LitHub: A NEW EDITION OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE REPRODUCES THE CHARACTERS’ LETTERS TO EACH OTHER

Reblogged from: lithub.com/a-new-voyeuristic-edition-of-pride-and-prejudice-reproduces-the-characters-letters-to-each-other/

 

A new edition of Pride and Prejudice reproduces the characters’ letters to each other.

Corinne Segal

September 2, 2020, 3:45pm

In a Jane Austen novel, the drama—confessions of love, pleas for help, realizations that your cousin is a jackass—is all in the letters. So it feels particularly fitting that Chronicle Books is releasing an edition of Pride and Prejudice that includes physical replicas of the letters its characters exchange, which provide some of the richest and most surprising revelations in the book.

Set decorator and writer Barbara Heller designed the edition, which contains reproductions of 19 letters in the style of the era down to details like the folding style, wax seal, and postmaster’s stamps. The letters appear in pockets throughout the book. Reading them feels like a somewhat voyeuristic exercise, like looking over a character’s shoulder as they try to figure out how to gossip about each other without, you know, being too obvious about it. (Except for Lydia, who everyone, without exception, agrees is the worst.)

The edition will be published by Chronicle Books this month.

England (the Southern / Central Part), from East to West and Back: Bookish Souvenirs

Jane Austen's Hampshire - Terry Townsend The Book of Margery Kempe - Margery Kempe, Barry Windeatt Intimate Letters of England's Queens - Margaret Sanders 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory - Ian Mortimer Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors - Chris Skidmore Constable in Love: Love, Landscape, Money and the Making of a Great Painter - Martin Gayford The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science - Andrea Wulf The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World's Banker: 1849-1999 - Niall Ferguson The Malice of Unnatural Death - Michael Jecks The Late Show - Michael Connelly

The Trip:

* Chiltern Hills and Thames Valley (to mystery lovers, aka “Midsomer County” — though given that this is an area chock-full of quintessential(ly) English villages, it’s no surprise that it also routinely provides locations for other series, such as Inspector Morse, The Vicar of Dibley, and of course, adaptations of Agatha Christie’s mysteries … Christie herself, after all, also spent her last years in this area, in a village just outside of Wallingford, where she is also buried.)

* Chawton: Jane Austen’s home

* Gloucester and Malmesbury

* The Welsh Borderland: The Welsh Marches, Herefordshire, and Shropshire

* Bosworth and Leicester

* East Anglia: Norfolk, Ely, and Stour Valley (aka [John] Constable Country)

 

The Souvenirs:

* Jane Austen:
– Pride and Prejudice — an imitation leather-bound miniature copy of the book’s first edition
Lady Susan — audio version performed, inter alia, by Harriet Walter
– Teenage Writings (including, inter alia, Cassandra, Love and Freindship, and The History of England)

* Terry Townsend: Jane Austen’s Hampshire (gorgeously illustrated hardcover)

* Hugh Thomson:
– Illustrations to Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion
– Illustrations to Mansfield Park and Emma

* Pen Vogler: Tea with Jane Austen

… plus other Austen-related bits, such as a playing card set featuring Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion, two Austen first edition refrigerator magnets, two “Austen 200” designer pens, a Chawton wallpaper design notepad, and a set of Austen-related postcards.



* Margery Kempe: The Book of Margery Kempe
* Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love
(have read bits of pieces of both, but never yet the whole thing(s) — something to be remedied soonish)

* Margaret Sanders (ed.):
– Letters of England’s Queens
– Letters of England’s Kings

(“Queens” looks decidedly more interesting, but I figured since there were both volumes there … Unfortunately, neither contains any Plantagenet correspondence, though; they both start with the Tudors.)

* Terry Jones: Medieval Lives

* Ian Mortimer:
– The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330
– 1415: Henry V’s Year of Glory

* Chris Skidmore: Bosworth — The Birth of the Tudors

* David Baldwin: Richard III

* Richard Hayman: The Tudor Reformation

* Glyn E. German: Welsh History

(The last two are decidedly more on the “outline” side, but they’re useful fast, basic references)

* Martin Gayford: Constable in Love — the painter John Constable, that is.

* Andrea Wulf: The Invention of Nature (yeah, I know, late to the party, but anyway … and at least I got the edition with the black cover!)

* Chris Beardshaw: 100 Plants that almost changed the World (as title and cover imply, nothing too serious, but a collection of interesting tidbits nevertheless)

* Niall Ferguson: The House of Rothschild — The World’s Banker, 1849-1999

* Michael Jecks, Knights Templar:
– The Leper’s Return
– The Boy-Bishop’s Glovemaker
– The Devil’s Acolyte
– The Chapel of Bones
– The Butcher of St. Peter’s
– The Malice of Unnatural Death

* Shirley McKay: Hue & Cry (a mystery set in Jacobean St. Andrews, Scotland)

… and finally, two present-day mystery/thrillers, just to balance off (well, not really, but anyway …) all that history:

* Jo Nesbø: The Snowman
* Michael Connelly: The Late Show

… plus several more mugs for my collection (because I clearly don’t own enough of those yet), two Celtic knot bookmarks, a Celtic knot T-shirt, a Celic knot pin, a Celtic knot designer pen (can you tell I really like Celtic knot designs?), assorted handmade soaps and lavender sachets, and assorted further postcards and sticky notes, plus in-depth guidebooks of pretty much every major place I visited (which guidebooks I sent ahead by mail before leaving England, so they’re currently still en route to my home).

ETA:
Oh, and then there’s John le Carré‘s The Pigeon Tunnel, which I bought at the airport right before my departure and am currently reading.  Books that you buy at the departure for a trip do qualify for a vacation book haul, don’t they?

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1584593/england-the-southern-central-part-from-east-to-west-and-back-bookish-souvenirs

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SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

“Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?”

When Emma Thompson was approached with the suggestion to write a screenplay based on Jane Austen‘s first novel Sense and Sensibility (1811), she was somewhat doubtful because, as she explains on the DVD’s commentary track, she felt that other Austen works, like the more expressive Emma and Persuasion or the sardonic Pride and Prejudice (already the subject of several adaptations) would have been more suitable. Four years and 14 screenplay drafts later (the first, a 300-page handwritten dramatization of the novel’s every scene), Sense and Sensibility made its grand entrance into theaters worldwide and mesmerized audiences and critics alike, resulting in an Oscar for Thompson‘s screenplay and six further nominations (Best Picture, Leading Actress – Thompson –, Supporting Actress – Kate Winslet –, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score – for all of 20 minutes’ worth of composition – and Costume Design); and double honors as Best Picture and for Thompson‘s screenplay at the Golden Globes.

More than simple romances, Jane Austen‘s novels are delicately constructed pieces of social commentary, written from her rural Hampshire’s perspective. Mostly confined to life in her father’s parish, she was nevertheless well aware of early 19th century England’s society at large, and fiercely critical of the loss of morals and decorum she saw in its pre-industrial emergent city life. Moreover, experience and observation had made her acutely aware of the corsets forced onto women in fashion terms as much as by social norms, confining them to inactivity and complete dependency on their families’ and their (future) husbands’ money. And among this movie’s greatest strengths is the manner in which it maintains that underlying theme of Austen‘s writing and brings it to a contemporary audience’s attention. “You talk about feeling idle and useless: imagine how that is compounded when one has no hope and no choice of any occupation whatsoever,” Elinor Dashwood (Thompson) tells her almost-suitor Edward Ferrars, and when he replies that “our circumstances are therefore precisely the same,” she corrects him: “Except that you will inherit your fortune – we cannot even earn ours.” Jane Austen may not ever have phrased things in exactly the same way, but the screenplay’s lines here perfectly encapsulate one of the great underlying themes of virtually all of her books.

Rescuing much from the first draft dramatization of Austen‘s novel and amplifying where necessary, Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee (“who most unexplainably seems to understand me better than I understand myself,” Thompson said in her mock-Austen Golden Globe speech) produced a movie scrupulously faithful to what is known about Austen‘s world and at the same time incredibly modern, thus emphasizing the novel’s timeless quality. Paintings were consulted for the movie’s production design, and indeed, almost every camera frame – both landscapes and interiors – has the feeling of a picture by a period painter. Thompson cleverly uses poetry where the novel does not contain dialogue; and again, she does so in a manner entirely faithful to Austen‘s subtleties – most prominently in the joint recital of Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 116 by Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and John Willoughby (Greg Wise), where an ever so slight inaccuracy in his rendition of a sonnet that he claims to love foreshadows his lacking sincerity.

Sense and Sensibility revolves around Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, their quest for a suitable husband, and the sisters’ relationship with each other. Emma Thompson maintains that she did not write the screenplay with herself as Elinor in mind and would not have been accepted for that role but for the success of her previous films (Howards End, The Remains of the Day); yet, it is hard to imagine who could have better played sensible Elinor: “effectual, … [possessing] a coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen [and thus considerably younger than Thompson], to be the counselor of her mother.” (Austen.) And real-life 19-year-old Kate Winslet embodies sensitive, artistic Marianne: “eager in everything; [without] moderation … generous, amiable, interesting: … everything but prudent.” (As an older actress was sought for that part, her agent presented her as 25.) An early scene in which Marianne recites Hartley Coleridge’s Sonnet VII (“Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate truth”) succinctly symbolizes the sisters’ relationship and their personalities, as Marianne mocks Elinor’s seemingly cool response to Edward’s budding affection: “Is love a fancy or a feeling … or a Ferrars?” (Mostly taken from the novel, the scene is embellished by the screenplay’s sole inexactitude, as Coleridge’s sonnets were only published 22 years later). Yet, when all her hope seems shattered, Elinor, in a rare outburst of emotion, rebukes her sister: “What do you know of my heart?” – only to instantly comfort her again when she sees that Marianne is equally distraught.

Indeed, the two sisters’ relationship is so crucial to the novel that in his 2012 deconstruction of Austen‘s writings, Bitch in a Bonnet, Robert Rodi argues that the real love story with which the book is concerned is not at all that involving the sisters and their respective suitors but, rather, that arising from the growing mutual appreciation of Elinor and Marianne. And as Emma Thompson‘s screenplay shows – in and of itself, but even more so, when amplified by the diary she kept while the movie was produced – there is yet another love story going on here; that involving the novel’s screen adaptation: Not in the sense of a self-involved project existing primarily for its own sake, but in Emma Thompson‘s appreciation of Austen‘s novel and her dedication to its screen adaptation; a dedication shared by everybody else involved with the project.

Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman portray the sisters’ suitors Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon in a manner as seamlessly matching the novel’s characters as the two ladies’ portrayal, both leading men embodying to perfection the qualities Austen considered essential: simplicity, sincerity, and a firm sense of morality. Willoughby, on the other hand, while entering the story like the proverbial knight on a white horse who rescues the injured Marianne, does not live up to the high expectations he evokes; he causes Marianne to unacceptably abandon decorum and, just as he misspoke in that line from Shakespeare‘s sonnet, his love eventually “bends with the remover to remove.” Similarly, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), the near-stumbling block to Elinor’s happiness, ultimately proves driven by nothing but an “unceasing attention to self-interest … with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience” (Austen) and is, despite a fortuitous marriage, as marginalized as the Dashwoods’ greedy sister-in-law Fanny (Harriet Walter). Conversely, the boisterous Sir John Middleton and his garrulous mother-in-law, while annoying in their insensitivity, are essentially goodnatured; and marvelously portrayed in their flawed but warmhearted ways by Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs.

Sense and Sensibility was released at the height of the mid-1990s’ Jane Austen revival. Of all the movies of that era, and alongside 1996’s Emma (which has “Hollywood” written all over it) and the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (which finally established Colin Firth as the leading man in the U.S. that he had long been in Britain), Emma Thompson‘s Sense and Sensibility is one of those adaptations that future generations of moviegoers will likely turn to in years to come. And it is truly an experience not to be missed.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures (1995)
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Executive Producer: Sydney Pollack
  • Screenplay: Emma Thompson
  • Based on a novel by: Jane Austen
  • Music: Patrick Doyle
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Michael Coulter
Cast
  • Emma Thompson: Elinor Dashwood
  • Kate Winslet: Marianne Dashwood
  • Hugh Grant: Edward Ferrars
  • Alan Rickman: Colonel Brandon
  • Greg Wise:John Willoughby
  • Gemma Jones: Mrs. Dashwood
  • Emilie François: Margaret Dashwood
  • Elizabeth Spriggs: Mrs. Jennings
  • Robert Hardy: Sir John Middleton
  • Harriet Walter: Fanny Dashwood
  • James Fleet: John Dashwood
  • Tom Wilkinson: Mr. Dashwood
  • Imelda Staunton: Charlotte Palmer
  • Imogen Stubbs: Lucy Steele
  • Hugh Laurie: Mr. Palmer
  • Richard Lumsden: Robert Ferrars
  • Oliver Ford Davies: Doctor Harris

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1996)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Emma Thompson
Golden Globes (1996)
  • Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Emma Thompson
National Board of Review Awards (1995)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director: Ang Lee
  • Best Actress: Emma Thompson
    – also for “Carrington”
Writers Guild of America Awards (1996)
  • Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Emma Thompson
Screen Actors Guild Awards (1996)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Kate Winslet
BAFTA Awards (1996)
  • Best Film: Lindsay Doran and Ang Lee
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Emma Thompson
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Kate Winslet
Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards (1996)
  • Film – Screenplay: Emma Thompson
London Film Critics’ Circle Awards (1996)
  • British Screenwriter of the Year: “Sense and Sensibility”
Evening Standard British Film Awards (1997)
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet
    – Also for “Jude” (1996).
  • Best Screenplay: Emma Thompson
    – Tied with John Hodge (“Trainspotting,” 1996).
German Film Awards (1997)
  • Best Foreign Film: Ang Lee, USA
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Golden Berlin Bear: Ang Lee
  • 2nd place – Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost” Daily Newspaper: Ang Lee
Critics’ Choice Awards (1995)
  • Best Screenplay: – “Sense and Sensibility”
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1995)
  • Best Screenplay – “Sense and Sensibility”
New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards (1995)
  • Best Screenplay – “Sense and Sensibility”
Boston Society of Film Critics AwardS (1995)
  • Best Screenplay – “Sense and Sensibility”

 

Links

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Emma Thompson: The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries – Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film

“Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?”

When Emma Thompson was approached with the suggestion to write a screenplay based on Jane Austen‘s first novel Sense and Sensibility (1811), she was somewhat doubtful because, as she explains on the DVD’s commentary track, she felt that other Austen works, like the more expressive Emma and Persuasion or the sardonic Pride and Prejudice (already the subject of several adaptations) would have been more suitable. Four years and 14 screenplay drafts later (the first, a 300-page handwritten dramatization of the novel’s every scene), Sense and Sensibility made its grand entrance into movie theaters worldwide and mesmerized audiences and critics alike, resulting in an Oscar for Thompson‘s screenplay and six further nominations (Best Picture, Leading Actress – Thompson –, Supporting Actress – Kate Winslet –, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score – for all of 20 minutes’ worth of composition – and Costume Design); and double honors as Best Picture and for Thompson‘s screenplay at the Golden Globes.

More than simple romances, Jane Austen‘s novels are delicately constructed pieces of social commentary, written from her rural Hampshire perspective. Substantially confined to life in her father’s parish, she was nevertheless well aware of early 19th century England’s society at large, and fiercely critical of the loss of morals and decorum she saw in its pre-industrial emergent city life. Moreover, experience and observation had made her acutely aware of the corsets forced onto women in fashion terms as much as by social norms, confining them to inactivity and complete dependency on their families’ and their (future) husbands’ money. And among this screenplay’s greatest strengths is the manner in which it maintains that underlying theme of Austen‘s writing and brings it to a contemporary audience’s attention. “You talk about feeling idle and useless: imagine how that is compounded when one has no hope and no choice of any occupation whatsoever,” Elinor Dashwood tells her almost-suitor Edward Ferrars in Emma Thompson‘s screenplay, and when he replies that “our circumstances are therefore precisely the same,” she corrects him: “Except that you will inherit your fortune – we cannot even earn ours.” Jane Austen may not ever have phrased things in exactly the same way, but the screenplay’s lines here perfectly encapsulate one of the great underlying themes of virtually all of her books.

Rescuing much from the first draft dramatization of Austen‘s novel and amplifying where necessary, Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee (“who most unexplainably seems to understand me better than I understand myself,” Thompson said in her mock-Austen Golden Globe speech) produced a movie scrupulously faithful to what is known about Austen‘s world and at the same time incredibly modern, thus emphasizing the novel’s timeless quality. Paintings were consulted for the movie’s production design, and indeed, almost every camera frame – both landscapes and interiors – has the feeling of a picture by a period painter. Thompson cleverly uses poetry where the novel does not contain dialogue; and again, she does so in a manner entirely faithful to Austen‘s subtleties – most prominently in the joint recital of Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 116 by Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby, where an ever so slight inaccuracy in his rendition of a sonnet that he claims to love foreshadows his lacking sincerity.

Sense and Sensibility revolves around Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, their quest for suitable husbands, and the sisters’ relationship with each other. Emma Thompson maintains that she did not write the screenplay with herself as Elinor in mind and would not have been accepted for that role but for the success of her previous films (Howards End, The Remains of the Day); yet, it is hard to imagine who could have better played sensible Elinor: “effectual, … [possessing] a coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen [and thus considerably younger than Thompson], to be the counselor of her mother.” (Austen.) And real-life 19-year-old Kate Winslet embodies sensitive, artistic Marianne: “eager in everything; [without] moderation … generous, amiable, interesting: … everything but prudent.”  An early scene in which Marianne recites Hartley Coleridge’s Sonnet VII (“Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate truth”) succinctly symbolizes the sisters’ relationship and their personalities, as Marianne mocks Elinor’s seemingly cool response to Edward’s budding affection: “Is love a fancy or a feeling … or a Ferrars?” (Mostly taken from the novel, the scene is embellished by the screenplay’s sole inexactitude, as Coleridge’s sonnets were only published 22 years after Austen‘s book). Yet, when all her hope seems shattered, Elinor, in a rare outburst of emotion, rebukes her sister: “What do you know of my heart?” – only to instantly comfort her again when she sees that Marianne is equally distraught.

Indeed, the two sisters’ relationship is so crucial to the novel that in his 2012 deconstruction of Austen‘s writings, Bitch in a Bonnet, Robert Rodi argues that the real love story with which the book is concerned is not at all that involving the sisters and their respective suitors but, rather, that arising from the growing mutual appreciation of Elinor and Marianne. And as Emma Thompson‘s screenplay shows – in and of itself, but even more so, when amplified by the diary she kept while the movie was produced – there is yet another love story going on here; that involving the novel’s screen adaptation: Not in the sense of a self-involved project existing primarily for its own sake, but in Emma Thompson‘s appreciation of Austen‘s novel and her dedication to its screen adaptation; a dedication shared by everybody else involved with the project.

Thompson‘s Sense and Sensibility was released at the height of the mid-1990s’ Jane Austen revival. Of all the movies of that era, and alongside 1996’s Emma (which has “Hollywood” written all over it) and the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (which, to more than just one generation of fans, established Colin Firth as the embodiment of Mr. Darcy once and for all), Emma Thompson‘s Sense and Sensibility has long become one of the keystone Austen adaptations and will continue to be one of those that moviegoers will likely turn to in years to come. And it is truly an experience not to be missed.

 

Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood
(Jane Austen Centre, Bath; photo mine)

 

Favorite Quotes From the Diaries:

[Golden Globe acceptance speech in the style of Jane Austen‘s letters:]
“Four A.M. Having just returned from an evening at the Golden Spheres, which despite the inconveniences of heat, noise and overcrowding, was not without its pleasures. Thankfully, there were no dogs and no children. The gowns were middling. There was a good deal of shouting and behavior verging on the profligate, however, people were very free with their compliments and I made several new acquaintances. Miss Lindsay Doran, of Mirage, wherever that might be, who is largely responsible for my presence here, an enchanting companion about whom too much good cannot be said. Mr. Ang Lee, of foreign extraction, who most unexpectedly apppeared to understand me better than I undersand myself. Mr. James Schamus, a copiously erudite gentleman, and Miss Kate Winslet, beautiful in both countenance and spirit. Mr. Pat Doyle, a composer and a Scot, who displayed the kind of wild behavior one has lernt to expect from that race. Mr. Mark Canton, an energetic person with a ready smile who, as I understand it, owes me a vast deal of money. Miss Lisa Henson – a lovely girl, and Mr. Gareth Wigan – a lovely boy. I attempted to converse with Mr. Sydney Pollack, but his charms and wisdom are so generally pleasing that it proved impossible to get within ten feet of him. The room was full of interesting activitiy until eleven P.M. when it emptied rather suddenly. The lateness of the hour is due therefore not to the dance, but to the waiting, in a long line for horseless vehicles of unconscionable size. The modern world has clearly done nothing for transport.
P.S. Managed to avoid the hoyden Emily Tomkins who has purloined my creation and added things of her own. Nefarious creature.”
“With gratitude and apologies to Miss Austen, thank you.”

“Very nice lady served us drinks in hotel and was followed in by a cat. We all crooned at it. Alan [Rickman] to cat (very low and meaning it): ‘Fuck off.’ The nice lady didn’t turn a hair. The cat looked slightly embarrassed but stayed.”

“Got up this morning and could not find my glasses. Finally had to seek assistance. Kate [Winslet] found them inside a flower arrangement.”

“Paparazzi arrived for Hugh [Grant]. We had to stand under a tree and smile for them.
Photographer: ‘Hugh, could you look less — um –‘
Hugh: ‘Pained?”

“I ask Laurie if it’s possible to get trained fish. Lindsay says this is how we know I’ve never produced a movie.”

“Up 5.15 a.m. thinking, packpackpack. I appear to have accumulated more things. How did this happen? I haven’t shopped. Think my bath oils have bred.”

“Jane reminds us that God is in his heaven, the monarch on his throne and the pelvis firmly beneath the ribcage. Apparently rock and roll liberated the pelvis and it hasn’t been the same since.”

“I seem finally to have stopped worrying about Elinor, and age. She seems now to be perfectly normal — about twenty-five, a witty control freak. I like her but I can see how she would drive you mad. She’s just the sort of person you’d want to get drunk, just to make her giggling and silly.”

“We’ve hired the calmest babies in the world to play the hysterical Thomas. One did finally start to cry but stopped every time Chris [Newman (assistant director)] yelled ‘Action’. … Babies smiled all afternoon. Buddhist babies. They didn’t cry once. We, however, were all in tears by 5 p.m.”

[On period costume posture coaching:]
“We all stand about like parboiled spaghetti being straightened out.”

“Quick dinner with … Ang [Lee] and his wife Jane who’s visiting with the children for a while. We talked about her work as a microbiologist and the behaviour of the epithingalingie under the influence of cholesterol. She’s fascinated by cholesterol. Says it’s very beautiful: bright yellow. She says Ang is wholly uninterested. He has no idea what she does.
I check this out for myself. ‘What does Jane do?’ I ask.
‘Science,’ he says vaguely.”

“[Over breakfast] We discussed the ‘novelisation’ question. This is where the studio pay someone to novelise my script and sell it as Sense and Sensibility. I’ve said if this happens I will hang myself. Revolting notion. Beyond revolting.
Lindsay [Doran] said that the executive she had discussed it with had said ‘as a human being I agree with you — but …’ I laughed until my porridge was cool enough to swallow.”

“Hugh Laurie (playing Mr. Palmer) felt the line ‘Don’t palm all your abuses [of language upon me]’ was possibly too rude. ‘It’s in the book,’ I said. He didn’t hit me.”

“Our first point of discussion is the hunt. (…) My idea is to start the film with an image of the vixen locked out of her lair which has been plugged up. Her terror as she’s pursued across the country. This is a big deal. It means training a fox from birth or dressing up a dog to look like a fox. Or hiring David Attenbrorough, who probably knows a few foxes well enough to ask a favour.”

Sense and Sensibility signs litter Devon — arrows with S & S on. Whenever Ang [Lee] sees a B & B sign he thinks it’s for another movie.”

“Edward finds Elinor crying for her dead father, offers her his handkerchief and their love story commences. Ang [Lee] very anxious that we think about what we want to do. I’m very anxious not to do anything and certainly not to think about it.”

“Lindsay [Doran] goes round the table and introduces everyone — making it clear that I am present in the capacity of writer rather than actress, therefore no one has to be too nice to me.”

“Difficult for actors to extemporise in nineteenth-century English. Except for Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs, who speak that way anyway.”

“The fire alarm went off. Fire engines came racing; we all rushed out on the gravel drive, everyone thinking it was us. In fact, one of the elderly residents of Saltram had left a pan on the oven in her flat. Apparently this happens all the time. The tenant in question is appearing as an extra — playing one of the cooks.”

“Press conference [on the movie Carrington] yielded the usual crop of daftness. I’ve been asked if I related personally to Carrington’s tortured relationship with sex and replied that no, not really, I’d had a very pleasant time since I was fifteen. This elicited very disapproving copy from the Brits … No wonder people think we don’t have sex in England.”

“Shooting Willoughby carrying Marianne up the path. They did it four times. ‘Faster,’ said Ang [Lee]. They do it twice more. ‘Don’t pant so much,’ said Ang. Greg [Wise (playing Willoughby)], to his great credit, didn’t scream.”

“Shooting Willoughby carrying Marianne up the path. … Male strength — the desire to be cradled again? … I’d love someone to pick me up and carry me off. Frightening. Lindsay assures me I’d start to fidget after a while. She’s such a comfort.”

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Jane Austen: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

Thus Mansfield Park‘s improbable heroine, Fanny Price, admonishes her would-be suitor Henry Crawford when he purports to ask for her advice in a bid to win her around, after having already seduced her much wealthier cousins Maria and Julia Bertram. And in many ways, this one statement sums up the entire novel: More than in almost any other book – with the sole exception of Persuasion – Austen’s emphasis here is on self-knowledge and self-guidedness, on knowing what is morally right and acting accordingly.

Mansfield Park was the first book by Jane Austen that I ever read, and that was perhaps fortunate: After all, if you fall in love with Austen’s exquisite use of language, her delicate characterization, and her dry and often sardonic wit while reading about a little wallflower like Fanny Price, how much more easily are you going to take to the likes of Lizzy Bennet, the Dashwood sisters, and Catherine Moreland? For a wallflower Fanny Price certainly is – and what is perhaps even worse, a wallflower not only by our contemporary definition but also by the standards of Austen’s own time – and that is probably at least one of the reasons why many modern readers find her less accessible than, say, the near-universally beloved heroine of Pride and Prejudice (and why also, incidentally, virtually every screen adaptation of Mansfield Park, instead of taking Fanny’s character as actually written, seeks to “improve” upon her, with results ranging from the merely irritating to the downright disastrous). For where Lizzy Bennet has no compunctions about giving her opinion (whether called-for or not), Fanny holds back and keeps her own counsel. Where Lizzy is in the habit of taking long walks, is at one point found to have become downright “brown” (tanned) from all her outdoor activities and exposure to the sun, and bravely even undertakes a several miles long cross country march to get to Mr. Bingley’s Netherfield upon hearing that her sister Jane has fallen ill there, Fanny is prone to sun strokes, therefore unable to spend too much time outdoors, and on occasion so weak and poorly that she is even unable to mount a horse (a physical condition that she shares with her aunt, Lady Bertram, and which some scholars now interpret as symptoms of bulimia, which in Austen’s day was a frequent, and usually misdiagnosed complaint resulting from the fact that women, especially genteel women, were actively discouraged from eating: the frailer a woman, the more marriageable she was). And where Lizzy Bennet, though not as beautiful as her sister Jane, can at the very least boast a pair of “fine eyes” that, in Mr. Darcy’s estimation, are “brightened by the exercise” of her outdoor activities, Fanny is described, from the very first, as small, awkward, “with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice,” albeit with a sweet voice and a pretty countenance whenever she does dare open her mouth at all.

Yet, the very attributes that make Lizzy Bennet so attractive in a modern reader’s view would have made her supremely unattractive in the views of her contemporaries; it is not for nothing that Miss Bingley, in her constant bid to denigrate Lizzy in Mr. Darcy’s eyes, keeps harping on the inappropriateness of Lizzy’s decidedly voiced opinions and, even worse, her outdoor exercise (and the state in which walking through a few puddles too many has left her clothes by the time she gets to Netherfield). Indeed, the second eldest Miss Bennet, who in addition to her unspeakably low connections, the manifold social gaffes committed near-constantly by virtually her entire family (except for Jane), as well as her own inappropriate frankness and her propensity for merrily cavorting outdoors, has also failed to seek perfection in the one accomplishment seen as a virtual “must” in a genteel young lady – musical proficiency – would very much have had to be seen as a surprising match, to say the least, for Mr. Darcy and his “ten thousand a year”: In an age where a woman’s sole hope of financial security lay in either inheriting a large fortune or marrying well, and where (as Lizzy’s friend Charlotte soberly observes) “happiness in marriage [was] entirely a matter of chance”, Lizzy Bennet was the embodiment of Jane Austen’s novelized hope that no matter how you were placed socially, and even if you dared, at least to a certain extent, to defy convention and not abide by the corset placed on genteel young ladies by the social norms of their times, there was still at least a slim hope of attaching the man of your dreams after all.

To Fanny Price, all of this does not apply; indeed, to the point that Austen is making with Mansfield Park, any heroine other than a complete wallflower would not have been conducive at all.

As a setting, for all intents and purposes, Mansfield Park is initially presented as a rural paradise; a place of propriety and quiet serenity, where the steady hand of Sir Thomas Bertram keeps the lives of all of its inhabitants on the orderly, largely pre-ordained and respectable course that life should have in store for the family of a baronet in Regency England. Fanny – the daughter of Lady Bertram’s sister, who has married a poor (and later, alcoholic) sailor – is brought in to join the family at age ten, and raised together with the Bertrams’ children; her cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. Since the details of child-rearing are not a man’s job (besides, Sir Thomas’s business and political obligations compel him to leave Mansfield Park every so often), and Lady Bertram’s chief merit as the mistress of the house does not greatly exceed her (now waning) beauty, much of the day-to-day education is left to Aunt Norris, another – widowed – sister of Lady Bertram and of Fanny’s mother. This is unfortunate, as Aunt Norris (one of Austen’s finest creations; worthy sister in spirit to the likes of Mrs. Bennet and Sir Walter Eliot in Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, respectively) is a vexed combination of stupidity, favoritism, prejudice, greed, and a mouth ten times bigger than her willingness to stand by her own proclamations; all of which not only makes for an entirely unwholesome influence over Maria and Julia, but also causes Fanny to be consistently bossed around, by Aunt Norris as much as by the Bertram girls. But Fanny at least has her cousin Edmund to stand by her side, and it is in no small part thanks to his remedial influence (as well as, siginificantly, her own disposition) that unlike Maria and Julia, she develops the sound moral principles that will later enable her alone to steadfastly brave the trials and tribulations that will come very near to ripping her rural paradise to shreds.

For trouble ensues the moment that Sir Thomas is forced to leave Mansfield Park for an indefinite period, this time not merely to go to London but to Antigua, where he will be out of the way for good, and leave his family behind without his guidance and protection. Exit, thus, Sir Thomas, and enter, not long thereafter, Trouble with a capital “T”: cue for the intrusion of rakish, unprincipled city life into rural serenity, for the intrusion of the up-and-coming urbaneness that Austen herself dreaded and disdained, into her very own cherished, placid rural life. The intrusion, in this novel’s instance, is represented by Mary and Henry Crawford, the sister and brother of the local parson’s wife, who have until now shared the urban household of their uncle, an admiral of rather ill repute, and have left London when the admiral deigned to introduce his mistress into his household. In short order, Henry manages to seduce both Bertram sisters, in Maria’s case even though at this point she is already engaged to their rich and respectable but stupid neighbor Mr. Rushworth (even Edmund Bertram has come to think about his brother in law-to-be that “if this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow”). Shamelessly flirtatious Mary Crawford, for her part, sets her cap at Edmund – since Tom, the older Bertram brother, has accompanied his father to Antigua – and he is soon so besotted with her charms that no matter what impropriety she utters, no matter how indecorously she behaves, he, although destined for the clergy (a profession he wholeheartedly embraces), and although he himself not so long ago guided Fanny away from the very same unprincipled conduct that Mary embodies to perfection, all that Mary says and does he now simply disregards. (If Austen didn’t occasionally strike her female protagonists with that same sort of blindness, including and in particular the otherwise astute Lizzy Bennet in her initial dealings with Mr. Wickham, I’d be tempted to read this as a somewhat generalized statement on Austen’s part on the reliability of even the otherwise most virtuous male judgment as soon as a pretty woman’s face and pleasing manner is nigh.)

Things come to a head when Tom Bertram (to his father and younger brother’s chagrin, not the most principled young gentleman, either) reappears a few months later in the company of a Mr. Yates, who, egged on by Henry Bertram and by his own delusions of grandeur, talks the others into staging a play: in and of itself, the very essence of impropriety in genteel society already – one did, after all, under no circumstances whatsoever make a spectacle of oneself –, but combined with the nature of the play chosen (a now-forgotten comedy named Lovers’ Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald, adapted from August von Kotzebue’s The Natural Son: for a summary and further background information, see the blog posts on the subject on Only a Novel and The Republic of Pemberley), as well as the casting eventually agreed on, makes the play an entirely unsuitable choice and thus merely piles impropriety upon impropriety. Against his better judgment, even Edmund is drawn into the scheme (by none other than Mary Crawford, of course); only Fanny, horrified, adamantly refuses to be a party to it. Eventually, Sir Thomas returns home just in time to prevent the play from actually being performed, and restores order and decorum forthwith; including to his own study, which the young insouciants had converted into their green room. Maria Bertram is married to Mr. Rushworth, and the newlyweds, accompanied by Julia, head off to London.

Sir Thomas returned, propriety reestablished, no more rich young ladies around for Henry to seduce, and Edmund off to Peterborough and Oxford for his ordination, an event on which Mary Crawford looks with scathing disdain: Exit, surely therefore now, Mary and Henry Crawford?

Far from it. Indeed, now follows their most daring coup. For the events of the recent months, not least Fanny’s adamant refusal to be drawn into the acting scheme, have revealed that the true prize to be captured in the Bertram household is none other than shy, withdrawn Fanny herself: She, and only she, is the family’s true moral authority. Seducing Maria and Julia had been easy; morally unstable as they were, they had been ripe for the picking from the start. And Edmund Bertram had never been anything more than a toy to Mary; whatever budding interest she might initially have developed in him was extinguished in a snap the very moment she learned that he was not Sir Edmund-to-be but merely a younger brother, moreover destined for the clergy and fully embracing that profession, with zero appetite for a flashier, more prestigious career path. But Fanny presents a real challenge; ultimately even dually so: First and foremost, Fanny herself must be made to intensely interact with Henry Crawford, for as long as she keeps avoiding him (as she has been doing to the best of her ability, recognizing him for the profoundly immoral creature that he is), he won’t have the opportunity to cast the spell of his charm on her and break the iron resolve of her moral stance. And once she has been “cooked” to perfection, Sir Thomas must be made to give his consent to her being married to Henry Crawford, the last person on earth – would Sir Thomas but realize this, as Fanny herself does – to whom Fanny’s hand should actually be given in marriage. (This last challenge arises only after Henry, to a certain extent, gets tangled up in his own web, as he actually manages to fall in love with Fanny, or at least, very much believes himself in love with her for a while.)

I won’t elaborate on the novel’s conclusion, but Austen wouldn’t be Austen if Henry actually did succeed, and if Fanny and Edmund – the couple she has set up to eventually fall in love with each other practically from their first encounter – didn’t come together in the end. (Yes, go ahead, say “ewww, a marriage of first cousins.” I readily admit that that bit was difficult to stomach for me as well, and it was only after some reading up on the marriage habits and intermingling lineage of the European aristocracy, as well as the discovery that a marriage of first cousins is still not outlawed in many countries, including the UK, Germany, and a number of American states, that I’ve come to figure that Austen was simply portraying what was still very much the done thing in her time.)

But just try to imagine how effectively the central message to be taken away from this novel – the statement that “we have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be” – would be transported if the book’s heroine, and the person who utters this one key sentence, were just another Lizzy Bennet or, for that matter, another Elinor Dashwood (or if Edmund weren’t humble clergyman-to-be and younger brother without any expectations of inheriting his father’s title and fortune but in the league of the Darcys, Bingleys and Brandons). BIG f*cking deal: Oh, so Henry Crawford now tries his hand at Lizzy after he’s already seduced her sisters or cousins under her very eyes? Well, remember the dressing down that Mr. Wickham and, even more so, Lady Catherine de Bourgh gets from Lizzy’s mouth? Henry would get a wallop of the very same treatment, and that would be that, once and for all. Great, memorable lines to be sure, but not a chance in hell that Lizzy would ever actually fall for him, especially not after the play acting business. Same essentially, with Elinor Dashwood: She would be more polite and restrained than Lizzy, but Henry Crawford would not get anywhere near her, either; if anything, she’d set herself up as moral authority to Maria and Julia to their very faces, and at best give Henry Crawford the sort of response that Willoughby gets when (contrite and quite possibly genuinely worried about Marianne) he shows up at the Palmers’ estate to inquire about Marianne’s health towards the end of Sense and Sensibility. And if Edmund were the heir to his father’s title and fortune that Mary Crawford so clearly covets in him, and in the league of the Darcys and Brandons in other respects as well, he’d see our Miss Crawford for the shameless gold digger that she is right from the start and send her on her merry way without ever even letting her get near him – their story, too, would have been over before it had ever really started.

No: The steadfastness that Austen advocates here – and which she will come to advocate again in Persuasion, through another heroine who is likewise not exactly the belle of every ball – not only requires a very sound knowledge of oneself and a firm anchoring in moral principles; as the play acting scheme shows in particular, it also requires the firmness of resolve called for in a lone dissenter, moreover, the lone dissenter’s firmness of resolve that becomes necessary in times when a given society’s or social circle’s opinion leaders are merrily dropping standards right and left and are set on a path leading straight to ruin. And shy, meek Fanny Price is just about the very last person whom you would ever expect to display that sort of resolve, and therefore to transport this book’s central message – and it is ultimately precisely because of her own nature that she is such an effective messenger. And it is this, too, that still so very much endears her to me, even decades after I read Mansfield Park for the very first time.

Favorite Quotes

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”

“A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself.”

“But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.”

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