Jane on the Brain

Two English professors take an Austen quiz

By Rita Buettner

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one cannot discuss Jane Austen often enough.

With the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice this month, Loyola magazine invited two Loyola English professors—Carol “Sue” Abromaitis, Ph.D., professor of English, and Gayla McGlamery, Ph.D., associate professor of English—to answer a few Austen questions.

So put down your whist cards, pour yourself a cup of tea, and peruse their responses.

If you want to share your opinion, leave a comment below.

Best Austen character:

Dr. A: Elizabeth Bennet—I like so many of them, but her irony just captures me.

Dr. M: If by best, you mean wittiest and most entertaining, then Elizabeth Bennet is the best by far. Her liveliness and spunk engage me every time I read Pride and Prejudice. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate Anne Elliot (Persuasion) nearly as much.

Austen character you identify with most:

Dr. A: I’d love to say Elizabeth, but I am afraid it is really Mrs. Gardiner.

Dr. M: When I was younger, like many readers, I identified with Elizabeth Bennet, but Anne Elliot has grown on me. Her resilience, her clear-eyed skepticism, her self-respect, and her concern for others are quietly winning.

Darcy or Knightley?

Dr. A: Darcy (maybe Colin Firth has something to do with that).

Dr. M: Darcy. A man transformed by love is more appealing than a man who wants to transform the woman he loves!

Best Austen setting:

Dr. A: Bath in several of her novels.

Dr. M: Pemberly—pure wish-fulfillment

Personal favorite Austen novel:

Dr. A: Pride and Prejudice—oh to be different, but alas I am not.

Dr. M: Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel. Austen wrote it when she was middle-aged and ill, and perhaps because of this, it has a darkness and melancholy that I find oddly appealing.

Most disappointing Austen novel:

Dr. A: Mansfield Park is a better novel than novels by other writers, but it is my least favorite of J.A.’s.

Dr. M: Mansfield Park—I recognize its virtues, but the ever-so-meek protagonist, Fanny Price, makes me cringe.

Something you don’t know about Austen:

Dr. A: Why did Austen have to die so young?

Something others might not know about Austen:

Dr. M: The first novels published under her name—Northanger Abbey and Persuasion—appeared after her death and included a biographical notice from her brother Henry Austen proclaiming her authorship and offering a short tribute to her life.

Best movie version of an Austen book:

Dr. A: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

Dr. M: If I am permitted to call it a movie, the 1995 BBC mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth—almost perfectly cast and played. My husband and I watched it every summer for at least a half-dozen years after it came out.

Why are Austen’s novels still so popular 200 years later?

Dr. A: Austen’s novels are told by a witty, perceptive, engaging narrator who is interested in human nature. She creates characters with whom readers connect, particularly young and intelligent women. She values thought and perceptiveness in her characters. She avoids (one might say militantly) sentimentality, cheap-think, manipulative plotting. Austen is a great writer.

Dr. M: They offer an ever-popular romance plot (Pride and Prejudice is structured around a perfectly distributed series of romantic advances and reversals), some of the most deliciously pointed satire in English, and are so beautifully written that they reward leisurely and repeated re-reading.

If you invited Jane Austen to tea, which other writers would you include?

Dr. A: After much thought, I choose for their wit, love for the variety of human nature, disdain for the pretentious, and sense of the significance of each person, Henry Fielding, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Leigh Sayers.

Dr. M: Jonathan Swift, Christopher Hitchens, Judith Martin (Miss Manners), Philip Roth, Zadie Smith

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