My review backlog is getting the best of me again and in the interest of finishing some of it before 2015, here are all the Jane Austen audiobooks I listened to in the past month. They were all skillfully narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who I thought was great at both capturing the tone of the time and the various voices. I think she’d make an especially good Mrs. Bennet, I could almost hear the character in some of the lines though Pride and Prejudice was not one of the novels I listened to.
Plot: Anne Elliot fell in love with a young naval officer at 19 but because of his lack of fortune and position, she was persuaded to break off the engagement. Now 27 and still unmarried, Frederick has returned with a great fortune. But will he still have her?
If I was to compare Anne to any other Austen heroine, it would be Elinor Dashwood. She is very sensible and reserved, especially when compared to her prideful, narcissistic, wasteful and selfish father and sisters. She is very thoughtful and bears her heartbreak in silence. In trying to respect the wishes of those around her, she does a very great injury to herself and the man she loves. They both continue to feel it throughout the novel, though Frederick pretends coldness.
I think this is the romance I like best in all her novels. For while one cannot deny Darcy’s charms, this kind of slow, constant love arising from mutual interest and suitable characters has always been my favorite.
It is a great novel, but I love it all the more for the sci-fi adaptation by Diana Perterfreund For Darkness Shows the Stars.
Plot: Emma is a young unmarried woman who runs her father’s household and meddles in people’s lives. But her attempts at matchmaking create nothing but trouble, both for herself and for the young woman she has taken under her wing.
If Elizabeth Bennet is Austen’s most likable heroine, Emma is the hardest to love. Though her intentions are good, she is unaccomplished (not from lack of intelligence but from laziness), elitist, a poor judge of character and rather arrogant. In any other Austen book, she would be the thoughtless relation who ends quite poorly. But precisely because of her flaws, it is also a pleasure to see her grow and discover the errors of her ways. Like Knightley, I can sees her flaws but can’t quite hate her for them…. even though I sometimes found myself yelling at her infuriating actions.
If you like the book, I highly recommend the video blog adaptation Emma Approved.
Plot: Lord and Lady Bertram take in and raise their impoverished niece Fanny to aid her family. They are determined to do well by her but without making her equal to their four children. Their help promise her a good education and good match but unbeknownst to them, she has set her heart on her cousin Edmund.
Mansfield Park is the Austen novel I was the least familiar with before listening to it. I think it stands out amongst her her works first because, while most of her heroines are in some financial and matrimonial straights, Fanny is certainly the poorest with the worst status. It is probably also the most scandalous of Austen’s novels: there is bad behaviour (acting! *gasp*), elopement, even infidelity and divorce. And what is more entertaining than the scandals of mean, prideful people?
While Fanny is as kind and intelligent as most of Austen’s heroines (Emma’s kindness is a matter of debate), I find that her morals haven’t aged very well. By our standards she is rather self-effacing, judgmental and prudish but there is no denying that she is kind, grateful and good. But I especially appreciate how strongly she holds to her morals, even in the face of overwhelming disapproval.
I found, after hearing the novel, that the 1999 movie took a lot of liberties with Austen’s tale.
Sense and Sensibility
Plot: When Mr. Dashwood died, he was forced to leave his whole fortune to his son by his first marriage. His second wife and their three daughters were left with barely enough to live on. They settle in a small cottage where Marianne falls madly and passionately in love while her more sensible elder sister, Elinor, hides her feelings for a man who may be completely out of her reach.
Unlike Mansfield Park, I know this novel almost as well as Pride and Prejudice but it’s always a pleasure to meet the Dashwoods again. The two sisters (the thrid sister, Margaret is quite endearing in the 1995 movie but has a much smaller role in the book), are very different but both kind, intelligent and cultured in their own way. Marianne is full of spirit and passion (both artistic and romantic) and while this can cause her to be occasionally rash and rude, I cannot help but smile as I read her. Elinor is much more reserved and reasonable but no less kind, caring or interesting. Elizabeth Bennet will always be my favorite but there is a warm place in my heart for these two women.
Romance is thwarted as in many Austen novels by disapproving families, unscrupulous men, bad first impressions and the lack of fortunes. The whole is unravelled with such skill and such subtle humour (at 33 I can’t help but laugh at 15 year old Marianne’s assertion that “A woman of seven and twenty can never hope to feel or inspire affection again.”), as I have come to expect from Austen. It is a novel to revisit again and again.