The Austen Marathon Results

jane austen collection

My month-long Austen Marathon has turned into a 4-month literary journey. In those four months, I didn’t devour Austen’s works the way I imagined I would. Instead, I went through every novel meticulously, reading and rereading specific pages. I wasn’t merely enjoying Austen’s novels, I was studying them. I was in awe of Jane Austen’s tremendous talent. I was green with envy and lily yellow with despair.

 I tried to look at each work as if I were seeing it for the first time—and I succeeded, mainly because of Austen’s terrific storytelling. Whether it’s a first-time or an nth-time read, Austen’s novels always offers something new to the reader. I suppose, that’s why I’m making some changes to my Austen list of favorites.

The following shows the results of my 2012/2013 Austen Marathon.

Top Three Works:

  1. 1.       Persuasion. I find this the most realistic and ‘mature’ of all of Austen’s novels.
  2. 2.       Sense and Sensibility. Because I will always look up to Elinor Dashwood and her tremendous strength.
  3. 3.       Pride and Prejudice. How could one not root for Lizzie and Mr. Darcy?

 

Top Three Heroines:

  1. 1.       Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility)
  2. 2.       Anne Elliott (Persuasion)
  3. 3.       Lizzie Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

 

Top Three Male Characters:

  1. 1.       Captain James Benwick (Persuasion)
  2. 2.       Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey)
  3. 3.       Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice)

 

Top Three Villains:

  1. 1.       Isabella Thorpe (Northanger Abbey)
  2. 2.       John Thorpe (Northanger Abbey)
  3. 3.       Lucy Steele (Sense and Sensibility)

 

Least Favorite Characters: Lydia Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)

Runner-Up: Philip Elton (Emma)

Funniest Characters: Charlotte and Mr. Palmer (Sense and Sensibility)

Runner-Up: Sir Walter Elliott (Persuasion)

Least Favorite Work: Mansfield Park. It’s no longer as bad as I used to think it was, but it’s still not as good as Austen’s other works. At least, in my opinion. 

Book Review: Persuasion – Jane Austen

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Title: Persuasion

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Romance

First Published: 1818 (posthumously)

Pages: 254

 

Persuasion marks the last of Jane Austen’s novels—the completed ones, at least. It starts in media res (in the thick of things). In it, we follow the life of our lovable heroine, Anne Elliott. At 27, Anne is still unmarried. Her youth and bloom having disappeared early, Anne is the shell of her former self. As the story progresses, we soon learn the reason behind her resigned air and fading good looks.

About eight years prior to the start of the novel, Anne had entered into an engagement with a handsome navy officer, Frederick Wentworth. Though she loved him, she reneged on her word after her family and close friend expressed their disapproval of the ‘imprudent’ match. To them, Frederick was most unworthy of Anne. She was, after all, the daughter of a wealthy baronet, and he was a poor navy officer with little to offer. The two part ways with much ill-feeling between them.

Though the years soon pass, Anne’s feelings for Frederick remains unchanged. This becomes most apparent when the two cross paths again. But Frederick, now a successful and wealthy Captain, appears to want little to do with Anne. Will the two end up together? Well, considering this is a novel by Austen, the answer shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out. And there lies the central story of Persuasion.

Despite its seemingly simple plot, Persuasion is made interesting by its plethora of unforgettable characters. In it, we have the incredibly vain and selfish trio that composes Anne’s family—her father, Sir Walter Elliott, and her sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. We also have the scheming duo of Mr. Elliott and Mrs. Clay. But my favorite of all peripheral characters is the kind-hearted and romantic, Captain Benwick. In him, I see this sanguine personality that no amount of melancholia can completely sink. His natural disposition is to find love and give love, and though there is no disputing the appeal of the manly and handsome Captain Frederick Wentworth, there is much to love about Benwick, as well.

Beyond my usual praise for Austen’s incredible ability to infuse excitement in the everyday, what I love about Persuasion is that it showcases Austen’s growth as a writer. Many consider this final novel as somewhat unpolished compared to Emma and Mansfield Park, to me, however, the relative absence of the author breaking the fourth wall only heightens the subtlety and wit of Persuasion. Also, who doesn’t love the massive rewards delayed gratification brings?

All in all, Persuasion is a fine book which I would gladly recommend to all Classic readers and romantics.

Favorite Line: “He had an affectionate heart. He must love somebody.” – Captain James Benwick

Grade: A+

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: Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Fiction; Classic, Romance

First Published: 1814

Pages: 472

Rating: B+

Status: Reread

 

Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s third novel. This novel follows the life of Fanny Price, a young girl rescued from poverty by her beautiful but indolent aunt, Lady Bertram, and her respectable but strict uncle, Sir Thomas. Her family sends her off to live with the Bertram family in their spacious estate in Mansfield Park. There, she meets her crafty and oftentimes cruel aunt, Mrs. Norris, and Sir Thomas’ children, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia

Although the children are, by no means, intentionally cruel, constant assurance from Mrs. Norris of their lofty station compared to Fanny made them careless with her feelings. All of her cousins exhibited selfishness, save for the younger brother, Edmund. Edmund becomes Fanny’s closest friend and defender. She grows to love him, but is too afraid to show him how she feels. It all seems too late for Fanny when the Crawford siblings enter the scene.

The rakish and charming Henry Crawford becomes an instant hit with the Bertram sisters, while his own pretty sister, Mary, attracts the attentions of Edmund. Fanny could only watch their growing attractions with pain and dismay. When Maria, the older Bertram girl, marries the silly but incredibly wealthy, Mr. Rushworth, Henry turns his attention to Fanny. He seems to have fallen for our heroine completely. But a scandal awaits in the form of an elopement, an affair, and a terrible disgrace. The rest, is essentially, an incredibly tangled web, which is only set right in the final four pages of the novel.

 

The Results of the Reread.

There was a time when I said I would never reread Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The first time I read the book, I found it dragging. It was a challenge to get through Fanny’s self-righteous soliloquies. I found Edmund stale and wooden—even more so than Edward Ferrars. The only relief was that there was life to be found in Mary Crawford. Although arguably despicable, I preferred her crassness, her thoughtless remarks over Fanny’s constant cringing and inability to express even a morsel of her sentiments without much prodding. Granted, one could take the novel’s setting into consideration, but the times have rarely stopped Austen from creating strong-willed and vocal characters.

Upon rereading Mansfield Park, I found myself enjoying the book a bit more. A careful reread allows one to appreciate the intricacies of Austen’s writings—the solid descriptions, the wit, the overall picture painstakingly painted pretty and polite. And dear Fanny, she was a quiet surprise. Although her hidden vexations, her trembling, and her general weak constitution made her less striking than the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, or Emma Woodhouse, she had her merits. She was loyal, intelligent, and virtuous. However, were those traits enough to save the book? Unfortunately, the answer is “No.”

Compared to Austen’s other novels, I find Mansfield Park to be the stalest, the most dated. Perhaps the disappointment I feel is directly tied to how I just reread this novel after reading Pride and Prejudice—which is an easy favorite for many Austen fans. Perhaps I simply don’t like Fanny, because kind as she is, she is a bit weepy and I find her character weak. Or perhaps, it’s simply because out of all of Austen’s works, this is the one that has the poorest character development. That, and I was secretly rooting for a Henry Crawford reform—I wanted Fanny’s love to save him. I also didn’t want Fanny to be Edmund’s second choice—although this point is arguable, as a considerable amount of time may have passed between Edmund’s heartbreak and his realization that he loved Fanny more than as a sister.

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.”