Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region
Rodi read excerpts from both volumes of his Bitch in a Bonnet series.
Rodi also discussed his latest effort, a full-length comedy of manners based on Austen’s short Edgar and Emma, part of the Juvenilia.
Beyond the Bonnet
October 1, 2016
Central Library, Pasadena
A record number of members and guests attended JASNA-Southwest’s Fall 2016 Meeting, “Beyond the Bonnet,” on October 1 at the Pasadena Central Library. Guest speaker Robert Rodi, author of the Bitch in a Bonnet blog and books, enthralled attendees with his witty enthusiasm for Austen and deep engagement with her works.
He began by sharing his inspiration for the blog, which began with the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. “I think it is fair to say I did not like this movie,” he said. “So much about it just alarmed me. Lady Catherine de Bourgh showing up at Longbourn in the middle of the night. Lizzy and Darcy being pelted by rain on the moor like they’re Heathcliff and Cathy.”
What troubled him most of all, he said, was the reduction of Austen’s dialogue. “To me, Jane is all about the language,” he said. “It is the weapon that she wields against society. In this movie, it was just completely flattened out.”
He compared dialogue from the novel to its transformed lines in the film. One example he shared was the scene when Charlotte informs Lizzy she has accepted Mr. Collins’ proposal of marriage. First, he quoted from the novel: “Why should you be surprised, dear Eliza? Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s good opinion because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?” And then from the film: “Don’t judge me, Lizzy. Don’t you dare judge me.”
Rodi told the audience that he is usually able to shrug off a film adaptation of a favorite novel that doesn’t please him. “In this case that was impossible because, in the ensuing weeks, I kept seeing reviews saying, ‘Finally, someone has captured the spirit of Austen.’ I could not let it pass,” he recalled.
“In Jane Austen, we have one of the great social satirists of all time. Because she was a woman, living in a time when marriage was the only means by which a woman could alter the condition of her life, that’s what she wrote about. To call her, for that reason, a writer of romances is the kind of cloddish thinking that she would take relish in eviscerating,” he added.
“Despite her admittedly limited palette, her psychological acuity easily matches Shakespeare’s, and her wit as well,” he wrote in the “manifesto” that serves as an introduction to his blog.
At first, he began writing a book to support his thesis that Austen is actually the most unsparing social satirist of her century. Eventually he came up with the idea of doing a blog. He started with Sense and Sensibility and would re-read a few chapters and then post about them, trying “to make them as amusing as possible.”
He struggled the most with Mansfield Park, his least favorite of Austen’s works, and his posts became longer and longer as he justified his concerns about heroine Fanny Price. “This is where what started as a six-month project turned into a five-year project,” he said. His favorite Austen novels, he told the crowd, are Pride and Prejudice (“I know I am not alone there.”) and Northanger Abbey, which he likes to envision being performed entirely by members of the Monty Python troupe.
After finishing the blog in 2014 and collecting the essays into two self-published volumes, Rodi found he missed “being in the Austen sphere.” He decided to return to the canon but do something different. “I wanted to try a novel, but not a sequel or prequel. I really love her Juvenilia. It’s hilarious. It really gives you a sense of what a firebrand she was as a youth.” So he took one of her early farces, the four-page Edgar and Emma, and turned it into a full-length comedy of manners in his best approximation of her style. He published the novel in December 2016.
View video highlights on our YouTube page.
Robert Rodi is an American novelist, playwright, comic book writer, essayist and performance artist. He has authored 11 novels, four works of nonfiction and written numerous comic books. His latest book is his first Austen-inspired fiction, which takes the four-page
“Edgar and Emma,” which Austen wrote in her teens, and expands it into a full-length comedy of manners.
He was born in Chicago in the conformist 1950s, grew up in the insurrectionist 1960s, came of age in the hedonist 1970s and went to work in the careerist 1980s. This roller-coaster ride left him with a distinct aversion to isms of any kind; it also gave him an ear for hypocrisy, cant and platitudes that allowed him, in the 1990s, to become a much-lauded social satirist.
Robert resides in Chicago, in a century-old Queen Anne house with his partner, Jeffrey Smith, and a constantly shifting number of dogs. To learn more about Robert and his works visit www.RobertRodi.com.
The gathering at the Pasadena Central Library