A Lit Major At The Movies: I Capture The Castle (2003)

I Capture the Castle film posterI Capture The Castle was never going to be an easy film to make. The book is written as the journal of a young girl in 1930s England. The plot is bog-standard, almost on the side of boring (handsome young men come into neighbourhood, pretty young women pursue handsome young men, pairing-up ensues). Considering that the true magic of the book lies in the youthful simplicity and honesty of Cassandra Mortmain’s voice, making a film version seems like a bit of a tricky endeavour.

All this considered, then, the 2003 movie actually does a decent job capturing the tone and style of the book. As you might expect, there are lots of shots of green English landscapes, with the Mortmain’s castle as a centrepiece. Visually, there are some very pretty moments as we explore the English countryside and the recesses of Cassandra’s imagination. Continue reading

I Didn’t Write This Sitting in the Kitchen Sink: I Capture The Castle (1949), by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleN.B. This review contains spoilers, so please capture a copy of Dodie Smith’s book before you begin. In return I promise to try and stop making weak jokes with the word ‘capture’ in them. 

I’d love to say that I wrote this review sitting in the kitchen sink. It might begin to express the complicated feelings I have for Dodie Smith’s beloved I Capture The Castle. It might even be a suitable homage to this lovely, quirky book. Sadly, as I’ve discovered, kitchen sinks are not comfortable places to sit, especially when you’re trying to balance a laptop on one knee and a cup of tea on the other.

Which is a shame, because the opening line of I Capture The Castle – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” – is a real winner. Continue reading

Top Ten Literary Places I’d Like to Visit

Scott Monument EdinburghThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, and seeing as I’ve recently come to the UK for a year of study, I thought I’d use this opportunity to share my list of top literary places I’d like to visit while I’m here. Whether I’ll be able to visit all (or any) of these remains to be seen; but like all travelling bookworms, I dream big.

Top Ten Literary Places I’d Like to Visit (in the UK)

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Lit Major Abroad: Istria, Home of the Famous Colossal Trousers

Porec StatueAustralians are a travel-hungry people generally, not content to sit on this hot, boring little island for too long at any one time. So we generally go overseas and sit on hot, boring little islands there, because it’s interesting and the people are fun and the food is better. Also we can collect those little bottles of soap and hair conditioner that you find in nicer hotels. Because, let’s face it, you never know when you might ten millilitres of runny, fifteen-year-old shampoo from a bottle that is older than all three of your children.

So in true Australian fashion, I have once again abandoned my home, and have headed to the home of my forefathers – Croatia – on the first leg of a year-long stint which will include plenty of travel, and a year of university study in the UK wedged in there somewhere (but let’s not talk about uni just yet, because it makes me terribly anxious, and also I haven’t bought all of my books yet). Continue reading

Everyone’s Got An Austen: Everybody’s Jane (2011), by Juliette Wells

Everybodys JaneI read this book as part of the Austen in August reading event.

One of the truly curious things about Austen is just how many different incarnations of her there are. In the space of two hundred years, the ghost of Austen has been conjured in many different forms: saint, saviour, genius – and of course, more recently, in a wider and wider variety of guises: lover, detective, even bloodsucking and immortal vampire.

Biographies of Austen, and accounts of her work, frequently try to chip away at the layers and layers of disguises she has been coated with, in an effort to get a little closer to the ‘real’ Austen, to what she ‘really’ thought and ‘really’ wrote. But for me, as for many, the ‘real’ Austen (impossible to ever recover now, try as one might) is sometimes less interesting than the various ideas that people have of her. Partly, because it says a lot about the society they’re living in, and partly because it says a lot about individual desires and experiences. Continue reading

Images of Austen: ‘Reading’ the New Jane Austen Waxwork

ImagesAusten2N.B. I wrote this post last year, when the Jane Austen waxwork had just been announced. It’s hard to say whether the waxwork had as much of an impact as I thought it would when I wrote this post, or whether it was just another media gimmick to distract us from all the real stuff actually happening in the world. Either way, it led to a great deal of musing on my part, the larger portion of which I share with you below.

Last year, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath announced an astonishing breakthrough: finally, after years of dull, disappointing images of the famous author gracing book covers and coffee mugs around the world, they had at last discovered what Jane Austen actually looked like. Hurrah! Cried Austenites everywhere. Finally, a release from the tyranny of the one authoritative portrait of the author! Finally, an image of the writer we can show our children! Finally, an image of a woman we would actually want to be friends with! And how was this miracle achieved? Well, by the patient efforts of a forensic scientist, who spent the better part of three years on a quest to discover the ‘real’ Jane Austen.

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A Lit Major At The Movies: Mansfield Park (1999)

Mansfield Park 1999Last year I re-read Mansfield Park. And made a surprising discovery.

I actually liked it. All those years of avoidance, staring at it on the shelf and wondering whether it would ever do anything more other than round out my collection of Austen’s work – what a waste.

So when I found myself loving the book, I naturally wondered whether perhaps my younger self had also been unfair on the movie adaptations of the novel. In particular, the 1999 version directed by Patricia Rozema. So I tracked it down and gave it another go. And what I found was, if not the most enjoyable viewing experience (or, indeed, true-to-the-book adaptation), at least a thought-provoking one.

The 1999 version of Mansfield Park is a darker, more sombre version of Austen than those made earlier in the decade. This turn-of-the-millennium Austen hints at the changes that are going to begin appearing in Austen adaptations of the noughties: an interest in the grungy, the suppressed; in sex, and in the characters who frequently hover on the periphery of Austen’s narratives (domestic servants and, in this particular adaptation, slaves on the sugar plantations owned by the Bertram family). Although we never really see either slaves or servants, these individuals are conspicuous in their absence.

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Why Jane Austen? (2011), by Rachel M. Brownstein

Why Jane AustenThis book is #3 on my Austen in August reading list.

I’m sure I’m not the first person who has frequently found themselves, after revealing their appreciation of Austen’s novels, being asked that impertinent question, the one that drives just about every fan of the famous writer up the wall: ‘Why Jane Austen?’.

It drives us crazy because it is so often difficult to put into words why we read – and love – Austen’s novels. And it’s difficult, too, because the question implies that there is little reason for people in the modern world to be reading two hundred year old ‘love stories’. The question can be delivered in a tone of genuine curiosity or, alternatively, of resounding condemnation (‘Why Jane Austen? Wasn’t she that spinster woman who wrote books about women falling in love because she was trying to fill some sort of void?’ Incidentally, these are the ones I’d dearly love to reply to by returning the favour, and stuffing the particularly gaping void that is their mouth with passing vol-au-vents. But since I don’t want to be thrown out of the first annual meeting for the local Wine and Cheese club for assaulting one of my fellow gastronomes, I desist). Continue reading

Cover[t] Designs: Jane Austen Cover To Cover (2014), by Margaret C. Sullivan

Jane Austen Cover To CoverI read this book as part of the Austen in August event, hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

If you like pretty books, then prepare to drool in an unsightly but endearing way. There’s nothing more appealing to a cover design nut than a book about cover designs, especially one that has such a pretty design itself. The publication of a book exploring the various physical manifestations of Austen’s novels was probably only a matter of time, considering how many editions of her works have been published in the two hundred years since she first began writing.

And Austen, with her wide appeal – from literary critics, to passionate fans, to the casual reader – is perhaps one of the most interesting topics when considering the marketing of classic books to readers from all walks of life. Is she chick-lit? Satire? A nostalgic portrait of a pre-industrialised Britain? High-brow literature, or the eighteenth century equivalent of the Harlequin romance? Continue reading

Austen in August 2015

austeninaugustrbr-buttonIs anybody else’s mind simply blown by the realisation that is is August again, already? Mine certainly is. But August means Austen in August, the super-fun reading event that celebrates everything Jane Austen.

I’ve got a much shorter to-read list this time around, mostly because I don’t know how much time I’ll get to read this month. So I’ve only got a few choice selections:

  1. Emma – this will be my Austen re-read for the month, as 2015 marks two hundred years since its publication (I know, Miss Woodhouse looks simply amazing for two hundred – how does she do it?)
  2. Jane Austen Cover To Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan Completed; review here.
  3. Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein Completed; review here.
  4. Everybody’s Jane by Juliette Wells Completed; review here.

Bonus: A review of the 1999 film version of Mansfield Park, and a post on the new Jane Austen waxwork.

As you can see, this year I’m continuing my theme of reading books dedicated to dissecting the Jane Austen phenomenon.

Are you participating in this month’s event? What will you be reading?