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?

Monday, March 2, 2015

My Favorite Austen Men

I'm not going to lie to all of you. This statement is true for me.
Mr. Darcy was my first Jane Austen love since I discovered Pride and Prejudice when I was 13, so that automatically makes him my favorite. He is intelligent, handsome, and the kindest man on earth. There is a reason that almost every woman in the world is in love with him. If you are not, you're wrong.

But it is not just Mr. Darcy whom I admire. There are two other very special men of Jane Austen's creation who I think deserve more credit than they receive.

Mr. Knightley (Emma)
Knightley is perfect because he is the perfect balance of sarcasm, intelligence and charm. He loves Emma through everything and shows that the best love can grow out of friendship. "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."

Captain Wentworth (Persuasion)
 *Sigh.* He waits for Anne for SEVEN years, even when she was persuaded to reject him the first time. If that isn't commitment and love, I don't know what is. "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you."

Darcy, Wentworth and Knightley are my top three favorite leading men. For those of you who have read/seen Austen, do you agree with me? Who is your favorite? Who would you put in a top three?

For my gentlemen readers, who are your favorite leading ladies?

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries leading ladies

Gentle readers, I have something pretty special to share with you all today.

Four words: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

I discovered the series my freshmen year of college when one of my friends (ahem, Veronica) told me that I had to watch it if I liked Pride and Prejudice. I was mildly intrigued, and started watching the first couple of episodes on YouTube here

Then I was hooked. 

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern day multimedia storytelling of Pride and Prejudice. They posted new three to six minute episodes every Monday and Thursday for a year, so the characters and story were developed in real time. All of the characters had active twitter accounts as well, and they interacted with each other and the fans. Mondays became one of my favorite days of the week simply because I knew whenever I got back from my 11a.m. class, there would be an update from Lizzie Bennet of what had happened to her over the weekend, and the crazy shenanigans that were happening in her life. 

Lizzie and Jane impersonating Darcy and Wickham in costume theater

What made this award winning series so special was the genius modern update of the plot. They were very faithful to the events that happened in the book, but they tweaked them enough to be entirely believable in a modern context. The actors were also top notch. I was skeptical because it was a web series, but these actors embodied their characters so well that I laughed, cried and cheered with them every step of the way. I may have sobbed for a while after the series ended.

This web series is modern, fresh, and laugh out loud funny. I can't tell you the number of times when I fell out of my chair because I was laughing so hard at one of the costume theater productions (pictured above), Lydia's crazy antics, or Lizzie's hilarious descriptions of the people around her. I was also extremely impressed by the excellent storytelling methods they used to help move the plot along. 

It won an Emmy. You have to watch it now.

I highly recommend everybody watch this series! I have heard from many people that after watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, it makes reading Pride and Prejudice that much easier. So if you struggle reading Jane Austen, this may be the help you need. Even if you are just looking for a good laugh and a study break, this series can provide it. Trust me, this is one show you do not want to miss. 

*WARNING* There is a good chance that you will get sucked in and won't resurface for two weeks. Now you can't say I didn't forewarn you.

Have you all ever watched web series? What did you think? Have any of you ever seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries before? What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Thoughts on Death Comes to Pemberley

As a rule, I generally don't like period Jane Austen fan fiction, sequels, what ifs, etc.

However, that doesn't mean I won't ever read or watch them; I'm just selective. I feel like the characters belong to the author and therefore should be treated with the utmost care. I suppose I am a bit of a purist.

Consequently, I wasn't expecting to like Death Comes to Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. When I saw the TV series would be on PBS last fall, I was skeptical but willing to give it a try. I never could say no to a period costume drama.

Here is a short synopsis *without spoilers* of the plot for those of you who need it:
Elizabeth and Darcy are happily married at Pemberley six years after the events of Pride and Prejudice.   They are planning to host a ball, but everything is disrupted when a murder is committed in the Pemberley woods, and the notorious Wickham is discovered at the scene of the crime, claiming he is innocent. Darcy and Elizabeth must overcome the crisis and solve the mystery in order to save Pemberley, their family, and their relationship.

Kinda corny and silly, right? That's what I thought.

I could not have been more surprised.

I was blown away by the beautiful locations, tight plot, intriguing mystery, and (mostly) believable portrayal of the characters I have come to know and love for years. Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys did a fantastic job showing what Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship could be like after six years. There was a real and comfortable love that grew with the series. At first I thought they both looked a bit old for their roles, but I grew to appreciate both of them because of their superior acting abilities. Jenna Coleman stole the show as hysteric Lydia; her somewhat sympathetic portrayal of the character may be my favorite ever. I was not expecting to like the new characters who were added, but a few of them became some of my favorites in the series. They did change some of the canon characters from the original, which I didn't like, but I suppose nothing can be perfect.

I would highly encourage everybody to watch it; I believe it is currently on Netflix and a few other video streaming sites. However, if you are a newbie to Jane Austen, make sure you watch or read Pride and Prejudice before you indulge yourself.

I have not read the novel by P.D. James which the TV series is based from, but be assured that it is on my very long Must Read List. Have any of you read it? How does it compare to the TV series? Also, what are your thoughts on fan fiction? Yay, nay, or ehh?

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Formal Introduction

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl in possession of a project, blog and twitter, must be in want of an audience.

A little introduction about me: I'm an English and Education double major at a small college in Missouri. I watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice when I was 12, read the classic book immediately after, and never looked back. Now you could say I'm simply obsessed with Jane Austen.

My hope for this blog is to share the genius of Jane Austen and to have fun while doing it.

So, to begin this blog correctly, let's talk about Jane Austen movie adaptations.

Since Valentine's Day is this next weekend, what better way to celebrate than to watch a Jane Austen adaptation? Whether it's with your significant other, or with your girlfriends, you just can't beat the wit and heart of Jane Austen and her characters.

Here are three suggestions for this weekend, in no particular order:

1. Pride and Prejudice (2005): This movie is beautiful, lush and intelligent. It's also under two hours. Fair warning, this movie did trigger my Jane Austen obsession. I may or may not have pretended I was Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet for a couple of days afterward.

2. Emma, BBC miniseries (2010): This is by far the best adaptation of what I think of as Austen's most well written work. Romola Garai personifies silly yet clever Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon contribute strongly to this hilarious and fresh miniseries.

3. Persuasion (2007): This movie is vibrant, deep, and emotional. Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones capture the longing and heartache of lovers wanting a second chance. Have tissues ready for this one.

What other Jane Austen adaptations would you like to watch this coming weekend?