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 October 13th

The movie The Duchess staring Keria Knightley (Pride and Prejudice 2005) opened in national release this last week and I am all anticipation to see. It has received mixed reviews and a lot of press about comparisons of Georgiana Cavendish to Princess Diana, claims that producers asked Knightley to allow a boob job to the movie posters and all sorts of hooey. The movie is based on the 1998 biography entitled Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman and also features other actors with Austen connections; Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park 2007), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility 2008), Joseph Beatie (Mansfield Park 2007), Alistair Petrie (Emma 1996) and composer Rachel Portman (Emma 1996). The costumes look sumptuous and it is on the top of my list of must see movies this fall.

My Austen friends in Canada are definetly the favoured nation, again! First they get a new production of Pride and Prejudice in Edmonton, NOW, they get Lost in Austen on TV! Geesh, I am feeling out of the loop here in the States. ; (

Join romance author Stephanie Sloan as she discusses Jane Austen every Friday with An Austen Friday on her blog.

Austen and Austen-esque book reviews for the week; Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Mr. Darcy Present his Bride, Pride and PrejudiceCassandra & Jane, and a second review of Cassandra & Jane, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet.

One of the October Austen-esque books that really intrigued me was Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terence Hill. What a fascinating premise, — well from a feminine perspective that is! Check out author Steve Chandler’s insights on how the book came about and other musing on the experience of writing it with his friend at his blog. No surprised that their wives put them up to it. ; )

Writer Marilyn Brant shares her wonderful experience at the 30th annual AGM of JASN which concluded in Chicago earlier this month. I am pea green over her Jane Austen watch. You can get your very own at Jane Austen Books. Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont continues her reports from JASNA also with The Adventures Befalling a Janeite in Chicago – Part 3, and Part 4.

Chawton House Library is offering a short story competition to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. There are cash prizes and trips to a writer’s retreat at Chawton House. The deadline is March 31st, 2009 and the complete details can be found here.

The Becoming Jane Fansite has an uplifting quote of the week from Jane Austen’s letters, The Happiness Project has another great quote from Miss Bates from Emma, and The Rest is Still Unwritten offers a long quote from Persuasion that sets men straight.

Aimee at Saccharine Irony imagines herself as Mrs. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and has tea. Is that Mrs. Dashwood senior or Fanny Dashwood the daughter-in-law? Hope it’s the former.

What was Jane Austen really like? Find out what author Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields have to say and then vote for which heroine that you think Jane Austen was most like on Ripple Effects.

Find out if Jane Austen was a hot surfer chick as Niqel of The Trim of My Sails blog explains it all for us.

Want to check out the shelves in the closet at Hunsford Parsonage, that humble abode on the Rosings estate of The Rev. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice ? Well, here’s your chance to get about as close to a fictional structure as can be if you rent the house used in the filming of the Pride and Prejudice movie of 2005. The present owners of Almshouse in Weekley near Kettering in Northamptonshire will let you have it for a song, if your like the tune of £2,350.00 a month!  One wonders out loud if perchance the house is misnamed. ; )

I had been ignoring the fact that the holidays are quickly aproaching and then I received my monthly Jane Austen Centre online newsletter in my mail box and read about fruit cake! If you are wondering what the connection to Jane is, then brace yourself gentle readers, Jane does discuss it in her letter to her sister Cassandra in 1808. Well almost fruit cake since she mentions the family being anxious to receive wedding cake, which was similar to today’s fruit cake and prized by the Regency era. I am one of those odd creatures that adores fruit cake. I know, I just heard you all gasp in horror. You all think of fruit cake as that sticky gooey super sweet concoction that grandma used to send to your family during the holidays and was re-gifted to other family members for 20 years as a joke. Granted, fruit cake has gotten a bum rap since it was cherished in the 1800’s (or lately by your granny), but you might be interested to read over the recipes in the Centre’s article and see for yourself that it does not contain any lost mittens or old socks! I have a cherished recipe too, which will go unshared until someone admits they like it! Subscribe to the Centre’s newsletter here.

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey continues here at Austenprose. I am really enjoying the group read of Northanger Abbey, the guest blogs this week by Margaret Sullivan (Mags) on Henry Tilney, Vic (Ms. Place) on dancing in Bath, and fashion in the 2 Northanger movie adpataions by Kali Pappas. Be sure to check out all the free giveaways, and leave a comment to qualify for the drawings before October 30th.

Until next week, happy Jane sighting,

Laurel Ann

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!

Austen’s Willoughby: Truly a Byronic Hero, or Libertine? Part One

Image of Charity Wakefield and Dominic Cooper, Sense and Sensibility, (2008)

“You are mistaken, Elinor,” said she warmly, “in supposing I know very little of Willoughby. I have not known him long indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and mama. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy: — it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.” Marianne Dashwood,

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 12

What would Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility be without the character of John Willoughby? Not much! Take him out of the picture, and the story sinks from diverting to dull in a heart-beat. (some spoilers ahead)

Image of the cover of Sense and SensibilityThe final out-come would be entirely different also. Marianne would not marry Colonel Brandon having not evolved past her un-realistic romantic expectations of a man. Elinor and Edward would have been doomed too. He would be destitute after his dis-inheritance; – a gentleman without an income, and no profession, since Brandon would not be motivated to give him a living of the curacy at Delaford without the possibility of pleasing Marianne, who in turn does not give Brandon one romantic thought, thinking him too old, infirmed and boring! A vicious cycle to be sure.

Image of Lord ByronHappily, a dashing hero like Willoughby does exist in Sense and Sensibility to fulfill Marianne’s fantasy infused notions of the perfect man, allowing the reader to understand the extreme range of her emotional sensibilities, and fuel the plot! Willoughby exhibits all of the heroic qualities of the stereotype; handsome, intelligent, chivalrous, charming, passionate and mysterious. He is the embodiment of a Byronic hero introduced in the semi-autobiographical epic poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by Lord Byron.

Byron’s idealized, but flawed romantic hero influenced authors and artists of the Romantic Movement which can be seen in many of the early 19th century Gothic novels such as The Vampyre, and later in Emily Bronte’s character Heathcliffe of Wuthering Heights and her sister Charlotte Bronte’s Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre. Since Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, one year prior to Lord Byron’s Pilgrimage, it is interesting to consider if Byron was influenced by Austen’s hero Willoughby when he created his own widely popular hero, Childe Harold, or other influences of Romantic Movement were his inspiration.

Image of Charity Wakefield and Dominic Cooper, Sense and Sensibility, (2008)

It is easy to understand why Marianne is attracted to Willoughby. He arrives in the neighborhood (on a white horse no less) quite dramatically, rescuing her in the pouring rain from a tumble down a hill and a sprained ankle, restoring her to her family and comfort of her home. The heroic image of him carrying her to safety is a strong icon to illustrators of this novel. I have found it depicted in almost every illustrated edition that I have encountered, and included in the three film versions of 1981, 1995, and 2008.

Image of Kate Winslet and Greg Wise, Sense and Sensibility, (1995)

Willoughby is an effective lover. He woos her with flowers, carriage rides and gift horses. He spouts poetry, and the same unguarded sensibility that Marianne exhibits. They are two peas in a pod, until he departs as abruptly as he arrived, under mysterious circumstances no less. One wonders if he was as deeply affected by their separation as Marianne was, or was he a libertine ready to move on to another conquest. Austen leaves us in no doubt of Marianne’s misery.

Illustration by Joan Hasall of Marianne Dashwood recused by Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility, (1958)

Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Willoughby. She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left her in no danger of incurring it. She was awake the whole night, and she wept the greatest part of it. She got up with an headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. Her sensibility was potent enough!

Illustration by HM Brock of Willoughby rescuing Marianne, 1898

When breakfast was over, she walked out by herself, and wandered about the village of Allenham, indulging the recollection of past enjoyment and crying over the present reverse for the chief of the morning.

The evening passed off in the equal indulgence of feeling. She played over every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out for her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books, too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had been used to read together.

Illustration by HM Brock of Willoughby rescuing Marianne, (1898)

Such violence of affliction indeed could not be supported for ever; it sunk within a few days into a calmer melancholy; but these employments, to which she daily recurred, her solitary walks and silent meditations, still produced occasional effusions of sorrow as lively as ever. Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 16

For those who are watching the Masterpiece Classic presentation of Sense and Sensibility, I will not spoil the story, and will wait to finish the second half of this post until after the conclusion on Sunday, April 6th. We shall see if Willoughby is the romantic hero that Marianne craves, or the libertine that others fear him to be.