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!

An Austen Addicts Temporary Fix

Image of The Complete Jane Austen LogoFOOLISH

why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! Frank Churchill, Emma, Chapter 30

An open letter to PBS

Dear Sir/Madame:

Sunday is here, and ahem, pardon my French … but where the *&#% is my The Complete Jane Austen PBS? Now that you’ve got me totally hooked on weekly installments of adaptations of my favorite authoress’ novels, you have cut me off like Fanny Dashwood, and expect me to go cold turkey. Intolerable!

I see that you are running your quarterly pledge drive in her Sunday time slot to remind me to support my local PBS station. Torture! Now I have just witnessed those perky pledge people say Jane Austen’s name twenty times in ten minutes during the pledge breaks between the re-airing of Persuasion. They repeat ever half hour. Pure torture. Wait, now they are talking about Pride and Prejudice! Pure unadulterated torture. (moans and rolls eyes in agony)

Eureka! There is a bit of hope on the horizon. You have dangled the possibility of a new bonnet or trip to Brighton my way by offering the next-best-thing to a Jane Austen adaptation; – – a program about the making of the Jane Austen adaptations entitled Celebrating The Complete Jane Austen! Hurrah!

I am all anticipation as the familiar opening musical fanfare rolls in with the voice over.

Now enter Jane Austen’s world, and go behind the scenes for a look at the Public television event of the season.

Host Lisa Daniels gives the introduction to the program teasing us with the prospect of learning the inside story of the making of The Complete Jane Austen with interviews of the executive producer Rebecca Eaton, screenwriter Andrew Davies, and Austen scholar Dr. Marcia Folsom. She continues with exclaiming that Jane Austen is the ‘it’ girl of the twenty-first century. Ok. You’ve got my attention.

Fifteen minutes into an hour program, you cut to a local pledge drive and then jump back and forth between the two like a tennis match for the rest of the hour without much new information revealed.

This is now The Complete Jane Austen Torture.

This will not be bourne. We are seriously displeased and if you can’t play nice, we are sending Lady Catherine over to restore peace and harmony.

Regards &C

Laurel Ann

Blogmistress, Austenprose

The Confessions of an Austenite’s Enlightment

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, BBC, (1995)DISCERNMENT

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 36 

My planned preview to my favorite Jane Austen adaptation, Pride and Prejudice (1995), is a bit late in arriving; – sorely due to this blogmistress’ being a bit Austen fatigued after a month of running in high gear for The Complete Jane Austen series, and battling a putrid throat!

Illustration by Milo Winter, from The Tortoise and the Hare, Aespo’s Fable’s, (1919)The one (and only) writing attribute that I can claim to hold in common with Miss Austen is that I am a plodder. Slow as the turtle in the Aesop fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. What takes some writers a moment of inspiration, may take me an hour of contemplation and rumination.

Image of the cover of The Confesions of a Jane Austen AddictI once commiserated my plight with the talented Austenesque writer, Laurie Viera Rigler, author of that bright tome, The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Her generous response really bucked me up for the next round, and every time I feel drained or washed up I read it again. It is such a thoughtful and beautifully inspiring reply, that I felt selfish holding it my saved e-mail messages folder. I hope that she will not mind my sharing her sage and practical advice for the benefit and enjoyment of my readers.

“Okay, you asked for advice, and I’m going to give it. Well, you asked for thoughts, and here they are, plus advice, if I may be so bold. Please don’t feel pressured about your posts. Let me tell you, from both a reader’s and a writer’s perspective, that your posts are delightful.  I consider you to be just as much a professional writer as I am, and if you think writing is like rolling off a settee for me, you’re wrong! I go through just the same mental gyrations that you do (though of course I’m not clairvoyant and don’t know precisely what yours are).

But from what you’re telling me it sounds like a confidence issue, which all writers go through. If you find yourself plodding-and we all do-leave the desk and take a brain vacation. For me, that’s taking a drive, taking a shower, taking a walk, doing the dishes, anything mindless. Meditation helps, too. These activities free us from the effortful, analytical, grinding mind and allow the pure creative mind to flow.

Every time I worry I won’t know what to write, it is an unfounded worry. We humans just have a hard time being in the place of “I don’t know.” But the “not knowing” place is exactly where we need to be in order to produce our best work. I am starting to get used to the fact that I don’t know what I’m going to write, I don’t know what happens next in my story, I don’t know how I’m going to write the next blog post, but that it will come. And that’s where the best stuff comes from. That’s when we write from the heart, and when we write from the heart, someone is going to connect to it. And that’s when it starts to feel like rolling off a settee. If we could only just stop torturing ourselves with self-doubt, that is.”

Image of cover of Pride & Prejudice, Penguin ClassicsSigh! Well, I’m not quite to ‘rolling off the settee’ yet, but thanks to her encouragement, I did not give up. So today when I read Laurie’s lovely weekly contribution on-line to About.com’s Classic Literature, Pride and Prejudice: Once upon a time, before there was Colin Firth…, I was moved to tears. How lucky we are as Janeites to include her as a sister. As she had wisely advised me, – she truly wrote from the heart – and it shows.

“A discerning reader will find that this story is also a story of empowerment, of control over ones destiny, and of an emerging meritocracy. For the heroine of Pride and Prejudice and her hero, their rewards come not merely through any advantages of birth and inherited wealth, but rather through the hard work of self-examination, revelation, and voluntary shifts in attitudes and behavior. Imagine the appeal of such a story back in Austen’s class-stratified day. Consider its appeal today, in our world of make your own destiny, re-invent yourself, and hard work wins the day.”

Ok Laurie, I will admit having to look up the meaning of meritocracy (which was the perfect word by-the-way), but you just blew me away! One of those life moments when clarity descends, the birds sing, and your senses become intensified. An out of body moment that will stay with me forever. Thanks!

An Evening with Jane: Felicity Indeed!

Image of gust speaker Laurel Ann, “An Evening with Jane”, (2008)FELICITY

It was a union of the highest promise of felicity in itself, and without one real, rational difficulty to oppose or delay it. The Narrator Emma, Chapter 53

Jane Austen enthusiast were summoned to celebrate the delights of their favorite authoress at, “An Evening with Jane”, at the Alderwood Barnes & Noble in Washington on Thursday evening. I was honored to be asked to begin the festivities with an introductory speech about Jane Austen, touching upon her life, works, and the recent adaptations included in the Masterpiece Classic, The Complete Jane Austen on PBS.

 Image of Jane Austen display at event “An Evening with Jane” (2008)

Questions were entertained from the attendees and a lively discussion ensued. Everyone was very positive about the new adaptations, and of the three that have aired; Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, it appeared that Persuasion was the most popular because of the touching story, sincerity of the heroine Anne Elliot and the resolve of the hero Captain Wentworth. When I queried them about the rushed ending, and the madcap marathon dash through the streets of Bath by Anne Elliot, the response was non-pulsed. It appears that if you had not read the book prior to the viewing, the ending seemed odd, but not as comical as it was to those familiar with Jane Austen’s original ending.

Seven Novels, Barnes & Nobel, (2007)As we enjoyed English Breakfast tea (with milk of course) and cinnamon scones, I introduced a recommended reading list that I had compiled of my favorite Jane Austen editions, books that were inspired by her and biographies of her life. I know that you all will recognize some of these great titles. You can read the entire list here, but here are some of the favorite titles discussed.

  • Jane Austen: Seven Novels, by Barnes & Noble Classics: ISBN 9781435103191
  • Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler: ISBN 9780525950400
  • The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James: ISBN 9780061341427
  • Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin: ISBN 9780679766766
  • A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love and Faith, by Lori Smith: ISBN 9781400073702
  • The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World, by Margaret C. Sullivan: ISBN 9781594741715

Image of attendees for “An Evening with Jane” event, (2008)

jahandbookw.jpgAn interesting aside to the nights events was a popular discussion of a certain other Austen inspired blog managed by a snarky Editrix who also has a popular Jane Austen inspired book in print! Serendipitously, two of the attendees selected copies of The Jane Austen Handbook, by Margaret C. Sullivan for their personal Jane Austen collections. I was delighted that they had chosen Mags’ book, and even more charmed when one of the attendees humorously mentioned that she had recently had to decline the marriage proposal of a Mr. Collins-like suitor, and was inspired to purchase a copy after reading that the contents included a section on how to decline an unwanted proposal of marriage! Well Mags, how does it feel to see you book in action? Congratulations!

Image of Vintage Jane Austen items             

We were honored by the attendance of Erin Whitcomb, a Special Projects & Events Manager with our local PBS station KCTS. She and her co-worker Daphne Adair make much of the Jane Austen magic happen for us mere Austen mortals through their real jobs at KCTS, and the fun Complete Jane Austen blog.  Erin announced a fabulous Austen inspired high tea in the works for KCTS donors that is being planned for April 12th, that will be held at the  Daughters of the American Revolution Rainier Chapter House on Capitol Hill. Further details are available at their blog.

Image of Jane Austen Action Figure

The evenings celebration would not have been complete without the arrival of Miss Austen herself, or the action figure of herself, placed among the many vintage books that I brought for display with a very special silver framed portrait of the authoress, who after nearly 200 years, can still pull a crowd. A special thank you to store manager Stephanie Hare and the accomplished Community Relations Manager Kari Yadro for her excellent promotional skills.

Top 10 Reason’s why Miss Austen Has No Regrets…

Image of Olivia Williams as Jane Austen, in Miss Austen Regrets, (2008) 

 about the biopic Miss Austen Regrets.

#10.) Anne Hathaway was not available for a reprise cuz she got a better gig playing Agent 99.

#9.) The costume designer passed on hoop skirts and hourglass silhouettes.

#8.) Even though she was a country girl at heart, she got all edgy dancing a waltz.

#7.) They dropped the Wither off  Harris Bigg-Wither’s last name cuz, she never really liked it anyway.

#6.) They served her favorite 1802 Dow – Vila Nova de Gaia vintage port.

#5.) The social pyramid was abolished allowing housekeepers to dine with the family.

#4.) No one asked her to elope to Gretna Green.

#3.) That harpy Martha Lloyd was cut out of the script cuz, she was only her BFFL.

#2.) She didn’t have to wear flattering bonnets designed by Lydia Bennet.

And the number one reason why Miss Austen has no regrets about Miss Austen Regrets is…

They forgot to mention the love child she bore after the lost weekend in Ireland with Tom Lefroy.