Add Zombies & Enjoy…..

Pride and Prejudice is the final installment in my Jane Austen commitment.  It was the hardest to finish, but well worth it.  As with all of her novels, there is an ever present quest for both the perfect match for the lovely female protagonist.  True to its’ name, the marriage themes of the novel are pride and prejudice cause the conflicts which move the novel along.

The Bennet sisters, five in number, are in need of husbands.  Mr. Bennet is content to have his daughters live out their days at home. He seems unconcerned with the great marriage question. It is a Mrs. Bennet’s passion to find suitable gentlemen for her daughters.

Confusion and miscommunication play a role in this novel as well, but it stems not so much from social constraints as it does from their own character faults.  There is a reason why this novel’s plots has been copied and shamelessly reproduced again and again over the years, it is dam good.  The characters are compelling and although I loved the zombie version the best, it is worth more than one read.

Currently, my bedside table is a third version of the novel, the DK Illustrated Classic, complete with background information.  The history nut inside me is dying to read this version with it’s background chapters scattered through-out.

My quest to get know Jane Austen has led to where most of you who have already met her suspected it would; I admire her work and talent.  She tapped the glass ceiling of her times leaving cracks for others to exploit.

Emma, Emma, Emma, What Have You Done?

A Review of Jane Austen’s Emma

Another novel of love, manners and courtship, but this time the protagonist has options; two to be exact.  She can either find a husband or become a spinster.  The early pages of the novel lead us to believe that Emma has chosen the later option because she does not believe that her father can bare life without her.  I can understand not wanting to leave a parent who is failing, but one has to make their own life or be miserable.  Emma takes a while to discover this as her main occupation is matchmaking otherwise known as meddling in the affairs of others.

At first, I loved Emma.  She is intelligent and dedicated to her father’s happiness.  It is clear that despite her outward facade, Emma is unhappy and desires love which she purposely excludes herself from pursing.  At times in the novel she seems immune from it; having never really considered it an option she doesn’t recognize it when it enters her life.

Then, she decides that her wealth, position and intelligent give her to the right to determine the fate of another human being. It is a little like when Paris Hilton adopted Nicole Richie, except without the happy ending.   She seeks to improve Harriet Smith, an orphan.   The friendship doesn’t help either woman as all of Emma’s plans fall flat on their cultured behinds and Harriet ends up with the very man whom she told her she was too good for.

Once again, we see Austen using miscommunication as a tool to move her story along.  Miscommunication is breed in the novel by the strict rules of the time that dictated what men and women could and could not do in the presence of the other. Just as today, it also breeds drama. Maybe if modern soap operas had taken a page of Austen’s playbook they would have been able to stay on the air.

Of the novels that I have read thus far in my journey to get to know Jane, this is my least favorite.  Everything comes together neatly at the end and while the characters get to marry for love; their marriages also leave them all financial and social comfortable.  I would like to think that Austen who never married and depended on her family for support always ended her novels happily not because of convention or increased popularity of her work, but because she was living vicariously through them.  Their happy ending was her’s as well.

Book Reviews Returning Next Week….

Now that my living room is free of boxes (please notice, I didn’t say the whole house), I am getting back into my regular routine.   Next week,  I will be posting my review of Emma by Jane Austen.   It was nearly finished when my brain went on vacation.  Soon after that Pride and Prejudice will be up and then some very loving and tantalizing new offerings.


The One I Was Supposed To Read…

Confession time. There was one Jane Austen novel that I was supposed to read in high school; Northanger Abbey.  My English teacher suggested that for my senior research paper that I read it and compare it the Mysteries of Udolpho, which I was supposed to read as well.  I did read that one, just didn’t manage to finish it, which is odd since in those days I was the geeky girl with glasses peeking out of books on extremely rare occasions.  I am only marginally better these days and I don’t read while driving. (Plus, I have better glasses, now.)

Anywho, I didn’t read it, wrote the paper and received a B on it.  How? I knew my audience and did a lot of research.

Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen’s earliest completed novel, but wasn’t actually published until after her death.   I think it is kinda of book karma that once again, this novel has come into my life.

And after all these years of not reading it, I actually like it.  I loved the beginning pages of the novel, but without the twists of the later novels or the same love for the characters. Still, there is a lot more tongue in cheek humor present here.

Catherine, the non-heroine of the novel, is obsessed with Gothic novels.  She is invited to vacation in Bath with a wealthier neighbor. Once there she is disappointed at first that her neighbor has no acquaintances in town. Her boredom is finally relieved when a young man takes notice of her, then disappears. Eventually, things start rolling for her. She makes friends and even finds her young man, again.

But, reality isn’t enough for her. She has given so much of her life over to the fantasies presented in her novels. Her naive personality doesn’t realize that the world of her novels isn’t one that she can be happy in, her beau chastises her lack of common sense.

Eventually, things work out for everyone involved.  Austen doesn’t make it easy for these characters, even in her first novel, we watch them struggle in their world and with the problems they have created.

Our non-heroine doesn’t give up on her fantasy even when the facts don’t agree.  A quality that one friend of mine would very much admire; unfortunately for our heroine, Mr. Mikey isn’t her beau. Austen may be commenting on people who give themselves over to a fantasy and don’t stop to see the of life around them. How many people do you know who have lost themselves to either Facebook or better yet, World Of Warcraft? I know one soul that lost her job.

Social commentary isn’t absent from this novel. The people in the novel are obsessed with consumer culture and how they are perceived by their possessions.  Ms. Allen, the woman who takes Catherine to Bath, goes on and on about how her latest gown will be received by her peers.  Similarly, Catherine, a girl from a lower middle class background, is asked to compare the possessions of General Tinsley against Mr. Allen.  Something she was not really prepared to do given her humble background.

Austen takes direct aim at the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, which were extremely popular in her day. Catherine at first loves then develops a disdain for them.  She makes a fool of herself at her beau’s house by imagining that his father has done away with his mother.  She is criticized by him and they have a falling out. It was this aspect of the novel that I was supposed to examine all those years ago.  The parody in the novel can sometimes overshadow the rest of the story.

By some miracle of the romantic genre, Mr. Henry Tinley, forgives her and everything is nicely tied up.  It still isn’t a book I would read again, but it is worth a read.  You can see the bright star that Austen would become later on.

Sense and Sensibility without Sea Monsters

As my first unabridged, non-zombie version of a  Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility has taken a firm hold of my mind.  It didn’t let go last night until around 1:30 in the morning.  My eyes simply gave out, not my desire to read.

The tale follows the lives of two sisters after the death of their father.  One having a sense and the other lacking it entirely.  Both are young; still in fact teenagers when the novel begins.

Most of the story is told in dialogue which would surely drive my students insane. It is, however, quite refreshing in my mind especially the scene where the Dashwood ladies and Edward Ferris discuss what they would do if they were all gifted with large fortunes.  It reminds me of conversations that my family has concerning what we would do with lottery proceeds.  The irony of the conversation is that Marianne delights in the idea after declaring the money does not bring happiness. She goes on to declare exactly what she believes a household staff should include.  If it wasn’t obvious before this point, it should be crystal clear after it, Marianne is immature and has no internal filter.

Her older sister, Elinor, has the sense, maybe too much for her own good.  She perhaps defines the propriety of the age.  She also reminds me of my own sister, Ann.  A natural leader in the family.  I only wish she was as loving as Elinor is in the novel, family gatherings would be so much nicer.

There is a third sister in the novel, Maureen, who at thirteen doesn’t play much of a role.  In movie adaptations, she often has a larger part. In both she is the awkward little sister caught between childhood and adulthood.

Some of the problems faced by the ladies are of their own creation and others by the times in which they in. They are victims of their own lack of communication.  The Dashwood ladies fail to ask each other questions which would have avoid some of their drama.  I can’t imagine not asking either of my sisters if they were engaged if I suspected nor can I imagine them not telling me.

Thankful for all involved, Marianne grows up after having her heart broken and nearly dying.   Her new maturity allows her to sees the loving man that has been waiting for her.  Elinor’s love interest untangles himself from his own impulsive love match and she marries.

Perhaps that is another parallel to our times, people causing themselves problems by failing to communicate. People marry for money and greed causes people to do horrible things to maintain their wealth. The treatment of the Dashwood ladies by John Dashwood is decried in the novel, but far worse things happen these days.

Something that bothered me was that the Dashwood family is said to be improvised after the death of Henry Dashwood, but they are allowed to stay in their former home until a new residence can be found and have enough money to bring three servants with them.  No, they aren’t living in a grand manor, but they are far from living in the slums of London.

I don’t enjoy reading, watching or discussing the selfish lives of the rich.  It is one of the reasons that I avoid reading the novels of Jane Austen and the like in the past.  It was a pleasant surprise to find that the heroines of this novel were not stereotypes.  Austen creates well rounded, intelligent and lovable characters.

Austen’s writing not only captures the ills of the age she lived in, but does so in a way that captivates the audience.  One can see what is wrong in the society today and how the choices of women are limited, but Austen leaves us to decide how we feel about it and what actions to take.  She doesn’t sugar-coat her entire world.  We do have to face the fact that her characters wouldn’t have seen much of the really ugly side of life.

The people who do things solely for money are unhappy or at the very least portrayed in a negative light.   Today, she still has an audience because of the clever dialogue and plot twists she worked into the novel. Oh, and the English teachers, who assigned it their student.

It isn’t a silly romance, it is a well thought-out novel that happens to contain romance.  At least to me…

Getting to Know Jane –

My Favorite Picture of Jane

Today, or more aptly yesterday, I began my endeavors to get to know Jane Austen.  In high school, I was able to avoid her acquaintance through my English teacher’s disdain for her. None of my college professors introduced me, so I escape being forced to read her.  I am not a huge fan of romances and thus avoided her at great length.

It wasn’t until two events took place within a fortnight that I decided to introduce myself  to her and her many fine works.   The first was the invitation by theliteraryshack to join the Jane Austen Blog Fest this month.  Not being a fan, I was a little hesitant to join.  Then my students and I had our arms twisted by the gods of curriculum to read “On the Vindication of the Right’s of Women” by Mary Wollstonecraft.  The essay if you haven’t read it is a discussion on how women’s education at the time only trained them to find husbands.

Jane Austen’s novels center around romance and the search for happiness in the same era.  The social commentary isn’t as bold as in Wollstonecraft. It’s presence is subtle and effective.  The social conventions of the time restricted women in such a way that success was determined their ability to marry well.  Education for the daughter’s middle class families was geared at making them more suitable for marriage. Wollstonecraft, the mother of Feminism, argued that training women only for one purpose harmed not only them, but society.

Those events led me to accept the challenge of reading an author whom I had previous avoided.  Alright, not completely avoided. I did read Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and loved it. And yes, it was my love of horror that compelled me to pick it up.

Now, I am preparing for a month of reading, writing and discussing Jane. Wish me, luck…..