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.

Mansfield Park (2007) on Masterpiece Classic – A Review: No Hope of a Cure

Image from Mansfield Park 2007 Billie Piper and cast © 2007 Masterpiece PBS

“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself-I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7

Today I am feeling much like that supercilious Mary Crawford in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park; selfish, greedy and smug. I want my Jane Austen adaptations served up to me according to my wishes. Right now!

Three weeks into The Complete Jane Austen presentation on PBS and I’m still waiting to be wowed. Was the 1995-97 adaptation spree a fluke? Has Colin Firth’s performance as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice spoiled me from ever enjoying any other adaptation? As singer Peggy Lee crooned, “Is that all there is?”

This brings me squarely to the latest installment, Mansfield Park, which if I may be so bold is not an easy novel to understand and even more of a challenge to adapt to the screen. The misunderstanding of the novel is certainly not from lack of effort. Of Jane Austen’s entire canon, Mansfield Park has erupted more heated discussion than any of her other novels, resulting in the infamous ‘Fanny wars‘ among academics and amateurs alike. In defense of our Jane Austen, we happily trample gently and wield a big cluebat.

This adaptation presents a large and handsome cast of the usual Regency lineup; the poor relation and waif heroine Fanny Price (Billie Piper), who has been conscripted as a child into the household of her wealthy and privileged aunt and uncle, Lady (Jemma Redgrave) and Sir Thomas Betram (Douglas Hodge) to the family country manor Mansfield Park (Newby Hall). Fanny’s indolent cousins rule her world; heir apparent and gambling boozer Tom (James D’Arcy), and spoiled sisters Maria (Michelle Ryan) and Julia Bertram (Catherine Steadman). The only one on the straight and narrow among this tribe is our pious hero, and Fanny’s only friend Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson).

Enter into the neighborhood two scheming siblings; acerbic Mary (Hayley Atwell) trolling for a rich husband, and hedonistic Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) determined to make Fanny fall in love with him to “make a small whole in her heart”, and you have all the ingredients for an interesting story. Unfortunately, the majority of the original nuances and wit in the novel ends up in the round file. In defense of screen writer MaggieWadley, she was hired for a fool’s errand. The only person qualified to pare down this 473 page intricately detailed work (Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen) into ninety minutes of screen time would be Jane Austen herself, and unfortunately she was not available.

So much of the original plot has been eliminated, that after the first fifteen minutes, I put aside my expectations of re-visiting my memories of Jane Austen’s prose, and attempted to enjoy the essence of the plot and characters. Given the restriction of time, this adaptation directed by Ian B. MacDonald whips along at a frenetic pace, touching on themes and condensing all of it’s action to one beautiful location, the house and grounds of Mansfield Park. Gone are the neighboring homes of the Rectory of Mrs. Grant where the Crawford’s reside, the cottage of Mrs. Norris, the estate of Mr. Rushworth, Sotherton Court, and the Price family residence in Portsmouth. One can only assume that these deletions were agreeable to the budget, and not meant as a slight to the viewer! Ack! I felt like I was on a Jane Austen restricted diet.

The majority of actors were well cast with a few exceptions and standouts. I tried to like Billie Piper as Fanny, but she had so little to say, that I am not sure if I should blame it on her acting or the script which had her stone faced in the sidelines, dutifully fetching and carrying for her cousins, and simpering on cue. When she finally opposes her uncle Sir Thomas wishes for her to accept the proposal of Henry Crawford, I was not convinced by her actions or words that she could have been capable of pleading her case against such a strong patriarch. Our hero Edmund Bertram’s best scenes were unfortunately not with our heroine, but played out with his love interest Mary Crawford. I was relieved that he was allowed to actually have more than a few lines with her, and their final scene together ending his infatuation of her was his best. My favorite performance was by Michelle Ryan as willful Maria Bertram. When she is on screen, her presence was so compelling that it demands your complete attention. Other actresses with this same quality from the golden age of Hollywood such as Vivian Leigh or Ava Gardner learned to develop their acting beyond their striking beauty to command recognition. Miss Ryan is well on her way to stardom, and I hope to see her in a more expanded capacity.

I would like to conclude my review of Mansfield Park with a brief costume and hair roundup. Since so much of the script did not reflect the original novel, I was resolved to focus my review entirely on the costumes in the film until I learned that the majority of the frocks here designed by others, and appropriated from previous Jane Austen adaptations. For shame producers. You can get the complete runway rundown here. I must interject that the costume designer did give us the requisite cleavage for the nasty female antagonist, and the big messy hair for the male cad. Thank you very much. I’m not sure that I would have been able to identify them otherwise. I was also amused to learn that the hair designer Mary Southgate had in addition to her many credits in grand Opera, worked as the hair designer on The Muppet Show. This may allow for the un-Regency like mop top do of Miss Piper.

And, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations and thanks to Holly the Pug, for timing her barks, snorts and growls with such precise conviction and emotion. Besides Miss Piper’s bleached bimbo hurricane hair, she was the funniest part of this adaptation.

Image courtesy © 2007 Masterpiece PBS; text © 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Mansfield Park: The Enigma that is Fanny Price

Image of a steel engraving by Nathaniel Whittock of Newby Hall Yorkshire, circa 1831 

GENTLENESS 

The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her all your own immediately. From my soul I do not think she would marry you without love; that is, if there is a girl in the world capable of being uninfluenced by ambition, I can suppose it her;

 Mary Crawford on Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, Chapter 30  

If Pride and Prejudice is the darling of Jane Austen’s oeuvre, then Mansfield Park is the red headed step child. Even opinions of it were divided among Jane Austen’s friends and family prior and after publication, which she collected into an undated manuscript circa 1814 and 1815.

“We certainly do not think it as a whole, equal to P. & P. — but it has many & great beauties. Fanny is a delightful Character! and Aunt Norris is a great favourite of mine. The Characters are natural & well supported, & many of the Dialogues excellent. — You need not fear the publication being considered as discreditable to the talents of it’s Author.” F. W. A. (Francis William Austen)

“liked it better than P. & P. — but not so well as S. & S. — could not bear Fanny. — Delighted with Mrs. Norris, the scene at Portsmouth, & all the humourous parts.” Anna Lefroy

“owned that she thought S. & S. — and P. & P. downright nonsense, but expected to like M. P. better, & having finished the 1st vol. — flattered herself she had got through the worst.” Mrs. Augusta Bramstone

“All who think deeply & feel much will give the Preference to Mansfield Park.” Mrs. Carrick

“did not much like it — not to be compared to P. & P. — nothing interesting in the characters — Language poor. — Characters natural & well supported — Improved as it went on.” Fanny Cage

Such enlightening comments! In fact, a quick analysis of all of the collected remarks by family and friends reveals that readers today feel much the same; Mansfield Park is not equal to Pride & Prejudice and Fanny Price is annoying and insipid. What is it about this novel that is so unsatisfying in comparison to Pride & Prejudice? Why do readers dislike Fanny?

To answer completely would require more time and space then I can impart at this moment, but I can give you a quick response. The themes and characters in Mansfield Park make us uneasy. They introduce the reader to some of the dark aspects of human nature, and more disturbingly, how we treat each other. That is unsettling. Fanny Price as a heroine is picked upon, belittled and degraded. She has been so un-empowered by her circumstances that she chooses not to oppose them. This angers and frustrates us. We want her to speak up for herself like Lizzy Bennet or tell others what to do like Emma Woodhouse, but that does not happen. Instead, Fanny is silent, patient and dutiful. Why?

The answers are eventually revealed by Jane Austen. The ending does reach a satisfying conclusion, rewarding the patient and dutiful reader who like Fanny must wait for the happy ending in Mansfield Park. Understanding the enigma that is Fanny Price, – – well, I fear that will remain one of the mysteries of the ages.

Image of Billie Piper as Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, PBS (2007)Be sure to mark your calendars and set you watches for the premiere of Masterpiece Classics’s Mansfield Park, starring Billie Piper as saintly Fanny Price, Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram her friend and saviour, and Hayley Atwell and Joseph Beattie as twisted siblings Mary & Henry Crawford on Sunday, January 27th. at 9:00 pm on PBS. It should be a enigmatic and elightening evening.

*Steel engraving of Newby Hall, Yorkshire by Nathaniel Whittock, from A New and Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1831). Newby Hall stared as Mansfield Park in the ITV production that will air on The Complete Jane Austen presented by PBS this week. On a very weird side note to anyone who knows how family history can connect serendipitously, Newby Hall was originally owned by the Blackett family who built the present manor designed by Christopher Wren circa 1690. The Blackett family made their fortune in lead ore mines in Yorkshire and Northumberland. My ancestors were miners working for the Blackett-Beamont family for centuries in Allendale, NBL. So, you could say in a round-about way, that my family helped pay for the hall.

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.