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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cringeworthy Austen: a Janeite Roundtable discussion!

It's time for round 2 of this year's Janeite Roundtable talks, and I've got a fun one for ya today! One of my absolute favorite things to talk about is just how INSANELY GOOD Jane Austen was at depicting truly cringeworthy characters and situations. From botched proposals and secondhand embarrassment to people you just couldn't bear to spend 5 minutes in a room with (ahem), Austen consistently nails it.
What is the most awkward, cringeworthy scene in all of Austen, to you? And same question, but re: the movie adaptations -- what scene totally missed the mark?
NICOLE: Oh, this is a tough one!

ME: Give me the cringe. GIVE IT TO ME!

NICOLE: Austen was exquisitely skilled at writing the cringeworthy, and we all love to squirm at certain scenarios.

KAREN: It’s got to be the Hunsford proposal scene—Darcy starts that, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” and if it’s the first time you’ve read it, you’re like….”Say what?” You know she hates his guts, but he just keeps on sticking his foot in it. How mortifying!

ME: Delightful, you mean. Absolutely delightful. That's one of those moments of cringe that I just revel in.  Easily my favorite scene in all of Austen.

NICOLE:  I would have to answer when Mr Knightly takes Emma to task over her treatment of her neighbors.

MELISSA: It’s a toss up between the moment that Mr Knightley scolds Emma for being cruel to Miss Bates (it makes me cringe just thinking about it)—

ME: It's the WORST! I mean, it was needed, but oof. Poor Ems.

NICOLE: I just ache for her, because who hasn’t put their foot in it and then wished to crawl under the nearest basement to hide for all eternity? Ouch, that one just kills me every time!

MELISSA:... and the odious Mr Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth, which is as hilarious as it is excruciating. Both make me feel queasy when reading them.

MARILYN: *nods* To me, one of the most cringeworthy scenes will always be the proposal of Mr. Collins to Elizabeth Bennet in PRIDE & PREJUDICE. From the first time I read that section of the book (and every time afterward!), I was wincing right along with Elizabeth.

ME: It's one of those scenes that I always reread multiple times whenever I reread the book as a whole. I both get giddy and start cringing as soon as it gets close... haha! I guess I just really like awkward proposals? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

MARILYN: Jane Austen portrayed the awkwardness of the moment so well, in addition to the embarrassment of the heroine and the utter smugness and unctuousness of her clergyman cousin. It's pure comic genius, but definitely uncomfortable for the characters.

ME: And the readers! AND Collins' proposal is one of those scenes that's just flawless every time it's recreated for the screen. Somehow, directors and actors always manage to find new levels of cringe!

MARIA: There are three scenes that jump out to me when you say cringe-worthy. Seriously, they leave me squirming in my seat, ready to leave the room.
Number 1: Mrs. Bennet telling Darcy off at Netherfield. I find myself mutter under my breath, telling her off!

ME: I mean, you could have just left it at "Mrs Bennet" doing anything, because that woman is made of cringe. Every molecule of her. 

MARIA: Number 2: When Emma insults Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic in Emma. I just want to die of embarrassment for her. Or crawl under a table, that seems reasonable to.

ME: We are all in agreement on that, it seems. It's just so bad, all around. Badly done, Emma.

MARIA: And number 3: When Catherine Morland tells Henry Tilney her suspicions about her father, it’s just painful. I kind of want to shake her and cry a little all at the same time. It’s just awful.

ME: Oh, god! *cries laughing* I love poor Catherine so much. The cringe is STRONG with that scene. That's the kind of cringe that you look back on for years and are like, Why am I such an idiot? That'll haunt her. (Ironically, given the gothic nature of the story...) What else? GIVE ME MORE CRINGE!

ALEXA: That's easy. I really like Mansfield Park, unlike many others—

ME: Ugh.

ALEXA: ...but Edmund drives me nuts.

ME: YES. Now you're speaking my language!

ALEXA: Many moments involving him make me cringe, but I think the worst is when he comes to Fanny for advice about Mary Crawford.

ME: He is just the worst. I really want to just... *shakes fists*

ALEXA: I particularly abhor that scene right before the ball, when he is on the verge of admitting that Mary isn't all that she should be but just can't quite bring himself to the point. This line: "I know her disposition to be as sweet and faultless as your own ... ". Ugh!


ALEXA: The movie adaptation moment that makes me cringe is maybe even easier to pinpoint. The 2007 version on Persuasion (although the 1999 Mansfield Park is a very close second). When Sally Hawkins starts running through the streets of Bath after Wentworth I want to pitch a fit. Every time.

KAREN: The running...while it tugs at my need for a dramatic declaration, the running goes on FOREVER and all it accomplishes is to make me laugh at the point where I should be moved to tears. Blech.

MARILYN: I understood that the film's writers/producers were trying to show Anne Elliot's passion and her desire not to lose contact with Captain Wentworth... but she was literally sprinting through Bath to reach him! In a long dress and flimsy shoes, no less...

ME: And why does she always look so greasy and breathy? A gaping fish, that one. Although if she runs everywhere like that, it might explain it...

MARILYN: That scene always makes me laugh a bit in disbelief, but I'd happily watch Rupert Penry-Jones in anything, so I'll forgive them for that!

ME: Fair enough. ;)

ALEXA: A variety of televisions have been in great danger, as I've barely manage to resist the urge to chuck a shoe through them.

NICOLE: For me it is in both the 95 and 05 adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Different though they are, I never have quite thought Darcy seemed excited enough that Elizabeth had finally accepted him.

ME: Ya know, I think you're right on that one.

NICOLE: I know they were trying to keep in context with his reserved character and the time, but the very fact that he loved her enough to break from the expected marriage arrangements and keep chasing her after she had refused him indicates that he might be just a *tiny* bit enthused when she said yes. Austen said he expressed himself well for a man violently in love (pardon the paraphrase) which I always thought should mean he would… I don’t know… smile?

ME: At least give us a Knightleyesque smolder!

MARIA: Can I just put up the entire 1940 P&P with Greer Garson? 

ME: Haha! Feel free.

MARIA: All due respect to the fine cast of the film, whoever was responsible for the adaptation—just want to shake them. Can we start with the Civil War costumes? 

ME: YES! I hate that!

MARIA: And it doesn’t ever get any better than that! Ouch! Just Ouch!

Well, readers? What YOUR favorite bit of Austen cringeworthiness? Did we forget anything? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to check out the rest of the Janeite Convos!

This Janeite Chat featured the following fabulous ladies:

Alexa Adams — books  |  goodreads  |  website  | twitter
Marilyn Brant — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter
Nicole Clarkston — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter
Karen M. Cox — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter
Maria Grace — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter
Melissa Pimentel — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter
Laura Viera Rigler — books  |  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter

Go check out their books!

Click here to return to the Austen in August main page!


  1. Those are great cringy scenes from the books and movies. I always cringe when poor Marianne eagerly goes to Willoughby at that London ball and he acts so awful to her. And Emma with Elton in the carriage when he proposes and she realizes that she read him all wrong.
    The movie scenes don't really make me cringe. I did giggle through that Persuasion running scene.

  2. Yes! A gapping fish! You nailed it, Misty. It's so much fun seeing how you put these discussions together. I giggled throughout.

  3. I think Marianne's attempt to talk to Willoughby, and his cutting of her. And her brother's wife talking him out of his promise to care for his step-mother and her daughter's.

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  5. I'm with you, Maria. Every time a hoop skirt was on screen (which was basically the entire time), I cringed.

    I also cringe when those greedy so-and-so's John and Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility discuss how little the Dashwood ladies need to live on and really, why not just throw them a crust of stale bread and be done with it.

    And Mrs. Smith in Persuasion smoothly segueing from yeah, totally marry Mr. Elliot to Mr. Elliot is the devil incarnate.

    As for Sally Hawkins in the most recent Persuasion adaptation, I'm going to be the minority opinion here. Though this is not my favorite Persuasion (I LOVED the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root movie), I adore Sally Hawkins. Always. Even (and especially) when she's running through the streets of Bath.

    Plus I remember when this adaptation first came out, lots of people were slamming her for having an unfortunate hairstyle, which really is down to the hairstylist, not the actress.

    1. somehow the rest of my name got cut off. and instead of editing my reply I deleted it. Clearly me and tech today have some issues to work out. ;-)

    2. A lot of people mention cringing at J&F Dashwood, but for me, it's really more of a twitch than a cringe. That angry little twitch you have when you're struggling not to throttle someone...

      And people don't talk about Mrs Smith enough! There's definitely some shady shit there worth exploring.

      I *do* like Sally Hawkins, and I *don't* blame her for the hair -- but it still drives me nuts.

    3. John and Fanny are totally twitch-worthy :)

      Glad you like Sally Hawkins, too--and I definitely relate re the hair. A classic case of what were they thinking?

      I agree re Mrs. Smith. Somehow I think her massive contradictions make everyone feel so uncomfortable and unbalanced that it's difficult to discuss. We're supposed to love her, and yet she does this unspeakable thing. I think it's a cultural thing--the taboo against speaking ill of family members, including a fiancé. Though it's straight up shady nonetheless.

      Love this discussion and how you put it all together--thank you, Misty!

  6. Ahahaha! Great choices all around. I'm going to go with Mrs. Norris and every single time she opened her mouth. Although maybe that's less of a cringe and more of a twitch, as you stated above. Oh, and every time Mrs. Elton talks about how much things cost (overtly or covertly). Tactless with a capital T.

  7. There are certainly quite a number of cringe worthy scenes from the books and also the adaptations. The first scene that crossed my mind is Mr Collins proposal to Elizabeth. It gives me the creeps and make me go 'eewww' everytime I re-read the text.


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