Friday, July 29, 2005

If I Were A Rich Mom - La-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da!

Alibris has, through their used and rare book search, a first edition (1813) copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from Peter Harrington's Books in the UK for a mere $43,474.89.

(I wonder: Why the 89¢? Why not round it up to $43,475.00? Would anyone at all prone to purchasing such a tome be put off by that extra 11¢? But I digress.)

Aaah . . . for a spare $50,000!

There's your "pewter," dearest Jane, but none of it matters to you now. God bless you!

Sponging Off Jane

What Jane Austen Earned from Her Books During Her Lifetime
(from The Friendly Jane Austen by Natalie Tyler (1999), pg. 227)

1803: £10 from Richard Crosby for the manuscript of Susan (later published posthumously as Northanger Abbey)

1811: £140 from the publisher Thomas Egerton for Sense & Sensibility. £150 from its profits.

1812: £110 for Pride & Prejudice.

1814: £450 from the publisher John Murray for Emma and the copyrights to Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park.

Any way you look at it, even inflating the total to today's currency, Jane Austen was severely underpaid for a lifetime of work, or, rather, for a lifetime of such genius. Many other authors could have made far less and been justly compensated for their drivel, but Miss Austen deserved the wealth of Solomon for matching his wisdom and, surely, outshining that ancient monarch's wit. Now, coming upon two full centuries after her death, many good folks have worked her legacy for a tidy profit in the form of biographies, literary critiques, sequels, films, plays, audiobooks, and countless sundry others of the Austenly themed.

Here's my list of some of the very best and very worst that I have so far found of those who have dared to tread on the blessed ground first indented by Jane's daintily-slippered feet.

Best and Worst Film Adaptations:

Best: Pride & Prejudice (1995) (BBC/A&E) - Mention this finest of the film adaptations to any female Janeite and watch her bosoms heave in her Empire-waisted gown. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy was a stroke of casting genius - he brings a vigor and virility to a role that could easily be made too restrained and dandified; yet, he is completely believable as the proprietor of Pemberley - conveying equally well his complete abhorrence of Lizzy's vulgar relations and his burgeoning attraction to her despite it all. Speaking of whom, no one else can ever be Lizzy to me now other than the spectacular Jennifer Ehle. She is simply amazing as this most beloved of Brit-Lit heroines - how daunting it must have been for her to undertake this role, knowing how Elizabeth Bennet is nearly sacrosanct to P&P fans! The rest of the cast is exemplary too - I especially like Mr. Collins, Jane Bennet, and Mr. Bennet. I am so grateful that this mini-series format allows for five hours to revel in the perfection of it all.

Worst: Mansfield Park (2000) - It is very difficult for me to express fully my all-consuming hatred for this travesty cloaked in celluloid. Suffice it to say that it sucks with a sucking power that Hoover would envy. It sucks itself into the black hole of "cinema-with-an-axe-to-grind" that doesn't even try to make a faithful representation of the work which it purportedly portrays. I'd tar and feather Patricia Rozema if I ever caught her walking down the street. Jane, being ever so much more the lady than I, would probably merely freeze her out with the cool kind of cutting at which the Eighteenth Century English gentry excelled. I'm planning on suffering through it again, so that I can report on more of the specific ways that it sucks. Look for that future post.

Best and Worst Novel Sequels: (I have not read every sequel, having only so much time and stomach for what is too often disappointing fare. For a complete review and opinions on the myriad JA sequels, I refer you to The Republic of Pemberley.)

Best: Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken - Not exactly a "sequel" but a "parallel-quel," this is a really rather good re-telling of Emma from the point of view of a minor character, Jane Fairfax. The author also fleshes out Jane's back-story and provides believable insights and motives for an (in Emma) rather unfathomable young woman.

Honorable Mention: Presumption: An Entertainment by Julia Barrett - As far as I can remember (though it has been several years since I read it) this sequel to Pride and Prejudice did not fail as miserably as most sequels to JA's work. It centers around Darcy's sister Georgiana and her courtship and marriage, and it is not too offensive without being particularly memorable or endearing.

Worst: Oh Goodness! Anything by Emma Tennant, who seems to think that writing a good JA sequel involves having characters do and say things completely, well, out of character! I do not think that Emma Tennant likes JA's novels, or, if she does, it is a superficial appreciation without any understanding of what make JA so very beloved. If you want to torture yourself, read Emma Tennant's Pemberley (a sequel to Pride and Prejudice) and Emma in Love (a sequel to Emma). JA would certainly not approve of this author, and she would not even be excessively diverted by her literary pretensions. Emma Tennant is the Patricia Rozema of JA sequels.

Best and Worst Spin-Offs: (Works definitely related in some way to Jane Austen, but not directly based upon her work)

Best: The Jane Austen Mysteries by Stephanie Barron - Jane as detective - absolutely delicious! I really like this series, and I think that Ms. Barron has done a better job than just about anyone in capturing the ironic, yet genteel, tone of Ms. Austen. An interesting and fulfilling vision of what Jane Austen fans and biographers often refer to as the "lost years," the eight year period between Steventon Rectory and her original drafts of P&P, S&S and NA, and Chawton House and the writing of MP, Emma, and Persuasion.

Worst: Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding and Pride and Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan - These British women authors need to get over riding on Jane's coattails to chick lit fame. I can understand borrowing elements of JA's work - she was so foundational as an author, it is difficult not to borrow a little bit - but re-tellings of P&P over and over again (except with sex and more modern sensibilities - yuck!!) are getting old, ladies. Try for something a bit more original, like Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series - echoes of JA without direct lifting of plot and character.

Best and Worst Jane Austen Reference Works:

Best: The Friendly Jane Austen by Natalie Tyler - This is a wonderful collection of fact and supposition, scholarly insights and not-so-scholarly gossip. If I were to recommend just one book to the novice Jane Austen fan who loved P&P and wanted to know more, this is the book I would suggest. Chock full of trivia and tid-bits, you couldn't ask for a better overview of everything JA.

Worst: Sibling Love & Incest in Jane Austen's Fiction by Glenda A. Hudson - Okay, probably not too much of an explanation is needed here after taking a look at the title, but I just want to add that it managed to take a completely prurient topic and turn it into the driest of scholarly assessments. So, it's premise is disgusting, and it's body is boring. Enough said.

Best and Worst Biography:

A Confession: I have not read a biography of Jane Austen for many years. At one point, I read two different biographies, Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes and Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, in immediate succession. One, I liked very much; the other I didn't really like at all. Now, I cannot remember which was which. I shall have to re-read them and post more about that later.

Well, that's a brief overview. I'm sure there will be lots more sponging off of Jane Austen in the future. They say that "imitation is the highest form of flattery," and I'm certain Jane would be tickled, but, as she once wrote, "tho' I like praise as well as anybody, I like what [brother] Edward calls pewter too." I wish that she could have had fewer financial worries during her lifetime. No novelist deserved pecuniary advantage more than she.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Upon Re-Reading Mansfield Park . . .

I am nearing the end of probably my fifth or sixth reading of MP, and I know what's coming up.

**spoiler alert**spoiler alert**spoiler alert***

I know that in a few more pages, Henry Crawford will run off with Maria Rushworth, condemning him and her forever in the eyes of the Bertrams and Fanny Price. Oh, Henry, don't do it! You're getting so close to Fanny. Only let Edmund propose to Mary, let her accept his hand, and give Fanny a little while to get over her disappointment. Stay the course - she will reward your steadfastness with her love in just a little while. Don't show her that her opinion of your principles was well-founded. Don't do it!

I love MP, but the ending kind of stinks. Mary and Henry Crawford are so delightful. I cannot help but think that they would have, in turn, made better spouses for Edmund and Fanny than those two were for each other. Oh, Jane, what would you think of my impudence and audacity in wishing a re-write of the ending?

Fanny and Edmund - each one so principled and steady and virtuous and dull, dull, dull. I picture their married home-life as consisting of much sitting around, reading poetry, and rhapsodizing on Nature and its glories. Not that there is anything wrong with Nature and its glories - I rather like them myself - but where is the witty interplay of lively (and acerbic) observations of the human scene that made this Georgian/Regency era such a fun one? Fanny and Edmund have to be the most boring couple of protagonists ever to tie the knot in a Jane Austen novel.

And yet, I love this novel. It is so fine and well-written and entertaining. I actually bristled when I read one person's opinion that it was one of the "lesser works" of Jane Austen. It is, in fact, one of the greater works of all British Literature - thank you very much.

Jane Austen recorded for posterity all of her family's and friends' observations of MP. They are delightful, in and of themselves, to read. It is amazing how frank some of the comments are:

Mrs. Augusta Bramstone - owned that she though S&S and P&P downright nonsense, but expected to like MP better; &, having finished the first volume, flattered herself that she had got through the worst.

Fanny Cage - did not much like it - not to be compared P&P - nothing interesting in the characters - language poor - characters natural and well-supported - improved as it went on.

Mrs. Bramstone - . . . Preferred it to either of the others - but imagined that might be her want of Taste - as she does not understand Wit.

Edward & George (Knight - JA's nephews) - Not liked it near so well as P&P - Edward admired Fanny - George disliked her - George interested in nobody but Mary Crawford - Edward pleased with Henry C. - Edmund objected to as cold and formal - Henry C.'s going off with Mrs. R. - at such a time, when so much in love with Fanny, thought unnatural by Edward.

To this last, I must heartily agree. HC seems so in love with Fanny - he seems so likely to have reformed and refined his rakish ways - it just is too weird and jarring when we learn of the adulterous elopement. I'm sure JA wanted to shock us completely, but it is a most dreadful shock, because (at least to me) Henry Crawford seems a much better match for Fanny - who needs someone to liven her spirits. Mary Crawford would have shaped Edmund right up from his superfluity of gravity, and he would have steadied her character. Oh, it's just too bad.

Oh well, what's done is done. MP will be 200 years in print in just a few years. I'm sure JA would have been highly gratified to see its enduring popularity and success.