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.