Online Threats Result in Arrest

I realize Jane Austen is not everyone’s cup of tea. But feminist Caroline Criado-Perez’s success in getting the Bank of England to put a female—Jane Austen, to be exact—on its banknotes resulted in a campaign of harassment on Tweeter that included rape and death threats. Seriously.

Granted, there are plenty of sicko people out there, and the Internet brings them out in force. It’s also possible that some of the threats were coming from trolls, people who post obnoxious, over-the-top stuff online to get attention. These stunted human beings don’t seem to have caught on that the Internet is not one big anonymous swamp where you can post whatever filth you like without being caught.

In America, England and most other countries in the western hemisphere, anyone has the right to be a perfect arsehole (or asshole as we say on this side of the pond), but threatening someone with harm is illegal.

So far, the police have arrested one 21-year-old man in connection with the threats against Criado-Perez. Hopefully he and his ilk about to get a lesson in how dire actions can have dire consequences.


For Love of Money and Austen

jane-austen-10pdnoteSo, in case you haven’t heard the news, the Bank of England plans to put Jane Austen on its £10  note. She’ll probably make her debut in 2017 and will replace Charles Darwin. Apparently the Bank of England chose her partly in response to criticism that it wasn’t featuring enough notable women on its banknotes.

I’d like to think Jane would be pleased. No starry-eyed romantic, she knew the value of money.  “Single Women have a dreadful propensity for being poor—which is one very strong argument in favour of Matrimony…” she wrote to her niece in 1817. She spoke from experience; as an unmarried woman, she was dependent on her older brother Edward.

The banknote will feature the only known authentic portrait of Austen (drawn by her sister Cassandra), and an image of Godmersham Park, Edward Austen Knight’s home. It also includes a quote: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading.” That’s from Caroline Bingley, of all people, Charles Bingley’s snobbish sister in “Pride and Prejudice.”

Surely they could have found a more interesting quote, maybe from Austen herself?

Here’s to Women’s “Narrow View”

Anyone who follows the literary world probably knows by now that Nobel-winning author VS Naipaul has embroiled himself in yet another literary controversy by claiming that women writers are inferior to him because they’re, well, not men. The outcry from women writers has been predictable, with Booker prize-winning New Zealand novelist Keri Hulme calling him a “misogynist prick” and a “slug” whose works are dying.

Women have a narrow view of the world, Naipaul claims, and write “sentimental tosh.” He even dismisses Jane Austen’s “sentimental ambitions.” This seems to indicate that either he has not actually read Jane Austen, or that he’s a much better writer than he is a reader. Like her or not, it’s  difficult to argue convincingly that Austen was sentimental. In fact, she skewered sentimentality wherever she could.

As for a narrow view, yes, Austen took a narrow view in her books, quite deliberately. Some authors, male and female, choose to focus on a narrow slice of life, some range wider. To say that one view is inferior to the other is ridiculous. Authors get to choose about what they want to write about. We get to choose whether we want to read them or not. Austen homed in closely on narrow groups of people to make larger comments about the society in which she lived, particularly the status of women in Regency England.

You have to give Naipaul points for having chutzpah. He has previously pissed off Indian writers and author Paul Theroux (though the two have since made up), among others. And to claim that no woman writer is as good as he is–well, it’s really for other people to judge that, isn’t it? We’ve been reading Austen for 200 years. We can only guess whether anyone will be reading Naipaul 200 years from now.

More to the point, women buy most books (regardless of the gender of the author), at least in the United States. Women read more than men do, and read across a wider range of genres and topics. Men often tend to avoid reading books from a woman’s point of view, while women read plenty of books written from a man’s point of view.

So who, exactly, has the narrower view here?

Has Colin Firth Finally Outrun Darcy?

Colin Firth as George V.

Colin Firth as George VI.

It’s been quite a week for Colin Firth. The 50-year-old British actor got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He won Best Actor honors at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance as the stammering King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” And critics and fans predict that he’ll take home the Best Actor Oscar in March. (The nominations won’t be announced till January 25, but Firth is sure to be on the list.) UPDATE: Colin Firth did indeed win the Oscar for Best Actor, though the Academy passed over Geoffrey Rush for supporting actor.

For three decades, Firth has given solid performances, ranging from comic to tragic, in a wide range of films, including “Valmont,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Love Actually,” “Fever Pitch,” “Nanny McPhee”, “Mamma Mia,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “A Single Man” (which garnered him an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win in 2009 for Best Actor).

But the role for which he has been most famous is that of Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s beloved 1995 production of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Firth brought Mr. Darcy to life, and sent legions of female fans into a swoon when he emerged from a pond in a wet shirt. He followed up with a modern version of Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” For many (mostly female) fans, Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy, and vice versa.

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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.

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.