Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Gothically Inspired: Day 19 Giveaway

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time.” Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14 

Even though Northanger Abbey has often been touted as the least popular of Jane Austen’s six major novels in readership and sales, I have long adored it for its burlesque humor and charming characterization of hero Henry Tilney. It has always been a puzzle to me why others did not bond with it, and felt it has never gotten a fair shake. The fact that the 1986 movie adaptation of it was really odd and not a true representation of the story or characters did not help matters either. So when PBS premiered the new Andrew Davies adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) last January on Masterpiece Classic, I was thrilled with the possibility that it could generate a new audience for my dark horse. 

When it aired, the reception was mixed by the public and critics. I was enchanted even though it was much too short at 90 minutes and unfortunately, much had been cut out of the story. On the positive side, it was energetic and great fun and Austen’s intensions were treated much more reverently than the previous effort in 1986, so it was step in the right direction. 

One of the benefits to being a bookseller is that I see the immediate impact on the public from television and movies as viewers seek out novelizations or related books. One weekend shortly after the PBS airing of Northanger Abbey, I had an interesting encounter with a new fan as I assisted a retirement aged woman in locating a long list of titles on an assortment of subjects, none of which was Austen or Austen inspired. Her husband joined us after a few minutes with a joyous look on his face, obviously pleased that he located the title that he had wanted to purchase. “I found it” (he holds up the cover and shows it to his wife who looks surprised but annoyed). “Oh what is it now?” she bellowed. (she had selected about six books to his one) “The Mysteries of Udolpho! They had it featured as a staff rec.” He exclaimed. (I am a silent smiling observer of their husband wife acerbic discourse, and then the wife turns to me) “My husband just loved that Jane Austen movie on television, and now he wants to know why that young girl was hooked on that book.” (She points at the book cover. He smirks at her and says coldly) “Her name was Catherine Morland dear.” 

Ok, that made my day! 

Even after ten months, this story makes me smile. In a way that some objected to, the new Northanger Abbey movie did reach people in a positive way inspiring them to read Austen’s gentle parody and the Gothic fiction mentioned in the novel such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and the other ‘horrid novels’ listed in the Northanger Canon. One of my customers even quoted Henry Tilney’s great line about “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Talk about Gothically inspired! Now that gentle readers, made my entire year!

Further reading

  • Read my review of Northanger Abbey (2007)
  • Read a review of Northanger Abbey (2007) at Jane Austen’s World
  • Read about the Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey
  • Purchase The Mysteries of Udolpho

 

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 19 Giveaway

 

Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho (2001) 

By Ann Radcliffe introduction by Jacqueline Howard 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of the Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho

(US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts

Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31

Day 21 – Oct 31          Go Gothic Wrap-up

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.

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney

 

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey 2007

“His name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance.”

In anticipation of the premiere on Sunday of the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey presented by Masterpiece PBS, I thought it helpful to introduce the hero Henry Tinley, and highlight some of his most insightful quotes and humorous passages from the novel.

I believe that Jane Austen has created her most charming, quirky, clever, and well-spoken male character of any of her heroes in Henry Tilney. In one of her few physical descriptions of her characters of any length, we are given more than a brief introduction.

The master of the ceremonies introduced to her (Catherine Morland) a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. Chapter 3

If by some happy chance, you are reading the novel or viewing the adaptation for the first time, you have quite a treat in store for yourself. Henry is the unique voice of reason and witty humor throughout the novel. When he speaks, it is usually in conversation with our heroine Catherine Morland, and he is all about winning her respect with bright and insightful little nuggets on life philosophy or personal opinion on a variety of topics! In fact, his decided views of love, marriage, dancing, history, politics, and human nature make him quite possibly Jane Austen’s strongest male character, not only because we have no doubt of his mind, but the fact that he has absolutely no trouble expressing it.

Image of cover of Northanger Abbey DVD, BBC (1986)If you have previously read the novel, or seen the 1986 BBC adaptation starring Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland and Peter Firth as Henry Tilney, you are well aware of his esteemable nature and are quite possibly already a fan. He is hands down my favorite Jane Austen hero. Why? Many of Jane Austen’s heroes have fine qualities, but in my estimation, none reach the level of Henry. For who could not fall in love with a man of such “pleasing countenance” and “lively eye”; – – who dances quite well, is passionate about expressing himself with alacrity, certitude, and acumen, and happily rescues our heroine? Who indeed?

Henry Tilney on the fair sex, marriage, and dancing:

“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Ch 3

“I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” Ch 10

“Come, shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No – I will be noble. I will prove myself a man, no less by the generosity of my soul than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours.” Ch 14

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Ch 14

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.” Ch 19

“At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.” Ch 22

“The world, I believe, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue can boast an interest such as this.” Ch 24

Henry Tilney on life’s pleasures, convictions, horrors, and principles:

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement – people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.” Ch 14

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Ch 14

“It is as much as should be said of anyone. To be always firm must be to be often obstinate. When properly to relax is the trial of judgment;” Ch 16

“And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? Have you a stout heart-nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” Ch 20

“If I understand you rightly, you have formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to-Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from?”  Ch 24

“You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves.” Ch 25

“I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured.” Ch 26

“But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge”. Ch 27

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

Mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, presented by Masterpiece PBS, Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm. Starring Felicity Jones as Gothic novel influenced Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild as her hero, and ours, Henry Tilney. Watch out for the stellar performance by Carrie Mulligan as Catherine’s flip, hip mentor, Isabella Thorpe. You can read the review An Austen Heroine with a Fertile Imagination in the Los Angeles Times, and tune in to PBS for all the horrid and romantic escapades of our heroine in the making on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm.

Read additional posts about characters and quotes in my Northanger Abbey blog archive, including my introduction to our heroine Catherine Morland entitled Northanger Abbey: Acquisition of Higher Delight. Check out my musing on that despot General Tilney at my other co-blog, Jane Austen Today, and round out the Northanger coverage at Jane Austen’s World’s post on the likable hero & heroine Catherine Morland & Henry Tilney.

Northanger Abbey: Acquisition of Higher Delight

Illustration of Catherine Morland paper doll, by Donald Hendricks, Legacy DesignsACQUISITION 

To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1

This is our introduction to our young heroine Catherine Morland, and it is a promising beginning. I like her immediately. Jane Austen has made her real and accessible to my expectations of a young, unpretentious girl of fifteen. She could be the girl next door!

and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books – or at least books of information.

Remind you of anyone you know? A little sister, a daughter, or yourself?

 – for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them (books), provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

A heroine in training! I know a few of those. What teenage girl (or adult) does not dream of being the heroine of her own life? It’s interesting to observe how different generations over the years attach to role-models. Jane Austen admired poets and writers. In my day, it was ice skating champion Dorothy Hamill. Now it’s Paris Hilton. Hmm?

She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. 

No cute guys in the neighborhood. What a drag. No wonder she has her nose in a book.

But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way … if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad …

Indeed! A heroine in the making needs to seek her destiny. Or create one!

The Gothic parody Northanger Abbey was written in 1798, when Jane Austen was 23 years old, and reflects her younger attitudes and views of her world. The theme of a young girl coming of age and her first experiences in society are played against the contrast of the horrific drama and exaggerated romance of the Gothic fiction genre that was so popular at the time. Our heroine Catherine Morland is about to embark on her own mythic journey of self discovery. The introductory chapter has set the scene for her “big adventure”.

Image of Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, PBS Northanger Abbey (2007)Be sure to set your watches and mark your calendars for the  Masterpiece Classic adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey, staring Felicity Jones as our young and impressionable heroine Catherine Morland, on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm on PBS. It should prove to be a dangerously romantic evening.

*Illustration of Catherine Morland paper doll, by the very talented artist and fashion illustrator Donald Hendricks of Legacy Designs. Visit his beautiful online shop and discover his fanciful and charming illustrations of classic literary figures and contemporary celebrities.