Austen Marathon: Emma

Emma by Jane Austen - 2008 BBC edition
Emma by Jane Austen – 2008 BBC edition

 

 

Title: Emma

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Romance

First Published: 1815

Pages: 495

In Emma, Jane Austen deviates from her usual course, where the poor though lovable heroine falls in love with a wealthy gentleman or clergyman. Instead, Austen chooses to flex her writing skills by creating a character which the author, herself, has described as, “a heroine whom no one but myself [Austen] will much like.”

And true enough, unlike her predecessors (the Dashwood sisters, the Bennet sisters, and Fanny Price), Emma isn’t the type of character that pulls on one’s heartstrings. Emma is privileged, independent, outspoken, and beautiful. She’s stubborn and, though good-intentioned, meddlesome. She has little inclination or interest to fall in love or marry.

Though wealthy on her own, Emma is, in a way, held captive by her love for her father. Her father’s fragile nature, (although hypochondriac also comes to mind), prevents Emma from straying too far or too often away from home. Bored by the simplicity of small town life, Emma finds real passion and excitement in matchmaking.

This becomes most apparent when she takes Harriet Smith under her wing. Harriet is a beautiful and amiable young lady of unknown parentage. Despite her numerous good qualities, Harriet’s station in life greatly limits her prospects when it comes to love and marriage. This, however, does not stop Emma from attempting to elevate Harriet’s status by finding the latter a respectable and acceptable suitor. She sets her eyes on the handsome and well-liked local vicar, Mr. Elton. In the process of bringing Mr. Elton and Harriet together Emma separates Harriet from a growing attachment with the young farmer, Robert Martin. She even dissuades the other young lady from accepting a proposal from Martin by emphasizing the farmer’s lack of finesse and lowly station in life.

Emma’s plans eventually backfire when it becomes clear that Mr. Elton has been trying to impress her all along. Desperate to make things right with Harriet, Emma digs herself a deeper hole by becoming even more meddlesome and scheming in her matchmaking. In the end, the result of her efforts prove satisfactory, though not because of her doing but in spite of it. Harriet finds true love with her farmer friend, and Emma ultimately rethinks her stand in marriage when she realizes her true feelings for her close friend, George Knightley.

Like Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, there is enough comedy in Emma to excuse any meanderings in Austen’s part. Although Austen has always exerted tremendous attention to detail, Emma’s circumstances, her lack of actual freedom because of her ‘ailing’ father, makes it necessary for the writer to make the most out of Highbury. The reader becomes immersed in Emma’s everyday life. This is a dangerous technique. One runs the risk of boring the reader with the ‘details’. But as usual, Austen manages to pull everything off with her wit and her lovable characters.

 

Favorite Character/s: Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax. Though vastly different in temperament and behavior, both women exhibit strength in character. For Ms. Fairfax, fortitude. For Emma, willfulness—the good kind, mostly.

Favorite Quote: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.” – Emma

Rating: A

Austen Marathon: Sense and Sensibility

 

 

Title: Sense and Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Fiction; Classic, Romance

First Published: 1811

Pages: 389

Rating: A+++++++

Status: Reread (for the 5th time!)

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, we follow the life and loves of two of Austen’s most memorable heroines, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Despite the close bond between the two sisters, it immediately becomes apparent how vastly different they are from one another. Elinor is sensible, too sensible for her own good. She is polite to a fault, and somewhat reserved. Marianne, on the other hand, takes after her mother, in the sense that she’s much too romantic, too emotional, and too expressive.

When the novel begins, the sisters live in Norland Park with their mother and younger sister, Margaret. Their father had passed on, and had left them with a small income—a pittance compared to what their half-brother (a product of a previous marriage for Mr. Dashwood), John, received. The entire Norland Park was handed to him. And although he had promised his father that he would take care of his sisters, his selfish wife, Fanny, convinces him that to offer to help his sisters move to a different home is help enough for them.

Meanwhile, we learn of a growing attachment between the ever-sensible Elinor, and Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars. Before any formal agreements can be made, however, Fanny learns of their growing closeness and insinuates herself into the thick of things by taking over Norland Park as its new mistress.

Miffed by the sudden intrusion of John’s domineering and snobbish wife, Mrs. Dashwood accepts the offer of lodging from a distant relation—a certain Sir John Middleton from Devonshire. She moves her entire family to Barton Cottage, where the group is warmly received by Sir John and his family. There, the Dashwoods meet the local society. Despite their initial determination to keep to themselves, the family grows close to the affable Sir John, his reserved and elegant wife, Lady Middleton; her gossipy, matchmaking mother, Mrs. Jenkins; and Sir John’s good friend, the honorable Colonel Christopher Brandon.

Colonel Brandon immediately falls for the beautiful and romantic, Marianne. But she remains uninterested and ignores the colonel in favor of the dashing and debonair, John Willoughby. By all appearances, the two appear in love and ready to wed. That is, until Willoughby abruptly leaves Barton Park for London. We later learn that Willoughby has traded Marianne in for a wealthier wife. Although he later attempts to justify his behavior, understanding the root of his greed only humanizes him—it does not redeem him.

As for Elinor, she’s met with an even worse fate. Although Edward does make a brief appearance in Barton Park, we learn that he is engaged to another—the uneducated and cunning cousin of Lady Middleton, Lucy Steele. Though Lucy appears saccharine sweet, she doesn’t fool Elinor (and the reader) for a minute. Lucy is a master of passive-aggressive retaliation. Upon hearing of Elinor’s attachment to Edward, she immediately makes Elinor familiar with her ‘secret’ engagement. Elinor is sworn to secrecy. So while Marianne openly weeps for a lost love, Elinor suffers in secret.

The good news is that both sisters do find their ‘happy ending’. Having proven his enduring love for her, Colonel Brandon eventually wins Marianne over. As for Elinor and Edward, their happy ending comes at a hefty price. Upon learning of Edward’s engagement to Lucy, his mother cuts him off financially. The wealth he stood to earn as the firstborn son was passed on to his vain and selfish brother, Robert—who incidentally, ends up under the claws of the ultra-clever, Lucy.

 

PLOT: Oh what a tangled web…

There’s a lot that goes on in Sense and Sensibility—but that’s the beauty of this novel. All these twists are integrated perfectly, seamlessly, so to speak. I didn’t feel like anything was ‘forced’ in the novel. When Willoughby and Marianne fell in love in the span of a week, it was relatable. Considering Marianne’s age, (not even 17 at the start of the novel!), it’s easy to see how her world could revolve around the handsome and rugged, Mr. Willoughby.

And though, these days, it may be difficult to find a woman possessing Elinor’s reserve, fortitude, and forbearance, considering the setting of this novel, her behavior makes perfect sense. The novel was set in the years between 1792 and 1797—a time when decorum took centerstage.

Now, I know that some people don’t like the ending—with many wishing Marianne ended up with Willoughby, but I think the ending was apt. The greatest of passions often burn quick and extinguish in the night. The great loves are those that endure, like a slow, steady flame. At least, that’s what I believe—that’s why this book makes sense to me.

 

CHARACTERS:

One of Austen’s greatest strengths as a writer is her ability to create a myriad of ‘real’ characters—and it really is a joy reading about their interactions. From the passive aggressive arguments between Elinor and Lucy to the impassioned speeches of Marianne and Willoughby, Austen creates a dynamic world filled with dynamic characters. Now, if I were to be nitpicky and pick out the least fleshed-out character, then I’d have to say, Margaret. She’s not poorly-written, not at all. She simply falls into the background and is forgotten for a long time. But all good stories have their wallflowers, so this is hardly a point against Austen or Sense and Sensibility. 

Top 5 Characters from Sense and Sensibility:

  1. Elinor Dashwood. Some would call Elinor reserved, or even cold. But to me, she’s a lovely example of inner poise and graciousness. The way she handled Lucy’s constant barbs had me cheering her on, and secretly wishing she’d b*tch-slap the two-faced B.
  2. Charlotte and Mr. Palmer. They just might be my favorite couple in the novel. Charlotte and her dear Mr. Palmer were an extremely clever addition to the group. They provided comedic relief when needed, and they also showcased Austen’s versatility as a writer.
  3. Lucy Steele. Oh dear. Lucy is the perfect villain in this piece. She’s extremely cunning and extremely fake—how could one not hate her (or love her)?
  4. Marianne Dashwood. Marianne may have acted like a brat 60 percent of the time, but she did learn her lesson, and at least, she was true to herself.
  5. John Willoughby. Everybody loves a bad boy—and I can definitely see Willoughby’s charm. He’s the epitome of a man’s man. The fact that he’s a bit of a libertine just adds to the whole appeal. And that’s why he beat out Edward in this list.

 

OVERALL: Definitely worth an annual reread!

Sense and Sensibility never fails to lift my spirits. I try to reread it at least once every few years. If/When I get married, I’d love to hand out this book to my female guests. Maybe fancy pens for male guests. Hmmm.

 

FAVORITE LINES:

Elinor:  I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him–that I esteem him.

Marianne:  Esteem him!  Like him!  Cold-hearted Elinor!  Oh!  Worse than cold-hearted!  Ashamed of being otherwise.  Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.

“Can he really love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections?  To love is to burn, to be on fire, all full of passion…– Marianne

“Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have provided proof enough of a broken heart, even for you.”Elinor (this line makes me cry—every.single.time.)

 “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” 

Book Review: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding

Author: Helen Fielding

Genre: Fiction, Chick-Lit

First Published: 1999

Status: Read

Pages: 338

Rating: B

Fact: Helen Fielding is a comic genius. Now, if only someone told her she didn’t have to try so hard in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Fielding succeeded in turning a beloved character into a laughable caricature.

Bridget Jones is back—and her life is crazier than ever! In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, we find our hilarious British heroine ‘four weeks and five days in’ in what she describes as a ‘functional relationship with (an) adult male.’ Indeed, everything seems to be going well for our dear, Bridget. She’s happily back to smoking and drinking, she’s a legit TV journalist, she has the dashing Mark Darcy in bed with her—all appears peachy keen.

But not ONE chapter in and the drama starts. Having established the rapport between Bridget, Shazzer, and Jude in the last book, you’d expect a bit of envy from the singletons and miserably-attached. But when her friends accuse her of being a “Smug-Going-Out-with-Someone,” and attempt to convince her that Mark Darcy is cheating on her with his rich and skinny bitch colleague, Rebecca, the whole thing becomes a bit too much. And it only gets worse. Somewhere between Bridget Jones’s Diary and this book, Bridget has sadly become somewhat spineless.

Case in point, when she and Mark find a naked and insane Asian boy on Mark’s bed, she runs off instead of demanding an explanation right off the bat. She automatically assumes that Mark’s some sort of ‘gay bestial pervert.’ Then, when she pays a carpenter an exorbitant sum to install shelves she doesn’t want, and he refuses to work, it’s as if she can’t do anything about the situation. Finally, she gets the opportunity of a lifetime—an interview with Colin Firth—and she screws it up. She misses her plane, botches the interview (because she’s too obsessed with the image of Firth emerging from the lake, soaked and sexy as Mr. Darcy in P&P), and misses her deadline. Although she ends up writing a side-splitting piece, the interview turned out to be immensely cringe-worthy.

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Book #5: Bridget Jones’s Diary

BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY

Author: Helen Fielding

Genre: Non-Fiction; Comedy/Chick-Lit

Rating: A+

First Published: 1996

Status: Read

Pages: 271

“Deliciously candid and absolutely hilarious, Bridget Jones’s Diary is the type of book one keeps on the bedside table for emergency laughs and instant pick-me-ups. V. v. good.”

Some books are meant to be read once, others are meant to be reread until the pages fall out. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding falls under the second category. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book a literary masterpiece comparable to the works of Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, or the Brönte sisters, it really is quite a book. Its unflinching and comic portrayal of single women (singletons) and smug marrieds is absolutely spot-on.

True to its name, this book reads like an actual diary with daily entries where Bridget tracks everything from her weight to her calorie consumption, cigarette count to alcohol units. You’ll see her mood fluctuate along with her weight as she goes from one addiction to another—moving from cigarettes to lottery tickets and afternoon cocktails to smoothies.

With every confession Bridget makes, she also voices out the reader’s innermost fears, nagging insecurities, and irrational musings. Whether it’s a tendency to weigh oneself obsessively, count each calorie, chase after the “wrong” guy, smoke too many cigarettes, consume copious amounts of alcohol before 5 p.m., or rely too heavily on self-help books to solve romance and self-esteem issues—Bridget’s candid confessions will strike a chord somewhere. In my case, this book brought to light my unhealthy belief that my happiness is inversely related to my weight—that I would only truly be happy if I were a size 2 or less.

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