Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy, yes, but so much more!

I love that ABC News recently covered the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Convention—comparing Jane Austenites to sports fans or Trekkies in their enthusiasm and dedication.

However, I grow weary of the media taking the sloppy and limiting approach of focusing on the Mr. Darcy-Romantic Heartthrob angle as the sole reason that readers love Jane Austen. Jane Austen is absolutely Mr. Darcy, but she is also SO much more for those who pay a little attention.

Why Mr. Darcy? Mr. Darcy encapsulates Jane Austen’s ability to define and create characters that can hold our attention after 200 years, her skill at making them come alive through dialogue and description, and her talent of placing them in engaging plots. Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby, Emma Woodhouse, even Mr. Elton—all come alive.

What more? Jane Austen’s books are filled with a sharp sense of wit and irony, scathing social satire, beautiful language and sentence constructions, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) character and plot developments. Her books were some of the first to describe the inequities of the gender and societal expectations of the time—some stated outright while some mere allusions. And her books depict the striving to create authentic relationships and life choices. Her female characters not only yearn for their independence and freedom, but actively seek it out, sometimes to our cheering and applause—like with Anne Elliot and Fanny Price—and sometimes to our disdain—like with Lucy Steele and Mary Crawford.

True love? So while Jane Austen succeeds in creating a handsome romantic lead in Mr. Darcy, she also creates a true love for authentic characters and a passion for evocative literature. One day I hope to join in on the fun of a JASNA Convention, and when I do, my fingers are crossed that I will interview with a media outlet that is knowledgeable about so much more than Mr. Darcy-as-Romantic Heartthrob.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sense and Sensibility: Six quotes leaving you wanting to know more

I love reading Jane Austen for the beauty of her dialogue and the insight she gives her characters. I find her words soothing, perceptive, funny, and infuriating all at the same time! If you haven't read Sense and Sensibility in a while (or ever), here are six quotes to lure you to open it back up...


A quote that sets the stage for the entire book--referring to the 3 daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) and their mother (Mrs. Dashwood) after the unexpected death of Mr. Dashwood...

Fanny: They're all exceedingly spoilt, I find. Miss Margaret spends all her time up trees and under furniture. I've barely had a civil word from Marianne.
Edward Ferrars: My dear Fanny, they've just lost their father. Their lives will never be the same again.


A succinct summary of the elder daughter Elinor's situation with a deceased father and no husband, which encapsulates women's financial situation in general in 19th century England...

Elinor Dashwood: You talk of feeling idle and useless. Imagine how that is compounded when one has no hope and no choice of any occupation whatsoever.
Edward Ferrars: Our circumstances are therefore precisely the same.
Elinor Dashwood: Except that you will inherit your fortune. We cannot even earn ours.

Throughout the book, Jane Austen explores the juxtaposition of sense (logic) and sensibility (emotion) in her characters...

Colonel Brandon: Your sister seems very happy.
Elinor Dashwood: Yes. Marianne does not approve of hiding her emotions. In fact, her romantic prejudices have the unfortunate tendency to set propriety at naught.
Colonel Brandon: She is wholly unspoilt.
Elinor Dashwood: Rather too unspoilt, in my view. The sooner she becomes acquainted with the ways of the world, the better.
Colonel Brandon: I knew a lady very like your sister - the same impulsive sweetness of temper - who was forced into, as you put it, a better acquaintance with the world. The result was only ruination and despair. Do not desire it, Miss Dashwood.


Just when you want to dislike Marianne for her emotional impetuosity and self-absorption, she shares this with her sister and you have to change your whole view of her...

Elinor Dashwood: Do you compare your conduct with his?
Marianne: No, I compare it with what it ought to have been. I compare it with yours.


The importance of self-talk in every century! Here Elinor tries to convince herself that she can handle the impending situation...

Elinor Dashwood: “I WILL be calm; I WILL be mistress of myself.”


No explanation needed for the beauty of this quote...

Edward Ferrars: I-I've come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is, and always will be, yours.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Jane Austen: Author extraordinaire, Social satirist...and Game theorist?

A friend recently sent me a Freakonomics podcast simply because the name "Jane Austen" was in the title. Little did she know what a gift this was! And little did she know how much this would get me thinking about the genius of Jane Austen.

So what was this podcast all about? It interviewed researcher Michael Chwe, who proposes that Jane Austen "consciously intended to theorize strategic thinking in her novels." Think of Mrs. Bennett scheming to marry off her 5 daughters, or Emma contriving to arrange love matches among her acquaintances.

This study of strategic decision-making is otherwise known as "game theory." And Chwe wrote the book on Jane Austen, Game Theorist. Seriously, that is the name of his book: Jane Austen, Game Theorist.

Chwe explores how Jane Austen plots are pretty simplistic and basic (e.g., in Pride and Prejudice, get married), but what makes them so rich and complex are the manipulations (e.g., in Pride and Prejudice, mother Mrs. Bennett gets daughter Jane to know the new neighbor Bingley by going on horseback in the rain to visit). Introduce a basic plot line (the Bennetts have 5 daughters that need to be married off because they have no other choices) and then let the chess pieces fall into place and the strategizing begin: How will Bingley react? What will Bingley's sisters think? What can Mrs. Bennett do to further encourage things? What will Jane's sisters do? What other contenders may be in the running? Marvelous!

Game theory is specifically defined as "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers", but all that detail is for a different type of blog. This blog focuses on Jane Austen. And my mind is racing thinking of the stripped-down plots of her novels and the fabulous manipulations and meddling that ensue in them all.

Ah, who knew? Jane Austen, the godmother of Game Theory.

(for more information, check out the podcast at

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Does it have to be a Fanny vs. Mary world?

I usually read Mansfield Park with a slight yawn and sense of frustration with the character of Fanny Price--wanting to shake her and encourage her to stand up for herself. And I usually read it with a wary eye on the character of Mary Crawford--mesmerized by her vitality but suspicious, and even, I'll admit it, a little fearful of her manipulations.

This got me thinking...why do we always pit these two characters against one another? Fanny vs Mary, virtuous vs decadent, passive vs active. In the past, I always thought that if it came to blows, Mary would win the battle hands-down. But after thinking it through, I'm no longer certain.

In reality, their lives are moving in a similar path, with a similar end-goal of survival in a time when women did not have much power except in their manipulations of connections, wealth, and marriage.

Granted, Mary Crawford is assumed to have been raised in wealth and status, while Fanny Price was brought up in poverty until coming to live with the Bertrams as a dependent. But essentially they are both on the same path--vying for the attention of Edmund, ingratiating themselves into the wealthy Bertram family's lifestyle, encouraging/diverting Henry's behavior. And on top of that, they are both honest and straightforward: Mary in her pursuit of status, income, and marriage, and Fanny in her pursuit of morality, love, and stability.

So I am looking forward to re-reading Mansfield Park, but this time I'll keep an open and admiring mind to how they are both surviving, and thriving, in 19th Century England. And I'll be re-thinking who may win that fight, or even who they may team up against...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jane Austen and Health Care: Rest, prayers, and wealth

I recently experienced a pinched nerve that caused me endless torment--I was laid up in bed for 3 days and only survived because of the ministrations of an awesome chiropractor and copious amounts of Ibuprofen. This got me to thinking, of course, of Jane Austen. What in the heck would her characters have done faced with this same affliction? Health care in 19th century England was minimal, at best, and positively harmful, at worst.

To answer this question, I first opened Emma. Mr. Woodhouse, a hypochondriac in today's parlance, would have been my firmest advocate. He would have me eating gruel and warming myself by the fire in no time. A carriage would be dispatched for Mr. Perry, the apothecary, who could provide me with a tincture or, perhaps hopefully, a little quinine. That didn't sound quite so bad.

Sense and Sensibility appeared a bit more dire. Once again the apothecary Mr. Harris seemed to run the show, and bad luck to you if words such as "putrid tendency" and "infection" came out of his mouth. Recovery seemed to basically consist of rest and the prayers of those around you.

It is only in Persuasion that we hear any mention of a surgeon. As Louisa lies lifeless on the pavement, a surgeon examines her ("only a severe contusion to the head"). All of Louisa's friends and family members are at least provided cordials and restoratives as they wait for her to heal, a healing that is, yes, very long and drawn-out but which eventually ends in love and marriage. However, Louisa's recovery is in direct contrast to Anne's widowed friend Mrs. Smith who survives a rheumatic fever only to become a "cripple" who is shunned by society and living in poverty.

So basically I learned that I am very, very grateful for today's world of medicine and health care. It doesn't sound so bad to be able to allow our bodies and minds the time to heal on their own and it doesn't sound so bad to have the comfort and care of those around us; however, I learned that being sick and convalescing could really only be afforded by the wealthy and well-to-do!