Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jane Austen puzzlers

I must have a mind like a sieve, for I've read all of Jane Austen's novels and still only got 3 out of 10 on the latest Guardian quiz. Humiliation! At least they tout it as "fiendishly difficult." If you also feel the need of a refresher, we have the complete novels in one volume, as well as separate editions of Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. While I was poring through a history of the kings and queens of England during a bout of insomnia the other night, I came across the tidbit that the Prince Regent (this was during the reign of George III) was a huge fan of Austen, and carried a set of her works wherever he traveled. (Austen's own juvenilia includes a 1791 history of England dedicated to her father "By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian" and with the assurance that "There will be very few Dates.")
John Mullan, the author of What Matters in Austen, provides more food for thought in this feature article. A sample: 
The mere use of a person's Christian name is electric. In Sense and Sensibility Elinor overhears Willoughby discussing the gift of a horse with her sister and saying, "Marianne, the horse is still yours." It can mean only one thing. "From that moment she doubted not of their being engaged to each other." A woman who lets a man speak her name has given him a special power. But it is even rarer for a woman to call a man by his first name. Mr Knightley asks Emma to call him George, but she won't. "Impossible! – I never can call you any thing but 'Mr Knightley'."
He points out that we never learn the first name of P&P's Mrs Bennet, or of many other characters. In a discussion of how Austen encodes sexual desire, he talks about how she hints that evanescent youthful allure—and decidedly not her brains—drew Mr B to his mate.
For those who have really and truly come to an impasse in their reading and re-reading of Austen's canon, we invite you to partake of several intriguing novels Jill Pitkeathley has written about Jane and her extended family.
Finally, do you have a favorite Austen novel? Hero or heroine?

14 comments:

  1. My favorite Jane Austen heroine is Anne Elliott in Persuasion. I do also love Emma. First time I read Emma I did not like her and found her to be a busy body, but when I reread it a year later I saw her character differently.

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  2. Gah! Got the same score 3/10 so disappointing for someone who lives for Austen. My fav is also Persuasion. Anne Elliott is by far the best heroine. Wouldn't it have been fun if Austen wrote a prequel to Persuasion about Anne and Captain Wentworth's first courtship!?

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    1. Yes! wonder if any fan fiction person has done that. Many Austen devotees favor Anne Elliott.

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  3. As someone who thought she knew a fair amount about Jane Austen and her novels, I have to say that Guardian quiz was humbling.

    On the subject of favorites - I will always love Pride and Prejudice. It was the first Austen novel I read, and its charm has not lessened one iota in the years since. I do also adore Emma, both the novel and the character. My love for Elizabeth, though, is nearly matched by my dislike of Fanny Price and the novel she stars in. I never could stand her self-righteousness moralizing, but what really gets me in the end is that I just find her and Mansfield Park to be boring. Being a prig is forgivable, but you must be an entertaining prig.

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    1. I am laughing as I write this ... well said!

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  4. 3 out of 10 for me too, and I had to guess at most of them.

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  5. I guessed on all of them and got 1/10. Then it told me that if I were a character, I'd be Harriet Smith. I've never read any Austen, but something tells me that's not a nice thing for the quiz to say.

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    1. Harriet is the person Emma tries to shanghai into marrying Mr Elton (I think) instead of the country lad Harriet was initially attracted to (and whom she finally ends up with).

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    2. SPOILER, JP!!! SPOILLERRRRR!!!!! >:-(

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  6. Took the guardian quiz 3 out of 10 correct, kinda weak on the Austen knowledge, but I totally dig her books.

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  7. I scored a 1 out of 10 on the guardian quiz and was told I'd be Harriet Smith as well. lol

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    1. I think you'd have to be an Austen freak to know all the answers (and remember names).

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  8. As someone only mildly interested in Jane Austin, I was surprised to find Mr. Mullan's article so fascinating. Ms. Austin concentrated her efforts on the detailed and ironical expose of a certain level of English society, but today we are likely to miss those nuances simply because we haven't been brought up to pay attention to them. How jarring to her sensibilities would it be to suffer every clerk, waiter, and tradesman insisting upon inflicting his Christian name upon her, and persisting in calling her "Jane"!
    I read even the comments, one of which described her work as "little latticed eggshells made of honey." Sweet praise indeed!

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    1. Me too re Mullan.
      An annotated or critical edition would really help with the nuances and make reading her even more enjoyable.
      In a letter, she modestly called her work “the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour.”
      If you ever get a chance, listen to the audiotape of Emma with Julie Christie. The way Austen delineates various characters by their speech patterns is incredibly brilliant.

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