Posts Tagged Jane Austen
Title Last Man Standing
Author Jane Ashford
Genre Historical Romance, Regency Romance
Publisher Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date September 05, 2017
Setting Regency England
Synopsis: Ever since her father’s death, Elisabeth Elham has fended for herself by teaching at a finishing school for girls. So when her curmudgeon reclusive elder uncle – a man who cut off both his brother and sister for choosing spouses he did not approve of – dies and leaves her all his possessions as a joke to instigate further family estrangement, Elisabeth chose not to fall for it. Instead, she collects her aunt’s orphaned children, who are almost of age and should have received their share in the will, and brings them to live with her in her new London home. At the advice of her solicitor, she also invites a very eccentric matronly cousin from her mother’s side to act as her chaperone. Soon she finds herself in a flurry of activities that include refurbishing the London house, arranging a complete makeover for the country estate which was left to decay for two decades, bringing up her wardrobe up-to-date, launching one beautiful cousin into society while schooling the other overexcited cousin and his even more unmanageable dog into proper decorum, and, of course, navigating the height of season among the ton. The responsibilities of a newly-minted heiress are many and not the least critical is fending of fortune hunters. Elisabeth’s artless and unassuming air and easy sense of humor endear her to many of London’s eligible bachelors, including a most-sought-after heir to a viscount, a self-proclaimed and jovial fortune hunter, and a Byronic hero with a checkered past from the West Indies, all the while she herself collects a bevy of unconventional friends to occupy her time. Though Elisabeth enjoys her trials and pleasures alike with humor, misfortunes still threaten to set her stoic constitution into decline. Especially, at the risk of losing the regards of the one man she could indeed fall in love with.
Experience: I have been reading romance novels for nearly twenty years now but ventured into historical romances only as recently as 2013. The reason for my general aversion to historical romances was, I’m ashamed to admit, something very superficial – the models on the cover in their usual state of undress. My ultra-conservative mother would have a conniption if she saw me reading them (the fact that some of the stories I have written emanate moderate amounts of steam is not yet known to her). So it was only when I started reading off of tabs that I dared procure my first copy of Regency romance [not including classic literature, of course]. There. I have now revealed the most hypocritical secret of my reading and writing career. String me up if you will, fellow romance readers, I probably deserve it.
You are probably wondering why I have chosen to reveal this about me in this particular post. What does my proclivity to hide the cover arts of some of my favorite novels have to do with Last Gentleman Standing? Well, it’s the fact that those steamy cover arts do deliver what they promise; most historical romances have no trouble fogging up my spectacles every few chapters. The prude in me that my mother managed to instill usually just peruses through them unless they are written exceptionally well or, even better, exceptionally ill [really, some of them are sheer comedy]. So when Last Gentleman Standing did not feature a single such specs-steamer and I discovered that quite a few reviewers condemned the story for it, I decided this book needed my defending.
I should clarify that the fact I found the lack of sex scenes in this book perfectly in-form has nothing to do with my natural diffidence [I already confessed to writing some myself]. Rather that I feel Ashford remained true to a Janeite scheme of romancing. Austen’s heroes and heroines always demonstrated a rather restrained form of courtship. It did not mean that their emotions lacked intensity but only that because they felt it so deeply and consistently, they did not need to prattle on about it to attest its existence. To have discovered the same characteristics present in Elizabeth and her wooers was a rather refreshing promenade down the “original order”. After all, to me, the primary reason for reading Regency romances is the fact Miss Austen is no longer alive and printing new materials.
Moreover, I did not think the main hero was “tame”, as one reviewer put it, but respectful to the heroine’s wishes. I thought he was consistent of character. He fell in love with Elisabeth because she was independent of mind and spirit and very unlike other simpering toadying females of his acquaintance. So if he gave her space, it was because he did not want those very attractive qualities of her to diminish. While he did have one or two spurts of admonishment to issue her way when he felt she took unnecessary risks with her person, he soon reconciled that he had no authority to do so either because she was, after all, an independent woman – perhaps more independent than most women of her time since she was an heiress without a guardian. He was perfectly aware of all her strengths, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and acted with the caution the situation demanded. I thought his wisdom and ability to not be guided by ego rather sexy in itself. He did not need to demonstrate his sexual awareness of her to make me enjoy a secret smile or two or feel the temperature kick up.
The Elisabeth of this story, too, shared a very telling trait with my favorite Elizabeth in literary history. Early in the story, the narrator shared how the heroine had inherited her father’s good humor and ability to take life’s hurdles with a pinch of salt. And throughout the novel, we see just that – Elisabeth brushing off any jittery sensation or blinking away any prickling of the lashes. When her father died, instead of seeking assistance from the family Scrooge, she chose to find employment to sustain her livelihood – it was the quality that made her stand apart in her uncle’s eyes and procured her the inheritance. The same self-sufficiency with a side order of humility that allows her to graciously accept assistance once actually offered is what helps her survive through all the ordeals in the novel. Very admirable quality to have in a heroine.
If the heroine and her hero are not convincing enough that the book is worth the read, there are still a host of very entertaining and very eccentric characters to motivate. Even better, I liked how varied these characters were in their appearances. For example, not all the men who managed to steal the belle of the ball were tall, dark, and dashing, which is like stepping away from one of the cardinal rules of historical romance writing. Also, not all fortune hunters were without a heart. I liked one particular fortune hunter extremely who had a bit of dash in him but moreover was burdened by a penniless title that his mother tried to rectify by being the ultimate Mrs. Bennet, and he felt his shortcomings acutely. My heart went out to his sense of vulnerability that he hid so well behind a jovial demeanor and I dearly hope that Ashford will provide him with a good romantic ending one day. [I think that last bit could be a spoiler… oops! Well, at least there are plenty of other competition for Elisabeth’s hand to keep readers guessing]
Coincidentally, the book was apparently originally titled Bluestocking. And, indeed, when I searched online, Ashford had published a novel by such a name in 1980 with the blurb indicating a very similar plotline and same name heroine. I would love to get my hands on that book and see if it varies in any way because how else does the same book continue to exist simultaneously with two names [I can imagine customers clamoring for their money back]? In any case, the new name is so much more suitable to the plot because indeed it was about a crowd of romantic contestants vying for Elisabeth’s affection as well as hand and fortune and only the most faithful gentleman gets ahead. Moreover, by definition and historical account, to be a bluestocking, a woman would have to demonstrate a certain desire for intellectual pursuit. While Elisabeth was quite intelligent and levelheaded, and even once a teacher, she does not demonstrate particular craving to build her knowledge. She enjoys reading when the opportunity presents her with a good book and circumstances had compelled her to acquire the level of education necessary to survive. This provided her with cognitive independence but it was all very contingent of her various stations in life. No, no, Last Gentleman Standing is a vast improvement to the title.
Recommendation: Though I branched out a bit on my book review for this post, what I’m trying to say is, romance readers, do not write this book off just because it does not offer the usual display of amour. But rather embrace it for the practicality with which it upholds the Puritan nature of a society once lived.
Today, a friend of mine was hashing over a story idea with me for a novel he wishes to write in the near future. Without giving away much of anything, there’s a part where the protagonist, after facing a tragic defeat in love, begins to imagine various alternate scenarios where he might come off as the winner. While the protagonist is aware that these various attempts to change his fate are imagined, he is unable to distance himself from the illusions. I, in my turn, threw in Dumbledore’s dialogue from the King’s Cross scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Dead silence followed this ejaculation from the other end of the line. My friend has not read the HP books and, if he has seen the movies, it was probably without much reflection. I try not to hold this against him.
I went on to explain to him, “Perception is reality. How you perceive things adds to your experiences, which is what shapes you. If your character should imagine various alternate scenarios in search for romantic success and continue to fail, can it not add to his growth even if the incidents didn’t really happen?”
He seemed to like the concept very much and we discussed it further. I mentioned to him the Wickham-Darcy controversy in Pride and Prejudice [another classic he has not read but I don’t complain] and described the scene where Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, discovers Wickham’s true nature, and realizes what a gross error in judgment she has made. And her epiphany is not in the clarity she receives in finally learning what a villain Wickham is but in learning her own failing. That she had let a bruised ego direct her away from properly assessing Wickham’s abuse of Darcy. That her pride in the ability to discern the characters of others was not as deserved as she had assumed.
“But the crux of this conflict is,” I explained to my friend with the level of excitement I always feel when discussing Austen’s works, “if Elizabeth had not initially got her evaluation of Darcy so wrong, would she have learned to appreciate his goodness as strongly as she did later? Maybe if she perceived reality correctly the first time – if she had always known the truth – he would be just another rude guy but who has his heart in the right place? Maybe reality alone was not enough to make her fall in love with him? She needed to experience the lie to become fit to love him. Maybe sometimes a character needs to experience the lie in order to appreciate the truth. The unreal in the now can contribute to creating a desired reality for a later period.”
Hah! Now I’m counseling others on writing. Go figure.
Title Jane Eyre
Author Charlotte Brontë
Genre Classic English Literature
Publisher Penguin Classics | Originally by Smith, Elder & Co.
Publication Date June 29, 2011 | Originally 16 October 1847
Setting North England, late Georgian Era
Synopsis: With both parents deceased Jane Eyre lives with the brutish wife of his dead uncle Mrs. Reed and her equally self-serving three children. She suffers abuse until her aunt decides to place her in the austere orphan school of Lowood. There she utilizes her observant intellect to cultivate her mind for 06 years before spending another 02 years as a teacher. When all her friends and role models either pass away or move away, she advertises to become a governess and finds herself teaching the child ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy gentleman and owner of Thornfield Hall. Soon Thornfield Hall becomes her home, gaining her friends. She even learns to like the brusque, self-centered ways of Mr. Rochester, developing somewhat of an infatuation. When he brings a big party to the Hall, among which is a beautiful heiress playing for the role of his wife, she discovers she may even be in love with him. Following this, after Jane is called away for a month to take care of Mrs. Reed at her deathbed, upon her return, the two confess their love for one another and prepares to marry. On the wedding day, it is discovered Mr. Rochester is already married and is hiding his violently mad wife in the attic and the wedding is called off. Jane runs away since the only other choice of becoming his mistress is beyond her moral bounds and while begging door-to-door in a distant village, finds herself on the stoop of Mr. St. John Rivers and his sisters. There she finds new directions but she can’t seem to leave behind the concept of never being with Mr. Rochester.
Experience: I got into this novel as a self-imposed challenge, given my dislike for Charlotte Brontë the person (you can read more about that in my article on Jane Austen Vs Charlotte Brontë). To ensure that I remained completely objective in my reading, I decided to venture through the book the first time as I would any novel instead of holding it to the expectations of a classic. Once I got the story down, I immersed myself in the literary analysis. Both times, I enjoyed and disliked the same scenes and aspects so this should be a fairly unbiased review. Read the rest of this entry »
Title Lost in Austen
Starring Jemima Rooper and Elliot Cowan
Director Dan Zeff
Writer(s) Guy Andrews
Genre Romance Fantasy Drama
Release Date September 2008
Filming Location United Kingdom
Parental Guidance PG
IMDB Rating 7.5
Synopsis: Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) laments her ordinary life and less-than-romantic boyfriend-trying-to-be-fiancé because she cannot get enough of Pride and Prejudice. She dreams of living in the courteous world of Jane Austen’s creation. And then Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) stumbles through a portal in Amanda’s bathroom and they switch… realms. Somehow managing to pass off Elizabeth’s disappearance as an exchange program to the Bennets, Amanda finds allies among Elizabeth’s father Mr. “Claud” Bennet (Hugh Bonneville) and elder sister Jane Bennet (Morven Christie) even while feeding the suspicions of mother Mrs. Bennet (Alex Kingston) and best friend Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan). Amanda bumbles her way through this world, trying to ensure Elizabeth’s absence does not ruin the rest of the novel’s plot. However, in her willingness to precipitate the story and through her very modernized manners, she makes a muck of things. Too soon, Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowen) and Miss Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) convinces Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) to shed his love for Jane and Jane, not Charlotte, ends up marrying Mr. Collins (Guy Henry) and so forth. And Amanda is desperate to return Elizabeth to her rightful place in the story, too, because Mr. Darcy is very much in danger of falling in love with Amanda and Amanda also finds herself in equal danger of returning the affection.
Experience: Some time ago, fellow blogger Ally asked me, in response to my ranting off in a post on Charlotte Brontë vs. Jane Austen, whether I am in Team Elizabeth or Team Darcy. My answer was, of course, Team Elizabeth because only by pretending to be Elizabeth, can I “make love to” Darcy. [It obviously has been a source of constant contemplation of mine] Some time later, I came across a blog that listed a few P&P inspired films and learned about Lost in Austen, a movie that depicts just what fantasizing about a fictitious hero could’ve led me to if my world was perfect.
Oh! Sweet Hell!
I think Austen fans do this to themselves all the time. There are those who create fanfictions because they cannot bear the idea that the novel had to come to an end (I do not include the zombie apocalypse in this, which could have only been contrived out of jealous spite); then there are those of us who cannot presume to work upon Austen’s masterpieces but keep seeking out these fanfictions because we too cannot get enough of the originals and are secretly masochists because the spin-offs are usually so baaaad. Lost in Austen is not bad at all.
Apart from a stellar cast, most of whom do their respective roles almost as great service as in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Guy Andrews wrote the story so plausibly that I hated for this TV movie to end. Truly, it has such believable plot twists – nay CHARACTER twists – that I, too, like Amanda would begin to wonder how Austen could have gotten all these details about everyone’s characters so wrong had I gotten stuck in Austen. [I almost expected Austen to materialize and smite me for this blasphemy] But, really, how could Austen ever be wrong? *laughs nervously while looking over her shoulder*
Thankfully, nothing in the movie really happened just like P&P is also a work of fiction. But this movie is a damn good alternate story. And Amanda’s character is just the gumptious replacement for Elizabeth’s in the story if ever the existence of the world as we know it depended on Elizabeth to be replaced. [I’m so confused right now; I don’t know what’s real and what’s fiction anymore]
Recommendation: I’m putting an abrupt halt to my analysis because I demand Austen-lovers watch this mini-series to find out exactly what has my bloomers in a bunch. See if it doesn’t leave YOU disoriented! *glares challengingly at the screen*
Also, if you enjoy feasting your eyes on beautiful men, look no further than this sumptuous banquet *drools*
I have a confession: I never read Jane Eyre cover-to-cover; I skimmed all the way through. You know, the type of reading where you graze your eyes over the long passages and just get to the dialogues and actions to get the drift? Your heart is not in it and you’re reading it only to add a notch on your bookshelves? It is the only book I have ever read completely, not because of my love for the words but because I had an agenda to finish it, where, even after finishing it, I could not like it. Why have I been so acrimonious towards Jane Eyre? Because of the author.
I hate Charlotte Brontë – as a person (as an author, I am not in the liberty to comment because I didn’t read her novel properly). How can I hate a person who lived over one-and-quarter century prior to my birth? It wasn’t terribly difficult. In fact, it was quite instantaneous. Because of what she said about Jane Austen:
“Why do you like Jane Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. … I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.”
~ Charlotte Brontë to literary critique G.H. Lewis, 1848, in response to his comparison of Jane Eyre to Pride and Prejudice
The courtship between books and food is a long and withstanding one. It is the reason behind the ready success of book cafes; why poetry recitals are held in coffee shops; why Starbucks provides such a great number of power points to facilitate its author-patrons. It is why book clubs meet over wines and crudités, and authors mention different food elements in their stories. Here, I am not only talking about recipe books or stories with chef-characters.
Authors so often effectively explore food culture in their books because not only is food a requirement for survival but food habits is a telling glimpse into a character’s personality, background and even to a certain extent psychology. Little signs such as the way a character takes his coffee or the addition of hummus in the buffet at a party may add complementary or contrasting effects to the profile the author is trying to build. I recently read a book where the author elaborately used a variety of food elements in his world-building to set up the sexual symbolism that drove the base of the plot. Food can be present in stories as an active element as well as an inactive element, such as when a character bogged by emotional or physical stress just goes about the daily task of maintaining sustenance without any attention to what they are eating or the absence of food when a character starts to skip meals while grieving. Just as the infinite range of appetizing dishes available in this world, an author’s imagination can take flight in any direction they fancy with food.
As I was working on the manuscript of the current novel I am writing, where the protagonist is the owner of a popular pastry shop, I was considering what an integral part of books food is. I was thinking not only of how I wish to use food in developing the character, setting, and plot of my novel but also how I want my readers to be prompted by what they read into wanting to live it in their physical plane, i.e. I want my readers to want to grab that yellow butternut squash cupcake with the cheese frosting and experience the novel as they read. And as thoughts tend to do, mine trailed onto how certain books prompt my own food cravings. How reading a certain character eat something makes me want to taste it. How I have begun associating certain books with certain food in such a permanent way that the food dependency has now reversed and when I eat a particular dish, I am even reminded of that book.
The following are works of my favorite authors, writers whom I hope to emulate in my devotion to being a novelist, and the food cravings they inspire: Read the rest of this entry »
WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #04 – Jane Austen’s Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones
Title Persuasion (A BBC adaption of the Jane Austen novel of same name)
Starring Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones
Director Adrian Shergold
Screenplay Simon Burke
Genre Romantic Satire, Drama
Release Date January 13, 2007
Filming Location Bath, Somerset, England
Parental Guidance PG – General viewing, but parental discretion advised
IMDB Rating 7.6
Synopsis: Anne’s (Sally Hawkin) life has been led by others. She lives with a narcissistic father, Sir Walter Elliot (Anthony Head), and a self-absorbed elder sister who leave her to handle all household responsibilities but give her none of the credit for it. She has a younger sister married off but who always calls for her ministrations whenever fancying herself ill. And her only confidant is her deceased mother’s best friend, Lady Russell (Alice Krige), who has only her “best interest” at heart but may love her a little too dearly. At twenty-eight, Anne has resigned herself to spinsterhood and obscurity when the return of a former paramour sends her heart once again aflutter. Once almost engaged to Fredrick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones), Anne’s love affair had been halted by Lady Russell’s advice on the unsuitability of their stations and connections in life. But Wentworth returns to their lives as an exalted Royal Navy captain who made a sizeable fortune serving the nation and Anne must eat crow. As a series of circumstances keep pushing the former lovers into each other’s paths, each struggle in their own way to be not affected. Anne does not believe she has another chance with Wentworth because she rightly discerns that he still blames her for being so easily influenced away from his proposal in the past. And then there is also the sudden entry of a distant cousin who is to eventually inherit her father’s baronetcy and who seems to fancy Anne. Any chance of reconciliation and rekindling affection between Anne and Wentworth, therefore, seems hopeless.
Experience: I always feel that whenever a Jane Austen novel is adapted into a film, people start comparing it to the epic 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. So I consciously switched off my parity tool because let’s face it – there will never be another flawless masterpiece like Pride and Prejudice or such a dedicated collection of cast and crew to turn a literary work into a 06-hour cinematic indulgence of an author’s genius. So with a deep breath and a mind as unbiased as possible, I sat down to watch Persuasion. For a 1.5-hour TV movie, it was a pretty good attempt to emulate and entertain. And not only because it had Austen’s clever storytelling style to fall back on.
Definitely, the strongest facet of the movie was its mechanics. The direction, the cinematographic techniques, the queueing of the scenes and music all swelled and dissipated to match the ethos of the story as it progressed. From the first scene where the camera circled Anne and followed her about as she rushed from room to room auditing items in preparation for the time when the Elliot family will move out to lease their home to strangers to that when she rushes all through Bath in search of Wentworth so she could tell him she accepts his proposal to that in the privacy of her room as she records in her diary her romantic success and secretly smiles into the camera to allow the audience to bask in her happiness, Burke and Shergold perfectly captures the protagonist. As to the protagonist herself, Hawkins may not have been my first choice for the role of Anne, a girl in her late twenty’s that has lost some of her bloom but still remains adequately pretty, but Hawkins manages to flirt with the camera in a subtle way that gives Anne life. While in the book, Anne’s character is more subtle, the movie-Anne does not suffer for the little boldness inspired by Hawkins.
Moreover, Hawkins manages to portray the drama that revolves around Anne’s character. She allows herself to be shuffled between her family members and is often led by Lady Russell’s advice, but it does not make her unobservant or unfeeling. She watches and notes her surroundings acutely but accepts her lot in life for the most part. But there are moments when she does not allow herself to be bid, moments where her logic prevails. This aspect of Anne’s character is well-turned out by Hawkins in the movie in the manner with which she moves. In the novel, Austen did not give the docile Anne much dialogue but Hawkins very intelligently trounces that challenge with her body language. Comparatively, Penry-Jones did not pick up on the subtlety of Austen’s depiction of Wentworth. Rarely do I say someone has underacted but Penry-Jones playing Wentworth is one of those times. I can only assume he did not read the novel, which for an Austen fan like me is unforgivable. However, he is handsome and just enough handsome to be adequately cast as Wentworth.
Another notable portrayal is of Sir Walter Elliot by Head. Now, I must admit I am a bit biased towards Head from his Buffy the Vampire Slayer days but, again, I tried not to be while watching the movie. I found Head to portray Sir Walter with just the right level of ridiculousness necessary to make him unlikeable. I initially thought Head was disappointing me with overacting until I remembered Sir Walter and the rest of the Elliot clan were meant to be comic relief. They are the characters that are the butt of Austen’s satirical wit. So, yes, when Head does literally huff and puff at the possibility of having to rent his family seat to people of “inferior birth” and potential “coarse countenance”, it is the required precedent.
The one character I felt that could have gotten more screen time was Lady Russell’s. Lady Russell plays an indispensable antithetical role to Anne-and-Wentworth’s relationship in the novel. More so than the fact that she openly discourages Anne from pursuing a relationship with Wentworth (in the past and present), it is the nature of her influence, the subtlety that is wrought in her relationship with Anne, that makes Lady Russell a centrifugal force in Anne’s actions in abandoning her desires, and later in her polite decline to subjugate. While Anne’s tendency to be persuaded to do the biddings of her family members is the surface manifestation of her character, it is Lady Russell’s persuasiveness, albeit, in good faith that does the pertinent harm to Anne’s happiness. It is especially more disappointing Lady Russell’s character is not more explored in the movie because Krige has proven in past performance that she is able to deliver the necessary gravitas for such a role.
The other smaller parts are played relatively well and relevantly ensures the smooth flow of the plot depiction. In particular, the characters of Mary (Amanda Hale), Anne’s younger extracting and fretful sister, and Charles Musgrove (Sam Hazeldine), Mary’s husband and Anne’s once upon a time admirer, are performed suitably well. Interestingly enough, the role of William Elliot (Tobias Menzies), the distant cousin who aims to sweep Anne off her feet, is played better than one would expect. The novel mostly portrays Mr. Elliot’s character via the grapevine, yet Menzies brought out the character with mastery.
Recommendation: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do. If you are a Jane Austen fan, do it right now! After BBC’s 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility [too many ‘and’s but you’ll figure it out], I found this to be the next best Austen rendering.