What’s the Big Deal About…Jane Austen?

(Image Credit: kozirsky)

(Image Credit: kozirsky)

I only recently got bit with the Janeite bug. I know, I’m late to this party, but pass me a mug of mulled wine and I’ll explain here by the crackling fire just how I got here and why I think I’ll stay a while.

I have always liked watching Pride and Prejudice. Lizzy’s independent state of mind reminds me of my own, and while she eventually ends up with the love of her life—who just so happens to be insanely rich—it is her pursuit of what is right by her own standards while she stays true to her family’s needs for upward mobility in a society that seems stagnant that wins my heart.

It wasn’t until I took a Jane Austen class, though, that I realized how much I loved looking further into this world so tightly wound around social structures Austen masterfully both upheld and questioned. Reading her works as a 27-year-old woman helped me not only understand the world I live in, but also how we got here, and why it’s important to understand the rules by which I am expected to live in my own society.

For Example…

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine’s naïve and gullible personality, paired with Mrs. Allen’s relentless selfishness and materialistic outlook as well as Isabella’s blatant disregard of her friend, annoy me. Also, what is up with her mother’s goodbye? The whole mother-daughter relationship in Austen’s novels is a real problem, but Catherine’s farewell discussion with her mom is straight out of an etiquette lesson book.

It wasn’t until the second reading that I realized I was supposed to feel this way, and it was because of this feeling that I felt compelled to write about it—to join the conversation.

While living in a world that is continually shaped by the gravitas of pop culture, I began to understand the navigation and intelligent societal dancing in Austen’s works, more choreographed than any of the balls within them.

Catherine’s character (clearly a response to Austen’s society’s understanding of women’s response to their surroundings and the necessity to keep them from anything that might ruin them) is exemplary of female prevail, proving Isabella’s strategies for social mobility are no match for Catherine’s strength of character within in her own growth. Isabella’s dramatic behavior is repeatedly met with Catherine’s honest, “Nah, girl. I don’t know what you’re on about” style of response, and this clash of characterization of femininity in Austen’s novel shows that this whole female/lady thing is totally bogus and just a performance.

While Henry Tilney is by no means the perfect mate, repeatedly mocking her intelligence, I see his promotion of her use of critical thinking skills ignites Catherine’s pursuit of not only her love for Henry, but also an appreciation and acceptance of her individual thought process she has possessed throughout her life.

And then there is… 

Mansfield Park. What a shitshow. This novel is another reason that Austen both infuriates and excites me. I cannot stand any character here. I literally hate them all. BUT, is that not a sign of a good novel? When analyzing this text, I had to ask myself why I hated these characters.

The bottom line is this: Mrs. Norris is terrible and Fanny Price is my worst nightmare. She is just as manipulative and strategic as Mary Crawford, but Fanny’s mode of operation is more dangerous because she subscribes to the code of conduct that society condoned.

Mary is made the villain by challenging social norms—she is a sexualized villain. However, is she not looking for the same thing as Fanny? Is she not seeking a husband, but rather than the quietly, and might I add creepily, way that Fanny has mastered, Mary’s conduct lays open for conversation the rules by which she is governed in her society.

 

So what?

Before you walk home from this pub gathering, stumbling in my rambling speech, know that I am making three points here, and my first point is this: Jane Austen’s works were revolutionary because of the ways that she sheds light on women’s positioning in society—the rules they must navigate in order to obtain personal fulfillment. Her heroines are rewarded with marriage which creates a mask of conventionality, but how they reach their social salvation from eternal spinsterhood is a thinly veiled trope of female empowerment to navigate the society in which they live.

These characters are not only brilliant; they create their own happiness in unique and interesting ways. What’s more is the relationship between females and their cultivation of female bonding in order to manifest their own empowerment—oh, the drama! There’s nothing like some early 19th century gossip!

Their fight for independent thought and the autonomy to create a life of their own is what makes Austen’s heroines stand out and stick around in exciting and fun ways that Mr. Collins can’t latch onto.

 

Remakes and Reimaginings

So, you might ask, why does this matter? Why should I care about Jane Austen’s works when she is long gone and I can read someone’s works that I can actually see and feel having a conversation with my society? Well, because she is too. Believe it or not, Austen’s works are still alive and thriving. Bridget Jones’ Diary is coming out with another installment (I can’t wait!), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just hit the silver screen, and there is a long history of remakes and reimaginings.

Literary critic Deidre Lynch calls explores Jane Austen’s “social machine” in her work, and it is this duplication of her society and consequently her works within new societies that makes Austen’s mark still relevant. She is reworked, remade, reimagined in new and exciting ways. Austenland is basically me when I went to England—though, I didn’t return home with a gorgeous British boyfriend, but that’s neither here nor there.

My second point is that Austen is and always will be remade for the current time because the issues she tackles and the characters she employs work to address social constraints and performativity within them—what binds us to the rules of convention and how our identities are shaped.

What is love? What is marriage? What is femininity? What is masculinity? Austen’s representations of these inquiries are vastly different from today’s, but the questions are still being addressed. If only love looked more like Colin Firth leaving a lake like the winner of a Darcy wet t-shirt contest.

 

Janeites Unite

While we don’t send pregnant women to the countryside out of humiliation, we live in a society that still slut-shames. Just recently Kim Kardashian was shamed for posting a naked picture online (her reply to the haters was pretty genius, BTW). I can’t believe we are still having this conversation. Who cares?! #FreeTheNipple

We don’t send women to their rooms if they are having an emotional episode like Marianne’s complete breakdown in Sense and Sensibility, but we do look down upon emotional over-sharing, often calling people crazy or hormonal for feeling feelings and crying over them.

We have shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Millionaire Matchmaker because “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen, Pride and Prejudice). This notion of class, marriage, and mobility in society is still hounding us as we watch TV that, while incredibly addicting, perpetuates ideas Austen grappled with in her works.

Jane Austen might roll in her grave if I compare her works to today’s most famous celebs and issues, but that was the society in which she lived. Reimagining Austen’s works in my world, to make them relevant today, entails attacking the issues within them: female autonomy, identity creation, and self-fulfillment. These issues have not been remedied and are still being discussed daily.

We have reached my third point and why I love her works: the issues in her works, the ability to explore and create a self that is personal and not expected while accepting that there is a social structure within which we live, is still and always will be relevant so long as identity and its construction is an issue in society.

So, that’s my Janeite manifesto. I love her stuff and I think we should all read it and talk about it at our next pub gathering. Who’s in?

I want to know why you do or don’t like Jane Austen. Share with me in the comments below, but if you don’t like her, I’m just warning you, you’re wrong (I’m kidding, but not really).

Hey, before you leave the party, pass me another mug of mulled wine, would ya?

 

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Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie Hall

Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie HallI’m a little late boarding the Conspiracy of Us train. The first book has been on my to-read list since before its release, but I finally got around to reading it once I received an ARC of book two in the series, Map of Fates. While I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much Map of Fates hooked me. If you haven’t read The Conspiracy of Us and don’t want it spoiled for you, you know the drill – back away slowly from this page!

There’s a pretty intricate plot in these books, but a brief summary of book one for those who need a memory jog: “Normal American Teenager” Avery West learns that she’s heir to an extremely powerful group of of families known as The Circle. Not only that, Avery happens to be “the girl with the purple eyes” that has long been prophesied as having a hugely important impact on the fate of The Circle, particularly when there is a union with Avery and “the One,” who we discovered in The Conspiracy of Us is Stellan, a “Keeper” (AKA “unusually young and attractive security”) for another family in The Circle and the one of Avery’s two Keeper accomplices that she’s not kinda-sorta in a relationship with. Awkward.

Oh and also, there’s this adversary group called The Order that kidnapped Avery’s mom and wants Avery’s help to find this very abstract, never clearly defined source of power that is apparently in Alexander the Great’s tomb or something. And Stellan being The One is a secret, so The Circle thinks The One could be any dude from one of its families, basically, so they’re all desperate for Avery to marry into their family. I mean…the story is fun but the details…don’t think too hard about them, mmmkay? Your head might start literally spinning. So much for a brief summary, eh?

Map of Fates catches up with Avery and her actual-sort-of-not-really-because-he-might-get-killed-for-it Keeper boyfriend Jack as they investigate clues left behind by their shared mentor in an attempt to trade info for Avery’s mom. This eventually leads to an agreement with Avery’s father, who starts parading Avery around to various countries with Circle families with eligible bachelor sons. Avery and Jack, along with some help from Stellan, use this as an opportunity to research potential clues in the countries they’re visiting. And so begins a whirlwind of visiting different countries, dressing up pretty to meet marriageable guys, and then sneaking out to comb museums and historical sites for clues.

There’s a decent amount of action and mystery in Map of Fates, and I appreciate the plot despite it being a bit…well, fanciful. But it’s executed well, so long as you aren’t expecting a straightforward thriller but are fine with some boy drama and pretty dresses being involved as well. I should probably address the dreaded love triangle. Yup, this series has one. But Hall handles it exceptionally well. She maintains the integrity of all three characters while shifting the story around them in a believable way, without straight manipulating you as a reader. It’s one of the best (or, as a love triangle skeptic might say, least-awful) love triangles I’ve ever read in YA, so there’s that.

Map of Fates takes the elements of Conspiracy of Us and amps them up a bit, and it becomes clear that Hall’s true talent lies more in the realm of contemporary YA than action and intrigue. Not that she can’t manage the action and intrigue, but the best parts of this story are the ones that focus on characters and relationships, not globetrotting action and high-power conspiracies. I dearly hope Hall has plans to write a straightforward contemporary at some point, because I have no doubt she’d excel at it.

This book is also a real page-turner, particularly once you hit the halfway point. There are twists and turns; some unexpected and some not so much, but all are engaging. Map of Fates also deftly avoids bridge book syndrome by seeing a major plot line through while setting up a new one for the final book in the series. Hall seems to have a knack for finding the balance in drawing out the things that need to be but not stretching out the things that don’t. (Perhaps Ms. Hall should be recruited to write for Pretty Little Liars; she could teach them a thing or two.) Hall is a frequent traveler, which I both love and hate – it’s great that her descriptions of Avery’s travels are authentic; that really shines through in her writing. I’m just bitter that I don’t have the kind of lifestyle where I can jet around the world constantly. 🙂

As much as I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, it wasn’t until finishing Map of Fates that I realized I am fully on board with this series and excited to see how it ends! If you need reprieve from the winter reading rut, I highly recommend this series to tide you over until spring’s exciting slate of new releases.

 

If you’re itching for more Map of Fates, be sure to check out the blog tour running through March 22nd – you can find the first top, as well as links to additional blog tour stops, at Fangirlish.

When Artists Go Solo: Is It Worth It?

(Image Credit: @zayn Instagram)

(Image Credit: @zayn Instagram)

It’s been almost a year since Zayn Malik left One Direction and with his new song “Pillowtalk” topping the charts and the video catching just about everyone’s attention (Have you seen it yet? It’s mesmerizing), it’s got me wondering, is going solo worth it? Here are just a few things Zayn and countless other artists that went solo had to deal with.

Public backlash

When the news broke that Zayn left One Direction, social media exploded. Every article, Tumblr post and video shared a similar outcry – what was Zayn going to do without One Direction and what was One Direction going to do without Zayn? A ton of fans reacted by posting videos of themselves crying while others just vented to social media.

Public scrutiny

After Zayn left, news media outlets as well as fans closely watched him. What would he do next – would it be good or bad? After a petty tweet towards ex-bandmate Louis Tomlinson, public opinion was pretty low.

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And then he split with his fiancée Perrie Edwards and it seemed like every move Zayn made caused him to lose more and more support from fans.

Public support

Zayn’s new video was released January 28th and it seems like people are totally ignoring their past unhappiness with him. There has been quite a bit of controversy over the fact that Zayn’s new girlfriend Gigi Hadid is in the video, but it seems like most of the world is just excited to have new music from the ex-1D star.

 

So that’s a very brief summary of what Zayn’s been dealing with for almost a year after leaving One Direction. So that brings me back to my main question. Is going solo worth it? Is it worth the backlash and scrutiny? Should he have just stayed with One Direction until they fizzled out and just stopped producing music? Does he regret his past decisions? Whatever the case maybe, it looks like Zayn may be back on track to get the public to love him again and support his solo career.

Beginning to Make Toys Right with #WheresRey

(Image Credit: LucasFilm)

(Image Credit: LucasFilm)

When Star Wars fans headed to stores for memorabilia, many of us couldn’t find the character we were looking for. Like Marvel’s Gamora and Black Widow before her, new heroine Rey had been left out of too many toy sets. Most egregious were a set of action figures that featured male leads Finn, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren, along with Chewbacca and a generic pilot and Stormtrooper and the Millennium Falcon playset that featured Finn, Chewbacca and BB-8, even though Rey is the one to fly the ship in The Force Awakens.

But in spite of the growing hashtag campaign #WheresRey, the lack of Rey went largely unnoticed by the general public until recently when a tweet, featuring a letter from an 8-year-old who wanted toy manufacturer Hasbro to know “girls matter,” went viral. The letter was in response to Rey’s absence from the company’s Star Wars Monopoly game, where you can play as Finn, Kylo Ren, Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker (the latter two of whom either don’t or barely appear in the new movie).

Finally, Hasbro was forced to address the issue, but their official statement raised more questions than it answered. They told Entertainment Weekly: “The Star Wars: Monopoly game was released in September, months before the movie’s release, and Rey was not included to avoid revealing a key plot line that she takes on Kylo Ren and joins the Rebel Alliance.”

Admittedly, spoilers for The Force Awakens were a BIG DEAL in the days leading up to and directly following the film’s December release, and Disney even claims they planned this lack of Rey toys to avoid spoilers. In an interview, Paul Southern, head of licensing for Lucasfilm, said, “The fact that she was the ultimate heroine of the film was one of the significant plot points we did want to protect.” This makes a kind of sense, except apparently, the fact that Finn is also a hero of the movie wasn’t considered too spoiler-y.

As many fans have pointed out, including Rey in her scavenger outfit (which she wears almost all of the movie) shouldn’t have been considered a spoiler. Rey was a key figure in The Force Awakens’s trailer, and it only made sense that she was an important part of the movie. If this was solely related to the fact that Rey ends up with Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and it awakens the force within her, the lightsaber didn’t have to be included in early-release toys.

Southern admits that the passion for Rey toys – which are selling “exceptionally well” at Target – caught Disney by surprise, saying, “The excitement around her is a lot more than we were expecting it to be.” Admitting there’s a problem is a good first step, and with Disney now releasing more Star Wars toys that feature Rey because The Force Awakens spoilers are less of a problem, it may seem like our worries over the missing Rey were unfounded.

But #WheresRey proved a point that fans have been making for years: we want female characters in our merchandise. If Disney – and by extension, Marvel – can finally see that in profit, the language they speak best, maybe we won’t need any more hashtag campaigns. Although I’ve got a bad feeling about leaving it up to the companies, we have made our voices heard. Disney and Hasbro have commented on this issue, so they have no more excuses.

While we wait to see if anything has been learned, rejoice in the Rey merch (new and old)! I picked out a few things that I need to run out to the store and get ASAP, so take a look at my list or check out Entertainment Weekly’s full rundown to figure out what you want.

Rey’s Speeder – Lego

Released prior to The Force Awakens, this Lego set helps you recreate Rey’s speeder from her time on Jakku. It comes with extra studs for you to shoot – although it’s probably not recommend you do what I would do and shoot them at people – and an adorable Rey Lego figure. Plus, the price isn’t half-bad for a Lego kit.

Bladebuilders: Rey’s Lightsaber – Hasbro

When I was kid (and honestly, also now), the number one thing I wanted was a lightsaber, and this one lights up and makes noises! This toy may just be a dream come true, as long as the price is right.

Itty Bittys: Rey – Hallmark

I already have several of these itty bitty stuffed animals, so I may be a little biased on this one. But take one look at Rey’s super cute face and tell me you don’t want one. Just go ahead and try.

Rey 3.75-inch Action Figure – Hasbro

The new Rey action figure features her in her “Resistance outfit” that she wears at the end of the movie, and it comes with a lightsaber for her to hold. Whether you end up getting this one or the scavenger version released in September, it’s a win for you either way.

Rey and BB-8 Elite Series Die Cast Action Figure – Disney

The latest version of Disney’s Rey action figure has her lightsaber, but it’s extra cool that you get her staff too. Besides, BB-8 comes along too, and how can you not want a tiny, adorable droid?

In all the controversy surrounding #WheresRey, perhaps TIME contributor Darlena Cunha said it best when she wrote:

“Little girls need to see themselves as heroes. Little girls need to see that they can grow up to be powerful and good. Little girls deserve a chance to imagine strength and perseverance in their own gender. They deserve someone to look up to.

Just as important, so do little boys. Little boys need to see that women are strong and fierce, and that women characters are just as magnetic as men characters. And they need confirmation of their inner monologue when they see a movie that shows just that. The merchandise should match that experience.”

Welcome to the world, Rey. Sadly, because of the current lack of diversity in toys, you may be our only hope at changing things around. But with any luck, in the future, you won’t be alone. May the Force be with us all.