Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride in Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with them twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Old Friends and New Fancies

Yes, this seems to be the year when I grow a bit obsessed with Jane Austen. Well, not truly, because I still don’t remember anything that happened in Mansfield Park (I seriously need to re-read it and see if it’s as bad as I remember) but here’s another thing inspired by the great Jane and written by someone much more obsessed than me:

er-oldfriendsandnewfanciesOld Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon if you want it in a pretty book format. Or you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg.

What it is:
The first published Austen fan fiction! In 1913 Ms. Brinton wrote a story in which characters from Austen’s novels interact and continue to fall in love and be talked down to by lady Catherine de Bourgh. It focuses particularly on three couplings and the obstacles they face (mostly obstacles of unsuccessful communication): Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary Crawford, Georgiana Darcy and William Price and Kitty Bennet and James Morland.

How I found it:
This one was less random than my usual book finds: I found it on two different lists of books recommended for people who like Jane Austen.

Summary judgment:
It is exactly what it claims to be: a work of overflowing love for the originals. It’s not written with as much talent as the six novels (which I never expected it to be) but it’s entertaining enough.

Best things about it:
It is skillful enough at recreating the characters and the atmosphere of the originals. The story keeps you mildly interested and some of the characters get more space than they did in the original books.

Worst things about it:
I guess it’s not exactly exciting reading? It didn’t bore me but I can see it being difficult for some people. Then again, you can say the same about Jane Austen.

Other pluses:
I liked the appearance of some of my favorites, like Elizabeth and Darcy and Mr. Knightley. Nature and places play an important part and are well recreated.

Other minuses:
Some characters were hard to bear. I don’t really remember the original Mary Crawford but for a positive heroine I found her obnoxious. Kitty didn’t get her due either: Austen tell us in Pride and Prejudice that Kitty got more serious and respectable after Lydia’s removal but Brinton chooses to ignore that. Oh, and poor Emma.
But most of all, as is, sadly, too common in romances, male characters are rather bland and unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
I liked how it put more life into Georgiana than she ever had. It also reminded me that I need to re-read at least three of Austen books.

Fun fact:
Brinton really dislikes Emma. She only seems to see the Emma from the first half of the novel, who tries to matchmake people with little thought or concern for anything. But you know, I never found Emma as annoying as most people do, maybe because my first contact with her was through Gwyneth Paltrow’s version and I quite liked her.

Follow-up:
This: Longbourn (another fan fiction, sort of). Mansfield Park. Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility. And then some other things from that list of recommendations. But it will take a while because I like to mix up my reading and not spend a few months in Regency England.

Recommended for:
If anything I wrote in the “What It Is” section sounds interesting, go for it. But it’s for pretty hardcore Austen fans or people who really like this mostly carefree, slow atmosphere.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Zootopia

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

I talked a while ago about my soft spot for vlog adaptations of classic literature and I figured it was time to return to the one that started it all:

er-thelizziebennetdiariesThe Lizzie Bennet Diaries by Pemberton Digital

Category: Web series

Find it on: YouTube

What it is:
An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the form of vlogs recorded by Lizzie Bennet. Her sisters, particularly Lydia, and some other characters also star. Lizzie is a communications student who works on her diploma, Jane is a fashion designer and Lydia is… Lydia, of course. Bing Lee and William Darcy arrive and shenanigans ensue, all more or less as Ms. Austen had planned.

How I found it:
Do you know that I don’t even remember? When I came upon it for the first time, the series wasn’t even finished yet though it was already in its last, less interesting, stage. I remember watching it (like, regularly watching rather than just having it play in the background; good times) around Christmas and devouring it very fast.

Summary judgment:
It’s surprisingly good. It keeps the spirit of the story fresh while – mostly – successfully adapting it to new realities.

Best things about it:
It’s really well-acted. Lizzie and Lydia are pretty amazing: not only do they know how to act (which is less frequent in these things than you’d expect), they also interpret Bennet sisters for the modern age. It has drama, emotions and humor, all the while remaining faithful to the original.

Worst things about it:
Weeeell, okay, this is not my Darcy. And I’m saying this in the nicest possible way because the actor seems like a fun guy and this character is almost impossible to pull off (defnitely up there with Gatsby) and also costuming doesn’t do him any favors… but no, that’s not a believable Darcy.

Other pluses:
It’s quite entertaining and while it doesn’t exactly keep you surprised (the story is preeeeetty well-known) it certainly keeps you interested.
The actors have some fun with playing their characters pretending to be other characters (it makes sense if you watch it) and I’m a sucker for this (let’s talk Orphan Black when I catch up).
The romances mostly hold up but the aspect of sisterly relations is particularly well developed, perhaps more so than in the novel itself.

Other minuses:
Eh, this costume theater thing is a bit too cutesy for me. I get what it does and it gives the actors the chance to have fun (and the producers to save some money) but it becomes too celebrated within the narrative itself and then it irritates me even more.

How it enriched my life:
It opened my life to the rich world of vlog adaptations of literature, but we already talked about it, I think.

Fun fact:
I was once listening to a podcast about various adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and the author claimed The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to be the best adaptation out there. Well, it doesn’t beat the 1995 BBC one, in my opinion, but it really is pretty good.

Follow-up:
I’m sure more vlogs await though I don’t currently have a specific list.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans. People who like a good story with relatively low production values and don’t take their entertainment too seriously – and conventionally.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Old Friends and New Fancies (yes, still Austen)

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Regency Love

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good casual game has no equal in the realm of entertainment.

er-regencyloveRegency Love

Category: Games

Find it on: iTunes

What it is:
A casual iPad game about being a marriageable girl in Regency England ready to fall for (and, of course, marry) a charming bachelor. It was made by Tea for Three Studios (who should get down to it and make more games already). You play by making conversation choices (I love me a text game), which unveils the story (or stories) and answering trivia questions. And, of course, you try to marry as well as you may.

How I found it:
Around Christmas I was in an obsessive Pride & Prejudice mode after having watched the 1995 BBC series for the first time and somehow that led me to the game (I’m not sure how exactly I found it buy I’m glad I did).

Summary judgment:
I got really involved in the game and enthusiastically pursued both available paths (you can buy an extra one but I haven’t so far) as well as some additional minor storylines, all of which gave me great pleasure indeed.

Best things about it:
Spoiler, maybe, but I really liked the storyline of Mr. Curtis, one of the available marriageable men (well, barely) that I pursued on my first play. While not necessarily that exciting in real life, a cranky darkly humorous man will often win my heart in a romantic story.

Worst things about it:
How fast it takes to get through the whole game.

Other pluses:
I really enjoyed discovering the stories and the challenges of both of the main storylines, even though Mr. Ashcroft was too typically attractive to be exciting.

Other minuses:
As in many casual games, the art was not that spectacular. On the plus side, it allowed one to read the general nature of the characters, which, I suppose, was the most important thing, but I found it too hurried and careless to be truly impressed. But I feel rather mean writing it because the whole game is so clearly a work of love and I always appreciate those.

How it enriched my life:
I had perfectly lovely time playing the game, got inspired for creating some light-hearted historical stories and learnt about the tastes of ice-cream in the Regency era, which were quite surprising.

Fun fact:
So apparently the popular ice-cream flavors were parmesan, muscadine and asparagus. I love parmesan but wouldn’t be tempted to try those. And you might think anything would taste good in ice-cream form but that only means you have not tried the tomato ice-cream I once thoughtlessly tasted.

Follow-up:
I would play any similar game or another game by the same studio but so far I haven’t found any. Instead, however, I started GMing a Victorian-themed RPG, which is a far jump, on the one hand, but on the other, an almost direct result of playing Regency Love.

Recommended for:
People who love Jane Austen, historical romances and text-based RPG games without any action scenes in them. (If you’re one of them – write me, we’ll be best friends.)

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Guardians of the Galaxy, the first one

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Bookworming

Pleasures of Idleness: Emma

er-emmaI read Jane Austen in summer because bright summer days and her stories of rural matrimonial schemes go together perfectly. This year I reread Emma, which I’d read once in high school. Emma would always have the face of Gwyneth Paltrow for me: I love this adaptation, which was also my first encounter with Austen, and I think I even prefer it to the book. However, the book has charms of its own and, most of all, it surprises a modern, seasoned reader (that would be me) on many levels.

The first, and to me majorly important, surprise comes with the lack of suffering. I love reading and couldn’t give it up but sometimes it depresses the hell out of me. As a rule, characters have to suffer grief, loss, all sorts of misfortunes grand and small and sometimes, sometimes this knowledge makes me hesitate before opening a new book. Now, in Emma suffering is minor. Sure, it sucks when the man you discover yourself attracted to is, to your best knowledge, considering marrying another. But it’s hardly life-shattering, we’ve all been there and survived. Throughout the novel Emma remains rich, healthy and relatively carefree. I actually find it refreshing.

Another surprise is how this is a story of tediousness but while it verges on being boring, it’s actually not. (Well, to me. I can certainly imagine people, and especially men, crying hot tears of boredom over the endless dinner parties and local gossip.) Austen ingeniously builds idleness into the very structure of the novel. When a character is supposed to be tiresome in her constant blabbering, the reader labors through word-for-word citations so that they can experience the boredom. Many times we need to learn exactly what Mr. Woodhouse finds detrimental to his health, without the option of tuning him out and admiring wallpaper patters, which always helps in real life (and, by the way, I find him the most infuriating character in the whole book). Most Emma’s troubles come from the fact that she has nothing to do and this lifestyle does not agree with her: devoid of inner interests, she entertains herself with the most skill-less matchmaking in history. However, while Emma might benefit from working in a call center, I envy her the glorious freedom of unemployment without financial troubles. Must be soothing.

Emma herself, though claimed by Austen to be a heroine no one save herself would like, is not nearly as unsympathetic as this disclaimer promises. Admittedly, a likeable brat is easier to write than a likeable saint, but considering how self-absorbed, unobservant and callous Emma proves herself through most of the story, it surprises me that I find her so enjoyable (enjoyable as a character; I wouldn’t spend two hours with her). While many of these features bring her close to Scarlett O’Hara, Scarlett’s rebellion endears her to us while Emma remains prissily conservative. Of course, Emma changes or hers wouldn’t be a story at all, but the change is not as substantial as today’s reader might expect. For instance, she is glad to be rid of Harriet in the dénouement. In the end she’s just as much a narcissistic snob who has everything coming her way, and we have no choice but to accept it. In fact, it’s consistent how little drama in her life results in little change.

Finally, for the romantic interest. I know Austen’s romantic heroes feature in many an erotic dream, but frankly I never found them all that exciting. They always hover in the background, snide and self-pleased (or else idealistic and irritating) while the more lively heroines do their growing. Mr. Knightley is perhaps the most interesting (but that might be the movie fan speaking) but still he’s barely sketched out. We only get a vague image of masculinity and independence (married to perfect manners; her male characters always lack slightly rough edges) and can practically put any face we want on him. Personally, I prefer my romantic interests more developed. Of course, there’s the whole psychoanalytic ickiness of him being a father figure to Emma, what with the age difference and the constant moral preaching, but, speaking from my oh-so-vast real life experience, there seem to be immature girls who need precisely that: an older, decisive guy to keep them in check and curb their drama.

Altogether, I find Emma one of more pleasant Austen reads: everyone ends up with who you want them to end up with (I’m speaking of you, Elinor and Edward) and you get to relax in the world of balls, dinners and strawberry picking. However, for anyone who likes their action, even of the Pride and Prejudice kind, it must be quite disappointing.

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