The Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Blogosphere

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.”
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of September 14th.

The Jane Austen Centre’s September newsletter arrived in my mailed box. You can sign up for your very own free monthly copy here.

Austen-esque author Jane Odiwe has announced the publication by Sourcebooks, Inc. of her new book Mrs. Brandon’s Invitation, a sequel to Sense and Sensibility. The release date is set for September 2009, but well worth the wait since her other novel Lydia Bennet’s Story is due out next month and will tide us over for a bit. Congratulations Jane!

Its Book Blogging Appreciation Week, September 15-19 at My Friend Amy Blog with many daily giveaways. Check it out. Becoming Jane Fan Site offers a great Austen quote of this week from Pride and Prejudice. The Jane Austen for President campaign continues at Jane Austen Addict.

Another Austen sequel you say? Well, gentle readers, this one will be something very special and already highly prized by me. Janeite Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont has all the scoop on the upcoming The Independence of Mary Bennet by best selling author Colleen McCullough (of The Thornbirds fame) due out in Australia on October 1st, and in the US on December 9th. Could this be the first time a best selling author has taken on a Jane Austen sequel? I think so, and all of the Jane Austen community is all anticipation.

Austen-esque book reviews for the week include New Friends and Old Fancies, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, The Darcys and the Bingleys, Seducing Mr. Darcy, and The Annontated Pride and Prejudice, Sandition, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

Take a journey through Jane Austen’s Letters as Janeite Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont reads and writes about our strongest primarary source on Austen’s life.

Lost in Austen continues to garner quite a bit of attention in the press and online. Episode 3 aired this week, and you can catch up on all the dish at AustenBlog. You can read reviews of Episode 2 at Jane Austen’s World, & Austenprose. This critic gives it a thumbs up, but needs to use another first line phrase to open her article, cuz we already know that it is a truth universally acknowledged, and this critic gives it a thumbs down, prefering not to have fun with Dickens and Jane.

We can rest assured that the BBC is still pumping out quality costume dramas after the reviews and news of the new Tess of the d’Urbervilles TV movie this week. This new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1891novel has an Austen connection through the talented and stunningly beautiful Gemma Arterton who plays the heroine Tess Durbyfield and also portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in the new ITV Lost in Austen currently airing in the UK, and with Anna Massey as Mrs. d’Urberville whom veteran Austen movie watchers will remember as Mrs. Norris in the 1983 BBC adaptation of Mansfield Park. Hopefully this production will make its way across the pond to PBS next year.

Actress Carey Mulligan who played Isabella Thorpe in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey will be trodding the boards on Broadway this month continuing the role that she originated in The Seagull from London.

The Duchess opens on Friday September 19th in the US staring Keira Knightley as the 18th-century “it” girl of fashion and society, Lady Georgiana Spencer. Readers will remember that she portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice who in that particular version frolicked through fields and played with pigs. This outing gives Knightley the chance to highbow with hobnobs, wear resplendent finery and really big hair. Austen-esque author Diana Birchall was priveldged to see an advance screening of the movie with JASNA-SW and personally interview author Amanda Foreman at their Q & A. Wow, good job Diana. Isn’t it amazing what connections Jane Austen opens up for us!

And finally, Austenprose is happy to announce its second Austen novel event entitled “Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey” during the month of October, 2008. We shall be exploring Jane Austen’s gentle parody on Gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey with a group read and chatting about all of the famous Northanger Cannon, the twelve Gothic novels that are mentioned by Isabella Thorpe to the heroine Catherine Morland in the novel. There will be a reading challenge, book reviews and plenty of Northanger Abbey themed giveaways, so please visit and join in, starting October 1st.

Until next week cheers to all,

Laurel Ann

Northanger Abbey: No Notion of Loving Isabella Thorpe by Halves

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey (1897)“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6 

Jane Austen’s character Isabella Thorpe is a strange creature by way of a friend; an odd mixture of affability and cunning, ready to fiercely defend her new friend Catherine Morland if anyone should slight her, flatter her ego to earn her trust, and ply her with advice on romance! What an ingenious character to throw in the path of our young heroine in the making, who innocently does not know what may be “lurking behind the dreadful black veil” of new acquaintance.   

The quote above is from one of my favorite early scenes in the novel when Isabella and Catherine are developing their friendship. They have met in the Pump-room in Bath (England), and their conversation is described by the narrator as an example of their “very warm attachment, and of the delicacy, discretion, originality of thought, and literary taste which marked the reasonableness of that attachment.”

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe & Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, (2007)

Isabella and Catherine discuss topics of acute interest to young ladies, that would be pertinent even today; friends, dancing, personality, romance and men! Observe Isabella’s language. Her enthusiasm and attention to her naïve friend feeds Catherine’s insecurity and inexperience. 

(Isabella)… My attachments are always excessively strong… Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men.” 

“Oh, dear!” cried Catherine, colouring. “How can you say so?” 

“I know you very well; you have so much animation,… Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly – I am sure he is in love with you.” Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. “It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody’s admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you” – speaking more seriously – “your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings.” 

“But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr. Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again.” 

“Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!” 

“No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina’s skeleton behind it.”

 Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classic Vol 14, (2007)

Catherine’s interest in Isabella is entirely genuine and unaffected. Her mention of Udolpho shows that she is still focused on her first love, Gothic fiction. Isabella also shares Catherine’s passion, but she uses Gothic novels as a consumable commodity, purely entertainment in between her next romantic conquest. Author Francis Warre Cornish (pg 180) describes Isabella’s interest in Catherine quite openly. 

“Isabella’s interest in her was no doubt quickened by the fact that she admired James Morland, Catherine’s brother. For the present the friendship was all-satisfying. Isabella Thorpe is one of those females not unfrequently met with in Jane Austen’s novels, who combine an empty head and agreeable manners with a clear view of personal advantage. Some of them succeed, some fail in their object, which is to get a husband and a position. They are in the middle distance, between the heroes and the villains, between the Darcys and the Wickhams, the Elizabeths and the Lucy Steeles. Poor Catherine was so delighted with finding a friend to sympathise with her about the Mysteries of Udolpho that she did not observe how vapid, vulgar, and self-seeking her new friend was.” 

Cornish’s book entitled Jane Austen is a literary critique written in 1913. In the chapter on Northanger Abbey, he mentions this opinion in the first paragraph!  Geesh, don’t you hate it when authors say too much too soon, and spoil the plot? Isabella Thorpe may have no notion of loving people by halves, and be a gold-digger, but I will concur with her until Austen reveals otherwise! 

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, (2007)Be sure to catch actress Carey Mulligan, who played Isabella Thorpe in the recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey, in the premiere of My Boy Jack, airing Sunday, April 20th at 9:00 pm on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. I admire this talented young actress, and you can read further about her career on my co-blog Jane Austen Today.  

  • *Illustration “Always arm in arm when they walk” by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey, Frank S. Holby, New York, (1906)
  • *Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14 (Graphic Novel): Northanger Abbey, Eureka Publications, (2007)
  • Cornish, Francis Warre, Jane Austen, McMillan, London (1913)

In Remembrance of The Complete Jane Austen

“This present from the Campbells,” said she — “This pianoforté is very kindly given.” 

“Yes,” he replied, and without the smallest apparent embarrassment. “But they would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Colonel Campbell.” Emma Woodhouse & Mr. Knightley, Emma, Chapter 26 

Gone, but not forgotten, The Complete Jane Austen series on PBS ended last Sunday with the final episode of Sense and Sensibility. It was a bittersweet moment for me, kind of an anti-climatic ‘day after the wedding’ kind of funk. And now, I feel a deep malaise setting in! Whatever shall we all talk and ruminate over?

Like Emma Woodhouse’s comment about Jane Fairfax’s mysterious gift pianoforte, I also felt that the new adaptations were well-intended and kindly given, but I must agree with Mr. Knightley, who as we all know is the voice of reason in the Highbury community, that surprises are foolish things. Janeites like their Austen authentic, and expect it, so when the writers and directors of the new movies added to or changed the plot and characters, it was disconcerting.

Why do they do that? Why take Austen’s acclaimed and revered novels and recreate them with added scenes, dialogue, and sex? Good question, which I have seen liberally debated by the Austen community online, and discussed within curious non-Janeite friends. This is a puzzling conundrum, but to put it in a nutshell, the re-creators claim interest and improvement as their motivation, but I say the almighty dollar is the driving force; because we all know that 18th-century Jane Austen is big business in the 21st-century, and sex sells!

And so my Austen friends, as The Complete Jane Austen concludes, Mrs. Bennet will share her lace hankies with us (honk) while we have a moment of silence for the almighty dollar, but only a moment mind you, and then rejoice in the pleasure of seeing all six of Miss Austen’s novels presented consecutively for the first time on US television, and reflect on the best, the worst and wittiest moments.

         

The outstanding fop of the year: Winner, Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Hand over your mirrors ladies, because vanity has a new goddess and his name is Sir Walter. Runner-up goes to Leo Bill as Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, whose Regency love geek was tongue-in-cheek, literally, and we could not be more delighted!

                   

Worst imitation of a dashing hero: Winner, Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. What a downer to discover that Willoughby is Satan’s spawn. No way could a young lady of Marianne’s caliber fall for that demon. Runner-up goes to David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Sorry Mr. Morrissey, but you scowled so often that I mistook you for Sam the Eagle.

         

Best all-out crying jag: Winner, Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. Granted she had the best material to start with, but it is hard not to forget her despondent sobbing after Willoughby’s dear Madame letter. Runner-up goes to Allison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Never before has one adult wailed and screeched so operatically over a daughter’s scandalous elopement, or has anyone surpassed her high C since.

         

Helen Keller creative communications award: Winner, Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliott in Persuasion, who with her silent stares and blank looks forced the audience into a crash course in American Sign Language. Runner-up goes to Mark Strong as an unusually angry Mr. Knightley in Emma, who claimed if he loved Emma less, he might be able to talk about it more nicely, – but we doubt it.

         

 

Most officious matriarch: Winner, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice still reigns supreme as the bossiest rich old bag in the parish, hands down! Runner-up goes to Jean Marsh as Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility who really knows how to crack a nut efficiently!

         

Busted but not guilty award: Winner, Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, whose bodices were so deeply cut that we were quite anxious for Miss Mulligan. One deep breath or a sharp twist could have released a cleavage spill on national television. Oh my! Runner-up goes to Michelle Ryan as Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park whose Bionic figure might just reach into another galaxy.

         

Weirdest inflection of an English accent: Winner, Lucy Robinson as Augusta Elton in Emma. We shall try to not take offense of her attempt at a Bristol accent, which ended up sounding like an American New England nasal drawl because there might be New Englanders that came from Bristol in the first place, but it was just weird. Runner-up goes to Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, who was born in New England but didn’t do a Bristol accent either, nor Hampshire for that matter. Oops, not part of the series, sorry!

                   

Big, messy, Muppet hair is so Regency Award: Winner, Billie Piper as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, who looked liked she rolled out of bed after a night out chasing aliens with Dr. Who. Shall we blame it all on her hair designer whose past gig was The Muppet Show? She might have mistaken Miss Piper, for Miss P…y, – oh my, I can’t be that cruel, can I? Runner-up goes to Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park who elevated the Regency rake stereotype yet one notch higher with uncontrollably messy hair and flouncy shirts! For what else do we live for but poofy, prissy rakes, right?

                   

Best classic Jane Austen adaptation: Winner, Pride and Prejudice 1995. (Classic in this instance means not a new production or previously broadcast on PBS) No contest really! Pride and Prejudice might just hold this honor for more years than we can imagine before a new production de-thrones it. I just wish that producers and screenwriters would understand why it is so successful, and take notes or something! Ahem.

                   

Runner-up goes to Emma 1996 because since it was the only other ‘classic’ production to air in the series, it had to win! It does have its charms though, and an honorable mention goes to Samantha Morton for her sensitive portrayal of the much misunderstood Harriet Smith and Prunella Scales as garrulous Miss Bates. So very obliging indeed!

                   

Best new Jane Austen adaptation: Winner, Sense and Sensibility, purely predicated upon the performance of Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, and not the sexed up and sloppy script by Andrew Davies. Comedic kudos goes to Daisy Haggard as Anne Steele, who was happily all “vulgar freedom and folly”, restoring the humor to a Jane Austen adaptation that had so shockingly been sadly lacking before her entrance.

                   

Runner-up goes to Northanger Abbey, whose two young protagonists Felicty Jones as Catherine Morland, and JJ Feild as Henry Tilney reminded us of the joys and anguish of an adventurous teenage life, and the perils of reading too much Gothic fiction. La!

Fairweather and fine roads The Complete Jane Austen, until we meet again!

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (2007) – A Movie Review

 Northanger Abbey 2007 cast

If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.

The new ITV/Masterpiece PBS adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey aired on PBS last night. After viewing a pensive Persuasion adaptation last week during The Complete Jane Austen, I was all fired up to be shaken out of my Jane Austen adaptation stupor with a new production of Northanger Abbey. This is a lively story of youth, inexperience, and first love played against campy Gothic fiction. How could I not be revived?

So let me begin by telling you that two filmatic productions were never at such opposite ends of the Jane Austen gene pool emotionally and spiritually. What a relief to play with Catherine Morland and the other youngsters in the shallows.

DESCRIPTION:

Catherine Morland, the daughter of a rural clergyman, is taken to Bath for the season by family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. Here, she makes the acquaintance of the Thorpe family, including Isabella, who becomes engaged to Catherine’s brother James, and her brother John, who declares his romantic interest in Catherine. However, Catherine’s head is turned by Henry Tilney (son of the intimidating Gen. Tilney), and she has the good fortune to gain the general’s approval. But, his approval is founded upon the exaggerated report of her family’s wealth, delivered by the foolish, young John Thorpe.

MY REVIEW:

Immediately, I was impressed with the superior production quality of this adaptation. To hear the opening lines of the novel in a voice-over by actress Geraldine James as the narrator was more than encouraging, it was a downright epiphany. The costumes, scenery, and locations looked authentic. The music is period sans saxophones. The actors all look presentable. This was more than a bright beginning.

And then the actors spoke and the words were not Austen’s. My momentary fantasy was fractured. I was abruptly reminded that this WAS an adaptation by period drama icon Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995), capable of unearthing all sorts of sexual treasures from mere words or implied meaning. Ack! I must set down my notions of our authoress reigning supreme. Only on the page, I tell myself. Only on the page. Sigh.

Still open, optimistic and engaged, I continue beyond my first reaction and was drawn into the story, which I know well and love. Our young impressionable heroine is quite believably portrayed by fresh-faced Felicity Jones. She is in fact so convincing as Catherine Morland, that in comparison to all the actresses cast to portray a Jane Austen heroine, I can find no fault and only offer praise for her performance. For such a young actress, she can swim with the big fish.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey 2007

Approval of the casting of the heroine is a big step toward enjoying any film adaptation, but to also accept the choice of hero is an even greater delight. In the character of Henry Tilney actor J.J. Feild has very big boots to fill, and I shudder at the thought of miscasting. Henry is quite possibly Jane Austen’s most admired and esteem-able male hero; charming, quirky, witty and wise. A man among Austen men.

Happily, Mr. Feild had me at his first smile. I felt like a school girl again, giddy and light-headed. He was everything that I could have hoped for in Henry Tilney. Mr. Darcy beware. You have serious competition in the swoon arena.

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey 2007

 

I was also surprised by another great choice of casting in Carey Mulligan as that hip, flip, mentor of Catherine, Isabella Thorpe. Austen gave us a challenge in her character in that her unique personality, a dangerous combination of clever flirt and devil-may-care whimsy, can easily be misinterpreted. Isabella expresses her wild opinions so smoothly, that one really never knows if she is telling the truth or not. Carey Mulligan navigates beyond the shallowness of Isabella and convinces us that she is a sincere but misguided young woman, clever beyond her own abilities, and a fetching minx in a muslin frock. We cringe at her enthusiastic ill advice and imprudent actions but are softened by a memory of a friend, sister, or ourselves from an earlier day. Of all the recent crop of British actresses, I expect fine things for the career of Miss Mulligan. She reminds me of a young Dame Wendy Hiller who was cast in a favorite movie, I Know Where I’m Going. If given half a chance, Miss Mulligan could take Hollywood by storm.

Now, on to the odd bits. Advice to producers of the Austen oeuvre. Don’t let your actors resemble famous historical figures. Reverend Morland looks far too much like American patriot Benjamin Franklin. It breaks the illusion. Take care with the declotte on the bodices of your ladies’ gowns. A deep breath or a sharp twist can cause express concern from your audience. Always be authentic and film in Bath if the story calls for it. We know the difference. Plan for a minimum of two hours in length, four is better. Ninety minutes is a shockingly brief Spark Notes introduction to Austen’s intentions. Her words are there for a reason. Please spare us any further dalliances with Andrew Davies’ fantasies about underlying sex oozing in Austen novels. It is there, but need it be overemphasized?

All in all, this new ITV/Masterpiece Classic adaptation of Northanger Abbey was a delight. I will watch it again without hesitation.