Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Jane Austen”

Author Spotlight: Austen’s Emma Dilemma

Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen’s Emma seems to be the novel most cinematized. Case in point, another Emma opened to theatres as the covoid shut them down. Just as we got our hopes up for an Austen on screen they were dashed—much like the promise of Frank Churchill arriving for a visit and then not showing up.

Ozge’s World meme
(oh that Frank—tsk)

The basics of Emma are Austen pointing out the class differences in Regency society along with following the exploits of a rich girl’s ennui as we wait for her character arc of improvement. In the mean time, the reader is entertained by a couple of intrigues by way of mistaken romances. The foundation of oh so many stories we see today.

What is problematic for the reader is deciding if Emma is likable as a character. There is no doubt Lizzie Bennet wins the Favored Austen Girl Award, but are we supposed to appreciate Emma as well? It’s doubtful. Even Jane Austen admitted to have created a character that only she would probably like.

Lizzie through the years

The novel starts out leaning towards the idea Emma is a privileged girl with the possibility of becoming or could possibility be a (ready for it?) snob:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

With that introduction, Emma could go either way: beloved of all or too good to believe. Austen indicates that Emma Woodhouse being pleasant, pretty, privileged has one obvious fault:

The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself…

And that’s where it gets interesting when it comes to interpreting Emma for the silver screen.

The faces of Emma through the cinematic lens

Gwyneth Paltrow leads out with her elegant, polished Emma in the 1996 version. This version applies a favored eye towards Emma who is presented as a charming young woman who struggles to emerge on the other side of being accomplished in the art of having “grown up.” The story fairly follows Austen’s novel. Emma is quite likable and the audience appreciates her struggles as she blunders her way through the office of being a beautiful rich daughter of a gentlemen.

Gwyenth Paltrow providing perfection

Also in 1996 is the lesser known version starring Kate Beckinsdale whose Emma is just tad snobbier than Gwenth’s version and her character arc is much less visible. This version seems to focus more on the class differences, with wide shots of servants and the poor which populate Highbury.

Kate Beckinsdale portrays a refined demure heroine

Then there is the leap to 2009 with Romali Garai appearing in a decidedly contemporary version. Although the four part series is quite lush and pretty with its costumes and setting, it lacks Regency decorum. The director’s intent was to create a hybrid Emma by dressing everyone up Regency style, yet acting as if they are in a modern rom-com. This Emma acts more like a teen debutante with her expressive eyes and outward manner, she is all dressed up but forgetting how to behave. She even allows Frank Churchill to rest his head on her lap during the Box Hill picnic. *Shocking*

Romali Garai romps as a Regency girl just wants to have fu-un

There is the Clueless version—a sort of the ‘90’s offering of taking a classic and setting it in high school as in Ten Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man. This is not a Regency Emma and kind of pays tribute to Austen’s Emma, but it’s not the book. Maybe not even the Sparknotes version.

Then there is the 2020 version. This was supposed to be the senior lit class outing as we had just wrapped up our Austen unit. Good thing I didn’t reserve the bus since school went into soft closure while the theatres went into shutter mode. I have been waiting to view this newest entry for ever so long. My anticipation turned into disappointment as the entire movie became too, too much. The colors, clothing, setting is that of Easter candy cloyingly overdone. The tone of the movie is snarky, with Emma coming off as a mean girl. And just when we think she isn’t quite human, she bleeds, quite literally, when faced with being really, truly in love.

Don’t cross Ana Taylor-Joy’s Emma

With all these Emmas to chose from it’s difficult to decide which best represents Austen’s ideal. Paltrow’s poised Regency princess?Beckinsdale’s aloof elite gentlemen’s daughter? Garai’s winsome, youthful rich girl? Taylor-Joy’s prickly fashion plate?

If Austen’s intent was to showcase the time period while gently mocking the societal hierarchy by inserting some well-placed humor, as we watch Emma’s character arc emerge I would say place Paltrow’s Emma with its range of characters, infuse with the gorgeous palette of Garai’s version and insert Beckinsdale’s pointed shots of the struggling lower classes. Not sure about Taylor-Joy’s contribution and I am Clueless about adaptions and where they fit in Austen remakes.

If you are an Austen Emma fan, what are your thoughts towards the Emma dilemma? What is she all about—favored princess, snob, airhead, snark—or somewhere in between?

Reading Challenge #33: Lizzie and the Doors of Doom and Delight

I recently finished yet another Jane Austen fan fiction entry: “Lost in Austen.” This is not to be confused with the witty series of the same title that featured a modern girl smitten with Darcy, who through wishful thinking, ends up trading places with Lizzie Bennett. I think Lizzie got the better deal, actually. I would rather reach for Advil than a leech any day when it comes to ridding a fever.

Modern meets Regency image:

The old “judging covers” applies here

Not familiar with choose your own adventure books? Weren’t you one of those 8-10 year olds who dove in those simple, yet exciting stories that allowed you to make a choice of your plotted path? I believe they are the only example I know of where the “you” second person point-of-view is actually used in writing.

Any of these titles sound familiar? image:

They take a bit of effort since the reader must make a decision which direction the story will go. “You come to two doors. If you choose the right one, turn to page 37. If you choose left, then proceed to page 18.” The reader either experiences a nasty turn of events, like being eaten by a hungry lion or can be rewarded, as in by being discovered to be a long lost son of the neighborhood millionaire and receiving an unexpected inheritance. A person could die and live several lifestyles over the course of a reading. I think the short story “The Lady or the Tiger?” is the foundational beginnings of these books.

As for Lost in Austen–mash up all of Jane’s books with the choose your adventure theme and you spend a day pursuing Darcy or ending up as the heroine in one of the other Austen tales of matrimony quest. Without giving away spoilers I will say this: be wary of that Caroline Bingley, especially when walking the grounds of Pemberley.

I applaud the creativity involved in the project, yet I needed at least three bookmarks while reading. One for the Darcy plotline, one for when I had to make my decision, and one for when I died (more than once) and had to go back to my decision point because I would then have to go find chocolate to soothe my disappointment before returning to where I made the wrong choice to begin once again.

I’m wondering–What other classics could become a Choose Your Own Adventure?

How about Alice? “You decide drinking tea with a table of lunatics is unwise, you stay on the path.”

Then there is Robison Crusoe. “You decide one footprint is one too many and immediately build a raft and take your chances upon the oceans towards home.”

Maybe Scrooge? “You feel uncharacteristically generous and contribute to the various charities. After a good night’s sleep you decide to provide stock options to your employees. You live a much happier life, although prove so wonderful you become boring in your philanthropist ways that you are passed over for a Dickens protagonist.

Whst classic adventure would you choose? What if Wendy shut the window after all and Peter found a willing Priscilla or Hortense to sew for the boys?

Jane Austen: Smart Reading

If you are here it’s because the Jane Austen in the title tweaked your interest, right? Well, beyond being one of THE best writers in the literary canonical group of authors listed in the universal TBR list, she is actually a teacher. Actually, Stanford neurobiologists and English professor Natalie Phillips picked her book Mansfield Park to determine a connection between critical reading and brain activation patterns. (source: Luminosity)

Cover of "Mansfield Park (1999)"

Cover of Mansfield Park (1999)

The procedure went like this: an MRI scanned the brains of 18 participants as they read MP. These weren’t ordinary students, no struggling juniors or seniors assigned Janey as an honors read; no, these were PhD candidates. The reason being the researchers wanted to make sure close reading, the reading for analysis, was properly done. Going for a doctorate would probably ensure smarter reading practices. Participants read for “fun,” that is, casually read and then they were asked to close read.

Results: critical reading increased bloodflow throughout the brain, especially to the prefrontal cortex, which is considered to be the center of thoughts and actions and our social behavior.

Implications: close reading, the method of critically studying a text, indicates a connection between shaping and shifting cognition

My Understanding: Sheesh! I’ve been doing this for years. “Hey kids, read this and let’s figure out what it means.” Oh yea, this is what Common Core State Standards is all about–we give students higher level reading material and ask them to think about what they are reading. Like I said *I’ve been doing this for years*.

Okay, do I get my honorary PhD now?

Dear Mr. Knightley

While the title sounds like yet another Jane Austen spin-off, Dear Mr Knightley, is actually an updated version of the classic epistolary coming-of-age novel, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. Debut author, Katherine Reay, openly has the character borrowing both from Austen and Webster, which is either annoying or endearing. It’s the reader’s choice.  And that’s what the storyline becomes: annoying at times, yet also endearing at other times. It’s annoying to continually have Austen and company quotes tossed about throughout the storyline, yet, on the other hand, it’s also endearing to have a character who relies on literature as a means of survival. One of the stumbling blocks in determining audience appeal is pinpointing whether this is a YA novel or not. Although the protagonist is in her twenties, her lack of confidence and bevvy of relationship problems produce a character voice of someone closer to high school age. As for the storyline itself, there is intrigue and momentum as the plot eventually reveals the identity of Mr. Knightley.



Young protagonist Samantha Moore, has bounced in and out of foster care when younger, but life becomes better when she becomes a recipient of a foundation grant allowing her to enroll in a prestigious journalism program. One of the stipulations is keeping her mysterious benefactor, Mr Knightley, apprised of her academic progress. Straight up missives about tough professors would be boring, of course. Instead, through her correspondence with Mr Knightley, we learn all about Sam–her inability to have meaningful relationships, her doubts, her fears, her failings, her victories, and finally her accomplishments.
While the  beginning is a bit rough, the middle makes up for it. But the ending–though fitting for the plot direction, is a bit unrealistic. Then again, happy endings are one reason we select escape reading. And it is easy to escape into Dear Mr. Knightley–who wouldn’t want a mysterious benefactor, one who listens silently and produces a magic wand at the right moment to make life a bit easier?
Fans of Austen and other classics will relish the quotes liberally decorating the story throughout. And those who want a light romance with a hint of mystery will appreciate the story as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was provided, by BookSneeze®, in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

Wives and Daughters

One of the final pages from the manuscript for...

One of the final pages from the manuscript for Wives and Daughters (The Works of Mrs. Gaskell, Knutsford Edition) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever eagerly brought a movie home only to discover you’ve watched it before?

When that happens I either slip it out and chastise myself for my negligent memory or shrug and go for it anyway.  Such was the case with BBC’s production of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters.


Lovely.  I watched the whole thing in one sitting.  I would not do well with the weekly installment watch plan anymore.  I tend to eat all my Haagen-Daaz in one sitting too.

As for Wives and Daughters I think Gaskell should have actually named the series, The Doctor’s Daughter because it all centered on Molly, who was the doctor’s daughter.  I didn’t see much about wives and only a couple of daughters were the focus.  Maybe I will have to read the book.  And right now I am trying to do so.  It’s not working.

One problem I am finding out with watching really wonderful BBC adaptations is that they quench my desire to dig into the book.  I really should stick to my book first policy.


If you should hunger after a character driven historical plot that is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s complicated romance plots, then do look up Gaskell and her Wives and Daughters–watching or reading it is too personal of a decision for me to actually recommend. Umm-I did really like, really like the BBC more than I have Gaskell’s flowery writing.  But don’t let me influence you.

Gently Persuaded

Raise your hand if you prefer Pride and Prejudice.

All right, now raise your hand for Emma.

How about Sense and Sensibility?

Mansfield Park? Okay.

Northhanger Abbey? Just asking.

And the rest of you? It’s got to be for Persuasion–right?

Well, Jane only wrote six novels; it’s got to be for one of them.

Hmm, I shall gently try to persuade you to cast your Austen vote for Persuasion.

Reason 1:

  • Pride and Prejudice gets much too much attention.  Jane has six literary children and P&P will become unbearably too spoiled with so much fuss. Look at all the celebratory brouhaha over the publishing of the novel! Goodness…

Reason 2:

  • Anne and Frederick don’t have to go through that messy “love me, love me not” business found in JA’s other plots; they already love each other.  Getting to the point where they re-realize it makes it so much more satisfying than the on/off dilemma.

Reason 3:

  • Persuasion has THE best love letter.  Here is a partial:

“I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.” 

Who could not met upon receiving this as an encouragement?

Reason 4:

  • Anne and Frederick are older and have been knocked around a bit in life and more truly represent the reality that love’s course is not perfect. In other words: their love is more relatable than the fairy-talish idea of sitting around and waiting for Mr or Ms Right to pop along when least expected (okay–Emma had a bit of that going on).

Reason 5:

  • the 1995 version with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root captures well the complicated tango of emotions these two separated lovers endure as they find their way back into each other’s hearts and arms.  Amanda Root’s transformation from wilted and worn down spinister-in-the-making to resolute refreshed woman is transfixing.

True love lingers and is not forgotten

So, five amazing reasons why Persuasion should become THE Jane Austen first mentioned in her stable of renowned novels.

Have I persuaded you?

English: Persuasion(ch. 9) Jane Austen: In ano...

English: Persuasion(ch. 9) Jane Austen: In another moment … someone was taking him from her. Français : Persuasion(ch. 9) Frederick libère Anne de son jeune neveu, qui l’étouffe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

Egads, Those Cads of Literature

You know who they are.  Those bad boys who jilt the girl, cheat the honest friend, and play havoc with the plot.  They are the cads of literature.  Having finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion I have added Mr. Elliot to the list.  His subterfuge was most deplorable.  Then again, I do adore how she swiftly cast him aside for someone much more worthy of her devotion.  My favorite heroines have done just that–put those cads in their place.  Since I am on a Jane Austen revisiting read here are some cads that live in her books:

Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park)–I detected cad from the very start

Frank Churchill (Emma)–what a naughty game you played with so many hearts

Oh, Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility)–we wanted so much to like you

Elliot (Persuasion)–did you really think you could turn Anne’s head or her heart away from Wentworth?

Tsk tsk, Wickham (Pride and Prejudice)–your charm could not cover your secret faults


As to Northhanger Abbey, I haven’t decided who the cad truly is.  It’s up on my list to review.  As to other literary cads–any nominees?  Rhett Butler comes to mind, but then was he a cad or simply a foil for Scarlett?

Happy reading!

English: Engraving of Steventon rectory, home ...

English: Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen’s lifetime (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane’s First Novel Makes Much Sense

Mention Jane Austen and people go “Pride and Prejudice.“Why don’t they go, “Sense and Sensibility?”  It was, after all, her first novel, and it has much going for it.  Okay, okay, Edward isn’t exactly Darcy, but all the other elements are there:

  • close sisters (Marianne and Elinor meet Elizabeth and Jane)
  • an annoying mother (not Mrs Dashwood–Mrs Jennings)
  • an insufferable matriarch (boo Mrs Ferrars)
  • mixed up romances (just hang in there, Marianne/Elinor/Lizzie/Jane)
  • a charming cad (yo whazzup, Willoughby–yah, itz good, Wickham)
  • wealth (30,000 a year!)
  • poverty (250 a year!)
  • sex without marriage (tsk tsk Kitty, poor Eliza)
  • catty women (meow Fanny)
  • happy endings after waiting and waiting for things to get sorted out

English: "I saw him cut it off" - Ma...

English: “I saw him cut it off” – Margaret tells Elinor that she saw Willoughby cut a lock of Marianne’s hair off. Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London: George Allen, 1899. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why doesn’t Sense and Sensibility make the connection with JA word association?  It might be because we relate to “pride” and “prejudice” more than we do “sense” and “sensibility.”  What the snuffbox is “sensibility” anyhow?

According to the old Wikipedster it relates to sentimentality or the emotional response, which JA wasn’t too keen on, and hoped her novel would point out the need to have rationalism rather than emotionalism. I think we moderns can respond and relate to the emotional response idea but we don’t necessarily live there.  Instead I think we counter react by not not reacting and create characters known for not having emotions, like House or  siccing out zombies as a means of coping with sensory overload.  Hysterics are in vogue right now it seems; on the other hand we do recognize everybody or every creature isn’t all bad. Maybe that’s why monsters these days have feelings.  Unlike the original Barnabas Collins modern vampires twinkle or is that sparkle? Perhaps that explains the odd coupling of monsters with Regency mavens such as Elizabeth and Elinor. Could it be Regency meets Modernism?  An odd ying yang match? Give me the old-fashioned classic sans monsters, please.

Another theory about the second novel surpassing the first is Jane’s choice of title. I’ve been trying them out:

1. Practical and Passion–still has that alliteration and ideology
2. Sedate and Sensitive–nope, sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit
3. Reason and Raison d’être–or is that the same thing?
4. Sensible and Silly–that’s being rather harsh on Marianne, I suppose
5. No-nonsense and Neurotic–maybe too modern

Pride and Prejudice is definitely a great read, after all it’s a classic; personally I believe it makes for better films than a novel.  Of all the JA novels I’ve been revisiting, Sense and Sensibility is the only one I’ve snuck to school in hopes of reading on my lunch break (two pages before students found me).  Maybe it’s because I “watched” while I read since I had just come off a three film S&S film fest (1981, 1995, 2008) and had each major scene indelibly imprinted in my mind as I scoured the chapters comparing and assessing the plot.

So far in my rediscovering reading of JA Sense and Sensibility leads.  I’m off to reread Persuasion. I’ll let you know the score after I turn the last page.

REad ThiS                                                                                                   NOT ThiS


  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

    image: Barnes and Noble


Literary Library Love Posts

Oh my I love libraries.  Even when I am on vacation I go visit the library.  Some people hit the shops, others browse the galleries, most play, but I go check out the library.  I am so fortunate to have the library that I do.  Have I mentioned this before?

  • image from

I am not the only one who has a real life love affair with libraries.  I know some great characters who love their libraries as well.  I came across this love letter to a library the other day:

The library was a little old shabby place.  Francie thought it was beautiful.  The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church.  She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.
                                             –beginning of chapter two from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Francie Nolan loved libraries.  The librarian wasn’t the greatest, but Francie persevered her weekly visits because  Francie had long ago dedicated every Saturday as her library day in order to work her way through all the collection, even though she usually ended up reading the same book.

What an amazing undertaking!  To walk into the local library and take down a book, read it, and move on to the next one until all is read.  A lifetime of literary adventure.

There are other literary library mentions.  For instance, Elizabeth Bennett comments about Mr. Bingely’s library, how fine she hears it is, and then he sheepishly admits he doesn’t read much, being he would rather be outside.  Lizzie’s father, Mr. Bennett, is well-known for hiding in his library.  They sadly are the only Bennetts who bothered with books. In fact, most of Austen’s books have a mention of libraries.  Emma’s father usually hid out in his library, avoiding the world. I’m pretty sure JA would be registered on my Book Boosters page had WordPress been around in her day.

What about you?  What aspects of the library do you love?

  • Is it the sheer volume of knowledge available at your fingertips?
  • What about the amazing amount of FREE reading waiting to jump into your book bag?
  • Are there special librarians or staff who make you feel welcome? (I think Francie’s librarian was an anomaly–all the librarians I have known have been absolutely wonderful)
  • Does the library have a special place where you sit and read or work?

I’m also interested if you have come across libraries mentioned in the books you have read or are reading.

Happy Pages!

Jane Eyrror

Disclaimer: my commentary (not to be confused with a diatribe) is by in no means a diss upon those authors who have achieved success in their ability to appease the hunger of a ready populace for further forays of their favorite literary characters. I applaud publication success, even though I may not applaud the content.

The Janes of my reading life have left me wanting.  Wanting more that is.  Having read through Jane Austen and desiring more of Jane Eyre, I have continued to found solace in the many continuations that are currently available.

As we all know, there truly is no satisfying replacement for the original.  However, when you crave a Godiva and only Hershey, sometimes you are willing to settle for less when the best is no longer available.  In my Search for More Jane (not a book title, but wouldn’t it be a fun one?) I have scoured my GoodReads lists to find plausible reads.  I attempted several titles and grew weary in my searches for a true Elizabeth and company.  Only JA knew Elizabeth best. Besieged by the plethora of Pride and Prejudice knock-offs, I have turned to other novels of classic inspiration.  Jane Eyre is one such hopeful.

I dutifully read Wide Saragossa Sea since it ranked a place on the AP Suggested Reading List. Touted as the prequel to Jane Eyre and hailed as a classic, I braved through the novel ever hopeful it would answer those nagging questions of how Edward Rochester became smitten and taken in by Bertha.  The novel turned out to be more of a stand alone than a companion read.

I then chanced upon Death of a Schoolgirl  by Joanna Campbell Slan at my local library on the new releases shelf.  Seeing it featured Jane Eyre in her married state of Mrs. Rochester I quickly plunked it into by book bag.  Overall, I enjoyed this as a weekend read with its premise that Jane’s curiosity and tenacity makes her a rival to Miss Marple in sleuthing skills. A fun read, granted, it offered only a shadow in terms of the depth of Jane.



I then remembered reading a book review about a contemporary version of Jane Eyre.  Setting the intrepid ET upon the search, she found Jane by April Linder. I too checked it out.  Here is the catalog summary:

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

Book Jacket for: Jane


I read it anyway.

No, Jane had not been what I had originally been looking for, and fortunately I found the lost review buried under my get-to-it-someday stack.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy, proved a much better replacement crave read and definitely proved the glowing review it received.


Set in Iceland and Scotland in the fifties and sixties, Gemma Hardy’s life parallels that of Jane Eyre’s in travail and hardships.  Gemma is a young woman who becomes an au pair for the precocious niece of a Mr.Sinclair, who infrequently visits his Scottish home.  Gemma’s journey and subsequent flight adequately pays tribute to that of Jane Eyre’s, yet manages to be a distinctive and well-written plot twist of its own merit.  I reluctantly finished Livesey tribute novel, quite satisfied with having found a glimpse of Jane through Gemma.  I am looking forward to discovering her other works.

Sometimes the best way to find a continuation of a familiar voice is to discover a new acquaintance.

Conclusion: There is real no “eyrror” in finding replacement reads for Jane; it’s only a matter of discernment.


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