Liking Jane…..

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature.

While Jane Austen has always been at the very top of my ladder of veneration that I reserve for my most beloved writers, it is very surprising that I never wrote about her before. But then what can I say for Ms. Austen that has not been said before – what can I say that is original and not hackneyed or trite?  However let me attempt to spell out why I resort to Jane Austen, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am confused, when I need distraction or simply when I need to attain a Zen state of mind!

By now, the very first question of The Classic Club for this subject should be answered by now – I do not love Jane Austen; I am obsessed with her!!!!!

Now to broach why I love Jane Austen – I love reading her because she is one of the original fountain of all wisdom pertaining to relationships, especially those between a man and a woman. All those of who had been nourished on a healthy and completely untrue diet of Prince Charming carry poor little Cinders away, despite strong objections against her background got of first taste of reality through Austen’s work. Whether it is Mrs. Bennett or her relations, there can be no denying that improper behavior by the family of the protagonist will always be a hindrance in the path of true love and will always make a lover hesitate in declaring his intentions. How many times in your adult life have you heard your boyfriend say that your mother/aunt/sister is too loud and an embarrassment in public which led to an eventual showdown between the two of you, regardless of the validity of criticism? I feel this keenly and therefore try as much as possible to shield my guy from my extended family.  She was one of the first writers to put forth that while filial respect is always important and should always be of greatest import, one cannot turn away from the obvious shortcoming of the parents, which at times may lead to disastrous effect on the child. Example of the same is Mrs. Dashwood who does not try and control the imprudence of Marianne in her relations to Willoughby leading to heartbreak for one and exposing another to the censure of the world. Sir Elliot’s vanity and pride deprives his daughter Ann Elliot from happiness for seven long years. These were revolutionary concepts, especially when we look at the era that Ms. Austen was writing from.

Many claim Jane Austen had written a 18th century Mills & Boone through Pride and Prejudice. But this  in itself is a very simplistic understanding of the novel – this was one of the first books where the heroine asserts not only her own self-respect but also forces the male protagonist to respect her family through sheer force of character. Ms. Eliza Bennett is not a milk and honey  miss, like her other fictional compatriots, who faint at anything remotely stressful; nor does she give away to hysteria when ill befalls her family – instead she faces them as a strong individual, sharing burdens with her sister and keeping her own repining in check and rarelyhas moments of self-indulgence. She does not go around being pedagogic to her suitor, but speaks to him on equal terms, in mixture of humor, angst or anger as dictated by natural human tendency.  Pride and Prejudice was also one of the first writings to throw an egalitarian twist – while Mr Darcy had 10000 a year and Pemberly, he is dismissed as a gentleman by Elizabeth, who claims equality as a gentleman’s daughter and is completely unapologetic about the comparative material inequities between the two.

Ms. Austen was one of the first writers to create a flawed heroine, whether it was Elizabeth Bennett’s initial liking for Mr Wickham or Emma Woodhouse’s meddling and sometimes rude conduct towards her friends and neighbors. She makes her heroine fall to only make them rise, realize their mistake and become better human beings, woman, wife, daughter etc.

Finally many critics have condemned Jane Austen as parochial and not addressing some of the pressing concerns of her time, like the Napoleonic Wars. She does refer to the Napoleanic Wars when there is a need – Persuasion is filled with allusion to peace after the war; but mostly she wrote about the country – the kind of place she grew up and spent most of her adult life. She wrote about things that she understood and had complete command over than attempt something for which she was dependent on second-hand sources and which may have a false bearing on the tale. After all, since Ms. Austen’s celebrated examples of writing about spheres understood by the author, more than 200 years later, the apparently modern and up-to-date social networks, work on her principle of writing locally!

Jane Austen is not out dated, she is not boring and she is not parochial – she is in fact very cool, with writings that can be handed down from one generation to another, because it addresses the really never-changing mores of human interactions!

To address the last part of The Classic Club Challenge – my favorites in order of 1 to 6 are (with 1 being the best!)

  1. Pride and Prejudice (No Surprise there!)
  2. Emma
  3. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasions (I know…I cannot decide between the two!)
  4. Northanger Abbey
  5. Lady Susan
  6. Mansfield Park (Only Austen that I consider tedious and didactic!)

Do let me know what you think about Ms. Austen as well!

200 years of Pride with a sprinkling of Prejudice….

So I have been really ill for the last couple of weeks – I mean really: high fever, fatigue and no rest. Whoever heard of getting a break from gulag???? Anyway, therefore I did the disappearing act on the blog – one can only do so much – manage the never-ending expectations of a Boss, take on extra work load especially since most of your team is out with …yup you guessed it: Flu and balance needs of a sister in a mid-life crisis, a best friend who has professional issues with her workplace and a non-existent love life, who only needs your attention, when you really do not have any to give; all the while one is running a 103*C temperature almost every alternate day for last two weeks. But do I complain???? Hell no – I just neglect blogging, one of the most relaxing and joyful things in my life!

Now after digressing for some 13 mins, (Yes! I am aware I am exaggerating, but after what I have described above, everyone should humor my indulgences, which in the greater scheme of things is really minor!) let me get to the point – what I was trying to say through all this muddle is – I could not let this day go by …..after all it is the bi-centennial celebration of the greatest feminist-turned mills and boons  – turned literature-turned comedy of manners-turned brilliant critique of society-turned a dam good story!

On 28th January 1813, T. Egerton, Whitehall, published a novel, that was “written by a lady” and English Literature would never be the same: The name of the book was Pride and Prejudice.

For over 200 years, this book has shaped the understanding of the power of women and the little control that a gentle woman brought up with education and morals has over her marriage in absence of fortune, as well as shaped and honed idealistic beliefs that marriage should not be made for economic reasons. My grandmother read it and swore she was Lizzy Bennett. Might have been true in her case – she left her relatively richer perspective groom on the eve of her wedding to marry my well to do but hardly rolling in wealth grandfather. My mother too swore by the book and she herself could have made much wealthier and glittering match, for she was the belle of the town, but she settled for my brilliant and kind, albeit low-key father. As for me, well, I am not sure of the brilliant match I could potentially make – all I can say is that he is very different from what I am – chalk and cheese, library and sports bar, subtle and flash and dash…..but would not change it for the world. So my family is a living proof of the incredible debt that we all owe to this publication, two centuries ago!

What can I say that has not been said before, how can I describe the immense joy I feel, even now reading that book for like 456,452 times. I know each phase, I know each character and I know exactly what will happen next – but never for a moment, does this lessen the joy of my reading. Never for a moment do I waver in declaring this book to be one of my all-time favorites, though I know it’s very fashionable anymore. And I am always surprised (rolling eyes smiley) when I get asked such innately dumb question – you reading this book again? How can you read the same book twice? Duh!! That’s why it’s called a classic!

I know there are celebrations world over, to mark this occasion – the New Yorker ran a special column, CBC is also running some special series and all Jane Austen societies are going into overtime to honor this day. But I tumbled across this cartoon version of Pride and Prejudice, by Jen Sorensen which made me think that Ms Austen herself, had she been alive would have approved.

Do check it out!

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/27/170253360/pride-and-prejudice-turns-200

In the end – Viva Jane Austen! Viva Pride and Prejudice!

The ‘romance’ of romantic novels…..

I was just 12 years old and I wondered into a book shop. The owner showed me all the books a young adult would like – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Anna of Green Gables. I picked them and one more – a vague book with green cover, called Shadow Princess. I picked it up because the back cover said that the heroine was a Ph.D student and even at that age I knew a doctorate was ‘the thing’ for me; so I was going to read up everything even remotely related to it. My ever encouraging dad paid for the books and we walked out.

However it was not till two years later that I got around to reading Shadow Princess….I do not quite remember what happened; but  I think I lost a couple of books traveling and then found them two years down the line. Anyway that’s not the point. The point is at the age of 14, I read the “Shadow Princess” and after reading the slim book, I decided that romance was a piece of nonsense! It took the protagonist (who by the way was supposed to be intelligent; what with a Ph.D in chemistry) 180 pages realise that she loved the male protagonist for no better reason that one point his father had dated her sister!!! Oh! Lord!!

That was my introduction to Mills & Boons……..

So many years down the line, my view has not changes. It has just expanded to include Silhouette romances and all flowery cover jacketed books with apparently, the key word is “apparently” intelligent heroines and the silent strong men. Give me a break!!!
I defy anyone to show me such a piece of work which does not adhere to the following premises – 
  1. The writing is always from the woman’s point of view considering most these things are written by women
  2. The obviously stunning girl whose looks are played down in the initial part of the book for the “wow” effect later with large black/blue/green eyes (they always have large eyes!) meets “the guy” at some gathering
  3. The girl is obviously someone who is supposed to have substance though she has done very little in the first 10 pages to show it and might be in some kind of trouble which only “the guy” can rescue her from.
  4. The Guy” is obviously extremely tall, extremely good looking, extremely intelligent, extremely rich, extremely popular among opposite sex, extremely in love, extremely rude…extremely annoying!!
  5. They get off to a rocky start because they have a past or because they are trying to deny their attraction for each other because of some weird twisted logic that will be revealed at the end of novel that will want to make you barf!
  6. We will now spend 80 -100 pages skimming through various ups and downs where the two fight, detest each other and end up making out (Have you ever made out with someone you truly detested?????)
  7. The novel ends with “the guy” doing some incorrigible act of daring and chivalry that will make the girl declare her undying (yawn!) love for him (now that was an ending I never so coming!!) with some trite vapid wannabe joke!

Oh!! Please!!

Long back, a friend’s brother told me at an impressionable age, when I voiced my disgust for such writings that we can thank Jane Austen for introducing us to such plots via, Pride and Prejudice.

Agreed…. P&P does follow this plot line….but Jane Austen actually originated it. Furthermore, she addressed some very serious concerns of that age – marrige as the only security for educated women; the case of entailment of estates; marriage between people of unequal status….I can go on!! Besides, her humour is subtle and sarcastic!!  I refuse to believe in today’s day and age, women marry for security and in a more and more democratic world where Princes are marrying commoners, one writes about an unequal marriage where a rich ‘the guy” marries our woman of apparent substance, albiet of lower social standing and there is an ado about it! If she has substance, she will cope!!

I know this will put many in a tizzy, but can’t we do a book, a romance novel, where the heroine is fat or taller that the hero. Also what if the hero is an average guy with a good job, but is not a power wheeler dealer. I am told such books would not sell….really? Is our reading population so insipid? Maybe there is a certain section of the population that will never read such books and thrive on traditional romances, but I am sure, if a romance is a good book that truly depicts the poetry and humour of our lives, people will read.

In the meanwhile, if you like many of my friends feel the need for an out of the world, so unreal romance, there is always Messer’s Mill & Boon!