Tag Archives: pride and prejudice

Author Feud: Brontë vs Austen

480If asked to name two 19th century female authors, most people (if they could name 2 at all) would say Jane Austen and at least one Brontë.  Right?  Those really in the know might mention George Eliot, Frances Burney, or Elizabeth Gaskell.  I suppose people who read more American literature than I do would list Alcott or Dickinson, but Jane Austen and the Brontës are the heavyweights in this category.  I suspect this is because of the number of  movie versions of their books. Movies with ladies in bonnets and men with sideburns and waistcoats. The two last names are synonymous with those movies and are inseparably linked in our minds. So it’s strange to think of a feud between them.

I read an article last week discussing the feud between Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.  I say feud, but it was more unrequited vitriol on the part of Brontë, who loathed Austen for her popularity and for her frivolity. Austen had no opportunity to dislike Brontë, as she was long dead by this point. Here are some of Charlotte’s thoughts on Austen and her writing, that we know from her letters:

‘The passions are perfectly unknown to her’

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point.  She has no eloquence none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry

Brontë, after reading Pride and Prejudice, compared it to a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden, with no open country- no fresh air

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books, some multiple times.  I’ve read several of the Brontë’s novels-Jane Eyre and Villette by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne. I also have a vague recollection of doing a 9th grade report on Anne’s poetry, so I’m practically the world’s most preeminent Brontë scholar.

I have read enough of their writing to compare them from the reader’s perspective, rather than a scholarly (re: pretentious) way.  So, are they so terribly different?

Yes.  Those who don’t read this sort of literature might see them as fancy romantic stories, sort of proto-chick lit, the progenitors to things like Harlequin romance novels, Sophie Kinsella, and Bridge Jones.  Certainly they have similarities.  Female protagonists for whom marriage is of extreme importance.  The time period, though separated by 30+ years, is similar enough that most people wouldn’t really know the difference.  I get very strange looks when I try to explain that Jane Austen was during the Regency period, whereas the Brontë sisters were in the early Victorian period.  No one cares.  There are bonnets, long dresses, a lot of societal rules. Pot-ay-to, po-tah-to.

But anyone who has read them knows that the they are as dissimilar as The Color Purple and the Help.  But I radically reject the idea that this means one of them is ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’.  Just like I reject every preposterous notion that fiction which is more difficult, more realistic, more depressing is always more ‘valuable’ than fiction that is enjoyable or escapist or imaginative.  What more would you expect from a Harry Potter fan?

Jane Austen wrote about the world of a very small subset of humans; this is undeniable.  There is  little acknowledgment of a world outside the upper classes of Regency era England, except for a few vague references to the troublesome French (usually to explain the presence of handsome soldiers in uniforms). In modern equivalents, I suppose an Austen novel would be about the cheerleaders and the football players–people born quite lucky and shining in the lovely light of youth, beauty, and naiveté to the world’s evils.  After I read Charlotte’s criticism that Jane’s writing is like a well-tended garden, I tend to think of it that way myself; she embodies the sophisticated, cultivated farmlands of the South of England.

The Brontë sisters, on the other hand, are like the wild moors so ubiquitous throughout Wuthering Heights.  There is passion in their writing, but also an equal amount of horror, of pessimism and cynicism, and of truth.

Anyone who has seen senseless violence, or tragedy, or loss, cannot continue to believe that life is the cultivated garden presented in Austen’s works.  In short, anyone who has lived long enough, with an IQ over 60, will realize that life doesn’t make as much sense as our parents lead us to believe.  The wildness and randomness and senselessness of the real world are always in the back of our minds, much as we try to focus on weeding the metaphorical weeds from our rosebushes. Are the Brontë works more realistic?  Yes.  Emphatically yes.  They portray not people with minor flaws that are often laughable (as Austen’s books do), but people who are seriously and irrevocably flawed. Is that more realistic?  Sadly, yes.  Is it fun to read? no.

Aristotle wrote in Poetics that he thought characters should always be good and admirable.  He thought people should see heroes in fiction, so that they will act like heroes in real life.  If they saw bad characters, they would emulate bad characters.  I have to disagree with Aristotle there.  If you’re a deeply flawed person, reading about the trials of another flawed person is much more compelling than reading about a paragon. Of course, in what we think of as a ‘novel’, there is rarely a paragon to be found.  All characters are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum from good to bad.  Austen’s tend toward the good side, the Brontë characters are very close to the other end.  So much so that it seems that redemption is impossible for them; they are fated to be miserable and to be bad.  Not all of them, of course, but certainly nearly everyone in Wuthering Heights is wholly irredeemable. When you compare Mr. Darcy to Mr. Rochester, you see the differences pretty clearly.  One has some superficial and fairly-easily overcome problems that don’t make him a bad person.  The other is deeply flawed; bad-tempered, pessimistic, sometimes dishonest, and already married.  If you think he’s a brilliant romantic hero, please read Wide Sargasso Sea and reconsider.

Sometimes we need to read things that are awful and have veracity on their sides.  But if that were the only type of thing we read, it would be horribly depressing.  If you spend all your time reading Proust, Kafka, Camus, and Franzen…you’ll be pretty depressed, I would imagine.  If you spend all of your time reading nothing but Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown, and Stephanie Meyer, you won’t be as inclined to depression–you’ll be entertained.  But you won’t be challenged.  None of those books are going to remain in your thoughts, weeks later, when you think about the nature of love or grief or violence.

Everyone finds their own balance and seeks entertainment somewhere between verisimilitude and escapism.  We’d all do better to have a good mix, and to not judge others for where they find their satisfaction in literature. That includes Charlotte Brontë.

 

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Persuasion

PersuasionI caught the 2007 TV movie version of Persuasion on TV last week, and my love of the book came flooding back to me.  Persuasion was actually the first Austen book I ever read, at the tender age of sixteen.  Though I later learned to adore Pride and Prejudice more, Persuasion still ranks very highly on my rainy day reading list.

As with most Austen novels, the story focuses on a motherless, brotherless (and ergo in an insecure financial position) girl with a very silly family.  What sets Persuasion apart is the maturity of the story. It was Austen’s last novel, completed about one year before she died.  Anne Elliot, its main character, was the oldest of Jane’s heroines.  This isn’t a story about first love; it’s a story about a second chance.  As someone who has made tons of mistakes in her life, I can always appreciate a second chance.

Anne Elliot is 27 when the story begins, but much of the plot revolves around the action of 8 years ago.  Her prideful and vain family talked her out of an engagement when she was young. They didn’t consider the gentleman, Frederick Wentworth, worthy of her, because he was a lowly Royal Navy officer.  In this particular TV movie, he is played by Rupert Penry-Jones (Silk, White Chapel), and he looks quite good in the period costume:

rupert_440x293I think that this story has even more romantic tension than Pride and Prejudice. After she is convinced to spurn his proposal, Anne doesn’t see Wentworth for 8 years. He ventures off into his Naval career, and comes back into her life, and oh how the tables have turned. Anne’s extravagant family have run through their yearly allowance and need to rent out their expensive manor home.  It’s rented by Wentworth’s wealthy sister and her husband. Wentworth is a rich captain now, and is considered a very eligible bachelor.

Anne has spent most of the last eight years bitterly regretting her behavior and her decision.  When Wentworth comes back into her life, Anne is overcome with awkwardness and shame.  Wentworth is bitter and resentful.  The tension is hard to deal with, but the more they are thrown together, the more their feelings soften and relax.

For the couple to end up together, the hero and heroine have to do some risky things. Wentworth has to forgive Anne for hurting and humiliating him.  Anne has to win back his trust, but she also has to deliberately contradict her family’s wishes.  It’s just plain harder for Anne and Wentworth than it ever was for Lizzie and Darcy. Interestingly, I found a blog post with 5 reasons why Wentworth is more marriageable than Darcy. I don’t believe with a single one of her reasons, but Wentworth is pretty dreamy.  Darcy’s fault has always been his pride, and Wentworth doesn’t have that problem.

Of course, it’s an Austen romance, so there’s the perfect balance of will-they-won’t-they suspense for what seems like ages.  There are other girls interested in Wentworth, and another eligible match turns up for Anne. Austen strings you along and makes you worry, even though you know it will come through in the end, and that release at the end is a beautiful experience. That’s what makes her an impeccable storyteller.

Though this TV movie is not nearly as thorough (or faithful to the book) as a miniseries would be, it’s well done and Rupert Penry-Jones is very good as Wentworth.  I liked Sallie  Hawkins as Anne,

kinopoisk.ru-Persuasion-1276094but the combination of her reserved demeanor and severe bun make her look a little more matronly than really seems appropriate.  I know 27 was considered a spinster in those days, but she shouldn’t look so much like a sourpuss librarian.

Probably my favorite performance came from Anne’s father. He is an intolerable caricature of a man, constantly complaining about the physical appearance of his friends, when he’s not sniveling at the feet of his social betters.  He disapproves of the navy because the harsh winds and what they do to the faces of the sailors. He’s played impeccably by Anthony Stewart Head, aka Giles.

anthony+headI’ve had some ridiculous family members, and I’ve learned the hard lesson that sometimes they need to be ignored or disobeyed. That’s the central lesson for Anne Elliot, and it’s one that will always resonate with me. It’s a great book, but if you’re a more visual person, the movie is definitely worth a watch.

One-year blog anniversary

blog-anniversaryThis year marks one year since I began to write this blog.  I’d like to say I’ve learned and grown a lot as a writer and blogger during this year, but I have to say most of what I have learned is how addictive the WordPress ‘Stats’ page can be.  I check it about 10 times per day, just to see the view count tick up.  This isn’t the sort of blog that I imagine will ever garner lots of attention; there just aren’t many Americans interested in my views on Downton Abbey, even among the subset of Americans that are interested in Downton Abbey. But I still get a thrill from anything that gives me a lot of hits.  I find one thing the most addictive–the WordPress map.  I desperately want to fill in all of the countries! I like the idea of my blog being read round the world.  So far, I’m doing pretty well.map

There are some countries I’m fairly certain I won’t ever get to fill in.  Internet access is tightly controlled, and often unavailable at all, in places like Iran and North Korea.  I don’t know a lot about, say Madagascar, but given their tiny population I doubt they will be visiting anytime soon.  I’m holding out a lot of hope for Mongolia, partially because it’s such a big country. I don’t understand why Greenland is not colored-in, because Greenland is technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  And I’ve got Denmark, so I think I should have Greenland.  *cough-WordPress-are-you-listening-cough* And it’s huge!

Not surprisingly, my blog is most popular in the US and the UK, with the rest of Europe and some other post-colonial countries (Australia, India) not far behind. But I have a lot of 1-offs, where one person from an entire country has deigned to visit my blog.  I’m always thrilled when I have new countries on the list, so thank you to the one of you from the Bahamas, Jersey, Uganda, Cyprus, Honduras, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Uruguay, St. Lucia, Grenada, and Nicaragua who have wandered in and then wandered back out.  Next time, tell your friends!

Other amusing pastimes include obsessively monitoring why people found my blog–what they searched for that lead them to my little corner of the internet. My most popular topic (more popular than all of the rest combined, I would wager) is any variation on ‘English Stereotypes’.  That makes up most of my traffic.  But when you get down to the end of the list you get to the more amusing keywords.  WHY were people searching for this stuff? WHY does searching for it lead to my blog?! Here is a sample of the weirdest searches:

Martin Freeman naked/nude (more popular than Benedict Cumberbatch naked, so Martin should be happy about that)

Benedict Cumberbatch + sloth OR ice age

bike mustache chops.   ????

Albus Dumbledore read Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre the hoes of these moves

bluffball did you see that ludicrous display last night

my possible favorite,

what is “wagger pagger bagger” slang for in England?

Excellent question, but one my blog does not answer.  There are also some that are less PG rated, including several people wanting to search about Fred Weasley performing certain sex acts, and something related to horses, dolls, and sex.  Yikes! For the record, my blog came up for that last one because of my review of Anna Karenina, which has a sex affair, a character named Dolly, and a horse race.  But I googled that same string of words and my blog was the second result, right behind a fetish porn site.  So…awesome.

I have learned that all publicity is good publicity.  I’ve had two writers retweet/link reviews that I posted.  In fact, the busiest day my blog ever had was when Steven Grasse linked to my review of his book.  If you didn’t read it, be aware that my review can be summarized by three words “Worst. Book. Ever.”  He seemed to find it amusing that his terrible book almost caused me to have a stroke.  I have to say that him personally linking to my scathing review means he has a better sense of humor than any of his humor book seemed to display.  Luckily, my other retweet came for a positive review.

I don’t mind being a small blog.  I think the best part of this blog is finding other like-minded individuals. I now follow a lot more people on WP, on Twitter, etc., who are interested in British TV and culture, who are British and are interested in TV and culture, and just people who are interesting.  I find that the most rewarding part, since it involves interaction and a conversation rather than answering misspelled Google queries.  It’s almost as rewarding as it will inevitably be when someone from Mongolia visits my blog.

Tsherlock and john laughingo the next year!

 

The Best British Holiday Films

I was sick a few weeks ago, just a 24-hour thing. I took the day off from work and spent it watching British holiday films, of which there are a surprising amount.  I seem to own most of them, despite not liking holiday movies most of the time.  So I thought this would be a great Christmas post.  Here are my favorites:

Love Actually

Love Actually posterI’m hoping you knew this one would be on the list.  How could it not?  First of all, let’s consider the cast.  Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Also, not even listed on their little poster is Martin Freeman and Joanna Page.  Yes please! I love so many of these actors. Not to mention that I love them together.  Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were together in Sense and Sensibility; Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were in both Bridget Jones films.  They work well together and its lovely to see them in the same film.  This movie isn’t perfect. All of the interrelated characters are sort of vaguely coexisting, but the bonds and relationships between them are too tenuous and unimportant to make a really cohesive whole.  And the part I really dislike is when Colin goes to America–to Wisconsin of all places–and encounters some sort of mythical America that does not and has never existed.  American women do, undoubtedly, enjoy British accents. I know this first-hand. But Denise Richards, January Jones, Eliza Cuthbert, and Shannon Elizabeth don’t all share a bed in a house in Wisconsin.  Sorry, men.  That is not reality. But, leaving that bit alone, everything else is wonderful. Hugh Grant dancing around No 10 Downing Street? priceless.

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Colin Firth speaking broken Portuguese and receiving broken English answers to his proposal? Adorable.  Martin Freeman doing anything at all? Yes.  Love this movie.  Makes me feel all happy and warm inside, like a great pair of fuzzy socks.

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Bridget Jones’ Diary

Bridget-Jones-wallpapers-bridget-jones-10347017-1024-768

I loved this book and I love the movie too.  It takes place over the course of an entire year, so it is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. More of a Rom-Com with Christmas at its beginning and end.  But there is something delightfully Christmas-y about the entire thing. The book is based roughly on Pride and Prejudice, so the fact that they got Colin Firth (the definitive Mr. Darcy) to play Mark Darcy is fabulous.  Especially because we get to see him like this:

Mark Darcy sweaterThis is a very goofy film, and Bridget is no match for Lizzy Bennet.  Still, she is endearing and real, and that is always reassuring around Christmas time, when your pants are a little tighter and all of the food is so inviting.

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The Holiday

The Holiday poster

Here’s the problem with the Holiday: When people ask me if I like it (as happens constantly in my life) I don’t know what to say.  It’s clear to me that the movie was written by and for people who have never had a single real problem in their lives.  The two main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are desperately unhappy with their lives.  Kate is stuck in one of those drawn-out unrequited love stories where you just can’t get over the person who broke your heart.  Cameron Diaz is a workaholic who acts like her parents getting divorced is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.  These aren’t fun things, but considering the tragedies that can come up within one human life, they are not bad.  And Cameron Diaz sits there talking about her parents’ divorce and how terrible it was, to a man whose wife has died and who is raising two daughters on his own. I just didn’t have much sympathy for their ‘plight’ because their problems were so negligent in the grand scheme of things.  Not to belittle anyone’s experiences with divorce or a bad breakup, but I think we can all agree there are worse things that can happen in the world.  So the movie bothers me every time I watch it.

On the other hand, I watch it at least three times a year.  There must be something I like about it.  Kate Winslet is adorable, and Jude Law is fabulous in it.  I love Jack Black, but I know he is a very polarizing actor, so some may hate him.  I find Cameron Diaz is a pretty good actress, but the fact that she is a 5’10” size 4 makes it very hard to accept her as an everyday woman.  If they had made her intensely neurotic or something, I would have been more capable of accepting it. I’ve seen her do convincing performances before (In Her Shoes is a great example) but this isn’t one of them.  But with Jude Law in almost all of her scenes, it’s easy to get through her parts of the movie.  It’s an easy movie to sit through and to imagine what a change of location could do to your life.  Plus, Kate Winslet’s cottage is possibly the most adorable thing in the history of the world:

Rosehill Cottage

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Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2

Small confession–I haven’t actually seen this one.  How did I make it through my childhood with so little exposure to Muppets? I watched a lot of Sesame Street, but never made the jump to the Muppets.  Why?  Possibly something to do with the absence of Oscar the Grouch from the Muppet gang.  I dunno.  At any rate, I’m putting this on the list because I’ve heard such good things from so many different sources that I’m confident that when I finally do see this movie, I will love it.  Also, it makes me happy to think of it because I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about A Christmas Carol and the ghost of Marley. My boyfriend claimed there were two Marleys.  I immediately asked if this was due to the Muppets Christmas Carol, because that’s the only version of A Christmas Carol he was likely to be familiar with.  He confirmed this movie as the source of his knowledge, and that ‘Marley and Marley’ were played by Statler and Waldorf, the two old men.  Brilliant bit of casting.

Marley_and_marley

At any rate, whenever I think of this movie now, I chuckle because of that conversation.

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Obviously, I haven’t seen all of the Christmas movies or even all of the British Christmas movies in the world.  Let me know which ones you recommend!

My Top 5 British Everything! part one

My monetary situation continues to not be conducive to buying new movies or books.  That means it’s time for another list–a long one this time! Part one will cover Books, Movies, and my favorite places in the British Isles.

My Top 5 British Everything*

*not comprehensive.

First off, books! This is very hard for me, obviously, as a quick inventory of my bookshelf will prove that about 60% of all the books I own are British.  To pick only 5 is like picking one meal to eat every night for the rest of your life.  But, nevertheless, here are my favorites!

1.The Harry Potter Series

Of course this is number one.  And, don’t gripe about this being 7 books, not one.  This list is only my top five, and it would be pretty boring if all five were HP books, as they most assuredly would be.  The bottom line is these are my desert island books, the only books I would truly need to be fulfilled for the rest of my life, if, god forbid, it came to that sort of choice.  These books absolutely and tangibly changed my life–cured my depression, inspired me to go back and finish my degree, inspired me to read again, to write again, to enjoy and love my time on earth.  When I am sad or weary, I pull out these books and, like some sort of black market European antidepressants, they make things better. Not only do I own the original 7 novels in their American versions, but also several foreign editions as well.  I picked up the British (children’s) copy of Deathly Hallows, plus an Italian Prisoner of Azkaban (which it took me 3 months to read), a Greek Half-Blood Prince, a Croatian Chamber of Secrets, and even a copy of Philosopher’s Stone that has been translated into Latin!

These books are largely responsible for my love of British culture, and you could draw a pretty direct line from my first experience reading HP books to me creating this blog.  They are the end all be all of my reading life.

2. Pride and Prejudice

See my earlier entry for why this is such a lovely book.  I can’t say it had the same impact on me as Harry Potter, but I just finished a reread last week and even after so many times reading it and watching the miniseries, I still find new and lovely bits that are delightful.

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3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ‘trilogy’

The first time I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide, it was sitting in the Barnes & Noble cafe. I laughed so hard and so loud that I made an idiot of myself. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the story, Arthur Dent is whisked off Earth minutes before its irrevocable destruction by his best friend, Ford Prefect, who reveals himself to be an alien.  But this isn’t science fiction; it never takes itself particularly seriously. What it is, in my opinion, is just funny and silly and wonderfully imaginative. The wordplay alone is enough to furnish me with great quotes for the rest of my life.  Here’s just a few to choose from:

In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

And my favorite (not technically from the series, but wonderful anyway):

I like deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

There is something very British (in my American mind at least) about this love of and playfulness with words and phrases.  Compare it, for a second, to something by Hemingway, whose prose has never even bordered on playful (at least, in my experience).  If you haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide,you should.

4.Hamlet

I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare in my life. I think I’ve taken 3 or 4 Shakespeare courses in college, plus the plays I read in high school.  I’ve read all of his sonnets and most of his other poems.  Of his 37 plays, I have read 20, so far.  I think Hamlet may have been the first one I read, back in middle school.  It has always been my favorite.  Some people think that Hamlet is indecisive and incapable of action. I just don’t see it.  He’s overcome with grief, with anger, with a questioning of the purpose of life and of revenge.  He feels trapped by circumstances and he talks his way through his feelings.  And he talks so beautifully.  I think it is, by far, the most poetic of Shakespeare’s works, and I can’t imagine anyone who has ever been depressed or suffered tragedy can read his famous soliloquy without finding echoing questions and statements in their own hearts. I think it is an absolute masterpiece, and encourage everyone to read it.  If you don’t think you can stand reading the play, please do not go get the Mel Gibson DVD.  At least invest the time in the Kenneth Branagh version, or at the very least the new David Tennant.

5. North and South

Please do not confuse this with that civil war miniseries with Patrick Swayze.  Though Elizabeth Gaskell is not that well known in America, she is considered just as popular as Jane Austen in England.  This is the story of a family who is forced to uproot from their life in the South (i.e. London and the counties surrounding it, which were agricultural, were old money, and were considered the most civilized) to the industrialized North (full of factories, the working class, unions, and pollution).  This dichotomy is a huge factor in England, even today someone with a Northern accent can be (unfairly) assumed to be less civilized than his/her Southern counterpart.  The book has the same plot as an Austen novel, and does have a truly scrumptious male love interest, but all of that is against an entirely different background. Gaskell weaves in poverty, unions, strikes, factory conditions, changing social norms, religious disparities, etc. etc. etc.  It’s a great way to get to know some of the background of the time, but to still get a fulfilling love story.  I also highly recommend the miniseries with Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton.

Honorable Mention: Jane Eyre

now, on to Movies.
Please keep in mind that I am not a cinema expert and haven’t seen a lot of what are considered the British ‘classics’. These are mostly mainstream films that were also very successful in the US.

1. A Hard Day’s Night

My love for the Beatles from an early age meant that, at the age of 9 or 10, I dragged my father to the video store every weekend to rent the same two movies: this one, and Help!.  Help! doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as this one, but A Hard Day’s Night is a brilliant film. It captures the madness of the Beatles’ schedules and touring demands, the ridiculousness of press junkets, and the cheeky humor of the Fab Four.  It features great music, cute British boys, and lots of genuinely funny bits.

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2. Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz

I am listing these two together because, recently, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg revealed that they will be making a third in what they are calling the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Shaun of the Dead can be described as a romantic comedy with zombies, while Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop action comedy.  But not action comedy as in Rush Hour; it’s more funny than it is action. Also, it’s not terrible, so that’s another key difference.  These movies are both hilarious, have cemented my eternal love for Simon Pegg, and spoof other genres so well that they manage to be both great parodies and great examples of the genres they are spoofing.

3. Snatch

 

This movie is just…unique.  Or, it’s unique if you haven’t seen Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels. But seriously, Guy Ritchie made this movie and it was like nothing I had ever seen before.  Vinnie Jones is amazing, Jason Statham is in his first big role (at least in the US), and Brad Pitt plays an absolutely incomprehensible gypsy/boxer.  It’s a stylish, interesting, funny film.  It also provides one with endless quotes. This movie contains both my least favorite moment in perhaps any movie (Brick Top–aka the foulest man on earth–talking about feeding corpses to his pigs) and one of my favorites (Tyrone backs into a van and claims it was at a funny angle. Vinny says It’s behind you Tyrone. Whenever you reverse, things come from behind you.).

4. Atonement

Couldn’t be more different from Snatch.  For all my bitching about Keira Knightley and Joe Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice, they do a spectacular job with this movie.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it might be better than the book, and I loved the book.  The book didn’t have James McAvoy though, and the movie has an absolutely amazing score that actually works to help translate it from book to screen.  A word of warning, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, it will absolutely fuck you up. I was sobbing for days.  Ian McEwan’s fiction always does that to me, but this is a prime example.  It’s either going to make you depressed or make you very angry, or both. But it’s exceptionally good.

5. Bridget Jones’ Diary

How could I not love this movie? It’s based on Pride & Prejudice, has the real Mr. Darcy playing a man named Mr. Darcy, and features an imperfect heroine who Darcy loves anyway.

I do occasionally have a problem with the fact that Bridget is a bit of an idiot, and compared to Lizzy Bennet she’s a complete moron.  But she does have a sort of wonderful, vivacious, goofy energy that is a good contrast to stuffy, conservative, Mark Darcy.

Honorable Mentions: Notting Hill, Love Actually

Now, on to my favorite Places to visit during a trip to the UK.  Let me preface this by saying I have, by no means, seen the majority of the UK.  These are just the 5 favorite places I visited during my time there.

1. South Bank of London

I spent a lot of time on the South Bank during my time in London, though I didn’t live anywhere near it.  I did go to the theatre there almost every week, and it is among the most beautiful of all the places I spent time in Europe. As the name implies, it’s on the South Bank of the Thames, and features tons of big attractions within about a block or two of the water.  There’s the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the London Eye, the London Aquarium, the Waterloo station, the Old Vic and Young Vic theatres, and City Hall (popularly known as Darth Vader’s helmet because of its shape).  It’s a beautiful, vibrant, interesting, artistic part of town.  It should also be avoided during tourist season, but if you go when it’s not packed, it can be absolutely beautiful. A few blocks east are the Globe theatre, the Tate Modern, and the Millennium Bridge.

2. Prince’s Street Gardens and the Castle of Edinburgh

I went to Edinburgh and was blown away by how beautiful this part of town was.  The castle sits at the top of a huge cliff and the gardens sit at its base.  The history of the place goes back thousands of years, you can see the entire town from the top of the cliff, and everywhere you go in the area, you have at least some chance of running into J.K. Rowling.

3. Oxford

Talk about history, beauty, the whole thing.  You can walk around this city in about an hour, but it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  I’m still considering going to Oxford for grad school, because can you imagine having this place for your home? Wandering around the same halls and rooms as so many of the important figures in political and literary history (26 prime ministers, 12 saints, kings, queens, Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, Joseph Heller, Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde…just to name a few. I could go on).  Plus Rowan Atkinson.  I think I could spend the rest of my life inside the Radcliffe Camera (reading room).

4. Bath

A place famous with Roman settlers for its healing waters, home to Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Rupert Giles, and set in a really beautiful part of a really beautiful country.  It’s a small town, but I found it really charming and lovely to walk in.  There are tons of Regency-era museums and houses open for viewing, plus the Jane Austen house, the original Roman baths, and a kickass chocolate shop across from the Cathedral.

5. Hampstead and ‘the Heath’


I lived approximately 1 mile from Hampstead, and ran on the heath most mornings during my time in London. As such, I have a lot of affection for the place.  Plus, it was home to John Keats, my favorite poet ever.  Hampstead is a small village to the northwest of London, rather trendy with celebs and the rich and famous. It’s got nice restaurants, and is surrounded by beautiful neighborhoods on one side and the ‘Heath’ (park) on the other.  The Heath itself has two basic parts, from my recollection, an open park, and a wooded section.  From the top of the hills you can see downtown London landmarks like the BT tower and the ‘Gherkin’ building (so named because it resembles a pickle).  It’s similar, in my eyes, to Central Park, because it is a place that tons of people go when the weather is good and they sit in the grass and just enjoy life.  What’s not to love?

That’s all for this list.  Next time, I’ll tackle my favorite British TV, British music, and my favorite tidbits from British history.

The Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Every once in a while, when I am out of money and don’t have any new books to read, I’m going to post about my favorite tidbits of British culture. This is one of those days, and I’m going to do a two-fer today, because I can’t talk about the brilliant Jane Austen work without also talking about the sublime Colin Firth.  I may also talk about why the Keira Knightley version is such crap.

For those who haven’t read it, and don’t get what the fuss is all about, let me explain briefly.

Regarding the book: Jane Austen, admittedly, doesn’t tackle huge world problems, though massive changes were going on during her time and other works of the period (notably Charles Dickens, who came a bit later) show a much dirtier and more decrepit picture of British society. What Jane Austen does tackle is the issues of an average privileged young woman in early 19th century Britain. Though she is not tackling the plight of the young and poor, Austen is incredibly good at what she focuses on. Her writing is sharp, engaging, enchanting, and lively. This story in particular has created a pair of characters so enduring and endearing, that they have been reworked into countless sequels, mashups, and redesigns. There are the sequels, showing a married Darcy and Lizzy, the ones with vampires, and quite a few with zombies, and most recently, a murder mystery. Plus, there are tons of movie and tv adaptations, which include faithful adaptations like the Colin Firth miniseries, but also branch out into the strange and absurd. There was Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood take on the story, P&P: A Latter Day Comedy, with a Mormon spin, and Lost in Austen, which took a modern day reader and planted her in the middle of the 19th century action. Plus all the movie versions of all the zombie and alien and vampire books. Obviously, also stories loosely based on P&P, like Bridget Jones’ Diary. The point is, only a truly universal concept, like marriage (and your parents embarrassing you in front of a guy) could create so much fodder for so many different interpretations.

Regarding the Colin Firth miniseries: Why is it the best ever?  Well, I’ll preface this by saying I haven’t seen all of the adaptations, specifically the older ones. But I have seen a lot, almost everything in the last twenty years that is related to P&P, I have seen. And this is the most faithful to the book, and when it diverts from the book (lake scene!) it does so for a reason. And Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy because he can be haughty and rude, but you can at the same time believe he is a good person. He is sexy, but never because he is trying to be, and you truly believe his respect and love is something truly worth earning. Jennifer Ehle is also charming, intelligent, clever without being sarcastic or tiresome, and capable of conveying a million emotions with one glance.

So, why do I love P&P so much? I think that there are a lot of novels with more breadth, meaning they try to capture every type of life at any given time in history (Middlemarch is a good example). But those novels aren’t necessarily better. I think Austen should be praised for maintaining a tight focus on this particular set of people. P&P captures so much about love and about family, and she has created two spectacular characters. Rather than trying to include every walk of life, she takes a specific group of people and represents universal issues, eternal problems. That is the key to longevity in your work.Where works like Jane Eyre (still wonderful, don’t get me wrong) can seem somewhat outdated now, with the discussions about being God-fearing, and all the missionary work that would probably have done more harm than good to some sort of ‘savage’ population in a far off land. Austen never seems outdated, even though the society is of course entirely different. And, Darcy is pretty dreamy, let’s be honest.

It’s also quite funny, something rarely to be found with the Bronte sisters. Lydia is ridiculous, Mr. Collins a fool, and Mr and Mrs. Bennet play off one another like a comedy duo.  A very abstract comedy duo, perhaps, but it is still funny once you are sort of familiar with the time period and the social norms.

That’s why I think the mini-series is so important. There were aspects about the novel that I don’t think I understood the first time, because concepts foreign to me were taken for granted in that time period. The mini-series does a fantastic job of making those things clear, without having to explicitly explain them.  Any high-schooler who blunders through their first Shakespeare play can empathize with that feeling of comprehension when you watch the movie. Pride & Prejudice can be that way sometimes, because it was written about 200 years ago, and not everything is easily understood.

So the two work as a pair, in my opinion. As soon as I read the book, I went out and got the mini-series that day. They are companion pieces that create one great experience.

Which brings me, unfortunately, to the dreadful truth of that damn Keira Knightley version. First, just to get it off my chest, I need to list the many many anachronisms that make me absolutely insane because they present a very different picture of the story than is told in the books:

–Lizzy would not have had bangs/fringe!!!! This is not important, but it drives me nuts. She also wouldn’t have worn her hair down–women over the age of maybe 13 always wore their hair up. If they were married, they always had their hair covered.  To someone without that knowledge, perhaps it makes no difference, but to someone who knows a little about Regency-era England, it makes Lizzy seem either completely inappropriate and ill-bred, or childish.

–Mr. Bennet’s estate is not a mud-infested farmhouse with pigs wandering around inside. He was a wealthy landowner with a large house and lots of land. It is only because he hasn’t had a son to inherit his property that the girls are considered ‘poor’ in terms of what they can bring to a marriage.  For more info on this, watch season 1 of Downton Abbey.  Similarly, though Mr. Bennet is set in his ways and not invested in the society he inhabits, he is not a hoarder, lazy, or some sort of proto-hippie. This makes a big difference in the way the film comes across; this 2005 version makes it seem as if the entire family is dirt-poor, ill-educated, and borderline disgusting and Darcy has every reason to see them as inferior.

–Lizzy is not a tomboy, a radical feminist, or socially graceless. I’m not sure whether I am more irritated at the writers, directors, or Knightley for portraying her that way.  Lizzy is smart, funny, lively, pleasant. She can be cynical, she can be headstrong, she can be rude when left with no other alternative. But she is not full of impropriety, she still respects social norms in a way her youngest sisters do not.  She is just not…that creature that Keira Knightley inhabited. I found another blog that did a review of the movie, and I’m stealing her quote: “Elizabeth in this movie is not Elizabeth. She is Lydia in disguise.”

–Mr. Bingley would never ever come into Jane’s bedroom to see how she is doing when ill.  It is sweet to think that sort of thing happened, but it didn’t. It would have been really improper in every way for anyone to see her in her bedclothes. Consider how Mary reacts when Mr. Pamuk appears in her bedroom.  This was 100 years later!

Having that scene in there, along with all the scenes where two non-related opposite sex characters are thrown into situations on their own and unsupervised, makes me think that the writers had no idea about social mores of the time.  Obviously the costume and hair people didn’t, but the writers should have at least! This scene, and the normalcy with which it is played,  lessens the severity of Lydia’s crime in running off with Wickham without being married.

Ok, now are all these things that important? (YES!) No, perhaps not. If you don’t know anything about Regency norms and mores, and you don’t know anything about the book, then I’m sure it’s a fine movie about a headstrong girl and a guy who learns to love her. But it’s not Pride & Prejudice. It’s something more akin to Pretty Woman. Poor young woman of ill-repute saved by the rich prince charming type. It’s just not the same book that they’re working from to make that movie. So I don’t like to consider it an adaptation.

In summary, Pride & Prejudice is amazing and wonderful, and if you haven’t read it you should, and if you haven’t seen the Colin Firth miniseries, you should. And if you think that the Keira Knightley version is tolerable, please tell me why so I can begin to comprehend why it’s so damn popular.