What a bunch! Fictional Characters at Happy Hour

Which fictional characters would you invite to sit with you at the lunch table?  The bloggers at “Broke and Bookish” asked this question in their Top Ten Tuesday meme for this week.  Click here for their blog.

This post is my answer to their question.  However, rather than inviting these fictional characters to my lunch table, I want to invite them to my next happy hour.  (I don’t eat lunch with other people, generally.  I usually scarf something down in my office in between classes.)

 

1.  Penelope from The Odyssey.  She waited faithfully for 20 years for her husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan war.   She knew the war was over after 10 years and she still waited patiently, even though she did not know whether he was alive or dead.  It was most likely that he was dead.   She hadn’t received so much as a Christmas card from him in all those 20 years.   She was considered a model of Good Womanhood because of her faithfulness.

I am inviting her to happy hour because I want to know the truth.  After a few drinks, I am going to ask her for the real scoop.  Was she really faithful the whole time? Really?  We wouldn’t blame her if she slipped up now and again.  Perhaps there was some cute swineherd who cleaned up well and looked pretty hot after a rub-down with olive oil.  You’re among friends, Penelope, you can talk frankly after all these years…

(I thought about inviting Odysseus, too, but he would just dominate the conversation and brag about his adventures.  We already know the story, dude.  Let someone else talk.)

 

Greta Scacchi as Penelope in "The Odyssey"
Greta Scacchi as Penelope in “The Odyssey”

 

  1. The Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.   This lusty, gap-toothed wench had five husbands and lots of stories to tell about them.  In her day (before she turned the ancient age of 40), she was a hottie who knew how to charm a man into marrying her.  She was a serious talker and had some sharp insights into gender relations.  I would like to hear stories about her domestic adventures.
The Wife of Bath by Werewolff
The Wife of Bath by Werewolff

Source of picture here,

 

  1. Othello of Shakespeare’s Othello was also known to be a great story-teller. He had travelled widely and charmed Desdemona with his adventurous tales.  I think he would be a charismatic addition to the happy hour conversation.  I’d like to catch him before he is possessed by the green-eye monster, though.  I want to warn him against Iago and talk some sense into him about Desdemona—before it is too late!
Lawrence Fishburne as Othello in the 1995 movie version of "Othello" by Oliver Parker.
Lawrence Fishburne as Othello in the 1995 movie version of “Othello” by Oliver Parker.

 

  1. Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. She is witty and fun and would be full of snarky comments about everyone else at the table.  Of course, she is invited.  The only problem is that everybody else wants her at their table, too, so I don’t know if she is available.

 

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC miniseries "Pride and Prejudice"
Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC miniseries “Pride and Prejudice”

 

  1. Mr. Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. I have a soft spot for him, even though he’s not a very good father.  I can identify with his desire to retreat from life to the library.  He is well-read, and I suspect he’d be a good conversationalist.  He would also, like his daughter, be full of snark, a definite plus at the dinner table.
Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennett in the BBC "Pride and Prejudice"
Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennett in the BBC “Pride and Prejudice”

6.      Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Beneath her proper Puritan demeanor lies a passionate, artistic woman.  I’m sure she’d open up after a few glasses of wine and be the life of the party.

Demi Moore as Hester Prynne
Demi Moore as Hester Prynne

 

7.  Ellen Olenska of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.  Ellen was considered a disgrace to her upper-class New York society because she left her husband and thought about getting a divorce.  (The husband had cheated on her blatantly and clearly didn’t care about her, but that is irrelevant.)  The fact that she is disgraceful is already a good reason to invite her to happy hour.  She is also, however, sophisticated, and open-minded, with a deep appreciate for art and culture.  I would welcome her company.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen Olenska in "Age of Innocence."
Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen Olenska in “Age of Innocence.”

 

  1. Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald would be charming as well. More important, he would almost certainly buy all the drinks.
Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby in the 1974 movie version
Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby in the 1974 movie version

 

9 and 10.  What would happy hour be without some Russians? I’ll invite Anna Karenina and Vronksy as well.  They should add some passion (however wrong-headed) and intensity to the gathering.

Keira Knightly and Aaron-Taylor Johnson in the 2012 movie version of "Anna Karenina."
Keira Knightly and Aaron-Taylor Johnson in the 2012 movie version of “Anna Karenina.”

 

I’ll let you know how the happy hour turns out?  Who would you invite to lunch or happy hour?

STOP THE JANE AUSTEN MADNESS!

If you are a fan of Jane Austen, check out the lostgenerationreader blog here. She is hosting an Austen in August event.

http://lostgenerationreader.com/2014/08/01/austen-in-august-master-post/

My collection of Austen spawn
My collection of Austen spawn

In vain I have struggled to hold back my thoughts, but it will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love Jane Austen.

On my refrigerator
On my refrigerator

Because of my sincere appreciation of Austen’s superior mind and character, I was intrigued a number of years ago when I noticed the rapidly growing number of Jane Austen’s spawn infiltrating the marketplace  Her growing brood of knock-offs included not only faithful movie and play adaptations, but also re-imaginings of her works with an endless variety of twists and turns.

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary was one of the first Austen re-writes I read.  I found this re-writing of Pride and Prejudice from a 30-something English Everywoman’s perspective refreshing and hilarious.  As an added bonus, I learned the term “fuckwit” from this novel, a term I have found to be quite useful for describing a number of people I have since come across.

Even more diverting than the book version of Bridget Jones’s Diary was the movie version of it, starring competing dream boats Colin Firth and Hugh Grant (who are apparently the only two male actors in England).  How could anyone resist Renee Zellweger lounging alone at home in her jammies, singing “All By Myself” before falling into a drunken stupor?  How could anyone not find it satisfying that the snobbish female stick-insects of the movie ended up without either Colin Firth or Hugh Grant?

Colin Firth played the Darcy character in Bridget Jones’s Diary.  Not coincidentally, he also starred as Darcy in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, and I believe he plays a not inconsiderable role in Jane Austen’s recent popularity. (Not that I would know anything about that.)

At the Jane Austen museum in Bath, England.
At the Jane Austen museum in Bath, England.

So at first, I was proud of Jane Austen for her continuing popularity, and I wanted to learn more.  I thought it would be fun to research all of the Austen knock-offs from the past few decades.  But alas, my pride in Austen quickly turned to prejudice against the Austen industry.  I realized it was futile to try to compile a comprehensive list; her spawn was multiplying far too rapidly for a mere mortal like me to get control over it.

As I noted above, at first I found the knock-offs charming.  But then my attitude changed.  As the little Austens began to reproduce more rapidly, I started to become frightened.  For example, the Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice,” called Bride and Prejudice, was initially intriguing.  But when the entire cast came out in matching outfits and started singing and dancing together, I cried in horror.  I wanted to do a Mr. Bennett and go hide in my library until they were done.

But the real trauma began with a novel and author whose names I fortunately do not remember.  This novel described Elizabeth and Darcy’s early married life in intimate detail.  And I mean intimate.  I’m not a prude, but when I read the description of Elizabeth and Darcy banging away on the dining room table, I blanched.  Not long after that enlightening scene came another scene of ardent embraces that took place under a tree in the yard.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth had just recently given birth and was not ready for such “activities,” so she started bleeding and, if I recall correctly, some of her placenta came out as well (?).  (I’m not making this stuff up.  I am not capable of making this stuff up.)  That was the end of that novel for me.

Years later, after the traumatic memory of the previous book had been safely buried, I started perusing a few more knock-offs, with titles such as The Jane Austen Book Club, Lost in Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and, God help us all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.   Every time I walk into a book store, I see at least one,  usually more, re-interpretations of an Austen novel.  To be honest, they all blur together in my head; I can no longer distinguish one baby Austen from the other.   There are so many of them at this point, it is almost like trying to distinguish one brand of cereal from another.

You’d think a zombie knock-off would be memorable, but it’s not. For the most part, Seth Grahame-Smith copied Pride and Prejudice word for word.  My people call this plagiarism.   I guess Grahame-Smith gets away with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because in every chapter or so he adds a paragraph or two in which zombies enter the scene and Elizabeth Bennett skillfully fights them off with her advanced zombie-killing skills.   Yawn.    Where’s the “value-added” as my friends in the business world like to ask?

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I have had enough.  Twenty or thirty Austen knock-offs are enough.  We do not need several hundred of them.   LET’S STOP THE MADNESS!  Let’s put an end to the endless Austen wannabes.  Let us regain some sanity and JUST SAY NO.***

Let’s let Austen rest peacefully in her grave.

If authors feel they must write a knock-off of an amazing classic woman author, how about George Eliot or the Bronte sisters?  Maybe some Emily Dickinson?  Virginia Woolf?  Let’s spread the love around, shall we?

JUST SAY NO TO THIS!
JUST SAY NO TO THIS!

***Unless Colin Firth or Hugh Grant is involved.  We can never get enough of those two, especially together in the same film. ***

Why Jane Austen Rocks

Image

“I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” –Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen lived from 1775-1817, and her novels came out between 1813 and 1818. She grew up the daughter of a rector in Steventon, England.   She was similar to many of her literary heroines in that her family was a member of the gentry, although at the lower end in terms of income. She was close to her large family, especially to her brothers. She never married, but enjoyed her nieces and nephews.

I know what you are thinking: BORING!   The pathetic spinster lived a boring life. She probably spent her days sipping tea, doing needlework, and trying not to let her breasts fall out of those ridiculous dresses they wore.

Image

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC Mini-Series version of Pride and Prejudice

 Seriously, Elizabeth Bennett needs to be careful not to bend over too far or Colin Firth will get quite an eyeful.

But, back to my point. Jane may well have sipped a lot of tea, but she nonetheless rocked. Maybe not like Joan Jett:

 Image

Image found on http://feminema.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/joan_jett.jpg

But perhaps something like this:

Image

Tina Fey at the SAG Awards

 Yes, Tina Fey.

Some of Austen’s fans (and many of her detractors—most of whom have not even read her) focus on the romantic, costume-drama side of Austen. Austen is all about silly women hunting for husbands rather than doing something more important, like getting a job or hunting for lions or drinking a lot of absinthe in European cafes.

While it’s true that there is a fair amount of husband-hunting going on in Austen’s novels, it is also true that women of the gentry had no other way of making a living. Getting married WAS their job.   Many women could not even inherit their father’s property because English inheritance law favored sons. Is it any wonder that Mrs. Bennett is obsessed with finding husbands for her five (yes FIVE) unmarried daughters?

But I digress. The real reason Jane Austen Rocks is because of her snark. She is hilarious in her skewering of the pretentious, the ridiculous, the idiotic, the pathetic, and the self-deluded, which is just about everyone. In other words, she is Tina Fey.

What makes Austen even more remarkable, in my humble opinion, is that her characters, especially Elizabeth Bennett, manage to remain reasonably happy even though they live such restricted lives among such an assembly of knuckle-heads. Sister Jane manages to be happy by being blissfully ignorant of the baser side of human nature. The same cannot be said of Elizabeth Bennett. She recognizes everybody’s flaws, laughs at them, and yet still retains her good humor, rather than sinking into a black hole of bile or shutting herself off from the world and her responsibilities the way Mr. Bennett does.

While Pride and Prejudice ends on a happily-ever-after note, with the worthy heroines marrying rich men—for love—Austen’s own life did not have such an ending. She never did marry, and she was forced to live off of her brothers, without even a stable home of her own. However, I can’t say for sure, but it certainly seems from what we know about her is that she was just fine nonetheless.

In other words, Jane Austen rocks because she is an example of how a person can use her mind, spirit, and wit to keep her “head above water” and enjoy the spectacle that our fellow human beings offer us.

Image

Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber in 1995 BBC Version of Pride and Prejudice

As long as we are not forced to marry said spectacle, that is.