Austenland: Leave the tea and biscuits at home

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Jane Hayes has a problem. She suffers from a severe case of Austenmania, and I mean mania. Her bedroom, littered with porcelain teacups, stuffed dolls, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth in Darcy regalia, looks like a 5th-grader’s shrine to Pride and Prejudice. That this woman managed to go on dates boggles the mind. So it comes as no surprise that when Jane sees a commercial for Austenland, a themed British estate with period actors that promises romance with an Austen-type hero, she cashes in her life savings and flies her sad, sad self off to England.

Hayes gets a rude awakening on her arrival. The “bronze” package she bought — the cheapest available — seems reserved for Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. The management snubs her, gives her drab gowns, a tiny bedroom on the top floor, and excludes her from fun activities. To make matters worse, the Darcy-type period actor, Mr. Henry Nobley, is in the extreme pre-Elizabeth Bennet stage. still-of-jj-feild-in-austenland

Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild) looking haughty.

Luckily, Jane can vent her frustrations with Martin, the handsome stable hand. Their relationship develops quickly — a little too quickly. One minute he’s pitching hay in the barn and the next they’re making out to the strains of a cheesy 80’s pop song.

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Jane (Keri Russell) and Martin (Bret McKenzie)

None of the other relationships evolve smoothly, either. Character development in this film sacrificed itself on the altar of time in favor of farcical scenarios. I found myself thinking, “When did that happen? And why?” I assume Jerusha Hess’s book, on which the film is based, elaborates more on this and Jane’s troubled romantic past, which is mentioned but never explained.

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Austenland tries too hard, but isn’t completely lacking in charm. That’s largely due to the cast, who strove to make this a watchable film. In the end, the plot good-naturedly pokes fun at “Janeites,” only to fall short of its potential and succumb to Hollywood rom-com predictability. If you enjoyed the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, though, you may find the film’s occasional nods amusing, as I did. Also if you’re a fan of Nelly. And that’s all I’m saying.

Beaver couldn’t make it to the showing, sadly, so I’m rating it by myself: 2 carrot sticks (out of five).

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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?

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?