Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Quite Lost in Austen

For the past couple of months most of my reading time has been invested in Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice. I found a Barnes and Noble edition for my current reread, and all the nifty little notations throughout  illuminated the reading experience.  You know, that epiphany light bulb sensation. I relate my recent reading of P&P with complementary notes to when I clicked on subtitles during yet another viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean“Oh, that’s what Jack Sparrow said.”  That pseudo rum drawl tends to blur a bit at times for me.  Just as some of the Regency references zipped by me the first time around with P&P.  Finding a well-done annotated classic read makes for a riveting read.


Pride and Prejudice (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

One aspect of the Barnes and Noble edition is the solid introduction by Carol Howard, essayist and English Department Chair at Warren Wilson College. Howard provides both context and historical background on Austen and her times.  Details make the difference, and knowing the flavor of times and disposition of the author’s family does indeed create a more enriching read. There were also delicious endnotes at the back of the book. It was much like having a personal guide  strolling  with me through an art gallery who diligently and enthusiastically explained all the finer nuances of the featured selections.

The problem  after supping my way through P&P (one does not dine and dash through Austen) I wanted more.  Yes, I could have turned to Emma or even Sense and Sensibility.  I wanted Lizzie and Darcy and the other Austen do-ups simply wouldn’t do.  I went in search of more P&P.

Austenite Fan Fiction land is formidable.  My local library contains at least three pages of on-line card catalog Austen-related material .  GoodReads garnered about nine pages. Diving into the choices, I quickly bypassed the Zombie offerings (shiver), thumbed through a couple of suppositions, and briefly contemplated the notion of Lizzie and Darcy as detectives (nah).   I ended up with a fine trilogy by Pamela Aidan, the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series.  This is Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view.  I’m usually a bit irritated when an author tries to overlay his or her own ideas upon an established character, but truly, as much as we want to think we know Darcy, Austen didn’t flesh him out as thoroughly as she did Elizabeth.  To her credit, Aidan develops Darcy admirably.  Some  of the Austen FF I browsed couldn’t maintain its platform without leaning heavily upon Austen; however, Aidan provides a satisfying historical fiction offering that stands well on its own.  The Darcy aspect adds to it most certainly, but replace Darcy with another English surname and the books still stand strong.

                  Of course what really made it work was seeing Elizabeth from another point of view, namely Darcy’s.  Aidan’s series has proven successful enough to venture out with Wytherngate Press, which focuses on Austen continuances and likened historical fiction.

Other Austenite offerings of note on my literary Jane jaunt varied.  One I picked up was not fan fiction, but a sort of self-help book a la Austen.  A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiwicz is entertaining and educational.  Deresiwicz, a noted book critic and former associate professor of English at Yale University provides “an eloquent memoir of a young man’s life transformed by literature.” In other words, he became William by understanding how  Jane became Jane.  His life became entwined with each of Jane’s six books at different points in his life and he transformed into a better man for it.  At least that’s the impression I got by the time I finished reading his book.   Here are some takeaways:

page 12 on Emma)
Austen, I realized, had not been writing  about everyday things because she couldn’t  think of anything else to talk about.  She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are.

page 50 (Pride and Prejudice)
…by putting me through Elizabeth’s experience–by having her make mistakes and learn from them, and having me stumble and learn right there along with her–what the novel was really showing me was how to grow up.

page 92 (Mansfield Park)
Being a valuable person–a “something” rather than a “nothing”–means having consideration for the people around you.

I did delve into other Austen-related writing; however, I shall not mention them lest you seek them out of curiosity–it’s not that they were bad reading, they just weren’t that good and I only have so much reading time and I don’t quit a book easily. I will say this: after two months of Pride and Prejudice I’m still as smitten with it as ever.

Image at the beginning of Chapter 34. Darcy pr...

Image at the beginning of Chapter 34. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: George Allen, 1894. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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19 thoughts on “Quite Lost in Austen

  1. msnoseinabook on said:

    I too can never get enough of Austen’s works. I’ve read Emma, P&P, and Sense & Sensibility so far. I have a couple of the fan fics from P&P but I haven’t read any of them except the P&P Zombie series but I really really want to but I agree it is daunting because there is SOOO much of it. My favorite movie adaptation is the Keira Knightley one I can never get enough of it especially the scene where they are in the rain and he confesses his love for her…my heart literally melts! I was happy to see your post on this 🙂

    • I couldn’t get into the Zombie writes at all. I wonder if Jane would have been amused. She did have quite a sense of irony about her own writing. And I agree, the Kiera Knightley version is my fave. I rewatched Colin Firth’s and it’s wonderful, yet the Knightley had some of the MOST romantic scenes like the rain pavilion one. My family teases me how many times I watch it. Especially since I am not a romantic at heart. Austen does that to a person.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve been leery of all of the P&P spin-offs, but I will check out your suggestions, and the memoir looks great, too! It sounds thoughtful and legit (as opposed to a gimmicky-memoir that tangentially relates to Austen).

    • Oh, you also need to check out The Annotated P&P. One side of the book is the novel’s text; the other side, notes providing context. It’s very informative and interesting. There are other annotated Austen novels, too.

      • Are these ones other than the Barnes and Nobles Classic series? The annotations really make a difference. I noticed the Annotated P&P on BN the other day. I will look it up my next go round.

    • I picked up the memoir on a whim, thinking it would be coat-tail write, and I surprisingly found it enlightening and a complementary read to Austen. One of those unexpected read finds.

  3. Katie on said:

    Loved the post. You have inspired me to pick up some of my favorite Austen Novels and re-read them. Pride and Prejudice is what inspired my love of all things Regency Era and while I know they are mostly romantic notions of the time, I just can’t get enough. I will have to check out the other related books you mentioned as well. Thanks!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Katie. I don’t know what it is about Austen–I keep returning to her when I have a classic read itch. She is timeless, isn’t she? Have you ever watched the “Lost in Austen” series? I imagine if Elizabeth got caught in our modern age she would have adapted quite well.
      Happy Pages,

      • Katie on said:

        Austen is definitely timeless…though as I remember back to my first encounter with her, I think I might have been the only one in my Senior English class in high school that actually enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice. I have seen the Lost in Austen series. I came across it on netflix one day and started it not realizing they put the whole miniseries into one lump movie. About 2 1/2 hours in I was like wow this is a really long movie. I definitely enjoyed it though and think you are right. If Elizabeth Bennett found herself in our modern world, she would probably adapt rather easily I think.

  4. briannalynnklutz on said:

    Austen is an addiction I cannot walk away from. Have you read _What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew_? It is non-fiction and sometimes it can get a little dry, but it really gives a lot of insights into England and English Society in the 1800s through the 1900s.

    • briannalynnklutz on said:

      Also, Barnes and Nobles press also published Jane Austen’s minor works in a book called _Love and Friendship_. There is also another collection of minor works I own, but I am in the process of moving so I cannot find it, and my memory is not locating the title within its banks either.

      • Thanks for the heads up on these. In confession, I didn’t read Austen until I watched “her” movies, and then, of course, I knew the books would be much better. I’ve read all six now, and P&P remains my favorite. Although when I read Austen’s ending I immediately want to pop in my Kiera Knightley version and fast forward to where she and Matthew meet in the fiel. Very Un-Austenlike, true, true, yet it fulfills that modern-happy romantic ending need.

      • briannalynnklutz on said:

        I’m not a huge fan of that adaptation of the novel, but you should see the Lawrence Oliver version. I wonder if the screenwriter actually read the novel for that one. I also think the stole the costumes off the Gone With The Wind costume truck. However, I think what is missing most from all the adaptations of the novels is the narrator. The narrator doesn’t have a name so we forget about her (I am assuming it is a her), then we watch the movie. For years I sat there scratching my head wondering what was missing, until finally it dawned on me that the narrator is the most important part of the novel, but she isn’t transferable into the film medium.

  5. You mean the old black and white Greer Garson version–yeah, that one was pretty costume-wise, although totally wrong period. That movie was my first experience with Pride and Prejudice back when in college. Larry O. caught he aloofness of Darcy. I’m not sure what you mean by the narrator–aren’t they mainly third person? Which novel? P&P?
    Thanks for stopping by,
    Happy Pages,

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  8. Ever seen the TV miniseries “Lost in Austen”? Elizabeth Bennet and Amanda, a modern girl, trade places in time, and wackiness ensues. I think you’d like it. Elliot Cowan is a dashing Darcy and Alex Kingston is BRILLIANT as Mrs. Bennet.

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