A Mary Anning Appreciation Post

WIN tickets to new movie Ammonite | The Senior | 2259
A Film loosely based on the life of Mary Anning released 2020.

When Ammonite was being talked about, I was excited. I am someone who has a yen for Dinosaurs (well, anything Paleontological to be perfectly honest), so a biopic on Mary Anning, the first [well-known] female Paleontologist, was excellent news! Then the premise was released and my heart sank in disappointment. Now, I have nothing against promoting Queer History and having it represented in the media (Gentleman Jack is a great example of Queer History done right), but I also feel it hurts the progress the LGTBQ+ Community when it is added for no other reason than to cause debates and it focuses the attention of the person on their genitalia (and what they did sexually or not) instead of their accomplishments. For example, Bohemian Rhapsody was touted as a Freddie Mercury & Queen biopic but shied away from any outwardly depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexual preferences that weren’t heterosexual (notice the focus was more about his relationship with Mary Austin, with his band-mates taking second place, but very little mention was made over his male lovers or his partner, Jim Hutton). It would have been better, considering how much Freddie Mercury continues to influence the LGBTQ+ Community to show his same-sex relationships (both good & bad). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I was thrilled that they got Rami Malek to play Freddie because it matters that a person of color play a person of color. And while I was happy he was nominated, and then won, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as I had hoped it would be. I wanted to know what parts of his personal journey helped shape him and his music. I mean, we know this happened but I would have liked to have been shown it. However, Rocket Man showed Elton John’s sexual preference as being part of who he is and how no one who truly loved him, cared who he slept with. We saw that he had relationships that were good and ones that were bad. And how they shaped him to be the man we see at the end of the film. Plus, we saw how the choices he made, both good and bad, influenced his music and his future relationships along the way. It was a biopic done right (especially the way they handle the incorporation of the music because it just worked so well).

Elton John Compares 'Rocketman' With 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Variety
Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocket Man (2019). Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Courtesy of Variety.com

Mary Anning did not have a sexual relationship with Charlotte Murchinson. They meet, briefly, in Lyme Regis and corresponded over the years. This film, instead, tries to depict these two as star cross lovers torn apart by Society. Unless we want to infer that Mary was a female rake who could easily seduce a woman, make her fall in love, and then break her heart in a mere matter of weeks, we have problems with this film. Instead of celebrating the awesome story of a woman who contributed greatly to the field of Paleontology (Anning) and woman ho also contributed to the field of Geology (Murchinson), Director Frances Lee decides to focus on a “what if” sexual relationship. Thus boiling down any contributions these women made to science down to their sexuality. It is a form of erasure, in a way. Instead of looking at these women as intelligent scientists, Lee equates them as sexual creatures FIRST with some inclination towards scientific thought. Anning found the first intact Plesiosaur skeleton (think Loch Ness Monster). In 1811, when Mary was 12, she and her brother found a skull, which was roughly 4 foot long. She went on and found the rest of the skeleton a few months later. This ended up being an Ichthyosaur. The Anning family were known to sell fossils to collectors and to museums, so for the children to have found a specimen would not have been unusual. But what is most unusual is by 1820-1825, it was only Mary who was finding and selling the fossils, her brother having been apprenticed out (the father passed in 1812). She uncovered a Pterosaur in 1828 in the cliffs of Lyme Regis and this was first Pterosaur found outside of Germany at this time (Pterodacytylus macroynx). Mary excavated a transitionary fossil between sharks and rays/fish called Squaloraja in 1829. Anning was a self taught Paleontologist, Geologist, scientific illustrator, and Anatomist. Her discoveries have been long thought to have inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Mary Anning was recognized as one of the 10 most influential women scientists in Britain in 2010. Yet his film does nothing but consider all of these accomplishments as being less than important than who she may have slept with.

Portrait of a woman in bonnet and long dress holding rock hammer, pointing at fossil next to a spaniel dog lying on ground.
Mary Anning & Her Dog (Circa 1830s-1840s) attributed to Mr. Grey. Courtesy of National History Museum
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
One of the many scientific drawings done by Mary Anning. Courtesy of UCMP.Berkely.EDU

Of course, the reason Francis Lee has decided to portray Mary Anning as a lesbian is solely based on the fact she remained unmarried and there is no evidence she had any relationships (heterosexual or homosexual), which must mean she was hiding something. By tying her scientific contributions to her sexuality, Lee has, perhaps unintentionally, equated any woman’s contributions to Society as being sexually motivated. It may come as a shock, but contributions to Art, Science, History, etc are not necessarily tied to what we do in the privacy of our own home. Now, if her sexuality had been an influenced, say, her scientific interests then yes, I would have applauded it being shown if done right.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, and if the location sounds familiar, it was featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the location of The Cobb where poor Miss Musgrove hurt herself. Lyme Regis (located in Dorset) is known for it’s plentiful shale deposits, which often contain fossils. Many tend to be small (like ammonites and other creatures), but sea creatures have been routinely found in the cliff facings as well. It was a popular (but waning) seaside resort town (Brighton having taken it’s place as the primary go-to area, with Bath being secondary). But, if you recall from any previous posts regarding Austen herself, in 1799 England was at war with the US. Her life, like that of Austen, was a life revolving around War coupled with the restrictions placed upon her by Society due to her sex. Because there is no writings (family or otherwise) to indicate she was ever in love, the conclusion must be she was a lesbian. The truth was she was one of 2 children (out of 10) who survived into adulthood. Her father died when she was fairly young and she and her brother, Joseph, took up the fossil hunting trade to generate an income. Odd how any man who was not married during this same period is not automatically labeled as being a homosexual (the hypocrisy of it all and yes, I am LOOKING at you Horace Walpole).

drawing of side view of a long thin skull with needle like teeth and a large eye socket
An 1814 drawing by Everard Home for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society depicting a Temnodontosaurus (originally Ichthyosaurus) skull found by Joseph & Mary Anning in 1811

Gera Lerner in her 1975 article in Feminist Studies asked how do notable women in history get written about, stressing the emphasis on how historians (in the 1970s) disregarded contributions of women overall: “Women of different classes have different historical experiences (5)”. Lerner also points out how women were viewed in the 19th Century were based on extensions of their normal duties. Education of the poor was seen as an extension of teaching children in the home. Which is still an issue we continue to face today. They “conducted their lives (5)” according to the male-dominated accepted role for them. Austen, being a writer, was acceptable because there were other women who were writing, and being published. Women writing primarily for women is fine because it doesn’t change the dominance of men in Society (especially since Austen’s brother Henry made the publishing deals, so while she wrote the books, he controlled hat happened to them). And yes, Mary Anning did fit into this role in her own way. She worked in a family run business started by her parents for extra income. Continuing this work as a means of generating an income after he death of her father would have been deemed as an acceptable position for a young girl and her brother because they had such a large family. Continuing to go this route when her brother was apprenticed elsewhere would have also been socially normal considering they were not part of the middle class, but were the working poor. Not being married, I have to state, was not an unusual occurrence for women at this time. Mary was one of 10 children. Her mother not only buried her husband, but eight of her children. Compare to the Austen Family, who had all he children survive into Adulthood (being middle class and having better access to food and medicine). Mary may have decided it would be better for her to continue to support her mother with fossil hunting than trying to find a husband and slip into extreme poverty (which was always the threat of any working woman, including Austen herself). On top of that, she had much less education than Austen and everything she did was primarily self-taught, whereas Austen had the support of a large family, that included members of the Aristocracy. Plus, I must point out that since this was a time of war, women outnumbered men so it would have been perfectly normal for there to be unmarried women over the age of 30 at this time (The Civil War in America produced a similar effect).

Sketch of house with two large front windows on either side of a front door and next to the steps leading up from the street to the door are two partially open cellar doors
June 1842 sketch of Mary Anning’s home in Lyme Regis by W. H. Prideaux and Edward Liddon. Courtesy of the BBC

When a generation of men have been killed, there will be a generation of women who will end up living alone. Mary died of Breast cancer in 1847 at the age of 47. She had not been welcomed into the Scientific community because she was a woman, but later generations have remembered and thought fondly of her. It is surprising that when she died, the Geological Society at that time spoke about her contributions, which is good, but also a bit sad it took her passing to get a bunch of men to acknowledge her importance to Science.But we must also remember is she had no male advocates who had the wealth, and influence, to see she was acknowledged better and more widely.

print of the Ladies of Llangollen
Sarah Ponsonby (left) and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, who were in a “Boston Marriage.” Lithograph by J.H. Lynch, 1830s. Public Domain

Mary and Charlotte meet briefly in 1825 ( a few weeks) and Mary meet her again in London in 1829. They corresponded as late as 1833, possibly up until Mary’s death in 1847. The relationship in the film Ammonite seems to be inspired by the relationship Mary Anning had with Frances Bell, who really did exist. But when Frances came to Lyme Regis to learn how to find and clean fossils from Mary, she was 14 and Mary 24. I highly doubt Mary saw Frances as a lover (unless we want to label her as a pedophile, which we don’t). Frances died young, at age 15 and Mary was, understandably, upset. Mary considered Frances one of her truest friends (possibly because they had a love of fossils). She may have considered Frances as her own personal protegee, seeing herself in a younger person. Instead, the film moves the actual time of the mid 1820s to 1840, but also makes Charlotte younger, naive, and incredibly stupid. It’s a slap in the face to any woman with a working mind.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2014-07-05-at-11.01.45-580x384.png
‘The Light of Science’ a satirical cartoon by Henry T De la Beche (1832) featuring Charlotte Murchison. Courtesy of Trowel Blazers


Charlotte Murchinson was born a full 11 years before Mary Anning in 1788 (but is portrayed much much younger in the film). Her father was a general and her mother was an amateur botanist. Charlotte married at the age of 27, which was considered fairly late in life, to a solider .They traveled Europe, where she made observations of the different geological features and botany. She had amassed a fossil collection of her own that was so diverse, leading men in the field of Geology would often use her specimens in their publications. While her husband focused on Geology (and became a member of the Royal Geological Society), Charlotte seemed to be more interested in minerals. She persisted and won the right to attend geological lectures at King’s College in 1831, which had been closed to women at that point. Charlotte was well traveled and her insights no doubt helped her husband in the field of geology She was no idiot as and was not the simpering weakling that she is being portrayed as. For any woman to demand to sit in on Geological lectures that are closed, and to have won the right to sit in on them, was no weak woman. She is also shown in the film to be incredibly stupid, bordering on extreme naivete, which is really gross.

Anne Lister - Wikipedia
Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, circa 1830. Public Domain

Besides Charlotte, Mary did have other friendship with women who were scientists as well. Mary Buckland being one such woman and Elizabeth Philpot the other. Instead of showing that Mary Anning had been surrounded by likewise minded women, Lee combines all these female friendships into one, but adds sex. I would have been much happier of the film was more about Mary befriending an unknown woman (a fictional character, if you will) and teaching her how she did what she did, or explaining how she hunts fossils, and develop that into a relationship (and possible Boston Marriage). It would have been more interesting, for me at any rate. Instead, we get a rough and not very feminine Mary, pissing in full view of the public, wiping her hands on her skirt, then handing a Cornish Pasty to Charlotte. So, Mary is being portrayed as “Butch” to counter the femininity of Charlotte (which is a sad troupe). She would ever have relieved herself in that way-she would have gone off a bit for privacy as any of us would do. Plus, there is an ocean, consisting of water, right there, to wash her hands off. Literally a body of water. And since she lived in Dorset, a Cornish Pasty IS NOT appropriate. Hand held eat pies did exist, but do be so specific as to a Cornish Pasty-just no. And let us also address that for a seaside town that was known to have a population of Black people, nary a one is ever seen. Lyme Regis was a popular seaside resort that was replaced by Bath (then Brighton), which means people from all classes (and yes, this includes Black people) lived there year round since before 1800. Especially since it was tied to Sailors and the Navy, which employed many Black people at this time. But, I must not forget that the director of this film is a man, who views the women in the film with the gaze of men. And if we want to portray her as a lesbian, then I would have no issue with it IF it were done with a little more finesse. Mary spent more time with Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Buckland than Charlotte. If a relationship would have occurred, I would have found it much more believable to have been either of these women than Charlotte because they were there longer, and also were the stronger relationships in Mary’s life. They even could have, because Mary really was found of Frances in real life, aged Frances up to be in her twenties and used that as a passionate, real-life relationship which ended in Frances’ death at a young age from something like pneumonia. Because that feels more true to the person who was Mary Anning, but also more true historically. And I would have had the guts to not only show Lyme Regis as being diverse, but would have made Frances not white. But then, I am wanting to make the film for women, and women of color, and not for the male gaze.

Out of the deep | Oxford University Museum of Natural History
A Plesiosaur hunting. Courtesy of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Christobel Hasting stated “Note the wide eyes, the tumbling ringlets, the peaches-and-cream complexions of the protagonists. Then look at the narratives that posit same-gender sexuality as a source of inevitable pain and struggle” as a reoccurring theme in all Lesbian period dramas. Hastings, in this article (and it’s well-written, I highly recommend it) also discusses the erasure of POC from these pieces, which also erases them from the narrative overall. Now, when I first wrote and published this blog, I did not include any commentary on this and it is clearly a mistake on my part and I fully take on this blame. I truly wanted to focus on just how awful they portrayed Mary Anning (and Charlotte) that I neglected to think how it might be perceived to use a piece discussing the erasure of people of color and not address it. And yes, I should have and that is why I am editing this to include this discussion. Because, Dear Reader, I am not perfect and I want to own up when a mistake has been made (I also had to delete a comment and my response because the a troll trying to imitate another person then sent some truly awful email to me via this blog and that’s just vile and caused some serious metal health issues for me).

While I praise Gentleman Jack for its honesty, it IS one of these white period dramas written. But here Gentleman Jack succeeds it’s (dramatized) the real life story of Anne Lister and her relationship with her wife. Now, of course, the series could diversify the cast (and I would love it) because there was diversity in England at that time. It would be an easy thing to start to include and I think many of us would be thrilled by this. Now, previously, I had not included any commentary on that in this originally, but that was clearly a fault of mine because we should also address the erasure of any person of color in this narrative of period drama. As I am also aware that it’s an area that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Its perhaps easier to make Queer History more palatable when the primary target audience are white conservatives (and possibly male). And hey, I get it. It’s easier to drum up sympathy for two white women in early Victorian England, then, say, two women in India or Africa or South America. Because it doesn’t seem to matter, which is really sad. Plus, setting it in the mid 19th C is all too easy. It’s a bit lazy, to be perfectly honest. Most view the 19th C as being an era of sexual repression to begin with, so tossing in any aspect of LGBTQ+ references makes an easy sell. So, yes, this film also lacks basic diversity. And I mean basic. Most period dramas showcasing the 19th century seem to leave out any person of color unless it revolves around the Civil War. Now, Hasting’s article went onto state that this way of filming period Lesbian dramas is done for a reason. That reason being filmmakers are pandering “to the male gaze, and preserve the patriarchal status quo.” Which is something I was probably aware of, but hadn’t really considered that this one way of pandering had to dominate everything at this point in time. Maybe because I had thought with more diverse filmmakers, things would get better (they are, but doesn’t it seem to take forever?). Because the 19th C lesbians are always white. There are always pretty ringlets, big petticoats, soft pale skin. And that seems to be a setting for the male porn gaze than anything else (because, let’s face it, minority representation in LGBTQ+ films is extremely rare to non-existent). After all, we are still dealing with dick jokes in the MCU (so, perhaps filmmakers are catering to teenage boys?)

COVID-19: Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is postponed | Lyme Regis Town Council
Ammnites on Lye Regis Coast. Courtesy of Lyme Regis Town Council

Now, for some reason (well, I know WHY but it’s still irksome) a person, using the name of someone who commented, then decided to send me emails that were truly vile. And I mean downright nasty that it made me cry and not sleep for the past three days. Right now, after spending 40 minutes crying in the shower, I am very close to losing it. And yes, that is scary. Friday is going to be an extremely hard day for me. I am gong to make a police report because of a post I made last year regarding John Ortberg. And yes, I am stressed out about it. There are things in the blog I did NOT make public because some of it is just too painful. When I made the decision to have the knowledge go public earlier this year, I knew there would be a backlash. I knew it. I had dealt with some of it last year, and even some the year before. But now, it’s not something anyone can be prepared for. I’ve gotten emails stating that I am a liar. I’ve had weird comments made on blog posts from when I first started (like 2 years ago) show recently. And the emails-they are the hardest. Now, wisely, if someone emails me off of this blog, it goes to a inbox on this site and sends a copy to my personal account. o, unless I respond from my personal account, you don’t have access to my email address (it’s worth paying the $100 yearly fee for this feature). But the emails range from sending me porn links, to accusing me of being a Qanon conspiracy theorist, to commenting on my whiteness (and not being a person of color), to things that are really not meant to see the light of day. Ever. And it’s currently hard for me to function. I have panic attacks. I am severely depressed. I cannot get my antidepressants because the doctor won’t write a new prescription unless she sees me AND she cannot see me for 3-4 months. I cannot work BECAUSE of the PTSD and Panic Attacks. So, fair warning, if you comment on this post, or email me, do not be shocked if it takes a long time for me to approve the comments. And this is me, the writer removing her mask, saying hey, right now I am really not OK. But I am trying.

2.3 million project for the Cobb at Lyme Regis- or it could face collapse |  Bridport and Lyme Regis News
The Cobb at Lyme Regis. Courtesy of Bridportnews.co.uk

“And sometimes, I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in”

Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility)

Resources

Britiaicca.com

Unicversity of CAlifornia-Berkely (Paleontology Department)

Placing Women in History by G. Lerner. Feminist Studies, VOl 3 Issue 1/2 (Autumn 1975)

Introduction to Sociology, Chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality). Available on Opentextbc.ca

Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender by Mari Mikkola (2008 & 2017). Available on Plato.Standford.edu

Vanity Fair review of Ammonite (09/2020)

True History of Ammonite (Smithsonian Magazine August 2020)

LGTBQ+ Films: “It’s time for Lesbian love stories that aren’t white period dramas” by Christobel Hastings for Stylist.co.uk

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oceansofkansas.com

Lymeregistowncounsil.gov.uk

Newspapers.com

The History of Blacks in Georgian & Regency Era (Part 3)

The final entry into a look of notable people of color for Black History Month. I did get an inquiry as to why I used the terminology of “black” instead of African-American. Well, mainly because the term African-American did not exist in the 18th & 19th Century. Many of these people I am highlighting were either enslaved or were born of enslaved people. Hope this clears up any questions or concerns as to why I am using a word that may be considered offensive (I am, after all, not wising to offend anyone with this series, but only wishing to point out that yes, people of color did exist in Europe prior to the 20th Century).

The Kreutzer Sonata - Wikipedia
The Kreutzer Sonata (Violin Sonata No.) Public Domain
The Black Violinist Who Inspired Beethoven – Martin Plaut
George Bridgewater, circa 1800s. Courtesy of the British Musuem

George Augustus Polgran Bridgewater, sometimes listed as George Polgreen Bridgewater, as born in 1778 as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus in Eastern Polad to His father, Joanis Fredericus de Augustus (African decent) and Maria Schmid (German/Polish depending on the historian). Now, back in Part 1 of this series, I mentioned how Aristocracy of Europe (especially Peter the Great), had an affinity for the “exotic” when it came to servants, which would explain how a mixed race person was born in Poland. Jonais, sometimes listed as John in Anglicized sources, claimed to be descendant of an African Royal, who was kidnapped, then sold to a Dutch Captain, and ended up in Barbados married to a local woman. How much of this is his wanting to create a more exotic flavor to his identity and how much of it is truth as we don’t know. But from John’s tale, we can discern some truths. His father was kidnapped (possibly as a child since kidnapping African children seems to be a reoccurring staple of Slavery), sold and ended up in the Caribbean/West Indies where he fathered children. John’s telling of his past could be cobbled together of what his father remembered, but also a need to explain how he ended up in the service of nobility. John was a member of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy’s household, where he was called the “Moor” and served as the “exotic” page. Maria was most likely a maid in the same household. Prince Nikolus was a patron of the Arts, particularly music, having his own orchestra and personal composer (Hayden, who is sometimes credited as being an early teacher of George and sometimes not). John had two sons, the younger also playing a string instrument, but the focus was on George. John left his wife and second son so to tour Europe with George, dressing his son in more Islamic style clothing (turbans and Turkish robes) to highlight the “otherness.” At some point, they ended up in England, playing for Prince George (later Regent). John gambled away his son’s earning and George, at the age of 12, sought the protection of the Prince. The Regent (because there are just too many Georges in this tale), took George under his protection, paid for the best in education and musical tutors. Bridgewater played such venues as Convent Garden, Drury Lane, Haymarket, an even performed at the Abbaye de Panthemont in Paris where Thomas Jefferson was in attendance. But that is not the most intriguing part of his life. Beethoven, feeling depressed over the knowledge he was losing his hearing, contemplated suicide. How close was he, we do’t know but for composer to lose his hearing, which he needs to write must have been devastating. When Beethoven met George in 1803, he found a close friend. Beethoven was 32, George was 24. They had much in common having endured abusive fathers, being hailed as musical geniuses at young ages, never quite fitting in. Beethoven even wrote the Kreutzer Sonatas for George. But they had a falling out (some say it was over a woman), which is tragic because neither of them even met after their year of mutual affection (affection meaning a strong friendship, not sexual). Beethoven then rescinded his Kreutzner dedication (he also wisely removed a dedication to Napoleon from another piece). George stopped performing sometime in the 1820s, turning to teaching instead. If he ever played his friend’s sonatas, we will never know. But what a splendid and fantastic movie would their tumultuous year together would be! Bridgewater received an MA in Music from Cambridge in 1811, married, had 2 children, and separated from his wife in 1824. He died 32 years after the death of his once time friend and is buried in Kendal Green Cemetray in London.

Prince William (later William IV) with Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. Circa 1788 by James Gillray. Public Domain

Vanessa Riley has written a book on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas (Island Queen) which is being released this coming year (her site says 7/2021). While Riley probably knows more about this amazing woman than I will ever know, I did want to include Dorothy in my post for being not only an entrepreneur in an era where women didn’t have economic power, but for also being a savvy political player as well. Dorothy was born in 1758 and is sometimes known as Doll Thomas and Dorothy Kirwan. She was born into slavery, purchasing her freedom as well as those of numerous family members over a period of 16 years. Thomas had businesses in Montserrat, Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, and Demerara consisting of hotels (one with a French Restaurant), leasing property, running lodging houses, owning slaves and a plantation (because yes, former slaves did engage in owning slaves), as well as selling goods to plantation workers and slaves (known as female hucksters, this was her primary business and probably her first). She was one of the few women, and most importantly, one of the few black women, who was financially compensated for the loss of her slaves when Parliament banned slavery in the UK and in all their territories. It may have helped that William IV, who signed this piece of legislation, was her former lover. Dorothy had 11 children and traveled to England often. All of her daughters married prominent white business men, one becoming Madame Sala, a famous actress as well. All her children and grandchildren were sent to England and received excellent educations. In 1824, she protested and WON against a discriminatory law that targeted non white women, having it overturned. She became one of the wealthiest women in the Caribbean.

George Africanus - Wikipedia
The GRve of George Africaus & his wife, located in Sta Marys Churchyard, Nottingham.

George John Scipio Africanus was most likely born in West Africa (the Sierra Leone region) in 1763, as he was listed as being age 3 when he was baptized in 1766. He was given to Benjamin Molineaux as a gift, but Molineaux decided to educate him and treat him as a servant, instead of slave. When Molineaux died in 1772, George (the son) continued to have Africanus educated. George worked as a servant, and was apprenticed to a brass foundry at some point. He moved to St. Peter’s Parrish in Nottingham when he was 21 in 1784. He met and then married Esther Shaw in this same Parrish in 1788. In 1793, they started a business out of their home, Africanus’s Register of Servants. Thy had 7 children, but only 1 lived to reach adulthood (and later on married in 1825, having children of her own). George died in 1834 and his wife continued to run their business until her death. Africanus was known to be a member of the Anti Slavery Society and he is the first Black Entrepreneur in Nottingham. The v of George and his wife was rediscovered in 2003, with a new headstone being provided by the community. Africanus may not have made much money running his own business , as he did continue to work as a laborer and waiter (and possibly servant now and then), but its important he started his own business. That said business was successful enough to continue after his death due to the dedication of Esther, his wife, is equally important. I did not find if he has any living descendants, but it is likely that somewhere, there are still a few of living in Nottingham to this day. And, dear Reader, what an absolutely splendid notion!

William Davidson, circa 1820. Pubic Domain

William Davidson is included here for being infamous and linked to the Cato Incident. William was born between 1781 and 1786, being the natural (an antiquated term meaning illegitimate) son of the Attorney General of Jamaica and a local woman (free or slave it is unknown as is her name). His father’s name is not listed, but the person is most likely Alexander Henderson, who was the AG of Jamaica at the time of his conception and birth. At age 14, William came to Glasgow to study law, where he became involved in a movement for Parliamentary Reform (The Society of the Friends of the People). I cannot find out if he finished law school, but he was apprenticed to a lawyer in Liverpool, but then, it seems, decided to run away to sea, though perhaps the running away was him being press-ganged into the Royal Navy as both are listed as having occurred. I feel it is most likely William was press-ganged rather than running away, but this is a personal opinion. He then returned to Scotland, where his father then arranged for William to study Math in Aberdeen. William left school, moved to Birmingham and started a cabinet making business. He fell in love with the daughter of a rich merchant The father thought William was after her dowry (7000 pounds is nothing to sneeze at) and had Davidson arrested on false charges. The girl was married to someone else and William attempted suicide. It really does feel as if nothing but hardship and tragedy follow Davidson. He then moved to London, married widow Sarah Lane, a working-class woman with four children of her own, and they had two more children. It seems his past hardships were finally behind William. He converted to the Methodist faith, taught Sunday School, then had to leave for seducing a female student. Now, we don’t know what really occurred, but it may have been racial motivated or a abuse of power (either his or someone else’s). William’s life changed irrevocably on 16 August 1819 when 60,000 gathered to protest for Parliamentary Reform and the Royal Calvary charged into this crowd, killing 18 people. This incident is known as the Peterloo Massacre. This spurned Davidson back into the political activism of his youth and he became associated with the Marylebone Union Reading Society, where members had access to radical publications such as Thomas Paine and inflammatory pamphlets. George Edwards persuaded William, along with 27 others, to meet on Cato Street in Grosvenor Square in February 1820. They were set up and arrested with Edwards helping locate any who managed to flee the police raid. On 28 April 1820, Davidson and 4 others were found guilty. William was hung (drawing a huge crowd to witness this execution) and decapitated May 1, 1820. Davidson continued to claim his innocence and stated that he and the others were set up by Edwards. The transcript of the trial shows that it was George Edwards who was behind the plot to assassinate certain members of Parliament. Edwards who chose the Cato Street location and informed the police of the assassination plot. George Edwards notified the police where the meeting was being held and the names of the people who were going to attend. Edwards was never prosecuted.

African-American Maritime Heritage — PortSide NewYork
Richard “King Dick” Crafus (1791-1830) courtesy of the New England Hisotircal Soceity ion

While I used a picture of “King Dick” Crafus (who was a boxer, priveteer, and an American POW during the War of 1812), I am mainly using his image to show what William Brown (the First Black Woman in the Royal Navy) may have looked like. Her story appears in the Chronicle of September 1815 (which is found on the national archives site) as well as proof she was registered as a sailor onboard a Royal Navy ship in 1815. Now, the article listed her as “Mrs” William Brown, which I find annoying. William Brown was a sailor first, female is just their gender. There are two accounts of this person joining the Navy. The first states they joined 23 May 1815 and was then discharged 19 June 1815 for being discovered as “female.” The September article states this person served aboard the HMS Queen Charlotte for 11 years before being discharged, being a Captain of the Fore-Top (in other words, they were the best of the best of the sailor set), was around 26 years of age, known to be just one of the guys, and apparently was married, but left the husband for a life as a sailor. Second account gives us more information, giving us a date of birth (1789), joining the Royal Navy in 1804 as a sailor on the HMS Queen Charlotte (it was one of the premier Fleet ships during the 1813-1814 Napoleonic War Years and was the Flag Ship in 1813-1815), was extremely capable Sailor, was often allowed to steer the ship and could easily navigate through shallow waters. Now, the dismissal in the first (and discharge incident) is most likely due to the First Lieutenant being jealous of this highly respected, highly capable sailor of color. In 1814, the Navy would have disbanded after Napoleon’s defeat, and would have docked for a refitting. Signing up again in 1815 would have been expected of all Navy personnel since Napoleon was up to no good (again). But did this stop William Brown? Nope. For in July 1815, a William Brown (stated to be 32 & from Scotland) joined the crew of the HMS Cumberland, said to be an able sailor, one of the best, and paid off in August 1815 (because Napoleon was defeated, so time to relax). But wait, there’s more! William Brown then joins their old crew aboard the HMS Queen Charlotte (with a different First Lieutenant) 31 December 1815 (again being the Flag Ship) as Captain of the Fore-Top. Again. Brown then transferred to the HMS Bombay in 1816, which was then the Flagship for Rear Admiral Sir Charles Penrose. With that, William Brown sails off, with no more records. While there are some discrepancies in terms of age, I firmly believe William Brown wanted to live their life as a Sailor and as a Man. Adding a few years to their age is really not that big of a deal. Of course, I came across a historian who thought it must have been a gag, as there was another female (being younger than 20) trying to enlist in 1815 as William Brown. Dear Sir, William Brown is a very common name and I am sure, if anyone decided to look at the sailors who enlisted and served in the Royal Navy from 1800-1820, there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors called William Brown. But for me, this particular William Brown should be applauded as being the first Black Female Royal Navy Sailor, but I also feel William Brown is the first Transman that we know of serving in the Royal Navy. I am sure there are people who would disagree, but William Brown lived a majority of their life as a man. They should be respected as such.

Resources:

New York Times 9/4/2020 Article on Bridgewater

newenglandhistoricalsoceity.com

portdenewy.org

wcml.org.uk

britishexecutions.co.uk

Daily Gazette 2/26/2015

VanessaRiley.com

Spanglefish.com

Georgianera.wordpress

BBC.co.uk (regardig Nottingham History)

jamancianfamilysearch.com

Jamacian Save Insurrection Scare of 1776 by RB Sheridan

The British Musuem

Antislvaery.ac.uk

bl.uk

nationalarchives.gov.uk

The Confederate Flag: A Heritage of Racism

Not that long ago on Facebook (yes, some of us are still on that cesspool of a platform secretly hoping someone like Oprah will one day buy out Zuckerburg and peace will reign once again on that platform), a friend shared a post I had found regarding the Confederate Flags and the history regarding the usage and different designs. Chad (not his real name, but close enough) decided to white mansplain that the Confederate Flag and the Confederacy was a great thing for People of Color (POC), that is was a southern state which first freed a slave, and Confederate Soldiers automatically were granted freedom if they moved to the North. I know, that’s a lot (and I mean A LOT) of compressed BS to unravel.

When I asked Chad regarding his sources, he first stated that he was a lawyer (his profile doesn’t indicate this at all, but he well could be one) and he was basing this on some law history classes and a website he said was called “American War Museum Chronicle”. Now, if you Google this, it will direct you to a website for looking up potential website names. In other words, it doesn’t exist. Now, there is an American and War Museum, but they only go back to 1917 to the present times. Disregarding all of that, let’s take a look at the actual flags themselves.

Confederate Flags: HIST 1416 American Military History Summer 2016 ...
Infograph courtesy of HIST 1416: American Military History Summer 2016 (W. Butler, Instructor) from BARTonline

Now, the image we most associate with the Confederacy is the Army of Tennessee and it’s technically a battle flag, not the actual flag of the Confederacy. The top three images are the three flags of the Confederate States while the bottom two are battle flags and were only flown during battles, skirmishes, etc. So those waving the battle flags about in today’s society either have no idea that the flag they are waving about is meant for actual battle, not the back of a pickup truck.

Official Flag Of The Confederacy | ... Confederate Veterans ...
Image courtesy of Pinterest
Pin on War Between The States
Image courtesy of Pinterest

Now, while I knew there were variations, I had no idea, until researching this specific topic, that battle flags in of themselves had a wide variety of designs. Unlike the Union, which primarily just used the American Flag, the Confederacy seemed unable to settle on one basic design. Now, I have not done much visiting of Civil War Reenactments, but from images that I have seen, it seems the main battle flag that is widely used in the Tennessee one, which is probably why we’ve come to associate that particular flag with the Confederacy and not one of the official three flags they had. Remember that Battle flags are not the same as flags pertaining to a nation.

ZFC - National Treasures - Union Civil War Flags 1861 to 1865
Union Battle Flags courtesy of flag collection dot com

The Union Battle Flags (known as the Stars & Stripes) mainly stuck with a more uniform appearance. Other than the placement and size of the stars, the overall appearance is not too dissimilar to what the US flag looks like today. In other words, the battle flag was meant to appear close to the national flag. Now, onto Chad’s assertion that the South was the first to free a slave. Vermont, which was not yet a state in 1777, was the first Independent US territory to abolish slavery within it’s borders. Pennsylvania was the first US state to abolish slavery in 1780. Neither of these is a Southern State. Juneteenth, for which Chad declined to acknowledge, is important as it was on June 19th, 1865 in Galvaston, TX that Union Army General Gordon Granger announced due to Federal Law, all slaves in Texas were free. This is important as these were amoung the last slaves to be freed after the end of the Civil War. Any slave that was in the Confederate Army was forced to do menial tasks and was still a slave, unlike Chad’s belief that these slaves chose to fight for their oppressors. Let that sink in for a moment-the Confederate Army used slaves to do the basic everyday chores needed to keep an Army running and people like Chad assume this mean they were “willing” participants. Oh honey, slaves were never willing to be slaves. Technically (because I must be as accurate as possible), the slaves were considered part of the Confederate Service, not the Army. The early wins of the Confederacy would not have occurred if not for the use of slave labor in maintaining agriculture and industrial standards for the South. Slaves forced to repair and maintain forts, repair railroads, build ships, and do everything in order to free white men so the white men could serve in the Army. Once many slaves heard of the proclamation by President Lincoln that they were free, enough fled to Northern States to make a large enough impact on the South’s economy as to make their victories a thing of the past. Many of these freed souls did join the Union Army (which also had it’s issues), BUT they were paid for their labor, they were free, and fighting for a cause they truly believed in.

A circa 1830 illustration of a slave auction in America.
A 1830 engraving depicting a Slave Auction, courtesy of TIME Magazine

Chad also asserted, quite boldly with an air of pomposity I found sad as it was ridiculous, that the Civil War was not about Slavery. I’m sorry to inform Chad and anyone with a similar lack of intellect, but the Civil War was very much about Slavery. Without the institution of Slavery, the South could not function. Slaves planted the crops, raised the livestock, harvested the fields, built the homes, made the clothes, made the food, raised the children of their owners, etc. Without Slavery, agriculture and industry in the South simply could not function.

Gospel of Slavery: The 1864 pro-abolitionist children’s book.
Excerpt from an 1864 Children’s Abolitionist Book courtesy of Slate.com

Slavery is free labor. There were no standards of how one was to treat a slave. Different owners could feed them well or starve them. They could be dressed or be forced to work in the nude. They could be with their families or be sold off on a whim. They were raped. They were beaten. They were seen as property, not people (the basis of the 3/5 of a person that’s in the Constitution is about this-Slaves were considered 3/5 of a person). No white man (or woman) could be tried for the murder of a slave because it wasn’t illegal. Let that sink in-the murder of a human being would be ignored simply because of skin pigmentation. The North had mostly banned Slavery and the movement of Society in the 1860s was heading towards abolishing slavery overall. The South could not bear the thought of transitioning towards having to pay people wages for what they were getting for free. While this is not every little tidbit regarding as to why the Civil War occurred, it really was about Slavery (which was all about Economics) in a nutshell.

Cross Stitch Pattern by SoEasyPattern on Etsy

Sorry Chad, but any depiction of the South’s flag (which are images of traitors) as symbols of pride are naught but fragile egos trying to hold onto thinly veiled images of racism and oppression and calling it “heritage.” Other than historical sites, blogs dealing with history, reenactments and museums, I firmly stand by the belief that all images of the Confederate Flag are only flown to tell people that you are a racist, misogynistic willfully ignorant supporter of traitors and should be dealt with by being laughed at and ridiculed at every opportunity. EVERY OPPORTUNITY. Oh, and here’s a Major in the Union showing you some serious shade ;D

In 1865, President Lincoln appointed Pittsburgher Martin Delany the first African American major, the highest rank of any black soldier during the war. #BlackHistoryMonth
Major Martin Delany, Pittsburgh 1865. Th Highest ranking African American Union Solider.

Sources:

http://www.warmuseum.org/america-and-war.php

https://bartonline.instructure.com/courses/2269/pages/confederate-flags

https://nationalpost.com/news/world/southern-discomfort-a-history-of-the-confederate-flagictorie a thing of the past.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/06/150626-confederate-flag-civil-rights-movement-war-history/

A Brief Look at People of Colour before the 20th Century: Part 3

"Portrait of Gustav Badin" (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg

Portrait of Gustav Badin (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg; Public Domain Image

     Gustav Badin was given to Queen Louisa of Sweden as a gift. She, in turn, educated him on the same level as her children. He was in charge of 3 Royal Palaces, had an extensive library of his own containing more than 800 books, and was, at one point, the Swedish Ambassador to France.  While Gustav many have been a slave initially, it’s clear he was a member of the Royal Family and was treated as a member of the Court. His diary is currently being translated and the original is housed at the University of Uppsala. I start off with this tidbit because now we’re entering a time period that I know very well, which is the Late Georgian/Regency period. It has always bothered me that any film depicting anything from this era has no one of colour in it, expect as an oddity or experiment. Clearly, while Gustav may have been an oddity, he became vital to the Queen and her family.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1883)

     General Dumas should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever read the Three Musketeers or the Man in the Iron Mask ( or seen the film versions). Born in St Domingue to a white Nobleman (Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and his enslaved mistress (Marie-Cessette Dumas), the father did the right thing and shipped Dumas to France, where slavery had been illegal since 1315 CE, thus setting his son free. He also helped his son enter the military. Dumas was one of 2 men of colour to have high military ranking in Europe until the 1970s. He was a major pivotal figure in the French Revolutionary Wars. He married a white French woman and had a son, Alexandre Dumas (aka Dumas-Pére), who wrote the Three Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask, etc. Dumas-fils (his grandson) was a well-known playwright. Dumas-fils’s illegitimate half brother, Henry Bauër was also involved in Theatre at this same time, as a critic. So yes, this is someone who’s never been portrayed in any film or television show about Napoleon, which is oddly weird considering how many battles this man won for Napoleon. Sidenote, “enslaved mistress” seems to convey consent where most scholars agree that consent is never given when a person is a slave. While I use the term “enslaed mistress”, it is under extreme distaste and only being used as many historical sources (published sources) list her in this pseduo state of consent while being enslaved.

Петровское. Бюст А.П. Ганнибала.jpg

Bust of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, located in Petrovskoe, Russia.

     Like Guztav, Abram was gifted to Peter the Great as a gift. There has always been a trend of “gifting” slaves to royalty and the aristocracy, but as in the case of Guztav, the “gifting” meant freedom. The Tsar freed Abram, educated him, and bestowed on Abram the status of Godson. Such a status not only made him important in the eyes of the Court, but made him a Peer of the Realm. This man was Dumas’ counterpart. He was a military engineer and General in the Russian Army. He trained in France and fought on behalf of France in the 1720s. Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, considered Abram to be a member of her family, placing him in a position of power. Elizabeth put him in charge of a large Estate in Estonia, which was one of the wealthier private Estates of the Tsars. Abram was married twice-once to a Greek woman (who proved to be unfaithful) and married (secretly while still married to wife #1) a woman of Swedish and Germanic noble descent. His oldest son, Ivan, became a well-known Naval Officer who helped found the city of Kherson and who himself attained the second-highest military ranking in Russia. When his first wife was forced to join a convent, the second marriage was considered valid and legal. Author and Poet Alexander Puskin is his great-grandson. Other descendants of this man include Natalia Grosvenor (Duchess of Westminster), Alexandra Hamilton (Duchess of Abercorn), George Mountbatten (4th Marquess of Milford Haven & cousin to QEII). Yet not many people want to learn about this man. And he’s never shown in any documentary of film about Peter the Great.

Dido Elizabeth Belle - Wikipedia

Dido Elizabeth Belle (cropped from a larger portrait by David Martin)

Dido Elizabeth Belle has become a more well-known woman of colour in recent years due to a new interpretation of the David Martin portrait of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The film Belle (2013) is an exercise in trying to tell her story but also explain slavery during this time in English History. This is what we do know: her father was Sir John Lindsay (he passed in 1788) and her mother was a slave Maria Belle. Dido was technically born into slavery in 1761. She was brought to live with William Murray, her great-uncle, in 1765. Her father let her to be educated as a free person. Very little is known about her life, except she was educated and even though treated as a member of the family, was still technically a slave in the eyes of British Law. She lived with her great-uncle 31 years, and seemed to take on the role of a secretary according to observations by Thomas Hutchinson (former governor of Massachusetts) and in the second volume of James Beattie’s Elements  of Moral Science. For now, these are the only contemporary insights we have into Dido’s daily life and existence. William Murray seemingly ruled against slavery in 1772. Dido married Frenchman John Danvinier in 1793. She was left money by her father, her great-uncle (who also confirmed her freedom in his will) and by his wife, her great aunt. She died in 1805 at the age of 43 and her last decedent died in 1975. While not much is known, the mere fact we do have a film about this person clearly shows that people of colour existed in England prior to the 20th Century.

There is another person, or two, or three, I wish to include in this posting. Yet I feel that because these people were influential and important, they each deserve their own write up and not to be included with the ones I have listed here. I did consider making a post just about the Dumas’, and may yet do so.

Hysterics & Hysterical: Why I dislike the words

As many of you should know by now, I have a penchant for the 19th Century. While I tend to focus on the late Georgian/Regency Era for my writing (and where the bulk of my research is, to be honest), that doesn’t mean I haven’t researched outside of the Regency period. The entire 19th Century is an amazing span of years to look at for any historian. We go from horse drawn carriages to steam locomotives and gas lighting inside the homes. We also go from paintings and drawings of people to photography. It’s an incredible century to look at and do any kind of research into. Yes, it can get overwhelming at times, which is why people tend to focus on certain areas or time periods within the century because it can be too much. So this brings me to a sort of affinity I have which is about female hysteria.

via Pinterest

Hysteria was a female malady that was still a term used in American medicine until the early 1950s. Symptoms included anxiety, loss of appetite, increased appetite. shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire, lack of sexual desire, insomnia, water weight, irritability, or as women know it as-HORMONES. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for Uterus, and many ancients (men) considered the uterus a “wandering womb” and hysteria was a result of this. Proof that men have never understood female anatomy. From the 11th Century to the 16th (roughly) it was called melancholy and most thought it appeared as a result of demonic possession.

 

Hippocrates (far right) recommending Marriage as a cure for female wandering womb (courtesy of University of Texas)

In the 16th & 17th Centuries, men dismissed the whole demonic possession for the uterus must be retaining fluid. They believed the uterus must expel the excess fluid. How? Well, they weren’t sure how to but left it to midwives to deal with. Though Physician Abraham Zacuto in his Praxis Medica Admiranda from 1637 recommends marriage and vigorous intercourse with the husband as a cure-all for this situation. Again, men only see marriage and sex as a cure for something that they don’t understand. The 18th Century gave us enlightenment and men started to see hysteria as a neurological disorder rather than a physical one. It didn’t last long.

via Pinterest

The 19th Century saw a reversal of the neurological thinking and again put hysteria to blame on a woman’s uterus. However, this led to a very interesting solution by male doctors-intimate massages to alleviate the symptoms. Men suffering from cramped hands then turned to science for an easier solution. Hence, the vibrator was born to hep alleviate a woman’s hysteria effectively and quickly. But what is important to note that hysteria was only considered a white woman’s disease. Women of color exhibiting these same symptoms were often regulated to insane asylums, or just thought to be lazy or stupid. Hysteria was seen as a consequence of too much civilization, which was clearly meant to exclude women of color because they were never civilized enough. For an era that many consider prudish (the Victorian Era), they were obsessed with sex and sexual gratification but only as it applies to white people. I should mention that with the advent of photography, erotica became an overnight seller (yes, naughty pictures of prostitutes was a big seller in those days).

via Pinterest

Now, while all of this is interesting, and it is, why then do I dislike the terms hysteria and hysterical? Mainly because it is a term used primarily by men to dismiss a woman’s feelings or even thoughts on any subject by equating them with their emotions and uterus. Hysteria is intimately connected with the female reproductive organs that I cringe whenever any woman  is deemed hysterical, even in films and television because I truly feel women are being seen as less than a person and only as a sexual organ. After all, a hysterectomy is the removal of a uterus and is while the ovaries are not always removed, the actual uterus is (ovaries are sometimes left because HORMONES). Now, no where is there a male equivalent term to hysterical. I suggest vasectical since a vasectomy deals with the male reproductive organ.  So when a man is being overly brisk, overly overbearing, I do think we should be allowed to call him vasectical because he’s clearly only the sum of his reproductive organs if we are called hysterical.

via Pinterest

So while I acknowledge the history of the words hysteria and hysterical, I do not like them being used to describe any woman in today’s society. We are more than just a uterus. We have rational feelings and thoughts. While I understand that the word may be used in writing a pre-1950s novel, it doesn’t have to be used. Too many politicians are making laws regarding women’s bodies and whenever any woman objects, she is labeled as “hysterical.” She is being labeled as nothing more than a uterus, which is the very law she is trying to protest. It’s important to understand the origins of such words because they often have a derogatory meaning and are very unpleasant for people to be labeled as.

Vasectical: the male equivalent of hysteria

More Information on Hysteria:

Grant Shreve “The Radicalized History of Hysteria”. JSTOR Daily, September 20, 2017.

Hysteria Beyond Freud (1993).

Matt Simon “Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs” Wired Magazine, 2014.

Rachael Maines’s book The Technology of Orgasm (1999)

Book Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

Image result for waterloo by bernard cornwell

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.

Emma: Part 2 (1996 Film Adaptation)

There are actually two versions of Emma that were released in 1996-a film version and an ITV version. Part 2 will deal with the film version because it is probably more well known and most libraries should have a copy of it (or be able to get it in case anyone wishes to watch it).

Gwyenth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse. While this was a promotional shot for the film, she did wear this dress and shoes in the film. At least in the film she wore stockings, but the shoes are modern shoes and should have never been used for this promotional shot nor in the film. And she should be wearing stockings.

Now, this was a big budget ($7 Million US) adaptation put into works due to the success of Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, and Pride & Prejudice (all released in 1995). Douglas McGrath directed and adapted the novel, which is not an easy thing to do. I do feel, overall, he did a fairly decent job with the adaptation and directing. This is a short film (2 hrs) for quite a lengthy novel. Once ick factor we cannot get away from is this was produced by the Weinsteins (yes, those two disgusting examples of men). Yes, that may turn off some Austen fans, but the focus should be on the film itself, not the unfortunate connections it has.

I do like that it starts with the wedding of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston. While most women in Miss Taylor’s position would have historically gotten married in their best (remember, she is a governess/companion), I don’t mind the look of a wedding dress. Historically, Princess Caroline had a wedding dress so there were dresses made specifically for women who could afford them, but a majority of women (especailly the women in Austen’s life and as depicted in the novels) would have worn their best gown or had a new Sunday best gown made. Again, this is just a little historical fact and doesn’t take away from the lovely scene. I did enjoy Mr. Woodhouse’s obsession with no one eating the Wedding Cake, because that is straight from the novel and is a bit of fun.

Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton

One issue that I found weird is some of the hairstyles used for Emma seemed too tight (see image above). Some were much looser, with lovely curls that played to the actress’s features. The overly tight look I felt seemed out of place. I think they should have stuck with the looser, softer look throughout. Alan Cumming’s hair is curly and playful, which is completely at odds with his character. Mr. Cumming sparkles in any role he is in and I don’t care if he IS the awful Mr. Elton, I still love him! Ewan McGreagor’s long locks are a bit Lord Fauntleroy (basically, a long page boy look) and doesn’t work at all. Toni Collette is excellent as Harriet Smith. Jeremy Northam is Mr. Knightly and has very Mr. Darcy-esque hair, but it suits him. The cast, overall, is quite good. I don’t mind Gwyenth Paltrow as Emma, but I do think Toni Collette would have been an excellent choice for Emma as well. I actually would have cast Ms. Paltrow as Jane Fairfax because I think playing someone who has to constantly struggle with keeping their emotions in check would have been a very good challenge for her. But Hollywood doesn’t cast people for roles that may challenge them. They cast based on who is a bigger box office draw and in 1996, Gwyneth Paltrow would have been the bigger draw over Toni Collette. What I find very interesting is Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson’s mother, portrays Mrs. Bates. I just find it interesting because Ms. Thompson was in Sense & Sensibility. Sophie Thompson plays Miss Bates (so yes, a real life mother and daughter portray a mother and daughter on screen).

An example of the too tight hairstyle. It’s intricate, but does nothing for the actress’s face.

Emma & Harriet

One thing I did notice, which I found extremely distracting (because I would find it so) is I can tell when someone is wearing period undergarments or not. Clothes do hang and sit differently when the body is wearing modern undergarments versus period ones which creates the silhouette. Basically, you see the background people in them, but not the main actresses. One easy way to tell is simply the shape of their bust. Period corsets would push the bust up to create a shelf-like silhouette (especially if one was particularly blessed in that area). Women with smaller busts would still have a pushed up shelf silhouette. If it looks like they are wearing a modern bra, they probably are. If they are wearing a Victorian corset (which is a completely different look), not only is it the wrong corset, you can tell it’s the wrong silhouette (and yes, I have spotted a few of them in this film for the extras).

This should help anyone who needs a refresher course on what a Regency Silhouette for ladies looks like. So when I state I can tell, this is what I am referring to.

Costumes were designed by Ruth Meyers and she stated she decided to draw on the 1920s, specifically the looks of the flappers, (because she said there are many similarities between the two silhouettes) and decided to go for more of a watercolor look with pastels than “sepia”. If you are wondering, she was heavily criticized for being so inaccurate. As she should be because the two silhouettes are nothing alike. Light colors were used during this time, but not Easter egg colors because those dyes did not exist. She could have used, instead, various light prints to give the light and airy feel she wanted and also staying within the historical confines. The wedding dress Emma wears at the end was inspired by 1940s lace the designer fell in love with (again, lace in the 1940s would have different patterns from what was being used in the 1800s). This really boils down to two major factors: the ability to research and time. Based on her interviews and thought processes, it’s clear Ms. Meyers was overwhelmed and did not understand historical costuming. Not every Costume Designer is taught this. As a designer, I cannot do any flat patterning nor draping because I was not taught. Now, I would love to learn and she could have, once she received the script, contacted people who understood this period better or just understood historical costuming better. Now, to be fair, she was given five weeks to create 150 costumes. Considering the budget as $7 million US, they should have given her at least 3 months (that’s 12 weeks) to do the costumes for the principals and going through all the stock rooms of the BBC and costume shops in the UK.

An overview of the 1920s Flapper Silhouette: notice the dropped waistline.

Two Regency Gowns (1810s): notice the raised under-bust waistline.

Other inaccuracies in this film which are bothersome (script issues) is having Mr. Elton come up with the idea to have Harriet’s portrait done. In the novel, it’s Emma who suggests it. Also, she poses in a very Grecian costume when in the novel, she’s sitting down (basically, it’s just weird). The tent gazebo used for outdoor scenes is something I’ve never seen before in a period piece. I’m sure something similar did exist for the military, but would non-military people be using them? John and Isabella are barely seen and it’s actually sad. Miss Bates seems to be written to be completely stupid and she isn’t stupid. She’s a bit silly, but the script does the character no justice. Also, ladies would not go outside without bonnets. I don’t care if they are not wearing them, they should be carrying them at least. And the dresses are either form fitting at the bust or too loose I’m afraid of a wardrobe malfunction. Also, sandwiches at the strawberry hill picnic. I don’t think tea sandwiches existed at this time. Plus, modern shoes-just no.

The softer hairstyles suited the actress much better.

Points that I did like in this film (because I do try to find good things in all the adaptations). Harriet’s hair is always very soft and flattering, which I did like. Jane Fairfax (portrayed by Polly Walker) is dressed more simply and more elegantly than Emma and I do wonder if her outfits came from a stockroom because they appear more accurate and when the costumes from this film were put on display, many that were worn for the character of Jane Fairfax were not available for viewing (so it does make me think they were rented). The lighting used indoors was very well done. It can be tricky to make sure the lighting that is being used doesn’t detract from the candles used on set (you also don’t want too little lighting). I did find the “thoughts” of Emma amusing as well as her writing in her diary. It allowed us to hear a side of Emma no one else could. And I do like the contrast of brighter colors for Emma and Harriet with the duller colors of the Bates and the subdued colors of Jane Fairfax. Thought I did find it amusing how Mrs. Elton often dresses in similar colors to Emma (bright pastels). I don’t mind Emma doing archery (it seems like that would be something Knightly would have taught her).

Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill (and bad hair) with Emma and the really tight hair.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film and I did enjoy it. Now, would I purchase this? No. It has too many issues with the costumes and hairstyles that I find it frustrating to watch. But this is our first big budget version of Emma. Our second version is set to come out in Theaters in 2020. This newer version is to be directed by Autumn de Wilde with Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse and Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly. There is no other information available. Emma is again to be blonde and Mr. Knightly is very blond as well. Mr. Flynn is also portraying David Bowie in Stardust, which is a film not endorsed nor sanctioned by the David Bowie Estate nor his family. As someone who has loved Bowie all her life (since the tender age of 6), it’s a film I will not be seeing.  There’s also a version of Persuasion set to come out this year with the expected run time of 20 minutes (no, I am not kidding). And other version of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion is due to come out in 2020 except it takes place in NYC and deals with business (which sounds more along the lines of a Clueless adaptation-meaning very loose).

Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly.

Emma: Part 1 (1972 Adaptation)

Now I venture into the one novel of Jane Austen’s that, quite frankly, I’ve never really enjoyed. Emma was the last novel to be published in Austen’s lifetime (23 December 1815, but the first edition lists the novel as being published in 1816). Austen herself stated that this was a character which “no one but myself will much like.” I have read Emma several times and I do enjoy the witty way in which Austen writes the characters, the scenes of folly, the playful ways in which the characters do endear themselves to the reader, I just have never been as fond of this book as I have of her other works. Out of the six novels Jane Austen wrote, Emma ranks at the bottom for me in terms of personal preference. Perhaps it’s because I do not find myself as having much in common with a rich, spoiled pretty heroine who has everything whereas I’ve struggled all my life. This is the only time Austen wrote a character who basically has it all; all other main characters tend to be poor and, therefore, are more palatable. However, Emma is a fine novel and should be enjoyed for the fine writing. Even though it is not a personal favorite of mine doesn’t mean I don’t wish to see a decent adaptation of it.

Emma Woodhouse (Doran Goodwin)

The 1972 version is the first adaptation done by the BBC for a six-part miniseries. It was adapted by Denis Constanduros and he was extremely faithful to the novel. A few lines were added that were not in the novel, but they seemed to be in the spirit of the mini-series and fit the overall feel. Like the 1971 Persuasion, the indoor scenes are most likely are done on sound stages, so rooms will be not so accurate in terms of dimensions and sizes (but I did notice the rooms were more proportionate than they were in Persuasion). And like Persuasion, there is a difference in film quality between outdoor and indoor filming, but that cannot be helped. It does seem that a lot was gained from the filming of Persuasion in 1971 so when it came to filming this adaptation, much that may have been an issue previously (such as background colors and costumes, etc), were fixed.

An example of the lovely muted colors. The silhouette is most likely post 1815.

The background colors of the set pieces are much more muted, so the costumes of the actors and actresses stand out more, which works out better. Color television, we must  recall, is still a fairly new medium and what they think may work doesn’t always translate to the television set. The hairstyles of the men is still skewing slightly towards the Victorian, however it seems they are costuming this towards the later part of the 1810s (most likely after 1815), so some transitional hairstyles I don’t mind seeing.

Mrs. Goddard (Mollie Sugden).

Some of the stand out cast I must mention is Mollie Sugden (most famous from “Are You Being Served?”) portrays Mrs. Goddard. Instead of being a barely there character, she’s given a bit more presence, even being in scenes accompanying Harriet (which, when one thinks about it, she would be) as an appropriate adult. Plus it is nice to see her in a role looking fairly normal. Debbie Bowen portrays Harriet Smith and is very elfin looking. She is very dainty compared to the actress portraying Emma and very fair compared to Emma (it’s usually the other way in more recent adaptations). It gives the character an air of innocence.

Harriet Smith (Debbie Bowen) & Emma.

The costumes, for the most part, are fairly lovely and accurate for the most part. Emma’s dresses seem to date from after 1815. Some variation in the others seem to range from 1810-1815, which would be accurate for the time period as women would wear a gown until it wore out (it was cheaper and less expensive to alter a gown then have a new one made). One would expect Miss Bates, for example, to have a gown at least 5-10 years out of date, but perhaps altered to fit the newer silhouette (at this time, it meant the removal of excess fabric from the back). I didn’t quite understand the wearing of the mop caps (see image above), but since they wore them under the bonnets, I saw them as a way of protecting the hair from the inside of the hats. Women did wear mob caps indoors, though usually spinsters and the elderly ladies (besides married ones). But I can see younger ladies wearing them if they were protecting their hair from having been recently washed. It’s a minor point and not worth getting too up in arms about.

The pleating of this hat is divine.

I must commend the attention to detail for the pleating done on the inside of some of the hats used. The hat worn by Emma (see above) is simply divine! It frames her face perfectly and is in a nice, neutral shade to not overcome the natural coloring of the actresses’ face. Plus the draping of the feather is done so well! And while you cannot tell, she does wear hat pins! Hat pins are important as they keep the hat in place and women used them.

Emma & Miss Bates (Constance Chapman)

Other good historical accuracies used is they show servants wearing tings like caps, aprons, half boots, sensible sturdy clothes. Mr. Woodhouse is portrayed as being frail and with an unnatural love of gruel (which he does in the novel). Jane Fairfax is shown to be delicate and ethereal, which I like, but she is too delicate. There is a strength to that character for enduring all she does for as long as she does. Gifting someone a piano is very wrong and amounts to a declaration of a proposal of marriage. I’ve always hated that part of the novel (and Jane should have never accepted such a gift). Mrs. Weston’s pregnancy is mentioned (her condition) and is even shown at one point, but isn’t shown to be pregnant, which is weird. I do love how they show curls were achieved by tying them up with rags at night (when they show Harriet in bed ill). Dancing shown is lively, which I approve. And Mrs. Elton is sometimes portrayed as not being cruel, but perhaps trying too hard to fit in (or wanting to be liked).

Jane Fairfax (Ania Marson), Mr Knightly (John Carson) & Emma.

Some unusual choices made in this adaptation were the Dixons were removed as the Campbell’s in-laws (the daughter was gone) and the Dixons were mentioned as potential employers of Jane instead. Considering this was a six-part miniseries, I didn’t understand the reason for changing such a small, but vital part like that. Having a potential employer seen as sending you a piano is even more scandalous than the husband of your friend. It makes the thought of Dixon as Jane’s supposed lover even worse. The Box Hill incident, Emma is then seen apologizing to Miss Bates, which doesn’t exist in the novel. Now, I do agree Emma should apologize, but disagree that Miss Bates would then state Emma would have nothing to apologize for. Even though the costumes are nicer and moe accurate, hidden zipper plackets are seen. I am not being overly not picky on this, it’s just an FYI for people thinking that these are going to be completely accurate based on what I’ve said and then may complain that I didn’t mention the plackets. Well, I’ve mentioned them. As for the makeup, it’s light on some and heavier on others, which probably would have existed at that time, but I do question some of the color choices. Some of the colors used are too modern for that time period (they didn’t have too many choices in terms of lip colors, so to see some bordering on burgundy are a bit inauthentic to say the least).

Knightly is amused

Overall, for a first adaptation, this one does a really good job. By first, I do mean for a first adaptation that was preserved on film. There are 5 previous adaptations that were done on television. They were all done live from 1948-1960 in America and in the UK and there are no recordings available. While I did watch 4 adaptations for this next round of blog posts, I did not watch 1995’s Clueless nor 2010’s Aisha as they are both loosely based on the original novel and my purpose tis to watch versions and rate them on historical accuracy. There is apparently another film version expected out in 2020. No word on whether it will be a loose adaptation or a historical attempt.

Bring another bowl of gruel!

 

Northanger Abbey: Part 2 (The Nice One)

So, now that we’ve had a few days to deal with the weirdness that was the 1987 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, let us continue with the only other version available, the 2007 ITV version adapted by Andrew Davies. Unlike the 1987 one, this one starts off with Catherine Morland’s baptism, shows us her youth to age sixteen (and funnily enough, the clothing silhouette seen never changes, which makes is hard to distinguish the passage of time). The hair for Catherine was very romanticized in terms of style and leaned more towards the Edwardian than Regency (so, they tended to make her look more “romantic” than regency which suited the actress’ face, but was an unusual choice given this had a big budget and they could do a better job at a historically accurate hairstyle).

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and her Edwardian Hair.

Like the the previous version, they used Catherine’s imagination and had fun with scenes of wild scenes lifted from the novels she tended to read. Instead of Gothic scenes or Erotica, we got more swashbuckling adventure, which I thought was more appropriate and much more fun. The character, after all, is going to Bath on an adventure of her own so the parallel is meant to be obvious. The casting was done very well for this adaptation and everyone involved seemed to understand their parts, which is always a good thing. Sylvestra Le Touzel was lovely as Mrs. Allen and is no stranger to Austen adaptations as she was Fanny Price in a 1983 version of Mansfield Park (it’s always lovely to see actors from one adaptation show up in another). Davies, of course, does still keep some sexual innuendos in (he is famous for adapting the 1995 Pride and Prejudice version with Colin Firth we all love), so it should come to no shock that the character of John Thorpe makes a comment that Catherine is a “peach ripe for the plucking” when he first sees her. I don’t mind the statement because it shows the baseness of the character (yes, sex can be used in Austen is done correctly and with finesse).

JJ Fileds as Henry Tilney. He understands Muslin.

What this version has that the previous one didn’t is JJ Fields. He sparkles with immense wit and a great amount of humor as Henry Tilney. I’ve always thought the character of Henry Tilney as being Austen’s best male flirt she ever wrote and finally, to see it portrayed this way was very gratifying. He’s charming, but obnoxiously funny at the same time that you cannot take his flirtation at all seriously. For me, he is the perfect Henry Tilney and while I would love to see more versions of this novel in my lifetime, I feel bad for anyone that has to compete with this portrayal.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe.

I did not mind Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe. I think she did a decent job as the conniving Isabella, but she didn’t quite have the evil, sinister quality that the 1987 version had. The Thorpe siblings in the novel, as they were portrayed in the weird 1987 version, are sinister, manipulative, and are just plain evil. They are greedy and feel the only way to have money is to marry into it. It would have been nice to see some of this in her performance as well as in the brother’s. Though this version does give us a glimpse into how far she was willing to go with Captain Tilney in order to try and marry into wealth (apparently willing to lose her innocence and bed the man), only to find out he was only using her as she was trying to use him.

Isabella’s downfall.

Like the 1987 version, I am confused as to what year this takes place. At one point, Isabella mentions Lord Byron and insinuates how awful he is (hints of his incestuous relationship with his sister Augusta are rumored to have occurred around 1814). So, this may be taken place in 1817, when it was published or thereabouts. So, the dresses do fit the fashions of the time frame if that is the case. The hair, sometimes yes and sometimes no. For the most part, yes the hair for most of the ladies is still very Regency and fits. Catherine, as I have stated before, tends to be more Edwardian inspired, though sometimes it leans back towards the Regency.

Northanger Abbey. Again, we go with a Castle and a Moat. General Tilney (Liam Cunningham)

One main issue I have with both versions is the depiction of Northanger Abbey. In the novel, it’s described as a house, not even Gothic in nature (meaning, it’s not a castle, it has no Gothic architecture), but a respectable, Georgian Manor House. Not a castle, no moat, just a house. For once, it would be pleasant to have an adaptation actually be accurate in this description. And, in the novel, we visit Henry’s parsonage. We never visit his home in either adaptation. It’s sad because this is his home, the place he lives and where he’s brought Catherine, his sister and his father to visit one day. Another is the need to have a scene of young ladies in their undergarments. Since the undergarments are never 100% accurate, please desist in showing us this. Actually, if you show is this, then I demand you show us what the men are wearing as well (basically, have a similar scene showing the men with their undergarments-hint, they didn’t wear much if any). In other words, stop sexualizing Austen the wrong way. Also, clichéd rainy day almost kiss scenes need to stop in period films or adaptations. Just….no.

Now, things that were good, they showed a young boy still in a dress (and yes, he would have been in a dress until he was breeched). Excellent use of lighting and candles (no fire hazards that I could see). And I did appreciate the overall color schemes that were used-light and pale for the most part with a few bright colors now and again. Keep in mind that vivid colors weren’t like our vivid colors today. Colors were rich, but not necessarily bright. And the use of prints (both large and small) helped create texture. I did wish for more background variety, like servants and did notice (again) the lack of naval men in Bath. It wouldn’t be that hard to have extra dressed in naval uniforms to give a more authentic feel to Bath.

1987’s Version

So, it may surprise you but I actually do recommend the 1987 version but with this warning: don’t expect it to be accurate or faithful to the novel. As a first attempt, it’s weird, but in it’s own way, a bit enjoyable. It’s more of a Gothic film with bit’s of Austen thrown in than anything else. I feel it’s more of a fun Halloween film to enjoy after watching Vincent Price in Fall of the House of Usher and before Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. It sort of fills that middle ground between both of those films.

2007’s Version

For me, hands down I highly recommend the 2007 version if you are looking for an adaptation that’s accurate to the novel (for the most part), enjoyable, and just fun to watch. I would definitely state it should be added to anyone’s DVD library. Plus, he understands MUSLIN! Do you not comprehend the significance of this?!

Correction: I had wrongly stated in the novel by Austen, the home is not described as being Gothic. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, that notion bothered me because why would two adaptations set it in a castle if Jane Austen herself did not indicate something of the sort? So, instead of correcting the original mistake, I opted to write in a correction to show that anyone, even those of us who read and are entrenched in her works make errors. Yes, in the novel Austen makes mention of the Abbey as being Gothic in the courtyard (or having Gothic elements). This could mean anything from some use of re-purposed stonework from an actual Abbey or Monastery, or ruins of an Abbey that are close enough to this home. In the book Jane Austen’s Country Life, author Deidre Le Faye points out that the boarding school Jane and Cassandra attended for two years (Mrs. Latournelle’s in Reading) was also called the Abbey School because the building was adjacent to an abbey gateway of an old Medieval abbey. This gateway would have Gothic elements and perhaps was inspiration for the similar elements being described by Austen herself in Northanger Abbey.

Abbey Gate at Reading. I believe the building to the right has replaced the older, 18th Century building that was the Abbey School.

I have often thought of the house in Northanger Abbey as looking more like a Tudor Manor House. Not quite Gothic in terms of architecture, but these homes still did have the old arched windows, were made of stone, and did look very grand as some did look like miniature castles or forts. Just as as large as the ones used in either adaptation.

I sort of think this is more like how Northanger Abbey should look. Sadly, this place has been abandoned. But do notice the arch entrance way and the windows do seem to have some curvature to them. I did try and find the name of it and could not. Si triste!

This is Dorney Court, located near Windsor Castle. I have often thought it would be a splendid Northanger Abbey as well.  (dorneycourt.co.uk is the official website and the pictures of this place are spectacular).

Edmondsham House (located in Wimborne, Dorset) is a Tudor Manor House that was updated with elements during the Georgian Era. I saw this place online over ten years ago and immediately thought it was perfect for Northanger Abbey. There’s a 12the Century Church located nearby as well, so definitely has some Gothic vibes!

I do hope everyone has at least enjoyed the few homes that I do believe still fit in the whole grand feeling of what Northanger Abbey should feel without it being an actual castle. Please do remember, this is just my personal opinion. Some may like the use of castles because it mimics the Gothic novels of Romance of the Forest (Radcliffe) and Castle of Otranto (Walpole).

Persuasion Adaptations: Part 2

Persuasion, as a novel, is unique in that it is Austen’s last complete novel. It was published after her death and what we read is the second draft (yes, there is a first draft of this tale, called ‘The Elliots”) so there is a sense that the novel we read is not quite finished/polished. The title was given by Austen’s brother when he decided to publish Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death. And this may account for the lack of adaptations because it is difficult to adapt a novel that does, at times, feel a bit lacking in certain areas (particularly when it comes to the feelings or actions of Anne Elliot). However, this is Part 2 of a thee part series and we’ve now come to the 1995 Adaptation.

Nick Dear wrote the screenplay for the 1995 version, which was a BBC/Masterpiece conjoined venture. Additional funding from France and Mobil gave it a very large budget and instead of doing a five or six part miniseries, they opted to do a film version. This is where it becomes a bit unusual because this version did air on BBC and PBS in 1995, but was also then released in theaters as an art film (independent film) in the fall of that year as well. This adaptation has the unusual distinction of being the only feature length film version of Persuasion we have, even though it may not have been meant to be a film initially, it became one in the end. So, when I view this particular version, I do tend to label it as a film and not a television version given the bigger budget and how it comes together. It’s by far short at being a little over two hours, but flows nicely which works as an independent film. It was not as popular nor as advertised as 1995’s Sense & Sensibility film version, yet this film holds up just as well with it’s smaller budget and excellent RSC cast. This is likely the first version any Austen fan came across for this particular novel.

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Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Firstly, I do love the way this film opens. It does a superb job of showing you precisely what time frame we are in by showing us Naval men getting together on a ship and being told that Napoleon has abdicated. It’s our first introduction to the officers and it’s the first glimpse we have into the post-war world we will now find ourselves in. I do love Corin Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot. He positively shines as baronet obsessed with status and vanity. Mrs. Clay is plain and dowdy, but her looks (in terms of clothing) improve in Bath, which I do appreciate. Elizabeth is pretty but not overly so and looks to be around the same age as Anne. Mary, while mean to be younger, also looks to be around the same age as Anne, which I don’t mind. Having the Elliot siblings at least look closer in age doesn’t bother me as much as having Anne look much older than the other two. Anne looks tired, which I accept as her looks do progressively improve as the film enters into Bath. Susan Fleetwood, who portrays Lady Russell, sparkles as her character and I am sad to say she died in 1995, so this is her last film role. Every actor was cast exceptionally well and fits the role. Even the Miss Musgroves fit and they come across as annoying at times.

What I most love is the casting of the Crofts. While they do not have a major part in the novel, I buy that this couple cares deeply for Wentworth. I sense a familial connection between Sophia and Frederick. They act like siblings in public. That emotional connection which I found missing in the 1971 version is present in this one. And the Misgroves were cast very well as they come off as boisterous, loud, and full of life. Qualities which they didn’t quite capture in 1971, but are on full display here.

The Crofts. Truly Adorable.

Because this was filmed differently, there is much more on location and attention to using existing houses and homes, which is nice to see. Interior shots look like they were done in in some of these existing homes or in very detailed sets. One must consider that film quality has vastly improved since the 1970s as has camera quality, which will make a difference. More subtle use of natural lightening and also what I believe to be gray or tonal gels used to give the impression of overcast skies at times I actually don’t mind. The novel is meant to take place over the course of a late summer 1814 into Autumn and then end in Winter 1815. Much of the novel was cut due to time, but major points or scenes were kept such as Walter’s falling out of the tree, the walk to Uppercross, etc. Cutting of little scenes, while they are lovely in the novel, don’t necessarily translate well to a film. To a miniseries, yes, those generally are kept but since the intention was to go for more of a film feel, those scenes need to be cut.

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Sir Walter, Lady Russell, Elizabeth, Anne, and Mrs. Clay meeting Lady Dalrymple!

One thing cannot be stressed enough is that the costumes were exceptionally well done. The trousers (see Sir Walter above) are not only period correct, but of the right length to showcase those lovely legs encased in stockings! Alexandra Bryne did the Costume Design and won an award for it. She completely deserved it, in my humble opinion. The use of different textures, such as velvets, silks, jacquards, cottons, laces, and prints to give each character (from main characters to even servants) a story is the ultimate goal of any costume designer. Dresses and other garments also looked worn in places and comfortable, as they should look. No one should be donning a costume that looks so uncomfortable and stiff that it inhibits their acting style. Which brings us to the subject of the naval uniforms. Now, some critics then and now do not like seeing Wentworth, Admiral Croft, or any of the Naval men in uniform in this adaptation.  I have done a considerable amount of research and while it was frowned upon in France for me to wear their uniform after the War, be aware that they lost. In England, these men (both Navy and Army) were the victors-the heroes. I cannot think of a reason why they would not wear their uniforms to formal dinners. And for a Navy man to not wear his uniform in Bath? When Lord Nelson was that city’s favorite son? It doesn’t seem logical to not see men about in uniform after a major victory in a town that was all about the Navy at that time. So, for me, it is historically accurate to see Wentworth, Croft, Harville, Benwick and other naval men in their uniforms. I would have even liked to see an Army man or two in uniform to be honest. These men were heroes and would have been hailed as such. I do think critics lack the capability to do basic historical research at times.

Lady Dalrymple, Viscountess. Notice her makeup! Glorious!

One item I do not like is the lack of makeup on the women. Makeup was available. Lady Russell is seen wearing a little bit and I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to that end for all the women involved. I saw more attempts for historical accuracy for the extras in terms of makeup than for the main characters (though Lady Dalrymple has a goodly amount). We must stop this mindset that women no longer wore makeup after the French Revolution because it’s simply not true. The style of makeup changed, but it was still worn. I do like the different hairstyles, which is a plus. Some have complained about the short hair on Mrs. Croft and Lady Russell. Historically, women did have short hair at this time. Many of these women wore turbans. Guess who wears turbans in the films?

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A la Titus from Costume Parisienne circa 18008-1810 (I believe)

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Lady Russell in a divine Scotch Turban.

I also appreciate that this is the only adaptation to portray Mrs. Smith (Anne Elliot’s schoolfriend) as an actual invalid. Most tend to portray her as a down-on-her-luck widow, which she is. However, her maiden name is Emma Hamilton. Any student of history who knows even a smidgen of Lord Nelson knows Lady Emma Hamilton was the lover of Lord Nelson, gave birth to his illegitimate daughter, and didn’t have a good ending (alcoholism in Calais). So, I have always wished for her to look ill and someone who should be residing in Westgate Buildings. Westgate Buildings were located near the Doctors and the Baths for a reason as the residents in these buildings were invalids. The rooms should be sparse and hold a minimum of comfort. Everything wasn’t all lovely and refinement back then.

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Anne visiting Mrs. Emma Smith and Nurse Rooke in Westgate. Emma looks ill.

Other minor details which tickle my fancy that are historically accurate and are just nice touches: dancing is seen as lively, engaging and exuberant. Beer is seen served in the daytime (beer was drunk for Breakfast). You see people processing fish in Lyme (and it’s messy!). Eyebrows on women are not pencil (accurate) and being in a carriage doesn’t always look comfortable. On the other hand, things which I found annoying are Louisa’s lack of controlling her hair. Changing Charles Hayter (the cousin engaged to Henrietta) to Henry Hayter and he’s barely in it. At least have him walk Henrietta home from Winthrop (more screen time for the poor chap). The Charles Musgrove children are always depicted as being much older than they should be. If Mary is 22 at the oldest, she’s been married either 4 years (so her boys are 3 and 2) or has been married as long as 6 years (so 5 & 4). Yes, that would mean she was either 18 or 16 when she married Charles (the boys are routinely depicted as being at least 7 or 8).

A few issues that annoy some people, though not me is having Anne become a bit more self-assured when she comes to Bath and standing up to her father. Remember, Austen never polished this novel because she died young, so having Anne stand up to her father and see Mrs. Smith over the Dalrymples verbally, while not in the book, is what she does. She does chose to defy her father’s wishes and see her friend, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to have her say “No”. And as for the scene where Wentworth is discharging a request made by his Admiral, some critics have stated this scene is from the infamous first draft of the novel, but is missing from the second (which is the version that was published). I’ve never read the first draft so cannot confirm this theory, but if that is true, it may have been a scene Austen was debating on whether she should include it or not. The last issue people have is the kiss. For all the silly reasons to be upset, a kiss is the least of their concerns. Yes, historically, women did not kiss in public as it was not proper yet there are many first hand letters and accounts from people available online to read that describe engaged couples kissing in public at this time. People in love will behave in a certain way and this has been true for ages. It’s not that unbelievable to see Anne and Frederick sharing a kiss to cement their mutual understanding. This is a love story, after all, or a couple that has been apart, but in love with each other for 8 years. That is an incredibly long time to wait for a kiss.

So, is this adaption perfect? By no means it isn’t! It is enjoyable, short (which is nice if you don’t want to sit through a long miniseries), and is simply lovely. It also has the added distinction of being the only film version we have, which is a great pity. For a novel that ranks higher than Emma, it has less film and TV adaptations to it’s name. I would love to see a bigger budget, closer to three hour film version. This novel deserves it. We as Jane Austen fans deserve it. For now, I guess we’ll settle for a nice, quiet gravel walk…

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