Monday, December 29, 2008

Random Thoughts While Watching Two Different Film Versions of "Emma"

  • The A & E version totally sucks.
  • Jeremy Northam makes Knightley a slightly more endearing character than I perceived from reading the book. He's mildly cute, too. If he had been a tad taller I probably would have lusted after him.
  • The A & E version of Knightley (I'm too lazy to google it and get his name) was something like if Tim Burton directed Jane Austen and morphed "Nightmare Before Emma" into "Headless in the Garden of England." What's the opposite of eye candy? An emetic? Because that's what he was.
  • Poor Miss Bates.
  • I wonder if I should attempt watching "Clueless" now?
  • Toni Collette is on my top ten list of best actresses ever. Has she ever, ever failed to completely nail a performance? I think not.
  • Both versions chopped up some of my favorite lines. The condensed version just isn't the same.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow cracks me up. In a good way. Especially when she cries.
  • Does that make me a bad person?
  • I'm slobbering covetously over all those gorgeous dresses. They'd work better if I had Gwyneth's body to wear them...
  • Julia Stiles looks so much like Elise it's just plain scary. Oh wait--that was the other movie I watched that day. Still, scary.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

JA Man of My Dreams (hint: it's not Knightley)

The initial question that sparked this literary quest was: who is the most romantic fictional protagonist to rock my world, or in other words, which literary hero sparks some fuzzy-wuzzy sentiment in my cold, loveless heart?

This, of course, begs a larger question, which is: what exactly constitutes attractiveness and desirability to me?

I don't know the answer; hence this little textual romp through JA. In trying to answer that question before I began reading any of the books I was able to come up with only one thing. One. Just one.


Don't you think simple, pure goodness is pretty much the sexiest thing out there? Or even setting aside sexy, it's just attractive, in people of both genders, all ages, regardless of physical traits or more superficial markers. Not that those things aren't important; but as Jane says "Where I have a regard, I always think a person well-looking" (161). I'm drawn to people who are bone-deep good. I love to be around them, love to learn from them, love to help them, be helped by them, and especially love to be loved by them. Fortunately, my life is filled to overflowing with good and wonderful people--I swim in a veritable ocean of goodness, or maybe the metaphor should be that I'm the island of mediocrity in the ocean of goodness :). I must politely disagree with Emma's early opinion, "We do not often look upon fine young men, well-bred and agreeable. We must not be nice and ask for all the virtues in the bargain" (138). Personally, I rather think the virtues supersede everything else.

Since I haven't come up with much on my list for the Future Guy, goodness and virtue will have to be my primary measuring stick for Mr. Knightley. How does Emma's lover boy stack up? In my completely subjective and biased read:

1.) Ch. 26 "I know of no man more likely than Mr. Knightley to do the sort of thing--to do any thing really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent. He is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one... for an act of unostentatious kindness, there is nobody whom I would fix on more than on Mr. Knightley" (205). Of course Emma is biased because she's in love with Knightley even if she doesn't know it yet. But I did find my opinion shifting around page 205, and Knightley became somewhat less annoying and slightly more appealing. Okay, fine. I was totally impressed by his quiet kindnesses to the Bates women, Harriet Smith, Robert Martin and others. I heartily approve. Kindness without any reward or recognition is definitely attractive. Cute, even.

2.) Ch. 18 "There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty' not by maneuvering and finessing, but by rigor and resolution... respect for right conduct is felt by everybody" (136-7). So maybe Knightley has a stick up his backside sometimes; he never pretends to be anything he's not. He lives what he believes and sticks to his moral code. That is admirable, a commendable virtue. Even with a little bit of boring rectitude. Integrity is a total turn-on.

3.) Ch. 45 "He took her hand, pressed it, and was certainly on the point of carrying it to his lips--when, from some fancy or other, he suddenly let go... the intention, however, was indubitable; and whether it was that his manners had in general so little gallantry, or however else it happened, but she thought nothing became him more" (356).
So unexpectedly delightful, the warm fuzzies that filled my heart whist reading this warm and affectionate exchange. Puzzling, too. It's probably the most clean-cut love scene EVER. It's mostly subtext from everything leading up to this point. Nothing even happens--no lip-hand contact, let alone anything more intense. Why on earth did I think, "Awwwww." as I read it? I had to cogitate deeply and carefully to understand the Knightley effect here. Ms. Emma expressed it perfectly: "There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart. There is nothing to be compared to it. Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction" (247). I agree most wholeheartedly. A couple of lines later I was chagrined to have another 'I am Emma; Emma is me" moment, when Em continues, "I have it not--but know how to prize and respect it" (247). Ouch.

Knightley carries the day when it comes to being a decent guy. BUT (you knew there would be a 'but') he doesn't do it for me.

The biggest thing I can't get over is the pseudo-parent/child relationship he and Emma have going on. It's not attractive, it's not a turn-on (quite the opposite), and I can't write it off as a product of the time period (sorry, Becks) because this is all about likening Jane to me. The age difference alone is not the issue, speaking as someone who married a man 12 years my senior (and the cynical part of my brain says 'look how well that turned out'), or if it is part of the issue, I'm in denial. I can't envision a lifetime of marital bliss for a couple who has a long-established pattern of husbandly scolding/chastising/reproving and wifely impudence/sassiness/childishness. Am I the only one who wanted to throw up when Knightley confesses that he has "been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least" (427). Gah!

Lessons learned: Kindness, Integrity, and Tenderness= Attractiveness. This is a good thing. Bossy Acting Like a Parent in a Romantic Relationship = Yuck.

Einey, meiney, miney mo, and Knightley is not it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

JA Birthday Challenge

Ms. Austen's birthday apparently took place earlier this week. If she were still alive she'd be 570-some years old, or something like that. My birthday also takes place this week, and I will be nowhere near 570-some years old. Not even if you take one of those digits off either end. Still not close.

I don't think it's coincidence that the birthdays of two such obviously talented and intelligent women are celebrated so close together. Since Ms. Jane is no longer of this earth, which leaves me as the sole birthday royalty for this week (of this blog, anyway), I am hereby issuing a joint challenge to honor the birthday girls.

Number one: to honor Ms. Janie, use one of the following words in a verbal (not online, not texting) conversation today:


Number two: to honor the blog author, apply these words of wisdom from Emma herself, "I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other." Do something to spoil yourself rotten.

As a pathological over-achiever, I am planning to use all three words in casual conversation before the end of the week, and on Saturday I'm spending a few hours at the day spa because I always deserve the best treatment.

I expect you to report back with your own rising to the challenge.

Happy Birthday to us!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Emma Conversation

This is the novel-length comment that turned into an email that has now turned into a conversation/blogpost. With permission from the illustrious author and Instigator of This Whole JA Mess, Ms. Becky, here is our more serious treatment of "Emma." Feel free to jump in. Italicized portions are from Becky.

Emma likes to play at life and love but doesn't know what it is to really live and love. It's not till she allows her heart to be touched that she gains some sense. Life and love are things based on theories for her and she tries to put them to practice with her live dolls, Miss Smith, Mr. Elton, and Miss Taylor. She does good things and performs all of the outward appearances of goodness but doesn't really ever benefit from what it is to be truly charitable until she accidentally loses her polished fa├žade. She lives on the surface of life, never fully partaking of all that lies within. She reminds me of a geology teacher who only talks about rocks but has never actually dug one up. Mr. Knightly is the only one who can save her from herself and it's a process which involves a lot of humility.

At first I wanted to argue with the last sentence, on the basis that 1.) I hate the thought that there is only ONE perfect fit for each person, and therefore would reject that Mr. Knightley is the only potential source for Emma's happiness; and 2.) I also hate the "lover-as-savior" model that implies we're incapable of becoming fully formed humans on our own and require someone else to complete us. Let me rephrase that, because in one sense, we do need others to complete us. We don't need--and indeed, it would be impossible for--another mortal to save us. Only One has the power to fill that role. However, I don't think you are taking it to the extreme I did, and so overall, I probably agree with you. Here's why:

  • For whatever reasons, and regardless of how questionable I find some of them, Emma has given her heart to Knightley, even before she realizes that she's done it. In that sense, he is the only one who can help her move outside of herself, because he's the only person she cares enough for to make that connection. Who knows whether, over the course of a lifetime, he truly is/was the ONLY person who could fill that role--what matters is that right then, for Emma, he is.

What disturbs me is his parentified role with Emma. Combine that with "saving Emma" from herself, a sixteen year age difference, the fact that he helped raise her--and it plays much more like a parent-child relationship than a partnering romantic relationship. My therapist would not approve. Really, given their history, can they truly ever create a marriage of equals? They have a long-established pattern of Knightley correcting, reproving, chastening, and of Emma being saucy/impudent/sassy alternately with contrite/abject/grateful. It just doesn't strike me as very emotionally healthy, although I'll be the first to acknowledge that I'm not the best judge of either healthy marriages or healthy emotional states right now. That's why I'm reading the books!

If one were to ask me, I'd say that Jane Austen is the queen of characterization. You truly understand in one sentence the essence of a person's character. She makes a point of pointing out the follies of every character and none of them come out at all perfect. Every character also seems to have a redeeming quality of some sort, some are very small, but still there. Her characters are real and could be like any set of people we know today, new cast and setting, there can still be a Mr. Darcy and an Elizabeth Bennett. I am always comparing her characters to people I know in real life. I rarely find myself doing that with the rest of the books I read.

I have to admit, the first 100 pages or so were pretty difficult to plow through. Once I got further into the book, and more familiar with Ms. Austen's style, I was blown away by her intricate and precise characterization. I found myself several times thinking that her books should be required reading for any aspiring writer. I can think of very few writers today who could match her skill in fleshing out character.

She also has some wonderful and wise sayings which sometimes come out of the most unlikely mouths. Mary, in Pride and Prejudice has some great lines, but it seems she is the one most in need of hearing them. She is very charitable with her characters, the idiotic as well as with the very nasty ones like Mr. Wickham, Lord Bertram, and Mr. Willoughby. Sometimes it comes out in the fact that they experience some sort of living regret for their actions, therefore allowing the reader to pity them for their bad choices.

1.) I've already started a JA Quote Log, because there are just so many goodies. I comfort myself with the thought that even if I end up judging this JA quest to be a total waste of time, at least I'll have loads of good quotes from the deal.

2.) Her compassion for her characters is probably why she's so skilled at writing them. That, and a keen awareness of human foibles, since every character is flawed to one extent or another. Just like real life!

So, yes, she is a master at displaying human nature with all of their variances. In Emma she writes: "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other." ch. 9 p. 76 which sums up the need to have understanding and patience with each other's follies and perceptions of the world. I know that in some situations I am very much like Emma, acting with hidden condescension toward those with whom I think I are not making the best choices. All I can say is that Miss Austen certainly has some of my character flaws nailed.

I was actually planning to use that quote to describe my feelings about JA in general! It had the ring of a nice blogpost title to it...More than half the female world seems to derive a pleasure that I don't understand from Ms. Austen's books, so I will own her correct on that one. I also think you are probably more charitable than I am, if you act with hidden condescension toward those whose choices aren't up to snuff. My condescension, judgmental criticism, and self-righteous longsuffering is rarely hidden :). About as much as Emma's was hidden, which is to say, not much at all. And ouch--there is the rub. I am Emma; Emma is me. I had several uncomfortable moments of recognition throughout the book when I saw myself staring up from the pages.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Higher Purpose

Yesterday in Relief Society the teacher challenged us each to follow Joseph Smith's counsel and increase our knowledge by doing something new, something we'd never done before, that would take us out of our comfort zone. She had some great suggestions, like cooking classes or studying a particular gospel topic, or learning new scrapbooking techniques.

My friend Christy leaned over and whispered, "Or, for example, you could read all of Jane Austen's novels."

After I got over the initial "worlds-colliding" shock (what?! My blog is being quoted back to me in Relief Society? It seems like a vague kind of sacrilege--whether to RS or my blog I'm not sure), I decided that she's absolutely right. And here I thought my reasons for reading Jane Austen were completely self-centered (albeit masochistic), inane, and pointless.

I'm now claiming a Higher Purpose. Joseph Smith apparently told us to increase our knowledge. In this past General Relief Society Conference President Uchtdorf counseled the sisters to be more creative. Reading the books may not apply, but I'm counting this blog as an outlet for my cynical, mocking--and occasionally semi-serious--creativity.

There you have it--other people may read Jane Austen for pleasure; I'm doing it in all my self-righteous glory because I follow the prophet. Betcha didn't know JA counted.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I am Emma; Emma is Me, Part II

"I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other" (Chapter 54).

Enough said.

(Did you notice that was chapter 54? As in, second to the last chapter in the book? Dare I admit that I finished JA number one?)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why We Need Jane

It hurts me to say this, but apparently the world really, REALLY needs a good, strong dose of Jane Austen. I'm referring to the verbal skills and literary fluency of her characters, her male characters in particular. Quite possibly we women could also benefit from the verbose example
0f her feminine heroines, but for purposes of this post, let's talk men.

This is a composite post/tag line/intro from a composite male in my age range, in my geographic vicinity, found on an online dating site. I'm not making any of this up--I only blended it together to avoid unfairly targeting one specific person.

shut up and fish. hello ladys! im a tattoist an ummm im not very good at this things. Pick me! pick me! im looking for a plutonical relashionship or freinship or maybe something more. im looking 4 someun to cher my lif and b a mother to my beeutiful lille girl so as i can get her out of state custody and haf her N a reul home an we can b a family together. i'm llokin 4 a forgiving woman with a heart, not lik those **tches and man hateers out there--ive had enuf of that 4 a liftim.

I know what you're thinking: with gems like this out there, why am I wasting my time reading Jane Austen and blogging about the lack of romance in my life?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Don't tell anyone, but Santa is bringing Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey to my Christmas stocking, c/o This doesn't mean I am expecting to like JA--I just figured it was wiser to own the books instead of racking up fines from the library since it takes me so long to get through them. Admittedly, I am rather picky about which books actually take up bookshelf space, let alone are worth hard earned cash. Don't read anything into this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I am Emma; Emma is Me

Apparently I have some sentiment in common with Ms. Emma:

"My being charming is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming--one other person at least. And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all. I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted; I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it." (chapter 10)

Oh dear.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What I Did Last Night Instead of Reading Jane Austen

1.) Watched White Christmas with the kiddos on the futon (THANK YOU, Keith & Kevin! I am so, so, so very tempted to plagarize my favorite blogger Mommacita's extremely hilarious post about her buff and manly home teachers who help move furniture, but I wouldn't want anyone to misunderstand, so I will refrain. I'll still giggle to myself, though).

2.) brought the checkbook up to date

3.) washed, dried, folded, and put away three loads of laundry

4.) graded a few papers. I can hear the shocked gasps from my students from here. Very funny.

5.) put all the kids to bed--together--and sang them Christmas songs until they fell asleep to the glow of a multicolored fiber-optic angel on the wall. Momminess = ultimate happiness.

6.) swept the kitchen floor

7.) considered cleaning the bathroom but decided it's not gross enough yet

8.) had a great workout on the treadmill

9.) glanced over at the bed, saw Emma waiting for me and decided to throw in 20 situps, a few stretches, and ten minutes of yoga

10.) took a nice long shower that involved things like actually shaving my legs, because it's time for my annual physical this afternoon and somehow shaving your legs just seems like a polite thing to do, as if having freshly shaven legs will make up for the less pleasant things a doctor must see and do in the course of a yearly checkup.

Finally gave in and read Emma until I fell asleep on page 104. Observations will be forthcoming in a later post.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Misery Loves Company

Okay, all my fellow anti-JA readers, time to take a deep breath and come out of the closet (yes, volerum, that was for you because after our conversation last night I just couldn't resist the rite of passage reference).

I triple dog dare you guys to read JA with me. Man, I need to watch Christmas Story! It's been at least four months since I chortled along with Ralphie shooting his eye out. But I digress...

I feel some serious guilt pangs challenging anyone to read Emma with me. It's kind of like when something bad happens to you and you are so relieved to find other people who have survived the same bad thing and you get together and work through all your 'junk' together and get all bonded and lovey and stuff, but at the same time you would never, ever WISH for that bad thing to happen to someone just so you could have this deeper little relationship of understanding each other. Is it really ethical for me to INVITE other people to join my misery?

No coercion, no manipulation, no bribes. But think how much fun it would be if we could all share the drudgery! The lively online discussions! The snuggly-wuggly feeling of knowing that, as you slog through page 153, there are others on the planet who are feeling your pain. Or maybe we'll have a mass conversion to JA fandom and we could create some weird cultish ritual to celebrate our initiation. My twisted mind is already having fun with that one.

Come join the fun :).
[if you were sitting on the couch across from me right now you could hear my evil laugh].

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Emma: page 67

Emma is that uber-annoying girl in high school I always tried to avoid, not because I hated her; rather because getting anywhere in a three mile radius around her meant potentially being sucked into her patronizing and self-righteous drama.

Don't even get me started on the "love interest" in this book. I'll just say this: a good friend who shall remain anonymous let it slip once that her special nickname for her dear hubby is a variation on this particular JA Romantic Hero's name. That was Too Much Information at the time, and now that I'm actually reading Emma, I want to puke whenever I see this anonymous friend's husband. Which is generally every morning at the bus stop. There--now those of you who are my neighbors can puke, too.

It's been over two weeks and I've read three other books start to finish, yet still only on page 67 of Emma. The other night I looked at my bedside table and saw Emma alongside Harvard Business Review. I'm still on page 67 of Emma, so you can guess which one won out. HBR has mighty interesting articles sometimes.