Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth — a remembered dream image of her embarrassment overhearing conversation about her in a previous Lady Ball (Juliette Towhidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley, Episode 2)

To theeas

Romola Garai as Emma gets to come to the sea at last (Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma, Episode 4, last shot)

Dear friends and readers,

I sent off a proposal to deliver a paper for a panel on film in a coming conference, and thought I’d tell a little about it. What I proposed was to present findings from analyses of a group of films to show what one can learn about a film if you make its screenplay or near-final shooting script your guiding text.

Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan is also a Christmas movie (Carolyn Farina as Aubrey-Fanny Rouget with her mother)

I thought it would be instructive if I compared different relationships between screenplays and films and their underlying materials in novels or other sources.  There are numbers of appropriation films in the Austen canon where there is no novel, just a film and screenplay or shooting script. Two cases where the screenplay or shooting script has been made available, and the same person wrote the screenplay and directed the film attract me especially: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (from Mansfield Park) and Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise (adapting Northanger Abbey). Nunez’s play is a poetic masterpiece, while Stillman’s is brilliant about the nature of integrity in Mansfield Park as this relates to viewers in the 1990s.

Ashley Judd as Ruby reading Northanger Abbey (after which she and Todd Field as Mike McCaslin discuss Austen’s novels values) (Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise) — for me a favorite still

There a number of films where you can tease out the shooting script (a near-final version before editing and cutting) with, on the one side, an intermediary novel and on the other a closely adapted Austen novel:  of all of these, the 2013 mini-series, Death Comes to Pemberley can be most instructively analyzed using Juliette Towhidi’s shooting script more than others because P. D. James’s novel is a genuine sequel to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so an analysis reveals illuminating levels of reference in these different underlying materials dramatized, visualized, and heard. I also am deeply engaged by the development of how aspects of Darcy’s character (his pride in ancestry especially) and Elizabeth’s sense of her lack (mortification) leads to disillusionment, estrangement for a time.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy testifying on behalf of Wickham (Death Comes to Pemberley)

Finally the traditional film adaptation, often said to be taken directly from the same Austen novel, so I thought of two heritage films out of Austen’s Emma: in the case of the 1996 Meridian/A&E Emma, scripted by Andrew Davies, a screenplay and scenario in the form of a companion book have been published, and some have persuasively argued a scenario is as crucial to a final film as the screenplay; the recent 2009 Emma, scripted by Sandy Welch, is a 4-part mini-series, and will reveal what happens to this tightly-knit Austen novel when it is turned into this kind of TV program. It’s also been unfairly neglected: its use of Knightley Jonny Lee Miller) as a central perceiver will make for a telling contrast too.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley plays a central inward role in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma (a new development in the heritage films)

In the history of film criticism, time and again film-makers and critics have asserted that the screenplay used in making a film is one of the central instruments for achieving high quality and commercial success. Some have argued that these plays are works of literature in their own right; others have proselytized (most notoriously Syd Field) for the idea that behind successful movies (no matter what particular surface structuring), lies a forward-thrusting three-act formula; others (Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush in their Alternative Scriptwriting) have produced nuanced accounts of the variety of structures found in different types of screenplays (e.g., the cyclical) from the standpoint of how much time the film can take (the multi-episode form), its genre and/or its author’s gender. Yet it is still common to find analyses of films which compare imagined transfers of specific materials from the underlying or eponymous novel with the finished film without attending to this central prescriptive intermediary. I suggest studying the screenplay will lead to less impressionist film criticism. More studies of shooting scripts and screenplays might encourage the publication of screenplays and shooting scripts, with appropriate apparatuses and annotation.

I’ve assigned and read paperback editions of this book with classes — alongside Austen’s novel

Why the Austen films? I love them. A number of the Jane Austen films’ screenplays and shooting scripts have been published and the underlying materials of all of these naturally form a coherent body of work. Those wanting to attract an audience have hired or been script-writers and directors whose work is studied in its own right. One can therefore obtain scripts, scenarios (companion or “Making of” books), and useful practical commentary for a number of these films. All this because Austen herself is such a cult figure with a world-wide following. Beyond this, the Austen films have similar structures and perspectives: they use female narrators, and attempt to see experience from a woman’s perspective. Yet they are (for the student of film) literally usefully varied films: they come in many different genres, e.g., from Christmas movies to gothics to screwball comedy & family romance.

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (one of two screwball romances made thus far, the previous the 1940 P&P)


Steventon: an old print of a drawing of the rectory in which Austen grew up

Dear friends,

We move from Jane Austen’s defiant great-grandmother, a housekeeper in a great school, Elizabeth Weller Austen, and one of her sons, Henry’s very rich attorney-banker uncle (Chapter 1 of the Austen Papers), to the world of her parents in the years they were having their babies, Jane and her siblings, at Steventon (Chapter 2). Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh’s second chapter consists of 9 letters written between 1770 and 1775, from George and Cassandra Austen, to Susannah Weaver Walter, wife of William Hampton Walter, half-brother to George. The value of this blog is I link in the texts of these letters as uploaded to Ronald Dunning’s useful website. RAAL found these letters in a footnote to an article by Sidney Grier, in Temple Bar, entitled “A God-daughter of Warren Hastings.” In other words, they are saved as connected to Hastings’s probable biological daughter, Elizabeth Hancock de Feuillide Austen by George Austen’s sister, Philadelphia Austen Hancock. They were owned by Mr Guy Nicholson, a great-great-grandson of William Hampton Walter and were owned by RAAL in 1941. I offer what comments I can. To my mind Claire Tomalin in her biography and Claire Harman in her Jane’s Fame have offered the most perceptive readings of these letters.

The chapter introductions fascinating and tantalizing: Eliza Hancock is referred to as “Bessy:” was this a family nickname? She is just then living with her mother, Philadelphia, in a cottage with two servants, “perhaps coloured ones,” Peter and Clarinda. Given all the connections with India, by “perhaps colored” RAAL means possibly Indian–I would love to know more about why he thought that. How frequent it was for servants to be brought to England from India? Did Jane Austen know these servants as a child? It is not surprising that most of the letters were found in the hands of a descendent of Hastings, a remembered powerful man. Most of the letters are by Eliza and if you count in Henry’s both of them. Eliza was the child of Hastings. His family would want to get their hands on them and eliminate anything which gave this away. We should recall that the letters represent a version of what was left after censorship and destruction; they are a later equivalent of Lord Brabourne’s kind of work with a new attitude brought in: that what texts one has one should not combine with texts of other letters; that what one does publish, publish it straight.


A useful readable Austen family tree (click to enlarge)

1 & 2. Rev. George Austen to Mrs (Susanna Weaver) Walter, Steventon to Bolton Street, 2 May 1770 & 8 July 1770

Jane’s father invites his half-brother’s wife to come and stay with him and his wife at Steventon, and to bring her daughter. By 1770 he and Cassandra Leigh had been married 6 years and she had given birth three times. She is probably pregnant with Henry. (I am using Maggle Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family through Five Generations for family trees and dates of birth, order of children and so on.)

Mrs Austen has now gone to visit her half-sister-in-law in London. Claire Tomalin is insightful about the second letter. She discerns (rightly I now think) that George is anxious about his wife’s having gone off, leaving him with three babies. Tomalin guesses Mrs Austen was seeking some form of escape and rest and using the pregnancy of her step-sister-in-law as her socially acceptable excuse. Tomalin sees a determination in George to stop his wife from doing this again – next time he is going to come. Tomalin goes so far as to suggest the renewed incessant pregnancies were George’s way of making it impossible for Mrs Austen to up and go away. She cites letters by other relatives (among them Tysoe Hancock, Eliza’s legal father, whose letters form the center of Chapter 3) saying to George that he has little money for this size family and should at least slow down (use a separate bedroom for now). I find this psychologically persuasive. The modern over-emphasis on extended breast-feeding ends up nailing women down as the easiest if not most comfortable thing to do — not that Mrs Austen practiced that; she breast-fed minimally and then put each child into a near-by foster home. The second son, George, is already seen as a disabled child — he sees no improvement. We can compare Eliza years later insisting on seeing “improvement” in her little Hastings. She did not put him away; clearly very frail he would not have lived long had someone not determined truly to care for him taken over.

3. Mrs George Austen (Cassandra) to Mrs Walter, Steventon to a Parsonage near Tunbridge, Kent, August 26, 1770

Now Cassandra’s voice. She is writing to a woman she is close friends with, Susanna Weaver Walter, who has just given birth: she voices pious dislike of London; the sister she speaks of is Philadelphia Austen Hanock and her child Eliza or Bessy (or Betsy). She still has George with her and has been attempting to teach James to write. On Clarinda and Peter, Clarinda is still mentioned when Eliza writes when she is much older to Susannah’s daughter, her cousin, Philadelphia Walker (later Mrs Whitaker). We hear of Philadelphia Austen Hancock’s misadventure — coaches were dangerous and we have here an understandable loss of poise. She has been through a lot this woman, determined not to return to India with Hancock, basically left on her own by Hastings (it’s clear from other letters he never led her to expect otherwise but she might have hoped, her daughter and later son-in-law kept hoping for personal contact). She almost loses her Indian letters the way Jane Austen almost lost her precious (to us too) manuscripts. (Imagine carrying your life’s work about with you

A family tree for Philadelphia Austen Hancock and Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen (omitting Warren Hastings)

4. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, Dec 9, 1770 

Four months later Mrs Austen hCassandra is sorry Susanna lives so far off ;she wishes Susanna were removed from the parsonage but as to herself, she will not be bothered by the neighbors. (Were they vulgar?) Bill is Mrs Walters’s baby. She has also been to visit her own sister Jane Cooper but did not take Edward. Too young? Then they are off to the Leigh-Perrots. She is not keen to stay at Steventon, Alderney cow or no. Then she’ll take Neddy (Edward, the third son) and Jemmy (James). An in-the-midst of life letter. Little Neddy (Edward) was well enough that she could get away, to Southcote to her sister, Jane Cooper and her little boy. She had not seen them since last July. She now hopes to visit her brother, James Leigh-Perrot and his wife in Bath for Christmas, taking two of her boys. She wishes Susanna were closer so she could come too. She wishes Susanna were not stuck in the parsonage with unfortunate neighbors but assures Susanna when she visits she cares nothing for them. She is glad another child is well (Bill). Two neighbors fighting over a house — Harwood is talked about in Jane’s letters later on. 

She has already handed George over to a caretaker – he is brought to see her. She does feel bad about it but does not register she is depriving him of a life. The association of sickness makes her remember Philadelphia Austen Hancock – she does not care for the damp of her winter house; Mrs Austen says it’s a bad place. Philadelphia would eventually take herself and daughter to France.

The letter ends on a note which suggests a companionable friendships between the two families.

5. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, Nov 8, 1772

Cassandra can now travel nowhere — Henry is born and come from nurse. A stout little fellow. In the previous letter we heard how the Coopers were settled in Bath, no going there (where the Leigh-Perrots are) are or Kent. In this letter all Jane Austen’s main fictional places are mapped. Susannah has relatives trying to make it in Jamaica (off slavery let’s remember) and Mrs Austen glad to hear all well. Her sister-in-law Philadelphia will come this time to help her through the coming birth (it will be Cassandra).

6. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna Walter), Steventon, June 6, 1773

This letter seems to have been written as an apology for Mr Austen’s having gone somewhere on business near to the Walters’ home and yet not visited them. An account of all Mrs Austen’s children in good health, now Cassy is weaned from Mrs Austen and put out to nurse. One wonders the origin of this practice was to teach boys especially to endure less love. Mr Austen has started his boy’s school as Lord Lymington is there. People are visiting her: Jane Cooper, husband and children’ she has two, and maybe she will have no more. And Mr and Mrs L-P come tomorrow. Mrs Austen can show off her dairy, all her riches.

The lack of any notes is a hindrance; LeFaye did provide something.

7. Mrs Cassandra Austen (called Cassy I see)to Susanna Walter, Steventon, Dec 12, 1773:

Cassandra now has 4 young children at home to care for: James and Edward somewhat older and toddler Henry and baby Cassandra. The Sr George Hampson who has hurt his hand is probably 6th Baronet who would be the son of the eldest line of Hampsons (found in LeFaye’s Family Record, p 298) who died in the following year. The nephew George who will accompany him could be one of Susannah’s sons (though they seem too young as yet) or his nephew (the 7th baronet). Mrs Austen says it is “high time” for the young man to have employment (we would say get a job, train for a job) but do not get how he is the other man’s brother. I find a real feeling of regret, of sympathy for Susanna that’s why I surmise some close relationship. We can at least feel that if Mrs Austen utterly acquiesced in sending Francis and Charles away at age 12, she did feel the dangers, the risks, the loss of the boy. Another boy has joined the school and Lord Lymington had begun to stammer so he is being taken to London. This shows that in this era parents worried about this kind of manifestation of nervousness. The boy was perhaps removed too young from his parents.

George Morland (1763-1804), a much idealized depiction of children playing blind man’s bluff (1787-88)

8. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, 20 August 1775.

We break in upon this family when Francis, Jane’s directly older brother, the fifth son, was born well over a year ago, and Mrs Austen is pregnant with Jane. She’s glad to hear George (see above) arrived safely in Jamaica — for many weeks she had wanted to hear of this. If it’s the same George as above, it took time before George was actually sent. They thought about it. Weaver is Susanna’s second child, first son,and as such he is sent to Cambridge. Meanwhile Francis is 16 months and runs about — very active. Henry no longer in skirts (breeches), and we see vies with his older brothers, makes much of his height. He was tall and Edward not. There were tall and short Austens in this nuclear family. Henry would learn he could not overcome that 3 years. One of the little boys she mentioned last time was ill, went home and back and now gone again for summer holidays. Hay matters, it’s money.

She would have liked to see her friend-as-sister, but must not think of it. When Tomalin suggested Mr Austen began again to impregnant Mrs Austen continually, it was after that 2 year and 1/2 break when she began to travel to London and visit her sister in Bath. He won if you think this winning as he must support all these children. Hancock did not think it winning, but then in the countryside and with not too much ambition Mr Austen could have seen this differently.

I don’t know who the orphans were but someone in Mrs Walter’s vicinity died and some group of children cut off. The Freemans were cousins on the Hampton side of the Walters and might be called upon to take orphans in.

9. Rev George Austen to Mrs (Susanna Walter), Steventon, 17 December 1775

I take this letter to be the equivalent of a phone call. Announcement of new baby and 3 business items. The more general interest of this often-quoted letter is it shows the inter-workings of the patronage system from which lower people were shut out. The immediate interest is the birth of Jane Austen on a cold snowy day in late December. Mr Austens says how he and Cassy in their old age have mistimed this one, and how Jenny will make a nice “plaything” for her sister Cassy.” The new baby is a doll for the little girl. Looking at this from a later perspective, that phrase can be taken to have some ominous resonance: when Cassandra turned herself into a non-widow widow, and then Jane didn’t want the marriage offers that came her way, Cassandra maintained her status as older sister, an authority of figure of sorts, and made herself essential to Jane in many ways. Jane was “the younger sister” (as perhaps the first title of The Watsons points to) and in this era this kind of status mattered. The Austens at any rate put the girls together as a pair, and one sees this kind of treatment of women sisters in novels.

Mr Freeman who was to adopt those orphants might be “Cope” — he is in a poor way. Susannah has been inquiring whether George can do anything for her son for a fellowship perhaps, but he has not been able to find anything out. This is the reality of networking and patronage systems; endless secrets. A plowing match — so physical amusement out of farming life noted.

Mr Austen does not want to deal with a Mr Collis unless he comes with some reference. Steedman says in this world these character references were ways of controlling lower class people’s behavior.

I conclude with two poems by Mrs Austen, one written a few, and the other 20 years later as they give a sense of the tone and circumstances of the world Jane Austen grew up in. In the first Mrs Austen parodies her husband’s pupils, not altogether kindly; she is teaching them to accept their uncomfortable bedroom. In the other she enjoys an assembly at the Town Hall in Basingstoke, the kind of dancing affair Jane Austen would have gone to regularly


Thomas Gainsborough: a depiction of his two daughter chasing butterflies

The humble petition of R4 Buller &
W. Goodenough

A somewhat unusual complaint from two of the rectory pupils is
turned by Mrs Austen into a petition on their behalf to her husband.

Dear Sir, We beseech & intreat & request
You’d remove a sad nuisance that breaks our night’s rest
That creaking old weathercock over our heads
Will scarcely permit us to sleep in our beds.
It whines & it groans & makes such a noise 
That it greatly disturbs two unfortunate boys
Who hope you will not be displeased when they say
If they don’t sleep by night they can’t study by day.
But if you will kindly grant this their petition
And they sleep all night long without intermission 
They promise to study hard every day
And moreover as bounden in duty will pray etc., etc


An Assembly Dance by Wm Hogarth

I send you here

Assemblies were held in the Town Hall at Basingstoke; the Austens
and their friends were regular attenders.
Steventon 17~

I send you here a list of all
The company who graced the Ball
Last Thursday night at Basingstoke;
There were but six & thirty folk,
Although the evening was so fine;
First then, the couple from the Vine, -
Next Squire Hicks, & his fair spouse;
They came from Mr Bramston’s house,
With Madam, & her maiden Sister;
(Had she been absent who’d have missed her?)
And fair Miss Woodward, that sweet singer,
For Mrs Bramston liked to bring her.
With Alethea too, & Harriet;
They came in Mrs Hicks’s chariot;
Perhaps they did, I am not certain.
Then there were 4 good folk from Worting:
For with the Clerks there came two more;
Some friends of their’s, their name was Hoare.
With Mr Mrs, Miss Lefroy
Came Henry Rice, that pleasant Boy.
And least a title they should want,
There came Sir Colebrook, & Sir Grant
Miss Eyre of Sherfield, & her Mother;
One Miss from Dummer, & her Brother.
Her Mother too, as Chaperon.
Mr & Mrs Williamson.
Charles Powlett, & his Pupils twain:
Small Parson Hasker, great Squire Lane.
And Bentworth’s Rector, with his hat,
Unwillingly he parts from that.

Two Misses Davies; with two friends;

And thus my information ends

P.S. It would have been a better dance
But for the following circumstance;
The Dorchesters, so high in station,
Dined out that day, by invitation,
At Heckfield Heath, with Squire Le Fevre;
Methinks it was not quite so clever
For one Subscriber to invite
Another, on the assembly night;
But ’twas to meet a General Donne
His Lordship’s old companion;
And as the General would not stay
They could not fix another day -




Dear friends and readers,

What differentiates Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club from the other sequels and appropriation texts from or to Jane Austen’s novels that I’ve read is the content-rich nature, intelligence and coherent working out of ideas in the film’s conversations about the books, of which there are many. Wendy Wax’s While We Were Watching Downton Abbey where characters similarly get together to discuss this mini-series may stand as more typical: a great fuss is made about what the characters are feeling and thinking about the fictional characters, but when it comes to telling, turns out hardly anything at all, or its the kind of statement where specific content or comments on any themes or characters is avoided. Such books make me wonder what kinds of conversations book clubs have: I’ve seen on-line communities where real analysis of the book hardly happens hardly at all, and the one book club talk I attended, after the briefest introduction of a few issues the book brought up (already outlined as what would be discussed), commonplace notions were said generally, a quiz was worked out, and then it was time for food. Swicord’s characters not only offer specific comments on specific content, they come up with unusual perceptive ideas (such as maybe Charlotte Lucas is a closet lesbian) and they make what is happening in the Austen novels relevant to their lives in the book and by extension our contemporary lives reading them.

I wondered if there was a general stance in the novel across these discussions, anything linking them together thematically which related to the novel or a way of reading Austen’s novels so gathered together the conversations I took down in the process of taking down the screenplay.

Online2 (2)

Online2 (1)

Standing on line waiting to see Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park

I really like Edmund in this movie. Have you seen it?
We see an upset Trudie on line. Man and woman to her right.
Woman taking something out of her bag I love this movie.
Bernadette: Oh, I like it, but it’s not Mansfield Park. It’s more of an interpretation. We see Bernadette with her knitting and glasses on line
We see Prudie look so looming somehow in front ….
Bernadette: – Do you know the book?
Woman: – Yes. And I happen to teach film.
Bernadette – Oh … (speaking out to space in general: – Do you like this movie? -
Prudie turns round with crying lament voice: No. Do you know it mixes up Fanny Price with the author of the book? (her arms crossed) Makes Sir Bertram some kind of slave owner.
Woman looks irritated, pulling on bag
Bernie: Well, it means well. And a little Jane Austen’s better than none at all.
Prudie: No. No. No. That is how I talk myself into everything. I’m married to a man who would cancel our trip to Paris for a basketball game, which is making me a fraud in front of my students. A French teacher who’s never been to France?
Husband of couple getting impatient, goes to get tickets, women begins to feel for Prudie as she listen to above, so makes an effort …
Woman online: The screenplay is outstanding.

Bernadette (2)

Bernadette (1)

At coffee meeting place, deciding on how to read all six Austen books, the order especially

Six novels, six people. We’ll each be responsible for one book. Bernie walks away reveling in her scarf: All Jane Austen, all the time! It’s the perfect antidote.
Prudie: – To what?
Bernie: – To life. … (comes back and whispers conspiratorially) I get Pride and Prejudice.
Bernie: So Prudie (she’s sitting to the side in a comfortable chair, knitting), you haven’t said which book you wanna be responsible for.
Prudie: Maybe Persuasion. ‘Cause I’m increasingly drawn to its elegiac tone. (there is a posturing here)
Allegra (feels and sees this and slams down coffee cup) – Don’t think I’m doing the book club.
Jocleyn (picks up hers): – You’re doing it. You lead one discussion. Pick a book.
Allegra: Well, I just saw Sense and Sensibility, and I think, since I’m back living with my mom, I really get that whole two-women, tight-relationship, living-together- but-really-opposites thing. POV Jocelyn eating donut
Jocelyn: Is it weird living back at home again?
Prudie (interrupting teacher-like): I think what Austen is actually writing about is two sisters, moving separately toward what they each believe to be a perfect love.
Allegra: Okay, but the point is Marianne and Elinor’s relationship…
Prudie: Maybe if you’d read the book instead of watching the movie…
Allegra: No, don’t make her do Northanger. I mean, first you’re going off to all these dances, and then suddenly it’s sort of like Nightmare on Northanger Abbey Street. Prudie making faces
Prudie: I’m afraid this isn’t the book club that I had in mind. (Clash of tone of mind) I mean, I find when someone in the group feels superior to the author, it just… It sets the wrong tone.
Never read anything by Jane Austen before. (Dumps huge book on table)
Jocelyn looks, Allegra,
Bernie (horrified) What is it? (Prudie to the side)
Grigg: Well, I went to the bookstore to buy a copy of each one of the novels, and I saw this. And I thought, “Well, maybe they’re all sequels.” So, I figured it might be a good idea to keep them all together in one book, in case I needed to refer back. (holding book up to show binder and row of titles, points) Is this the order that we read them in?
Grigg: Great. All right. – Emma. Starting in the middle. (he is far more enthusiastic than they … )




The group is on porch, discussing Emma, with Allegra having begun, talking from the swing seat:

Allegra: Where’s the heat between Emma and Mr. Knightley? There’s no animal passion.
Beautiful far shot of group around book on porch fall
Allegra: Look at Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax.
Back to close view of Allegra:You can tell they’re really in love because they behave so badly.
Sylvia uncorking bottle, looks dubious: And that’s good? (Jocelyn next to her)
Allegra shrugs slightly: Emma and Mr. Knightley, you just never feel the sex.
Camera on Grigg looking startled ….
Bernie first voice-over and then with knitting needles: Still, I think Mr. Knightley’s very yummy. Don’t you? He may be my favorite of all the Austen men.
Prudie next to Bernie: (italics for foreign language): Sans passion I’amour n’est rien.
Sylvia turns to smile at Jocelyn:
Camera back on Prudie: — That’s not Jane’s theme, is it?
Jocelyn in camera to Sylvia mouthing: – Jane?
Allegra: That’s cozy.
Bernie looks admonitory
Camera back to undercertain and then firmly squarish Prudie:
What … what we’re meant to see is not the lack of passion so much as the control of it, and the not giving in.
Camera on Bernie knitting at an angle: Apres moi, le deluge.
All giggle and camera on Sylvia and Jocelyn
Bernie leaning conciliatory: But Prudie’s right, it is in all the novels.
Camera on Grigg beginning to say something when Bernie interjects:
Bernie: Sense and Sensibility, obviously. (far shot with Pruide) Oh, and then there’s Maria’s infidelity in Mansfield Park.
Camera on Sylvia looking up:
Sylvia upset voice: I forgot there’s infidelity in Mansfield Park. (same wine glass from previous scene
Jocelyn (camera on her: Austen’s all about keeping it zipped.
Grigg at last has something to say: Yeah, but isn’t physical attraction one of the ungovernable forces? (quick shots of Bernie and Prudie from far; we see Jocelyn on other side of Grigg). You know, like gravity. That’s what we like about it. You know, downhill, release the brakes, loosen your grip, and… (whooofff …)
Partial shots of all of them there.
Allegra: Yeah. Love makes people crazy.
Sylvia (hesitating) camera on her – It does not excuse bad behavior.
Bernie nodding wisely (shot captures them all again) – I agree. And Mr. Knightley is violently in love. “Violently!” His word. And yet, he’s never anything but a gentleman.
Allegra: – Yeah, a gentleman who scolds people.
Grigg getting up and walking away: Well, not everyone. You know, just Emma, just the woman that he loves.
Prudie caught as monumental: C’est vrai. C’est typique.
By mistake as Grigg backs off we see him almost fall into Jocelyn’s lap and come off
Prudie: A man can do whatever he likes to the woman he loves.
Jocelyn close up (with glasses): I don’t think that’s what Austen’s saying.
Far shot showing them all with Sylvia doing something for Grigg
Jocelyn close up: Actually, Emma stops being crazy when she falls for Mr. Knightley. It’s the event of the book. Love is an act of sanity.
Bernie knitting away
Grigg begins as voice-over: One thing that I noticed about Emma is the sense of menace.
Camera then captures Sylvia sitting by Grigg’s side:
Grigg: The gypsies, Jane Fairfax’s boating accident, Mr. Woodhouse’s worries.
Prudie intervenes with condescension: Austen’s entire thesis is that none of these things are real, Grigg.
Photograph of Grigg and Sylvia listening
Prudie: I mean, Emma, she acts on the basis of her fantasies (her hand over her neck)
Allegra making fun: Yes, Grigg, I’m afraid you’ve just entirely missed the point.
Prudie looks a little disconcerted:
Jocelyn: You know, I’ve read that the Emma plot, the humbling of the pretty, know-it-all girl is the most popular plot of all time.
Allegra looks alert.
Bernie (wry and knitting): Yes, universally satisfying.
Allegra: Okay. Well, what bothered me was how Emma kept forcing her friend Harriet on Mr. Elton. And then she finds out who Harriet’s father is, and suddenly, “Ew!” She’s lucky to get the farmer. (back and forth for shots from far
Prudie (square one shot): I think Jane was being ironic there. I think some readers might miss that.
Allegra: – Emma’s a snob.
Jocelyn: – Please. (Now Grigg near Jocelyn who is higher up in frame) People are instinctively drawn to partners who are their near equal in looks. The pretty marry the pretty, the ugly the ugly. To the detriment of the breed, in my opinion.
Grigg laughing
Bernie looking up God, you’re such an Emma. Isn’t she? You’d love to pair up the whole world, from dogs to people.
Sylvia looking down. Put me together with Daniel
Sylvia: Austen has a way of making you forget that most marriages end in divorce.
Bernie: Well, she’s all about the weddings, Jane.
Jocelyn: Yeah, “Jane.” Did you catch that?
Sylvia: Oh, Prudie?
Jocelyn (mocking deep voice): “Jane and I, we know our themes.”
Allegra: And why did she have to speak in French?
Jocleyn: And if so, couldn’t she do it in France, where it’s less noticeable?
Bernie I feel for Prudie. She’s married to a complete Neanderthal.

Continued in comments:

Mansfield Park: Sylvia passionately defends Fanny Price:


The play rehearsed in Prudie’s school is a mirror of Mansfield Park and Lovers Vows; and Prudie and Trey rehearse love scenes together; but Prudie going for Trey a twisted mirror of Persuasion (she’s looking for another mate, a false second chance). She almost goes to bed with Trey, so she stands in as modern instances of both Fanny Price and Maria Bertram. 

Northanger Abbey: Provoking anxiety disquiets Sylvia



Mysteries of Udolpho in effect defended

Pride and Prejudice: again Grigg and Sylvia


Sense and Sensibility, The whole group, intense subtext between Grigg and Jocelyn, as they argue over their relationship through the book:


Persuasion: on the beach, Grigg’s sister first thought his girlfriend, an analogy for Eleanor Tilney and reader of Jane Austen; Sylvia’s husband wants to return and talks with Bernadette



Most moving is the reconciliation of Dean and Prudie in bed — he simply reading the whole of the novel all night.

As movie moves to final gathering in elegant clothes at dinner, no surprise Patrick O’Brien novels will be coming next, all 20 of them.

I omit the characterization of the characters as comments on the books and themes as that is done in all the appropriations.The iInterwined general stance of the conversations seems to be how much in the books can be transferred to readers’ lives and how readers use them to think about their lives


From the Emma discussion in The Jane Austen Book Club (Robin Swicord, all the principals gathered together over their books)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve decided to blog about my long-term book project, A Place of Refuge: the Jane Austen Film Canon. I started it an embarrassingly long time ago now: 2007. Since this past March or so (when I taught a course on Jane Austen novels at the OLLI at AU) I’ve been keeping it up intermittently, sometimes consistently for a couple and more hours a day for a week or so or more, and then again, less so when I’m writing a review or (as I did last week) helping to referee a paper for a peer-edited journal (on a 17th to 18th century woman writer, Catherine Trotter Cockburn). I’m returning to using this Austen reveries blog for working out thoughts.

Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood when she thinks she will spend her life alone (long a favorite still with me for the strength of endurance she manifests) (2008 JA’s S&S)

I began the study with the goal of enabling myself and other readers of women’s novels and lovers of film to understand Austen’s Sense and Sensibility better, in some circles still underrated and her first published novel. I wanted to raise the status of this book generally too; following Roger Shattuck’s Forbidden Knowledge, its relevant dramatization of male and female sexual awakening and coming of age. My method has been to examine how and what elements in the text were transferred to a group of film adaptations of it and then compare the transference of these elements between these films. It’s been my experience that close comparative film adaptation studies enable the reader to reach deeply into the archetypes and workings of a text more than any other method. I also value the Austen film canon as a subset of two important kinds of movies combined: romantic and costume drama: it’s a rare coherent body of work which uses female narrators, looks at life from a woman’s perspective, and contains a number of film masterpieces and a variety of kinds of films. So I have also studied the six Sense and Sensibility films as works of art in their own right to bring out the peculiar set of cultural meanings conveyed by each film.

Alan Rickman as the enthralled melancholy Brandon (1995 S&S)

Basically I managed to write a Prologue to Part Two showing that one important source for Sense and Sensibility was Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield and that uncannily some of the archetypes underlying S&S as found in Montolieu’s work show up: such as the Brandon figure as someone the Marianne character falls in love with and for whom she is a revenant. I wrote about the 1971, 1983, 1995 Sense and Sensibility Heritage films, and the 2000 I Have Found It. So 5 chapters. I got bogged down when I got to the 2008 Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility because I couldn’t manage to contextualize Davies’s film in a small enough compass (a 6th unfinished chapter), and then I was defeated by a life crisis of overwhelming dimensions during which time another very successful appropriation of S&S was brought to the theaters, From Prada to Nada, about which I did write blogs at least. I hope to finish the 6th chapter and write a 7th on the Hispanic S&S. There has been yet another S&S film, an appropriation which I’ve seen, Scents and Sensibility which moves the material into a fable about the commercialization of romance. I have not begun to watch it often enough to say more.

As I studied the S&S films, I realized in order to make these films and this book significant beyond a still stigmatized and to some extent ghettoized readership, the Janeites, and groups of viewers who like costume drama, soap opera, TV serials based on classic books, I would have to place my study in the context of central issues debated in film studies in a consistent thorough way. The central section of this book rather simply allows Austen’s novel, one of its important literary sources and then the films themselves to set the agenda and structure of what is discussed.

It is my view that the screenplay adapted and worked up into a visual and auditory experience capable of absorbing an audience has been paid insufficient attention to, is wrongly overlooked, its role underrated. Most of the time they are not published anywhere or presented in such a doctored form (as a novelization of the film) as to be unusable as a basis for comparison. The exceptions are individual cases where the film has been such a success or its eponymous novel is so respected or the scriptwriter him or herself gained attention as an artist in his or her own right. yet many of them are literary works of value in their own right, or at least enough of them. We are very lucky when it comes to studying scripts in the Austen canon: she is a cult figure with a world-wide following, a number of the script-writers and directors of her films are respected film auteurs with a recognized body of film work studied in its own right. It is therefore possible to study a number of the scripts in the Austen canon in the context of film work outside Austen, and romantic and serial drama. Some are appropriations drawn from an intermediary analogous novel to the Austen one limned and that may be compared.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys as Darcy discussing how they should view Georgiana’s desire to marry a young lawyer, Henry Alveston (Death Comes to Pemberley)

Talking together in bed

So I’ve spent much of my time on this book in the last few months first reading about screenplays, then sampling non-Austen ones, and finally taking down with great delight every word of Death Comes to Pemberley and The Jane Austen Book Club while I watched. I’ve now gone on to read the published screenplays or shooting scripts of Metropolitan, Ruby in Paradise, and Andrew Davies’s Emma.
I’ve asked myself what features these have in common, how are they distinct from non-Austen romance and mini-series or comic movies.

This book could be a triptych, with an opening part having the aim of understanding how the key instrument of the script repeated across the body of film work that makes up the Austen film canon is turned into a movie. I was interested to see what happens when in appropriate films there is no intermediary analogous novel (Lost in Austen and Metropolitan), where there is one (Death Comes to Pemberley and The Jane Austen Book Club), and how these compare to those screenplays-films where the immediate source is an Austen novel (however inflected by film genre and intertextualities of all sorts). What about a film like Davies’s 2007 Room with a View where he has read back into Forster’s novel its source material in Northanger Abbey and allowed the later character relationships to comment on Austen’s own. I would be answering the question, Is there a subgenre, the Austen films and how does its underlying material (the novels, the letters, favored ideas about Austen herself comprise itself.

I hope to post some of the material I gathered about the individual screenplays. I especially enjoyed all the discussions of the Jane Austen novels in Robin Swicord’s The Jane Austen Book Club, the way Juliette Towhidi reworked P.D. James’s maturation and darkening of the characters of Darcy (he is made more understandable, more consistent) and Elizabeth (she hurt and disillusioned by the experience of how she is treated by others) after a few years marriage in Death Comes to Pemberley. I had surmized that direct violence inflicted on women was not seen in Austen films, but attempted rape is central to Ruby in Paradise, and (piquant to me) that Aubrey Rouget in Stillman’s Metropolitan is modeled on Audrey Hepburn (from the 1957 Love in the Afternoon (a weak late romantic screwball comedy). Films alluded to in these films (watched by the characters too) include the 1966 Un Homme et Une Femme, and Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (in two of the films), which I admit I once fell asleep on.

Ashley Judd as Ruby and Todd Field as Mike McCaslin (1993 Ruby)

I discover that some of these screenplays really stand on their own as poetic texts (Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise), that the effect of reading them is different and enrichening in ways that experiencing their realization in film loses (Davies’s Emma is a visionary text, things are constantly dissolving into dreams and we can’t always tell whose the dream is; Stillman’s literary thoughtful Metropolitan). I want to do justice to their peculiar typical cyclical structures. The beauty of the portraits of fleeting moments is unobtrusive in Nunez’s (surprising perhaps in western impoverished Florida, even junkyards) but there, and there in all the best of those on the evocative romantic end of the Austen spectrum.

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen very pleased to see three of her books set up by Clarke in the Prince Regent’s London home (Miss Austen Regrets by Gwyneth Hughes and Anne Pivcevic)

A last problem is the snobbish devaluation of these films, one writ large in Austen film studies: the legitimate question would be, why are a set of books concerning a small sub-set of privileged people who experience hardly any violence, minor losses, and where the author displays an unawareness, even indifference to central issues or norms maiming the larger society upon which the community of characters depend endlessly discussed, rated almost hysterically high, filmed and re-filmed continually? One would have to study frankly the flaws and problems in her books, by studying the struggle film-makers have had turning her last three published full novels into films: Emma goes on to long and too little literally happens for a film theater; two of the books are partly unfinished or truncated books, named by her brother Henry, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. There are fissures in P&P, S&S and MP from all the years of revision. I want to see what are the assumptions film-makers make about the reading experience audiences have had with an Austen novel and expect to have analogously in watching an Austen film.

Amanda Price (Jemima Hooper) reading Pride and Prejudice (Lost in Austen)

The strange film Austenland, a creditable failure, ia intended as a kind of commentary on romance readers of Austen: I’ll make a separate blog on this. film-makers try to counter what they think makes many contemporary readers, especially women uncomfortable when they read Austen (Austen’s Fanny Price, anyone?) and what have the film-makers done to compensate, erase, replace these elements in Austen’s texts. The biopic, Miss Austen Regrets, based on Austen’s letters and Nokes’s biography is important here.

So next up in this series of blogs will be the discussions of Jane Austen’s novels found in The Jane Austen Book Club — whence my opening still. I hope to carry on the Austen Papers though few are now joining in: the book is insufficiently annotated and there are no texts by Jane Austen, and return to blogging about my Valancourt edition of Smith’s Ethelinde which is coming along now: completely typed and annotated up to near the end of the fifth and final volume.

Of course I’m now trying to make the time of my bereft life (without Jim) as endurable I can. I derive some pleasure watching, studying, reading and writing about this ever-increasing subset of movies. They help me to forget where I am, how silent this house, to yes escape.


NPG x90255; Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh by Elliott & Fry
Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1872-1961)

Dear friends and readers,

On Austen-l and Janeites, with copies to my yahoo listservs:  Eighteenth Century Worlds and Women Writers through the Ages (for those who for whatever reason prefer not to join in on the two major Jane Austen listservs on-line), a group of us have embarked on another long-term reading and discussion of Jane Austen texts. We are for now reading and discussing the letters and documents RAAL (the abbreviation I will use) gathered together and published in 1942 (Spottiswood Press) in the first two privately-printed volumes of what he called Pedigree of Austen: Austen Papers, 1704-1856. We have been enabled to do this because some of us took the books out of the library (there is a 1990 reprint by the Bath Thoemmes Press), others have xeroxes of RAAL’s volumes, and Christy Somers sent those who asked for them, the pages of the first volume as we read them as attachments from copies she scanned in, and Ronald Dunning is putting on his website, also from the 1942 edition, the chapters of the first two volumes as we go through them.

RAAL was the 2nd son of Cholmeley Austen-Leigh (1829-1899) and his wife, Melesina Mary (also with a pedigree, one linking her to a Dean and Archbishop); and thus a grandson of the James-Edward Austen-Leigh and Emma Smith. JEAL wrote the first memoir of Jane Austen that began the cult of Austen’s life and books, from which we can date the widening knowledge and reading of her books and then watching of film adaptations, with accompanying ever increasing scholarship to the point the subject becomes a life’s work; JEAL’s book included the texts of Lady Susan and The Watsons. We saw in going through Austen’s letters how fond she was of him and how much he loved her.  His sisters, Caroline Austen and Anna Austen Lefroy (both beloved by Jane, if at times with Anna genuinely estranged) contributed letters; Anna prepared an edition of Sanditon with her own attempts at a continuation from what she knew of her aunt’s aims, and Caroline her Reminiscences, separately printed. All three were the children of Jane’s oldest brother, James, the poet of the family.

In the preface to the 1990 Bath Thoemmes press reprint of RAAL’s effort in four volumes (which includes JEAL’s Memories of the Vine Hunt, books on Jane Austen and Bath, Constance Hill’s nostalgic work on where Austen lived, and a judge’s notes on the case of Jane Perrot-Leigh’s shoplifting), David Gilson provides a brief review of the successful business and socially elite life of RAAL as well as RAAL’s publications apart from those on Jane Austen (Eton college, architectural, a history of his printing firm): Gilson’s few words are valuable. He gives a brief but full enough account to give us a sense of what kind of man RAAL was through reviewing R.A. Austen-Leigh’s business life, his professional memberships. RAAL spent his life as a publisher, Spottiswood was the family firm; he was successful (reminding me of Samuel Richardson) and was the head of a number of printers’ councils, boards, chairman of this and that. He was also a literary man and member of the Society of Antiquaries, Royal Society; he married twice in the way the family approved, upper middle class daughter of military and university people, once within the same family his father had. He never had any children by either wife. His writes on architecture, Eton, the story of his firm, JA and Lyme Regis, JA and Southampton. Gilson has a joke at the conclusion of his preface where he says someone in Notes and Queries found one error in R.A. Austen-Leigh’s various articles and books — it was Elinor not Marianne who drank the constantia wine.



After Gilson’s introduction (in the 1990 reprint) ,there is a long detailed pedigree (got up by RAAL) — it is worth having because you can see the family were clothiers in Kent in the 15th, 16th, 17th century; they also become surgeons (a few sons) and stationers (so get involved in printing and state papers). By the later 17th century Austen men are going to university, holding fellowships, getting positions. One can identify Elizabeth Austen as the wife of John Austen IV. The calamity of her life is her husband (John IV) predeceased his father (John III), and their eldest son John was given everything contrary to what she said were her husband’s John IV’s express wishes. Why was John III so very mean to all the other children (refusing to give them any help) and his daughter-in-law? It’s said he didn’t like her. It’s sometimes implied there is something extraordinary here, but I’d like to suggest this was how primogeniture could work. The law was set up to allow the behavior of John III if he felt like it.

Then starting with Elizabeth’s 4th son, William, we see George Austen’s parentage (and how he was orphaned more than once as were of course his full sisters, Philadelphia and Leonora). We also see the other sons who were the uncles Henry sometimes mentions — especially Francis Motley who Henry was wont to say (it’s apparent more than once) sat down on a chair as a lawyer and just grew rich — very rich. It was not quite so easy or simple or innocent.  Francis became a moneylender — banking was ever a place to grow rich through money changing hands and investments. Henry followed in this uncle’s footsteps.. But with no safety net, no regulations, most people did crash if there was a depression or recession (and there was a bad once when Napoleon was defeated and the armies sent home) — unless very well wadded by family connections.

The genealogy is very long and one might say Deirdre LeFaye imitates it in her biographical index to her edition of Jane Austen’s letters. She gives us little genealogies when she should give us accounts of individuals. But she cares not for them in the way she does genealogies. A younger daughter (or “sister” as Austen is said to have first titled her Watsons) would not have been particularly valued, was not because it would not have been seemly (conforming to respectability) until well after her death, until after 1870 when JEAL broke ranks and began to publish what he felt he could about her private life, what he believed to be truth about her.


Cass reading Jane's letter

Anna Maxwell Martin as Cassandra when younger reading one of Jane Austen’s letters (Becoming Jane, 2008)

RAAL’s preface comes next. He strikes a modest tone. He asks, why should such family papers be of interest — he is aware somehow that the Jane Austen connection is not quite enough, though the primary function of the book is to shed light and information on her. Chapter 2 ends with Austen’s birth. He says the letters of this and other chapters are representative – – and they are of a family, some of whose members made good — with great difficulty some of them, luck (the adoption of Edward Austen) and marrying well (JEAL and several others). He hopes their ordinary upper middle classness will be instructive.  He also thinks of his material as a kind of story and sets his book up as one — rather like Charlotte Barrett did for her great-aunt, Fanny Burney.

He has a great deal of material from Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen, and it’s clear will handle it discreetly. Hancock, her legal father, is described early on as a “sour and disappointed” man. Warren Hastings is only mentioned once in the chronology, but it is interesting to see that Daylesford (which Hastings purchased with his “ill-gotten gains) was not far from Adelstrop Rectory where some of the Austen cousins lived (and Jane visited) and the manuscripts of Eliza’s letters were found in the hands of a Hastings descendent. RAAL shows an awareness of how Mrs Leigh-Perrot will emerge as a deeply unpleasant figure, and has included what material he could by JEAL to tell about her candidly.


Chapter one contains the slightly astonishing and important narrative by Elizabeth Weller Austen and a long letter from Henry Austen to James-Edward Austen-Leigh dwelling on how Francis Austen (one of Henry’s uncles, one of Elizabeth’s sons) became so rich, and how particular people in the family came to inherit this or that


Imitator of David Teniers the Younger, An Old Woman Reading (17th century)

Elizabeth Weller Austen’s narrative is a story of the workings out of primogeniture when held to super-strictly, except for a defiant daughter-in-law. Usually it’s said something would be allowed for schooling and prospects of younger sons and perhaps a small dowry for a daughter. But this mean (in all senses of the term) man (John III) would not give a penny unless someone else forked out an equal amount and even then not always. Elizabeth acknowledges her husband (John IV) left her badly in debt but says not unreasonably that though he had debts before he married and as he accumulated debts over the marriage, they were the members of a very rich family and lived in a way commensurate with that. Probably John Austen IV was a bad businessman, did not attend to his rents, farming and the clothier business — if you look you find people like Thomas Jefferson worked as businessmen, taking on debt to run a place being the great problem they ever had to cope with. The meanness in the father-in-law is also seen in his first refusal to pay even for a funeral (10 pounds was fought over fiercely): I assume John III detested something his son had done, or was a person, and was determined to get back or not give over any money to John IV’s whole family. He would himself educated John III separately from them. Elizabeth says the way she was treated in her father-in-law’s will (for he died not long after his son) made her into an enemy, someone not part of the family. It was not that she had nothing for her father is applied to for half to make up a sum and he is willing, but he dies too. She says her husband would have written out something for her, but was told that there was no need, his father (JA III) promising to actually care equally for all his grandsons. He reneged on promises several times in the course of this narrative, and I expect everyone feared that he would.

Were this sort of truth and candor practiced by people regularly how much more would we know of the realities and workings of our world and human nature. I stopped reading at page 8 for at that place the narrative drops into the present tense for a page or so. Elizabeth is left nearly destitute with 5 of her sons (all but the eldest) and a daughter after the death of her husband, then the death of her father, and then of this very tormenting father-in-law who more than once she said “all feared to displease.” She does not know and is writing out of immediate distress and perplexity:  what she shall do? She projects intense anxiety, bewilderment yet determination not to sit down and live penuriously while her children grow up to be laborers.  It’s clear no one will help them and this will be their fate unless she can get a job that pays well enough and houses them decently herself. She does not put it this way, but that is what she goes out and does.

The use of the present tense at this transition point in the narrative (p. 8) suggests the manuscript was not written all at once at the end of her life but rather in pieces, some of it later after an event, and other of it at the time of happening, as an outlet or vent, a kind of diary. Then at the end of her life or when she put this together some parts show the diary nature of some of the material. This helps explain the exactitude of the amounts she cites in the early part of the story and again the later: how much at each juncture was paid or not paid after her husband and then father-in-law died, and the bargaining over each item. The narrative also shows how central is money to these people. Auden professed to be shocked at Jane’s concern with money; Elizabeth Weller Austen would not have been.

Elizabeth is casting about what to do and writes in the present tense for a couple of paragraphs. She laments that she is treated as an enemy in the will and talks of how her husband feared his father would disinherit the younger children as severely as he did and insists all her children are dear to her as they were to her husband. The next page is pathetic dealings with her in-laws (as we’d call them) her husband’s siblings who she is hoping will (in effect) set aside the will and obey her husband’s desires – share some of the money and property for the younger ones. This part seems to be written as an argument she is going to present to them. She says she does not have enough to give her children an education they will not be ashamed of, to apprentice her children, has no prospect of saving money (as she has none).

Elizabeth writes to expose what happened, to tell, and to justify what she did — becoming a housekeeper is a come-down and some of the apprenticeships she took were also come downs from gentlemanly positions like in the military or clergy or law (law was not as respected) for which Jane Austen’s father fitted his sons. She can write – -so the talent of the family comes out here. A typical phrase: I were loathe to appear ridiculous” about her lack of proper mourning clothes for her husband’s funeral. We learn that her husband kept the debts he brought into the marriage and the larger debts accumulated “private” from her. She says that John III did not perform a promise made at the marriage to pay the debts upon the marriage — so they did not begin with a clean slate (rather like US students today who begin life with large college debts hanging over them). After John IV’s death, John’s real unkindness over the furniture and household goods (reminding me of how Jane Austen had to give up her few things,but then she had only herself, was not going to be dumped and had not been given promises at all — galling itself). All the deaths raise curiosity and she gives some details — for example her own father’s fatal illness (Weller his name) “seized his brains” so he was not able just before his death to perform promises to the father-in-law. I wonder if the man had brain cancer or some sort of dementia (how old was he at time of death?)

What happens then is her biological father dies and then John III himself. Now it is the siblings of John III who refuse to ignore the will, to help her, to make good on promises she says she had. She mentions a biological brother of her own, Stringer. The case is that is by word of mouth her father promised 200 pounds for her household goods, to pay her husband’s debts, and leave enough money for her younger sons, but as it was not in the will the promise was not honored. Her “brothers” (she may mean brothers-in-law) insisted as it was not in law, as “it could not be answered in law, and they must be just to the heir.” In other words, they’d be sued by this heir or later on when he grew up or his close relatives who thought to gain.

Elizabeth’s narrative is more than courageous and poignant; it’s defiant. To bring in that trivializing word “feisty” at this point is to show how it’s usually used for behavior which does not threaten or expose the system. Elizabeth Austen’s narrative exposes the system which would have destroyed her — Anna Austen Lefroy allowed the system to destroy her, did not fight back after her husband died, but lived off other relatives penuriously. Granted it’s hard to fight, hard to see past the views of everyone around you that can hold you in an invisible prison. All around Elizabeth probably disapproved publicly and some privately when she became a housekeeper. Housekeepers ended up the mistresses of the men in the houses they worked in if the men didn’t have wives (or if they did) been able to read the latter pages. She was smart too: she took a job at Sevenoaks, a boarding school so her sons could be educated as part of her payment.

She was a woman and the system ignores her and expected her to do nothing, to live in a hovel or beg and plead to no avail.

She first takes over two years to cope with her debts; her purpose was to give up as little as she could, take what she could away with her, and she managed to borrow some of what she needed. Taking a job as a housekeeper in a boarding school shows cleverness: her boys would naturally be educated among the others — crumbs from the table on what was going. This was part of the deal I imagine. Then we get a picture of a subsidence life — before the middle 19th century almost every one lived that way in Europe (and now again in the US a huge population does again). Tiny sums accounted for — I’m sure Jane Austen saw this kind of thing. Elizabeth does provide for her daughter differently — trying to get her clothes to be decorated out. Francis has small pox at one point and the doctors’ bill is a whopping 29 pounds plus. She tells nothing of her relationship to her employer.

Now and again she writes placatings of God, especially when she is doing something unconventional as when she takes the job at Stevenoaks. I gather the way you could pressure on someone to stop them doing something unconventional (and against say your interest or pride) was to identify the hegemonic opinion with God’s and frighten them that God would not approve.

This is material which requires annotation and these two editions (1941 and 1990) provide none. In her narrative, Elizabeth Austen’s narrative she does not differentiate clearly her father-in-law (John III) from her father (Weller) and sometimes one has to work to make sure she is talking about her husband (John IV). She does not refer to John III as her father-in-law but either father Austen or father, or my husband’s father. To call hiim father is to use the same word as for her biological father. (I note a reluctance today to use the term stepfather so that someone’s father becomes their biodad and the stepfather they live with their father. Biodad is a back formation as father means biological father.)

In his brief introduction RAAL talks of all this in the mildest terms and emphasizes how by the time her boys needed it, Elizabeth had the money to apprentice each, where he was apprenticed and in the case of Francis (who was a lawyer who went into lending, a banker in effect) what great success he had. This provides that optimistic non-questioning stance so necessary (I speak ironically), but RAAL does bring out how as the whirligig of time proceeded the eldest branch died off, and after all it was Francis’s grandson who became heir to the large estates. And he prints it. He knows that the relatives at the time or even a hundred or so years later would have been mortified to see the real family behavior and resorts so exposed.


The 1995 film adaptation of P&P: Mrs Bennet (Alison Steadman) telling Mr Austen (Benjamin Whitrow) a man of good fortune has come into the neighborhood: they need this as the Bennet property will go to a distant male cousin, Mr Collins

Elizabeth’s narrative relates directly to central themes of P&P and S&S. P&P: The workings of primogeniture is made into a joke over Mrs Bennet’s lamentations: and she says how ridiculous further of relatives should by chance inherit — but it’s the whole system. Francis’s grandson finally got the property from the line of JA IV’s eldest son when there was no son. Towards the end of Henry’s letter, Henry talks of someone who deserved a property by feeling and abilities and yet it was given to the heir and points to primogeniture. He’s not amused and his complaint is really something in the spirit of Austen’s Mrs Bennet. He is at pains to explain each turn in the family too because (he says) it’s not always clear which is the line to inherit, and then people end up litigating (what nearly happened over Stoneleigh Abbey).


In 1995 film adaptation of S&S, Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter) discourages John Dashwood’s (James Fleet) idea he should give his step-mother an annuity in lieu of a big lump sum to furnish interest: Just think she could live more than 15 years!

S&S: second powerful famous chapter about how a promise is not worth the air it took to utter it. Henry Dashwood has no power in law to offer anything to his second wife and daughters. Austen might have said what he asked was not permanent property but a one time gift; however we see in Elizabeth Austen’s letter how her brother Stringer would not budge for gifts either: maybe he’d be sued. Well maybe he would have been. We do not fell Mrs Austen and the girls had any case; Elizabeth Austen actually talks of going to a lawyer but says she “had no pocket to know ye opinion of my Lord Chanceller.” (p. 11)



Francis Austen (1698-1791)

I found Henry’s narrative letter clearly written as information to JEAL — perhaps when working on his aunt’s biography. It is insightful, calmer than most of Jane’s letters to Cassandra. He give a positive portrait of the uncle Francis: smart in lots of ways, including getting along with people. The tone of the whole is pleasant — he likes his nephew and liked his uncle. Henry feels comfortable telling of all these properties too. Francis rose through an initial 800 pounds (we are not told how he put that together) and then marrying a widow whose property he was defending from further rapacious heirs. Henry says this widow was a decently natured as Francis. Henry says it was a privilege to have known this generation.  Henry is at some pains to explain who inherited various properties after Francis Austen died and why to his nephew, JEAL.

We see why the Austens had a certain pride: they do have properties, they do have “ownership” of fellowships, with all the connections all this brings. The letter to be understood needs a family table nearby to see all the relationship. Henry refers to George Austen as JEAL’s grandfather and says Francis left George Austen 500 pounds though he had three married sons and at least a dozen grandchildren. The implication is such moneys are not usually given to people at that time of life as they are not so (desperately) needed as at other times.

Now although it might seem George Austen did not need it, this 500 would have come very handy (as Francis may have known) when George Austen was in Bath. He has a wife and two daughters and they are struggling to afford a decent place to live. With this 500 they escaped living with Mr and Aunt Leigh-Perrot and lived near Queens Square; later they went “down” to Green Park Buildings. I imagine they just spent what they had until it ran out with a small amount put in the funds (and small interest there).

Throughout it’s only sons that are paid attention to by Henry unless a widow is left money or property. The idea that later in life money is not needed is the idea that the moment of the career, the education for it is what counts. Girls were not included in all that, only for a dowry, and again that’s the same point in a life.

Later life matters when the people grow old and fight over these wills. Leonard Wolf has a savagely ironic novel about the litigation he saw in Sri Lanka as families fought over bits of property and I daresay people on this listserv have seen similar fights over large and small properties. I have been lucky never to have participated personally in anything like this.

I am convinced Jane Austen saw Elizabeth Weller Austen’s letter — from Henry’s letter he seems very familiar with the details of Elizabeth Weller Austen’s later doings for her sons. What Jane Austen thought of al this is indirectly seen in her novels and what’s left of her letters by her ways of talking about primogeniture (mostly ironically), her powerlessness, her desire for money from her novels. It must have hurt as she grew near death to have gained so little on MP and Emma. Years later Henry and Cassandra got what little they could when they sold the copyright for the sets of novels printed across the century.



Sevenoaks, Kent — now a boarding independent school

A few thoughts on the significance of Elizabeth Weller Austen’s narrative beyond its relevance to Austen’s novels. RAAL thought his material could have larger relevance.

What happened to Elizabeth’s children and then their children (where we find George and Philadelphia Austen) beyond its poignance. First and foremost it is a protest large and clear against primogeniture. It’s often said that people accepted the system as a whole to keep property together for a family: not so if you look at the first reform movements of the 1780s through early 1800s (when these were crushed). As the immediate thing all French cahiers sought was to end lettres de cachet and the English in the 1790s to make real reform of their parliament and its laws. We find people in the corresponding, liberty and other reform societies want an end to primogeniture (I know it will be said the parliament didn’t have the power, but people often ask institutions to create or find the power), then equal representative (no rotten boroughs) and universal suffrage for men.

Primogeniture was in fact disliked intensely by those who lost out — even if they dared not say so in front of the powerful single individual they now needed. Some families did soften the blow, did help the younger ones — but the important truth to keep your eye on is they didn’t have to. When terrible things are permitted men to do to women in a society, that does not mean that all men do it: what it does mean is those who want to can, and people use power. It’s often said to subdivide the property would have destroyed but that is to leave out of account the effect of time. It takes time for each generation to grow up and as that is happening (as in stocks and bonds), the property if well managed can grow and provide for all. Inheritance of large properties is not a zero-sum game; they bring patronage at the time (not later), rents, natural resources on the property.

We do see Jane’s despair and some of the bitterness of her cousin, Edward Cooper over the betrayal that the other Austens all felt that James Perrot-Leigh inflicted on them show the Austens angry at the workings of inheritance customs — in this case Perrot-Leigh had no sons and his property was not entailed so he gave the impression (and more than that to his relatives) he was going to leave the immediate legacies and this made them treat him better — that we see here is felt so egregiously and is part of the results of this primogeniture system.

So although the originating story of the family as told by Elizabeth Austen was well-known to them all, what is so remarkable here our first document is a real protest that tells us the real feelings of people in the era. Also that it was unthinkable not to try to hold onto your status, that people would do almost anything to — the ancien regime was a tough place. Many a Trollope novel hinges on a person doing some illegal or wrong thing in some way in order to provde a son or daughter (or self) with gentlemanly or the status of a lady. In the 17th through 19th century and today still the way to hold onto your status is education for a middle to upper class niche. So John III’s behavior was egregiously unjust.


The way Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Austen is dressed in Joe Wright’s 2005 P&P is probably close to that of Elizabeth Weller Austen

To return to Austen’s novels, among other things to be extrapolated from this document is that Mrs Bennet’s complaints are not to be dismissed. So many people defend her for the way she openly goes about trying to get husbands for her daughters — which in the novel are shown to be mostly counter-productive. Many readers unfortunately dismiss the way Mrs Bennet discusses the entail on Mr Collins because Austen herself sets up a context which ridicules her. Ridiculous woman to keep repeating what cannot be helped. And of course the heir will take all. I take it that’s part of the conservative stance her family would have been comfortable with and the ridicule allowed her novel to get past their censuring eyes. I’m inclined to defend Mrs Austen’s indignation even if expressed in ways that allow for ridicule — and think readers at the time would have felt the sting strongly of the girls being turned out when the father dies.

In Austen’s S&S the uncle did have the power to leave much more to his nephew — if you read carefully you find the entail had ended for a time. But the way of thinking was to leave the huge amount to one, the oldest male; Austen’s irony is that in fact the old man left it tied up (set a new set of restrictions) so as to make sure it would end up in he hands of a child (boy) when he grows up. 

As to the workings of primogeniture with males counting in Jane Austen’s immediate family, George Austen leaves his vicar’s position and salary to his eldest son, James, discarding a lifetime’s posssesions which included those valued by his daughter, Jane who became a wanderer, spent hated time in Bath and only was able to resume equanimity when her brother, Francis, provided a temporarily stable place to live in Southampton. It was a lucky adoption (of Edward by the Knights) that provided Chawton after the death of his wife, Elizabeth.

if you look at Elizabeth Austen and then study what happened to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren — Henry a fourth son (see my portrait of him) — the reality is not to be surprised he ended up nearly broke except for a curacy patronage got him but how far he got. In his wife, Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen’s immediate family: we see her mother, Philadelphia, driven to go to India and marry where she could. No education for her the way one was provided for her brother George. She took crumbs from the table of Warren Hastings after he impregnated her with Eliza (see my portrait of her) – not a happy position — or one Henry could work to his advantage later in life when he married Eliza. 


Dear friends and readers,

Just now I’m reading and studying Victor Nunez’s screenplay and film, Ruby in Paradise, a powerful profound truthful (all that) appropriation of Northanger Abbey. After a moment of tension over very different world views,



Ruby quotes from what was Mike’s Christmas present to her, The Poems of Emily Dickinson:

She dealt her pretty words like Blades -
How glittering they shone -
And every One unbared a Nerve
Or wantoned with a Bone -

She never dreamed – she hurt -
That – is not Steel’s Affair -
A vulgar grimace in the Flesh -
How ill the Creatures bear -

To ache is human – not polite -
The Film upon the eye
Mortality’s old Custom -
Just locking up – to Die

Ruby will not accede to conventional Christian morality as imprisoning and painful no matter if it costs her Mike; he cannot but hold to it. Is this a poem about being one’s self at the cost of being alone. Which is it to lock the self up: when you pretend to what you are not, or when you are true to your beliefs, act them out? Dickinson paid a high price and here she expresses how the hurt feels. How others might see her choice. (see Pilgrim Soul)

How do you read this poem? 


A scene on a Sevres portrait of 1764: a little girl and her pet parrot (from Dorinda Outram’s intelligent picture book, Panorama of the Enlightenment)

A sonnet by Mary Hays (to sleep, wishing for peace in oblivion):

Ah! let not hope fallacious, airy, wild,
Illusive rays amid the tempest blend!
No more my soul with varied feelings rend,
Soft sensibility—refinement’s child!
May apathy her wand oblivious spread
Steeped in lethean waves, with poppies twined,
And gently bending o’er my languid head,
To long repose beguile a wayward mind.
While keen reflection throbs in every vein,
Thy aid oblivion, vainly I implore!
This heart shall tremble with the sense of pain,
Till death’s cold hand a lasting peace restore.
Ah! say can reason’s feebler power control,
The finer movements of the feeling soul?

Dear friends and readers,

I have been wanting to link in two review-summaries I wrote on a crucial decade of the 1790s but put on Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, because I thought its importance demanded I place the text on the blog where I have the most subscribed followers and daily hits & visitors.



There is also an excellent review by John Barrell, “To Stir up the People,” , London Review of Books, 36:2, 23 January 2014, pp. 17-19. Unfortunately it’s behind a pay wall except for the opening where Barrell refreshingly questions the usual presentation of Pitt the younger as having been a great (=worthy) prime minister. I link in his reply to an obdurate comment on his review.

I was hoping to make it part of another review-summary of a book on this era on Pitt the Younger, but have only managed to read Derek Jarrett’s Pitt the Younger, which has the merit of picturing the elitist and corrupt Parliament Pitt ran, his duplicitious politics, and why he seemed to be for reform early in his career as prime minister only adamently to destroy individuals, groups, and what liberties had been understood as allowed to all males under the British regime, putting in place harshly punitive and repressive laws, making sure the courts enforced these, and conducting a war whose purpose was to put back on the French throne the Bourbon regime. Pitt’s aim was to repress any reform of Parliament whatsoever. At one point Garrett describes the gargantuan meals Pitt and his buddies would eat (and drinks drunk) and a subsidence and starvation diet documented during the years of the wars abroad for huge number of people. There seems little about Pitt from the angle that exposes him; some time ago I wrote about David Powell’s spirited and important biography of Charles James Fox, Man of the People, and I can now recommend three more good particular biographies I’m reading just now as a result of Johnston’s book: Winifred E. Courtney’s Young Charles Lamb; Duncan Wu’s William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man, and Johnston’s own The Hidden Wordsworth.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1793: it begins: the purpose of society is the common good. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Also an essay which shows the results of the repression in the 1820s: Gerald Newman’s “Anti-French Propaganda and British Liberal Nationalism in the Early 19th Century: Suggestions towards a General Interpretation,” Victorian Studies, 18:4 (1975):385-418: Newman’s is essay about how anti-French feeling was whipped up into effective hegemonic control as they say and people (not Godwin, but people like him) were tried for sedition and some imprisoned, at risk of hanging; Hannah More (whose didactic pious novel Austen was nagged by Cassandra to read) turns up as someone who in her work overtly would connect Gallicism with sedition. Someone who goes out of her or his way to assert Englishness is showing patriotism to the present order — Austen does this. Newman’s essays puts a different spin on British identity vis-a-vis the French than Linda Colley’s (who seems to take what appears in surface media as the underlying reality). Jarrett’s The begetters of Revolution: England’s Involvement with France, 1759-89, which shows the real state of the continual interaction politically and ideologically between the two groups of people speaking & reading French and English.

Instead I’ll be content to use suggestive pictures of physical, economic and other changes in the era, and point to underlying veins of thought and feeling that produced the revolutionary ideas.

From Rousseau’s Emile: we see Sophie too learning carpentry (to help Emile of course) — it pictures the interests of new education of the era

One could try for a comfortable home, more kinds of clothes were available

At its core this transformation of values coming out throughout the long 18th century was an exploration of the self relativistically. Pope:

    Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human actions reason tho’ you can,
It may be reason, but it is not man:
His principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect …
    Nor will life’s stream for observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark their way:
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
Oft, in the passions’ wide rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d, to the last we yield,
And what comes then is master of the field …
(Moral Essay No 1)

Fuseli’s gothic watercolor of Kreimhild (Wagner’s Brunnhilde) seeing the dead Siegfried in a dream

and in a blog intended to emphasize women’s art, end on the little known Susan Evance who lived through this era. Three of her poems:

To Autumn

Mild pensive Autumn! How I love to stray
At thy sweet season through the woody vale;
And when the western orb’s declining ray
Tinges thy varied foliage, hear the gale
Of evening sigh among the lofty trees,
And watch thy mists obscure the mountain’s height;
While sportive swallows, tossing in the breeze,
Collect, preparing for their distant flight.
As lovely Autumn! on thy charms I gaze,
Thy soften’d charms which I so dearly prize,
A thrilling tender melancholy sways
My raptur’d heart, and tears suffuse my eyes.
These feelings, which thy pensive hours employ,
Who would resign for all the world calls joy!

To Melancholy

When wintry tempests agitate the deep,
On some lone rock I love to sit reclin’d;
And view the sea-birds on wild pinions sweep,
And hear the roaring of the stormy wind,
That, rushing thro’ the caves with hollow sound,
Seems like the voices of those viewless forms
Which hover wrapp’d in gloomy mist around,
Directing their course the rolling storms.
Then, Melancholy! Thy sweet power I feel,
For there thine influence reigns o’er all the scene;
Then o’er my heart thy “mystic transports” steal,
And from each trifling thought my bosom wean.
My raptur’d spirit soars on wing sublime
Beyond the narrow bounds of space or time!

Written during a Storm of Wind

Cease your desolating sound,
O ye furious winds! forbear
Every gust that swells around
Chills my shuddering heart with fear.

Ah! the thoughtless time is past
When I mark’d the rapid flight
Of each wildly rushing blast,
With romantic gay delight.

When in sportive frolic dance,
With the gale I skimm’d the plain,
Or would breathlessly advance,
Laughing at its fury vain.

Often too, in graver mood,
I have heard the tempest roll,
While a joy sublimely rude
Has possess’d and charm’d my soul.

But I cannot listen now
To the wild, the dreadful sound;
Sad I see the forest bow,
Mournful mark its groans around.

Fanciful I seem to hear
Ocean roaring in the storm:
And behold the bark appear,
Which contains a Brother’s form.

Hope had pictur’d scenes of joy
When he reach’d his native shore
Should the tempest these destroy!
Winds, in pity blow no more, (wr. 1807; pub. 1808)

In the Keats-Shelley Journal, IV (2006):199-225,”Female Poetic Tradition in the Regency Period: Susan Evance and the Evolution of Sentimentality,” Claire Knowles introduces her as a follower of Charlotte Smith, Mary Hays, Helena Maria Williams. In the above poems, heroine climbs high on a cliff and looks out across a windy wintry rocky landscape; she fears for her brother out at sea. She reminds me of William Lisle Bowles and I see Radcliffe’s poetic vein in her

“Sonnet Written in a Ruinous Abbey:” “I love to watch the last pale glimpse of day … Fancy, thy wildest dreams engage my mind.” Some of her poems present a real self, no wobbly assertions to defend, e.g., her “Sonnet to a Violet,” “Unseen, in wilds where footsteps never trod/Find unadmir’d, unnotic’d …,” and “So the scatter’d flowers of genius rise;/Thesebloom to charm — that, hid — neglected, dies”; and her “Sonnet to the Clouds,” “All desolate and gloomy is my heart./As could I but from this sad earth depart/And wander careless as the roving storms/Amidst your shadowy scenes — born by the wind,/Far would I fly, and leave my woes behind.”

No suspect she. She published Poems, selected for her earliest productions to those of the present year in 1808. Evance is careful to tell little of her private life, so beyond knowing she had a brother in the navy, and evinces socially progressive sentiments, we can glean she knew the author Maria Barton. She later wrote a poem for the princess Charlotte who died so miserably in childbirth, and (according to Knowles) married a Mr Hooper between 1808 and 1818. A line in a poem to Queen Charlotte suggests she had a child or children. So, in contrast to her better-known reformist sentimental female contemporaries, no one has as yet denied she existed; or suggested if she did, she was a sexually promiscuous, nor was she ridiculed or castigated. But then no one mentioned her: by being so careful, she was forgotten.

Francis Towne (1740-1816): The source of the Arveiron (1781) whose work could have illustrated Evance’s poetry



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