Last year I took a class where we analyzed romance novels on film, and my professor said ‘We all want to be Elizabeth, don’t we?’. We were in the middle of watching the 2005 version, with Keira Knightley’s beautiful hair pearls and the ridiculous white shirt and every girl in the class agreed: ‘yes, we want to be Elizabeth’.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I was given a dvd of Northanger Abbey. I don’t remember who gave me it, although I suspect it was my theater teacher in an effort to help me with my english accent. All I know is that I put off watching it until I fell ill with some cold or another, and decided on a whim to watch the weird stuffy film. And then I fell in love with it. I watched it over and over. It was the BBC’s production, starring Felicity Jones (pre-star wars) and JJ Field, who kicked off a long list of middle-aged British actors I find incredibly attractive. It was probably Field’s turn as Henry Tilney that set me up for my impossible goals in a man (he knows muslin? swoon).
So when I said that I wanted to be Elizabeth, I wasn’t lying. Who wouldn’t want to be smart, kick-ass Lizzie who wins the man? I’m not a Lizzie though, I’m a Catherine.
Around two years later I ran across the actual book version, read it and discarded it. Sure, it was great because it was Austen, but it didn’t live up to my beloved film. Apparently, Austen wrote it as a direct criticism of the gothic novels that were known for being ridiculous. ‘Not every castle has a dark secret’ is the lesson Catherine learns over the course of the book. There’s other junk too, about putting aside childish things and marrying Henry and having a million babies.
In a lot of ways, I think we are drawn to the characters we see ourselves in, for better of worse. While I’m no Felicity Jones, I am a Catherine. Silly, prone to overblown dramatics, romantic to a fault, often unable to read social situations, and constantly, constantly day-dreaming. There’s a scene where Catherine imagines her friend (played by Carey Mulligan, because there are only eighteen actors in England) being kidnapped by a rake and she stumbles upon them. It’s a ridiculous fantasy based on nothing but a quick aside from her aunt. That’s me. It’s embarrassing, but there you go. There’s always some weird narrative happening in my head.
It’s been ten years since this movie came out. I still love this movie, it’s soft and quiet and a small, simple love story. But I always disliked that Catherine had to put away her books at the end of it. I haven’t had my realistic moment yet – although I’ve had plenty of moments that could have been my social-embarressment-nearly-accuse-Henry’s-dad-of-killing-his-wife moments. I’m still Catherine at the beginning of the movie, lying in a field holding a book to herself and imagining all the ways her life is going to unfold. Except it’s a kindle and a dorm room and trying to believe that internships aren’t the end-all-be-all of getting a job. I daydream and read young adult novels still and spend an embarrassing amount of time pretending I’m an powerful superhero whose husband has been kidnapped (it’s the only way I can motivate myself to run).
Sure, I wish I could say I was an Elizabeth. Or a Jane, or a Elinor. Sure, I’m a little brave and a little kind and a lot sensible, but I know who I am at heart. After all – I still can’t help but wonder if there’s a ghost when I go down to the laundry room. And if I ever spent a night in a castle? You bet there’d be a dark secret or two. It’s what I do.