I hope your first month of 2019 is progressing well. Apologizes for the lack of posting. Funnily enough, in order to write book and movie reviews, one needs to read said books and watch movies. New postings coming soon!
A quick rundown of all the films I saw this year but never got around to reviewing.
Romantic comedies are enjoyable, feel good narratives that make you happy when done well. When executed poorly, romantic comedies make you want to swig a beer and never talk with a member of the opposite gender ever again. For the sake of brevity, I only included films released in cinemas in the last two decades and ones I could remember without looking up. Otherwise, this list would be endless.
Themes explored: Hollywood, life, dreams, nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, culture, film, film history, pop culture, movie culture, independent film making, humor, cult classic, screenplays
Synopsis: From the actor who lived through the most improbable Hollywood success story, with an award-winning narrative nonfiction writer, comes the inspiring, fascinating and laugh-out-loud story of a mysteriously wealthy outsider who sundered every road block in the Hollywood system to achieve success on his own terms—the making of The Room, “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”.
Readers need not have seen The Room to appreciate its costar Greg Sestero’s account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and interpersonal relationships to achieve the dream only he could love. (From Goodreads).
Review: Everyone dreams of stardom. No one aspires to middle management. What exactly is stardom? Your name in lights? Instagram fame? Multiple magazine covers? These days everyone lives online. Between Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WordPress (like moi), WhatsApp, YouTube, and so on, everyone can broadcast every moment of their life. Before Social Media, finding fame took slightly more work. Usually this involved moving to New York or Los Angeles, the two entertainment epicenters in America. New York specializes in singing, theater, and comedy. Los Angeles is the home to Hollywood and television. Both cities house stars, wannabes, reality stars, and the people who came for stardom but now serve coffee full-time.
Some people never took a chance on their dreams, majored in something practical, and settled down into a predictable American middle class life. Than there are the people who have tons of tenacity, the willingness to chase a dream, and minimal talent.
Enter Greg and Tommy, two dudes who wanted more out of life. Greg wanted to act. Tommy wanted fame. They met at an acting class and a cult classic emerged. Born into a comfortable middle class family, Greg fell in love with acting and the art of film making. When he was twelve, Greg sent John Hughes, the writer of Home Alone, a screenplay. While Hughes did not buy the screenplay, he encouraged Greg to keep trying and never giving upon his dream of working in the movies.
Greg’s parents did not want their nineteen-year-old son working in entertainment. They wanted him to pick something practical and stable. Greg had other ideas. He enrolled in acting classes and met Tommy, a guy with a shady history and lots of money. Tommy came from an undisclosed country yet swears to be a red-blooded American. He struggles to act, dies his hair black, and refuses to discuss anything personal. After moving to Los Angeles, Tommy and Greg decide to make a movie. Tommy wrote the screenplay and funded the film, to a tune of $6 Million dollars, making this one of the most expensive independent movies ever made.
The Room became a cult hit due to the terrible acting, slapdash directing, the mystery surrounding Tommy, and the inconsistent narrative. I learned about The Room in college. One of the multiple guys who fostered an unrequited crush on my roommate took me to a late night showing. My roommate was unavailable. Anyway, The Room was the weirdest film I have ever watched. Though throwing spoons at the screen was a novelty.
The Disaster Artist, now a feature film starring James and Dave Franco, relates Greg’s experiences with breaking into Hollywood and the circumstances that brought The Room into existence. Tommy certainly seems to suffer from a psychological disorder to some kind. He is extremely obsessive, jealous, and unable to read social cues of any kind. My brother stopped reading this book half way through since he kept getting mad reading about how Tommy treated Greg.
This book is not for everyone Greg holds nothing back. Indeed, it is actually amazing that Tommy was both weird yet oddly normal. He wanted what everyone else wants: recognition, family, success, some form of satisfaction with life, and belonging. The story is both fascinating and a little depressing. Here are two guys trying to make their deepest held dreams come true yet their own lack of talent and connections holds them back.
If you are a fan of The Room, a movie that is almost indescribable, or just a Hollywood nerd, The Disaster Artist is a quick look at the other side of the red carpet. Not everyone who comes to Hollywood leaves with accolades and money. Some leave with creepy billboards, a cult classic and pop culture infamy.
The Disaster Artist, Simon & Schuster, 2013, ISBN: 9781451661194
Now that December has arrived, my brother informed me that Christmas movies are now allowable. I feel Christmas is the only time of the year where I can admit to liking sappy stories without earning social derision. Somehow, the “magic” of the season makes everyone more willing to embrace emotion. Until January 2, then all sap must end immediately.
Christmas movies seem to fall into two categories: Watchable and Unbearable. Part of the problem, in my viewership experience, is the lack of strong story development. Most made-for-TV Christmas themed movies follow one of two narrative arcs:
Arc 1: Girl/Boy is deeply unhappy. She/He just broke up with a long-term romantic partner and he/she no longer likes their job/boss. The hero/heroine returns home and meets up with a former boyfriend/girlfriend. Sparks fly but old problems arise. Then the magic of the season makes them realize they love each other and the film ends with them kissing.
Arc 2: Insanely rich man/woman lacks an emotionally stable relationship. His/her significant other only likes him/her because of money/power/looks. Christmas season starts and the hero/heroine finds no joy in the season. To them, Christmas feels “hokey” and they can no longer find a reason to celebrate. Then a romantic interest and/or precocious child enters their life and melts their ice cold heart. Film ends with the hero/heroine either getting married or making significant changes to their company that reflects their new outlook on life.
A major problem with most Christmas movies is something I call “instant love”. This occurs when the hero/heroine meets their love interest and sparks fly immediately. They know nothing about each other but fall madly in love after three seconds of looking into each other’s eyes. Alternatively, they spend the whole film hating each other and acting hostile until the final act where they proclaim their undying love and then share a passionate kiss while the credits roll. Most television films follow this format since it requires little writing talent to create and does not ask much of the actors. However, this lack of development makes the film seem cheap and the story somehow unfinished. One reason Christmas movies (especially television movies) seem familiar is that most of them follow the same plot with various levels of acting talent.
Below are some of the Christmas Movies I recommend organized by Television/Streaming and Cinematic Release.
12 Dates of Christmas (ABC Family/Freeform)
The Spirit of Christmas (Netflix/Amazon Prime.YouTube/iTunes/Vudu)
The Princess Switch (Netflix)
The Holiday Calendar (Netflix)
A Christmas Prince (Netflix)
12 Men of Christmas (Lifetime/Amazon Prime/iTunes/DVD)
El Camino Christmas (Netlfix)
White Christmas (DVD/Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu)
Christmas with the Kranks (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu)
The Santa Clause (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
The Santa Clause 2 (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
It’s a Wonderful Life (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
The Man Who Invented Christmas (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
Jingle All the Way (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
Christmas in Connecticut (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
Holiday Inn (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
The Bishop’s Wife (DVD/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vudu/iTunes)
Sometimes I start a series and then forget about the sequels. Here are the Top 5 series I have started since I began blogging but never completed.
I read the first book, A Thousand Pieces of You, and forgot all about the story once I finished. The story follows Marguerite Caine, the daughter of a pair of brilliant physicists who invented time travel. Called “Firebird”, this invention allows people to jump into various universes. Numerous criminal organizations want the Firebird and will do anything, or kill anyone, to get ownership of it. The trilogy follows Marguerite as she navigates life and saving her boyfriend’s splintered soul across numerous universes. While the premise is promising, I lost interest in the story as soon as I finished reading. I actually forgot that the first book would have sequels. This is the type of trilogy you would read on a long flight or cruise too keep yourself amused but not recall afterwards.
Juliet Marillier writes excellent folklore fantasy. Her Sevenwaters series began as a retelling of The Seven Ravens, a German fairy tale recorded by the Grimm Brothers. The Shadowfell Trilogy follows a similar thematic narrative. Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her ability to communicate with the Good Folk–Neryn seeks the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a rebel group determined to overthrow King Keldec. All three books follow Neryn as she seeks to grow in her magic and work with the rebellion. While I think Marillier writes excellent stories, I struggled to connect with this series. I found Neryn indistinguishable from any of the magical, strong-willed heroines currently populating the YA fantasy genre. I had every intention of completing the trilogy but never got around to tracking down the other books. At this point, I do not think I will finish the trilogy.
For several years now the trend in Young Adult fiction is stories about young, stubborn, independent teenage heroines who discover they possess magical abilities. Naturally, their abilities threaten to upturn the whole world, rewrite history, and revolutionize society. In this world, blood controls everything. People with red blood, The Reds, are commoners. The royal family comes from the Silver elite who possess god-like superpowers. Mare Barrow, the heroin, is a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts. While working at the Silver Palace, Mare discovers that she possesses a power of her own. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, and announce her engagement with a Silver prince. Meanwhile, Mare plots to help the Red Guard to bring down the Silver regime. I gather the rest of the series deals with Mare coming to terms with her powers and the collapse and rebuild of the social order. Honestly, the narrative reads a lot like The Hunger Games, just with some blood voodoo and elves added into the mix. After reading the first book, I did not feel an urge to rush out and read the other additions. While I know other people like this series, I struggled to connect with the narrative.
The Remnant Chronicles, focuses on a princess, Lia, who wants to escape her preordained fate. Born into a highly traditional society, Lia decides to run away from home and an arranged marriage. While on the run, she encounters the prince she was meant to marry and an assassin on a mission to kill her. The three bond as they explore new kingdoms, meet new friends, and make powerful enemies. Lia struggles to figure out her life while wrestling with love, family loyalties, and tries to forge a new destiny. I would have liked the first book a lot more without the love triangle. What is with the trend of love triangles in Young Adult Fantasy? These weird romances are never well written and feel like a Hallmark movie gone bad. I read the first book, The Kiss of Deception, and thought it was alright but never bothered to read the next installments. After reading the descriptions of the additional books, I do not think this is a trilogy I will finish.
Apparently Paramount Pictures has optioned the film rights to this series. Based upon the brutal Roman Empire, this series explores the lives of Laia, a slave, and Elias, a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother in poverty. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she must make a life altering decision. In exchange for help freeing her brother, Laia will risk her life to spy for the rebellion from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier. His and Laia’s choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. I liked the concept of the story but I read the first book during my last Young Adult reading spree. Every single story seemed to deal with a bunch of teenagers who struggle with existential angst and whose actions will change the fate of the universe! Other than the pseudo-Roman Empire setting, this series failed to make much of an impression on me. Out of all five series listed here, this is the one I will most likely revisit at a later date.
Anastasia: The Broadway Musical
Synopsis: The last surviving child of the Russian Royal Family joins two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the undead Rasputin seeks her death (From IMDb).
Review: The Russian Imperial Family came to a sudden and bloody end during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. This revolution dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the formation of the Soviet Union. Tsar Nicholas II was the last Tsar of Russia. Nicholas was married to Alexandra Feodorovna and they had five children: Olga Nikolaevna, Tatiana Nikolaevna, Maria Nikolaevna, Anastasia Nikolaevna and Alexei Nikolaevich. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, in desperation Alexandra turned to the ministrations of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, a Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man, for comfort and moral support. Rasputin ended up wielding great influence in the royal court.
Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra spent most of their lives removed from the poverty and social unrest of their citizens. Numerous social and economic issues boiled over in the early 1900’s and the Tsar failed to act. His inaction and seemingly cold-hearted approach to governance did not endear the Imperial Family with the general population. The Bolshevik Revolution arose to counter the inaction of the Tsardom. In November of 1917, the revolutionaries invaded the Royal Palace and kidnapped the Royal Family. The Bolsheviks formed a provisional government and imprisoned the Tsar, Alexandra, and their five children in the city of Yekaterinburg. In 1918, a civil war broke out between the revolutionary Red Army and the White Army, the anti-Bolsheviks. As the White Army advanced on Yekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks ordered the local authorities to prevent the escape and/or rescue of the Romanov family. During the early hours of July 17, 1918 the Imperial Family died via execution through firing squad. Those members unlucky enough to survive the bullets died from multiple stab wounds.
However, a myth persisted for many decades afterwards that Anastasia and maybe Alexei escaped. This led to numerous young women coming forward claiming to be the lost Grand Duchess. A few years ago, new archaeological evidence revealed the bodies of both Anastasia and Alexei near the graves of their siblings. Anyways, the fairy tale of a lost Princess and a family fortune captured the attention of the public. Anna Anderson, a mentally unstable woman from Poland, is perhaps the best-known Anastasia impostor. Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman starred in a 1956 dramatic version of the Anastasia story. If you liked the animated film but want a more “adult/dramatic” version, the 1956 movie is exceedingly well done.
I loved the animated movie growing up, even though the Rasputin character was quite creepy. The music is superb. Surprisingly, the animated movie was not a Disney film. Twentieth Century Fox produced the film and it was the most successful non-Disney animated film in the 1990’s. Given the talent involved and the wonderful musical score, the film holds up to modern audiences and presents a lovely fairy tale about loss, redemption, and revenge. In 2012 the writers of the animated film were approached to write a Broadway musical adaptation, they said yes. The Broadway Play follows roughly the same narrative arc of the film, however the setting is more historically accurate than the cartoon. Given the changes in tone, the opening scenes of the movie and the play differ quite dramatically:
Play Opening Scenes: In 1907 St. Petersburg, Russia, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna is getting ready to move to Paris, France. Her youngest granddaughter, 7-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia, is saddened that her grandmother is moving. Before leaving, the Dowager Empress gives Anastasia a music box as a parting gift. The music box plays the opening chords of Once Upon a December. Ten years later in 1917, 17-year-old Anastasia attends a winter ball with her family when the Bolsheviks invade. As the Romanovs attempt to escape, Anastasia retrieves her music box, is shot, and presumed dead along with the rest of her family. The action than flash-forwards to 1927 and Gleb, the local Red Army military/government leader, announces that St. Petersburg is now Leningrad and that the Imperialist Era is over.
Movie Opening Scenes: In 1916 Saint Petersburg, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a ball at the Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. The Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna (Angela Lansbury), is visiting from Paris, France and gives a music box and a necklace inscribed with the words “Together in Paris” to 8-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia. The sorcerer Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), a former royal adviser exiled for treason, interrupts the ball. Seeking revenge, Rasputin sold his soul in exchange for an unholy reliquary, which he uses to place a curse on the Romanovs. This curse sparks the Russian Revolution. During the siege of the palace, only the Dowager and Anastasia manage to escape with the aid of 10-year-old servant boy Dimitri. They make it the river before Rasputin confronts them. In a stroke of luck, he falls through the ice and the royals escape. The pair manage to reach a moving train, as Marie climbs aboard, Anastasia falls, hitting her head on the platform and suffering amnesia. The film then flashes forward to a new, communist Russia where everyone whispers about a missing Princess.
In the cartoon, Anastasia (Meg Ryan), Dmitri (John Cusack), and Vlad (Kelsey Grammer) must outwit the dastardly Rasputin and his sidekick, an albino bat named Bartok (Hank Azaria). The play version replaces over-the-top sorcery with political might and the conflicted Gleb, a rapidly rising military commander who represents Russia’s new political regime. Both Gleb and Rasputin fulfill the same function: attempting to prevent Anastasia from making it to Paris and claiming her birthright. They just possess different rationales for their actions. Rasputin wants revenge and the total annihilation of the Tsar’s family. Once they are dead, Rasputin can take over as the new ruler of Russia. Gleb, as the leader of a communist regime, views Anastasia as the last vestiges of an outdated regime who has the potential to embarrass the new Bolshevik government.
Different villains notwithstanding, both the play and the cartoon follow the same narrative arc. The Imperial Family dies and only the Dowager survives. Ten years later, whispers emerge that the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the Bolshevik’s attack and is in hiding. In an act of desperation, the Dowager Empress offers a monetary reward for anyone who has reliable information about the whereabouts of Anastasia. Multiple women come forward claiming to the missing Duchess and the Dowager loses hope. Dimitri and Vlad, two starving con men, devise a scheme to escape Russia and claim the reward money: train a girl to pretend to be Anastasia. They hold multiple auditions but doubt they will ever find a suitable impersonator. Than Anya, a young starving orphan/street sweeper walks in. She has an uncanny resemblance to the deceased members of the Imperial Family and has no memories of her life before the orphanage. Dimitri and Vlad train her in the arts and refinements of an aristocratic woman. After they deem her acceptable, they leave Russia with forged papers on the last train out.
This is where the movie and play diverge, significantly. In the film, Bartok, Rasputin’s albino bat minion, notices that the dormant reliquary suddenly awakens due to Anastasia’s reemergence. This revelation drags Bartok into the “limbo” world between heaven and hell, where Rasputin, slowly decomposing, lives. Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped his curse, Rasputin sends some of his demonic minions to kill her and her companions. Despite two attempts, the demons fail. Determined to kill Anastasia, Rasputin and Bartok leave limbo and travel back to the land of the living. They “reunite” with Anastasia in Paris.
In the play, Gleb realizes that Anya/Anastasia has escaped. His superiors, skeptical that she is the escaped Duchess but also worried that she might be, order Gleb to follow her to Paris. They order Glen to kill her if Anya is actually the Duchess. If Anya is nothing more than a lowly street sweeper, he must escort her back to Leningrad to face a trial for treason. Apparently, Gleb’s father was a guard at the palace who sided with the Bolsheviks and was in charge of executing the royal children. Gleb talks about his father’s extreme guilt over this act and how he is expected to be his “father’s son” and finish the task. However, he finds the mysterious Anya beguiling and struggles with the morality of killing her in cold blood.
Once in Paris, Dimitri, Vlad, and Anya struggle with securing an appointment with the Dowager. Vlad, a former paramour of Sophie (Bernadette Peters in the cartoon)/Lily, the Dowager’s lady-in-waiting, manages to secure an audience. During the Parisian Ballet, Anastasia meets the Dowager. However, the Dowager refuses to believe that Anya/Anastasia is her granddaughter. In the movie, Rasputin attempts to kill her after the Duchess’ rejection and fails spectacularly. While in the play, Gleb sneaks into the Dowager’s apartments and confronts Anya/Anastasia in the parlor. He suffers an existential crisis and cannot find it in himself to kill her.
Anastasia tries one final effort to convince the Dowager and pulls out the music box. In the movie, the necklace the Dowager gave her as a child doubles as the key to open the box. The necklace does not feature in the play. Finally, the Dowager accepts Anastasia as her granddaughter. She then convinces Anastasia to follow her heart and stay with Dimitri. Both the play and the movie end with the Dowager announcing the end of her search for Anastasia. Rasputin slinks back to limbo. Gleb goes back to Leningrad and denounces the myth of Anastasia as a flight of fancy.
Overall, I think the movie had a better-developed villain. Rasputin was mean, motivated, and willing to do anything to kill Anastasia. Gleb felt like a hastily compiled character who fell apart in the second act. The character lacked three dimensions and his sudden infatuation with Anya/Anastasia felt unnatural. Both versions of this “modern fairy-tale” present the narrative in age-appropriate ways. The music is superb and the cast of the play sang exceptionally well. None of the stage actors struggled with the music. The “Once Upon a December” sequence is one of the best scenes in the play. If you were/are a fan of the Anastasia movie, I recommend seeing the stage play.
Why it is great: Who does not enjoy rock n roll music? My first introduction to Queen’s music came from the movie The Mighty Ducks where they sang We Are the Champions. Produced by Jim Beach (Queen’s Manager), Robert Taylor (the drummer), and Brian May (the guitarist), the soundtrack includes cuts from the movie and remastered versions of Queen’s original releases. This is not a greatest hit album, it is a collection of the songs that made Queen famous and beloved. Rock n roll music today bears little resemblance to the aggression and complexity of the songs created in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Best tracks: “We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions”, “Radio Ga-Ga” “Hammer to Fall” “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Why it is great: Music from the 1950’s and 1960’s remain quite popular in Hollywood films. For instance, the Guardians of the Galaxy films utilize hits from the late ’60s and early 70’s to great effect. Bad Times takes place in the mid-1960’s during the time of Vietnam War protests and the Charles Manson murders. The music on the soundtrack draws from the juxtaposition of optimism and cynicism that existed in popular culture at the time. If you are a fan of protest music and the Motown sound of the ’60’s, this soundtrack includes a nice snapshot of the era.
Best tracks: “Baby I Love You” by Tommy Roe, “He’s a Rebel” by Alana Da Fonseca, “This Old Heart of Mine” by The Isley Brothers, “Bend Me, Shape Me” by The American Breed
Why it is great: Two soundtrack exist for the film: Black Panther (Original Score) by Ludwig Göransson and Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar. Both albums are excellent. First with Ludwig Göransson. His score focuses on traditional African music with a hip-hop flare composed for an orchestra. Göransson actually visited Africa in order to research traditional and modern African music. Most of the songs in the score use talking drums and tambins in the composition, both are traditional African instruments. When combined with the classical orchestra, the result is amazing. Kendrick Lamar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper, wrote original songs for the film. He also contributed vocals to every track, including those where he did not sing lead. Additional collaboraters include Khalid, Vince Staples, Jorja Smith, SZA, Future, and James Blake.
Best tracks: “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, “Wakanda Origins” by Ludwig Göransson, “Wakanda” (featuring Baaba Maal) by Ludwig Göransson, “The Great Mound Battle” by Ludwig Göransson, “Opps (with Yugen Blakrok)” by Vince Staples, Yugen Blakrok, and Kendrick Lamar
Why it is great: Star Wars is synonymous with John Williams. The Imperial March and the Star Wars Theme are two instantly recognizable songs, no Star Wars film feels complete until they appear. Haunting, intimidating, and inspiring all at once, Williams mastered the art of soundtrack perfection. Despite your thoughts on the Solo Movie, the soundtrack lives up to the excellence of the original sound. While Williams did not compose the entire soundtrack, his iconic songs feature prominently. John Powell, the composer behind How to Train Your Dragon, Happy Feet, and Shrek, composed the majority of the music. Powell weaved his own unique sounds between Williams’s signature orchestral compositions.
Best tracks: “Chicken in the Pot” by John Powell, “The Adventures of Han” by John Williams, “Lando’s Closet” by John Powell
Why it is great: While I did not really enjoy the film, the soundtrack included some great music. Like most modern movies nowadays, the film has two “soundtracks”. The original score contains tracks written and composed by Daniel Pemberton and the other one is a selection of popular music used throughout the film. The selection of “popular” songs varies wildly in tone and genre; Bach’s “Fugue In D Minor” is slightly different from “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G.. All together, the song choices help to accentuate the various dramatic and humorous moments in the narrative. Surprisingly, neither Rihanna nor Awkwafina contributed a song or a cover to the soundtrack.
Best tracks: “Me and Mr Jones” by Amy Winehouse, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra, “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield
Themes Explored: manners, societal pressures, matrimony, pride, prejudice, love, loss, sibling rivalries, sibling relationships, social critique, reputation, marriage, parental approval, British aristocracy, femininity, class, family, virtue, honor, purity.
Synopsis: Originally published in 1813, this romantic novel charts the life and times of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters as they navigate society.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
Review: Pride & Prejudice remains one of the best satirical and social critiques of the social pressures and expectations of women in the eighteenth century (Jan 1, 1701 – Dec 31, 1800). The story endures due to the clear writing and the universal themes of love, loss, and second chances. During the eighteenth century in England (and the rest of the civilized world at the time), a woman’s main marriage currency were her reputation and femininity. Lose your reputation and you squander your only shot at securing a decent husband with a steady income. Women, especially members of the aristocracy, had to adhere to certain rules and behavior in both the private and public sphere. Several of the Bennet sisters step outside of these restrictions in ways that harmed their whole family’s reputations.
Mr. Bennet, Esquire, the patriarch of the now-dwindling Bennet family married Mrs. Bennet, the daughter of a Meryton attorney, Mr. Gardener Sr. Together the couple produced five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth (“Lizzy”/”Eliza”), Mary, Catherine (“Kitty”), and Lydia Bennet. At the beginning of the novel, none of the girls are married or engaged.
Mr. Bennet owned an entailed estate, which meant that he had no sons. As such, all his property and money automatically goes to the closest male relative in the event of his death. In this case, Mr. Collins, a paternal cousin. All the girls would receive a modest dowry but could not inherit Longbourn House. However, Mr. Collins’ would lose his inheritance if one of Mr. Bennet’s daughters gave birth to a son before his death. This grandson would then become the new heir presumptive by virtue of being Mr. Bennet’s closest living male relative. Entailments only passed through the male line. If Mr. Collins married one of one of Mr. Bennet’s daughters and fathered a son, he would guarantee inheriting Longbourn.
Within the hierarchy of British Aristocracy, the Bennet family existed on the lower end of high society. While Mr. Bennet was a gentleman, he was not directly related to the peerage. Landed gentry, like the Bennet’s, is a distinctive British social class between the peerage and the common man. The gentry consisted of landowners who could live entirely from rental income and/or the proceeds from a country estate. Socially, the gentry socialized “below”, the aristocracy or peerage, although some of the landed gentry possessed significant more wealth than the peerage and many gentry were the younger sons of the aristocrats. Since their fathers’ possessed money, many women from the landed gentry social class could marry “up” into the peerage due to significant dowries. At this particular period, a lot of the aristocracy were land rich but cash poor. Marrying a woman who came with a significant dowry (50,000 pounds+) could solve many problems.
The Bennet sisters suffered on the marriage market since they only had a dowry of between 200-500 pounds apiece. Mr. Bennet only pulled in an annual income of 2,000 pounds, a decent income but not enough to allow five daughters to make advantageous marriages. Lizzy and Darcy, socially, belong to the same social class. However, Darcy’s family descended from the peerage, so has higher standing in aristocratic circles.
In the eighteenth century, a household of five girls with no advantage other than good looks and feminine accomplishments, presented many challenges. Yet Mr and Mrs Bennet failed to prepare their girls for the marriage market. Mrs Bennet, a rather unrefined woman, repeatedly made a spectacle of herself, incapable of realizing that crude manners would deter any rich, eligible young man who noticed any of her daughters. Mr Bennet only married Mrs Bennet for her looks and later realized that he disliked her personality. He became an indifferent husband and gave up on reining in his wife’s and younger daughters’ embarrassing behavior.
All five girls acted in accordance with the education they received. Jane and Elizabeth, the two eldest and prettiest, show irreproachable conduct and have their father’s respect and appreciation. Mary, the third oldest, displays intellectual and musical pretensions but possess few looks. Kitty and Lydia, the two youngest, run wild under the rather careless supervision of their mother.
Extended members of the Bennet family include Mrs Bennet’s brother and sister – Mr. Gardiner and Mrs. Philips-and the pompous and foolish Mr. William Collins. Mrs. Philips and Mr. Gardiner contribute significantly to the progress of the story and act as surrogate parental figure to Jane and Lizzy in their times of need. Mr. Collins’s provides a link between the gentry of Hertfordshire and the incredibly wealth Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her nephew, Mr. Darcy.
As the title suggests, prejudice forms one of the main themes of the novel. Prejudice is one of many obstacles that gets in the way of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy from connecting. Mr. Darcy judges Lizzy harshly based upon her lower social standing and the uncouth behavior of Mrs. Bennet. He does not immediately notice her strength of character since he is above her in class and believes himself superior. This prejudice also influences why Darcy dissuades Bingley from pursuing Jane, even though they complement each other in every way despite the differences in social standing.
On the other side, Lizzy’s pride causes her to misjudge Darcy and treat him poorly in subsequent meetings. Jane Austen believed firmly in the importance of love in a marriage. In Austen’s view, Lizzy rejects Mr. Darcy’s first proposal because she neither loves nor respects him. Lizzy wanted a marriage where she can respect her husband and he respects her, unlike the example of her parents. This is in direct contrast to the union of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. Charlotte only accepted Collins’ proposal because she needed the respectability and security of marriage. Otherwise, she risked becoming a burden to her brothers upon the death of their father. However, Charlotte neither loves nor respects her husband. Collins merely presented the only way for Charlotte to secure her future.
The lines of class remain strictly enforced by the characters. Austen satirizes this class-consciousness, particularly through Mr. Collins, who spends his time flattering Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Several other characters, including Mr. Darcy, share Collins’ extreme conscience of class. Miss Bingley and Wickham will doing anything required to raise their social standing. Mr. Collins’s views are merely the most obvious.
In the depiction of the Darcy-Elizabeth and Bingley-Jane marriages, Austen displays how love and happiness can overcome class boundaries and prejudices. The underlying implication being that such prejudices are hollow and unnecessary. On the other hand, one critique of Austen is that she is also a classist, as she does not represent anyone from the lower classes. Those servants she does portray are generally happy with their lot. While Austen does criticize class structure, her critique solely focuses on the differences housed within the upper segments of society.
Austen is certainly critical of the gender injustices present in English society, particularly within the institution of marriage. Many of the women in the novel must marry to secure their financial security. Through the characters of Lizzy and Jane, Austen shows that women possess equal intelligence and capabilities as their male counterparts. Jane herself went against convention by remaining unmarried and earning a living through writing. In her personal correspondences, Austen advised her friends to marry for love. Lizzy’s happy marriage reveals Austen’s belief that a woman should remain independent until she meets the right man. Pride & Prejudice remains a popular novel as the themes of class, love, marriage, and societal responsibility still exist today and shape people’s behavior and preconceptions.
Pride & Prejudice, 1813, Modern Library, ISBN: 9780679783268
Musings on Books and movies
Musings on Books and movies