Category Archives: Jane Austen

A review of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’

My wife is a big fan of this writer named Jane Austen. I mean, she has all the movies they’ve made out of her books, and she watches one of them about every other weekend. Me, I just go play Halo until she’s done. It’s gotten to be an issue in our marriage, though, and she finally made me read this book, threatening to cut off my supply of Cheetos.

So I read it.

I have to tell you, this novel has some serious problems.

First off, this has got to be the biggest chick-book in the whole world. It’s about nothing but these women trying to get married. Or they’re trying not to get married, just because they don’t like the guy. Or at first they don’t like the guy, then they do. I mean, come on, make up your minds.

Second, there isn’t a decent space battle or alien invasion in the whole story. I kept waiting for that shoe to drop, but it never did. There are no vampires, zombies, or werewolves, either. There’s no post-apocalyptic oppressive government making these women battle for the right to marry. None of them discover they have special powers, unless you count dancing, sipping tea and talking. The author just ignores all modern conventions of good literature. For pity’s sake, nobody even gets tied up in this novel! I mean, how is it supposed to hold the reader’s interest?

It would have helped if the author hadn’t set the story in Regency England. She does a pretty good job with the period lingo, but it gets convoluted at times, and it’s not really very realistic. I mean, there are several points at which it would have made a lot more sense for Lizzy Bennet to just say, “Hey, f*** off, Darcy!” A lot more to the point, too.

The two emotional high points of the novel are Darcy’s proposal to Lizzy and Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham. Lizzy rejects Darcy’s proposal because she doesn’t like him and because she’s pissed that Darcy kept her sister Jane from marrying Chuck Bingley. Ok, that’s good, except that the two of them go on for pages about it. This is where a good f*** off would have come in handy. That, and a sudden eruption of extra-dimensional demons. Would have moved the action along better.

The other high point, Lydia’s elopement, just puzzles the crap out of me. I mean, Lizzy and her family go on and on about Lydia running off with Wickham, like it’s some sort of family catastrophe. What’s the big deal? I mean, my sister Sissy ran off with the drummer of a rock band when she was sixteen, and nobody noticed for eight weeks. Just meant more gravy to go around at dinner.

How this novel is supposed to be a major piece of literature just escapes me. Austen just doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the modern publishing world. She’s not completely hopeless, but I would recommend she read up on what’s hot right now, like Hunger Games, Divergent, and Fifty Shades. Maybe throw in some time watching Transformers.

As it is now, though, she just can’t compete.

Advertisements

A disturbance in the Force….

“I’m going to read this,” the father said, holding up the book.

His daughter stared at him. “You haven’t already?” she said, her disbelief radiating brightly.

“Well, no– I just never got around to it,” he said.

“What are you reading?” his wife said, stepping in from the hallway.

He showed her. She looked worried. “Oh, be careful reading that on the bus,” she said.

“Why?”

“Well, you sit in the back among all those drug-dealers and punks,” she said. “You know, they’re all homophobic.”

He blinked. “So a guy my age who reads this book is gay?”

“No, no,” the wife said, “but they’ll think you’re gay.”

His daughter wore a I-can’t-believe-she-went-there look on her face.

His son came up the stairs from where he’d been battling aliens in the basement family room. He spied the book in his father’s hand, and his eyes went wide. “I sense a great disturbance in the Force,” he said.

“You’re too young to be that sarcastic,” the father said.

“It’s just…I’ve never seen you read anything other than sci-fi,” the son said.

The father grimaced. “‘Doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.’ And vice versa.”

His son looked dubious. “Ok, when you start quoting Shakespeare, Dad, it’s time to exeunt omnes.”

“You’re so behind the rest of the world,” his daughter said.

“Just be careful,” his wife said.

“I’m going to work,” the father said, through gritted teeth.

At the bus stop, he pulled the book out of his backpack as the bus approached. A young woman, waiting in the crowd, eyed the cover. “Are you a professor?” she asked.

“Good grief,” he said.

He found a seat in the back. The kid in the baggy pants sitting across from him saw the cover and sneered. The father resolutely opened the book.

Now, let’s see what I have been missing.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’.

Science fiction doldrums, or a sign of age….

…but doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.

Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing

When I was young– I think Gerald Ford was president– I was an omnivore for science-fiction books and movies. As a teenager I was known to read through entire sci-fi sections of local libraries, and demand more. I would read anything sci-fi, and watch almost anything that appeared to be science-fiction cinema or TV. In the process I read a lot of trashy sci-fi, along with classics many sci-fi fans today have never heard of (how many thirteen-year-olds nowadays have read through Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy? Just saying….), and watched a lot of turkey movies and TV shows, even Space 1999 and UFO, which, at the very least, sharpened my critical faculties.

Doubtless this hunger was driven (in part, at least) by the desert-like conditions of my natal culture, which revolved around westerns and country music. There is only so much Bonanza and Gunsmoke a youngster can watch before there’s a reaction. Perhaps an adolescent rebellion button was pushed, as well, since most of the people around me considered anything sci-fi to be (in the words of my father) “weird stuff”. You have to say it with a Texas accent to get the full flavor.

At the same, there was a genuine love the genre, and where good science-fiction could take me. Unlike my siblings, my imagination flew high and fast with Andre Norton, Heinlein and Asimov, just to name three out of so many. One hour of Star Trek— which I was mostly forbidden to watch in its first run, because it would “warp my brain” (another of my father’s declarations)– charged me like a battery. Even “Spock’s Brain”.

But, over the years, the voracious appetite faded. Doubtless this was inevitable– as we grow older we become more aware of what is good and what is bad, of what works and what doesn’t. But, for me, I seem to lost my ability to suspend judgment of a book I haven’t read. I have, in fact, become enormously picky.

The fact that the genre appears to be in the doldrums doesn’t help. When I go into a major bookstore or the book section of a large store like Target, I see shelf upon shelf of lookalike books– vampires, werewolves, undead, teenage girls with special powers, video game tie-in novels, and usually three or four space-opera series that feature some grim-faced person in a uniform on the cover, along with exploding starships. Everyone seems bent on creating endless imitations of The Hunger Games, or Divergent, or Starship Troopers (only with oodles of sex), or…. you get the picture.

Fantasy is even worse. It used to be that everyone tried to imitate Tolkien. Now everyone is trying to imitate George R. R. Martin. Or Twilight, God help us all (that alone could be a sign that our civilization is crumbling before our eyes).

There is good sci-fi out there– people like John Scalzi and Connie Willis often capture my attention. But they seem few and far between these days.

I still love the genre, but I nowadays find fewer and fewer things to get really excited about. I suggested that the genre is in the doldrums, but I have to admit that it could be, just as much, or as easily, me. For, like Benedick in Much Ado, I have to admit that my tastes, in my old age, may just be changing.

There is, in fact, some evidence of that. I have been seen reading Ragtime and The March by E. L. Doctorow. I just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time ever. The one fiction series that has managed to capture and hold my interest in recent years has been Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series, in which I have a tremendous store of great writing.

There is even a rumor that I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice in the house.

In truth, I was never exclusively a reader of just science-fiction. I read The Thin Red Line at fourteen and War and Peace at sixteen. I have always loved Shakespeare, and I had a long John D. MacDonald period some years back. My focus, though, for a very long time, was on science-fiction and fantasy, and I’m beginning to suspect that I missed some good stuff. Belatedly, I am starting to redress the deficit.

I’m not giving up on fantasy and science-fiction, but I’m looking to balance out my fictional travels. And maybe I will find as much adventure in Jane Austen as in Robert Heinlein. Just with more tea and less powered-armor….

Lizzie Bennet in powered-armor…wait a minute….

And now for something different– the bicentennial everyone is ignoring….

At least, that’s how it seems in the US– I can’t speak for Canada or Britain. Here in the States we’ve hardly heard a peep about a critical event in our history, which shaped us almost as much as the Revolution.

I am referring, of course, to the War of 1812.

Being the history fanatic that I am, I find this omission frustrating. The war, which lasted until December, 1814, is almost forgotten nowadays, although it has been referred to as the Second War for American Independence. Had we lost it, the United States as we know it probably would not exist. But there has hardly been any public mention of the bicentennial, and only a few, small remembrances of individual battles and events (in Canada it may be a different story– the war was an important factor in the development of a Canadian national identity).

I do, however, understand why we Americans are reluctant to remember the war. It’s embarrassing.

Basically, the war, launched on a mixture of genuine grievances against Great Britain and an imperialist lust to conquer Canada, was plagued with failure and disaster. Our attempts to invade Canada (at least four separate efforts) all failed in welters of mismanagement and stupidity. We enjoyed some successes against the Royal Navy in individual actions at sea, but eventually the British locked a blockade on the American coast and largely bottled up our navy. Toward the end of the war we finally began to field effective armies, but they weren’t there to stop the British from burning Washington DC in August 1814. The war ended in a stalemate and a peace treaty that addressed none of the original American grievances.

Reading this history as an American, my basic instinct is to cringe and cover my eyes. Not only were our forefathers infected with naked imperial ambition– even Thomas Jefferson thought taking Canada was a great idea– they were incompetently nakedly imperially ambitious (yes, I need three adverbs– it’s that bad). The American grievances were about British interference in neutral trade and their impressment of American citizens into the Royal Navy and were real enough, but they were used as an excuse for the United States to go conquering other people, most of whom refused to be conquered.

Ironically, despite the final stalemate, the disasters and the failure to take Canada, the war produced a surge of nationalistic feeling in the US. In a classic example of selective memory, Americans focused on their successes (especially the much ballyhooed Battle of New Orleans, which happened after the peace treaty was signed), and the fact that we had, for the second time in our history, stood off the greatest empire on Earth. In time, though, the war faded from our consciousness, except when we wanted to remember our early naval victories or Andrew Jackson.

Personally, I think some remembrance would be appropriate, if nothing else to remind ourselves of the costs of greed and arrogance, and to admit our past wrongs. More than likely there will be a remembrance of the burning of Washington and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, to which we owe “The Star Spangled Banner”, easily the most musically difficult national anthem in the world. But, aside from that, it looks as if the whole business is going to be passed over in silence. Sigh.

As a writer, though, I find this another period loaded with riches– overlapping the Napoleonic Wars, the Regency, and the start of the Industrial Revolution (at the war’s end the Americans were close to launching Demologos, the world’s first steam-powered warship. There’s an alternate history story for you). Jane Austen lived and wrote in this period, although, oddly enough, she barely mentions the war against Napoleon in her novels, and the American war, not at all. There are all sorts of fascinating details and events. For example, the British had a fortress in Dartmoor which served as a prisoner of war camp for both American and French POWs. The history of the place reads rather like ‘Jane Austen meets Stalag 17‘. There was the American guerrilla war against British commerce at sea, the tragedy of Tecumseh and the loss of the last chance for a Native American confederacy in the Midwest, the American victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain (which forestalled British counter-invasions from Canada), and the resurgence of piracy in the Caribbean (a consequence of the extended war between Britain and France). It is a marvel to me that no one has made a movie of the cruise of the USS Essex in the Pacific under David Porter, one of the epics of American naval history.

Other authors, such as C. S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, have mined this period well for material. I have at least a few story ideas, starting with the Demologos, a tale about the Dartmoor prison, and a novel about a pressed American seaman in the Royal Navy. This last idea could be really interesting, as Americans are known to have been involved as seamen in many battles against Napoleon prior to 1812– for example, there were at least twenty-two Americans aboard the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. This created some problems, obviously, when the United States declared war on Britain, which could be a great source of tension.

But these ideas, at this point in time, are part of that mass of story concepts I have in the back of my head which I may or may not ever have an opportunity to write. I’ve got a solid set of projects already in progress, so it’s an open question if any of these historical stories will see the light of day. If anyone else feels inspired to tackle the ideas I mentioned, have at it.

As far as the bicentennial is concerned, I suppose we’ll each have to remember the war in our own ways. For me, there’s always Johnny Horton.**

(**To be fair, Johnny’s history is wildly inaccurate– but I love marching Legos. And, no, I’m not terribly consistent….)

The Writer’s Needful– Part Five– The Web of Experience

Thirty-six years ago, when I was the most naive newbie tank crewman in the United States Army, I had a friend by the name of Greene, from Boston (or Bahston). He and I were the only sci-fi nerds in our troop, so we basically bonded, despite the fact that he was years older than my nineteen, as well as a socialist and an atheist (the Army expanded my horizons in many ways). Even then I knew I wanted to write, and I tried to share some of my early scribblings with him. Greene basically felt it his duty to inject some realism into my wide-eyed optimism, and one of the points he tried to impress on me was that many or most writers don’t really achieve success until they reach middle-age. At the time I remember thinking I have to wait until I’m thirty-five?

The mileposts on that road have moved a considerable distance since then….

But the point that Greene was trying to get through to me was important– life experience is critical to the growth of a writer.

When I was nineteen, because of the insular culture in which I grew up, I was very naive and out of touch with how most people lived. Getting dropped into the Army was a profound shock. My lack of experience showed in my writing, which was why Greene was trying to introduce some correctives into my thinking.

‘Life experience’ is another one of those topics you can Google and get a boatload of links. In fact, some helpful people at Goodreads have gathered up a few hundred quotes on life experience from writers and put them here. I’ll just steal the topmost from the list–

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
― Stephen King

In the thirty-six years since my buddy Greene tried to talk me down out of my naivete tree, I can testify that the experiences of my life have informed and transformed my writing. Military service, college, failed relationships, marriage, academic success, academic failure, work, miscarriage, late-life fatherhood, all have fed into my writing. It doesn’t matter that most of my writing is in the sci-fi and fantasy genres; the mundane details of an ordinary life translate directly into richer detail in any imaginary universe, whatever the genre (I’ll tell you a secret– sci-fi has always been about people. Forget that ‘literature of ideas’ stuff).

Because I’ve lived and worked with some very interesting people, I have a wider palate of characters to draw on now than when I was nineteen. I have lived through, and survived, many, many mistakes. I know from the inside what failed relationships feel like. I know fear, because I tasted it the moment they told me my wife had pre-eclampsia and my daughter was coming into the world seven weeks early (update, fifteen years later: both are doing great). I know what it’s like to bury a father.

At this point, many, many young writers are probably dismayed, or crying foul, or saying “I have to wait until I’m thirty-five?” (Take it from me, you’ll get there sooner than you think). I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from writing just because they’re young. The first thing I want to say is that, if you want to be a writer, you can’t start too soon. Practice is critical, so if you can start as soon as you can string words into sentences, do so. No later than eight, I’d say.

The second thing I need to say about experience is that it is not just enough to live a number of years– everybody does that. The important thing a writer has to do with that experience is notice what is happening– in other words, to observe what life throws at you. Someone once said that writers are supposed to be good ‘noticers’. I like the word– to me it sums up one of the most important tools in a writer’s kit.

Jane Austen only lived to the age of 41, and she lived that short life within the confines of a small, middle-class country society of spinsters, gentry and ministers. It is generally agreed, however, that Austen produced great literature, and she did it by closely observing that society and fearlessly writing about it.

Shakespeare was probably not yet thirty when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. The film Shakespeare in Love is about ninety percent fiction, but I love it for how it depicts Shakespeare as a writer melding the experiences of his life into the creation of the play (and not scrupling at stealing a good line when he hears it). Tom Stoppard was one of the writers on the screenplay, and it shows.

S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was sixteen.

Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon at the age of fifteen.

The point is that, however much life experience you have, you can create powerful literature out of it if you observe it closely, and write honestly about it. Older writers just have the advantage of many more life lessons on which to draw. Personally, my own development as a writer was delayed because it took me a long time to understand the necessity and power of observing life closely.

So be of good heart, young writers– you can still write, and write well. You just have to work harder at it.

As for us older writers– well, we have less excuse if we screw things up.

‘Nuff said.

**********************************
With this post I think I have covered everything I want to say regarding a writer’s needfuls. I didn’t want to just repeat the standard advice you can get by googling “writing advice”– I wanted to talk about some of the habits of mind and qualities of spirit I think a writer needs. Again, however, nothing I discussed is original with me.

Ironically, doing one of these posts a day has once more put me behind on Princess of Fire. I am therefore setting myself a goal– I want to get to 50,000 words on Fire by January 1st. That would be about 14,000 words in 7 days. That will be a forced-march pace, but I want to give it a shot.

All bets are off, though, if I get a job.

Later.

A quick aside re: the Whedon Principle

Found this from a few months ago–

http://austenacious.com/?p=3338

We love you, Joss, but I have to agree with this poster– hands off the Austen! ‘Nuff said.

Later.