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.
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)
Tags: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Everything Austen Challenge, Jane Austen courtship, Jane Austen dating, JAne Austen mating rituals, Laurie Viera Rigler, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, Stephanie's Written Word
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"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)
Tags: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Society of North America, JASNA, JASNA AGM, Laurie Viera Rigler, Oprah's Book Club
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by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
[This is my guest post for Jane Austen Today.]
What? No more weekly doses of Austen on PBS? Fear not, my fellow addicts. Help is here. All you need to do is follow this ten-part program.
Re-reading Austen's six novels (or reading them for the first time) will of course play a big role in this program. Ah, but what accompanies each read will make your experience even sweeter.
1. Try Northanger Abbey for your first post-Masterpiece read. Why Northanger Abbey? One reason could be that it was the first of Austen's novels to be accepted by a publisher—who then couldn't be bothered to publish it. Idiot. Thumbing your nose at such stupidity is one reason to read it first. Another, even better reason, is that NA's a fun way to shake off the post-Masterpiece blues.
• After you read the book, see what it's like to be Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey. How? Drive or walk around your city or town and pretend you are seeing it from the point of view of someone who has never been there and finds it fascinating and exciting. See? You're experiencing your world like Catherine experienced the city of Bath. If you're hard pressed to find something exciting or fascinating about your world, go into the nearest flower garden and learn to love a hyacinth. Or just think about how a young woman from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century might respond to some of the modern technological wonders you take for granted. Like hot showers, for example. Flush toilets in every house. Mascara. Tampons.
• Then, top off your newfound sense of wonder and appreciation for your world by firing up your DVD player with the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey* starring J.J. Feild and Felicity Jones. There. Aren't you feeling better already?
• *Ready for more? Try the 1986 adaptation of Northanger Abbey. Though it's unpopular with a lot of Janeites, you might, like me, find it entertaining.
2. Read Sense and Sensibility.
• After you close the book on Elinor and Marianne, imagine what happens next. (We all know these characters are real and keep living their lives after the books end, don't we?) Here's a fun situation to ponder: What happens the first time Edward and Elinor go to London and have dinner at Edward's mother's house—and are sitting across the table from Lucy and Robert? What do they talk about? Imagine Elinor sitting in the drawing room after dinner with Mrs. Ferrars and Lucy. And here's another one to consider: Should Marianne, or Mrs. Dashwood, ever confront John Dashwood about his broken promise to help them financially? If you were to write that speech, what would you have Marianne say? Or should the Dashwood ladies let John's own guilty conscience do all the work?
• Now that you've survived all those Dashwood/Ferrars family reunions, reward yourself with a screening of the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility (1995)* And while you're at it, order yourself a large pizza, chocolate cake, and/or a trough of margaritas. Yes. This program is definitely working.
3. Read Pride and Prejudice.
• After you read the book, imagine that you are Elizabeth experiencing your first visit to Rosings as Mrs. Darcy. (Lady Catherine has cooled down by now and consoles herself by hoping that her nephew will be so fortunate as to become widowed at a young age and redeem himself by taking a second wife, i.e., Anne de Bourgh.) Amuse yourself by observing the gyrations of Mr. Collins when he and Charlotte join the Rosings party for dinner. As Elizabeth once said to Mr. Darcy, "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."
• But wait, there's more. It's time to watch the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P mini again (one can never watch it too many times), and/or the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley, depending on whether your idea of Mr. Darcy is Colin Firth or Matthew MacFadyen or both. The 1995 mini is a great excuse to have a pajama party (where I grew up, we called them slumber parties). And one is never too old to have a slumber party. Send the kids away for sleepovers and banish any curmudgeonly significant others. Then, bring in lots of goodies, because five hours of viewing requires a great deal of fuel. There's all that fencing and swimming and dancing and taking refreshing turns around the room. I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it. No matter which film you watch (or even if you watch both), be sure to buy the soundtrack of the 2005 film and play often. It's stunning.
4. Read Mansfield Park.
• Even if you're a reader who can't quite warm up to Austen's heroine Fanny Price (I feel your pain, but do give her some time; she grew on me after awhile), you can have a lot of fun thinking about how this book could have ended but didn't. For me, that's the most fascinating, thought-provoking aspect of Mansfield Park. As Patricia Rozema, director of the controversial 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, put it in her screenplay, "It could have all turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn't." With that in mind, imagine what would have happened if Edmund had married Mary Crawford, and if Fanny had given in and married Henry Crawford. Happy marriages? Reformed rakes? Or a disaster?
• As compensation for the lack of a truly satisfying Mansfield Park film (see below)*, you get to watch the lovely 2007 BBC mini of Sense and Sensibility instead. I know, it's Sense and Sensibility, not Mansfield Park, and you just saw it on TV, but who cares? It's worth seeing again. It'll make you feel good. And isn't that what this program is all about?
*I'm one of the minority of Janeites who liked the 1999 Patricia Rozema adaptation of Mansfield Park, but I liked it more as a story inspired by Mansfield Park than as an adaptation per se. Rozema's rendering of Fanny Price is more like the director's idea of a young Jane Austen than the protagonist Jane Austen wrote for Mansfield Park. And Rozema's vision of the story's subtext is pretty dark. But then again, the book itself is perhaps the least "light, and bright, and sparkling" of Austen's works. By the way, there is a fascinating article on this film by Kathi Groenendyk in JASNA's journal Persuasions: As for the latest adaptation that aired on PBS, it has such a truncated version of the story that one wonders how anyone who didn't read the book could figure out what's going on. Mrs. Norris, Fanny's main nemesis, has mysteriously turned into a bland creature. And Fanny Price looks entirely too 21st-century and wears cleavage-baring day dresses (none of this is the fault of the actors, but still). As for the 1983 BBC mini, the heroine is more faithful to the book than its companions. However, while the principal actors are unquestionably talented I couldn't quite see some of them in their roles. And it's got that static, video-on-a-stage feel of early BBC productions that I find challenging to watch.
5. Read Emma.
• After you finish the book, play a little game called "Emma, Reformed Matchmaker." You'll need to play with a single friend (preferably a single friend who would like to be in a couple). Each of you sits down and writes a list of qualities that your friend's perfect, future mate should possess. Do not reveal what is on your lists until both of you are finished writing. Now share. You may be surprised to find that your lists differ greatly. When you read your friend's list, refrain from exclamations of horror unless one of the items on that list includes "must be incarcerated in a maximum security prison." Now, give your list to your friend to take home with her. Tell her she is free to cross out whatever she doesn't like on your list and keep whatever she does like. Or burn the whole thing. If she cares to share her final list with you, you may keep your eyes open for appropriate candidates and discreetly point them out to her. That's "point them out," not shove them in her face. Remember, you are "Emma, Reformed Matchmaker." If your friend doesn't care to share her final list, then graciously wish her all the best in finding her dream partner and promptly change the subject. Then, take her to Ford's (or local emporium of your choice) to buy a new dress. Or draw her picture. Without a potential mate watching the proceedings. See? You're a better, happier human being already.
• Now that you've had a successful run at self-improvement, Jane Austen-style, you deserve to have an Emma film festival. That's three very clever films indeed: The Kate Beckinsale/Mark Strong-starrer, the Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam movie , and the brilliant Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone and directed by Amy Heckerling. Three fabulous films means you get to invite at least three friends over to have a viewing party or slumber party. And stock up on provisions, for a private screening of three films, without sitting down to supper, [would be] pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women.
6. Read Persuasion.
• After you finish the book, amuse yourself by imagining whether or not Mrs. Clay will indeed become the next Lady Eliot. If she does, will Anne and Frederick, or any of her family, ever visit Sir William and Lady Eliot? How will Mary's health survive it? Or Elizabeth's pride? Or on a pleasanter note, will Capt. Wentworth allow his wife on board his ship? If so, what exciting places will Anne visit?
• Watch the lovely, 1995 adaptation of Persuasion starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Optional: the 2007 version of Persuasion. Although Austen's story is compressed into a scant 93 minutes in the latest version, this one is also worth watching, particularly if you love Rupert Penry-Jones as much as I do. Besides, the DVD restores the small but significant bits that were cut from the PBS broadcast.
7. Join the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and mingle with fellow Janeites at local and national meetings. I know what you're thinking, and yes, the rumors are all true. It's a cult. We have a secret handshake. We aim for total world domination. Okay, you can stop sweating now. I'm kidding. Really. JASNA is a community of warm, welcoming, fun-loving people who love Jane Austen and love getting together and talking about their favorite author with like-minded people. Like you. There are local reading groups (think Jane Austen Book Club, but usually with more than just the six Austen novels), regional get-togethers with fascinating speakers, entertainment, and delicious food, special screenings for members, and annual general meetings (AGMs) in a different city each year with talks and panels and workshops and English country dance lessons and a banquet and a Regency ball. At my first AGM I thought I'd died and gone to Austen heaven.
8. Watch a film that's so life-affirming and joyful that it merits a place of its own on this list: Bride and Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha's Bollywood-meets-Hollywood tribute to Pride and Prejudice. It's way better than a year's supply of antidepressants or a gallon of Absolut martinis. Hint: This one merits a party or at least inviting one friend over to watch with you. First, order in Indian food. Then, before popping in the DVD, unearth floaty scarves from your wardrobe or nearest accessory emporium, and keep them on hand to wave around while you dance along with the various musical numbers. Be sure to buy the soundtrack and play it in your car or on your iPod while commuting to work the next day. I feel better just thinking about it.
9. Now that you've got that Indian groove thang going, try English country dancing. Then you can watch all the movies set in Jane Austen's time again, and at the ballroom scenes you can dance along. There are many places to learn English country dancing, and from my experience, the people are friendly and welcome beginners, and there's no need to bring a partner with you. Some dance societies hold regular dances and even annual balls. In Southern California, check out Vintage Dance & History. Nationwide, go to the English Country Dance Webring and the Country Dance and Song Society.
10. Finally, take a trip back in time to Regency England. No, I haven't lost my mind. I have, however, written a novel that will transport you to 1813 England. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is the story of a modern L.A. girl and Austen fan who wakes up one morning as an Englishwoman's in Austen's time. As of April 29, Confessions comes out in paperback, which means the fare to Jane Austen's world becomes even more affordable.
Posted at 12:38 AM in Austen Addiction, Austen movies, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Emma, English Country Dancing, Film, Food and Drink, Games, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), Literature, Mansfield Park, Masterpiece PBS, Music, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, The Jane Austen Book Club, TV | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Complete Jane Austen, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Today, Laurie Viera Rigler, Masterpiece Theatre
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by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (http://janeaustenaddict.com)
(This post also appears as a guest post on About.com's Classic Literature blog.)
It was only about six years ago when I looked at pictures of empire-gowned members of the Jane Austen Society of North America and said, "I'll never be one of those people who dresses up in costume and goes to a Regency ball. Isn't that a bit like going to a Star Trek convention and wearing Vulcan ears?"
Lesson #1: Whenever you say, "I'll never be one of those people," what it really means is that you already are one of those people. You just don't know it yet.
Lesson #2: It all starts with English country dance lessons. You know how they talk about gateway drugs? Well, English country dance lessons, my friends, is the gateway drug.
I went to my first dance lesson at the 2004 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA AGM) , which took place in my part of the world, i.e., Los Angeles. Learning English country dance was, after all, part of my research for my novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which is about a modern L.A. girl who wakes up one morning as a woman in Austen's time. Dance lessons were as legitimate a pursuit as attending the various lectures. Or so I told myself. How could I, in all good conscience, write a dance scene if I had the opportunity to dance and passed it up?
Then came the JASNA ball itself that Saturday night in 2004. Sure, I didn't wear a costume; lots of people didn't. But I danced every dance and not only did I have a blast, I also discovered that English country dance, which in the movies looks like people are merely parading about and posing like peacocks, is actually quite a workout. I also found that when I looked at the women in their gowns this time, I experienced costume envy. I too wanted to wear a dress and pretend I was Elizabeth Bennet dancing with Mr. Darcy. Wouldn't my turns and steps look ever so much more elegant in a Regency ball gown than in black velvet pants? No, I told myself, I won't give in. Costumes are where I draw the line.
Since then I have attended two more JASNA AGMs and two more JASNA balls. Still in contemporary dress. But the turning point came when I attended something last year called the Jane Austen Evening, which is not a JASNA-sponsored event. At the Jane Austen Evening, which is organized by the Society for Manners and Merriment, almost all of the attendees are in costume. Unlike the JASNA balls, where everyone is there because they are Jane Austen readers, the attendees of the Jane Austen Evening appear to be a mixture of Jane Austen readers, period-dance aficionados, people who are into historical re-enactments, and combinations thereof. You can imagine the costumed glory of these folks.
Lesson #3: No one is immune to the costume bug. Case in point: At this year's Jane Austen Evening, I was in the powder room where a number of women were primping. One of them, who was in her early twenties, said to a friend, "I can't believe I'm doing this. I'm actually a t-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl." Another woman, who was perhaps forty and in a gorgeous bright green gown, said, "How about me? I'm an airline mechanic."
You can't make up that kind of dialogue.
Lesson #4: English country dancing can heat you up in more ways than one. The best thing about going to the Jane Austen Evening last year was the fact that I went with my husband Thomas, he who had previously informed me that Regency dancing was the most fundamentally uncool activity he could imagine, and that it would be a cold day in hell…you get the picture. But when the girlfriend who was supposed to go with me couldn't make it, Thomas gallantly offered to take her place. Even took English country dance lessons with me. And that's when I realized that not only is English country dancing a good workout, it's also pretty hot.
It's one thing to dance with one of your girlfriends or some random guy you're not interested in. It's quite another to stand up with the man you find most agreeable in the whole world, the handsomest man who ever was seen, the man who has a noble estate in Derbyshire, I mean, Pasadena. It was then that I truly got why all that serious courting went on at balls in Jane Austen's novels, and why women longed for a dance. Not only was it pretty much the only genteel outlet for vigorous exercise, aside from walking and horse riding; it was the only place that a young man and woman could spend lots of seriously flirtatious face-time with each other. All that eye contact and hand touching and display of bodies was highly charged, and all done with the full sanction of society. No wonder the women were fanning themselves. It was after going to that ball with Thomas that I expanded the ballroom scene in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. As for Thomas, he had such a good time that this year he decided to invite a group of friends to go with us.
At last year's Jane Austen Evening, I wore a long skirt under a knee-length, empire-waisted dress, in a sort of poor man's imitation of a Regency gown. This year, I decided, I would cross the line for good. And so I had a gown made for the occasion. I even had my hair done (admittedly more like big prom hair than authentic Regency hair, but more of a period look than my usual flat-ironed style).
Bring it on, I said. There's no difference between me and those guys who speak Klingon to a friend of mine whenever she ventures into the sci-fi section of her local bookstore. I may not speak Klingon, but I can dance Mr. Beveridge's Maggot like Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle did in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I am a Jane Austen addict, and my version of Vulcan ears is a scarlet silk-taffeta empire-waisted gown.
If you'd like to learn English country dance and you live in Southern California, visit lahacal.org for lessons near you. (You can also link from there to the Jane Austen Evening site.) If you're in another part of the U.S., you can try the English Country Dance Webring; or just do a Google search with the keywords "English country dance" and your geographical area, and you're sure to find something nearby.
And if you'd like to join a warm and welcoming community of fellow Austen addicts, visit the Jane Austen Society of North America at http://jasna.org and find out where your local region meets and what events are going on throughout the year. As for the AGM (and that famous Saturday night ball), this year's event will be held in Chicago.
By the way, the most important thing that the JASNA AGM balls and the Jane Austen Evening have in common, aside from dance and costume, is the abundance of warm and welcoming people. So if you're shy with strangers or don't have a partner to accompany you to these events, never fear.
(I came across a YouTube video of folks dancing the Sir Roger de Coverley at the Jane Austen Evening, and there I am in the foreground dancing with my friend Alice. Video by Larry Buckel. He and his lovely wife Carin helped organize the event:)
Posted at 03:32 AM in Blogs, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Costume, English Country Dancing, Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), Regency England | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, English country dance, Jane Austen ball, Jane Austen Evening, Laurie Viera Rigler, Regency ball, Regency dance
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