Thankful for: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Perfect-Palatte-Mr-Darcy-Pride-and-Prejudice-quote

Gentle Reader:

As it is the week of our national day of thanks, I determined that a review of tomes for which I am most thankful would be a most felicitous duty. Under such joyful conditions, I find my mind, nay my mind and heart, turn with instinctive abandon to the powerful, un-Zombiefied (oh, what horrors! I shudder, gentle reader, I shudder) words of our dear Miss Austen in Pride and Prejudice.

In other words, I cannot believe I haven’t previously written about Pride and Prejudice as it is one of my favorite books.

firth_2696575bHow can it not be? Isn’t it a touchstone for generations, centuries even? The plucky, courageous Elizabeth Bennet? The darkly brooding, irresistible-in-love Fitzwilliam Darcy? That Pemberly Estate!?! Reams have been written about Pride and Prejudice, over it, under it, around it. Nearly a dozen feature films adaptations, although the one that counts is the one with Colin Firth (IMHO). And countless, literally countless, knock-offs and/or tributes in print and in film.

Why?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife.

Perhaps that opening line, one of the best in literature, captures the reader immediately with its’ humor, and perhaps, ironic truth.

Maybe it’s the scene where Darcy and Elizabeth meet that captures our hearts.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.

‘Come, Darcy,’ said he, ‘I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.’

‘I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.’

. . .’There is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I daresay very agreeable.’ . . .

‘Which do you mean?’ and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. . . .

heart+floral+vintage+Image+GraphicsFairy010bAh, ha ha! That charmer! Perhaps it is that ultimately, Mr. Darcy must
admit and recant his own pride, allowing Elizabeth the ultimate comeuppance.

Pride and Prejudice has been the subject of our book club at least once and is due for a re-reading. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, add it to your 2016 selections. And if you’ve already read it, everyone needs to re-read a great book once in a while.

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I’ve scoured the pages for food references. Emma has the Box Hill picnic scene, of course, but though I can find multiple references to dining opportunities in Pride and Prejudice, I find only references to coffee and porridge in the pages of Pride and Prejudice and haven’t found the first reference to what was being dined upon during the multiple dinners.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants, and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. – He carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him, and then by Sir William, who was not enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, and in a matter which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could hear.

But never fear Gentle Reader! The popularity of Jane Austen comes to our assistance with multiple website devoted to the times of Miss Austen, the food, the clothing, the dances, the music. Here are links, with recipes:

http://www.janeausten.co.uk/online-magazine/regency-recipes/

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/category/regency-food/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/21/jane-austen-food-emma-bennet-dining

MUSIC

The easiest way to go would be the soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice, any of the film versions. Or perhaps all of them.

MOVIE CASTING

My ultimate Mr. Darcy is Colin Firth. <sigh> But if we are recasting: Benedict Cumberbatch.

Elizabeth Bennet: I think Emma Watson would be a good casting now.

Mr. Bingley: Eddie Redmayne

Jane Bennet: Felicity Jones

Mrs. Bennet: Emma Thompsonp&amp;p

That’s all I’ve got! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for another book for which I’m thankful!

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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

paying guests At 566 pages, you would think Sarah Waters’ sixth novel, The Paying Guests, would leave no stone unturned in this tale of the diminished circumstances of an English mother and daughter, the Wrays, who must open their suburban Champion Hill home to a young, married couple of a lower class.  Frances Wray, the isolated, sexually-frustrated, not-quite-closeted daughter, solicitously cares for her widowed mother, who is mourning the loss of her two sons in WW1.  As a result of all of the men being killed, the Wray women must somehow fend for themselves and the renting of a room seems their only option.  The first of my questions is:  if the family consisted of a mother, father, two sons and a daughter, why is it that Frances may retain her own room but Mrs. Wray must move into the former dining room in order to rent a room to the paying guests (Lilian and Leonard Barber)?  Surely there were at least two more rooms if not three?

In any event, Lilian and Leonard, the paying guests to which the title refers, move into the room across the hall from Frances, dragging in their cheap collection of tchotchkes as Frances monitors every movement and sound and smell.

There was no one save Mr. Barber, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, his jacket off, his cuffs rolled back, he was fiddling with a nasty thing he had evidently just hung on the landing wall, a combination barometer-and-clothes-brush set with a lurid orangey varnish.  But lurid touches were everywhere, she saw with dismay:  It was as if a giant mouth had sucked a bag of boiled sweets and then given the house a lick.  The faded carpet in her mother’s old bedroom was lost beneath pseudo-Persian rugs.  The lovely pierglass had been draped slant-wise with a fringed Indian shawl.  A print on one of the walls appeared to be a Classical nude in the Lord Leighton manner.  The wicker birdcage twirled slowly on a ribbon from a hook that had been screwed into the ceiling; inside it was a silk-and-feather parrot on a papier-mâché perch.

LORD-FREDERIC-LEIGHTON-ACTAEA-THE-NYMPH-OF-THE-SHOREActaea, Lord Leighton

     As a result of the Wrays poverty, Frances must undertake all of the drudge work, all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, because her mother (at age 55) is incapable of any of it.  Most of the really hard work Frances must do out of sight of her mother because Mrs. Wray just becomes too verklempt actually witnessing Frances work so hard, feats of physical labor documented by Waters in exquisite detail.

She worked briskly and efficiently, taking her brush and pan from the drawing-room to the top of the stairs and making her way back down, a step at a time; after that she filled a bucket with water, fetched her kneeling-mat, and began to wash the hall floor. Vinegar was all she used. Soap left streaks on the black tiles. The first, wet rub was important for loosening the dirt, but it was the second bit that really counted, passing the wrung cloth over the floor in one supple, unbroken movement… There! How pleasing each glossy tile was. The gloss would fade in about five minutes as the surface dried; but everything faded. The vital thing was to make the most of the moments of brightness. There was no point dwelling on the scuffs.

     Soon, in Waters’ overwrought, lavender prose, Frances turns toward the lollipop light of Lili and becomes obsessed by and ultimately in love with her.  In the words of Julia Keller, NPR’s reviewer of The Paying Guests, Frances and Lilian “begin a red-hot affair.”

Waters is a master of the slow build, of the gradual assemblage of tiny random moments that result in a life-altering love. She captures the deep emotion that can underlie the crude mechanics of sex, the poetry that keeps it from being just a midnight merging of limbs and orifices. Forget about Fifty Shades of Grey; this novel is one of the most sensual you will ever read, and all without sacrificing either good taste or a “G” rating.

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/23/347418535/a-historic-backdrop-frames-forbidden-love-in-the-paying-guests

   The reviews of this book glow.  I was so excited to read it, I bought the hardbound copy.  Michael Dirda in reviewing for the Washington Post says “that the reader is in for a seriously heart-pounding roller-coaster ride.”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/michael-dirda-reviews-the-paying-guests-by-sarah-waters/2014/09/10/811596ac-351f-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html

     Unfortunately, I did not agree.  It seemed to me there was quite a bit of walking back and forth between rooms and a whole lot of waiting for something worth talking about to happen.  I wasn’t enthralled by Frances’ dissatisfaction and inertia, her mother’s utter helplessness, Lili’s manipulative tackiness, or Leonard’s boorish charm.  I had no one to care about, no one to root for and lots of pages of detail to wade through before reaching the completely unbelievable conclusion.  But be advised, I am a minority of one from what I can find.

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     Should my book club choose The Paying Guests, I would forego all food mentioned in the book.  Cauliflower cheese, well-beaten skirt steak, etc. and try for something a bit more “clever.”  Paninis perhaps, a pressed food to represent the repressed nature of Frances.  Pasta with lots of olive oil as an homage to Leonard’s greasiness.  A hard boiled egg for Mrs. Wray.  Something pink and sticky, like taffy, for Lili.

Salt-Water-Taffy_company_gallery_image

MUSIC

    Despite the setting of the 1920s, there’s no mention of jazz, or the fun clubs like the Savile where the Downton Abbey girls seem to go.  http://vimeo.com/92133776

    When Frances and Lili go roller skating there is mention of some music, “mild old things from thirty or forty years before.”

Funiculi Funicula

The Merry Widow Waltz  (wonder what it sounds like?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELufSzviGoU)

MOVIE CASTING

     Given the time period of the book and my status as such a fan of Downton Abbey, it’s definitely hard to steer away from that show’s cast for a suggested movie cast of The Paying Guests.

Leonard — Allen Leach (Tom Bransom)

Frances — Daisy Lewis (Miss Bunting)

Lilian — Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare)

Mrs. Wray — Elizabeth McGovern

    In the interest of fun, I’ll also try a non-Downton cast.

Frances — Romola Garai

Lilian — Imogen Poots

Mrs. Wray — Emma Thompson — because I LOVE HER

Leonard — Henry Cavill

     Happy Reading!