I just completed my tour de Jane Austen today. For those of you who have any interest, here are my thoughts:
1. There is a reason why Pride and Prejudice is the best-known and best-loved of Austen’s novels. It’s Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Oh, wait, that’s not where I was going with that. P&P is actually far and away the best of the six novels, mostly because Elizabeth Bennet is the only heroine with any spunk at all. She has a sense of humor, she knows and speaks her mind, and she grows as a character between the beginning and end of the novel. What a concept!
2. Speaking of speaking one’s mind… Taboo-less twenty-first century Americans take this way too far, I’ll be the first to agree. But if Jane Austen characters would occasionally actually say what they really thought, these novels would be a lot shorter.
3. Some friends and I recently discussed the “Which Jane Austen character are you?” question and they decided that my Austen double was Mrs. Weston from Emma. But of course I’d much rather be a heroine than a supporting character, so I am revising my match to be Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. She’s quiet, passive to a fault, dutiful, emotionally reserved, and family-centered. Plus, she gets to marry Edward Ferrars, whom we chose as Stephen’s match, so how perfect is that?
Lastly, my preferences, in order:
1. Pride and Prejudice. The central characters in this book are more complex and dynamic than any other leading couples. The supporting characters (Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins in particular) are funny and quirky without being aggravating.
2. Emma. I’m quite possibly influenced by the fact that I’m a big fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version of this story, but I really did enjoy this novel. Emma is a very silly heroine, but she’s fun to watch. And she does improve throughout the course of the plot. The supporting characters are less endearing, but they are memorable.
3. Northanger Abbey. Surprise! This was one I had never read before. The characters are not very interesting or well-developed, but I loved the tongue-in-cheek narrator and the fact that this novel doesn’t take itself too seriously.
4. Sense and Sensibility. Despite my self-identification with Elinor, the story moves a little slow. Plus, Marianne is super annoying and Willoughby just WON’T GO AWAY.
6. Mansfield Park.
This was a very narrow competitionf for last place; both Fanny Price and Anne Elliot have the spunk and zest of warm milk. The only way I can comprehend that men fall in love with them is that they are surrounded by other characters that are completely uninteresting, unlikeable, and/or already married (not that that stopped Mr. Crawford from running off with Mrs. Rushworth! What a scandal!).
All in all, my time with Jane Austen was well spent. The subtlety and humor of the writing has been a great complement to my immoderate consumption of “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” and “Biscuit’s Day at the Park.” It’s like the mental equivalent of changing out of the shirt smeared with applesauce/ playground dirt/snot/you name it and putting on something that is dry-clean only.
P.S. Thanks to Megan for the inspiration (she completed her tour de Austen with a newborn!) and to her husband Steele for the “Which-Jane-Austen-character-are-you?” e-mail challenge.