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Archive for the ‘jane austen sequels’ Category

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Charlotte Heywood (Amy Burrows), Felicity Lamb (Bonnie Adair) Clara Brereton (Lucy-Jane Quinlan)

Diana’s letter: [Susan] has been suffering from the headache and six leeches a day for ten days together … convinced on examination the evil lay in her gum, I persuaded her to attack the disorder there. She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves are a good deal deranged … Jane Austen’s Sanditon

Though he had not the character of a gamester, it was known in certain circles that he occasionally played well, & successfully; to others he was better known as an acute & very useful political agent, the probable reason of his living so much abroad — Of Mr Tracy, Anna Lefroy’s continuation

Dear friends and readers,

Today a friend sent me a news item that the first “period costume drama” of Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon is slated to be filmed, in an advertisement that says this is the first filmed Sanditon. Well not so. Chris Brindle’s play from Jane Austen and Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon is, and it’s the argument of this blog it’s probably much more in the spirit of Austen than the coming commercial one.

First, the ad suggests a cosy, creamy film (rather like the recent Love and Freindship), with the completion written by Marie Dobbs. Dobbs turned a satirical and highly sceptical story whose focus is a group of people seeking to make money on the false promises of a seaside spa to cure people, into a melodramatic romance, complete with an abduction, an elopement and three marriages, the accent now on love. Yes box office stars, Holliday Grainger for Charlotte and Max Irons for Sidney Parker have been cast. And much better — reasons for thinking this might be another strong Austen film: the screenplay writer is Simone Reade, who has to his writing credit a fine movie from R. C. Sherriff’s powerful WW1 Journey’s End and the 1997 Prince of Hearts. In addition, the director is Jim O’Hanlon who directed the 2009 Emma scripted by Sandy Welch and starring Romolai Garai and Johnny Lee Miller. And Charlotte Rampling is to play Lady Denham!

Nonetheless, I wanted to recommend not waiting and availing yourself of Chris Brindle’s production of Sanditon, available on DVD from http://www.sanditon.info. I’ve watched it three times now, and went back and reread (as I’ve done before) Anna Lefroy’s continuation, which, together with her aunt’s fragment are the basis for Chris Brindle’s script. It has that Jane Austen quality of telling real truths while leaving you somewhat cheered.

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Shots of the English countryside near the seashore occur between scenes

This interlude between the two acts captures the brightness of the production; the singer is Amy Burrows who plays an appealing Charlotte. She also narrates the good 40 minute documentary available from the site about Anna Lefroy’s life and other writing and relationship with Austen as well as the circumstances surrounding Austen’s writing of Sanditon: Austen, as we all know, was fatally ill knew it, often in bad pain; this was her last piece of writing.


Singers: Amy Burrows and Nigel Thomas (click on the YouTube logo to go over to hear the song)

Brindle is an ancestor of the painter of a miniature of Anna Lefroy, and has interested himself in the landscape, houses, and culture of the era.

First some admission or warning-preparation. The people doing the production had a very small (or no) budget and parts of the play are acted in front a black screen; several of the actors are half-reading the scripts. I found this did not get in my way once I became interested in the play and characters and that was quickly. These parts of the performance reminded of good staged readings I’ve attended.

On the many pluses side: like Catherine Hubback’s Younger Sister (Hubback has also until recently not be a favored subject for the Austen family so that it was hard to get hold of her continuation of The Watsons), Lefroy clearly knows more of the direction Austen meant to take the story in than we can see in the extant text. In her Mary Hamilton she captured something of her aunt’s tone in Persuasion: here she continues the peculiar comic feel combining real hypocrisies, delusions, with a comic control from distancing style. Lefroy’s continuation was not widely known until 1977 when it was published in a good edition and is still ignored, partly because Anna’s close relationship is her aunt is downplayed in favor of Austen’s relationship with the richer Fanny Austen Knight.

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His carriage overturned, Mr Parker demands that Mr Heywood (Adam Bone) produce a surgeon ….

In the film, the parts are very well-acted, especially of the key figures, Mr [now given the first name of] Tom Parker (Vincent Webb) and Lady Denham (Barbara Rudall). What Lefroy did was to bring out the implications of her aunt’s story: Parker is fringe gentry desperately trying to make money to support his gentleman’s lifestyle, overspending to make an impression, a physician-chaser (he deliberately allows his carriage to overturn where he thinks he will meet with a physician whom he can bring to Sanditon to allure the sick into believing the spa will cure them. For Mr Parker, there is just enough lightness of humor to make them sympathetic figures, without overlooking his actual predation, which is however registered by Mrs Parker’s querulous fretting (Bonnie Adair). It’s more than hinted in Austen’s fragment that the sanguine Sidney, the younger brother (played by Pete Ashore), is an intelligent decent man (a sort of Mr Knightley figure) who rescues Parker from bankruptcy. Lefroy’s text adds a villain-friend of Sidney’s, a Mr Tracy (Adam Bone) whom she characterizes in a more worldly way than any of Austen’s heroes: Tracy is rather like one of Trollope’s semi-rakes; he lives high off his rank, cheating just enough on cards and here as a speculator in a local bank, to sluice money off other people; his creditors don’t call his debts in because they keep hoping to be paid in full. Brindle adds further that Tracy also takes advantage of the delusionary conceited Lady Denham (a sort of Lady Catherine de Bourgh figure) to bankrupt her account.

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Lady Denham disdaining Clara Brereton in a scene between egregiously rude dowager and put-upon heroine that repeats across Austen’s oeuvre

This open emphasis on money as the girding understructure of the society is matched by a development out of Austen’s text: Clara Brereton (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) is a paid companion to Lady Denham, who exploits and bullies her; she is also being seduced by Sir Edward Denham, Lady Denham’s nephew. They have to hide this from her and Austen’s text ends with Charlotte spying them seated on a bench where Clara looks very distressed. In Austen’s text Denham is an admirer of Richardson’s Lovelace, and Clara may be seen as a short version of the name Clarissa. Brindle adds (somewhat improbably) that Denham is pressuring Clara to put some poisonous or sickening compound into Lady Denham’s medicines to do away with the old woman. Brindle has picked up a view of Austen’s Mr William Elliot I have and think may be seen in the 2007 ITV Persuasion (scripted by Simone Burke). Mr Elliot pretends solvency but is actually near broke; that’s why he is hanging around his uncle, Sir Walter and is willing to have a liasion with Mrs Clay to have evidence he can use against her if she should try to marry Sir Walter. Sir Edward Denham is in type a Mr Elliot: a really bad man, desperate for money. I found it an ambiguous feel was given this simple characterization when the same actor played both the good man (Sidney) and the bad one (Denham): Pete Ashore. The choices for doubling are effective: the simple good Mr Heywood, the smooth calculating crook Tracy: Adam Bone.

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Diana’s anguish (wildly antipathetic comedy found more in Austen’s letters & juvenilia) is counter-checked by the clarity of Alice Osmanski’s delivery

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Arthur (Rickey Kettly-Prentice) nearby reacts

The best scenes though are those which don’t forward the plot directly. One set are those given where we have just Alice Osmanski as Diana Parker talking out Diana’s inimitable letters or place in dialogue with the Parkers, Charlotte and different configurations of the other characters. She was brilliant, vivacious, half-mad and well-meaning all at once. Rickey Kettly-Prentice is too thin for Arthur, but otherwise utterly convincing as this falsely hypochondriacal young man who finds he does not have to work for a living. Working for money in Austen’s novels is presented positively again and again, but Arthur is the first male to himself almost self-consciously enact a drone role.

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Miss Lamb’s hard face while she tells Clara her history

The other are those where the plight or hard circumstances of young women without money or status are made central: the characters who carry this are Charlotte Heywood (not brought out clearly in Austen’s fragment because as yet she is not sought by Sidney Parker), Clara Brereton and Miss Lamb, her given the ironic first name of Felicity. Austen tells us only that she is a “mulatto,” very rich, brought by a governess along with a few other girls in a seminary arrangement to spend time at the seashore. Brindle has her tell a story to Charlotte and Clara that reminds me of the story of in the 1808 anonymous epistolary novel, The Woman of Color. Felicity is the daughter of a slave-mistress of her father, both badly treated by the man, with strong suggestions that she was sexually abused by Lamb at age nine. Fittingly for Austen’s fragment, Brindle has disease (a factor in the West Indies for the English who had not built up immunities) do him in. He loses all his relatives but Felicity, and ends up semi-dependent on her while she is there, and sends her to England in order (in effect) to buy a white husband in order to to produce whiter grandchildren for himself. In her intense conversation with Clara and Charlotte Bonnie Adair as Felicity seethes with anger and hurt and shows no disposition to marry anyone; she wants independence and liberty and the play ends without her having engaged herself to anyone.

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Denham pressuring Clara

Brindle also fills in Clara’s story: Lucy-Jane Quinlan speaks with a cockney accent throughout and is given a sort Dickensian deprived background, which is poignant. As it’s understandable that Miss Lamb should not be keen to marry any man, and want to control her money so it’s understandable the portionless Clara should be willing to submit to Edward Denham’s bullying, insults (there are brief moments of this) in order to marry him. It’s her only way to provide for herself she says to Charlotte.

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Sidney saving the day

Telling it this way brings out the undercurrents of melodrama and harsh realities that actuate the crises and character’s hypocrisies. The appeal of the piece, its piquancy, is like poor Susan’s miserably over-medicated existence (appropriately Susan is played by the same actress who plays the hard-worked maid, Daisy, Ruby O’Mara), kept muted most of the time. Susan and Daisy don’t say much: Susan is continually using a handkerchief, writhing quietly; Daisy is kept busy. Only in the moments of exposure — such as when Sidney saves everyone by exposing Tracy (and declares for more building up Sanditon), or Mr Parker finds he must admit he is nearly without funds, and the hysteria of Lady Denham for whom a proposed income of £100 a month or a year is horrifying. Fatal. Otherwise how have a happy ending for Clara. I’m sure Brindle has also read Emma where Jane Fairfax’s happy fate is the result of Lady Churchill’s sudden death.

This is a play and production which does not turn Austen into complacent romance or uncritical social comedy. Not that Simone Reade’s production necessarily will. Brindle says in the documentary he meant to do justice to Anna Lefroy’s continuation, her writing and life relationship with her aunt. He does so. Perhaps the delight or feeling that this is world where there are good people whose strength has not been undermined or twisted by circumstances inheres most in Amy Burrows’s character and performance. She does not seem at all your moralizing exemplary heroine, just someone (as she says) who has been lucky to have kind (if not very rich) parents. She is given several wry choral asides for turns in the story.

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Delivering an aside

Try it, you’ll like it if you give it a chance.

Ellen

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Isobel Bishop (1902-88), how she imagined Austen at work, a drawing

Friends,

In Mary Poppins’s books, Mary’s birthday is referred to as “the Birthday.” I have wracked my brains to say something new about Austen for her birthday, or offer an appropriate poem, some tribute as yet not well known as I have done previous years, as how “How she loved to dance” (clips and music); her poem written on her birthday (it seems) to her friend, Mrs Lefroy who died on that day four years before; and what she said about Tudor Queens, especially Katherine Parr (her attitude and remarks not well known). And finally I’ve come up with two, last night I remembered an unassuming ironic commentary, and this morning discovered a new chamber music style opera of Mansfield Park.

When Dora Carrington (1893-1932) designed and decorated Lytton Strachey’s library in their second home together in southern England, Ham Spray, she painted an extra unused door — going nowhere as sometimes happens in endlessly renovated houses where there is not quite enough money literally to alter the structure of the room (vestigial elements). She disguised it as a bookcase, complete with projecting spines from imaginary books. She carefully titled these imaginary books: A Catastrophe, by Tiberius (her cat); Oeuvres by Le Conte Lytoff (Lytton Strachey); The Empty Room by Virginia Woolf; Deception by Jane Austen; and False Appearances by Dora Wood, her own alias.

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Here is a drawing by Carrington for an actual bookplate

Each of these titles serves as a ironic summing up comment on some aspect of these authors’ lives or works (as seen by Carrington). For Tiberius: cats knock things over? end up victims? And however, tongue-in-cheek Carrington places herself as a woman artist between two writers she evidently regarded as supreme (after all they got to be in Lytton’s library, close at hand). In a note she wrote to her great friend and sometime lover, Gerald Brenan, she coupled Austen with “Emily Bronte and her sisters [Charlotte, Anne] and Sappho.

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Again Carrington, imagining an 18th century woman playing music, tinsel on glass (Lytton was a lover of 18th century literature and Carrington may have read or had read to her Julie de Lespinasse and Madame Du Deffand’s letters)

We know Jane Austen loved to dance and so what better picture than this contemporary picturesque (gussied up) illustration of Manydowne, one of the wealthy people’s houses where she regularly danced, and she could have been mistress of had she accepted the marriage offer of its heir, Harris Bigg-Wither, but then we would not be remembering her birthday or have her powerful fiction.

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Music and Manydowne, a large country house, doubtless not far from the size of Mansfield Park, can segue us into the other offering I can make for Austen’s birthday: Douglas Murray’s essay, just published in Persuasions On-Line, Fanny Goes to the Opera: Jonathan Dove and Alisdair Middleton’s Mansfield Park.

Douglas says the opera he saw was performed for the first time in the Indianapolis Opera in March 2016. The perspective is one commensurate with an ensemble structure, with Fanny (to quote Douglas) “a part of the complex community known as Mansfield Park, only one in a multiplicity of cacophonous voices: “the opera thus creates a musical/dramatic analogue to Austen’s characteristic narrative technique: her ability to display simultaneous narrative consciousnesses within a narrative context.” The opera uses a post-modern outlook: critical irony, distance; it also has a section which might be called “operatic epistolarity” (as in filmic epistolarity). I have argued that Mansfield Park is a much revised pushing together of two draft MPs: one about a play (written first in 1797 or so) and another a semi-epistolary story whose central focus is Fanny’s visit to Portsmouth where she writes to her frenemy Mary Crawford.

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From the 1983 BBC mini-series (scripted Ken Taylor), the young Fanny writing to her brother William (at sea?), and the older Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) reading a letter (from Mary Crawford?) while in Portsmouth

I’ve a hunch my favorite moments would still be those coming out of Fanny, her abjection, her painful solitude, her uneasy re-integration: it is out of her point of view that the subversive perspective and questioning of her society and its people comes.

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Here we have Mary Crawford sliding Henry’s necklace around the unsuspecting Fanny

Indeed the way many people read Austen (it seems to me) is to take seriously her surface Deception, endorsed by those of her characters who lived unexamined lives. This would be the way I read Carrington’s retitling of Austen.

Ellen

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For those determined to keep up with the slightest touch of Austen,

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Renee Zellweger trudging along as Bridget Jones, heavily pregnant, bringing home laundry, food, her Christmas tree and whatever she needs in the snow

The third installment of Bridget Jones’s story is worth going to — if you can sit through the first 10 or say 15 minutes of excruciatingly stupid, vulgar, noisy montages to promiscuity; if you are someone who enjoys screwball romantic comedy (where there is believable “bonheur” over companionship however bizarrely achieved); and if you saw and enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Edge of Reason, and like Helen Fielding’s novels. That’s three “if’s.”

Get past that opening, and you find yourself in a problematic situation that has contemporary resonance. Bridget is pregnant and does not know who the father of the coming child is. The time-frame fits a new passing weekend tryst with Patrick Dempsey as celebrity male of some sort as well as a not-all-that-contrived an encounter with Colin Firth as a Mark Darcy. We are asked to believe both males care, that they want to accept a responsibility as fathers, but screwball comedies often have precisely this kind of woman-centered flattering (or shall I call it hopeful) delusion/illusion.

People (including me) love to imagine continuity and survival, so part of the deep pleasure of this film is to see the same actors turn up as father, mother, and aunt to Bridget. Still alive! This pleasure is like the ending of Voltaire’s Candide (for those of an 18th century disposition). A form of Austen nostalgia. (A fourth necessity is probably a deep love of Austen and interest in and enjoyment of most Austen films.) I don’t know who is the most effective: Jim Broadbent as father, Gemma Jones as mother, Celia Imrie as aunt. I also enjoyed the wry presence of Emma Thompson as Dr Rawlings, gynecologist and obstetrician who tells Bridget, she doesn’t need these men. These fleeting moment between these actresses matter.

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Raw[lings] has herself endured the bringing up of a child without a male it seems. At a crucial moment, she ushers both men out as useless. So stick it out. There are funny moments.

There are those who claim to find Amy Heckerling’s Clueless as one of the most Austen-like of all the nearly 40 Austen films now extant. Not so. It’s too upbeat; its very success shows how deeply it has successfully bought into complacency. Bridget Jones’s Baby may not be even a good movie artistically, but it is not complacent. What is worth seeing in Bridget Jones’s Baby is the aging tired face of Colin Firth, glad at last to resign himself down to caring for this desperately if comically seeking (a different note than Katherine Hepburn used to hit) woman in her early forties, with no job (Bridget does not fit in, and how easy it is to discard her), and despite her “face-lift” (for which she has been, so I understand, excoriated) the wrinkled aging face and body of Zellweger. We are all getting older together and need to tolerate and get along. Stronger together, anyone?

People have apparently accepted the implied idea that Hugh Grant is totally gone from the scene. Not so. The film opens with his funeral. The unlucky man has apparently gone down in some plane hit by these endless wars on terror. But all is not lost: at the close, the viewer is gifted with a small column in a newspaper, that after all this “playboy” survived. Having just watched Grant’s superlative performance in Florence Foster Jenkins and remembering him so long ago as the complicated cuckolded vengeful duke in Middleton’s Changeling (as important in his way as Bob Hoskins as Flores and Elizabeth McGovern as Beatrice), I understand why he can no longer cope with these screwball comedies. His face has too much depth: he appears to have a gravitas beyond Firth’s self-deprecating thinness.

Firth as Mr Darcy’s shyness, awkwardness, unwillingness to reveal himself, snobbery, high integrity, good manners — studio experts seem to assume will again provoke comfortable laughter. These “sites” (and Bridget’s memories) are the reference points (to imply that this new stability and security is fleeting) are some of many moments and touches worth staying on for: as an example of how to think about what you see, for those who are said to have swooned at Firth in the 1995 P&P, here’s Mr Darcy today:

51873706 Stars spotted on the set of the third Bridget Jones film, 'Bridget Jones's Baby' in London, England on October 8, 2015. Stars spotted on the set of the third Bridget Jones film, 'Bridget Jones's Baby' in London, England on October 8, 2015. Pictured: Colin Firth FameFlynet, Inc - Beverly Hills, CA, USA - +1 (818) 307-4813 RESTRICTIONS APPLY: USA ONLY

Come to that, what is sex life like for older women? this film doesn’t tell us but it asks the question. What about a lonely older man not keen to lay his soul bare (and for good reasons). It’s not 45 years but at least such questions are broached. As they are not in Clueless. And the questions do link back through the sequel trail.

It’s worrying to me that P.D. James’s and Juliette Towhidi through the genre of violent murder (Death comes to Pemberley) the diaspora Austen films, and wacky comedies (say Lost in Austen) can make these satiric courtship novels Austen wrote seem more available to thinking people (especially women) than the older romance mini-series or singleton semi-delusional romances.
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Hattie Morahan as Elinor stoically enduring her life alone (2009, Davies S&S, one of the last of the “heritage” dramatic romance Austen films)

Or maybe for now what is funded is the “appropriation.” Yet this year what had staying power in movie-theaters? Not P&P and Zombies but rather a Christianizing and cream-y version of Lady Susan.

So I’ll end on the question of genre. The first ever Jane Austen movie was made in 1940, an MGM Pride and Prejudice which was described as and is a screwball comedy with romance. Screwball comedy is one that makes no rational sense if you start to look at money, common things of life, probability, actual emotions. Since then there has been two other screwball comedies, with romance beyond the three Bridget Jones’ movies: the 1995 Clueless and the 2004 Bride and Prejudice (also an Indian Bollywood type film).

What genre of movie is the closest in movie terms to Austen’s texts? They are all women’s films; that goes without saying. L’ecriture-femme on film. Many have female narrators; POV a heroine or heroines, over-voice a woman, the woman character as linchpin to the stories. This fits Austen’s books. Now for typology.

Those who want to see Austen as comedy, and like the idea they are somewhat superficial or stay away from traumatic depths of emotion, praise the screwball comedies. More modern appropriations of these include Austenland (2104), P&P and Zombies (2016) and Death Comes to Pemberley (2013-14) have gothicized Austen as did the 1986 Northanger Abbey, the 2004 Lakehouse (out of Persuasion) and to some extent the 2007 Northanger Abbey (but Davies also parodied the form, and had an underlying feel of depth of emotion). There have been attempts at versions of comedies of manner, as in a stage play: 1991 Manhattan by Whit Stillman and Andrew Davies’s 2007 Room with a View (seen as a novel alluding to Northanger Abbey) comes to mind. There are the movies made from post-texts, including time-traveling ones (Lost in Austen), the Jane Austen Book Club.

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The group reading and talking together — seen through a porch

I suggest the movie genre that comes closest is the dramatic familial romance, lightened by parodic techniques and wit, the first instance of which was Fay Weldon’s 1970 Pride and Prejudice. There have been many of these since as mini-series, as one-off movies in theaters, heritage and appropriation alike; they can be Indian (Aisha) or deeply Anglo and traditional (Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma), post-colonial humor (the 2012 From Prada to Nada) or bio-pics, as in the melancholy 2009 Miss Austen Regrets.

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Olivia Williams as an older Jane Austen

For those interested, have a look at my list of Austen movies. I have not updated it in a while but most of the ones made are there, those not are in a handy list of the latest appropriation films in 2015. For individual items, see my Austen Miscellany.

Ellen

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

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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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JameasRosamundPike (1)

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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From closing frames of S&S (modeled on Andrew Wyeth picture?, Liew, Molinari, Sabino)

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From closing frames of NA (imagery of pastoral intermixed with nightmare, novel as Catherine’s dream, Lee, Pildari, Eckelberry)

Dear friends and readers,

Surely it’s time to write about Austen here again. Long overdue some might say.

Last night I read and perused the latest graphic novel of Northanger Abbey, words chosen and written by Nancy Butler, the artist Janet K Lee; colorist Nick Pilardi, letterer Jeff Eckleberry. It’s a Marvel product and since in just the way the company that produces a film predetermines the shape and much that is indefinably the film so the comic book publisher Marvel predetermines elements of the commodity they sell. Thus it’s no surprise if the other Marvel graphic novel I own, which I also reread and looked at the pictures for far more carefully and deeply than I’ve done before, Sense and Sensibility, also by Nancy Butler, but this time artist Sonny Liew, colorist L. Molinai, Letterer Joe Sabino, showed a strong family resemblance.

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The Dashwood family approaches Barton Cottage (Liew, L. Molinar, Joe Sabino, angle and shot from the 1996 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson S&S)

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Catherine and Isabella exploring Bath (based on general gothic mode, Lee, Pilardi, Eckleberry) Isabella “easy, unreserved conversation” (!), showing Butler can do irony

Both have marvelous large pictures at the close of the most striking of the panels that are smaller inside the story — and here both are highly original or they allude to famous works of art or movie/movie genres.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them — I have a strong tendency to see these books as comic books but under the influence of Simon Grennan’s Dispossession, which I bought at the Trollope conference meeting, and is a graphic novel adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate, I began to look at the individual panels seriously for the first time, and could see they are genuinely art; in these two cases expressionistic, and project a general outlook and mood, not necessarily Austen’s but a reading of her. It’s obvious that Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffennegger’s graphic novels are art, Simmonds’s images are so distinctive — and Niffennegger’s spun art in the manner of artistic poem books. These Marvel books are not so; they are deliberately set up in frames and use typologies resembling more comic book images — probably not to put off the comic book buyer. I can’t say that all Marvel comics are genuinely good; and I know some of the recent autobiographical graphic novels rich on text are poor on images (which makes them poor graphic novels), but these are worth perusal.

As with Posy and Niffennegger, one aspect of the enjoyment is the text. In both cases Butler is the writer and she choses wisely to take as much from Austen’s text straight as she can. I once had a publisher tell me when you publish about Austen let your guide by to quote her when you can. You are sure to please that way. So you are reading Austen epitomized, in bits and pieces, sometimes altered and expanded with piquant details, often from the era, but they are well chosen.

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Mr Willoughby and Marianne have their first literary discussion: it’s about Scott

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As Henry and Catherine drive up to the Abbey, it is gothic — purples, greys, angles which are edgy

The pictures matter of course, maybe more than the words. In the case of NA I was surprised to find very dark colors used for Bath itself, Bath made gothic, with overlarge oddly angled depictions of the characters (so we are inside their minds), haunting kinds of shapes for what happens. In the case of the S&S, there are zoom shots, the characters look so overawed and powerless against the screens they are caught in, especially Mrs Dashwood in her widow’s garb, at a kind of great distance angle of shot from on high, very sudden too.

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The page where Catherine receives the invitation to go to the Abbey and discusses it with the Allens

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Fanny Dashwood needling Mrs Dashwood to make her take Elinor away, Mrs Dashwood vowing not to take this punishment

Butler (in a preface) talks of Northanger Abbey as sending up the gothic, but the artist and especially the colorer made Bath into a gothic image, with the characters sometimes looming and scary in context. Everything feels pervasive from colors seeping around to lines — lots of odds oranges, off-color yellows, browns. As if a page is the inner or deeper feeling of Catherine. The lines on the face of John Thorpe make him menacing. Real grit in the S&S: this frame combines the melancholy of the three Brandons: Robert Swann who uses a cane (1983), melancholy Alan Rickman with that brown jacket (1996), David Morrisey brooding most of all:

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(You do have to abandon your critical faculties to the cartoon’s edge into absurdity)

In the S&S panel you see the characters drawn as on a stage from different angles and then squares within squares with faces close up, so tensions from social life come out: in the preface to S&S Butler speaks of the book as about sisters, and outrage over the way the Dashwoods are treated by the laws and when they arrive in Devonshire custom. Butler and Lee’s S&S takes off from the movies.

It’s undeniable that many of the characters are drawn to recall specific actors in either the 1996 Emma Thompson S&S or the 2008 Andrew Davies one; the dresses; the way Colonel Brandon is figured as so strong, manly, and melancholy with a cane. Many of the frames prefer what happened in one or other other of these two S&S than Austen’s more simple lack of particulars. So Barton Park recalls the 2008 S&S grand mansion (even photographed or drawn in the same way) and Barton cottage the 1996 S&S house (as they come up the walk) though the inside is more like the 2008 (as they go through the place, with the same clothes as Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan had on). As this is the third time I’ve read this one I started to see new things, and for the first time recognized some memories of the 1983 S&S film too — in the dresses, in some of what’s emphasized in the choices of text, occasionally a frame resembles a shot in the 1983 film — the script writer for the 1983 film was Alexander Baron, a fine novelist in his own right who did quite a number of the Dickens and one notable Bronte adaptation for the BBC in the 1980s. Mrs Jenkins is even modelled on Patricia Routledge from the 1971 S&S (Denis Constanduros the writer), with this wild page showing Ciaran Maddan as Marianne and Joanna David as Elinor:

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The hairstyle suggest Irene Richards is remembered in the grieving Elinor

Yet at the same time similarly there is a particular interpretation which is Butler and Liew’s own and it’s poignant because of the high shots. It’s more daylight mind (Molinari did the colors) here than the Marvel NA, with normal perspectives on the size of the characters (they don’t overwhelm a page) and the background made into light of the day or quiet of an evening so there is a quieter feel to the work.

I have read a previous graphic novel adaptation of Northanger Abbey (words Trina Robbins, illustrator Anne Timmons): a Gothic classics volume which contains 5 novels so each one is shorter (it includes Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, words Antonella Caputo, illustrator Carlo Vergara); I want to say that the pictures are in black-and-white makes them limited only I know that Posy Simmonds makes beauty, gives depth with drawings on white too. I think it’s the wild angles of the frames themselves, sudden thrusting and most of all that the gothic is kept to throughout.

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Swirling

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Also the use of Austen’s words: in the NA and S&S both occasionally Andrew Davies’s superb perceptive scripts.

I probably enjoyed them strongly because I’ve not been reading Austen in a while and when I return (I am grateful this is so) after having been away for a while, I forget all the outside materials I read about Austen: while some adds and enriches, so much is said or has been that to say something new or different (which is required) mars the experience because it’s so intermixed with the critic-writer’s political/social point of view and my feeling of how this book is supposed to operate for them in the Austen world, or just things that are said that are a new extreme and grate, or simply ignore the book altogether or mock it (in effect it’s so over-the-top in its reactive reading) though the person writing does not always know that.

Post-texts. S&S has the occasional wink as featured in the upper frame of its windowed cover:

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while the NA is not above bats, and allusions to vampires, Udolpho and bookishness (the ancient table the two sit on are held up by fat ancient tomes)

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I should not have been surprised as I love studying film (and films are moving pictures), loved art history and see pictures as endlessly meaningful when well done. In this Marvel NA, we have many narrowed eyes, on the male and female faces, suggestive; in this S&S really detailed developments out of Austen via different movies.

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It’s a small vindication of the readings each perform since Austen’s words are used to pull NA into gothic realms, and easily host images from across 4 S&S films

My daughter Izzy bought the Northanger Abbey one on Sunday, November 1st, and we said it was appropriate to the season and All Saint’s Day — which for me would have been very lonely but for her and my two cats – and Austen and memories of the Austen movies.

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor

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Charity Wakefield as Marianne

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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Another of the Cambridge Publications

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

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

Ellen

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2nd edition — 2011

Dear friends and readers,

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

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1st — 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A recent cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout her books she is mocking romance in all sorts of ways while heroine quietly long for it. In the books we do not project forward after the happy ending, and we see all the things that will be troublesome in the “union” (indeed I’d add Juliette Towhidi under the guidance of PDJames in Death comes to Pemberley who insists on Darcy as still rank obsesses insists on these until near the end). Is there real cohesion at the endings? No attention paid in NA, S&S, not much in P&P. DAMiller narrative mocks what it cannot do without. Emma though presents perfect happiness and Darcys have the Pemberley and Gardiners. He argues we transcend because it’s such hard work to get there; we enter mind of heroine throughout, closed off from hero (his idea this is radical departure is unreal and silly – very common in 17th century long haleine romances, 18th century, like Burney). Communication problem not just social but psychological. He suggests a second plot-design in the background of hero chasing a vocation, having to have independence, proper manliness (fact not unnoticed by modern parasitic sequel writers as in Mr Darcy’s Diary) his solution is we are ecstatic when these two minds come together, the utopian potential of understanding is what we are given.
95SistersLivingTogether
From Davies’s 1995 P&P: two sisters living together (Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and Susannah Harker as Jane)

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

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

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

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MAR5Janelookingoverwater
Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2009, scripted Gwyneth Hughes)

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

Ellen

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