Thursday, June 20, 2024

Lost in Austen: A Nerdy Feminist Viewing, Part 1

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Fan fiction: it’s a thing we’re very supportive of here on The Fandomentals. Most of us spend more time than we care to admit writing or reading it. But even we have to admit that the problem with fan fiction is that it is the epitome of Sturgeon’s Law

Sturgeon’s Law states that 95% of anything is crap. The reason why this is true of fanfic in particular is that any yahoo can vomit something onto a page for twenty minutes, then press the “publish” button. There is some wonderful fanfic out there, stuff that rivals any published work in quality, but to find it you have to wade through a great deal of crap.

Then there is Jane Austen fanfic. It’s a little different. Mostly because her works have a fandom that’s quite typical of modern fandoms, but they’re also in the public domain, so you can press the publish button by having a novel that you sell for profit.

^I’m told this is real.

Or by making a four-part mini-series on ITV.

And so we come to Lost in Austen. This is fanfic. And it is not that magical 5% of fanfic either. If it were to be on AO3, the summary would be like:

Lizzy Bennet and Modern London Girl trade places! Can Amanda make destiny happen, or will Darcy’s heart be drawn somewhere else? Longbourn won’t know what hit it! #crackfic #AU #Darcy/OFC NO FLAMES #don’t like don’t read

As you can probably tell from that summary, this work features that beloved staple of all fanfics your eleven-year-old students accidentally leave in their desks at the end of the year: the Mary Sue. And I promise you, this one is a doozy. I’m talking Original Design Mary Sue who randomly shows up on the Enterprise one day and is inexplicably tolerated even though her behaviour warrants repeated punches in the mouth. Saint Tyrion would be blushing.

We meet the singular Amanda Price as she voiceovers complaining about her life. She’s a perfectly normal, financially independent twenty-something. But her love life is vaguely unfulfilling. Oh, the horror! Any way, Pride and Prejudice is how she escapes from her dreary existence.

Wow, would Jane Austen ever be shocked to hear her work characterized as escapism… But don’t despair, Jane, if there is one thing this series proves, it’s that she doesn’t understand your books at all, for all her protestations that she’s read them so often that “they’re a part of her.”

Amanda wants to stay in and read (fair enough) so she kicks her roommate out. But a few hours into her wine-and-dressing-gown fest, her boyfriend, Michael, turns up drunk and… immediately takes a beer from her fridge and turns on a football game. What? Is that normal boyfriend behaviour.

As she complains about his presence, but doesn’t actually ask him to leave or anything, he drops to one knee and offers her the pull tab of his beer can, by way of proposal. “You have no idea quite how unromantic that is, do you?” she says.

An unromantic proposal!? Have you read Jane Austen?

That night, Amanda hears a noise in her bathroom and… it’s Elizabeth Bennet in her night things. She had somehow read her underwear in the dark and starts calling her “Miss Spencer” because that joke’s never been done before…

So… there’s a magic door in the attic in the Bennet’s house. As Elizabeth explains, in language that is… not how they speak in Austen. But then Amanda turns around and she disappears.

The next day, I guess Amanda assumes it was all a dream, because she goes to see her mother, and boy is this lady a peach. She advises Amanda to marry the first man who’ll have her who doesn’t, like, assault her. Amanda counters that she has standards, because she’s read P&P, and everyone in that book has such great manners.

When she gets home, Elizabeth is back in her bathroom, futzing with the light switch. They agree to switch lives for a bit. So Amanda goes through the magic door and ends up in the Bennet house, and for the next, well, four hours, it’s second-hand embarrassment land for Julia.

Elizabeth apparently paved the way for this, saying that her friend would be visiting. So she meets the family and is basically just lumbering and awkward, and has no idea how to behave.

She’s put up for the night in Elizabeth’s room and is shocked to find Lydia in there the next morning. Apparently not knowing that it was perfectly normal for grown unmarried siblings to share beds well into the twentieth century, she freaks out and starts yelling at nonexistent reality show cameras. Cameras that she flashes her vagina at.

But it was worth it for the joke that Lydia has never seen a landing strip before.

At breakfast, she derps some more and takes the time to exposit about how the part of London she’s from (Hammersmith) was at this time a village quite a ways outside London, and to explain away her clothes with something ridiculous.

Anyway, Mr. Bingley has shown up to call on the Bennets, and I have good news and bad news.

The good news is Alex Kingston’s Mrs. Bennet. She’s wonderful.

The bad news is that the Mary Sue bullshit is starting in earnest, because Bingley finds Amanda’s complete lack of any kind of grace or ability to deal with basic social discourse charming. She’s all upset because he’s looking at her and not at Jane.

In Netherfield we meet another bright spot, Caroline Bingley. She’s played by Christina Cole, who’s also played Blanche Ingram, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.  She doesn’t want to go to church. But Darcy is there, standing by the window and brooding, and he thinks they should go? This scene literally serves no purpose except to introduce Darcy, so let’s move on.

The Bennets are going to church and Amanda embarrasses herself more by asking about their hair. She explains away the fact that she’s going to be keeping her dreadfully unflattering anachronistic hair-do this whole time because it’s “something she can control.”

Okay, still looks like shit.

In church, we meet Charlotte Lucas, who exists in this narrative to be repeatedly shit on. There’s also this running gag about how Elizabeth liked to talk to this pig named Lady Ambrosia. It’s not funny.

They go to that assembly at the beginning of P&P and it’s so awkward because Bingley is super into her. So she gets drunk on punch and is super rude to Caroline Bingley, thus embarrassing Charlotte. Who wouldn’t love her?

Then Amanda somehow gets herself into this scrape where she doesn’t want to dance with Bingley because awkward, so she says that Darcy already asks her to dance. So he does because he doesn’t want the awkward to continue to grow. It’s complicated.

So they dance, and Darcy is immuned to the weird “I love Amanda” disease. (Keep reading…) so he more or less asks her to go away.

She runs outside to smoke the one cigarette she has. Then she randomly pounces on Mr. Bingley and kisses him, then monologues about how put upon she is. It’s one of those situations where I think the narrative wants me to feel sorry for her, but I don’t. I don’t think her fish out of water schtick is funny, and I don’t think she’s in any way relatable. She’s just kind of a self centred jerk.

Meanwhile Caroline is subtly putting down Mrs. Bennet, and it’s a little awesome. And actually funny.

But then Mrs. Bennet has a rather ridiculous conversation with Amanda that’s all “If you fuck up my daughter’s prospects, I’ll kill you.” It’s silly, but Alex Kingston hits it out of the park, so I love it anyway.

The next day, I guess, Elizabeth slips a letter through the magic door (it won’t open for Amanda) and we find out that Elizabeth’s family think she chilling in Hammersmith, alone, and they all just accept it. She writes to Mr. Bennet and tells him to take Amanda’s advice seriously because… No clue. Then Jane then tells Amanda how wonderful it is to have her in the house because… reasons.

The next day, all the ladies are sewing and Amanda has no clue what she’s doing, because duh. So poor Charlotte gets stuck having to unpick her inept blind hem stitching. Which is not fun, I promise.

Mrs. Bennet isn’t inexplicably in love with Amanda, so she goes to her husband and is, like, “make her go away.” But he just shits on her, despite the fact that all her points about Amanda being an annoying force for chaos are completely valid.

I’m starting to think Mr. Bennet is a horrible person and an even worse husband.

Speaking of Mrs. Bennet having a point… Amanda talks Jane into going uninvited to Netherfield in the rain because she gets these random moments where she’s all gungho about stuff happening like it’s “supposed to”. Like I say, at random moments. But then she gets second thoughts because Mary tells her that Jane might get sick. So she runs after her. Okay.

I think the only actual reason for this is a Doylist one. They wanted an “exciting” beat to end the episode on. But the only thing it achieves is stealing any chance Jane might have had to grab Bingley attention. So, good plan Amanda!

Next we see Bingley in the room where Jane is sick, standing over her, and touching her on the forehead. Like, NO! And unmarried man would never be in an unmarried woman’s bedroom like that. And he would certainly never touch her in that context. You know, we’ve talk on this site before about GoT and its slipshot application of its own setting, but I think this might be worse. Especially given stuff that will go down later.

Caroline comes in to tell Amanda to go home, but then Bingley starts acting out a scene from Persuasion, going on about how she’s the best possible nurse, and what not. He continues to hit on Amanda and– I swear I’m not making this up– she tries to fend off his advances by… telling him that she’s a lesbian. Bingley is confused by this novel concept and goes full Zakhir from Burning Love. Isn’t homosexuality hilarious?

Next there’s a dinner scene where Amanda tries to talk to Darcy, but she’s an idiot so he’s not especially interested. Then she gets offended when he calls her a liar. On account of all the lying she’s done.

Caroline comes in and I realize what’s missing. Where are Louisa and Mr. Hurst?

Amanda awkwardly wants to get Bingley to host a ball, and Caroline somehow segways this into getting Amanda to play them some piano music. She can’t play the piano, and it takes entire minutes to explicate this. And then, for some reason, she thinks it’s a good idea to sing… Petula Clark. Have I expressed my opinion that Amanda is an idiot yet? Bingley is enraptured for some reason.

Caroline makes fun of her, but Amanda counters by telling he that she has £27,000 a year. Which…

Let me explain something to you, mes enfants. Back in this particular day, when you weren’t talking about an income from rents on lands that you owned, you were talking about interest on money you have in the bank, which was usually at about 4%. If Amanda has an income of £27,000 per annum, that means that she has… £675,000 in the bank. I honestly can’t even adequately express how much money that was, so I’ll just say that Jane Erye, some 30 years after this period (who was making £25 a year as a governess) inherited a lump sum of £20,000 pounds. This would give her an income of £800 a year, which, we are told, make her a “wealthy woman”. You could probably count the people in Britain at this time as rich as Amanda claims to be on one hand. And yet no one questions this. They all just believe her.

The next morning, Bingley tries to discuss lesibians some more with Amanda but she’s too busy ordering him to be in love with Jane. Meanwhile, Caroline is telling everyone how rich Amanda claims to be, which gives Mrs. Bennet a new determination to try to tolerate her.

They’re riding back home with Jane in the carriage when the wheel shatters. Jane takes the opportunity to tell Amanda that she should totally get some Darcy. She’s rich so she totally could. Sigh. You know wealth and social class are not the same thing, right?

Wickham shows up in a carriage with a bunch of other soldiers (and the wrong rank, but at this point, who the fuck cares) to give them a ride home. Amanda tries to be all intimidating at him but… keep reading. I refuse to suffer alone.

They arrive back in Longbourn and Mr. Collins is there! He’s unspeakably annoying, stupid, and likes to grab his dick at random moments. Mrs. Bennet gives her daughters a pep talk that consists of reminding them that if one of them doesn’t marry him, they’re all likely to spend most of their adulthood in gentile poverty. Her concerns are so unreasonable though! And I’m totally on Mr. Bennet’s side when he dismissed them. But he does ask Amanda for advice. Because she’s proven herself to be so wise?

Later on, Collins is hitting on Jane, and Amanda knows that he’s about ready to pop the question. So she ropes poor Charlotte into this situation. This woman is so miserable that she starts sobbing and unloading about how lonely and unhappy she is, even though her dislike for Amanda is obvious. So Amanda’s idea is to ritually humiliate her by running out to where Collins is already on his knees and telling him he’s making a horrible mistake, and that there’s someone who will love him more. Charlotte runs away sobbing.

Collins is as stupid as the plot requires him to be and assumes that this is Amanda confessing her love. (Like, she just met him an hour ago… I think so anyway. Another thing this has in common with GoT is an abysmally confused timeline.) So Amanda somehow finds herself engaged to Collins, because she’s only assertive when the plot requires her to be.

Again, Mrs. Bennet goes to Mr. Bennet and tells him that Amanda is a huge problem. And again, he treats her like shit. To say this is getting repetitive is putting it mildly.

Bingley and Darcy are walking (they walked three miles?) up to Longbourn and the younger girls all run out to tell them the gossip about Amollins. (That’s a great ship name. Shut up.) Bingely is totes in love with Jane, so I guess that’s good. But he also implies that Amanda is hot. Which… okay.

Also, Collins gave Amanda an engagement ring. Which… no.

Then Wickham randomly strolls in. In a scene that exists only so that Darcy can be rude to him.

Two things happen next: one good, one annoying. Firstly, Jane pulls Amanda aside and finally has enough of her bullshit. And she asks her to please stop ruining her life.

Then, Wickham pulls Amanda aside and, guess what? He finds her fascinating as well. Although it might be because he thinks she is a fellow con-artist. She tries to be all confrontational at him, busting out anachronisms that are no doubt supposed to be funny, but just make her sound like an idiot. He reacts by propositioning her.

In the garden, Amanda contrives to get Jane and Bingley to bond by proposing they go look for voles. Sure. It works, I guess. Then Darcy takes his turn to pull Amanda aside. He tells her she’s “not what she seems.” What does she seem like, an insane person? The point is, he doesn’t like her. But Bingley’s having a ball!

We find out that Mr. Collins’s middle name is “Fear of God,” because I guess his parents were nonconformists who liked virtue name? Not impossible for a Church of England clergyman before the Sacramental Test Act of 1828, I guess, but excuse me for not giving them too much credit.

At the ball, Amanda continues to embarsses herself. She insists on engaging with Darcy and being all “you’re destined to fall in love with this woman you’ve never met!” This somehow fails to impress him. Even more so when she mentions his sister, Georgiana, and that she’s connected with Wickham. He just walks away from her.

Meanwhile, Wickham is starting a rumour that Amanda’s family’s money comes from fishmongering. Which is apparently a very bad thing. Also, her father drank it all away. Which… that’s a lot of gin.

Darcy yells at Bingley about how the Bennets are all annoying, classless, penniless fortune hunters who Amanda fucks with to amuse herself. This seems to have an effect on him, and he’s super rude to Jane. Collins breaks it off with Amanda because selling fish is a deal breaker now. He’s all classist at her so she knees him in the balls. And Darcy throws her out. Yes, that actually was filmed and put on television.

Jane is obviously emotionally devastated over being rejected. Both her parents comfort her, and it’s actually kind of touching. But then she Patriarchy Brains out and bags herself a Collins! The next scene is their wedding! It’s as gross and uncomfortable as you imagine.

^Seriously, she doesn’t want you to look at her.

Charlotte announces to Amanda that she’s going off to be a missionary in Africa, because Amanda has ruined her life too.

But there is good news! Mrs. Bennet finally kicks Amanda out of her house. Why Mr. Bennet suddenly has no say, I have no idea, but I’m willing to accept it.

Amanda decides to take out all her frustration at Bingley, asking him how he could let this happen. But he says it’s all Darcy’s fault . So she goes to screech at him for not conforming to her expectations based on her own shallow reading of a literary classic.

But then he literally calls her repellant and storms off, so it’s nice we get to end on a high note.

Can you believe this sucker is only half over? Join me next week to find out how Amanda will survive in this crazy world with no established rules! Will this trend of finally treated her as she deserves continue? Or will everyone learn the error of their ways? Randomly!

I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat.

Images courtesy of ITV

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