Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Blue Castle

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

I know it seems that recently most of my posts have been book reviews, full of me gushing about how great my latest read was; but honestly, I just happen to have been reading a string of very good books these last few weeks!

This week I read The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables).

The Blue Castle is about Miss Valancy Stirling. Valancy lives with her mother and elderly cousin, both of whom treat her as though she is 9, rather than 29. She is plain and very single, and her prospects for matrimony appear bleak. She seems destined for old-maidenhood. Poor little Valancy leads a miserable existence. Small, shy, and insignificant, she gets trampled on by all of the Stirling clan. Bound by fear and insecurity, she is ever afraid to speak her own mind - voice her own opinions - do the things she wants to do - live the life she wants to live, be the person she wants to be.

The only place where she can be herself is in her imaginary Blue Castle in Spain. So, she lives in her own private little world of dreams and imaginings. But dreams are poor comfort sometimes - they can't take the place of real human companionship.

Then one day she receives a letter from her doctor. It contains some shocking news. Valancy makes a decision that will change her life forever.

What follows is a delightful story - a real-life fairytale. And the ending was completely unexpected, very unpredictable!

In some ways, Valancy Stirling reminded me of Anne Elliot from Jane Austen's Persuasion. You could almost say that The Blue Castle is Montgomery's Persuasion - a quiet masterpiece, written later in life; although Montgomery lived for 16 years after The Blue Castle, whereas Persuasion was written only shortly before Jane Austen's death.

This really is Montgomery at the peak of her powers, and it showcases her immense talent as a storyteller. Unlike Anne of Green Gables, The Blue Castle was actually intended to be more of an adult novel, one of only a few adult fiction books written by Montgomery. It's still clean (more so than many of the books being published for pre-teens today!) but you can tell that it was written for a more mature audience.

If you're a fan of Jane Austen and/or L. M. Montgomery (particularly the Emily books and Rilla of Ingleside), or simply a hopeless romantic, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll love The Blue Castle.

As far as I know, it's only available as a cheap mass-market paperback. A jolly nuisance - if there was a nice hardcover edition in print I'd buy it, even if it cost four times as much as the paperback! Oh well - I'll have to keep an eye for old hardcover copies at op-shops and the like.

That's the cover below. Isn't it dreadful!

It's almost a carbon copy of the illustration for the cover of Rilla of Ingleside. Even the dress is exactly the same! Never, ever, judge a book by its cover. . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Finding feminine inspiration part III

Portrait of Anne Bruce, Mrs. Bruce of Arnot, by Allan Ramsay.
This is a lovely portrait. The look is elegant, yet soft and pretty. Simple, but not overly-simplistic. The pearls, the roses, and that beautiful lace! Mrs. Arnot’s hair, too, is simply yet attractively done.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rose in Bloom

The Soul of the Rose, by John William Waterhouse, 1908

That afternoon, after I'd finished Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins, I ate dinner, did a few other things, then prepared to read Rose in Bloom. I knew that it would be a book to savour. I crept downstairs to the granny flat - the quietest room in the house, unless my sisters and I are practising guitar (we keep all our musical gear in the flat!) - and curled up on the spare bed. Feeling deliciously warm and comfortable, I finally got out my book. First I examined its exterior - what a dreadful illustration on the front cover! I'm sure the heroine doesn't anything look that in reality. (The copy I read was an old 1980s edition!) - Ooooh, goody, it's a nice fat book - 311 pages! that's 40 pages more than Eight Cousins! - then finally I got down to the delighful business of actually reading the thing.

Rose in Bloom continues the story begun in Eight Cousins of Miss Rose Campbell's life. After having spent two years traversing the earth with her beloved Uncle Alec and companion Phebe Moore, Rose arrives home to be welcomed back joyfully by her multitude of relations. Rose is now twenty years of age, and in just one more year she is to come into possesion of her late father's fortune. A generous creature, she has made up her mind to be a philanthropist, much to the dismay of her amiable aunts and cousins, who are terrified that she will "throw her fortune away on a few paupers".

Young, pretty and rich, Rose is a very popular young lady of society, and suitors begin to rain down unmercifully (remember - "It never rains, but it pours"). But in spite of these afflictions, sensible Rose manages to keep her head - more or less.

I won't give away any more of the plot, I can only highly recommend that you read Rose in Bloom. If you appreciate chivalry, biblical values and principles, romance, and true love that outlasts youthful passion, then read this book!

But be warned: I cried more over this book than any book I've ever read, so keep a box of tissues handy! Seriously, I was bawling by the time it got to the end. Rose in Bloom is a genuine classic, and sits pretty much even with Little Women in my list of favourite Alcott book. It would be right up there on my list of all-time favourite books, for that matter.

10 out of 5 stars from me!

Our imperfect sight

Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.

There are three things that will endure - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Photographer Ian Britton, image courtesy of

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eight Cousins or The Aunt Hill

I couple of months ago I re-read Little Women for the fourth or fifth time (it's something that I do with my favourite books, re-reading them every year or so) and I enjoyed it so much, I resolved to try to hunt down some other Louisa May Alcott books. Our local public library didn't have anything other than Little Women, but a good friend and fellow book lover kindly lent me several Alcott books, including Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

It took me a while to get into Eight Cousins. It's one of those books that doesn't really have much of a plot, not much drama or excitement.

It tells the story of a little orphan girl, Rose Campbell, who lives with her wealthy great-aunts. Thirteen-year-old Rose leads something of a life of luxury, but she is sickly and tends to mope around a bit, until her guardian, Uncle Alec, takes her into hand. The book then proceeds to document Rose's little adventures and mishaps over the year that follows. She has seven mischievous cousins (all boys!) to tease her and to play with her; and six well-meaning aunts to plague her and dote upon her.

There were one or two things about Eight Cousins that rubbed me the wrong way - Uncle Alec seemed to be a tad overbearing at times, Rose was a wee bit too perfect (she behaved more like an adorable little five-year-old than a teenager!), and certain bits of the book just seemed a little too quaint and cutesy.

But in spite of all of the above, I did enjoy reading Eight Cousins. The seven boy cousins were a heap of fun, the family and social dynamics were wittily portrayed by Alcott, and Rose herself was a sweet heroine - I couldn't help liking her in the end. So, the Eight Cousins continued to draw me in until, after taking several weeks to read the first half of the book, I finished off the second half on several hours!

I am extremely glad that I did persevere and finish Eight Cousins, because the sequel, Rose in Bloom, is a classic. . .

You can buy Eight Cousins from The Book Depository, Amazon, or try eBay.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fellowship of the Ring

Earlier this year, back in January or February, I went and bought myself a lovely big boxed set of the Lord of the Rings extended DVDs. It contains 12 discs in all: each movie is spread over two DVDs, and there are also two discs of bonus features for each of the three movies. I'd never seen the LotR films, but I love the books, and I knew that the movies would be good.

They've sat in my cupboard all year! I don't know why I haven't watched them. It can be difficult finding the right time and place to watch my movies, especially when, as in this case, the movie(s) in question isn't really suitable for young children. (There are lots of young children in our house!)

Well, this week I made up my mind that I was going to watch my Lord of the Rings DVDs! Every afternoon after I've finished my jobs and schoolwork, I set myself up in my bedroom so that the laptop sits on a wooden chair, while I sit on the floor listening through my headphones, which I plug into the computer.

Sound like a nice little plan? It is! and it's worked quite well. Most the time, anyway. Problem is, there are always several other people wanting to use the laptop. I have to fight and plead and bribe to get my time on it! My other problem has been shooing out little people from my room while I watch. Aside from it being very distracting having several persons peering over my shoulder, the movies are, as I said, not really appropriate for very young viewers. "But I want to watch too," "Please, I won't be annoying, I"ll be very quiet," "But I want to watch this movie with you, I don't like the movie they're watching on the TV," "Please, please, please, PLEASE!!" I try to explain to them that the movie is too scary for them, etc., but to no avail.

Yesterday needed to let someone else use the laptop, and I had to get off just as it was getting to a really exciting bit. The Fellowship were at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum in the Mines of Moria, just as the Balrog was about to appear, and I had to wait until today to find out what happened next. . . well, I've read the books and I knew what was going to come next, but still. . .

I must say in the end I was a bit disappointed in the Balrog. Of course it looked large and menacing, but it wasn't nearly as hideous or scary as the much smaller orcs. But in pretty much every other aspect of The Fellowship of the Ring I have been very satisfied. Many of the characters and scenes were exactly as I imagined them to be from the book. I was sorry that in all the 200 minutes of the film, they didn't have time to include the Old Forest or Tom Bombadil or the Barrow-Downs. They just seemed to skip over those chapters. I suppose you could argue that Tom Bombadil and co. aren't really important to the plot, but I think they add to the richness of the tapestry that is The Lord of the Rings. Never mind.

So far I've enjoyed The Fellowship of the Ring immensely. I've only got a few minutes of it left, which I'll finish watching tomorrow, and then I'll be able to start The Two Towers!

It gives me a pleasant sort of thrill when I think that (seemingly) most of the western world have watched these movies, but I'm watching them now, for the very first time. It's all new and wonderful to me! And to think that I've still got all of the next two films to look forward to. . .

All of this has inspired me to read the books again. And The Hobbit, and the Silmarillian. I haven't yet read either. I've read quite a few books, but I still get goosebumps when I think of all the good books in the world that are just waiting to be read. . .

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Abortions to be made legal in Victoria: Update

The bill that I mentioned earlier is set to be introduced to the Victorian parliament today. Politicians will take a conscience vote on the issue. Read more in this article.

This interview riled me a bit. "Leaving it [abortion] in the criminal code means that somehow when you do this it's wrong … and I think these things should be out in the open and people should not be judged," - going by this, perhaps speeding should be allowed. Of course car accidents kill, but people are going to speed anyway, so why not just make it legal. (!!?) Don't you see the fallibility in this logic? Making something legal doesn't make it right. Thank goodness God, not politicians, decides what's right and what's wrong.  

I found this article in the Herald Sun interesting. The writer, Mirko Bagaric, states her case well. If you scroll down the page you'll find some very caustic comments, attacking Bagaric for daring to suggest that a "foetus" is a baby, but there are also quite a few defending her pro-life stance.

Please keep praying about this issue.

Finding Feminine Inspiration Part II

The Arnolfini Marriage, by Jan van Eyck
Some clothes love you, others don’t. The latter pinch and squeeze and endeavour to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible. But clothes that do like you fit perfectly and seem to envelop you in a warm embrace. One gets the feeling that the dress worn by the soon-to-be-wed Giovanna Cenami in this famous double portrait would be warm and comfortable, as well as feminine and flattering. A delight to wear, just as this painting is a delight to look at! I’m not quite sure about the vivid blue underdress; but those small splashes of blue do contribute to the overall visual effect of the painting, which is no doubt why van Eyck painted them. Three of my favourite colours - red, green and blue - are beautifully combined in this masterpiece.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Second Chances

Then I will sprinle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with the right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT
Image courtesy of, photographer Ian Britton.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Abortions to be made legal in Victoria

I stumbled across this article while browsing through the news this morning.

There's a new bill about to be introduced to the state parliament of Victoria. Under this new bill, women would have the right have an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, abortion was only legal if a doctor certified that the pregnancy was a genuine threat to the woman's health. If this legislation is passed, a woman would only have to give her consent in order to have an abortion, at least up until the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Please pray about this.

If the bill is passed, thousands of innocent babies could die.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Gown of Spanish Lace

After writing last night's post I had a shower and when straight to bed to finish reading my book. . .

I have to say I was a little disappointed when I discovered that the book I had bought was not the original version of the novel - it was an abridged edition. But it was still very good. Unlike in a lot of books "specially adapted for young readers" from the original the romance was very believable, and even though I haven't read the original, I think it has probably preserved the heart of Oke's book very well.

I suppose I should give you some sort of summary of the plot. . .

The story is built around sixteen-year-old Ariana Benson. The daughter of a preacher, Ariana works as a schoolteacher in the American Mid-West, circa 1870. This may not sound like a very promising start - how many scores of historical romance novels have been written about young schoolmarms slogging it out in the Little House on the Prairie-era Wild West. But trust me, this is a historical novel with a difference.

Another school day finishes for Ariana. She packs up her things, getting ready to leave the deserted schoolhouse. Two rough-looking men appear in the doorway. They have come to kidnap her. But why would they want to kidnap her? She's just a poor preacher's daughter; there's no way her father could afford to pay any ransom. Unfortunately, the two men are not so obliging as to answer her questions.

They take her away, through a terrible snowstorm, to their camp - a huddle of ramshackle buildings hidden in an isolated valley. (I was getting a bit of deja-vu as I read this book - finally I figured out that this valley and its inhabitants reminded me very much of the dreaded Doones of Lorna Doone fame.)

Ariana is kept prisoner in a filthy cabin. Terrified and all alone, only her faith, her relationship with God sustains her. She spends much of her time praying and reading her Bible. Will "Boss" Russell, the leader of this little gang, assigns his son Laramie to guard Ariana's cabin, making sure she doesn't escape. Laramie gets a shock when he discovers that the mysterious prisoner is a girl! He had had no idea who the captive was, but he had assumed that it was a man. . .

Will Russell is every bit as conniving and evil as an Ensor or Counsellor Doone, but Laramie is certainly no Carver Doone. He had never felt right about the way his outlaw 'family' lived, about the lifestyle he had been brought up into; but it was the only way he had ever known. He found himself being drawn to Ariana and this faith that she had in her God. She was the total opposite of everything and everyone he had ever known before.

Well, I won't say any more - I don't like it when movie trailers or the blurbs on the back of books give away too much, so I won't spoil everything for you; but summing things up, A Gown of Spanish Lace is a very good book - possibly one Janette Oke's best. There's a lot more action and adventure in this than there is in many of her other books. If you've read any of Oke's other books, you'll know what to expect. If you haven't, this would be a good place to start - it really is one of Oke's greatest books.

You can buy the version I bought, Janette Oke Classics for Girls from for $4.99, or you can buy the original version for $8.99.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New books!

My books from arrived today!! I suppose the proper thing to do would be to read the books first and then write what I thought about them, but I was just so excited about it that I had to write about them now. . .

I ordered Stacy McDonald's book Raising Maidens of Virtue. I've read a lot about this book, and I was thrilled to finally have it in my hands. I've had a quick browse through it, and it looks like an excellent book.

I also ordered an L. M. Montgomery book - The Blue Castle. It's meant to be one of her best books, and as someone who has read and loved many  Montgomery books, I know that I'll love it.
And another book from another favourite author of mine.  I've nearly finished A Gown of Spanish Lace already - actually I've had a very difficult time dragging myself away from it to  write this post!

And Mary Mary's self-titled album. I've listened to it already - and it's fabulous! Try listening to the first four songs of this album without smiling and singing along. . . I dare you! It's wonderful, catchy, contemporary gospel/r&b.

Now, back to my book. . .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The dumb things tourists say

This is from The Age again - I thought some of them were funny.

"Why did they build so many ruined castles and abbeys in England?" (!!)

Finding feminine inspiration in the art of eras past

Today's clothes and fashions for women are often very un-feminine. It's a trend that appears to have started in the 1920s, when androgynous clothing was all the rage, and then things got even worse in the 1960s...

Anyway, the point is, we've almost forgotten what it means to be female - to be a lady. True femininity starts inside - it's a heart issue, really. BUT, I guarantee you'll find it easier to think and act like a lady, like a daughter of the King, if you dress in beautiful, feminine clothes! Clothes do make a difference in the way we behave and in the way others treat us.

So, I've decided to start a new series of posts. Because it's become so difficult to find truly lovely clothes in the world of fashion today, we need to look to the past for inspiration. In each post I'm going look at a classic painting, and scribble down some of the things that I particularly admired in the design of the outfits worn by the lady/ladies in each picture. Most of what I write probably won't be very remarkable - but the idea is for you to look at each painting and make a mental note of the things that most struck you about it.

Two of my favourite things combined - art and beautiful clothes! Today's post is about one of Titian's masterpieces. . .

Portrait of a Noblewoman (or La Bella) by Titian

I love the golden embroidery on the rich blue fabric - it’s a wonderful effect; very luxurious, but at the same time not over the top. That particular shade of blue interspersed with darker stripes... and it’s complemented beautifully by the ruddy brown colour of the sleeves.

* * *

To read more articles on this subject, click here then click on the link 'Feminine Dress' in the sidebar on the left.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A life filled with love

1Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us. . .

Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

Photographer Ian Britton, image courtesy of

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Jesus played cricket (?!!)

Have a look at this article from The Age. Ha! it proves what we cricket tragics have known all along. . .

Hmmm, I use the word 'prove' very loosely. I don't think the ancient text referred to in this article is at all credible - it's probably just bogus. But still, it's interesting to speculate that the game of cricket might date back thousands of years to Roman times - older than one would ever imagine.

(And just in case you were wondering, the batsman in the above photo is Marcus Trescothick - definitely not Jesus.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Library Thing

You may have may noticed a certain new addition to my sidebar. . . A phenomenon that's currently sweeping the world of web-surfing bookworms is, a website where you can catalogue your books for free. I discovered it just yesterday, and registered myself after having a good look around. A bit of a drama ensued... I forgot to scribble my password down, and this morning when I woke up I could not for the life of me remember what my password was! Typical absent-minded me. . . well, I contacted them this afternoon, and it looks like the issue will soon be resolved.

It looks a lot of fun. All you need to do to register is make up a username and a password for yourself. You don't need to give your email address - although in hindsight, I probably should have included it! That way they could have just emailed me my password this morning.

So, if you are even remotely bookish, and you enjoy fiddling around online, you might find Library Thing very interesting.

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Inheritance

A week or two ago, we sent in an order to Amazon. I bought several DVDs, including The Inheritance. I hadn't watched it before, but I'd heard it recommended, and when I found that it was based on a book by Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) I knew that it ought to be good. Amazon had said that our order wouldn't arrive until late August, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when a certain little box was delivered on Monday, all the way from America!

I watched The Inheritance yesterday afternoon. I had to watch it on the laptop, the others wanted to watch something else on the TV. (When I told the boys that it was by the same author as Little Women, they weren't too impressed... they rolled their eyes and groaned, "Oh no...!!") Actually, I think the boys rather like Little Women, though not as much as they do Pride and Prejudice. Yes, my brothers are Janeites at heart, though they'd never admit it!

Now, about the movie: I liked it very much indeed.

It tells the story of a young girl named Edith. Edith is the companion and confidante of the teenage daughter of the Hamiltons, a wealthy family living in New England in the late 19th century. Loved by all, Edith is actually treated more like a daughter than an employee by the Hamilton family. She lives happily with them until a distant cousin of the family comes to stay.

Ida is young, glamorous, and determined to get what she wants out of life. Mrs. Hamilton sets about finding a suitably husband for Ida. There are two bachelors visiting in the neighbourhood; Mr. James Henry and Mr. Frederick Arlington, both rich, handsome, and extremely eligible. But things don't exactly go as planned - rather than falling in love with Ida, they both fall for sweet, shy, little Edith! Of course, Ida is not at all pleased with this turn of events.

It's a lovely little movie, filmed amidst beautiful countryside and big, rambling mansions. The casting for nearly all of the characters was just about perfect.

Edith is such a sweet, lovable heroine, good and kind without ever seeming too perfect. Credit must be given to Cari Shayne, who did a fantastic job playing Edith. Positive values are affirmed throughout the movie, and Edith lives happily ever after with a man who deserves her, while the baddies get their just deserts.

I should mention Tom Conti, who did excellently well playing Mr. Hamilton. He was one of the best things about the film, I thought!

In terms of family-friendliness, it's pretty good. There's some mild language, one or two kisses, no violence to speak of.

I'd highly recommend this movie for any romantic, particularly if you have watched and enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and/or Little Women. You can buy it at Amazon for $6.99, plus you get a free CD, featuring Strauss's Emperor Waltz and a half-dozen other classical favourites. OK, I'll be honest, I haven't listened to the CD yet, but if they're going to throw it in for free. . . free music's great.

The book upon which the movie is based was only very recently discovered and published. From what I've read, the book isn't as polished as the movie, but I would still like to read it sometime. Louisa May Alcott wrote it when she was only 17 years old, and I think it would be interesting to read some of the very early work of this classic author.

You can the book from The Book Depository or Amazon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Adventures in Baking

Last weekend my sister and I had a go at making croissants. We got the recipe from the book you see above, Baking: easy to make great home bakes. I was a bit worried about how the croissants would turn out, but they were delicious! We had them for morning tea on Saturday morning. They are a bit of a fiddle to make. Like most yeast recipes they need time to rise, and because the mixture is a pastry, you also need to allow time for the dough/pastry chill, too! We started on Friday afternoon, then left it to chill overnight before making up the croissants on Saturday morning. It does take time, but they're actually not all that difficult to make, and the end result is delicious - well worth the effort. I'll definitely be making them again. I won't post the recipe here - it's one of those recipes that needs step-by-step photos to make it easy to understand.

Another recipe from the same book that's much quicker to whip up is Oat and Raisin Muffins. They are wonderfully moist, so moist that they can be kept for a day or two without drying out too much, although of course they do taste best straight out of the oven. I don't know what it is about them; maybe it's the rolled oats that give them their moist, chewy texture. I think this would have to be my new favourite muffin recipe! I've made a few changes from the original recipe. Here's my adapted version:

Oat and Raisin

Makes 1 dozen
85g rolled oats

250ml milk (I used soy milk)
1 teaspoon vinegar
120g butter
100g dark brown sugar
1 egg
120g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
40 or 50g raisins (the recipe says to use 30g, but that's not enough!)

Pour the milk into a large bowl, add vinegar and leave for a few minutes to curdle. Add oats to milk, let soak for one hour.

Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin or use paper cases. (I use paper cases; less cleanup. I hate scrubbing muffin tins!) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. (I just used I wooden spoon and muscle power - again less cleanup. It's not like we're making spongecake, there's no need to beat the stuff to death.) Beat in the egg.

In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Stir into the butter mixture, alternating with the oat mixture. Fold in the raisins. Do not overmix.
Fill the prepared cups two-thirds full. Bake until a skewer inserted into the mixture comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Hint: make a double batch!!

is currently out of print, but if you wanted to you could buy it second-hand at Amazon or Alibris.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Power of Prayer

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

James 5:5 NIV

Image courtesy of

Friday, August 1, 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged. . .

I have been sick with a cold these last few days, and haven't felt like doing much other than sitting down and watching Pride and Prejudice DVDs. (For all who weren't already aware, Jane Austen is the perfect antidote to a cold.) I've watched P&P'05 (the Matthew MacFadyen one) and P&P'95 (the Colin Firth one). And I've also been reading the book. This is the third time I've read Pride and Prejudice. Or is it the fourth? I can't remember. All the while, my mind has been busily engaged in trying to find the answer to that much-debated question: which is the best screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice?

I still haven't decided which one is the best, but I do know which one I like the best. My favourite adaption of Pride and Prejudice is. . . (drum roll please!) P&P'05!! Here are a couple of my reasons for liking it better than any other version.

Firstly, the cast. I watched P&P'95 many times before I read the book. (I would probably have been around 10-12 years old when I read P&P for the first time.) When I finally did read the book, I found it difficult to reconcile Jane Austen's description of Elizabeth Bennet's character and appearance with Jennifer Ehle's depiction of Lizzy. Have a look at these lines from the book:

Mr Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty... [however] he began to find that [her face] was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying... he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing...

I don't know about you, but to me this seems to be describing a Keira Knightley-esque figure, and indeed to me Keira is and always will be Lizzy. She really did put in a wonderful performance. It earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress... she didn't win it. Reese Witherspoon won it.

I also have to admit that I prefer MacFadyen's Darcy over Colin Firth's. I know that His Royal Firthness has been idolised and adored by millions of females worldwide, but for some reason I just never "got" the whole Colin Firth thing. The thing is, I've grown up watching P&P'95. In 1995 I was just a tiny little thing. Colin Firth is about thirty years older than me, and so to me, he's always been like a sort of old uncle or an older brother or something like that, but never really 'crush' material. But anyway, as I was saying, I do actually prefer MacFadyen as Darcy. I've always been partial to blue eyes, so maybe that's what it is. ;-)

But I think it's in the supporting cast as well as the two lead roles where P&P'05 has the edge. Several of the characters in P&P'95 - especially Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh - seemed to have been over-acted, to the point where they almost seemed to become caricatures, stereotypes rather than real people. The portrayal of these characters in particular was, I thought, more natural and relaxed in P&P'05.

All of the cast seemed to meld together seamlessly. This is something that the actors talked about in video interviews on the DVD - that those who played the Bennets really did become like a family of sorts during shooting. I know that sounds dreadfully cliche, but watching the onscreen chemistry between all of the actors, one almost has to believe it!

The other thing I wanted to highlight was the 'look' and 'feel' of the film.

The director of P&P'05, Joe Wright, would have been used to working with minuscule budgets and making the most of what he had, so when he was finally given the opportunity to make P&P'05, his first cinematic release, you can imagine what the result was bound to be. Breathtaking, stunningly beautiful scenes rich in detail. The scene of the Ball at the Assembly Rooms near the beginning of the film is a good example of what I'm talking about.

Masses of people dancing, talking, eating and drinking. It's an assault on the senses - the music, the heat, the smell - it does manage to convey the thrill and excitement the young Bennet sisters would have felt. (Of course we don't actually feel the stifling heat or smell anything, but the movie makes us imagine that we do - that's the whole point.)

The setting for film is the late 18th century. This is around the same time Austen wrote the first version of Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions, in 1796-7. Most other screen adaptions of the novel have been set in the 1810s, the time when P&P was finally published in 1813.

The variance in historical period is noticeable particularly in the costumes. In 1797, the empire line had only just begun its period of domination of women's fashion. Caroline Bingley wears wears high-waisted empire line dresses, the latest fashion from London. Most of the other female characters, however, wear dresses with lower waists. Also, compare the clothes and short hairdos of Darcy and Bingley with the more out-of-date outfits worn by many of the other men. And also the hairstyles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs Gardiner - it's definitely the 18th century!

P&P'05 gives a much dirtier, grittier, and more down-to-earth picture of the world in which the Bennet family lived. I know that this has become a bit of a cliche, but in this instance I think the film really did capture the 'spirit' of the book.

One review at sums it up nicely by likening P&P'95 to a beautifully detailed portrait of the Bennet family and P&P'05 to a dazzlingly colourful impressionist painting, beautiful in it's own right. (For the record, Christianity today also included P&P'05 in it's list of the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2005. They even put together a Bible study for it!)

You can read some more Christian reviews of Pride and Prejudice here, here, here, here, and here.

But what do you think? Which is you're favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and why?