strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
I did enjoy this, but by the time I got to about chapter 9, I began to feel that it didn't quite have the same depth and complexity as the other Austen novels I've read to date: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I wondered whether this might be because it was an earlier effort that the other two, and when I checked, this turned out to be true - although she actually also wrote Pride and Prejudice between her original draft of S&S and the final, and significantly revised, published version, so things are a bit more complicated than their publication dates alone would suggest.

Compared to Austen's other novels, even the main characters here feel rather like stereotypes, and although Marianne in particular does develop over the course of the novel, it is not a particularly surprising or challenging course of development. The three men who become involved in the sisters' lives also seem rather deficient from a 21st-century point of view. Willoughby is a slimy, lying bastard, Edward Ferrars is as dull as ditchwater, and Colonel Brandon is self-centred and manipulative. I'm particularly curious as to whether Austen meant Willoughby's 'explanation' of his behaviour towards Marianne to sound convincing or reasonable. Since the sister who represents 'Sense' is swayed by it, I can only assume so, but to me it read like the worst kind of back-pedalling worming - the sort of stuff which the Sex and the City girls would see straight through. Then again, the entire plot revolves around social norms which Carrie and her friends would laugh at, so it's hardly fair to hold it up to the same standards.

The social satire and humour I associate with Austen is definitely here, though. I especially enjoyed Mr. Palmer and his wife as comic characters, although that view may be partly influenced by Hugh Laurie's brilliant performance as Mr. Palmer in the film. I also found myself wondering, in the light of Clueless, how this novel would play as a high school drama - and I think the answer is extremely well. Compared to most adult women today, the concerns and priorities of Austen's characters do appear rather green and teenaged, and if marriage to a man of fortune is only replaced by an invite to the prom date from a member of the high-school band, football team or whatever, the rest of the plot continues to work pretty well.

Finally, I owe an apology to the author of An American Boy. I complained when I read that about what seemed to me the over-done mannerism of writing all street-names in the format 'Wellington-terrace' instead of 'Wellington Terrace', feeling that it was a case of trying too hard to evoke a period feel. But it really is exactly what Jane Austen does with total consistency throughout this book - along with other idiosyncratic spellings like 'chuse', 'shew' and most interestingly 'our's' and 'her's'. I like that last one particularly, because it is one in the eye for the people who seem to believe that there was once a Golden Age of spelling in which everyone knew exactly how to use an apostrophe. I fear there never was - but I also believe that is no reason not to try to create one in the present.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
Read partly because I love Clueless, of course, but also because I very much enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice at school, and have enjoyed the odd film or TV adaptation of her books here and there since.

Like Pride and Prejudice, what I liked most about it is the range of character types depicted, and the way their interactions allow Austen to demonstrate and explore her themes of character and society. I guess you could argue that some of them are a bit one-dimensional in both novels - like the flirty Lydia in Pride and Prejudice or the aunt who can't shut up (Miss Bates) in Emma. But they're also very comically drawn, which makes up for it, and in any case the principal characters (again in both novels) are much more complex, and really do change and grow over the course of the stories.

My Mum was pretty surprised when, as a teenager, I expressed enjoyment over reading P&P (by contrast, I hated Jane Eyre). She'd had to read it at school too, and couldn't believe how vapid the concerns and conversations of all the characters in it were. She's forgiven Jane Austen more recently, and started reading some of her other books (I forget which), but reading Emma with that perspective in mind gave me a wry smile every now and then.

There's one chapter, for instance (ch. 34), almost entirely devoted to a conversation between several of the female characters about how Jane Fairfax should not risk her health by walking to the post office in the rain. (You would be amazed by how much conversational mileage they manage to get out of this topic.) Now, obviously, from a modern point of view that sounds ridiculous. A typical woman (or indeed man) today might very well walk to the post office in the rain, give a lecture, chair a meeting, write a report, deal with a friend's personal crisis and go out to a party in the evening, all on the very same day. But I think it was supposed to seem just a little absurd to Austen's contemporary female readers as well. It's a comic parody of gossipy socialite conversation, it reveals quite a lot about the characters of the people having it, and it also actually does have quite important plot resonances later on, when you discover the 'twist' about Jane Fairfax.

Talking of the plot, it was of course also interesting to read in the light of Clueless. The plots of the two aren't exactly the same, and nor is the cast of characters, so knowing the one gives you a rather bizarre half-knowledge of the other. I could tell as I read that Frank Churchill in Emma had been the inspiration for Christian in Clueless, for example - but I was pretty sure he wasn't going to turn out to be gay! On the other hand, I was instantly struck by how much the light, breezy narrative voice-overs from Alicia Silverstone in Clueless actually do match the tone of the authorial voice in Emma. OK, so what they're talking about is a little different, and Jane Austen is remarkably free of Californian high-school lingo. But sometimes, it really was as though I could hear Alicia Silverstone reading the words to me in my head.

In short, an excellent read, which has also made me appreciate Clueless all the more. I've got Sense and Sensibility waiting on my bookshelf, so I think it won't be too long before I'm pursuing my Jane Austen trail a little further.

strange_complex: (Yuri skirts)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on a video recorded off the telly several years ago.

A rewatch. I love this movie. That was probably about the fourth time I've seen it - although the last time can't have been all that recent, as there was quite a lot in it I'd forgotten all about. I think it must have been before I moved to Belfast in 2004, actually.

The reason I'm rewatching it now is that I'm currently reading Jane Austen's Emma, of which it is of course a re-imagining. That will be blogged in its own good time (like, when I've finished it), but suffice it to say that film and book both do each other enormous credit. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the book now that I've been reminded more-or-less what happens.


strange_complex: (Default)

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