Giveaways,  Jane Austen

Thank you, Jane Austen

There are many reasons to thank Jane Austen. Hours of escapism reading or watching movie adaptations, hours of pondering or discussing what she was really saying. She’s a great artist whose work is forever open to interpretations–thoughtful, controversial, or just plain wacko–and she will stay with you for a lifetime, changing as you do.

It’s interesting that for a woman whose private life was so very private–thanks in part to Cassandra’s scissors–that she writes so convincingly and with such authority about love.

Her books are about courtship and love, yes, but she deflects her happy endings, leaving her couples on the way to the altar. Her depictions of marriage are not always great–relationships gone stale (the Bennets), marriages that you know are just going to be trouble (the Wickhams). We have the particularly lifeless Gardiners of P&P who are surely there to push the plot forward (sorry, Miss Austen, I’ve always suspected they’re there for that reason). The Crofts are happy but childless, unusual in an age when marriage = children. Is Mrs. Croft’s year ashore, sick and missing her husband, really a reference to a pregnancy that went badly wrong?

Furthermore, there is the evidence in the letters (and sorry, I can’t quote you a reference because then this post would be even later) that falling in love is a woman’s choice; that she can and should allow herself to do so.  The implication is that falling in love–an uncontrollable thoughtless impulse–is doomed. (Marianne Dashwood, we’re talking about you.) Love is a power a woman holds in check until the suitable prospect appears, a man of virtue (Edward Bertram, zzzzz), of wealth (Darcy, who is probably  not Colin Firth in a wet shirt), or even one who can comfortably provide for you (Mr. Collins. Try not to think about it).

The evidence is in the novels: that not one of her heroines makes a marriage that would in any way defy the social norms. Not even Lizzy and Darcy. Sure, he has a bunch of money and huge tracts o land but she’s gentry, possibly from a family like Austen’s that had some aristocratic connections a few generations ago.His aristocratic connections are too close for comfort.

Check out that first proposal scene again (in the book, not the movie adaptations):

In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.


But remember, we’re in Lizzy’s point of view. Austen does not allow us to hear Darcy’s proposal in his words. Instead, we get Lizzy’s interpretation:

… you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?

And that’s what makes Austen so brilliant, by leaving us guessing. And guessing. And talking about it. Her control of point of view, what the reader needs to know and when, if ever, is what I admire most about Austen’s writing.

What do you like most about Austen’s writing? And what do you think is impossible to translate into a movie script?

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Final May 2011Prizes: Today I’ll give away a couple of copies of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of short stories edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose chosen from among those of you who comment on today’s post. That will automatically enter you into our grand drawing of a $50 amazon gift certificate!

Thanks for joining us to celebrate Austen’s birthday this week.



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9 years ago

Love the dry humor of Jane Austen’s writing – so tongue-in-cheek, witty and at the same time able to point out humanity’s silliness over the oddest things. I also love her ability to show vulnerability in men and women without getting maudlin or overdone.

The one thing most film versions have failed to portray in comparison to Austen’s depictions in writing is the emotional austerity overlying the passion beneath it. Humans are by nature passionate creatures. The Regency era set so many rules in place to calm those passions. I think it must be very difficult indeed to portray that sort of inner struggle – the need to be proper in the face of a passion that completely confuses someone who has been told they aren’t supposed to feel passion at all.

Bess Gilmartin
9 years ago

I love Jane Austen’s sense of humor, and I think it’s that sarcasm that tends to get left behind in the films. Not that I’m complaining; the romance is awfully good too!

9 years ago

I like her sense of humor and the depth of feeling in her writing. I think it is hard to translate intensity of emotion and the different layers of the characters’ personalities.

9 years ago

I think most people tend to watch and think of Austen movie’s as great romances. They are to a degree,but in her writing she was incredibly ironic in her critique of marriage and a women’s choices that I think never fully translate in film adaptations. However,I am fully behind the film makers decision to put Darcy aka Colin Firth in a wet shirt!!!

Elena Greene
9 years ago

The characterization. And the dialogue. Sorry, I couldn’t limit to one favorite thing.

The one book that hasn’t translated readily is Mansfield Park. The 1995 Rozema version is interesting but only loosely based on the book. The 2007 version was…odd. My guess is they keep trying to adapt the heroine, Fanny, to be more relatable to modern women. I would be curious to see what would happen if she were portrayed more as she is written. But a lot goes on internally which would be tricky to show.

9 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

I too am in awe of Austen’s characterization and dialogue which is then punctuated with wicked irony and semi-colons. Her masterful creation of John Willoughby has never been correctly portrayed in any of the film versions. The Ang Lee/Emma Thompson movie depicts him as a very romantic hero who makes poor choices because of a need for funds and a few minor character flaws. We even feel empathy for him that he ends the film regretting the loss of Marianne. Austen’s most brilliant and complex portrayal of him is completely missing from his screen persona. Jane’s chapter 44 of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is a virtuoso depiction of a sociopath almost 100 years before the term was coined. In his discussion with Elinor, Willoughby makes everyone else to blame for his failings—Colonel Brandon, Eliza Williams, his cousin, his wife and even Marianne. Through her dazzling dialogue she exposes the charming romantic’s rotten core. She made me agree with Mark Twain when he said of him: “Willoughby is a frankly cruel, criminal and filthy society-gentleman.” This gentleman seduced (?), impregnated and abandoned a fifteen-year-old, just before he begins a romance with Marianne Dashwood. His cousin, Mrs. Smith, who had made him her heir, was so outraged by his behavior that she threatened to disinherit him. Instead of doing the honorable thing and marrying Eliza Williams, he leaves Marianne after giving her false hope and playing reckless with her reputation to pursue and win the wealthy Miss Grey. He feels no compunction to say anything nice about his bride to Elinor. He admits he did not love her, and it was she who insisted he write the letter to Marianne breaking completely with her. The elder Miss Dashwood is moved to protest and the reader is appalled.

The last words written of Willoughby are filled with ‘bitter’ irony, at least to me. To quote my beloved Jane: “He lived to exert, and frequently to enjoy himself. His wife was not always out of humour, nor his home always uncomfortable! and in his breed of horses and dogs, and in sporting of every kind, he found no inconsiderable degree of domestic felicity.”

Jane Austen definitely made me write ‘Goodly Creatures’ regardless of what my critics say. I needed revenge against this despicable man she had so brilliantly created. Isn’t that what great art does to those who imbibe–move us to passion. And then there was my woman’s need to vindicate a forgotten fifteen-year-old whose life he so callously ruined.

Laurel Ann (Austenprose)

Hi Riskies & Janet, I love your redesign.

Thanks for honoring my favorite author this week. I enjoy Austen for many reasons, but primarily because of her snarky wit. I know everyone swoons over Darcy and is amazed by Elizabeth Bennet’s defiant spirit, but I love Austen’s secondary characters especially the snarky ones like Caroline Bingley, Elizabeth Elliot, Aunt Norris etc. Her one snarky anti-heroine, Lady Susan, is a real plum too. These are my answers today. My reasons for loving Austen change with my mood.

Thanks for featuring Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Janet’s contribution in the anthology is “Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” It has a Beatles theme which shows you how far reaching Austen’s influence reaches out to us.

Good luck to all the entrants. Happy Holiday Janet & Riskies

Laurel Ann

Jane George
9 years ago

She was a master of the semi-colon. And semi-colons don’t translate well to film. Also, her mocking social critique should come off more mean girl than it does, but somehow there’s compassion in there too.

9 years ago

Hi Janet. What a great couple of questions. Here’s my go at it.

Jane Autsten had the ability to make ordinary circumstances in life take center stage. Austen was a master at creating people you wouldn’t even glance at a second time in real life and making them contribute something special to the story. For example, Miss Bates from Emma is one of the characters I’m talking about. Emma sees her as someone who she can barely tolerate in society. But Jane Austen shows us that Miss Bates, who is so happy with her circumstances even though she is just barely scraping by, is important. Miss Bates feels blessed and fortunate in her limited life because her true blessings come from having such wonderful friends and family. We all should be as blessed as Miss Bates!!! This is one of the things I love about Jane Austen’s writings. Jane Austen takes simple concepts that others scoff at and turns them into universals truths. It’s also one of the hardest things to depict in a movie.

Na S.
Na S.
9 years ago

I love the way she tells a story and the courtships. It makes me really get to know the characters and care for them.

9 years ago
Reply to  Janet Mullany

Well, may I just say . . . she probably wouldn’t be invited to the neighborhood Christmas bunco party.
Happy Holidays!!

Jo's Daughter
9 years ago

I love her use of language, her funny observations and how her heroes have such eloquent speech 😀

Lesley A.
Lesley A.
9 years ago

Jane Austen was able to make entertaining the sometimes mundane parts of life through her wit, irony, sense of the ridiculous and sarcasm. I think the irony and inner turmoil of her characters is difficult to show in the film adaptations… I’m forever grateful though, that filmmakers continue to attempt to portray her stories for us to talk about.

9 years ago

I like her characters. She doesn’t tell you a lot but I feel like these characters come alive for me.

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