Clueless is 20? I’m totally buggin’!

“Clueless” is one of my favorite movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since the movie came out (of course, I was verrrrry young at the time).

I still love to watch this movie; its mix of snappy dialog, satire and sweetness still hold up today. There’s a new book that dishes on all the behind-the-scenes details, from creating the fashions (which were practically movie characters themselves), to finding the film locations, to coming up with those signature catch phrases.

Cover As If

As If! by Jen Chaney is available now on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Click here to find out more.

The Evolution of Love

Postcard Grecian Woman editedIt’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the old-fashioned traditional Regency romance. I devoured them back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. My office bookcase still has a dedicated favorites shelf crammed with Regencies by Rachelle Edwards, Patricia Wynn, Elizabeth Mansfield, Joan Smith, and, of course, the great
Georgette Heyer.

I often reread those traditional Regencies to cleanse my palate after reading a spate of mysteries, thrillers, or contemporary fiction.

What I like most about traditional Regencies is their level of escapism. Although they’re grounded in historical fact, they’re actually pure fantasy. A major component of the fantasy (as a general rule) is the attractiveness of the hero and heroine. You know the Regency lingo: Nonpareil. Diamond of the first water. Complexion like a damask rose. Regency heroines are usually ravishing, spirited, and enchanting, with red lips, dark curling lashes, and impossibly small waists. It’s part of the fantasy to read about a heroine that I wouldn’t mind looking like myself, if given the chance.

Pearl Fidler LeMunyon_editedGeorgette Heyer certainly clothed her heroines in beauty. Venetia was described as “a fine-looking girl; most would not have hesitated to call her beautiful. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth; there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features; an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of selfconsciousness.”

And Arabella was unquestionably the beauty of the family, with “large, dark, expressive eyes, little straight nose, and delicately molded lips” as well as a complexion that was “the envy of less fortunate young ladies.” Arabella enchanted her admirers by a “deceptive air of fragility, which inspired one romantically minded young gentleman to liken her to a leaf blown by the wind.”

I’m not sure how Regency heroines evolved to being such paragons of attractiveness. In Pride and Prejudice—the book that originally inspired the Regency genre—Jane Austen described her heroine in plainer terms. Elizabeth Bennet, while certainly attractive, was not a beauty. Instead, it was her sister Jane who was the acknowledged beauty of the family. When Darcy sees Elizabeth for the first time, he describes her only as tolerable.

card00300 editedBut that’s where the romantic fantasy of Pride and Prejudice takes hold. As the story progresses and Darcy comes of know Elizabeth, his feelings for her spark, then flame; and at the same time, the author’s description of Elizabeth changes, too, almost as a reflection of Darcy’s feelings. The more love he feels for Elizabeth, the more beautiful she becomes.

“Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”

Beauty-Dearest Loveliest Elizabeth resized

By the end of Pride and Prejudice, she is his “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” And that brings me to the part of the fantasy I love the best . . . That every woman is beautiful in the eyes of the man who truly loves her. It’s that perfect ending that draws me back again and again to Pride and Prejudice, and to many of those traditional Regency romances still crammed on the bookshelf in my office.

Regency Bonnets and Caps

January 17 is Wear a Hat Day. Hats are not much in vogue in our modern times, but in Regency England, a stylish bonnet was an essential part of any lady’s ensemble when she stepped out of doors. Married women and ladies of a certain age (late twenties and older) wore caps indoors. Shopping for hats and caps and keeping up with the latest style of trims and colors was de rigeur for ladies.

William Henry Margetson

William Henry Margetson

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe told Catherine Morland, “I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine in a shop window in Milsom-Street just now—very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.”

Perhaps Miss Thorpe passed a shop that looked like the one represented in Alonso Perez’s painting, The Milliner’s Shop:

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

In the first ten years of the 19th Century, the poke-bonnet gained popularity. In an 1801 letter, Jane Austen wrote that she had a new bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon:

“I find my straw bonnet looking very much like other people’s, and quite as smart.”

Alfred Glendening

Alfred Glendening

Leghorn hats were also popular, featuring a large brim in front, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style, such as this bonnet:

Annie Henniker

Annie Henniker

Here are examples of different Regency-era bonnets, as depicted by various artists:

Carl Thomsen

Carl Thomsen

A. R. Kemplen

A. R. Kemplen

F. Sydney Muschamp

F. Sydney Muschamp

Carlton Alfred Smith

Carlton Alfred Smith

In Emma, Mrs. Elton hinted at the importance of wearing just the right hat for the occasion when she accepted Mr. Knightley’s invitation to pick strawberries at Donwell:

“It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, —probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see.”

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In her letters, Jane Austen wrote about re-trimming a cap:

I shall venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one, as being smarter.

By 1810 the plain cottage bonnet became more elaborate. Hats became higher and were decorated with more than fabric and ribbon. Hats sported flowers, puffed gauze, feathers, and gathered or plaited fabric.

This hat bears the fashionable poppy-red color Isabella Thorpe called “coquelicot” in Northanger Abbey:

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford explained to Edmund how easy it was to tell whether a woman is out in society based on her bonnet:

“Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistaken as to a girl’s being out or not. A girl not out has always the same sort of dress: a close bonnet, for instance.”

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

George Sheridan Knowles

George Sheridan Knowles

From examples throughout Jane Austen’s books, we can see that a lady’s bonnet was not just a means for keeping the sun out of her eyes. Instead, it was a declaration of her station in life, her level of wealth and, perhaps, even her marital status.

Prepare the Barouche; I’m Going to the Thea-tah

At last! I’m finally counting down the days until I see Austenland! I’ve been looking forward to this movie (based on the novel by Shannon Hale) since I first heard about it in January. The film opened yesterday in Los Angeles and New York. Here are a few of the review tweets I read this morning:

Austenland Review Tweets

And USA Today says “Austenland is spirited and gently witty.”

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The film, like the book, pays homage to modern-day Janeites who just can’t get enough of Mr. Darcy and, if given the chance, wouldn’t mind indulging in a little Pride and Prejudice role-playing.

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Sony’s release schedule has the film opening in my city on August 30 and I’ll be there! I hope it comes to your town soon. You can check your city’s release date here.

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical

I love going to the theater and seeing productions everyone’s talking about; but every once in a while, I get to see a new play that hasn’t yet hit the critics’ radar screens. Denver is fortunate to be the venue where many productions premier their plays before heading to New York or embarking on a national tour. That was the case with Sense & Sensibility: The Musical.

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It’s a charming version of one of my favorite Jane Austen novels and it didn’t disappoint me. The cast was exceptional, the costumes by Emilio Sosa (one of my all-time favorite Project Runway designers) were a visual treat, and the music and lyrics helped move the story along. I’ll even confess to getting a little misty-eyed during Marianne and Colonel Brandon’s duet; it was so sweet and touching! (You’ll see Marianne and the Colonel at the 1:15 mark on the video below.)

I hope you get a chance to see this wonderful production. In the meantime, follow this link to the Facebook page for Sense & Sensibility: the Musical, where you can read more about the production, see pictures of the performance, and hear the songs.

Click on this link to read an article from Broadway World about the sold-out performances of SSTM’s Denver world premier.

Jane Austen on the £10 Bank Note

The Bank of England announced that Jane Austen’s image will appear on the new £10 bank note.

Bank of England Jane Austen 10 Pound Note

The new bank note featuring the beloved author of Pride and Prejudice will probably start appearing in 2017.

In addition to Jane Austen’s image, the bank note’s planned design includes:

  • A quote from Pride and Prejudice – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”
  • An illustration of Elizabeth Bennet, one of the characters in Pride and Prejudice
  • An image of Godmersham Park in Kent – the home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, and the inspiration for a number of novels
  • A central background design of the author’s writing table which she used at home at Chawton Cottage in Hampshire

Click here to read about the announcement and the public campaign that influenced the Bank of England’s decision.