The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries, by Emma Thompson – A Review

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries, by Emma Thompson (1995)Nominated for seven Academy Awards®, the 1995 movie Sense and Sensibility remains one of my most cherished interpretations of a Jane Austen novel. Everything about this film project seems to be touched with gold; from the award winning screenplay by actress Emma Thompson; to the incredible depth of British acting talent: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, Harriet Walter, Greg Wise, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson; stunning film locations in Devonshire; and the fine brush-work of the Taiwanese director Any Lee. The movie touched many and introduced Jane Austen’s classic story of two divergent sisters searching for happiness and love to millions. I never tire of viewing it, basking in its beautiful cinematography, enjoying its thoughtful performances and marveling at its exquisitely crafted screenplay – both reverent to Austen’s intensions and engaging to modern audiences. Continue reading “The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries, by Emma Thompson – A Review”

Sense and Sensibility Movie (1981) – A Review

Sense and Sensibility (1981) DVD coverThis 1981 BBC seven-part miniseries of Sense and Sensibility is a solid but flawed adaptation of Jane Austen’s masterpiece. In my mind, the character of Marianne Dashwood is always the benchmark for a superior adaptation. She is a complicated creature driven by emotion and racked with vulnerability, and if the actress portraying Jane Austen’s most melodramatic character can play her as intended, the whole production can rest on her shoulders. Tracey Childs as Marianne Dashwood exuded all the frantic emotion and romantic “sensibilities” that Marianne should at all the right moments, and Irene Richards as her sister Elinor was equally convincing, and at times touching, as her stoic, stable and guarded counterpart. However, my disappointment in the male characters: Edward Ferrars, John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, pushed this production below my expectations. Part of this can be attributed to the loose adaptation of dialogue by screenwriter Alexander Baron and partly to Austen herself, who chose to craft male roles that are weaker than the two female ones. Yes. Not everything in Sense and Sensibility is balanced, and that was Austen’s point. Even though this imperfection is one of its charms, it can be unsatisfying. Here is the description of the production by the distributor. Continue reading “Sense and Sensibility Movie (1981) – A Review”

Sense and Sensibility Movie (1971) – A Review

I was quite excited when the news hit the blogosphere that the elusive 1971 mini-series of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was being resurrected from the vaults and reissued by the BBC. It originally aired in the UK, but had never jumped the pond until this re-issue. Now, I think I know why.

If you step back in time with me to the early days of the BBC and Masterpiece Theater television adaptations of literary classics and biographies you might recall such gems as The Six Wives of Henry VIII , Poldark or I Claudius. The scripts and actors were superior, but by today’s standards of movie making they appear a bit stage-playish and stilted. They are after all close to forty years old. If you can get past the slower pacing, video film recording quality and classically trained actors playing to the back row of a theater, they are well worth your entertainment time. This adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is from the same era, and suffers from some of the same stiffness and sluggish pacing. However, these faults could easily have been overlooked if the script had not been so severely altered from the original masterpiece. The plot line of Austen’s story remains, but unfortunately very, very little of her unique language is included. Newer adaptations by Emma Thompson in 1995 and Andrew Davies in 2008 do include Austen’s words, or a variation of them, and we have come to expect them. Continue reading “Sense and Sensibility Movie (1971) – A Review”

Jane Austen Illustrators: Imagining Sense and Sensibility

Illustration by William Greatbatch, Sense and Sensibility, (1833)

“Four years you have been engaged?” said she with a firm voice.

“Yes; and Heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. Poor Edward! It puts him quite out of heart.” Then taking a small miniature from her pocket, she added, “To prevent the possibility of mistake, be so good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice to be sure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person it was drew of. — I have had it above these three years.”

She put it into her hands as she spoke, and when Elinor saw the painting, whatever other doubts her fear of a too hasty decision, or her wish of detecting falsehood might suffer to linger in her mind, she could have none of its being Edward’s face. She returned it almost instantly, acknowledging the likeness. Lucy Steele & Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 22 Continue reading “Jane Austen Illustrators: Imagining Sense and Sensibility”

A Preview of Sense and Sensibility (2008) on Masterpiece Classic PBS

“I am afraid,” replied Elinor, “that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.” 

“On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.” Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 13

Some say that Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility is her darkest, dealing with the struggle of the principles of common sense against free sensibility, the English inheritance laws of stifling primogeniture and it’s crushing affect on the female line, and the ever-present question of marrying for love, or money? Continue reading “A Preview of Sense and Sensibility (2008) on Masterpiece Classic PBS”

Parting injuction

Illustration by Chris Hammond, “Marianne…walked slowly upstairs”, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 46, (1899)INJUNCTION

As soon as they entered the house, Marianne with a kiss of gratitude, and these two words just articulate through her tears, “Tell mama,” withdrew from her sister and walked slowly up stairs. Elinor would not attempt to disturb a solitude so reasonable as what she now sought; and with a mind anxiously pre-arranging its result, and a resolution of reviving the subject again, should Marianne fail to do it, she turned into the parlour to fulfil her parting injunction.The Narrator on Elinor Dashwood, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 46

This chapter is such a turning point in the novel for Marianne Dashwood. She has survived the shock of John Willoughby’s rejection and it’s subsequent debilitating illness, and has passed within a very short time from a romantically impulsive young woman into self-imposed regulated reserve, “checked by religion, by reason, (and) by constant employment.”  

My heart aches for her. That hollow empty feeling of an irreconcilable loss of a first love. Nothing can match it. Nothing.

Some say that Jane Austen never experienced the loss of a true love. I find that hard to believe. How could she have written such an emotionally wrenching character as Marianne Dashwood who experiences the heights and depths of love, without experiencing it herself? This can not be imitated. Any thoughts? 

*Illustration by Chris Hammond, “Marianne with a kiss of gratitude”, page 348, Sense & Sensibility, published by George Allen, London (1899)  

No conscience

Illustration of Marianne & Elinor Dashwood, Cover of Sense & Sensibility, Books on TapeCONSCIENCE

“A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no conscience in his intrusion on that of others.” Marianne Dashwood on Colonel Brandon, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 31

This is a profound statement from a young lady who herself, has nothing to do with her own time! Isn’t this like calling the kettle black, or … throwing stones when you live in a glass house? Hmm?

The British Gentry had time at their disposal. If you had an estate such as Colonel Brandon’s Delford that earned 2000 pounds a year, you had the means to be a gentleman that could schedule his own time to his liking. Now, Marianne is another situation. After the death of their father and the transfer of his estate to their half brother John Dashwood, she and her sister Elinor are impoverished, and are at the mercy of time. They must marry well, and quickly.

I am puzzled by time in Jane Austen’s novels. Sense & Sensibility was written in the late 1790’s, but was not successfully published until 1811. I may have entirely missed this nuance, but how does one know in which era the novel is set? Late 1790’s or 1811? That is a 15 year time frame. Should we assume that it is contemporary to when it was published?

I think that others may be confused also, because many of my illustrated editions contain artist’s conceptions of characters that place them in context, and include clothing and furnishing of the time. Some scenes appear late Georgian, and others are Regency. To complicate matters further, some are Victorian!

So I went on an Internet hunt and Googled “Sense and Sensibility” + “time frame” and was fortunate after a bit of digging to find an answer on Austen scholar Ellen Moody’s web site. She had investigated the exact subject and wrote a paper called A Calendar for Sense and Sensibility; – – and after wading through all of her expert scholarly investigation, I discovered the bottom line…

1799 September. “Two years” after Marianne had declared Colonel Brandon to be too old to marry, she marries him. She is 19, Brandon 37.

So the novel begins in 1797! Phew. But that does not explain why different artists have illustrated the characters in fashions from the 1790’s to the 1860’s! Well, that is another story!

*Illustration from the cover of Sense & Sensibility, published by Books on Tape, circa 2000 showing Marianne and Elinor Dashwood in mid Victorian attire.

Cold insipidity

Illustration of an Evening Dress from Ackermann’s Repository of 1817INSIPIDITY

There was nothing in any of the party which could recommend them as companions to the Dashwoods; but the cold insipidity of Lady Middleton was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Colonel Brandon, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir John and his mother-in-law, was interesting. Lady Middleton seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves. The Narrator on Lady Middleton, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 7

I can not abide an insipid snob, and Lady Middleton’s cold and removed manner certainly qualifies her in ever measure on that point. Jane Austen paints a florid picture of her personality, “Lady Middleton piqued herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties.” Her true nature is further revealed when after her marriage she “celebrated that event by giving up music, although by her mother’s account she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it.” Can one assume that she was pressed into playing to attract a husband of good fortune, and once her objective had been attained, had no further use of it?

I am both annoyed and amused by her elegant facade. Is she a clever calculating woman, or just insipid and ignorant? Author Rachel Lawrence thinks she is one of Jane Austen’s Dumb but Elegant Ladies. 

“Lady Middleton is quieter than her gossiping mother, but her reserve is “a mere calmness of manner with which sense had nothing to do.” She prefers the company of the Steele sisters, who flatter her and fuss over her children, to the company of Elinor and Marianne, who do not. The Dashwoods, with their interest in books and music and art, are a bit of a threat to her elegant dumbness.”

She may very well be dumb, but it serves her purpose well. Need further enlightenment on the nuances of those annoyingly irksome ignorant insipid snobs in Jane Austen’s novels? You can read the entire article on-line from the Northern California Region of JASNA.

*Illustration from Ackermann’s Repository, “Evening Dress” 1817 

Exquisite enjoyment

Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 10EXQUISITE

His society became gradually her most exquisite enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted. The Narrator on Mr. Willoughby, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 10

From first appearances, John Willoughby is a gentleman whose ardent attentions to Marianne Dashwood are only equaled by her own imprudent enthusiasm. Her sister Elinor shows concern. Their mother does not.

Those first meetings in a new romantic relationship can be so heady. That intoxicating spark of mutual attraction. You share your life stories, your interests, and your ideals with the anticipation of a lasting connection. Sigh … Marriane and Willoughby are at that point when everything is all smiles, laughs and hope.

Like Elinor, I am cautiously on alert. They have so much in common and converse with such ease I should be happy for them, but I am concerned for Marriane’s exquisite enjoyment!  Are Willoughby’s intentions sincere in wooing an innocent lass, or is he just a cad, a libertine, a rake in disguise? Is Jane Austen setting us up for a fine fall?

To spot a cad, one must be able to recognize one. According to UK news reporter John Walsh The Cad Rides Again, and Jane Austen’s characters Willoughby and Wickkam rank among the best in English literature.

“Jane Austen’s cads are also classics of the type, polished charmers, habitués of pump room and ballroom until the moment comes when they elope with a younger sister (like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice) or leg it to London to marry an heiress (like Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility).

The trouble is, of course, that we secretly admire their bad behaviour. Without Wickham and Willoughby, the Austen novels would be studies in propriety rather than warnings of social ruin.”

Too true!

*Illustration by Hugh Thomson, “they sang together” page 37, Sense & Sensibility, published by Macmillan & Co, London (1937) 

Disposition alone

Illustration from Journal des Dames, 1814DISPOSITION

“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 & Sensibility, Chapter 12

Prior to this passage, Marianne has confided with the greatest delight to her sister Elinor that her suitor Mr. Willoughby has offered her a gift of a horse which she has accepted! The ever practical Elinor takes this news in stride and tempers her concerns of Marianne’s imprudence by transferring them to the expense to their mother’s purse. How well she knows her sisters moods and cleverly side steps expressing her own reservations of her impropriety.

Marianne’s passionate defence of Willoughby’s disposition is amiable, but misplaced in the Regency world. As a single lady it is improper for to accept a gift from a gentleman that is not within her immediate family. Elinor comprehends the unhappy truth, but is so tactful that Marianne eventually declines.

The irony of Marianne’s speech is that under different circumstances, knowing someone’s true disposition, be it seven years or seven days is so true! It does not happen often, but from personal experience, chemistry does not own a calendar.

Learn how Marianne could have conduted herself within the rules of propriety in this updated edition of the original source book Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, by A Lady of Distinction (1811) 

Assiduous attention

Mrs. Ferrars, Illustration by A. Wallis Mills, from Sense & Sensibility, 1908

ASSIDUOUS

But though Mrs. Ferrars did come to see them (Edward & Elinor Ferrars), and always treated them with the make-believe of decent affection, they were never insulted by her real favour and preference. That was due to the folly of Robert, and the cunning of his wife; and it was earned by them before many months had passed away. The selfish sagacity of the latter, which had at first drawn Robert into the scrape, was the principal instrument of his deliverance from it; for her respectful humility, assiduous attentions, and endless flatteries, as soon as the smallest opening was given for their exercise, reconciled Mrs. Ferrars to his choice, and re-established him completely in her favour. The Narrator on Mrs. Ferrars, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 50

I have little respect for Mrs. Ferrars after she disinherits her son Edward for breaking off his engagement with Lucy Steele. I have always been puzzled by her decision. Where was her loyalty? – –  To her son, or his fiancee?

So when Lucy Steele reverses her affections and marries the new heir, (Edward’s brother Robert), it would only have been with Mrs. Ferrars blessings. Lucy is industrious, and because of this, I understand Mrs. Ferrars character more clearly. She is one to be influenced by flattery and assiduous attention, which we well know, Lucy can deliver with sincere conviction and complete composure.

Sense and Sensibility Moments

The Frankland Sisters, by John Hoppner, 1795“Oh Elinor,” she cried, “you have made me hate myself for ever. How barbarous have I been to you! — you, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be only suffering for me! — Is this my gratitude? Is this the only return I can make you? Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been trying to do it away.”

Sisters, what we do for each other. Jane Austen has given us an excellent example of sisterly devotion and sacrifice. Elinor has borne the secret of her suitor Edward’s clandestine engagement to Lucy Steele to spare a younger sister the pain and disappointment of the loss to her and her family. Why? What of her pain? What of her feelings?

Elinor Dashwood is a very complicated young lady. Her choices are sometimes puzzling. In this situation, I question her loyalties. Does her promise to Lucy Steele outweigh her fidelity to her family? Is withholding the news of Edward’s secret engagement something that should be borne for the sake of others, or is it an unnecessary burden? 

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