Austen Adventures: Final Thoughts

Final
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

So, this is it, the last Austen Adventures. I will let this one speak for itself! If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or contact myself or Mathuri on Twitter (@jess_groom and @mathurimaya respectively).

Do you believe “true love” means loving only one person in a lifetime?

Jessica: If you take the idea of “true love” being romantic love, then ideally it would only be one person. However as many of you probably know, life does not work out that way all the time. So, no I do not believe that it is loving only one person in a lifetime, particularly when you consider other forms of love. While this is not Austen-related, one of my favourite shows (Once Upon a Time) takes an interesting perspective on “true love.” Without spoiling too much, one featured “true love” relationship is between a mother and her child. Honestly, I think that “true love” is simply when you love the right person in that period of your life.

Mathuri: Don’t hate me Austen fans but I don’t think I believe in “true love” at all (at least from the romantic standpoint, which is what I believe this question is referring too). As much as I love any fictional romance story, when it comes to real life I can’t see it at all. I know that some couples are more successful than others, and some partners balance each other out, but I don’t believe it should or even has to. People change, life is tough, and it’s perfectly okay to go have multiple partners (that you love) throughout your lifetime.

On a side note, I think a lot has to do with society changing and developing. In Austen’s time, women didn’t have jobs and had to look to husbands for wealth. Not to mention the accessibility of “eligible bachelors” was probably smaller. Now we can have long distance relationships, and be a little more picky with our choices. The reasons behind it have changed too. I recommend Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. I haven’t finished it (I might have abandoned it in favour of Austen Adventures), but it delves deep into the intentions that people have now, relating it back to differences previous generations had.

 

Austen’s society placed numerous constraints on both men and women in terms of what’s expected from them. What pressures do you feel most strongly today in terms of career, marriage, family, etc?

Jessica: If i feel any pressure from society, it is to have it all together all the time. So I have to be a certain weight, look a certain way, have kids, have a career but avoid being bossy…the list goes on. The biggest things for me though are surrounding physical appearance and that apparently I need to be in a relationship. But you know, not have sex with multiple people because a guy is a stud when he does that but a woman is a slut. However, not being willing to have sex also means that I am a prude. So really, there is no winning on that front.

Mathuri: Similar to Jessica, for me the biggest is physical appearance and just having it all together, and to have some sort of plan. My mom is definitely “encouraging” me to more schooling. She expects that i’ll be doing my MBA within a couple years, a managerial position somewhere, getting married, etc. It’s not just my mom, but also my parent’s friends asking about the MBA. I’ve told my mom numerous times that since I have a business degree already I don’t need one, but that doesn’t stop her!

 

How is Austen able to offer such wise guidance about love and marriage despite having been unmarried herself? Why did she choose not to marry?

Jessica: There are two reasons why she can offer such wise guidance about love and marriage. One is simply offering common sense advice. I have never been married, but many things are just common sense to me. The other thing is that she could have been surrounded by married people and others in relationships and seen some of the issues she related in her books in that way. She could have even experienced some of it herself, aside from marriage obviously (read: turning someone down).

I do not think we can really know about why she chose not to marry. Was it even a choice? Only she really knows the answer to this, and obviously we cannot resurrect her to ask. Despite this, we can theorize about potential reasons why she never married. The most obvious one to me is that maybe she did not want to marry, so she did not. Others that come to mind is that she never fell in love and found the right person, or perhaps no one wanted to marry her. That last one is a little sad, but it is possible. As well, she could have very well been a lesbian, and in that period it was definitely taboo, so it would have been impossible for her to be true to herself without risking a lot. Like I said though, we will never really know why she never got married.

Mathuri: I agree with Jessica, there could be many reasons as to why she never married. I’m sure there’s arguments out there that say she wasn’t straight. Though this is probably not the case, I like to think what happened in Becoming Jane was what actually happened in real life. The movie was based on rumours/texts that suggest Jane Austen was in love with Tom Lefroy. Without spoilers, it gives many problems as to why they can’t be together, money being the biggest reason. I like that she ends up writing and giving characters perfect endings (Lizzie marrying a good, rich man), and I think that having a failed love inspires her to give characters a happy ending she couldn’t have. Maybe she chose not to marry because she strongly believed in the concept of true love, and couldn’t fall in love with anyone else once she had with Lefroy.

As for the first question, I definitely agree with Jessica in the sense that a lot of it could be based on relationships she witnessed and was surrounded by. I think a big one would be Jane and her sister. I think we can imagine that she had a great relationship with her sister in real life, and it carried throughout her books (mainly Elinor and Marriane, and Lizzie and Jane). I realize this example was for sisters, but I think the same line of thought goes into romantic relationships.

 

What was the most surprising lesson you learned from reading Austen?

Jessica: Honestly, I am not sure that any of her lessons were all that surprising when I really think about it. All of them just make sense. If I were to pick my favourite from the ones that come to mind, I would have to say “love will always find you, especially when you least expect it.”

Mathuri: I agree, that most lessons were a little more obvious. I think the one I enjoyed the most (and maybe didn’t realize how prominent the lesson) was all the family and friend relationships. I think the relationships that stood out to me the most was Elinor and Marianne, Emma and her father, and Lizzie and Charlotte. Let’s not forget to mention the lack of relationships, like Fanny.

 

Did you relate to any of Austen’s heroines, or minor female characters? Why?

Jessica: Honestly, I think I might identify with Harriet the most. I don’t think I am as confident as some of Austen’s heroines, and Harriet and I seem to share some of the nervousness. Additionally, she mistakenly believes that someone is into her multiple times in Emma–something that happens to me on a seemingly regular basis. That said, I can see a little bit of myself in Elizabeth and Emma (at the end). I just identify more with Harriet.

Mathuri: I found myself relating to Elinor quite a bit. I find that I’m reserved and quiet about my emotions, and generally afraid of confrontation. I also think I’m a little bit Harriet along with Jessica, we all share that very Harriest-esque nervousness.

 

Which is your favourite Austen novel and why?

Jessica: I have to say Emma hands down. I know Mathuri is probably going to say Pride and Prejudice (and also berate me for not picking that one). I will admit that Pride and Prejudice probably takes second in this, but after reflecting on it I cannot pick it anymore and it has to be Emma. I think that Emma rings much more believable in my opinion. Although I still very much enjoy reading about Elizabeth and Darcy, their love story comes around with the two of them being cold to one another…it just does not seem quite real to me.

Emma is the Austen heroine who, in my opinion, grows the most over the course of her story. Austen imagined her as a person who no one would really like apart from Austen herself, which probably rings true for many people (although I like her). However, I bet that many people who disliked her at the beginning ended up liking her at the end of the book. Finally, I have to mention that a love story involving two close friends falling for one another is basically my kryptonite. I just love stories like that.

Mathuri: I am absolutely going to pick Pride and Prejudice, and I was definitely going to berate you for not choosing it until I read your explanation. Pride and Prejudice is surprisingly still my favourite Austen novel (my first!). I feel like I can’t forget the the most romantic story of all. Yes, it be a little unrealistic but to balance out my cynicism in real life, I enjoy the most out of the fictional stories. Lizzie and Jane deserved handsome, rich, nice men so they could live happily ever after. I love the growth Lizzie and Darcy went through, and the changes to their relationship throughout the book.

I will give Jessica credit though, Emma was a great read, and I loved her character growth as well. I think she definitely has the most growth of Austen’s heroines, and I have mentioned countless times that I do love that character development. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with Sense and Sensibility (I will be watching that soon!)
Austen’s novels are full of desirable men. Does one in particular catch your eye? Why?

Jessica: I have to go with Mr. Knightley for this one. We get to know him right from the start and the way that he cares for Emma (even before we realize he likes her) is amazing. Pulling in the modern adaptations of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, Emma Approved and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I sink further into Knightley. We don’t meet Darcy until episode 60 (I think) of LBD, but we know Knightley from the very beginning of Emma Approved. Even beyond Emma, Knightley is also genuinely kind to all of his friends. While other Austen men are, it is the way Knightley shows it that catches my eye.

Mathuri: Again, I have to go through the predictable route and choose Darcy. I love that character development, and while Emma was the most developed I think Darcy would come first in regards to the male characters. He learned from his mistakes and helped the Bennet family solve their problems (while Lizzie was slowly falling in love with him in the process). I do want honourable mentions to go to Knightley, who I loved even more after the book, and to Colonel Brandon, for being a wonderful sweetheart by the end of the book (and of course to Alan Rickman, whom I’m sure portrayed the character amazingly).
Final Thoughts From Mathuri 

Now at the end of these Austen Adventures, I’m so happy to have participated. I feel like I’ve read a lot these past few months (MONTHS!), and hopefully I learned some lessons along the way. I feel like I understand these characters way more, and Austen way more. I think that in the future I’d love to do a reread (perhaps where I can take a little bit longer as I might have had to rush for Jessica’s very strict deadlines…just kidding Jess!). I feel like I know these character so much more. I would love to find these stories in other mediums. I know that a Lizzie Bennet Diaries re-watch is in order, and an Emma Approved one right after. I look forward to watching the Sense and Sensibility movie, and seeing what other adaptations come after! Thank you to Jess who asked me to join her in these adventures. I’ve had a lot of fun, and I look forward to reading more wonderful posts and book recommendations on the blog. Thank you for reading!

Austen Adventures: Persuasion

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.”

Austen Adventures is officially coming to a close. Here we have mine and Mathuri’s thoughts regarding Jane Austen’s final completed novel, Persuasion. Persuasion is about an unmarried woman, Anne Elliot, who many at that time considered a spinster at age 27. the story tells us that she was once engaged to Captain Frederick Wentworth years ago, but broke it off with him because her family disapproved of the match. Persuasion captures the struggles of the Wentworth family and the idea of a regretful decision.

 

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When younger, was Anne right to have followed Lady Russell’s advice? Did it show passivity on Anne’s part or good judgment to have allowed herself to be guided by her elders?

Jessica: I do not think there is a right answer to this question, because either way I think that I am leaving something to the wayside. I think maybe she may have been right in some aspects to have followed Lady Russell’s advice, but I do not think it is for the reasons anyone gives. I do not see her as “better” than Wentworth, nor do I think he is undeserving. He seems, to me, to be a kind man throughout the novel, though he is flawed as all humans are. I think maybe she did not realize how much she loved him until she walked away. I have never been in love, so this may seem like a trivial example, but it is what I have. This situation reminds me of when I am in a store, debating over a purchase. Sometimes I do not realize that I really want something until I walk away, and if I find myself constantly thinking about it after I leave, I generally take that as proof that I should return.

Guidance from elders can often be a great asset. I know that I was advised to add a second major to my degree from a relative, and to take business classes when I could. Sometimes the advice may turn out to be good, such as in my case, or not so good. But the thing is, it could be good or bad and you only find out by making a choice. And really, at the heart of this situation (and any), Anne could have ignored the advice. I don’t know that it was passivity rather than malleability. I think that is the right word? In any case, Anne is easily persuaded I think, but I don’t know that she is necessarily passive.

 

Mathuri: I agree with Jessica, there is definitely no right answer. I think as Anne is young woman in that time period, though fictional, it’s a lot harder to judge a character’s decisions because it made sense to be more reasonable at the time. The system that Anne was subjected to made it seem as Wentworth was “lower” than Anne because he might have had less money (or came from a different family etc.), but in reality it shouldn’t be about that. I think part of me wishes she could have said yes, she would have had “a happy ending” much faster. The other part of me completely understands and empathizes with her. It’s not easy to go against your family and elders’ wishes. I agree with Jessica, I don’t think Anne was passive either. I think she made a decision that might not have been the greatest, but one that she made (as opposed to someone else making it for her).

 

What do you think led Anne to acquiesce to her family’s wishes? Should families have a say in whom their children marry?

Jessica: Honestly? I think that it was simply that they are her family and she cares about them. I mean, there was obviously some pull in the other direction and she wanted to be with him before saying no, but still. I think that if you have a good relationship with your family, there will always be the desire to make them happy. Granted, her family should have wanted her to be happy in the beginning (like any family should), but that isn’t the point in this case.

As for if families should have a say…that is a difficult one to answer. I think a lot of it depends on your culture, so I can only really speak to my experience and thoughts on the subject. This is not universal by any means. I do not want, nor do I believe it would be right for my parents to arrange a marriage for me as I want to marry for love. However, I would not be against getting their approval when I am dating someone that I think I might eventually want to marry. Actually, I would want their approval. It would tear me apart if my husband and parents did not get along because I know I love my parents and obviously I would love my husband as well.

 

Mathuri: I think I touched upon this in the last question, but I agree with Jessica. Family is important to Anne and while I don’t think Anne “acquiesced” to her family’s wishes, I do understand why she put a lot of value into their opinion and thought into the decision. If you have a good relationship with your family, like Jessica says, I completely understand why Anne did what she did (regardless of whether I agree with it).

I don’t think family should have a say in who you marry. I think that unless there’s a genuinely good reason (and when I say good reason I mean the guy could be a murderer, versus some sort of prejudiced reason), I think it’s important for the family to support the person’s decision. Especially with close families, it places the person getting married in a hard situation. As it seems like I’m being ambiguous, an example would be a modern version of Anne’s story. If Anne ends up loving a man without much money or without good “career”, it’s understandable that the parents will be worried of whether their daughter would be taken care of. If modern Anne and this man are in love and confident they can survive, the parents should do their best to support them. If they’re right, Anne will continue to have a good relationship with her family and would be able to go to them if things don’t work out.

 

Captain Harville claims men do not quickly forget about the women they love while Anne claims the same for women. Do you believe men and women differ in their capacities to love and in remaining true to the one they love?

Jessica: I do not think it is a difference between men and women that changes someone’s capacity to love and remain true to the one they love. I think it is a difference strictly between every individual, regardless of gender. There are those who do not quickly forget, those who never forget, and those who seem to forget in the blink of an eye. The thing is, I have known both men and women who are quick to forget and move forward and those who do not forget that easily. So to me, I will reiterate: it is not a difference between men and women.

 

Mathuri: I absolutely agree with Jessica. There is no difference between men and women in that regard. Some people get over the love quickly, some people don’t. I also think the same goes for remaining true to the one they love. It’s not about gender or sexuality, it depends on each person every time (and I assume another variable is how much you loved that person).

 

Austen wrote Persuasion as her health was failing, hurrying to finish it before her death. Do you find the novel’s narrative carries any sense of urgency or sentimentality, or any other indication of what the author herself was going through as she wrote it?

Jessica: I think that there may have actually been some level of sentimentality that you might be able to attribute to the circumstances in which she was writing the novel. I am speaking, of course, that Anne eventually resumes her engagement to Captain Wentworth and marries him. I know that Jane Austen never married, and it is entirely possible that it was her own choice. I do actually suspect that maybe it was largely her choice. However, I cannot help but wonder if maybe she had an experience similar to Anne’s, whether her family was involved or not, and walked away from love early on. If I were her and I had done that, I know I would be sorely tempted to make my final novel and the last piece of my legacy to be how I wished my story ended.

I do want to mention though, that when I originally read this question I felt like it was kind of asking if this book may have seemed rushed or otherwise unpolished because of what she was going through (evoked, I think, by the use of “urgency”). In this sense, no, I do not feel that this book is any less polished or rushed than the others. In fact, even though it is not my favourite of her novels, I think that it is very clean and polished. Perhaps one of the most out of the ones she wrote. I think that it came from her experience, both from life and writing, that made it this way.

 

Mathuri: I think this is an interesting question with an answer we might never know. I love Jessica’s answer; if Austen had any regrets, she could have added them in her last book as a way as her way of expressing herself. I found Persuasion to be interesting because Austen explores the idea of a second chance at love. I think there could have been a lot going on in Austen’s life to choose to do that. One could be she felt she missed out on marriage, and wanted to give her character the chance. Another could be that she never fell truly in love. It could be unrelated to love, maybe Austen was writing this story inspired by a friend who lost that love.

I also read the question as Jessica did, as in did her health affect the quality of this book. I don’t think it did, I liked this book as much as the rest of her works, and that it was clean and polished. I do believe that her rush to finish could have affected the story. If Austen had more time, there might have been another story brewing. What if Mr. Elliot was supposed to be good for her, and Captain Wentworth bad? This story could have ended in a moral lesson of how listening to her family worked in her favour. I’m sad to think of how it must have been for her to write when her health was failing, but it’s interesting to see how a number of factors could have influenced this book in different ways.

 

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Thoughts From Jessica

Well, there you have it! I want to save the majority of my thoughts for the final post in Austen Adventures. Yes, there is one more! In two weeks, you will get to see another set of questions and read the responses Mathuri and I give. These questions will cover elements such as our favourite Austen man, overall thoughts about the books, and views on some of the themes brought to light in Austen’s novels. It will be an interesting one for sure. Until then, you can find us on Twitter at @jess_groom and @mathurimaya. We look forward to hearing from you!

Austen Adventures: Northanger Abbey

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

Northanger Abbey is about a young and quite impressionable young lady, Catherine Morland. She travels to Bath and is swept up in the social circle there, where she meets a clergyman, Henry Tilney, and quickly (obviously) falls for him. She also becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it, as well as henry’s own sister, Eleanor. later, Catherine receives an invitation to visit Northanger Abbey, the home of the Tilneys.

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Catherine Morland is clearly a suggestible reader, but her gullibility extends beyond books into the real world. Is the tendency to think the best of people a trait you admire? Is it a trait you have?

Mathuri: I love this about Catherine Morland. It’s a flaw but it’s also very honest and relatable. I’m not sure if there’s a right word, but I love that this character has that flaw, because it felt very realistic. I know that this trait is a defining characteristic for Catherine, and I like that it is! I’m not sure if I’m gullible, but I know I’m naive, occasionally oblivious to things, but I do try to think the best of people. I think it’s a trait I admire in most people, more so in older, experienced or “worldly” types.

For example (currently listening to the podcast Serial!), the Innocence Project is a group in the US that looks at old cases to help prove innocence to those wrongly charged of crimes. The people that work for groups like have that optimism and that belief in the best of people, and face a lot more darkness while working on these cases. While I apologize for rambling, I’d like to say yes, I do believe that it’s a great characteristic to have, and I’m glad that Catherine Morland does.

Jessica: I do think that thinking the best of people is a really good trait to have, but I do not feel that gullibility is. They are similar traits, but I think that Catherine is one who crosses the line between them. Complete cynicism is never good, but being overly gullible and believing absolutely everything is just as bad. Does that make sense?

Like Mathuri, I do feel that I am somewhat naive. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt and I keep believing in things even a little past what I probably should. However, I think I stop short of being gullible in the way I think Catherine crosses over.

 

The one character about whom Catherine is inclined to think the worst is General Tilney. Why is this? She is humiliated when Henry realizes how her imagination has run away with her, but how mistaken is she really regarding his general character? Are her powers of imagination more reliable than her powers of observation?

Mathuri: At that age, whoever is scary or opposing you in any way is a villain. I feel like when I was 17 (and of course an avid reader of fiction), I thought my dad was a villain because he wouldn’t give me permission to do certain things, or be out too late, etc. General Tilney is realistically a regular, strict father, with hopes of marrying his children to those who are well off so he knows they’re looked after.

I think that Catherine’s powers of imagination are another relatable trait, and that for her to imagine him as his wife’s murderer does not come as a surprise. I do agree that those powers of imagination are much more reliable than her powers of observation, and it might have influenced her behaviour in an inappropriate manner when it came to General Tilney. If it were me, I would definitely consider and daydream about the idea of General Tilney being the murderer, but I would never act upon it (especially when I’m staying at their house!).

Jessica: I do agree in that I think many people around that age feel that those they see as scary or those who are acting in opposition to their wishes are villains. I think that most people, including villains, see themselves as heroes. Especially villains. I mean, do you think Lord Voldemort thought he was a villain? Did Sauron? But I bet you they felt those opposing them were villains. And you know what? In their personal stories, the opposing characters were villains.

I think that she is right about his character to a certain extent. She does have it right in that he is an imposing character, but I think her imagination gets the better of her when she creates the story of him murdering his wife.  Continuing on this line of thinking, I do not think that her imagination, in this case, is more reliable than her observation skills. However, her imagination is much more powerful than her observational skills, as evidenced by her running with this story. I think it could be more reliable had she not gotten carried away with the idea that General Tilney murdered his wife.

 

Henry Tilney tells Catherine that his father was attached to his mother and greatly afflicted by her death. Do you believe him?

Mathuri: I think that I personally like to give people, and characters, the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know the full story. I would like to trust Henry, and say that of course his General Tilney was affected by this wife’s death. Even if they weren’t in love, she would have been a life partner and mother of his children, and the loss would have been hard. While I see General Tilney as a disagreeable, wealth-obsessed man, I don’t quite see him as a cold blooded killer.

Jessica: Yes, I do. Like Mathuri, I always try to give people (including fictional characters,) the benefit of the doubt. They are innocent until proven guilty, right? As Mathuri says, we are not aware of the full story. If I were to theorize however, and put myself in General Tilney’s shoes while taking into account Henry’s words, I would guess that General Tilney is the way he is in the novel because of his wife’s death. He could have very well been an agreeable man when she was alive, but her death turned him cold. A popular method of coping with a significant death is to simply shut off your emotions. Well, not literally, but you kind of close yourself off as much as you can. The trouble, I think, is when you carry on for too long that way.

 

Henry, himself, is a controversial hero. Sylvia Warner Townsend has suggested she thinks he’s one of Austen’s most delightful. Some find him witty and appealingly interested in feminine matters. Others find him condescending and even misogynistic. Ask another reader of Northanger Abbey what s/he thinks of Henry and then argue with whatever position s/he takes.

Mathuri: I think that I’m pro Henry Tilney. I think my favourite scene with Henry was when they were on their way to Northanger Abbey, and Henry teases Catherine on what she expects to see at the Abbey. He also seems to care strongly about his family, and I’m happy he proposed to and wedded Catherine.

Jessica: Funnily enough, I am on the fence about Henry Tilney. I do think he is controversial, and he is not the most delightful to me. However, he is not the worst one either. I think…he is simply human. Yes, he has witty moments like when he teases Catherine about what she expects to see at the Abbey. But he also has moments of condescension, such as when he “explodes” at Catherine after saying his father was greatly upset by his mother’s death. That moment, to be fair, does come with some personal emotion on his part, but I can still see it. I also think that his father is quite condescending, he disapproves of Catherine at one point because he does not think she has money, and a little of that has leaked onto Henry, at least in my opinion.

 

The romance genre is arguably our own most popular form of fiction. Is the romance genre empowering or damaging to women readers? Do these fictions have real life implications for women? Or would you trace its lineage back to Austen herself?

Mathuri: I definitely cannot tell you whether the genre traces back to Austen, but I can tell you that I think it’s an important and wonderful category at times. I don’t think it damages women readers at all. I see why one would think that, these stories are unique to the characters and extremely fictional. I’m sure these novels have implications and influences on women, but not to the degree of damage to them. My favourite of Austen’s novels is Pride and Prejudice, but I’d rather not have someone confess their love while insulting me at the same time.

Jessica: It is difficult to say if Austen is the “mother” of romance fiction, but I certainly believe she is one of the ones (if not the one) who popularized the genre. I think at times the genre can be damaging or empowering to women and yes, these fictions often have real-life implications for women. However, let me clarify what I mean. Romance fiction is great in that it gives women (and frankly, men) the opportunity to believe that love (and true love) is possible. It is often an outlet for their imagination and they have the ability to place themselves in romance stories, which, in my opinion, is quite empowering. However, I think that romance fiction can be damaging in two instances. One, depending on the specific romance novel and two, if the person lets unhealthy thinking take over their mind.

For instance, think about 50 Shades of Grey. Technically, that would fall under the romance genre. BDSM itself is not the issue. I have read a few articles talking about the portrayal in the books and in real life (if you follow safe practices and always consent, it is perfectly healthy.) The major issue in 50 Shades of Grey is Christian Grey’s abusive behaviour. While the unhealthy nature of that relationship is crystal clear to me, for many readers I know it is not from what I have seen on the Internet. There are other books I could pull with unhealthy relationships that seem to have captured the minds of impressionable readers. It is when this happens that I think the romance genre could be damaging if readers do not keep a clear mind.

I realize that 50 Shades of Grey and Austen’s novels are entirely different within the realm of romantic fiction, but the fact does remain that they both fall under that umbrella. If you eliminate the controversial novels, however, then I do not see much of a damaging component to romantic fiction’s influence.

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Thoughts From Jessica

It is so close to the end now, just one more novel and then a post with our final thoughts! About this book though, I have actually read it before as I majored in English (one of my majors anyway) in university. While now I enjoyed the book, I used to not like it. I did say that it was my least favourite Austen novel, however at that point in time I had not read all of Jane Austen’s novels. I guess by the end of this I will be able to definitively say which novel is my favourite. Well, supposedly. Sometimes I cannot decide my favourite book in a series.

Anyways, I hope that you enjoyed this installment of Austen Adventures. As always, feel free to leave comments!

Next on Austen Adventures: Persuasion, on January 22nd

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Follow us on Twitter!

Jessica: @jess_groom

Mathuri: @mathurimaya

Austen Adventures: Emma

9780141192475
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

First off, I would like to say Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating. to those who do not celebrate Christmas, I hope you are having a happy holiday season celebrating/doing what it is that you do!

Today Mathuri and I are presenting to you Emma, the next installment in Austen Adventures! Emma is, admittedly, my favourite of all of Jane Austen’s novels. I will explain why more in our Final Thoughts blog coming after we finish reading the final two books.

Emma is about a beautiful, young, rich, (and single!) woman named–you guessed it–Emma, who has a penchant for interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she goes against the advice of her good friend Mr. Knightley, everything starts to unravel and tangle together.

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Does Emma act as a good friend to Harriet Smith? Are Emma’s concerns for Harriet’s education and refinement born of an honest desire to help, or is it something less altruistic? Are Mr. Knightley’s criticisms of Emma’s interference with Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal justified? Does Harriet ultimately benefit from Emma’s friendship or her attempts to help her?

Jessica: I think that most of Emma’s actions throughout the novel are born from good intentions. Or, at the very least, they are good intentions in her mind. I do not believe that she ever wanted to sabotage Harriet for less altruistic means, with the exception of when she realizes her feelings for Mr. Knightley. Even then, I am not sure that her intentions are extremely malicious, but that it is simply she loves this man and wants him to be with her rather than Harriet.

However, I do feel that Mr. Knightley’s criticisms are justified and Emma really should not have interfered with Mr. Martin’s proposal. There is nothing malicious about Mr. Martin, so there is no justification for her actions. She should have understood that Harriet liked this man and wanted to pursue that option.

Full circle though, Harriet does benefit from Emma’s friendship. The means are sometimes questionable, but I think that Harriet ends up more confident in herself by the end of the novel. Self-confidence, provided it does not boil over into being cocky or extremely self-centered, is a good thing and I am glad Harriet eventually gets that.

Mathuri: “Born from good intentions,” was exactly what I wanted to say. Emma has a wonderful heart, she truly wants to help people. Along with Knightley, it’s how these intentions are carried out that are the issue. Knightley could be communicating better while Emma could be listening better. I agree with Jessica though, in the case of Mr. Martin’s proposal, Emma allowed prejudice to take over in her judgments of Mr. Martin when she convinced Harriet to stay away.

I absolutely think Harriet benefited from her more. I loved reading about Emma, and how confident she was and how she had so much potential. I’m glad that she had an “outlet” through Harriet. Again, means were questionable, but I think Harriet was grateful to have a caring friend, especially one who learned from her mistakes.

 

About Emma, Jane Austen famously said, ‘I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.’ Do you like Emma? Why or why not?

Jessica: I actually do like Emma. She is not perfect, sure, but then again no human being is perfect. I know I am not. I also like seeing Emma’s personal growth throughout the book. I do prefer the way she ends up to the way she began, but I would not mind having her as a friend. She does misread and generally makes mistakes, but she acts in what she views as her friends’ best interests, and I like people like that.

Mathuri: I love Emma too! I’ve mentioned this countless times now, but character development is my favourite part of reading, especially in Austen’s books so far. In the beginning, she decides to be single, and is confident in all the choices she makes (especially with Harriet). I loved reading her thoughts towards the end, when she has the conversation with Mr. Knightley and is awkward and nervous about her feelings. Right up to the end, she continues to care about Harriet’s feelings after Emma and Knightley confess their feelings for each other.

 

One effect of the hidden (Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill) story is to undermine the omniscience of the narrator. Some critics have suggested that the narrator controls the reader less in Emma than in most Austen books. Because of this, Reginald Ferrar has suggested the book improves on rereading. ‘Only when the story has been thoroughly assimilated can the infinite delights and subtleties of its workmanship begin to be appreciated.’ He suggests that rereading Pride and Prejudice allows you to repeat the pleasure you had at the first reading, while rereading Emma always provides new pleasures. (He also says that ‘until you know the story, you are apt to find the movement dense and slow and obscure, difficult to follow, and not very obviously worth the following.’) Do you agree with any of this? Do you like a book in which the writer’s intentions are not always clear and there is space for the reader to take charge or do you like to know what the writer wants you to be feeling and noticing? How do you feel about the idea of a book that has to be reread in order to be enjoyed? Is Emma such a book?

Jessica: Honestly, I think it depends on the particular book. There are certainly stories where I like to theorize about the author’s intentions, such as mystery novels where I attempt to figure out who did the crime (cannot help it, even though it tends to ruin the end of some books). Nevertheless, I also enjoy some level of direction or suggestion on the part of the author. It could even be misdirection in certain cases. This helps keeps the novel interesting, I find. If the author allows me completely take over, it is not the same.

I do not feel that there is any book that is not enjoyable on the first read and only enjoyed on rereads. I think that there are books that have different layers and thus on rereads you discover new things. Perhaps this is what the question is referring to? I would have to reference the Harry Potter series as this type of book. I think most fully enjoyed their first read, there is a sort of magic, but then if they reread the novels they often found new things in the pages that they missed before, even if they were just hints about later events in the novel.

Building on that, Emma is definitely one of the books where you can discover more on a reread. Discovering more on a reread, I think, allows the reader to experience a different kind of enjoyment. The hidden story with Jane and Frank is one that comes as a shock the first time you read. However, when you reread the novel, you have the chance to notice the little hints and, for some I imagine, you might feel a little superior to the narrator because you know what is going to happen.

Mathuri: I agree with Jessica, in that while books can get better with rereads, it should be enjoyable the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of people considering a book not enjoyable during their first read.

In regards to author’s choices’ on keeping things unclear, I think it depends on the story and level of space and freedom for the reader. I want to be able to enjoy the initial read, for its plot and characters, regardless of how many layers are underneath the surface. I don’t like when it’s too much of a mystery that you have think increasingly hard to understand the book. I think this in particular is a preference up to the reader.

Using an example that Jessica is going to comment on for sure, in Fellowship of the Ring (which is the only book I finished in the trilogy), I did not understand the necessity of Tom Bombadil. After reading the book I had a strong appreciation for him as a character, but I felt that it hindered the story. I’m sure Jessica will say there’s more to it than that (from googling his name, I’ve found various theories on this Tom Bombadil character). I know this isn’t exactly what the question is asking, but it does relate. To keep it simple, I think that the author should be pointing you in the right direction as a reader. Giving up control is an interesting choice, and I didn’t mind it for Emma, but in the Lord of the Rings example, I lost my way, so to speak.

 

Do you think that Emma has given up matchmaking for good?

Jessica: Oh I doubt she has. I think she will still attempt to find matches for people she cares about—or at least she will when she meets more—it is just the way she is. However, given her personal growth throughout this novel, I think she will act with more care for the other people involved than she did in the book. Matchmaking is not inherently manipulative or bad, it is the way you go about it. You do have to take into account the feelings of those you are trying to put together. If one does not see the relationship the way you do, you cannot force it.

Mathuri: Definitely not. I strongly believe it’s in Emma’s nature. In her eyes, she wants to see her friends happy and settled with people they can care for. Especially for the time, with a woman’s marriage being a vital part of their life, Emma just wants to do her part for her friends. While we all see it as matchmaking, including Emma, I also see it as Emma being a kind, caring friend (with a few lessons that needed to be learned).

 

Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be happy, or not? What passages in the text make you think so?

Jessica: Yes, I am sure they will be happy together. It is not so much a single passage that makes me believe this, but rather an overview of their relationship. You can see at the end of the novel, even when Mr. Knightley was quite angry with Emma, when he believed she might be hurt by certain events, he still rushed to her side. He was ready to comfort her regardless of his own feelings and if hers meant they would not be together. Throughout the novel, it is clear that they truly care for one another and the others’ happiness, which is the most important thing.

If I were going to pick a specific passage, it would be when Mr. Knightley says to Emma “If I loved you any less, I might be able to talk about it more.” Immediately I can tell you that he truly does love her. While I have not been in love like that, I do have people I love in my life. If you asked me to describe why I love them, I do not believe I could give you an answer. I think it might be the same case here with Mr. Knightley if he were to describe why he loves Emma. While many people might say that this alone is not enough proof or general justification, I think that Mr. Knightley truly being in love with her is a great start.

Mathuri: I don’t think I have much to add to Jessica’s description of their relationship. What stood out to me most was Knightley’s willingness to set aside his own feelings to comfort Emma when he thought Emma was affected by the news of Frank’s engagement. What stuck out to me the most, within the same time after the proposal, was the issue of living arrangements (which is how I think I would put it?). Emma would have hated to leave her father in Hartfield, while her father would have been against moving to Donwell Abbey. Knightley offered to move to Hartfield and leave Donwell Abbey, which I think had a lot of depth in the sacrifice. I love that he was willing to do that, and it made me love their relationship more.

I also want to add that I hope that they’re happy. I love stories when they characters live “happily ever after.” Though I know it’s completely unrealistic, it’s why I love and read Austen’s books.

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Thoughts From Jessica

I sincerely hope that everyone is enjoying reading about our Austen Adventures, and as always, I invite you to join us and leave your own thoughts! Do you like Emma as a character? Will she and Mr. Knightley be happy?

I loved reading this novel. Emma certainly grows a lot throughout the course of this book and because of that, I think she might be one of the most human of Austen’s heroines. Also, I cannot resist stories where two good friends fall for each other. There is just something so romantic about them to me.

If you want to experience a modernized version of Emma, check out Emma Approved on YouTube. It is a web series produced by Pemberley Digital and I highly recommend it!

And for the record, there is more to Tom Bombadil. Mathuri was right that I would comment about that. However, for me to go into depth about it would require at least one post of its own, so you’ll have to request that if you wish to read what I feel.

Anyways, I must sign off now to continue the Christmas festivities with my family. It’s been an adventure for sure, our power was out for over 24 hours and we only got it back a couple hours ago.

Next time on Austen Adventures, January 8th, Mathuri and I will discuss Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s foray into Gothic literature.

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Follow us on Twitter!

Jessica: @jess_groom

Mathuri: @mathurimaya

Austen Adventures: Mansfield Park

“Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions.”
“Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions.”

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment in Austen Adventures! This time, Mathuri and I are tackling Mansfield Park. It about a young lady, Fanny Price, who is taken from her impoverished home with her parents and is brought up with her rich cousins at, you guessed it, Mansfield Park.

This installment also marks the halfway point in our Austen Adventures. I hope you have enjoyed it so far, and will continue to stay with us as we barrel towards the finish line!

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Fanny is frequently silent in scenes, and the narrator often describes her speech to us instead of letting us hear Fanny speak herself. How does this technique affect the narrative? Does this impact how we know and understand Fanny as a character?

Mathuri: Absolutely! It was strange to be reading a lot more thoughts. Especially after Pride & Prejudice (Lizzie speaks her mind!) it was definitely a contrast. At first I was almost annoyed at Fanny for her refusal to say anything and avoiding all conversations. Of course, with the character development it turned more towards pity (and anger at Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram, the WORST!). The narrative helped me see that while Fanny was quiet and reserved, she was definitely extremely sensible. She could tell what kind of people the Crawfords were, even when the rest couldn’t.

Jessica: I have to call on my experience with other books where this happens. It definitely affects how I read a character because I always have to wonder who the narrator is. When you have the main character as the narrator, you always have to wonder if they are biased or not. What many don’t realize however, is that you should still wonder that regardless.

But specific to this book, I do agree with Mathuri in that it helped for Fanny’s characterization as quiet reserved, and sensible. This, I think, helps her be very observant compared to many others in this book, as well as Austen’s other novels. You have to be a quieter person, I find, to be more observant. The more you talk, the more you miss out on.

 

Should Fanny have given Henry a real chance or was she right to refuse his proposal?

Mathuri: From Fanny’s perspective, at first I thought that if she’d had guidance growing up, she would realize that a man of wealth and higher status offering marriage was rare and definitely should have been considered, even if he wasn’t a super great guy or even if there wasn’t love between them. It was her way to get out of being a slave to Lady Bertram and the family. I know that if it were me in that time period, I might have even said yes (with the influence of parents and if they thought it was a good choice, and that maybe I’m not as good at reading people as Fanny is). However, after the reveal of Maria and Henry running away together, I am so relieved for Fanny that she didn’t say yes. She would have been a wreck if Henry had done something like that after accepting a proposal. I’m also happy that she did start to consider it, after a lot of persistence from Henry. On paper, he sounds like a good choice, so I think Fanny shouldn’t have completely shut him down right away (I would have been good with an eventual no though!).

Jessica: For me, I always have the immediate reaction that you have to marry for love, so I do think that she was absolutely right to refuse him. I mean, it was obviously different in those days so refusing someone was…scandalous? Or, for the most part it was…like in Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. Just like Mathuri, I am absolutely relieved that she did say no, even beyond the lack of love thing. She does seem like one who would be devastated after Henry and Maria running away together.

I do disagree though about her considering him at least. Well, in a way. If she absolutely knew that she would be unhappy, why not immediately say no? I mean, I only put this into practice once, but I decide a little while ago that if there was a “hell no” response, then I could immediately say no (nicely), but if I had to think about it, I would give it a shot. If that makes sense.

 

The narrator often withholds exciting details and scenes from us. For instance, we get pretty limited information about the book’s major scandals. What’s the impact of this withheld or second-hand information on the narrative?

Mathuri: Maybe the idea is the represent that it’s not the scandal that’s important, but more the repercussions of it. Because of the Maria/Henry scandal, events occurred that led to Fanny and Edmund getting married. The play that was being put on could be a scandal in itself, and showed a lot of character development with the choices these characters made.

Jessica: I definitely agree here. It does put more focus on the fallout from the scandal. Frankly, I believe that in books, the scandal doesn’t particularly matter when compared with how everyone reacts to it. Like, if no one reacted to Lydia and Wickham running away in Pride and Prejudice, would there have been as much fallout? Probably not. I think it is the same here. The fact that we only get limited information on the major scandals in this book allows us to focus more on the fallout. Without that focus, I think many readers would have looked at the scandal. You cannot change what happened, but you can work on your reaction. A little bit meta, but there you go.

 

Moral behavior and “right” principles are major themes in this novel, and the novel shows us a lot of different kinds of moral behavior. Do you think Mansfield Park is something of a morality tale, a story that has a sort of moral lesson in it? Or is it making fun of morality tales? Why do you think so?

Mathuri: I think that it’s very much an insight into human behaviour and interesting to read. It was a great range of characters with Fanny and Edmund being on one side of the spectrum, and maybe Henry and Mary on the other. I thought that it was hard to judge who was wrong and right sometimes, and I think it’s a fun read being in a different time period to the book. The play for example, was considered wrong at the time but nowadays wouldn’t be as “scandalous”. I’m not sure if it’s making fun of morality but I think it gives more of an inside look at compatibility, and how while Edmund and Fanny are definitely very firm in their morals, it helped them get along.

Jessica: I think that it probably does have a moral lesson that was relevant to the time during which Jane Austen wrote it. But, like Mathuri mentioned, certain things would not be nearly as scandalous or immoral now as they were back then. I don’t know that this was a particularly comedic or “spoof” like novel, so I don’t feel as if it was making fun of morality tales. Maybe in terms of Austen it is, but on the whole I would say know. I think the only one that really makes fun of anything significant is Northanger Abbey. But we’ll get to that.

 

Is the ending of this novel believable? If not, why is this important?

Mathuri: I think the ending while believable, was not satisfying. I loved seeing Edmund and Fanny’s relationship grow, but I wish I’d seen more of Edmund realizing his feelings for Fanny, like we did for her (I will admit that I might have rushed the ending as I started a new job!).

Jessica: I always like seeing the…descent into madness. Okay I had to use that phrase, but I actually mean people falling for one another. So I do think it was believable, but like Mathuri, I’d have liked to been privy to more of Edmund’s side of things. Men are an absolute frustration and mystery, so that would’ve been helpful.

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Thoughts from Mathuri
I thought I’d add a couple final thoughts this time round. Firstly, this book was definitely a little harder to get through. I disliked all the characters and behaviours. Edmund, for whom I had higher hopes for, had his very much lust for Mary that makes me want to say all boys are dumb (kidding…sort of). All the characters are a mess in different ways and I just wanted Fanny to run away or start a business and make her own way. Secondly, I used an audio book this time. I thought it was a good way to get into the book since I was having difficulties. I wanted to recommend people check out the LibroVox recording by Karen Savage if interested! Finally, I’m excited that we’re halfway through the Austen books! I can’t believe it’s been 6 weeks already, and that we’re at a point where we can compare novels. Can’t wait for more Austen Adventures!

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Next Time on Austen Adventures: Emma on December 25th!

As always, follow us on Twitter!

Jessica: @jess_groom

Mathuri: @mathurimaya