Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Defending Fanny

Note: I wrote something like this in my earlier iteration of the blog. This is a better-developed version.

     It is no secret that Fanny Price is my favorite Jane Austen heroine, and it is no secret why. Throughout most of Mansfield Park, Fanny is a shy, introverted 18-year-old, struggling to control her own feelings and surrounded by a more confident world. She is looking for a place to belong and dealing with unpleasant changes to her surroundings. This is very much how I felt when I first read the novel-I too was a shy, introverted 18-year-old, and living away from home for the first time. It is no surprise that I identified strongly with Fanny.
     This is why (amongst other reasons) I find many criticisms about Fanny as a character to be so annoying. Most of the criticisms are either about her character (she is not a witty, spirited heroine) or about her religious beliefs. The high-brows insist this was a strange novel for Austen, and they can’t figure out just what was going on in her mind, as though an author can’t deviate from the norm and write a different sort of character, or write their characters with notions they don’t necessarily hold. (And I surely hope authors don’t always agree with their own characters-otherwise we’ll have J.K. Rowling running around with masked minions any day now.)
     Firstly, critics like to condemn Fanny with that dreadful word “boring”. Boring…to whom? Boring because she is not Elizabeth Bennett, essentially. True, leaving the sparkling world of Pride and Prejudice for the quiet, sometimes oppressive atmosphere of Mansfield Park is a startling contrast. But that does not mean Fanny is any less a heroine in her own right. She is quiet, but she is intelligent. She is intently thoughtful about everything, and yes, is quite serious. But that does not mean “boring” to everyone. Extroverts may find her boring, but a quick look at different opinions of the novel will show that it is the introverts that seem to appreciate Fanny as a character more.
     Fanny is a passive character. She rarely acts, unless absolutely driven to it; but she is not indolent like Lady Bertram. She observes the world around her and tries to make appropriate judgments based on her observations. Aye, there’s the rub, there’s what drives critics insane. Judgments.
     Despite the fact we still use the phrase “use your judgment” all the time, people hate it when this applies to studying another person’s actions. Then, as now, you have people who get antsy the moment you mention something might be wrong. We live in a relativist’s world. Who says what’s right for you is right for me? And it is Fanny’s judgment that some things are wrong that leaves her open to rather savage critique.
     She is called “priggish”, because she doesn’t like the theater. Never mind that, thanks to her observing her surroundings, she is aware that the play is being used by the others to act out their own wrong desires; and never mind that they are using Sir Thomas’ property in a way that would displease him. She is still priggish. Why should the others not be allowed to do whatever they want, anyways? She is also priggish because she doesn’t like the Crawfords’ sense of humor, which seems mainly devoted to being mean to other people.
     Which is doubly ironic, because Fanny is often accused of being mean to other people, even if it is just mentally.
     Though Fanny rarely voices her opinions aloud, and when she does she uses tact and kindness to soften the blow, she is still accused of being quite the self-righteous Pharisee. This is the most puzzling of critiques. Fanny is a hypocrite, apparently, though no one can quite point out why, except that she gets mad sometimes.
     The critics have placed Fanny in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If Fanny shows no flaws (one accusation made), then she is “too perfect” and an unrealistic, boring character. If Fanny does show flaws (such as her annoyance with Henry, her anger at Mary, her occasional tears over her situation), then she is a hypocrite, because she says others are doing wrong things, and here she is doing wrong things!
     A hypocrite is someone who deliberately does something they know to be wrong, and usually excoriates other people for the same action. Throughout the novel, Fanny does struggle with some sins, such as jealousy. But that is the point: she struggles. Furthermore, she shows more sympathy for the others than herself: she thinks that they’ve been raised in the wrong environment, or they’re struggling with their own feelings, etc. This, of course, takes us back to “Fanny is too perfect”. Just trying to sort through the critiques is dizzying.
     However, Austen has played the finest joke ever on her audience. She rightfully made both Mary and Henry complex, somewhat sympathetic characters. Yet in the end, they couldn’t break out of their own shallow thought processes. In reality, Mary is the narrow-minded character, expecting the world to conform wholly to her wishes, and behaving in an angry and petty manner when it does not. In reality, Mary, who claims to be open-minded and urbane, is the “self-righteous Pharisee”. She says she doesn’t want Fanny to be hurt by Henry; then turns around and helps Henry attempt to seduce her. She says she loves Edmund for himself; then turns around and says he needs to find a better paying job and one that isn’t so “religious”. Henry, too, does the same thing. He complains about how the family at Mansfield neglects Fanny; yet he himself more or less ignored her until he had no other female around to seduce. He says he will love Fanny forever; then turns around and has an affair with Maria Rushworth.
     It is a fantastic trick to put critics firmly on the side of narrow-mindedness, shallow self-righteousness, and hypocrisy: all the things they hate so much.
     And it is hilarious.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

     I decided to read Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, and as a consequence have had “Getting to Know You” stuck in my head for three weeks. But this is no fairy tale musical, and Landon, using Anna Leonowens own books and descriptions, gives a colorful and detailed view of Siam in the mid 1800’s.
     After the death of her husband and the closing of her school in Singapore, Anna had few choices in how to feed herself and her two children. She had two offers of marriage but rejected them both; instead, she took the job as governess to the royal children and concubines in Siam. Her arrival was not very auspicious; the king, mercurial, forgot for quite a while that he had wanted a governess. When he did remember, he tried to make Anna stay in the palace, and her refusal threw him into a fit that forced Anna to spend several more months waiting to start her new job.
     We read about the difficulties of such a life: King Mongkut, in this tale,  was a right tyrant. Anna also felt the harem and the city of concubines to be extremely oppressive. She found herself, often unwillingly, being the intercessor for many of the less favored inhabitants. She was often in conflict with the king, and at a couple points found herself in danger as a result. The daily struggle of teaching women who were taught only to be pretty and flattering left her frustrated.
     Yet we see glimpses of something better. The king, tyrant that he was, had a soft side, particularly for children. He was also occasionally self-aware enough to know he was mistaken, although he rarely admitted. Anna herself comes to be known for her fearlessness, although she admits she was often afraid but never showed it, and for her charity to the poor inhabitants.
     There has been controversy over the story. Many claim that King Mongkut, having spent years in a Buddhist monastery, could never have done any of the terrible things Anna said. (It’s a bit of a silly argument, given how every other religion is excoriated for hypocrisy at one point or another.) A better argument is that Mongkut’s successor stated that the foundation for many of the changes he made came from his father, indicating Mongkut was not as bad as he was perceived to be.
     However much you think that Anna’s tales were fabricated, it’s still an interesting look at the difficulties that a young single mother would have in those days. Her life, what we know of it, was still one of bravery and hard work.

Note: Apparently Blogger no longer likes me to copy and paste from Microsoft Word. Why?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Film Review: Death in Holy Orders

     After reading Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James I came across the movie at work. I was interested to see how a filmmaker would adapt such a complex novel, and I was not disappointed.
     Obviously certain things were left out of the film, which still runs at nearly 2 ½ hours. And, unlike some film adaptations, the plot points weren’t clearly spelled out. We start out with Ronald Treeves running toward the beach, sobbing; we see his anguish, then see the sand fall upon him. Unlike the book, there is no implication of deliberate suicide. We get a scene where the Archdeacon finds a gift of wine left for him, and he sees Yarborough standing nearby. This is not explained right away, which lends an extra air of mystery to the Archdeacon. The plot itself was a bit more roundabout, as they had to jump from person to person, but the mystery itself was a bit more straightforward.
     What really makes this movie is the actors. We don’t need long exposition. The actors can give a few short lines and convey all they need through their gestures and emotions. Dalgliesh was, of course, cool and collected, but also, as in the book, shown to be capable of great humanity. Fr. Sebastian and the Archdeacon both gave outstanding performances as two opposite forces clashing. Indeed, Clive Wood certainly made me sympathize, albeit unwillingly, with the Archdeacon.
     Most notable is Jesse Spencer’s performance as Raphael. He fully conveys the character’s brashness and vulnerability; a particularly touching moment was his grief over Miss Betterton’s death.

     The film as a whole is an excellent adaption, and with a beautiful, melancholy soundtrack befitting the story. It’s a cerebral mystery, and one I would go back to again and again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Five Things I Didn't Like About The Avengers

Even really good movies have their low points. While I loved The Avengers, there were things that just didn't quite work.  Here is what went wrong with The Avengers.

5.) Thor just appears right the eff out of nowhere.

     No, seriously. He just suddenly arrives to inform Loki that he's Grounded For Life. Last we saw him, he was sad because he couldn't get back to his girlfriend. But wait, apparently Papa Odin has some way to send him to Earth! Loki mutters something about dark energy, but everyone was too distracted by his cape to pay attention.

Oh. That explains it.

4.) The Hulk suddenly becomes a team player.

     Part of Loki's Evil PlanTM was to unleash The Hulk on Nick Fury's flying...boat...thing. It worked quite well, and we see Bruce Banner sitting naked in a heap of wreckage where he fell from the flying...boat...thing. He looks quite sad, and is not even surprised that the old security guard is apparently unaffected by large green men falling from the sky. In the Marvel universe you get used to these sorts of things. If you survive at all, you're automatically upgraded to "Action Survivor". Bruce is sad, because he nearly killed the Hot Chick on board.
     Then, suddenly, as the rest of the team are all assembled (LOL SEE WHAT I DID THERE), Bruce arrives on a tiny motorcycle, and suddenly the Big Guy is all ready to help the Avengers. What did Bruce do? Did he and his dark side have a heart to heart? Did he promise the Hulk great smashing fun? What could have been a fantastic scene of Bruce fighting his dark side is apparently not as important as things blowing up.

"Dear Princess Fury, today Hulk learn lesson about friends..."

3.) Why is New York always destroyed?

     And more importantly, where do they get money for the clean-up? I mean seriously. At least Preston and Child have small grade disasters that don't wind up destroying every skyscraper possible. And yet they manage to miss any important buildings, which makes Roland Emmerich cry.


     With tails. COME ON CHITAURI. At least make your ships look scary. Look at the Shadows. Why don’t you take a lesson from them? No, wait, don’t. You might actually be effective villains then.

"So Tony, you were like 'Whoa!' and we were like 'Whoaaaa!' but then you were like 'Whoaaa.' CHA."

1.) Loki’s hat.


This image pre-captioned for your convenience.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Five Things I Liked About The Avengers

In lieu of a review, I decided to make a note of the high and low points of the latest Avengers film. Without further ado...

Five Things I Liked About The Avengers

5.) Black Widow's escape scene

     When Black Widow is first shown in the movie, she is tied up and being threatened. However, during the interrogation, she gets a phone call, which all find very annoying. However, she discovers that she has somewhere to be, so she promptly beats everyone up and leaves, meaning she could have done that at any time. Why didn't she? I guess it just wasn't as fun.

Well that was boring. Now what?

4.) Everyone thinks Captain America is casually racist

     I admit, I didn't catch what was actually going on at first either. Nick Fury brings Mr. Rogers (heh heh) to the ship, and he hands Nick Fury a ten. Hill has this horrified look on her face as she watches. It looks for all the world like Captain America is "tipping the help" (he is from the 40's after all). In a previous scene, however, Nick Fury bet him $10 that he would be surprised at what was going on. Nick won the bet, but now everyone thinks Captain America is a dirty racist jerk. Poor guy just doesn't catch a break.

3.) Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are adorable together

     No, really, they are.

2.) Tony Stark's one-liners

     Iron Man gets the best lines every time. Here are a few gems:

*You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark, please leave a message.

*Well, performance issues, it's not uncommon. One out of five...

*Yeah. It's seen a bit of "mileage" and you got the "glow-stick of destiny". Would you like a drink?

*Like Christmas, but with more... *me.*

*It's good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.

1.) Loki.

     Just Loki.

     The poor guy was practically written to be leather pants fodder. He's a magnificent bastard, he can actually fight, he has daddy issues but spends so much money on hair gel that he can't afford Asgardian therapy. Yet when he is finally, finally defeated, his response to it is, "Can I have that drink now?" He's evil yet strangely huggable, sort of like my kitten Frenzy.

"Kneel! I said kneel! No, don't--NOT THE CUDDLES! NOT THE CUDDLES!"

Tune in next time for the five things I didn't like about The Avengers.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Even the Narns have memes

I'm also fairly convinced that the Shadows probably sit around making memes when they're not causing galactic wars. Then again...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

     What happens when you mix Regency romance, mystery, the epistolary novel format, and an alternate history timeline?
     Something really cool, that’s for sure.
     I was looking for something fairly lighthearted to read, but finding actual Regency romances to be wanting (I’ve ranted on this before) I decided to give this a try. Sorcery and Cecelia is a collection of letters between Cecelia and her cousin Kate, who is in London for the Season. This takes place in a Regency world where magic is a well-known and acceptable part of society. The novel kicks off with two different storylines. Kate is in London, technically for her own coming out into society, but really so her beautiful younger sister can have her coming out. One day, Cecelia’s brother and Kate attend a neighbor’s acceptance into the Royal College of Wizards. While there, Kate slips through a door and finds herself in a garden with a strange old woman. The old woman seems to think she is someone else, asks her where the chocolate pot is, and tries to force her to drink a cup of hot chocolate. When Kate manages to break away from the spell and throws the chocolate down, it burns an actual hole in her dress. Kate discovers it is the “odious Marquis”, a mysterious landowner near her country home, that was the intended victim. She unwillingly allies with him to retrieve the chocolate pot.
     Meanwhile, back in the country Cecelia is lamenting that she was not allowed to go to London as well (their relatives insist the pair of them in the city together would cause too much mayhem). However, a mystery crops up when a neighbor’s beautiful young niece Dorothea moves in. She is extremely shy yet seems to exert a mystical fascination over the young men of the area. Cecelia suspects the girl’s mother has put some sort of spell over her and tries to help the sweet young woman, but constantly runs into the girl’s cousin, the stubborn Mr. Tarleton, who appears to be spying on Dorothea for reasons unknown.
     As you can see by the characters, this is a romance as well. It has been described as “Jane Austen with magic”, but it reads more like one of Georgette Heyer’s novels (except entertaining-Heyer’s novels run together after you read a couple). It is lighthearted, with just the right amount of drama and action to keep it interesting.
     The most interesting aspect of the book, however, is that the authors wrote it using a letter game. They didn’t discuss the plot except at the very end, to make sure the climaxes of the two storylines converged properly. One would write a letter, and the other would answer it. Obviously they revised afterward, but it is this method that gives the epistolary format an air of authenticity.

     This is a definite recommendation to anyone wanting a different sort of novel. It’s a fun read that’s hard to put down.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

100 Themes Challenge-Break Away

     “It is time!” she said, lifting her voice above the crowd. “It is time to throw off our oppression!” The crowd roared in approval, raising their fists in the air, showing their solidarity for their leader. She would guide them. She would show them how to fight.
     “For too long have the tyrants held sway over us! Our movements are restricted, our food rationed! We have enforced labor, enforced curfew! We cannot go where we like with who we like! It is time that this ended!”
     “Who will lead us after?” one asked, concern showing in his face.
     “No one will lead us!” she said, her eyes full of fervor. “We will govern ourselves as we like! We will not be told—”
     “Janie, it’s time to go.”
     Everyone turned to stare at the woman standing there.
     “No, tyrant, we shall—”
     The woman cocked an eyebrow.
     “Er…never mind Mom. I’ll just…uh…”
     Janie stepped down from the picnic table and quietly followed her mother, who was trying to hide a smirk.
     “I’m never letting you watch Kids Next Door again,” she said, the smirk finally showing.
     “Wait till I’m 18,” Janie replied, smiling as well.
     “Then you’ll be calling me every week for money.”

     “Yeah. I guess so.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013