Thursday, December 15, 2011

About Austen

Because I just finished reading Emma, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jane Austen and her characters and writing style. I Google Image’d Mr. Knightley to see who has portrayed him in film over the years and came across a blog speculating about which was the greatest Austen leading man. As if Darcy could ever be supplanted! Hah!

I love Jane Austen. I love so much about the way she writes. She’s pretty well-known for writing some of the most obnoxious and deplorable characters, but I love that she does it patiently. She doesn’t just come out and say, “Mrs. Elton got on everyone’s nerves because of how highly she thought of herself.” She uses straight dialogue and lets you just find out yourself. I love that she rarely uses adverbs in dialogue, which I’ve recently found to be a pet peeve. In re-reading some of the stuff that I’ve written over the years, I’m so embarrassed that every line of dialogue reads ‘…she said dryly’ or ‘…he muttered sheepishly.’ Man. You don’t have to tell the reader how the person said it all the time. If you’re good enough, the reader will know the character well enough to intrinsically know how the character said/did/thought it. It’s on my list of things I’ll probably never find time for to go back through and remove all adverbs. Even ones like “intrinsically.”

Emma herself was such an interesting protagonist because I didn’t even like her most of the time. She was a little arrogant, presumptuous and judgmental. Her little scene on Box Hill was so awkward and uncomfortable that the writers of The Office would nod in approval.

One thing that I decidedly don’t like about Austen’s writing is how abruptly she ends her stories. The four (out of six) that I’ve read all end the same way. There’s a rather long build-up of conflict and interaction, things come to a head, then BAM everyone gets married the end. I just read a rather long novel with building emotional tension between two characters and you end the story with “and everyone was happy about their union”? I don’t even get a paragraph or two describing their first kiss or (gasp!) wedding night?

You know what it fits with? The fact that Austen was never married. I’m not saying that she never found out what actually happens between a husband and wife, I’m just saying she didn’t know enough to put it down in writing. Even some of the climactic moments are a bit short-changed. Example: Knightley professes his love for Emma and asks if she loves him in return. Austen then writes something to the effect of: “And what did Emma say in return? Everything that is proper to say, as a true lady always does.” COME ON, AUSTEN, I want deets! Jane Austen must have had enough knowledge of flirtation and courtship from experience, observation or imagination, so she wrote six novels about it. She didn’t have enough first-hand knowledge of marriage or any real physical expression of love (maybe even not verbal – poor Jane) that she didn’t feel comfortable writing about it. This makes me so sad for her. She, who wrote Darcy, could only ever imagine what it was like to actually be married to someone like him.

(Michael is very much a Darcy.)

On to Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey!

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