Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays, Part 2

And if by chance you've already bestowed Volume 1 on all your nearest and dearest, let me just note that Volume 2 is the perfect way to show them you still love them. In case you need reminding, here are a few excerpts:

"Emma is literary champagne; but of the very driest variety. In it, we find Austen at the height of her narrative powers, and clearly aware of it; she indulges herself—in fact, a bit too much so for my taste. She doesn’t make light of the world she creates, but she doesn’t exactly make heft of it, either. It’s a frolic—a gambol; a sunny roundelay. We love Emma, but we never feel any kind of anxiety for her, as we did for the Dashwood sisters, and for Lizzy Bennet. We never feel anxiety for anyone in the cast of characters. It’s as though Austen has invented such a group of darlings, she can’t bear to afflict them with any real tribulations. There is—as there always is, in Austen—a rival and a cad; but the rival is never seriously a rival, and the cad only intermittently caddish. The book’s only two villains are married off to each other and pushed to the margins so that their hideousness can only delight, never threaten. In a way, Emma is Jane Austen writing her own Jane Austen fan fiction."

"Northanger Abbey is probably the least regarded of Austen’s novels—not in the sense that it’s the least liked (Mansfield Park takes that prize), but in the sense that it’s the least often read, the least often discussed, the least often considered. There’s just too much in it that throws your average dingbat Austen fan into confusion: an unexceptional heroine who never rises to anything beyond a certain baseline competency, a foppish hero whose motives are never entirely understandable, and a one-sided love affair whose only triumph is that the diffident party is eventually flattered into signing on. But it’s my own favorite in the canon, after (of course) Pride and Prejudice. Because its first draft was written early in Austen’s career, it retains much of the swagger of the joyfully anarchic fiction she wrote in such quantity during her adolescence. And this is balanced by the psychologically nuanced character portrayals we associate with Austen in her full maturity. To me, it’s the most representative of her works, twining the brash irreverence of her juvenile period with the sagacity and reflection of her mastery."

"Persuasion is the last novel Jane Austen prepared for publication before she died, and it was released posthumously. For that reason, many people have come to regard it as valedictory; and this illusion is aided by its heroine, Anne Elliot, who, as a lifelong spinster disdained by her family, appears on the surface to be a stand-in for Austen herself. In granting Anne Elliot a second chance at love, and with the man she’d foolishly rejected in her youth, some readers—stupid readers, I think; sentimental and sloppy ones—view Persuasion as Austen’s attempt to live vicariously through a fictionalized version of herself; to bring her own story to a happy resolution before death claimed her. Like Prospero in The Tempest, Anne Elliot becomes the author taking her leave of her readers, by way of a dramatic stand-in.
You only have to take a look at the novel Austen was working on when she died to realize that Persuasion is no such thing. Sanditon clearly shows Austen back in biting social-satire mode, and even extending her palette to include sharp satiric jabs at commerce and industry. At the end of her life she was expanding her focus, not narrowing it."

"[Austen] began as a rollicking farceuse; developed into a relentlessly funny social satirist; and matured into a brilliant ironist. There’s no telling where she might have gone from there, had she not died so terribly, almost criminally young. But one thing seems certain: she would never have become a sentimentalist…never a romantic…never a safe little scribbler of mawkish, soft-core valentines. And if there is a literary heaven? Those writers are the souls who flee the fastest when she enters a room."

What better stocking stuffer for the culture maven, Janeite, or bitch (bonneted or otherwise) on your list? 

Finally: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks again for supporting me in this project and for being such wonderful sounding boards, critics...and friends. I wish you the best of everything.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays (volume 1)

Just a reminder that the ideal holiday present for every discriminating palate on your gift list does in fact exist. And you can get it by overnight delivery, so I don't even feel bad about taking this long to remind you.

What I will remind you of are some representative passages from its pages:

"Here are a few things you won’t find in Sense and Sensibility: a passionate kiss or a violent embrace...a kiss or embrace of any kind, for that matter...any portrayal of a marriage proposal...any depiction of a wedding ceremony...anyone speaking the words 'I love you.' Here are a few things you WILL find in Sense and Sensibility: ruthlessness...venality...arrogance...avarice...fecklessness... snobbishness...shamelessness... two or three of the most unbridled talkers in all of western literature...and an authorial voice that merrily mocks them all into immortality."

"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I laugh. It’s the laughter of philosophy; the clear, cold laughter of those who reside in the abyss but are untouched by its sweat-soaked, writhing tumult. We laugh, because Austen lifts us above the fray and nimbly escorts us to a farther shore, where there are kindred spirits waiting. We can’t stay there long; but we can return whenever we like...again, and again, and again, and again."

"I’ve conjectured long and hard about why Austen wrote Mansfield Park; but whatever the reason, the good news is, she learned from the endeavor...and she shows as much in her next novel, which is basically Mansfield Park turned on its head. Its heroine, Emma Woodhouse, is a revisionist Mary Crawford—a sly, feline charmer who’s quick to judgment and carelessly glib, and who is made to pay for it; but this time, crucially, she’s forgiven. Her rival, Jane Fairfax, is a new incarnation of Fanny Price—chilly, impenetrable, aloof; and like Fanny, her imperturbable stillness wins her her man in the end. But in this case it’s exactly the right man for her: Frank Churchill, a second Henry Crawford, whose wily roguishness will force her to enlarge her own capacity for understanding; as her quiet determination will galvanize his. Because of this ingenious inversion, Emma scintillates where Mansfield Park stalls out; Emma delights where Mansfield Park frustrates; and Emma is beloved, where Mansfield Park, despite its many brilliant facets and enduring moments, seems fated to remain only tolerated."

Go on then...share the love. You'll be glad you did.