Well, you might belong to another time

... but you have to carry on [photo from Downton Abbey courtesy of weheartit.com]

… but you have to carry on [photo from Downton Abbey courtesy of weheartit.com. Mary’s wearing the dress that made me gasp in season 1]

Ever felt like you were born in the wrong decade?

I have, for my entire life.

Some examples:

  • Remember Victoria magazines? I was obsessed. (SIDENOTE: Was there a mania for all things Victorian in the mid-90s? Was it just me? Can anyone confirm?)
  • Growing up, our family would occasionally skip the evening church service on Sundays and watch Road to Avonlea and eat tuna melts on English muffins in the family room. One of my fondest memories.
  • When I was 12, I wrote a letter to myself to open when I got engaged, and the letter contained “wedding ideas.” One of the ideas was to have an old-fashioned “Victorian” wedding. The 12-year-old me would be very pleased to know that I did!
At the 1864 B&B where our wedding was held

At the 1864 B&B where our wedding was held [photo courtesy of Destiny Dawn photography]

  • Some of my favourite movies growing up were Little Women and Ever After. They still are, actually. My first head-over-heels celebrity crush was Christian Bale as Laurie.
  • When I was in eighth grade, I read both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and I’ve never recovered. They remain two of my all-time favourite novels.
  • The Encarta Encyclopedia CD-ROM introduced me to David Bowie, Grandmaster Flash, and Creedance Clearwater Revival.
  • In grade four, our teacher showed us Fiddler on the Roof. My friend and I would put handkerchiefs on our head and pretend to be poor and Jewish and Russian circa 1905.
  • In seventh grade, our music teacher introduced us to Les Miserables. I wanted to be Eponine (even though she dies) and I wanted to marry a fiery revolutionary like Enjolras (in my fantasy, they both lived).
  • In ninth grade, I got really obsessed with disco music, for some reason, and big band swing. That developed into an obsession with classic rock, and I’ve never recovered from that either.
  • I still believe that if you listen to Tommy with a candle burning, you’ll see your entire future.
  • Downton Abbey. Enough said.

THE DRESS [photo of Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey]

THE DRESS that made me gasp in season 4 [photo of Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey]

There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in a good period piece, whether a book or a film, and “living” in a different time. Everything is simpler, whether it’s Regency England or the height of the Jazz Age. The fashion is gorgeous. The manners are courtly. People sat around drinking tea and being genial. Our modern world is crass and impersonal and ugly by comparison.

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, 2011 [photo courtesy of google image search]

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, 2011 [photo courtesy of google image search]

Feeling nostalgic for a past you never lived in is handled beautifully in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard (CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD). Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is obsessed with the 1920s (can you blame him?) He travels back in time to his favourite decade every night at midnight, and has the good fortune to meet such legends as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He also falls in love with Pablo Picasso’s beautiful mistress Adriana.

In one scene, Gil tries to explain to Adriana why he’s so fascinated with the 1920s and she just doesn’t get it. To her, it’s the norm. There’s nothing special about her decade. It would be like if someone from the future came and tried to tell us why 2014 is so amazing. She idolizes the 1890s Belle Epoque, and when the two time travel to the 1890s and meet Gauguin, Degas, etc., the famous men of that time believe the greatest decade was the Renaissance.

Gil eventually comes to the conclusion that everyone feels nostalgic about an era not their own and it’s better to accept the present for what it is rather than completely romanticize the past.

you were made for a simpler time [photo of Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey courtesy of [pinterest]

you were made for a simpler time [photo of Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey courtesy of [pinterest]

My best friend and I made a similar discovery recently while discussing our favourite show and shared obsession, Downton Abbey. We were talking about how we yearned to live in the 1900s-early 1920s … but with one caveat: we would have to be fabulously rich, like the Crawley’s. And we wouldn’t have been, realistically. She would’ve been in service in England and I would’ve been a farmer’s wife in northern Holland. No ball gowns and lady’s maids for us!

So yeah, I’ll still romanticize the past for its fashion, music, and manners, but then I’ll remind myself how much I love modern medicine, being able to vote, and having a career!

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Lost in Austen

quote from "Pride and Prejudice"

If you have been reading my blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I’m mad for all things Jane Austen.

There’s no pleasure quite like settling in for the night with a cup of tea and a good book. When that book is written by Jane Austen, all the better. It’s one of the few forms of escapism that you don’t have to feel guilty about engaging in.

I’ve often been called an “old soul” who was born in the wrong century, and reading Jane Austen only makes me more painfully aware of this. Although the 18th century wasn’t without its faults, my waist longs to be corsetted, my feet long to roam the dewy English countryside, and my romantic nature longs to be courted by the most stalwart of gentlemen.

Mr. Darcy emerges from the morning mist to declare his love; millions of women across the globe collectively swoon

In some ways, much of Austenmania can be attributed to the romantic fantasy it presents to the modern woman, without the smut of a Harlequin novel: for a few hours, while you curl up with one of Ms. Austen’s novels or watch a BBC adaptation for the millionth time (guilty as charged), you can escape the present-day nuisances of buggy computers, cars that won’t start, and polluted air and become immersed in a world of horse-drawn carriages, country balls, and polite, spirited conversation.

At the same time, there must be a reason beyond the charms of a simpler time that have made Austen’s novels resonate with readers long past their date of publication. There must be something that is drawing people –mostly women — to her endearing stories again and again, something deeper than her sometimes subtle, sometimes satirical social commentary and memorable characters.

Kissing cousins

For me, it’s the love stories that, although set in a time so different from our own, still manage to speak to our hearts. Miscommunications, preconceived notions, longing looks from across the ballroom, hands hastily touching another’s during an innocent dance, passionate proposals and the satisfying happy ending … this is the stuff dreams are made of.

There’s a profound moment in the 2008 mini-series “Lost in Austen,” in which modern-day heroine Amanda (Jemima Rooper), stuck in the world of Pride and Prejudice, confronts Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) about his irresistable appeal as an Austen hero to the twenty-first century woman. I can’t remember the exact words, but she says something along the lines of, “I’m in love with your world … the proper manners and courtliness and strict social customs …” With her schlubby, beer-chugging, belching boyfriend back in present-day London, it’s no wonder Amanda can’t help throwing herself at all of the well-bred, polite gentlemen — Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy … even the roguish Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley) manages to claim her affections.

... do you blame her?

I, too, am in love with that world. As much as I appreciate the various freedoms I have as a woman in 2010, I wouldn’t mind time-travelling to an Austen novel like Amanda does and meet some of her handsome heros. The way courtship brought two people together seems so much more civilized and honourable than dating. Even though, as Austen points out in several of her novels, money and social status played a huge role in love and marriage, a slower pace of life allowed for more time to engage in long walks arm-in-arm, long and thoughtful letters, and the cultivation of the art of conversation. We’ve lost so much of that, and reading Austen’s novels makes me yearn to be bowed to, to be sought out through connections for an introduction, to be valued for my quick mind and articulate speech.

In short, what I want — what so many other Austenmaniacs want — is to be pursued by a hero as noble and with the purest of intentions as those within the pages of our beloved books. Is that fantasy? Wishful thinking? Setting ourselves up to be bitterly disappointed?

Perhaps … but one can always hope …

and they all lived happily ever after

The Art of Persuasion

Captain Wordsworth and Anne Elliot in the BBC version of Persuasion

Fanny Price has always been my favourite Jane Austen heroine and Mansfield Park my favourite novel.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I once took a Facebook quiz, “What Jane Austen Heroine Are You?” and I was Fanny Price: shy, reserved, intelligent, observant, and just a tad judgmental.  I enjoy the mutual love that develops over time between Fanny and Edmund (who is her cousin, but still …) and the marked differences between mercenary Mary Crawford and humble Fanny Price, and charming Henry Crawford and moral Edmund Bertram.

Even though Pride and Prejudice is by far Austen’s most beloved work because of the plucky nature of Elizabeth Bennet and the wonderfully entertaining chemistry between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy — and really, who can resist Mr. Darcy? — Mansfield Park has always had a special place in my heart.  Perhaps it’s because it’s Austen’s least popular novel and I have a soft spot for the underdog; or I can empathize with Fanny’s status as a wallflower set in contrast to the liveliness and vivacity or her rich, privileged cousins; or the strong emphasis on the implications of slavery and imperialism that run as a commentary throughout the novel.  Regardless; when my Jane Austen class in university was criticizing Fanny for being too timid and unlikable, I was championing her many virtues.

Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth

I’ll have to admit that when my class read Persuasion last year, I didn’t finish the novel because it was the end of the semester and I was having a hard time keeping on top of my readings.  I had heard by a few people that it is their favourite Austen and that it is a quiet, beautiful, affecting read.   I still have yet to read the whole novel but I feel like it’s becoming my new favourite.

On New Year’s Eve, TVO had a Jane Austen movie marathon and I watched the 2007 BBC version of Persuasion, directed by Adrian Shergold, for the first time.  What a gorgeous, captivating movie!  The soundtrack consists of several classical piano scores that bring to mind Yann Tiersen’s for Amelie, and although it’s admittedly slow, the movie is beautifully shot and does a great job of accentuating Anne Elliot’s profound yet unspoken pain at the return of Captain Wentworth, the man she never stopped loving.

At 27, Anne Elliot is Austen’s oldest character, and the fact that she is unmarried puts her in an uncomfortable position.  Like Fanny Price, she is often overlooked and much unlike her vain, self-absorbed relatives.  She is quiet, good, a lover of poetry, trustworthy, and sweet.  I couldn’t help but root for her when she gets her second chance at love, even at the ripe old age of 27 (which was nearly approaching spinsterhood in Austen’s day).  At the culmination of the story, Shergold’s direction has Anne Elliot (played by Sally Hawkins), running through the streets of Bath to accept Captain Wentworth’s (second) proposal.  The scene is appropriately drawn out to get viewers nearly frustrated in anticipation for the renewed engagement.

What strikes me the most about Persuasion, though, is a certain unpleasant trait I share with the heroine.  Like Anne Elliot, I’m easily persuaded.  Anne is influenced by her friend and mentor Lady Russell to break off her first engagement to Wentworth and the repercussions are devastating, especially when he returns a rich captain intent on finding a wife.  In the end, however, as we all know, Anne makes up her own mind despite Lady Russell’s encouragements to marry another.  I’ll be candid with you — the fact that I am so easily influenced by those I admire, and even those I don’t, is something I like the least in myself and I am doing some soul searching to find out why I’m not more confident in my own judgments.  I’m very impressionable and constantly doubt myself, which is why I’m often seen as indecisive and wavering.  I’m just hoping that, like Anne, I’ll learn to take the advice of others with a grain of salt and follow what my heart says is right.

Reinventing Jane

 

Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson in BBC's adaptation of Jane Eyre

 

After reading this article, about how new adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are being made to appeal to Twihards, I have just two questions:

  1. Can’t everyone just leave the Brontë sisters alone?
  2. Must this Twilight insanity phenomenon influence every aspect of culture, leaving nothing sucked dry (see what I did there?)?

Apparently, Emily’s gothic tale of dangerous, obsessive love has been experiencing an increase in sales due to its mention in the Twilight series and a revamped cover with a sticker that reads: Bella & Edward’s favourite book!   Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad kids are reading (even if they are reading low culture), and that it’s making them turn to the Brontë sisters.  My issue is with how they’re getting there — from a vampire’s recommendation.  I suppose my problem is that I suffer from true Old Lady Syndrome, which is why I haven’t touched the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, and snobbishly disdain anything with that kind of collective hysteria.  Pop culture phenomena always makes me bristle and embrace the eclectic, the bizarre, the underrated.  When those things become unearthed and re-marketed for mass consumption, I feel as though I’ve been betrayed.  

I forget how I came to read Jane Eyre, but I was probably in grade 8.  As a somewhat pretentious adolescent, I was hungry for a good old-fashioned classic after the joys of reading Pride and Prejudice.  I remember the precise scene where I decided I had found my new favourite book: when Mr. Rochester dresses up as an old gypsy come to read the fortunes of his high society house guests, and Jane’s, and then his identity is revealed.  I remember my heart actually thumping loudly in excitement and fantasizing about Mr. Rochester, even more than I fantasized about the stuffy Mr. Darcy and his wet shirt clinging to his body (our teacher showed us BBC’s Pride and Prejudice as a graduation treat!)

 I have read Jane Eyre countless times since then and it is by far my most favourite book in the entire world.  Each time I read it, something new strikes me, a new dimension is added.  The last time I read it, in third-year Victorian Lit. class, I was shocked by the pre-feminist implications of the novel’s conclusion and the fact that Jane only returns to Rochester when he is blind and physically handicapped. Rereading it now, I’m finding all sorts of comments on the class system and Jane’s peculiar position outside the margins of society.

So strong is my loyalty to the story that I’m automatically nervous whenever a new adaptation is made to a novel I treasure.  Since I’m not a big fan of Wuthering Heights in the first place, I’m not overly concerned that the role of Heathcliff is being played by Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl fame in the newest adaptation.  The 1992 version, starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes, was pretty terrible and didn’t make me like the book any more.

However, since she is Charlotte’s sister, I cannot help but feel protective over Emily’s work and its latest bastardization to cater to Twihards and their disposable incomes.

Ladies, drool over your new Heathcliff!

 

The best adaptation of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen is the BBC’s, starring an appropriately plain Ruth Wilson as Jane and an unconventionally sexy Toby Stephens as Rochester. If anyone has the rights to classic British literature, it’s the British, and they usually get it right, as is evident in their long, yet mostly accurate, adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  The new Jane Eyre will star very pretty, very young (and very un-Jane Eyre-like) Mia Wasikowska and a ridiculously handsome Michael Fassbender whom I haven’t seen in anything else.

Will he live up to Toby Stephens' Rochester?

 

Too pretty to be plain Jane Eyre?

 

Needless to say, I’m very nervous about this adaptation, as I am with the untitled Dominic Murphy film project about the “imaginative worlds invented by the Brontës as adolescents.” According to Murphy’s producer Mike Downey:

“There is a whole younger audience out there that is ripe to enjoy these darker versions of what is generally served up, and the response from funders has been very upbeat, especially in the light of the recent success of Twilight”

I’m throwing up my hands, Stephenie Meyer.  If your terribly written, yet extremely successful series is going to lead sheep teens to my beloved classics, so be it.  If anything, it will give them their first taste of literature so good that it has stood the test of time.

Jane Austen Fans Beware!

There are no words

There are no words

Yes, it’s true.

Sad, frightening, and true.  Out of all the people who have struck gold by cashing into the Jane Austen franchise, this is by far the worst.

Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Jane Austen’s most beloved literary classic, Pride and Prejudice, and has raped Regency England with an infestation of blood-thirsty zombies.  Apparently,  Grahame-Smith has kept 85 per cent of the original text and has only added 15 per cent of sacrilegious zombie material.  Here’s the first line of the text, courtesy of www.buy.com :

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”

Of course, I’m a Jane Austen purist, so naturally this has me groaning with no small amount of pain.  When my Jane Austen professor–who is an avid collector of Austen paraphernalia–mentioned that the Pride and Prejudice+ Zombie mash-up was being proposed earlier this year, I was overcome with Elizabeth Bennet-like indignation.  Just two weeks ago, during a heavenly visit to The World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto,  I saw this book on display in a, get ready for this . . . “Zombie” exhibit, and let out a groan of inner turmoil so loud, an employee asked me what was wrong.  I just pointed to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and shook my head in disbelief. 

But that’s just me.  I don’t like classics tampered with in such an unholy manner.  I don’t like to see perfectly good originals modified to suit an increasingly restless culture, and zombies are just so hot right now.

It gets worse, though.  According to Brian Bethune’s article in Maclean’s last week, which is available at http://www2.macleans.ca/tag/pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies/, an author named Michael Thomas Ford is the latest to exploit Miss Austen for commercial gain, with a book called Jane Bites Back, expected to hit shelves in 2010.  In this novel, Austen is a–brace yourselves–vampire who runs a bookstore, and is so annoyed with other authors cashing in on her work that she drives stakes through their hearts.  No doubt the Twilight crowd will fall all over themselves for this one, which will then probably turn into a movie starring Robert Pattison as . . . someone, anyone.  He could just stand there, brooding in a corner with unwashed hair, and millions of girls aged 12-18 would be forking over their parents’ hard-earned cash. 

The bright side of this mash-up, however, is that now, cultured and literate women can share their love of all things Austen with their moronic, zombie-loving boyfriends!  It’s the best of both worlds!  Romance and Regency England meet flesh-eating monsters!

. . . Yes, I’m being sarcastic, and yes, I’m rolling my eyes.