Archive for December, 2012

Nora-Elinor (Camille Belle) and Mary-Marianne (Alexa Vega) in their aunt’s house in East L.A. (From Nada to Prada 2011)

One of many murals forming backdrop for movie: Mary walking by

Dear friends and readers,

A week ago I examined the tendency in recent films belonging to the emerging & ever increasing Austen canon to erase central themes and inferred conclusions in Austen’s books, focusing on the genre and characteristics of the most recent Emma film, the 2010 Aisha, arguably more a transposition into luxurious Indian terms of Amy Heckerling’s 1996 Clueless than Austen’s Emma: Aisha, or Emma through Clueless lenses?. I demonstrated the reversal of a theme particularly strong in Austen’s Emma, but important in all her books an indirect condemnation of a husband-hunt enforced on women as their best, indeed only “preservative from want,” with the implied corollary women who don’t marry are not made but actually inferior and useless. I also suggested that where Aisha was at its strongest was precisely in those places where it returned to Austen’s Emma for structure and motifs (the heroine’s evolving relationship with Mr Knightley, and her humiliation, however overdone the latter in the film), in these showing the directors probably studied the 2009 Emma (scripted by Sandy Welch) and possibly the studiedly ironic and faithful 1972 Emma (scripted by Denia Constanduros, directed by John Glenister)

Bruno-Brandon ((Wilmer Valderamma) rejected by Mary-Marianne talks with Nora-Elinor, also feeling lonely — in all the faithful S&S’s Elinor and Brandon have moments like this together

Tonight I want to look at the 2011 analogous adaptation of Sense and Sensibility into From Prada to Nada. Unlike Aisha which despite its failure at the box office has been the subject of two excellent academic analyses and a number of popular reviews, From Prada to Nada has not attracted full scale serious examination as yet (it is dealt with by Karen Gevirtz as one of the newer kinds), possibly because its context-nexus includes telenovela romantic comedy, unlike Indian cinema not much explored in Eurocentric Anglo-American film studies. Like Aisha, From Prada to Nada transparently imitates previous Austen films precisely where these films depart from Austen’s books, to the point where its plot-design, key moments and hinge-points are a melange of the filmic Austen canon. I list just a few

when the girls are ejected from their house, we are shown the collapse of a gigantic outdoor dollhouse — an imitation of the huge tree-place in the 1995 S&S

The goodbye scenes (waving from the great-house of those left-behind) recall all the S&S films as does the peculiarly odious Fanny-Olivia (April Bowlby, very strong in the part)

Nora is presented as a near spinster and preferring it — like Emma Thompson as Elinor

Clueless is there in the sequences of Mary-Marianne’s speed-driving, the importance of her wardrobe and Prada shoes and handbag (Aisha-Emma-Cher is also a speed demon in a car and clothes-horse of the latest expensive name fashions)

When Edward Ferris (Nicholas d’Agosto) comes to the Dominguez aunt’s house in East L.A., and Nora-Elinor opens the door it’s love at first sight for them — like the first encounter of Somyra-Elinor and Manhor-Edward in I Have Found It

Nora-Elinor weeps over her father’s case of letters and manly accessories — as does Elinor in the 2008 S&S

Bruno-Brandon is modeled on the melancholy-proud protective, semi-resentful Brandon type David Morrisey conveyed in the 2007 S&S; he similarly directly saves and protects her

When Mary-Marianne is confronted by Marco Antonio-Willoughby (Oliverio Gareli) with his upper class rich wife, she rushes off into the pouring rain, gets herself into a horrible car accident and lands in hospital — this combined the 1995 S&S and I have found It

Edward’s final proposal to Nora-Elinor is not only like Hugh Grant as Edward’s proposal to Elinor, the very words are lifted from Grant’s speech, his very intonations

The Anne Hall moment of abandoment beween Nora and Edward in the kitchn

There are effective allusions to other romantic comedies in the Anglo canon: a kitchen scene with Nora-Elinor jumping onto a kitchen sink and making aspiring gestures is closely reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (this is confirmed in the feature). Probably there are borrowing from hispanic films by Angel Garcia (a respected Spanish film director), but alas I can’t recognize them.

This is not to deny that From Prada to Nada nonetheless manages to become a unified film whose central purpose is (as the again the feature suggests) to present, make understandable and sympathetic Spanish-American culture as it has evolved in the US under impoverishing, marginalizing and stigmatizing circumstances. Austen’s first published novel’s story of a group of females ejected from a high vulnerable position to depend on the charity of relatives and live lives appropriate to a much lower poorer status has been appropriated to display the striking visible contrasts of wealth and poverty in Los Angeles (the girls move from the rich west suburbs to East inner city environs).

The problem here is the depiction of the lives and work of hispanic people in this part of town and the kinds of jobs they can get has been too softened. The film does not have the courage of its convictions. We are not sure the women sewing in the house are illegal immigrants. When Nora and Edward combine forces to threaten an exploitative employer of cleaning people, they win wit unreal ease. The screenplay producers, Gigi Pritzer and Linda McDonough are on record as meaning to make a joyous and fun (this seems to be how Austen films are seen commercially), commercial film (celebratory of Spanish people envisaged as centrally part of the audience) and they succeed in combining gaiety with very touching moments: two parties in the film correspond to two key party scenes in Austen’s book and three of the faithful S&S films, but they cannot at the same time (or at least do not) expose the real pain, hurt, lack of opportunity and fulfilment of latino people in the US. After all both our heroines end up doing very well by the end and their aunt thrives all along.

That there were problems and the film-makers were in conflict is admitted in the features. The film was given up on at least once, and took 6 years to complete. The producers began with one script-writer and switched to two others, revising the first script thoroughly, and then in the last go-round of filming, the film’s content changed again more thoroughly than usual.


Camilla telling Nora she needs to learn to clean house too — a Spanish housewife lesson (Nora has nearly set the house on fire trying to scramble eggs)

I have not mentioned an analogy for Mrs Dashwood because there is none. This is not the first film to eliminate Margaret (the first 2 S&S films did), but it is the first to eliminate both the mother and Mrs Jennings. The girls’ long-dead mother’s sister, Carmina (Norma Reyna) takes them in and some of her overtly cheerful nature may remind the viewer who had read Austen’s book of Mrs Jennings, but this feels almost like a coincidence. Carmina never embarrasses the girls; she is far more tactful than Mary-Marianne; she shows some grief as she remembers her sister’s death (apparently from a car accident), but her note is one of industrious upbeat acceptance. As with Aisha, Bride and Prejudice, and the 1940 and recent (2003) Mormon Pride and Prejudice this film makes little room for any real deprivation, lasting depth of sorrow, or doubt about the way life today is lived, families treat their members, and human nature is not seriously flawed — except in the case of the cardboard villains. As with I Have Found it, the John Dashwood character, here an illegitimate son, Gabriel Dominguez (Pablo Cruz) is pressured into bad behavior by his greedy snobbish wife: in the Indian film, the man dies; in this one he separates himself from his unworthy wife. We also lose the viciously materialistic Mrs Ferrars, Sir John and Lady Middleton, their children, Mr and Mrs Palmer. Lucy Steele survives as Olivia-Fanny’s sycophantic friend who Edward briefly engages himself to (and easily breaks off from), but her important contrasting sister, the foolishly vulnerable, needy Nancy Steele has been cut.

The effect of the cutting in Aisha was to eliminate all reference to risk of poverty, to unmarried women. Here disquiet, unease, discord, irreconcilable conflicts. There is no need daily, hourly, continually and forever to endure or struggle in the latest entries into the Austen film canon (as there is in all her novels) any more.


Mary-Marianne’s serious flaw seems to be she shops too much

We were intended to see her first behaving sluttishly (the word slut is used) which seems a travesty of Austen’s critique of Marianne’s penchant for passionate idealism

It’s in this area of real human emotions and thought and problems that this film’s erasure of a central theme of S&S, one found across Austen’s oeuvre occurs. Austen’s opposition of two girls where both experience acute feelings, sensibility, but one (Elinor) is able to control this for her protection, self-respect and safety as well as peace, and the other (Marianne) rejects this kind of control and conformity as hypocritical and getting in the way of living a genuinely authentic existence; Austen’s Marianne regards ardor, idealism, willed enthusiasm, openness, sincerity as noble.

The film presents the central contrast between Nora-Elinor and Mary-Marianne as a matter of goals: Nora wants a career as a lawyer, and is presented as a reading, studying girl (signalled by her wearing glasses most of the time); she seeks a job (like Somyra-Elinor in I Have Found It); she says that she fears sexual entanglement because this will get in the way of her 10 year plan. As the film shows, Nora really fears emotional vulnerability but not because she is not sure her feelings are reciprocated. From the get-go Edward clearly loves her. In contrast, Mary rejects Bruno-Brandon as a poor working class Spaniard not worthy respect, a mannerless man beneath her notice, a servant-type. She goes for Marco Antonio-Willoughby because he is a college lecturer, seems rich, glamorous.

Mary dazzled by Marco Antonio taking her to a stylish lunch and talking fashionably

When Nora tells Mary she hardly knows him in their quarrel scenes, Mary replies he will be able to provide her with what she wants materially. Mary says she does not want to have to work for a living because it’s unpleasant and stressful (one cannot disagree I suppose). She reads a Lorca play (House of Bernardo Alba) to please Marco Antonio as he is presented as a guest lecturer, but shows no comprehension of its presentation of the repression of women’s passionate sexuality (which might have had some connection to Austen). Mary goes to bed with Marco Antonio the first chance she gets, and in a clashing quarrel that ensues between the sisters then, Nora calls Mary a whore.

The scene where Nora and Mary clash strongly

It may be that this kind of conflict is part of contemporary Spanish films: shall you give in to man and enjoy your sexuality freely by way of attaching a wealthy presentable male to you. If so, the question is not resolved, since the plot-design remains to some extent Austen’s and in order to be like Sense and Sensibility, Mary must see that Bruno-Brandon is much better husband material, actually the finer man and end up with him, and she does. In the film he is always honest with her, he fixes her car, he is responsible for making the aunt’s house adequate for her party; he is there for her at the party genuinely wanting to dance with her (not just going along with what she wants as the casual Marco Antonio does) and there for her when she gets out of hospital, all forgiving, all giving. There is no sense of them as the truly congenial pair, though maybe like Darcy and Elizabeth the idea is they are attracted by their very initial antagonisms:

Upon their first encounter, Mary tells Bruno she doesn’t tip, and he replies, that’s good because he doesn’t take IOUs.

We don’t know why she’d want to him as her partner because clearly he would not keep her in high fashion. She really goes for him because he’s there, and its time for the film to come to an end.

Mary attempting to improve her relationship with Bruno

Within a minute and one kiss or so, Bruno wheeling Mary over to where he has been showing children how to paint murals

One real flaw in this film is it’s not long enough: 107 minutes forces them to skirt (whiz past) episodes and foreshorten the denouement. Edward and Nora take less than 5 minutes to get back together again, and like the 1995 S&S all ends in a wedding (Nora’s), with Bruno and Mary seen dancing gaily together as the camera man snaps stills that turn into into black-and-white shot-photos fit for a wedding album.

More to the point, Nora and Mary are not Spanish enough. They are not truly subaltern women. Nora cannot speak Spanish and Mary identifies with upper class American culture. To use them as cynosures for young Spanish women could be taken as more than an easy-out, it’s a meretricious substitute. The women on the bus that Nora helps are genuinely hispanic women but they are presented as simpletons. The Spanish women in the aunt’s house act clownishly to make comedy.

Amid the modernizing changes, cultural transposition, time and budget constraints of From Prada to Nada a fundamental mentality of Austen is lost from view, and I think like Austen’s serious critique of family life and demonstration of the shallowness and dysfunctionality of friendship, her defense of not marrying, and braving poverty rather than selling one’s soul and body for one’s keep and social acceptance, her perception of human nature is not wanted. Austen objects to a blindness to the prosaic realities of existence; she prizes ardor, warmth, sincerity, but we must curb them or we will be taken advantage of or find ourselves living in delusions — as Emma does. I think some of this is found in the all the S&S films until this one, in the 1972 and Andrew Davies’s 1996 Emma, in two earlier analogous adaptations, Stillman’s Metropolitan and Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise.


Towards the close of the film Edward trying to get up the courage to propose to Nora

The wedded pair

It may be argued that Austen’s original structure where Elinor is the basic consciousness of the novel re-asserts itself in this film in the form of Nora providing the norms of behavior we are to approve her, and her wedding and securing of an individual lawyer’s practice (on Edward’s money and connections) its climax.

I don’t mean to be too solemn or break a butterfly on a wheel here. The film is intendedly light — where Austen Sense and Sensibility is not — nor are her other books, though it is true that commercial presentation of her in films does make her into light romantic entertainment, more than slightly unreal.

Talking in bed — again a scene found in all the S&S movies

As with Aisha, by the time the film came to an end I had become involved and enjoyed much in it. It has genuinely moving moments. It’s filled with familiar Spanish songs and refrains, filmed on location in Monterey, Mexico and parts of West L.A., and large murals painted by young Spanish artists are central to the mise-en-scene. Its strength is in the two sisters’ relationship and their evolving changes with their decreasing circumstances — which is the fundamental basis for all the S&S films.

Here Mary does not just dress Nora but has persuaded her to go the party where Mary is snubbed

Throughout the film we follow one and then the other in their contrasting as well as parallel adventures, with them we go through their crises; these trajectories are punctuated (as it were) by scenes of them talking, dreaming, dressing one another, arguing and supporting one another, quarreling and making up together.

The confiding scene of mutual shared grief found in all the S&S films is here done mutedly, and more effective for that

At the same time they have the triangular heterosexual relationships, Nora with Edward and (although too briefly) Bruno as confidant, and Mary keeping Bruno at a distance until she is betrayed by Marco Antonio. These relationships are presented with great delicacy of feeling and comic wit, and we feel relieved for the girls when at the close of the film they seem to be on their way to stable and secure happiness.

It’s a matter of subjective judgement here, but my sense is this film attempts to hold onto its connection with S&S by keeping the sisters’ relationship so solidly to the fore structurally, dramatically, emotionally (as Aisha maintains its connection with Emma through making Aisha and Arjun-Mr Knightley central). And after all women’s relationships with one another, not just sisters, is central to Austen’s desired vision of women’s lives.


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Emma (Doran Goodwin) and Mr Knightley (John Carson), actually flirting over baby Emma (1972 BBC Emma)

Dear friends and readers,

Four years ago now I gathered together all — exclusive of juvenilia, the three unfinished fragments and Lady Susan — the passages in Austen’s novels which include references to Christmas. There are more there than we realize because most of them mention Christmas only as a way of marking seasonal time in phrases whose ironies refer to something else. Only Emma has a sequence of scenes occurring Christmas time (it is the novel which marks time by folk seasons).

On top or threaded into these passages I included scenes from those film adaptations that picture Christmas (all the faithful Emmas naturally), and there too there is no shaping pattern. with the two Bridget Jones movies using Christmas ironically, Stillman’s Metropolitan seriously (the one film in the whole oeuvre to make a comment on Christmas as an experience in itself):

Audrey-Fanny cries while singing carols at Patrick’s Cathedral,Christmas eve (1990 Metropolitan, analogous adaptation of Mansfield Park)

and Lake House taking the opportunity for a dazzling ice-skating moment.

Winter Dream Dance, (2007 Lake House, analogous adaptation of Persuasion)

I admit my compilation doesn’t make much sense.

Austen belongs to an older tendency in the UK in the 18th century with regard to Christmas: a time of festivity but not revolving around any depth of emotion except for those who seeing it from a religious perspective and then the place for that was church. Emma does not even go to church Christmas morning as there is too much snow, and her sole thought is she is glad to be snowed in as now she need not see Harriet and tell Harriet that Mr Elton proposed to her, Emma, and had never been interested in Harriet at all.

But another tendency was gradually spreading, one familiar to us today, of dreaming of Christmas a time peculiarly suited to loving happiness, especially with friends and family. The Christmas poem I’d like to share tonight, one Austen may well have known since she read Southey as he came out, poems as well as prose, shows how quickly this dream-hope morphs into nostalgia for a scene that is not occurring (“I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams”)

Written on Christmas Day (1795)

How many hearts are happy at this hour
In England! Brightly o’er the cheerful hall
Flares the heaped hearth, and friends and kindred meet,
And the glad mother round her festive board
Beholds her children, separated long
Amid the wide world’s ways, assembled now,
A sight at which affection lightens up
With smiles the eye that age has long bedimm’d.
I do remember when I was a child
How my young heart, a stranger then to care,
With transport leap’d upon this holy-day,
As o’er the house, all gay with evergreens,
From friend to friend with joyful speed I ran,
Bidding a merry Christmas to them all.
Those years are past; their pleasures and their pains
Are now like yonder covent-crested hill
That bounds the distant prospect, indistinct,
Yet pictured upon memory’s mystic glass
In faint fair hues. A weary traveller now
I journey o’er the desert mountain tracks
Of Leon, wilds all drear and comfortless,
Where the grey lizards in the noontide sun
Sport on the rocks, and where the goatherd starts,
Roused from his sleep at midnight when he hears
The prowling wolf, and falters as he calls
On Saints to save. Here of the friends I think
Who now, I ween, remember me, and fill
The glass of votive friendship. At the name,
Will not thy cheek, Beloved, change its hue,
And in those gentle eyes uncall’d for heart
Tremble? I will not wish for thee to weep;
Such tears are free from bitterness, and they
Who know not what it is sometimes to wake
And weep at midnight, are but instruments
Of Nature’s common work. Yes think of me,
My Edith, think that, travelling far away,
Thus I beguile the solitary hours
With many a day-dream, picturing scenes as fair
Of peace, and comfort, and domestic bliss
As ever to the youthful poet’s eye
Creative Fancy fashion’d. Think of me,
Though absent, thine; and if a sigh will rise,
And tears, unbidden, at the thought steal down,
Sure hope will cheer thee, and the happy hour
Of meeting soon all sorrow overpay.

Southey was travelling in Spain (see Southey’s Letters from England) while his wife, Edith (sister to Coleridge’s wife) was in the Lake District (see Kathleen Jones’s A Passionate Sisterhood).

While we cannot know what landscape Southey saw or what the weather was that year, perhaps Henri’s painting of Spanish landscape can give us some idea of what was all around Southey as he wrote.

Robert Henry (1865-1929), Spanish Landscape (1902)

I wish everyone who comes to this blog a really experienced not just dreamed-of happy Christmas day.


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Shefali (Amrita Puri as mostly Harriet/Tai, with glimpses of Jane Fairfax), Aisha (Sonam Kapoor as Emma/Cher), and Pinky (Ira Dubey as Dionne)

Dear friends and readers,

This film adaptation blog differs from most I’ve written in the last few years. It’s not so much an analysis of a film but in terms of its eponymous source and author, I discuss what’s left out. In the case of the Austen films which have come to form a sub-species of film (like Shakespeare adaptations), the more recent films seem to go much further from their originating text or novel matter and are intertextual with the other films in the ambiguously defined canon. They do more than appropriate their matter to contemporary and cultural and auteur purposes; what troubles me about the Austen canon is the recent films seem determined to erase central aspects of the originating author’s outlook and in so doing lose some of the value or uses the material can offer to their particular imagined audiences, in Austen’s case, women.

From a long scene where Emma (Doran Goodwin) domineering over a scared sitting Debbie Bowen (Harriet): she’s cool and scary with her scissors as Harriet holds up Mr Martin’s letter

As the canon grows ever larger, permutating this way and that, it seems worth while to look at what’s deliberately omitted across the movies no matter which novel their source, and how when something is left it’s skewed. I’m thinking of elements like the Austen films’ ability to have a female narrator, so uncommon in all films: in Sandy Welch’s (a woman script-writer) 2009 Emma, our narrator is Mr Knightley. Or how the genre to which most commercially-driven Austen films, specifically those meant for movie-house and not TV (and not the limited audience of PBS), have been since the 1940 Pride and Prejudice screwball comedies, while the BBC and US PBS mini-series (funded by companies who want to look civic-minded) have been women’s dramatic romances, soap opera if we want to use the denigrating term (epitomized best in the 1979 Fay Weldon P&P, a striking contrast to its immediate predecessor, the 1940 film); yet recently these types are re-worked to lose some of the fundamental elements of these genres. Screwball comedies had strong females who prevailed — remember Claudette Colbert, Greer Garson as Elizabeth trumping a shy Laurence Olivier as Darcy. In Aisha, a screwball comedy Aisha is scolded fiercely not just three times, but made to get up in front of a crowd of people she doesn’t know and bare her soul, at which she encounters derision. Where are the family pathologies (the 1972 Doran Goodwin as Emma was frigid, scathing, frustrated), the fallen women (Lydia in P&P is supposed ruined, sexually promiscuous, not the victim of male abuse as is implied in the 2005 Joe Wright P&P), they become gothic Jane Eyre like. Charlotte Bronte was right yet the alienated person, bitter, is now eager to conform.

So what is happening across the canon and to individual variations of a particular book. Here we look mostly at Emmas, especially as found in Aisha.


Last week I added to my repertoire of Austen films for the first time in two years: I watched two recent free or analogous adaptations which in the 21st century way since the 2004 Gurinder Chadha Bollywood Bride and Prejudice uses Austen’s story to examine, critique or simply display another and non-Anglo culture: 2011 From Prada to Nada (Angel Gracia, Fina Torres), where the Sense and Sensibility matter becomes a sometimes seriously delving depiction of class and ethnic clashes between poorer Hispanic and upper middle American white culture in Los Angeles; and 2010 Aisha, both the 1996 Emmas (Andrew Davies, Douglas McGrath, respectively) and 1995 Amy Heckerling Clueless matter (with some memories of both Helen Fielding/Andrew Davies Bridget Jones movies) become a celebratory depiction of hugely rich Indian life in Delhi, with an excursion into Bombay/Mumbai and an expensive resort in the Himalayan mountains, Rishikesh.

As Linda Troost says in an excellent concise review these two films are part of what is an evolving Austen canon, where increasingly appropriation of Austen for purposes often quite different than Austen’s preoccupations is the prevailing aim. Not all of them do this. For example, Walt Stillman’s 1990 Metropolitan and 1998 Last Days of Disco (Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility with Emma respectively) and Victor Nunez’s 1993 Ruby in Paradise; (Northanger Abbey) seriously delve Austen’s own values and show their relevance or loss in our era. The central point of the 2009 Lost in Austen (Dan Zeff and Guy Andrews, mostly a re-worked Pride and Prejudice) is to ask why many readers of Austen want to retreat from their modern worlds and expose some delusions about the Austenland as imagined by many readers of the novels.

It is though, true to say, that both Aisha and From Prada to Nada as well as a couple of the transposition or faithful adaptations of recent years (the 2005 Joe Wright Lawrentian Pride and Prejudice; a 2007 anti-Mansfield Park Mansfield Park by Maggie Wadey) have a strong tendency to or deliberately wipe out or contradict central perspectives found in Austen. Troost and Sayre Greenberg have shown that many of the Austen films (faithful, commentary, analogous) reverse Austen’s jaundiced view of social life and exposure of painful family pathologies to be films which endorse the view that individual characters’ troubles come not from their immersion in a particular family (which is supportive, not adversarial) but larger unjust social and economic arrangements or other people outside the small band of good people they can turn to. There are some exceptions or this: the 1971 Denis Constanduros and 1981 Alexander Baron Sense and Sensibility (the latter said to be “very dark” and 1995 Nick Der and 2007 Simon Burke and Adrian Shergold Persuasions (the latter condemned as “neurotic”) come to mind.

From Prada to Nada and Aisha both eliminated, Aisha reversed central specific perspectives in their respective books in troubling ways that simply mirror the erasure of important problems in life for women today as much as in Austen’s time. One question one could ask of these two and those Troost cites is: as the Austen films move increasingly away from Austen’s books and instead mirror and interact with one another (or Austen sequels), how far can they leave Austen behind, even reject her and still be approached as derived from Austen? The film-makers say they appropriate Austen because she permits them to deal centrally with women’s issues, to have female protagonists and narrators central to the stories. So a second question comes when we see that the perspectives omitted are precisely those that mislead and distort women’s characters and lives.

Teresa Kenney has written a comprehensive analysis of Aisha
Aisha, Rajshree Ojha’s Urban Emma: Not Entirely Clueless, Persuasions On-Line, 32:1 (2011) so I can refer my reader to Kenney for plot-design, characters, and close-reading evaluation. I want to point out that in this depiction of the “posh” 1% of relaxed great wealth serious themes common to better Indian films as well as (separately) Austen ones have been erased. I had read that Aisha was a commercial flop when it first came out (wikipedia); certainly it lasted but one weekend in the movie-houses of the DC area. Nothing of most levels of Indian life, of the diaspora, of economic and social conflicts between traditional and modern, country and large city, of colonialism is to be found here. I liked how the songs and dances were integrated into the story and did not mind that but one was traditional, all the others being forms of contemporary global rock. But as a character says in I Have Found It, the Indian audience comes to see its distinctive movies because they want their characteristics there — to compel their passionate enjoyment and interest.

The complete absence of Miss Bates, near absence of Jane Fairfax, and sympathy for the nearly destitute and genteely impoverished we find in Emma is our clue (we are not clueless in Aisha) for what’s disturbingly missing from Aisha. I’ve been persuaded by a close-study of Jane Austen’s novels in the context of her life and letters by Pierre Joubert (JA: Etude Psychologique de la Romanciere) who has translated several of her novels. Joubert demonstrates that while we find in Jane Austen the idea of the necessity of marriage before the couples have met, and know before the characters that the marriage with a specific one is the best thing that can happen for our hero and heroine, the obsession derives from a fear on the part of the heroines (clearly seen in the books) of impoverishment. In all her novels we are led to see there is something deeply awry when a woman marries a man no matter what his nature, without regard for his nature.

Joubert argues that Jane Austen seems to call on her heroines to be willing to accept spinsterhood out of strong pride and self-hood rather marry anyone. What we find in the novels is non-marriage, self dependence freely and proudly accepted however desolating. An indirect condemnation of the husband-hunt from the get-go is central to understanding them, even the late semi-finished book, Persuasion or the one begun so early with the naive non-desperate Catherine. She gives us heroines who won’t quite be beggared or homeless but dependents on indifferently cruel or hard families. This angle of vision permits us to see how money is so important. A striking statement made early in The Three Sisters (a juvenilia) is “I had rather work for my bread than marry him”. (I dealt with this under the aspect of importance of affection and companionship in Austen in my blog on Austen’s poetry for Austen’s birthday).

The novels which gives us the most wrenching sense of this are Mansfield Park and Emma: Fanny withstanding castigation for not agreeing to marry Henry Crawford on the grounds he would make her miserable and she is not fit for him (we know he’d be bored as soon as his triumph was complete) is not our concern here, but a quartet of Harriet (desperately orphaned), Jane Fairfax (not far from it) Miss Bates (with no income once her mother dies) and Mrs Weston (poor Miss Taylor that was). Clueless kept Miss Taylor in Cher’s English teacher but it romanticized her and too re-constructed Harriet, marginalized Jane and eliminated Miss Bates.

An independent spinster English teacher (Twink Caplan as Ms Geist) with the kindly shy bachelor history teacher (Wallace Shawm as Mr Hall) — they survive into super-rich complacent aunt-uncle marrying as Aisha opens

I suggest with Joubert that Austen makes us feel the manner in which she feels her fate (in her letters and as implied author), tries to counter the notion of inferiority of women not married. He is puzzled by the “fierce outrage” as he calls this that accompanies this in the depiction of Charlotte Lucas’s marriage. I’d say it’s worse in the letters and in the way the unmarried heroines are now and again treated by other characters when it comes to regarding their marital possibilities. Mr Collins thinks Elizabeth Bennet a worst case scenario. Mary Musgrove casually humiliates her sister, Anne, continually. I’ve suggested in my blogs over the past year that Austen had lesbian impulses which went unassuaged, and the one man she passionately loved was verboten for her (Frank), a paradigm we see carried across the novels, which close readers from Isabelle Montolieu (her first translator) said gave her novels their power. We don’t have sentimental romance only hungry longing against something the heroine can not have, and then unexpectedly at the close the desired object is snatched against fate.

(My translation studies and reading what good translators have to say about Austen’s texts have given me new insights into Austen.)

The indirectly voiced cry that a woman who does not marry is not inferior and its grounding in the danger of destitution is lost from view. There is once early on in the film where Aisha voices her indifference towards marriage (showing the scriptwriter knows Austen probably), but all Aisha worked for in the film is to marry her friends to the people she considers “right” for them, and their quarrel with her is she is turning them to a wrong man, not (never) that they don’t want or need one.

But not lost is the single relationship that the heroine wants. In Aisha there is nothing forbidden about it — incest is hinted at in Austen’s Emma, brought out in the father-daughter paradigm of Knightley-Emma in Davies’s 1996 Emma, but once Emma awakens to her suddenly magical right all obstacles fall away. (A fairy tale.) The two times this relationship as a core of Austen’s novel has been done justice to on film have been the 1972 BBC Emma by Denis Constanduros and John Glenister (in this case as important as the script-writer) and the 2009 Emma by Sandy Welch. Both of these either dramatize the book carefully (1972) or re-arrange it (2007, with Mr Knightley becoming narrator at times) so as to make its backbones a series of long continuous scenes of the evolving relationship of Mr Knightley and Emma. In 1972 much is invented to add to Miss Bates’s presence; 2008 adds to this some scenes for Jane not dramatized in the novel at all.

John Carson as Mr Knightley (1972 with his rounded face)

Well here Aisha does follow suit. Aisha‘s great strength is it has profited from many of the previous films beyond Clueless. Troost and Kenney point to some of these. Well from beginning to end we have Arjun Burman (Abhay Deol even resembles John Carson, though doubtless this is coincidence) and Aisha meeting, talking, walking, conversing, arguing, debating. As they squared off in the kitchen and then laughed, they reminded me of Goodwin and Carson squaring off over cards and then laughing. Unlike the 2009 Emma the latest Indian couple does not fiercely quarrel most of the time but like the 1972 film and Austen’s book are shown to be fundamentally on the same wave length, at times guessing one another’s thoughts, capable of instant cooperation, deeply congenial even if Aisha does not want to see this.

Close-ups of Arjun and Aisha at club dance


Some of the additions from other films are directed towards strengthening Arjun as Mr Knightley’s impact on Aisha. For example, Devika Bhagat includes Arjun challenging the super-handsome stud Druv Singh (Dhruv Singh as the Frank character) on what are his intentions in the way Andrew Davies has David Morrisey as the intensely melancholy Brandon challenge Dominic Cooper as the sneering cad Willoughby. In Aisha the result is a fist fight in the bar. Austen’s plot-design has been wholly re-arranged to allow for these moments together and sequences. The very sexy dance at a club where Aisha starts out dancing with Druv and Arjun with his secretary-friend of whom Aisha is intensely jealous (a borrowed character from Bridget Jones’s Diary) ends up at last with Aisha and Arjun dancing with great erotic intensity, close to one another intertwining bodies and hands in the way of Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai in 2009 (and earlier Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell as Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 Mansfield Park)


Parallel from 2009 (Emma; Aisha just a year later)

As Kenney notes the second half of Aisha begins to pile up hingepoints and parallels with Emma, with the Clueless triple friendship and condescending patronage of Harriet-Shefali-Tai over. Perhaps having both of Aisha’s friends, Pinky and then Shefali accuse Aisha of snobbery, indifference to them for real, utter egoism, after all Arjun’s reprobations begins to feel like overkill, but these are there perhaps to compensate for the absence of the humiliation of Miss Bates. There are no notes of tragedy or near-tragedy in Aisha; there are in Austen and in a number of the finer Austen films in the growing canon.

Shefali: it’s she who almost drowns, with Arjun saving her; she’s arguable the real heroine of the movie, she stands up for herself, and instead of trying to get back at Aisha, gives her some perceptive advice

To conclude, it’s telling that the notes that are picked up from the McGrath 1996 Emma are Gwyneth Paltrow’s ever so kind love of animals. Paltrow is seen caring for them, with a reluctant Toni collette as Harriet in tow; Aisha has taken on animals as a cause for social work, boring the hell out of Pinky and puzzling Shefali (consistently made very appealing in the film). The least used of the Emma films is Davies’s mini-series with the astringent Kate Beckinsale and the sexually troubled and aggressive Mark Strong as her seething edgy Mr Knightley and a disquieting Olivia Wiliams as Jane abject before her half-gleeful Raymond Coulthard as Frank. He makes no excuses for himself while the Druv in Aisha blames Aisha for his “wrong flirting”.


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John Everett Millais (1829-96), Walking and Talking

Dear friends and readers,

How can we remember her best this anniversary? Last year I put a poem she wrote for her birthday in 1808: it’s the only year that we have a record showing that her remembering her birthday: on December 16th, 1804 her good friend, Anna Lefroy died from a fall from a horse, and four years later, Jane wrote an elegy on the occasion of her friend’s death: “The day returns again, my natal day;/What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!”

It’s a deeply emotional poem, a kind she wrote a few times. For example, this one to Anna Austen Lefroy, with lines like “Let not thy heart be blighted by the feeling/That presses on thy soul, of utter loneliness.” Or on her migraine headache just around the time of the publication of Sense and Sensibility: “When stretch’d out on one’s bed/With a fierce throbbing head” or the seething passion of the poem she wrote a day before she died, asserting immortality: “When once we are buried you think we are gone/But behold me immortal!”

She does not call the day her birthday but her “natal day” and a search through all her searchable texts on line (the six famous novels) showed that she never used either word in her novels, nor do I remember any reference to a birthday of a character or a birthday in her letters as a day to celebrate. In her novels she does tell us enough to work out birth years for some of her characters and for a smaller group enough to make a guess as to which part of the year or near which month, but the lacuna suggests that usually she did not think such chance happenings (it’s a chance what day one is born, to some extent a chance what day one marries) important. The coincidence of her friend’s death occurring the day she was born prompts her one birthday poem.

So, I thought a poem which puts before us felicitiously what she thought important, an attitude that shaped her writing and maybe her decisions in life would be most fitting. What is it Jane Bennet says to Elizabeth upon being told Elizabeth means to marry Mr Darcy: “Oh Lizzy! do anything rather than marry without affection” (P&P III:17). Emma Watson cries out to Elizabeth her sister in their first conversation: “I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like” (The Watsons 1st section). Or Austen explaining to a niece why she had encouraged her to think of marrying someone: “tho’ I did not think you then so much in love as you thought yourself, I did consider you as being attached in a degree — quite sufficiently for happiness; and then upon the girl showing her feelings were much “cooler” than even Austen supposed and perhaps preferred someone else: “nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound to one without love, bound to one & preferring another” (JA’s Letters 109 & 114, 18-20 Nov & 30 Nov 1814).

A genuine congenial, a tenderly affectionate companionate relationship (as we might say) which includes respect, trust and constancy that is what her heroines seek, and the poem from the 18th century I know which best expresses this ideal (and in anniversary form) is Samuel Bishop’s “To his wife, on the sixteenth anniversary of her Wedding day with a Ring”

THEE, Mary, with this ring I wed,’
So sixteen years ago I said —
Behold another ring! ‘for what?’
To wed thee o’er again? — Why not?
With that first ring I married youth,
Grace, beauty, innocence, and truth;
Taste long admir’d, sense long rever’d,
And all my Molly then appear’d.
If she, by merit since disclosed,
Prove twice the woman I supposed,
I plead that double merit now,
To justify a double vow.

Here then to-day, (with faith as sure,
With ardour as intense, as pure,
As when, amidst the rites divine,
I took thy troth, and plighted mine)
To thee, sweet girl, my second ring
A token and a pledge I bring;
With this I wed, till death us part,
Thy riper virtues to my heart;
Those virtues which, before untried,
The wife has added to the bride:
Those virtues, whose progressive claim,
Endearing wedlock’s very name,
My soul enjoys, my song approves,
For conscience’ sake, as well as love’s.
And why?–They shew me every hour
Honour’s high thought, affection’s power,
Discretion’s deed, sound judgment’s sentence, —
And teach me all things — but repentance.

Samuel Bishop (1731–95), headmaster and poet, married Mary Palmer (a relative) in 1763, so this poem was written in 1779, four years after Austen was born. They had at least one daughter to whom Bishop also wrote loving poems. Mary survived him and married his biographer, Rev Thomas Clare who also published the majority of Bishop’s poems (1796). Bishop wrote prolifically but had published only a few poems before he died.

Reader I give you Jane Austen, 237 years after she was born, a toast to her … What she would have said of this cult I hesitate to imagine …

John Singer Sergeant (1856-1925), Two Wineglasses (1925)


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Two post-chaises under the escort of George conveyed eight more across the Country; the Chair brought two, two others came on horseback & the rest by the Coach — & so by one means or another we all are removed. — It puts me in mind of the account of St Paul’s Shipwreck’ where all are said by different means to reach the Shore in safety — [How they got to Godmersham]

Hugh Bonneville as Edward Bridges talking to Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in a dramatization of the visit described in this letter (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

Dear friends and readers,

Again I make a single blog for a single letter as again the letter is long with some revealing material. It’s the second letter to Francis Austen (for the first see letter 86, 3-6 July 1813) by Jane that we have (the fourth written communication, as the collection includes her two loving poems to Francis too (48, 24 July 1806; 69, 26 July 1809). Jane also wrote Francis shortly before Eliza Austen’s death but the letter has been destroyed (83, 17 Feb 1813, left blank in LeFaye’s edition).

For this letter I’m going to return to bringing out the themes of a letter rather than paraphrasing it section by section, as that will bring out its content concisely and more clearly — though as it happens to do this I do begin with its long opening. We see in it both her depictions of her brothers and some values she hold dear. We have the probable resumption of a half-romance she had refused some years before with Edward Bridges. Austen attempts a more generous assessment of Anna’s coming marriage. Fanny (by contrast to her serious cousin) is eager for a fair (and cutting gold paper) while Jane thrills to praise and money for her novels.

First Jane and her brothers:

Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth startled by Anne’s passionate response to his passionate letter (1995 Persuasion, scripted Nick Dear)

My dearest Frank

The 11th of this month brought me your letter & I assure you I thought it very well worth its 2’/3d. — I am very much obliged to you for filling me so long a sheet a [sic] paper, you are a good one to traffic with in that way; You pay most liberally;-my Letter was a scratch of a note compared with yours — & then you write so even, so clear both in style & Penmanship, so much to the point & give so much real intelligence that it is enough to kill one …

With yet another lavish over-praise, we can say Jane Austen made a habit of over-praising her relatives’ writing and, when she could, whatever she could think of about themselves. She does it repeatedly to Cassandra, and now out of four communications to Frank we’ve had, three have been filled with over-praise. This time it’s his handwriting too — as it has also so many times been with Cassandra. I had put her comments down to Cassandra to a way to try to keep Cassandra writing to her and frequently; early on when Cassandra would withdraw from Jane (after some tension) or write to someone else and not Jane, Austen did complain and bitterly. Now she does not have that problem but still keeps it up. Later she will overpraise her young nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh’s writing ludicrously in the one letter to him that we have: his strong manly sketches, her things are nothing to his, little twigs in baskets (146, 16-17 Dec 1816); she treats his first efforts as if they were an equivalent to Emma.

Exceptions include Anna Austen Lefroy about Anna’s one effort at a novel. Jane paid Anna the compliment of paying attention to her novel, rationally reacting (see last of series of 6, 113, Wed, 30 Nov 1814). Also Fanny Austen Knight who didn’t write novels who presumably wouldn’t have appreciated. Jane does gurgle with glee over Fanny’s absurd divagations over her suitors (making Fanny uncomfortable): the spectacle of Fanny is fodder for her novels (151, Thurs-Fri, 20-21 Feb 1817: “You are inimitable, irresistible … Such a lovely display … “).

Why? Is she placating them? sometimes to Cassandra it does seem so. Or is she trying to make her talent seem negligible so not noticed. I suggest she’s eager not to be seem different. I find a real pathos in this. One of her mother’s letters shows us she didn’t fool Mrs Austen (in the Austen papers where Mrs Austen says she lord knows where Jane will be a few years from now; her other children she can predict). I doubt Jane fooled the others (James’s poem on S&S suggests he saw into the autobiographical roots of her first heroine), but she persists (James in another poem also register how some in the family were jealous, showed real resentment a poem quoted by Claire Harman [Jane’s Fame] — here the family can mean those outside the nuclear group).

In our talk on Austen-l, Diana B still voiced scepticism that William Price, Wentworth are surrogates for Frank — though she used as context quotations from MP. The Hubbard’s (JA’s Sailor Bros) don’t doubt it for a moment. They print a version of this letter by Jane (as doctored by Bradbourne by combining it with others) in the context of much commentary from MP: they make a different choice than Diana, but it’s the same contextualizing. Southam (JA and the Navy) does the same — only he has accurate texts. All three offer logs from Frank to show where he was just then. Southam’s chapter on Persuasion returns to these letters, and his remarks on Wentworth early in his book are about this strong idealization and friendship between them. Park Honan too (he has a chapter called Martha and Frank). Frank himself wrote the portrait of Harville at home is exquisitely him.

Three packets of letters destroyed by Frank’s youngest daughter. Why did this survive her and Cassandra’s depredations? because Frank did not leave it in three packets in his drawer but gave it to his grandson (in the navy) who before he died put it in the British Museum. So here’s a relative with respect for the grandfather and great-aunt.

What’s of interest throughout the letter is an intense respect for the man. To call it (as Diana does) awe and says it’s a mystery gets us nowhere. What awe? The letter is filled with straightforward information directly given and rapidly, an attempt at a larger picture of the family, their places, their doings. I suggest Jane respects him for running this ship, for the powerful people he sees and escorts.

— I am sorry Sweden is so poor & my riddle so bad. — The idea of a fashionable Bathing place in Mecklenburg! — How can people pretend to be fashionable or to bathe out of England! — Rostock Market makes one’s mouth water, our cheapest Butcher’s meat is double the price of theirs; — nothing under 9d all this Summer, & I beleive upon recollection nothing under 10d. — Bread has sunk & is likely to sink more, which we hope may make Meat sink too. But I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now; — let me shake off vulgar cares & conform to the happy Indifference of East Kent wealth.-I wonder whether You & the King of Sweden know that I was to come to Godmersham with my Brother. Yes, I suppose you have received due notice of it by some means or other. I have not been here these 4 years, so I am sure the event deserves to be talked of before & behind as well as in the middle. —

The modesty topos is more than half-sincerely meant and yet the ironies are sharp. She wonders the King of Sweden has not been informed of her trip to Godmersham — she remembers and reminds Frank she has not been invited for 4 years. Frank will have received due notice of it somewhere. Such an earth-shaking event. Frank had mentioned that Sweden was nothing for scenery (he would not see it anyway) so she jokes that one cannot have a fashionable bathing place at Mecklenburg. How can anyone pretend to be fashionable outside England. So Frank is not to worry. As to the price of meat, it’s gone way up she knows — more than 10P. But bread is cheap and just now “I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now — let me shake off Vulgar Cares and conform to the happy indifference of East Kent Wealth.”

Jane knows she couldn’t, few could do what Frank was doing as a captain in the Baltic. I contextualize this with Persuasion and where Anne Elliot feel that in marrying her Wentworth has the superiority of her (!). What does she bring to the marriage but a worthless father, cold vain sister, indebted property. She discounts her rank, connections, her jointure — this is startling. Lady Russell thought they mattered.

Jane Austen has Anne Elliot use the word “real respectability” which Lady Elliot when she was alive promoted for Sir Walter and is now gone. I don’t think this shows Austen to be utterly radical as obviously her books show characters caring intently about hierarchy and their place: in P&P Elizabeth does not do away with hierarchy, only says I am a gentleman’s daughter, Darcy is a gentleman so far are we equal, to which the vicious tongued Lady Catherine replies, but who were your mother’s connections, who are your uncles. No reply from Miss Bennet.

Jane Austen respected hard-earned efforts, work, honorable paying of debts, decent behavior, loyal friendship which is not networking or keeping up your contacts, but from the heart. All this she gets with Wentworth. All much better than rank and property which come from chance (as do the genes that enable Mary Crawford to ride better than Fanny). Jane seems to feel her brother Frank did this more than any other brother. Maybe there’s some of her in Mary Crawford when she sees her clergyman brother, James’s good fortune. What did he do for it? Southam says (from the letters) she just doesn’t show much of this to Charles. This is so. In the letters we have we see a brief affectionate reference or references to his coming and going with his wife. Cassandra’s letters (such as we have them) show far more interest.

She admires Frank’s profession: Jane was deeply conservative politically by this time (as we’ve seen from her avid reading of Pasley’s Essay on the Military Power and Institutions of the British Empire) she admires imperial militarism. In Persuasion we are asked to admire Wentworth for making money. His work is his way of making money. Some intuitive tact makes her not admire him for what he actually does to make that money (flog, kill, destroy). With Fanny who is presented as naive William’s behavior can be presented as tremendous bravery, and Henry Crawford as envied respect. But Anne Elliot is 27 and not an idle half-rake. Wentworth-Frank the Corsair, only Austen’s Byronic figure is in it for the money. In this opening section we see again how she kept up with the politics and events of what was happening. In the letter she had written the day before (89, 23-24 Sept 1813) she records she and Fanny were reading Bigland’s Modern History, which has long sections on politics in Europe — and she could learn recent doings there as she and Fanny read aloud in the library. Perhaps she was reading thinking of Frank — she wrote him as regularly as she did Cassandra.

Adrian Edmondson as Henry greeting Jane come to London well after Eliza’s death (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

The letter also includes a section on Henry; the contrast in her more distant attitude to Henry is worth underlining. I bring together the passages in the letter on Henry:

We were accomodated [sic] in Henrietta St — Henry was so good as to find room for his 3 neices & myself in his House. Edward slept at an Hotel in the next Street. — No 10 is made very comfortable with Cleaning, & Painting & the Sloane St furniture. The front room upstairs is an excellent Dining & common sitting parlour — & the smaller one behind will sufficiently answer his purpose as a Draws room. — He has no intention of giving large parties of any kind. — His plans are all for the comfort of his Friends & himself — Mmd Bigeon & her Daughter have a Lodging in his neighbourhood & come to him as often as he likes or as they like. Mde Bigeon. always markets for him as she used to do; & upon our being in the House, was constantly there to do the work. — She is wonderfully recovered from the severity of her Asthmatic complaint. — Of our three evenings in Town one was spent at the Lyceum & another at Covent Garden; — the Clandestine Marriage was the most respectable of the performances, the rest were Sing-song & trumpery, but did very well for Lizzy & Marianne, who were indeed delighted; — but I wanted better acting. — There was no Actor worthy naming. — I believe the Theatres are thought at a low ebb at present.-Henry has probably sent you his own account of his visit in Scotland. I wish he had had more time & could have gone farther north, & deviated to the Lakes in his way back, but what he was able to do seems to have afforded him great Enjoyment & he met with Scenes of higher Beauty in Roxburghshire than I had supposed the South of Scotland possessed. — Our nephew’s gratification was less keen than our brother’s. — Edward is no Enthusiast in the beauties of Nature. His Enthusiasm is for the Sports of the field only. — He is a very promising and pleasing young Man however upon the whole, behaves with great propriety to his Father & great kindness to his Brothers & Sisters — & we must forgive his thinking more of Grouse & Partridges than Lakes & Mountains. He & George are out every morns either shooting or with the Harriers. They are both good Shots. … [from the close of the letter] I hope Edward’s family-visit to Chawton will be yearly, he certainly means it now, but we must not expect it to exceed two months in future. — I do not think however, that he found five too long this Summer.-He was very happy there. — The Poor Mr Trimmer is lately dead, a sad loss to his Family, & occasioning some anxiety to our Brother; — for the present he continues his Affairs in the Son’s hands, a matter of great consequence to them — I hope he will have no reason to remove his Business. —

She just does not pay the same kind of attention or respect to Henry as a banker, nor show quite the kindness or warmth we find at this stage for Edward Austen (earlier she did not show this). It seems hard for Jane Austen to see the kind of effort Henry was straining to make money, from her words in the last letter it’s not quite clear she takes in the death of Henry’s partner is bad news for him: he needed that partner as he brought money to the firm which Henry had none of himself. Now he’s dead his relatives will take it away. But she does see how Edward losing business from Trimmer will hurt the both of them (Edward and Henry by extension)

Pip Torrens as Edward Austen Knight telling Jane about his money troubles one morning at Godmersham (Miss Austen Regrets)

She does give Henry this: in his new apartment he won’t be giving those big parties. I detect a note of scepticism there though: she dissed Henry on the basis of his enjoyment of shallow social intermingling with rich people, not quite forgetting he needed to do this as part of business contacts (the way he keeps up with the Tilsons). She can sympathize with his finding comfort, pleasure distraction in lakes and mountains as she did too. The nephew, Edward apparently didn’t — but then neither did Frank). She registers that Henry’s apartment is not big enough for his housekeeper and her daughter to live in or to accommodate Edward. Mme Bigeon and her daughter must come there when he wants them; then she does all and shops for him too. He does not shop for himself it seems.

Sylvie Herbert as Mme Bigeon (Miss Austen Regrets)

It is very curious how Henry is kept at a distance. (So too is James by this time and she started out so filled with enthusiasm for their literary gifts as she saw them in the Loiterer). He began as near broke as Frank, is as hard-working as she or Frank, on the make just as hard as Frank. Maybe his relationship with Eliza stood in her way. Mary (Mrs FA) as we have saw is dull, flees the household in Southampton with its books, so no rival? Also maybe she did hear of that letter by Henry where he said of her mother and sisters just after they lost the father, we need not give them more, just think how comfortable they’ll be … &c&c)

Austen had known what it was to have nothing and she knows that Frank knows. Henry tried to hide it. She observes that Henry sent wine to Godmersham, tried to keep up with Edward (she saw through that and tells Cassandra so). She does not have parties and neither does Frank.

To return to the opening of the letter and Frank without the other brothers:

I left my Mother, Cassandra & Martha well, & have had good accounts of them since. At present they are quite alone, but they are going to be visited by Mrs Heathcote & Miss [Althea] Bigg — & to have a few days of Henry’s company likewise. — I expect to be here about two months. Edward is to be in Hampshire again in November & will take me back. — I shall be sorry to be in Kent so long without seeing Mary; but am afraid it must be so. She has very kindly invited me to Deal, but is aware of the great improbability of my being able to get there. –It would be a great pleasure to me to see Mary Jane again too, as well as her Brothers, new & old — Charles and his family I do hope to see; they are coming here for a week in October. —

The brief vignette of Martha, Cassandra and her mother “well” at Chawton; that she has had “a good account of them” is without irony. That another women friend is to visit: Alethea Bigg (not married). They are “quite alone” otherwise. Henry is expected in a few days, and she will be back with them two months from now. Not a shred of irony here. The little women’s circle, Martha, not forgotten. It’s easy to overlook for by association she jumps to explain how it can be she should be in Kent for 2 months and never see Mrs F. A. …. Paying attention we see that once Mrs F.A. escape Southampton she never visits if she can help it. We saw that she was intimidated by their reading, perhaps alienated by Martha’s ex-relationship to Frank (Martha did eventually marry him); something repelled her utterly and she de-camped. We also saw that this hurt Frank; he had wanted to be the provider of his sisters and mother, and that when the plan to live in Chawton became serious he rushed to Cassandra to try to stop it, to no avail.

Now Jane says there is no way for her to get to Mary and tactfully does not bring up how Mary does not try to get to her — never does try. Mary now has the excuse of children. Austen says in her novels that for a women children can be a help in conversation; they can be an excuse not to see people, to stay put. Too much to bring them.

To conclude, we have another instance of Jane’s devotion to Frank (we must not forget the two poems and her PS line about his rich hair) and her respect, something explicitly made in Persuasion not to rank or money inherited or genealogy or luxurious things or prestigious places. Austen identifies with Frank: as honorable (within the terms of his profession) and doing what’s asked in daily life, no complaints, decent to others. Not using your rank to corrode the respect of others as many of her upper class ugly types do. No pretense about the man either.

Which leads to the second topic of the letter I’d like to cover: Jane and Edward Bridges. Jane did not chose to marry Bridges though with him she could have had the rank of a married woman, his income, respect, safety from poverty.

Jane enjoying her solitude and self-ownership at Godmersham while the others are away (Miss Austen Regrets)

— Just at present I am Mistress & Miss & altogether here, Fanny being gone to Goodnestone for a day or two, to attend the famous Fair which makes its yearly distribution of gold paper & coloured persian through all the Family connections. — In this House there is a constant succession of small events, somebody is always going or coming; this morns we had Edward Bridges unexpectedly to breakfast with us, in his way from Ramsgate where is his wife, to Lenham where is his Church — & tomorrow he dines & sleeps here on his return. — They have been all the summer at Ramsgate, for her health, she is a poor Honey — the sort of woman who gives me the idea of being determined never to be well-& who likes her spasms & nervousness & the consequence they give her, better than anything else. — This is an illnatured sentiment to send all over the Baltic! —

This letter is central to Miss Austen Regrets (which is why it’s so easy to draw upon the film for actors playing the roles of the people in this letter and those from London). Using Nokes’s perceptive take on the letters; we’ve noticed in one the early flirting of Bridges with Jane; in another his partnering her as the first couple and her real pleasure at this; a third, his real kindness to her when she was at first impoverished and left Steventon and was snubbed by others; and finally indirectly stated that she had a proposal of marriage from him and rejected it. So this visit is of interest.

Bonneville as Edward telling Williams as Jane about his relationship with his wife, and appealing for sympathy (Miss Austen Regrets)

We heard about this fair in the last letter, and Austen’s ennui and desire to escape. The love of gold paper is child-like — Austen has the Musrgrove children cutting gold paper at Christmas. Colored persian I’m at a loss to explain except that it might be delicate material used with the paper.

In the film, Edward comes upon her alone. Hughes dramatizes and provides insight into this incident: she presents Edward Bridges as deliberately coming to Godmersham when his wife goes off to her holiday (“enjoying her illness”). We’ve seen Austen’s disdain over other women’s illness before: a “poor honey.” Like her mother? Austen was probably scolded (as we can see in her mother’s poem on her boy pupils’ complaints) when younger not to inflict this kind of thing on other people.

The film-makers suggest Bridges encouraged Austen to see his wife from this angle. They though have him scolding her for drinking too much and being jealous of her dancing with others. There’s nothing in the letters to suggest any of this. Maybe they sat together in the library and read and talked, or walked and talked. Ate together of course. I will be on the lookout in the later letters to see if he visits again when she is very ill.

It does seem to me there is evidence then the Edward did love her and wanted to marry her, that he still was interested, was drawn I assume to her conversation and company (as opposed to his wife’s). Jane knows repeating part of what she and Edward discussed is to end “ill-natured” commentary across the world — to the Baltic. But she cannot help it. She is here glad to have talked with this man and been made to feel the partner he chose was inferior to her. She could, any would have been a better wife. And she can have such feelings without the pregnancies and taking time from her work (except such talk).

I look forward to the letters she writes just as she realizes she is ill to see if there any notice or memories of Edward Brides — as is presented in the film.

The letter includes Fanny right there and Anna off at Chawton.

Anna’s wedding to Ben as envisaged in Miss Austen Regrets

There is a slight change in the emphasis of Austen remarks on Anna, or to put it another way, Austen adds a thought about Anna’s coming marriage that she has not written down before.

I take it for granted that Mary has told you of Anna’s engagement to Ben Lefroy. It came upon us without much preparation; — at the same time, there was that about her which kept us in a constant preparation for something.-We are anxious to have it go on well, there being quite as much in his favour as the Chances are likely to give her in any Matrimonial connection. I beleive he is sensible, certainly very religious, well connected & with some Independance. — There is an unfortunate dissimularity of Taste between them in one respect which gives us some apprehensions, he hates company & she is very fond of it; — This, with some queerness of Temper on his side & much unsteadiness on hers, is untoward.

We’ve said that by this time Austen has taken on the family’s view of Anna’s engagement and her personality. This is painful when we consider Mary Lloyd’s treatment of Anna — Ben was an escape. Not that Jane pretends to be physically sick as Mary is recorded doing (in the previous letter) when Jane thinks of this engagement. Austen says here (as she did not before) that Anna can’t do much better. Remember from Shakespeare’s AYLI: sell when you can you are not for all markets. If Austen in her novels as Anne Elliot ignores rank, she knows in the world others do not. She writes: “We are anxious to have it go on well, there being quite as much in his favour as the Chances are likely to give her any matrimonial connection.”

Later in life when Ben died, Anna had no money, no place either. So her father gave her nothing or a tiny stipend. Mr Collins would know what to think of such a bride. Austen can play endless games with Fanny over her prospects because Fanny is a catch in the sense of money and rank; Anna is the opposite. The real worry comes out too and it is a decent one: like must marry like. She fears Anna will not be happy since Ben is reclusive and Anna (she thinks) gregarious — remember the continent poem. In fact Anna was not gregarious;she longed for company and to go to Godmersham or London. Who wouldn’t? But like Emma it was that she had so little chance. Once married we see she turned inward and lived upon herself, wrote fiction, bought herself what pretty things she could. So the match was more of likes than Austen gave her credit for.

P&P and MP and S&S (!):

A scene where Olivia Williams as Jane enjoys being seen quietly as the novelist by everywhere, including Fanny (Imogen Poots) (MAR)

— I thank you very warmly for your kind consent to my application & the kind hint which followed it. — I was previously aware of what I should be laying myself open to — but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now-& that I beleive whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. — I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it — People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them. — Henry heard P&P warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robert Kerr & another Lady; & what does he do in the warmth of his Brotherly vanity & Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it! — A Thing once set going in that way — one knows how it spreads!-and he, dear Creature, has set it going so much more than once. I know it is all done from affection & partiality — but at the same time, let me here again express to you & Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shewn on the occasion, in doing what I wished.-I am trying to harden myself. — After all, what a trifle it is in all its Bearings, to the really important points of one’s existence even in this World! — [and in a PS] There is to be a 2d Edition of S.&S. Egerton advises it.

It seems to me this passage shows her wanting to keep her status as a respected novelist a secret has become a pose. She’s glad “not to tell Lies” about P&P. It’s a relief and she’s all in a flutter with the glory of it. As she says she is very glad to make money and not worred about making mysteries. She has been deeply gratified and buoyed by the praise. She is still using Henry to blame, and by contrast thanks Frank for allowing her to use the name of his ship and says yes she knows that (nasty people) may use this bit of autobiography so to let it out might result in pain, but apparently she’s willing to take the risk. (She knew much of her novels were autobiographical in origin. How could they not be? or she not know? All novels are however indirectly and formulaic, and many novelists cover up — understandably.)

For more minor moments in the letter, see comments.


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The novel opens with Sir Edward’s return to Grasmere Abbey, Cumberland: the photo is of Grasmere today

Dear friends and readers,

I hope short blogs about my progress on my edition for Valancourt of an edition of Ethelinde will be acceptable. As I make each step, go through the stages, and (I hope) complete my task so as to be acceptable to Valancourt, I’ll make blogs about my progress. I can work ideas out, ask for help, express frustration and any grief or satisfactions I have.


I also agreed to write a review of the fifth volume of the new (super-expensive but excellent) editions of Fanny Burney’s papers, this one 1783-83: The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney: Volume V, 1782-1783, ed. Lars Troide and Stewart Cooke. It contains the years she published Cecilia, her thwarted love for Owen Cambridge (he just turned away because she was not highly connected or rich enough for his ambition), and is tremendously vivid — as are all her early journals. I am to review it as an edition as well as the content. That means I should read at least one other of the early journals and dip into the later ones and look back on older ones. The volume in question is itself over 500 pages. I felt I had to start the Ethelinde now so as to do both within the time I’ve been given.

So, today I began my scanning and typing and reading Ethelinde. I had only an hour to work but I am planning to work half an hour a day to one hour regularly so it was a trial run that way too. The first thing to ascertain was whether the 1790 text I have can be scanned so as to need only a minimum of typing: correcting and occasional lines typed, as well as all long “s’s. This is what I did in French for Sophie Cottin’s Amelie Mansfield.

Reader, it is doable. The scan came out legible. I have to go over all the lines and do a bit of hitting tabs, or typing for each as I read along (mostly the long “s’s), but it’s not every word, not from scratch the way I did Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield. And there are no French accents.

The procedure differs from an e-text edition, for then I had to type in html tags and set up each page to put on the Net, and I put the page numbers of the original early 19th century editions into the text. This one I’m putting onto OpenOffice.Org documents, one per each volume, with no page numbers except the ones at the bottom for the reader of the copy (which will become the ones for the reader of the eventual printed book). Again easier.

I had to struggle to work out what to click on in the program, what instructions to hit, but after 10 minutes, with Jim’s help, I managed it. As I type along I will make notes of each item that might need explanation. If I can do this, who knows maybe I’ll return to George Anne Bellamy’s Autobiography: Chatto and Windus did not print her 6 volume autobiography, but the two volume abridgement by someone else. The only way you can read the 6 volumes is have access to ECCO and many people do not (and may not have a good-natured enough friend to send the text in 12 attachments — that’s what it takes).

I just managed the first three pages, but I did begin.

Ulswater in Cumberland today

Oh how I long to go to the Lake District as well as Cornwall.
See Lake District longings.


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Let me know when you begin the new tea — & the new White Wine. My present state of Elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such matters. I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse …

We live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every evening — Thursday

… the weather has got worse since the early morning; — & whether Miss Clewes [the governess] & I are to be Tete a Tete [again], or to have 4 gentlemen to admire us is uncertain — Friday

Poor Dr Isham is obliged to admire P&P — & send me word that he is sure he shall not like Mde Darlay’s new Novel [The Wanderer] half so well — Mrs C[ooke] invented it all of course … Had my consent been necessary [now the Adlestrop-Living], beleive me I should have withheld it, for I do think it on the part of the Patron a very shabby peice [sic] of business … Friday

Magdaleine Pinceloupblog
Detail from Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange, née de Parseval. 1747

Dear friends and readers,

I know I said I would not dedicate a whole blog to a single letter but this one is so long, filled with oddly telling but hard to decipher minutiae (if only we had the code for all the references), that on Austen-l, we have taken two weeks over it. Courage, we will surely be through the lot of them by sometime in 2014

The one is newsy-chatty. Although there are no explicit references to MP (only to P&P), some of the allusions and language redolent of Mansfield Park, Austen just then working on; false compliments on P&P, which however show her regarded as rival to Burney (handy dates). Much of it registers Austen’s response to family life lived at close quarters, and visiting congenial and uncongenial, some stressed people. Her place with Miss Clewes, the governess. She is again writing to the moment, the present moment. Life at Godmersham, vignettes of people (Henry again under pressure); Eastwell, George Hatton a right denizen of “The Hermit” unexplained, Chawton where Austen is “like a Cat if I see a mouse”.

From Mary Lloyd making Anna’s life a misery to Jane reading Modern Europe aloud with Fanny:

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen supposed writing Emma in the Godmersham library (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

It’s six days after her last letter of (15-16 Sept 1813). Jane Austen has left Henrietta Street with Edward and his family and come to stay at Godmersham.

My dearest Cassandra

Thank you five hundred & forty times for the exquisite peice of Workmanship which was brought into the room this morning. while we were at breakfast — with some very inferior works of art in the same way, & which I read with high glee-much delighted with everything it told whether good or bad. — It is so rich in striking intelligence that I hardly know what to reply to first. — I beleive Finery must have it. I am extremely glad that you like the Poplin, I thought it would have my Mother’s approbation, but was not so confident of yours. Remember that it is a present. Do not refuse me. I am very rich

Jane opens with the kind of over-the-top flattery we have seen throughout the collection. Perhaps Jane was apprehensive that Cassandra would make some sort of disheartening corrosive remark. The tone is that of her scrap draft from Persuasion where she says she thought she would have appeased her mother’s criticism of her treatment of older female authority. She now feels sure of her mother’s approbation but must appease Cassandra. “Remember that it is a present …” we are not to critique presents. Perhaps Cassandra would scold over the price. But Jane has made the money she is spending.

Mrs Clement is very welcome to her little Boy & to my Congratulations into the bargain, if ever you think of giving them. I hope she will do well. — Her sister in Lucina, Mrs H. Gipps does too well we think; — Mary wrote on Sunday that she had been three days on the Sofa. Sackree does not approve it. — How can Mrs James [Mary Lloyd]. Austen be so provokingly ill-judging? — I should have expected better from her professed if not her real regard for my Mother. Now my Mother will be unwell again Every fault in Ben’s blood does harm to hers, & every dinner – -invitation he refuses will give her an Indigestion. — Well, there is some comfort in the Mrs Hulberts not coming to you — & I am happy to hear of the Honey …

Back to these endlessly pregnant women. Mrs Clement is very welcome to her boy. In a later letter she will again be pregnant. Lucinda was the goddess of childbirth. It’s a coy way to say the women are gravid and near or in the childbed trauma. Mary, James’s wife, as “ill-judging as ever.” Jane is ironic over Sackree’s disapproval. Sackree complains when the women she serves go on about their exhaustion.

In this vignette we recognize the opening scene of Mary Musgrove (oh I am so very ill) comes from Jame’s wife. But James’s wife gets to influence Mrs Austen and the last thing Jane needs is her mother being encouraged to believe in her hypochrondia. We recall how long-lived Mrs Austen was all the while complaining. Mary will not permit her step-daugher any happiness. The bringing Anna a present (forbidden London as well as Godmersham shows memories of this went into the way Elizabeth Elliot brought (or did not) bring Anne Elliot a present each year. No, Ben makes Mary literally sick. And of course she can take it out on Anna or whoever is there. But there is this consolation: Mrs Hulbert did not inflict herself on Cassandra. The honey is presumably association by contrast. They have been making or preserving honey at Chawton.

I am happy to hear of the Honey. — I was thinking of it the other day. — Let me know when you begin the new Tea — & the new White Wine. – -My present Elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such Matters. I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse

We know Jane loved to eat and to drink (and that’s inebriating liquors too) and was healthily unashamed of her body or appetites, but the metaphor has a biting preying aggressiveness. Jane is avid to snatch what she can, and the tone is harder than Shakespeare’s Autolycus. Startling: she is the preying cat ready to spring: at Chawton they do not have the luxuries of Godmersham and she is not gay or light there at all, but oddly desperate.

I am glad you like our caps — but Fanny is out of conceit with hers already; she finds that she has been buying a new cap without having a new pattern, which is true enough. — She is rather out of luck, to like neither her gown nor her Cap-but I do not much mind it, because besides that I like them both myself, I consider it as a thing of course at her time of Life — one of the sweet taxes of Youth to chuse in a hurry & make bad bargains.

Austen identifying with a young girl again, in competition until the last phrase. The tone and rhythm of the voice is Lydia Bennet. The price of youth, its costs (which then is very costly as we grow older as some of these decisions in the early 19th century were irretrievable: “I consider it a thing of course at her time of Life — one of the sweet taxes of Youth to chuse in a hurry & make bad bargains.” I would not have called it sweet, nor would she have in 1796 when our collection of her letters begins. The remark is as much about love & marriage as caps.

I wrote to Charles yesterday, & Fanny has had a letter from him to day, principally to make enquiries about the time of their visit here, to which mine was an answer beforehand; so he will probably write again soon to fix his week.-I am best pleased that Cassy does not go to you. —

Again relief on Jane’s part for Cassandra. Charles and Fanny’s children were (according to Jane in a previous letter) in need of discipline (see Deborah Kaplan’s article and the chronology of Charles’s life I put into the Austen-l archives). There are more references to Charles since he has married and usually about when they are going to come and where stay.

They visit Eastwell:

Eastwell Park, 1829

I have not stayed at Eastwell (today an exclusive and expensive hotel) physically but I have seen it from a distance (stood in a field nearby) and know it well from Anne Finch’s poetry & life and and Heneage, her husband’s, the visits in the 1690s, their life then once they moved in (1704) and then inherited, and the Hattons and Finches and Tyldens (a closely friendly family). It was a beautiful place, with a fine library, the Hattons and Finches had some people in their family who were gifted

The Finch-Hattons are not easy to find out about. They have the same kind of doctored family histories as the Austens. Now and again someone emerges with real gifts — in the 20th century Isak Dinesen’s lover, Denys, played so alluring in the film by Robert Redford — but the reality of holding onto wealth and state power and all it can offer to those who fall in, keeps them in place. I was able to discover some interesting things about the women of Anne Finch’s generation (another Ann Finch was a scientist and left letters) because Anne Finch the poet’s husband, Heneage was unusually open, an antiquarian and patron of early archeaologists and musicians. He built the library up; he had unexpectedly inherited but he & Anne left no heirs and the property went to another branch where Daniel was the common name. George as a name took over.

Now what have we been doing since I wrote The Mr Knight’s came a little before dinner on Monday, & Edward went to the Church with the two Seniors but there is no Inscription yet drawn up. They are very good-natured you know & civil & all that — but are not particularly superfine; however, they ate their dinner & drank their Tea & went away, leaving their lovely Wadham in our arms — & I wish you had seen Fanny & me running backwards & forwards with his Breeches from the little chintz to the White room before we went to bed, in the greatest of frights least he should come upon us before we had done it all. — There had been a mistake in the Housemaids Preparations & they were gone to bed. — He seems a very harmless sort of young Man. Nothing to like or dislike in him; — goes out shooting or hunting with the two others all the morning. –& plays at whist & makes queer faces in the evening. — On Tuesday the Carriage was taken to the Painters; — at one time Fanny & I were to have gone in it, cheifly to call on Mrs C. Milles & Moy — but we found that they were going for a few days to Sandling & were not be at home; — therefore my Brother Fanny went to Eastwell in the chair instead. While they were gone the Nackington Milles’ called & left their cards. — Nobody at home at Eastwell. — We hear a great deal of George Hatton’s wretchedness. I suppose he has quick feelings — but I dare say they will not kill him. — He is so much out of spirits however that his friend John Plumptre is gone over to comfort him, at Mr Hatton’s desire; he called here this morning in his way. A handsome young Man certainly, with quiet, gentlemanlike manners. — I set him down as sensible rather than Brilliant. — There is nobody Brilliant nowadays. — He talks of staying a week at Eastwell & then comes to Chilham Cas: for a day or two, & my Brother invited him to come here afterwards, which he seemed very agreable to. — “Tis Night & the Landscape is lovely no more, to make amends for that, our visit to the Tyldens is over. My Brother, Fanny, Edward & I went; George staid at home with WK. — There was nothing entertaining, or out of the common way. We met only Tyldens & double Tyldens. A whist Table for the Gentlemen, a grown-up musical young Lady to play backgammon with Fanny, & engravings of the Colleges at Cambridge for me. In the morning we returned Mrs Sherer’s visit. — I like Mrs Sherer very much.

Much here.

First, one understands why Jane and Cassandra thought they have to put up some sort of front still after Henry’s wife dead so many months. Elizabeth had left 9 hostages with her husband. They have to spend time with plain old relatives of Mrs Knight and very snobbish Austen seems here. But why should she and Fanny do anything to the young man’s breeches? did he piss in them? The sense of hurry and here giddiness reminds me of the atmosphere captured in Miss Austen Regrets on Jane’s first visit. It’s inane, catty, aimless, useless all at once. I give Austen the credit to know this as she has created the tone – however unconsciously. Again we see her alienation from people, how they are objects to her. The young man made queer faces. Of course he irritated her with the unexamined mindless rituals of his life. shoots, hunts, plays whist. What an ass of a life.

Diana B explicates the facts of the visit to Sandling: The Carriage goes to the Painters; and then Jane and Fanny were to visit.

Mrs. Milles is an elderly widow, born 1723, to die 1817, so gosh, she would have been already 90 years old in 1813. The oldest person Jane Austen knew? Very possibly. She and her daughter Molly (Moy) rented houses in the Canterbury cathedral precincts, as Mrs. Milles’ father had been Prebendary. But after all that, the Milleses were not home, having gone to Sandling Park in Hythe, home of the Deedes family. This was an enormous family, known to JA; William Deedes married the daughter of Sir Brooke Bridges and became Edward’s brother-in-law. (I’m exhausted.)

I suggest the Austens were snubbed. That’s why later the Deedes come over to invite them back and Edward refuses but Austen says she thinks he will be persuaded. They go to beautiful Eastwell. George Hatton ill and wretched. I know many of the Hattons were intelligent, and it seems George is invited to Godmersham — possibly as a possible suitor for Fanny, but Fanny’s son said that Hatton’s depression had “nothing to do with love.” Austen sees his intelligence and uses him for quip I’ve heard out of context (and is used in Miss Austen Regrets) “There is nobody brilliant nowadays.” She had almost said “but me”.

Hubert Robert’s Hermit in a Garden

Hatten brings to mind a line from Beattie’s The Hermit:

At the close of the day, when the hamlet is still,
And mortals the sweets of forgetfulness prove,
When nought but the torrent is heard on the hill,
And nought but the nightingale’s song in the grove:
’Twas then, by the cave of the mountain afar,
A Hermit his song of the night thus began;
No more with himself, or with nature, at war,
He thought as a sage, while he felt as a man …

Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more:
“I mourn, but, ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;
“For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,
“Perfumed with fresh fragrance, and glittering with dew.
“Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
“Kind Nature the embryo blossom will save. -—
“But when shall Spring visit the mouldering urn?
“O, when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?
— Beattie’s The Hermit

Diana B: “the melancholy romantic poem The Hermit certainly does chime in with certain of Fanny’s strains of feeling in Mansfield Park, such as her musings upon the shrubberies, and memory.” Diana connects this to Fanny and Edmund’s dialogue on the cutting down of trees at Sotherton and allusion to Cowper’s poem. It seems more in the vein of Thomas Grey or Charlotte Smith: all nature renews, but not man. Man’s awareness, his consciousness is his tragedy. A bit strong for merely an allusion to George Hatton. He has become the occasion for Austen to meditate on sadness and despair in the midst of what gifts nature and his place in society have already given him.

Beattie’s The Hermit is a lovely melancholy poem about someone wanting to escape not just the boredom and triteness of social life, but the hypocrisies of wealth, status and losing himself in the natural world. I can see Fanny Price reading it — and it resonates very much with MP (which Austen was just then writing) and probably something about George Hatton’s situation too (see comments).

To make amends for this disappointment in people not being there or pretending not to be — why do people visit one another is often beyond me — Edward, Fanny and Jane go to the Tildens (and some of them had double names; they were long intermarried). What’s good about that is it’s over. The intelligent depressed George didn’t go. The others played games: “Nothing entertaining, nothing out of the common way” (yet that is what she wrote her novels out of, what else did she have?).

She is describing what a stifling life she endured. What is interesting her is she was given a book of engravings to look at while everyone else played backgammon. I wonder often how well the people who did the costume adaptations know the letters. Emma Thompson knows them well. I ask here because in the 2009 Emma Mr Woodhouse is given a book of engravings to look at at Donwell Abbe and Romola Garai as Emma sits and looks at them with him.

Well, I have not half done yet; I am not come up with myself. — My brother drove Fanny to Nackington & Canterbury yesterday, & while they were gone the Faggs paid their duty. – -Mary Oxenden is staying at Canterbury with lairs, & Fanny’s object was to see her.-The Deedes’ want us to come to Sandling for a few days, or at least a day & night; — at present Edward does not seem well affected — he would rather not be asked to go anywhere – but I rather expect he will be persuaded to go for the one day & night.

The Deeds, a middle-aged couple, hurry over and try to make up for the snubbing and lack of welcome by saying come for a real visit, stay and eat with us, Edward’s having none of it right now but Austen thinks he will.

I read him the cheif of your Letter, he was interested & pleased as he ought, & will be happy to hear from you himself. — Your finding so much comfort from his Cows gave him evident pleasure.

She has the barest tolerance for these hypocrisies both by Cassandra on the cows and Edward’s professions too. She knows though that Cassandra likes this so puts that straight.

I wonder Henry did not go down on Saturday; — he does not in general fall within a doubtful Intention. — My face is very much as it was before I came away — for the first two or three days it was rather worse — I caught a small cold in my way down & had some pain every evens not to last long, but rather severer than it had been lately. This has worn off however & I have scarcely felt any thing for the last two days. —

She has been very irritated by all these visits and for the first time since Eliza’s death there’s an unkind tone towards Henry too: he is not one to worry himself what to do. Reminds me of Bingley who straight decides goes ahead and does it. We know what Darcy thought of that. Henry’s state (not well as we saw) makes her think of her own pains (headaches, stress in the face) She has been better the last couple of days. Maybe from writing less.

Sackree is pretty well again, only weak; — much obliged to you for your message &c;-it was very true that she bless’d herself the whole time that the pain was not in her Stomach. — I read all the scraps I could of your Letter to her. She seemed to like it — & says she shall always like to hear anything of Chawton now-& I am to make you Miss Clewes’s assurance to the same effect, with Thanks & best respects &c. — The girls are much disturbed at Mary Stacey’s not admitting Dame L, Miss C. & I are sorry but not angry; — we acknowledge Mary Stacey’s right & can suppose her to have reason.

This shows once again Austen’s decent behavior towards servants. Miss Clewes we recall is the unfortunate governess (that’s Austen’s attitude towards her employment and LeFaye thinks she’s a sycophant. To Godmersham Miss Clewes belongs with Miss Austen. Austen is perfunctory with Sacktree the naive eager one. She relays how villagers felt about one another and the family’s involvement. Dame L had perhaps demanded Mary Stacy let her visit her but Mary Stacy within her right not not to be visited and she supposes Mary has good reason. Dame L not exactly congenial companionship for the younger woman?

Canterbury from Canterbury Hills (a modern photo)

Thursday brought to a close:

— Oh! — the Church must have looked very forlorn. We all thought of the empty Pew. — How Bentigh is grown! — & the Canterbury Hills Plantation! — And the Improvements within are very great. — I admire the Chintz room very much. — We live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every Evening- The weather is set about changing — we shall have a settled season soon. I must go to bed.

At the close of day: Austen’s sisters-in-law just drop away. To get to the church the Edward Austens went through the beautiful grounds of Godmersham. She likes the chintz room too. She notes they are in the transition of the seasons. The cozy happy comment about their evenings precedes this seasonal sense of nature. She must to bed.

For Friday, see the comments 1, and 2.


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James (Seth Gilliam) conveying to Sally (Thandie Newton) Hemings his excitement at something he has seen (Jefferson in Paris)

I had read an interesting book by Olivier Bernier about life in 18th century cities: life in Naples, in Paris, & in Philadelphia …

Anthony Chase [first script writer] had grown up partly in France and loved being there doing research, & was interested in Jefferson, & in the whole Sally Hemings side of things …

the enlightened nobles … shown at a dinner party where everyone is talking about liberty and freedom … they of course were the very ones who would soon be going to the guillotine … James Ivory in conversation with Robert Emmet Long

Dining in Paris: we see Jefferson (Nicke Nolte), Maria Cosway (Gretta Scacchi), Patsy (Gwyneth Paltrow)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m just now reading Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello, spurred thereto by my return to Patsy Jefferson (via Cynthia Kierner) and I thought what better could I do to enjoy myself and maybe get some insights through visual recreation than watch Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s 1995 film of Jefferson in Paris. As it happens my small journey seems timely since a new book castigating Jefferson I’m told (and for good measure attacking Annette G-R) is making waves, so I’d like to recommend this film and add a qualifying voice to the vehement condemnations I’ve come across here on the Net in the last few days.

What the three (Jhabvala worked on Chase’s script) mean to do is create a sense of Jefferson’s world — he, the people in this world, their norms, clothes, things – entering into and coping with the Paris world of just before the revolution (1788) into just before the terror — in the film Jefferson leaves just around the time things you begin to see the first glimpses of the understandable anger, rage, despair while idealism is still holding its own. Jefferson and Patsy and James arrive around 1783 and, now with Sally and Polly, depart 1789. It’s an able and effective creation of atmosphere, the place, Talleyrand’s sweet time crumbling under the first changes long overdue; with more or less accuracy. We see a slice of a performance of a play really done then, watch Maria Cosway seem to play a contemporary piece on a harp, several historical figures are presented (the king, queen, Lafayette, Mesmer, Guillotin)

There’s also an attempt at a suggestive portrait of Jefferson, somewhat idealized, but not altogether, for he’s the master. The personality is lightly sketched and for the most part kept at a distance, shown in larger social scenes or acting out one-on-one, not alone, not in meditation (there’s no voice over). He’s self-absorbed, self-centered but means well to others too. The credits show the contraption Jefferson invented and used to make copies of his letters; we see him writing with one hand and the other pen imitating the script.


It’s also a self-conscious movie about its art. Scenes recall paintings, some imitate type scenes from other movies; the characters discuss art & make music, are surrounded by art and music.


The film itself is structured as a flashback, a story told by Madison Hemings (James Earl Jones) to a reporter come to visit Madison and his wife in a cabin-house down south, the slightly incredulous reporter astonished to hear Madison talk of Jefferson as Madison’s father. At some point during the film we return to this cabin, and we come back at the very end.

As a girl visiting Long Island, I saw many black families living in such tiny shacks

Madison’s wife is fingering a shoe buckle and that fades into Jefferson’s shoes and buckles climbing the stairs to his first encounter with king and court. Switch to Patsy (Gwyneth Paltrow) playing piano intensely as if her life depended on it, her father, Jefferson joining her with his violin, and then James, the black half-brother of Jefferson’s wife, in the courtyard struggling with the luggage. The story goes through this first coming to Paris, Jefferson’s putting Patsy in the convent, his meeting with Maria Cosway, their romance, then the reported death of Lucy at home, so the bringing of Jefferson’s other daughter to Paris with her servant, Sally; the gradual attraction of Jefferson to Sally while the romance of Maria Cosway fades (partly because her husband takes her away), and then the clinching moment of the film (very late): Jefferson takes a willing Sally to bed with him. This is tactful: they do not show us the older white man going to bed with this young black girl.

This scene is archetypal for heterosexual films: in Poldark the scene that lead into the master, Ross, going to bed with his servant, Demelza, shows her similarly at his feet, taking off his boots

Patsy is in the house sufficiently to become aware of this liaison and becomes ugly to Sally, flees to the idea she wants to be a nun. Maria returns from London, now longing for an affair but it’s too late. She sees right away what is happening between Jefferson and Sally and she’s out in the cold, not needed.

The film climaxes in James’s discovery of his sister’s pregnancy, indignation, and the confrontation of James (Sally by his side) with Jefferson, where James demands to be let free and to be allowed to stay in Paris. Jefferson says how will you live, you have no money, no connections, I’ll be gone. Jefferson offers James freedom in a couple of years, and Sally upon his death and all the children she may have. Jefferson leads Patsy into the room and the solemn promises are made. Then a scene leaving the beautiful mansion fades into the reporter leaving Madison Hemings’s cabin.

There are separate threads running through. Jefferson’s life as a diplomat: at court, with other Enlightenment figures at a rococo park scene redolent of Watteau’s Embarkation either to and from Cythera.


A group of men contemplating the Declaration of Independence (as Jefferson explains why it omits black people and allows for slavery); scenes of abysmal poverty in the streets, mob action becoming riot, of burning effigies of people, of a head on a pike, of a man hung, another and a house set on fire.

The saddest pictures are of Patsy: in this surely M-I-J have in mind Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse

The Maria subsection is intertwined with her visiting Patsy, sympathizing with her, and when after Patsy witnesses the door closing on Jefferson and Sally one night, and Patsy seems to decide to become Roman Catholic, Jefferson taking his girl from the convent, indignant. The most powerful scene after Jefferson’s first encounter with Sally in his bedroom is his and Patsy’s final promise to James and Sally Hemings.

Patsy has to sit to have her hair done

Visually beautiful and playful, delicately atmospheric with real factual famous events put before us (the constructed balloon rising over Paris), it’s very much a woman’s art film. Jhabvala’s name is unusually prominently displayed and maybe she was more central. We have so many women’s scenes: scenes of Paltrow as Patsy and other apparently adolescent girls as girls in the convent together; scenes of Newton as Sally playing with Polly; of Scacchi as Maria talking with Paltrow as Patsy and telling of her she once wanted to be nun; scenes of the groups in an artificial landscape by a palace, of them eating, playing table games, very much Rococo genre painting. A strong scene that may not have occurred but something like it — the mother superior’s defense of her convent that she did not try to make Patsy want to be a nun. The mirror type scene of women’s films (the woman looks at herself in the mirror) is left out as this is not a movie about making a face to meet the faces you need to, but we have (Scacchi) writing letters, women in the garden, sleeping with dreams, so many in super-abundant hair-does with either ribbons or hats threaded into the wig. Now Maria, now Patsy submitting to having her hair done, now Sally getting material for a new dress and then putting it on. Sally was not dressed in hand-me-downs, and like James, got a salary over and above her already paid lodging, food, necessities bills. Then the girls getting dresses, fingering the material, men too. In the opening and closing scenes of the reporter, Madison’s wife is central with her tea and talk.

The coming revolution is right there with us: as in this hanging and burning of a straw figure:


On line I’m startled by the vehemence of the condemnations of Jefferson, often by politically conservative people. You’d think he was the only man not to have freed his slaves after he suggested he felt slavery was wrong. True he did not free Sally Hemings after he died, but she has no income and to enable her to live as if she were free in Charlottesville, she is left as Martha’s charge and since Martha was her owner, Martha paid her bills. The same was done for another black women slave. Jefferson paid the main bills for James, Robert and Martin (Sally’s brothers, his wife’s half-brothers) until they were freed; all was “found’ for them and the salaries he gave them were disposable income.

I am wondering if people kick Jefferson this way because they can. They sense something very vulnerable about the man. For example, his inability to cope with the military, the way he failed to call out the Virginia local militia during the revolution and then had to flee from place to place and partly rely on Martin to keep the house going. Or the way he wanted utterly to downsize the navy and failed. Conservatives might just hate him because he lived in intimacy with this black family all his life. It was highly unusual the way Jefferson took Sally to DC, kept her with him, really a substitute wife.

Jefferson trying out an invention in the courtyard while James asks him for a salary

James had the equivalent for someone in his position of the grand tour. His eyes were opened, his experience enormously widened. His letters of introduction were the apprentice papers that took him to several palaces and several chief French chiefs. He had freedom of movement; Jefferson paid for “all found” (daily food, his lodging in Hotel of course, his clothes). The rest was his. We see this. Sally does seem to have gotten an allowance — like James. So true disposable income. When Jefferson did not need her, she was free wandered in the house and grounds. Oral tradition in Hemings family was she talked of Paris to her dying day; made a huge impression, perhaps like Jefferson himself a very happy time for her. We may even imagine them coming together as presented in the film. A May/December relationship between Jefferson and Sally emerges, with her amusing him (the wonderful dance in the film) and him mesmerizing her (Nolte is more comfortable being sexy with Sally than distantly debonair with Maria). In life, from his letters Jefferson says he did not let anyone get close to him whom he did not value highly. So we may take it he did Sally — at least eventually.

So many moments of unnamed people doing a job, getting through as preparation or part of this or that public festive event

Jefferson in Paris was made right after Howard’s End, and partly during the filming of The Remains of the Day, two of the team’s masterpieces. This lacks the directness of those two, but it belongs to them as a family of films which includes The City of Your Final Destination. Eighteenth century people are in for a treat, historical film people, those who want to dwell in a world of civility, pleasure, aimless (so to speak) aspiration perpetually half-thwarted and half-fulfilled.

Of the books on the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films, for Jefferson in Paris, see James Ivory in Conversation, by Robert Emmet Long, foreword Janet Maslin.


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The very air shadowed grey
fresh with coolness … white light
a quiet leaf strays downward
dark evergreens thin against the sky
auburn grass
here’s what I delight in
early morning waking

p.m.: Then, remembering by contrast, Leeds late November afternoons (not the head picture for this blog — look, the woman has a little dog next to her):

John Atkinson Grimshaw


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