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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Controversial Austen Opinions: a Janeite Conversation

Jane Austen, Austen in August, Austenesque, JAFF, jane austen fanfiction, Austen variations, jane austen interview
There are a few things Austen in August wouldn't be complete without, and very near the top of that list is our rather . . . offbeat way of incorporating author interviews every year.
Most of you probably know the drill by now, but if you don't:
First of all, who are you ? Where did you come from? Are you really a Janeite? Give us the secret handshake.
Second, all me to introduce you to the concept of the "Janeite Conversations," which are basically a roundtable discussion with a bunch of Austenesque authors (and me!) on a variety of Jane-adjacent topics.  They're silly, they're irreverant, they're...controversial?

What are your controversial Austen opinions? Do you secretly hate Darcy? Should Lizzie have done the practical thing and married Collins? Do you find Knightley an overbearing creep? SPILL.

MISTY: For instance: I do somewhat look on Knightley as an overbearing creep the older I get... and I also think we damn Mary Crawford for very similar things to those for which we praise Elizabeth Bennet. Also:Tilney is better than Darcy.* I said it.
(*depending entirely on my mood, I think)
CHRISTINA: I do think Mary Crawford has some of the same characteristics as Elizabeth Bennet (lively, witty, not a “great” beauty, loyal to her sibling).

CHRISTINA: However Mary was created to be the counterbalance to moral Fanny but later offends all the readership with her lax attitude to her brother’s liaison, his inconstant behavior, and then by supposing in that letter to Fanny on the event that Tom were to die, leaving Edmund as heir, “...there will be two poor young men less in the world; and with a fearless face and bold voice would say to anyone of wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them”—she is moved to the Evil-Doer List.
MISTY: I mean... I'm not saying she doesn't go off the rails a bit...
CHRISTINA: Given her upbringing, living in a home with such a licentious uncle, I like to think she has survival instincts.
MISTY: I also think that, honestly, she's probably not the only Austen character who would say such a thing.
CHRISTINA: I think the characters who have the MOST similarities are Emma and Darcy though. Both are rich, handsome, loyal to their people, manage others to their liking, care/protect those they love, highhanded...but in the end, do see their failings in the mirror, feel it greatly, and learn to be better. I wonder that Emma is not better liked (even Austen says Emma is a character only she would like!) while Darcy is adored the world over, for centuries. Why do we give Darcy a pass—yet spurn Emma for her officious ways? Hmmm? Hmmm?
JENNIEKE: I have also been wondering lately why Darcy gets a pass on his behavior when, as Christina says, Emma shares many of his unlikeable traits.
MARIA: I wonder if Darcy is more revered than Emma because of his actions to save Lydia. In contrast, Emma got out of Harriet’s way and there by facilitated Harriet’s happily-ever-after. Doing something is always more dramatic than not doing something to be heroic.
MISTY: Fair point.
JENNIEKE: I’m still not on team Emma—her classist prejudices always make me cringe when I read them—but I wonder if the backlash against her is because we spend a lot of the novel in her head, whereas we never see Darcy’s POV except when he writes the letter and explains himself at the end.
MISTY: Another fair point.
JENNIEKE: And because of that, I kind of *do* think Henry Tilney is better than Darcy!
JENNIEKE: He’s friendly and unpretentious despite growing up with the not-so-great role models of his older brother and General Tilney. Plus, he actually thinks about other people!
MARIA: I think you’ve got a good point about not being in Darcy’s head like we are in Emma’s. We can only imagine what Darcy’s thoughts might have been. Had Austen given us complete insight into them we might or might not like them as much.
MISTY: I'm really curious what Austen's reaction to JAFF would be. I mean, aside from all the wanton sex and general impropiety, she's probably be like, "No! Darcy would never think/do/say that! That's not at all what Col. Fitzwilliam would do— and why does everyone keep calling him Richard?!"
DEBRA-ANN: 1. My Controversial Austen opinions - I found both Colonel Brandon & Mr. Knightley a bit creepy for marrying girls so much younger than they were.
MISTY: Right?! I mean, I get societal norms and all that, but Knightley was practically a man when Emma was born, and knew her from infancy not as a contemporary playmate, but as a grown-ass man— which leads to one of my more "controversial" opinions: I don't think he and Emma will remain happy. He knew her as a child and still treats her as such. As for Col. Brandon . . . Marianne is the same age, roughly, as the daughter of his first love. It's a little too McConnaughey in Dazed and Confused for me, ya know? *shudder*
MARIA: Elinor would have been a far better match for Colonel Brandon and he for her. I firmly believe Austen got that match wrong.
MISTY: Agreed, I think. I go back and forth on this, actually.
CECILIA: Despite Jane Austen's insistence that they're well suited and in love and became so gradually over time....Colonel Brandon and Marianne's relationship seems like a codependent parasitic hot mess. I've never been fully convinced Colonel Brandon knows and loves Marianne.
MISTY: That's what I'm saying!
CECILIA: I'm definitely not convinced that Marianne has had the time to develop into a fully realized woman without the context of a relationship. They're both reeling from past relationships that ended too abruptly and the trauma of that...versus real love...is what drives them together.
MISTY: Yes! I feel like Brandon doesn't even really know her, let alone love her; he loves the idea of her. And Marianne. . . she's broken. Willoughby broke her. And though she's young and likely able to get over it (maybe it was "just" puppy love), I think that takes time, and time isn't something she's given.
CECILIA: The book aside...casting Alan Rickman as Brandon had a strange way of making me accept their relationship entirely. :P
MISTY: I mean. . .
REGINA: Okay, I must admit I adore a man in a uniform, so, perhaps I have a bit of Mrs. Bennet in me, after all. [NOT!]
MISTY: God forbid!
REGINA: I am a military brat and a military wife. Some of my favorite Austen characters were in the military: Captain Wentworth, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and, naturally, Colonel Brandon, who I find to be the perfect “romantic" hero. The sentimental novel or “novel of sensibility” developed in the second half of the 1700s, when Austen was first writing Elinor and Marianne. Sentimental novels relied on emotional response both from the readers and the characters. One finds scenes of distress and tenderness, and the plot is advanced by emotions, not actions.
Into the swirl of emotions, enters Colonel Brandon, a man with an inclination for romance: one responsive to the appeal of what is idealized, heroic, or adventurous (from the Merriam Webster Online definition). Brandon is said to be a man of honor. He is highly respected and esteemed by those who know him. He treats all with kindness and tenderness. Brandon respectfully loves Marianne from afar and does not place himself between her and Willoughby. He once fought a duel with Willoughby over the younger Eliza’s honor, and then he made arrangements for the care of both Eliza and her illegitimate child. He became a soldier so the older Eliza would not have to encounter him when she was married to his brother, against her will, and, despite being broken hearted, he performed bravely in his service to the Crown. He took care of the older Eliza when she was ill and without a home or friends, allowing her to die with some dignity. He presented Edward a living so Edward and Elinor could come together. Notice this was done before Brandon won Marianne’s hand. The living was not executed as a family obligation. He provided support when Marianne took ill. Colonel Brandon was Austen’s version of a Byronic figure.
MISTY: Which is a comparison I find fascinating, actually. I've heard that before, and though I get it, he's certainly not the first person who'd come to mind when talking about Bryonic heroes, you know?
REGINA: Brandon stood in opposition to the other two leading male characters in the book. I cannot image Brandon acting as did Edward Ferrars, who “courted” Elinor when he knew he was engaged to Lucy, which, in my opinion, only makes him an inch above Willoughby in character, who courted Marianne out of boredom and selfishness.
MISTY: That's certainly fair.
REGINA: Neither Ferrars nor Willioughby possessed any regard for the feelings of the Dashwood sisters. Colonel Brandon proved to be Austen’s only true hero in the tale.
MISTY: I mean, as much as the relationship with Marianne weirds me out, and I could talk all day about how it's infatuation and maybe even substitution for his lost love, the fact remains, he is my favorite man from that book, and I like him quite a deal more than a lot of Austen men.
REGINA: And as the novel says, “Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.” (Austen’s S & S III. xiv. 379).
MISTY: Here's a controversial opinion for you: I'm not too bothered by it if Marianne isn't all that happy. It's not fair, it's not charitable of me, I understand that she was very young and self-absorbed. But she makes me a little angry, so sometimes, I just don't care... Anyway... *looks around for someone to get us back on track*
DEBRA-ANN: *clears throat*Darcy & Colonel Fitzwilliam should have giving Wickham a smackdown when they found him….
DEBRA-ANN: I think that Fanny should have married Henry Crawford - he was so much more than Edmund was (in my opinion).
DEBRA-ANN: I’ll leave the others alone for now…
MISTY: LOL, probably safest.
MARIA: I think Edward Ferrars is a horrible excuse for a hero.
MISTY: Girl, same.
MARIA: Though it could be argued he was being loyal to Lucy Steele and honoring their engagement, I see him as allowing his mother and sister to manipulate him.
MISTY: Also, maybe just be honest? "Heyyy, I'm engaged, actually. Crazy, right?"
MARIA: Then when he does take a stand, he does it in such a way that he loses everything, giving gold-digger Lucy Steele a way out. It serves the entire family right that she ends up marrying Edward’s brother. But, to me, everyone would have been better off if Edward found a real back bone.
MARILYN: I'm not sure this is controversial so much as a matter of taste, but the Edmund and Fanny relationship just doesn't work for me.
MISTY: I'm gonna be honest, I don't think Edmund and anybody works for me. Blech.
MARILYN: I understand the cousin-thing intellectually, given the context of the novel and the time period, although this never fails to weird me out as a modern reader.
MISTY: You and me and everyone here, sister.
MARILYN: Even trying to overlook that aspect of their romance and viewing it through the lens of a kind of "Cinderella Story," I still have to talk myself into focusing on the two of them and thinking of them as the story's hero and heroine. Other characters in that book simply do a better job at holding my interest.
MARILYN: The professor who taught my "Novels of Jane Austen" class voiced aloud what I'd privately thought about the tedious couple: "Fanny and Edmund deserve each other."
MISTY: Totally! *laughs and laughs and laughs...*
MARILYN: Not everybody in the class agreed with her, but over two decades later, I still do!
MISTY: So. We have lots of opinions. But, um... *motions to Abigail, hiding in the corner*
ABIGAIL: Gosh, I hate giving my controversial Austen opinions unless I'm going to give all the reasons behind them—
MISTY: Spill!
ABIGAIL: Here are some less controversial ones. I think both Darcy and Elizabeth ignore propriety whenever they feel like it.
ABIGAIL: Elizabeth takes walks alone. Darcy calls on her when she's alone and he gives her a letter. Darcy makes some pretty risque comments, too. They have their limits, but they are not models of propriety.
MISTY: Mr I'll-write-that-bish-a-letter, bishes-love-letters Darcy sits on a high horse made of LIES. But I love him anyway. Maybe all the more. He needs a bit of impropriety.
ABIGAIL: I also think that when writing Mansfield Park, Jane Austen came close to having Fanny end up with a reformed Henry Crawford instead of Edmund, and I wouldn't be surprised if she pulled back on that at the last minute because of the fear of how readers would react.
MISTY: I think so, too! I think that's part of what makes the book feel 'off' for a lot of people. Gah, I wish we could pick her brain!

So, dearest readers: What are your controversial Austen opinions?

The Janeites:*
Christina Boyd, editor of the anthology Rational Creatures, et al
Marilyn Brant, author of According to Jane, et al.
Jennieke Cohen, author of Dangerous Alliance
Regina Jeffers, author of the Pride & Prejudice Murder Mystery series and many variations
Maria Grace, author of the series' Mr Darcy's Dragons, Queen of Rosings Park, et al.
Cecilia Gray, author of the Jane Austen Academy series, et al.
Debra-Ann Kummoung, author of Falling for Elizabeth Bennet, et al.
Abigail Reynolds, author of Last Man in the World and many other P&P variations

*Dibs on this being our girl band name.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
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  1. Yep, the stories that might or should have been are exciting to think about. Yeah for Henry Tilney!!!

  2. I am pleased my opinions did not freak you out, Misty! LOL!

  3. I'm sad to see all the Edward hate here! :( I guess my controversial opinion is that I *don't* hate Edward? lol. I mean, I don't like the whole secret engagement thing, but at that time men who broke off engagements were seen as dishonourable cads. Edward made a poor decision when he was 18 years old and eventually regretted it, but couldn't figure out how to problem-solve it honourably. And I think a large part of his identity was rooted in that he was a man of principles, and so he was determined to stick to them. I mean, he stuck to them even when he was threatened with being disowned -- which is nothing like how Willoughby acted. When Willoughby started getting concerned for his inheritance, he was out of there without so much as a by-your-leave -- and that was when he was practically as good as promised to a woman he loved. Imagine how he would have acted in Edward's shoes! It would have been like, "Lucy who?" And it's also pretty clear that one of the main reasons Elinor admires and is drawn to Edward is because of his principles. She herself is so committed to being honourable that she keeps the secret of her arch-nemesis, after all. I suspect one reason that some readers don't see Edward as such a likeable hero is that he is one of the more relatable Austen love interests -- a flawed man, who has made mistakes. More ordinary and less dashing, perhaps, than someone like Darcy or Wentworth.

    Which leads me to controversial opinion number 2: I don't really get why a lot of readers love Wentworth so much. To me, he comes off as rude and hurtful in his treatment of Anne when he first returns. I get that his pride has been wounded and all that from her rejection, but he handles the whole situation in a pretty immature way. He flings himself into a flirtation with Louisa, which seems to be based less on actual attraction to Louisa and more on an "I'll show HER" sort of attitude towards Anne. And even the -- yes, I'll admit it, romantic and passionate -- letter he writes is put into motion by jealousy of Mr. Elliott, which is hardly attractive. Overall, he spends a lot of the book acting like a jerk. I feel like Anne could do better!

    1. My opinion on Edward has evolved over the years. I understand he did a boneheaded thing and got engaged when he was young and unthinking, and that it was mostly the excitement of proximity, and that he then couldn't back out. My beef is that he KNOWS there is something there with Elinor, and he has ample opportunities to drop some hints at least, and he just... doesn't. He lets Lucy prey on her. I don't hate him, but I do want Elinor to give him a good wallop, or something. Just once.

      My opinions on Wentworth have also evolved, and I think I might make a post or video about it, actually...

  4. LOL, Misty, on the idea of "The Janeites" being our girl band name!! I'm totally up for that :) :). Thanks for the fun conversation!

  5. I have always disliked the character of Fanny in MP. I have finally read one variation that has the reformation of Henry and their marriage. Yeah! She does improve with the change.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I don't hate Edward, for all the reasons given by danya. (Though I wouldn't mind if Elinor wanted to give him a little grief ;-)

    I like Christina's comparison of Emma and Darcy, intriguing.

    Love Henry Tilney, but also love Darcy. Yes, he was difficult, but I have complete confidence that Elizabeth will keep him in line!

  8. Yanno, on the vein of "I'm not too bothered by it if Marianne isn't all that happy" - I'm starting to realize I feel that way about A LOT of the characters in JA's universe which is so weird given how obsessed and invested I am in her books and all the spinoff material. I've never fully realized until this moment that I'm indifferent to a majority's of character's outcomes while at the same time being utterly obsessed with them. (Something to bring up with a therapist??? I dunno.)

    1. I've been realizing something similar, actually... lol

  9. Edward was young when he became engaged and kept it a secret until he could be employed and have an income. He knew his mother wouldn't approve. I think he became acquainted with the Dashwood sisters just because his sister was related to them and by the time he realized his feelings had changed, Elinor's had become involved. he didn't make any promises to Elinor. I think he was more clueless than heartless. Henry Crawford would break Fanny's or any wife's heart if the wife happened to care for him. He was a philanderer . He would never be faithful and would try to turn a wife into a worldly creature and ridicule any religious or moral ideas the wife might have . He would be incensed of she fallowed his example and took a lover.
    People are judging on superficial qualities where Jane Austen looked at the couples moral map. The hsuabnds the hewroines wind up with will not commit adultery, beat them, or treat them badly.

    1. I both agree and disagree. I mean, I don't hate Edward, and I think he and Elinor will be well-suited. I also fully realize that he was young and in a precarious position, and also fell for a schemer's schemes. But I ALSO think that nit-picking all the available information apart, the good and the bad, is the right choice, even if it means that people are a little less shiny in the aftermath.
      After all, so many of the relationships and attachments formed are formed in very short order, without a lot of intimate knowledge of the other person's character -- so we're making decisions and parsing actions in the same way Austen's heroines would have been.

  10. Now I have to go through life imagining Matthew McConaughey drawling “all right all right” whenever I read about Colonel Brandon. So... I’m not sure to say thank you because you’re absolutely right or eww because now I can never read S&S again.

    1. Once you make the connection, you can't unmake it.
      I'm sorry, and you're welcome. 😂

  11. It looks like a lot of my controversial opinions are not so after all as I saw many expressed here. Based on the conversation and the love that was shown, I guess that I don't like the character of Henry Crawford is controversial although I am not a big fan of Edmund either so I wish that Fanny had more choices.

  12. My controversial Austen opinion is that I don't really like Colonel Fitzwilliam. He frankly says to Elizabeth that he's looking for a rich wife and while I know that's prudent, it doesn't make me love him!

    Also, I like Mary Crawford a lot more than Fanny Price. She is more entertaining, and would find it very easy to fit into modern society. I really struggled to like FP, because she is so unbending in her judgement of people. It takes spending time with Susan for her to realise that to an extent people are the product of their upbringing. Susan is as good as she can be, and Fanny finally realises that. She doesn't extend this idea very far though, for example, she doesn't allow for the Crawfords' upbringing influencing their morals, or Maria's for that matter. I also don't see she and Edmund having a very satisfying marriage. It would be enough for her to be content but Edmund has loved somebody passionately and I can't see him ever reaching that state of feeling for FP.

    1. Interesting! You really don't see a lot of Col Fitz hate. I guess I read him more as doing the honorable thing and warning Lizzie so that he didn't lead her on, especially since there was chemistry between them. I really like when adaptations explore that a bit, actually.

      As for Fanny, I think you really hit at the core of why she doesn't go over so well for a lot of people: she's self-righteous. She knows her own motives, so she can do no wrong (though that said, I'm sure she does judge herself harshly at times), but she's only willing to go so far in understanding others and their motives -- she'd rather just judge them, and never sway from those judgements. It could have been such an interesting story of growth to see her influence on the Crawfords and vice versa, but instead, it's full circle in the worst way; everything comes back around to status quo, the "bad" people go their separate ways, and Fanny's left trailing after Edmund forevermore. Which, sadly, is what she wants. And that's interesting now to explore psychologically, but it's not very satisfying as a romance, or as a complete story.

  13. Well, I have difficulty seeing Alan Rickman playing any Jane Austen character ever, but there are certainly some interesting opinions on characters here!

  14. My most controversial Austen opinion is that Elizabeth should be with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Their temperaments are better suited. He is amiable with excellent manners and education as befitting the son of an Earl but also he is a professional soldier who has seen battle and death and that makes him very intriguing to me. So he should have a HEA with Elizabeth and is very vexing that in all variations where they seem to be together he either dies or loses from Darcy. I like Darcy well enough but he is not That special! (which is probably the most controversial opinion from all)


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