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"Oh, for want of a constant heart!" or Austen Powers: Oh, Behave! 8.31.06

This has happened before. I remember about 2 summers ago when I was spending inordinate amounts of time alone and reading all that Raymond Chandler, it happened. Suddenly, I couldn't stop thinking in the clipped, angular tones of the pulpy crime writer. My thoughts were like the voiceover from a bad film noir. And I worried that when I opened my mouth some slangy anachronism would just spring out. Well, now it's happening again. With Jane Austen. It's kind of worse. Not only do all my thoughts now have the cadence and flair of a Merchant Ivory production, I fear my British approximations to be nearly as poor as Gwenny P's. Shudder. I hated her cloying, simpering Emma.

I swear, reading these things makes me wish for just a smidge more social decorum for our time. Austen's stuff is basically Sweet Valley High among the manse and horsey set. Young girls learning the ropes of dating and society, and having lots of big, overblown infatuations and disappointments along the way. They are pure fluff to read--although you do generally have quite a few characters and familial ties to keep track of--and scarcely more highbrow than The Young and the Restless when you get right down to it.

What's fun is just how intricate manners and rituals were in Austen's day. Things were formal--and somehow this makes all the heartbreak and scandal and exquisite heights of romance all the more entertaining. Letters and chance meetings along country roads seem infinitely better means of communication than text messages and emails. What's more, if you wanted to see someone--socially, I mean--you had to make an effort; sometimes, you even had to plan for it and announce your intentions in advance! JT has brought sexy back, true. But maybe next, he could work on bringing manners back. Sticky, prescriptive, but in a way totally sweet and (yes) sexy, manners.

Luckily, today has brought the first hint of fall. It is overcast and just shy of chilly. Perfect reading weather for Ms. Austen's novels.

NOTE: More fun with Gothic Romance to be found here!

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