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200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication (not the writing) of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so it’s appropriate that I say a few words and provide some links. (Fear not, any non-Austen fans [who are you people?]: I’ll be talking about other stuff too.)

First up is “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at 200: Looking Afresh at a Classic” in The Guardian, 26 January 2013, by Bharat Tandon (writing about Mrs. Bennet sympathetically), John Mullan (about Mr. Bennet, damningly), Zoe Williams (Lizzie Bennet, unsympathetically), Sebastian Faulks (Mr. Darcy is a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac), P.D. James (who writes an unpersuasive alternate history wherein George Wickham succeeds in life and Mr. Darcy fails), Paula Byrne (Lydia Bennet), Janet Todd (Mary Bennet) and Lucy Mangan (Charlotte Lucas). The reassessments of Mr. Bennet, Lizzie, Mr. Darcy and Charlotte rearranged my thinking a trifle.

Not as “fresh” because it’s from October 2005 but no less valuable for that is critic Abigail Nussbaum’s post “4 Popular Misconceptions About Pride and Prejudice.” The four are “Jane Austen wrote chick-lit,” “Elizabeth Bennet is a ‘modern’ woman,” “Mr. Darcy is a reformed rake,” and “Elizabeth Bennet is a twit/Elizabeth Bennet is perfection incarnate.”

Ms. Nussbaum is a very perceptive critic, as I’ve mentioned before, and she has written 14 posts on Austen to date. In a March 2010 post on Persuasion, she wrote,

“I think that Persuasion wants us to think of Anne as saintly, someone who can put up with her father’s vanity, her sisters’ pride or dependence, her in-laws’ silliness, without losing her patience or composure, but the superiority with which Anne views almost everyone she encounters in the novel belies this approach. There is something off-putting about being the sort of person who spends their life believing themselves to be superior to everyone else and detaching themselves from their surroundings because of that belief, even if it is entirely justified. It smacks of not trying hard enough to find one’s own level. Anne seems to enjoy being the smartest person in the room, the one who sees and silently laughs at everyone else’s foibles and weaknesses, a little too much, and the novel lets her get away with this.

“We are enjoined, of course, from mistaking characters for their author, and lord knows that Jane Austen has suffered from this fallacious tendency far more than most, but it’s impossible to know more than a little of her life and not wonder just how much of Austen, or of her idealized image of herself, there is in Anne.”

   From Nussbaum’s post of September 2009 on Sense and Sensibility:

“In all of Austen’s novels, there’s a tension between the romantic text and the decidedly unromantic subtext, but in Sense and Sensibility the two seem to be almost at war. This is probably in keeping with Austen’s own character, which was likely much closer to the cynical, money-obsessed spinster from the miniseries Miss Austen Regrets than the starry-eyed romantic she was made out to be in Becoming Jane, but also makes for an uncomfortable read in the early 21st century. Though I certainly wouldn’t say that money no longer plays any factor in courtship, or that games of control and manipulation have disappeared in the wake of feminism and the sexual revolution (the very existence of The Rules, and more recently of seduction manuals, gives the lie to that claim), Sense and Sensibility‘s moral feels more of its own time than any of Austen’s other novels. It’s hard not to feel that when Marianne says to Elinor that she compares her behavior ‘with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours’ that what she’s saying is that she should have played hard to get and waited for an engagement ring.”

   I’ve been reading some novels by Georgette Heyer (touted as Ms. Austen’s successor) that I’ve missed heretofore, and was especially pleased (delighted, actually) with Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (1957), which puts quite a bit of Austen’s real character into that of Phoebe Marlowe—but makes her a romantic. However, I was decidedly displeased with a biography of Heyer by Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer (2004), because it was written by someone not only devoid of literary talent but deficient in basic writing skills. When a biographer tackles a talented, brilliant or genius writer, she or he has to have some of the goods too.

Some of Heyer’s other novels that I’ve read recently: Devil’s Cub (1932), which was very good; The Talisman Ring (1936), which was so much fun (I tried to ignore the cover illustration, which owed a lot to the William Powell Frith painting The Railway Station [1860–62] and was about seven decades out of period, as it portrayed a bride and groom in 1850s garb, although Talisman is set in the Georgian period); The Corinthian (1940), which was OK but nothing exceptional; The Unknown Ajax (1959), an astonishing bore; and Cousin Kate (1968), which was unmemorable. So, three winners I’ll be happy to re-open when I’m in need of comfort reading: SylvesterDevil and Talisman. I also re-read Heyer’s detective novel Envious Casca (1941), which I’ve always thought her best in the genre—it counts as literature, in my opinion—although nowhere near as full of wit as Death in the Stocks (1935).

Thanks to a rave review of 28 January in The Guardian, I’m now aware of the existence of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which began in April 2012. In part, the review said, “As Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy celebrate their 200th anniversary of appearing in print, the best Austen adaptation around at the moment isn’t an Oscar-tipped film or a lush BBC dramatisation—it’s a series of 10-minute YouTube videos, with accompanying in-character tweets…. Darcy is a hipster, Lizzie is a beleaguered grad student and her mother is just as desperate to get her married off as in the original. It’s Clueless for the web generation as viewers experience the story in real time and Lizzie’s videos get interrupted by her sisters, friends—and a certain brooding hero. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries started last April and, 80 episodes later, she’s finally at Pemberley Digital … only to find out that the CEO of her new internship is none other than the man she loves to hate.”

I don’t know how much of the Diaries I’ll be able to watch before I get another notice from my ISP, Bell, about how much of the pathetically small limit on my monthly data allowance I’ve used up. (The size of the Internet allowance allowed to Canadians by their ISPs is an ongoing grievance, as this CBC story notes.) A few weeks ago, I got a notice from Bell after I watched on YouTube most of the ludicrously ahistorical The Tudors series and then, as a much-needed palate-cleansing, rewatched most of the classic Keith Michell version (a 1970 six-part TV series entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII). In 1972, Michell reprised his role (but nobody else did) in the movie Henry VIII and His Six Wives, which I haven’t seen. Perhaps, like Abigail Nussbaum plans to do, I’ll wait till the Diaries series is done, several months from now, and view it all at once.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose Hallucinations I just finished (I make a point of reading his books), gave an entertaining interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It opened thusly:

“Jon Wiener: In your book Hallucinations you mention what you call your ‘long virginity’ in experience with hallucinogenic drugs.

Oliver Sacks: I was afraid you’d get onto this….”

   The weekly downloading via Kindle of John Scalzi’s serialized SF novel The Human Division is giving me something to look forward to. The third episode was “We Only Need the Heads,” as great a hook of a title as I’ve ever read. (A griping aside on a matter Mr. Scalzi has no responsibility for: The cover art of these episodes has nothing to do with the contents.) Out next, on 5 February, is “A Voice in the Wilderness.” I intend to buy the book when it’s published on 14 May.

Part I of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy (!), An Unexpected Journey, was released in December, but I’m not having a problem waiting till it comes out on DVD in March. Here’s an interview by Christopher Tolkien done in July 2012 but not available online in English till December 5: “My Father’s ‘Eviscerated’ Work—Son of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out.” The subtitle is, “Christopher Tolkien gave his first-ever press interview with Le Monde, shedding light on his father’s vision and sharing his own deep dismay with Hobbit director Peter Jackson.” (He was dismayed even before the movie came out.)