Jane Austen January – Austen’s men

OK, here’s the thing.  I love Persuasion, but Captain Wentworth is a bit of a douche-pony throughout much of the story.  Every time I re-read the book, I am astonished anew at how annoying he is in his anger and resentfulness.  It annoys me further that Anne interprets and excuses his behavior, that she castigates and blames herself for the decision she made at nineteen.  But then the novel redeems itself (to me) by giving Anne an opportunity to share her thoughts with Captain Harville, overheard by Wentworth, and allowing Wentworth to realize fully just how wrong he was and do a bit of groveling.

I absolutely love it when Austen allows her heroes to learn where they have been in the wrong and to amend their behavior where appropriate in order to earn the respect and affection of their chosen ladies.

  • Pride and Prejudice – Darcy’s fatal error in his first proposal to Elizabeth is his arrogant assumption that she will be gratified by his proposal, that he need not exert himself in any way to be pleasing.  Honestly — “Your family is pretty damn awful, and I know I’m going to spend the rest of my life wishing that they weren’t a part of it, but I just can’t help myself… Marry me.”  After the ensuing confrontation with Elizabeth, Darcy eventually realizes that her condemnation of his character is not wholly unjust, and he takes pains to improve himself.  When he approaches her a second time, he is hopeful but not certain that he has succeeded.
  • Persuasion – Wentworth’s error throughout the eight years of his estrangement with Anne is in holding too tightly to his belief of having been wronged by an inconstant Anne (rather than perceiving that the risk in marrying him was all on her side and asking her again once his ability to provide for her (and any children) was more a sure thing.  He compounds this error by being a real jerk muffin towards Anne once he is again in her company.  These are grievous errors, to be sure, but in his letter to Anne and subsequent conversation, Wentworth demonstrates that he appreciate’s Anne’s sufferings and fully comprehends that he was the cause of most of them.  And, oh, that letter…
  • Emma is perhaps a bit less approachable to a modern audience given the huge age gap between Emma and her Mr. Knightley and the rather odd occurrence of Emma sort of growing up under his tutelage (ew).  Yet even in this story, Mr. Knightley approaches Emma convinced that he, with his constant correcting and nitpicking, has driven away all chance of her affection.  The very instance of his seeing his behavior towards Emma as potentially officious rather than his natural right becomes, to me, the most attractive part of his character.
  • Northanger Abbey – Henry Tilney gets to apologize for his father’s atrocious behavior, but he’s mostly on this side of the list because I like the story and construction of Northanger Abbey so well.  Henry may not be exactly my favorite type of hero, but he is certainly the most charming and witty of all of Austen’s men (except, maybe, Frank Churchill–but Frank is also a bit silly and quite selfish and so does not qualify as a truly good man).

To my mind, nothing suits a man so well as a little uncertainty.  It is the quality that separates my favorites of the Austen men from my least favorite.

  • Mansfield Park – Edmund Bertram… ugh.  One day he happens to look over at Fanny and realizes that he might just be in love with her after all.  It’s true that he repents of trying to force her to marry Henry Crawford (and of being carried away by his appreciation of Mary Crawford’s fine features…), but I always wish for significantly more groveling than the reader receives.  Fanny, of course, is perfectly happy to have him, but she’s Fanny, so it hardly signifies.
  • Sense and Sensibility – Edward Ferrars gets another ugh from me.  I think he’s my least favorite of all the leading men.  After leading Elinor on and being super moody and a bit freaky about the hair ring (ew), he just shows up one day, declares that Lucy married Robert instead and asks Elinor to marry him, and she’s like “Hells yeah!!” And he’s like, “Good, ’cause Lucy had appalling diction, and her letters have been an embarrassment to me for a long time, but what can I say? Boobs!” And Elinor’s like “LOLZ.”  Ugh.

Who are your favorites among Austen’s men?  What are your qualifications for inclusion on your favorites list?

Review – When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

Last week was incredibly busy, and I fell behind in my posting (though not in my reading).  I really enjoy discovering new authors writing in my favorite genre and subgenre (that’s historical romance, in case you hadn’t noticed).  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review Anne Barton’s debut novel, When She Was Wicked.  Debut novels are often a bit tentative and/or derivative and may lack the polish that an author will develop over time, but, if you can get past the flaws of inexperience, such books are indications of an author’s raw talent.  Anne Barton is an author to watch, and I will definitely be picking up the next book in her Honeycote series.

Cover image, When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Some rules simply beg to be broken…

A dressmaker in London’s busiest shop, Miss Anabelle Honeycote overhears the ton‘s steamiest secrets—and (occasionally) uses them to her advantage. It isn’t something she’s proud of, but the reluctant blackmailer needs the money to care for her gravely ill mother. To make up for her misdeeds, Anabelle keeps to a firm set of rules:

• Never request payment from someone who cannot afford it.
• Never reveal the secrets of a paying client.
• Never enter into any form of social interaction with a client.

Her list keeps her (somewhat) honest—until she encounters Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntford. Not only does Owen nip Anabelle’s extortion plans in the bud, the devilishly handsome Duke soon has the sexy seamstress dreaming of more than silks and satins. With Owen, Anabelle enjoys pleasures she never imagined . . . until a scandal from the past resurfaces. Now her rules could mean his family’s ruin. Owen’s searing kisses carry the promise of passion, but how will he react when Anabelle’s most devastating secret is finally revealed?

My favorite thing about the book is its characters.  Anabelle is fantastic – nuanced, resourceful, moral (in her own way), fiercely loyal, deeply conflicted by the choices life has forced her to make.  I appreciated her self-reliance and moxie, and — come on! — she’s an extortionist!  Anabelle is the antithesis of the helpless heroine who needs the hero to swoop in and save her from her life.  Owen is also a well-drawn character, though not quite as nuanced as Anabelle, and there are excellent secondary characters in Owen’s sisters, Anabelle’s sister, and the delightfully awful Miss Starling.  I loved Owen’s uncertainty and vulnerability when dealing with his sisters, and it is lovely that Anabelle gets to do him a good turn by helping him navigate the sister-brother relationship.

There were a few things that struck me as being less than stellar.  The plot line takes a few strange turns — the house party provided an excellent opportunity for Owen and Anabelle to take their relationship to the next level, to be sure, but it felt like a lot of the action relating to the house party, to the skeevy Earl, etc. was a distraction from the main story line between Owen and Anabelle.  Owen’s ambivalence towards Anabelle seems to yo-yo around a bit too much:  She’s a damn, dirty extortionist!  She’s attractive.  She’s a sneak.  She’s a wonderful person.  She can’t be trusted, but Ima have sex with her anyway.  I totally can’t marry her.  Dude, Ima propose to her.  Finally, the ending was a little bit abrupt, and I really felt that more groveling (or any, really) from Owen would have been nice.

The bottom line, however, is that I am very excited to read the next book in the Honeycote series (Anabelle’s sister Daphne’s book), and I’m looking forward to seeing how Anne Barton’s voice develops over her next few books.  There is a cleverness in this book (especially evident in the chapter subtitles) that bodes well for the future.

When She Was Wicked was released on January 29, 2013 as a mass-market and e-book by Forever (an imprint of Grand Central Publishing).  To learn more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information on Anne Barton, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Jane Austen January – Pride and Prejudice – Caroline Bingley

I haven’t started reading Persuasion yet, so Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite book of all time.  I seem to waffle back and forth between these two, but my waffling has nothing to do with any concrete, supportable impressions of the books; rather, my inclination towards one or another is based on which one I have most recently read, what my prevailing mood is that season, and, probably, what I had for breakfast.  My rational self, who shows up to the party every now and then, believes that both books are equally excellent, yet different (rather like my children).

Anyway…

My favorite thing about Pride and Prejudice is that both Elizabeth and Darcy go on an incredible internal journey to get from their starting positions to their ending ones.  My next favorite thing is the way that all the secondary characters (caricatures, all) influence Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s respective journeys.  If these characters cannot go on a journey of their own, at least they have some impact on the main characters’ development, right?

My favorite of these influential secondary characters is Caroline Bingley, who is wonderfully awful throughout the book and is considerably more observant than Elizabeth (of course, nearly every character wins that prize).  In a weird way, she acts both as Darcy’s confidante and as Elizabeth’s tormentor, and, throughout the Netherfield section of the book, she simultaneously helps Darcy to increase his affection for Elizabeth and helps Elizabeth to increase her dislike for Darcy.

Caroline Bingley has her own reasons for paying close attention to Darcy, but I wonder if she would have picked up on his burgeoning regard so quickly had he not rather flippantly made to her his initial comment about Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes.  Darcy must have known that Caroline was angling for him–she isn’t subtle–so I wonder if he was trying to let her know that he just wasn’t into her.  I’m not entirely certain, however, that Darcy’s motives are so virtuous.  If he were really interested in discouraging Caroline’s regard, he ought not have made his vaguely smarmy “I can appreciate your figure better from over here, sexy ladies!” comment to Caroline and Elizabeth.

A lot of characters notice that Darcy frequently follows Elizabeth around with his creepy stalker eyes, but only Caroline knows with certainty that he looks out of admiration rather than censure, and only Caroline is in any position to talk to Darcy about his staring problem.  As Caroline is consumed by jealousy, she takes every opportunity to needle Darcy about his attraction to Elizabeth, and her needling prompts in Darcy a consciousness of his growing feelings (and feeling of their being dangerous to him) and, perhaps, an increased awareness of Elizabeth’s attractiveness.  After Elizabeth walks to Netherfield, Caroline slyly suggests that Elizabeth’s behavior may have dampened his appreciation for her ‘fine eyes.’  Darcy replies that they were brightened by the exercise.  Once Elizabeth and Caroline are under the same roof, Darcy has the opportunity to compare their behavior: Elizabeth reads, and Caroline pretends to read; Elizabeth behaves with civility to most and friendly warmth to Bingley, and Caroline is cold and uncivil (sometimes downright rude) to Elizabeth and obsequious to Darcy.  With such comparisons to hand, it’s no wonder Darcy develops an attraction to Elizabeth.

Caroline’s influence on Elizabeth is exactly the reverse.  Elizabeth views Caroline’s obvious attempts to attract Darcy’s attention with contempt, and she, although indirectly, seems to blame Darcy for Caroline’s behavior.  The more Caroline reacts to Elizabeth with jealousy and spitefulness and to Darcy with toadying, the lower Darcy sinks in Elizabeth’s estimation.  This is not, in itself, all that surprising; how could Darcy possibly appear to advantage in such a setting?  So, while Darcy is able to compare Elizabeth and Caroline and conclude that Elizabeth is far superior, Elizabeth views Darcy’s interactions with Caroline and concludes that Darcy is proud and vain.  She assumes Darcy’s responses to Caroline are in keeping with his usual manner, proud, reserved, aloof, and awful (Bingley’s term: “I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do.”), and she does not consider that Darcy’s responses to herself and Bingley are of quite a different tone.

In the end, it all comes down to Darcy’s letter and his amended behavior in Derbyshire to remove the last of Elizabeth’s resentments and misconceptions of Darcy.  When she meets Caroline at Pemberley, Elizabeth is able to see and appreciate the difference in behavior between Darcy, Miss Darcy, and Caroline Bingley.

For those who are participating in this Jane Austen January, how is your reading going?  If reading for the first time, what do you think of it?  If this is a re-read, has anything stuck out to you as surprising or new during this read?

Jane Austen January – Sense and Sensibility

Oh, Sense and Sensibility

Best synopsis ever.

There are a lot of things that I enjoy about Sense and Sensibility, and an equal number that I find troubling or downright irritating, but it is still my fourth favorite Austen novel and still ranks quite high on my list of all the books I’ve ever read.  As with most of Austen’s novels, my chief enjoyment is in the antics of the wide cast of secondary characters and in Austen’s witty, if harsh, take on those antics.  Who could not love the delightfully awful Mrs. Ferrars, Robert Ferrars (toothpick cases are important, after all), and John and Fanny Dashwood?  And what about Mr. and Mrs. Palmer?  I challenge any one to resist their charms.

Regarding the things I find troubling, most of them revolve around Elinor and Marianne.  Elinor seems to be the chief heroine of the piece, even though nobody much likes her, especially when she is in one of her disapproving moods.  Unlike Marianne, whose happy ending is sort of a throwaway and is actually Col. Brandon’s happy ending, after all (pun totally intended), Elinor achieves the full arc of her story.  My difficulty is that Elinor doesn’t go on any kind of internal journey throughout the story, so while I’m always happy that she gets her Edward (who doesn’t change much, either), it isn’t as satisfying as when Lizzy gets her Darcy, or Catherine her Henry, or Anne her Wentworth.

Can anyone really relate to Elinor as a character?  I certainly can’t, not because she’s so emotionally constipated (I am, too), but because she always behaves with the utmost propriety.  While I can comprehend showing a brave face and drawing as little attention as possible to one’s distress, I can’t imagine enduring all that Elinor does without at least a few episodes of histrionics or angry jazz hands.  Elinor’s adherence to strict propriety perhaps should, in being the exact opposite of her sister’s and mother’s wild expression of sensibility, be considered just as immoderate and intemperate as their behavior is.  But that’s not the case in this book.  Instead of Elinor being able to learn anything throughout the course of the story (instead of her story being able to have some point or purpose), she is instead depicted as the model for proper lady behavior.

“I am not wishing him too much good,” said Marianne at last with a sigh, “when I wish his secret reflections may be no more unpleasant than my own.  He will suffer enough in them.”

“Do you compare your conduct with his?”

“No.  I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours.”

Elinor learns no lessons (rather like Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, come to think of it), and Sense and Sensibility is less interesting a book as a result.  I am not suggesting that her behavior is not model, but it does seem to me that a character who behaves perfectly on every occasion can have little claim to being realistically portrayed.  Further, if a character behaves so well all the time that no reader can identify with her, how can the reader be more than passively interested in her story?  I would like Sense and Sensibility much more if Edward and Elinor’s story received the treatment that Col. Brandon and Marianne’s does in the book and if the latter couple got more page time to show how their understanding came about.  Theirs is the more interesting story, right?

Given I mentioned that there were things I find irritating about the book, I should, at least, mention them.

  1. Why does Margaret exist as a character?  As far as I can tell, she serves no purpose at all.
  2. Elinor recognizes that Marianne is Mrs. Dashwood’s favorite daughter by rather a large margin, but she accepts this parental failing with all the philosophy of a totally disinterested party–except she isn’t one.  Of all Elinor’s unlikely traits, this one strikes me as being the least realistic.  Who wouldn’t be hurt or angered to be so slighted by one’s parent?  But Elinor in all her perfection accepts what love comes her way and feels justified in the righteousness of expecting no more.  Ugh!

For those who are participating in this Jane Austen January (and for those who aren’t–and here’s a shout-out to the lurkers: HOLLA!), I’d love to know what you think of Sense and Sensibility.  Theories as to why Margaret exists are also very welcome.

Jane Austen January – Pride and Prejudice – Film Adaptations

Pride and Prejudice is my favorite story, and the only alteration that could improve it for my particular enjoyment would be the inclusion of animal antics.  (This inclusion would not, of course, improve the book in general, but I really dig frolicking puppies and enjoy them wherever I find them.)  I can’t always be reading the book, but I do enjoy visiting its themes, characters, and story through the relative ease of its many film adaptations.  I am a fan of most Austen film adaptations, with the stunning exception of the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey.

The first adaptation of P&P that I saw was the 1995 BBC TV mini-series version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  That version is still my favorite, but I thought it would be fun to compare trailers for some of the other versions I have seen, some more derivations than strict adaptations.  I’ll start with the 1940 film production starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.

What did she say?!  This adaptation is perhaps my least favorite, but it is amusing in its own way.  At any rate, if you watch it, you’ll find out what she said.

I could not easily find an official trailer for the 1995 BBC TV mini-series version, but here is a fairly decent fan-made version.

I first saw this version in 1997, very shortly after I had first read the book, and I watched it so often (and in what I consider still to be my formative years, too) that it is very difficult for me to separate the characters of the book from their adaptation counterparts.  When I read Mrs. Bennet’s lines in the book (especially my favorites: “A little sea bathing would set me up for ever,” and “Tell him what a dreadful state I am in…and have such tremblings, such flutterings, all over me, such spasms in my side and pains in my head, and such beatings and my heart, that I can get no rest by night or day.”) I hear Alison Steadman’s voice in my head.  My imagination’s Lydia bears a stunning resemblance to Julia Sawalha.  At five hours in length, this version can easily be faithful to the book, but I wonder if it tends too strongly towards presenting caricatures rather than fleshed-out characters to be really faithful to its spirit.  It is sprightly and amusing, to be sure, but it lacks a lot of the depth that I find in the book.

By way of contrast there is, of course, the 2005 film version starring Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley.

My favorite thing about this version is the music, sadly not highlighted in that trailer, but I also love its portrayal of the Bennet family in general, of Mrs. Bennet and Mary Bennet in particular, and of Charlotte Lucas, and its depiction of Longbourne (that faint shabbiness that contrasts so well with the elegance of Netherfield and Pemberley).  Though I do enjoy this version, it is a teensy bit melodramatic, rather more angsty than sparkling, that melodrama perhaps best demonstrated by Darcy’s first proposal being delivered during a rainstorm… I particularly love the thunder that underscores Darcy’s comment about Elizabeth’s father.

The following adaptation, the 2003 release Bride and Prejudice, holds a special place in my heart.  Over-the-top and silly though it sometimes is, it gives an excellent portrayal of the Mr. Collins and Charlotte characters, and provides a plausible, modern twist on Wickham’s infamy toward Georgiana.  It is, further, an excellent antidote to the 2005 version’s angst and drama.

I imagine fans of P&P have seen all of these versions.  Are there any others that you can recommend?  Do you, like me, enjoy watching film adaptations of this story?

Review – The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book ever since I read and loved The Maid of Fairbourne Hall at the recommendation of Kim at Reflections of a Book Addict.  This is the third of Klassen’s novels that I have read, and she has become one of my favorite authors (admittedly a long list).  There are times when I long for an extra dose of wholesomeness in my romance reading, and Klassen never fails to deliver this along with remarkably complex characters and, at least in The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and The Tutor’s Daughter, a little mystery to unravel.

Cover image, The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet’s older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems–and secrets–of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father’s academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.

When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor’s daughter figure out which brother to blame… and which brother to trust with her heart?

There is an urgency to this book that I thoroughly enjoyed, though it surprised me (that it existed, not that I enjoyed it).  There are all sorts of adventures to be had in this book, from the discovery of a lost family member to the nefarious intrigues of a wrecker and his band of ne’er-do-wells, who profit from shipwrecks and the deaths of all on-board.  At the center of it all are Henry and Emma, who knew each other as youths and have the opportunity to get to know one another as adults.

Emma is a supremely reserved, self-contained character.  She’s a bit type-A, dusts her bedside table every morning (!!), and has a place for everything (and puts everything in its place).  When the story picks up, she is a young woman who has taken on increasing responsibility for her family’s financial well-being (her father having gone into a bit of a decline after her mother passed away two years before), a woman with no friends with which she might share confidences.  She has, instead, the fabulous Aunt Jane, her father’s younger sister.

I loved Aunt Jane.  She was my favorite of all the secondary characters, but they are all well-drawn and complex, a mix of good qualities and bad.  There are, from time to time, a number of characters who take up the mantle of villain, but excepting the aforementioned nefarious wrecker, these momentary villains are sympathetic characters who make mistakes but are not altogether bad.  With the book spending so much time in the gray matter between absolute good and evil, both Emma and Henry have an opportunity to examine some of their long-held but not quite right beliefs and to make some changes for the better.

Henry’s family dynamic was fascinating and the source of much of the novel’s mystery, so I’ll leave it at that.  While it might just be a symptom of my current reading choices, Henry himself seemed to me to be a bit of a hybrid between Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy and Henry Tilney.  He has all the amiability of the latter tempered by some very serious regrets about the way he behaved towards Emma when he was a boy in her father’s school.  By contrast, Henry’s brother Phillip seemed to be a Wickham with better natural principles.

This book seemed slightly more preachy than the other two Klassen books I’ve read — Emma has a soul in need of saving, and Henry has an earnest desire to know that she has made peace with the Almighty — but it wasn’t overwhelming.  All told, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and think that anyone with a taste for a sweet romance with a dash of intrigue will likewise enjoy it.

The Tutor’s Daughter was released on January 1, 2013 by Bethany House Publishers as a paperback and e-book.  If you are interested in learning more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  You can also find information on Julie Klassen’s website.

*FTC disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Bethany House Publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Jane Austen January – Pride and Prejudice – an opening post

I have happily settled in to the reading of my favorite novel Pride and Prejudice.  I really should have started my January with Northanger Abbey, which I find very charming but which is rather inferior to the other books and cannot but suffer by the inevitable comparisons, but I just don’t possess very much self-control.

“Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds: but, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”

Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst are two of my favorite characters in P&P, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way.  They are gloriously awful, but it amuses me that they are just as silly and empty-headed as Lydia and Kitty but obsess about petticoats and beautiful little designs for tables instead of officers and dancing.

For anyone participating in this Jane Austen January, who are your favorite characters from P&P

Also, please check out Austenprose to discover all the various ways that one can celebrate the bicentenary this year of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813.