Welcome to all guests from the Austenesque Extravaganza. Thank you for visiting — please look around, stay awhile, make yourselves at home. As part of this week’s Touring Thursday, I decided to talk about what Austen has come to mean to me and why her body of work endures. The romance is only part of it — Austen’s characters are so well-drawn and so timeless, that while we love to love Darcy and Captain Wentworth and the rest, they are only part of her appeal. She died so young, and was just coming into her power as a novelist with Persuasion — I feel such a loss when we think of how The Watsons and Sanditon remain fragments only. Damn that 19th century medicine that failed to keep her alive!

I was in high school when I had to read P&P and was all meh about it. Yeah, I know. But I came back to it later in my 20s and totally fell in love. Each reading brought something new, and I reread it often. I remember thinking, “hmmm, how weird that people could just be sick at someone else’s house and be put to bed and it was all so accepted and normal. ” And then the epiphany! No! That was the point. It wasn’t normal, it was utterly mortifying, and that was why Mrs. Bennet’s ruse was so beyond the pale. How completely embarrassing for poor Jane.

There’s a point at which Lizzy lifts her eyes to the ceiling and it was on my umpteenth reading that I understood that she was rolling her eyes. That was my first insight into Austen’s modernity. Who hasn’t rolled their eyes at their parents? (Oh come on, you can admit it.) It’s touches like that that make P&P fresh every time.

I will always love P&P best but Persuasion is Austen’s best book. It is a gem of a story. There’s the Cinderella aspect, which has eternal appeal, there’s Captain Wentworth, and aside from the silly hat, which he totally wore the hell out of (have you ever seen pictures of British Navy uniforms from the era? Good lord.) he was a realistic and engaging hero. But even better is how Austen captures family dynamics. Read the part where Mary and her in-laws are telling poor Anne their side of the story about child-rearing and about who is giving the kids treats and you get the idea. There’s also a little gem of a moment when Charles Musgrove does the thing that we’ve all done, and yes, we all have:

The visitors took their leave; and Charles, having civilly seen them off, and then made a face at them, and abused them for coming,

Likewise in Emma, which was so wonderfully adapted into Clueless precisely because of its modernness, the family is the core of the novel. Emma loves her sister and her father and her nieces and nephews. She is a mean girl, sure, as her treatment of poor Mrs. Bates shows, but then we meet a true Mean Girl, Mrs. Elton, who is so deliciously obnoxious that she makes Emma look like a saint. Her jealousy of Jane Fairfax is also so well-drawn and so reasonable and so … right. By the way, where Emma goes wrong is the relationship between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. Never got it. Never will. Jane doesn’t seem the type to go for the self-absorbed jerk.

I notice that Mansfield Park often doesn’t get mentioned as a favorite by fans and I admit it’s not one of mine. I wonder though if anyone else has noticed the similarities between Mansfield Park and Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl? I need to re-read Mansfield Park to get a better handle on it, but you have the poor girl living with the rich family, the wastrel brother who redeems himself, the sainted good brother who is dead in Alcott’s version but a likely Navy officer in the original. I may be way off, but it’s possible that Alcott was doing what many Austenesque authors have done, which is to retell the Austen novel for a new audience. It’s not just us. Feel free to chime in in the comments on whether you see a relationship or whether I’m all wet. I’m cool either way.

One of the reasons that Mansfield Park doesn’t appeal as much as the others is that Fanny’s kind of a wuss, but also this is the most 18th century of Austen’s novels. This is the novel that is truly of her time and religious upbringing. She was not really a modern timeless woman, but a woman of her era, as we all are. Austen was a staunch Christian and daughter of a rector. If this were the book that she was famous for, we wouldn’t be writing sequels. On the other hand, if we want to know the most about Austen, this is probably the book that is closest to who she really is and the way she really lived.

What have I learned from delving into Jane Austen’s world by writing The Unexpected Miss Bennet? Well first of all, Fordyce’s Sermons for Young Women is actually very readable. Everyone laughs at it, but there’s some good stuff in there. You should check it out via Project Gutenberg, and I also quote from it in The Unexpected Miss Bennet. I also needed to discover compassion for Charlotte Lucas and Lady Catherine and lo and behold, there it was. They aren’t just silly, self-serving, villains — Austen limned them so well all I had to do was add shading. Even Mrs. Bennet, who was so much fun to write, is really just a doting mother doing what she can to protect her children and ensure their security.

What have you learned from Jane Austen? What do you think of my rambles? Please comment here for a chance to win fabulous prizes at Austenesque. Thanks for coming everyone! I’m looking forward to your comments.




Maria Grazia · August 11, 2011 at 5:47 am

It’s good to know we can share our love for Austen and be understood and welcome. I felt I share many of your well-put points ; Persuasion is my favourite too, though I think Austen’s prose and characterization come to perfection in Emma; not always “first impressions” are correct, so better to re-read Austen works at different ages; romance is only a very small part of what we can find and appreciate in Jane Austen’s works. Thanks for sharing. I’d love to read your “The Unexpected Miss Bennet”. Plus one, on my endless wishlist!

Amanda Mauldin · August 11, 2011 at 6:25 am

I’ll agree that Mansfield Park is not my favorite, even that the first time I tried to read it I couldn’t finish it. In fact, I just finished it for the first time a few months ago.
I remember reading though, that it was Jane’s favorite (I’m not sure where it was I read that, I often remember things I read, but hardly ever where it is they come from) so it would make sense if it did in fact allude to her own life a bit.
Incidentally, I also at one point attempted to read An Old-Fashioned Girl and failed miserably so Ms. Sarath you may be on to something when you say there are similarities.

Anna · August 11, 2011 at 7:18 am

Loved this post! One thing I love about Austen (and there are so many things) is what you discuss in the last paragraph. Her characters are so complex, and it’s possible to despise them on the one hand but understand where they are coming from on the other. And it’s these characters that make me love all the sequels and retellings so much.

Joanna Yeoh · August 11, 2011 at 7:41 am

I love your rambles on P&P and Persuasion 🙂

Susan Kaye · August 11, 2011 at 8:41 am

While I may not be reading Fordyce’s Sermons soon, I do think that Austen appeals because the layers of her characters–even those who present very simple and easy to read–are mutifaceted and brilliant in their own ways. E. M. Forster thought enough of her to speak about her characterizations in his lessons at Trinity.

She was amazing for a woman who lived such a simple life.

Thank you for sharing, Patrice.

Jakki L · August 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Lovely post! I have to agree. I love that Austen’s characters are not only complex but are adaptable to modern times (allowing authors to write modern variations)!

Farah Khan · August 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

It is always a great pleasure to meet our fellow Janeite. Although Sense and Sensibility is my most favorite but after reading your post I would like to read Mansfield Park once more.I like Emma too because Jane has given each of her heroine a completely different personality like the different shades of flowers. Some are light and sweet where as others are bright and sour.On whole, every flower is beautiful in it’s place. I am sure ‘The Unexpected Miss Bennet’ will be an amazing piece of work and I would really like to read it.(;

araminta18 · August 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Mansfield Park is definitely not my favorite, although I liked it better after writing a paper showing how Fanny was actually a passive-aggressive gothic heroine… 🙂 Hadn’t noticed the similarities between it and An Old-Fashioned Girl though (but it has been a while since I read Old Fashioned Girl)–I do remember liking Polly better than Fanny though….

Patrice Sarath · August 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Wow, everyone! What wonderfully thoughtful comments. I feel like I’m in a book club with excellent wine and snacks and people who have read the books. ; -)

Keep the comments coming — this is great. It has made me want to re-read Mansfield Park and An Old-Fashioned Girl and see if Fanny really is a wuss or if she is a passive-aggressive gothic heroine as Araminta so eloquently put it.

Pamela · August 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm

What have I learned from Jane Austen novels? I guess to sum it all up, true love endures. ~ I hadn’t thought of Mansfield Park as being the most similiar to Jane Austen’s way of life. But, I agree with you. Mansfield Park is not my favorite. I think it is because I see Fanny as having a bad case of low self-esteem. Which let’s face it, many people have. Once upon a time I did too. Now I think I’m more like Lizzy. Lol. So, I have compassion for Fanny. ~ Persuasion is my all-time favorite. It’s a great love story. Dare I compare it to The Scarlet Pimpernell? I enjoyed your rambles. Thanks!

Elaine Dale · August 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

That Jane still speaks to us in the 21st century is a testament to our love of “love” and our love of the wonderful characters she gave us for all time.

I’m just reading my first ever piece of Jane fan fiction and am delighted with the experience.

faith hope & cherrytea · August 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm

‘She was not really a modern timeless woman, but a woman of her era, as we all are. Austen was a staunch Christian and daughter of a rector.’
is exactly what i think too many of the current authors miss in their understanding of JA. leaving them to present their misunderstandings when they don’t ‘get’ it and write novels that are too ‘off’ the reality of Jane. those i find disappointing and wonder how they can miss this? if they are truly janeites… or just trading on her good name for publication of their version …
really enjoyed your insights!
What have you learned from Jane Austen? hope & perseverance pay. check {or chuck!} my pride and prejudice. hold out for true love. develop discernment…
thx for participating with us ~
any ‘Persuasion’ lover is a friend of mine “)

Valerie R. · August 11, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Enjoyed your rambles! 😉 Add me to the list of those whose favorite is NOT Mansfield Park… I don’t know what it is about the story, but it just doesn’t grab me. I do love the love/hate relationships I find with JA’s characters. What have I learned from JA?? I think it would be that love isn’t always “obvious”, to be patient and it’ll present itself to you.

Sybil · August 12, 2011 at 12:24 am

I think your right about Alcott retelling Austen stories. You’re also right about how well Austen translates to modern times. You’re points make me want to read your book, and I will add it to my ever growing wish list. I’ll also add your blog to my check often list. Thanks!

Patrice Sarath · August 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

Thanks everyone for your comments! Sybil, what do you think are some of the other Austenesque novels that Alcott wrote? I can only think of Mansfield Park, but I haven’t read all of Louisa May Alcott.

Meredith (Austenesque Reviews) · August 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

Thank you so much for being a part of Austenesque Extravaganza, Patrice! I completely agree with you about every time you reread JAne Austen you discover something new. I love that about Jane Austen! So many subtlties and new discoveries!

Patrice Sarath · August 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

Thanks, Meredith! This has been a blast.

Monica Fairview · August 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Fascinating, Patrice. I would never have thought of connecting Alcott and Austen, but then, I haven’t read An Old Fashioned Girl. Your novel sounds intriguing, too, especially (but not only) because we were both published initially by Hale. They don’t take on many Austen sequels!

Chelsea B. · August 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

This post was lots of fun to read!! 🙂

Margaret · August 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I agree that Mansfield Park is probably as close to the real Jane’s as her novels get. I did like it but not my favorite. I never read the Louisa May Alcott book that is similar I’ll have to read that one. Thanks for the post!

Lúthien84 · September 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I think you hit the nail when you mentioned that Austen’s characters are timeless whether it was a few hundred years ago or at the present moment. I too love Persuasion and feel that JA has matured in her writing when she was taken away from us too soon. You have a good point about Mansfield Park not being a favourite with most of us. I have not ventured to complete it but only managed the first chapter before giving up. Maybe I need to find the right time and mood to really appreciate JA’s genius in it. I thought you would include all of JA’s novels but you barely touch on Sense & Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.

Patrice Sarath · September 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I’m actually not a huge fan of Sense & Sensibility, although I love Northanger Abbey and even mention it in The Unexpected Miss Bennet as a sort of in-joke. But S&S is too close to Pride & Prejudice, as if Austen is repeating herself. That said, since Austen has never written a bad book, it’s not as if it’s badly written. It just doesn’t work for me as well as the others.

My goal is to re-read Mansfield Park this fall, in between all the other books I recently picked up. And then I will report back. Does it get better on re-reading? Stay tuned…

Giveaway of The Unexpected Miss Bennet!!! | Austenesque Reviews · March 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm

[…] Patrice Sarath through Austenesque Extravaganza.  I was so pleased to have Patrice take part in a Touring Thursday and a Sociable Sunday!  Soon after that she asked me to read and review her novel The Unexpected […]

Touring Thursday – #2 | Austenesque Reviews · March 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm

[…] Patrice Sarath – The Unexpected Miss Bennet […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.