Posts Tagged ‘Isabelle de Montolieu’

Death Comes to Pemberley: the coloration of the film

Dear friends and readers,

My proposal has been accepted:

The Eighteenth Century on Film: A proposal for the coming ASECS in March 2015: “What work does a screenplay or shooting script perform?

The argument of my paper will be that using the screenplay or shooting script to close read a film yields far more accurate and instructive information and insight about the film than comparing it directly (as is often done) to its eponymous novel. I will have three examples where the sources (beyond other films and other intertextual references) and types of films are usefully different.

Humming (1)

Humming (2)
Death comes to Pemberley: one of the many scenes in the wood near Pemberley; a group scene (script calls for lines interacting over scenes juxtaposed)

First I’ll present my findings from an analysis of the final shooting script by Juliette Towhidi for P.D. James’s Death comes to Pemberley against the 2013 romantic mystery thriller mini-series. In this first case we have an intermediary novel, P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, and, as it is close sequel, a specific originating Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice) with its underlying material literally important to the film but strongly changed first by P.D. James and then by Towhidi. We will be able to see three levels of transference: Death Comes to Pemberley, the film from its shooting script; then the shooting script’s transference from Death Comes to Pemberley, the novel, itself a close sequel to Pride and Prejudice in the way the characters are developed from the original novel.


Metropolitan: Individual and group debate over ideas central to this film

The second part of the paper will tell my findings from an analysis of the screenplay for Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. I choose this film because it’s a realistic novel of manners done within 2 hours and there is no intermediary novel. In this second case also the originating novel (Mansfield Park) however recognizable through analogy is far from the literal movie story line and characters and yet is there transformed. I hope to make visible the direct transference which still makes the novel newly available with the contemporary slant of an appropriation. I will bring up Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise briefly as it too has no intermediary novel and yet a recognizable Austen novel as its underlying material (Northanger Abbey). One sparrow does not a summer make so a few comments on this second poetic shooting script is there to make more convincing the perspective and argument I made about a film made directly from a script.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley walking away from Emma after a strong spat

Agasin from Emma (2009): after Box Hill, Romola Garai as Emma to Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse: to his query doubting the good time, she says she doesn’t think she’ll do it again soon, as “one can have too much of a good thing …”

If it’s just 15 minutes I keep to a brief coda bring the 2009 heritage mini-series adaptation of Emma by Sandy Welch. (I’ll omit Andrew Davies’s 1995 Emma film; after all it’s been analyzed elsewhere). What I was to show is the shooting script of a mini-series shows how the cyclical nature of such a film changes the novel fundamentally in the way we experience it even if impressionistically viewers and film critics alike talk as if we have a close “faithful” transference.

Ruby in Paradise: New Henry Tilner in Mike McClasin (the 2008 JJFeilds the same type out of Andrew Davies scripts) an environmentalist who has opted out for a time, playing his horn in the wood outside his cabin-house

2008 Northanger Abbey: JJ Fields as Tilney appealing to Catherine Morland his vulnerability

It is still common for film criticism to ignore or not use centrally the screenplay or shooting script for close readings of films. With the popularity of adaptations, increasingly film-makers use sequels of famous books as well as previous film versions as part of their terrain. So, the purpose of my paper is to show how much more effective a study of a film can be if we use the shooting script or screenplay whether there is an intermediary novel, no intermediary novel or just an originating novel. One reason for the use of the novel rather than the screenplay or shooting script is they are often not made available. For Austen films they are more often than many other classic books because she is such a cult figure and attracts respected film-makers. My hope is studies like mine will help lead to more publication of screenplays and shooting scripts which are valuable works of literature in their own right.


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downton Abbey, opening of Season 3

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I could write like this.


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

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


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

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

Obviously Sophia McShea aka Daisy


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‘Have you been lately in Sussex?’ said Elinor.
I was at Norland about a month ago.’
‘And how does dear, dear Norland look?’ cried Marianne.
‘Dear, dear Norland,’ said Elinor, ‘probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.’
‘Oh,’ cried Marianne, ‘with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.’
‘It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves (Chapter 16).’

Thomas Gainsborough (1728-88), “Autumn or Sussex Landscape”

Dear friends and readers,

Prompted by Diana Birchall’s “The Sweets of Autumn,”, Ron Dunning’s comment, and photos, especially from the ball, from the JASNA AGM (at Minneapolis), usually occurring in mid-autumn, I thought I’d remind everyone that even if Austen does not use the word “autumn” often, my calendars or timelines show that the action proper in four of Austen’s novels begins in autumn; ends in four of them, and the few long textual reveries upon the seasons are devoted to autumn.

S&S, P&P, Emma, The Watsons

The Dashwoods move to Barton cottage in “very early September” (1797) and Edward and Elinor marry “early in the autumn” (1798). P&P opens “before Michaelmas” (1810) when Mr Bingley rents Netherfield Park. By my calculation the double wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley occur a year later, mid-October (1811). Reckoning by Harriet’s stories of her late summer time with the Martins, and Austen’s phrase “all the autumn” we know Mr Western married Miss Taylor sometime between late September and early October (1813). “Before the end of [the following] September Emma attends Harriet to church to marry Mr Martin; while Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill are “waiting for November” to marry, so Emma and Mr Knightley fix on “the intermediate month,” October (1814). The Watsons begins on October 13th, a Tuesday (1801), and a ball. We are told Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland married “within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting:” as I reckon that meeting February, I take it “late autumn, 1798 or early winter, 1799.”

Mansfield Park and Persuasion

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1839-93), “Chill Autumn”

Although these neither begin or end in autumn, there is some remarkable autumn poetry in the memories reverie “in the gloom and dirt of a November day” of Mary Crawford and Fanny sitting in Mrs Grant’s garden while Fanny marvels “at the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind:

“the weather being unusually mild for the time of year, and venturing sometimes even to sit down on one of the benches now comparatively unsheltered, remaining there perhaps till, in the midst of some tender ejaculation of Fanny’s on the sweets of so protracted an autumn, they were forced, by the sudden swell of a cold gust shaking down the last few yellow leaves about them, to jump up and walk for warmth
    This is pretty, very pretty,” said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day; “every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field … “If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory … “I am so glad to see the evergreens thrive!” said Fanny, in reply. “My uncle’s gardener always says the soil here is better than his own, and so it appears from the growth of the laurels and evergreens in general. The evergreen! How beautiful, how welcome, how wonderful the evergreen! … (Chapter 22)

But Miss Crawford is no more impressed by memory and the evergreen than Elinor was by dead leaves.

Then there’s the exquisitely melancholy country walk in “on a fine November day,” the trip to Lyme not long after,

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such-like musings and quotations …

but Anne Elliot is interrupted by Louisa and Wentworth’s pointed colloquy:

Anne could not immediately fall into a quotation again. The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth, and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory …

as do other autumnal reveries in this novel, including “panegyrics” on “glossy nuts” and such like (Chapter 10).

Susan LaMonte (1920-2012), “Seeds”

But Anne Elliot is as strong an “enthusiast” for nature in autumn as Captain Wentworth:

The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood (Chapter 11).

Moments across the oeuvre:

Marianne Dashwood’s happiest time with Willoughby is “a showery October” (Chapter 11); Emma Watson’s beautiful kindness to the mortified, snubbed little Charles at a ball is also October (no chapter divisions); the Mansfield Park players are “alive with acting” in October and November (Chapters 14-18); we are told a year ago, a year before Sanditon opens is Michaelmas (no chapters).

Only Lady Susan and Catherine; or the Bower, are among the post- wild juvenilia works without observance of autumn.


Sonnet 32: To Melancholy

Written on the banks of the Arun, October 1785

When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the grey mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro’ the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale:
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eye;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!
O Melancholy! — such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!

— by Charlotte Smith whose sonnets are alluded to in Persuasion

Diana suggests autumn is a “suspect season” for Austen; I respond: no more than any other. She ever checks herself by the saturnine wit of her mind in the persons of her dryer characters and her ironic narrator. Rather, as Diana does show, the word most associated with Autumn in Austen’s vocabulary is “sweet:” “the sweets of so protracted an autumn,” even if chill and dark early. She recognizes its beauty’s connection with death but in a characteristically muted form. There are fleeting and a few longer appreciations of beauty in all phases of the seasons, but autumn she goes on about much longer, and makes it key moments in her character’s lives and her story arcs. What is also individual is that while her autumn days can be fine, they are cold, and not sunny, never balmy as in this classic picture of an “English Autumn Afternoon” (Ford Madox Brown (1821-93)


When that dreamer Mr Knightley sits by his fire, he quotes Cowper “Myself creating what I saw” from a dark cold twilight autumn evening:

………………….But me perhaps
The glowing hearth may satisfy a while
With faint illumination, that uplifts
The shadow to the ceiling, there by fits
Dancing uncouthly to the quivering flame.
Not undelightful is an hour to me
So spent in parlour twilight; such a gloom
Suits well the thoughtful or unthinking mind,
The mind contemplative, with some new theme
Pregnant, or indisposed alike to all …

Soothed with a waking dream of houses, towers,
Trees, churches, and strange visages expressed
In the red cinders, while with poring eye
I gazed, myself creating what I saw.
Nor less amused have I quiescent watched
The sooty films that play upon the bars
Pendulous, and foreboding in the view
Of superstition, prophesying still … (The Task)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), Autumn Landscape


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I am no prisoner now in a vile house. I am not now in the power of that man’s devices. I am not now obliged to hide myself in corners for fear of him — Clarissa, Thursday, June 20th

Clarissa accosted, arrested, shamed in the public streets for debt (1991 BBC Clarissa, scripted David Nokes)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve moved into a new phase of the summer. I’m now engaged in study of Austen’s text from the point of view of my calendars drawn from her novels. My aim is at long last to write a publishable paper whose working title is now “Tick Tock: the important Tuesday, or Austen’s obsessive time-keeping.” I must do it from the perspective of her obsessive keeping of time in her novels. I began by reading one of the best biographies thus far: Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life. I’ll write a blog-review on Tomalin’s biography tomorrow evening or the following night.

For now, or just before this plunge, I wrote and sent off my preliminary proposal for a paper to be given at the November EC/ASECS conference whose topic is: “”What does Infamy Matter?” for a friend’s panel, “The Secret and the Celebrated: Life-Writing by and about Notorious Figures.”

Here is the proposal: Infamy, infamy they’ve all got it in for me: paranoia and shame in the writings of Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Brunton, and Sophie Cottin. The title comes from the British movie comedy, Carry On, Cleo, Kenneth Williams as Caesar says it. The illustration below does not come from the novel I most want to present positively (so as to call attention to it), Amelie Mansfield, but from another where the heroine similarly abandons herself to sexual experience, Clare d’Albe

While I was writing the proposal, I was very pleased to discover that my etext edition of Amelia Mansfield has been linked into two central French sites for later 18th/early 19th century novels and was commended in a review-article in Eighteenth-Century Fiction by Alison Finch, Review of: Sophie Cottin, Claire d’Albe, ed. Margaret Cohen (and an English translated text) and Michael J. Call, Infertility and the Novels of Sophie Cottin, ECF, 17:1 (2004):134-37. It has not had the attention (two articles commending my edition and accompanying material) nor links (several) nor use that I know of (read by equivalent freshman college classes) that Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield has; thus my efforts to bring it to the attention of a few people at the conference and then put the paper on the Net.

My text will (for once) not include Clarissa though Clarissa fits my trajectory; I want to deal with heroines who have to endure infamy the way she does, but who openly want and even chose to have sexual experience outside marriage for the sake of the sex. Novelists who are courageous enough to have such heroines are uncommon, and there are many more French writers than English: three I know I want to write about are include Charlotte Smith (heavily under the influence of French texts), Mary Brunton, and Sophie Cottin. As a sort of control — to have a gothic novel where the material is repressed and transformed into overt gothic conventions — I may include Radcliffe.

As you know, I also think Caroline de Lichfield an important source for Austen’s Sense and Sensibility; well I argued for the importance of Mary Brunton to Austen in a blog last month; everyone who studies Austen minimally knows the importance of Charlotte Smith; what I want to do in part is suggest the parallels or context for her work in that of Cottin and her indebtedness as signaled in her peculiar unconscious way through parody: her “Plan of a Novel” is a re-play of Cottin’s Elisabeth, ou les Exiles de Siberie.

I am a little worried because the day and time my panel for papers on actresses and infamy, “R-e-s-p-e-c-t: For actresses and women playwrights respect and favorable reputation matter” is set for is the same as the day of this panel for secret and notorious lives. I chose the panel because I prefer strongly being on panels where I know the people; it’s just so much more comfortable, satisfying and the response from the audience and talk afterward so much better. But as I’ve gotten not one proposal (only one person expressing interest), even though I have a respondent, it may be my panel will be cancelled. I did contact the person organizing the conference schedule and she assured me that something would be done to avoid the conflict if one did arise. The schedule is not engraved in cement, not anywhere near final as yet.

But heigh no, Carry on Cleo (Amanda Barrie)


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Shell Cottage, Goodwood house, a creation of Louisa, Emily and Sarah Lennox (with more than a little help in the way of installation from their workmen)

Dear friends and readers,

Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts: Erotics of Lesbian Landscapes — and flower arrangements. This blog could be read alongside Amy Clampitt amid thrushes as both come from my reading the same Women’s Review of Books issue (Martha Vicinus, 29:1 (Jan, Feb 2012) as context. Moore’s volume is a companion to Donoghue’s Passions Among Women; both identify a pattern of life in the 18th century they call lesbian spinsterhood and claim was recognized by contemporaries. it reinforces or further supports sense from Austen’s letters that she loved Martha Lloyd more strongly than un-erotic friendship and the depiction of Charlotte Lucas contains memories of their parted relationship (see Letter 61). The value of Moore’s is her reading of texts and art, her identification of women and how her perspective has general application. This time I linked in the Lennox sisters as seen in Tillyard’s book, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832; its adaptation into a mini-series, Aristocrats (which I loved as a kind of Little Women) and the Illustrated Companion to that (shell work!). This because we have another woman’s world which shows the same aesthetic patterns as those found in Moore and yet only one of the women was (possibly) a (closet) lesbian.


Moore’s four women are Mary Delany, letter writer and respected artist of botany and flower making (1700-88); Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland(1715-85); Anna Seward, the poet and letter-writers (1747-1809); and Sarah Pierce, educator, writer (1767-1852). Moore finds in all these women a lesbian orientation which none of the women were permitted to follow openly, for one was coerced into marriage when young to an old man (Delaney), another was pressured to marry a rich powerful man who enabled her to become an important patroness of the arts (Bentinck). Like Donoghue, Moore makes a strong case and as with Donoghue, I can see Austen’s patterns with Martha, Anne Sharp and her sister more than conform to some of these Moore describes: they are closely similar.

This way of seeing Delaney makes sense of her urging Burney to become a lady-in-waiting to the queen and not being able to see how it was a death-in-life to Burney. Delaney even doubled-crossed Burney by going behind her back to the queen to get this to happen. Burney wanted to marry.

Obvious phallic detail from one of Delaney’s passion flowers

What most interested me was Moore’s interpretation of the flower and sea-shell art. I know that upper class women made these sea-shell caverns, had these picturesque caves built on their properties. I begin to see that Louisa Lennox, the sister who married the rather silly Irish man and lived all her life near her sister Emily who became Duchess of Leinster and supported the younger one, Sarah, when Sarah was ostracized for actually trying to live with a man she loved (he though took advantage of her real need and vulnerability) may reveals a hidden lesbian and sibling-erotic pattern. Louisa especially shows little interest in males and doesn’t care that her husband is child-like and obedient. One would have to read the letters to see what Tillyard might be discreet over here.

Lady Louisa Lennox by George Romney — a telling outfit? Louisa cared more about Emily than anyone else and Emily was fiercely loyal to Louisa.

Allan Ramsay (1713-84), Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster

Seward has long been seen as a lesbian from her relationship to Honora Sneyd (who was married to Maria Edgeworth’s father, who proceeded to impregnate her continually until she died). In Belinda, the treatment of Lady Delamar (who may stand for Honora Seyd), especially the fascination of the heroine with her breasts reveals a lesbian intensity and frustration. (See Patricia Smith, “Lesbian Panic in Narrative Strategies,” Modern Fiction Studies, 41 [1995], pp. 567-605.) What is generally known of Seward is how she cared for her father, inherited his money and used her disabled state to justify a life of retirement and socializing by writing to others.

Sarah Pierce was enabled not to marry because her brother supported her; he copied out some of her poems which would not have survived otherwise and they are love poems to other women, her friends.

We can reinterpret these artistic patterns of flowers, the letters and what has seemed “curiosities” and oddities (the shell work) become natural when we simply open our eyes to the strong gender element in the art.

Like Donoghue, what is valuable here is Moore’s book makes us understand yet other women. What this book seems to demonstate is how centrally gendered is art, and how art that we discuss as somehow universal is not and not only shaped by a particular culture but the product of the sexual outlook, experience, orientation, feelings whatever you want to call it of the artist. Using Moore’s perspective could not only shed light on the Lennox sisters’ lives but the botanical drawings and travel book and life, Chicoteau’s Chere Rose: A Biography of Rosalie de Constant (1758-1834) and imagery and activities of women in Ann B. Shtier’s Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science, Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860


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A family member taken to prison by means of a lettre de cachet

Dear friends and readers,

Sorry for the delay on Letter 53 & close reading of Austen’s letter project. This week I’ve been working on my website for the first time in over a year — or more. I’m putting up a few documents, papers I gave at conferences, published reviews, published brief essays; to do this right I’ve got to put in links in other parts of my website and change old links. All of which is arduous and time-consuming and I try to keep up my blog so I let the letters slip. The additions and corrections which link to Austen include:

An recently published essay-review which explains the laws and customs which allowed for the widespread violence in the era to women: Trouille covers women in the UK and takes her argument to 2011 in France and Europe: Wife Abuse in 18th century France.

A review of my etext edition of Montolieu by Isabelle Tremblay (in Eighteeenth Century Fiction) and a discussion of Caroline de Lichtfield, an important source for Austen’s S&S. This one I had to fix as it had stopped showing on my website and it took an hour for me to figure out why.

Henry Singleton’s painting illustrating a scene from Caroline de Lichtfield

I admit the length of Austen’s letters and the amount of detail about friends and neighbors I know little about and have to look up or find out about each time (or ignore and that loses part of the point) is daunting, plus the letters manifest the same frustrating lacunae, censoring (not as much in this set but then probably because the letters come closer to the idea of utter conventionality that controlled Cassandra’s behavior and own letters) and a new reticence on Austen’s part as she grows older (causes various which I’ve been trying to describe at any rate). I don’t want to give up as we have not yet gotten near the most interesting ones in the collection: where Austen openly speaks of her writing; there again it’s frustrating because of (again) censorship, Austen’s lack of critical acumen and language, again reticence (this time not to discuss the parallels in her life because her letters are read by the very people she’s alluding to in the books in various ways). But she does tell a lot, and we don’t realize how much because we have it.

Among other things — there’s also exploring all the myths of romance and — the latest — arsenic poisoning. It seems to me silly to talk of murder; who hated Austen so to murder her. No one could kill her for her money (joke alert) or powerful personally rooted connections. As Catherine Delors notes in her blog, arsenic was used medicinally. People used it to fight venereal disease — and venereal disease was widespread and deadly. It may be in desperation she was led to use it medicinally. I can’t reach the article Catherine points to, but to prove such a contention you’d have to have very specific description or unearth the corpse. Austen describes her symptoms well enough that people diagnosed her as having Addison’s disease. Perhaps that same description can be used to suggest someone using arsenic medicinally — that’s how this man is doing it. Close reading enigmatic passages again.

What unites much of what I’m referring to in this blog is the reality of family internecine quarrels: how women and men too were forced into wretched marriages; the tools used to enforce the use of individuals for family aggrandisement. It is true that Austen uses her friends and family as part of the matter of her novels’ world: of course she did, that’s what she knows and what she has cared intensely about. But no one would have killed her: proof she was discreet enough and people refuse to look at the realities of families sufficiently that people today still want to ignore the parallels of Jane and her mother and sister’s displacement and poverty and the stories in her novels.


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