Sherlock Season One on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Review

Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock banner 2010

Guest review of Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock: Season One by the co-author of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Recently, Masterpiece Mystery aired BBC’s contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, simply titled Sherlock. Now, I think I should admit up front that I am an amateur Holmes fan.  I enjoy the stories, and of course Holmes and Watson are classic, but that’s about as far as I go.  So the fact that the new Sherlock series changed a lot (according to Holmes-philes I know) doesn’t rouse in me the fiery indignation of, say, Donald Sutherland interviewing that his Pride and Prejudice 2005 Mr. Bennet was deeply in love with his wife.

I have some little experience with adapting a famous author’s work, and I think the trick with adapting anything is deciding what you want to keep and what you can afford to lose.  Just to take a completely random example right off the top of my head, when my mom and I wrote Lady Vernon and Her Daughter (recently released in trade paperback), we decided that historical accuracy and keeping true to Jane Austen’s style was more important than maintaining the original Lady Susan’s Snow White’s Evil Step-mother personality.  The people behind Sherlock made the opposite choice; the focus seems to be on character and tone, while they sacrificed setting and structure.  As a result, the episodes still feel very Sherlock Holmes, even if the story plays out more CSI than ACD.

A Study in Pink – Sunday, October 24, 2010

We’ve got a serial killer! Love those, there’s always something to look forward to.”  Sherlock Holmes

The new series has just three episodes, all drawing heavily from classic Holmes’ stories.  The first, A Study In Pink — based, obviously, on Study in Scarlet — introduces Watson and Holmes (as well as Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, Lestrade, and the shadowy puppet master Moriarty) and follows them as Holmes tries to solve a rash of not-so-voluntary suicides.  In fact, the mystery, while always present, doesn’t take center stage until fifteen minutes in, and the build up is focused more on setting up Watson and Holmes’ partnership.  As well it should, say I, because while the original stories are nonpareil, and Hound of the Baskervilles still gives me chills, what I love most about the Sherlock Holmes’ stories is the friendship, and watching these two interact.  Sherlock does not disappoint; they cast two very good actors whose portrayals I can get behind.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is fascinating and frustrating, a Holmes who is surrounded by (comparative) idiots, who needs something to do, who more than anything else wants a challenge.  He understands how and why people act, much like an anthropologist understands the primitive culture they’re studying, but he’s not on the same wavelength.  Interacting with humans as a human is a little beyond him —particularly illustrated in Pink, when Holmes demands to know why a woman would be so fixated on a baby she lost years ago.

It’s clear, however, that Cumberbatch and Sherlock are focusing on Holmes’ need for work, and his frustration in dealing with the people around him.  They ignore a crucial part of Conan Doyle’s character — that he is always a gentleman, especially to women.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes often comes across as either blind or intentionally rude, which can leave a bitter taste in your mouth.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes doesn’t care about the people involved in his cases, only the clever little knots he has to untie.  Conan Doyle’s Holmes, whatever he felt, was always “a chivalrous opponent.”

As for Martin Freeman’s Watson, I adore him.  I’ve always preferred Watson to Holmes, because I always find the Clark Kent more interesting than the Superman.  It’s a straight out relief to see a Watson who doesn’t seem like he should be accompanied by bumbling tuba music.  Freeman’s Watson is a more than capable companion for Holmes, best illustrated in a scene in Pink, where he stares down a creepy and mysterious man and turns down his offer to spy on Holmes without a blink.  He enjoys when “the game is afoot” as much as Holmes, but only up to a point because he also realizes that it isn’t a game, not really, because there are people involved.

The Blind Banker – Sunday, October 31, 2010

I’m the great Sherlock Holmes, I work alone ’cause no one can compete with my massive intellect!” Dr. John Watson

The Blind Banker, the second episode, is inspired by The Dancing Men and The Sign of Four.  Our story starts when Holmes is contacted by an old school chum who wants to know how someone broke into his ultra-secure office.  At the same time a young woman who handles Chinese antiquities at a museum disappears.  Of course these two stories eventually intertwine, bringing along a group of Chinese smugglers, an acrobatic killer, and the hunt for a missing and extremely valuable artifact.

I didn’t like Banker as much as the first episode; I had to watch it several times to get all of the details, and there was less of what I liked about Pink — the Holmes and Watson stuff, the playful feeling, and the sense of something actually being at stake, especially as there were a lot of little things brought up and then dropped.  Holmes’ old school buddy is treated like an afterthought, and the identity of the mysterious gymnastic killer was completely pointless in the scheme of things.  Overall I left the episode wondering more about whether there are there actually teapots that are thousands of years old that need to be maintained through use.

Also — so, Dead Man #1 (or #2, I forget which) gave his girlfriend a hairpin as a make-up present.  When it’s discovered to be not just any hairpin but an Ancient Chinese Hairpin, she then…gets to turn around and sell it for millions?  Even though her boyfriend stole this historic artifact?  She wouldn’t have to hand it back to the Chinese Department of Antiquities, or whoever handles that stuff? If you know how this would work, feel free to help me out in the comments.

The Great Game – Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sherlock: “Look at that, Mrs. Hudson. Quiet, calm, peaceful… isn’t it hateful?

Mrs. Hudson: “Oh, I’m sure something will turn up, Sherlock. A nice murder, that’ll cheer you up.

The third and last episode, The Great Game, was inspired by Die Hard 3.  This one was my least favorite, especially as it was sadly lacking in Jeremy Irons.  While we did get some good character bits from the Dynamic Duo, the story falls into the well-traveled serial-killer-taunts-detective territory that we’ve all seen a thousand times.  As our story opens, Holmes is dying of boredom — the only thing on his plate, the mysterious death of a government agent and some missing, top-secret documents that his brother wants him to look into.  Things pick up very quickly, though, when a psychopath starts strapping bombs to people and making Holmes race to solve cold cases before time’s up.

On the whole, it wasn’t a bad episode, just very formulaic. The Great Game is the farthest away from a traditional Holmes story, and much more of a traditional action mystery.  I was particularly disappointed with Moriarty.  While I think they nailed their portrayals of Holmes and Watson, I wasn’t impressed or frightened by their Moriarty, which are two things you should be when meeting someone who can take on Sherlock Holmes.  Clearly they were going for Unbalanced Criminal Genius, but I just saw one of those annoying attention-seekers who wants everyone to know how gosh darn wacky they are.  I never really believe those kinds of characters as heads of international criminal organizations, unless they have a top-notch personal assistant handling all the details.  Sure, you have a brilliant plan for stealing the Mona Lisa, but who is going to make sure that the special package gets picked up from the secret drop-off while you’re taunting your arch-nemesis?

But those are all minor complaints.  I really enjoyed Sherlock, and was happy to hear that the series was a big success, and more episodes are already in the works.  I for one am looking forward to them, though I hope this time the Brits won’t get to see them four months ahead of us again.

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino Bradway (2010)About the reviewer: Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and her mother, Jane Rubino, are the authors of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, a reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic novella Lady Susan and the short story What Would Austen Do in the forthcoming anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be published by Ballantine Books in October 2011. Caitlen’s first solo work, a children’s fantasy, is scheduled to be released in early 2012. Visit Caitlen and Jane at their blog Janetility.

Further viewing & reading

Text © 2010 Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, image © MASTERPIECE 2010

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: Guest Blog with Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway authors of Lady Vernon and her Daughter

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen's Lady Susan, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (2009)There are some great writers who wrote too much. There are others who wrote enough. There are yet others who wrote nothing like enough to satisfy their admirers, and Jane Austen is certainly one of these. Margaret Drabble 

I love this quote by Austen scholar Margaret Drabble. It is the opening line of her introduction to the 1974 edition the Penguin Classics Lady Susan, The Watson’s and Sandition, long before the Austen sequel industry would become its own book genre. Little did she know that other writers would take the next step to satisfy Austen admirers.  Thirty-five years later, we have literally hundreds of prequels, sequels, spinoffs and continuations to choose from. Most are inspired by Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. Proportionally – too many. So when I read the announcement last March of a new novel Lady Vernon and her Daughter based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, my heart leapt. A fresh concept! I knew of only one other sequel based on Lady Susan written by Phyllis Ann Karr in 1980, and long out of print. It was past time for Lady Susan to have her turn again. The authors, appropriately a mother-daughter team, Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway have graciously offered this guest blog during ‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ to share their insights about Lady Susan and their inspiration to write a new novel based on Jane Austen’s novella. 

Welcome Jane and Caitlen 

Lady Susan is the title character of an early epistolary work written by Jane Austen in the early- to mid-1790s. Lady Susan Vernon is a beautiful young widow, a “dangerous creature” and “the most accomplished coquette in England.” In a series of letters, principally between Lady Susan and her friend, Alicia Johnson, and Lady Susan’s sister-in-law Catherine Vernon and Catherine’s mother, Lady deCourcy, we extract a portrait of a woman of pleasure, flirting with three admirers while disarming her wary in-laws and arranging a loveless marriage for her daughter. It’s a work that’s difficult to characterize; it is too sophisticated to be considered juvenilia, and it isn’t a fragment; yet, while it’s a complete work, it isn’t a fully realized novel. 

It is not unlikely that some inspiration for Lady Susan came from the sensational French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which appeared in England in the decade before Lady Susan was written. The Marquise de Merteuil’s, “…it seems to me scarcely possible for a woman who is offered such a golden chance – with so little risk – to reduce a male to despair could resist indulging in such a treat” is not very different in sentiment from Lady Susan’s, “There is an exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority.” The Marquise’s contempt for the youthful affection of Cecile and Danceny resembles Lady Susan’s disdain for her daughter’s admiration of Reginald deCourcy, and Lady Susan’s scheme to force Frederica to marry Sir James is as coldly calculating as the Marquise’s plot to have Valmont seduce Cecile. 

Jane Rubino had written a contemporary mystery series, and happened to be reading Lady Susan at the time she was thinking of writing a second series. The “Lady Susan mysteries” were quickly abandoned, and we began discussing turning the work into a historical novel with elements of mystery; that plan gave way to reconstructing the work – converting an epistolary novel to a third person narrative, as Austen revised Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility. In fact, we discovered a number of similarities between Lady Susan and Sense and Sensibility.  There are the dual heroines, dual romances, and a mother and daughter(s) displaced when the family estate passes to an heir.  We decided to approach the book as a “what if Jane Austen had revised Lady Susan, as she had done with Elinor and Marianne”? 

In order to conform to Austen’s canon, we resolved to use Austen’s novels as our primary reference.  Austen’s heroines are flawed, but not malicious, so Lady Susan became a sympathetic character. Her conduct is not radically altered, but is motivated by economy, rather than “exquisite pleasure” – with that in mind Lady Susan became Lady Vernon.  While there are supporting players in Austen’s canon who are widows of independent means – Lady Catherine deBourgh, Mrs. Jennings, Lady Russell – Austen’s widows are more likely to be anywhere from women of modest means to downright indigent – Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Thorpe. Austen’s heroines, moreover, are not women of high rank, and to have Susan Vernon the daughter of an earl (as suggested by that “Lady Susan”, but never stated in the work) would have taken her out of that tier from which Austen’s heroines are drawn. 

The format, of course, had to go – the novel-in-letters is unwieldy – but we converted as much of the letters as we could into dialogue or exposition.  The use of letters was retained, however, as Austen frequently used letters to advance the plot, or reveal critical information. There are the letters of Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, Isabella Thorpe’s self-centered correspondence to Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey, and, of course, Frederick Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion

Finally, we decided to dedicate Lady Vernon and Her Daughter to one of Caitlen’s favorite professors, Mary Ann Macartney.  While Jane has always been an Austen devotee, Caitlen’s love of Austen really developed in college, in an intensive Austen seminar.  Ten Austen fans in a small room every other day will fuel your fanaticism no matter what, but it was Dr. Macartney’s passion and attention to detail that really inspired Caitlen.   Our dedication is a small way of saying thanks for hers. 

Thank you Jane and Caitlen for joining us today. Lady Vernon and her Daughter is one of my most highly anticipated Austen inspired novels of the year. It is due out on the 6th of October and available for pre-order today. 

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 7 Giveaway 

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (Crown Publishing Group) 2009 

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 08 – Sep 8            Morgan Library Jane Austen Exhibit
Day 09 – Sep 9            LS Group Read – Letters 23-33
Day 10 – Sep 10          LS Quotes & Quips
Day 11 – Sep 11          Guest blog – Regency Letter Writing

Announcing – Lady Vernon and her Daughter Book Trailer

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen's Lady Susan, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (2009)Austenprose is very honored to have the privilege of announcing the exclusive premier of the Lady Vernon and her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan book trailer. This new retelling of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan was co-written by mother and daughter team Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and is due out October 6th, 2009. You can read a complete preview of Lady Vernon and her Daughter here at Austenprose.

Stay tuned for more great information on this exciting new release as Jane and Caitlen will be guest bloggers on September 7th during ‘Soirée with Lady Susan’ event here at Austenprose September 1st through the 14th. If you would like to join in the fun, check out the invitation and the group reading schedule.

 

I am so looking forward to reading this new Jane Austen inspired book. You can pre-order your copy of Lady Vernon and her Daughter online for October delivery.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

Preview – Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Jane Austen Novel, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubion-Bradway (2009)When I read about Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, a new novel based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, I got a total Austen adrenaline rush. Due out next October from Crown Publishing Group, we will finally have a novel based on Austen’s brilliant and vicious jewel. Here is the description. 

A delightful interpretation of Jane Austen’s early novella Lady Susan – a treat for fans of literature’s most beloved woman of letters, as well as historical fiction readers. 

Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan was written during the same period in which she produced Elinor and Marianne. Like Elinor and Marianne, Lady Susan focused on the economic and romantic plights of two heroines displaced when the family home passes to an unworthy heir; but while Elinor and Marianne was revised and happily expanded to become Sense and Sensibility, Lady Susan was abandoned. Until now. 

In Lady Vernon and her Daughter, Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway have taken letters from this novella and transformed them into to a vivid, authentic, and more recognizably “Austen” milieu. Lady Susan Vernon and her daughter must navigate a society where a woman’s security is at the mercy of an entail, where love is hindered by misunderstanding, where marriage can never be entirely isolated from money, and yet romance somehow carries the day. 

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Crown (October 6, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0307461667 

Not only is this an interesting concept, it is written by a mother – daughter team, mirroring the two main characters in Lady Susan. Here are their bios from their literary agent Marly Rusoff & Associates website who continue to have an eagle eye for fresh Austen inspired talent after they hit a home run with Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict in 2007. 

Jane Rubino holds a BA from NYU in Dramatic Literature, Theatre and Cinema. She lives in Ocean City, NJ and is the author of a contemporary mystery series set at the Jersey shore, and a volume of Sherlockian novellas. She has also written several short screenplays that have been produced as student and independent films; one of the films was recently awarded a jury prize at San Francisco’s annual WYSIWYG Film Festival. 

Caitlen Rubino-Bradway holds a BA in English Literature and an MA in Publishing from Rosemont College. While in college, she interned with LeFrak Productions, Tor, and Jane Dystel Literary. She currently lives and works in New York City, where she has attended the Monday “day after” dissections, sponsored by the Jane Austen Society of North America, of the most recent series of Austen teleplays. 

Both avid readers of Austen, Caitlen and Jane re-examined her six great novels in order to reproduce Austen’s distinctive style and apply the fundamentals of her storytelling to expand this short work into novel length. Lady Vernon and her Daughter, while retaining much of the original text, restores Lady Susan and Frederica Vernon to a vivid, authentic, and more recognizably “Austen” milieu: much like the Dashwood’s (Sense and Sensibility), the Bennet sisters (Pride and Prejudice), and Anne Elliot (Persuasion), Lady Susan Vernon and her daughter must navigate a society where a woman’s security is at the mercy of an entail, where love is hindered by misunderstanding, where marriage can never be entirely isolated from money, and yet romance somehow carries the day. 

Can’t wait to learn more about this one! If we can judge this book by its beautiful cover, then we may have another winner from this literary agency.

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, Naxos AudioBooks (2001)Pre-order Lady Vernon and Her Daughter at Amazon.com

Read Lady Susan by Jane Austen online at Mollands

Listen to an audio sampler of Lady Susan at Naxos AudioBooks