Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Emma spin-off reading

I've been reading madly, as I'm a bit ill and there isn't much else I'm up to doing. I shall dedicate this post to two of my Emma novels, Mr. Knightley's Diary and Old Friends and New Fancies.

The first of these is, as the title suggests, a retelling of the story in Mr. Knightley's words, by Amanda Grange. I don't have much to say about it--anything about the story would be repeating anything I've ever said about Emma. I did find Mr. Knightley's voice very true. It didn't sound like a diary, particularly, but few diary novels do, and that didn't much harm it. It also did not feel like reading Emma all over again, as some such novels do, but managed to add something new.

Old Friends and New Fancies, by Sybil G. Brinton, is quite a different story. It has the distinction of being the first Jane Austen-inspired fan novel ever published, written in 1913. Supposedly it is the sequel to all six Jane Austen novels, which is why I counted it among my Emma reading (though I've also meant to read it for a long time apart from this particular quest), but Emma is probably the least relevant to the story. In a way this makes sense--it is probably the most confined of the novels, since we see everything from Emma's view and Emma never travels. There are also fewer side characters in Emma, especially young unmarried ones. For the purposes of this book, however, it would have been easy to use secondary characters like Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill who are more likely to travel and meet the characters from the other books. Brinton very cleverly and deftly intertwines the characters from different stories, in a way that makes it seem perfect natural that they should know each other. Pride and Prejudice provides the most characters, and the setting for a lot of the book. All the main romances that take place in the course of the story include a character from Pride and Prejudice.

Several characters from Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility are also central, though none of the characters most important to this novel were so central in their own novels. The Wentworths and Sir Walter and Miss Elliott also show up out of Persuasion, and Emma and Mr. Knightley are there, though their presence is the furthest stretch. Emma has apparently taken a liking to London and moved there, which seems to me wholly improbable. The entire cast is impressive and sometimes takes a bit of work to follow, but it is very evenly handled. The title of the book describes the approach to the notion of a Jane Austen sequel rather well--we meet all our old friends, but it is more secondary characters who now come to the forefront. This was a very satisfying book, long and dense and with twisting plotlines. Though Emma herself does not make much of an appearance, she is still (to my mild irritation) matchmaking, and many of the misunderstandings which occur in the course of the book are very like the sorts of difficulties found in Emma. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and must say for it that it never struck me as being noticeably written now, in 1913, or in Jane Austen's time; any of these could have been possible. The melding of Miss Austen's six books is seamless, natural, and lovely.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Ephemera #46

Another one from my vintage photo collection. I love vintage photos of women wearing pants.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A quick book meme

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - most of middle school was devoted to these, and I still have a whole shelf of Tolkien and related books.

2. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice - One of my very favourite books, which will probably always be able to remind me of high school.

3. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff - I've talked about this recently enough that I needn't say why it's on this list, but it is a lovely book.

4. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean - my favourite book of all.

5. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman - The whole trilogy, really, but I probably remember this one the best. They're thoroughly wonderful.

5. Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce - All of Tamora Pierce's novels, especially the earlier ones, stick with me, but I always loved this one especially well.

6. Emma by Jane Austen - need I say more? I've spent enough time on this one lately.

7. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I'll always be glad I had the good timing to grow up with these books, and they really are wonderful stories.

8. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - I need to reread this, but it did have a big effect on me when I read it, and I remember it extremely fondly.

9. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell - I don't even know why I love this one so much, but Elizabeth Gaskell has an indefinable quality that makes me love her.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I read this a little too late to have a childhood fondness for it, but I love it nonetheless.

11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - this used to have fights with Tam Lin over being my favourite book, and I still love it.

12. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I had to include a favourite children's book, and this is the one I was always fondest of.

13. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom - I loved these when I was a child, and they are some of the few books that I love in exactly the same way as an adult.

14. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - this just has some really rather magical qualities to it.

15. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt - it's enormous and vivid and lovely, is all.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

I was possessed of an urge to read a Persephone book, so I wandered through the library catalogue to find one I wanted to read. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey, sounded appealing.

It's a novella, really, about a woman named Dolly on her wedding day, and the various family members and wedding guests. The back of the book calls it a mix of Katherine Mansfield, Cold Comfort Farm, and EM Forster. I've not read Forster, and only a little Mansfield, and it's been a while since I read Cold Comfort Farm. What Cheerful Weather for the Wedding reminded me of most was Evelyn Waugh. Something about the humour of it, the subtle absurdity of events and and actions, is very Waugh to me. All the characters, too, might have walked straight out of Put Out More Flags.

One passage in particular speaks to both the similarities to Evelyn Waugh and much of what I like about this book:
'"We have seen Two Men who are willing to Throw the Bones with reference to Heaven!" recited Lob, pointing his fork upwards into the air, and rolling his r's sonorously.

What he said was merely one of the many passages he had picked up out of Joseph's anthropological textbooks, and which he was fond of reciting aloud at odd moments, and without any apparent rhyme or reason.' (pg. 30)
It's random little things like this, that people say or do, which make the story absurd without being unreal, which, actually make it more real. For all the silly little bits like this, it was a rather subdued silliness.

The title was perfect, especially once you've read enough of the book to know what it means in a less obvious sense. This may not be a book that I will remember forever, but it was a book for lovely moments--both the moments in the short period of time covered by the book, and those moments I spent reading it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Emma Project

So, I must admit I've sort of come back to Jane Austen. I've decided I'm going to read every Emma sequel, retelling, or modernization ever published. There aren't so many of these as there are spin-offs of Pride and Prejudice, so it doesn't seem too unreasonable a venture. I confess some of my motive in this is to prolong my enjoyment of the romance, but I also want to see how many ways it is possible to spin Emma. It's a story I love thinking critically about, so it's interesting to see how other people have thought about it, what they've highlighted, and so on.

So far my reading list for this project includes these books:
  • Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange - A retelling of the book from Mr. Knightley's point of view.
  • Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton - A sequel to all six Jane Austen novels, including Emma, the very first Jane Austen fanfiction, written in 1913.
  • Perfect Happiness by Rachel Billington - A sequel.
  • Amanda by Debra White Smith - A modernized retelling.
  • George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not by Barbara Cornthwaite - The first of what I assume is a trilogy, Emma retold from Mr. Knightley's point of view. These are associated with the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman books, which were wonderful, though not by the same author.
  • The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer - Another modern retelling.
I've got rather a nice even collection, having two alternate POV retellings, two modern retellings, and two sequels. I imagine there must be more such books out there which I've not heard of, so if you know any please do tell me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: Classic Shorts: Eight Stories for Summer

I've been using DailyLit on and off for years, getting small chunks of books or poetry sent to me every morning in my email. When I'm busy I tend not to have the time for it, but as it's summer I started up a couple of books, and now I've finished one of them. Classic Shorts: Eight Stories for Summer is a collection, compiled by DailyLit, with rather a nice variety of stories. None of them are especially summery, except perhaps Kate Chopin, but they were all interesting so I suppose it doesn't matter.

The collection includes Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Leo Tolstoy, and P.G. Wodehouse. I wrote about the Chekhov story, "A Doctor's Visit", here. I loved the Kate Chopin story, "A Respectable Woman". I read The Awakening about a year and a half ago, and this story reminded me of that one. I may have to read more of her short stories.

I've wanted to read "The Yellow Wallpaper" for a while, and so was glad to see it in this collection. It lived up to my expectations very well. Herman Melville's story, "Bartleby the Scrivener", was intriguing, though I found it extremely slow-going and kept waiting for the end. I probably ought to expect long-windedness from Herman Melville. I've heard of "The Pit and the Pendulum" for ages, but I've never had any idea what it was about. I've never liked Poe very much, and this story didn't draw me in immediately, though by the end of I was rather enjoying it. I liked the Tolstoy story, "Ivan the Fool". It was very much a fairy tale, and the message was one I tend to agree with. P.G. Wodehouse was, as always, funny.

It's been nice to widen my experience of short stories, and also of authors. I've read novels by Kate Chopin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and P.G. Wodehouse previously, but this was my first introduction to all the others (apart from having read Poe's poetry). It was a very good introduction.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: Q's Legacy

You know how it is--the library says three of your books are in transit, and the one which actually arrives is one that wasn't expected at all. I've had Q's Legacy on order since I was reading The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, in furtherance of my Helene Hanff reading kick, but somebody else had it checked out and it took much longer to arrive than I was expecting.

The point of the book is, vaguely, to explain how Helene Hanff started reading all the books that led to her writing to Marks and Co., publishing 84, Charing Cross Road, and becoming famous. At 18 she had to drop out of college and she decided to embark on her own study of English literature. A perusal of the Philadelphia Public Library's shelves of English textbooks brought her to Q--Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who brought her to Milton, Izaak Walton, and a horde of other people whose books she'd never read.

I'd have liked more of the book to be about Q, her reading of him and the other books. It turned out to be much broader than that, his legacy much larger. The book covers, basically, her entire writing life up to 1985, especially trips to England after the one covered by The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, the filming of the TV adaptation of 84, and the play. One thing I liked about 84 and Duchess that I missed here was the immediacy of it. One chapter was her diary from a visit to London in 1978, and I probably liked that one the best because it was written that way. Despite this quibble, it was lovely to have another dose of Ms. Hanff, who was once again hilarious. I liked the chapter about the production of the BBC TV adaptation especially (and I'm desperate to see it, but I can't find it anywhere). I read quite a bit of it out loud to my mother. I love absurdity, and Ms. Hanff is good at picking it out. I read the whole book between getting out of bed and eating lunch (which, admittedly, was at 3:30), and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Ephemera #46

That is a cake. I do not know where it came from, or whether it is a specific building.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: The China Garden

Reading Liz Berry's novel The China Garden was a pleasant visit to 12-year-old me's taste in books. I loved fantasy novels set in modern times (preferably in Britain) but full of mythology and literature. I wrote them, too, or attempted to do so. The China Garden is exactly this kind of book, though it doesn't suffer for being something I used to read. It's a genre I still enjoy.

Clare Meredith is a 17-year-old Londoner, just finished with her A-levels, when her mother announces she's moving to an old estate in Somerset, called Ravensmere, to take care of an old man. Clare insists on coming along, though she isn't sure why she wants to. She soon discovers that she is totally unaware of much of her mother's past, and when she gets to Ravensmere everyone seems to know who she is before they're told. There's a locked up Chinese garden, a missing maze, and a cat whose name Clare knows instinctively. Obviously, everyone knows something she doesn't, and it's something about her. Naturally, she's going to find out.

The book was catalogued in the normal fiction section, but I think it ought to have been in young adult fiction. It's written in that style common to a lot of young adult fiction, with slightly vague description, and plot that would have been spread (to advantage) throughout twice the pages in an adult novel. The beginning of the novel, which takes place in London, sort of felt like it had been written by someone who'd never been there--you couldn't feel the London-ness of it. Ravensmere was a bit better, since it's an invented place (and they had a map), but description remained sort of unevocative, though I had no trouble actually picturing things if I thought about it. Still, the writing was serviceable, and this kind of story is driven by the plot anyway. The characters had very satisfactory arcs, and the clues to the mystery of Ravensmere were well-laid. I knew when things were going to be relevant, but I never figured anything much out before the characters. I loved reading all the dashes of history and invented history, and the fantasy crept in gradually and unobtrusively. This is a very good summer book, and one definitely needs some fantasy once in a while.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: Black Sheep

I wanted a novel I could breeze through and have fun with, and Black Sheep fit the bill perfectly. Georgette Heyer shows up on a lot of the book blogs I read, and I've been meaning to give her a try. There's something to be said, sometimes, for a romance novel that's well written and fairly respectable, especially one with lots of great historical detail. Georgette Heyer's regency romances are perfect for this, and she wrote a lot of them. Black Sheep was a good introduction, though as I hear they're all rather alike, maybe that could be said of any one.

Abigail Wendover is 28, maiden aunt of Fanny, living in bath with her older sister. Her mission is to keep Fanny from marrying Stacy Calverleigh, the caddish fortune-hunting fellow Fanny is in love with. Abby attempts to get Miles Calverleigh, Stacy's uncle and the black sheep of the Calverleigh clan, to help her prevent the marriage, but Miles is uncooperative and not very fond of social conventions--and his sense of humour is a lot like Abby's.

The book had me giggling hysterically, especially at the conversations between Abby and Miles, which were witty and delightfully absurd. The historical detail, both in surroundings and speech, was pervasive but not excessive or heavy-handed. I'd forgotten what it was like to fly through a book that is pure fun, but I think I need such books once in a while. It's good to know that there are so many more Georgette Heyer novels to read, as they're a sure bet for a bit of cheerful romance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

I saw Greenstage's outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet last Thursday. Greenstage is one of the truer outdoor theatre companies, having no set or microphones, and I think they always use the advantages of the outdoors well. They also use the audience well, often coming on stage through the audience. You'll suddenly hear someone speaking behind you, and turn around and there will be Romeo. Plus, I was sitting in the very front row (as, knowing the stage manager, we knew the front row was actually several feet in front of where people had started sitting), and when Benvolio was telling Romeo to "examine other beauties" to forget Rosaline, I got to be the beauty they were examining.

It was a good production. They had a bunch of big greyish cloaks, which were used to great effect. For example, people in cloaks kneeling in a semicircle made Juliet's balcony, and people in cloaks managed to block the audience's view enough to get a dead Juliet off stage invisibly. I particularly liked the actors playing Romeo (who was Orsino in the Twelfth Night I saw two years ago), Juliet (Ophelia in my favourite Hamlet), Benvolio, Nurse, and Friar Laurence. I thought Lady Montague was very strange, rather melodramatic, and badly costumed, though I don't know how much of that is her fault.

The story of Romeo and Juliet has never quite managed to win me over. They're so young, and if it were modern times their romance would be of the brief high school variety. If Juliet is to marry Romeo she has to give up her family, who she loves, for this guy in a mask she met at a party who winds up killing her favourite cousin. But everybody always seems to talk about this as one of the greatest romances ever. This production, however, seemed to treat Romeo and Juliet's relationship in what I think is a much more realistic way. They showed Juliet doubting more than I'm used to seeing, and her monologue about the husband who killed her cousin vs. the cousin who would have killed her husband was well-played. Once Romeo leaves for Mantua, there was obvious conflict between Juliet's duty to her husband (despite him being a husband she hardly knows) and her duty to her parents. Maybe my memory of this part of the play is just vague, but I do think not all productions emphasize it so much. It's easy to fall before the idea of Romeo and Juliet as a simple romance, but Greenstage didn't, and they made me like the play better because of this.

Can I just say, if you're going to have all the actors running around in leggings, have them be serious opaque leggings, and not semi-transparent tights, please. It was distracting.

The show is playing through August in parks around Seattle, and I totally recommend seeing it. Maybe by the time you do they'll have got less see-through tights!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Library adventures

It's been quite a while since I went to the library and brought home a stack of books to read. After finishing The Post-Office Girl, though, I was a bit at a loss, and felt the need for a novel to just sit down and read through. Most of the books on my to-read stack at home are nonfiction, somehow. Whenever I go to the library without a specific book in mind, I like to pick several, on the theory that at least one will catch my immediate fancy.I wanted a novel that wouldn't be a lot of work, maybe with a bit of romance. I have a vague notion that The China Garden, by Liz Berry, was on my to-read list, but it doesn't appear to be there. It's about an old English country estate, which seems exactly the thing to suit my present tastes. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor, is one I've been meaning to read since I saw the film, and though it's not quite the kind of book I want at the moment, it's the kind of book I may well want once I've satisfied my desire for fluff (respectable, well-written fluff, but still fluff). I've been meaning to read Georgette Heyer for a while, and her Regency settings fit well into my recent Jane Austen kick. Black Sheep, which is the book I settled on to begin reading, is perfectly lovely, and exactly what I want at the moment. And then I thought I'd like to read some more Neil Gaiman, so I found Interworld, which was co-written with Michael Reaves, as it was the only one to be immediately had.

There's something so satisfying about about a stack of library books.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Photos and links

My cat thinks he is a pretty flower, growing in a flower pot.And this book thinks it is a flower pot. So fabulous I can't stand it. More photos here, though the website is all in Italian.
A bookstore arranged by colour, via here. No idea where the bookstore actually is.
After I saw the Josef Frank Google page the other day, I got a bit obsessed. Can you imagine having this on your wall? Image from here.

Have a look at these Lovely Opera Costumes and this Crocheted Smart Car.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: The Post-Office Girl -- Rausch der Verwandlung

I finished Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl on Monday, but it's taken me a while to get into a frame of mind to write about it. Usually I review books almost immediately. This one, though, needed some time--I hesitate to say it, but some recovery.

The Post-Office Girl is the story of Christine Hoflehner, in post-World War I Austria, a 28-year-old postal official whose youth has been eaten up by the war. When Christine's rich American aunt invites her to a resort in Switzerland, she enters a completely new world in which nothing is "too expensive" and in which she rediscovers fun and youth. Here, Christine Hoflehner becomes Christiane von Boolen, suddenly aristocratic and beautiful, a different person. But it doesn't last, and Christine goes back to the post-office, where, knowing she can be Fräulein von Boolen, being a contented Fräulein Hoflehner is impossible.

The story goes through several phases, all strikingly different. Sometimes this makes the book feel disjointed, but I think really it suits the story. The difference between a Swiss resort and a provincial Austrian post-office is striking. Christine's character is never completely clear, but, though this may look like a failure in the writing, it is entirely in line with the message of the book. We never see quite who Christine is because she herself doesn't know, because she has never been given the opportunity to be anybody. She works in a post-office and that is all; she has no chance to be more, to live more fully. She can afford only what it takes to keep her breathing, and breathing is not equivalent to living. She has lost the best years, and though, after her Swiss holiday, she is aware of this, she doesn't actually know what she might have had in those years. The ending of the book is unexpected and painful. Somehow, even once I knew what Christine was going to do, I was expecting it to all end hopefully. This was, perhaps, foolish of me, but I almost think the book led me to believe this, and it was the hopelessness of Christine's hope, coming so suddenly and harshly against my expectations, which made the book's ending so powerful.

In the reading of The Post-Office Girl, I kept being thankful that I'd read Marx recently. Though the book doesn't especially say anything for Marx's theories about history and communism, it is a prime example of his theories about alienation. Christine is alienated from herself, her work, and other people. The book isn't preaching this, but I felt very able to understand it, having read Marx. Though not, apparently, to explain it. I feel like this is a book that should be assigned along with Marx's essays about alienation. It helps to explain the theory on a more emotional level.

The writing is beautiful. I have a hard time thinking about translations, sometimes. Joel Rotenberg did the translation, and this is the first time it's been published in English, though it was first published in German in 1982 and it was written in the 1930s. He did a good job, I think. When I'm more fluent in German, I'd love to read this in the original. Several passages stood out to me.
Names have a mysterious transforming power. Like a ring on a finger, a name may at first seem merely accidental, committing you to nothing; but before you realize its magical power, it's gotten under your skin, become part of you and your destiny. During the first few days Christine heard the new name von Boolen with secret glee. (Oh, they don't know who I am! If they only did!) She wore it thoughtlessly, like a mask at a costume ball. But soon she forgets the unintentional deception and begins to deceive herself, becoming what she feigns to be. (pg. 81)
This is perhaps a particularly representative passage, given that the original title of the novel was not The Post-Office Girl, but Rausch der Verwandlung--The Intoxication of Metamorphosis.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Ephemera #45

Still thinking about sewing. This makes me think of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, both because of the style and the designer's name. Not sure where I got this photo--possibly off ebay.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New clothes

I've been sewing! I've got all sorts of plans for making my wardrobe both more interesting and more condensed. I'm also trying to use up fabric I bought for ideas that never panned out. I had a shapeless dress in linen/rayon blend plaid, and one day I was possessed of a vision for it and made this.Several months ago, I had an idea of a blouse I wanted to make, and went and bought a lovely heart print cotton fabric to make it out of. Naturally, it never got made. So last week I went through my pattern box and found this blouse pattern, and made the shirt.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day/Joyeux Fête Nationale!

This is like the one national holiday of another country that people seem to pay attention to. I don't know why, though there's something oddly appealing about it. I made cookies for the occasion. These cookies are supposedly French, which perhaps the quantity of butter can attest to.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
2.5 tsp. cinnamon.

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, flour, and cinnamon. Roll into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with a glass. Cook 10-12 minutes at 325 degrees. Makes approximately 30 cookies.

I added the blue sprinkles to festive them up a bit. The recipe is kind of squashed together from several different recipes on

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing (well, about some plays)

I saw four plays last weekend. One student show at the Bathhouse (Seattle Public Theatre), Fuddy Meers, which was very funny and surreal. As noted earlier, last weekend was the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival, which I went to on Sunday. I made it to three plays (despite having intentions of seeing way more)--Greetings from Styx, An Inconvenient Squirrel, and Much Ado About Nothing.

Greetings from Styx was a collection of short plays adapted from Ovid's Metamorphoses, produced by Balagan Theatre. It was quite funny and clever. An Inconvenient Squirrel, by Theater Schmeater, was rather a children's or family play, but Theater Schmeater always does a good job of adding some jokes just for the adults. It was kind of pointedly moralistic (about being who you are), but cute all the same.
I was thoroughly looking forward to Wooden O's Much Ado About Nothing. It's a play I've read, and seen a film adaptation of, but never seen on stage, and it's one of my favourites. I liked the costumes, which I thought looked sort of 1910s, especially the soldiers' uniforms. They were very monochrome, all the men in white and khaki, all the women in white, but somehow that worked extremely well. I think it made all the actors stand out well against all the green of outdoor theatre. The set was lovely, especially given travelling outdoor theatre. I was pleased with nearly all the casting--none of the women too whiny or screechy, none of the men too exaggerated. I was surprised to find Beatrice and Benedick's storyline played mostly on the sides as comic relief. I think of them as the main romance (probably because theirs is one of my favourite romantic plots), though I suppose they're not the characters directly involved in the main plot. The actors playing them, though, actually are married, which is a bit funny. Benedick especially was played as a comic character. The whole thing was very much comic, actually. The audience laughed at sections I always considered rather serious, like Beatrice's "if I were a man" monologue. It was really a great audience, clapping between scenes a lot. I was certainly not disappointed with my first Much Ado, even if parts of it were not as I expected.

Next weekend, hopefully, I'm going to see As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

I have now finished two books while still slowly working on The Post-Office Girl. Not that I don't want to read it, but it's a book best savoured. Plus, I keep getting distracted by Jane Austen. First Emma, and now Pride and Prejudice.

I've told the story of my experiences with Pride and Prejudice before. I don't think I've reread it all the way through since, so it's been about four years. Having read all the rest of Jane Austen's major novels in between, I'm due for a reread. Though I always enjoy Jane Austen for many purely emotional reasons, I'm in the habit of taking a somewhat scholarly approach to her books. I like to compare them, and expose some of the assumptions everybody has about Jane Austen that aren't very true.

I'm beginning to wonder if I appreciated the writing more when I first read Mansfield Park and Emma not because I had revised my expectations about Jane Austen, but because the writing in these books is better. There's a split among the six books which I've never heard anyone talk about. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey were all (under different titles), first plotted and written in the 1790s. Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion were written in the 1810s. It's not unreasonable to assume that Jane Austen and her writing matured between these two periods. Without knowing it, I read the earlier books first, and the later books later (well, I read Persuasion before Northanger Abbey, but excepting that). I matured, the books matured, and by the time I read them I could better appreciate what was there--but there was also more there.

I started rereading Pride and Prejudice in order to compare it with Emma, and confirm my belief in Emma as my favourite. I have come to two conclusions--one, that I like Emma best, and two, that it's better written. I think Emma feels more human than Elizabeth. Maybe because we see more of her inner thoughts. Both characters are fallible, but I think Emma's fallibility is more subtly written. Both characters believe what they want to believe and act accordingly, but somehow that part of the story rings truer in Emma.

I've watched both the 2005 film adaptation and the 1995 miniseries many times. Reading the first half of Pride and Prejudice felt like watching the movie, because so much of the dialogue was the same. I felt like there wasn't a lot of narration (or dialogue too lengthy for film) that of necessity got lost in the translation to film. Rereading Emma, on the other hand, never felt like this. That's not to say one or the other is a better story because of this, but I think the better the writing, but more you lose on the way to film.

I wonder what people's theories are about why Pride and Prejudice is the most famous and well-loved Jane Austen novel. I was struck by how unromantic I found Darcy and Elizabeth's story. The way things are often stated--she loves him out of gratitude, they'd be compatible for such and such reason, etc.--are reasonable, but not very romantic. Plus, Darcy's a really good man, but how many people would actually like him?

None of this is to say I don't still love Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it comes back to my previous discussion of expectations--I was hoping and expecting to find Emma my favourite, and so I did. Either way, I do think Jane Austen's writing matured and improved after she wrote Pride and Prejudice, and that shows in Emma.

And now, I promise to quit talking about Jane Austen for a while!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reading report

I've been reading a rather odd assortment of books lately. Before I got sidetracked by Emma I had started The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig, which I know I read a glowing review of somewhere. I have to agree with whatever it was that review said, but I'll say more once I've finished the book. I also just started rereading Pride and Prejudice, so as to compare it with Emma. Yesterday I was reading these back and forth, a few chapters of one then a few chapters of the other. They have nothing in common, really, but it was a rather pleasant contrast. And both books, though very different, are very well-suited to a hot summer afternoon.

I'm also reading the Odyssey, in fits and starts, and last week I pulled out my copy of Virginia Woolf's letters, and I've read some of those as well. I've done very little but read and sew in the last few days, which I must say is very pleasant. Look out for a report on my sewing in the near future.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Ephemera #44

The heat wave has finally come calling. 96 degrees yesterday, supposed to be 90 today. Fortunately it isn't supposed to be so hot this weekend, when I'll be sitting in the sun watching Shakespeare. In honour of the hot weather, have a fiery photo. This is me spinning a fire hoop, which is also what the little photo by my name on the side of the page is.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The travelling theatre comes to town

This weekend, July 10th and 11th, is the annual Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival, at Volunteer Park. There are 11 different plays, including Othello, Romeo and Juliet, A Winter's Tale, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, and several others. I've been to this the last two years, and it is always fun, festive, and Shakespearean. I'm actually visible in the audience in that little photo on the website, which is from Hamlet two years ago. I absolutely loved that Hamlet, and saw it three times, so I'm hoping I'll find another play to fall in love with this year. It's quite exciting plotting out which plays I'll see!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Still talking about Miss Austen

I last read Emma about a year and a half ago. Going back to read posts I wrote at the time, I recall being surprised by how much I liked the book. I'm also noticing that any posts I wrote while reading Jane Austen have a certain Austen-esque sound to them. I said in 2008 that Emma was in contest for my favourite Jane Austen, with Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. I now begin to wonder if I can't safely call Emma my absolute favourite. I hesitate only because I need to reread P&P and Persuasion, now that I am a more mature Jane Austen reader.

I am a bit in awe of Miss Austen's writing of Emma. Emma herself is one of the most incredibly realistic humans I have ever encountered in a novel. She is biased, she is intelligent, but aware of it so much that she believes herself to be infallible in her understanding. She is very fallible. In other books and movies, characters' misunderstandings are always frustrating to me, because it always seems so easy for these misunderstandings to be resolved. My reaction is always, "Stop being so stupid, you could fix all your problems if you weren't being so stupid." This is never my reaction to Emma's mistakes. She misunderstands not for stupid, far-fetched reasons, where some tiny confusion gets blown out of proportion and stretched out into too much plot, but because she has intelligence and imagination and a good-willed vision of how her friends' lives ought to be, and she believes in her ability to correctly assess their desires and prospects. Emma is changeable and capable of mistakes, but she is also capable of fully correcting her mistakes.

This novel differs from other Jane Austen novels in that we see so much of Emma's internal thoughts. Mental soliloquies are frequent. The story is told essentially from Emma's perspective, and this is probably what makes it feel so realistic. She doesn't see the whole story, but the whole story is always there, and subtle clues about the real relationships between the characters slip through. Once you know the story, it is a joy to find these clues. They are numerous and clever.

Emma is an extremely romantic book. There are more happy marriages by the end than in any of the other books, and fewer unfortunate circumstances to dilute the good. All the most interesting romantic revelations happen sooner than in the other Austen books, so we get more pages of cheerful romantic understanding and conversation. This certainly adds to the believability of any "happily ever after" statement, as we see how these couples will interact in their marriages. The main romance of Emma is probably among the most believable, but without foreknowledge of the plot, probably also one of the most surprising. Most of the other books set up the heroine's romantic prospect early on, but Emma's romance is much more gradual, less marked by big milestones. I used to go and read all the major romantic events in Pride and Prejudice once in a while, but it's harder to do that in Emma, which I suspect makes for a more rounded and cohesive book.

I certainly have more of a particular attachment to Emma than most of the other books, having spent much more time in scholarly geekery over it. I think perhaps it is an example of Jane Austen at her most clever, especially as regards characters. It is probably the book that first gave me a fuller understanding of Miss Austen's wonderful writing abilities, independent of the romantic appeal of these books. So ultimately, it's hard not to jump in and say Emma is my favourite.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

My first impulse is always to post photos of fireworks for 4th of July, but this time I'm going for red, white and blue with a sewing theme. I've been plotting lots of sewing projects lately, it seemed fitting. Americans, enjoy whatever festivities you have planned, and all the rest of you have a nice Sunday.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Emma, film adaptations, and mental images

So I'm here to talk about Jane Austen again. Sort of, anyway. I rewatched the latest Emma adaptation over the last several nights, because my mother wanted to see it, and by the end I was a bit obsessed and went back and watched the entire four hours in one sitting. And then I started rereading the book. Despite the three other books I am already reading.

People often talk about film adaptations ruining books for them. There's no questioning the fact that sometimes films have a very large effect on how we read and visualize a book, and especially how we see characters. But it's not often that the film was good enough that this is a good thing. I love Romola Garai's Emma. I think it was extraordinarily well-cast. I wrote about it briefly when I first saw it, but I think I like it even better on subsequent viewings. Now, on rereading the book, it occurs to me that Jane Austen is the sort of writer where a very good film can have a very helpful effect on the reading. Jane Austen doesn't spend a lot of time on description. Dialogue is her strong point, which lends well to films and lets the designers have a lot of free rein over how things look. Of course, this generally means there's more chance of them getting it wrong in somebody's view. Sometimes, though, they get it right. And having a film where nearly every character and setting agrees with my mental picture, I can use this visual to help me read the book.

Most of the time, I don't have a continuous mental image of what I'm reading--except, oddly, with directions. I usually know where I think things are on relative to each other, on which side of the street someone is walking, and so on. I've no idea why this is, and it always throws me off when the text contradicts my image. Apart from this, I don't visualize settings or characters in any great detail, especially not if the book doesn't offer much description. When I see film adaptations, I know what looks wrong, but when something looks right it's not generally because it agrees with an image I already have. Once I have seen an image of the scene, however, be it an illustration or a movie, I always have that in the background while reading. I think having an image adds something to the experience. So a film as good as this Emma is a great thing, not only in and of itself, but for the book.

Does anyone else have similar experiences with visualizing books or with the interaction between book and film? I'm curious--I feel like I usually hear people say they do visualize books, but I don't, so I wonder if I'm alone in this.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Ephemera #43

I bought this and several other photos at a vintage shop in Fremont called Deluxe Junk. I like to think these ladies were planning to spend their weekend in much the same way I'll be spending mine--swimming, wandering about on the beach, and watching the 4th of July fireworks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The To-Be-Read pile grows

I went thrift shopping on Tuesday, and came home with three books. I don't know if I was really intending to buy books, but I've been feeling the urge to browse through some shelves lately, and invariably one finds something that can't be left behind. And for once, I'm entirely pleased with my purchases.

Rereadings, edited by Anne Fadiman. I love Anne Fadiman. Ex Libris was probably my first serious book about books, and I vividly remember the lovely June day on which I read it. Rereadings is not quite as wonderful, probably because it's a collection of other writers and not just Anne Fadiman, but it's lovely all the same, and this little hardcover is nearly spotless. Plus, the back jacket flap was stuck between the pages as a bookmark. Whoever got distracted from their reading was on page 160, reading Allegra Goodman's essay about rereading Pride and Prejudice. I love knowing things like this about past readers.

A Meaningful Life, by L.J. Davis. The NYRB Classics are lovely, both in cover design and in actual content. I've never read or even heard of this book, but the back cover tells me it's a black comedy about a man who buys a falling down house in Brooklyn, New York, and puts everything into fixing up the house, on the theory that this will make his life better.

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, by Paul Collins. This is the author's story of his move from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, Wales, a town that has 1500 people and 40 bookstores. You know how I feel about books about books. This one sounds lovely.And Happy July!


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