Yes, I thought. Yes, it would. I mean, I was already sending the authors the same set of questions, anyway, because I like to see the variation in answers. Why not really make the most of that variation, and treat it like a dialogue, a debate? And though it can be an absolute pain to edit, it is fun! So here is the first of this year's round of questions, and it's actually one of my favorites. . .
Unforgivable Austen: What one thing about any of Austen's works unsettles you, irritates you, irks you to no end? (Characters, incidents, inconsistencies?)MISTY: As I said, this is one of my favorite questions, in all of the many, many questions that we've discussed in our colorful conversations. Strange as it is to say, sometimes one of the joys of loving a book are the parts you don't love -- or love to hate. We all love to hate a good villain, and all that. It's often what drives the book. BUT ALSO, I think there are parts of books that we love that are sometimes just plain problematic, and though we may not love them in any capacity (not even loving to hate), they're just as interesting to discuss as the things we do love. So what say you all?
|Just over here, quietly plotting how to|
make your life hell...
MARIA: Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park also drive me crazy. She is such a horrible manipulator!
MISTY: GAH! I just want to shake that woman until her teeth rattle!
MARGARET: I have a really hard time with Captain Wentworth at the beginning of Persuasion, and with his comments about Anne, that he wouldn't have known her. And don't give me that he didn't realize they would be repeated back to her. He was telling her sister! He had to know she would hear about it!
MISTY: Yes! He was downright cruel and spiteful to Anne, on more than one occasion, and though I get that he was wounded, or whatever, that's a personality trait that I find hard to reconcile. Especially because it makes me wonder what kind of life Anne -- the pushover, the pacifist -- is in for, whenever she displeases him. . .
MARGARET: However, I get over it right about at "You pierce my soul."
MISTY: As do we all. . . We're such suckers.
LISA: It bothers me in Sense and Sensibility that Marianne Dashwood seems to be to Colonel Brandon pretty much a doppelganger of his lost love Eliza.
MISTY: God, yes! I feel like I'm always the sourpuss when people discuss this book, raising my hand timidly (ha!) and interjecting, Um, excuse me, but...
LISA: Nobody wants to be just a stand-in: why not have the colonel fall in love with the beautiful, gifted Marianne without the clunky backstory?
MISTY: But it's not just that! I mean, I can eventually get over the fact that Marianne's a do-over for Brandon, because I can reason it away that the reminder is just what made him turn his eye toward her, and not what made him keep it there (even though it still bothers me... I can mostly pretend it doesn't.) But even if you can gel with why Brandon loves her, what about why Marianne loves him? Disappointed hopes and a near-death experience make her realize she can love him? *scoff* I can't ever reconcile to myself that Marianne settles; I've touched on this somewhat before (a time or two), and I can see some romance in it, and some potential, it has just never sat right with me. It's never seemed like the ending either of them deserved.
LISA: By the way, I can forgive Austen for what seems like a significant plot flaw because she was, after all, only in her 20s when she wrote S&S. (I’m also taking the high road because my first novel, written when I was 24, is being reissued next year, and I hope it will be received with just such a tolerant eye.)
|My dear, just how little can we reasonably get away with,|
and still pretend to be magnanimous?
CECILIA: John's treatment of the Dashwoods after his father's death.
MISTY: Thank you!! Oh my god, speaking of characters that I want to teeth-rattling-shake! John and Fanny are hiiiiiiiigh on that list!
CECILIA: Some things are sacred, and John craps over the overlapping venn diagram trifecta of dying wish, familial obligation, and general decency. HELL TO PAY.
MISTY: *raised fist*
MARIA: It is kind of a toss up between two I think. One is Lady Susan. I just can’t stomach the idea that she was trying to steal her DAUGHTER’s suitor. That is just seriously icky!
MISTY: That is seriously icky! *shudder* Speaking of icky. . .
LAURIE: Mr. Collins is so “altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility” that it’s sometimes downright painful to read his scenes.
MISTY: Or watch his portrayals onscreen. . .
LAURIE: This, of course, is the comic genius of Jane Austen, that she was able to create one of the most irritating creatures ever to rise from the primordial ooze and still make us laugh.
MISTY: I feel the same about Mary Musgrove in Persuasion. But, you know...with teeth rattling. I couldn't even bring myself to defend Mary awhile back... even when I could defend Mrs. Norris! But yeah, Collins is a whole different beast!
LAURIE: The worst offense in Mr. Collins’ arsenal—and there are several—resides in his proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. I’m talking about the whole ladies-say-no-but-really-mean-yes theme. For as he so eloquently puts it, “ it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and…sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time." Hmmm. That is either a let’s-have-a-laugh-at-clueless-Collins scene, or a clip from law and order special victims unit.
|My noble patroness, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh, thinks my |
greasy hair is just the thing for a humble country clergyman!
LAURIE: Not to mention Elizabeth’s mother’s role in this whole marriage-pimping scheme. As far as she’s concerned, it’s yes please
MISTY: Aaaaaaand breathe! Man, it must be exhausting to be Mrs. Bennet. *winks, but awkwardly, because winks are awkward by default* I have many more, and could go on for daaaays, so we may have to do a round two of this next year, but until then, let's continue in the comments! Let us know some of the things you find unforgivable!
Big thanks to:
Maria Grace, author of Mistaking Her Character, et al.
Cecilia Gray, author of The Jane Austen Academy series
Lisa Pliscou, author of Young Jane Austen
Margaret C. Sullivan, author of Jane Austen Cover to Cover, et al.
Laurie Viera Rigler, author of the Jane Austen Addict series