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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Alexander McCall Smith - A Modern-Day Jane Austen?

What do the Georgian female writer Jane Austen and the prolific modern novelist Alexander McCall Smith have in common?

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  From                                      Image from Wikipedia:

You must have heard about McCall Smith’s immensely popular Ladies’ Detective Agency series. You might also have come across his Scottish amateur sleuth, Isabel Dalhousie’s adventures in Edinburgh, and about the amusing inhabitants of 44, Scotland Street. But how do these relate to the writings of Jane Austen?

Not only do both the novelists select intelligent women as their main characters; they have created a range of characters both likeable and odious, with their little quirks and idiosyncrasies, which are largely revealed through clever, witty dialogue. Neither writer describes the great events of the world, but rather about a small community of people, a microcosm of the society at large.  They both write about everyday life and things that might happen to normal people, with a humorous touch.

It therefore comes as no surprise that McCall Smith is an admirer of Jane Austen as a writer, and often refers to her in his novels. In this article from the Star Tribune, he admits that he is inspired by Jane Austen, praising her  novel of manners.

“I'm a great fan of Austen and also of Barbara Pym, who wrote wonderful social comedies that I find very amusing. I'm very interested in how important customs and social expectations are in creating and maintaining stable societies. I think if we ignore the small courtesies, we fundamentally weaken the bonds that make society possible. Then I'm afraid we're faced with people who can be quite feral in their approach to life.”

In his article “Beauty Locked Out”, published in the New Criterion, McCall Smith argues that the reason why Jane Austen remains such a popular novelist is that 

“Her novels seem to fulfil a deeper need in today's readers: the yearning for an ordered and innocent world in which violence and conflict are absent.”.

The same could be said about the novels of McCall Smith, where goodness always wins in the end. Like Jane Austen, McCall Smith makes fun of people’s “follies and inconsistencies”, as Jane Austen would put it. In his books, McCall Smith shows that each character has their flaws, and they can learn from these and turn things around.

In his upcoming 44 Scotland Street novel, McCall Smith jokes about Jane Austen in a chapter, which he recently released to his fans on Facebook. You should check out this highly amusing take on McCall Smith’s humour, if you haven’t experienced it yet!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Revisited

Still being kept super busy with my baby, I will try to post to my blog every now and then. I still actively follow other Jane Austen blogs, although I may not have the time to comment or contribute to them that often.

This month being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, many bloggers have chosen to discuss themes related to Jane Austen’s most popular novel. Some time ago, I spotted this lovely little documentary on Pride and Prejudice in a Dutch blog,  Jane Austen.

Part 1

Pride and Prejudice Revisited interviews various well-known and established Jane Austen biographers and screenwriters for the adaptations, who each recount their experiences with Jane Austen. It is interesting to hear what first attracted them to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular, and why they have continued their association with the writer.

The documentary also discusses the modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, from Bridget Jones’ Diary to Bride and Prejudice, pointing out why all the the vastly different adaptations have been ever so popular. This brings light to the immortality of Jane’s novels and their adaptability to modern culture.

According to the documentary – and I would have to agree – it was the ground-breaking 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that truly brought Pride and Prejudice to the masses and brought people to love Jane Austen. Perhaps the sexualisation of Mr Darcy with the ‘wet shirt scene’ had something to do with it…?!

The screenwriter for the 1995 miniseries, Andrew Davies, points out how Jane Austen’s novels read differently in different eras, resulting in very different adaptations of the same novels. Wouldn’t you agree that the popular 2005 film with Keira Knightley  caters much more to the modern taste than the tamer, more slow-paced 1980 version for instance? (I will, however, stay partial to Davies’ 1995 version, with its amazing period detail, witty dialogue and slow progress towards culmination, as in the novel).

The documentary also analyses why people have grown to adore and admire the character of Elizabeth, who has become the ideal woman for many – she is, after all, both beautiful and intelligent, with “a twinkle in her eye” (well said!) and a wit unmatched in the world of literature.

Part 2

The second part of the documentary discusses, for example, why the proud, arrogant Mr Darcy remains so attractive to readers.

Sue Birtwistle, the producer for the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, makes the interesting point how most stories in romantic fiction actually retell the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and how they become attracted to each other against all odds.

She also draws attention to how the characters in the novel are archetypes, characters that live on in literature as well as in life. We all know a flirtatious, attention-seeking Lydia and an odious, off-putting Mr Collins, don’t we?

Part 3

Something that often goes unnoticed is how Jane Austen, through her stories, brings light to the snobbery and injustice in society. The third part of the documentary reveals how this translates to other cultures as well, showing the examples of the cultures of Iran and India, where women sometimes have to go against their family and society, just like the characters in Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice is a story that could very well happen in modern-day Asia. 

The documentary points out the the huge effect that the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has had on the world of costume drama. Can you honestly say that you remember any quality costume drama before the year 1995?


I really enjoyed the documentary, as I always love to hear opinions on my favourite novel, and what could be more interesting than to hear the viewpoints of those who are experts on the subject! I also love the snippets from  various adaptations that make up this lovely documentary.

Have you already seen this and did you learn anything interesting from watching it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith


Happy New Year to my readers! Hope you have had lovely holidays and have been able to relax in the company of our favourite writer…

Did you receive any exciting Jane Austen-related gifts?

I got this delightful read as a present for Christmas and thought I’d share my experience of reading it with you.

“A Walk With Jane Austen” is a memoir and a travelogue written by Lori Smith, an American writer who may be better known for her recent book “The Jane Austen Guide to Life”. You might have also visited her popular blog, Jane Austen Quotes.

Written six years ago, “A Walk” is still relevant to any fan of Jane Austen. The author has many parallels with Jane Austen; both are women, authors, single and Christian. In the book, the author travels to places where Jane Austen lived and visited, reflecting on how she herself relates to Jane Austen at various levels and what she can learn from her. As she travels around England, Smith compares her own experiences of faith, spirituality, family and relationships with those of Jane Austen.

Smith believes to be a similar Christian to Jane Austen, with a firm, pious faith, which is of a personal nature rather than fixed to the evangelical movement. Interestingly, Lori Smith, like Jane Austen, has grown up in an environment influenced by the evangelicals, which both authors criticise to some degree. However, the focus on Christianity in this work is perhaps a little too heavy for me personally.

“A Walk With Jane Austen” is a thoughtful, introspective memoir. The book is bound together with apt quotes from Jane Austen – a nice touch by someone who has worked hard to put those together in her blog. The assumed love story keeps one captivated till the very end, but Smith’s style may perhaps seem a little naive and desperate in places. “A Walk” being a travelogue, I would have liked to have my curiosity satisfied with a little more description of each place that Smith visited during her tour, instead of the lengthy self-reflections that dominate the book. However, “A Walk” was a pleasant enough read to snuggle up with during the cosy Christmas nights.