Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last completed novel and, in my opinion, her best. Yes, Pride and Prejudice is light, bright and sparkling- with a host of characters that delight the reader but there’s something about Persuasion that sticks with you long after you’ve finished the last page and put the book back on the shelf… Read more
So, it’s been more than a week since I last posted anything, the reason: my internet was down. I have also been suffering from an ailment I’m going to term ‘reader’s block’, like writers block this can strike at any time and often results in much frustration as the reader struggles to get into any book s/he picks up! I’m back online track now though and if the adverts are anything to go by, my internet supply should now be infinite, so yay for that!
In times of great woe (i.e. when reader’s block strikes) when nothing new will do, I like to return to an old favourite, a book that I know I have enjoyed before. I love re-reading and I think it’s the sign of a really great book that, despite the vast choice in the bookshops, you choose to come back to it again. “Evelina”is one of those books for me. I first read this when I was about 16 and I was in a phase of reading obscure authors, I know right? Anyway, I enjoyed it and as a result it inadvertently influenced my choice of university, and degree, as I saw that “Evelina” was one of the books to be studied in a second year module…don’t ask me why I was perusing the list of second year modules before I’d even started university, I just was! So, I ended up studying this novel in university and it was through that class that I was introduced to my favourite topic…Women’s Fiction in the 18th Century. The rest, as they say, is just a nerdy little ball of history but I owe it all to “Evelina”!
Frances Burney belongs to group of women writers in the 18th century who I think should get a lot more credit than they currently do. Burney really paved the way for writers like Jane Austen and her successors. She is even supposed to have influenced Austen and “Evelina” is considered to be her best work. It’s written in the epistolary style, where the story is told through a series of letters, which was really popular in the late 18th century. It takes some getting used to if you’ve never read anything like this before because you have to make sure you know who the letter is from, as well as who they are writing to otherwise you might get confused. Personally I think it’s a really interesting way to get into the characters thoughts and feelings, which to be honest is sometimes lacking in other 18th century novels, like “Moll Flanders”, who we never really get to know, for example. This is one of the first moves toward the novel as we would recognise it today, where there is a mixture of plot and character examination. The reader knows Evelina’s worries and joys, the epistolary style invites a sort of intimacy that straightforward third person story telling doesn’t, as you become much more involved in the “present” of the plot.
In many ways the style and plot is reminiscent of Austen, although you shouldn’t go into it expecting Pride and Prejudice with a different name. Although it’s basically the story of a girl who tries to negotiate society and its prejudices, which readers of Austen will be familiar with, Burney isn’t as guarded. The novel was still a relatively new style when she was writing and her audience expected different things, and in this sense she can shock us a bit more, there’s more experimentation, there’s more innuendo, there’s more scandal and there’s definitely more outright comedy than in an Austen novel. I like “Evelina” because reading about her is a bit like being introduced to Lizzy Bennet’s saucy cousin.
I picked up my copy of “Evelina” at a Car Boot sale because it had beautiful illustrations in it but I know that Penguin has recently published it, as well as Broadview – which is a really good study version as it has lots of extra appendixes and notes to help you understand the context of the novel. However you do it, I seriously recommend you give Frances Burney a try!
Have you read Frances Burney before?
What’s your favourite ‘re-read?
When I say Mr Darcy, what, or who, do you think of? You’ve probably got a pretty specific image in your head right now as you read this. Is it:
Colin Firth, and a certain lake?
maybe, Matthew MacFayden?
Or even this guy?
Maybe you picture none of these men, you are probably still imagining someone tall, dark, handsome (and rich) though, am I right? That’s the way I think most of us probably imagine him, I know I do anyway. What struck me when I was re-reading the book recently, however, was just how little Austen actually says about what Darcy looks like.
When he is first introduced, for example, Austen offers only a basic, stock description.The room is drawn to his “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mein”. There is no mention of specifics, no chiselled jawline, powerful thighs, masterful stare or even fashionably high collar points.
In fact, almost as soon as she offers us this lacklustre description Austen undermines it by stating “his manners gave a disgust” and proceeds to destroy any good impression his ‘noble mein’ might have afforded him. He is discovered to be “proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased”, not even his mammoth wealth, Austen seems to suggest, can save him from being, well, a bit of a prat.
If we are to take Mr Darcy’s introductory description, he’s not even as good as Mr Bingley, and he certainly isn’t a man who could inspire fan clubs all over the world. So far, so not the Mr Darcy we know and love. The truth is that the Mr Darcy of Austen’s novel is shrouded in mystery. If anything Austen builds a picture of a conceited, arrogant man who is full of flaws, hardly a dashing hero. In fact, he’s altogether far too human if you ask me.
So how have we built such a clear picture of Mr Darcy in our minds when Austen herself is so vague? I think this might just be the key, maybe it’s because because Austen is vague. Every time she doesn’t describe his features, or his clothes, or what he’s thinking, it makes us imagine him. Then, because we aren’t clouded by the unavoidable knowledge that he has a hunchback, or a peg leg, or even just blonde hair, we can build up a picture of our own perfect man, which makes him far more dear to us than any written description could.
Perhaps it’s Austen’s masterstroke, or maybe she just didn’t like describing people, either way it allows us to constantly reimagine Mr Darcy. He can be Colin Firth, or Matthew MacFayden, or any of the 17 other actors IMDB.com lists as having played him. Even better than that, it allows Mr Darcy to be all for you, and that’s why we love him so much!
How do you imagine Mr. Darcy? Have film adaptations changed the way you see him?