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Inquiring readers: This is a long recap. Eight episodes of a mini-series deserve a thorough discussion of the finale.

Spoiler Alert: We’ve invested many hours in Davies’ Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece and where did it get us? Before we rush to the comment section to share our opinions, let’s analyze the final show. At the end of my, er, analysis, we’ll finish with a poll to measure our collective satisfaction quotient.

Announcement: According to PBS and ITV, there are no plans to film a second season of Sanditon.

Dancing on a cloud

The episode opens with our lovely Miss Charlotte walking on air through the one intersection of the Sanditon set that viewers have seen repeatedly. Thoughts of Sidney’s sweet talk and proposal interruptus swirl in her head.

She knocks on Mrs. Griffith’s door to visit Georgiana and espies Sidney nearby talking to Tom. He sees her as well. They exchange smoldering looks. Charlotte’s heart beats as fast as mine.

The scene segues to Georgiana’s bedroom. For the first time in many episodes, Miss Lambe is dressed in a lovely gown. Her complexion glows. She and Charlotte chatter like close girlfriends are wont to do, giggling and exchanging highly personal information.

Then Charlotte drops a bombshell – “Sidney is a wonderful man. He’s kind. He’s so dreamy. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking of him.”

Quelle horreur!

Georgiana is beside herself. “You aren’t (gag) in love with him!? Please say you are not.”

“Well, uh, maybe, perhaps. Recall that he trotted out Otis to say goodbye to you. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You cannot trust a word he says!”

Sanditon intersectionEnd of discussion. The viewer is immediately transported to the same intersection of the Sanditon set that they have seen repeatedly. This time a stagecoach takes center stage to deliver passengers and the mail. James Stringer receives a letter stating that he has received an offer of an apprenticeship in London. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Now all he has to do is tell his Da.

Something jolly

The camera pans to Sanditon House. My head spins from the many scene changes and from my low blood sugar. I reach for crackers with sharp New Zealand cheddar cheese and a fine red Australian wine and watch Lady D and Esther playing cards. Esther’s bored and pays scant attention to the game, which prompts Lady D to complain,

“You are playing like a nincompoop. What is the matter with you?”

Esther is honest. She couldn’t care less about cards.

“Don’t give yourself airs,” says Lady D, “You haven’t got my money yet! Go over and play the piano. Play me something jolly.”

Esther resists, saying she can’t play or sing.

At that moment, Lord Babbington is announced and he enters smiling and smug, and asks Esther to accompany him for a ride.

Esther: “No”

Lord Babb: “Yes”

Lady D: “Go!”

babbington and estherIn the next scene we see Esther and Lord Babb sitting side by side in a curricle (a dandy’s vehicle, much like today’s ultra sleek sports car for the uber rich). The horses gallop along a beautiful stretch of beach. Esther feigns boredom, but Lord Babb urges the horses on. She basically calls him a wuss and says:

“You are the world’s worst carriage driver.”

“Do you want to take over the reins?”

“Why not?” As she drives the horses even faster we gain insight into their future relationship. Esther is the alpha of the two—a bitch in a bonnet. (Thanks, Robert Rodi for the title, which I borrowed from your book.)

The horses increase their speed, their manes and tails flying in the wind. Esther laughs joyously and for the first time viewers watch her blossom into a fun-loving young woman whose worries disappear with a man who loves her more than she loves him.

First kiss

Tom Parker is happy. The WHOLE WORLD wants to come to Sanditon (a slight exaggeration) just in time for the Midsummer’s Ball.

Sidney visits Tom in the drawing room and catches Charlotte going out to adjust the final finishes to her ball gown. Sidney expresses interest in joining her in her perambulations. She says, coyly, “Sure why not?” And off they go—in the exact opposite direction of her destination. There is no urgency to her dressmaking, she says. Hah!

charlotte SidneyThe couple meanders along the Downs, lost in tender emotions and lust. Then they kiss.

Heartstrings tug. Violins violin. The music climaxes in volume. We viewers KNOW this maiden has won the final rose from her very eligible bachelor and that all is right in Austenland.

*Sigh.*

At the Midsummer’s ball

I give the third ball in this series a rating of 2. (#1 goes to the London ball, and #3 to the assembly ball at the beginning of the series.) The midsummer decorations are more than adequate and the beau monde & villagers look smashing—kudos to the costume and prop departments.

Our main protagonists and characters are assembled, beautifully dressed and ready to party, except for Georgiana, who confronts Sidney. “What are you up to with Charlotte?

Arthur interrupts to ask Miss Lambe to dance. Sidney quickly answers, “She’d be delighted.”

Off they go.

Then Sidney is way laid by Tom. James Stringer takes this moment to ask Charlotte for a dance. Across the ball room, Charlotte and Sidney exchange glances of frustration, but she can’t refuse Stringer, for she was not engaged to dance with another gentleman. Regency manners require her to accept this invitation or bow out from dancing for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, a dance in formation can take up a considerable amount of time and Sidney will have to bide his time before he can talk to his sweet Charlotte.

As James and Charlotte dance, he tells her he’s found an excellent situation in London as an apprentice. She’s so delighted with the news—so pleased for him—so gushing—that he must be disappointed with that overenthusiastic reaction.

Lord Babb talks to Sidney as they eye the dancers. He leaves his friend as soon as he sees Lady D and Esther enter the ball room, fashionably late as great ladies were wont to do.

The dancing continues, with Lord Babb and Esther, Arthur and Georgiana, and the rest of the assembled guests having great fun.  After what seems to be an age, Charlotte’s dance with Stringer finally ends.

Balcony scene

We now have a Romeo and Juliet moment in reverse, with Sidney looking down at Charlotte on the ballroom floor. They finally meet and greet. In their scene together he says all the words that a hero would say at the VERY END of a romance, but we are only halfway into the story!

And so, Sidney says, “What a brute I was.”

Charlotte, who, once upon a time was a feisty opinionated woman, says, “I deserved it.”

He then confesses he’s the same man. She ripostes, “But much improved.” Really, Charlotte, really? I reach for more wine and learn to my surprise that one can gulp 3 ounces in one fell swoop.

Then comes the piece de resistance in romance dialogues—“If I’ve changed at all it is in no small part down to you. I’ve never waited to put myself in someone else’s power before.”

Violins violin. Hearts flutter.

I think: *WTDFJH?* (What the Dr. Fuchs just happened?) This denouement is occurring too soon!

I forgot about deux ex machina, a literary device used to derail the reader or viewer, and that is discouraged by professors who teach Writing Romance Novels 101.

Ashes to ashes

For some reason, the elder Stringer, instead of attending the ball, works late by candlelight on a stepladder to complete the Crescent all by his lonesome. James Stringer sought him out before the ball to tell him about his acceptance letter in the apprenticeship program

Dad is not pleased. “It’s for Charlotte and (eyeing his ball attire), you look like one of THEM! Well, off you go, then.”

James, such a sweet and likable character, stomps out, calling his father a miserable old man.

The night is dark and only candles light up the space when Old Stringer touches his chest, then his left arm. Uh, oh. My knowledge of medicine, learned in lifeguard training classes in college, kicks in. This is not looking good. Plus, why is the elder Stringer working for a gentleman when he hasn’t been paid in an age?

The next thing we know, someone yells, “Fire!” Poor Mr. Stringer is toast. Scant resources existed in the early 19th century to fight fires in buildings made largely of wood, and the structure is swiftly destroyed.  James Stringer is aghast at the loss of his father, and he recalls his angry last words with profound regret.

Tom, who was riding high a few hours ago with visions of profits dancing in his head, is utterly destroyed financially. He has no idea of how to save his dream for a seaside resort. Worse, how could he face his Mary?  His stupidity and naiveté are revealed when Sidney uncovers his true crime—not investing in insurance to save a few quid.

Lady D swoops down upon the hapless brothers and sister, saying she wants her investment back or else they’ll all be put in the poor house. The Parkers’ combined resources cannot cover the disastrous cost of  ‎£80,000, or £6,323,574.23 in today’s money. Is there no hope?

Yes! Deus ex machina.

Everything has changed. Sidney rides off in the sunset to London to find funds. In ancient Greek theatre, this DEM device came in the form of an angel or god of sorts lowered onto a stage who would save the protagonists. A chorus echoes in my head with the refrain, “Lady Campion, she’s the champion, richest widow in the land.”

Before Sidney leaves, he visits Charlotte and holds her hand: “When I return, we’ll finally have a chance to finish our conversation. I’ll be back in a week.”

Is that so, kemo sabe? We’ll see.

Old Stringer is buried. We learn his name was Isaac. James is beside himself with grief and regret.

In another scene, Tom grovels in front of Mary and she, milquetoast, er, loving wife, that she is, forgives him.

Charlotte writes a letter to her sister saying that it’s been weeks since Sidney left in an attempt to save Sanditon…and so the plot goes on.

The wedding is celebrated by … the wrong couple, or the right couple, or half the couples who are eligible to marry. Take your pick.

I must confess my happiness when Lord Babb and his Esther marry. It’s the same feeling I had when Lady Edith married her Bertie in Downton Abbey, making her a marchioness.

I love it when Story B makes it to the A list and emerges front and center. In this instance, the viewer is treated to the morning after the wedding night, when we see that Esther is not disappointed. In fact, she anticipates a happy future with her Lord, who unleashed emotions in her and feelings of pleasure that Sir Ed would never have liberated.

Well done you, Lord Babb. I love rich, huggy-bear types who adore their headstrong women.

Good news, bad news: the hero returns to save the day but sacrifices his lovely damsel and his own happiness.

The Parkers’ financial future lies in Sidney’s quick return, and they gnash their teeth as they await news of his success. He hies back to Sanditon several weeks after his departure, causing ulcers and sleepless nights for kith and kin. It turns out, he has saved them all—except for he, himself and Charlotte.

Their meeting stinks, in my humble opinion. At least he’s gutsy enough to tell her in person of his actions.

Saint Sidney takes her hand in his.

“Charlotte, my dear Charlotte…I had hoped that upon my return I’d be able to make you a proposal of marriage, but it cannot be…the fact is I have been obliged to engage myself to Mrs. Eliza Campion.”

*Yeah, whatev,* I think. Charlotte is stunned, however.

“Please believe me there was no other way to resolve Tom’s situation”

Sidney’s words turn Charlotte into a boneless mass of compliance.

“I understand. I wish you every happiness,” she says like an automaton.

Adding salt to the wound of rejection

Lady DenhamAfter Lord Babb’s weddng to Esther, Lady D turns to Charlotte. “Well Miss Heywood? Are you still proclaiming your independence? Or is it that none of our young men have taken your fancy?” She turns to Sidney: “What do you say, Mr. Parker?”

Lady D is called away, before he can formulate an answer.

Charlotte and Sidney soldier on, exchanging polite conversation. “How are your wedding preparations?” she asks, her face immobile, as if injected by botox

“Elaborate.”

Lady Campion, all noxious graciousness, insinuates herself into the conversation.

“Perhaps we should plan a simple country wedding. Although I don’t think it would be our sort of thing.”

At this point I’ve eaten all my crackers and cheese, texted my Janeite friends with my observances, and poured another glass of an outstanding 94-point Fox in the Hen House wine. I take care not to throw that precious liquid at the screen whenever Lady C smirks.

Charlotte folds in on herself like a wet noodle

Charlotte visits James Stringer. Feeling the weight of guilt for his last angry words to his father, he now lives in his Da’s cottage.

“I gather Mr. Sidney Parker is engaged,” he says.

“Yes, I wish for his happiness.”

“She’s not half the woman you are…if he doesn’t see that he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stringer.” Charlotte obviously has no desire to flirt with James or embark on a relationship with him. More fool she.

We then see her saying goodbye to the Palmer family and leaving Sanditon in a lovely carriage pulled by four magnificent horses. Once again, the scenery of the Downs is sublime.

The camera pans to Sidney chasing after Charlotte on his powerful steed.

“Whoa, whoa,” says the coachman, prompting Charlotte to peer out the window.

The viewers instantly know why Sidney needs to see her when he says, “Tell me you don’t think badly of me.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 1.49.20 PMCharlotte says without inflection, “I don’t think badly of you.”

He then says, “I don’t love her, you know… I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain.”

This is the UNFAIREST cut of them all. “Sir,” I shout at the screen, “You are no gentleman!”

Charlotte meekly steps inside the carriage and Sidney watches until it disappears over the horizon

I splutter. THAT’S IT?! What did I just invest my time in?

Davies and his team have an obligation to viewers to end this mini-series without a cliff hanger. He was hoping for but was not assured a second season.  His attitude towards us is disrespectful.

My plea to the powers that be is to think of your audience and order up at least one more episode to tie up loose ends and provide Charlotte with the logical ending she deserves.

Now, gentle reader,  it’s your turn to vent, either in the comment section or in this poll.

Thank you for visiting this blog. It’s been a pleasure reading your thoughts, pro, con, or indifferent.

Viewer satisfaction poll of Sanditon

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Episode 7: At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

As popular television fare goes, Davies’ Sanditon is quite entertaining. In the first 16 minutes of Episode Seven, so many dizzying plot developments are introduced, that they left this viewer’s head spinning. By the end of the episode, everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown into the mix to keep viewers hungering for more. (The last episode is a doozy, but we’ll get to it next week.)

 

Davies’ sledge -hammer approach felt so heavy handed at times, that (honestly) I ran to my bookshelf to retrieve Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen’s delightful, familiar words gave me a sense of calm. I put down the book and continued to watch the episode.

 

As certain characters in Davies’ Sanditon reveal their distasteful ambitions, such as when Clara Brereton told Esther Denham about her sexual gymnastics with Sir Edward on the drawing room floor after burning Lady Denham’s will and divvying up her fortune (as that lady lay dying), I reached for my first glass of wine, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Let’s face it. Austen did not hesitate to create nasty characters. Think of Sense and Sensibility.  Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, is a piece of work plotting to oust Mrs. Dashwood, John’s stepmother, and his stepsisters from Norland Park almost as soon as the elder Mr. Dashwood was buried. Her machinations were despicable, but under Austen’s skillful pen, Fanny’s method to drive them out was masterful, awesome, ruthless, and nuanced. John, her husband, is a manipulated fool and yet a willing conspirator in disregarding his father’s express desire for his stepsisters’ and stepmother’s future security.

 

We felt the Dashwood women’s pain and grief. We understood their pride and anger as they chose to leave an impossible situation as soon as possible. We felt for Marianne Dashwood when she fell for Willoughby, a flawed but smooth-talking and handsome character. Readers knew, along with Colonel Brandon, that he had gotten a virginal girl pregnant and then abandoned her to a life of shame.

 

Elinor Dashwood, a sensible character, at first had difficulty seeing through Lucy Steele, a conniving little witch. When Elinor finally figured her out, she was trapped into listening to information about Edward Ferrars that felt like knives stabbing her heart. More than once I wanted her to bitch slap that girl, but Elinor has more class than me.

 

Who can forget Fanny Dashwood’s mother? She was an outspoken battle-ax and manipulator of the worst sort, whose conversation provoked Marianne to defend her sister with a truthful artlessness that was bold and threw caution to the wind.

 

The difference between Austen’s villains and Davies’ is that Austen laid a careful groundwork for their motivations and behavior. The dark undertones of conflict between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon resonate with us. The secrets the two men withheld from Marianne, and the complexity of their love and longing for her add to the suspense of the plot—who will she choose? Which choice makes sense to the heart of a young girl? Which is the more mature, sensible choice? How do experience, suffering, and maturity add to a character’s growth and understanding?

 

In Davies’ Sanditon, secondary characters and villains tend to be one dimensional, almost cartoon-like. The main protagonists, Charlotte and Sidney, are given more complex motivations, which I appreciate, especially in this episode as they attempt to overcome their misunderstandings and grow closer. Their longing for each other is palpable, as Lady Susan and Young Stringer notice.

 

Now, let’s examine the salient plot lines in this second to the last episode.

 

Stupid is as stupid does

 

While Lucy Steele’s devised her trap for Elinor with evil genius, she kept her plans to herself until she approached Edward. Clara Brereton is just plain dumb. She lords it over Esther, who is unable to hide her emotions for her stepbrother. A gloating Clara reveals that she and Edward found the will, agreed to 50% of the cut, then burned it. Seeing Esther’s disbelief, she adds salt to the wound to reveal that she and Sir Ed sealed the deal with a quickie on the drawing room floor. Charlotte Spencer, the actress who plays Esther, stepped up her acting chops and gave a superb performance throughout this episode. We feel her pain, her horror, and then her understanding of the situation.

 

Most of all, we (I) cheered her hard slap to Clara’s face. Then, when Clara figures out that Esther is still a virgin, she says,”No wonder he was so keen to take his pleasure elsewhere.” We (I) wished that Esther had knocked her unconscious to the floor. (I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies.)

 

As for Clara, she’s no Jane Fairfax. Her situation as Lady D’s dependent companion is precarious. Falsely confident, she assumes the mantle of the victor prematurely. Jane Fairfax kept silent until all the dominoes fell safely in place before Frank Churchill revealed their romantic bond. Clara, who has just as much to lose, could not stop herself from gloating.

 

A vengeful phoenix arises from the ashes and swoops on her victims with talons outstretched

 

Esther, in her misery, pays a final visit to Lady Denham. Her confession to the comatose lady is revealing. She says:

 

You should know there’s not a single person alive who holds you in the least affection. Not Edward, Clara, not me…“You will die unloved, and Edward, my Edward—she holds Lady D’s hand—“Truth is, he’s betrayed us both. He betrayed us when he and Clara lay with each other on the drawing room floor. He betrayed us when he and Clara conspired to burn your will and share your fortune. I truly hope that you find happiness in heaven, because this earth has become a living hell.”

 

Hours or days later, Esther sits waiting in the hallway as Sir Ed awakens from a couch just outside of Lady D’s bedroom. He yawns and says,

I did not know it was going to be this drawn out [or] I would have been in bed.”

Esther replies sarcastically,

Perhaps you would have been more comfortable on the floor.”

He shoots her a curious look. Then, wonder of wonders, the unfortunately named Dr. Fuchs runs towards them.

Her fever broke!…She may yet recover altogether!”

While Clara blanches, as if the ghost of Northanger Abbey has come to attack her, Sir Ed’s collar grows three sizes too small.

 

Somewhat later, he and Clara simper up to Lady D, who’s still abed. Sir Ed says unctuously,

Words cannot express our belief. Dr. Fuchs has our eternal gratitude.”

Lady D, holding a glass with a milky substance, says,

Why? If anyone deserves credit, it is the ass who restored my strength.”

Austen created the running joke of Lady D’s milch asses, from whom that wealthy widow planned to make much money. Davies and his team hardly used that funny material, an opportunity missed.

 

Clara adds timidly,

We have kept constant vigil.”

A steely-eyed Lady D then gives the two of them her what for.

Mmmm. Well, you can dry your eyes. Dying is highly disagreeable…although it has to be said there is nothing like imminent death to focus the mind. I have under-estimated the boundless depth of your venality.”

The two blather and bluster, but Lady D waves them off.

Enough, you feeble parasites…Get out, and needless to say, I shall be laying a new floor in my drawing room, since the old one has been indelibly stained!”

Gentle readers, who’d have thunk a wood floor would become such an important character in a mini-series? Oh, the drama! Sir Ed is disinherited. Clara is banished to London post haste. And Esther appears to be the sole remaining heir to the Denham fortune. At this point, I poured my second glass of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and munched copious amounts of Utz Party Mix, which contains not one wholly natural ingredient as far as I can tell.

 

Turbo recap of the rest of the story

 

Tom Parker is beside himself when he gushes that all the beau monde in London have traveled to Sanditon. He greets Lady Susan with an obsequiousness that is cringe worthy. When he tells her that Sanditon has the finest situation on the south coast, she pooh-poohs the idea,

 

Oh, shush. Never mind all that. If I gave a fig about the sea, I’d have gone to Brighton.” (A delicious cut.)

It turns out that she’s come to continue her conversation with Charlotte, which, to my mind, was nothing more than artless chatter at a fancy ball from a simple girl from a simple farm near an undeveloped town. One can never divine the whims of the rich and famous, so we’ll have to take Lady Susan’s word at face value.

 

She and Charlotte chatter, and the lady’s keen observation tells her that she’s in love. Her discernment also tells her that Lady Eliza Campion, one of the richest women in the country and an old connection to Sidney Parker, stands in the way of Charlotte’s happiness. Lady S, a kind busybody, will see to that. She’ll find a chink in Lady Campion’s armour and put a stop to her designs on Sidney Parker. Anything for a friend she’s known for all of two hours.

 

Charlotte, upset at seeing Lady C, turns away from the assembled company and encounters Young Stringer in the woods. We learn this late in the series that his first name is James. James Stringer. Had Davies and his team meant for Stringer to be a likely love interest for Charlotte, we would have learned this important fact earlier. In the course of their conversation, James realizes that while he yearns for Charlotte, she yearns for someone else. Like the stoic man he is, he holds his feelings to himself and lets her go. C’mon, James! Fight for your woman!

 

We then see the three Parker brothers strolling towards the regatta. As they converse, we learn that Sidney has loved Eliza Campion for a decade and that his broken heart drove him to the West Indies. (Another bit of news that comes late in the series.) Sidney only says that it’s a strange feeling to want something that is impossible and to find that it’s suddenly in your grasp. For once Arthur sounds intelligent and says that while he admires Sidney’s spirit of forgiveness, if it were him, he would never trust that lady again.

 

As a quick aside, Miss Lambe, who has been strangely delegated as a secondary character in the background, shows signs of deep depression. Arthur Parker visits her and insists that she join them in the festivities. She goes unwillingly, but it is obvious that he has a crush on her.

 

The regatta is a letdown. There’s a sandcastle competition, a fisherman’s boat race, and a gentleman’s rowing race that James Stringer and his crew win. Tents provide food and drink, but I see nothing that would attract the beau monde to return a second time.

 

Before the rowing competition, Sidney and Charlotte make goo goo eyes at each other on the boat as he practices his strokes and shows her how to row along with him. (I do so love symbolism.) Eliza Campion watches them from the banks, jealous and suspicious. After the race she makes a pitch, telling him she never lost hope and that fate is giving them a second chance. 

 

Sir Ed fails in his quest to woo Esther back and share her fortune. The once confident man is drunk and disheveled as he encounters Clara with her packed bags at the docks. He tells her off harshly and brags that he’s still a gentleman and titled. “Yes,” she says, “but I had nothing to lose…You’re alone and unloved.”

 

After a revealing conversation with Sir Ed, who spoke in derogatory terms about Esther, Lord Babbington hurries to see her. He tells her that he can’t forget her and that he has her back, always.

I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not have enough.”

 

Esther begins to cry.

You…know nothing.”

 

He replies,

I think you’ve been his prisoner for too long.”

The background music swells in my head as he continues talking to her in this romantic vein.

 

In the last scene, Sidney approaches Charlotte.

I thought you and Mrs. Campion would be heading back for London,” she says.

 

She’s already left. I decided against joining her. On reflection, I realized I would rather be here…I believe I’m my best self—my truest self when I’m with you.”

 

The music crescendos. My heart’s a flutter. Perhaps from the wine, but it might be that all this romantic stuff is making me feel all puddly inside.

 

Next week: the conclusion. Or is it? (Gentle readers, those of you who binge watched this series, please include no spoilers in the comments. Thank you!)

 

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The plot goes on, the plot goes on
Twists keep pounding confusion to my brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Inquiring Readers,

I apologize for reworking Sonny and Cher lyrics and adding them to my recap of Sanditon: Episode Six, but when the Davies’ writing team had 19th century Charlotte saying “Anyway, she’s safe” in discussing Georgiana to a stranger named Susan at a London ball, I was instantly transported out of the Regency era to our own time. Like, you know. Wha’s up with dat?

Our classy Miss Jane did not have any characters say “anyway” in her novel fragment of Sanditon This phrase, uttered late in the episode by Rose Williams, an accomplished and very likable actress, stood out like a gluten-free, plant-based dish at a smoked meat barbecue. Am I nitpicking? Well, yeah. You betcha.

The production values of the ball were gaspingly beautiful, and I loved the dances, although the music was somewhat off putting. While I liked the folksy music at the assembly ball in Sussex, a rural area, I would think that a prestigious London ball would feature more sophisticated airs and the latest musical trends from the continent.

With all the plot twists and confusing goings on in this episode, I imbibed two glasses of pinot noir. Just now I’m having a hard time deciding which plot elements to cover and which to gloss over. I’m sure you’ll mention some I missed in the comments.

Bear with me as I condense 8 pages of notes into a short-ish review. At the start of the episode we see virginal 22-year old Miss Charlotte Heywood galivanting alone to London by stagecoach with only a vague idea of where to find her friend, Georgiana Lambe, who planned to run off with Mr. Otis Molyneux and free herself from the shackles of her guardian, Sidney Parker.

Never mind that no single 19th century lady like Charlotte (or Miss Lambe) would venture forth without a chaperone (recall that dastardly General Tilney cast Catherine Morland out alone from Northanger Abbey on a long journey home and how this appalled Henry and his sister). Disregarding conventions or the services of a maid, our stubborn and loyal heroine is determined to find her friend without an address in a city of a million people. Somehow, in a dark, dank alley, without a GPS, she *happens* to meet Mr. Sidney Parker. Plot-wise, this is not Deus Ex Machina. It is Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Sidney, after an awkward exchange with Charlotte in which he mentions that he despises slavery, suggest that they might find Mr. Molyneux at a meeting of the Sons of Africa, a movement to which he belongs. There they find him speaking at a pulpit. Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Here’s where the plot twists and bends It turns out that Mr. Otis Molyneux never received the letter from Georgiana stating where she would meet him. Someone else met her and abducted her. Speaking to Otis, they discover he owes gambling debts to a Mr. Beecroft.

Sidney and Charlotte rush over to Beecroft’s gambling den and learn that in order to satisfy Otis’s debt, Mr. Beecroft kidnapped Miss Lambe and sold her to a Mr. Howard, a repulsive and dangerous man. This individual, upon learning that Sidney is hot on his heels, absconds with Georgiana to Scotland in order to force her into marriage and gain full access to her fortune.

Sidney, along with Charlotte, chase after Howard in a scene reminiscent of a classic Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Sidney’s horses heroically overtake Howard’s carriage, which allows our hero to jump onto the villain’s vehicle. The camera follows Sidney, not the horses, who have probably collapsed on the side of the road from exhaustion after their herculean efforts. It’s hard enough for two horses to pull a heavy vehicle for twelve miles at regular speed, but to ask them to run at a full clip with 2-3 people on board for however long, well, that’s zany. Why did Sidney not go on horseback alone and return with Miss Lambe after rescuing her? Oh, yes, I forgot. Stubborn Charlotte insisted on coming along.

At this point, Davies’ Sanditon, which many episodes ago had left the sophisticated structure of Austen’s unconventional forward-thinking novel fragment, goes backwards in time to gain inspiration from Austen’s fun but melodramatic Juvenilia stories, which were filled with outrageous characters, situations, and histories.

I reached for my second glass of wine while watching the drama unfold among the Denhams and Clara Brereton. As Lady Denham lies dying (she is as mean-spirited as ever), Edward searches for her will in every nook and cranny, room or desk he can think of. Papers are scattered everywhere (one would have thought a servant might have alerted their lady to this dastardly search, but Lady D probably alienated them too.)

In Jane’s novel fragment, Edward is a self-centered buffoon, one who quotes poetry and literature inspired by nature with doltish misunderstanding. In quoting his favorite poets and authors, he blathers reams of nonsense.

Sir E also fancies himself a ladies’ man and a seducer. His personality under Austen’s hand is that of an ineffectual dilettante, one without a fortune. To save himself from poverty, his hopes depend solely on an inheritance from Lady D or a marriage to an heiress. In Davies’ Sanditon, Edward is intentionally malicious. He is a villain, plain and simple – handsome and dangerous – but a plotting SOB.

My attitude towards Esther in Davies’ Sanditon has softened somewhat, since her treatment of Babbington in Episode 5 was not altogether atrocious, but she’s captive to her longing for Edward, which makes her a weak character. Still, I cannot forget her coarse conversations with Clara Brereton, more reminiscent of women in a brothel than maidens reared in privileged environments.

It’s not as if Esther has no prospects. Lady D is more than willing to team her up with Lord Babbington, Sidney’s friend, who possesses the trifecta of a title, estate, and fortune. Hormones have overpowered Esther’s common sense, however, and she prefers to moon over her stepbrother and wait for good fortune to save and unite them.

Jane Austen’s take on the situation differs from Davies’s. In Austen’s Sanditon, Lady D tells Charlotte about Esther:

Miss Esther wants me to invite her and her brother to spend a week with me at Sanditon House, as I did last summer. But I shan’t. She has been trying to get round me every way with her praise of this and her praise of that; but I saw what she was about. I saw through it all. I am not very easily taken in, my dear.”

&

“And Miss Esther must marry somebody of fortune too. She must get a rich husband. Ah, young ladies that have no money are very much to be pitied! But,” after a short pause, “if Miss Esther thinks to talk me into inviting them to come and stay at Sanditon House, she will find herself mistaken. Matters are altered with me since last summer, you know. I have Miss Clara with me now which makes a great difference.”

Then there’s Clara Brereton, Lady D’s companion, whose enviable skill is in her ability to keep Lady D happy. This is how Austen describes her:

…in selecting the one, Lady Denham had shown the good part of her character. For, passing by the actual daughters of the house, she had chosen Clara, a niece—more helpless and more pitiable of course than any—a dependent on poverty—an additional burden on an encumbered circle—and one who had been so low in every worldly view as, with all her natural endowments and powers, to have been preparing for a situation little better than a nursery maid.

Clara had returned with her—and by her good sense and merit had now, to all appearance, secured a very strong hold in Lady Denham’s regard. The six months had long been over—and not a syllable was breathed of any change or exchange. She was a general favourite.”

One critic compared Clara’s situation to Jane Fairfax’s. Both young women, dependent on the kindness of relatives and strangers, had to walk a tightrope in their respective situations. No hint of scandal could be attached to their conduct. Jane Fairfax was successful in hiding her romance with Frank Churchill, but in Davies’ Sanditon, Clara makes brazen movements towards Sir Edward. She’s seen by Charlotte giving him a hand job and in this episode the viewer is given the distasteful experience of watching her writhe with Edward on the floor after they found Lady D’s will and wrangled over their take of the inheritance. What if the servants had walked in on them? How stupid could a single woman with no fortune be?

Austen does hint at Edward’s desire to have Clara for a lover. She writes:

Miss Heywood, or any other young woman with any pretensions to beauty, he was entitled (according to his own view of society) to approach with high compliment and rhapsody on the slightest acquaintance. But it was Clara alone on whom he had serious designs; it was Clara whom he meant to seduce.”

What is Clara’s part in his plans for her seduction? Evidently, she wasn’t born yesterday. Jane describes the following:

Clara saw through him and had not the least intention of being seduced; but she bore with him patiently enough to confirm the sort of attachment which her personal charms had raised. A greater degree of discouragement indeed would not have affected Sir Edward. He was armed against the highest pitch of disdain or aversion. If she could not be won by affection, he must carry her off. He knew his business. Already had he had many musings on the subject. If he were constrained so to act, he must naturally wish to strike out something new, to exceed those who had gone before him; and he felt a strong curiosity to ascertain whether the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo might not afford some solitary house adapted for Clara’s reception.”

Sir Edward’s plans are ambitious and nonsensical, for he has not a sou to his name, and so Austen states:

But the expense, alas! of measures in that masterly style was ill-suited to his purse; and prudence obliged him to prefer the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace for the object of his affections to the more renowned.”

Austen’s rather extensive description of the Denhams in her short twelve paragraphs exceeds her description of Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe, to whom Austen had not given a first name. So the story of the Denhams and Clara Brereton as it unfolds in Davies’ Sanditon is partially Austen’s invention, but in the series’ explicit vulgarity it is all Davies’s.

Episode six ends with the ball. Weeks before, Lord Babbington entered Trafalgar House with invitations to a masked ball in Grosvenor Square, a high end Mayfair address in London. Tom Parker immediately seizes on the idea of taking his friends to the ball and asking them to advertise the regatta in Sanditon to all the ball goers they encounter. This is bad form, but Tom is desperate and his friends’ support might be his last hope for salvaging his finances and reputation.

In a Deus Ex Coincidenta moment, Charlotte meets a lovely older woman named Susan, who shows extraordinary interest in the artless young woman. As Charlotte leaves her new acquaintance, she spots Sidney Parker in deep conversation with a lady. Since Charlotte’s and Sidney’s adventure in rescuing Georgianna, they’ve bonded and become close. Their dance brought them even closer, so one can imagine her shock at seeing him so intimate with a strange woman.

Stay tuned for Episode 7 to see what develops. I, for one, am somewhat miffed that a new character has been introduced so late in the series.

What say you?

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A good friend, after watching all episodes of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon, wrote to express the thought that Young Stringer was more suited for Charlotte than Sidney Parker. Young Stringer, played by Leo Suter, is an actor as handsome as Theo James, who played Sidney Parker, although Theo is darkly handsome, whereas Leo has a kinder face.

Young Stringer and CharlotteYoung Stringer

Young Stringer is an ambitious working man who aims to use his talents as a designer and architect to move up in life. Stringer ‘s infatuation with Charlotte reminds me of Robert Martin’s unquestioning love for Harriett Smith in Emma.The difference is that Charlotte is no one’s fool and so much smarter than Harriett. Her common sense and insights fascinate Sydney, who is attracted to her despite his inner misgivings.

At the time my friend chose Young Stringer over Sydney, I thought that the former was an invention of Andrew Davies and his team. It turns out I was wrong. Austen briefly describes him through Tom Parker. He says:

“But, my dear love, as to garden stuff, you were saying that any accidental omission is supplied in a moment by Lady Denham’s gardener. But it occurs to me that we ought to go elsewhere upon such occasions, and that old Stringer and his son have a higher claim. I encouraged him to set up, you know, and am afraid he does not do very well. That is, there has not been time enough yet. He will do very well beyond a doubt. But at first it is uphill work, and therefore we must give him what help we can. When any vegetables or fruit happen to be wanted—and it will not be amiss to have them often wanted, to have something or other forgotten most days—just to have a nominal supply, you know, that poor old Andrew may not lose his daily job—but in fact to buy the chief of our consumption from the Stringers.”

“Very well, my love, that can be easily done. And cook will be satisfied, which will be a great comfort, for she is always complaining of old Andrew now and says he never brings her what she wants.”

Old Stringer and his son are struggling fruit and vegetable farmers in Austen’s version. Tom and Mary Parker are discussing this situation as they pass by  their old, snug house, which they had abandoned in favor of an exposed location in Sanditon without protection from the sun and wind. Mary is nostalgic for the old days; Tom is a forward-looking enthusiast, an early 19thcentury term that meant someone who was full of enthusiasm for a cause or a passionate belief in something that has merit. In Tom Parker’s instance, it is Sanditon, the sort of seaside town that sprouted all over the Sussex Coast in late 18th– early 19thcentury Britain.

Tom Parker feels responsible for the Stringers’ situation, since he recruited them to set up business in Sanditon – a future town that is half finished and has yet to attract important clients. Mary agrees that purchasing their goods would provide some compensation. And that’s the end of the Stringers’ participation in Austen’s unfinished novel.

Andrew Davies and his team turned the farmers into builders, with Old Stringer employed as stone mason and foreman. Tom Parker has run out of funds, and thus Old Stringer works as a laborer to help get the job done. Young Stringer demonstrates his talent by designing a beautiful Pagoda that would be the centerpiece of the newly built crescent. He believes his talent will provide him with an upwardly mobile life. Sadly, Tom informs him that the pagoda will not be built and Young Stringer burns his plans in frustration. Every time he sees Charlotte, his face lights up. They have a casual friendship, mostly from her side since it is obviously that Young Stringer is hopelessly infatuated, but I can see how my friend still hopes that they will get together romantically.

Sidney ParkerSidney Parker

Now, onto Sydney Parker. In Emma, Austen built up the reader’s expectations of Frank Churchill by providing information about him in dribs and drabs and through Emma’s assumptions, many of which (upon a second reading of the novel) were erroneous and wrong. In a similar fashion, she built up the reader’s knowledge of Sidney in the novel fragment of Sanditon. In the first nine chapters the reader learns about him through his siblings Tom Parker and Diana as they conversed with each other and with others. Tom and his wife, Mary, first discussed Old Stringer’s financial situation. They then moved on to the old house, the family seat, which they had abandoned for Trafalgar House in Sanditon. Mary speaks nostalgically of the house and its snug situation, which sheltered the house from damaging winds and storms. On seeing her former home, she says to Tom and Charlotte, who they are taking to Sanditon in gratitude for the Heywood’s hospitality,

“There now the old house is quite left behind. What is it your brother Sidney says about its being a hospital?”

“Oh, my dear Mary, merely a joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a hospital of it. He pretends to laugh at my improvements. Sidney says anything, you know. He has always said what he chose, of and to us all. Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood. There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything. In ours, it is Sidney, who is a very clever young man and with great powers of pleasing. He lives too much in the world to be settled; that is his only fault. He is here and there and everywhere. I wish we may get him to Sanditon. I should like to have you acquainted with him. And it would be a fine thing for the place! Such a young man as Sidney, with his neat equipage and fashionable air. You and I, Mary, know what effect it might have. Many a respectable family, many a careful mother, many a pretty daughter might it secure us to the prejudice of Eastbourne and Hastings.”

Tom is certainly impressed by his younger, middle brother. Then in Chapter 5, Mr Parker looks over letters before dinner.

“Not a line from Sidney!” said he. “He is an idle fellow. I sent him an account of my accident from Willingden and thought he would have vouchsafed me an answer. But perhaps it implies that he is coming himself. I trust it may. But here is a letter from one of my sisters. They never fail me. Women are the only correspondents to be depended on. Now, Mary,” smiling at his wife, “before I open it, what shall we guess as to the state of health of those it comes from or rather what would Sidney say if he were here? Sidney is a saucy fellow, Miss Heywood. And you must know, he will have it there is a good deal of imagination in my two sisters’ complaints…and our youngest brother, who lives with them and who is not much above twenty, I am sorry to say is almost as great an invalid as themselves. He is so delicate that he can engage in no profession. Sidney laughs at him. But it really is no joke, though Sidney often makes me laugh at them all in spite of myself. Now, if he were here, I know he would be offering odds that either Susan, Diana or Arthur would appear by this letter to have been at the point of death within the last month.”

Jane has established that Sidney has no use for hypochondriacs and that he isn’t above making fun of his youngest brother and two sisters, who were condensed into one woman in Davies’ Sanditon. Later in the same chapter, Tom continues talking to Charlotte as he reads a letter from one of his sisters, Diana, most likely, who attempts to recruit women from a boarding school, including a West Indian from Surrey (Miss Lambe), in order to increase visitors to the practically empty town.

I have heard nothing of Sidney since your being together in town, but conclude his scheme to the Isle of Wight has not taken place or we should have seen him in his way. Most sincerely do we wish you a good season at Sanditon, and though we cannot contribute to your Beau Monde in person, we are doing our utmost to send you company worth having and think we may safely reckon on securing you two large families, one a rich West Indian from Surrey, the other a most respectable Girls Boarding School, or Academy, from Camberwell. I will not tell you how many people I have employed in the business—Wheel within wheel—but success more than repays. Yours most affectionately.”

“Well,” said Mr. Parker, as he finished. “Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together.”

The reader receives the impression that Sidney is busy with his own schemes and is much admired by his siblings. Tom mentions Sidney one more time at the end of Chapter 9 and says gratefully:

“I got this man a hare from one of Sidney’s friends; and he recommended Sanditon.”

The reader finally meets Sidney in Chapter 12, just before Austen set the novel aside.

It was a close, misty morning and, when they reached the brow of the hill, they could not for some time make out what sort of carriage it was which they saw coming up. It appeared at different moments to be everything from a gig to a phaeton, from one horse to four; and just as they were concluding in favour of a tandem, little Mary’s young eyes distinguished the coachman and she eagerly called out, “It is Uncle Sidney, Mama, it is indeed.” And so it proved.

Mr. Sidney Parker, driving his servant in a very neat carriage, was soon opposite to them, and they all stopped for a few minutes. The manners of the Parkers were always pleasant among themselves; and it was a very friendly meeting between Sidney and his sister-in-law, who was most kindly taking it for granted that he was on his way to Trafalgar House. This he declined, however. He was “just come from Eastbourne proposing to spend two or three days, as it might happen, at Sanditon” but the hotel must be his quarters. He was expecting to be joined there by a friend or two.”

The rest was common enquiries and remarks, with kind notice of little Mary, and a very well-bred bow and proper address to Miss Heywood on her being named to him. And they parted to meet again within a few hours. Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance. This adventure afforded agreeable discussion for some time. Mrs. Parker entered into all her husband’s joy on the occasion and exulted in the credit which Sidney’s arrival would give to the place.”

Austen’s build up of this potential hero (which is still in question among scholars) intrigues the reader. Would he turn out to be a disappointment like Frank Churchill, or a hero and love interest worthy of Charlotte? Unlike Austen, Davies introduces Sidney in the first episode and rushes his introduction to Charlotte. They clash at an assembly ball. While I found Austen’s introduction of Sidney intriguing, Davies’ treatment of Sidney resembles more the hero of a bodice ripping Harlequin romance novel than a complex Austen character.

What say you in this very simple poll? Sidney or Young Stringer? What are your thoughts of the series so far?

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Inquiring readers,

We have reached episode four of Andrew Davies’ eight-episode mini-series on PBS Masterpiece.  Mr. Davies is a master cinematic storyteller.  Austen told her stories through words, while Davies takes advantage of showing dress, customs, manners, and settings visually.

The challenge in adapting the novel for a film is how to stay true to the source as you proceed to bend it into the medium of film. The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.” – Adaptation: From Novel to Film, by Judy Sandra, 27 November, 2017. Downloaded 1-25-20 @ https://www.raindance.org/adaptation-novel-film/

By episode four, Davies’ cinematic adaptation of Sanditon has strayed from Austen land and into Georgette Heyer territory. Not that this is a bad thing and it explains why so many Austen fans love his interpretation of Jane’s incomplete novel.

Image of Some of Vic's Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

Some of Vic’s Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

At 19 years of age, after reading Austen’s six novels, I wanted to read more Regency romance between heroes and heroines sparring verbally with wit and daring. I quenched my thirst by devouring all of Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels, even her mysteries.  Heyer knew the Regency and Georgian eras intimately. She and her husband lived in Mayfair, the London setting of so many of her books. Her details were historically accurate, and, best of all, she was a prolific writer. Heyer’s novels, set mostly in the highest circles of society, were as exciting as they were delightful. They were funny and romantic and brought the Regency era alive through her detailed descriptions and historical content.

Heyer’s best novelsThe Grand Sophy, Frederica, Venetia, Sylvester, Arabella (my first introduction to her work), The Corinthian, The Reluctant Widow described in great detail Regency customs, male and female fashions, social interactions (such as the use of calling cards), descriptions of White’s Club or Almack’s, Bow Street Runners, 19th century inventions, and all the minutia that Austen rarely bothered to mention. Through her sparkling stories, Heyer appeased my youthful cravings to inform me about Jane Austen’s regency world. Her often crazy plots offered pure escapism.

In a review of Heyer’s biography by Jennifer Kloester (which I also own), Rachel Cooke writes:

If you want fun – if you want elopements and quadrilles, velvet britches and sprig muslin gowns – you will have to go back to the novels, still in print, and still the greatest and most surprising of pleasures.

After viewing four episodes of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Sanditon, I am reminded more of a Georgette Heyer plot (with added sex) than Austen’s unfinished manuscript. Which is OK. The melodrama makes for great television.

It just isn’t Austen.

Do you agree? Or not? Both opinions are welcome on this blog. Please feel free to leave your comments or take the poll:

Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Linnet Moss, May 2017. Downloaded: January 25, 2020:
Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen

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Photo of Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Miss Lambe, introduced in Episode 1 at the assembly ball, is an intriguing character – a new one for Jane Austen that she intended to explore in depth before she abandoned her manuscript due to illness. By the Regency era, the British Empire had spread the world over. The term “Black” in England during that time denoted any skin color other than “white.”  This included people from Africa and the East Indies and West Indies, such as Antigua, the land of Georgiana Lambe’s birth.

Georgiana is the ward of Sidney Parker, who, after she voices her displeasure at his power over her, reminds her that her father wanted her to take a place in polite society, that she was far richer than all of them put together. Neither relish his role, but both understand that because of her fortune she must be managed.  It’s a mystery how Sidney achieved this position, but we’ll assume that an explanation of how his work in the West Indies led him to become Georgiana’s guardian will be given in future episodes.

The viewer instantly understands Georgiana’s views on her position when she angrily lashes out at Sidney that she is “not your slave to be served up as your general amusement.” She gestures dramatically and adds in mock tones, “Here’s a negress, rich and black as treacle. – feast your eyes!”

Photo of actress Anne Reid as Lady Denham

Anne Reid as Lady Denham

In the quest to cozy up to Georgiana, Lady Denham hosts a luncheon to introduce her to Sanditon society. Instead of behaving like a gracious hostess, she says the crudest, uncivil statements imaginable. As Georgiana makes her entrance, Lady D. turns to Sir Edward Denham, who is in need of a wife with a fortune, and says, “Edward, there’s your quarry. Hunt her down!”

Before anyone takes a bite of food, she addresses Georgiana, gesturing to a pineapple that was placed at the center of the table in her honor. Offended, Georgiana employs a thick island accent to indicate that pineapples are not grown in Antigua. The pair are off to a bad start. 

During the soup course, Lady D asks, “Miss Lambe, what are your views on matrimony? —“An heiress with a 100,000 must be in want of a husband.”

And we’re off to the insult races!

Georgiana gives her a sideways glance: “I don’t care to be any man’s property.”

“Oh, hoity toity! … Was not your mother a slave?”

Pregnant pause.

“She was. But being used as a thing and liking it are not the same, my lady.”

“No, I’m beginning to think that you’re a very opinionated young lady, Miss Lambe.”

Georgiana wins the riposte, but she remains deeply unhappy and unsuccessfully attempts to escape to London by coach. Charlotte happens upon a despondent Georgiana standing dangerously close to the sea cliff’s edge and crying. She comforts her and the two lonely young women become friends. 

Episode 3 presents many new revelations and developments, which will be addressed in a later review.  Miss Lambe makes only two appearances. The first in a painting class to demonstrate her rebelliousness, and the other in a scene with Sidney to show her contrition for bad behavior. The episode ends with Georgiana examining a locket with a portrait of a young Black man and kissing it before finishing a letter.

My, oh, my! How the plot has thickened.

I’ve concentrated on Georgiana Lambe in this week’s review because she is such an unusual character in the Jane Austen canon. Jane visited her brother Henry in London on many occasions and to meet with her publishers. She would have noticed the many Blacks who lived in Britain, most notably in London and major port cities. By some estimates, around 15,000 Blacks lived in England at the end of the 18th century, 20% of whom were women. Around 10,000 Blacks lived in London. 

Slavery was legal in Britain until 1772. While servitude there was preferred over life on a West Indies plantation, Black lives were not easy. After the slaves were freed, males and females found work as servants. During the Napoleonic wars, many Black males enlisted in the navy and army. Once the wars were over, these sailors and soldiers were no longer enlisted and stayed in the port cities they knew so well. 

Portrait of The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Overt racism was rampant. Servants of the rich were beautifully dressed, but treated like possessions (much like a brood stallion or a rare antique vase.) Portraits would show noble women and a Black servant, be it a child or adult, sitting at the edge of the painting, which served to increase the contrast of the female’s creamy white skin to the ebony complexion of the other sitter. The power differential between males and their Black servants was also evident.

In 1847’s Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery created two characters – Mr. Sambo, the Sedley’s male servant, and Miss Swartz, which means black in German and Dutch. Miss Swartz was described as a “rich, woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt’s,” as well as a Belle Sauvage, a dark paragon, and a dark object of conspiracy. George Osborne, her suitor, described her as “elegantly decorated as a she chimney-sweep on May-day.” 

George might not have given Miss Swartz respect, but he and his family had a healthy regard for her money, which made her an acceptable prize. Lady Denham viewed Miss Lambe with much of the same interest and contempt, but this did not fool Miss Lambe, who was proudly not for sale. Her personal experience of society’s disdain for Blacks (such as in the stage coach scene) fuels her anger, combativeness, and sadness. She has nothing to lose by meeting the offensiveness of others head on.

The Advertisement for a Wife, illustration by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive

The Advertisement for a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive. University of California Libraries. No visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1903.

For The Third Tour of Dr. Syntax In Search of a Wife: A poem by William Combe, Thomas Rowlandson illustrates  “The Advertisement for a Wife, in which a Black woman is placed prominently at the front and center of a group of spinsters. Dr. Syntax had asked an acquaintance, Mrs. Susanna Briskit, an “eccentric creature full of vivacity,” to help him find a wife. She embarked on a “scheme of fun” and invited a room full of loud, insistent females and their chaperones to apply for the position. The scene as written by Combe is funny and I imagine the inclusion of a Black lady heightened the comedy, but probably had a cruel undertone.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Not all is misery for Georgian Blacks.  This portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin in the late 18th century depicts a genuine friendship between the two women. Dido, an heiress, was born illegitimately  in the British West Indies of a British navy captain, Sir John Lindsey, and Maria Belle, an African woman whom he captured from a Spanish ship. Dido was sent to England as a child and brought up by Sir John’s uncle, Lord Mansfield and his wife, who were childless. Elizabeth Murray, Dido’s cousin, was motherless. The two girls were raised together, but Dido, while beloved, was not always invited to dine with guests. In the film “Belle,” Dido expresses the same sentiments as a governess–her position was too high to eat with servants and too low to eat with guests. Dido eventually married, had 3 children, and died in 1804 at 42. Compared to most of her Black contemporaries, she led an idyllic life. 

Portrait of Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

There were other success stories, such as the boxer Bill Richmond, or Ignatius Sancho. Born on a slave ship, Sancho became a protege of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. While working in their household, he had access to their books and taught himself to read. Today he is celebrated as a writer, composer, shopkeeper and abolitionist. 

It would have been interesting to know how Jane Austen would have fully developed Miss Lambe and what information she learned about the West Indies and Blacks in the navy from her sailor brothers.

Post Note: In The World of Sanditon (see sidebar), Sara Sheridan writes of Austen’s romantic entanglement with Dr. Samuel Blackall, a minister. In a letter to Frank, her brother, Austen describes him as “a piece of perfection.” Nothing was to come of her infatuation. Years later, Blackall married a Miss Lewis of Antigua.

Sheridan concludes that this story “provides an intriguing real-life parallel to the world of Sanditon, as does the idea of a love interest with West Indian connections.”

More sources:

The First Black Britons: Sukhdev Snadhu, History, BBC,2011-02-17. Downloaded 2/20/2020.

Black People in Late 18th Century Britain: Histories and Stories, English Heritage. Downloaded 2-20-2020

Black lives in England: Historic England Blog, Research tab. Downloaded 2-20-2020.

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sanditon-first-look-icon-01-3200x1800Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece exceeded my expectations in some respects and not in others. It seems that a mixed reaction to this mini-series is not unusual. Many viewers in the UK loved it. Many did not. Some loathed it. Reading and hearing the opinions of my Janeite friends overseas, I approached reviewing this series with some trepidation. I had an extreme reaction to Episode One at first, then viewed all the episodes in two days’ time. Seeing them back to back gave me a new perspective.

First, I wondered why Andrew Davies, the writer, used so little of Austen’s actual material. In my copy of Sanditon, the unfinished manuscript is 75 pages long. Austen completed the first draft of 11 chapters and began the 12th, where both Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe made their first appearances. Before that, the readers knew them only through conversations from other characters. Mr. Davies admitted that he devoted half of Episode One to Jane Austen’s plot as he did not think there was enough “story material” in her manuscript for more. Persuasion’s length was 24 complete chapters. Could Davies not have stretched Austen’s excellent material to two episodes? Instead he tossed aside the complex themes she was developing in favor of straightforward cinematic storytelling, which explains why so many Janeites were disappointed with the series.

As I watched the mini-series, I realized that it wasn’t an Austen adaptation. This televised tale was inspired by a tantalizing beginning that Austen did not complete. Davies used the unfinished novel merely as an outline for his plot. In online interviews he spoke about modernizing the story and sexing it up. In his foreword to the official companion book to the series, The World of Sanditon, Davies was forthright about rushing through the first three episodes as he worked against a deadline. He states:

I’m thrilled with what we have achieved: a period drama that feels utterly fresh and modern – Jane Austen, but not as you knew her.”

If you keep this statement in mind, you will watch the series for what it is and what it was meant to be – entertainment with many references to Jane Austen’s other novels and characters.

Rose Williams, who plays Charlotte Heywood, is adorable. She resembles an adolescent Austen heroine. Fresh-faced, yet wise and well-read, with a young-sounding voice, she has the qualities that I imagined for Charlotte Heywood and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. (Ms. Williams is 25 years old, but she looks and sounds much younger.)

I’ve read of complaints about Charlotte’s hair as being inauthentic in this series. At the assembly ball, however, and at formal gatherings, her hair and its accessories are appropriate for the occasion. I think that by keeping her hair loose and wild during walks, seaside outings, and less formal times, Davies is reminding viewers of her humble country origins. As a guest of the Parkers, she would have help from servants for formal occasions but would most likely be left on her own at other times.

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe, a woman of mixed-race, is given the delightful name of Georgiana, reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s sister. Austen’s introduction of a West Indies heiress is a new development in her novels. The topic of mixed races and fantastic wealth achieved on plantations in Antigua is one she must have known well through her sailor brothers. I love the developing friendship between Georgiana and Charlotte.

I’ve not been as bothered by the music mentioned by some. Sanditon is located along the coastline of Sussex, a rural region, and the setting is not as fashionable or royal as Brighton, where fancy orchestras could find ample work. The folksy music complements the rustic, unfinished streets and buildings in Sanditon and supports the more modern treatment Davies sought.

The photography is lovely, the sets are lush, and I love how the costumes identify people by their wealth and status. Charlotte’s clothes are simple and homemade, although she owns more dresses than I though her parents with 11 children could afford. Miss Lambe, Miss Denham, and Clara Brereton wear clothes of a finer quality, and so forth.

Now we get to the part that I find problematic. I know Davies wanted to sex up the plot, but, really, a hand job? I was not amused. What if I wanted to introduce my young nieces to Jane Austen? How would I have explained that scene?

As to the nudity, male and female beaches were separated at the time. Both sexes knew the demarcation lines and where or where not to walk or swim. Charlotte happening upon Sidney Parker rising out of the ocean full frontal naked caused me to laugh, not out of embarrassment, but because the audience manipulation was so obvious. Jane Austen was no prude. A country woman, she had probably witnessed sex among animals, nursed her male relatives back to health, and helped family members and neighbors with birthing, but she was never crude. Ever.

Young Stringer, the foreman, is a likable character, but I thought almost from the start that he was created to be a “second stringer,” someone to throw us off in the romance department. His background and ambitions are suited to someone of Charlotte’s station, but Sidney Parker has been cast in the role of hero, and so Young Stringer’s purpose seems likely to go nowhere.

Theo James’s performance as Sidney Parker was quite good. He is a darkly handsome hero, one whose sparring with Charlotte in the first two episodes reminded me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

To sum up this review, Davies chose to follow his own instincts in developing this miniseries If viewers watch the first two episodes of Sanditon on their own merit and not as an Austen adaptation, they’ll enjoy the experience.

Sanditon for streaming and binge watchers

The debut episode of the series will begin streaming on the MASTERPIECE PRIME VIDEO CHANNEL on January 12, with new episodes debuting Sunday of each following week. On February 23, fans can binge-watch the program in its entirety.

The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. Every purchase helps supports public television for all.

See sidebar for links to PBS, a description of the full cast, and a link to the companion book.

Links to Music

 

 

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Charlotte Heywood as played by Rose Williams

Image of Charlotte Heywood as played by Rose Williams. 
Copyright: RED PLANET/ITV
For further information please contact:
Patrick.smith@itv.com 0207 1573044

Click below to enter the poll and see results! Feel free to leave a comment.

I’m Looking Forward to Watching Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday

(polls)

Results so far. The percentages have remained static for 3 days, although voting numbers are changing.

Image of the Sanditon poll results for "I'm looking forward to watching Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday, with 83% looking forward to watching the mini-series.

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Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “

Sources:

  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to

 

 

 

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Cover of Sanditon by Jane Austen, Oxford World Classics, and edited by Kathryn SutherlandInquiring readers, It is confirmed!! Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last unfinished fragment of a novel has been adapted for television as an 8-episode mini-series by Andrew Davies, who adapted 1995’s Pride and Prejudice for the small screen. Mr. Davies uses his talents and knowledge of Jane Austen and British history to finish the novel that Jane laid aside months before her death. The mini-series includes nude bathing (an historically accurate touch) and, to paraphrase Mr. Davies, is somewhat “sexed up.” (Town and Country Magazine.)

British audiences: Sanditon begins on ITV on Sunday 25th August 2019 at 9pm for 8 episodes.

U.S. audiences: The PBS Masterpiece Sanditon will air some time in 2020. Look for announcements later.

What is Sanditon? According to Oxford World Classics…”Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformation that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships.”

…”In this, her final, unfinished work, the writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand.”

Read about the novel, newly released by Oxford World’s Classics and edited by Kathryn Sutherlund at this link. Look for my review of the unfinished novel soon.

Tony Grant, a frequent contributor to this blog, has written a post in anticipation of the series:  SANDITON ( an unfinished novel by Jane Austen) is coming to our screens. What might we see?

View the trailer below on PBS’s site:

Sanditon: First Look on PBS Masterpiece: Click here

Sanditon on ITV: Click here

Additional Sanditon information:

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If you’ve been reading my thoughts on DA, inquiring readers, you know I’ve lumped scenes together for review and not recapped each episode as it progressed. For the sake of space, I’ve ignored some story threads altogether. This week, viewers were treated to dinners upstairs and downstairs, and to more of Lady Violet’s witticisms.  (Spoiler Alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.)

Dining with the Crawleys

Although the viewers couldn’t care less, the boring saga of the hospitals continues. When Violet discovers that Mr. Neville Chamberlain Minister of Health, is going on an inspection tour of the North, she demands that her son invite him to dine at the Abbey.

DA_Violet_Son

Lady Violet in persuasion mode.

 

He’s a busy man,” the earl tells his fond mama. “What makes you think he will come?’

“Because your late papa, the 6th Earl of Grantham, was his wife’s godfather!”

End of argument. Bested by Lady Violet once again, the earl invites Mr. Chamberlain, and, much to Robert’s surprise, the health minister agrees to come. Cora, knowing all about Violet’s scheming ways, invites Dickie Merton, Isobel, and Dr. Clarkson, the old sawbones (and her new ally), to dine as well.

The earl is already dreading the affair. He’s sure there will be hell to pay. All through Season 6 and going back as far as Season 5, he has suffered from indigestion. Unconcerned, he has gone about his business, ignoring the symptoms. Just before dinner with the health minister, he clutches his abdomen again. He decides to take this new burning sensation on the stomach like a man and make an appearance at dinner, knowing that his mama would march up the stairs and drag him out of bed if he failed to attend.

DA Chamberlain

Mr. Chamberlain is having the most unforgettable dinner of his life. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

So kind of you to respond to my mother-in-law’s summons, Mr. Chamberlain,” says Cora in greeting, before Lady Violet pushes her aside and reminds him of their long past history.

“Oh, I recall you when you were so young and so carefree and I was young and gay, and so I say, let’s let the past stay in the past, like the hospital.”

Tom quickly rescues Mr. Chamberlain before he responds, as Lady Cora invites everyone in to dine, even before the servants are finished setting the table.

“She can’t protect him in the dining room,” announces Lady Violet, unconcerned. “I was trained in a hard school and I FIGHT accordingly!”

But things do not go the dowager’s way, for just as she’s working up to prove that change for change’s sake will ruin power, her son erupts like a breaching whale from his chair, clutching his belly, and violently spews blood on the table until the dining room resembles a Roman vomitorium.

blood bath

Cora receives a blood bath

Everyone is worried – Cora that she will lose her husband, Violet that she will lose her train of thought from the shock, and Mr. Carson that the blood-spattered tablecloth will defy cleaning. But Mr. Chamberlain only feels relief, the earl having found a way to save him from a battle royal. He will always be grateful to Robert’s bursting ulcer for its impeccable timing.

As he’s trundled off to the Downton hospital, Robert manages to tell his Cora how much he loves her. At this declaration, all our hearts go aflutter.

Dinner with the Carsons

DA_dinner_carsons

Elsie and Charlie at home. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

Mr. Carson suggested we might have dinner in the cottage tonight, says Elsie to Mrs. Patmore, wanting her advice. “It won’t be a regular thing, just once in a while.”

When did you last cook?” asks Mrs. Patmore. She can’t decide between helping Elsie make two juicy lamb chops or  the more complicated Turducken (turkey stuffed with chicken, stuffed with duck, stuffed with quail).

“Oh, I’ve done the odd thing every five years or so. Still, I WOULD be grateful for the basket.”

‘Chops it is, then,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore.

Later that day, the Carson’s cozy cottage smells of home cooking.

My compliments to the chef,” says an eager Carson, settling in for an evening feast at his own dining room table.

“That would be Mrs. Patmore, not me,” Elsie says complacently. “Are you ready?” She places the chops on the table.

“Are these done enough?” he asks, testing the meat. ” Oh, the plate is cold, that’s a pity.”

She gives him a look that would freeze a Florida swamp as she slides another platter on the table.

“What’s this?”

“Bubble and squeak.”

“With lamb?”

“I LIKE it with lamb.” Elsie is beginning to realize that her groom is easier to please between the sheets than at the dinner table.

“Well, we musn’t let it get cold,” he says in a sing song voice that grown-ups adopt with toddlers. He saws away at the lamb. “Ah, this knife could do with sharpening.”

Elsie slaps a portion of bubble and squeak on his plate with the force of a pig farmer wrestling a sow, which is when Carson realizes he shouldn’t have told his bride that her cooking doesn’t hold a candle to his mother’s.

‘Uh, oh.’ From the look on her face, he understands he’s not getting any nookie tonight either.

A few days later, having forgotten his love’s reaction to his constructive criticism, he approaches Mrs. Patmore.

I wonder if you would you be willing to help my bride catch up with her pantry pans. It’s been a while since she’s played with them. ”

He turns to Mrs. Carson, er, Mrs. Hughes, er, Elsie. “You’d be very glad of the help, wouldn’t you my dove?”

“Sure. Why not. It’s time to get our coats,” she says, thinking that if she out paces him to their cottage, she could get the couch made up in a trice for his bed.

A Loving Sisterly Exchange

sisterly love

I’ll be in London on Wednesday,” announces Edith at breakfast.

Her papa looks around the table and says proudly, “Edith has a date.”

“Not really,” says she.

“Of course not,” says Mary.

“What do you mean, of course not?” retorts Edith, wanting to scratch her sibling’s eyes out for the gazillionth time.

A Visit to Mr Mason’s New Pig Abode

When Lady Mary learns that pigs are his speciality, she allows Mr. Mason to move to Yew Tree Farm in a trice.

DA Mary_Tom

Mary and Tom in inspection mode. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

I want to look in on, Mason,” she says to her papa, “He’s moving in today.”

“You may go where you like, as long as the pigs are settled.”

“I am concerned,” says she. “I’ve asked him to take over, but pig keeping needs strength, come to think of it.”

“Very sensible. Pigs can be dangerous. Mason’s scrawny. He needs more meat on his bones. ”

“Perhaps we can ask Mrs. Patmore to help in that department.”

In sync with Lady Mary’s thoughts, Mrs. Patmore has laden an abundant basket with fattening goodies as a welcome present. Mr. Mason is the first new bachelor of a certain age with a good job to move within 50 miles of the vicinity this past decade and Mrs. Patmore is old enough to know when OPPORTUNITY comes a’knocking.

DA_Mason_Patmore

Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore: a new romance in the making? Or a possible spin-off to be titled: ‘Of Pigs and Men.’ Photographer: Nick Briggs

Mr. Mason admires her strong ample figure and thinks it a sight for sore eyes.

Does me good to see a woman bustling around my kitchen.”

“I’ve got goodies galore for you,” she says, “and a snack for later on.”

“You’re an angle of mercy.”

“Do you mean me?” asks Lady Mary without irony, stepping into the kitchen with Tom. “Am I interrupting?”

“Not a bit, my lady, You’re welcome here.” ‘Drat,’ he thinks, ‘just when Mrs. P and I were getting to know each other…’

“We wanted to discuss the pigs.”

“I’m top at pigs.”

Tom steps forward. “Lady Mary is worried about the physical side of it. Prizing a boar off a sow…”

“Heeheehee,” giggles Mrs. Patmore.

“Or taking the piglets off their mother.”

“Boohoohoo,” cries Mrs. Patmore.

DA_Andy

Andy offers his services. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

As Tom and Mary discuss Mr. Mason’s feeble strength and the absence of a farm hand, Andy, who has volunteered his services in moving to gain favor with Daisy,  steps forward to offer his strong arms to help with pig maintenance.

Can you do it?” asks Tom.

“Sure,” says Andy, promising the stars, the sun, and the moon, as well as seven years servitude. He wants to learn as much as he can about farming, just as long as there ain’t no book learnin’ involved.

Daisy is all agog. ‘Could this be the man of her dreams? A footman plus a pig farmer rolled neatly into one?’

I’ll lend you some books about pig farming and breeding,” offers Mr. Mason to Andy.

“Books?” Charlie utters.

“You need to know the theory of it. Makes it more logical.”

“I’m up shit’s creek,” thinks Andy, visions of pigs and Daisy fading away, since he can’t make heads or tails of a ‘p’ or an ‘i’ or a ‘g,’ much less their capitalized versions.

Later on, downstairs in the Abbey, Mrs. Patmore practically glows from having worked her knuckles raw helping Mr. Mason set up his house and larder. “What a lovely chap.”

‘Wait a moment,’ thinks Daisy, glaring at Mrs. Patmore. ‘Mr. Mason’s MY lovely chap. I found him first!’

daisyhiss_5

Daisy in hissing mode

 

He must be lonely,” Mrs. P. concludes, thinking of how fine the contents of her Hope Chest would look in Mr. Mason’s cottage.

Daisy hisses,” He’sss not lonely! He’ss MY precioussss. He’s been living alone for yearss.”

‘And working himself scrawny, so he needs help with the rutting pigs,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore, knowing she could fatten him up in no time flat and build up his muscles.

He seemed to enjoy the company…” she ventures.

“He was only being polite! He was longing for you, er, us, to go.”

“Pfff.”

Mrs. Patmore huffs off, thinking, ‘Let’s see if I give that ungrateful chit any helpful advice from now on.’

Lady Violet, Denker, and Septimus Sprat

During a village stroll, Denker encounters Dr. Clarkson and rounds on him for being a traitor and scoundrel to the Dowager Countess. His dignity offended, he sends Lady Violet a letter describing Denker’s INSULT and her impertinence. Clutching the letter to her heaving bosom, Violet summons her disagreeable lady’s maid.

Lady Violet

Photographer, Nick Briggs. You read too many novels, Denker!

Denker arrives, thinking she’s about to receive a raise for loyalty.

Is it true you called Dr. Clarkson a traitor?”

“I just thought he behaved very badly.”

“It’s not your place to have opinions of my acquaintances, let alone express them! If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who’s ever spoken ill of me, my address book would be EMPTY! For a lady’s maid to insult a physician!… You’ve read too many novels, Denker. You’ve seen too many moving pictures. You’ve skulked around too many hallways.”

“I was sticking up for you.”

“And for that I shall write a tepid character. From this house you must go forthwith.”

“But my lady, what am I to do? Where am I to go?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”

Knowing Lady Violet will not change her mind, Denker approaches Sprat to help save her job.

How’d it happen?” he asks, secretly delighted with the turn of events. “Were you drunk?”

“Of course not! Am I to blame if I have a very passionate nature?”

Sprat makes a face. “Any more of that talk and I won’t be able to sleep.”

The more Denker pleads with Sprat, the happier he gets, ’till he’s humming from sheer joy, but, alas, his happiness is short lived.

“Are you packed?” he asks her the following morning. “Are you gonna help her dress, get your reference, and then head off, never to darken my life again?”

“No, and I’ll tell you why, you insignificant worm. Did they catch your nephew. The one you hid?”

SpratSprat stops humming. “Wha…?”

“Septimus Sprat, if I go down, I am taking you down with me. Capiche?”

“What can I say to …”

“You’d better think of something. And you better hope it works, Mr. Sprat. You better hope that I don’t ever need to mention your nephew ever again.”

Sprat walks away from the conversation thinking that daily torture in a dark dungeon would be preferable to being stuck with this woman for the rest of his benighted life. He wonders if he should apply for a position at Gosford Park before it is too late.

Love Does Not Conquer All

As Lady Mary and Tom drive to the track to watch Henry Talbot, he turns to her. “Do you like him?

He’s attractive and nice and reminds me I’m a youngish woman again, but that’s all. I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but I won’t marry down. I don’t want to be grander than my husband or richer, but he needs to bring something to my substantial table.”

“Happiness doesn’t have much with money or position. Sybil and I had a marriage of equals. I brought the copper, she brought the gold. I brought the dust, she brought the duster. I…”

“I get it,” says Lady Mary, not amused.

Tom and mary

Tom and Mary at the track.

‘Tom’s not getting the point,’ thinks a frustrated Mary. She needs to stay grander than Edith so that she can always lord it over her and her unfortunate choices of doddering old suitors and mere land agents.

And so, having discussed her elevated norm for marital love, Tom and Mary arrive at the racetrack, where Henry and his best friend, Charlie, are driving recklessly around the track at around, oh, 60 – 65 mph.

Just look at him. Working hard but getting nowhere,” says Mary, adding, “He’s just going around in useless circles.”

As Henry and Charlie race around the track a few hundred times, I begin to make my weekly grocery list and check my work schedule. These overly long scenes are best distinguished by the background music, which resembles a soundtrack from an Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon Beach Muscle Blanket Bikini Bingo movie.

As Henry finishes his practice turns and strides towards them, Tom tells Mary, “You don’t have to marry him, but you do have to let him enjoy this moment.”

‘Enjoy, yes,’ Mary thinks, ‘but I won’t let anything as puny as love get in the way of sensible thought.’

Bates and Anna Discuss Lady Mary and Lady Luck

happy

Oh, happy days.

“I want Lady Mary to be happy, like I am happy,” says Bates to his wife as they walk towards the Abbey after breakfast in their cozy cottage for two. “I want everyone to be happy.”

“Are you really happy? says Anna, clutching her rabbit’s foot.

“I am so happy that happy is my middle name. I’m, you know, happy.”

“No, I don’t know. But if you’re happy then I’m happy.”

“I’m happy.”

“Bad Harvest,” says Anna, not wanting to spoil her good luck.

Edith happy

Lady Edith happy.

Outing the Secret

At the end of dinner and in the heat of the moment, as the earl and his bleeding ulcer are carted off to Downton Hospital, Lady Cora prevents Lady Violet from talking any more nonsense about the hospital. “No more secrets from now on!”

mary overhears

Uh, oh. Edith should have said ‘bad harvest’ too.

“You mean, like Marigold?” says Lady Violet, not seeing Lady Mary standing behind them.

From Lady Mary’s expression, we know she’s come to an ah-hah moment. Cue ominous music, please.

What a fine episode, gentle readers. While, for the sake of brevity, I did not discuss Baxter’s plight, Thomas’s offer to help Andy read, or Edith’s trip to London and the start of a budding romance, I give this episode four and a half stars out of five. What say you?

Informal poll: Which did you think was grosser?

The bloody carnage at

  • the earl’s table in this episode.
  • the red wedding in Game of Thrones.
  • the remains of Hannibal Lechter’s lunch.

 

My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

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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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