Seasonal Reads: Pride and Prejudice

Do you ever find yourself coming back to a certain story at a certain time of year?  I often re-read books during a specific month or season that I feel is inextricably tied to the book.  Here’s what I’m reading right now to get in the spirit of the season.

 Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

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Pride and Prejudice is probably the non-YA novel that I’ve reread the most.  I have multiple copies of it, and it was one of the few English novels I took to Spain with me during my study abroad.  I’ve even psychoanalyzed its characters.

For me, spring is a wonderful time to re-read P&P.  The story takes place over the course of a year, so really any time is a good time, as all seasons contain some significant event, from Mr. Bingley’s arrival at Michelmas, to the Gardiners’ summer trip to Derbyshire.  The beginning of April brings one of the defining moments of the story, Darcy’s ill-fated proposal to Elizabeth at the parsonage at Rosings.  It is a perfect “Act II” moment, the low point in their relationship, but it becomes the starting point for change and growth in both characters.

I also associate the book with spring because that’s when I first read it in my junior year of high school.  It was not actually my first Austen novel (I’d read Emma two years before), but it is the book that made me a Janeite.  For my Brit Lit class, we had to do a multimedia group project, and one girl in our group was a talented artist, so we painted a big movie-poster-style piece of Elizabeth with Darcy and Pemberley in the background.  I admit it was heavily inspired by the 1995 BBC miniseries, of which we watched all 6 VHS tapes, borrowed from the library, as we worked.

As the prototype of modern rom-coms, P&P is ultimately a happy, optimistic book–I think that’s another reason I enjoy reading it in spring, a time of new beginnings.  Despite its cutting depictions of characters such as Lady Catherine and Elizabeth’s parents, and its sardonic quips about societal expectations, it still seems full of hope.  It never fails as a pick-me-up, and hence I will keep rereading it whenever I’m in need of some cheer.

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Brief Book Reviews (summer 2014)

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A general guide for ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

In reading order:

Insurgent and Allegiant (Divergent sequels, Veronica Roth) 3/5–I’m going to give this series overall a solid 3/5.  I really like a lot of the ideas the books had, but the execution was lacking, especially in terms of prose and plot.  I liked most of Tris’s story arc, but I don’t believe the efforts of the group at the end of Allegiant would have had any meaningful impact on the world at large (as Tris and Four do).

Seraphina (Rachel Hartman) 5/5— This book is magical.  Dragons masquerading as humans, Renaissance music, and a slow-building love story.  I stayed up all night to finish it.  The writing, characters, and world building (especially the religious aspects) are exquisite.  I love the way Seraphina is described as “prickly;” I think a lot of my favorite female protagonists fit this description.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) 4/5–Another great YA fantasy.  I love love love the setting; something about the Spanish/Latin influences really resonated with me.  I really enjoyed the way the story went in some unexpected directions, and there was still plenty of adventure and romance.  The main character Elisa was good, though not my favorite, and I still don’t like first-person-present-tense narration.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Longbourn (Jo Baker) 3/5–This is the first Pride and Prejudice “spin-off” book I have ever read; I guess I like writing fanfiction more than reading it.  This story takes place during and after P&P from the servants’ viewpoint.  The connection to the original is intriguing but sometimes tenuous, and some of the Austen characters show a different side of themselves here.

The beginning was a bit slow, then I really liked the middle part as the love story kicked in, and then the last third went off in another direction entirely and petered out.  The war in Spain was interesting (maybe I just liked it because she mentions Salamanca?), but after that I really lost interest.  Downton Abbey fans especially may like this one as it has some similar themes.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) 3.5/5–This book was extremely well-written.  I just think I am about 10 years too old for it.  I did not like the main characters; if I met Hazel or Gus in real life, I doubt I would be friends with either.  Hazel thinks V for Vendetta is a “boy movie,” and Gus pushes a friend to egg his ex’s car.  I just can’t even.

John Green, I am so sorry.  I think you are awesome, and I’m sorry this book made me roll my eyes and not cry.  Don’t feel too bad, I felt the exact same way about Catcher in the Rye (and I was even 17 when I read that one).  Also, I want you to know that when Hazel and Gus have that ridiculous conversation about their food in Amsterdam, in my head I heard you and your brother Hank saying those lines to each other and I laughed out loud.

The Golem and the Jinni (Helene Wecker) 4/5–At this point, I was really ready for some grown-up books.  This debut novel takes mythical creatures from Hebrew and Arabic traditions and plops them in turn-of-the-century NYC, making for a wonderful combination of historical fiction and fantasy.  There are some very interesting twists and turns, and many great side characters in addition to the two titular main characters.

Leviathan Wakes (James S.A. Corey) 4.5/5–This sci-fi thriller/noir combo is pretty intense at times. The beginning blew my mind and it just kept going from there; I was saying “Holy shit!” out loud at least every few chapters.  The characterization is wonderful–my favorite scene was actually towards the end of the book where the ship’s crew is just having a meal together.  I’m pretty sure this book has just about everything you could want in a space opera.  I can’t wait to keep reading this series (called The Expanse).

Even Jane Austen’s mom agrees with me about Fanny Price

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that Mansfield Park is my least favorite Austen novel, particularly because I dislike Fanny Price.  It seems I am in good company, because Austen’s own mother found Fanny “insipid.”

The British Library has made available Austen’s record of comments made by family and friends about Mansfield Park and Emma.  In her iconic hand, she records direct quotes (probably from letters?) and more generally commentary, some possibly relayed secondhand.  Many of the commenters compare the work to P&P (Pride and Prejudice) or S&S (Sense and Sensibility), which are probably still her most popular works.

Rebecca Onion has a nice transcript here on her The Vault blog for Slate (don’t worry–this article is worth reading, unlike the last one I linked from Slate).

It seems many people enjoyed the “Portsmouth scene,” in which Fanny visits her family and is visited in turn by Henry Crawford, which I admit is a highlight of the book for me.

It also seems that many people either like Fanny, or like Mrs. Norris, but no one seems to like them both!  I obviously fall in the Mrs. Norris camp.  My real complaint with Fanny is that she is so judgmental.  And, she’s in love with her cousin.  Gross.

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Austen’s own family gave fairly unvarnished opinions (above).  But I personally find critique less harsh coming from people that really know me, so she may have appreciated the constructive criticism.

Austenland

AustenlandAustenland is a fun little book by Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors) about a women obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, to the point that she take a trip to “Austenland,” a Regency-themed retreat at an English estate.

It was made into a movie last year, but had a limited release, so I only just saw it on DVD (my library actually has it!).

I thoroughly enjoyed it, but this is not a movie for everyone.  It stays firmly in the rom com category, and the “rom” part is a little thin, while the “com” part tends to the ridiculous, over-the-top variety.  I was dying through most of the movie, but my husband thought it was the kind of movie he was happy to see only once.

Austen fans will catch not only the obvious Colin Firth-as-Darcy cardboard cutout, but also the references to plot points from Persuasion (poor sailor suitor returns rich) and Mansfield Park (the play the group puts on).

Another thing I love about this movie is that it was headed by 3 women, a rarity in Hollywood: written by Shannon Hale and Jerusha Hess, directed by Hess, and produced by Stephanie Meyer, also a friend of Hale’s.

Jerusha Hess co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite with her husband, and that movie is an excellent litmus test–if you liked its absurd humor, as I did, Austenland will more likely be to your taste.

The casting is great:

  • Keri Russell: Always likable.  She’s a little bland here at times, but has some great moments.
  • JJ Feild: Has actually played an Austen leading man–Mr. Tilney in BBC’s Northanger Abbey
  • James Callis: Gaius Baltar. Enough said.
  • Jennifer Coolidge: Shannon Hale had her in mind for the role of Miss Charming from the beginning.  Her typical style of improv in on full display here, and she’s not even the most over-the-top in her performance.
  • Jane Seymour: And her sister plays her maid!
  • Rupert Vansittart: Played the wonderfully indolent Mr. Hurst in the 1995 P&P miniseries.   Currently in GoT as Bronze Yohn Royce.

If Austenland doesn’t sound appealing, but your gf/wife/otherwomanyoudon’twanttooffend has you captive, I propose the Austenland Drinking Game: Take a drink for every oddly-placed taxidermied animal you spy.  You will be so far from sober by the end that I’m sure the movie will be infinitely more enjoyable for you.

200 years of Lizzy+Darcy

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

To think that Jane Austen could have predicted “The Bachelor.”

Pride and Prejudice was first published 200 years ago today, and yet Austen’s keen insights into the human psyche are still as applicable as ever.  I first read it in my junior year of high school, and since then I have re-read it many times.  I even took it to Spain with me.  I see something different every time.  The first time, I read it from Lizzie’s perspective.  The next time, from Darcy’s.  Another time from Jane’s; after all, she is the character I am most like.

After I read the book, I checked out the 6-tape VHS set of the 1995 BBC adaptation (yes, Colin Firth) from my dad’s library; my friends and I watched all of it straight through while working on our class project.  My husband prefers the 2005 Keira Knightly version because “Matthew MacFayden is such a good Darcy.”  I agree.  But what I think he really means is, “Thank God my wife’s not making me watch Colin Firth jump in the lake again.”