Discovery and Revisit at Home

One day in the future when I have to account for how I spent my time in the months of March to May, 2020, I will come up short for a better answer than cook, eat, read, watch, sleep and then repeat day after day, lockdown except for weekly essential groceries. I admit though, I take to such reclusive, stay-home life quite naturally, albeit I did miss the Pond.

You wouldn’t want to know what I cooked and ate during those months, but I can tell you the discovery and revisit I’d made at home.

The Great Courses on KANOPY

Kanopy is wonderful if you’re not into trendy pop culture movies and TV shows. The streaming service offers classic titles and worthy contemporary films, international in scope, and is free with your local library card or an academic library account. They also carry The Great Courses, numerous subjects to choose from covering a huge variety of interests.

I took two courses, both exemplify the word ‘edutainment’, academically sound and informative. One is “Reading and Understanding Shakespeare” taught by Marc Connor (professor at Washington and Lee U), the other is “Screenwriting: Mastering the Art of Story” taught by Angus Fletcher (Ohio State U). Both comprise of 24 videos. In the Shakespeare course, I learned over 40 tools to decipher the Bard’s plays, and from the Screenwriting course, how to build a story world.

There are many pleasant discoveries but there’s one I find most gratifying. Come to think of it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all: Both lecturers have cited Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, noting how Austen had used Shakespearean elements in her storytelling, and in turn, how her work had influenced modern day screenwriting.

Pride and Prejudice

To illustrate the tone of the Ironic Narrator, an ancient literary device dating back to the Greek and Roman satires, an example professor Fletcher uses is the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The larger things of the cosmos, ‘universal truth’, is juxtaposed with that which is much smaller and singular, albeit such triviality may well have made up the cosmos of those who are parochial. Examples of such an ironic tone can be found in The Big Short, The Princess Bride, Fargo, and CSI. ‘All of them employ the same basic what and how of Pride and Prejudice, with their own little twists and tweaks.’

Maybe you’ve noticed I used the words ‘most gratifying’ with the pleasant surprise when I hear Austen being mentioned. Yes, Jane would turn in her grave to read what I’m going to write: it feels good to find someone, particularly a male with credentials, to confirm the value of her writing such that her work isn’t being seen as ‘just women’s novels’ or ‘chick lit’. Ugh… saying this is so unnecessary, for Austen doesn’t need to prove her worth among the ignorant. However, in this day and age, it takes movements and hashtags to confirm things that should have been valued. Misconceptions ought to be corrected.

Pride and Prejudice Revisited
(Audiobook cover image above)

So, after these two courses, I was all set to revisit my favourite Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. This time, I downloaded the Blackstone audiobook (2011) narrated by Carolyn Seymour, and listened to it twice back to back; this time, I enjoyed it more. Here’s my ripple stirred by the Bard himself:

Ah ha! Fair is foul and foul is fair
Darcy and Wickham as foils repel
Appearance and sweet words can ensnare
At last! Lizzy learns her lesson well.

Further, the famous ‘block to young love’ conceit, not blocked by an older character as in the Bard’s plays –– surely Lady Catherine de Bourgh is old but she’s no match for Lizzy –– but by the lovers’ own internal flaw, be it pride, or prejudice, or both. How satisfying to see the protagonists mature in their self-knowledge as the story develops, first Darcy then later Elizabeth, gaining clarity of their own true self. Not to mention how gratifying to see that figure of grace, Darcy, as he saves the reputation of the Bennet family with his own silent, altruistic plan all for the one he loves.

Well, what’s a staycation for if not to savour one’s favourite reads over again, doing nothing all day but just dwell in the story world without feeling guilty about time spent. I’m thinking it’s a little like being stranded on a deserted island, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and feeling lucky you’ve got Wilson as a companion, even when there’s no one to actually play volleyball with you.

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects

I’ve written many posts on Jane Austen during the early years of blogging. Just put her name in Search you’ll find them. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Art Imitates Life, or Life Imitates Art, or…

Why We Read Jane Austen

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

Bath’s Persuasion

Here’s a link to my articles published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

Metropolitan (1990): Whit Stillman’s Homage to Jane Austen

Thanks to New York born and raised director Whit Stillman, one of Jane Austen’s characters in her juvenilia, Lady Susan Vernon, had a field day last year. For those wondering how that came about, do seek out Stillman’s film Love & Friendship (2016), or his movie-tie-in book Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. 

But Janeites may not have noticed, back in 1990, five years before the pivotal year of wet shirt Darcy’s mortifying encounter with Lizzy Bennet, another Austen character was vindicated, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. And they have Stillman to thank.

What does Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, published in 1814 England, have in common with a bunch of upper class college freshmen/women in 1990 New York City, calling themselves UHB (Urban haute bourgeoisie), worrying about an ‘escort’ shortage for their debutante parties during their Christmas break?

Wait a minute, UHB? ‘Urban Haute Bourgeoisie‘? Isn’t that the kind of targets that would have interested Jane? Our astute Jane who loved to wield her pen, piercing through the façade of the rich and privileged, shaking the underlying status quo of society of her time? Jane would have loved Stillman’s film. She would be amused by the characters in this comedy of manners and their social commentaries. Debutante parties? Jane would be surprised to hear they still exist in the 20th century. If she were to write the screenplay, Jane would probably be less subtle.

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 10.03.38 PM

Stillman’s Metropolitan is not so much an acerbic satire but a gentle poke and  descriptive vignettes of the young UHB’s lifestyle and thinking. From his treatment of his characters, he is gentle and forbearing, albeit incisive, just enough to elicit some knowing chuckles.

In Mansfield Park, Jane presented a heroine that is a contrarian. Fanny Price is unadorned, impoverished, athletically challenged, a misfit and outsider when she enters the upper class home of Sir Thomas Bertram. But it’s her being principled and virtuous that make her stick out like a sore thumb. As Jane ends the book, Fanny gets the final praise, and an oblivious, but decent, Edmund as her ultimate reward.

Stillman’s Metropolitan is set in 1990 NYC. It has two characters that are a type of Fanny Price. First is Tom. He stands for everything that’s the opposite of the UHB. A self-professed socialist, Tom comes from the other side of the track. He wears a raincoat (albeit with a warm lining as he explains) in midwinter, and a ‘snob’ for public transit. Taxi? No, he’d rather walk.

Sure, his new found friends of the UHB know why. How many can afford to take the taxi as their usual means of transport and wears tux to parties? So, to their credit, despite knowing Tom might be from the opposite side of town, they receive him into their midst, especially as the girl Audrey likes him very much and wants him to help solve their, or her, ‘escort shortage’ to the debutante parties.

Audrey is a lover of books. She’s unpretentious, modest, and above all, a sensitive soul not unlike Fanny. In one scene, Audrey serves as a moral compass as the group gathers in the after party to a game that she disapproves of. That’s a Fanny incognito there. She insists on her stance despite everyone, Tom included, feels there’s nothing wrong with the game.

So there are the Austenesque parallels and types. You might be able to identify the Crawfords there too. The youthful characters are all serious in their viewpoints. One must give them credits. In their tux and gowns they discuss social theories. Therein lies Stillman’s gentle satire. While the sarcasm and humour is subtle, there are a few lines that are overt, lines I think Jane would have approved.

In this scene (above photo), Audrey and Tom discuss books. Audrey says Persuasion and Mansfield Park are her favorite Austen books, Tom is incredulous.

Tom:  Mansfield Park! You got to be kidding.

Audrey:  No.

Tom:  But it’s a notoriously bad book. Even Lionel Trilling – one of her
greatest admirers – thought that.

Audrey:  If Lionel Trilling thought that, he’s an idiot.

Jane probably would have thought, “Oh I wish I had written those lines.”

But wait, there’s more. Later in the party, Tom and Audrey continue to discuss Mansfield Park.

Audrey: You find Fanny Price unlikeable?

Tom: She sounds pretty unbearable, but I haven’t read the book.

Audrey: What?

Tom: You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I
haven’t read the Bible either.

Audrey: What Jane Austen novels have you read?

Tom:  None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way
you get the novelist’s idea as well as the critic’s thinking. With
fiction I can never forget none of that has really happened. It’s all
made up by the author.

Oh I can see Jane ROFL.

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Love & Friendship and Other Prospects

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian 

 

Jane Austen 200: Room or No Room, She Did It

Today is the Bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. On July 18, 1817, suffering excruciating pain, Jane died of her illness at age 41. As a tribute, I’m reposting my article on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

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A Room of One’s Own is based on a series of lecture Woolf delivered at the two women’s colleges in Cambridge University on the topic of “Women and Fiction”.  It was published in 1929.

Woolf lamented the disparities women in a patriarchal society had to face throughout history.  The stream of consciousness flowed into torrents of incisive social observations and satirical commentaries.

She noted that women had long been deprived of equitable opportunities in education and employment. Men were rich, women were poor; men got to roam the country and travel the world, women had to be satisfied with the domestic.  Men were great writers, poets, playwrights, women had to concede to find fulfillment in “making puddings and knitting stockings”. Men had rooms to work, to rest, to create…women, the average, middle class women, seldom had a room of their own.

…to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

And sadly, Woolf had to utter this statement:

Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes.

Isn’t it true, Jane spent her most prolific years writing in a very public room in Chawton House.  In the midst of family activities, at a small and spartan desk, she revised Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, and began Sanditon:

Jane's writing desk in Chawton

And isn’t it true that only in movies do we see the idyllic desk against a clear window, with soft light diffusing in, gently illuminating a lady dressed in elegant regency gown, writing on expansive papers and stationary, contemplating in solitude:

Room or no room, recognized or not, something happened towards the end of the eighteenth century that, according to Virginia Woolf, deserved much more mention in history than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses:  The middle-class woman began to write.

Woolf pointed out that not only did Jane Austen lack a room of her own, having had to write her novels in the very public sitting-room, she had to hide her manuscripts or cover them with a piece of blotting-paper, as observed by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh in his Memoir of Jane Austen.

Ironically, there lay the genius of Austen, and the few woman writers around her time such as Bronte and George Eliot.  Woolf wrote:

…and we must accept the fact that all those good novels, Villette, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, were written by women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write.

Little did they know, it was in such a room that they were trained in the prerequisites of novel writing:

…all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.  Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting-room.  People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes.  Therefore, when the middle-class woman took to writing, she naturally wrote novels…

Not only that, they wrote good novels.  With reference to Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf concluded:

Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching.  That was how Shakespeare wrote.

High praise indeed.

 

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Previous Post on Jane Austen 200:

Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A Bath Walking Tour

Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A Bath Walking Tour

As a tribute to the Bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, July 18th, 2017 to be exact, I’m reposting my personal encounter with the city of Bath, Jane’s home for four years and the setting of Persuasion.

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The second time I visited Bath, I was a more intentional traveller. I let Austen’s Persuasion be my guide.  With a detailed street map in my hand, I went exploring the places mentioned in the novel, many of them I missed in my first visit.

“I was not so much changed…” was Anne Elliot’s words to Captain Wentworth upon seeing him eight years after turning him down.  The termination of their relationship was not her own intention, but duty had driven her to yield to Lady Russell’s persuasion.  It would have been a “throw-away” for Anne at 19 to engage with “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” (p. 20)

But the star-crossed lovers are granted the bliss of a second chance, and rightly grab it this time. Austen’s setting of Bath in the book is no coincidence.  The Georgian City was the centre of fashion and the epitome of genteel society, a hotbed of social phenom for the critic and satirist in Austen. Jane had lived in Bath herself for four years, 1801 – 1805, with her sister Cassandra and their parents. Ironically, she was unpersuaded by its attractions according to her biographer Claire Tomalin.

Austen aptly uses Bath’s addresses for the purpose of her characterization. Geographical location is everything in a class-conscious society, as Keiko Parker’s excellent article Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion points out.

First off,  there’s the Pump Room, where in Jane Austen’s days people socialized and met one another, gathered to drink the therapeutic water, catch the latest fashion, simply to see and be seen. The magnificent structure and decor makes The Pump Room a fine restaurant now:

Despite its grand decor, the areas around the baths are residences for the common folks in Austen’s time. Mrs. Smith, the poor, infirmed widow with whom Anne maintains a loyal friendship, lives in the Westgate Buildings close to the Baths. Anne becomes a laughing stock for the snobbish Sir Walter when he hears of her least favourite daughter is determined to visit Mrs. Smith instead of accepting an invitation to Lady Dalrymple’s, someone belonging to the upper echelon of society:

“Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations, are inviting to you.” (p. 113)

Today, the open area outside the Pump Room by the Roman Baths is perhaps the most popular tourist gathering place. Tour buses stop at the Bath Abbey for pick up and drop off, buskers perform in the open space outside the Roman Baths and Pump Room:

Nearby is Sally Lunn’s Bun, originated in 1680 by a young French refugee, in the oldest house of Bath, ca. 1482. Now a restaurant on top, the cellar a museum that houses the original kitchen and cookwares, Sally Lunn’s serves this traditional creation: a large, soft, round bun that can go with just about anything. But probably best like this, simply with garlic butter:

The beautiful street corner outside Sally Lunn’s:

Further up the town, there’s Milsom Street, a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses.  The first time Anne saw Captain Wentworth again in Bath was on Milsom Street.  Here’s a present day view of the same site:

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As for Sir Walter himself, despite having to rent out his country mansion Kellynch Hall to avoid financial ruins, he has no intention that his retreat to Bath should compromise his status and comfort.  It’s only natural that others are curious: “What part of Bath do you think they’ll settle in?”  The answer is quite obvious: the part that is befitting their social standing.

According to Keiko Parker’s insightful article, physical elevation in Bath directly corresponds to social standing. The highest point at that time would have to be Camden Place, which is today’s Camden Crescent. While I was looking for it, the ‘Ye Old Farmhouse Pub’ was mentioned to me as the marker. I was glad to find it while walking up Landsdown Road, for it was indeed quite an uphill walk.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.

Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months…” (p. 98)

Just typical Austen, the overt contrast of characters using something indirect, here, the sense of place.

The houses on Camden Crescent has unobstructive view of lower Bath.  They are not grand mansions, but then again, location is everything. The following are some of the houses found on this road across from the escarpment:

And where do Sir Walter’s tenants Admiral and Mrs. Croft lodge during their short stay in Bath?  On Gay Street, not too high, not too low: “… perfectly to Sir Walter’s satisfaction.  He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him.” (p. 121)

Elizabeth is not even half as kind as her vain and snobbish father.  Regarding the Crofts’ arrival in Bath, she suggests to Sir Walter that “We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level.” (p. 120)

In contrast, Anne has a good impression of the Admiral and his dear wife, the kind and down-to-earth couple, Mrs. Croft’s being the sister of Captain Wentworth having minimal bearing on Anne’s fondness of them. During their sojourn in Bath to mend a gouty Admiral Croft, Anne enjoys watching them strolling together, “it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her.” (p. 121)

So I’m just not a bit surprised to see their temporary lodging in Bath being on Gay Street.  Who else had lived there?  Jane Austen herself: #25 to be exact:

As for a suitable place for socializing, Sir Walter and his favourite daughter Elizabeth choose the Upper Assembly Rooms, a much newer development closer to their upper, more fashionable side of town, although he would prefer entertaining in private which is even more prestigious.

The Assembly Rooms are a magnificent architectural legacy in their own rights.  Designed by John Wood the Younger, who raised the £20,000 needed for the venture, the ground-breaking project began in 1769 and opened for public use in 1771.  It was the biggest investment in a single building in 18th Century Bath. Four public rooms made up the suite:  The Octagon, Ball Room, Card Room, and Tea Room.

“Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs, Clay, were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room (p. 131).

Here’s the exquisite Octagon Room:

Regarding the chandelier, there’s this interesting account in The Authorised Guide (p.7):

“On 15 August 1771 Jonathan Collett quoted £400 for supplying five cut-glass chandeliers for the Ball Room. They were up in time for the opening of the Rooms in September, but the following month disaster struck when ‘one of the arms of the chandilers in the Ballroom fell down during the time the company was dancing, narrowly missing  Gainsborough. What could be salvaged from the set was made up into a single chandelier, which now hangs in the Octagon.”

I was just simply amazed at how long these chandeliers had lasted, well over 300 years, and in excellent shape. Their brilliance had not faded, evolving from candlelight to gas, and now electric:

Anne and her party attend a music program in the Concert Hall.  That’s a function in the Tea Room. Despite the name which seems to convey a small and cozy setting, the Tea Room is a gorgeous room of 60 ft. by 43 ft. dimension.  On one end is a magnificent colonnade of the Ionic order.  Subscription concerts are regular events held in the Tea Room. Mozart and Haydn had written compositions to be performed there, with Haydn himself having graced the magnificent venue.

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But what does Anne Elliot think about all the grandeur?  After earlier in the Octagon Room talking with Captain Wentworth, who has openly expressed his long-held passion for her, Anne, overwhelmed by a great flood of euphoria, now walks into the Concert Room (Tea Room):

“Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room.  Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it.  She was thinking only of the last half hour…” (p. 134)

As a visitor to the historic venue, I was captivated by the well-maintained interior and its elegance, and presently amused and surprised to find this display in between two columns: The Chair, which is mentioned several times in Persuasion. The Bath Chair was invented right here in the Georgian City to transport the rich and the sick.  It could be steered by the passenger:

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Jane might have noticed the frivolity and pierced through the façade of high society of the time with her critical eyes, but as a modern day tourist, I’m just amazed at how well history has been preserved, totally persuaded that Bath is a place I will definitely revisit some more in the future.

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All photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

References:

1. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, 2000.

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Modern Library Classics, Introduction by Amy Bloom, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001.

3. The Authorised Guide: The Assembly Rooms, Bath. Published by the Heritage Services division of Bath and North East Somerset Council in association with the National Trust.  Written by Oliver Garnett and Patricia Dunlop.

4. “What Part of Bath Do You Think They Will Settle In?”: Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion by Keiko Parker.  Retrieved Online http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number23/parker.pdf

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To join in the celebration of Jane Austen 200, I’ll have more Austen posts coming up this week.

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Back in 2007, the Welsh-born film director Peter Greenaway made the following stark comment:

“Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel. We’re still illustrating Jane Austen novels — there are 41 films of Jane Austen novels in the world — what a waste of time.”

I’m afraid since then, must be to Greenaway’s disdain, more Jane Austen movie adaptations had come out. As recent as early this year, Greenaway had reiterated his stance with an even starker comment: “all film writers should be shot.

Not that he’s anti-Austen, or holds a grudge against Tolkien or Rowling… I don’t think, but that he is pushing for a non-text-based, purely visual medium for movies.

Well, I’m glad his view remains just that, a personal opinion, and that writer/director Whit Stillman had not become a casualty of such an incendiary thought.

love-and-friendship-08.png

For thanks to Stillman, we have an intelligent, delightful and worthy adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, a first for the author’s lesser known Juvenilia, apart from her famous six novels. The film is definitely not an illustrated book, but a worthy stand-alone cinematic production that Jane would approve.

As for dear Jane, I think she’d be pleased to know that her works are being cherished enough to be adapted into this modern invention called a movie two centuries later, and that in this post-modern era, we have a director by the name of Whit Stillman who’s enthused enough to turn her novella, written when she was still in her teenage years, into a movie production.

The epistolary novella “Lady Susan” was deemed unfinished and published posthumously. So this is a plus as Stillman could finished it for Jane, with an ending that’s aligned with the plot’s trajectory, and in a style that’s so well melded one would marvel at the perfect alchemy of Austenesque characters and language. Smartly borrowing the name of another of her novella “Love and Friendship”, Stillman toys with dear Jane’s uncontested approval.

While written in letters format, “Lady Susan” is highly entertaining. Austen’s talent is apparent on every page. How well she presents her characters merely through their written correspondences. Acerbic commentaries from an 18 year old? Hard to believe. But indeed, here are some lines describing Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), Lady Susan’s only friend Alicia’s (Chloë Sevigny) husband:

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” (Letter 29, Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson)

Interestingly, Stillman has toned down Lady Susan’s language and made her a more amicable heroine. The above lines were shortened and delivered by Kate Beckinsale in a casual manner. Yes, turning the letters into movie scenes are tricky, crafting mere letter writers into flesh and blood can be challenging, something I hope Greenaway can appreciate.

Stillman has taken Love & Friendship to 21st C. audience with fast paced, short scenes. The settings are elegant, the period costumes appealing, overall, a fine cinematic production. It is an apt visual presentation of Austen’s ingenuity. Writing “Lady Susan” while merely 18 or 19, she had seen through the marriage system of her country, understood human nature and foibles, depicting her characters and the main heroine, no, anti-heroine, with piercing sarcasm and generosity.

Having read the novella first could be an advantage as the viewer knows exactly who the characters are and the backstory as the film begins. With the literary source in mind, the viewer can also have a heightened appreciation of the cinematic rendering and alterations needed to make it work as a movie. The fusion of Austen / Stillman humour is most delightful, punctuated with some whimsical rendering on screen that I won’t mention here but leave for viewers to enjoy.

Kate Beckinsale portrays Lady Susan with deadpan astuteness. Deadpan or dead-on, no matter, for Beckinsale is a fine Lady Susan, newly widowed, not too young to be gullible and definitely not too old to flirt for her own gains. Don’t blame her, for she has a sixteen year-old daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to mind, and so, two eligible candidates who need to wed.

If one were to find fault, blame it on the social system allowing the female population only one track to go for sustainability, i.e. to find a husband. The ultimate goal of the marriage contract is more for finance than romance. (Maybe that’s why we love Pride and Prejudice so much, for its triumph of true love.) Here in this story, it’s a social milieu where love is remote and friendship useful. Lady Susan Vernon ultimately finds her conquest, never one to boast, just a project accomplished, all bottom lines met.

Stillman has a wonderful cast to work with, and they look like they had a lot of fun making the film, the most lively being Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). It must be a joy to be silly without restraint, yes, let it all out.

Alicia, Lady Susan’s only friend, is aptly played by Chloë Sevigny, who reunites with Kate Beckinsale from “The Last Days of Disco” (1998) where the two are the yuppie heroines under Stillman’s direction. Great to see the two friends in “Disco” have now emerged as allies yet again, this time in a comedy of manners with real Austen roots.

Stillman is a master of dialogues, and so’s Austen. In both the novella and the film, conversations make the characters. But mind you, Janeites know this, and it shows in Stillman’s film, Austen’s humour is not your roll on the floor laughing type of funny

rofl_1

but a clever kind of jokes that elicits a knowing chuckle or a smile, ones that exude insight into human nature, ones that you’d want to jot down:

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And for those who have read the epistolary novella penned by a young female writer of the 18th century, one cannot help but marvel at her prodigious astuteness and now director Stillman’s revealing of her brilliant mind. A long time Austen ‘apologist’, Stillman’s previous work “Metropolitan” (1990) is unabashedly a “Mansfield Park” of the time. My favorite line in that movie is uttered by the Fanny Price parallel character Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), when she is talking to Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) about one of her favorite Austen works, Mansfield Park. Tom has not read any Austen but feels qualified to criticize nonetheless:

Tom: But it’s a notoriously bad book. Even Lionel Trilling, one of her greatest admirer thought that.

Audrey: Well, if Lionel Trilling thought that, he’s an idiot.

(But of course, it was Tom who hasn’t read any Austen that has misread Trilling.)

That was Stillman’s debut film. Since “Metropolitan”, he had proven his mastery in the comedy of manners in our times… preppies, yuppies, and maybe someday I hope,  millennials. To say his oeuvre is a conglomeration of Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson would be unfair, neglecting his own style of humour and social observations, although his works do leave traces of all the above.

When awards season comes, I anticipate the film to receive some nominations, specifically Adapted Screenplay, Set Design, Costumes and Hair, and perhaps directing.

Here’s my recommendation: read Jane’s novella Lady Susan first before watching the movie would probably reap the most enjoyment. Afterwards, there’s the bonus. Yes, Whit Stillman has wrapped it all up with the novel Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Was Entirely Vindicated published by Little, Brown and Co. in May, 2016. Icing on the cake.

Jane Austen doesn’t need a defender, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind getting acknowledgement for her lesser known Juvenilia, some works started when she was only twelve. “Love & Friendship” is a first attempt and a worthy homage to her ingenuity. I’m glad there are many prospects. Whit Stillman and Jane Austen make one fine match indeed.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Related posts on Ripple Effects:

Love & Friendship and Other Prospects

Too Much Jane?

Why We Read Jane Austen

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian

 

Love and Friendship and Other Prospects

Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” (review coming soon on Ripples) opens up a whole new world of Jane Austen for modern day readers and viewers. All we’ve been familiar with are Austen’s six novels, with 60 plus adaptations of full features and TV series according to IMDb.

Based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan written likely when she was only 18 or 19, “Love & Friendship” is a first time movie adaptation of this lesser-known work. Director Stillman got the name from one of Austen’s short stories with one major alteration: &. The film was a big hit. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this January to critical acclaims. Everywhere since, “Love & Friendship” has left audience fully entertained for 90 minutes. Surprising, or not, for it’s Whit Stillman’s work that’s a long time coming. A specialist in comedy of manners in our modern time, Stillman wrote the screenplay himself, even has it published as a new novel together with Austen’s original work, 2 in 1. Now that’s a must read. And as Stillman said in an interview :”I vastly prefer the kind of collaboration I had with Jane Austen to those living authors… She has no complaints! I can assure you she has no complaints. I know that for a fact.”

After the world was awakened to this relatively ‘unknown’ Austen work being brought to the big screen, now comes another one: “Sanditon”, Austen’s unfinished novel when she died in 1817. So much the better, with an unfinished novel, a screenwriter and director can have the freedom to use their creative flair to boundless possibilities.  (Note: in 1975, a ‘completed Sanditon’ was published, authored by ‘Another Lady’, a writer who chose to follow Jane’s step of anonymity.) This upcoming film adaptation, however, is written by a known name, British playwright / producer/ director Simon Reade, who has many titles adapted on the British stage. Of note is his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a sell out run at The Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Oscar nominated Charlotte Rampling will play dowager Lady Denham in a production helmed by Jim O’Hanlon, who directed the 2009 BBC TV version of Emma.

If Lady Susan and Sanditon can be adapted to the big screen, lots more can come. A treasure trove of unfilmed works await in Austen’s bibliography. The Watsons, short stories, even letters can be put into good use as movie ideas. Lots of prospects lining up:

Frederic and Elfrida
Jack and Alice
Edgar and Emma
Henry and Eliza
Love and Friendship
A History of England
The Three Sisters
Lesley Castle
Evelyn
Catherine, or the Bower
The Watsons

“Love & Friendship” could be kicking off a Jane Austen revival in the coming years.

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Just posted a new list of Books to Movie Adaptations coming out this year or in development on Shiny New Books Issue #10. CLICK HERE to read.

Saturday Snapshot February 22: Austen Doors and Windows

Continuing with the theme of doors and windows, let’s hop over to the UNESCO city of Bath. I was there twice. These are a few photos I took on those trips.

The beloved author Jane Austen lived there from 1801 – 1806 after her family moved from her birthplace Steventon when she was 26. Their first address was 4 Sydney Place:

4 Sydney PlaceNo 4 Sydney PlaceIn their last year in Bath the family moved to 25 Gay Street:

25 Gay Street

25 Gay Street

Down the road to No. 40 is the Jane Austen Centre:

40 Gay Street Jane Austen Centre

The Great Pump Room was a social hub in Austen’s day. Her observations there must have inspired her satirical descriptions of high society in Northanger Abbey. Now an elegant restaurant:

The Pump Room Entrance

Austen used Bath as the setting for her novel Persuasion. Milsom Street was a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses in those days as in now. The first time Anne Eliot saw Captain Wentworth again was when he passed by a shop on Milsom Street.

Milsom StreetMilsom Streetscape  Here’s a modern day shop window, Milsom & Son, a music store:

Milsom & Son

No, Jane would not have stepped in there to shop for CD’s or DVD’s. But she would likely have gone into this place, Sally Lunn Bun, the oldest building in Bath dating back to 1482 and a business that was present in Jane’s time. There’s a Kitchen Museum in the basement of the restaurant:

Sally Lunn's Bun

Sally Lunn Bun entrance

How can I resist showing you what’s inside the door and window:

Sally Lunn Bun

You might like to explore more of Bath in my other posts Jane Austen’s Bath and Bath’s Persuasion in which I recorded my walking tour using the novel Persuasion as a guidebook.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. Click Here to see what others have posted.

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Half Way Through a Budding Grove

Half way through reading In Search of Lost Time, Vol. II, Within A Budding Grove, I’ve discovered a key to enjoying Proust. Just as it’s best to eat madeleines by dipping them in tea before putting the moistened petite cakes in your mouth, the most enjoyable way to read Proust is lying in bed with an unhindered mind. In this most relaxed state, I’m at ease to stroll leisurely through a budding grove, or the thickets of a genius’s mind.

Within A Budding Grove Modern Library

So far, I’ve gone passed the narrator Marcel’s painful struggles with adolescent, unrequited love for M. Swann’s daughter Gilberte. In contrast, his crush for Mme Swann has been appreciated and normalized. Unlike the cool and aloof Gilberte, Mme Swann welcomes Marcel into their home warmly, including him in their family outings, and their home gatherings with their friends, thus allowing him an opportunity to meet his literary hero, the writer Bergotte.

And here’s the passage I’m most impressed by, so far. The man Bergotte is very different from the writer Marcel has encountered in his ‘divine writing’. The man appears to be very common, inarticulate even, and devoid of eloquence, a man who spent his childhood in a ‘tasteless household’. Marcel is shocked by this discovery, and scrambles to come to terms with such dissonance. In a most ingenious analysis, the young Marcel comes to this conclusion:

But genius, and even great talent, springs less from seeds of intellect and social refinement superior to those of other people than from the faculty of transforming and transposing them… To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most powerful of motors, one must have a motor which, instead of continuing to run along the earth’s surface… is capable of converting its speed into lifting power. (p. 175)

As I read these few pages, Jane Austen came to mind. A writer who had lived her short life mainly in a rural setting, her associations parochial and far from ‘high society’, and yet could transport herself and thus her readers to a different world from her mundane social environs. Her imagination soared as it took flight with her incisive observations of human nature.

… the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror… genius consisting in reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected. (p. 175-176)

The adolescent Marcel’s disillusionment with the discrepancy between the man and writer Bergotte leads him to an uplifting insight:

The day on which the young Bergotte succeeded in showing to the world of his readers the tasteless household in which he had spent his childhood, and the not very amusing conversations between himself and his brothers, was the day on which he rose above the friends of his family, more intellectual and more distinguished than himself; they in their fine Rolls-Royces might return home expressing due contempt for the vulgarity of the Bergottes; but he, in his modest machine which had at last ‘taken off,’ soared above their heads. (p. 176)

Yes, more Proust’s words than mine on this post. Many other highlighted passages and surprising delights, but will have to wait till I’ve come out of the budding grove the end of November. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to join me in a read-along of In Search of Lost Time, Vol. II: Within A Budding Grove.

CLICK HERE to my wrap-up post: Out of the Budding Grove

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Related Posts:

Proust Read-along Swann’s Way Part I: Combray (Featured in ‘Freshly Pressed’)

The Swann and Gatsby Foil

What Was Jane Austen Really Like? Reading Tomalin and Shields

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

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Summer Reading for Future Viewing

NOTE: Just added Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Some updates on books into films or TV adaptations. Some I’ve read, some TBR.

Under The Dome copyUnder The Dome by Stephen King — Now a new TV series (CBS) produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, joining the trend of bypassing the big screen to opt for TV production. The future is now as the series has already started airing. First episode with 13.5 million viewers. Could this be a foretaste of the ‘implosion’ phenom Spielberg predicted, TV screen replacing the big screen?

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outlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon — This wildly popular, NYT bestselling cross-genre series of novels (Sci-Fi/Romance/Historical/Adventure) will be adapted into a TV series. Again, TV is the emerging medium for literary adaptations. Versatile Gabaldon has multiple degrees in science and was a university professor before creating the Outlander book series. She’s also a comic script writer. Here’s her bio.

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Winters-Tale-CoverWinter’s Tale by Mark Helprin — Sci-Fi is trending. This one will be on the big screen with some big names such as Will Smith, Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell. But if you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you’d be interested to know this is one of the reasons Lady Sybil met her tragic end. No hard feeling. I wish Jessica Brown Findlay all the best in her pursuit of big screen presence. Take a look at these photos.

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The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — Book published June 18, 2013, film rights of Gaiman’s new novel (this one for adults) about childhood memories had already been snatched up by Tom Hanks’ production company Playtone and director found. That’s Joe Wright who brought us the screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007) and the most recent version of Anna Karenina (2012). Have put a hold on the audiobook from the library.

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In The Garden of BeastsIn the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson — Again, Tom Hanks had picked up the film rights and he will star in it. Before you say ‘Ha! Self-gratification’, I’d say he’s an apt choice to play William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Natalie Portman is on board as Dodd’s flirtatious zealous daughter Martha. Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of The Artist (2011), will helm. The book focuses on dry facts and livens up with Martha’s escapades. I can expect how the movie would use them as leverage. But I certainly hope not.

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The Monuments MenThe Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel — A different perspective into Nazi atrocities. This time the victims are the art works in Europe. A special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture under Hitler’s order and for his private gains. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett star. Downton fans, Hugh Bonneville is also in. I’ve seen a doc based on Edsel’s other book The Rape of Europa, which is excellent. I eagerly await The Monuments Men.

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James — BBC will produce this Austen’s Pride and Prejudice spin-off. Will it shift our devotion for Darcy from Colin Firth to Matthew Rhys? Not a chance. So why do it, especially when the book is overwhelmingly lackluster (there’s a new oxymoron for you). Lots of alterations will be needed for it to be put on screen. Here’s my take on the book.

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AustenlandAustenland by Shannon Hale — Jane Austen spinoffs have to work extra hard to capture a wider audience, considering there are multitudes in the male population who avoid reading even the brilliant, original author Jane herself. Further, these imaginary sequels to P & P even have to woo female Austen purists. Kerri Russell stars, Stephenie Meyer produces. Maybe Meyer is ok with just reaching her own fans. If you’re not an Austen purist, here’s a beach read for you.

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RebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier — Currently in development by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks. Do you think the 1940 Hitchcock film needs a makeover? Who should replace Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine? A new adaptation means drawing attention once again to Du Maurier’s novel, attracting first time readers. Good choice for book group, especially when you can read, discuss and watch movie together after.

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Far from the Madding CrowdFar From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy — Carey Mulligan’s next literary adaptation after The Great Gatsby. I’m glad she’s got this role, but, can she beat Julie Christie’s 1967 rendition of Bathsheba? The new version will be helmed by rising star director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt). Belgium actor Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) and Juno Temple (in talks) also on board. I can see that all these remakes of classic films of literary adaptations are geared at a new generation of viewers. And I say, it’s alright. Another movie version just may draw more attention to reading literature.

the-grapes-of-wrathThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck — Just as we speak, Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks is in talks with John Steinbeck’s estate to acquire the film rights, again, to remake another 1940 classic, this one with John Ford directing Henry Fonda. If the talk is successful, which I don’t doubt, who do you think should be in this new version? The book is on my TBR list with East of Eden, which also had plan for a new adaptation a few years back but since no more news had come out.

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RELATED POSTS:

Upcoming Book to Movie Adaptations

Summer Viewing List

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

My Review of:

The Artist

Atonement: Book Into Film

Anna Karenina: Book

Anna Karenina: Movie

Death Comes to Pemberley

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Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

This is how I see it. Living to 91 is an achievement in itself, let alone write a book at that age. I admire the adventurous spirit of P. D. James, sailing out to new waters at this stage of her career. This is her first attempt at creating an Austen sequel, a Pride and Prejudice fan fiction. So, how do I reconcile the flaws in this book with her previous acclaimed mystery works?  Let’s just say… the editor did it.

Take for example the error in referring Darcy as an Oxford man, who had actually gone to Cambridge, and with Wickham too. The ubiquitous redundancy of retelling, or the irrelevant details such as taking an inventory of how many candles are lit in which room.

Or, this dialogue between Sir Selwyn’s, the magistrate, and Darcy, as Darcy goes to his home to report to him a body is found in the woodlands. Are lines like these necessary? I find them incredibly amusing. Greeting Darcy, Sir Selwyn says:

Please sit. That chair with the carved back is said to be comfortable and should hold your weight.”

Since it was the chair Darcy usually occupied he had every confidence that it would. He seated himself and told his story…

The book begins with an epilogue detailing the story of Pride and Prejudice framed by a Jamesian view. It then starts off with the Darcy household preparing for the annual Lady Anne’s Ball at Pemberley, a tradition honouring Darcy’s mother ever since he was a child. A screaming Lydia comes charging in, uninvited, manically hysterical. Somebody has shot her dear husband Wickham, she claims. A search party led by Colonel Fitzwilliam soon takes action, and a body is found lying in the dense woodlands on Pemberley grounds. Wickham, very much alive, is seen hovering over it, blood stained and drunk. The episode comes early, the rest of the book is the revealing of the facts, whodunnit and why.

This is no CSI. The body is removed once found and brought back to Pemberley. Wickham, the key witness also now the key suspect, is washed clean of the blood on him, given a sedative, and is deep asleep when the magistrate arrives to question him. The later inquest at Lambton and final trial at London’s Old Bailey sound like child’s play when compared to, what comes to mind for me, Dicken’s Bleak House trials.

Simple, straight forward, not much mystery to it. But readers get to be entertained by James’ literary rendering and imagination of all the main characters from Pride and Prejudice, six years after it has ended in Austen’s hands. Darcy and Elizabeth now are parents to two boys, Fitzwilliam, 5, and Charles, 2. Readers so fond of their courtship would be disappointed at not seeing them together much in the book. Georgiana still lives in Pemberley, has two suitors, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a young lawyer Alveston, who seems to have a much higher chance.

At the end, we see the problem that has given rise to the motive of the crime neatly resolved by … Harriet Smith, who is married to farmer Robert Martin, no kidding. You’re right, that’s the Harriet Smith who used to go to a successful girl’s school run by Mrs. Goddard in Highbury, and the farmer Robert Martin who is a good friend of Mr. and Mrs. Knightley. All characters from Emma. This part reads like a parody. But we ought to be familiar with this sort of things by now in our current culture, a total mash-up.

All in all, I say, don’t resist your curiosity. Despite its flaws, and if you don’t take Austen or James too seriously, this just could make one great escape from all the demands of rationality in your daily routines.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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For all Jane Austen / Pride and Prejudice fans, this review from The Guardian is a must-read.

Easy Virtue (2008)

Easy Virtue posterCan we all get along?  That poignant plea is ever applicable,  from L.A to all corners of the world, today or years past.   And when it comes to families, which one doesn’t have its ups and downs?  So, since the answer is obvious, might as well make comedies out of the situation.

Based on the play by Noel Coward, and lavishly adorned with his songs, credits to the Easy Virtue Orchestra, the film is otherwise re-written to appeal to a contemporary audience.

The story takes place some years after the First World War, in the 1920’s.   The eldest son of an English aristocratic family, John Whittaker (Ben Barnes, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), comes home from abroad and brings back his new wife Larita, a race car driver (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist).  What ensue are battles on the home front between the audacious new bride and the stuffy and snobby matriarch of the family, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long).  The main spark of their explosive confrontations:  Larita is American.  And Larita does not disappoint.  She is exactly what Mrs. Whittaler expects her to be, and some more:  a gale of forbidden ideas and scandalous history.  For her performance, Kristin Scott Thomas received two Best Actress nominations.

The most intriguing character is Mr. Whittaker, played by Colin Firth (When Did You Last See Your Father, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Pride and Prejudice).  A veteran of the Great War, Mr. Whittaker is a disillusioned man, aloof, perceptive, and cynical all at the same time.   He is the only one in the family extending a welcoming hand to Larita, and stands by his new found comrade in the domestic clash of cultures.   The climax of the story comes near the end in an enthralling scene of the two tango dancing.  Naturally, what follows is just anti-climatic.

Easy Virtue 1

The Whittakers live in a humongous mansion on acres of lush grounds for generations, reminiscence of Darcy’s Pemberley (yes, Colin Firth again), and for Mrs. Whittaker especially, no short supplies of pride or prejudice.  Whether it’s intentional of the director or not, at one scene in the Whittakers ballroom, I see Darcy, poised and tall.  But director Stephan Elliott and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins are no Jane Austen.  This comedy of manners may appear to be a burlesque of the traditional upper-class English family, but it lacks the depth of characterization and cathartic effect of an Austen work.

And that’s alright.

Easy Virtue may be frothy, loud, and ephemeral, but it is effective in delivering some witty lines, great comedic timing, some cool cinematography, and fine performance not just from the main characters, but the supporting roles.  I must mention the butler Furber (Kris Marshall), and the two Whittaker sisters Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) and Marion (Katherine Parkinson).  They have added much delight to the film.  A fun ride all the way.

I have not seen Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas together in a movie since The English Patient (1996).  And truth be told, they are the reason for me to see this one.

Easy Virtue is currently released on limited screens across North America.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Vision not Illustration

Read a post entitled “It’s All About the Story” on the Austenblog relating the controversial remarks the Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway made recently in an international film festival.  He criticised modern blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, dismissing them as “not films but illustrated books”.  As for all the Austen movies sprouting up in recent years, Greenaway said:

Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel.  We’re still  illustrating Jane Austen novels—there are 41 films of Jane Austen   novels in the world.  What a waste of time.”

This is my response.  I recognize that not all attempts of turning books into films are successful, many far from being effective.  However, a good movie should be the portrayal of a vision, not mere illustration or graphic representation of the written words.  As I have commented in that post, let’s just say a film is the visualization of the novel, not mere illustration.

And there is a major difference between vision and illustration: the former is seeing through an interpretive lens, rather than simply transferring images from one medium to another like the latter.

That’s why we may like a certain adaptation over another of the same Austen novel, and that’s why there can be more than one movie on the same story… Just as Bach had created Theme and Variations, we can have Story and Adaptations. That’s the reason why we still go to the concert hall and listen to different masters playing the same pieces of music, infusing into their performance their own unique persona and interpretation.  As an art-house filmmaker, Mr. Greenaway should have grasped this very fundamental notion.

As for future endeavors to turn Austen novels into films, I say, “All the best!”