Category Archives: chick lit

The Old Wives’ Tale

a3fba127a3076a6465b57e6895a575ef“. . . humanity walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses.”

I’d never heard of Arnold Bennett or his novel The Old Wives’ Tale till my friend chose it for us to read and discuss. The Old Wives’ Tale focuses on two sisters in Northern England in the fictional “Five Towns” area. The oldest Constance is a practical, predictable yet strong woman, while Sophia is a vivacious beauty who pushes all the boundaries.

Their mother is much like Constance and faithful to conventions. Their father is bedridden, which means the family’s welfare depends on the mother running the business, a drapery store.

The story starts with the girls in their teens. Despite their different personalities, they get along for the most part. Sophia yearns for romance and excitement, while Constance is satisfied with working in the family store and living a standard middle class life. When their father dies and Sophia runs off with a dapper traveling salesman, the story takes off.

A keen observer, Bennett fills the novel with insights that make readers think, “Yes, people are like that, even today.” Although there are many stories of bourgeois life or of the prodigal who runs off, Bennett’s characters experience surprises till the bitter end. His characters, even minor ones, are alive and worthy of respect and sympathy. I’m happy to say I’ve found another author I’ll read more of.

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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, chick lit, classic, fiction


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I found Shannon Hale‘s novel Austenland on the new books shelf at the library. Since I’m an unabashed Jane Austen fan, though one who’s never read any fan fiction or other spin offs, I thought Austenland would be a fun, summer read.

Premise: Jane Haynes, a single 30-something graphic artist living in New York has is obsessed with Jane Austen novels. An elderly aunt dies and bequeaths Jane a three week stay at Pemberley Park, where everyone lives in the style of Regency England.

Hmmm, could be fun.

Well, Jane first can’t decide if she should go. Her fretting about this non-problem annoyed me. Of course, readers know she’s going or there’s no story.

Jane arrives in the house and meets the other characters, moderns who adopt early 19th century personas and clothes. As you’d expect they resemble Austen’s characters: the uptight Darcy, the cads, the matchmaking middle aged women. Here though we’re also given some pathetic characters like Miss Charming, a 50-ish heavy guest who adopts the personal of a 20 year old. Many come to Pemberley Park for a three week dose of wish fulfillment.

Throughout the story Jane questions her Austen-complex. Mentally, she complains of the boredom of the lifestyle. She bugged me as she was just a four star White Whiner. It’s hard to push through a story when the heroine is bored or questioning why she’s on a vacation. It’s easy enough to extricate oneself from a resort. Pemberley Park is not Alcatraz.

The plot was predictable; the prose, almost witty. The only non-Austen touch was that Jane has a dalliance with a gardener, who would have been invisible in an Austen novel, where the bad men weren’t servants.

Hale’s writing style is chatty and banal. I think she must read chic lit novels exclusively. While it’s hard to be as good as Austen, I think the best route is to avoid emulation and shoot for originality.

I see that the film opens August 16th. I’d wait for Netflix, rather than buying a ticket, though there’s plenty of better good versions of Austen’s oeuvre with dashing actors like Colin Firth, Matthew Macfayden, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Richard Armitage, that it’s hard to imagine that Austenland offers a better experience.

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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in chick lit


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Pride and Prejudice

In April my book club read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice again. Rereading it is like reliving a delightful vacation. The characters and events become more vivid this time ’round.

This time when I read it, I was more aware of Lydia’s selfishness and cluelessness. (I’ve gotten that before, but this time it rang louder.) I think watching so many current movies, set in any era, I’ve subconsiously bought into our era’s feeling that “oh, it’s okay to impetuous.” Though Austen’s writings aren’t overtly religious, her message is clear that Lydia’s going to have a rough life and that foolish decisions don’t just turn out okay. Our society seems to have lost that notion. (Yep, I guess that observation shows why I’m so at home in Austen’s world.)

I also read with a keen view to seeing when Darcy falls for Lizzy and vice versa as that was a question I’d read in a list of discussion questions. I do wonder how it was that Darcy’s love wasn’t crushed after Lizzy refused him and wounded his pride so. Yes, he changed her view of him with his letter, but he didn’t know that.

I’ve seen the series with Colin Firth and the film with Matthew MacFayden and like them both. The BBC production with Firth is longer and can cover every scene in the book, while the film left things out. I am fine with any traditional adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Just spare me anything with zombies.

My heart always goes out to Charlotte. I just could not have made that choice. I don’t have or even want to have the patience to marry for security. She was practical and no one made her marry Collins.

After reading about book club member Cortney’s footnotes in her annotated version, I went over to my library’s website and did some research. I found an interesting short article that hypothesized that Lady Catherine’s social standing wasn’t what she presented or that at least at one point in life her ideas about class weren’t what they are during the novel.

Rosings, as Austen says, is a modern—that is, Georgian—building, and its
glazing came at Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s expense. It was not uncommon for the
daughters of nobility, like Lady Catherine, the daughter of an earl, to marry
wealthier men of lower social rank but higher economic standing. In fact, her
late sister, Lady Anne Darcy, did just this: she married Darcy’s father, who
came from the “honorable [. . .] though untitled” (394) family that owned
Pemberley, which is obviously not a “modern” building, as its library holdings
are “the work of many generations” (41). The wealthy commoner husband
certainly gained prestige by marrying a wife who retained her paternal courtesy
title, as Ladies Catherine and Anne did.

When Lady Catherine visits Elizabeth to command her not to marry
Darcy, she states that both the Darcys and the de Bourghs are “ancient”
families (394).4 But is Lady Catherine’s veracity to be trusted? In her
angry hysteria at this moment, she also insists that her nephew, Darcy,
and her daughter, Anne, “are destined for each other by the voice of every
member of their respective houses” (394). Yet Darcy himself neither
believes this promise nor chooses his life’s mate with regard for any such
promise. Moreover, the convivially chatty, even gossipy, Colonel Fitzwilliam
never mentions any intention of his cousins to marry. Indeed, when
the Colonel tells Elizabeth that Darcy is procrastinating on their departure
from Rosings, he has no idea why and never surmises that it has anything
to do with a potential de Bourgh–Darcy marriage.

Even if the de Bourghs are an “ancient,” extremely wealthy family, as Lady
Catherine insists, Austen suggests that they did not have a great country house
until Sir Lewis de Bourgh built Rosings. Not only does the narrator undercut
Lady Catherine’s pride by giving her a “modern-built house,” rather than a
distinguished older house, but the man who paid for the house’s original glazing
and the man who brags about its costs do, too.

RAY, JOAN KLINGEL.Pride and Prejudice: The Tale Told by Lady Catherine’s House.” Explicator 2008: 66. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 2 May 2012.

I do wonder what happens to these characters after the story’s end. I haven’t read any of the modern sequels expecting that none would meet my expectations.

Has anyone else read any of them? Any recommendations?

C. E. Brock illustration for the 1895 edition ...

C. E. Brock illustration for the 1895 edition of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in British Lit, chick lit, classic


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