On Finishing Jane Austen's Novels
I finished reading Mansfield Park today, which means that I have now read all of Jane Austen's six finished novels.
Like most people, my first exposure to Jane Austen was through Pride and Prejudice, her most famous work. I saw a Wishbone episode where Wishbone the dog dressed up as Mr. Darcy! I think I read P&P for the first time around 8th grade--I was really into Wuthering Heights at the time--but I don't know that I really understood it. The language was a bit tough for me then.
Of course, not long after that, I started reading a lot of romance and found that I enjoyed Regency romance in particular. And what do we think Regency romance draws as its inspiration? Georgette Heyer, yes, but definitely Jane Austen's novels.
Pride and PrejudiceI came back to P&P later--much later--in college, largely because my roommate and I were fans of the Keira Knightley movie. Because so many romance novels use the tropes in P&P--in addition to my own familiarity with the actual story--I found it easier to digest the second time around. And the plot is easily adaptable, don't you think?
But P&P is not my favorite Austen novel nor can I say that Mr. Darcy is necessarily my favorite Austen hero (despite Colin Firth emerging from the lake in a wet shirt). I like Elizabeth Bennet and I, like many women before me, identify with her and want to be her--she's intelligent, witty, a little sharp-tongued, and she gets everything she could ever want in the end.
Northanger Abbey is funny. I mean, really funny. It makes fun of Bath, it makes fun of Gothic novels, the heroine is young and basically lives in her imagination, and her hero, Henry Tilney, is sarcastic but loving. I still chuckle when I think about Catherine in the bedroom at Northanger Abbey, getting disappointed over finding only a laundry list. What budding writer doesn't, basically, plot ridiculous things out of scanty information in real life, after all?
PersuasionPersuasion is my favorite Austen novel, hands down. It was Austen's last written novel before her death and I think that shows in the text--Persuasion is, for me, the most emotional, as well as the most romantic.
All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!--Anne Elliot, Persuasion
The reader wants Anne to be happy because she's so put-upon by her family and her own heavy regrets--and then there's Frederick's letter to her: "I am half agony, half hope."
I never cry while reading. Or at least, very rarely. I bawled while reading this book.
EmmaI read Emma not long after reading Persuasion. But while I bawled reading Persuasion, Emma made me laugh. I enjoyed living in Highbury for the duration of the book and trying to figure out what was going on with Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax. I laughed at Emma's very misguided attempts to matchmake. I sort of thought of her as like Briony from Atonement---playing with her dolls or her characters, not quite seeing or feeling that those people over there are real people and not under one's control.
Plus, there's Mr. Knightley. He's my favorite Austen hero, by the way.
Sense and SensibilityI just finished reading S&S earlier this year. I'd seen a miniseries adaptation--the one where Dan Stevens, aka the late Matthew Crawley, played Edward Ferrars, years ago. I liked the story. I like that Willoughby is a cad and there's a background story of him ruining a young lady--which, for Austen, is about as close to sex as you get.
That said, reading the novel was a bit of a trial. I was aware of how distanced I felt from the characters, as opposed to how I felt for Anne Elliot. Of course, S&S was the first novel Austen got published, so maybe that distancing was just a case of new writer-itis.
Mansfield ParkA lot of people say that Mansfield Park is the least romantic of Austen's work. I think I agree with that, in that it's not about Fanny falling in love with Edmund. It's more about little, shy, timid Fanny finding a bit of confidence by the end and everyone around her finally understanding her value.
I can see how people think Fanny is priggish, but actually, of all of the heroines, I think I'm a Fanny Price. She's not a great beauty--she's not the coolest chick, she doesn't fit in with her cousins, she's shy, timid, awkward, anxious, and in her quiet way, she's principled and stubborn. Plus, in modern parlance, I think Fanny and I would share the singular achievement of what I call the Skeeze Monitor.
How could she have excited serious attachment in a man who had seen so many, and been admired by so many, and flirted with so many, infinitely her superiors--who seemed so little open to serious impressions, even where pains had been taken to please him--who thought so slightly, so carelessly, so unfeelingly on all such points; who was everything to everybody, and seemed to find no one essential to him?And when one has a Skeeze Monitor, it makes dating an obsolete practice. Good thing Fanny and I like to read :-)
Thank you Jane for all your wonderful characters. I think I can officially call myself a Janeite.
Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?
Which Jane Austen Hero Is Your Soulmate?
The Other Jane Austen