Jane Austen: The Conclusion

So now that I’ve read every single Jane Austen novel, ever, it’s time to make sense of it all, isn’t it? Isn’t that what blogs are for, to try to create a context–a larger story–even when there isn’t one?

Especially when there isn’t one?

Or maybe, just maybe, I really enjoy writing about reading. And writing.

In any event, I can safely say the following two things:

  1. Jane Austen’s novels are fantastic,
  2. Jane Austen may very well have written the best dialogue the English language has ever seen

What? That’s high praise from a dude reading chick lit, man! But like I said in my very first Jane Austen post many moons ago:

 In reading Sense and Sensibility, I’m struck by how nice it is to enjoy a story where men are manly and women are womanly, each sex exhibiting strengths, weaknesses, and in general complimenting each other the way those in healthy relationships should. Throw away all of the social stuff regarding the limited opportunities for women at that time and enjoy the story for what it is.

No, this isn’t some evil member of the white male patriarchy lamenting his lost power (first of all, I never had any power to begin with). It’s just . . . unique to read a story from a world where people seemed to have confidence in their identities. For starters, there wasn’t any self-loathing or existential angst in these stories. That would invade literature later.

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Anyway, I’ll divide this post into The General section and The Specific section (names subject to change). In the former, I’ll go over what I admire about Jane Austen’s writing, her strengths, and any criticisms I may have. And in the latter part, I’ll give a brief rundown of each book, my takeaway, and an overall rating/ranking that I’m sure will upset most people who study Jane Austen’s works more than I do, but what the hell, it’s my blog. So here goes! Continue reading “Jane Austen: The Conclusion”

Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

And here we are, at the conclusion of my highly enjoyable read-through of the complete works of Jane Austen. The final story in my novel is apparently the one that Austen wrote first but published last–or to be more accurate, it was published posthumously. In any event, the epistolary Lady Susan is a quick, funny, light but ultimately satisfying conclusion to my survey of this giant of English literature.

Or giantess. Whatever.

Lady Susan details the foibles of the recently widowed Susan Vernon and her machinations. Quite what she’s aiming at, Lady Susan herself doesn’t seem to know, save that (a) she thinks very little of her sixteen-year-old daughter Frederica, and (b) she is a shameless flirt.

That’s right, Lady Susan is the early 19th-century British equivalent of a thot. She constantly craves attention and validation for her fading beauty and feminine wiles, wants to be catered to, and has a read supply of thirsty beta orbiters happy to oblige. If social media had been around in her day, Lady Susan would have been an absolute queen of it.

If you rankle at my use of modern-day Internet terminology, know that I use it only to underscore the fact that socio-sexual dynamics have changed so very little across time.

And thinking in these terms makes Lady Susan all the more hilarious. Continue reading “Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austin read-through continues with her final published work, Persuasion, which hit the public in 1817 some six months after Austen’s death.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a minor baronet Sir Walter. Sir Walter is a widower who doesn’t care much for Anne at all, devoting most of his time and attention to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. But the handsome and vain Sir Walter, more concerned with appearances and being thought of as a member of high society, is also a bit of a spendthrift. In addition to shunting off his parenting duties to Lady Russell, his late wife’s friend and Anne’s godmother, he’s burned through the family fortune.

But Lady Russell has a solution: The Elliots should rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall and retire to more modest lodgings in Bath until their debt is paid off. Like Northanger Abbey, the city of Bath is one of Persuasion‘s main settings–in fact, the two books were originally published together. And like Northanger Abbey, and pretty much every single Jane Austen book, marriage is a central theme.

I understand it: in early 19th century England marriage was one of the few ways in which a young woman could improve her lot in life. Every single work of Austen’s is a variation on this theme. That said, she does such a good job with the characterizations and in setting up her problems and resolutions that these stories never get stale. Continue reading “Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Another book finished in my read-through of the works of Jane Austen, that famous British author known for her tales of romance that were simultaneously good entertainment and critiques and commentaries on British society. This time it’s Mansfield Park, Austen’s third novel, published in 1814.

Some consider her works to be, and I hate this term, “chick lit.” That is, not a type of gum, but “literature for women.”

To borrow a phrase from our English friends, bollocks.

Good literature is good literature. Calling Austen “chick lit” is like saying a book like The Killer Angels a “guy book” just because it’s about the Civil War.

I see Jane Austen, in a way, as the intellectual forefather (foremother?) of Ray Davies, the great singer and songwriter for the rock band The Kinks. Both of them poked fun at English society and norms, not with meanness and snark, but with a great deal of love and affection.

Enough background. On to the review.

As with my reviews of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I don’t to rehash plot points here, and instead answer a very simple question:

What should anybody, particularly a male-sort of person living in the twenty-first century, read this book? What did I get out of it?

Again, being an American living in the year 2016, I am not quite as familiar with what was going on in English history in the year 1814 except as it implicates America (for example, there was this war between England and America that started in 1812 . . .). And to be fair, Mansfield Park is no sweeping historical novel, using world events as a backdrop.

I am also not that knowledgeable about the norms of the British class structure in the early nineteenth century, save for that it was pretty rigid and that, for women, marriage was one of, if not the, only way to improve one’s lot in life.

Instead, while reading, I focused on some of the more ordinary points that Austen tried to make, particularly as they pertain to relationships.

And in this regard, as with the other Austen novels I’ve read, Mansfield Park doesn’t disappoint. Continue reading “Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen”

Reinventing the Reinvented Wheel

Sometimes it gets, to use an overused Internet term, exhausting 

What does?

Life. Existence. History. 

No, I’m not going goth on you. Let me explain. 

Every single generation in human history ignores the lessons of the past, screws up, realizes that the old timers were right, and desperately tries to keep the next generation from making the same mistakes. 

Except it never works. Ever. 

Check out the Strauss-Howe generational theory. Whether you buy it or not, it presents a compelling case as to why we see the same patterns again and again in history. 

It’s kind of depressing to think a nut, especially if you don’t like the particular cycle, or generations archhetype, you find yourself in. 

This blog is an attempt to make sense of the world, tie everything together, and help people, particularly younger ones, avoid the mistakes of my past. 

If even one person finds what I do here useful, I will consider that a success. 

However, I’m selfish. I’m greedy. And I’m a narcissist. 

I want to help more people. Educate them. Talk with them. Dare I say it, change them. 

Even…[CORNBALL WARNING]

…[YOU WERE WARNED]…

CHANGE THE WORLD. Continue reading “Reinventing the Reinvented Wheel”

Thirty-five Years: What I’ve Learned To Do, And Not Do

I normally don’t care about birthdays, but I just turned 35 and this is kind of a big one. 35 is the age you need to be if you ever want to run for president, though that’s never going to happen. It’s also the age that the ancient Greeks thought you needed to be before you even started to acquire any wisdom about life the world and everything else.

So yeah, it’s pretty momentous. Generally I don’t care about age. But whatever, this is as good an age as any and good a time to give some advice I have learned in these 35 years, especially for the younger guys reading. It’s been a mostly useless 35 years, though I like to think I’ve done a few good things.

Don’t waste your 20s. I wasted my 20s, and have been spending my 30s playing catch-up instead of advancing.  If there’s one thing I could go back and do again in life, it’s my 20s. Now, the late 20s were a little bit better, but for the most part my 20s were an extension of my teenage years. This is bad, especially for men. I would say that there is no bigger danger to masculinity in traditional notions of manhood, which are the building blocks of society, then perpetual adolescence. Useless stuff, like sports, video games, pop culture, chasing girls, and other forms of consumption designed to keep us childish and docile. I should’ve had a producer mindset. I should’ve been starting a business. Continue reading “Thirty-five Years: What I’ve Learned To Do, And Not Do”

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Here I go, continuing with my read through of Jane Austen novels. She is “for chicks,” so I’ve heard. I don’t care. I am enjoying the hell out of her work. For supposedly “frivolous” stuff written some two-hundred years ago, Austen’s work still has a lot to offer us in our oh-so modern age.

In my review of Sense and Sensibility, I discussed how Austen offers great insight into different types of people and how their natures or flaws shape their actions. I also realized, as I read that book, the following:

. . . it’s good for men to read things written by women to understand their perspective.

I stand by this statement as it comes to Pride and Prejudice, as it relates to Austen’s view on marriage and relationships, and what goes into a good one as opposed to a bad.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot, save that it centers around the five Bennet sisters, primarily the oldest two Jane and Elizabeth, and their various love affairs. It’s all told through the perspective of Elizabeth, the most prideful, free-thinking, and I would say rebellious of the bunch, and it is her courtship with the haughty and proud Mr. Darcy that most people remember and love about this book.

My conclusion is that the book is entertaining, witty, and romantic as hell. I’m not going to lie: My manly self loves a good love story if it’s well told and the author makes me actually like the characters. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen does all of this and then some. There’s nothing wrong with a good happy ending, after all. It’s a nice respite from life.

In addition to being a better-written and more entertaining book than Sense and Sensibility, in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows us two important things:

  1. What goes into a good marriage, and
  2. The importance of courtship

Marriage has been on my mind lately, especially since I recently had my sixth wedding anniversary. So much ink has been spilled, and dollars spent and made, in the marriage-help business. I argue that Jane Austen does at least as good a job as all of these relationship gurus in describing what goes into a good marriage and why. Let’s take a look at some of the principal relationships in the book and see how they relate to these two factors. Continue reading “Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen”