osprey_archer: (books)
I enjoyed Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home so much that, rather than take advantage of DC's multitude of museums (they've got a postal service museum, you guys! A MUSEUM ABOUT MAIL), I spent a large proportion of my day in DC reading while ensconced in a cafe with a pot of Earl Gray tea at one hand and a chocolate croissant in the other.

It's just a very pleasant book. It's probably not the deepest study of Austen ever (I could have done with a bit more about the books themselves, although it is probably unfair to wish a biography were literary criticism), but it's light and engaging. And Worsley has a good eye for when Austen is being sarcastic in her letters, which (given that Austen seems to be have been sarcastic just about every other sentence) seems to trip people up.

Also, in Lyme Regis, Worsley actually stayed in the selfsame lodgings that Austen inhabited all those years ago. I'm so impressed by the way she melds the experience of being there now with what we know of those places in the past - so you get a very powerful evocation of what it might have been like ("powerfully evocative" does not always mean "accurate," I know, but it's nonetheless a pleasure to read.)

And she's so unobtrusive about the fact that she stayed in THE VERY ROOMS were Jane Austen stayed. I would be screaming it from the rooftops, and probably bore my readers with a lengthy description of the scones at the charming little seaside teashop on the beach - but Worsley just mentions it, I think in part to let her fellow Janeites know that staying in the very rooms hallowed by Jane herself is an option (I'm certainly intrigued!), and then gets swiftly back to her real subject: Jane.

I do have a couple reservations. One is that Worsley seems sometimes almost too insistent on the importance of Austen's relationships with other women - like admitting that Austen also had strong relationships with a few men (her father, one or two of her brothers) would undermine this - but I suspect this is a reaction against earlier biographies that did overemphasize her connections with men because of the cultural assumptions that relationships with men are always more important than relationships with women.

The other is that Worsley suggests that Austen might have been clinically depressed, which I found interesting but not quite convincing - although to be fair, I may just need more time to get used to it. I realize that one perhaps should not assume to much about an author's inner life based on their work, but Jane Austen through her novels has always struck me as one of the most balanced and level-headed and mentally healthy writers ever - to the point of being quite unsympathetic to the Mariannes of the world.

It certainly is a possible explanation for Austen's fallow period in Bath. And yes, the irritability and sadness and sense of helplessness in some of her letters might be symptoms too.

But on the other hand, who is not occasionally irritable and sad? And how can we call a sense of helplessness a symptom of anything when it was such a genuine reflection of her reality? Worsley makes it very clear that she was pretty much at the mercy of her male relatives - who fortunately seem to have been pretty decent chaps - but nonetheless they decided where she lived and who she'd live with (one brother saddled his female relations with his new bride) and how much money they'd have.

And when, through her writing, she does gain some financial independence, she pursues it gleefully, driving hard bargains with her publisher when her brother (who had been acting as her agent) becomes too ill to do so. The sense of helplessness disappears when she's no longer actually helplessness.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I don’t believe I finished anything this week. I started playing a Facebook game and it vacuumed up all my time. I should probably erase it.

No, wait, I did finished The Family at Misrule! Which I had 90% completed last Wednesday. Sorry, Facebook game, we had good times together but you must go.

What I’m Reading Now

Isobelle Carmody’s The Red Queen, a thousand page behemoth that I am becoming increasingly certain could have been edited down to five hundred pages if not less, if only Carmody could have been trusted to return the manuscript in a timely fashion if the editors gave it back to her. (I doubt they dared. The last book came out nearly thirty years after the first was published. They were probably terrified that they might wait another decade if they sent the manuscript back.)

I’m 250 pages in and Elspeth and co. have made no progress on Elspeth’s quest to save the world by dismantling the weaponmachines that already caused one apocalypse and might yet cause another. Instead, they are stuck in a weird little dystopian community, and under other circumstances I would be all for exploring weird dystopias, but I have been waiting half my life - literally half my life! - to read the ending of Elspeth’s quest. I’m probably as impatient as Elspeth herself for things to get a move on.

In fact, Elspeth keeps expressing her frustration that she can’t make any progress. I think this was a sign from Carmody’s subconscious that this part of the book could have been edited down to like 50 pages, tops, but alas she did not heed it.

Instead we get endless relays of - Elspeth finds out a bit of information; she chafes at the fact that she can’t tell her friends because most of the settlement is bugged; at last they gather at one of the non-bugged spots, and she tells them what she learned (which we the readers already know) and they suggest further avenues for inquiry (many of which we the readers have already thought of, although of course we have the advantage of having read dystopian fiction before), and then Elspeth chafes because she can’t get away to investigate, and then she finally gets away to investigate and the cycle starts all over again and GAAAAAAH SOMEONE COULD HAVE EDITED THIS SO HARD. SO HARD.

On a brighter note, I’ve been reading Sherwood Smith’s Miss Eleanor Tilney: or, The Reluctant Heroine, which as the title suggests is pro-fic of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and a total delight. I really enjoy Smith’s Regency romances - I almost hesitate to call them that; I feel like Regency romance as a subgenre riffs off of Heyer, and Smith is riffing directly from Austen - the book is written in quite credible Austen pastiche - which gives them a very different feeling.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’ve added all of Sherwood Smith’s other Austen pastiches to my Amazon wishlist to add to my Kindle when I get the chance, but first I must read Nora Murphy’s White Birch, Red Hawthorn, a Netgalley book that is a memoir... essay collection... thing about the conquest of Minnesota.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April, with which I was ultimately quite disenchanted. I felt (as I felt when I watched the movie) that the ending is simultaneously too neat - all the young characters carefully paired up - but also leaves the old lady out: even if she didn’t find love, I wanted her to reconnect with her old friend Kate Lumley, or find a son who was thought long ago lost at sea, or something.

Also Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, which starts each chapter with some object from Austen’s life or her fiction - a family silhouette portrait or a cashmere shawl - and from there ranges out over some aspect of Austen’s life and English society. It reminds me Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun, although Byrne lacks Ulrich’s virtuoso ability to start with a basket and end up encompassing the entire history of colonial America without ever losing sight of the basket weaver: Byrne is apt to get a bit lost along the way.

But nonetheless I enjoyed the book very much, because I’m very partial to the method. I have an idea for a book based around an advent calendar, where the object in the advent calendar becomes the nucleus for the chapter each day… I’m not sure quite how to write it; I think the danger (even more than the danger for most Christmas books) would be that it would become too obvious or twee.

I also read Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, which I found even more engrossing than I expected, and as it’s three things I enjoy very much (a childhood memoir, about a childhood spent among an unusually intense religious sect, set in the Victorian era), I expected to find it pretty engrossing in the first place.

Gosse was the only son of two devout members of the strictly Calvinist Plymouth Brethren sect. His mother wrote exceedingly popular religious pamphlets and his father was a naturalist, and a quite highly regarded one until The Origin of Species came out and the elder Goss rejected it decisively. The younger Gosse is at his best describing this incident: he’s sympathetic to the titanic difficulty this presented his father, who hitherto saw no conflict between his work as a naturalist and his faith in a literal reading of the Bible, and does an excellent job delineating the turn of mind that led his father to ultimately cast his lot with Genesis rather than Darwin.

I would have liked a bit more detail about what the Plymouth Brethren believed, but I suspect that Gosse’s audience when the book was first published in 1907 would have been able to reconstruct a fairly accurate picture based on his allusions, so I can’t really hold that against him.

What I’m Reading Now

Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents, which alas strikes me as almost as slow to get started as A Natural History of Dragons. However, I very much enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons by the end, so hopefully I’ll have the same experience with The Tropic of Serpents.

What I Plan to Read Next

J. B. Priestly’s The Good Companions, once the library has fetched it for me through the magic of interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan, where have you been all my life? I think we should consider a torrid affair.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass, which I read all in one evening because I needed so much to know what happened happened next. It reminded me a bit of Barbara Michaels’ Houses of Stone, because both books are above all mysteries about texts - texts that ultimately lead back to a dead body, but the corpse remains secondary to the text. (It occurs to me that there is something of this quality in The Silkworm, too.)

This has rapidly become my very favorite type of mystery, and I have probably read the only two in existence. WOE.

I also read Oliver James’ Affluenza, because read the first couple of chapters and the conclusion in a bookstore in London. Having now read the bits in the middle as well, I can testify that the first couple of chapters and the conclusion are all anyone really needs. James has his thesis: that the modern obsession with celebrity and wealth, downgrading of the importance of emotional ties, and the concomitant belief in watered-down Social Darwinism, are causing a rise in mental health problems among people in the developed world (particularly in countries with an ideological commitment to the American vision of capitalism).

And that is pretty much all he has. The middle part of the book is mostly portraits of people and cultures that he met in his travels, which all seem to fold neatly back into his thesis - even if they seem to fly in the face of it, he always seemed to be able to rationalize them back within his theoretical apparatus. I began to get the feeling no facts would dent his belief in his thesis, which undermined his credibility.

And, finally, William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, largely because I liked his article The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life - which, by the by, puts forth a similar argument to Affluena, although Deresiewicz focuses on the negative effects of the sense that love is conditional on achievement (and the perfectionism that results from that sense), rather than consumerism.

Most of his portraits of Austen’s characters are spot-on. I do think he’s a little too hard on Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood, but then I realize my feelings about them are out of sync with everyone else’s, and generally the book is a pleasure to read. But I don’t think I learned anything really new about Austen’s novels - certainly not like I did from John Mullen’s What Matters in Austen?, which I recommend. I don’t always agree with Mullen’s character judgments (I think he’s too hard on Mr. Woodhouse, for instance), but he makes his points so thoughtfully that it makes me think about why I disagree.

What I’m Reading Now

Hilary McKay’s Caddy’s World, which - woe! - is the last of the Casson books currently published. What will I do without my Casson family fix?? Perhaps another one will come out. But in the meantime I am reading this one a chapter a day, to savor it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m thinking about reading William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, although it’s possible that he summarized the whole thing in the above-linked article and I needn’t read it in book form. On the other hand, if there were ever a time to really dig into the path to a meaningful life, now is probably it.

I’ve also put holds on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, on the theory that six years have passed since I’ve read Faulkner so maybe I will appreciate him more now; and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, which I tried to read earlier this summer and stalled out on. Maybe it will go better this time around.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Day 17 - Favorite mini series.

I’ve already written about this! Desperate Romantics, all the way.

But my second-favorite miniseries is probably the 2009 BBC Emma, with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, which is simply perfect in every possible way. It is, in the first place, just beautiful: the costumes are stunning, as are the sets, as are the actors (the young lady playing Harriet is absolutely lovely).

It’s so beautiful that it might be worth watching even if it was awful, but in fact it’s amazing. The miniseries gets Emma, which (as Emma Approved and the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma both demonstrate) is a difficult task. Emma is neither an incompetent Machiavellian nor an airhead; she’s a competent, intelligent, and often kind social leader, whose very real abilities have given her a slightly overblown self-regard. She’s usually right, but she’s come to believe that she’s always right, and therefore never considers the possibility that she might make a mistake.

And Romola Garai plays this to perfection. It’s easy to see why everyone in her circle adores Emma. Not only is she funny and vivacious, the life of every party, but she smooths the conversation over rough patches and makes sure everyone has a nice time. One of those people is invariably her fussbudget father, which makes it an even more impressive feat.

(Emma’s relationship with her father is one of the highlights of this miniseries. He realizes, at least on some level, that Emma has grown up so well as much despite him as because of him and his overprotective instincts - there is a really touching scene where he apologizes to her for his failures. But Emma realizes that his limitations are not his fault, and loves him back despite his flaws.)

That’s why the scene at Box Hill where Emma is unkind to Miss Bates is so startling, because this is not at all how she usually behaves. Frank Churchill is clearly a bad influence (I like him less and less over time; I realize he needs to maintain some distance from Jane to keep their engagement secret, but there was no need for him to encourage Emma’s suppositions that Jane had a dalliance with Mr. Dixon, or to pick at Jane like he does. I don’t think he means harm; he just doesn’t seem to quite realize that other people have feelings that might be hurt by his high spirits.)

I suspect this is what makes Mr. Knightley so unusually sharp with her in the Box Hill scene: he’s envious of Frank Churchill’s influence, which he thinks goes deeper than it does.

Jonny Lee Miller’s performance as Mr. Knightley is also outstanding. His dialogue is mostly drawn from the book, but whereas in the book he often seems scolding - if not a father figure, then certainly an older-brotherly one - Miller’s liveliness, his frustration, the fact that he usually speaks to Emma as an equal arguing with her rather than an elder scolding her, all make him seem like a good match for her despite their age gap. They’re like the dueling protagonists in one of the better-made screwball comedies, all rapid delivery and sparkling wit.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finally got my hands on Jo Baker’s Longbourn, the retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view. I’m not sure retelling is the right word, really, because while all the important P&P events happen, they are for the most part background: they’re important to the servants’ lives, but the plot has different turning points.

The main character is Sarah, a maid in Longbourn, whose life is largely composed of cleaning floors, carrying chamber pots, and picking at the chilblains on her hands. It’s a grittier novel than P&P, dirty in the most literal of senses, which makes it sound like it should be an absolute slog to read. But in fact it’s immensely readable: I kept planning to read just a chapter, and then kept going for a hundred pages or more.

For all that there are moments of bleakness, it’s not bleak: I think the word would be spare. Sarah’s life is very pared down - the smallness of her world, which is confined to Longbourn far more than Elizabeth’s is, creates a real sense of claustrophobia - and very little things can fill her with joy or despair.

Mrs. Hill, Longbourn’s housekeeper, shows a possible bleak future for Sarah: Mrs. Hill is Sarah’s rock, a woman who looks after the happiness of all the other servants, and derives what little happiness she has from that looking after. She’s very well portrayed, I think: a woman who constantly worries about the future, who knows how little control a servant can have over her life, and who tries by whatever small means come to hand to make that life more certain, like throwing all her resources into making Mr. Collins’ stay comfortable so he will think all the servants are indispensable and should not be changed when he comes into possession of Longbourn.

The portrayal of the Bennets is well done. I think there’s a temptation in a retelling of this sort to make the portraits of the upper classes quite unflattering, but Baker manages to balance the showing them in a quite different light than in the original - particularly by showing their blind spots, like Elizabeth’s incomprehension that Sarah might want to leave her service - while still keeping them recognizably themselves for people who love the original book.

I thought Elizabeth and Lydia were particularly pitch perfect (and probably Kitty, in that she remains a somewhat indistinct blur overpowered by Lydia). Mr. Bennet's portrayal seems a bit harsh, but on the other hand I think readers often let him off easy because he's so funny, so maybe it's warranted. He would be a very vexing husband (or father, for the daughters who are not his favorites).

I think Baker softens Mary’s portrayal a bit from the original novel. In fact - perhaps I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a trend - but modern adaptations often view Mr. Collins’ and Mary’s social awkwardness in a more forgiving light than Austen does. As awful as it might be to spent lots of time to cooped up in their company, modern adaptations also ponder how awful it would be to be Mr. Collins and Mary, always pushing people away and unable to figure out why.

(I’m thinking particularly of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ Ricky Collins here: Lizzie’s unkindness to him is probably her least sympathetic moment in LBD, because he’s so obviously unaware that he’s annoying and quite possibly can’t help being so irritating, anyway.)

This is particularly pronounced in Baker, because her sympathy and attention are consistently drawn to sadness, to loneliness, and to disappointment. (Elizabeth and Jane, young, good spirited, and with good prospects, get no scenes in their point of view. Mary and Mr. Collins do.) Like the grittiness, this also probably makes the book sound like a slog, but I felt there was something beautiful in this sympathy - a rather melancholy beauty, perhaps, but I think Baker’s affection for all these characters makes it seem possible that perhaps someday they will find someone in their own world who will love them too.

(And indeed, Mary at least does begin to blossom by the end of the book. I know why Baker didn’t do this, because it is really quite tangential to the main plot, but I did wish Mary’s tutoring of Polly got more than a paragraph of space.)

A lot of the reviews that I’ve read have complained that the ending is unrealistically happy, given the circumstances. On the one hand, I cannot bring myself to disagree with this assessment. But on the other hand, I would not for a million years have wished Mrs. Hill’s fate on Sarah - the long, unhappy life, getting her little dregs of happiness by trying to arrange happiness for others. Perhaps Baker could have arranged her story so Sarah’s ending was both happy and more realistic, but if we have to make a choice, for this story I would far prefer happy to realistic.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Over the weekend my parents and I went to see a stage adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. It was odd, but excellently done: the actors had the whole audience in stitches, particularly Mr. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Mary. (I always feel a bit bad for Lizzie's bookish, priggish sister Mary. Jane & Lizzie are best friends, and Kitty & Lydia are best friends, and Mary is in the middle all alone! No wonder she took refuge in books.)

Rather than just have the actors speak the dialogue from the book, they also quoted many of Jane Austen's character descriptions. Beforehand I didn't see how this could work, but actually it worked well: I could always tells which parts were dialogue because the other characters reacted to them (and not to the descriptions), and it kept in many of Austen's more pointed observations.

I don't think I've seen any other adaptation that captured how funny Austen is. So much of that is contained in her ironic observations about the interactions between people, which are hard to work into an adaptation.

I don't think this method would work in a film adaptation. Having the characters break character would be jarring in a film in the way that it wasn't in a play. I think. Perhaps because plays already demand that their audiences not just suspend their disbelief, but lend their imagination to the play - particularly if it's on a minimalist set? And I think there's something about the energy of having actors right there in the room that can smooth over things that would be bumpy without that physical presence.
osprey_archer: (window)
After meaning to see the 1999 Mansfield Park for ages, at last I sat down and watched it. As long as you let go of the idea that this is an adaptation of Mansfield Park, it’s an entertaining period piece, if occasionally odd. Why does Fanny address the camera directly when she reads excerpts from her writing? It never fails to break the fourth wall.

If, however, you entertain the eccentric opinion that an adaptation ought to be similar to the thing that it’s adapted from...well, it’s not really an adaptation. Faced with the conundrum of making shy, retiring Fanny into a heroine, the filmmakers essentially gave up and swapped in another character: a bookish hoyden with a clever wit and a taste for whooping down the staircases of Mansfield Park.

In fact, this clever, lively Fanny seems a lot like a kinder version of Mary Crawford. As such, Mary Crawford fails to make herself felt as a true rival for Edmund’s affection. Why would Edmund fall for mean-spirited Mary Crawford when he could have his own high-spirited cousin? Especially given that Edmund seems to be half in love with Fanny for most of the movie, anyway?

However, this change does make the Edmund/Fanny romance much more convincing, so that’s a plus. Moreover, the filmmakers shifted the focus of Edmund & Fanny’s shared moral seriousness away from theatricals and elopements to the slave trade, which is more palatable for modern viewers and also opens up a dimension of the story that the original book skims over very lightly indeed.

Oh, and for the first time, Maria’s decision to run off with Henry Crawford made sense to me. I always wondered why she decided to do something so stupid: there is no endgame in a married woman running off with another man, after all, and no amount of vanity could make it seem like a good decision.

(I always feel so bad for Maria at the end of Mansfield Park. It’s hard to imagine a worse candidate for living a reclusive life in the middle of nowhere - and with Mrs. Norris as her only companion, too! What is she going to do out there?)

But here, Henry and Maria act not out of vanity, but panic. They flee Mansfield Park after Fanny accidentally walks in on them during a tryst, presumably in the panicked belief that Fanny and Edmund intend to tell the world. In the event, Fanny and Edmund attempt to cover for them, which...I am not sure I can see book!Fanny and Edmund doing, honestly.

I like bookish hoydens as much as wilting wallflowers, so I did enjoy it as a period piece. But it’s not very much like Mansfield Park.
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
I have given Emma Approved four episodes. I will continue to give it more episodes, because it definitely succeeds at being entertaining (and Harriet is adorkable)...but I’m not so sure about its successfulness as an adaptation.

Adorkable as Harriet is, the way they’ve introduced her character also shows how much the adaptation has already - in four episodes! - deviated from the original book. The characters’ relationships to each other have been set up so differently. In the book, Mr. Knightley thought Emma and Harriet’s friendship was a bad thing, because it tended to puff up Emma’s already healthy estimation of herself, whereas in Emma Approved, he actually lined Harriet up as Emma’s assistant himself.

And given that he picked Harriet out of a whole pile of applications, it’s hard not to think that “Which of these possible assistants will minister most sincerely and gratifyingly to Emma’s vanity?” was the criteria uppermost in his mind as he combed through the applications.

I feel in particular that they’ve gone really over-the-top with Emma’s conceit and meddlesomeness. Sure, in the book she’s a little full of herself and plumes herself on her ability as a matchmaker...but she never tries to make one of her friends go through with a wedding that the friend wants to call off, for the purely selfish reasons that calling it off would damage Emma’s pride (This match was Emma approved! It must pan out!) and her match-making business.

And she doesn’t try to talk Anne out of calling off the wedding by, for instance, trying to remind Anne why she and her fiance fell in love. No, Emma gets out a binder full of invoices to remind Anne how dazzlingly expensive the wedding plans are, and how complicated it would be to call them off.

And when Anne is not convinced - when she signs the paperwork to cancel the orders - once Anne’s gone, Emma tears the paperwork up. Because she’s going to fix this, dammit! She’s going to find a way to make Anne go through with a wedding Anne no longer wants!

This is neither the action of a friend nor of a good businesswoman.

I also think that making matchmaking Emma’s profession - not just something she does in her spare time, but a thing that she’s trying to build a company on - is kind of unfortunate, given that the premise of the story is that Emma is a terrible matchmaker.

ETA: I thought I should add this, as it came up chatting with [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume in comments.

The reason Emma's incompetence at her chosen career is such a problem is that it undermines what makes her character interesting rather than exasperating. In the book, Emma's a little full of herself, but it's a slightly exaggerated reflection of her actual abilities: not only is she rich, clever, and beautiful, but she's of central importance to her social circle and has clearly been running her father's social life for years, in such a way that he enjoys himself and his companions also have a good time, despite his gentle selfishness. Of course she believes she knows best. She's far more perceptive than her father or Miss Bates or Harriet, and given her limited experience, it makes sense that she would believe her perception even stronger than it really is.

EA's Emma, on the other hand, is apparently not even competent enough to realize that she doesn't really need the assistant Knightley is foisting upon her. (And if Knightley finds Emma so irritating that he needs to offload her caprices onto a hapless assistant - and there seems to be no real business reason for Emma to need an assistant - it's going to be hard to buy Emma and Knightley's romance.)

Without the background competence that underlies Emma's self-assurance, her egotism almost embarrassing, because it's so out of line with her actual abilities.
osprey_archer: (books)
The library had a book sale! Most exciting! And more exciting still, while I was perusing the tables full of books (a mere fifty cents a pop), I found a copy of William Dean Howells’ Indian Summer!

William Dean Howells is one of those nineteenth century dynamoes who had fifteen or so different professions. He was ambassador to Italy, editor of the Atlantic monthly, champion of his own brand literary realism, convert to socialism, and popularizer of dozens of young authors, American and otherwise. He particularly liked Russian fiction, Tolstoy and Turgenev (or Tourgeneff, as Howells spells it).

Did he ever sleep? It is entirely possible that the answer is “No.”

In addition to all his other occupations, Howells was an author. As this excellent review of Indian Summer puts it, he wanted “his characters to be honest, ordinary people, as he might find in his strata of society, flawed and well-meaning, good-hearted and self-effacing, bound by the conventions and the restrictions of their day but quietly dreaming of a little local heroism in their souls.”

It’s realism of a sort, but a sort very different from Zola’s: the focus is not on the dramatic miseries of life, but on the everyday. Indian Summer was Howells’ favorite of his own novels.

It’s a meditation on youth and the passing of youth; the main character, Colville, went to Florence in his early twenties to study architecture, left after a failed love affair, and has now returned to Florence after twenty years away. He’s been busy in the intervening years, but he neither pursued architecture nor got married, and there’s a sense that he feels (or fears) the life has passed him by.

Colville goes to Florence looking for direction, and meets two women: Mrs. Bowen, who he knew when they were both young in Florence, and her ward, Imogene Graham.

Howells was a great fan of Jane Austen, and he shares with her the interest in delineating the lives and relationships of a fairly small and select set of characters. But he lacks Austen’s peculiar talent of rendering social rules apparent without spelling them out - I may not always know the nuances of Austen’s characters’ motivations, but the basic outlines are always clear. With Howells, I am sometimes left puzzled because it’s not quite clear why the social rules are making his characters behave in this peculiar manner.

In Indian Summer, for instance, Colville feels that he has led Imogene Graham to believe he loves her, and somehow that means that...he must marry her? He likes her, but he doesn’t love her, and he sees that marrying is a bad idea, but he can’t actually say that because, after all, he led her on, so basically he just has to hope that she’ll realize - on her own, without any help from him - that they should break their engagement.

It’s a classically nineteenth century meditation on the conflict between selfishness, unselfishness, and the misery of badly applied unselfishness. How can things go so terribly wrong when everyone has tried so hard to do right by each other? And how can they break through their own good intentions to find truth and happiness?

It’s a bit difficult to get a hold of; Amazon has a free Kindle edition, but it doesn’t seem to be in many libraries anymore. Still, if it sounds like your cup of tea, it’s well worth looking for. I’ll quote again from the review I linked above, because it sums it up just perfectly: Indian Summer “is gentle and light and kind, a good companion of a novel in times of exile from the thick of life.”
osprey_archer: (lizzie bennet diaries)
You guys you guys! Welcome to Sanditon, the not-exactly-a-sequel series for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, started today. Apparently it's not meant to finish Jane Austen's story but to explore the world of Sanditon, which could either be really fun or ultimately very frustrating, if all that exploration never acquires any kind of plot.

Although personally I think it will probably lead to Gigi having an epiphany about what she wants to do with her future. Possibly something that doesn't involve grad school? She doesn't sound very enthusiastic about her application, and when she talked about it with Lizzie in LBD she said it was "practically a requirement," not that it was something she really wanted.

I'm not sure I'll have enough to say about Sanditon for it to warrant its own tag, but it looks like it might be fun. Tom Parker's Sanditon booster schtick is hilarious - it looks like these videos will have actual grown-up adults rather than all twenty-somethings, which will be a departure - and I can't wait to meet Mrs. Denham, who is an imperious lady in the Lady Catherine de Bourgh vein in Austen's book fragment.
osprey_archer: (lizzie bennet diaries)
As the Lizzie Bennet Diaries draw near the end, my friend Micky and I have been discussing what else could be adapted (aside from Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon, which is apparently the basis for their next project and will star Gigi, Kickstarter here. I have not read Sanditon. Probably I should correct this...)

Anyway! Micky and I are both shamefully fond of nineteenth century novels, and have thus been amusing ourselves mightily when we ought to be grading.

Middlemarch!” Micky suggested.

“But it is the most depressing book ever and also so very, very, very long-winded!” I objected.

Although on consideration, I think a vlog adaptation would probably improve Middlemarch precipitously. Think of all the chaff that could be cut out! And Dorothea wouldn’t have to marry Mr. Casaubon: she could be Professor Casaubon’s tormented grad student, slowly realizing that grad school is not the glorious life of the mind that she dreamed.

But a) I cannot really imagine Dorothea having a vlog - it seems somehow insufficiently serious - and b) let’s face it, Middlemarch is a book about indecision and ennui, and who wants to watch episode after episode of grad student!Dorothea fretting about whether or not she should run away with Will Ladislaw to be happy. OF COURSE YOU SHOULD RUN AWAY WITH WILL LADISLAW, DOROTHEA. Be happy already!

The book would be so improved if she ran away with him one hundred pages in, and they spent the next thousand or so pages freeing Poland or something. The book could end tragically with them being sent by train to Siberia, dreams crushed, but content in that they’re together. Or! Or! Firing squad. Also an exciting end!

But even more unsuitable for a vlog. So...

Micky also suggested Emma, which I think would be way more suitable. Emma could have a vlog! Harriet could start a short-lived vlog, out of her admiration for Emma, allowing us to have her opinions on crucial scenes! Jane Fairfax...would probably not even have a Facebook page. (“She has not the open temper I would want in a wife.”)

I’m not sure how one would translate Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill’s secret engagement to the modern day, though. Clueless made the Frank-analog gay, but that requires getting rid of Jane Fairfax, and I really like Jane Fairfax, so...I don’t know. Any thoughts?
osprey_archer: (lizzie bennet diaries)
Via [livejournal.com profile] ladyherenya, an interesting article about How the Vlog & Transmedia Set-Up Make Plot Harder for LBD, which I think is excellent. There’s definitely a tension in LBD between “Lizzie growing as a person and not being judgmental all over the internet,” and “Lizzie doing super entertaining costume theater.”

Also, I’ve been thinking about other books that would make fun modern vlog adaptations. You need a main character who would be willing to share her life with the internet (so Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood are definitely out), and a story that doesn’t depend on information that you wouldn’t really want to put on the internet. LBD has already been stretching the “would someone really put this on the internet?” limits, and making a vlog of something like Jane Eyre would shatter them like glass.

Plus, Jane Eyre is probably too circumspect to have a vlog.

Northanger Abbey, however, would be pretty much the perfect book for a vlog adaptation. Think about it! Catherine starts her vlog because she’s leaving home for the first time, so she starts a vlog to keep her family updated on her doings. She’s pretty stunned to get as many viewers as she does. I think in this version, she’s probably going away to college rather than on a vacation. Possibly she’s going a long way from home, so she won’t be able to visit much?

Catherine and Isabella Thorpe meet at the bookstore, where they are scoping out the same new urban fantasy book in this series they both love. Isabella Thorpe would obviously leap at the chance to be in a vlog: think of the way that she dramatizes her life in the book.

I’m not sure how we get from “love of urban fantasy” to “Catherine thinks maybe General Tilney killed his wife!” but maybe the connection will not be as overt as it is in NA. (I think “Catherine thinks maybe General Tilney is a vampire!” is possibly too silly even for Catherine. Although it might be hilarious! What do you think?)

Catherine and Henry Tilney meet...in class, maybe? Perhaps they are assigned to work on a project together? Or! They could meet at ball-dancing club. In Catherine’s next vlog, Isabella teases her about her crush on Henry Tilney, which makes Catherine blush, although she is totally delighted to talk about him. (Later, Isabella will tease Catherine about things she doesn't necessarily want the whole internet to know.) However, Isabella gets bored when Catherine chats about Henry too long and jumps in to talk about her own conquests.

(I really like the way that LBD fleshed out Lydia, and it would be cool if an NA adaptation did something similar with Isabella. But conversely, Catherine and Isabella’s friendship not working out would work really well in this adaptation. The people you’re friends with your first semester of college are not necessarily going to be your best friends all through, and it would be nice to see Catherine fumbling to find her real friends.)

Etc. etc. more stuff happens. Catherine gets invited to the Tilney’s house for Thanksgiving (she can’t afford a plane ticket home for the holiday). She confides in the internet that she thinks maybe General Tilney killed his wife. Henry Tilney walks into the filming of one of her videos while she’s talking about this possibility and is all “WTF Catherine,” because not only is she entertaining the possibility that his father killed his mother, but she’s been telling the internet about it.

Catherine is horrified and chastened and makes an “I am SO SORRY” video.

Then the General sends her away, and Catherine is convinced that Henry convinced him to do it, and she is all sad panda and possibly swears off vlogs.

But she does one last vlog - “I just had to let you know how the story ends!” Because Henry came to tell her that he didn’t ask his father to send her away at all! (I’m not sure why the General does send Catherine away in this version. Maybe he thought she was pre-med and is just horrified to learn she’s studying, like, art history.)

And then Catherine and Henry start dating, happy end!
osprey_archer: (art)
Last five things meme post! Except that [livejournal.com profile] cordialcount asked if she could ask me five questions about Lily & Nina from Black Swan, and I take any and all excuses to talk about Lily and Nina all the time, so I will be answering those.

(Actually, that should be a meme! Ask me five questions about a character (or characters) you know I like! Repost to your journals. A chance for infinite squee!)

But! I shall finish up the Five Things meme first. [livejournal.com profile] carmarthen asked for the top five books I would like to see adaptation into faithful, high production-values miniseries. I have been repeatedly reminding myself that miniseries doesn’t have to equal costume drama, although that’s what I first think of: Anne of Green Gables, the recent Sense & Sensibility and Romola Garai’s luminous Emma...

Mansfield Park, though. It gets no love, because everyone in the world but me hates Fanny Price, and therefore she is always portrayed as infinitely spunkier and more tomboyish than the actual Miss Price, because it’s not like being continually belittled, bossed around, and neglected by pretty much everyone at Mansfield Park except Edmund would have had some kind of deleterious effect on Fanny’s self-esteem.

Mansfield Park, Ella Enchanted, Crown Duel, the Queen’s Thief books, Code Name Verity )

And finally, [livejournal.com profile] cordialcount: Five favorite children-- whether they be fictional, real, or metaphorical? I am not sure what a metaphorical child is, but nonetheless I shall persevere.

Phoebe in Wonderland, A Little Princess, the Little House books, Matilda, Barbara Newhall Follett )
osprey_archer: (kitty)
My friend Micky shared this with me, and I must pass it on to you because if I do not share the pain, my head may explode.

Is Jane Austen So Popular Because Her Books Are Kinda Just Highbrow Twlight?

This is a troll, right? This article has to be in bad faith. Baker is insulting Austen fans (because Austen fans clearly don't get insulted enough) by comparing their beloved books to Twilight, which is even more socially despised - Austen fans may be a little weird, but Twilight fans are positively derided.

Of course being lumped in with literary pariahs will infuriate Austen fans! The article is designed lure us into reiterating the misogyny which is inherent in so much Twilight criticism in an attempt to distance ourselves from it. "Darcy is not like Edward Cullen at all! He differs in X, Y, and Z respects! I may be into girly things, but not I'm not that kind of girl!"

It has lines like "Stephenie Meyer produced a movie about 'about a lonely Jane Austen fan who falls in love at an Austen theme park.' Triple gag."

Because ew, Stephanie Meyer! She has girl cooties! As do lonely Jane Austen fans and Austen resorts, because it is a clear and obvious fact that all things Austen are girl-cootie-ful and therefore gag-worthy. Because girly things are ipso facto gagtastic. Because REASONS.

Baker also comments that her favorite classic novels are Wharton's, because "Wharton's novels are actually cynical (read: realistic) and the opposite of romantic" - read: completely devoid of girl cooties.

Wharton books are not only unromantic, but aggressively anti-romantic - romance pretty much requires characters who are capable of loving someone other than themselves, which Wharton characters generally are not (except Gertie Farish. I love you, Gertie Farish!).

Why did Jezebel publish this? Is it a cynic ploy for hits? Or do they intend to sit back and feel superior in the face of the frothing Twilight hate? (So far, most of the commenters are refraining from froth. Is it a bad sign when the commenters are more thoughtful than the original article?)
osprey_archer: (friends)
You know, I was worried that the Lizzie Bennet Diaries might get stale after a while. Sure, a modern vlog of Pride and Prejudice is a fun idea, but could they keep the gimmick fresh?

But the videos just keep getting better and better! And the vlog format doesn’t feel like a gimmick anymore: it’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, sure, but it’s also become its own thing, and nowhere is that more obvious than the increased attention the Dairies give to Lydia.

In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie’s dislike of her youngest sister is presented as, if not admirable, certainly not problematic. But the Lizzie Bennet Diaries really delve into that - their fight in the most recent episodes didn’t hurt quite as sharply as Lydia’s fight with Mary, but it still ached, and I think the pain is going to hang around a lot longer this time. Recovering their relationship from this fight will be much harder than mending Lydia’s fight with Mary, or Lizzie’s rift with Charlotte - not least because neither Lizzie nor Lydia will want to meet the other halfway.

Lydia had let Lizzie’s criticisms just roll of her back, and all of a sudden she realized that Lizzie really meant them - and there’s no way Lizzie can really apologize for that, because she’s not going to (and should not) believe that Lydia’s reckless class-skipping, hard-partying ways are A-okay just because Lydia wants her to.

What I love about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that the fights are about real things: issues that cut to the heart of the girls’ relationships with each other. And the narrative gives them the weight they deserve: they feel hard and painful and real. It’s not only rare for a story to focus this intensely on female friendship and/or sisters - it’s rarer still for those relationships to be allowed to be this loving but at the same time so difficult and complicated.

Finally, another Yuletide rec, because it has just perfect Lydia voice, and is simultaneously an excellent character study of Lizzie. Reasons Why Lizzie Bennet is Perpetually Single: A Helpful List Compiled by her Awesomer, Sexier, Totes Adorbs and Amazing Younger Sister. An awesome, adorable, and insightful fic.
osprey_archer: (Default)
Just saw the latest Lydia Bennet video.

Oh, Lydia.

Hugs, hugs. Many many hugs.

Your new best friend was only hanging out with you because your parents (I'm presuming) were paying her to tutor you? Probably not the worst thing that ever happened. But pretty close.

Also, Mary, WTF? Guess you don't need the money now, huh? Because I'm pretty sure Lydia will never speak to you again.

...I was kind of curious what people could possibly write for LBD for Yuletide...but I want so much fix-it fic for this. Like, Mary realizes that she was mean and buys Lydia a pony fix-it fic. (Or at least rents a pony and rides it to Lydia's house. Let's be realistic here.)


Also, here's my theory for Lydia's upcoming disgrace: I think she's going to leak the contents of Darcy's letter to the internet. Because how else are we going to find out? And then Darcy will stop Wickham from suing her to hell and back.

(Could Wickham sue Lydia for reading a letter that Darcy wrote which reveals unpleasant truths about Wickham's past? Maybe not. But Wickham might be mad enough to need someone to talk him out of trying.)
osprey_archer: (cheers)
I HAVE INTERNET AGAIN!!!! I did something to my walljack or possibly my ethernet cord or maybe just somehow angered the internet gods, but my internet wasn't working yesterday, and not to be dramatic about it, but it was like having a limb lobbed off.

Seriously. Apparently I am a cyborg.


But I made good use of my internet-free evening - or, anyway, used it, though I'm not sure watching The Pirates!: Band of Misfits actually counts as good use. It's like a bunch of screen-writers got drunk and hilarious and cobbled together a farcical plot, and failed to people it with characters sufficiently likable or engaging to make up for the fact that the movie was nonsense.

I like nonsense, but it does need to be nonsense with a soul.


Lizzie Bennet Diaries: WE'VE FINALLY MET DARCY!!! Or at least Darcy's suspenders. If they manage to film the entire next video without showing us his face, I may throw a temper tantrum.

I'm so curious how they're going to get these two crazy kids together, because Lizzie really, really hates Darcy, even more than Elizabeth hated him in the book, and with even better reason: is there any good reason for LBD Darcy to think that Jane's a gold digger? And Caroline knows about the videos, so couldn't she tell her brother that, no, Jane really is into you?
osprey_archer: (Default)
I would have liked Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma better had I not first seen the new Emma miniseries with Romola Garai, which is practically perfect in every way.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma is not a miniseries, but a movie. With the possible exception of Northanger Abbey, there's simply too much going on in Austen's novels to effectively reduce them down to two hours. The Box Hill sequence is a good example: while the filmmakers kept the absolutely essential exchange about Emma's unkindness to Miss Bates, they dropped the rest of the scene - even though it's also one of the lynchpins in the Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill relationship.

In fact, Jane Fairfax's storyline got shortchanged all around. I don't mind so much that we didn't have to suffer Mrs. Elton interminable attempts to find Jane a good governessing position against her will, but her entire storyline with Frank gets truncated - and Frank himself is reduced from a charming, high-spirited jerk to a total jackass. In the book, he runs with the suggestion when Emma speculates that perhaps Jane and Mr. Dixon had a liaison, which is bad enough; but in the movie, he makes the suggestion himself.

And he doesn't merely suggest it as speculation: he strongly implies that it's true. What sort of man goes around spreading false and scurrilous stories about his secret lover? Is he trying to ensure that she can't break their secret engagement and leave him, by soiling her reputation so that no one will marry or hire her?

Also, he's dressed like Willy Wonka. He has the purple coat and the reddish Gene Wilder hair - who thought that was a good combination for a romantic lead? And while I'm being shallow, I thought Harriet was woefully miscast: she needs to have a fluffy, girlish prettiness, and the actress playing her simply looked too old for the part. /shallow

But despite cutting Jane Fairfax & Frank Churchill's romance to the quick, the filmmakers still couldn't find time to properly expand on Emma's character. She's a difficult, contradictory character: clever, pretty, witty and charming, and slightly stuck-up because everyone has always told her so; yet quite lacking in common sense, and therefore quite ridiculous when she makes silly mistakes; capable of quicksilver cruelty, but also of great kindness and tact.

It takes a good actress and a clever script to capture the many facets of Emma's character. Gwyneth Paltrow never gets a chance to show us whether she's up to the task, though, because the script doesn't even try. Instead it plays up Emma's ridiculousness, reducing her from a flawed heroine to a silly, flighty girl: a good match for Mr. Knightly not because they share a similar quality of mind, but because she needs a firm and fatherly hand to direct her life.

Reducing, reducing, reducing: all my complaints about the movie come back, ultimately, to the main complaint that the movie is too short to contain the book, and tries to overcome this defect by simplifying the characters. The movie is charming, in its way, but it's much, much less than the book.
osprey_archer: (musing)
Even though it goes off at the end, Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel. This is partly on the strength of its own virtues – Mansfield Park is exquisitely well-observed and well-written – and partly because I feel it needs a champion: everyone else seems to despise the novel and its heroine, Fanny Price. What kind of heroine, they ask, can such a weak little nothing be?

Fanny Price is not weak. Lady Bertram is a weak character: guided in everything by those around her, without a thought of her own in her head. Fanny Price, downtrodden though she may be, knows her own mind. Everyone else may love the Crawfords, but Fanny knows they have no principles.

Readers seem to forget this fact, on the grounds that the Crawfords are so entertaining that their trail of destruction doesn’t matter. But really they’re rotten people, though they do it with panache. For goodness’ sake, Henry Crawford’s favorite amusement is making girls fall in love with him and then leaving them flat! This would be nasty enough in modern times, but given how few men girls met back then, he’s doubtless ruining some of their chances at marriage and happiness. Even if he hadn’t run off with her at the end, Mr. Crawford already pretty thoroughly wrecked Maria’s life.

Admittedly, she helped him out by engaging herself then marrying a man she knew she didn’t love, but that doesn’t excuse Henry Crawford from being a base cad. The idea that Henry Crawford isn’t so bad seems to rest on the ugly assumption that girls like Maria and Julia somehow deserve his machinations, because they were too silly to see through his scheming ways.

He might, in his way, have remained devoted to Fanny; but how long do you think that would have kept him from his favorite amusement of breaking women’s hearts? And how long could Fanny have borne to watch her husband flirt with and discard other women? I think the lack of consideration toward her, and the lack of principle in general, would have hurt her very much. She was right to refuse him.

And that refusal, again, shows Fanny Price’s strength. When she refuses the extremely eligible Mr. Crawford, the entire world falls on her head in condemnation. Her Aunt Norris sneers at her. Her frightening uncle lectures her on her ungratefulness till she cries, and when that doesn’t work, he sends her away from Mansfield Park with no definite date of return. Even Edmund, usually her champion, thinks her refusal is ridiculous. A weak person would crumple under such universal opposition.

Fanny doesn’t waver.

So Fanny Price is not weak. But she lacks entirely the two other stigmata of a modern heroine: feistiness and rebellion. No matter how outrageous her relations’ claims may seem, Fanny remains demure and obedient as long as none of her principles are threatened, and that drives modern readers up the wall.

I think it’s too bad. One thing I like about Austen is that her heroines are so different from each other: I like that Fanny Price, though less immediately winning than Elizabeth Bennett, can be a heroine too.


osprey_archer: (Default)

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