STOP telling me these things!
I’m interrupting my busy schedule to tell you this because you HAVE to stop interrupting my busy schedule to tell me this.
I don’t have much time to read. At all. I read for work and I always have so much work stuff to read that I feel hideously guilty for reading anything else. Part of the reason I insist on such high-quality books for my son’s bedtime reading is that it’s almost the only time I sit down with the printed page. I rely a lot on recorded books, because they let me read while I do the dishes. And I don’t mean “while I put the dishes in the magic machine that makes them clean and shiny.” We don’t have said magic machine. We’re icky, creepy pov-types who live without a lot of magic machines. I mean I listen to recorded books while I actually make the dishes clean and shiny all by my little bitter self, which takes a while. So in one sense I do get a lot of reading done.
And a lot of that reading is Austen.
Which is the part where you have to stop calling me.
I have read every single novel Austen ever wrote many, many times. Lots. Tons.
Think about what this could mean.
Could it mean that I’m so incredibly brain-damaged that I have to keep reading her books because I keep forgetting how they end? (“Oh my gosh — she MARRIES that guy???”)
Well, no. I mean, I have a pleasantly faulty memory, so it does take more than one reading for any book to stop holding surprises for me. I had read Sense and Sensibility twice, decided to reread it on tape, and was still surprised by who was at the door when Marianne was deathly ill and Elinor came downstairs to wait for her mother.
But in general, I think it can be safely said that I’ve conquered Austen’s plots. She will continue to delight me for the rest of my life, but the only surprise her work can hold for me now is, as always, her seemingly effortless brilliance.
It’s just possible that if I’ve read each of her novels at LEAST five times apiece (and I’m not kidding, and that’s a low count for some of them), I KNOW what the story is. It’s HOW SHE TELLS IT that matters to me.
There are many Austen fans who deeply enjoy “watching” Austen. They will make an active effort to watch film and TV adaptations.
I’m not trashing them. I’m perfectly fond of Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, because I knew that this was a reader who understood the book and made some tough choices regarding what she changed and why. (After I retire from at least one of my current jobs, I’ll be delighted to have an eight-hour discussion/debate with anyone who’d like to join me as to whether or not Alan Rickman was a wise choice to play Colonel Brandon. Too attractive? Too happy an ending, compared to what the book presented?)
And I deeply admire the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion. Persuasion is Austen’s last novel and her least “finished” work, and I found the movie a necessary illumination on many tricky points. I also thought the kiss was brilliant — not some graphic overdone sexploitation shot, but simple, beautiful, a moment of life’s perfection that the main characters had earned. And, yes, really hot exactly because it was so understated.
But I saw the Thompson movie because I’d read enough about her and why she was making it to be interested in seeing what she, Emma Thompson, was going to do. I saw Persuasion because a couple of friends of mine very much wanted to, wanted my company, it was a rainy day, and they were buying the tickets. And, okay, Persuasion is a novel that doesn’t get a lot of attention and I was curious to see what would be done with it.
AND this was back in the old days, before I had a son and homeschooling and editing and writing and allergy cleaning and allergy cooking.
At this point, I’m so frantic about all the work piling up around me that posting here is the closest I come to sitting down and just relaxing. And you can see how often THAT happens.
But Austen is always there for me, when I’m doing work that only requires my hands and not my mind. I’m listening to Flo Gibson reading me Sense and Sensibility, because I like her humorous reading style. She really understands how funny this book is. I heard another reader, a beautiful feminine English voice, and I had to stop listening because she was so damned wistful through the whole thing. At one point, Marianne is going on in her usual overdone style about how much she misses her old home. Oh, what the hell — here’s the whole passage:
“And how does dear, dear Norland look?” cried Marianne.
“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor [her older sister], “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”
“Oh!” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall? How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”
“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”
I love that passage SO MUCH. I love that Marianne and Elinor love each other completely and unconditionally in spite of being so philosophically opposed. I love that Elinor can smile at her sister’s ridiculous rhapsodies and love her without any illusions. The whole POINT of that scene is Elinor’s dry yet gentle reality check at the end.
And the English reader I mentioned before just read Elinor’s line in the same “Oh, Romeo, Romeo” voice she gave to Marianne’s dialogue. Ridiculous.
Anyway. After I’m done with Sense and Sensibility, I’ll probably ask the goddess Prunella Scales to please read Emma to me. I found Emma difficult to read with pleasure for a long time, because the pain Emma caused those around her by her misuse of her power made it hard for me to smile. But I’ve learned to relax a bit — though I still cringe every time I read the scene in which Harriet shows Emma her proposal letter. When the story itself becomes truly painful, I can focus on the genius of Austen’s writing itself. Her words.
Those are what keep me going.
Which is why I need everybody to STOP TELLING ME that there’s going to be some Emma TV show, or whatever it is, coming this week or whatever it is.
First of all, I don’t know how to watch TV. I don’t mean that in a philosophical sense. I mean it in a humiliatingly personal sense.
Here’s a sad little story about someone you know.
Once upon a time, we had one tiny TV and FOUR REMOTES. And EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM was necessary if you wanted to use the TV. One turned it on; one changed the channels; one changed it from VCR setting to TV viewing and back again; and one did, I don’t know, something else important. Every single one of those remotes was broken in some way, and so watching TV required a great deal of hand-to-eye coordination.
After about the fifth call to my husband’s place of employment to beg for help in changing the channels (“Which remote? They ALL have mushy buttons!”), I gave up. A few years later we got a TV that blessedly only had one fully-functional remote, but it was too late. The damage was done. I was no longer a TV watcher. I learned enough to be able to plug in a DVD to watch while I exercise. That’s the current extent of my powers.
So I don’t know how to find this “Austen” production. And those quote marks bring me to the next point.
IT’S NOT AUSTEN!
And if it’s not Austen, I DON’T CARE!
If there’s a really really REALLY good reason that I might care about a particular adaptation, tell me. Tell me if, I don’t know, Fiona Shaw or someone else I deeply admire (or I don’t admire yet, but should) is doing something with an Austen novel. Tell me if they’re filming a fan-fic Austen/Star Trek crossover production. Tell me about Clueless and Bride and Prejudice. DEFINITELY tell me if they decide to film Northanger Abbey or (oh, wouldn’t that be great!) Lady Susan.
But don’t put me on your list of people to automatically call every time twenty minutes has gone by and somebody decides it’s been too long since we made a Jane Austen movie, miniseries, chick flick, detective thriller, opera, ballet, or — well, okay, do call me if it’s a Saturday morning cartoon of Pride and Prejudice. That could be funny.
But cross me off the “she likes the books — she must love the movies” list.
Austen is dead. She died much too young. She should have lived to write a lot more than just six novels.
But as unfortunate as it is, she’s done writing. I think Hollywood would like to fool me into thinking otherwise, but I’m on to them.
When a scholar manages to find a letter, poem, notes on a new novel, or anything else that’s new, that we’ve never seen before, and that’s actually Austen, call me. At two in the morning, if necessary.
Now that I have that out of my system, I have a lot of work to do. For some reason, I’m running late this morning.