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.




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

A Summer in Genoa (2008) DVD

A film that you have not seen in the theatre in North America. It premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and disappeared until it emerged on DVD in April, 2012. A Summer in Genoa is a fine film that has slipped through the blockbuster-craving, profit-driven distribution network.

This is from Colin Firth’s pre-Oscar days, a performance that could well be a foreshadow of his Oscar nominated role in A Single Man a year later.

In A Summer in Genoa, Firth plays Joe, an English professor in Chicago who has lost his wife Marianne (Hope Davis) in a car accident. As father to teenager Kelly (Willa Holland) and her younger sister Mary (superbly played by then 10 year-old Perla Haney-Jardine), Joe has to lay aside his grief to continue with his family life in taking care of his daughters.

Five months after the accident, Joe’s old colleague Barbara (Catherine Keener) has lined up a teaching position for him in Genova, Italy. It is summer. The beautiful, historical seaside city will be a totally different scenery from Chicago. Joe thinks that could be a good change for all of them.

How does a family deal with loss? Here we see each person has to face it individually before coming together as a family.

Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart, 2007) uses a naturalistic style to depict the three of them adjusting to a new situation in their own way. Through a hand-held camera, we are privy to the life of a family like watching a home video. As with any other family, their daily routine is ordinary and mundane. Yet because of their predicament, we care for these characters, especially with young Mary always drifting off on her own. We fear for her safety.

I’ve appreciated Winterbottom’s naturalism throughout the film, not only in the camera work, but with the ‘non-acting’ of the characters (using Bresson’s notion). They come across as real people dealing with daily issues we could relate to. On top of adjusting to a new city and nursing or ignoring a wound that has yet closed, a family still needs to go on living as a family.

We see Joe make breakfast for his girls, go to teach at the university, come home and make dinner. The girls go to their piano lessons, and Kelly takes her younger sister walking in long and narrow alleyways of the old city finding their way. We see Kelly making acquaintances with some young men, and how she riskily push the limits and attempt some youthful explorations. As for the younger Mary, we see her sorely locked in her solitary self of guilt and loss.

The young actor Perla Haney-Jardine’s performance as Mary is particularly poignant. With her father and older sister preoccupied with their own interests, she is left alone to deal with her private pain. She sees her mother appear to her, communicating to her with her presence and words.

The music selection is a major appeal to me. A film that starts off with the beginning theme of Chopin’s Etude no.3 and carries it as a motif throughout is sure to capture my attention. Music is also a legacy from their mother who used to teach piano at the university.

But I’m totally won over as this is read with a voiceover. A final class assignment Joe gives out to his students. He listens to the recording with them, his face lost in thought. It is so thematically perfect. As he ponders, he must have tasted the relevance of its words to his own predicament, raising his two daughters, through life’s ebb and flow. Here in this shot confirms Firth’s talent of ‘non-acting’.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held: 
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days; 
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

Special Features include equally naturalistic behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Another title for the film is Genova.