Friday, 29 June 2007

Georgian Resources

New and exciting!

Finding that I didn't like the way that some literature was formatted online, that I wanted one simple home for my resources, and that I wanted to share the sources of my references made here, I decided to start another blog where I can do all that. Introducing!:

Georgian Resources

The site is in it's infancy at the mo but shortly there'll be a world of Georgian info available.

I mention the poem Tintern Abbey by Wordsworth? It's there! I quote directly from an online resource? It's there. I say Natalie Regensberg writes an awesome essay, or Dr Frances Wilson writes an awesome lecture? It's totally there! Want to read some Byron? Course you do! Just follow the Byron tag.

Obviously, I don't do all of my research online but if possible I'll include sites where you can read or, if that's not possible, buy the books I've consulted.

I'll be loading up all my references over this long weekend holiday, as well as drawings, paintings and photographs, and typing up poems, quotes and what nots to add there. If it's a reference or a research tool, you'll find it there. Enjoy!

Bits and Bobs From the Beeb

I love searching through the BBC online archives on a quite afternoon, which today has turned up an audio tour of Austen's house in Hampshire, including readings from her letters, and a few Radio 4 interviews with interesting actors who have worked in Austen adaptations.

For eight years, from 1809 until her death in 1817, Austen lived with her mother, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd, in the village of Chawton in Hampshire. The cottage is open to the public as a kind of museum and after acquiring new funding, Austen's letters have become part of the displayed collection. Here is a guided audio tour of the cottage.

I really love the interviews I turned up this round. There is this 2002 gem with Harriet Walter, who besides being a thoroughly interesting, talented and intelligent woman, played Mrs John Dashwood in '95 Sense and Sensibility. Here she talks about playing one of Shakespeare's great women, Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing.

She has featured in two Austen adaptations, '83 Mansfield Park as Maria Bertram and '96 Emma as Mrs Weston. She's a lovely, clever, funny woman and in 2002 Samantha Bond played Lady Macbeth on stage with the super sexy, genuine, talented and, personally my favourite actor, Sean Bean.

Juliet Stevenson is one of a very small handful of truly brilliant actors alive today. As well as being a remarkably talented stage and screen actor, she known for her excellent narration of novels, including all of Austen's works (she was voted as BBC Radio's favourite reader) and radio work. She played Mrs Elton in the '95 Emma film, she's an absolutely fascinating woman and here Juliet Stevenson talks about her absorbing role in Tom Murphy's remarkable play Alice Trilogy.

You can play these radio items with Real Player, simply follow 'Listen to This Item'. If you need to install Real Player, you can download it from their website free of charge.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Austen and The Picturesque. Part One.

The fundamentally Georgian notion of The Picturesque is alluded to by Austen in four of her novels: Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and most often, in Sense and Sensibility, which is no coincidence, given that the Picturesque was, like the Gothic Revival, a movement rather of sensibilities, an offshoot of feelings in the reason-driven culture of the Enlightenment. To state that the Picturesque is simply a type of scenery, a genre of art and a method of garden and landscape design, is only to give the bones of the ideal without fleshing out the very real emotional power it had in the early years of the Romantic Period until, according to some scholars, it thinned out into hackneyed faddishness by the Regency.

An aesthetic appreciation of landscape was a practice that was realized during the Georgian era. This appreciation was inconceivable before the 18th century and when it developed, it developed into a notion, and thence into an ideal, known as The Picturesque. A new way of seeing things requires learning, and a new way of seeing landscape requires travel and art, three experiences unavailable, especially combined, to practically none but the wealthy aristocracy at the beginning of the Georgian period. Like so many ideals, the Picturesque began with art, specifically the 17th century continental landscape paintings of Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorraine and Gaspard Dughet (also known as Gaspard Poussin).

In England, landscape painting was a wholly foreign concept at this time. Landscape was merely a curtain dressing for the more interesting human drama and the land was something associated with peasants and labor, not subjects the monied classes thought of as artistically inspiring, and the very few who traveled in Europe, and wrote about it, before the Utrecht Treaty of 1713 wrote only of scenes such as the Alps, those darlings of the Picturesque, as inconvenient, uncomfortable and dangerous. Europe however, opened up to privileged English travelers after 1713 and The Grand Tour was born. Wealthy aristocrats on their tour favoured Italy in particular and started to take notice of these exotic landscape paintings, most commonly seen in Rome, and as a consequence, rapidly began to look upon the grand, rugged, alpine terrain, lurking banditti, swarthy peasants, and crumbling ruins not as tiresome, untidy inconveniences fraught with continental danger, but as the romantic subjects of art. An early associational link was made by Horace Walpole in a letter during his tour with Thomas Gray in 1739:

'Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings, Salvator Rosa!'

To be continued

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Georgian Item of The Week

Georgian Item of the Week presents:

The Big Three of The Napoleonic Wars: Well, Nel and Nap.
Part One.

Field Marshal His Grace Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington c. 1 May 1769 - 14 September 1852.

Portrait of The Duke of Wellington
Francisco Goya
National Gallery, London

Born to an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in Ireland, Wellesley joined the army in 1787. He fought against the French in Flanders and in 1796 went to India, where he achieved considerable military success, taking part in the Mysore War against Tipu Sultan. During the subjugation of the Mahrattas he achieved a remarkable victory at Assaye (1803).

On 18 June 1815, the army of Napoleon faced an allied force of British, Belgain and Dutch troops on a ridge outside a small Belgian town called Waterloo. The British Army in Belgium was lead by a man described by contemporaries and historians alike as possibly the greatest British soldier of all time. From India, where he campaigned to create the British Raj, to being the mastermind of the Peninsular War, which drove the French armies from Portugal and Spain, Wellington had never lost an engagement.

Nonetheless, Napoleon Bonaparte was a master of warfare. If the allied troops folded, the road to Brussels would be open and Napoleon would again be able to plunge Europe into war. To prevent this, the armies of Wellington had a hold a ridge overlooking a farm, until the Prussian army under General Blucher could arrive and hopefully defeat the French. It was an extremely close, long, devastating battle. By 10 pm on June 18th 1815 nigh on eighty thousand soldiers lay dead on the fields of Waterloo. But the British allied forces and Wellington were victorious and the battle, and it's ramifications would shape Europe for the century which followed it.

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Seven - Conclusion

I have to wonder if the Crawfords are not Austen's way of offering a lesson for the reader. Their attractiveness is undeniable and the narrative informs the reader that happy marriages would have come to pass between Henry and Fanny, and Edmund and Mary had the vanity and desires of Henry not overpowered his better feelings. Perhaps, as Mary is forced to see herself stripped of Edmund’s regard in their final interview, we the reader are forced in the final passages of Mansfield Park, by Austen’s skill as an interpreter of human desire, to acknowledge that even though she made the Crawfords bad, she still made us want them.

During Mary's very introduction into the narrative she betrays her ill-judging notions on sexual conduct when she talks lightly and laughingly of Henry's skills as a flirt and as a heart breaker to Mrs Grant, without a murmur of concern for the women he misuses. She declares that 'everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage', and quickly surmises that Tom Bertram's wealth and the estate and title that would be his upon Sir Thomas' death, would exactly suit her matrimonial ideals and without any romantic inclination, she turns on the charm. She cleverly draws amusing stories from him in order than she may appear so winningly amused, and feigns an interest in his taste for horse racing. In the house chapel at Sotherton Mary shocks (the admittedly easily shocked) Edmund and Fanny by dwelling on what she believes to be commonly accepted female sexual fantasies. 'The former belles of the house of Rushworth' she imagines there pretending to pray with 'seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different--especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at' during the family church services of former days. Even while Edmund and Mary are developing feelings for one another, she mocks and mourns his choice of a sexually neutralized profession as a clergyman, rather than soldier, sailor or lawyer, and tells him repeatedly without disguise that she intends to marry a rich man, all of which he blindly assigns to wrongness in speech rather than in morals.

Fanny of course sees and experiences the reality of Mary's lax sexual principles. She observes Mary standing by happily while Crawford meddles with Maria and Julia, causing bad feelings between the sisters, destabilizing Maria’s engagement with Rushworth, and leading Maria seriously astray. When there are no Miss Bertrams to meddle with, Mary even sanctions Crawford's cold plan of a flirtation attack on Fanny, stating that 'a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good' and working even as Crawford's agent to get the infamous necklace around Fanny's innocent throat.

Whilst Mary's questionable remarks and her culpability in the attack on Fanny could, without further missteps, have be set down as thoughtless and indecorous rather than amoral, towards the end of the narrative and at a distance from Mansfield, she betrays her truly unethical notions about sexual alliances. In her letter to Fanny at Portsmouth, she does not attempt to conceal her greedy glee at the prospect of Tom Bertram's illness leading to death, shifting the inheritance of Mansfield to Edmund and justifying, in her mind, a marriage between them. When of course the affair between her brother and Maria dashes these happy hopes, Edmund is finally undeceived as to the nature of her true sexual morality. She views the crime of the adulterers only as folly and the only shame being that they were caught, not that they have sinned, against God, against the law and against the sexual and social mores of the era.

I would happily bet money that every reader of Mansfield Park asks themselves, after the flight of Maria and Crawford, the elopement of Julia Bertram with Yates and the life threatening illness of Tom Bertram, before they have reached the concluding chapter that reveals all, 'But what's going to happen to Mary Crawford?' And though she does not sink to actual sin, it is her complete lack of sexual principles that costs her Edmund Bertram. The experience of Edmund has made her discontent with lesser men, however rich, and it is doubtful that her new standards for domestic happiness can be met by another.

Interestingly, shallow, greedy, manipulative and even amoral as she is, Mary is yet the most alluring young female of the narrative, even while Fanny is the most admirable. Complete as they are as characters, Fanny cannot tantalize, Julia cannot interest and Maria cannot charm but Mary can do all of these. Austen’s other major works also feature ladies who cannot get the man they want. But when Pride and Prejudice's Caroline Bingley can't manage to snag Darcy, when Isabella Thorpe is denied Captain Tilney in Northanger Abbey or when Elizabeth Elliot's hopes of her cousin are disappointed in Persuasion, the reader cannot care. Not only do we not care but we feel a kind of justice in the punishment they receive for the pain they cause our heroines. This isn’t the case with Mary Crawford for me. She’s no Fanny, it’s true. Fanny is the bright light in a rather dark story but Mary, unlike Austen’s other disappointed ladies is likable and, being intelligent, in a partnership with Edmund she must have improved. But how can a narrative like Mansfield Park, whose stance on sexuality is so staunchly unbending, reward the amoral principles and even, at times, the machinations of Mary Crawford, with an adoring Edmund and a happy marriage? It cannot.


Visit the Sex in the Park tag for Part 1 - 6 of this topic.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Sublime Anxiety: The Northanger Canon

The Northanger Canon is the collection of late 18th century ‘horrid’ Gothic novels that feature in the first work that Austen sold to a publisher, Northanger Abbey.

The book itself, first written in 1798 but not published until 1817, was simultaneously a defense of the novel as an art form, a celebratory sending up of Gothic fiction and, a warning about it. Austen herself enjoyed gothic fiction, especially the work of Ann Radcliffe, but she feared that the excessive romanticism and melodrama of the books incited impressionable girls to ape the manners, coquetry and faux sentimentality of a Gothic heroine, in search of the exciting adventures they found on the page. Seeking the danger and intrigue of a novel in their everyday lives could not but breed insincerity and vanity, and in Northanger, she gives us the portrait of just such a girl in Isabella Thorpe.

The literary Gothic grew out of many influencing factors and was the Romantic Period's appreciation and interpretation of the medieval. It ranged from elegant appreciations of the Gothic form, such as Wordsworth's poem Tintern Abbey, to the truly macabre novels of the canon and to the more philosophical horror of Mary Shelley, and Dr Frankenstein's Creature. The Gothic revival, which appeared in English gardens and architecture before it got into literature, was the work of a handful of visionaries, the most important of whom was Horace Walpole (1717–1797), novelist and man of letters. His 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto and the Gothic remodeling of his widely copied estate Strawberry Hill, ushered in an era that would last six decades.

Contributing influences included accounts of European travels, most notably those accounts of the well to do Grand Tour, which took English travelers through the Alps, invoking sublime horror, notions of lurking banditti and spurning on the Picturesque movement as well as the Gothic, and Graveyard Poetry, a genre popular in the first half of the 18th century. It's subjects were, apart from graves and churchyards, elements such as night, death and hauntings, and everything else that would be considered irrational, and thus excluded, by the rational culture of the Enlightenment. It is the nature of the human mind to interpret the denied and excluded as mysterious and intriguing, and as such, elements of the Gothic novel that would keep the public coming back for more included more than just dungeons and skeletons: it was violence, murder, wealth, poverty and incest and its underlying current of themes often on the minds of the Georgians: Anti-Catholicism, eroticism, social freedom and illegitimacy.

The gothic novels that make up the Northanger Canon are:

The Mysteries of Udolpho 1794 by Ann Radcliffe
The Italian 1796 by Ann Radcliffe
The Castle of Wolfenbach 1793 by Eliza Parsons
The Necromancer: or, The Tale of the Black Forest 1794 by Carl Friedrich Kahlert
Horrid Mysteries
1796 by the Marquis de Grosse
The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale
1796 by Eliza Parsons
Orphan of the Rhine
1798 by Eleanor Sleath
Clermont, a Tale
1798 by Regina Maria Roche
The Midnight Bell 1798 by Francis Lathom

If you live in Virginia or plan to visit Charlottesville, then you’re in luck. And not just because Virginia is awesome, which it surely is. The Library of the venerable University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by none other than Thomas Jefferson, houses an unparalleled collection of first editions of the canon, as part of their wonderful Sadlier-Black Collection. Their website hosts photographs of the canon set, as well as blurbs and illustrations, along with those of the other classics making up the entire collection. Were I in Virginia, honestly, nothing could keep me away from that library. I highly recommend a read of the collection's introductory essay Sublime Anxiety: The Gothic Family and The Outsider by curator Natalie Regensburg, from whom I stole this post’s title. Nice one, Natalie. The absorbingly fascinating story of book collector Michael Sadlier, and how the quest for the canon books began, can be found here on the library’s website. The collection includes first editions of and illustrations from many other Georgian writers, including Mary Shelley and John Polidori, and a Victorian personal favourite, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Atlhough I’ve had The Mysteries of Udolpho and another Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, on my bookshelf for a while, I’ve only just started reading them, and they really are very addictive. There has been a revival of interest lately in the gothic novel and as Radcliffe, the 'Queen of Terror' is especially thought to have perfected the genre, her books are less difficult to find than the rest. Recently I was surprised and pleased to find them in the ‘classics’ section of a bookstore. Of the works however of Radcliffe’s ‘charming imitators’, as Austen wrote, there is a champion in independent publisher Valancourt Books. Bless their little gothic hearts for publishing the novels of many Austen era writers. They currently publish four of the canon titles: The Italian, The Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont and The Midnight Bell and have the others in the works. I’ll be purchasing these titles from Valancourt when I get a chance to read them and I put it out there that interested parties should do the same. One of the things I love doing as a human being is supporting independent thinkers, dreamers, artists and book-lovin’ entrepreneurs.

The pictures featured in this post are an illustration from The Mysteries of Udolpho,Vol. 4, p. 217 (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1830) and the cover of The Midnight Bell, as published by Valancourt Books 2007.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Six.

Due to the circumstance of his being wealthy and male, there is little in the way of physical punishment that could be handed down to Henry Crawford for his adulterous affair with Maria. Unlike his unfortunate guilty partner, there is no one with the power to shut him up in a far off cottage for the rest of his life, nor would society want them to. The sexual conduct of men was not judged by the same standards. Indeed, during Mary and Edmund’s final interview, where she hopes for a marriage between the sinners, she only speaks of Maria’s being able to recover her reputation, of her not being admitted into society, of her situation inciting compassion, because Maria’s situation is one of powerlessness and Henry’s is –unchanged. His uncle may well have had some financial power over him but, given the Admiral’s own lechery, it’s not likely that his nephew’s would be a reason for him to exercise it. Crawford’s income, his freedom and his character are preserved, no doubt suffering nothing worse from his fellow man than a few less invitations.

It would have been justifiable however and not entirely unexpected for Sir Thomas or Edmund to challenge Crawford to a duel for his dishonorable conduct with their kinswoman. We know that in Sense & Sensibility there is a meeting between Willoughby & Colonel Brandon after Willoughby's seduction and abandonment of Eliza and in Pride & Prejudice also, Mrs Bennet expresses a fear that her husband will duel with Wickham, the seducer of their daughter Lydia. But the Bertram men are not the dueling type, decorum weighs more for them than ego, and no such meeting befalls Crawford.

And though he suffers no physical or financial consequences, it is in the narrative’s power to deal a more serious and lasting blow to Henry Crawford, in the loss of Fanny. Had he not acted on motives of vanity and lust, in ‘the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him.’ It is with Fanny as his wife that Crawford would have become the man he had potential to be, and given his lack of respect for any woman but her, there is little chance of marital happiness for him with another. The narrative makes it clear that before the scandal broke publicly, Crawford had hoped to get clear of Maria and marry Fanny, whom he is very much in love with, but in Mansfield Park, consequence must be reaped from sowing so very many seeds. For Henry Crawford there is 'wretchedness' in the outcome, and the knowledge that it was he who robbed him of his own future happiness, perhaps for life. Here there is 'self-approach', 'vexation and regret', and even Mary has the clarity to observe that her brother has ‘thrown away such a woman as he will never see again'.

To be continued

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Books on Tape Techie Time: iTunes Audio Books

For this post I’m only talking about Austen audio books available through iTunes. Another time soon I’ll be touching on the many, many audio books available elsewhere.

In my version of iTunes there are currently over 30 Austen audio books available for purchase. Personally, I really enjoy a book on tape, especially when narrated by someone who reads aloud well. There is a large selection out there and it can be tricky to hit on the right one and disappointing if you don’t, especially if you’ve forked out anything from ten to seventy dollars. There are a few things to look for that can serve as guidelines for the uninitiated. Sound quality & narration are very important, especially in a recording you want to listen to more than once. Actors are often employed for narration and though I do like the practice, not all actors are necessarily good at voice work and narration. A lot of books on tape are read by actors whose talents are fine on screen but their skills don’t really translate to the spoken word. I recommend looking for an actor whose voice is expressive and enjoyable to listen to and preferably, who has experience in theatre or radio plays. Often Austen books are narrated by an actor who has featured in one of the film adaptations.

As far as sound quality goes, in iTunes there is a preview button feature in the space where you look up the details of a particular recording, which allows you to listen to a couple of minutes of the recording for free.

There is also abridgment to be considered. I wouldn’t normally recommend or buy an abridged edition, where some of the book is cut to make the recording shorter. But sometimes the abridging is done without losing too much around the edges, none that you would notice unless you were very familiar with the book in question, and abridged editions are almost always cheaper. It’s probable that if an abridged recording was narrated really well by a good actor and reasonably priced that I’d buy it.

I have scoured the details and listened to the previews of all the audio books available through my iTunes for a few recommendations.


Pride & Prejudice read by Joanna David
Recorded by Penguin Classics $AU14.99

Emma read by Fiona Shaw
Recorded by Penguin Classics $AU10.99

Mansfield Park read by Harriet Walker
Recorded by Penguins Classics $AU20.99


Lady Susan, The Watson & Sanditon read by Norma West
Recorded by ISIS Audio Books $AU50.99

Pride & Prejudice read by Emilia Fox
Recorded by Naxos Audiobooks $AU62.99

Sense & Sensibility read by Susannah Harker
Recorded by BBC WW $AU46.99

These recordings aren't cheap, there's no denying that. But I've found that I've kept & still listen to a few very good tapes I have, (yep, that's cassette tapes. I still have my walkman too) especially Tess of the d'Urbervilles read by Lindsay Duncan around '90 which I snagged at a swap meet.

A note on CD burning, recordings purchased via iTunes are copy protected and it's not possible to burn them. Believe me, I've tried. But for the more virtuous among us, fear not. Burning recordings that are published by specific media is not illegal or unethical and for tips on recordings that are in the public domain, free and therefor allowed to be copied, check this space for more shortly upcoming editions of Books on Tape Techie Time.

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Five.

Despite their attractiveness & appeal to everyone at Mansfield par Fanny, in Henry & Mary Crawford's shadowy background, there always hovers the spectre of the sexual misconduct of their friends & relations. The Crawford’s parents, including the one they share with Mrs Grant, are dead and the siblings have been reared by their uncle & aunt, the Admiral & Mrs Crawford. The opinions and behaviour of the elder Crawfords, whose marriage was unstable, unhappy and mutually disrespectful, set the tone for the younger from an early age, and their principles were formed, as Mrs Grant so aptly puts it, “in a bad school for matrimony in Hill Street”. Upon Mrs Crawford’s death, the Admiral promptly installs his mistress into the same household, prompting Mary to seek a home at the parsonage with Mrs Grant, where Henry accompanies her. Their very entrance into the Mansfield Park narrative & neighborhood is a result of the amoral sexual liason forged by their guardian, and moreover, among their friends & their society, there are many circumstances where lax sexual principles are the norm. Throughout the narrative Mary tells of her girlfriends attempting alternatively to seduce or trick Henry into marriage, and tells tales of his aggressive flirtations & intrigues amongst their acquaintance. “If your Miss Bertrams do not like to have their hearts broke, let them avoid Henry”, is her warning to Mrs Grant. Mary too has formed a limited opinion of the opposite sex, and one may not infrequently perceive that she views an opportunity for aggrandizement, & greed, as normal motives for marrying. She speaks of friends in London, particularly of Mrs Fraser & Lady Stornaway, during her residence at Mansfield and upon eventually meeting them, Edmund represents the former as “a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely from convenience” and the latter as “the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious”. The message is clear. The Crawford siblings, though brilliant, clever and charming, are in possession of some corrupted sexual mores.

To be continued

Georgian Item of the Week

Weymouth Bay:Bowleaze Cove and Jordan Hill
John Constable
National Gallery, London

Ah, Weymouth. Doesn't it just make you think of Frank Churchill & Jane Fairfax?

Monday, 18 June 2007

Plain Jane: Is "Becoming" an Excuse to Morph Austen Into a Pretty Romantic Lead?


I’m not sure if Anglo/American cinema quite knows how to deal with writers who are women & who aren’t notably eccentric or extraordinarily different. Literary figures such as George Sand (the nom de plume of Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, Baroness Dudevant), played by the ageless and radiantly talented Judy Davis in the 1991 film Impromptu, might perhaps be meaty material a for a director to approach because of her mould-breaking flamboyance. Sand, in the 19th century, regularly dressed in mens’ attire in public, lived apart from her husband, traveled abroad & had affairs with the likes of Chopin & Liszt. The 2003 BBC doco/reenactment Frankenstein – The Birth of a Monster wonderfully chronicles the life Austen’s contemporary Mary Shelley, her confident & unconventional choices and her dramatic life with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron & their absorbingly interesting posse. But what to do with female writers who, however talented, are domestic, rooted in small circles and family life, busy, healthy & happy?

Though interested in the recently released Austen biopic Becoming Jane I am wary of pending disappointment due to her very normality and quiet lifestyle, especially after the 2006 Miss Potter, a biopic (or faux biopic, rather (Fiopic!)) of children’s book writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter which I had at the time looked forward to for months. Potter, among other distinctions was a widely respected botanic illustrator, farmer, conservationist and expert mycologist but Miss Potter reduced her to a dithering wet blanket who made up little stories about bunny-wunnys and lived in an imaginary world. Frankly, I don’t have high hopes that Austen may fare any better in Becoming Jane, which I gather tows the line that Austen became a great writer because of a the trauma of a unfulfilled youthful romance, and not because of talent, intelligence, clarity, hard work & a maturity beyond her years.

The trailer for the film is not promising, simply placing Austen herself in the character of Elizabeth Bennet with the exact story line of Pride and Prejudice and tacking on the exact same music from the hugely successful ’95 Sense & Sensibility, I kid you not. I’m willing to hope however that the trailer pirates have yet again spliced a movie to make it look like something it’s not in order to get the masses into the cinema. According to said trailer pirates, the masses need a hell of a lot of prodding. I’m familiar with the events the film is based on and with Jane Austen’s letters, and since I’ve found out that the very real and fascinating characters of Eliza de Feuillide and Ann Radcliffe are portrayed along with the protagonists, I’m still curious enough to want to see it upon its release here in Vancouver.

I’ve read several articles recently that express disappointment that a beautiful American woman, Anne Hathaway, was cast to portray an English writer who has always been considered by public opinion as somewhat plain and spinster like. This belief is based on the only portrait of Austen known as a certainty to be her, a drawing done by her sister Cassandra. Putting aside the possibility that Cassandra’s talents in portraiture may not be great, I have no issue with what Jane Austen might have looked like, or with Hathaway playing her. Frankly, Austen’s appearance will never matter to me, as her looks have nothing to do with her books. As for Hathaway’s American-ness, she is an actor and it’s her job to embody a character, no matter how different they are from her, ethnically or otherwise. Anne Hathaway does seem to be a bit of a Disney product thus far, the “thinking-little-girl’s princess” as it were but I’m prepared to hope for a deeper performance here than she has yet had an opportunity to give.

On a related note, I am saddened and angered that in this modern, more feminist world Helen Trayler, managing director of publisher Wordsworth Editions, has had hair extensions and make up put on to Austen’s portrait on a book cover. "She was not much of a looker” and “If you look more attractive, you just stand out more” according to Trayler. Heaven forbid the day when the merits of us all are judged solely by Helen Trayler’s standards. Whilst Anne Hathaway is embodying Austen as an artist, Trayler is actively distorting her real portrait to sell more books. The Cassandra portrait in question hangs in the National Gallery and though highly disrespectful to artist and subject as it is, the portrait is in the public domain and the distortion of it is not illegal, however unethical.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Four.

Maria Bertram is of course the character who suffers the worst change of circumstances and the most dire consequences for her sexual misdemeanors in Mansfield Park, and it is with the arrival of these dashing and careless Crawfords that she begins to act on motives of sexual attraction and jealousy. Maria has, rather understandably, no love for her fiancé, the thick-headed and decidedly un-sexy Rushworth, to whom she has become engaged because he is very rich and very manageable. Maria cannot marry her catch until her father’s return and it’s no surprise that a flirtation with ‘the most agreeable’ and ‘so well made’ Henry Crawford is a welcome distraction from the tedious attentions of her dull fiancé. But the kicks she gets out of triumphing over her sister at Crawford’s displayed preference, out of his compliments and insinuations, out of his longing glances and lingering touches, draw Maria past her ability to control her desires and her actions. As their flirtation reaches indecorous and indecent heights, as the time of Sir Thomas’s return to England and thereby, her unwelcome wedding to Rushworth, draws closer, Maria begins to expect a proposal from Crawford that will satisfy her every inappropriate hope, that is, to free her from one cumbersome fiancé and supply her with a sprightlier one. Crawford makes no such proposal, withdraws in fact, on Sir Thomas' arrival, from the neighbourhood and Maria is left to become a hurt and bitter Mrs Rushworth.

Some months after the happy event, when the Crawfords and Rushworths meet in society in London, Henry Crawford finds the woman who so lately could not resist his charms cold and reserved. Unwilling to be got over, however much he does not love her, Crawford persues another, more licentious flirtation with Maria, one that results this time in amoral goings on, a sex scandal and a search party. When Maria leaves her husband’s house in hopes of a life with Crawford, necessitating a search and rescue from sin mission on the part of the Bertram men, she leaves behind her her respectable family life, her wealth, her position in society and even her freedom. With the subsequent media circus, divorce from Rushworth, and with Crawford showing no inclination or intention to marry her, Maria is left with no options, no resources, with an irredeemably muddied reputation and, in the religious views of the era, a soul stripped of virtue and sullied by sin. Though too kind to cast her off into the abyss, Sir Thomas will not tolerate the disgraced Maria in the untainted halls and shrubberies of Mansfield Park. He installs her in a country cottage in a distant county and the unlucky young woman is to pass her life, once so brimming with potential, shunned by her family and former friends, and with the officious Aunt Norris as her constant companion, you can well believe that she would truly feel the punishment doled out for her violation of sexual mores by Mansfield Park.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Austen in 2008

I don't often fully enjoy Austen screen adaptations, simply because the depth of the narratives get lost due to a focus on the central romance, which is usually the least interesting part of the story. When the narratives are modeled solely as a romance and their subtle nuances are stripped away, you tend to be left with a corsets & carriages piece aimed mostly at the female market and though amusing enough at face value, they can hardly convey the multi-layered undertones and developments of Austen's writings. But some clever people have given it a bash and done very well and I tend to think of a good adaptation as a nice addition to the books, sort of like the cappuccino froth on an already good coffee.

PBS has recently issued a press release announcing that they will be embarking on a Jane Austen season in January 2008. Four of the titles—Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice—were adapted by Andrew Davies, Mansfield Park is a coproduction of Company Productions and WGBH Boston. Persuasion is a Clerkenwell Films production for ITV in association with WGBH Boston and Miss Austen Regrets, a true story based on Jane Austen’s own letters and diaries, will be part of the four-month marathon.

What I'm really interested in here is the new Sense & Sensibility, which is presently in production by the BBC. It's hard to go too far wrong with Andrew Davies. I recently watched his Northanger Abbey and was rather pleased with it, Felicity Jones is charming in it, and of course his '95 Pride & Prej and '95 Emma are widely considered to be the best adaptations of those novels.

'07 Persuasion is pretty good, it's watchable and enjoyable enough but lacks the depth, insight and excellent performances of the '95 film, which is resplendent with the likes of Amanda Root, Fiona Shaw, Sophie Thompson, Victoria Hamilton, Phoebe Nicholls, Corin Redgrave and Ciaran Hinds. Still, while it lacks and sags a little, I'd catch it. There is enough there to intrigue an avid Persuasion fan and pique the interest of a new one

However, '07 Mansfield Park is a travesty that doesn't deserve a screening. The script is woeful and the acting couldn't save it even if it was good, which it isn't. It's bloody terrible. I watched 20 minutes before deleting it forever from my computer and regretted the bandwidth used up to download it, and I won't harp further on it's absurdity for fear of never being able to stop. To compare, the '83 Mansfield Park may have it's faults but it's a million times better than this dreck, despite actress Sylvestra le Touzel and director David Giles getting the character of Fanny Price all wrong. If you can put aside Touzel playing Fanny as if she were an 85 year old moral despot, and Giles apparently giving her no direction not too, except to cry, fidget and look scandalized more, than it's actually a very faithful narrative and not at all un-enjoyable. Although I recommend fast forwarding the scene where Sir Thomas confronts Fanny over refusing Henry Crawford's proposal. It's cringe worthy. Angela Pleasence's wonderfully idle Lady Bertram is so fundamentally insipid and sedated and out of it, that were she a modern day housewife, you'd swear she was on Valium, and Anna Massey and Jackie Smith-Wood hit the Mrs Norris and Mary Crawford nails on the head perfectly. Interestingly enough, Touzel does a lovely job of playing Mrs Allen in '07 Northanger Abbey.

Dreck notwithstanding, maybe I'll buy a TV by January because I wouldn't mind catching Jane Austen Sundays.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Three.

There is no sexual deviance under the roofs of the Mansfield rooms, naturally. Woe betide the unthinking young Master or Miss who has misbehaved under Sir Thomas’ delicate watch. The extravagant ways of his son and heir Tom Bertram causes Sir Thomas much grief, and his drinking, gambling, partying and general gadding about like a young, rich & fashionable man about town has cost so much money as to necessitate the selling of the chief Mansfield living to Dr Grant. But Tom’s antics never include the lecherous. There is never a hint of womanizing, of a seduction or even of flirtations. Tom could have been as sexually careless as Sense & Sensibility’s blackguard Willoughby if he’d chosen to and without any real consequence, but never in his father’s reproaches or in his own stories is any such behavior alluded to. Similarly, the others who dwell peacefully at Mansfield all have their faults, except Fanny of course, but none of these faults are of a sexual nature. The girls are chaste; the wives are well behaved, Edmund is intellectual and the old boys are respectable. Because sex is the defining moral point of Mansfield Park, the line that deems a character irredeemable once it has been crossed. Their great moderator Sir Thomas is called away to far off Antigua and his departure is followed by the arrival at the parsonage of the delightful and charming Mary and Henry Crawford, brother and sister to Mrs Grant. And, delightful and charming though they are, the Crawfords' vanity, self-obsession and potent sexuality wreck havoc with the once dormant desires of the residents of Mansfield.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Regency or Georgian or Napoleonic or Vaguely Related Item of the Week

A Painter's Studio

c. 1800
Louis-Léopold Boilly

National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Even though I could blog (verb? Totally) possibly endlessly about strictly Austen topics, once a week, possibly more often but at least this one is in a specific format, I'm going to go down the culturally significant road and post an item that is, as so aptly stated above, linked to the Georgian period. It might be about a book that influenced Austen, an author she influenced, music, art, decor or even Regency adventure travel. Anything could happen.

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Two.

Even from her infancy the evils of an ill-judged sexual alliance are working against our heroine. The marriage of her aunt Lady Bertram to the wealthy baronet Sir Thomas had given rise to hopes that the other two sisters would likewise do well for themselves from the connection to a nobleman with considerable influence, power and wealth and from the opportunity to meet and captivate rich men themselves by socializing in Sir Thomas’ circles. Alas, Sir Thomas’ very domesticated habits were never likely to produce many such opportunities and though the eldest secured a home for herself with Mr Norris in the Mansfield parsonage, Fanny’s mother though ‘quite as handsome’ as her newly minted sister, threw herself away on a ‘Lieutenant of Marines, without education, fortune, or connections’ and into a thankless life of poverty, toil and child bearing without management, cleanliness or manners, with almost no education for her children and without even respectability for herself or her family. Such was Fanny’s early life in Portsmouth and the circumstances that made Mrs Price not at all unwilling to give Fanny up to the Bertrams. The poverty of the Price family is a continual influence over Fanny, even when enveloped in the elegance and serenity of Mansfield Park, as she is never able to shake off the coils of dependency. She can never be an equal there and is always to be grateful and humble, to be handy at all times and yet never in the way, to be servile and yet cheerful, self denying and never complaining. As Mrs Norris would say of Mrs Grant, that 'a fine lady in a country parsonage was quite out of place’ so too is a fine lady out of place as a drunkard seaman’s wife in Portsmouth.