I thought I loved Pride and Prejudice. I really did. Lizzy was fun, Darcy was everything dark and brooding, and the rest of the characters varied from kind hearted to selfishly foolish. I really enjoyed Jane Austen’s “unique” writing style, plot twists and happy-ish endings. She even made it onto my top ten books series of all times list.
And I still like the book. Thanks to a friend, I’ve been following The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a vlogging creation of Hank Green and Bernie Sue.
It turns out, though, that it is also the only Jane Austen novel that I can stand. And so, here we go.
Austen # 1: Emma
RECOMMENDED FOR: I honestly don’t know. If you’re an Austen fan, then go for it. If you don’t mind romances between individuals more than 15 years apart, then this just might be the story for you!
Of the three, this Austen was my least favourite. Emma is a selfish, proud and meddling young woman. She fancies herself a matchmaker, and as such proceeds to almost ruin the life of another woman introduced in the story, Harriet. Ignoring advice from Mr. Knightley, a man 16-17 years older than her (I don’t think Ms Austen cared much for age or accuracy), throughout the novel, Emma finds herself in some unfortunate circumstances. I ended up wondering at some point what the entire story was building up to.
A positive for me was the message I took from it: most of us don’t know what is good for us, let alone anyone else. Putting ideas into people’s head can lead to consequences one could never have foreseen. By taking Harriet under her wing and giving her ideas about who she should marry (as opposed to who actually wanted to marry her), Emma nearly ruined the young woman’s chance at marriage. Although I did not like Emma, Jane Austen did make her character believable. A negative, however, was Harriet’s character. She was so one-dimensional, I felt like the woman needed to be checked.
And then there is the “surprise” towards the end (no spoilers). Which was great, because it meant the story was building up to something. Maybe romance just isn’t my genre.
Austen # 2: Mansfield Park
RECOMMENDED FOR: Austen readers, fans of Jane Bennet, and anyone else with nothing better to do.
This one got a 3 because I did NOT foresee the ending. In Mansfield Park, we follow the life of young Fanny Price, who is living at her aunt and uncle’s house (Mansfield Park). She lives with her cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia Bertram. Also in the picture is another aunt, Mrs. Norris, who exists (it seems) solely to make Fanny feel inferior to her cousins. The moral of the story is quite sweet, and I did not feel forced to finish this Austen (a step up from Emma).
As for Fanny herself, I felt like I was reading a story from Jane Bennet’s point of view. All gratefulness and kindness, the main difference between the two that stood out to me the most was that Fanny is a much better judge of character. That she didn’t fall where many before her did (oh Henry Crawford!) was enough to show that much. And yet, I couldn’t shake the Jane Bennet feeling.
Mr. Love Interest himself, Edmund Bertram, was boring. And hypocritical when he thinks he’s ‘in love’. Is that a normal symptom? All double standard aside, it felt like the way Austen described Edmund’s change of heart towards the end left me unconvinced. I could understand his fallout with one woman perfectly well; it was understanding the second relationship which left me baffled. I did not ‘believe’ in them. At least I can say something slightly better about our third leading man.
Austen # 3: Northanger Abbey
RECOMMENDED FOR: Austen lovers! And anyone else willing to read a book from the 19th century.
The ending soured the beginning for me. I felt like I had wasted my time, in a way, waiting for relationships to develop. Which never did. The 3 stars is a little unfair. I liked Henry Tilney (sort of?) and did not hate Catherine, making this one better than Emma and Mansfield Park. But not by much.
You see, the title of this post came to me after finishing this book. Henry is all that is ‘agreeable’, and Catherine is just foolish enough to be ‘endearing’ and not stupid. If Fanny spoke more and looked flustered less often, she would have been my favourite female protagonist of these three. Catherine loves reading Gothic novels, and her active imagination leads her to a few awkward situations when she is invited by a couple of new friends to stay at Northanger Abbey. Hearts are broken and friendships dissolve in this Austen, leaving it with the most predictable ending of all three.
What did I like? The writing style. It made discrepancies in character’s behaviour amusingly obvious, a definite plus where certain characters are walking contradictions. It was simply written, tempting me to shelve it as a children’s read.
Henry Tilney may have beat out Mr. Darcy as favourite male lead, but he was far too one-dimensional. Catherine’s relationship with Henry’s sister seemed nonexistent to me, and for a while I was afraid Henry’s widowed father would ask Catherine to marry him! Some family.
Overall, Austen’s writing feels almost identical throughout the books. Different characters with different attitudes ending with the same result: a happily ever after marriage. I have grown to enjoy the subplots a lot more, since they vary from book to the next. Elopement is definitely a favourite, though.
And that’s a wrap! I do not plan on reading Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion anytime in the near future. Easy reads for the winter break/first week of second semester. And now back to my Reading Challenge book, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter! Gathering Blue review soon!