Q&A with Love & Friendship Writer/Director/Author Whit Stillman

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200Austen scholar Devoney Looser joins us today during the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour to interview ‘Friend of Jane,’ writer/director/author Whit Stillman, whose new hit movie Love & Friendship, and its companion novel, are on the radar of every Janeite.

Welcome, Ms. Looser and Mr. Stillman to Austenprose.com.

Devoney Looser: We Janeites know that you go way back as a Janeite yourself. (Would you label yourself that? I see you’ve copped elsewhere to “Jane Austen nut.”) You’ve admitted you were once dismissive of Austen’s novels as a young man—telling everyone you hated them—but that after college you did a 180, thanks to your sister. Anything more you’d like to tell us about that?

Whit Stillman: I prefer Austenite and I consider myself among the most fervent. Yes, there was a contretemps with Northanger Abbey when I was a depressed college-sophomore entirely unfamiliar with the gothic novels she was mocking — but I was set straight not many years later.

DL: What made you decide that “Lady Susan” wasn’t the right title to present this film to an audience? (Most of Austenprose’s readers will be wise to the fact that Austen herself didn’t choose that title for her novella, first published in 1871.) I like your new title Love & Friendship very much, but clever Janeites will know you lifted it from a raucous Austen short story, from her juvenilia, Love & Freindship. What led you to make this switch in titles? (I do want to register one official complaint. You’ve now doomed those of us who teach Austen’s Love & Freindship to receive crazy-wrong exam answers on that text from our worst students for years to come.)

WS: Perhaps it is irrational but I always hated the title “Lady Susan” and, as you mention, so far as we know, it was not Jane Austen’s;  the surviving manuscript carries no title (the original binding was chopped off) and she had used “Susan” as the working title for “Northanger Abbey.”  The whole trajectory of Austen’s improved versions of her works was from weak titles, often character names (which I know many film distributors hate as film titles*) toward strong, resonant nouns — either qualities or place names.  “Elinor and Marianne” became Sense and Sensibility, “First Impressions” became Pride and Prejudice, “Susan” became Northanger Abbey. Persuasion and Mansfield Park are similarly sonorous. Continue reading

Love & Friendship — Whit Stillman Brings Jane Austen’s Comic Gem Lady Susan to the Screen

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200The highly anticipated release of Love & Friendship, filmmaker Whit Stillman’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, arrives this Friday, May 13 in Los Angeles, New York and Paris with national release set for May 27, 2016. Early praise for the film is more than encouraging: “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph; “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com; “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety.

We have long been a champion of Austen’s Lady Susan. So much so we dedicated an entire blog event to it in 2009, A Soiree with Lady Susan. For those who have not read this delightfully wicked novella by Austen written in the 1790’s and published posthumously in 1871, I highly recommend it. Besides changing the title to Love and Friendship, (also the title of one of Austen’s juvenilia), Stillman has added his movie magic and adapted the story into a screenplay.

Here is a description from the distributor Roadside Attractions:

Humorous and witty, devious and scheming, or Downton Abbey with laughs, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is an adaptation of young Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, believed to have been written in the mid 1790s but revised up to a fair copy prepared in 1805 and finally published by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in 1871. Continue reading

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – A Review

After being introduced to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan via A Soiree with Lady Susan, Austenprose’s rollicking cyber group read, replete with wagging tongues and fluttering fans, I delighted in discovering this ‘most accomplished Coquette in England’.  So different from other Austen heroines, I welcomed her all the more for her flagrant flaws and mercenary machinations.  Regretfully, as Jane Austen never got the chance to revise this novella, the limitations of the epistolary form did leave me with a desire for more.

Enter Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway’s novel Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, which certainly fulfills this desire… and more!  This clever re-imagining by a mother and daughter team turns my previous notion about this heroine on its head.  It intriguingly opens with an Austen inspired witticism:

A woman with neither property nor fortune must ward off this affliction by cultivating the beauty, brilliance, and accomplishment that will blind a promising suitor to the want of a dowry.  When she is securely married… she must never sink to complacency, but always keep sharp, for it may be her unfortunate lot to survive her spouse and she will be thrown back upon her wits once more.

Thus, the stage is set.  Antedating where Austen’s story begins, the novel unfolds with a credible backstory that explains why Lady Susan’s reputation as an accomplished coquette springs from malicious gossip gone awry.  Born Susan Martin, who from the cradle has been matched to her young, wealthy, and titled cousin Sir James Martin, she chooses, instead, to marry the much older and recently knighted Sir Frederick Vernon.  Becoming Lady Vernon, she inadvertently makes an enemy of Mr. Charles Vernon, her husband’s younger brother whose suit she categorically rejected.  Hell hath no fury like a man scorned!  He slovenly casts aspersions on Lady Vernon’s character that, like all gossip, assumes a life of its own. When Sir Frederick dies with the understanding that Charles would provide for his wife and daughter as he had stipulated, the embittered Charles reneges on his verbal promises.  Driven out of their home by Charles and his insipid and gullible wife, Catherine De Courcy, Lady Vernon and her daughter, Frederica, rely on the generosity of friends who place them in compromising situations that escalate the rumors.  Lady Vernon is forced to endure the advances of the married Mr. Manwaring.  Frederica is expelled from school for her kind-hearted gesture to save a friend from a ruinous elopement.  Untenable, they return to Charles’ home and confront him with his responsibility, which he continues to evade.  When Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, curiously arrives to meet the infamous Lady Vernon, the winds of persecution start to shift.  Lady Vernon maintains the protective façade of her coquetry, but underneath, her uncanny understanding of human nature and social manipulations allow her to find a way out of their financially dire situation.  Using the “most effective method of persuading both Reginald and Catherine to do anything, which was to urge them in the opposite direction”, Frederica is sent off to the forbidding estate of the De Courcy’s.  Will Lady Vernon’s gamble pay-off or just put shy Frederica in a more precarious situation?  Compounded with the return of the rebuffed Sir James Martin, a frivolous man who delights in flouting society’s expectations and making mischief, will Lady Vernon and Frederica’s pursuit for matrimonial bliss be thwarted forever?

Although I loved Lady Susan as a villain, I loved Lady Vernon more as a heroine.  Frederica, who was barely given a voice in Austen’s original oeuvre, deservedly receives her full heroine due in this re-telling.  It departs materially from Austen’s plot at certain points, but its prose and humor are so reminiscent of Austen that it is meaty enough to satisfy.  Both Lady Vernon and Frederica, echoing the trials of sister tandems Elinor-Marianne and Lizzie-Jane (albeit here as mother-daughter), are imbued with similar wit, strength, and resiliency that we have come to love in Austen’s beloved heroines.  Lady Vernon’s unerring wit outwitting a fickle society obsessed with gossip keeps this novel fresh for a modern audience whose inquiring minds want to know.  Peppered with allusion to and appearance of several characters from Austen’s other canons truly make this novel a delicious read.  So, read it not just once, for its story; not just twice, for its spin of the original work; but perhaps thrice, for all the other witty winks to Austen.  After all, there is no such thing as having too much Austen in the daily diet.

Review by Regency Romantic

5 out of 5 Regency stars

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Crown Publishing, New York (2009)
Hardcover (328) pages
ISBN:  987-0307461667

Additional Reviews

Read a guest blog from A Soiree with Lady Susan by Jane Rubino & Cailten Rubino-Bradway

‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ thank you!

Afternoon Dress fashion plate from Ladies Museum Monthly 1800Gentle Readers: Even though etiquette always prevailed during Jane Austen’s time, today I am always pleasantly surprised to receive a thoughtful thank you letter for anything I do here, so when Mandy N.’s cheerful note arrived thanking me for hosting ‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ earlier this month, I was all astonishment. Also included was this beautiful vintage image of two Georgian era ladies in afternoon dresses from an 1800 Ladies Museum Monthly fashion plate, reminiscent of our two friends, Lady Susan and Mrs. Johnson in the novella perhaps! Mandy N. also kindly sent along her thoughts about the soiree and her experience. Here is a excerpt – the entire summation has been added to the Lady Susan page to help future readers. 

‘What a Woman she must be!’  Reginald de Courcy (Letter 4)  

The fun of our on-line group read was the interaction of Austen readers around the world, coming together to discuss ideas on Lady Susan. Our Soiree was a pleasant party; an opportunity to read Jane’s little gem and discover Lady Susan resources. Hostess Laurel Ann contributed her musings; whilst fans a-flutter, participants contributed conjecture and opinion on the letters. 

You can read the entire thank you letter here with my thanks to Mandy N. and all who participated. 

Cheers, Laurel Ann

‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ Wrap Up: Giveaway Winners Announced!

A Soiree with Lady Susan, September 1-14, 2009

“Whether Lady Susan was or was not happy in her second choice, I do not see how it can ever be ascertained; for who would take her assurance of it on either side of the question?”  

Ah – how true! The “Mistress of deceit” would never allude to any misgivings on her part, (well maybe to her confidant Mrs. Johnson if they are ever on friendly terms again) nor would her malleable new husband utter a whisper of complaint. If Lady Susan treats him as cruelly as her daughter, he will be as intimidated and amenable to her wishes as Frederica was. What I enjoyed most about this story was Austen’s youthful exuberance and unguarded candor. By the time she would re-work her next novel Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility in 1811, she would have refined her touch and approached the subjects of courtship, money and social position in a witty but reproachful way. Never again would a villainess like Lady Susan not be given her due by the end. We are fortunate that Lady Susan still survives. It is indeed a window into Jane Austen’s teenage mind, and a great counterbalance to her later works. 

This is my third novel event here at Austenprose, and this time out I had some help from great guest bloggers who added their expertise and humor to entertain us. A big thank you to author’s Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway for their thoughts on Lady Susan and their new novel inspired by it, Lady Vernon and her Daughter, and Vic (Ms. Place) my co-blogger at Jane Austen Today and her own blog Jane Austen’s World for four great historical posts on Upper Seymour Street & Portman Square, and the Postal Service in 18th-century Britain. And of course, my thanks to all who read along and commented on the group read and other posts. It was a swell party! 

PRIZE WINNERS 

And now for the fun stuff! Here are all the winners of the 12 prizes. Congratulations to all, and many thanks to all who participated. 

Day 02 – Sep 02       NA, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition – Bluestocking

Day 05 – Sep 05       Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition – mystrygirl87

Day 06 – Sep 06       Lady Susan (Audio) – Janeen, Bloggin BB, & Susan

Day 07 – Sep 07       Lady Vernon and her Daughter – Laura’s Reviews   

Day 09 – Sep 09        Oxf. Illus. Jane Austen: Minor Works – Fatima

Day 12 – Sep 12         Jane Austen: The Complete Novels  – Jenny  

Day 13 – Sep 13         Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Pub) – Marie Burton, Melly S, Midnight Cowgirl, & Becky                      

Winners – Your prompt reply is greatly appreciated. You have one week to claim your prize! Please e-mail me with your full name and address to (austenprose at verizon dot net) before Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009. If I do not receive a response by a winner by that date, I will draw another name and continue until all of the prizes have a home to mail them to. So sorry to my international participants, but shipment is via USP media mail to US addresses only. Thanks again to everyone for your great contributions. Congrats to the winners, and enjoy!

Adieu, my dearest Susan, I wish matters did not go so perversely. That unlucky visit to Langford! but I dare say you did all for the best, and there is no defying destiny. Mrs. Johnson, Letter 38 

THE END

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – A Review

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Publications) 2005Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan has never received much attention in comparison to her other six major novels. It is a short piece, only 70 pages in my edition of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Minor Works containing forty-one letters and a conclusion. Scholars estimate that it was written between 1793-4 when the young author was in her late teens and represents her first attempts to write in the epistolary format popular with many authors of her time. In 1805, she transcribed a fair copy of the manuscript but did not pursue publication in her lifetime. The manuscript would remain unpublished until 54 years after her death with its inclusion in the appendix of  her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt, A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871. 

The story centers around its titular character, Lady Susan Vernon, a very recent widow in her mid thirties. Described by her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon as “delicately fair” possessing “an uncommon union of symmetry, brilliance,” these positive attributes may be the only compliments that she receives in the whole novel. There is more than a breath of scandal preceding Lady Susan’s arrival at her in-laws estate of Churchill. The gossip mill claims that while staying as a guest at Langford, she was evicted by its Mistress Mrs. Manwaring for engaging at the same time, the affections of two men who were “not at liberty to bestow them,” namely her husband, and the fiancé of her young sister-in-law. Nonplused, she moves on to her next residence the country estate of her deceased husband’s younger brother Charles Vernon and his wife Catherine. When word reaches Mrs. Vernon’s younger brother Reginald De Courcy that Lady Susan will be her houseguest, he is eager to meet the most “accomplished coquette in England” promptly arriving knowing full well her scandalous past. Her unprincipled artifice and its fallout can all be explained, and very cleverly. Possessing a command of the language that can “make black appear white,” she prides herself upon the pleasure of making a person predetermined to dislike her convert to her advocate. It is not long before Reginald falls into her net of deceit and under her romantic control, much to the displeasure of his family. Revolving around this “Mistress of deceit” is her terrified sixteen-year old daughter Frederica who she is attempting to marry off to a wealthy buffoon Sir James Martin, the elderly De Courcy parents who hear all the news of the infamous Lady Susan through their daughter Mrs. Vernon, and Lady Susan’s confidant, the equally unscrupulous Alicia Johnson married to a gouty man who in Lady Susan’s view is “too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” They are two peas in a pod, and through Lady Susan’s disclosure to her friend, we see her schemes, machinations, and truly captivating wicked nature. 

Outrageously fun and artfully melodramatic, Lady Susan is the sleeper novel of Jane Austen’s oeuvre whose greatest fault lies in its comparison to its young sisters. Since few novels can surpass or equal Miss Austen’s masterpieces, Lady Susan should be accepted for what it is – a charming, highly amusing piece by an author in the making who not only presents us with interesting and provocative characters, but reveals her early understanding of social machinations and exquisite language. Its biggest challenge appears to be in the limitations of the epistolary format where the narrative is revealed through one person’s perspective and then the other’s reaction and reply, not allowing for the energy of direct dialogue or much description of the scene or surroundings. Given its shortcomings it is still a glistening jewel; smart, funny, and intriguing wicked. 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen
Dover Publications (2005)
Trade paperback (80) pages
ISBN: 978-0486444079

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 13 Giveaway 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Publications) 2005. 

Leave a comment by midnight PT on Sunday, September 13th to qualify for a free drawing on September 14th for one of four copies of the Dover Publications edition of Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 14 – Sep 14          LS Wrap up & Giveaway announcement