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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

CHANGING JANE: a "colorful" discussion

Well, my Janeites, we're nearing the end of this year's Janestravaganza (OMG why didn't I call it that? No, Misty. NO.), and this is our last "guided" interview question for this year's "colorful discussion" posts (there is one more, but it's a free-for-all!). For our last chat, I thought we'd take on something that generally causes knee-jerk reactions (like gasping and fanning, and such):

I asked:
 If you could change any one thing from Austen's books (small or large) what would you change and why?

Answers from:
Juliet Archer in red
Alyssa Goodnight in orange
Jenni James in green 
Susan Kaye in light blue
Laurie Viera Rigler in dark blue
Talia Vance in purple
and ME in pink!

ME: Alright, ladies! Let's have it - what's been eating at you?
JENNI: In Mansfiled Park I would give Fanny Price more gumption, change the dynamic to be more about how she was in trouble for standing up for herself, instead of being walked over because she didn’t. I would also add in more scenes with Edmund that would prove he was in love but just didn’t realize it yet. Oh wait! I already am. Lol! ~ Mansfield Ranch (Summer 2013)
ME: Lord, yes! I think everyone wants to shake up Fanny. But personally, I think I'd just send Edmund off to the Indies and have him contract Yellow Fever...
TALIA: I would definitely change the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy first proposes marriage to Elizabeth. I wouldn't change anything about what happens- I just want to hear Darcy's horrible speech. The scene is written completely in exposition. In a book that is full of smart dialogue, Austen made an interesting choice by essentially "telling" a scene that is a major plot point in the book. I want to experience it minute by excruciating minute.
ME: No! I love that! I love that the reader gets to supplement it with their own "worst things" he could say or do. As funny as it would be to see what Jane would have him say (and I'd really like to know, because I'm sure it would be great), I also really love having that control. Same as in the Emma proposal.
JULIET: Let’s get one thing straight: I like Jane Austen’s novels just the way they are.
But there are a few things that bother me. For example, why is General Tilney so easily fooled by John Thorpe’s boast that Catherine Morland is Mr Allen’s heir? There is also the odd slip – such as Elizabeth mentioning to Mr Darcy that she’s visited Bakewell, known in the rest of Pride & Prejudice as Lambton.
These are, however, tiny specks in otherwise spotless expanses of prose. And I couldn’t pick just one of them. Sorry!
ME Hmm. I guess I always just figured Gen. Tilney bought it because he wanted to buy it - if someone had told Sir W. Eliot that Wentworth was the heir to a face cream fortune, I think he'd have been pushing for Anne to marry him. Actually, I take that back; he'd have been pushing for Elizabeth to marry him!
ALYSSA: I admit to wishing that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had better sense in the raising of their daughters. By the looks of things, each daughter sprung from the womb, tasked with the effort of raising herself.
Jane is kind, Elizabeth witty, Mary prim, Kitty impressionable, and Lydia blowsy and out-of-control. Mrs. Bennet seems utterly beyond the task of guiding her daughters, and Mr. Bennet is determined that the task should not fall to him. Perhaps it is the sheer number of offspring that has resulted in Mrs. Bennet’s withdrawal, and that is the reason that Kitty and Lydia in particular are, metaphorically speaking, thrown to the wolves. They are a confusing mish-mash of personalities, and I can’t truly be upset with them, because they frame the story beautifully.
ME: Hmm, I wonder what the story would have been like if they'd had any kind of guidance? And I think you're right - it can't be coincidence that they get progressively worse, and age (ie maturity) can't be the only factor in that. Interesting...
LAURIE: I'd change all that narrative summary to immediate scene in key scenes such as:
Darcy's second proposal in Pride and Prejudice:
("he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.")
and Emma's reply to Knightley's proposal:
"-What did she say?--Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does."
As a modern reader, I cannot help but feel shortchanged on the action at such key points in the story. Although Austen's works are astonishingly modern in style, especially when one compares her style to that of her contemporaries, I imagine that her choice of summary in these scenes is nevertheless a nod to the sensibilities of her time. In such repressed social times, it's not difficult to imagine a novelist would have a fear of impropriety in getting too intimate in the proposal scenes. And summary was likely a familiar road to take, especially as it might be a vestigial habit from the epistolary form of novel writing that didn't truly die out till the late 18th century, when Austen was a young woman. In any case, Austen's use of summary in her proposal scenes challenges, to say the least, our modern expectations of being right in the middle of the action.

Although in Austen's final completed work, Persuasion, she does resort to some use of summary when her heroine and hero finally do speak ("There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything…"), she does give us The Letter, which may just be the most swoon-worthy epistolary declaration in all of English literature. And you can't ask for anything more immediate than this:
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late…"
Read that one enough times, and it more than makes up for all the summary.
ME: Heehee. I just talked about the Emma proposal. I always found it kind of cute and cheeky, though I can see where it's a bit of a cop out too.
SUSAN: Nothing. An author’s books are what they are. Any disagreements I may have with Austen’s reasoning, character development, or plotting can only be answered with my own take, my own stories. Fiction is as much a marketplace of ideas as is politics. The major difference is that authors just have a responsibility to entertain first, make good arguments second.
ME: Well said, Susan!
What about the rest of you? Do you have any things you'd love to change? And do you agree with any of the ones mentioned here, or do you like them as they are?  Let us know in the comments!

And make sure you check out the rest of the discussions so far here:

Many thanks to Juliet Archer  Alyssa Goodnight  Jenni James  Susan Kaye  Laurie Viera Rigler  and Talia Vance!!

Click here to be taken to the Austen in August Main Page! Fab button artwork c/o Antique Fashionista!


  1. Jenni: I AM SO PSYCHED about the idea of Mansfield Ranch!!! You're proposing to fix all the issues I had with that horrible book! :oD ;o)

  2. My answer was pretty much the same as Laurie's.

  3. I agree with Susan. I love Janes books and her characters. I love it when I get to read different takes on her characters from different autors. Although, Misty I so agree with you about Edmund. We did a skit on our channel for Austen in August if you like it and want to post it on your channel let me know. It kind of goes with this question.

  4. Ooohh a new book to look forward to.


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