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Thursday, August 9, 2018

"I wish I wasn't, but I am" : a Janeite Conversation



Good evening, Janeites! Finally, finally, we're getting to the first of this year's Janeite Conversations. These are one of my favorite things about Austen in August (and if interaction is anything to judge by, you agree), and while I look forward to them every year, I have to admit — after so long, it's hard to come up with fresh topics for us to discuss! I feel like every year, I'm racking my brain for questions, and thinking I've come up with something fun only to realize, wait... we already discussed that.
Which is why it's kind of surprising that this particular question had never occured to me before this year. It touches on some of my favorite Janeite topics — character's we're like, and characters we hate — and has just the right amount of relatability and discussionability to make it a perfect Convo starter. So, I asked:

We've talked in the past about which Austen character we are most like, but we always tend to lean toward the more likable, favorable characters -- and Austen was good at recognizing personality flaws, if nothing else. So this year, I'd like to talk about which unlikable character you think you are most like, and why, as we all can likely see ourselves represented in those characters just as much as the Lizzies and the Elinors...

LAURIE: I know, Misty; you got up this morning and said, how can I torture my fellow Janeites, amiright?

MISTY: I’M SORRY. *totally isn’t sorry*

LAURIE: I mean, I could NEVER be like Mary Musgrove or Lady Catherine DeBourgh or Mr. Collins!! Why of all the impertinent—please do excuse me while I recover on my fainting couch with a fan and a stiff drink…

MISTY: *leaves Laurie to her histrionics* I feel like this is a difficult question, not only because it causes one to reflect and be self-aware (and I mean, how often are people really aware of how the world perceives them?), but also because the things you're reflecting on and being aware of are the not-so-pleasant aspects of what makes you you.

CHRISTINA: I relate more to Mary Crawford than any other Austen character.

MISTY: Even more than the "likeable" ones? Not that I blame you -- I love Mary!

CHRISTINA: I think Mary has a good heart and is well-meaning overall... She is witty, rational, and has astute survival instincts despite her flaws.

MISTY: I think Mary is the most like everyone's beloved Lizzie out of any other character -- Austen or otherwise -- that's out there. It's always amazed me that she garners so much hate, while Lizzie gets nothing but love.


CHRISTINA: “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I was not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”(Mansfield Park, Chapter XXV.)

MISTY: See? Could totally picture Lizzie saying that.

MELANIE: Unfortunately, every time I do a "which Jane Austen heroine are you?" quiz, I always end up being Fanny Price. ALWAYS.

MISTY: *makes sympathetic noises* You poor, poor dear...

MELANIE: I dislike Fanny, like a lot, so it pains me that I'm most like her. And maybe that's why I don't like her, because we're both not as witty as Elizabeth or as beautiful as Jane or as sweet as Anne or as passionate as Marianne or as giving as Elinor... Ugh.

MISTY: THIS! This is exactly what I meant by it being a difficult topic, AND a really fun one, AND what made Austen so amazing. We can see ourselves and our friends and family and frenemies all over these pages, and sometimes it hurts!

ROBIN: Sometimes I identify with the august Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In the late 1970’s, I majored in music – piano proficiency with a minor in organ. I also play several forms of flutes (high school band), but I never learned to play guitar or drums. Very shortsighted on my part, not to have seen the contemporary wave of church music headed my way, but had I ever learned to play guitar or drums, I would have been a true proficient. In addition, I never toot my own horn, as I do not play brass instruments.

MISTY: Which is where you diverge greatly from Lady C., I'd say. She's not shy about a good own-horn tootin'.

ROBIN: As a piano teacher, I often tell my students that they will never play really well unless they practice more.

MISTY: My god, I heard it in her voice!

ROBIN: I generously offer them the use the piano in the choir room during the week, for they will bother no one in that part of the church building during the weekdays.

MISTY: STOP, I'M DYING. All of my inner voice has turned into Dame Judes as Lady C., and I can't breathe!

ROBIN: And why do people keep telling me I don’t smile when I play piano, organ, or string synthesizer? My job is to grace the congregation with my advanced skills, not to channel my inner Liberace. Let the singers smile, for most of them cannot be bothered to read the music.

MISTY: *gasps with laughter*

ROBIN: I do not smile when I am thinking great thoughts. Tell me a joke, act silly, or offer me a chocolate chip cookie, and I shall smile my face off. Give me two cookies, and I will laugh (bark) aloud. Those who walk around wearing a foolish grin for no reason are, in my exalted opinion, rather dimwitted.

MISTY: *cough*Collins*cough*

ROBIN: I distrust such an appearance of goodness when there is nothing provoking such a response.
I never claimed to be a people person, though I can give the masses my wonderful unsolicited advice. Most people could learn from my mistakes, had I ever made any.

MISTY: Ha! Well said, Lady Robin de Bourgh. *winks*
*belatedly remembers that she promised no more winking in last year's Convos*
*winks again for good measure*

ALEXA: I’m a bit confused by the parameters. Can I still Pick Emma?

MISTY: Absolutely! A lot of people consider her to be an unlikeable character (which hurts my heart)!

ALEXA: She’s by far the character I most relate to and not exactly beloved by readers. I have the same tendency to shoot my mouth off and think I know what is best for everyone else.

NANCY: *nods* The heroine I’m most like is Emma, mostly for her unlikeable qualities. I like to arrange other people’s lives to my satisfaction.

MISTY: Which would also likely make both of you (and me) a Lady Catherine, like Robin. I mean, in some ways she’s Emma taken to the most horrible logical conclusion – and independent woman whom no one checks, who likes to play puppetmaster and have everything just so. But I can't help but wonder if part of the reason she's such a larger than life character that everyone remembers and talks about is because a lot of us see ourselves in her? I can’t really fault you the choice, though, because I think that my answer is probably the same. If I'm partly an Emma when we talk about likable characters, I certainly can't deny that I'm an Emma when we talk about the bad bits...

NANCY: I mean. It’s always for the end goal of them being happier, but done according to what I think will make them happy.

MISTY: DON’T THEY KNOW THAT WE KNOW BEST?I

LONA: I have always sympathized with John Knightley, the grumpy husband who just wants to stay home and can’t believe he’s obliged to go out on a cold night to some stupid party.

MISTY: Oooh, me. Me AF.

LEIGH: If someone close to me asked, I would probably be described as a Miss Bates. Excuse me while I hide my head. I'm chatty, repeat the same stories over and over, and thoroughly enjoy hearing myself talk.

MISTY: Oh my god, maybe I’m Miss Bates?! I don’t think I talk nonsense – I don’t have much of a tolerance for nonsense, except in the whimsical sense – but literally every report card from my childhood says some variation of “Misty does well in class, but talks too much”…

RIANA: I don’t think I’m Mrs. Bennet, although I’ve recently come to realize that with my son’s spending habits, he needs to get a very good job, marry someone with a very good job, or marry an heiress. Any of those will do.

MISTY: Ha! Well, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother just wants what’s best for her son… *winks. Again.*

RIANA: Perhaps I’ve got a bit of Mrs. Elton in me. I can be a bit of a snob, I know. I like the finer things, and I thrive on live music and live theatre and art galleries, with little interest in “popular” entertainment such as sports. I try to be aware of it, but it’s there. I can’t help it.

MISTY: Which is maybe where we have a leg up on the characters — perhaps the biggest, most frustrating flaw about each of them is that they aren't self-aware.

RIANA: Also, I’m very keen on organizing musical societies! I don’t boast about my relations’ grand estates, however. Maybe because they don’t have any.

MISTY: That does help rein in the impulse.

MARIA: On my less admirable days I see myself as a Mary Bennet—bookish and a little too focused on my ladylike accomplishments and a bit out of sync with the social milieu around me.

MISTY: I'm sure you're not alone in that one. I think, for as little as we see of her, a lot of people feel sympathetic at the least, and quite a bit like her; I think that's why so many people feel defensive of her, and maybe even resentful of the rest of the Bennet sisters?

LAURIE: Okay, so here’s the real truth: One of the things that I love and respect the most about Austen is that she not only gets me to see myself in her flawed yet appealing heroines—I mean, who wouldn’t want to see herself in Lizzy Bennet or Anne Elliot—she also gets me to see myself in the heroines who have the biggest flaws. Take drama queen Marianne Dashwood.


MISTY: Oh god, as much as I am a rational Elinor most of the time, I think we all went through a Marianne stage!

LAURIE: In earlier times I could have given Miss World-Revolves-Around-My-Pain a run for her money. Then there’s Miss Know-it-All-But-Really-Knows-Nothing Emma, the heroine whom Jane Austen said that “no one but [herself] will much like."

MISTY: I think that might mean we know what Jane’s answer to this question would be… #WeAreAllEmma

LAURIE: Emma, I must admit, is the one whom I most resemble. Because I can decide that something is exactly the way I see it, and nothing will change my mind. Until, that is, the illusion blows up in my face. Which illusions always do. And when I’m really brutally honest with myself, I can even catch a glimpse of my reflection in the really awful characters. Because Austen writes them with so much biting comedy that it frees me up to laugh at my own damn self.

MISTY: Very good point. Shitty characters as catharsis. *laughs*

LAURIE: Like, oh dear, did I just fawn over that person I’ve admired since forever so badly that I practically sound like Mr. Collins? Or: Was I just so tired and cranky that I actually could have been channeling Lady Catherine? Or: Did I just complain so much about my pulled muscle that I made Mary Musgrove look like a stoic?

MISTY: God forbid! I know people have tried to defend Mary M. to me in the past, but I just cannot. *makes throttling motion with hands*

LAURIE: The best part is that the second I make those connections, I snap out of being a bossy know-it-all or a soap opera on legs or a whining complainer and laugh at my own ridiculousness.
Thanks, Misty. I feel better already.

MISTY: Ha! Any time. Now see, that wasn't so bad...

So now I turn the question to you: Which less-than-likable Austen character are YOU most like? 
Carry on the Convo with us in the comments! And if there's a question you'd like to see in our Janeite Conversations, let me know (please please please! As I said, the well is running dry -- we've talked about so much!)




This year's Janeite Conversations features the following authors. Please give them some love in the comments, and support them by checking out their books!

Alexa Adams, author of Being Mrs Bennet, et al
Christina Boyd, editor of the upcoming Rational Creatures, et al
Leigh Dreyer, author of The Best Laid Flight Plans
Riana Everly, author of Teaching Eliza, et al
Maria Grace, author of the Jane Austen's Dragons series, et al
Robin Helm, author of A Very Austen Christmas, et al
Nancy Kelley, author of His Good Opinon, et al
Lona Manning, author of A Contrary Wind, et al
Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, et al
Melanie Stanford, author of The Beast of Pemberley from The Darcy Monologues, et al

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!

13 comments:

  1. 'Kay, stitch in side from laughing and about bruised myself from nodding agreement several times. That convo was great, Misty and authoresses!

    Hmmm, I've thought about this before and saw myself in several less agreeable gals even Mrs. Norris' vicious pettiness, Fanny Dashwood's greed, Isabella Thorpe's vanity, and more. I think at different times in my life or little moments when I've been at my worst. I've got some of the silly ones, too, like Mary Bennet's showboating, John Thorpes' bragging, or Lady Bertrams' couch potato.

    Fun!

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  2. Yes!!! Loved everything you said about Mary Crawford. I think Mary, given her background and how she was raised, is a survivor. And kind of is the way she is for self-preservation. I think her intent is good—maybe just not executed as virtuously. (Dunking behind the couch from the onslaught of tomatoes from the Mary Crawford haters.)

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    1. I'm only throwing baby heirlooms, because a part of me really likes her. The part of me that is definitely not Fanny.

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  3. I laughed so hard at the Lady Catherine de Bourgh channeling going on in this convo. Loved everyone's contributions, and the comments! Confession really is good for the soul. Plus you put it all together so seamlessly, Misty, that I can hardly believe we weren't all sitting around a big round table having this discussion...wait a minute, did everyone actually do that and didn't invite me? Just like Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove going for a walk and not wanting to invite me--I mean Mary Musgrove--to join them. I mean, why is it that everyone assumes that I am not a good talker--I mean walker?

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    Replies
    1. She is brilliant that way to have assembled this conversation so seamlessly.

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  4. Loved this post! How original and fun :) And cringe-worthy :D I laughed all though it. I read somewhere (and I can't remember where, so apologies to whoever the author was) that Austen took Lizzy Bennet and split her into 2 characters: Mary Crawford has her charm, and Fanny Price has her integrity.
    I'm always Elinor in those quizzes, always. And while I like her, I think she's a tad bit...boring. I wish I could be charming like Lizzy or Mary C, or even confident like Emma, but here I am, Elinor to the bone. As far as unlikable characters? I can tip over into Mary Musgrove's annoying hypochondriasis and self-pity, if I let myself. I hate that.

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    Replies
    1. Oh! I like that statement about Lizzy = Mary + Fanny. That feels pretty spot-on!

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  5. I'm most like Lizzy, but I have some Mary in me, too.

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  6. This is a great conversation topic. You choose it very well, Misty.

    As for me, I find that I'm most like Mr Darcy when socialising with strangers and even among friends. I may appear aloof and distant but actually I struggle with speaking in a group. I cannot catch the tone and carry on the conversation at hand. So those who do not know me well may think that I am above their company which is not true.

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  7. Ahahahaha! Oh, GREAT topic for this year, and those answers are priceless. You're right- being self-aware, we have a leg up on Austen's clueless (or just above caring) annoying characters. But I love that everyone who responded was also brutally honest, no matter how cringe-worthy their choice is.

    I agree #WeAreAllEmma. I was totally Emma (and also Catherine Morland) for the first 26 years of my life, give or take- bossy (but justifying it as 'helpful for others', self-righteous in my opinions, given to too much imagination and reliance on fiction as the way the world worked, and annoyingly pitying of others or over-dramatizing them). In among those years there was a period of time where I was a total Henry Crawford, as well (*cringes*).

    These days? I'm a bit Charles Bingley (overly eager to please, bad at standing up for what I want or need, tending to bow toward my family's wishes) and a bit Marianne Dashwood (more enthusiasm than common sense, tending to overcommit myself and ignore prudence).

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