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Jane Austen News – Issue 139

The Jane Austen News takes us to Pakistan this week

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 


Pride and Prejudice Retold in Pakistan

US-based Pakistani author, Soniah Kamal, will soon be publishing her new book, Unmarriagable, which is (as you might have guessed from the heading) Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice retold in modern-day Pakistan.

The book is due to be released in January 2019, but it was in the pipeline for Kamal long before this time – she’s wanted to write a Pakistani version of the novel since she was 16 as she loves, “this story of five sisters, their ineffectual father and desperate mother who just wants her daughters to ‘settle down’ (so Pakistani)”, and because she “really longed to read fiction that reflected my world and so without realizing it, I was following Toni Morrison’s advice to write what you want to read.”

The story centres around the Binat family. Lizzy is recast as Alys, while Mr Darcy becomes Valentine Darsee. Kamal has kept much of the original Pride and Prejudice storyline, which many die-hard Austen fans will be pleased to hear.

The challenge of doing a retelling (versus an ‘inspired by’) in order to satisfy Jane Austen fans is that you have to hit all the beats in the plot as well as stay true to the essence of each of the characters. But then for readers who are not coming for Austen, you have to write a story that stands on its own legs. Setting it in Pakistan meant writing for those familiar with the culture and those new to it. Writing Unmarriageable was a real juggling act.

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Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields on Jane Austen’s Life

Jane Austen – A Life
by Claire Tomalin

Reviewed By Arti of Ripple Effects

As a biographer, Tomalin’s account of Jane Austen’s life is meticulous and exhaustive. Her analysis is critical and sharp, her writing style bold, precise and cutting. The following excerpts are prime examples.

When speculating about the possible consequence of Mrs. Austen sending her infants away to be raised, Tomalin makes the following inference:

“The most striking aspect of Jane’s adult letters is their defensiveness. They lack tenderness towards herself as much as towards others. You are aware of the inner creature, deeply responsive and alive, but mostly you are faced with the hard shell; and sometimes a claw is put out, and a sharp nip is given to whatever offends. They are the letters of someone who does not open her heart; and in the adult who avoids intimacy you sense the child who was uncertain where to expect love or to look for security, and armoured herself against rejection.”

Or this to say about mother and daughter:

“Mrs. Austen had a sharp tongue for neighbours, appreciated by her daughter and passed on to her.”

Or, with the episode of Jane accepting and later recanting Harris Bigg-Wither’s marriage proposal, Tomalin’s view is clear:

“We would naturally rather have Mansfield Park and Emma than the Bigg-Wither baby Jane Austen might have given the world, and who would almost certainly have prevented her from writing any further books.”

If you can appreciate such kind of abrasive commentaries, you would certainly find it entertaining to read Tomalin’s than an otherwise ordinary biographical sketch. Ironically, I have a feeling that this is the kind of biographies Jane would have written if she could write without censure.

Putting her incisive analysis to good use, Tomalin explores Jane’s creative process, giving credits to her imaginative ingenuity. The limitation of physical and social mobility render Jane’s world parochial, yet her characters and story lines are diverse and innovative. Her writing are evidences of pure creative concoctions.

“…essentially she is inventing, absorbed by the form and possibilities of the novel… The world of her imagination was separate and distinct from the world she inhabited.”

For Jane, it is imagination and not experience that has given her wings to soar outside of her bleak circumstances. A vivid example is the writing of the sprightly Pride and Prejudice. The novel was written during a time of family tragedy with the death of Cassandra’s fiancé Tom Fowle, and amidst Jane’s own disappointment with the evaporation of hope with Tom LeFroy.

All in all, Tomalin’s sharp and cutting writing style works towards Jane’s favour. Her biography is resourceful and entertaining, her analysis incisive, and her conclusion moving. Above all, Jane would have found it amusing and satisfying.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, includes an additional 16 pages of photos. Buy online here!

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Penguin; New edition edition
ISBN-10: 0140296905
ISBN-13: 978-0140296907
RRP: £9.99

 

Jane Austen by Carol Shields

Reviewed By Arti of Ripple Effects

Carol Shield’s Jane Austen is a succinct and gentler rendition of Jane’s life. Shields and her daughter, the writer Anne Giardini, were presenters at the JASNA AGM in Richmond, Virginia in 1996. This book came out five years after that. Shields has crafted a highly readable literary gem, adorned by her lucid and flowing writing style.

As a novelist, Shields’ main thrust is to trace Jane’s development as a writer. Exploring her family circumstances as she was growing up, Shields presents to us a gifted youth of exuberant spirit, one who had known the joy of theatrical performances and experienced the exhilarating power of humor. Jane’s ingenuity lies in her parodies. As a young contributor to her older brother James’ weekly magazine The Loiterer , she was already a skillful writer of satires. Shield notes that:

“…it is the satirical form of her youthful writing that astonishes us today. What makes a child of twelve or thirteen a satirist?

… Jane Austen had been nurtured, certainly, in a circle appreciative of burlesque… but she was also a small presence in a large and gifted household. Her desire to claim the attention of her parents and siblings can be assumed. She gave them what they wanted, that which would make them laugh and marvel aloud at her cleverness”

This yearning to entertain, influence and be acknowledged remained the motivation for Jane’s writing throughout her life. Her youthful gigs and satires transformed into full-fledged novels. Just take Northanger Abbey for example. It is a burlesque of the Gothic in a style which she was so familiar with since her girlhood days. And a look at the characters like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, or Mrs. Elton in Emma, readers could readily appreciate Jane’s “comic brilliance and… consummate artistry”.

Shields offers in-depth analysis of Austen’s works, exploring not just the writing but the psyche of a brilliant mind. Like Tomalin, she dispels the myth of art imitating life, and credits Jane’s imagination as the key ingredient of her ingenuity:

“Her novels were conceived and composed in isolation. She invented their characters, their scenes and scenery, and their moral framework. The novelistic architecture may have been borrowed from the eighteenth-century novelists, but she made it new, clean, and rational, just as though she’d taken a broom to the old fussiness of plot and action. She did all this alone.”

Considering the physical and social limitations confining Jane, it was her writing that transported her to brave new worlds, and the vehicle was her imagination.

As I finished reading these two biographies, Virginia Woolf’s praise of Jane Austen resonated in my mind:

“Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote.”

While we lament that Jane had left only six complete novels upon her untimely death at forty-one, we treasure these legacies of imagination and the inspiration they evoke for generations to come.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition
ISBN-10: 0753812568
ISBN-13: 978-0753812563
RRP: £7.99

 

Arti reviews movies, books, arts and entertainment on her blog Ripple Effects. She has pleasure in many things, in particular, the work and wit of Jane Austen.

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Art Imitating Life

 

Written By Arti of Ripple Effects

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art or…neither? After reading Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields on the life of Jane Austen, I am inclined to draw that conclusion. The often sanguine outlook of Austen’s works is deceptive. The seemingly jovial ending may lead some to assume they are reading the simplistic stories of a woman wrapped in romantic bliss all her life.

Reality is, that Austen could persevere, write and be published was already an incredible achievement considering the confining social environment she was in. Instead of embracing the normative female role in comfort, she chose to tread the road less traveled to become a writer despite the gloomy prospect of poor spinsterhood, enduring rejection even from her own mother. She wrote in secret and struggled in isolation. For a long period she battled depression. Upon her death, her beloved sister Cassandra could not attend her funeral because the presence of females at such events were not sanctioned, apparently for fear of any outbursts of emotion.

It is Austen’s imagination that empowers her to break free of her reality and to rise above her constraints. She has created her art from the palette of imagination, as Tomalin has lucidly observed:

“Hampshire is missing from the novels, and none of the Austens’ neighbours, exotic, wicked or merely amusing, makes recognizable appearance. The world of her imagination was separate and distinct from the world she inhabited.”

Austen’s contemporary, the renowned Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe has attested, it is the imagination, and not real-life experience, that gives rise to story-telling. A scene in the movie Becoming Jane (2007) has vividly illustrated this point.

In the famous little book, The Educated Imagination, a must-read for any literature student, the late great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye states that :

“The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.”

Austen has great proficiency in the language of imagination. In her novels, she has created a world that never was, but one that makes her readers yearn for. There is no Mr. Darcy in real life, or Elizabeth Bennet for that matter, but we could well use them as the ideal types to measure by, or, to strive for.

What about the satirist in Austen? How can the social critic be extracted from reality? How can one write social commentaries devoid of real life input? Austen may have toiled in isolation for fear of social repercussion, she did not write in a vacuum. While her art did not imitate her life, Austen had the chance to sharpen her observation from the very public sitting-room of her home and those of her relatives and friends, an opportunity that was conducive to her novel writing, as Virginia Woolf has pointed out. Ever since her childhood, the Austen home was the hub of family readings and discussions. Her brothers grew up to be men well versed in the fields of the military, clergy, and business.
In her ingenious way, by satirizing the things that ought not to be, Austen is bringing out the world that ought to be. In Frye’s words:

“The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.”

If art imitates life, it would be just a reproduction; if life imitates art, well… ours would be one very wacky world. But life could well be the reason for creating art, channeling our imagination to build a sublime vision of the ideal.

 

Arti reviews movies, books, arts and entertainment on her blog Ripple Effects. She has pleasure in many things, in particular,
the work and wit of Jane Austen.

Visual: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh


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