a very proud and prejudiced review

After reading Marvel Illustrated’s Sense and Sensibility (adapted by Nancy Butler and illustrate by Sonny Liew), I was eager to read their take on Pride and Prejudice. Reviews on amazon were not particularly favorable with regards to the artwork, but the cover had a look similar to that used in S&S so I wanted to judge for myself…. Unfortunately, the reviewers were right. The text is very well adapted (Butler adapted P&P as well as Marvel’s Emma); however, the images were just wrong. There is a liveliness and softness to Liew’s illustrations in Sense and Sensibility, they work very well with the text.

Hugo Petrus’s illustrations just scream classic, fanboy comic world. As one amazon reviewer put it, “Other than Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, the girls look like 80s porn stars and her mom looks like Granny Goodness from the animated JLA series.”

They do. The hair is big and the expressions are fierce, while the color palette applied to the first half of the series is extremely harsh and orange. It just made me cringe. Great cover art, disappointing story art.

capturing a classic

Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Austen (that honor goes to Persuasion), but after re-reading it a couple of months ago, I found that I was able to notice some of the nuances of character that I missed when I first read it. I was able to note more of the comic elements and barbed social commentary throughout the novel, and particularly during Lucy’s meetings with Elinor. I gained a new appreciation for Elinor and Marianne.

That said, the holidays seemed like the perfect time to read Marvel Illustrated’s adaptation of Sense & Sensibility by Nancy Butler and illustrated by Sonny Liew. Given that SS is one of Austen’s longest novels, adapting the text into a comic book format, speech bubbles and all, could not have been an easy feat. Butler’s text manages to retain the essence of the original, while Liew’s illustrations help reveal complexities of character and plot that might otherwise be lost in the simplified narrative.

My only complaints are that a few of the characters, especially Colonel Brandon, reminded me a bit too much of the actors in the BBC’s 2008 adaptation, and that Lucy was presented as a much more sympathetic character than she was in the book.

Nevertheless, I like it as a graphic novel and can see this being a great way to engage students in a class on visual-textual literacy.

Becoming Jane

I was curious to read Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen and picked up a copy a couple of years ago when I saw it in the bargain section of the university bookstore. As I will generally watch anything Austen, I have watched the movie of the same name. I was not especially impressed by it and much prefer “Miss Austen Regrets” as a dramatization (if speculative) of Austen’s life and times.

This is the second Austen biography that I have read, and I much say that it will not be my first choice is asked to recommend an Austen biography (that one goes to Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life). Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it seems to me that Spence takes several liberties with the little that we do know about Austen. Firstly, I feel that this book should more rightly be titled Austens in Love as it seems to be mostly an account of the marriages (or lack thereof) of the members of he Austen family.

The movie “Becoming Jane” makes much of the relationship between Jane Austen and Tom LeFroy, as presented by Spence in this biography. Spence bases his exploration of Austen’s relationship with Tom LeFroy on comments made in Jane’s letters to Cassandra. There is little enough evidence to support or deny Spence’s claims regarding the extent of the relationship between these two, and I am not arguing that he is right or wrong in making such a claim, but I am not convinced by his conclusions regarding LeFroy’s influence on Austen’s works.

Continue reading

The Watsons

The Watsons is one of Jane Austen’s unfinished novels–the tale of Emma Watson, a young lady returning home for the first time after spending fourteen years in the care of her well-to-do aunt. Austen began the novel around 1803 but abandoned it not long after. The reason behind Austen’s choice to leave The Watsons unfinished is unknown, but it is commonly held that the death of her father may have prompted her to leave off working on the piece.

Like many of Austen’s works, the reader is introduced to most of the principal characters in the first chapters of the novel. We soon learn that Emma Watson is returning home after a fourteen year-long stay in her aunt’s home. Accustomed to the well-appointed style of living that she enjoyed in her aunt’s home, Emma is somewhat unprepared for her family’s reduced circumstances. A stranger among her brothers and sisters, Emma tries to make the most of the situation, but soon finds herself preferring the company of her infirm father to the studied civility of her siblings and their fashionable neighbors. And that is where Emma’s story abruptly ends.

My copy of the text is only 40 pages long, leaving me wanting more. While several writers have completed their vision of Austen’s Sanditon, I have only been able to find 2 continuations of The WatsonsThe Watsons by Jane Austen and Another Lady (Helen Baker) and The Younger Sister by Austen’s niece, Catherine Anne Hubback (copies of both can be found on Amazon, though The Younger Sister appears as a facsimile of the original published in 1850).

While brief, the fragment does raise several issues regarding the place of unmarried daughters, especially those without fortunes to attract eligible gentlemen. Here is one of my favorite passages:

Your lordship thinks we always have our own way. That is a point on which ladies and gentlemen have long disagreed–but without pretending to decide it, I may say that there are some circumstances which even women cannot controul [sic].–Female economy will do a great deal my Lord, but it cannot turn a small income into a large one.

From the little we have to go on, it seems to me that The Watsons would have had elements similar to those explored in Sense and Sensibility with regards to poverty and womanhood (and the selfishness of brothers). We’ll never know. I will, however, look into those completions that I found.

From Trafalgar House to Knightsbridge

After reading Jane Austen’s unfinished last novel, Sanditon, for the Austenprose read-along, I was left with the need to know more about the characters that populated that quiet seaside resort town. I had put off reading Sanditon for that very reason–I knew that when I read it, I would be left wanting more and there would be no more to be had. Like the last bite of a wonderful desert, I would cherish the sweetness of that last bite but would be left unsatisfied. Like Austen’s other novels, Sanditon offers a look at the little dramas that mark small-town living. However, this time, Austen takes her readers away from the country to the coast when the observant Charlotte Heywood is invited to stay with the Parkers in their home in Sanditon, a budding seaside resort town that Mr. Parker hopes will become as lucrative as the more well-known bathing spots. In Sanditon, Charlotte is introduced to a fascinating cast of characters, from hypochondriacs to impoverished, but highly romantic wards. Sadly, we only get to know these characters briefly before the fragment ends.

However, in 1975, Marie Dobbs, under the pen name “Another Lady,” took up the challenge to complete Austen’s Sanditon and the result is a delightful and satisfying treat. Another Lady takes up her pen where Austen left off and continues the tale. There is no jarring shift in the narrative style, Another Lady adopts the language and style of Austen, developing the plot and characters in a careful and believable manner. Her Sanditon has all the fun and novelty of Catherine Morland’s adventures, Fanny Price’s astute observations, and the eventfulness Emma’s of close-knit town life.

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After finishing Sanditon, I was in the mood for another social comedy, so I took up Ada Leverson’s Love’s Shadow (received from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program). A close friend of Oscar Wilde’s, Leverson’s style and tone is similar to Wilde’s biting, quick wit. Love’s Shadow offers an engaging look at the ludicrous things we do for love. Like Wilde, Leverson offers a meddlesome cast of characters whose actions only serve to confuse one another. At the heart of the story are the Ottleys, Bruce and Edith, a very ordinary middle-class Edwardian couple wishing for a little more excitement in their very ordinary lives. Edith’s friend, Hyacinth Verney has all the excitement and independence that Edith craves, but only wants for the attention of Cecil Reeve, a young man who only has eyes for a much older woman who refuses to indulge his fancy.

Love’s Shadow is a fast-paced, amusing romp, Leverson revealing the foibles of her characters in a series of vignettes. It almost reminds me of Colette’s Claudine and Annie, particularly the dissatisfaction that seems to accompany love as experienced by Edith and Hyacinth.

A secret desperate to be told

Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?

– from The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

What if Jane Austen’s long lost memoirs were waiting to be discovered, tucked away behind an attic wall at Chawton Manor House? What if Austen’s romantic heros were inspired by someone who was dear to her? That is the premise behind Syrie James’s beautifully written, fictional memoir. Carefully weaving together details from Austen’s letters and novels, as well as early biographical accounts of Austen’s life, James makes the reader believe that this tale of love found and lost really was written by Austen herself in the months leading up to her untimely death.

I’m in a bit behind on school work at the moment, so this review is shorter than most.

The Lost Memoirs was a truly engrossing read and made me yearn to re-read Sense and Sensibility after reading about Jane’s struggle to edit what would be her first published novel. I was eager to read this book after reading The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë and I was just as pleased with James’s treatment of Austen’s memoirs as I was with Brontë’s diaries. Overall, a great tribute to the life of Jane Austen and a worthy addition to any collection of Austenesque works.

By the Seaside with Sanditon events

The Sanditon group read event has commenced at Austenprose! See the event schedule here.

Jane Austen’s Letters

I finally settled in to read Jane Austen’s Letters this past weekend. I enjoyed the reading but my main pet peeve has to do with the edition that I own. It’s a white paperback published by Pavilion Press and features a black and white drawing of Austen on the cover. It was one of the few editions that I found that only included the letters–I have copies of all the books and Juvenilia, so I didn’t want lots of extra content–but I did not realize at the time that it only has the letters. But that’s what I wanted, right? Well, yes, but I would have liked some explanatory notes, perhaps a brief genealogy to keep all the family connections in order. I read Claire Tomlin’s Jane Austen: A Life last year and found myself having to refer back to it to remember who’s who, who lives where, and what happened when. Not a terribly frustrating experience, but it would have been nice to have it in the text.

I also did not care for how the letters were arranged. The first part of the text featured Jane’s letters to Cassandra, while the second part was arranged chronologically and included all letters written to other members of the family–mostly Jane’s brothers and nieces and nephews. I would have preferred to have all the letters arranged chronologically, for the sake of continuity.

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets

But now that I have finished my complaint… I thoroughly enjoyed Jane’s letters to Fanny and Anna, her nieces. Her advice to Fanny on love is thoughtful and incredibly modern given the state of women at the time. Advising Fanny against too hastily accepting a match when she knows not her own feelings, she writes:

I am perfectly convinced that your present feelings, supposing you were to marry now, would be sufficient for his happiness; but when I think how very, very far it is from a “now” and take everything that may be into consideration, I dare not say, “Determine to accept him”; the risk is too great for you, unless your own sentiments prompt it.

Her letters to Anna have a more playful tone. Her letters to Fanny are as from a loving confidant, while her letters to Anna show a sense of affection and admiration for her niece’s literary efforts. The letters discuss Anna’s manuscript for a novel titled Which is the Heroine? and hint at Jane’s enjoyment of the story and her advice for bringing depth to the plot and characters. It makes me which Anna had actually finished and published the novel.

The letters to Cassandra revealed more of Jane’s concerns and daily life, her travels and visits, and the minutiae of home and dress. Though the relationship between the sisters is said to have been a close one, I found that the letters were less affectionate than the others written to friends and family. But we may never know what the missing letters would have revealed. Perhaps these were saved from the fire by virtue of their revealing so little?

character and elegant economy

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

As an Austenite, I felt I had to read Lady Susan at some point. I am one those rare people who actually enjoy the epistolary genre, but there was something about this novella that left me a bit underwhelmed. One of Austen’s minor works, Lady Susan tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon, profligate coquette and shamelessly manipulative woman about town… er… countryside. Followed by a terrible reputation, Lady Susan’s character is quickly revealed through the letters of her dead husband’s sister-in-law. A terrible mother, concerned with making her daugther as miserable as possible so that she will marry out of despair, Lady Susan has little to recommend her to good society other than her charm. And charming she is, even when she writes to her friend, Mrs. Johnson, describing her plans to dispose of her daughter and toy with several men in the process. However, it is not until the Conclusion that Austen’s wit really comes through. For a 60 page novella, this little story seemed to drag along, only redeeming itself in its brief (non-epistolary) ending.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Yes, I read this because I so enjoyed the miniseries. Cranford was a charming little novel, a series of vignettes describing the goings-on in the sleepy little town of Cranford. “In possession of the Amazons,” Cranford is ruled by a set of middle-aged spinsters and widows concerned with the preservation of manners and social niceties. A series of episodes narrated by Cranford enthusiast Mary Smith, the stories are sweet and funny, and completely unlike any other Victorian novel I have read–in Cranford, spinsterhood is a respectable position, there is no rush to marry; the Amazons look upon marriage as a strange and unneccesary custom, after all, what use is a man in Cranford society?

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH-HALL

She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older–the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.Persuasion

When I’m in a slump, I always return to Austen. And, as all the recent adaptations, remakes, and attempts at imitation have shown, I am not the only one.

Like many Austen fans, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite novel, but I find that as I get older Persuasion is taking the lead. Like so many girls, I’d like to thing of myself as a Lizzy – quick and clever, and always ready for a challenge – but to be honest, I’m an Anne – introverted and far too thoughtful for my own good.

Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel, is a story about second-chances. As with Austen’s other works (except possible Northanger Abbey), there is a strain of melancholy that pervades much of the story. Anne Elliot, 27 and unmarried, finds herself in this state after she allowed herself to be swayed by the upper-class pretensions of her family and her neighbor, Lady Russell. Having accepted an engagement with the hopeful but unemployed Frederick Wentworth when she was only 19, Anne was persuaded not to proceed with the engagement. Now at 27, Anne has little hope of ever leaving her father’s home, where she receives little attention, and even less appreciation, a matter that is only complicated by the family’s financial difficulties and the return of a long lost cousin, and a long lost lover.

Like all of Austen’s novels, on the surface, this is a marriage story with an unlikely heroine. After a few twists and turns, and some coincidences (hey, everyone knew everyone else’s business in Bath), the story ends with a happily ever after.

As I see it, what makes Persuasion such a wonderful story is Anne’s introspection – and this is why I find that none of the movie adaptations (regardless of great acting and scenery) have quite got it. Recently aired on Masterpiece Theatre, ITV’s latest version of Persuasion is a 98 minute sight-seeing tour of the English countryside, the seaside, and Bath. Beautifully directed though it may be, the film is so short that it only touches on the main points of the story – the Elliots move out, Anne goes to her sister’s house, the Crofts appear, Frederick comes back and ignores Anne, some moments of light jealousy, the trip to the sea, Mr. Elliot appears, then back to Bath and it all turns out all right in the end. However, the film does succeed in capturing Anne’s mood throughout the events, focusing on her perspective and the sadness that pervades much of the story. As a thorough adaptation of the novel, the ‘95 version still wins, though Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds will always be a bit too old for the parts that they played.