From the desk of Sophia Rose:
Compiling his thoughts on the first three of Jane Austen’s published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, author Robert Rodi fires a broadside at the swooning, sugary sentimentality of the modern Jane Austen fan craze. He is appalled that such a group has turned a witty, sharp-tongued wonder into trite purple prose and slapped her silhouette on a t-shirt. Forging ahead for over four hundred pages, he dissects these Austen novels chapter by chapter, line upon line, precept upon precept highlighting a lack of romance and a decided prevalence of comedy and insight into the human condition.
I would like to give an early warning that this is not a book for those who have never read these novels. Though, it might be argued that it is exactly for those who are still considering them. My warning is for those who prefer to go into their books without spoilers and no undue influence because, reader, the author most definitely means to influence and discuss with thoroughness each character and each event and he does.
Bitch in a Bonnet begins with an explanation and a warning. Rodi doesn’t plan to take anyone by surprise or leave anyone in question of his purpose in writing his book. He basically shouts out ‘There be dragons here!’ And, I suspect for some, his method of discussion might be just that. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to bop him on the head for trashing some of my favorite characters or scenes or that I have a decidedly differing opinion on matters, particularly in Mansfield Park.
In colloquial turns of phrase and a great preponderance of cultural idioms, he dissects each of the books in his own chapters that tackle the novel’s chapters in about five-chapter sections. His sardonic humor and often sarcastic turn of phrase can be highly amusing (read, laugh out loud funny) and, once in a while, wearying (he can belabor his point now and then).
He is obvious in his preferences for certain characters and certain types of scenes which he still rattles on about in a funny manner, but the biting wit is saved for those characters he has little use for (cough, cough Fanny Price whom he loathes with a fire of a thousand suns). Is there a coincidence that most of those not meeting his approbation is the quieter and milder figures in their stories? That would be a no, gentle readers. This is meant as a hint to gird up your loins if you’re a fan of the softer and more subtle in Austen’s tales and God help you if you are a romantic swooner on occasion because he won’t spare you.
But lest I give the impression that this is merely some stand-up comedian let loose roasting Austen’s works, I should also say that he is very knowledgeable and slips in insightful observations and explanations. As readers, it’s hard not to approach these novels with a twenty-first-century eye and Rodi reminds us now and then that certain phrases, actions, customs, etc. meant something rather different in Austen’s day and at times admits he himself couldn’t get past his own twenty-first-century sensibilities like cousins marrying.
While critiquing her books, Rodi also pauses or remarks in passing on Austen herself and how her life might have influenced her to write such a character or scene.
He incited in me either a great state of amusement or exasperation, occasionally a thoughtfulness. I had to be in the right frame of mind and read it in several sessions rather than straight through to appreciate Rodi’s style and his ‘pert’ opinions.
The ultimate question we start with and now answer in the end: Did he convince me to throw out my ‘I love Darcy’ pin or my watercolor print of Captain Wentworth’s letter? Not hardly.
Robert Rodi sounded forth on what he loves (and loathes) about the author and her works. I thoroughly appreciated getting his entertaining thoughts and views. So, enjoy this critique for either an affirmation of your own views, an amusing summary of Austen’s novels and life, or a chance to see a different perspective from your own, but take him at his word about what you will get if you pick up this book.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), by Robert Rodi
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 4, 2012)
Trade paperback & eBook (420) pages
Cover image courtesy of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform © 2012; text Sophia Rose © 2020, Austenprose.com