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johnadeyreptonformrshenryleighbathhousebyadlestrop
Bath House, for Mrs James Henry Leigh by John Adey (1755-1860, Humphry Repton’s son)

“Those cottages are really a disgrace. The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the great house as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible. There is the parsonage: a tidy–looking house, and I understand the clergyman and his wife are very decent people. Those are almshouses, built by some of the family. To the right is the steward’s house; he is a very respectable man. Now we are coming to the lodge–gates; but we have nearly a mile through the park still. It is not ugly, you see, at this end; there is some fine timber, but the situation of the house is dreadful. We go down hill to it for half a mile, and it is a pity, for it would not be an ill–looking place if it had a better approach — Mansfield Park, Chapter 9

“… the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood — ” Persuasion, Chapter 11

Dear friends and readers,

I thought before going on to notes from my last conference this fall, “EC/ASECS: The Strange and Familiar,” I would devote a working blog to my project and thinking about “Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen.” After all this is supposed a blog focusing on Jane Austen.

For the past month, I’ve been slowly making my way through Austen’s famous six novels alongside many studies of the picturesque in landscaping, about landscape architects in her era and their debates, on how literary people, gardeners, historians have approached the mode (especially different when it comes to the use of enclosures to take the land from the propertyless and vulnerable), and how writers about Austen in particular place her and her novels in these debates. One might expect her outlook to change because the worlds of her books have different emphases, and since her stance towards life changed over the years: from (generalizing) a mildly rebellious, personally acid (as a woman) point of view to seriously politically grave and questioning, to acceptance, ever with irony, mockery of the very gothic mode she had loved, to late melancholy over what she wished she had known, and a new valuation of the sheerly aesthetic.

Yet I find broadly across the thirty years of writing life (1787-1816/7) a sameness, a steady holdfast to a point of view. This may be voiced as a strong adherence to judging what is presented as aesthetically pleasing or true by its usefulness. How far is what is created useful for those who live in or near it — use includes how much comfort and pleasure an individual can have from art, which seems to depend how far it works with the natural world (or against it, destroys the natural world), at what cost does this use come, and she counts as cost not only the removal of people and destruction or neglect of their livelihoods (especially in Mansfield Park and Emma), but how far it erases history or the past which she sees as giving meaning to the present through group memory and identity. She excoriates those who seek only status through their purchases and efforts, shaping what emerges from this motive as hypocritical at least as regards joy in all the aspects of the natural world, and disrespectful of animals, plants, whatever has been built. There’s nothing she despises more than someone who professes to love something because it’s fashionable — as say the gussied-up cottage. She has little use for celebrities: partly she is too snobbish and proud to chase after someone whose work so many profess to admire but in fact understand little of. To appreciate any art, no matter what it is, from drawing, to singing and playing an instrument, to curating (as it were) an estate, you must do it diligently and caring how it will turn out for its own sake, not for the reward you might personally get.

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John Linnell (1792-1882), Gravel Pits in Kensington (1812)

This is what I found to be true of the implied author’s attitudes and to account for the treatment of pictorialism wherever it be found in her works. I began with the idea that she found very funny viewers, readers who approach art and judge it insofar as it literally imitates what happens in life: walking in the autumn or death of the year, sitting in a garden in the cool fall, working in a kitchen, aboard a boat — these three are the subject of aesthetic conversations, however brief, in, respectively Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion. Now I see she partly wants to take aboard critiques from characters who never forget the practical realities of life, so remain unable to engage with improbable conventions of design, typical scene drawing, and what’s left out and/or assumed. The aesthetically naive or obtuse reaction has something direct to tell us about what is the relationship of what is seen to person seeing. I originally saw in the gap between artistic convention in a medium and what it’s representing in real life as allowing for enjoyment in contemplating how the convention is just a convention and we could presumably choose another. So we are free in art. Now I’m seeing the importance of going outside convention, our own enjoyment of whatever it is, to understand ourselves better. Then we can do justice to others who may not be able to respond imaginatively on a sophisticated level but have other valuable traits.

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John Crome (1768-1821), A Heath

This is a very serious or moral way of putting this matter but I think in what seems to be the beginning of an era of indifference to the needs of others, to previous understood relationships, to truth anything less is a further betrayal.
I found myself so strengthened by Austen as I went along (as I have been before) this time because in contrast our world outside is seeing remorseless attacks on the natural world, most people inhabiting the earth, worship of pretension, competition for rank and accumulation of money at whatever cost to others and group loyalty (never mind what to). A different version of these latter probably dominated the world-centers and made the later 18th century world the suffering-drenched place it was, but there were at the time groups of reformists, revolutionaries who were (to use FDR’s formulation) for a much better deal for all, even including animals.

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George Morland (1763-1804), The Artist’s Cat Drinking

I’m going to hold back on working this thought pattern out in close reading of appropriate places in Austen’s books for my paper, and here just briefly survey one old-fashioned book published surprisingly recently (1996) for the way Austen is treated as knitted to and writing for her family.  Matey belongs to those who read Austen’s books as non-critical of her era, to some extent unexamined creations (staying away from “politics”), belonging to a closed small world of what I’d call rentier elites. I thoroughly disagree with most of this; I think Austen’s outlook to be so much larger than this, and critical of her world and family too, but Batey understands what is provable by close reading and relevant documents (which recent published critics seem not to). Matey’s book is good because Matey uses the particulars of Austen’s family’s lives and their neighborhood (and its inhabitants), their properties and how they treated them wisely.  She looks at how authors that Austen is known to have read or from her novels probably knew and how their topics and attitudes are treated in Austen’s books. Her documented sources  are books Austen quotes, alludes to, or are unmistakably part of her text). She researched about these common sensically and with discrimination, ever thinking of what is Austen’s tone as Batey decides whether this or that text or garden place or drawing could be meant to be part of Austen’s discourse.

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Contemporary illustration: Box Hill

Each of the chapters is attached either to a period of Austen’s life or one or a group of her texts; they all have beautifully appropriate reproductions of picturesque landscapes; they all pick up on some aspect of debates on the picturesque in the era, often closely attached to, coming out of the particular Austen texts (but not always). “The Background” (1) tells of Austen’s family’s life briefly, how they lived in picturesque landscapes, how Edward the third brother was adopted by a rich couple who gifted him with immense wealth in the form of two country mansions and wide lands with all the patronage, rents, and power and education that came with that. The Austen family is presented as highly intelligent, wanting few personal relationships outside themselves (unless it be for promotion) and their gentry world. Austen wrote for her family is Batey’s assumption. We learn how Austen grew up inside “The Familiar Rural Scene” (2), loved Cowper, band egan her first long novel as epistolary narrative .  Batey dwells on Austen’s love of Cowper and how his poetry educated her into the kind of writing she did. Cowper is much quoted, how Marianne is passionate over his verse, Fanny has imbibed it in the deepest recesses of feeling and memory.

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Selbourne today —

Batey swerves slightly in “Agonies of Sensibility” (3): as she is herself politically deeply conservative, she makes fun (unexpectedly given how she’s presented Austen thus far) of the writers and the texts she says influenced Austen profoundly: Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther (where, I suggest, the hero kills himself as much because he has to live in a sycophantic court as any love affair he has), Charlotte Smith’s deeply depressed poetry and more desperate novels (highly critical of the social and political arrangements of the day): as with Cowper, Batey quotes at length and Smith’s poetry does justice to itself. Batey shows how the family paper, The Loiterer mocks “Rousseau’s half-baked” (her words) ideas. She goes over the juvenilia she can link directly to the family members: “Henry and Eliza” where she uses names and places of people close by:

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Lady Harcourt’s flower garden in Nuneham Courtenay (based on precepts in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise)

The same paradoxical pull-back shapes her “The Gothic Imagination” (4):  Batey talks of “the whine” of this material: the graveyard poets, the grand tour, Ossian, Blake. Batey does not take seriously any of this as deriving from contemporary anguish; her perspective is that of the aesthete (very 1950s American); she discuss the sublime from Burke apolitically, the lucky landowners, and even (or perhaps especially because ever sceptical). Samuel Johnson is hauled for his sceptical assessments (no sign of his Journey to the Western Islands). So Batey’s outlook on Northanger Abbey is it is about this “craze” which Austen saw through. Nonetheless, she quotes tastefully, and you can come away from this chapter with a much richer terrain and Austen text than Batey herself allows for. And she combines, so Smith’s Emmeline now comes in. She quotes from the effective presence of the abbey, the Tilney’s conversations on the picturesque and history, Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest as found in Austen’s text (amply quoted with illustrations appropriate).

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Thomas Jones (1742-1803), The Bard

Batey has not heard of feminism but she does know these are women’s texts and includes a reproduction of an landscape by a woman I’d never seen before but alas tells nothing of the artist, not even her first name:

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Lady Leighton, a watercolor of the gothic seat at Plas Newyd where the ladies of Langollen (a famous lesbian couple) read Ossian together (it was said).

I must start to condense. “Enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque” (5) and “The Beautiful Grounds at Pemberley” (6) contain a valuable discussion of Gilpin, who he was, how he came to wander all over England and write books on landscape and accompany them with evocative illustrations. She goes over the flaws in these (they are semi-fake, omitting all that is unpleasant, like exhausted hard-working human beings, and “eyesores” like mines), his theoretical works, of course the mockery of him (Batey is big on this). She does tell how Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price exposed the way these landscapes avoided showing how exploitative of the people and landscape products (for use) these enclosures and picturesque-makers were, but does not apply this to Austen: rather she quotes Marianne either engaged with the sublimely or critical of hypocritical cant. For the Sense and Sensibility discussion (where Batey stays on the surface again) she includes many lovely black-and-white and grey illustrations of real landscapes (ruins that real, i.e., crumbling buildings), tourist sites (Netley Abbey to which Austen’s family came). The productions for Pemberley are gorgeously colored: a Turner, a Joseph Wright of Derby, photographs of vast green hills. For Pride and Prejudice Batey simply dwells on the visit to Pemberley saying how unusually detailed it is, without asking why. She does notice Darcy has left much of the original placement of streams in place, and invites gentlemen to fish there; but how is it that every window has a gorgeous view from it, how did this come about, were these specifics originally related to some discussion (in a previous longer P&P) of how Darcy made the landscape never crosses her mind.

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Batey thinks Ilam Circuit walk gives us a sense of what was to be seen outside Pemberley windows

No matter how much was “lopp’d and chopp’d” says Batey, we have all in place that we need.

Batey approves of the chapters on Mansfield Park, “A Mere Nothing Before Repton (7)” and Emma, “The Responsible Landlord” (8), because there is so much serious criticism of the picturesque which Batey finds herself able to enter into in the first (land should be useful, should honor history, the church). She has a fine thorough discussion of Stoneleigh Abbey which Mrs Austen’s cousin tried to take over when its owners died so took his aunt and her daughter with him, possession being nine points of the law: the letters are quoted and they feel like a source for Northanger Abbey. Repton’s work for the Austens as well as generally is done far more justice to than Mr Rushworth ever understands.

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Stoneleigh Abbey before (Batey includes an “after” too: all the animals, the gardening work are removed as unsightly)

Batey believes Mr Knightley is modeled on Austen’s wealthy brother, Edward, who did work his own land, who valued his cows, who was conscientious — within limits: she does not bring out how later in life Edward was among those who refused to pay for a share of improvements of roads as he himself would not profit from it (we can’t do that, must not share). She does not seem to realize the earlier portrait of John Dashwood is also Edward nor that Edmund (whom she also identifies with Edward) is more than a little dense. But yes Mr Knightley is our ideal steward of land, working hard to make sure all can get something from nature (though, let me add, some do get more than others as the pigs in Animal Farm said was only right), and has not bowed to fashion, kept his trees, his house in a low sheltered place, has not spent enormously for “an approach.”

It comes as no surprise that Batey’s last chapter, “The Romantic Tide” (9), does not concentrate on Persuasion or Sanditon. These do not fit into her idealization of wealthy mansions, landscapes of and from power (I’d call them) . The aesthetic debates of MP and Emma set in a larger social context do not reach her radar. Thus that the Elliots have lost their house as Austen’s sixth longer book begins, the money basis of the economy, of war (Wentworth’s business like William Price’s is when called for killing and grabbing the property of others) and increasingly transient nature of existence for the fringe gentry are not topics here. We begin in Upper Cross but move to dress and harps in Mansfield Park (Regency costume enables Batey to bring in Fanny Knight and Austen’s times together in London). The furor over cottages orne probably represents an association from Mary Musgrove’s house, but the details are now all taken from the satire on Robert Ferrars’s despising of large buildings, worship of cottages and hiring Bonomi (without further context) in Sense and Sensibility. Sanditon‘s seaside gives way to “the insufferable Mrs Elton’s” lack of a real abode, her origins in trade in Bristol, and Lydia Bennet’s vulgarity. Batey’s text turns snobbish itself.

Where originality comes in again is not the sublimity of the sea, but in how the Austens enjoyed themselves in summer after summer of Austen’s last few years on the coast, “undeterred by threats of invasion.” Batey thinks the source place for Sanditon Bognor, which made a great deal of money for its entrepreneur, something what we have of the fragment suggests Mr Parker will not do. Anna Lefroy’s apt continuation has him going broke but for brother Sidney, a hero only heard of in the extant text. Jane Austen, we are told, disapproved of challenges to the traditional way of life, was against exploiting sickness and hypochondriacs like the Parker sisters. Batey seems to forget Austen was herself dying but includes the idea she “had little time for the socialistic propaganda of William Godwin”! In Sanditon Austen is harsh towards Burns and (we know from her letters) was strongly enamored of Crabbe — he has a hard look at nature and the rural landscape. A Fanny Price, name and character type, the story of a couple separated as imprudent with no retrieval are found in Crabbe. However, as Batey acknowledges in her book’s last few paragraphs, in Persuasion Austen revels in Charmouth, Pinny, Lyme.

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William Turner, watercolor of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth — Austen stayed there in 1803 and 180 and Anne Elliot discusses romantic poetry with Captain Benwick there

Batey’s is a useful book if you don’t look in it for any perception of why Austen was compelled to write and the full complicated nature of her texts. If it seems to be, it is not much different from Janine Barchas’s comparable History, Location and Celebrity, recent, respected: Barchas’s book is not filled with matters of fact in Austen, but in other books (of genealogy), in Barchas’s case buildings Austen never mentions (interesting if lurid), in amoral people not connected to her except by chance of first or last names (of which Austen does not have much variety). A “proof” can hinge on a number: Thorpe and Catherine have driven seven miles to one place, well seven miles in another there is this other gothic place, and Barchas has her subject matter. Both give us historical context, and between the two, Barchas remains speculative, a matter of adding one speculation to the next, and then crowding them around a text that never mentions them; Batey has the merit of writing about texts and movements Austen discussed, alludes to, quotes from, places we know for sure she visited, lived in. Both have good bibliographical references and you can use them as little encyclopedias.

Ellen

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London
London bridge, galloped across by Lydia, then Darcy, then Elizabeth, and all back again (Burr Steers’s P&P and Zombies)

Outsideadance
Fires were started (outside the usual assembly room dance)

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Elizabeth (Lily James) swinging her battleaxe

Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition — Elinor Dashwood, S&S

We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing” — Elizabeth Bennet, P&P

Dear friends and readers,

I’m in the peculiar position of having set out to damn this movie with faint praise, and dutifully reading the major reviews first, finding myself having more to say on behalf of the movie than most, and feeling what was so bad about the movie important enough to warrant explanation. Most reviews were a short paragraph or two at most: Peter Travers of Rolling Stone dismissed it cheerfully (!) as “utter nonsense;”; Manohla Dargis of the New York Times pronounced it “tedious and dull,” was irritated by reiterated motifs and jokes. Christie Lemire, one of those who carry on RogerEbert.com conceded some pictorial value, but it was so poorly done;; I went to Deb Barnum (Jane Austen in Vermont) hoping to fortify myself with praise there, but found that in fact she apologizes for her enjoyment and the movie.

This all agreed, despite the valiant efforts of this or that actor/actress. After an initial promotional showing in Maryland, P&P & Zombies never came near the movie-houses in my area (not DC, not in Northern Virginia, not exactly a backwater), and disappeared from movie-houses in friends’ areas around the country inside a week. Most Jane Austen movies, no matter how jarring the collocations, do very well. What was so bad? What went wrong?

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The Proposal scene, first phase (Sam Riley and Lily James)

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Second, they fight over a gun, before dengenerating into wrestling, hitting, and kicking match

I watched it twice, the first time swiftly through, the second much more slowly, taking a few snaps and paying attention to that or that. I didn’t dislike it the second time as much as I did the first (a common reaction I have to poorer Austen films). It’s memorable, a weird mirror. It shows the same turn for sudden blazing violence as even this summer’s Woody Allen’s Cafe Society includes. I argue despite its egregious flaws, it is not just failed entertainment.

I’m slightly ashamed to say why I disliked it so at first, but as this is why I argue the film is worth thinking about I’ll bring this out. I could not get myself to take it non-seriously. Had I been able to regard it as the smashing together of inane trivia from the conventions of Zombie movies with the plot-outline and most memorable or favored scenes of P&P, which in turn rendered all the Austen parts we have as themselves more inane trivia, then I would not have been disturbed. Damn it, I was.

The given of a zombie movie is there are these zombie creatures inhabiting wherever the movie is taking place, they are utterly distasteful looking — the worst kinds of ugly suppurating wounds, patches on people’s faces or whole parts of their bodies bleeding, filthy (filth is an important part of the visuals), curiously hideous; the face of the person grins at you, and it seems given a chance they would bite or attack you so that you become transformed into something similar. There can be poignant moments as if someone stepping out from a bombed area, some nuclear war:

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A mother and child

Only the zombies are not given the chance. The “good” or unpolluted (good = unpolluted, this is part of the worrying subtext) characters assault the zombies first. We are “treated” to the major principles in the film blasting these zombie creatures with bombs, blasts, fire, guns of all sorts, knives photographed close up, long rifles; the principles kick, smash, jump on, and blast out the zombies. Our five heroines we are told have been training as warrior in China (the usual place is said to be Japan), so too Charlotte (Aisling Loftus, Sonya from the recent W&P), over-the-top hideiously made-up is Lady Catherine de Bourgh who is treated as just delectable (Lena Headley) because of her warrior costume and black patch on one eye.

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Thrones play a big part in the sets

These heroines pass their days hitting one another, slapping, kicking; they walk about with guns. Darcy is a chief hunter-out and destroyer of Zombies, behaving like some doctor in violence.

Considering what goes on in US streets, the killing and violence of fear and hatred also across Europe and the middle east, engendered by this war on (so-called) terror, how can anyone regard this as trivial? it’s a reinforcement. There was Lily James, with a mean expression on her face, hair dyed dark brown (it is just one step too far to make Elizabeth Bennet a blonde), toting and stumbling over huge rifles as she stalked down streets.

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The gallant “Parson” Collins (Matt Smith), the only character in the film who is against guns (will not have them in his house), chivalrously turns to help Elizabeth during the walk to Meryton

I can’t laugh at these versions of slapstick. I never liked laughing at characters made to slip and fall and be humiliated. There is an underlying pattern of humiliation here — voyeuristic laughter at wounded horrors.

My dislike is founded on a deep rejection of senseless violence, of commercial uses of body imagery which debase and degrade the viewer’s sense of what violates whatever fundamental empathy or humanity we have (not a lot). Serious gothic is defensible as expressing deep grief, thoughts about death, the meaning of history in the present, victimization. The second time round I picked up the archetypal plot-design one sees in most spy-thrillers. Early on a bad guy emerges (evil in whatever are the terms of the movie), here Wickham (Jack Huston) and the audience glimpses this while we watch the hero (Colonel yet Darcy) fight this evil person and win and the characters slowly realize it. Like others more recently the hero here is saved by someone else in the nick of time: here Elizabeth, after Darcy has saved her in the nick of time several times — very like the film adaptation of Gabaldon’s Outlander where in the nick of time at the close of the first season Claire (Catriona Balfe) saves Jamie (Sam Heughan); hitherto it had been he who saved her in the nick of time. They too perform riding tricks aside the same horse.

I noticed too that the language used is that our political war filled world. The characters have no choice but to fight and be violent. I thought some of the language used about the zombies was racist (the way black people are talked about by those for allowing police to murder them at will); a friend who studies film as well as literary gothic said the zombies in some zombie movies seem to stand for immigrants. No idea of understanding in the movie anywhere but then the whole lift-off from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is simply exploitative. There was here and there the idea that life and death are connected but that was not structural as in say Branagh’s Frankenstein. So this is a deeply reactionary, fascistic film.

A lot was made of common distaste for bugs.

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In the above typically orange-and-black scene of manners (playing cards), the older man is attacked and destroyed without warning because he is supposed a zombie (it’s the same procedure the US uses for drones)

Human beings find insects horrible because they look so different from us, seem so mindless. So bugs are everywhere and we have to watch Lily James crush them with her hands, then drop a bunch into Darcy’s hands. Well, yes, yuk. But this sort of thing doesn’t do much for those wanting to increase respect for otherness in the kingdom of living things. This was part of the film’s vein of foulness.

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The de rigueur breakfast scene

Aesthetically there was a continual jarring as the film-makers moved back and forth from Austen material taken straight (word-for-word when famous), in more or less quiet usual daylight colors, and zombie scenes. Interwoven absurdly the reading of Forsyte’s sermons. For a moment here and there an actor captured something of the original spirit of Austen’s book (Charles Dance, thrown away here as Mr Bennet — I hope they paid him big, Sally Philips as Mrs Bennet) but mostly the dialogues were made to feel silly and made no sense surrounded by this sudden outbreaks of brutal meanness. (I admit much of it might seem light or harmless if you compare it to what goes on in the popular and fleeting action-adventure, spy-thriller, macho male concoctions as in Games of Thrones, The Infiltrator.) It’s more than that:  Furman’s pacing was inadequate. Poor art. No edgy-ness when sheer edge was called for.

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The world as ruin, on fire from bombs

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Elizabeth crawling through to reach an apparently dead Darcy

OTOH, the photography of London and the gothic imagery was effective, haunting, the mise-en-scenes of gothic places apocalyptic – the grey anonymous city. These set pieces reminded me of the sets created for Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant genuinely apocalyptic The Last Lover Left Alive featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston: The Last lover Left Alive was an overly political gothic movie: the city the vampires (in this case) try to escape to or from is Detroit which has been deliberately sluiced and destroyed by super-wealthy (reminding me of similar characters in Our Kind of Traitor, the most recent LeCarre). Richard Davenport-Hines in his Gothic: 400 years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin demonstrates that the gothic is as often used for radical and liberal visions as reactionary atavistic cruelty.

The most interesting aspect of the film was its gothicisms. How stable this kind of material is: someone coming to the movie from the 1790s who had been reading gothics could recognize it, only it was more Victorian, drawing more on the kind of detective gothic coming out of later 19th century books. I can see the origin of this in the fable of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff’s first costuming; in the latest version (Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro) finally the monster’s loneliness, the defiance of death, the strong attack on medicine as violating us was brought out; the zombie machinery just throws that all away but for the occasional look of forlonrness on a female zombie which is quickly erased as she snarls. The more general origin is not what’s called “terror” gothic (often female, often about intangibles, inward) but “horror” gothic (often male, misogynist, doing all it can to violate bodies in startling ways).

One movie does not a genre make but from what I observe in this one zombies belong to the male gothic, violate the body side of gothic. The Jane Austen woman’s film has become a male one. One of the famous stills — which is seen for a moment in this film as an unnamed woman zombie wanders through — is a mask of iron with slates over the woman’s face. This silences her– like taking out her tongue. So you can rape her at will. I’ve few pictures of wife abuse before the later 18th century but one shows a woman whom the court punished by putting such a mask on her face: the court was itself abusing her. (This makes me think of the present Republican insane-hate fest where they chanted at Hilary Clinton “lock er up,” the next best thing is lock her face, cut out her tongue, execute her).

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Our principals pass by a place that looks like George Bellows’s under Brooklyn Bridge, where zombies and others come out starving, looking for food, warmth, anything

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Out of a key church in the film, St Lazarus, come the 4 horseman in black, and then zombies and others half-crazed pour out

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Wickham early in the film

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Last seen, a kind of mad-dog terrorist (?) with a many-pronged iron tool

While the two genres utterly clash, beyond Jack Huston a credible, slowly emerging angry, and then enraged Wickham, Aisling Loftus a self-respecting Charlotte, Matt Smith a comically effective Collins. Both Lily James and Sam Riley were almost almost moving their last scenes but one (the fatuous wedding, meant to be fatuous, made fun of) — reaching out to one another, the second proposal. When the Jane Austen material was to the fore (alas rarely I thought of how Austen’s novels prima facie stand for civilized behavior at a minimum — which is not to be despised in today’s world.

It’s a film you could think about.

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The direct source, the men, & the sisters: side issues?

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Matt Smith marrying everyone else

Since Seth Grahame-Smith’s mash-up novel seems to me a gay send up of the archetypal heterosexual romance, I’ll mention I saw no homosexuality, no jokes I could recognize as gay in this film.  Erased. There is nothing homoerotic in this film either, unless you impose on Bingley’s usual dependence on Darcy (Douglas Booth as Bingley is made effeminate) and the enraged hostility of Darcy and Wickham (now developed from previous sequels) as homoerotic. Maybe we were to see the anti-violence Collins as gay. This shows a strong stereotyping, and it’s a stretch.

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Darcy and Bingley — typical moment between them

A friend said of “the men, who in the Austen book we see idling like a bunch of Ken dolls, [are] engaging in activity, even if that activity was killing zombies. As one interested in what Kenneth Johnston calls the white spaces in Austen’s novels, I appreciated at least a depiction, if extremely fanciful, of what the men do when they aren’t hanging around drawing rooms.” Yes but I wished they could find something else beyond killing as a trade. A mirror of our time? the US gov’t makes only military jobs. We have girl-power chicks readying themselves with guns

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A debate broke out on Janeites because one person (Arnie Perlstein?) claimed tha the film developed a subtext in Austen of Elizabeth’s intense jealousy and rivalry with Lydia, here turned into a kind of hatred. Lily James does seethe at first at the usual sullen spiteful version of Lydia (Ellie Bamber)

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A group scene

The film lacks all subtlety except when Austen material comes through. But this idea is such a tiny element — if you blink you’ll miss it. It starts early on, but is no more prominent than the standard bad behavior of Lydia in this film (she tries to humiliate and scorn her sisters); it’s also overturned because of the stupidity of spy-thriller conventions (more just in the nick of time stuff). Our victim-heroine Lydia is lured into St Lazarus castle and without explanation we next see her chained in a dungeon. Darcy knows where she is (so a tiny hint from the original book) and risks all rescuing her; then Elizabeth knowing where he went, rides after them, and of course rescues them both and the two girls hug in a wooded wasteland at some convenient split second.

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In the Austen domestic comedy and romance sequences, the costume designer costumed Lily James to look like Jennifer Ehle; some of her dresses were exactly those of Jennifer Ehle; Jane’s (Bella Heathcote) costumes were same as Jane’s (Rosamund Pike) in Joe Wright’s films.

Maybe it’s too much to call this gothic Jane a significant mish-mash, but it should not just be dismissed. Compare them in gothic guise:

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The city as ruins

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Elizabeth gone mad and Jane in open distress

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The film’s last still before the credits roll

Ellen

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Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn, pregnant by Stafford, preparing bundles for the road-journey from court, POV Jessica Raine as Jane Lady Rochford (Peter Straughan-Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to the Tudor Matter these past couple of days, finally finishing Alison Weir’s biography, Mary Boleyn, having read two more books on Anne Boleyn, and watching several times Phillipa Lowthorpe’s daring and free film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Barring none, including Wolf Hall, Lowthorpe’s film is the most original of the films with Anne Boleyn as stealth or obvious heroine (which began in the 1960s with the no longer tenably watchable Anne of the Thousand Days).

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Natasha McElhone as Mary Boleyn, POV Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl, scripted and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, 2003)

Lowthorpe’s film is totally different in feel and angle, deeply inward in its approach. Andrew Davies is listed as one of the film editors; well what happens in this as in other of his films, is that central character address us regularly; the character faces us, the assumed audience, directly and tells us their innermost emotions, is ironic, pleads with us, justifies themselves.

The 2003 Other Boleyn skips most of the outward pageant scenes we are so familiar with; it assumes we know the history, or the broad outlines, ad we hear of what’s going on off-stage, as this person beheaded, that falls from power to poverty, the accusation of Anne, the trial, the outcome. The film zeros in on the inner worlds of the two Boleyn Sisters and partly George. Outstanding performances (as usual) by Jodhi May (an unsung great actress) and Steven Mackintosh (he also doesn’t get his due, he was terrifying in Prime Suspect and perfect in Sandy Welch’s Our Mutual Friend, just the right amount of fearful tyranny for Lady Audley’s Secret). What we see is how twisted is the psychology, how neurotic and desperate and how Anne Boleyn is driven to become amoral early on – the young girl punished for allowing a love affair with Harry Percy to proceed to informal betrothal and bed, and she is exiled to be left utterly solitary, in poverty, and to empty hours at the cold Hever Castle for a long while. She learns her morality and lessons from the like of father and uncle. We have many scenes where either Mary or Anne faces, focuses on what seems to be us, spilling out their reflections and intense agons, resentments, despairs. Mary escapes not only death but a hard life — this is romance history — because Stafford loves her and she learns to love him and when she marries him. It is documented in the histories that this was so at least initially and perhaps for the rest of their lives together. The second time Stafford married, it appears it was also for love! The exile gives Mary space and time because she has Stafford with her, the house they live in, her two children probably by Henry, to become someone different, at peace far more. While at court, when she was coerced into becoming Henry VIII’s mistress and cuckolding the willing but agonized Carey she is going in the direction of Anne’s ruthless amorality, and (this is said to be in enough records, and is dramatized in the 2008 movie and Wolf Hall, then replacing Anne in bed while Anne was pregnant and Henry could not do without a bedmate each night.

Lowrthorne’s sexuality is not focused on genitals, not violent, but affectionate, sensual over skin, very physical — there is few shots on womens breasts, it’s rather sensual, lots arms and hands, and soft focus, the couples’ backs.

Unlike Justin Chadwick and Peter Morgan in their 2008 The Other Boleyn Girl,

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Scarlett Johannsson as Mary Boleyn watching Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford from afar (The Other Boleyn Girl, Morgan and Chadwick, 2008)

Lowthorpe ignored Gregory a lot. She makes Mary the older for example, she takes liberties and cuts out Mary’s first child, a girl (Alison Weir thinks this girl was Henry 8’s) and her boy is said to be Henry 8’s. Lowthorpe turns George Boleyn into a deeply anxious sycophantic hero on foot, he has to be driven into having sex with Anne, his sister, and does, to get her pregnant yet a third time — ended in a nonviable still born male fetus, January 1536. In the depiction of George, Lowthorne defies masculine stereotypes at the same time as she does not make him a homosexual man. Lowthorpe suggests what thus far the biographies I’ve read have not — (except for Mantel from an outside perspective), that Anne was sexually transgressive now and again lightly, and then went to bed with George because after her third miscarriage she felt she must produce a son and Henry was the problem. Court life encouraged this.

When this film eschewed the actual beheading, and instead fast forwarded to 2015 to show us the square plaque commemorating to see bas relief sculptures, I was taught there is a voyeuristic fascination, a kind of sadism being fed by these beheadings. There was no obligatory scene of a women terrified to death. We fast forward to the present and where there is apparently a stone which marks the place where AB was executed and we see people looking at it.

This one won no awards and so has no feature — it’s budget was less than the other and it shows at moments — some minor actors for roles we needed better actresses at (Katharine of Aragon). Lowthorne’s is very much a woman’s film, with the three Boleyn children as in the 2008 movie shown playing games together in the fields as in 2003 the young adults are half making imply if they can stop the king. The season turned and cyclically returns to that.

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As in 2003 Boleyn Girl: Anne and Mary in the tower as Anne awaits her execution

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I’ve offered three actresses as Mary to emphasize how no one knows at all if any of the portraits said to be of Mary Boleyn are of her; those said to be of Anne are at least less hesitantly so. Also that Gregory’s putting Mary back into the tapestry, the carpet of history is was key step in transforming the way we tended to see the story, and led to this new flowering and new points of view on the old material. What I’ve come away with is how little we know and how we must remain sceptical even as we see this interpretation matters and that needs rectification. So briefly, Bernard’s and Ives’s books on Anne Boleyn and Alison Weir on Mary.

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Hever Castle, Kent, became the seat of the Boleyns

While away I read G. W. Bernard’s iconcoclastic (nowadays) Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions where he argues she was guilt of sexually transgressive behavior with the male courtiers surrounding her and Henry, or at least some of them. He makes a strong case for arguing this is as probable as all the insistence she was not at all; the problem is he is so successfully sceptical by the end of the book — like Alison Weir’s on Mary — I am so aware of how little we can know for sure. Thomas Cromwell’s life in comparison is hugely documented: since he wrote and did so much in public. What is so refreshing is how he acts on the kind of scepticism Weir tries to follow. A good deal of his book proves we know nothing about Anne Boleyn and Ives’s too has invented continuously.

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Kristin Scott Thomas’s enactment of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Anne’s mother, seems much closer to Ives’s portrait of Anne than any of the four I’ve seen (2008 Other Boleyn Girl)

Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Like many writers about early modern to mid-18th century women he attributes agency where there is no proof of any. This is a great problem in studies of earlier women. So we are told that Margaret of Austria was Anne Boleyn’s teacher and Ives proceeds to analyze all he knows of Margaret’s accomplishments. Anne was a lady at Margaret’s court — to jump to the idea she was taught as if this were a governness is overdoing this. He doesn’t say this of Claude because the personality of the woman stops him.

Ives is much too partisan. He wants to keep Anne sexually uninvolved wherever possible. As a long reader of Renaissance poetry I know how old are the traditions of insisting much of what was written in verse was posing. Well without arguing this at length here (I can’t) a lot is not. A hellvua lot. Ives wants Anne to be too artful, too manipulative — she was more than Mary. He then in effects disdains Mary as this easy lay. Mantel at least respects her — as do I — for her later choices. He just dismissed Warnke — probably because she’s such an overt feminist.

The archive is anything but forthcoming and unbiased, by a combination of his reasoning, myriad sources to me is convincing: he sees Anne as centrally led out of her own political needs for allies and also her own education, bent, reading, to move into Protestant doctrine, foremost of course is to throw off the pope and allow Henry to be supreme head and thus marry her. He often relies on Chapuys, the Emperor’s spy-ambassador. Ives does go into the sex: he sees the problem of Henry not having an heir a function of Henry’s own sexual anxiety, incompetence, let’s call it repression from childhood. Mantel does not go that far but she does pick up on Henry’s potential hatred for Anne because she so held him off and it was in front of others, and how she did domineer at least until the first miscarriage and it became clear that it was probable that an heir was unlikely. Henry liked Jane Seymour’s passivity and wanted to believe her a virgin.

Most men will not countenance a continuing and especially an exclusive relationship with a woman who cannot or will not fuck, and where I depart from Ives is I wonder how much of Anne’s holding out was her fear of sex — the whole repressive Catholic background, the denigration of sex as lust, evil women doing it outside marriage, of pregnancy and childbirth, and if she did encourage Henry to use anal intercourse that suggests to me that’s a motive (as well as no contraceptives) I wonder if that played a part in how she allured by Henry because she was aggressive. Ives goes over how few women Henry had between Katharine and Anne, how Mary’s two children first appeared after she married Carey. Now Mantel has Henry VIII hating Anne Boleyn for refusing to fuck for so many years until they were near married — and that came out afterwards when no son resulted.

Ives lays out the three ways to take Cromwell that are now common; before Mantel’s book the 3rd was known only to scholars of the era (p. 150): 1) a fixer, hit man for others; 2) bureaucrat, brilliant politician, the archetype staff officer, very strong; 3) “a perceptive statesman, the original mind which reallocated the atomic weights in the periodical table of English politics” (I’d add religion as practiced in churches)

Very interesting is Ives’s account of why Anne was so disliked: yes other women disliked Henry’s dumping his wife, but there was real fear of revolt; Anne was often blamed for what Henry or Cromwell or More did: the brutality of the torture, the executions – and we may exaggerate because Cromwell was so good at gathering evidence so he could head off conspiracies. New taxes on churches, of course all those kicked out hated her; she was the bad adviser before Cromwell took her place. Her real fault was she didn’t have a son because had that happened all would have become silent around her. Ives is good at showing early signs of trouble in the marriage even before the first miscarriage. One must get past the long sections (half-skimming) where we are regaled (it must be) with all the ceremonies, rituals, gifts given and received the are connected to and with Anne. The more revealing objects are the paintings she is said to have caused to be painted – there is a real problem proving agency but some of this is persuasive . Realistic psychological paintings can tell a great deal if they have symbolic images readily interpreted by Ives. She did revel in being queen, in the court life she had garnered for herself.

But sometimes Ives rejects documentary evidence because what it says doesn’t suit him. Mary not ejected out of jealousy (from successful sex with Henry, from sheerly having gotten pregnant but because Mary did not try to marry up – the idea here is Anne wanted to present the family as having all these nobles in their midst. Mantel does not discount that in Mary’s tirade in Wolf Hall, but obviously she goes more for the depths of human jealousy and resentment because Mary got pregnant. Mantel opts for the latter. If image creation was Anne’s aim it was counterproductive as jewels and ceremonies just roused more resentment; it did not work to make her queen, something deeper afoot.

But most interesting to me was I suddenly came upon a stretch where Ives was trying to discuss the nature of Anne Boleyn’s religious faith. It was exactly the sort of material I labored for years on in Vittoria Colonna, found in Marguerite de Navarre, and Rene of Ferrra, not to omit Jeanne D’Abret. Anne owned manuscript epistles by Jacques D’Etaples, called Evangelical at the time but we might see this as mystique subjective stuff encouraging self-examination; he finds exchanges of manscripts of poems in this vein (between Colonna and Marguerite it was Colonna’s poems though Marguerite wrote her own more medieval like versions of them). I felt astonished and recognized the same problem Ives faced: how do you attribute this to the woman? What can she have liked this for? To tell the change from good works to faith doesn’t come near it. I suggest the analogy is women reading Rousseau: he thought women mattered and his treatises were taken as attempt to lay claim to their valid subjectivity.

Ives shows that George Boleyn wrote a dedication to his sister of a present of Tyndale to her: in this we see an intense closeness of feeling between them. Maybe they never came to sex, but I can see why Henry might find something disturbing here. Ives suggests the whole Boleyn family were a “hotbed” of Protestantism of this kind – I know from reading elsewhere Cranmore was and Anne was all for his high office, he supported her as far as he dared; he was one of those Mary burned – he was involved in trying to place Jane Grey on the throne.

I have never come across an adequate explication of what these women got out of these kinds of materials. In Colonna’s case mostly men afterwards have talked of her relationship with Pole and gone on to him, and deprecated her flagellations. She did flagellate herself – as did Wolsey
Some insight which translates the religious language into secular psychology is needed. Ives mentions the “fierce passions” that drew Henry and Anne together – their bedrooms were set up across a hall from one another before marriage but we haven’t got an equivalent of Freud to parse these women.

While it is very moving and a consistent portrait of Anne emerges from the book that shows her to have been (to use Cromwell’s words about her quoted as having been said by him shortly after she was executed) a woman of “spirit, intelligence, courage,” I don’t think his explanation of what happened at the end quite holds up. In a nugget, he fails to explain how a woman who in April at least seemed fully in control of her position and loved by the King enough, could by May be executed by him — along with 5 other men, all of them close to Henry. His inability to come to a satisfactory explanation comes from his refusal to see Anne as anything but innocent of all sexual transgression. There are a couple of significant holes in his long book and story. First he does not tell us what Anne said so hysterically when she went to pieces upon being taken to the tower.

Second he does not tell us what Kingston said in a letter about Anne while in the tower — it may be these letters are no longer extent but he does quote the Lisle letters repeatedly otherwise (keepers of the tower) and I’ve discovered another book which has Anne as sexually transgressive with her male courtiers seems to — by G.W. Bernard and I’ve bought that one now. If the letters don’t exist, then there is plenty of hearsay at the time about what the letters said.

He omits (as I’ve said) the accusation of sorcery which is the old accusation of how she betwitched him, but was at the time seen as his reaction to the two miscarriages and the foetus dying which was said to have been male. He does this partly to dismiss Retha Warnke’s book which he repeatedly calls nonsense. He cannot even get himself to talk about her idea that homsexual behavior went on between Anne’s male courtiers which included her brother, George.

The origin of this in the book goes back to his reading of the poetry of the early part of Anne’s time at the Tudor court which he refuses to admit has any sexual reality. He won’t have her having gotten into serious engagement (sex and a vow) with Henry Percy Northumberland. He won’t allow sex to have happened between her and Wyatt.

He will allow that she and her courtiers indulged in ugly and dangerous ridicule of the king’s prowess, that she flirted in the way of courtiers at the time, and got too familiar or too close with the men in her entourage, and that this ignited all Henry’s deep hurt, humiliation, anxiety.

He does suggest that Henry’s desire for a male heir and Henry’s inability to produce one is at the core of all that happened. So it is this humiliated resentful male with lethal power — and it has to be remembered he inflicted dreadful deaths on four of the men, a terrifying one (beheading) on George and Anne Boleyn. Everyone just stands there and let’s Henry’s power do it. One of the reviewers said we have to remember that Henry’s power was so tenuous that’s why he fell to axing people but it does not seem tenuous when he can have people burnt, drawn and quartered and axed to death.

Ives’s explanation has to rest on Cromwell; Cromwell emerges in this book as suddenly turning on the woman he had been serving for years. Ives has Cromwell as serving Anne more than the king in changing the kingdom into protestantism, not credibile really — even if she had a personal religion and books that resemble other queens of the era. Cromwell in a ruthless way concocts out of rumor and nothingness the whole fabric and makes it stick even endlessly denied by all but Smeaton (who was the core of the evidence, admitting to adultery with Anne, saying the others did this too, a miserable role no matter how you see his motives). Ives says people did dislike Brereton who had deliberately hung someone a jury in his district had first declared not guilty (that is in Wolf Hall and in the film). Cromwell killed her lest he be killed; he felt himself in danger but even here, we are left with why? Why did Cromwell suddenly feel so threatened? Ives goes over the politics and uncertainties over the emperor, and the French king, Mantel has it Henry let Cromwell know he wanted to get rid of Anne after she had the second miscarriage and he had started his liaison with Jane Seymour so Cromwell, fearful but reluctant (over Anne and one of the men, Weston), acted

Cromwell is Ives’s great villain of these 6 weeks — loading the jury with people utterly hostile to Anne, with one man dependent on him, but 96 people said guilty and many of them were not Cromwell creatures. Those biographies of Cromwell I’ve read or am reading work hard to counter or explain away this perspective (Tracy Boorman, John Schofield).

The reviewers of Ives’s book most admired his sections where the social construction thesis is strong: how Anne manipulated the court, her image, rose to power this way. Here my objection is these images she manipulated were believed in, she was supposed to be a numinous figure. All collapsed so suddenly that my idea of the phoniness of all this as seen through is plausible (to me). The other version of why it is all collapsed is that no one could accept her in the way they did women coming from regal numinous families. Ives thinks it’s the latter (not that the images were religiously intertwined) and that all her power resided in Henry’s favor if we are talking for real. He says that the courtcraft she rose to power on did her in.

Maybe it’s the sordidness of the sex and motives all round that is so hard for Ives to accept and see as explaining what happened — Mantel infers or insinuates this and her use of fiction (reminding me of the debate on Lolita) allows her to suggest this without making it explicit.

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Blickling Hall, Norfolk where Mary, Anne and George Boleyn were probably all born

Two flaws in Alison Weir’s book: first, as with so many of these people writing on earlier sexually transgressive women, like Ives and Warnke, she is adamently opposed to accepting any tenuous evidence of most of Mary Boleyn’s presumed sexual life. When she says there no evidence whatsoever for an affair with Francois I, there is equally no evidence for other of assertions about the Boleyn family’s motives. Having a little expertise in this area in the sense that I spent a few years reading these often lurid gossip kind of material (chronicles, letters, diaries) for Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, I know that often that is what evidence we have for women apart from biological and documentary entries (property changes) and their letters are few and often guarded, or censored. That Mary may have been promiscuous does not mean we have to call her a whore. I don’t. I recognize she’s coerced in part — as I see prostitutes. Second, Weir’s style. Someone said of one of Weir’s long books: a “great puddle of a book.” I’ll say. She will say the same obvious truism over and over,and she repeats evidence in a circle. She hasn’t got a style — I’m relieved there’s none of the different jargons in Ives or Warnke, but that does not make for entertaining reading.

Still Weir is so conscientious and goes over every smidgin of evidence that from her work you can erect a chronology and come up with an probable outline of Mary’s life. It’s interesting to me that four women who recur in these costume dramas provided powerful people after they retreated, were forced out or died: Edward Jane’s son was king for a time and he was important in preventing a total catholic take-over; Mary Tudor became queen but it was too late and she was too bloody, Elizabeth Tudor became queen and the two Lord Hunsdons from Mary Carey Strafford.

There exists a startling long and frank letter from Mary to Cromwell after her pregnancy and marriage to Stafford was found out. She was literally turned out of court with no money; Weir’s hard work and scepticism makes a strong case for the couple going to Calais and living there for some 6 years because Stafford had an appointment as a guard there and is found in records for these years there. But what was so dismaying was how she treated this letter: sheerly from the standpoint that Mary should have written the letter as a manipulative document, not openly showing emotion and realities that are (I know) so rare in letters until the 18th century when there is suddenly a extraordinary break-through and you get whole sets of letters where women (and sometimes) men too open their vulnerable lives up to one another.

Among other things the letter testifies to the rightness of Mantel’s instinctive positive treatment of Cromwell. It’s clear Mary feels assured the man has a heart. Weir assumes that he didn’t like this letter or disdained it because there is no record that anything was done for her; that does not mean Cromwell didn’t try — he was super-careful when it came to protecting himself in this lethal court. John Schofield’s Cromwell (a recent biographer) is a man who a woman could write such a letter to as Mary Boleyn wrote.

Weir quotes a few other people on this letter: they also disdain it. No one doubts its authenticity. There exists only one short letter by Anne Boleyn; if we had anything like the equivalent for Anne it would be well know and I suggest would made people defend Anne more — paradoxically as writers would probably equally disapprove.

My speculation or inference is that Mary is despised still because she did fail in her court career and because for all Weir’s hard work, people believe she was sexually available to men “too easily.” Weir won’t have her as a “great whore” but she does not respect her. Gregory tries to — and I wonder if some of her inaccuracies are her attempts to tone down the woman’s lack of success as this is understood by most. She did survive and there is enough evidence she was happy in her closing years, made her choice herself and courageously but what her choice was won’t do.

Not only does Weir’s case against Mary having intense sexual involvements with someone in France and again with Henry VIII fall down, but her own appendices seem to me to demonstrate beyond any doubt that Katharine Carey and Henry Carey, Mary Boleyn’s two children were Henry VIII’s — the way they and their children and children’s children were treated seems to me to have no other explanation. Weir admits to the probability of Katharine; what stops her from agreeing to Henry is that for her to have had two children by Henry shows an extended sex life and she wants to say Henry stopped having sex with Mary rather quickly. She will admit only the briefest of sex outside marriage episodes for Mary.

In Mantel Henry keeps Mary as a side-mistress, concubine really for when Anne is pregnant. The accurate phrase for these women who are at court and go to bed with these powerful kings is concubine. They are tantamount to slaves, their bodies endlessly available to men at court whom their families want to aggrandize with.

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Henry Carey, later Lord Hunsdon, favored by Elizabeth, Lord Chamberlain (probably Henry VIII’s son, and thus Elizabeth’s half-brother and cousin)

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Katherine Carey, later Lady Knollys, lived close to Elizabeth all their lives (Henry VIII’s daughter, and thus Elizabeth’s half-sister and cousin)

If I’m right (and Philippa Gregory has both of Mary’s children Henry’s), then it helps explain Henry’s intense sudden hatred of Anne. She excluded him until he betrothed himself to. Since he can sire children and healthy ones with other women (her sister for one), it must be he has 1) angered God in his choices, and 2) what was wrong with choosing Anne was she was sexually unchaste or not a virgin when he finally had her — and all the while she was refusing him. He looked at he courtiers and Leontes-like went into a crazed rage. Leontes in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale comes partly from Henry VIII as he was known about and Hermione’s speech is a piece with Katharine. That Shakespeare was gripped by the private aspects of the Henry VIII debacles is seen in his repeating it in his Henry VIII in part. Who then was the father of the stillborn baby Anne perhaps produced in summer 1535. Her brother who had aided and abetted her and been given so many financial plums.

Ta Nehisi-Coates writes and says that American black people, especially men walk around with bodily fear; it seems to me that all women until the 19th century and since only a (growing) minority can feel their bodies are their own, safe from invasion.

Chronology and outline of Mary Boleyn’s life (see comments)

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As in 2008 Other Boleyn Girl: Wm Stafford freely chosen by and choosing Mary Boleyn, for love, and her two children (above) by Henry

Ellen

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MissEmma
At the Atlas Theater, 1333 H Street, NE

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d recommend to those who live in or near the DC area to come to the Atlas Theater to see and hear Alexandra Petri’s witty allusive comedy, Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters (directed by Joan Cummins). I also take this opportunity to recommend and describe briefly a few new recent books of Austen criticism.

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Emma painting Harriet as a way of seducing Mr Elton (1996 Emma by Andrew Davies)

Izzy has blogged praising the play, and capturing its central core. A large part of the fun are the continual parodies and allusive recreations of lines and remembered scenes or images from the apparently famous and still read (or assigned in school) literary works in which the characters who Miss Emma (Lilian Oben) is determined to marry off appear. It’s one of a large number of events (plays, concerts, musicals) that comprise this year’s Capital Fringe Festival.

What was especially cheering to me was that just about all the members of the audience “got” the jokes and puns. What a motley set of books — it appeared that most people in an audience of 40 or so people knew enough of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Great Gatsby, but also Oscar Wild’s Portrait of Dorian Grey, Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar not to omit Austen’s Emma. I’ve gone to three plays thus far and this was the biggest audience, notwithstanding that Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys is a known powerful masterpiece and was done in central DC. The audience had a larger share of middle-aged women dressed conservatively than is usually seen at Fringe plays. Austen drew ’em in.

I probably will not be able to convey an experience of the delights of the play as I can’t remember its lines accurately. The fun also depends on delivery, as when Daisy Buchanan (Milica Boretic) falls languidly all over the body of Don Juan (Admad Helmy) because his shirt is just so b-e-a-u-t-f-u-l. A minimum of iconic costume brought before us (to add to my list above) Captain Ahab, Philip Marlowe (a hilarious send-up of the prose style and tone of the books was uttered by Caleb Erickson), Prince Charming, Holden Caulfield (as depressed and defensive as Esther Greenwood), Nancy Drew and Medea. Each actor/actress played several roles and Emma, as in Austen’s book, managed to make mighty mismatches as well as close matches that somehow still didn’t seem to work. As Yvette remarked, the central pair, Don Juan, doing community service work at such an agency to make up for his rakish history, and Emma were dressed in modern dress. After all the mis-couplings and sly send-up of normative romance ideas, it was deflating to be given a happy ending, with Emma ending up with Don Juan! Austen labelled the character in a burlesque play centering on him “a compound of cruelty and lust”.

Maybe it was an unusually enjoyable “sequel” or development out of Austen, because is the author was hardly slavishly attached to re-inventing the original text — all the while (oddly but not inaccurately) I was aware the original character was exposed as egoistic, uncomfortable with sex, not knowing herself very well. There was a moment when Emma realizes that Don Juan must marry her, I hoped for a line about an arrow through her heart, but it did not come. Disappointingly, Petri never lifted an allusive line from Austen’s Emma: the character was got right: she has to assimilate those who come before her into her world-view, she vicariously enjoys this, she is not keen on actual physical sex at all, but that Don Juan was substituted for Mr Knightley measures the distance we have come as women to what we tolerate and accept and supposedly want in man from Austen’s ideals.

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Adlestrop
Stoneleigh Abbey

Claire Harman reviewed yet another book on Jane Austen of the “and” type for the Times Literary Supplement, June 27, 2014. This one couples her name with the noun, Adlestrop. Jane Austen and her mother visited Adlestrop, one of the wealthy branche’s of the Austen families property: Victoria Huxley, Jane Austen and Adlestrop. The last time they came was with the Rev. Thomas Leigh who wanted to lay claim to the property; his wife, Mary, wrote a family history of the Leighs which included the Austens, and the fine old pile of stone everyone coveted (at least they did the rents). The book’s source then seems genuinely to add to the stock of primary documents from which secondary studies are written, and for that reason and Harman’s judgement that Mary Leigh quotes accurately from it, that I mention it here as worth perusal. It is said to be “scholarly, detailed, meticulous;” you learn that Warren Hastings has a house nearby — another way the Austens could connect to him.

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Illustration for a postcard

In a recent JASNA newsletter, a perceptive review of Paula Byrne’s successful and original (if idiosyncratic) study of Austen’s life, The Real JA: A Life among Small Things, views and (occasionally) writing too: Devoney Looser has a good review on Paula Byrne’s The Real JA: A Life among Small Things. Looser gives credit where it’s due — the real originality of the way the book proceeds from a small concrete objects genuinely associated with Austen to some explication of her writing, an aspect of her life or times that is then shed light on persuasively. Looser also critiques Byrne in ways academics don’t often — that suggests that despite all her efforts Byrne has not quite ‘arrived” — Looser does not accept the portrait nor the characterization of Austen Byrne is determined to turn her into. What I did like best was Looser’s insight was that behind all Byrne’s efforts is areally a desire to find an Austen desirable to men, avidly wanted by men and I’m with her in thinking this no more ‘real” or desireable than the stories of the gentle asexual spinster who wrote out a compensatory need to romance.

This is Byrne’s best book thus far: it has the most life in its style — it has a nice mood I’ll call it. And she’s interesting on these small things — the problem is (as Nancy Mayer has suggested) there is a quiet skewing going on and sometimes misinformation. Like her other three she is strongest at providing context even if the context is sometimes not proven or not quite apt. I’m enjoying it because she goes on at length about details often left out in accounts which stick to a general trajectory design.

Byrne’s chapter on cocked hats is a case in point. She brings out a great deal of interest about Henry’s life including how he managed to avoid getting involved in a mutiny and the cruelty that was meted out to the people who led it — and state terror against the local community sympathetic to the mutineers, themselves hungry for bread. Byrne then turns to P&P and asserts that all this is in P&P. No it’s not. Austen only takes the non-violent and more bright aspects of local militias and the slight references to say flogging remain slight …

Her book on Jane Austen and Drama may be read for the interest of the drama for again and again similarly she asserts that this or that is in a book or influenced Austen when there is no such proof nor does she demonstrate one.

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Elinor (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne (Charity Wakefield) in a fundamental clash (2008 S&S by Andrew Davies)

Simlarly packaged, John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen. Mullan’s book is the same size, has a similar kind of cartoon picture, similarly readable, hagiographic, and he goes on about small things in Austen — in his case the how accurate she is — almost crazily so — when it comes to time, distance, and details about her characters lives which he does go into to show how meaningfully she uses these. He too weighs in on Austen’s character and is of the school that is willing to admit (as I see it) that she hardly knew any literary people in her era, was not known by anyone beyond her family-friend circle. He is not willing to admit that this made part of the limitation of her outlook and book’s perspectives but is is implicit in how he works her actual literal concrete details that she so literally and painstakingly developed as probable narratives.

Mullan has a chapter on sisters and finds on the whole more antagonism and indifference as much as closeness. I believe him when he says there are only 5 significant conversations between Elinor and Marianne and the first two give Marianne these comic cliches (as jokes partly) and the last is the Imlac conclusion to the novel. By contrast there are 12 private ones between Jane and Elizabeth in P&P, many nuanced and long: I know I made the experiment of counting scenes between Jane and Elizabeth in the 1995 P&P and found Colin Firth right to suggest he was hardly in it: the movie can be better thoroughly analysed as the journey of two close sisters. He goes over first names: the only wife to address her husband by his first name familiarly (without the Sir Lady Bertram uses) is Mary Musgrove and he does similarly: the conversations show a lack of respect. Admiral Crofts talks of Sophy but she addresses him as Admiral. Telling details on widows and widowers too.

He carries on bringing home to you aspects of Austen’s text that are really there and people are inclined to deny or overlook. By the time he finished with the importance of weather, I realize why she said she works with twigs to make trees. Remember how she complains in her letters she doesn’t get much “experience” (in her imagination she does, but what we are confronted with does matter). You thought there are no lower class people or servants in Austen. Think again. I knew that in MP the names and people are there and pile up – and that they are often connected to Mrs Norris who is seeking power over these people but also connected to them. But Mullan almost persuades me the servants and lower classes are there — not quite as he does not quite persuade me the seaside works as a danger throughout the novels.

Then he gets to characters who never talk – are never quoted directly — and who are never on stage. Emma is littered with such absent presences — now think of Mrs Churchill. I didn’t realize Captain Bentick is never directly quoted. I’m not sure Mullan’s explanations are satisfying — he’s a bit too popular and coy but that this pattern of characters who are important but not there in some sense and never speak does tell us something about the author psychologically and I’m not meaning to me snarky and call her anal-retentive.

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Mannydown where Austen danced at assemblies and which she could have been mistress of had she chosen to marry and have children (18th century print)

Yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible — Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey

I wish I could read D. Miller in detail understanding his sentences one by one, for his view of the inward retreating life of Austen would help make us understand her books deepl. His book is ostensibly on Austen’s style: she takes the distanced stance she does in order to detach herself from a stigmatized self. According to Miller, Austen uses her satiric distanced narrator to keep at bay the social doom that would follow if she ever wrote as the person she was. Thus her real self can not appear in her fiction. No successful unmarried woman can be found, no artist. Instead we have a narrator unmarked by all the things that make for a particular persona, and the characters too must not be witty in the way she was — only the narrator is permited the caustic hard statements. It’s a kind of refusing personhood in her very own book. In her books all we get are women gung ho on marriage, which was far far from her case.

He also goes into the nuances, the melancholy of the style, the more than occasional harshnesses, and what he calls the paranoia. This could have some connection to her crueller portraits of young women who are isolated and powerless too. His book on inward policing in imbricated ways in novels (Dickens’s, Trollope’s) very worth while too — if you can decipher the sentences.

Ellen

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caroline-austen
Caroline Austen

You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; — 3 or 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on — & I hope you will write a great deal more — to Anna Austen (later Lefroy), 9-18 Sept 1814

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of variety & Glow? — How could I possbily join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labor? — to JEAL, 16-17 Jan 1817

I feel myself getting stronger than I was half a year ago, & can so perfectly well walk to Alton, or back again, without the slightest fatigue that I hope to be able to do both when Summer comes — The Piano Forte often talks of you; — in various keys, tunes & expressions I allow — but be it Lesson or Country dance, Sonata or Waltz, You are really its constant Theme — to Caroline, 23 Jan 1817.

Dear friends and readers,

I again group four letters by Austen to her nephew and nieces (see 140-43). These are not solely to James’s children, one is to Cassandra-Esten Austen (Cassy), Charles’s daughter, companion and of an age to be a peer to Caroline. While Austen has by this time known much pain, debilitation, loss of mobility and bodily strength (probably girth too), she experiences a remission lengthy enough to renew hope (see above quotation), rewrite the ending of Persuasion and write an astonishing rapid draft of Sanditon over the next 4 months when she was again driven to put her pen down. In JEAL’s memoir which covers precisely this time, he confirms that she was working on Persuasion and (as dated on the manuscript) it was on 17 January 1817 that she began writing Sanditon.

When summer came she was literally dying in Winchester and dead by July. Cancer (aka the lymphoma) can come on rapidly & devour you. For those interested in cancer treatments here’s an early case described of a person who (in effect) does not have chemotherapy (drastic strong measure so one is seen to be doing something even if badly understood) nor the terrifying operation removing central organs (the latest expensive measure). We see the disease take a natural course which includes a surcease for a precious few months. Nowadays she’d go on a trip (last journeys anyone?) At any rate here is evidence she did not herself always act on a premonition she was dying; it was intermittent. She was not always on the other side of a fence looking at people from the aspect of someone mortally ill.

These letters show JEAL and Caroline were seeking Austen’s approval and supporting her morally (what shows more admiration than imitation) by writing novels or scraps of them on their own, sending them to her, and she reciprocates with generosity. A few of her comments to JEAL (and Anna earlier in 1814) have been ceaselessly cited and discussed. In all three cases, Anna’s novel which she paid the compliment of really detailed responses), Caroline’s short pieces and now Edward’s Scott-like attempt, Austen is pretending to regard them as working in the same light or level of seriousness as she does. She knows they do not, and one assumes that she feels assured of the profound difference between her fiction and theirs. But that she can pretend otherwise and it pass muster suggests Clare Harman is right when she writes the family did not see her novels as above other novels of her era and perhaps equally valued James’s poetry, if not as much because it couldn’t sell (bring fame, money, respect) but as that which the period took seriously.

We should note that the way she often treats her own fiction as amusement, how when even praising the novels of others (which she is not inclined to do) she does not discuss any serious ideas in them, is just the way she is treats JEAL’s probably Scott-like stories and her young niece’s efforts. Anna’s novel written in 1814 was given the literal verisimilitude treatment along with how consistent are the characters and how much they make us laugh.

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Letter 146, to JEAL, Mon 16-17 Dec 1816, Chawton to Steventon

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19th century illustration of a wild scene conjured up by story-telling from the past in Scott’s Antiquary (alluded to by Austen in this letter)

There is a deliberate effort to be far more cheerful than the writer really is; the letter has the effect of putting on a show. Everyone so well (Anna too, though again we catch Austen declining one of Anna’s dinner invitations), Uncle Henry in excellent looks, all health and good humor, pickled cucumbers extremely good. She feels herself working something up as she refers to her use of the word “uncle;” he must not tire of it “for I have not done with it.” She makes fun too of the way JEAL will now tell her of his miseries and crimes, on the point of hanging himself once, now that his school days are over. She will soon turn to writing a lightning quick draft of Sanditon and deal with what she feels in her body happening — making fun of just the pain she has known and probably began to know again towards the end of the draft. I believe her the walk to Anna is beyond her strength and she would need Uncle Charles plus donkey carriage.

The second paragraph is her insisting on Henry’s health, his good looks — which again is part of this vein of denying: she has denied endlessly that Henry has been upset for real about what happened to him — when she herself has given much evidence to the contrary during their tours around southern England just afte Eliza died, but in a continual denying vein — this a characteristic response, how she got through life we might say, at least on the surface. We must concede her response to her mother’s continual hypochrondia (given how long Mrs Austen lived) — that she’s not really ill at all — seems to have been born out by Mrs Austen’s long life.

She’s avoiding Anna again: whether perfectly recovered or sick, she does not want to go to Anna’s house; the rest on the uncles and then the usual joking about who she is glad to marry. It’s painful when she does not empathize with other women in their conditions as women — in life and in her books or those of others — but she doesn’t.

This is such a famous letter and the central portion where Austen characterizes her fiction deprecatingly discussed so many times it’s natural to feel we can have little more to say and I won’t go on to discuss at whether her fiction is trivial (it’s not), on a very narrow range of topics, or if this comment refers to her artistic techniques (I think it does). Rather let’s look at the remark in its social context.

Her allusion to Scott’s Antiquary suggests she and her nephew had been reading the novel together — in Scott’s novel his character launch into tales from the past, wild and whirling whose point is rediscovery of the past not just recovery and a reinstatement of Sir Arthur’s daughter (disinherited and therefore one would think someone Austen from her fiction might sympathize with); the scene Austen specifically alludes to is a famous powerful landscape storm sequence. Just the sort of thing Austen made fun of in Brunton’s Self-Control only (admittedly) much much better done. The Antiquary is a work of genius. Probably (given the love and preference for Scott JEAL evidences in his Memoir of his aunt) JEAL has been trying to imitate Scott with his “glowing” and “manly spirited sketches.” — Austen is a jealous reader of other people’s novels, of her rivals of which Scott she knew was one but whom she could not dismiss as unrealistic in the way she could Mary Brunton when Brunton did traumatic weather scenes. She did see Scott’s greatness.

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Patrick Allen Fraser, A Scene from the Antiquary (1842)

She also alludes to Hannah Cowley’s Which is the Man? A comedy (1786). She tells JEAL to tell his father what he will — but then switches and says, no, James must not be left off the hook, kept out of the loop as he must make a tenant pay his rent. This sounds like a family joke referring to Mary Lloyd Austen in a hidden way.

Another by Cowley: “The charms that helped to catch the husband are generally laid by, one after another, till the lady grows a downright wife, and then runs crying to her mother, because she has transformed her lover into a downright, husband.” Cowley’s lines evoke the grim realities of marriage which Austen lightly refers to here.

Her comical acceptance of Mr Papillon as a suitor seems to have been a family trope — I wonder if they tired of it. In Miss Austen Regrets he does — am is irritated and hurt. By the end of the letter it’s obvious the family is back from legacy hunting.

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2008 Miss Austen Regrets (based partly on the letters, partly on Nokes’s biography): Jane (Olivia Williams) teasing Mr Papillon who does not enjoy being mocked

On Janeites and Austen-l there was a reading of the letter which asserted Austen was mocking, ridiculing her nephew in effect throughout. Mockery as a tone includes ridicule; there is no ridicule at all here. The tone is one of friendship. I agree Austen maintains a distance in her letters to Anna and there is in the opening to Edward here something similar (but the tone is kinder), lightly making fun of his supposed stories of anguish revealed at last — perhaps to forestall him? The opening paragraph does not really have him in mind: she is — as she does in her juvenilia and perhaps first drafts of her novels — opting for repression of all deep emotional states by making fun of them. We will glimpse for a moment a startling distance between Austen and Fanny Knight in the opening of a later letter where she appears to be openly regarding Fanny as a specimen under glass of young girl’s absurdities in love – and makes Fanny uncomfortable.

The thesis she is mocking and resentful would make her really feel threatened by these family writings. Everything we have suggests it was this family writing that allowed her to write. Other families would have inhibited her (as Mary Lloyd Austen jealously tried to stop her husband and step-daughter from fulfilling their gifts). She is half-joking that she and her nephew must steal one of Henry’s sermons and put them in our novels but as companions, as two people gayly pretending to make mischief.

She doesn’t want Henry to be the complicated man he was as that makes him less manageable to her mind. She avoids them when they present depths — that’s the avoidance of Anna who is now a mature woman (with a full sexual life too). Cassandra was her shelter against the world and she builds conventional walls and understandings. JEAL is as yet a boy and that’s why she can condescend in the friendly way she does: no threat; nor Caroline.

I admit to a certain discomfort in how Austen can so easily write to people so much younger than she and act as if they were her peers. Caroline is 9. It’s unsettling when she giggles with Fanny Knight in London over Mr Haden — as if she too were a 16 year old innocent girl titillating herself. These are not acts put on: for whose benefit would be the mockery? Even assuming Cassandra reading over the shoulders could understand her letters this way, would she enjoy such laughter at her nephew or any of her nieces? Hard to say. Cassandra did laugh at Cassy with Austen when Cassy first came to stay and feared bugs in the beds. Are we to imagine Austen enjoying her mockery alone? Rather she partly identifies with this younger generation.

My feeling is the occasionally ummediated identification comes from Austen having not been given enough experience outside her family on her own utterly — to cope with money and sex too. She longed to travel on her own, but there were many areas she was kept from experiencing. Money matters and sexual experience directly especially.

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Letter 147 (C). To Anna Lefroy. Thurs? Dec 1816

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A loosened flexible corset: meant for pregnant women

To Anna she sends thanks for a turkey in the form of comical-benign or sweet information that Mrs Austen, the grandmamma, is grieving Anna did not keep it for her family. Austen again promises to come over. Had we not read the many previous letters we would dismiss this last as, well, after all it’s January and Austen is ill, but having gone through quite a number where she is avoiding going over to Anna, I suspect Mrs Austen is alone in wishing to get to Anna soon. They are in the position of Miss and Mrs Bates in Emma who are sent fowls and other eatables.

It is sad to think how Anna and Austen were once loving half-mother-aunt and girl and then close as aunt-and-young woman, but then became estranged when Jane took the attitude of the family towards Anna’s courtship years and marriage to Ben. As a later letter suggests some of her discomfort now is to see her niece continually pregnant and not well. After all it’s not a joking matter as she says then.

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148. To Casandra-Esten Austen. Wed, 8 Jan 1817

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Designs for toy alphabets (a set is used in Emma)

Cassy, still very young so she gets a mirror letter congratulating her on her 9th birthday. My dear Cassy it begins … and ends Your affectionate Aunt. A transcription I thank the members of Janeites for providing. One must have patience for this sort of thing: a love of word games, good nature too — it would also be seen by her brothers and their wives.

I wish you a happy new year. Your six cousins came here yesterday, and had each a piece of cake. This is little Cassy’s birthday and she is three year’s old. Frank has begun learning Latin. We feed the robin every morning. Sally often enquires after you. Sally Benham has got a new green gown. Harriet Knight comes every day to read to Aunt Cassandra. Goodbye my dear Cassy.

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Letter 149. To Caroline Austen. Thurs, 23 Jan 1817, Chawton to Steventon

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Muzio Clementi piano belonging to Jane Austen

She sits there looking at a comfortable long blank sheet of paper and really delights in the sense of presence she will have as she talks to her niece. In making “a handsome return” to Caroline’s 2 o3 3 notes, we see how happy she was to have Edward’s visits and seems to take his fiction seriously. She teases how “vile” she & Mrs Austen were to keep him from Anna – who also needed his intelligent kind company, but they were ruthless. A play on words from butter to better (vowels). No one seems to know where the evening party was held, but Clearly JEAL was a center. How he must’ve remembered such a time happily – the mood of his book comes from such experiences. Here is one of its sources: he wanted to relive these happy times, to thank her, do her justice, make sure she was remembered. At the party he read his chapters aloud and all took an interest. Mr Reeves is a name from Sir Charles Grandison. And we see Austen take the superficial attitude towards fiction she consciously does when describing it in her letters – either she condemns or talks in terms of literal verisimilitude or approaches the fiction as how “amusing”.

An association makes her remember Caroline’s similar efforts – to please the aunt no doubt too, and join in with brother and sister. Austen sensed something snobbish in using French for a malapropism for the character. I take “Lunar” to be a reference to the group that met calling themselves the Lunar Society and that’s interesting because it shows her awareness of philosophical cults in her time. She did know Maria Edgeworth enough to send her a copy of Emma so she might have been able to hear of Edgeworth, Day and that group’s activities. They were located in Birmingham:

Then she does not forget the servants: Cassy has sent them some small remembrance and Austen characterizes Sally quickly, and a bit condescendingly but she likes Sally and recognizes her good nature: “Sally has got a new red Cloak, which adds much to her happiness, in other respects she is unaltered, as civil & well-meaning & talkative as ever.

Upstairs and downstairs are intermingled in a cottage like Chawton.

Caroline’s cat brought a dormouse to her (?), and Austen laughs: only think, and well, I never …

Caroline would want Cassy to return as a playmate and companion, but March is her time to come. Austen seems to imply that Cassy is not much of a letter writer to Caroline – so there is an awareness between them of different people’s natures and capacities (Cassy not as articulate as Caroline). Everyone of course sends their love (remember Mr Knightley’s comment on that sort of thing), then Charles’s desperate sickness, and her usual refusal to admit to this: “He has a said turn for being unwell.” After all the man has just been court-martialed, his first wife dead, an array of children to care for, a sister-in-law to keep, his career is in total disarray. Who would not be ill. He has a great eruption in his face and symptoms which look like rheumatism.

Then she gets to herself and it’s worth quoting again: “I feel myself getting stronger than I was half a year ago, & can so perfectly well walk to Alton, or back again, without the slightest fatigue that I hope to be able to do both when Summer comes. Because of her better health and strength she has been able to go over to Frank and Mary and enjoy herself with them and their children. She teases that she may be be excused for “loving them” on the supposition that perhaps Caroline will be jealous of her cousins.

The postscript about her playing the piano is revealing and touching: she is saying when she plays she thinks of Caroline. Caroline comes across in her late short memoirs as sensitive, intelligent, really like Anna and Austen does lend herself to the girl and have a real relationship. The girl is yet though not into puberty, still young, not someone to arouse any feelings of disquiet over what’s to come, or what she will be. In the event she never married and lived a very quiet life. Austen says she wishes Caroline could come over as easily as her older brother, but the girl is much more easily domineered and controlled by her mother than the boy. Perhaps she felt such affection for Anna too when Anna was young.

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PersuasionDraft
From the online digital edition of Austen’s manuscripts: the cancelled penultimate chapter of Persuasion

Some general comments: there is enough in the letters (remnants though they are) to outline a sense of Austen’s politics and morality, central to what we find in her novels, an element shaping them. I don’t think she’s the arch-conservative Marilyn Butler makes her out to be, but we do see Austen become more conservative in her later years. Early on she was rebelling and resentful that as a woman her needs for career fulfillment were utterly ignored: she was to marry and all effort was for her brothers and used metaphors about why should she not go and hang herself. Then she wanted to set up housekeeping with Martha Lloyd and her sister. Not allowed.

But as she aged, she accepted the imposition of a conventional life-style — as many people do, because they become tired of banging their heads against a wall that is not coming down and want to identify with the culture they find will give them the only respect they can socially find,in her case as a woman writer on the meagre terms her milieu would give her. She had time and space and peace to write publishable versions of her books and was given help (by Henry) to get them into print. So she is gaining some respect, money, more self-esteem — through her books.

You can trace the changes by reading what she reads – that means more than the novels, but also books like Buchanan’s and Paisley’s (for violent imperialism both). Sometimes too — used very carefully — you can sense things about her texts by the people drawn to them to write a sequel type (feminists, PD James a conservative mystery writer) when the sequel is reasonably intelligent (it need not be a work of art) – and of course good critics.

She was also a strong partisan for most of her family members for most of her life — putting aside her own vulnerability when young, thwarted desires (to set up housekeeping with Cassandra and Martha Lloyd) — but there she could see straight too and in a couple of remarks referring to the aunt, the portrait of Mrs Norris as a smoocher, and remarks in the letters she drew a line at pretending her aunt was decent person — partly that’s the result of the way the aunt treated the Austen family.

She carried on put off by the evangelicals (we see that in her reaction to Cooper’s sermons — the cousin) as well as direct didacticism of the type we see in Hannah More but she is influenced by the mood of the times, part of her times. Her books are most of the time resolutely secular. Rare instances of allusions to religion outside Mansfield Park include Marianne confessing to Elinor that had she self-destructed she would not have had time to confront God in the afterlife.

When she writes her novels, another writing self comes forth, the one Proust speaks of in his novels, and an eye which can see further into experience archetypally and overcomes her conscious inhibitions. The draft concluding chapters for Persuasion that we have show her to be writing comically, slightly farcically, the working on those bits of ivory over and over, released something deeper and emotional and the scene become a deep meditation on loss, compensation and solace, the different way men and women experience life.

Rather than moving in the direction of cool mockery, I suggest (agreeing with Marvin Mudrick here) that Jane Austen feared what she most loved – what she feared were precisely the kind of passions she herself is intensely drawn to and in her deepest emotional life in the novels acted out. What we see in the letters is a continual distancing, much guardedness, but as she draws close to the end of life sudden bursts of open plangency and reaching out. One feels so alone, so helpless and vulnerable when one lays dying in such pain, with only opium to moderate the intensity.

Ellen

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carson
Jim Carter as Mr Carson; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley (Season 2, Episode 6, Downton Abbey) — the equivalent characters in WWWWDA are Edward, the concierge seemingly in charge of the Alexander, an expensive building in mid-town Atlanta, Georgia, and the super-rich heroine who married for money, position, and to support her siblings, Samantha Jackson Davis

Dear friends and readers,

This is a blog about a novel that is what many people (including those who have read Ausen’s six famous novels) seem to assume Jane Austen’s books are: light romantic amusement about privileged women whom nothing dangerous happens to. Oh yes the characters feel deeply at moments, they seem to be at risk of poverty now and again, but we never see anything really unpleasant, in fact everyone is doing fine financially and at book’s end all are reaching some form of their heart’s desire however qualified; there is a strong hierarchy in place which is defended; sex is kept in bounds. Indeed Wendy Wax goes further than this: she justifies taking menial occupations (like working for a butler service and as part of a building staff, the equivalence of service in a great house) as somehow work that will give people strong self-esteem because they are contributing to the ease and convenience in what seems the most trivial things of others (which turns out to be what happiness we can have); the immiseration of the middle class in the US today is made to appear fun, glamorous, like being in a play (or PBS serial costume drama). This is chick lit without the stings Helen Fielding or Karen Joy Fowler provide.

And yet I enjoyed it — read it with ease, kept at it, it made me smile at times, it helped me through a nervous patch at night; the idea is very like The Jane Austen Book Club: the characters in the novel were parallel to some in DA and the book itself a kind of intermediary between US culture today — presented in a way that removes all real troubles and changes what is a misery into a grace — and DA — where the trick is similar. And her seductive technique of at the core presenting characters whose emotional problems and fears are like women’s today are seen in the three chapters of her next book offered at the book’s end: The Beach Road. Our heroine is in her fifties, her children are “out of the nest,” and for the first time in years she has time to herself (she feels) and she is planning to make herself a room of her own, when she discovers that her husband, a financial adviser of some type, has been hiding from her for the last six months that he was fired and has lost all their money …

I suggest this is the kind of book Ann Patchett writes, only she disguises hers as liberal and sophisticated politically when they are not (see Bel Canto, How much does a house know?; Another patron saint of liars).

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A couple of weeks ago now, the night before All-Hallow’s Eve to be exact, with my friend, Vivian, I went to Politics and Prose expecting to hear Azar Nafisi talk; instead I watched her smooch and present obviously false hype for a fellow reactionary Iranian woman author who had come to this wonderful bookstore to sell her book. Nafisi did talk on a level of conscious larger understanding that Goli Taraghi was incapable of, but alas Taraghi was allowed to natter on.

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All was not a total loss because I had a good time with my friend in a nearby pizza place, and while there I ascertained the third sumptuously produced book of lavishly beautiful photographs on heavy art paper, Behind the Scenes in Downton Abbey is not simply a reprint of the first two books (The World of Downton Abbey [Season 1], The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A new Era [Season 2, WW1]) but a book in its own right. But also that there is less text than ever, more hype, though more photographs. I couldn’t see my way to spending over $30 but did buy a paperback for less than $15 (I feel one should support the bookstore), Wendy Wax’s While we were watching Downton Abbey, and whatever I may say about it in the following remarks, I should confess that not only did I enjoy it in a deep way as I read, but found I could read it anywhere, at any time, it cheered me with its cleverly allusive wit, and even helped me get through my nervousness during a weekend where I went to my first longish conference by myself.

The hero of the novel is Edward, Mr Carson (showing Max’s values) who has shepherded them all gently into knowing one another, watching the programs, discussing them, teaching the arrogant brother to Samantha, Hunter a false third-grade lesson, who in turn brings investment to Edward. None of this is unbelievable in terms of the given fiction.

At the same time it’s important to know the world of this novel has never heard of CEOs, tax rates, real salaries, how physical work is hard, the stigmas of lower ranks, how no oe wants you when you’ve no connections to offer. The US has brought up a generation of women who believe in this trajectory of the novel’s hero’s success:

No matter how weird the revelation, Edward never lost sight of the fact that one of a concierge’s most valuable assets was discretion; a trait his grandfather, who’d been’in service’ at Montclair Castle in Nottingham just as his father before him had been, had begun to teach Edward somewhere around his tenth birthday.

Edward reached for his cup of tea; taken at four each afternoon and allowed to go slightly tepid just the way he liked it, and looked around his small office tucked away in a corner of the Alexander’s lobby. He’d hung his black blazer on a hanger on the back of his office door in much the same way that his grandfather had removed and hung his jacket when he went ‘below stairs’ at Montclaire. But Edward had hung his own diploma from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration next to it.

He’d begun to fully understand-and practice discretion-when he landed at a Hilton property in Maui as an assistant manager-a glorious posting from which he’d sent two years’ worth of sun-filled postcards home to the Hungry Fox, the family pub in Newark-on-Trent, upon which Edward estimated some fifty to sixty inches of rain fell annually. It was in the Aloha state that he’d handled his first celebrity peccadillo and learned the art of misdirection and the value of resisting bribes. The lessons-and postcards-continued in big-city hotels it} San Francisco, New York, and Miami Beach.

There’d been smaller postings, too; a fancy dude ranch in Montana where he’d fallen in love with the sweeping vistas of the American West and bought a pair of snakeskin cowboy
boots that he owned to this day. A charming Band B in the historic heart of Charleston where he’d reveled in the beautifully restored buildings and come to terms with the pairing of shrimp and grits, and enjoyed the languid blend of heat, humidity, and manners.

The Hungry Fox would go to his older brother, Bertie, much as the title and country estates his forebears had served in had gone to oldest sons. But that was all right with
Edward, who had pulled plenty of pints behind the Fox’s scarred wood bar but could never imagine staying there; not even to keep the woman he’d loved.

Bertie continued the tradition of mounting Edward’s post-cards, which now papered an entire wall of the bar. The last seven years’ worth had been sent from Atlanta, making the Fox’s patrons among the lucky few in England to know exactly what the Fox Theatre, a restored Egyptian-themed 1920s movie house, looked like. He’d sent postcards of other Atlanta landmarks-like what was left of the apartment Miss Mitchell had written Gone-with the Wind in; Stone Mountain, Atlanta’s answer to Mount Rushmore with its three-acre mountaintop carving of three Confederate heroes of the Civil War; CNN Center; Turner Field; the World of-Coca Cola.

Six months ago he’d sent not a postcard but a sales piece he’d had printed after his newly formed personal concierge company, Private Butler, had been selected by the Alexander’s condo board.

What do children learn in schools? the above is a mirror of dream (very loud) commercials which invent stories of ever increasing fairy tale upward mobility (it’s called).

The interest for me is to see what is the charm of such a book — and by extension why is this view of Austen so pervasive and contributory to her supposed popularity. Its matter does not correspond to any of the narrow typologies Diane Philips worked out for women’s novels of the second half of the 20th century, but contains the single woman-mother novel, the sex and shopping novel, and the aga paradigm all in one book.

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Deborah Findley Brown as Lady Sybil as first seen in Downton Abbey, Season 1 — there are three heroines in WWWWDA; in DA there seem perpetually to be 3 young women upstairs and 3 down

It is that beneath the glamorous patina, beside the plot-line where three troubled women find friendship, escape and relaxation by watching Downton Abbey once a week on Sunday evenings, Wax manages to dramatize real fears, insecurities, anxieties problems lower to middle class women in the US experience today. Far from advocating challenge and take a chance, these are books which show how if you follow a modified conventionality you’ll have all the material goods you want and some moderate happiness; you can cope.

Samantha’s father had embezzled a huge amount of money from Jonathan Davis’s firm, and found herself without the means to support herself or her siblings at age 21, and being beautiful (as are two of the three heroines) had no problem attracting Davis’s proposal and marrying him as a solution to being able to live a comfortable life (which includes ordering fancy food from restaurants when she feels expected to produce the exquisitely delicious upscale meal), and having stability, respect, safety. Samantha’s thoughts as she copes with her mother-in-law, her spoilt siblings, her own guilt at never having gotten pregnant capture the mind of someone who married for presentability, career, social success. Trouble is she feels she does not love him and assumes he married her out of pity. She does all she can to please him in every way and the pleasantest sense of sex life is projected by the tasteful scenes of their love-making. I enjoyed these.

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Downton Abbey, opening of Season 3

Claire Walker early on in her marriage discovered she didn’t like or respect her husband, was tightly constricted by him and his parents, so bravely left him to endure 16 years of single motherhood during which she did manage to publish two (absurd) romances, with very Scottish highland type titles, which did make enough money that she has now taken a year off work to write a novel, moved out of the far-away lower-cost suburban rings around Atlanta (yes it’s registered but not with awareness of what this means that all the poorer and low middle people in Atlanta live outside its center, and must have cars to get into the center with any regularity). She also lives in the Alexander, a “beautifully renovated Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival-styled apartment building” (Claire is the first to describe the place), into a small flat of her own. Her daughter, Hailey, is in the usual upscale live-away college (aren’t all American young adults there?) and determined (like the good American she is) to support herself as far as she can. Trouble is now that Claire is not driven by so many other things to do and really has time when she looks at her computer screen nothing comes. What’s happening is she’s trying to write something real for the first time as she has the time to reach herself.

Lastly, Brooke Mackenzie, chubby (a horrific no-no), awkward, clumsy, mother of two, never worked for a living, and now deserted by her husband after she worked for years to support him through medical school; he is now making huge sums doing cosmetic surgery and has remarried a woman like a Barbie doll (he is likened to a Ken doll) and they have moved into the Alexander too. She is the Edith of the piece — and it was when at the gym half in the mind of Samantha Wendy Wax as narrator delivered her complacent moralizing condescension and exhortation over Brooke’s overt depression while Brooke is on a gym machine, I knew I was in a mean or small book however entertainingly written.

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Laura Carmichael, Edith-as-susceptible-librarian averting her eyes from the hideously scarred Patrick Crawley, a phony revenant in Season 3

The stories of these three women play out poignantly and through ordinary human emotion. I found that the upbeat tendency of them over-all was comforting. It turns out Jonathan after leaving Samantha for a month, no longer able to endure her obvious desperate sycophancy, loves her. It turns out Claire begins to write of the women in the building as heightened by paradigms she discerned in DA. It turns out Brooke can work as a party-thrower, consultant for Edward and begins to be attractive to a man who is a widower.

Of larger schemes or perspectives this book of course is utterly innocent — of the real hard world in which these human emotions occur our author appears to be innocent. Of course she’s not or she’d not have gotten as far as she has as a novelist. As in a formulaic subgenre, there is no sense of how Wax as a woman or person relates to her fiction.

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It’s also a sort of sequel to Downton Abbey as several of the characters have their equivalents in DA. We all know — or it used to be assumed — how popular are these sorts of sequels to Jane Austen. I would be much surprised if Wax has not hoped for a film adaptation along the lines of Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen’s Book Club;. At any rate not yet.
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Rob James-Collier (promotional shot to the right) as Thomas Barrow — the equivalent character is Samantha’s brother, Hunter, a supremely egoistic wheeler-dealer who presents a face to meet faces but has to bow-down to Edward in order to survive when upon his losing yet another large sum of money in a capital venture Samantha cuts off his allowance

So I also found myself eagerly looking forward to the discussions of the shows, though repeatedly these were neutral descriptions showing Wax’s cleverness as none of them deviated into presenting what was the reactionary take we were to get. Nor did any discussion relate what was on the TV screen to what has happening in the Alexander. So not interesting and yet I underlined the bits that were there. They seemed to make visible what one might think viewers thought as they watched — except they were so conventional. Fellowes’s notes to his scripts shows that readers have far more amoral and idiosyncratic reactions than people assume. So, e.g. Claire musing:

Over the last two Sundays she’d watched Anna and Bates fall in love with each other despite some dark secret that kept him from being free, seen sparks fly between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, and watched Lady Sybil begin to notice just how attractive the Irish chauffeur was. Then there was poor Edith, who had stirred the pot by writing a letter to the Turkish embassy that would presumably implicate Mary in Kemal Pamuk’s death.
The plot had been thickening and the story lines racing rorward at a pace that Claire couldn’t help admiring even as she compared its graceful dance to the fumbling, halfhearted steps of her own manuscript.

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Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle): a on-running joke of Max’s book is the Isabella who has been hired to be a 19th century servant, acts the part of Anna and her like out all wrong. She thinks it relies on accidental sounds we make. It does not, at any rate not entirely — mark of WWWWDA’s conservatism is there is no equivalent for Mr Bates, no disabled characters either.

The witty allusions told me what a sophisticated woman the author of the book is – so often so amusing, mocking the inner life of the fairy tale (or Downton Abbey episode) from a deconstructive point of view at the same time as it’s validated in the patterns of the three central stories. (There are others adumbrated.) E.g.

There was plenty of precedent for prince-marrying in the fairy-tale world. Sleeping Beauty had not ignored the prince’s kiss in favor of a few more years of shut-eye. Cinderella never considered refusing to try on the glass slipper. And Snow White didn’t bat an eyelash at moving in with those seven little men. (p 2)

I wish I could write like this.

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To sum up: The questions for readers and study and reading groups afterward concentrate on what Wax feels are the parallels between the TV serial drama and the book and “real world” women’s problems and characters’ troubles in the book. I wonder if Wendy Wax is her real name: it is so pattern-y.

I should have mentioned at the opening of the book the characters have all heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, and they have no trouble understanding why it is so popular: it is the same dream as this book, a fine good man supports the heroine in easy comfort and the sex fun. That is how the 50 Shades is seen here.

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Coda:

I notice some of the actors in the series who have stayed on are concerned to make sure their promotional shots and appearances utterly undermine their roles lest they end up permanently typecast and these are the downstairs characters:

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Who are they?
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One guess. This one is easy. Why?

Obviously Sophia McShea aka Daisy

Ellen

Read Full Post »

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From Miss Austen Regrets (2009): Fanny (Imogen Poots), sulking, having now permanently alienated John Plumptre; contrasted to Anna (Sally Tatum), married to Ben, absorbed in her first child, Jemima (scripted Gwyneth Hughes, produced Anne Pivcevic)

Dear friends and readers,

Two letters Jane Austen wrote to her nieces on the same day, taken together (and looking at the whole extant correspondences of Austen with these two young women), they testify to the fraught relationship of Jane to her older brother’s oldest and gifted daughter, Anna Austen Lefroy; and to something too identifying or (conversely) disingenuous in her relationship with her fourth and rich brother’s oldest and somewhat obtuse or just ordinary daughter, Fanny Austen Knight.

The relationship of Anna and Jane is fascinating, and one would think might have attracted a biographer or romancer by this time. Even though much more attention has been paid in the public media to Fanny Austen Knight, Lady Brabourne — many more records, progeny to work at it (Lord Brabourne), she was richer, and connected to influential people, many more children, a biography (Almost Another Sister, Margaret Wilson), in fact if you look at the letters we have and what we know of the girls’ lives during Austen’s life, the relationship with Anna is goes deeper, back in time to intimate acquaintance in the girl’s youngest years (after Anna’s mother died), through to her tough time as an adolescent, two romances, both attempts to escape home, to her hard marriage with its continual pregnancies (Jane died before she could see more).

There are years where Jane was one of three substitute mothers. There’s Jane’s tense relationship with Mary Lloyd Austen, who took Steventon, detested Jane’s favored cousin, Eliza: Anna’s stepmother, overtly unashamedly no friend of Anna either. The empathetic poem found in the gift book, Mentoria, and Jane’s odd triumph over her niece’s meagre balls. The later ungenerous mocking poem: the estrangement when Anna grows up; Austen’s seeming to take the family side but having her own point of view a compound (I suggest) of envy as well as discomfort at Anna’s very different response to repression. Anna’s imitation of her aunt’s novel-making to try to reach her aunt, her finishing Sanditon and writing one passably readable romance in a similar vein (Persuasion like) of her own. Anna’s destruction of Which is the Heroine, her cutting up her aunt’s letters, with a last phase the one where Anna helps her brother, JEAL, make the memoir.

I’ve summarized but consider the two relationships with young men Anna had and how Austen though or felt about these; the father-brother James’s early years as poet and his wife’s squashing him. That in marrying Ben who wanted a kind of high integrity Ben resembles James Austen nagged by Mary to take the extra position.

For Fanny by contrast, at least in the extant few letters we have, Austen is reveling in living at Godmersham, and watching Fanny flirt and make a display of herself (probably unconsciously) Aunt Jane much preferring the serious deep young man and then (possible) a momentary rivalry over the visiting apothecary, Haden. This includes confiding in her and being confided in for a short time by a girl who is superficial and does not value the young man Austen thought her best offer.

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Miss Austen Regrets: Fanny (Imogen Poots) flirting with Mr Haden (Jack Hudson)

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Jane watching, a weary look on her face

In its close, Gwyneth Hughes’s film takes the easy way out by simply representing Jane as jealous of a heterosexual romance between Haden and the younger Fanny. But there is something somewhat different testified to in these letters, something going on between the three women.

It is true though that in later letters we will see Jane giggle with Fanny in ways that are embarrassing if you remember she’s a 40+ woman. The way she takes sides in the following two letters is not the act of an older aunt. She was infantilized in some aspects of real life experience by her family. Thus her letters to Fanny while in themselves a goldmine for understanding themes in the courtship romances that are the 6 famous novels are not rooted in deeper feelings shared by Fanny.

I’ll even say that such a story – the two women, aunt and niece — would make a much more interesting and contemporary plot-design than the usual heterosexual romance mythos Austen followed and those who have written about or represented her have followed too. Jane sort of reached out in that direction in a harsh way in Lady Susan’s hostility towards her daughter, Frederica, but cut that off with (once again) heterosexual marriages and liaisions for both.

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No 113, to Anna Lefroy, Wed, 30 Nov 1814, from Hans Place to Herndon

I was thinking about Austen and Anna again tonight because I came across a similar use of writing a fiction novel in Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. Joan Didion’s daugther, Quintana, when she was young, wrote a novel “just to show” her parents. Quintana was much younger and the novel very fragmentary but one can see in it the same desire to please,and probably to address aspects of the relationship between the older authority figures and the young girl. Austen does not go over Anna’s plot-design without any awareness of this kind of subtext or its deeper themes (she does this in all her criticism in the letters) but I speculate its very much there.

I went to look at letter 113 and found I’ve written a full blog on it parsing the references to Anna’s novel (insofar as we can tell what is the story) and setting the letter inside the whole relationship discerned from the 16 extant letters. So it may all be read there.

From Diana’s rejoinder:

Ellen says this letter shows Austen “straining to be pleased,” and that’s what I think too. It’s all reassuring compliments that don’t sound sincere. The backhanded “I have been very far from finding your book an Evil, I assure you.” The “I think you are going on very well” and “Indeed, I do think you get on very fast” – so strained; the extravagant compliments on “Newton Priors” (what?): “I never met with any thing superior to it.”

I’ll just add to Diana’s rejoinder, that I take the line by Austen which appears to repeat something Anna wrote, viz., “do you find my book an evil,” to refer not to its quality but rather sheer disapproval of novel-writing for a now married woman. In the next letter we shall (to me alas) see that behind Anna’s back (so to speak) Austen disapproves of her buying a piano, a new pelisse: the ideal of sacrifice for a woman and that her first duty is to please the husband and buy for him or any children, keep a narrow budget is behind that, and I suggest behind Anna’s comment. Maybe it was something said to her by the people she was living with who noticed her writing away, and maybe she also sense from her aunt the same attitude at least towards her. And if Anna did sense a lack of enthusiasm towards her novel, Anna put it down to social disapproval. To her face Austen denies this, but we can see she participates in it in the next letter to Fanny. It’s common for people to make an exception for themselves (oh it’s fine if I do it) and not others.

Anna’s first months of marriage do not seem to me to be easy ones. She is so eager for visits from people who did not want her to marry Ben in the first place and let her know it by the wedding they gave her.

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PlumptreandFannyblog
Miss Austen Regrets: John Plumptre (Tom Hiddleston) and Fanny (Imogen Poots) at a dance at Godmersham — a pleasant earnest-looking actor was chosen

Letter 114, to Fanny Austen Knight, Wed, 30 Nov 1814, from Hans Place to Godmersham

First, the text:

Wednesday 30 November 1814
23 Hans Place, Wednesday Nov: 30.

I am very much obliged to you my dear Fanny for your letter, & I hope you will write again soon that I may know You to be all safe & happy at home. — Our visit to Hendon will interest you I am sure, but I need not enter into the particulars of it, as your Papa will be able to answer almost every question. I certainly could describe her bed-room, & her Drawers & her Closet better than he can, but I do not feel that I can stop to do it. — I was rather sorry to hear that she is to have an Instrument; it seems throwing money away. They will wish the 24 G’. in the shape of Sheets & Towels six months hence; — and as to her playing, it never can be anything. — Her purple Pelisse rather surprised me. — I thought we had known all Paraphernalia of that sort. I do not mean to blame her, it looked very well & I dare say she wanted it. I suspect nothing worse than its being got in secret, & not owned to anybody. — She is capable of that you know. — I received a very kind note from her yesterday, to ask me to come again & stay a night with them; I cannot do it, but I was pleased to find that she had the power of doing so right a thing. My going was to give them both Pleasure’ very properly. — I just saw Mr Hayter at the Play, & think. his face would please me on acquaintance. I was sorry he did not dine. here. — It seemed rather odd to me to be in the Theatre, with nobody to watch for. I was quite composed myself, at leisure for all the agitation Isabella could raise.

Now my dearest Fanny, I will begin a subject which comes in very naturally. — You frighten me out of my Wits by your reference. Your affection gives me the highest pleasure, but indeed you must not let
anything depend on my opinion. Your own feelings & none but your own, should determine such an important point. — So far however as answering your question, I have no scruple. — I am perfectly convinced that your present feelings, supposing you were to marry now, would be sufficient for his happiness; but when I think. how very, very far it is from a Now,& take everything that may be, into consideration, I dare not say, “determine to accept him.” The risk is too great for you,unless your own Sentiments prompt it. — You will think me perverse perhaps; in my last letter I was urging everything in his favour, & now I am inclining the other way; — but I cannot help it; I am at present more impressed with the possible Evil that may arise to You from engaging yourself to him — in word or mind — than with anything else.– When I consider how few young Men you have yet seen much of — how capable you are (yes, I do still think. you very capable) of being really in love-and how full of temptation the next 6 or 7 years of your Life will probably be — (it is the very period of Life for the strongest attachments to be formed) — I cannot wish you with your present very cool feelings to devote yourself in honour to him. It is very true that you never may attach another Man, his equal altogether, but if that other Man has the power of attaching you more, he will be in your eyes the most perfect. — I shall be glad if you can revive past feelings, & from your unbiassed self resolve to go on as you have done, but this I do not expect, and without it I cannot wish you to be fettered. I should not be afraid of your marrying him; — with all his Worth, you would soon love him enough for the happiness of both; but I should dread the continuance of this sort of tacit engagement, with such an uncertainty as there is, of when it may be completed. — Years may pass, before he is Independant. — You like him well enough to marry, but not well enough to wait. — The unpleasantness of appearing fickle is certainly great — but if you think. you want Punishment for past Illusions, there it is — and nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without Love, bound to one, & preferring another. That is a Punishment which you do not deserve. — I know you did not meet-or rather will not meet to day — as he called here yesterday-& I am glad of it. — It does not seem very likely at least that he should be in time for a Dinner visit 60 miles off.

We did [not] see him, only found his card when we came home at 4.-Your Uncle H. merely observed that he was a day after the Fair.-He asked your Brother on Monday, (when Mr Hayter was talked of) why he did not invite him too?-saying, “I know he is in Town, for I met him the other day in Bond St,” Edward answered that he did not know where he was to be found. — “Don’t you know his Chambers? –” “No.” — I shall be most glad to hear from you again my dearest Fanny, but it must not be later than Saturday, as we shall be off on Monday long before the Letters are delivered — and write something that may do to be read or told. I am to take the Miss Moores back on Saturday, & when I return I shall hope to find your pleasant, little, flowing Scrawl on the Table. — It will be a releif [sic]to me after playing at Ma’ams — for tho’ I like Miss H[arriet] M[oore] as much as one can at my time of Life after a day’s acquaintance, it is uphill work to be talking to those whom one knows so little.-Only one comes back with me tomorrow, probably Miss Eliza, & I rather dread it. We shall not have two Ideas in common. She is young, pretty, chattering, & thinking cheifly (I presume) of Dress, Company, & Admiration. —

Mr Sanford is to join us at dinner, which will be a comfort, and in the event while your Uncle & Miss Eliza play chess, he shall tell me comical things & I will laugh at them, which will be a pleasure to both.-I called in Keppel Street & saw them all, including dear Uncle Charles, who is to come & dine with us quietly to day. Little Harriot sat in my lap — & seemed as gentle & affectionate as ever, as pretty, except not being quite well. — Fanny is a fine stout girl, talking incessantly, with an interesting degree of Lisp and Indistinctness — and very likely may be the handsomest in time. — That puss Cassy, did not shew more pleasure in seeing me than her Sisters, but I expected no better; — she does not shine in the tender feelings. She will never be a Miss O’neal; more in the Mrs Siddons line.-

Thank you — but it is not settled yet whether I do hazard a 2n Edition [of MP]. We are to see Egerton today, when it will probably be determined. — People are more ready to borrow & praise, than to buy – -which I cannot wonder at; but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.-I hope he continues careful of his Eyes & finds the good effect of it.

[Continued below address panel] I cannot suppose we differ in our ideas of the Christian Religion. You have given an excellent description of it. We only affix a different meaning to the Word Evangelical.- Yours most affectionately

J. Austen
Miss Gibson is very glad to go with us.
Miss Knight
Godmersham Park
Faversham
Kent

BehavingYoungerthansheisblog
Miss Austen Regrets: Jane (Olivia Williams) behaving younger than she is with Fanny (Imogen Poots)

Diana’s reading:

Jane Austen writes from 23 Hans Place, Henry’s house in London. It’s the very same day she wrote the sweet complimentary letter to Anna. Hot on the heels of it, she turns to write to Fanny, in rather a catty strain that is somewhat startling if you’re not used to seeing Jane Austen this way. But two faced she most distinctly is here, with a very disagreeable way of triumphing and sneering at Anna, behind her back, to her cousin. We must keep in mind that in all honor these letters were private correspondence not meant to be seen by others; and let her who has never sneered cast the first stone; but I can’t think who in her novels behaves like this. Well … Lucy Steele? What a harridan she sounds. However, I do think it’s for a purpose.

She can hardly wait in her hot haste to tell Fanny her petty and spiteful criticisms of the young household at Hendon. Of course the reason she is doing it, is because she knows this is exactly what Fanny wants to hear. Clearly relations between the two motherless nieces of the same age, are not pleasant. Why their 39-year-old aunt, nearly twenty years their senior,should participate in this – rivalry? – is troubling. It’s pandering. But let’s listen:

“I was rather sorry to hear that she is to have an Instrument; it seems throwing money away. They will wish the 24 Gs. in the shape of Sheets & Towels six months hence; – and as to her playing, it never can be anything.”

This reminds us of Mrs. Elton’s parading about giving up music after her marriage; perhaps it was seen as silly for a young married woman to keep up schoolgirl accomplishments. Jane Austen, with her own piano playing, would probably be a fair judge of Anna’s skill, which may indeed have been poor; but even so it does seem rather mean-spirited for Jane Austen and Fanny to decide how Anna and her husband should spend their money. Then:

“Her purple Pelisse rather surprised me. – I thought we had known all Paraphernalia of that sort. [Note the “we.”] I do not mean to blame her, it looked very well & I dare say she wanted it. I suspect nothing worse than its being got in secret, & not owned to anybody. – She is capable of that you know.”

Has this genius of English literature nothing better to do than put her head together with one 21 year-old niece and carp like a crow about what the other niece has in her closet? Again, I submit that she is feeding Fanny in kind, telling Fanny the magpie-like details that would interest her. Yes
it’s meant to be private and it’s not our business to judge, but it’s unsettling to see this truly great mind pandering to this shallow girl. Her motive, however, must have been the desire to attach Fanny, to create affection, which after all is understandable.

Then, two-facedly, “I received a very kind note from her yesterday, to ask me to come again & stay a night with them; I cannot do it, but I was pleased to find that she had the power of doing so right a thing.” Pretty preferment! How judgmental – and what different language she uses when she writes to Anna directly!

After a comment on seeing Mr. Hayter (a friend of Fanny’s brother) at the theatre (where she saw Isabella, already described to Anna), Jane Austen embarks on the full business of the letter. It consists of a great deal more advice on Fanny’s marriage prospects, in the same way she has written to
her before: a somehow uncomfortably, unsuitably, almost inappropriately eager interest; vacillating back and forth, changing her mind, her advice, her thinking; it’s almost creepy. It’s startling that LeFaye, in her Family Record calls the first we have of these letters “charming and sympathetic” (14 November).

She’s back at it again: “You frighten me out of my Wits by your reference. Your affection gives me the highest pleasure, but indeed you must not let anything depend on my opinion. Your own feelings & none but your own, should determine such an important point.” In other words, she’s afraid Fanny took her at her word and is taking her advice just because she gave it – and she doesn’t want to be responsible.

Yet she has “no scruple” in continuing, in giving more advice. “I am perfectly convinced that your present feelings, suppose you were to marry now, would be sufficient for his happiness; but when I think how very, very far it is from a Now, & take everything that may be into consideration, I dare
not say ‘determine to accept him.’ The risk is too great for you, unless your own Sentiments prompt it. – You will think me perverse perhaps; in my last letter I was urging everything in his favour, & now I am inclining the other way”

Well, yes, she IS being perverse; why would anybody want advice this convoluted, this undecided, this constantly changing? It is as if Jane Austen’s excitement at being in the important position of counselor and confidante to a wealthy young lady, has gone to her head. Listen to her dither:

“When I consider how few young Men you have yet seen much of – how capable you are (yes, I do still think you very capable of being really in love – and how full of temptation the next 6 or 7 years of your Life will probably be – (it is the very period of Life for the strongest attachments to be formed) – I cannot wish you with your present very cool feelings to devote yourself in honour to him. It is very true that you never may attach another Man, his equal altogether, but if that other Man has the power of attaching you more, he will be in your eyes the most perfect.”

Perhaps we learn more about Jane Austen’s own experiences and disappointments from this, than we do of what is actually going on with Fanny. Austen seems to be writing about herself, anxious that Fanny should not repeat her own mistakes (whatever they were). It is a little like Lady Russell advising and persuading Anne Elliot; but what is Jane Austen saying? That Fanny should not accept the first eligible man who proposes for her, even though he is a paragon, because she seems cool toward him and it’s possible somebody she can love more deeply may come along in the next few years. But maybe no such person will come along. And maybe Fanny could be perfectly happy with this Plumptre anyway! It’s no wonder Fanny can’t make up her mind what to do, in the face of such advice!

Her creepy agitation and contradictory advice continue: “I cannot wish you to be fettered. I should not be afraid of your marrying him; – with all his Worth, you would soon love him enough for the happiness of both; but I should dread the continuance of this sort of tacit engagement, with such an
uncertainty as there is, of when it may be completed. Years may pass, before he is Independant. – You like him well enough to marry, but not well enough to wait.”

She writes like one who has no idea what she is writing, which we don’t expect in so great a writer; but after all she is human, inexperienced, and probably made a botch of her own love life, so that both young and pretty nieces may despise her a little. Certainly Anna did not take auntie’s advice
when she came to wed.

Jane Austen goes on about Fanny’s predilection to fickleness: “The unpleasantness of appearing fickle is certainly great – but if you think you want Punishment for your past Illusions, there it is – and nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without Love, bound to one, & preferring another. That is a Punishment which you do not deserve.” Well, who does? Is this why Jane Austen did not marry Harris Bigg-Wither? She obviously had trouble herself making these important decisions – and there was no decision that could be more important to a woman in that era. This may be why her agitation may seem strange to people of our century; but the necessity of getting it right was absolutely everything and all there was in those days. She probably did feel her responsibility terribly, since Fanny was attending to what she said, in a way Anna never did. That was flattering, but burdensome.

There’s some business about Plumptre being in town, and the family not seeing him; and she urges Fanny anxiously to write, “and write something that may do to be read or told.” This is a very rare allusion as to the different levels of correspondence – the private correspondence, which we are reading here, and then what may be made public, which Jane Austen is telling Fanny to be sure and write for appearance’s sake.

Then she writes of her weariness of having to chaperone the young Miss Moores, Harriot and Eliza, “for tho I like Miss H.M. as much as one can at my time of Life after a day’s acquaintance, it is uphill work to be talking to those whom one knows so little. – Only one comes back with me tomorrow,probably Miss Eliza, & I rather dread it. We shall not have two ideas in common. She is young, pretty, chattering, & thinking cheifly (I presume) of Dress, Company, & Admiration.” But there is some compensation in Mr. Sanford coming to dinner (one of Henry’s associates); “in the evening while your Uncle & Miss Eliza play chess, he shall tell me comical things & I will laugh at them, which will be a pleasure to both.” It’s nice to see her contemplating one genuine pleasure at any rate!

We see that Jane Austen is not considering herself as a third twenty year-old giggling with her nieces; after all, age was “older” then and late thirties was deeply into middle age. I think she is unused to taking responsibility. She has never been a mother, she has had few household duties, so few that when she does one (like making orange wine or pouring out laudanum drops) we hear about it, it’s exceptional. She’s a little like Fanny Price, so astonished to find herself in the position of person responsible for advising and educating Susan. I think she truly is concerned for both nieces, and plays them off against each other in order to reach each one on an intimate footing. This is unwise and unattractive, in the older and supposedly wiser person; but perhaps almost necessary if she wanted to get on with both girls. I wonder if there was very bad blood between them.

She finishes off with some observations on her visit to the Charles Austen family in Keppel Street, and how the motherless little girls are. One is not quite well; another has “an interesting degree of Lisp and Indistinctness” (like the little Dashwood boy in S & S?), while “that puss Cassy, did not shew more pleasure in seeing me than her Sisters, but I expected no better; – she does not shine in the tender feelings. She will never be a Miss O’neal; more in the Mrs. Siddons line,” Jane Austen jokes. More tragic than romantic, therefore. And not much tenderness shown for another family of motherless nieces, come to that. Just a caustic joke. Her correspondent probably had no tenderness for the Charles Austen children either.

The second edition of Mansfield Park is to be settled (there was none, and she changed publishers), and she very understandably writes, “People are more ready to borrow & praise, than to buy – which I cannot wonder at; but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.” Naturally…

A word about the definition of Evangelical, and this completes this really very revealing letter. It gives a slice of Jane Austen’s life, to be sure, but not a very attractive slice. A bit of the stereotyped warped spinster – having missed the boat on the most important aspect of a woman’s life in
her time, she’s interested in the fate of her nieces, but not in a way that could be construed as helpful. Disappointment, jealousy, resentment seem to breathe here, not what you expect of the wise all-knowing author of Mansfield Park; but it is a reminder that she was after all human.

Diana

StayingwithHenryblog
Miss Austen Regrets: Jane (Olivia Williams) turns away from Fanny (Imogen Poots) now and again

My rejoinder: this letter contains some of the worst behavior Austen exhibits in the letters; while it’s supposed private, since Austen knows the family letters are shared, it’s clear that she is not that worried lest anyone see her resentment and sneers towards Anna. I don’t know that Austen was a good judge of piano playing and she was no concert artist; she herself says she was not a good judge.To write to a super-rich heiress of Godmersham about Anna buying herself a pelisse is in bad taste; Anna is “capable” of that you know — of buying a garment without telling others. I don’t think it understandable that she should feed the shallow Fanny what it seems Fanny wants; why should she take sides this way; she prefers Fanny because Fanny entertains her, and the center of the letter worries that what she says while entertained will be taken too seriously. She also just finished writing soothing praise to Anna we must suppose she doesn’t mean (or only when the wind is in the northwest).

She is back to worrying the question of Fanny’s marrying Plumptre. She now regrets having let Fanny know how much she admires him (serious reading young man with much [naive?] integrity. I won’t go through the zigzags: it’s clear she feel Fanny ought not to marry John Plumptre because she doesn’t value (=love) him. She does think Fanny capable of real and deep attachments so Fanny will be in danger lest after she marry she finds someone she could love. Yes it uncomfortable to be exposed as wavering (fickle) but better than than a lifetime of “Misery being bound without love.” In the event Fanny married pragmatically a much older rich, well-connected man with several children; we can’t say she didn’t love him, but it was a judicious choice — except maybe his age will give us pause. Perhaps she sought a father-figure …?

Henry’s presence — in the room? Henry wants to know why Fanny’s brother did not invite Hayter (as Edward’s friend). Then visiting Henry’s lady loves whom Jane is decidedly unkeen on. She does look forward to talking to one of Henry’s associates; she enjoys his sense of humor in conversation.

Charles’s presence: Keppel Street was where the Palmers lived. She talks of his children’s growing up behavior, and (as we’ve seen her do before) and then plays with them as toy like counters instead of people by assuming Cassy will be in the Mrs Siddon’s line I like that Charles and Fanny’s children are gentle and affection; it speaks well for Charles and Fanny.

She’s not sure a second edition of MP would sell. Praise is easy, not so for buying. Jane makes her remark she likes Pewter as well as Edward. She imagines Fanny agrees with her ambivalence towards evangelicals.

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

JaneWatchingAnnablog
Anna congratulated by Cassandra (Greta Scacchi) and Mrs Austen (Phyllida Law) while Jane looks on, from a distance

Bookdismissedblog
Emma, the book, doesn’t rate the way Jemima, the baby, does

Anna is marginalized in Miss Austen Regrets, hardly seen, and what drama there is comes from Mrs Austen’s scorn for Jane’s Emma in comparison to Anna’s Jemima. And yet the movie does sense something happening here that’s important. Jane couldn’t enjoy Anna the way she enjoyed Fanny — and enjoyed making up heterosexual fulfilled romances in her novels. Anna was a threat from within, and then an irritant, perhaps because she was too like Austen and yet made choices Jane denied herself or didn’t want. Perhaps the film should have included Martha Lloyd or some other of Jane’s beloved female friends.

At any rate a much more interesting perhaps disquieting story of Jane and her niece, Anna (who did marry, have daughters, and had a hard old age), across their shared lives remains to be told.

Ellen

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