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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

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    Word Wench 2006-2016

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    Word Wench 2006-2009

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June 2023

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  • Years published: 164

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Alison Y

I fear there is no case to be made for Mr. Collins.

This is a most interesting post, and I agree with your position on all the characters you mentioned.

I do wonder if our perception of the heroes depends on the age we were when we first read each novel. And does that change as we get older. Mr. Rochester seemed a hero and very romantic when I first read the book, in my teens, but now I have more mixed feelings about him. Of course, times and society have changed and that first reading was over 50 years ago. Hmm.

Lillian Marek

Well, I wouldn't care to make a case for Mr. Collins as a hero, but one could make a case for him as husband material—as Charlotte does. He is so busy sucking up to Lady de Bourgh that his wife can pretty much run her house and her life as she chooses. It may not be romantic but it offers considerable independence and it sure beats impoverished spinsterhood.

The adaptation I most disliked was Mansfield Park, which so differed from the book that it wasn't really an adaptation at all. I'm not sure what to call it except rather unpleasant.

Mary T

I too think that Jane Austen's novels seem more like courtship novels than romance. But I think that is because I am comparing them to today's romance novels.

My favorite Austen hero is Mr. Knightly. I can't say exactly why except that I appreciated the life long relationship he had with Emma. He is really more of a Beta hero - but I like them too.

I do think that TV and movie adaptions have changed my opinion of some of her heroes. I never thought of Mr. Darcy as anything more than a prig until I saw Colin Firth in that role. Even before the water scene, my heart was going pitty-pat (smile).

Wonderful, interesting post!

Brenda Margriet

While I LOVE the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version of P&P, I am not a fan of the swimming scene. It felt like a scene demanded by a Hollywood producer. Not that I didn't enjoy it :) but I didn't think it needed to be included.

Has anyone scene the youtube series "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"? It is a modern retelling of P&P which is very clever.

I have P&P almost memorized, and Emma is my next favourite. I need to read the others again, but my memory of them is that I felt the heroes were wishy-washy. Darcy, for all his faults, knows who he is and, while he does change, he changes because he realizes he'd was wrong, not in his principles but in his actions. I've always felt that, even if Elizabeth hadn't accepted his second proposal, he still would have been a better man for having known her.


You've asked questions which could elicit some very long and detailed responses, and which I'm not going even to attempt to answer.

However, I am going to take up your "romance" question as it is something about which I've been involved in discussions in the past. My contention was that "Persuasion", "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" are definitely romances – in fact prototypes for some romance tropes – but that the other books (especially "Lady Susan") do not qualify. Sometimes though I am persuaded to change my mind about “Northanger Abbey”.

Of course, "Emma" does have a significant romantic subplot but to make it as a romance the book would have to be recast to concentrate on the subplot and would have to be re-titled to something like "Jane and Frank" (though I really need to think of a more Austen like version; what pair of nouns would do?). Emma would then become one of the villains, which some would say is already the case.

One of the problems is that I think the meaning of “romance” has been somewhat distorted by the modern “category romance” rules, so much so that I’ve seen Georgette Heyer books criticised as “not being romances”, basically because of the suspense and comedy/farce aspects taking much of the foreground.

Finally, I did at one time have all the Project Gutenberg Austen’s but I’ve recently switched to the AmazonClassics Kindle versions which, in the UK at least, are free to Prime members. If one does a book search specifying the publisher as AmazonClassics (no spaces) and the format as Kindle Books there are some very interesting titles available (and I find it a lot less trouble than using Project Gutenberg’s horrible search functionality and then fiddling around sideloading the files or emailing them to my Kindles).

A. Marina Fournier

Captain Wentworth for me.

Thank you for the closeup of Toni’s tshirt—I was unable to read it in the group shot. Tilney is the only name I didn’t recognize, but I have not been exposed to his book.
I agree with Alison—I see Rochester as more of a cad than a man stuck in a bad marriage. I didn’t understand what “expectations” when I read Great Expectations in high school: I hadn’t enough exposure to English society at the time. It is certainly not the same meaning at the wandmaker in Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone! I couldn’t understand Miss Havesham’s situation, exaggerated and morbid though it was, for much the same reasons. No one should make fifth-graders, no matter how intelligent, read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner without a lot of explanation for the mariner’s story—yes, that was me in that special class.

I’m sure there are books of and about that period written before the 1960s, as well as novels of the sort contemporary to authors before the 1960s. I used to think that Sara Teasdale wrote wonderful romantic poetry, but now her nature poems are the only ones I can just: I so much want to slap the “lovers” silly and send them to therapy. I cannot stand doormats and manipulative characters. Many classics, plays, fiction, and poetry stand the test of time.

O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night was too painful to watch: I had to leave in the first scene. Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof also made me want to slap characters and send them to therapy—well, Streetcar Named Desire as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby left me cold. Most of the male writers between the wars do the same—self-centered and boring.

So there you have it, my personal opinions on several classics that don’t work for me.

Anne Gracie

Thanks, Brenda — I whizzed over to youtube and found the link to the first of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, so people can watch.

I'm not a fan of the swimming scene either, but I do think Colin Firth nailed Darcy and is many person's Darcy. I also like Laurence Olivier in the old black and white film version with Greer Garson. The costumes were all ridiculously wrong in that production, but there was much to be said for it otherwise.

Anne Gracie

Thanks for that, Mike. I'd agree that those three are romances —and I do like your suggestion of recasting Emma as a villain - that could be fun. there are some Georgete Heyer novels that aren't really romances, or have the romance as a thread, rather than the "meat" of the story, but most of hers are very much romances in my view. For me, even The Conquerer and Simon the Coldheart were romances.

As for some Austen novels being prototypes for modern tropes, Clare on our panel was putting a case for North and South being a kind of remake of Pride and Prejudice, in a different setting. It was very interesting. Going to have to read that one too and think about that.

Thanks for that amazon recommendation. I prefer the Gutenberg versions because I can then search the text, which I can't so easily on Kindle. I use a lot of Austen quotations in my books as chapter headings. But for most readers, your suggestion would be most useful.

Anne Gracie

Alison, I think you make a good point about the age at which we first came to the novels making a difference. For me it's been a long time since I had a proper read through of all of Austen novels — I've tended to dip in and out of them since those first early readings, many moons ago, and I didn't have time to reread them all before this panel.

But so many interesting points were made — and Toni pulled out so many excellent quotes and statistics (her PhD involves Austen so she had some wonderfully detailed research at her fingertips) that I'm planning to have a proper reread, and maybe a rethink, when I have the time.

Anne Gracie

Yes, I think you're right, Lillian —Charlotte will manage. I fear I'd strangle him. *g*

I don't remember the Mansfield Park adaptation. There are so many adaptations of Austen — I really wish people would look further afield. Maybe even to George Heyer!

Anne Gracie

Mary, you wouldn't be alone in your preference for Mr Knightly, and I'll always stick up for a beta hero — I've written a few in my time, and I'm very fond of them.

And yes, Colin Firth's version of Darcy is, I think, partly responsible for the whole Austen remake thing that's going on. I thought the water scene was silly — who would ruin their good boots like that? — but it's fun.

Anne Gracie

Thanks A. Marina — Captain Wentworth was indeed a romantic hero. That letter . . .

I have Strong Opinions about the way some literature is taught in schools, force-feeding children "Great Literature"at a far too young age —and often in the most unimaginative way— is most likely to put them off reading for life. And usually does. Congratulations for surviving it.

And I agree that modern psychology makes us view some dramas differently. I did laugh at your wanting to slap some characters silly and send them to therapy — no doubt shouting "Stella, Stellaaaaa."

Dora Bramden

I have always enjoyed Austen's leading men. They do vary in how they show their inner strength but none appear less than heroic to me. I have greatly enjoyed the adaptions of the books to screen but I'm a bit of a purist. The deviations from the books irritate me. I know the reasons why Andrew Davies found it necessary to do so, but I have never been able to imagine that Mr Darcy would take a swim in the lake or that Mr Collins would find the Bennet sisters in the hall in their petticoats. As much as I admire and love Mr Darcy, (pun intended) Captain Wentworth is my man. No adaption lives up to reading Persuasion.


I am about to rock the boat a little (or a lot) and suggest that “Romance” could be applied to the old swashbuckling novels such as the Scarlet Pimpernel or the Prisoner of Zelda. Those come after Austen and they are romances in a different sense of the word. I think of Austen as focusing on heroes at the intimate, everyday scale while the later romances focus on heroes who step onto the big stage of world events.

Anne Gracie

Dora, I agree with you about some of the things that were inserted into the movie/TV versions — I can see why the Darcy dive into the pond scene was hugely popular, and made for a dramatic and sexy scene -- but really no gentleman would disrespect his fine boots so! As for walking in to find the girls in petticoats, that's ridiculous. But the one that really annoyed me was that pig wandering through the Bennet's house -- completely insane.
And I think the panel would agree with you about Persuasion.

Anne Gracie

Yes, Amanda -- I should have said that we defined what we meant by "a romance" early in the discussion. My view on the difference between a love story and a romance, is that a romance (and genre romance especially) has at its centre, a couple falling in love, and a romance always ends well. A "love story" on the other hand need not end well — and in fact often doesn't, especially for the female protagonist.

Romance in general literary terms does indeed cover stories like the Scarlet Pimpernel etc but that definition is less often use these days. I like your distinction. The focus on the domestic and the personal and intimate everyday life was one of the things we talked about on the panel -- feeling that those areas were often written about by women and tended to me of more interest to women than men.

Marianne McA

I think I'm in agreement with Mike. I think P&P is absolutely a romance, because the relationship is at the heart of the book. If Lady Catherine doesn't come to Longbourn, and Darcy therefore doesn't return, it stops being a complete story, and is just a series of events.
However, for my money, Emma could still feel complete even if Mr Knightley doesn't propose - I think in modern terms it's more chick-lit - the story is about Emma's growth as a person, and arguably the more important relationship is the one she has with Harriet.


It sounds like a very lively discussion. I absolutely agree that P&P and Persuasion are romances. The relationship between the two main characters is central to the plot, and the HEA is the climax of both books. I was also about to agree that Captain Wentworth made a better hero, but then I remembered Darcy's heroic actions to help Lizzie's sister, with no expectation of reward or even recognition. Plus, Captain Wentworth nearly got trapped into a marriage he didn't want. I can't imagine Darcy allowing himself to be put in that predicament! His sheer force of personality makes him my type of hero.
I'm not a big Austen movie watcher, and I've never seen the Colin Firth version. But I have seen the old Greer Garson/ Laurence Oliver b&w movie several times on TV, and I thought their portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy were wonderful, and who could top Edna Mae Oliver as Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

Sue W. McCormick

I read MUCH more often than I watch TV and movies, so I have never been influenced by the screen versions. My favorite Austen heroines are Elizabeth Bennett, Fanny Price, and Anne Elliot. And, agreewing with almost everyohe else, my heroes are Darcy and Capatain Wentworth. I believe that Fanny Prices's ove is loveable, but I am not sure he is a hero. Perhaps the "hero" of Mansfielld Park is Fanny's borhter?

Those three book rank as romances in my book (even though Mansfield Park lacks a hero, it does have a believable HEA). You notice that I don't include Sense and Sensibility on my list; Northanger seems silly to me. And, while Emma is the most finely styled of the Austen works, I activielly dislike Emma. Knightly is a hero, but he doesn't get enough "lines" for me to enjoy him.

Michelle H

I haven't commented in quite a while here, I normally let my Word Wenches blog posts pile up (shame on me) and then it's way too late to comment. But this caught my eye right away since I'm a devoted Austen and Austen Fan Fiction fan. As I am a devoted romance mostly Regency, with some healthy doses of history that come shortly before or after. I do hope Anne, that you will come back after your reread of Austen and give us your opinions anew. And after P&P you can give us your idea that Collins is hero material. I could write a column on him!

I love Persuasion,love Wentworth, love Anne of course. But the blatant flirtation he did with Anne's sister-in-laws by marriage really disgusted me. He did some admirable things, but he never had to change himself. And he had the knowledge that Anne at one time really loved him. Yes, he needed to go away, grow up, become successful and gain confidence that would overcome the fact that he wasn't good enough for Anne's family and her mother-figure Lady Russell.

Darcy had to change himself, if not his principles, then his attitude and actions and his pride. And he does this without the hope of every having Elizabeth knowing about those changes. He's my hero.

Given those parameters, Emma is hero material. She gets a huge smack down, painful but so well deserved and from Knightly who is the only one brave enough to correct her. Then she does change indeed. For me, reading or watching Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park, even Emma and Northanger Abbey is like watching a slow motion train heading for the broken bridge ahead and an inevitable disastrous train wreck. Everything after those wrecks is so anticlimactic.

I only got serious about reading Austen after watching the movies and being ashamed of myself that in my late 40's I hadn't read the books, being a lover of literature in high school and college. I made it a New Year's resolution. That was 15 years ago. I got really involved after being in an accident and being 'out of service' for a couple years. My husband purchased her letters, a history and an annotated version of P&P for me plus a lot of dvds. That David Shaphard annotated P&P got a lot of repeated use. And I still didn't have enough leading me to discover fan fiction. I started with Carrie Bebris and Abigail Reynolds.

Teresa Broderick

Captain Wentworth is my favorite hero. He did annoy me with his pettiness in trying to make Anne jealous but that wonderful letter would redeem him in anyone's eyes.
Wonderful post Anne. Really enjoyed it.

Anne Gracie

Karin, I agree with you about Capt Wentworth — that was a very romantic letter, but Darcy *did* things on Lizzie's behalf, with no expectation or reward even after she'd rejected him, which makes him truly heroic in my view, too.

You really should try to get hold of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Erhle version of P&P. In my view it's the best, not just because of the acting, but because it was a TV series, and so wasn't trying to fit the whole book into a less-than-two-hour movie. Almost every scene in the book is, therefore, on the screen -- and, as we've said a few extras, like the Darcy swimming scene. But it's a wonderful TV series.

Anne Gracie

Sue, yes, Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite and I've always found those romances unsatisfying. Edward was not nearly good enough for Eleanor.

Northanger Park is supposed to be a send up of the gothic novels that were so popular at the time -- it's been a while sine I've read it. And yes, Emma was pretty arrogant and interfering, wasn't she? And Knightly only comes in at the end with any presence, so he don't get to know him as well as we should a hero.

Anne Gracie

Welcome back, Michelle. I will reread my Austens, but I probably won't come back and share my views here again. I almost forgive Capt Wentworth that flirting — almost — because he was still hurt and angry. And that showed, to me, that he still had strong feelings for Anne. And he did do the right thing in the end —and very romantically.

But what is clear to me that there should have been some of you wonderful wenchly readers on that panel -- not me, who hadn't read some of the books in umpteen years. What a lovely discussion this has been.

Anne Gracie

Thanks, Teresa — it's been a fun discussion, hasn't it? And I think we can forgive Capt Wentworth in the end, I agree. I firmly believe he'll make Anne a wonderful husband.

Yvonne Jocks

Wow--flashbacks to defending my Master's dissertation on the history of the romance novel, back in '88. I defined a popular romance novel as a story that a) focused on the love story above all else, b) focused on the heroine at least as much or more than the hero, and c) had a happy ending, and I showed evidence from pre-literate cultures through the early 1700s. One PhD asked why I didn't carry the research through to modern times, and I said because others had already shown a direct line from, say, Jane Austen to modern popular romance. The PhD said, "Austen didn't write romances!" Blessedly, my thesis adviser stepped in and said, "Well, most of her books do focus on the love story..." etc. And I passed.

For anyone to argue that much of Austen is not romance requires them to set up criteria that seem overly specific. Love is declared and celebrated at the *end* f romance novels; things fall apart for much of the time before that. And a lot of romance novels do not end in a fancy wedding, so that seems an odd requirement.

Catherine Heloise

I am for Henry Tilney all the way! He’s the only one of Austen’s heroes who is permitted to have a sense of humour and play - usually, this is found only in her unreliable rakes. Swooning romanticism is an excellent thing to have, but for the long haul, I’d argue that a sense of humour is even more important for coping with the vagaries of life and relationships.

Also, there is a wonderful film version of Northanger Abbey starring Frlicity Jones and JJ Feilds which I thoroughly recommend - I especially love the dramatisation of Catherine’s daydreams and reading, which feature the people from her life in scenes from the horrid novels she loves.

As for villains that have hero potential - while I firmly believe that Edmund Bertram was the right man for Fanny, I do wish that Henry and Mary Crawford could have had a second chance - they are such fantastic, interesting, lovely, flawed characters. Though I am very glad Austen did not choose to use the ‘wicked man redeemed/changed by the love of a good woman’ trope.

Anne Gracie

Lovely post, Catherine — thank you. I wish you'd been on that panel with us. I have only the vaguest memories of Henry Tilney — I suspect you and Toni would have had a field day.

I didn't even know there was a movie of Northanger Abbey-- thanks, I'll follow it up.

Michelle Douglas

Seconding and thirding this! Henry Tilney wins my vote hands down.

Also, JJ Feild does a great job of him in the film. 🙂

Catherine Heloise

I wish I'd been smart enough to realise that the panel was on in the first place! I'm kicking myself for not paying enough attention to the writers' festival to realise it!

(Of course, I've been biased towards Northanger Abbey ever since I read it as a teenager – a heroine named Catherine who has an excess of imagination and reads far too many novels? How could I resist?)

And yes, Michelle, JJ Feild is the perfect Henry Tilney! You can really see the affection for Catherine beneath the amusement.

Teresa Broderick

Northanger Abbey is a great film and I agree JJ Field was a wonderful Tilney.

Annelie Hopfenmueller

I too loved this old version (except the costumes though!).Laurence Olivier was a very good Darcy as he owned the certain something to perfectly represent a man of the upper classes full of his own importance and entitlement.

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