The Not Just Jane Project Update: Book 1

Good morning! I’m so glad you’re here. You look lovely !!! How’s your day going so far ?!?

Mine is going rather … energetically, as you can see. I wish I could say this was

I love you all. Even you Steven, and even though the bags under my eyes are totally your fault.

I love you all. Even you Steven, and even though the bags under my eyes are totally your fault.

because I went to bed early last night after previously staying up past my bedtime watching BBC programming, but the truth is, I’ve now gone so far beyond tired that I’ve moved past exhaustion and come out the other side to awake again. I blame Steven Moffatt. Do you guys know how many “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” clips you can find on Youtube ?!? And do not even get me started on the soundtrack compilations that are out there.

Ok. Now that you’ve allowed me to indulge my inner fangirl for a moment (thank you for that – I feel so much better now) we can get on with the articulately reasoned, intellectual discourse of the day:

Ugh. You guys. Emma Woodhouse, like, so totally gets on my nerves.

If you missed it when I announced my 2014 Reading Challenge, you can catch up here. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Don't look at me like that Emma - I don't like you, either

Don’t look at me like that Emma – I don’t like you, either

The first novel on this year’s list is Jane Austen’s “Emma” and I have to say that so far, things are not going well for Ms. Woodhouse and I. I know she’s intentionally unlikeable at the start of the novel (apparently Austen has been quoted as saying, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”) so as to make her transformation by the end more dramatic and satisfying for the reader …

… but knowing something about an early 19th century novel and appreciating it are two different things. Particularly if you’ve only read a few chapters and are prone to making comparisons to certain other Austen heroines (Hi, Lizzie!) in your mind. Not that I consider fictional characters to be close personal friends, or anything. Ahem.

Aside from the fact that I clearly need to get out more, what I’m taking away from my reading experience so far is that it looks like I maybe probably just might not be as savvy and forward and enlightened as I imagine myself to be, and that I might actually, in fact, hold my friends fictional characters to certain expectations and standards of behaviour that are based on deep-seated gender stereotypes.

Or, to take off my geek glasses and put it another way: I only like it when the fictional men in my life are unlikeable. John Luther, Gregory House and Jeff Winger make me swoon, yet Emma Woodhouse only makes me snarky. The media seems to be having a bit of an “Emma” moment: people are reacting in similar ways to a number of female characters featured in narratives right now, such as Lady Edith on “Downton Abbey” or the cast of “Girls” and it’s definitely something that I’m going to try and be more aware of as I’m reading, and will come back to in my review of the book.

I haven’t unpacked what all this means to me yet, and how it’s going to make me view and participate in my relationships going forward; but I will. And in the meantime, I have to admit I love knowing that the catalyst for what’s sure to be a great discussion involves mentioning a 2014 Golden Globe nominee in the same breath as an author born in 1775.

Is there a fictional character who made you re-think some of your own assumptions about the world? Tell me all about it in the Comments!

love amb

18 thoughts on “The Not Just Jane Project Update: Book 1

  1. Me, too! Emma (the character, less so the novel) has always grated on me, even with the moral makeover. (Oops. Spolier?)

    I’ve always taken this to be some personal deficiency on my part.

    And now that I see you suffer the same symptoms, I know it’s a personal deficiency.


    Actually, I’m relieved to find a brilliant reader like yourself gets the same hit!

    • Hey, I’ve seen “Clueless” – I know how this story ends! (Incidentally, I like Cher Horowitz a lot better than Emma Woodhouse, too. And not just because she gets to make out with Paul Rudd at the end).

      You crack me up. And – brilliant?! Seriously?!? Oh Diddy, flattery will get you everywhere, doll.

      • Me, too! The Cher character was quite a bit more sympathetic (to me) than Emma.

        Emma’s the Austen novel where I have to acknowledge that it’s a “great” novel (one of the great social novels, without which later masterpieces like George Elliot’s Middlemarch could not have been written) without actually liking it that much, except for some of the minor characters. Sense and Sensibility is not nearly as “good” as a novel (ridiculous melodramatic elements in the back stories) but is more enjoyable and has more sympathetic leads.

        That said, Gwyneth Paltrow did a lot better job with Emma than I would have expected.

      • *swoon* I knew you’d understand!

        On another, eerily compatible note, I literally JUST finished reading an article about Middlemarch (which I’ve never read) and found it fascinating.

        And I agree with you 100% about S&S being not as “good” but miles more entertaining. Would you just get out of my head already, please?!

        (I’m kidding. You know I love having you here!)

      • Being inside your head is good, but now I got all this gooey brain stuff all over me. And I’m like, Euwwwwww!

        Middlemarch is a profoundly fantastic novel, but a tough read. If the task feels too heavy, you will find the BBC adaptation profoundly, amazingly good:

        IMO, better than the Pride and Prejudice adaptation, which is saying something.

  2. huh. Where to start? Glad you’re getting into your reading project. Sorry you haven’t befriended Emma, but so impressed you’re finding parallels between her and more contemporary fictional characters. Well done, amb!

    I tend not to get to involved with folks I meet in books, probably because there’s less continuity. Even a series is usually only a handful of books, not a weekly tv show (or binge of seasons worth of shows in a few nights). Regarding TV, I’m enjoying the relationship between Dr. Who and Rose Tyler and patiently (ahem) waiting for you to circle back so we can discuss. I need someone to chat with as there are so many great themes (Dr. Who facing down Satan, etc), sacrificing himself for someone he has come to love, etc.)

    Though there was one series I totally got into–it was long (12 books) and I followed it all the way, cried sad tears when character died, happy tears when things went well. Poldark series by Winston Graham. (also on BBC!) Do you know? Thinking you’d love.

    • Thanks Liz! I can’t tell you how lovely it is to have an appreciative audience. Best commenters on the internet, hands down!

      I will chat with you about Doctor Who any day of the week my friend, and twice on Sundays, as they say. 🙂 I love Ten and Rose dearly, and feel very involved in their fictional relationship. (Which isn’t creepy at all, right? teehee) You should check out my friend Kelly’s blog at Her write ups about Doctor Who in general, and the Doctor and Rose in particular, are WONDERFUL !!!

      I don’t know the Poldark series, and I’m going to be looking it up as soon as I get home! If you think I’d love it then I’m sure I will. 🙂

  3. i enjoyed the guenivere character in ‘the mists of avalon,’ she told the story through her eyes, rather than from art’s or lance’s points of view. she was mighty smart an powerful, not traits much prized in those days. it was excellent and it made me think about how history/stories are generally written by those in power at any given time, the ‘winners.’

    • You’re so right Beth, the things we take for granted as “true” are often more dependent on whose doing the talking than we might think! I haven’t read “The Mists of Avalon” but the title is familar – I’m going to have to take a look at my mom’s bookshelf the next time I go home for a visit! I love unconventional, independent female characters, so this sounds right up my alley!

  4. The bags under my eyes today are due in no small part to Downton Abbey—I feel your pain, girl.

    The attachment I feel to fictional characters exceeds some I feel to actual people (exaggeration). But seriously, I’ve cried for them, laughed with them, cheered for them, etc, etc. I’ve never read Emma, but judging from what I know of her character, I agree with you. She’s not one of my favorite Austen heroines. Let us know what you think at the end of the books. Hopefully she will redeem herself. 🙂

    • I knew you would, my friend! 🙂

      We’re oh so similar in that regard, you and I – one of the (many) reasons I enjoy your book reviews so much is the way you can empathize so directly with so many of the characters you meet.

      I will keep you all posted, for sure. She might come through in the end, our Emma; Cher Horowitz certainly did! 😉

  5. I am not enough of a reader–far from it–to say any fictional character changed my views of the REAL world. After all, their world isn’t entirely real, either. I haven’t read a book that had characters in such a believable setting that I felt it was outside my door. For all I know/knew, their world was half a world away.

    However, I could say every book I have read and liked has had a character/hero/heroine that impacted me in a similar way. In “The Hero and the Crown”, the heroine–who is a combination of a witch and a knight (sort of like Joan of Arc meets “The Scarlet Letter” or Merlin/Morgana le Fey)–instilled bravery under fire and maybe taught a lesson about loyalty and who to trust. [It’s been too long to remember what else other than fantasy daydreams I got from the last read. There was also some scary spirit/ghost stuff in there.] In “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, the main character maybe taught me about survival and endurance of lousy conditions. But, a Russian prison is far from what I see around me (unless I get really metaphorical and out there). Those are the two that first come to mind.

    • That’s one of the (many) things I love about reading – that we can be impacted by characters that are completely another person’s creation! 🙂

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