Friday, January 9, 2015

An Austen A Day

My sister has been in from Reno (where she goes to school) for the holidays which means we're watching movies just about every day, enjoying our time off between semesters. As avid Jane Austen fans (Janeite's) we decided to do an "Austen" a day, which seems like the most brilliant idea I have EVER had. Sorry, not to toot my own horn, but it kinda deserves the tooting right now. ;)

We usually limit ourselves to the amount of Austen we view, as it tends to be rather hard on our spirits at some point. Austen fans will know exactly what I'm talking about, for only in an Austen could you be this mesmerizingly happy while simultaneously being devastatingly depressed. There is a fine line between the two in Austenland, as fellow Janeite's will attest. I have to say I was unsure how we'd be by the end of our marathon... it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing, especially if that good thing is Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Captain Wentworth and the gang. Most Janeite's would also say they preferred "Austenland" to real life, because of course they (we) do. I've never met anyone like her characters, and that's a hauntingly sad fact of life. And then the Psychologist in me (eventual at least) thought what an interesting social experiment it would be to keep track of how it goes...for better or for worse (and I'm sort of expecting the latter).

Austen men are so difficult to cast in my opinion, because the stories are so beloved. Everyone that's a fan has read them a million times and has a very clear picture on the way the characters are supposed to be. We Janeites are very protective of our Austen men

Day 1: Mansfield Park, (1999) starring Frances O' Conner, Jonny Lee Miller

First of all, Mansfield is my least favorite Austen. It's not that I don't like it, because I love everything that Austen did, it's just that I find the heroine, Fanny Price, to be rather unlikeable. She' put it lightly. However, what Fanny Price lacks, Edmund sort of makes up in his loveable nature. Sure, he's sort of oblivious for his own feelings, but that seems to be a sort of general theme amongst majority of Austens. Despite my feelings about the novel, the movie adaptation was wonderful. I never thought I'd say that about Mansfield, but it was. I had not seen this version and I'm really glad we took a chance with it. The actress that plays Fanny brings a less annoying approach to the character and they've cut out a lot of the parts in the novel (due to time) where Fanny is complaining about things. But what really makes it *wonderful* is the performance by Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund. Good heavens! I've never been more attracted to Edmund in my life. I've always liked Jonny, but he was *PERFECT* in this role. That surprised me because he's also my favorite Knightly (which I'll get to next), so I thought it would be difficult to also see him as Edmund. NOT THE CASE. He was everything Edmund should be if not more.

Day 2 & 3: Emma, (2009) starring Romola Garai, Johnny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon 
     *Episodes 1 -4

Emma is a tricky story because as Austen said, she created  character only she could love. Emma is a rich spoiled brat most of the time and while she has some really good qualities, they're overshadowed by her conceitedness and vanity. She thinks she knows what's best for people and inserts her hands and opinions into everyone's life, but she gets it wrong the majority of the time. She's not completely unlikeable, though in my opinion she is the only Austen heroine who does not deserve her Austen man. Mr. Knightly is seriously flawless. He might be the most *perfect* Austen man, as he doesn't do anything wrong and seemingly has no faults. We were discussing this during the series; while he is not my *favorite* Austen man (we'll get to that later) he is probably the best in terms of character. Knightly is smart, compassionate, friendly, generous, kind, loyal and a really good friend to everyone, including Emma. His one "fault" if you were absolutely irate about finding one, would be that he lectures Emma when she does things that she shouldn't (very badly done Emma!) but who came blame him when she sometimes acts like a total jerk (Box Hill anyone??)! I don't too much care for Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma, and while this is 4 hours, it's worth it. BECAUSE JONNY LEE MILLER IS PERFECTION. I didn't think it was possible that one actor could play two different leading Austen men and get away with it. Seriously. I'm pretty sure no one else has done it nor do I think anyone else could. When he's Knightly he's Knightly, when he's Edmund, he's Edmund; you never think otherwise. This is my version of Emma; Romola plays her perfectly and actually all the characters are cast well.

Day 4: Pride & Prejudice, (2005) starring Keira Knightly & Matthew Macfadyen

Before I lose all credibility, let me just say that we were going to watch the 6 hour BBC version but couldn't because of time constraints. This 2 hour one does in a bind, and unfortunately that's all we could do this time. Anyways, Pride and Prejudice is my Austen and also my favorite novel of all time. Every single character is written to perfection and the story is so amazing. I read that Elizabeth and Darcy were Austen's favorite characters and it really shows in the care she used to construct them. I mean who doesn't love Pride and Prejudice?? NO, SERIOUSLY WHO?! Darcy is my favorite Austen man because how could he not be? What I think is so compelling about the story is how relatable the characters are. They are by no means perfect. Elizabeth and Darcy at time are both prejudiced and both prideful and really struggle with their surprising affection towards each other. Perhaps that's why it's the most popular Austen novel, as I think everyone at some time goes through similar things. As far as movie adaptations go, the 6 hour BBC is the only Pride & Prejudice and Collin Firth is the ONLY Mr. Darcy. However, I think Keir Knightly actually does a good job as Elizabeth and even though Matthew Macfadyen is not Colin Firth, he does a good job as well. Judi Dench is AH-MAZING as Lady Catherine de Bourg and I actually like Rosamund Pike as Jane a lot better than the girl who plays her in the BBC version.


Day 5: Northanger Abbey, (2007) starring Felicity Jones & J.J. Field 

I love this book and this edition of the movie is the best. Who is not in love with J.J. Field, please tell me that! He's the best Tilney there is. While Catherine is rather naive about the world, she is a good charming character (unlike Emma), though she's no Lizzy Bennett (but then again who is?). Tilney is such a wonderful character, with good manners, wit, charm, and that boyishness one can only have at 22 years old. He's mature, don't get me wrong, but he has this, well like I already said, boyish charm that makes one weak in the knees. He's forgiving and funny and all together good. Much like Knightly, he's nearly flawless, but not self righteous by any means. Surprising when you realize he comes from General Tilney and has Captain Tilney as an older brother. I also really like his sister, she's a good friend to Catherine and she's good to Tilney. The scene where he and Catherine go riding and get caught in the storm and come back with mud splatters on their faces and and their clothes might be my *favorite* scene, excluding ***SPOILER ALERT*** the push-Tilney-up-against-a-tree-and-kiss-him-after-he-proposes at the end. Luckey jerk.

Day 6: Sense & Sensibility, (2008) starring Charity Wakefield, Hattie Morahan, Dan Stevens & David Morrissey    

S&S is my second least favorite Austen. That being said, I bought this new edition to try out in hope of increasing my likeness. And it actually worked. The girls who play the sisters did a great job and I have to say what I was most excited about was watching Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey) Edward Ferrars was a real pleasure. He's one of the greats among Austen men, and I truly have a new found love for this novel/movie. It was a 3 hour "mini series" by BBC which is why I gave it a shot. I'm sort of a BBC snob when it comes to Austen; they typically do it the best. And I'm convinced that the longer they are, the better (and more true to the novel!). If you're like me and don't really enjoy S&S on the regular, give this edition a shot! You won't regret it! :) 

[Our mom watched part of this movie with us and really liked it. She loves Downton but hasn't really gotten into the Austens. After this was over, she proclaimed "I'm a Janer!!" to which brought lots of smiles and laughs out of my sisters and I, and then we quickly explained the term in "Janeite" and she had to earn that title with a bit more viewing and reading. ;) I was sat utterly perplexed that THIS of all of Austen's stories was the one to bring her into the fold.]  

Day 7: Persuasion,(2007) starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones

There isn't a more perfect way to end the marathon than with this gem. As Jane Austen's last novel, this is by far the best conclusion to the story. I don't think I can even describe how much I love this story. It's a very close second to P&P. Captain Wentworth is also tied as my *favorite* Austen man. I feel like this is one of Jane's lesser known titles, but it's SO GOOD if you haven't seen it yet, you should watch it immediately!! It's all about second chances and rectifying your mistakes and who wouldn't like another chance at that!? Especially if the person you lost was Wentworth. After falling in love, Anne breaks off their engagement because he's beneath her class (poor and doesn't have a title) and newly enlisted in the Navy, after which he goes and makes a name for himself, as well as a hefty fortune, and then comes back 8 years later to find Anne still unmarried (and at a "spinster" age of 27) and that's where the story begins. Wentworth is actually the most wealthy Austen man, which is pretty crazy if you think who he's up against. What I love about Wentworth is that he's a self-made man, rich not because of his fathers fathers fathers, but because he put in the hard work and did it himself. AND he's a Navy guy, so he's basically a total dream boat. He's charming, kind, handsome, loyal, and good mannered. And while he holds a *small* sort of grudge against Anne for being persuaded (I HAD to!) by her friend to not marry him, who could blame him!? She broke his heart! He's by no means mean to her, but he does offer the best sort of jab at her character during that famous dinner scene. Poor Anne. She knows she was wrong but has to suffer through quite a lot before she gets her "happy ending". And they both love each other the whole time, which I really like about the story. It's all about working things out, forgiveness, and starting new.   


Well, all 6 movies are done and I have to say that I'm feeling rather sad. Today will be my first day without my companion Jane and I feel sort of lonely knowing that I'm not going home to one of her stories. It's been A LOT of Austen in one week, which also included watching Miss Austen Regrets, a biopic from BBC about the latter part of Jane's life. And it got me seriously thinking about life and love. Austen would definitely NOT have wanted pity that she never married, and I would never dream of pitying her, but part of me wishes that she had found her *happy ending* or did she? I know she was happy, but did she wish she had married after all? Was Persuasion her way of writing the love story she wished she had? Of fixing her mistakes (on page) so that she could've been with the one she loved at the very least in fiction?  I wish I could sit down and talk with her and ask were a whole bunch of questions over tea on a cold English morning. How divine would that be?!

What I have learned is that *real* love is worth waiting for. Settling just to settle does not bring happiness. It might take a whole lot longer, like in Anne's case, but it will be worth it in the end. Who would want to settle for a Mr. Elliot anyways? People sometimes criticize those that are getting older and still unmarried that they are "too picky" or have a "check list no one can meet". This drives me absolutely mad. Sure, there's a point when being too "picky" could lead to never finding someone, but I wouldn't classify myself or the unmarried people I know as being "too picky". I mean, a girl's gotta have standards or she'll end up with the Mr. Wickham's of the world! And since when is having high standards a bad thing?!

The truth is, like most things of value, love is a gamble. There is no guarantee we will meet someone we love. Maybe that's what makes it so exciting. We should neither close ourselves off to the idea nor stress in desperation to achieve it. Jane taught me that if you can't be happy with yourself, just you alone as a person, you can't be happy in a relationship. It's okay to want certain things in a partner, just as it's okay to NOT want certain things in a partner. We don't have to settle for the first opportunity that appears. Let's not be so worried trying to find our *happily ever afters* that we forget to enjoy our lives in the moment. 

Lastly, Jane taught me to be passionate about life. She taught me to make the best of the situations we are given as well as working hard to change them if we desire. We can achieve our dreams, we just have to invest in them and in ourselves. We have to be who we are. There will be Lady Catharine's showing up and pounding on our doors in the middle of the night questioning our merit and our character, but we can stand up for ourselves! We can overcome anything if we put our minds to it!           

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Let it Be

And when the night is cloudy,
there is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow,
let it be.

There have been times in my life when this song has been my constant companion. There's something so calming about Paul McCartney's voice; like a rising tide, it washes over you and pulls back in its wake, all your worries, doubts and fears. For a mere 4 minutes, whatever you're going through doesn't feel as bad anymore. There's hope, a light that shines on you, warming from the inside out. That's what makes the song so compelling- that message of hope, those words of wisdom to "let it be".

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom,
let it be.

Paul McCartney wrote the song for the Beatles after having a dream about his mum Mary, 10 years after she had died. He had been in personal turmoil and dreamt that she came to him with reassurances and comfort. Mother Mary, while sounding biblical in nature is actually his literal mother, Mary. 

And in my hour of darkness
she is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom;
Let it be.

Obviously a deeply moving experience and what turned into an extremely personal song, which is why I think it's so captivating and spiritual. It's so genuine and touching, coming from such a place of love and hope, it's no wonder that it was as popular as it was and still is today. 

Let it be.

Three simple words yet sometimes that's the hardest thing in the world. When we don't have control over whatever is going on in our lives, it can make us feel helpless, frustrated, scared, and even disheartened. Darkness closes in on us and we can't seem to find our way back- lost on the black raging sea without a compass to point north. Until, that is, we spot a lighthouse in the distance and then all we have to do is follow it back into shore. McCartney's voice has always served as a lighthouse for me- a beacon of hope and happiness. There's so much we don't have control over and at some point we have to learn to put hands up, wave the white flag and stop trying to make sense of everything that happens

This song has been playing on repeat for the last several months as life seemed to once again spiral out of control and I struggled to put the pieces together. I'm reminded as I sit and think about how I learned this lesson the hardest way there is- sitting next to my sister as she laid in the hospital bed a couple years ago, fighting for her life, her cold limp hand wrapped in both of my worried palms. I sat there, just beside myself, struggling to understand, to wrap my head around what was happening. Everything was so dark, so grim, so absolutely devastating that it felt like I couldn't see; it was just blackness for what felt like an infinite amount of time until a small piece of hope, a little ember of light pierced the darkness and pulled me back. 

"There will be an answer, let it be."

Lines that radiate warmth and comfort, like a big hug from the sun that wraps around your entire being and doesn't let go. They speak of patience (a definite virtue but nearly impossible for people like me) but that doesn't come easy; not at least when the floor is collapsing underneath you and you're just trying to hold on. I've never had patience tested like I had in those 72 horrible hours, waiting, hoping, begging for answers to questions not even the doctors with their fancy medical degrees could answer.
The hard lesson I learned is not everything can be fixed right away and sometimes nothing can be done. Not all the answers are available now. But they will be, in time. And eventually, the answers did  come, as they so often do, in the most simple if not perplexingly obvious ways. I'm reminded of that when I think back to those long hours spent in that uncomfortable chair under the fluorescent light bulbs of the ICU room. Or the moment I realized that miracles sometimes hide in the strangest of places. Not all problems in life are this severe or dramatic, but they are the ones that really stick with you, that teach you and mold you into who you are. They're the ones that come back to you when other problems or troubles arise, those little beacons of light that remind us how to get back to the shore.

What I've learned is this; learn to leave your problems behind you, learn how to move on with your life, and learn to let go. I know I'm not the first to say this and I won't be the last, but "letting go" of whatever it is we're struggling with really is hardest thing to do. Some experiences, mistakes, or people take a lot of time before it can be put behind us. Life can be tricky that way.

Sometimes we have to learn just to "let it be", and in my life, that's some of the best advice I've ever received. There's something so peaceful about giving up the reins and just existing in the current moment; to forget everything else, just for a minute, a day, a night and just BE

 And when the night is cloudy,
there is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow,
let it be.