Showing posts with label Jane Austen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jane Austen. Show all posts

Friday, September 22, 2017

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Emma by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

Emma Woodhouse is a meddling little bitch. I did not like her. This is the second Austen novel where I feel the screen writer (Douglas McGrath) did a better job than did Austen in presenting this story. The 1996 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow was enjoyable because of that screenplay, but also because of Paltrow's portrayal, which was every bit as exquisite as Jennifer Ehle's 1995 portrayal of Lizzie Bennet in the definitive TV series Pride and Prejudice. This novel was short of that by a long chalk, particularly since the book itself was way too long. Austen needed an editor. I can't help but wonder how many trees have died over the years to keep this book in print. Was it worth those deaths?

Emma claims false credit for getting Miss Taylor and Mr Weston together as the novel begins. She wants all the kudos for it, but they would more than likely have got together anyway, with or without her help. The village was small, so it's not like they would never have met, but this isn't the problem. The problem is that, smug with her 'success', Emma then scouts around for her next project and lights upon poor Harriet Smith. Harriet has her sights on a farmer by the name of Richard Martin, but Emma considers him to be of the yeomanry, and mistakenly elevates Harriet to the gentry in her blinkered vision of Harriet's blighted future.

It was all about snobbery and class back then, and being trapped in one's station. It is shamefully like that today in many ways, but back then it was a rigid code, with penalties for falling afoul of it. Emma is of the highest station - a big fish in a small pond - and her thirty thousand pounds makes Fitzwilliam Darcy look impoverished. Of course, his income was yearly, and Emma's was a one-time settlement, but it was nevertheless all hers from the outset. That amount today would be over two million pounds or over three million dollars. And what did Emma do with it? She occasionally took a basket to the Bates's? What a charity she was!

Everyone who is even mildly interested knows how this story goes. Emma talks Harriet out of marrying Martin, but in the end, she does anyway. Emma tries to palm her off on Elton and then when she thinks that Harriet has set her sights on George Knightley, she becomes peevish. She runs into criticism from Knightley for her meddling, and particularly for her insulting treatment of Miss Bates. In the end, Knightley and Woodhouse form a more perfect union. They were a good match because although Knightley sends the Bates's apples, he really isn't any more giving than is Emma when it comes to charitable works. Neither of them actually does a lick of work, and though Emma is kind to her father, who is a whiny pain in the ass and far more objectionable than ever the talkative Miss Bates is, she could do a lot better with her money and her endless free time.

The characters would have been fine for a work of fiction if the story had not been so rambling and tediously long. I recommend watching the movie, and skipping the book.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I think this is the best of Austen's efforts, and I recommend it.

Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. This is my second time through it, but this time it was by means of an audiobook I got from my trusty local library. I was less pleased listening to someone else read it, and I confess a bit surprised by how much prose there was between conversations. When one thinks of Austen one thinks of amusing observations and retorts, but sometimes I think I've been spoiled by seeing excellent TV productions of these stories. Austen does include a lot of (sometimes tedious) exposition, but it can also be amusing.

Mrs Bennet is perennially trying to find husbands for her five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia. The story is special in that it is 200 years old and so is quite different from modern novels in outlook, and different again from American novels since it's British. It is an historical novel written contemporarily and therefore is as authentic as it gets! A lot of modern writers, especially in the YA field, could learn a lot from reading it - and internalizing the lessons here. 'Tis a pity that more do not.

I have to reiterate that Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty (Bennets, I'm looking at you!). They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance!

For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement. Would not Fitzwilliam Darcy have been that much more heroic had he been shown to do far more for the impoverished and needy than ever he was inclined to do here? Yes, he rescued Lizzie's family from the scandal brought on it by Wickham, but he did it for selfish reasons. He would have been more heroic had he challenged Wickham to a duel after the SoB tried to seduce his sister, and shot the jerk. His behavior seems almost cowardly here, and Wickham never does get a come-uppance.

That said, I did enjoy this story as it was, for what it was and for when it was (quite literally) penned. Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Austen seems overly enamored of shrubbery in this story!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it's yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

The novel suggests a closer friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It's hard to see this novel under it's original name!

one of the reasons I enjoy this novel is that I am familiar with many of the places mentioned, not only from having been there but also from having lived here! On her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton is mentioned. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire.

One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

There is no scene where Darcy takes a swim in this book, FYI! And there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. But, overall, I'm quite prepared to declare it a worthy read!


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

In which Emma Thompson proves to be a better writer than Jane Austen!

I was disappointed in this. Donada Peters reading voice did not help, but it was the story itself which did not hold my interest.

When Henry Dashwood dies, Norland Park devolves upon his son John, meaning that his new wife, and their three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, are homeless. Henry had requested that John would take care of his second wife and their family, but he and his wife Fanny soon talk themselves out of giving them anything worth the name.

Fortunately, Elinor's frantic letter-writing campaign scores them a nice home: Barton Cottage, although ti is significant come-down from Norland, it is still a better home than most people can have even today! It's close by the coast in Devonshire, and is loaned to them by their cousin, Sir John Middleton, who with his wife, prove to be jovial, slightly meddlesome, but good-hearted benefactors.

Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty. They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance! For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement.

The Dashwood family is invited to dine with the Middletons often. Through this acquaintanceship, they meet the solid Colonel Brandon, who develops a soft spot for Marianne though she is literally half his age, but her incipient affections are soon lost to Brandon when John Willoughby, a rake and a cad, and dash it all, a bounder, I tell you!, comes into her life, the raffish hero after her sprained ankle.

The couple's conduct is barely this side of scandalous, and the two elder females in the Dashwood household soon suspect that there is a secret engagement in play until Willoughby is forced to leave the district suddenly, and from that point on seems to have forgotten Marianne's very existence.

Into Elinor's life comes Edward Ferrars, bound, it would seem, for the church. She develops a friendship and feelings for him only to have those dashed when Anne and Lucy Steele, cousins of Lady Middleton, arrive, and Lucy confides in Elinor of a secret engagement to Edward. Once again, hopes are dashed (come on, it's about the Dashwoods! what did you expect?) and the man disappears from the woman's life.

On a trip to London, Marianne improperly begins importuning Willoughy with a series of letters, but he ignores all her missives until finally he sends her a curt note returning her lock of hair. An accidental meeting at a ball reveals why: he is engaged to be married to a woman of wealth and substance. He took money over love. As is the wont in these stories, this is all it takes for Marianne to become deathly ill! Clearly the rejection virus has taken her by storm. Cytokine storm no doubt!

The redoubtable Brandon once again mans-up to expose Willoughby's unsavory character (his aunt has disinherited him after the discovery that he had impregnated and then abandoned Miss Williams, Brandon's teen ward). Meanwhile, the idiot Edward will not break-off his engagement to Lucy Steel even under threat of disinheritance and is consequently disinherited. His brother Robert takes his money and his fiancee, and so Edward is left free to be with Elinor. Marianne conveniently falls in love with Brandon, and all is well.

Yeah, it was like that. I think this one is the worst of Austen's efforts, so I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James


Rating: WARTY!

Written as a rather presumptuous sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which originally had the title "First Impressions"), this audiobook fell flat for me. I was not too keen on the reader, Rosalyn Landor's voice. Although it wasn't awful, it just never felt right, but much worse than this is that this novel felt nothing like an Austen novel.

Perhaps James never intended it to emulate Austen at all, but even so, it felt like she wasn't really trying. It felt like she had this idea for a crime set in nine-teeth century England and, realizing it wasn't very good, decided to usurp Austen's cachet to sell it. She certainly didn' usurp anything else of Austen's. Virtually the entire book was tedious exposition, There was none of Austen's wit and humor, none of her trenchant observation oe social commentary, and wher were her conversations? Nowhere! I don't believe Darcy and Darcy (nee Bennet) had more than half a dozen words to exchange with each other in any conversation. And what about sex? Austen's works were filled with naked, rampant, explicit, life-shattering, illicit passion, but here there was not a whit of it!

One of those assertions in that last paragraph might be a gross exaggeration. But then so was this entire novel.

I guess marriage really changed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, because they were nothing like the characters Austen created. In 1803, they have two sons (of course - why would we ever want to see the kind of daughter Elizabeth's genes could produce and her nurturing raise?). The Darcy's are readying for their annual ball when Wickham and Lydia show up for no rational reason since they're never welcome at Pemberley although they do visit Jane and Charles who live next door (in an English country gentleman sense, that is). This seems to have changed from when Charles chose to live near to Meryton. If there was an explanation for this, I missed it.

James evidently thinks Austen fans are morons because she pads her novel hugely with infodumps taken bodily from Pride and Prejudice - and curiously form other Austen novels. She also seems to think her readers need a crash course in nineteenth century English law, because we get more of these dull and lifeless areas of knowledge than ever we do of interactions between Lizzie and Fitzie, which is what I assume most readers were looking for. No one cares about Wickham and only a moron would believe he is the guilty party in a story like this.

The plot has Lydia arriving in hysterics declaring her beloved Wickham, now a national war hero having excelled himself at shooting the Irish, but unable to hold down a job upon being demobbed, to be dead! It's a lie! A damnable lie, madam, and a slanderous one at that! George isn't dead, but his army buddy is, and George, in most un-George-like fashion, seems to have implicated himself in the crime. The rest of the book takes an unconscionably long time to actually deliberate over the crime, although perhaps deliberate is an appropriate word to describe the plodding tone.

The ridiculous book blurb on Goodreads (and such are one reason I no-longer post reviews there) claims: "Conjuring the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy." Who the frack is Mark Darcy?! The librarians (so-called) on Goodreads are utterly useless and should be summarily fired. Wickham would do a better job, believe me. The blurb also claims that it is "combining the trappings of Regency British society" Hello? The Regency period was when the Prince Regent (who would become George 4th) took over from his addled dad, which was from about 1811 until 1820 when Geo 3.0 died. 1803 was squarely in the Georgian period, morons. Fire those libelousarians!

I am done with this warty novel. It SUCKED, and will never read anything else by PD James. As one review of the TV series put it, the only crime here was one against decent literature! Oh, and Will Bidwell did it. If James had had the courage to have Lydia commit the crime, then I might have rated this a worthy story despite its flaws, but James is quite clearly not a good enough writer to attempt something like that. Do yourself a favor and watch the TV show instead. It will not, I guarantee, be as good as the classic Ehle-Firth masterpiece, but it might give you the fix you crave. I haven't seen it but I've heard better things about it than I have about the novel which inspired it.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


Rating: WARTY!

This book is, quite literally, a waste of paper and Scholastic ought to be ashamed of themselves for wantonly destroying trees like this. It's especially sorry - since the book is an edition intended for schools - that a publisher should set such a sterling example of disregard for the environment. Let me explain.

The book format is 5x8 inches, a total square area of forty square inches per page which is quite staggering when you think about it. The text occupies (if I'm generous with the margins) only 60% of this surface, and almost as bad, it's set at 1.5 line spacing, which means it occupies fifty percent more space than it needs. If you combine these factors, then this 230 plus page book could have been cut down to around one hundred fifty pages. This would not only have helped save trees, it would also have brought the price down by (very roughly) a dollar per book purely from it requiring less paper and shorter print runs (which also saves energy). This cost saving could have been directly passed on to the schools the book was sold to.

None of this is at the author's feet, but it does demonstrate yet one more very good reason why you should never trust Big Publishing&Trade;. Clearly they have no one's best interests at heart, not even their own, evidently! LOL! This is why I will never publish with those people

What I can lay at the author's feet isn't much better I'm sorry to report - especially at this time of year of an author whose last name (depending on how it's pronounced, is reminiscent of Christmas! This book is clearly a clone of Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice (a manga of which I reviewed back in July 2014). It's purportedly some kind of homage, but it's set in the USA in modern times, and it plays rather fast and loose with Austen's premises, so for me it felt more like avarice than ever it was homage.

The focus here is on an elite private girl's school named Longbourn, the sole sorry raison d'être of which appears to be the school senior prom, for which any girl who is anybody is expected to have a date, preferably with one of the wealthy boys from the nearby Pemberley Academy. Despite being brought into the twenty-first century, the book offers no more variety of people (in terms of race, for example) than does Austen's. In Austen's case it was understandable, but in the case of this modernization, it's inexcusable.

I thought the title amusing, but was less pleased with the book despite it not being quite as predictable as I'd feared. Lizzie Bennet was a scholarship student, and Will Darcy a very rich student at the other school. Jane was not her beloved older sister, but her best friend and roommate at the school where nearly all of the students treated her appallingly.

In some ways the translation was done quite well, but in others it was disastrous. The first mistake the author made was to abandon the example set by Jane Austen herself, and write the book in first person instead of third. Clearly the author hasn't the respect she pretends to have for Austen and chose the knee-jerk YA first person default, which made the book annoying at best, and lent a sense of self-importance to main character Lizzie Bennet that the character in Austen's world would never have assumed. It spoiled her.

Another unbelievable episode was George Wickham, who here was rendered a burglar, yet the family from whom he stole failed to press charges? There is no reason or rational explanation given for this. It made zero sense.

I found it amusing that Lizzie was highly antagonistic towards the wealthy, but was so hypocritical that her own sole measure of worth was skin-shallow beauty. That Jane was beautiful seemed to be the only quality she had according to Lizzie - that and being one of Lizzie's meager duo of friends at the school. Never did we learn a thing about Jane's intellect or her academic interests because it's first person you see! Lizzie obviously cares for no one but herself here, and she whines about her predicament constantly. It's a tedious read about a selfish brat who is more spoiled than the people she despises!

Talking of academic interests, and as in all bad high-school stories, the teaching staff was virtually non-existent in this novel, and again as in really bad school stories, bullying was so rife as to be running at parody levels. It was at this ridiculous point that I wanted to quit reading, because it was too silly for words. Two things alone kept me going. The first of these is the idiots who believe you can't review a book after reading only ten or twenty or fifty percent of it. Yes, you can. Deal with it, you critics of critics! If it's so awful that you cannot read it, that's a review right there and it's a reviewer's duty to warn others of such lousy writing. This book is a case in point.

The second reason is that I kept hoping that things would turn around and something would make this story stand out, but the ending was such a deflated affair that it made the novel worse, not better. The only thing that made it stand-out was what a waste of a decent idea it was. I should have quit at twenty percent. Fortunately, because of the wasting of paper, this book was a refreshingly quick read, and that's probably the best thing about it: the author doesn't make you suffer for very long for which I'm grateful!

Chapter 7 is a complete waste of paper. Lizzie spends the weekend at Charles Bingley's ski lodge with his sister, and with Will Darcy and Jane. The author's idea is to pair Lizzie up with Darcy to create another interaction, but it was so poorly executed that it was executed. The farcical premise for this is Lizzie's lack of The Canterbury Tales which she needs for a school assignment. Her plan is to go into town and buy a copy, and so of course Darcy offers to drive her. The thing is though, that it's available free on line! There are no grounds for her going into town and buying the book - except of course that the author was desperate to get the two of them together and could think of no better ruse than this. Badly done, Emma, er, Elizabeth, badly done! You could argue that these students were required to read from a specific edition, but the author never mentioned any such rule, which would have helped her case slightly, but is still a flimsy excuse.

Moving the story into a US private school system simply didn't work. It carried none of the be-all-and-end-all of rigid class marriage which Austen's original did. None of this was about marriage or future prospects, it was simply about bullying and the prom, and really, who the hell cares? The power which was vested in this prom was laughable, even by US standards, and the snottiness of the "upper crust" characters was ridiculous. Yes, I don't doubt for a New York minute that there are people like that, but to claim that every single student in the entire school thoroughly detested Lizzie with a vengeance was absolutely stupid, and totally unrealistic.

Note that the bullying didn't leave off at snide remarks and shunning: there was an active campaign involving physical abuse, which the invisible teachers did nothing to prevent, and which Lizzie openly facilitated by flatly refusing to 'snitch'. I have no idea why this business of not snitching is so widely employed in this ilk of story, but here it made Lizzie look like a spineless loser. Frankly, after reading about half of this, I felt like joining in on the side of the bullies, I disliked Lizzie so much.

You can find the real Jane Austen at www.janeausten.org if you want to read what she actually wrote. But this book isn't worth your time.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emma by Po Tse, Cystal S Chan, Stacy King


Rating: WARTY!

With line drawings by by Po Tse (aka Lemon Po), story adapted by Cystal S Chan (aka Crystal Silvermoon), and English script by Stacy King (aka Stacy King), this manga version of Jane Austen's Emma failed to please me. The adaptation wasn't bad, but reading it backwards isn't natural for we Westerners, and though I liked a manga version of Pride and Prejudice, I feel that i, like Po Tse, have to draw a line here!

In some supplementary material at the back (aka front) of the book, Po's art is praised for his "uncanny talent," but to me every drawing looked the same. It was hard to distinguish the characters except by their hairstyle, and I have never been a fan of that pointed nose, pointed chin, ridiculously large-eye mangled - er manga - style. It strikes me as lazy, where every face is merely a clone of every other, and the only actual difference between them is in the eyes and hair. After this experience I think this is the last manga of this nature I will read.

I have a few observations on the story, too. This is one of Austen's later novels. It was not her last, but it has been praised for good plotting, yet no one seems interested in saying a word about how snobbish and elitist it is. Yes, I get that this is how society was back then, and Austen is merely reporting it, but this only serves my point. Where is the daring, the invention, the scandalous skirting of the rules? I use the word 'skirting' advisedly because Austen no doubt wore skirts. Her book really isn't much more than a dear diary, is it though, in the final analysis?

The snobbery, even from the "heroic" Mr Knightley, is shameful, and it makes it only more obnoxious knowing that this was the acceptable norm back then. The talk is endlessly of people above their station, and poor matches. Love has no place in this world whatsoever, so where is the romance? It cannot breathe here, starved of oxygen as it is.

Emma is a frivolous, immature, vindictive, interfering and very stupid woman, and not at all pleasant to read about. She fails to grow and learn, yet ends up with everything despite her foolish meddlesome behavior, yet we're expected to condemn characters like frank Churchill, Philip Elton and August Hawkins, who are in reality just like Emma, if somewhat more exaggerated. While I confess I do like the movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, and I like even more the one featuring Alicia Silverstone, I really can't recommend the story of Emma or this graphic novel version of it.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Pride and Prejudice (manga) by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Edited by Stacy King
Illustrated by Po Tse


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

erratum:
p232 "...so what's the different?" should be "...so what's the difference?"
p369 'devaintArt' should be 'DeviantArt'

Since I adore Pride and Prejudice, this is really just a review of this manga presentation of it, not of the novel itself (which I also reviewed on this blog), and as far as that went, it went very far.

I confess that I was rather surprised that I got this opportunity to review another volume from UDON Entertainment after I didn't like their classic manga Les Misérables earlier this month, but I'm glad they took a chance on me again so I can offer the other side of the coin in this case. Hopefully this will serve as a thank you! And kudos to UDON!

Perhaps this is my shameless bias showing through, but I loved this one from the start (or the end - yes, I still have issues with reading backwards in an English language graphic novel!). The text was very well written, expertly précis'd down from Austen's original, but not losing an iota of meaning or import. Stacy King did a magnificent job with that, and Po Tse was every bit her equal in conveying the images to compliment and augment the text.

The novel had a light, airy feel to it, yet it didn't fail to tell the story with power and gravity (and some laughs). I particularly enjoyed the scene where Elizabeth refuses Darcy's proposal.

Of course, in my terribly biased book, nothing can supersede the performances of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the BBC's 1995 TV series, but this manga I would rank second only to that - it's that good.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lady Susan by Jane Austen





Title: Lady Susan
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Audiobooks
Rating: TBD

This is my penance for even thinking I could get anywhere with the Jane Austen friggin' Book Club'd o'er the head in a dark and dirty back street leaving you robbed and bleeding. Ahem. Now where was I? Oh yes! This epistolary novel (yes indeed, e-pistles are electronic pistils, don't you know?) is really the first thing Austen wrote that was worthy of wide publication (not that Austen saw it that way). It's the second of her works that I've reviewed, the first being Pride and Prejudice which I reviewed for its bicentenary.

This novel is entirely in the form of letters (you do remember those, right?), but the BBC, bless their little Billy Cotton socks, did somehow manage to post it off towards the birth of a TV movie, penned by the estimable Lucy Prebble. Whether it ever made it that far I know not. The letters all revolve around the machinations of the eponymous character Susan Vernon, and her plans for both herself and her frail, abused daughter Frederica. Milady is a very attractive woman in her mid-thirties, recently widowed (only "months" ago), and very manipulative. She thrusts herself upon the good will of her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon, who tries to rescue Frederica from her mother's evil clutches. Lady Susan's sole ambition is to get rid of Frederica though marriage to whomever, so she will then be free to find a suitable match for herself, preferably Reginald De Courcy.

There is this huge deal in the writing world that you must "show, not tell"! Yet this entire novel of Austen's consists of nothing but telling! I can see what these back-seat drivers are getting at, but given that the very act of writing fiction is telling, not showing (that's the preserve of the silver screen), I have to wonder why they're so insistent upon simplifying this supposed nugget of wisdom to the point where it's a brilliant three-word definition of meaningless. As a writer, you need to both show and tell, and only you and experience can get it right.

Not a single best-selling writer started out their writing career by scribbling line after line consisting of "I must not tell, I must show" like Harry Potter in Dolores Umbridge's study in pink. Not one single rule of writing was at the forefront of their literary ambition. They simply wrote what the hell they wanted in the way they wanted it because they loved to write and they had something they wanted to say. They happened to hit upon stories which readers also loved to read. Not a one of those addicted readers spent good money on the book in obsessive-compulsive expectation of those writers' heroic powers of showing! Frankly, my dear, they didn't give a damn. All they wanted was a good story, and all-too-often they didn't even care if it was that well-written. They're not looking for classical expository literature. They're not looking for a tour-de-force of writing etiquette. All they want is a really engrossing tale. Most of them really don't care if you show or tell, or if you go stale or smell as long as the story keeps coming.

Don't take my word for it! Just look at the bank balances of a hoard of best-selling formulaic authors for starters (nothing personal, Lissa Price!). They make my case for me. If you want to write grammatically perfect original literature, that's your choice; all you have to be ultimately, as a writer, is prepared to live with what you write even if you can't make a living from it. If you want to show boat and go tell it on the mountain, be my guest, but the bottom line is that none of this matters if you don't sell a single novel.

"Yes, but I'm not in it for the money!" you protest. I don't believe you. Let me prove it to you. What's the most important thing a writer needs to do? The answer is write! If you're not writing, you're not a writer, no matter how many writing help books you've read. So what's the most important thing you need to write? Pen? Paper? Typewriter? Computer? Voice recorder? No! You need the time. If you don't have the time, you can't write. You can stay up all night, work part time, live off your parents, but you cannot argue that the best possible way to have time to be a writer is not to make a living from your writing so you can do it full time without worrying where the rent will come from. Therefore you do care about the money if you truly care about your writing, and to have that money you need to sell some stories.

I have only this "wisdom" to share on the topic: it occurs to me, as it must to you, that not a single one of these authors, teachers, and bloggers who seek to impart, like a sedentary Prometheus, the superheated air of their literary wisdom, is actually a best selling writer! From whence then, are their credentials imbuing them with the authority for proclaiming this advice? And are they truly insensible to this reality: that they are, by the very fact of their failure to "best sell" actually telling us and not showing us?! Why is it that all of these people who publish materials which they're so insistent will help us write best sellers cannot themselves produce even one run-away best seller between them?!

The best way to show, and not tell, is to show us a novel you've published, not tell us you're "working on" your first one. As far as the writing itself is concerned, it's your life, it's your idea, it's your story, it's your self-publishing world. Go to it, go do it.

And now back to our Jane Austen review already in progress. Why the publisher felt a need to lard-up this volume with works from Mozart and others, sad-wiched between the letters is a mystery. I use the term "volume" advisedly, because it was frankly far too loud and therefore more after the fashion of disturbing mentally than divertimenti, as I had urgently to reduce the volume of the music after a quietly-voiced letter was read, thereby taking both my mind and my eyes off traffic for a second or two. Not appreciated!

Having said that, the character voices - read by several people - were really rather good, but they were unable to bring any real life to a story which isn't very lively at best. Yes, Lady Susan is interesting and (were she not a child abuser) would have made a diverting companion had she not been fictional. Frederica's plight is heart-rending, but this novel really isn't a great improvement over the very thing which forced me to read it! Although rest assured I would rather read, straight off, all of the Austen oeuvre in one day than read one paragraph more of the depressing Jane Austen Book Club. So now my penance is done and just to set the fox amongst the Fowler who, based on disk one, tells a lot more than she shows in her best seller, I am going to rate this one by Austen a worthy read!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen





a Pride and Prejudice movie is reviewed on the Movie page

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 238
Publisher: Penguin UK
Rating: Worthy!
Perspective: third person past

Note: Spoil like you've never seen a refrigerator! (like you don't know what's in this novel anyway! Darcy and Elizabeth get married! There! I gave it all away!)

How could I not read this in the bicentenary of its publication? I'm reading this in an anthology of Austen's novels. See, I told you I had one, and you didn't believe me! Mine isn't quite the same as the one referenced above, but near enough. The cover picture is from mine.

Note that Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. It's also noteworthy that Marvel comics produced a graphic novel of this novel (which I've also read! Yes, I'm way ahead of you!)


Having gone into some detail over Pride and Prejudice in the movie section elsewhere on this blog, there's going to be little to say about the story or the plot since it starts out very much like the best movie of the book, the 1995 one featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the main roles, so this must needs be a compare and contrast review. The story centers on the Bennett Family, Mr & Mrs, and their five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia, and their interactions with the main male suitors Bingley (for Jane), Darcy (for Lizzie), and last but least Wickham (for anyone he can get but finally, for Lydia).

This book is something of a delight. It’s very different from modern novels (understandably, since it's over 200 years old!), and different again from American novels since it’s British. The Brits like to use single quotation marks to signify the spoken word their novels, and the grammar and word use varies considerably from that which is to be found in modern novels, even those which are written as historical (or perhaps more accurately, hysterical) romances. It’s not often you find words like 'celerity' in modern works, nor 'self-gratulation', nor 'whither', nor 'repine', nor 'eclat'!

Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Summoned from the shrubbery indeed! Shades of Monty Python!

Even someone of Austen's propriety and stature isn't immune from grammatical error, or perhaps more accurately, error in clarity of communication as I discovered, also in 17, where we read:

Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of her brother;
When first I read that, I found myself wondering how Jane could have a brother when Austen has already made it quite clear that she had only four sisters and no other siblings. Having looked at this more closely, I can only conclude that the brother in this case is Bingley, the brother not of Jane, but of her two friends mentioned in the prior clause, so the sentence is somewhat more confusing on that point than it ought to have been!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it’s yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

I find myself wondering what rules she's applying as she writes, or if indeed she's applying any rules other than her own innate feel for English as she has it through nothing more than growing up a native to it in that era. Perhaps whatever rules she employs were so imbued within her having grown as she did, that it never crossed her mind that any rules were actually being employed at all, so innate is her grasp of the language. But how remarkable it is that we can have now this window into life 200 years ago, even as narrow and focused as it necessarily is! Perhaps you might want to research Austen's life and times. There's a Jane Austen wiki which may be a good place to start - or to which you can contribute if you wish!

One of the interesting phrases I found was 'he left the country.' when Austen means, of course, not that he left England, but that he left the countryside for the city. And on that topic, we find Jane in denial about Bingley after he has left, and Elizabeth rather angry at his behavior, but not so angry as she becomes when Collins proposes to her and will not take no for an answer. The 1995 movie has Collins storming off and proposing to Charlotte, which doesn't represent the novel at all. The 2005 movie does a better job on this score. And Bingley's sisters (of which there appears only one in the 2005 movie) do not steadily imply that Bingley, now back in London, is seriously interested in Darcy's sister in the movies whereas they do in the novel.

One item of interest occurred to me reading the novel, and that is exactly what Lizzie's dad might have meant in issuing his 'ultimatum' upon learning of Lizzie's refusal to marry Collins:

...Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
Does he mean he will never speak to her if she does, or does he merely mean that if she marries and moves away, he will be unable to see her? I think we're supposed to take it as it's traditionally been understood, but perhaps Austen was playing with a little double-entendre here?

Whilst on this topic, I have to say here that the novel suggests a far greater friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters, notwithstanding the superior attitude of the latter, than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but as wikipedia points out, two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It’s hard to see this novel under it’s original name! Austen perhaps took her title from words in a contemporary work by Fanny Burney, which Austen is known to have liked.

The title is all the more appropriate since the novel primarily addresses the clash between Darcy's over-developed sense of pride, and Elizabeth's hasty prejudice against him based on her first impression of his character, and of Wickham's despicable lies about him. Her prejudice shows strongly at the dance which Bingley holds at Netherfield, where Elizabeth is depicted as saying, in response to her friend Charlotte's suggestion that dancing with Darcy (now there's a movie title!) isn’t so bad: "Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil."

Contrast that, then, with what she says whilst she's actually dancing with Darcy in response to a comment he made about her suggestions as to how conversation ought to be conducted during a dance:

'Both,' replied Elizabeth archly; 'for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.'

So now, it appears, she considers that the two of them have a lot in common, although Darcy seems to disagree. They spar over the pianoforte whilst the others play cards. Cards back then consisted of games such as Quadrille, which according to wikipedia is is a Spanish trick-taking game directly ancestral to Boston and chief progenitor of Solo whist, perfected in early 18th century France as a four-handed version of the Spanish game Ombre.

Another game was Cassino, which wikipedia describes as an Italian fishing card game which is the only one to have penetrated the English-speaking world.

Do you wonder at this point if I wonder if they're going to be 'violently' in love? That term is much abused, we find, and Austen herself is evidently quite aware of it. Consider this from Chapter 25:

But that expression of 'violently in love' is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea. It is as often applied to feelings which arise from a half-hour's acquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how violent was Mr. Bingley's love?

On Elizabeth's visit to Hunsford to spend time with her friend Charlotte, now married to Collins (ch 28) we come across yet another of Austen's charming phrases:

Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind.

After their sparring over the piano, which is even more charming in the novel than in either movie (and which is better done in the 2005 movie than it is in the 1995 version), Elizabeth finds that visits by Darcy to Charlotte's home, where Elizabeth is staying, are much more frequent, but he says very little. This portion of the relationship is entirely passed over in the movies, which makes it harder to see from what quarter Darcy's deep passion arose.

The very heated exchange between then after Darcy proposes in the worst proposal ever, is not exactly spelled out, in terms of who said exactly what in the novel, so some of what appears in the movies is quite simply made up. But whilst the novel lacks something in this regard at this important point, it handles sufficiently well, particularly Elizabeth's personal ruminations immediately afterwards and the next morning when Darcy hands her a letter (he's stalking her out in the country where he knows she walks).

Darcy's letter hugely long and it's related in the novel with no paragraphing, running to 4½ full pages! Neither movie gives any indication of this., On the contrary: the letter they show is very short in comparison. Lizzie agonizes over Darcy's words about Wickham for two hours as she walks up and down in the outdoors, but she eventually arrives at the conclusion that Darcy must be right! Then she turns her attention to what he said about Jane. Why she does this in the reverse of the order in which the letter conveys this information must remain a mystery, I suppose, but we're forced to wonder if Austen was more fixated upon Lizzie's relationship with Wickham than she was on hers with Jane.

Lizzie is soon back home, but within a month or so she's off again in what's by far the best part of the novel (of course I'm insanely biased when I say this!) on her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised. This is the location of Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton, which is conveniently close to Darcy's Pemberley. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire. One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

Moving right along now.... Lizzie and the Gardiners (sounds like a band name, doesn't it? "Here's the latest release from Lizzie and the Gardiners, Wickham if you've got 'em"!) are strolling around Darcy's home! This seems strange to me, but I guess it was perfectly normal back then for strangers to be shown around the homes of the ridiculously well-off. It's during this tour that Lizzie completely reforms her opinion of Darcy, and then, of course, she runs into him as she's going outdoors.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

Eventually, the two of them talk outside, during a walk with the Gardiners, but Mrs Gardiner carefully engineers it so that she and her husband are way ahead of the younger couple. The ensuing conversation, awkward as it may be, gives Lizzie leave to further reform her opinion of this man. Her flabber, such as it is, has never been so gasted as when Darcy informs her that he should like for her to meet his younger sister, Georgiana, who is anxious to meet Lizzie.

Unfortunately. it's immediately after this is that Lizzie receives news from Jane that Lydia has absconded with Wickham! Darcy learns of this from Lizzie - much more humorously portrayed in the 2005 than in the 1995. he embarks upon his adventure to discover where Wickham is hiding in London. There is much more going on here than is ever portrayed in either movie, and once Wickham and Lydia are married off and out of the way, considerably more going on with Bingley and Darcy than is portrayed in either movie, although the essence of what happens is carried through there.

Needless to say - but I've begun so I'll finish! - Bingley comes back and proposes to Jane - although nowhere near as velocitously as the movies indicate, even the lengthier 1995 version, and eventually, Darcy and Lizzie have their walk, wherein they go into rather tedious detail about their roller-coaster history together, I have to say. Eventually they're both married off and exquisitely happy. Austen doesn't marry either of the other sisters, but takes pains to relate that, removed from the influence of Lydia, and living with the Darcy's, Kitty improves immeasurably and left with her mother, even Mary starts to come out of her shell.

Yes, there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. There is too much detail of the tedious variety and it's gone into in places where less would have sufficed. There is almost no observation of the surroundings, and conversation can sometimes become obscure since Austen is not fond of indicating who is speaking at a given time, so that perhaps a whole page will pass of purest conversation, by the end of which one is no longer certain as to who said what.

I realize that this is how they wrote back then, but that renders my observation no less valid. I seriously doubt that, had Austen not written this, but a writer of modern historical romance wrote it exactly as the first edition bore it, it would not have anywhere near the acclaim it now has, and before it was published you may rest assured that some editor somewhere would have it with abandon if it came across their desk! It's worth keeping that in mind when we bestow praise upon it, but go ahead and read it and make up your own mind, because your opinion of it is all that matters in the last analysis. Overall I'm quite prepared to declare it worthy!