Bath Awash in a Sea of Regency Ladies and Gents

bath-circusThis  Saturday (September 19), the city of Bath, England, will look like something right out of a Jane Austen novel—at least for a while.

As part of the city’s annual Jane Austen Festival, at least 350 enthusiasts will parade in period costume to set a record for the largest gathering of people in Regency costume ever, according to the Bath Chronicle’s website. (I suspect Guinness hasn’t seen much competition for this particular attempt.) One assumes they mean the largest modern gathering of people in Regency costume. No doubt hundreds of people in Regency dress gathered in those Assembly Rooms in, say, 1812.

There are strict rules for the record attempt, which will take place during the festival’s traditional Grand Regency Promenade on Saturday morning. Participants must wear full Regency attire and stay together in one place—the Assembly Rooms—for at least 10 minutes. No word on whether they’re required to rekindle relationships with old flames or dance with guys who know about the finer points of muslin.

The promenade is a spectacular costumed parade through the center of the city where Austen lived from 1801-1806. She set parts of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in the resort city popular for its Roman architecture and healthful waters.

The Bitch in a Bonnet

Sometimes it takes a guy to remind many of us women what Jane Austen was really about. In his new blog, Bitch in a Bonnet, Robert Rodi, author of satirical novels, explains why Jane Austen is one of his influences and why it pisses him off that he can’t tell people that because she’s widely viewed as the dewy-eyed, romantic mother of “chick lit.” He’s out to reclaim her reputation as a superb social satirist.

I don’t agree 100% with his views of Austen or chick lit. While much of Austen’s literary reputation lies in her ability to roast upper class hypocrites to a crisp, her comedies of manners did take the form of love stories, after all. Pride and Prejudice is about the strictures and hypocrisy of uppercrust Georgian society, but it is also about how love often arrives in disguise and is a worthy reason for marrying. Emma is a good meditation on the dangers of an aristocracy with way too much time on its hands, but it’s also about how the love of your life can turn out to be your oldest friend, the guy you’ve been taking for granted all these years.

As for “chick lit,” the best of it does follow in Jane Austen’s steps, using love stories as the vehicle to make points about society and gender roles.

But Rodi makes a good point. When people ask me why I like Jane Austen, my first response is usually, “Because she’s got a wicked sense of humor. She’s merciless.” Those who haven’t read her books look puzzled when I say that. If I’m reading an Austen novel and I don’t laugh or say “Ouch!” at least every other page, I figure I need to reread it because I’ve just missed something.

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Challenge Yourself with Everything Austen

Been meaning to read Sense and Sensibility or Mr. Darcy’s Diary? Never did get around to seeing the movie “Mansfield Park”?

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Well, here’s your chance to catch up on all things Austen, and maybe win a prize in the process. The blog Stephanie’s Written Word has announced the Everything Austen Challenge. Between July 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010, simply finish six Austen-themed things, such as reading one of Austen’s books, watching Austen-related movies, or attending an Austen event.

Since I’ve seen just about every Austen-related movie out there, my list is heavy on books. The first item on my list is reading The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, which is proving to be quite diverting (look for a review shortly). I’m also going to read Sense and Sensibility…I never have read it all the way through. Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife should be arriving soon. I’m also keen to read Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. And I look forward to “Clueless,” one of the rare Austen-inspired movies I have not seen. In a more proactive mode, I’m also working on a couple of Austen-related YouTube videos.

Of course, the list may evolve as the months pass.

How about you? What’s on your Austen Challenge list?

A Feast of Austen and Zombies

prideandzombiesIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single reader in possession of a good Austen zombie romance, must be in want of more. It is only a matter of time before we are imposed upon by Northanger Abbey and Vampires. Mansfield Park and Werewolves. Emma and the Exorcist.

Yes, I have succumbed to that plague sweeping the land: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has infested so many that the book, by Jane Austen with a bit of help from screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, is on the New York Times bestseller list.

The genius of this novel (and I use the term loosely) is that 85 percent of it is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, word for word. The remaining 15 percent is zombies (or unmentionables, as the residents of Regency England prefer to call them) and ninjas. (Ninjas? Yes, really. But then again, who could do a better job of warding off the undead?) Elizabeth catches Darcy’s fancy for the liveliness of her wit and her superior fighting skills. Darcy’s pretty good at beheading zombies himself, though not quite as much a fighting legend as his fearsome aunt, Lady Catherine.

Published this spring and billed as a book that “transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read,” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is also illustrated with disgusting drawings of zombies and ninjas doing, well, what zombies and ninjas do.

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JASNA Meeting Will Focus on Sibling Relationships in Austen

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, as portrayed by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, as portrayed by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

The Jane Austen Society of North America will hold its annual general meeting October 9-11 in Philadelphia. The theme: “Jane Austen’s Brothers and Sisters.”

Sibling relationships were critical in Austen’s novels, and speakers at the meeting will address such themes as sibling rivalry in Austen’s novels, how sisterly dialogue helped Jane reveal her characters,  why the brother-sister relationship was so critical in 18th century English life, and Jane’s relationship with her own brothers James and Henry.

There will also be tours, special events such as Regency dance lessons (almost sold out), and all that other good stuff.

Registrations are nearly sold out, so make haste if you want to attend.

Dancing with Darcy at Jane Austen’s Chawton House

Ever wanted to dance a quadrille? You could do just that at the “Dancing with Darcy” Regency ball at Chawton House, near the village where Jane Austen lived eight of the last years of her life and wrote or revised all her great novels.

On July 3, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Austen’s arrival in the village, Chawton House will host a Regency Ball, complete with women in gorgeous gowns, men in breeches and cravats (or those red-coated uniforms), carriages and candles, 19th century music, a sumptuous supper created from 18th century recipes, and even some celebrities who starred in the BBC series of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Persuasion.” (Sorry, no mention of Colin Firth. David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie, who starred in the BBC’s 1980 version of P&P, will portray the Darcys.)

Regency finery doesn’t come cheap. Tickets cost $5,000 (£3,000). All the proceeds will go to further the educational role of Chawton House, which has become a library and scholarly center focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830.

Reading, and Not Reading, the Classics

In a delightfully amusing article on Examiner.com, Chicago Book Examiner Michelle Kerns skewers “10 books I should love…but for some reason, I hate.” Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, the least popular of her novels, makes the list. Kerns admits that she actually likes the bad girl, Mary Crawford, better than the spineless heroine, Fanny Price. (I agree—while I sympathize with Fanny, I find her priggish and boring. For that matter, I find Edmund boring as well. He’s like Mr. Knightley without the charm and sense of humor.)

New York Book Examiner Katie Henderson picks up on the theme with “The Books I Should Have Loved,” old and modern classics that in her opinion aren’t half as wonderful as we’re supposed to think they are. She leads off with Mansfield Park, and her dislike of the “preachy, uptight” Fanny Price.

What do you think, Austen fans? Does Mansfield Park deserve the thrashing?

Jane Austen Popular as Ever with Filmmakers

Next to Shakespeare, Austen is one of the most widely adapted English writers. The plots of her novels have been modernized, satirized, idolized, and revised every which way. And she’s as popular as ever, judging by projects in the works:

  • The BBC is once again filming a mini-series of “Emma,” for release this fall. The four-part series stars Romula Garai (“Atonement”) in the title role, with Jonny Lee Miller (who played Edmund Bertram in 1999’s “Mansfield Park”) as Mr. Knightley. We last visited “Emma” in 1996, which saw the release of both a BBC miniseries (starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong) and a feature film. I’m not sure anyone can top the latter, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s delightfully dizzy Emma and Jeremy Northam’s devastatingly charming Mr. Knightley, but more of “Emma” can never be a bad thing. Thanks to the folks at Pemberley.com, you can see set photos of Romula Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. And there’s a video slide show of the filming in Kent on YouTube.
  • After having fun with the popular and highly regarded “Bride and Prejudice,” Bollywood is tackling “Ayesha,” the Indian equivalent of “Emma.” “Slumdog Millionaire” star Anil Kapoor is producing, and his daughter, Sonam Kapoor, plays the title role and Abhay Deol is her Mr. Knightley.

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Pride and Prejudice in the Twitterverse

darcytwitter

How would Austen’s most famous novel read if Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy forged their relationship on Twitter? Under the Mad Hat has answered that question with a clever retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a series of tweets. As a fellow writer, I appreciate the skill involved, and think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages.

I have to wonder—could this be where fan fiction is headed? Who has time to write 60-chapter adaptations of one’s favorite work, when one could simply tweet the whole thing?

Please note: The above Twitter profile for Mr. Darcy exists only in my fevered imagination and the file I created in Photoshop. There is a user called Darcy on Twitter, but I haven’t the foggiest idea who he/she is, except that it’s almost certainly not Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.

Real Guys Have Fun with Austen

YouTube is filled with romantic tributes to Austen’s characters and movies of her books, nearly all of them created by women. As a bit of a refreshing break, I often watch two of my favorite Austen-related videos on YouTube, guys taking a decidedly humorous approach to the author and her characters: