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Archive for the ‘Austen film’ Category


Amanda Vickery expatiating on a group of 18th century letters and what they reveal

Dear Friends and Readers,

Last May I announced that I would be going (once again) to the East Central region meeting of the American 18th century Society and that a proposal for a paper I was going to write over the summer had been accepted. Well I did write said paper this past August, but as bad luck would have it — and my own inabilities in the area of driving and traveling — I was prevented from going. This is not the first time this has happened since Jim died. See my Jane Austen and the Arts blog, the paper Ekphrastic Patterns in Austen

So this evening I’m going to share the paper that came to be called Jane Austen and Anne Finch in Manuscript and Manuscript Culture Today.

It’s on academia.edu under Conference Presentations as too long to put into a blog.

I know that central to the fun of delivering a paper is conveying to living people one’s work, seeing their responses on their faces and the conversation afterwards. I’ve had a sort of substitute. A good friend, Rory O’Farrell, read the paper and this is part of the conversation we had via email letters:

Your Anne Finch paper was interesting. I quite agree with the necessity of reverting to the original documents wherever possible. In the case of the Calendar of medieval documents I was recently using, I examined some of the online images of specific documents in the calendar, and noted minor occasional omissions on the part of the preparer of the calendar (done pre 1950), often on partially legible or earlier erased entries. It occurs to me that, with modern lighting (ultra-violet and or infra red) and modern high resolution cameras, that document should be re-assessed, as some of the 1950 indecipherable comments/entries might easily resolve using such modern equipment and add a little to the story therein set out.

Thank you on the Anne Finch paper. I don’t know what people might have discussed; but one is the distance between the electronic facsimile and the actual manuscript. I’m willing to say little is lost because it’s so hard to reach real manuscripts, but modern publications or editions of these ms’s (like the one published by Cambridge of AF, or these new Cambridge volumes of Austen ms’s) won’t do — for the reasons I outline. Thank you for this.

Then the other day in one of my classes on Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (Barsetshire Then and Now), I brought into class my very ancient-looking and battered 1867 pirated American copy of The Last Chronicle, which contains almost all George Housman Thomas’s original illustrations. They asked me had I ever seen a manuscript of Trollope’s and what did it look like? did he make many corrections? I said I had never seen any of Trollope’s manuscripts, only read descriptions of them, and it would seem that we mostly have fair copies his wife created from his working papers; those more immediate copies we have show he did change his plans as to who would be central or a secondary character, and the manuscript of the 4 volume version of The Duke’s Children (now at Yale) showed many revisions as he cut it down. But in general from what we can see, it would seem that Trollope trained himself to write quickly a copy that would not be all that changed the next day and then add on to that at the rate of 250 new words a day.

But over my life I had seen many manuscripts from early modern women (Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara), and worked specifically with Anne Murray, Lady Halkett (17th century Scots royalist spy), editions of the journals and letters of Fanny Burney (I wrote reviews) and seen the manuscripts or manuscript facsimiles of all the work of Anne Finch and much of Jane Austen. I told them about some of what is in this paper, and much to my surprise they asked questions about manuscripts authors left. I told them the story of Walter Scott’s manuscripts and how around the time of the Regency period, attitudes towards manuscripts changed: before then, writers tended to destroy them. They were in effect devoured in the printing process. After, they were documents whereby you could trace the original intentions of the author, get near to the author in the most close way possible.

Thinking about this, the people’s interest in manuscripts should not have surprised me. It’s part of this change of attitude begun in the 19th century and going stronger than ever so that we have exhibits in museums of artists’ first and continuing sketches, stages in the process, leading towards the final great item seen as the finished work.


A later 20th century edition of the Wellesley manuscript


The Sanditon manuscript

It was great fun doing this paper as it was many of the others I’ve done over the years, most recently, A Woman and Her Box: Space and Identity in Austen. While the early ones are on my website, since Jim’s death I’ve put a number of those on academia.edu and all since his death there (conference papers; reviews).

It is sad not to have gone as these were people whom I’ve regarded as genuine friends, but I know my ability to drive continues to diminish:  I cannot drive in the night was part of the reason I decided not to go. The aggressive and dictatorial social and political world of the US grows more restrictive and punitive: I don’t know that I could get through the computer machines in airports where there are so few hired employees to help people and customs is overtly hostile: I have actually been pulled over 3 times by TSA people who act as silent tyrants. So I will have to go less and less. With inflation, the cost begins to bite into my income and savings more.

It is an ill wind that does nobody any good: I am looking forward to more sheerly pleasurable reading, projects where I would not produce a paper (Italian studies, Anglo-Indian studies) and eventually a book-length study (at long last) of the Poldark and Outlander romance fiction and films.


Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) walking back from vase gazing in Inverness, Halloween time (Outlander S1, E1)


Our first look at Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) as by coach he rides towards Nampara, Cornwall (Poldark 1:1)

Ellen

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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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The journey from Norland to Barton Cottage, found in all S&S films, both heritage and appropriations (this from Davies’s 2009 JA’s S&S)

Gentle readers,

As an appendix to my review of Persuasion 2022, plus 4, I’m answering a query I got in three places: what are my choices for Austen films very much worth the watching. I came up with 3 sets for heritage films, and a small group of appropriations. I don’t say others do not have good qualities and interest, but these to me are outstanding.

My criteria: I think a film should convey the book in spirit: the following films are very well done throughout, add to and enrich our understanding of the books, and are works of art in their own right fully achieved

1st set:

1995 Persuasion, BBC, Michell and Dear (Amanda Root & Ciarhan Hinds)
1996 Sense and Sensibility, Miramax, Thompson & Ang (Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet)
1995 Pride and Prejudice, BBC A&E, Andrew Davies & Langton (Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle)
1983 Mansfield Park, BBC, Giles and Taylor (Sylvestre Le Tousel & Nicholas Farrell)
2007 Northanger Abbey, ITV, Andrew Davies & Jones (Felicity Jones & JJFeilds)
1972 Emma, BBC, John Glenister & Constanduros (Doran Goodwin & John Carson)


Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price writing from her nest of comforts to her brother William (note his drawing of his ship), one of my favorite chapters in the book (1983 MP)

2nd set

1979 Pride and Prejudice, BBC, Fay Weldon (Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul)
2008 ITV (BBC and Warner, among others) Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Andrew Davies & John Alexander (Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield)
2009-10 BBC Emma, Jim O’Hanlon, & Sandy Welch (Romola Garai & Johnny Lee Miller)
1999 Miramax Mansfield Park (MP and Juvenilia and JA’s letters), Patricia Rozema (Francis O’Connor & Johnny Lee Miller)


Doran Goodwin as Emma deliberately breaking her shoestring so as to maneuver Harriet and Mr Elton to be alone (1972 Emma)

3rd set
1996 BBC Emma, Davies and Lawrence (Kate Beckinsale & Samantha Morton)
2007 ITV (Clerkenwell in association with WBGH) Persuasion, Snodin & Shergold (Sally Hawkins, Rupert Penry-Jones)


Aubrey Rouget (Carolyne Farina), the Fanny Price character at St Patrick’s Cathedral with her mother, Christmas Eve (Metropolitan is also a Christmas in NYC movie)

Appropriations

2000 Sri Surya Kandukondain Kandukondain or I have found it (S&S), Menon (Tabu, Aishwarya Rai)
1990 Indie Metropolitan (mostly MP, w/Emma), Whit Stillman (Christopher Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, and Carolyn Farina, Allison Rutledge-Parisi, Isabel Gilles)
1993 Republic Ruby in Paradise (NA), Victor Nunez (Ashley Judd, Todd Field)
2008 Granada/ITV/Mammoth/ScreenYorkshire Lost In Austen (P&P), Andrews and Zeff (Jemima Rooper & Elliot Cowan)
2013 BBC Death Comes to Pemberley (P&P), Daniel Percival & Juliette Towhidi (Anna Maxwell Martin, Mathew Rhys)
2007 Mockingbird/John Calley The Jane Austen Book Club (all 6), Robin Swicord (Mario Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt)
2006 Warner Bros. Lake House (Persuasion), Agresti & Auburn (Sandra Bullock, Keenu Reeves, Christopher Plummer)


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in reverie, during a walk, facing the river (Miss Austen Regrets)

Biopic

008 BBC/WBGH Miss Austen Regrets (from David Nokes’ biography & JA’s letters) Lovering & Hughes (Olivia Willias, Greta Scacchi, Hugh Bonneville)

See my Austen Filmography for particulars

My Austen Miscellany contains links to many of the blog-reviews I’ve written.


Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood wandering: as Elinor is my favorite of all the heroines, so Hattie Morahan is nowadays my favorite embodiment (Davies’s S&S, Part 3)

Ellen

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Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell, a companion-mentor as Mrs Weston to Emma rather than the more severe mother-substitute of the book (Persuasion 2022) —  I like her hats & clothing


Sandra Bullock as Dr Kate Foster, the Anne Elliot character, explains the meaning of her favorite novel, Persuasion, to Alex Wyler (Wentworth, now an architect) as she understands it (Lake House, 2007)

Friends and readers,

Many people may not know there have been six Persuasion film adaptations: I’ve never seen the 1960 British serial (it is probably wiped out), but this past week under the influence of, or having an impulse after seeing the latest American commercial Netflix product, I watched the extant other four (the 1971 BBC Persuasion; the 1995 BBC Persuasion; 2007 indie with Warner Bros Lake House; and the 2007 ITV & WBGH Persuasion) and then re-watched the latest, while taking down the screenplay as best I could (remember my stenography). I’ve read the book countless times; it was once my favorite novel by Austen. And written countless postings in many places and given papers on the book in conferences too.

The burden of my song here will be that this new adaptation resembles the older ones in numerous ways; there is nothing startlingly different. So I oppose most of the negative reviews (here’s an intelligent one from the New Yorker: A Not Very Persuasive Persuasion; and here are two likening it to a British TV serial, Fleabag; “it feels like the death of something”) and an unusual very positive one from Vogue (appropriately they find it ever so stylish). What the new Persuasion does do is alter the character of the heroine; and that’s where I think the deep offence comes. The central core of an Austen book is its heroine (or paired heroines); she or they are the genius loci of each book. Now Patrice Rozema altered the character of Fanny Price for her 1999 Mansfield Park and the audience was delighted; but this is a special case where many readers of Austen don’t like the book because they don’t like the heroine, and Rosema’s sarky character is drawn from the Austen’s letters and the narrator of the Juvenilia. In the case of Persuasion, most readers love Anne Elliot, and to remove her and her depths of emotion is to remove the central appeal and themes of the book.

So, first to make my case by a brief survey of the four

To me it’s no coincidence that the film I consider the outstanding best of all the Austen films made to date, is a Persuasion one from the stellar years for Austen films, the 1990s: the 1995 one directed by Roger Michell, screenplay Nick Dear: Two lonely, nay stranded people trying to reach one another; Poetry, Music and Place. There are so many persuasive gloriously humanly felt scenes, and wonderfully effective talk and movement and colors, I can’t begin to suggest the quality of this film so content myself with one still of Fiona Shaw speaking from the heart about how she was only lonely when she did not accompany the admiral aboard ship, which was every time after the first

This film and the 2007 one are deeply evocative of the heroine’s inner nature and they stand in contrast to the new film; this is like the new film for bringing us intense dialogue interaction, eye interaction between hero and heroine.


One of many, Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth ends sharing the center with Amanda Root as Anne

The ITV 2007 resembles or anticipates the new (2022) one in that the film is ostensibly of the faithful heritage type, but departs in a number of ways from the original story line, including a change in the character of the central heroine. I don’t care for the truncated ending, especially the last scene where Anne blindfolded, let’s Wentworth guide her where he will (he improbably has purchased Kellynch for her, and it looks way too big for them). But the truly brilliant actress, Sally Hawkins as Anne conveys a level of distraught emotional pain (a barely submerged romantic hysteria that is felt in other of Austen’s books too now and again) that is almost alarming. But this is not replacing or changing the character, it is deepening the psychology to its logical conclusion. Hawkins carries the film, central to it, speaking to silently through her eyes, going over her precious relics (his letters, the small gifts that she keeps in a cherished box). I wrote a blog for this too: Anne grieving:

Shergold and Michell equally brings out the book’s subtexts for Mr Elliot (in Tobias Menzies’ subtle performance an insinuating desire), and a memorably disabled empathetic Harville (Joseph Mawle, also seen strikingly in two Foyle episodes as a wounded soldier returned)

Arguably, Lakehouse avoided high irritation because it was not marketed as an Austen adaptation — nowadays slender hooks are enough to label something “Austen adaptation” (though I’m told Fire Island is really a very free adaptation of Pride and Prejudice — “you have to see it to feel this” is what is said). Agresti made a brilliant meditation on the question of whether love may be retrieved years later, on the probable intervention of death (aging is an important theme in Austen’s book). Here is my full explanation of this fascinating contemporary take


The magical dwelling made of glass (on stilts over the lake) with the mailbox seen in front through which across time our hero and heroine reach one another until time and death cut them off

It is rarely recognized because the storyline is different; the Persuasion origin is shown through the four times the book, a Norton edition, is part of the story. The first time Kate left it by mistake on a bench in railway station, and Alex Wyler, the architect hero picks it up for her. Kate says it is about how a couple came near to falling in love and didn’t and years later met again and fell in love but didn’t manage to pull it off and stay together. That time could not be retrieved. But we know that Wentworth and Anne loved; they were parted by others, and when they met again, and loved again they retrieved time and stayed together. The second time she just has it to hand and seems to read from it an axiom: the lovers must get together, “how can two hearts so open, tastes so similar, feelings so in unison” remain apart; the last time the now battered copy pulled out from under the floor causes her to cry.

If my reader/watcher has the patience to enter into the older dramaturgy, there is much to be said for the long lingering 1971 BBC film. Bryan Marshall was a wonderfully complex Wentworth; the fine actor had intelligent dialogue to speak, and the adaptation kept close to the book, showing the hero only slowly recognizing his love, and the renewed threat to it.


Wentworth returned from sea, a worn man, seeing Anne again for the first time It is the closest of all five (and probably the sixth) to the book, but it is innovative.

The innovation in 1971 was the use of landscape, filming at length in the countryside (each of the walks), and close to a rough seashore in Lyme.


Three separate highly varied sequences of landscape represented by just one


The stone portico leads into wild waters (the 2007 film was filmed just here, the same angle)

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Dakota Johnson as our new Anne (this is not the only time she makes a fool of herself — she once spills the wine she is supposed to be endlessly drinking all over her head)

As I suggested it’s the new Anne who won’t do. There is no need for me to repeat the many descriptions of this new Anne — she is all over the Net just now. I do have some qualifications about the aesthetics of the presentation. The idea that Dakota Johnson talking to us comes from Fleabag is nonsense — it is not uncommon for Austen heroines in Austen films to speak to us, because it is not uncommon for women’s films to do this. Second, those who say this show they watch only popular films made with a male audience in mind and there both voice-over and talking at the audience are taboo.

It’s also absurd to say adddressing an audience and over-voice are undramatic. The character establishes a relationship with the viewer: examples, 1999 Rozema MP (who is really sarky and gets jokes out while this dialogue for Dakota is simply dull), 1993 Ruby in Paradise (an appropriation of Northanger Abbey), the 2007 MP Fanny Price, Bridget Jones, one of the Emma movies (Gweneth Paltrow writing in a diary to us). Voice over is everywhere in Outlander but notably only in one episode does the hero do it — and very effective it is. It’s considered intellectual or beneath a male dignity most of the time.

I can see Rothman’s point that maybe this ever-so-cool semi-sarky posturing is a veneer over anguish; she certainly sees the flaws in her family (as did Ann Firbank in the long ago 1971 film — very candidly and angrily). Anne is given many witty lines as is the obnoxious not just jealous but domineering Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce). If the Vogue article is right, and this is a modern sensibility, then nasty cracks are in (both Musgrove girls get in some), and sensitivity out, unless it’s well-hidden or morphs into self-deprecation. The new Anne recalls the 1940s housewife popular book, The Egg and I.


Cosmo Jarvis as Wentworth

What most interested me in the film was the changes in Wentworth. At first he participates in the film’s (to me distressing) philistine insults of Anne’s grief: she is accused of being sullen because she sits outside the family circle; it’s a way it seems of making herself stand out. How dare she? (These film-makers believe a mass audience demands social conformity.) But within a brief time, he changes presumably by being around her (during the now familiar walk) and is not only her barrier against the children and helper into a carriage, but openly loving. Viewers have ignored the de-masculinization of Wentworth; there is no hint of toxic or guarded masculinity. He does not dress up, but very much down. Look at his wrinkled and ill-fitting clothes. He needs a wash. He’s like a male out of a Hardy novel. One problem here was Jarvis was perhaps uncomfortable in the role; as an actor, he reminds me of Aiden Turner, too stiff.

As I suggested above, the changes in Lady Russell to make her a companion is what is seen in Austen’s own Emma — and I did love their scenes picnicking (over macaroons), and walking and talking; this Lady Russell is no enemy to Wentworth because she is no snob (I wonder if her blackness was part of a sense of egalitarianism). Mr Elliot (Henry Golding) is altered too – to be a smooth (to me slim-y) hypocrite. On the other hand, the development of Louisa (Nia Towle) as genuinely attracted to Wentworth (not just a child worshipping the glamorous man who she intuits needs prompting to pay attention to her) is appealing. A sense of friendship between Anne and Louisa thickens the movie’s feel. But as with the 2007 Persuasion, some of the characters were either not differentiated sufficiently, not felt as presences (the Crofts, the older Musgroves, Mrs Clay, Henrietta). Charles was simply good-natured and well-meaning (not truly annoyed by Mary), but I admit I found Ben Bailey the handsomest or most physically appealing male in the cast.


Charles with Mary in church (the plot-point that he loved Anne before marrying Mary is kept)

Or they were caricatures (Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Mrs Clay). Of course both films were too short (2007 was also 90 minutes).

I found it interesting to trace the screenplay but this also brought out how little of Austen’s language survives. The deepest appeal of the 1995, 2007 and 1971 movies is how much of Austen’s language they keep and how meaningful they make it.

It is the most integrated costume drama I’ve seen, and not seemingly blindly so, for people’s appearance is kept in mind: Charles and Mary’s children look like what their union would produce

But I cannot really praise this film — it ends like the 2007 with Anne in the arms of Wentworth. One can say of Sally Hawkins she was active on behalf of her family; worked for them, and visited Mrs Smith (I missed Mrs Smith in this film), showed some individual character. This Anne begins in Wentworth’s arm and ends there — like a child with its mother. How is a film a contemporary one which gives the woman watching it this kind of central figure?

My reader may remember I intensely disliked parts of the recent Emma, for (among other things) losing the whole meaning of the second half of the book (the Jane Fairfax story), erasing any feminism or relationship between Harriet and Emma that could be vicarious sex or lesbian, and the sexing up of Mr Knightley to the point his pants were so tight one could see the outline of his penis. I have a much more mixed reaction here, and say merely that the “new” Persuasion shares much with the other Persuasion films, but is probably the poorest thus far because the film-makers did not sympathize with the inner life of the book.

I close on two reviews which appeared in the Washington Post: Sonia Rao said Dakota Johnson is being misused again! Johnson’s career includes the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey. Now I didn’t know that. She then also brings the baggage of soft-core porn. Martine Powers wrote the movie made her remember how much loss and grief she had experienced during the pandemic — partly because Anne was so alone. She opens the review by talking of the book and perhaps she poured into this movie memories of the book. Powers said it speaks to caregivers! This is such a misread I’m startled. Anne is never alone; she is never trusted to do anything in this film — except stay with the useless complaining Mary. If this is what is to be done nowadays in a heritage type film marketed as an Austen product (to make money), or how they are used, understood, then stick to appropriations, modern dress. Better yet, write an original story instead.

Ellen

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Arthur Parker (Turlough Convery) and Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) — a convincingly warmly congenial couple: they act out of kindness to one another, actually talk to one another, support one another — I am sure I am not alone in wishing this Parker brother’s implicit homosexuality had not gotten in the way

The three friends: Alison Parker (Rosie Graham), Charlotte’s younger romantic sister; Charlotte (Rose Williams), once again our grave heroine; and Georgiana, wary, distrustful, somewhat alienated

Dear friends and readers,

Two and one-half years of pandemic later, Andrew Davies’s creation of an experimental Sanditon (alas he wrote the last episode only) returned. It resembles the first (see Episodes 1-4: by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea; and 5-8: zigzagging into a conclusion in which nothing is concluded) by its use of a too many stories at once, one of which is over-the-top melodrama: centered again in Edward Denham (Jack Fox), Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky) as his now discarded pregnant mistress, and Esther (Charlotte Spencer) become Lady Babbington desperate for a child.


An aggressive Esther & vulnerable Clara as enemies at the harsh-mouthed tactless Lady Denham’s (Anne Reid) table

Life is again a matter of pleasures in which all the characters participate: this time it’s a fair or summer festival complete with a contemporary balloon ride dared by Charlotte and the Wickham character of the piece, Colonel Lennox (Tom Weston-Jones), rescued by Arthur (this character is the quiet true hero of this season); another ball, afternoon garden party, complete with archery (in lieu of cricket),


The male rivals: Colborne in front, Lennox to the back

with a sequence of magical dancing between Charlotte caught up, entranced and entrancing, her seemingly Rochester-like employer, Alexander Colborne:

Tom Parker (Kris Marshall) is still irresponsible, getting into debt, now at a loss without Sidney; Mary (Kate Ashfield), his long-suffering prosaic wife turned mother-figure by his side. There is whimsy; many individuals walk or ride along the seashore; too many shirtless men.


Tom Parker confronting Captain Lennox over debt — interestingly, this is a motif from Austen’s draft as continued by Anna Lefroy

But it differs too, most obviously in that several of the central actors & actresses had long since signed other contracts when it seemed there would be no second season. Thus this season the first episode is taken up with grieving for the suddenly dead (in Antigua) Sidney (Theo James), and in the last he (together with Arthur) improbably saves all by proxy when his box arrives, with money (he was always good for that in the previous season) and letters exposing villains: Charles Lockhart [Alexander Vlahos] turns out to be no innocent painter seeking Georgiana’s hand, but the nephew of her white planter-father seeking to replace her as heir. Esther has to appear sans mari (Mark Stanley), so we have to endure a silly gaslight story where Edward steals Babbington’s letters, as he tries to poison Esther so his baby son by Clara can be Lady Denham’s only heir. Diana (Alexandra Roach siphoned off to another series) was no longer catering to and making a hypochondriac out of Arthur, much to the improvement of Arthur.

New men were supplied: a lying soldier, William Carter (Maxim Ays) who Willoughby-like pretends to the poetry-loving Alison he loves and writes poetry when it’s the physically brave and truthful Captain Fraser (Frank Blake) who’s the poet and love-letter writer. Alison is, however, an innocuous boringly innocent Marianne with no serious story about sexual awakening (as has Austen’s heroine).


On the beach during one of the many festive occasions, time out to look at one’s cell phone

I did miss Mr Stringer (Leo Suter) — we hear he is doing well as an architect in London. A mildly comic vicar-type, Rev Hankins (Kevin Elder) and his well-meaning sister-chaperon for Georgiana, Miss Beatrice Hankins, spinster (Sandy McDade) thicken the scenes’ comedy nicely (as in a recipe).

The addition with a sense of weight and original presence is Alexander Colborne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) — his romance with Charlotte had some convincing darker emotions: years before his wife, Lucy, had left him for London, not liking his tendency to a withdrawn awkward state, and been seduced by the Wickham-Lennox who provides obstacles to Charlotte and Colborne’s relationship in the form of lies (he accused Colborne of what he had done). Guilt and anger and depression keeps him isolating himself from Lucy’s daughter by Lennox (Flora Mitchell as Leonora who dresses up as a boy – some hints at a trans person there), and a resentful niece, Augusta Markam (Eloise Webb).

Charlotte has declared now that Sidney is dead, she has thought the better of marriage and will instead support herself and is hired by Colborne by the end of the first episode to care for and teach his daughters. She brings the whole family out of their obsessive cycles of reproach, self-inflicted frustration and loneliness — by her patience, compassion, inventiveness. This is the over-arching story and along with Arthur and Georgiana’s relationship, it’s the most alive and interesting matter in the season. Here is this pair learning about one another at a picnic:


Charlotte and her employer, Alexander Colbourne reach some understanding

What one can say on behalf of this very commercialized semi-Austen product in itself? First the dialogue and language in general is a cross-between 18th century styled sentences and modern demotic talk and is often witty: e.g, “how we are a stranger to our own affections” says Charlotte. Lady Denham’s way of commenting that no one chooses to be a spinster remains in our minds. The actors had to have worked hard to say lines like this in the natural quick way they do. There is a good deal of successful archness and even irony now and again. Andrew Davies’s concluding episode is the most natural seeming at this.

I very much enjoyed the imitations of story motifs and patterns in Austen’s novels: beyond those already mentioned, Rose Williams has managed to recapture the feel of the heritage Austen heroines: self-sacrifice, earnestness, perceptive behavior combines with a strong sense of selfhood. She is a kind of Elinor Dashwood blended with Elizabeth Bennet; Colborne is a Darcy figure as much as Rochester — at first Charlotte believes Lennox’s lies. Mr Lockhart’s painting Miss Lambe echoes the picture-making in Emma. The picnic again put me in mind of Emma. When Fraser gives Alison a wrapped book as a present and tells her how he values her friendship is a repeat of Edward’s gift of wrapped book to Elinor in Davies’s 2009 Sense and Sensibility so disappointing Elinor with a similar avowal and retreat.


On the other side of the wall, the other characters are listening, hoping for the proposal that finally comes

The worst: the experience is jerky, not smooth, the dialogues at time absurdly short, and as I felt with the previous season (more than 2 years ago), scenes seem not rehearsed or edited enough. I also concede that much that goes on would have horrified Austen as romance material; nevertheless, Clara’s baby out of wedlock can be found central to an off-stage and on-stage stories (e.g., Charlotte Smith’s) in the era; Charlotte Spencer shows her real talent for acting when she is transformed into a such a sweetly gratified mother upon adopting Clara’s baby. Turlough Convery, Rose Williams, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Charlotte Spencer all provide credible varied depths of feeling to their scenes.

I noticed the film-makers used the same music as in the first season – very cheerful and sprightly and the continuity as well as the well-drawn paratext animation (cut-outs in the old Monty Python style) brings back memories lingering from the previous season.


Much good feeling

It was filmed in the same or similar places (Wales, Dyrham Park)

Again the series ended with a cliff-hanger. At the last moment when Charlotte is expecting Colborne to propose at long last, he demurs. We are left to surmise he is afraid he will disappoint her as he did his wife (Lennox needles him as also at fault in the failure of his marriage) but Charlotte is now tired of being batted about (so to speak). She took a lot of punishment from Sidney and now she is being twisted and turned off by Colborne.  The sequence goes this way:  his older daughter, Augusta, scolds him for not opening up to Miss Heywood and demands Colborne thank Charlotte deeply for all she’s done:


A family once again (and it does not matter that they are not biological father and daughters)

Colborne is to ask Charlotte to stay by marrying her.  But when he goes off to propose, Charlotte rejects him.  The series overdid this turn and undermined it thematically by having her two months later announce that she is at long last engaged to Ralph Starling (who we heard about as a long-standing suitor back at Willenden).

The sudden new information (from Sidney’s box) that Georgiana’s mother is alive after all and her determination, now that she has been taken in by the Parker family, to find her mother was another obvious bridge: there is an unaccounted for black woman who works for Colborne; she does not behave like an enslaved person. Two people I know said they expect her to turn out to be (what a coincidence! like a fairytale Shakespeare ending) Georgiana’s mother.


Flo Wilson plays the role of Mrs Wheatley (I could not find any stills of her in costume): her last name alludes to the black American 18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley

I will watch Season 3; I even look forward to it. The film-makers are trying to make a sort of Austen sequel-film, a somewhat heritage type criss-crossed by modern behavior and ideas and appropriations. We must forgive them when they pander too obviously now and again: Alison as the princess bride does not do too much harm. It is a series with its heart and mind in the right moral place: any series that can make Turlough Convery, a heavy-set non-macho male who is a superb actor (I’ve seen him as a scary thug, and in Les Miserables he was the most moving of the revolutionaries) the male we most like, admire, and know we can depend on, is worth supporting.


Arthur — the question is, did he really say it was that he was so attracted to Lockhart that he advised Georgiana not to dump him …

Ellen

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Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price, writing to her brother, amid her “nest of comforts” (which includes many books) in 1983 BBC Mansfield Park

“Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (Carol Shields, Mary Swann).

La bibliothèque devient une aventure” (Umberto Eco quoted by Chantal Thomas, Souffrir)

Dear friends, readers — lovers of Austen and of books,

Over on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, I provided the four photos it takes to capture most of my books on and by Anthony Trollope, and explained why. You may also find a remarkably informative article on book ownership in England from medieval times on and what makes up a library. I thought I’d match that blog with a photo of my collection of books by and on Jane Austen, and in her case, books about her family, close friends, specific aspects of her era having to do with her. Seven shelves of books.

I have a second photo of 3 wide shelves filled with my DVD collection (I have 33 of the movies and/or serial TV films), my notebooks of screenplays and studies of these films, as well as books on Austen films of all sorts. These three shelves also contain my books of translations of Austen into French and/or Italian, as well as a numerous sequels, many of which I’ve not had the patience or taste to read but have been given me.

My book collection for Austen is smaller than my own for Trollope because even though I have many more books on her, she wrote only seven novels, left three fragments, some three notebooks of juvenilia, and a remnant of her letters is all that survives. For each of her novels or books I have several editions, but that’s still only seven plus. By contrast, Trollope wrote 47 novels and I won’t go on to detail all his other writing. OTOH, there are fewer books on him, and the movie adaptations of his books are in comparison very few.


There’s no equivalent movie for The Jane Austen Book Club where members vow to read all Jane Austen all the time

So although I won’t go to the absurdity of photographing my many volumes of the periodical Persuasions, and what I have of the Jane Austen Society of Britain bulletin like publications, I can show the little row of books I’m reading just now about her and towards a paper for the Victorian Web.

The project includes reading some Victorian novels written with similar themes, and Henry James’s Spoils of Poynton; for me it is true that Austen is at the center of a group of women (and men too) writers and themes that mean a lot to me, so I have real libraries of other women writers I have read a great deal of and on and have anywhere from two to three shelves of books for and by, sometimes in the forms of folders:

these are Anne Radcliffe (one long and half of a very long bookshelf), Charlotte Smith (two long bookshelfs), Fanny Burney (three, mostly because of different sets of her journals), George Eliot (one long and half of another long bookshelf), Gaskell (two shorter bookshelves), Oliphant (scattered about but probably at least one very long bookshelf). Virginia Woolf is another woman writer for whom I have a considerable library, and of course Anne Finch (where the folders and notebooks take up far more room than any published books).

As with Trollope starting in around the year 2004 I stopped xeroxing articles, and now have countless in digital form in my computer; I also have a few books on Austen digitally. The reason I have so many folders for Smith, Oliphant, Anne Finch (and other women writers before the 18th century) is at one time their books were not available except if I xeroxed a book I was lucky enough to find in a good university or research library. You found your books where you could, went searching in second hand book stores with them in mind too.

One of my favorite poems on re-reading Jane Austen — whom I began reading at age 12, and have never stopped:

“Re-reading Jane”

To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of those needle eyes . . .
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley’s were she your equal in situation —
but consider how far this is from being the case

shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.

Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners! Hymeneal theology!
Six little circles of hell, with attendant humours.
For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?
The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr Bennet’s century;
The Garden of Eden’s still there in the grounds of Pemberley.

The amazing epitaph’s ‘benevolence of heart’
precedes ‘the extraordinary endowments of her mind’
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we’d look to you.
You knew the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely
, she spoke for you.

—– Anne Stevenson


The Jane Austen Book Club meets in a hospital when a member has a bad accident

Gentle readers, I can hardly wait to see the second season of the new Sanditon on PBS; my daughter, Laura (Anibundel) much involved with WETA (PBS) nowadays, writing reviews and such, who has read the fragment and books about Austen tells me it is another good one.


Chapman’s classic set (appears as Christmas present in Stillman’s Metropolitan): for our first anniversary Jim bought me a copy of Sense and Sensibility in the Chapman set (1924, without the later pastoral cover)

Ellen

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18th century writing-slope: sometimes called a writing-box, or writing-desk

Hans Mayer had written: “Identity is possible only through attachment.” Christa Wolf responds: “What he does not say in so many words but knows from experience is that identity is forged by resisting intolerable conditions, which means we must not allow attachments to deteriorate into dependency but must be able to dissolve them again if the case demands it (Wolf, Parting with Phantoms, 1990-1994)

Austen could not dissolve these attachments but resisted mightily and yet without admitting resistance. This idea can be also applied as a general summation of part of D W. Harding’s famous essay on Austen’s satiric comedy, “Regulated Hatred.”

Dear friends and readers,

You may be yourself in your own life tired of virtual life and longing to turn to in-person life: I am and am not. Over the past two weeks I had a number of wonderful experiences on-line, virtually, which I would not have been able to reach in person: a London Trollope society reading group, a musical concert at the Smithsonian, a good class at Politics and Prose, held at night when I cannot drive. I also longed to truly be with people too — it’s physical places as much as communicating directly with people, casually, seeing one another’s legs and feet, but for even most the alternative was nothing at all. I think I am enjoying these virtual experiences so because they are laid on a groundwork of memory (I’ve been there or with these people), imagination (extrapolation), much reading (shared with the other participants) and visual and aural media.

All this to say I’ve been attending the Bath250 conference, officially held or zoomed out from the University of Liverpool, for several late nights and for the past evening and two days I’ve attended a full virtual version of the EC/ASECS conference. I’ve gone to EC/ASECS almost every year since 2000, and since Jim died, every year. This is the second year in row we (they) have postponed the plan to go to the Winterthur Museum for our sessions, and stay by a nearby hotel. Our topic this year has been what’s called Material Culture: A virtual prelude, but there was nothing of the prelude about the papers and talks. I will be making a couple of blogs of these in order to remember what was said in general myself and to convey something of the interest, newness and occasional fascination (from the Educational Curator of Winterthur) of what was said — with one spell-binding Presidential talk by Joanne Myers, “My Journal of the Plague Year.”


18th century lined trunk

For tonight I thought I’d lead off with the one talk or paper I can given in full, my own, which I was surprised to find fit in so well with both what was said at Bath250 and the topics at EC/ASECS, from costumes in the theater as central to the experience, to libraries and buildings, to harpsichords and pianofortes now at Winterthur. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned this paper, but it has undergone real changes (see my discussion of early plan and inspiration), and is now seriously about how a study of groups of words for containers (boxes, chests, trunks, parcels, pockets) and meaning space shows the significance for Austen of her lack of control or even literally ownership of precious real and portable possessions and private space to write, to dream, simply to be in. I’ve a section on dispossessions and possessions in the Austen films now too.

I’ve put it on academia.edu

A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Identity in Jane Austen


Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) packing her writings away in the trunks in what was their Norland bedroom (2009 Sense and Sensibility, scripted Andrew Davies

At the last moment I added a section on women’s pockets and pocketbooks in the 18th century and as found in Austen’s novels. An addendum to the paper.

And a bibliography.

Ellen

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IAlice (Keeley Hawes) and her daughter, Charlotte (Isabella Pappas) (Finding Alice, Episode 1).



1940a photograph of Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps; the basis of the film, Come See the Paradise

“Something had been done in the way of raising money by selling the property of convicted secessionists; and while I was there eight men were condemned to be shot for destroying railway bridges. ‘But will they be shot?” I asked of one of the officers. ‘Oh, yes. It will be done quietly and no one will know anything about it. We shall get used to that kind of thing presently’… It is surprising how quickly a people can reconcile themselves to altered circumstances, when the change comes upon them without the necessity of an expressed opinion of their own. Personal freedom has been considered as necessary to the American of the States as the air he breathes.” — Trollope on the civil War in North America


Portrait shot of one of several variants 1949-1957 TV versions of I Remember Mama


Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) looking up at Marianne and hearing her extravaganzas with patience (2009 BBC S&S, Andrew Davies)

Dear friends,

Tonight, I thought I’d bring together three movies which center on women or can be related to women and seem to me good and significant movies to watch relevant to us today. As an experiment, for fun, I’ve been watching the Austen movies (a subgenre, some 37 at this point) and end on a pattern others may not have noticed. As I’ve been doing, the blog will not be overlong.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching a 6 part ITV (British) serial story, Finding Alice. I was drawn to it because its central role, Alice, a woman at least in her later 30s, whose husband dies suddenly from a fall over a steep staircase, which he deliberately built without a bannister is played by Keeley Hawes, one of my favorite actresses. She used to garner central roles in costume dramas based on masterpiece books (Cynthia in Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, as scripted by Andrew Davies); or moving series on remarkable books (Louisa Durrell in The Durrells). Now she is more often found in mystery thrillers which are just that little bit better (more intelligent) than the usual. So this series sounded like a return back to her more thoughtful rich programs. Perhaps the problem with the series is it is too rich, takes too much on, and does not resolve enough of what is presented. This Guardian review by Lucy Mangan is unfair (and shows itself to be a little stupid) by singling out Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley as superior actors to all the others (I wondered if that had anything to do with their race and age); they are no better or worse at acting their roles, their roles no less or more jarring or uneven than the other characters: but she does outline the story, and I can vouch for many shining moments beyond the ones Mangan allows for.

The film plays variations on how difficult it is to accept the death of a beloved person; it projects different modes of grieving and bereavement. Rashan Stone as the man who is in charge of a hospital morgue and runs bereavement groups is superb in his role; he comforts Alice as well as himself exemplifying how someone else can deal with devastation (his daughter killed herself) and a wife whom he does not get along with (one of the variations on a daughter not able to adjust to a mother who is hostile to her). The hardest hit is Charlotte, Harry and Alice’s teenage daughter, upon whom much of Alice’s earliest antics fall — she insists on burying Harry in their garden turns out not to be such a bad idea after all. But she also wants to impregnate herself with the sperm Harry froze so that she could have another child by him — since she was (rightly) refusing at the time.


Alice in Episode 6, learning to stand alone

After the 6th episode was over and nothing much had been resolved, of several emerging conflicts, except importantly Alice had taken responsibility for all those things her partner Harry had supposedly been doing just fine, only he wasn’t. The story is the sudden death by falling down a steep staircase of the heroine’s partner. We learn pretty quickly both Alice & Harry have taken no thought for the possibility he might die — he has (it emerges by the last episode where we hear him speak his last words) regarded and treated her as a child. Been false in the way he appeared to love her. His bank account does not have her name on it, she has almost nothing in hers; he left this house he and she were supposed to be so proud to live in to his parents. His business dealings he does with women, one of whom turns out to be a semi-mistress — who may have bought (?) his sperm to impregnate her female partner with. The business is near bankruptcy. An illegitimate son appears who thinks he will inherit — but that is not accurate. If she never married Harry and so can’t automatically inherit whatever is left, how does an unrecognized bastard son inherit anything? Harry’s parents are hostile to her, want to sell the house out from under her to pay their inheritance taxes; her parents (Havers & Lumley) consist of a mean-mouthed bullying mother and a weak father who finally seems to leave his wife who openly cuckolds him in the last episode). Many episodes contain such a multitude of complex emotions one cannot begin to cover the ground so richly sown.

This review by Reece Goodall falls into the very trap I suggest the movie wants to preclude: the idea that people don’t let go a lot when they grieve; that they know to be tactful and to live in and within themselves. Anything else is not adult. Sure, in public, but not in private which is where these scenes delve. I grant at the third episode I began to feel this was an attempt to present ever-so-modern patterns of living and taste in a voyeuristically morbid vein, but then in the fourth an upswing begins where we see the point is to show us Alice slowly discovering she is an individual, what kind of person she is, what are her real tastes. I don’t think the only way you can assert your independence is to give other people who are trying to cheat you a hard time, but it is one of those things a woman living alone will have to deal with alone.

At its end you get a message telling you where you can contact counselors to help you through bereavement — quite seriously — the creators just did not know how to cope with what they are presenting to a wider popular audience so they become “constructive.” I see another season is planned (or was). I hope it comes back and becomes less unsteady, giving more time to each set of characters and incidents.

****************************************************


Movie poster

Coherent and beautiful is the indie, Come See the Paradise, written and directed by Alan Parker. It opens with a mother in her early 30s walking with a young adolescent girl child. They are traveling by train to re-meet the father and husband whom they have not seen for years. The mother tells the girl the history she does not understand for her father was take away when she was around 4. This flashback movie then tells from the point of view of the Japanese woman who is attached equally to her family and American husband and is herself self-sufficient, upright.

Hers is the story of them as a young couple, American young man who was involved as a non-professional (non-degreed) lawyer in a union in the 1930s who falls in love with Japanese girl whose parents are about to marry her off to a much older man. In 1942, over 100,000 Americans were interned in prison camps in the USA. Well this extraordinary complete violation of human rights (it was against the law in many states for a white American to marry a Japanese person and they were not permitted to become citizens unless they were born here) hits hard on these lives that are slowly presented. We see the young couple try to persuade her parents; they cannot so they elope. Several years go by and Jack (Dennis Quaid) has involved himself again in striking; Lily (Tamlyn Naomi Tomita) disapproves, is frightened, and when he is taken away to be arrested, flees home to her family (whom she was very attached to). When he finally gets out of jail, he comes to find her and is slowly accepted into the family by all but the father. Then the war breaks out, the internment begins. Everything is very harsh; they have to give up all their property and live in a camp in crowded impoverished conditions. Eventually the young men are coerced into fighting for the USA or accept being sent back to Japan. Jack finds he cannot stay with them and spends most of the war as a soldier. He is finally recognized as a labor agitator and re-sent to jail. So the film is pro labor too — like his Japanese brother-in-law, Jack has a no-choice: go to jail or endure military service. The two stories intertwine and reinforce one another. There is a fine use of music; some of the scenes are very moving; the use of colors is careful and effective. I do not think think it at all exaggerated or exploitative or smug or over-angry. The Karamura family slowly changes; they learn to appreciate Jack; they hang together and they also make individual choices that bring out their characters and need for usefulness, joy, respect.


One of several parting scenes

Recently there has been an increase in violence towards Asian people. Incited by the truly evil man, Trump, to blame Asian people for the coronavirus, older atavistic prejudices have come forward.  This time it was a massacre of eight people, six Asian women, in Georgia by a young white very sullen-looking man. In his recent speech before this incident Biden mentioned the way Asian-Americans have been treated since the pandemic started and said this has got to STOP! Tonight he and the Congress are working on helping Asian-Americans and doing what they can to discourage this virulent racism. So this film’s story is not at all obsolete. There is a sneer (!) in wikipedia: the movie is called “oscar bait” and I dare say it won no prizes because of its strong Asian theme. It is a bit long because it wants to get us to the qualified happy ending — retreat for this intermarried family.

Here is Ebert’s excellent review (1991): how easily it seems our assumed liberties can be taken from us; Caryn James of the New York Times: when our people were victimized right here; Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality.


Mr Karamura accepting Jack who tells him that this family is his family, he loves them and they love him ….

I don’t know how or why Roosevelt could have allowed this — it is a blotch on his record, very bad. I know how he (in effect) threw Black people under the bus (what an inadequate metaphor) to keep the southern democrats with him. Also how social security did not include cleaning women and other lower end self-employed people — often Black people.

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The political story of I remember Mama is told here It immediately belongs to the history of suppression of any socialistic feelings which came to a head in the early 1950s with the McCarthy hearings of the HUAC; long range it belongs to women’s studies: Gertrude Berg invented, wrote, starred in this development from an earlier genteel white stage play and made a resounding hit of it — despite studio feeling that Americans don’t want Jewish stories either. Berg had a very hard time getting the shows any sponsorship originally.

Then after the success, the show was forced off the air — in effect. The executives cared more about stamping out socialism than monetary success when it came to a Jewish ethnic show. I love Lucy wasn’t touched because it was seen as all-American (but for the unfortunate Cuban husband). The man playing the father, Philip Loeb, a professional stage actor was active in the labor movement; that was enough to get him was black-listed; the show never recovered from his departure and other changes insisted upon. It’s all lies that Americans would not tolerate a divorced person, a Jew or a person from NY on their TV shows. This shows how the channels and big media colluded absolutely with the wave and institution across the US in the fifties of anti-social democratic movements everywhere in every way. They wanted it to be that US people not tolerate Jewish people. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong does tell us that in life Gertrude Berg did not wear housedresses, but swathed herself in silk, furs and jewels.

I did not know this story. I do remember some of the earliest sit-coms, replaying on morning TV — there was one about a daughter and father with a matinee idol as the father (My Little Margie?); another about a secretary (Suzy?); of course I Love Lucy. A Jim Bakkus. Amos ‘n Andy was still playing at night in 1955/56 when we got our TV.

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Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth (1979 BBC P&P, Fay Weldon)

So to conclude, once again watching all the Austen movies (I’ve watched more than these, see my blog with more recent Austen movies, viz., P&P and Zombies, Whit Stillman’s Love and Freindship, Sanditon, &c I own or can rent: in general, just about all Austen movies made for paying cinema are versions of Screwball comedies or high erotic romance, from the 1940s P&P, to McGrath’s 1996 candied Emma, Wright’s 2005 Lawrentian P&P, to Bride and Prejudice and the recent travesty 2019 Emma, not to omit the 1995 Clueless and P&P and Zombies. Just about all the serial TV Austen movies are centrally melodramatic, presenting Austen’s material as familial drama exceptions are the occasional gothic (Maggie Wadey’s 1987 NA) and but once only a genuine ironic but gentle satire, the 1972 Constanduros Emma (it falls down today on the visuals, the way the characters are dressed just won’t do). This is true of the three short 2007 films (MP, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey; Wadey, with a spectacular performance by Sally Hawkins, and Andrew Davies) and the 2009 Emma (Sandy Welch) and Sense and Sensibility (again Davies) Many have been made by women, and even in the cinema versions, one finds that women’s aesthetics predominate: the use of letters, a voice-over female narrator, a pretend diary. The Jane Austen Book Club belongs here.


Romola Garai as Emma practicing after the assembly (2009 BBC Emma, Sandy Welch)

For my part in general I vastly prefer the TV choice of genre, though neither captures Austen’s inimitable mix. Perhaps the closest that ever came to her were a few in the “golden years” of the pre-Thatcher BBC — the 1971 Sense and Sensibility (again Constanduros), the 1979 Pride and Prejudice (Fay Weldon) with its emphatic bringing out of Elizabeth’s inner sensibility and quiet wit and also the 1995 A&E Pride & Prejudice (Andrew Davies) taken as a whole. I am a real fan of Andrew Davies (there are a large number of blogs dedicated to films by him, and one of my published papers is on his two films from Trollope (HKHWR and TWWLN)


Wonderful passing time moment: Jane (Susannah Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) walking and talking

That’s all from me around the ides of March.

Ellen

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From the East Central region, American Society of 18th century Studies site: Art and Rarity Cabinet c. 1630 by Hans III Jordaens


Cassandra’s portrait drawing of Jane Austen graces the JASNA home page

Dear friends and readers,

Since 2000 I have gone almost every year to the East Central (regional ASECS) meeting, and I have gone to a number of the JASNA meetings. In view of the covid pandemic (now having killed 223,000 people in the US, with the number rising frighteningly daily), this year EC/ASECS decided to postpone their plan to meet in the Winterthur museum to next year and instead do an abbreviated version of what they do yearly.

By contrast, the JASNA Cleveland group did everything they could to replicate everything that usually goes on at at JASNA, only virtually, through zooms, videos, websites. It was an ambitious effort, marred (unfortunately) because (why I don’t know) much didn’t go quite right (to get to somewhere you had to take other options). It was “rolled out” something like the usual JASNA, a part at a time, so you could not plan ahead or compare easily or beforehand; but now is onsite, all at once, everything (at long last) working perfectly. I visited (or attended or whatever you want to call these experiences) two nights ago and last night, and can testify that since I usually myself go to listen to the papers at the sessions or lectures, I probably enjoyed the JASNA more than I usually do at the usual conference. If you didn’t care for what you were seeing or hearing for whatever reason, it was very easy to click away; you could see what was available all at once, watch far more than one intended to be given at the same time. You can skim along using your cursor …

IN this blog I offer a brief review of both conferences.

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A detail from one of Canaletto’s paintings from around the Bacino Di San Marco, Venice: a lady and gentleman

In our “Brief Intermission,” for EC/ASECS, on Friday, in the evening we had our aural/oral experience, a couple of hours together where we read 18th century poetry and occasionally act out an abbreviated version of a play; during the later afternoon we had one panel of papers, this one about researching unusual subjects itself. Saturday morning, there was one panel of papers by graduate students competing for the Molin prize (given out for excellence to a paper by a graduate student each year); than at 1 pm there was the business meeting (sans lunch unless you were eating from wherever you were while you attended the zoom), and the Presidential Address: this year a splendid one, appropriate to the time, John Heins describing the creation, history and grounds of Dessau-Worlitz Park (Garden Realm) in Eastern Germany, a World Heritage site, with the theme of trying to experience a place fully although you are not literally there by its images, conjuring up in one’s mind, the place we might like to be but are not in. I didn’t count but my impression was we had anywhere from 25 (the aural/oral fun) to 37/40 people for the four sessions. I enjoyed all of it, as much (as other people said) to be back with friends, see familiar faces, talk as friends (chat before and after papers).

I will single out only a couple of papers from Friday’s panel. First, Jeremy Chow’s paper, “Snaking the Gothic” was in part about the way animals are portrayed in 18th century culture, focusing on snakes. It seems the identification as poisonous (fearful) led to their being frequently used erotically. I found this interesting because of an incident in one of the episodes of the fifth Season of Outlander where a bit from a poisonous snake threatens to make an amputation of Jamie’s lower leg necessary but a combination of 20th century knowhow, and 18th century customs, like cutting the snake’s head off, extracting the venom and using it as an antidote becomes part of the way his leg is saved. In other words, it is used medically. Ronald McColl, a special collections librarian, spoke on William Darlington, American physician, botanist and politician whose life was very interesting (but about whom it is difficult to find information).

People read from or recited a variety of texts in the evening; I read aloud one of my favorite poems by Anne Finch, The Goute and the Spider (which I’ve put on this blog in another posting). I love her closing lines of comforting conversation to her suffering husband.

For You, my Dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yett so poor to fright the Gout away:
May you but some unfrequent Visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that Grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the Nuptial state admitt
Such cares but new endeaments ot begett,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first Maid a Husband, Him a Wife.

People read from novels too. This session everyone was relatively relaxed, and there was lots of chat and even self-reflexive talk about the zoom experience.

The high point and joy of the time to me was John Heins’ paper on Worlitz park: he had so many beautiful images take of this quintessentially Enlightenment picturesque park (where he and his wife had been it seems several times), as he told its history, the people involved in landscaping it, how it was intended to function inside the small state, and the houses and places the different regions and buildings in the park are based on. He ended on his own house built in 1947, called Colonial style, in an area of Washington, DC, from which he was regaling us. He brought home to me how much of my deep enjoyment of costume drama and BBC documentaries is how both genres immerse the viewer in landscapes, imagined as from the past, or really extant around the world (Mary Beard’s for example). He seemed to talk for a long time, but it could not have been too long for me.


Amalia’s Grotto in the gardens of Wörlitz

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Andrew Davies’s 2019 Sanditon: our heroine, Charlotte (Rose Williams) and hero, Sidney Parker (Theo James) walking on the beach …

I found three papers from the Breakout sessions, one talk from “Inside Jane Austen’s World,”, and one interview from the Special Events of special interest to me. (Gentle reader if you want to reach these pages, you must have registered and paid some $89 or so by about a week before the AGM was put online; now go to the general page, type in a user name and password [that takes setting up an account on the JASNA home page]). The first paper or talk I found common sensical and accurate (as well as insightful) was by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, on Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. They repeated Janet Todd’s thesis in a paper I heard a few months ago: that Austen’s Sanditon shows strong influence by Northanger Abbey, which Austen had been revising just the year before. Young girl leaves loving family, goes to spa, has adventures &c. They offered a thorough description of how Davies “filled in the gaps” left by what Austen both wrote and implied about how she intended to work her draft up into a comic novel. They presented the material as an effective realization and updating of Austen’s 12 chapter draft, ironically appropriately interrupted and fragmentary. I will provide full notes from their paper in my comments on my second blog-essay on this adaptation.

The second was Douglas Murray’s “The Female Rambler Novel & Austen’s Juvenilia, concluding with a comment on Pride & Prejudice. He did not persuade me Austen’s burlesque Love and Freindship was like the genuinely rambling (picaresque) novels he discussed, but the characteristics of these as he outlined them, and his descriptions of several of them (e.g., The History of Charlotte Summer, The History of Sophia Shakespeare – he had 35 titles), & James Dickie’s study of cruelty and laughter in 18th century fiction (Doug discussed this book too, with reference to Austen), were full of interesting details made sense of. Of course Austen’s heroine, Elizabeth, as we all remember, goes rambling with her aunt and uncle in Derbyshire and lands at Pemberley just as Darcy is returning to it.


There have been some attempts at good illustration for Catherine, or the Bower

Elaine Bander’s paper, “Reason and Romanticism, or Revolution: Jane Austen rewrites Charlotte Smith in Catherine, or The Bower” interested me because of my studies and work (papers, an edition of Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake, many blogs) on Charlotte Smith. She did not persuade me that Austen seriously had in mind Smith for the parts of her story (was “re-composing” Smith’s novels). But hers is the first thorough accounting for this first and unfinished realistic courtship novel by Austen I’ve come across, and on this fragment’s relationship to an 18th century didactic work by Hannah More, to other of Austen’s novels (especially the idea of a bower as a sanctuary, a “nest of comforts”, character types, Edward Stanley a Wickham-Frank Churchill). I draw the line on the way Elaine found the aunt simply a well-meaning dominating presence: Mrs Perceval is one in a long line of cruel-tongued repressive bullying harridans found across Austen’s work. Austen is often made wholesome by commentators — I find her disquieting. Elaine suggested that Juliet McMaster (who gave a plenary lecture, and told an autobiographical story for the opening framing of the conference) in a previous Persuasions suggested a persuasive ending for the uncompleted book. Her talk was also insightful and accurate in her description of Smith’s novels, their mood, their revolutionary outlook and love of the wild natural world: “packed with romance and revolution, bitterly attacking the ancien regime, injustice, describing famous and momentous world events, including wars — quite different from Austen (I’d say) even if in this book Austen does homage to all Smith’s novels.

As to “Special Events,” I listened briefly to an interview of Joanna Trollope and her daughter, Louise Ansdell (someone high on a board at Chawton House – why am I not surprised?): Trollope, I thought, told the truth when she said young adult readers today, let’s say having reached young adulthood by 2000 find Jane Austen’s prose very hard to read. What I liked about these comments was they suggest why it is so easy to make movies today that are utter travesties of Austen’s novels (the recent Emma) where say 30 years ago movie-makers were obliged to convey something of the real mood, themes, and major turning points of Austen’s novels.

“Inside Jane Austen’s world included talks about cooking, what to put in your reticule (and so on). Sandy Lerner re-read a version of her paper on carriages in Austen’s time that I heard years ago (and have summarized elsewhere on this blog). Of interest to me was Mary Gaither Marshall’s discussion of her own collection of rare Austen books, including a first edition of Mansfield Park (she is a fine scholar): she told of how books were printed (laborious process), how the person who could afford them was expected to re-cover them fancily, the workings of the circulating library &c. She said her first acquisitions were two paperbacks which she bought when she was 10 year old.

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This last makes me remember how I first read Austen, which I’ve told too many times here already, but it is a fitting ending to this blog.

On Face-book I saw a question about just this, from the angle of what led someone to read Austen’s books in a “new” (or different way), without saying what was meant by these words — as in what was my “old” or previous way of reading her. I can’t answer such a question because my ways of reading Austen or eras do not divide up that way. But I like to talk of how I came to study Austen and keep a faith in the moral value of her books despite all that surrounds them today, which go a long way into producing many insistent untrue and corrupted (fundamental here is the commercialization, money- and career-making) framings.

So I wrote this and share it here: Years ago I loved Elizabeth Jenkins’s biography of Jane Austen, and that led me to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I must have been in my late teens, and my guess is I found the Jenkins book in the Strand bookstore. I had already read (at age 12 or so) Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; and at age 15, Mansfield Park. Nothing inspired me to read the first two (part of this person’s question), but that the first two were there in my father’s library among the good English classics. The third I found in a neighborhood drugstore and I was led to read it because I loved S&S and P&P. MP was not among my father’s classic libraries The first good critical book I remember is Mary Lascelles on the art of the books, then Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen. So as to “new way of reading her” (intelligently), when Jim and I were in our thirties at a sale in a Northern Virginia library Jim bought a printing of the whole run of Scrutiny and I came across the seminal articles by DWHarding (a revelation) and QRLeavis. I do not remember when I found and read Murdock’s Irony as Defense and Discovery, but it was the first book to alert me to the problem of hagiography and downright lying (though Woolf very early on gently at that (“mendaciou”) about the Hill book on Austen’s houses and friends).

When I came online (1990s and I was in my forties) of course I was able to find many books, but the one that stands out attached to Austen-l, is Ivor Morris’s Considering Mr Collins, brilliant sceptical reading. There are still many authors worth reading: John Wiltshire comes to mind, on Austen-l we read together a row of good critical scholarly books on Austen. Today of course you can say anything you want about Austen and it may get published.

I saw the movies only years after I had begun reading, and the first I saw was the 1979 Fay Weldon P&P, liked it well enough but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The 1996 Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee/Emma Thompson) was the first of several movies to change my outlook somewhat on Jane Austen’s novels, in this case her S&S.

Since Jane Austen has been with me much of my life, of course I welcomed a chance to experience some of the best of what a typical JASNA has to offer, since nowadays I & my daughter are regularly excluded from these conferences. After all those who have special “ins” of all sorts, I am put on the bottom of the list for what room is left. I regret to say she has quit the society because she loves to read Austen, is a fan-fiction writer of Austen sequels, enjoyed the more popular activities, especially the dance workshop and the Saturday evening ball. She is autistic and rarely gets to have social experiences. She had bought herself an 18th century dress and I got her a lovely hat. They are put away now.

When was I first aware there was an 18th century? when I watched the 1940s movie, Kitty, with Paulette Goddard — you might not believe me, but even then, at the age of 14-15 I went to the library to find the script-play and I did, and brought it home and read it. I fell in love with the century as a set of texts to study when I first read Dryden, Pope, and the descriptive poetry of the era — just the sort of writing that describes places like Worlitz Park.

Ellen

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood as she resolves to accept a future with her mother, where she on herself can live (she thinks Edward has married Lucy) (2009 BBC S&S, scripted Andrew Davies)

“‘It is not every one,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves …

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition …

“‘We are all offending every moment of our lives’ … (Marianne Dashwood)

“‘We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing’ … (Elizabeth Bennet)

“She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself … (Emma Woodhouse)

“‘We all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted’ … (Jane Fairfax)

“‘But why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’ … (Catherine Morland)

“‘One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering….’ (Anne Elliot)

Dear friends and readers,

Every once in a while it is good for me to remember why I’ve had two blogs dedicated to Jane Austen and art I connect to her and her books, and films made from these. Last night I was in a zoom group yesterday (a nowadays not unusual experience) where we were asked this question as a sort of topic for us to discuss and share; “Who’s inspired or guided you?”, and I was surprised to discover that most people either didn’t have or didn’t want to talk about a person or book or specific event(s) they could cite. All day long today that realization was reinforced when I threw the question out on face-book and my three listservs. Only now I feel it’s not that people don’t want to tell of such an experience, most people apparently don’t have one major intense experience or person who made such an impression. I know I am more intense than many about many things.

For myself upon my eyes reading the question, my answer came out in my mind almost before the words for it: my father and Jane Austen’s six novels.


This image of the RLS book is not the one my father read to me, but I cannot replicate a book cover from the old-fashioned sets of English classics he had on his shelf, often published by do-good organizations like the Left Book Club …

I know I have mentioned about my father here before, but not said much for real. Despite spending 44 years in close friendship-love-marriage with my late husband, Jim (whom you are tired of hearing about), the true core influence on what I am, how I came to have the stances I do, political, areligious, social, were the result of my relationship with my father: from my earliest memories, he was the person who understood, companioned me, yes mothered me. Like Edmund with Fanny, he read with me, and reasoned with me about what we read together, read aloud to me — some of my happiest memories of my girlhood come from when he read aloud to me Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night:” since then I’ve been a reader/lover of Stevenson’s style, stance, pizzazz. My father took me to the library, told me of his boyhood during the 1930s depression, explained the politics of the 1950s and early 60s we were experiencing. I left home in 1963. But there was a year after Izzy was born where he phoned me every week on Sunday and we’d have a long satisfying talk.


Emma Thompson as Elinor writing to their mother to tell of what has happened in London to ask if they can come home (1995 Miramax S&S, scripted Emma Thompson, directed Ang Lee)

Then Jane Austen’s 6 famous novels. A couple of people in the zoom registered puzzlement. How could a book (maybe they meant also one so old) influence, guide or shape someone. To some extent this shows how for some people books mean nothing vital to their lives. I read today in one of the papers how public figure was influenced by a book or event — what was cited were famous people, widely know fairly recent books, fashionable, movies. So I tried to tell of how I had first read these books at age 12-13 (S&S & P&P), then 15 (MP), that as a teenager of 17 or so when I was in need of a way of responding to social life and the hard abrasions of people, I’d think of Elinor Dashwood and her stance in life, and how this character (an aspect of Austen herself I still believe) gave me a presence to emulate, to aspire to come up to to protect myself (self-control, prudence are strong themes in Austen embodied in Elinor). How often while I don’t say to myself, How would Elinor or Anne Elliot or Jane Fairfax, or even Fanny Price have acted in this situation, nevertheless parallel situations in the books come to mind when something is happening to me that have some meaning. They need not involve these central figures, but they often do – as well as some of the heroes. Lines from Austen’s books come into my mind unbidden — I remember (or half remember) what seems to crystallize or capture an aspect of the situation. What a given character said.

This is probably why I have so little patience with preposterous interpretations and some of the uses made of her text to forward careers or fill a fashionable niche, or turn her into a whipping post for someone’s feminist thwarted career, or even the hagiography which turns her into an unreal omnipotent presence, which leads to extravagant claims. And as to the solemn moralizing one comes across in some JASNA groups, how can they be so moronic to have missed the core continual anarchic ironies of the text.

To explain this to others I had to fall back on using words like role models — though that’s too crude; I know I don’t imitate these characters in literal close ways. It’s not quite the way I conceive of myself understanding how literature functions, but as a rough and ready analogy that others can understand from their own experience comes close enough. The deepest thing is  view of Austen herself that I feel throughout the novels.

By the way: My father did very much like Jane Austen. But there was no need for him to introduce the texts to me. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I identified my relationship with him with Elizabeth’s with her father. My sympathies have ever been with the father; and it’s clear to me Austen understands what pain and counterproductive humiliation Mrs Bennet puts both her older daughters through. He also was one of those who introduced Trollope to me, with words about The Vicar of Bullhampton to this effect: Trollope has much wisdom.

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But during the talk of the group, I was led to remember how in my first year of full time college I had a teacher for an introductory course in literature where we read Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and I was shocked to hear someone (a group of people) assert how boring the book had been, and I protested and defended my favorite book. (Something similar happened to my daughter, Izzy, in a summer night-time class she took (post graduate) where she gave a paper on Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September and astonished the class by talking about it as deeply sexual. Clinton F. Oliver, an elegant black man, Henry James scholar, born in one of the Carribean islands (he once said). When I came to his office one day he suddenly said to me, major in English literature and be a college teacher. I was so touched, the first teacher to pay attention to me — tellingly a black person.

One memory: we had one class in a big auditorium (the other two were break-out sessions where I was lucky enough to be in his). One day a student came with so many lollipops and gave them out to everyone but me. I was somewhat older than the others — not as much as they thought, dressed in a skirt, probably all in black, anorexic then, but harmless. Anyway he came from behind his lectern and secured two and gave me one and smiled and we both sucked on lollipops with everyone else. It was in his class I first read Henry James: The Princess Casamassima. Also Conrad’s “Secret Sharer.” He was the only black teacher I ever had in all my years in school — until now at OLLI at AU I’ve had a class in August Wilson’s plays taught by someone who is retired military and now a librarian at Howard University


This is an image of the copy I read in that class, edited by him, which I cherish the way I do my first copy of Dr Thorne (edited by Elizabeth Bowen)

One person in this zoom group told me I was lucky to have had an experience with a teacher like that. One experience I never had was of a mentor: by this is meant not only someone who is older, wiser, and counsels you on careers, but helps you create one. Izzy had that: a Mrs Kelly who hired her for her 1st gov’t job, and helped her transfer into the library where she is now (though working remotely from home). Mrs Kelly had real feeling for Izzy and Izzy still goes to Mrs K’s yearly Halloween parties.

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And then reversing perspective: eleven days ago, I came across a posting in that excellent blog, Kaggsby’s Bookish Ramblings, on Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story. Pray read what Kaggsby writes so eloquently, from which I quote her opening paragraph:

It tells the story of a pivotal event in young Annie’s life when, at the age of 18, she spent a summer as an instructor at a camp for younger children. A naive only child, Annie is instantly taken advantage of by H., the head instructor; though remaining technically a virgin, she is used sexually by him, and as the summer goes on, by plenty of others in the camp. Overwhelmed by these experiences, she is unable to recognize how she has been abused or see herself as a victim; she thinks instead she’s now experiencing freedom from the repressive control of her parents, and cannot understand why she should be labelled whore. Her humiliation at the mockery and contempt of the rest of the instructors is almost as strong as her pain at being used and abandoned by H.

As I wrote here, when I reviewed Anne Boyd Rioux’s book on Alcott’s Little Women, the problem with the books I was given, including Little Women, was this aspect of female adolescence and teenagehod, the experience of predatory punitive patriarchal sexuality that not only are boys encouraged to inflict on girls, but girls collude with, are complicit to, is omitted. It is at least hinted at in Sense and Sensibility, and in movies like Lee/Thompson and Davies brought out fully. I wish I had had as well Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia, Naomi Wollf’s Promiscuities. Kaggsby does not see that Ernaux is Aspergers  but her description of Ernaux’s horrible time in camp and as a girl growing up is an Aspergers experience.  Kaggsby has her limits, but she often goes beyond what she consciously says or sees by the thoroughness of her analyses.  In France too although the medical community knows about autism and Aspergers, the general population is unfamiliar with the term. I’ve had a few close French friends and only one knew the term; the other two were uncomfortable with the idea of a disability. It may be Ernaux knows and doesn’t say aloud — but I doubt it. I likened the book to Reviving Ophelia because Mary Pipher at no point that I can recall talks of autism: her book is an expose of the predatory punitive patriarchy that not only many men inflict on us, but many women are complicit in.

This disability puts girls at a frightening disadvantage before boys in our predatory sexual culture. I feel so for her. I have read two others of her books, both life-writing, which I associated with gothic; another I don’t have is Englished as I remain in Darkness; now I think that’s because perhaps she has not been willing to move out into rational diagnosis – the next step would be a book like Annie LeBrun’s

.

I had not thought of Aspergers but now this Kaggsby’s blog provides a comprehensive perspective for all Ernaux’s work. Of course it’s possible she was just naive and inexperienced with no social skills and a very protected upbringing, but I doubt it. At any rate she was a ripe target for experienced and cruel others.

This past summer a woman in my Bloomsbury class at OLLI at AU startled me by in front of the whole group online (another zoom experience) revealing she is lesbian by saying how she wished she had known such Forster’s Maurice when she was girl, and how much it would have helped to know others who are LBGTQ. I responded in kind: that in the 1990s when I first read Reviving Ophelia, I just cried to realize there was a large world of women experiencing what I did. This woman is in her 60s and probably has far more friends and is far more effective in life (may have made real money) than I’ve ever been. Every single person who comes out helps the rest of us.

Not that I think Austen understood herself to be coming out with the depths of her own experiences to help others but rather she began with sharp satire, and revised and revised, until the tone of mind of her book was to some extent also the opposite of where she had begun so deep empathy becomes the mode towards the vulnerable heroine.


Ania Marson as Jane Fairfax, barely but firmly self-contained (BBC Emma 1972, scripted by Denis Constantduros)


Laurie Pypher as Jane Fairfax explaining to Emma that she needs to get away from this wonderful gathering at Donwell Abbey & losing self-control (BBC Emma 2009, scripted by Sandy Welch)

What was wonderful about Andrew Davies’s development of Sanditon was he brought out this paradigm in three of the heroines (see my exegesis of Episodes 1-4, By the Sea …; and Episodes 5-8, Zigzagging). It is central to why Jane Austen has meant so much to me. This is not all she offers, but this is the core.

Ellen

My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798)

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