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Archive for the ‘Lady Susan’ Category

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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John Crome (1768-1821), A Heath

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

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

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

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Contemporary illustration: Box Hill

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

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Selbourne today —

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

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

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

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Thomas Jones (1742-1803), The Bard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Shefali (the Harriet character in Aisha, Amrita Puri)

“Jane Fairfax has feeling,” said Mr. Knightley. — “I do not accuse her of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong – and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-controul; but it wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used to be — And I love an open temper.”

“She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself.” [Emma thinking] –Jane Austen, Emma

Friends and readers,

It’s now way overdue for me to share those few papers and talks the set-up of the recent JASNA conference allowed any particular participant. A friend who is a long-time attendee of these JASNA conferences urged me to think of the meeting as a sort of sorority party cum-conference. Topics include Emma and sexual assault; a history of the book illustrations, and recent adaptations of Austen’s Emma strongly influenced by (deriving from) Heckerling’s Clueless. So, what one was permitted to reach on the mornings and afternoons allotted (I did not return for the mid-morning light lecture on Sunday):

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Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, doing the bills, trying to get through to Emma (2009 BBC Emma, scripted Sandy Welch, where Mr Knightley is the over-voice)

On Friday, after the plenary speech (began at 1:00 pm), there were two break-out sessions, each of which had nine different papers and discussions going on at one time. Eighteen altogether of which any particular participant could get to hear/see only two. It was impossible to choose with any one over another. I chose for the 2:45 time slot, Jessica Richard’s “What Emma Knew: Modes of Education in Emma, because I had heard papers given by Jessica in other venues and knew she would be clear. Jessica’s argument was Emma is (another?) novel by Austen about education. She surveyed educational theories in the period, especially through a contrast between Locke’s Thoughts Concerning Education and Rousseua’s Emile. Austen herself had little formal education. Her presentation of Mrs Goddard’s boarding school in Highbury is an element in a plot-design intended to question how female autonomy is experienced in pre-marriage young women. The novel itself suggests that Mr Knightley has had little influence on Emma’s education, and that Mr Knightley like Mrs Weston, fails to control her. He is motivated by jealousy of Frank Churchill. What Emma does right comes from her own self-correction which is somehow finally innate. Jessica asked the group, what lessons has Emma learned?

To sum up, Jessica was suggesting that Mr Knightly not the great teacher — as he says himself. Here the audience soon went off-topic to gossip about the characters. (For my part, I thought Emma had learned no lesson that truly punctured her sense of herself as overwhelmingly important, her values in themselves as impeccable. Yes she had made mistakes, but obviously her world’s order was not at all disquieted (about say how Jane Fairfax had almost gone down the tubes or Harriet ended up a desperate spinster at Mrs Goddard’s).

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Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax realizing how she is being teased with the alphabets on a picnic (1996 Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

That there was only one hour each for the two sessions was felt as severe limitation in the second session I went to — at least the speaker kept hurrying us and herself along to be sure to end “on time.” I found I chose Celia Easton’s “The Encouragement I Received: Emma and the Language of Sexual Assault” for reasons similar to most in the audience. Her topic was felt as electrifyingly relevant since just the day before or so, the video and tape of Donald Trump, soon to be President of the US, showed Trump to be a boaster of grossly aggressive sexually predatory behavior to any woman he deems attractive; the Trump language of sexual assault includes “grabbing her pussy;” and far from ashamed, when accused he either mocked the women as not attractive enough to lure him (thus liars), or didn’t literally tell the truth (he sued 12 women who came forward after two decades of nightmares and anguish and loss of possible jobs and a thriving career). Since then when he won the election, we have learned that 60 million Americans did not think his typical behavior or many sexual assaults and actual court accusations of rape disqualified him from the presidency. Obviously this is an important topic. She brought up this immediate context frankly. So what did she have to say? that the experience of 18th century women is analogous to that of 20th and 21st century women, with the job market then for genteel women functioning as a metaphor (like today) for how the male patriarchy (to use a supposedly out-of-date term) works.

Celia said she put her proposal in a year ago so the immediate relevance was unintended but its deep-seated one all the more there. Celia felt that for many women readers rape stories make women into victims or opportunistic liars. In courts rapists attacked women’s credibility (as they do today), as showing her moral failure; people still credited the idea that if a woman became pregnant, she had willingly complied; except among the highest in rank, such cases were virtually impossible to prosecute. It’s sometimes surprising the people who raped women: George Cheyne was found guilty of raping a young girl. Writers used rape as a literary device, once in a while showing the depravity of the rapist (when victim had relatives high in UK gov’t). As most of us know Fielding’s Shamela is a burlesque of Pamela, accusing women of manipulating men’s desires to lead them to rape so they may be entrapped somehow or other. In his late last novel, Sir Charles Grandison, Richardson can still be found shoring up ideas that women lie about rape, seek to entrap men through sexual desire. While there is no overt rape in Emma, there are many instances where female characters feel themselves under a kind of direct assault.

In Emma we learn what language is used, what realities individual words testify to matters. Austen’s first scene of sexual assault occurs in the carriage between Emma and Mr Elton on their way home from Mrs Weston’s Christmas get-together. Celia suggested most readers today do not find the scene funny; they feel Mr Elton has been more sexually aggressive than he or the text he’s embedded in admits. In Emma Mr Elton learns to hate Emma. It’s not only her disdainful rejection of him in the carriage, but the whole of her behavior before and after he sees as arrogant, cold, manipulative (when she is just naive, dense, obtuse). In Austen’s Emma, fear of attack by gypsies as the destitute become brutal, and the real attempted assault on Emma’s friend Harriet may be seen as damning these desperate people without trial. Harriet is scared, she clings to Frank Churchill: we see how little contact she has had with people who have no income (like herself in that). In Jane Fairfax’s case, Mrs Elton is trying to imprison her in a humiliating job. Jane specifically forbids Mrs Elton to look for or push her into a governess post, but Mrs Elton won’t listen. (For my part I think Mrs Elton is intensely resentful of Jane’s subtlety, high culture, and wants to degrade her as well as show off her power over such a cultured woman. It’s a form of sexual dominance which is so deeply painful to Jane who feels much of her life afterward would not be so different from a chattel slave. We may say this is an over-reaction but if we look at the exploitation and destruction of Fanny Price’s vulnerability and self-esteem and how in Mansfield Park the parallel is made with slavery, perhaps Jane is voicing how Austen sees what job market there is for genteel women.

In effect Celia had covered the psychological assault on Jane Fairfax. The audience response was intense and for once stayed on topic. The popular readership in fan cults hardly ever talk on line, but unlike academics they will talk in sessions about what they feel about a favorite book or author. There was or would have been much questioning and raw discussion after the talk, but the clock (and hotel) were relentless and all was over at 4:45 so discussions were closed down before any points could be much explored. I get the feeling these people long to discuss Austen and their views and hardly ever get a chance to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if social mores prohibit real talk in their small book clubs. Well they had less this year than previous ones.

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A watercolor by Humphrey Repton from the Red Book he made for Stoneleigh Abbey (owned by the Leighs, where Austen and her mother had a flying visit, perhaps a model for scenes in Austen’s fiction)

Susan Allen Ford’s keynote speech was the high point of the conference for both myself and my daughter. She began with the idea that Emma is about reading just as surely as Northanger Abbey (whose extent text may be regarded as worked on directly after Emma). Emma’s list of books she means to read and will never get round to, what we do hear and see quoted as reading matter in Highbury, the likening of Mrs Weston to the Baroness of d’Almane and Emma to her daughter-pupil, Adele or Adelaide in Mme de Genlis’s Adele et Theodore (Englished as Adelaide and Theodore), and how we see everyone behave in these contexts, if explored, offer us ways of understanding what Austen wants us to take away from her novel.

We can get to know the kind of mind each character has through their reading and reading lists; the books and texts cited and and alluded to across the novel also capture a cultural moment among Austen’s class. I cite just one of the several groups of texts Susan went into. Harriet Smith’s is a jumble of compliance and imitative cant. She prods Mr Martin into genuinely trying to obtain Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, and Regina Maria Roche’s Children of the Abbey, though for his serious mind (as Austen sees this) much more meaningful and useful are the Agricultural Reports (serious farming and economic news and treatises). He likes poetry well enough and reads extracts from a popular anthology of the era, Elegant Extracts by Vicesmus Knox.

If we explore these books, we discover that Knox intends his volume to be read aloud, to provide elocution lessons, teach poise. The Vicar is a story of a family on the edge of destitution, a fragile situation sexually, where much misery is experienced until near its close. Prevost rewrote it as enormously popular Le Doyen de Killerine (almost immediately Englished) The two romances have no imaginative hold on Harriet as she cannot apply what she reads, but Austen knows we can see what they are: Radcliffe’s is a gothic novel with a male predator at the center; male tyrannies also dominate the sentimental romance in Roche’s book. Both give us glimpses into the interior life of genteel women at the turn of this century. Emma looks upon Mr Martin as clownish, gross, vulgar and disconcerted by the strength, concision and authenticity of his letter proposing marriage to Harriet, Emma has to resort to attributing it to his sisters — at first. But it is Mr Elton who attempts (mild) predation, and Frank Churchill a clandestine engagement whose seriousness for Jane he does not seem to take into account.

The whole subplot shows how entrenched is Emma’s prejudice, how little she understands how to use what she reads — beyond the unexamined pleasure she seems to get out of vicarious matching. We are asked to believe that at the end of the book she has been cured of her delusionary match-making. Her real virtues (as seen in this conservative reading) are those she begins with the book with: loyalty and care for her father, family, intuitive concern for vulnerable people when class and other issues do not blind her.

Susan’s talk was thorough and took up most of the time allotted. We then again had two sessions, nine papers and discussions going on at once, so eighteen altogether of which any one participant could attend only two.

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Michael Gambon as the aging Mr Woodhouse (2009 Emma, scripted Sandy Welch)

I decided to go to “Where Health is at Stake:” Fictive Ills, Invalids, and Healers in Highbury” because the degrees of two of the three presenters suggested a real knowledge of medicine in the era. Drs Cheryl Kinney and Theresa Kenney had that but I didn’t realize they were giving three separate presentations and since they had only an hour altogether, and wanted to give some time for discussion, there simply was not enough time to say discuss gynecology which was in the description said to be her specialty (which I perhaps foolishly hoped for a serious outline about). She was very general about Marianne, Jane Bennet and Louisa Musgrove, and seemed unwilling to say anything untoward about any of the characters, so Mr Woodhouse’s “cognitive impairment” showed us how good a daughter Emma was. Nothing much about the realities of old age. Despite the implicit feminism of the titles of Theresa Kenney’s books she produced a set of upright moral lessons (she quoted Kant’s Doctrine on Moral Virtue) exemplified by the very kindly treatment of various ailments in the novel.

Liz Cooper pointed out that we never see the one physician (actually an apothecary) in Highbury, Mr Perry, whom she likened to (and seemed to think was based on) a well-known physician in Bath, a Dr Caleb-Hillier Parry (1755-1822). She first quoted Austen’s caustic remarks about this man in her letters (showing Austen was aware of this man). She then presented a positive portrait of his discoveries (in autopsy, in clinical work, about angina pain in the human heart); the work he did in a Royal Mineral Water Hospital, his friendly relationship with Edward Jenner; Liz saw Parry as unfairly ignored by the medical establishment. She did not want to end by saying how unfair Austen had been if she aimed her character at this hard-working doctor, so like the two previous speakers she ended on how much a model of daughterly forbearance Emma is. It seemed to me in all this the tone of Austen’s novels, the thrust was lost, and the often embittered desperate commentary (and walking) of her time in Bath as a spinster in her letters.

Isobel had gone to Deborah Barnum’s talk, “Illustrating Emma,” and enjoyed looking at the many illustrations Deborah discussed. Deborah (according to Izzy) discussed book illustration in the early 19th century and Victorian period, the technology of print-making, engraving and then she surveyed editions of novels from Bentley’s 1833 through the nineteenth and twentieth century up to the recent Marvel comic book renditions, Manga Classics, and fine art depictions of an imprint like the Folio society. Questions discussed included which scenes or characters would people have liked to illustrate, how strictly to keep to the text, should they comment on and foreshadow the story. Does an illustration that seems to go against your interpretation of the book “ruin” it for you (analogous to a movie). She offered a good bibliography of secondary studies.

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One of Empress Josephine’s dresses (in a Paris museum), presumably an aspirational costume ideal in Austen’s era

The second and last session, which ended at 2:30 (so the rest of the afternoon there was nothing) had a number of topics I longed to have listened to (e.g, Catherine Ingrassia on “Slavery and Cultures of Captivity in Emma“). But since I have published so much on film adaptation on Austen, once dreamed of publishing a book on the film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility (“A Place of Refuge” — I’ve five finished chapters), and still keep up and love them, I chose Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield’s “Multimedia Emma: Three Recent Adaptations.” They often give a witty and informative lecture which explicates Austen’s texts too and did so this time. They began with what they argued for was the centrality of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless as an influence on Emma films, and then proceeded to show interconnections between the recent Emma films apart from their debt to Clueless.

Their first, the 2009 Emma (scripted Sandy Welch, BBC mini-series for TV) was a reaction against Clueless, which nonetheless picked up on the thorough build-up of a past, lost mother, child-like Emma (in Romola Garai’s performance) and took Miss Bates seriously. They dwelt on how toys are emphasized in various scenes and how Emma seems to be dependent on Mr Knightley as much as her father is on her. Everyone but Mr Knightley (and perhaps Mr Martin) seems to react to occupations in life as so much passing time with toys. The point that Emma is made childish until near the end of the film is important: the Emma in the book would be off-putting with her cool cruelties to Jane and stupidity over Harriet and Elton so Welch makes her child-like (naive) to enable us to tolerate here.

It has been noticed that Aisha, an Anil Kapoor film (2010) is modeled on Clueless (see my blog on Aisha as a redo of Clueless for example): the point in Clueless and Aisha is to make Emma contemporary. Again there is a seriousness about poverty; this time the Harriet character, Shefali upbraids Emma for using her, for looking down on her as a toy (again dressing up enters into this). It’s interesting that both Clueless and Aisha pick up on how paradoxically place does not matter in Emma: though the atmosphere and claustrophobia (ennui) of Austen’s book is central to our experience of it, central paradigms can be transported in place and time. In 2016 as we watch, we feel the pursuit of fun has been relentless, is punishing, in all three films there is flamboyance in the costumes, the parties, which is cheerless (seen also in Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice). Everyone working so hard at being happy by the end they are exhausted and the Austen heroine accused of being unfeeling.

The third “film,” Emma Approved influenced by Clueless they took up is a 2014 digital multimedia interactive blog. This seems to consistent of many videos, webpages which you can spend huge amounts of time clicking through. Now Emma wants to document her lifestyle on-line to show how excellent it really is. As with Clueless, each of the Austen characters has its 21st century type (teenager or college student) equivalent. Knightley (no Mr) is again the somber character who is out of sympathy with the frivolity of all the convivial, conformist fun. The triumph in this universe is to have and keep a boyfriend or girlfriend. It is much influenced (of course) by the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (also a series of blogs made by the people playing the roles). Again the parallels are made contemporary (email is used, a wedding for the Dixons — would not want to be without a wedding). Linda and Sayre discussed how vlogs are made. The overall effect is to celebrate materialism, its bright, hard and technologically impressive: they gave examples from the characters’ behavior. Emma is a good girl and what she approves of is good. Lifestyle choices replace morality, but still above all one must marry to be regarded as successful in life.

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I found this anonymous (as far as I can tell) depiction on-line presented as “the ideal Jane Austen world”

And so the sessions and panels of the conference ended. 36 papers set up in such a way as to permit someone to listen to and join in a brief discussion of 4. Think about it. Watch what people do, not what they say to grasp what they value. 36 papers divided into nine sessions could be comfortably got in for mornings and afternoons over two and a half days. Who is that does not value the sessions? not the generality of the members. Since the actual get-together starts on Tuesday for some, Wednesday for many (thus effectively at conflict with the Burney conference), there would be plenty of time for tours, private (now we reach where the sorority party metaphor fits) meals or get-togethers elsewhere, evening events (public and private) and networking for publication, teaching events …

I’ve been working on a paper for a coming conference on Jane Austen and the Arts, have after a week and a half reread for an umpteeth time Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and am now well into Mansfield Park. I’ve been delving into contemporary works on the picturesque, Maud Batey’s beautifully packaged and illustrated study, Jane Austen and the English Landscape (heavy art paper, gorgeously colored reproductions), Duckworth’s old but still invaluable The Improvement of the Estate, and wonder to myself with Austen’s tones and tastes strong in my head what she would think of this set-up, and those papers I’ve described, which she’d have liked, been amused by, or recognized herself in.

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

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

Ellen

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Hubert Robert, Madame Geoffrin Drawing (for a cover, as it is a work French in feel) — let us say Lady Churchill pouring over her daughter’s letters, writing in reply

Dear friends and readers,

Since Love and Friendship is apparently doing well enough commercially that Whit Stillman’s film has not yet left general run theaters, and more and more people have seen it. Stillman’s re-titling of Austen’s mid-career epistolary novella has come under discussion. I thought I’d add a qualifying note in the form of this blog: Austen did not title her fair copy manuscript, it’s salutary to remember that except for the four novels she shepherded into print, we can’t be sure any of her titles represent her first or last decision or determined preference at all, if she had one.

Two of these four texts supervised by Austen herself, have had other names: Pride and Prejudice was for many years a long sharply satiric novel, possibly heavily epistolary denominated First Impressions. Austen told people in the “know” about her authorship, that Martha has read First Impressions so many times, that she might commit it to memory, in order to write it out and sell it herself. Sense and Sensibility began life as a brief epistolary novel, named after the two correspondents: Elinor and Marianne. By the time it was lengthened into the book Cassandra mentions as written 1797-98, it had become Sense and Sensibility.

Lady Susan (so-called) comes third in the succession of posthumous works after Austen’s early death (1871). Of these three, Northanger Abbey (1817) was titled Susan when it was sold in 1803 to Crosby; when we hear of it again in 1816 it has become Catherine. Family tradition says Persuasion (1817) was first titled The Elliots, whose appropriateness is signaled by its first French translator who called the novel La Famille Elliot [ou l’ancienne inclination]. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are Henry and Cassandra’s inspired choices; the pairing them as “sister-novels” (two Bath books?) the result of the way Henry and Cassandra printed them together, with the biographical notice by Henry.

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In life Austen paid attention to what was worn (a 1798 ensemble overdress, fischu of European Cotton Silk) — something Lady Susan would certainly sell herself for

James Edward Austen-Leigh tells us that Lady Susan is untitled. We see we have a genuinely fair copy, all gussied up as if Austen was pretending she was publishing her book. This kind of psychological imitation is found in early modern women for texts they cherish and would like others to see in this permanent (more or less) form. So she must’ve cared about the book. Why not name it? Yet, as Austen-Leigh says, it has no name. Austen-Leigh named the book after its chief protagonist, but Austen might have preferred any number of thematic names. In the 18th century novels were named after the chief protagonist; an important theme; or the place the novel importantly occurs in. Following her predilection in her first four, she might have played upon the tradition of widows as hypocritically grieving, while conducting liaisons, so a thematic The Gay Widow (no pun intended) might be appropriate; given the way Austen is regarded the film-makers could scarcely have gone for Adultery Exposed. But maybe, just maybe Austen did have a an ironically amoral/moral title in mind in the manner of LaClos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Eager to prevent Austen’s texts from being lost or hidden from the public any longer, later that same year (1871) JEAL published the fragment, The Watsons. Family tradition, confirmed by Catherine Anne Hubback (daughter to Jane’s brother Frank) who finished the novel with details which suggest a knowledge of the autobiographical backgrounds of Austen’s texts, is this was originally called (by Austen herself) The Younger Sister. This time JEAL was covering up. Sanditon came out many years later: 1825. This is Chapman’s title, calling attention to the unusual setting. The text is untitled in the manuscript, Frank’s grand-daughter declared it was called The Brothers, so like The Younger Sister an autobiographical allusion or source for the work is obscured. Gilson in his magisterial Bibliography also records “The Last Work,” perhaps as semi-comment on the author’s sad death, her weakness and silencing from her illness.

That leaves us with Mansfield Park, Emma, and what we have of titles for the so-called Juvenilia, among which is Love and Freindship (first published 1922) as Austen’s own.

Does it matter? yes. A rose by any other name smells as sweet; still, framing matters. When Stillman decided to re-name the work with a juvenilia name he could hope more Austen readers have read (and found hilarious) outside the famous six novel canon, he was not distorting Austen’s framing. Stillman has said he found Love and Friendship appropriate to the novella, but film-makers no more than authors are on oath when they discuss their book. No one in the novel confides in a friend, friendship is a function of your acceptability. Love too is meted out contingently. The letters are from Churchill, most to them from rather than to. How about The Churchill Letters? this seething place within.

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William Westall, Rievaulz Abbey from Duncombe Terrace (as Austen’a taste for Gilpin and reading in Radcliffe and Smith when young suggests a liking for picturesque book illustrations) — Churchill from afar

Ellen

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Stephen Frye as Mr Johnson coping with Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwarring and Xavier Samuel as Reginald de Courcy (2016 Love and Friendship, scripted and directed by Whit Stillman)

Dear friends and readers,

I confess to a real let-down and disappointment upon my first viewing of the film. Since Love and Friendship is a Stillman film. Given the high literary quality of his scripts, and depth of emotion he invested Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco with, I assumed he’d do real justice to the sardonic nature of the central hypocrite, Lady Susan (played by an almost unrecognizable Kate Beckinsale — since her face-life her face resembles that of a Barbie doll) and her real potential destructiveness (however thwarted by her lack of money and need of other people’s and their houses) and perniciously cold and egoistic values. I knew it would not be presented as an “inverted protest novel” (the way I had read it recently).

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Beckinsale as Lady Susan – a rare moment in the clear light

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From The Last Days of Disco when Beckinsale had some character in her face and Sevigny was thinner
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Beckinsale as a bright hard mean Emma with Samantha Morton as a comically sensitive Harriet (1996 Emma by Andrew Davies)

I’d just taught Lady Susan, so could not easily forget, how hard, mean, at moments raw (towards her daughter, Frederica) Austen’s Lady Susan reveals herself to be in her letters to her confidante, Alicia Johnson (played by Chloe Sevigny whom I regret to say is as wooden and incapable of conveying a witty line as ever — she twice throws away “what man could deserve you” saying straight). The single moment of steel in the 92 minutes was supplied by Stephen Frye as Alicia’s husband: when Mr Johnson sees his wife still in a close relationship with Lady Susan (which he has strictly forbidden) and is confronted with the helpless and therefore hysterical grief of Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray) whose husband is adulterously entangled with Lady Susan, he informs hers that he understands the weather in crossing the Atlantic this year is tough. (She has told Lady Susan Mr Johnson threatens to remove her from Lady Susan by taking her back to Connecticut if she does not stopping seeing this friend.)

Yes, Alicia Johnson is made into an American. Ang Lee and James Schamus are on record since their The Wedding Banquet if you want big funding from an American company, especially in the case of costume drama seen as having a smaller audience, a woman’s film in the first place, you are pressured into having one American character. American producers cannot believe the average American will like a film that has no American in it. Thus recently Julian Fellowes made Miss Dunstable in the self-consciously costum-y Dr Thorne improbably into an American.

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Sevigny as Alicia (the promotional stills photograph her from a distance or angle)

Instead he has opted for slow artifice, insistence on playful theatricality (each character is announced in a still with their name written across their face, and their familial or work relationship with the other characters), a full-scale imitation or throw-back to 1970s BBC mini-series costume dramas. Everyone and everything is dressed or outfitted, decorated super-elegantly, not just Laura Ashley style but the hats are pure Gainsborough films (1940s costume dramas rather like Saul Dobbs’s The Duchess). The non-sourced music is often 18th century and as ironic background to the closing marriages, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Sometimes he seemed to be imitating Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s super-successful 1996 bejewelled Sense and Sensibility. Xavier Samuel as Reginald de Courcy’s stiff body gestures, his pained facial expressions, the occasional astonishment reminded me of Hugh Grant’s Edward, only Hugh Grant at the close does suddenly invest his character with a depth of tender affection nowhere felt or seen in this movie.

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Catherine de Courcy (Emma Greenwell) and Reginald Vernon

Stillman imitates the many walking scenes in Sense and Sensibility too. This is what a Jane Austen movie is supposed to be many of its fans feel; this is what they go for: emasculated men, women so gussied up to rape anyone would take excruciating efforts over corsets first. And both times I went I could see the audience was pleased: Beckinsale changed outfits almost every time we saw her, some of them quite lovely, especially her impeccably unruffled hats and curls. It is a relief after the alpha male, action-adventure movies crowding theaters with their 11 second scenes, non-literate scripts, and token women acting as male as their sexual roles permit.

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Those reviews which have been favorable have picked up on this unbroken surface, these masks. For example, Adam Thirkwell’s Unserious Austen. Thirkwell is one of those who believes Lady Susan is a work of a teenager (the hagiography that surrounds Austen makes it possible to attribute this kind of sophisticated understanding of the nuances and circumstances surrounding adultery to an 18 year old) and looking at Stillman’s other films, Thirkwell reads the film as about the seriousness of surface; the insistence that the way to live life is by staying shallow, encasing yourself in the frivolous, to be unserious and insist anyone with an emotional attachment that is unchangeable is deluded: that is to take Lady Susan’s view of the world as accurate, or good enough, a way of getting through the actual coldness, meanness, mercenary motives of everyone else.

Except that Metropolitan, Last Days and Barcelona are rather about happiness coming from the integrity of the heart, from intelligent people seeing the limitatons of say worldly success (a great concern of Metropolitan is where you will be placed by your mid-30s). A few essays in Mark G Henrie’s collection of essays on Stillman’s films, Doomed Bourgeois in Love, argue that Stillman is highly unusual not only for his open identification with and interest in the upper class, but because his films are ironic Christian comedies. He is a thinking Christian and sees Austen as an optimistic ethical writer.

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An unusually emotional scene: Lady de Courcy (Jemma Redgrave) and Catherine Vernon meeting Frederica (Morfyyd Clark) (not in Lady Susan but implied)

Thirkwell omitted a series of scenes not in Lady Susan, and certainly not the lines: except for the local vicar, the unnamed “local curate (played by Conor MacNeill) no one knows which position on the 10 commandments a particular instruction has. This curate is an invented character not in any of Austen’s texts: pious and trying hard to make the Christian message he understands doable. The joke about the 10 commandments is brought back three times. They are also all clueless on the story of Solomon judging which woman is the mother of a baby. Lady Susan alludes to it at least three times too as if it shows just what a good mother she is; she does not seem to know the parable contains two mothers or what happens in it, nor does anyone else. Frederica (Morfyyd Clark) Vernon, Lady Susan’s daughter, presented as unqualifiedly virtuous is so guilty over having finessed her mother’s injunctions not to tell her uncle Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) or his wife, her kind aunt, Lady de Courcy by telling Reginald goes to church to find guidance and solace and comfort. (Something that never occurs in Lady Susan.) The lighting of the film throughout is exquisitely beautiful, like a golden Vermeer painting, and especially of Frederica reading books here and there, but this scene is luminous. Our new local curate looks at her lovingly, and for a moment I thought maybe Stillman would make this a match. As she emerges, she meets Reginald and he is clueless over why anyone would go to church on any day but Sunday. He asks twice about this peculiarity of hers. But by the end of the movie he has apparently “gotten it,” understood why, for at their wedding, he cites a verse written in 18th century style celebrating Frederica’s virtue, where virtue means religious as well as marital constancy. We then see James Fleet as Reginald’s father, Sir Reginald beaming down on Jemma Redgrave, with slight comic over-doneness (James Fleet like Fyre is able to act the part with comic effect).

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James Fleet as Sir Reginald looking on at some ridiculousness

Stillman does have to soften the story somewhat. In general until near the end of the movie he sticks literally to events in the book. Then instead of Reginald finally waking up to what Lady Susan is (Reginald is an anticipation of the denseness and delusions of Edmund Bertram) and throwing her off, Stillman has Lady Susan break the engagement. Reginald’s pride is hurt we are told, and he is still in danger of returning to Lady Susan. If he does not, another change is that Lady Susan is pregnant by Manwaring at the close of the film. This gives her a less mercenary incentive: in the book she wanted to marry Sir James to her daughter so with her ability to bully her daughter, she could have (in effect) enforced regular marital sex and children on her daughter by taking the money herself. Stillman adds a silent scene where we see Sir James giving Lady Susan money. He adds wedding scenes which however ironic underneath are on the surface social happy affairs. So too dancing.

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A particularly gorgeous hat == the cloaks provide further eye-candy (the film recalled McGrath’s 1996 hit Emma with Gweneth Paltrow in this respect)

So I should not have been surprised at the genre Stillman has opted to use for Austen’s story: highly traditional familial costume drama undercut gently by ironic music and for the thoughtful more critically by what is actually happening and the distance between what’s said and what’s done in the case of Lady Susan. Rich costumes bring audiences in; there are people who insist on the meaninglessness of Downton Abbey for them personally: they are watching for the costumes and to look at the lovely rooms and buildings.

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One of the houses glimpsed in the distance (there are few photos of distant shots in promotional images)

Certainly in this film a number of older grand mansions in various states of decline were filmed (like the 2007 Northanger Abbey by Andrew Davies this film was done in Ireland). And it fits into his outlook, the way he professes to understand Austen. He’s not a typical Janeite though as he finds Fanny Price a likeable (appealing) character in Mansfield Park. He has his heroine in Metropolitan defend Fanny against the strictures of Lionel Trilling as well as the story’s taking seriously whether amateurs should do a salacious play in a private house.

Myself I don’t find this kind of tone characteristic of Lady Susan. Since it is all in letters, she can drop the social mask and reveal herself more than once very directly as a bully, mean, aggressive, with an expectation that everyone will be as nasty she is (rather like Fielding’s Bifil). A couple of time Stillman acknowledges the centrality of letters by having one read aloud, and he shows characters communicating through them, but his theme of the effectiveness of social mask and that Lady Susan never drops it is not true of the book. She can be very raw as can her friend Alicia; these lines are divided in the film:

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying
a man of his age!–just old enough to be formal, ungovernable
and to have the gout–too old to be agreeable, and too young to
die. May the next gouty attack be more favorable

As I read Lady Susan and have listened to it read aloud by Blackstone and other audio-readers, it’s close to Les Liasions Dangereuses, or Stael’s Delphine (1805, with a Madame Susan Vernon as worldly villainess and very bad mother). If you were puzzled why there are so many brief scenes between Alice and Lady Susan — I mean how she does manage to whiz up to London from the country and back again repeatedly: Stillman is presenting the matter of their letters brief scenes. Epistolary narrative can be looked at as inner dramas on a stage with the characters represented by letters in lieu of dialogue.

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The heroines exchange bits from the letters — sometimes they lurk outside amid columns in unspecified areas

But I did find it startling to see the transposition of the original language of the letters into dialogue, often without much change. This is very like some of the 1970s film adaptations and the closest in the Austen canon is the 1979 P&P by Faye Weldon, only Weldon had an omniscient novel with characters talking to one another. The effect is stilted, and I could see from other viewers they were growing restless. Since the 1990s these costume dramas have been trying for some compromise between the language of the originals and intelligent and demotic talk of today. The audience were clearly glad to have the more obvious jokes, or seemingly obviously funny lines which they got and laughed a bit too determinedly I thought — as if to feel they were enjoying themselves. I wondered if some other of the lines given to Lady Susan gave them pause, but after all Stillman’s Lady Susan never for once breaks her surface of sweetness and she never offers more of her real values and norms than she has to even to Alicia. So no one leaving this theater could think from this film Austen seriously questioned our society, except maybe if you were seeking something, you could say see how desperate women were. This jusifies Lady Susan’s behavior in part, and it is the way a couple of favorable reviews took the movie. It’s about how women are oppressed.

To me this kind of review is a caricature of the idea: no woman in the movie is ever pictured as less than well-fed, comfortable, and on the surface complacent. If you can control the surface this way, what can the depths be? The one hard statement in the film comes from Catherine Decourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwall) when at the close of the film she calls Lady Susan a cold snake (to her mother). It’s a good thing this utterance does not need an ability to utter irony for Greenwall is another actor in the film who cannot do it; nor Justin Edwards as Frederica’s lummox of an uncle.

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Moment of obvious astonishment: Catherine de Courcy and Charles Vernon

The overt joke here is that uncle Charles is astonished that any woman of intelligence could marry a fool, by which he means Sir James Martin (Tom Bennet). At the close we learn that Lady Susan has married Sir James, and as Charles drivels on in his usual “candid” way (of seeing all good everywhere) to say Lady Susan has fallen in love with him, Greenwall turns aside to grin. In Austen’s book, Sir James is not a harmless rattle, but a stubborn and dense man who would not (as Sir James does here) not realize that he’s being cuckolded by Manwaring; as Reginald is a permutation of the obtuse Edmund Bertram so Sir James is a version of Rushworth in Mansfield Park. In the book Frederica is right to dread marriage with this man and in the film to assume she will be just fine with Reginald. After all her aunt Catherine is doing just fine; her uncle does whatever the aunt wants. Stillman has picked up that Charles Vernon is a version of Charles Bingley (P&P), easily led, only left out that he could be led by bad people.

Talk I heard from people coming out both times included asssertions “it’s an odd film.” One woman didn’t quite know what to make of it, but then she’d not read Lady Susan. At least most people leaving seemed to realize there is such a novel, and they realized perhaps that there is another juvenilia called Love and Friendship which because he so likes the title and thinks it appropriate Stillman chose to call Lady Susan. Disingenuousness can work but it’s transparent that someone hoped there might be Austen readers who’ve read the wildly hilarious Love and Freindship and be drawn into the theater that way. In my own anecdotal experience really faithful fans do know of Love and Freindship: they learn bout it in an effort to find more Austen to read, and when they start it’s burlesque wild jokes lead them on to the end.

Nonserious Austen indeed. No one will leave this film disquieted or having been brought to think about our society seriously through an Austen text. The Guardian gives the expected comment: this is a racier, naughtier Austen than we have known. But the second time I knew what to expect. I’ve seen many Austen films. It’s intelligent and literate and if you can extrapolate out from Lady Susan’s behavior and how she is thriving at the close, you can say cold performative people utterly without any humane compassion for anyone, in fact despising anyone who has that as weak fits in just fine with our world. Stillman gives Beckinsale a line just before the credits as she looks at her daughter now married, to the effect she is delighted to see Frederica is becoming more manipulative though where I couldn’t see. This is a more usual transposition into modern talk of a passage in a letter where Austen’s Lady Susan indicates an active dislike or distaste for her daughter; she finds Frederica “contemptible” precisely because she has sincere feelings and acts on them. Doubtless had Lady Susan been able to read Mansfield Park she would have despised Fanny Price too:

Frederica

Ellen

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