Pop Culture Princess

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Some After Christmas Austen reading

Most of us who get books(and most particularly,want to be given books) during the holidays try not to read them too fast. Like a fine box of chocolates or a splendid bottle of wine,you want the pleasure to be as prolonged as possible.

Then again,there are so many books and such little time,as the saying goes,so I dove into two of my Christmas literary presents,a pair of Jane Austen themed books with one being a nonfiction account of modern day Austen fans and the other a retelling of Pride & Prejudice from a very different viewpoint.

Since both of these books have been out and about for some time now, my reviews of them will be brief but full of my first impressions of each one. Starting with Among The Janeites,  author Deborah Yaffe takes a very spirited tour of the world of Austen admirers fueled by the current interest in the various film adaptations as well as those who prefer a more scholarly approach to the works of Jane.

 Yaffe interviews a great number of active Austenites,such as professor Devoney Looser,who not only teaches the works of her favorite writer but has taken her name as her roller derby persona and Sandy Lerner,a former computer CEO who played a great part in raising the funds to renovate Chawton House(which was the home of one of Austen's brothers and is now a retreat for scholars).

 She also covers the blog scene where Austen folk such as Vic Sanborn and Laurel Ann Nattress flourish and attends a JASNA AGM( Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America) in full Regency gear,something that makes her nervous and excited all at once:

I have to say that this book gave me great joy as it brought back so many pleasant memories for me. I was fortunate enough to visit England with the Republic of Pemberley(one of the best known JA websites,which is also highlighted here) a few years ago as well as attend a few other Austen gatherings and Yaffe really captures the spirit of Jane Austen fandom  well.with it's many diverse and amiable members who might quarrel over a few details from time to time yet are united when it comes to enjoying the literary legacy of our dear Jane.

Whether you're very familiar with the Austen fan landscape or curious to see what all of the fuss is about,Among the Janeites is an excellent guide into that garden of many delights. To paraphrase Emma's Mr. Knightley, it is very well done,indeed!:

Jo Baker's Longbourn shows a behind the scenes look,if you will, of Pride and Prejudice as the story is mainly focused on the staff of the Bennet household run by Mrs. Hill, a steady on her feet sort with a secret that connects her to the family in a most intimate way.

The leading lady of this book,however, is Sarah,the young housemaid who winds up having two suitors,one being Ptolemy, the manservant of Jane Bennet's Mr. Bingley and the other James Smith,a newly appointed footman looking to avoid contact with the local militia as much as possible.

Many have called this book "P&P meets Downton Abbey" but to me, it's more accurate to call it "The Upstairs,Downstairs edition of Pride and Prejudice". The depiction of life for the staff not only at Longbourn but other estates such as Pemberley and Rosings Park is fully realistic to the time period and engagingly authentic,with at times moving portrayals of the lives of those meant to serve is more in line with the original 1970s TV series than the glossy take that Downton sometimes has of those particular social classes:

As Sarah struggles to make the choices that best suit her happiness and heart,Mrs. Hill endeavors to reflect upon what future may bring for the household. One of the more amusing sections of the book is Mr. Collins' visit as his impressions of the housekeeping are vital in ensuring that there are no changes to the staff when he inherits Longbourn upon Mr. Bennet's demise.

I know that many people find certain plot lines with Mr. Bennet in this story very disagreeable and speaking as someone who thinks of him as one of the better natured parents in any of Austen's work(not the best parent,mind you,in terms of providing guidance and security for his loved ones), his actions in Longbourn do ring true to me.

 Without giving anything away, I must and will say that he would not be the first man in his social station of that day to do as he did and his attitudes towards that situation are in character with what Austen wrote to some extent. If anything, Mr. Bennet always struck me as completely human in his manner and faults,which makes him the memorable father figure that he is and Baker's take on him does not blemish that at all.

Longbourn is a powerfully rendered tale placed in the Regency era that would even engage the attentions of those who have never read P&P(it might even bring in a few new readers into the fold). It sincerely compliments the original work that inspired it and adds a fresh nuance to that work as well as the genre of Austensque literature:

I do have a couple of other Christmas books left to read(along with many others coming forth in this new year) but starting 2014 off with a little Austen always makes the season right. Of course, any sort of Austen is good all the days of the year but seeing those two books under my Christmas tree did make the holiday that much brighter:

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