Pride & Prejudice: 1940 Film Adaptation

Finally I have come to the (perhaps) most well-known of Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice. Published in 1813, it has remained one of Austen’s best known and most favorite novels. This brings us to the 1940 film adaptation. The screenplay was written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin based on a stage adaptation by Helen Jerome (produced in 1936), with some scenes adapted from the novel as they were not in the stage version. Now, this production is very interesting from a historical standpoint. Many people on-line complain that they believe the costumes were leftovers from Gone with the Wind (which came out in 1939). This is wholly inaccurate. This film was set to begin filming in 1936 (two years prior to Gone with the Wind) with Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in the lead roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy under the direction of Irving Thalberg. Thalberg died unexpectedly in September of 1936, so the film was shelved until a new director could be found. Then in August 1939, MGM tapped George Cukor to direct with Robert Donat replacing Clark Gable and to film in Europe. Because of WWII, the MGM studios in England had to be shut down in September 1939, so filming then moved to the US. Cukor was replaced by Robert Z. Leonard due to scheduling issues. Leonard decided upon Greer Garson & Laurence Oliver to star (and for that, we are ever so thankful). Like Gone with the Wind, this had a tremendous budget of $1.4 Million. So, now  you know the history of all the issues of getting this film made, let’s now focus on the film.

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Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet

This is the very first film version of Austen’s novel and it is a black & white film, There are colorized version out there, but I would highly recommend one stick to the original format, which is black & white.  Out of all the versions I have watched, it has one of the most interesting, and dare I say, dynamic beginning to the story. There is the usual little scenes introducing us to the various characters, but the most dynamic scene is the carriage race between Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas as to see who can reach their husband first in order to share the news of Netherfield being finally let. It’s completley different and due to technology at the time, you can tell it was shot in front of a screen. However, it really tells the audience Mrs. Bennet is focused on getting her girls married and will go to hilarious lengths (such as racing her carriage) to try and get an introduction to available men. It’s fun, silly, and informs you that the pacing of this film is going to be faster than the typical historical drama. I believe this to work in it’s favor.

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Jane Bennet (Maureen O’Sullivan), Elizabeth, Mary Bennet (Marsha Hunt), and Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland)

Now, the costumes (I feel it is important to discuss it first because I am sure many of you are wondering how I feel about it). I actually don’t mind the costumes. The film moves the general setting of 1812-1813 to around 1829-1835 (I feel it’s closer to the early 1830s). Sometimes I do feel the crinoline cage being used may be too “modern” because it was more used after the 1840s, and perhaps they should have stuck to using many petticoats to achieve fullness. Yet I do have to keep in mind that this is Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s and historical accuracy isn’t a high priority at this time. The overall silhouette is fairly consistent with the 1830s. The hats are not, but I believe they were designed that way for the lighting (which was not as advanced as it is now). The dresses come across as luscious, romantic, and elegant. We must keep in mind that in the 1830s, many of the issues in Jane Austen’s novels were still relevant and contemporary. Moving the costumes and setting twenty years forward doesn’t really change the plot of the novel. Now, some people think the costumes were from Gone with the Wind (I’ve read many blog articles of people who believe that) or are from fairly close to the Civil War, but the silhouette is all wrong.

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Mr. Bennet (Edmund Gwenn) & Elizabeth

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Same dress on Elizabeth with Darcy (Laurence Oliver)

Dress ca. 1830 From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Rush Dresses, Historical Costume, Historical Clothing, Historical Dress, Victorian Fashion, 1800s Fashion, Antique Clothing, Fashion History, Biedermeier

Dress from the 1830s (courtesy of the Met; notice the similarities in silhouette, the puffed sleeves and even the belt on this dress with the outfit worn by Garson for her archery scene.

Cotton Print Day dress, 1830 (courtesy of the Moscow City Museum); again, similar to Garson’s dress with the sleeves, shoulders, and waistline.

1860 dress. Connecticut Historical Society.

1860s Day dress (courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society); I deliberately looked for a day dress with puffed sleeves to make the contrast easier. First, notice the sleeves are dropped and aren’t at the shoulder line. It’s not as puffy and the bodice has no pleating (it’s basically streamlined). The skirt is still full, but it looks like this has more fabric around the waist than the Moscow dress, which would be sensible since a crinoline cage would be worn under this while the Moscow dress would rely on quilted petticoats.

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Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) and Mr. Bennet; again, notice the puffy sleeves. This looks more like the Moscow dress with the lace collar.

I know that was quite a lot of information, but hopefully just by looking at the stills from this film and comparing the costumes to what existing Museums, one can easily tell that the costumes are from the 1830s and not from the 1860s. Because it was set in the 1830s, the men are still in similar jackets from the late Georgian/Regency era, but instead of wearing knee breeches, men are wearing pantaloons now (Beau Brummel’s influence from evening wear has become standard men’s attire at this point). A nice period embellishment is velvet on the upper part of the collars for Darcy. That was a trend that started about the late 1820s and continued for most of the 19th Century (off and on really).

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Darcy’s velvet collar

Changes from the novel that you will notice (if you’ve ever read it) is there are no Hursts, no Gardiners, no Aunt in town and no Georgiana (she’s mentioned but I believe is never seen). Collins was changed from being a clergyman to a librarian because this was the time of the Hayes code and it was against the Code to make fun of members of clergy (the code was abandoned by the mid 1950s and yes, it was Catholic in origin). Lady Catherine confronts Elizabeth in order to “test” her worthiness for her nephew (and I think the cousin Anne is missing as well because I cannot recall if she’s even in the film!). The film is just over two hours and a lot was cut. Some scenes like the carriage race and the archery were added because I believe they were trying to appeal to the same audiences who loved Gone with the Wind and films like Captain Blood. One has to keep in mind that Pride & Prejudice, as a novel, has very little action in it. Audiences still love seeing action (I myself love the film Hot Fuzz and Thor: Ragnorak), and the writers were trying to find a way of implementing some action, some external conflicts to make it more palatable to audiences of that time period. What I do find funny is the archery scene clearly influenced the same scene in 1995’s Emma (with almost some of the same witty dialogue).

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Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Edna May Oliver)

Things that are from the novel is the witty banter. Yes, some of the dialogue was changed and some was added (possibly due to the Hayes code or from the stage version). The conflict between Darcy, Wickham, and Lizzie remains. Jane still gets sick on her way to keep Caroline Bingley company. Charlotte still marries Mr. Collins. Wickham still elopes with Lydia. Kitty and Lydia are still extremely silly. Netherfield Ball still occurs and Lizzie still goes to visit Charlotte. The manners are still there, but it’s more of a comedy of manners than a strict novel to film version. But it works in it’s own way. You have Garson who is lovely as Elizabeth and Laurence is a charming, suave, and witty Darcy. Olivier oozes sexual charm and we could not have asked for a better version of Darcy. Yes, the actors are all older than the characters, but at this point in Hollywood, people were cast based on their talent first, age sometimes was not as much as an issue.

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Lady Catherine & Darcy

The cast is sometimes perfection and sometimes not. O’Sullivan is the first non-blonde Jane Bennet we have seen. She is sweetness and charm, which is how Jane should be. Mary and Mrs. Bennet are over the top in terms of being silly and ridiculous, which I don’t like. The actresses do a good job and play their part well, but the characters are written more for comedic relief than anything else (again, this was the trend at that time). Lady Catherine likewise is sometimes played for comedic purposes, but it sort of fits. Collins is always ridiculous, poor man. Bruce Lester as Mr. Bingley is quite forgettable. The whole relationship of Jane and Bingley take a back seat to Lizzie and Darcy. Karen Morely is a wonderful Charlotte Lucas. Morely is beautiful, wise, and sensible (I’ve always thought Charlotte should be pretty in some fashion).

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Lizzie & Darcy

So, what do I think? I think it’s a fun, playful first attempt at a Jane Austen novel. It’s not perfect and gets quite a few things wrong, but you get caught up in the playful, witty dialogue of Lizzie & Darcy that you just forget. I don’t mind the moving of the novel to a different time period because it really changed nothing . All the society norms and expectations didn’t drastically change in 1830 from 1813 when it first was published. I’m fairly certain one could move the film even to the Edwardian Era without having to change much because roles of women (and the expectations of how we were to behave) remained fairly constant until after WWI. This film still has (currently) a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which says something about how fun of a film it is to have that high of a rating. To contrast, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice currently has an 86% approval rating. Sixty five years and the older film has the better score.

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For a first attempt, I love it. Yes, it might not do for some people because it’s not in color. It’s not wholly accurate. It was set in a different period. But the charm, the vicarious quality of the main actors, is still there, still worth viewing. The bonus is it has a typical Hollywood ending in that Lydia and Mary have suitors, thus making Mrs. Bennet extremely happy. It’s well worth the viewing, if you’ve never seen it. And worth adding to your library, if you love Jane Austen or Classic Films.

On Editing (or yes, I am still editing my first Novel)

While I have finished writing my first novel and all 12 agents I sent it to have rejected it (yes, only 12 so far), I decided to go back and take a look at the novel overall. First, I am biased in this but I do think it’s fairly good. When I first wrote it, it was close to 200K in length, which is approaching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell proportions (that book is over 260K in length). So, I edited it a few times and whittled it down to a respectable 140,083. The loss of roughly 50K words is no major feat to cut from a novel and it took a lot of work. So, why am I still editing it?

Basically, most first novels tend to be between 70-100K word length. Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t’ exceptions to the rule, because Jonathan Strange clearly is a major exception for a debut novel. This doesn’t mean one should write and only confine themselves to 100K words or less. I think doing so would stifle creativity. But this doesn’t mean that my novel of 140K couldn’t still use some refinement.

While I was writing my novel, I was taking a medication called Medroxprogesterone (also known as Medroxypr AC) because I had a male OB/GYN who decided that I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries) and shouldn’t be on normal birth control to regulate my menstrual cycles. Now, as most women can tell you, almost every woman has been told she has PCOS. The fact of the matter is, most doctors don’t bother to give a simple blood test to determine if the woman has it or not. Good news, my Endocrinologist tested me and I do not have PCOS (I have Diabetes and most diabetics should be seeing an Endo for medication and treatment). So, why is this medication I was on significant? Well, one of the side effects is loss of concentration-in other words, repeating oneself. I have found through editing my novel that I did repeat sentences. Maybe not directly, but would summarize or rewrite them, but not remember to delete the one I didn’t like. This meant I had a lot of repetition and no wonder no agent wanted to read it!

So, first I had to allow the medication to leave my system, which took a good four to five months. I could tell by this February it was practically gone because my concentration levels were so vastly improved I could watch a film and not be distracted (yes, it was that bad). This medication also causes a worsening of depression, so it’s not something any woman should be on, We all ready deal with fluctuating hormones as it is, why take something that will worsen it (and it’s a common side effect that it will worsen or cause immense depressive moods). It also causes weight gain, and who wants to deal with that?

So, the good news is I feel much better and my Endo has me on regular birth control, like I want to be on because some of us have never had regular cycles. Trust me, we really do take this for health reasons. And I’ve edited the novel (up to Chapter 17) and the word count now stands at 134,812. That’s 5,271 words gone and I think it’s making the novel stronger, more polished and definitely more streamlined. Will it ever be 100K? Probably not because I don’t think the tale I am telling would be able to be told in so many words. But perhaps I can get it under 134K, which is a far cry from where it was originally and perhaps agents may be willing to take a chance on it because it is less lengthy.

Now, why put it out there that I was having medication issues which ended up affecting my writing? Because side effects of medications are a real issue and can cause serious problems to those of us who are in the arts or academia. We often don’t take good care of ourselves because we are focused on caring for others, so it’s important to step back and realize that may be the medication the doctor prescribed is doing more harm than good and there are always other options to treat your health issue. And if one doctor is not listening to you, find one who does. I know I will have to go back to the OB/GYN eventually (I have been not wanting to confront him), but he should realize that my health, my input is more valid than his beliefs regarding my reproductive rights. I take birth control for health reasons. The medication he prescribed has so many side effects it should not be prescribed to women any more (in my opinion).

Always, always, always take care of yourself first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back and continue editing!

Book Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

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While I am a student of late 18th & 19th Century History, Waterloo is a subject I know very little about. Actually, a lot of the battles that occurred in Europe a still a mystery to me as American schools do a very poor job of educating people in world history. American schools, for the most part, spend much time on the discovery of America in Grade School, a little on the American Revolution in Middle School (and I’m lucky to have had to study the Constitution at this time, which used to be a requirement in all 50 states, but exists in only a handful at this time), then a quick glossing over the Civil War, WWI and WWII in High School. No mention is ever made of the War of 1812, the Peruvian War of Independence, the French Revolution, The Crimea War, the Chilean Civil War, the Battle of Kalinga, etc. Basically, you get the point. America is well known for being an isolated country in part due to Teddy Roosevelt. He didn’t like to involved the US in world issues and in turn, fostered the insular need for us to remain separate from the world around us. I believe this has been a detriment to my education and to the education of many. So, I have decided, since I mainly stick to the years 1750-1830 (though I do have knowledge of of 1830-1910) to educate myself further. I feel this will not only help me understand the years that I tend to focus on better, and the life of Jane Austen with more understanding, but will also manifest itself in my writing (at least in one novel certainly) since the odd thought which occurred at 2AM a week ago and most assuredly lodged itself in my brain and this is the result.

I have looked at a few books dealing with Waterloo over the past 2 weeks and have rejected at least 5 in favor of this book by Bernard Cornwell. Once of the main reasons I chose this one over the others was based primarily on the fact Cornwell used basic English to describe the battles and didn’t relay too heavily on military lingo. While I do commend the writers who are writing and publishing books for the military aficionado, a person such as myself doesn’t understand such terms easily and didn’t relish needing a thesaurus or dictionary in order read every other sentence. In other words, his book is meant as an overview of the battle, but it also provides an in-depth view as to how the events unfolded and why certain decisions were made. He writes not expecting the reader to have any prior knowledge of the event, which works to his advantage. He proves that writing history doesn’t have to be boring and dull, but can be exciting and engaging when it is written well and with great passion.

Cornwell starts off each chapter with a map of the battle or layout of the area the chapter is focusing on, which is very helpful. They armies are color coded (Blue for French, Red for British & Prusssian) so you can understand the various positions he is describing and the movements. I wish every battle in history class had maps such as these because it does make a difference. Most people, I believe, are visual learners and having maps for each chapter did help me understand the battles and how they shaped up. He also ended each chapter with pictures (some portraits of the men he was talking about and some artistic renditions of the battle he was just discussing). The maps plus the pictures told me that the author made the effort to bring this tale to life in such a way as to make it feel relevant and easy to understand. I do think he succeeded with me.

Blucher

You do, over the course of the book, have your favorite historical persons. One of mine became Blucher, aka Marshal Forward, a 74 yr old Prussian who sometimes believed himself to be pregnant with an elephant (the father was always French it seems). But for all that, he was well loved by his men, it seems well loved by his wife, and when he found a woman in his army (who was awarded a few medals of honor), allowed her to remain in the fight. Truly, this man deserves a biopic at the very least. He was loyal to Wellington, even though they could not speak to each other without an interpretor, and Blucher just seems like an eccentric but brilliant military man whom no one really talks about anymore.

Grouchy

Another figure that I came to have a great amount of pity for was Marshall Grouchy. He is generally blamed for Napoleon’s losses at Waterloo, but to be fair, he received the strangest orders from the Emperor. He would get orders telling him to go to one town (which would be on his right), but to make sure to keep the Emperor on his left, but to also keep the enemy on his left as well. He couldn’t win either way.

Ney

Ney is another French Marshall that I ended up feeling sorry for. Unlike the other high ranking officers who fled France only to be forgiven after Napoleon’s death in 1821, Ney was tried and shot as a traitor to the Crown. He deserved better.

Wellington

Of course, you do tend to like Wellington as well. He comes off as charismatic, forthright, and a bit of a ladies man. He preferred ladies who were smart, well-read, and witty. He had many lovers, was not faithful to his wife (pity), maybe he wasn’t the perfect man but he could be calm in the midst of bloodshed, which is what the men needed in order to fight. He acknowledged the battle was won because of the help of the Prussians in all early correspondence (and for years afterwards). Alas! It seems his ego (and possibly hatred towards a Prussian who hated him-I forget his name but he worked with Blucher) may have made Wellington decide he was the sole reason the battle was won and not because he had help.

There are many, many books on Wellington as there are books on Waterloo. I even spotted a book on Grouchy in my search for a decent book on Waterloo. So, do I understand this significant battle better? I believe I understand it a bit better having read this book. I would not state I am an expert nor would I offer myself up as one. I will only state that Cornwell’s book is one I would definitely wish to purchase because it was so easy for me to understand and I do believe it would be an excellent reference book for myself.

Mansfield Park: 2007 ITV Adaptation

Now we come to the last adaptation of Mansfield Park that is currently out there. This version was adapted by Maggie Wadey and was not received well by critics nor fans of Jane Austen’s works. Mansfield Park is a difficult novel to adapt simply because Fanny Price is much more complicated than a majority of Austen’s female characters. She has moments of weakness and strength like Anne Elliot, but has a bit more of a delicate nature like Marianne Dashwood. For some reason, this makes the novel hard to adapt. I think it’s an excuse to not adapt works such as this one and Persuasion in favor of Pride & Prejudice and Emma because they are more well known.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price

Like the 1999 film version, this one sticks with the whole Mrs. Price send her daughter to live at Mansfield Park instead of the novel’s statement Fanny was brought to Mansfield on the request of her two aunts. They also show that Mr. Rushworth and Maria are engaged prior to Sir Thomas leaving for Antigua, which messes with the time line as they become engaged while Sir Thomas is away. Hence the reason why Sir Thomas will assist his daughter in ending the engagement when he returns because he finds Mr. Rushworth an unsuitable match (a match promoted by Aunt Norris I might add). There is also a weird comment by Lady Bertram when the Crawfords arrive that they were “pretty as children.” Correct me if I am wrong (which I am not), but the Crawfords did not come from the Mansfield area as children. They come to the place as requested by their half-sister, Mrs. Grant, after the Grants move into the Parish (after Mr. Norris dies). Fanny Price also never leaves Mansfield to visit her family in Portsmouth. She is abandoned by the family at Mansfield while they leave. Basically, there is so much wrong with the adaptation, it’s hard to watch because so much was messed around with. Billie Piper portrays Fanny as a strong, playful, independent character but with no weaknesses. Her portrayal of Fanny was actually quite similar to her portrayal of Rose Tyler on Dr. Who (and this must be due to the script and the direction she was given as she is an excellent actress).

Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford, Fanny Price, Joseph Morgan as William Price, and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram. This does resemble more of an alternative 1980s Romantic Rock band based on the poses.

Tom Bertram (James D’Arcy) and his brother, Edmund.

Other issues are the hair-particularly Fanny’s hair. Women did have short hair, I have stated this before. And children up to a certain age most likely had their hair down (but definitely around age 10-12, girls would have their hair up as all portraits I’ve looked at over the decades have shown this). So I do not understand why Fanny, being around 18 years of age, and thus no longer in the schoolroom, has her hair down. Shoulder length hair can and was pinned up at this point. Length shouldn’t be an issue. there was some attempt to do interesting braiding to bring the tresses off of the actress’ face, but that attention to detail should have continued throughout her hairstyle. Instead, it looked messy and unkempt, which would not be proper for a niece of Sir Thomas Bertram. I also didn’t understand the overly long hair on Henry Crawford. For a character who is stated to be a Londoner, and therefore we can conclude is very fashion forward, his shoulder length hair is appalling out of fashion. Tom Bertram as well had overly long shoulder length hair. While he looks stunning with the long hair, it’s more appropriate for, shall we say, the Three Musketeers than Mansfield Park?

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) and Henry.

Now, there are some fairly good hairstyles in this adaptation. I always try to find some positive points in all of these versions, regardless of the issues I find with them because it takes a lot of work to put something like this together, and when something is done well, it should be applauded. Mary Crawford’s hair was exceptionally fine and I quite liked the use of asymmetrical parts to give her a distinct look from the other ladies. Maria Bertram as well had really lovely more Georgian styled hair, which I’m not sure if the character would be that old-fashioned with her hair, but it was done well and it does look lovely. Though I did think Maria’s hair may have been a way to visually tie her to Lady Bertram, who did have lovely styled Georgian hair as well. Mrs. Norris likewise had a nice pouf with mob cap, which looked more Georgian, but since she and Lady Bertram are older, I don’t mind them sticking to hairstyles of their youth. Edmund had a decent a la Titus going on, just wished they used some product to give it some texture as it tended to lay flat (and yes, pomade was used by men to give texture-it was very similar to hair wax that’s used today).

Fanny in what I believe to be a gown from the 1770s, possibly 1780s.

The costuming was very weird in this adaptation. I really had a hard time pinpointing exactly when the story was taking place because like the hair, the fashions were all over the place. The costume designer is Mike O’Neill, whose mainly done period pieces set in the Elizabethan Era or Georgian Era, it makes sense that he stuck with what was comfortable for him. He excels in the heaving bosom department and this was definitely the case in this version. The problem is that while bosoms were on display during Austen’s time, they weren’t showcased as they had been during the Georgian Era (unless, they were a trend setter and were dampening their petticoats-yes, that did happen but those kinds of women were not so common). The main issue with the costumes is there is a lack of consistency. If this is set during the 1810s, then they should all be dressed in garments from that time (give or take 5 years). I, of course, make an exception for the older generation such as Mrs. Norris, etc, but even they would be wearing something a little more modern in terms of clothing.

Mary & Henry Crawford; notice the waistline is set below the bust which is more 1820s in terms of silhouette.

Sir Thomas Bertram (Douglas Hodge) & Maria Bertram (Michelle Ryan); notice the waistline on Maria’s gown is more along the lines of the typical Regency gown being under the bust.

Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) & Mrs. Norris (Maggie O’Neill); Notice the echelles (the bows) on Lady B’s gown-that’s pure Georgian (think Madame Pompadour) and more 1760s.

An echelle stomacher from the 1770s (Nordic Museum)

Fanny, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. Look closely and you can see the stomacher on Lady Bertram’s gown.

Basically, from what I saw in this version, I counted the use of Round Gowns (1800s), Robe a l’Anglaise (1760-1780s), stomachers (1740s-1780s), and the Directoire/Regency gowns of the 1810s. Likewise the men’s fashions features the typical Regency coat (like what Henry and Tom wear) to a Victorian-esque Cutaway on Edmund. The costumes, much like the script, was just all over the place.

Mr. Rushworth (Rory Kinnear), Maria Bertram, Henry Crawford, Julia Bertram (Catherine Steadman), Edmund and Mary Crawford. While coats did exist with the cutaway look like Rushworth and Edmund are wearing, the issue was when you saw the back and the bottom of it, it didn’t have the period pleating and were curved (I’ve never seen one curved before the Victorian Era).

Because this version is only two hours, so much from the novel was left out. Portsmouth, of course, was gone as well as the trip to see the Rushworth Estate. Both of those tend to be key scenes and while I can forgive not going to see the Rushworth Estate, having Fanny go to Portsmouth is a big deal in the novel. So much pivots on her leaving Mansfield that having the character remain at Mansfield and everyone else leaving makes absolutely no sense. The ball scene, which is how Fanny starts to realize that Henry Crawford likes her, is replaced with a picnic. They mimic the picnic scene at the end with the wedding as well, which just seems a bit repetitive and shoddy. Outdoor weddings were not a thing at this time. Outdoor wedding receptions were not as thing at this time. Weddings were generally held in the morning and then followed with a congratulatory breakfast/brunch type meal. Now there are examples of veils in museums (I had to do more research after the Paltrow Emma version to find out more), but they seem to be something that was popular after the 1816 wedding of Princess Charlotte. I have had trouble finding any that exist earlier than 1820 as most veils depicted in fashion plates were attached to bonnets.

Princess Charlotte’s 1816 Wedding Dress ((Public domain via www.gogmsite.net/_Media/1816-princess-charlottes-3.jpeg)

A Brussels needlepoint lace wedding veil c. 1820. Christies.com

1820s Brussls Lace Needlepoint Wedding Veil (Christie’s)

The wedding concludes with a Waltz, which if this is set prior to 1815, would not have been danced. It wasn’t allowed by Society until the 1814 Season by the Patronesses at Almack’s. And since not many people would have danced it in 1814, it would take a few months to a year for more people to learn the steps.

Wedding dress, veil and fan ca. 1805 From Napoleon

Supposedly from 1805-see explanation below.

This website claims that this Wedding Dress, Veil and Fan are from 1805. I question this solely because the gown pictures is not very full. Gowns from 1805 were still relatively full in the front and this gown has practically no fullness. Also the original blog doesn’t list were the image came from (as int, what Museum), which is never a good sign. So, could this be from 1805? The fan and veil may be from that year, yes. But veils were not worn as part of the wedding ensemble. I have found no evidence of any fashion plates from this time period tht shows any wedding ensemble with a veil. I’ve seen them with bonnets, but those are rare. If veils were so common, then one would think they would be in portraits and in fashion plates. Veils were not worn during the Georgian Era, and the Regency is a subsection of this same Era. Veils most likely came into fashion with continued trade with India, were veils are worn. And since a majority of extant veils date to 1820, one can conclude that veils were a rarity, if at all worn, prior to 1816 (at the earliest). I do believe, however, that what has been labeled a veil may in fact be a lace shawl based on the length and overall pattern. It looks too ornate to be a veil, but a shawl? It would be appropriate in terms of decoration.

Highly Ornamented 1790 - 1810 Blonde Lace Bonnet / Wedding Veil from marzillivintage on Ruby Lane

1790-1810 Blonde Lace Bonnet/Wedding Veil (Ruby Lane Vintage)

Now compare the previous veil (supposedly from 1805) to this one. The difference being that this one is labeled correctly. The veil originally came from a wedding bonnet (which was in terrible condition and could not be salvaged). Why did I include this with this posting? Because they used a veil in adaptation and also to help inform you, the reader, on how to spot possible misinformation out of the Internet.

1983 BBC Version

The 1983 BBC version is the first and still the best adaptation of Mansfield Park we have available currently. It’s faithful to the novel, it gives us a Fanny Price who has moments of weakness and fragility, but also has an inner strength which shines through. The costumes are lovely and while there are some issues with hair (long hair on men seems to be a running theme with Mansfield Park adaptations), it’s superbly acted. If you are looking for an excellent adaptation, this is one you must watch and own. Also note that Fanny is wearing a Wedding Bonnet and Veil! I do not mind the use of a wedding veil if it’s done accurately.

1999 Theatrical Film Version

I have a soft spot for the 1999 film version. The costumes are lovely and I do like how Fanny is portrayed. She is strong but is vulnerable at times, which works for me. We have an excellent Mary Crawford in this version as well (she divinely wicked one cannot help but enjoy her). While I do not like the blending of Austen’s life with the novel, they did a good job of making it work. They at least kept the key point of going to Portsmouth and bringing up Slavery in Antigua, though not in a historically accurate way. It’s a fun version, not one I think I would own, but if it’s on I’d watch it again.

2007 ITV Version

ITV did such an amazing job with Emma and Northanger Abbey that I was very disappointed with this version. When you compare how well those two (which were also released in 2007) compares to this one in terms of costuming and script, this one just feels rushed. Better costuming and hairstyles would have helped, but more importantly, a better script would have made even the costuming bearable. I do not recommend this one at all. While the cast did a decent job acting, the script is not worth their talents.

A Duo of Book Reviews: Jane Austen’s Letters and A Curse so Dark & Lonely

Jane Austen’s Letters is the third edition of the original 1884 publication first compiled by Lord Edward Brabourne. What makes this edition superior to the others is the simple fact Deidre Le Faye put the letters in chronological order and had detailed notations on each letter (in the back-I wish they used footnotes!) along with a complete alphabetical listing of all the people mentioned or who received the letters. There is a fourth edition with a new preface by Deidre Le Faye, but no new letters no I am not certain is the newest edition is any better than this one. I found it fascinating to read the letters from one of my favorite authors. Jane Austen comes across as witty, much more sassy at times, and you can sometimes sense her frustrations at the limitations Society had imposed upon her. I know there is always much debate over the loss of a majority of the letters that were destroyed by Cassandra, but I think I understand why they may have been destroyed. Reading these letters, along with Le Faye’s other book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, I feel I understand why some were possibly destroyed. It seems there was little to no love between Jane and her brother James’ wife, who most likely convinced Jane’s father to give up his home to his son and move the family unexpectedly to Bath. Plus with Cassandra losing her fiancé, there were possibly many letters dealing with the grief and loss which Cassandra felt to be very private and personal. And I don’t begrudge the loss of some of these personal insights. There is enough in the existing letters to help paint the portrait of this author without knowing every personal detail of her life. We know more about Jane Austen than we do about William Shakespeare. So, for that, we should rejoice we even have this information. I do plan on purchasing this edition (or the fourth, depending on which one I can afford and which one is slightly cheaper). I think it would be an invaluable tool to anyone interested in Jane Austen or just in the daily lives of anyone living in the late 18th to early 19th Century.

Now, I feel I should first write a little bit about the nature of Young Adult Literature. Generally speaking, YA literature is written specifically for the 12-18 range group, yet many adults read these pieces as well. Not all YA fiction is going to have that broad appeal, but I’d say a little over half probably does. Now, I know people who think less of adults who read YA literature and I will happily point out to them that many of the best loved books of fiction are classified as YA in libraries and in bookstores (or on-line if that’s the way you prefer to shop). One example I love to give is The Hobbit. I first read it when I was seven, but I know people who didn’t read it until they were in their early twenties. Does this make it wrong? Absolutely not!

Another example is Sense & Sensibility. Yes, Jane Austen has some of her novels classified as YA fiction in most libraries. But many adults read Austen. I know I do. I tend to think of YA Literature as writing that is appropriate for teens (as in, they can relate to it, understand it), but this shouldn’t exclude any adults. I applaud anyone who can write a novel that has that major appeal. My own novel is more for adults and I am perfectly fine with this! Moving on…

I am a sucker for Faerie Tales. I love the originals like the Brother’s Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. I still love reading them because they are very dark, very Gothic (before it was a thing), very cruel morality tales. good and evil are not always so cut and dried in the originals and I have read some re-tellings that simply seem to be more Disneyfied  than dark. This novel is nothing at all like the Disneyfied versions that are available out there. It’s so much better.

Beauty & the Beast is a very popular tale and has been retold countless times. I myself have written a take on it (3/4 finished when I was 23 and now I think i should go back and finish it). What’s fascinating is no one really writes it the same way (expect Robin McKinely, who’s rewritten the tale two or three times). We all have out own ideas of what a Beast is and what Beauty should be. In most stories, I don’t connect with Beauty. It’s hard to connect with a character that’s generally written to be practically perfect in terms of looks, manners, speech, hair, etc. She’s sometimes gifted with some extra ordinary talent like making any garden flourish, or being able to talk to animals. Beauty is always so superhuman she kind of makes me sick. This time, someone made Beauty HUMAN. With flaws, an attitude, and a disability. It was so refreshing to see someone with a physical limitation depicted in a good way. I have asthma and diabetes along with depression and anxiety. Asthma and diabetes can be physically limiting at times, so a heroine that can go prancing in the forest doesn’t connect with me. A heroine that acknowledges she has a limitation but refuses to be defined by it? Astonishing.

I read this novel in about three hours. I am a fast reader, but also the tale was so engaging, so well written, I didn’t want to put it down. I actually wished it was longer because the pleasure I had reading it was so short lived. I gave it five stars on Goodreads (but would gladly give it six if that were an option). Basically, if you like great storytelling that’s engaging, witty and well written, plus you like strong heroines and faerie tales, then A Curse so Dark & Lonely is a must read.

Mansfield Park: 1999 Film Adaptation

The 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield park is extremely unusual as it’s not just based on the novel. The writer of the screenplay, Patricia Rozema, also blended the letters and juvenila of Jane Austen into the script in order to give Fanny Price a pseduo-Jane Austen persona. While it’s an intriguing take on the novel, it’s also inherently wrong to blend the author’s life with that of her character.

Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price

Now, they start off with an inaccuracy by having the mother, Mrs. Price, send Fanny away to Mansfield as if it were her choice. In the novel, it’s clearly stated that Fanny’s presence is requested by Mrs. Price’s sisters, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram, and with so many mouths to feed at home, Mrs. Price is more than happy to send her oldest daughter off to her aunts to be feed and clothed. It’s as if the screen writer wanted to place the burden of the decision on the mother. They screen writer also did away with the older brother, William, who is usually an important figure in the novel. He purchases the amber cross to Fanny and is her most regular corespondent. The relationship between William and Fanny contrasts exceptionally well with the sibling relationship of the Bertrams and Crawfords. That fact it was removed is sad. It was replaced with Fanny writing to her younger sister, Susan, in an attempt to make her more like Jane Austen and the author’s correspondence with her elder sister, Cassandra. I don’t mind the slight change in correspondent, but feel that they could have had Fanny write to both William and Susan. Why not show Fanny is close to both siblings instead of choosing one?

Fanny as Authoress

Another glaring inaccuracy is young Fanny seeing a slave ship and hearing the cries of the salves as they are either being tortured, raped, or killed. She is told by the driver that the ship is bringing it’s human cargo to Portsmouth. However, the slave trade (that is, bringing slaves to England) was banned by this time. They would trade slaves for sugar and tobacco in places like the West Indies and Antigua, then bring those items back to places like Portsmouth. For more information, I suggest looking up the history of the  Triangular Trade. While I can see that the filmmakers wanted to bring up the issue of slavery to the film, they could have done it another way. Such as having a young Fanny learn about Antigua or the West Indies and writing a letter to her sister about what she has learned for far. It would have brought the issue up in the film without making such a huge historical faux pas.

Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Young Fanny Price.

Now, there are some really good points in this film that I must point out. O’Connor is delightful as Fanny Price. Like the 1983 version, she is charming in the role and makes it her own. She is more playful and less serious at times, but it works for this adaptation. James Purefoy is hilarious as Tom Bertram (they even reference him going through an “artistic phase” and his “modern” painting, which I did love). Johny Lee Miller (yes, he’s back!) portrays Edmund Bertram. His second time in an adaptation of Mansfield park (having portrayed Charlie Price in the 1983 version) then, of course, he went on to portray Mr. knightly in 2007. I have a suspicions he may try to be in an adaptation of all of Austen’s works at some point in his life.

James Purefoy as Tom Bertram

Johny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram & Fanny

An interesting point by introducing Tom Bertram as being artistic is then they can use that “skill” to show the ugliness of slavery (which was still rampant in the West Indies and Antigua) in Tom’s sketches that Fanny accidentally comes across. The images you see on screen are not pretty. They are violent, graphic, and depict acts of murder and rape. But they are images being used to explain why Tom then comes home and goes on a death wish to try and kill himself by drinking and partying to an excess. It’s a behavior that’s never explained in the novel, other than he’s just one of those frivolous types, so I do like having a more solid reasoning behind the compulsion. It also explains some of Sir Thomas’ attitudes and actions. It’s a nice touch of historical research that was added to clarify what a property in Antigua would involve for those of us that would have no idea. It’s knowledge that would have been known to contemporary audiences at the time of the original publication that is no longer common knowledge.

Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram & Fanny as she looks through Tom’s sketchbook from Antigua.

Because so much of the novel had to be condensed and left out for the film, the Grants are mentioned once and I suppose we are to presume that the Crawfords are just renting the Parsonage for the season (they are also said to be returning to the neighborhood, which is, I suppose, a way of trying to connect them to Mansfield without the Grants). It is unclear if the Grants are living in the Parsonage or not. It’s a very vague sort of area that is never fully explained. Also, considering Mrs. Norris’ husband was the prior Reverend and Edmund is not ordained, it leaves the question as to whom is the spiritual leader of the parish if no one has been selected? It’s a major plot  hole that is glaringly obvious. Especially when Maria gets married. Unless we are to presume the priest performing the ceremony is Mr. Grant (not listed as such in the credit, however). The Crawfords, though, are pure sex (as I believe they are meant to be. They are flirtatious, sensual, handsome, and worldly. they are everything that the Bertrams are not and are lacking. They are refinement on a scale that was not seen before, which is in line with the novel.

Alessandro Nivola As Henry Crawford & Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford

Now, we come to an interesting part, which is the costumes. While the novel was not published until 1814, in the film, Mary Crawford declares that the year is 1806, making the film set prior to the Napoleonic Wars, but after the American Revolution. The costumes do not reflect this at all. I would guess that the dresses are definitely after 1810 in fashion. And of course, there is a sensual scene with Fanny being undressed by Mary after getting soaked in the rain. It seems every Austen adaptation must include some kind of corset of nightwear scene for audience titillation. Quite frankly, it bores me. But the reason why the dresses in particular are not from 1806 is that they are too straight, too linear. Dresses from 1806 were still quite full in appearance. The slim lines we associate with the regency silhouette started to appear around 1808-1810. 1806 was still a softer, more gathered type of gown.

April 1806; notice the soft gathers under the bust.

1806 Cotton Muslin (Charleston Museum); again, notice the delicate gathering under the bust.

While lovely, Fanny’s ball gown is straight in the front.

1810s Embroidered Cotton (Charleston Museum); this looks more like the Ball Gown Fanny is wearing in terms of silhouette.

Also this gown, which is worn again and is particularly too tight and fitted for this time period.

Also, this is a modern corset. With modern steel fastenings.

Things I am perplexed about in this adaptation are why have Fanny accept Henry Crawford’s proposal only to go back on her word the next day? That is out of character for Fanny. Unless it is meant to be a parallel with Jane Austen, who accepted a man, only to inform him the next day that they would not suit each other. It’s just odd. But then, I’ve always found it odd that Austen has Henry go down this road to redemption, only to screw up up and never fully be redeemed. Sort of like he’s a half-finished character or tale she never quite got right. I didn’t like seeing Henry and Maria having sex under Sir Bertram’s roof. I am aware that when they leave together in London, it is implied in the novel that they are having an affair. We do not need to see it. the fact that Maria leaves her husband is bad enough. Edmund seems to have issues with his manstick at times (his lip color seems too dark once in a while, that is definitely a makeup department issue). Another weird issue is in the novel, when Maria leaves with Crawford, Julia elopes with Mr. Yates. Instead, they end the film with Julia receiving mail from Mr. Yates. It’s a weird deviation from the novel that I don’t quite like because it seems awkward. Well, to be honest, the whole pantomime ending is a bit weird and awkward. I don’t mind it, but I don’t like it. There was also a conscious attempt at implying Mary Crawford was bisexual and sexually interested in Fanny Price. Now, the screen writer and director state that it’s directly implicated in the novel. I’ve read the novel several times and find no instances of Mary making any sexual advances towards Fanny. She expressed interest in Tom Bertram because he’s the heir, but falls for Edmund, despite the fact he’s to be a clergyman and she doesn’t like clergymen.

One of the weird staged endings.

There’s also the question as to the inappropriateness of Fanny being seen in her nightgown by her Uncle (when Henry Crawford wishes to propose the first time) and also when he follows her to Plymouth and proposes the second time (using fireworks and doves). I know it’s done to convey awkwardness and other factors, but ladies back then would not have appeared so in front of men. Especially in front of their uncles and prospective husbands! they had these things called dressing gowns that could have been quickly donned before being seen. Why no adaptation wishes to utilize them I have no idea. They should because it’s accurate and it’s also a nice piece of costuming to add. Not to mention they can wear it when getting hair done, or when getting dressed, etc. It was a very useful garment.

1810-1820 Dressing Gown (Met Museum)

So, do I recommend this film? It is enjoyable and a really short film to watch at only 112 minutes. It’s not as accurate as the 1983 BBC version, but it’s the only major studio adaptation we have. As far as I can tell, there is no current plans to do another one anytime soon. As far as the novel, it is one of my favorites and I do recommend people read the novel first before watching any adaptation. Fanny Price has many nuances that no adaptation can every fully capture.

 

Henry Crawford, Victoria Hamilton as Maria Bertram, & Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Rushworth

Mansfield Park: 1983 Version

Forgive me for being so silent these past two weeks. My beloved cat, Jack, has terminal cancer and I’ve been at home processing this while trying to give him the best care possible in these last weeks he has left. He currently is doing well, is not in any major pain, and enjoyed cuddling with me these past two weeks while I continued my foray in the realm of Austen adaptations.

Angela Pleasance as Lady Bertram and Snuff as Pug

Today I wish to write about the 1983 BBC Mansfield Park adaptation. Mansfield Park was published in 1814, still in Jane Austen’s lifetime (a second printing was done in 1818 after her death, but no one gave any reviews of the novel until 1821). Oddly enough, John Plumtree, once time suitor to Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight, enjoyed this particular novel and approved of the way the clergy were portrayed in it. It’s true, in most of Austen’s works, she tends to ridicule the clergy for being overly pompous or vain, no doubt having come across such specimens in her own lifetime (or having heard about such men from her father). In Edmund Bertram, we get a man of the cloth who is sympathetic, kind, and one we do believe is suited for this profession (Mr. Tilney from Northanger Abbey is another, but since that novel was published after the author’s death, no doubt Mr. Plumtree would also have approved of it). This is one historical fact we must keep in mind when reading the works of Jane Austen or any writer pre-20th Century-men did go into the Church not as a calling per se, but as a viable profession. That’s not to say all men didn’t feel some pull towards the Church, but this was a time when it was seen as a career choice, not a spiritual calling (this is not Evangelicalism, you understand).

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price

This adaptation was done by Kenneth Taylor for the BBC and stars some actors which may be all ready familair since these names have appeared in other Austen adaptations. Sylvestra Le Touzel is Fanny Price and should be familiar to anyone who’s watched the ITV 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey as she portrayed Mrs. Allen. As Fanny Price, she absolute perfection. She perfectly captures the unique quality of Fanny being the thin line of always having to obey the wishes of her family (The Bertrams) while trying to stay true to herself. The character is not an easy one to understand to most modern audiences. But one that I do understand and sympathize with a great deal. Fanny Price is neither a member of the family nor is she a servant, so she lives in a sort of purgatory realm. How she behaves and how she is treated by others is clearly a reflection of this. Fanny is often put upon to run errands for Mrs. Norris in all kinds of unsuitable weather because if she doesn’t, she is then told of how ungrateful she is behaving. Fanny’s life is never her own and she lives to be obliging to others because that is all she knows. I have often thought if that’s how Austen herself saw herself when she visited rich relations, a sort of obliging relative who must always agree with the host no matter what because of the lack of funds. But I have digressed too far off topic.

Anna Massey as Mrs. Norris

Unlike the earlier versions of other adaptations, this one appears to have been filmed inside an actual house for some scenes (if not all), which does give an air of authenticity to everything. If some of it was a set, it was extremely well done and I couldn’t find fault with it. The beginning is a bit unusual as it starts with a discussion of what to do with Fanny Price as she has been sent for. It’s taken directly from the novel and it’s interesting to see the conversation played out. Mrs. Norris (portrayed by the incredibly talented Anna Massey) convinced Sir Thomas and her sister, Lady Bertram to send for Fanny Price, but then seems to delight in telling them she cannot have the child live with her because it would upset her husband, the Vicar, too much. Important to note that they do actually show Mr. Norris on two occassions-once in the church and at his funeral. I don’t believe any other adaptation has ever shown Mr. Norris before, so I did like it. Some reviews get confused by the costumes and I do believe it’s because they think an adaptation should only exist in one short period of time, when this version starts off with the arrival of Fanny as a child, then progresses to her as a young woman shortly afterwards. To end the confusion, I believe the fashions of the late 1790s is what we first see on screen, which would make sense. It could even be early 1800s (the dresses pf the late 1790s could be worn in the early 1800s, so that would no be an issue). Then we clearly are 10 years later, so fashions would be around 1810-1815. I cannot give an exact date, but I am fairly certain that a general span of five years if pretty good. Now, this is important to show the passage of time because fashions would have changed in ten years, but to see Mrs. Norris sometimes wearing older gowns not only speaks of her thrifty ways, but how she is not one of those who is up to date on her fashions. Lady Bertram, on the other hand, is usually dressed in the same vein as her daughters, which would be expected for a wealthy lady at that time (though she spends most of her day longing about, she is wearing more fashionable attire).

Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford and Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford

While I do like the costumes, I do have issue with hair-particularly the long hair on both Tom and Edmund Bertram. While men did have long hair in the Georgian Era, by the time of the French Revolution, young men tended to cut their locks in order to reject the style of their fathers and grandfathers. So, having the young Bertrams with long hair is just weird if it is 1810 at the earliest as it would have been very unfashionable for men. Now, they seem to rectify this by having Tom reappear after his return from London with shorter hair, which I whole heartedly approve of as it shows he’s much more aware of fashion than his family who are living in the country. Yet Edmund never cuts his and it is a problem. They are either trying to show Edmund is as conservative or aligning him with his father, or showing he is very old fashioned, which is an unusual choice. then, they also show William, Fanny’s brother with long hair and it just doesn’t seem right. He’s in the Royal Navy and while I am sure there were men with long hair, it would seem odd that someone in the officer arena would be that out of touch with Fashion.

Christopher Villiers as Tom Bertram & Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram; both have long hair, which is very out of place for men at this point in time.

Allan Hendrick as William Price, Fanny & Henry Crawford.

Contrast their long locks with the Crawfords, who are sporting almost identical short, curly hair. Women did have short hair at this time. And it’s rare to see it being shown in any adaptation, so I do like it. I don’t mind both of the Crawfords have similar curly hair as it shows that they are related and like to be very fashion forward. Even their half sister, Mrs. Grant, is shown with similar dark hair which is seen to be wavy, if not a little curly. Clearly, this is a trait in order to visually inform us that they are related. Other than that, I like seeing Sir Bertram and Mr. Price in wigs. Older men wore wigs (not all older men, but some), so it’s a nice contrast between the two fathers. Fanny’s hair improves once her uncle returns and the wedding takes place (which I did like as it showed some attention was finally being paid to her).

Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas Bertram. Note the wig.

There are some really nice costume details that if you aren’t aware of them, you will not notice them. Fanny wears a lavender gown with a drop front bodice. it’s a nice detail for two reasons; the first being you don’t often see a drop front bodice used in adaptations and the second being since Fanny would be dressing herself, a dress that closed in the front would be logical. It shows that research was done and an understanding of how a woman, without any servants to help, would dress at this time in history. It’s also why I like how simple Fanny’s hairstyles are, compared to Maria’s or Julia’s. They have maids to assist them in getting ready (in fact, they show Mrs. Norris and Fanny helping them decide on accessories for a ball). Fanny has no help and must do the best with her abilities.

The infamous drop front bodice!

Overall, this is a very good, very faithful adaptation to the novel. Fanny goes to Plymouth and you see her family. There is a coarseness in how they behave and dress. Fanny is close to William, and they write each other a lot. Mrs. Norris is annoying, but you expect her to be so. Lady Bertram is expert at languishing anywhere, anytime, which is how she is in the novel. Pug was given the gender of being strictly female in this version (in the novel, Pug is a male dog, then a female dog later one, making one think that when one “Pug” dies, another takes its place and name). There is dancing, music, fun, and enjoyment. It is a long adaptation, I will not lie. But if you want a version that is true to the novel and is superbly acted, then you must see this one.

 

Fun Fact: Johny Lee Miller, who portrayed Mr. Knightly in 2007’s BBC Emma, is Charlie Price in this version. Samantha Bond, who portrays Maria Bertram, also portrayed Mrs, Weston in 1996’s ITV Emma.

Edmund & Fanny

 

Book Review: The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

I have all ready reviewed this book on Goodreads but they only give you so much space and this book really does deserve a much more indepth review. First, I must state that people think I only read history books that relate to Jane Austen and the 19th Century. That is wholly unfair and untrue. I have read Antonio Fraser’s biographies of Marie Antoinette and Louis XV (both I highly recommend), a good biography on Washington Irving that I may re-read and review on this blog at some point, as well as other non-fiction things that relate to Science (especially to Dinosaurs and Geology). Why I chose this particular book was it was recommended to me by my local librarian as being a good overall look at the Plantagenet Kings & Queens of England and I am interested in this era of history as it relates to my own family on my mother’s side. Let me explain.

Wild Edric (seriously. The man has not one, but two flowers named after him!)

On my mother’s side, I am a direct descendant of the Weld Family of England. They trace their roots back to Edric the Wild, an Anglo-Saxon lord who lived in Shropshire at the time of William of Normandy. He did not fight at the Battle of Hastings (1100 CE) as he was at sea (apparently he was a really good sailor). He is an interesting figure of history as he is said to have married either an Elven Maiden or Faerie Maiden, leaving behind a mortal line of heirs with the “magical” bloodline, and he is said to lead the Faerie raids to this day. He still appears before major battles (including the Crimean War and some say before WWII). So I though it would be interesting to learn about this time in history. Plus, his son left money to a Church and one of his descendants by 1300 CE was Sheriff of London, which is a major title. By 1600, they purchased the castle at Lulworth and were allowed to remain Catholic under QEI. The current Welds in England are cousins of the original line, still Catholic and friends to the Royal family still. The Welds in America are the direct descendants of the original line. So, this is why I am interested. Plus the whole Elvish blood is supposed to be the reason why the Welds favor education (they have always donated to the Jesuits and to libraries), they have been painters, writers, poets, scholars, and priests. One writers, Agnes Weld, is niece to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (her mother’s sister married the esteemed poet, so I am related to the poet by marriage!). Tuesday Weld is a relation (but isn’t very nice). Basically, the Welds are tied up with history and I am fascinated by it. So I try to learn more about the world in which they grew from being Anglo-Saxon lords to prominent leaders.

Lulworth Castle in Dorset. Now owned by the National Trust.

Anyways, back to the book. The author had put in a few maps of the UK at various times (and of France) to highlight the changing power structure. It would show the political landscape at the time of William of Normandy, then another at the time of the fighting between King Stephen and Emperor Matilda. I believe another showed it towards the time of Edward I or Edward II (I don’t have the book on me, so I cannot verify this). Regardless, it was a nice way of showing how the powers shifted and the the control of certain areas (especially territories in France) shifted from English to French control. He also wisely included a few very simple genealogical charts, which where helpful. However, I do wish he had included the same for the French royal monarchs instead of just a list of names and the family line. Only because there was so much intermarrying between the French, English, and other royal families it would have been much easier for me (and probably for others) to see charts for the French monarchs as well since he does talk about them quiet a lot.

This is not quite what his looked like, but you get the general idea. This one is actually more detailed.

One issue I had was he did spend time discussing Henry II and his loss of an heir, and setting up his daughter as heir with her =marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet. I don’t mind as this is important, but he spends a few chapters setting up the background to the family and then ends the book by stating that the family line ended with Richard II being replaced by Henry IV. This is inaccurate. Henry IV, or as he was known before becoming king, Henry Boingbrooke, is the son and heir to John of Gaunt. Gaunt is son to Edward II and after the death of the Heir, the Black Prince, John had every right to be King (or even Regent) as his nephew was too young to be crowned. He didn’t take the throne, even though it was his right. He and his son supported Richard II. Richard, on the other hand, stripped Henry of his inheritance the moment his father died, having been exiled by Richard on a BS pretext (the author explains it and it was complete BS). Richard was, quite frankly, a madman and highly unsuitable to be King. For the author to state that once Richard was removed, that was the end of the Plantagents is blatantly false.

Oh look, more Plantagent family tree, which was missing from the book.

Because if the family had ended, as the author claimed, then his assertion that Henry VII then killed off any potential Plantagenet heirs to his throne is then a contradictory statement. I wonder why his editor didn’t catch that. I certainly did and it should have been caught. So, the book ends with Richard II being removed from the throne, Henry IV being crowned and nothing else. No mention of Henry IV, Henry V nor Henry VI. All Plantangent Kings. All who should have been mentioned in this book. The War of the Roses (which deal with Richard III and the fight for succession and the rise of the Tudors after the death of Henry VI) should be done in a separate book. That is a wholly complex and fascinating subject on it’s own. And the author is said to be working on such a book. Oddly enough, he calls Richard III a Plantagenet king on his website. Somehow, Gaunt’s line (Lancaster) is not Plantagenet, but the York line is? Both are direct decedents of Edward II, so I am very confused as to what he considers part of the line or not.

Plantagentets

Henry IV-Not Plantagenet (?)

Henry V-Not Plantagenet (?)

Henry VI- Not Plantagenet (?)

Richard III-Plantagenent

Yeah, I had to use the images for Henry VI, Henry V, and Henry VI from the Hollow Crown series. It was too good to pass up! But it does make you wonder why many historians do consider the Lancaster line to not be part of the Plantagenet legacy, but then do state the York line is. Could it be part of Tudor propaganda that has trickled down all these years? After all, Henry V’s widow and mother of Henry VI married Owen Tudor and had a son, Edmund. His son, Henry Tudor then became Henry VII who married into the Plantagenet line by marrying Elizabeth of York. Did the Tudors, since they did try to wipe out any potential direct Plantagenet heirs after this, try to think more highly of the Lancasters because of that connection through the marriage of Catherine Valois to Owen Tudor? Sort of like greatness by proxy? I can understand this as I do feel tickled knowing a relation had Lord Tennyson as an uncle (thinking that would be really cool), but she was also a writer and how unworthy that must have made her feel as well, to be compared to such greatness (poor Agnes!). Shakespeare seemed to help with this propaganda, after all, considering Richard III is portrayed as a villian in the play, when in real life he was a decent King, loved his wife and people, and tried to do his best. His brother was married twice to two different women, making his children illegitimate. His brother was an idiot. then when you look at Henry IV and Henry V (the Shakespeare plays), the Lancasters are portrayed with such depth, such dignity; they are no villains. So, yes, propaganda seems to still be at play here.

Henry VII, First Tudor King

So, what does this mean? This means I should try and see if there are other similar books that may have a broader and better overview of this time period. Not that this is a bad book. It was very well written and very engaging. I can see myself finding it used on-line and purchasing it sometime in the future because it did have some very good, well researched chapters. I just think the author was too quick to state they were no Plantagenets after Richard II, then state Henry VII killed off other claimants to the throne and mention Richard III being a Plantagenet King (especially since he was king AFTER Henry IV).  I do recommend this book, but read it with caution knowing the author has played into Tudor propaganda, which is sad considering this was published int he 21st Century and we should be over Tudor propaganda at this point in time.

Agnes Grace Weld (1849-1915)

Emma: Part 4 (2009 Adaptation)

I now conclude my Emma adaptation reviews with the most recent adaptation available, which is the BBC version done in 2009. This adaptation was written by Sandy Welch as early as 1995/1996, but was put off due to the film version which came out in 1996 and the Andrew Davies ITV version that same year. Can’t say I blame the BBC for waiting over a decade before doing an updated Emma. Unlike the BBC 1972 version, which was 6 parts, this one is only 4 parts, making it much shorter and a little more abridged, which is not a bad thing for an adaptation to be. There were, at times, I felt the 1972 version seemed to drag because it was overly long (it’s definitely one you don’t want to try and watch all in one sitting). This one, if one chooses to, can easily be watched in one day or weekend.

Romola Garai is Emma Woodhouse

Romola Garai is a fine Emma Woodhouse. She’s young enough that when she makes the mistakes that she eventually does, you do feel bad for her, but also acknowledge that she knows no better due to her age. Michael Gambon is Mr. Woodhouse, and is more subtle in his paranoia than previous versions, which is different but a choice I do not mind. They also show Emma’s mother in the beginning, show her death and thus explain why Mr. Woodhouse is overly concerned with health and his daughters being close to him at all times. It’s never mentioned as to why he behaves the way he does in the novel, so having some kind of explanation does help make him a more sympathetic character. It was a bold decision to make and one that I enjoyed seeing.

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse

I really didn’t see the point to showing little Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax shown being taken away as children from Highbury (and being seen by Emma as a young girl). To me, it was interesting visually, but made no sense in the overall feel of the adaptation. Especially since I do believe Mr. Weston moves to Highbury and then marries Miss Taylor in a few years, so the removal of Frank from his father took place elsewhere. It’s just an odd thing to have added which didn’t need to be added. While I do enjoy the little scene of John and Isabella flirting in the gardens, I do not like seeing both the Woodhouse girls with their hair down. I’m sorry but too many portraits of well-bred young ladies exist showing that little girls did not have their hair down past a certain age. I can see possibly if they were under the age of 12, but once they were old enough to be sent away for schooling, they would have they’re hair up. Children were dressed like little adults at this time. Clothing specific for children really wasn’t’ a thing until the mid-Victorian Era (this includes hair).

Emma with her hair down. Just no.

Mrs & Mr. Woodhouse with baby Emma.

This is the only adaptation to show Mrs. Weston pregnant. While the 1972 version hints at why Mrs. Weston is “indisposed”, they do not show her pregnant, but later on state she’s had a child. She’s not mentioned as being pregnant in either the 1996 film or ITV version, so this is the only accurate depiction of Mrs. Weston we have post marriage. It’s good to see her wearing maternity clothes (basically gowns made to be fuller in front) that are period correct. And yes, she would not be seen much out of doors during her confinement (towards the end of the pregnancy, women basically stayed at home). It’s such a little thing to be excited about, but it makes me happy.

Emma & a pregnant Mrs. Weston (portrayed by Jodhi May)

Mrs. Weston

One criticism is the hats. While lovely and period correct, they don’t always seem to fit on Emma’s head correctly. They seem to be in constant danger of falling off, as if they are placed too far back for the purposes of filming, which may be the case. Then, one would think they would use hat pins to secure said hats in place to make them more secure. Alas, the lack of hat pins is a vexation to me! They do seem to randomly appear, like on Box Hill or on characters such as Miss Bates or Harriet Smith, but not always on all the ladies consistently. Which is a pity, I find.

Emma’s magical hat. How did it stay on?

Emma, Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) and Mrs. Elton (Christina Cole)

Another odd choice that I do not know if I like or not is they made Mrs. Elton resemble Harriet in terms of hairstyle and looks, but Emma in terms of the colors of her clothing. She is the blending of the two and it’s just visually odd to me. Now, this may have been done on purpose, to show that Mr. Elton was attracted to both ladies, but wanted to marry Emma because she was well connected and rich. Harriet, of course, is the natural daughter of nobody (natural daughter is the polite term meaning she is someone’s bastard child). Some people may like the way Mrs. Elton was costumed and her hair and others might not. I have not decided yet.

Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith.

The Portrait Scene

Louise Dylan is very delicate and pretty as Harriet Smith. She and Romola have amazing chemistry together and you truly believe these two have become close friends. She has this incredible ability to have a sense of wonderment and innocence in her eyes throughout the adaptation that when she is hurt, you truly feel for her. You can sense why Emma has become her friend and cares for her .While I have enjoyed the relationship between Harriet and Emma, I confess that I did not like the portrait scene. In the novel, Harriet is described as sitting down. So the 1972 and the 1996 ITV version adhered the the novel. the 1996 film and this version are basically identical in have a Greco-Roman-esque pose which shouldn’t exist. This feels like the BBC is trying to compete with the Paltrow version. If they wanted to do an entirely different pose, then I would have liked to have seen try something wild, like sitting on a swing (which is very Georgian). Or something Arthurian, like she’s the Lady Elaine or a scene from Ivanhoe (which was popular during Austen’s time). There was just so much potential here and they went with copying the film version.

Emma & Harriet

Costumes are not bad in this version. Emma’s clothes tend to have a quiet elegance about them which is quiet nice. I like the addition of having sheer sleeves added to gowns, which can be seen as an under layer added for protection under the sun but also for warmth on chilly spring days. I do enjoy seeing the use of layers because that is how people dressed. Women would have under shirts and wear sleeveless gowns on top, then have a shawl, Spencer jacket, or pelisse when going outside. Men would wear scarves, vests, outdoor jackets and hats. Fob watches were worn by both sexes, so I do applaud showing Emma wearing one as well as Mr. Knightly. And I did like seeing buttons and lacing for the back of the gowns instead of lacing, which seems to have become the industry standard of late (while lacing was done, buttons were also used and both should be shown). There was a point were Emma was shown wearing wide sashes around her waist. When she was younger, that was a look (Robe a la Reine) made famous by Marie Antoinette shortly before she was removed from the throne and beheaded. It hails form her Petit Trinon days. Think Aristocracy does Peasant look. It’s actually a very sweet look. But sometimes, they show a more grown up Emma still wearing a wide sash, which confuses me. Not sure what the purpose was.

Marie Antoinette in a Robe a la Reine

Young Emma in what looks like a take on the Robe a la Reine

Hairstyles, for the most part, were fairly good. I have no issues withe the hairstyles gearing more towards the 1820s considering Emma was published in 1815, so setting around 1815-1820 gives the designers 5 years to play around in. I do think Johnny Lee Miller’s hair as Knightley was too short. Even if it was meant to be a la Titus, it was too modern and short for that particular hairstyle. It needed to be longer in order to be layered correctly. Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton has a much better a la Titus. Some of the older gentlemen are shown wearing a wig at times, which would still occur. You would expect the older generation to still hold onto their fashions like wigs for years past the time it was even fashionable. I’ve read accounts were people were complaining the local physician was wearing a Georgian wig in the 1830s! Granted he lived in the rural part of the US, but it was a fashion item no longer in use.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton. This is a good a la Titus.

Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. This is a bad a la Titus.

Portrait from around 1800-1810 showing the a la Titus hairstyle. Notice the layers.

Now, I am not all doom and gloom. The dancing scenes I thought were lively and accurate to the period. Some adaptations like having them stately and dull, but these dances were lively, fun and loud! I love it when the dance scenes show them full of vigor and movement. These are meant to be fun gatherings, not boring mind numbing affairs. Why else would Lydia and Kitty Bennett be begging for a ball to be held at Netherfield if they were so dull?

Balls are meant to be loud and fun.

 

1972 BBC Version

1972 BBC Version: Absolutely faithful to the novel. This version is long and can get tedious at times because it’s so long. However, the costumes are lovely (especially the pleated hat Emma wears), the sets are gorgeous, and the acting is sublime. This is the first adaptation of the novel and it was very well done. Be warned that because it’s in six parts, you may want to watch it over a period of a few days.  You can watch it over a weekend, but I recommend watching an episode a day and stretching it out over the span of a week because it is so long and dense. Advice I should have taken myself. It is part of the Classic Jane Austen  Collection, so if you purchase that collection, you get the first adaptations of all the Jane Austen novels (which is worth it).

1996 Film Version

1996 Film Version: I don’t mind this version, but it’s not one that I would personally purchase and own. Too many issues with the costumes makes it hard for me to enjoy besides some of the odd casting choices. That’s not to say it’s a bad adaptation. It’s fairly decent and it’s our only film version so far (our second film version is set to come out in 2020). It’s short and an easy watch. If you haven’t seen it, most local libraries have a copy or can get one through inter library loan.

1996 ITV Version

1996 ITV Version: I highly recommend this version and I own it. It’s wonderfully adapted and has a great cast and crew involved. It’s a better version than the film that was released the same year. My only complaint is that it’s shorter than the film and I wish it were at least 10-15 minutes longer so it could have included possibly the Coles party scene. It’s also the only time we see a non-blonde as Emma. No where in the novel does it state Emma is blonde. The only reason they have cast a blonde as Emma is because the first person to portray Emma (back in 1972) was a blonde.

2009 BBC Version

2009 BBC Version: I actually really like this version. I think it was really well done and even though there are some issues that I have with it, they are minor things that don’t affect my enjoyment. I do believe that when I have the funds, I will consider purchasing this version to add to my collection and I have not considered purchasing any of the more recent adaptations at all. But this one was truly well done and I wouldn’t mind owning it, which is considerably high praise coming from me.

Book Review: Jane Austen’s Country Life by Deidre Le Faye

This book was published in 2014 and I had not heard of it until I wanted to find a good copy of Austen’s Letters to re-read, as I had read them some time ago and knew they had been revised. Le Faye revised the Letters (which I will read and review), but I stumbled across this other book at my local library just a few days ago and finished it today. Now, I did post a review on Goodreads (I am listed under my name or as austenlied), but wanted to go further than that platform will allow.

First, I have to admit while I have spent over twenty years researching the late Georgian and Regency period, I have not spent much time on the agricultural aspect. It’s not an easy subject to research and without access to libraries in the UK, it would be extremely hard for me to do at the present time (they have wonderful collections scattered across the UK of old agricultural articles and magazines, plus museums which we do not have here in the US). While I have read the biography done by Jane Austen’s nephew, he did leave out a lot of her formative years, focusing instead on her relationship with her family, which is perfectly natural as this was his Aunt. So I was surprised to find out that Jane’s father, Rev. Austen, had rented a farm near his rectory and read agricultural journals and newsletters of the day. Such insight is important because Austen does reference these journals in more than one novel (Emma is the prime example being Robert Martin is said to have read journals). She even points out that one year, which was not a good year for farming, he only profited a measly 300 pounds. Considering he paid for men to work the field, and a manager to oversee the day to day running of it, that’s a fairly decent profit margin considering Jane leaves 500 pounds a year to Mrs. Dashwood and her 3 girls to live upon.

Except for 8 years of her life, Jane lived a majority of her life in Hampshire.

Secondly, what makes this book essential for anyone wanting to know more about how Jane Austen lived is the author’s ability to weave in parts of the novels and how they related to certain practices. Such as crop rotation, poultry, even the use of horses and carts (which poor Mary Crawford never understood). Mrs. Austen raised poultry and had cows for dairy, but then so did most wives living in the country. This did not mean Jane Austen grew up in poverty or they lacked money. It only shows how the daily life for Austen depended on farming and why she chose to set four of her novels primarily in the country (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey spend considerable amount of time in Bath; Mansfield Park does venture to Portsmouth, but Fanny Price doesn’t stay there for long). Of course, the author points out that the Stevenson rectory also had fruit trees, such as apples, Walnut trees, bushes which grew gooseberries, possibly other fruits like strawberries and how everyone relied on foraging as well.

Jane Austen (portrait based on the one done by her sister, Cassandra) and a drawing of the rectory of Stevenson.

Le Faye also mentions the import fact that Jane Austen grew up in an era of war. She was born in 1775, just a year before the American Revolution. Lived through the French Revolution and the War of 1812, plus skirmishes associated with the times. She had three siblings in the military (2 in the Royal Navy, 1 in the Oxford Militia) and lived at a time when the government was recommending crops such as potatoes be planted and harvested because it was cheap and filling. Her brother Edward, adopted by their cousins the Knights, allowed them to live at Chawton rent free as he owned the house. Everyone also thinks of Mr. Darcy as being exceptionally wealthy with 10,000 pounds a year, but Austen’s brother (who owned 3 properties but 2 inns along busy coaching roads), earned 6,000 pounds from one property alone per year. He, no doubt, wold be wealthier than Darcy. Considering how wealthy he was, and how poor Jane lived after her father died, I do find myself getting upset at her brother. This book really highlights how wealthy he was compared to the rest of the family, and he did so little for those who needed help.

Godmersham Park, one of 3 properties owned by Edward Austen-Knight.

Regardless of how I feel about Edward Austen-Knight, we do tend to associate Jane with Bath, even though she spent so little time there. The author helps int out that whiel Austen enjoyed Bath for a short stay, living there permanently was a strain. Jane did travel to places like Lyme Regis, Portsmouth, and other seaside places, but it is noteworthy that while living in Bath, she never wrote. Jane may have edited existing works, but Bath seemed to hamper her creativity. Once she moved to Chawton, however, she wrote Emma, Persuasion, and was working on a new novel before she died at age 41.

The Jane Austen House Museum is the Chawton House, where she spent the last years of her life. What’s missing is the poultry, bushes of berries, and an abundance of flowers.

This is a book that I do feel is an essential tool in understanding Jane Austen better. Knowing more about her life in the country, being exposed to agricultural journals, helps me appreciate the times she did work that into her novels. Because that was true to her life and true to the lives of many people who read these books when they first came out. She truly wrote about what she knew and she understood the ways of people who live in the country far better than those that lived in places such as London. Perhaps this is what makes her a timeless author, the ability to connect with the pastoral. For even if you’ve never had a garden, many have seen gardens, experienced them from other family members, or even appreciated the wide open space afforded to us by a park. Austen enjoyed the simple, familiar landscape of her world because it was comforting during a time of upheaval. Familiar and probably second nature to her growing up.

The table at which all her novels were written.