fiction, iconic characters, joy of reading, novels, Uncategorized

Engrossing Governesses.

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

A few days ago, I got a sudden desire to watch the 1996 Hollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. As I watched it, the trajectory of Mrs. Weston, the titular character’s former governess, had me musing about the governesses I’ve encountered in my literary travels. Specifically, I wondered what would be the modern day equivalent of the young to not so young governess who, whether by stroke of luck, true love, or mercenary social climbing, finds herself the unlikely mistress of a house.

In addition to Mrs. Weston, I was reminded of Jane Eyre, the heroine of one of my favorite books. Despite the rather dismal plight that Jane suffers from one season of life to the next, she still manages to hold her character and convictions in the highest state, and at the end of it all, marries the man she loves and even has a son.

The last governess turned mistress I thought of was the mercenary Becky Sharp, from the novel Vanity Fair. A beautiful yet vicious social climber who can both blush and cry at will, the only bit of raw emotion we ever get from her is when she realizes her folly in marrying one wealthy man when she actually could have married his even more wealthy (and definitely more powerful) father. She is without question, of a different mold than the governesses mentioned above.

I’m interested in whether or not anyone reading here has a favorite or memorable literary governess I should investigate along my literary journey.

Related- Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

*I was torn between watching the PBS adaptation of Emma or the big budget adaptation. The quandary was based on the fact that although I preferred Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance in the title role of the feature film, I preferred Johnnie Lee Miler’s  PBS interpretation of Mr. Knightley light year’s more than the actor who portrayed Knightley in the feature film. I feel strongly about Mr. Knightley, as you may remember from the post linked above. You may not also notice that I never had much use for Mr. Darcy.

 

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children's books, fiction, homeschool, iconic characters

Peter Pan

peter pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Originally published in 1902. 151 pages.

This book was assigned to our fourth grader, who is a very strong reader, but the language and some of the themes have proven to be a bit more advanced than 4th and 5th grade. She is still reading through the book, reading the chapters as assigned by her teacher, but I forged ahead and finished the book. Firstly because I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also because it will be easier to work through the narrations with our student having familiarized myself with the story.

The interesting thing about this book is that it is far less innocent and far more intense than the Disney-tized version of Peter Pan most of us were exposed to from chidlhood. This one is more violent, with more mature themes. It does contain a mixture of adventure and whimsy missing from the Peter Pan I was famliar with, however.

This quote from Peter, however, is the common thread we are all familiar with, and was one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
The characters were all engaging and entertaining, and even the villains, such as the pirate Smee, confidante and first mate to the fearsome yet ironically cultured Captain Hook, were the types that stick with you long after you close the last page.
Peter, the ultimate bad boy crew leader, was the character you rooted for because you were supposed to, but was not without less than endearing qualities. His Lost Boys were wonderfully innocent and faithful to him, while all of the female characters surrounding Peter were written with a coquettishness that was completely lost on Peter Pan. Nevertheless, Peter seemed to know exactly when and how to exploit the affection his charges and the ladies (Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy) felt for him.
At the end of it all is the great and violent showdown between Peter and his Lost Boys and Hook and his pirates. Peter is the ultimate victor, while Wendy, John and Michael wrapped up their adventure, and headed home to their griefstricken parents. Parents who had kept a window open in anticipation of their return one day. J.M. Barrie had an interesting way of expressing what the narrator considered the heartlessness of the three children who flew away on an indefinite adventure, leaving their parents behind to fret:
Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
I found that quite funny, second only to Wendy’s exasperation with being the mother to the Lost Boys (Peter was their “father”):
Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!
She says this several times, and although I heartily disagree with her, it is funny nonetheless.
There is actually plenty to be said about this book, but I recommend that you take the time to read it yourself as it is enjoyable on many levels. It is a perfect example of this quote from C.S. Lewis which I have always loved:
No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -and often more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Grade: A
Age range for this book,which is the original, unabridged version I’d put at 12+. I chose that not because of reading ability, but because of the violent content, adult language (nothing overly offensive, but still), and general level of maturity required to appreciate the themes and subtexts of the book.

 

fiction, iconic characters

Iconic Characters: Lydia Bennett and Maria Bertram

Last night our older girls decided to put on the big box office adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As I joined them about 1/4 way through the film I was again reminded of the honesty and candor with which Jane Austen treated her characters, but especially her female characters.

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BBC’s Maria Bertram

As we watched the the feral and impulsive Lydia Bennett, I was reminded of the equally unsavory Maria Bertram from one of Austen’s lesser acclaimed novels, Mansfield Park.  Maria was certainly the more offensive of the two, having married one man for security:

Being now in her twenty-first year, Maria Bertram was beginning to think matrimony a duty; and as a marriage with Mr. Rushworth would give her the enjoyment of a larger income than her father’s, as well as ensure her the house in town, which was now a prime object, it became, by the same rule of moral obligation, her evident duty to marry Mr. Rushworth if she could.

And later running off with another man -Henry Crawford- for lust. Simple propriety, not to mention social reprisals, should have dictated that Maria could never behave so shamelessly. She did however, and Austen set the stage earlier for what was to come:

When they came within the influence of Sotherton associations, it was better for Miss Bertram, who might be said to have two strings to her bow. She had Rushworth-feelings, and Crawford-feelings, and in the vicinity of Sotherton, the former had considerable effect.

Needless to say, Maria’s tale does not end well.

With Lydia Bennett, however, Austen writes a softer landing after she runs off with a handsome and caddish soldier who has no intention of making an honest woman of her. She however is wholly oblivious to this pertinent imformation:

You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham.

She is rescued by none other than Mr. Darcy*, who pays Wickham to marry her, and the family is spared even greater embarrassment than they already endure.

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Lydia- 2005 Pride and Prejudice

Perhaps because she was much younger (15), more impressionable, and less well raised than the character in Mansfield Park, Lydia is spared the full brunt of the natural consequences of her deplorable stunt. Her mother was loud, ill-mannered, and nosy. He father, having awakened to the reality that the woman he married in his youth was foolish and insufferable beneath her beauty,  had largely retreated from the life of the family. Lydia was certainly her mother’s daughter.

Maria and Lydia as presented by Austen, are achingly familiar and in 2016, and all too common.  Austen, like several authors of her era, effectively exposes the motivations, nature, and moral crises of her characters, male and female alike, head on. No cover is given for “extenuating circumstances” or “childhood hurts”. When her female characters do horrid things it is because they are women of horrible character. Period.

Lydia and Maria remind us that despite the seeming proliferation of wanton behavior in this post modern era, there really is nothing new under the sun.

*I realize that Mr. Darcy is the most popular male lead of all Jane Austen’s male characters, but he is not mine. Far from it in fact, as I noted before.

 

iconic characters, just for fun

Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC's Emma
Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC’s Emma

Having agonized- that’s hyperbole- over whether I will be so bothered as to ever review Jane Austen’s more acclaimed novels, I have concluded that the answer is no. We may certainly at some point visit one or two that have not been adapted by a major Hollywood studio. However, there isn’t much that an average reader and novice writer with scant literary knowledge or insights into life in 18th century England can say about those books that hasn’t already been said. I have recently read a few posts from another blogger which present a well rounded exploration of Jane Austen’s works:

Three perspectives from Adventures at Keeping House:

The Real Villain of Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice:The Most Unrealistic of All Jane Austen’s Love Stories

The Inherent Liberalism of Pride and Prejudice

I trust that there you will find plenty of food for thought and controversy to mine for die hard Austen fans. Not to mention the aforementioned are much more articulate and knowledgeable than I.

I do however, have a very strong opinion on one matter that I want to address in an Waiting+For+Mr.+Darcyattempt at cathartic release after seeing yet another woman wearing an insufferable t-shirt. It is with this business of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice extolled as the most manly and admirable leading man in all of Austen’s works. I patently disagree.

The most alluring male lead in all of Jane Austen’s works that I have read is without question Mr. Knightley from her 1815 published work, Emma. While the title character and leading lady is often very hard to take, Mr. Knightley is a breath of fresh air among male characters of any era.

He is confident, direct, and never fails to call Emma to account and a higher standard of behavior when she gets out of line. In other words, he is exactly the kind of  man we post-modern sassy women need in a husband rather than a steady dose of  Darcy’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

Contrast with this description of Mr. Knightley, the man to whom Emma is eventually wed:

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.

“Emma knows I never flatter her,” said Mr. Knightley.

While Emma may not be Austen’s most acclaimed work, it is in my opinion certainly the most entertaining and humorous, and the one book in which she provides us an example of a man, stalwart, and unafraid to confront folly in the life and actions of his intended.

That in my opinion, makes Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy, Jane Austen’s most iconic male character.