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Archive for the ‘Austen film’ Category

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A contemporary illustration (John Edmund Buckley) for Marmion (Scott used to be seen as Austen’s rival)

Dear friends and readers,

A third short blog, just to announce I’ve put onto my site at Academia.edu, a copy of the comparative review of the two Cambridge Companions to Jane Austen (1997 and again 2011) I wrote for ECCB, which will appear in due time (I hope), either this fall or next spring.

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Another of the Cambridge Publications

I’ve already blogged on the individual essays in the two volumes, summarizing and evaluating them individually, but have been asked for a quick overview several times now so thought this pre-publication appropriate.

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The Place setting for Mary Wollstonecraft from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (Austen did not make the cut) — How we contextualize her today

Ellen

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2nd edition — 2011

Dear friends and readers,

I am relieved to say that two years after having being sent Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts, and the 2nd edition of the Jane Austen Cambridge Companion, I’ve sent the reviews of book to ECCB. I originally wrote about the two books in a single review but was asked to divide them into two. So I won’t be putting the two onto any site, but rather (eventually) the earlier version bringing the two together. For now I written enough about Lisa Moore’s book, but very little about these two companions which could have been important as bellwethers; in the event both are too discreet, too careful, a result of the intense and intricate politics of Jane Austen studies, fashions, sequel, heritage, film, and institutions. I read and evaluated the essays of the 1st edition (1997), and compared them with this second one (2011), and thought the least I could do was put a brief summary and evaluation of the most worthwhile or innovative (or notable, e.g., Clery) essays in the Cambridge Companions. The essays summarized below might be of use or interest to my readers. If anyone would like to see either of the separate reviews, contact me off blog. As to simple practical advice, if you have the first edition, it’s a waste of money to get the second, so much has been reprinted. Further, much has been lost so don’t discard the valuable essays of the 1st edition, instead take a copy of the 2nd edition out from a library and xerox (or scan into your computer) the essays whose subject is of interest to you. I recommend Selwyn and Sutherland.

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1st — 1997

Only in the 1st edition: Rachel Brownstein on NA, S&S, PP: Mr Bennet’s comment: we love the phrasing, economy, symmetry, sense, detachment even as when we look at the context we critique it; social interactions the substance of life; we condemn most people for wanting feeling, sympathy, love; she looks at conjunctions of romantic narrative and irony in the 3 books. Heroine centered, there is an irony that undercuts Austen’s use of conventions. NA parodies tropes of romance, giving new meaning to clichés; S&S, laughter hollow, opposing pairs, much more pain than pleasure as we compare; it’s as certain as death world a hard mean place (p. 45); couples together make for an anti-social activity, attitudes, the unsuitability of the couples; final irony against sisters as such. P&P a witty undercutting delight (it’s men who traffic in women not women men) where narrator, heroine and reader come to identify – Elizabeth holds back in self-control, detached; we are given enough about Darcy’s mind; we are not so very different from our neighbor – she is careful to say the chronology set up is a construct and across Austen’s oeuvre we find a set of many constants though Brownstein to give her credit opens and closes her essay on the problematic nature of these pairings, or trios. Brownstein admits the chronology she has used has nothing to do with the book’s themes. Irrelevant. This is an essay from a woman’s point of view as none of the three there are any more. Brownstein wrote a famous history of the novel: Becoming a Heroine. A number of her authors are men, and the choice of women’s books very much canonical (e.g., no Oliphant). Becoming a Heroine nonetheless approaches how we read as women in our books, our autobiographical self-narrative as we go

Only in the 1st edition: John Wiltshire: MP, Emma, Persuasion: Central to his description of Emma: it is about a restricted life, restricted spaces, restricted in POV and what Emma can do; she contributes a buoyancy of spirit, and confidence and has intuitive knowledge throughout. Restrictions in walking are part of it — Jane Fairfax going to the post office in the rain overdid we recall. Wiltshire sees that Mr Knightley represents a continuation of restriction, but that Emma moves to his point of view and within this restriction can thrive. He does see the unpleasantness of the walk for Emma a function of the probable poverty she sees. MP a contrast: everybody wealthy but Fanny, Mrs Norris neurotic, compulsive bully; Fanny the POV who is transient, dependent. Austen moves in and out of the characters, and creates through Henry and Mary Crawford appealing pair through their sympathy and agendas. That there is much sympathy for Mary when we begin to see her as negotiating social life, she was abused or neglected too, is seeking an emotional center for her life. They too have a fraternal tie. Novel has psychological depth with narrative portraiture; a physical world. Broad and wide. Persuasion we get a continuous registration of a inward and physical state and slowly we watch heroine break out; she becomes herself though emerging through her physical environment. The intricacy of her psychology a new reach, and development, setting focuses tensions and increases them. In this novel we see bonds elective affinities replace family bonds, themes of loss and mourning, fidelity and transience come into narrative, she is finally eloquent in words and thus if enabled to enact a life, (which she does by marrying Wentworth, that not in Wiltshire) find a place in this world. Wiltshire says he has united these so-called Chawton books artificially: he shows that the relationship between character, theme, and setting he has been making so much of is utterly different or incommensurate in all three. Novels combine romantic narrative with social satire and psychological insight; from MP on broader, more thoughtful social critique, greater power of imagining her figures within the social setting and spaces they inhabit. Distinct social and physical words are conceptual worlds. How Austen does this by her narrative techniques.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Juliet McMasters, “Class.” McMasters sees that Emma and Miss Bates are prophetic of Fanny Knight and Austen: years later Lady B was equally condescending; JA’s low position; McMasters goes over ladder; then JA’s attitude and then her characters – she goes carefully through the characters using the ladder, with an emphasis on Emma as Emma has them all more detailed and mentioned; Austen’s attitude towards class seen in her judgement of such characters and also whether she makes a character of this or that rank fine or contemptible; for Austen rank matters but identity more; humane and social values in daily life for her people much more

1st reprinted in 2nd: Edward Copeland, “Money.” Copeland wants to make the case that a complication of engagement with money characterizes the three later novels where the first three are about heroines acquiring a man who will support them – put that way especially with his qualifier that the later novels all turn on or focus on a single woman without money. (The problem is that the first three novels do tell of incomes, thought P&P least of all –it’s that the first two concentrate on land and clergy; and NA concentrates its energies on gothic satire. Very useful though as he goes through each level of income and shows by recourse to Austen’s novels just what that income brings; for Emma it’s signs of consumerism that matter; in Persuasion sheer money beat out land; we have the complication of the estate and Portsmouth pension. He admits some characters seem to know nothing: Henry Crawford is not real quite. Also answers question the women are usually cited as what they get a year except heiresses; for inherited income you make a 5% equation and you have the yearly sum. He does carefully cite many sums including Austen’s nuclear family’s own.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Isobel Grundy, “Jane Austen and literary traditions.” Grunday begins with the reality that Austen did not write her novels with a tradition in mind: they did not belong to theLlatin one; she had no BA as a modern reader might in English literature, she could not know of the novels of her period with clarity or extension; she read what what came along and had been in her father’s library and then Edward’s. A letter shows her rejoicing at a better book club in Chawton; at access to Paisley (but mocking Mrs Grant which Grundy omits when she mentions Austen reading Grant). Grundy find these letters relatively stuffed with literary references that are appropriate to whatever she speaks of, so we have a woman who read extensively and understood insofar as she could, but this combined with “real intellectual deprivation,” lack of choice of books, lack of stimulating varied conversation, and what she could glean about reactions to her own books couldn’t help; she shows no recognition or authority but her own taste. There seems to have been nothing deep entrenched in her from her reading (I’m not sure about that, how about Grandison or Johnson); no dialogue with forerunner to what she’s doing – yes, far from that, she wants to erase anyone she thinks is a peer, ridicule them (Grundy again omits this). Books in Austen’s novels further delineate the inner life of a character – but when Grundy says Austen does not attach herself to a tradition, I reply, “ah what about Ch 5 of NA?

Grundy sees the problem of trying to unearth some coherent understanding of books or schools of writing in the teeth of Austen’s reticence and non-cooperation, an insistence she is not to be taken seriously. Here’s where the hagiography comes in: why not say what Austen did from nature and what she did read extraordinary, but no, she wants to find evidence of classics. So there is what her brothers were taught when young. Grundy then concedes that Austen might mock pedantry, but “I will not accept she dislikes scholarship.” she points to Austen’s insistence on accuracy, not the same as scholarship. She cannot avoid hagiography; otherwise she would not try to get through this thicket of disjunctive jokings (Goldsmith and historical novels). She uses “surely” several times. Myself I do see a tradition in her mind: Edgeworth, Burney, Radcliffe, Brunton, West – novelists of her day that she sees herself vying with and dialogues with indirectly – Doody in the older Grey’s Handbook takes the easier task of simply finding out her reading, but I think Austen did see this is a tradition no one was recognizing. Isabelle de Montolieu assumes it – as does Stael.

Then Grundy turns to the novels, and despite some lapses into hagiography and wishful thinking (Austen is not thinking of Lady Winchilsea), and the usual overstretched attempt to show allusions, once she gets to the novels where we are given not just a text but an intelligent use of it, she shows Austen made genuine intelligent use of a wide range of texts you might expect from her class, gender, type, background, and she probably gets the emphasis right: while Austen saw her novels in terms of other novels, especially those by women, in the attitudes she is directly in Augustan school. I agree that Catherine is better read than we realize but then NA is a literary book. Austen was a strong reader and took what she read – would read against the grain, would not accept others’ aims; though we have to take into account her unqualified admiration for Edgeworth, the presence of Burney, Johnson, Grandison, Cowper.

1st reprinted in 2nd:  Claudia Johnson, “Austen cults and cultures” (the word Janeites is eschewed in the title.” It’s better than I remembered. Thoughtful , not condescending, informative and insightful. JA “a commercial phenomenon and a cultural figure,” HJ aimed at “her faddish commodification by publishers and marketers.” The growth of readers first occurs in 1870 JEAL Memoir. James cannot stand she is loved by the wrong people for the wrong reasons (233). Austen’s appeal reaches those who do not recognize the authority of those who like to think they adjudicate literature.  She is looking at the history of her reception: what writer can be seen independent of this? Difficult to disentangle “the real Austen” from the agendas of those discussing her. Modern Austen criticism begins with DWHarding who “claimed Austen herself was above her admirers, meant to rescue her from them.” She sees turn of century male scholarship as a form of play, and Kipling’s story presenting Austen not as an escape but what helps you in the trenches of life. People who attacked (Harrison, they are ahistorical; ridicule the idyllic dreams). Chapman accords her intense respect (as others) books seen as “refuge from realities”.  Harding and Booth are two different forms of bullying, Harding elitist and Booth from the angle of marriage and other disciplinary norms for women (Johnson rightly lists under this approach quite a number of critics, with Sedgewick as the protester against it). Then there are the male critics who are concerned not to be gender deviant because they reads these books (Lewis, she’s acerbic, serious, moral). Mudrick comes out of mindset, is an attack on JA as frigid, lesbian (Austen can do no wrong). The problem with the inclusion of this essay is it needs to be updated, the latest fashions in Austen criticism (which may be seen as a cross between Janine Barchas and Sarah Raff) are not here, but they fit into a point of view.

Johnson’s point is that Austen criticism turns out to be a matter of disciplinary self-identity. They differ from the other books taken up by cults and fan groups (among them just now the Poldark novels because of the mini-series) because her novels “hold a secure place in the canon of high as well s popular culture.”  The academic criticism of all the amateur and bellestristic study has not assailed its object (Austen’s texts) but the “triviality of its non-knowledge.”  She says it’s not the novels that police us as has been claimed by some, but novel criticism as a discourse. Here where I think she “falls down” is she too participates in hagiography and is unwilling to critique why Austen lends herself (what in her fiction and letters) to these skewed, half-nuts and overdone evaluations.

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A recent cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

2nd edition (new): Thomas Keymer – NA & S&S begins with usual praise using Scott — see how this is verisimilitude and has power of Wordsworth, only to knock it down by saying rightly texts show immersion in popular modes; where he’s fashionable is wanting to situate her in “market-leading genres of the day.” But she did use gothic and nervy routines and formulas for S&S. Long tradition wants to make NA and S&S early, callow somehow but in fact we see that NA was revised several times and ready for publication in 1803; the latter three not technically flawless experiments but do bear witness to earlier fragments. So we are talking of a novel parts of which refer to what no longer exists (dress and other streets) after 1807 (so it reflects a Catherine of 1809).

Keymer demonstrates intertextual range, what is generally alluded to and what he can cite: he cites a list of novels with word Abbey in them; comedy is to frustrate expectations; he does admit the interweaving of gothic elements. Nonetheless, Austen playing on idiom in general; goes into Radcliffe and says Austen distinguishes Radcliffe from debasements and horrid novels. Wants us to see her assured tones – but I wonder about how the tone one takes in public is different from the tone one feels in private (p. 27). How the register of parody is pitch perfect. But she is not just kidding because in her fifth chapter the strong praise, elsewhere she shows anxieties about her rivals doing more than she, shutting off possibilities; superficial simply to see it as satire for admiral is awful, not that such novels have nothing to say for themselves. He then turns to references in the text: the Blaise castle visit has having genuinely sinister implications (p 29); nothing at all authentic about Blaise. Slavery can be brought in because the builder of Blaise, Thomas Farr was a Bristol merchant – we learn that by the time the book published Farr bankrupt by American war and folly bought by John Scandrett Harford, a quaker and abolitionist and had made the estate a center for abolition activity p 30; as for Tilney we see how he married wife for money and how Radcliffe has helped Catherine to see what Henry admits is true Not about what the novel is, but about what it’s doing. For S&S he turns to Barbara Benedict and her thesis this is a state of the art regency novel; did not resist but repeated marketable routines; Lynch too on the character types &c&, still he has to say Austen disrupts these stereotypes. Marianne like Catherine reading life out of novels.

Keymer does find the ending of S&S dispiriting. It bears comparison to alternative fictional types where the heroine is over-emotional and has to be taught a lesson – what this kind of thing is doing is preventing us from seeing how differently and in a superior deep way Austen is embodying this clichéd theme (p 34). Finally he turns to Butler who says it’s congruence, and Elinor learns legitimacy of feeling. Novels quoted: Elizavbeth Gunning Orphans of Snowdon (1797) Isabella Kelly Abbey of St Asaph (1795). By no means is sensibility entirely rejected – and Keymer concludest Elinor’s self control does show a perverse endorsement of social codes that work to restrict and oppress Marianne – histrionics her only way of fighting back. So he brings NA and S&S together at last: Catherine and Marianne responding to calculating world with justifiable screams of distress.

2nd edition (new): Penny Gay on Emma and Persuasion. She remarks how different are MP and P&P. Her task to see how the mature artist who never repeated herself produced two novels in a row so different one has to find new generic descriptions (p 55). Gay wants to find the theme of a novel about novel writing in Emma – after in passing she says it’s like a detective story – she has some insights about the novel – such as Mr K and Emma have a strong sincerity between them because their relationship is familial, p 57 – notices how Frank plays games and does nothing about Emma’s dangerous gossip over Jane; that Emma hardly goes anywhere; has not been to Donnwell in a couple of years, not to London because Mr W won’t Jane Fairfax as tragic heroine well supported; Persuasion rooted in larger world, in navy, aware of larger political happenings too, Anne is carried about from place to place without her wanting this; on a sensitive soul whose feelings are validated; romance motifs pulled out; a comparison of two endings shedding light – I feel it’s the lack of comedy in the second that makes for the superior quality of it (not Gay, it’s Anne participating more, and the theatricality of the letter scenes); a comic and elegiac novel; social commentary in both, a stable optimistic man the hero.

2nd edition (new): David Selwyn, “Making a Living,” comes from the older school of criticism: genuinely historical and close reading: JA had many relatives of people who could be no means take an income for granted. How people behave towards their estates characterizes them, so most Crawford and Rushworth do decorative improvements; Dashwood ruins his property, but Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey is “unimproved,” when he makes changes like a footpath which will “not cut through the home meadows” it is to increase productivity, not satisfy aesthetic whims; he retains the “abundance of timber in rows and avenues”. He is involved in day-to-day business of his estate, careful scrutiny of a drain, acres destined for weath or spring corn or turnips. He is vital part of economic structure of his locality. Selwyn gives deep, accurate thorough portrait of economic arrangements of Austen’s characters, again a great deal taken from Emma; along the way explains many terms, e.g., parlour boarder, a boarder who lives with the family, eats with them. He is too optimistic, saying “good people” did that and this … honest people making a comfortable enough living in Highbury shows stance of Austen’s novels her fans like; people seem far more precarious in Sanditon – commercialism at its center; real sources of income which enable some characters to hold up heads are ‘decently obscure’ (the Woodhouses, Sir Thomas Bertram).Joke at close: Emma would be shocked by some of Sanditon – so too The Watsons.

2nd edition (new): E.J. Clery has written brilliantly on the gothic, especially Sade and Radcliffe. He quotes Tauchert as an authority on a conservative woman-reading feminine approach. “Gender” begins with idea that Austen mocks heroines equipping themselves with superficial training that makes for gender identity; males must project gender too – and Tilney show this to be silly stuff. Clery shows Austen uses words like “queer,” Strange” half-witted by Tilney when the character admits to awkwardness. He talks of de-stabilizing of gender identity in recent queer theory; 19th century it was a form of impropriety merging on antisocialness. Critics notice many misdirections of feeling in Austen, violations of code. Social artifice is made visible alongside Enlightenment ideal of rational individual. Her renown is as a conventional romancer; he thinks 70s and 80s feminists wrested Austen from canonical readings; the queering the latest manifestation of D.W. Harding impulse to prove the readers of the novels those Austen would have most detested. With the movies overtaking discourse on Austen and their insistence on romance, is there any way of reconciling these positions; Austen who plays with and subverts, Austen who ends books stupidly (S&S especially). He says he is going to address this through literary form: movies end on bliss, kiss, novels have brusque endings, Austen enjoys giving pain to romantic readers.

Throughout her books she is mocking romance in all sorts of ways while heroine quietly long for it. In the books we do not project forward after the happy ending, and we see all the things that will be troublesome in the “union” (indeed I’d add Juliette Towhidi under the guidance of PDJames in Death comes to Pemberley who insists on Darcy as still rank obsesses insists on these until near the end). Is there real cohesion at the endings? No attention paid in NA, S&S, not much in P&P. DAMiller narrative mocks what it cannot do without. Emma though presents perfect happiness and Darcys have the Pemberley and Gardiners. He argues we transcend because it’s such hard work to get there; we enter mind of heroine throughout, closed off from hero (his idea this is radical departure is unreal and silly – very common in 17th century long haleine romances, 18th century, like Burney). Communication problem not just social but psychological. He suggests a second plot-design in the background of hero chasing a vocation, having to have independence, proper manliness (fact not unnoticed by modern parasitic sequel writers as in Mr Darcy’s Diary) his solution is we are ecstatic when these two minds come together, the utopian potential of understanding is what we are given.
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From Davies’s 1995 P&P: two sisters living together (Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and Susannah Harker as Jane)

2nd edition new, a valuable addition: Kathryn Sutherland: “JA on Screen.” She begins from a broad perspective angle and then bring in cultural reading comparisons and finally ends on particular films. How film and novels are good at telling stories; one is motionless words, the other moving (and aural) pictures. That Austen is a singularly anti-visual novelist, stays with generalities; characters focusing on a particular object often pathological; it’s the interplay of subjective understandings that brings us the characters and stories. Her visual transformation first seen in first illustrated editions of 1890s; not among earliest films but staged in 1935 and then play turned into film meaning to convey ideas about war. 1970s BBC mini-series, first are influenced by stage and illustrations; Fay Weldon breaks away, but we are still in Laura Ashley land. Huge media attention, and it has become impossible in discussions and thinking about Austen to disentangle the novels from the films; they reflect our time (so Transpotting and 1995 S&S can be brought together). But it was out of the same nostalgia (1870s) that the cult of Austen began; what then is the link between academic and popular understanding as two march together, occur together. The personal identification with character filled out found in AC Bradley likened to the intelligent reinvention of Lost in Austen where some essential solace is found – both have supplied what is implied in the Austen text but not brought out. Lost in Austen substitutes the reader for Elizabeth in the fantasy. Tie-in books and readings have reinterpreted these books as romances (refers to Becoming Jane Austen as an absurdity) but what how different is false emphasis from super-edited academic texts.

Turns to films: they are interpretive, the visuals in the 1990s are high luxury, and camera work of the gorgeous cinematic landscape type of far shots; post-2005 shabby and minimal, with hand held cameras. But if we look we find since Said no one can discuss without discussing Antigua though before him few ever mentioned it. “We are always reading new novels even when they are the same old novels”. Screen interventions have momentous impact: we see the hero and heroine so it must be a courtship marriage story from the outset; the McGrath with its arrow scene; Davies use of Colin Firth, his turning on its head Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza Williams so what damned him later is made to damn him before we meet him. Davies’s language sounds like Austen’s and he substitutes himself (so does Emma Thompson do this feat.

Interestingly Sutherland is impressed by Miss Austen Regrets. Film good at delivering the silences in the books; silent images of Amanda Root which begin 1996 Persuasion convey the meaning of the novel well; no intrusive voice, no voice-over (why is she against this?); she feels Hughes used Austen’s letters with tact and understanding, Olivia Williams played the part with complex understanding and it is a contribution to Austen studies when we go back and read the letters – she does not realize Nokes an intermediary. A bleak and beautiful film. European use of camera work, triangulation of Fanny Knight, Haden and Austen before last turn of film. She does connect this to one woman whose engagement broken leaving her in emotional wasteland and another marrying in middle age in the novel Emma: we are viewing the novels and Austen from the perspective of a woman who reneged on a promise to marry. New observational style, drab wardrobe, luminous use of light at times. She sees this as showing us Austen’s life and its little matters (what Paula Byrne turned to though Sutherland does not say that).

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Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2009, scripted Gwyneth Hughes)

The politics of Jane Austen studies in which so many have invested careers, businesses, to say nothing of people’s self-conceptions and on-going fan communities have prevented the second edition of the Cambridge Companion from doing anything more than differing from the first in a couple of new subject matters and in a few indirect mirrorings of recent fashionable norms and ways of framing in order to praise Jane Austen and her writing. The assumption in both volumes is Austen’s novels are pretty nearly flawless, Austen herself made to fit as far as possible today’s ideals for women writers. I concluded my review with the comment that we need a sound edition of Austen’s letters (perhaps together with a second volume from the Austen Papers) of the type represented by those published by the McGill Burney scholars. The one we have, with its appendices muddled and contradictory, the information offered biased and not precisely aimed at the references and individuals in the letters, falls under the rubric of “family friends” and “advocates” (as described by Donald Reiman in his The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Public, Confidential and Private [Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1993]).

Ellen

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Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Bennet seeking relief by washing her face in a basin (2013 Death comes to Pemberley, scripted Juliette Towhidi)

Dear friends and readers,

It will come as no surprise that the most common or repeated topic at the ASECS in Los Angeles (not far from Hollywood) were film or media studies, or (perhaps) those were the ones I noticed and was told about. It might surprise to discover that a number of those papers (including mine) used as their texts Jane Austen films. It was the zeitgeist topic. A young male Austen scholar told me he went to a panel expecting to hear a paper on Jane Austen’s novels and discovered it focused on a couple of Jane Austen films. Gothic too, Jane Austen as gothic was an element in this.

I confess I did not go to all of these. To my regret I was not able to attend “Appropriating the Restoration and Eighteenth Century: Fictionalized Place and Time on Film and Television,” which hosted papers on “Blackadder: Satirizing the Century of Satire” (by Sarah Stein), “Filming ‘The Fanny Wars:’ Mansfield Park, Literary Fandom and Contemporary Critical Practice (by Fiona Brideoake),” and (especially hard to miss), “Crossbones, Piracy, and the British Empire” (by Sirvidihya Swaminathan). It was on against another on film session I felt I had to go to, as some people there would be attending the panel my paper on film was to be given. I regretted missing “Jane Austen and Multimedia” on Saturday morning, which included a paper that includes The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (it had been heavily advertised & I thought it might be over-crowded). My friend told me a panel on “what we learned teaching Jane Austen” was often about the films. I especially wanted to hear Andrew McInnes, “‘It wants shade:” Pride and Prejudice and the Gothic” but had to leave the conference early to spend time with friends.

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The gravatar for this blog: Jennifer Ehle as a deeply meditative Elizabeth Bennet (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies)

Plus my stenography is not what it once was. So this does not begin to cover even part of what was said on film or Jane Austen films. I offer the gist of a few papers and some of the conversation about them afterwards.

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Caroline Lennox (Serena Gordon) meeting Henry Fox (Alun Armstrong) in secret (1999 Aristocrats, scripted Harriet O’Carroll)

I began with a double panel, “The Eighteenth Century in Hollywood:” two sessions in a row. Thursday 9:45 am to 1 pm. Paula Byrne had been expected to talk on Belle, but couldn’t make it. Stella Tillyard, author of many books, historian, the source of a number of films, spoke first on “Aristocrats, Tides of War, and A Royal Affair.” She began by asking, What makes for a successful historical drama? Outside the university there has been an immense growth of interest in history, to see a non-fiction past depicted. There is also a desire to get at the interiority of the experience. To adapt these for the screen (as in the John Adams mini-series) one must have strong plot-design, tension, and to exploit the medium of film. These films are based on some sort of vision, tell about the future; the books are disguised autobiographies often. Her book, Aristocrats was written with a general audience in mind as a 5 act play, with entre-acts; it was history as an argument about this group of women in their context and novelized. The mini-series was framed by a narrator (the voice of Emily when older, Sian Phillips) to convey information; all kinds of compromises continually, including spun out at length pageantry and love and dressing scenes. There is an urgent commercial desire in films women go to for heroines: few 18th century women had any agency for real; the much-touted Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire is a tragic figure. People want to see sites of power, courts, theatrical moments. O’Carroll and her film-crew kept in mind the Reithian imperatives of inform, educate, entertain. They filmed in Ireland for the tax breaks, and part of the story takes place there. The mini-series is marvelous at bringing to us the materiality of the past. She went over some scenes (the fireworks) to show what effects were sought and how. There was a kind of thrill to filming in the real Carlton House where the Duchess of Leinster lived, with an original picture really there. (Today it is a tasteless hotel.) So film records the time at which it’s filmed too.

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The doctor, the king and his wife (from A Royal Affair)

The shorter format film has advantages; it usually has a stronger sense of tension, sense of mystery as we chose epitomizing moments. Tillyard was especially proud of the 2006 Danish film, A Royal Affair; not a commercial success, an art film. It is a family romance seen through a historical lens, a poignant story about friendship, sexuality, Caroline Matilda’s affair with the German doctor, Johann Frederick Struensee;the king is presented as melancholic rather than mad, and finds in the doctor someone he can tell about his condition to. In 2012 Denmark was willing to tell more truths about the lack of egalitarianism in earlier Denmark. It is one of the recent Scandanavian noir films. Tillyard showed a few clips where we saw a quiet austerity of approach and intelligent use of sound and image.

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Marital sex scene between the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) and Duchess (Keira Knightley) (from The Duchess, scripted Jeffrey Hatcher. directed by Saul Dibb)

Jeffrey Hatcher, author of many screenplays, told of how he got into 18th century films. He said as a screenplay writer you are fictionalizing with all the realities of a film in mind; you want enough information to fill out concrete circumstances. For Stage Beauty, he had just the right amount. He kept in mind what he read about Edward Kynaston, the last male actor to portray women on the 17th century stage. For The Duchess, he had the problem of a book (Amanda Foreman’s) which took the character from cradle to grave. You want to tell the story from the character’s crucial and best moments; so he was a bit at odds with the producer. He tried to focus in on particular political moments: she was good at campaigning, became a symbol of radical chic, understood the ways of her world and sold an image. In her private life she knew much trouble, with Elizabeth Foster a kind of succubus, the Duke’s mistress, perhaps Georgiana’s dominating lover too. Georgiana had a long-time affair with Charles Grey, later prime minister, so he took the giving up of this affair for the sake of his career as a turning point in all their intertwined lives. Ralph Fiennes was able to make the Duke far more appealing than he is written up for in the script or was in real life — for example in the scene where he is seen teaching Bess Foster’s sons to use a gun. Hatcher sees Fiennes as a kind of Jean Gabin. Amanda Foreman felt some of the depiction of Georgiana was unsympathetic towards her, and Hatcher conceded she was not a heroine for him. Like Tillyard, he felt the Duchess a tragic woman who lived a terrible life however glamorized. He ended on the intransigence of what happens to story matter in popular film genres, maintaining you cannot make an anti-war war film.

In the talk afterward it was said that adaptation to film must be an act of betrayal in which you try to hold onto some essential truth of the life or time or the book. Talk was of Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and BullStory from Tristram Shandy (starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Gillian Anderson and Keeley Hawes ) as excellent. Now I would like to see it .How central film-editing is when it comes to the final product. The writer of a book has to accept that someone else (a team) has taken possession of your idea.

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Johnny Depp as Rochester (The Libertine, scripted Stephen Jeffreys, produced John Malkovitch)

The second session was made up of the responders. Misty Anderson thinks we are in a post-Johnny Depp era, i.e., The Libertine with Depp as the Earl of Rochester has been highly influential. Her aim as a college teacher using film is to think with students about how what we are seeing is the product of late 20th century capitalism; we have to critique what Chatsworth House was built upon then and is built upon now. Like Rozema’s Mansfield Park, bring out the cost of this world. Belle she saw as a fairy tale about racism. A Royal Affair shows how many people are moving towards atheism, and full modernity (the reaction to this) is not turning out to be a success. Devoney Looser said she tries to bring out the relationship of these films to original and present texts, emphasize the importance of educational influences in shaping identities. She would use how Lady Emily Lennox’s life was radically altered by her relationship with the Rousseauistic tutor, Ogilby and that of her children. The film Aristocrats kept a sense of the thousands of pages behind the knowledge that made making Tillyard’s book possible. John O’Neill talked about using satirical cartoons of the era to critique the films he studies with his students. Linda Troost told of how she first fell in love with the 18th century by watching costume dramas set in the era. She often needs to rely on films to convey a sense of period to students as they take her courses to fulfill a requirement and have had little history. The problem is to to teach them to look for signs of where we are in history and where we are fictionalizing. She has used 18th century historical dramas like Rowe’s Jane Shore to show how earlier history was portrayed analogously in the 18th century. Steven Thomas focused on Belle as a film that meant a lot to him personally. It is rare to see black faces on admirable characters; we do see the costume drama world from Belle’s eyes, feel her hurt about how this world regards the color of her skin. He teaches the film as a political fable for today. he emphasized how scant the evidence for what we see and how much change from the historical record is done.

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The talk afterward was lively, varied, and included someone who suggested the influence of film on literary studies today is pernicious. Tillyard had emphasized how important is literal historical accuracy for sets and how that is a driving force for how a film looks. This insistence prompted me to offer the idea that filmic realism changes from era to era, so that the realism of a films of the 1970s (say Oneddin Line and the 1970a Poldark) looks quite different from the realism of the new Poldark (Aidan Turner’s expressions and wild hairdos remind me of Depp as the Libertine, the ambiance of Outlander) and Belle today. The length of scenes, the way they are filmed, has changed utterly, so technology drives the look of films just as much. Someone argued landscape is much more central because of filming on location. People countered Misty Anderson’s thesis, offering a real demonstration for the influence of Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones and again Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon. It was suggested that plays were influential on how people saw themselves in life and how they wrote their novels and that has influenced how we portray characters in films until today.

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

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Norma Shearer as a bejeweled doll of a Marie Antoinette (1938, scripted Claudine West, directed W. S. Dyke, costumes Adrian)

There were four papers on “The Eighteenth Century on Film,” the panel my paper found a place on. Friday, 11:30 am to 1 pm. Since I was giving a paper my notes are minimal in comparison to some of the thoroughness with which each participant managed to present his or her paper inside 20 minutes. Dorothee Polanz seemed to survey the whole of the Marie Antoinette canon in her “Portrait of the Queen as a Celebrity: Marie Antoinette on Screen, 1934-2012.” Polanz demonstrated that on film Antoinette is an over-dressed doll, recognizable in iconic gorgeously elaborate and exquisite scenes; she is a mythic figure, and the poignancy of aspects of her life lost. Polanz tended to focus on more recent more naturalistic portrayals; she did suggest that the use of the part of a vehicle for stars is part of this and you can undermine this image, try to break it apart by casting somewhat against expectations. In her “‘Too light & bright and sparkling;’ the BBC Pride and Prejudice and the Secret of Style,” Melissa Bissonette’s insightful thesis was that the way the camera was used in Davies’s famous film continually kept Darcy’s eyes averted from us, showed him from the back, thwarted the viewer’s desire to see him up-close; he is carefully kept from Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth too, so that in the latter part of the film when they finally make long and full eye contact over a piano scene, we feel intense satisfaction. It’s a kind of game where a desire for erotic satisfaction is kept up for 6 hours. I have put the version of my paper I gave at the conference on Academia.edu, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films.” I’ve written about the process I went through coming up with my choice of films, my argument that we need to study and publish film scripts as central to understanding a film, and that screenplays and shooting scripts can be valued as a new experimental genre in itself elsewhere on this blog and Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two. Steven Thomas in “The Assurance of Belle, the insurance of the Zong, and the Speculation of Cinema,” talked at length about Belle. He offered a detailed history of the real political case used at the center of the film, talked about the history and conventions of costume drama, and while he said the discrepancies between historical accuracy and the fable before us were not important, he did show how speculative financial capitalism (how insurance policies lead to inhuman human acts) and the horrible treatment of people who were enslaved was beautifully hitched onto this finally melancholy romance film with many ghosts from today’s hurts (like the politics of African hair).

There was little time for talk afterward. I was asked what kinds of films or which films have had film scripts published and I answered from the notes on my paper (see academia.edu). People talked about Marie Antoinette’s agon during the revolution, her trial, and if modern attitudes towards her as a celebrity have changed the fundamental hostilities towards her; if she is a compensatory victim.  Polanza spoke of Chantal’s Les adieux a la reine and Sofia Coppola’s sweet film. Of course Colin Firth’s performance was brought up.  There was not time to do justice to Thomas’s complex paper.

Over the course of the sessions I attended people probably did not begin to talk about the financing of films, roles of producers, uses of close-ups (so important in film) and modern montage, film-editing anywhere near enough (see Future Learn: From Script to Screen, Film-making; click and scroll down). I still think one of the finest and most successful films in conveying the 18th century Ettore Scola and Sergeo Armidei La Nuit de Varennes based on Catherine Rihoit’s novel and wish I had the nerve to do a paper on that for next time.

Ellen

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Jane Bingley Collins in Lost in Austen — there is no intermediary text, this is rather a time-traveling mash-up

Dear friends and readers,

If you read this blog regularly, you know I am embarked on writing a paper on the importance of screenplays or shooting scripts in film study. I reiterate and demonstrate what has been shown before: that the persistence of so-called studies of an eponymous (intermediary post-text) or Jane Austen novel as underlying all Austen films ignores how a film is made and from what concrete sources (fully edited on-going film script and scenarios).

One problem I’ve been having is I no longer can link in a list of Austen films onto my website since my husband died without risks of all sorts and those I’ve been working on are precisely this new batch. So, as I’ve been using the latest appropriation films — films with screenplays or shooting scripts and without intermediary texts where the Austen novel lies at quite a distance from the film — I thought it would be useful to me to have one place to refer to, and perhaps others who might value my writing on Austen or other women-centered, woman-authored films. So here they are:

Longbourn: said to have a novel film in progress

Death Comes to Pemberley 1: A spoilt mini-series
Death Comes to Pemberley 2: Interwoven Threads
Death Comes to Pemberley 3: A story of self-recognition
(The Bletchley circle is connected to but not at all limited by this Austen mystery brutal-murder matter.)

Austenland: a film still in the draft stage?
Sylvia
The Jane Austen Book Club: Conversations about the novels
The Jane Austen Book Club: as free adaptation of all six novels

Other films with intermediary or post-texts a few of which I’ve briefer blogs, and the texts for, include Bridget Jones’s Diary (see Nurse Betsy) and The Edge of Reason, Stillman’s Last Days of Disco (scroll down, no published screenplay but a brilliant novelization worth while). E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (novel still not fully recognized as post-text to Northanger Abbey. Lakehouse (out of Persuasion) has an intermediary text in a Korean film.

See also (no intermediary text):

Lost in Austen 1: Pride and Prejudice: Dreaming the Austen Movies.
Lost in Austen 2: The harrowing of Amanda.
Lost in Austen 3: We must not reproach ourselves for unlived lives.
Lost in Austen 4: “You don’t do guilt, do you?”
Ruby in Paradise: To ache is human (Emily Dickinson poetry)
Ruby in Paradise: Young Lady’s Entrance into the World
It is telling that in some readings of the Austen film canon that the intermediary text even is not insisted upon, but subjective reactions of the film critic about the underlying Austen novel.
From Prada to Nada: Sense and Sensibility
Aisha: Emma

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Elaine Cassidy, as Lucy Honeycomb, recommended by a holiday friend — she learns to look into others around her and into her self …

For more on the above and other kinds of older film adaptations of Austen’s, post-text or related (friends and relatives) texts about Austen and her contemporary challenge, go to The Austen Film Miscellany on my website. The above links represent only those I’ve written about since 2009. The miscellany goes back to the 1990s.

Ellen

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RubyinParadisePart1Ruby

Ruby: What would you teach?
Rochelle: You mean children?
Ruby: Yeah
Rochelle: How to survive … with your soul intact …

Mike: it saved me from evil. Restored my soul (lifting her hand with his) bought peace to my troubled mind (he is pulling her arm around his neck to embrace her) and joy to my broken heart …. [He says this in a slightly mock preacher’s voice] … [a little later while preparing pasta] Isn’t it wonderful the way Austen seems to dwell on the superficial and comic and yet all the while (he is pouring out vegetables into collander) revealing the contradictions and value systems of an entire society. (now the spagheti using a wooden fork) I don’t think there’s been anyone so subtle and allusive. What do you think?
Ruby: It was a neat story.(1993 Victor Nunez, Ruby in Paradise)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past two weeks I’ve been studying five screenplays for my paper for ASECS against four movies: Scripts into Movies (aka The importance of the screenplay; or what functions do screenplays (what work) perform? Juliette Towhidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley and her (with Tim Firth) Calendar Girls; Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan and now Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise. The first Towhidi’s, shows large radical departures from the intermediary text, James’s Death Comes from Pemberley, and goes back to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for other material; the second and third, Jane Austen Book Club and and Metropolitan have no single originating source text and may be read as works of literary merit in themselves, as interpretations of Austen, conversations on her, and distinctive Austen prescripts, blueprints for modern reenactments; the last. Ruby in Paradise is a poetic gem. Towhidi’s Calendar Girls confirms my suggestion that reading someone’s screenplays turns up the same group of characteristic indicative of the author’s work even if the script was edited and changed in the filming (rather like Sarah Cardwell’s argument about the corpus of Andrew Davies’s film work, especially the screenplays into films).

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The three central girlfriends of Metropolitan, Sally, Jane and Audrey, talking about the photos taken of the Christmas holiday thus far …

On the way I’ve discovered a few more characteristics Jane Austen films share (whether heritage or appropriate, whether directly from one of her books or a post-text out of them) beyond the many I’ve discussed in this blog generally and in blogs and review of individual movies: many are highly literary; if the characters don’t discuss Austen’s books, they discuss other books (e.g., Emily Dickinson poem in Ruby); many are conversational. They follow a trajectory for typical girlhood development as outlined by Carol Gilligan and Lyn Mikel Brown (In a Different Voice, Meeting at the Crossroads); the stories are embedded in narratives of women’s (or sister’s) friendships; there is often a good female mentor (aunt, sometimes employer, occasionally mother; the centrality of the kind of sexual awakening a girl experiences. Coming of age, maturation stories for girls; a number have been nominated for or won a best screenplay award; through the palimpsest of whatever are the intermediary texts, we can see Austen on specific important issues (first impressions, for women dangerous delusions and developing good judgement; sibling love — that includes brothers). Women’s worlds, life from a woman’s point of view is delineated. Older women abound too, and occasionally their trajectories. Mrs Sophia Crofts’s memories of living in lodgings one winter and determination to go to sea with him ever after. Calendar Girls pivots on a widow’s real grief at her husband’s death, her losses (Marie: “I know how difficult it must be for you at this moment.” “Do you, oh dear … no, I don’t think you know how I feel”).

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Marie (Geraldine James) introducing a talk on not just rugs but all kinds of carpets to the Women’s Institute of Yorkshire (we see in the back, our six heroines, Chris, Annie, Cora, Jessie, Celia, Ruth)

One of the more intriguing repetitions among the Jane Austen films is how many treat of Christmas. Many, from Metropolitan to Bridget Jones’ Diary, whether in a summery climate (Ruby in Paradise (Henry Tilney as Mike and Ruby as Catherine have their first serious dispute over a Christmas sermon on TV), Bride and Prejudice) or wintry ones (Emma itself). Lots of snow:

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Establishment view

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Bridget Jones and parents: caught in final snowstorm, heading for Darcy home

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Johnny Lee Miller (now brilliant in Elementary) as Mr Knightley building snow men (2009 Emma by Sandy Welch)

But what if we went outside the famous six? Lady Susan includes sexual promiscuity, adultery, exploitative single motherhood, most important the heroine is older than the as yet marriageable single girl: 35. Whit Stillman is apparently writing another composite film adaptation. Arguably Metropolitan has as much source material in Persuasion and Emma as Mansfield Park; Last Days of Disco combines a Sense and Sensibility story with Emma.

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Alice (Chloe Sevigny) as Marianne and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) as Emma in Last Days of Disco

The return to the two actress of Last Disco reinforces my argument (laughed at by a couple of people) that Last Days of Disco was a composite appropriation out of Austen: now Kate Beckinsale played Emma in Andrew Davies’s 1996 heritage Emma (taking an ironic stance towards the heroine) and she and Choe Sevigny played a kind of Emma-Harriet as well as Elinor or maybe Lucy Steele and Marianne pair. So the projected title, Love and Freindship suggest those of Austen’s Juvenilia, which have doppelganger heroines, e.g., the epistolary Lesley Castle and the hard caricature of Love and Freindship with blend of Lady Susan, which I hope is not mistaken by Stillman for an early text; it rather takes off from a highly sceptical Maria Edgeworth epistolary novel with an adulterous heroine (Leonora) as well as Germaine de Stael’s Delphine whose vicious mother figure is also named Madame Susan Vernon.

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Beyond Lady Bertram (Angela Pleasence in the 1983 MP, with pug): complacent trophy wife?

I rejoice to see this new material come into the more widely known Jane Austen canon. It will help bridge the gap between contemporary attitudes I outlined in “Bored with Jane Austen?”; but instead of dealing with these older or mature women’s issues from a different ethical standpoint we may hope Stillman will again configure his themes to present Austen’s perspectives as he did most notably in Metropolitan and to bring out what mainstream perceptions today still keep hidden as Fowler in her novel and Swicord in the screenplay, Jane Austen Bookclub did.

Framed
Audrey: “Has it ever occurred to you that today, looked at from Jane Austen’s perspective, would look much worse than ridiculous?”

Allegra: So, um… I actually thought that Charlotte Lucas was gay.
Sylvia: looks exasperated, Bernie looks down, Prudie a bit stunned?
Allegra: Really, I think that when she tells Lizzie she’s not as romantic as she is, I think that’s what she means.
Prudie: Charlotte Lucas is not gay. She’s not. She just … She just has no options.
Sylvia (pointed): Wait. Austen meant Charlotte to be gay or Charlotte is gay and Austen is not aware of it?
Allegra eating strawberry looks delighted.
Further shot includes Bernie.
Bernie: I just love the idea of a character having a secret life that the author doesn’t even know about.
Sylvia: You know, frankly, I kind of admire Charlotte for looking at her situation and deciding to marry Mr. Collins. (from Swicordd’s Jane Austen Book Club discussing Pride and Prejudice where they note the large number of bizarre marriages in Austen)

We may yet hope for another of Austen’s thoroughly radical texts to be filmed: The Watsons. What other novel in the era came down to presenting the lifestyle of the larger majority of women readers, most of them just inching into the genteel class, or just below, and without sentimentality and false glamor (unfortunately common in the Austen films).

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Jane Bingley comforts Elizabeth Darcy at the nadir point of Death Comes to Pemberley (it is strongly reminiscent of a trope pose found among Victorian illustrations), e.g.,

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Mary, Lady Mason, and her best friend, Mrs Peregrine parting at the close of Orley Farm (John Everett Millais)

Ellen

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Doran Goodwin as Emma just back from Miss Taylor’s wedding: a tough moment of aloneness (1972 Emma, scripted by Denis Constanduros)

Dear gentle friends and readers,

And you thought I was forgetting Austen’s birthday. Even if, like Samuel Johnson, at least on the day she wrote a poem in honor of her natal day, Jane Austen did not anticipate the day or experience it in a celebratory spirit (one of her close older friends, Anne Lefroy died on Jane’s birthday on 1804, To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday), I’ve tried to remember her gaiety when dancing, as well as other of her poems capturing her sincere moods for her birthdays.

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Andrew Davies’s film begins with a comical foreshadowing of the film’s end on desperate stealing of chickens at Harfield, but after a touching tight moment in the carriage of kissing between Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Samantha Bond as Miss Taylor we do get quickly to Emma alone — with Mr Woodhouse to cheer up (1996)

This year I can report that a small group of us on WomenWritersthroughtheAges @ Yahoo, together with joiners-in on Austen-l and Janeites have embarked on yet another reading of Austen’s Emma! Can there be anything left to discuss? We have already found there is, and I have been forced to make a schedule as there are too many people to leave this to be casual: I put this on the blog for the people on these listservs joining in:

Beginning Sunday, December 13th to 20th: Chapters 1-5
From Dec 20th to 27th: Chapters 6-10
Dec 27th to Jan 3rd: 11-15
Jan 3rd to 10th: 16-20
Jan 10th to 17th: 21-25
Jan 17th to 24th: 26-30
Jan 24th to 31st: 31-35
From Jan 31st to Feb 7th: 36-40
Feb 7th to 14th: 41-45
Feb 14th to 21st: 46-50
Feb 21st to 28th: 51-55

This past spring in our small WWTTA and EighteenthCenturyWorlds @ yahoo we read Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire’s The Sylph as a novel exploring rape; that morphed into just a few of us on WTTTA (as I recall the first for short), partly prompted by an essay by Isobel Grundy on Richardsonian novels by women (in a volume of essays on Richardson), going on in the summer to the anonymous Emma; or The Unfortunate Attachment, as a Richardsonian epistolary novel, clearly by a woman, but not by the Duchess; and this fall, wondering about the woman The Sylph has been wrongly attributed to, the Scots sentimental novelist, Sophia Briscoe, we read her 2 volume epistolary The History of Miss Melmoth, where issues beyond the Richardsonian heterosexual ones include a sympathetic account of womens’ need for a friend; a hostile depiction of a woman whose elopement with a rake turns out so badly that she is driven to become a lady’s maid who then betrays her young mistress by marrying her domineering shallow father; a deeply empathetic depiction of a stranded widow; the tenuous security of all women.

So this was we felt a sort of continuation of Emmas and novels by women dialoguing. It seems fitting then that our first debate (as we included more readers) was over on Alison Sulloway’s Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood, and her provocative and (to some of us) refreshing and relevant point of view highly critical of Mr Knightley’s patriarchal stances.

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Fast forward to the Hindi appropriation of Emma: Aisha-Emma’s humiliation is made excruciating because it occurs before an audience — Harriet-Shefali is the real heroine of this fashion-mad yet punitive film (2011 Aisha)

Why is Emma’s intelligence as such (what is she to do with it?) a central issue?

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Romola Garai as Emma leading a reluctant Louisa Dylan as Harriet to refuse Mr Martin’s offer of marriage

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Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, shocked upon being told of this refusal — for the first time I realize Sandy Welch made him narrator because the book puts Mr Knightley in charge (2009 Emma)

So what can one do more for a woman who died nearly 200 years ago then close read one of her masterpieces.

By way of contrast, the British Library has chosen Northanger Abbey (that “horrid” novel) as the focus of its commemoration.

Mixedphotos

Ellen

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Flirting amid piles of plays (Maria and Henry with Tom and Yates in the background, the 1983 MP by Ken Taylor)

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith my second blog report on the gist of the individual papers delivered on Saturday, October 10th, at the JASNA AGM in Montreal. Looking over the 7 to 8 break-out sessions on against the one I chose, I again regret that so many papers were on against one another.

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I went to hear Br. Paul Byrd’s paper comparing Mansfield Park with Margaret Oliphant’s Perpetual Curate because I’m a reader of Oliphant’s fiction, and know she was influenced by and wrote a perceptive essay on Austen’s fiction and Austen’s nephew’s memoir of his aunt. He brought the two novels together as by two Anglican women who saw the need for reform in the church with clerical heroes who suffer repeated attacks. Mansfield Park: Edmund is distracted by his personal involvement from his vocation; his religion though more often discussed than portrayed; pluralism and absenteeism condemned. He is contrasted to Dr Grant. Mary argues priests have little influence on people, represents a segment of society that no longer believes thoroughly in the Christian religion; mercenary considerations strongly influence her judgement; Henry Crawford is sensual, self-indulgent. Edmund’s relationship to Fanny shows him thoughtful, meaning to be reflective though he fails to be an accurate observer. The Perpetual Curate: Frank Wentworth presents a Victorian ideal and knows what a clergyman ought to be; but is his own worst enemy, not politic, handles a scandal foolishly, yet remains true to himself; Br Byrd brought in each author’s male relatives who were clergymen, and seemed to believe that Austen assumed her readers believed that Anglicanism could be an effective force in the world while Oliphant delivers a blistering critique of Anglican church of her day: Br Bryd thought Oliphant was showing a cultural shift from a gentleman who is a clergyman to clergyman who have a calling; he also read Mansfield Park as seriously about religion and religious failings in Austen’s characters and the cultural world they belonged to.

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I went to hear Kathryn Davis’s “Charles Pasley’s Essay and the ‘Governing Winds of Mansfield Park,” because during the long course of reading and analyzing Austen’s letters (see my blog analysis of Letter 78) I became aware of how she admired the ruthless imperialism of Pasley through what she said in a letter and Southam’s analysis of Pasley’s career and writing (in his book on Austen’s brothers) and how narrowly partisan Austen could be when it came to what she thought were her brothers’ interests. Ms Davis talked of Austen’s admiration for this man, and of his life as retold in the ODNB, and then presented Pasley’s writing in terms of his patriotic ideals and worry about the navy weakening; how he reminds his audience of the commercial good (profit, well ordered places) the military could lay the grounds for in conquest and expansion; she quoted eloquent passages (duty is service); he recognizes there is a loss of social and economic liberty but such bonds as are formed are a deterrent to war. I had not realized Pasley wrote specifically about the West Indies (e.g., Antigua must be held onto). I was much relieved when Robert Clark who had given a paper in the previous break-out session on the British empire at the time of and as reflected in MP (I heard a version of his excellent papers at the ASECS in Williamsburg last spring), when Mr Clark brought out the murder and destruction of societies found in these colonial places, the suffering inflicted on these native peoples; that Pasley’s is a ruthless militarist deeply anti-liberal argument, where the East India Company’s doings are an exemplary norm. Southam shows how he disobeyed orders to aggrandize himself. Mr Clark remarked that it’s telling that Pasley was republished around the time of WW1.

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Fanny Price and Henry Crawford dancing foreground, Mary and Edmund just behind them, at the Mansfield ball (1999 MP by Rozema)

I went to hear Nora Stovel Forster’s paper because it was about film, specifically “dancing as a blueprint for marriage in Rozema’s MP.” Ms Forster argued that Rozema modernized MP by politicizing its themes to push her own agenda. Austen’s MP is relentlessly about money as intertwined with love (Mary sees everything in terms of money; Maria marries to gain the use of a great deal of money). Ms Stovel spent a lot of time on the Portsmouth episode in the movie where (Ms Stovel felt) the poverty of the Prices is exaggerated, and drives Fanny to accept Henry Crawford’s proposal momentarily. Slavery is brought in as Fanny journeys around England; through the horrors illustrated in Tom’s sketches of his father’s plantation in Antigua; the sexuality made explicit for us to see the corruption of the hollow characters. Fanny’s character is much changed and she is (in effect) made the author of the movie. I liked how Ms Stovel showed us some of her stills in slow motion. It was hard to tell but I thought the audience this time was more pleased by Ms Stovel’s talk about Rozema’s movie than they had by Sorbo’s presentation because it could be taken as implicitly criticizing the movie for not being faithful (but that is not why they dislike it so as other movies as unfaithful, say Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S is very popular among such people).

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The Harp arrives (1999 MP)

I did not know that the session where Jeanice Brooks and Gillian Dow were listed was actually an attempt to present two papers in the 60 minutes. Ms Brooks’s paper was on French culture and music in Paris and as sold and mirrored in London and the provinces of England around the time of MP. I hope hers is one of those papers published in Persuasions for she presented much valuable information in a perceptive way applicable to Austen’s novel and life too (Austen played the pianoforte; Eliza, her cousin, the harp). She told of the invention and history of the harp in the 18th century, the music books in Austen’s household, and went over two volumes of selections from 18th century periodicals which only Eliza de Feuillide could have supplied. She gave a brief resume of Eliza’s movements in France and England from 1780 to 1813 when she died (1780 in Paris with harp; 1781 married, lived in Paris; 178-86 lives on husband’s estates; 1786-87 visits Steventon; Sept 1788 returns to Paris, back in 1789; death of Feuillide, of her mother, her marriage to Henry, the musical party Austen records in April 1811; Fanny Knight’s note on Eliza’s cancer); she then played a lovely piece of music to which one of the songs in the book was set at the time. I regret not having a copy of the text to share with others. I was unable to take it down in sten quickly enough.

EdmundreadingtoFanny
Edmund reading to Fanny as children (he made her books meaningful to her, 1983 MP)

I was not able to stay for much of Gillian Dow’s paper which had to be fitted in to the tail end of the session. Ms. Dow attempted a speculative answer to the question, from what books did Fanny Price learn French? She talked of what we know of Austen’s interactions with Grandison (reading, alluding, the playlet) and how she uses Lovers’ Vows in MP, to show Austen’s interest in plays, and she suggested Austen may have meant us to think the Fanny learned French by reading the plays Madame de Genlis wrote for children. While I agree that Adele et Theodore is an important source in two of Austen’s novels (Emma and NA) and Austen seems to have been an avid reader of Genlis’s fiction (which we can see from her reading with her sister in her letters), but at the time I left the session I had heard no evidence Austen read these plays or meant us to feel Miss Lee would be a person who would teach from them. Sir Thomas seems to have instructed his sons through having them declaim plays but there is no sign his daughters or niece were encouraged in such self-displays (even if the texts were impeccably moral).

My daughter, Izzy, may have chosen more wisely than me.

ReadingRehearsing
Everyone reading and rehearsing playscript (2007 MP by Maggie Wadey)

On Saturday she listened to Nancy Yee outline how Shakespeare’s Henry VIII relates to MP (she had a sheet of passages from Henry VIII); she was amused by Arnie Perlstein’s paper on subtexts in the allusions to plays in Mansfield Park; she said she understood Susan Allen Ford’s paper on Hester Chapone’s Letters and their relationship to Mansfield Park (was persuaded there really was one), and she positively enjoyed Sara Bowen’s “Fanny’s future, Mary’s Nightmare, on Jane Austen’s understanding of a clergyman’s wife’s life in the context of all the clergyman’s wives that she knew, from her mother, to her sisters-in-law, her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy and many other kin, friends and acquaintances.

clericalpeopledining
From 1982 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater (the clerical families dining, Mr Harding and his daughter, Archdeacon and Mrs Grantley and Mr Arabin, adapted from Trollope’s Barchester Towers)

Izzy talked of (I imagine from this paper) Trollope’s presentation of the life of Archdeacon Grantly’s wife in Barchester Towers, Mrs Proudie across the Barsetshire series, and what we see of clergymen’s wives in his mid- to later 19th century books, and said Ms Bowen argued that the demands on a woman’s life as a clergyman’s wife were changing and are reflected in Austen’s books: we see little expectation of religious doings or doctrine in Elinor Dashwood; we seem never to see Henry Tilney do or think about religion or doctrine (even if he does not neglect his parish and preaches there of a Sunday); in Mansfield Park things are changing, expectations growing. Izzy was amused to try to count up all the female characters in Austen’s fiction who either might have or do become clergyman’s wives.

humiliation
Mrs Norris humiliating Fanny over her refusal to play (1983 MP)

The most fun she and I had together while at the JASNA conference was when she downloaded all of MP onto my ipad (there is a library APP which permits this, offering free books out of copyright and books you must buy) and we read together parts of MP found suggestive hints in the first three chapters of the book tending to prove McMaster’s thesis that Mrs Norris loathed Fanny because she had wanted to have her as a vicarious child through Sir Thomas and found her personality one a vindictive, selfish, aggressive, competitive and greedy personality would bitterly resent.

I know I reported that my proposal to present a paper on the relationship of the four Mansfield Park films with the novel was rejected, though happily I wrote a brief elaboration of what I would have said and it was published on-line by BSECS, but I believe I never wrote about how I had had an idea to compare Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake with Mansfield Park. A well-meaning friend suggested to me my idea was too dry or scholarly or narrow (who reads Ethelinde?) and the MP proposal was more likely to find acceptance. I’ll end on this proposal I never sent: “Empire, Marriage, and Epistolarity in Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”

I propose to give a talk on revealing parallels between Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, and Austen’s Mansfield Park. First, the novels both use visual space, be it a country, rural, town or city, a prison or a great house, to project the inner psychic and moral state of a character in the context of a larger exploration of empire. Characters in both value male work which is part of a professional career to gain money and rank; whether they travel widely or spend their days in a local parish, the two novelists justify and/or critique the means by which the characters succeed or fail. Second, the novels contain slowly evolving love stories which end in an unexpectedly welcome misalliance for one couple and adultery for another, destroying the destined hopes of some of the characters, all seen in the context of arranged, mercenary, and far-flung marriage, further career moves. Last, the development of the novels’ plot-design relies on epistolary situations, characters who reach others only through letters, and reading with all the tension, misunderstanding and critique from afar distance creates and facilitates.
In other words, I’ll be discussing these novels from a post-colonial standpoint. Smith’s central characters are openly driven by economic need, caught up in wars, bad marriages and illegitimate yet loving liaisons, exile and painful and distant correspondences; while most of Austen’s characters’ circumstances are economically comfortable, and adultery is only adumbrated; nonetheless, her characters go through the same paradigms of need, war, mismatch and have to force themselves to write and read their letters Whether it’s a question of intertextuality or influence, a comparison of the way Smith’s and Austen’s characters discuss, dramatize and solve their career, marital and social or moral needs, will shed light on these novels and contemporary attitudes towards the demands of the local mercenary and rank-based and global commercial worlds as these intersect with the people’s private needs and desires.

HarvestStormRichardWestnall
After Harvest Storm, Richard Westnall by R.M. Meadows (early 19th century)

E.M.

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