My favorite things

I love Maria’s song in the Sound of Music. But I’ve never been super decisive about favorites. And it is almost impossible for me to name a favorite book or author because there have been so many books that have moved me, changed my life or that I keep coming back to. I wanted to share some of my favorite things.

Today I’ll start with Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Because I love Elizabeth’s story & Austen’s wit. But also, this book represents so much hope to me. Jane and Elizabeth are in an impossible situation with their financial situation, but they are able to overcome their obstacles and find their place in the world.

I struggle with the resolution of marriage as being the way to overcome one’s obstacles in life. However, I think that Jane Austen was an astute observer of her society and used her pen to showcase the issues of her female main characters and how society constrained them at the time. Pride & Prejudice showcases the precarious class status of upper class women at the time. It show how the patriarchy kept women in an insecure situation, financially. Finally, I admire Lizzy because she is so willing to speak her own mind. She is perhaps the most candid of the characters in the novel. And she is unafraid to offend or surprise.

Fantasy of Manners: A Perfect Marriage

I discovered fantasy as a genre when I read the Hobbit as a thirteen year old – the sense of adventure carried me away. But truth be told, if the whole of the novel had taken place in Bilbo’s Hobbit-hole, I would have been just as happy. As much as I loved the fantasy and adventure that Tolkien evoked, I enjoyed the sense of place that he provided.

Before that fateful book, I had been dedicated to classics (for both children and adults) such as Anne of Green Gables, the Scarlet Letter, and Treasure Island. Classics provided me a strong sense of place and characterization. I wanted to be Anne – I longed for red hair – and lamented my own brunette strands. I suppose my longing for her hair is an irony considering how much Anne hated it, but I wanted to be so much like her I didn’t care.

Prince Edward Island is as much of a fairytale place to me as the Shire or Middle Earth.

And as much as I loved the books that transported me to the past, after reading the Hobbit I was inspired to seek out more fantasy and more adventure. I went on to read the Lord of the Rings through the rest of middle school and early high school. Then I moved on to other fantasy authors, such as David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey.

However, I still longed for the novels that transported me to the past like a great classic can. I discovered Jane Austen quite by accident in 2005, when a friend and I went to see the version of Pride & Prejudice where Keira Knightley played Elizabeth Bennet. And no matter how you feel about Keira Knightley as an actress, that movie made me curious about the novel. What I loved about the movie was the way the music swept me into a time and place that I could not otherwise go.

What enticed me to pick the novel up was a review of the movie that described the movie ending as over-romantic and sentimental. I wanted to see how Austen envisioned the ending. So, with the movie in mind, I picked up the novel and fell in love with classics all over again.

More specifically, I fell in love with Jane Austen as a writer. I adored her sense of wit and irony. I loved her subtleties. Finally, I enjoyed what were essentially “happily ever after” endings.

In the interim years, I enjoyed my passions of fantasy and Jane Austen separately until I discovered a sub-genre of fantasy that married my two passions into a single entity. I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, The Magician & Mrs. Quent, and A Natural History of Dragons. These books brought my two favorite types of stories together.

However, what cemented my love of the fantasy of manners genre was Shades of Milk & Honey. This world brings together the social constraints of Jane Austen, with incredible world-building and the sort of magic that makes me fall in love with fantasy all over again. Mary Robinette Kowal’s imagining of glamour as a woman’s art constrains what the magic can do and how it is used. However, even with the plotline of a young woman trying to find a man to marry, Kowal brings a sense of adventure. There is a fantastical edge to the world that promises to ask questions beyond the parlor. A perfect marriage of genres, if you ask me.

What is your favorite fantasy of manners novel?