Jane Austen Quick Notes

I was delighted when my friend and colleague (DB) helped me find ibook’s latest Pride and Prejudice. It opens with music and cut-out characters and continues with brief lectures by Elizabeth Bergstone, described as a “public speaker and guest lecturer at Elon University and Salem College.” She has a light British accent. In the introduction to the times, she tells us a bit about Austen’s “ordinary” life as contrasted by the more tempestuous and revolutionary worlds of France and America. She feels certain Austen read Wollstonecraft and posits relationships between Wollstonecraft’s ideal woman and Elizabeth Bennet and also more obviously between Jane and Cassandra Austen and Lizzy and Jane Bennet.

Then we get a 5-minute summary. Characters get sketches. Mr. Collins is “dull, pompous, and boring.” I thought I talked fast. She talks really fast, but still the story is clear and even includes her version of details like Darcy turns white; Wickham, red with definitive confidence. Our hostess looks positively delighted by the happy ending and with Lady Catherine condescending to visit Pemberley.

In the ten-minute summary, Mary assumes an oddly seductive pose, and we get a slower version of events. When Bergstone takes us through the story, she assumes the personas briefly, including being snobby when she describes Darcy at first. She tells us, a bit oversimplistically, that Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins because he’s dull. How about pretentious and idiotic?

Then there’s a lesson on settings, beginning with Longbourne and the details we know about it—two stories, farm land, large enough for the seven of them and several servants. She talks about entail, but she doesn’t use the word. In the pictures of the five girls, Lydia is not the tallest, which I found bothersome in its inattention to detail. To remember the order of the sisters, Bergstone gives us the phrase “Just everyday middle class living” (Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, Lydia) as a mnemonic device. In the segment on Lucas Lodge, Bergstone provides an explanation of how William made a little speech to the king, who was delighted, and then knighted him. I had been a little fuzzy on those details, so I appreciated this recap. Meryton she describes as one main street (inn, dress shop, probably a church though it’s not mentioned). I noticed Bergstone was not wearing glasses for this one and thought maybe she dressed up for her metaphorical walk through town? She also has them off to describe Darcy. Netherfield she describes as five characters come to live there. In this clip, she says the oldest one is Caroline, but later that detail is corrected to say Louisa was older. I was already a bit doubtful of the accuracy of the information (and the editing: how could they miss the discrepancy?) when she shared the mnemonic for Netherfield as: Big Classy House That is Delightful (Bingley, Caroline, Hursts Darcy), which I found patronizing.

The lessons include a lot of repetition, as though she’s giving us a cheat sheet but also trying to help us remember what’s on there.

“Mahalo” pops up in the upper right-hand corner regularly, which would be cute if we understood how that Hawaiian greeting relates to any of this. Later I deduced that it’s a company devoted to the idea of “learn[ing] anything.”

The next part of the guide is the Characters Interrelationships Map, followed by lessons on individual characters. In the Lesson on Lizzy, Bergstone says that the key is: “Lizzy is lively. Lively Lizzy.” Okay, so this is not quite Austen for geniuses, but maybe for people who are struggling, these word games will help. Jane’s picture is always with one arm outstretched onto a wall, which to me, seems a bit bold for her. Lizzy’s is more retiring, with her hands clasped in front of her, but she is the smallest, which fits with the book. Bergstone calls Mr. Darcy the most important male character, which I suppose fits the standard reading if such a judgment has to be made at all and if you can seriously exclude Mr. Bennet. She includes some lines from the text in the character analysis, and there’s a written summary of all the oral lessons. With most, but not all, characters, Bergstone offers a simple device to help non-experts keep track of who’s who, alliterative sayings like “Mr. Darcy was distant” and “Caroline is cold and calculating.” The quotation on Mr. Bingley is incorrectly attributed to a “Mrs. Bingley.” “Mr. Bingley is big-hearted.”

Navigating the ibook might necessitate a Mahalo mini-lesson. There are cards you can flip to review notes on character, and there are “chapters” that review a selection of chapters at a time, but it took me some time to figure out how to get from one section to the next (between types of sections, not within sections, which is usually just a swipe left).

I eagerly anticipated how Bergstone would simply the themes of the novel, but I wasn’t prepared for her to call “marriage” a theme (what idea about marriage is Austen conveying?, I would ask my students). She begins by saying how Lizzy and Darcy are temperamentally fit but then doesn’t explain (even something as simple as they’re so different, but they complement each other). I was a little horrified when I heard that Lizzy is only comfortable being submissive because Darcy is superior. She did finally get to Lizzy’s liveliness being an asset, but I was still smarting over the submission comment. The marriage section deals with the ideal, the happy, the practical, the tolerated, and the arranged with a marriage from the story illustrating each type.(Where are the Gardiners in this? I would have characterized their marriage as either of the first two. )

Then comes the whole text by chapter. Every group (after ch 1-4, for instance) gets a “quick overview” and an “in-depth summary,” both of which review the mnemonic like Big Classy House that is Delightful. There are quotations and even a quiz. There are videos for each chunk as Bergstone talks us through the text. After the first ball, for instance, she explains that everyone got together to talk about the ball. She really delights in retelling the story, so even though she doesn’t get every detail exactly right (for instance, saying Darcy doesn’t notice the mud on Elizabeth’s gown because her cheeks were brightened by exercise, whereas an expert reader would say he does notice but is too attracted to her to care), but the gist is there, and she’s so enthusiastic, it’d be tough not to be in response.

Plus the little illustrations that accompany her talking make this quick guide more like a comic book, which I know would help along several of my buddies who really want to master this text, if for no other reason than to impress me in casual conversation. For them, and for anyone who needs a little help keeping track of everything, this is literally a quick guide, and it’s fun and easy.

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Published in: on November 1, 2014 at 2:48 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I loved this review. It sounds like so much fun!


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