My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [1995]

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_sy1000_sx706_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Jennifer Ehle

Mr. Darcy – Colin Firth

Jane Bennett – Susannah Harker

Mr. Bingley – Crispin Bonham-Carter

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I am definitely in the camp of fans who believe that this version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the definitive, will-never-be-topped, adaptation of this book. Pretty  much everything is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. The casting in particular is so spot-on that I find it impossible to read the book now without picturing these people as the characters. There are stand-outs, of course, but I don’t have a single quibble with any of the choices. If I had to pick, I might say that I thought Matthew Goode’s Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” might be a smidge better. But that’s only if I was forced to pick, as I have no complaints with Adrian Lukis’ take.

The fact that is a six part mini series allows this version to include not only all the big moments in the book (and many of the little ones to boot), but even add in some smaller, quieter moments that just help to flesh out characters even further. We see hints at Lizzy’s active, independent nature with scenes of her frolicking through the fields (of course making sure she’s not watched; she is a proper lady after all!) Bingley and Darcy have moments as friends, riding horses and viewing Netherfield; and in the end we get to actually see the scene where Darcy apologizes for meddling in his love affair with Jane. The camera drifts through the Bennett household through out the show, giving us small glimpses in the day-to-day ways each member of the household spends their time when not caught up in grand balls and the like. For the romance angle, we get lovely scenes like a recently bathed Darcy being entranced by Elizabeth as she play with a dog during her stay at Netherfield. And, of course, the lake scene, an added element that pretty much turned into the defining moment of this adaptation (so much so that it was listed All of these moments and more just add to the joy that is this story.

The one area in which is lacks, however, is the ending. A proposal while on a walk serves its purpose well enough on the page. But in a movie/mini series, the movement and inability for the actors to look directly at each other as they speak hurts the romance of the moment. And, for all of its length, much of the last few chapters of the book are cut out leaving us without some of the nicer moments of Darcy and Elizabeth while engaged and interacting with various family members. It’s really too bad as the inclusion of these post-proposal scenes was something that really stood out to me in this re-read as a strength of the book. Instead, this movie jumps almost directly from the proposal to the marriage (other than a nice scene between Jane and Lizzy, which, to be fair, if you’re only going to include only one, this was the right choice by far!).

I also love the light, bright score that makes up much of the music for this version. It fits so perfectly with the overall mood  as well as feeling

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Jennifer Ehle is a treasure. Even more so than Firth’s Darcy, hers is the character that most perfectly fits how I imagined the book character and who now always serves as my mind’s image when I re-read the story. She perfectly balances the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth while never losing touch with the propriety of the times for which Elizabeth was also credited. She has a great ability to, I don’t quite know how to say it, but keep her face active? There’s a lot of sitting and talking in this story, but her face is always telling a story of its own, even if she’s not speaking and it adds to the sense of Elizabeth’s lively and playful nature. Even when she doesn’t laugh out loud (that would be improper!), it’s easy to see that she’s laughing on the inside. Her eyes even do sparkle, for heaven’s sake! I also liked that they really emphasized her independent nature by not only having her out walking about on her own (often used to indicate the passage of a season), but by setting several scenes around walks and being in out of doors settings.

Ehle also has great chemistry with Susannah Harker who plays Jane. The moments between the sisters at night in their bedroom are just the sort of scenes that ground this story in a realistic place that one still recognizes today: sisters sprawled out in their rooms talking about the hot gossip. Of course, they look much more refined while doing it than any of us do, I’m sure. Harker’s Jane is also pitch perfect. She is quiet, calm, and willing to go to great lengths to look for the good in people. But, like Bingley (who I’ll discuss next), Harker gives Jane enough earnestness and sense as to not come across as silly and foolish.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Of course, I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. He manages perfectly to be both highly unlikable in the first half of the movie, and then, practically on a dime, turn to being highly likable and heroic. He’s handsome the entire time, which doesn’t hurt. But the movie definitely doesn’t shy away from showing Darcy at his worst in the beginning. He’s rude in public and in private, snobby and insulting of those around him, and, worst of all, playing along with Caroline’s own disdain.

I will, say, however, that the one misstep in this willingness to show Darcy at his worst was the letter he wrote Elizabeth. In the book, there’s a long section in which he details not only his problems with Elizabeth’s family, but also goes on at length about how he was convinced Jane didn’t return Bingley’s affection. There’s a brief line or two about this in the letter in this movie, but there isn’t nearly the amount of explanation around this that we have in the book. There, while still pretty harsh, it is easy to understand that Darcy could really have been lead astray here and, like Elizabeth, begin to forgive him for even that. But in the movie, it’s left feeling still pretty bad on his part. Luckily the Wickham stuff comes next and that’s the part that sticks with you, but it still leaves Darcy kind a worse light than I think he was in in the book.

I do like how they added scenes showing Darcy’s search for Wickham. Not only did it give him more action, but we got to see his heroics in action and it was clearly more than just a rich guy paying someone off to fix it. He’s out there on the streets tracking Wickham down.

I really like Crispin Bonham-Carter’s Mr. Bingley, too. He’s sweet, charming, but, unlike some adaptations, not a buffoon. His romance with Jane is adorable, but his relationship with his sisters and Darcy also makes sense. I particularly enjoy one scene when they’re back at Netherfield and he keeps trying to get a word in only to be interrupted by Caroline. It’s funny and also just adds to the “love to hate” quality for Caroline. I also really enjoy having the scene where Darcy apologizes to Bingley included. It’s also another good moment for Bingley in that we see him angry at Darcy but, just as quickly, go back to wishing for his friend’s approval. But, again, Bonham-Carter manages to play this quick switch with a sense of sincerity and earnestness that doesn’t leave Bingley looking foolish.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

As I said above, Adrian Lukis would be my only tough call if I had to pick a character whose been done better elsewhere. But even then, I think it is context dependent. The Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” has a very different story than the Wickham we see here. Most notably, he’s already a known villain, so much so that he’s suspected of murder. Here, however, Wickham must not only be an unknown, but immediately likeable enough to fool our beloved Elizabeth. And in this, Lukis excels. He is charming, easy-going, and completely believable as just an average, good kind of guy. And to contrast that, he’s also equally smarmy at the end of the movie when he attempts to continue ingratiating himself to Lizzy after his “elopement” with Lydia. It’s uncomfortable to watch and just excellent.

Catherine de Bourgh is also particularly good. She sneers with the best of them, and I love the image of her literally chasing Elizabeth through the yard shaking her cane at her as she tries to get her to promise not to marry Darcy. There’s a particular facial expression, a narrowing of the eyes at Elizabeth, that the actress does during the first meeting at Rosings Park that my mom says is a look that I give. To this day I can’t decide whether to be insulted or pleased.

I also enjoy Anna Chancellor’s Miss Bingley quite a lot. She entirely hateable in the most fun way. One particular moment that comes to mind is when she confronts Darcy early in the movie asking what he’s thinking about. He says fine eyes and Chancellor does a very distinct flick of her own eyes at just the right point in her line to make it clear that Caroline is expecting herself to be the answer. It’s great.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

There are quite a few added moments that help build the romance. Of course, the lake scene where its implied that Darcy is so tormented by his love for Elizabeth that he literally has to cool down by diving into the nearest body of water. But there are several other goods ones too. I already mentioned the early moment when he spots Elizabeth playing with a dog outside (notably, another opportunity for the movie to show a drenched Colin Firth as the scene involves Darcy bathing). There’s also another great moment where we see Darcy in London practicing dueling. At the end of a bout, he exclaims to himself “I shall beat this, I shall.” What woman doesn’t  want a man to be so besotted with her that he tries to drive it out of himself physically?

And, of course, the coup de gras: the look of pure adoration that he gives Elizabeth while she plays piano during her visit to Pemberley. My mom, sister and I once put together a list of romantic moments from movies that when put together would make the perfect romantic hero. This look from Darcy to Elizabeth was always top of the list. Firth practically trademarked it, and it’s immediately recognizable when he pulls it out again in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” where he once again plays Darcy. We’ll get to that movie in a few weeks!

Like I said above, the movie does cut out many scenes from the end of the book as well as one of the visits Darcy and Bingley make before Bingley and Jane’s engagement. The visit makes sense, but I do wish they had included a few more moments of Elizabeth and Darcy happy together. Mostly, we just get a kind of somber wedding scene at the end, before it closes with a few joyful minutes of the happy couples riding off into the sunset. Notably, I think this is the only time in the entire movie that we see Colin Firth smile with teeth.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Lydia really shines in this adaptation. In the book, she’s mentioned often enough as ridiculous, but we don’t really get to see her in action other than small snippets of dialogue here and there. But here, she really comes to life: all of the giggling, the running about, the forwardness. By the time she runs off with Wickham, it feels more like it was only a matter of time than a shock. There were a lot of great moments, probably best all around for comedy in general was the ball at Netherfield where we really feel how much of a challenge the elder miss Bennetts have at finding good husbands when surrounded by so much foolishness. But for Lydia in particular I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of her and Kitty coming to meet Elizabeth on her return trip from Rosings Park and Lydia saying how jolly a party they’ll make on the carriage ride home. The scene then immediately switches to the next day and we hear Lydia and Kitty squabbling as the carriage pulls away.

Mr. Collins is also excellent in all of his smarminess. The actor portrays him as hunched over in a false sense of humility and often has him out of breath when accompanying the ladies on walks. The book makes a brief reference to the fact that he doesn’t know all the steps to the dances at the Netherfield Ball, but here we actually get to witness it as he bumbles head first into another lady when dancing with poor Elizabeth.

And, of course, Mrs. Bennett is great, particularly with the actor’s portrayal of when Mrs. Bennett is taken to her room with nerves while Lydia is missing. She’s over-the-top, emotional, and irrational. Throughout the entire movie, this representation of Mrs. Bennett does nothing to excuse her ridiculous behavior as a worried mother figure going to extremes. And, given that so many of her lines are directly from the book, I feel that it’s a pretty honest take on what Austen had in mind.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Jennifer Ehle wanted the part so badly that she dyed her eyebrows a darker color and didn’t wash her hair the day before casting as she was worried that her naturally blonde color would be a mark against her.

Ehle was perhaps right to be concerned about hair color as Colin Firth was almost passed over for being “too ginger.” Andrew Davies, the showrunner, had to be talked into giving Firth a chance with hair dye as an option.

Joanna David (Mrs. Gardiner) and Emilia Fox (Georgianna Darcy) are  mother and daughter. David was cast first and when they were looking for a Georgianna (they went through 70 or so actresses) David’s daughter, Emilia was mentioned.

Susannah Harker, Jane, was pregnant while filming but the flowing outfits worked well enough for her to conceal it. She is also the daughter of Polly Adams who played Jane in the 1967 version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This has been a favorite of mine for quite awhile:

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” Part II

1886._sy475_Book: “Pride and Prejudice”

Publication Year: 1813

Book Description: The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

Part II – Chapters 35 – 61

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

While out walking the morning after the disastrous proposal, Elizabeth runs into Mr. Darcy once again who quickly passes off a letter to her and leaves. She reads it and discovers some shocking news. First, while she was correct about Darcy separating Jane and Mr. Bingley, she gets a better insight into his evaluation of her family’s behavior. He points to instances where all of her family, her father, mother, and three younger sisters behaved badly in public. He excludes Jane and Elizabeth, noting that they have always been perfectly proper and charming. Elizabeth is angry, but also recognizes the truth in what he says. He also points out Jane’s calm demeanor as misleading him into thinking she didn’t care much for Mr. Bingley. Again, Elizabeth is angry, but then reflects back on what Charlotte had advised months ago about Jane’s needing to show more of what she feels and concedes that perhaps for those who don’t know her, Jane might be hard to interpret.

But then the more shocking tale comes out, that of Darcy’s history with Wickham. While the first half of Wickham’s story is true, Darcy alludes to poor behavior in Wickham’s lifestyle almost from the moment of his reaching adulthood. And once Darcy’s father passed away, Wickham asked for money instead of the living. This was given and Wickham went his own way. But then when the living became vacant, he returned, presumably much in debt, and demanded the living be given to him anyways. This was refused. Later, Wickham went on to pursue Georgiana, only sixteen at the time, when she was staying with a governess and convinced her to elope with him. It was only Darcy’s surprise visit and Geogiana’s love for her brother that prevented her from not sharing the truth that prevented the elopement from happening. Darcy suspected that while Georgiana’s fortune was part of Wickham’s goal, revenge on Darcy was also part of it. He also writes that Colonel Fitzwilliam is also Georgiana’s care taker and thus knows all of these details if Elizabeth is so suspecting of him as to need to double check the truth.

Elizabeth is horrified, not only be the truth of these claims which she quickly realizes can’t be lies (it’s close to Wickham’s story, no brother would make up a story like that about his sister, and, of course, he’d not suggest she check with Fitzwilliam if it were untrue) but by her own lack of solid information to justify her prior opinions. Thinking back, she realizes that Wickham’s behavior has always been odd, sharing this information with her in the first place, having only known her for a day. And his avoidance of Darcy at the ball and the fact that once Darcy was gone from the neighborhood, suddenly the story was everywhere, even though Wickham had first claimed he’d never share it, for his supposed love of Darcy’s father. Elizabeth is miserable and is secretly relieved when she returns to the Collins’ and learns she’s missed Darcy’s leave-taking of the neighborhood.

Elizabeth heads back home. On the way, she stops in London to meet up with Jane and travel the rest of the way back with her. Jane is still obviously upset about Bingley, but Elizabeth distracts her with news of Darcy’s proposal and Wickham’s true history. Jane desperately tried to create a situation where they’re both good people, but Elizabeth claims that she now believes all goodness to be only Darcy’s. Back home, the hear that the regiment is scheduled to leave their town. Elizabeth is relieved. However, Lydia is soon asked to be the special companion of the wife of the colonel of the regiment and accompany them. Elizabeth warns her father about the evils of Lydia continuing to run about as a wild flirt, that it hurts not only Lydia’s own future respectability but she also harms her sisters by proxy. Mr. Bennett essentially pats Elizabeth on the head and says that peace will only be had at home if Lydia is allowed go. And so she does.

Elizabeth’s travels continue as she joins her Uncle and Aunt Gardner on a tour of the countryside. They eventually come into the neighborhood of Pemberley and the Gardner’s express an interest in seeing it. After learning Darcy is not at home, Elizabeth agrees. However, while they’re their, Darcy unexpectedly returns catching Elizabeth by surprise. Much awkwardness ensues, but Darcy is quick to put on the most social and friendly face that Elizabeth has ever seen from him. He is kind to her aunt and uncle and expresses a wish to introduce his sister to Elizabeth while she’s in the neighborhood. He’s so intent on this goal that he brings his sister to visit the very next day, the same day she arrives home. With her comes Mr. Bingley who fishes around for information about Jane.

The next day Elizabeth and her aunt call on Georgiana while at home. While there, Caroline needles Elizabeth about the militia leaving her town, clearing hinting about Wickham, much to Georgiana’s dismay. Later, once the guests have gone, Caroline once again begins negatively evaluating Elizabeth. She finally goads Darcy into speaking only to hear him proclaim that he thinks Elizabeth is one of the most handsome women he knows.

The next day still Elizabeth finally hears from Jane. She writes of terrible news, that Lydia has eloped to London. Worse, they’re not sure the marriage has taken place and she begs for Elizabeth and co. to return. Darcy comes upon Elizabeth right after she finishes the letter and she confesses all of it to him. He comforts her, but leaves fairly quickly; she imagines this is the last she’ll see of him given this new shame on her family.

Once home, Mr. Gardner quickly goes to London to meet up with Mr. Bennett who is already there. Eventually, however, Mr. Bennett has to return after not accomplishing much. Soon enough, though, they hear news from Mr. Gardner that Wickham and Lydia have been found, they are to married, and there will be some money leftover after it all. Mr. Bennett sees this for what it is: Wickham has been paid off handsomely to persuade him to marry Lydia, likely by Mr. Gardner himself. Mrs. Bennett insists they invite the new Wickhams to visit and they do. While there, Mr. Wickham once again starts up conversations with Elizabeth about his wrongs at the hands of Mr. Darcy. She hints enough about knowing the truth that he quickly shuts up.

While visiting, Lydia lets it slip that Mr. Darcy was at their wedding. Elizabeth quickly writes to her Aunt Gardener to get to the truth of the matter. Her aunt writes back saying Darcy did everything: located Wickham and Lydia, arranged all matters, and paid off Wickham to marry Lydia. Darcy claimed responsibility for Wickham’s bad reputation not being known and thus Lydia falling into his clutches. Her aunt also hints that they were OK with him taking such a lead because he obviously has an interest in the family…if Elizabeth knows what she means.

Shortly after Wickham and Lydia leave, Mr. Bingley unexpectedly comes back to the area, bring Mr. Darcy with him. On their visit, Mr. Bingley clearly remains interested in Jane, but Darcy in stand-off-ish. Soon enough, Mr. Bingley finally proposes to Jane. Everyone is overjoyed, but Elizabeth is worried to hear Darcy has gone back to town before she is able to thank him for what he did for her family. Not long later, Lady Catherine makes a sudden appearance. She demands a private audience with Elizabeth and proceeds to inform her that she’s heard that Elizabeth is soon to be engaged to Mr. Darcy; Lady Catherine is not pleased. The two argue, with Lady Catherine insisting that Elizabeth promise never to do such a thing and Elizabeth adamantly refusing to agree to such a ridiculous request. Lady Catherine leaves, unsatisfied.

Soon after, Mr. Darcy returns. On a walk with Elizabeth, while Jane and Bingley  wander behind them, Elizabeth finally manages to thank him for his help with Lydia. He protests and says he did it for her and again asks her to marry him. This time she agrees.

The book concludes with some shorter scenes describing Elizabeth breaking the news to her mother, writing a joyous letter to her aunt, and sharing her happiness with her sister. After the wedding, we learn that she forms a good friendship with Georgiana, and that after a year living close to the Bennett family, Jane and Bingley break down and move close to Pemberley themselves. All is well, and Mrs. Bennett ends with not one, not two, but three daughters married (though no one really wants to talk about the one…)

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Oh, Elizabeth, our beloved Austen heroine. Many people point to her as the most approachable heroine for modern readers due to her wit and independence. Alongside her, Emma is often also named, another witty, independent lady. But do you know what else both of these favorites have in common? Both of their stories revolve largely around their own personal growth. Each starts out feeling very comfortable with themselves, but over the course of the story, they both realize they have some pretty big flaws that have misled them and hurt people. And then they go on to do the personal work to improve themselves. What’s more, this personal work is directly responsible for bringing about their own happy endings. Elizabeth wouldn’t have ended up with Darcy if she didn’t acknowledge her own role in their previous bad relationship. Emma wouldn’t have ended up with Mr. Knightley if she didn’t realize that she shouldn’t play games with other people. This is what I think truly makes these two heroines people’s favorites. There’s nothing more sympathetic to a reader than a character who reflects ourselves, flaws and all. One who highlights that these flaws can be overcome, past wrongs can be made right (or at least avoided in the future), and maybe this effort will be rewarded with some hot, rich dude falling in love with you! Cuz it’s still a wish-fulfillment book, let’s be real.

For me, personally, the other big appeal of Elizabeth is her smart conversation. Particularly her come-backs to the attacks from Lady Catherine. I’m definitely one of those people who spends too much time in the shower thinking up all the smart responses I should have said in the midst of some argument. I’ve pretty much given up hope of every having the perfect response come off my tongue at the right time. But Elizabeth, she’s a master. Lady Catherine says something rude. Boom! Elizabeth has the perfect zinger in reply. One after another. It’s all very cathartic.

Poor Jane, on the other hand. First she’s in London having to endure the harsh realization that Caroline Bingley is kind of a b. Then she ends up being home without Elizabeth, her other source of sanity, when all of the Lydia nonsense first goes down. And even in the end, with her happy ending in hand, there’s a line about how the Wickhams would often over stay their welcome with the Bingleys. Ah well, there’s the price of too much niceness! It’s all well and good, but Elizabeth had several wise points about there being a line between reason and foolish goodwill. At least they eventually moved away from Netherfield and at least go some semblance of distance from the more immediate Bennett drama.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

In many ways, the reader experiences a similar sense of surprise and shock as Elizabeth does by Mr. Darcy’s about face at Pemberley. What’s more, we have even more insights into his changed behavior as we see his interactions with Caroline Bingley later. But what makes these changes feel real, and not just a facade put on to please a woman who has called him out (like perhaps the relationship between Fanny and Henry Crawford in “Mansfield Park”) are all the smaller moments they are paired with.

Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle rightly recognize the weight of the praise that comes from the housekeeper. And Mr. Bingley’s good opinion begins to reassert itself as an important testament to Darcy’s long-standing goodness, even if it was shrouded in pride before. We also see enough evidence of Darcy remaining the same in many ways, if better behaved overall. Elizabeth notes that Mr. Bingley likely got something like permission/a blessing from Darcy before pursuing Jane again. Darcy is still removed and distant in large groups. And, of course, the secrecy and rather forceful (if still good) insistence on doing everything himself with regards to Wickham.

Whenever I re-read this book, I always find myself falling into a similar camp as Elizabeth does early on with regards to Mr. Bingley: any man who can be talked out of his love for a woman based on his friends’ criticisms of her is not worth having. But then we get the letter that highlights, in particular, the fact that Bingley was convinced by others that Jane didn’t actually care for him. And then as the book continues, and as we come across Mr. Bingley again at Pemberley, all the smaller character moments for him begin to settle in again and it becomes easy to understand and forgive. From very early moments in the book, we see how, while confident in general, Mr. Bingley does look to Darcy as a source of sound judgement. We also see a lot of reminders of Bingley’s humble nature (of the extreme sort, similar to Jane) that would make him even more prone to not trusting his own opinion with regards to Jane’s feelings for him.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Wickham is by far the most famous of Austen’s villains, and for good reason. While Willoughby was potentially worse (unlike Wickham who probably did intend to marry Georgiana for her fortune and his revenge on Darcy, Willoughby seduces Brandon’s ward for nothing and then ends up abandoning her to her ruin),  we see a lot more of Wickham in this book, both before and after his character is known. But like Elizabeth, it is easy to be taken in by him at first. There are a few clues sprinkled here and there that reveal his true character, but they are of the sort that only become glaring after Darcy’s history is provided and Elizabeth reflects back.

But the letter itself is condemning in all of the worst ways. It’s impossible not to feel for Elizabeth as months-worth of preconceptions come crashing down around her, revealing unflattering aspects of her own self she hadn’t been aware of. But what is even worse is the sheer sense of sliminess that exudes from even the mention of Wickham from there on out. Lydia, on first meeting back up with Elizabeth, crows about how Wickham is freed from having to marry the unpleasantly-freckled Miss King. But Elizabeth sees this for what it was: yet another botched, mercenary attempt by Wickham to pursue a vulnerable young woman.

And, of course, his coup de gras, the elopement with Lydia. But in this re-read, what really stood out was Wickham’s behavior when he and Lydia return to the Bennett household. First off, the sheer ballsiness of returning at all! This is a family whose daughter he recently whisked away and who knows he had planned to simply abandon at a moments notice had he not been paid off! There has to be something off in the head of a person who could walk back through that door, apparently without any shame or remorse. And then, to go a step further, and start up a conversation with Elizabeth again about his past. If it ever needed to be made more clear that Wickham never truly respected or cared for Elizabeth, this conversation confirms it. If he had had any true respect for her, she would have been the one to avoid the most, let alone start up a conversation about lies that he must have suspected she already had begun to question. Even without that, any respect for her or understanding of her character would have a made it clear to him that she would not forgive and forget, even if the more silly members of the rest of her family would. This all makes it clear that his friendship with her was based on nothing more than his enjoyment in basking in her attention and growing esteem without sharing any similar respect for her.

The other villain pales in comparison to Wickham, but I have to think Lady Catherine belongs in this category. That her efforts had no effect on one party and actually encouraged the other is beside the point; her intentions were clearly villainous. Though I will say that this is one of the instances of having a “villain” who you love to hate. I’m pretty sure one of my high school friends, Hallie, loved this book almost purely for this last scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

I think it’s fairly undisputed that the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth is one of literature’s greatest love stories. Of course, many lovers of romance stories enjoy the “enemies to lovers” tropes and this is one of the early examples of it. And it still holds up as one of the best examples of it, in my opinion. Mostly because Austen wasn’t lazy about it. Both of these “enemies” had to reconcile within themselves their own failings that lead them to being enemies in the first place. And from there, we see each have to make concrete steps to self-betterment and have the grace to accept what the other is offering. Darcy makes a concentrated effort to be welcoming to the Gardners (two people he had previously scoffed at, if only in theory). And Elizabeth makes her own efforts to re-start their relationship, being open to the revised histories that she’s now hearing of him (from the housekeeper and from Georgiana). All of this leg work that is done in the middle of their romance is the part that is all too often left out of modern “enemies to lovers” stories. There, we often see two characters “hate” each other (usually for no real reason), then realize how super hot the other one is, make out for a bit, and then suddenly be in TRU LUV 4EVER. The middle section is completely skipped over. They literally go directly from enemies to lovers. It’s not only unbelievable, but nowhere near as compelling as the very human changes we see Darcy and Elizabeth go through. Not to mention, we all love that scene where Darcy shuts down Caroline with the line about Elizabeth being one of the most handsome women in his acquaintance.

All of this presents a stark departure from the romances we saw in “Sense and Sensibility.” Like the first half of the book, we have brief moments where we see our heroes experiences (the Caroline/Darcy moment that I mentioned just a bit ago). And we also see the lead up to, the actual engagement itself, and even several scenes after the fact. This is a lot more payoff than we saw between either Elinor/Edward or Marianne/Brandon.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There’s really not a whole lot of comedy in this second half. The serious nature regarding Wickham’s past and the even more serious real time events with regards to him and Lydia overwhelm many of the comedic characters. Mrs. Bennett is still ridiculous, but beneath that is a mother who is truly worried about a lost daughter. And her nerves, in the past a largely harmless quirk, become an active burden upon a family who has more than enough on their plate without having to devote extra care to a needlessly bedridden woman. It is also harder to laugh at her nonsense when that nonsense includes the complete 180 back to adoring both Lydia and Wickham, with her fawning over the two of them during their visit, all past harms forgotten. And for her part, Lydia is so obnoxious that it’s hard to not feel viscerally uncomfortable whenever she or Wickham are on page.

Mr. Collins, too, is mostly represented in this half by the truly awful letter he writes to the Bennetts while Lydia is lost, saying that it would be better for her to be dead than their current situation. Sure, there are elements of the comedic here, but again, it’s overwhelmed by the terrible things he’s saying to those who are his family. Also, one can only imagine that he also joined in with Lady Catherine’s toxic assessment of Elizabeth’s failings as a potential Mrs. Darcy.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

There a bunch of popular quotes from this book, but I want to focus on a few that aren’t always seen on mugs and the like. Not that I don’t love those, too.

“Angry people are not always wise.”

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Very true, very insightful, and should in fact be on a mug.

“If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But if otherwise – if regard springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even before two words have been exchanged, noting can be said in her defense, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill success might, perhaps, authorize her to see the other less interesting mode of attachment.”

This is a very thoughtful little paragraph towards the end of the book. And it’s especially interesting after having just read “Sense and Sensibility.” Between that entire book’s theme and this paragraph, I think we can definitively say that Austen was skeptical to the highest degree of the romantic, sentimental “love at first sight” attitude. I suspect that had Austen been alive today, she’d be writing novels, “Northanger Abbey-like,” in response to the YA trend about ten years ago of over-the-top love at first sight found in books like “Twilight” and its ilk.

“Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

This line makes me laugh out loud every time. It’s so ridiculous and hyperbolic that in one fell swoop Lady Catherine shows all her cards as far as her poor manners and character go.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

This was my first favorite Jane Austen novel, as it is for many fans, I think. As I’ve re-read all of Austen’s books and gotten older, others have risen, and I’d probably have a hard time now picking an all-time favorite. But it’s easy to see the general appeal of this story. Elizabeth is by far the easiest Austen heroine to immediately love. She’s smart, independent, charming: pretty much everything every woman wants to be! And on top of it all, she has flaws that keep her grounded as a believable character, flaws of the sort that many of us likely catch ourselves struggling with every now and then.

It has a whole host of great comedic characters, with Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins likely vying for the best comedy throughout all of Austen’s works (though “Emma” does have a good number of great ones, too). The other supporting characters all offer interesting insights into the story as it goes, with Jane’s goodness (sometimes to the point of blindness) and Charlotte’s sense of practicality (sometimes to the point of foolishness).

And, of course, the romance is of the sort that still greatly appeals to people today. The “enemies to lovers” trope is everywhere and anywhere to be found. But Austen does it best! By grounding both our hero and heroine on solid foundations, their original conflicts are believable and the slow process of their growing to understand and appreciate each other is not rushed. They aren’t even on the same time line with this process, making it all the more realistic. But I think a lot of it comes down to the simple fact that many of us whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment:

“It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection.”

In two weeks, I’ll review the 1995 version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Kate’s Review: “The Deep”

46371247Book: “The Deep” by Alma Katsu

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley

Book Description: From the acclaimed and award-winning author of The Hunger comes an eerie, psychological twist on one of the world’s most renowned tragedies, the sinking of the Titanic and the ill-fated sail of its sister ship, the Britannic.

Someone, or something, is haunting the ship. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the Titanic from the moment they set sail. The Titanic’s passengers expected to enjoy an experience befitting the much-heralded ship’s maiden voyage, but instead, amid mysterious disappearances and sudden deaths, find themselves in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone. While some of the guests and crew shrug off strange occurrences, several–including maid Annie Hebbley, guest Mark Fletcher, and millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim–are convinced there’s something more sinister going on. And then disaster strikes.

Years later, Annie, having survived that fateful night, has attempted to put her life back together by going to work as a nurse on the sixth sailing of the Britannic, newly refitted as a hospital ship to support British forces fighting World War I. When she happens across an unconscious Mark, now a soldier, she is at first thrilled and relieved to learn that he too survived the tragic night four years earlier. But soon his presence awakens deep-buried feelings and secrets, forcing her to reckon with the demons of her past–as they both discover that the terror may not yet be over.

Featuring an ensemble cast of characters and effortlessly combining the supernatural with the height of historical disaster, The Deep is an exploration of love and destiny, desire and innocence, and, above all, a quest to understand how our choices can lead us inexorably toward our doom.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

It’s been ten years since I was working at our local Science Museum and had shifts in the Special Exhibit about the Titanic, and while I am intrigued by the story still, I’m also a tiny bit burnt out on it. This doesn’t necessarily discourage me from reading stories that are related to or based upon the maritime disaster, however, because if I love the author or the premise sounds promising I’ll happily give it a whirl. Because of this, when I heard that Alma Katsu’s newest horror novel, “The Deep”, took place on the Titanic (and also on the similarly doomed sister liner The Britannic), I immediately requested an eARC from NetGalley. Lucky for me, I was given access. Given how much I LOVED Katsu’s take on the Donner Party in “The Hunger” (as reviewed HERE), I was all in for what she could do with the Titanic.

giphy-2
And I hoped it would leave out a hokey romance. (source)

Katsu has once again brought beautiful prose and an eerie supernatural twist to a well known tragedy, and I think that I liked “The Deep” even more than I did “The Hunger”. She utilizes both actual historical figures such as Madeleine Astor, Lady Duff Gordon, and W.T. Stead, as well as original characters to give an all encompassing view of what happened during the ill fated voyage, and what roles everyone played in each other’s experiences both before and after the iceberg. It is the characterizations of all these characters that “The Deep” found it’s greatest strength, and given how much I loved the other parts that says something. Katsu mostly uses the real life characters to examine the social roles that they all played at the time, to great effect. My favorite to follow was Madeleine Astor, the VERY young, pregnant wife of mogul J.J. Astor. Her age is definitely alluded to through her immaturity compared to other characters, but we also get to see how the position she was in couldn’t have been easy. She was always seen as a trophy wife and her legitimacy was questioned by Astor’s family after his death, and Katsu gets into her head and really explores the insecurities that a young wife at this time in her situation almost certainly would have had. I really looked forward to her chapters, because they always left me with such bittersweet feelings. Our original characters mostly focus on stewardess Annie, whose story is told in flashbacks on the Titanic and in the present on the Britannic, where she has become a nurse thanks to her friend Violet Jessup (an actual woman who survived BOTH sinkings). We slowly find out that something strange is afoot on the Titanic, a ghostly presence of some sort, and see through the flashbacks and the present just how it has affected Annie, and how she has affected others. Annie is clearly traumatized by the time she gets on the Britannic, but there are hints that even before she was on the Titanic that something is afoot with her. Along with her we get Mark and Caroline, a young married couple with a small child in tow. Annie is drawn to Mark, and her interest begins to feel like downright obsession over him and his daughter. There, too, is the mystery, as it seems like Mark reciprocates, but then perhaps he doesn’t. The unreliable narration that comes from multiple characters really helped the mystery at hand. I was kept guessing pretty much the entire time as to what kind of supernatural hijinks were afoot, and how it connected to our cast of characters.

And speaking of the supernatural, like in “The Hunger” Katsu perfectly balances the eerie and unsettling along with more subtle and underlying horrors of the real world. It isn’t completely clear from the get go just what we are dealing with in terms of supernatural themes, but as it’s slowly revealed we get to explore the ideas of spiritualism that were popular at the time, as well as lesser known mythologies that line up with some of our characters backgrounds and culture. This easily could have gone in a predictable fashion, as a ghostly presence on a ship like this is no doubt filled with possibilities, no matter how obvious. But instead we got a suspenseful story that combines things that go bump in the night with the horrors of gender, class, and obsession. I really, really loved how she tied it all together and how well she pulled it off.

“The Deep” is another triumph from Alma Katsu. She brings historical fiction horror to new heights, and if The Donner Party was a little too gruesome, The Titanic will be a good way to experience what she can do with the genre.

Rating 9: Haunting and chilling, “The Deep” brings new spooky life to the Titanic story, and paints a supernatural picture that is effortlessly as emotional as it is suspenseful.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Deep” is new and not yet on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Fiction Books About The Titanic”.

Find “The Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” Part I

1886._sy475_Book: “Pride and Prejudice”

Publication Year: 1813

Book Description: The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

 When “Pride and Prejudice” was first completed, Jane Austen’s father, believing it to be quality writing, submitted it for publication. It was rejected. Austen then moved on to writing “Sense and Sensibility” and self-publishing that title herself. After its success, she sold the copyright to “Pride and Prejudice” to a publisher who listed the title as by the author of “Sense and Sensibility.” Like that first novel, “Pride and Prejudice” was an immediate success, and the publisher ordered several reprints of the story after the first  run sold out. This, of course, resulted in the publisher profiting much more from this title than did Austen who only earned 110 pounds on the original copyright sale. Austen, however, was pleased with its success and especially with the critical praise that was garnered by her heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. (source)

“”I must confess that I think her [Elizabeth] as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” 

 —Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen,  January 29, 1813

Part I – Chapters 1 – 34

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

We are first introduced to the Bennet family as we hear Mrs. Bennet share the exciting news that a wealthy gentleman has moved into the neighborhood. To her, this provides much hope that one of her five daughters might marry well, a necessity in a family that is by no means wealthy, has no sons, and whose estate is entailed away to a distant cousin. After teasing his wife and the sillier of his daughters, Mr. Bennet does visit Mr. Bingley.

The rest of the family then meets him at a ball. There, the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane, does in fact gain the attention of Mr. Bingley. But Elizabeth, the second oldest, gets spurned by the more rich but more proud Mr. Darcy, a friend of Bingley’s. Elizabeth finds this mostly amusing and is happy enough to see her sister be happy. As the weeks progress, they see more of Mr. Bingley and his snobby sisters. Jane is invited over for a dinner by the sisters, but comes down with a bad cold after her mother insists she ride in the rain (hoping for an outcome where Jane is forced to stay the night, though illness was not part of the plan.) Elizabeth goes to care for Jane and spends a good deal of time with the entire party. She draws more and more of Mr. Darcy’s attention (who, we learn, has begun to admire her fine eyes), but neither are particularly pleased by this fact. Jane recovers and the two go home.

The Bennet family is then visited by their cousin, Mr. Collins, who is in line to inherit their home. Mr. Collins is a silly, pompous man, much inclined to give nonsensical speeches and praise his wealthy patroness, Catherine de Bourgh. He also sets his eyes on marrying one of the Bennet sisters and decides on Elizabeth once he learns that Jane is out of the question due to her informal attachment to Mr. Bingley. The family also meet a new officer (a regiment of the army is stationed in the town nearby, much to the delight of the two youngest, and silliest, of the sisters), Mr. Wickham. In the process of making their first introductions, Mr. Darcy and Mr Bingley stop by. Elizabeth notes the cold meeting of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham and privately wonders about it.

They are all charmed by Mr. Wickham’s easy nature and open temperament, but Elizabeth is the lucky woman who is singled out by him for more attention. In the course of an evening on their second meeting, he shares the shocking history between him and Mr. Darcy. The two grew up together, Wickham’s father being the late Mr. Darcy’s groundskeeper, and Mr. Darcy’s father was very attached to Wickham. So much so that he left a valuable estate to him on his death. But when the tragic event happened, the son refused to uphold his father’s will and Wickham was cast out into the world to fend for himself. Elizabeth is shocked that Darcy, whom before she had thought was only proud and rather rude, is as bad as this. She later retells the story to Jane who warns her about making quick judgments against either man.

Mr. Bingley hosts a grand ball at Netherfield, an event all of the Bennet sisters look forward to greatly. Once there, however, Elizabeth is disappointed to find that Wickham has decided not to come, not wanting to be near Mr. Darcy. Instead, she ends up having to dance first with Mr. Collins, and then, shockingly, with Mr. Darcy himself. The two have an awkward dance filled with alternating silences and conversation hidden with double meanings as Elizabeth tries to get to understand Darcy better. The evening is a disaster from there on out. Mary, the middle daughter, makes a poor display on the piano, followed by an even more awkward display by Mr. Bennet has he tries to get her off the piano. The two youngest flirt wildly with everyone in their path. Mr. Collins confronts Mr. Darcy without introduction having found out that Darcy is the nephew of Lady Catherine. And Mrs. Bennet loudly congratulates herself on what she suspects to be the likely marriage between Jane and Mr. Bingley.

The next morning Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She turns him down. And then has to keep turning him down for quite some time before being forced to just leave the room as he insists on not getting the point. But, to everyone’s amazement, his trip does not end with him returning home, still single, because he then proposes to Elizabeth’s dear friend, Charlotte, who, being in her late 20s and from a family without many prospects, agrees.

Around this same time, Jane receives the distressing news that Mr. Bingley and his entire party have removed themselves back to London. His sister, Caroline, even goes so far as to say that she and her sister are hoping for a quick engagement between Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. Jane is distressed, but Elizabeth is quick to tell her that this is clearly a plot by the sisters and friend who never approved of Jane and Mr. Bingley’s attachment. But weeks go by with no news of their returning. Their Uncle and Aunt Gardner come to visit and Jane is asked to go back with them to London when they return home. All are hopeful that she will meet with Bingley again there.

Charlotte asks Elizabeth to come visit her in her new home with Mr. Collins. Elizabeth agrees, though not particularly looking forward to it. Once there, she gets to meet the famed Lady Catherine. She’s a overly proud woman who takes a great deal of interest making proclamations about even the smallest aspects of the Collins’ lives. While there, Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fiztwilliam come to visit their aunt. Charlotte notes that Mr. Darcy is making more of an effort to call on her family than usual and says it must be due to Elizabeth. Elizabeth scoffs at this idea, though she does wonder at the number of times she meets him while on walks around the park.

She finds Colonel Fitzwilliam to be a very charming man and gets along with him well. On one walk, Colonel Fitzwilliam share some details about how his cousin, Mr. Darcy, congratulates himself on recently saving his dear friend, Mr. Bingley, from a bad marriage. Elizabeth is furious and hurt that her sister’s happiness was ruined by his friend’s interference. Later, alone at the parsonage, Mr. Darcy arrives and unexpectedly proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses. The encounter ends with the two fighting. Elizabeth accuses Darcy of separating Jane and Bingley and also points to his dishonorable treatment of Mr. Wickham. Mr. Darcy makes more belittling comments about Elizabeth’s family and her situation saying that he was kinder to Bingley than to himself in preventing his friend from a connection so beneath himself. He is shocked by the accusations about Wickham but doesn’t directly refute them. He leaves and Elizabeth remains behind, stewing.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I think it can be reasonably assumed that Elizabeth is one of the most beloved heroines to ever be penned. Her character is one that could be appreciated in the time she was written but who also appeals to modern readers who can be put off a bit by the more reserved leading ladies of books written at a similar time. She handles a lot of uncomfortable situations in a way that I think most of wish we could, with a smirk, a witty reply, and the ability to say what she thinks without offending others. She’s romantic, wishing to marry for love, but also the most practical of her sisters, being much more cynical than Jane. She’s also flawed. But unlike Emma, the other famously flawed Austen heroine, Elizabeth’s flaws are of the sort that many of us can sympathize with, especially her own lack of awareness that she even possesses this flaw. For the most part, she’s clear-eyed and an excellent judge of character. So it’s easy for her to then slip into a judgement of someone and not question or challenge her own thoughts further. It’s not until the second half of the book that she has to confront this challenge, but I think this self-reflection and learned self-awareness is still very appealing to modern readers. That, and, as I’ll go into later, she has the best lines, especially when arguing.

Jane is our other heroine. She’s an interesting character, really. Elizabeth clearly respects Jane, and Jane is spoken about as being of good sense and rationality. But she pairs these traits with an almost aggressive level of optimism that leaves her almost paralyzed in the face of the evils of the world. And yet Elizabeth, and the reader by proxy, never judges her as foolish. Yes, she’s wrong about Caroline. Yes, when she tries to make both Darcy and Wickham into good guys somehow it’s fairly silly. But she’s written so well that it all feels truly earnest; readers are left, like Elizabeth, wishing they could think so well of others as Jane does.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Our two heroes benefit greatly from the increased time with their respective heroines as well as the added scenes we have of them on their own. This does away with most of the problems that the heroes suffered from in “Sense and Sensibility.” While we don’t see a lot of Mr. Bingley and Jane’s actual romance, we do see enough of the two individually interacting with friends and family to easily understand their relationship. Indeed, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Bennet’s assessment at the end of the book that, if anything, Jane and Mr. Bingley are almost too alike. It is nice to see so much of Bingley and through the more clear eyes of Elizabeth even. Her time at Netherfield cements readers understanding that Bingley deserves all the credit he gets as a charming, good natured gentleman. Even in the face of his sisters’ poor manners and Mr. Darcy’s standoffishness, Bingley holds true as an excellent host and the only one among them to truly behave well under the circumstances.

And, of course, we see much of Darcy as well, both the good and the bad. In the beginning of the book there’s no denying that he could use some improvement. Even if he has always behaved properly (in his dealings with Georgiana and to gain the respect and friendship of a man like Bingley), he is still fairly lacking. His open rudeness to Elizabeth at their first meaning and general aloofness at his surroundings makes him deserving of the early poor reputation he has in the neighborhood (even if Wickham’s contributions to it aren’t true). And we see even further with his snobby comments after the fact when he willing plays along with Caroline’s game of mocking everyone around her, including Elizabeth.

Knowing what we do about his growing interest in Elizabeth, it’s easier to see his actions through a lens of expressing interest. His attentions at Rosings in particular stand out. But, without that inner knowledge, it’s also very easy to see Elizabeth’s side of things. Even without Wickham’s lies, she’s right about his actions with Jane and at best, he’s taken an interest in her to debate points and to sit in silence. Maybe a big concession from his standpoint, but not so for any reasonable woman.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Since at this point in the story Wickham’s version of his history with Darcy is all we have, we’re left in the awkward position where we at best have no real villain and at worst…maybe the villain is Darcy himself? Obviously even the most oblivious reader sees the writing on the wall about Darcy and the inevitable revelation that he is the true hero of the story and the bogus tale Wickham put out there is just that, bogus. But that fact aside, we’re left with a lot of comedic characters who maybe dabble in wrong-doings but mostly get into trouble more due to buffoonery than any actual ill intent. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, outright admits to separating Jane and Bingley. Which, again, at this point in the story, is the only real, known, and accepted by the perpetrator himself, wrongdoing we have! We get a better understanding of his reasoning in the letter to come in the second half, but by the end of the book Mr. Darcy still reflects back on his actions with regards to this pair as in the wrong.

Caroline, of course, is the other more true villain. She was complicit in convincing Bingley that Jane didn’t care for him. The text never states this, but one would suspect their her view of this matter might have held even more weigh than Darcy’s. She’s a woman (assumed to be more knowledgeable in matters of the heart, whether true or not) and is still considered to be a dear friend of Jane. Of course she should have knowledge of Jane’s inner heart, and if she  says Jane doesn’t care, it’s pretty understandable that Mr. Bingley would believe her. And, unlike Jane, we see Caroline’s behind-the-scenes cruel commentary about her friend and her friend’s family, especially Elizabeth.

This, truly, is a testament to the wrongness of Darcy’s pride in action, that he tolerates and even agrees with some of Caroline’s early snobbery. By the end of the book, Darcy tells Elizabeth that he had been left to follow the good morals he’d been raised with in pride and conceit and would have still been like that if not for her. More so than even Elizabeth saw, we, the readers see this to be true in the change of his private behavior from a man who criticized Jane for “smiling too much” to the one who welcomes the Gardners to his home and shuts down Caroline when she tries to start up the “Elizabeth isn’t all that much” speech again.

But for much of this half of the book, Caroline and Darcy are on the same side of many matters and work together to quell Jane and Mr. Bingley’s burgeoning love affair. Caroline’s treatment of Jane in London is also a good example of why she deserves to be solidly in this category. The reader, however, like Elizabeth, is almost gratified that at least Jane won’t be duped any more as Caroline has now so thoroughly shown her true colors.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The most interesting commentary on romance in this first half is the ongoing disagreement between Elizabeth and Charlotte on how to go about courtship and what to expect from matrimony. Charlotte, early in Jane and Bingley’s romance, comments to Elizabeth that Jane should show more affection than she feels to ensure a quick engagement.  Elizabeth laughs at this idea, but later Charlotte puts her own words in action, agreeing to marry Mr. Collins, who she knows to be foolish, after only a few days acquaintance. While Elizabeth is quick to come down harshly against this action, Jane herself weighs in on the argument that different temperments and circumstances will call to different actions. While it is clear that Austen is writing true romances where love is of course necessary for her main protagonists, Jane’s argument here, and even Elizabeth later acceptance of Charlotte’s situation, are nice balances to these lucky few women. Many women of the time would have made a similar choice to Charlotte and, in many ways, her was the more practical and realistic option. We can’t all wait around for handsome, kind, 10,000 pounds a year men to come around! Austen carries this point further in Mansfield Park where we see the other, more unfortunate, side of the “marry for love” choice in Fanny’s mother’s situation.

But, of course, the main romance is between Elizabeth and Darcy. One of the major differences that stood out to me in this re-read, especially reading this one directly after “Sense and Sensibility” is how important are the scenes we witness of Darcy that Elizabeth isn’t privy to. Not only are readers aware of his admiration the entire time, in general, we get a much better understanding of him as a character than we did the romantic leads in the previous book. And there are simply more scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy than we had there, too. We witness scenes of their verbal sparring which reinforce the idea that Darcy would naturally be attracted to her lively nature. There is also Caroline Bingley lingering about as a perfect contrast to Elizabeth.

The failed proposal scene has to be one of my favorite scenes in literature. It’s just so painfully perfect! Darcy’s terrible original attempt, his slow slip into shocked bewilderment at the realization that he’s being turned down, and the sharp anger when the accusations start flying. And Elizabeth’s righteousness and masterclass put-downs are priceless. But what makes it a perfect fight is that in between the honest anger and words, we clearly can identify the moments when each goes overboard in their anger and just gets mean. It’s a point in fighting that almost everyone is familiar with and everything about this scene reads so true to life.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There are so many great comedic characters in this book! I mean, other than the four characters from the two couples, almost everyone else in this first half play for laughs at one point or another. But there are two that always come up when talking about this book and for good reason: Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins.

There has been a more sympathetic eye turned towards Mrs. Bennet recently, given the very real uncertainties and struggles of the future should Mr. Bennet die and none of the daughters be married well. It would definitely be hard, and the girls’ future is largely left to Mrs. Bennet to worry about. This is the kind of thing that would almost always fall on the mother anyways, and Mr. Bennet is particularly unsuited to be of help, what with his general lack of concern regarding what he largely sees as frivolities.

But in many ways this is similar to the circumstances of Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters. But there, while Mrs. Dashwood could be sentimental and romantic to the extreme, she didn’t materially damage the very goal she had in mind. Mr. Darcy’s letter in the second half of the book will lay this out more clearly, but it doesn’t take an astute reader to pick up on the fact that Mrs. Bennet’s nonsense would have a impact on potential suitors wishing to pursue her daughters. Not only would they have to look forward to a future of her as a mother-in-law, but many would likely assume the daughters to be the same and not bother getting to no them further and discovering that the eldest two, at least, have seemed to escape this familial trait.

All of this to say, while I do have some sympathy for Mrs. Bennet, I think she is pretty firmly written as a ridiculous person, a detriment to her daughters, and a character that is not meant to be largely felt for by the reader. One can both be in a bad situation and also make that bad situation worse, and that’s Mrs. Bennet. But with all the seriousness of the situation aside, she’s great fun to read about. Her inconsistencies (particularly with her quick about-face with regards to Darcy’s handsomeness), her nerves, her crowing over her neighbors. Good stuff all.

And, of course, Mr. Collins. No attempt here to redeem him as he just gets worse in the second half of the book. His humor is tinged with a greater feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment. Reading over some of his interactions with others, I almost felt my own discomfort for what Elizabeth and Jane must have felt. Secondary embarrassment for a fictional character! But, again, it’s the proposals where Austen shines in this book. His “wooing” of Elizabeth is the best/worst. There is a very fine line here that is walked perfectly: his buffoonery and pompousness are at a peak, but it’s also still believable enough that a man like him could exist. And, of course, Elizabeth once again shines in her repeated refusals. This scene in particular is almost impossible for me to read now without picturing the 1995 movie version of it. Spoilers: I loved that movie (but doesn’t every Austen fan??).

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

A decent number of the quotes I use in my section titles come from this book, so there’s that. And one cannot write a “Pride and Prejudice” review with a “favorite quotes” section and not highlight one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And, if he had left it at this, perhaps…

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

But I always like this meme with regards to Darcy’s first proposal:

453f066eb2029f85d54e9316be261504

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Pride and Prejudice” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Kate’s Review: “Deathless Divide”

38124119._sy475_Book: “Deathless Divide” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

Review: A couple years ago, Justina Ireland wrote the YA horror/historical fiction book “Dread Nation”, a novel about the zombie uprising during Reconstruction in the U.S. Her main character, Jane, was a black teenage girl being trained to be a personal bodyguard for upper class white people, as after the zombies came Black and Indigenous people were recruited to protect the white people of society. It ended with an overrun town and Jane, her frenemy and fellow attendant Katherine, her old flame Jackson, and a group of refugees deciding to head West to California, as Jane was hoping to find her mother. When I heard about “Deathless Divide”, the sequel to “Dread Nation”, I was anticipating another zombie horror novel with the usual apocalypse themes. What I got was something completely different. This time, we get a horror historical fiction novel with distinct themes of a Western, and the lonesome redemptive attempts that come with that genre.

giphy-4
Spoiler Alert: It does. (source)

“Deathless Divide” picks up right after the end of “Dread Nation”, and almost immediately it gets turned on it’s head as to what I had expected from the narrative. For one thing, we are not only getting Jane’s POV, we also get the POV of Katherine, the high strung, prim, and incredibly talented classmate and sometimes friend of Jane. I wanted to know more about Katherine in “Dread Nation”, so when we got to get inside her head in “Deathless Divide” I was overjoyed. Katherine always intrigued me the most from the first book because I loved that she is unabashedly feminine, and is still an incredible fighter, perhaps the best in the book. Too often we see women characters who are made ‘strong’ at the expense of having their femininity stripped away. This is fine, of course, as there are lots of ways to write female characters, but women can fight and kick butt in a corset if they want to, dammit! I also liked getting a deeper exploration of Katherine and the issues that she has to contend with as a very attractive woman who is constantly underestimated, and who, as a woman who passes for white, doesn’t always feel like she has her identity all figured out. Getting to see more of Katherine was delightful. 

The other unexpected shift in the narrative was, as I mentioned before, the fact that it has a distinctly Western theme about it. Usually as a rule I am not a fan of Westerns, as the themes usually don’t grab me AND so many of the Westerns that I think of feel imperialistic. But in “Deathless Divide” Ireland does a really good job of taking the theme of the lone gunslinger and applying it to Jane as her journey progresses, especially since the usual trope of that is a white man. I loved the role for Jane, as she has endured so much trauma and loss and violence because of her race and the fact that Black and Native people have been used as protectors and bodies to protect the White people in a zombie ravaged society. It’s no wonder she would become morally ambiguous as she travels the west looking for revenge. It makes the idea incredibly tragic. And it’s just another of many ways that Ireland once again explores themes and issues of race and racism in America, and like in “Dread Nation” it works very well. From POC being used as guinea pigs to further scientific research to race and class relations in urban settings and capitalism to colorism, “Deathless Divide” shows that some times don’t really change much, and that we still have a long way to go. 

As for the zombies, not much has changed from the first book, and they aren’t as centered this time around. But that said, we do get to delve into the ideas of potential cures, and how different science experiments can bring different outcomes when it comes to the zombies and how they interact with their potential prey. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but just know that Ireland still manages to make the zombies feel fresh and interesting even when they aren’t at the forefront. After all, like in all good zombie stories, it’s the humans that are the bigger threat.

(note: As I mentioned in my review for “Dread Nation”, there had been criticism of the Native characters in that book. I’ve not seen anything in that regard about this book, and I don’t think that I as a white woman can say if Ireland has been more responsible this time around. We do get a more complex and deeper dive into the character of Daniel Redfern, however. If anything changes on this front I will update this post.)

“Deathless Divide” is the end of the road for this world and characters (at least for now; Ireland has said that it COULD happen that more gets written, maybe), and I think that it’s a great follow up and completion. I’ll miss Jane and Katherine.

Rating 8: A satisfying ending with a bold new genre take, “Deathless Divide” wraps up a world of zombies, racism, and empowerment for Black women.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless Divide” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Black Heroines 2020”, and “LGBT SciFi and Fantasy 2015-2020”.

Find “Deathless Divide” at your library using WorldCat!

 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [2008]

250px-s26s_dvd_cover_2008Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

Release Year: 2008

Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Hattie Morahan

Marianne Dashwood – Charity Wakefield

Colonel Brandon – David Morrissey

Edward Ferrars – Dan Stevens

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

The biggest difference between this movie and the 1995 version is the added length. It has at least an hour of extra running time which allows the story to both add in scenes and characters that were cut from the book as well as create some unique scenes that, for the most part, do enhance the story. That said, there were also a few mishaps in these added scenes and in the characterization of Willoughby. But overall, I think it did more right than wrong, in this aspect. Watching the two adaptations back-to-back was an entertaining process. It was clear that as much as this story was attempting to be faithful to the novel and be its own thing, the 1995 version was too beloved to completely ignore. There were several scenes or character beats that were clear mirrors to similar ones in the older movie, like some of the early scenes with Edward, Margaret, and Elinor in the library. It wasn’t a scene in the book, so it was a clear nod to the earlier, beloved movie.

I’ll go into more detail below, but I think I liked both actresses in both movies about equally. But the heroes are more split. I preferred Dan Stevens’ Edward here much more than Hugh Grant’s take on the character. Some of this is due to my own dislike of Hugh Grant, but some of it is also simply due to the choices that were made with the character here. Colonel Brandon is a tougher call. I think Alan Rickman’s is probably better, but the added time, again, does a lot for the character here and David Morrissey is still a good fit.

I really liked the use of the dramatic scenery in this movie. There are several moments when nature itself is used to highlight or mirror the internal emotions of the characters. The waves crashing, the driving rain, even the quiet of a seaside cave. It was all beautiful, and paired with a lovely score, the overall tone of the story felt perfect.

I’ve definitely watched this version more than the 1995 version. As I said in that review, I had almost forgotten how much I liked it and will likely increase my re-watching of it in the future. However, I think this one will likely to continue to beat it out overall, if only because, being longer, there’s just so much more of it to enjoy.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Both actresses are superb in their roles. They also both bring very different vibes to the characters than Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet did to theirs in the 1995 version. Morahan’s Elinor feels a bit more in line with the character, perhaps. Emma Thompson was almost a bit too perfect, making Elinor, a character who already walks the line of being unbelievable in her perfection, stand out even more above those around her. The solemnity of Morahan’s Elinor is combated by her wide-eyed bewilderment and innocence to the failings of many of those surrounding her. Wakefield leaned in strongly to the lively aspect of Marianne’s character. Due to the increased run time, more of the original lines from Marianne that highlight some of her more extreme romanticisms were included which helped flesh out her character here. Winslet’s version was a bit more refined, I think, but both are enjoyable. I’d have a hard time picking favorites between the four versions and can only really say that I enjoyed them all thoroughly in the adaptations they were in.

The longer running time was also nice in that it gave the story more room to focus on the the small moments in the Dashwoods family. We see a lot of added scenes with Elinor and Marianne, Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood, and even Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret. The movie was very successful in making the viewer feel that this was a real family with real relationships between them that were just as important, if not more so, than the romantic ones that are developing before us.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Like the 1995 adaptation, we see the most changes to the original text with how the heroes are depicted. Edward is given many more actual scenes interacting with Elinor in the beginning of the story, and, due to the increased length of this adaptation, we gain back a few scenes with him that were cut in the 1995 version, such as his visit to the Dashwoods about halfway through the story. I particularly liked this inclusion again as it helped keep Edward in the front of the mind (in the 1995 version he kind of fades into the background, making his reappearance towards the end of the movie a bit jarring). It also allowed for an additional small moment where we see him working off his feelings while cutting wood for the Dashwoods. He comments about how little help they have at the cottage and cuts himself off from saying more, though it is clear to the viewer that he is thinking about what he could do for them if he was free to marry as he wishes. I think it works really well as a wholly original added segment, giving viewers a better peak into Edward’s current mindset.

Colonel Brandon, too, benefits from the added time. We see more moments between him and Sir John while they’re hunting, a nice insight into Brandon’s friendship with characters who, on the surface, it would seem are not the type to attract his attention. The movie also adds back in the duel with Willoughby and a few added scenes between these two characters. Unlike the Edward moment, I’m not sure if these added scenes worked as well. I’ll go into more about the Willoughby/Brandon problems below, but even the duel was a bit strange. It seemed out-of-step with the rest of the movie and a Jane Austen story as a whole, feeling too dramatic and too unecessary. Nothing is actually resolved from this duel, it’s never mentioned again, and it doesn’t provide any insights into either character, except, perhaps, lowering Brandon to the level of petty dueling which feels amateurish and boorish and more inline with Willoughby than Brandon overall.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

One of my biggest criticisms of this adaption is the character of Willoughby. There are several things working against it for me, but two really stand-out: the choice of actor and several added scenes to the script. As I have more conflicted feelings about the latter choice, I’ll begin with the first. Dominic Cooper is routinely type cast as villainous characters. He’s not super well-known, of course, but for anyone who is familiar with him, it’s an instant giveaway for Willoughby’s being bad. He’s also type cast this way for obvious reasons, he’s simply excellent at being sleazy! So much so, however, that it’s almost impossible to buy his love for Marianne as being anything other than nefarious. This, in turn, makes her own blindness towards him (as well as her mother’s and Elinor’s as well) harder to understand and sympathize with. In the 1995 version of it, it’s easy to see the appeal of Willoughby, and Winslet’s Marianne is blithely shrouded in easy-to-understand youthful naivety.

What’s more, the script makes no effort to keep Willoughby’s villainy a secret. The movie actually opens with the scene of his seduction of Brandon’s ward and her abandonment. Cooper’s face isn’t shown, but he does speak, so careful listeners are immediately alerted when he later shows up. The creator mentioned that this scene was added because they felt that the seduction of Brandon’s ward, a truly awful act, is often easily skipped over, both by book readers and viewers of the 1995 movie. But, while I do think this concern has merit, particularly where the book is involved, it does hurt the movie as far as Willoughby himself. This problem is only compounded when only shortly after meeting Willoughby, the movie adds a scene between him and Brandon in which Brandon asks what his intentions are. Willoughby is shady, Brandon is honorable, it’s all fairly easy to put together.

This movie does include the scene where Willoughby shows up during Marianne’s illness to explain his side of things. But, by token of highlighting the true villainy of his previous acts, the movie undercuts the sincerity of feelings that Willoughby expresses for Marianne. In the book, it’s easier to discern the grey areas in which Willoughby exists and that his decisions are ones that will truly haunt him with the loss of Marianne. Here, you’re too busy disliking him to care about any true regret he may have.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Like the 1995 movie, this version also flip flops the order of marriage proposals for Marianne and Elinor. It, too, recognizes the greater investment that the viewer likely has in Elinor’s relationship, thus using her happily ever after as the grand finale of the movie. While we don’t have Emma Thompson’s flamboyant crying, Morahan’s break down and frantic cleaning is perfect for the, up to this point, put together Elinor. I also liked how they showed the different circumstances of Marianne and Elinor once they’re married, with Marianne being romantically swept off her feet into a grand house and Elinor and Edward sharing a small domestic moment, laughing together as he chases chickens around their yard. It’s a nice coda to the different versions of love that they both have always aspired to. I also like how it helps highlight that while Marianne’s first choice wasn’t right and some of her extreme sensibilities were taken too far, she’s not “bad” or “wrong” for wanting the typical, romantic ending with the fancy house and grand husband.

This version also, like that earlier movie, makes more effort to show the growing love of Marianne for Brandon, unlike the book with its quasi “love will come with time but I kind of owe him this” approach. There are only a few short scenes, but they are compelling and classically romantic, highlighting the natural fit of Marianne and Brandon.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Since this version is so much longer, there was a lot of leeway to add back in characters who were missing in the 1995 version. This includes several characters who played pretty much solely for comedic purposes, like Lady Middleton and the elder Miss Steele. Miss Steele, similarly to her character in the book, has a bigger presence than Lady Middleton, who by definition is bland and uninteresting, and I was glad to see the character return. This also returns the story to the original version where she, not Lucy, is the one to reveal Edward and Lucy’s engagement. As vindicating as it was to see Lucy slapped down in the 1995 one, it did stretch the bounds of the imagination to think she’d be so taken in as to reveal a secret that she felt was important enough to have kept for 5 years prior. Her older sister, perfectly primed as a rather thoughtless blabber mouth, always made more sense, and it plays perfectly here.

While perhaps not “comedic,” I also enjoyed the extended scenes we get with their older brother, Mr. Dashwood. Mark Gastiss, who I knew of mostly from his role as Mycroft in “Sherlock,” is excellent in the role. He’s almost pitiable in how completely ruled he is by his wife, with his every small, good intention being quickly squashed by her.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Hattie Morahan and Dan Stevens appear together in “Beauty and the Beast” with him as the handsome prince/Beast (Edward is supposed to be plainish, so we can all agree that the “Beauty and the Beast” casting was better suited to Stevens’s natural good looks than Edward) and she as the Enchantress.

I knew of Dan Stevens first from “Downton Abbey,” so seeing him as a romantic hero was easy enough. David Morrissey, however, was more familiar as the Governor on “The Walking Dead,” so that was a bit of an adjustment. He also reportedly questioned whether another Jane Austen adaptation was necessary, but eventually signed on once he saw how much more action the men were given. Glad he came around, because he does an excellent Brandon here, a tough job after the superb Alan Rickman’s take on the character. But he shall never live down questioning the necessity of another adaptation!

There are a bunch of period costumes that are used repeatedly in Jane Austen adaptions. The actors, of course, are fun to spot popping up in various things, as I mentioned in the 1995 movie review. The re-used houses and locations are the next step of fandom obsession. But costume spotting between adaptations is truly where you know that you’ve arrived at perhaps an unhealthy state of re-watching. There were a bunch in this one, but the dress I did notice was a dotted dress that Marianne wore in this movie that Winslet’s Marianne wore as well in the 1995 movie. Apparently it’s also seen in “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion,” so I’ll look for it there, too, when I get to those.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

The script writer, Andrew Davies, is well-know for his work with many other Austen adaptations. In an interview, he mentioned that he felt pressure to do for “Sense and Sensibility” what he did for the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” which is commonly seen as the best adaptation of that work even today, going on 30 years later. To that purpose, he created this scene of Edward chopping wood in the rain in a flimsy white shirt to mirror the iconic scene where Colin Firth parades around in a similarly see-through shirt after jumping in a lake.

In two weeks, we jump into our next novel, the first half of “Pride and Prejudice!”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [1995]

mv5bnzk1mju3mdqyml5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjc1otm2mq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Emma Thompson

Marianne Dashwood – Kate Winslet

Colonel Brandon – Alan Rickman

Edward Ferrars – Hugh Grant

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

At two hours and 20 minutes, this was definitely a longer film for what was the norm in the 90s, though even that required a lot of adjustments of the original text. Quite a few characters are cut out, as well as several scenes throughout the story. It doesn’t exactly make the case that there were superfluous characters in the book, but I will say that other than some of the humor from the elder Miss Steele (who is cut in the movie), I never really missed any of the characters who were removed. The small changes made to the order of reveals (Brandon’s history comes out much sooner) and the cut scenes towards the middle and the end all feel natural and smooth. This is truly the test of a good adaptation, and this movie passes with flying colors. The heart of the story remains true even when drastically shortened.

Beyond the cuts to scenes and characters, the screenplay works hard to give its heroes a bit more to do, particularly Edward who barely speaks in the first half of the book. We see a lot of scenes with him bonding with Margaret and through this attention gaining notice by Elinor. There’s also an interesting addition here where Elinor responds to Edward’s complaints about not having an occupation that even his situation is better than what women have: no chance of even having an occupation so without income, they have very few options. It’s only a brief scene, but it does shine an important light on the differences between their situations.

Overall, it seems that this movie was quite well-received, both critically and by audiences. Alan Rickman, in particular, is still pointed to as the quintessential Colonel Brandon, and I think many Austen fans file this movie in the positive category of adaptations. I hadn’t re-watched it for quite some time, but now that I’ve been reminded just how good it is, I’m sure it will not be nearly as long before I pull it out once again.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Emma Thompson is a treasure. There is no denying this one universal truth. With regards to her casting, I would say that she reads as a bit older than what the book Elinor was supposed to be (around 19 or 20, I believe). However, in some ways, this older version of Elinor fits even better with the character we are given. The age difference being greater between Elinor and Marianne both makes Elinor’s own perfection when dealing with family trials more believable, but also makes Marianne’s youthful naivety and foolishness seem more in line with the silliness of younger person, leaving her basic sense and intelligence intact with the thought that she, like most, only needed to age out of the follies of youth.

The movie also made a few early efforts to give Elinor opportunities to show emotion which I think also helped translate her character better. In the very beginning of the movie, Edward comes across her silently crying as she watches Marianne play a sad piano piece, knowing that it will be one of the last times Marianne will have a chance to play. Towards the middle of the movie, she also shows more emotion when revealing her prior knowledge of Lucy and Edward’s engagement to Marianne.

Kate Winslet does well with Marianne’s character. Her hair is atrocious, but we can forgive her for that, I guess. She plays Marianne’s love affair with Willoughby with a lovely sense of naive innocence and shines in many of the scenes with him early in the movie. As the movie cuts out some things in the second half of the story, she fades largely into the background during the second hour. Though the scene when she looks down upon Willoughby’s home while standing in the raging storm has all of the classic tragic romance once could possibly want.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Seeming to recognize the want of action given to the heroes in the book, it is clear early on that the movie is trying very hard to give the audience opportunities to connect with our leading men during the few chances they get. Edward has a lot more screen time during his initial visit to the Dashwood family home, going on horse back rides with Elinor, playing swords with Margaret, etc. Hugh Grant does a good job lending his typical affable charm to the character and playing up the humorous side of the script. I’ve never loved Hugh Grant as an actor, but there’s no denying how charismatic he is and he makes Edward immediately appealing. Which makes it all the more weird when Edward disappears for a large chunk of time only to reappear briefly to deal with the Lucy situation, disappear again, and then show up for 5 minutes to reuinite with Elinor. The seriousness of the Lucy situation also makes for an awkward transition from funny, charming Edward to morose, gloomy Edward. Grant clearly does better with the former.

Ah, Alan Rickman. Another actor, like Thompson, who will always be a treasure. He is perfectly cast as Colonel Brandon, I think most people agree. The book itself gave more opportunities for Colonel Brandon to shine than Edward, and the movie follows this. Unlike Edward, his presence is more steady throughout and his characterization seems to flow more naturally. The movie also lets us in on his past much earlier in the story, with Mrs. Jennings revealing much of his past to Elinor even before Willoughby arrives on the scene. With this knowledge in advance, it’s easy to connect with Rickman’s serious, but endearingly earnest, take on Colonel Brandon. His romantic actions during Marianne’s illness also play directly to his strengths, rounding out the almost gothic romance of that entire scene.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Greg Wise is a convincing Willoughby. He has enough of a good-natured face that viewers immediately want to like him, an important aspect of the character to more fully sympathize with one of our heroines being so taken in. He also does a good job with the scene in which he leaves Marianne behind and the one where he meets her again at the ball. In the former, he really sells the idea that it is a torment for him and that he truly feels the loss of his connection with Marianne and the family (even if we later learn it is of his own deciding). And at the ball, he still seems affected, but has a good sense of coldness to his demeaner. The movie, however, omits his later visit while Marianne is sick, so all of the coldness of his letter is left as is and not revealed to have been dictated to him by a cruel fiance/wife. Instead, all of Willoughby’s history is delivered by Colonel Brandon, and we are never given Willoughby’s version of events from his own mouth. This seems like a worthwhile cut, in my opinion, as that scene in the book did little to change my feelings towards Willoughby. And as far as the movie is concerned, there is no reason to attempt to redeem him after the fact.

Imogen Stubbs’ Lucy Steele is particularly slimy feeling. From the very first, the actress manages to instill a certain look into Lucy’s eyes that immediately triggers suspicion to the viewers. This suspicion is, of course, immediately gratified by her revealing her history to Elinor. The movie cuts out her older sister, so instead we see Lucy herself revealing her history to Mrs. John Dashwood. What follows, Mrs. John Dashwood physically attacking her, plays for great comedic value and also as a satisfying moment for the viewers themselves.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The movie does hard work to try to up the ante for the romance in this story. As I mentioned in my review of the book, there is really very little there. Like I said above in the heroes section, they gave Edward a lot more time in the beginning of the movie to show his growing attachment to Elinor and general character as a whole. This does a lot of good work making their relationship one that viewers become invested in. The movie also adds a scene in the first act where we see Edward begin a confusing conversation with Elinor about his early education that later pays off when we discover his relationship with Lucy and can connect it back to Edward’s attempts to let Elinor know what his hold up is. But, again, there’s no escaping his total absence for much of the rest of the movie. The story also cuts out his visit to the cottage, which is probably for the best, but this choice also just expounds the problem of his dropping off entirely for much of the movie. By the time we get to the romantic conclusion, I, for one, felt more joy in Elinor finally being rewarded just in general than in any real investment in the relationship as a whole.

Colonel Brandon still comes out as the more romantic of the two. Though here, even the movie struggles to really develop a relationship between its two “lovers.” The early scenes between Marianne and Colonel Brandon are barely worth mentioning. We see them playing yard bowling, but never really hear them even talk to each other. But through Rickman’s superb acting and the fact that many of his scenes are with the equally superb Thompson, it’s still easy for viewers to become invested in at least his side of the romance. They add to the ending for Marianne and Brandon as well, since the verging on “marry with the expectation of love to come later” theme of the book for these two wouldn’t work well with modern audiences who want their fairytale ending. So, instead, we get nice scenes of Brandon reading poetry to Marianne quietly as she recovers.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

They cut out several of the comedic characters, like the elder Miss Steele. But, of course, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John are left intact, re-imagined as living together after Mrs. Jenning’s daughter, Sir John’s wife, died. The actors play off each other very well and the other characters are barely missed.

Hugh Laurie, bizarrely, shows up as the grumpy Mr. Palmer. Just another example of the fact that if you watch enough Jane Austen adaptations and Harry Potter, you’re almost sure to run into every famous British actor we know from the last 30 years or so. His Mr. Palmer is just as surly as ever, but he does bring a more sympathetic turn to the character when he expresses worry for Marianne and regret in his family needing to essentially abandon them when they move due to a concern for their young baby.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Emma Thompson was nominated for “Best Actress” for this movie and won for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” I believe she is the only actor to be nominated for two categories like this in one film?

The movie ends with a double wedding, a change from the book in which the two sisters marry several months apart. But, the fun fact of it all, is that the scene itself is very like that of the ending of the BBC “Pride and Prejudice” which also features a double wedding for two sisters and also came out in 1995. Collusion? Coincidence? You decide!

Gemma Jones, who plays Mrs. Dashwood, will next appear in this re-read as another famous Austen mother: Mrs. Jones (Bennett) in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” She will be joined by fellow cast mate, Hugh Grant, who plays the Wickham character in that adaptation.

Greg Wise and Emma Thompson are married. Wise was told by a palm reader, or some such thing, that he would have a love connection with someone in the movie. He went on a date with Winslet, the only single person at the time, but it wasn’t a match. Later, he and Thompson, who got along well on set, married after she split from the cheating Kenneth Branagh (who cheats on Emma Thompson!? A question we all asked of Alan Rickman’s character in “Love, Actually.” If you’re not careful, the recurring cast members in these films can feel a bit inbred when you start putting them all together…).

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This is a blatant abuse of category creation purely for self-indulgence.

Image result for sense and sensibility 1995 gif

My best friend in college and I had a running joke/list of the most ridiculous crying scenes in movies, and the performance given by Thompson when Elinor discovers that Edward isn’t married was always at the top of this list. This is not to say that the scene is poorly acted, just that, for a crying scene, it’s definitely not subtle.

In two weeks, I’ll review the much longer 2008  version of “Sense and Sensibility.”