It's pretty obvious I love Jane Austen. Sometimes I'm not sure why; as Virginia Woolf said, 'Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness'. All I know is that I enjoy her writing more and more with every reading. It's the package. It's generally not something you can pick out and show people which can be very annoying when you meet someone, usually male, who grunts out some inadequate criticism like "Jane Austen, why would you want to read her? Everyone knows they're going to get married at the end of the book!"
But today I want to share a few of my favourite funny moments from Jane Austen writings. (My very favourite passage isn't a humourous scene and is also the climax of Persuasion, so I don't want to share it with you and ruin the book for you, if you haven't read it.)
One is a recent discovery, from what is called her Juvenilia. She wrote a very short novel as a teenager called Love and Freindship [sic], which is a parody of some of the very OTT and unrealistic novels of the time. I love this moment, when Edward, who has just married someone imprudently, is being asked by his sister Augusta to reunite with his father for the sake of support and money.
“Never, never Augusta, will I so demean myself,” (said Edward). “Support! What Support will Laura want which she can receive from him?”
“Only those very insignificant ones of Victuals and Drink,” (answered she.)…
“And did you then never feel the pleasing Pangs of Love, Augusta?” (replied my Edward). “Does it appear impossible to your vile and corrupted Palate, to exist on Love? Can you not conceive the Luxury of living in every Distress that Poverty can inflict, with the object of your tenderest Affection?”
Silly but hilarious.
Another favourite moment is from Sense and Sensibility. The two sister heroines, Elinor and Marianne, are waiting in a shop for a long time because a young man is spending a ridiculous amount of time choosing a toothpick case. Finally...
At last the affair was decided. The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment; and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care, and ... walked off with a happy air of real conceit and affected indifference.
Another is from Persuasion, involving the ridiculously vain Sir Walter Elliot.
‘He had never walked anywhere arm in arm with Colonel Wallis, (who was a fine military figure, though sandy-haired) without observing that every woman’s eye was upon him; every woman’s eye was sure to be upon Colonel Wallis.’ Modest Sir Walter! He was not allowed to escape, however. His daughter and Mrs Clay united in hinting that Sir Wallis’s companion might have just as good a figure as Colonel Wallis, and certainly was not sandy-haired.
‘How is Mary looking?’ said Sir Walter, in the height of his good humour.
And finally, here's one from Pride and Prejudice, with Mr and Mrs Bennet:
“Mr Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
So - there you go. I'm off to watch my new Northanger Abbey DVD which I very extravagantly ordered from Amazon and which arrived with Persuasion and Jane Eyre the other day. Hooray!