Haiku Review!

For those of you who didn’t know, I have been having trouble writing. Physical trouble. Somewhere between a repetitive motion injury and tendinitis in my hands and wrists. I don’t want to go into it much, but suffice it to say that it’s work-related and there’s not much I can do but rest as much as possible when I’m not working.

It’s really demoralizing for someone who considers herself/aspires to be a writer to not be able to type for long stretches. Or sometimes hold books for long periods of time. (Or spend a lot of time hand-writing.) But I have been reading. It’s also really hard to stay off the computer. It’s how I communicate with people the most, and also how I keep informed. So in order to compromise, I’ve got an update on my reading progress for the year. It’s kind of like my last post, but in haiku form.

So, without further ado: haiku review!

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I did like the film.

On the page, the characters

All suck a lot more.

Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

Read all you want, but

Maybe there are no answers.

My teenage heart breaks.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero

Can money buy dreams?

Must be read to be believed.

What a story, Mark.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Now twice badly read,

Austen’s hardest novel stokes

inner Fanny Wars.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book is candy

for English grads who ache for

college at our jobs.

A Heart So White by Javier Marias

Prose like a rich mousse.

I crave fresh fruit. This novel’s

just too dense right now.

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

Hook feels like a friend.

No more answers than Debbie.

Only Ian knows.

Janeites Unite: Deborah Yaffe, Austenmania, and Me

2013 was a banner year for me as a Janeite, and not just because it marked the bicentennial year of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. I finally read Sense and SensibilityNorthanger Abbey, and Emma for the first time, cementing my own personal baseline of Janeite cred. I wrote an article about my love for Jane Austen at Renegade Word and purchased my first piece of Austen fan art. I went to my first JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America for those not in the know) event: a series of lectures featuring Claudia L. Johnson, Susan Celia Greenfield, and Sandy Lerner. I transcribed an 1815 novel for Chawton House Library’s Novels On-Line Project (founded by Sandy Lerner). I saw Austenland in theaters (spoiler alert: hated it). I joined JASNA officially and went to my chapter’s annual Jane Austen birthday tea. On a trip to England, I went to Chawton to see the Jane Austen House Museum, saw Jane Austen’s writing desk in the British LIbrary, and on my twenty-fifth birthday I got to see the only known portrait of Austen in the flesh in London’s National Portrait Gallery. I received two books on Jane Austen for Christmas. One of these books was Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe.

Before I talk about the book, here’s my own Janeite tale, with apologies for the long intro:

While I was a lonely young nerd, I came to Austen later than many. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time until I was sixteen or seventeen, an assignment for eleventh grade Advanced Placement English. I don’t remember my preconceived notions of Austen beforehand—they were probably of the erroneous “the nineteenth century is hard you guys” variety. I may very well have repressed them because they would embarrass me now. I had seen the Wishbone version, but that was about it. I laughed out loud at the first sentence, and a love affair began slowly.

My junior year of high school happened to be in 2005, and we finished Pride and Prejudice about a month before the Keira Knightley version hit theaters. We went to see it as extra credit as a class. I saw it a second time. I didn’t really care a fig for Mr. Darcy and his unflattering pants scared me a little. I loved the film visually and I liked that it was funny. But the book was better. I distinctly remember our class discussions being among those that really illuminated the world of literary analysis for me, the this-description-of-Pemberley-is-pretty-reflective-of-Mr.-Darcy discussion.

In college, I read Persuasion in my first English class and Mansfield Park in my last. Persuasion was simply amazing. I did a video presentation highlighting Patricia Rozema’s postcolonial treatment of Austen’s text in her 1999 adaptation of MP—a controversial topic among Janeites (a tangential dimension to the famed Fanny Price wars). I confess that in between finishing and defending a thesis, worrying that a Shakespeare paper would blow up in my face, and the fact that I was about to pack up my earthly possessions, clean out a rental house, and leave all my friends to move back in with my parents to enter the so-called “Real World,” I could have given Mansfield Park and the paper I wrote on it a little more attention.

The Janeite facet of myself became more or less dormant in practice. I watched the movies, but I didn’t read much of anything after graduation. And then I wanted to save face for a day of Jane Austen lectures put on by two nearby JASNA chapters and the rest is history. Well, one year of history. But a banner year.

I’ve had the pleasure of reflecting on my own identity as a Janeite in part due to Deborah Yaffe’s excellent new book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom. Here’s a great summary from the book’s purpose from the introduction (sorry for the long quote):

…I set out to examine Janeite obsessiveness from the inside, and maybe to figure out along the way what kind of Janeite I was myself. I didn’t go looking for a single Big Theory that would make sense of Jane Austen’s appeal; I wasn’t planning to collect quantifiable data and fashion it into an explanation rigorous enough to satisfy a social scientist. My task was more impressionistic: to explore what Austen obsession looks like and feels like for people who are living with it, and perhaps to tease out some of the common threads that weave this diverse array of individuals into a community. I’d spent enough time immersed in online Austen discussions to know how differently her works could be read by people who all considered themselves Janeites. Were all of us just seeing what we wanted to see, finding ourselves relfeted in an Austen-shaped mirror? Or did our divergent interpretations reflect something real about Austen herself? (xxv)

I think two things really make this book work: 1) Yaffe’s training as a journalist is apparent and she does a great job of conveying facts while painting a compelling portrait; and, 2) Yaffe has been a Janeite for most of her life. Her affinity for Jane Austen gives her a good baseline: she gets it because she’s one of us (gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble). Austen fandom is so widespread (especially in this Information Age we’re all talking about), but it’s also a very private thing. Everyone’s love for Austen presents in a different way, but we all feel like she speaks to every one of us.

This is a task best handled by a Janeite, and Yaffe does a wonderful job. There’s a great balance of humor and affection throughout the book. I think Yaffe and I have similar Janeite styles: pretty middle-of-the-road, tending on the side of Austen purists (i.e., preferring Austen’s work to the myriad of sequels, adaptations, fan fictions, etc.), and not really into costuming or conspiracy theories. There is an overarching narrative of Yaffe’s exploring another dimension of Janeite-ism by buying a period dress for the ball at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting.

Yaffe’s book starts on a Jane Austen tour of England and ends at a JASNA AGM. The bulk of her book tells about the subjects she meets along the way and they are fascinating: they are the costumers and the conspiracy theorists. They’re also the fan fiction writers, the academics, the speech pathologists (yes! Austen is used therapeutically), the roller derby academics, and on and on. Sandy Lerner makes an appearance. I loved reading about how each person carved out her or his respective Janeites paths and the places their Austenmania has taken them. (And, let’s be honest, it made me feel pretty normal, which was good or bad depending on the chapter.)

I also got the pleasure of seeing Yaffe speak to my local JASNA chapter this weekend. I wish I’d taken more notes during her talk, but a) I was spellbound, and b) I couldn’t write due to having an injured thumb and a plate full of cookies. The talk was a great supplement to the book. One illustrative example in particular has stuck with me: Austen leaves a lot open to interpretation in her novels. Yaffe brought up the end of Sense and Sensibility: in the film versions from 1995 and 2008, Edward Ferrars comes to confess his love to Elinor Dashwood and asks if she’ll still have him after his missteps. Poor, repressed Elinor loses her shit on the spot, assents, and they live happily ever after. But in Austen’s actual words, it’s hardly the romantic scene the films make it out to be. Austen’s blend of romantic plots with dry wit is widely open to interpretation and appeals to lovers of romance and satire alike. Basically, you get Jane Austen or you don’t, but there are also as many different ways to get Austen as there are Janeites.

Through all these experiences and Yaffe’s book, I’ve gotten to know myself as a Janeite: I don’t think I could ever dress up, I might buy some Austen fan art here and there, my adaptations must take place in the period, and I have no stomach at all for the fan fiction (except, for some reason, the movie version of The Jane Austen Book Club, which I will talk about at a later date). My Austen is the feminist satirist, and okay, some of the romantic interests are pretty alright, too. I look forward to really growing into myself as a Janeite: re-read more, plumb the literary depths deeper, and maybe even take a strong stance in the Fanny Price Wars.

2013: The Reading Year in Review

It is December 31, 2013, and I am exhausted. Twelve hours ago, at four in the morning, I finished my fortieth and final book of the year.

On January 1, 2013, I created a GoodReads Reading Challenge goal of 2 books per month, plus one book each month for my monthly book club—a total of 38 books. I created some challenges for myself within that: create space on my bookshelves, finish reading the novels by Jane Austen that I hadn’t read, read every novel by the Brontë sisters, and finish Nicholas Nickleby after months in limbo. I have done all of these things.

So here’s a brief rundown, broken down into different categories because I’m a weirdo like that (counting each book just once):

Books read for book clubs: 7

Novels by Jane Austen: 3

Novels by Charlotte, Emily, or Anne Brontë: 7

Novels by Charles Dickens: 1

Number of graphic novels: 2

Number of 20th century novels in the vein of classics: 4

Number of books I read for review or research purposes: 5

Number of contemporary/commercial novels:  4

Number of short story collections: 7

Plus a couple of shout-outs. First, my trusty book mark. When I first started (and failed to finish) Nicholas Nickleby at around 16 or 17, I picked up a paint sample in the shade Tea Cup. When I started Nicholas Nickleby again at the age of 24 in the fall of 2012, the sample was still there. It has been my bookmark in every book I’ve read this year.

Yep. Huge book weirdo.

Yep. Huge book weirdo.

Secondly, to my trusty marking pen. I don’t mark up every book I read, but annotating helps me focus. I have used the same color and type of pen since college and this one is like three years old. I need to find a place that sells them locally.

Photo 102

Not pictured: much needed haircut.

So what’s next? Well, I’m participating in a staff reading challenge at one of my jobs and I need to get moving on that, I need to actually look into the grad school thing instead of just talking about it, I have some volunteer training I need to study for, plus meet-the-author events, book clubs and discussions…so maybe reading that many books again in 2014 won’t be that hard.

I want to dig a little deeper into the pros and cons of doing a GoodReads challenge, so if you did one or refuse to do one or just set a non-GoodReads goal, please leave a comment!

I LOL’d at Something Nasty in the Woodshed: Gushing Over Cold Comfort Farm

Warning: this post reveals details from the novel Cold Comfort Farm. I really can’t tell if they’re spoilers or not, but I’m thinking not really.

I wanted to read Cold Comfort Farm before watching the movie (and I did, but I’ve seriously been sitting on that post for a month and it was only missing a paragraph). It’s rather a short novel. I had trouble finding it in the US—it is available on Amazon, but it’s one of those editions with deckled edges and I prefer to avoid deckled edges if possible. And, unpopular opinion time: I don’t like Amazon. I am super picky about my book editions  so I buy a lot of used and half the time if I get the one I want in a timely manner it is not in the condition advertised. Anyway, I found a good old non-deckled Penguin Classics Edition on my trip to England. I should have begun to read it then, since we visited some of the novel’s environs (Sussex), which are heartily and hilariously mocked at every turn.

Cold Comfort Farm was written by Stella Gibbons and published in 1932. As we flew through the winding country lanes of Sussex on the Virginia Woolf Tour, I expressed to my professor a worry I might not really get Cold Comfort Farm without reading some of the authors Gibbons pokes fun at, the two most famous being Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence. I have read Wuthering Heights, of course, but had never heard of Mary E. Mann. My professor assured me that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read any Lawrence or Hardy, and anyway Cold Comfort Farm is really poking fun at a couple of Gibbons’ contemporaries, Sheila Kaye-Smith and Mary Webb, whose work seems even harder to find than Gibbons’. Both these authors as well as Gibbons were very prolific in throughout their lives, but it seems Cold Comfort Farm is the standing popular legacy of all three.

Cold Comfort Farm is the story of an educated young Londoner named Flora Poste, who finds herself orphaned and without much to live on. Flora has ambitions of being a novelist later in life, and to publish the next Persuasion—but not until she’s 53. She wants to spend the intervening years gathering material, and while doing that she wants to tidy up the lives of any country relative that will have her. She chooses to live with the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex. Something happened between Flora’s father and Judith’s husband—some wrong and she’s owed some kind of rights.

Flora certainly has her work cut out for her when she arrives. The Starkadders and their ilk live in squalor on their failing farm, just accepting the terrible conditions they live in as their fate. The linchpin of the Starkadders is their matriarch, Ada Doom (who married the late Fig Starkadder). As Flora’s pragmatic modernizing begins to take hold of the Starkadders, she finds herself the target of Ada Doom’s fury.

This novel is, in short, hilarious. In fact, it really is a shame it’s hard to find Kaye-Smith and Webb in print (I think they may be available by e-book, but I don’t have an e-reader) because I’m just dying to see how badly Gibbons skewers them. The names are ridiculous (Lemony Snicket owes a great debt to Gibbons). The narration frequently shifts gears into a lofty, brooding register that goes on in great detail about the earth. I lol’d heartily and most of my annotations are “hahaha,” “LOL,” and “Never not funny.” The characters had me in stitches. Here’s just a taste of Seth, the lusty younger Starkadder son:

He laughed insolently, triumphantly. Undoing another button of his shirt he lounged out across the yard to the shed where Big Business, the bull, was imprisoned in darkness.

Laughing softly, Seth struck the door of the shed.

And as though answering the deep call of male to male, the bull uttered a loud, tortured bellow that rose undefeated through the dead sky that brooded above the farm.

Seth undid yet another button, and lounged away. (41)

I made the comment in my post on Wuthering Heights that the characters in Emily Brontë’s novel just seem to soldier on toward their own dooms, and leaving being enough doom for their children to also be doomed to lives of misery. That element is taken to extremes in Cold Comfort Farm (which may take Wuthering Heights as one of the targets of its parody).  Perhaps the most famous is Ada Doom’s repeated line, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed”—an event that has traumatized her for seventy years and keeps her bedridden and prone to rather convenient bouts of madness.

Examples abound, but most of them can be summed up by saying that the Starkadders do things as they have always been done and any attempt to get over it is seen as an affront to nature. Meriam, the hired girl, has born four of Seth’s children out of wedlock, and everyone but Flora views it as something that just happens every spring. When Meriam insists birth control is “‘flying in the face of Nature,'” Flora counters that, ‘Nature is all very well in her place, but she must not be allowed to make things untidy'” (70).

There are some metafictional asides that fed my inner English Major (yes, there’s a separate, inner one) and reminded me of Northanger Abbey. Gibbons seems to write for English Majors, and Flora may be one of the ONLY examples of a novel heroine who reads a lot of novels and walks away without being addled by all that literature. Take this delightful quotation:

Flora did indeed know. The quotation was from Shelley’s Adonais. One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one’s favourite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one’s dressing-gown. (104-105)

It’s funny and it’s spot-on, but it’s also a good example of how Gibbons’ narrator frequently acknowledges the preceding tradition of English literature. Austen references abound in this novel (in fact, one of Flora’s biggest changes to Cold Comfort Farm is inspired after she reads a sentence from Mansfield Park).  And, of course, Flora’s aspirations are not just to write a novel as fine as Austen, but she does the sort of social arranging of Emma. And of course, Cold Comfort Farm has a rather unforgiving narrator satirizing country society, though manners are much more scarce than in Austen.

Sometimes this acknowledgment has a rather feminist bent. Perhaps that’s not what Gibbons was aiming for, but authorial intent is dead yadda yadda yadda. I’d really like to develop this line of thinking further, actually, because some of the mentions of the female-penned novels and agricultural novels Flora reads seem to be rather satirical. But there is great reverence for Austen and also the Brontës in a strange way. One of the people Flora meets is a writer named Mr. Mybug (actually Meyerburg, but no one does). Mr. Mybug is in the process of writing a book claiming that, based on the indirect evidence of three letters, that poor, sober Branwell Brontë actually wrote all the novels his sisters took credit for, while the sisters were all drunkards, jealous of his genius. He also doesn’t believe a woman could have possibly written Wuthering Heights and asks Flora if she believes women have souls. So I’m not sure what the relationship is between Gibbons’ ribbing of the agricultural novels Flora reads (after all, she learns well how to handle Cold Comfort from them) and her deep respect for Austen and the Brontës. But there’s definitely something there and I liked that something and would love to revisit it and unpack it.

On a personal note, this novel was a great way for me to tie my year of reading together, even if I’m not done with that year of reading yet. But this year I have so far finished the three Austen novels I hadn’t read (only counting the six complete novels, mind you), and my goal of finishing the complete Brontë novels (with three left). So Gibbons felt like someone in that tradition, even if that seems to be part of her project.

Things I didn’t like were trifles: the plot is a bit rushed at the end, and there is bizarre futurism afoot. By “bizarre futurism” I mean that the Gibbons makes reference to wildly anachronistic technology and wars that never happened (particularly the Anglo-Nicaraguan War of 1946). The rest of the novel seems to be contemporary to 1932, so these references are just jarring. Of course Gibbons didn’t know that a World War would explode within a decade either, but it gives those moments that acknowledge the temporal setting a really weird tone. Also, Mr Mybug/Meyerburg is an unfortunately anti-Semitic caricature, but truthfully I’ve heard more appalling anti-Semitism come from the mouths of people I’ve met, so it didn’t put me off 100%.

And the film adaptation is marvelous, as well. In fact, the screenwriters smooth over some of the novel’s wrinkles beautifully, but maintain very true to the novel. And the novel itself is so much fun to read: I really can’t do it enough justice here. I highly suggest everyone read Cold Comfort Farm and celebrate by watching the movie—and avoiding any woodsheds, lest they see something nasty.

Lit Nerds Abroad: My Recent Trip to England

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

I do not think of myself as well-traveled. At this point, I have taken four short trips to Europe, never exceeding ten days, and have spent the majority of that time in London. I never studied abroad (something I now … Continue reading

I Regret Nothing: I Watched Miss Austen Regrets After All*

*Warning: I am actually filled with regret about many things.

Sorry, guys. I know this book blog has gone off the rails a little bit in that this post and the last one are about movies. I’m currently slogging through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is my main reading focus right now. However, in between moving and trying to keep my shit together at work and even attempting an existence outside my bedroom, I’ve not been successful at getting much reading done. All my books but Tenant are in boxes right now, so I’m hoping to get a jump on that. But today I had an outpatient medical procedure done and it’s almost 100 degrees outside my non-air-conditioned room. I feel pretty good outside of being a person who spent 90 minutes of her day driving around in 100-degree weather, but I’m not at 100%. So I decided to lie down and watch a damn movie and that damn movie was Miss Austen Regrets.

For those of you just tuning in: after seeing Austenland, I had kind of had it with Jane Austen fan fiction, but I still wanted to see Miss Austen Regrets. One of the commenter recommended it to me (and she didn’t like Austenland either, so I trust her). Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Austen’s life—for a Janeite, that is. I know Becoming Jane is a steaming pile of horseshit. I also watched a special feature on the Jane Austen Book Club DVD in which Austen scholar Joan Klingel Ray (author of Jane Austen for Dummies) talks about Austen’s life. I haven’t read Austen’s letters yet, but I understand that the writer of Miss Austen Regrets followed them closely.

In her life, Austen may have had a flirtation-or-more with Tom LeFroy and was actually engaged once to a man named Harris Bigg-Wither. The couple remained engaged for one night, before Austen changed her mind. The film adds another former suitor, a family friend named Brook Bridges (played by Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville), who I don’t think existed in real life, but his hanging around makes for good drama. The forty-year-old Austen also enjoys the company of young Dr. Haden for a bit (played by Jack Huston in one of the rare occasions I see his face intact). Even if Brook Bridges was invented to stir up drama, I thought it was way better than the way Becoming Jane made Tom LeFroy The One Who Got Away. Bridges is more inclined to revel in the past than Austen.

I really liked Miss Austen Regrets. I liked Olivia Williams as Austen: she was both excellently dry-witted but emotional when the moment called for it. She felt very genuine to me, not timid like Anne Hathaway in the cock-up that is Becoming Jane. Of course, that Jane is only twenty and beginning to write. The Jane of Miss Austen Regrets is pushing forty and knows she won’t get her Mr. Darcy (not that she wants him). Here’s a great quotation from Olivia Williams in the article linked above:

Austen’s bittersweet experiences endowed her novels with a rare astringency. “One’s impressions from screen adaptations of Austen is that it’s all lovely girls running down hills in flowery dresses,” Williams says. “But Austen could be a real bitch as well. She could nail the weaknesses in someone’s appearance or accent. She could deconstruct people accurately and uncharitably, and would rail against their faults and foibles. That’s why I – and the vigilante Janeites – love her.”

Perhaps my favorite part of Miss Austen Regrets was the most heart-wrenching element of the film: Jane regrets not marrying because the actions of her youth have left her family in the lurch decades later. She doesn’t make enough for a household of three women to live on. Her novels are immensely popular, but she has to team up with her brother to fight the publishers’ low-balling her. As her brothers’ financial futures become uncertain (one loses much of his estate because of inheritance; the other’s bank fails), her mother admonishes her for rejecting Harris Bigg-Wither, which would have secured the family. In one way, Austen is sort of the reverse of the heroines of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Marrying for love may be important, as she says to her twenty-year-old niece in the film, but marrying for money is almost just as important. Perhaps all of that is very close to real biographical details. If they are, I appreciate Austen all the more.

I’m not sure I’ve This is Jane Austen as she should be on the silver screen: independent, sharp, dynamic. I think part of my wariness of film biopics comes from 2003’s The Hours, which my class on the Bloomsbury group watched together. In eighth grade, this film didn’t bother me (except that I went on a double-mother-daughter-date with my Catholic bff and we all had to talk about the large amount of lady kisses in the car). After taking a class in Virginia Woolf, The Hours made me mad (and Woolf scholars all over the world). Sure, it was based on a novel, but it also reduced the brilliant, articulate Woolf to a dithering madwoman. Perhaps as I learn more about Austen’s life, I’ll find more and greater faults with Miss Austen Regrets. 

So, yes, this is short and gushing, but this bed-ridden Janeite has no regrets about Miss Austen Regrets.

 

 

Austenbland: I Think I Need to Give Up on Austen Fanfic

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the 2013 film Austenland and also probably anything else about Jane Austen or any movies that may in any way be connected to Jane Austen.

I’ve written about my love of Jane Austen before. I’m probably not as hardcore a Janeite as I aspire to be. I’ll get there one day. But for today, I’ve only read Austen’s six published novels, but not her letters, her unpublished and/or unfinished works, or her juvenilia. And I need to officially join JASNA by, like, paying my dues and going to meetings and all that stuff. One day I’ll remember all the minor characters and minute details, but for now I’m going to ride the fact that for me, reading Austen is just something I always enjoy on a very deep level. One of my best experiences of 2013 was attending a regional JASNA event: sitting and listening to lectures on Austen all day by professors. It made me miss being in college without the stress of papers, reading, or having to wear flip-flops in the shower.

As far as the films go, I’m kind of a cock-eyed Austen purist. I had one friend who refused outright to watch the 2005 Pride & Prejudice because “they have chickens in their house.” I like that version, even if I cringe a little because they changed the text of Darcy’s proposal—mostly because that version has since inspired a bunch of folks to get tattoos and/or make needlepoints that misquote the actual source material (maybe they’re aware and just prefer it?). Also, let’s not talk about that horrible tacked-on ending. But there is wiggle room. For example, the 1999 Mansfield Park is contentious for Janeites, but I liked it and so did Claudia L. Johnson, a bona fide Austen scholar from freaking Princeton.

But I digress. Every Janeite has their own allowances. It’s a balance. For instance, that same friend above doesn’t care for Elinor’s public emotional breakdown at the end of the 1995 Sense and Sensibility—I think it works reasonably well with the way Emma Thompson wrote the script. From listening to Thompson’s commentary, Sense and Sensibility is a hard work to adapt: it doesn’t have the zippy dialogue of Pride and Prejudice (and let’s face it: nobody but Elinor has ever had a thing for Mr. Ferrars). But even the queen of Austen adaptations—the five-hour miniseries of Pride and Prejudice starring none other than the Firth himself—strays from the text. Believe it or not, Austen did not write Darcy swimming in a lake.

Vulture recently ranked twenty-one instances of Austen on film. These fall into three categories: close adaptations (read: bonnets, breeches, and barouches), loose adaptations (or “reinterpretations”), and what I call “Jane Austen fan fiction.” For my intents and purposes, this latter category includes movies based on Jane Austen’s life (I hesitate to call them “biopics”) and movies about people who love Jane Austen’s novels. (Note: these also apply to the Jane Austen book industry, which is huge into what I’ve categorized as “fan fiction,” including novels about Jane Austen solving mysteries, sequels and off-shoots of the original books, those monster mash-ups, and even vampire novels.)

Okay, we’ve established that I like my adaptations to have period dress. Well, I kind of need that, even if the particular adaptation is not so much a movie as a bad acid trip. For this post, I was hoping to watch both Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary again and try to appreciate them as updated Austen adaptations. I may be the only person on earth who doesn’t like either of these movies. I know, I know. Clueless especially is highly regarded as an Austen adaptation, empire waists or no. I just never liked it. It’s true that Emma is my least favorite Austen, but I read it years after my last viewing of Clueless. And Bridget Jones is not Lizzie Bennet. And if she’s not supposed to be, I don’t want to watch it even more. I generally don’t like romantic comedies, so once you take away the country houses and the dances, my preferred balance is thrown off and I kind of don’t care and tend to get annoyed.

Now, as for the Austen fanfic…It’s complicated. First, I don’t really understand it. Truthfully, I’ve never felt the urge to read fanfic online or in any fandom (I might not belong to a fandom?). I am a snob almost to the core, but I have seen some Jane Austen fanfic movies because I often rent free movies from the library and I don’t mind wasting a couple hours staring at a screen as much as reading a book with a premise I don’t buy.

My relationship with these movies is weird. I still want to see Miss Austen Regrets, but Becoming Jane made my blood boil because it is against everything I love about Jane Austen for reasons The Other Austen notes beautifullyLost in Austen just wasn’t for me. Yet despite all this snobbery on my part, I have to reveal a terrible secret: my bizarre love for The Jane Austen Book Club. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but even I am not made of stone (besides, anyone transformed by Medusa could probably have been cured by the sight of Hugh Dancy in bike shorts). When I finish an Austen fanfic movie, about half the time I’m left just wanting to watch my old favorites again.

Which brings us to Austenland and the fact that it finally hit my hometown after months of anticipation. I couldn’t tell if it would be great or terrible. Reviews said “mediocre,” but my friend and I looked at each other during the previews at Much Ado About Nothing and said we would go. She enjoys Jane Austen fanfic much more than I do. So last night we downed a couple large sandwiches and made our way to the theater. We had to see it because we love Austen.

Based on the novel by Shannon Hale, Austenland is the story of Austen addict Jane Hayes (played by Keri Russell) looking for a real life Mr. Darcy. She spends her entire savings on an immersive Austen experience at an English country house, where actors that rock the Regency Camel Toe are paid to seduce the ladies who pay to be there. Jane meets one of her Austenland companions at the airport. Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) asks, “Are you going to the Darcy place, too?” Elizabeth has paid for the Platinum Package. Jane has paid for the Copper Package: her character is assigned as a penniless orphan named Jane Erstwhile, who has to live in the servant’s wing.

After a couple experiences that make it apparent she’s wasted her money, Jane just decides to go for it and flirt her way to the top of Austenland. She gets pretty far with one of the servants named Martin (Bret McKenzie), but can’t seem to keep away from the stare of Mr. Nobly (JJ Feild, a.k.a. Mr. Tilney), the resident Mr. Darcy. By the end she can’t tell what’s real and what’s fantasy, she rejects Mr. Nobly for confessing his feelings because she knows he’s an actor and therefore faking, then discovers that Austenland’s owner (Jane Seymour) has been having Martin play her all along. Mr. Nobly follows her to America, everyone there to see a kissing scene gets a kissing scene, happily ever after, the end.

Describing Austenland in a word, I’d pick “weak.” The central idea could have worked well: Austen’s novels, of course, are satirical. The biggest satirical element are the other women at Austenland: rich women who pay to be adored. Elizabeth Charming wants to be fawned over by Darcys yet who asks “What’s that?” at the mention of Pride and Prejudice. Coolidge plays the role she seems always asked to play: big-dumb-loud. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the time it just made me sad to see her talent wasted on the character’s insistence of doing a terrible British accent—a joke that only needed to be told once.

But at least we know where Coolidge stands—because parts of Austenland didn’t make any goddamn sense.  And one of those parts was a character named Lady Heartwright (Georgia King). Neither my friend nor I could tell if Lady Heartwright was an Austenland actor or an Austenland customer until the end of the film (she also goes from barely there to totally crazy, literally hopping around). Even weirder was one of the actors plays a character named Captain George East (Ricky Whittle), a man who tells outrageous stories of his adventures on the high seas when he’s not finding excuses to rip off his shirt. Why is this allowed at Austenland when it’s so improper? No one addresses the arbitrary rules. Perhaps the worst was a scene where Martin asks the other actors what they think of Jane—it seemed like he genuinely liked her in his private moments, but then at the end the film makes a show of it all being an act. What?

The first rule of Austenland is no modern stuff so that the customers can live as they would in the Regency. In fact, Jane almost gets tossed out for having a contraband cell phone. And yet, Elizabeth Charming has a TV in her room that show’s Captain East’s soap opera. AND YET the women make their own hats using a HOT GLUE GUN. Some of the gags are funny and charmingly weird, like the numerous taxidermied animals all over the grounds. But often times, the humor is so forced that there were moments when my friend and I turned to each other and asked, “Why is this happening? Why are the other people in the theater laughing?”

And the biggest bummer of all: the main character. Keri Russell is pretty adorable and I think she does a good job of playing Jane Hayes/Erstwhile, but she didn’t have much to work with. Jane memorized the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice and regularly macks on her cardboard cutout of Firth’s Darcy. The exposition is handled badly: we see the rabid Austen fan side of Jane (she pulls a guy’s tongue out of her ear to say he’s missing Firth’s clingy shirt), suddenly her sleazy ex-boyfriend is coming up to her and saying he’ll give it another go since she just got dumped, suddenly she’s running to the travel agent. So…there’s a whole backstory here that’s being eschewed in establishing that Jane is a lonely Austen nerd.

From the start, she’s more type than character: we hardly know anything about her beyond her Austenmania and I think it cripples her character for the rest of the film. If this film truly followed the spirit of Austen, Miss Charming and Lady Heartwright would remain flat, but Jane would be much more complex. That’s not what happened. Instead, the characters seemed more like chess pieces and they were moved around according to what the script needed to happen.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that two leads in an Austen film must have chemistry. And while this truth is universally acknowledged, there’s plenty of room for poor execution. Mr. Nobly looks over at Jane with a scowl, suddenly they’re falling for each other, then she “realizes” it’s just a fantasy, then never mind! he’s legit! let’s kiss! It was as though they (the actors and the characters in the film) were going through the motions of Darcy and Elizabeth with a little side of Wickham. Mr. Nobly’s exposition was also handled pretty poorly, to the point where parts of his Great Big Speech at the end felt like it should have come earlier.

So there you have it. Austenland was a disappointment and that’s just too bad. On the other hand, it was produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, and if anything associated with Stephenie Meyer had been good, my whole world might be turned on its ear.

When Death Comes to Pemberley hits Masterpiece Theatre next year, you will not find me parked in front of PBS. I love Austen’s work as she wrote it.  It’s bad enough when people don’t get that much right. To me, the sequels and the reinterpretations and the fanfic are at best pale imitations or at worst downright insulting to the author herself (Becoming Jane). I think I’m going to give Miss Austen Regrets a fair chance and then just march to the beat of my own Janeite drummer from here on out.