Please vote for Pride & Prejudice — The Great American Read on PBS.

Via JASNA, the Great American Read, a new feature on PBS television, is doing an online poll of favorite books, and reminding folks to please vote for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

Here is the link/URL —

http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/home/

 

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Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This book was recommended to me by a couple of Austen-reading/Janeite colleagues at work.  Mentioned it to a friend, and she gifted it me for my birthday. Have to say this modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice (P&P), was not my cup of tea. To be fair, in general think these modern retellings are difficult for all authors to tackle. Austen loving readers and/or Janeites (myself included), tend to be pretty devoted and fierce in their opinions and feelings about Austen’s characters. Tackling Elizabeth Bennet is quite a challenge. So here is the thing: really didn’t care for this particular updated version of Elizabeth Bennet aka “Liz” quite that much.

This narrative does move along quickly. The book is divided into three (3) sections with very short chapters, some as long as just a single paragraph. Ok spoilers follow.

Set in the modern day United States which still retains a class system and material elite, which the author eludes to on many levels — Jane and Liz Bennet have decamped from the family home in the Midwest, Cincinnati, Ohio to New York City. Jane is a yoga instructor, who clock-ticking, has decided to try to have a baby on her own via artificial insemination, etc. Liz is a former magazine fact checker/editor turned feature/writer at a fictional magazine called Mascara which tends to recall the departed magazine, Mademoiselle which was never as highbrow as Vogue and never quite as lowbrow as Cosmo (feel like Cosmo was alluded to but not named in the text must have been the legal dept.), but Mademoiselle had some literary roots and published a lot of high end short stories and employed certain well known authors, including the likes of Sylvia Plath.

Due to the heart attack of their father, the elder Bennet sisters rush home to Ohio. The family home, “the Tudor” aka Longbourn is still the residence of the three (3) younger Bennet sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Mary a recluse, is a perpetual online student, and Kitty and Lydia don’t work but keep themselves busy with a fitness regime Crossfit. To note, they are depicted as rather rudderless individuals of a certain generation, and my favorite lines involve the Liz character asking Lydia for some stationary to write a belated thank you note, and to paraphrase Lydia answering that she has none/what would she thank anyone for, etc. Nice depiction of generation gap lapse of civility here.

The house is in a bad state, as most older houses always need repairs, plus it has been very much neglected and it is a borderline hoarding zone — due to Mrs. Bennet’s addiction to mail order/catalog shopping. Liz soon learns her folks did not have health insurance, so there is a large medical bill for the heart attack care — a wake up call to the mounting financial family crisis.

To note, Liz also becomes the confidant for everyone in her circle certain at times, which bothered me/struck me more in line with Elinor Dashwood of Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility.

Via a backyard cookout, the elder Bennets meet Chip Bingley an eligible doctor and former reality TV show contestant, apparently infamous for his on-air crying spells. Chip and Jane immediately soul mate hit it off — while Liz has a rude meet cute with Chip’s handsome, surgeon friend Darcy (mansplains much later that he was just saving a seat/requested by his host/perhaps he just should have simply said so to her in the first place — but then we would not have had that bad “First Impression” slash P&P tie-in).

Why the two (2) handsome and wealthy docs have set up shop in a small hospital in Cincinnati is a question, that is never properly answered. Thinking the Cleveland Clinic, well know for heart research/procedures would have been a better choice for the setting, but fiction here, suspending reality etc.  Although not really true to Austen’s spirit, who to her own credit and acknowledge, worked in a very small geographic circle. Liz takes lead in trying to reign in the family chaos, she has her father set up a payment plan for the medical bills, takes steps to clean up the house, and retains a real estate agent all on the down-low from her volatile mother and younger sisters. In the mean time, Jane confirms that she is pregnant not via Chip but from previous baby making efforts, but before she can fully disclose to Chip, he finds out/freaks out and duly decamps for a reality TV reunion show.

The Wickham character here is Jasper Wick — a cutie Liz met at that first NYC gig fact-checking and who kept her in the friend zone forever, but they are now in a bizarre relationship, he being still married/in an open marriage arrangement until his wife inherits money. The jig is up though when he visits Cincinnati for an article, and a night of reunion romance goes very south and Liz gets him to admit that he is sleeping with a young chickie, and finally realizes it is time to cut him lose.

Somewhat tangentially during all this — Liz and Darcy start running into each other almost literally, first at local/beloved chili place and then on evening runs/jogs. Personally don’t think what Liz and her friend Charlotte call ST/sexual tension, really materializes. Their relationship, it’s more like a transaction for a hook up that turns into a routine. What Liz deems “hate sex” and I’m using a euphemism here in the paraphrasing — bedroom buddies w/out the buddies. The sex scenes are compact/perfunctory. And okay, this Liz is a modern woman who wants a physical release/outlet which she initiates, which I don’t default especially since she is in rebound mode post Jasper Wick — but seriously Darcy here is the one from the onset, asking for clarification, i.e. they are only/just friends with (physical) benefits?

And the choice for Darcy as a surgeon I do think was smart. Surgeons in my experience don’t tend to be chatty folks — career choice lines up with Austen’s classic Darcy man/of few words.

However, the whole Jasper/Darcy storyline over Jasper’s being booted out of Stanford fell flat for me — don’t think it really added much to the narrative, tension or otherwise. Again I presume, the author is trying to insert issues about racial intolerance here, but felt this wasn’t really skillfully executed and to me it read more contrived or a device that really didn’t weave well into the larger plot. Clearly, Liz already thought Darcy was a hug snob, she told him so — many times and in many ways, even while backpedaling about how she loves OH but lives in NYC, while sleeping with him, and actively pursuing that bedroom buddies relationship, or “hate sex.” While feelings can be intense, and for better or worse, can be turned around — really felt like something was off and/or missing here with these two in this depicted relationship via her actions.

The declaration scene of Darcy happens when Liz is about to leave Cincinnati for Texas for a work interview — after a long shift Darcy shows up at the door, saying he loves her/cannot stop thinking about her, and despite all his reservations, they must admit that are more than just an ongoing hookup. It’s messy but not a good spin of messy. Liz spitefully answers back, Darcy withdraws saying he thought she would appreciate candor, then Liz ruefully mulls it all over as she interviews a feminist icon Katherine deBourgh — a seemingly Gloria Steinham inspired character w/ no relation to Darcy in this version of P&P.

Then Liz is called to California by friend Charlotte who has taken up with the “Collins” of this P&P aka step cousin Willie, a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire, that Mrs. Bennet was trying to match make with Liz to bail out the family debt & failed terribly. Liz goes into supportive friend mode for Char but via her online Nancy Drew, they go to check out the vast Pemberley Estate in Northern California, bumping into Darcy and his sister Georgiana. The Liz/Darcy reunion/working this all out — ensues but goes awry again. Liz returns to NYC and finally hears from Darcy — setting in motion the reunion of Chip and pregnant Jane–which rapid descends into awful “Reality TV Wedding,” that everyone inexplicably signs on for including Darcy.

The Lydia subplot involves her boyfriend/founder of the Crossfit gym being transgender which I felt was sort of a forced crisis and not well executed. Seems the author here is relying heavily on fly over, hard core stereotypes of folks that are narrow and must be coddled and/or pounded into acceptance of dealing with modern cultural differences, etc. It’s true elderly folks do have issues with change but could have been handled/depicted with a little more finesse. Adding on Kitty’s falling for their real estate agent, who is African-American, was two hits of progression to the alluded to bias and established prejudice of this version of Mrs. Bennet and the stoic Mr. Bennet. Darcy though apparently behind the scene, repairs the Lydia rift by giving the Bennets a faux explanation of a “birth defect” which really isn’t all that acceptable, especially for a medical professional. But okay hey again, it’s fiction, although personally don’t think this [plot line] is going to age well. Handling also of the Caroline Bingley v. Liz tension also was stereotypical and awful. Two (2) women lobbing insults at each other, while competing for a guy directly or indirectly, just not something I am a fan of in life or in fiction.

The reality TV show is well depicted as awful as expected — complete with the reality show producers trying to set up/stage a show down/blow out between Caroline and Liz. But Liz is too savvy even when drunk to bite/take the bait. Eventually, Darcy and Liz switch off their microphones, declare their love and clear up all the misunderstandings. There are a few short chapters afterward to wrap everything else up, ending oddly with Mary, teased throughout the book by Lydia and Kitty, as a closet lesbian, which seems to be foggily resolved as her being either bisexual/asexual but clearly a dedicated bowling team member, and I’m not sure why this all was really part of the narrative/ending at all Again sort of like a tempest in a teapot cliche — especially with some of the other story lines that played out.

Disappointed, if ABC/or someone else adapts it/for television or film, hope they will heavily reedit/rework certain plot lines.

Book Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud.

Actually won this book via Austenesquereviews(dot)com — which features: “Reviews of Jane Austen Sequels, Para-literature and Fan Fiction.” This book falls I think between the last two (2) categories — it’s sort of a modern day bodice ripper (bodice switched out for leather pants) slash erotica. Technically, there were some issues with typos and editing and I agree with other folks that posted on Goodreads, some of the narrative could have been compressed and/or cut as far as page length.

The premise is to use a musical term, a “riff” off of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — although think if you could switch out and lose the canon of Austen character names (perhaps just keep one for a shout out), this book could stand alone and/or might then have more appeal to certain readers, because then you aren’t doing a Austen comparison, since it’s difficult for many traditional Jane Austen fans or Janeites, as I’ve said before, myself included; to let go of their feelings for Austen’s original characters. Spoilers follow.

To start out, a very successful rock trio Slurry: made up of Darcy, Bingley and Richard (Darcy’s cousin), all men of wealth and privilege (money, educated), but not without their own modern day tragedies (loss of parents, cancer, addiction), have lost their opening act for a national concert tour. The original group included Darcy and Richard’s childhood friend George Wickham — who pushed them to take this musical effort from a creative outlet into something more mainstream.  Eventually they broke through with commercial success, but not before some scandal, and replacing Wickham with California boy Bingley.

So the guys from Slurry go out incognito to see a local/regional New York band called Long Borne Suffering/LBS (this was clever). Not keen to sign up just anyone via CD/pre-recorded tracks they trek out to hear them live. Each of the trio, Darcy (Lead singer/guitar), Bingley (bass) and Richard (drums) are charmed and enamored by the members of LBS: Jane Bennet the singer/bassist (Bingley), her sister Elizabeth Bennet guitar/also sings (Darcy), and their friend Charlotte on drums (Richard).

Soon LBS joins Slurry on tour and we get a glimpse of the drudge and heavy lifting it takes to set up, schedule, break down, and run a national concert tour. Which I have to say is very well done. Grind of traveling via tour buses, harsh scheduling, meet and greets, while losing track of days and looking forward to hotel beds, regular showers — all very well depicted.

To note, especially in 2018 in the age of the #MeToo movement, there is a noted presence/narrative here of sexual harassment in the music industry — the author includes here in a subplot which is handled well, as it is pretty common in the music industry, and gives some insight again into Darcy’s character and integrity.

Darcy is not just a lead/singer musician, first really he is the CEO of Slurry, and also retains control of his dad’s company. He takes the business responsibilities and the lives of all the people in his employment very seriously which is pretty puzzling to Elizabeth to both the discover or grasp. Darcy has a very public bad boy image — we later learn this is really part marketing strategy and part diversion tactic for his friend Bingley as crisis ensued with his father just as he joined the group, and Slurry was becoming nationally/commercially successful.

Darcy as a mass of contradictions to Elizabeth is very well depicted, and in general the idea of Darcy as a rockstar combination CEO is pretty fun. Think it worked on several levels but did not go far enough in others. This Darcy like the original is also the guardian of his younger sister, “Georgie” short for Georgiana we eventually learn was molested by Wickham during their first tour which Darcy continually berates/blames himself and keeps more than a close watch on his little sister — so a modern day updating of Wickham to a pedophile/predator was also very appropriate (because in the original book, Lydia was 15, but folks did marry back then it was pretty common/standard practice).

We follow three (3) romances here:  two (2) of the others take off really before/during/after — Elizabeth even starts to find herself torn between being attracted to Darcy and generally disliking him.  While on tour with these two (2) other couples hooking up, sort of pushes the tension even further between Darcy and Elizabeth. As in the original, Elizabeth never is quite sure where she stands with Darcy.

The author juggles a lot here. Between chapters and sections, the author goes back and forth between the point of view of the different characters. Think it’s helpful when we get Darcy’s point of view to see how he feels about Elizabeth, his own growing attraction to her, how he views her a musician/peer, and his uncertainty about trying to approach her as a potential lover. We also get the insights of some minor/supporting characters which are a little bit spotty and hit or miss at times.

Again, it works with the theme set in the music industry, that there is a larger world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The drugs are a darker element here, as Richard, Darcy’s cousin and their drummer has had struggles to overcome addiction/maintain his sobriety from drugs/alcohol and during this tour, trying to avoid falling in love with Charlotte he overcompensates with groupies and goes back into treatment during the tour break for sex addiction slash the rest of his addictions.

There is a fair amount of sex/erotica in this book and it is quite woman positive, with the major, lead male characters all very connected in being both emotionally and physically intimate.  They seemed determined if not dedicated, to meeting the physical and emotional needs of their female partners, which I find rare outside of genre/fan fiction. Also the idea of having physical relations connected to the intimacy and the emotional relationship you have with your partner — was very well depicted here — and for a twist, it was Darcy calling out Elizabeth on it. And my favorite quote from the book is also from Darcy, discussing the significance of his tattoo and studying classical literature: “I didn’t study it for my career; I studied it for my soul.”  Yes quite swoon-worthy — very nice update, version of the Darcy character.

This version of Elizabeth Bennet though, well I wanted to like her. Like the original she missed many signs and signals, and there were many misunderstandings, but in general but wasn’t really sure about her uncertainty and misgivings sometimes. Generally, think there is where the narrative fell and was a bit weak, and again perhaps some editing would have helped the story and the character development.  Overall, it is a fun read, especially I think if you grew up in the era of MTV, music videos, and VH1’s documentary and biography program:  “Behind the Music.”

Letter to Cassandra, Saturday One November 1800–two Naval brothers, the “Petvals,” and a ball with a “Scarcity of Men.”

Austen is writing to her older sister Cassandra, away again visiting their brother’s household in Godmersham Park in Kent, from their home in Steventon.  This letter is full of news: including updates concerning their naval and seafaring brothers Frank and Charles, discussions of clothing and household purchases, a neighborhood ball Austen attended, plus other local news.

“You have written I am sure, tho’ I have received no letter from you since your leaving London;–the Post, & not yourself must have been unpunctual.”  Later on we learn, there a cross between the sisters letters along with a literary bit of Austen’s wicked wit: “Your letter is come; it came indeed twelve lines ago, but I could not stop to acknowledge it before, & I am glad it did not arrive till I had completed my first sentence, because the sentence had been made ever since yesterday, & I think forms a very good beginning.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Before acknowledging the arrival of Cassandra’s letter Austen had delved first into news of naval brother Frank: “We have at last heard from Frank; a letter from him to You came yesterday, & I mean to send it on as soon as I can get a ditto, (that  means a frank,) which I hope to do in a day or two.”   (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Not really sure what Austen means by a “ditto” if she means her own letter from brother Frank or some sort of word from Frank to forward the letter, obviously this is understood by the two sisters as Austen continues the update on their brother Frank with specific naval maneuvers: “En attendant, You must rest satisfied with a knowing that on the 8th of July the Petterell with the rest of the Egyptian Squadron was off the Isle of Cyprus, whither they went from Jaffa for Provisions, & c., & whence they were sail in a day or two for Alexandria, there to wait the result of the English proposals for the Evacuation of Egypt.  The rest of the letter, according to the present fashionable stile of Composition, is cheifly Descriptive; of his Promotion he knows nothing & of Prizes he is guiltless.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

To note, I did only a quick online search for the Petterell the ship, but I could not locate its historical record, so I’m presuming it was a British gunship or frigate of some kind due to the time period. But the name of the ship particularly intrigues me, in similarity to: “The Petvals” — or “Mother Carey’s Chickens” — Citing/paraphrasing: Barbara Walker here: “Mother Carey, Sea Goddess, per lore English Sailors.  Mother Cara (Latin) and literally: Beloved Mother.  Her “soul-birds” called Mother Carey’s Chickens or The Petvals.  Per the French, “Birds of our lady,” and later associated with St. Peter, i.e. with the name “Little Peters.”

After the Frank update, Jane Austen dives into wardrobe matter discussions apparently answering some of Cassandra’s opinions on either ordering or altering their clothes: “Your abuse of our Gowns amuses, but does discourage me; I shall take mine to be made up next week, & the more I look at it, the better it pleases me.–”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Apparently, Cassandra was responsible for sending home certain items of clothing and glassware for the household and Austen is both confirming their arrival and everyone’s thoughts and opinions on them.  First, Austen seems very impressed with a cloak trimmed with lace her older sister selected and sent home to Steventon: “My Cloak came on tuesday & tho’ I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me.–It is too handsome to be worn, almost too handsome to be looked at.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

However, Austen seems to be gently breaking the news that Cassandra’s purchase of glassware for their house at Steventon was not as much as a success with their mother Mrs. Austen:  “The Glass is all safely arrived also, & gives great satisfaction.  The wine glasses are much smaller than I expected, but I suppose it is the proper size.–We find no fault with your manner of performing any of our commissions, but if you like to think yourself remiss in any of them, pray do.–My Mother was rather vexed that you could not go to Pennington’s, but she has since written to him, which does just as well.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Not sure, but it seems Cassandra did not go to a specific store or merchant that Mrs. Austen preferred, and Austen gives her older sister another sibling update: “Mary is disappointed about her Locket, & of course delighted about the Mangle which is safe at  Basingstoke.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Sort of like eavesdropping here, apparently something happened to Mary’s locket either it was lost or broken, but the mangle (an accessory to help wring out laundry) was either found or accessible at Basingstoke.  Austen doesn’t offer further details and this is a private exchange between the sisters, that obviously understand the unsaid details.

The neighborhood ball is the next topic of news Austen conveys to her sister, including her options for invitations, among other details: “I dined and slept at Deane.–Charlotte & I did my hair, which I fancy looked very indifferent; nobody abuse it however, & I retired delighted with my success.–It was a pleasant Ball, & still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people, & sometimes we had 17 couple.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

And this next part of Austen’s letter, make me think of Pride and Prejudice:  “There was a scarcity of Men in general, & still a greater scarcity of any that were good for much.–I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute & James Digweed & four with Catherine.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Not sure about that last name of a partner being “Catherine” as a surname for a male person, I am not familiar with Regency dance enough to elaborate, but generally I thought they were all male to female and females never danced together, but I could be wrong, and I will look into it.

“There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.–I heard no news, except that Mr. Peters, who was not there, is supposed to be particularly attentive to Miss Lyford.–You were enquired after very prettily, & I hope the whole assembly now understands that you are gone into Kent, which the families in general seemed to meet in ignorance of.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Again, this seems to be a private exchange or reference, between the two sisters regarding Cassandra’s often traveling to Kent.

Austen passes along a bit more about the ball, including who she chatted with; ” I said civil things for Edward to Mr. Chute, who simply returned them by declaring that had he known of my brother’s being at Steventon he should have made a point on calling on him to thank him for his civility about the Hunt.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

From there, Austen delves right back into the second of their naval brothers, “I have heard from Charles, & am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished;–one sett will go next week.–The Endymion is now waiting only for orders, but may wait for them perhaps a month.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Also includes a short bit about Charles had attempted a quick visit possibly to Chawton to see Edward but it did not work out: “Charles had actually set out & got half the way thither in order to spend one day with Edward, but turned back on discovering the distance to be considerably more than he had fancied, & finding himself & his horse to be very much tired.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Austen proceedings with a long paragraph filled with news and updates, closing with a little bit of extra fondness toward her nephew Edward’s son: “Love to all.–I am glad George remembers me.”  Before actually closing with two postscripts, the first with the owning up of a younger sister apparently have borrowed some of the older’s clothing: “I wore at the Ball your favourite gown, a bit of muslim of the same round my head, border’d with Mrs. Cooper’s band–& one little Comb.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Apparently, Austen forgot to mention this when she gave Cassandra the ball update earlier and per the notes, Mrs. Cooper was their aunt, Mrs. Austen’s sister.

The second postscript–also refers back to the second seafaring brother Charles and again crossing letters: “I am very unhappy.–In re-reading your letter I find I might have spared any Intelligence of Charles.–To have written only what you knew before!–You may guess how much I feel.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Notes/cites to: 1) Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFay, Oxford University Press, 2011 & 2) A Companion to Jane Austen, by Claudia L. Johnson, 2011, via Google Books, and 3) Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Digression: “And So It Goes” by Linda Ellerbee.

Recently I finished this memoir, found it interesting, it was set mostly post-Watergate into the 1980’s.  This is the first of her memoirs, Linda Ellerbee has apparently written two (2) other books now look forward to reading.  Remember her most recently from the kids news show “Nick News” on Nickelodeon.  More faintly as a kid growing up, but mostly remember her voice.  If you need reminding what she sounds like, she is the narrator doing the voice over at the beginning of the film “Baby Boom” with Diane Keaton — describing the modern, working women of Wall Street in New York City — women of a certain time and age.

In, “And So It Goes,” Ellerbee has a lot of stories about starting out, learning basic journalism on the fly at a small radio station, the jump to television, the politics of working in network news, traveling and also the grind of working as a White House Press Correspondent.

Ellerbee has her own type of “wicked wit,” and even mentions loving both these television shows:  “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Murphy Brown” and she had a cameo on the latter.  We all swooned watching that episode of “Murphy Brown.”  In college, we binged watched it before it was trendy, calling it “Murphyfest.”

And think she is a bit of a Janeite due to this sentence and nod to the first line of Pride and Prejudice —  about one of the major overnight news programs she anchored–NBC’s “Overnight” in response to CNN’s 24 hour news launch: “After the first program, we held a few truths to be self-evident, if slow to sink in.”*

*Cite from: “And So It Goes” Adventures in Television by Linda Ellerbee, Berkley (paperback) edition 1987.