Emma (NOT) The Musical

Last night I saw Jane Austen’s Emma played in the theater! I posted about it yesterday, and had pretty even- level expectations. The evening was lovely, and I made three new friends with the Meetup members I attended with.

Posters

I did mention the night in yesterday’s post here. However, some of you will disappointed, (others will be relieved, I’m sure), to know that the “musical” I referenced was in fact not a musical after all. I was laboring under a misapprehension (bonus points for knowing that reference), and in fact ended up seeing something completely different: a regular play. To clarify, there exists a musical version of Emma somewhere- it’s  just not what I went to.

During a somewhat comic twist of events, I found out about my error an hour before the show, and I must say that I was a tad bit heartbroken at first. A group of us were discussing the night over dinner, and two of us thought we were going to see a musical. After the option of musical was introduced into the conversation, a horrified organizer was very relieved to discover via smartphone that her original desire to see (not a musical) adaptation of Emma was indeed correct. Another playgoer and I were a bit bummed out, although we were still ready to see Austen on stage.

Personally, I had been mentally preparing myself for weeks for cheesy ridiculousness, potentially ridiculous music, and possible tongue-in-cheek modern commentary geared towards die-hard Austen fans.

Don’t worry. What I saw was actually just as satisfying, if not more so.

In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not sure that a Jane Austen-based musical would be the most brilliant production to witness on stage (or would it)!? I’ll hold out hope that someday I will see the musical version and rate it here for you, but for now, I have the play to summarize.

What we actually saw was the adaptation by Michael Bloom, directed by Victor Pappas, and is simply titled Emma (not Emma, the Musical), at Jones Playhouse in Seattle. It was a production from the School of Drama at the University of Washington, and tickets were very reasonable.

I liked the program, which featured a pink, black and white design, and archery symbolism (an Emma reference made famous in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie adaptation).

Program Design

Closer view

Inside the Program

The theater itself was a very egalitarian half (or more than half) stadium circle structure, and even though we were not the first in the door for will call seating, we had an amazing view of the performance and the actors on the round stage.

The casting was incredible, and despite some players drifting in and out of the faux English accent, each character was chosen thoughtfully, and brought a unique flavor to the personalities of the likes of Emma, Mr. Knightly, Miss Smith, and Mr. Woodhouse. They actors were extremely expressive in their facial expressions, and although the play stuck close to the original plot, the acting brought a vibrant energy to the storyline. Mrs. Elton was sufficiently obnoxious, and Miss Smith ran around the stage with frivolous teenage excitement.

Excuse the poor quality of some of the pics below. I was taking many from an upward angle most of the time- they were quite high above me, and using my cell phone. I swear I will get a digital camera soon!

People looking at the head shots and bios of the wonderful cast.

I took some pictures of my favorite players to share with you:

Harriet Smith, by Monique Robinson

Phil Kruse as Frank Churchill

They had pretty great costumes for all of the actors, but Mr. Knightly, Mrs. Weston, and Frank Churchill pretty much had the best.  They all look completely different in these headshots- the hair and makeup team did a wonderful job too!

Scott Ward Abernathy. A very convincing Mr. Knightley, and very emotive actor. "swoon"

Robert Bergin as Mr. Woodhouse- he looked completely different in the play- about 50 years older, and was hilarious.

This adaptation interestingly showed Emma’s internal thought process (very comical) by dimming the lights during her asides to the audience and herself. Also, the usual ending was challenged a bit by a longer courtship period between Emma and Mr. Knightly, more examples of their life post-declaration of love, as well as a more involved scene between the couple and Mr. Woodhouse when they announce their marriage.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the additions were pulled off.

Sarah Loveland played Emma. She was incredible, and rivaled the best Emma's I've seen on film, actually.

Even though it was not a musical, I was not sad about a lack of music. Not only were Emma and Jane Fairfax’s characters excellent singers and pianists during the “exhibition” scene in the drawing room, but there was also a “soundtrack” feature enriching the background of the entire play.

Very talented musician Miss Fairfax played by Marua Tang.

All around, I would highly recommend this play, and I heard whispers of the production returning in the summer. So, if you happen to be in Seattle, you may want to check it out!

Happy Thursday,

Miss E

 

Excited to See “Emma, The Musical”

Hello readers! Happy Wednesday!

Tonight I am going to see the theater adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma with a meetup group I joined a while back. It should be a fun night, and I am very excited about it.

I read a review of the musical today that was not so enthusiastic.

Photo credit: Charles McNulty

It was also not a diatribe. The reviewer was ambivalent about performance he saw  but I am still excited to see it!

The one I’m going to see is a student performace, and after reading the reviews surrounding it, I don’t have any great expectations.

I do love Jane Austen, and I also love musicals, so this seems like a wonderful combination.

Since I started blogging, I have learned about so many more adaptations than I had ever seen or heard of before, and I count that as a major benefit.

Once I see the “Musical and Romantic Comedy,” I will certainly share my opinion of it here with you!

Best,

Miss E

 

Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

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Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E

The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.

My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E

The Darcy Dilemma

OR I am in love with a fictional man, who may or may not be perpetuating Patriarchal masculinity. Oh my.

I have recently realized that much of my adult life has been spent in pursuit of a well-known character from one of my favorite novels. He somehow subconsciously became my perfect man all those years ago, and the masculine ideal for countless others.

Readers all over the world know him as a prototype of the tall, dark and handsome mystery man; he is somber and stoic on the outside, yet soft, sensitive, smart, and thoughtful when the layers of his personality are revealed. He has social clout, knows what he wants, is straightforward, and can defend a family’s honor when need be. Sound good? This is the fictional man I have searched for in the real world, alongside countless other admirers. His name, as we all know, is Mr. Darcy.

Darcy has been popularized in contemporary literary media through adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by the BBC and Focus Features, parodies like the movie Bride and Prejudice, or the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book-turned-film Bridgett Jones’ Diary, and countless other interpretations. The novel itself is likely one of the most popular classics in today’s society, and the story and its characters are far more well-known.

Collin Firth has become the visual representation of Darcy for many, and we pine for Darcy to stare at us. I mean, have you seen the lake scene in the BBC Adaptation?

I will keep watching, admiring, and thoroughly enjoying Collin Firth in his many Darcy-based roles. However, I have been left disappointed by the expectations that Darcy as a character has raised for my experiences with the men in my life. I feel that all of my experiences searching for my Mr. Darcy have ended with either a man who cannot express himself, or is really just kind of an ass. It has been my experience that Darcy-esque qualities don’t really translate from the Austen novel to the everyday twenty-first century very easily.

In fact, it can be dangerous to love someone who does not show his emotion, not very fun to love a man who is a snob. Real men who have Darcy-esque qualities in fact may be suffering from what bell hooks terms “patriarchal masculinity,” where they are emotionally cut down by society because nobody cares about their feelings.

A real man with a Darcy exterior may not have that rich internal life that Darcy has, and surely is unlikely to write verbose and life-altering letters to us. Darcy’s personality cannot be the end all-be all of male sexy. In fact, he could be perpetuating our current society’s obsession with an ideal patriarchal masculinity, with production of the “strong, silent” type.

I have real problems with that possibility.

As modern readers, we hope that our tough-on-the-outside men will be so in love with us they crumble into a pool of desperate emotion as Darcy seems to when he proposes to Elizabeth the first time. However, without the presence of Austen’s clever narrative voice simultaneously chastising and sympathizing with Darcy, I’m not sure we’d fall in love with him alongside Elizabeth.

Perhaps the reason Darcy is so appealing to me and others is that despite his seeming emotional constipation and adherence to the patriarchal society in which he exists, he was imagined and given breath by a woman. I feel like Jane Austen herself does not get enough credit for Darcy’s creation. Could his appeal be so universal without the author’s genius? Without her gender? What do you think?

Best,

Miss E