Emma by Jane Austen

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…and it really was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than three men in one year.

I probably consider Emma my second favorite Jane Austen novel next to Pride and Prejudice but I have to read Northanger Abbey to make a definitive statement and that novel is on my list to read this month.

With Emma, I got that familiar “twinkle” in Austen’s eye as the novel unfolds – that twinkle that I didn’t see as much in Mansfield Park or Persuasion. Emma Woodhouse is not necessarily as likeable a character as some of Austen’s other heroines; however, Emma’s snobbery comes across like a character from Seinfeld. Yes, we know about her selfishness but she’s going to make us laugh, anyway.

Then there’s all the carrying on about minutiae: how to have the best ball and who writes the best letters – more reminders of Seinfeld. Whoever said Jane was ahead of her time wasn’t kidding.

For me, though, the funniest aspect of the novel was the long-running “gag” about Harriet Smith. Harriet goes from an Emma-protege to an Emma-annoyance all because of Emma’s own doing.

It made me laugh out loud.

I read Emma for the Jane Austen Read-All-Along hosted by James over at James Reads Books.

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

All went well – she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete…

I finally finished Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or as I’ve affectionately come to call it “A Tale of Two Necklaces”. Of course, it’s not really about necklaces; however, in the middle of the novel when the heroine Fanny Price receives necklaces as gifts before going to a ball in her honor – the gifts being from two critical characters in the story – I couldn’t help but put this small detail in a category of what I would call “a nice touch”.

Before reading this novel, I had heard plenty of general thoughts about it not the least of which were from members of my family. Most of the thoughts (family and otherwise), were not positive. While I understand some of the negativity surrounding it, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I realize that Fanny Price, all meek and mild and timid, can be considered different from other Austen heroines. She doesn’t initially come across as very strong of mind and will.

The reader tends to get most of their understanding of Fanny from the numerous characters around her. They rarely get into Fanny’s thoughts. It seems to always be what others think of her. The reader doesn’t necessarily get Fanny’s own opinion until she shows significant resolve in the face of everyone around her when she refuses the marriage proposal of Henry Crawford. Her rationale proves everyone else wrong even if this part of the story may be a little over the top. I thought it still worked.

Then there is the puzzling aspect of the play that the family and visitors of Mansfield Park decide to perform. As I read this part of the novel, I feel as though most of the characters are wanting to live vicariously through the play – a sort of ‘lets set aside all of the social norms of our day without actually setting them aside.” I wonder if Jane lived vicariously through the characters she created.

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In the end, things work out for Fanny as they have in the other of Jane’s novels I’ve read. I still consider Pride and Prejudice my favorite but I have a high appreciation for Mansfield Park. I read this for the Jane Austen Read All Along over at James Reads Books. Up next for October is Emma. I just started it but I think I will enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed Jane’s other novels.

Even though I refer to other authors by their last name, it just seems right to refer to Jane Austen as Jane.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has so many great lines but as I re-read it, I couldn’t help but enjoy the visit Elizabeth Bennett makes to Pemberley. Her nervousness that the wealthy owner Mr. Darcy, to whom she had refused a marriage proposal, might be there makes her endearing; however, her “this could all be mine” moment makes her even more endearing.

Pride and Prejudice

I find it very humorous that after Elizabeth’s awe-inspiring view of the estate she does meet Mr. Darcy unexpectedly – but now he is so much more kind and gentlemanly. I do realize that Austen develops Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy beautifully and as readers, we know that they are on an introspective journey of personal growth as they learn about each other and get past first impressions. But the fact that the turning point comes for Elizabeth as she takes in all of the wealth around her at Pemberley puts so much depth (and I’ll say it again, humor) into the characters, it makes the story nothing short of delightful.

I’ve often half-joked with my family that, fictionally, I prefer romances in which the couple doesn’t end up together. If one or both die, even better. And I can make a case that some of the great love stories of all time follow this pattern. But I make a gigantic exception with Pride and Prejudice. In the case of this novel, wondering if they get together is half of the fun. The other half is when they actually do.

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I’ve now read three Jane Austen novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. So far, Pride and Prejudice is by far my favorite. Following James over at James Reads Books with his Jane Austen Read-All-Along, in September, I can look forward to Mansfield Park, a novel for which I’ve heard mixed reviews. But I’m looking forward to it anyway.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

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My favorite scene in Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility comes when Marianne Dashwood bemoans her problems with a specific man to all those within hearing distance. In an effort to calm Marianne’s nerves, the gossipy (and hilarious) Mrs. Jennings prepares a glass of wine for her; however, Marianne’s sister Elinor Dashwood, who is having very similar problems with another man but who characteristically keeps it a secret, interrupts Mrs. Jennings and offers to take the glass of wine to her sister. But instead of taking the wine to its intended recipient, she goes off in secret and drinks it herself.

I envision Elinor perhaps quickly chugging a large goblet of wine or maybe throwing back a small glass like a shot, but maybe she just sits by herself and sips it – slowly. In any case, I found the whole scene very funny and a microcosm of the Dashwood sisters’ larger story.  Their inwardness and outwardness project the confinements placed on them by their society. Given that Jane Austen has achieved rock star status some 200 years after her death, it’s not surprising that those same confinements (gender, lack of money) can still be recognized in society, today.

While Sense and Sensibility’s focus is on the Dashwood sisters with Elinor being the main contributor to the narration, it’s actually the story of these two women in addition to three men. The dashing Willoughby is the man who is the most “passionate” and outwardly seems to be the most rebellious – the man one might think would be the most likely to brush off those societal chains. But that’s not the case. His counterparts, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, both very straight-laced and what one could consider shy, become the rule breakers.

The more I think about this novel, the more I like it.

Jane Austen Read All

Sense and Sensibility is the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published and the first in the Jane Austen Read-All-Along sponsored by James at James Reads Books, the goal of which is to read all of Jane Austen’s novels in the order of publication by the end of the year – one each month starting in July. In August, I’ll be re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

I’ve enjoyed reading Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott this year but based on what I’ve read, in my humble opinion, the Nineteenth Century Female Author to beat all Nineteenth Century Female Authors is George Eliot. I felt this way after I read Silas Marner back in 2013 and immediately went out and bought The Mill on the Floss. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to read it but I’m glad I finally did. I can’t wait this long to read more of Eliot’s work.

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From the beginning, Eliot’s own narration drew me into the story and I knew she wouldn’t disappoint:

Ah, my arms are really benumbed. I have been pressing my elbows on the arms of my chair, and dreaming that I was standing on the bridge in front of Dorlcote Mill, as it looked one February afternoon many years ago. Before I dozed off, I was going to tell you what Mr and Mrs Tulliver were talking about, as they sat by the bright fire in the left-hand parlour, on that very afternoon I have been dreaming of.

As I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about this novel since I finished it, the one thing I come up with as to why she is my favorite of the above mentioned authors is that her narrative and characters are so subtle and nuanced and yet she’s able to realistically surprise the reader by having characters respond in ways one wouldn’t have expected.

Like the heroines of the other authors, Eliot gives Maggie Tulliver an intelligence and strong will that pushes against and surprises her family and society, usually to their disappointment. Her brother Tom treats her in a less than noble manner while children but the reader (and Eliot herself, I believe) has to give a little admiration to Tom as he makes a tireless and ultimately successful endeavor to win back their lost family property and respect. The chorus of arrogant Aunts on Maggie and Tom’s mother’s side constantly chide Maggie for her nonconforming ways but eventually stand up for her when Tom feels he needs to banish her from the family.

As she develops a wonderful friendship and almost-romance with the shy and deformed Phillip Wakem, Maggie surprised me by getting caught up in the ways and words of the dashing Stephen Guest. Even Stephen Guest doesn’t fit the mold of “mean rich guy”; he reminds me more of Laurie in Little Women.

Then there is the finale that is arguably anything but subtle and nuanced. I firmly believe that many stories are worth reading even if one knows how they will end and The Mill on the Floss is one of them but I won’t reveal the ending. However, I couldn’t help feel that Eliot had given hints (subtle ones) along the way of how the story would wrap up. It was kind of like a literary de ja vu.

I’ll just say that of the three men between which Maggie’s devotion is torn, the one she ends up with is a fascinating choice.

What are your thoughts about George Eliot? Which of her novels have you read and how would you compare her to other popular Nineteenth Century Female British authors?

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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No, it was not regret which made Anne’s heart beat in spite of herself, and brought color into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!

I’ve always felt that I have to hand it to Jane Austen for achieving rock star status some 200 years after publishing her work. Her novel Pride and Prejudice introduced me to her close to two decades ago. When I flip through the copy that I read, I see that I was still writing in books. Numerous times I would put a “Ha!” next to a sentence or section that I found humorous. A few times, I even put a “Ha! Ha!”

Little did I know that years later, my teenage daughters (at my wife’s suggestion) would read that same copy. They find it funny that I wrote all those Ha!’s. I think it was before the days of “LOL”.

I could see the proverbial twinkle in Jane Austen’s eye as I read Pride and Prejudice. I’m probably the only person that would compare Jane Austen to Kurt Vonnegut but Vonnegut has that same twinkle in his writing.

Now all of these years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Jane Austen again. This time it’s her final novel Persuasion which I have heard many in the blogosphere, in addition to my wife, say is their favorite and/or Austen’s best work.

Persuasion has more of a maturity about it than Pride and Prejudice while keeping with the same themes. Money, social status, and who will get married and why all still play into the plot. Throughout the novel, the word “persuasion” is used frequently to describe the influence various characters have over others in regards to the above list. The romance of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth is a much longer process than that of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It’s this length of time that might make this story the more realistic.

Yes, it’s realistic, mature and beautifully written with well developed characters; however, I didn’t find that same eye-twinkle in Persuasion that I did in Pride and Prejudice. That’s alright – not all great novels have to have humor. And I would consider Persuasion great.

 

 

War and Peace: The first 54 pages…

I started reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace yesterday.  It seems this book is synonymous with “big book”.  My edition has 1,442 pages; but when I think about it, several series over the last few years have significantly more pages than War and Peace.  I think of a certain kid’s series with a boy wizard that is at least twice as long.  In reading a little about War and Peace, I found out that the novel was originally published in serial format and the novel now is separated into four books, though they are together in one volume.

So far the story reminds me very much of Jane Austen’s writing.  The novel initially begins in 1805, right around the time that Jane Austen’s novels were published.  The characters attend quite a few parties and balls and discuss love, life, and politics.  Their conversations seem to be on a grander scale than the conversations in Austen’s novels, though.  Perhaps in part due to the continuous mention of Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon Bonaparte.

During the first gathering, the hostess, Anna Pavlovna, spends her time bouncing from one group of people to another making sure nobody is stepping on anyone’s toes with their political discussions.  I’ve been to parties like this.  At the (outloud) musings of Pierre Bezuhov regarding Napoleon (Pierre could be called “pro-Bonaparte”), one of his acquaintances tells him “My dear fellow, one can’t everywhere and at all times say all one thinks.”

So true, so true.  I think I’m going to enjoy this book.