Austen Schmausten

November 10, 2008 at 2:09 pm (Authors, Virtual Gems, Writing)

 

For years, I have held my head low in a secret shame—not only was I not a Jane Austen fan, I couldn’t even make it through the first quarter of Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Marilyn—I should have warned you. Yes, you can have your bookmark back.)

 

You see, Jane wasn’t really on my radar until the past few years, when one of the writing groups I’d joined started waxing romantic about Elizabeth and *sigh* Mr. Darcy. Ad infinitum. These conversations are much like Hailey’s Comet—they don’t come around every day, but when they do, life immediately ceases and everybody stops to participate in the miracle. Intensely. Reverently. So the second or so such time Austen’s Comet came ‘round, I jumped on and started to read this revered tome.

 

But I couldn’t.

 

I tried, I really did. I made it up to the point where Miss Bingley takes Elizabeth on a walk about the room and they mock Mr. Darcy, but that is where I set the book down and resumed the pose of my shame—head down, eyes averted, slightly puzzled look about all the fuss, and swore Montana to secrecy.

 

But, Montana—blessed husband that he is—knew of my constant struggle (even though I resolved to put it behind me) and one day brought me home the Kiera Knightly movie of P&P. He knew I liked British history, he knew I liked Kiera Knightly (Bend it Like Beckham, anyone?) and he knew I was still fighting through the need to understand Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Perhaps I could just watch the movie and use that as my Cliff’s Notes. I may never read the book, but I’d be able to understand the fascination a little bit better.

 

So, having no expectations, I watched the movie. Lo and behold, I liked it. Not in a Rocked My World kind of way, but it was a love story and God knows I am a sucker for them, particularly with period costumes, lush locations and swelling music while undying love is declared. It was enough that I plunked down $19.95 on the BBC version (with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) one weekend when Borders was having a sale on boxed sets. I couldn’t tell you how long the boxed set remained shrink wrapped with the other DVDs, but I do know when it was released from its cellophane prison.

 

March 4th, 2008

 

This spring I was stricken with that Hell-sent cold that laid cities low and sent stock in DayQuil through the roof. Sick, miserable and facing a near meltdown from my ADD-like attention span, I retreated to my comfiest chair with my softest blanket and favorite tea, and plugged P&P into my laptop with the hopes it would take me out of my misery for a little while.

 

It did, and I was glad I’d watched the Kiera Knightly version so I had a clue about the players and where they were headed. I think it helped me to understand Austen’s writing style, her cadence and voice—overall, to enjoy the extended series by understanding it better. Again, it didn’t Rock My World, but I was pulled in a little bit more, seduced by this story of manners that had affected so many.

 

Fast forward to this weekend. Feeling like I had a little bit of a cold, I went to my old friends, chair, blanket and tea, and brought out the BBC version of P&P. Damn that Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, they sucked me in even more!  What is it with this Venus flytrap of scorn and silliness that is slowly transforming me into one of the converted?

 

God help me, I even started the book again last night.

 

But here’s the thing that has fascinated me most, for even as of yesterday evening, I had anticipated the bones of this post and saw the above sentence as the penultimate one, but something in the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice caused me to rethink everything.

 

Did you know that Pride and Prejudice, one of the most read and beloved books of all time, took over fifteen years to get published? Jane Austen faced the ten-year block and God bless her ink-stained hands, she busted through it with authority! (Her first book published was Sense and Sensibility, written around 1795 but not seeing the light of day sometime in 1811.) And that first book had to be published under the pseudonym ‘A Lady’, even going into a second printing.  Where I have thought my publishing road to be long and arduous, Jane’s makes mine look like Santa’s carriage ride capping off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! How could I not now become one of the devotees of Jane and her works? Granted, I may not ever run for President of her North American fan club, but I will tip my hat to anybody who keeps plugging away after fifteen years and gets published, regardless of it taking 2 days, 20 months or 200 years. And with a romance, too.

 

Way to go, Jane.

 

 

* All facts courtesy of Wikipedia.org, one of the greatest websites on the planet.

 

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16 Comments

  1. Cynthia said,

    Ah yes, the video crack that is the Colin Firth version of P&P. Can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched it. Can tell you that if I’m just in the mood, I’ll start with disc 2 and go from there. Oh, and I’ve never read the book either. I have it but have never read it. It’s like The Hobbit. I start it and something happens where I put the book down and I don’t get back to it for days, weeks maybe, then I have to start over. So, someday, maybe, I’ll read it.

  2. jeniferm said,

    Very well said! I’m also a huge fan of Colin Firth in P&P. What, there were other actors? I hadn’t noticed.

    And now can I highly recommend listening to this book if reading it isn’t doing it for you? I’ve only listened to it, and hearing that gorgeous British accent tell me all about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy just entrances me.

  3. Marilyn Brant said,

    Oh, ho, my friend…we need to talk :). No, you do not have to return my bookmark. No, you definitely do not have to apologize to me or anyone for not instantly loving Austen or P&P. And, no, you do not have to read the book if you don’t want to or even watch another film version. It’s a craze, this Jane thing, and a (tiny) part of me is a little irritated that so many people are jumping on the Austen bandwagon now just because it’s fashionable…or, even worse, who look down upon other people who are not able to recite lengthy P&P monologues from memory or wow fellow fans with their intensive knowledge of Regency minutia.

    Full disclosure: I read and fell in love with P&P when I was 14–yes. BUT, it was a school English lit assignment, and I thought the first half of the book kinda dragged. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone!) The fact that my opinion of the novel changed as the book went on…and the more important fact that my perception of other people changed as a direct result of reading Austen…is why she ultimately became my favorite author. Right book, right time, I guess. But should everybody really have the same literary experience?! Heaven forbid :).

    And, yeah, as a writer, her story of revision (from First Impression to P&P) and her long road to publication were always inspiring ones. If a genius with HER insight into human behavior could be ignored by the publishing industry for so many years and if she had to revise HER novel so extensively, what could I possibly complain about? Kept me hoping. Glad she’s proven a little bit inspirational to you, too, and that may be enough of an homage…

  4. Melissa Blue said,

    I know nothing about Jane Austen personally. I do know I couldn’t stand Pride and Prejudice. I toiled through that brainrot some people call genius for close to a year before I got to the last page. (No offense.)

    But then I realized it’s not the book I have a problem with. It’s that I’m a girl, rooted in instant gratification. I’m confused by the scenic route unless that’s the reason for my trip. (then it turns back into instant gratification once I look out my window.)

    Get me into the story from page one. That’s all I ask. It’s the reason why all my favorite classics are plays. Death of a Salesman, Most of what that lovely man named Bill has written, and the rest are leaving my jaded 21st century memory. I’m impatient beyond belief and P&P takes patience.

    Maybe Colin Firth will convert me, but I don’t think he even has that much power.

    *you may now egg me*

  5. Kyle said,

    Erm, I’ve never read anything of her’s, either. I’ve never tried, though. Do you know how many books I have right now that I haven’t read? I just don’t have the time! If only I had one of those clockstopper watches, so I could freeze time and read/write at my leisure!

    I”ve heard good things about her, though. And I LOVE Kiera Knightly! Bend it like Beckham is great, but did you see Atonement?! OMFG. And I definitely want to check out The Duchess, though probably when it comes out on DVD…

    Good luck finishing it this time around! Hopefully thinking of Kiera and Colin will help!

  6. L.A. Mitchell said,

    It’s hard for me to get through them, also (sorry, Marilyn). I think we’re so conditioned to a faster pace in stories now, Austen has that snooze factor. The Colin Firth version makes me forget all of that, tho 🙂

  7. coffeegirl88 said,

    Dr. Blue, image if you will, Colin Firth in skin tight riding pants and white poet (ish) shirt. Now imagine how that will look as he steps out of a pond. Yes, Colin Firth in tight wet pants and see through shirt.

    I think there’s a scene where he’s in a tub too, so he is shirtless and one point.

    But for me, it’s the entire scene, from the second he steps out of the water to him racing around to get dressed to be suitable for Lizzy’s family, and the nerves he’s showing wanting her to be impressed with his house. He asks her several times if her parents are well, he’s completely undone by her sudden appearance and it’s a wonder.

  8. Montana said,

    As a man who has, in his day, routinely stepped out of a lot of ponds in his tight, wet, riding pants and poet-like shirts let me assure you it’s not all cakes and sunshine in Jane Austin land. Sacrifices are made, believe me. Rash and chafing issues abound, as well as the inquisitive frog or two. So you might consider, next time you’re eating ice cream and wearing down your dvds of P&P, you might consider using Cliff’s Notes. I’ve found they also work well for early shows of Rome and the “gigantic present” episode. I’m just saying, it might make like easier on all us sensitive poet types… especially Mr. Firth.

  9. coffeegirl88 said,

    No worries Montana, I know it’s just fiction. It’s a nice escape but I would never hold the man in my life (if I had one) to standards set by anyone fictional character.

  10. Robin said,

    Love the title of this post, Pam!

    I read P&P so long ago that I’ve got to admit, I couldn’t recite one word from it. I do remember really enjoying it. And I loved the movie with Kiera Knightly! I haven’t watched any others. I think I’m one of the few people who think Colin Firth is just okay.

  11. pamwritesromance said,

    Holy Pemberly, Batman! Did I strike a topic, or what? Obviously, P&P and Jane herself stand the test of time. I’m still shaking my head here. Dang.

    Okay, so moving on–this post is already out of my control so I’m just going to thank everybody for posting and commenting. It’s been fascinating to hear what others think about the JA/P&P phenomenon. It was reassuring to hear of others who weren’t as captivated, and it was nice to hear from those who liked some (or all) aspects of it. (Soggy breeches aside.)

    My journey with P&P has been one of understanding. I’ve never read Daphne Du Maurier, nor Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen seemed to be my strike three as far as Required Reading for Romance Authors. Why were so many people captivated by one or more of these authors? Not being able to make it through P&P, what was I missing? I have no problems in saying I couldn’t read Twilight, but this holy trinity had a different weight to them. (And I’m not even going to get into the Lord of the Rings books, as brought up by Cynthia.)

    Here’s what I’ve come up with–much like these writing challenges of SocNoc and NaNo, reading books by these authors is making it work for you. When I did SocNoc back in June, I learned quickly I couldn’t write the 1667 words a day–burned me out–but I could write more by being part of the challenge. It was how I make the challenge work for me. And like P&P, I couldn’t jump into the book and have it leap to my shelf of keepers, I had to take baby steps by watching the movie, then the BBC series, and now trying the book again. I’m making P&P work for me and I have to say, I’m enjoying the book! Yes, there are parts I glaze over a little bit, but maybe that’s just one more step in my process and next time I read the book, I’ll devour it, every word.

    Hell, maybe I will try the Lord of the Rings trilogy now that I’ve watched the movies and understand the characters and plot of them. Now if they could only make a movie titled Mastering Microsoft Excel II.

  12. Lainey Bancroft said,

    I refuse to comment on the grounds that I may be ‘Austen-sized’…well, okay, since I’m here anyway. I have never read the book or seen any version of the movie! :0

  13. Jess Riley said,

    I have not seen the JA movies (or read her), I’m sad to say…I’ll have to remedy this!

    But I hear you on the period movies–I got totally sucked into the latest Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movie on HBO the other night…good stuff!

  14. pamwritesromance said,

    Lainey–all are welcome here! I’m a firm believer in whatever rocks your boat, be it popular or not. Of course, I’ll sing a different tune when it’s my book! 😉

    Jess–you won’t be Austen-icized either, and I am with you on the period movies. I really enjoyed both Elizabeth movies (the acting! the costumes! the history!) and even enjoyed HBO’s The Tudors. No, it’s not all accuracy and by-the-book, but if it gets me interested in finding out more about it, then I call it a success!

  15. Caryn Caldwell said,

    I admit that I did love Pride and Prejudice when I read it in college — so much so that I still read it occasionally and even bought (and watch!) the BBC version. But I don’t love all of her books. Anyway, we all have our authors that we “should” like. I, for one, will never be as open-minded as you when it comes to Charles Dickens. Just can’t do it.

  16. pamwritesromance said,

    Caryn–haven’t read any Dickens yet, but I think that’s about to change as my historical is Victorian and I think it’d help to read Chuck to get a better flavor for the period. I’ll let you know how it goes. (After raiding the BBC for movie versions first!)

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