The 10 best Jane Austen characters

Recently I read an online post by The Guardian commemorating the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Title? “The 10 Best Jane Austen Characters.” You will find the list here.

Note that the characters weren’t chosen by Guardian writers, but by Austen biographer Paula Byrne. And by “best” Byrne clearly means the most intriguing, the ones eliciting strong responses from the reader. NOT the “nicest and prettiest.”

While I found myself disagreeing with some, the list prompted me to come up with my own list of characters from Austen’s complete novels.

1. Mr. Collins is arguably Austen’s greatest comic character. Oily, pompous, hypocritical and utterly clueless and ridiculous, he simultaneously repulses and amuses. Pride and Prejudice

2. Lady Susan. Duh. She’s a cougar-homewrecker who parties hard and hates her daughter for getting in the way. Eloquent, beautiful, charming and deadly, Lady Susan is the woman every man’s mother warned about. I stayed up past midnight last night reading this scandalous short novel. Lady Susan

3. It’s impossible to omit one of literature’s greatest heroines, Elizabeth Bennet. She refuses to bend to society’s conventions, possesses an invaluable sense of humor, and admits when she’s in the wrong. Plus she exercises daily. Pride and Prejudice

4. Elinor Dashwood is poised and levelheaded in the face of calamity. She will sacrifice her time and comfort for friends and family, but will also speak out when they go too far – she’s not a doormat. Sense &Sensibility

5. A crafty fortune-seeker, Lucy Steele ingratiates herself with adults and their spoiled kids to gain their confidence and affection. In the end, she gets what she wants and gets away with it. Sense &Sensibility

6. Self-absorbed and naïve, yet generous and well intentioned, Emma makes plenty of mistakes but learns from them. She’s the kind of friend you’d go with on shopping/gossip/coffee sessions (but nothing deeper than that). Emma

 7. Lady Catherine de Bourgh spices up the novel with her self-aggrandizing comments, her love of being “useful” and her opposition to the “pollution” of Pemberly. Pride & Prejudice

 8. Captain Wentworth. He’s constant – over eight and a half years! – considerate and a successful naval captain. If nothing else, his eloquent letter to Anne grants him a spot here. “You pierce my soul.”  Persuasion

 9. Henry Tilney sets himself apart from all other Jane Austen heroes: he actually possesses a sense of humor. A minister, of all things, who makes you laugh! Talk about defying literary stereotypes. Northanger Abbey

 10. I never liked Fanny Price, but she deserves a spot here. She’s kind, loving and constant even when the object of her affection is pretty thick-skulled about the whole thing. Mansfield Park

Yes, I omitted Mr. Darcy. I wanted to give others a place first. Anyway, he’s already a given, so what’s the need?

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American Authors — Huckleberry Finn — Life-Threatening Plots

Tom Sawyer gets on my nerves.

But this story isn’t about Tom — although he does try to sabotage it. Isn’t that just like him. And the brat almost succeeds. Huck Finn, on the other hand, possesses innumerable contradictory facets that when juxtaposed reveal enlightening viewpoints on ethnic prejudices and compass — Wait, where are you going? Come back!

Mark Twain saw this coming. Realizing critics and literary scholars would analyze Huck until nothing remained but used bird cage liners, he penned the following introduction:

NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Which tells you what kind of a sense of humor he had.

I got another revealing look at Twain’s quirky sense of humor while reading a compilation of the author’s witticisms. A reporter visited Mark Twain’s home for an interview and was told by his wife, Olivia Clemens, that he was still in bed (a preferred place to write), but that she would tell him. When she informed Twain of the man’s visit, he refused to get up. Instead he invited the reporter to hop into bed with him for the interview.

I never found out if he accepted the invitation.

I’d go in-depth on the novel only I’m terribly intimidated by Mr. Twain’s threats, plus I’m feeling a little lazy. Basically it’s about a boy in the mid-19th century who escapes from his abusive, alcoholic no-good father on a canoe/raft, then joins a runaway slave named Jim and they get into all sorts of adventures and mishaps on the Mississippi river. Then Tom Sawyer butts in. The End.

If you’re looking for a good movie adaptation (albeit not 100% faithful), try Huck Finn starring a young and very cute Elijah Wood. It’s funny, emotional and exciting and features Wood wearing an endearing mischievous grin.

I will only add that Huckleberry Finn is an amoral, plotless book with not a hint of a motive to it. Happy, Mr. Twain? Good.

American Authors: Louisa May Alcott

Liz: This month is American Author month on Our Mutual Friends blog, and this week our author is Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame.
As most of you, I read Little Women as a teen for school and saw the movie with Winona Ryder. Here are my comments on the tale:
  1. It deserves its status as a classic story.
  2. I can’t believe they used an actual iron to straighten their hair.
  3. Let’s just say nobody better destroy a manuscript of mine.
  4. Poor Laurie. Love you like a brother.
  5. Sometimes a good scolding from a pretty girl can bring a guy back from his dissolute ways.
  6. How exactly do you pronounce “Bhaer”? (Jaz: Jo writes that it’s a cross between “bear” and “beer.” Bah-eer?) And did he have to be so much older than Jo?
  7. I admire the Littles’ charitable spirit.
  8. A tragic death seems to be inevitable in a classic. R.I.P. Beth
  9. If you feel inclined to see how your first name would look with a certain guy’s last name, don’t leave the slip of paper lying around where someone else can find it.
  10. If you have an interesting life like Jo’s, write about it instead of writing trashy or gory tales or whatever else is popular.
In addition to Little Women, I’ve read three other Louisa May Alcott tales. Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose in Bloom were entertaining and enjoyable books, particularly Eight Cousins—a tale of an orphan girl and her hitherto unknown family, including a very likable bachelor uncle who becomes her guardian, seven male cousins, and several aunts and uncles. My favorite Louisa May Alcott is about a boy who runs away from the circus with a trained dog after his father, who left to find a better job, didn’t return. The boy and his dog are befriended by two girls and eventually taken in by a kind woman. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the book. (Note from Jaz: I googled it. Under the Lilacs. I forgot about this one — thanks for the reminder!)

Jaz: If I were to rewrite Little Women, it would go something along these lines:

Amy, the spoiled little brat, dies in Beth’s place. Beth marries the cute crippled boy and they produce five happy, healthy children. Jo and Laurie wed after all, globetrot the year round, and get into trouble and adventures. Marmie catches whatever it was Amy got, dies nobly and tragically, and the father returns from the war to board comfortably with Laurie’s lovable old uncle next door (Beth keeps the house). Meg moves far, far away with John The Tutor Man. Mr. Bhaer never enters the picture.

I read Little Women eagerly at the age of 11. Several rereads later I realized it was a bit … saccharine. And preachy. The end, where Joe marries the professor, seems abrupt, as if the author married her off simply to please her audience. Maybe not. It is a good book, well-written and full of most excellent morals and amusing situations. My cynical opinions are likely due to an overdose of L. M. Alcott literature. Among the novels I read (Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Jack and Jill, etc etc etc…), An Old Fashioned Girl and Eight Cousins proved the most enjoyable. Also, don’t forget to check out The Inheritance, Alcott’s first novel. It gives an enlightening look into the talent and imagination of a 17-year-old aspiring novelist.

These books are pleasant reading enough, but – as I learned the hard way – a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Which explains why I found her sensational romance novel, A Long Fatal Love Chase, refreshing. Romance! Intrigue! Suspense! And all so delightfully overdone. And if you can find other earlier novels of hers, I’d suggest those as well. You may be surprised.


Favorite Romances: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jaz on Pride and Prejudice

The first time I heard Pride and Prejudice read aloud, I laughed.

I’d already seen the 1945 adaptation starring Greer Garson and Sir Lawrence Olivier – it was my favorite film – but when my sister read Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s verbal exchanges aloud as we sat at the dinner table, I knew I had to read the book for myself. And as soon as possible.

I was probably 11 or so at the time. I remember because my mother said I was too young to understand it and would have to wait a bit. Oh, the trials of being young!

When I’d matured to the ripe old age of 13, I took it hungrily from the shelf and devoured every word. I hated Mr. Darcy as Elizabeth did, cringed with her, commiserated with Wickham, discovered the truth with her and finally fell in love with Darcy. Since then it’s been on my list of favorite literature. I’ve read it countless times, seen three different adaptations and a Bollywood spin on it (very inaccurate and entertaining) …

But I will not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Unless, of course, Liz asks me to.  (Liz: I would never ask you to make that kind of sacrifice! But I must admit to being curious about it.)

What can I say about the novel that has not already been said by learned scholars, mediocre authors and terrible bloggers alike?

Nothing. So I’ll point out just one thing: Mr. Bennet doesn’t exclude Jane when he describes his daughters as “silly and ignorant” with not “much to recommend them.” I’ve always wondered at it. Jane may be good, he seems to say, but she has no character, no spirit. Not like his “little Lizzy.” Jane does as she is told, whether she agrees with it or not. In the end she ends up pleasing her parents by marrying the rich man she conveniently loves. Mr. Bennet jokingly congratulates her:

“You are a good girl … You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”

Jane responds with, “Imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters, would be unpardonable in me.”

But she ignores the first accusation. Interesting.

I think Elizabeth would have married Darcy even had her parents refused.

Also …

Mary and Mr. Collins would have made a great couple. Wouldn’t you agree?

Liz on Pride and Prejudice: As much as I talk about Pride and Prejudice, you’d think writing about it would be easy, but it’s not. There’s so much to say I don’t know where to begin. So, instead of covering the entire book, I’ll focus on one aspect of the novel: why men should hate Mr. Darcy.

As a loyal Jane Austen fan, it annoys me when someone makes a derogatory comment about her novels or characters. Mr. Darcy is a frequent target of such attacks. However, I recently realized men should hate him. Why? Because he’s tall, handsome, wealthy, and has a gorgeous estate? No, though, like Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley would tempt me to marry him. Is it the insidious way Mr. Darcy inspires women with the hope of being the object of an unconquerable and persevering love? Most men, understandably, would prefer a choice in the lady they fall in love with and to receive encouragement from her instead of rejection.

That could certainly be grounds for dislike of the long-suffering Mr. Darcy, but the real basis for men hating him is his willingness to change when he realizes his faults. This is the draw of Mr. Darcy for women (for me, at least).

Overall, Mr. Darcy’s character is excellent, but he has one main flaw—pride. Pride that leads him to treat those beneath him in position or talents with contempt. Yet, when he is confronted by his sin, he admits it (begrudgingly at first, but he does admit it) and does something about it. Men should hate Mr. Darcy for setting a high standard. He puts to shame those content to be “pretty good,” who excuse their faults by saying “that’s just me.” I might add Elizabeth Bennet sets the same example for women.

Brief Comments on a Few Characters:

Elizabeth and Jane Bennet: I wish I were as sweet and selfless as Jane and as independent and witty as Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy: An imperfect man with an improving character.

Charlotte: I like her, but I just can’t fathom anyone being as unromantic in her hopes and dreams as her.

Mr. Collins: Yikes

Mr. Wickam: Despicable

Lydia: Poor, foolish girl.

Kitty: I have high hopes for her.

Colonel Fitzwilliam: I would like to know more about him. I’m disappointed he wouldn’t give Lizzy a serious thought because she wasn’t rich enough to support the second son of an earl, but I can’t help but like him anyway.

Georgiana: I wish Jane Austen had written a sequel to tell of Georgina’s courtship and marriage.

Mary: I feel for her as the plain sister, but her attempts to get admiration only made things worse for her.

What are your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice? Do you know of any other reasons why men should hate Mr. Darcy?

Favorite Romances: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

So, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for: What are our top four romantic classics? You’ve probably gathered by now that Jane Eyre is one of them, but I’ll give you the full list anyway.

They are (not necessarily in order of favorites, just in the order we’ll talk about them): Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (it got the most votes by those who commented), North and South (the BBC miniseries based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, which has nothing to do the American Civil War), and Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney’s version and the classic fairy tale). Thanks for your comments!

Now for Jaz’s and Liz’s opinions on Jane Eyre:

Jaz on Jane Eyre

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Jane Eyre is so much more than just a romance. Bold feminism, stinging social commentary, moral dilemmas and delicious scandal leap from its pages. Not to mention lunatic wives locked up in the attic.

Jane’s character inspires: she emerges strong and independent in spite of her troubled past. I admire her moral integrity, passion and – most of all – her stance on gender equality.

Rochester is all about unbridled passion. He’s had numerous affairs, possibly fathered an illegitimate child or two and considers adultery a perfectly reasonable option. But he’s also intelligent, generous and loving.

Note that Jane marries Rochester only after she’s financially independent … and Rochester has lost Thornfield, his sight and an arm to boot. How feminist is that? Brontë was ahead of her time.

Aside from Brocklehurst, I strongly disliked the emotionally-repressed St. John. While not truly a villain, he does manipulate Jane for personal gain.

Other thoughts:

Were Jane and Rochester truly unattractive, or just when measured against contemporary ideals? Brontë describes Rochester as dark, muscular and broad-shouldered, with “granite-hewn features” and beautiful eyes. Jane is slender, pale and petite, with green eyes and hazel hair.

Doesn’t sound so bad to me. I’d take a Mr. Rochester look-alike any day.

The bedroom fire scene is rather scandalous. Rochester wants her to stay (“What, you will go?”), and Jane is confused and elated — but definitely not shocked or repulsed.

The element of creepiness in this novel is fantastic. Demonic laughter, footfalls vanishing into the dark, creaking doors, mysterious fires, foreboding nightmares and dark mansions … As Jean Webster, author of “Daddy Long-Legs” writes, “It’s melodrama of the purest, but just the same, you read and read and read.”

My hat’s off to melodrama.

Liz on Jane Eyre

I must admit to being skeptical about Jane Eyre before I read it. I saw a movie version (I can’t remember which one) as a kid and received the mistaken impression that Jane left a really nice guy to go back to the married Mr. Rochester. I was disappointed in her. Fortunately, at the encouragement of Jaz, I decided to give the book a try a few years ago. I started reading it and my skepticism became enthusiasm. Forgive the cliché, but I couldn’t put the book down. Jane isn’t just the protagonist, she’s a heroine, and even Mr. Rochester turns out a pretty decent hero. With mystery, romance, plenty of plot twists, and main characters I can admire, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite romances.

Notes on Select Characters: Jane’s strength of character, independent spirit, and ability to overcome tragedy are inspiring. Some may disagree, but I believe Jane went back to Thornfield at the end to check on Mr. Rochester, not to live with him. And who wouldn’t go back after those eerie calls? However, I must admit to getting impatient with her when she refuses to accept the beautiful clothes and jewels Mr. Rochester offers her after they’re engaged. I understand her reasoning, but I still want to shake and her and say, “He’s your future husband. Take the stuff and get out of your drab Lowood clothes. There’s nothing wrong with a poor woman marrying a rich man so long as she isn’t marrying him for his money.”

There’s certainly plenty to censure in Mr. Rochester, but there’s plenty to like as well, especially, strangely enough, when you contrast him with St. John Rivers. Both men are charitable and St. John has a cleaner past, but Mr. Rochester loves where St. John brings to mind I Corinthians 13:3 (“And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I am nothing.”).

Adele: Sweet but frivolous girl without whom Jane would never have met Mr. Rochester. It’s interesting that Jane finds love and a home after going to take care of an orphan like herself.

Bessie: Gotta love the outspoken but affectionate maid character.

Diana and Mary: Every girl should have friends like these.

Most loathsome character: Mr. Brocklehurst: Self-righteous villain who misuses Scripture to endorse his lavish lifestyle and feelings of superiority.

Favorite Parts: I love it when Mr. Rochester is about to call Jane “my darling” or some other affectionate name and has to stop himself at “my”. And, it’s not a part exactly, but the depiction of Jane and Mr. Rochester as being the perfect and only match for each other is what makes Jane Eyre one of my favorite romances.

Reader Questions: What do you think of Jane and the other characters? What is your favorite or least favorite part of the novel?

Welcome to Our Mutual Friends!

Hi! Welcome to Our Mutual Friends: Liz and Jaz do classics! If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens you might recognize the title of our blog as the plural version of his novel Our Mutual Friend. It’s one of my favorite novels, and the name seemed appropriate for a blog dedicated to those books and movies that my friends and I have spent so much time reading, watching, and talking about.

 

There are many delightful stories to discuss, so we are choosing a theme for each month and dedicating each week to a different story in that theme. We hope to post two to three times a week: one post about our favorite characters and aspects of the novel or movie; one post to briefly review movie versions of the novel; and one post purely for fun with spoof reviews, quotes, random facts, or whatever else strikes our fancy.

 

June’s theme will be Favorite Romances. We’ve already chosen our four stories for the month, but please tell us which four classic novels/movies you would choose. Or try to guess which ones we’ve decided on!