Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Louisville Jane Austen Festival!

"'You are in a melancholy humour and fancy that anyone unlike yourself must be happy.  But remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by everybody at times, whatever be their education or state.  Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience; or give it a more fascinating name:  call it hope.'"
- Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility

I am crazy about Jane Austen. Have I made this point before? Even if I have, it's worth reiterating. 

I am crazy about Jane Austen.

I have grown up surrounded by Jane Austen. I have a Jane Austen finger puppet. Yesterday, I bought a regency dress on ebay. ("When and where are you going to wear that?" I can hear you thinking. WHO GIVES A SH*T, I reply! I NEED IT!) 

I was not always this way. My mother, a woman with excellent taste, had the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice on VHS - the nine (okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration) video tapes pretty much took over her dresser. When I was young she used to watch them all the time and I would think, "BO-RING! I'm going to go pretend that I'm Jo March and turn down perfectly good marriage proposals in the backyard..."

In high school, Pride & Prejudice was required reading. I looked at that book, one of the first truly lengthy books I had ever read, and thought, "I think it would be easier to watch the nine (exaggeration alert!) video tapes than it would be to read all of that book." But, being the school teacher that she is, my mother would have none of it. 

We reached a compromise - each time I would finish a chapter, my mother would let me watch the mini-series up until the point where I had stopped reading. 

After seeing Mr. Darcy in that cravat (ZOMG!) I was hooked. 

We went on to Sense & Sensibility and Emma and I thought, "Okay, this romantic world full of dreamy dudes is DEFINITELY for me." I would imagine that I was Marianne Dashwood, fainting in the rain only to be saved by Willoughby and nursed back to health. 

"WILLOUGHBY!" I would sigh in the back yard and faint.

(Yes, I was in high school at this point. And yes, I still do this.)

I went on to read Pride & Prejudice again for a college English class. This time,  the teacher made us watch the Keira Knightley version. I watched it. "Psshh! B*tch, please," was my reaction. "NO ONE is Elizabeth Bennet but Jennifer Ehle. NO ONE is Mr. Darcy but Colin Firth." And I looked down my well-cultured little nose at all of my friends who enjoyed it. "YOU just haven't seen the REAL version..."

It is of note that this "real version" that I was referring to was the Colin Firth movie, not the book.

Then, after I graduated from college with my theatre degree (and my empty wallet), I got that call that is every unemployed actor's dream.

"We're doing a production of Pride & Prejudice. The girl who was playing Lizzie can't do it. Could you come in and read for us?"

To which I replied, "F*#$ yeah!!!!!!"

Now, this was a challenge. I had Jennifer Ehle TATTOOED on my brain. She was and is Elizabeth Bennet. I decided to re-read the book again and banned the movie versions to cleanse my mental palate. 

An extraordinary thing happened. This Austen film fast introduced me to Jane Austen - the real Jane Austen that had been there all along. The Jane Austen that is more David Sedaris than she is Charlotte Bronte. Jane Austen the witty, satirical genius. Jane Austen - the badass.

At this point, I broke up with Mr. Darcy. It was Jane that I was in love with. Jane's voice - the voice of Pride & Prejudice's narrator. The voice that is muted in the movies. It was like heroine. I had had a shot of the real stuff and I couldn't settle for less. 

I went on to read Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and the annotated Pride & Prejudice.  I was invigorated because I discovered that this woman deserved a place on my shelf next to Shakespeare and the Bible. I was infuriated because the only thing that I saw originally, as a result of the movies, was how dreamy the dudes look and how important it is that the women end up with the dudes at the end. Jane Austen, in all her powerful glory, had been invisible. Her characters, like Shakespeare's, are extraordinarily gifted and also extraordinarily flawed. They are human. As far as I can tell, Shakespeare and Austen are the only two authors who have achieved this amazing feat. 

This weekend, my mother and I decided to make the drive up to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville for the second year in a row. Squeal! To be quite honest, this is probably the only place in the world where I feel really, REALLY understood, like a Trekkie at a Star Trek convention. We learned how to do hair, how to fight a duel, and how to start a Jane Austen book club. 

The best part, by far, was high tea. High tea always makes me a little nervous because you are forced to sit at a tiny table with strangers, and there's really no way to get out of talking. I was worried that the girls at our table would say, "Oh, I just LOVE Pride & Prejudice! Mr. Darcy is SO hott and I love him in the movie when he comes out of the pond with the wet shirt and I have to find a man like that and Jane Austen didn't become a good writer until that Tom Lefroy dude helped her and ZOMG! LOL!" 

To my relief, the exact opposite happened. The ladies we chatted with were extremely intelligent, loved Austen for her intelligence, her wit, and her writing, and not because of the clingy pants. 

Then my mother asked that question that all Austenites ask -  "Which Jane Austen character are you?" 

We went around the table one-by-one. "Elizabeth Bennet," one girl said. "Elinor Dashwood," another said. 

My brain was going about a thousand miles a minute. "Which one am I!? Which one am I!?!? I want to say Elizabeth Bennet, but I know that's not true. I'm not pretty or wealthy enough to be an Emma. I'm not practical enough to be an Elinor. I don't have enough self-control to call myself Anne..." 

And then it was my turn. 

I remembered fainting in the backyard. I thought about myself gushing over sonnets and flowers, walking in the rain, crying for no reason, giving my heart so completely to so many who said they would treat it well and didn't, and eventually finding love in the place where I expected it the least. 

As I said it, I realized that it was still true. 

"Marianne Dashwood." 

Who cares why or how you fall in love with Austen? Her characters are still true, whether you read them as a teenager or as an adult, for the love or for the wit. Maybe I thought that my tastes had matured and that my brain had become more discerning, but my heart is still the same heart. I am thankful for that. 

I sat there, sipping my "Marianne's Wild Abandon" tea, and hoped that this would never change. 

Hey! Look at this! 

1 comment:

  1. I love this post - I found your Marianne pictures on a google search & laughed my butt off. :D I've always been "The Marianne" in my family.

    Maybe I'll run into you in Louisville this summer! Seriously though, great great post. Even though David Rintoul IS Mr Darcy, and Elizabeth Garvie IS Elizabeth Bennet. But I'm just saying that to out-hipster you. ;)


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