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Posts Tagged ‘Kate Beckinsale’

Gentle readers, Recently I had the pleasure of watching Cold Comfort Farm, a film adaptation of the comic 1932 novel by Stella Gibbons.  In 1995, Kate Beckinsale played the delightful Flora Poste, the girl who likes to organize things and tidy up. Kate also portrayed Emma Woodhouse at this time, before she turned Hollywood glam and began to play a vampire.

"I want to be a writer. I've so much in common with Jane Austen."

I find all of Cold Comfort Farm enchanting, but as a Jane Austen fan I naturally gravitated towards the conversation between Flora and her friend Mary Smiling (played by Joanna Lumley), who tells her young, recently orphaned friend that with an income of only 100 pounds per year she must find employment.

Mary Smiling's reaction to Flora's announcement is priceless.

Flora, who lived a life of luxury and was gently bred, counters with the thought that she would like to become a novelist much in the mold of Jane Austen. All she really needs is a few more years of observing life and she could write a novel as good as Persuasion.  After accepting the invitation to live with distant relatives – the Starkadders who have always lived at Cold Comfort Farm – Flora begins to write her novel on the train.

"It was winter ...."

With ‘gems’  like these, do you think she will ever realize her dream of becoming the 20th century answer to Jane Austen?

“It was winter, the grimmest day of the darkest hour of the year…”

“The golden orb had almost disappeared behind the interlacing fingers of the hawthorne…”

Flora arrives at her destination immersed in her writing.

“The man’s huge body, rude as a wind-tortured thorn, was printed dark against the flame of sand that..that throbbed..that throbbed on the tip of …”

One of my favorite quotes from the film is by Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who’s often repeated phrase – “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” – casts a pall over the entire Starkadder clan and is the theme of the movie. Can you remember other pearls of wisdom from this fine film/novel?

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Tea is always served by the host/hostess or a friend, never by servants. Tea is never poured out, then passed several cups at a time, the way coffee may be, because it cools very quickly. Instead, it is always taken by the guest directly from the hands of the pourer.” – Etiquette Scholar

The ceremony of making tea is almost always included in costume dramas like Downton Abbey or a Jane Austen film, such as Emma. When Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham invited her daughter-in-law, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), to the Dower House for tea in Downton Abbey, the arranged time was most likely at four o’clock in the afternoon.

 

Cora and the Dowager Countess sit down to tea

In one particular scene, the two women entered the drawing room in which a small table had been laid out with an elaborate tea set, fine china, and silver spoons. An assortment of tiny sandwiches, cookies, and scones were arranged upon a beautiful batttenburg lace tablecloth that covered the table. Low tea (an Edwardian dowager would never have said high tea) was meant to blunt the appetite before dinner.

The duchess pours boiling water over the tea leaves in the tea pot

A tea ceremony provided an intimate setting between the hostess and her guests, for it was the hostess who prepared and served the tea, catering to each guest and handing them their custom-prepared tea one cup at a time. In this time honored ritual, one of the most important questions the dowager would ask was: “Would you care for weak tea or strong tea?” Cora’s preference would guide the Countess in the next stage of tea preparation, for if she said “strong tea,” then the Dowager would pour the tea as she had prepared it into Cora’s cup. Had Cora said “weak tea”, the Countess would pour a smaller quantitiy of the brew into the china cup, then top it off with hot water.

Cora eats a crustless sandwich as her mother-in-law prepares the tea

The Dowager would then ask her guest how much milk and sugar to add. She would have poured boiling water over the tea leaves in a tea pot, and steeped the leaves for three minutes, all the while conversing with her guests. At this point the water was no longer boiling. Then the Countess would pour in the milk. (If she poured it in first, she would have found it difficult to judge the strength of the tea by its color.) Hudson, the butler in Upstairs, Downstairs, said about pouring milk into tea: “Those of us downstairs put the milk in first, while those upstairs put the milk in last.”

In this instance, the Dowager leaves her guest in the middle of serving tea, a faux pas

History of Low Tea

On September 25, 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded: “did send for a cupp of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before.” By June 1667, tea was considered to be a healthy drink. One day Pepys arrived home to find his wife making tea, which his apothecary had found good for her cold.

Emma, 1996 (with Kate Beckinsale). Emma and Harriet drink tea during Mrs. Elton's first visit

Samuel Johnson was a self-described “hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has, for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea muses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning.” His chronicler James Boswell observed that “It was perfectly normal for him to drink sixteen cups in very quick succession, and I suppose no person ever enjoyed with more relisht the infusion of that fragrant leaf than did Johnson.”

Silver tea set by Odiot, Paris, circa 1880. Image @A.Pash and Sons, Mayfair

Until the 1760’s, only the rich could afford teapots, which were made of silver. Then in 1765 Queen Charlotte commissioned Josiah Wedgwood to create a tea service made from his quality cream colored earthenware, which he named Queen’s Ware (with the Queen’s permission, of course) and gave to her as a gift. From that moment on he was the Queen’s potter. Wedgwood’s creamware was thin, attractive and durable. After receiving the Queen’s patronage, his firm became quite famous. The attractive new tableware quickly became popular, and by 1775 other manufacturers, including those on the Continent, had widely copied Wedgwood, imitating Queensware and creating increasingly fanciful teapots. It is said that this tableware was instrumental in spreading the popularity of tea.

Wedgwood Queensware, c. 1790. Image @Christies

In 1840, the Duchess of Bedford began serving tea with refreshments in the afternoon to appease her appetite before dinner, and the custom of afternoon tea, or low tea, took off. To read more about drinking tea between the 18th and mid-19th centuries, read my post about Tea in the Regency Era.

Some interesting facts about tea:

  • Notice, this is a change: The difference between high tea and low tea: Low, or afternoon, tea is served at four o’clock with light snacks, such as sandwiches, cookies, and scones. High tea is a full meal served with tea, including meat, bread, side dishes and dessert on a table of regular height. Hence high tea.

16th century tea bowl, Korea

  • Tea cups at first were fashioned after Chinese bowls without handles or saucers. In the mid 1750-s, a handle was added to prevent ladies from burning their fingers.
  • A saucer was once a small dish for sauce. During the Dowager Countess’s day, it was acceptable to pour tea into a cup’s saucer to cool the beverage before drinking it.
  • In the late 17th century, a lady would lay her spoon across the top of her cup to signal that she was through drinking. Other signals included turning the cup upside down, or tapping the spoon against the side of the cup.
  • Filling the cup with tea almost to the rim is considered a faux pas.

"Might I give you this cup?" The Dowager hands her tea to Moseley while visiting Matthew Crawley.

Sources:

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Miss Emma Woodhouse was a bright, articulate, privileged and beautiful young lady who possessed an unswerving sense of her lofty position in Highbury society. To some, Gwynneth Paltrow, an equally privileged woman in real life, was perfect for the role. For me, Kate Beckinsale (A&E Emma) and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) are unbeatable as Jane Austen’s favorite heroine. With PBS’s recent showing of Emma 2009, many are coming to prefer Romola Garai’s more vivacious interpretation. (Read my review here.) Regardless of which actress portrays Emma, class distinctions play a pivotal role in the plot . Today I present to you (largely in Jane Austen’s own words) the reasons why so much ado was made over who could marry whom and why a very young, single woman was given the best seat at Highbury’s tables.

Mr. Elton was presumptuous in courting Emma:

Mr. Elton’s wanting to pay his addresses to her had sunk him in her opinion. His professions and his proposals did him no service. She thought nothing of his attachment, and was insulted by his hopes. He wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her, pretended to be in love; but she was perfectly easy as to his not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for. There had been no real affection either in his language or manners. Sighs and fine words had been given in abundance; but she could hardly devise any set of expressions, or fancy any tone of voice, less allied with real love. She need not trouble herself to pity him. He only wanted to aggrandise and enrich himself; and if Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, the heiress of thirty thousand pounds, were not quite so easily obtained as he had fancied, he would soon try for Miss Somebody else with twenty, or with ten…”

Mr Elton presumes to sit between Emma and Mrs. Weston

Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family–and that the Eltons were nobody. The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but their fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself, in every other kind of consequence; and the Woodhouses had long held a high place in the consideration of the neighbourhood which Mr. Elton had first entered not two years ago, to make his way as he could, without any alliances but in trade, or any thing to recommend him to notice but his situation and his civility. – Chapter 16


Donwell Abbey

When a woman married, she took on her husband’s status. Therefore it would have made no sense for Emma to have come down in the world and married Mr. Elton, a mere vicar. For marriage material, she (and her sister) would have naturally looked towards the Knightley brothers.  Be that as it may, Emma thought of Mr Elton as “quite the gentleman himself, and without low connections; at the same time not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet. He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property;” (I, Ch.4, p.33)  After Emma’s unceremonious rejection of his suit, Mr. Elton left Highbury in a dudgeon and wound up marrying well, for his bride came with £10,000.

The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away—he had gained a woman of 10,000, or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity—the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious—the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green’s, and the party at Mrs. Brown’s—smiles and blushes rising in importance—with consciousness and agitation richly scattered—the lady had been so easily impressed—so sweetly disposed—had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.

Mr and Mrs Elton on Box Hill Emma 2009

Blake Ritson and Christina Cole as Mr and Mrs. Elton

Mr. Elton provided his wife with a respectable home and living. Augusta’s mistake was in thinking that through her marriage, she belonged to the same echelon of society as Emma. In Emma’s estimation:

[Mrs. Elton] was good enough for Mr. Elton, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury—handsome enough—to look plain, probably, by Harriet’s side. As to connection, there Emma was perfectly easy; persuaded, that after all his own vaunted claims and disdain of Harriet, he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. What she was, must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out; and setting aside the 10,000l., it did not appear that she was at all Harriet’s superior. She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol-merchant, of course, he must be called; but, as the whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, it was not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been very moderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; but Bristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father and mother had died some years ago, an uncle remained—in the law line—nothing more distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the law line; and with him the daughter had lived. Emma guessed him to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of the connection seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was very well married, to a gentleman in a great way, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was the wind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Hawkins.

Hartfield

The Coles, who made their living from trade, did not move in the same circles as Emma, but many of the people she associated with felt comfortable visiting the Coles, including the Westons and Mr. Knightley:

The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people–friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means– the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared every body for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place. The regular and best families Emma could hardly suppose they would presume to invite– neither Donwell, nor Hartfield, nor Randalls. Nothing should tempt her to go, if they did; and she regretted that her father’s known habits would be giving her refusal less meaning than she could wish. The Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them. This lesson, she very much feared, they would receive only from herself; she had little hope of Mr. Knightley, none of Mr. Weston.

But she had made up her mind how to meet this presumption so many weeks before it appeared, that when the insult came at last, it found her very differently affected. Donwell and Randalls had received their invitation, and none had come for her father and herself.

Mr. Robert Martin, yeoman farmer, made a comfortable living, but he had no social standing to speak of, at least not in Emma’s eyes:

Jefferson Hall as Robert Martin

There was no reason for Emma to associate with a young yeoman farmer and she was not expected to acknowledge him when they met in public, for they had not formally met. And he would not presume to speak to her until he received a proper  introduction.  This conversation between Emma and Harriet explains Emma’s attitude towards Mr. Martin:

Harriet: But, did you never see him? He is in Highbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through every week in his way to Kingston. He has passed you very often.”

Emma: “That may be—and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.”

The success of tradesmen and farmers meant the class distinctions were beginning to blur at this time: “Mr. Martin is not, in fact, a mere tenant “farmer” but a prosperous yeoman – an excellent catch for the portionless Harriet Smith.” (- Cathleen Meyers, Emma). In fact, Harriet recalls her two months with the Martins with fondness:

… she had spent two very happy months with [the Martins], and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place … of Mrs. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow, indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow; and of their having a very handsome summer-house in their garden, where some day next year they were all to drink tea:—a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold a dozen people.”

Mr. Martin worked on Mr. Knightley’s estate, and the two men saw each other frequently to conduct business, which is how Mr. Knightley came to greatly esteem the sensible young man:

I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin. He always speaks to the purpose; open, straight forward, and very well judging. He told me every thing; his circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doing in the event of his marriage. He is an excellent young man, both as son and brother. I had no hesitation in advising him to marry. He proved to me that he could afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced he could not do better. I praised the fair lady too, and altogether sent him away very happy.

Once Harriet married Robert Martin, she and Emma would no longer travel in the same social circles. But, as Mr. Knightley rightly pointed out,  Mr. Martin was an excellent catch for Harriet, the natural daughter of somebody. When Mr. Knightley learns that Harriet (through Emma’s persuasion) had rejected Mr. Martin’s proposal of marriage, he exclaimed:

Louise Dyland as Harriet and Romola Garai as Emma read a riddle

“No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith’s claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connexion for him. I felt, that as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her having that sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all on her side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck.

Miss Bates and  Mrs. Bates, although well respected, had no money to speak of:

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates

The penniless widows of Vicars led a hard-scrabble life, for there were no pensions. As a former Vicar’s wife, Mrs. Bates still had some social standing in the community, retaining her position in the second tier of society. But she and her daughter needed to live economically and they depended on charity from friends to help stretch their meager income. After moving from the comfortable vicarage house, they settled into spare rooms above a shop in the center of town.

After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.

Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.

Mr. Weston’s social position was inferior to his son, Frank’s:

Robert Bathurst as Mr. Weston

Mr. Weston, a former military man, married up. His first wife assumed his social standing and came down in the world. This brought conflict to their short marriage. After the first Mrs. Weston died, her son,  Frank, was raised by his rich uncle and his wife, the Churchills. It was quite common at the time for childless families to adopt someone else’s child (this happened with Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, who took on the name of his adopted family – Knight), and thus Frank’s social position rose above his father’s. It was not inconceivable or far fetched that Emma would set her eyes in his direction. The adoption meant that Frank was in line to inherit Enscombe, which meant that his most pressing duty lay towards the ailing Mrs. Churchill, who was in control of Frank’s purse strings and her will. Had Mrs. Churchill known of Frank’s secret engagement to Jane Fairfax, a woman with no marriage portion or prospects, she would have been seriously displeased.

Mr. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family, which for the last two or three generations had been rising into gentility and property. He had received a good education, but on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged; and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances of his military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill, of a great Yorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love with him, nobody was surprized except her brother and his wife, who had never seen him, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connection would offend.

Miss Churchill, however, being of age, and with the full command of her fortune—though her fortune bore no proportion to the family-estate—was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness. Mrs. Weston ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think every thing due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him; but though she had one sort of spirit, she had not the best. She had resolution enough to pursue her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe: she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston, and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill

Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years’ marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved. The boy had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of his mother’s, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of the little Frank soon after her decease. Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only his own comfort to seek and his own situation to improve as he could.

A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted the militia and engaged in trade, having brothers already established in a good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening. It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had still a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away. He had, by that time, realized an easy competence—enough to secure the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for—enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition.

Jane Fairfax’s future as governess was tenuous at best:

Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax

Well educated and raised in comfort by the Campbell’s, Jane’s only hope of making her way in the world was as a governess. Her position in society would have been untenable, as Jane Austen described: “With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace, and hope, to penance and mortification forever.”  Read more about the position of governess in my post,  The Governess in the Age of Jane Austen at this link. The following conversation between Mrs. Elton and Jane describes her predicament:

“I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do.”

“Something that would do!” repeated Mrs. Elton. “Aye, that may suit your humble ideas of yourself;—I know what a modest creature you are; but it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with any thing that may offer, any inferior, commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life.”

“You are very obliging; but as to all that, I am very indifferent; it would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison. A gentleman’s family is all that I should condition for.”

“I know you, I know you; you would take up with any thing; but I shall be a little more nice, and I am sure the good Campbells will be quite on my side; with your superior talents, you have a right to move in the first circle. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you chose;—that is—I do not know—if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play;—yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what you chose;—and you must and shall be delightfully, honourably and comfortably settled before the Campbells or I have any rest.”

“You may well class the delight, the honour, and the comfort of such a situation together,” said Jane, “they are pretty sure to be equal; however, I am very serious in not wishing any thing to be attempted at present for me. I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mrs. Elton, I am obliged to any body who feels for me, but I am quite serious in wishing nothing to be done till the summer.

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller as Emma and Mr. Knightley

Highbury was a small, circumscribed town, and Emma’s choices for a mate were extremely limited. It is with no wonder (and quite a bit of satisfaction) that she came to recognize her feelings for Mr. Knightley. With her marriage to him and his willingness to move to Hartfield, her social situation scarcely changed at all.

Additional Resources

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Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

I prefer Kate Beckinsale’s Emma, written by Andrew Davies, because of the film’s depiction of ordinary life, such as farmers threshing grain before the Harvest Ball. These scenes were not written by Jane Austen, but they added authenticity to the film. When I saw this image, (Detail taken from the New York Public Library’s digital collection of the Costumes of Yorkshire, 1813-1814), I knew that the costumers and the director, Diarmuid Lawrence, had done their research. I loved the quality of the golden light that bathed the workers, lending the scene an antique, painterly feel. There are so many glorious visual moments in this film, which is well worth watching despite the script’s many variations from Jane’s plot.

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

By 1750, British agricultural practices were regarded as among the best in the world. The Industrial Revolution accelerated new practices in agriculture, in which animal power and human labor were aided by newly invented farm machinery. These inventions, as well as the new methods of food production, greatly increased the food supply.

harvest
Four-field rotation was practiced in England.  Specific crops were grown in a scientific sequence that managed the different nutrients in the soil. With this method, the continuous use of land was possible; more importantly, additional forage crops for livestock could be grown. This increase in the food supply could support livestock through the winter, which led to an improved diet year round. Even the poor could occasionally augment their bread with meat and dairy products, such as cheese.

harvest 2 (2)
While the Enclosure Acts from 1750-1831 drove many subsistence farmers off their small holdings of around 20 acres, the movement combined land into larger tracts for more efficient farming, and allowing portions of the fields to lie fallow. The traditional method of subdividing the land allowed farmers to feed their families, but their holdings were too small to follow the new method of crop rotation.  The larger holdings (which usually favored the richer land owners) applied modern methods of crop production. The unlucky farmer who lost his lands also lost the means to support his family independently. He and his family had no choice but to find work in the industrial north or in London. These burgeoning urban centers required an enormous amount of food to be brought in daily over long distances. One imagines that after Mr. Knightley set aside enough of the harvest for his own consumption, he transported the remainder to cities to be sold for profit.

harvest 3 (2)

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It is ironic that a novel filled with clues similar to those found in a good mystery tale can spin off a film whose clues stand out like a red cape in front of a bull. Jane Austen deftly sprinkled hints about Jane Fairfax’s relationship with Frank Churchill throughout Emma. One has to read the novel twice to find her subtle inferences, and even then one might miss a few. The 1996 film version of Emma, written by Andrew Davies, leaves no stone unturned and drops its clues with such a heavy hand that midway through the film you want to shout – “enough!” Jane and Frank exchange frequent glances, are seen at the piano together in Mrs. and Miss Bates’ apartment, and argue on the terrace at Donwell Abbey. We even see Jane crying after their tiff as she walks through a field hatless. Tsk. Tsk. At least Mr. Davies did not sex up this particular film adaptation.

While I like this film overall, and gave it a favorable review when it was shown during PBS’s presentation of The Complete Jane Austen earlier this year, it did have a cringe worthy moment. Mr. Knightley, forcefully played by Mark Strong, proposes to Emma and says afterwards: “I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old”. Kate Beckinsale as Emma replies before they kiss: “Do you like me now as well as you did then?” Eww! The unfortunate image these words evoke are not at all what Jane intended. Here is how her Mr. Knightley proposes, which is just as it ought to be:

“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.”—She could really say nothing.—”You are silent,” he cried, with great animation; “absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.”

Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma:”—he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.—”If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.—You hear nothing but truth from me.—I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.—Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.—But you understand me.—Yes, you see, you understand my feelings—and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.”

Jane DID bring up the differences in ages, but earlier in her novel, when 21-year-old Emma and 37-year-old Mr. Knightley attended a family gathering soon after Mr. & Mrs. John Knightley arrive for a visit. The conversation occurs some time after Mr. Knightley had chastised Emma for influencing Harriet in declining Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal. In this scene, Emma and Mr. Knightley speak as long-standing friends and as relations through marriage:

Emma: “What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree.”

Mr. Knightley: “If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike.”

Emma: “To be sure—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes,” said he, smiling—”and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born.”

Emma: “A material difference then,” she replied—”and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes—a good deal nearer.”

Emma: “But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently.”

Mr. Knightley: “I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years’ experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now.” – Emma, Chapter 7, Volume One

Since watching this film adaptation, I have often wondered why Mr. Davies inserted those words about Emma as a baby into the script at what should have been a supremely romantic moment. Thankfully the Harvest Ball almost made up for his faux pas, almost, but not quite. Although the scene ends the movie on a perfect note, Jane never wrote it for her novel.
Score: Jane Austen, 100; Andrew Davies, Good try.

For more posts about Emma, 1996, click on the links below:

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PBS Masterpiece Classic resumed The Complete Jane Austen last Sunday with the rebroadcast of the 1997 adaptation of Emma. My favorable review of the film sits in the post below. Ellen Moody expressed different thoughts about Mr. Knightley in her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Too. Click here to read why she thinks there’s something odd about him.

Ellen is the creator of the Jane Austen almanac. If you haven’t yet come across her calendars of Jane’s novels, click here. They are remarkably useful.

Kaye Daycus compared the two Emmas in her Fun Friday review. I wonder what she’ll come up with for this Friday?

As always, there’s a lively discussion going on at Austen Blog. This time it’s Emma’s turn. Join in the fun and leave your opinion.

Over at Jane Austen Today, the second guest blogger, Barbara Larochelle, moderator of the Sense and Sensibility discussion group at The Republic of Pemberley, gives us her thoughts about the new film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I believe she likes it.

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Is Sunday night’s broadcast of the 1997 A&E version of Emma on Masterpiece Classic worth watching? Absolutely! Even those who liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s elegant interpretation of 20 year-old Miss Woodhouse as much as I did, will find Kate Beckinsale’s bossy Emma satisfying in a more down-to-earth way. When Kate made this film she had just completed her role as Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm, a surprise cinematic hit.

Miss Emma Woodhouse, 20-year-old self-satisfied spinster

Kate plays the part of an interfering, well-meaning young woman with youthful ease and assurance. In addition, this actress is truly British, and she moves, talks, and acts naturally through the English landscape. I am always delighted to see a British actress play a British character (My apologies to Gwyneth, Renee Zellweger, and Anne Hathaway). I know many will disagree with me, but at times Gwyneth reminded me too much of a beautiful high fashion model with her uber thin, attenuated figure and modern facial features. She was as lovely to view as an Ingres line drawing, but I could relate to Kate’s old-fashioned prettiness better.

As you can see from the photos below, Kate’s range as an actress, when compared to supporting actress Samantha Morton, is somewhat limited. Nevertheless, she possessed sufficient acting chops to tackle this challenging role.

In these images (from left to right, top to bottom), Kate as Emma expresses 1) interest in Harriet when speaking to Mrs.Goddard, 2) a mixture of hurt and anger when listening to a lecture by Mr. Knightley, 3) proud admiration in viewing Mr. Knightley’s house, 4) disbelief and tender joy when Mr. Knightley proposes to her, 5) horror to Mr. Elton’s proposal, 6) envy listening to Jane Fairfax’s superior performance at the piano, 7) dreaminess after she and Mr. Knightley have declared their love for each other, and 8. polite and covert interest in Jane Fairfax as Miss Bates extols Jane’s virtues.
I love this reaction shot of Kate (below), whose expressions conveyed several emotions at once. Here, Emma has walked into Mr. Knightley’s sitting room, where she encounters her father by a small fire. Her face captures the combination of love, patience, forbearance, and puzzlement that Emma must have felt toward her father, as he once again frets and worries over minor points of comfort.

Miss Harriet Smith, 17-year old natural daughter of a gentleman

Movie buffs require no introduction to Samantha Morton, an actress so talented that one’s eyes immediately turn to her when she enters a scene.

Samantha’s Harriet Smith is all about innocence, naiveté, and puppyish eagerness to please. Her will – weak and easily persuaded – is sweet and passive. Emma couldn’t have found a more tractable person for her next project in matchmaking. Samantha’s artless Harriet, however, does not come across as dumb, for she often, though softly, questions Emma, and one senses throughout the film that she is unwilling quite to let go of her dream of living in a pretty yellow cottage with her yeoman farmer, Mr. Martin, and his two friendly, well-educated sisters. In Samantha’s interpretation of Harriet, we finally see a young woman worthy of Emma’s attempts at improvement.

While Toni Collette is a fine actress, whose turn as Cole’s frantic mother in The Sixth Sense moved me to tears, her plump, dumbed down Harriet left me perplexed and wondering what the elegant Gwyneth/Emma ever saw in her.

Mr. Knightley, 37-year-old gentleman, owner of Donwell Abbey, and Emma’s brother-in-law

Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightley sets the movie’s serious tone. His hawk-like features are dark, almost sinister, and his lithe, athletic figure moves with animal grace. In fact, Mark’s Mr. Knightley is dangerously and forcefully handsome, but not in a classical sense. His interpretation of Emma’s friend and lover is more vigorous than Jeremy Northam’s. Under repeated viewing and scrutiny, Mark’s performance holds up well. His angry encounters with Emma are a perfect foil to the moments when he is caught off guard tenderly watching her or smiling at something she has done or said, and after he proposes to her.
The change in Mark’s Mr. Knightley is most evident at the Harvest Ball, where he cannot contain his love for Emma. Many critics thought that this particular Mr. Knightley was too forceful, however I found that once he expressed his feelings for Emma, the change in his demeanor contributed to a completely satisfying romantic ending. The wolf has been tamed, and while we suspect that this Mr. Knightley will always be an exacting and demanding lover (ooh la la!), we also know that he will cherish Emma forever.

Critics of this movie will say it is too dark in tone, that the light-hearted spirit of Jane’s comedic novel was better captured by the 1996 theatrical film. Frankly, I prefer this film’s meatier fare. While Emma’s generous spirit and sincere interest in her charity work are largely ignored in this film version (and emphasized in Gwyneth’s Emma), Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are allowed to play out their charade under everyone’s noses, Bernard Hepton as Mr. Woodhouse is given free reign to explore his character, and the backdrop of regency life and manners is filmed in minute detail.

One of the film’s most important characters is the village of Highbury (played by Laycock, a National Trust village in Wiltshire.) This village is peopled with gentry, artisans, craftsmen, servants, and laborours going about their business. As the protagonists move through this landscape, the evidence of regency life playing itself out fascinated me – from Emma’s courtesy visits to Miss Bates – to the ball at the Crown Inn – to the seating at table, with Emma in the position of hostess, and Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Weston at the head of the table with Mr. Woodhouse – to the footman holding the candelabra up to Harriet’s picture so that everyone could see it better – to the farmers and their families harvesting grain before The Harvest Ball.

I found Gwyneth’s world overly beautiful, refined, and Hollywood-sanitized, but Kate’s world showed some rough edges, most particularly when depicting exactly how much hard labor was involved in supporting the lavish lifestyle of the landed gentry. Who can forget the strawberry picking scene at Donwell Abbey where footmen dressed in livery (an extreme sign of wealth) stood by each guest, moving the kneeling cushions along the rows of strawberries; or the servants laboring to cart furniture, dishes, and food up Box Hill in order to provide a bucolic outing for the guests? Or Frank’s gift of the piano being hoisted up to the second floor of Mrs. and Miss Bates’s rooms, because the stairs were too steep, winding, and narrow?

These typical touches of an Andrew Davies script influenced my decision: I prefer this cinematic version of Emma. Oh, please do feel free to quibble. As I watch Gwyneth’s version of Emma again, my preference just might swing back to that movie. When it comes to all things Jane Austen, I am known to be fickle!

Watch Emma tonight on Masterpiece Classic at 9 p.m. Read the reviews about Emma on PBS’s Remotely Connected, and details at this PBS site.

Can’t get enough of Emma? Please click on the following:

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