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Archive for May, 2013

I’ve often wondered what Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra would have looked like as young ladies. This lovely public domain image by Paul Sandby from the Yale Center for British art gives us an idea. In her teens, Jane’s dresses would still have had waists and her hair would have been worn relatively loose and long. I envision the teen on the left with the direct gaze to be Jane – a pretty girl with round cheeks and a twinkle in her eyes, open to life’s possibilities.

 Paul Sandby, 1731-1809, British, The Misses Sandby of Norwich, undated, Graphite and brown wash on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


Paul Sandby, 1731-1809, British, The Misses Sandby of Norwich, undated, Graphite and brown wash on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

About Paul Sandby

Paul Sandby was celebrated in his day. The innovations and subject-matter that he introduced into the practice of watercolour painting in Britain had a profound influence on artists of successive generations, including Thomas Girtin and J.M.W. Turner RA. However, from the mid-nineteenth century, Sandby’s work slipped into obscurity. – Paul Sandby, Picturing Britain

This former map-maker turned watercolor landscape painter became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768.

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David Bamber is Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice 1995

David Bamber is Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice 1995

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. When I was fourteen I read the novel in one sitting, choosing the book one summer in a quest to finish a list of classics. Like so many girls, I identified with Lizzy and wished that some modern Mr. Darcy would find my eyes strikingly beautiful. While P&P’s protagonists attracted me at first, it is the secondary, more imperfect characters who continue to fascinate me: Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, Mr. Bennet, Lydia, and Mr. Wickham, as well as those who played minor but crucial roles – Mary Bennet, Sir William Lucas, and Mr. Hurst. All are archetypes of people we have known in one way or another.

I have not forgotten Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or Lady CdeB, as she will be known henceforth in this narrative. In my opinion, Lady CdeB is in a class by herself and rises above the other sterling cast (although Mr. Collins is tough competition.) She’s a giant in the annals of literary supporting characters. My older self is astonished that a 19 year-old slip of a girl living in a quiet backwater village could have come up with such a magnificent creation. It boggles the mind.

It is quite telling that we are first introduced to Lady CdeB through Mr. Collins. That Jane Austen chose to announce the appearance of this proud, arrogant aristocrat through a fawning and obsequious bootlicker is genius, for we swiftly come to the conclusion that she is either as foolish as her empty-headed flatterer or is using him for some purpose. To the delight of Mr. Bennet, who has been bored out of his gourd since saying “I do” at the altar, Mr. Collins preens and swaggers at the very mention of his patron.

During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness.”

Mr Collins responds to Mr. Bennet's question

Mr Collins responds to Mr. Bennet’s question. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Like a marionette tugged on a string, Mr. Collins jumps at this prompt, much to Mr. Bennet’s delight. After years of suffering through banal dinner conversations with Mrs. Bennet and three of his five daughters, he now actively seeks relief from his ennui and his guest does not disappoint. The vicar boasts that:

he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank — such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen any thing but affability in her.”

This effusive praise begs the question: if Lady CdeB had a lick of sense, why would she waste her precious time with this clown? Austen continues to dangle interesting glimpses of her in front of us, using Mr. Collins as her mouthpiece and building up our expectations of this nonpareil. During the most brilliantly ridiculous proposal written in English literature, Austen arranges to have Lady CdeB speak directly to us for the first time:

Mr Collins and Lizzy, by Brock. Image @Mollins

Mr Collins and Lizzy, by Brock. Image @Mollands

My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly — which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford — between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s foot-stool, that she said, “Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. — Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.”

Such delicious dialogue! Lady CdeB has no higher hope for Mr. Collins’ happiness other than a wife who is active (can work her butt off) and can make a small income go a good way (is thrifty). The future Mrs. Collins must not be too high in the instep, but not so low of class that it would be impossible for Lady CdeB to be seen with her. In other words, Lady CdeB must be assured that those with whom she socializes are worthy of her attentions. (The more worthy, the better, for subjugating a strong person would give her a headier sense of power than lording it over a weakling.)

In rural Regency England, a grande dame’s social circle was restricted to the slim pickings in her community. Despite a lack of choice, there were standards to be maintained and Mr. Collins is as low down the status totem pole as Lady CdeB can go. Emma Woodhouse experiences a similar dearth of social connections in Highbury. Before easy travel became possible, one simply had to make do.

Social circles are small in a rural village. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Social circles are small in a rural village. Pride and Prejudice 1995

In these early scenes with Mr. Collins, Austen builds up our expectations. Knowing what priceless enjoyment is in store for us, she makes us wait for a few more chapters before Lady CdeB’s grand entrance, and so, during Lizzy’s visit to Hunsford, she continues to pique our curiosity.

Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affability and condescension, and I doubt not but you will be honoured with some portion of her notice when service is over. I have scarcely any hesitation in saying that she will include you and my sister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us during your stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship’s carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship’s carriages, for she has several.”

We are so entranced with Mr. Collins’s banal utterances that we nearly miss Charlotte’s quiet opinion of the patroness. Until she married Mr. Collins, Charlotte seemed a sensible sort, but now we are coming to understand why Lizzy’s respect for her old friend has cooled so dramatically. Aside from willingly marrying a buffoon, it turns out that Charlotte has inherited some of her father’s capacity for groveling.

Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed,” added Charlotte, “and a most attentive neighbour.”

What? Where’s the irony in that statement? When Mr. Collins answers,”Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference,” Charlotte remains silent. Her lack of rejoinder is damning – to us and surely to Lizzy – for she is becoming a toady.

Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Observe Charlotte’s behavior somewhat later when Anne deB, Lady CdeB’s daughter, commands her driver to halt her phaeton at the parsonage’s garden gate. This non-event starts a rube goldberg chain of events in which Mr. Collins stops dead in his tracks to go rushing to the gate, Charlotte tosses aside her women’s work to chase after him and stand by his side, Sir William Lucas parks his carcass in the doorway to bask in all that reflected greatness, and Maria Lucas clomps noisily up the stairs to broadcast the GRAND EVENT and drag Lizzy to the window to SEE for herself!

Charlotte at the window. Pride and Prejudice 2005

Charlotte at the window. Pride and Prejudice 2005

Lizzy, who had been busy searching for an instrument with which to catch pigs, thinking that only a herd of swine on the loose could cause such a commotion, looks in astonishment at an anemic woman with a scowling face and her companion. Suddenly it dawns on her that THIS is the cousin intended for Mr. Darcy! And here is when we discover that Miss Elizabeth has the makings of a mean girl, for she is pleased as punch to know that this sallow creature is destined to be Mr. Darcy’s bride.

At the parsonage gate with Lady Anne her companion and the Collinses.

At the parsonage gate with Lady Anne her companion and the Collinses.

In this farcical scene Austen has provides us with foreshadowing of how things will be at Rosings and how these characters will conduct themselves in the presence of Lady CdeB. Their reaction to her daughter, a nonentity, is extraordinary, with the Collinses bobbing like two plastic dunking birds and the star-struck Lucases re-enacting the Regency version of a Kim Kardashian fan club.

Next: Lady CdeB

Next: Lady CdeB

Only Lizzy remains untouched, for she’s not easily awed by the trappings of title and position. Anne’s visit had a real purpose it seems, for Charlotte informs them that they are invited to dine at Rosings the next day. As Mr. Collins whirlygigs himself into a tizzy, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn House, and the daughter of a gentleman, girds her loins in anticipation of meeting the dragon lady. Jane Austen, meanwhile, has us readers chomping at the bit.

Next: Lady Catherine de Bourgh in all her glory.

More posts on this blog regarding Pride and Prejudice 200 year anniversary.

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Tony Grant’s recent pictorial visit to Chawton was so popular that I thought you would like to see the village in which Jane Austen lived out the last years of her life. You might want to reference Tony’s images with the ones below, which were taken with Google maps. After I made these, I felt as if I had traveled to Hampshire for a pleasant hour or so. Interestingly, the seasons go back and forth, from late summer to early November.  At times you will see full foliage and at other times the scene was shot in the middle of fall.

Winchester Road to Chawton

Winchester Road to Chawton from A31. You can see the signpost marking the village.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Lovely narrow lanes

Lovely narrow lanes. Click on the images for a larger version.

Approaching Chawton Cottage on the left and Cassandra's Cup Tea Room, the white building in the distance

Approaching Chawton Cottage behind the tree on the left and Cassandra’s Cup Tea Room, the cream colored building in the middle distance. If you turned right, you would be going to Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s residence. But we will be turning left.

Chawton Cottage coming into full view, along with the cross roads sign

Chawton Cottage coming into full view on the left, along with the cross roads sign. Check Tony Grant’s images in the previous post for more details.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra's Cup tea house.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra’s Cup tea house.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles. This one gives a view into the street and down the village. You can see how close the dining parlor window is to the street and sidewalk (to the right of the door.) This is where Jane Austen wrote and revised her novels.

The following text comes from the 1901 travel book, Hampshire, With the Isle of Wight by George Albemarle Bertie Dewar, John Vaughan. Their description of Jane Austen shows how successfully her family had whitewashed her image as a sweet spinster in whose life not much had happened. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you viewed the rest of my virtual trip through Chawton.

The cottage up close

The cottage up close, with bricked up window on the east side of the drawing room and plaques in honor of Jane Austen. Tourists exit from the garden to the left of the house.

A mile south of Alton is Chawton village. Jane Austen, the writer of the pure sweet stories which at the present time are loved better even than they were when Scott and Macaulay and Lewis sounded their praises, lived with her family at Chawton from 1809 to 1817.”

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious.

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious. The visitor’s entrance is to the right, through the gate, towards the outbuildings. The gift shop is housed in the brick building to your immediate right.

The house is still standing. Part of it has been made into a workman’s club, whilst the remainder is occupied by three families of working people, but it has been altered a good deal since her time. In the church there is a tablet to the memory of some members of the Austen family, Cassandra Elizabeth and her brothers. Jane Austen was quite a Hampshire woman.”

A view of the gardens.

A view of the gardens and a clear view of the yew trees.

She was born at Steventon near Oakley in December 1775, and lived there till twenty-five years old. I went to see Steventon one day in the summer of 1899, and found it the sleepiest little spot one could imagine. The country is green and leafy, but the scenery is without distinction: there are no hills to speak of, no beautiful troutstreams, no fine old houses, no stately parks. The old parsonage where Jane Austen was born has gone, and there are no remains whatever of her or her family at Steventon.”

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage.

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage, still on Winchester Road. One can imagine the coaches and wagons rattling by the window near Jane’s writing desk.

The spired church in which her father held service stands a little distance from the village at the edge of a hazel and oak coppice. It was in this quiet nook, seven or eight miles from the nearest town, that Jane Austen at twentyone years of age began to write that perfect story “Pride and Prejudice.” In 1797 she was at work on “Sense and Sensibility,” and in 1798 completed “Northanger Abbey.”

You can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking a mile through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Jane and Cassandra walked a mile north through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Where in the world did she get her knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so great that Macaulay was almost ready to extol her as the Shakespeare of her sex? What life could she have seen about Steventon a hundred years ago? In 1801 Jane went to Bath, and in 1805 to Southampton, where the family had rooms in Castle Street: in 1807, as we have seen, the Austens settled at Chawton, and four years after the story “Sense and Sensibility” was published, being followed by “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park.”

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right.

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right around the bend.

In 1817 her health broke down and she removed to rooms in College Street, Winchester, and died there the same year. The memorials of Jane Austen are but few, and it is clear that her life was uneventful. It has been said that the woman without a history is the happier. The life of Jane Austen, like her death, was placid; there is here no record of harrowing anguish, or anxiety, such as we find in the story of that strong sufferer Mrs. Oliphant. Nor in the scant materials which have been left for a “life,” could the biographer find anything in the nature of a sad love-affair.”

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Hope you enjoyed your short trip.

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Up ahead and to the right is Wolff’s Lane. This concludes my short trip through Chawton.

Serenity is the word that best describes her career: and in this Jane Austen may remind one of Gilbert White, who was spending his happy days at Selborne when at Steventon, only about fifteen miles off as the crow flies, she was doing her French exercises and getting her first insight into the little world around her. She has given us a small but very choice portrait gallery of masterpieces. The irresistible Elizabeth, as easy to fall in love with as Scott’s Di Vernon, the alluring if sometimes rather irritating Emma, the worldly but very human Constance—they live and move to-day. You should read Jane Austen after one of the unwholesome, much-boomed, ephemeral novels of to-day, as Dean Stanley read his “Guy Mannering” to take the nasty taste out of his mouth. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where she is to have at length a worthy memorial.”

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite.

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite. On the left you can see a narrow footpath between the hedges.

Oh, those Victorians and their simplistic view of Jane Austen. Hope you enjoyed the 112 year old description of Jane’s life as well. In the image below you can see the short trip, which started on the Winchester Road (which started on the left, below A31), then turned left at Jane Austen’s house, and ended at Wolff’s Lane, which turns right and parallels with A31 at the top of the image. Alton would have been a mile up the street and NW of the cottage. Chawton House would have been too much of a walk for Mrs. Austen. I imagine that Edward must have sent his carriage to his mother and sisters when they came to visit.

A Walk Map

View a contemporary watercolor of the village in this article by Joan Austen-Leigh, Chawton Cottage Transfigured

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Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

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Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma. This film still leaves me laughing, and I suspect JA would have approved of its modern Beverley Hills setting.

Do you have an account with Netflix for instant videos? How about an Amazon prime account, which offers amazing discounts as well as free postage and handling for all your prime purchases? At less than $80 per year, Prime has proven to be my best investment in entertainment.

Here are a few Jane Austen film titles that have become available for instant streaming. These keep changing every six months or so, and I am always on the look out. In the instance of From Prada to Nada, which is a nada good send off of Sense and Sensibility, I cannot tell you how lucky I felt that I watched the film for free.

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

  • Pride and Prejudice 1980
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Aisha
  • Clueless
  • Emma 1996
  • Mansfield Park 1983
The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

Amazon Prime, Instant videos free, for rent, or for purchase

  • Persuasion 1995 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1940 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1980 (free with Prime)
  • Emma 2009 (free with Prime)
  • Other Jane Austen film adaptations are available for rent or purchase at Amazon.
I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice excreble. While the actors are fabulous, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (Every hottentot can dance, instead of every savage can dance) and the ending is downright criminal (Lady CdeB acts as a willing instrument to get Elizabeth and Darcy together. I have a running hate-hate debate with a reader, who is apoplectic with the idea that I don't love this film. She keeps coming back to heap insults. Heap away! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will honor anyone's positive opinion about it.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice execrable. While many of the supporting actors are fabulous, even brilliant in parts, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (every “hottentot can dance”, instead of “every savage can dance”), and the ending is downright criminal. I have a running almost 2-year debate with a sometime visitor to this blog who is apoplectic at the idea that I don’t love or respect this film. She keeps coming back every once in a while to inform me that I don’t know sh*t from Shinola when it comes to the fine art of 1940s  film making, and that I wouldn’t be able to discern a donkey’s ass from that of a thoroughbred’s. (My terminology, not hers, but you get the idea.) Insult away, my dear! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will respect anyone’s positive opinion about P&P 1940, it simply isn’t mine.

My rant about P&P 1940 brings to mind some of the worst moments in Jane Austen film adaptations. Here they are in no particular order:

The incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, co-conspirator and romantic at heart

The stellar Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, a softie romantic at heart

1.) Pride and Prejudice 1940: Laurence Olivier (not yet a Sir) as Darcy persuades the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB to become his accomplice in winning Elizabeth Bennet over. In other words, Lady CdeB turns out to be crotchety but NICE. The writers and producers of this film should have been made to apologize to every student who watched this film to write a book report and who received an F for getting the ending so dreadfully wrong. They subverted the students’ rights to NOT read the book and opt for a C or a D by watching the movie instead. In addition, 35-year-old Greer Garson was closer to Mrs. Bennet’s age of 41 or so than Elizabeth’s age of 19. And throughout the film good old Larry O resembled a wood mannequin in posture and facial expressions. In my humble opinion, our pinch-faced Larry and his near geriatric Greer had almost no chemistry between them. Let’s not even discuss the costumes.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

2. ) Mansfield Park 2007: Billie Piper as Fannie Price. *Hahahahah*. Fanny exhibiting ample cleavage in her day gown. *Loud guffaws*. Fanny athletic and running around with wild hair. *Snorts and sniggers*. Lady Bertram rising from her couch in the last scenes and showing spirit and gumption in uniting Fanny with Edmund. *WTF!?* An energized Lady Bertram is as egregious a change in character as a nice Lady CdeB. The reviews for this film in Rotten Tomatoes are so tepid that it has yet to acquire a ratings score. One wonders why the folks at ITV bothered to adapt this very thick JA novel and compress its tale to a bare 90 minutes. Might as well read a comic book version of MP.  ‘Nuff said.

The gorgeous Frances O'Conner as retiring and shyly pretty FP.

Tall, gorgeous, statuesque Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

3.) Mansfield Park 1999: In this adaptation, Frances O’Connor as Fanny is more beautiful and intriguing than Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. In fact, one begins to wonder why Edmund is so drawn to Mary when the lovely, worshiping and nubile Fanny is his for the taking. I won’t go into detail about director and writer Patricia Rozema’s social stance on slavery and British empire exploitation in this film, since my observations in this post are meant to be tongue in cheek and light-hearted. Let’s just say that 1999 audiences were surprised to learn that somehow our dear departed Jane had quite clearly expressed her strong feelings on the topic to Patricia.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, poor Anne hies after her man.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, Annie goes after her man.

4.) Persuasion 2007: (Set to the theme of Rocky.) How I pitied poor Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. I hope that she only had to run through Bath for a few takes. Imagine if the director hadn’t been  pleased with her stride, or if a jet’s drone ruined the scene, or if … whatever. It could not have been easy for her to race over stone sidewalks and streets in those delicate slipper and in full Regency regalia, with her hair pulled back so tightly that her ears and cheeks practically met in the back of her head. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would NEVER have run through town like a hoyden and debased herself for a man, not even the delectable Captain W. To quote Jeremy Northam in 1996s Emma when she made a joke at poor Miss Bates’s expense, “badly done.” Badly done, indeed.

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

5.) Pride and Prejudice 2005: Or the muddy hem edition. Good old Joe Wright wanted to put a different spin on P&P, so he set Longbourn House in the middle of a mud field, surrounded by a moat, and overrun by pigs, geese, and all manner of dirty, smelly farm animals. Then there’s Mr. Bennet (played by 70-something Donald Sutherland) rutting after Mrs. Bennet even though his respect for her intellect is less than zero. And who can forget the film’s breathy, candle lit American ending? – “Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy.” I don’t know which altered ending was worse – the one in which the co-conspirator in happiness and harmony is  Lady CdeB, or all that post-coital face licking at the end of this adaptation. This film should have been titled: Pride and Prejudice: back to nature.

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

6.) Northanger Abbey 1986: Visually, this JA adaptation is quite lovely and interesting. But the music…Gawdalmity! It is so awful that this film should be seen with the sound muted. During the 70s and 80s, the male actor flavor du jour was Peter Firth. He played Angel in Tess and Henry Tilney in NA. Why? Just because he was good in Equus and for two milliseconds, when very young, looked somewhat leading mannish? I found him so off putting as Angel and Henry that P Firth single-handedly ruined those films for me. He could have played a Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, or John Thorpe quite excellently. As he aged, P Firth began to portray villains, which is how I always saw him. But what I can least forgive this film for are those horrid gothic scenes (which the 2007 NA adaptation picked up.) I read NA and reread it, but, other than telling us about Catherine’s lively imagination and penchant for reading Gothic novels, JA included none of those scenes. To this day, I am still waiting for a decent Northanger Abbey (and Mansfield Park) film adaptation.

Can you recall scenes in JA films that made you cringe? Do share. As always, feel free to disagree with my humble opinions, but politely, please.

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Inquiring readers, It’s such a delight to receive first-hand information from a friend who lives in the U.K. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, writes about his impressions of seeing the BBC2 special last Sunday entitled Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. The scenes were filmed in Chawton House wherein a Regency ball was reconstructed in a way that Jane Austen’s contemporaries knew well, but whose meanings in many instances have been lost to us. I had the privilege of watching the show as well and have interspersed my comments as if Tony and I were engaged in a dialogue. (Italics represent my comments.)  Let’s hope this special will be available soon the world over.

Amanda Vickery. Image courtesy of

Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. Image courtesy of BBC2

It is Winter, 1813.

Amanda Vickery and Alaister Sooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph and who also presents art history programmes for the BBC, present this amazing programme. It is one and a half hours long and, being a BBC production, there are no breaks or intermissions.

The programme is a tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The producers have taken the Netherfield Ball as their focus. They did not choose the Merryton Assembly ball, which was a public ball where everybody from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was eligible to attend. The Netherfield Ball was a more intimate and select affair and by invitation only. One would be assured to rub shoulders with only the best families in the community.

Jane and her sister and mother lived in Chawton Cottage, where Pride and Prejudice was prepared for publication. It was a time when courtship was a serious business. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing and drawing,” Jane wrote, and a man had to marry well if he was to secure his dynasty.

Research into costumes, food, dance, music, carriages, conversation and so on focussed on the year 1813.

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds. Image courtesy of Chawton House

The writers and producers consulted and interviewed professors and experts about the minutiae of Georgian life. One professor, Jeanice Brooks at Southampton University, showed Alexander Sooke the very music manuscripts that Jane Austen wrote out by her hand with little cartoon doodlings in the margin.

Jane Austen doodle in a music manuscript

Jane Austen’s doodle in her music manuscript. Image @BBC2

That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer. (For me too, Tony!)

Popular music was widely collected at the time and summarized for the piano. Jane Austen must have spent hours copying music in her neat hand, for there are quite a number of her music manuscripts still in existence. 

ivan day food expert

Ivan day, historic food expert. Image @BBC2

The food was researched to the minutest degree. Ivan Day and his kitchen staff used Georgian cooking implements, although the Georgian cooking range at Chawton House was not in working order, so they used modern ovens. The recipes were authentic and came from Martha Lloyd’s cook book and other original Georgian documents.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Martha Lloyd’s recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Food denoted status. Game shot on a gentleman’s land was turned into a partridge pie, a symbol of upper class dining. At the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bingley would be sure to provide only the most excellent food, such as fresh grapes, nectarines and peaches in winter, which would have been expensive to import or grow indoors in hot houses. The grand spectacle of the supper table, with its silver platters, silver dishes, and silver tureens, gave an overall impression of austentation [sic] and of the host’s status. 

Ivan Day's recreation of Solomon's Temple, a very difficult flummery to recreate.

Ivan Day’s recreation of Solomon’s Temple, a very difficult flummery (Georgian jelly) to recreate. Image @BBC2

Stuart Marsden, an expert in Georgian dances and a former ballet dancer, assembled students from the dance department of Surrey University at Guildford, about twenty miles north of Chawton, to dance at the ball. Although these young dancers were fit and professional, in their Georgian costumes and in the full glare of hundreds of candles, they suffered from heat and encroaching exhaustion as the evening went on.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few have survived.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few of these fans have survived. As all fans of the Regency know, they also served as the perfect tool for flirtation. Image @BBC2

During the course of the evening, the dancers were supplied with Portugese wine and fortified negus punch. Punch a la Romaine, or Roman punch, was a mixture of rum or brandy with lemon water, lemon meringue and a very hot syrup. It was a sort of creamy iced drink that was 30 or 40 percent alcohol, a Georgian equivalent of a cold Coca Cola that cooled the dancers down between dances.

Punch a la Romaine

Punch a la Romaine. By the end of the night the dancers were a little tipsy, shall we say. The spoons used in the production belonged to the Prince Regent and came from Brighton Pavilion. Image @BBC.

Although Chawton House is large, the room where the dance was held seemed rather crowded once all the dancers were assembled. Candles blazed everywhere. The men wore stiff jackets, waistcoats, and neck high cravats. The ladies, whose bosoms were exposed, also wore many layers. They had donned swaths of petticoats under their skirts, and wore long stockings and long gloves. One can imagine that with the press of bodies, heat from the candles, constant exertion in long dance sets, and frequent imbibing of alcohol that the assembly quickly felt heated.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was and how 300 candles and all that exertion might have heated the dancers.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was, and how the blaze from 300 candles and hours of exertion might have heated the dancers. I was amazed at the lack of evident sweat.

It was interesting to find out that everybody knew how a long a dance would last from the length and quality of the candles. There were four-hour candles and six-hour candles. For this production eight-hour candles were used.

The finest, most expensive and clean burning candles were made of beeswax. Up to 300 might be used for a ball – quite an expense, for the cost was around £15, or a year’s wages for a manservant. Less expensive (and smokier and stinkier) were tallow candles, which were purchased by the less wealthy. The very poor had to make do with rush sticks, which didn’t last very long.

Peoples’ wealth and position in the upper and gentry classes were evident from the outset. Hierarchy pervaded all strata of Regency society. Social signifiers included the materials used for clothes, their style and the embellishments they had personally chosen for their costumes, the cut of the material and garment, the very buttons they had on their costumes, and so on. These details would reveal not only their status but their personalities too.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made and reflected personal taste and input. In addition, the outfits “reflected the range of social rank and social division by cut, color, and texture.” Appearance meant everything at a ball. Many refashioned their frocks from hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin, creating “hybrid” fashions, for the value of these outfits lay in the material, not the design of the dress. Individual details and features were immediately evident to Jane Austen’s contemporaries, for fashion and jewelry represented a public display of one’s assets. Image @BBC2

Silk would be worn by Miss Bingley, for it was a rich and expensive fabric. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst would have worn the latest fashions from London, which is quite evident in the film costumes of Pride and Prejudice 1995. Lydia Bennet would have chosen a fine gown,  for she was fashion forward for a country girl (and her mama’s favorite), whereas Mrs. Bennet would have worn a print gown with a frilly but modest matronly cap that denoted her status as a woman with some authority. The Bingley sisters would have sneered at the simply styled hybrid dress that the Bennet sisters might have refashioned from a combination of old clothes and newer fabrics.  If you were a good needlewoman, such a gown might have been embellished with embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Shoes were changed in the cloak room, for some people walked quite a distance to get to the ball, and even soldiers exchanged their Hessian boots for dancing slippers. Over the course of the evening, delicate dance slippers might be worn down to a thread.

Historical makeup and rouge pots. Too much, and a lady might be labeled a trollop.

These are Sally Pointer’s historical makeup and rouge pots for rosy cheeks (even for the redcoats, like Wickham). Apply too much color and a lady might be labeled a trollop. Image @BBC2

Everything – one’s clothes, actions, and relationships – how you arrived at the ball – could be read and interpreted. This was one of the main points made by the programme.

It’s not so different today, really, is it Tony? At a glance we can tell who is fashion forward, who is a frump. Whose jewelry reeks of Tiffany’s and who shopped at Walmart. We know from each others speech, friends and business associations, educational background, and other social signifiers who belongs in our social strata and who does not. My mother especially had a keen sense of which of my suitors suited and who did not. Her primary social signifiers were persons of moral character and compassion. It was who that person was inside that mattered, not what they wore or what possessions they had acquired. I suspect that during the Regency such distinctions were also important. Jane Austen was a genius at distinguishing wheat from chaff, and ferreting out the foibles of her contemporaries.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns. The hooded cloaks reminded me of the medieval era and monks. Image@BBC2

I noticed how most of the actors in the production walked to the ball holding lanterns. Carriages were expensive. If possible, those who had carriages would arrange to pick others up and bring them. If not, the guests walked to the ball. A similar scene was shown in Becoming Jane, where guests arrived on foot and walked along a lane strung with lanterns. Back in those days balls were planned to coincide with a full moon for maximum light at night and for a bit of safety from bandits and robbers. One wonders about such well-laid plans in rainy England, where a blanket of storm clouds would block the moonlight and rain would soil the hems of delicate ball gowns.

The most interesting thing I found from the programme was the meaning of the dance. This Darcy quote, “every savage can dance,” is used to highlight that the dance alludes to something primal. Elizabeth and Darcy have their most unguarded conversation during a dance. Interestingly, the Savage Dance was a craze in 1813 and taken from a song and dance routine from a musical based on Robinson Crusoe.

Balls, to quote Amanda Vickery, were sexual arenas of social interaction. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth dance around their sexual attraction for each other. The truth is that in those days single men and well-protected young and unmarried ladies could not spend one moment in private with each other before they were officially engaged. But at a dance they could touch each other (through gloved hands) and flirt and talk at length without a chaperon breathing down their necks. The long dance sets were strenuous and required stamina, however. To quote Amanda Vickery, “The entire ball is hard work, with physical, social, and emotional investment and cost.” The cost being one of expenditure (looking one’s best) and exertion (maintaining one’s stamina.) 

dance chawton

Dancing the cotillion. Image @BBC2

Young ladies and young gentlemen practiced and prepared for the balls from childhood on. They had to be good and graceful at dancing to be admired and looked at. This was necessary for their futures, for they were actually dancing for their lives. You were likely to dance with a person from the same rank and expertise: they endured these dances for a very long time with one partner. There were moments of physical contact and movement. Aristocratic young men like Darcy sought strong and accomplished women to be the mother of their children for the sake of inheritance and future generations of their families. Young women needed to attract a good catch for their happiness and futures too. So much effort and hope was invested in the “ball,” for a girl’s future could be sealed at a dance.

No wonder the excitable Lydia Bennet went ballistic when the Netherfield Ball was announced! She was not only man crazy, but she had a competitive streak in her, frequently pitting herself against her older sisters. I was also struck by how much dancing masters could make per person from dance lessons. Every young boy and girl from a respectable family was expected to practice dance steps. It was quite a telling detail for Jane Austen’s contemporary readers that Mr. Collins is a poor dancer and that Mr. Elton exhibited such ungentlemanly conduct towards Miss Smith at the Crown Inn ball, where Mr. Knightley (a true knight in shining armour) came to her rescue and saved her from public humiliation. Mr. Elton’s reaction towards Miss Smith pointed out how much Emma misjudged Miss Smith’s tenuous connection to the gentry, for Mr. Elton thinks too highly of himself and his own social standing to ally himself to the bastard daughter of a gentleman.

 Alaister Sooke makes the comment that for all its finery and sophistication the ball (it was decorous and tightly controlled) was also primeval, with the subconscious very much in play. The way the dancers were dressed, with women revealing lots of cleavage and the men revealing their groins in tight-fitting trousers, was totally sexual in nature.

men's breeches

The dancers get fitted for their breeches, which revealed quite a bit of the male anatomy, especially the groin area. Image @BBC2.

You are so right, Tony. Let’s take the case of menswear ca. 1813. Although the colors were muted, the silhoutte was quite athletic. The front of a man’s coat was cut high so that his body was fully revealed in front from the waist down. Men tucked their long shirt tails between their legs, which served as underwear. Because their calves were exposed, it was important for men to dance well, since all their steps were in full view. Women’s legs were hidden by their skirts and they could make a mistake or two without much notice.  I was struck by how much the modern dancers enjoyed the evening and how much their costumes and the setting affected them.

corset

The ladies in the series wore authentic underwear. Underneath the muslins  and silks they wore undergarments consisting of a chemise and petticoat. There was actually a lot going on below the skirt, but the ladies  generally went knickerless. Even when women wore underdrawers, the crotch area remained open and they remained so until the late 19th c. or early 20th century.  Crotchless knickers were the norm! Image @BBC2

A courting couple made sure to reserve the supper dance for each other (or the dance just before the evening meal), for this meant that they could extend the time they spent together to include the meal, which was generally served at midnight. In the series, Ivan Day and his staff slaved to make the dishes, for they were served à la française (in the French style), or all at once. Preparing dishes for such a service required a great deal of skill and Herculean effort, for hot meals needed to be served hot, while delicate ices needed to remain frozen until they were consumed. At the dinner table in this special, a mild scene of chaos ensued, with servants bringing platters from one end of the table to the other, guests handing platters around, and others reaching across the table to sample a tidbit. Ragout of Veal, one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, was served. This dish was frequently mentioned by her, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. As an aside, one could readily discern at the supper ball which guests had manners and those who did not.

Ragout of

The ragout of veal at the supper dance was associated with high living. Image @BBC2

More on the topic:

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Inquiring reader: The city of Bath is a topic that guest writer Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, knows well, having immersed himself in Bath’s history and environs for his novel. For this article he examines Jane’s life in Bath and how the city must have looked and felt to her in the years that she lived there. Enjoy.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opens with the sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” It is one of the best written and best known opening lines of any novel. It is also one of the best examples of “comic irony” because, as Austen makes clear throughout the novel, it is primarily the women (or more particularly their mothers) who are desperately in search of a rich single man as husband-material.

Historically Bath was undoubtedly one of the most favoured locations for such husband hunting, both in fact and in fiction. Though the city is relatively small today, it had grown faster than almost any other in Britain during the 17th Century. In 1801, when Jane moved to the city it was the ninth largest conurbation in England with a population of 35,000. Its spa facilities and entertainments were renowned throughout Europe and visitors flocked to the city for “The Season” (roughly from the beginning of May to mid-September). This was the time for match-making.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

There were balls and gatherings, concerts and card games in the Upper and Lower Assembly Rooms. Each day people met in The Pump Rooms to see who was newly arrived in the city, to make introductions (and to be introduced) and perhaps most importantly to exchange gossip, and arrange social events. The theatre too, was well attended with a continually changing programme of popular contemporary productions, drawing some of the finest actors and performers of the age.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

People also entertained at home, and yet one of the most favoured social events (weather permitting) was simply “promenading” in the popular shopping areas like Milsom Street, or the many purpose-built, Parades and Parks, like Jane’s favourite, Sydney Gardens. These were the places to see and be seen, the places where accidental meetings might be expected, or could be contrived. As Catherine Morland remarks in Northanger Abbey – “a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

It would be easy to be swept away by images of “beautiful people” in a social whirl of high society events, set against a back-drop of some of the finest Georgian architecture in the world. Indeed that is the world that Jane Austen seems to present in her novels, yet that was not the whole truth, at least for Jane. The notorious British weather certainly often made promenading, or even attending events or visiting friends, difficult. As Jane said in a letter to her sister, Cassandra,

“We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty person fall on steep hill. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty persons fall on a steep hill. Wikimedia image.

It must also be remembered that Jane lived in Bath continuously (throughout the years) from 1801 to 1805, and the city was a very different place, out of season. Being primarily a Spa, many of the resident population of Bath were of retirement age and not always in the best of health. As for eligible young men, only 39% of Bath’s population were male in 1801, and it is safe to assume that relatively few of these were eligible, and that even fewer were young. As Sir Walter Elliot observes in Persuasion –

“There certainly were a dreadful multitude of ugly women in Bath; and as for the men! they were infinitely worse. Such scarecrows as the streets were full of! It was evident how little the women were used to the sight of anything tolerable, by the effect which a man of decent appearance produced.”

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Many of the eligible young men were of course in the army or navy and away fighting the Napoleonic Wars for much of the time that Jane was living in Bath. And while officers in the services were expected to be at least literate, they came from vary varied educational and social backgrounds. Contrary to popular opinion, although an officer was supposed also to be a “gentleman”, this usually referred to an expectation rather than a predisposition. And often officers fell short of those expectations, which perhaps accounts for Jane’s portrayal of characters like George Wickham, the ne’er-do-well seducer in Pride and Prejudice.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

I’m sure there were lots of George Wickhams in Bath. It was, and still is, the perfect setting for a novel. It was a place where, given enough money or access to credit, all the trappings of wealth and position could be rented or hired or borrowed for The Season, and where people were often not who they appeared to be. As Jane observed in Persuasion.

“Sir Walter had at first thought more of London; but Mr Shepherd felt that he could not be trusted in London, and had been skillful enough to dissuade him from it, and make Bath preferred. It was a much safer place for a gentleman in his predicament: he might there be important at comparatively little expense.”

Company at Play, Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Company at Play

Very few of Jane’s letters survive from her time in Bath and some say that she wrote very little while she was there. Yet it’s well known that Jane was a consummate editor, writing and re-writing, polishing and refining her work until she was satisfied it was good enough. She may well have been working on drafts of her later novels even then. She was certainly observing and remembering what she saw.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

We do know that Jane wrote the beginning of her unfinished novel, “The Watsons” while in Bath. Some say it remained unfinished because it was a time of upheaval in her life (with the death of her father). Others believe it so clearly mirrored her own experience (particularly the financial precariousness of the family) at the time that she found it too painful to continue. And perhaps the chapters that she did complete lack some of the refinement and polish of her later novels, yet I find them very poignant and touching. I can’t help thinking that someone of Jane’s intelligence and sensitivity must at times have been hurt by a Society where people were judged so much in terms of title, wealth and appearance; as opposed to their true nature and accomplishments. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that Jane Austen makes such good use of comic irony.

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Find more information about Paul Emanuelli and Avon Street on his blog, unpublishedwriter, where you will find a thoughtful discussion on the demise of book stores, and his Twitter account. Click on image to find his book.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0752465546
ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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