It takes me about three minutes of cocktail party chat to sell The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After as the perfect graduation present to any father of a young woman in her teens or early twenties. Why? Well, they're men, and they love their daughters. They know male psychology from the inside, and they're terrified that the young women they care about -- educated and polished, extraordinarily competent in so many ways -- will lose in the battle of the sexes. Not in education, or sports, or the world of work, but in the bedroom.
Good to see this in a prominent place. Echoes much of what I've been thinking for a long time about the relationship wisdom of Austen's novels. And gave me new things to think about:
For example, I would not have thought it an advantage that the large parties and lack of one-on-one contact of Austen's day was an advantage in getting to know a man. But Kantor brings up a very valid point: "Keep enough distance so you can see the guy in perspective...without getting so close that they became prematurely "attached."
My interpretation? Instead of falling into bed on the first or the fifth date, you get to see him in action at a large, public event, such as a picnic (Mr. Knightley at the Box Hill fiasco), or a dance (Mr. Knightley gallantly asking Harriet to dance), or at a party (Willoughby acting as if he hardly knows you and paying his attention to another woman).
Anyhow, THE JANE AUSTEN GUIDE TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER sounds great, and I'm happy that someone wrote it!
It's that time of year again, when women feel like total losers for being single or wait for their men to pass or fail the big Valentine's Day test. Will he screw up and totally forget, buy a cheap trinket instead of the one thing he knows you want, or, even more stressful and high stakes, will he finally pop the question?
Could there be anything more insane than this holiday that's supposed to be all about love?
I was watching the GREY'S ANATOMY Valentine's Day episode today, and one of the characters was a florist who was so exhausted and stressed from the V-Day rush that he accidentally crashed his delivery van into the ER.
Almost dying in service to Valentine's Day madness was a big wake-up call to this florist, who said he would never stress himself out over this holiday again:
"People call you up you know, they ask you, make something beautiful. Yeah, so some sorry schlep can forget they've been treated like crap every day of the year…Like my flowers are magic or something. But I bought it. Nearly killed myself trying to make sure everyone got their little miracle. What a joke. People oughta just stop being so awful to each other, you know? Leave me out of it."
My biggest takeaway from that speech? "People oughta just stop being so awful to each other."
Not bad advice. If we were good to the people we supposedly love every day, we wouldn't have to prove our love on that one day of the year. We could be more like Jane Bennet of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, or Catherine Morland of NORTHANGER ABBEY, or Anne Elliot of PERSUASION. In Austen, kindness is always rewarded, and often with love. Could there be a better recipe for happiness than that?
[Gazing at photos of gorgeous actors playing Austen heroes can also be quite helpful.]
One thing's for sure. Feeling entitled to love, or a certain type of bouquet, or a necklace, or a diamond ring, is a sure recipe for misery.
Just ask that lady in GREY'S ANATOMY who was furious at her admittedly clueless boyfriend for once again giving her a velvet jewelry box on V-Day without a ring inside. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. It's worth watching.
And so is almost every Jane Austen adaptation ever made for the big or small screen. So if you don't expect to get that perfect bouquet, piece of jewelry, or declaration of love today, be kind. To others. To yourself. Fire up the Blu-ray or the Netflix queue and watch BRIDE AND PREJUDICE or the Colin Firth P&P or the Gwyneth Paltrow EMMA (just a few of my faves) or PERSUASION with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Even better, read PERSUASION (my favorite Austen novel) or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or NORTHANGER ABBEY or, let's face it, any of the six. You'll feel much better, I promise.
Be happy. And wish yourself a very happy Valentine's Day.
Posted at 02:35 AM in Austen movies, Austen Wisdom, Emma, Film, Good Works, Jane Austen, Literature, Love and Marriage, Men, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Relationships, Television | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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Do you turn to a favorite novel for escape? Check out my guest post on Fiction Therapy at the Chick Lit Central blog, and enter the giveaway:
Two lucky winners will each receive a personally inscribed copy of RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT.
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Please join me on May 21 at 2 PM at the Sierra Madre Public Library for a fun-filled afternoon. I'll be talking about Austen's timeless appeal and the genesis of my two Austen-inspired novels. Which could be considered semi-autobiographical, if they did not involve time travel and body-switching.
Hope to see you there! That's 2 PM, May 21. In whichever century you like.
Sierra Madre Public Library, 440 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA
Posted at 06:44 PM in Austen Addiction, Austen Wisdom, Austen-inspired books, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Austen, Libraries & Librarians, Readings & Talks, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Sorry, but this is truly my least favorite holiday. I loved it when I was a kid and it was all about giving everyone in my classroom one of those sweet paper valentines that came in boxes of 30 or so, with a special one for the teacher. And Conversation Hearts candies.
But when I reached dating age, it was all about whether I had a boyfriend or not. And later, whether I had a husband or not. And what he did to mark the occasion. And whether it was good enough. And what I was supposed to do. And somehow a holiday that was supposed to be all about love became all about pressure and vanity and feeling bad about myself. Yuck.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a romantic, through and through. I just think that celebrating love should be something I do every day, and not something I have to prove--or have it be proved to me.
So where does Jane Austen come in? She is the perfect remedy for your Valentine's Day blues. Read one of her novels and celebrate love. When you're finished, you will close the book and feel good about yourself. And you will believe that if it's not there for you now, it will be. Very soon.
Here's a little treat from PERSUASION, my favorite Austen novel (and then do take the WHY I HATE VALENTINE'S DAY POLL below, just for fun):
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it... Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.
Today is Jane Austen's 235th birthday, and each of the bloggers listed at the end of this post, including myself, are posting tributes and challenges and offering lots of fabulous prizes.
Leaving a comment here = one chance to win. The more blogs on the tour you comment on (see list below), the more chances you have to win.
My part in the Jane Austen Birthday Blog Tour begins today, 12/16, and ends Wednesday 12/22 at the stroke of midnight, PST. Other bloggers on the list may end a bit earlier or later. All bloggers will submit the names they draw to our host, who will draw the winners from those names on 12/23.
To enter my giveaway, please leave a comment below. And if you're inspired to do so, feel free to include your birthday wishes to Jane Austen .
Here are mine:
Dear Miss Austen,
On this occasion of your 235th birthday, I would like to thank you for all the wisdom, laughter, and insight that your stories provide. Your words have been a constant guide and an abiding inspiration in my life.
I wish that you could know how many millions of people you have made happy with your stories. I wish that you could see the films that have been adapted from your books. I wish that you could read all those sequels, continuations, and inspired-bys. And I wish I could buy you a birthday drink* (or seven) to help you over the shock!
*By the way, did you know that there's a drink named after you? They say it can be quite a restorative.
With gratitude I remain your humble servant,
Laurie Viera Rigler
LIST OF BLOGGERS PARTICIPATING IN THE AUSTEN BIRTHDAY BLOG TOUR:
Adriana Zardini at Jane Austen Sociedad do Brasil
Laurel Ann at Austenprose (who created the Austentini recipe)
Vic Sanborn at Jane Austen's World
Katherine Cox at November’s Autumn
Karen Wasylowski at her personal blog
Laurie Viera Rigler (that's me) at Jane Austen Addict Blog
Lynn Shepherd at her blog
Jane Greensmith at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing
Jane Odiwe at Jane Austen Sequels
Alexa Adams at First Impressions
Regina Jeffers at her blog
Cindy Jones at First Draft
Janet Mullany at Risky Regencies
Meredith at Austenesque Reviews
and our host, Maria Grazia, at My Jane Austen Book Club
Books – (signed copies):
Posted at 12:05 AM in Austen Wisdom, Blogs, Books, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Contests/giveaways, Film, Food and Drink, Jane Austen, Literature, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict | Permalink | Comments (77) | TrackBack (0)
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Check out Part 2 of my interview at the lovely Maria Grazia's blog, My Jane Austen Book Club, in which I talk about--you guessed it--Jane Austen, SEX AND THE AUSTEN GIRL, and the Austen Addict novels.
Speaking of which, enter a comment with your email address at My Jane Austen Book Club, and you will have a chance to win either a signed copy of RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, or a signed copy of CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT.
Enjoy, and good luck!
Posted at 08:00 AM in Austen Addiction, Austen movies, Austen TV series, Austen Web Series, Austen Wisdom, Austen-inspired books, Blogs, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Contests/giveaways, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, Sex and the Austen Girl | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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I am reading a lovely book by my friend Debbie Tenzer, called DO ONE NICE THING. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by all the suffering in the world and felt powerless to do anything about it, this book will help change all that.
Because there is something you can do. Even if you're as
busy as most people are in this crazy multi-tasking overly scheduled world.
Even if you don't have deep pockets.
From grocery shopping for a sick friend to organizing donations of canned goods to a local food bank to making a $25 micro-loan that changes a life in a remote part of the planet, there are dozens of accessible Nice Things that you can do in this book.
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen? Aside from the fact that in my world, everything has something to do with Jane Austen?
A lot, actually.
Jane Austen had plenty to say about everyday acts of kindness towards our fellow humans. Ladies of Austen's class were expected to care for the poor and relieve their sufferings through gifts of food, money, and clothes, and through personal visits to needy families in the parish.
But that didn't mean one had to be a saint then--or today--in order to Do One Nice Thing. Nor did one have to be a saint in Jane Austen's day. Consider the vain, deluded, matchmaking-obsessed heroine of EMMA. Helping those in need is one of the qualities that make her loveable in spite of her flaws:
Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse.
Even the relatively impoverished, disabled Mrs. Smith in PERSUASION was making thread-cases that she sold in order to help those less fortunate than she.
Contrast that with the selfishness of Elizabeth Elliot in PERSUASION, who, upon hearing that her family is in debt and must make reductions to its customary state of luxury, responds as follows:
Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardour of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy, to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new furnishing the drawing-room.In Jane Austen's world, kindness did not end with charitable acts to one's neighbors. Care for the well-being of one's friends and family was as essential then as it is today. Which is why the selfish and miserly John and Fanny Dashwood of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY are comic figures as they debate John's deathbed promise to his father to help provide for the dying man's widow and three daughters.
Says Fanny Dashwood of the widow and children's financial
"Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something."
Despite Austen's skewering of the selfish and miserly, she
is always practical in her sensibilities. Take this line from Emma:
"If we feel for the wretched, enough to do all we can for them, the rest is empty sympathy, only distressing to ourselves."So stop distressing yourself and do something. Just DO ONE NICE THING. Start here. Start now. You'll feel so much better. And more important, you will spread happiness to others. And they to others. And so on.
And read this piece in the Telegraph by Jay McInerney entitled Beautiful Minds: Jane Austen's Heroines, in which "Jay McInerney, novelist and ladies' man, describes his serial crushes on Jane Austen's heroines - and how they shaped his romantic life."
December 16 is Jane Austen's birthday, and I wish that I could give her a present. I wish that I could thank her for all the joy her work has given me. For every time I re-read one of her novels, I revel in the pure pleasure of a well-loved tale. But along with the familiarity is ever-unfolding discovery, for these are stories that are all about human nature, its beauties as well as its follies.
And isn't there always something new to learn about ourselves and those around us? That's the beauty of Jane Austen. As she put it herself via her heroine, Elizabeth Bennet in her most famous book, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, "...people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever." The same is true for her novels. There is something new to be observed in them for ever.
What would Jane Austen say, I wonder, if she knew that at the age of 234, she would be as young and fresh and relevant to her devoted readers of the twenty-first century as she was when her first published novel, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, delighted readers in 1811? I imagine she would be pleased with her immortality, for who among us has never had a wish to live forever? I do believe, however, that Jane Austen has achieved something far greater than immortality: She has made millions of people happy.
What better way is there to celebrate this day than to spread some of that happiness around? That, and maybe curling up with one of her novels.
I just read JULIET, NAKED by Nick Hornby who, along with Zadie Smith, is my idea of a contemporary Jane Austen. Both Hornby and Smith make profound observations of human nature, give us romance without sentimentality, have a divine sense of humor, and are simply masterful storytellers. In my writing workshops I inevitably read passages from various Hornby novels and Smith's ON BEAUTY as examples of the best in contemporary fiction.
For this reader, JULIET, NAKED brought to mind some of the online discussions that occur amongst Austen's most devoted readers. A central premise of the book is that no matter how much the admirers of an artist's work examine that work, study it, parse it for meaning, and become "experts," they can never acquire irrefutable proof that the creator felt a certain way or had a particular type of experience at the time she created it. Bottom line is it's nothing more than speculation. And speculation is often wrong.
In JULIET, NAKED, one of the characters, Duncan, spends a good deal of his time on a web forum holding forth on the hidden meanings and nuances in the songs of a rock singer-songwriter named Tucker Crowe, who mysteriously dropped off the grid back in 1986, causing his small band of devoted followers to speculate endlessly on why he left and what's been going on in his life since his disappearance. And most of all, what was behind JULIET, the album that Tucker was promoting when he dropped out of sight. Annie, Duncan's girlfriend, puts up with Duncan's obsession, but when Duncan posts a review of a newly released album of JULIET demos—an unadorned set of tracks that the fans dub JULIET, NAKED, Annie decides she's had about enough of Duncan's prosings about Tucker's genius. And so she posts her own review. And, miraculously, she is rewarded with a correspondence from the real Tucker Crowe, who periodically reads Duncan's forum and chuckles at the inaccurate conclusions therein.
I've often wondered what Jane Austen might say about the assertions, online and otherwise, about what she did or did not mean when she wrote a particular line or character because of what she did or did not experience or feel. Because, after all, no matter how much we think we are experts on Austen, it is really all just speculation. No one but Austen can know what she meant, felt, believed, or experienced at any given moment in time. No one but Austen could tell us if a certain character espouses Austen's own beliefs. And it is never a given that an author believes what her protagonist believes. Or that what happens in a novel resembles what happened in the author's own life. Even Austen's letters—like all letters--are just snapshots of the moment she wrote that letter, and thus only indicate what she felt or believed at that given moment in time. We cannot even take the words in those letters at face value, for the reader of much of them, her sister and closest friend, Cassandra, would get the ironies and subtext and in-jokes and tone in a way that we can only dream of—and speculate about.
One thing we can be sure of—and this is the greatest gift of any great storyteller or songwriter: The words and music and characters and stories that we love have deep meaning for us, based on our own personal experiences, beliefs, and aspirations. That is how we make these most beloved works our own. As Karen Joy Fowler said very wisely in her novel, THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, "Each of us has a private Austen." Or in Nick Hornby's JULIET, NAKED, a private Tucker Crowe.
Do read JULIET, NAKED—it's a beautiful, funny, thoughtful book.
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NORTHANGER ABBEY is, sadly, perhaps the most underrated book in the Austen canon. It is also becoming one of my favorites. (In truth, they are all my favorites.) The more I read and re-read this novel, the more I appreciate its humor, its heart, its wise commentary on human nature, and the lessons it provides, not only for those coming of age as teenagers, but those of us who are coming of age at any stage of life. And its famous defense of the novel form is worth the price of the book.
The heroine of NORTHANGER ABBEY, Catherine Morland, reminds me to see the world anew through the eyes of someone who is anything but jaded. Her innocent and naïve belief that people say exactly what they mean is both poignant and refreshing.
Experience is a great teacher to Catherine, and so is the irresistable hero of the book, Henry Tilney, who embodies all that is best about an Austen hero, or indeed, any hero: humor, compassion, and intelligence.
How could a young girl (or any woman) not fall in love with Henry Tilney?
I love NORTHANGER ABBEY so
much that I decided to make it the next subject of my Twitter experiment, i.e.,
I've decided to tweet the entire novel, 140 characters at a time, just as I did
(and had so much fun doing) with PERSUASION.
[I'm in the minority for sure, but I love this version as well. It stars Catherine Schlesinger and Peter Firth, who later became the fabulous Harry of my favorite thriller series, MI-5 (Spooks in the UK).]
Here are the first eight
chapters tweeted thus far. To read them as they come out, follow me on Twitter.
To read them in periodic digest form, check this blog periodically or subscribe
to its feed. When I finish tweeting the entire novel, I will post it on my
Tweets of Chapters 1 through
8 of Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY:
In the meantime, if you'd like to read the Twitter version of Jane Austen's PERSUASION, go here.
"From fifteen to seventeen [Catherine] was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read"
Yet Catherine "had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen" anyone worth falling in love with."
Indeed, Catherine had never "inspired one real passion" herself, only "very moderate and very transient" admiration.
"But when a young lady is to be a heroine,…something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way."
And so Catherine accepts the invitation of her neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. Allen, to travel with them to Bath.
For "if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad."
Catherine's "heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind."
"When in good looks, pretty -- and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is."
But instead of warning Catherine about noblemen who seduce young girls, Catherine's mom only advises her to dress warmly.
And on the journey, "neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero."
When they arrive at Bath, Catherine is "all eager delight… She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already."
1st they shop. Mrs. Allen, Catherine's host, tho' good-natured, has "a trifling turn of mind" and a passion for clothes.
Finally, Catherine's first ball in Bath: Crowded, not a friend in the room, and not a chance of being asked to dance.
Yet, at the end, she hears "two gentlemen pronounce her to be a pretty girl"—and so the evening is not a total loss.
At the next ball, Catherine even gets to dance. Her partner is Mr. Tilney, who, "if not quite handsome, was very near it."
"There was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her."
Tilney mocks the empty words that men & women must say when first they meet--& Catherine is unsure if she should laugh.
"I see what you think of me," said he gravely -- "I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow."
& "I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms…was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man…"
"Indeed I shall say no such thing." T: "Shall I tell you what
you ought to say?" C: "If you please."
T: "I danced with a very agreeable young man… seems a most extraordinary genius -- hope I may know more of him."
T: "That, madam, is what I wish you to say."
C: "But, perhaps, I keep no journal." T: "Perhaps you are not sitting in this room, and I am not sitting by you."
Mrs. Allen interrupts, worried she might have torn a hole in her gown, a favorite tho' it cost only nine shillings a yard.
"Particularly well…my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day."
is impressed. "Men commonly take so little notice of those things…what do
you think of Miss Morland's gown?"
is very pretty…" said he, gravely examining it; "but I do not think
it will wash well; I am afraid it will fray."
can you," said Catherine, laughing, "be so ----- " She had
almost said "strange."
prattles on, Tilney politely answering, & Catherine wonders if he's having
just a little too much fun w/Mrs. Allen's silliness.
Still, Catherine ends the night with a definite wish to see him again. Whether she dreams about him that night is unknown.
For "it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her."
Next day, Mrs. Allen runs into a friend, Mrs. Thorpe, whose daughter Isabella befriends Catherine. Tilney’s a no-show.
It seems Isabella knows Catherine’s brother, James Morland. He and Isabella’s brother John are college friends.
Catherine's so happy w/Isabella that she almost forgets Tilney: “Friendship is...the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."
Still no sign of Henry Tilney the next day. But at least Catherine can distract herself with gothic horror novels. “Yes, novels.”
For “if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?”
“Let us leave it to the Reviewers to…talk…of the trash with which the press now groans… Let us not desert one another.”
“We [novelists] are an injured body…Our foes are almost as many as our readers…”
“There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist.”
"Oh! it is only a novel!”…”only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed…”
It is only a work that displays “the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties…”
It is only a work in which “the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
Novels ease the pain of MIA Tilney. Says Catherine, "while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable."
Meanwhile, Isabella schools Catherine in the mysteries of men: One must " treat them with spirit, and make them keep their distance."
And so when Isabella spots 2 "odious young men" staring at her in the Pump Room, she grabs Catherine & takes off in pursuit of them.
The odious young men are forgotten, for Catherine's brother James Morland arrives with Isabella's brother, John Thorpe.
And when Isabella passes the "offending young men" while walking w/Catherine, James, & John, "she looked back at them only three times."
Catherine endures John Thorpe's bragging about his horse & ignorant remarks about novels. But he does ask her to dance w/him that night.
Thorpe's late for the ball. Isabella swears she will not dance without Catherine "for all the world" but does so anyway.
Poor Catherine! Asked to dance, yet "sharing with the...other young ladies still sitting down all the discredit of wanting a partner."
Ah--there's dishy Henry Tilney, talking to a young lady whom Catherine guesses to be his sister, rather than "lost to her forever."
Henry asks Catherine to dance, & she very reluctantly says no, as she's promised to Thorpe, who shows up a moment later.
Thorpe proves to be not only inconsiderate in his lateness, but an excruciatingly boring dance partner.
Luckily Henry's sister, Eleanor, stands next to Catherine at the dance & has something intelligent and interesting to say.
Catherine no sooner escapes Thorpe than finds that Henry Tilney has tired of waiting and asked another girl to dance. Dang.
"Catherine was disappointed and vexed. She seemed to have missed by so little the very object she had had in view…"
This Twitter version of NORTHANGER ABBEY is brought to you by Jane Austen, displaying the liveliest effusions of wit and humour since 1811.
Check out my guest post on the pros and cons of courtship today vs. courtship in Jane Austen's world. It's a question I pondered constantly while writing my latest novel, RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT.
Posted at 01:51 PM in Austen Wisdom, Blogs, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Contests/giveaways, Current Affairs, English Country Dancing, Film, Love and Marriage, Regency England, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
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Valentine's Day is not one of my favorite holidays. I think of it as a holiday designed to make children happy and adults feel bad about themselves.
If you're a kid, you can exchange valentines with everyone in your class without feeling like so-and-so likes you but so-and-so doesn't. At least that's how I remember it.
But as an adult, you're either not in a relationship and feeling like a loser, or you're in a relationship and there's all this pressure about what is he going to buy me, and it had better not be something with an electrical cord. And where is he going to take me? Because it had better not be that same restaurant he always takes me to. And what am I going to buy him, and what if it's something that says I love you when he's not ready to say it to me yet?
My Valentine's Day solution? I'll bet you've already guessed it.
Yes, that's right. Read Jane Austen. Laugh. Enjoy.
Buy yourself a huge box of See's. Or Godiva. Or whatever strikes your sugared fancy.
Watch the BBC Pride and Prejudice. Or the one with Matthew MacFadyen and Keira Knightley. Or Bride and Prejudice. Or Emma. Or any one of your favorite Austen movies.
Remember Austen's greatest lessons.
Know that love is everywhere, that everything and anything is possible. After all, if you'd told Elizabeth Bennet she'd end up with Mr. Darcy, she would have abused you for your stupidity.
Know that there's always another chance for love. Just ask Anne Elliot about that one.
Know that self-knowledge and self-reflection bring great rewards. Which is how Emma ended up with Mr. Knightley. How Elizabeth Bennet ended up with Mr. Darcy. How Captain Wentworth ended up with Anne Elliot.
Most important, remember that anything and everything is possible. And that happiness is not dependent on finding THE ONE. Just ask Jane Austen, clergyman's daughter, who could have got married but chose to stay single. Jane Austen, who despite the restrictions imposed upon women of her time, despite not being part of any literary circle, despite not being rich and influential, despite being dependent on her relatives, wrote six of the greatest and most enduringly beloved novels in the English language.
May happiness be yours today and every day.
"Are you going to be on Oprah?"
This is the first thing friends and family will ask any soon-to-be-published author.
It's very sweet that our loved ones have so much faith in us. However, it's sort of like asking, "Are you going to win the lottery?"
Consider the numbers: Since 2002 Oprah has chosen anywhere from one to five books per year. Grand total so far for 2008: One book. Even in the earlier years of Oprah's Book Club, when Oprah would choose as many as eight or nine books per year, it was still a long shot. After all, there are 175,000 books published every year.
Clearly, having your book chosen by Oprah is the holy grail of publishing good fortune.The books Oprah chooses are instant #1 New York Times Bestsellers. But more important than the glory Oprah's Book Club bestows on authors is the service it does for readers, for Oprah has single-handedly done more to revitalize adults' interest in reading than just about anyone. For that we all owe her a debt of gratitude.
About a month ago, one of my readers, a lovely woman named Christina, gave me something more important to dream about than getting the call from Oprah. Christina got me thinking about Jane Austen getting the call from Oprah or, more precisely, an entire community of surrogates known as the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) getting the call from Oprah.
It just so happens that JASNA will be descending upon Oprah territory in October 2008 and would love nothing better than to bring Austen to Oprah's audience.
Why are the Janeites coming to Chicago? Every October, Jane Austen addicts convene in a different city for JASNA's Annual General Meeting. It's wall-to-wall, nonstop Austen: breakout sessions, plenary speakers, poster sessions, panels and performances, a Regency Emporium where Janeites can buy Austen-related books and other goodies (and this year, rent costumes), a banquet, and a Regency ball, complete with English country dance and a whole lot of us dressed in costume. In other words, if you're like me, you feel like you died and went to Austen heaven.
I can't think of an author more Oprah-worthy than Jane Austen. After all, Oprah has always been big on self-help and self-discovery, and in my opinion, one couldn't ask for a more comprehensive and entertaining set of self-help books than Jane Austen's six novels. Every time I read them I learn something new about myself, including discovering more ways to "make sport for my neighbors, and laugh at them in my turn." After all, it is Austen's sense of humor, coupled with her keen observation of human nature, that make her stories timeless.
Here is what Christina envisions for a special Oprah show (fears, actually, because sadly Christina cannot afford the trip to Chicago, what with gas prices being what they are, and therefore she'd miss out on being in the studio audience):
"Oprah will do a special show that week just on the Jane Austen phenomenon and have an audience full of JASNA people and give out cars and iPods to everyone—and first editions of P&P to a special audience member with the winning ticket under her seat—and have Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen [the two Mr. Darcys from the last two film versions of Pride and Prejudice] and Rupert Penry-Jones [Captain Wentworth from the latest Persuasion movie] as surprise guests—and then end the show by sending everyone to England for a Jane Austen tour!
Alas, I will bitterly watch it all on TV, green with Caroline Bingleyesque envy!"
Okay, maybe cars and first editions and transatlantic travel are a little excessive. But surely Oprah could give everyone in the audience the Penguin edition of the complete works. And the guest line-up is certainly do-able. In costume, of course.
I would suggest adding Jennifer Ehle and Keira Knightley as guests, so that the two Mr. Darcys can have their Elizabeth Bennets by their side. Hey, dueling Lizzie and Darcys! As for the JASNA folks bringing entertainment value to the mix, William Phillips, one of the coordinators of the JASNA AGM, spoke at last year's AGM, and he was brilliant--charming and funny and informative. And William is just one of the many bright and sparkling speakers and storytellers who will be at the AGM. Another thought: Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, would also be an excellent guest—brought down the house with her witty speech at the 2004 AGM.
As for me, I'll be happy to be in the audience and offer up all of my swag to the lovely Christina.
What a show. Oprah, we await your call.
Posted at 02:02 AM in Austen Addiction, Austen Wisdom, Book Clubs, English Country Dancing, Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), The Jane Austen Book Club | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
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by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (http://janeaustenaddict.com)
[This post continues my series of guest posts on About.com's Classic Literature Blog.]
Yes; I'll admit it. There have been times when I've acted a bit like Emma, the eponymous heroine of Jane Austen's novel. There have been times when I have, shall I say, ventured into the unsolicited advice department. Times when I've been so convinced of what I knew about others that no one could convince me my assumptions were absolutely wrong.
I haven't always seen myself in Emma. In fact, there was a time when I would have been offended at the very suggestion. After all, Emma is the heroine that Jane Austen said "no one but myself will much like." But the older I get and the more I re-read Austen's works, the more I begin to see myself not only as Elizabeth Bennet (and who doesn't want to see herself as "dearest, loveliest Elizabeth"?), but also as some of Austen's more flawed characters.
These "a-ha" experiences are high on the list of reasons why I love Austen. I have this theory that if you read her works enough times and really contemplate the life lessons therein, you can pretty much give up your psychotherapist. You can even reduce your library of self-help books to Austen's six novels. They are so much fun to read, so satisfying, so full of dramatic tension and hilarious commentary, that you hardly know you're getting a life lesson at all. Which is exactly how I like my life lessons delivered.
When we first meet Austen's heroine Emma Woodhouse, she is enjoying the "triumph" of what her truth-telling friend (and only critic) Mr. Knightley dismisses as Emma's "lucky guess." Said "lucky guess" is the marriage of Emma's dearest friend (and former governess) Miss Taylor. Emma, however, gives herself more credit for the match than Mr. Knightley chooses to do. Emboldened by the success of her first foray into matchmaking, and lonely for the newly married Miss Taylor, Emma takes on a new project, Miss Harriet Smith. Determined to make over the trusting and subservient Harriet into Emma's own idea of perfection, Emma decides that Harriet's current romantic interest is too low on the social scale for her new friend. Emma, in all her social consequence and omniscience, will elevate Harriet on the social scale. Emma, in all her generous solicitude for the well-being of others, will bestow upon the vicar, Mr. Elton, the perfect wife. For he would be just the right man for Harriet.
Never mind that Mr. Elton has plans of his own and that the worshipping Harriet would follow wherever Emma leads. For Emma, those around her are pawns, and she their queen. Emma, of course, fancies herself a benevolent ruler. And thus she embarks on a series of misguided adventures into high-stakes meddling in the lives of others while having not the slightest doubt of her own sagacity. Challenged by no one but Mr. Knightley, she willfully misreads and misinterprets everyone's actions. She is, in short, a character we might heartily dislike, were it not for the genius of her creator.
Austen's brilliance is about making us see the universal humanity of all of her characters. Even if we cannot see ourselves in a particular character, we most certainly have known someone like that character. From the very beginning, we cannot truly dislike the high-handed, I-know-better-than-you Emma, for she has sacrificed her own domestic comfort to her best friend Miss Taylor's interests. Mr. Knightley may call the marriage of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston a "lucky guess," but it was Emma who encouraged Mr. Weston to visit her friend, in hopes that he would eventually propose—and take that best friend away. Thus we see that under her meddling is a warm, affectionate heart. And we cannot truly dislike Emma because she patiently and without complaint—even to herself—ministers to the comfort of her hypochondriacal, self-centered, childlike father.
Most of all, we cannot truly dislike Emma because she becomes ensnared in her own machinations. And thus Mr. Knightley's wish that he "should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return " comes to pass.
(Be careful about what you wish on others, Mr. Knightley. It may just come back to kick you in the hindquarters.)
And that is all I shall say. If you have not read the book, I urge you to do so. You might just recognize that you, like Emma, find the idea of arranging someone else's life to be so much more appealing than looking at your own.
By the way, all of you who are jonesing for Austen since Masterpiece Theatre cruelly took a hiatus from its Complete Jane Austen extravaganza are in for a treat: the 1995 adaptation of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale. It airs on PBS in two parts, beginning Sunday, March 23. The Kate Beckinsale Emma is also available on DVD, as is its worthy companions, the splendid adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Amy Heckerling's contemporary take on Emma, the delightful Clueless.
by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
[This post continues my ongoing series of guest posts for About.com's Classic Literature blog]
There's something terribly exciting about taking part in a national event, be it the presidential debates or the weekly Austen-related offerings from PBS's Masterpiece. And although we Austen addicts love grumbling about the film renderings of our beloved author's work almost as much, or perhaps more, than we adore grousing over the incivilities of presidential hopefuls, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, which airs in three parts beginning Feb. 10, 2008.
Yes, my friends, there is much cause for rejoicing, for not only is the 1995 P&P longer than any of the new upstart adaptations (five hours as opposed to the scant 90-plus minutes allotted to Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, and even those were lopt and cropt for the US broadcast), it is gratifyingly faithful to text. Of course, this beloved version of P&P has five hours to do so. And let's not forget the famous Wet Shirt Scene (though truth be told, I find the Fencing Scene infinitely hotter).
Some have posited that Colin Firth and Keira Knightley (in the 1995 and 2005 P&P films, respectively) have done more to fuel these two decades-worth of Austen-mania than the books themselves. In all fairness, we must consider the relative positions of books and movies. The books, like Anne Eliot in Persuasion, live at home, quiet and confined, on shelves and nightstands, while their cinematic pretenders preen on red carpets and grab the headlines. Nevertheless, Emma Thompson said it best when she accepted the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay (Sense and Sensibility): "Everybody involved in the making of this film knows that we owe all our pride and all our joy to the genius of Jane Austen." Indeed. Were it not for the genius of Austen, there would be no Darcy and Elizabeth to play.
Pride and Prejudice is the most famous and popular of all the Austen novels. It is also arguably the most adaptable to the screen. The reasons are manifold.
On a surface level, Pride and Prejudice is a fairytale. Poor (relatively speaking) girl ends up, against all odds, living happily ever after with the rich, handsome prince. This fairytale attribute is universally appealing, as is the brilliant wit with which Austen delivers her story.
Those who see only a light comedic romance in Pride and Prejudice do, alas, miss the most important reasons for its enduring appeal. Jane Austen herself, in a letter to her sister Cassandra following the publication of P&P, comically presaged this popular misconception: "Upon the whole... I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast…"
A discerning reader will find that this story is also a story of empowerment, of control over one's destiny, and of an emerging meritocracy. For the heroine of P&P and her hero, their rewards come not merely through any advantages of birth and inherited wealth, but rather through the hard work of self-examination, revelation, and voluntary shifts in attitudes and behavior. Imagine the appeal of such a story back in Austen's class-stratified day. Consider its appeal today, in our world of make your own destiny, re-invent yourself, and hard work wins the day.
For if we, like Elizabeth Bennet, see that the very flaws that annoy us in others (in her case, the vanity and pride of Mr. Darcy) are merely reflections of our own failings, we will be rewarded. Elizabeth's vanity causes her to trust the wrong man. Her pride makes her blind to the merits of the right man. Her ultimate self-revelation and humility are painful but highly rewarding. If we, like Elizabeth, engage in the hard work of honest self-examination (as in her famous line, Till this moment, I never knew myself), the rewards are immeasurable, though they may not necessarily take the form of Mr. Darcy and Pemberley.
As for Mr. Darcy's hard work and consequent reward, is there anything more satisfying than watching "the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world" humbled by the realization that it would take a lot more than a big bank balance to win the girl? Says Darcy to Elizabeth, "You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." Hearing his confession gives us hope that maybe, just maybe, there is justice in the world.
So yes, we can let the Mr. Darcys of the world waltz into town and buy their way into our heart or business or country, or we can own our power to make them prove that their worth goes deeper than their wallet. We can be like Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte Lucas, who sells out for money and security by marrying a man she does not love. Or we can be like Elizabeth Bennet, who, like Jane Austen herself, held out for more. Did Austen regret accepting, then turning down, the proposal of Harris Bigg-Wither, a man who was, according to JASNA past-president Joan Klingel Ray, three times wealthier than her fictional Mr. Darcy? Could Austen have seen herself in Elizabeth Bennet's thoughts when, after turning down Mr. Darcy's first proposal, she tours his great estate with her aunt and uncle? "And of this place," thought she, "I might have been mistress!"
The recent PBS offering, "Miss Austen Regrets," has a great deal to say on that score. I believe that if Austen had any regrets, they were of short duration. I believe that the satisfaction of sending four of her six great novels into the world (two were not published till after her death) and maintaining a close, lifelong relationship with her sister Cassandra more than compensated for the wealth and social consequence she gave up. As Claire Bellanti, Coordinator of JASNA-Southwest points out, it is unlikely that being the mistress of Harris Bigg-Wither's great estate (well, actually three great estates) and the mother of his children would have left any time for writing.
There is something else about Pride and Prejudice that gives it timeless resonance: the human propensity to make snap judgments (and often erroneous ones) about our fellow creatures. In the novel, Darcy's coldness and reserve at a public dance results in universal agreement on the part of Elizabeth and her neighbors: He is the proudest, most disagreeable man that ever was seen.
By the time Wickham appears in the story with his tale of ill-usage at the hands of Mr. Darcy, everyone, including the reader, is eager to believe it. But like all "truths universally acknowledged," this one tends to be as false as the rest.
The parallels between the prejudices in Pride and Prejudice and our enduring predisposition to prejudge individuals and entire races of people are staggering. From our eagerness to believe gossip overheard by the school lockers to our willingness to take as received wisdom the latest rumors in the break room, we are voluntary dupes of our own, and others', false judgments. We hear about the latest celebrity meltdown or trip to rehab, and we decide we know everything there is to know about that person. We hear one presidential candidate accusing another of misconduct, and we decide we know the whole truth.
Pride and Prejudice, and its creator, Jane Austen, know better.
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(This is yet another of my series of guest posts for About.com's Classic Literature blog.)
Discuss Mansfield Park in your book club, and your friends, like most readers, will tend to differ over a variety of points. The most typical one is this: Is the heroine, Fanny Price, a model of moral integrity, or a self-righteous prude? Is the marriage that ends the story (and Austen's stories always end with a marriage) between the right two people? And what's up with that part about the play?
The story begins when nine-year-old Fanny Price is taken from the home of her impoverished parents and moved to the estate of Mansfield Park to be brought up by rich relatives. This is no clear-cut Cinderella story, however. Although there are a couple of mildly wicked stepsisters (Fanny's cousins Maria and Julia) and a stand-in for a wicked stepmother in the form of her Aunt Norris, teenaged Fanny's central nemesis—and rival in love--is the saucy, sassy anti-heroine Mary Crawford.
The object of both Fanny's and Mary's affections is Fanny's cousin Edmund (I know, I know, but in Jane Austen's day one could marry one's cousin without anyone batting an eyelid). Edmund loves Fanny like a cousin, but he is in love with Mary.
Did you ever feel jealous of someone, and at the same time also felt you didn't have the right to be jealous? Fanny, being in an inferior position in the Mansfield Park family and unloved by her birth parents, has deeply rooted self-esteem issues. Mary, on the other hand, walks through life with a serious sense of entitlement. Shouldn't that be enough to put us squarely in the pro-Fanny camp?
Perhaps, but Fanny challenges us at every turn. For example, there is the famous section of the book in which Fanny disapproves of and refuses to participate in a play that her cousins and neighbors are putting on at home for their own amusement. For this part of the story to make the least bit of sense to a modern reader, one needs to understand that this particular choice of home theatricals would be the modern equivalent of a group of teenagers voting to have a wild, high-risk party in their strict parent's house while said parent was out of town.
Despite Fanny's balking at participating in said wild party, we cannot quite dismiss her as a buzz-killing Miss Perfect. After all, she is eaten up with jealousy for a great deal of the book, and as we all know, jealousy is not a pretty emotion. She is also not one to obey those in authority at all costs. In fact, she stands up to the biggest authority figure in her life by refusing to do what she knows in her heart would be wrong, and I'm not talking about acting in a play. (I'll say no more, lest I spoil the book for those who've yet to read it.)
If you've ever had an opinion that your friends considered uncool, and you stuck to it despite ridicule and pressure, you'll find a kindred spirit in Fanny Price, and you'll want her reward to be the man she loves. However, if you're still doing shots with your inner bad girl, you'll be rooting for Mary Crawford to win the object of her, and Fanny's, affections. (By the way, Austen scholar Emily Auerbach pointed out at one of the Jane Austen Society of North America's annual meetings, that several of Mary Crawford's lines of dialogue are astonishingly similar to lines from Jane Austen's own letters.)
To make things more interesting, some readers will want Fanny to be won by Mary's rakish, heartbreaker brother, Henry Crawford, who finds himself unaccountably in love for the first time in his life. Henry doesn't seem to stand a chance with Fanny, who is not only in love with another man, but also has watched in contempt and pity while Henry toyed with Fanny's cousins, the above-mentioned Maria and Julia. It's one big love triangle. Or square. Or heptagon.
Could there possibly be a better Austen novel for book clubs to chew on? And I haven't even touched on the theories about Mansfield Park's antislavery subtext.
In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen is clearly at the height of her storytelling mastery, deftly playing with reader loyalties and expectations while serving up the delicious social satire and suspenseful plotting that keep us coming back for more.
Nevertheless, Mansfield Park presents clear challenges to filmmakers who wish to adapt it, which is perhaps why director Patricia Rozema turned the heroine of her 1999 adaptation into a synthesis of Fanny Price, Mary Crawford, and Jane Austen herself. As for the latest adaptation of Mansfield Park, which airs on PBS's Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, January 27, I am all anticipation. Let's see what the filmmakers have got up their sleeves this time.
Posted at 04:19 PM in Austen movies, Austen Wisdom, Blogs, Book Clubs, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), Mansfield Park, Masterpiece PBS, Regency England | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: 2007 Mansfield Park movie, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Austen, Laurie Viera Rigler, Mansfield Park, Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Theatre, Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park
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(This is part of a series of guest posts I am doing for About.com's Classic Literature blog.)
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
--Henry Tilney, in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
When Henry Tilney speaks these words in Austen’s funny and touching novel, Northanger Abbey, the story’s heroine, Catherine Morland, gets a serious crush. (Truth is, Henry had her at hello.) Still, Henry’s declaration is a bold one, for in Austen’s day novels were considered low art, especially if they were penned by a woman and consumed by women. Catherine favors the lowest of the low--scary Gothic novels written by women and featuring abduction, seduction, supernatural horror, and/or murder—the kind of novels that teens (and many an adult) could not get enough of.
Every era likes to marginalize certain forms of art. In Austen’s day, it was the novel (and not just the Gothic ones). Today, it might be graphic novels or romance or so-called "women’s fiction" or "chick lit" or science fiction or horror. Take your pick. Despite the snobbery, Jane Austen and her whole family were, in her own words, "great Novel-readers, & not ashamed of being so." Nevertheless, Northanger Abbey is a hilarious send-up of just the kind of horror-and-romance-fest that Catherine Morland—and Jane Austen—liked to read. The difference between the heroine and her creator is that Catherine Morland kept expecting real life to play out like one of her favorite novels, while Jane Austen thought real life had its own set of fascinating stories to tell.
Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland’s story unfolds as she leaves home for the first time, bound for the fascinating city of Bath. She falls in love, is whisked off to the romantic-sounding estate of Northanger Abbey, witnesses betrayal and deception, suspects murder, and takes a dangerous journey alone. Ultimately, Catherine learns self-reliance in more ways than one. No
t only does she cease to be, in her mother’s words, "a sad little shatter-brained creature," she also learns to distinguish between her own wild imaginings and her intuition, between fantasy and reality, between false friends and true.
Northanger Abbey is the perfect coming-of-age story, for it is in no way about giving up our youthful fancies and zest for living. Quite the opposite. Through Catherine’s innocent, exuberant embrace of what is fresh and novel (no pun intended), we the readers remember the first time we traveled to a new city, danced with the person who made us feel valued for who we are, or "learnt to love a hyacinth."
by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.
(This is my first guest post for About.com's Classic Literature Blog.)
Bringing in a New Year is all about second chances. This year, we vow, we will do it right. We have a second chance to take better care of ourselves. We have a second chance to be kinder, wiser, and better human beings. It is therefore fitting that Masterpiece Theatre’s Complete Jane Austen ushers in this New Year with the Austen novel that is all about second chances, Persuasion.
If you haven’t yet read Persuasion, you now have a second chance to do so. If, like me, you’re already a Jane Austen addict, then you’ve probably read the book several times and will no doubt do so again. If you’re not already an admirer of Austen, then you may be under the misguided impression that Austen wrote fluffy romances that were all about who got to marry the rich guy and where the stories were as archaic as the characters’ horse-drawn carriages. Not so. Granted, Austen novels always include a love story, and yes, her books do predate the four-door hybrid. Nevertheless, her characters are as real and relevant as the people sitting across from you at the dinner table, in the office, and at your favorite dance club/bar/coffeehouse/bookstore/hangout. Jane Austen was as keen an observer of human nature as you’ll ever come across in life or literature, and human nature hasn’t changed a bit since women wore bonnets and men knee breeches.
If you’ve ever felt like your family didn’t treat you the way they should; if you’ve ever been misunderstood, misled, or misguided in any way, then Persuasion will speak your language. If you’ve ever yielded to the opinions of others over what your heart told you to do, if you’ve ever given up someone because you were told you had to, if you’ve ever wasted even a tiny bit of this short life holding onto resentment instead of opening up to forgiveness and love; then you will get your second chance to make things right with Persuasion.
Persuasion is the story of Anne Eliot, who has never got over a romantic disappointment she had when she was 19 years old. She has little support from her ruin of a family, which consists of a vain, widowed father and a self-centered, caustic older sister. Eight years before, Anne had fallen in love with and got engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a bright, earnest young man whose lack of money and career prospects set Anne’s status-conscious family against the marriage. Her surrogate mother, whose advice Anne trusted above all, persuaded Anne that the only right thing to do was to give up the engagement. Now, eight years later, Anne’s family is in financial trouble, and Frederick Wentworth, now Captain Wentworth, is back in town and rich from the spoils of the Napoleonic Wars. Problem is, he’s never forgiven Anne for breaking his heart. In fact, he proceeds to flirt with other women right in front of her.
Is it man’s nature to forget the woman he loves sooner than woman forgets man? Is an invariably determined person any wiser than an easily persuadable one? And most important, will Anne and Frederick ever get what they really want? Persuasion is a page-turning, heart-stopping story that I’ve read at least twenty times, and I find something new and illuminating in it with every reading. It is also, like all of Austen’s novels, filled with delicious social satire and wickedly funny moments.
Still not persuaded? How about this suggestion: If the latest Persuasion film doesn’t send you running for your nearest bookstore (and I hope it will), then rent the 1995 version directed by Roger Michell and starring Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root. If you do, I guarantee you will not be able to resist having that book in your hands. And as an added bonus, the book has the best love letter of any novel you’ll ever read. So good you’ll want to commit it to memory. (“Tell me not that I am too late…”)
It’s not too late to read Persuasion. Take your second chance. And Happy New Year!
Surrender to your Austen addiction at janeaustenaddict.com.
About two months ago I was obsessively checking my amazon.com sales ranking (I'm told this is a common addiction among newly published authors and that sometimes said authors must be hauled off to rehab) when I came across a gem of a customer review, entitled "Austen Addict Needs Rehab." This title was not, in fact, as serendipitous as it appeared, as I discovered when I read the first two sentences:
Laurie Viera Rigler should resign her membership in the Jane Austen Society. I don't see how anyone who admires Austen's work could associate that great author's name with this tripe.
I happened to be in a fairly confident mood that day, and so I was able to laugh it off. After all, I knew when I was working on this book that should it ever be published, it was likely to arouse the ire of some and the approbation of others, Janeites being a particularly passionate bunch. And if I've learned anything from my years of reading Austen, it's the importance of laughing at myself.
So, aside from the absurdity of the reviewer's proclamation, how was I able to resist the temptation to take any of this personally? Glad you asked. I'd have to say that other external forces of a positive nature, such as finding out Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict debuted on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list and several good reviews made this call for my resignation from JASNA seem a trifle, even an amusing one.
Inevitably, all highs wear off. It could be that (a) you get a bad review. Or (b) you're having a hard time zipping up your jeans. Or (c) that cute guy who lives across the street didn't smile back at you. It doesn't matter, of course, that (a) the reviewer simply didn't enjoy your book but did enjoy making herself look clever at your expense. Haven't you ever done that in private conversation? The only difference is that newspaper reviewers get to be catty in public. It also doesn't matter that (b) you happen to be premenstrual AND ate pizza for the last three days, so of course your jeans are tight at the moment; and (c) that cute guy across the street wasn't wearing his glasses and didn't see you smile. In fact, he didn't even know that blurry blob across the street was you.
Nope, none of that matters whatsoever. By the time you've been through (a), (b), and (c) and who knows how many other imagined slights, you're ready for some more self-flagellation. Let's see--what would hit the spot? I know! Let's check our amazon.com ranking. No. This cannot be true. It just shot up 5,000 points in four hours?? How is that possible? Does my book really suck? Is it all over? Am I the biggest loser on the planet?
But wait, there's more: Surely the answer to the question of whether or not "L" must be stamped on my forehead awaits me in the review section of my book's buy page. Let me scroll down a bit and--NO--not another bad review. This one is so awful ("I chose this book for my book club pick. I was so NOT impressed that I am going to tell the other book club members not to waste their time") that I feel compelled to re-read the one that says I need to resign from JASNA.
And you know what? This time I'm not laughing.
I've thought about this descent at length, and I've come to the conclusion that something has to change. And you know what? It isn't my membership status in JASNA. In fact, since then I've become a life member.
No, what needs to change is me. My habits. My beliefs. Was I going to allow other people to determine my happiness based on something as inconsequential as whether they love or hate my work?
After all, is my book any better or worse than it was because of the good review? Or the bad review? Of course it isn't.
All I know is this: If I sit on the praise/criticism seesaw, I'm doomed to the inevitable down after going up. Anyone ever see a seesaw stand still with someone at the top?
I've decided to find my happiness elsewhere. I've also decided to stop making devil's bargains with myself. To wit: I am a master at all those "If only this happens, I'll be so happy" wishes. At first it starts out with: "If only I had an agent for my book, I'll be so happy." Well, I was/am. But then it turned into, "If only I get a publisher for my book, I'll be so happy." Then it's "If only the book gets a good review, I'll be so happy," and "If only it sells a lot of copies, I'll be so happy." Have I kept any of those promises? Only temporarily. All it takes to make the seesaw go down is the first bad review, drop in sales figures, too-tight jeans, or imagined slight from my neighbor.
So here's what I choose instead: I choose the happiness that comes when I practice gratitude for all the blessings in my life. I choose the happiness that comes when I'm giving a reading and my sole mission is to make the people who came to see me happy. I choose the happiness that comes when I delight in the pure joy of creating a strong scene or a funny moment. I choose the happiness that comes from whatever comes.
Failure, I've decided, is not an option.
May happiness be yours to keep.
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[You can read my guest post here or on Book Club Girl. In any case, check out Book Club Girl, a priceless resource for anyone who has a book group, wants to start a book group, or just loves to read. ]
I was en route to Jefferson, Texas to give a reading of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict to the Pulpwood Queens Book Club when
the flight attendant announced that he wasn't quite sure our landing
gear was working. There probably wasn't anything to worry about, he
said, though I later learned that the Shreveport Fire Department was
out in full force to greet us just in case. Hands gripping the armrest,
I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, "Why did they have
to tell us that?" She shrugged. And so I said some prayers and then
went back to my book; I was reading Emma.
If those last twenty minutes of flight time were to be my last twenty
minutes alive, I would go down reading Jane Austen. Sure enough, Austen
took me out of myself, out of my fears, and into Highbury, where Emma
danced with Mr. Knightley at the Crown. And before I knew it, the plane
was safely on the ground.
Like the protagonist of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict , I use Austen as comfort, guidance, and a cure for a host of ills that come with modern living. Unlike her, I found myself transported not to Regency England, but to Beauty and the Book, the headquarters of the Pulpwood Queens, and the only beauty salon/bookstore in America. Their motto? "Where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule!" At Beauty and the Book, bookshelves lined with must-reads face racks of RedKen products, and stacks of the club's monthly picks are flanked by hairdryers. Tiaras and other rhinestone goodies are also on offer. One thing that struck me was the absence of gossip magazines, the typical reading fare of hair salons. Then again, there is nothing typical about Beauty and the Book. If you want to read while you're getting your hair done, there are plenty of choices, but they don't include accounts of celebrity divorce and who made a fashion faux pas on the red carpet.
At the meeting, book club members, most decked out in tiaras, some sporting the club's signature hot pink T-shirt, seat themselves in hairstyling chairs to tuck into fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and other Southern delights they've cooked specially for the occasion. Kathy Patrick, the original Pulpwood Queen and author of the upcoming Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, is the charismatic and benevolent ruler, making announcements, encouraging everyone to fill a plate and get comfy. This group is here to have fun, but first and foremost it is there to fulfill Kathy's mission, which is "to get the world reading."
And so the readings and discussions began. This month there were two selections, and so I not only got to read and discuss Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, I got to meet Masha Hamilton and listen to her read from her wonderful novel, The Camel Bookmobile, as well as hear about the real Camel Book Drive she's launched as a result of writing her book.
When the last bite of chocolate pie had been consumed and the last of the tiara-wearing Queens filed out the door, Masha and I were in for yet another treat: hair tips from Kathy, who showed us some cool tricks for last-minute special looks. As I left this enchanted place, I wondered, What would Jane Austen think of Beauty and the Book and The Pulpwood Queens? I'm convinced she'd love them. For one, the Pulpwood Queens live up to what Anne Eliot said in Persuasion: "My idea of good company... is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation." The Queens are definitely my idea of good company--truly a delightful group of women who were full of questions and stimulating ideas. As for their Jefferson, Texas venue, I am reminded of the circulating libraries of Austen's day, often fashionable places where patrons could borrow books for a fee, and which also sold jewelry and other trinkets. If they had offered hairstyling, too, they might have been nearly as perfect as Beauty and the Book.
Book Club Girl Here: Laurie, this sounds like it was great fun and I'm glad you got to meet Masha Hamilton too! I grabbed some photos from your site and here's a link to all the rest of them.
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[BS: The great thing about Jane Austen fans is the myriad of reasons they come to Jane. Some come for the clothes, stay for the satire. Others seek the social skewering but discover the empathy. And, yeah, there a few who figure if it's good enough for Colin Firth... Today, we welcome Laurie Viera Rigler, whose novel Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict captures the beauty of loving Jane while indulging in the ever-tantalizing "what if"]The decision to write Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict wasn't exactly a decision. It happened like this: I was standing in the kitchen of the house I used to rent in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, and I saw, in my mind, the opening scene of my book unfold. I saw a twenty-first-century woman who, like me, reads and rereads Jane Austen's six novels. Unlike me, she wakes up one morning in the body and life of an Englishwoman in Austen's time. I couldn't stop thinking about her, and finally I decided to write down what I saw. Once I opened that door, there was, of course, a good deal more to her story.
[BS: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is available at bookstores right now, and Laurie Viera Rigler's website is a treasure trove for fans of Jane, ready-to-become fans of Jane, or just people who understand the value that comes from wasting time on a really fun site. Laurie is also making appearances in support of her novel.]
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Just finished reading "Sense and Sensibility" for the umpteenth time and something caught my attention this time. It's a pre-London scene in which Colonel Brandon asks Elinor if Marianne still holds to her belief that one can never have a second attachment. It occurred to me this time that perhaps he's not asking in hopes that maybe someday Marianne will return his affection, as I had assumed in previous readings. Perhaps he's asking it because he is in a state of wonder over the very fact that for the first time since loving, losing, and mourning his Eliza, he actually finds himself forming a second attachment. And maybe he hopes to gain some insight into his own feelings by asking Elinor to talk about Marianne's favorite maxim. I'm going to put out this question on the Janeites list and see if anyone has a theory about this.
I'm also wondering, as I have wondered many times before, how exactly Mrs. Smith found out that Willoughby fathered Eliza Williams's child and abandoned her. It wasn't exactly common knowledge, so how would a reclusive old lady learn of it through some mysterious relative that Willoughby alludes to?
Another question for one of my Austen listservs, while I'm at it...
Welcome to the janeaustenaddict blog. I’m hoping you’ll click on the Contact page of my site or post a comment to this blog and tell me about your own addiction to Austen.
To get you started, I'll tell you a little about my own ungovernable passion. At any given season of the year, I am reading at least one of Austen’s six novels. I cannot imagine ever not wanting to re-read Austen. Why? Aside from the lure of the exotic--carriages, English country dancing, and men in tight knee breeches--there is the comfort of the familiar. Knowing that Anne Eliot will always pierce Captain Wentworth’s soul and that Lydia Bennet will be stuck with George Wickham for the rest of her life makes everything right in my world.
Knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t make reading the book for the umpteenth time any less exciting, and herein lies the true allure of Austen. Every time I read one of her novels, I learn something new about myself and about the people in my world. Jane Austen is the keenest and funniest observer of human nature of any author I know. In fact, that is what makes her books timeless, despite the bonnets and balls and carriages. Human nature hasn’t changed a bit since Austen’s day. “But,” as Elizabeth Bennet said, “people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.” That is why I can read Pride and Prejudice twenty times and get something new out of it every time. I am a different person before each reading, and by the time I reach the end of the book I am changed by it yet again.
And then there are the movies. They may not be as true to the books as we Janeites wish they could be, but we sure love the eye candy. I know I do. It's enough to make me wish I could transport myself into that world, that is, the clean, sparkling, Hollywood version of that world...
The Roman Baths in Bath: a portal to another time?