• Deborah Yaffe

Three weeks, three books (or is it four?)

Jane Austen sightings are like buses: Sometimes, you don’t get one for ages, and sometimes, they come in bunches. These last few weeks have been a bunchy time, which is always fun for Janeites. Even more fun, the sightings have encompassed a good percentage of Austen’s oeuvre:


* Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, February 16: Last week, Boston magazine highlighted the luxury renovation of a five-thousand-square-foot Arts-and-Crafts-style house in Concord, Massachusetts, a town best known as Ground Zero for the literature of nineteenth-century New England (think Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau).


Amid all the detail about the hand-stenciled library ceiling, the wall of French doors, and the twelve-foot-long window seat, we hear of the reading/meditation nook in the basement, which adjoins a “cloistered inner sanctum” equipped with mirrored walls and ceiling, furnished with velvet poufs, and lighted by “twelve flameless candles suspended from the ceiling.” The door to the hideaway is a bookcase that opens when you “pull on the spine of the homeowner’s favorite book—Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.”


We Janeites have always known that Austen offers the key to a magical escape room. We just meant it metaphorically.


* Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, February 13: Hard to believe, but it’s been twenty-five years since my favorite Austen adaptation made it to American screens. That would be Ang Lee’s film of Sense and Sensibility, with its Oscar-winning Emma Thompson screenplay and its sublime performances by Thompson, Kate Winslet, and a slew of other wonderful actors.


To mark the occasion, the Telegraph interviewed the director, the producer, and three of the stars for a delightfully warm-hearted and gossipy piece that reminded me I need to watch the movie again.


“It wasn’t easy to find a studio that would put up the money for a two-hundred-year-old English novel to be adapted by an untried screenwriter,” producer Lindsay Doran recalls. “One executive asked me why I wanted to make a movie out of Jane Austen’s worst book.”


Which really tells you everything you need to know about Hollywood executives.


* Jane Austen’s Persuasion, February 13: Despite all those online listicles about Love Lessons From Jane Austen (see, for example, here, here, and here), it’s not often you find an advice columnist quoting directly from one of the novels.


But Slate’s Dear Prudence columnist, Danny M. Lavery, turned to his bookshelf when a letter-writer calling herself “Dive In or Stay Onshore?” asked whether to seek romance with an ex who had broken her heart years earlier but seemed to have become a better man. “What should I do?” she asked. “Tell him how I feel hoping he’ll reciprocate, wait for him to make a move, or just forget it and get on Tinder the moment the pandemic abates?”


Clearly, a Jane Austen kind of situation. Except for the part about Tinder. And also about the pandemic.


Lavery apparently agrees, for he prescribes a dose of Persuasion -- “not because I think it will contain a direct answer to your problem, but because you might find solace and inspiration in Anne Elliot’s restless internal condition.” And then he quotes the passage from Chapter 7 that ends, “Alas! with all her reasonings, she found that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing.”


Call me crazy, but I think Lavery may be stacking the deck by recommending a book whose whole point is that you shouldn’t forget your lost love and get on Tinder, but I can’t quarrel with his literary taste.


* Jane Austen’s Cranford, January 31: Um, what?


Sorry, all you Elizabeth Gaskell fans. According to the Midweek Herald, which covers southwest England and recently published this piece about the exquisite handicraft known as Honiton lace, it was Austen who recounted a comic anecdote about a cat that swallows a dish of milk in which a piece of “fine old lace” has been soaking.


I know there’s a common misconception that Jane Austen was a Victorian writer, but this is ridiculous.


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Copyright Deborah Yaffe, 2021