On Jane Austen

nanila asked me to talk about Jane Austen.

My favourite Austen novel is, boringly, Pride and Prejudice, because it is just right for what it is. It’s funny; it’s sharp; it has a clear moral arc for the main characters but also for everyone else; it is exciting even though all of Lydia’s stuff happens off the page; and you really want Elizabeth and Darcy to get together, and they totally do. So my favourite Austen heroine really has to be Elizabeth, because she is so irresistible.

But I have a soft spot for Mansfield Park‘s Fanny Price. Yes, she is tiresome and kind of wet, but she’s not really wet! She’s stubborn as heck when it comes to doing what she thinks to be the right thing. I secretly kind of wish she and Henry Crawford had worked out, because there is an enduring appeal in the idea of the charming bad boy who turns over a new leaf for a good woman’s love — but because of that enduring appeal I am glad she ends up with Edmund, with whom she shares values and tastes, and who will be good to her. (Even if they are cousins.) Though I find it funny that clearly Austen found Edmund so uninteresting as well that she didn’t bother writing out their romance in any detail.

My favourite line from Austen’s letters is the terrible one:

Mrs Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

Jesus Christ, Jane. Did you kiss your mother with that mouth? (Though imagine what her novels would have been like if she’d been like that in them!)

Emma Thompson is my Sense and Sensibility‘s Elinor, even though she has the wrong hair colour and is too old. But the BBC Persuasion shot entirely in natural light is probably the best Austen movie, even though Captain Wentworth is totally not as I envisioned him, at least in appearance.

The Austen novels I reread the least are Emma and Northanger Abbey. This isn’t because they aren’t good! I know Emma is regarded by many discerning judges as the best, and Northanger Abbey is hilarious. But Catherine and Emma both trip my embarrassment squick beyond bearing. /o\

The two things I wish people would not do when they are talking about Jane Austen are:

  1. Dismiss her stuff as “chick lit”, or idfic, or somehow unimportant because it is just too female.
  2. Forget her books are meant to be funny. (I am looking at you, 2005 Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. And no, unintentionally funny does not count!)