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Archive for September 1st, 2022

friends and readers,

For the last couple of weeks on and off I’ve been reading and considering Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope post-texts; to wit, Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility; The Rector’s Wife and The Choir, not to omit Joanna’s central contemporary fiction, thus far Other People’s Children. I’ve been surprised in how gripped I’ve been over these four books. While I have before on this blog written strongly praising this or that Austen sequel or film appropriation of a sequel (Jo Baker’s Longbourn, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Cindy Jones’s My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, the film Julie Towhidi made from PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley), I’ve never been quite so taken as I have by Joanna Trollope’s book. Trollope’s book is part of the reason I’ve been equally taken by the much more decided updated Schine book (I know I often like her book reviews for the NYRB.)

So I’ve been trying, you see, to think why people enjoy reading prequels, sequels, plain rewrites, or rewrites from a particular political POV of their favorite author, and how, also what precisely they find deeply appealing (or, contrariwise) deeply appalling. (Recall this summer I read and taught Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.) I truly loved Towhidi’s film, and have truly regarded as uneven semi-imbecilic complacent gush other sequels recently written and much praised, or older and still frequently cited (as Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister [Mary])


That Anna Maxwell Martin came closer to the way I like to imagine Elizabeth Bennet than any other actress helps account for my response to Death Comes to Pemberley, the movie

It’s obviously in the interplay between the originating book and this one that the pleasure, insight and compelling interest forward lies. We relive a favorite book from a modernized POV, we discover what happened to our beloved characters after the original author brought down the curtain, or we discover what they were like well before our favorite book began. One element, however, important, that explains why such wildly different reactions to the same or different sequels to the same book can occur is we (at least I) expect that the new author will be reading the original book in the spirit we have, that the new author share our POV on our favorite author or her books or life’s experiences or lead heroines. Once that is kept to or satisfied, it’s fascinating to see what a different genre shaping the same material can throw out (P&P as mystery thriller, or time-traveling tale, e.g, P&P as Lost in Austen, Persuasion as Lake House; the Austen matter as science fiction, Kathleen Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project)


This is also a time-traveling tale (very realistically imagined)

For me it’s probably important that my favorite among Austen’s six (more or less) finished mature fictions is Sense and Sensibility; that’s why I delighted in Trollope’s rewrite and Schine’s Three Weissmans (Margaret is omitted, the third main heroine is now the Mrs Dashwood figure). Also I find I compulsively read and become deeply engaged by Joanna Trollope’s contemporary fiction (e.g, Other People’s Children), about which she talks very insightfully in this video of hers, a contribution to the Literary Lockdown festival at Chawton House, done in the second year of the pandemic. Listen up:

She is a British variant on what Anne Tyler tries to provide American readers with (I loved Tyler’s Amateur Marriage, among others)

Tonight remembering my promise to keep these blogs reasonably sized, and because I’m tired over my day of exploring this topic across many Austen sequels (and the two Anthony Trollope’s, Rector’s Wife and The Choir) I will just thoroughly cover only one: Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. See briefer comment on The Three Weissmanns in comments and The JA Project (when I’ve read it in a coming blog.)

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What Joanna Trollope does marvelously well in her Sense and Sensibility rewrite is extrapolate out of the psychological analysis Austen suggests to offer us a contemporarily worded version; she is franker, more candid, more critical of those hurting the heroines as well as the heroines themselves. We come away more satisfied by the discourse surrounding the scenes, though (especially in the central sequence of Austen’s novel, from the time of Lucy inflicting knowledge of Edward’s engagement to Lucy upon Elinor, up to Marianne nearly bringing death upon herself in her humiliated grief) Austen has more bite, more acid, more visceral vividness, more sheer grief.

She read Austen’s book from the same angle and in the same light I do. For Joanna Trollope the central event of the book occurs when at the end of volume 1 Lucy forces on Elinor the knowledge of Lucy’s long term engagement to Elinor; I still remember how shaken I was reading Volume 2, Chapter 1, how searing I found Elinor’s agon and vigil. No one comes as close as Emma Thompson to capturing this emotional torture hidden. As in the old fable, like a wolf hugged to your chest, devouring your innards. Joanna Trollope has the revelation also as placed in last chapter of her Volume 1. Trollope takes equally seriously the humiliation of Marianne in a London public assembly — it occurs in a fashionable church wedding at the center of the book.

There is also more than a whiff of memory of some of scenes of the different film adaptations (she has watched many of them) and I can see the 2008 Andrew Davies’ cast in a number of the roles: it’s Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield’s voices and gestures and words she remembers; it’s Dominic Cooper’s crude cad for Willoughby; but she takes the elegant Robert Swann from the 1983 dark S&S by Alexander Baron for her Brandon). The lingering memories are from the exquisite beautiful photography of the Thompson/Ang movie. Mrs Jennings is tamed down (a loss there). Gemma Jones’s sense of bereftness in Mrs Dashwood remembered (1995 film).

For me an entrancing aspect of Joanna Trollope’s book is how closely she followed her original text; it’s as if she taxed herself literally to rewrite in 21st century terms. Keep as close as she could. So I made another outline of the type I have for Austen’s own books, not of a timeline this time, but of the parallels.

Trollope’s chapters much more of a consistent length, all longish, developed chapters; both novels divided into 3 volumes; these are consistent in length in Austen but not Trollope. In my old Penguin, Austen’s book is 323 pages; Trollope’s is 361.


Cooper as Willoughby and Morahan as Elinor in the confession scene, the angry paradigm adhered to (only softened from Austen’s austerity)

Volume I

First phase: Norland

Austen, Chapters 1-5 the time at Norland.

Trollope, Chapters 1 to the opening of 4: Trollope has Sir John Middleton come for a visit to invite them to Barton Park; she includes the beginning of the romance of Edward and Elinor; Chapter 2, Edward goes and comes back from Devonshire where he reports are affordable cottages (excuse is this is where he went to school); he is not on Facebook …

Second phase: Early phase of Barton Park and Cottage

Austen, Chapters 6-8 first experiences at Barton Park (meeting Mrs J, Brandon), Chapter 7: very brief, insipidity of Lady Middleton; Chapters 9-10 walk in rain where Willoughby rescues Marianne (car an Aston Martin) and then Willoughby’s first visit, romance begins quickly;
Austen, Chapters 11, 12, 13: offer of horse, are they engaged?, the broken off picnic and visit of Willoughby and Marianne to Allenham Chapter 14, dialogue on the merits of a cottage, Chapter 15 Willoughby suddenly must go; half way through 16 Edward arrives and stays until most of 18, into 19 when Elinor alone …

Trollope, Chapters 4-5 first experiences at Barton Park, meet same people (Brandon p 70). The treehouse from 1995 movie brought in. The walk in rain where Willoughby rescues Marianne (he rescues, comes to Barton cottage and leaves within a few minutes);
Trollope, Chapter 6 Elinor gets a job with Peter Austen firm; broken up picnic, rivalry of Willoughby (very nasty) and Brandon; time at Allingham where we learn later they did fuck in a bed there;
Trollope, Chapter 7 Marianne and Willoughby left alone, they return to find he’s gone, and no explanation just briefest of words; Marianne in tears but stubbornly says he is true; second half is Edward’s visit, thin, tired, in battered old Ford Sierra (p 141); he is gone early in Chapter 8, “no unhappier than usual.”


Gemma Jones as bereft Mrs Dashwood at Barton Cottage (1995 film)

Third phase – coming of Lucy and Nancy Steele, and proposal to go to London

Austen, Chapters 19-22: Coming of Palmers, then Lucy and Nancy Steele, then Lucy forcing confidences of engagement on Elinor (long almost 3 chapter sequence).

Trollope, Chapter 8 Among other things Elinor says Edward’s mother is his problem not mine and he’s got to stand up to her (a motif in the novels by Joanna Trollope I’ve read thus far: people have got to stand up to other people in order to survive); the Palmers and Steeles’s arrival, also ends on Lucy’s forcing confidences on Elinor.

Volume II

Austen, Chapters 23-25, p 117: Elinor’s vigil, dialogue with Lucy, enforced trip to London.
Trollope, Chapter 9, p 175: Elinor’s vigil, she caves into pressure to go to London.

Fourth phase: London

Austen, Chapters 26-29: Marianne seeking Willoughby; Brandon shows up; the climax at assembly; Willoughby’s letters …
Austen, Chapters 31-32: Aftermath, Brandon’s history of Willoughby and Eliza Williams; Chapter 33: John and Fanny Dashwood in town; Chapter 34 now Elinor supposedly humiliated by Mrs Ferrars over Miss Morton, but it’s Marianne who collapses (called “the important Tuesday to meet the formidable mother-in-law); Chapter 35 again Lucy visits, the encounter of the two rivals with Edward Chapeter 36: forced to spend time with Middleton’s and Dashwoods while Mrs Jennings tends to Charlotte and her new baby, they meet Robert; Lucy invited to stay with Fanny Dashwood.

[It does seem to me these central chapters of S&S are inexpressibly superior to the rewrite, and that the rewrite depends on our memory of these central chapters]

Trollope, Chapter 10 Much more interweaving between London and Barton Cottage before leaving London for Cleveland Park; London, Marianne with Mrs Jennings, Elinor visiting weekends begins and, in this chapter, the public humiliation of Marianne occurs at a wedding, it is caught on video and appears on YouTube, here it’s Tommy Palmer who rescues Marianne (imitating the 1983 movie where Brandon scoops her up);
Trollope, Chapter 11, p 207: Brandon offers modernized version of Eliza Williams and Willoughby’s betrayal of Brandon’s ward become a drug addict, John Dashwood’s urging Brandon on Elinor and ugly warning she cannot have Edward;
Trollope, Chapter 12, p 225: this includes brief return to Barton Cottage (as in 2008/9 film) and second climactic humiliation by Mrs Ferrars of Elinor with Lucy watching – ludicrous rivalry over children, Bill Brandon here (Bill as a name made me cringe; I much preferred Emma Thompson’s choice of Christopher);
Trollope, Chapter 13, p 251 – they are leaving London, destination Barton cottage, Fanny’s absurd invitation to the Steele sisters, Elinor resolves not to be victim any more – so at the end of Volume 2 we are at the same place in this new book as Austen’s.

Volume III

Austen, Chapter 37 (starts at 1 again), p 217, and we have Mrs Jennings running in breathless to report the debacle at the Dashwoods over Nancy telling Fanny that Lucy and Edward engaged, the child with red gum (or something else) and John Dashwood’s outrageously amoral response (which he thinks pious); Chapter 38: Elinor’s meeting with Nancy Steele at Kensington (the information about Edward used best by 1971 production; Chapter 39: Colonel’s offer of vicarage position to Edward and Lucy; 40-41 Dashwood’s astonishment, Edward’s despair and all ready to leave for Cleveland Park.

Trollope, Chapter 14, p 261: now it’s after birth of Palmer child, and Mrs Jennings’s to and fro, that Marianne learns of Edward’s engagement to Lucy and Elinor insists Marianne not humiliate Elinor further or harass Edward, insists Edward, however mad in this, doing the right thing –- against all his family’s hideous values. Elinor explicitly stands up for a different set of norms (which Austen does not); Marianne’s beginning her slow self-regenerating conversion to a better person;
Trollope, Chapter 15, p 273: Marianne and Elinor (& Margaret there so too Mrs Dashwood) – action back at Barton and also Exeter – Brandon and Elinor meet (she is now Ellie all the time, and a new take on Edward’s behavior: although on principle admirable, psychologically and sociologically deeply self-destructive, a form of madness understandable from his background and present circumstances (I did think of the 1971 Robin Ellis in his attic); Elinor tells Edward of job offer from Brandon.

Fifth phase: return to Devonshire in stages, denouement and quick coda

Austen, Chapters 42-43: The trek to Cleveland and Marianne’s semi-suicidal walk, deep illness, recovery; Chapter 44: Willoughby’s visit, confession, Elinor’s forgiveness (irritating, scene skipped in 1996 and finally made condemnatory in 2008); Chapter 45: mother’s arrival; Brandon begins ascendancy with mother; Chapters 46-47: home again, Marianne improving, Elinor reports Willoughby’s confession and we are to understand but Marianne now determines she was herself in the wrong when compared to Elinor (Imlac like); Brandon hanging about; Thomas’s tale of Edward’s marriage to Lucy;
Austen, Chapters 48-49: Elinor’s distress until Edward’s return; the renewal and engagement; 50: coping with Mrs Ferrars; Lucy wins out, as a coda too quickly put there Marianne we are told succumbs to Brandon.

Trollope, Chapter 16: Marianne still at Cleveland and catches bad cold, moves to pneumonia (possibly), but Elinor does not realize, only with her asthma takes turn to where she must be hospitalized in emergency room, in time to be saved – whole long sequence here; does recover, Bill goes for Mrs Dashwood; Chapter 17: another packed chapter with Elinor’s inward soliloquy, talk with mother, the news of Edward’s marriage, Marianne back, and then Edward shows up, unmarried to Lucy but eager for Elinor;
Trollope, Chapters 18-19: there are analogues for each move in the last chapters of S&S including John and Fanny’s despicable norms (made explicitly obnoxious), Mrs Ferrars’s despicable (made contemptible) consistency, the coming together through a walk of Marianne and Brandon, of talk and joy in Elinor and Edward (they take over tree house), but alas Trollope is much weaker than Austen’s; one factor is that Austen is much quicker at this ending because Trollope concerned to build up relationship between Brandon and Marianne, to bring Marianne back down to reality much more slowly; make more understandable what happened to Edward.

[Trollope’s Elinor only central presence from Volume II opening on but not quite the suffusion across and within the text of that Austen’s Elinor is.]

And yet at the end of the book, it is not Austen’s POV that lifts our hearts, and makes us feel the troubles we have been through with our heroines are endurable; it’s Trollope’s. For the style is finally her deft one; several attitudes of hers rather than Austen’s — her characters are far more intertwined with one another than most of Austen’s (except when it comes to a sister, close friend in suffering). Class injuries are at the core of Austen’s books, gender inequality (except for female bullies) Trollope’s.

I have been told the 6 writers chosen for this project of rewriting, modernizing Jane Austen’s novels were told to keep the new books “light” — I’m glad to report Joanna Trollope didn’t do this.


Ang Lee’s landscapes from 1995 felt remembered

Ellen

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