Archive for the ‘children’s-girls’ books’ Category

From Enchanted Cornwall — Cornish beach — to them this recalls Andrew Davies’s 2009 Sense and Sensibility

Dear friends and readers,

Since tomorrow I’m going to try to travel to Cornwall where I will spend a week with a beloved friend, I thought I’d orient myself by reading an overview of the place, and found myself again reading DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall and Vanishing Cornwall. Though I’ve long loved a number of her books (basically the historical romances with female narrators, Rebecca, her biographies, life-writing, travel writing) my yearning to see Cornwall does not come from them, as what drew me were the atypical romance stories; it comes from the Poldark novels where the life experience, landscape, kinds of employment offered, society of Cornwall is central. Thus (with little trouble) I’ve picked photos from DuMaurier’s book which relate directly to the Poldark world:


I remember Demelza frolicking on such a beach with her lover, Hugh Armitage (The Four Swans)

19677-78 Poldark: Part 8, Episode 8: Demelza (Angharad Rees) and Armitage (Brian Stirner) cavorting along the beach —

and DuMaurier tells a tale of haunted vicar living a desolate life after he alienated the few parishioners he had in Warleggan church:

WarlegganChurch — From Vanishing Cornwall — Warleggan church

I’ve read all sorts of books on Cornwall since my love of these Poldark novels began, from mining to Philip Marsden’s archeaological reveries, Rising Ground, Ella Westland: Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, to Wilkie Collin’s ode to solitude and deep past in his Rambles beyond Railways); to smuggling, politics beginning in Elizabethan times, poetry (its authors include Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells), to women artists (Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes, Dame Laura Knight), corrupt politics in this patronage-run Duchy. If I were to go back to count in the books on Arthur and the legends surrounding his figure, and literature, I have conquered whole shelves. Bryychan Carey’s website will lead you to much from a modern abolitionist left point of view, plainly set out. So much from one corner of a country.

A photograph my friend took today, near Truro

DuMaurier’s lyrical prose carries so much information so lightly, one is in danger of not realizing how much is there. There is a film adaptation of Vanishing Cornwall (half an hour); it accompanies the movie, Daphne with Geraldine Somerville and Janet McTeer as the leading lovers) developed from her letters, memoirs, and Margaret Forster’s biography. Her stance is less subjective than Graham’s, legend, myth, than Graham does in his Poldark’s Cornwall, which dwells on his life, his career, the place of Cornwall in his fiction right now. Appropriate to Graham’s fiction so concerned with law, justice, in his travel book, we have a photo of Launceston jail gate today:


The DuMaurier’s may be regarded as instances of l’ecriture-femme too: in Enchanted whole parts of her novels emerge from this or that landscape memory as well as the sea. I had forgotten how many of her novels are situated there, from the one I think her finest, The King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine in a wheelchair almost from the beginning) to the later one, Outlander takes off from, Hungry Hill. Her historical novels are historical romances: at core they are gothic, erotic fantasies. Vanishing is circular in structure, at the core her retelling of legend is minimized so she can do justice to the geography, archaeaological history, various industry. There is a paragraph on the coming of pilchards every spring which owes a lot to Graham’s lyrical miracle in the third book of Ross Poldark (there used to be a podcast on-line from the BBC, now wiped away, alas). Legend blends into history; history becomes poetical writing. She is not much on politics, dwelling on the upper classes as they’d like to be seen (mostly the later 17th into later 18th century and again the 20th).

For now here a piece from Vanishing Ground read aloud, evocative.

As qualifiers:

A poem by Betjeman: Cornish Cliffs

Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun-

The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white

And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.

More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills
A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills
Over these long-defended Cornish hills.

A gun-emplacement of the latest war
Looks older than the hill fort built before
Saxon or Norman headed for the shore.

And in the shadowless, unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.

Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling
Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring
On sunny shallows, green and whispering.

The wideness which the lark-song gives the sky
Shrinks at the clang of sea-birds sailing by
Whose notes are tuned to days when seas are high.

From today’s calm, the lane’s enclosing green
Leads inland to a usual Cornish scene-
Slate cottages with sycamore between,

Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles
With, as the everlasting ocean rolls,
Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.

Laura Knight paints the contemporary world’s hopes.

Laura Knight’s rendition of a China Clay Pit (a detail, painting from early in the 20th century)



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Ring-a-Ring-o’Roses (charcoal, watercolor, click to enlarge)

Woodland scene (1886, click to enlarge)

Dear friends and readers,

Forbes is the third woman I’ve chosen from this later Victorian into Edwardian/modern period (the other too Paula Modersohn-Becker and Helen Allingham) from out of eight thus far.

This is the first era of the impressionists, and Forbes came under the influence of James McNeill Whistler.

From her earlier French period: La Seine pres de la Caumont

Like his her landscapes are psychological projections. In her case her landscapes represent them as a child would see them, or suggestive of a particular story (Great Women Masters of Art, Vigue, 299). The use of children has another origin: like Allingham Forbes was an illustrator and had to come up with a solution to the repressive mores of the era which demanded she have a chaperon: she painted children.

I first came across her work at the National Museum of Women’s Art in DC where she seemed to fit into the Pre-Raphaelite mode: at the time her mural, Will-o’-the Wisp, was on a balcony, next to an ascending stairway:

(click to enlarge)

The painting connects her to Helen Allingham as Forbes is illustrating his symbolic poem, The Faeries, and

depicts the story of Bridget, who was stolen by the ‘wee’ folk and bought up to the mountain for seven years. When Bridget returned to her village, she found that her friends were all gone.
Set in autumn with bare trees silhouetted against a moonlit sky, the triptych’s dark rocks, swirling mist, and eerie glow in the sky convey a mystical quality to this scene featuring Bridge, the ‘stolen child … dead with sorrow … on a bed of flat leaves.’ In the left panel of the painting, little forest denizens, who in Irish legends often entice young girls with sensory pleasures, troop through the forest.
Will-o-the-Wisp displays the tenets of the Newlyn Art School in its meticulous portrayal of natural detail … the elaborately hand-wrought oak frame that incorporates sheets of copper embossed with intertwined branches imitat[e] the painted tree limbs … Lines from Allingham’s poem inscribed along the sides and bottom of the frame allude to the centuries old philosophical dialogue between the relative artistic merits of painting versus poetry (JP, Women Artists, Works from the National Museum, p 66)

Like Modersohn-Becker she was influenced by the avante-garde; for Forbes it was the work of Walter Sickert, a print-maker, that struck her.

Brighton Pierrots by Sickert (click to enlarge)

Julian Treuherz (Victorian Painting, pp 187-96) valuably reprints a number of late Victorian landscape and country painters unfamiliar to many people today, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Frank Bramley, Elizabeth’s husband, Stanhope Forbes, Clausen, Wm McTaggart, Atkinson Grimshaw), but she assimilates to these only in the naturalistic and seeming social-criticism phases of her work.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Pauvre Fauvette (1881)

William McTaggart, The Storm (1890)

And of course her husband’s work influenced hers as hers did his:

A characteristic fisherman’s wife scene (click to enlarge)

Martin Hopkinson’s review of a recent biography of Forbes, Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes by Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie and Christina Paine, suggests the wide range of influences and center of art Forbes attended (see The British Art Journal 2:3 (Spring/Summer 2001):108. It’s true that what’s depicted may seem insular English as in The Edge of the Wood (1894), a “love tryst” (Christopher Wood’s term, from Paradise Lost: Paintings of English Country Life and Landscape, 1850-1914, p 199) something from a Hardy novel


or ideas for a new BBC film adaptation of elegant rich Edwardians

The Minuet (1892)

but note the rich coloration of her Forbes’s art, her use of animals, the leaves, the wood; the second picture’s center is the child’s yellow dress, with triangular shades of light and three women watching over her while a fourth works near a window.

She is included in a few of my surveys of women painters, mentioned in others. Greer places her alongside Mary Cassatt and Laura Knight because she worked in “the fragile” (and demanding) “medium of watercolor, leaving grander genre and history compositions in oils to her better-known husband. Often the simplicity of her work seems slack and spurious, but occasionally, as in her pastel, The Kiss, some greater intensity swells the small statement” (Obstacle Race, p 113). What a put-down.

Those women who write about her art sympathetically say forget the fashionable masculine schools of the era (impressionism, Pre-Raphaelitism); to align Forbes with these or the anecdotal Victorian naturalistic depictions gets you nowhere. You have to stake out a terrain of femininity for her as much as her you do for Allingham and Modersohn-Becker. This seems to me right: like the woman authors of the 1930s who are marginalized (see Alison Light, Forever England) in favor of say Graham Greene or George Orwell because these women don’t fit in the political movements of the day, the marginalization of Allingham and Forbes is the result of looking for what the women don’t want to be there.

Her art is so varied: suggestive, wonderful use of space and line, decorative bright colors, the picturesque and the plain and real, movement within a picture and stylization, so many influences too, from book illustrators and Millet to costumes and Art Nouveau. For myself I am deeply attracted to women artists of this era, and in Forbes’s case the melancholy and in her illustrations overt poetic feel. As a girl I learned to love Arthurian stories because of the illustrations that accompanied them in Edwardian books.


Elizabeth in 1882 by her husband, Stanhope Forbes

Born December 29, 1859, in Kingston, a suburb of Ottawa, Canada, daughter of a government official. At age 16, 1875, she went to the South Kensington School of Art to study; she returned home when her father died (presumably she lack funds to stay on). Two years later we find her in NYC under American influence while studying at the Art Students League, and then going on Munich (encouraged by William Merrit Chase). In 1882 she moved to Pont Aven (France) where she met leading “plein-air” painters, people working in smocks out-of-doors. Decisive, though. was the autumn she spent in Newlyn, Cornwall, with her mother, both for choice of subject and execution:

A Zandvoort Fishergirl (1884) (click to enlarge)

and because she met her husband, Stanford Alexander Forbes there. A yet stronger luminous quality and use color and light, respect for a humble occupation, and expressiveness has lead to critics regarding her Boy with the Hoe as one of her outstanding paintings:

Elizabeth Adela Forbes - Boy with a Hoe
(click to enlarge)

The couple married in 1891; she had a son in 1892. She wrote and illustrated a children’s book, King Arthur’s Wood, and edited a magazine called The Paper Chase. She had been doing etchings from a time in St Ives, but gave this form up. She also could no longer keep up the French connections directly. To support themselves she and her husband opened a school of art in Newlyn (1899), but her predilection for presenting her modernity as the working teacher began before that, as seen in her fine School is Out(1889):

(click to enlarge)

Deborah Cherry (Painting Women, pp 183-6) argues that Forbes’s images take issue with masculine definitions of what is modern art, she (in effect) refuses to imitate paintings focusing on “the commodification of [sexually available] women’s bodies.”

Blackberry gatherers

Pleasure has other sources too, like in this Christmas Scene

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (Canadian artist, 1859–1912) Christmas Tree

Here is her husband reading a very thick book:

Stanhope Alexander Forbes

Using just lines and shades an umbrella:


Her first individual exhibit was held in 1900 at the Fine Arts Society of London; she was elected a member of the watercolor society; 1904 she had another individual exhibit at Leicester Gallery in London. She died at the relatively young age of 53 in 1912.



She is known for her depiction of children. Alone:

A street in Brittany


The Half-Holiday

Grouped in scenes:

Looking over a wall

In a wood

But there is equal adept depth and individual use of different painting techniques for adults:

A Fisherman (she seems usually to avoid the stereotype Cornish fishing and fishing equipment scenes

An Old Man

She did many and varied illustrations: Another Arthurian:


Some consciously sexy:


Take oh take those lips away (!)

She did sheer fairy tale:

The Pied Piper

Probably today she would be more admired for landscapes and simpler expressionism:

Across Mount Bay

A Holland scene: Volendam, from the Zuicende

[A] balanced, typically Dutch landscape … The spatial conceptions lends he work a homogeneous image constructed around the strong verticality of the canal and its banks… striking for its sense of depth, and the harmony of light and color, with a strong colorist atmosphere far removed from somber English landscapes. The force of light increases through the use of color, with luminous effects concentrated on the water in he canal, represented as a mirror reflecting the sky .. Vigue, p 304)

But she could be very Henry-Jamesian:


And some of her compositions defy allegoresis or ready comparisons as this of a country girl stroking a goat who is eating wildflowers from her flower-laden wheel barrow

Jean, Jeanne, Jeannette (1880) (click to enlarge)


She seems to love water-imagery and when not painting working women and children at play, she is a poet of painterly reverie.

Two self-portraits

In her studio, from the early phase of her career with her husband

Later in life


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Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Reading
Wybrand Hendriks, Old Woman Reading (Dutch, 1744-1831)

Dear friends and readers,

I almost made a Freudian slip and typed as the the title of Goodman’s bok, Becoming a Woman of Letters in the 18th century, for that is what this book is about. It’s just the book I needed to put together a paper on Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith and if not Anne Home Hunter, Anne Radcliffe — who also wrote a journal book and left a journal-diary whose entries are letter-like. I may substitute Radcliffe for Anne Home Hunter if my emphasis moves from Scots women to women forging connections as such. Naturally,I recommend it.

The cover picture of Goodman’s book is the same tired image I’ve seen on so many 18th century books about French women, Adelaide Labille-Guiard‘s Portrait of a Woman, so despite its appropriateness and lovely colors,


I led with a much less familiar image of a woman avidly reading — as if her life depended upon this.

A review of Goodman’s book appeared in the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 48:4 (546-47). I want to emphasize from Aurora Wolfgang’s brief account, that writing was for women of the 18th into 19th century “a transformational practice,” where they both developed a consciousness for themselves (an identity we might say) and spoke to both private and public worlds out of their own private world (writing self) and public knowledge. Goodman debunks the stereotype of women as reading and writing love letters primarily; she developed her role as a teacher, mother and legitimized active participation and autonomy. The writing desk, her closet, the learning what are one’s innermost thoughts through the use of language, using reason, knowledge (her reading), and sensibility. Sensibility is only one part of this even if this is a “gendered sense of subjectivity.”

Goodman covers the manufacture of supply too: pens, paper, furniture for the modern person (like a desk), books of illustrations to study.

The writer and reader reached out to embed themselves in social networks of friends and family and book illustrations too.

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) — and woman illustrator

Goodman analyzes over a 100 such illustrations; her central women writers are Genevieve de Malboissiére, Manon Phlipon, Catherine de Saint-Pierre, and Sophie Silvestre.

Other reviews: Maire Fedelma Cross, French History 24:2 (2010):292-93; from Cornell’s website.

A small connection which may seem foolish but is a defense of good historical. In Graham’s Poldark novels when Demelza learns to write and uses her skill to connect Verity to Blamey, to communicate with others, to be herself, she is enacting what Goodman claims for women of this era. I regret to say I’ve not been able to locate any snaps or stills of Eleanor Tomlinson teaching herself to read (they are probably fleeting). These are taken from Graham’s book. What is emphasized in both historical films is Demelza teaching herself to play the piano. Reading is still a suspect activity?

I’ve bought the book used from Amazon, and await its arrival eagerly.


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Dear friends and readers,

What differentiates Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club screenplay and resulting movie from the other sequels and appropriation texts to Jane Austen’s novels that I’ve read, is the content-rich nature, intelligence and coherent working out of ideas in the film’s conversations about the books, of which there are many. In this blog I cite the conversations by Swicord and compare them briefly and generally to those in Fowler’s novel.


Wendy Wax’s While We Were Watching Downton Abbey where characters similarly get together to discuss this mini-series may stand as more typical: a great fuss is made about what the characters are feeling and thinking about the fictional characters, but when it comes to telling, the author via her characters says out hardly anything at all, or utters the kind of statement where specific content or comments on any themes or characters is avoided (like some plague, it’s a conscious avoidance). Such books make me wonder what kinds of conversations book clubs have: I’ve seen on-line communities where real analysis of the book hardly happens hardly at all, and the one book club talk I attended, after the briefest introduction of a few issues the book brought up (already outlined as what would be discussed), commonplace notions were said generally, a quiz was worked out, and then it was time for food.

Swicord’s characters not only offer specific comments on specific content, they come up with unusual perceptive ideas (such as maybe Charlotte Lucas is a closet lesbian) and they make what is happening in the Austen novels relevant to their lives in the book and by extension our contemporary lives reading them.

I wondered if there was a general stance in the novel across these discussions, anything linking them together thematically which related to the novel or a way of reading Austen’s novels so gathered together the conversations I took down in the process of taking down the screenplay.

Online2 (2)

Online2 (1)

Standing on line waiting to see Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park

I really like Edmund in this movie. Have you seen it?
We see an upset Trudie on line. Man and woman to her right.
Woman taking something out of her bag I love this movie.
Bernadette: Oh, I like it, but it’s not Mansfield Park. It’s more of an interpretation. We see Bernadette with her knitting and glasses on line
We see Prudie look so looming somehow in front ….
Bernadette: – Do you know the book?
Woman: – Yes. And I happen to teach film.
Bernadette – Oh … (speaking out to space in general: – Do you like this movie? –
Prudie turns round with crying lament voice: No. Do you know it mixes up Fanny Price with the author of the book? (her arms crossed) Makes Sir Bertram some kind of slave owner.
Woman looks irritated, pulling on bag
Bernie: Well, it means well. And a little Jane Austen’s better than none at all.
Prudie: No. No. No. That is how I talk myself into everything. I’m married to a man who would cancel our trip to Paris for a basketball game, which is making me a fraud in front of my students. A French teacher who’s never been to France?
Husband of couple getting impatient, goes to get tickets, women begins to feel for Prudie as she listen to above, so makes an effort …
Woman online: The screenplay is outstanding (The thrust of this dialogue and some of it literally comes from opening phase of Fowler’s characters discussion of Mansfield Park in March, pp. 82-83.).

Bernadette (2)

Bernadette (1)

At coffee meeting place, deciding on how to read all six Austen books, the order especially

Six novels, six people. We’ll each be responsible for one book. Bernie walks away reveling in her scarf: All Jane Austen, all the time! It’s the perfect antidote.
Prudie: – To what?
Bernie: – To life. … (comes back and whispers conspiratorially) I get Pride and Prejudice.
Bernie: So Prudie (she’s sitting to the side in a comfortable chair, knitting), you haven’t said which book you wanna be responsible for.
Prudie: Maybe Persuasion. ‘Cause I’m increasingly drawn to its elegiac tone. (there is a posturing here)
Allegra (feels and sees this and slams down coffee cup) – Don’t think I’m doing the book club.
Jocleyn (picks up hers): – You’re doing it. You lead one discussion. Pick a book.
Allegra: Well, I just saw Sense and Sensibility, and I think, since I’m back living with my mom, I really get that whole two-women, tight-relationship, living-together- but-really-opposites thing. POV Jocelyn eating donut
Jocelyn: Is it weird living back at home again?
Prudie (interrupting teacher-like): I think what Austen is actually writing about is two sisters, moving separately toward what they each believe to be a perfect love.
Allegra: Okay, but the point is Marianne and Elinor’s relationship…
Prudie: Maybe if you’d read the book instead of watching the movie…
Allegra: No, don’t make her do Northanger. I mean, first you’re going off to all these dances, and then suddenly it’s sort of like Nightmare on Northanger Abbey Street. Prudie making faces
Prudie: I’m afraid this isn’t the book club that I had in mind. (Clash of tone of mind) I mean, I find when someone in the group feels superior to the author, it just… It sets the wrong tone.
Never read anything by Jane Austen before. (Dumps huge book on table)
Jocelyn looks, Allegra,
Bernie (horrified) What is it? (Prudie to the side)
Grigg: Well, I went to the bookstore to buy a copy of each one of the novels, and I saw this. And I thought, “Well, maybe they’re all sequels.” So, I figured it might be a good idea to keep them all together in one book, in case I needed to refer back. (holding book up to show binder and row of titles, points) Is this the order that we read them in?
Grigg: Great. All right. – Emma. Starting in the middle. (he is far more enthusiastic than they … ) (This scene in the Swicord’s script and movie is a sum up and transference of scattered explanatory passages throughout Fowler’s book.)




The group is on porch, discussing Emma, with Allegra having begun, talking from the swing seat:

Allegra: Where’s the heat between Emma and Mr. Knightley? There’s no animal passion.
Beautiful far shot of group around book on porch fall
Allegra: Look at Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax.
Back to close view of Allegra:You can tell they’re really in love because they behave so badly.
Sylvia uncorking bottle, looks dubious: And that’s good? (Jocelyn next to her)
Allegra shrugs slightly: Emma and Mr. Knightley, you just never feel the sex.
Camera on Grigg looking startled ….
Bernie first voice-over and then with knitting needles: Still, I think Mr. Knightley’s very yummy. Don’t you? He may be my favorite of all the Austen men.
Prudie next to Bernie: (italics for foreign language): Sans passion I’amour n’est rien.
Sylvia turns to smile at Jocelyn:
Camera back on Prudie: — That’s not Jane’s theme, is it?
Jocelyn in camera to Sylvia mouthing: – Jane?
Allegra: That’s cozy.
Bernie looks admonitory
Camera back to undercertain and then firmly squarish Prudie:
What … what we’re meant to see is not the lack of passion so much as the control of it, and the not giving in.
Camera on Bernie knitting at an angle: Apres moi, le deluge.
All giggle and camera on Sylvia and Jocelyn
Bernie leaning conciliatory: But Prudie’s right, it is in all the novels.
Camera on Grigg beginning to say something when Bernie interjects:
Bernie: Sense and Sensibility, obviously. (far shot with Pruide) Oh, and then there’s Maria’s infidelity in Mansfield Park.
Camera on Sylvia looking up:
Sylvia upset voice: I forgot there’s infidelity in Mansfield Park. (same wine glass from previous scene
Jocelyn (camera on her: Austen’s all about keeping it zipped.
Grigg at last has something to say: Yeah, but isn’t physical attraction one of the ungovernable forces? (quick shots of Bernie and Prudie from far; we see Jocelyn on other side of Grigg). You know, like gravity. That’s what we like about it. You know, downhill, release the brakes, loosen your grip, and… (whooofff …)
Partial shots of all of them there.
Allegra: Yeah. Love makes people crazy.
Sylvia (hesitating) camera on her – It does not excuse bad behavior.
Bernie nodding wisely (shot captures them all again) – I agree. And Mr. Knightley is violently in love. “Violently!” His word. And yet, he’s never anything but a gentleman.
Allegra: – Yeah, a gentleman who scolds people.
Grigg getting up and walking away: Well, not everyone. You know, just Emma, just the woman that he loves.
Prudie caught as monumental: C’est vrai. C’est typique.
By mistake as Grigg backs off we see him almost fall into Jocelyn’s lap and come off
Prudie: A man can do whatever he likes to the woman he loves.
Jocelyn close up (with glasses): I don’t think that’s what Austen’s saying.
Far shot showing them all with Sylvia doing something for Grigg
Jocelyn close up: Actually, Emma stops being crazy when she falls for Mr. Knightley. It’s the event of the book. Love is an act of sanity.
Bernie knitting away
Grigg begins as voice-over: One thing that I noticed about Emma is the sense of menace.
Camera then captures Sylvia sitting by Grigg’s side:
Grigg: The gypsies, Jane Fairfax’s boating accident, Mr. Woodhouse’s worries.
Prudie intervenes with condescension: Austen’s entire thesis is that none of these things are real, Grigg.
Photograph of Grigg and Sylvia listening
Prudie: I mean, Emma, she acts on the basis of her fantasies (her hand over her neck)
Allegra making fun: Yes, Grigg, I’m afraid you’ve just entirely missed the point.
Prudie looks a little disconcerted:
Jocelyn: You know, I’ve read that the Emma plot, the humbling of the pretty, know-it-all girl is the most popular plot of all time.
Allegra looks alert.
Bernie (wry and knitting): Yes, universally satisfying.
Allegra: Okay. Well, what bothered me was how Emma kept forcing her friend Harriet on Mr. Elton. And then she finds out who Harriet’s father is, and suddenly, “Ew!” She’s lucky to get the farmer. (back and forth for shots from far
Prudie (square one shot): I think Jane was being ironic there. I think some readers might miss that.
Allegra: – Emma’s a snob.
Jocelyn: – Please. (Now Grigg near Jocelyn who is higher up in frame) People are instinctively drawn to partners who are their near equal in looks. The pretty marry the pretty, the ugly the ugly. To the detriment of the breed, in my opinion.
Grigg laughing
Bernie looking up God, you’re such an Emma. Isn’t she? You’d love to pair up the whole world, from dogs to people.
Sylvia looking down. Put me together with Daniel
Sylvia: Austen has a way of making you forget that most marriages end in divorce.
Bernie: Well, she’s all about the weddings, Jane.
Jocelyn: Yeah, “Jane.” Did you catch that?
Sylvia: Oh, Prudie?
Jocelyn (mocking deep voice): “Jane and I, we know our themes.”
Allegra: And why did she have to speak in French?
Jocleyn: And if so, couldn’t she do it in France, where it’s less noticeable?
Bernie I feel for Prudie. She’s married to a complete Neanderthal. (In Fowler’s novel Emma is the first novel discussed, in March, and this dialogue is found across several conversation pieces, pp 14-15, 20-21, 28-29, 32-33, with some direct transferences and some differences in what is said & emphasized, very clear in the book how what is said comes of out a character too; all 3 interspersed with pasts of the characters and the present story lines, plus a feminist consciousness raising group where girls discussed experiences of rape.)

Continued in comments:

Mansfield Park: Sylvia passionately defends Fanny Price:


The play rehearsed in Prudie’s school is a mirror of Mansfield Park and Lovers Vows; and Prudie and Trey rehearse love scenes together; but Prudie going for Trey a twisted mirror of Persuasion (she’s looking for another mate, a false second chance). She almost goes to bed with Trey, so she stands in as modern instances of both Fanny Price and Maria Bertram. 

Northanger Abbey: Provoking anxiety disquiets Sylvia



Mysteries of Udolpho in effect defended

Pride and Prejudice: again Grigg and Sylvia


Sense and Sensibility, The whole group, intense subtext between Grigg and Jocelyn, as they argue over their relationship through the book:


Persuasion: on the beach, Grigg’s sister first thought his girlfriend, an analogy for Eleanor Tilney and reader of Jane Austen; Sylvia’s husband wants to return and talks with Bernadette



Most moving is the reconciliation of Dean and Prudie in bed — he simply reading the whole of the novel all night.

As movie moves to final gathering in elegant clothes at dinner, no surprise Patrick O’Brien novels will be coming next, all 20 of them.

I omit the characterization of the characters as comments on the books and themes as that is done in all the appropriations. The interwined general stance of the conversations in book and film seems to be how much in the books can be transferred to readers’ lives and how readers use them to think about their lives.

But the emphasis in the book is on the characters and their stories and the comments on Austen are more general, not tied to the stories in the way of the movie. Further in the book there is a considerable difference about what’s said about Mansfield Park; Fowler does not care for Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey and this is disguised in the film by having the conversations so rooted in the characters’ personalities or lives. She also has little overt discussion of P&P and Persuasion — they are paralleled by events. The script has far more direct commentary on Austen’s novels than Fowler’s novel, which is more indirect and you are allowed far more complicated story and switches back and forth in time. But both move back and forth: the script moves forward with occasional flashbacks to time that is not so long ago, but there is a constant intertwining of juxtapositions and montage — reminiscent of Howtidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley; the novel is an multi-level intertwining of different times and kinds of texts.

I found also that both the movie and book presented contemporary and insightful readings of Austen’s books indirectly. Some of these reveal how far we’ve come today from Austen’s point of view, and how much we can see in her books she does not appear to have been conscious of. Many of the readings and commentaries are far more satisfying than academic literary criticism because less disingenuous.


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Out of the sky she had come, back to the sky she had gone …

When she was child, Lyndon [Helen Lyndon Goff]’s mother would say to her ‘Better be careful or the wind will change and you will look crabby forever …

Frontispiece to Mary Poppins in the Park, “Sitting bolt upright against the tree” (Mary Shepard)

Dear friends and readers,

Some weeks ago I finished reading Valerie Lawson’s marvelous literary biography of Helen Lyndon Goff who insofar as she is known to the world became known as P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books (1952). The latest title is Mary Poppins, She Wrote. Her life and work belongs on Austen reveries: she was another unconventional spinster writer, part lesbian, with a witty withdrawing mind. I have no proof, but assume she read Austen’s novels. She was a great reader of books of the romantic period.

Lawson’s is a quietly poignant book of about woman who created an idyllic inner world for herself through writing wry children’s books, with a prickly apparently saturnine governess who turns out to be a cynosure of fantasy and good feeling. What is so good about Lawson’s book is the subtlety and details with which her peripetatic life-story is told (from Australia to London, to Ireland, place to place in the UK itself, on the continent at times, to all over the US), from the point of view of her career as journalist, poet, briefly an actress, author of children’s books and continuing journalist, and that of her life, her childhood retold somewhat melodramatically in Saving Mr Banks. Most of her adult associations came from Australians who moved to England and then colonial British living in London, including Irish — there she made her connections and relationships. She lived in Ireland and become a close follower and friend of George William Russell known as AE (part of the turn-of-the-century Celtic Renaissance), who was especially genuinely important to her as a journalist, poet, writer and person (she loved him):

1934: Travers and George William Russell at Pound Cottage, Mayfield

A poem written while under his influence:

I would find by the edge of that water
The collar bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of the water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet and stare
At the bitter old world where they marry in churches
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches,
Through the white thin bone of a hare.

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was the first of a series of unscrupulous gurus who she followed in her aspirations to find some better spiritual world. She was bisexual, living for many years with Madge Burnand, close friend-lover (?) with Jesse Orage too who had children of her own.

Madge Burnand

There was rivalry between the three and sometimes bitter in-fighting (so to speak). She also adopted a child (from an impecunious couple who were members of her Irish circle), one of a pair of twins, Camillus, who became an important person in her later years and lived in her London house in his later years.

Travers and Camillus at Gstaad, 1947

She was conventional enough continually to send the boy away to boarding schools that he hated; she misses him terribly and yet she persisted in sending him away to make him part of an upper class male group. It rather had the unfortunate affect of making him angry, rebellious in ways that got him in trouble with the law during his later teens and early 20s. Her son became an alcoholic but he and his wife managed – with considerable help from Pamela. There were two granddaughters who seem to have meant a lot to the grandmother. Her was an independent woman writer’s life of her era: her luck was she inherited her aunt, Ellie Morehead’s money and she could get along on that and what freelance writing she got, plus the sales of the two books — until the Disney movie.

On Disney and her relationship: Disney did already own the rights when Pamela went to Hollywood; she needed the money and understood that her book would probably be much changed — not as much as it was. Disney did not only not charm Travers, he could and did behave ferociously to her when he thought it would cow her and it did. He was never any kind of benign boss and Disneyland today is one of the worst places to work in the control it exerts over employees (to smile, to behave a certain way, yuk). No she never danced. She did cry during the premiere but not from happiness, a kind of sudden hysteria and Disney and his people found this very embarrassing. The split was not amicable but what is important to know is that at first Travers wrote positively about the movie because she did hope for a sequel. A sequel was never in the works; Disney was against them. Once there was clearly not going to be a sequel Travers begin to say how she hated the film and would not sell rights any more from her book, but then it was unlikely she was going to get anything.

She did become comfortably rich in her older age because of the royalties and money she received. She also got more publications which made her happier. She was not alone in the world: she had friends and yes an adopted son but after the movie her relationship with her son worsened for a while, and this did make her very sad. No she was not prim and proper though she had old fashioned manners. Her character is prim and proper. She had lived an unconventional life — with other women, with male lovers, chasing after gurus in effect. And late in life she was still an aspiring lonely woman looking for meaning in life and to leave art that had integrity of vision. Her home remained her older British house in London but she did try traveling and living in the US, but could not make the adjustment to behaving in an class-free open way and when she managed herself invited to be a writer in residence at two girls’ colleges (one Smith), she behaved in intolerable ways: all prickly, difficult (for real), snobbish, as if she wanted to make people go away. She sought again for a guru type and found one and hung around him; after he died (she was long lived) she became herself a central figure.  Much mysticism — she wrote two more books which were savaged by the US press; the second by the UK (About Sleeping Beauty) treated more kindly. She worked to get her papers into great Australian research libraries; she was active and lively to the end — very admirable and stubborn.

What lifted the book beyond telling his unusual life were me Lawson’s chapters where she analyses the Mary Poppins books engagingly and astutely; she supplies context by telling of Travers’s own favorite children’s authors (Beatrice Potter, Blake’s poems) and her love of romantic and Yeatsian poetry, her readings in books of reverie. It’s good that the books have a left-liberal outlook politically (at least the first two do), but that’s not what is unique and alive about them. Lawson then retells the stories in ways that bring out their peculiar quality and recalled to my mind the original stories, picking the ones I recall as the most important or memorable — and (whatever Disney asserted in either of his movies) these are not the stories about Mr. or Mrs. Banks — they are about Jane and Michael taken from some vexed or unhappy time (when they are misbehaving or something has disappointed them) to a realm Mary suddenly creates around her with magical people associated with the zodiac, stars, archetypal stories and English types (an Admiral, Miss Lark. For example, Lawson writes of the first two books:

The first two books mirror one another, even to chapter titles — “Bad Tuesday” and “Bad Wednesday,” “Miss Lark’s Andrew” and “Miss Andrew’s Lark,” “The Day Out” and “The Evening Out.” Mrs. Corry and the Bird Woman of the first book relate to the Balloon Woman of the second, and the Dancing Cow in the first book and Robertson Ay’s story of the second both tell nursery rhyme tales mixed with parable.
    In Mary Poppins, the most eerie and fantastic story concerns Mrs. Corry and her two big daughters Annie and Fannie. In Mary Poppins Comes Back, an equally frightening adventure, “Bad Wednesday,” is a ‘cautionary tale; Jane in one of her rare naughty moods gets trapped in time, inside the lives of boys who live on a Royal Doulton bowl. She might have been there forever if Mary had not dragged her back home. The most charming adventure in Mary Poppins is “John and Barbara’s Story,” the tale of the baby Banks twins who know the language of the universe but only for a year or so, until they become fully human. The most wistful adventure concerns the visit of Maia, the second-eldest of the Pleiades, who has come to earth to do some Christmas shopping for her six sisters.

Maia (Mary Poppins)

    Both Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Comes Back include chapters in which Mary guides the children to the secrets of the universe. In “The Evening Out” (Mary Poppins Comes Back), Mary is the honored guest at a huge circus in the sky. The Sun is the ringmaster while Pegasus, Orion, Pollux and Castor, Saturn and Venus are among the entertainers whose finale is the Dance of the Wheeling Sky.
    This great cosmic dance, with its literary and mythological connections, touches on Yeats’s theory, explained in his book A Vision, of wheels and gyres, and on the dance of the spheres in Dante’s Paradiso. 1, “The Evening Out” reveals how much faith Pamela put in astrology and has its precursor in the Grand Chain dance of the animals in “Full Moon,” in Mary Poppins. One night — the night of Mary Poppins’s birthday — there is a full moon. The Banks children and Mary visit the zoo where the animals strut around outside, laughing and pointing at the antics of the humans inside the cages.
    In both “Full Moon” and “The Evening Out,” the children appear to encounter God in the shape of the Hamadryad and the Sun. In “The Evening Out,” Mary Poppins dances with the Sun who plants a kiss on her cheek. Next day, back at Cherry Tree Lane, the Sun’s lip marks can be clearly seen by the children, burnt into the flesh of her cheek.
    Mary Poppins Comes Back contains one chapter that takes the reader beyond the fantastic, to the realm of myth, religious symbolism and poetry. Called “The New One,” it is inspired by Wordsworth, and by AE’s favorite poet, William Blake whom Pamela also revered. The “new one” is Annabel, the Banks’s new baby, who has traveled on a long journey through the universe to arrive in the Banks household. She is not just a time traveler, but part of the universe itself, every part, from the sea, to the sky, to the stars, to the sun.

Mary leaves by getting into an ordinary carousel which proceeds to become a cosmic merry-go-round (Mary Poppins Comes Back)

Eventually, she for gets her origins, just as her older siblings, John and Barbara, have forgotten their journey and how they could talk to the sun and wind. Pamela wrote “The New One” with no experience of staring in awe at a newborn baby of her own, with that instinctive feeling that a child has come from God.

The illustrations for these sorts of stories are most the most piquant and strange of the books and are not the ones Disney imitated or what is mostly found on the Net. I did and still do love them. The mysterious Malkin to whom Michael kneels is typical:

LuckyThursday (Mary Poppins in the Park)

Cats as decorative vignettes grace this last book.

Mary Poppins in the Park was my favorite book of the four when I was 8, perhaps because I lived in the Southeast Bronx which was hard city, a slum, though we had a big (and to me) beautiful park, Crotona Park, 3 blocks up from the apartment house we lived in: I’d sit and read it, look at the map of the park on the end papers, draw over the lines of my favorite illustrations, read and reread it. I had loved Mary Poppins (1934), Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935) and (not as much really) Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943), not realizing the first time reflected the depression in London among the upper middle classes, the third, a war-time atmosphere, and this last 6 years after I was born, post-war England. I must’ve been one of the few people who went to see the 1964 movie, Mary Poppins, famously starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke and felt dismayed to see the books I had loved erased, even if I loved the song-and-dance numbers so much.

Opensthedoor (2)
The original balloon woman (Mary Poppins Comes Back) from whom the old woman feeding the birds derived:

Travers became somewhat known despite the disparate nature of the books — people did buy them for their children or themselves. Disney clearly saw in them an opportunity for Disneyification, and as far as I can see from this new bout of commentary, most people seeing the movie never read the books, and many when they did did not at all enter into their original spirit or meaning. So without Disney what would there be for Travers to sell? she therefore simply accepted the continual big checks for the rest of her life. Disney replaced the books with matter really highly disparate from the original, and Saving Mr Banks does not bring out the quality of those books at all but again turns to a family story this time tragic instead of comic — except we are given a moral by the great and good Mr Disney (oops — Walt): “we should hope on, see how hard and individual effort lead to success, and how he and now Pam have made it.”
Sheer Ayn Rand.


At age 66

She was a woman writer and on my WWTTA listserv at Yahoo was compared to J.K. Rowling who similarly tried to disguise her gender by using two initials. But Rowling’s disguise is the more thorough: Rowling’s books centered on boy heroes in a boy school, with active boy adventures, with the girl as grating hanger-on at first. To my mind Travers is the far more faithful woman writer than Rowling. And one can see influences of Travers here and there on other women writers. There’s a longish essay on Drabble in a recent NYRB (I mean to read it first and then send on a recommendation) by April Bernard: one of the books by Drabble I picked up and read had a cover that reminded me of Mary Poppins books: The Seven Sisters and I remember while reading I was touched by Maia as something there in the Pleiade was similar.

Yes the film did lead more people to read Travers and, especially if young enough (and usually) girls did go on to read all four and appreciate them – and the later couple of short stories, but this I fear was not common. It seems most readers coming to the books with a wrong set of expectations, turned away from them. So the movie did Travers’s reputation a disservice as well as her books if it also supported her and now her son and grandchildren in comfort.

Opensthedoor (1)
Happy Ever After (from Mary Poppins Opens the Door)


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Luckington Court, Wiltshire: Longbourn in the 1995 P&P (scripted Andrew Davies)

Dear friends and readers,

Back from my trip to Boston to watch the US National Ice-Skating Championship, and am delighted to report that the book that most helped me get through a long wait for an airplane to go to Boston, long hours in our hotel room when I had caught a bad cold and could not attend the skating was Jo Baker’s Longbourn. Unlike the several sequels to Austen’s novels that try to create something new within the close confines of sticking mostly to Austen’s original characters and stories, Baker’s Longbourn is alive with effective powerful characters, presents a story that is persuasive, holds your attention, has passion and unfolding subtlety.

She has performed this considerable feat by using the same method or ploy as Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (out of Hamlet) and Valerie Martin in her Mary Reilly (out of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Essentially we stay totally with the characters mentioned in the margins of the original fiction, in this case a butler, Mrs Hill, two housemaids, and James, the coachman (all explicitly mentioned), in their world upon which the highlighted strongly remembered events of the original fiction impinges as its story moves along. All three new texts (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Mary Reilly and Longbourne) depend on your knowing the story in-between, or enough of it to make do with the sketch of this other story upstairs more or less merely suggested. (I’ve an idea Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is another example of this kind of sequel.) So Baker is not in the position of having to herself re-invent or bring to life a character Austen dwelt in, because the main characters of Austen’s novels are only seen or felt in passing, and Baker is clever enough to use the original words from the novel whenever possible.

Longbourn is also a text that emerges as much from the Austen film canon (especially the 1995 A&E P&P) as it does from the two Upstairs/Downstairs (U/D and Downton Abbbey) long running serial dramas. So the rules of how footmen dressed, how people behaved at table, and much else owes much to the dream books (printed on art paper, plenty of colorful stills) that accompany the films as historical paraphernalia.

Sarah first seen in novel doing hard heavy morning chores the way Daisy is seen here (Sophie McShea)

The whole conceit of taking us downstairs is an outgrowth of the Upstairs/Downstairs patterning of so many and recently the Downton Abbey pattern. Arguably, Daisy from Downton Abbey is central to the central characters of Longbourn: Mrs Hill as a girl servant when she got pregnant, and now Sarah, Mrs Hill’s protegee, an orphan rescued from a poorhouse. The P&P film most in mind is the 1995 one where there is most information. The long sequence of James’s adventures and ordeals about 3/4s the way through the book (his back story) are closely reminiscent of Darcy’s ordeal (played by Colin Firth) in the 1995 P&P. There’s even a scene where like Darcy, James consults a girl of the streets who is clearly willing to give him sex for the money or expects to, and he does not ask this at all but feels for her.

Darcy and woman in streets (his ordeal test)

I felt numerous of Baker’s scenes were sketched with a movie in mind: James, her hero does not move into anguish where we are invited to experience this with the character; instead most of the time we see him and others from afar and are left to imagine his inner world. The effect of reading a number of her scenes is that of a screenplay where the dialogue and descriptions of settings have been thrown into the conventional prose of a novel. The way the characters we are with watch the upper class characters live their luxurious easy lives has the effect of watching a super-rich costume drama at a distance from us. It’s self-reflexive. We are also continually made aware of how the point of view in costume drama as a genre is that of the upper class or privileged because suddenly the troubles of most of such characters (even the downstairs set) seem as nothing to the threat of homelessness, starvation, pressing, flogging, rape, ruthless exploitation such as the group of characters who inhabit the kitchens of both Longbourn and Netherfield in this book know.

Within its own terms Longbourn often makes us piquantly see Austen’s novel from an angle many of us would not have considered before. I’ve read countless times how wonderful it is that Elizabeth Bennet goes traipsing through the fields and mud to reach Jane, not caring about how her dress fared: we are to admire her physical stamina, prowess, nerve. What’s omitted is how the maid might feel about such a petticoat and nice pelisse getting filthy. We see Sarah’s raw hands, how hard she must work with a few chemicals, rubbing, beating, boiling garments to make them spotless (ahem) again. I suppose I most enjoyed re-seeing such acts from the servants’ point of view. When Sarah passes by the young man being flogged, we are made to see and feel the full humiliating horror and pain this man is subject to.

Still, Longbourn is (like Mary Reilly and Wide Sargasso) a woman’s novel, for it’s a heroine’s text mostly. The movies it comes out of are genres rightly identified with women. Nothing to be ashamed of; these are genres of great art. I enjoyed Lonbbourn as much as I did Emma Donoghue’s magnificent powerful Slammerkin (which I’ve now read twice too).

The central character whose consciousness we are in for 3/4s of the novel is, as I’ve indicated, a kitchen-housemaid, Sarah, whose work and characters are more than a little reminiscent of Daisy in Downton Abbey. Mrs Hill took Sarah from the poor house after her working class family died, was kind to her, but also works her hard as she works herself. The second character is Mrs Hill herself, from the same milieu as her Sarah, so we have an older woman’s perspective: as the novel unfolds we discover Mrs Hill was once as young as Sarah and at the time had a liaison with Mr Bennet (before he married Mrs B), which Mrs B, dull as she is, senses when she turns, as she does several times, to Mrs Hill to persuade Mr B to do this or that, assuming that Mr B will listen to Hill. Alas, from Mrs Hill’s point of view, Mrs B exaggerates her power over Mr B: he is as much his own man, as obdurate, irresponsible, and unable to control some of his family members or reality as Mr B in Austen’s novel.

Tom Jones (Max Beesley) looking back at the house at the moment of ejection (1997 Tom Jones)

The third character is James, the hired footman; he lurks to the side once he turns up, and only in the last third of the novel does his consciousness take over as we move into his past as Mr Bennet’s illegitimate son by Mrs Hill, and then a volunteer in the army who ended up enduring and perpetrating the horrors of the peninsula war, where driven by the cruel injustices of the time (including flogging, coercing him to murder animals as well as whoever gets in the way), he commits an act regarded as an unspeakable crime in the era, and deserts. Thus turning up a few chapters after the book opens as a newly hired coach and footman in one. I suggest Baker consciously meant this novel as a Tom Jones story where Tom is until the near end deprived of any just deserts from the place which ought to be his home.

Baker’s work is close to Stoppard’s because she stays with the original characters and invents as few extra characters as Baker’s plot-design requires, no more. A wholly invented character who stays within the confines of Austen’s fiction and opens it up suggestively for us is Mr Ptolemy Bingley: a mulatto who was born on one of Mr Bingley’s father sugar plantations and whose handsomeness, good education and good treatment by the Bingleys suggests an unacknowledged but understood half-brother. We see where the Bingleys got their money; and this sheds light on the supposed humane Bingleys attitudes towards people “beneath them” — the master’s generosity and limitations.

In the case of Baker this is still or also one of her limitations. Unlike Martin, she does not invent an idiolect or style which is a genuine living imitation of an earlier century’s speech naturalistically transposed (which Winston Graham is so superb at in his Poldark series), but basically uses a clear simple (but not vulgar) style — and she lacks the high poetic genius of a Stoppard (as seen say also in his Arcadia). This means her novel cannot quite be read (as Mary Reilly can) as a historical novel in its own right which happens (so to speak) to collide into or cohere with an earlier story.

Baker also does not thoroughly think or imagine things through to give her book the wider franchise of history: for example, the book includes an illegitimate son for Mr Bennet but rather than imply or build up the many complicated reasons within a patronage and family network system why a man like Mr Bennet might continue to refuse to recognize in any way his illegitimate child would not be recognized — not just shame, but as the father of the illegitimate would be pressured into providing for him or her and any spouse he or she married; given the interwoven kinship system, be repeatedly subject to appeals for money, seen as responsible for any wrong-doing his son or daughter did. Baker has Mr Bennet merely ashamed; it’s too thin. There is not the kind of serious research into an era one feels in say Graham’s Poldark novels or Emma Donoghue’s Life Mask. What there is research and knowledge of is Austen, Austen’s novels, the Austen film canon, though even there the focus is the fiction, not Austen’s life or letters. This last lacunae makes the novel old-fashioned as most newer sequels take into account a mirroring in the novels of Austen’s life. Some of the latest ones prefer the letters as text (e.g., Lindsay Ashford’s The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen).

So this remains a sequel, but a strong one. She stays with most traditional interpretations, including later ones that have grown dominant. She makes strong case for Mr Bennet’s selfishness as well as the stupidity and vacuity of Mrs Bennet. He will accept Lydia after someone else supplies the money, but he will not lift a real finger to help his only son. We see him guilty and remorseful by the end of the novel, but unpunished and carrying on in the usual way.

Benjamin Whitlow as Mr Bennet here fits the bill

We see the kindness and well-meaning gifts of Jane and how after she gives Sarah a present she dismisses her from her mind. Wickham’s uglyness of character is considerably deepened (as is Mr Bennet’s); Darcy becomes the powerful rich man who pays little heed to the lower world. We don’t see enough of the others except perhaps Mary who we feel for. Mr Collins is made sympathetic by taking on Tom Hollander’s sensitive rendition. One can see some of the actors in Austen’s characters’ roles taking over here.

One of Baker’s great strengths is the ability to be really inward inside a character. So when James goes off to the Peninsular war we hear of no larger issues. Graham re-imagines the peninsular war from the perspective of a wide and far (not too far) landscape where this side wins here and that there; I assume Baker did serious research into the battles of the war as you can trace James’s trajectory through a series of battles that did occur, but once this outline is established, the fiction returns to the older mode of say French heroic romance: wholly private happenings with no world-stage characters or events recorded.

The modernity or contemporaneity of the novel resides in its violence: we witness atrocities (horrible) not only in Spain but at “home,” the home counties where Austen’s action takes place. Sarah passes by the man who is flogged (and mentioned in passing as so much news by Austen’s ironic narrator) and we are made to feel the scene from his point of view, rather like a novelist who is writing a novel against capital punishment shows us the indifference or hostility of all to the person murdered from the man’s point of view. Of course after such a scene, what matter a lack of roses on dress shoes?

Perhaps most interesting are the ways this perspective turns things discussed so intensely in Austen criticism, into sheer selfish talk of the over-indulged. Darcy’s high pride (or arrogance) appears merely as the way a super-privileged young man might walk by the wholly unimportant maid: when at the close of the book Sarah has been made a lady’s maid to Elizabeth at Pemberley and finds the life of stifling and wants to leave it, Mr and Mrs Darcy sit down with her to ask her (puzzled) why? has she not everything she could want? no hard work. They cannot see she wants a life.

And tellingly the life she choses or ends up with is reminiscent of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. James has been forced to flee in the night when he tries to protect a young girl servant from the depredations of Wickham. Wickham is presented as a false treacherous man here (and unlike Lost in Austen it’s no joke), and as James once refused wantonly to destroy some horses and ended up committing a murder himself, so he intervenes, to be told by Wickham, Wickham has suspected him all along and will have a quiet word with someone to investigate James. (There was no liberty for the lower orders in earlier centuries either). Sarah leaves Pemberley to seek James out.

And then we get our fairy tale idyllic ending, the dream that Naomi Schorr defended in her book George Sand’s fiction as the way women’s novels critique our lives by presenting the fulfilled dream. At the close of Indiana, the two lovers flee to a paradisal island; the ultimate paradigm is the ancient romance of Daphnis and Chloe, the 18th century version, Paul et Virginie. Sarah goes seeking James and finds him amid a crew of working agricultural laborers and joins them.

Again Ellis this time with Angaryrd Rees as Demelza: the two outcasts regarding the rest of the world as the junyard that does not matter, a world well lost — still come home at their close in each book (Poldark)

The novel picks up speed and it’s a few years and maybe a child or so later, and we are on the road with the pair of them coming home. Home is where? Yes Longbourn – for all along in the novel to James Longbourne and its world with all its hardships presents beauty, quiet order, routine, and yes a father he does not know is his father; it’s where Sarah knew a family as an infant and had some kindness from Mrs Hill, still there. It’s a moving moment as the pair near, and one that’s nowadays added onto to costume drama: the latest, the film adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu’s Wyvern Mysteries where our heroine and her child return to a house, place, landscape they knew some comfort, peace, refuge in. Other non-reactionary versions: Patrick O’Connor and Simon Grey’s film adaptation of J. L. Carr’s Month in the Country (with an early great role for Colin Firth as the nearly destroyed anguished artist), both sets of Cranford Chronicles with its communitarian ideals. Downton Abbey as a place of refuge is the heart of its appeal; it’s not its unreality which many people are aware of, but the dream itself asserted that its audiences and Jane Austen audiences want.

Opening shot of Downton Abbey

Rumor hath it a film adaptation of Baker’s Longbourn is “in the works,” one which uses the tropes of upstairs/downstairs as found in Downton Abbey heavily. I read somewhere that James Schamus, producer of many an Ang Lee movie is involved. I can hardly wait to see the mini-series film adaptation of Death comes to Pemberley featuring Anna Maxwell Martin (as Elizabeth) even though I’ve been told the P.D. James’s book is poor or disappointing; with a good book behind it, a decently humane politics, perhaps the coming film adaptation (if it’s still on), Longbourn will be a another fine movie to join the Austen canon.


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Mrs Gardiner (Joanna David) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) walking together at Pemberley (1995 BBC/WBGH P&P, script Davies

Dear friends and readers,

My final account of the Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve two lectures, one panel, a play, a movie not shown, and the study groups to tell of. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the building was two floors, and two rooms upstairs were Netherfield and Longbourne, and two below Pemberley and Rosings, with the participants divided into four study groups. In the Longbourne room Virginia Claire Tharrington had spread out on several tables her collection of editions of Pride and Prejudice: she had tried to obtain a copy of every edition of Pride and Prejudice printed, including children’s versions, graphic novels, and translations. These were revealing to examine — covers, printing, packaging.

Perhaps of the panel on film adaptations, and time set aside to screen Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (why that one was never said as there are more interesting ones), the less said the better, but as the panel and movie itself gave rise to some stimulating talk in the study groups and were connected to one of the two lectures, I’ll at least offer a general account.

On Friday night, a group of graduate students performed a play Ted Scheinman had adapted from Austen’s Juvenilia (mostly Love and Freindship and My Beautiful Cassandra). Years ago I’d seen Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s film adaptation of Austen’s mock play of Grandison (Manhattan), and I expected this re-making to be a burlesque amid some story with relevance to us today; instead the players mounted what felt like an 18th century afterpiece, wacky farce like Tom Thumb or the Dragon of Wantley. This kind of playlet was enormously popular in the 18th century and if Austen’s burlesques resembled those, she was intuitively recreating.

An attempt was then made to screen Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Alas, no tech person was available at all, and it seemed there had been no trial run with the DVD on hand and the computer. They were unable to get the two sound tracks running: one for voice and the other for music. The people involved did not know that there are three tracks used for the dance sequences in these films: one for speech, one for dancing, and one for synchronization. At first there seemed little regard for the reality we could not hear any of the words, but then when it became obvious the audience cared about that, attempts were made to make the DVD work – by enlisting audience members. Suffice to say that not many people had stayed for the film anyway (this was a crowd who knew the 1995 BBC/WBGH P&P and while obviously having seen Wright’s film, professing to dislike or disapprove of it), and the few who were there left before the end of a half hour. We stayed a bit longer as I had not watched the film in a while and knew a lecture on the costumes in it was coming up.


The visionary, softly musical, reflexive opening (2005 P&P)

The same problem was part of what went wrong with the panel the next day Saturday morning — absolutely no effort or money had been expended in tech help. This was supposed to be a panel on Austen and film adaptation. Inger Brodey had prepared a couple of montages of the same dialogue as dramatized across several of the P&P films, but with no tech person there, and no pre-rehearsal of the equipment, she was defeated by a lack of sound altogether or her inability to sustain the same size sequences. (Since paying people were paying $500, and most were paying, each there should have been money to set aside for this kind of help.)

This inability to do what was supposed the center of her presentation, was compounded by her insistence to at least two of us that we not prepare anything to say and her refusal to tell us what she had prepared as prompts for the audience to talk about. I asked three times. Another panelist who told me she had watched Wright’s film and taken a couple of weeks and prepared a short paper could not give her findings at all. Luckily Prof Brodey had ready more than her montages; she had picked several quotations. One of these asserted that no film could produce an experience commensurate with what a verbal text could present (an old-fashioned anti-film point of view), so I was able to present for 5 minutes or so the heads of topics of the talk I had prepared anyway, showing how Andrew Davies in the 1995 P&P had in fact used the resources of film (voice-over, flashback within flashback, montage) to create a genuine visualized and dramatic filmic epistolarity and interiority. I linked the episodes in the film which used this — from the end of the 3d part on — to the genuine epistolarity of the novel; and to uses of filmic techniques in other adaptations of other books. But when I tried to answer questions and explain simple terminology (language terms is one way of acquiring tools for understanding) like auteur, Prof Brodey objected so the discussion could go no further than the brief explanation.

Since audiences love nothing better than discussing films and seem to be more comfortable discussing details in them even if they lack adequate vocabulary, nonetheless when the audience was invited to talk, interesting talk emerged about the opening of Davies’s P&P with two males on horseback (Darcy and Bingley’s relationship) and how this anticipated the emphasis in the film on Darcy’s ordeal and a concluding scene where Darcy apologizes for Bingley for lying to him about Jane’s presence in London and gives Bingley permission to ask Jane to marry him, and further in the Pemberley study group, the two graduate students, apparently like many younger viewers, much taken by Wright’s P&P, continued the discussion in the Pemberley study group by showing how indeed Wright had focused not on Darcy’s journey, but Elizabeth’s. We compared Elizabeth’s gazing at Darcy’s portrait in the 1979 P&P (Fey Weldon), the 1995 and Wright’s and found Weldon and Wright’s to be much more focused on Elizabeth’s consciousness and Wright’s on her sexual desire.

Wright’s Keira Knightley is mesmerized by a statue whose gentilia are evident — Penelope Wilton the Mrs Gardener this time

At first the groups had been conscientious in responding directly to a lecture or panel before, or to the topic suggested for the hours (say Money and Land; or Mothers and Daughters) and the same people went to the same room, but by the third day the groups were breaking away to indulge in literary gossip about the characters as related to the people there at the temple and to try the variety of scholars in charge of a conversation as well as particular women who seemed to be stars in the Austin, Texas. I thought the topic of Mothers and Daughters most fruitful in both Longbourne and Pemberley. it’s a truth not universally acknowledged that one sees mother-daughter pairs at JASNAs and in the Longbourne group, we had three such pairs (including yours truly & Izzy). Many of the participants identified as mothers or at least discussed what was a good mother (or bad one), less talk about the daughter’s point of view — which I suggest Austen identified with. We did find an intelligent maternal figure in close alliance with Elizabeth and Jane in P&P: Mrs Gardiner who appears to be one of the original correspondents of First Impressions (the 1st title for P&P). The first volume begins with, and the second volume, ends with ironic and slightly bitter accounts of Mr and Mrs Bennet (in the second he says to console yourself you may die first) and the third with the Gardiner’s presence.

1979 Weldon’s P&P: the scenes between Mrs Gardener (Barbara Shelley) and Elizabeth (Elizabeth Garvie) are given full weight

In the Pemberley group we also discussed free indirect discourse and how this affects our response to the characters and Austen’s narrator. Close attention was paid to the text so we could discuss where we might think Austen’s presence, where her narrator’s, and where her characters’ could be discerned. As usual it was asserted she invented this mode. Nonsense. It comes naturally to subjective novels and begins around the time epistolary narrative emerged as a dominant mode; the first person to use it artfully and consistently is Madame de Lafayette in her La Princesse de Cleves, which Austen would have known and was influential, much read and discussed by women readers especially, translated into English quickly. In general the Pemberley group’s leaders had prepared statements with either passages from the books, or sequences from a movie (Joe Wright’s was the favorite of the graduate students) picked out for everyone to discuss together.

The one lecture on the film adaptations was on Joe Wright’s 2005 P&P — probably the choice of this one had been to shore up memories of it for the one lecture on costume drama: Jade Bettin’s “The Placement of Waist.” She said the costume designer is charged with capturing the essence of a given character in a specific scene. An actress (or actor) or powerful presence on the crew can make a difference. In 1940 Greer Garson insisted she would not look well in the 1790s Empire line dress; the costume designer was Adrian (who did the costumes for the Wizard of Oz) and he acquiesced.

Darcy (Matthew Macfayden), Bingley — and Miss Bingley (Kelly Reilly) as first seen.

But the clothes in a film reflect just as much the specific time period (day, week) in which the film is made and aired. So Elizabeth I in armor before her armies one day, she was back into comfortable clothes until she told herself she had to do this. And the vision of the director or script-writer (and allowed budget of the producer). Joe Wright wanted a film with a contemporary feel so many of the costumes are in many of their parts inaccurate. Like Ang Lee, Joe Wright does not like an empire line, and Wright insisted on de-emphasizing the waist-lines of his heroines altogether. Prof Bettin took us through slides of the costumes of each actor revealing how each fit the character in the book, as Wright saw her (or him), as befitted the particular actor and also as a way of alluding to other movies and historical figures at the time. Wright did not want an effeminate film and dressed Keira Knightley in men’s clothes, men’s boats; only Rosamund Pike as the sweet Jane was allowed to wear apppropriate hats, a pelisse, and hair-dos. Kelly Reilly as Caroline was made into a feline sex-pot. The materials used were very expensive for some of the actors and characters: brocades, exquisitely textured dandy-like colors. Wright was trying for a mood too (Elizabeth barefoot on a swing). Prof Bettin remarked (in a kind of special pleading) we should remember that what we see in fashion plates does not reflect what real people usually wore; expensive clothes were precious and worn rarely.

Beautiful, appealing, historically accurate — and a motif through the films of the heroine bringing home books in solitude — Anne Elliot would not have been so expensively dressed

From the Feature on the DVD of Wright’s movie I watched on my own long ago I know he does not like Austen’s book, much prefers DH Lawrence’s version of sexuality and thought letters the most boring of ways of telling a story. Other people in the audience seemed to want to object to this costuming on grounds of their own, but were given no time to voice their objections.

Doug Murray’s lecture, “‘The eyes have it: The male and female gaze in Pride and Prejudice”, was the last talk we particpated in. We had to go home directly afterward. As it seems to me it was the best of the group, Izzy and my conference may be said to have ended very well. It was done in Rosings, so Izzy and I missed but one room: Netherfield. Prof Murray’s talk combined interesting modern perspective based on some old-fashioned close-reading. He said he wanted to speak of the power of the humane eye; understanding the theorists of the gaze can enrichen our reading of Austen’s novels. Laura Mulvery famously argued that the gazes gratified by movies are those the male wants to see; it’s his eye that is pleased as the (young, beautiful, thin) female is the character gazed at. Foucault argued that in the long 18th century the gaze became a way of controlling people; they were the first to go in for surveillance in prisons; they isolated and punished any deviations.

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) opens P&P with her studied glance at Darcy and Bingley on horses below)

Prof Murray then discussed two of the novels. P&P is a novel with spies everywhere in which news follows fast. Lady Catherine is the interrogator of the novel; its panoptic center. Elizabeth needs escape from this, subverts her power by seeing for herself. Prof Murray thought Jane Bennet showed scopophilia, but it seems to me she tried hard to avoid the central light, and without money, once Bingley leaves the neighborhood. I’d say Jane is scopophobic. Anne Elliot craves invisibility in Persuasion where the panoptican is said to be Sir Walter. Now it’s Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay who don’t want to be seen. Again it seems to me the power center of Persuasion is Lady Russell (as the counterpart of Lady Catherine de Bourgh). Information in both novels felt as precious and sensible, but Lady Russell is not manipulating it the way Lady Catherine would like to.

1996 Persuasion: Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood) photographed rightly showing her concern for Anne (Amanda Root)

Tellingly (it seemed to me) this paper reflects our own paranoid era, with its massive spying on people which you could use against them. Prof Murray suggested evasion and privacy come at great cost. (Someone, not he, suddenly brought out the feeble justification for the massive surveillance of US citizens that we have to pay “for safety.”)

As Izzy remarked perhaps the best part of the conference was the good talk we had with like-minded people, the acquaintances we made, sense of common grounds of friendship. Another lingering after-effect is when I now watch the dancing in films set in the Regency period I can recognize what steps they are taking. This week watching Andrew Davies’s Vanity Fair, for the first time I was able to appreciate which dance he had chosen for the characters and why and how these were shot.


Well, we said goodbye to those we could and hurried back to our car for our long trip home.


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