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Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen…

Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen From the Stiffs, the Snobs, the…

by Robert Rodi

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As lovely and intriguing as the title is, the book itself just seems to be summaries of the plots of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, with some commentary interjected about how some of the phrases used by the female characters were sharp, spiteful, sarcastic, etc.

If you are reading the books themselves, i.e. instead of this one, you'd be able to spot for yourself if a character was being sharp, spiteful, sarcastic, etc.

I don't generally need a study guide to point out the author's intent. If the author doesn't manage to do this in the original book, I tend to be of the opinion that either the author has failed me, or I have failed the author.

So, as far as my estimation of this particular book goes...Meh.
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Reading Bitch in a Bonnet by Robert Rodi is like getting together to discuss your favourite books with your wittiest, brashest, cleverest friend. Rodi clearly has an in-depth knowledge of the Austen novels, and what Austen is about, although if you're looking for very deep analysis I recommend going to a Norton Critical Edition, a Cambridge Companion, or the JASNA website. But they won't be this fun. Bitch in a Bonnet was originally published as a blog. There is also a Volume 2 that covers the other three main Austen novels.

Some examples of favourite quips pulled out while flipping through the book (some of these are a bit over the top--the whole book isn't like this--that would be exhausting!):

Sense & Sensibility:

Describing the sisters: "Marianne is the girl outside the bar, alternately shrieking 'Wooo!' and throwing up on the sidewalk, and Elinor is the one pulling up to the curb to rescue her, saying,''This is absolutely the last time I do this,' which even she doesn't believe."

On Marianne mooning over Wiilloughby: "Instead she spends her time banging gently against the front window, like a moth."

Pride & Prejudice:

Introducing characters: "Mr Bingley, who's basically a man-sized plush toy, has fallen for Jane, the vanilla ice-cream cone of the Bennet sisters. There's not enough erotic spark here to charge an AA battery."

On Col Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth teasing Darcy at Roslings: "Possibly he and Lizzy high-five after that one; Austen doesn't say."

Mr Gardiner at Pemberley: ". . . they aren't ready to go yet. Mr. Gardiner still has E tickets in his booklet and he's not budging till he's used them."

Jane & Bingley after their engagement: "This leaves Bingley and Jane to lead the way, billing and cooing and disporting themselves in Arcadian bliss--perhaps Bingley wears a tunic and sandals, and strums a lyre while Jane makes figure-8's in the air with a sash . . . "

Mansfield Park:

On Lady Bertram: "Lady Bertram doesn't venture out to witness her daughters' triumphs, because that would require things like listening to other people speak, not being in the supine, and a pulse. Seriously, at this point I doubt her ankles even work anymore. When she dangles her feet over the edge of her chaise, I imagine they just drape there, like Salvador Dali's clocks."


"This leaves Fanny to stay at home and keep Lady Bertram company, which has got to be a fairly easy task, given that Lady Bertram mainly passes the time by making mouth bubbles."

I think his treatment of Mansfield Park is the weakest of the three, as he strongly dislikes Fanny Price and I think he lets that get in his way. Conversely, he adores Elizabeth Bennet (as do I) and some of his best material centres on her.

Recommended for: this is a must-read for anyone who loves reading Austen and who dearly loves to laugh. ( )
3 vote Nickelini | Apr 16, 2015 |
Taking part in the group read of Mansfield Park gave me an excuse to get a copy of this book. Along with Mansfield Park, it also contains his witty, opinionated and intelligent commentary on Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Reading each chapter in Austen followed by Rodi's commentary was like having an animated discussion with a good friend. He made me look at Mansfield Park from a different angle. I disagreed with him on some things (he dislikes Fanny Price!) and found myself agreeing with him on others.

I had thought to save the other commentaries for my next reread of those books, but found myself unable to do so, having had so much fun with Mansfield Park. Rodi, who is very familiar with Austen's personal correspondence as well as her published books, sees her as not the genteel romantic she's stereo-typed as, but as an astute observer of social practices with a cutting wit that would make Mary Crawford blush. He points out the sly humor and finds both Elinor Dashwood and Lizzie Bennet to be utterly hilarious and charming women.

This is an excellent companion for any reread of Austen, but also great fun for those who are familiar with her novels. ( )
2 vote RidgewayGirl | Apr 7, 2015 |
I finished the first volume of Bitch in a Bonnet, covering Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll pick up the second on Kindle when we get back to the states. There's one reason I wish I had it in hard copy, which is to give you more of his wonderful, funny quotes, like his description of Bingley and Jane: "Mr. Bingley, who's basically a man-sized plush toy, has fallen for Jane, the vanilla ice cream cone of the Bennett sisters. There's not enough erotic spark there to charge an AA battery."

I thought he was right on the money with S & S and P& P, but not so much with Mansfield Park.

I agree that MP is generally the least-liked of her six novels, and it's certainly my least favorite. And I agree that Fanny Price is the most difficult of Austen's heroines to warm up to. (A spoilery discussion of his take on MP follows).

MANSFIELD PARK SPOILER: But his theory is that in MP she is trying to stretch herself with more complex characters and more subtle shadings than what has come before in S& S and P &P. The novel fails, in his view (although full of all sorts of good Austenian stuff), but it allows her to triumph with all she's learned in Emma. The problem for me is the characters are not more complex and the shadings are not more subtle. Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram - please! It's just she's chosen a very reserved and reticent heroine (who's been taken from poverty to high society, so her caution seems reasonable), and she has the sibling Crawfords, who are a little reminiscent of Wickham - able to seem awfully good, but unable to overcome their baser instincts. (Well, Henry Crawford can't; Mary Crawford just wants to live in a high style and makes no bones about it).

Rodi also thinks that Edmund should have married Mary, and Fanny should have married Henry, because reserved and somewhat dull Edmund and Fanny would have benefited from the Crawfords' liveliness, and the Crawfords would have been led to lead more kind, moral, sensitive of others lives. What he misses, from my POV, is that those relationships are about constancy vs. inconstancy. There's no way Mary could have lived the life of a clergyman's wife (as she well knew), and a life together with Edmund would have been a misery of entrapment and dissatisfaction. If Fanny had married Henry, there's no way he would've remained faithful, and even Mary acknowledged, while trying to put a happy face on the idea, that he would continue flirting with other women. Fanny would have been miserable, and she didn't even respect him in the first place. END OF SPOILER

Anyway, it was great fun to read. Rodi's deeply steeped in Austen, wonderfully non-stuffy, like he's sitting and chatting with you, and quite insightful. He picked up on all sorts of things I missed, even though I've read the books multiple times.

He believes Austen is widely mis-viewed as "a woman's writer . . . quaint and darling, doe-eyed and demure, parochial if not pastoral, and dizzyingly, swooningly romantic, the inventor and goddess of chick lit." Au contraire. She's "a sly subversive, a clear-eyed social Darwinist, and the most unsparing satirist of her century." She is "wicked, arch, and utterly merciless. She skewers the pompous, the pious, and the libidinous." He'd seat her with Voltaire, Twain and Swift.

Yes! It is her dazzling wit, her eloquent way with the subtle but devastating skewer, that keeps so many coming back again and again. I think he goes too far and generalizes too much, though, in distancing her from romance novels and chick lit. We also come back because we care about Lizzie and Jane and Darcy, and Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth and so on. But I like very much that he ranks her up there with Shakespeare. Me, too. ( )
2 vote jnwelch | Sep 22, 2014 |
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Like many people, I feel I have a claim on Jane Austen, (Introduction)
The opening pages of Jane Austen's first published novel give no indication that her reputation, in this post-literate age, hinges on something rather hazily labeled "romance."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"The chapters in this book were originally published as blog entries. They have been minimally edited for this collection in order to maintain the feeling of reading through Jane Austen's major novels in something akin to real time -- in essence, of live-blogging the Jane Austen canon." (Author's note)

"eBook Edition Published 11/7/2011 by Robert Rodi Updated 03/14/2012" t.p. verso

/// ALSO: There are two volumes of Bitch in a Bonnet. Volume I covers Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and Mansfield Park. Volume II covers Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
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Novelist Rodi (Fag Hag, The Sugarman Bootlegs) launches a broadside against the depiction of Jane Austen as a “a woman’s writer…quaint and darling, doe-eyed and demure, parochial if not pastoral, and dizzily, swooningly romantic — the inventor and mother goddess of ‘chick lit.’” Instead he sees her as “a sly subversive, a clear-eyed social Darwinist, and the most unsparing satirist of her century… She takes sharp, swift swipes at the social structure and leaves it, not lethally wounded, but shorn of it prettifying garb, its flabby flesh exposed in all its naked grossness. And then she laughs.” In this volume, which collects and amplifies two-and-a-half years’ worth of blog entries, he combs through the first three novels in Austen’s canon — Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park — with the aim of charting her growth as both a novelist and a humorist, and of shattering the notion that she’s a romantic of any kind (“Weddings bore her, and the unrelenting vulgarity of our modern wedding industry — which strives to turn each marriage ceremony into the kind of blockbuster apotheosis that makes grand opera look like a campfire sing along — would appall her into derisive laughter”). [retrieved 6/6/2014 from Amazon.com]
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