Archive for June, 2011

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’m making the first of (I hope) a few (not too many) blogs on Andrew Davies’s movies to help me think about his vast and varied oeuvre.  Perhaps some of these may be of interest to people who watch, enjoy, study, write about costume drama and film adaptation of historical novels and especially Davies’s Austen films(I now count at least 7by Davids  if you include his Bridget Jones films and his Room with a View) and his romances and heroine’s texts  (e.g., Wives and Daughters, Falling, Sleep with Me)

The paratexts of buzzards and a "folly" central to series.

The dialogue about it from Part 1:   "… Diana as a young:  "Gilroy built it to be sad in, don’t you think that … he fell in love with some girl he couldn’t marry so his heart broke … that’s what Drip said … He was really crackers, don’t you think. ‘ Jan as a boy:  "I don’t know."  Diana:  "Well of course he was , He should have gone off and married somebody else … He bursts out: "I’m not common and I’m going to be a writer … "

The 1984 10 part mini-series Diana is so good it seems scarcely believable it hasn’t been marketed with the same intensity as the 1980 13 part To Serve Them All My Days. Not only has it not been marketed, the only way you can watch it today is to download the whole thing from Pirate ebay, a considerably time-consuming and sophisticated task.  Jim did this for me, and among the revelations is that this is a book centered in erotic enthrallment, and (unexpectedly) thus imitates Brideshead Revisited repeatedly with its melancholy retrospectives spoken in over-voice by Kevin McNally as John Leigh (a Jan Ridd character — the allusion is to Richard Blackmore’s Lorna Doone) in the tone and manner of Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder.  It also compares closely to Julian Bond’s (the writer) film adaptation of H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia: the same enthrallment, a sensitive hesitant male finds himself called upon by arisocratic family to squire arrogant solitary girl.

I suspect it "fell out of the canon" because the male at the center is not by nature macho male, but driven in that direction by his entrancement with Diana (as played in the first two episodes by Patsy Kensit and the next 8 by Jenny Seagrove). a femme fatale who turns out to be unconventionally ethical.   McNally plays a gentle sensitive male with a depth of feeling for a particular woman he cannot get over in the Poldark films too (Drake Carne for Morwenna Chynoweth).  Diana is also often a deeply melancholy film, much much less upbeat than To Serve Them All My Days too.  Jan ends alone on his hill looking at his beloved’s gravestone in the countryside which nourished and sustained their love, Sennacharib. Yes the allusion is to Byron’s poem and meant to encompass the presentation of WW2 as bloody, brutal and (whatever the rational) amoral in its working out.  Davies is ever anti-war (e.g., his Dr Zhivago)..  

I have read Delderfield’s book and watched the film twice, the first time swiftly and with intense absorption before reading the book, and the second time after reading, slowly, taking some notes and capturing stills.  It’s a very curious film: it takes a strongly masculinist book (Delderfield centrally believes that women want to be mastered and beaten by males) and turns it into a sort of woman’s film, for an inwardly developed Diana is the center of the film.   At each turn, Davies discards the worst things in Delderfield (the class obsessions, the fawning, the unembarrassed male wet dream aspects) and subsitutes genuine humanity, decent activity and circles round the human vulnerability and isolation of his beautiful central presences.  It is a commentary type adaptation; even some of the hinge points are changed along the way; in this it’s very like the 1974 Pallisers by Simon Raven out of Trollope.

Places:  the Gaylorde-Sutton mansion, Heronslea, is the same house used for Cleveland in the 1971 Sense and Sensibility. Pythouse Estate, the Folly is Rushford Tower, north Chagford, Devon, near Rushwood  Wood.

Allusions Davies adds:  in Part 4 where Davies imitates film noir and 1930s and/or WW2 footage, he has Jan admit to his friend Twining (Jonathan Lynn) that he has been writing novels.  First he had at first written a (silly) wish-fulfillment novel:  "adolescent fantasy rich girl poor boy happy ending puerile," but now he is older and gone on to write a novel where "at center [there's a] rich beautiful amoral girl destructive and yet self-destructive, doomed though she never recognizes it." Twining replies with cliches which we are still to take seriously:  "sprinkling of the jolly old Evelyn Waughs ….think I preferred the first version meself …"  Evelyn Waugh leads us to Brideshead (Decline and Fall)

In order not to go on too long about this mini-series (or exceed the normal length allowed by LiveJournal) this will just take the form of summaries of notes and stills for every couple of parts.  This blog will cover the part of the mini-series that adapts the first book of Diana (parts 1-5 and some of 6); tomorrow’s blog will cover Parts 7-9 which adapt the second book, and a third blog will be a description of Part 10 and final comment.

From There Was A Fair Maid Dwelling (part 1 of Diana as now printed)

Parts 1 & 2:

Jan (Stephen J. Dean for 2 episodes) and Diana (Patsy Kensit) watching the 2 buzzards circling above Sennacharib the first afternoon they meet; their first deeply felt congenial talk. Pt 1

Notes;  the woman who owns and runs bookshop is original addition by Davies, Miss Westbrook (Mary Morris): about the classic Lorna Doone, she says "Hi class twaddle in my opinion."  The hunt  Jan comes to watch (and be left out of) is in the novel, and also how Jan identifies with the fox. This exhilarating sequence of powerful girl riding will haunt the ending of the mini-series when Diana, nearly paralyzed, goes for her last ride before dying. In the scenes here Patsy Kensit wears a brilliant yellow sweater (all the sun comes to her) which stands out.

When Jan meets Diana for lunch, Ives de Roydon (her cousin she suggests, her parents would like her to become a wife of a man like him in rank) is clearly indicated to be gay, the point is reinforced. This is only mentioned as a possibility late in the book probably in order to blacken Ives.  Davies brings in homosexuality as much to humanize as differentiate this foppish rich privileged young man.

Saying goodbye: this is an obsessive Davies’s motif, the character at the window of the coach, train, bus, car Pt 1

Miss Reynolds (Gillian Raine), Diana’s ex-governess’s warns Jan. Diana calls her Drip: the character only marginal to the book and dropped mostly is developed fully and kept central by Davievs.  She tells Jan: 

"I just wanted to warn you I think I know how you feel about Diana and I think you’re very likely to be very badly hurt ..  [I'm a] foolish sentimental old woman but I do have some experience of how people like the Gaylord-Suttons deal with people like us Jan.  They keep us on just so long as we’re useful or amusing to them and then they crumple us up like old paper bags and throw us away .. have you ever wondered what it feels like to be called Old Drip …

It’s just a nickname it doesn’t mean anything, he says and she:  No of course not of course not and I answer to it just as a dog answers to its name because that’s where my food and shelter comes from and I give my affection too because there’s nothing else for me to do with it. I’m speaking to you like this because I believe you still have a choice …"

Diana when she takes off her outer garments when she comes to his house late at night after a quarrel she started and is drenched by the rain:  "It’s all right, the body is just the clothing of the soul you know"  "I read that in a poem in school. Don’t you think that’s beautiful.’  Jan: "Yes I do". This is not in Delderfield.

Stephen J. Dean is good at embodying sultry, resentful, sullen, passionate too.

The narrative voice-overs of Jan by the end are Kevin McNally and the sentiments and music echo Brideshead:  "She was offering herself but the offer was conditional I was going to have to become a gentleman. He has his Uncle Mark teach him to ride.

The trysts where they flee to Nun’s Island for 4 days is done as a Paul et Virginie sequence. Intense nostalgic over-talk by McNally:  "It lasted for four days, four of the most extraordinary days of my life …I had never felt so close to another human being [this is the idyll of Sebastian and Charles] We talked incessantly about out family … books … our absurd pipe dreams.  .. lived like savages … silence … I didn’t need to say we had used up all our supplies and our idyll was nearly done …"  Some of these words are in Delderfield as is the visionary feel.

Near end of Part 4: talking, swimming, fishing, Nuns Island pt 2

As well as use of candlelight at night (for atmosphere) the film makes modern use of flashbacks, voice-over retrospective throughout. I’d say Parts 1 and 2 are closest to the book of all the film but they take up less time in the film than they do the book. They are at least one half of the first volume while in the film adaptation they are one-fifth of the narrative. To be equivalent they’d have to be one-third.

Part 3 & 4

Much of these parts is wholly original:  Davies fleshes out Jan’s story to give him a successful career as a reporter in London

Jan (Kevin McNally) taught by Mr Blackler (Fulton Mackay) not to be a "piss poor reporter:"  people want "fighting and kissing."  This is a motif throughout the series: Jan on one side of a desk, someone in with power in an institution on the other Pt 3

and then during the early 1930s in Europe a correspondent. He invents characters: Mr Blackler (Fulton Mackay), the boss, who like Uncle Reuben (Iain Anders) teach him different versions of reporter who keeps some integrity and sells newspapers widely; what reporting is; he gives a bigger part to Twining who at first appears to invite men to Jan’s London flat when Jan not there (it’s not made clear).   Jan’s scrapbook; his returning to London house of Gaylorde-Suttons’:  "most of these evenings ended on a fruitless vigil on the pavement opposite .. I never saw anybody come or good but my obsession made me linger …"

Learning his trade during day pt 3

Added characters (Bellman [Lockwood West], the sports reporter whose pieces sell the paper).  Jan goes back and learns one can’t go home again.  Not in Delderfield at all. So in London John had found his "feet’ in life which means his career at the Illustrated Echo and life as a successful reporter — jazz music for this aspect of the experience – he feels a helluva felow that morning in 1934.  This is where he takes up with Madeleine (from the novel).

What is kept is the Diana material: this includes his use and betrayal of Madeleine (Claire Toeman) in London (changed so that we see Jan lose his virginity and to make Claire a decent sort — the dislike of her as promiscuous in the book is dropped).  His treatment of this sweet young woman made awful:

Meeting under the clock (this still doesn’t show it but it’s there — where she is stood up on her birthday and exits the film for good). Pt 3

Part four brings Diana’s flight from him after she encountered him by chance in London bookstore, and their reunion at the Folly:

Diana grown up (Jenny Seagrove, first close up of her) Pt 4

her having him in her room during her birthday party and what should be for him humilating use of him as a stud in her bed; the long flashbacks of memory as they make love (in his mind).  Again is addition of homosexuality:  Ives comes into her room by mistake; he does not want her but has his own secrets with male lover

Then her refusing to be serious with him, her letter turned into speech at the Folly and his intense anger dramatized. .  

Then long stint of him as tough reporter: blends a sort of Bogart kind of archetype (complete with cigarette), news footage and Jeremy Irons retrospective narratives. In cafe given a darker sexier turn to make it fit a kind of small film noir during run up to WW2 part.He reads of how for her the war is antics for the rich. He meets her in cafe and rejects her. 

Diana:  I’m "in the pink. I’m always in the pink when I’m in Paris, aren’t you. Jan:  "How the hell did you find out where I was ..  She says he has changed; he replies: "We all change." She:  "Where did he get that suntan. He: "Spain." She: "Oh but Spain’s absolutely impossible now with that dreary war …"  He:  "I did notice the war yes I was reporting it." She:  "Frightfully interesting people"  He: "Most of them are dead." She "Everyone loves Berlin.  Maybe we didn’t meet the same people"  He: "No I don’t suppose we did."  She: "It’s not a crime to have a good time and enjoy yourself you know … oh what a bore you never used to be such a dreary earnest chap. I can’t tempt you then." He: "No not any more. She: "Oh well never mind, and trots off, "I expect you’ll see my picture in the papers. He (deep voice):  "I sensed her unhappiness without malice but without compassion" (!) I told myself that I was free"

But she had rekindled my curiosity and he begins to follow her in the papers … "the pack she traveled with …" "In tracing that rootless life I began to feel my own rootlessness on impulse I cabled Uncle Reuben and told him I was coming back, coming back for good …

When he returns to Devonshire, finds she has been in an accident, at first thoght dead, but discovers she was drunk while driving and caused the death of three people, and of course he rescues her, teaches her, is her priest (though he denies it) and they seem returned to their love. Miss Reynolds says I hope you are not trying to bring back the past, he says no, and she "of course you’re not) but he was.  Voice over of intense resonance. Sometimes the whole way McNally holds his body reminds me of Jeremy Irons in Brideshead

Exhilaration remembered later Pt 4

So the two parts become the education of Jan as he swirls endlessly around this woman he is a satellite of. He makes himself an ambitious man for her as well as himself.  In the book he hardly leaves Devonshire, and Davies feels a need to account for his leaving this wonderful career Davies gave him so Reuben is now dying and wants to leave firm to him; then we get Reuben’s speech on egalitarianism (from the book) to which is added how he didn’t marry a girl above him he should have (alas she ended a spinster you see).  Film has strong class-based conflicts in the scenes, including at funerals (people must pay to have lines in — Uncle Reuben’s).

So, death of Reuben, funeral, they are together in the Folly and part 4 ends.

Part 5:

Like much of Part 3 and some of Part 4, Parts 5 and 6 are made up of enormous amounts of invention, especially the long Alison sequence and setting up of children’s establishment at Heronslea, the interview process, the idea of what education is about (teaching the spirit, vivifying it) enunciated by implication during that interview and the pessimistic intimations or perception of existence we find in Alison Hill (Lynne Miller). 

A wholly new character is Mary Easton (Christina Barryk) who works for Uncle Mark (Jack Watson) and then for Jan as horsewoman and manager; someone he neglected to love as a woman but helped enormously as a friend.  Davies takes over the best of Delderfield’s scenes (such as his meeting with Mrs Gaylord-Sutton [Elizabeth Bennet) living in utter impoverishment at the close of Part 5, and he imitates whole genres (WW2 sequence) as well as the close of Brideshead where Charles is talking to Hooper becomes (Part 6) Jan talking to subordinate, Bowles [Michael Mella]).

The story:  we see Heronslea now under wraps, white sheets (so common in these film adaptations); John visits Diana’s father to demand her hand, and is astonished to find her father only too glad; she seems to know, is off to London and he discovers her scheme to set him up with her money, he is incensed (this in the book). He will not be her plaything; so off to Uncle Mark to buy the riding place and turn it into a working money-making stables and genuinely habitable place.  Mary’s strong help.

Part 5: Mary (Christina Barryk) defying Uncle Mark whose property Jan has come to buy in order to forestall Diana’s plan to make him into an upper class gentleman-squire at Foxhayes

As they work, the nostalgic regretful voice:  all new and invented:  "[She was one] of Twining’s nutbrown lasses I took her utterly for granted and I never considered for a moment what she might feel about me"  But all but Mary is in the book.

Station greeting between Diana and Jan: he all masterly forceful, they are not going to FoxHayes There is something angry in him. He shows her the stables.   She: "You are joking — it’s a thatched cottage after all." He: "It’s mine it’s ours."Mary passes by and Diana to him: "You’ve sold out and spent your money on this dump …" accompanied by insulting way of treating Mary: "Who is this person?  … " Jan: "This is Mary she works here … Diana:  "Well hasn’t she got any work to do then?"  Jan then pushes her Diana into house:  "What the hell do you think you’re doing, talking to Mary like that"  Diana:  "I’ll talk any way I damn well like."  Jan:  "Not here you won’t, not in my place …"  Diana: "You fool you could have had FoxHayes …"

He is defying her putting him into squirearchy and this is significant to Davies too: "I know I can make a business of this … well this is what we talked about, isn’t it … living together in Sennacharibb … I mean well this is it this is what I wanted .."  Diana: "Oh Jan you bloody fool didn’t you realize that was just a game .. this is real life. Did you really think I’d want to live in a rural slum with a bunch of  broken winded hacks and a fool for a husband"  Suddenly and it’s not prepared enough and not in the book quite so directly:  "You bitch … you stupid cruel mindless bitch."  She:  "how dare you say that to me"  He:  "Because it’s what you are you bitch …"

She takes something to hit hm with and whips his face. He stops her hitting again, and whacks her down with his bare hand. They make up intensely suddenly, and she "Make love to me, John – we are to feel this violence brought this on … He:  "You did want to see the upstairs …"  All from book.

He "Why don’t you want to stay with me …" He won’t let her go alone: "All right where are we going then …you’ll see I’ve got it all worked out." They are camping out in great house with record player they had in the Folly.. The emphasis on the Folly and mention of Nuns’ Island and use of phonograph is further intuitive development from Davies. They are again two trespassers, just two nameless wanderers who happen on a strange old empty house for shelter from the storm.  A recreating Nun’s Island fantasy.  After sitting and listening and drinking, she says she was fool about FoxHayes business, "Sorry Jan."  Jan:  "I don’t want anything from your family except you and I want to marry you now"  She agrees "All right then" She says she will ilve in that rural slum and will be no practical use, cannot be bothered," admits her jealousy of Mary, but "I’ll make you laugh sometimes and well have lovely times in bed   We know the worst about each other — "

But we have seen hardly any bad in Jan:   Twining: he’s a "noble" person.  He is an ultimate hero in this novel; his only flaw is in fact his enthrallment. 

They are about to retire "upstairs," and telegram about her father’s bankruptcy (and we discover later suicide). "You’d like to see the upstairs would you" In high servant voice. "Yes I would very much …"  She would have let phone ring … her father probably dead.   He: "Yes of course "Let me drive you up …" "No thanks you’ve got much too much on your plate anyway I don’t want to get there before my mother does … We do rather seem to be doomed …"

The buzzards and folly — doomed lovers.

She didn’t stay very long; we were here only yesterday morning she does say "Whatever you read or hear about me remember I love you that’s all the counts … all right .. must fly." His face darkens.

Morning, Mary there and she makes him some breakfast. "The young lady”s gone to London. He apologizes for yesterday . "I hope you’ll come to like her very much Mary.  Diana and I are engaged to be married. She: "Oh." 

Now in news office again; Twining on phone to give news of bankruptcy and Sutton’s jumped out the window. John finds he cannot reach Diana by phone.  London: Twining tells him to drink ujp as soon there will be none of this, war coming, he’s not expert but people tell him Spain a dress rehearsal — interest in Spain comes from Spanish civil war. He can find nothing about two women; mother and daughter have disappeared

Remembers the solicitor (Moray Watson) and scene of man behind a desk become kindness once again as the solicitor gives him Mrs Sutton’s address.  People down and out have sordid landladies and live up high in old wooden surroundings.   Much of this powerful scene taken from Delderfield (pp. 348-54):

He tells her he asked Diana to marry him, she said yes and Mr Sutton approved.  She is cold and distant and congratulates him upon 1000 pounds. Her room impoverished. He came there to give her the 1000 pounds.  "I’m quite penniless."  (So what happened to Miss Rogers? — we are to forget how she survived)
Mrs G-S:  "I shall survive, Mr Leigh.  I was a dressmaker before I met my husband, I shall be a dressmaker once again. Now you see I have such excellent contacts."
Leigh: "And what about Diana?"
Mrs G-S: "You know I feel quite sorry for you, Mr Leigh [added line]"
Leigh:  "Do you know where she is?"
Mrs G-S: "Oh yes"
Leigh: "Aren’t you going to tell me?  Don’t you think I have a right to know?"
Mrs G-S: "I’m not sure that you do Mr Leigh.  You seem surprised that I can face the prospect of life without money. What on earth makes you think my daughter could?"
Leigh:  "Because she loves me and because she’s going to marry me, that’s why"
Mrs G-S: :"She may or may not love you, Mr Leigh, but I can tell you for certain she is not going to marry you [stretches out the scene]"
Leigh: "Let her tell me that. Where is she?"
Mrs G-S: "She’s in France where she was married yesterday to count Ives de Roydon. Could I make you some tea Mr Leigh?"
His face becomes intensely distressed — like when as Drake he would hear of Morwenna after her coerced marriage

Cut to Folly and buzzards.

Part 6:

Second half of Part 6 moves into The Unjust Skies (part 2 of Diana as now printed). And again a huge amount added in to provide structure and a trajectory that makes sense for Jan as a developing person

October 1939: he and Mary bidding adieu to their sadler’s establishment; he has paid for her to take a nursing training course; he has enlisted. She tells him he belongs here.

Eight months later, he is Lieutenant Leigh J supervising exodus — so this does follow book"   "my own sector of that shambles they called the evacuation of France."

This gives Davies a chance to make WW2-looking film. Too many people, not enough boats; 4th day major killed in air raid, leaving him in charge.  Delderfield does not account for this rise of Jan realistically; Davies does.  Semi-comic dialogue with a soldier, Sgt Bowles (Michael Mella) whose thrust is exactly that of Sgt Hooper and Charles Ryder at the close of Brideshead

People trying to flee France

A human chain of people filmed slowly: we hear bombs or thuds and lots of expected kinds of noise  We hear woman’s voice and see Diana: "Excusez moi. "Look sir there’s no need to be beastly …I’ve come to see Lieutenant Leigh …he’s a personal friend …" It’s all right, let her through and, with her, come five more children (pp. 357-78).

Diane suddenly appears, with five children in tow, demanding special treatment from her friend, Captain Leigh

Absurd patriotic ending of Part 1 or There Was a Fair Maid Dwelling just lopped off; instead we get a fuller development of where she tells him Yvonne his and we get this black silhouette escape of children, then Jan, with Diana kissing him and bidding adieu.

Now new stuff brought in again: an education segment; life in the UK during this war. Then the building of Heronslea seen from the side in the way of 1971 S&S; car driving up, French/Spanish children voices  "la casa .. la casa …" Out comes Miss Rogers (Drip); brought out of mothballs to run this establishment — all invented:  when Unjust skies opens Alison is dead and we have only snatches of what went on before.

 In the film Miss Roger doesn’t know how she’s going to manage; all invented creation of school … There’s cook … girl from village very young no training at all … Advertise in The Lady, do you think?  he’ll organize a staff… little Yvonne (Kathryn Grant) is very like her mother, don’t you think?  A long scene between Miss Rogers and Jan summing up meaning of his experiences thus far: an enthrallment, something worth while. What bothers Jan is not her desertion:  "No it’s the way she’s used me the way she always uses me …"

Time out for interview process. This occurs in a number of his films, from To Serve Them All My Days (1980) to South Riding (2010). Mrs Eggers (Rosalind Knight) the type Davies thinks usually gets the job exposed as a bully who is nonetheless desperate. Then Mrs Alison Hill (Lynne Miller) who is bad at interviews.  Key:  Jan identifies.

Jan interviews Alison

Mrs Hill:  "I’m terrified of horses … " Jan:  "Part teacher part nurse maid part maid of all work and a fair bit of mothering thrown in do you think you could cope with all that?"  She "I don’t know." Jan:  "Not exactly brimming over with self- confidence.  She:  "I’m not very good at interviews:" He " No you’re not are you, still neither am I … headmistress speaks highly of you.  Does that surprise you?"  Mrs Hill:  "She spent a lot of time [telling me] to be more strict .. thing is I didn’t mind that .. my class was noisy but they learned as much as the other ones .. they were happy  …"

Jan:  "I’d like you to tell me a bit more about yourself, Mrs Hill, you’re a widow aren’t you?" She: "Yes that’s right .. he was run over by a lorry. Jan:  "Oh I’m sorry. She: "It doesn’t really matter how it happens does it? … every night they get out the photo album  you see if I don’t get out now and start living my life I’m never going to." (Strong anti-heroism realism.)

So again identification in the interview is the key to being hired "I’ve upset them a lot Bryan’s parents but I’ve got to do it ..  Jan: "Well you might find it a bit quiet here, there’s not many young people about (same pretend objection as in To Serve Them and South Riding) She:  "I couldn’t be lonely here with the children I think I’d like it here." Jan:  "Good."

He works in headquarters. Jeremy Irons’ voice over:  "In that unreal time I found myself increasingly living for my visits to Heronslea, the place itself, the sense of hope the children gave me, Yvonne and more and more the thought of seeing Alison Hill again …"

Alison’s long soliloquy now of evil gremlins, e.g., "I tried to believe in it but I couldn’t if there is any God He is making a terrible mess of things isn’t He? He   "It’s just chance .. not so bad once you get used to it." She: "How do you explain good things ? chance doesn’t have to be bad … you don’t have to be the way you are …"  Davies no longer does this kind of thing; he has an equally long soliloquy given to Diana just before she marries Jan about religion.

Miss Rogers helps the affair to flourish along by telling Jan of the headmaster Mr Ramsay’s interest in Alison, so jealousy can make Jan more alert.   Jan teaches Alison to ride; again dialogue with Alison, now about children and teaching, and now about her anger at husband for dying.  Out to dinner for the pair of them; theirs a conventional love but nonetheless as consistently meaningful, maybe more for Jan in his central selfhood than Diana:

Dinner date, WW 2 style (they are the only couple in the restaurant)

They come back to dark hall, minor key version of theme music: "You don’t have to go back to your : little cold room if you don’t want to .. "you’re sure …" "oh yes"  In bed and naked under sheets after sex: it’s so nice I’d almost forgotten how nice it is."

Morning and he’s up and dressed.  He’s up and dressed He: "Looking at you thinking" She "Not bad thoughts I hope.:
He: "No Quite serious thoughts. She: "Look you can go if you like it must be dreadful waiting around. You’re very gentle, you must go now if you want to, I wish you’d say something."

Then it comes:  " Would you marry me, Please? (just perfect words for him there then) She looks serious and theme song comes in. We remember his overlooking Mary, his bad behavior to Madeleine, how Diana deserted him, and we wish all the best for them.  All invented, all beautiful.  But swirling still around Diana, for he wants Alison as a barrier.


Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote last week (letter 26), this is a second letter written in the high spirits of expecting her friend, Martha Lloyd.  I was struck by how strong Austen’s tone of flow and sweep : she may produce of imagery showing alienation and nastily debunking but she is by and large wholly throwing herself into what’s happening all around her (in this instance a ball).  Two people alternatively read Jenner’s pamphlet on cow pox (She is present at a sort of group reading of Jenner on cow pox inoculation), while Jane bestows her attention on all around her; a little later she exults:  "I say nothing, & am ready to agree with anybody."  There’s Frank’s promotion and her real eagerness for letters. She loves to write and read them — it makes me remember Johnson on dreaming company when we others and in solitude.

Jane begins with saying that Cassandra’s letter has taken her by surprise.  When Jane says, "you are very welcome" I take it that Jane has done something for Cassandra which Cassandra thanked her for, and partly paid back in the form of a letter.  Jane also says she is obliged to Cassandra. I don’t think this is about the letter specifically but something Cassandra did too.  Only 8 days have gone by since the last letter but still there are missing letters.

So Cassandra didn’t want anyone to know what Jane did for Cassandra and how she Cassandra reciprocated.

Jane (Olivia Williams) and Fanny (Imogen Poots), enjoy themselves drinking wandering in the grass, mocking the men through the window at Godmersham

Unfairly scolded like a child by a rigid Edward Brydges (Hugh Bonneville)

The real problem is the next morning’s hangover (as she tries to take some elegant breakfast)

I suggest Jane literally means what she says that her hand is shaking because she drank too much wine the night before.  (This detail is taken into Miss Austen Regrets where during a visit to Godmersham Jane drinks far too much and the next morning appears to have a hang-over when she goes to pick up her breakfast, and her hands tremble then too.) It’s a "venial error" and Cassandra will "kindly make allowance" for the indistinctness of Jane’s hand.

I’m glad to see Jane does not make the kind of great fuss over drinking so common today — partly today it’s a result of how dangerous it is to be drunk when driving and how much we drive in cars.

Yes the brother Charles is "naughty" because he did not come home on Tuesday but delayed one more day (Wednesday, yesterday).  Austen just loved to go dancing and she says that Charles "being equal to such a fatigue" as coming home "is a good sign"  (appreciated by her)  "& his finding it no fatigue still better."  She wants him to accompany her and dance away.  And so he did.

"We walked down to the Deane to dinner, he danced the whole Evening, & to-day is no more tired than a gentleman should be."

Emma’s sheer delight (Romola Garai) at finding herself at a ball (2009 Welch Emma)

Dancing wtih Frank (Rupert Evans), as yet unaware that Harriet (looking on) is become a wallflower

Then the next 40 of the around 50 more lines she wrote on Thursday are devoted to this ball.  She appears to have had "a pleasant Evening," though it did not exactly awaken any kindness in her towards the people she met.  She guesses Charles found it pleasant because a young woman, Miss Terry, whom he apparently mistreated in some way was not there.  Did he snub her at the previous dance? Jane danced 9 out of 12 dances and she gives a full enough account to merit the famous reproach of Mr Bennet to Mrs Bennet. They started at 10 in the evening and got back to Dean at 5 in the morning. Quite a night’s outing.  She names 3 partners ("very prodigous") and one she liked best of all: "Mr Marhew." She calls these young men her "little stock."

Then she turns to the woman and she is really catty.  I know critics go on about this imagery but I see in it alienation and jealousy that reminds me of the abrupt unfair comments she often makes about other people’s novels she’s reading. Miss Iremonger did not look well; Miss Blount much admired but has a broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband & fat neck. One Miss Cox has the remains of the vulgar girl Austen saw at Enham 8 years ago, the other refined like Catherine Biggs (so there’s a good word, but for a friend). The woman with the animal neck. 

Diane asks what Jane can mean by Mrs Warren getting rid of some part of her child. I assume she corseted very tight (she is described in the next phrase as "looking by no means very large").  Maybe she had looked like she was going to be very big the last time Jane Austen saw her and has not become as huge as expected.  But (lest Cassandra admire) Jane says Mrs Warren’s husband is "ugly enough, uglier even than his cousin and but at least "does not look so very old" (accent on "very" I suppose).

The ex-father-in-law patron has the gout, Mrs Maitland the jaundice (all yellow does Austen mean?), three young women all in black, like statues and Jane as "as civil as their bad breath would allow" She learned nothing new of Martha from them and this provides a transition.

If Martha does not come, she Jane will go to her on Thursday morning (I expect the next Thursday is meant here; it is a confusing passage, perhaps something was scissored away), unless Charles comes with a friend, Shipley and then she’ll go to another ball first. She seems to need a male to go with her.  Jane says if she does not go to this second (in this letter) ball she will not be so uncivil as to leave for home at the same time the neighborhood is going elsewhere. This I assume is hunting or riding, neither of which Austen did. I assume this is a wry joke.  The neighborhood is uncivil in leaving her behind but she will not do so herself in turn.

Now she reverts to the above ball again and we see some background to her reaction to the way the other women looked. Mary Austen said she looked well and she wore her aunt’s gown and handkerchief (the rich one who stole things anyway, perhaps a present?) and her hair "was at least tidy," which was all her ambition.  In other words, she did not over-dress at all as did the others. While I assume she was not envious since she is choosing to dress plainly, not go into racking fusses over her hair, it’s human nonetheless to feel some resentment at those who choose to dress up as they will form the norm not her.

Mr Bennet would certainly be glad of this line:  "I have now done with the Ball." She "moreover’ goes to to dress for dinner.

And continues later that evening. There follows a long account of gossip overheard earlier that night, an ironic account of a day spent at Ashe the previous Monday which would be November 17th.  Who talked, who gambled, who became lovers, the reading of Jenner’s pamphlet with Austen "bestowing" her conversation on anyone who would listen. She writes away a thicket of gossip details. She seems again to have enjoyed herself mightily (her tone seems to come out of this evening) and is not this time inclined to write down nasty cracks. No one "stole" anyone else’s partners. Perhaps too the older Jane feels less threatened to exposure when the dancing ended.

The details that might have some significance for Austen. That it was brother, James, who read the pamphlet aloud.  Mrs Clerke corrected all the blunders Mrs Heathcote made in her retelling local news. "Blunder" is the word Frank Churchill uses in Emma when he forgets that it was Jane who told him of Dr Perry. There was a game of commerce (like there are games at MAnsfield Park).  Austen regales Cassandra with James Digweed’s long distance flirtations ("two Elms fell from their greif at [Cassandra's] absence Digweed said.

A pleasant passage showing Austen really did care about the trees. She was not just posturing. Hacker putting in fruit trees,, a new plan for the enclosure, maybe they will  make a new orchard. I like the way she names them all simply in the manner she does in her novels:

"a little orchard of it, by planting apples, pears, and cherries, and whether it would be larch, Mountain-ash and acacia."

The relatives having the usual petty squabbles, and Austen gayly brushes over this:  I say nothing & am ready to agree with everyone."  If Cassandra did offer an opinion, it would leave her feeling worried lest she give her sister what turned out to be bad advice.  Cassandra has had enough bad advice over her suitor (she was to wait for him and now he’s dead).

Childham, a walk near Godmersham today

And then she imagines Cassandra and family at Godmersham and finds them "droll" — an absurd party too. Cassandra and the little boy, George walking to Eggerton. (why not? she Austen walks.)  Do the Ashford people come in a cart? She informs Cassandra it is Cassandra who dlisked Mr N. Toke, Jane dislikes his wife and Mr Breet but does like Mr Toke better than most.

Why we are not told.

By association she moves on  to Miss Harwood and her friend who took a house 15 miles from Bath (cheaper than in it?). Miss Harwood kind but send no news of the man who shot himself. The "particulars of the situation" might also be (probably is) not about the shot man but the house she and friends took in Bristol for themselves.

I wonder if Austen yearned to be with them.  Why didn’t she join in?  money probably. but then maybe Austen is not really eager to throw herself into such a perpetual round of half phony relationships.

And Jane meant to close the letter here with Charles’s best wishes and Edward’s the least — this may be a tease to Edward. (He has not lately been too John Dashwoodish) or he may be self-deprecating (I doubt this last form all Jane wrote in the extant letters). If Cassandra find this improper, let her take the worst (Edward) herself and leave Charles go.  Charles will write from his ship.  All written in a dry humorous or wry vein

Austen meant to end here, but later that night added a sort of postscript and then on Friday morning another:

There is another line where we are told that Charles likes Jane’s gown and then a sort of postscript (in effect) written upside down — somewhere between Thursday evening and Friday.  Since it seems to me probably she finished the Thursday evening journalizing quite late, the paragraphs suggest someone writing after mid-night or before dawn.  Frank has written and knows of his promotion now, from Larnica in Cyprus. He was also in Alexandria, Egypt where he wrote Cassandra. He is careful what he writes because he knows that the mails are corrupt; the Viennese gov’t has its spies and hand what passes through the post office. Nonetheless, Frank was a faithful correspondent to his sisters both.  He too has been destroyed — his adventures, comments, often written concisely, wiped out from memory.  Austen is not satisfied.  Since Frank wrote Cassandra twice, he now must send Jane (who writes him).  How this woman likes getting a letter, loves writing them and reading them — she revels with others in solitude.

Again Miss Austen Regrets, Olivia Williams as Jane at Godmersham stealing time to write (probably Emma which she has brought along with her).

Henry is to come for one night only — he has his business, his London life, his wife. 

And yet more of the gossip about people from relatives.  Mrs E Leigh tells of how is going to Bath, perhaps glad to say something about aristocrats. I note that in this tiny paragraph what Austen says she values is the nature of someone’s character: Mr Sloane a "young Man under Age … He bears a good character however.

Friday sometime:  Austen will go to Martha next Thursday but wait for letters first :) Again her eagerness for these missives.  Perhaps Cassandra asked and Jane replies that Charles looks very well (not affected by time at sea is probably the issue). Then one last catty remark: the "fat girls with short noses" who disturbed Jane at the ball are the "Miss Atkinsons of Enham."

Henry Austen said Austen never said or thought a mean thing. It’s true her exemplary heroines don not make personal remarks or talk snobbishly and mostly do not think in these ways (Emma is excepted), nor does her narrator in the novels indulge in petty remarks. Her venom is mostly directed at "serious" targets like say Mrs Ferrars; and when aimed at Maria at her phoniness and seething with hatred herself.  But Austen the writer of the letters does.

There is this disconnect between the writer in the letters and the writer in the novels.  This has often been remarked upon.  I take it that some aspect of Austen’s mind (like many other authors in this) is released when she’s imagining so she goes well beyond what her conscious mind understands and sympathizes with (especially in the area of psychology and character creation, dramatic scenes). If asked to comment on this our of her reasoning mind, she uses conventional formula which get nowhere near what she has created.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers