On December 16th, 1775, a remarkable woman was born. Her name was Jane Austen.
In her time (and to a certain degree, still in ours), a woman’s path in life was clear. She was to receive an education that was considered to be appropriate for a woman. Upon reaching adulthood, she would marry, bear children (i.e. sons) and live the rest of her life in the quiet dignity that was expected for a woman.
Jane could have married. His name was Harris Bigg-Wither. He was the younger brother of her friends. By the accounts of the day and family members, he was not the most attractive of men. But he had one thing going for him: he was the heir of a wealthy and respected family. At that time, those facts were all that was needed to determine if someone was a good match.
He proposed when Jane and Cassandra were visitors to the Bigg-Wither home. On paper, they were a good match. She was in her late 20’s, nearly impoverished and without a marriage proposal in sight. Upon his father’s death, Harris would inherit a stately home and a comfortable fortune. He proposed in the evening. Jane said yes, but something was not right. In the morning, she took back her yes and changed the course of her life forever.
As a single and childless woman of a certain age, I look to Austen as a role model. She could have easily folded into the preordained path that was expected for a woman. But she didn’t. She chose her own path and in doing so, pave the way for future generations of women to do the same.
Most of us are ordinary in our day to day lives. We go about our business until the day when we shuffle off this mortal coil.
During her lifetime, Jane Austen was an ordinary woman. But in our lifetimes, she is considered to be extraordinary. She is of the creators of the modern novel, a proto-feminist, a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind and an all around bad-ass.
Tomorrow is the 202th anniversary of her passing. She died at the young age of 41, with only four published books to her name and a modest success as a writer. Every time I read one of her books, I find myself asking what if she had lived a little longer or even into old age? What books and characters might she have introduced to the world?
Wherever she is, I hope that she is looking down on us and smiling, knowing that her name will live on for eternity.
When it comes to creating well written fanfiction, a good writer knows how to balance their narrative and their voice with the narrative and voice of the original work.
Christina Boyd’s new Jane Austen inspired anthology, Rational Creatures, was published back in October. Containing 16 new stories from well-respected JAFF (Jane Austen Fanfiction) writers, the focus of the stories of Austen’s female characters. The question that each story asks is if the heroines are the standard romantic heroines or strong, capable women who are able stand on their two feet in spite of the era that they live in?
I’ve been a fan of Ms. Boyd for the last few years, I enjoyed her previous anthologies, The Darcy Monologues and Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues. This book is well written and an easy read. I would caution, however, that this book is not for the newbie Jane Austen fan. It requires a level of knowledge that comes with multiple readings of Austen’s work and a deep knowledge of the fictional worlds that she created.
On this day, in 1775, a young lady entered this world. The circumstances and the family she was born into did not give any hint as to what she would become as an adult. Her father was a man of the cloth, her mother had successfully brought into the world six previous children and would bring one more into the world after her. In infancy, she was known as Jenny.
On the surface, Austen wrote love stories. But a deeper dive reveals that she was an astute observer of her world. Weaving her observations into her six completed novels, her books were much more than the standard boy meets girl, boy gets girl narrative. She wrote about politics, she was a proto-feminist and she mocked/revealed the inconsistencies that were part of the world she knew.
Most of all, she inspired and continues to inspire female writers not just to write, but to question the inconsistencies of their own worlds.
One of my favorite aspects when it comes to Jane Austen’s novels is that her stories still ring true to readers in the early 21st century as much as they did in early 19th century. This has led to the explosion of Jane Austen fanfiction, for better or for worse.
In 2016, Holidays with Jane: Summer of Love, was published. Each of her six completed novels is condensed into modern short stories that are set in and around summertime and summer vacation. I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because I felt like the writers achieved the delicate balance of being true to Jane’s novels while letting the modern version of the characters shine.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet is the classic middle child. She is neither beautiful like Jane, witty like Lizzie or outrageous like Kitty and Lydia. Like her sisters, she knows that she must marry well to survive, but without looks or fortune, she knows that the chances of marrying well, if at all are slim to none.
This is the premise of the new novel, Mary B: A Novel: An untold story of Pride and Prejudice.Written by Katherine J. Chen, the book tells Mary’s story before, during and after the events in Pride and Prejudice. As she watches three of her sisters marry, Mary knows that she will forever be the spinster sister dependent on others for her needs. Her only solace is her books and the story in her head that she begins to write.
Then life begins to imitate art and Mary’s voice as a smart and independent woman begins to shine through.
I had high expectations for this book. In terms of Pride and Prejudice characters, Mary is often given the short shrift. It was nice to hear her perspective on the world. However, I had two points of contention that I have no choice but to bring up. The first is that there was language and certain phrasing that was too modern for Georgian England. The second was Colonel Fitzwilliam. Without giving away the plot, I felt like his narrative and specific character arc did not ring true when compared to how he was portrayed in the original novel. In Pride and Prejudice, Colonel Fitzwilliam is outgoing and jovial. His cousin, Mr. Darcy, is perceived in a good chunk of the novel as surely and anti-social. In this book, Colonel Fitzwilliam is closer to Mr. Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility or Mr. Churchill in Emma than he is to how Jane Austen introduced us to in Pride and Prejudice.
In her lifetime, she published four completed novels: Sense And Sensibility, Pride And Prejudice, Mansfield Park And Emma. Persuasion, her last completed novel and Northanger Abbey, her first completed novel were published posthumously.
I sometimes wonder if she had any inkling of her pending immortality. Though her mortal bones have long since returned to the Earth, her name lives on. She is as famous as any contemporary author. Her books are read for pleasure and for academic purposes. There have been more than a few film, television and stage adaptations of her works (some which are better than others) and while many modern authors have tried to replicate Jane’s style as a writer, only a handful have succeeded in doing so.
Her work lives on because they still speak to us 200 years later. Above all else, she wrote about the human condition and the ordinary experiences that we all live through.
There is an old inside joke about Jews: For every two Jews, there are three opinions. From my perspective. is the backbone of Unorthodox. Created by Tablet Magazine, the podcast is hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz. Every week they talk about news relating to the Jewish world and have two guests: one Jewish and one not Jewish. What I appreciate about this podcast is that Mark, Liel and Stephanie not only mesh well together, but their unique world views allow all three to stand out in their own way. I’ve been listening for a couple of years; it’s a pleasure to wake up on Thursday morning knowing that the week’s episode is waiting for me.
Can I Just Say
Pop culture podcasts can sometimes get a little dull. Either they can veer too much into the fan boy or fan girl lane or they are just a tad too intellectual.
Thankfully, Can I Just Say is the perfect pop culture podcast. Hosted by Daphne Olive and Elizabeth Stevens, the ladies have unique and stimulating conversations about everything from Star Wars (their newest podcast about The Last Jedi was very interesting) to novels and their various adaptations (their comments about Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility got me thinking) to a hand-picked selection of Baz Lurhmann films opened my eyes to his abilities as a filmmaker. They also host a podcast entitled Fathoms Deep: A Black Sails Podcast, an equally interesting podcast about the television series Black Sails.
When rewriting a classic novel for the modern age, it takes more than merely transplanting the narratives and characters from one era to another. It is the writer’s job to ensure that the emotions of both the characters and the reader is equally transplanted.
In the Sense and Sensibility reboot, Jane if Austin: A Novel, by Hillary Manton Lodge, the Woodward sisters Jane, Celia and Margot have dealt with quite a few upheavals in their lives. First their mother dies in a car accident. Then their father is accused of a business scandal. Jane and Celia must take care of themselves and Margot, who is a few years behind her elder sisters. A few years after they have rebuilt their lives, the upheaval happens again. When the rent is raised on their tea shop in San Francisco, the sisters find a new home in Austin.
While temporarily living with a cousin, the sisters have their fair share of issues with their love lives. Celia’s relationship with Teddy ended just before she and her sisters left for Austin. Jane is infatuated with Sean Willis, an up and coming musician. Meanwhile Captain Callum Beckett, a retired Marine is watching Jane from afar while dealing with his own past.
In terms of Jane Austen fanfiction, this one is well done and extremely enjoyable. While it was still Sense and Sensibility, I felt like the author was able to weave her own voice in the story as well.
*Warning: This post contains spoilers in regards to the narrative and characters from the novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or seen any of the adaptations.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Sense and Sensibility to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
Any writer worth their salt will tell you that conflict is one of the key components of any story, regardless of genre to or specific narrative. When written well, conflict is what keeps the reader/audience engaged. In the romance genre, conflict usually comes by way of something or someone who is keeping the would be lovers apart.
In Sense And Sensibility, that someone is Lucy Steele. The would be lovers she is keeping apart is Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood. Lucy is introduced to Elinor and the audience about a third of the way into the story. Lucy is one of two sisters, who is related to the distant cousin who is leasing the Dashwoods a cottage on his property after the death of their father and husband.
Lucy has a secret and Elinor is the one she chooses to share her secret with. Lucy is secretly engaged. Her future husband is Edward Ferrars, a former pupil of her uncle. The engagement is a secret because of the status of Edward’s family. While Lucy tells Elinor of her secret engagement, only Elinor and the reader/audience is aware of the spark between Elinor and Edward.
To sum it up: In using Lucy to create a wedge between Edward and Elinor, Austen is upping the ante on the reader/audience. She is keeping them on the edge of the seat and not (at least yet anyway), answering the will they or won’t they question when it comes to Elinor and Edward. A good writer knows when and where to introduce conflict and if written properly, the conflict will keep the reader/audience going to the very end.