Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 Tips to a Good Life, According to Emma

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Emma Woodhouse, from Jane Austen’s novel Emma, has decidedly stubborn opinions on how one should live one’s life.

1. Be born wealthy, but no so wealthy that one is obligated to hang out with superiors and act too cultivated. Emma enjoys reigning over her small town and acknowledges that having an income brings respectability. She maintains high standards for her behavior and education; however, she often gets distracted by other things than reading and studying.

2. Have a strong character and a witty mind. Emma enjoys sharing her opinions and influencing those around her with her wisdom and experience; to back up these actions, whether they are successful or not, she has a quick-thinking mind and a sharp tongue.

3. Avoid living a life of excess and vanity. Emma is very judgmental of individuals who seems to display “an air of foppery and nonsense.” Rationality in plans, moderation in expense, and a warmth of heart are much more important to her.

4. Always expect the best and stay positive. Emma feels that she should only deserve the best treatment from others; rebuking and condemning those who are not up to her high standards. She often attempts to share this way of life with her friends and family members.

5. Be willing to admit that sometimes your actions, no matter how well-intentioned, can bring disaster! (see #2,3,4, in fact, read the entire book Emma!)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In Honor of Thanksgiving: Gratitude in Jane Austen's Novels (118 times)

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and thankfulness. And upon checking out the website, I discovered that Jane Austen actually used the word "gratitude" 118 times in her novels, “grateful” 68 times, “thank” 119 times, and “thankful” 34 times (such an awesome website idea, I know right?! Jane Austen fans think of everything)

So let’s check out how some of Jane Austen’s characters express their gratitude.

Elizabeth Bennet to Darcy upon realizing that Mr. Darcy had, in essence, rescued the family from gossip and ill will:
“I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness... Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express….Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications...”
(pp. 365-366, Pride and Prejudice)

Sense and Sensibility is full of gratitude—here Mrs. Dashwood thanks a handsome stranger for helping her daughter recover from a fall in the rain:
“Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings. She thanked him again and again; and with a sweetness of address which always attended her, invited him to be seated. “
(p. 42)

And here the eldest daughter Elinor thanks her neighbor Colonel Brandon for his thoughtfulness:
“…her esteem for the general benevolence, and her gratitude for the particular friendship, which together prompted Colonel Brandon to this act, were strongly felt, and warmly expressed. She thanked him for it with all her heart…”
(p. 283)

Emma has the good fortune to not even need words to express her thankfulness to her friend Mr. Knightley:
“Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ball-room again, her eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked.”
(p. 330, Emma)

And best of all, when Anne Elliot realizes her true love returns the affection, she positively glows in her gratitude:
“An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of every thing dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.”
(p. 245, Persuasion)

So, in the spirit of Jane Austen and Thanksgiving, I am conscious of the opinion to acknowledge gratitude and admiration of you and yours!

(all references based on the the Oxford University Press editions)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who is your favorite Jane Austen character?

I get funny looks when I defensively respond to the friendly question of “who is your favorite Jane Austen character?”

Most people assume I love the intelligent, witty Elizabeth Bennet, who stands up for herself, acts with strength and reason, and refuses to give in to societal norms (Pride and Prejudice).

Others think of the fun-loving, passionate Marianne Dashwood, who lives on poetry and music, hurtling whole-heartedly into life heedless of the consequences. Or her counterpart, the calm, rational, loving Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility).

Even Emma Woodhouse, with her misguided acts of charity and interfering notions of friendship, may come up. For all of her wealth and status, Emma still strives to improve herself and help those around her (Emma).

And for those in the Jane Austen know, occasionally the young, dramatic Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey) or the ethical Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) may cross some lips.

And indeed I do love all of these characters!

But my heart will always be with sweet, kind, patient Anne Elliot (Persuasion). Anne doesn’t get the exciting lines, the dramatic dance moves, or the multiple love interests. In fact, in today’s Hollywood, she would be considered a B movie actress. But oh how she would stand out in those B movies!

Anne has a quiet power and strength of character that grows from a bare glimmer to a shining star. We peek into her past to learn of her struggles to find herself and the dire consequences of having listened to others instead of herself. And we walk with her as she is underappreciated and misunderstood yet stays true to herself. And we cheer her on as she finds her voice and her will and refuses to give in to the vanities of her family, the false claims of her friends, and the influence of societal standards. Best of all, we celebrate with her when, in the end, she gets all that she deserves.

So I answer defensively to the question “who is your favorite Jane Austen character?” because most people display a blank face when I respond. Just as in the book, Anne is underappreciated. But I know better.

How about you? Who is your favorite Jane Austen character?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take a hike!: Exercise and entertainment in Jane Austen’s world

For all the strictures and constraints in Jane Austen’s 19th century England, there are some surprisingly good stress management techniques. The characters are constantly visiting friends, drinking tea, playing card games, listening to piano music, dancing at balls, and taking hikes. No stressed-out, email-checking, can’t-go-anywhere-without-my-calendar people here!

Taking hikes, in particular, seems to accomplish a vast multitude of benefits: exercise, meditation, socialization, entertainment. Not to mention that it is a great way to find potential suitors!

After walking 3 miles to visit her ill sister, Elizabeth Bennett gets noticed (negatively) by the snarky Miss Bingley and (positively) by the enigmatic Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice). Marianne Dashwood stumbles in the rain and badly twists her ankle during a walk, only to be rescued by the gallant Mr. Willoughby who literally sweeps her off her feet (Sense and Sensibility). Anne Elliott’s quick thinking and deftness in helping her friend Louisa after a dangerous fall during a walk in Lyme regains her the regard of the noble Captain Wentworth (Persuasion).

And even if romance is not for you, taking a hike can improve the looks:
“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild” (about Elizabeth Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice, p. 35).

And soothe the mind:
“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn… (Anne Elliott, in Persuasion, p. 84).

And forget TV! Walking can provide endless entertainment with friends and family:
“When the weather is settled, and I have recovered my strength,” said she, “we will take long walks together every day. We will walk to the far a t the edge of the down, and see how the children go on; we will walk to Sir John’s new plantations at Barton-Cross, and the Abbeyland; and we will often go to the old ruins of the Priory…” (Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility, p. 343).

Almost makes me want to throw my TV out the window and take a walk right now! Who’s in with me?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The force (and big money) of Jane Austen

Jane Austen is truly a force to be reckoned with--witness her 19th century impact on the 21st century world!

 The bestselling Twilight book by Stephenie Meyer was supposedly based on the characters and plot of Pride and Prejudice. Personally, I could never imagine the majestic Mr. Darcy to ever lower himself to hang out with the mopey Edward Cullen. And the isolated and stubborn Bella Swan would only seem to annoy the witty and engaging Elizabeth Bennet; however, who am I to say…

 John Spence’s biography Becoming Jane Austen became the popular 2007 movie Becoming Jane that won the 2007 People's Choice Award for "Favorite Independent Movie". Becoming Jane starred Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy…ah, James McAvoy… those dreamy eyes… Hmmm…whoops, what was I talking about?

 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by authors Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith hit #3 on the New York Times Bestseller List! Funnier still, Entertainment Weekly magazine announced in their May 6, 2011 edition that director Craig Gillespie (director of Lars and the Real Girl) has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of this book! I could have done without Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was awesome--I really wish I had had the idea to write that book. Sigh.

 New productions of Jane Austen classics continue to flourish—including the 2009 Masterpiece version of Emma, the 2008 ITV Lost in Austen series, and the 2007 the Jane Austen Book Club movie. And let’s not forget the Latina version of Sense and Sensibility, From Prada to Nada (2011). And older productions of Jane Austen have made the big bucks—the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice grossed over $120 million and the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility over $134 million. I would spend money to see another Jane Austen-related movie or buy another Jane Austen-related book. In a heart beat. Better yet, I would be willing to write another Jane Austen-related movie or book!

So, to those who may scoff at the mention of Jane Austen, you and me, we know better. She has some serious staying power.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jane Austen on love and relationships--Harriet Smith style!

Advice on love, relationships, and marriage? Jane Austen has it! And more interestingly, just about each of her characters have a different opinion about it. Early on in Jane Austen’s novel Emma, we are introduced to Emma Woodhouse’s new friend Harriet with a warning. We are warned that she has no clever connections and no societal name. She is pretty but not clever at all. Does this mean disaster for love? Doom and gloom? Let’s find out…

1) Harriet and Robert Martin

“He had gone three miles round one day, in order to bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them—and in every thing else he was so very obliging” (p. 28)

It is quickly learned that Harriet has attracted the attentions of a nearby farmer; a wonderful find for the stifling class hierarchy and conceits of the day. Will this work out?

2) Harriet and Mr. Elton

No! Why? Emma believes that her friend Harriet should be a gentleman’s wife and quickly maneuvers Harriet’s interest to the village vicar, Mr. Elton.

“Whatever you say is always right,” cried Harriet, “and therefore I suppose, and believe, and hope it must be so; but otherwise I could not have imagined it. It is so much beyond any thing I deserve. Mr. Elton, who might marry any body!” (p. 74)

This supremely conceited man seems to play along with Harriet and Emma, until it is discovered that it is not Harriet he intends to snag but the rich Emma herself. Yikes.

3) Harriet and Frank Churchill

While trying to help Harriet overcome her thwarted love, Emma then comes to believe that Harriet is in love with the frivolous and fun-loving Frank Churchill:

“Service! Oh! It was such an inexpressible obligation! –the very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time—when I saw him coming—his noble look—and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness.” (Harriet, p. 342)

However, Emma soon learns that she is mistaken about Harriet and Frank Churchill. Whoops.

4) Harriet and Mr. Knightley

Emma is mistaken because Harriet has instead attached herself to the older, mature Mr. Knightley (see quote above, doing double duty!). This turns out troublesome because Emma herself is in love with Mr. Knightley.

5) Harriet and Robert Martin

Which all brings us back to Harriet’s first love, Mr. Martin.

“Before the end of September, Emma attended Harriet to church, and saw her hand bestowed on Robert Martin with so complete a satisfaction, as no remembrances, even with Mr. Elton as he stood before them, could impair.” (p. 482)

The final word of advice on love and relationships according to Jane Austen’s Harriet? Be open, faithful and true; and if it doesn’t work out, get over it and get someone else.

(all quotes from the Oxford Illustrated edition of Emma by Jane Austen)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Jane Austen Saved Me: An overly dramatic story, I admit it

No-one ever wants to get THAT kind of call, but I got it. The kind of call that makes time stand still and fear blossom in your chest. I got “the call” in which I learned my husband had been involved in a car accident and was being transported to the ER by an ambulance. No details were known except that the truck he had been driving had been totaled and no-one else had been involved.

Seven hours, 1 CT scan, 3 nurses, 2 doctors, multiple heart-wrenching calls, and many stitches later, my husband was released under my supervision with a nasty gash on his head, a concussion, and several broken ribs. For a week, he was out of action—mainly confined to his Lazy-Boy chair in a haze of meds. During this time I was out of action also—I literally dropped every work-related and personal obligation to sit at home with him. I didn’t even want to leave the house for fear I might miss something...

Okay, okay, you might say—what is this, I’m not reading this blog to hear about truck accidents, pain, and fear, where is the Jane Austen?! No worries, have patience, I am coming to it right now.

During this week, that is when Jane Austen saved me. In between answering phone calls and emails and making sure my husband was okay, I happened to open Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. And even with my fears about health insurance coverage and future employment options and traumatic brain injuries, I actually smiled at her descriptions of society interactions and personalities. I tore through the book and headed to Pride and Prejudice. I found strength and courage from Elizabeth Bennett and resolved not to give in to histrionics like her mother.

Emma and Persuasion reinforced a sense of courage, determination, and redemption.

I devoured all of Jane Austen’s six main works. And because of that, I sat with my husband with a sense of calm, patience, and hope. My husband slowly healed, our health insurance eventually came through, the support from our family and friends was amazing, and we both ultimately returned to work and life.

THAT is how Jane Austen saved me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Jane Austen?

This may come as a surprise to some, but I am finally going to admit it: I worship Jane Austen.

This is not the trendiest thing to say in today’s world, but there it is. Jane Austen is my hero—I would invite Jane to stay at my house and I wouldn’t complain even if she watched reality TV all day, snored loudly, and forgot to take out the trash. I would love her even if she were the co-worker that ate my food out of the office fridge without asking and talked too long at meetings. I would continue to extol her virtues even if she were the only cashier with a long line of customers who continuously called for time-consuming price checks and gave back incorrect change. That is how much I adore Jane Austen.

Why am I now coming out of the Jane Austen closet? Why would I admit such a societal faux pas as to revere Ms Austen’s every word? It is time, people! It is time to give credit where credit is due—Jane Austen has the answers for each and every one of us.

The answers to what exactly, you may ask? Well, in a nutshell, to life! Here is a simple example—open up a Jane Austen book to any page and her advice for a good life will pop out at you.
1. Who else would extol us to be “extremely merry all day long” just because there will be a dance in the evening? (Sense and Sensibility, p. 67*)
2. Or to take on long walks because “distance is nothing when one has a motive”? (Pride and Prejudice, p. 32)
3. Or require the best treatment because you “never put up with any other”? (Emma, p. 474)

Such words of wisdom! I tell you, Jane Austen knows all and that is why I love her. You can even quote me on that.

*pages quoted are from the Oxford University Press edition