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Archive for the ‘Persuasion’ Category

friends and readers,

For the last couple of weeks on and off I’ve been reading and considering Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope post-texts; to wit, Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility; The Rector’s Wife and The Choir, not to omit Joanna’s central contemporary fiction, thus far Other People’s Children. I’ve been surprised in how gripped I’ve been over these four books. While I have before on this blog written strongly praising this or that Austen sequel or film appropriation of a sequel (Jo Baker’s Longbourn, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Cindy Jones’s My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, the film Julie Towhidi made from PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley), I’ve never been quite so taken as I have by Joanna Trollope’s book. Trollope’s book is part of the reason I’ve been equally taken by the much more decided updated Schine book (I know I often like her book reviews for the NYRB.)

So I’ve been trying, you see, to think why people enjoy reading prequels, sequels, plain rewrites, or rewrites from a particular political POV of their favorite author, and how, also what precisely they find deeply appealing (or, contrariwise) deeply appalling. (Recall this summer I read and taught Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.) I truly loved Towhidi’s film, and have truly regarded as uneven semi-imbecilic complacent gush other sequels recently written and much praised, or older and still frequently cited (as Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister [Mary])


That Anna Maxwell Martin came closer to the way I like to imagine Elizabeth Bennet than any other actress helps account for my response to Death Comes to Pemberley, the movie

It’s obviously in the interplay between the originating book and this one that the pleasure, insight and compelling interest forward lies. We relive a favorite book from a modernized POV, we discover what happened to our beloved characters after the original author brought down the curtain, or we discover what they were like well before our favorite book began. One element, however, important, that explains why such wildly different reactions to the same or different sequels to the same book can occur is we (at least I) expect that the new author will be reading the original book in the spirit we have, that the new author share our POV on our favorite author or her books or life’s experiences or lead heroines. Once that is kept to or satisfied, it’s fascinating to see what a different genre shaping the same material can throw out (P&P as mystery thriller, or time-traveling tale, e.g, P&P as Lost in Austen, Persuasion as Lake House; the Austen matter as science fiction, Kathleen Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project)


This is also a time-traveling tale (very realistically imagined)

For me it’s probably important that my favorite among Austen’s six (more or less) finished mature fictions is Sense and Sensibility; that’s why I delighted in Trollope’s rewrite and Schine’s Three Weissmans (Margaret is omitted, the third main heroine is now the Mrs Dashwood figure). Also I find I compulsively read and become deeply engaged by Joanna Trollope’s contemporary fiction (e.g, Other People’s Children), about which she talks very insightfully in this video of hers, a contribution to the Literary Lockdown festival at Chawton House, done in the second year of the pandemic. Listen up:

She is a British variant on what Anne Tyler tries to provide American readers with (I loved Tyler’s Amateur Marriage, among others)

Tonight remembering my promise to keep these blogs reasonably sized, and because I’m tired over my day of exploring this topic across many Austen sequels (and the two Anthony Trollope’s, Rector’s Wife and The Choir) I will just thoroughly cover only one: Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. See briefer comment on The Three Weissmanns in comments and The JA Project (when I’ve read it in a coming blog.)

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What Joanna Trollope does marvelously well in her Sense and Sensibility rewrite is extrapolate out of the psychological analysis Austen suggests to offer us a contemporarily worded version; she is franker, more candid, more critical of those hurting the heroines as well as the heroines themselves. We come away more satisfied by the discourse surrounding the scenes, though (especially in the central sequence of Austen’s novel, from the time of Lucy inflicting knowledge of Edward’s engagement to Lucy upon Elinor, up to Marianne nearly bringing death upon herself in her humiliated grief) Austen has more bite, more acid, more visceral vividness, more sheer grief.

She read Austen’s book from the same angle and in the same light I do. For Joanna Trollope the central event of the book occurs when at the end of volume 1 Lucy forces on Elinor the knowledge of Lucy’s long term engagement to Elinor; I still remember how shaken I was reading Volume 2, Chapter 1, how searing I found Elinor’s agon and vigil. No one comes as close as Emma Thompson to capturing this emotional torture hidden. As in the old fable, like a wolf hugged to your chest, devouring your innards. Joanna Trollope has the revelation also as placed in last chapter of her Volume 1. Trollope takes equally seriously the humiliation of Marianne in a London public assembly — it occurs in a fashionable church wedding at the center of the book.

There is also more than a whiff of memory of some of scenes of the different film adaptations (she has watched many of them) and I can see the 2008 Andrew Davies’ cast in a number of the roles: it’s Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield’s voices and gestures and words she remembers; it’s Dominic Cooper’s crude cad for Willoughby; but she takes the elegant Robert Swann from the 1983 dark S&S by Alexander Baron for her Brandon). The lingering memories are from the exquisite beautiful photography of the Thompson/Ang movie. Mrs Jennings is tamed down (a loss there). Gemma Jones’s sense of bereftness in Mrs Dashwood remembered (1995 film).

For me an entrancing aspect of Joanna Trollope’s book is how closely she followed her original text; it’s as if she taxed herself literally to rewrite in 21st century terms. Keep as close as she could. So I made another outline of the type I have for Austen’s own books, not of a timeline this time, but of the parallels.

Trollope’s chapters much more of a consistent length, all longish, developed chapters; both novels divided into 3 volumes; these are consistent in length in Austen but not Trollope. In my old Penguin, Austen’s book is 323 pages; Trollope’s is 361.


Cooper as Willoughby and Morahan as Elinor in the confession scene, the angry paradigm adhered to (only softened from Austen’s austerity)

Volume I

First phase: Norland

Austen, Chapters 1-5 the time at Norland.

Trollope, Chapters 1 to the opening of 4: Trollope has Sir John Middleton come for a visit to invite them to Barton Park; she includes the beginning of the romance of Edward and Elinor; Chapter 2, Edward goes and comes back from Devonshire where he reports are affordable cottages (excuse is this is where he went to school); he is not on Facebook …

Second phase: Early phase of Barton Park and Cottage

Austen, Chapters 6-8 first experiences at Barton Park (meeting Mrs J, Brandon), Chapter 7: very brief, insipidity of Lady Middleton; Chapters 9-10 walk in rain where Willoughby rescues Marianne (car an Aston Martin) and then Willoughby’s first visit, romance begins quickly;
Austen, Chapters 11, 12, 13: offer of horse, are they engaged?, the broken off picnic and visit of Willoughby and Marianne to Allenham Chapter 14, dialogue on the merits of a cottage, Chapter 15 Willoughby suddenly must go; half way through 16 Edward arrives and stays until most of 18, into 19 when Elinor alone …

Trollope, Chapters 4-5 first experiences at Barton Park, meet same people (Brandon p 70). The treehouse from 1995 movie brought in. The walk in rain where Willoughby rescues Marianne (he rescues, comes to Barton cottage and leaves within a few minutes);
Trollope, Chapter 6 Elinor gets a job with Peter Austen firm; broken up picnic, rivalry of Willoughby (very nasty) and Brandon; time at Allingham where we learn later they did fuck in a bed there;
Trollope, Chapter 7 Marianne and Willoughby left alone, they return to find he’s gone, and no explanation just briefest of words; Marianne in tears but stubbornly says he is true; second half is Edward’s visit, thin, tired, in battered old Ford Sierra (p 141); he is gone early in Chapter 8, “no unhappier than usual.”


Gemma Jones as bereft Mrs Dashwood at Barton Cottage (1995 film)

Third phase – coming of Lucy and Nancy Steele, and proposal to go to London

Austen, Chapters 19-22: Coming of Palmers, then Lucy and Nancy Steele, then Lucy forcing confidences of engagement on Elinor (long almost 3 chapter sequence).

Trollope, Chapter 8 Among other things Elinor says Edward’s mother is his problem not mine and he’s got to stand up to her (a motif in the novels by Joanna Trollope I’ve read thus far: people have got to stand up to other people in order to survive); the Palmers and Steeles’s arrival, also ends on Lucy’s forcing confidences on Elinor.

Volume II

Austen, Chapters 23-25, p 117: Elinor’s vigil, dialogue with Lucy, enforced trip to London.
Trollope, Chapter 9, p 175: Elinor’s vigil, she caves into pressure to go to London.

Fourth phase: London

Austen, Chapters 26-29: Marianne seeking Willoughby; Brandon shows up; the climax at assembly; Willoughby’s letters …
Austen, Chapters 31-32: Aftermath, Brandon’s history of Willoughby and Eliza Williams; Chapter 33: John and Fanny Dashwood in town; Chapter 34 now Elinor supposedly humiliated by Mrs Ferrars over Miss Morton, but it’s Marianne who collapses (called “the important Tuesday to meet the formidable mother-in-law); Chapter 35 again Lucy visits, the encounter of the two rivals with Edward Chapeter 36: forced to spend time with Middleton’s and Dashwoods while Mrs Jennings tends to Charlotte and her new baby, they meet Robert; Lucy invited to stay with Fanny Dashwood.

[It does seem to me these central chapters of S&S are inexpressibly superior to the rewrite, and that the rewrite depends on our memory of these central chapters]

Trollope, Chapter 10 Much more interweaving between London and Barton Cottage before leaving London for Cleveland Park; London, Marianne with Mrs Jennings, Elinor visiting weekends begins and, in this chapter, the public humiliation of Marianne occurs at a wedding, it is caught on video and appears on YouTube, here it’s Tommy Palmer who rescues Marianne (imitating the 1983 movie where Brandon scoops her up);
Trollope, Chapter 11, p 207: Brandon offers modernized version of Eliza Williams and Willoughby’s betrayal of Brandon’s ward become a drug addict, John Dashwood’s urging Brandon on Elinor and ugly warning she cannot have Edward;
Trollope, Chapter 12, p 225: this includes brief return to Barton Cottage (as in 2008/9 film) and second climactic humiliation by Mrs Ferrars of Elinor with Lucy watching – ludicrous rivalry over children, Bill Brandon here (Bill as a name made me cringe; I much preferred Emma Thompson’s choice of Christopher);
Trollope, Chapter 13, p 251 – they are leaving London, destination Barton cottage, Fanny’s absurd invitation to the Steele sisters, Elinor resolves not to be victim any more – so at the end of Volume 2 we are at the same place in this new book as Austen’s.

Volume III

Austen, Chapter 37 (starts at 1 again), p 217, and we have Mrs Jennings running in breathless to report the debacle at the Dashwoods over Nancy telling Fanny that Lucy and Edward engaged, the child with red gum (or something else) and John Dashwood’s outrageously amoral response (which he thinks pious); Chapter 38: Elinor’s meeting with Nancy Steele at Kensington (the information about Edward used best by 1971 production; Chapter 39: Colonel’s offer of vicarage position to Edward and Lucy; 40-41 Dashwood’s astonishment, Edward’s despair and all ready to leave for Cleveland Park.

Trollope, Chapter 14, p 261: now it’s after birth of Palmer child, and Mrs Jennings’s to and fro, that Marianne learns of Edward’s engagement to Lucy and Elinor insists Marianne not humiliate Elinor further or harass Edward, insists Edward, however mad in this, doing the right thing –- against all his family’s hideous values. Elinor explicitly stands up for a different set of norms (which Austen does not); Marianne’s beginning her slow self-regenerating conversion to a better person;
Trollope, Chapter 15, p 273: Marianne and Elinor (& Margaret there so too Mrs Dashwood) – action back at Barton and also Exeter – Brandon and Elinor meet (she is now Ellie all the time, and a new take on Edward’s behavior: although on principle admirable, psychologically and sociologically deeply self-destructive, a form of madness understandable from his background and present circumstances (I did think of the 1971 Robin Ellis in his attic); Elinor tells Edward of job offer from Brandon.

Fifth phase: return to Devonshire in stages, denouement and quick coda

Austen, Chapters 42-43: The trek to Cleveland and Marianne’s semi-suicidal walk, deep illness, recovery; Chapter 44: Willoughby’s visit, confession, Elinor’s forgiveness (irritating, scene skipped in 1996 and finally made condemnatory in 2008); Chapter 45: mother’s arrival; Brandon begins ascendancy with mother; Chapters 46-47: home again, Marianne improving, Elinor reports Willoughby’s confession and we are to understand but Marianne now determines she was herself in the wrong when compared to Elinor (Imlac like); Brandon hanging about; Thomas’s tale of Edward’s marriage to Lucy;
Austen, Chapters 48-49: Elinor’s distress until Edward’s return; the renewal and engagement; 50: coping with Mrs Ferrars; Lucy wins out, as a coda too quickly put there Marianne we are told succumbs to Brandon.

Trollope, Chapter 16: Marianne still at Cleveland and catches bad cold, moves to pneumonia (possibly), but Elinor does not realize, only with her asthma takes turn to where she must be hospitalized in emergency room, in time to be saved – whole long sequence here; does recover, Bill goes for Mrs Dashwood; Chapter 17: another packed chapter with Elinor’s inward soliloquy, talk with mother, the news of Edward’s marriage, Marianne back, and then Edward shows up, unmarried to Lucy but eager for Elinor;
Trollope, Chapters 18-19: there are analogues for each move in the last chapters of S&S including John and Fanny’s despicable norms (made explicitly obnoxious), Mrs Ferrars’s despicable (made contemptible) consistency, the coming together through a walk of Marianne and Brandon, of talk and joy in Elinor and Edward (they take over tree house), but alas Trollope is much weaker than Austen’s; one factor is that Austen is much quicker at this ending because Trollope concerned to build up relationship between Brandon and Marianne, to bring Marianne back down to reality much more slowly; make more understandable what happened to Edward.

[Trollope’s Elinor only central presence from Volume II opening on but not quite the suffusion across and within the text of that Austen’s Elinor is.]

And yet at the end of the book, it is not Austen’s POV that lifts our hearts, and makes us feel the troubles we have been through with our heroines are endurable; it’s Trollope’s. For the style is finally her deft one; several attitudes of hers rather than Austen’s — her characters are far more intertwined with one another than most of Austen’s (except when it comes to a sister, close friend in suffering). Class injuries are at the core of Austen’s books, gender inequality (except for female bullies) Trollope’s.

I have been told the 6 writers chosen for this project of rewriting, modernizing Jane Austen’s novels were told to keep the new books “light” — I’m glad to report Joanna Trollope didn’t do this.


Ang Lee’s landscapes from 1995 felt remembered

Ellen

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The journey from Norland to Barton Cottage, found in all S&S films, both heritage and appropriations (this from Davies’s 2009 JA’s S&S)

Gentle readers,

As an appendix to my review of Persuasion 2022, plus 4, I’m answering a query I got in three places: what are my choices for Austen films very much worth the watching. I came up with 3 sets for heritage films, and a small group of appropriations. I don’t say others do not have good qualities and interest, but these to me are outstanding.

My criteria: I think a film should convey the book in spirit: the following films are very well done throughout, add to and enrich our understanding of the books, and are works of art in their own right fully achieved

1st set:

1995 Persuasion, BBC, Michell and Dear (Amanda Root & Ciarhan Hinds)
1996 Sense and Sensibility, Miramax, Thompson & Ang (Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet)
1995 Pride and Prejudice, BBC A&E, Andrew Davies & Langton (Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle)
1983 Mansfield Park, BBC, Giles and Taylor (Sylvestre Le Tousel & Nicholas Farrell)
2007 Northanger Abbey, ITV, Andrew Davies & Jones (Felicity Jones & JJFeilds)
1972 Emma, BBC, John Glenister & Constanduros (Doran Goodwin & John Carson)


Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price writing from her nest of comforts to her brother William (note his drawing of his ship), one of my favorite chapters in the book (1983 MP)

2nd set

1979 Pride and Prejudice, BBC, Fay Weldon (Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul)
2008 ITV (BBC and Warner, among others) Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Andrew Davies & John Alexander (Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield)
2009-10 BBC Emma, Jim O’Hanlon, & Sandy Welch (Romola Garai & Johnny Lee Miller)
1999 Miramax Mansfield Park (MP and Juvenilia and JA’s letters), Patricia Rozema (Francis O’Connor & Johnny Lee Miller)


Doran Goodwin as Emma deliberately breaking her shoestring so as to maneuver Harriet and Mr Elton to be alone (1972 Emma)

3rd set
1996 BBC Emma, Davies and Lawrence (Kate Beckinsale & Samantha Morton)
2007 ITV (Clerkenwell in association with WBGH) Persuasion, Snodin & Shergold (Sally Hawkins, Rupert Penry-Jones)


Aubrey Rouget (Carolyne Farina), the Fanny Price character at St Patrick’s Cathedral with her mother, Christmas Eve (Metropolitan is also a Christmas in NYC movie)

Appropriations

2000 Sri Surya Kandukondain Kandukondain or I have found it (S&S), Menon (Tabu, Aishwarya Rai)
1990 Indie Metropolitan (mostly MP, w/Emma), Whit Stillman (Christopher Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, and Carolyn Farina, Allison Rutledge-Parisi, Isabel Gilles)
1993 Republic Ruby in Paradise (NA), Victor Nunez (Ashley Judd, Todd Field)
2008 Granada/ITV/Mammoth/ScreenYorkshire Lost In Austen (P&P), Andrews and Zeff (Jemima Rooper & Elliot Cowan)
2013 BBC Death Comes to Pemberley (P&P), Daniel Percival & Juliette Towhidi (Anna Maxwell Martin, Mathew Rhys)
2007 Mockingbird/John Calley The Jane Austen Book Club (all 6), Robin Swicord (Mario Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt)
2006 Warner Bros. Lake House (Persuasion), Agresti & Auburn (Sandra Bullock, Keenu Reeves, Christopher Plummer)


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in reverie, during a walk, facing the river (Miss Austen Regrets)

Biopic

008 BBC/WBGH Miss Austen Regrets (from David Nokes’ biography & JA’s letters) Lovering & Hughes (Olivia Willias, Greta Scacchi, Hugh Bonneville)

See my Austen Filmography for particulars

My Austen Miscellany contains links to many of the blog-reviews I’ve written.


Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood wandering: as Elinor is my favorite of all the heroines, so Hattie Morahan is nowadays my favorite embodiment (Davies’s S&S, Part 3)

Ellen

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Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell, a companion-mentor as Mrs Weston to Emma rather than the more severe mother-substitute of the book (Persuasion 2022) —  I like her hats & clothing


Sandra Bullock as Dr Kate Foster, the Anne Elliot character, explains the meaning of her favorite novel, Persuasion, to Alex Wyler (Wentworth, now an architect) as she understands it (Lake House, 2007)

Friends and readers,

Many people may not know there have been six Persuasion film adaptations: I’ve never seen the 1960 British serial (it is probably wiped out), but this past week under the influence of, or having an impulse after seeing the latest American commercial Netflix product, I watched the extant other four (the 1971 BBC Persuasion; the 1995 BBC Persuasion; 2007 indie with Warner Bros Lake House; and the 2007 ITV & WBGH Persuasion) and then re-watched the latest, while taking down the screenplay as best I could (remember my stenography). I’ve read the book countless times; it was once my favorite novel by Austen. And written countless postings in many places and given papers on the book in conferences too.

The burden of my song here will be that this new adaptation resembles the older ones in numerous ways; there is nothing startlingly different. So I oppose most of the negative reviews (here’s an intelligent one from the New Yorker: A Not Very Persuasive Persuasion; and here are two likening it to a British TV serial, Fleabag; “it feels like the death of something”) and an unusual very positive one from Vogue (appropriately they find it ever so stylish). What the new Persuasion does do is alter the character of the heroine; and that’s where I think the deep offence comes. The central core of an Austen book is its heroine (or paired heroines); she or they are the genius loci of each book. Now Patrice Rozema altered the character of Fanny Price for her 1999 Mansfield Park and the audience was delighted; but this is a special case where many readers of Austen don’t like the book because they don’t like the heroine, and Rosema’s sarky character is drawn from the Austen’s letters and the narrator of the Juvenilia. In the case of Persuasion, most readers love Anne Elliot, and to remove her and her depths of emotion is to remove the central appeal and themes of the book.

So, first to make my case by a brief survey of the four

To me it’s no coincidence that the film I consider the outstanding best of all the Austen films made to date, is a Persuasion one from the stellar years for Austen films, the 1990s: the 1995 one directed by Roger Michell, screenplay Nick Dear: Two lonely, nay stranded people trying to reach one another; Poetry, Music and Place. There are so many persuasive gloriously humanly felt scenes, and wonderfully effective talk and movement and colors, I can’t begin to suggest the quality of this film so content myself with one still of Fiona Shaw speaking from the heart about how she was only lonely when she did not accompany the admiral aboard ship, which was every time after the first

This film and the 2007 one are deeply evocative of the heroine’s inner nature and they stand in contrast to the new film; this is like the new film for bringing us intense dialogue interaction, eye interaction between hero and heroine.


One of many, Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth ends sharing the center with Amanda Root as Anne

The ITV 2007 resembles or anticipates the new (2022) one in that the film is ostensibly of the faithful heritage type, but departs in a number of ways from the original story line, including a change in the character of the central heroine. I don’t care for the truncated ending, especially the last scene where Anne blindfolded, let’s Wentworth guide her where he will (he improbably has purchased Kellynch for her, and it looks way too big for them). But the truly brilliant actress, Sally Hawkins as Anne conveys a level of distraught emotional pain (a barely submerged romantic hysteria that is felt in other of Austen’s books too now and again) that is almost alarming. But this is not replacing or changing the character, it is deepening the psychology to its logical conclusion. Hawkins carries the film, central to it, speaking to silently through her eyes, going over her precious relics (his letters, the small gifts that she keeps in a cherished box). I wrote a blog for this too: Anne grieving:

Shergold and Michell equally brings out the book’s subtexts for Mr Elliot (in Tobias Menzies’ subtle performance an insinuating desire), and a memorably disabled empathetic Harville (Joseph Mawle, also seen strikingly in two Foyle episodes as a wounded soldier returned)

Arguably, Lakehouse avoided high irritation because it was not marketed as an Austen adaptation — nowadays slender hooks are enough to label something “Austen adaptation” (though I’m told Fire Island is really a very free adaptation of Pride and Prejudice — “you have to see it to feel this” is what is said). Agresti made a brilliant meditation on the question of whether love may be retrieved years later, on the probable intervention of death (aging is an important theme in Austen’s book). Here is my full explanation of this fascinating contemporary take


The magical dwelling made of glass (on stilts over the lake) with the mailbox seen in front through which across time our hero and heroine reach one another until time and death cut them off

It is rarely recognized because the storyline is different; the Persuasion origin is shown through the four times the book, a Norton edition, is part of the story. The first time Kate left it by mistake on a bench in railway station, and Alex Wyler, the architect hero picks it up for her. Kate says it is about how a couple came near to falling in love and didn’t and years later met again and fell in love but didn’t manage to pull it off and stay together. That time could not be retrieved. But we know that Wentworth and Anne loved; they were parted by others, and when they met again, and loved again they retrieved time and stayed together. The second time she just has it to hand and seems to read from it an axiom: the lovers must get together, “how can two hearts so open, tastes so similar, feelings so in unison” remain apart; the last time the now battered copy pulled out from under the floor causes her to cry.

If my reader/watcher has the patience to enter into the older dramaturgy, there is much to be said for the long lingering 1971 BBC film. Bryan Marshall was a wonderfully complex Wentworth; the fine actor had intelligent dialogue to speak, and the adaptation kept close to the book, showing the hero only slowly recognizing his love, and the renewed threat to it.


Wentworth returned from sea, a worn man, seeing Anne again for the first time It is the closest of all five (and probably the sixth) to the book, but it is innovative.

The innovation in 1971 was the use of landscape, filming at length in the countryside (each of the walks), and close to a rough seashore in Lyme.


Three separate highly varied sequences of landscape represented by just one


The stone portico leads into wild waters (the 2007 film was filmed just here, the same angle)

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Dakota Johnson as our new Anne (this is not the only time she makes a fool of herself — she once spills the wine she is supposed to be endlessly drinking all over her head)

As I suggested it’s the new Anne who won’t do. There is no need for me to repeat the many descriptions of this new Anne — she is all over the Net just now. I do have some qualifications about the aesthetics of the presentation. The idea that Dakota Johnson talking to us comes from Fleabag is nonsense — it is not uncommon for Austen heroines in Austen films to speak to us, because it is not uncommon for women’s films to do this. Second, those who say this show they watch only popular films made with a male audience in mind and there both voice-over and talking at the audience are taboo.

It’s also absurd to say adddressing an audience and over-voice are undramatic. The character establishes a relationship with the viewer: examples, 1999 Rozema MP (who is really sarky and gets jokes out while this dialogue for Dakota is simply dull), 1993 Ruby in Paradise (an appropriation of Northanger Abbey), the 2007 MP Fanny Price, Bridget Jones, one of the Emma movies (Gweneth Paltrow writing in a diary to us). Voice over is everywhere in Outlander but notably only in one episode does the hero do it — and very effective it is. It’s considered intellectual or beneath a male dignity most of the time.

I can see Rothman’s point that maybe this ever-so-cool semi-sarky posturing is a veneer over anguish; she certainly sees the flaws in her family (as did Ann Firbank in the long ago 1971 film — very candidly and angrily). Anne is given many witty lines as is the obnoxious not just jealous but domineering Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce). If the Vogue article is right, and this is a modern sensibility, then nasty cracks are in (both Musgrove girls get in some), and sensitivity out, unless it’s well-hidden or morphs into self-deprecation. The new Anne recalls the 1940s housewife popular book, The Egg and I.


Cosmo Jarvis as Wentworth

What most interested me in the film was the changes in Wentworth. At first he participates in the film’s (to me distressing) philistine insults of Anne’s grief: she is accused of being sullen because she sits outside the family circle; it’s a way it seems of making herself stand out. How dare she? (These film-makers believe a mass audience demands social conformity.) But within a brief time, he changes presumably by being around her (during the now familiar walk) and is not only her barrier against the children and helper into a carriage, but openly loving. Viewers have ignored the de-masculinization of Wentworth; there is no hint of toxic or guarded masculinity. He does not dress up, but very much down. Look at his wrinkled and ill-fitting clothes. He needs a wash. He’s like a male out of a Hardy novel. One problem here was Jarvis was perhaps uncomfortable in the role; as an actor, he reminds me of Aiden Turner, too stiff.

As I suggested above, the changes in Lady Russell to make her a companion is what is seen in Austen’s own Emma — and I did love their scenes picnicking (over macaroons), and walking and talking; this Lady Russell is no enemy to Wentworth because she is no snob (I wonder if her blackness was part of a sense of egalitarianism). Mr Elliot (Henry Golding) is altered too – to be a smooth (to me slim-y) hypocrite. On the other hand, the development of Louisa (Nia Towle) as genuinely attracted to Wentworth (not just a child worshipping the glamorous man who she intuits needs prompting to pay attention to her) is appealing. A sense of friendship between Anne and Louisa thickens the movie’s feel. But as with the 2007 Persuasion, some of the characters were either not differentiated sufficiently, not felt as presences (the Crofts, the older Musgroves, Mrs Clay, Henrietta). Charles was simply good-natured and well-meaning (not truly annoyed by Mary), but I admit I found Ben Bailey the handsomest or most physically appealing male in the cast.


Charles with Mary in church (the plot-point that he loved Anne before marrying Mary is kept)

Or they were caricatures (Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Mrs Clay). Of course both films were too short (2007 was also 90 minutes).

I found it interesting to trace the screenplay but this also brought out how little of Austen’s language survives. The deepest appeal of the 1995, 2007 and 1971 movies is how much of Austen’s language they keep and how meaningful they make it.

It is the most integrated costume drama I’ve seen, and not seemingly blindly so, for people’s appearance is kept in mind: Charles and Mary’s children look like what their union would produce

But I cannot really praise this film — it ends like the 2007 with Anne in the arms of Wentworth. One can say of Sally Hawkins she was active on behalf of her family; worked for them, and visited Mrs Smith (I missed Mrs Smith in this film), showed some individual character. This Anne begins in Wentworth’s arm and ends there — like a child with its mother. How is a film a contemporary one which gives the woman watching it this kind of central figure?

My reader may remember I intensely disliked parts of the recent Emma, for (among other things) losing the whole meaning of the second half of the book (the Jane Fairfax story), erasing any feminism or relationship between Harriet and Emma that could be vicarious sex or lesbian, and the sexing up of Mr Knightley to the point his pants were so tight one could see the outline of his penis. I have a much more mixed reaction here, and say merely that the “new” Persuasion shares much with the other Persuasion films, but is probably the poorest thus far because the film-makers did not sympathize with the inner life of the book.

I close on two reviews which appeared in the Washington Post: Sonia Rao said Dakota Johnson is being misused again! Johnson’s career includes the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey. Now I didn’t know that. She then also brings the baggage of soft-core porn. Martine Powers wrote the movie made her remember how much loss and grief she had experienced during the pandemic — partly because Anne was so alone. She opens the review by talking of the book and perhaps she poured into this movie memories of the book. Powers said it speaks to caregivers! This is such a misread I’m startled. Anne is never alone; she is never trusted to do anything in this film — except stay with the useless complaining Mary. If this is what is to be done nowadays in a heritage type film marketed as an Austen product (to make money), or how they are used, understood, then stick to appropriations, modern dress. Better yet, write an original story instead.

Ellen

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Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price, writing to her brother, amid her “nest of comforts” (which includes many books) in 1983 BBC Mansfield Park

“Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (Carol Shields, Mary Swann).

La bibliothèque devient une aventure” (Umberto Eco quoted by Chantal Thomas, Souffrir)

Dear friends, readers — lovers of Austen and of books,

Over on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, I provided the four photos it takes to capture most of my books on and by Anthony Trollope, and explained why. You may also find a remarkably informative article on book ownership in England from medieval times on and what makes up a library. I thought I’d match that blog with a photo of my collection of books by and on Jane Austen, and in her case, books about her family, close friends, specific aspects of her era having to do with her. Seven shelves of books.

I have a second photo of 3 wide shelves filled with my DVD collection (I have 33 of the movies and/or serial TV films), my notebooks of screenplays and studies of these films, as well as books on Austen films of all sorts. These three shelves also contain my books of translations of Austen into French and/or Italian, as well as a numerous sequels, many of which I’ve not had the patience or taste to read but have been given me.

My book collection for Austen is smaller than my own for Trollope because even though I have many more books on her, she wrote only seven novels, left three fragments, some three notebooks of juvenilia, and a remnant of her letters is all that survives. For each of her novels or books I have several editions, but that’s still only seven plus. By contrast, Trollope wrote 47 novels and I won’t go on to detail all his other writing. OTOH, there are fewer books on him, and the movie adaptations of his books are in comparison very few.


There’s no equivalent movie for The Jane Austen Book Club where members vow to read all Jane Austen all the time

So although I won’t go to the absurdity of photographing my many volumes of the periodical Persuasions, and what I have of the Jane Austen Society of Britain bulletin like publications, I can show the little row of books I’m reading just now about her and towards a paper for the Victorian Web.

The project includes reading some Victorian novels written with similar themes, and Henry James’s Spoils of Poynton; for me it is true that Austen is at the center of a group of women (and men too) writers and themes that mean a lot to me, so I have real libraries of other women writers I have read a great deal of and on and have anywhere from two to three shelves of books for and by, sometimes in the forms of folders:

these are Anne Radcliffe (one long and half of a very long bookshelf), Charlotte Smith (two long bookshelfs), Fanny Burney (three, mostly because of different sets of her journals), George Eliot (one long and half of another long bookshelf), Gaskell (two shorter bookshelves), Oliphant (scattered about but probably at least one very long bookshelf). Virginia Woolf is another woman writer for whom I have a considerable library, and of course Anne Finch (where the folders and notebooks take up far more room than any published books).

As with Trollope starting in around the year 2004 I stopped xeroxing articles, and now have countless in digital form in my computer; I also have a few books on Austen digitally. The reason I have so many folders for Smith, Oliphant, Anne Finch (and other women writers before the 18th century) is at one time their books were not available except if I xeroxed a book I was lucky enough to find in a good university or research library. You found your books where you could, went searching in second hand book stores with them in mind too.

One of my favorite poems on re-reading Jane Austen — whom I began reading at age 12, and have never stopped:

“Re-reading Jane”

To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of those needle eyes . . .
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley’s were she your equal in situation —
but consider how far this is from being the case

shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.

Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners! Hymeneal theology!
Six little circles of hell, with attendant humours.
For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?
The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr Bennet’s century;
The Garden of Eden’s still there in the grounds of Pemberley.

The amazing epitaph’s ‘benevolence of heart’
precedes ‘the extraordinary endowments of her mind’
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we’d look to you.
You knew the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely
, she spoke for you.

—– Anne Stevenson


The Jane Austen Book Club meets in a hospital when a member has a bad accident

Gentle readers, I can hardly wait to see the second season of the new Sanditon on PBS; my daughter, Laura (Anibundel) much involved with WETA (PBS) nowadays, writing reviews and such, who has read the fragment and books about Austen tells me it is another good one.


Chapman’s classic set (appears as Christmas present in Stillman’s Metropolitan): for our first anniversary Jim bought me a copy of Sense and Sensibility in the Chapman set (1924, without the later pastoral cover)

Ellen

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An Austen family tree

Dear friends and readers,

An article with new significant information about the Austen family and slavery has been published by the Times Literary Supplement for May 21, 2021: Devoney Looser’s “Breaking the Silence.” Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, and, as a TLS paper and digital subscriber, the only way I can access the online article is through an app on my ipad (which I have never succeeded in downloading). A complicated app arrangement effectively prevents me from reading, much less sharing the text (History Today plays the same game). I have read the paper version and so share the article by summarizing the content — and offering a few comments on the article and topic. I add material as well.


Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire; one of a number of country houses who are currently candidates as inspiration for Mansfield Park

It’s been long known that Jane Austen’s father, George had economic and social ties to a West Indian plantation through his familial relations and friendships. Looser sets out to correct misinformation, exaggeration, and confused muddles. Briefly, George Austen met James Langford Nibbs at Oxford where he may have been a tutor or proctor. Nibbs’s second son was sent home to be educated by George Austen among his other male pupils at Steventon. George married Nibbs to Barbara Langford (an heiress) in a London church; Nibbs chose the George Austen to educate his second son in the school set up in the parsonage; and George was co-trustee in a marriage settlement that involved disbursing legacies or funds for chosen relatives. The other co-trustee was Morris Robinson, brother to Elizabeth Montagu, a pivotal person among women intellectuals in Bath, London, and elsewhere. Looser suggests maybe we could find more connection between this famous bluestocking and Jane, at the same time as she dissociates George from direct economic activity and any personal gain from slavery. It was the tenant or owner who directly directed what happened on and to the property and it was probably Morris Robinson who managed the trust.

On Jane’s naval brothers: Looser goes on to Francis and Charles who it has been known for some time had abolitionist sympathies. She requotes the quotations usually cited. She does not mention that Francis was known as a severe flogger — pressing is a form of kidnapping and in effect enslaving white men for a period of time; flogging them to force them to do the work they were kidnapped to do is horrible. She also omits Francis’s awards from the imperialistic investments and insurers (part of what any captain who was successful in ventures would get); these Brian Southam tries to list and finds to have been modest (Jane Austen and the Navy, p 120-21).

As to Henry, it seems that late in life Henry Austen attended an 1840 anti-slavery convention in London and heard Thomas Clarkson, whose writings Jane in a letter said she admired so much, speak. He was not among those painted by Benjamin Robert Hayden in a well-known picture of the people who attended this convention, but he was one of two delegates for Colchester where he was a clergyman. We cannot know what if anything he actively did besides show up. I wrote a short life of Henry Austen for this blog (from research I did and articles I read before Clery’s book on Henry as a banker came out) and discovered that in his career as a military man he attended a court martial of men (again originally pressed) who had mutinied. So equally he publicly supported harsh cruel punishment of men kidnapped and in effect enslaved. Henry’s motives for attending public political spectacles seem to me problematic.


Charlotte Haywood (Rose Williams) and Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) becoming friends in the ITV Sanditon

Of course the real interest in finding all this out is what were Jane Austen’s attitudes, and it seems from Looser’s account (on my own reading of the letters here on this blog over 3 years) on the whole Austen was quietly anti-slavery. The evidence consists of her admiration for Thomas Clarkson’s writings (not specified, it must be admitted, what she admires Clarkson for). In Mansfield Park there is Fanny Price’s famous question to her exhausted uncle home from Antigua where “the slave trade” was central to extracting wealth; his answer is not told but rather our attention is directed to how silent his children become, and we are to see them as arrogant, ignorant or indifferent about slavery or their father’s hard work, or uncomfortable that such a subject is brought up — or perhaps feeling Fanny is showing off in front of her uncle (a suspicion her girl cousins feel about her when younger). Looser also mentions Austen’s “mixed race West Indian heiress named Miss Lambe” in the unfinished Sanditon: this character gets a lot of attention nowadays since the TV serial adaptation.


Jane Fairfax (Laurie Pypher) telling Emma she has been “exhausted for a very long time” and needs to go back to her aunt’s small apartment (2009 BBC Emma, scripted Sandy Welch)

Alas, Looser is another critic who (to me) mysteriously overlooks Emma, where the amount of concrete specific reference to slavery is, if anything, far longer and interestingly complicated with women’s subjection than the single dramatic dialogue (a passage) in Mansfield Park. Jane Fairfax likens governessing to slavery, and employment offices to marketplaces dealing in selling human flesh (she does not allude to anything sexual in the masters of such houses, but rather the body and strength of the repressed hard-worked young woman who puts herself in service to caste-ridden households). Mrs Elton (an heiress herself) takes up Jane’s allusion to deny that her brother-in-law’s wealth (and Maple Grove, the mansion and estate she has so boasted about) owe anything to “the slave trade;” maybe not, but Bristol was one of the ports where enslaved people were brought, held, sold, and she and her family hail from there.

Looser concludes by addressing and also talking about those whom she suggests resist such discussions and says their silence is wrong, a form of erasure of the full context of Austen’s world and books. Silence today is collusion and complicity with enslavement — in the way the Bertrams’ cousins’ silence feels like in Mansfield Park.

Ellen

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From the East Central region, American Society of 18th century Studies site: Art and Rarity Cabinet c. 1630 by Hans III Jordaens


Cassandra’s portrait drawing of Jane Austen graces the JASNA home page

Dear friends and readers,

Since 2000 I have gone almost every year to the East Central (regional ASECS) meeting, and I have gone to a number of the JASNA meetings. In view of the covid pandemic (now having killed 223,000 people in the US, with the number rising frighteningly daily), this year EC/ASECS decided to postpone their plan to meet in the Winterthur museum to next year and instead do an abbreviated version of what they do yearly.

By contrast, the JASNA Cleveland group did everything they could to replicate everything that usually goes on at at JASNA, only virtually, through zooms, videos, websites. It was an ambitious effort, marred (unfortunately) because (why I don’t know) much didn’t go quite right (to get to somewhere you had to take other options). It was “rolled out” something like the usual JASNA, a part at a time, so you could not plan ahead or compare easily or beforehand; but now is onsite, all at once, everything (at long last) working perfectly. I visited (or attended or whatever you want to call these experiences) two nights ago and last night, and can testify that since I usually myself go to listen to the papers at the sessions or lectures, I probably enjoyed the JASNA more than I usually do at the usual conference. If you didn’t care for what you were seeing or hearing for whatever reason, it was very easy to click away; you could see what was available all at once, watch far more than one intended to be given at the same time. You can skim along using your cursor …

IN this blog I offer a brief review of both conferences.

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A detail from one of Canaletto’s paintings from around the Bacino Di San Marco, Venice: a lady and gentleman

In our “Brief Intermission,” for EC/ASECS, on Friday, in the evening we had our aural/oral experience, a couple of hours together where we read 18th century poetry and occasionally act out an abbreviated version of a play; during the later afternoon we had one panel of papers, this one about researching unusual subjects itself. Saturday morning, there was one panel of papers by graduate students competing for the Molin prize (given out for excellence to a paper by a graduate student each year); than at 1 pm there was the business meeting (sans lunch unless you were eating from wherever you were while you attended the zoom), and the Presidential Address: this year a splendid one, appropriate to the time, John Heins describing the creation, history and grounds of Dessau-Worlitz Park (Garden Realm) in Eastern Germany, a World Heritage site, with the theme of trying to experience a place fully although you are not literally there by its images, conjuring up in one’s mind, the place we might like to be but are not in. I didn’t count but my impression was we had anywhere from 25 (the aural/oral fun) to 37/40 people for the four sessions. I enjoyed all of it, as much (as other people said) to be back with friends, see familiar faces, talk as friends (chat before and after papers).

I will single out only a couple of papers from Friday’s panel. First, Jeremy Chow’s paper, “Snaking the Gothic” was in part about the way animals are portrayed in 18th century culture, focusing on snakes. It seems the identification as poisonous (fearful) led to their being frequently used erotically. I found this interesting because of an incident in one of the episodes of the fifth Season of Outlander where a bit from a poisonous snake threatens to make an amputation of Jamie’s lower leg necessary but a combination of 20th century knowhow, and 18th century customs, like cutting the snake’s head off, extracting the venom and using it as an antidote becomes part of the way his leg is saved. In other words, it is used medically. Ronald McColl, a special collections librarian, spoke on William Darlington, American physician, botanist and politician whose life was very interesting (but about whom it is difficult to find information).

People read from or recited a variety of texts in the evening; I read aloud one of my favorite poems by Anne Finch, The Goute and the Spider (which I’ve put on this blog in another posting). I love her closing lines of comforting conversation to her suffering husband.

For You, my Dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yett so poor to fright the Gout away:
May you but some unfrequent Visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that Grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the Nuptial state admitt
Such cares but new endeaments ot begett,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first Maid a Husband, Him a Wife.

People read from novels too. This session everyone was relatively relaxed, and there was lots of chat and even self-reflexive talk about the zoom experience.

The high point and joy of the time to me was John Heins’ paper on Worlitz park: he had so many beautiful images take of this quintessentially Enlightenment picturesque park (where he and his wife had been it seems several times), as he told its history, the people involved in landscaping it, how it was intended to function inside the small state, and the houses and places the different regions and buildings in the park are based on. He ended on his own house built in 1947, called Colonial style, in an area of Washington, DC, from which he was regaling us. He brought home to me how much of my deep enjoyment of costume drama and BBC documentaries is how both genres immerse the viewer in landscapes, imagined as from the past, or really extant around the world (Mary Beard’s for example). He seemed to talk for a long time, but it could not have been too long for me.


Amalia’s Grotto in the gardens of Wörlitz

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Andrew Davies’s 2019 Sanditon: our heroine, Charlotte (Rose Williams) and hero, Sidney Parker (Theo James) walking on the beach …

I found three papers from the Breakout sessions, one talk from “Inside Jane Austen’s World,”, and one interview from the Special Events of special interest to me. (Gentle reader if you want to reach these pages, you must have registered and paid some $89 or so by about a week before the AGM was put online; now go to the general page, type in a user name and password [that takes setting up an account on the JASNA home page]). The first paper or talk I found common sensical and accurate (as well as insightful) was by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, on Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. They repeated Janet Todd’s thesis in a paper I heard a few months ago: that Austen’s Sanditon shows strong influence by Northanger Abbey, which Austen had been revising just the year before. Young girl leaves loving family, goes to spa, has adventures &c. They offered a thorough description of how Davies “filled in the gaps” left by what Austen both wrote and implied about how she intended to work her draft up into a comic novel. They presented the material as an effective realization and updating of Austen’s 12 chapter draft, ironically appropriately interrupted and fragmentary. I will provide full notes from their paper in my comments on my second blog-essay on this adaptation.

The second was Douglas Murray’s “The Female Rambler Novel & Austen’s Juvenilia, concluding with a comment on Pride & Prejudice. He did not persuade me Austen’s burlesque Love and Freindship was like the genuinely rambling (picaresque) novels he discussed, but the characteristics of these as he outlined them, and his descriptions of several of them (e.g., The History of Charlotte Summer, The History of Sophia Shakespeare – he had 35 titles), & James Dickie’s study of cruelty and laughter in 18th century fiction (Doug discussed this book too, with reference to Austen), were full of interesting details made sense of. Of course Austen’s heroine, Elizabeth, as we all remember, goes rambling with her aunt and uncle in Derbyshire and lands at Pemberley just as Darcy is returning to it.


There have been some attempts at good illustration for Catherine, or the Bower

Elaine Bander’s paper, “Reason and Romanticism, or Revolution: Jane Austen rewrites Charlotte Smith in Catherine, or The Bower” interested me because of my studies and work (papers, an edition of Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake, many blogs) on Charlotte Smith. She did not persuade me that Austen seriously had in mind Smith for the parts of her story (was “re-composing” Smith’s novels). But hers is the first thorough accounting for this first and unfinished realistic courtship novel by Austen I’ve come across, and on this fragment’s relationship to an 18th century didactic work by Hannah More, to other of Austen’s novels (especially the idea of a bower as a sanctuary, a “nest of comforts”, character types, Edward Stanley a Wickham-Frank Churchill). I draw the line on the way Elaine found the aunt simply a well-meaning dominating presence: Mrs Perceval is one in a long line of cruel-tongued repressive bullying harridans found across Austen’s work. Austen is often made wholesome by commentators — I find her disquieting. Elaine suggested that Juliet McMaster (who gave a plenary lecture, and told an autobiographical story for the opening framing of the conference) in a previous Persuasions suggested a persuasive ending for the uncompleted book. Her talk was also insightful and accurate in her description of Smith’s novels, their mood, their revolutionary outlook and love of the wild natural world: “packed with romance and revolution, bitterly attacking the ancien regime, injustice, describing famous and momentous world events, including wars — quite different from Austen (I’d say) even if in this book Austen does homage to all Smith’s novels.

As to “Special Events,” I listened briefly to an interview of Joanna Trollope and her daughter, Louise Ansdell (someone high on a board at Chawton House – why am I not surprised?): Trollope, I thought, told the truth when she said young adult readers today, let’s say having reached young adulthood by 2000 find Jane Austen’s prose very hard to read. What I liked about these comments was they suggest why it is so easy to make movies today that are utter travesties of Austen’s novels (the recent Emma) where say 30 years ago movie-makers were obliged to convey something of the real mood, themes, and major turning points of Austen’s novels.

“Inside Jane Austen’s world included talks about cooking, what to put in your reticule (and so on). Sandy Lerner re-read a version of her paper on carriages in Austen’s time that I heard years ago (and have summarized elsewhere on this blog). Of interest to me was Mary Gaither Marshall’s discussion of her own collection of rare Austen books, including a first edition of Mansfield Park (she is a fine scholar): she told of how books were printed (laborious process), how the person who could afford them was expected to re-cover them fancily, the workings of the circulating library &c. She said her first acquisitions were two paperbacks which she bought when she was 10 year old.

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This last makes me remember how I first read Austen, which I’ve told too many times here already, but it is a fitting ending to this blog.

On Face-book I saw a question about just this, from the angle of what led someone to read Austen’s books in a “new” (or different way), without saying what was meant by these words — as in what was my “old” or previous way of reading her. I can’t answer such a question because my ways of reading Austen or eras do not divide up that way. But I like to talk of how I came to study Austen and keep a faith in the moral value of her books despite all that surrounds them today, which go a long way into producing many insistent untrue and corrupted (fundamental here is the commercialization, money- and career-making) framings.

So I wrote this and share it here: Years ago I loved Elizabeth Jenkins’s biography of Jane Austen, and that led me to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I must have been in my late teens, and my guess is I found the Jenkins book in the Strand bookstore. I had already read (at age 12 or so) Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; and at age 15, Mansfield Park. Nothing inspired me to read the first two (part of this person’s question), but that the first two were there in my father’s library among the good English classics. The third I found in a neighborhood drugstore and I was led to read it because I loved S&S and P&P. MP was not among my father’s classic libraries The first good critical book I remember is Mary Lascelles on the art of the books, then Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen. So as to “new way of reading her” (intelligently), when Jim and I were in our thirties at a sale in a Northern Virginia library Jim bought a printing of the whole run of Scrutiny and I came across the seminal articles by DWHarding (a revelation) and QRLeavis. I do not remember when I found and read Murdock’s Irony as Defense and Discovery, but it was the first book to alert me to the problem of hagiography and downright lying (though Woolf very early on gently at that (“mendaciou”) about the Hill book on Austen’s houses and friends).

When I came online (1990s and I was in my forties) of course I was able to find many books, but the one that stands out attached to Austen-l, is Ivor Morris’s Considering Mr Collins, brilliant sceptical reading. There are still many authors worth reading: John Wiltshire comes to mind, on Austen-l we read together a row of good critical scholarly books on Austen. Today of course you can say anything you want about Austen and it may get published.

I saw the movies only years after I had begun reading, and the first I saw was the 1979 Fay Weldon P&P, liked it well enough but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The 1996 Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee/Emma Thompson) was the first of several movies to change my outlook somewhat on Jane Austen’s novels, in this case her S&S.

Since Jane Austen has been with me much of my life, of course I welcomed a chance to experience some of the best of what a typical JASNA has to offer, since nowadays I & my daughter are regularly excluded from these conferences. After all those who have special “ins” of all sorts, I am put on the bottom of the list for what room is left. I regret to say she has quit the society because she loves to read Austen, is a fan-fiction writer of Austen sequels, enjoyed the more popular activities, especially the dance workshop and the Saturday evening ball. She is autistic and rarely gets to have social experiences. She had bought herself an 18th century dress and I got her a lovely hat. They are put away now.

When was I first aware there was an 18th century? when I watched the 1940s movie, Kitty, with Paulette Goddard — you might not believe me, but even then, at the age of 14-15 I went to the library to find the script-play and I did, and brought it home and read it. I fell in love with the century as a set of texts to study when I first read Dryden, Pope, and the descriptive poetry of the era — just the sort of writing that describes places like Worlitz Park.

Ellen

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This is my favorite of all the fictionalized iconic images of Austen — it’s found in the gardens of Chawton House I’m told, 20th century, the sculpture Adam Roud who says it “represents” Austen as “daughter and sister as she walked through town” (see commentary and video)

A windy wet day? her head held high

Jane Austen was very much aware of her birthday, probably each year it came round. On at least two of such days, she wrote a poem upon the occasion, remembering. The finest is the one remembering the death of Anne Lefroy, a nearby companion-friend (however older and however this friend was instrumental in preventing her developing a true love relationship with Tom Lefroy, causing Austen at the time and for several years after much grief). At the age of 55 Anne Lefroy died from a fall from a horse on December 16th, in 1804. Four years later, in the fiction of the poem, to the day, Jane Austen wrote this elegy:

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday

The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, thy captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,
‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead–
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgent Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–

I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.

Her’s is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–

Can ought enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision disappears.

‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.

In the poem Jane says she has “mix’d emotions” on her “natal day” in 1808. On that day 4 years ago she knew she would never lay her eyes on Anne Lefroy again; her friend had been “snatch’d away.” An unexpected accident is a great blow. So now a day which gave her “Life & Light & Hope” is an occasion for feeling penetratingly a “bitter pang of torturing Memory.”

She then remembers her friend’s powers, what she valued her friend for: “Talents, Temper, mind . . . solid Worth . . . captivating Grace.” A friend to all, an ornament to the human race. This is going very high, but Austen likens Anne Lefroy to Samuel Johnson, and says that like him, when Anne Lefroy died, there was no substitute, “No second best . . . “None can remind us even of the Man.” (I read this phrase in Boswell’s Life of Johnson and that may be where Jane read it too.)

Vainly she searches. Not there, nowhere around her, only a “vacant space.” And so she says, she will conjure up a vision of her. “Fancy” is much kinder to us, an “indulgent power” — Austen’s idea of hope here is unlike Pope’s ironic witty utterance: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast/Man never is, but always to be blest.” Cool distance has become melancholy shivering: “Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!” Thee here can be Austen herself, probably is. So she turns to Fancy.

What does she remember. Not literal looks. Rather the woman’s psychological nature, their friendship, an asserted love for Jane herself, a voice harmonious I’m tempted to remember Emma Woodhouse who valued modulated voices unlike Mr Martin’s, but Austen knows better than to stay here: it’s what Anne would say, “sense . . . Genius, Taste & Tenderness of Soul . . . genuine warmth of heart without pretence,” and we cannot ignore the turn away from sensuality, sexuality, in that “purity of Mind.”

We are given a panegyric like Austen’s brother gave her: neither of them ever “misapplied” their Tongues, spoke and reasoned “on Virtue’s Side. In spoken words, Anne Lefroy sought “to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,/Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain — ” This is Popian poetic art: antitheses used for emotional instead of ironic reinforcement.

Can anything go beyond this? Yes. That she liked Jane, was “partial to her” from her “earliest years.” No small thing. Jane asks Fancy to allow her to see Anne Lefroy smiling with love at her. But no, “the Vision disappears:” “Tis past & gone — We meet no more more.” This “Cheat of Fancy” over a Tomb is short.

The poem ends with Austen hoping to be united to her friend once more after death, the dream many have had of death. There is a medieval picture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in a glass case) where we see pairs of friends clutching each other against a flowery flat green background; rows of these from top to bottom. Perhaps she says this terrible pain of having had her friend die, which creates a union of memory in her mind augurs a “connection” to be. She asks Fancy to “indulge this harmless weakness,” for that’s how she regards this idea.

“Reason, spare.” Reason, a deeply felt of reality from knowledge of experience tells her otherwise. Jane was not a religious woman.

This is almost a repeat of what I wrote on December 16th, 2011, when I was as yet unwidowed, and had not felt the true bereftness of grief. At the time I had not as yet visited Chawton House Library (as it used to be called), and only seen Chawton cottage once. Now I’ve been to Chawton cottage twice (once very thoroughly) and particated in a four day conference on Charlotte Smith at Chawton House Library.

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Romola Garai as Emma playing the piano after returning from a very ambiguous experience in an assembly ball (2009 BBC Emma, scripted by Sandy Welch), the most recent of the heritage-faithful type of adaptation (see list)

I have not yet found a way to blog regularly on Austen; my scheme to blog once a week on a book like Paula Byrne’s in the event turns out to be unworkable; I feel as if I’m using the book too invasively; one or two blog reviews a book is for most of them the ethical way to go about it. I had thought of collecting news items and did so this week:

1) the latest Emma movie, as written about most intelligently by Caroline Hallemann in a Town and Country article (followed by the latest Royal Scandal);

2) the latest “Jane Austen find” by Devoney Looser, as in fan fiction, really a letter possibly by Mary Russell Mitford. It’s behind a paywall at the newly semi-pop (trying for this) dumbing down TLS as “fan fiction or fan fact”, followed by some secrets hitherto unknown about Oliver Sacks. Mary Russell Mitford was a writer and neighbor, & is discussed perceptively in the most recent issue of Persuasion, ‘Jane Austen and Mary Mitford: A New Appraisal” by Azar Hussain (the essay not one of those online, alas). See also Oliphant on Mitford, Austen and their first biographers.

3) Janine Barchas at the Blarb for a Los Angeles publication, where she presents as a new find an essay on Arthur’s Miller’s (dreadful) radio adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It is not quite a new find; several years now I heard a full paper by Sylvia Marks on this adaptation; here’s a summary from an earlier blog here:

Sylvia Kasey Marks’s paper was on the 20th century great playwright, Arthur Miller and the 18th century forger, Henry Ireland. She discussed them as both appropriating the work or understood persona and style of someone else. In the early phase of his career Miller wrote radio plays, and some of these are dramatizations of someone else’s novel. She demonstrated that in Miller’s case we see him consistently change his original to fit his own vision. Unlike Ireland, Miller was not trying to find a new space in which he could create something unlike what others were writing at the time. He was building his career and operating within a considerable group of constraints (which include pleasing the audience). Sylvia told the whole sad story of Ireland, including a conflict with his father, and how we may see popular attitudes towards Shakespeare in some of Ireland’s writing.

It seems to me there’s nothing for it but to take the time out periodically and read a good book on Austen or by one of her near contemporaries (or on such a contemporary) and write a good review. It comes down to picking a book.  I will be returning to view and write about Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Anna Lefroy’s continuation, once again Chris Brindle’s filmed play and at length,

4) soon to air on PBS, Andrew Davies’ interesting (if finally a failure) attempt at modernizing extending and yet keeping within the Austen canon, Sanditon

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Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s portrait of Marie-Gabrille Capet (1798) — L-G specialized in portraits, at which she was very good, and which paid — early on she married unhappily and quickly left her husband so had to support herself

Last I have been developing blogs on actresses once again and first up will be Susannah Maria Arne Cibber (1714-66) and then fast forward to Barbara Flynn. I’m reading an excellent concise artistic biographical study of Adelaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) for my first woman painter. Foremother poets are a intimidating cornucopia, but if I include prose-poets, maybe Virginia Woolf as seen in Night and Day (a very enjoyable insightful and underrated novel) will be my first — not that Woolf needs me to blog about her.

Ellen

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Miniatures of Philadelphia and George Austen — Jane Austen’s aunt and father


Five Dancing Positions

Dear Friends,

The second half of the Jane Austen Study DC hosted by JASNA-DC at the American University Library, as “curated” by Mary Mintz. In the morning we listened to excellent papers on some realities and perceptions of religious groups and servants in Austen’s day; the afternoon was taken up with the equivalent of photographs, miniatures, and drawn portraits, and how dance was so enjoyed and a source of female power in the era.

After lunch, Moriah Webster spoke to us about miniatures in the era; her paper’s title “Ivory and Canvas: Naval Miniatures in Portraiture [in the era] and then Austen’s Persuasion.” Moriah began by quoting Austen’s pen portraits in her letters on a visit she paid with Henry Austen to an exhibition in the Spring Gardens in London, where she glimpsed

“a small portrait of Mrs Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; — perhaps I may find her in the great exhibition, which we shall go to if we have time. I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings, which is now showing in Pall Mall, and which we are also to visit. Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly herself -— size, shaped face, features, and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite color with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow… Letter 85, May 24, 1813, to Cassandra, from Sloane Street, Monday)


Samantha Bond as the faithful Mrs Western, next to her Mr Elton, to the back Mr Knightley (Mark Strong) and Emma and Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton), trying to lead a discussion of picture looking to favor Emma’s depiction of Harriet (1996 BBC Emma)

The detail and visual acuity reminded me of many other verbal portraits in Austen’s letters and novels, which I wrote about in my paper on “ekphrastic patterns in Austen,” where I went over the attitudes of mind seen in the way she explained her own and others picturing process, both analysing and imitating the picturesque seriously, and parodying it. She asks how does the way we think about and describe, the language we use and forms we absorb enable and limit what we can see.

Moriah was not interested in the philosophical and linguistic issues (which were the subject of my paper)

“He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape (Northanger Abbey, 1:14)


One of the many effective landscapes from Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility (director and screenplay-writer and Elinor n Miramax 1995 film)

Marianne argues passionately “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning (S&S, 1:18)

but rather the real miniatures and drawings we know about in Austen’s life as well as how the way drawing is approached distinguishes a character’s traits of personality, and the way pictorial objects function in the plot-designs of her novels.

I offer a few examples of what interested her — though these were not delineated in her paper:


Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood is a fairly serious artist (1981 BBC Sense and Sensibility) who can be hurt by people’s dismissal of her work


Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price dreams over her brother’s precious drawings of his ships (1983 BBC Mansfield Park)


For Kate Beckinsale as Emma drawing is a way of manipulating situations, defining her relatives, a vanity she does not work hard enough at (again the 1996 BBC Emma, with Susannah Morton as Harriet)

She did dwell on Persuasion. The novel opens with Anne cataloguing the pictures at Kellynch Hall; and has a comic moment of Admiral Croft critiquing a picture of a ship at sea in a shop window in the same literal spirit as Mr Woodhouse objects to Emma’s depiction of Harriet out of doors without a shawl.

Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!” (laughing heartily); “I would not venture over a horsepond in it.” (Persuasion 2:6 or 18)


John Woodvine as Crofts regaling Amanda Root as Anne and us with his reaction to a picture in a shop window (1995 BBC Persuasion)

More crucially we have a cancelled chapter and one about a miniature of someone who Captain Benwick was engaged to and died (Phoebe Harville), and is now prepared to discard and use the framing for a miniature of her substitute (Louisa Musgrove); this becomes the occasion of a melancholy and passionately argued debate over male versus female constancy and prompts Wentworth (listening) finally to write Anne Elliot a letter revealing the state of his loving mind.

What Moriah concentrated on was who had miniatures made of them, for what reasons and how much individual ones cost; how these were made, and who they functioned as social and cultural capital in these specific people’s lives. All the miniatures we have testify to the status of the person pictured, a status (I remark or add) that Austen (apparently) never achieved in the eyes of those around her.

Although she didn’t say this it’s obvious that Austen’s brothers had miniatures made of them because they rose to important positions in the navy; her father was a clergyman; her aunt became the mistress of Warren Hastings.


Francis who became an admiral and Charles in his captain’s uniform

She did imply the irony today of the plain unvarnished sketch of Austen by her sister, located in the National Gallery like a precious relic in a glass case in the National Gallery while all around her on the expensive walls are the richly and expensively painted literary males of her generation.

I regret that my stenography was not up to getting down the sums she cited accurately enough and the differing kinds of materials she said were used to transcribe them here so I have filled out the summary with lovely stills from the film adaptations — it’s easy to find many of these because pictures, landscapes and discussions of them are more frequent in the novels than readers suppose. Miniatures as a subject or topic are in fact rare.


Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners (1995 BBC P&P) is placed in a clearly delineated landscape (1995 A&E P&P scripted by Davies) and is reminiscent of


A William Gilpin depiction of Dovedale

There was some group discussion after this paper, and (as seems to be inevitable) someone brought up her longing for a picture of Austen. She was reminded that we have two, both by Cassandra. But undeterred she insisted these were somehow not good enough, not acceptable. Of course she wanted a picture that made Austen conventionally appealing. At this point others protested against this demand that Austen be made pretty, but she remained unimpressed by the idea that women should not be required to look attractive to be valuable.

It is such an attitude that lies behind the interest people take in Katherine Byrne’s claim a high-status miniature (the woman is very dressed up) that she found in an auction with the name “Jane Austen” written on the back is of Jane Austen. See my blog report and evaluation, “Is this the face I’ve seen seeking?”

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Dancing in the 2009 BBC Emma: at long last Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley gets to express himself to Emma

The last talk was delightful: Amy Stallings on “Polite Society, Political Society: Dance and Female Power” dwelt on the dances themselves, how accessible they were, the social situations, how they are used in Austen’s books, and finally how in life they were used to project political behavior or views in assemblies and private parties and balls too. Her perspective was the political and social functioning of dancing (reminding me of Lucy Worseley), going well beyond the literary depiction of dance in Austen. She scrutinized ballroom behavior and dance to show that the ballroom floor was a kind of stage on which a woman could find paradoxical freedom to talk with a young man and older women might project political agendas and alliances (especially if she was the hostess).


If we look past the movie and see this scene as filming a group of famous admired actors and actresses we can see the same game of vanity and power played out (everyone will distinguish Colin Firth as Darcy in this still from the 1995 BBC P&P)

Her talk fell into three parts. First, she showed how dance was made accessible to everyone in the class milieu that learned and practiced such social behavior. This part of her talk was about the actual steps you learned, the longways patterning of couples, how it enabled couples to hold hands, made eye contact. Longways dancing is a social leveller, she claimed. I found it very interesting to look at the charts, and see how the couples are configured in the different squares. As today, it was common to see women dancing in the men’s line. People looked at what you were wearing and how well you danced. She quotes Edgeworth in her novel Patronage (which like Austen’s Mansfield Park has both dancing and amateur theatrics). There was pressure to perform in dancing (as well as home theater).


Dancing difficult maneuvers in the 1983 Mansfield Park: Fanny and Edmund

The second part dwelt on dancing in novels of the era. She quoted from Henry Tilney’s wit and power over Catherine in their sequences of dancing:


JJ Feilds as Tilney mesmerizing Felicity Jones as Catherine (2007 ITV Northanger Abbey)

Her partner now drew near, and said, “That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
“But they are such very different things!–”
” –That you think they cannot be compared together.”
“To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour.”
“And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. — You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else. You will allow all this?”
“Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. — I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them (Northanger Abbey, I:10.

and alluded to (by contrast) how Darcy will not permit Elizabeth to achieve any power over him through dance or talk; in his downright refusals and more evasive withdrawals he robs her of status and any hold on him. So she becomes grated upon, frustrated. Amy discussed Scott’s Redgauntlet as containing a particularly effective pointed description of a tête-à-tête; the disruption of walking away, walking out and its potential to humiliate is drawn out in this novel.

One of Jane Austen’s most memorable masterly depictions of social humiliation and kindness is in the scene where Mr Elton deliberately sets up Harriet to expect him to ask her to dance, and then when Mrs Weston takes the bait, and asks him to ask Harriet to dance, he can publicly refuse her. I thought of a similarly crestfallen hurt in the dancing scene in the unfinished Watsons where a young boy is carelessly emotionally pained and (as Mr Knightley does here), so Emma Watson there comes in to rescue him at the risk of herself losing social status by dancing in the lead position with a boy.


Mark Strong as Mr Knightley observing what the Eltons are doing


The expression on Samantha Morton’s face as she is drawn up to dance by the most eligible man in the room is invaluably poignant (once again the 1996 BBC Emma)

Amy’s third part was about the politics of the dance floor and particular assemblies in particular localities. First she did insist that Austen’s novels are explicitly political in various places (including Fanny Price’s question on slavery, Eleanor Tilney’s interpretation of Catherine Morland’s description of a gothic novel as about the Gordon riots &c). She then went on to particular periods where politics was especially heated and cared about, often because a war is going on, either nearby or involving the men in the neighborhood. She described assemblies and dances, how people dressed, what songs and dances were chosen, who was invited and who not and how they were alluded to or described in local papers in Scotland and England in the middle 17th century (the civil war, religious conflicts and Jacobitism as subjects), France in the 1790s (the guillotine could be used as an object in a not-so-funny “debate”), and in the American colonies in the 1770s.

Amy went on at length about particular balls given in 1768, December 1769, May 1775, where allusions were made to loyalist or American allegiances, to specific battles and generals. One anecdote was about a refrain “British go home!” While all this might seem petty, in fact loyalists were badly treated after the American colonists won their revolution, and many died or were maimed or lost all in the war. Her argument is that women have involved themselves in higher politics (than personal coterie interactions, which I suppose has been the case since people danced) through dance from the time such social interactions occurred in upper class circles and became formal enough “to be read.” We were way over time by her ending (nearly 4:30 pm) so no questions could be asked, but there was a hearty applause.

Again I wish I could’ve conveyed more particulars here but I don’t want to write down something actually incorrect. I refer the interested reader to Cheryl A Wilson’s Literature and Dance in 19th century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Woman. The early chapters tell of the many dances known at the time, the culture of dance, and what went on as far as we can tell from newspapers and letters at assemblies, with a long chapter on doings at Almack’s, where Jane Austen just about whistles over Henry her brother’s presence. Frances Burney’s Cecilia, George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair are among the novels mined for understanding. Wilson goes over the quadrille (squares) and how this configuration changed the experience of hierarchy and then wild pleasures of the waltz. Here Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and The Way We Live Now are brought in. Lady Glencora Palliser and Burgo Fitzgerald almost use an evening of reckless dancing as a prologue to elopement and adultery. I imagine it was fun to write this book.


At Lady Monk’s ball Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora and Barry Justice as Burgo Fitzgerald dance their way into semi-escape


He begs her to go off with him as the true husband of her heart and body

It was certainly good fun to go to the Jane Austen Study Day and be entertained with such well thought out, informative and perceptive papers very well delivered. I wish more Austen events were like this one.

Ellen

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John Harrell as Dorimant, the Man of Mode


Jessika Williams as Margaret of Anjou (The American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, 2018)

Friends and readers,

EC/ASECS 49th annual conference, held in Staunton, Virginia, October 25th to 27th, 2018, has just ended a rewarding two days of panels, papers and presentations on the theme of performance in 18th century art and life. We were next door to the Shenandoah Shakespeare company (“We do it with the lights on!”), now in its 30th year. Up the street is Mary Baldwin University (once all-women, now co-ed).  On Friday night the Shenandoah troop performed George Etheridge’s The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter; on Saturday afternoon, Emma, as adapted from Jane Austen’s novel, by Emma Whipday; and on Saturday night, a rousing Shakespeare’s Richard III.


A scene from the current production of Richard III

Our plenary talk was by Dr Paul Menzer, on aspects of the history of performing ghosts and other problem characters and scenes  in Shakespeare. He is Professor and Director at Mary Baldwin University of the MLitt/MFA Shakespeare and Performance graduate program and himself continually actively involved in the Shenandoah program as a director and writer. He and two colleagues, Profs Katherine Turner and Matt Davies also ran a panel on Fielding’s Tom Jones as a vehicle for discussing Shakespeare and 18th century performance, with special attention to Book XVI, Chapter 5 where Jones goes to see Garrick in Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Mrs Miller and Partridge.


David Tennant addressing Yorick’s skull (Gregory Doran 2008 production of Hamlet at the RSC)

On Saturday evening Maestro Robert Mayerovitch of Baldwin-Wallace College, performed a wondrous recital of two symphonies, one by Haydn and the other by Beethoven.  The conference theme was performing the 18th century.

Since my paper was not on performance, but rather on Austen’s Bakhtinian use of dialogics in the tone and complex moving themes of Persuasion, I thought I’d download it separately on academia.edu before proceeding to a two blog-essay report on this entertaining conference.


Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Poems (9th edition, 1800)


Matthew Prior, Poems upon Several Occasions (1719)

The Presence of Charlotte Smith, Matthew Prior and George Crabbe in Austen’s Persuasion


George Crabbe, The Borough, and Tales (1812)

Ellen

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I have always respected her for the courage in cancelling that yes … All worldly advantages would have been to her — & she was of an age to know this quite well — Cassandra Austen speaking of Jane Austen’s refusal of Harris Bigg-Wither (quoted from Family Record, 93)

Ah! those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia! how fast I made money in her … ” (Wentworth, Persuasion I:8:67)

Once once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me immortal” — Austen’s last writing, on it having rained hard on the Winchester Races

Friends and readers,

This is to recommend not just reading but obtaining E.J. Clery’s Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister. Clery carefully correlates documents left by Henry Austen’s life’s activities and those left by people he did business with, was friends or connected to (letters, life-writing, other texts as well as military, banking, lease and all sorts of contractual and court records), with close readings of Austen’s novels and her and her family’s papers, to create a fresh coherent story that sheds real light on aspects of her life and outlook, on his character, and on Jane and Henry’s relationship.

Clery gradually produces a portrait of Henry Thomas Austen as an ambitious, chance-taking, highly self-regarding man who aspired to gain a higher status in life and more respect for his personal gifts than the fourth son of an Anglican clergyman was thought by his world entitled to. At the same time or throughout each chapter Clery attempts to create the contemporary socially engaged businesswoman Austen favored today moving through the familiar events of Austen’s life (there have been so many biographies of Austen by this time) and writing or thinking about writing each novel.

Clery is not the first critic-scholar to assume that Jane was closer in mind to Henry than any other of her brothers, nor the first to credit him with the initiative and knowhow to help Jane achieve her heart’s desire to publish her novels. (And by this earn our gratitude.) But Clery is the first to interpret these novels metaphorically and literally as engaging in and critiquing or accepting financial outlooks literally analogous to or undergirding the outlooks Clery assumes Henry’s military, business and clerical behavior showed he had. Each chapter of Clery’s study begins with a retelling of Henry’s business and social life at the time of the publication or writing of each of Austen’s novels (chronologically considered). Clery then produces an interpretation of the novel in question, which assumes Jane’s cognizance of Henry’s state of mind or business at the time and that this alert awareness actuated some of the novel’s major themes (perhaps hitherto overlooked or not quite clearly understood).


Henry late in life, a curate

Beyond all this, as a mine of information the book is as useful as James Thomson’s explication of the money system in the era in his “Patterns of Property and Possession in Fielding’s Fiction (ECF, 3:1 [1999]21-42)

This book, then, is not a biography of Henry Austen. Its matter is made up of explications of Henry’s business practices, living arrangements, day-to-day activities in the context of what was happening in business, military, court and city events. His marriage to Eliza Hancock de Feuillide takes a very much second place in the scheme of things nor do we learn much new about her, though Clery is concerned to defend Eliza against the implication she was a bad mother or somehow cool, shady or amoral person, which the insistence on a direct connection between her and Austen’s portrait of Lady Susan and Mary Crawford has led to in the past. She also suggests, I think persuasively, that over the course of the relatively brief marriage Henry and Eliza grew somewhat estranged: she had not been eager for the marriage, and once obtained, he was not especially keen on her company nor she on the life and Austens at Godmersham.


A very poor miniature of Eliza Austen when an adolescent girl


Her gravestone: appropriately Henry buried her with her mother and son

After Henry’s life considered almost sheerly from a career and advancement standpoint, we are given an explication of one of Austen’s novels: like David Nokes in his underrated biography of Jane, Clery has read the letters with an original thoughtful alertness as to the events found in them. She tells us what on a given afternoon Jane or Henry (or Eliza), was doing and with whom, and how this related to what they did yesterday and the following evening and some ultimate career goals (which these business friendships fostered). In these vignettes she comes near to recreating Henry and Eliza and Jane as characters, but is hampered in the case of the first two complicated, enigmatic (neither wore his or her heart on sleeve) people by her acceptance of the Austen’s family’s adversarial dismissive portraits of them, with Henry “wayward” and Eliza ever a flirt (see my blogs on Henry and Eliza). The book is then or feels like a sort of constrained dual biography which then morphs into not always wholly persuasive yet intriguingly innovative literary criticism of Jane Austen’s oeuvre.

There is so much to be learned about financial practices and banking in each chapter; she goes well past the level of generality found in the previous articles (by Clive Caplan and T.A.B. Corley) to give us an in-depth picture of how Henry actually got himself promoted, put into positions where a lot of money went through his hands (a good deal of it which legally stuck to said hands), who he knew who mattered, who they knew whom they pressured, and how once “fixed,” Henry preceded to develop his interests further. Receivership, speculation, the “rotten” credit system come one by one under the reader’s eye. We learn the state of the economy in crucial moments, especially with regard to war, which all these people looked upon as a money-maker for them (thus Tory and Whig enthusiasm). Where we the Austens living in London when the successful business of publishing Sense and Sensiblity began, and what it (and the other novels) entailed. I give Clery great credit for providing us with the sums to see the profoundly immoral and unjust systems at work (for example, the money in the military sector was to be made buying and selling commissions off the table). Henry was of course “conscious of no criminality” (290).


Modern photo of the site of Henry’s bank in Alton today

One is struck by the small sums (£100) Henry and Francis disbursed yearly for a few years to the mother and sisters in comparison to the thousands they pulled in and spent on themselves. Clery mentions the Austen women were utterly dependent on these men who controlled the women’s movement and spending. The year Henry was said to have gone completely bankrupt and he said he could only supply £50 for his sisters, and mother his closest long-time partner, and Henry Maunde probably killed himself (283-84); there were intense recriminations among those involved about how much money Henry and Francis had held back. Suits and countersuits. Henry was resilient enough to almost immediately turn back to a clerical career, begin study for a title, and two years ahead of time (of James’s death) write begging letters in order to gain his brother James’s vicarage (312). Clery also reports in slow motion Henry’s two illnesses during the period of the decimation of the country and other banks when the (“rotten”) credit system (based on massive loans unaccounted for) imploded, and it seems to this reader by no means was Henry’s much boasted about optimism thick-set into his being.

But if it’s clear he had to know (it’s right before him, us and Clery and all) how insecure were all these securities, nonetheless he gave both his sisters crucially bad advice when it came to offers of money for Jane’s books. It’s important to remember that when Jane self-published Sense and Sensibility, and lopped and chopped First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice and sold it outright for £150, not only had her work been continually rejected, no one had offered her anything. It’s repeatedly said in his behalf (for the letter disdaining Murray’s offer of £450 is in Henry’s idiolect) that self-publishing was the common way: not when you were given such a ready money large offer. In just about all the cases of self-publishing I know of there has been nothing like this offer; as for the other common route, to solicit subscribers you need to know people, you need to be well-connected, you need really to be known and you have to have people solicit for you — those cases I’ve read of slightly later (including Burney much later in life) the person hates to solicit. It’s more than half what Radcliffe was paid for The Italian. Murray was not a “rogue” in this offer; he knew the market for fiction far better than Henry or Jane did. Another comparison might be Charlotte Smith; the sums she was offered early on with her first successes are smaller than that offered Austen. Murray was said to be a generous publisher (as was Johnson to Smith).

Henry repeats the same mistake years a few years later when Murray makes an overture to buy the copyrights of all six novels. After “consultation with Henry, Cassandra refused. Murray had “remaindered the 539 unsold copies of Emma at two shillings, and the 498 copies of the second edition of Mansfield Park at two shillings sixpence.” Of course he didn’t offer more for a “new edition” as she hinted. They ended selling all the copyrights to Bentley for £210 minus the £40 Bentley paid to Egerton for Pride and Prejudice, and they reappeared as inexpensive cheaply produced volumes for six shillings each (“sales were less than predicted and the number of copies issued each time was reduced”, 318-19)

Here is the source of the continual itching of the acid chip-on-the-shoulder consciousness that wrote the biographical notice, the continual bitterness, albeit mild, of some of his satire in The Loiterer. Henry cannot accept that the real gifts he felt in himself and by extension in his sister were not valued by a world he himself knew indifferent to integrity. He kept hoping otherwise when, Edmund Bertram-like, he studied for a face-to-face examination in the New Testament and Greek, only to be told by the Bishop “As for this book, Mr Austen, I dare say it is some years since either you or I looked into it” (291). He got the position based on his connections and family status.


Close up detail of Cassandra’s one portrait of Austen’s face

Some of the readings of the novels may surprise long-time readers of the criticism of Austen. Emma is interpreted as Austen’s rebellion against commercialism, a “self-flagellation” where we are immersed in a world where most of the characters who count are indifferent to money (242-43). Emma has been repeatedly read as a seriously Marxist analysis of society. I was surprised by how little time Clery spent on Sanditon. Clery seems to me accurate that the fragment represents a return to the juvenilia mode, but is after all a fragment and nuanced and subtle enough to support persuasive continuations about the proposed novel as about financial bust. Clery does uncovers some new sources of inspiration: a novel by Thomas Skinner Surr called The Magic of Wealth (his previous was A Winter in London); the author, a banker, also wrote a pamphlet defending the Bank of England’s paper money policy (see 295-96 and my blog on Chris Brindle’s stage adaptation).

But there is much to be learnt from Clery’s analysis of the juvenilia themselves, what’s left of Austen’s letters, the Austen papers; Clery’s reading of Sense and Sensibility as an “austerity novel” exposing ruthless “greed” and measuring everything by money as the center of society (139-51) and her reading of Mansfield Park as dramatizing and exploring “a speculative society” on every level (194-214). Clery precedes MP with an account of Eliza’s dying, Henry expanding his banking business by becoming “Receiver General for Land and Assessed Taxes” (190) and Warren Hastings’ pose of indifference: there is no need to over-interpret Fanny’s position as an exploited bullied dependent, or her famously unanswered question on slavery. Everything in MP lends itself to talk about money, only this time what is wanted and achieved by many is luxurious ease. Finally, Persuasion is presented as defending “embracing risk” (274-76), with Wentworth linked to Francis Austen’s admiration for a naval hero accused of “wrongdoing in connections with the Stock Exchange Hoax of 1814” (216, 275).

Details of their lives come to hand for each novel: “How appropriate that the party had a chance to see Midas at Covent Garden Theatre during a short three-night stopover at Henrietta Street” (204). The quiet disquiet over Austen’s possible incestuous feelings towards at least one of her brothers now becomes part of a Henry story across Austen’s oeuvre.  I’m not alone in feeling it was Frank, given the poem about his marriage, Frank’s providing her and her sister and mother with a home, the infamy of the letter “F” and clandestine Jane, the destruction of their letters (attributed to his granddaughter), not to omit Frank marrying Martha Lloyd (whom Jane loved) later in life (see Honan, Jane Austen: Her Life).


Green Park Buildings, Bath, end of the row — Austen and her family lived in Green Park buildings 2 centuries ago

In recent years there have been a number of books claiming to link this or that Austen novel with a building, a real life person or event never mentioned in the novel in question or Austen’s extant letters so it is so refreshing to be able to say of the bringing of contextual matter outside the novels into them not discussed before is not dependent on theories of invisibility or subtexts. I especially liked when Clery brought Walter Scott’s career, Austen’s remarks about him and his texts together. She brings out that Patronage is the contemporary novel by Edgeworth with Mansfield Park (193) but what Austen continually took notice of in her letters is how Scott is doing. In Clery’s book just as a number of financial scandals come into public view as well as Henry’s “precarious position” (Edward gives him a promissory note for £10,325), Mansfield Park is lagging in the “performance” department and Emma is not electrifying the reading world, Scott’s Antiquary is published, at a much higher price than either MP or Emma, and withing 3 week 6,000 copies sold, the author gaining half-profits of £1,632.” Jane Austen tells the truth as far as she knows it: it was disheartening.

When they all returned to Chawton Cottage, Jane wrote her niece Fanny of Henry: “London is become a hateful place to him, & he is always depressed by the idea of it” (292). I detect a strong plangent note in her closing letters quite apart from her last fatal illness. Stress can kill.

Deign on the passing world to turn thine Eyes,
And pause awhile from Letters to be wise,
There mark what ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jail,
See Nations slowly wise and meanly just
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust.

Clery attributes Jane’s burial in Winchester Cathedral and the floor plaque with its inscription to Henry and the publication of her novels too. He ended his life impoverished but, Clery asserts, Henry ‘s courage in life gave us his sister’s novels (324-25).

Ellen

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