WRONG WRONG WRONG!
43 was much longer than it said on the tag. This week we only have 42-43…but its an hour long episode regardless…
Next week, chapters 44-??…
Sorry about that!
Well, I’m in the homestretch! This week and next week are the last two I’ll be podcasting from Croton-on-Hudson…boy I’ll need to change the intro, huh?
I’ll be podcasting from the road the week of August 1st, then from Tucson the next week. IF I can, I’ll get my son in on the ‘cast…but no guarantees. He’s quite the ball-o-goof.
So this week!
A little discussion of ChickLit and Austen…
Jane Austen’s novels have been repackaged as chick-lit to reflect our modern conception of her as a romantic novelist. But her world is less comforting than we think, argues Laura Thompson…
On 07/09/2006, Laura Thompson created a bit of a stir in the literary world when she said that Chicklit–the girlie romancified summer book lit that’s gotten to be so popular among the young–had co-opted Jane Austen, and specifically, Pride and Prejudice.
…It all started in fine non-literary style: with Colin Firth. The scene in the 1995 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which Colin got his shirt wet was, almost certainly, the moment that opened the door and let the modern world in upon the quiet, oil-lit writing desk at Chawton Cottage. And when Firth played Mark Darcy in the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary, the deal was sealed: Pride and Prejudice was on its way to fame and fortune.
Which brings her to a point we’ve discussed on this podcast:
…What on earth would Jane Austen have made of it all?
Well, she would certainly have laughed – “I dearly love a laugh,” says Elizabeth Bennet, in the voice of her creator – and she would have enjoyed all the money, because nobody was more aware of its importance. Elizabeth and her sister Jane might have charm to spare, plus wit and good temper to keep fear of the future at bay, but their genteel poverty means that the men who marry them are not just lovers; they are personal relief missions from lives beyond contemplation.
And this acute alertness to the significance of money – to the humiliating gulf between the shillings that buy Elizabeth’s hair ribbons and Darcy’s £30,000 a year – is just one of the many aspects of Jane Austen that has been lost to a contemporary audience.
She goes on to say that too often, readers today just think it’s neat that Elizabeth wound up with a rich guy–rather than noting that it was her job to find a rich husband or live a life of drudgery. In reality, loving Darcy is the bonus. The real marriage is that of money.
….Actually, there is rather more to Elizabeth than the perfection we behold in her (and ourselves). What, for example, is one to make of her ambiguous joke that she began to love Darcy on “first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”? Sir Walter Scott, for one, thought she meant exactly what she said; and I think he had a point.
….But the novels as a whole are rather less comforting. Indeed, they are, in some ways, terrifying. There is something appalling about the lack of illusions with which Jane Austen viewed her little world. To censor out such a judgment – or to condemn it as “male” – is to do her an extreme disservice.
And the point she makes next made me feel bad for not making a bigger deal out of what Charlotte did, and why:
Take, for example, the character of Charlotte Lucas, one of Austen’s finest, who cuts through the nonsense now waffling round Pride and Prejudice like a particularly acid lemon. Her presence lurks sombrely behind Elizabeth’s lovely lightness: the two girls are faces of the same coin, expressions of their creator’s joyful esprit on the one hand and cold eye on the other.
Like Elizabeth, Charlotte has a lively mind, but, unlike her friend, she has no physical allure. A quirk of nature has taken her out of the orbit of men such as Darcy. And, because she is plain, she sees the world plainly. She calmly perceives its limitations: the ruthless judgments of its marriage market, the life sentence of inhabiting its tight social circles.
Seeing the world, she also sees the possibility of falling off its edge. “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” She snaps up Mr Collins, the terrible suitor whom Elizabeth has the freedom to reject. “I am not romantic, you know. I never was.”
It is almost unthinkable, by today’s standards, to do what Charlotte did–but she was wise, and right, and she seems to be “happy”…or at least happy enough…
She is the stony reality at the heart of Pride and Prejudice. She tells a woman’s story, but in a way that is utterly remote from feminine convention: with scant emotion, appealing to nothing other than rationality. And, like her creator, she has remarkably little to do with cosy readings of The Jane Austen Book Club and communal swoons over Mr Darcy.
…If Pride and Prejudice can be so easily claimed by the Grazia brigade, why should the other books be any different? It is not difficult, after all, to read what one wants to read in a novel. Every reader does it, to an extent. But the landscape of what is seen in books is becoming increasingly impoverished. Indeed, it might be that the reality of literature no longer lies within its words. As Jane Austen flourishes, the literary sense that she possessed in its most refined form is slowly dying: the irony would have amused her.
Hmmmmm…more to think about…
As always, Pride and Prejudice is narrated by Annie Coleman. Intro music provided by GarageBand.com which connected me with Joshua Christian’s “Chasing Hiro.”
Book talk begins at 12:40. Listen to Episode 14 audio.