Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm Back! Library Ramblings and Longbourn Book Review

I'm back gentle readers!

After finishing the semester and starting a summer job, I've been a little busy and honestly, I'm enjoying the opportunity to be lazy again. It's been eight months since I haven't had to worry about how much homework I have for tomorrow.

One of my first stops after summer began was the local library, one of my favorite places and home to many cherished memories. My mom took my siblings and I on weekly trips to the library when we were younger, and we were only limited by the amount of books we could carry.

I stopped going to the library in high school, then rediscovered it again when I was a sophomore in college. Being a broke English major made the library the obvious place for me to get my insatiable fill of books without having to pay a dime. Whoever created the idea of a free public lending library, God bless you.

So, in my latest excursion to the library, I found a copy of Jo Baker's Longbourn, a Pride and Prejudice variation that came out a couple of years ago that I never got the chance to read. It was rather popular, and had an interesting premise of focusing on the servants who serve the Bennet family at the titular family house, instead of the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy, like every other fan fiction.

I wanted to like this book, and I really did enjoy it for the first half. It's a gritty and rough book, but so imagistic and well written. Sarah, the housemaid, was a gutsy but innocent dreamer who dared to think about life beyond the confining borders of Longbourn. I loved learning her observations of the Bennet sisters, her many hard and tedious chores, and her interactions with the other members of the household, including Mr. and Mrs. Hill, naive Polly, and the brooding and mysterious footman, James Smith.

The writing and historical research is top notch, the author obviously spent tireless hours learning about how servants lived during the Regency period.

However, halfway through the book, (*I promise I won't give away spoilers*) Baker veers greatly away from the premise of Pride and Prejudice, and parts of the plot became so fantastical that I felt it was ridiculous. She also took liberties with existing characters that I did not like at all, they seemed so different than they did in Austen's novel.

Do I regret reading it? No, this is one of the most well written Jane Austen fan fiction pieces I have read, but it's nowhere near the caliber of it's inspiration.

Have you read Longbourn? What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Austen Illustrations

One of my favorite nerdy Janeite things to do is to find illustrations of Jane Austen's novels, particularly ones from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. There is something so intriguing about seeing how someone else many years ago viewed a particular scene or character, yet we both read the same words on the page.

I particularly love the illustrations by C.E. Brock and H.M. Brock, which were done during the 1890s and early 1900s. They were brothers who created most of the classic and beautiful illustrations. Seriously, look at the picture above. The colors and drawings are exquisite. If you want to learn more about the pair, check out this site. Hugh Thomson is another artist who did classic Jane Austen illustrations at the time as well.

This one just cracks me up. C.E. Brock totally captured Mr. Collins and his horrific proposal in this drawing. He's so tall, awkward, and pompous. Elizabeth is slanted away from him and desperately doing anything rather than look at him.

This is another beautiful illustration of Emma and Mr. Knightley when they finally come to terms with their feelings for each other. I love the portrayal of Mr. Knightley, but I can't help but feel that Emma would look less timid. She is Emma Woodhouse after all.

Oh, Catherine Morland. The heroine of Northanger Abbey looks totally caught up in whatever gothic romance she is currently reading. I wonder if it is The Mysteries of Udolpho, or The Monk?

This is a drawing by Elizabeth Bishop of Bingley's proposal to Jane in Pride and Prejudice. I love this. It's simple, yet very intense. You can see the feelings that the two have for each other. Maybe it makes us look again at the relationship that always gets overshadowed by Elizabeth and Darcy.

This C.E. Brock drawing depicts Edward and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. You can see the comfortable affection that they have for each other. I also love the cat just sitting there observing them. Some things never change.

This is a woodcarving by Joan Hassall depicting Edmund comforting young and homesick Fanny in Mansfield Park. It's stark and beautiful, and the emotion pours out of the image.

*Sigh.* Captain Wentworth leaves his letter out for Anne to read in Persuasion. This drawing shows that each knows the significance of the letter.

I'm going to wrap up this post with a more modern portrayal of Elizabeth and Darcy, but one that perfectly captures their attitudes towards each other at the beginning of the novel. It makes me smile.

Had any of you seen any of the older illustrations? What did you think of them? Where they similar to what you had in your head? How important are illustrations to a book in your opinion?

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Comic Relief

Probably my favorite movie quote ever.
What is a Jane Austen novel without the secondary characters who say the most outrageous things and keep us laughing constantly?

I have many favorite secondary characters in Jane Austen; in my opinion, they are often the ones who steal the show with their odd ways and awkward situations.

Two men in particular have a special place in my heart for their nonsensical ways.

The first is dear Mr. Woodhouse, Emma's father in Emma. He is such a kind and caring soul; he only wants what is best for his two beloved girls. However, that does mean that he goes over the top in trying to protect them from the world. He is also a hypochondriac and very irrational about health in general.

My favorite Mr. Woodhouse quotes:
"His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body's eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse's life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many -- perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone."
"You must wrap up warm, Emma, in case some of the young dancers do something remarkably reprehensible, like opening a window." 

Yes, I know that quote is from the movie, but I think it perfectly wraps up his character in one quote. It couldn't be more fitting for Mr. Woodhouse.

Next we have Mr. Collins, of Pride and Prejudice fame.
Oh Mr. Collins. I don't enjoy him as a person, but he is so irrational and ridiculous that I can't help loving him for all of the stupid things he does and says. It's a little bit like watching a car wreck. He's just so terribly awkward and stuck on himself, which is a lethal combination. 
Poor, silly, stupid Charlotte Lucas. I'll always feel for her. But then again, she did do it to herself. She went in with her eyes open. 

Here is my compilation of the best Collins quotes:
"Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society."
“Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you (Elizabeth) out as the companion of my future life.”
"It is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.''
"They (compliments) arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.''

And here are some Mr. Collins pictures that I found on the internet while writing this post. You're welcome, gentle readers.

Are there any other comic secondary characters who I should add to this list? Who are your favorites? What characteristics make up an effective and funny secondary character? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Pride and Prejudice Adaptation Showdown

Top: 1995 miniseries, bottom: 2005 movie
Picking a favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptation is often a very divisive issue for Janeites. The only thing worse is picking a favorite Darcy portrayal. Oh the horror! 

Now there are many more Pride and Prejudice adaptations, such as the 1940 and 1980 versions, but the two that I am the most familiar with are the 1995 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle BBC miniseries, and the 2005 Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen movie, so we will be sticking with those two for simplicity's sake. 
Darcy's wet shirt scene
In one corner, we have the 1995 BBC miniseries, most famous for Colin Firth's wet shirt scene (above), Jennifer Ehle's eyebrows and smirk, and the most eccentric Mrs. Bennet ever portrayed.

I LOVE this miniseries. This is about as close as you will get to the book in an adaptation, granted, it is almost 6 hours long. However, it is a lovely way to spend a weekend afternoon. The acting is fantastic, and I love the character portrayals in this series. 
The hysterical Mrs. Bennet: genius character portrayal
One of the strengths of this miniseries is that it not only shows Elizabeth's side of the story, but Darcy's as well, therefore we get to see him dealing with his feelings for Elizabeth, writing the letter, and being the "avenging angel" for Lydia. It's so well done!
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Darcy and Lizzie
Probably what I love best about this movie is the delivery of some of Austen's best comic lines. This version makes me laugh out loud more than any of the others. Mr. Bennet is a sarcastic genius, Mrs. Bennet is a hysterical mess and Darcy and Elizabeth's potshots at each other round out the comedy.  
Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley as Darcy and Lizzie
In the other corner, we have the artistic, gritty masterpiece of the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice.

What I love about this movie: 
1. The music. I can't think of a movie that has a better soundtrack than this one.
The Bennet women
2. How realistic it is. The Bennet's house is messy and dirty, and there are girls running around yelling and squealing. It feels natural. It feels like you are sitting in a chair observing a normal family of seven, with six of them being women.
3. Macfadyen's portrayal of Darcy. We see a shy and vulnerable awkwardness that many other actors haven't used for the Darcy character. He is fantastic. 
4. The cinematography. Seriously. I dare you to go find a movie that has better visuals than this one. 

With this movie being under two hours long, they obviously had to cut much of the plot in order to fit it into the two hour window. They also did take creative license with several scenes, including both proposals, but I think they were so well done that it doesn't matter. 

Final Score: It's a tie. 

(Yes I get to do that. It's MY blog.)

I can't pick one over the other, it would be like picking a favorite child, and comparing the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. They each look at the book from different perspectives, neither of which is wrong. That is the beauty of literature. There is no right answer. 

Have you watched one or both of these adaptations? What is your opinion? Do you have a particular favorite? Is there a recipe for a "perfect" movie adaptation for any book? 

Monday, March 30, 2015

If you like Jane Austen...

If you like Jane Austen movie adaptations, period costume drama, or are just suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal, I may be able to help you.

I do absolutely love Jane Austen, but I also enjoy English costume drama in general. If you only limit yourself to Jane Austen, you are missing out on fantastic masterpieces of cinematography. Therefore gentle readers, we are going just beyond the perimeters of Jane Austen today. I have compiled a short list in no particular order of must see movies if you enjoy Jane Austen adaptations. 

1. North and South (2004): This may be one of my all time favorite period dramas. This mini-series is based on Elizabeth Gaskell's mid-19th century novel about social and romantic conflict between the industrial north and the rural south of England. Just so you all know, I think the movie is better than the book. I don't say that often gentle readers, so pay attention. It is darker than Jane Austen, but not so dark that you feel like your soul has been stained by watching it. Also, Richard Armitage, ladies and gentlemen. He is quite perfect in all his majestic brooding glory. Go watch it, now. 

2. The Young Victoria (2009): Emily Blunt is absolutely radiant as the youthful Queen Victoria in this movie. We get to see how she rises to the throne and her growing relationship with Albert, a minor member of the German nobility. This movie is a combination love story, coming of age story, and political thriller. I could seriously watch this movie over and over again just for the costumes and locations; they are breathtaking. However, my favorite part is the real husband and wife relationship that Victoria and Albert portray; its just wonderful. 

3. Jane Eyre (2006): I know, I know. Someone who loves Jane Austen cannot also love Jane Eyre since that would be defecting to the enemy camp. Jane Austen will always be my first and best love. However, Jane Eyre is a truly wonderful Gothic romance, and the 2006 miniseries is the best adaptation of the novel, hands down. This adaptation is deliciously creepy, but manages to avoid the pitfalls of the horror genre. Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are perfectly cast as Jane and Rochester, and there will never be an equal to their pairing. 

I hope you all enjoyed my short list of period dramas! Do you have any other period dramas that should be added to this list? Have you seen any of these productions? What are your thoughts? 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jane Austen Merchandise

Did you know that such a thing as a Jane Austen action figure existed? I wasn't aware until recently, but I will certainly be trying to track one down. She even comes with a quill, writing desk, and small copy of one of her works. I'm pretty sure owning one of these would solidify my nerd status for eternity. However, I'm okay with that.

There is a lot of other fun/cool/weird Jane Austen merchandise out there. Some of it I own, and others I wish I possessed. I've compiled a short list of these items.

I was recently given this beautiful, fantastic, glorious, perfect (have I used enough adjectives yet?) scarf by a wonderful and dear friend. It has the scene at the end of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzie and Darcy are discussing how he fell in love with her printed on it. It's soft, classy, and a perfect accessory to lots of outfits. I'm going to be that English teacher who wears their favorite book as a scarf someday, and I could not be more excited about it.

Yes, Pride and Prejudice the board game does exist, and yes, I do own it. Don't judge me.
Think of it as "The Game of Life" 19th century Jane Austen style.

Every year my grandma and grandpa buy me a new calendar, and the past couple of years have been Jane Austen themed. It's like they know me or something. This is very similar to the one I have this year. I love the charming illustrations from an edition of the book in the late 1800s, they bring the book to life in an incredible way.

Gorgeous pink leather bounds of Jane Austen's entire canon. So feminine and pretty, but still useful. I do not own these, but they are on my wish list. How beautiful would these be in my house library? Now I just need to find and own a house that has a library.

This bag speaks for itself. It's definitely on point. If you have a Janeite in your life, you should get her this.

That's my short list of Jane Austen merchandise. Do you all know of anything else that should be added to this list? If you are not an Austen fan, what nerdy merchandise do you own? We all have something.

Disclaimer: These are not advertisements. I just think this stuff is super cool.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The 200th Anniversary of Emma

Romola Garai as Emma in the 2009 BBC miniseries
This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Emma. Now, its not until December 25th, but since Emma is one of my favorite novels, we are going to talk about it this week. 

Before she started the novel, Jane Austen said, "I'm going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." Then she proceeded to write one of the greatest novels in the English language. 

The first line of the novel captures that statement and sets the tone for the rest of the novel:
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

Emma is practically perfect; her only downfall is that she knows she is perfect. Therefore, she spends the entire novel trying to arrange other peoples' lives since she believes she is a model matchmaker. She royally messes up everyone's lives and her own in the process; and the hilarity and awkward situations commence. What I think makes this book so loved is the growth the reader sees in Emma from the beginning of the book to the end. Everyone is at least a little annoyed by Emma at the beginning, but we cheer for her to become a better version of herself through the course of the book. 

Cool old copy of Emma

Fun fact about the publishing of Emma: The Prince Regent at the time was a huge fan of Jane Austen, so much so that he demanded that she dedicate Emma to him. Jane hated the Prince Regent, so she settled for a satirical and pompous dedication. "To his Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, this work is, by his Royal Highness's permission, most respectfully dedicated, by his Royal Highness's dutiful and obedient humble servant, The Author." Every time I read this I can imagine her writing this and smirking as she does it. 

Clueless: Cher and her crew

Emma has spawned many adaptations and retellings, such as the popular 90s movie, Clueless. It also has been remade into a web series called Emma Approved. It was made by the same people who created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (you can read about my obsession with them here). 
You can check out the first couple of episodes of Emma Approved on YouTube here. I promise you that they are Simply Austen approved. 

Besides actually reading the novel, my favorite (and the most faithful) adaptation is the 2009 BBC mini series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller as Emma and Knightley. It honestly might be my favorite Jane Austen adaptation ever. It's that good. 

Have you ever read Emma? Did you like it? Have you ever seen any of the adaptations? Which ones?