Austen Update

Summer of Austen is over.

Well, Summer of Austen is supposed to be over. The three month allotment expired this weekend.

I still have half of Mansfield Park to read and all of Emma to reread. But making it a four month project basically ruins the entire premise of the blog.

Is it better to extend my deadline to accomplish my goal or to stick to the strict (and completely arbitrary) parameters I established and move on?

I think the former makes more sense.

Summer of Austen took a back seat to an interview process, prepping for a huge and life-changing move, and the necessity of saying “yes” and doing more during my last month in Chicago.

I’ll gladly call Summer of Austen a failure in exchange for the experiences of the last few weeks, and the memories I’ll take with me out east, to ease the inevitable homesickness for Chicago and Chicagoans.

Jane Austen, of anyone, would understand – nothing goes according to plan.

Review: Persuasion

Oh, thank sweet, merciful (deity here), I have finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

I cannot really properly review this because my primary feeling right now is relief. I do not regret reading it, and really the plot is just as engaging as my favorite Austen novels, but it was so slow. I am eager to watch the film adaptation, though. This is one time I am certain to believe the movie better than the book.

(Mini-)Review of Persuasion

Persuasion is Anne Elliot’s story. She’s the youngest of three daughters, their mother long deceased, and as such, the quietest and most thoughtful. When her family is forced to give up their home to accrue income through tenancy, Anne spends the course of the novel (a year?) with family: Lady Russell, her maternal surrogate; Mrs. Musgrove, her next oldest sister, and family; and finally her father and eldest sister in Bath.

Anne’s path crosses with that of Captain Wentworth, a suitor she rejected many years prior upon the counsel of Lady Russell. Some of the most delightful passages result from her internal musings on this awkward situation we have all experienced in some way – a rejected paramour we are unsure how to feel about. She is nervous and unsure, but finally seems to establish some sort of warmth in their relationship; they will peacefully co-exist.

Other potential suitors pop up here and there. Surprise engagements occur, more people are rejected, the truth about one’s devious nature is illustrated at length, the ending is happy and neat – pretty standard Austen stuff.

I have a new theory. The first time you read an Austen novel, it is not fun. It is a chore. It is slow and tedious and the only real plot development happens at the very end, and even then she rushes through all the fun. The resolution, though, is so enjoyable and brings such giddiness and that’s what you recall when you think back about the novel. So, the next year, you read it again – and because you know all ends well, you can really luxuriate in the prose. Your subsequent readings are not as anxious; you’re more patient. You find the things that make Austen endearing and her novels worth it.

Maybe that’s what I will get out of Summer of Austen: some good, strong classic novels to turn to on a rainy weekend next spring.

Up next: Mansfield Park, and just 11 days left to get through that and Emma (which will be a treat, actually!)

Finished with Pride and Prejudice… Finally

Well, I finished Pride and Prejudice yesterday.

Sigh. Finally.

I did enjoy it much more than Sense and Sensibility, which I attribute significantly to the BBC-sponsored mental images of all the characters in my head, but also to, honestly, just a stronger preference for the plot. Elizabeth Bennet is just one of my favorite literary characters, along with Emma Woodhouse, Clare Abshire, and Buttercup (because, yes, I read the novel long before I saw the movie). I owe Jane Austen a lot for creating this woman.

And this reading was more enjoyable than the first as I have become even more familiar with Austen’s cadence and can read her dialogue more as it was intended. I was able to inject the tones of witty banter and light flirtation that escaped me in my first reading. While reading the final chapters yesterday, on the train, I giggled and gushed over the tidy happy resolution to Elizabeth and Darcy’s nontraditional courtship. It was worth it.

Despite all that, all the enjoyment I had in the actual reading, the whole thing felt like a bit of a chore. I do not think I will undertake a project like this again – focusing on one author for a chunk of time like this. It feels a bit too academic, which I think would be fine if I had not severely underestimated how busy I am. There are also just too many other books I want to read! The literal, physical “to read” shelf of my bookcase is disturbingly full.

But should you read Pride and Prejudice? Where is the substance of a review, Cassie? Well, it’s missing and does not plan to return, I am sorry to say. It’s not a quick read but it’s not unbearably long. There are parts where the plot moves slowly but that’s tolerable if you already know the story. I do think everyone should read it at least once, but if you’re content to just experience the BBC miniseries, I will not judge you for it (and I may join you for it).

I’m moving on today to finish Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman – having all of these half-finished books is driving me crazy! I should get through those tonight, though, and start up Austen’s Persuasion with tomorrow morning’s commute.

Final word: I’m glad I stuck with it, I’m just glad to be done with it.

Review: From Prada to Nada

I feel a bit like I’m in the early days of college again – when I left everything until the last minute. Though I always got it done (and done fairly well, thank you), it was typically a busy few weeks before the end of a semester. And here I am, three weeks out from the end of Summer of Austen – my first Three Month Project, and I still have three novels to read!

After last night’s lazy summer dinner of half-price ribs and $2 Summer Shandy drafts at Paddy Mac’s, I returned home with the intention of spending, oh, two or three hours on Pride and Prejudice (a novel I am only 1/3 of the way through and did not count in the aforementioned total of three remaining to read). In an expert attempt at procrastination, I first watched Tuesday evening’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Then I had to see what “Jane Austen” things were on Netflix… for future planning, of course.

As if it were meant to be, pre-determined for my Wednesday night entertainment, I saw it: From Prada to Nada. I had seen it listed there before of course and never paid much attention to it; it seemed a little too “Paris Hilton” for my taste. I had an epiphany last night though: I would watch this movie, in the name of research! Surely if it’s worth watching all the wonderful Austen adaptations, I should temper that understanding with the poorly made films.

One level of procrastination just wasn’t enough though and I had to put these plans on hold while I went out for ice cream. (What a decadent night.)

Now, this movie. This movie was, well, it was actually pretty good. Like ABC Family good. Meaning I wouldn’t see it in a theatre. I wouldn’t buy it. But I would watch it every time I catch it while flipping through cable channels in the middle of winter.

The movie opens with Katy Perry’s “California Girls” and I could not stop the compulsive, exaggerated eye roll it produced. The premise is set up pretty quickly – two spoiled sisters, the younger being the more rash and impulsive of the two, are suddenly destitute after the unexpected death of their father. Elinor Nora and Marianne Mary are forced to live with extended family in a working class neighborhood and comedy ensues as they learn to navigate in this new, scary world – they have to take the bus!

Somewhere after the first half-hour or so, the movie sneaks up and you and becomes, well, kind of good. There’s a touching underlying story or theme about the importance of family and culture. While there is a “Lucy,” Nora and Edward are kept apart by something deeper than that and watching Nora reconcile her feelings was a wonderful way to take that plot. Mary’s redemption, too, is more uplifting than Marianne’s – there is no sense of sad resignation to her future. And Mary is a college student, instead of a 17-year-old, so I appreciated that.

Look, I’m not claiming it’s revolutionary or cinematic genius. It was a solidly entertaining movie, a recognizable adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and I got a proper proposal scene. What more could I ask for from a Wednesday night procrastination tool?

Review: don’t let the title fool you, if you have Netflix and it’s raining out, just watch this movie ok?

Sneaking in Some Austen

While this weekend was primarily dedicated to naive wonderment and baby-steps in programming, I found plenty of time to sneak in bursts of Jane Austen.

pride and prejudice

I pushed through my fatigue and read quite a bit more of Pride and Prejudice. Currently, Mr. Collins is in town and has his heart set on Elizabeth but I have not yet gotten to the proposal. I believe I stopped in the midst of Wickham’s well-spun yarn of Darcy’s betrayal and his own admirable forbearance. I owe P.D. James quite the apology for my expression of distaste at the amount of time spent on Darcy’s thoughts in Death Comes to Pemberley. I posited that this was in sharp contrast to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but it is not true! Much more space is dedicated to the inner thoughts of Mr. Darcy as he recognizes and fights his infatuation with Elizabeth Bennet than I had recalled. I have become so accustomed to the BBC miniseries that it holds sway in my mind as to the truth of Pride and Prejudice. While the adaptation is certainly the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the novel is much more equitable in its dedicated space. This is a delightful discovery and I am supremely enjoying this re-reading. I am so glad I didn’t truly quit!

emma

With a bottle of white wine already chilled, I was quite agreeable to Anna’s suggestion that we watch the Gwyneth Paltrow-led adaptation of Emma on Saturday evening. This is another of my favorite Austen adaptations and though I had not seen it years, it lived up to my nostalgic expectations. Paltrow is a fantastic Emma and the cast is littered with esteemed British actors. I am happy to say I have not yet seen a disappointing Austen adaptation – though I am sure they exist, so I tread into these waters carefully. I also discovered that Anna owns a copy of Clueless, and so…

On Sunday, we had to watch Clueless! It has easily been ten years since I’ve seen this film, but it also lived up to expectations. I was a bit wary as we started it that it would be one of the films you loved in your adolescence but upon later viewing seemed cheesy and dated. It is not the case at all here. First, it is an excellent modernization of Emma – the key plot points are all there, but manipulated just enough to make them plausible for a 1990s teenager. The script is smart: the jokes are clever and stand up to the test of time. The only thing that really dates this film is the fashion and the music, and those are two things we love to look back on with rosy nostalgia.

I am happy to report that Jane Austen made my weekend quite enjoyable. I will surely owe her more gratitude as Pride and Prejudice provides me tiny moments of escape during this busy, busy week.