So Long, and Thanks for All the Syllabub

After five years, we Beloved Sisters of Austenacious have decided that it’s time to move on.

To our readers: You’re the best. The best! You are thoughtful and honest and funny and super into Jane Austen, and you’ve brought such life to this site. We’re incredibly grateful. Don’t be strangers, you hear?

The Austenacious archives will live on at austenacious.wordpress.com, should you really NEED to know who won Jane Austen’s March Madness, or how to make a Jane Austen Christmas tree topper. (YOU NEVER KNOW.) The Austenacious Twitter and Facebook accounts will remain semi-active, and the best way to find us on the Internet.

With love and giant Colin Firth statues,

Liz Ball, Heather Dever (Fitzpatrick), and Christine Osborne

So Long, and Thanks for All the Syllabub

Austen at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

This August, Action Jane and I took a field trip to the homeland. I know what you’re thinking: the Jane Austen action figure factory? 

YES!

…No. Actually, I spent two weeks in England and Scotland, meeting some new-to-me relatives and taking in the sights. Action Jane traveled with me, wrapped in a sock and stuffed into my purse for safekeeping. And let me tell you: that plastic quill pen was not meant for sock travel, and it does not go gently. Oh, the holes in my protective sock-case! Anyway, part of my travels took me to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which, by the way, you should all visit sometime. It’s fantastic.

Now. Not gonna lie: I saw an original Austen-themed musical on the schedule, and I wasn’t going to go. Can’t a lady vacation with her Jane Austen action figure in peace? Apparently not: I was on my way out for my last evening at the festival—to something completely different, I’ll have you know—when somebody on the street pushed a leaflet into my hand. The final Edinburgh performance of Austen, the musical, started in fifteen minutes, right in front of me. I can take a hint, universe. Jeez. 

And you know? It was good: an honest examination of the trials of being an unmarried lady and a writer, rather than the Jane/Tom LeFroy fanfic I feared at first. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just choose not to partake.) LeFroy is the just the first of several men whom we know passed through Austen’s life, and they’re all represented here. It was a simple one-hour production with a cast of four, a single musician, basic costumes, and no sets to speak of, but also a small raft of original songs that I’m not exactly still humming ten days later, but enjoyed heartily in the moment. I left with fond thoughts toward the cast, particularly Annie Kirkman as Jane and Toby Osmond as several characters of varying levels of goofiness. I could have done without the frame story, but the leads ultimately sold it; also, the references to specific lines in the Austen canon, but I get it. I’m not mad. I’d go again.

If you’re in the UK, it looks like the next performance of Austen is September 19 at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Wherever you are, check it out! Maybe Austen will come to a stage/hotel conference room near you. Tell them Action Jane sent you.

Austen at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Jane of Wax

Readers, when I die and go to the big Austen-blogging convention in the sky, I really only have one request of you all: please don’t let anybody make a waxwork figure of me. It’s a nice sentiment, and I appreciate it. (A nice bronze piece would be just fine.) But wax? Even the best wax figures are eerie. The bad ones are downright…blobby. No, thank you.

Still, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath recently unveiled a waxwork figure of Jane, claiming to be “the closest anybody has come to the real Jane Austen for 200 years.” The piece was three years in the making: forensic artist Melissa Dring made a new portrait based on the classic likeness by Cassandra Austen, plus written descriptions of Jane by her contemporaries, then sculptor Mark Richards translated Dring’s painting into 3-D.

What do you all think? I like it, more or less—for all my aversion to waxwork, I think this is pretty good, and admirably un-creepy. I might have gone for slightly rounder cheeks (they come up in every description of Jane’s face), but I like the long nose. She resembles Cassandra’s drawing, except like a real person. Does she look like the real Jane? I guess we’ll never know—but this seems like a reasonable guess, and I like that somebody’s still trying. Incidentally, according to the ladies over at Austenblog, actress Anna Chancellor—you know her as Caroline Bingley in the 1996 BBC Pride and Prejudiceis descended from Jane’s brother Edward and may, as they say, express a bit of a family resemblance (see: round cheeks; long nose). Who knew?

What’s your take on the Austen super-techno-waxwork? Also, please share your favorite good/bad waxwork figure. I’ll start:

Kate, nooo, that guy has too much hair and not enough dorky charm to be Wills! ABORT! ABORT!

 

The Jane of Wax

40 is the new 20

If you hadn’t heard, several contemporary authors have been busily reimagining Jane Austen’s novels as part of The Austen Project. Two novels have already been released, and Curtis Sittenfield is currently working on Pride and Prejudice. The Atlantic notes that Jane Bennet has to be almost 40 (quelle horreur!) to be believable as a spinster worthy of her mother’s desperation to get her married off. Sittenfield says, “Jane is about to turn 40—which is the age people pressure women, in the most extreme form, to be married.” On the surface this sounds right. But, as the resident Austenacious spinster-in-her-40s, I’d say the pressure is more internal. I’m talking heart, mind, and ovaries all taking turns to egg us on.

When I was in my 30s, Persuasion was always the Austen novel that resonated the most with me because Anne Eliot was wasn’t as young as the other Austen leads. Anne was in her late 20s and had matured and grown in many ways since her teenage years when she had a marriage opportunity. (Ew, just thinking “marriage” and “teenage years” in the same sentence gives me the willies. I know there are young couples that love each other and want to build lives together, but I was far too much of a selfish knucklehead to have been able to handle getting married then.) I empathized with Anne’s maturity and realization that she had been manipulated as a young woman and was, in her “later” years, better able to speak her own mind and could determine for herself what was important.

In my 40s, I don’t feel any real pressure from my family (though, to be fair, it’s entirely possible that they don’t want to put up with my thinly veiled annoyance should they nag me). In my 20s and early 30s, I definitely felt the societal expectation. There were waves of weddings—a handful of just-after-college-graduation weddings, a big surge of 25-27-year olds getting married, and then the early 30s celebrations. In our 40s? Not so much. If anything, my 40-year-old girlfriends and I talk about whether or not our fading ovaries have any say in the discussion. “Is this my last chance to have a baby?” “Do I even want to have children?” “CAN I even have children?” “Holy crap, are your ovaries taking over your brain and making you want to have babies when you’ve never felt that way before?” Of course, we still talk about whether or not a potential partner is handsome, but we’re more impressed by a guy who can cook a good meal or fix the leaking faucet rather than someone who looks dashing in his military duds or has £10,000 a year.

Maybe I’m just lucky that I know some awesome women in their 40s who have gotten past the notion that they’re expected to be married and have children and are just living their lives. Sure, there’s still some financial discrimination in the workplace. (I’m talking to you, nonprofits—stop treating women as volunteers who don’t need to be paid well because their husbands can support them. That’s BS, and you know it.) And of course there are many who would love to be married. But it just feels like less big of a deal now. If you live—really live—instead of pining away for what might have been, being unmarried is actually pretty good. And that’s not something that will end up in a reimagined Austen novel. Though I sort of wish someone would make Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mary Bennet fun-loving singles. Ditch the sickly daughter, give Mary a personality, and then have the dynamic duo of Widow de Bourgh and Spinster Bennet solve crimes with and run witty circles around society! Anything is better than single women sitting around waiting for something to do.

(Image borrowed with kindness from http://www.rottenecards.com/)
40 is the new 20

What’s “Like” Jane Austen?

Over the past few weeks, the Austenacious Google Alerts have been packed with reviews of the movie Bellethe biopic of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an eighteenth-century English noblewoman of mixed race. I only see the reviews that mention Jane Austen, of course—otherwise they wouldn’t ping my Google Alert—but a whole lot of people seem to agree: Belle is a lot like an Austen adaptation.

I know what that means, and I also don’t know what that means. What makes something “like” a Jane Austen novel?

To me, Jane’s work feels incredibly specific in nearly every way: time period, setting, sphere of knowledge and influence, sense of humor, style, voice. I see Jane as her own genre. After all, who else would we group with her? Who else was writing at the same time about the same subjects, and is still in print? Who sounds like her? The closest colleague I can think of is Elizabeth Gaskell, and can we really say Dickens’s and Charlotte Bronte’s Victorian social-novelist BFF is “like Jane”? I don’t expect the general movie-going public to sort 19th-century English women writers into subdivisions—I’m all for “People in Olden Times Having Romantical Problems” (TM the Fug Girls) myself—but I also can’t go so far as to say they’re all comparable. If anything, in writing from an exclusively female perspective, without a social or moral agenda (ahem, Gaskell and George Eliot) or stalking dramatically about the moors (heyyy, Brontes!), Jane was the odd woman out.

(I’m not actually saying Belle isn’t Austenacious in nature. In fact, the real Dido Elizabeth Belle was a slightly earlier contemporary of Austen’s and lived with her uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield, whom I think we can assume had a notable ha-ha.)

If I’m going to make comparisons with Austen, they’re likely to be with writers who channel the Austenian sensibility of narrow focus, gently astringent humor, and telling the truth about humans—not necessarily period pieces, and not necessarily the “chick-lit” that’s so often assumed to be her legacy (mostly due to Bridget Jones’s Diary). When I think of writers and works who are “like Jane Austen,” I think of Penelope Fitzgerald’s tart little small-town novel The Bookshop, and of the Emma-ness of Flora Poste in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, and of Alan Bennett’s charming and economical The Uncommon Reader. I think of Margaret Atwood, whose politics and feminist dystopian sci-fi work Jane would never have imagined, but who I think inherited a certain rhythm from her anyway. It’s about voice and view point more than about demographics, I guess.

Readers, what about you? What makes something “like” Jane Austen for you?

What’s “Like” Jane Austen?

Jane Ink (and Cream Puffs)

Readers, we had a party without you.

I’m sorry. Is that rude? Should I not be talking about this? It’s just that Mrs. Fitzpatrick just got her first tattoos—the only tattoos among the Austenacious staff, unless Miss Osborne’s kidding-not-kidding about the “I ❤ Simon LeBon” on her butt—and, well, celebrations ensued.

Mrs. F’s forearms are now all about these lovely abstract designs based on the Battersea Shield. Contouring to come. She’s all healed up and ready for the admiration of her peers!

In tribute, Miss Osborne whipped up a batch of her famous cream puffs—traditionally reserved for Easter celebrations chez Osborne—and got her hands on some Jane Austen temporary tattoos for the less decisive types in the room.

What’s that on Mrs. F’s decolletage, you ask? I think you’re going to like this.

Temporary. (FOR NOW.)

Miss Osborne’s left wrist belongs to Mr. Darcy.

But her left bicep is all about Knightley. You guys, it’s a fight!real fight!

GANGSTA.*

Austen Nation, do any of you have Austen tattoos, either permanent or temporary? Either way, have a cream puff and join the party.

 

 

*Until it rubs off on my pillow in a few days. PILLOW STOP RUINING MY STREET CRED, JEEZ.

Jane Ink (and Cream Puffs)

Pin the Jane on the Internet

Oh, man. OHHHH, MAN. We are going to get so much less done around here. Consider this your apology in advance, Austen Nation.

Here’s the thing: Austenacious is now on Pinterest! You can find us at pinterest.com/austenacious. Let’s be friends!

Not gonna lie: there’s a lot of banality under the search term “Jane Austen.” But there’s also some really cool and interesting stuff, and we think it’s a pretty good way to explore the wide world of the Jane Austen Internet (and curate the good stuff, as well). Aside from a number of future boards the Beloved Sisters are carrying around in our heads, we also plan to archive our own Austenacious material there. All this to say, when Action Jane takes over the Internet, you’ll know. And if you’ve got suggestions, just send those pins right over!

We’ll get to them riiiight after we do this twelve-second ab workout/finish making this low-cal low-fat grain-free paleo cheesy bacon ranch bread. Those are the same thing, right?

Austen Nation, do you use Pinterest or other social media to feed your Austen habit? Is there anything we should know about? Fill us in?

 

Pin the Jane on the Internet