I have to admit that my re-introduction to Jane Austen really began with a celebrity crush.
Through this though, I found a new love for the sassy, smart and surprisingly hilarious Miss Austen. Sometimes on a walk down a gravelly trail at White Memorial, I suddenly find I’m Eliza Bennet; my jeans and grubby t-shirt become a spotless white and lacy empire waist dress, and I’m not walking for the 20 minutes of cardio, but for the loveliness of the wood, the cleansing of the mind and spirit and- oh! Who is that rustling through the brush? Not a scavenging squirrel, but James McAvoy, or perhaps Colin Firth, or a cleaned up Paul Rudd, playing a devilish young man who will later turn out to have deep character behind his witty arrogance.
It turns out, once you are out of school and don’t have to cite the pages, there are several different ways to enjoy classic literature. In the two hundred years since they were written, Jane Austen’s works have been reinterpreted, recorded, re-recorded, acted out, re-acted out, and reacted to many times, and in all of the different ways technology has offered, from the ball point pen to Blue Ray.
I can easily get caught up in an audiobook of Pride and Prejudice in the car- so much so that when I get to the grocery store or the bank, I try to craftily insert comments on someone’s “countenance” or “carriage” into the next available conversation. This hasn’t won me any new friends just yet, but I’m sure if I keep referencing the authority on acquaintanceship, happy days are to come. If you are inclined to join me, here is just a sample of the Austen-sible advice available to us here at the library.
History of England– This is an entertaining and somewhat informative document written by Jane Austen at the age of 16. The illustrations of various English figureheads were drawn by her sister, and you can enjoy the entire work in Jane Austen’s original handwriting. You can practically hear them giggling as they dip their quills.
Pride and Prejudice– With all due respect to the author, of course, the reader of this audiobook, Irene Suttcliffe, absolutely steals the show. She even sniffs in character. Jane and Elizabeth Bennett overcome the trials of growing up and coming into society with a rather dim and dramatic mother, dangerously wild younger sisters (two are dangerously flirtatous and the third dangerously pious,) and a series of callings and balls and walks from here to there that cause all sorts of trouble and miscommunication.
Pride and Prejudice– Take this book along if you’d like to start up a conversation at the coffee shop about a book based on its cover. Isn’t it lovely?
Sense and Sensibility– This book is the story of the Dashwood sisters, who have to leave their home to live in a small cottage at the passing of Mr. Dashwood, who left the estate to their brother. Good and lousy characters are eventually found out, and everyone gets married and lives happily ever after.
Northanger Abbey– Another tale on audiobook of the complexity of falling in love correctly, and overcoming bad timing and false assumptions. Catherine, the daughter of a countryside minister, is invited to stay in Bath in high society. She makes new friends of people and of Gothic novels.
Mansfield Park– Watch the classic story on DVD of Fanny, an insightful and spirited girl is sent to live with relatives. Everyone learns a little about love and society.
Emma– One of Austen’s most popular stories, made into film with Gwyneth Paltrow as the quick-witted matchmaker, who gets caught in a love triangle or two of her own creation, and manages to handle almost everything with enviable grace.
Clueless– A silly 90s movie that becomes brilliant if you watch it directly after reading the original Emma. The story is essentially the same, but set in glitzy Beverly Hills instead of the grassy estates of provincial England.
Becoming Jane– on DVD. I have a friend from London who seems personally offended by Anne Hathaway’s British accent, but I think she’s perfect as Jane. Not too tough, not too silly, not too proud, not too sensible. This is the possibly-true story of her love affair with Tom Lefroy, played by James McAvoy. The story is true enough to life to break your heart just a bit, mend it again, and leave you a little wiser in the end.
Jane Austen Book Club– This movie is the story of an eclectic book club that decides to read only Jane Austen, and continue meeting every month despite the trials of life and despite the fact that half of them don’t seem to like each other much. In fact, if you’re like me, and maybe a bit bored by the supposed hilarity of men not liking Pride and Prejudice, you may not like many of the book club members very much. There came a moment, though, when it seemed that each character was embodying some aspect of a Jane Austen protagonist, either in pretention or sappy sisterly love, or just a person trying to overcome the trials of loving and being a reasonable person at the same time.
Lost in Austen– A long but delightful film. Imagine Briget Jones and Quantum Leap becoming one and jumping in to the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. Amanda Price is a young woman in London who finds herself where Elizabeth Bennett should be. A little time travel, a little meddling in the time-space continuum, and, as perhaps is the lesson with all of our Jane Austen experiences, the lesson that the technology and costumes may change, and even if the words change meaning over the years, our stories of love and loss are very much the same.
So, the next time you need to read something apropos by candlelight, consider the witty, poignant, amiable, and ever human, Miss Jane Austen. (And if you’d rather listen to the audiobook or watch the movie, we won’t tell.)
Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library. She is very much enjoying her time here in the Colonies, spending afternoons practicing the harpsichord and dressing for tea.