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.''
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.''
"Ah! you do not know what I suffer.''
"But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.''  (P&P)

"Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives." (Emma)
"...and it was really too much to hope, even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than three men in one year." (Emma)

“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.” (Emma)

"Doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgments, but directed chiefly by her own. The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself...."  (Emma)

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness that I ever heard of." (Mansfield Park)

"I pay very little regard...to what any young person says on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination for it, I only set it down that they have not yet seen the right person." (Mansfield Park)

It's music... friends... music to one's ears. Jane Austen was a wordsmith, satirist and practitioner of witty epigrams. Jane Austen surely deserves better than some common pop culture designation. She doesn't fit into any contemporary models because she isn't contemporary. No one disputes that she flavours her novels with romance but to say that they are  mere romantic comedies is not only reductionistic but also diminishes her contribution to and influence in the English language.

IMDB -- the Internet Movie Database is rowdy place at the best of times and frightening when you consider how human nature reveals itself under the mask of anonymity.
Years ago before the release of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, in an act of flagellation, I wandered aimlessly into the message boards there and lo, and behold... someone there made claim to being "a Jane Austin geek". Aside from being a J.A. snob, I'm a spelling Nazi too apparently because I mentioned the inconvenient truth (from one Jane Austen geek to another) that "a Jane Austin geek" would know that Jane's Austen is spelt with an "e" not an "i".

Okay... I'm a busybody of the teaching kind... but someone had to do it.

Quite likely not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Ms Austen's literary prowess and for them it is really about gushing over Mr Darcy, Mr Tillney, Capt Wentworth, Mr Ferrars or Mr Knightley. (I gush over them too... especially if they're played by Jeremy Northam, Jonny Lee Miller, Dan Stevens, Rupert Penry-Jones and to a lesser extent... Colin Firth) I love the guys... and the ladies... and I realize there's a certain romantic fantasy that people latch on to with these scenarios. But when one opens up these books, it's pretty clear that there's a lot more going on than good looking ladies finding good men to marry.

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