Friday, September 23, 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone writing about Jane Austen must start out with that phrase.

So here's where I was this week:

I figured out how to do captions!

More on what I was reading by that pool in the next post.

I, like all other 25 year old women, am trying to save money and also lose weight, so I went to the airport thinking in a self-congratulatory way that I was very smart to have eaten a sandwich and packed a library book before I left home. Of course by the time I reached my gate I was carrying a McDonald's value meal and the latest issues of Allure and -- oh, the irony -- Cooking Light.

Best laid plans, etc. If there's a better way to pass a short flight than by reading about makeup and listening to dancey pop I don't know about it. It all turned out for the best, though, since there in the middle of Allure was a fairly long article about Jane Austen. As they say at AustenBlog, she's everywhere!

Get ready for some literature.

To be honest, I do not expect good things from an Austen article that has a big picture of Keira &$*%ing Knightley at its top and appears in a magazine with "Rock & Roll Hair!" as a major headline. The little teaser subheading is also pretty cringey with its "Jane Austen expertly dissected the social networks of her era" and its "she's more relevant than ever". But! Many apologies and kudos to essay author Liesl Schillinger, because this was actually quite good. And, for the record, she does not start out with the "truth universally acknowledged" business but rather like so:
Have you ever asked yourself what Jane Austen might have thought of you if she'd known you? It's tempting to think you would number among her heroes and heroines... But what must it have been like for the English women and men of her era who read her novels and guessed that they were caricatured in her pages--perhaps as a naive country girl (Harriet in Emma), a calculating social climber (Mrs. Clay in Persuasion), or a deceitful frenemy (Isabella in Northanger Abbey)?
Setting aside the use of the word "frenemy", which I do not condone, this is exactly what I like to see. It's all too easy to focus on the love stories, but the real accomplishment in Austen's novels is that she gets all these various characters, good, evil, and silly, just exactly right.

Schillinger says she first read Austen at age nine, and every time she's read (and re-read) the books she's marked the initials of friends and family in the margins next to passages that remind her of them. This isn't something I'd ever think of doing, but it sounds really sweet, particularly when she describes re-reading a book and being reminded of what her life was like the last time she read it.

Of course, we know that Schillinger is Good People when she says that Persuasion is her favorite. Persuasion is my favorite too -- arguably it's the favorite of anyone who's read all six (she says snootily). It's hard to resist the idea that all your wishes will come true in the end, that your regrets can be undone with time. And even though that aspect of the story might seem too "fairy-tale" to be realistic, Persuasion still might be the best example of how "rooted" Austen's romances are. For Austen, people are part of a society; they have real circumstances and connections and limitations. There's no riding off into the sunset, and while love can conquer many things it can't necessarily conquer all. Of course, my own interpretation of Persuasion is that Anne wasn't wrong in refusing Wentworth, and while she regrets it from the heart and with hindsight can see that it would have worked out, rejecting him was, at the time, the only sensible thing to do. But that's me.

Anyway, I will be back on Monday to tell you about my new pal, Anthony Trollope.


  1. Have you ever asked yourself what Jane Austen might have thought of you if she'd known you?

    That thought has haunted me for many years...

  2. I don't think she'd be very impressed with me.


    Also, Persuasion WAS my favorite, but now it's Emma. :/ Because once you've read the love story once, it's after that.

    One of the few times McDonald's can be condoned is at an airport, so you're good.

  4. YAY.

    Ooh, Emma. I think a more accurate way to describe my favorite Jane Austen book would be "whatever book we're discussing right now, except not P&P or S&S or Mansfield Park".

    Somehow I've gone from only eating McDonalds at the airport to not being able to go to the airport without eating McDonalds, and I'm only a little bit sad about that.

  5. Alice told me to read your blog so here I am. Also because your blog title and these post titles make me happy. I'm still confused by Allure covering Austen cos really? Maybe it has to do with the Special Issue thing.

    Anyhoo I like the idea of comparing Austen characters with people you know in real life, although I don't think I'd do it. I'd feel like I was doing homework and is this person really a Mrs. Dashwood and what a jerk I am to think that. Or they're a jerk to be that way and for me to realize it a la Austen.

    That was ramble-y so I'll stop now.

  6. Hooray! Welcome!

    Yeah, I guess I always thought Allure was one of those girl magazines that didn't pretend to be about anything other than makeup, hair, and clothes. I respect that in a magazine; if I want Deep Thoughts about politics or relationships or whatever, I will find some sort of reputable source, thanks.

    I've read books and thought about how the characters/situations are similar to my life, but I don't know if I'd ever articulate it to the point of being able to say "I'm this person, and she's that person..." But the article makes this all sound very sweet and normal, so good for her.

  7. YEAH. I recommend GOOD blogs. Bam!